William F. Buckley, RIP

February 28, 2008

Conservative commentator William F. Buckley died today, age 82. I guess someone finally told him who won the GOP nomination.

Buckley always seemed to consider himself out of place. At least, when he founded National Review, he claimed as such, and he was probably right. He entered the world of opinion manufacturing in a quite hostile environment for the conservative movement, when Vegas was given even odds on Moscow vs. D.C. and women eagerly sold socialist dreams on street corners for cold cash as a matter of everyday course.

Of course, even the conservative bastion of the right wasn’t immune from salvos from his own side. Ayn Rand, never exactly the most forgiving person in the world (and who would be, with her eyebrows?) never quite got over Whittaker Chamber’s scathing review of Atlas Shrugged, even going so far as to accuse Chambers of merely skimming the book. Granted, it’s doubtful even Ayn Rand herself read Atlas Shrugged, but the point stuck, and the feud between the objectivists and the paleoconservatives continues. And even the folks at the John Birch Society considered National Review only a few steps above Pravda for not being outraged enough about the fluoridation of the water supply or for not supporting a legal obligation to shoot residents of Haight-Ashbury with a high-powered rifle for sport.

Early in his life he was also was a CIA operative, something that strikes most people as slightly amusing. Exactly how would William F. Buckley operate as an agent? Where, exactly, would he fit in? He doesn’t exactly blend into a room that doesn’t involve contributing to the endowment or determining the price of gold. Maybe he was particularly adept at correcting the Russian’s grammar or something. He was active for less than a year, though, which for most people seems to be just about enough.

His tenure at the CIA, along with what he perceived to be the unfair portrayal of spook agents in the popular media, prompted Buckley to write a series of spy novels—again, a rather unusually surprising vocation for someone in Buckley’s position. Generally well-received, the stories of straight-arrow Blackford Oakes were interesting if not exactly unpredictable. Of the eleven books written, one can safely assume that the score was somewhere around Americans 11, Russkies and Red Chinese 0.

He also came to national prominence by virtue of his book, God and Man at Yale. (Being born the son of an oil executive and having a European education didn’t exactly count as strikes against him, either.) In this book, he wrote a scathing attack against Yale in particular and Ivy League education in general, accusing them of sanitizing education for the purposes of promoting secular liberalism. Most critics waved the book off as a disgruntled student unhappy with the mainstream acceptance of such progressive contrivances as Vatican II or electricity. For once the critics were right, since there has not been any evidence in the last six decades of American universities being bastions of secular liberalism or forcing that ideology on students who have the privilege of having their parents pay for it.

Of course, most America’s exposure to Buckley is because of Firing Line, a debate program that he hosted. It is probably one of the evil ironies of life that Buckley’s most successful venture outside of National Review was the product of the soul-sucking carnivore of taxpayer monies, the Public Broadcasting Service. It was here that most people were introduced to his quite odd mannerisms, including his clipped, unidentifiable accent and his devotion to using any sort of writing utensil as an adult pacifier. Most unfamiliar with his work might presume him to be just the sort of pretentious elitist liberal impractical intellectual that Buckley abhorred, and might be taken aback with surprise with the realization that he is, in fact, a pretentious elitist conservative impractical intellectual.

He ran for mayor of New York City once, not really to win but more to irritate John Lindsay, a proto-Republican that drove exactly the kind of people like William F. Buckley nuts. He lost, as he expected, and his impact on New York politics ineffectual, what with most New Yorkers not particularly driven to the polls by Lyndon Johnson’s Formosa policy or the gold standard.

Buckley’s legacy will most likely live for much, much longer, of course. He was an important stronghold against progressivism, and inspired a generation of intellectual heirs that act in their own creative ways. And yet this is perhaps just a touch bittersweet, since scores upon scores of young, conservative intellectuals to stand athwart history, yelling “Stop!” did so much to help lead to the end of the Soviet Union but not so much so for the creation of the EPA or campaign finance reform. He died working at his desk, editing a book, a charge you probably couldn’t level at the editors of, say, Mother Jones, who would more that likely be found dead liberating Sandinistas or doing a line of coke in the back seat of a Prius in parking lot of Panera Bread. In theory.

Buckley, an avid fan of the fine arts, declared that Johann Sebastian Bach would be a fitting composer to play at his funeral. A crypto-fascist couldn’t ask for anything more.


The Last of the Red Hot Leaders

February 23, 2008

Finally…the embargo worked!

After 49 years of rule (could it have killed him—literally—to hang on for another year for obsessive-compulsive perfectionists like myself?), Fidel Castro, last of the revolutionaries, vanguard of the coming Communist onslaught, standard-bearer for the socialist dream and the editorial board of the New York Times, is stepping down from power. The large intestine managed to do what Dwight Eisenhower, Allen Dulles, Jack Kennedy, Salvatore Giancana, Pope John XXIII, Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Hurricane Michelle, and four decades of tobacco and rum couldn’t.

Of course, one is reminded of the great philosopher Pete Townshend, who said, “Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.” Then played the synthesizer for about forty-five minutes. The new leader of Cuba is going to be Raul Castro, the current president’s brother. Analysts say they don’t expect there to be a significant change in Cuba’s governmental policy, which pretty much boils down to 1) Go to the sugar fields and help support the socialist state! 2) Boy, this rum is tasty. 3) Ha ha ha.

Granted, there’s a little bit more to it than that, mostly involving throwing olive branches at the Catholic church and expanding free speech by waiting a week before executing political journalists. But the change in power offers a small glimmer of hope to the Cubans, a sliver of light in the darkness interrupted only occasionally by papal visits and below-average health care.

Castro’s retirement—or, sorry, “retirement”—wasn’t exactly unexpected to anyone outside of Langley. He was ill for most of last year, and there was a period of time in which no one was certain whether Castro was still alive or if, in the name of the glorious socialist revolution, they had pumped him full of brine and formaldehyde and was propping him up with some plywood and running him around like Weekend At Bernie’s until his affairs—by which we mean the $900 million he has stashed in Swiss bank accounts and land holdings in Venezuela—could be properly sorted out. But after a few brief medical scares he started to make more public appearances, looking reasonably healthy for a man who spent most of his life dodging both attempts on his life and any acknowledgement that the laws of economics actually exist.

And, of course, Castro has been tutoring a tinpot-dictator-in-waiting Hugo Chavez. Once can only imagine how that particular prep meeting went:

Castro: OK, comrade, we’ve got to get you set up to be the new communist standard-bearer for the world.
Chavez. I’m ready. Hit me with it.
Castro: First off, you gotta be born looking like your mother hit you in the face with a frying pan just for being born.
Chavez: Check.
Castro: It makes you humble, like Lenin said.
Chavez: I’m pretty sure Lenin didn’t say that.
Castro: I forgot rule number two. Agree with what I say or I will shoot your mother in the head with a Russian-built Kalishnikov while I burn the remains of your grandfather over a spit.
Chavez: Got it. Be humble.
Castro: Rule three: Everything is America’s fault, up to and including the metric system and how shitty papayas actually taste despite what we’ve been telling people for a couple hundred years.
Chavez: Down with the USA!
Castro: Good lad. You’ll make it far.

It seems like I write about Castro a lot, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s mostly because I love making fun of communists, and there’s a fair few of them left to target beyond Chavew, Kim Jong Il, and the editorial board of the New York Times. Perhaps I’m also amused by the thought of a dictator managing to outsmart one of the most technologically advanced nations on the Earth. We pretty much devoted the entire Central Intelligence Agency for decades in trying to oust the guy (with occasional asides to expand the merger prospects of United Fruit) and the best they could do was increase the demand for croquetas in Dade County.

Alas, with positive change risks the chance of negative change. While political and economic freedom may be creeping in to Havana, it’s just as likely a grade-A class one four-star crackdown will be on the agenda. When you’re the lone holdout in a hemisphere, your options become largely limited to the logistics of getting dried pork rations evenly distributed amongst the conscripts in time for the soccer match.

Of course, anyone who thinks that Castro is going away is a fool. He’s still going to be around, growing new thorns with which to stick into the side of America. And on his deathbed—which, extrapolating all the information we have gathered so far, will be approximately 2068—we can safely assume that he will be damning the Americans as much as praising the valor and honor of the socialist revolution, right before he launches a tactical nuke at Sweetwater. Che would have been so proud.


The 80th Academy Awards: A Preview

February 17, 2008

Welcome to the 80th Annual Academy Awards! We hope.

This year’s Academy Awards were almost met with unmitigated disaster, even more so than the years that Whoopi Goldberg hosted. With the Writer’s Guild on strike, this meant that 1) there would be no jokes told; 2) most, if not all, of the actors, actresses, and Hollywood executives would boycott it; and 3) this would virtually assure that four fifths of the ceremony would be elaborately staged dance numbers, forcing everyone in America to get up and go to the bathroom for the duration and never come back. Granted, with all these problems, at least everyone could look forward to a show that wasn’t about nineteen hours long.

But, of course, a last-minute vote by the guild was taken and the strike has been lifted, meaning that the awards show will proceed as normal. Of course, this means that the show will be filled with a bunch of hurriedly written jokes and ideas that were hastily strewn together, but most analysts suspect there will be no noticeable decline in quality.

This year, the five best picture nominees seem to reflect an adequate cross-section of the motion picture industry, assuming that we’re not talking about action films, animated features, family movies, romantic comedies, science fiction, horror, anything religious, anything released before December 25th, or anything that isn’t warmed-over pretentious nonsense that goes out of its way to point out that America isn’t, the last anybody noticed, France.

This year’s Oscars are vastly different than last year’s because this year I have actually seem two of these movies, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. This is a drastic departure from years past, when the only way to see any of the movies nominated for best picture is to drive to an arthouse in Manhattan for one of the three showings available to the public before released in an overpriced “Collector’s Edition” DVD next September. So while I haven’t seen all the movies released this year, or in fact any movies at all except these two, I have a lot more insight than in the past about what movies may win. Though probably not.

Atonement: Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to say too terribly much about this movie, since I do not meet the strict requirements necessary to watch it, primarily because 1) I am not female. It is the story of a woman who falsely accuses some guy of rape, basically destroying about eighteen dozen people’s lives, who all sit around in period costumes lamenting about it for an eternity and a half. I think they actually watch the entire showing of The English Patient in its entirety in the middle of this movie. Supposedly there is some erotic activities involved in this movie, which I assume would be an incentive to go see it, but since this is set in England before the war I assume that the coupling takes place when both parties are fully clothed, approximately a hundred miles from each other, and in the presence of their valets who do all the actual work. Keira Knightly stars in this, a rising star that for some reason every guy in the world thinks is incredibly hot but I find her to resemble an anorexic emery board with about as much of the acting range.

No Country For Old Men: Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s comic book (or, sorry, “graphic novel”), No Country is a modern western in the sense that it takes place primarily in Texas and the southwest and pretty much everyone who appears onscreen, up to an including the key grip whose reflection shows up in the car window, (spoiler alert!) gets shot. To be sure this isn’t too terribly much different than most modern crime dramas or the Philadelphia evening news, but it has the added bonus of Woody Harrelson showing up and wasting about twenty minutes of screen time that doesn’t appear to advance the plot in any meaningful way. Still, it’s one of the few chances moviegoers will get to see Tommy Lee Jones, at the end of the movie, deliver (spoiler alert!) an incredibly boring and meandering monologue.

Michael Clayton: See: Brockovich, Erin

Juno: While I haven’t seen Juno, I can gauge pretty well that this will be an awesome, awesome movie, since two of the nine hundred main characters in the television series Arrested Development, hands down the single greatest cultural achievement of mankind, star in it. Jason Bateman, of Valerie Hogan’s Mildly Extended Family or Some Nonsense Like That From The 80’s, and Michael Cera, recently of Superbad fame, both produce, I assume, excellent comic timing matched with equal parts wit, charm, and throwing the middle finger at America for not watching Arrested Development and forcing the greatest cultural achievement of mankind to be cancelled. Of course, it would be illegal for me not to mention that this movie, primarily about some girl that gets knocked up and her passive-aggressive attitude towards what to do with the situation, was written by a female named Diablo Cody who 1) started off as a journalist; 2) became a stripper; 3) wrote about being a stripper; and 4) then her movie got nominated for an Oscar. I’m pretty sure I’m missing some steps here, but for some inexplicable reason no one seems to really care, least of all her publicist.

There Will Be Blood: There Will Be Blood, based on Upton Sinclair or possibly Sinclair Lewis’s novel Oil!, is the tale of an aspiring oilman who, in the course of his business dealings, crosses a small-town preacher. The two of them form an intense dislike of each other so much so that the next two and a half hours of the movie are spent in a violent, no-holds-barred blood feud that eventually escalates to a massive, awe-inspiring, bloody massacre filled with cruelty, revenge, and excess brutality. That, of course, is a blatant lie. It’s mostly a drawn-out affair of psychological positioning and Daniel Day Lewis going batshit crazy on people by yelling odd things at them, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Alas, I was fooled into thinking that a movie named There Will Be Blood would actually have some blood in it earlier than the two hour, thirty-two minute mark. Silly me.


Faith, Hope, and Love

February 10, 2008

One thing that helps romance keep afloat is that of hope. As long as there is a chance out there to find their one true love, most people are content. Sure, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that that blonde down at the coffee shop who bends over a lot to work the milk steaming machine or whatever it’s called will say “yes” when you ask her out, but as long as you can sit in the comfortable confines of your isolated emotional box and ponder the fact that there might be a chance…that’s worth all the actual balls-requiring activity you would need to actually take some risk. Hope does a lot to gloss over a lot of lonely Valentines’ Day evenings and watching The Notebook after 10pm.

Of course, hope can do a lot of scapegoating, as well. While it’s nice to extrapolate theoretical romances in your mind, the practical results are often left a lot to be desired. Hoping that it won’t be the case may make you feel better, but, just like comfort food, caffeine, and the alternative minimum tax, once reality sits in of what you’re really going to have to put up with you’re often left with disappointment. For example:

Hope: I hope that that guy finds me attractive.
Reality: I hope she puts out on the first date.

Hope: I hope I find my true love.
Reality: I’m going to set my standards as to what true love is so high that when I realize that what I’m looking for is impossible to achieve I will be dead.

Hope: I hope I didn’t forget her birthday again.
Reality: Will they be listed as “lawyers” or “attorneys” in the yellow pages?

Hope: I hope I didn’t scare her off.
Reality: I hope he realizes I’m Catholic.

Hope: I hope my significant other doesn’t find out how much I’ve been flirting with the help.
Reality: This could really hurt her chances to secure the presidential nomination.

Another reason that hope is so strong is the mere existence of online relationship web sites. Now, granted, classifieds have been around for quite a long time ever since Og carved “Single Cro-Magnon Male Looking for Single Female, likes long walks on the beach, being drug by hair to cave. Must love mammoths, imminent starvation” in the town rock. And, of course, there is a lot of money to be made in hope, as individuals looking to find their match online are usually willing to pay a premium for such services. (Though one has to pause when a discount is offered for six months of service, a time frame most would assume is more along the lines of the discouraging.) It’s so lucrative that niche markets are about to produce reasonably massive profits, and sites such as JDate and Adult Friend Finder can specialize in (hopefully vastly different) demographics. Simply adding the old .com to any particular concept seems to be a recipe for success, and so Finnishscrapbookers.com and Seventhdayadventistaccountants.com won’t have very long to wait until they are presented with a catalog of love.

Of course, with the introduction of massive amounts of opportunities also frightens many people away. By expanding our choices, we also dilute the attention given to each one. Typing in our height, lying about our weight, and checking off hobbies such as “hiking,” “watching TV,” or “illegally downloading music” and crossing our fingers is a far cry from the personal touch of having the file clerk down in inventory try to hook you up with his roommate’s sister who, by all journalistic standards of accuracy, enjoys having a good time.

Having faith in the new technology of romance is almost essential in today’s world. Not having such faith will unnecessarily restrict you in your choices, and with a few adaptations of behavior, mostly those that will keep you away from confronting Chris Hansen, it can be used to terrifyingly great effect. And while those who help sort through personality matrixes and conquering the elusive likes/dislikes algorithm may have a financial bias to get you laid and/or finding true love, in the end both parties gain. Faith is important for this particular commercial transaction, of course, since it seems destined to replace the more traditional, if more time-consuming and potentially embarrassing, personal recommendation. While your friends and family have a vested interest in not pulling a bait and switch scam on you, lest you skimp on the Christmas present next year or buy generic potato chips for the family picnic, Match.com only wonders whether you’re paying by check or credit card. Having faith that the system works is, therefore, required to keep the whole house of cards from tumbling into a giant heap of unfilled promises, shattered expectations, and Kleenex.

And, of course, it requires a bit of faith for the relationship itself. The person you meet for the first time is only as good as he or she says she is. Most dates don’t come with a background check or a credit report, so you have to take it on faith what they’ve done with their lives. They could be polygamists or cat ladies or libertarians and you’d never know it from their endlessly fascinating stories about what color his car was in high school or the first time she wore makeup to church. Starting out the relationship assuming everything that the other person is telling you is a ridiculous lie is probably the practical and better idea, but having faith in the opposite of that will help you sleep better at night.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, love will answer its own questions. You’ll know when it’s time to relent and cast hope into the wind, safe in the knowledge that your relationship can deal with true reality—and it has to, in order to survive the ups and downs that is the universal nature of love. Faith is unnecessary when you can accept your partner’s unconditional trust, evolving it into obsolescence, and no longer question the important conversations, or even the more pleasurable trivial ones. Indeed, as has been posited, out of faith, hope and love, the greatest of these is, and has to be, love. Dot com.


The Long, Winding Road to Glendale

February 2, 2008

It’s been a crazy year for the National Football League. Granted, every year has its own special sort of insanity, but this year seemed to be just short of Britney-Spears crazy. Maybe it was the history-making New England Patriots. Maybe it was the unintended aftereffects of Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy. Maybe it was just Michele Tafoya’s dazzling, hypnotic eyes.

Anyway, the road to Glendale was bumpy indeed, unless you were Randy Moss. Then it was pretty smooth until you got within the radius of the restraining order. There are, indeed, many stories in this year’s NFL. Here are just a few.

Who Let The Dogs Out? And Let Them Fight Each Other To The Bloody Death?
Last summer, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was charged with dogfighting, which is a federal crime in those jurisdictions that have more dentists than ammo shops. Vick tried to mount a fairy solid defense, claiming that it was friends and relatives that were using his property without his knowledge for the fights. Yet everyone on the face of the earth knows exactly how the conversation went:

Agent: Okay, Mike, the new personal conduct policy is in effect, so you don’t want to do anything that would look poorly against the NFL. Watch what you do and say and, if there is one thing I can emphasize above all else, whatever you do, do not purchase a pit bull. It has connotations of urban violence and will bring unwanted attention to yourself. Do NOT get a pit bull.
Vick: No problem.

[Two hours later, at his house]

Vick: Hey, guys, check it out. I just bought a pit bull.

Cheaters Never Win. For the Most Part. The season started out normally enough, except for the fact that one of the league’s best teams got caught cheating, pretty much the pure definition of a Nixonesque activity if there ever was one. It was a fairly blatant cheating, too, with a staff member videotaping the sideline action to get information from the opposition. Presumably, this was done to unlock the secret and masterfully complex code that is the defense of the Jets. Still, in a professional sports league that prides itself as being above the board for the sake of the fans and, more importantly, the Nevada Gaming Commission, any hint of cheating is frowned upon. In this case, that particular frown was worth about $750,000 and a first round draft pick.

Fans look at the effects of this scandal in one of two ways: 1) The Patriots, aghast at being labeled cheaters about a simple misunderstanding, have something to prove and so start being the ragged piss out of every other team they come up against in the season, running up the score on purpose to shove the middle finger of spite at the other 31 teams in the league; or 2) the Patriots used the information gleaned from their first game to springboard a poisoned well of regular season victories, their perfect season a flawed product of unethically prying open the prize plum of…the crack defense of the Jets. I guess.

The Miami Dolphins Suck at 15:1 odds: Seriously, they do. I mean, every season has their dog, but this year the Dolphins just sucked in a magnitude unparalleled in modern times. Each day, the members of the Dolphins staff should thank their lucky stars for the mere existence of the occasional suck-even-worsedness of the Baltimore Ravens.

Adrian Peterson Becomes Breakout Star: Peterson was the rookie sensation, much like Reggie Bush was last year. Reggie Bush had the help of being part of the Feel-Good Story of the Year, the New Orleans Saints rising from the wet, messy ashes of Louisiana and serve as a bright and inspirational icon for all the poor and downtrodden who one day aspire to earn $300,000 as a college athlete in a bright and inspirational violation of NCAA rules. Peterson, of course, could use his nimbleness and speed on the field to run as far away from Minnesota as soon as free agency comes around.

Jessica Simpson Goes Home, Cries Softly To Herself, Still Has A Better Playoff Passer Rating Than Her Boyfriend:
Football fans are a superstitious lot, and often latch onto small, insignificant items in the daily lives of themselves and their team as portents of victory or defeat. Some people decided to hang the mantle of harbinger on one Jessica Simpson, who was the girlfriend of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Last season, Romo became an effective quarterback throughout the season only to blow it on a botched field goal attempt, dashing any hopes of a Superbowl game. This year, of course, things were different. He blew a last-drive pass and converted a sure touchdown into a sloppy interception, thus dashing any hopes of a Superbowl game. Most fans blamed sometime actress and sometime singer Simpson as “distracting” the young quarterback, who replied, quite correctly, “Yeah? So what? Have you seen the size of those things?” To which all fans silently nodded and agreed, and Tom Brady told Gisele Bundchen not to wait up for him tonight.

The Undefeated New England Patriots Meet…the New York Giants? Sure, why not? The Giants weren’t exactly the expected victors in the NFC this year. That honor would probably go to the Dallas Cowboys or the Green Bay Packers or about ten of the other teams in the conference. Eli Manning is looking to do what his brother did last year and secure a Super Bowl ring, as well as earn the respect of his peers, not act like a hillbilly in front of the slick Arizona city folk, not star in any commercials during the coming year, and cure cancer, all of which have about an equal chance of actually occurring.