Welcome to Obama Nation!

August 26, 2008

Welcome to Denver, where the elites and working class join hands and celebrate the nomination of Barack Obama for the Democratic National Convention. No flash photos, please, and if you must smoke, please do so at the nearest designated non-smoking area, officially known as Utah.

The theme of this year’s Democratic convention is “One Nation,” a sentiment somewhat contradictory to 2004’s vice presidential candidate, John Edwards. His idea of “Two Americas” presumably includes those in which his wife has terminal cancer and one in which he has a mistress; alas, for Edwards, the times have changed, and those two worlds have now become one.

The selection of Denver as the city for the convention was no accident. Surely, the cold, unforgiving masses of Colorado are rather unwelcome to those Democrats weltering in the south or at least have the benefit of the gentle gusts of wind emanating from Martha’s Vineyard, Puget Sound, or Joe Biden. Colorado is seen as a potential swing state. While Bush and the Republicans have safely won the state over the past few decades, the Democrats have slowly been gaining ground. What used to be the standard-bearer of western rugged individualists has found droves of environmentalists, immigrants, and rich urbanites looking to get away from the exact sort of city they voted to create in the first place settling in and, worse, registering to vote and, even more worse, actually voting.

This year, then, the Democrats are hoping to pick up its nine electoral votes. While small in the grand scheme of the electoral college, it’s a gold mine (quite literally) in the razor-thin election results we’ve seen lately. Someone, somewhere, on hearing about the selection of Biden as the vice presidential candidate, wiped their brow, squeaked a “3” on the dry erase board, and was glad to secure Delaware’s otherwise safe three votes.

This was shaping up to be one of the few political conventions in recent years that might have some legitimate drama. Conventions used to be full of brokered deals: cabinet positions auctions off to the highest bidder, legislation hammered out and agreed to in exchange for favors; party platform statements used to score internal political points but largely ignored by pretty much everyone else in the history of mankind. These slowly drifted away in importance as primaries determined the nominee, and the only thing left to do at conventions was get drunk and accidentally cast vote for Dennis Kucinich.

This year, with the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so close for so long, it was rumored that there may be a brokered convention once again, just like the olden times of Eugene McCarthy, Adlai Stevenson, and a long, long, depressing list of extremely capable losers. This trend, as it were, was the impetus for the creation of superdelegates, individuals empowered to vote for whoever they pleased. In effect, this was to ensure a voice within the party apparatus, but, in reality, it was to prevent the Democratic faithful from nominating Walter Mondales for the next 2,000 years, which seems quite likely even today. (The Republicans have no such issue, and no superdelegates; they simply run an auction.)

Obama has also made a historic decision: to give his nomination acceptance speech not at the Pepsi Center, but at Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play. This echoes john F. Kennedy’s similar decision when he accepted the nomination in 1960, one of the few ways in which Obama has likened himself to Kennedy. And by “few” I mean “about as many times as John McCain has reminded us that he spent five years in a POW camp.”

Whether the convention will be a grand success, playing on Obama’s strengths while downplaying the historically bitter primary or descending into chaos and strife, remains to be seen. Several protest groups with an unfortunate grasp on exactly the sort of political spectrum they are protesting against have already planned on attempting to create the 1968 convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey got into a fistfight with Mo Udall in the men’s room, and Mayor Daley roamed the floor with a steak knife he stole off of Lyndon Johnson personally garroting anyone he found giving him the ole crook eye.

Ultimately, it is going to be up to Obama to determine how this convention is viewed by the unwashed undecideds. Given that Obama’s campaign theme has been largely about the rather blandly generic terms of “change” and “hope,” it seems rather strange to latch on to another quite lukewarm concept as “One Nation.” While political themes have always been broad and undefined—Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” could mean the optimism of a renewed America or another damn Starbucks being built next to the dentist’s office—the Obama campaign seems to be striving for optional definitions with a politically constructed premise to be named later. Obama should do what every Democratic campaign in the past century has done: grasp the universal theme of peace, fairness, and pandering to labor unions, environmentalists, and Hollywood. It works every time.

Kiss a Sasquatch Good Morning

August 17, 2008

For a time, at least, alarmingly significant portions of the North American population thought that they had found him. Bigfoot, the elusive creature of which folklore and major motion pictures starring John Lithgow are made, was captured. Captured, of course, in the way all Bigfoot sightings are—in the sense of “We may or may not have found an animal of indeterminate origin that we’re not going to show you any of the evidence for.”

This time, of course, they thought they had found him. “They,” of course, being the sort of people to call a press conference before the conclusive DNA results have actually come back yet, so sure of their find. The story was even picked up by the major news outlets, something I assumed was devoted solely to the items that Lindsay Lohan regards as acceptable things to enter into or exit out of her hoo-ha or the occasional report as to what Obama pooped out after eating a McGriddle. But there it was, amongst sordid tales of subprime reform and protests in Beijing: Some Fringe Nutjob Thinks He Might Have Found Bigfoot.

Well, not exactly. The report, no doubt currently wrapped in a manila envelope being mailed to the Pulitzer committee, featured a rather disturbing photo of what appeared to be a Bigfoot carcass. It wasn’t Bigfoot kicking up some mold spores in a big hairy cage tied up by leather straps in some dude’s basement, or Bigfoot eating Froot Loops while sitting on a tree stump trying to do the Jumble. It was a post-Sasquatch. He looked like he was crumpled up in an abandoned meat locker, a shameful burial and no doubt a nightmare to the olfactories. It basically looked liked a hollowed-out monkey suit had been dumped into a malfunctioning refrigerator with the door tore off.

Of course, there’s a pretty good chance that it was, in fact, a picture of a hollowed-out monkey suit that had been dumped into a malfunctioning refrigerator with the door tore off. The DNA evidence, once the results came back, identified it as human or opossum. Of course, the counter claim was that these were obviously part of the stomach contents of Bigfoot, a known opossum connoisseur, but one doubts exactly how much further they are going to go with this.

The story, of course, is otherwise light on details and full of rampant skepticism. The body of a 500-pound suspected Bigfoot was “stumbled upon” by two individuals while hiking, who, oh, by the way, just happen to immediately contact someone who have previously detailed Bigfoot discoveries in the past. That’s about as believable as the cat who lovingly purrs up against you after you find out that someone just took a dump in your bathtub while you were out.

Bigfoot sightings are exactly the sort of thing that happen with unfortunate regularity, but not rare enough that it still shows up on the Odd News column. They go way back to the late 1800’s, when those still searching for the frontier would often report sightings of strange animals to journalists hungry for a story that didn’t involve railroad combinations or inkwell trusts. Most of these were converted into sensationalistic mockeries of modern journalistic standards except, of course, for the Sasquatch Preservation Society newsletter and the New York Post.

Out of all of this, the most amusing aspect of this Bigfoot story is the fact that a reporter for the Scientific American, no doubt looking longingly back at his four-year college degree in journalism, had to actually type out the phrase indicating that the individuals who made the claim “made an announcement on a bigfoot enthusiast radio program.” A bigfoot enthusiast radio program, eh? Someone in Riyadh just put another note in their file.

I don’t quite get the allure of Bigfoot. I mean, there is a certain attraction to many creatures in the cryptzoology menagerie; the scaly, dragonesque dread of the Loch Ness Monster, perhaps, or the eerily terrifying hoop snake, or maybe the tauntingly alluring mermaid. But Bigfoot? He’s basically just an ape, only bigger. He doesn’t have any special powers and didn’t come into being via any generally accepted birth of legend, except perhaps the divine experience of ingesting peyote by our Native American ancestors. He basically lumbers around and waves off cameras like the Amish, leaving big, suspiciously asymmetrical footprints and a disappointing taste of locale.

It’s somewhat perplexing exactly why individuals make wild, easily disproven claims such as this Bigfoot find. On some level, no doubt, there’s a certain amount of self-delusion involved, the exact sort of thing that fuels the initiative of American Idol contestants, Division IV rugby enthusiasts, and House Republicans. But it certainly can’t be the entire thing. As with nearly all human endeavors, the chance that someone, at some point, is going to stop someone and say, “Hey. Maybe this is kind of a stupid idea.” It doesn’t always happen—witness New Coke, the Golden Compass, and the inexplicable success of John Mayer—but more often than not batshit craziness tends to be self-regulating. At least, that the sort of thing that lets me get to sleep at night.

The 50 Meter Great Leap Forward

August 13, 2008

Welcome to the 2008 Summer Olympics in beautiful Beijing! Be sure to stop by the gift shop, where you can help imbalance the trade deficit and maybe pick up an oxygen tank or two. Also, French judges are on sale! Hope you enjoy your stay, and just remember that if a policeman cracks you on the side of your head with a baton and drags you to a dark, cold cell, it’s only because you spoke out against the government. Salut!

The Chinese government did a lot to prepare for these Olympics. While the nation of China has modernized quite a bit lately—and via a much different method than other attempts at modernizing in the past (cough, cough)—Beijing was expected to be ready for a massive restructuring of their society to welcome the hungry eyes of the world.

They first had to deal with protestors. China has had a lot of history to protest against, from the move for Tibetan independence to the recognition of the Falun Gong, to the court-martial of General Tso for making chicken too damn tasty. There were also protests that the Chinese armed forces were going to forcibly participate in the games under a new sport, the 1500 km dash to Taipei.

There have also been concerns about the environment. Upon landing at the shores of the celestial empire, the first thing most foreigners notice is that it looks like Pittsburgh circa 1890. The fog is so thick you can barely see any of the nine year olds that make your shoes. This was a concern, especially of top-tier athletes used to breathing in the crystal clear air of Turin or Paris or Johannesburg, that their oxygen intake may impair their athletic prowess, giving the native Chinese athletes, who have been filtering iron particles through their lungs for decades, an unfair advantage. Even Yao Ming, China’s most popular and richest athlete and who grew up in the country, was appalled at the filthy conditions in which the world’s best athletes were asked to compete, though he did concede that it was still preferable than playing for the Houston Rockets.

One of the more bizarre controversies involves the little Chinese girl who sang at the opening ceremonies. The opening ceremonies has been lauded as an impressive feat, the product of what can happen when an authoritarian regime spends an assload of money and utilizes underpaid workers to create an impressive song-and-dance spectacle when they just put their collective minds to it. However, it turns out that the girl that sang wasn’t actually singing; another girl, not as cute but with a better voice, sang instead. For some reason the act of lip-synching at a major event seems to have caused outrage amongst many media pundits, apparently equating the evils of the Chinese government with the worst sins of Ashley Simpson and Milli Vanilli.

Of course, despite all of these problems, Beijing had a fairly recent successful example to follow. In 2004, Athens was able to prepare for the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics much more efficiently, mostly by making sure all the goats were herded off before the torch made it to the market square, and security was tightened by certifying both of their police officers in anti-terrorism tactics, which mostly involved eating too many lamb gyros the night before and sleeping until noon.

Despite all of these concerns, the Chinese government has an incentive to make sure all of the sporting events go off without a hitch. The Beijing Olympics are the single most important cultural event that has occurred in modern China’s history. Or, rather, this has to be the case, since every American reporter mentions it approximately every other sentence in every report they give, even if the subject of the report is the ongoing war in Georgia or Lindsay Lohan dropping a bag of cocaine on the dance floor of the Coot Scoot. Although, to be fair, then mention that a lot less than they mention the fact that the Olympics started on 8-8-08, and 8 invokes the word “prosperity” in the Chinese language. Really! You don’t say! Every other minute!

Of course, the best news so far for the Americans from these Olympics—aside from the fact that our President was trying to get some strange from the women’s beach volleyball unit—is swimmer Michael Phelps. He’s already won the most gold medals of anyone in Olympic history; he is on track, barring any sudden unexpected appearances by Jeff Gillooly, to break the record of winning the most gold at any one single Olympics. Of course—and not to detract from Phelps’s rather impressive accomplishments—but it appears that it’s not that hard to get eight gold medals when there are approximately six billion different events with variations of swimming back and forth in a pool built specifically for the purpose by six billion different Chinese slave laborers.

Still, there are plenty of events yet to go, and there is most likely going to be a lot more interesting things still to come. And while I can’t criticize the Olympics too much—I get light-headed changing light bulbs and vomit at the thought of a light trot up a flight of stairs—I think credit is deserved where credit is due. I will feel unrecognized until the International Olympic Committee awards me my medal, since I feel that I deserve at least the gold for going an entire column without making one the-Chinese-eat-dogs joke. I’m just sayin’.

Destination America

August 3, 2008

Summer is winding down, but there’s still some time left to take that vacation you’ve been putting off. Things have intervened—work, school, relationships, selecting a vice presidential candidate—but everyone needs to take some time away from their everyday lives to maintain their sanity.

There are a lot of popular destinations within the United States to travel to. Here are some of the more popular places for you to go to blow off some of that well-earned steam:

Orlando, Florida

What’s There: Disney World, Universal Studios, and more alligators, handguns, and cocaine than you ever thought humanly possible
Why You Should Definitely Go: If you have never been to Disney World you are officially a communist.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: After spending ten dollars on a plastic souvenir cup of 90% ice and 10% unidentifiable sugar water, you’re probably going to become a communist.

Las Vegas, Nevada
What’s There: There are a few casinos there, but it’s mostly a vast, sticky morass of vice and debauchery.
Why You Should Definitely Go: It is a vast, sticky morass of vice and debauchery.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: There is a small chance that some of your time spent in Las Vegas will not involve gambling, eating unhealthy food, waking up in a pool of your own vomit, ingesting illegally obtained prescription drugs, or a final trip to the free clinic on your way to the airport. Also, your chances of getting your skull cracked open by a mafia goon increase approximately infinity percent once you enter the city limits.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

What’s There: It’s basically Las Vegas, but for losers.
Why You Should Definitely Go: Atlantic City is great if you are too old, broke, or too much of a pussy to go to Vegas. Also, you get to see all of the Monopoly streets, which means you’ll spend about three hours of your life being bored until someone finally says it’s time to go to bed and flips the board over when the winner disagrees.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You have any dignity. Also, it’s in New Jersey, which is enough of a gamble in and of itself.

Niagara Falls, New York/Canada
What’s There: A huge waterfall, and more overpriced kitsch than at a Beverly Hills bris
Why You Should Definitely Go: It’s kind of awesome. And there’s a small chance some idiot in a barrel will kill themselves, and that’s never a bad thing.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You have to deal with a boatload of oddly-shaped currency that you’ll bring home and not be able to spend.

Hollywood, California
What’s There: About twenty photographers and four thousand waiters wanting to be actors for every actual actor.
Why You Should Definitely Go: The glamour, glitter, and bright lights of the motion picture industry. Also, a massive amount of low self-esteem and heroin.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You will leave without a soul.

Grand Canyon, Arizona or possibly Colorado
What’s There: Nothing. Quite literally. I mean, seriously, you’re basically looking at what isn’t there. Doesn’t anyone else but me find that a little bit creepy?
Why You Should Definitely Go: Donkey rides.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You’re most likely going to run into a bunch of eco-tourists who are fueling their vacation via their own sense of self-importance, or a messy collection of fat vacationers emptying their RV’s septic system in one of the natural wonders of the world. Either way, you’re going to hate them.

Some Random Beach in Maryland or one of the Carolinas
What’s There: Fat people in speedos and old people in stuff that was out of date when the Kaiser was eating Gerber’s Sauerkraut. You will not see any hot women.
Why You Should Definitely Go: Beaches are fun, in that “please kill me now” kind of way.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: Horseshoe crabs are kind of icky. Also, hypodermic needles, sand collecting in rather unfortunate places, and the possibility of vacationing in the South or, worse, Maryland.

The French Quarter, Louisiana
What’s There: Ever been to Vegas? This is Vegas without laws.
Why You Should Definitely Go: If you have already contracted all known STDs and therefore don’t have a whole lot to lose.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You will leave Louisiana either being an ordained voodoo priest, requiring an AA sponsor, or becoming a libertarian.

Mount Rushmore
What’s There: An absolutely huge sculpture of our most influential Presidents, and about what I estimate to be about six billion novelty T-shirts showing the other side of the mountain, complete with the bare asses of our esteemed Founding Fathers. God bless America!
Why You Should Definitely Go: You want to see the world’s largest and most expensive fanboy project. I mean, besides the Phantom Menace.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You don’t feel like being depressed over the fact that, if the sculpture were remade, it’s extraordinarily doubtful any new Presidents would be added.

The Alamo
What’s There: A world conceived exclusively within the admittedly creative imagination of Texans.
Why You Should Definitely Go: Every other state in the union is closed for renovation.
Why Maybe You Shouldn’t: You are anyone else besides a Texan.