Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Wide World of Sports

Sports sometimes fail to translate across cultures and borders.

Soccer (football, to many of you) presents a good example. It ignites passion almost everywhere around the globe—except in the most powerful country on the planet.

Curling is a funny one, too, boring just about everyone except people in Canada, Scandinavia, and pockets in central Europe.

OK, maybe in Minnesota.

Then there are the questionable “sports.” Last week, German women ran a 100 meter race—which doesn’t seem odd until you note that they sprinted while wearing heels. And Finns, Estonians, and a few random others love the sport of wife-carrying.

And today I heard about another one—also, oddly enough, from our friends in Finland—which takes the cake: The seventh annual World Mobile Phone Throwing Championship.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell Finnish readers that the big prize went to Lassi Etelaetalo, who hurled his headset almost 100 yards, just short of the world record. (Yes, folks—that means somebody keeps track of world records for activities like for cell phone throwing.)

We can all understand the desire to toss a phone that fails to ring when a call comes in. Or runs out of power randomly. Or drops calls.

Or rings at full volume with the sounds of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.”

Getting your anger out by flinging something as far as you can is an idea with legs. Once the idea of heaving objects reaches full acceptance in David Amulet-land, watch out.

Early candidates for flinging include:

My television. Other than reruns of Dead Like Me and Dark Angel, occasional sports, and a few quality documentaries, this new 55” plasma hasn’t been giving me my money’s worth.

I don’t even have it on very often … but in a week I flip by more crap than I’ve excreted in my lifetime. This TV is begging to be tossed.

Some little blond boy at a Mexican restaurant in northern Virginia. There I was, minding my own business (which, by the way, is how most good stories start), just eating lunch quietly last weekend with a buddy of mine. This hellion toddler marches along the shared booth seat from the next table over and jumps down to the floor—using my table, specifically my chicken burrito platter, as his springboard.

And his useless, waste-of-space mother and father parents didn’t do a damn thing. If they weren’t 300+ pounds each, I’d throw them, too.

John Mark Karr … and Boulder, Colorado authorities. A man confesses to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey to get a free business-class plane ride to the US from Thailand. Only he didn’t do it. This jackass and the keystone cops put her family—and the segment of the US population that still cares one scintilla more about this case than the thousands of other unsolved crimes—through 10 days of hell.

And the media, showing their usual keen insight into what truly matters in the world, overwhelmed the rest of us with coverage of every step, every car ride, and every breath this perv took. Add these ass-clowns to HurlFest ’06.

My cell phone. I never should have downloaded “SexyBack.”

Get ready. This might be a world-record throw.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Google THIS!

I don’t play around with a lot of things on the Internet. I’m proud to say that I have avoided (mostly) the temptation to listen to silly audio tracks, take various quizzes, and watch quirky videos.

But Google’s new toy blows me away. Welcome to Google trends.

This feature allows you to enter up to five topics and compare how frequently Google visitors have searched for them over time. It also shows you the relative frequency of stories mentioning each inn Google News stories.

If that’s not enough for you, the still-in-development service lists the places that have fostered the most searches for your term (per a population-norming formula).

Witness the fascinating results of just a few moments of Google Trends analysis:

Everyone know that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. So which do you search for? Apparently cake—except in London, England, the only city that pops up in the results showing more searches for “eat” than “cake.”

Net surfers have Googled the early favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hilary Clinton, more this year than Rudy Giuliani, one of the Republican frontrunners. On the other hand, searches for the other leading Republican candidate, John McCain, outnumber those for the New York senator.

Hilary Clinton, by the way, has many fewer searches than bitch.

With the exception of a few brief spikes, Angelina Jolie has trounced Jennifer Aniston on Google searches for more than two years. More people in Chicago than anywhere else search for Aniston, but even there, Jolie gets more searches.

Brad Pitt? He’s almost always higher than Jennifer, but since early 2005 Angelina has kicked his ass in Google searches just as much as she did in Mr. And Mrs. Smith.

Once you start comparing searches, it’s hard to stop.

Dogs beat cats by a long shot. Many more people have searched this year for Stephen Colbert than Colbert’s parody target, Bill O’Reilly. Paris Hilton beats out Paris, France by a long shot—except in much of France, where the city wins.

But soon, disappointments appear. Phrases lacking an undisclosed number of searches don’t register and cannot be analyzed.

Thus, you can’t learn anything about the relative frequency of searches on benevolent dictators, wanton debauchery, or drunken wombats. Other terms lacking the requisite hits for Google Trends include quality blog, pop culture satire, and black leather pants.

And David Amulet. Come on, people! What do you think that Google search bar at the top of this blog is for?!?

Yes, that’s right—it’s to search for cake, bitch, and drunken wombats. Hop to it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

I’m man enough to admit my weaknesses.

And here’s a big one, so look out: I allow things to annoy me that just shouldn’t, and I become a real hothead.

Flames consume my body, and smoke comes out of my ears. I try to remain calm, to keep composed, to let it all just pass right by. I try … but irritation sometimes wins. And then I’m on fire.

Now is one of those times.

Something’s getting my goat. And if you knew me, REALLY new me, you’d appreciate just how pissed off I get when someone messes with my goat.

You see, I’ve had it up to here with the holier-than-thou types who apply today’s standards to the past.

This 20/20 hindsight thing is nothing new, of course. People condemn the Romans for slavery despite knowing full well that the practice was pervasive for more than another millennium before going out of style. And some voices say we should have known Iraq lacked WMD—even though experts worldwide and that country’s own generals believed nasty-ass weapons were there.

But now, the second-guessers have taken their retrospective crusade to a new level. Their target is nothing less than the basis of human advancement, the bedrock of our civilization, the foundation of all that is holy and just in our depraved world.


In Britain, naysayers are slicing and dicing Tom and Jerry cartoons because a viewer complained that Tom smoked. The regulating body released this defense of its actions: “While we appreciate the historic integrity of the animation, the level of editorial justification required for the inclusion of smoking in such cartoons is necessarily high.”

Did you ever notice that the lamest excuses are buried in the most verbose explanations?

I’m starting to get hot under the collar.

Let it be known: I’m no fan of smoking. In point of fact, I hate the habit. I wish that everyone would stop right now and live happier, healthier lives.

But I’m not about to go back and edit smoking scenes out of Casablanca to pray at the altar of the god of political correctness. Should we ban some of the greatest films of all time—Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and The Breakfast Club—because cigarettes appear?

I feel fire swirling in my head. If we start down the road of “moralizing” the past, it’s hard to stop.

After proscribing smoking, can fighting be far behind? Imagine what the “violence is passé” faction will do to masterpieces like Rocky, Raging Bull, and Old School.

Flames are starting to incinerate my soul.

And then watch out for the sex police. I fear the havoc that the I-know-better-than-you faction will wreak upon classics like Last Tango in Paris, Fatal Attraction, and Showgirls.

My inner blaze rages. This trifecta of madness—this jihad against smoking, fighting, and sex—had better not touch the best movie of all time, the sum and total of cinema to this point in history.

Leave Fight Club alone. Or you’ll have an inferno that will make Vesuvius look like a tiny match.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Heavenly Balls

You probably noticed my eerie silence last week on a very disturbing development.

Entire worlds hang in the balance, but I held my tongue. (And that’s awkward; it’s really hard to eat or drink that way … not to mention the damage it does to one’s romantic escapades.)

To set things right—and return feeling to my tongue—I will now address the big controversy: How many planets orbit the sun?

Long-time visitors may recall that more than a year ago, I sounded off on the debate over the name of the newly discovered “planet,” labeled 2003-UB313. I made a good case then for calling it “Wombat,” but that seems so trivial now that planetary scientists have taken this planet stuff the next level, proposing an entirely new taxonomy for our solar system.

And it’s all Pluto’s fault.

The ninth planet, you see, is so unlike the eight “classical” planets that many astronomers say it’s not a planet at all. Others claim it does belong in the club—which, they say, should also admit other celestial bodies.

Last week, it came to a head when an International Astronomical Union committee suggested redefining “planet,” creating a subcategory of outer solar system planets called “plutons,” and adding three new bodies to the planetary roster: 2003-UB313/Wombat, Pluto’s partner Charon, and Ceres (the largest, and roundest, asteroid between Mars and Jupiter).

You might support the proposal, but I’m skeptical.

I’ll admit one benefit: The addition of “plutons” would rejuvenate the stagnant field of astronomical poetry. Imagine the buzz among planet-watching limerick-writers, who can now pen verses about Teutons sleeping on futons while eating croutons.

But beware the dark side of this initiative.

Astronomers may be opening the doors of planethood to fraudulent nominations. The proposed expansion from nine to 12 planets emboldens geeks everywhere to claim planetary status for almost anything large and round. Charlie Brown’s head, the Star Wars Death Star, Pamela Anderson’s breasts … where will it end?

Even worse, the new roster would render obsolete the decades-old mnemonic devices that we used as schoolchildren to recall the planets’ order, like “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.”

All this heavenly hubbub makes that phrase so last century. Now, with three additional planets, we’d all have to learn a new one:

Modern Vexing Experts May Completely Jumble System, Unnecessarily Needling Planet-Confused Xenophobes.

And that’s just astronomically hard to remember.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

One Is the Loneliest Number

John Cougar Mellencamp sang about the feeling in 1985 in “Lonely Ol’ Night.” The following year, KISS asked about it in “Who Wants To Be Lonely.”

Music reflects life; we all get lonely sometimes. I’ll admit to loneliness at times in the early and mid 80s. Back then, we didn’t even think it was strange that E.T. felt lonesome and tried to phone home.

So we can appreciate how a Japanese man called directory assistance just to listen to the female operator. Odd, but understandable.

It went beyond odd to creepy—and criminal—when he started doing it all the time.

As he told police in Hiroshima, “When I made a complaint call once, the operator dealt with it very kindly, so I wanted to hear these women’s voices.”
And he meant it—for five months earlier this year, he did little but call directory assistance, listen to the pretty voice, and hang up.

Not five times, not a hundred. No, not even close.

He did it 37,760 times. Sometimes more than 900 times in a day.

I’ve got to tip my hat to this guy; all of my moments of loneliness combined never drove me to make more than 30,000 prank calls.

And yet I doubt this manic phoning actually provided him with any close personal connections. How could he feel better about himself hearing “Hello, city and listing please!” thousands of times? After all, he hung up without even responding to the phone greetings.

Maybe he should have wallowed in his solitude a while longer.

As Martha Davis of The Motels sang in 1982, “Only the lonely can play.”

Monday, August 14, 2006

Shake, Rock, and Roll

Strange things are afoot in Ohio.

Suburban Cleveland in particular has been experiencing something odd. Every couple of weeks, folks there feel a tremor.

And it’s not just horror upon realizing they live across a narrow body of water from the war-mongering Canadian hordes.

In fact, Lake County is Ohio’s earthquake headquarters. With a trembling about every two weeks since the start of the year, the ground there is shaking more than Shakira’s ass.

Quakes have measured up to magnitude 3.8, enough unsettle some residents. Seismologists know that there is a fault down below causing all this, but they can’t figure out why the earth is rocking and rolling so often lately.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no earthquake expert. It seems obvious, however, to point our fingers at the menace lurking just a few miles away in Cleveland.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

I think the earth itself is revolting against the Hall of Fame’s tendency to shun deserving artists from admittance. Performers become eligible 25 years after releasing their first LPs, so any artist that put an album out in 1981 or earlier could be honored.

Recently, KISS fans protested in Cleveland because the group continues to linger outside the hall after been eligible for more than five years. And they have a point—many worthy artists have been passed over for some questionable ones.

Let’s look at the record.

Deep Purple, despite widening the scope of hard rock and helping create metal music, remains absent. But the Hall and Fame does include Clyde McPhatter.

King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, despite defining progressive rock in the 1970s and—for Yes and Genesis—finding huge commercial success in the 1980s, remain absent. But the Hall and Fame does include The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Rush, despite mixing complex music with compelling lyrics and setting a high standard for the genre, remains absent. But the Hall and Fame does include Frankie Lyman & The Teenagers.

Journey, despite selling more than 45 million albums in the United States alone and topping the charts throughout the 80s, remains absent. But the Hall of Fame does include Little Willie John.

Van Halen, despite laying the foundation for most of 80s rock and giving us some of the best riffs of all time, remains absent. But the Hall and Fame does include Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.

Maybe these earthquakes would fade if the hall focused on these worthy artists. The Cleveland area could be spared the danger of a more serious tremor.

And if not, at least the new inductees will give everyone some good vibrations.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bluff in the Buff

There are countless ways to have fun in life. And many of them are better naked.

I’ve even heard—make sure you’re sitting down, folks—that you can find pictures of some bare-skinned activities on this “Internet” thing everyone keeps talking about. (Who knew? Here I thought the Web was only for the exchange of scientific knowledge. And for blogging, of course.)

One particularly well-established naked pastime is about to rise to a new level. That’s right, strip poker is hitting the big time: an Irish bookmaker plans the world’s largest game later this month in London. Originally planned for 100 men and 100 women, the championship may expand due to greater-than-expected interest.

Maybe this trend will spread to the following pastimes:

Wrestling: The sport can return to its ancient Greek origins. Back then, wrestlers competed without clothes—and covered in olive oil.

I’m not sure I really want to see modern wrestlers naked, but it would have one public service benefit: kids would see all too clearly the shrunken-testicle consequences of steroids and just say “no.”

Soccer: With the limited popularity of soccer in this country, we need to do something to get fans into stadiums. Most women I know would pay big bucks to see Real Madrid’s David Beckham, for example, running around uncovered for a couple of hours.

Yes, it’s “soccer,” not “football.” I’m American.

Air travel: There’s no reason—other than fluctuating cabin temperatures and dirty seats, both of which airlines surely can control better—to wear clothes on an airplane. Most importantly, in light of today’s news, flying in the buff would foil terrorists trying to smuggle explosives onto aircraft.

Logic is on my side. Maybe I’ll get this idea started on my next flight.

Do you think I’m bluffing?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reeling in the Years

Lately I’ve had anniversaries on my mind.

Last month, I had my first blogoversary, and my niece’s birthday falls this week. Today is also the eighth anniversary of the horrific bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that left more than 200 people dead and an astonishing 4,500+ injured.

All this attention to annual dates has me thinking about the very concept of the anniversary—our tendency to mark almost everything important by where it falls on a calendar.

You might be saying, “Hey, Amulet! Don’t you know that some celebrations derive from naturally recurring heavenly or climatic events, like the seasons?” After all, I’m sure that’s how you all you speak in casual conversation.

You’re right, of course. But I’m here to tell you that many other things measured by years are just silly.

Look at marriageability. Most countries and US states have minimum year-based ages for marriage, sometimes with parental-consent or pregnancy caveats.

But I don’t understand why it’s OK for men in China to marry at 21 but not 20 … and for girls in Iran (and New York and New Hampshire, with court permission) to marry at 13 but not 12 years and 11 months. What is it about the number of revolutions around the sun that designates someone’s readiness for marriage?

These differing measures naturally wreak havoc on Chinese-Iranian wedding planning.

Other benchmarks—for drinking alcohol, renting a car, joining the military, and voting—raise similar questions. Driving-age laws are particularly comical. Sixteen was my lucky get-a-driver’s-license number, but exactly how my friends and I suddenly became responsible enough to drive a car on that birthday remains a mystery.

Then we have to consider the lunacy of minimum age requirements for political offices.

To be a Congressperson in the United States, you must be 25. You’ve got no chance to enter the Senate if you’re not 30. The President must be 35. (Even if you accept having age standards for national elections, remember that these benchmarks were set when life expectancy at birth was less than 40 years; now it’s between 70 and 80, yet these same measures remain.)

So we trust the people to choose someone to occupy the most powerful position in the world (next to Oprah Winfrey), but we don’t trust the people to determine at what age a particular candidate might be “ready” to assume office. Seems oddly undemocratic to me.

When it comes down to it, just about any decision of any importance has some minimum age limit thrown on it—and it’s almost always measured in years.

Am I the only one perplexed by how our abilities to make choices about marriage, control a vehicle, or run for office depend upon how many times our little ball of rock and water has circled a distant star?

It’s my top pet peeve—of the year.

Friday, August 04, 2006

… And (Delayed) Justice for All

The law often takes too long to redress society’s ills.

Sometimes prosecutors lack the evidence to bring evil-doers to account for their crimes, resulting in a “cold case.” Or the trial just goes on and on; the O.J. Simpson circus, you’ll recall, dominated our lives for nine months.

Then, on occasion, backlogged courts delay justice.

Bosnia is taking this problem to a whole new level. You’re probably thinking that Bosnians face a few hundred unresolved cases, maybe even a thousand.

Try 1.3 million.

Last week, the country’s court regulators revealed this staggering figure and warned the government to rectify the situation. But with more than a million backlogged cases, this could take a while.

As we wait for the Bosnians to catch up, we should work on these long-overdue cases closer to home:

Amerigo Vespucci. German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller invented “America” on his 1507 map of the world to honor Italian merchant Amerigo Vespucci, supposedly the first European to claim that Columbus and his followers had discovered a new continent. We’d be much happier with the Western Hemisphere’s name if Vespucci would have waited for Randy “Big Unit” Johnson to identify it.

Yoko Ono. Never held to account for her role in breaking up the Beatles, John Lennon’s widow has avoided the world’s punishment for too long. An apt penalty would be 10 years of solitary confinement while being forced to listen to her own cacophonous recordings.

Harrison Ford. The man whom a generation knows as Han Solo and Indiana Jones must face the music for delaying another Raiders of the Lost Ark installment for years while he made films like Hollywood Homicide with Josh Hartnett. Of course, chances of a conviction are slight, given that a jury of his peers would include other recently underperforming actors like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, and Robert DeNiro.

Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson’s group isn’t bad; the classic album Aqualung influenced countless bands in the 1970s. But the crime of Tull’s flute-filled Crest of a Knave beating out Metallica’s … And Justice for All album for the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Grammy in 1989 demands … well, justice.

Nirvana. Let’s take Nirvana to court for ending the era of fun, good-times hair metal of the 1980s and giving us years of “I’m bored with my life” grunge. Half of the cases of depression in the United States since 1991 can be traced to the I-hate-myself-and-I’m-gonna-whine-about-it music that Nirvana spawned.

Cloning experimenters. There is absolutely no excuse for scientists to waste time clone sheep, cattle, and horses when they could focus their resources on replicating Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba.

I demand justice—lots and lots of it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

False Identity

Many of us have had embarrassing experiences with our identification.

Some of you, in younger days, tried to purchase alcohol using fake IDs. Maybe it worked, maybe you found yourself in a world of hurt … that’s between you and your local sheriff.

Once past legal age, it’s merely or annoying—or, for some people, flattering—when a server asks you to confirm your age. The primary humiliation associated with your driver’s license these days focuses on that goofy picture.

Unless you’re Maria Bergan of Lakewood, Ohio.

Poor Maria. All she did was show her ID to the bar waitress to buy a drink.

Too bad the driver’s license she handed over actually belonged to that waitress—who had reported her wallet stolen weeks earlier and was stunned to see her own face looking back at her from Maria’s identification.

Poor Maria. Now she’s facing charges of identity theft and receiving stolen property.

This Ohio waitress, however, is not the first person to suffer from identity issues. Click on each of the links below to see a pair of celebrity look-alikes in a new window.

Actor Ethan Hawke … and singer Mark McGrath

Former Beatle Ringo Starr … and former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat

Actress Eva Longoria … and actress Marisa Tomei

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan … and actor Morgan Freeman

Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars … and Pope Benedict XVI

They say that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. And these pictures back that up.

Which leads me to ask: What celebrity do you most resemble?

If it’s a waitress in Ohio, think twice about flashing that ID.