Death By Cricket

March 28, 2007

In this increasingly complex and globalized world, where we have Swedish furniture, Japanese steaks, and British jazz singers, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that an Indian-born Briton who played cricket in South Africa and coached the Pakistan team was murdered in Jamaica. Clue never had this.

Bob Woolmer was the coach of the Pakistan cricket team. After losing rather unexpectedly to Ireland at the Cricket World Cup being held in the West Indies, he was found rather unexpectedly dead in his hotel room in Jamaica. Unfortunately, this seemed to become an insurmountable obstacle to his developing career.

The intertwining global loyalties sound complicated, and, in a way, it is. I’ve seen Japanese game shows with less bewildering complexity. It’s got more drama than such famous gruesome murder cases such as O.J. Simpson, Jon-Benet Ramsey, or Sanjaya Malakar’s version of “You Really Got Me.” It’s got more twists than the ending of an M. Night Shyamalan film and Snoop Dogg’s visa application combined. (See how globalizingly progressive I am with my pop culture references?) But, as murder cases go, this one looks like it may stay under the radar of the American press unless an eight-year-old blonde girl somehow gets involved.

There are probably not too terribly many people in America who have heard of Bob Woolmer or have seen too many reports of his death. I certainly know I hadn’t, what with my subscription to People You Don’t Really Care That Much About and Would Never Have Heard About Under Any Other Circumstances Anyway Weekly lapsing. But while I’m vaguely aware of the massively colonial popularity of cricket, I’ll be the first to admit that it is a singularly confusing game, much more complex than the blue lines on hockey, the passer rating formula in football, or, well, the murder of Bob Woolmer.

Perhaps I underestimate myself a little bit. The central concept of cricket is a largely simple affair, at least when compared to other sports of a similar type. Like most competitive sports, it involves overpaid entitlement farmers with insecurity complexes batting a small round object around for a few hours a week for about five months out of the year. What I find most confusing, though, is that the entire concept of cricket is based around the thought of, “Hey, you know, baseball is boring and all, but…do you think there’s a way we could make it even more incredibly dull?”

(Sports historians may point out that cricket was invented before baseball, a point that I would like to advise is “culturally relative,” by which I mean that I have lied, plus that it hardly makes my point any less true.)

Tying cricket to a murder is perhaps a rather drastic way to excite up the game, since, like baseball, cricket is one part exciting physical drama and eighteen hundred parts guys standing around in drab uniforms staring at nothing in particular and scratching themselves. (Obligatory joke: and that’s just the fans!) That perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if commercial breaks, graphics with incredibly esoteric statistics, and color commentary could fill in the numerous gaps, but cricket games also have the distinction of being much, much longer than most entire sports seasons. For example, the first game of cricket is widely believed to have started in 1550 AD and has yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

But back to poor Bob Woolmer. Much of the information of the case is being taken from the Jamaican Gleaner, a rather comical name for a newspaper based in a country not exactly known for its judicious fact-finding aptitude. And calling your newspaper the Gleaner is kind of like calling your cricket team The Pakistan Cricket Players. Perhaps all of that latent creativity went to those rasta hats and inventing ways to sell “Jamaica” window decals with a “surprise” taped in a sandwich bag to the back of it.

There are many theories for the cause of death for Woolmer. The Jamaican-led investigation points to the fact that he was strangled and is currently classified as a homicide investigation, though to be fair the phrase “Jamaican investigation” is roughly equivalent to “Bahamian marriage,” so take that for what’s it’s worth. The only popular theory is that is it a gambling-related murder, since the only other crime associated with organized cricket is killing precious days of everyone’s lives. Then again, murder in Jamaica is just about as common as booths selling T-Shirts proudly proclaiming “Jamaican Me Crazy!”, so it hasn’t been completely ruled out as a random hit.

Still, there are enough doubts that no one is certain what is going on. Not an unusual state of affairs in Jamaica, I’m afraid. Woolmer had complained about a myriad of medical ailments before he died, though this is of dubious value since asphyxiation is rarely a symptom of Type II diabetes. And family members have attributed stress and breathing difficulties to a possible medical verdict. But it’s enough that, regardless of which way the investigation goes at this point, the Jamaican police forces, the media, and supportive citizens will not rest until the answers have been found. Or 4:20, whichever comes first.

Dollar Back Girl

March 26, 2007

The dollar coin program has always been beset with drama. Well, the best that numismatists can come up with for drama, aside from the occasional pants-soiling misstamp or the centennial major coin heist that shows up in the News You Can Chuckle Silently About column in the paper. The first modern dollar coin featured a prominently bald Dwight Eisenhower, with a rather unimaginative stamp of the moon with a liberty bell superimposed on it, apparently signifying the role of liberty our founding fathers fought a died for along with the boondoggle NASA vacuuming valuable greenbacks to let a man trot about on the moon like a show dog instead of the production of bullets to shoot commies with in southeast Asia.

This Eisenhower dollar was huge, and anything more than a token supply (har!) of them sagging in your front pocket pegged you as either a professor or a pervert or, statistically most likely, both. It rarely saw circulation except in casinos, where they were used primarily as a means with which to weight down bodies in the East River.

Decades later, under the tutelage of Jimmy Carter, the Susan B. Anthony dollar was introduced. Like the election of Carter, Anthony was chosen by a specialized group of professionals who sought to associate their cause with the absolutely least appealing individual that could possibly be imagined. Granted, Tommy Jefferson and George Washington weren’t exactly runners-up in the Mr. Potomac contest, but the profile chosen to represent poor Miss Anthony made one wonder why the bald eagle was declared endangered. And some decried the choice of Anthony to represent the women’s right movement, when there were many, many more plausible candidates that encouraged more women to join the feminist movement, like Margaret Singer and Sean Connery.

The coin failed to catch on, however. One of the largest peculiarities of the entire dollar coin debate is to discover that there is actually an entity called the “vending machine and car wash lobby.” And it was precisely this comical concept that fought for the adoption of the dollar coin, since it made the manufacture of machines much, much cheaper. (As anyone who has attempted to purchase a week-old pack of stale Ding Dongs at the gas station vending machine with a greasy, ragged dollar from last year’s Labor Day bender with the long-forgotten number of that blonde chick with the ample bosom whose tube top wanting of material proudly proclaimed her allegiance to a specific women’s apparel corporation scribbled on it can attest, expensive does not necessary equal success.) The Anthony dollar, alas, was very similar in shape, size, material and color to the already-popular quarter, and so was widely dismissed by the public, who soon replaced the dollar’s main supporter, Carter, with another of a much different shape, size, and material (though, as always, the same color).

Despite the Anthony dollar’s lack of popularity, the United States Mint found itself caught off guard late in the mid-2000’s when it found it actually had a shortage. The dollar coin, while well out of circulation, still found a use in post office vending machines, the ever-perennial casino and, one presumes, the victims of inflation in schoolyard odds-and-evens tournaments. Despite the fact that another dollar coin was commissioned, they were left with the solution of minting more useless Anthony dollars after having the plates sit dormant for around fifteen years. Much, again, like Jimmy Carter. (Don’t worry. That’s never getting old.)

The next attempt at a dollar coin, the Sacagawea, was a similar disaster, though to not quite the same degree. The congressional oversight committee declared that while they would commission a new coin, it still had to be the same general size and shape of the Anthony dollar, which made no sense since all of the vending machines still needed to be converted over and therefore the biggest drawback to the Anthony dollar was kept in place. At the very least, though, the committee had at least seen fit to declare that it would be a different color, a questionably useful trait to add when you’re fishing for it in your front pocket.

Except even THAT got buggered up. The gold color, of course, was purely for show, much like the dollar coin committee, since the coin itself is a rather standard alloy of mostly copper and zinc. After only a few months in regular circulation, the gold coloring started to flake off of the coin. Since the cost savings of a coin are the fact that it lasts longer than a dollar bill, the one differentiating advantage of the coin, of course, was lost.

To restart the introduction of dollar coins into the currency once again, the mint is initiating a Presidential Dollar program modeled after the surprisingly successful State Quarters program. Four times a year, a new president’s countenance will grace another issuance. Ultimately, the success of the dollar coin will be determined by the removal of the paper bill in circulation. Much like how Canada handled it (Canada, of course, being in the forefront of the currency sciences). There are certain questions yet to be answered—How bad will they have to crop poor William Howard Taft? Will the Nixon coin have two faces? Will the Bill Clinton coin be used to make decisions, much in the same manner that he did? (The Clinton coin, by the way, will be minted approximately 2017. This joke, though, was minted circa 1993)—one question does have an answer: As long as strippers exist, so will the dollar bill. I’ve heard, anyway.

RelationHints! Conflict, Strife, and Other Displays of Affection

March 21, 2007

Today’s RelationHints are all about resolving differences! Every couple has occasional spats, but it isn’t all that hard to determine what the causes are for this kind of conflict. Once we determine what the problems are, there are several creative and fun ways to fix it. And most of it doesn’t involve prescription strength Midol.

So here are a few ways to identify then resolve your incompatibility issues. Some things to keep in mind:

Men and Women are Different! One of the most important things you can do is realize how men and women approach relationships. They are incredibly different! For instance, the female approaches a relationship by adhering to the following rules:

1. Do you have any money?
2. Would he be willing to give me some?
3. It looks like he’s done giving me money.
4. We can still be friends!

Men, of course, follow a different set of criteria:

1. Boy, I’d like to get in her pants.
2. Maybe if I cry during The Notebook.
3. Yikes. She’s called me twice this week. Better ditch the needy attention whore.
4. I wonder what her sister is doing tonight?

For the proper relationship, you have to find the point where these two sets of rules meet. It’s not hard! Alcohol is a great way to find a converging point to a blissful couplehood. Why else do you think your parents are still together?

Agree on something! Conflict is an inherent part of any relationship—thank goodness! Conflict can help build a relationship. By resolving these conflicts, couples can explore their boundaries and come to mutually acceptable solutions to their problems. This, in turn, brings you closer together. The perfect couple is always an unhappy couple! At least if you want to get to sleep at night! Ahem. Anyway, let’s take a look at some examples:

Example 1: Brian asked Jill if he could go out with the guys to watch the game, and she said okay. That night, though, Jill changed her mind and wants Brian to stay home and watch HGTV with her. Brian complains that he received prior approval and promised the guys he’d be out.

: Brian should stay home and watch television! There are seven whole playoff games, but only four episodes of House Hunters on in a row. Besides, if he doesn’t, Jill will bring up the time he looked four seconds at that cute waitress without looking the same amount of time at her immediately afterwards.

Example 2: Tina has wanted Ken to fix the hand railing on the porch outside for months now. Ken knows it is going to be a chore; it’s going to cost at least $400; and it’s a barely noticeable wobble.

Solution: Ken should fix the hand railing! Clearly, thirty-two hours of toil over three weekends in February along with $400 in materials is a small price to pay to not have her mother make a three-second condescending remark about how the house needs fixed up.

Example 3
: Jenny wants to purchase a new set of pumps that cost $180. Paul thinks this is too much to pay for shoes that will be worn maybe twice until they are out of style, and, besides, they are two mortgage payments overdue.

Solution: Paul should let her buy the shoes! It’s certainly important that all of Jenny’s girlfriends know that Paul makes enough money to let her buy $180 dollar shoes. Besides, mortgage debt isn’t included in state law to calculate alimony payments!

See? It’s not hard to find solutions. It’s those small, trivial things that make relationships so interesting! That and the items on the creepy shelf at Spencer’s Gifts.

Find Common Ground! Although most couples enjoy finding out a lot about each other, it can be surprising how much you don’t know about your partner, like the favorite childhood hobby they gave up, or their middle name. There may be things you both enjoy doing that you never thought about before! It will be useful to explore these points of interest and participate in them. Sit down and discuss what you both like, and just see what you can discover!

Her: Coach bags are great.
Him: What’s a Coach bag?
Her: I’m into scrapbooking!
Him: No shit.
Her: I love dolphins.
Him: I kind of thought those forty ceramic dolphins in my bathroom were a pretty good indication of that.
Her: And I loooooove Grey’s Anatomy!
Him: Eh. I’d rather watch The Sopranos.
Her: I don’t love you anymore.
Him: What?

Even if you can’t find any common points of interest, it’s not hard to create some. Try some adventurous activities that will bring you closer together, like skydiving, repelling, or shopping for drapes. Life was never so full of living life!

We’ve covered a lot of ground today. The most important thing to remember is that, for good or bad, all relationships are built on negotiation and trust, if by “negotiation” we mean “craven capitulation” and by “trust” we mean “we do whatever she wants.” Happy coupling!

The Persian Aversion

March 18, 2007

There has been a lot of talk about ancient Greek history, mostly due to the release of 300, the motion picture adapted from a historically based graphic novel (or, rather, “comic book movie, with period piece decapitations”). And while most of that is sidetracked by the bluescreen magic of digitally creating an altered historical world enough to create an R rating, the basis for the movie’s plot has not gone unacknowledged.

The story of the Battle of Thermopylae is one that seems lifted right out of a comic book, rather than the other way around. The Persians, led by the Scrabble-friendly Xerxes I, initiated a rather grand scheme to conquer the scattered Greek city-states. The Greeks, then known as rather states’-rightsish in their politics, declared that banding together to fight the future Iranians would be in everyone’s self-interest, not least the Greek blacksmiths and fisherman, though perhaps not so much so the Thespian mercenaries who had yet to negotiate a valid health care plan in their contracts.

The rather ad hoc collection of defenders is the type of arrangement usually fraught with difficulty; it’s much easier to fight for “Queen and Country!” than it is for a “Federalist System of States in a Delegated Organization of Overlapping Economic and Political Interests!” This collection of states was called “the Greeks who banded together” by the Greek historian Herodotus. I’m pretty sure that seems like it should be a rather dismissive description, less a “We shall stand together or we shall fail” patriotic call to arms and much more like Britain calling the newly formed United States “a ragtag collection of worthless drunks, thieves, whores, and politicians who couldn’t fight a war sober or with any amount of effect and will die of shame if the syphilis doesn’t get to them first.” But I can’t verify that, since sarcasm is rightly regarded as a difficult thing to ascertain in Greek translated scripts from a millennium-old armchair historian without tenure.

Xerxes then sent envoys to each of the separate city-states to demand tribute in the form of “earth and water,” code words for food and wine or at least bottles of Evian and Jalapeno pita chips, in exchange for not slicing their necks open and salting the olive orchards. The Greeks, prompted by this threat, responded by throwing the envoys down the well in what is largely regarded as a deviation from normal diplomatic protocol. They chucked the hapless diplomats down the stone passageway to an aquatic death while stating “Dig it out for yourselves,” engaging in a sort of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions style of diplomacy, one that admittedly has not been met with a significant amount of success since.

After numerous war councils and maneuvers on both sides, the Greeks chose as their last stand to defend the chokehold at Thermopylae. After consulting the Oracle (A dozens lines in Latin hexameter verse is boiled down to “Defend at Themopylae, and take the under for the Athenians, and oh, by the way, you’re probably gonna die”), the force of three hundred Spartans, led by Leonidis, arrived at their destination and proceeded to engage in their usual pre-battle preparations, a somewhat comical mix of calisthenics, hair-braiding, and latent homosexuality, assuming here that we are treating “latent” and “blatant” as synonyms. Joining the Spartans were a collection of other nationalities and mercenaries, adding up to between 5,000 and 7,000 men, against a Persian attacking force of two and a half million.

And then the battle began. The battle itself was no doubt as exciting as ancient warfare always is, complete with phalanxes, showers of arrows, walls of dead bodies being used as defense entrenchments, and obligatory shots of some poor extra getting his nose caught in another man’s mace ball. The totally perplexed Xerxes, sitting upon his chair, sent thousands upon thousands of elite troops just to see them die against a relative handful of men.

In retrospect, of course, Xerxes was making the fatal error of sending his troops to battle in concert with a solid if unimpressive mix tape of standard classical music pieces, while every modern general knows full well the attackers much be accompanied by “Cold Hard Bitch” by Jet in order to win battles.

One classic motto derived from this battle is the butchered Latin “Molon Labe,” which roughly translates into “Come and get it, pussbag.” During the battle, Xerxes sent a missive to the defenders offering to spare their lives if they set down their weapons. Leonidas responded with the above bon mot, displaying a manner of wit and relisilance that was no doubt respected by all presence for the remainder of his life, which of course was about three more days. In modern times, this motto has been adopted by many gun control opponents, drawing the historical parallels of the defending force’s overwhelming ability to fend off a vastly superior opposition with shortswords and bronze shielding with the right to shoot a rabbit eating your turnips in the garden at 30 yards with an elephant shotgun.

Another famous quotation from the battle is another response from one of the fighters. When advised that the Persian arrows would be so numerous it would block out the sun, one apparently underconcerned Spartan replied, “So much the better, for we shall fight in the shade.” (At this point, most historians assume the Greeks were more interesting in selling novelty bumper stickers than winning battles.) The rather offhandedly macabre remark has represented the fighting spirit of willingness to fight under any adverse conditions. So much so that the motto has been adopted by the modern Greek 20th Armored Division, something that no doubt gives them a significant amount to be proud of when they roll into a Patra ghetto to throw canisters of mustard gas at longshoreman protesting the EU decision to permit the importation of Bulgarian lamb meat.

As for the outcome of the battle—well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Well, okay. Everybody dies except the box office.

How The Irish Saved Discount Instrumental CDs

March 14, 2007

The Irish have a rather proud and distinctive heritage, mostly centered around distilled spirits, monopolizing the self-aggrandizing benefit concert racket, and starring in every cop movie set in the eastern seaboard. So much so that they’ve earned their own holiday in the United States, much like the Italians have for Columbus Day and the communists have Labor Day. Facets of this culture have waged a perennial battle of becoming mainstream versus maintaining its unique appeal, kind of like high school lacrosse or those kids that wear black, play bass, and cut themselves.

Irish folk music is a rather unique facet of this emerald culture. Irish folk music evolved from its lowly beginnings in the rural beer hall, where Irish shepherds and potato farmers would gather nightly and drink beer and compose songs, most of which were involuntarily participatory in nature. And the lyrics are a form of democracy in action, as no one would know the words at any given time and so the swaying stanzas would kind of flow to the lowest common denominator.

Not that it would matter, since early Irish songs were performed in their native language. This language is Gaelic, a fictional form of speech where random letters are pulled from the alphabet, indiscriminately assigned an order, and are then pronounced in a manner unrelated to the type or order of the letters involved. Because of this, the lyrics of many of these traditional Irish songs are a mixture of forgotten slurs, hums, and vague, off-key segways from chorus to verse.

The subjects of these songs were usually variations on a theme, and this is where the old world charm kicks in. While it’s usually about some lad with wayward devotions and the occasional song about the evil bottled spirits themselves, the theme could also frequently be downright quaint. There are entire songs about the benefits accrued from engaging in the act of carting a sack of barley to the market on a particularly Irish day, for instance, or perhaps the trials and tribulations of a lonely sheep that did not follow the ordinary path to its field.

There are many classics that even uncultured folks are at least familiar with. And one can only imagine centuries ago what these composers thought they were writing and the what kind of impact they would have today. What would one say about today’s performers singing the grammatically questionable Green Grow the Rushes Oh or even The Lakes of Pontchartrain, a song about Creole love in Louisiana that the Irish somehow decided fit naturally into their taste and culture? Many of these songs that are sung as traditionally Irish songs are, in fact, adapted from other cultures and pounded square-peg-wise into a collection of oddly constructed instruments sung by young redheads in constantly flowing white gowns with one name that resembles something from the Kia line of automobiles.

The instruments used for this folk music are varied and disturbing. There’s a nice collection of standard instruments that you would find in any modern band, but are reliably Irish-sounding so long as they are either wooden, carved, enhanced with a stretched sheep bladder, or blessed by the Pope (or, if one is lucky enough, all of the above). And then there are some, such as the delightfully Gaelicly-spelled Uillean pipes, the result of a sinful copulation between a bagpipe and a defunct blast furnace. And there is the musically mysterious bouzouki, a Japanese-sounding Greek instrument that the Irish have literally developed to an art form, continually adapting the tuning of the strings and style of pitch until the number of people who can actually play it number in the low teens.

Irish folk music didn’t die across the ocean. When the mass of immigrants came over to America for its easy social opportunities, increased chances of being more employable than a black (though still less than a German), and access to basic cable, they brought along with it the traditional folk tune. Soon, pubs in which you would have had previously heard O Alte Burschenherrlichkeit now heard Sweet Rosie O’Grady, and taverns stopped serving sauerbraten and started taking out insurance claims for physical property damage.

Sometimes, when listening to the strains of the barroom fiddle or the soothing chords of the hand accordion, it’s hard to imagine that the piece being played is the cumulative effort of generation after generation of singers, writers, dancers, and the occasional copyright lawyer. And yet one has to wonder what had to happen to create that deviant strain of musical evolution that eventually concluded with the outcome of Bono.

Obviously, the Irish folk tune isn’t about the beer or the license to act silly after a hard day’s work. Those are mere perks; the folk song is greater than that. The subject matter is unifying, and vague platitudes about family, peace, or the betterment of society are all wonderfully appropriate things. But the overriding theme of Irish folk music is about one, undeniably important thing: hatred of the English.

There Goes Another Candidate: Preliminary Pre-Primary Introductory Prelude Edition

March 10, 2007

In our regularly scheduled attempt to keep the average reader up to date on the 2008 White House Race, here is the first in an installment of columns to introduce, analyze, and predict the various points of fortune to the candidates running for office, even though at this point it is impossible to predict anything with any amount of accuracy outside of “Someone will win the election” and “That someone will be beholden to either one set of corporations or another, depending on whether we count votes multiple times per voter or count dollar amounts instead of votes.”

Rudy Giuliani: Currently one of the more popular figures in the general population, though not necessarily for GOP primary voters, Giuliani appears to be in the first tier of candidates. His qualifications involve his handling of New York City after 9/11, the post-9/11 effects of New York City, and dealing with the reaction of New York City to the events on 9/11. Given his experience after 9/11, the post-9/11 New York environment is one of Giuliani’s most significant achievements, not counting the time he spent in office during the aftermath of 9/11. His platform so far is to proclaim that it is America’s duty to “repeatedly shove the broomstick handle of liberty into the anus of fanatical terrorism.”

Barack Obama: Barack Obama is currently the appointed messiah of the Democratic party: a charismatic, reasonably well-respected politician from a big, electorally rich state. Alas, Obama has one obvious socially historical handicap that may prevent him from getting elected to the most powerful position in the world: he is a Senator. Senators are notoriously bad at getting elected President; the last person to do so was John F. Kennedy, who was elected shortly after birth. He also has to overcome his reputation as the inexperienced anointed, which, given the track record of Democrats nominating congressional pages as running mates, should not be difficult to handle. Also, he’s black.

John Edwards: The former Vice Presidential candidate has much the same going for him than he did in 2004: good looks, charisma, and not being John Kerry. After the failed 2004 campaign, he helped organized the One America Committee, whose sole accomplishment in the past to years appears to be burning down a Wal-mart in Providence to the ground. As a Southerner, he can be expected to help crack the Republicans’ hold in that area, though he may also need to work to earn the votes of those suspicious of voting for someone of the age of 12.

Hillary Clinton: One of contemporary politics’ most divisive figures, Hillary Clinton is running for President, though for the sake of accuracy it should be noted that her campaign for the Presidency started approximately thirty-five years ago. Hillary’s handicaps are also her greatest assets: her years treating the First Ladyship as a cabinet position. Some people, known as the “South,” resent the fact that she usurped an otherwise ceremonial duty into a policy-making position. Other people, namely “Hollywood and George Soros,” note that this as an asset rather than a liability. Ultimately, the Democrats’ chances of winning in 2008 hinge on whether Hillary is the Democratic nominee. On the other side, the Republicans’ chances of winning in 2008 hinge on whether Hillary is the Democratic nominee. Also, she’s a woman.

John McCain: The Senator from Arizona, long the media darling of the right, recently announced his intentions to run for President. While he made an impressive showing in the 2000 campaign and has been a intermittently loyal commandant in the GOP since then, he hopes to differentiate himself this time around with the fact that he is about 1,000 years old and, with only a slight provocation such as drawing on an inside straight, could still beat the living bloody piss out of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Wesley Clark all at once. (John Edwards, too, but being able to defeat John Edwards in a fistfight is not exactly a differentiator.)

Mitt Romney: The former governor of Massachusetts and, more notably, chairman of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, is fast becoming the social conservatives’ choice for the nomination. On the plus side, he was handily elected in one of the most liberal states in the nation, ushered in one of the first state-mandated health care systems, balanced a bloated budget, and took control of the increasingly mismanaged “Big Dig” program. On the minus side, his first name is the same as an article of clothing grandmothers make as a confirmation gift. Also, he’s Mormon.

Al Gore: Al Gore has been very Nixonesque in his time outside of office. Like Nixon, he lost a bitterly close election, then chose to sit out the next election, positioning himself for a savior candidate when the front runners in the subsequent election eat each other alive. Unlike Nixon, though, Gore didn’t grill puppies for sport or buy a Chinese girl for 50 camels from Nassar back in the early 70’s. While he gained an unwarranted reputation as a stiff media bore as Vice President, then sealed an unwarranted reputation as a chronic prevaricator as a presidential candidate, he now runs the risk of gaining an unwarranted reputation as intellectual Hamlet forever disappointing his followers, a rather unfortunate hybrid of Adlai Stevenson, Mario Cuomo, and Eddie Murphy.

Newt Gingrich: Like Al Gore, Newt Gingrich has sat safely in the sidelines waiting for a golden opportunity. His recent admission of having an affair while administering the impeachment process against Bill Clinton has harmed his chances of being a credible candidate. (Though, to be fair, he has asked for divine forgiveness on this front. Or, rather confessed his sins publicly on nationwide radio to James Dobson, which is apparently the functional equivalent for Republicans.) However, while Gore has been making emotionally effective documentaries, education people about environmental issues, and becoming a master policy wonk, Gingrich has been out making fistloads of cash. It is left as an exercise to the student which one means more in politics.

To Market, To Market, To Sell The Chinese

March 7, 2007

Last week’s abrupt, pants-changing drop in the stock market was the worst in quite some time. Many market watchers were led by this rather startling development to get a little bit introspective about their careers, asking themselves “Did I make the right choice in making a career out of the volatile world of international finance?” and “I wonder if they’re hiring down at the Chik-Fil-A?”

While it’s difficult to pull too much information from a largely one-day event, there are many financial lessons to be learned from it.

The Year of the Pig Blows: The biggest cause of the stock market tumble has been identified by a reaction to the Chinese stock market, which unexpectedly dropped around nine percent in one day. This caused markets in Europe, Asia, and the United States to drop by significant percentages. It was unexpected because 1) news of a troubled Chinese economy tends to travel fast, what with there being about a billion Chinese and one of them is bound to let it slip, and 2) no one was really aware there was a stock market in the People’s Glorious Socialist Celestial Empire. The worst part is that the instability in the Chinese market makes all the furniture and clothing sold at Wal-Mart to double in price.

Alan Greenspan Takes a Leak: Actually, that’s pretty much it. Alan Greenspan is about 200 years old and hasn’t been chairman of the Federal Reserve for something like a decade now, yet when he toasts an English muffin instead of his usual bagel for breakfast Wall Street could build a house out of the bricks they find in their underwear the next morning. And did you know he was married to that blonde chick on NBC? Man, those octogenarian Friedmanians get all the hot ukha, don’t they?

The Housing Market Sucks Donkey Crank: There was a time in which real estate prices were going through the roof—literally. Well, not so much so. But still. “House Flipping,” a concept which reached cottage industry status with the release of the best seller “House Flipping for Dummies.” House flipping was a concept that allowed investors to buy a house, wait for the pricing to quintuple in amount, then hold out for even more profits and pocket the difference. This seemed to be an excellent plan for those with sufficient capital, to the point where finance experts discovered that the enormous profits gained from house flipping was directly related to the number of shows on HGTV about house flipping. Alas, the market has slowed to a stop where those that were flipping houses are now flipping burgers. (Hey, cut me some slack. I’ve been saving that one up since last October.)

You Can’t Be Sirius: OK, fair cop. That little blurb is the exact same headline that is used to report this item in every single newspaper in every single city everywhere in the world, but it beats “Market Watchers Say Satellite Radio Suffers From Regulatory XMa.” (Yeah, sound it out, homeslice. That’s all the help you’re getting from me.) The news of the pending merger of the two major—as in, only—satellite radio networks has many people wondering whether it will be approved by the FCC. Against the merger are those that fear that a consolidation of the two networks will reduce competition in the marketplace. For the merger are those that believe there is plenty of competition for those listening to the radio during drive time, such as putting on lipstick, looking up pictures of Antonella Barba being quite unladylike on your PDA at stop lights, trying to clean spilled coffee off of your crotch with wadded up Burger King hamburger wrappers, and listening to the various benefits of listening to the creativity of the Roger and Buttman’s Radio Hock Clock Bam-a-Lam Live in the Afternoon Show with Petey Linguini the Midget Retard and Honey the Greasy Naked Sound Engineer and her Magnificent 38DDs.

One in a Million…Well, If You’re Lucky: With all this volatile activity in the financial markets, a lot of news has focused on the multi-state lotteries. One of the bigger jackpots to be awarded, the Mega Millions drawing on Tuesday night, was won by two very lucky yet-to-be-identified ticket-holders. Financial experts always complain about how lotteries, a hypocritical government program that is effectively a regressive tax on people who can’t do long division, as a bad investment and a worse retirement plan. The experts, of course, are more right than they could possibly imagine, and often site those things that are more likely to happen than win the jackpot (be eaten by a mountain lion, get struck by lightning, or getting adopted by Angelina Jolie). Yet one can’t feel a bit nostalgic looking at a stock certificate from Sinopec and wondering exactly what the odds are.

The “Only Me” Generation

March 2, 2007

Occasionally, we are treated to a piece of news from the scientific community that makes us feel just ever so slightly better about ourselves, not because of our own betterment, but because it makes someone else look even worse than ourselves. A concept that is so obvious in its existence and acknowledged by society at large is validated by the highly anticipated scientific study, and experts from all sides fall over themselves to comment their enthusiastic agreement. In this case, experts are falling over themselves about people who fall all over themselves.

A new study finds that many college-age students have become increasingly narcissistic in their worldview, believing that much of the accomplishments in their life are due to their own innate abilities rather than the happy accident of mundane existence that most of us encounter with heady dissatisfaction. College-age people today apparently go through life as if beating your ten-year-old nephew at beer pong is the cultural equivalent of D-Day.

This can hardly be surprising. There is apparently something called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (the developer of which no doubt is a pantsload of fun on blind dates) that tracks how important people feel they are. It has been on a meteoric rise lately, reflecting a general trend of self-centeredness. This, of course, is a great scientific finding, in that it displays a fundamental shift in psychological thinking about interpersonal relationships.

By which of course I mean there is no change at all. Having the oldest people in the room call everyone who has ever been young a bunch of self-centered jacklegs is not exactly the Bolivarian revolution or anything. Calling college punks egotistical is one a few steps away from having fourteen cats and complaining to pretty grocery store clerks about how they just keep on changing how money looks back and forth and you just don’t know what’s what anymore.

The survey that determines this ranking asks the recipients a series of questions that hopefully peg their level of conceitedness. It asks rather standard questions, from “Do you believe you deserve all the good fortune that comes to you?” to the more telling “If you controlled the world, would you make the production and airing of those Safe Auto commercials a crime?” and “Are you the father of Anna Nicole’s baby?”

Most researchers attribute it to the incredible increase of self-esteem programs in the past few decades, such as getting schoolchildren to chant in unison “I am different!” and making them sing songs of empowerment, such as “Mary Had A Little Lamb, But If She Was As Good As Me She Would Own The Entire Flock” and “The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round For Those Not As Rich As Me To Own A Lexus.” Even in high school, teachers are encouraged (presumably because parents cannot) to advise their students that everyone is special, a statistical impossibility that only exists within the confines of the guidance counselor’s office.

The cult of self-importance has its occasional anecdotal evidence everywhere. New York City has recently toyed with the idea of banning iPods, cell phones, and other distracting devices for pedestrians crossing the street. Apparently, it’s become an issue where people are so involved in their own little world that they fail to see a large yellow cab the size of most middle-aged bears moving roughly the speed of a Patriot missile come towards them. To me, it’s a case of to the victor goes the spoils, but there are a few bleeding hearts out there, mostly insurance actuaries, who object, so I guess I’ll have to take the untenable position of opposing hit-and-runs on selfish technophiles.

The meteoric rise in popularity of euphemistically detailed “social networking” sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, that allow users to create electronic shrines devoted to themselves. This should be a humbling pursuit for many, but it seems slightly creepy that most people tend to be proud to proclaim that the single greatest cultural achivement of Western culture in the last century is manifested in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.

What the really interesting part of all this is that most of the people involved in the study and the reporting of its findings are largely from the Baby Boomber generation. This is the generation that upon given the same things as the generation did before them (an economy waiting to explode, a universal culture waiting to be exploited, a war in southeast Asia) and managed to turn them into vanity projects of their own (A Social Security pyramid scheme, Wavy Gravy, and Platoon, respectively). They at least can blame most of this on their parents, who bought by truckloads a Scouting manual on child care written by one Dr. Spock, who imparted such parental guidelines as “Give your children everything they want, for any reason whatsoever” and “Never object to anything your child does that detracts from themselves in the slightest bit, including but not limited to most forms of manslaughter.” In response, many iconic members of the generation grew up with a misallocated sense of entitlement, engaging in a relatively libertine lifestyle, avoiding the consequences, and then reaping what they sowed by either becoming President or initiating a study as to how much worse the next generation is, both of which accomplish the task of engaging in self-indulgence while simultaneously deflecting blame onto others, either in the form of college-age freeloaders or Scooter Libby.

Still, you can’t really blame today’s young adults for feeling how they do. When the world comes crashing down and they’re the ones that have to deal with it, they will have no one to blame but themselves. And how could you ever be more important than that?