How valuable is a signed copy of "Gettysburg," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's new novel, which imagines a victory by the South in the most famous battle of the Civil War?
As far as Louisianian James Carville is concerned, not much.
Yes, the Democratic strategist who introduced Bill Clinton to the world actually reviewed - and even praised - the Republican leader's best-selling novel as "creative, clever and fascinating."
But that's not to say there's a place for "Gettysburg" on Carville's bookshelf.
"Seeing your item about Newt Gingrich's book, 'Gettysburg,' prompted me to write about how we came across an interesting copy of that very book," Barb Hill of Fairfax, Va., writes to this column.
"Staying at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in July for a weekend conference, we ended up in a suite and, in perusing the books in the sitting area, found a copy of 'Gettysburg,'" she reveals.
"It was personally signed to James Carville from 'your friend, Newt,' thanking him for the 'blurb' printed on the dust cover," Hill continues. "I guess James Carville had stayed in that suite earlier and left the book!"
And what does Hill plan to do with her unique find?
"Right now, it is a great political souvenir," she says, "but, if either gentleman would like it back, contact us!"
CERTAIN IT'S BEEF?
Looking for a cheap hamburger?
"If you should find yourself hankering for a hamburger, may I respectfully suggest that you go to Beijing," says 2004 presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman. "That's where you'll find the world's cheapest hamburgers."
No, this isn't "Joe's" (that's what his campaign wants us to call him) latest campaign gimmick.
Rather, Lieberman has introduced Senate Bill 1592, to require negotiation and appropriate action with respect to certain countries that engage in currency manipulation.
As for the hamburger analogy, the senator borrowed a page from the Economist magazine, which for more than 15 years has compiled a "Big Mac" index to chart the relative values of national currencies.
As the Connecticut Democrat notes, the recipe for a McDonald's Big Mac is pretty much the same everywhere, and in a perfect world it would presumably cost about the same everywhere.
"But we find that instead of costing about the same, as one would expect, in Chinese yuan a Big Mac costs about 56 percent less than it would in the average American city," he says. "Such a bargain."
What's wrong with that? The yuan, the senator explains, has been systematically kept at low value - an artificially low value - pursuant to intervention by the Chinese government in currency markets. In fact, it's about 40 percent lower than it should be in an unfettered currency market. And since 1994, the Chinese have bought almost 300 billion U.S. dollars to keep the yuan's value low.
"That's why China has the world's cheapest hamburgers," he says. "If we were only dealing with hamburgers, I would not object, but the Big Mac Index explains a good deal about why we have seen a catastrophic and growing trade deficit with China, and why this is causing massive layoffs in the U.S. manufacturing sector."
NAME THAT TUNE
When not collectively ganging up on President Bush, Democratic presidential hopefuls individually are coming up with some unusual campaign gimmicks to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Take Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who's announcing the availability of a signed limited edition die-cast replica of the Craftsman Truck Series No. 50 "Bob Graham for President" Ford F-150 truck driven by racing phenomenon Jon Wood.
One can play with the nifty red and white toy trucks for an $80 campaign contribution. The die cast is signed by Wood, who drove the F-150 to victory in its first race at the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway in July. It was the first vehicle in a major NASCAR series to be sponsored by a presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, the presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is telling Americans: "From singing 'My Way' on 'The Tonight Show' to the Gore/Lieberman campaign song 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,' Joe has always loved music.
"Here's your chance to tell us what songs inspire you and remind you of Joe. What songs would get you excited for Joe at campaign events and rallies?"
Boy, tough question. Which means it's time for yet another Beltway Beat reader survey, when our readers tell us which songs remind them of Joe.
Heck, let's not stop with Lieberman. Send us the titles of songs that remind you of any of the other presidential hopefuls, President Bush included. After all, we don't play favorites in this column.
Each submission, sent by slow mail or to the e-mail address below, should include the title of the song and its artist, along with your name and hometown. In the coming days, we'll publish as many campaign theme songs as space will allow.
PIECE OF CAKE
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge appeared surprised last week that a man would be able to ship himself from New York to Dallas on a cargo plane, saying sometimes "the events overtake the kinds of things we're doing."
The kinds of things they're doing are certainly taking a long time.
A former Navy fighter pilot who now flies FedEx planes warned in this column one year ago that security surrounding thousands of cargo aircraft that crisscross this nation is "a joke."
"Security is virtually nonexistent," said the pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I'd say no more than 15 percent of the packages put on our airplanes are inspected, and access to our planes is a piece of cake."
Speaking for the record in this same column was Capt. David Webb, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association's FedEx unit, who pointed out that a hijacked cargo airliner "makes just as deadly a guided missile as one full of passengers."
Amid demonstrations by hordes of "green" activists throwing rocks, burning flags and generally being a nuisance, there occurred a not-entirely-mock award ceremony in Cancun, Mexico, as the World Trade Organization ministerial talks wound down on Sunday.
Featuring three grim reapers "passing the envelope" to Niger Innis of the Congress for Racial Equality, it involved American youths accepting "Green Power - Black Death" awards on behalf of Greenpeace, the EU, and the Pesticide Action Network for their respective leadership "in bringing poverty, misery, disease and premature death to billions of people in developing countries."
"The crowd of activists stared dumbly, unable to process the sight of black faces and college-age students daring to contradict theconventional groupthink," says observer Christopher C. Horner, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington.
"This rare silence-of-the-loudmouths was short-lived quiet anger at being trumped at their own game, replaced by incoherent rage. One particularly shrill woman told Mexican television she was 'shocked and appalled @ such grandstanding.' Meanwhile, her activist colleagues scaled a dangling construction crane, stripped naked and waved to people down below before climbing down.
"On a lighter note, 'best bumper sticker' goes to the Federated Farmers of New Zealand - recently subject to a stiff methane tax upon their flatulating assets attributed to man by the Kyoto Protocol: 'Fight Against Ridiculous Taxes.' The bold lettered acronym also bore an amusing cartoon cow presenting her rear in protest."
IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE
What a difference four months makes.
In May, President Bush was riding high after toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a shorter period of time than it took to recount the disputed Florida election ballots. And latching on to the president's coattails was Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman, who proudly issued the following statement:
"Lieberman is the only Democrat who consistently called for confronting Saddam Hussein. For the last 12 years, Lieberman has remained resolute on dealing with the threat posed by Iraq, whether he was one of the few Democrats voting to authorize the use of force against Saddam in 1991, or when he was the lead Democrat on the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, or just this past year when he was the lead Senate sponsor of the resolution authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam."
Now, when it comes to Iraq, Lieberman has abandoned Bush, whose wish is to find the elusive Saddam, if not his weapons of mass destruction, before Election Day.