Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cool Things With No Purpose - Part II

Not sure if this qualifies as cool but it seems void of purpose. I'll refrain from editorializing and just let Boo Hoo, Vern, JD, and Anonymous take it away.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Best Baseball Player of This Era?

I know it is a question with no definitive answer but I also know that it is a question that many enjoy asking and debating.

Generally, over the past decade or so, I have heard many names discussed consistently when the "best current player" question is posed. Recently however, the debate has become more murky with Bonds, A-Rod, and Clemens all tainted in doping scandals.

One name I never hear, but suggest should be considered, just eared his 500th career save and his first MLB RBI last night.

Here's to Mo; a man who deserves a lot of respect.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Burning Question for Shaq

So Shaq has officially been traded to Cleveland where he can now run the court with LeBron. This will undoubtedly invite an obvious question from the lazy, sensationalistic media.

The question that Shaq will soon tire of hearing is this: Who is better, LeBron or Kobe?

At first, this may seem like one of those questions to which an answer can only stir trouble. But I don't think so. Here's how I would handle it.

First time it comes up, Shaq needs to look into the camera without hesitation and say "no question, Kobe is the best". This is supported by the most recent season when Kobe took his team all the way and gains further credence from Kobe's 4 rings. It may also serve as motivation to LeBron to aim higher and to continue improving.

Answering the other way just makes Shaq look like a homer, probably gets dismissed as ongoing bad blood between the former teammates, and pretty much ensures that Kobe will go off for 60 or more any time their teams meet.

Which Sport has the Best Athletes?

I am not answering that question in this post. I will however narrow the field.

I can often be heard defending baseball players as highly skilled, intelligent, disciplined and, indeed, athletic. At other times, you may hear me lament the fact that pitchers cannot run from the bullpen to the mound and outfielders, when stranded on base, cannot run to the bench for their glove before returning to defense. Instead, it must be delivered to them while they stroll toward the wall. I contribute both of these examples to laziness, not to a lack of athleticism.

Yesterday I heard this real news report about Manny Ramirez who is preparing for the end of his suspension by playing a few minor league games. An ESPN reported said "Manny got 3 at-bats last night, he's going to try to last 5 innings tonight and hopefully get 3 more at-bats. If all goes well, he wants to try to play 7 innings tomorrow."

Are you kidding me? He plays left field. In a full game, a left fielder might, if really active, burn 20 calories. I think almost any 50-year old accountant could step away from his desk in mid-tax season and play a nine inning baseball game. He may not play well but he would be fit enough to last. Manny is a 38 year old professional athlete and he has to work up to nine innings?

You may now officially strike baseball players from the list of sports worth considering in your answer to the question posed by the title of this post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WWDS Top 5 (Post #88)

When I lived in Hong Kong, I became friends with an eclectic, global, vagabond known to many by his pirate name "Hong Kong Johnny". Though he was raised in the west, he embraced many aspects of older cultures and passed certain nuggets of eastern wisdom on to me.

Through his mentoring spirit, I grew to respect the power of good "joss", a mystical concept embodying fate, fortune, karma, and chance. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, 8's are symbols that foretell good joss, especially double 8's.

With that in mind, this post (number 88 in the history of WWDS), was made with a little extra care and reflection in the hope that it will have enduring relevance. At the suggestion of HKJ, I am listing here the top 5 posts on the WWDS blog selected from those that generated the most passionate reader comments.

The final selections, made by HKJ himself, are listed here in no particular order:

1. Freedom and Justice For All. Unless You're Gay.
2. 5 Baffling Sports Related Questions
3. It Ain't Easy Being One of Us
4. Misplaced Moral Outrage
5. Pirates: They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To

Hope you all enjoyed this look back into the recent past and may you all have good joss in the near future.

10 Things You Hate but I Like

To diffuse my growing reputation as an “angry old man”, I have decided to counter balance my litany of complaint-based posts with this cheery entry about things I like that you imaginary readers probably hate. Here goes:

1. High Gas Prices: Anything that curbs the national habit of excessive driving is probably good.
2. Rain: It cleans the earth, sounds great on the roof, and makes grass smell good.
3. Spam: I automatically direct it into a folder and then sort by topic every month or so. A quick glance reveals a clear pattern of activity and an instant read on social trends.
4. Pizza with No Cheese: I started eating it this way as an act of solidarity with my lactose intolerant offspring; now I prefer it (and my cholesterol is down).
5. Commuting: It's a perfect break between the pressure of the office and the pressure of home. Just listen to the news, drive courteously, and relax for 30 minutes.
6. Can't Get Super Bowl Tickets: I wouldn't go if you gave me the best seats for free. Can't imagine enjoying the frenzied crowds and would not want to miss seeing it on TV.
7. Telemarketers: I know how much rejection they face every day and I can’t help but feel for them.
8. A Tall Glass of Warm Water: Ice is too cold, prefer my water warm.
9. Television Commercials: What can I say; I find them amusing.
10. Barry Bonds: This is probably just my contrarian nature. If he was treated fairly in the media, I probably wouldn't like him either. But I do. And you don't.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Watermelon: What is the Big Deal?

I have noticed throughout my life that, whenever I am at a picnic, or a birthday party, or some other outing, adults break into spontaneous celebration when it is time to serve the watermelon. It's the type of celebration that is half genuine and half designed to excite the children about the enormity of the treat they are about to get.

What is the big deal here? Watermelon is in the gourd family; how good could it actually be?

Here's how I see it: Watermelon is difficult to eat and requires a large knife (requires "equipment" would be less of an understatement) to serve. Each bite begins the toilsome exercise of separating the pulp from the seeds. Once separated (and in fact, before), the pulp is all but tasteless. And on top of it all, it is very messy and usually leads to juice running from the mouth area to all clothing and body parts to the south. Watermelon should never be celebrated.

(I know; I know. Please spare me the angry emails about the seedless watermelons you imaginary readers enjoy. They are still hard to serve, tasteless, and messy to eat.)

I think the only reason people buy watermelon is because, when they were children, all the adults cheered whenever it was served leading to the mindless association of watermelon with things that are good. Now, they are the adults, unwittingly perpetrating this cultural anomaly upon another generation of impressionable youths.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Remarkable Things I Accomplished in College

Fogler Library at the University of Maine. I building I heard about often during my four years there.

It is that graduation time of year and my thoughts have been with those leaving high school and heading for college and with those whose college lives are winding down. As such, I have also been reflecting on my own college years and I have compiled this partial list of remarkable things I accomplished during four years at the University of Maine.

1. I fell down three flights of stairs at Sigma Nu without spilling a drop of my beer. I guess I may have spilled a drop but I recall being surrounded by witnesses at the foot of the staircase who all marveled at my full cup.

2. On a regular basis, I found a way to oversleep my 1pm classes. I finally stopped signing up for such early commitments.

3. Once, late at night, when it seemed very important to enhance a budding romantic encounter, I managed to open a bottle of wine with a paper clip.

4. In my greatest basketball shot ever, I crushed a bottle cap in my fingers and then flipped it directly into a long-neck bottle of Budweiser held by an astonished freshman on the other side of my dorm room.

5. Set my personal record for continuous hours of sleep with a 21 hour bout from 6pm until 3pm. This particular feat was impressive because I was neither ill nor hung-over (just tired) and I accomplished it on the sofa of my dorm room with the door open amid high pedestrian traffic.

6. Climbed to the top of an icy spire on Alfond Arena and got back down without dying.

7. Given that I made the Dean's List in my final semester while completing seven classes, working full-time as a Resident Assistant, working part-time in the cafeteria, and finishing a marketing internship at a local business, it is remarkable that, in my first semester, I had no jobs, took only four classes, and still managed to fail one of them (despite acing the first exam).

8. Reading back over the list, I must add "got a degree" as, in hindsight, given my lack of maturity, it does now seem remarkable that I met the academic requirements and graduated on time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fraud Alert

My credit card company goes to great lengths to remind me of how much they protect me with their fraud alert system. The idea, I suppose, is to ensure that I never switch to another card because this one is so safe. Heck, they even reassure me that if my card is stolen or my account hacked, I will not be responsible for any wayward charges.

Their most aggressive "reminding" usually happens when I respond to their calls about suspicious activity on my card (which always turns out to be legitimate Fortier Family spending). They seize the live opportunity to drive their point home that "no other bank would protect me like they do".

This week, my card has been blocked two times because my wife is in Europe buying stuff and I am in California buying stuff and the fraud alert system is very suspicious. I have spent more time than I care to spend speaking to bank employees trying to straighten out our agreed credit arrangement.

Today I got fed up and pointed out this ridiculous, unspoken flaw in their message: this hyper-aggressive fraud alert system is not for my benefit; it is for theirs. Since it is their policy that card holders are not responsible for illegal charges made by credit thieves, they are actually protecting themselves.

Look, I am anti-thief and I'm willing to do my part here. If they need to block my card when they see suspicious activity, I can live with that. I just wish they wouldn't tell me that it is being done to protect me because something doesn't feel right when I am protected from the illegal by the dishonest.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Car Alarms

Yesterday I ate my lunch at a nice outdoor table, in a quiet pedestrian zone, next to the cacophonous blare of a car alarm.

I don't think car thieves care any more about these ineffective devices. In fact, I am quite sure that no less than 10 years has passed since the last time a car alarm attracted anyone's attention. We all know that the honking is a false alarm and that no car is actually being burglarized despite the high-decibel warning.

Car alarms are an annoyance. They are ineffective. No one wants them or likes them. How about if we just stop putting them on cars so we can all go about our lives in peace.

What do you say, Imaginary Readers? Are you with me?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

One of Them Was a Nun

Not sure if or how this matters so I did not include it in my original post about "Judging National Culture" but I think it is interesting.

Among the many passengers I observed in the airport queue, stealing position from a fellow traveler as the line lurched forward through the labyrinth of belted alleyways, was a Nun in full habit. Although to be clear, I am not so sure she was Italian.

I found this amusing, and even more so, given that three of her colleagues, also in full ceremonial garb, were waiting and watching her progress. I guess if God is watching you should really feel no additional need to conceal your selfish behavior from your Sisters.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Judging National Culture

As I travel from one country to another, I try to respect all elements of national culture without judging them. Sometimes I fail.

Case in point. A couple of days ago, I had to wait in a long queue of anxious travelers checking in for an Alitalia flight from Rome to Paris. The airline was short on help and there was an intermittent problem with the luggage belt making the process slower than usual. As a result, the waiting travelers were a bit restless.

I think it is fair to say that, in the UK for example, you gain social prestige by demonstrating kindly manners and consideration for others. Etiquette implies a honed sense of civility. In Italy, however, prestige accrues to he who demonstrates the ability to gain advantage in the unending stream of social interactions. “Winning” implies highly developed skills and, perhaps, intelligence.

So in this queue of anxious Italian travelers, I witnessed several demonstrations of passengers jockeying shamelessly for better position at the expense of their fellow travelers. Their techniques ranged from sly to bold, from passive to aggressive, and from sophomoric to sophisticated. I also saw some fairly impressive defensive maneuvers designed to hold position without accruing any gain.

The point is this. The whole experience was extremely stressful.

Rather than merely exercising patience, it was incumbent on each of us to stay alert and engage in ongoing indirect confrontation without betraying the guise of social decorum. I can tell you from experience that when waiting in a similar queue in a culture that values social etiquette, such a situation would yield a bonding experience among the travelers. Missing a flight would be disruptive but the negativity of the experience would be muted by the empathy of those who shared it with you.

I argue that, in this way, national culture can have a profound impact on quality of life and, though I love the Italians and enjoy the time I spend there, this is an area where their culture encumbers an otherwise highly enjoyable lifestyle.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Zen and Sports

Where is this post going? How can one write about two topics at such extreme ends of the conceptual spectrum? Zen and sports?

Here in the LA area we have blanket coverage of the Lakers and their famed coach, Phil Jackson, a.k.a. “The Zen Master”. I don’t think he calls himself that; it’s a label conjured by the media because he is thoughtful and reflective.

We also have a prominent personality on sports-talk radio named Vick Jacobs, a.k.a. “Vick the Brick”. He is wildly popular and generally entertaining. I think he does his job well. He also actively cultivates a reputation as a spiritual being prone to Zen-like states of calm and clarity. He likes to speak of “positive energy” and “flow” and “cosmic awareness”. He also engages in some ceremonious activity involving bamboo whenever key sports outcomes need to be cosmically influenced. He uses the word “zen” on a regular basis.

I’ve got nothing against any of those concepts. I just think sports and zen are about as conceptually disparate as two constructs can get. Isn’t getting worked up about the outcome of an athletic competition quite petty compared to cosmic awareness? Isn’t “inner peace” too powerful a notion to be disrupted by whether or not Gasol goal tended in the final second of game 2? Seems that way to me.

But don’t tell Vick the Brick. He thinks otherwise and has built a strong following among the likeminded.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Breaking News

What is the big deal with breaking a story?

I know this is how journalists and news organizations have traditionally kept score amongst themselves but I don't think it really matters any more. All press is syndicated and available within minutes wherever you look (TV, radio, Web, email alert, etc.)

It's a good thing that they credit one another for "breaking" news but I doubt it influences the consumer at all in regards to where they get their information.

If I were in the news business, I would focus on how to package content and how to editorialize on what it means. I wouldn't spend a dime on investigative reporting.

Monday, June 8, 2009


If stress shortens lives then piñatas have probably shaved about a decade off mine.

As you faithful imaginary readers know, I am pretty anti-kids-birthday party. The ridiculous amount of unwarranted anxiety of the planners is enough to turn me off but the unbridled chaos of the attendees saps me of all desire to be present. Just observing the bedlam drains me.

The apex of the raucous behavior is usually associated with a piñata. Who could even think this up? You get a group of kids, wind them up on cake and punch, and then whip them to an uncontrollable frenzy with the promise of more candy falling from the sky. While everyone quivers about with their eyes trained on the colorful object swinging from the tree, you blindfold one kid, give him a stick, spin him until he is disoriented, and tell him to slash away.

How did this dangerous practice ever take hold? At every birthday party I attend, I personally prevent no fewer than 2 major head traumas by plucking children (heroically in a nick of time) from the path of a swinging bat.

Even more puzzling, whenever I spring from my lawn chair and make one of my patented, diving saves of a child in danger, I dust myself off to a complete lack of fanfare. Never is there so much as a trace of thankfulness from the kid or his irresponsible, cake-eating parent who is no doubt gossiping with the other moms in the kitchen.

So I guess this is several gripes all wrapped up in a conundrum. I don't want to be at these parties (gripe), piñatas make me nervous (gripe), and no one else seems to think the kids are in danger so I am left to police the scene alone (gripe).

The conundrum is how these icons of celebration became staples of the birthday party protocol to begin with. They are really not that fun if you think about it. One kid breaks the damn thing and the other 19 are mad because they didn't. Some don't even get a swing. The parents lament the amount of candy their kids are scavenging from the ground. And as the loot is quickly collected, countless scuffles break out over the final pieces creating tension between the parents of the scufflers. The whole ceremony is a let down that casts a pall over the meticulously planned event.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Toy Guns

Been to a toy store lately? Or to the toy section of a major retailer?

It's really shocking to see that the majority of boy's toys are either guns or characters holding guns. I don't know (nor do the experts who study these things) if violent toys shape attitudes but it can't be good that we encourage shooting as a form of play.

I was out for a run this morning when a neighborhood kid popped out of the bushes and shouted "this is my town" and then proceeded to fill me with imaginary rounds dispensed from his toy rifle. I could hear him cackling with delight as I rounded the corner out of sight.

I know we humans must have some natural tendency toward violence and protecting a territory, otherwise, guns and other weapons would not make interesting toys. But I am not sure we need to encourage violence as a first option for imposing our will when we have evolved so far in terms of civilized co-existence.

I am aware that these types of things (guns as a major toy category) tend to grow from free market forces, not from some evil genius trying to push an agenda through a retail strategy. If toy guns sell, stores will give them as much shelf space as the market will bear.

One of these days, I will gather my thoughts on "the dark side of capitalism" and expand more on this.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What the . . .?

Contributed by Auggie
As you may have discerned from earlier posts, the topic of psychological behavior among professional athletes both interests and baffles me. Here is the latest. The other night, Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox had a no hitter going against Detroit until he lost it with two outs in the seventh inning. In the sixth inning the Tiger's catcher tried unsuccessfully to bunt for a base hit. A smart move in my opinion. You're facing a dominating pitcher with good stuff so why not try something different to get on base and possibly start a rally? The next time he came up Beckett plugged him.

Now maybe it was simply a wild pitch, but to listen to the game analysts it was clearly an intentional act to send a message to the hitter for . . . you know, that bunting thing. WHAT?!?!?! Now you can't try to bunt for a hit? Since when? Beckett has never said that's what happened so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But if that was "retaliation" for attempting to break up his no hitter with a bunt then baseball has taken a commanding lead in the race to see which professional sports league has the biggest babies.

Jumping In With Both Tweets

As you can guess from my prior post, I am sold on Twitter as an important tool for promoting educational messages and building an audience for Medical Care Corporation.

If any of you imaginary readers want to help the effort, please check the Twitter Scroll in the right margin of this blog and "follow me" at the bottom. This will increase my followers, enhance my credibility, and allow me to grow an audience more quickly.

You may not be interested in news about Brain Health but I don't think Twitter is going away and you might be interested in following along as I continue to explore its utility as a business tool. Thanks for helping.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Forget FaceBook - It's all About Twitter

I know what you are thinking and I can just about picture the face you are making. I am fully aware of the image problem I may be creating for myself and I assure you that I am a little bit embarrassed to be writing this.

But please read on.

If you think Twitter is for high school kids to instantly tell their friends who they just saw holding hands with Suzie at the Cinemaplex, then you have a narrow notion of the truth. I suspect that some teens probably use it that way but there is certainly more to this story.

Let me tell you who else is on Twitter. And I mean on Twitter a lot. Journalists, bloggers, and media aggregators; that's who. They monitor the Tweet stream and find the content for their established audiences. For many of us, getting a message in front of them is a good thing.

Also, let's not forget the software bots and crawlers collecting and indexing information for people who will later be searching for it. As with live writers, getting a message in front of these digital collectors can be important for many of us.

Let me tell you what else is getting tweeted. URL's to interesting information make up the bulk of all tweets (way ahead of hand-holding updates). So what does that mean?

It means this. If you have a message that you want to spread to many people (suppose it is an article about a particular topic), the internet is a pretty good tool. However, information on the internet is increasingly buried under a lot of other information making it unlikely that your audience will ever find it. To be found, it must be recent and relevant so that search engines can find it. Know how it becomes recent and relevant? By being viewed. Know what happens when you twitter about it? It gets viewed.

I still know what you are thinking (I'm clever that way). You're thinking that tweets don't get viewed unless lots of people follow your twitter account so it could all be a big waste of time. You are right. But read on.

Here is some news for you that I was surprised to learn through real life experience at about 11pm the night before last: Twitter's millions of users have a culture of reciprocity. If you establish a Twitter account and follow someone whose tweets you find interesting, there is a good chance they will follow you back. Click on some people you want to follow and VOILA, you get a following in return.

Here's what has happened to me in the last 36 hours:
Just before midnight on Tuesday, I activated my Twitter account and tweeted the URL's from a few of the posts in my Brain Today blog (just some basic info about memory loss that I think has high educational value). I went to bed and woke up a few hours later with about 20 followers. I looked at who my followers were following and selected a few to follow myself, almost all of whom immediately followed me back.

I also decided to follow a few "big names" and by end of day yesterday, Maria Shriver and Steve Case were both following me. Granted, they follow thousands of twitterers (reciprocity) but I now enjoy the privilege of putting a message directly into their inboxes which is potentially powerful. Stay tuned while I figure out how to leverage that.

This is not for everyone but if you are trying to spread a broad message, as I am with awareness and education about advances in the Alzheimer's space, there is tremendous power in this embarrassing little, oddly named, wildly misunderstood tool.

Also, Jack Welch Tweets so it must be legit. Here is his explanation of why he does it.

Snatch the Pebble From My Hand

Sad news, Grasshopper. Kung Fu is dead.

With very few details reported so far, David Carradine was found dead in a hotel room in Bangkok where he was working on his latest film.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bungee Jumping Was Invented Here

From time to time, I like to engage in a little self-aggrandizement. It's good for the ego, doesn't really hurt anyone, and only causes moderate embarrassment when I look back on it after a few days.

This is one of those times.

I present here, for your imaginary viewing pleasure, original footage of me jumping off a bridge in New Zealand during Christmas holiday in 1997. The footage of the brown stain on my backside was mysteriously erased.

Photo Journalistic credit for this gripping video goes to Robyn Hall.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Superstar Athletes as Role Models

LeBron James is taking some lumps in the media for modeling poor sportsmanship after not shaking hands with opponents following elimination from the NBA Conference Finals.

This is a topic that spawns common questions and heated debate. To the question "are they role models", I say "yes". To the question "are they GOOD role models", I say "yes and no".

Are They Role Models?
In the sense that many look up to them and emulate their behaviors, they are role models. This is not in dispute; superstars have influence.

Are They Good Role Models?
In the sense that most professional athletes (and virtually all superstars) arrived at the pinnacle of their professions through tremendous hard work, focus, and dedication, I think that they all have attributes worthy of modeling. Because many have also been coddled by society and allowed to bend the rules by which the rest of us live, there is a certain prevalence of anti-social behavior among elite athletes. I would hope that our children do not aspire to incorporate similar elements into their own lives.

The bottom line in LeBron's recent actions (not shaking hands and then skipping the post-game press conference) is that those decisions really only hurt him and his marketability as a brand. No one else can really claim to be harmed by his actions (even parents who mistakenly think it is up to celebrity athletes to teach their kids about sportsmanship). Those are decisions that he is wholly entitled to make as he sees fit.

I tend not to be too judgmental about these things. I think we saw LeBron in an emotionally difficult position and he made a bit of an immature decision about how to handle it. It was a minor gaff on an otherwise remarkably clean record of accountability.

And by the way, for any alert parents whose children follow Lebron, this provided an excellent opportunity to teach a child about sportsmanship.