Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Price to Pay to be American

Being American – or, at the very least, living in America – is great. In one afternoon stroll through a Safeway, we see more food than some people see in their entire lifetime. We have healthcare. Sometimes expensive healthcare, but healthcare nonetheless. Pizza delivery? Check. Internet porn? At our fingertips.

Truly, we have an abundance – our cups often runneth over. C’mon, think about it: the swimming pools in our very own backyards are filled with perfectly good drinking water.

We have so much in America, that we hold a weird spot in the view of the rest of the world. Oh, they love to talk crap about America and the people who live here. Some even hate us. Hate. That’s a pretty strong word. That is until an earthquake rumbles, a volcano erupts, or typhoon sweeps. Aside from being the world police deterring freak jobs from cracking off AK’s in streets from Timbuktu to unnamed villages too, our military is the first to deliver aid and care to every helping hand that’s extended.

By the way, big thanks to those in the armed services.

And for you haters out there, you’re welcome. Now shut your cakehole.

Yes, living in America is great. We enjoy – and sometimes take for granted – freedom and liberty that are unimaginable in many parts of the world. Heck, I can even criticize the government and not have to worry about the next knock on my door.

Of course, living in America is a liberty that doesn’t come free. The bill does come due every so often. I consider it the price to pay to be American.

The first bill comes due with jury duty. To live in the best country with the best judicial system created thus far (in the absence of the “whatever-Ray-says-is-law” system, that is), we have to, on very rare occasions, serve as jury members to provide judgment on our peers.

Now, is that really that tough to do? Hell, no it’s not. While it might not be the ultimate in convenience, if that’s the price I have to pay to enjoy the liberties of living in this country, then so be it. Too many others have fought and sacrificed to provide me that liberty – and occasional obligation.

What others are thinking, I don’t understand. In some cases, they should feel flat out embarrassed. I’m talking about the jury duty dodgers, of course. There’s the usual dodging of even showing up in the first place – letters of bogus hardships, etc.

A whole new level of dodging then takes place during the jury interview phase. It often goes something like this:

Judge: Any reason why you should be considered to be dismissed from jury consideration for this trial.

Douche: Oh, hell no, judge. I’m dying to flip the switch on the electric chair for that person. She should fry, I don’t care what her crime is. And, is she a minority too? That settles it!

Judge: That will be all. You can be excused.

We should have those potential jurors clean our sewers instead.

Jury duty is just one of the prices we have to pay. The bigger bill comes due the first Tuesday of November. Election Day. Or, rather, the weeks leading up to election day.

The good is the democratic election of our leaders. Can’t beat that. The bad is the campaigning leading up to the democratic election. For crying out loud, wake me when it’s over.

This last week, I’ve been bombarded with phone calls from various campaigns. Whatever happened to the “Do Not Call” list, anyway? Wasn’t that the purpose in the first place?

Not to outdone, I’m pretty sure a nice-sized parcel of rain forest has been cut down to create the campaign junk mailers I’ve received this month. Today, alone, nearly 50% of the items in my mailbox were campaign materials – three from one guy alone (David Harmer, running for U.S. Congress)!

Ah, but that’s just “snail mail.” Don’t get me started on the junk email I’ve been getting. Rather, don’t get me too started, since I’ve already started.

Despite a rigorous junk mail filter, the annoying emails with subject lines ranging from panhandling to fear-provoking, trickle in constantly through the course of the day. It’s odd that we’ve legislated laws condemning “spamming,” as it’s often a cause of great expense to organizations and individuals alike. Well, I mean there’s nothing odd about that legislation or the reasoning behind. It’s odd that it seems to apparently not apply to candidates and political parties.

Have you ever asked to “unsubscribe” to the emails? First, it’s rather unsettling you have to ask to unsubscribe to something you never subscribed to in the first place. But, what’s more aggravating is the spam continues on, only from different people. Instead of receiving a message for the Chair of the Republican National Committee, you’ll instead receive one from the Secretary, and so on down the line.

It’s not just a Republican thing either. Same goes with the Democrats, who are even more e-savvy, what with the internet invented by Al Gore and all.

I’m of the mind to shoot off an email to both parties telling them that if I receive one more email from them, I’ll vote straight party ticket for the other party.

Ah, what am I thinking – that will never work. Even a dumb-ass politician would be smart enough to figure out how to send an email under an alias naming the other party, thus “earning” my vote.

Oh well, it’s the price to pay to enjoy being an American, I suppose. Guess I just have to suck it up. But, I have to tell you – that Harmer fella better have one helluva platform, because I’m about set to go out and campaign for his opponent.

That’s me passing judgment in the jury of just this guy’s opinion. Of course, there’s a small chance I might be wrong.

Tweet your vote @RayHartjen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

4 Reasons American Culture Will Always Reject Soccer

The FIFA World Cup Final takes center stage around the world on Sunday – finally. Now, I love the World Cup. At least I want to. Really. I dig “the beautiful game” when countries are playing. I’ll wake up in the early morning and watch any country – even North Korea – square off against another. I’ll activate my vuvuzela app on my iPhone and root for the team with the coolest jerseys (I favor ones with vertical stripes and little collars).

As much as I love the World Cup though, I have to say – I hate soccer. Again, I want to like it. After all, how can 7 billion people around the globe wrong about something?

Well, after many hours of dutiful research, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are wrong about soccer. Dead wrong.

Every four years, the talk across the United States is that this will be the year, finally, that the United States becomes a soccer country. Nope. It will never happen, for there are four simple reasons why America culture will always reject soccer.

Reason #1: Play acting. For the love of God, the amount of acting in a soccer match makes it more theater than athletic contest. As if that’s not bad enough, we’re stuck with the fact the acting is horrible; so bad that it makes the acting in pornos look good. Players are addicted to the play acting. Get touched, or even close to being touched? Stop moving your feet, throw your arms up in the air, and fall down, as if shot by a sniper. Get hit in the leg? Fall down, grab your face, and feign mortal injury by re-enacting the death scene from Othello. Miss the goal by a mere 10 meters as your shot goes twenty rows into the stands? Turn to the cameras, raise your hands to heavens, and prepare for your super slow motion spot on TVs around the world.

Ugh. I thought Charlton Heston was the master of overacting and “chewing the scenery.” Turns out every prima donna in a No. 10 jersey has him beat.

Reason #2: The stretcher. Really, it’s part of the play acting, but is so egregious it deserves its own callout. When you see a stretcher carried out on the field during an American football game, or a hockey rink, or any other sport around the world for that matter, you can rest assured bad, bad things are going on down there. Soccer? Not so much.

99% of the players carried off on a stretcher return to action in minutes. Apparently soccer trainers and doctors have invented a miracle healer that they have carefully hidden in water bottles. A quick spray over the affected area – typically either the head or one of the legs – and the player is up off the stretcher and signaling the referee that he wants to return to the pitch.

C’mon. Really? Are you serious? Either you’re faking it and acting – again, more poorly than a porn star - or your doctor is hiding a miracle cure from the entire world, which means you’re all complete douches. Take your pick – neither is good.

In America, we love heroes, particularly those who stand tall and proud, and persevere through all obstacles, including a little cleat mark. You know, John Wayne and all. As long as soccer players keep acting like pussies, our collective sporting attention will continue to be drawn to the NFL and other – yes, I’m about to say it – real sports.

Reason #3: Playing referee during the game. The typical soccer player spends more time during a match with his hand in the air trying to capture the referee’s attention than a rented mule tends to licking his wounds. How many times have you seen a player during this World Cup get caught out of position because he’s trying to sell a foul or an offsides call to the referee rather than playing full tilt?

Dudes, enough already. Just shut the f up and play.

Sure, this World Cup has been plagued by some high-profile, poor officiating. Who cares? That’s sports. Players are supposed to play. In American sports, we love the players and teams who out perform the other. If they’re getting screwed by the officials, that’s even better. There’s more honor in overcoming and persevering than there is in whining and having a dude in a striped shirt be the deciding factor. Bring the honor back to soccer (see play acting, above), and maybe we care a little bit more.

Reason #4: Playing not to lose. What? Play for a tie? Absolutely, positively, undeniably un-American! The old saying “a tie is like kissing your sister” is an old saying for a reason – it’s based in truth. Ties suck and no one wants to see them. As much as Landon Donovan and his mates on the US team mustered up a bite-sized bit of enthusiasm for soccer this last month, snooze fests like Brazil and Portugal’s nil-nil draw brought it back twice as far. One step forward, two steps back.

Everyone likes a winner. Many even love the “lovable loser.” Nobody likes a neutralized, neutered “tie-er.” Our American sporting legends are either time-honored champions or equally as time-honored warriors who “went out swinging” or “carried out on their shields.” There’s honor and glory in both winning and losing. In between, nothing but regret – for playing, for watching, for everything.

So, there you have it. It’s all so easy when you conduct scientific research and break it down to the facts – four reasons American culture will forever reject soccer.

Change the game with some minor adjustments, and the tune might be sung differently. Until then, I’ll watch the final on Sunday and forget about soccer for another four years. It’s not like I’ll be missing a boat load of action. In those four years, there’ll probably be only 12 to 14 goals scored.


At least that’s this guy’s opinion.

Tweet your soccer hatred @RayHartjen

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When Being the ‘Ho Means Making the Dough

This week brings us the Masters golf tournament and Tiger Woods’ return to the most boring spectator sport the world has ever known – and, I’m including cricket and even gardening in that statement. Without a doubt, there’s more excitement standing in line for a Disneyland attraction. I remember one study of sports found that there were a few minutes of action in a baseball game. I’ll suggest there’re a handful of seconds of action in a typical round of golf.

No, this week, I’m much more interested in the return of Tiger to the public eye – that’s much more compelling theater, and as his past has proven, inclusive of much, much more action.

Tiger is another in a line of celebutards who have made a very public misstep. Unfortunately, he’s also one of a growing list of celebutards who seems to think redemption is as easy as pleading “addiction.” You can’t really blame him – it’s a tactic that might actually be working.

It all started on fateful night in 2006 with Mel Gibson. Fuelled with more alcohol than an NHRA dragster, Mel got pulled over for and arrested for DUI, whereupon he went on a drunken, hate-filled tirade that included anti-Semitic comments.

Mel – or rather his PR team – quickly deployed the addiction defense, as Mel apologized, proclaimed a long-standing battle with alcoholism, and checked himself into an outpatient rehabilitation clinic. Pundits thought his career was essentially over – and his next production, Apocalypto grossed only $50 million domestically, seemingly proving his critics right.

I don’t know. That film, as beautiful as the cinematography was, was long and subtitled – a double, open-mouthed kiss of death at the box office. Of course, Mel’s 2010 release, Edge of Darkness, followed with only $43 million at the box office. Still, I think that’s a good number – let’s not forget, Mel is a 54 year-old actor, 31 years removed from Mad Max, and more than 23 years past Lethal Weapon.

Tiger famously offered up the addiction excuse after his many late night escapades came to life. Right on his heels, West Coast Choppers bad boy Jesse “Mr. Bullock” James entered rehab for addiction too, this after his very own extramarital affairs came to light. Unlike Mel, Tiger and Jesse both pled addiction not to alcohol, but to another apple in the Garden of Eden, that being sex.

News flash here: All men are addicted to sex. It’s not a disease, and for that matter, it’s not even news. Thank goodness all men are addicted to sex, for our survival as a species is literally dependent on it.

Using the addiction claim as an excuse is ludicrous. As a guy who’s seen more than his share of the bottom of a bottle, Mel, let me offer you this - alcohol didn’t make you hate-filled. Rather, it simply greased the skids on your mouth, allowing you to let out what was already inside you. Tiger and Jesse, same goes for you two. Addiction to sex didn’t make you drop your pants – opportunity did.

Addiction aside, in the Tiger and Jesse stories, there’s one thing that’s got my mind running in circles. Since when has being a slutty "other woman" in an extramarital romp in the sack become a springboard to a new career?

Our celebutard-crazed society seemingly can’t get enough of the bimbos on parade outside of Tiger’s hotel room and Jesse’s office door. You don’t think so? Consider the following:

  • Jesse’s featured sleeze bag is the heavily tattooed Michelle “The Bombshell” McGee. Since this story broke, McGee has been featured on numerous television shows, magazines, and newspapers. Hell, her ex-husband has even been interviewed on TV. Not to look a gift horse career opportunity in the mouth, The Bombshell has recently launched a commerce web site, where for a monthly fee of $9.95, you can look at naughty pictures of her. Michelle, honey, I’m thinking that’s about $50 a month you can expect – you’d be better off buttering the pole down at the local Déjà Vu.

  • Tiger’s Joselyn James isn’t giving up on the chance to collect some fat coin either. Interestingly, she’s at Augusta this week too. As befitting someone of her particular skill set, she’s spinning on the pole at the Pink Pony, just down the road from the golf course, desperately seeking anyone from the media willing to stick a microphone or camera in front of her face. As a porn “actress,” this is Joselyn’s one chance for the mainstream, that is if you can call the Pink Pony mainstream. [As an aside, let it be known I fully recognize the folly of the term "porn actress," but I absolutely refuse to write "porn star."]
  • Mindy Lawton and Loredana Jolie Ferriolo are both featured prominently in a Vanity Fair article, chronicling Tiger’s “eccentric” behavior, including romps in cars, hotel suites, etc., including a story whereupon Tiger earned his "red wings." Today Vanity Fair, tomorrow a spread in Playboy (which Loredana has already done, pre-Tiger), and the day after that … perhaps a guest appearance with The Bombshell on her site?
  • Keep in mind, I can't give you the entire rundown on Tiger's and Jesse's mistresses - in total, there're over 20, and I fear the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome if I list all the sleeze-market opportunists.  But, one bears mentioning ...
  • Perhaps the queen of the hoochie momma parade up the career ladder is Tiger’s Rachel Uchitel. Pre-Tiger, Rachel was a party girl – a “VIP hostess,” whatever the hell that is. What do you have to major in college to get that job? Maybe you just have to graduate from Chico? Anyway, widespread rumor is that Rachel was paid $10 million by Tiger to keep her yap shut. Oh, but wait – there’s more. Rachel’s made a nice, soft landing by scoring a repeating gig on the TV magazine show “Extra.” No more working on your back now, Rach. Well, except, of course, if you get locked in Extra host Mario Lopez’ dressing room.

I don't begrudge these women staking their claim to their Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame, and the varying degrees of fortune that come with it.  More power to them.  The weird part is none of this market would exist if we, the consumer, didn't create a demand for it.  Ever wonder why we give a crap? 

I know what you're thinking.  You thinking, "I don't care."  Yeah.  That's what we all say.  So, who's that leave buying subscriptions to web sites, buying papers and magazines, watching tabloid television, etc.   Ugh, I feel dirty - think I need to take a shower.

One other noticeable component to the Tiger and Jesse stories.  Notice these sex scandal stories are alway about men (see Elliot Spitzer, et. al)?  Coincidence?  Ha!  I think not.  For the love of God, for Rachel Uchitel's reported payout, I'm sure there are men out there thinking, "you know, Tiger's not a half-bad looking dude." 
Naturually, that's just this guy's opinion. 
Tweet me up @RayHartjen

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Denoting Lenten Sacrifice One Brownie at a Time

Easter Sunday brings us to the end of “Holy Week,” or rather the start of the new season of “The Great Fifty Days,” as Holy Week proper is the last week of Lent, and includes the holy “big ones” of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, but ends on Saturday, the day before Easter. Of course, that’s just the Christians. Those of the Jewish faith just completed the celebration of Passover, commemorating the Hebrew’s escape from enslavement in Egypt. This year, we saw a coincidental overlap, which always brings good times. [Not knowing anything of substance about the Islamic calendar, I can't offer up any additional quirky scheduling conflicts]  There’s simply nothing like dueling religious headlines in the paper; some celebratory, some scandal-ridden; and all clouding the coverage of March Madness.

Lent is a peculiarly odd church season, at least in this guy’s eyes. Well, not so much the church season, but how so many of its celebrants choose to recognize it. Traditionally Lent’s purpose is the proper preparation of the believer, through prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial, and the season takes place beginning Ash Wednesday (40 days prior to Palm Sunday) and concludes either on the Ninth Hour of Holy Thursday (44 days) or on Holy Saturday (46 days).

Now, back in the day, and whenever those days were, they certainly pre-dated me, Lent was marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and accompanied by other acts of penance. Traditionally, leading up to Easter, the faithful reinvigorated their practices of prayer, justice towards God, fasting, justice towards self, and almsgiving, justice towards neighbor. That, as I said, was “then,” in the old days.

Today, of course, is the “now,” and cursory observation suggests a new traditional offering of devotion.

Today, Lent is preceded, and celebrated almost globally, regardless of religious affiliation, by Mardi Gras, the literal translation of which is “Fat Tuesday.” Well, truth be told, Mardi Gras has always preceded Lent; it’s not just today – the whole idea was to indulge yourself in the fatty foods that you’d be cutting out over the next 44 to 46 days. You know, like the fat dude who will stuff his face the day before undergoing a gastric bypass surgery. Eat, baby, eat, ‘cause those days are about to be lost forever!

For Mardi Gras now, most people don’t even know Lent follows – it’s just another excuse to get completely shit-faced and have a rollicking good time. Nothing wrong with that, as I’m sure you’re aware of my particular proclivities. What strikes me as a bit weird is the self-denial part.

Let’s think about this. For the Christian believer, Easter is the celebration of the rise of Christ from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, three days after he died for the sins of the many.

Read slowly: Jesus’ sacrifice was dying a prolonged, agonizing death staked to a cross for over 6 hours in the searing sun to atone for the sins of others.

Now, that’s a sacrifice. On the scale of things that really suck, with 0 being a cooler of free, cold beer, to 10 being sentenced to standing on your head in six inches of foamy diarrhea for an eternity in Hell, I’d rank that a solid 9.

So, with an eye toward Lenten traditions, what might constitute a sacrifice, an act of self-denial, that would be a symbolic tribute of such an unselfish act? Look, I’m hardly the poster boy for either angelic behavior or the supreme provider of social well-being, but really, does cutting out deserts from your diet for 40 days really rate?


Religious observance is up to each of us individually, and my mindful eye is always careful to distinguish between organized religion and spirituality. I’ve got nothing against organized religion – in fact, I’m grateful for it. Without religion, which has always been about humans trying to control our own self-destructive behavior, each and every day would be like a Friday night bachelor party in Las Vegas – within two generations we would devolve to a complete idiocracy.

Ever the optimist, I’m holding out hope in humankind. One of the faithful or not, we all have much more in common than we do in difference. The foundational concepts of Lent are somewhat solid – we could certainly follow much more self-destructive behaviors. Coupled with the principles of giving and providing to those in need – damn, we could really get some good done. Maybe it’s something we should try every day!

Of course, that’s a big change. I’m going to have to build up to that slowly. So, until next February, I’m going to treat every day like Fat Tuesday. That way, I can beat the rush.

Of course, that’s just this guy’s opinion.

Tweet me up @RayHartjen