Friday, April 18, 2008

For the Love of Money? -- Invitation to Write #45

For Writers:

People apparently will do anything for money. NBC’s Fear Factor seemed to prove that point weekly, as contestants would willing eat Bull penises and hissing cockroaches and maggot milkshakes. Could a chance to win $50,000 really be worth that?

Next, FOX gave us The Moment of Truth. In this “game show,” contests are hooked up to a lie detector to answer thirty of the most intimate questions about their personal lives. Then, before a studio audience, family and friends, and millions of TV viewers, they answer a selection of these same questions again. If their answers correctly match the lie detector results, they have a chance to win up to one million dollars, but this show has proven that as honest as people presumably want to be, they still cannot be completely honest with themselves. No one has won the big prize.

But is money the real motivation for the people that go on these kinds of shows? I don’t think so. These people have something to prove, and while they think winning the money might be nice, there must be something else driving them. In fact, MTV's I Bet You Will asks people to do stupid, crazy, and potentially humiliating things for just a few bucks. Guess what? There are always plenty of willing participants.

What motivates you?

“Deep down even the most hardened criminal is starving for the same thing that motivates the innocent baby: Love and acceptance.” – Lily Fairchilde

Side Effects -- Invitation to Write #44

For Writers:

Side effects may include nausea, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and spontaneous combustion…

Watch the evening news, and it’s difficult to avoid seeing a few commercials sponsored by the major drug companies promoting their latest miracle potions. You’ll see images of people living lives to the fullest, as the underlying musical score keeps the beat to optimism and hope.

Somewhere near the end of the commercial, an actor in the disguise of a doctor will come on screen and thoughtfully tell another actor in the disguise of a patient of potential side effects. We’re told that the most severe are also the most rare, but how often do we learn five or ten years down the road that maybe they weren’t that rare, or that other unforeseen complications resulted from years of daily use?

As just one example, millions of patients took the arthritis drug Vioxx, completely oblivious to the fact that it substantially increased the likelihood of heart attack. When the drug was finally pulled off the market, at least 28,000 people died due to Vioxx-induced heart attacks.

Is there anything that you do that has potentially serious side effects?

“There are three side effects of acid: enhanced long-term memory, decreased short-term memory, and I forget the third.” – Timothy Leary

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Living under the Influence -- Invitation to Write #43

For Writers:

Driving under the Influence (DUI) is against the law, and rightly so. But something equally as dangerous is what I like to call Living under the Influence (LUI). The United States is a free country, as people like to say, so that means we have the freedom to live as we choose.

Live as we choose. Do we really?

Children live under the influence of parents, other adults, and peers. People in general live under the influence of various religions and philosophies, advertisements, the media, the government, and on and on. True, some people, such as the Amish, opt out of mainstream influences, but no one escapes. The Amish still live under the influence of their group. And while we can argue that some influences are "positive," the fact still remains: everyone lives under the influence.

What would an individual be like without the influence of others?

What is an individual? Is it an imaginary concept, or can a person living under the constant, multiple influences of others ever truly be considered an individual?

"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Daydreaming White Jeans Blue -- Invitation to Write #42

For Writers:

Levi’s produced jeans in a variety of colors and styles, and I must have owned them all – white, gray, black, pinstriped, stonewashed, and button-flied. I was one of the few guys daring enough to wear white jeans to junior high, but I thought I was the king of style with my white jeans, red Izod polo shirt, and multi-colored Air Jordan high tops.

As I sat in class one day, Mrs. Swatzbaugh was writing on the board, and I was doing my best to follow along. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to think about the pizza and chocolate cake I was going to have for lunch right after class. My pen stopped taking notes, and I used it to scratch an itch on my leg. It felt so good, I kept rubbing…

Five minutes later, I looked down and noticed that I had scribbled back and forth all over my white jeans. This is one of the few times that my jaw literally dropped. How the hell had that happened? I had to laugh out loud. Kevin sat to my left, and he asked me what was so funny. I showed him my leg, and he burst out in hysterics. He thought I’d done it on purpose as a gag, and soon the whole class was totally into looking at my artwork. Structured learning was over for the rest of the period.

The only thing funnier than this was what happened next. Mrs. Swatzbaugh made me go to the bathroom to take off my pants. I had told her that I was wearing shorts underneath, but what I hadn’t mentioned was that they were the shortest grey nylon running shorts you’ve ever seen. Nobody seemed to notice that, though. After all, it was the 80s.

When did you last zone out? How long were you gone, what did you do while you were there, and what snapped you back to reality?

"I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering." - Steven Wright

The Value of Winning -- Invitation to Write #41

For Writers:

Thirty guys move as one to the wall where the Tournament Director has posted a pairing sheet. It's the opening round of your average local chess tournament, and everyone is anxious to find out who their opponent will be, and what color they've been assigned, and what their rating is.

Chess has a rating system, and the better you are, the higher your rating. In simple terms, beating a player of equal strength adds 16 points to your rating; and the most points you can win from defeating a player with a much higher rating is 32. Rating classifications change every 200 points. Someone rated 1200 is considered a novice; 1600 is considered an average player; 2000 is considered an expert; and 2400 is considered a Grandmaster. A person with an 800 point advantage has a better than 99% statistical chance of winning the match.

For tournament chess players, there’s absolutely no joy in playing someone that has a vastly inferior rating. You’re expected to win, so the joy of winning is limited; moreover, losing has severe consequences to your rating. Playing someone with a stronger rating is much more fun for two reasons: First, when you win, you feel the high of beating someone “better” than you; second, your rating has the potential of increasing by as many as 32 points.

Even in non-tournament play when nothing is on the line, I’d rather play someone who is my equal or slightly better. It’s difficult to learn as much playing someone with less skill. And in the end, it’s really true that you’re only as good as your opponent. When you play someone inferior, the quality of your own play tends to go down.

Think of a competitive sport or activity that you are involved in. Would you rather compete against someone that is below, at, or above your level? Why?

“Why must I lose to this idiot?” -- Aron Nimzovich

Barack vs. Clinton -- Debate #20

Wow. The first half of the debate didn't address a single policy issue. All the questions were about: 1) Barack's associates, 2) what Barack "meant" with his "bitter" comments, 3) Hillary's Bosnia memory "mistake," etc.

Clinton was happy to play the game, and for whatever reason, moderator Charlie Gibson must have thought it was a lot more sexy to keep playing gotcha with the candidates than to ask them any real questions.

By Hour 2 of the debate, they finally started to address some of the real issues, but by then, Barack had been forced into the defensive for too long so that it didn't really matter what was said. He had been forced to explain himself too often, and he used the word "angry" too often. Barack's real problem seems to be that he thinks people are listening to what he says, that they respect him for being honest. Unfortunately, maybe his hope in the American people is too strong?

Who won this debate? No one really. Who lost? Everyone. The last AOL poll I saw suggests that Barack's overall favorable ratings continue to drop, which is pretty sad as he's one of the most honest and honorable men in politics.

But then again, even Jesus was crucified. Maybe people can't handle honest and honorable men in politics.

Embarrassing Stiffies -- Invitation to Write #40

For Writers:

Our high school P.E. uniforms incorporated the school colors -- but they were the ugliest green shirts and gold shorts you’ve ever seen. For the freshmen and sophomores, the P.E. instructors were real drill instructors. The semester that I had the football coach as my instructor, I must have lost twenty pounds. He really enjoyed working us into the ground.

Most days we’d start with warm up exercises. Everyone would get into lines of five, and we’d start off with jumping jacks, “burpees,” and push-ups, etc. On one occasion, Jason was in the front line, and as we were doing sit-ups, Greg pointed to Jason: “Hey Bret, check it out.” Jason had pitched a tent in his shorts, and soon the whole class was pointing and laughing.

Coach had no sympathy for Jason’s plight, and he made everyone continue their reps. To his credit, Jason didn’t seem to be too embarrassed, but have you ever tried doing sit-ups with a stiffie? I haven’t, but I can’t imagine it could be all that comfortable -- especially with 50 pairs of eyes directed your way.

Describe your most embarrassing moment. How did you get through it?

“Dying is the most embarrassing thing that can ever happen to you, because someone's got to take care of all your details." - Any Warhol

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington

Do you like philosophy or politics? If so, check out Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington. With a title like that, how can you go wrong?

This is the follow-up, of course, to Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar. I highly recommend both. If you're gonna read something, you might as well enjoy it!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stress: A Father's Afterbirth -- Invitation to Write #39

For Writers:

Between you and me, the last time I cried was when my daughter was born. I'd like to say they were tears of joy, but to be honest, they were tears of stress.

The whole time we were waiting for delivery, I was fine; even after the doctors removed Octavia from my wife's belly, I was fine. Cutting the cord? I was fine. It was the next day that the whole reality of fatherhood started to crash down on me, and crash down hard.

Although we had a private room, it was quite tiny once you added in-laws and my parents, Tavi and my wife, and all the doctors and nurses that kept running in and out at all hours of the day and night. I'm sure the sense of claustrophobia was much more acute for my wife, but for me, it was bad enough. On two specific occasions, I recall wanting to run to my get-away car and start driving toward the mountains.

Of course I never did that, and a few days later we were able to take mother and baby home. Everything was just fine by then, but boy, if you want to experience stress, have yourself a baby!

Recall a time in your life when your level of stress reached the saturation point. How did you handle the situation, and if faced with it again, what could you do to prepare better for the challenge?

"To be a successful father . . . there's one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don't look at it for the first two years." -- Ernest Hemingway

A Culture of Cheaters -- Invitation to Write #38

For Writers:

We live in a cheating culture; cheating might not be openingly accepted, but it seems pretty clear that cheating infects all areas of society. In baseball, it's steriods; in college, it's plagiarism; and in business, it's fixing the books. Simply put, doing your best isn't enough. The stakes are too high, and the competition is now global.

Moreover, people seem to have the mindset that they will never get caught, and even if they do get caught, the punishment will be minor.

Some have gone as far as to call the problem an "epidemic." And even the very definition of what it means to cheat is changing. According to one researcher, 47% of high school students believe it is okay to find out information about a test from others that have already taken it; even more shocking is the fact that 75% admitted to cheating on assignments and over 50% admitted to plagiarizing papers.

Describe a time when you cheated -- on a test, on a spouse, whatever. Why did you decide to cheat, and what were the costs (or payoffs)? Or, if you are one of the few non-cheaters out there, what would you do if you witnessed someone cheating? Under what circumstances would you report what you saw?

"Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." -- Jesse Ventura

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Get a Job -- Invitation to Write #37

For Writers:

Why wouldn’t you want to hire me? I think that’s the attitude of a lot of applicants, and I can’t blame them. Most applicants probably don’t understand who their competition is, as most have never been on a hiring committee.

Fresh out of college, I know I had the attitude: why do I need to sell myself? I can let my résumé speak for itself. Now I know, of course, that a résumé just gets your foot in the door. It’s at the interview that the real work begins.

One of my first real interviews was at my undergraduate college. I had applied to be an Admissions Recruiter, and my job would be to go to area high schools to promote the college to High School Juniors and Seniors. What shocked me was that the interview process itself would last all morning. First I had breakfast with my would-be supervisor, then I met the other recruiters; next I met with the Dean of the College. All of that went fine, but then they directed me to a room that already had eight other people in it. This was the hiring committee, and I froze. I had no idea that eight people would be interviewing me. There were only chairs in the room – no desk for me to hide behind – and I didn’t have anything to wet my Sahara-like throat.

One after the other lobbed questions at me like hand grenades, and I “um’ed” my way through my responses. Needless to say, my silk shirt was completely soaked by the end of the interrogation, and I wasn’t terribly shocked to find out the following week that I wouldn’t be making the rounds to area schools on the college's behalf.

What's the worst job interview experience you’ve ever had? What did you learn from that experience that helped you with the next interview?

“All I've ever wanted was an honest week's pay for an honest day's work.” – Steve Martin

Throw Me a Freakin' Bone Here -- Invitation to Write #36

For Writers:

Professional Wrestler Mick Foley broke at least 13. Daredevil Evel Knievel broke 35, and not all of them in motorcycle crashes. And me, not a one. It’s more difficult to break a bone while sitting in front of a computer screen writing most of the day away. The worst thing that will ever happen to me is carpal tunnel.

Then again, maybe I have broken a bone unknowingly. Is that even possible? According to one website I visited, the average person breaks six tiny foot bones over a lifetime. But if you never knew a bone was broken, does that really count?

I want to get to the real marrow of the question: what exactly does it feel like to break a bone that counts? Does a broken bone smell differently?

Perhaps I should break a bone in the name of science. Not mine, of course, but I’m now accepting applications, if anyone’s interested. For science, of course.

And here’s a puzzle for you to solve: An infant has 300 bones, but an adult only has 206? What happens to those 94 bones?

Have you ever broken a bone? What does it feel like? Describe the type of fracture, the pain, and the story behind the break. Did the event make you more cautious in the future?

“A jest breaks no bones.” – Samuel Johnson

The Big Tuna -- Invitation to Write #35

For Writers:

Until I was 10 or so, we’d travel out to Idaho every summer to visit my mom’s parents and siblings. Grandma and Grandpa Olsen always treated me like an individual, which really surprised me -- not only because I was just a kid, but also because all of mom’s siblings lived in the area and had big familes of their own, while we only came out once a year from Illinois.

Grandma’s kitchen had a big walk-in pantry, and I was allowed to go in to find whatever I wanted to eat. One time I decided to eat a can of tuna, and from that moment forward, I became the grandchild that ate tuna straight from the can. No mayo, no bread, nothing. Just a whole can of tuna.

For what ever reason, this really impressed my grandparents, and the following summer when we returned, they surprised me by buying an entire case of tuna just for me.

Growing up, what kind of relationship did you have with your grandparents? Was it the kind that you would have wished for? If so, why? And if not, what was lacking, or what do you wish would have been different?

“Have children while you parents are still young enough to take care of them.” – Rita Rudner

Home Improvement -- Invitation to Write #34

For Writers:

The walls are white, the trim is natural wood, and the countertops in the kitchen are a purple laminate; but when you buy a house, you’re told to look beyond all that kind of stuff. Look at the potential, you’re told.

So that’s what we did as we signed our name, repeatedly, on the buyer’s contract, but once it’s yours, a funny thing happens: you can no longer look beyond what was fine to look beyond when it wasn’t yours.

The house we bought suits us fine in so many ways, but the more we thought about this and that, the more we wanted to change, well, everything. Natural wood trim is passé now; did you know that? I honestly didn’t, but watch any Home Improvement show on cable. You’ll find that all new homes have white trim.

It goes without saying that all kitchens must have stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. If your kitchen doesn’t have that, and ours didn’t when we bought it, don’t ever invite anyone over, unless you want to see ridicule and pity fired directly at you when they first catch sight of your sub-par kitchen. I understand the granite and stainless in such kitchens makes the food prepared there taste 100% better.

And white walls? Only people in apartments have those.

What makes a house a home, is the people that live there, of course. But why does a house begin to feel dated every decade or so? Is updating a house a sign of owner vanity?

“An empty house is like a stray dog or a body from which life has departed.” – Samuel Butler

80s Hair in 2008

Okay, I know. Some of these guys are so old that they don't have their own 80s hair any more. The smart ones, like Klaus Meine from Scorpions, have been wearing hats to cover the bald for years. Others, I'm sure, wear some version of Hair Club for Men on stage. And the really smart ones just cut their hair short...

Some realize they're getting older, which is why Kip Winger now sings the chorus of "Seventeen" as "She's only 35." -- Just something a little bit creepy about a 40 year old man singing about a 17 year old girl, I guess.

Anyway, I don't know if you've noticed, but bands from the 80s are back. In fact, some of them never left. But bands like Winger, Stryper, and Europe have all released albums after a ten year plus break; and other groups that peaked in the 80s continue to go on, even though their apparent lack of fan base in the U.S. makes it impossible for them to tour or, in some cases, even get an album released in the U.S. I'm thinking about groups like Scorpions, Iron Maiden, etc.

Some potential good albums coming out this month. None of these groups are my top favorites, but they might be worth checking out:

Whitesnake, Good to Be Bad -- released 4/22

Def Leppard, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge -- released 4/29

Dokken -- Lightening Strikes Twice -- released 5/13

Jani Lane Back with Warrant; Saints of the Underground out 4/22

Yeah, I know about 3 people will care.

Jani Lane is once again the lead singer with Warrant, and they're going out on a big tour with Cinderella this summer. No, this isn't 1988. It's 2008, and the 80s simply never die.

Warrant's last album Born Again (2006) was with Jammie St. James as lead singer, and it's a solid album, very much in the Southern rock tradition. But as others had said, Warrant isn't really Warrant without Jani Lane.

Jani's first solo album Back Down to One (2006) is quite good, too, except it sounds like it was recorded in someone's basement. In other words, the production values are nil. One example, in "Better than You," you can clearly hear a phone ringing in the background, and I don't think it is part of the song. I've listened to that song 100 times to figure out if the phone ringing is intentional. And 100 times I've decided, nope, that's just a song recorded in someone's basement...
On 4/22, Saints of the Underground release "Love the Sin, Hate the Sinner" -- how's that for a clever title? This a side project with Jani and guys from RATT and Alice Cooper, and although I haven't heard a sample yet, I'll be plopping down my $13.98 for a listen.