Lip Gloss

November 28, 2007

It’s about time we talked about lip gloss.

Cosmetic fads tend to kind of fly under my radar most of the time, since I’m hardly in the market; the only cosmetics I wear are other women’s lipstick on my collarbone. (Those who know me well can vouch that that is a purely theoretical statement.) And I’m selectively uninformed about it; I lump lip gloss together with all other lip-related makeup, up to and including Carmex and self-induced collagen implants, one step of personal knowledge somewhere between color coordinating shoes with purses and The Gilmore Girls.

Thankfully, due to my crack research team of me looking up stuff on the Wikipedia thirty seconds before starting to write anything, I know a little bit about what the lip gloss thing is all about. Namely, It’s yet one more thing caged rabbits have sacrificed their eyes for to make certain parts of our face slightly shinier.

Lip gloss, ostensibly, is used to put a brilliant sheen on your lips, not unlike lipstick or about a hundred other products. Of course, lip gloss is quick and easy to apply and, most importantly, also is available with glitter, metallic, and frosted accents for those times when you want to look like a 13-year-old girl with identity issues or perhaps a seductress combing the world for a mark who is attracted to making out with a girl whose lips remind them of a microwave oven.

Of course, I’m probably missing the point, mostly because I don’t care too terribly much for cosmetics. I think most women are beautiful enough as they are and don’t need artificial methods of enhancing their attractiveness. Then again, I also believe in a gold standard and Quentin Tarantino movies, so perhaps my judgment should be viewed with a rather large grain of salt.

But, still, it seems that lip gloss has benefited from a rather remarkable marketing campaign. Lip gloss is sold as an alternative to a lot of different cosmetics, when really it’s just toned down lipstick without all the fussing about with colors or materials. While plenty of women in their twenties and thirties wear it, many of the new lip gloss innovations seen to gear their pitch to younger, preteen girls, with their aforementioned accents and flavored varieties. (It tastes like money, I presume.) Some are even sold as health supplements, used (I guess) to heal the burning, inalienable feeling that somewhere in Southeast Asia a poverty-stricken child has pale lips.

Of course, lip gloss is highly popular with young women, personified in the lamentable movie Bratz, a serene attempt to somehow convert all of the negative stereotypes of materialistic (yet strangely and eerily diverse) youth propagated by the popular doll set into a family-friendly motion picture, the moral of which, like all women-coming-of-age stories, I guess has to be “Be yourself, assuming that yourself includes lip plumper, tight pastel T-shirts with glitter writing on it, and greenish highlights to piss off your grandmother who in about six years will unbeknownst to you give you the money you will take to college supposedly to buy books and Yaffa blocks with but you will use it to buy your first brick of hash with instead.” The movie, which I will proudly admit I have not seen, apparently is the first movie to have more screen time devoted to the application of lip gloss than actual dialogue, kind of a Pax-TV-version ratio worthy of comparison with Goodfellas. Of course, a movie such as Bratz whose depth is such that falling into it would have a scarce chance of inducing vertigo, less dialogue and more lip gloss is probably a positive development.

The virtues of lip gloss is not lost on the entertainment industry, who view the preteen market as a lucrative demographic as yet to be tapped, at least once you factor out Hannah Montana tickets, ponies, pink cell phones, and (I assume) posters of Corey Haim. (Hey, you’ll have to forgive me if my frame of reference for young teenage girls stopped around 1989. I’ve been busy.) Two—count ‘em—two songs have been released entitled Lip Gloss, one way back in 1993 when I’m pretty sure lip gloss was simply a twinkle in a 3M engineer’s eye. Of course, that song is by a British alternative rock band and whose lyrics appear to be largely symbolic of things that are definitely more related to the back rooms of Glasgow pubs instead of pre-teen-girls. (Actually, I doubt this is true. I’m just saying it because, as with all British media I come into contact with, I assume every word is cockney rhyming slang for some unearthly depraved sexual act.) The other is by Lil’ Mama, the lyrics of which appear to have little to do with cosmetics and a lot to do with repetition. At least it’s good to know that, black or white, rich or poor, Britpop or hip-hop, we all have one thing in common, and that’s lip gloss. Unless you’re male, then, well, no. We have Corey Haim.

RelationHints! If There’s Going To Be A Bloodbath, Let It Begin Here

November 25, 2007

As Rene Descartes once said, breaking up is a grand pisser and a half. But sometimes it just has to be done. Either you’ve drifted apart, or you’ve met someone new, or the court order was renegotiated to 100 yards. While circumstances differ—and do they!— you probably want to formulate some sort of exit strategy, so when the end does come, you won’t be caught in a violent, sectarian mess that teeters on the brink of a bloody civil war.

So here are some tips to minimize the sloppy, disgusting mess that is the aftermath of a once-glorious but sadly-faded relationship, the obvious parallels to old war heroes, the network of historical New England lighthouses, and the career of Robin Williams best left unstated.

Force Your Partner’s Hand:
Sometimes, when you want to break up, force the other person to do it. This is a time-honored trick dating back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam kept making casual remarks about how lovely the apples on that tree looked but gosh darn it, there just wasn’t anyone around who loved him enough to risk chomping down on that tasty, forbidden fruit.

Often, the best thing to do is to set your significant other up with one of your friends. For a twofur, make it that friend who “forgot” to return that hundred bucks you lent him. Then you’ll have a good excuse to ditch both the heartless nag and the freeloader at the same time, or at least extract a promise to come over and play the Wii whenever you feel like it.

Another good tactic is to move the goalposts, and by “goalposts” I mean “become a completely different person since the time you put out on the first date.” For most individuals, this actually happens as a matter of course, and usually ends up in a mutual severing of ties or a mid-life crisis, whichever comes first.

Men and women are different! Both genders approach the breakup differently. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time—which, of course, for your purposes, is the right thing at the right time!—will give you casus belli to skedaddle in time to make those dinner reservations with that blonde clerk down at the gift shop in the hospital.

For women, you may want to take a small, insignificant detail that never bothered you before and blow it completely out of proportion, making it the functional equivalent of knifing Ron Goldman or Hiroshima. (Please note that this is above and beyond the normal things you should blow completely out of proportion on a regular, daily basis.) Here are some good sample ending starters:

“Why do you always have to open the car door?!”
I want to be the one to flip on the light switch. Is that too much to ask?”
“I guess I’ll never be the one who chooses which mechanic to go to.”
“If you ever sleep with my mother again, we’re through.”
“I love you.”

For men, you only need a well-timed statement to set off the slow, elaborate descent into the inevitable:

“Would you stop talking like that?”
“Cosmetic surgery isn’t that expensive.”
“Would you stop talking?”
“The Holocaust never happened.”
“I think your sister’s pretty.”

Different individuals react different to such drastic changes. Some people simply take it in stride and assume that the world is full of change and they adapt. These people are called “men.” Everyone else will use this as a basis to never let their partner do anything ever again for any reason until they transform themselves to the exact same thing they were when they first met, including but not limited to their income, personality, and wardrobe.

Call in the cleaners.
Don’t be selfish with your entrance into the single world. Recently trashed individuals are vulnerable and irrational, and this is the time they need to have meaningless, soulless sex. And emotional support, as well. I guess.

The rebound is a tried-and-true method of getting over an ex, and it’s one of the few romantic transactions that have the ability to be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. The ditched, or ditchee, needs a brief respite from relationships and romance, and just needs a friend to talk to and, if drunk enough, take advantage of. And there are plenty of individuals out there perfectly willing to be taken advantage of without all the fuss and feathers of romance, relationships, or last names.

Broken relationships can leave a fairly damaging mess—it interferes with existing friendships, it creates immense amounts of ill will, there is plenty of secondary collateral damage to other parties, and it makes holiday dinners and weddings somewhat uncomfortable. The important thing to remember is that it will all end up being better in the long run if you both can’t simply get along. Unless there was a gifting of jewelry, in which case the guys are screwed.

Cruise Patrol

November 25, 2007

Now, by nature, I have a very adventurous desire to go a lot of foreign and exotic places, such as going to get my driver’s license renewed. I would love, for instance, to see the aurora borealis, which I suspect could possibly be cooler in person that on my Windows screensaver. However, I also have a burning desire of not pissing away money on things I could conceivably do when I’m retired and inflation has ravaged all my savings away so I might as well hitch it to the North Pole to evade the tax authorities and soak in the local flavor, and also see if I can get a decent price for the trip via my future robot travel agent.

But cruises never struck me as a particularly interesting method of transportation. To me, they’re just self-contained petri dishes of stomach flu and chlamydia, isolated from any form of vaccine or Coast Guard by design. I’ve been told otherwise, but I picture cruise ships as being one big lobster buffet with baccarat and Mrs. Robinsons defiling the sanctity of youth and, eventually, a murder mystery involving an antique revolver and a gramophone.

In a way, the cruise ship is ingenious. Going on vacation is fun, but the transportation to get there sure isn’t. You can either travel by car, which involves the suffering heat, sweltering boredom, and the dull hum of the highway as you drive to the bank to cash in your savings bonds to pay for the gasoline. Or you can go by plane, assuming that the Terrorist Threat Level is lower than “Don’t go any place where they eat lamb.” Or if both you and your destination happen to be in a congressional district influential enough to have a train, you can do that, too, as long as you enjoy quietly riding in the physical manifestation of the color gray and have no self-esteem.

But cruise ships—well, there you go. Not only is your arrival going to kick off the fun, the transportation is equally fun. By taking the down time you would normally spend reading billboards or ignoring that loud old bat sitting two rows behind you who WON’T SHUT UP about her no-good son-in-law and converting it into an all-night party, cruise lines have tapped a lucrative and creative market for vacationing individuals. It’s maximizing the fun potential of the entire trip, provided that you have no problem with the off chance that someone on board is extraordinarily happy that extradition treaties have no force of law in international waters.

Of course, things change when there is a chance that you will hit a freaking iceberg. Which, of course, recently happened to an unsuspecting boat about a week ago or so. The cruise line in question specializes in “extreme” destinations, such as the Amazon and Detroit—in this case, they went to Antarctica, a place not generally known to be highly rated by AAA. Even more puzzling is that the cruise originated in Canada—and here, I assumed they would want to get away from a Canadian-like environment. Though I suspect there are a lot less fussing about with dollar parity in Antarctica.

The ship itself was built in 1969, which, for me seems like an eternity in Cruise Ship World. If I’m going to be ramrodding it to a desolate area even scientists are afraid to go, I want to make sure it’s something that wasn’t built before Kissinger was. I can only assume the thing was lime green and ran on kerosene and still had the Led Zep II 8-track stuck in the stereo.

The captain of the rescue boat helpfully and amusingly stated that Antarctica is the “windiest” continent, that particular adjective being the one for him that sticks out as notable, I guess. I would have assumed “darkly treacherous,” “desperately isolated,” and “suicidally dangerous” would be more apt, but, then again, I’m not the captain of a Patagonian rescue boat.

Though, to be fair, the Antarctic is a lot more violent than I assumed. Certainly, I wasn’t going to nominate it as the next location of the house-of-cards-building exhibition, but I kind of assumed all of those end-of-the-world locates were kind of all eerie and spiritual with their stillness. Turns out it’s actually a grade-A class one menstrual cycle tempest in a teapot down there, and it was equal doses good fortune and miraculous luck that the place wasn’t wound up like a four-year-old after a nutritious breakfast of Oreo cookies and raw sugar cane.

Thankfully, everyone involved is safe and rescued, despite the fact that both the Chilean Air Force and Argentine rescue teams were involved. (Not to slight the Chilean and Argentine forces, mind you, it’s just they’re usually rescuing copper mine executives from rioting miners and extraditing tinpot dictators, not actually throwing inflatable rubber rafts out of helicopters.) I’m sure some of the passengers on the cruise were excited about the crash—they were going to Antarctica, after all, and certainly weren’t expecting to lay around playing Magic: The Gathering and watch Air Bud: Golden Receiver the whole trip. But one has to assume that the next trip most of these individuals will desire somewhere that will be less wet, less cold, and less of a change to capsize after hitting an iceberg. Like, for instance, their den.

A Turkey A Day

November 21, 2007

There are two important things to remember about Thanksgiving: Food and football, though not necessarily in that order. Sure, sure, sure, there’s the whole “tradition” and “giving of thanks” but mostly this is a tradition of 1) food and 2) football, and give thanks for that.

Anyway, the Thanksgiving meal is the centerpiece of the occasion, so it’s no surprise that it gets a lot of attention. But for some reason there are certain people, namely communists and Al-Qaeda, who believe that the standard fare of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving just isn’t holding up too well. So for those looking to renounce their citizenship, here are some different alternatives to try for the standard Thanksgiving fare this year:

Deep-Fried Turkey: Whoever came up with the concept of deep-frying an entire turkey should be simultaneously nominated for the papacy, the Nobel prize, and (what the hell) the Pulitzer. Seriously, taking a nominally healthy item like turkey and deep-frying it is pure genius, right up there with taco salads and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Tofurkey: This is one of those made-up words that I mispronounce regardless of how many times I say it, which I hope and pray every day is never. I always want to say “tofu” without continuing the statement to say “turkey” so it always comes out as “tofufurkey,” a kind of degenerate banana-song variation of what George W. Bush might say if he ever needed to reference a tasteless, soulless husk of a main course over the Thanksgiving table.

Ham: Whoever decided to make ham an officially licensed Meat to Devour During Thanksgiving™ deserves to be shot. Seriously, ham is for Easter and Passover (I think) and turkey is for Turkey Day. And people try to make ham more than just ham by doing all sorts of unnatural things to it. Like pineapple. Who makes this stuff up? “Hmm…how can we make ham better?” “I know! Let’s make it taste slightly like the pina colada lifesaver no one ever wants to eat out of the multi-flavor pack.” Rubbish, I say.

Pressed Turkey Sweepings Formed Into The Shape Of A Slice: Found most notably at Denny’s.

Popcorn, Toast, and Pretzel Sticks: Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ about. If you can’t have turkey, this is the next best thing. Well, no, ham would be. But still.

Flavored Stuffings: There is only one recipe that can properly be called stuffing, and that involves fixing the bread, adding in a host of seasonings, then throwing the whole thing in the trash. Stuffing enthusiasts have taken the concept of adding corn flakes to a meat loaf and basically laughed at it. I mean, nothing wrong with stuffing per se, but it’s own name means filler—let’s make a turkey look bigger than it really is! This will fool everybody up until the point where they look at it! The entire concept of cranberry stuffing, apple stuffing, and spearmint resin stuffing is ludicrous on its face and should be considered grounds for a civil case.

Any sort of dessert that is not pumpkin pie: OK, There is a little bit of an addendum to this rule. You can have additional pies and desserts beyond pumpkin, provided there is a strict three-to-one ratio of pumpkin pies to other things. You can have your apple crumbles and peach cobblers and all other sorts of blasphemous tarts, as long as you have at least three pies steaming hot from the oven to back you up.

Insane Sauces: I hate gravy, but I am foolish enough to concede the fact that I am a minority on this point. (Gravy, to me, is simply liquid meat, a disgusting and vile combination of nouns and adjectives I want nothing more to do with.) But some people try to push off various sauces and toppings that are downright un-American. I have seen pistachio sauces, ginger broth, and spinach dips dressed up as “gourmet offerings” but in reality are “stuff that pisses off your slightly racist uncle who just wants the drumstick, mashed potatoes and the Lions game, dammit.”

Turkey in any other form that sliced: I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing several failed attempts to be more creative with the turkey, despite the fact that the turkey spent his short, merciful life growing into the specific shape you see wrapped up in the freezer aisle. For those keeping score at home, turkey loafs are a no-go, and any type of turkey cakes or turkey balls or whatever Martha Stewart came up with in the slammer are going right back down to the shelter so they can be ignored and dismissed by hungry proletariats before they give in and wash it down with a savory beef stock broth and warmed cheese juice.

Stuffed Potato Shells
: Strictly speaking, this isn’t Thanksgiving fare, more like appetizer fare at every faux-upscale hipster dump chain restaurant that somehow manage to ruin a good thing with way too many chives. But it’s popping up more and more on Thanksgiving menus, which in my mind is certainly fine. There are a lot of extraordinarily great ideas sprung forth from lazy people, and I cannot think of anything lazier—and deliciouser—than basically kinda scooping the insides of a potato, deep-frying it, and then cramming it full of fattening junk like cheese, bacon, and sour cream. God bless America. The pilgrims fought and spilled blood against the French or Canadians or the Arawaks or something in Lexington and Normandy so we could make a perfectly acceptable vegetable like the potato the single most fattening item outside of shoving a side of beef into a pizza hollowed out and filled with Chicago.

So, anyway, spend this Thanksgiving experimenting with food, and you’ll soon be the talk of the town. And the cardiac ward.

Hungry Like the ‘Wulf

November 18, 2007

Rising from the deep murkiness of the dark, soulless lake in Denmark or possibly Norway, I think, Beowulf returns. Just in time, I suspect, for the Christmas movie season.

When the classic poem Beowulf was written lies suspended in the swirling mists of historical inaccuracy, the target area of composition being in that questionable range of “between the eighth and tenth centuries,” a level of exactness I am used to hearing from weather forecasters and potential girlfriends when asked when our next date may be. Though to be fair at least the historians don’t leave one of the ends as a standing infinity.

It also has a rather unfortunate distinction of being, like Jessica Alba and Derek Jeter, of indeterminate origin. While apparently a strictly Anglo-Saxon composition, it’s clearly of Scandinavian influence, with extraneous slashes and a lot of talk about fishing boats and cell phones.

As a story, Beowulf is equal parts fascinating and rather unremarkable. A kingdom is ravaged by the monster Grendel, ironically one of the few characters of the poem that does not sound like it was composed out of the reject Scrabble letters. The monster, it seems, is unhappy with all of the singing and the celebration of the king’s warriors and subjects, Grendel apparently being a likely candidate as next year’s Resident Assistant. He patiently waits for the men to sleep, then sneaks in and eats a majority of the army.

Now at this point I have to stop and ponder. It seems rather odd that a monster would be able to sneak into a castle and eat a majority of the warriors. Even the drunkest of soldiers would probably elbow up perpendicular to the ground wondering what the fuss is about. I have to assume that either the king’s men were recruited during a shift change at the local Denny’s or someone was dropping Aqua Dots in the mead.

Beowulf, a warrior from a neighboring people, hears of the king’s plight. He offers his services, which the decimated king quickly accepts, and overcomes the beast by tricking the monster and ultimately killing him. Grendel’s mother, filled with an estrogen-fueled rage, assuming medieval Scandinavian monsters produce estrogen, comes to avenge his death, using pretty much the exact same game plan—waiting for the king’s men to sleep, then eats one of them. At this point one begins to suspect that the king’s men weren’t exactly resting up for the SATs. Beowulf quickly dispatches the matron by beheading her after being pulled down into the bottom of the lake and fussing about with +10 swords and immunity spells and a bunch of other weird crap like that.

Beowulf is named king of his own people in recognition of his bravery, and lives a long, boring life that is stretched out for what seems like two thousand couplets. Late in the stages of his life, though, one of Beowulf’s subjects and potential Mensa president sneaks into a dragon’s lair and steals a goblet of indeterminate worth. The dragon, awakening from his slumber, finds the object missing and reacts by burning half the world while tracking down the thief. Beowulf and a red-shirted accomplice with the extraordinarily non-masculine name of Wiglaf go after the dragon, since the remaining population is too frightened to join in the fun, and ultimately are victorious. Alas, Beowulf is mortally wounded and demands that he be buried with all of the dragon’s sizable treasure, ostensibly since the treasure is cursed but you and I both know it’s a not-so-subtle way of an elderly king being forced to fight a dragon saying to his subjects, “piss off, you ungrateful cowards.” And everything ends peacefully, except for Wiglaf, who somehow gets nothing but the shaft out of the whole deal.

Like most ancient literature, Beowulf is scarily one-dimensional. He is a warrior first and foremost, and, to be honest, second, third, and fourth. There aren’t any extended scenes where he describes his feelings to his therapist or higher being, no long talks with a sensitive brother or submissive female. It’s all about hacking, slashing, and the oft-alluded to hedonistic pleasures he will be granted to him upon his successful return, assuming that occurs.

Beowulf’s roster is full of oddly-named characters, as if someone spilled orange juice in the keyboard of the anonymously creative Saxon who wrote it centuries ago, and all the consonants stuck together every time he tried to type something. There’s Hroogar, Wealhpeow, Hygelac, Ecgtheow, Hrunting, and Yrs, none of which I am 100% positive aren’t actually swords or amulets instead of monsters or people.

Of course, there is a lot of interest in this poem recently, which is generally disregarded unless you are attempting to pass, or teach, 10th grade English. The reason, of course, is that a big-budget 3-D version of an ancient, extremely boring poem was released this weekend. Granted, this is an epic poem tailor-made for Hollywood—monsters and fighting and sci-fi-franchise-style money-making potential and a slot for a strong female lead that gets to both 1) seduce and 2) kill someone. The latter is filled by the box-office draw Angelina Jolie, who recently made headlines at the premier when she noted that she was “startled” about how naked she looked all big on the big screen, the actress apparently not having access to the Internet.

Anyway, hopefully the effect of the movie will at least have some positive effect on literacy, much like what Lord of the Rings did for getting students interested in the fantasy genre and High School Musical did for staying home from the theater and reading something. When you have a gripping story, a classic and rich cultural heritage, and an actress with a fantastic rack, it’s amazing what literature can do.

There Goes Another Candidate: Beyond Beyond the Fringe Edition

November 18, 2007

Last time, we looked at the historical impact of third parties, but let’s take a look at those candidates and organizations running in next year’s presidential election. It will be both illuminating and entertaining, the exact combination of adjectives we need in this country right now, and is certainly an improvement over the current prevailing adjectives, those being smug, incompetent, and female.

Libertarian Party: This party will most likely have one of its more successful years, thanks in part to the candidacy of one Ron Paul, current representative from Texas. He ran as a libertarian candidate for president nearly twenty years ago, garnering nearly dozens of votes and showing up in the footnotes of the Wikipedia in perpetuity. He has received a surprising amount of support from Republicans disaffected by the current leadership, libertarians who actually want to be able to win at least one election that is greater than 4th Ward City Council of Nampa, Idaho, and Democrats somewhat concerned with the certain nomination in their party of anyone who will immediately dispatch a three-prong invasion of West Point, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and Bentonville, Arkansas. On the other hand, Paul’s success is only remarkable in contrast to other third party successes; he still barely registers above five percent in polls for Republicans, somewhere in popularity between Larry Craig and an atheist Iranian editor of the New York Times. His most notable achievement within the GOP so far has been to embarrass John McCain and enrage Rudy Giuliani, neither of which is all that particularly difficult.

Green Party: The Green Party has always had a love-hate relationship with…well, hell, with everything. They love seeing hundreds of thousands of people show up at a rally, but they hate seeing hundreds of thousands of people exist. They love the creation of hybrid cars, but they hate the fact that it requires the existence of an actual corporation that makes money to produce it. They love the increasing popularity of hormone-free beef and free-range chicken, but hate the fact that actual cows and chickens are being eaten. They love Ralph Nader’s anti-corporate tirades and public popularity, but they also hate him since he obviously conspired with Sandra Day O’Conner, Diebold, and the Florida Department of State to single-handedly elect George W. Bush. Anyway, the chance of them being satisfied with, well, hell, anything is fairly remote, though one can say the same about the voters.

Constitutional Party: A ragtag collection of anti-tax crusaders and real crusaders have somehow propped up the Constitution Party for a few decades now. They generally sympathize with the same sort of anti-government sentiments as the libertarians, only with the added benefit of not having everyone in the room faint in an enveloping sense of self-importance if someone mentions God in passing, and the conventions tend to smell a lot less like pot and sex. Unfortunately, the Constitutional party expends most of their energy every four years trying to nominate the Almighty, a daunting task given the strict ballot requirements in California.

Natural Law Party: OK, strictly speaking they’re not a player in 2008 and has effectively dissolved from existence in the United States, but I just absolutely love the concept of basing an entire political party on a touchy-feely abstract concept based on equal parts transcendental meditation, holding hands and chanting te deums, and encouraging a positive energy flow to solve all of the world’s problems. I mean, besides the Democratic Party.

Independents: Plenty of candidates, distasteful of the two major parties, find it otherwise self-aggrandizing enough to run under no party affiliation at all. This has the benefit of not requiring to be chained to an unpopular platform or associated with Bible-thumping rich white oil executives or lesbian tree-hugging social workers, but also has the drawback of only being able to raise funds equivalent to a maximum of six junior bacon cheeseburgers and change. Because of this, the independent run is highly popular with self-made men and celebrities, neither of which need to sell their soul to the teachers’ union or Amalgamated Steel, since they long ago sold their soul, depending on their source of notoriety, to get venture capital or a glamorous tit job.

The most realistic independent candidate is Michael Bloomberg, a financier who spent most of his life as a Democrat, ran as a Republican, then filed as an independent, just the kind of rampant indecision we look for in a leader. Currently the mayor of New York, he did an outstanding job of holding George Pataki’s coat while George Pataki held Rudolph Giuliani’s coat in the aftermath of 9/11. Bloomberg had the misfortune of picking up pretty much when Giuliani left off mere months after the attacks, though to be fair Giuliani did his best to stick around. He’s done his best to not do anything at all; for instance, his tenure is notable in the fact that he has successfully prevented the police force from shoving a broomstick up any immigrant’s anus.

History is riddled with perpetual candidates, but one of the most notable (and crankiest) is Michael Moriarty. Not only does he have that cool sinister-sounding last name, but also he has a wonderful and curious combination of policy stances that are sure to be ballot-box gold. For instance he is against abortion and embryonic stem-cell research…but also against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Catholics. He’s a modestly accomplished jazz pianist, former boozehound, self-proclaimed political exile to Canada and subsequent honorary mayor of Winnipeg, and most famously played lawyer Ben Stone on the television. This last fact may be his Achilles’ Heel, of course. The chance of a Law & Order actor running for the presidency is fairly low.

There Goes Another Candidate: Beyond the Fringe Edition

November 14, 2007

During any presidential campaign, any number of third party candidates may make a run for the nomination. Aside from their entertainment value, they very occasionally have an impact on our political culture, which, to be fair, is probably more than actual, elected presidents have made. Today we’ll took at the history of these parties.

History is riddled with single-issue cranks and hard-boiled extremists running for the top position in the land, many with varying degrees of seriousness. Many individuals (I almost said “men” but then I realized that a rather significantly larger proportion of individuals who run for president as third party candidates are female, and by “significantly larger proportion” I mean “more than zero”) simply run to bring a particular issue to the table; some run to spoil another’s chance at victory; some run vanity campaigns to satisfy their egos and, apparently, are very much interested in the well-being of the advertising budgets of network television and lawyers from moderately-prestigious law firms; and some run because they’re batshit crazy.

Some, of course, run for all of those reasons.

The history of third parties is fascinatingly boring. On the one hand, the causes they espouse, ranging from free love to the colonization of Mars, are brilliantly different than talking about, say, the Alternative Minimum Tax or our Southeast Asian Foreign Policy. On the other hand, they very rarely, if ever, make that much of an impact on the actual, legitimate result of an election, since close elections tend to keep spoilers away from the ballot unless your name happens to rhyme with “Dalph Vader.”

There are three significant elections that a fringe party made headway at the presidential ballot box. Way back in 1856, a little-known third party attempted to challenge the entrenched Democratic Party and a decaying Whig Party, running on the doomed platform of liberating the slaves or, at the very least, being a touch nicer to them. While the brand-spankin’-new Republican Party lost fairly badly that time—elections back then were touch-and-go affairs, where the actual votes cast by property-owning males tended to be secondary to other, more pecuniary matters—they came back with a vengeance, winning a four-way race in 1860, an event so anticipated with jubilance by the entire population 618,000 people died in celebration.

In 1912, the rather curious affair of the presidential election was handled by walrus, a drunken bull, and a cold fish. Strictly speaking, this is a fringe party in name only. Teddy Roosevelt, having spent a term and a half formulating policy centered chiefly around eating the raw flesh of bears and aiming a crossbow at the future Kaiser, retired to the safari after handing the keys to William Howard Taft, a man so large he once got stuck in a textbook of obligatory presidential facts. Taft proved to be a lackluster president, spending most of his time sleeping, which to be honest I think more presidents would be better off doing.

Nonetheless, Roosevelt, after being denied the nomination at the Republican Convention, created his own third party. It is the testament of the man that he was able to form an entire party unto himself simply via the act of existing. He called this party the “Bull Moose” party, the most absurd name I’ve ever heard for a political coalition since the Greenback Labor Party, which I am convinced was simply the whimsical creation of a confused and apparently colorblind racist. He came up with the name after a speech in which he said that he felt as “strong as a textbook of obligatory presidential facts.”

The last time a third party candidate blipped on the radar was H. Ross Perot, a computer-company magnate. Granted, he made his money when computers will strictly cardboard-and-vacuum-tube affairs, but they money was still green after all these years, so he was legitimately rich. This of course means he was officially able to purchase a spot on the ballot. It is a uniquely American thing that the population assumes anyone who is able to operate a business successfully has the management experience to run an entire country, the presumption being that the business they run has employees hired on the basis of their connections and can never be fired for any offense less than urinating in the Pope’s Wheaties, and even then; the output of the business cannot be measured except in terms of how photogenic the employees look on campaign brochures; and any decision you make on either side will immediately be considered 1) racist; 2) sexist; and 3) somehow hurting the poor, all three problems of which can be alleviated if a new bridge is built in their district.

Anyway, Perot’s main platform seemed to be a mixture of 1) I’m rich! and 2) You’re not. His campaign was an eclectic one, eschewing much of the modern campaign’s techniques. He used a series of infomercials to send his message of fiscal prudence and non-batshit-craziness to the masses, and his folksy manner reminded most voters of their vaguely remembered slightly bigoted uncle. His intermittent campaign, combined with the fact that voters are reluctant to elect a clinically insane man as president, doomed his campaign to failure. His legacy still lives on, of course; American voters have come to terms with this, and have embraced clinical insanity as a political virtue. Dalph Vader would be proud.

Workers of the World, Unwrite!

November 11, 2007

There’s something particularly odd about the Writers Guild of America strike. I mean, I understand the mechanics and the reasons behind the strike, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to work up a proletariat lather about Harvard graduates making $200,000 and up a year in a dream job because they’re not making a few cents every time someone in Madrid decides to watch streaming video of the Jimmy Kimmel show making fun of the mentally handicapped.

I actually do remember the previous writers’ strike, a little over twenty years ago, when I was in my formative years and pretty much the entire reason for my existence was very close to being destroyed. Television had effectively halted, and every frame of reference I had to American culture and life in general was about to be stopped cold, replaced with a so-called decathlon of comedy that threatened to replace my own core of being with the Billy-Connely era Head of the Class episodes. It took almost six months for the strike to end, a time I can only equate with the Bataan Death March in terms of horror and impact.

The most disappointing part of the strike is that if there is one thing that solidarity amongst comrades universally creates, it is a vaguely defined chant with which to slightly embarrass their bourgeoisie oppressors. Alas, even though these individuals are writers, their chants so far have been pretty lackluster. It’s been a week of such gems as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, royalties for internet streaming video and DVD compilations of sketches we have written have got to grow.” Apparently, being on strike means not writing, even if that means writing slogans directed at your corporate bosses, and the union bosses won’t allow the quality of writing to exceed anything above the level of USA Original Comedy Series.

The actual details of the strike are, like pretty much all sets of negotiations since the first shot was fired in Homestead, a series of increasingly mundane details that become astronomical in the aggregate. And, of course, it’s also a large part of corporations and union workers trying to swing their junk around like lightsabers to see what connects first and with the most impressive display of fireworks. In this case, it’s mostly a matter of royalties. The biggest issues are DVD sales and internet episodes, which writers get a small and zero amount, respectively. Writers are generally ranked well below the actors, directors, show runners, advertisers, costume designers, set designers, and random audience members in terms of respect, pay, and recognition.

The DVD issue is simply a renegotiation of an existing price. Currently, the rate set for residuals for the home video market was agreed to when VHS tapes were pretty much the province of pornography and what I can assume four billion versions of Gallagher stage shows, neither of which tend to rely on the expertise of writers. As time as gone by, of course, VHS and then DVD sales have exploded to the point where it is many times higher than the actual box office and first-run network television. The writers are contending that the rate should be doubled…from four cents to eight cents, approximately, a figure that is almost comical in its minutia until one realizes the sheer number of copies of Lost that have been sold this season, at least in terms of how many used sets I see for sale in college fire sale pamphlets.

The other main issue, internet episodes, is probably of more concern. Currently, writers get a big goose egg in terms of royalties. The studios are concerned that these episodes are mostly an unknown commodity; the internet itself has just now set up a shaky alliance of funding in the form of unstable Google Sense ads, tiered paid access, and elaborate pyramid schemes that apparently hinge on sending email greeting cards en masse.

Many actors, producers, and other Hollywood elites have joined in support of the strike. One of the stranger alliances is that of Jesse Jackson. This does seem to be a bit odd since Jackson’s presence seem to fit too diametrically opposing entities, his role as a defender of African-American interests, and the interests of network television, the collective lot of whom could easily be mistaken for the audience at a Fallout Boy concert.

While the strike continues, one individual is trying to work behind the scenes to see if an agreement can be reached: Arnold Schwarzenegger. He seems oddly appropriate for the role; since he is an actor, he has a somewhat legitimate reason for being involved (though, certainly, not as a writer, unless you count that article for the Nietzsche Review he wrote decades ago) and, as a politician, would like to broker (and, not coincidentally, take credit for) an issue that has effectively been grinding a rather major industry in his state to an embarrassing halt. Whether he will be successful or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, a rather informative documentary about unfunny lesbians called Caroline in the City is about to start. I hope it’s good, because 22 weeks is a long, long time.

Peak Times at Ridgemont High

November 7, 2007

Sometimes, people seem to get upset about the strangest things. Nary a day goes by we don’t hear about another corrupt political leader, another inefficient industry being bailed out by the government, or another overseas adventure turning up two bells and a cherry, and yet a strongly concerned coalition of teachers, parents, and the paid professional organizers who alerted the media have gotten all wound up about a rather modest proposal by the mayor of New York.

No, not Rudy. I mean, yeah, he’s still technically the mayor, having been awarded this post for life by Ol’ Scratch back in 1994. I’m talking about the one actually sitting in Gracie Mansion, Michael Bloomberg, head of one of the most powerful forces in the western world: Bloomberg, L.P. Oh, and also, New York City.

Anyway, the mayor of Gotham recently floated the idea that the best way to get kids to excel in school was to award them free cell phone minutes for their success, rather accurately realizing that if there is one thing that can overcome students’ hatred of studying, it’s talking on a cell phone.

Boneheaded ideas spring forth eternal from the minds of politicians all the time, though to be fair it’s not only politicians whose creative abilities occasionally misfire. Pro football coaches, professors, pundits, religious authorities, and former best-selling pop artist Mouseketeers from Louisiana also have shown an amazing amount of bad judgment in their proclamations. In this case, though, it’s rare that the condemnation comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives cranked about how the quality of education in this nation has sunk to the level of rank bribery to get kids to study well, ignoring decades of incentives produced from not getting beat silly for not bringing home more F’s than the TNT showing of Goodfellas. And liberals cried all shades of foul because the bribes weren’t going to the teacher’s union directly.

Of course, there really isn’t any fundamental flaws in Bloomberg’s plan. Life is full of incentives, whether they be in glory, sex, or cold hard cash. It’s just our society has inured us to believe such things are improper, so we have to disguise and sugarcoat them in the form of meaningless titles, in-kind contributions to our mortgage interest rates, and subtle signaling mechanisms to our loan officer that all of our neighbors aren’t white trash by driving to the bank in an uncle’s Sebring.

And nowhere are all of these incentives distorted more than in our educational system. It’s bad enough the government has gotten involved, of course, but that amazingly horrendous confluence of teachers, administrators, parents, children, and property taxes makes a perfect storm of complete and utter chaos. It’s like Katrina and Victoria Beckham combined.

Incentives have always been a fairly impressive carrot all through the K-12 years. In kindergarten, kids are placated with cheap juice and the opiate known as the Letter People. In grade school, an established pecking order is quickly derived in the anarchy of the playyard amongst those that procure lunch money, those who defy the oppressive thumb of the sadistic librarian, and the lucky chosen few who get to clean the erasers. This is maintained in a silent truce through a complex system of bribes and threats, including but not limited to coughing up stale Ho-Ho’s and undesirable dollar coins, passive-aggressively “misplacing” books in the wrong place in the Dewey Decimal System, and taking as long as possible to go outside and pound two pieces of dusty black Malaysian fabric together so you can sneak in a smoke or two.

In high school, things tend to change. There are two overriding incentives in high school that often conflict. Students in high school direct pretty much 100% of their energies in either 1) trying to get into some other girl’s pants/not getting pregnant; and 2) getting into a good college. The former, of course, has its own set of incentives we can’t really go into here; suffice it to say it involves a mixture of self-loathing and lip gloss. The latter, of course, is one of the few effective auto-policing incentives in the school system. Kids suddenly start paying attention in AP English when they are indoctrinated into believing that memorizing two passages from Richard III is the difference between Harvard and the West Valley College of Culinary Arts and Auto Detailing.

But then we’re back into the swing of things once college pops its ugly head over the horizon. The federal loan program and Pell grants are just an elaborately concealed bribery scheme that would make Jack Kennedy cry bootlegged gin, complete with arbitrary conditions and cherry-picked recipients, all to the end of being forever indebted to the government even after they let you loose with a warning after they caught you sneaking A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out CD under your Abercrombie hoodie.

So I don’t quite see what’s so bad about the mayor’s proposal to reduce getting good grades and studying hard down to blatant bribery. Pepsi already possesses the football field, Johnson & Johnson effectively controls the prom, and Halliburton controls the textbook industry, so I don’t see why we can’t hand out throwaway phones for passing Trig on the first try.

So Much For The Afterlife

November 4, 2007

Sometimes, being deceased isn’t the end.

It’s kind of creepy when dead people come back to life. Granted, this only occurs in television, movies, and the South Carolina senate delegation, but, still, it’s weird to think about it. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about zombies and vampires or anything like that. They’re kinda creepy in their own special way, the same way that hummus and watching that show on the Discovery Channel where they show doctors removing benign hip tumors are creepy. You don’t really want to watch, but you’re about 90% certain it’s all just spray-painted foam rubber and macramé processed by Industrial Light and Magic anyway.

So the new television series Pushing Daisies has a premise very similar to this. Only instead of the fictional undead, the main character can bring deceased individuals back to life, but only for up to a minute, and touching them again kills them permanently. One would assume this would produce a lot of much-needed closure for families and law enforcement, but it pretty much is boiled down to proclamations of “I was expecting the white light to be a bit more dramatic” and “Dammit, I told you we should have switched health care providers.”

But fictional deaths are only disturbing up to a point, since we all know it’s just smoke and mirrors, like carnival games and S-CHIP. One step above that are people who are celebrities, who are almost but not quite fake. Celebrities, you see, are successful media personalities, their impact of which is felt long after they are dead. Forbes magazine recently released their list of richest dead celebrities.

That’s right, they ranked the most profitable celebrities that are no longer in this mortal coil. These individuals still get royalty checks and direct deposit in the afterlife. Topping this list is, with no particular surprise, Elvis, who one presumes is spending it on sequins and OxyContin.

In fact, speculating on what the top ten or so rich dead celebrities would spend their coin on is a creative and fun exercise we should all try just once in our life:

John Lennon: J.D. Salinger’s head on a platter
Charles Shultz: Minoxodil and Prozac for Charlie Brown
George Harrison: Money is a tool of the oppressive Western-based soulless society! Also, hash.
Dr. Seuss: Worblefeets and Gumgotrans, whatever the hell those are.
Albert Einstein: Cheeseburgers, stock in Lockheed Martin.
Andy Warhol: Crystal meth, taste.
Tupak Shakur: I thought this was a list of dead celebrities. I assume bling, here.
Steve McQueen: Wait, Steve McQueen is on this list? Really? Steve McQueen, of, uh, Bullitt, and a bunch of other TNT-on-Sunday-afternoon movies? I mean, c’mon. I assume he spends his money on bribes to the editor of Forbes Magazine.
Marilyn Monroe: Starch, Valtrex
James Brown: All monies earned are redirected to a fund to pay child support to his approximately 18,000 children.
Bob Marley: You only get one guess here.
James Dean: Catastrophic health insurance, seat belts.

There are a few surprises on this list, not only for who is on there, but who isn’t. For instance, I’m rather shocked that Keith Richards is nowhere to be found, and I can only assume they’re still airing Larry King Live. Maybe they both got a raw deal on syndication rights or something.

And, of course, we all know that politicians may die but that doesn’t mean thy stop affecting policy, much like how FDR’s actions shaped the modern world, or the frozen, animatronic figure of Ronald Reagan guides our current president’s day-to-day planning. Gerald Ford’s thoughts about the current state of affairs have finally been released, taken down by a biographer before his death earlier this year. His sentiments were simple yet refined. Well, maybe.

In a book teasingly entitled “Tell It When I’m Gone,” Ford knew exactly what he was doing—saving up one last salvo of hard-hitting invectives against a political system that unnecessarily tainted him with scandal and denied him his chance to prove his political worth in favor of a picket-fence toothed peanut farmer who buggered up the economy and single-handedly ushered Iranian hostages into the embassy, and wiped his feet on the way in. And, of course, doing it long after he’s checked out of this realm.

Although, Ford being Ford, the criticism seems…well, it seems very 1974-ish. He called his former chief of staff Dick Cheney’s role in the Bush administration “not the asset I was hoping,” apparently surprised that offshore platforms do not produce electoral votes. He called Al Gore a “bore,” which puts Ford on the same realm as every other person on the face of the planet, and Warren Christopher a “dried up prune” a rather unusual insult for someone whose main impact on modern political life was to make Lloyd Bentsen look like a cross between Orlando Bloom and a milk crate full of poppers.

And, of course, Ford stated that he wasn’t sure that America was ready for a “lady president,” a phrase I find endearingly charming and suggestively condescending. No one is called “lady” anymore unless you’re in a Jerry Lewis movie, at a Styx concert, or a former Prime Minister of the UK.

Then again, America wasn’t ready for an unelected President, either. And the unfortunate thing about being dead is you can’t stick around to claim otherwise.