Thoughtless Ideologues Of The World, Unite!

October 21, 2007

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Che Guevera’s death, where he met an untimely demise in the heat of battle, heroically defending the inside wall of the abandoned schoolhouse his arms and legs were chained to. Of course, this is only the official story of what happened to Guevera. In reality, and depending on your inclinations, he either died carrying helpless children and bread vouchers from the clutches of merciless capitalism, or lives on today housed in the basement of the DNC offices issuing decrees of faith and inspiration.

Che Guevera is the poster boy—rather literally, given the bottom line of many a leftist college bookstore—for young revolutionary gone good. With a bright future and a remarkable display of intelligence in his youth, he witnessed the widespread poverty in throughout his home region and resolved to do something about it. Betraying this intelligence, however, was the fact that he thought the best way to do this was through armed communist rebellion, a method that has been proven to work so well then and since.

While Che was a gifted leader, his actions seemed somewhat out of character given his posthumous accolades. He was initially trained in medicine, but expedited his education so he could get a move on overturning despotic regimes, a somewhat curious career path for a medic—most doctors go from being a doctor to heal people and making no money to doctor in California inserting bags of wonderfulness into certain parts of women and making boatloads of cash, quite different than going from GP to revolutionary foot soldier.

While he helped organize some of the most successful socialist revolutions in modern history, he also spent a lot of his time being not much more than a desk jockey itching to go fight, spending his time in Cuba as the Minister of Industry, carting around blueprints and creating elaborately unsuccessful plans for the industrialization of the nation instead of out sabotaging weapons shipments or executing enemies of the state. His time as the head of the National Bank of Cuba and the National Institute of Agrarian Reform also diluted his revolutionary zeal with the slightest stigma of a bureaucrat. One becomes a cultural icon of the constant revolution by leading armed insurrection against fascists, not by being co-chairman of the Fourth Annual Comintern South American Industrial Trades Expo and Socialist Revolution in Buenos Aires.

Armchair psychologists—the best kind, I might add—could have a field day. Naïve left-coast students are lovingly enthralled with his seeming indifference to rewards and glory, the only possible explanation to the fact that he was never installed as the chief executive of any nations he helped change governments in, with the possible exception of not wanting to be shot in the head by a CIA agent within moments of inauguration. On the other hand, he was an incredibly aggressive individual. Not in the let’s-go-get-’em can-do attitude inherent in many military-minded individuals, but the for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy-don’t-let-him-near-the-cat way. Of course, some of this transcended his decision-making process, and many failures were pinned on his inability to compromise when needed, such as sacrificing a position to reach a cease-fire or actually taking a bath. (No, really. The left’s most iconic hero hated bathing. It’s hardly a penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation or water sports, but it’s still kinda creepy.)

Sometimes his revolutionary fervor hindered his abilities. He suffered a bullet wound to the face during the ill-fated (for us, of course) Bay of Pigs invasion; alas, the wound appeared to be self-inflicted. A rather large portion of his rebellion attempts failed miserably, and his hubris led him to assume support where there was none, and contribute his failings to the United States, capitalism, or (one assumes) the Freemasons and international bankers (wink, wink).

Part of the Che mystique is, of course, inherent in the subterfuge necessary for a revolutionary. Much of his life he was simply missing from the public eye, supposedly in secret locations prepping local citizens in the art of sticking it to the man. People and governments would gently prod Fidel Castro for his whereabouts, and El Presidente would, as is his wont, reply with a gentle reminder that it would be in the best interests of the Communist Revolutionary Movements of the world that they display their solidarity by shoving it up their ass and spinning.

Of course, propping up the memory of a slain comrade is a tried and true tactic, one not lost on such progressive political luminaries as Castro, Hugo Chavez, and (so help us all) Jean-Paul Sartre. By remembering the capitalists he fought, and conveniently whitewashing the thousands of real and imagined traitors of the state executed Stalin-style during the regimes Che supported, it’s easy to latch onto a figure that has been sanitized into a cartoon black-on-red version of themselves.

One has to stop and wonder about it all, of course. The cult of Che hasn’t progressed because he helped further the cause of communism throughout Latin America; his value lives on because he died, a martyr to the cause of unsuccessful five-year-plans and state-run health care. But his image is mostly known because merchants have produced his likeness on silkscreened T-shirts and Rage Against the Machine lyrics, the success of which is a testament to the effectiveness of the free market system. Viva, as they say, la revolution.

The Quest For the Holy iGrail

June 26, 2007

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

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

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

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

Some of the more notable features of the iPhone:

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

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

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

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

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

There Goes Another Candidate: The Adjective Form of “Obama” Edition

May 3, 2007

Presidential primaries are notoriously difficult things to predict; the things start earlier than preteens girls drinking tap water. It’s easier to forecast, say, the standard deviation of my golf score in May (hint: look up to see if there’s anything higher than “triple bogey.”) The campaign for the 2008 presidential election, for instance, started in the spring of 1984. Thankfully, the media does a fairly good job of choosing the candidates for us without such inconvenient necessities as voting, and they’ve already picked a front-runner, Barack Obama. Obama is a senator and, not inconsequently, an African-American. And that’s the true question that needs to be answered up front. Are Americans truly, finally open-minded and progressive enough to elect an Illinois lawyer to the Presidency?

Right now, Obama is riding high on a wave of positive publicity. He’s appeared on the cover of Newsweek, a grand accomplishment in and of itself had it not been for the fact that last week’s cover story was how the computer was going to change the workplace for the better. (With Newsweek’s penchant for prescience, Obama will be elected president in 1952.) He’s written a best selling book, The Audacity of Hope, an uplifting tale of how a gawky kid with a funny name can rise to be a U.S. senator with only a few dashes of hope, optimism, pride in oneself, and having your opponent resign after a newspaper shamelessly crowbarred a court order to release the details of a divorce agreement that both husband and wife wanted kept sealed and is replaced by a candidate who didn’t live in your state prior to his announcement of running against you and has gone on record in stating that the U.N. is putting saltpeter in the water towers of most red states to eventually reduce the population where the black helicopters and blue helmets can take over the White House, MoMA, and the editorial desk of the New York Times, two of the three which have, notably, already been accomplished..

Obama’s upbringing seems tailor-made for a seven-minute soft-lens biography to be played at, oh, I don’t know, perhaps the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. Born in Hawaii, his parents (his mother was white, his father, from Kenya) divorced when he was at the laughably inexperienced age of two and whose only claim to fame up to that point was only being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize six times. His childhood, of course, was not without the normal pressures of teenagers everywhere; drug use and violence occasionally peppers his otherwise white, middle class environment. (Midnight trips to Taco Bell and buying Foreigner CDs aren’t mentioned in his memoirs, but can be safely assumed.) His father moved back to Africa and was killed in a tragic accident when Obama was 21. He eventually ended up at Harvard, becoming a lawyer and a professor before being elected to the state senate.

His big-S Senate race in 2004 was largely a blowout. Obama won this race with 70% of the vote, an astounding number even if one removes all of the Chicagoans who voted five or more times. While Obama was a skilled campaigner, most will credit a good dose of luck; his first opponent resigned, and the second one came in late from Maryland, a state not heretofore known as being part of Illinois. Illinois also has a slight tradition of electing African Americans to the Senate; of the grand total of five African Americans who have been elected to the Senate, two come from Illinois. Though it should be also pointed out that two of them were elected in that glowing twilight of our history known as Reconstruction, when senators were elected by Thomas Nast caricatures representing the Sugar Trust.

The Democrats weren’t going to let a charismatic, minority candidate flounder in the obscures of an ornery Midwestern state. They chose him as the keynote speaker for their 2004 convention as the hoped-for future of the Democratic party—a magnetic, reasoned voice who seemed casually nonplussed about his ethnicity. The Republicans, for their part, chose as his counterpart the indefatigable Zell Miller, who delivered a speech calling for the beheading of several federal judges and a constitutional amendment requiring the destruction by arson of most of the eastern seaboard plus San Francisco.

How Obama handles his infant candidacy remains, of course, to be seen. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the fact that he’s only been a Senator for two years, and will not have completed a full term by 2008. Even Jack Kennedy, the low-water mark for inexperienced Senators running for President, was re-elected at least once. He also needs to fight his way through a crowded field of candidates, last counted to be approximately 18,000 former Representatives. He has yet to propose or publicize any large issues that would placate the liberal wing of the party (such as giving all illegal immigrants perpetual tax-free status upon arrival to the nation in exchange for fealty to the Democratic Party or union membership or, most certainly, both) while simultaneously endorsing those things to appease the population at large (such as shooting illegal immigrants on sight). Plus his middle name is Hussein, something I’m sure will make the required campaign visit to Dearborn, Michigan all the less awkward.

Still, there is great hope in many circles that Barack Obama’s incredible combination of charisma, accomplishment, biography, and checked boxes in the Democratic Historical Guilt Equivalency Survey will make him an incredibly attractive candidate. And yet there’s still much work to be done. In a nation still divided by region, values, history, and the degree of devotion to specific flags of dubious historical importance, there is one obstacle Obama has yet to overcome. She’s from New York.