E.T., Go Home

April 28, 2010

Recently, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking–while he wasn’t just sitting there being smarter than I’ll ever be if I ever replicated myself a thousand times and actually got around to learning how to use an RSS feed–lamented that, despite the misguided efforts of many of our countrymen, it may not be the wisest decision to contact alien life forms should they exist. Instead of sharing their vast array of advanced technology, they may just want to blow us up and take our stuff. Way to be a wet blanket, doc.

Alien invasions are something America has prepared itself against for quite some time. Even in the 1950’s and ’60’s, when flying saucers, science fiction writers, and L. Ron Hubbard were making hay–and cash–out of unexplained mysteries, there were significant portions of the population that didn’t think ol’ greenie stalk-eyes was just a parlor trick or cereal premium. There were a lot of strange things going on–historians technically describe these events as “freaky deaky”–during that time. Nuclear power, environmental changes, and, well, you never knew exactly what Ivan was up to over in Red Square–all of these things had huge question marks next to them, and instead of filling them with research or logic, we filled them with Martians.

There are entire organizations out there, from SETI and NASA to the guy who still mails out mimeographs of The UFO Report somewhere out of Montana, that believe in aliens. Our government has made concentrated efforts to contact alien life forms, supposedly to advance the knowledge of the universe but mostly I think to see if aliens might have a better idea of how to get some more oil.

It is sometimes scary how much people want to believe. Small flashes or specks in the sky turn into motherships and hordes of pods waiting to launch a full-scale invasion or at least disrupt the transmission of game seven of the World Series. Grainy photographs of weather balloons and jet planes constitute the basis of an entire malevolent species or, worse, a New Age movement. People even look deep into the past and find evidence of ancient civilizations possessing technology well beyond their means as proof that some day they will return and want the back rent, plus interest.

People want there to be aliens so bad they look for evidence of life on Mars or even the moon. Man, I would hate it if that were the case. I expect aliens to be from galaxies far, far away, with awesome technology and tales of wonderment of a society painted with a different cultural brush. But to find out the aliens are still in the same zip code? That’s like taking your sister to the prom.

I’ve never been particularly sold on the idea of space aliens. Even if they exist–something I rarely concede the mere chance of except for some nights after being in Station Square around 2 am–I don’t think there is any reason why they should be any more advanced than we are. Science fiction has always painted aliens as far superior than ourselves, having somehow transcended hunger, crime, and pollution, and after sitting on their duffs (or the alien equivalent) for a while decided it was time to go out and meet the neighbors. Then kill them.

I say that if Alf comes knocking at our door looking for some right proper X-Files-style justice, back home he’s still got some neighbor with the incessantly barking dog and mouth-breathing kid who tramps through the tulips, and he still checks the shower drain for hair as he looks wistfully in the mirror at the balding remains of his shattered youth. Human nature–or alien nature–doesn’t change even if you live on Parnesius V live for five hundred years and can shoot green lasers from your butt. You still have to pay taxes to someone.

So I’m actually kind of glad that Professor Hawking has brought this up. Most people assume aliens are out for either bloodthirsty conquest or xenophobic genocide just ’cause they ran out of Alien Indians to slaughter and they didn’t want to trudge back home just to work at the dilithium crystal mines. Professor Hawking assumes that they will be here to strip us of all of our resources. It’s economic expansion they are concerned about, not just conquest and the sweet taste of iron-based blood.

You see, I sleep a little better at night knowing this. The random whim of a slimy seven-legged King of Space Beetles just freaks me out. What is the point of taking out the trash when a bunch of man-bugs are going to warp into my den and eat all the Cheetos and shove a phasor in my gut when I come see what all the fuss is about? But knowing they have a plan in place–well, that makes me feel better. Turns out there is logic in the way the alien world thinks. They’re not coming to destroy us on some spontaneous impulse; they just ran out of tin.

Of course, if the aliens ever show up and we don’t want the bother, we can always just send them to Arizona. They’ll take care of it for is.

Geek Chic

March 16, 2010

It’s no big surprise that nerds are taking over the universe.

This, of course, is something that has been a long time coming. Most of us knew, deep in our hearts, that eventually the smart folks would be in charge. However, a lot of us assumed that Type A personality salesmen and that high school quarterback who still pumps gas at the hometown Citgo station and still does whippits in the Denny’s parking lot during shift change would be able to hold off the full-scale invasion for at least a few more decades. But it looks like their time has come.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When Percy McPocketprotector asks Molly Sue Easypants to the junior prom, he’s still getting the floor mopped with his braces. But nerds have come a long way since the slide-rule stereotyping of years gone by.

But a word of warning to many of you self-described geeks out there: Just because you’re a video-game-playing, science-fiction reading, Pokemon-loving dork doesn’t mean you’re something special.

There are plenty of ways of determining exactly when it was that being a geek became cool. Nerds have wallowed in the lower depths of the social scale for a long time, and there are plenty of items to point at as a turning point as to when this shifted. Most people would peg it to the ascent of Bill Gates as the world’s richest person, because–let’s face it–he probably still showers with his underwear on, and all the money in the world apparently doesn’t stop one from using a cereal bowl as a hairstyling product.

I’m sympathetic to that thought, but making gobs of money and being awesome on the social scale aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I peg it to the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King winning the Best Picture Academy Award. It’s fair to say that Hollywood hasn’t necessarily been hostile to geeks, but they certainly haven’t helped–for every Grade-Z science fiction flick and grating performance by Jerry Lewis perpetuating nerdiness as a valid lifestyle choice, there’s a thousand Ryan O’Neals, Tom Cruises, and Sean Connerys slamming the ladies and being the hit of the party. But having the movie industry actually recognize the epitome of the best representation of what it means to be a geek…well, let’s just say the World of Warcarft servers fell silent for whole minutes after it won, and no doubt attributed to all the half-orcs and dwarves that got born about nine months later.

The problem, of course, is once there are enough geeks out there, the mere act of being a geek means less and less. And there is always a segment of the population that strives to not be like everyone else, and many folks become quite conflicted when a once-obscure space opera only dozens of people obsessed over becomes a major motion picture and years of devoted fandom become useless when every bonehead and their brother can just look it up on the Internet Movie Database’s trivia section. Most of these poor kids don’t have any other avenues of interest to go to, and simply become geeks without all the awesome geek parts. Also See: Emo.

I’m lucky. I’ve been a geek for quite some time. If you were to go back in a time machine and ask me what my life goal was, here would be the results:

Age 4: I want to be a pirate.
Age 6: I want to be a stage magician.
Age 10: I want to build my own computer from random bits I bought at Radio Shack.
Age 12: I want to beat Sid Meier’s Civilization on Deity.
Age 16: I want to work for the National Security Agency.
Age 18: I want to be the world’s foremost expert on the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Age 21: I want to write and star in my own steampunk version of Dune.
Age 32: I want to beat Sid Meier’s Civilization on Deity.

However, I didn’t embrace geekiness whole-heartedly. I never got into anime–I mean, the Japanese are just…weird. And I never really got into role-playing beyond the most basic level. And I didn’t own any console games between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Wii, so I apparently missed out on such wonderful products as the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye as one of the greatest cultural milestones of the century.

Now, I’m not going to say anything about my lovely wife about his, though I would like to point out that our first date involved a book store and at one point in our marriage I’m pretty sure she once played Super Smash Brothers Brawl for 36 hours straight. I’m just sayin’.

While we are celebrating the cerebral, it might be prudent to point out what is NOT within the realm of the geek:
1. Just because you are a female, you cannot become a “sexy geek girl” just by putting on a pair of glasses. Tina Fey and Olivia Munn can pull it off because they are real-world capital-N Nerds. Some random hottie on the internet looking for attention and thinks she classifies as a nerd because she has an iPod, glasses, and an unbuttoned white men’s dress shirt and nothing else are not.
2. Number of Call of Duty units sold: 55 Million. Number of American soldiers in the actual World War II: 16.1 million.
3. Just because you picked up the Foundation series at the used book store or once watched forty-five minutes of magna at two in the morning in your dorm room via dial-up doesn’t mean you get a free punch on your geek card. It involves a more drastic change in your lifestyle to be a geek, such as pissing in empty Mountain Dew bottles so you don’t miss a minute of that EverQuest campaign you’re playing, or actually reading any of those Harry Turtledove books your odd aunt gave you one Christmas when you were eight.

Even with all of this information, there isn’t any particular well-defined determination of whether one is a geek or not. However, if you are already in the process of writing me a scathing e-mail about how the gestation period of a half-orc is not, in fact, nine months, then we may have a pretty good idea of where to start.

Kiss Toyota Good Morning

March 14, 2010

The recent troubles that Toyota has been having seems to be a harbinger for the auto industry as a whole. Cars that careen out of control when you’re at a full stop at a four-way intersection tends to be a bit of a hard sell. But give the history of the auto industry, it may turn out to be in Toyota’s benefit.

It’s quite unfortunate about Toyota, because the Japanese model of creating automobiles was seen as the future of the industry, rather than the past. The past, of course, is exemplified by pretty much everything Detroit has done in the last four decades or so. The Big Three automakers spent years and years basically ignoring the fact that the future was, beyond all expectations, rapidly approaching. They failed to see changes in the market. They ignored changes in consumer taste.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, having huge, yacht-sized vehicles barreling down the highways was seen as a God-given American right; large cars was necessary from a safety standpoint, not only to protect its passengers from an untimely death in the unlikely event of a crash, but also to give those Ruskies the what-for. Possibly, your average Ivan and Sventlana would see the absolute size of the roadboats we used to pick up the kids from K Mart and my goodness are they putting fins on those things? Do those cars go seaborne? Maybe those Yanks know a thing or two about economics. Little did those commies know that those fins and chrome and eight spare tires in the Anaheim-sized truck were there simply because we could. U.S.A! U.S.A!

They also pretended that tomorrow would never come in other ways, as well. When dealing with the auto worker’s union, negotiations tended to go like this:

Management: What are your terms?
Union: We don’t really want to work more than about six hours a week. Also, free health care and eight months off the year. And we want pensions paid at age 35 at 100%.
Management: Done.
Union: And please get us out of Detroit.
Management: If we have to stay here, so do you.
Union: Strike!

While it worked out great for the auto workers, it didn’t go over so well for auto workers who hadn’t been born yet, which, at last count, is what they are using now.

But then times changed. Carting around an extra 200 tons of steel and democracy looks awesome but it also made the cars get about four miles a gallon. Granted, back in the day when the top sheik of the moment could hardly go get a copy of the Mecca Times without getting overthrown by the CIA, KGB, Mossad, or Islamic fundamentalists, oil flowed like water from a faucet and people drank the stuff straight from the tap, and no one really cared how much we were using. But then the Arabs and assorted factions wised up and started checking the receipts Israel had with all those plans and missiles, and decided maybe it was time to start applying a bit of tough love.

All of a sudden, those little rice-burners that hippies and professors were zipping around in didn’t look like a farcical stop-motion newsreel anymore. Sure, they looked like something those crazy Asians would kick up in a board room. It was all function. It didn’t even have spoiler bars or a trunk that required its own zip code! What self-respecting American would ever buy such a ludicrous machine?

Well, it turns out, plenty of Americans who were sick of forking over a mortgage payment every time they went to pick up groceries would. This was an upset for Detroit, who reacted just the way that the free market system we have in America works: they kept doing the exact same thing they had been doing for three decades, then wailed to the government for a bailout. Which, of course, worked about as well as you could imagine.

At the very least, companies such as Toyota and Honda eventually forced the American car makers to adopt some changes, such as not building cars to the same specifications as an Abrams Tank. But they still held on to the solid money-making core of their business, such as offering auto loan rates only slightly less usurious than Nicky the Shinbreaker and charging for frivolous extras such as floor mats and carburetors. But foreign automakers made the industry as a whole better. So the fact that Toyota is having such problems doesn’t bode well for the auto industry as a whole.

Remember–all of these problems for the American car companies happened in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For those keeping score at home, this of course means that the exact same thing happened thirty years later. Which goes to show that in America, hard work, self-sacrifice, and innovation will make you successful, but nothing spells real success unless you sell yourself as an American Institution that is too big to fail, in which you can basically make whatever boneheaded decisions you want and let everyone else clean up afterwards. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

The End of the World as We Know It

February 6, 2010

Sometimes in the slow evenings of my existence I think about the end of the world.

Now, granted, this usually occurs when I’m watching either the History Channel or Jersey Shore, either of which are exceptional candidates for finding out how, and hoping for, respectively, the end of the world. But in thinking about it I’ve realized we have quite a bit to worry about.

There’s never been a shortage of theories. The Long Count Calendar, an elaborate prediction made by the Maya civilization, advised everyone that the end of the world would happen on 2012, at around 10:30 in the morning, right after breakfast. The Mayans devised this calendar using incredibly advanced technology for the time, mostly due to the scientific efforts they did not invest in, say, the wheel, or not falling for the Spanish-Dude-is-a-god trick.

Or course, we could also die by natural catastrophe. We naturally see blips of this on occasion, when tsunamis and rock slides just outright destroy entire nations in mere minutes. At some point, the weather is going to get its act together and start coordinating this nonsense. Someday, we’re going to get earthquakes, tidal waves, solar flares, volcanoes, ice storms, and Brett Favre’s last throw in regulation in the 2009 NFC Conference Championship all at once, and–poof!–we’re done.

The prospect of an infinitely expanding outer space doesn’t help. For those of us worried that some day the aliens will come with plasma rays and titanium boots and start laying waste to our cities, we really should be worried about what could actually realistically happen, since that is much scarier. The magnetic poles in the earth could switch, causing electrical generators to self-destruct and digital watches to switch to military time. A gamma ray burst, what as far as I can tell is the stellar equivalent of a six year old’s explanation of an episode of Kim Possible along with a brick of C4, could devour the earth in a blink of an eye. An asteroid could demolish the world, even with the assistance of a frustrated Bruce Willis now that he’s not going home to Demi Moore.

Of course, we could be doing it to ourselves each time we tap away at our computers. The concept of singularity–humans develop a computer smarter than humans, so it takes over its own development in an infinite loop of e-nightmares and cyberterror–is frightening. Only more so since I think it’s supposed to be the plot of Tron, but Disney was too scared to awesomeify it into reality. The term “grey goo” sounds cute, but it’s a scenario in which self-replicating nanobots, created with the intention of helping medicine and industry, end up consuming everything in its path, including–amazingly–Hot Pockets. Granted, I may be biased in this particular regard, since I am fairly certain the copy machine at work is smarter than myself, and is at least no doubt better organized. (For the record, I am also scared of most vending machines.)

Not all end-of-the-world scenarios involve random nastiness. It could be deliberate acts of cranky. Iran has been given a green light to nuke Israel, in the sense that I suspect that Tehran’s weapon of choice will be a fully functional and peaceful nuclear power plant small enough to fit inside an intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim Jong Il has been chucking Fat Men in the Pacific since Churchill was in diapers. Osama Bin Laden has been sitting in some cave in western Pakistan with an Erector Set, knocking over scale replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sydney Opera House while he waits for the canister of sarin to get to him, once FedEx finds his street number.

Then again, the world’s most destructive terrorist isn’t a nutjob in a turban or a fisttwister in Beijing, but a pig. Or a bird. Or some other random animal who, for some reason, holds a grudge against their caretakers and occasional preheaters. Swine Flu, Avian Flu, and no doubt Pachyderm Flu has mutated across species and will some day doom us all. Our bodies are weak to resist such outbreaks–thanks to their newly-formed transmission methods, but also because doctors have been pumping our bodies full of antibiotics like peanut M&M’s for years–and at some point a global pandemic may leave the buildings empty across the globe.

Of course, worrying about all of this isn’t going to do us any good. Aside from getting on the Opus Dei mailing list and maybe buying some of that astronaut ice cream, there isn’t any practical way to prepare for the end of the world. Me, I’ll pop a bag of kettle corn and crack open a Mr. Pibb. No, it won’t save me, but I certainly hope and expect that it will be one hell of a show.

Lions and Tofurkeys and Bores, Oh My!

November 27, 2008

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as it is every year, families join together to spend four to ten awkward hours trying to avoid eye contact while eating enough to feed the Sudanese army without remorse. And while it’s a beautiful time of year, it’s also a time to reflect on those traditions that make this the greatest of holiday seasons.

Watching Lousy Football Games: Watching football on Thanksgiving is a time-honored American tradition, partly because of football’s hold on American culture, and partly because it’s an awesome excuse to sit in a basement in front of a plasma TV drinking beer yelling about why don’t you just run the ball in fourth and goal so you’ll cover you piece of garbage go back to Oklahoma you worthless prick of a coach it looks like someone’s not getting a Wii this Christmas because daddy didn’t think the coach was going to be such a cautious pansy on fourth and frickin’ goal while the womenfolk are cleaning up and doing the dishes upstairs. Of course, most of this tradition is spoiled because someone with a remarkable ineptitude at foresight a few decades ago decreed that it would be none other than the Detroit Lions that would host a Thanksgiving Day game every year. The Detroit Lions. A team that hasn’t had a winning season since they started paying players. Even General Motors posted a profit since they’ve won. At this point, the only way they could win a playoff berth is if the football shrank significantly into something a little bit blacker and rounder, they gave everyone on the team a stick, and they renamed the franchise the “Red Wings.” Of course, there isn’t even a halfway decent matchup this year, since Detroit is up against the 10-1 Tennessee Titans, an incredibly lopsided match that absolutely no one is going to watch outside of Vegas. The only good thing to come of that game is that Vince Young is sitting in Ford Field instead of around the dinner table in Houston inexplicably crying like a woman at random intervals when asked to pass the gravy.

Stale-Dated Yams: Thanksgiving is primarily a food holiday, unlike, say, the Furth of July, where meals are more often than not equated with food poisoning and salads that are in reality desserts, or Labor Day, which is about playing tag football or some form of bocce mutated so your four-year-old nephew and play without crying than it is about hamburgers and hot sausage. Thanksgiving is all about the consumption of gross amounts of food. And, of course, the preparation and anticipation of the meal as well. So it would be no surprise that there’s always some dish sitting untouched on the table. Sometimes it’s a staple dish, such as yams or cranberry sauce, that just looks kind of suspect, like maybe it sat in the back seat of the car for an hour too long, or maybe the dog retched in it when no one was looking. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning attempt for someone to appease the lone pretentious vegetarian sitting in the group, an abortive monstrosity of a disaster, a half-finished tofurkey or poorly made watercress casserole. Then, as if it’s one big guilt trip for everyone involved, that renegade dish is parceled up and handed to each family as they go out the door, baited with dark meat and rye bread leftovers, so they can be immediately thrown in the trash in the safety of everyone’s respective homes.

Making Politically Neutral Talk With Your Unbalanced Secondary Relatives: You know who they are. Distant out-of-state cousins and uncles-in-law that you see perhaps every third Thanksgiving, or perhaps an errant viewing here and there. And of course talking about the weather and how much the Lions suck will only take you so far. Eventually someone is going to mention the government, or the church, or the lone pretentious vegetarian who gave everyone the stink eye for loving the turkey so much, or the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, or Jeff Gordon, and off they go. No one wants to say anything except this guy, who knows it all and knows that if you don’t know things the exact same way that he or she does, you are an unrepentant idiot undeserving of the last slice of blueberry pie. And while you have cogent reasons for having a reasonably logical discussion with that person, you don’t, for two reasons. One is that Aunt Jane might pop in and contribute her two cents, and she still thinks the Freemasons are poisoning the wells and the metric system is just a way for the “International Bankers” (cough, cough) to take control of the oil and finance industries. And, two, there is always a chance that this person has you in their will.

Xanax: Oh, come on, like you haven’t already ground it up and poured it in the brandy you don’t think everyone knows you have stolen away in the breast pocket of your jacket.

There Will Be Blood

November 20, 2008

In case you hadn’t heard, the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire slash young adult romance series, Twilight, hits theaters soon. If you hadn’t heard, of course, you’re most likely already dead and have become a vampire, thirsting for blood, violence, and an endorsement deal with the Burger King.

Of course, those of you who did not know that Twilight was soon to be released in theaters are probably those of you so sick of election news you have decided to pay no heed to all forms of media, since this vampire movie has been the cover story on every single newsstand publication from Entertainment Weekly to Golf Digest, and will no doubt be incorporated, as is required by the Constitution of the United States, into segments of The Today Show:

Matt Lauer: Next up, the global markets have been ravished by the mortgage crisis and the Wall Street meltdown. Many analysts are asking: How does this affect the vampire segment of the population? To answer this question, we have Kristen Stewart, the star of the upcoming movie Twilight, out in theaters on November 21st.
Kristen Stewart: Thank you, Matt. Glad to be here.
Matt Lauer: So what does the recession mean for young, attractive vampires?
Kristen Stewart: Well, Matt, in Twilight, out in theaters on November 21st, the global commodities exchange has been volatile lately, as financial markets are unsure of how to respond to the European Union’s actions on banking regulations, not unlike the wildly romantic escapades myself and Robert Pattinson get into in Twilight, out in theaters on November 21st.
Matt Lauer: Please shoot me now.

Vampire stories have always been a gold mine of drama and mystique. While folklore has long held vampires to be a real terror, it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula that catapulted the character of the vampire from bloodthirsty but otherwise bureaucratic tyrant to pop culture icon. Stoker’s Dracula, in particular, helped cement many of the things we now normally associate with vampires, and its impact on the literature of the era was sensational. Many literary critics see the novel as a dramatically rendered clash between folklore and modernity, order versus chaos, and virtue over vice; however, it was also a fairly subtle way in the Victorian era to talk about mind-blowing debauchery, loose women, and gonorrhea without actually mentioning the act of humping it wicked.

While garlic, wooden stakes, aversion to sunlight, and popped collars are the mainstay of vampiric culture—it almost sounds like the ugly conflagration of emo kids, metrosexual douchebags, and the Amish—Meyer’s vampires are nothing like that. They are perfectly good-looking, sashaying around like young, statuesque porcelain trying to pass algebra three and oh by the way suck all the blood out of your body.

Being targeted for the dreaded young adult market—those vaguely mature enough to handle eye shadow and babysitting but not quite wine coolers and missed periods—Meyer has sanitized these vampires for public consumption. Much of the gruesomeness of their existing has simply been fictionalized away, with no hearts being pierced with stakes and no skin turning into saran wrap when they forget the SPF 2000 at the track meet. She does feature some pretty wicked blood feuds, however, which I guess is OK. If I can’t have Martin Short and The Count beating punches chin to chin I guess a good old fashioned West Side Story with more fangs and mercifully less singing is OK.

The film adaptation has been pushed pretty heavily by marketers. My own personal observation of this is that it’s not quite the level of, say, the Star Wars franchise, where by the time Episode Three was released, by which I mean episode six, George Lucas was actually negotiating endorsement deals with individual McNuggets to squeeze every last penny of advertising opportunity from the planet Earth. However, it is fairly aggressive; a stop at the local chain bookstore revealed a remarkably well-rounded display of Twilight books and accessories, ranging from T-shirts with oddly non-vampiric but quite commercial themes to pewter jewelry that can be worn as a fashion accessory then used, later, to cut yourself while listening to Dashboard Confessional.

It’s quite possible that Twilight will be a big success; not only because of the embedded base of loyal readers and impressionable young teenagers, but because of the advertising push and media attention. Of course, it’s not necessarily a done deal, either. Most of the actors are hardly big names, and while a lot of the promotion focuses on the young, perfect characters, the movie is quite dark and potentially confusing to those unable to grasp the more intricate parts of the plot of Madagascar 2. Even if it’s a modest hit, though, it can latch onto a fan base and crank out sequels, much like the critically acclaimed and astoundingly lucrative serials such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Air Bud. Then again, if there is one thing that sells more tickets than vampires engaging in elaborate blood rituals and gang wars, it’s young, sexy vampires engaging in elaborate blood rituals and gang wars.

Lessons Learned

November 11, 2008

Reporters secretly hate election day. Or, more appropriately, they hate the waiting on Election Day. It may have been somewhat exciting in 2000 or 2004, when the fate of the election dragged endlessly on, and people on both ideological sides waited with eager anticipation as to the outcome. This year, of course, the outcome was pretty much known when Ohio was called for Obama (hell, it was known in October), but since most decision-makers refused to grow a pair after being momentarily embarrassed by the 2000 election, they refused to take any official stance in calling the election until well past the point of obviousness. This had two unfortunate effects. The first was that newscasters had to think of something—anything—to talk about for about four hours, so there were a lot of absurd statements such as “Well, if McCain wins Oregon and Washington and one of the congressional districts in Maine, he’ll have a 50/50 shot of winning the presidency. Assuming that he also wins California. And Mars.” The second effect is that they got to play around with holograms and big floaty maps and fluorescent colors and county-by-county results and inconsequential state senate races and breaking down the voter turnout of Hispanic-Asian vegetarians over the age of 35 and anything besides declaring the quite obvious result of an Obama presidency. This must have been insufferable not only to the 200 million voters getting drunk either out of celebration or dismay, but also to the newscasters wishing they could do the same.

The elected official who calls his constituents racist rednecks can still win as long as he dumps shovelfuls of cold cash in his district. I’m not a bang-the-drum scream-from-the-mountaintops throw-the-bums-out kinda guy. I am of the opinion that the voters get the government they deserve, even if that means sending the same condescending jackass back to Congress even though he called his constituents racists and rednecks. Perhaps people in Western Pennsylvania missed that part. Jack Murtha called his constituents racists and rednecks and still was re-elected with 58% of the vote—most likely because Murtha rivals neighbor Robert Byrd in arranging the logistics of a convoy of trucks to dump dollar bills in giant flaming sinkholes all around the Johnstown area. This would register quite a bit of outrage amongst the people and the pundits if it didn’t happen in approximately 434 other House races every year.

Foreigners know as much about us as we do about them. Americans have long been painted as arrogant self-interested bullies, unconcerned about the cultures of other countries and frightfully unsympathetic to what effects our actions have on others in this world, such as the War in Iraq and the continuing existence of America’s Next Top Model. But while many Americans hold onto vague, largely inaccurate stereotypes of foreigners—such as the French being elitist, non-productive perennial objectors or the Germans being belligerent, sausage-eating awesome car manufacturers—foreigners also have inaccurate caricatures of America; George Bush being a bible-thumping cowboy, for example, or Arnold Schwarzenegger being an Austrian. Any European who visited this country would be shocked at what they find. Sure, Americans may be rich, arrogant, and woefully indifferent to the lives of others, but at least our food doesn’t taste like animal organs and raw vegetables ground together in a paste and served with subpar wine. I’m just sayin’.

The people of Minnesota are borderline insane. Now, far be it for me to be judgmental about the good people of the land of a thousand lakes, but, c’mon. Ten years ago you elect a former pro wrestler to the governor’s mansion, and as of last count you were within a few hundred votes of electing Al Franken, whose only reasonable qualification for belonging to the esteemed Senate chamber is that he is an insufferable prick. An automatic recount is triggered in Minnesota, where incumbent Norm Coleman is slightly ahead; however, as we’ve seen in the past, counting votes is negotiable when the result means sending a vaguely washed-up comedian to go make policy. Also, for the prosecution, in the case of insanity for Minnesotans: the continued popularity of Garrison Keillor.

Saturday Night Live needs to figure out what to do for the other three years every four years. Saturday Night Live has been spot-on in the election, much like they usually are every election. However, they’ve also been largely not funny the remaining three years, and I even include the seasons in which Will Ferrell was not involved as a cast member, leaving it to others to pick up his gaping void of hamming it up, mugging shamelessly on camera, and not even trying anymore. So unless Sarah Palin stars in a reality show of some sort—which, sadly, is not necessarily out of the realm of possibility—it looks like three more years of fake game shows and twelve-minute sketches about some social meme that played itself out eight months ago. This will give them plenty of time to find a cast member able to do a decent Mitt Romney or, possibly, a black cast member to do Obama.

The people want change, whatever that means. Certainly, the citizens wanted change in the sense that they were sick of the spendthrift, clumsy way in which the Bush administration handled the economy, the war, hurricanes, science, international relations, and pretty much everything except for the approximately four months after September 11th. And while this is a wildly legitimate idea, one suspects that pretty much anyone—from Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to Kim Jong Il and the decomposing remains of Richard Nixon—could have campaigned on change and still came in at least second in New Hampshire. This is not to minimize Obama’s electoral success, but the mere combination of hope, change, non-Bushness, and ethanol subsidies is enough to propel you to the White House with remarkably little effort.