Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

3 Bad Kicks

Well, believe it or not, the United States actually briefly caught World Cup fever. When 19 million people in this country tune in to watch anything it’s a big deal - when they do it to watch a game which has historically been relegated to "also ran" status, it’s monumental. And so it was last Saturday when a confluence of good timing, great marketing and a little Yankee good fortune made the United States vs. Ghana the most watched soccer game in U.S. television history. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the over 106 million people that watched the Super Bowl, but it’s more than the 18.4 million that watched the Italy-Brazil World Cup Final and just 300,000 people short of the 19.7 million that watched the brain-numbing American Idol finale. But just when it appeared that the historically tasteless American viewing audience had finally grown an appreciation for the “beautiful game”, our national team was eliminated from the competition and you could almost hear the air being let out of the soccer popularity balloon, leaving only the 3 reasons not to watch the World Cup:

1. It’s not about you and me, it’s about U.S. That’s right, if we can’t play, we’re taking our ball and going home. Sure, it’s a little petulant, but isn’t that what we’re all about? If you don’t have a dog in the fight, the games turn from “must watch” to “might watch”, which inevitably turns to “I think I’ll watch something without that God-awful buzzing noise in the background.” The only thing Americans love more than a winner is an American winner - and with the lack of a “bad guy” in the competition (e.g. Iraq’s team didn’t qualify, Afghanistan doesn’t have one, and the North Koreans are already out) there’s not even someone to root against. The U.S. television audience is the consummate “ugly American”, and will only watch global competitions to the extent there’s at least something American involved. We’re the nation that turned spaghetti into SpaghettiO’s, tacos into Taco Bell and Schezuan cooking into Panda Express. The only thing “international” in most of our lives is the International House of Pancakes. Which is a much more likely place to find your average American next Saturday morning when the only Yanks in South Africa will be the ones in the stands.

2. Where in the world is Carmen Montevideo? It’s not just us being out that makes the remaining Cup unwatchable. All of the recognizable countries are out, and we’re left with countries more obscure than the other member of Wham. Seriously, if you rank the “final 10” in descending order of percentage of American children who can locate it on a world map you’d have:
  • Brazil (56% - only because it’s so big)
  • Japan (49% - half of the other 51% had it confused... with Hawaii)
  • Germany (24% - at least 50% of them got it into Europe)
  • Spain (21% - only 8% knew that Spanish and “Mexican” were not different languages)
  • Argentina (16% - half of these students referred to it as “the long one”)
  • Netherlands (8% - the majority of students thought this country was fictional)
  • Portugal (6% - over half of the respondents placed this outside of Europe)
  • Uruguay/Paraguay (2% - over a third of kids asked if these were fictional siblings from Harry Potter)
  • Ghana (less than 1% - American students would be more likely to find the cure for cancer on a map than this nation)
More Americans can correctly spell “irrelevant” than locate most of these countries on the globe. Enough said.

3. Ties, Falls and Idiot Calls. Watching a game with less scoring than my popularity-impaired high school years and with worse acting than a Telemundo soap opera is not my idea of a good time. Seriously, the appeal of sports has always been about the battle of indomitable wills and the bare reality of this conflict. When the rest of the fighting we see is either sanitized to the point of banality or overdone to the point of CGI-enhanced melodrama, sports offers an unpredictable oasis of real drama where potential peril and glory impregnate each passing moment. Unfortunately, the gameplay offered up in this edition of the World Cup has had precious little of any of that. 1-1 ties over 90 minutes are the stuff that naps are made of; the hyperbolic pratfalls taken by these world-class athletes in the hopes of generating ejections and free kicks are laughable even by high-school drama club standards and I’ve seen more capable officiating in a WWE match. This tournament only seems “worldly” in the sense that it’s the kind of sports you could only love if you didn’t have 500 channels of cable, a personal automobile, or running water. I mean, mid-season baseball isn’t normally captivating stuff, but at least I know the first-baseman won’t fall to the ground covering his face and writhing in pain if a base-runner accidentally bumps into him.

* * *

I’ll admit, I was caught up in it. I cheered like a fool when Landon Donovan scored that injury time goal against Algeria and put the U.S. team into the “knockout round” with a very favorable draw and a real shot at the semifinals. I tuned in last Saturday morning with the earliest drink I’ve had in my hand since the morning after my 21st birthday. But losing for second time in as many World Cups to a team whose nickname seemed like an impossibly offensive joke until I saw their national flag (and wondered why we don’t name our team similarly) was just too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for South Africa (and for Africa, in general) who seems to be doing a tremendous job of hosting this global event. But for all the complaining that soccer fans do about our lack of sophistication and corresponding inability to appreciate their “beautiful game” it turns out the reason we’re not watching is because it’s not that beautiful after all.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 Essential Websites

First off, let me just say that none of these sites are paying me. With the dozens of people who visit this page daily, I wouldn't be surprised if they do very soon - but for now, these are all non-paid recommendations.

At last count, there were over 234 million websites on the internet - which means that if you visit one every minute, you'll be done with the whole thing in just over 444 years. It's Nice to know that the only things capable of "finishing" the internet are oak trees and Heidi Montag from the neck down. But that notwithstanding, the World Wide Web is a hall of wonders unlike any the world has ever known - and there has never been a time when the whole of humankind's knowledge has been more available to more people. The tragedy of this modern wonder is that the overwhelming majority of us either don't use this amazing privilege of our era - or even worse, use it for banality which far outpaces what we were capable of previously. And though I may not be able to stop you from using this modern day oracle to stalk your ex, leer at celebrity sex videos or validate your conspiracy theories, I can still try and offer you a few preciously informative nuggets to punctuate your otherwise mindless internet travails. And with that: 3 websites that will actually make you smarter:

1. - I would personally donate thousands of dollars for this website to be sent to everyone who has ever or will ever forward an ostensibly "factual" e-mail to their friends, family, co-workers, etc. The fact that this site has become a social necessity is a tragedy of its own - but I am at least grateful for its existence. For those of you who don't know - Snopes is an independent fact-checking and research website that is run by a married couple in California, and has been debunking urban legends, mass e-mails and other questionable assertions of fact for 14 years. Of course, there are other fact-checking websites, but Snopes takes a special interest in the nonsense passed on by everyday folks. You know, those e-mails forwarded to you by your friends and family asserting the President's questionable citizenship, a large corporation's failure to support U.S. troops, or attributing some insane quote to an otherwise unassuming celebrity? Sure you do. Every time I get one of these, I look it up on Snopes, confirm that it's crap and "Reply All" with simply a link to the Snopes article. The fact that it usually doesn't stop the offending transmitter from continuing to disseminate this type of nonsense is even more telling than the original e-mail, but it's nice to know there are still people out there committed to battling stupidity - one urban legend at a time.

2. Okay, you probably visit Google already - but you might not really be using it. No matter what Bing, Yahoo, or any other also-ran search engine spends on marketing - I'll sooner trade my AC/DC albums for Miley Cyrus CDs than I'll start using something besides Google to navigate the information superhighway. The simple fact is that you just don't get as big as Google is by providing a free service unless you're very, very good at it. They didn't just revolutionize internet searching, they continue to do it - with constant innovations, most of which just transparently improve your searching experience. The Google experience is a brilliantly simple one (a logo, a box and two buttons) - but can also be so much more. is a gateway to internet done right - offering up a menu of services which embody the best results of both open source programming and free market competition, when their competitors can barely get the searching part right. I use Google as my primary legal, consumer and personal research tool - and nothing else even comes close. Take a moment to revisit your old friend Google, and find out what it can really do - like your real friends, you'll find a myriad of talents you never expected.

3. Intelligent web-surfing is very nearly an oxymoron. Because for the most part, the time we spend simply moving from site-to-site, with no specific objective or task in mind, is dominated by our most base and prurient interests. We're more likely to happen upon the cure for cancer than we are to kick across something besides lo-res amateur fight videos, shopping sites or good old-fashioned internet porn. But there is a tool out there which will help make your web wanderings marginally more intellectual (even if it means you'll have to tell a few fibs about your "interests"). StumbleUpon is a push-button, free web service which allows you to surf based on your interests and what you want to see - rather than what everyone else wants you to see. It's simple enough, you create an account, check boxes based on what you're interested in, and then install a button on your browser's tool bar. Push the button, see a new site. And much like your Pandora account, a thumbs up/thumbs down set of buttons to help the engine learn your preferences just a little better with each new site it sends you. For me, StumbleUpon has pointed me to some of the most amazing things and useful resources on the Net, none of which I ever would have found otherwise. It's also drastically reduced the number of fight videos, fart jokes and ill-advised online shopping I've done.

* * *
There is no shortage of guides to the web, lists of top sites, or people who will tell you just exactly where on the Internet you should be spending your time and money. But precious few of them are interested in helping to stem the tide of global brain loss that the majority of the World Wide Web is effecting in all of us. It shouldn't be a radical suggestion that we use, at least once in a while, the most exhaustive and easily accessible collection of knowledge ever imagined to actually learn something - and perhaps even more importantly, teach something. It's one thing to take the world of wonders around us for granted, but it's quite another to use it as a tool for devolution. Don't worry, when you're done surfing for the good of your brain, the rest of the dirty underbelly of the Internet will still be there, just as nasty, horrible and derisive as it ever was, and just like the real world, still paying for the good parts.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

36 Things...

For those of you that don’t know, your intrepid reporter turned a very young thirty six this past weekend, and as I’m known to do, I’m taking the occasion to memorialize the event in writing. Previously, I’ve set down observations on what each age is like - as a warning to those younger and as a opportunity to reminisce for those a few years ahead. But this year I’ve realized that there a great many things that I have learned in the intervening three and one half decades (give or take a year) - some the easy way, and most the hard way, but all valuable lessons nonetheless. So, THREE THINGS is expanding for just one week - for a little bit longer of a journey which I hope you’ll join me on - so that I can bring to you 36 Things I’ve Learned in 36 Years:

  1. It’s not all about you. No, seriously, it’s not.
  2. In 2010, there is never a good reason to drive a Trans-Am. Prior to 2010, there was only one good reason, and since you’re not Smokey and/or the Bandit, it doesn’t apply to you.
  3. I don’t know what the official costume of apathy is, but I know that Crocs are the shoes involved.
  4. A good haircut is worth the money.
  5. It’s o.k. to not care what anyone thinks, it’s not o.k. to not care what everyone thinks.
  6. The youngest generation is the least prepared in the history of society, and it’s not their fault, it’s ours.
  7. Deep down, all organized religions require belief in at least one completely absurd thing.
  8. Just because a story didn’t really happen doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value - Aesop knew this... or did you really think that he observed a rabbit and a turtle in a foot-race?
  9. For men, there is a time and place to wear white tube socks and sneakers, the time is when you’re exercising and the place is the gym.
  10. We don’t appreciate the military enough.
  11. There is no such thing as gender equality, and there never will be.
  12. The clothes don’t make the man, the man does. This is equally true for Armani suits and “TapOut” t-shirts.
  13. The clothes can, however, break the man.
  14. You’re not pulling off that facial hair as well as you think.
  15. Ladies, men are like a Rubik’s cube with only one color, if you can’t figure us out, you’re just not trying.
  16. The only jewelry a man should wear is one ring (class, wedding, championship, etc.) and a watch. Unless you’re Flava-Flav, whatever you’ve got around your neck makes you look ridiculous - actually, that’s also true if you’re Flava- Flav.
  17. Reading any of the Twilight books is worse for your brain than not reading at all. Stephanie Meyer is “saving” literacy like Justin Bieber is “saving” music.
  18. Everything for sale at nightclub is overpriced. Additionally, everything you see at a nightclub is for sale.
  19. The amount of money one spends on making one’s car “louder” is inversely proportional to their value to society.
  20. Music will never be as much fun as it was in the 80’s. Nor will movies. That being said, nothing else from that decade should be salvaged or remembered fondly (especially the clothing and hairstyles).
  21. No one under the age of 20 has any “insight” to offer on anything.
  22. The work you do for the people who work for you is infinitely more important than the work you do for the people you work for.
  23. Los Angeles is a city designed to make you feel like you’re not cool enough; San Francisco is a city designed to make you feel not unique enough. Both are wrong; you’re better off in Fresno.
  24. High school never ends.
  25. The douchebag era is not over, in fact, it’s still very much in full swing. Don’t believe me? Check out the crowd at the next Mixed Martial Arts event.
  26. The greatest tragedy of modern technology is not that it’s failed to bring us closer together, it’s that we’ve finally put the whole of the world’s knowledge literally at our fingertips, and we use it to watch porn and lo-res nut-shot videos. The second greatest is Microsoft.
  27. Smiling almost always makes it better (unless you’re underwater - then stick with grinning).
  28. No matter what they tell you, vegetarians are truly missing out... and they know it.
  29. It is easier to explain quantum physics than the fame of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. And, as it turns out, much less depressing.
  30. The greatest threat to our survival as a society is not Fox News, Oprah or special interest groups (although all good candidates), it’s bad parents.
  31. (A blast from the past) To my mind, the only true happiness is in the connections, and the unearthing of like minds and commiserating souls. There is only true happiness in love, empathy, sacrifice, in the grace of unselfish generosity, and in forgiveness.
  32. Most people are dumber than you think - don't worry, they’re also the ones that can’t read this far down anything that isn’t a menu.
  33. There are precious few truly blissful things remaining in this world, and country dancing is one of them.
  34. At 36, the two least attractive words you can say to a woman are “my apartment.”
  35. If you can’t be smart, be cute; and if you can’t be cute, be funny. This explains why I’m always telling jokes.

    And finally, one I keep learning over and over again:

  36. It’s never, ever too late to change.
Thanks for coming along - and I hope you learned something, confirmed something, or at least had a good laugh at my expense. It's a been a brilliant 36 years - here’s to learning at least one new thing before 37.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

3 New Laws of Mathematics

Well, if you've made it this far, you've done more than I give you credit for. You see, most folks think about Math like they think about brussel sprouts and/or fiber - sure it's good for you, but mostly it sucks. For those of you that don't know, I actually got my undergraduate degree in Mathematics and that fact has never once gotten me laid. Just once, I'd like to hear a beautiful woman say "Oooh, math? Do you want my phone number?" But alas, as a former mathlete and current dork I'm left to ponder the mathematical wonders of the world in relative obscurity and solitude. Math, however, has a way of finding its way into our lives no matter how we rage against it, and continues to grow to explain every aspect of our lives, even as they change. So to that end, I offer up to you 3 New Mathematical Laws which govern your life, whether you like it or not:

1. The Inverse Desirability/Price Nudity Principle. This law is simply and is empirically demonstrated on a near daily basis. And yet, it is just as frequently forgotten when the promise of nudity is again presented. It comes to this, the desirability of publicly available nakedness is directly proportional to what you'll have to pay to see it. In simpler terms, anyone you can see naked for free is no one you want to see naked. This is similarly true for people who will get naked in front of groups. This principle should be liberally applied when considering a visit to a "nude beach" or any type of resort situation which encourages nudity. The marketing materials for these venues, without exception, include pictures of young, nubile models, precisely none of whom will be present when you visit. And you can give that resort any kind of sexy name you want, but the only "-ism" going on at these places is sagging-ism. If you want to see someone beautiful without their clothes on you're either going to have to pay them, or you could do it the old fashioned way, and try getting to know them first.

2. The Hurry/Obstacle Paradox. This law is nearly as foolproof as gravity itself. What is truly amazing is the amount of disparate forces that it seems to command. The law is quite simply: the number of impassible objects in your way is directly proportional to how big of a hurry you are in. This goes both ways, because when you're not in a hurry, you know that there's never any traffic, every light is green and you get a killer parking spot. But when you've really got someplace to be, the local chapter of the Idiot's Driving Club is hosting a meeting directly on your route, the traffic signals are programmed to double the time of your trip, there's no parking withing sight of where you're trying to go, and even pedestrians seem to all be out on a Sunday stroll. It's not yet known how the universe conspires to direct this many things against you at once, but it's probably a fair bet that it's God's way of telling you plan ahead better.

3. The Stupid Recursion. The first iteration of this rule was delivered to us by none other than Forrest Gump, though I expect that such simple Southern wisdom has been around for much, much longer: stupid is as stupid does. But as we see stupidity spreading like an epidemic across our country, it begs a more in-depth explanation. And the law is simply this: stupid begets stupid. Which is to say that stupid is self-sustaining, or in simpler terms, stupid people create stupid people. There are a number of modalities for this: in some cases, spending time around stupid people can turn otherwise intelligent people stupid (direct infection), in others, watching stupid people on television can turn smart people stupid (sympathetic infection), and perhaps most frightening in this brave new world, stupid parents raise stupid kids. There was a time when parents wanted more and better for their children than they had (i.e. parents that never had a college opportunity save intensely for their progeny to be afforded that chance), but that time has passed. Now parents claim "stupid" as its own child-rearing methodology and are creating a whole new generation where ignorance is a religion. Hopefully this knowledge can keep you from overexposing yourself to this new disease (e.g. staying away from Scientology centers, Fox News, and keeping your kids from, well, most other kids), but just in case, best to keep an encyclopedia in your safe room.

* * *
I used to worry about kids not being exposed to enough math, because in a world where science could come to life in experiments and the lessons of liberal arts could be recognized in the vagaries of adolescent life, math was the subject most likely to be left on the side of the road as boring and lifeless. The latest generation, however, has freed me from this worry, as they aren't being exposed to any real eduction, and all subjects have been equally and summarily dismissed. In a world where education exists primarily as an excuse for young adults to congregate for socialization and self-aggrandizement (and as a filler for those moments of the day where these little princes and princesses grow weary of such refrains), what room can there be for math? But the harshest of mathematical truths have a way of sneaking up on us, especially when we least expect them to. And just as this generation will someday come to the harsh realization they are not all, in fact, special, so too will they come to know that their ability to be successful relies much more on the operation of numbers than their number of operations.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

3 Wheel Abuses

For some reason, I've written a lot about cars lately. It's hard to avoid the topic. I've lived in two very car-centric cities of late (Los Angeles and Las Vegas) and grew up in a small Colorado town where a motorized means of personal transportation was as essential to living as oxygen and regular access to ESPN. Of all the things that I might identify as quintessentially American, the personal automobile is probably the most quintessential amongst them. You can keep your apple pie, your baseball and your cowboy culture. Without cars, we're just another post-Soviet eastern European nation with cooler stuff and fatter kids. The auto is the ultimate means of freedom and expression. It is "I go wherever I want, whenever, and however I want to." It is sometimes loud, sometimes understated. It is sometimes big and sometimes small. Sometimes it is completely ludicrous, and other times it is painfully and horribly pragmatic (can you hear me, Toyota?). But it endures, and remains the last great frontier for personal expression, as the rest of them are slowly taken from us in the name of political correctness, environmental protection and corporate responsibility. However, like most freedoms, it can be abused, and as I've often said, just because you can do something doesn't always mean you should. And to that end, here are 3 ways to roll along that should roll away:

1. Scooters. Simply stated, unless you are a woman in her early twenties living in large city, or a young Italian man living in Italy, there is no acceptable reason to be driving a scooter. No other means of transportation so completely and utterly eviscerates the American car tradition like the scooter. It's not simply that it's feminine - there are plenty of feminine cars that enjoy their proper place in our car culture (e.g. the Volkswagon Cabriolet, the Mazda Miata, any Jaguar, etc.), it's just that it is so tremendously weak, that makes it so insufferable. To be clear you could wrap a scooter in Sean Connery, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Clint Eastwood and it would still be about as tough as a Jonas brother in a dress. I've seen tougher lace doilies in my grandmother's sitting room. No matter what your gas mileage, parking or other transportation concerns are, a scooter is not the answer. If you must travel on two wheels, ride a bike or buy a motorcycle, because every time someone rides a Vespa, we all suck just a little bit more.

2. Segways. Remember how this was supposed to "revolutionize the way people travel"? Remember when John Doerr (the guy who put up the money for Google and Amazon) opined that this would be "more important than the internet"? In a world of over-hyped and failed debuts, the Segway reigns supreme. The Segway is the Ryan Leaf (er, JaMarcus Russell) of technology and the 20-sided dice of wheeled devices. Sure, you can have one, but if you do, it means you probably also have a cape and a fairly substantial World of Warcraft addiction. If you have a job that requires you to drive one of these, it's a safe bet that your employer (a) hates you and (b) secretly laughs at you every time he sees you drive it away. The only people who are truly happy about this wheeled atrocity are bicycle cops, who as a result of police departments buying Segways, now look like a Harley gang compared to the bicycle-helmet wearing douchewads who have to try to and look authoritative on one. Seriously, I think I'd have easier time commanding authority while wearing a pink tutu and singing showtunes. If you ever have the urge to buy one of these, take the opportunity to poke yourself in the eye with something very sharp, it'll hurt more, but an eye-patch may be the only thing you can wear that will make riding one look cool.

3. Trikes. Let me just say, I still love my Big Wheel. No vehicle I have owned since then has matched the sheer visceral joy of pedaling down my driveway at the helm of that molded plastic powerhouse. Just being positioned behind that large, plastic mag wheel with all the power and control I'd ever need to get around and impress the neighborhood kids is a feeling I've never matched. It was safe enough that my parents would allow me to drive it around unsupervised, and its tricycle design made even my most daring power-skids completely risk-free. At nine years old, this was the coolest vehicle I could have owned. Unfortunately, this was the last age at which driving something with three wheels was acceptable. Long-removed from the well-known dangers of the three-wheeler, the recreational vehicle industry appears to have decided that the way to make three wheels ostensibly safer and more appealing is to turn them around, and make you drive with the two wheels in front. This is about as visually appealing as Kirstie Alley in a bikini, and only slightly less functional. Espousing the virtues of "control", you get all the discomfort of a motorcycle seat and precisely none of the cool. You'd be better off mounting a cycle seat and handlebars inside of your car. No matter how they market this to me, no matter who they get to do the voice-over, no matter which supermodel they drape across it (yes, even you Carmen Electra), they will never, ever sell me one of these.

* * *

As long as there are freedoms, there will be those that abuse them, and the freedom of the road is no different. Just as there are people who drive regular (or even exceptional) vehicles ridiculously, there are people who drive ridiculous vehicles regularly. And for what it's worth, I much prefer sharing the road with the latter. One of the greatest American freedoms is the freedom to look as stupid as you'd like, as long as your stupid doesn't get in the way of anyone else's. Besides, without all the stupid running around, I'm not sure I'd have much to write about. But that being said, as the old slogan goes: friends don't let friends drive stupid (or something like that). And to that end, here's hoping I never see anyone I know on one of these - because the only thing worse than being caught doing something ridiculous is being caught doing something ridiculous by someone who will write about it.