A Horse Is A Horse, Of Corpse, Of Corpse

January 31, 2007

This past week, we commemorate the passing of a sports legend who regrettably had a brief yet inspiring career. Barbaro, the promising winner of so many bottles of cheap whiskey across America, was laid to rest.

I’ve never really understood horse racing. Well, the obvious points of horse racing are there—expensively maintained expensive horses trot gallantly around in expensive racetracks while men in expensive coats drink expensive gin and tonics to place a $3 bet to show. But I never quite understood the apparent utility of creating this equestrian sport pretty much based on mechanics whose sole purpose is to facilitate some of the most complicated betting arrangements ever devised, the definition and determination of payouts in a sueprfecta being a perfectly reasonable prima facie case for alcoholism. There is also apparently a secret society of horse owners who have a perpetually ongoing standing prank to come up with the most nonsensical names for their horses, evolution apparently passing “Black Beauty” and “Buttermilk” by.

Announcer: Aristophanes’ Sternum is coming around the bend…but Stereotanz Diskotech is coming up right behind…and here comes the Treaty of Westphalia making a surprise push for the win…but it’s Invasion of Granada who goes…all…the…way!

Poor Barbaro had a promising start to his racing career, walking in undefeated when he won the Kentucky Derby. Alas, at the beginning of his attempt to complete the Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes—the horse equivalent of either a Superbowl ring or a bucket of raw carrots—he started off crankily, causing a false start (and, presumably, a 5-yard penalty), and soon broke his leg in three places. Horse surgery is apparently more complicated than horse betting, and even though he was trotting happily about in the stables, eyeing up the mares and ordering Netflix, his doctors pegged his chances of escaping the baseball glove factory at a dismal rate, which immediately was tabled at 5:1 odds.

Something more complicated that horse surgery is horse terminology. At least I think so. Then again, I’m confused by the chain of command on CSI, so what do I know? A foal is a newborn horse, unaware of the life of running incessantly, pulling beer kegs, and “Why the long face?” jokes ahead of him. A colt is a horse known for choking, specifically in the playoffs. A filly is a young female horse waiting to get her first Bratz trapper keeper, so she can be classified as a mare. A stallion never calls the next day. A gelding is a horse that wishes he were dead. A roan is a horse that plays WoW for sixteen hours a day and hasn’t gotten the mail in six weeks.

For the past year, Barbaro has wavered in and out of positive diagnoses, until finally last week he was euthanized and marinated in artificial lamb and chicken flavorings. So ends the rather sad yet briefly glorious tale of one of horseracing’s newest sensations.

Some people have been upset at the coverage that a lame horse has received in the news, when there are much more important things in the world to be reporting, such as the war in Iraq or Tyra Banks’s dinner plate. But as effete almost-sports go, there’s at least some history to the pastime. The legendary Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown, broke the racing records at the Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness, won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (apparently the equestrian equivalent of getting two raspberry Zingers out of the vending machine instead of one), overthrew the government in the Hungarian Revolution, invented the iPod, and sired parts of Sara Jessica Parker, brought horseracing to a respectable level in the eyes of fans and nongamblers alike. Seabiscuit was another famous horse that managed to bring hope and optimism to many during the Great Depression who foolishly thought Father Coughlin or Mussolini might bring it instead. Seabiscuit’s numbers do not even come close to matching Secretariat’s, but a movie was made about him, so he is equally as important. And the cult of the Horse Whisperer has also added to the mystique. A Horse Whisperer is a technical term in horse circles of someone who—well, let’s face it, it’s a nut job who thinks they can talk to horses.

Horse Whisperer: Well, there, Barbaro, how’s that leg treating you?
Barbaro: I am in constant unimaginable pain.
Horse Whisperer: Well you’d better perk up. You want me to send you to the glue factory for a tour? Ha ha!
Barbaro: No.
Horse Whisperer: Don’t you mean NEIGH?
Barbaro: It’s unbearable! My legs are aching.
Horse Whisperer: Awww. Let me ask you something. Why the long face?
Barbaro: Please kill me now. Please.

Some people may disagree with that definition, but those people are 12-year-old girls who tend towards the Catherine the Greatish.

If there’s one thing the sad tale of Barbaro has to tell us, it’s that there is a rather efficient way to deal with those sports heroes whose careers can no longer be salvaged. No doubt Peyton Manning is sleeping with one eye open, for now.

The Frost Report

January 27, 2007

Every few years, tragedy strikes America’s heartland. It’s not the wiles of Al Quaeda or a resurgent militia attack, but Mother Nature herself. Sometimes a frost arrives unexpectedly, destroying all of the hopes and dreams that are great in America, at least in the form of pulp-free orange juice and hint-of-lime-flavored tortilla chips.

A few weeks ago, a frost hit California, wiping out three-fourths of America’s supply of oranges, and a healthy chuck (literally) of avocados, lemons, and tangerines. This means higher prices for those fruits and their secondary products, like guacamole and .0002% of the ingredients in Froot Loops.

So, as consumers, most people will have to be a little bit pickier about what they eat this year if they want to get a good deal and simultaneously stay healthy. As a highly important consumer advocate, I’ve composed a list of products that are likely to be on the shelves, and hopefully this will help you create a healthy, efficient diet. Maybe.

Advantages: Oranges are great for making orange juice and limeade. They’re usually plentiful and great for diabetics who are about to go into shock.
Disadvantages: Symmetrical sectional wedges are just a little bit too convenient for evolution to be responsible for. We suspect the Trilateral Commission.

Advantages: Sour and tart, the lime is a perfect fruit for desserts such as a gin and tonic. For you pirates and cat ladies, they also prevent scurvy.
Disadvantages: They’re very hard to throw at road signs with any pretense of accuracy.

Advantages: Lemons are the primary ingredient in lemonade and artificial lemon flavoring.
Disadvantages: Every time I eat one, my car sputters and I have a burning desire to watch Some Like It Hot. What’s wrong with me?


Advantages: They make guacamole, which for some reason most people love to eat by the ton. Me, I think guacamole dip taste like I’m eating a pasted tree, but I also hate Nicolas Cage’s acting and Texas Hold ‘em, so what do I know?
Disadvantages: They look like Bruce Vilanch. And who would want to eat that?

Advantages: If crushed, left to ferment and laced with yeast, they make a tasty drink.
Disadvantages: If you don’t do the above, why bother?

Advantages: Nothing beats eating a nice, cool slice of slightly frozen watermelon on a hot, humid, sticky summer day. Except maybe eating something that doesn’t taste like a glass of water filled with small, flat marbles and one eyedropper of something that tastes like sugar but not really.
Disadvantages: It forces you to throw out 20% of your purchase when you buy a Jolly Rancher variety pack.

Advantages: There are so many varieties of apples that if you don’t like one you’ll probably like another. And it is constitutionally required that everyone love warm apple pie.
Disadvantages: You know that old saw about giving an apple to a teacher? I wish! All I got was a union form I had to fill out declaring it as an in-kind contribution. And an apple a day keeps the doctor away? A complete, unabashed lie perpetuated by the cruel. So the apple can go to hell.

Advantages: It’s the poor man’s apple.
Disadvantages: It’s the poor man’s apple.

Advantages: Bananas are inherently humorous. They have a funny name and can be inserted into your ear for comic effect. Their inedible skins may be placed strategically for instant slapstick comedy. They’re also apparently rich in potassium, though I don’t really care.
Disadvantages: Makes your homophobic uncle Rick very, very uncomfortable. You need to get him some Zoloft or something.

Advantages: Artichokes sound like they’re something that could kill you. They probably could.
Disadvantages: No one in the history of mankind has ever voluntarily eaten an artichoke.

Advantages: They are integral in the formation of pizza. Which is why pizzas are healthy.
Disadvantages: Some communist somewhere declared that this was a fruit instead of a vegetable. There’s a reason there’s no such thing as a tomato pie. Hmmm. Is there such a thing? I sure as hell hope not.

Advantages: They can be dipped in chocolate to be made tasty. Otherwise, you’re better off eating grass.
Disadvantages: Apparently dipping a fruit or vegetable in chocolate negates any health benefits, which just somehow doesn’t seem right. Maybe they need to rerun some tests.

Advantages: Pound for pound, kale contributes something like 1000% of the vitamins you need to be healthy and regular.
Disadvantages: It’s kale.

Shark Cartilage
Advantages: Supposedly it kills cancer.
Disadvantages: Yeah, right. Seriously. Shark Cartilage? Are you guys kidding me? Plus, this is technically neither a fruit nor a vegetable, nor a food of any kind. Whoops.

Advantages: Can be used in those miniature railroad presentations that old men with too much money and not enough lovin’ as arctic trees, which I assume exist.
Disadvantages: They differ very little from actual trees, both in nutrition, texture, and shape. And eating trees is an inherently inefficient way to prove to your girlfriend that you’re eating healthier.

Advantages: Radishes are good in some mineral and/or vitamin I’m too lazy to look up. Plus they don’t really have much taste so you can’t claim to not like the taste.
Disadvantages: Radishes are not vegetables. In fact, they are not food at all, but rather nature’s only pregrown construction material. Except for, uh, wood.

Red Peppers

Advantages: The spicy pepper can add zest and flavor to even the worst meals fixed by your deadbeat sister or senile aunt.
Disadvantages: Wait about six hours after consumption. Then you’ll be searching desperately for any kind of religion.

Advantages: They can be carved in humorous shapes for Halloween and dropped from overpasses at moving cars in the ultimate skill of manhood.
Disadvantages: Do you, uh, actually eat pumpkins? I thought they were nature’s equivalent of the workplace prank. I always assumed pumpkin pies were made synthetically out of sugar, plastic and broken dreams or something.

Advantages: They can be found reasonably cheap as supply vastly outstrips demand, at least evidenced by the lonesome basketfuls of the things sitting in every highrise in every neighborhood in every part of the world. When fried in batter, they become edible.
Disadvantages: Just ask any sorority.

Advantages: Cranberries are one of nature’s healthiest crops. They are a famously effective antioxidant, helping to ward off neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. They have been shown to reduce urinary tract infections and can help prevent gingivitis.
Disadvantages: They taste like shit.

State of the Union, Part 6

January 24, 2007

The State of the Union address is an annual political tradition most people await with the same eager anticipation they normally reserve for tax audits, raking snow, or hooking up a wireless network in their house. It’s also one of the few actual events that is constitutionally required of the President, along with appointing federal judges, negotiating foreign treaties, and pretending to cry on Arbor Day.

However, the constitution does not specifically state how the President needs to deliver the address. The first few presidents directly addressed Congress. Thomas Jefferson, however, decided that personally delivering the State of the Union address was a bit too monarchical, so just wrote the thing down and made Aaron Burr do it and, encouraged by his decision, sauntered home to Monticello to conjugate with Sally Hemmings, in what has to be the logical conclusion of the perfect manifestation of agrarian republicanism.

Woodrow Wilson, however, reversed this tradition, thereby reinforcing his reputation as the biggest wuss to ever hold the office of the Presidency and, not coincidentally, the only President to ever had been officially given a purple nurple by an act of Congress. Pretty much every other President since has also delivered the speech in person. There have been very few outstanding speeches, however; most speeches are simply laundry lists of items that the President plans to propose in an entirely different form within the next few months, all of which will immediately die in Congress.

This is not always the case, of course. For example, Jimmy Carter, in response to the nation’s growing energy crisis, once proposed in a state of the union address a comprehensive plan that would subsidize alternate sources of energy, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and require an increase in fuel efficiency by the automobile industry. This proposal did not die in congress as expected. It did, however, go through the normal procedure of being altered by representatives and senators, of course, in order for it to get passed. In this case it eventually became the Oil Production Increase and Natural Gas Subsidy Giveaway And By The Way Did You Honestly Think That Was Going To Pass You Peanut Growing Moron Act of 1978.

There are other major developments in the State of the Union address as well. Ronald Reagan stood defiantly in front of a Democratic congress and declared that the government was not selling arms for hostages even though the government was selling arms for hostages. Lyndon Johnson stood definitely before a Democratic congress and declared that the war in Vietnam was succeeding even though the war in Vietnam was not really succeeding. And Bill Clinton famously stood defiantly before a Republican congress and declared that the era of big government was over, even though the era of big government, sadly, had just begun.

There were some historic moments for this year’s State of the Union address, of course. Instead of Dennis Hastert, who by all accounts died in 1998, sitting behind the president, it was Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House. (And thank goodness that title is gender-neutral, or we’d still be hearing about how they had to change all the stationary in Washington to reflect “Mistress of the House” or some less sadomasochistic-sounding title.) Pelosi took the recognition with relative good humor, even introducing the President without referring to the fact that he kills puppy dogs for fun and likes to drive his pickup truck over abortion doctors after they’ve served their eighteenth tour of duty in Tikrit. Her programmers seemed to have missed fixing a bug before they charged her up, though, causing her to blink every time she existed.

Bush’s State of the Union address, of course, is no different than those before him. He, too, proposed a bill to increase energy production and encourage conservation, a proposal that must be pretty good because he’s proposed it every year for the past six years. He also proposed an immigration bill that he presented as a sensible plan marked with neither “animosity nor amnesty,” a bold claim since the plan includes plenty equal doses of both animosity and amnesty though, one suspects, not much in the way of yellowcake.

He also outlined further his plans for Iraq, mostly calling for new troops and a reevaluation of how to stop the country from sliding into civil war. This is an extension of the plan he proposed when he spoke with the nation on January 10th, 2007, and it seems a sensible enough plan, all things considered. The only way it would have been better was if it had been proposed, oh, I don’t know, January 10th, 2003.

The opposition response has also been a tradition, though much younger. It started in 1967, when Republicans wanted to buttress Lyndon Johnson’s claims of success in battling communism in world affairs by bemoaning the slow growth of how many communists were being eliminated each year, specifically how few of them were being eliminated in Jackson, Mississippi.

This year, the Democratic Party chose to deliver the opposition response the newly elected Senator from Virginia, Jack Webb. Webb has been in office barely a month, but he has astounding credentials, namely, having a son serving in Iraq and defeating a sitting senator that could easily have been defeated by a large stack of plywood. He is a published writer of subrate action novels and, incidentally, a former undersecretary of the navy, and therefore was looking forward to penning a scathing response. Alas, with only nine minutes, he vaguely referred to the fact that Iraq is a mess and that waitresses tend to not make a whole lot of money, continuing the standard Democratic tradition of reaching out to those voters who cannot identify the mind-numbingly obvious.

Still, the State of the Union at least gives the American people a chance to see what goals the President and his party plan to address in the upcoming year, and the response the opposition party plans to take. It can easily be one of the most important events that shape our nation, at least until the finale of American Idol. If we’re lucky.

Project Runway: Lightweight Division

January 22, 2007

There are plenty of empty celebrities in the world. Actors and actresses are paid to look good while they recite memorized lies in an appropriately convincing fashion. Singers are paid to look good while belting out popular songs in key. And models, logically the laziest of the glamorous, are simply paid to look good.

Recent tragic events have swiveled a microscope to this fascinating profession. One model, Ana Carolina Reston, died after weighing only 88 pounds, and another, Luisel Ramos, died after living on lettuce and diet Coke for three months. These deaths prompted the industry to take a sharp look at how to prevent these deaths from occurring in the future, and also how to otherwise replicate their penultimate results.

The world of fashion modeling is a notoriously cutthroat one. Literally, in some instances, since cutting one’s own throat is a known way to lose weight, along with ingesting syrup of ipecac milkshakes and voluntary beheading. Gaining weight is a certain forbidden activity in modeling, one that can be countered with about equal doses of strict dietary discipline, regular exercise, and cocaine.

Spain’s fashion organization, increasingly embarrassed at the obvious unhealthiness of their otherwise famous models, was the first nation to codify the behavior of runway models. Models with a body-mass index of less than 18 are not permitted to participate in shows. (For the record, the World Health Organization, bless their hearts, considers anyone with a body-mass index of 18.5 or less to be clinically underweight. Then again, they are part of the same organization that considers any nation who has defaulted on more than 85% of their yearly GDP to be more than fit for a loan, so take that for what it’s worth.) Italy, always mindful of their Catholic brothers, followed suit with similar crackdowns on rail-thin models. An outraged Harrison Ford, of course, is boycotting these nations.

The glamorized life of the model seems painfully disproportionate to what one might originally think. Models primarily exist, and get paid, to look good, but aside from some walking up and down a runway and perhaps some playful sprinting down the beach while someone replicates it on a reproducible medium, they don’t have too many physical demands. Is there really a need for stimulants and other illegal activity to release this otherwise remarkably stress-free profession? There doesn’t seem to be any logical reason that a photo shoot would be any more dangerous than shopping for groceries or applying for a loan, assuming your photographer isn’t Roman Polanski. Even professional wrestlers, who seem to be under a similar level of stress for the same reasons and pretty much for the same amount of social good, manage to get by with their only vices being anabolic steroids and dying at age 35.

The United States has also plunged into the regulatory abyss, though with one suspects a bit less enthusiasm. Unlike Europe, America has utilized a combination of partially hydrogenated oils and after-school specials to arrest the anorexia epidemic. While the new rules for America seem a little bit stricter, they’re also voluntary—currently, there’s no enforcement policies in place, putting how rules impact the modeling industry roughly on par with employing illegal aliens or campaign finance reform.

The rules, in part, require that all models under the age of 16 are taken off the runway, presumably to simulate fellatio in Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs instead. Those under 18 aren’t to be kept on a photo shoot after midnight, making sure they’re able to get underneath their agent’s desk before they need to get to the closing shift at the Burger King. Those models that have an identified eating disorder are put through therapy and counseling, and their eating habits are monitored to make sure they’re eating enough diet wheat thins and low-fat water. These guidelines are meant to keep models healthy and balanced for at least two years, since once a model turns 20 she’s either relegated to become a mule, a member of an escort service, a cast member for the Dutch version of Big Brother, or starring in local car dealership commercials in exchange for a brick of hash and parking validation.

In a way, it’s important for modeling to clean up its image. Many young girls aspire to be models, much like children crave to be astronauts, rock stars, actresses, or, depending on your various inclinations, fashion designers or actuaries. Making sure that young girls don’t get trapped in a seedy, dangerous profession at a young age is a responsible thing to do, just like encouraging them to devote all of their time and energy into a pursuit with which they have an effectively zero chance of producing any positive impact on society whatsoever, such as being a veterinarian or Speaker of the House.

Still, the pressure for ordinary citizens of the world to watch their figure is pretty high, and for those where it is an occupational necessity one can imagine the lengths they’ll go through to keep things thin and beautiful. Watching what a model looks like to the exact detail is clearly the responsible thing to do. Some of us will be keeping a closer eye than others.

Spend It Like Beckham

January 14, 2007

The announcement last week that the Los Angeles Galaxy had signed David Beckham to a five-year, $250 million dollar contract shocked most of America, prompting many observers to ask: “What the hell is the Los Angeles Galaxy?” and “Who the hell is David Beckham?”

Most Americans simply aren’t aware of the astronomical popularity that soccer holds in the rest of the world. The first step for Americans, of course, is to understand that when you say “soccer” you really mean “football,” which is what the sport is called everywhere else in the world. It’s kind of like how “liberation” in the US means “oil” in other countries. Although soccer isn’t necessarily called football everywhere. Football still means football in Canada, as in Canadian football, which is the same as football (not soccer-football but football-football) in America except they have rules where nobody gets hurt and everyone always wins. And in Australia, football either means football (not Canadian football or American football (not soccer-football) but Australian football (not soccer-football)) or rugby league (though not rugby union), depending on the location of the native speaker. And Australian football (which is not Canadian soccer-football or football-football and is not rugby league (which is not rugby union)) is different from American football, in that everyone always gets hurt and no one ever wins except the Australian health care system.

Soccer has been a pretty hard sell in America. It’s doesn’t have the violent orchestration of football; it’s not the comatose statistical hinterland of baseball, nor does it have the comforting predictable dependability of basketball. It fails to equal ice hockey’s balanced doses of chaos and slumber, and it can’t even compete with the ineffectual window-cling martyrdom of stock car racing.

In America, soccer has pretty much been exclusively reserved to male children, who enthusiastically participate in soccer until they hit the age of twelve, that golden, free age when adolescents realize that if they put on a numbered T-shirt and kick around a pigskin they can actually hit people at full force with no repercussions whatsoever, and suddenly soccer’s hands-off-everything rule seems incredibly lame. Girls, on the other hand, will continue to play soccer past this age until they have made a conscious decision to be straight.

Soccer’s rules are, compared to other sports, simple. Soccer can be boiled down to:

1) Try to kick the soccer ball into the goal.
2) Expect to run a lot.
3) Don’t pass out.
4) Don’t touch the ball with your hands. Everything else is cool.
5) If a referee hands you a card, you can headbutt him with impunity.
6) Expect to be hit in the jimmy at least once a game.
7) Contrary to everything listed above, the goalkeeper can pretty much do whatever he wants, including arson

Symmetrically, fans also have some rules to follow, in no particular order:
1) Get gloriously drunk before the game
2) Riot

Additional rules that make soccer different than most league sports is that of the clock timer. When the World Cup made its tour in the United States in the mid-90’s, much was made out that the clock never stopped—if there was a time out on the field, they just added that time to the end of the clock and they kept the clock running. This resulted in a clock that never stopped. This seemed incredibly nonsensical to me, since it’s the functional equivalent of just stopping the damn clock, and it makes it a lot tougher to break away to show a commercial for Frito Lay Cheddar Disc-Shaped Things or Cranberry 7Up. Plus I guess they used some sort of metric time, because a game of soccer seemed to last approximately 18,000 years, unless there is a tiebreaker shootout, in which the entire world would grind to a halt, the spectral ethos kowtowing to the most simple solution of such a complex problem.

Major League Soccer was formed in America in the early 90’s, as part of a deal to bring the World Cup to America. While it has struggled, several markets have actually turned a profit, most notably the Los Angeles Galaxy and FC Dallas. Most teams, however, are financially struggling, such as the Tampa Bay Money Pits, the Kansas City Bleeding Red and the Miami Complete Waste of Everyone’s Time and Money.

Events may soon help soccer’s popularity in America, however. A few generations of kids growing up after playing soccer in their childhood may help, and a culling of unprofitable franchises has unfrozen some valuable resources. The biggest boost American soccer has received is the impending arrival of David Beckham. Beckham is the Michael Jordan of soccer, in the sense that he is set to make more money than most nations on the basis of being incredibly good five or six years ago but not so much now. Proponents hope that Beckham’s star power will bring some class and gravitas to American soccer, while detractors fret that Beckham’s arrival will simply imply that anyone who is 30 years old and married to a rock star will be able to play soccer.

Still, soccer is slowly earning a higher profile in America, which certainly can’t be a bad thing. Diversity in sport is important for many people, from youth camps and fitness experts to ESPN2’s Thursday afternoon lineup. And who knows? Maybe some Monday morning we’ll all be complaining about the MLS salary cap keeping the Colorado Rapids from being competitive, or how that red card in last night’s game was a grave injustice. Maybe not that soon. But in today’s globalized world, anything goes. As long as you don’t use your hands.

There Goes Another Rock Star

January 11, 2007

A skinny, deliberately bald guilt sycophant from Athens, Georgia. A self-absorbed hate-me-and-you-love-me self-tortured doormat with limited commercial appeal. An eight-foot tall bag of hammers still wearing a skipper’s hat and a latex sailor suit. Tuesday night at the French quarter? Of course not. It’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Western World’s last cultural testament, appropriately located in Cleveland, Ohio, built as a monument to the versatile mathematic victory of clapping hands on 2 and 4, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame spends several self-promoting months nominating the most influential artists of all time. The lobby of the museum, in a testament to the simple symbolic nature of music, greets visitors with an eclectic panorama of replicated memorabilia, such as the cars from U2’s Zoo TV tour and representations of famous guitars to, one expects, the petrified liver of David Crosby and whatever the remains are of Elton John’s dignity. With great fanfare, the nominees are announced; much debate and arguments are hashed out until it is decided that the five or so musical performers who have made the most money are creative enough to be enshrined in the hall of fame.

Music is, of course, a depressingly subjective area. For every Beach Boy or Bee Gee that ushers in yet another unlistenable genre of music, there are many others whose influence is more subtle—or, in other words, not as commercially successful. And yet others transcend both commercial viability and legitimate creative success. And still others are selected for their durability—not just for ongoing radio play and record sales, but also for their continued existence after ingesting eighteen pounds of crack cocaine every day for six years back in the seventies.

There’s always a difference of opinion about who the greatest artists are in rock and roll; there’s also my opinion, also known as “fact.” The various merits of the current list of inductees can cause many to shake their head in wonderment. For instance, Bob Dylan has been described as the first singer-poet, though I’m certain that first adjective is charitable at best and I’m not so sure about the second. And the continued success of Neil Young I’m certain is propagated by the deliberate expanding influence of the criminally tasteless.

One good thing that can be said for this stolid enterprise is that they manage to please most anyone, as long as you’re white and haven’t listed to the radio for about twenty years. But thank goodness there’s at least a token effort at diversity in both the musical styles and the methods of creativity of the inductees. The Sex Pistols, for instance, produce one stellar album then passed out. The last album by Pink Floyd, on the other hand, was released in 1994 and still hasn’t reached the last track. Diversity can be found in other places, too; Janis Joplin died of a combination of heroin and whiskey, while Keith Moon died from a sedative overdose.

The bands and singers are not the only ones who get inducted. There’s also a “sidemen,” representing the people who got kicked out of the band right before they made it big and the lead singer found Jesus and felt guilty about it later. There’s the “Early Influence” list, otherwise known as the “African Americans whitey wouldn’t play on the radio.” The museum also honors what are affectionately known as “non-musical performers,” which presumably represents who Chrissie Hynde had to sleep with to get a record deal.

This year, the inductees are Van Halen, R.E.M., Patti Smith, the Ronettes, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This diverse group represents many different styles of rock and roll—from pretentious punk rock all the way to pretentious hard rock.

The induction ceremony is slated to take place in March in New York City, far away from the solace and economic distress of Cleveland, lest its influence make Gary Cherone even more sedate and unemployed. One suspects this year’s annual ritual will not disappoint. David Lee Roth will be trying to pay for pina coladas with food stamps and Sammy Hagar will be selling Cabo Wabo T-shirts and coasters (while supplies last), while Eddie and Alex sit in the smokers’ lounge calculating the gold exchange rate in Amsterdam. Ronnie Spector will entertain passersby with how her ex-husband didn’t kill her. Michael Stipe will no doubt give the ceremony much needed gravitas by giving an exhilarating speech on the dangers of economic apartheid or the evils of the Rand Corporation have on the royalty payments of Automatic for the People. And Patti Smith will sit Indian-style in the corner, wearing a CostCo Charlie Brown-style V-neck, weeping gently to herself at how painful limited success is and, if we’re lucky, overdose on a combination of DayQuil and St. John’s Wort.

While critics and fans may debate the various fate of the inductees, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum glamorizes exactly what the music industry, in all of its forms, is intended to glamorize: itself.

Gimme an “A”! Gimme a “C”! Gimme enough money to post bail!

January 7, 2007

There are few things I can say with any amount of certainty—those few things pretty much restricted to declarations of pecuniary thresholds when held hostage in a third world country with a dubious grasp of proper law enforcement methods—but one thing I can say is that I’ve never wanted to be a cheerleader.

Now, it’s not too terribly hard for me, as a male, to dissociatively imagine the level of comfort I would have with such a feminine role. I mean, it’s not difficult to understand the appropriate level of desirability that being a cook or a seamstress or—before Maureen Dowd comes at me with a chemical peel—a Speaker of the House would have with me. I can cook toast and cold cereal and, on warm summer days, certain flavors of Otter Pops, so I have an endless amount of respect for those women that can prepare a meal that tastes good and simultaneously has more than one chemical on the periodic table involved. And my idea of wardrobe repair involves hanging around with people whose clothes are in worse shape than my own. And, uh, whatever else it is that women do.

Which is, apparently, jump around a lot in 4:4 time. Cheerleading is a big, big industry; often, it is the only real athletic program most high schools have aside from the occasional lacrosse team or home economics. ESPN often airs cheerleading competitions, though they also show diving, billiards, and Texas Hold ‘Em, all of which seems roughly equivalent on the me-not-caring scale of things. And, in many home-town games and small-market venues, cheerleading is often seem as the most important part of the football game except for the football game.

About once a year, though, there’s some big scandal involving a small local cheerleading squad, almost always in Texas, doing something wildly inappropriate. The lurid details of the resultant sanctions are then soon released, usually involving dismissal from the squad and, more devastatingly, being made into a TV movie for the Lifetime Movie Network. And this usually comes as a shock to those kinds of people who for some reason believe that you can involve more than eight women in an organized activity without their being some kind of a violent emotional disagreement.

The most recent scandal involved teenagers who went out underage drinking, posing in provocative poses, and hamming it up at a store called—wait for it—Condoms To Go. This would have been nothing more than standard high school hijinks—well, standard for today, anyway; hell’s bells if they were doing that kind of thing when I was in high school. No one would have made more than an improper passing comment except for the fact that 1) they did all of this while still in their cheerleading uniforms, and 2) they subsequently posted the fruits of their exploits on the Internet.

When things like this happen—and for my money, it’s not often enough and almost never recorded on a reproducible media format to my liking—but there’s something about the entire thing that seems singularly hypocritical. The cheerleader has always been a sexualized character, and modern society builds them up and pretends to be shocked when the behavior matches the role and their idealized standards crumble.

Plus men do this kind of thing on a more often than not continual basis; simply witness a group of men when there aren’t any women around to impress, or, perhaps more easily, just watch the CW on a weeknight. Though if you do, I doubt there will be as much chanting or uniform wearing; if so, you may be observing test subjects with inclinations differing from the appropriate control group. But the fact remains that if men were to post the same types of things as these young ladies did, there would hardly be any interest at all unless there was a cement brick smacking someone on the head involved.

And, in some regards, this is unfair. People enjoy the presence cheerleaders for their functional purpose—being prompted to spell out compound words and clap white-male style to songs in the public domain—but then hold them to irresponsible standards. Most cheerleaders pursue interests and intellectual activities outside of the empty-headed stereotype that has been forced upon them. In an idealized world, cheerleaders would be respected for far more than their pruriently athletic prowess.

Cad #1: I heard that after last week’s game Cindy read Proust with three football players at the same time.
Cad #2: Oh yeah? Someone told me they had to pump six quarts of Dostoevsky out of Mary Lou’s stomach.

But it’s difficult to shake such stereotypes when these scandals appear like clockwork every so many months. Then again, we all have our stereotypes to deal with, I guess; why should cheerleaders be any different? Overcoming adversity is one of those character traits I find women have in abundance. That and their unerring sense of sarcasm. I hope.

Gerald Ford, RIP

January 2, 2007

Few people regard Gerald Ford as little more than a footnote to a period of our history dominated by many great ideas, events, and movements important enough to be Forever Capitalized: the Great Society, the Oil Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Watergate, Vietnam, and Ed Muskie Crying Like A Little Girl.

President Ford largely put a stop to all that. Well, more or less. America’s withdrawal from Vietnam was done under his watch and Watergate effectively ended with the pardon he issued to Nixon. And he somehow managed to be sandwiched between two oil shocks without having to deal with it on his own. One sometimes posits how Ford would have handled it. Nixon handled it by dispatching Henry Kissinger to sucker punch (with less punch and more sucker) King Faisal; Jimmy Carter prayed.

Then again, Ford did have to deal with inflation. America has largely been able to ignore inflation as a political force ever since Reagan told Paul Volker to send the Fed home without any supper until interest rates were lower than his approval rating. Ford was happy to combat embedded economic problems with a half-baked public relations crusade. His entire anti-inflation campaign revolved around the rather dubious method of having people wear pins and bumper stickers labeled “Whip Inflation Now”—the obvious acronym being WIN, of course, something Ford specifically didn’t do in 1976.

One of the biggest injustices in the unreliable fusion of entertainment and politics regards Ford’s apparent clumsiness. Twice, of course, there are recorded videos of the President falling down a flight of steps, but this was a man who arguably was the fittest of the Presidents—he turned down offers to play professional football with Green Bay and Detroit to pursue a law degree (though, to be fair, turning down to play for the Lions is hardly cause for winning a Profile in Courage award). And it’s probably better to be known falling down a ski slope than being incapable of spelling common words or committing perjury in exchange for things you do at the afterprom.

Ford seemed an unlikely choice for President. Unlikely, indeed, since he was nobody’s choice for President. Ford has the unfortunate distinction of being the only President to not be elected, having replaced Spiro Agnew in the Vice President’s slot and taking over Nixon’s place when Nixon exited stage left. Ford was acutely aware of his status as an unelected president, unlike certain other current Presidents we’ve had.

And, of course, there was The Pardon. Ford’s presidency has more or less been effectively measured by this one single event. The action itself most likely cost Ford his full, elected term; many people wanted to see Nixon in prison, not in Yorba Linda playing Parcheesi with Chuck Rebozo. Me, personally, I had a vested interest in absolving Dick Nixon, because in a mentally unstable moment I chose to write a paper in college about how Nixon was guilty of crimes and gross misjudgment, but other presidents (namely his immediate predecessor) had gotten away with much, much more and had a far greater impact on political society than Nixon’s aim of defeating the shadow of nobody in the general election.

Alas, literally a week after I submitted the paper (and, I am at pains to point out, before it was graded) the National Archives (or whatever Luciferian department handles such things) started releasing the transcripts of some of his tapes, my paper unknowingly being timed around the 25th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. And, of course, the tapes were filled to the brim with full confessions of everything from the ITT scandal to the Manson murders, making my paper a walking, talking laughing stock of the History Department, I’m sure. The tapes generally revolved around the following sentiments:

Kissinger: So what do you think?
Nixon: I think the [expletive deleted] communists down at [expletive deleted] State need to get their [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] out of their [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] before that [expletive deleted] Gene McCarthy [expletive deleted] the whole [expletive deleted] thing up. Thank goodness that [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] Colson in the [expletive deleted] before the [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] Jew [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted].
Kissinger: I love you.

And so my brief, torrid love affair with the ghost of Richard M. Nixon ended. But I couldn’t bear myself to hate the man who pardoned him. Ford was one of those people who just seemed to be a genuinely nice guy placed into a position of absolute chaos. Certainly, he wasn’t perfect—the passive greenlighting of Indonesia to play marbles through East Timor being most likely the biggest demerit to his term, and even that was something Ford has relatively little influence over. And, to be sure, he punched Nixon’s meal ticket after the haymaker he landed on America, and he seemed deliberately unaware of the raised eyebrows at how painfully inappropriate this deal-that-never-was was.

When it is all said and done, though, there were few people who actively thought Gerald Ford was anything more than a nice guy who did an adequate job, given the situation he was plunked down in. If anything else, he proved the fact that a genuinely decent human being could become President, despite the electoral process’s best efforts to prevent otherwise. And that’s a real [expletive deleted] shame. Ahem. Pardon me.