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May 13, 2005

could you please repeat that number?

Don Herzog, The Bartlett Files: May 13, 2005

Hats off to the remarkable Mr. Bartlett for a constitutional invention.  Faithful readers, some of them groaning, will recall my unholy delight in tracking the good representative's antics.  (And no, it is not true that he has obtained a temporary restraining order against me.  Nor that I have bugged his office.  His office, however, has not denied bugging mine.)  In the past I have been interested mostly in his views on our being a Christian nation.  Not this time.

Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) took the floor of the House on May 3rd to give a special order speech on oil and nuclear power.  That means it was late at night and virtually no one was in the chamber.  He was really addressing C-SPAN's television camera, the stalwart presence that never blinks, never yawns, and never giggles, even if he did say stuff like this:

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that my colleagues can remember all of the hullabaloo about the enormous finds of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Speaker was really Speaker pro tempore, Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA).  And "my colleagues" were absent in droves.  But the camera maintained its unwavering focus on Rep. Bartlett, so those not in the know could imagine he was addressing a rapt chamber.  Right, no invention yet.  This is a tired old wheeze.

No, Rep. Bartlett earns my undying admiration for bringing campaign fundraising right onto the floor of the House of Representatives.  He didn't just insert language into the Congressional Record that he wanted to send to his constituents, using his franking privilege.  Nothing so coy for Mr. Bartlett!

As the Washington Post put it,

The House floor briefly became the venue for a telethon Tuesday night when Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) attempted to sell videos of his speech.  Just seconds before midnight, he was giving a special order speech talking about the potential of nuclear power when he directed viewers (the proceedings were carried by C-SPAN) to a poster he had erected at the lectern:  "To order a video/DVD of this Special Order contact C-SPAN at 202-737-3220."

(The Congressional Record has his speech closing with these words:  "If you would like to order a video or DVD, this is the telephone number you call at C-SPAN.")  The Post sneered that the ad generated zero sales.  I shake my head sadly at the coarse complacency of the mainstream media.  All in time, my dear sirs.  The representative may be responsible for the political breakthrough of our day.  Who knows?  Perhaps he is plotting an end run around our byzantine campaign finance laws, and hoping to rely on an ambitious reading of Art. I, sec. 6, cl. 1 of the Constitution, guaranteeing that

Senators and Representatives ... shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Join me, if you would be so kind, in saluting the seed of entrepreneurial innovation planted in that most unpromising soil, the floor of the House of Representatives.  Join me in committing the number 202-737-3220 to memory:  you may wish to tell your wide-eyed grandchildren that you were one of the first to call it.  And you may wish to think about the future collector's value of the DVD.)  Join me in saluting the self-styled "citizen-legislator" with a "lifelong love of farming" who had the presence of mind to plant the seed.   Join me in marveling at his deference to the Founding Fathers' intentions:

I am a conservative who wants to help restore the limited federal government envisioned and established in the Constitution by our nation's founders.

True, I missed the bit in James Madison's papers about fundraising on the floor of Congress, but I must have been reading hastily.  If salutes feel too stiff and formal for this moving occasion, if you want more impulsively to blow a kiss to the remarkable Mr. Bartlett, well, I won't stop you.  And yes I can too tell the difference between a kiss, even a wet, sloppy kiss, and a Bronx cheer.


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Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Gosh, who was it who said... wait a minute, it will come to me... something about fundraising in the oval office... something about no controlling legal precedent.. he was also a farmer, a tobacco farmer, I think (though of course he was against smoking)... invented the internet, inspired "Love Story," looks good in earth tones and a beard...wait, wait, I've almost got it...

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 13, 2005 8:21:34 AM

Posted by: LPFabulous

That's whataboutery! You should be ashamed! Only Republican evils can be discussed here!

Posted by: LPFabulous | May 13, 2005 8:25:08 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Yes, it was. I repent. (Yeah, right.) I think we're back in the realm of buffonery here, though, not evil. I kinda like the idea of political weasels openly prostituting themselves on the floor of the House or Senate. Perhaps we could sell off naming rights to the Capitol and the White House, too. Depending on the current administration, it could be the "National Association of Realtors Capitol," the "AARP White House," etc. Speeches could begin and end with those little NPR / PBS commercialettes, too. "This State of the Union Address was made possible in part by a grant from Archer, Daniels, Midland (ADR), pretending to represent the long extinct family farm for over 50 years, and from contributions by taxpayers like you." I like it!

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 13, 2005 8:51:33 AM

Posted by: noah


Posted by: noah | May 13, 2005 8:52:42 AM

Posted by: john t

DA Ridgely How about a sign over the Capitol entrance. The American Trial Lawyers Capitol. But then why be brazen. Also ,as with tennis players ,the congressmen could wear corporate and advocacy group logos on their jackets,front and back. On the other hand our representatives do their advertising in a much more open way,they give speeches on behalf of the product. If you have power to sell don't be surprised if power is sold. George Will had a solution;to cut back lobbying cut back government,any takers? I'll say this on Mr Bartlett's defense,at least he's selling his own product,not China's.

Posted by: john t | May 13, 2005 9:53:14 AM

Posted by: Terrier

john t, maybe you prefer selling this country to China?

Posted by: Terrier | May 13, 2005 10:11:01 AM

Posted by: Achillea

It opens up whole new avenues for product placement. No more plain ol' glasses and pitchers of water, oh no. All it has to do is fit on the lectern ...

Posted by: Achillea | May 13, 2005 10:14:36 AM

Posted by: john t

terrier, no,but I'd sell you to China. Probably wouldn't get much.

Posted by: john t | May 13, 2005 1:49:09 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Herzog:

Yanno, it just occurred to me that you could be playing a bit of a joke here, the very title “could you please repeat that number?” being a sly allusion to the recherché nature of the post, itself. I mean I do like the part about Madison and the “privileged from arrest” provision and all that, and I do suppose a case could be made that the ever entertaining Rep. Bartlett (though I really think we’ve all come to know him so well by now we ought to just start calling him Roscoe) has squared the circle by digging into some tenth circle of congressional buffoonery here, and I was all ready to try to come up with something pithy and erudite (or, by my standards, a reasonable facsimile thereof) to contribute, but then, then...

I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I mean, of course, I could dutifully find the old cat-o-nine-tails and start flailing away at the equine cadaver that Roscoe, dear Roscoe has long since become to one and all. (I knew him, Horatio. A man of infinite jest or, if not that, to cut and splice the Bard, a source of infinite jest in others.) But in the words of that great liberal Republican and moral visionary of the past, Richard Milhouse Nixon, it would be wrong.

Unless, unless…. Could it be? I mean, is it possible that I’ve just utterly and entirely failed to grasp the deeper significance here? I am, after all, a bear of very little brain, so if there’s some sort of “da Bartlett Code” numerological, cabalistic, Dentist’s office magazine “Find-the-pony-in-this-picture” thing going on, I ain’t getting’ it.

So help me out here, Mr. Herzog. As Petula Clark once lyrically entreated Alfie, what’s it all about?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 13, 2005 3:07:28 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

As a small child, I was stunned by the Fibonacci sequence, and I shyly confess that I stunned my junior high math teacher by (re)discovering and proving Horner's rule. I then dwelt somberly on the structural ties between these two for some weeks, during which my parents pleaded with me to remember to eat and drink.

In high school, I was tortured by the reappearance of Planck's constant and h-bar in various settings. It seemed a rare and malicious form of dice-playing indeed. And it will surely delight you, Mr. Ridgely, to know what when I wrote some suitable federal agency a query about pi, they shipped back a bulky xerox of pi to some tens of thousands of decimal places. It might not delight you to know how many I promptly memorized.

But then I put these childish baubles behind me and became A Humanist. (True, I cultivated an avid interest in kabbalah, though it will not surprise you, I suppose, to learn that my interests were purely ethnographic.) So I'm afraid there's not the slightest bit of cryptology in my post or title: just a sympathetic worry about the viewer who might have missed The Fateful Number:


Then too, I think it rather disrespectful of you to insinuate that the remarkable Mr. Bartlett is a dead horse. Why, I can hear him neighing -- no, braying -- from here.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 13, 2005 3:34:32 PM

Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog wrote: "I can hear him [Bartlett]... braying ... "

Is Bartlett a Democrat?!!? Elephants don't bray, do they? Just donkeys.

Posted by: Bret | May 13, 2005 4:21:05 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Ah, Bret, if only our political iconology mapped tightly onto the natural facts of zoology.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 13, 2005 4:22:02 PM

Posted by: a math geek

Is there really a connection between horner's rule and fibbonaci numbers? I'm not aware of any. Or am I just reading too much into a joke?

Posted by: a math geek | May 13, 2005 8:24:39 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Yes to one of those queries, no to the other, on an indeterminate ordering of the Markov chain variety.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 13, 2005 8:51:32 PM

Posted by: john t

Don H re 8:51 post I think you're wrong on that. Maybe you ought to call Rep. Bartlett to clarify. You can order a DVD while they bring him to the phone.

Posted by: john t | May 13, 2005 10:48:25 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

This post and thread has a disturbing similarity to an NPR pledge drive.

Posted by: Jim Hu | May 13, 2005 11:13:24 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

That would surely be Mr. Ridgely's fault: he didn't just allude to the NPR ads, he mentioned them outright. It might be my fault, somehow. But I will go to the wall to protect the remarkable Mr. Bartlett's spotless reputation and insist that he has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Don Herzog | May 13, 2005 11:16:19 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Oh me, Oh my! All this talk of stochastic processes and algorithms and recursive functions and what-not just makes that Malibu Barbie “Math is hard!” tape do a closed-loop inside my poor little noggin.


That number, again, is 202-737-3220

Act now! Please have your MasterCard, Visa or Discovery Card ready when ordering. Calcutta phone-bank operators are standing by to take your order now. Quantities are limited and remember, “Roscoe’s Greatest Hits” is not available in stores.

In yet another alternate universe (certainly not this one), Mr. Ridgely recalls those halcyon days of his own precocious youth – his bitter disappointment at failing to find a publisher for his translation of the Uniform Commercial Code into anapestic tetrameter and terza rima, thus reducing him to years of struggle and penury eking out a meager existence writing doggerel by the light of an old Coleman lantern for a Cleveland based greeting card company that specialized in light-hearted, whimsical bereavement notices until, at long last, his triumphant acceptance speech holding the Palme D’Or at Cannes for his sci-fi film adaptation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, “Attack Of The Things In Themselves.”

Meanwhile, I’m left wondering just how many decimal places of pi Mr. Herzog managed to memorize. It couldn’t have been


could it?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | May 13, 2005 11:22:09 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

Actually, it's the repetition of the phone number...since my TV has a mute but my radio doesn't.

Posted by: Jim Hu | May 14, 2005 12:17:46 AM

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