Loch and Load

June 28, 2007

People have always had a fascination with the mysterious. The unexplained holds a lot of draw to those easily fascinated by it, whether it be things such as Bigfoot, UFOs, or Dennis Kucinich. And a lot of new press has recently been generated over one of the oldest mysteries of the Western world: the Loch Ness Monster.

Of course, the people of Loch Ness want to believe. The proprietors selling little plastic Nessies really do believe. The existence of the monster is ingrained in the history and the culture of Scotland, and people continue to believe even though the frequency of sightings appears, on average, to be somewhere in the likelihood of once every seventy years.

The field of investigation imaginary animals is called “cryptzoology,” a word I’m very uncomfortable with. It makes me think that these are people interested in collecting animal carcasses and devising new and creative ways to preserve them in giant stone monoliths. I mean, yeah, it sure as hell beats scrapbooking, but you gotta wonder what disturbing Ranger Rick article they read when they were nine to make “proving creepy-ass fictional animals actually exist” a valid career choice.

The first sighting occurred in 565 AD when the legendary Columba, no doubt uninfluenced by the fermentation of mead, saved the life of a Pict being attacked by the monster. The monster, not being savvy in PR management, ducked undersea to appear infrequently to newspaper reporters, the only additional appearances being those told by husbands when searching for an excuse as to why they came home at five in the morning smelling of beer and rotting oak.

This all changed in 1934, when what is euphemistically known as the “Surgeon’s Photo” was published. (Robert Kenneth Wilson, the surgeon in question, was a gynecologist; apparently, no one wanted to get too specific about his branch of medicine to avoid awkward questions, or at least anything more awkward than “You’re a professional doctor, and you’re wasting your evenings taking pictures of shadowy figures in murky lakes?”) This was famously revealed to be a hoax in the mid-90’s, when a confidant of the doctor, on his deathbed, declared that it was a “project” (read: an idea cooked up with airtight preparation one drunken stupor with an overly imaginative friend) which concluded with making the figure from a “submarine” (read: random piece of floating junk he found in his garage) with “molding” attached to it for the head (read: some elongated cylinder-type thing he picked up at a flea market).

Since all of the sightings have been in poor lighting, from a distance, or by disreputable sources, not unlike Marlon Brando, any claims to its existence have to be taken with a grain of salt and a lot of whiskey. This widely cast net of supposed sightings also leaves a rather large cast of characters as to what the Loch Ness monster looks like: a long-necked seal, an eel, a dolphin, a largish dog, a plesiosaur, an enormous salamander (!), an otter, a mollusk of some sort, a mysterious coelacanth, trees (?), the fictional kelpie, and, apparently, a brick of Styrofoam with a Pringles can superglued to the top of it.

I’m particularly intrigued with some of these theories. Many of these suggestions represent animals that are extinct—namely, the long-forgotten plesiosaur. The coelacanth lends itself to this particularly well, since it was thought to be extinct for a few million years but turned up off the coast of Madagascar (his excuse: “Had a dentist’s appointment up in Yorkshire”). If the eerie-looking coelacanth (He looks like a fish pasted together for a grade school project, and the last kid who was absent that day got to glue on all the extra remaining fins) can come back from being extinct, well, why can’t Nessie be “extinct” (please note pretentious quotation marks)? I’m also a bit puzzled about the dog theory. Sure, I’m certain that Scots can spend their evenings in various stages of being where their perception may be, ah, altered, but even the wispiest of denizens could tell the difference between a legendary reptilian creature and a Great Dane who forgot his boogie board.

The most recent sighting is a video uniformly described as a “jet black thing” that looks like a “forty-five foot long eel-like creature” and is “moving quite fast.” There is, rather remarkably, a good bit of skepticism about the new video. For once thing, the video does not exactly give any kind of reference to length or lighting, so it’s nearly impossible to determine whether it’s forty-five feet or really all that black. One suspects the video has the quality of that episode of ALF I taped back in 1988 and have left on the dashboard of my car for the past ten seasons.

But, still, any press is good press for the Loch Ness tourism industry. Any few bits of information that leak out are always good for some rampant speculation. And it’s mostly harmless fun, anyway: despite major scientific efforts through SONAR, undersea expeditions, and an infinite number of BBC documentaries, the evidence is inconclusive at best. It’s not Nessie they want; it’s the thrill of ambiguity. Most hedge funds, dollar-store pregnancy tests, and California-based religions have been founded on much less.


The Quest For the Holy iGrail

June 26, 2007

Decades into the future, one could easily be misled into thinking that a small but vocal religion cropped up during the latter years in the first decade of the new century. Hymns have been composed, deities have been created, and rites have been established for all to participate in the Church of the iPhone. Welcome, all, those who are willing to embrace intuitive technology, advanced computing processing time, and a two-year contract, terms subject to change.

The iPhone, a new product shilled by Apple prodigy Steve Jobs promising to integrate several disparate features onto one single cell phone, has been getting a significant amount of press and heightened anticipation. While the media and technogeeks love the iPhone, it has more than its share of detractors. The first strike against the iPhone is that it’s called the iPhone. Listen, Steve, the whole putting an “i” before everything you sell was kind of cute back in 1980 or whenever, launching yourself ahead of the curve when internet startups were calling everything names like eParkingTickets or eSuicidePrevention. But “e” actually made some sort of sense, at least in its original, historical sense; identifying it as something that is electronic, as opposed to dead tree or vacuum tube. Now I’m sure there’s an equally valid reason why there’s an “i” placed on everything, like it stands for information or it’s better than Microsoft or some nonsense like that, but we all know it’s simply a marketing ploy to be able to put a tiny little apple where the dot on the “i” is supposed to be. It’s the fourth-grade-girl-writing-her-name-with-little-hearts-four-hundred-times-on-her-Trapper-Keeper-cover school of marketing.

Secondly, the almost hagiographic devotion journalists have displayed in covering the iPhone borders on the nauseating. Newsmen have restlessly fawned over marginally notable items before—MySpace, Flickr, John McCain—but this time, the escalated emotion borders on the Mark David Chapmanesque to an almost embarrassing degree. One analyst stated that “This is the most anticipated phone since Alexander Graham Bell did his,” apparently equating the inauguration of intercontinental communications with not having to walk three yards to check your email. “Is This The Holy Grail of Gadgets?” ran another headline, no doubt comparing the singularly elusive treasure with something that is soon going to have a 10 million unit production schedule.

Jobs himself is becoming more and more insufferable. I mean, God bless the guy and all, he’s certainly a consummate innovator and has forced competitors to make their devices more intuitive and resourceful. But in press conferences and interviews he always seems to exude a certain level of smugness normally reserved for French salons or college Democrat mixers.

Some of the more notable features of the iPhone:

Touch Screen: The iPhone uses a touchscreen as the primary input device, which is hardly a revolutionary addition to the world of gadgetry. However, the screen on the iPhone is glass—not plastic, as most others are, the main advantage to glass being the convenient ability to determine whether an engagement ring is truly diamond or not. Notably, you cannot use a stylus with the touchscreen; it requires contact with bare skin to operate. The marketing department of Apple apparently feels that the segment of population likely to purchase the iPhone is not going to include those individuals who have fingers the size, dexterity, and composition of sausages, a safe bet since I doubt too many iPhones will grace longshoreman union meetings or Slovenia.

Voice Mail: I don’t know why this is so important, but it’s on every list of features I’ve seen. The iPhone will let you pick and choose the order in which you listed to your voice mails. I mean, I guess that’s kind of nice, but I’m lonely enough that I only get about one voicemail every lunar cycle or so, so I guess a lot of it is lost on me. I suppose skipping over voice mails left by your boss, your parents, or (most importantly) your wife is significant enough that you have to listen to a drunken call from that girl you met at the bar last night intoxicatingly butchering her phone number a full two minutes earlier in your life than you could with a regular, prehistoric phone.

Multimedia: The iPhone will combine much of the media applications that other Apple products have provided, such as the iPod and the Video iPod. Combined with the phone’s internet capabilities, this is a major breakthrough in the field of being able to watch a video clip of a dog riding a skateboard anywhere you can pick up a signal.

Internet Access: In an increasingly mobile world, having access to information via the internet is becoming more and more important. I have access to the internet on my phone, for instance, though I have no earthly reason to do so besides apparently my desire to throw money away and succumbing to the thought that there may be a chance, however remote, that some day I will need to know the actress who played Six on Blossom and I will be able to resolve that question with only a few moments worth of effort. The iPhone will have this capability much in the same manner as regular Macs do, except that it will be on a screen about the size of a deck of cards, which is going to make that Photoshopped picture of Jenna Von Oy spread eagle on the beach all that much harder to admire.

Most people are waiting with anticipation for a device that has all of the applications they desire; however, most consumers will probably take a wait-and-see approach. While no doubt useful for some, it’s a good chance that the iPhone is simply going to be a more efficient way to drop a $500 device down the toilet.


Thou Shalt Not THE LIGHT IS %@$&ing GREEN!!! GO!

June 21, 2007

In an ongoing effort to become a kinder, gentler church, the Vatican has recently turned its attentions away from such hot button issues such as abortion and birth control and turned it towards the small activities that affect our daily lives. The church recently released the “Ten Commandments of Driving,” a list of rules and regulations that good Catholics should follow.

Some think that creating such as list is kind of insulting, given how many more important theological concerns there are in the world, such as transubstantiation or whether having a reserve bid on eBay on a piece of marble toast with the image of the Virgin Mary on it is a form of usury or not. I would think they would want to concentrate more on such things like “The Ten Commandments of Not Having Sexual Intercourse With Altar Boys,” but Martin Luther kind of severed any pull I might have with the Catholic Church about five hundred years ago.

The concept of a German Pope telling us to keep ‘em on the ten and two is mildly amusing in and of itself. One can only assume that Ratzinger, at some point since his installation to the papacy, has taken the Popemobile out of the garage and took a spin around the autobahn, where traffic laws are merely suggestions and speed limits morally relative. And he even sits enclosed in Italy, where, if the motion picture industry is anything to be believed, all Italian citizens are legally bound to travel from city to city in Fiats and Ferraris, all roads are by law 90 degree turns around perpetually escalating mountings, and driver’s ed courses routinely teach young Italians how to drive with a glass of Pinot Grigio in one hand and a girl around another.

I’ve read the New Ten Commandments, and they’re actually pretty boring. Mostly it appears to be the “forgive the one who double parks” variety, which is actually kind of a shame. If I were to have directed all of the energy I’ve devoted in my lifetime to what I would do to the vehicles of double parkers, I would have invented cold fusion and been married by now.

As usual, the document itself lends to that special brand of confusing legalese that only the Catholics can produce en masse. You’d think they’d learn, after that whole “No, you can’t eat meat on Fridays oh wait yes you can” debacle from the past nine centuries. Though in this case there are a few easy translations. “Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination” pretty much means “Cancel Pimp My Ride, for the love of all that is holy, which is us.” “Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events” means “Stay off the cell phone, jackass.” “On the road, protect the more vulnerable party” I assume alludes to Geos and Fiestas. And “Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so” means take the keys from the drunken uncles. And (hey, this is the Catholic church we’re talking about) women and possibly homosexuals.

Still, it’s a little disappointing. Most of it is about forgiveness and caution, and that’s just not what everyone was looking for. The real Ten Commandments were about murder, adultery, and jealousy. The new commandants are about yielding and avoiding rubbernecking. What a ripoff, I say! I have my own personal Ten Commandments, which I’m certain you had no idea were coming:

I. Thou Shall Give A Courtesy Wave. We’re Not Barbarians Here, Now, Are We?
II. Thou Shalt Not Procure One Of Those Disgusting Novelty Set Of Testicles That You Hang On Your Trailer Hitch, Because That’s Just Plain Wrong. I Mean, C’mon, Is This The Third Grade? Was The Store Out Of Those Stickers With A Knockoff Calvin Pissing On A Competing Automobile Manufacturer Logo?
III. Thou Shalt Not Secure A Bumper Sticker Onto The Back Of Your Vehicle Whose Writing Is Too Small To Read Without Squinting Then When You Get Close Enough To Read It It Really Wasn’t All That Funny Or Interesting.
IV. Thou Shall Realize That When A Sign Says “Right Lane Ends,” For Instance, This Means “Right Lane Ends,” and not “Speed Up In The Right Lane, Then Expect Everyone To Bend Over Backwards Letting You Merge Because You Decided To Ignore The Sign Unlike Everyone Else.” Pecker.
V. Thou Shalt Not Park In The Fire Lane And Walk Into The Store For Twenty Minutes. At Least Have Someone Sit In The Passenger Side For Appearance’s Sake So You Don’t Come Off As A Complete Prick.
VI. Thou Shalt, Upon Hearing The Song “Since You’ve Been Gone” By Rainbow on the Radio, Be Morally Obligated To Drive As Fast As Your Vehicle Will Go And Sing It At The Top Of Your Lungs.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Have More Than One Beanie Baby In The Back Seat Window. And Even Then.
VIII. Thou Shall Pull Over And Let Real People Drive When You Get Scared Of Going Over 10 Miles Per Hour Once You See The First Drop Of Rain.
IX. Thou Shall, Upon Hitting A Deer, Stop, Get Out Of The Car, Heave The Carcass Of The Deer Triumphantly High Above Your Head, And Destroy all Parts Of The Deer In A Violent And Bloody Ritual In Front Of All The Other Deer So Maybe They’ll Finally Get The Message That Perhaps Jumping in Front Of Underinsured Cars Is Not The Wisest Of Career Moves.
X. Thou Shall, Upon Hearing Someone Brag About Their Hemi, Be Morally Obligated To Murder That Individual On The Spot, So That Future Generations May Still Taste Hope.

I’m not so sure if the Vatican will agree. But if a German can become Pope, anything’s possible.


On This Night Of a Thousand Pars

June 19, 2007

One day, a crevice within the earth opened forth. Light spewed from the depths of everlasting fire, as molten formations bubbled up from beneath the hollow interior of the globe. Pools of flattened land, pockmarked with pits of fine sand, dense reeds, devilish pools of stagnant water, swarmed by gaggles of blasphemous geese and botanical engineering bordering on the profane formed on the surface. As the dust settles and the fields turn an artificial shade of light green, one can almost see the hand of Ol’ Scratch himself positioning steppes, leaving wind breaks in disrepair and poking inconveniently placed holes at regular intervals. One last gasp of bluish smoke puffs up from the inner depths of Hell, and if one were at the wrong place at the wrong time to witness this nefarious signal of doom, one would lay claim to being present at the auspicious birth of the golf course at the Oakmont Country Club, host to this year’s U.S. Open.

The difficulties of playing the great game of golf at Oakmont were pretty much the talk of Pittsburgh this past week. Many a commentator described, in graphic detail, the slaying of such golf giants as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson, their bloodied carcasses laid waste by hitting one over par all afternoon. The main reason, of course, that the US Open is so much discussed in Pittsburgh is that it distracts from the fact that it causes yet another reason, besides the biannual repaving of all the roads, to close half of the lanes in a city whose civil engineering was done in a time and an era where it was thought that road layouts should resemble a cross between a drunkenly-spun spiderweb and a placenta.

That’s not to minimize the difficulty of Oakmont. The winner—the winner, mind you—of the tournament was five over par, effectively meaning that the best players in the world couldn’t beat past the course’s inherent difficulty. It’s like not even getting tongue after taking the girl from the cigarette store who gets fuel points down at the clinic to Red Lobster for “dinner.” Par is supposed to represent the target for a reasonably good player, so when you have the cream of the crop in the golf world throwing golf bags into swan nests, you know that the engineering of the place was done with blatantly Luciferian intent.

The surprise winner, of course, was Argentine Angel Cabrera. In such a tightly contested game, Cabrera’s appearance adds a little bit of drama to an otherwise pedestrian event. Cabrera’s golfing prowess, no doubt formed by developing his observational skills during childhood by making sure he wasn’t “disappeared,” was mitigated by those who felt that with a hard-luck course such as Oakmont, chance played a little bit more than its fair share. He is known affectionately on the course as “El Pato,” or, literally, “the sumbitch who lucked out when Tiger Woods kept overshooting his fairway shots, not unlike his prospects for a lengthy marriage to a Swedish nanny.”

Another big story was the homecoming of James Furyk, who tied Woods for second place. Although Furyk hails from the eastern part of Pennsylvania, his family is from the Pittsburgh area, and spent many practice years in the area. Many at Oakmont were cheering for his victory, which almost seemed miraculously assured at certain points. This is somewhat miraculous in and of itself, since Pittsburghers tend to view Philadelphians with a certain level of contempt and irritation that one normally reserves for the unclaimed cards in the Most Wanted Iraqi Deck. Likewise, Philadelphians tend to take a condescending view of Western Pennsylvanians much in the same way that one views a nervous, lost puppy who through generations of social evolution somehow produced Rick Santorum. To see a native of close Philly suburb West Chester be cheered by Pittsburghers is a mellowing sight indeed. It’s almost heartwarming to see such a rare and magnificent sight, right before all the Pittsburghers in the crowd went home and moved to their new jobs in Arizona and North Carolina.

The Big Cranky Wet Blanket Awards goes to one Phil Mickelson, who unceremoniously failed to qualify after the second round. Mickelson has won the PGA Championship and the Masters twice, but has failed to come out on top in the U.S. Open in any given year, always settling for Buffalo Bills-level props. After practicing, he petulantly announced that practicing at Oakmont was about as useful as teeing off with a Titleist, since the course’s difficulty left the players prone to injury. This, of course, is something that seems to have been successfully avoided by approximately 155 other players. His putting was off, he was reluctant to drive hard due a his wrist injury, and he failed to measure up to his otherwise commendable #2 ranking, his only physical accomplishment over the long weekend being his ability to move his hands up to his throat with enough force to choke on the green.

After all of the preparations, all of the drama, and all of the excrementally boring hours of golf footage, everyone walked away from the competition with equal parts satisfaction, anticipation, and the smug sense of satisfaction that someone, somewhere, ponied up $7 million for a bunch of grown men to hit small white balls with metal sticks for four days straight, and that someone wasn’t you.


To Bee or Not To Bee

June 15, 2007

Ha ha! So damn clever, I am, with that title. Unfortunately, the wily bee is not so clever. Bees are disappearing without reason, and it could spell trouble for the honey, nature documentary, and elaborately planned homicide industries.

It’s not all bees that are disappearing; it’s only the European honey bee, which, obviously, is mostly doing its disappearing in North America. They’re suffering from something called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” which sounds like something Hernan Cortez was diagnosed with when he pranced into Tenochtitlan, found that they considered him to be the Savior, and felt rather alarmingly uninitiated to contradict them. Bees by the thousands are simply disappearing, either dying in what is most likely a rather disgusting pile of insect corpses, or flying off to parts unknown never to return, perhaps to desolate places such as Siberia or a Cuban health clinic.

People tend to have a love-hate relationship with bees. Mostly, it’s hate, though. The only positive things that come about for bees are when they’re trying to sell us cereal or nasal decongestant. People hate bees because they build nests in inappropriate places, they hurt like the dickens when you step on them in cheap flip-flops, and they make your girlfriend squeal and jump around like a broken wind-up toy from a Happy Meal when even the mere suggestion that a bee is present is disclosed to her. Actually, that last one is a benefit, not a drawback, especially if she’s wearing a tank top, but you get the idea.

I remember when I was a child I was scared of the Killer Bees, a menace to America so fraught with portent that they must be capitalized. I received the awful news from the most trusted of sources—the network TV movie. One of the channels, in a fit of one part “educating the public” and six parts “we want to show something with bees in it” wrote, filmed, produced, and aired a particularly disturbing movie about how Killer Bees were going to invade America from Mexico (or perhaps Chile or Nepal—it doesn’t really matter) and KILL US ALL with their poison stingers and the lackadaisical attitude towards watching our cholesterol. This instilled in me a fear of bees in general, and I waited patiently for the Coming Storm when the skies would blacken from the wings of the Infinite Swarm, stinging me and my family to a painful and possibly fatal death. I even remember devoting an unfortunate amount of time of my childhood developing, with a mechanical pencil on graph paper stolen from school, the perfect anti-Killer Bee house with plenty of places to hide, somehow impenetrable from bees the size of dimes, and an elaborate schematic of pipes from which fountains of Ultra-Strength Raid could be dispensed to negate the oncoming slaughter. I should have been hooking up with that cute brunette who sat behind me in Study Hall, but instead I was making the world’s most elaborate Anti-Bee House.

I know better now, of course. The best way to get rid of bees is to pour gasoline in their hive and throw a match on it. By the way, any one of you can nominate me for the ASPCA Humanitarian Award any day now.

Lost in all this scary bee talk is that fact that bees help us. And they don’t just help us by getting us out of mowing the lawn. For one thing, they aid in the pollinating of flowers, which is required for…something. I don’t recall, because I spent most of my elementary school biology class designing a freakin’ Anti-Bee house. But I’m reliably informed that it is necessary in the diversification of a healthy biosphere, or some nonsense like that, but apparently what it boils down to is that if bees don’t pollinate, almonds will be about eight bucks an ounce. And that’s just tragic.

From my own personal observation, the main benefit of the bee shortage is the emergence of the humble bumblebee. (Yes, I had to use that adjective.) I love bumblebees; even though they’re just as painful to step on, or accidentally inhale when you yawn while riding the lawn mower you couldn’t get out of using, they’re just so comically friendly. Or, rather, they seem friendly; they hover about, the Koob of the colony, slowly lumbering about (yes, I had to use that verb) looking for a place to sit down and lick the flower bits they’ve collected off of their weird-looking knees. And, yes, those would be the bee’s knees.

Alas, all this talk of the great bee disappearance is probably bunk. Most beeologists assure everyone that sudden decreases in bee population are rather cyclical, probably because beekeepers’ sons aren’t a dutiful to the bee industry as their fathers were. (I’m assuming fathers, here, since I highly doubt too many women act as beekeepers, unless beekeeping involves jumping up and squealing most of the time.) And bees will rebound in no time, no doubt bringing the price of honey down to a more manageable level so the four or five people in the world who actually eat honey on a regular basis can sleep easy at night. At least they don’t have to worry about Killer Bees.


How the Duke Conquered The World

June 11, 2007

Not very long ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most singularly iconic members of American society, the individual who did a significant amount to define patriotic masculinity in our social consciousness, and who fought a long, patriotic campaign to make sure that no one ever used the phrase “social consciousness” to describe himself.

John Wayne helped define postwar America by representing our virtues and glorifying our vices. Wayne was born in 1907 as Marion Morrison, a comically un-Duke like birthname that most people are convinced is a lie; his name might as well be Percival Higginbotham III the Thoughtlessly Homosexual. Thankfully, he changed his name to the more dashingly appropriate John Wayne, and forever cast that name into the annals of our cultural history.

His early years were often noted with modest success tainted with failure. He tried college, but it didn’t take; he suffered an injury and lost his football scholarship. He soon found himself working at the prop department at Fox Studios. He soon took bit parts, eventually working himself up to a leading man. This was back in the day when one could become a leading man through hard work and determination, and not by being the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.

Wayne’s forte was largely westerns and war films, and this was well-suited to his masculine personality. He soon came to represent this onscreen personality in an almost universal level, bringing the weight of an entire gender upon his shoulders as he rooted out evil men, wooed the ladies, drank like a fish, shot German infantrymen and Mexican bandits, wasn’t too keen on the Indians, smoked like a sublimating chimney, and did pretty much everything that could conceivably be considered grade-A class-1 American Man to the highest degree possible.

Of course, this hypermachoism is likely an overcompensation factor for the fact that John Wayne, regardless of the number of Huns he mowed down onscreen, never served in the military. At the time of World War II, he was 34, was injured, and had a young family, which under normal circumstances would have easily qualified for a deferment. Wayne did so with no hesitations, jumping on his exit ticket with both feet. However, many other Hollywood stars in similar situations, such as Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart, enlisted with little fuss. He felt incredibly guilty about not only passing up service but also exploiting the leading man gap to increase his stature in Tinseltown. Because of this, he tried as hard as possible to convey blatant jingoism and marketed testosterone as a recommended daily allowance as penance for him taking a powder on Europe.

One of the most bizarre aspects of Wayne’s life was one that never happened. Stalin—that’s right, the leader of our perpetual Cold War opponent, Russia—at one point decided that John Wayne represented a direct threat to the spread of establishing the People’s Paradise (or, at the very least, impede the pro-Communist insurgency of Hungary, one can safely presume) and issued an order that the Duke be assassinated. That’s right, the Party Chairman, representing 50% of the total number of people in the world at the time with their finger on the button, bypassed John Foster Dulles and Richard Nixon and went straight for the co-lead in The Flying Leathernecks.

Action stars rarely get respect from the critics, and Wayne was no exception. A lot of his movies, especially his early ones but by no means excepted in his later years, were largely formulaic throwaway films. As time marched on, however, Wayne differentiated himself as movies in general became more dramatic, stories became more complicated, audiences demanded intellectual stimulation, and the industry in general become more…well, more incredibly pussyish. Leading men were no longer Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott but Rock Hudson and Woody Allen. In the new Hollywood, Wayne could have easily been brushed off as a discarded relic of the past, a purveyor of a violent genre long past its prime. Instead, John Wayne embraced it, expanding its influence on cinema, and keeping it alive as a valid form of entertainment. The movies were top quality, the writing excellent, and Wayne was duly recognized with a Best Actor award for True Grit. And not because he threatened each and every member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with blackjacking their four-year-old daughters in the dead of night if they didn’t vote for him. Well, not only because.

The unthinkable happened, then, to the invincible. He contracted lung cancer, no doubt due to decades of chronic tobacco intake, or—if you are a regular listener to Coast to Coast, and if you aren’t, you should be—as a result of nearby nuclear testing by the government during the filming of The Conqueror in Utah. While he had a successful operation to remove the cancer, the removal of a lung made highly complicated stunts such as walking highly difficult, a fact most studio executives tried to minimize. It’s hard to represent American machismo when you have to stop to breathe every ten feet.

A different form of the C finally took John Wayne off the screen altogether in 1979—today, in fact: June 11th. This time it was the stomach, and there weren’t any cigarettes or government H-bombs to blame this time. And while Wayne is long off the scene, the ideals and values he represented are still prevalent in Hollywood, though they are slowly degenerating. In The Shootist, his last film, he refused to have his character shoot an enemy in the back, despite the script being written that way, stating that he didn’t want his real persona to transcend any negative portrayals on screen. By comparison, Dakota Fanning’s 12-year-old character is raped in 2006’s Hounddog without much objection by anyone involved in its production. John Wayne, alas, is dead.


Major League Offenses

June 7, 2007

Last time, I wrote about the excesses of crazy Hollywood girls, so it’s only fair to take a look at the male equivalent: the esteemed members of the NFL. There’s a lot of excess going on there, too, and I’m not just talking about the terms of Chad Pennington’s contract. The commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, recently established a Personal Conduct Policy as a response to the increasing occurrences of off-the-field misbehavior. The threat looms over the heads of players, threats such as suspensions, fines, and possible exclusion from playing in NFL games, the latter a particularly nasty threat to the league as a whole with the exception of the Detroit Lions. Still, it can be hard to remember who did what to warrant punishment, so here is a list of misbehavior in the NFL:

Tank Johnson (Chicago Bears)
Offense: Possession of a handgun; then, while under probation for this offense, a search at his home produced six firearms, including assault rifles. Also, his bodyguard was killed. Whoops.
Official Excuse: The multitude of weaponry simply displays his commitment to the Bears’ defense. Also, he was born in Gary, Indiana, where not carrying a firearm to do such mundane tasks as clubbing and grocery shopping was a criminal offense, the only way out being forming an R&B band with your creepy-ass brothers.
Penalty: Under the terms of his house arrest, he was not permitted to drive himself or travel outside the state of Illinois. A judge made an exception so that he could go to Florida to participate in the Super Bowl. He was thus granted the single, longing taste of the Superbowl, only to have it unmercifully destroyed by Peyton Manning’s incredibly unexplainable hand-eye coordination. Or perhaps it was the existence of Rex Grossman, I don’t know.
Precedent: No precedent, per se, but it is important to note that residents of certain other NFL cities such as, oh, I don’t know, Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Nashville, Tennessee, routinely bring assault rifles to home games as a matter of course, but usually for the purposes of assaulting deer who are trying to move in on their women when they go to after-game square dances.

Terrance Kiel (former San Diego Chargers)
Offense: Selling drugs and urinating in public. But the most important thing he’s in trouble for is that he tried to ship codeine-based cough syrup across state lines, which to me is by far the most amusing thing for an NFL player to be caught for, besides cottaging or certain kinds of securities fraud.
Official Excuse: He had an excrementally bad cough waiting for him in Texas.
Penalty: Free agency. Also, 10,000 hours of community service, which seems like a ludicrous number to me. I think I’d rather spend a year and a half in jail then spend every afternoon in the summer telling kids that while it’s cool to play professional football, you want to stay away from the funky stuff, and just ‘cause the package says “over the counter” doesn’t mean it’s kosher to buy it in bulk. Also, pee indoors.
Precedent: Legendary QB Dan Fouts was ones addicted to Halls Eucalyptus Cough Drops.

Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons)
Offense: Vick is currently under investigation for housing a dogfighting ring in his house, which is conveniently being house-sat by someone that Vick has apparently never seen before in his entire life. The biggest crime, however, is spending $40,000 betting on tenuously illegal dog fights when you are currently making $167 million dollars.
Official Excuse: He doesn’t know nothin’ about nothin’. Vick claims that he’s being taken advantage of by the relatives that are staying at his house; however many contend that they can place him with ringside seats at the canine Ultimate Fighting Championships, which is technically slightly less stupid than the real Ultimate Fighting Championships. Vick is too involved with his fans to participate in dogfighting anyway, such as flipping the bird to the home crowd, blowing off congressional testimony, hiding inhalable jewelry in water bottles, and spreading genital herpes.
Penalty: Dogfighting is a felony, so if convicted will be traded to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Precedent: Despite his clean-cut reputation, Tiki Barber routinely consumed a raw Corgi in view of the opposing team’s locker room before every away game to intimidate his rivals.

Larry Zierlein (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Offense: This offensive line coach was caught forwarding a pornographic and inappropriate email to every single member of the NFL management team, which to me is the single most hilarious thing on the face of the earth. I hope it was that monkey that peed in his mouth. Though I don’t think that’s classified as pornographic. I think.
Official Excuse: Everyone makes mistakes, especially with these newfangled computers and somesuch. I mean, it’s not like he was riding a motorcycle without a helmet or anything.
Penalty: He is no longer permitted to have any of his wishes come true by forwarding a jpeg of a dancing frog wearing a party hat to his fourteen closest friends within two hours.
Precedent: Alan Faneca once sent $14 million to a deposed Nigerian diplomat and is hoping that Dan Rooney doesn’t find this out before contract negotiations start up again.

The Cincinnati Bengals
Offense: Hey, this is just easier, OK? The Bengals have somehow managed to make getting arrested an art form, apparently bringing those lessons learned from the cast of Diff’rent Strokes to the gridiron. In the past three years or so, we’re looking at an accumulated list of embarrassing offenses, such as but not limited to (and as of this writing): resisting arrest, providing alcohol to minors, DUI, DWI, spousal battery, vandalism, operating a vehicle while impaired, domestic violence, drug possession, and possession of marijuana.
Official Excuse: Forget it, Jake, it’s Cincinnati.
Penalty: They all have to learn how to pronounce “Houshmandzadeh.”
Precedent: The entire roster of the Buffalo Bills was eventually placed under citizen’s arrest in 1994.

Pacman Jones (Tennessee Titans, at least for now)
Offense: One of the more amusing things I get to do in this endeavor is to learn something new every day. Here I sit at my computer being all smartass-like, and yet there are certain cultural phenomena that I am blissfully unaware of. Apparently, the harsh evolution of urban culture has produced the concept of “Making It Rain,” whereas the subject takes a large amount of money presumably secured in small bills, throws the collective pile into the air, and watches in apparent glee as it flutters downward as gravity puts in its usual day’s work. Hey, to each his own, but I guess people who have $80,000 to literally play around with can do this sort of thing without a second thought. Though Pacman Jones did have second thoughts—he made it rain (oh, I can’t believe I have to type that) at a local strip club during the NBA finals, and then was appalled when one of the ladies had the nerve to actually pick up some of the bills. So much so that he grabbed her by the hair and slammed her head on the runway. The resultant chaos is the reason for his current suspension.
Official Excuse: $80,000 is a touch too much for a standard lap dance.
Penalty: Currently, Jones is on a one-year suspension from the NFL, the first in a more drastic application of the organization’s personal conduct policy. Also, he’s not allowed in any strip clubs anywhere except certain parts of New Orleans.
Precedent: While Jones only wasted 80 thou, the Cowboys wasted about $25 million on Terrell Owens. At least Jones got some bouncy cleavage out of the deal.