Kicking and Screaming

I finally broke down and created a Facebook account.  I’ve been fiercely holding out for years, but I finally found myself in a professional situation that required one.  Why would I resist for so long from engaging in an activity that provides me with real-time updates on when a distant relative leaves the gym?  Exactly.

I’ve been perusing my wall, which might also be accurately referred to as an unsorted pile of single stream recycling, and here are some examples of what I’m seeing:

  • Someone just worked out.  Again.  Great for you.  I didn’t think it was possible, but somehow you made my clothes feel even tighter.
  • Someone I haven’t talked to since high school reached out to say “What’s up?  What have you been up to since high school?”.  Honestly, if you weren’t there for the last quarter of a century, I don’t have the energy to type it.  At this point, you’ll  just have to wait for the recap on America’s Most Wanted.
  • An inside joke that one person gets yet is transmitted to thousands of people.  I’m not in IT, but if your friend has Facebook, I’m pretty sure you can just email them directly.
  • Oh look, a friend just had twins.  Mazel Tov.  But as a parent of triplets, what you told me is that you shy away from a real challenge.
  • Multiple postings on what was eaten at various meals.  I also get a shockingly high number of these via Twitter.  I’m guessing this is not what Al Gore had in mind when he created the internet.
  • All kinds of recent photos taken many, many miles from the person’s house.  I hope you have a burglar alarm and good homeowner’s insurance.

Now, Facebook is not without value to me.  I do like seeing current photos of friends and family, I’ve been known to ‘like’ Proctor & Gamble’s page for a free soap coupon, and I can tell when a friend has passed away when their workout updates have ceased.  I also find nuggets of wisdom that enrich my life.  For example, just today a friend aptly noted that whomever scheduled a Presidential debate on the last day of the baseball season is not fit to lead our country.

I’m sure once I learn to navigate Facebook more intelligently, I’ll derive more utility from it.  And, I admit I probably sound like a crotchety, (42 year) old man.  So friends, please keep posting your lunch plans, your calories burned, and the up-to-the-minute alerts on the traffic jam you are in.  Just give me time, and I’ll figure it out.

That’s a man, man.

Well, another Olympics is in the books which means the positive drug tests are soon to follow.  And right on cue, the first medal was stripped today.  Shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus was relieved of the gold medal due to a positive test for a steroid called metenolonea.  Ostapchuk is pictured here:

Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus (Icon SMI)

What leads me to write about what is just the first in a long list of disgraced athletes?  It’s because Ms. Ostapchuk was the gold medalist for the women’s shot put.  Go ahead and take a second look at the picture.  You know you want to.

It goes unsaid that I’ll never grace the cover of GQ, and this isn’t about Ms. Ostapchuk’s looks per se.  But if the picture had been captioned with “Denver Broncos defensive end Nadzeya Ostapchuk”, I would had never have given it a second thought.  My first reaction was to assume that the web site where I noticed this had mistakenly attached a picture of a different athlete.  A quick Google search confirmed that is indeed Ms. Ostapchuk.  Just when I think this week’s nightmares would come from watching too much of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, this comes along.

In today’s world, where performance enhancing drugs are at the center of many sporting conversations, what would possibly make someone think they could pull this off?  When she walked into the testing room, I bet they just checked off “positive”, and the actual blood draw became a formality. Now while I’m sure Ms. Ostapchuk feels that losing her medal is a real kick in the crotch, she deserves whatever she gets.  Thanks to her audacity, another medalist was robbed of her chance to stand on the podium and hear her country’s anthem.

If I ever meet Ms. Ostapchuk in person, I’ll be happy to share my thoughts directly with her.  I’ll just make sure my will is updated first.

Highway to Heart Attack

Much of the country still does not have In N’ Out Burger, but for the unaware, it is a fast food burger joint around much of the Western United States.  One of the cult appeals of In N’ Out, other than the tasty burgers, is a gimmick they employ that allows you to order secret combos that are not listed on the menu.  If you order a burger, you’ll get just that.  But if you order it “animal style”, for example, it will show up smothered and dripping with extra toppings.

But while many of us may not have access to an In N’ Out where we live, other national chains have picked up on the secret menu idea.  Did you know that if you walk in to a Wendy’s and ask for a “Grand Slam”, you’ll get a sandwich with four burger patties on it?  Stroll into a Burger King and ask for a “Suicide Burger”, and you’ll get a sandwich with four patties, four slices of cheese, bacon and sauce.  And at the granddaddy of them all, if you drop into your local McDonald’s and ask for a “Monster Mac” in lieu of your regular Big Mac, you’ll get a sandwich with a rocking eight (yes eight) burger patties.

After a career in marketing and sales, I found this strategy quite intriguing.  But after a little research, the true motivation was not hard to figure out.  It’s pretty obvious that terrorist organizations, through secret influence on our fast food franchises, are seeking to bankrupt our country by driving a crippling dependency on interventional cardiology.  Our reliance on foreign oil pales in comparison.  Why invade a foreign land to fuel my eight gallon-per-mile Hummer when I’m dead from a heart attack?

I called the American College of Cardiologists, which represents the sector of our economy that stands to profit the most from this nefarious scheme.  I spoke to their head of public relations, but the conversation was quickly terminated with, “He’s on to us, hang up!”  I then called the Association of College Cardiologists, but the person only yelled “Wrong number, prank call, prank call!” before ditching me.  Their number has since been disconnected.  Finally, I lobbed in a call to Adam Yahiye Gadahn, spokesperson for Al Qaeda, and was simply told, “Just because we are crazy doesn’t make us stupid.  The planning behind 9/11 was insane, but it turns out that all we need to do is offer you bacon with cheese, and you Americans will just kill yourselves.  Besides, if we kill you slowly, it’s called ‘torture’, and my PR job is one big headache.  But if you do it yourselves, it’s called a ‘value meal’, and I can leave work by 3.”

Of course, none of those aforementioned phone calls ever happened.  Mr. Gadahn’s representatives won’t even text me back.  But what other reason could there be to offer people eight patties when a regular Big Mac already has two patties, 540 calories and 50% of the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat?  Maybe if you have three kids with you can order one of those Monsters (their name, not mine), but I often do have three kids with me and still would not consider it.  And I eat like shit.

So the next time you think about ordering your Caesar salad “southern style” (deep fried in peanut oil), or your vegan burger with “wishful thinking” (wrapped in a pound of bacon), take a step back.  While neither of those options exists as far as I know, the ones I described above do.  Please order responsibly, and remember that doing otherwise may not only shorten your life but may very well compromise our national security.  Eat wisely, and God bless America.

The New, New Testament (revised)

A football coach from the University of Nebraska recently stepped into some hot water by speaking out at a Lincoln city council meeting.  The meeting was a debate was over gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender protections, and the coach spoke out against progressive change.  His position was guided by his deeply held religious beliefs.  Aware of the controversy he had stirred he later went on to say, “To be fired for my faith would be a greater honor than to be fired because we didn’t win enough games.”

While I will reserve any judgment on the coach’s views, for I respect everyone’s right to have a misguided opinion, it does occur to me how much of world history has hinged on a simple collection of ancient sayings.  As today’s celebrities can’t puke outside a nightclub without it ending up on TMZ, imagine how Jesus feels?  Something he may have vaguely mentioned over two thousand years ago is now being taken literally as The Gospel by billions.

Then, that got me thinking.  How radically different would the world be if wording had been changed just a bit?

In Mark 8:34-38, instead of saying, ““If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” Jesus had simply added, “but hey, if you find another way to live a good life and get to the same place, go for it”, how many wars would not have happened?

In Luke 11:9-10 he said, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives.”   Think what the possibilities would be if he had just tacked on to the end, “And, lots of hard work and a little self-confidence doesn’t hurt either.”

Or imagine if Jesus had made just one comment moderately in favor of the recreational use of marijuana.  Our country would be facing an even greater fight with obesity, but political debate would be much more civil.  The Republican party would be unrecognizable, although the Democratic party would be pretty much the same.  Global differences would melt away as world wars would be reduced to arguments over pizza toppings.

I guess all I’m saying is that in modern times, people take things a lot less literally than they did back in the day.  And maybe Jesus, with a critical eye on the timelessness of his teachings, didn’t say those extra things because he didn’t think he needed to belabor the obvious.  I spent years working in customer service, and I can tell you most of us look at furniture assembly instructions more as a guideline than a rule.  Everyone is looking for that place to rest, and we need to accept that we all assemble our chairs in a different way.

NFL, Amen.

A sports athlete who used to perform in Denver, whose name I forget, recently admitted that he looked at his fame as a platform by which to promote his religious convictions.  Athletic success was nice, but the bigger payoff for him was the attention and promotion that came to his deeply held beliefs.  Upon reflection, it occurred to me that professional football is a sport not only surrounded by spiritual men but is in itself a spiritual endeavor.  Consider the similarities and characteristics:

  • Where other major religions gather at a church, mosque or temple, football fans gather in spaces called stadiums.  If a member of the church of football is among the infirm, the economically challenged or otherwise is unable to attend the main service, there is a support system in place to allow that parishioner to worship privately in his own living room or neighborhood bar.  Instead of wine and wafer, however, the football worshipper partakes of beer and wings.
  • Sunday is not a day of rest for the church of football, but it has significance nonetheless as the holiest day of the week.  Football also has its major holidays, like the Super Bowl, the first day of the draft and the day the Detroit Lions make bail.
  • Like other religions, football parishioners offer tithes, commonly in the form of payments to Ticketmaster or the cable company.  Often these donations are of a shockingly large sum, yet in return there is no expectation of salvation. Rather, the tithe allows the parishioner to watch grown men beat each other to a pulp for a large salary and sometimes intentionally injure each other for a small bonus.
  • Like other mainstream spiritual structures, followers of football hold a belief in a higher power.  However, the power that rules over football does not provide unconditional and unending love.  You hope for some love, but sometimes there is hate, which is often revealed late in a game and usually involves a turnover or stupid personal foul.
  • In fact, unending love from any god of sport is downright dull.  Like wondering if the afterlife will offer you a path towards Heaven or Hell, the whole reason a game is exciting is that you don’t know where you stand in the eyes of the immortal until after it ends.  Take the 40-0 run by the Baylor women’s basketball team, for example.  That was not 40 games of pure, spiritual ecstasy.  That was 38 games of boredom followed by 2 games of, “wouldn’t it be interesting if they made it?”  It’s the unpredictable, flippant, and often petulant attitude of the sport’s highest deity that draws so many followers.
  • Further, the power that rules over football does not love all equally, but instead it displays overt favoritism.  The Jets literally can’t buy a competent quarterback, yet the Colts have less than 90 days after the Payton Manning era ends before the Andrew Luck era begins?  That’s your proof right there.  Who knew the chosen people actually resided in Indianapolis?
  • Ancient religions, like that of Greece, had gods, heroes, monsters, and the Oracle at Delphi.  Similarly, football has owners, players, Art Modell and TV analysts.  The parallel between the Oracle and the TV analysts is indeed striking.  A vague prognostication is handed down, and the masses become obsessed in debate on the intended meaning of the words.  Yet not until after the heroes battle will the true meaning of the prediction come to light.
  • For some, conviction to the church of football takes precedent over all else.  While many vow a devotion go God, country and then family, true football devotees vow first to their team and then their family, provided there is not a pre-game, game, post-game or sports debate show on.  Also, they often ignore their own heath to embrace deeper worship through the consumption of even more beer and wings.

So, before any other athletes look to football as a vehicle to promote their own spiritual path, they should keep in mind that football is not devoid of its own system of beliefs.  And besides, if their higher power wanted singular devotion, why did he schedule church during the pre-game?

Jackpot!

Through a nice little run of good luck, or bad luck if you’ve been buying tickets, the current Mega Millions jackpot sits at a tidy $500 million.  If it’s yours, you’ll get $19 million spread over 26 years or a lump sum payment just shy of $360 million.  Before you get too excited, those numbers are pre-tax so you’ll only take home just over half of that.  Hardly seems worth it.

But if you do win, even after you pay your taxes and shower riches upon your favorite writer (hint, hint), you’ll have quite a chunk of change to burn through.  Think of the fun you can have:

  • Start every day by threatening to cut your kids out of your will.  Their bedrooms will never be cleaner.  For extra fun, hire a team to mess up the rooms at random times throughout the day.
  • Buy a new car every week.  Don’t like it?  Just leave it at the side of the road and grab a cab to your nearest Ferrari dealer for another one.   If you like the cab, you can buy that too.
  • Buy a $600,000 solid gold, handmade rocking horse for your newborn.  Performers Jay-Z and Beyoncé did this in January.
  • Hire Justin Bieber to perform in your living room, every day of the rest of your life.  This also has the altruistic benefit of monopolizing his time so he will be unable to perform for anyone else.
  • Buy Segway scooters at almost $7,000 per piece for several of your closest co-workers.  Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush did this last year.
  • Fly back and forth to Tokyo every Monday for a year.  You like airline miles?  Think free upgrades forever.  It would be like being a management consultant, but with less travel.
  • Purchase a $475,000, platinum-wrapped iPad from Stuart Hughes, featuring 85.5 carats of flawless diamonds.  It weighs almost 6 pounds, so you’ll also need to hire someone to help you carry it.  If you have kids, the same company can sell you a gold wrapped Nintendo Wii for just under $500,000.
  • Act however you want.  Only poor people are rude, inconsiderate, and mean spirited.  Rich people are colorful, eccentric and endlessly entertaining.  You and your sister might even wind up with your own reality show on E!.
  • Buy a suite for your favorite sports franchise.  Be careful with this one, though.  Concessions inside stadiums are really expensive, and it might be more realistic for you to just buy the team.
  • Feed your dog $300 per-pound Kobe beef.  He won’t know the difference, but his private canine cardiologist will.
  • Open a Twitter account and promise to burn a $1,000 bill every time someone tweets the hash tag #(InsertYourNameHere)IsAwesome
  • Hire Stephen Hawking to tutor your kids, but you can forget about hiring Albert Pujols to play catch with them.  His new contract with the Los Angeles Angels was $240 million over ten years.  After you pay your taxes, he’s out of your league.

Even if you don’t hit the 1 in 175,711,536 chance at the jackpot, just dreaming about what you can do with the money makes the $1 investment worth it.  Realistically, dreaming is all you’ll get to do.  I already bought the winner, and I’m not sharing.  If you think that makes me a jerk, OK.  But after I win and become rich, I’ll be hilarious.

More Questions for Manning

I just watched the press conference where the Broncos announced Peyton Manning as their new quarterback.  As expected, there was not enough time to answer all of the questions.  If I was there, though, here are some of the questions I would like to have asked:

Q: Sorry, but am I the only one in the room who thought we were getting Eli?

Q: Peyton, you realize that we had John Elway so your cute, little one title means nothing to us?

Q: Did the Nene trade help or hurt your decision to come to Denver?

Q: How soon until you can start working with your running backs on practicing the spread option?

Q: Man, that recruiting process must have been a real pain in the neck, oops.  Too soon?

Q: You realize that unless you make it to the conference finals, you will have done the same or worse than Tim Tebow?

Q: Is that huge forehead where you store your extra football brains?

Q: We had a quarterback who got us to the second round of the playoffs in his first season as a starter, but now we’re trying to trade his ass to Jacksonville for a 7th round pick.  How do you like that kind of pressure?

Q: You know that just because you signed doesn’t mean we will stop stalking you, right?

Q: Now that the ink has dried, did you know that last week was 40 degrees above normal?  It’s usually snowy and cold well into June.

If you think of any others, feel free to enter them as a comment to this article.  Love to hear some good ones.

Tebowmania RIP

Christmas came early in Denver.  Condolences to Tennessee, San Francisco, Miami and Arizona.  Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego can just stick it.  Peyton Manning is our new quarterback, and Broncos fans are going nuts.  Productivity plummeted today in the Mile High City, and we have John Elway and team to thank for it.

Not a single game was played, yet March 19, 2012 will go down as one of the greatest days in the history of Colorado sports.   Sure Denver got Peyton Manning, who if healthy stands a chance at eclipsing John Elway as the team’s greatest quarterback.  Sure, the team is suddenly among the favorites to win the AFC.  Sure, the team has a hook with which to lure other high profile free agents.  But none of that is what has people so ecstatic.  In the blink of an eye, in the fraction of a second it took to digest a single tweet from Chris Mortensen, Tebowmania in Denver came to an end.

It’s one thing to get a great quarterback.  It’s another thing entirely to land one when a day earlier you were looking at a starter with an abysmal 47% completion rate.  San Francisco, had a chance to trade in Alex Smith for Manning.  Big deal.  For us, instead of taking the two hour drive from Denver to Vail, this is like flying from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to the top of Mt. Everest in a heartbeat.  We’re going to get a colossal case of the bends and could not be happier.

Tebow had the franchise handcuffed.  As a quarterback, he was challenged, to put it mildly.  Mark Schlereth, former Broncos player and current ESPN analyst, recounted how when watching Tebow play at training camp he actually wondered if Tebow may not in fact be left handed.  Tebow’s passes were that inaccurate.  If his name wasn’t Tebow, Schlereth speculated, he was watching a player who should have been cut.

Yet in a flash, with the simple writing of a massive check, Denver gets out of the death grip of Tebowmania.  While Tebow was here, the chances of a title were slim and the possibility of recruiting offensive free agents was non-existent.  The passion of his loyal fans made his replacement a challenge unless it was by someone truly great.  Manning fits that description, and Denver can turn the Tebow page.  As another ESPN analyst Merril Hoge commented, “the team should have paid [Manning] an extra $20 million just for that.”

Farewell Tebowmania, we knew thee way too well.  Later this week, we’ll get introduced to the new our new starting quarterback.  But Peyton Manning is just the cherry on top.  The real payoff was our escape from the prison of football lunacy.  Even if Manning does not bring another title with him to Denver, it won’t matter.  We’ve already won.

The Tebow Chasm

It is no secret that Tebow needs to improve his passing skills.  Therefore, it is not hard to assume that this is the main reason John Elway, Broncos executive and NFL passing legend, is less than enamored with the young quarterback.  But is there something more?  Is the underlying distaste more centered around Tebow’s approach towards life in general?

For example, last December during the height of Tebowmania, the Broncos had their largest challenge of the season, a match up against the Superbowl-bound New England Patriots.  Going into the game, hopes were never higher for Denver, and the contest was viewed as a real litmus test for post-season prospects.  The Broncos were humiliated and limped away with a nationally televised  41-23 beat down.

The things that separate professional athletes from the rest of us are not just centered on physical ability.  It is the relentless drive to prepare and compete and the unquenchable desire to win.  Most of us at some point will decide to try something different or to sleep in, but athletes who make it to the professional ranks will jump out of bed to do the same thing until the day their knees tell them to cut it out.  After a loss like the one described above, elite athletes have been known to be driven to do everything from smashing up the locker with a bat to staying up all night watching game film.  But when asked how his faith help him with the loss, Tebow gave the following response:

“God is still God. I still have a relationship with Christ, and a loss doesn’t change anything. Win or lose, everything is still the same. What matters is the girl I’m about to see, Kelly Faughnan. If I can inspire hope in someone, then it’s still a good day.”

Now while admirable without question, that is the last thing an elite competitor like John Elway expects to hear.  Elway wants to hear anger and frustration.  He wants to hear vows never to let it happen again.  That is what Elway would do, and quite frankly that is what just about every other elite athlete we have ever known would do.  But not Tebow.

And this is where the unique dichotomy of Tebow reveals itself.  In a world where work ethic and preparation are prized, Tebow is a leader.  In a world where passion and competitiveness are lifeblood, Tebow stands out.  In a world where leaving everything you have on the field is a pre-requisite, Tebow sets the bar.  But he leaves more than just his energy on the field.  As he steps away from the competition, he completely switches his thoughts to other endeavors.  One perspective is that his deep faith gives him a unique ability to live both worlds.  Another perspective, and one Elway may have, is that Tebow’s ability to “turn it off” means there are times when it is not “on”.  And that, Elway may conclude, precludes Tebow from joining in with the ranks of the elite athlete.

Last summer, while most young players were working on preparing for an upcoming season, Tebow went on a national tour to promote his new book.  It is easy to believe that his motivation was not money driven, but rather a sincere desire to get his message out.  It is also easy to believe that while he was traveling, he spent hours preparing for his job as quarterback.  But to have spent time doing anything other than preparing for football, especially for a player with so many opportunities for improvement, seems inconceivable to many.  After all, every minute spent away from football is a minute spent away from football, and to the elite athlete that is inexcusable.

The chasm between Elway and Tebow may be driven by more than just playing style.  It may be driven by attitudes towards life in general.  One view maintains the highest need is an unwavering obligation to a life of football, while the other view maintains the highest need is an unwavering obligation to life outside of football.  If that is the case, then no amount of training or coaching will lead them to work well together.  It is time for one of them to move on.

Return to Sender

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I maintain several email accounts.  There is the one I give to my friends, the one I give to the people I hate (have fun determining which one you have), and one I use for online shopping, etc.  The reason I maintain a separate account for shopping and other random online activities is to protect my main account from waves of SPAM or other unsolicited offers.  The mail system I use for my shopping account does a fairly good job at segregating the SPAM into a junk folder, but every so often I sift through the rubble to see if I missed anything that was actually meant for me.

Here is today’s review:

1)  Three messages from national, name-brand stores I have done business with whose mass emails have triggered the SPAM protocol.  As a career marketer, I have sympathy for these.  From experience I know a marketing manager, through no fault of his own, is being fired because the click-through rate on that last email campaign was 0.00001%.  Every marketer knows that a successful email campaigns yields at least 0.00002%.

2)  Four emails offering me a way to find a quick date or rapid “hook-up”.  These are SPAM defined.  I’m faithfully married, but even if I wasn’t, I’m at the age where an offer of a random hook-up on the same night I have Nuggets tickets just isn’t as interesting of an option as it once was.  In the off chance I decide to re-gift the tickets, I’m staying home to watch the game in HD anyway.  Even the most fundamental targeting strategy should have excluded me from those campaigns for at least half a dozen reasons.

3)  Two emails offering penile enlargement products.  These are either SPAM or incredibly well targeted campaigns.  There is a chance this vendor has really done some impressive homework on me, but unless my wife has been sharing way too much information in the phone surveys we get, I’m leaning towards SPAM.

4)  One email offering to fix the problems with my golf swing.  Like penile enlargement, this could go either way.  But as I have four year old triplets, the odds I’ll find the time to play golf any time soon are slim.  Years down the road,  I’ll probably open this one, and somewhere a marketer will yell in excitement that he “finally got the bastard”, and groundkeepers who spend too much of their budget on course repair will rejoice.

5)  One email asking me to help a person transfer several million dollars from some foreign country like Ghana.  All I need to do is provide my checking account number, my PIN number, my social security number, my home address, the name of my high school mascot, the city of my birth, the model of my first car, the name of my favorite pet, and my mother’s maiden name.  If I do that, half of some fortune no one will miss is magically mine.  This fraud strategy was first deployed less than two days after Al Gore invented the internet, and I can’t believe it’s still a money maker.  This is definitely SPAM.  I’m a writer, so I have no savings worth stealing.  In fact, people living in rural Sierra Leone should be sending money to me.

When I reflect in this, I have to note the irony that on some days I get as much humor out reading my SPAM than I do from reading my actual email.  Despite its questionable content, I’ll still peruse it on a semi-regular basis just for the laugh.  But one of these days,  I’ll take some of those junk emails up on their offers and become the next Tiger Woods in more way than one.