Thursday, February 26, 2009

Super Bowl for Women

Last weekend was the “Super Bowl for Women,” the Academy Awards. Man, do they go all out for that. I’m talking about the entire production and the endless media attention. First, there’s the announcement of the nominees a month or so out. Then, there’s the build up to the big show, with media stories anointing favorites and dark horses, and contests where you and I – mere commoners, mind you, to the royalty of George Clooney’s Hollywood – can speculate on who will walk off with Oscars, from Best Picture down to Animated Short. Game day, Sunday, is non-stop. First, there’s the warm-up show, with previews of parties and behind-the-scenes glances at folks getting ready. Of course, there’re the arrivals on the red carpet – thousands of screaming fans (all chicks, of course), Ryan Seacrest (who’s practically a chick, no?), Oprah, and those award winning journalists, Joan and Melissa Rivers (okay, I’m not certain they’re chicks, but they are a train wreck waiting to happen, and that’s just good television). An interesting collection of pretension, insincerity and cattiness, all televised on cable stations I didn’t know were included in my Comcast package. What do they show on those channels the rest of the year? Finally, we get to the Academy Awards show itself (yawn!). Okay, well then finally, finally, we get the post-award show news. Then, finally, finally, finally, the Today Show on Monday, still on location.

The “Super Bowl for Women” is one helluva accurate description. What really bugs me though is that the Academy Awards are at the end of “awards season.” It’s an endless string of awards – film festivals, Golden Globes, Viewer’s Choice, SAG Awards, Grammys, CMAs, whatever. Crap, it goes on seemingly forever! Every time I want to talk to my wife, she shushes me, sips her chardonnay, readjusts herself on the couch, and continues watching. At least with football and the real Super Bowl, she doesn’t have to go through a whole bunch of … lead up to … the … oh, ah, er, never mind.

Okay, so I’m barely smart enough not to go there. I’ll give my wife the awards shows, all the skinny actresses (plus Queen Latifah) in gowns that cost more than my jumbo mortgage, and I’ll even toss in American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. [Alright, I know that Queen Latifah comment was cheap, but it’s not as if she’ll be reading. D’uh!] If doing so will keep her out of my hair during football and hockey games, as well as the Indy 500, then I’m all for it. It’s a fair trade. But, where I really want to go is the brilliant scam that is the award show in the first place. It’s like one of those Hallmark-invented holidays, for crying out loud. Absolutely, freakin’ brilliant!

My exhaustive research uncovered the actual sequence of events that led up to the creation of the Academy Awards. Staying true to inspiration of the Hollywood dream machine, I’ll report out below in the format of a screenplay.


BILL and TED, two fat, cigar-chomping movie moguls, sit across one another at lunch. They’ve just ordered – off menu, of course.

(pensively, whilst biting into his crab-filled, egg white only omelet)
I’m worried about this crazy film business. It’s really hard to get people to see movies that don’t have a bunch of brazen nudity and gratuitous violence in them.

(in agreement, with concern, aerating his third glass of Bordeaux)
I hear you. It won’t be long before we run out of ditzy, blonde girls here in southern California willing to take their top off to get into the movies. There’s no future in this business, I tell you

(nervously brushing aside the Peruvian flake off his napkin)
I was thinking, though. What if we formed a group, made up entirely of our friends in the movie business. Then, we get that group to pick a bunch of our very own films for awards. We publicize those awards like crazy, which, in turn, leads all those stupid customers of ours into theatres, jumping over one another at the box office just like lemmings leaping into the sea.

(happily slapping his thigh and motioning for the hooker at the bar to join them at the table)
By golly, old man, I think you’re on to something there. That’s the best idea I’ve heard since those MGM boys invented the casting couch.

Is it just me, or are awards, presented to members by fellow members of the very same members-only organization, like the greatest thing ever? Not only do the Academy Awards give an annual goose to box office receipts for a number of films, from a number of studios, but the little geniuses have even found a way to profit off of television rights. Oh, and the best thing – to be a member of the Academy, you have to be invited AND you have to pay dues! I do love a country built on the foundations of free enterprise, capitalism, and entrepreneurial ingenuity.

Ah, so you’re wondering why that shining light bulb is appearing over my head just now?

I’m going to start my own members-only academy. The membership will be middle-aged, mid-manager asses broken over years of not reaching their once promising potential [MAMMA BOY]. Membership dues to be borne solely by corporate employers and sponsors, with an occasional government grant thrown in. Annual meetings at the Atlantis Hotel & Casino in the Bahamas. The highlight of the annual conference, of course, will be the presentation of the prestigious “Dickie” awards. We’ll have cart-loads of booze everywhere and syndicate a reality show featuring all access coverage and plenty of tomcatting and buffoonery on the Spike Network. I figure if the American – scratch that; the world-wide public - is silly enough to fall for the “Super Bowl for Women” -harder and harder every year - it seems the sky is the limit for the next wacky idea. Time for me to get mine.

At least that’s this guy’s opinion.

Follow me on Twitter @RayHartjen

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Taken Aback with Shopaholics

A couple of weeks ago, some family friends went to the movies and saw Taken, starring a post Obi-Wan Liam Neeson. As they are parents of a thirteen year old daughter, they recommended the movie to us and told us it was a flick to definitely share with our own thirteen year old daughter – teach her about the evil of men preying on the naivety of young women and making a fortune selling them into the sex industry. You know, how young girls are to never talk to strangers or share taxi cabs. Well, we thought it was a bit heavy for our daughter at this time, but my wife and I went to it. It’s a good, action-packed movie. I liked it. I do worry that it will become too popular and too well viewed – it’s really going to hamper my pickup lines at airport taxi stands.

But, I digress. You see, as we went to Taken, my daughter and her friends took in Confessions of a Shopaholic, and that’s where this guy has a problem. No, not with the movie – I’m sure it’s a fun way to spend two hours without providing any social benefit at all. My beef is with “shopaholism” and calls for it to be formalized as a disease or disorder. Please.

Okay, fairness in full disclosure – I’m not a doctor. However, I do feel qualified to offer a medical opinion based on these three facts: 1) my sister is an M.D. and my father is a Ph.D., 2) my handwriting is absolutely atrocious, and 3) thanks to my DVR and numerous USA network marathons, I’ve viewed virtually every House episode. C’mon, you and I both know that makes me qualified to be a department head at any HMO in the United States. As such, my medical qualifications are airtight.

If only the case for compulsive shopping as a disease could be.

Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known by my fellow medical practitioners and researchers as simply the DSM, or the “bible of psychological disorders,” does not recognize compulsive shopping as a disease. Ah, but there’s a subset of maverick physicians and therapists who are campaigning for inclusion. The leaders of this merry band are the doctors of the German psychiatric community, who argue compulsive shopping is a subset of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

The first argument against Compulsive Shopping being a disease or disorder is its peculiar adherence to geography. It’s certainly not uncommon for diseases to be more prevalent in one geographic region over another – valley fever (Coccidioidomycosis), for example, is endemic to the American southwest and northwestern Mexico. But, for this professional medicine man, I find it odd that Compulsive Shopping seems so centered on the United States and Western Europe. What, no sub-Saharan Africa? It’s odd that Compulsive Shopping is absent from countries with a GDP smaller than the amount of money Bill Clinton spends annually on 1-900 calls.

Secondly, we’ll assume Compulsive Shopping isn’t caused by some strange toxin that has been recently introduced to our environment, although that would make a pretty cool storyline for a movie, and would maybe explain those plastic clogs, Crocs. With no toxin responsible for the sudden onset of Compulsive Shopping, we’re free to assume the “disease” we have today was around in – oh, I don’t know – let’s say 1840. So, how would Compulsive Shopping present at the little house on the prairie? I can’t see it happening. What, an undeniable urge to barter baby pigs for buffalo hide? A walk in barn closet housing a collection of designer dungarees – one for every day of the month? Endless labor under the hot sun so as to further the collection of Manolo boots? Nope, not buying it.

Not buying it. That’s funny, don’t you think?

No, my extensive medical research has proved that Compulsive Shopping is not a disease. Now, it could very well be a symptom – perhaps one for depression or OCD or whatever – and maybe I’ll explore that when my beer expenses don’t take so much out of my research budget. Compulsive Shopping is, for the vast majority of “sufferers,” a behavioral problem brought on by the easy availability of credit. People want, people can, and therefore, people do. Then, they feel bad about it. They want to feel better, and nothing alleviates discomfort more than a good, liberal application of “it’s not my fault.”

So, if you spent all your money on useless crap, Compulsive Shopping is not the disease you suffer from. Rather, it’s most likely a symptom of advanced Acquired Intelligence Deficiency Syndrome, the most prevalent planetary disease with the acronym AIDS. The treatment is simple – stop buying shit. It goes back to the advice a friend’s father once gave him – if, when in an argument, you find your position is digging yourself a bigger and bigger hole, the first thing you need to do is PUT DOWN THE SHOVEL. Cut up your credit cards, pay with cash, avoid the mall, and get off ebay.

And the guilt over destroying your family’s credit and spending your kid’s college fund? Forget about it! As the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, your kid wasn’t likely going to college anyway.

At least that’s this guy’s opinion.

Tweet me @RayHartjen

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Michael Phelps and His Life Aquatic

“News” out of Richland County, South Carolina says that Sheriff Leon Lott won’t file marijuana charges against Michael Phelps due to a lack of evidence. It hard to believe the amount of “legs” this news story has had. It’s even harder to believe that a Japanese auto manufacturer (Mazda) had this American swimmer (Phelps) issue an apology to the Chinese. Dude! This is America. We simply don’t apologize for our drug or petroleum usage – it is what it is.

What’s the big uproar about the photos of Michael Phelps allegedly (allegedly – that makes me smile) smoking pot? He’s young and rich, but has never once been confused with one of the sharper tools in the shed. He gets a DUI after 6 gold medals in Athens. Four years later, the pot smoking pictures – alleged pot smoking pictures I mean! - come after 8 gold medals in Beijing. Following this stream of progression, I guess he’s looking at 10 gold medals in London, followed quickly by a tappin’-the-vein-heroin habit. I’m telling you now, don’t be surprised when, in four years, you see him grow his hair long, learn to play guitar, wear leather chaps and a torn up T-shirt, and become a full-on rock star. Or, maybe like River Phoenix’s brother, a rap “star.” Don’t get me wrong – that’s all cool; to each his own. More pressing issues abound – primarily, the question of “Why is swimming a sport?”

Okay, now settle down. Let’s hear this out logically and rationally.

No argument here, swimming is definitely an athletic endeavor. Have you ever tried swimming as a workout – damn! But, in its present sporting form, it’s completely ridiculous. A swim race makes perfect sense. First one to the end of the distance – be it 50 meters, 100 meters, 800 meters, whatever – wins. It’s simple. But, why the four different strokes at a swim meet? The freestyle is clearly the fastest stroke – over 200 meters, the men’s breast stroke world record holder (Kosuke Kitajima of Japan) is over 24 seconds behind the men’s freestyle world record holder (one Michael Phelps). In the four lengths of a pool that make up a 200 meter race, that’s over one length slower. Phelps could be out of the pool, dried off with his itsy, bitsy chamois, and headed for the opium den by the time Kitajima touches up. Why insist on spreading out the swim meet with three other strokes?

To test the how-absurdly-is-it-to-have-four-strokes theory, let’s examine how this would play out in another Summer Olympic sport, track and field. We’ll take the running events – all of them, from 100 meters to the marathon. Clearly, the fastest way to run is forwards, in a straight line. But, borrowing from our shaved bodied and head cap wearing aqua-friends, what about the other strokes, er, I mean strides? We could add the backwards run. Maybe the sideways run? Oh, and of course, my personal favorite, the skip. Can you imagine the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing, packed to the rafters, eagerly awaiting the stud Jamaicans getting in the blocks for the Friday night marquee event, the 100 meter skip? Of course you can’t – it’s a stupid idea. And, so are the slowest three swimming strokes.

And, then there’s the swim suits. We’ve all seen the high-tech suits that cut water drag to next to nothing. Now, the typical suit for the freestyle is a full-bodied suit, covering the torso. Fair enough. But, for the slower, and as argued, completely unnecessary, strokes, the fashion statement du jour is the “jammer” or “legskin” suit - essentially a pair of long shorts. After careful observation, here’s how the men fit their jammers. First, find the bottom of your pelvic bone with your thumb. Then, go one to two inches lower. There! A micron above your willy. There’s where the jammers should come on your “waist.” Of course, proper etiquette requires close attention to shaving, lest you give all the television viewers a bird’s nest surprise.

Jammers. The final argument against the three slowest strokes in swimming. They’re silly, and with the Phelps pot smoking – alleged pot smoking! – story as proof, we have enough silly things in the world already.

At least that’s this guy’s opinion.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Vagaries of English (and the English)

I remember sitting across from colleague and Facebook friend Scott Clarke at lunch a couple of years ago. His consulting gig was winding down, and our two teams went out to grab a nice lunch, reminisce over some hard-fought victories, and lick the wounds suffered in other, less glorious defeats. With another Brit at the table, somehow the conversation got turned to the renowned, er, “gourmet” culinary delicacies of England – bangers and mash, spotted dick, blood pudding, etc. From those highlights, we then detoured into the dark space of various internal organs, to which I expressed my eternal loathing. Scott looked at me with a grin, an eyebrow askew, and said, “Don’t care for the sweetbreads, huh?”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, now! “Sweetbreads?” WTF? No, I don’t care for the sweetbreads, but to each his own. What I really object to is its name.

What genius came up with the idea of referring to the thymus glands of veal, lamb, and pork as sweetbreads? Look, I’m no scientist here, but this I know – there’s nothing neither sweet nor bread-like about sweetbreads. Where I grew up, sweetbreads were something like banana bread or pumpkin bread. You know, loaf-like things that had enough sugar in them to be somewhat sweet. Getting sweeter, a Danish could be a sweetbread, along with perhaps the ultimate sweetbread, the common donut. Heck, taken from a source none other than that great philanthropic humanitarian, philosopher, and all around Palace hottie, Marie Antoinette, cake is a sweetbread. Who’s going to argue with Marie Antoinette? The mere fact the champagne glass was modeled after her bosom makes her opinion irreproachable. [On an aside, I’m hoping that bit of folklore refers to the champagne coupe glass, not champagne flute glass. Of course, after four kids … nah, couldn’t be – no way she was a breast feeder(er?). She was Queen, for crying out loud!]

Whatever. Back on point, it would really help this father of two squeamish kids (and, truth be told, me too) if we just named our foods what they really were. Of course, if it’s a foreign language, I’ll expect a word I don’t understand – after all, those foreign languages seem to have a different word for everything. It’s the English we’ve got to get a hold on. Pig’s feet are pig’s feet, damn it – no sense putting the figurative lipstick on the pig. It’s just so much easier that way, and will go a long way to preventing the disasters waiting to happen with such tasty sounding, yet not exactly descriptive, dishes like lamb fries, Rocky Mountain oysters, and prairie oysters.

At least that’s this guy’s opinion.