There Goes Another Candidate: Old Bats and Auto Workers, Unite! Edition

May 31, 2008

In an auspicious meeting of the Democratic Party, the leaders of the Democratic National Committee will meet with representatives from both of the major candidates for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to settle how the delegates from Michigan and Florida will be seated. This is, in the words of the DNC, is important, since “I can’t possibly imagine any other method that we could use so that we could drag this thing out any longer without actually resorting to suicide.”

For those unfamiliar with the situation, the DNC advised the states almost eight months or so ago that anyone who schedules their primaries ahead of an arbitrarily assigned date would not be seated at the convention. This was done, in part, to stem the primary system which was slowly creeping earlier and earlier each year as states tried to increase their influence in the nomination battle to the point where the election for 2008 started sometime around when the first George Bush was elected. It was also done to preserve the influence of New Hampshire and Iowa, the traditional inaugurates of the primaries, and of course both states accurately represent the demographics of current Democratic voters, and by all means we want to preserve that. (Cough, cough.) Effectively, those states that defied the schedule would have no official say in the nomination, thinking rather rationally that the race would be decided early December since the last time there was an actual honest-to-goodness challenge to decide on a leader was when George Washington hightailed it out of Philadelphia.

However, by scheduling their primaries early, they could have an easy symbolic say in who gets the nomination, since the election was going to be about one part votes and nine parts faction pandering and media fellation anyway.

(As an aside, the Republican Party avoided this entire mess by penalizing rogue states only half of their delegate count, exactly the sort of thing the GOP does well: come up with rational, businesslike plans for things that never need it, and ball up the things that do.)

Of course, things have changed slightly since then. With the nomination battle so close, all of a sudden the delegates from Florida and Michigan matter quite a bit. It matters, of course, because Hillary Clinton won them both rather easily—especially Michigan, where Obama wasn’t even on the ballot—and so those delegates would count towards her total to narrow the gap between herself and Obama. While she still would be behind in the delegate count, every step closer towards Barack is one less blind puppy she has to sacrifice to get the nomination.

There are two sets of opinions about the situation. (Okay, there are about two thousand sets of opinions about this, but only one will matter and that depends on the winner in November.) One is that everyone knew the rules going in, and those two states decided to ignore them. This is the political equivalent of the age-old axiom of “nanny nanny boo boo.” It’s not particularly fair to go back and change the rules unless you’re running for the Senate in New Jersey.

The other opinion is that this outcome—where one individual arguably has more support overall but thanks to a creaky, archaic system will be denied the victory—has too many shades of the 2000 election, when about three-quarters of the Democratic Party uses their endless supply of indignant rage to replace their Cialis prescription since they both roughly have the same effect.

So both sides are meeting this weekend to hash out a compromise about the wayward delegates. Some of the plans being floated are:

As proposed by the director of the United Auto Workers, he will go “talk to some guys I know” to “take care of” the problem by “talking” to Howard Dean, assuring that Michigan’s delegate vote gets counted.

Have the Detroit Red Wings fight the Florida Panthers to see who gets the delegates (proposed by Michigan).

Have the Detroit Pistons fight the Orlando Magic…oh, wait.

Have the Detroit Lions fight the Miami Dolphins (no one actually wants to see this).

Hope that one of the nominees gets assassinated by an Arabic national making the entire race a wash; thankfully, this suggestion isn’t in the least bit tasteless unless the brother of the person who actually was assassinated by an Arabic national forty years ago suddenly comes down with an inoperable tumor or something.

Awarding just enough delegates to build Hillary up, bring her right to the point of almost satisfying her, then suddenly stopping just short of doing so, in a show of solidarity for the important struggles facing women today.

Shuffleboard match (proposed by Florida)

Michael Moore will solve the entire issue by powering everything with his own sense of self-importance, the outcome of which will eventually incorporate the firebombing of the General Motors executive building.

Let Hillary’s plan be allowed, since this is the equivalent of patting your four-year-old on the head after she “helps” put up drywall in the basement by handing you the hammer.

Deciding on an effective compromise isn’t going to be the easiest thing for the Democrats to handle. It’s not simply about personalities or politics, and it’s not even about fairness or reality. It’s all about want you want to do more: disenfranchise blacks, or disenfranchise women? Yeah, good luck with that.

Hockeytown vs. the Steel City vs. Vs: The Stanley Cup Playoffs

May 24, 2008

Grab a case of Labatt and a pile of calamari and poutine, boys, it’s time to watch some good old-fashioned hockey!

Of course, the outcome of the Stanley Cup finals this week will go unnoticed by many, for two reasons: one is that potentially two sevenths of the game will be shown on the Vs. network. For those who are unaware of the Vs. network, it is a station ran by three or four guys in the back of their garage with a bunch of cameras they bought in the second chance bin at Best Buy, and the announcers are random people pulled off the street who, given all evidence, have never before seen a hockey game before. A typical exchange during the in-game announcing is of Madden-like proportions:

Announcer #1: And here comes…a guy…with the puck. OH he just got slammed hard against the glass.
Announcer #2: In baseball or basketball you wouldn’t be allowed to hit someone like that.
Announcer #1: When you’re trying to get the ball in the…net with your…hockey pole, anything goes, apparently. And there, a shot goes wide out of bounds. Seventh time this quarter.
Announcer #2: A little bit of shoving there. Not very sportsmanlike, it seems.
Announcer #1: Scoring goals is a top priority for the guys in white. The Quebec Navarachiers. Or something.
Announcer #2: And for those just joining us, the Pistons are up twelve points in the second.
Announcer #1: And now, for the next fourteen minutes, an interview with the AHL commissioner from 1982. Presumably the game will still be on when we get back.
Announcer #2: I sure as hell hope not.

The second reason, of course, is that it’s competing with the NBA playoffs. Granted, this is a statistically likely scenario, since hockey playoffs take about eighteen months to resolve. And basketball is an infinitely more popular sport with the American viewing public. This, of course, should not mimic reality at all, and yet it does. Any league that still has franchises in Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City shouldn’t justify having larger numbers than hockey. Even Canada knew better than to keep teams in Quebec City and Hartford, Connecticut, though to be fair moving them to Arizona and North Carolina probably isn’t much better.

However, NBC is at least showing the playoffs from game three on, and this year there’s more hope than normal that perhaps Americans will fall in love with hockey. Ice hockey’s always been kind of the Cousin Oliver of professional sports, and every year there’s always a new set of fictions justifying a miraculous increase in ratings, something that will only happen if the jurisdiction of Ontario extended well past the Mason-Dixon line. And yet this year, a combination of three important factors slightly increases the chance that this may indeed be The Year:

1. Superstar Sidney Crosby, taking time off from filming Gatorade commercials shown only in Canadian markets, is playing in the playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
2. This playoff series does not involve, in any way, the Phoenix Coyotes or the Florida Panthers.
3. Both of the teams are in cities that actually experience winter.

In addition, the Detroit Red Wings are a successful and celebrated franchise, with fans as far as Sault Ste Marie. And while some may see it as a particularly northern-dominated playoff, given the Canadian lust for the sport and, despite the NHL’s insistence on trying to plant teams in hot, sticky cities so they grow a fan base in populations that haven’t received the news about Vicksburg, the lack thereof otherwise, it seems a fairly neutral endeavor.

As always, the mayors of each town have made a friendly bet. If Pittsburgh wins, for instance, Kwame Kilpatrick will have to direct the prison revue of Slap Shot when he goes to jail later this year. If Detroit wins, for the next ten years Pittsburgh will have to show, before any nationally shown games for any of the major sports, a long, panning shot of steel mills billowing black smoke, despite the fact that the last steel mill in Pittsburgh moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1976.

For Pittsburgh’s role, they are proven ratings-winners. The Winter Classic, played against Buffalo on New Year’s Day as a showcase for hockey, was watched by a reasonably respectable number of people at least for it being 1) on New Year’s Day and 2) hockey. This game was notable not only for its national coverage, but that it was 1) played outside, and 2) cold.

Detroit is at a slight disadvantage, however. A coveted tradition for the Red Wings is the throwing of the octopus onto the ice for good luck, usually before the game and when goals are scored. While normally discouraged anyway, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman specifically banned octopi throwing for the playoffs, citing a health and safety hazard from “octopus gunk,” a threat that has apparently grown unchecked. The tradition began decades ago, when a fish-monger of some sort tossed an octopus on the ice as a sign of good luck, since the eight legs of the octopus symbolized the eight games required at the time to reach the Stanley Cup. At least, this is the official story; everyone knows that eight actually symbolizes the number of beers the guy had before he chucked the thing on the ice. Anyway, without such morale-boosting endeavors, the Red Wings will no doubt be aimless and drifting throughout the series.

Of course, I am hardly an unbiased source, but I think it’s fair to say that the Pittsburgh Penguins are on their way to win another championship, because the Pens are the awesomist team ever in the world and Detroit sucks octopus crank. I could go into statistics and the dynamics of the game and all that, but in reality, it’s all a matter of who is best at putting the ball in the basket with their hockey pole.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Summer Blockbuster

May 18, 2008

It’s been quite some time since Indiana Jones last made it to the big screen. Partly it was because the age of the big-budget period blockbuster was fading, shunted aside in favor of overblown comic book adaptations and pussy independent dramas filled with angst and unsigned artists.

For years, a fourth Indiana Jones film has been in the works, with none of the principals involved reaching an agreement as to a serviceable and acceptable plot device. At one point, the plot was going to involve alien invaders, seeing the paranoid sci-fi B-movie theme a natural extension of the adventure pulp of the 30’s, but the idea was scrapped when they realized they had already done that when they produced Star Wars.

Of course, during this time several other plot lines and titles were proposed and ultimately discarded. Some of the examples are:

Indiana Jones and the Search For A Theologically Inspired Macguffin
Indiana Jones and the Search For Someone To Replace My Character That Isn’t Going To Die Of A Speedball Overdose This Time
Indiana Jones and the Not The Temple Of Doom.
Indiana Jones and the Search For Someone To Fill My Lipitor Prescription
Indiana Jones and the Quest To Determine Which Fast Food Outlet Best Exemplifies the Spirit of the Franchise And Award Them A Lucrative Scratch-Off Game Contract
Indiana Jones and the Search For A Plot George Lucas Isn’t Going To Completely Ball Up This Time
Indiana Jones And The Raiders of Calista Flockhart

They finally settled on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a menacing enough title that will be sure to provide ample opportunities for odd gadgets, period weaponry, and the dragging out and subsequent beating of the standardized action film formula.

To continue the franchise, the story had to advance a decade to the 1950’s, since even with all the advances in CGI in the past two and a half decades they can’t get Harrison Ford to look like he did in 1981. The new stand-in villains are the good old-fashioned Ruskies, trying to control the power of the crystal skulls to advance the People’s Republic above and beyond the capitalist menace. Or to be the big swingin’ dick at a Kiev discothèque. Either one, I suppose.

Sean Connery was approached to reprise his role in a cameo appearance as Henry Jones, Sr. However, Connery declined due to his decision to retire from acting, his commitment to the Scottish National Party, and the lack of opportunities in the provided script for his character to punch women in the yap for mouthing off too much.

There has been a lot of notoriously extreme secrecy in the production of the film, eclipsed only by Basic Instinct 2, the secrecy of which was so great no one went to see it. One of the extras from the film was sued by the executives after revealing details about the movie to a newspaper, and one person was sent to jail for stealing various documents related to the movie. However, the culprit who stole the plot from National Treasure to make the Crystal Skull is still at large.

I have a mixed record with the Indiana Jones movies. When I was a child of approximately ten, I happened to walk in on a network showing of the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The scene I was gloriously presented with was the one when the face of the evil Nazi henchman melted when the ark was opened, which my ten year old constitution reacted to by vomiting on the spot. To this day I can’t watch that scene without causing an unfortunate nauseas rush of repressed childhood memories; it also planted in me a deep-seated resentment of broadcast network censors, who were more than willing to deny me the rampant nudity in, say, Porky’s, but gleefully air the melting of a person’s face, the former being of much more interest to me at ten years old than the latter. (Still is, by the way.)

On the other hand, I was a big fan of the Last Crusade, believing that it had the right amount of humor and people defeating tanks on horseback that best represents the era.

I’ve never seen Temple of Doom because every time I put it in my VCR it spits it back out and does a dozen Hail Marys.

So the expectations of the fourth film in the franchise are pretty high. Most people are expecting an action-packed movie on par with the standard summer fare; some are expecting it to fulfill and advance the Indiana Jones character; and some are expecting it to be Sex and the City because their boyfriends tricked them into going. No one is going to be disappointed, though. Unless you’re that eventual government warehouse employee trying to get some overtime during an inventory control weekend who opens the Ark by accident. I suspect your health plan won’t cover face-melting.

Running on Empty: Gas Saving Tips

May 6, 2008

Everybody is feeling the pinch these days…gas prices are through the roof anymore, and more and more people are angry and cheap.

I know a thing or two about saving gas. My very first car, a Plymouth Caravelle, was notable for two things. First, it was the first car to be produced that was made to look like it was the computer car from the future, but did not, in fact, contain any computers at all. They had three different buttons you could press to turn on the radio, manufactured for no other reason except that it was possible to do. My car looked like a cross between an airplane cockpit and the commode after Star Trek threw up. The other notable thing about it was that my car had an energy efficiency rating such that that, when I pulled up to the pump at the gas station, I would get better gas mileage if I poured the gasoline directly onto the ground instead of actually into my gas tank. As a perennially poor teenager (or, more accurately, a teenager who perennially spent all his money on hair gel and They Might Be Giants CDs instead of transportation costs), I found creative ways to improve my mileage, namely, hoodwinking my friends to drive me places.

So I’d like to say I have a pretty sharp eye when it comes to saving gas. I present, then, as a free consumer benefit, a list of gas-saving tips:

When pumping gas at the station, drive there either early in the morning or late at night. Doing so will not only net you dozens of cents in savings, it is also the perfect time to coldcock the attendant and grab all the money out of the register, since that’s a lot more efficient than making an extra trip to the station to gain a few drops of Regular 87 off of The Man.

Encourage India and China to go to war with each other, preferably with nuclear weapons. This is likely to decrease demand of oil and customer service operators.

Try mixing one part gasoline with three parts water, which should increase your gasoline volume by 300%! I think. Anyway, engines are hot and boil all the water away so you don’t need to worry about it stalling out. Your car loves it! I think. Sawdust works too.

Be born in Saudi Arabia.

Car pool with other people! It’s not only an energy efficient way to travel, but you’ll also get to know your co-workers better. Because if there’s someone you want to spend an additional hour in cramped quarters with every day, it’s the people you already spend eight hours with all week like listening to their boo-hooing every day.

Why make five trips to the grocery store when one will do? Consolidate your trips. Instead of picking up your daughter at soccer practice, let her stay there. Hell, she’s already got practice three times a freakin’ week, and it’s always when House is on. If she loves soccer so damn much she won’t mind.

Boycott the oil companies! Boycotting has done so much to reign in companies in the past, I can’t imagine it not working. Sure, of the 118,000,000 barrels of oil consumed by the world each day, not putting eight gallons in your tank on a random Tuesday will send just the signal to OPEC and the oil companies need!

Try riding a bike! You’ll get exercise and save on gas and smell like a locker room when you get to work. This assumes that you work at a place that is downhill both ways to and from home. And doesn’t have winter. Or rain. Or thieves.

Drive the speed limit; this will save gas. Also, it will make you a pussy.

Support a tax holiday! Politicians are ready to temporarily repeal the gas tax until oh, I don’t know, about the middle of November or so. Supporting a policy that will encourage people to buy more gas is exactly the kind of thing that will bring prices down! At least it will in Fantasy Land after the Laws of Supply and Demand are repealed by King Lumblydum and the Queen Ladybug.

Use public transportation! Public transportation such as light rail, buses, and subways use significantly less oil per passenger than driving your old heap to work every day. Sure, you won’t get to choose your time of arrival or departure, can’t carry anything bigger than a folded-over newspaper, have to sit next to a guy that smells like Play-Dough and vomit, feel guilty about not standing up when some old bat gets on, which is every freakin’ stop anymore, and can’t stop at Wendy’s for a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger you’ve been craving since ten o’clock, but at least over the course of a year you can save about twenty bucks or so.

Purchase and drive a smaller car with better gas mileage. Ha ha! Just kidding. Seriously, you should think about doing the whole stealing money from the cash register thing.

I Am…Iron Man. I Plead No Contest.

May 4, 2008

This weekend, Iron Man opened up the box office with over $100 millions dollars in revenue, an indescribable amount of money for something I’ve never cared about more forcefully before in my life. The only thing positive to be said about this development is the fact that it prevented Made of Honor from opening up at number one, the mere existence of which is startling enough to me since I doubt very much it passed California’s strict emissions standards.

I’ve always been lukewarm towards comic books, and ever more so about movies based on comic books. My interest in comic books was pretty much limited into figuring out if paying $3.99 today for some confusingly-paced pseudo-philosophical half-baked storyline was going to be worth significantly more money in the near future as long as I shoved it in a non-acidic case and hid it in a crate in the attic to forget about for about three decades.

Comic book stories—at least the ones that sell—are primarily about superpowers, and each has to cook up either some absurdly original plot device to make it stand out or, if that seems a touch too hard, just make the superhero a scantily clad chick. I mean, seriously, the prevailing hero seems to be largely guys who got bit by lethargic roaches or are the reincarnated spirit of a moon jockey, or some scissor sister who is wearing as much spandex as she doesn’t have modesty. Add a healthy dose of childish hoogidy-boogidy and some scenes of incredibly graphic violence featuring green alien blood instead of the more standard red so it passes the strict Comic Book Code Of Making Sure The Comic Book Industry Never Seriously Competes With Any Other Form Of Modern Entertainment, and prepubescent teenagers and a rather alarming number of twenty and thirty years olds will lap it up.

Of course, I’m pretty much biased against anything that makes me work, and comic book stories make me work. If I am not already familiar with the background and concept of a superhero, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to have to go back and do homework about what kind of crime they fight or why they turned to superheroing as a career track just to enjoy it, even if that homework is digging out thirty year’s worth of overdramatic soap operas dressed up in macho costumes and laser beams so everybody seems a lot less gay than they otherwise would.

As far as I’m concerned, the alpha and omega of my comic book superhero world involves the following:

: Invincible, afraid of kryptonite, deflects suspicion by being the exact opposite of the definition of a superhero: a journalist.
Batman: Creepy guy that lives in a cave, drives a kickass car. Also: Mr. Mom.
Wonder Woman: Hasn’t had a period since 1967.
Green Lantern: I know absolutely nothing about the Green Lantern, but I know for certain he’s eventually going to be co-opted by the environmentalists and help fight villains such as the Merck Corporation.
Captain America: Closet commie
Spiderman: spins web, suspiciously agile, dates someone who is in reality the abstract personification of marijuana as long don’t tell your parents about it.
The X-Men: Nothing much more different than what I’ve seen on Bourbon street at two in the afternoon.
Power Girl: An awesome set of DDs.

(Just to save everyone the time, don’t bother writing and telling me how much of the above information I’ve got wrong. I can bet safe money that there are scores of fans out there wringing their hands and foaming at the mouth, stating loudly to no one in particular, “Spider-Man should be properly spelled with a hyphen!” While I respect the integral facets of decade’s worth of creative effort, I can’t in all honesty…care.)

So enters Iron Man, a superhero I knew next to nothing about prior to the release of the film. And what I did know what pretty much the fact that I am aware of the fact that the words “iron” and “man” are common words but are rarely used in conjunction with each other. Knowing that Robert Downey, Jr. portrays him in the film, it added a touch of preconceived notions about his character. This just won’t do, of course, so despite my better judgment I looked up the story behind Iron Man, and from what I can tell the following sums it up:

-Anthony Stark who, in reality, is a wealthy industrialist who rather than manage his immense personal fortune goes out to fight crime in a big iron suit.

-His iron suit is really an allegory of Cold War weapons and the immense amount of responsibility that comes with wielding so much destructive power. Or an allegory about the role of technology and how it affects an individual’s identity. Or an allegory about the manifestation of bourgeoisie culture in modern times or some complete horseshit like that.

-He spends most of his time protecting his copyright status by disabling other villains who use his iron man suit without express written permission and paying standard royalty rates.

-Despite popular conception, he has not lost his mind, he is not blind, he can walk, and he is alive. These were never really in question.

-Is bipolar, regularly drives around Sunset Boulevard naked, and ingests ten kilos of pure cocaine a day (movie version only)

I’ll probably eventually see it, if not for only the fact that this is the sort of thing everyone eventually watches anyway. For me, I’m waiting for the most sought-after super power of all: Original Idea Coming Out Of Hollywood Man. Hmm. Maybe I should just ask for an iron suit that shoots laser beams instead. That seems more likely.