Sunday, January 29, 2006

Don't Cell Yourself Short

I don’t like people telling me what to do.

We already have enough of it in this country, and the trend seems to be growing.

The “blame-someone-else” masses call up the powers-that-be with complaints about what somebody else is doing—and prod them to pass some intrusive laws. To over-regulate. To tell us what is best for us in our own offices, in our own cars, and even in our own bedrooms.

This kind of legislation drives me crazy. Particularly when it comes to my precious cell phone.

Politicians all over America are requiring hands-free headsets for cell phone users ... or trying to ban cell phones in cars altogether. Sometimes it’s to reduce the supposed risk of tumors from cell phones use; sometimes it’s to prevent the purported greatest risk to road safety—the distraction caused by talking on cell phones while driving.

On both points, the cellphobes are wrong.

According to the recently released, largest-ever study to examine the hypothetical health dangers from cell phone use, there is no link between frequent cell phone use and the most common brain tumors.

Strike one.

When it comes to the dangers of unfocused driving, researchers have found that many things are more distracting than talking on a cell phone. One study found that foods like chocolate and jelly-filled doughnuts topped the list of driving distractions. Don’t forget drinks, too—coffee, for example, often spills, spurring drivers to jump in skin-scalding pain or look down to clean up the mess.

No matter how you slice (or gulp) it, research shows that eating and driving puts others in harm’s way more than talking on a cell phone.

Strike two.

An earlier, AAA-funded study found all the following activities outranked cell phone use as causes of serious automobile accidents: eating and drinking, adjusting climate controls, changing radio stations, adding/removing CDs, and talking to passengers. Not to mention distractions outside the vehicle, which were nearly 20 times more likely than cell phone use to cause serious accidents.

Strike three. Cellphobes are OUT.

Please don’t misunderstand me—I’m not a fan of drivers who swerve across three lanes while turning because one hand is holding a cell phone. In fact, facing this very situation today, I performed my duty as a citizen—I rolled down my window and hurled expletives at the careless jackass.

But the problem is the driver, not the cell phone.

If someone causes an accident due to any distraction—be it changing radio stations, eating fast food, or trying to pick up a toy that their baby dropped—we should hold the driver responsible. Don’t outlaw the radio, the burger, or the pacifier, even though doing so would apparently save lives.

And leave my cell phone alone.

I need it to call my representatives and bitch about the burger-eating, coffee-drinking, CD-changing asshole who just cut me off.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Best in Show

I enjoy music. And I really enjoy live music.

There is just something about the raw power and energy of concerts that makes the experience special. I can look back with pleasure on many shows that brought me joy.

I’ve seen classic rock acts like The Who, Rush, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd.

For my 80s pop fix, artists such as Sting, Paul Young, .38 Special, INXS, and Huey Lewis and the News made me shake my thing. In parachute pants, of course.

Pure rock bands have included Aerosmith, Kiss, and Van Halen, and I certainly saw my share of hair metal concerts with Mötley Crüe, Slaughter, Firehouse, Lynch Mob, Steelheart, and Tesla.

Other shows have included Cake, Moby, and Foo Fighters—and the best live acoustic performer I have ever seen, Steve Hackett.

What is the best show you have been to? It seems like an easy question, and for most people a clear winner emerges.

Not for me. Each was unique; each had something memorable. Not a few even had something quite awful. But I have some pleasant memories from them all, and a healthy chunk of them were so good that I’m building a time machine to go back and see them again.

Can I name the worst? Absolutely: Barry Manilow. I still do not understand my mother’s logic in thinking that it would be good to take her eight-year-old son to that show. It’s a miracle that I wasn’t turned away from live music for the rest of my life.

Somehow I recovered. And I am thankful, because I have led a relatively normal musical life with positive concert experiences and a hunger for more.

Lately, however, few shows here in the DC area have drawn me in.

Sure, Bon Jovi is coming up … but I saw Bon Jovi a few years back—and I left the stadium after only a few songs. It wasn’t just that I don’t like Bon Jovi that much (which is true). No, I bailed mostly because the concert provided direct evidence that some bands are past their touring prime and better left alone.

Don’t get me wrong. There are scores of bands that I would love to see live, and many of them I probably will. I’m thinking here of groups like Dream Theater, Finger Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, and Velvet Revolver.

But others I only want to see in their prime—not as they are now. I’ve had the opportunity to see the Rolling Stones on tour, for example. I passed—I don’t want to see men older than my parents strutting around with instruments, no matter how legendary they are.

So I will continue to enjoy my CDs by artists ranging from AC/DC to Yes. From Iron Maiden to Prince. Metallica to U2.

Yes, I will continue to listen to The Doors (with Jim Morrison, not Ian Astbury) and Queen (with Freddie Mercury, not Paul Rodgers).

And I will continue to wish I could see them all live—in the 70s or 80s, when they were excellent … when I was either too young or too unborn to know it.

But I will not see them now.

At least until I have finished that time machine.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Shocking Differences between Men and Women

How do you feel when you see somebody cheating?

What goes through your head when a perfectly mobile person parks in a handicapped spot? Do you yell in vain at cars that speed through red lights? Have you gotten angry while waiting behind a 20-item shopper in the 15-item-limit express lane at the grocery store?

Most of us don’t like people who cut corners. Even if we succumb to temptation ourselves and occasionally take the easy way out, we still hate it when others cheat.

But many of us like it—and some of us really, really like it—when those cheaters suffer for their crimes. And most of that “many of us,” it turns out, are MALE.

A new study in the journal Nature studied brain reactions to punishment of cheaters, concluding that women empathize with crooks who receive electric shocks … while men tend to enjoy seeing these bad eggs get cooked.

The study focuses on the feeling the Germans call “schadenfreude,” the enjoyment of another’s misfortune—and, incidentally, the longest German word yet to appear on this blog.

In an experimental game setting, both men’s and women’s brains showed activity in pain-related areas when “fair” players received mild electric jolts. But men’s brains—unlike those of the ladies—showed no such reaction for shocked cheaters. And the males, but not the females, had spikes of activity in their brains’ “reward” area when watching the writhing recreants.

You might think that these results would lead the researchers to speculate whether the difference is due to biology or the sex roles learned in society—and if the results would differ if there were financial or psychological punishments instead of physical ones.

Women familiar with the experiment, however, were asking:

1. Are those cheaters feeling better now--will they be OK?

2. Do they need me to make them some soup?

3. Oh my Gawd ... look at that woman over there—you know, the size 10 in the size 8 dress—can you believe she actually wore those hideous shoes?!?

Meanwhile, men were overheard saying:

1. When do I get to press that button myself?

2. How do we crank that shock higher? Higher, HIGHER!!!

3. I need to go on a quick beer run … can I take this thingee with me to the grocery store express lane?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Oil, International Relations, and Angelina Jolie

I thought that title might catch you.

This is a shout-out post, a pat on the back. Virtually, that is. I have come across two blog entries in the past 24 hours that made me stand up and salute. Again, only virtually. Being a sharing person by nature, here goes:

The first is a new post on Oil Politics International, an excellent blog covering issues of foreign affairs as they relate to energy and oil. The blog had been on hiatus for a few months, but it's back and just as insightful as ever. If you spend only five minutes a week reading about the rest of the world--and how it affects everything from prices at your pump to our country's future--spend it at Oil Politics International.

And the blog's writer has encyclopedic knowledge of world politics and energy issues, so use his comments section as your personal tutor space. Or your prep course for that "Jeopardy!" appearance you keep putting off.

The second is a new post about popular perceptions of Angelina Jolie (and Brad Pitt, to a lesser extent) on Stranded in Suburbia. If you don't like Ms. Jolie for her Billy Bob-blood antics or brother-kissing habits, fine. But Laurie points out that a little green monster may have more influence than logic does on Angelina-haters.

So what do you think--is Angelina a vicious homewrecker ... or a talented, gorgeous woman whose independent streak is refreshing? Is she really of Czech, French-Canadian, English, and Iroquois ethnicity ... or of otherworld origins? Talk to me.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reflections on Faith, Pat Robertson, and Nacho Trays

The denial of reason seems to be alive and well. Consider several recent articles.

Exhibit A. A news report out of Ohio tells the tale of a man whose truck fell 30 feet from an interstate overpass. How did he survive? In his words, it was by “God’s grace.” He says he prayed before falling onto the road below and, after he felt a sense of “peace,” he landed without major injury. Although physics can explain his survival, some would rather say it was the hand of God.

Exhibit B. In Oklahoma, Tina Womack found the faces of Baby Jesus and the Holy Mother on her ceiling. She cut the image down, only to find pools of water appearing wherever she placed it: “I have never actually witnessed the image crying, so I can't really be sure that is why all those water puddles keep showing up. But I can't think of any other explanation for it.” Hmmm.

Exhibit C. Believers have seen the Virgin Mary’s likeness in the bark of a tree at Eva Alejandro-Pena’s home near Dallas, Texas. Pilgrims—who clamor to get close to the tree to heal their diabetes, cancer, and myriad miscellaneous maladies—are even coming “straight from the hospital with bandages still on them,” according to Alejandro. The reports did not reveal if proximity to the bark cured any ailments.

Exhibit D. Restaurant workers in Jacksonville, Florida, discovered the image of Jesus in their nacho warming tray. A cook says he was preparing to empty the tray when he saw the Son of God looking up at him; the restaurant will retire the holy pan from its food preparation career.

I’m not making this up.

But, in news that tends to get less attention, there is a different side of divine intervention. Witness:

Exhibit E. In rural Malawi, at least 11 members of a church congregation died after a bolt of lightning struck their pre-Christmas gathering.

Exhibit F. Pat Robertson claimed recently that God punished Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a massive stroke because he had pulled Israeli troops out of Gaza. Mr. Robertson, you may recall, said last month that God might enact punishment on a Pennsylvania town because its citizens removed school board members who had placed “intelligent design” in public schools.

Compare and contrast.

Some people say that when a man avoids danger, God must have intervened. Or they see the hand of divinity in ceiling stains, a knot of wood, or a cooking pan.

That’s a lot of faith.

Yet when things suck—when, let’s say, eleven people die at a church from a freak lightning strike—there aren’t too many voices blaming God.

Color me confused. Should I see the hand of God behind every event, or only the ones that turn out well? What’s a man to believe in these crazy times?

Well, I’m going with what I see. And what I see is that sometimes men fall from 30 feet and live. Sometimes, a chunk of tree bark will look like a long-dead European painter’s representation of a Caucasian Jesus. And sometimes, just sometimes, an elderly Israeli leader will have a stroke—for purely medical reasons.

But we all might have a little more faith if Pat Robertson suddenly went mute.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Images and Words

No, Dream Theater fans--which recent comments here reveal are more numerous than I would have guessed--this post is not about the album Images and Words. It is, rather, my way of announcing to you that with the help of a very good man who refers to himself as The Phoenix, I have successfully uploaded a picture.

A small step for most bloggers ... a giant leap for David Amulet.

So when your eyes stray up to the profile, you will now see an image alongside the words. Ladies and gentelmen, I've gone multimedia.

I hear the chorus of confusion. Let me answer a few questions preemptively.

1. Yes, that truly is a picture of me.
2. Yes, under the black wig is my usual hairstyle--the shaved head.
3. Yes, the similarity to Eric Draven from The Crow was intended.
4. Yes, those are tight black leather pants.
5. No, I'm not wearing them now.
6. Yes, I wish I was.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Musings on Being Tagged

Grumble, grumble, grumble. I don’t like what I’m about to do.

It’s a principle thing.

The whole “tagging” concept troubles me. It’s not why I write. But because I had not publicly expressed lack of interest in such activities, my favorite Quarter Lifer tagged me … and I feel honor-bound to respond.

It’s a principle thing.

In order to make this more interesting for myself (perhaps for you, too?), some answers are linked to my previous posts that mention the respective answer. Those of you who, like me, are inclined to skip this kind of honesty from people you barely know, just skip to the end of the post where I'll make my usual comments.

Here goes ...

Four Jobs You've Had in Your Life:
1. Office Cleaner
2. Retail Freight Truck Unloader
3. Bookstore Clerk
4. PhD

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:
1. The first movie I could watch over and over is Fight Club
2. The second movie I could watch over and over is Fight Club
3. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure--yes, really
4. Even though this list doesn't go up to 11, I must include This Is Spinal Tap

Four Places You've Lived:
1. An apartment
2. A house
3. A townhouse
4. A frat house

Four Websites You Visit Daily:
1. Clusty (the best search engine out there)
2.'s Men's College Basketball page (yes, even during the off-season)
3. Wikipedia (the free encyclopedia)
4. Yahoo! (I have to check my e-mail, after all)

Four TV Shows You Love To Watch (Note: I can't claim to "love" these, but I do catch them once in a while)
1. The Daily Show
2. The Colbert Report
3. Lost
4. The Weather Channel's Hurricane Update

Four of Your Favorite Foods:
1. Murgh tikka masala
2. Chicken shawarma
3. Green jelly beans
4. Arctic Tern

Four Albums You Can't Live Without (at least for the moment):
1. Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction
2. The Police, Synchronicity
3. Def Leppard, Pyromania
4. Dvorak, New World Symphony

Four Places You'd Rather Be:
1. Nowhere
2. See #1
3. See #2
4. Oh, come on already!

And finally, per tradition ...

Four People Who Are Now Obligated To Do This to Their Blog:
1. Jane at Dear Jane
2. RT and/or Jill at Brainiax Blog
3. Jenn at Jenius
4. Laurie at Stranded in Suburbia

There, that wasn't so bad. And it's over. With this post, I hereby forgo all future taggings, which if received will simply be re-tagged out.

But I have begun to understand the tagging phenomenon.

It has something to do with breaking through the anonymity of the blogosphere. Seeking more intimate connections with people you seem to know from their posts and their comments ... but really don't. And in that spririt, at least, I'm glad to break out of my shell and let you all know a few things about me.

It's a principle thing.