The faint sound of quiet sobbing you hear is coming from fans of San DiegoUnion-Tribune columnist Joseph Perkins, known affectionately as "the black one."Perkins left the paper a few days ago, the latest columnist to decide-eithervoluntarily or non-voluntarily-that the pages of the Union-Tribune were no longerthe proper venue for their unique brilliance. He joins James Goldsborough andNeil Morgan on the list of U-T columnists seen standing on freeway on-ramps withsigns saying, "Will spout opinion for food." Perkins, who clearly yearns tobecome a pundit hack, is known as a boring version of Ann Coulter or PatBuchanan. His intellectual mentor was former Vice President Dan Quayle, who hiredhim as an aide to help implement the Quayle plan for social development, whichapparently focused on lowering golf handicaps around the globe. In his lovingfarewell to himself, Perkins dubbed himself a "bare-knuckled" writer who "pullednone of my punches" and specialized in giving liberals "hell" (and, shockingly,he actually used the word, instead of the more polite "h-e-double tooth picks").But Perkins decided he was not able to handle the rigors of writing "three tofour editorials a week." Quoting Clint Eastwood, he wrote, "A man's got to knowhis limitations." So now we know Joe's limit, which is apparently somewherearound a three-hour work day. Hoping to prevent riots and widespread looting,Perkins called for calm. "I know there will be speculation in some quarters as tothe "real' reason for my departure from daily journalism," he wrote, using theterm "journalism" fairly loosely. Exactly who might be concerned about his fatewas unclear, but Perkins was certainly worried that many people were very upset."Let me assure everyone concerned that I am leaving of my own volition," hewrote. Remarkably untalented, even in the realm of opinion-page writers, Perkins'columns tended to feature a long rehash of some news event, tossed with a fewclichés and maybe a quote from Bartlett's, allowing him plenty of time to make itto the Rotary Club in time for cocktail weenies. Perkins was the type ofcolumnist Republicans will never have to pay off. He gladly spouted any positionapproved by the religious right, a relentlessly predictable puppet who neverwavered from the talking points. Perkins will go far simply because he is a blackRepublican, an endangered species. These days Alan Keyes is probably the mostidentifiable black Republican, which speaks volumes about the role ofAfrican-Americans in the Republican Party. Perkins always seemed to wrestle withhis role as a mouthpiece for a party that believes the civil-rights movementended in 1968. In one of his last columns, he once again tried to distancehimself from black leaders, who are somehow under the impression that Perkins'party treats them like butlers. For simply meeting with the black caucus, Perkinscalled President Bush "magnanimous," but stopped short of calling him"Jesus-like." Instead of explaining why so many black leaders think Bush is themodern-day equivalent of a plantation owner, Perkins took a fairly typical leapof logic to use the caucus meeting as a chance to argue that blacks shouldsupport the president's Social Security privatization plan. According to Perkins'reasoning, blacks should support changes because, under the current system, theyreceive dramatically less money than whites from the Social Security system-whichis true. Of course, generations of blacks without college degrees forced to worklow-paying jobs has a wee bit to do with that, but Perkins apparently believes agood investment account is what they really need. Facts always seemed to makePerkins nervous. He was more comfortable spouting the slogans of the Christianright, such as his column last December decrying the "Godless minority," who are"waging an unholy war against God, against religion, in communities throughoutthe once-fair land." While readers were still chuckling at the use of the phrase"once-fair land" in a sentence written after 1875, he labeled California "themodern day Babylon... ground zero in the war on religion." Showing his own form ofBush-like magnanimity, Perkins announced, "I accept that a minority of Americansdo not believe that Jesus was the son of the God." But he closed with a bang."All I ask is that nonbelievers stop trying to impose their will upon themajority of us who believe, as the Apostle John wrote two millennia ago, that"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoeverbelieveth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'" Before readerscould say "Hallelujah!" Perkins was gone, apparently confident that he hadtouched enough souls for awhile. Although he insisted he was retiring from thedemanding world of column writing, Perkins made it clear that he would notselfishly deprive the world of his opinions, and offered a tantalizing subtlehint that he may reappear soon. "Who knows?" he wrote, "I may come out ofretirement in six months or a year or three years and start my own blog,proffering opinions on issues of the day." If he does, he may soon be in for ashock. The world of blogging, which he cleverly dubbed, "the brave newmarketplace of ideas," is packed with thousands of witty and talented writers"proffering" opinions. Without the legitimacy of the newspaper, Perkins will benothing more than another Republican hack hoping to get a guest slot on TheO'Reilly Factor.