Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Guy’s Adventures through the Pint Glass

Day One: The Origins of the Beer Mystery Case

Like most Americans, for years I’d heard about the mesmerizing and mostly mythical Beer Mystery Case in the usual legends and bedtime stories, but until very recently I had never actually seen one in person. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered a Beer Mystery Case waiting patiently in my office a few days ago—a gift from a grateful if somewhat too-generous friend who has stashed some of her extra furniture in my basement.

I was immediately taken in by the Case’s cagey label (“What’s in the box? I bet it’s tasty and smooth!”) and its tantalizing hint of the potential danger within (“No returns! No peeking! No kidding!”), and without hesitation I swore to myself that I would fulfill the promise of the Beer Mystery Case by savoring each and every unknown drink within and, if the fates smiled on me, getting stupid drunk1 in the process.

As I continued to consider the Case, however, I came to the conclusion that both the truth and the joy of the Great Adventure of the Beer Mystery Case shouldn’t be mine only, but rather should be shared with the world. Not literally, of course—I’m not interested in any of that “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” bullshit—but by chronicling all its sights, sounds, flavors, and drunken stumblings for posterity. I hope that, much like the expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott, Sir John Franklin, or George Mallory, my foray to the unknown—in this case, a humble effort to get plastered—will, in some small way, broaden and enrich the human experience.

Unfortunately, while I have sixteen years of experience as an enthusiastic beer drinker (or thirteen years, if my mom is reading this), I am far from a connoisseur, and my analysis will likely suffer as a result. In my nine years of college I didn’t really aim to drink in bulk, but even now, my purpose in drinking is to socialize with friends and enjoy familiar tastes, rather than to sip slowly to savor and analyze a bouquet of new and subtle flavors, or to exercise an aficionado’s extensive command of descriptive language.

But what I lack in vocabulary, I more than make up for with plenty of, uh—whatever that word is. So with that in mind, and having been inspired by melancholy Dane Sven Kramer’s Olympic record in the men’s 5,000-meter speedskating (rather than his disqualification in the 10,000 a few days later), the following are my observations about
  1. Carlsberg, brewed in Copenhagen, Denm—shit, hang on a second, I'm out of beer. I should have started drinking after I started writing, not before. Now the bottle is empty, and I haven’t observed a damned thing.

As luck would have it, though, the Beer Mystery Case contains a second bottle of
  1. Carlsberg, brewed in Copenhagen, Denmark. This beer, as my sources inform me, is what’s called a “pale lager,” and indeed my first reaction was to wonder if “Carlsberg” was Danish for “Bud Light,” which is, of course, American slang for “tap water.” The first sip of Carlsberg, however, proves to have both a robust flavor and hints of alcohol content,2 quickly putting to rest my suspicions about its wussiness.

Carlsberg is refreshingly light without being thin, smooth, not too filling, and very drinkable.3 If you’re a less-experienced drinker getting your hands on Carlsberg for the first time, its flavor and approachability definitely increase your odds of inadvertently drinking well beyond your tolerance and coming to your senses several hours later in an unfamiliar house, with your pants on inside-out, making out with a coat rack that’s far less attractive than you initially thought.4

Of course, depending on your particular goals for the evening, this can be interpreted as a positive or a negative.

Some notes on packaging: while most beer bottles are wrapped by an adhesive paper label, the body of this bottle is bare, adorned only by the word “Carlsberg” molded into the glass itself, spelled out vertically from bottom to top. This turns out to be a problematic design decision; the curious drinker has to decide between deciphering this cryptic message and not pouring beer into his lap. Note to self: find dry pants.

Final analysis: I have yet to develop a ratings system for the Beer Mystery Case, and, having finished two drinks, I won’t bother to try. My official and legally binding rating for Carlsber’s pale lager, therefore, is one (1) speedskating gold medal and a single (1) bronze in, um, freestyle moguls.5

Please check back frequently6 for the next installment, in which I will describe one of my favorite drinks—unless it’s something I hate, or one I’ve never tried before. I just don’t know—such is the beauty of the Beer Mystery Case.

For more of Some Guy’s Adventures through the Pint Glass, check here: Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Day 4  Day 5  Day 6

1. Several times.
2. “Robust” is the kind of word that I figure a real beer reviewer would say, so I’m going to use it a lot. Other highfalutin and/or pretentious words I hope to work in as if I genuinely knew how use them include “oaky,” “undertones,” “bouquet,” "fruit bomb," “vituperative, “splenetic,” and “hammered.” Only one of those actually makes sense to me, and I don’t know if any of the rest actually apply to beer drinking, but I like how they sound.
3. I use “drinkable” here despite being fully aware that the notion of “drinkability,” as the center of an advertising campaign, is probably the fourth-dumbest idea in the history of marketing.
4. I know this because I . . . yeah, I heard it happened to, uh, some guy I know.
5. I hereby reserve the right to adjust my rating steeply downwards tomorrow, if the headache already developing behind my right eye turns out to be a hangover.
6. And tell your friends. Unless you hate us, and think this is a waste of time, in which case, tell your enemies.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Psychic Frauds and the Denver Post

Months ago, if I’d had a little more focus and determination, I would have cobbled together a few words to say about the regrettable decline of newspapers in the United States of America. As the saying goes, a stupid country is a shitty country,1 and I believe that newspapers, while far from perfect, overall have a net positive contribution to the public good, and do an admirable if basic and occasionally spotty job of informing their readers and providing them with a voice against the corrupt, the powerful, the greedy, and the dishonest.

Or at least that’s what I would have wanted to write, had I done so a few months ago. Lately, though, thanks in part to the Denver Post, I’m starting to wonder if they’re really on our side after all. Please don’t take my word for it, though; check it out for yourself: the article that has me second-guessing myself—and, more importantly, the Post—was published on February 1, 2010, and I’ve linked to it here. If memory serves, the headline was “Malicious, Conniving Fraud Exploits the Vulnerable.”

(Please take your time reading; we’ll enjoy some pleasantly upbeat intermission music2—click below if you want to join in—and we’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.)

Let me be clear on this: I’m not going to tell you there’s no such thing as psychic abilities, and I’m definitely not going to tell you that they do exist, either. To make either statement would require a lot more proof than I have on hand. I am prepared to say, though, that I’m pretty sure that no self-proclaimed psychic has ever given a scrap of indisputable evidence to back it up—not one—and countless numbers of them3 have been exposed (some by good folks such as Harry Houdini and James Randi, others by their own incompetence or arrogance, or regrettable twinges of honesty and conscience)4 as swindlers and con artists.

Which is what, by all appearances, we have here with Rebecca Rosen. My problem is not that the Post decided to cover this story; my problem is with the wide-eyed credulity with which the reporter treated what, to me, appears to be an obvious fraud. Keep in mind, I’m no James Randi—I’m not a professional (or even amateur) debunker—but nothing in that article gave me reason to believe that Rosen is even remotely supernatural. Some examples:
Vicky and Charles Dinges believe they have somebody up there with lots to say. Their son, Jason, died in 2007 of hantavirus. He was 20 years old, an aerospace-engineering student at the University of Colorado, Vicky Dinges said.
. . . A friend suggested that she contact Rosen. About eight months later, the parents went to see Rosen at a public appearance.

If—as the article and Rosen’s own website both state—Rosen has a three-year waiting period for appointments, it’s safe to assume that Vicky and Charles Dinges contacted Rosen (and would have given her, among other things, their names) long before meeting her at the public appearance. Now, even the least clever of us can find out a lot about somebody in eight months, especially if you start with (1) their names and (2) the assumption that, if you claim you can speak to the dead, most people who contact you will have lost somebody close to them. If right now you’re saying “well, duh, it doesn’t take a mind reader to figure that one out,” that’s exactly my point.

One acting on that assumption could, for example, take almost six seconds to type “Vicky Dinges” into a search engine and come up with this article. That’s just what I did, and I’m not even psychic.
Minutes into the event, Rosen was standing in front of the couple, saying she was getting a message. . . . “She looked at me and said: ‘This was your son. He died close to your birthday, and he is sorry about it being so close to your birthday,’ ” Dinges said. Jason died two days after her birthday, Dinges said.

You can find the date of Jason Dinges’ death in the article linked above. And if I’m not mistaken, birth dates and dates of death have been parts of public record in this country for several years now. Is it easier to look something like this up in easily accessible public records, or get the answers from beyond the grave?5
“Then she said, ‘Who is Chris?’” Dinges said. . . . Chris is the couple's older son; Jason had plenty to say to Chris as well, Dinges said.

The trick of knowing Jason Dinges had a brother is significantly less mind-blowing if you remember what you just read mere seconds ago and conclude that his birth, just like his brother’s and mother’s, is part of the public record—for con artists and regular folks alike, far more easily accessible than the netherworld.
Rosen said she initially had to be convinced too. During a bout of depression in college—where she was majoring in advertising—Rosen recalled praying for help. One night, as she was writing in her journal, a spirit she believes was her grandmother took over the writing. Her grandmother comforted Rosen, helped pull her out of her depression and even told her whom she would marry. The hint, Rosen said, was, “Ryan will give you a rose.” Grandma was two letters off—she married Brian Rosen.

Even without addressing the fact that Rosen majored in advertising—where one’s job is, in short, to convince people to believe things that aren’t necessarily true, and then spend money on it6—it strikes me as more than a little telling that the foundation of Rosen’s psychic abilities is an utterly unverifiable story, with no apparent witnesses, from years and years ago. I’m not going to say this is absolutely impossible, mind you, but it’s considerably less believable than several other options that spring quickly to mind:
  1. “I think I’m telling the truth, because I am insane, but it’s that kind of benevolent insanity found only in movies like The Fisher King or K-Pax that allows me to help gullible and grief-stricken people . . . and, incidentally, get them to pay me $500 an hour for it.”
  2. “I made it all up to make myself feel important, and to make a shitload of money.”
  3. “I’m lying, but I've found that desecrating the memories of dead people I've never met is a good way of making their vulnerable, mourning loved ones feel vaguely better at least long enough to finish writing me a check.”
  4. “I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation! A vision! A picture in my head! A picture of this! This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor!”
Call me a skeptic if you must, but all of these options—all of them—are more likely than “I received a psychic message from my dead grandmother. Oh, and you’re never going to believe this, but my dead grandmother—despite being only human and, of course, dead, can also predict the future. How awesome is that?” The Post’s article goes on to say that “the human appetite for psychic phenomena, and the desire of many to believe in them, is storied and constant.” That’s certainly true. But it’s also true that the human appetite to make an easy buck is at least as constant and far more storied, and it’s not always accompanied by the ethical guidelines that, in the general population, tend to prevent people from bullshitting one another. Don’t just take my word for it. The magicians Penn & Teller make a healthy living off of tricking people, but the difference is that you know it’s a trick beforehand—and in case you forget that, they even tell you it’s a trick even as they’re tricking you, and half the time they’ll explain how they did it after it’s done. Better yet, they explain how other people do it, like in this scene taken (probably without permission) from their entertaining and spectacularly vulgar Showtime Series Bullshit!:

While it troubles me that con artists and fakers continue to separate credulous people from their money with ease, more disappointing to me is that the Denver Post not only lets it happen but even publicizes it, essentially providing a free thousand-word advertisement for someone who, to the best of my ability to tell, has no supernatural ability whatsoever. Rebecca Rosen makes $500 an hour (an astounding figure that I may have mentioned once or twice already) by supposedly speaking to the dead. And rather than realizing and pointing out that thousands if not hundreds of thousands of con artists who have preyed on vulnerable people since time immemorial have claimed to do just that very thing, the Post decided to hop right up onto Rosen’s wagon and start selling snake oil right beside her. But don’t just take my word for it. Her own grandmother told me just the other day that Rebecca Rosen is full of shit.8

Prove me wrong.9  

1. I’m not sure if anybody actually says that, but I think we should start. You go first! 
2. Courtesy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, used without permission. 
3. By “countless” I mean that somebody may have bothered to count them, but I sure haven’t, and I doubt I ever will. If you can find evidence that contradicts the statement, though, I’d be happy to learn about it. 
4. In the mid-1800s, sisters Margaret and Kate Fox claimed that spirits communicated with them through strange “rapping” sounds, and made a living off of this for several years. Later in life, Margaret confessed—and showed—that the rapping was simply the sound her feet (and possibly knee) joints made when she popped them, and she combined this sound with the power of suggestion and shrewd but very natural observation of her marks to fool a lot of people. And people didn’t believe her when she claimed to not be a medium. 
5. If you’re actually debating the answer to this, please slap yourself really fucking hard right now. 
6. I really do need a Swiffer! Pepsi really is the choice of a new generation! Bud Light tastes slightly better than cold urine! You speak to dead people! Do you take cash? 
7. Yeah, yeah, I know. “There goes Some Guy again, doing his Carl Sagan bullshit.” 
8. For purposes of avoiding a libel suit, I’d like to state for the record that I did not write, think, or publish any of the above article, and I have no idea who did. But Rebecca Rosen’s grandmother really did tell me that her granddaughter was full of shit. 
9. My sincere apologies to the Dinges family not only for dredging up their loss, but for trying to use them as an illustration of the unbelievability of something they apparently genuinely believe. In my defense, I'm not charging them an obscene amount of money to dredge up their loss.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Larry Walker vs. Albert Belle

For your baseball pleasure, my take on two terrific sluggers whose careers were both cut short by injuries. I give my readers, as the title subtly suggests, Larry Walker vs. Albert Belle.

First, some basic stats. I went in knowing that Walker would have a big edge in the traditional counting stats because his career was longer. As it turns out, I was correct about that. My thanks to Fangraphs for some of the stats I list, and to the REALLY cool comparison tool on Baseball Reference

Walker does indeed have the edge in the counting stats, as I had guessed, like the standard HR, doubles, runs, RBIs, etc., including a big edge in total bases, 3904 to 3300. This seems almost entirely due to having a longer career, 17 seasons (or parts thereof) to 12 for Belle - but that's still a big difference. Walker also has the edge in career OBP, with a fantastic career OBP of .400 (including a terrific EIGHT years in a row over .400), while Belle sits at merely .369 (including only four years over .400, with another year at .399). Right off the bat, Walker has a significant lead.

But Belle has a counter-punch or two to make. Here is a list of Bells's adjusted OPS (adjusted for park effects but not for position or league differences – 100 is average) by year, starting in 1989:


Career average OPS+ for Belle is 143.

For Walker, coincidentally also starting in 1989:


Career average OPS+ for Walker of 140.

Belle has the edge in career OPS+, AND played in the tougher league, making his higher OPS+ number slightly more impressive. Belle benefits by not having significant decline years, however - that props up his average stats while harming his counting stats. Furthermore, in a somewhat silly comparison but I think a useful one on some levels, there is the Black Ink Test on Baseball Reference (number of times they lead the league in a category, as follows: Four Points for home runs, runs batted in or batting average; Three Points for runs scored, hits or slugging percentage; Two Points for doubles, walks or stolen bases; One Point for games, at bats or triples) and the Gray Ink Test (number of times in the top-10 of a category). Belle has Walker beat in both. UPDATE - As pointed out by frequent commenter Dr. Brainsmart, it is worth noting that Walker had to contend with Barry Bonds (one of the top 5 hitters ever, no matter your opinion on how he got there) in his league so the league leader stat may be even less significant than the small weight I previously gave it.

Walker's WPA (win probably added) was 48.88 over his career, while Belle's was only 26.04, again likely due to playing time. Score a jab for Walker. And with a nice uppercut for Walker, according to this site: his career WAR (wins above replacement) is 67.1, ranking him 67th in baseball history (among position players). Belle is way down the list with 37.1 career WAR, ranking him 318th among hitters.

I also don’t have access to advanced defensive metrics like UZR, as that also only goes back to 2002, or +/- because that's a proprietary stat and I'm not a member of that site! I think it’s fair to say that Walker was a better defender, as for much of his career he considered a very good right fielder, while Belle was considered an average (at best) left fielder – obviously an easier position to play.

Walker gets a better "speed score" from Fangraphs as well, although I'm not sure what that encompasses. Let's just say that I'm willing to bet Walker was more valuable on the bases than was Belle.

Overall, it's pretty clear that Walker had the better career. But I also think it's fair to say that Belle had the higher peak and just didn't sustain his excellence as long. Belle's career wasn't as long but he was seemingly more durable during the years he played – his Games Played is consistently higher than Walker's. So while Walker has the better case for the HOF (but will almost certainly not make it due to the Coors Field stigma and his injuries keeping down his counting stats), it's a closer call as to which player you'd rather have for their 5-year peak – I might say Belle on that question.

Of course, if there was a statistic for which player I'd rather my hypothetical daughter date then Walker would win in a landslide. Belle was, by all reports, a pretty big jerk, while Walker was seemingly affable and goofy in a friendly sort of way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Avatar: A Movie Review from Bowling in the Dark

WARNING: If you are one of the two people who hasn’t seen this movie yet, there may be some spoilers below. But mostly it’s just me wasting time.

James Cameron’s bajillion-dollar1 blockbuster film Avatar, much like the Toyota Prius, is an astounding technological marvel that quite possibly represents a dawning new age in its industry. Unfortunately, though, it also (like the Prius) doesn’t give you much in the way of performance, and sooner or later you’ll start desperately wishing it would come to a complete stop so you can get out and walk away.

That’s not to say, though, that the movie—much like any car that doesn’t kill you—doesn’t have its good parts, so let’s focus on those for a while:

First, Avatar should keep action-movie fans very entertained (this is not a particularly bold statement on my part, given that the movie has earned approximately eight trillion dollars at the time of this writing). James Cameron has proven time and again that he knows how to direct an exciting, well-paced, satisfying action movie—whether he’s working with big spaceships, smaller spaceships, regular-sized people carrying huge guns, super-sized blue aliens carrying bigger guns, or guys wearing robot suits and carrying giant knives, Cameron delivers the goods, with only the rare misstep when something meant to be badass turns out to be accidentally ridiculous.2

Second, the movie looks fantastic. Avatar’s budget comes in at around $237 million, with much of that clearly spent on its groundbreaking special effects. Widely believed to be the first-ever movie to have its effects created by computer rather than by more traditional methods—George Lucas's massive Star Destroyers were built from Legos, and Stanley Kubrick’s Discovery starship from 2001: A Space Odyssey was nothing more than an Easton hockey stick spray-painted white—Avatar’s eerily luminescent landscapes, inexplicably floating mountains, and rampaging rhinoceros/Panzer monsters are beautifully rendered and stunningly detailed. One can only imagine the staggering computing power needed to make this film a reality.

Third, with Sam Worthington, James Cameron has very nearly perfected the Acting Robot he’s been developing since 1984’s Terminator. Possessing far more agility and coordination than the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, and with nearly three times the facial expressions available to George Lucas’s late-model C-3PO, the technical marvel that is Worthington is only slightly less believable as a human than he is as a remote-controlled, ten-foot-tall, half-naked half-man/half-catSmurf from the distant future.

Sadly, though, it’s partly Avatar’s undeniable triumphs that make its failures—or weaknesses, at least—all the more glaring and disappointing. It’s hard to believe—or it would be, if I hadn’t seen Titanic—that the imagination that gave us such astounding and effective visuals could (or would) give such short shrift to the film’s dialogue, characterization, and message. (Military bad! Industry bad! Western civilization clumsily disguised as militaristic future corporation bad!)

The Na’vi, for all their flying lizards, glowing black-light flora, and AC-adapter ponytails, are basically stand-ins for your more run-of-the-mill movie’s native Americans. And while it could be argued that, as stereotypes go, “noble savage” is a wee step up from “savage savage,” to call Cameron’s broad-brush depiction of his warlike but wise, nature-loving tribal culture “ham-fisted” would be kind of demeaning to ham.3 And I won’t even go into the notion that what the primitive tribe really needs is a white guy to come along and to become the mighty all-star badass they’ve all been waiting for.4

Avatar's characters are not people so much as they are mostly-interchangeable vehicles for delivering exposition and plot points. Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the man in charge of the unobtanium mining/native-oppression operations on Pandora, is first seen standing on a scrap of Astroturf5 tapping a golf ball into a coffee mug—essentially a lazy movie shorthand way of saying “self-absorbed prick executive type” without actually have to waste good Action Time developing human characters.

The eventual antagonist, Colonel Quaritch, is so seethingly and obviously the bad guy from his first scene that viewers doesn’t see the turn coming so much as wonder if it hadn’t already happened and they’d missed it.

And the versatile Sigourney Weaver is given little to do other than warm over a role she played thirty years ago. The following transcript comes courtesy of a highly-placed Bowling in the Dark operative, who was fortunate enough to observe the casting process:

James Cameron: James Cameron has written a great role for you, and it’s a total reversal from the one you played in Aliens, which was awesomely directed by me, James Cameron.
Sigourney Weaver: (reading aloud) Dr. Grace Augustine is a dedicated, no-nonsense, tough-minded and independent woman, critical of the soulless and militaristic mega-corporation for which she works, and pressured on all sides by events beyond her control. She’s hard-edged and abrasive, but has a soft maternal side that doesn’t reveal itself at first.
JC: Awesome, huh?
SW: Uh, how is she any different from Ellen Ripley?
JC: Ripley killed aliens in James Cameron’s Aliens. But in Avatar—directed by me, James Cameron—she doesn’t kill aliens. (Pregnant pause) Get it?
[Long silence]
SW: (Sighs) Whatever. I guess it’s better than waiting around for another Ghostbusters sequel to come along.
JC: Oh, and James Cameron is in talks with Carrie Henn, too. We want her to become a blue catSmurf girl.
SW: Carrie’s going to be in the movie too?
JC: (Momentarily confused) Right . . . yeah . . . for the movie.

Perhaps most disappointing of all, Avatar’s humans (with the obvious exception of Jake Sully, Grace, and their nerdish buddies) are so uniformly greedy, violent, cruel, and naughty that Jake’s “going native” seems not like a wrenching or momentous decision (for him) or a profound or moving one (for the audience), but little more than a point at which the movie shifts back into CGI scenery. One might think that a man abandoning not only his entire civilization but also his body would be, if not a momentous occasion, at least a notable one, but somehow, in Avatar, the scene barely has time to land with a thud before we're off to somewhere else at top speed.

It’s possible that I’m asking too much of a guy who, in the past, has proven that his great strengths lie primarily in blowing shit up in the awesomest way possible. But it’s a shame that James Cameron, one of the most imaginative guys in the business when it comes to action, visuals, guns, and explosions, can be so unimaginative when it comes to putting words together or creating compelling characters. While I don’t necessarily agree with Avatar’s “Humans bad!” theme, I don’t mind that it’s what Cameron chose to say with his movie—but I’m disappointed that he sucked so badly at delivering his own message. It’s a shame that with a great idea in mind, unmatched special-effects capability, an apparently infinite budget, and all the time he could have possibly needed to polish this movie’s every facet and sharpen its every nuance, Cameron could make such a technical and visual marvel as Avatar seem like something we’ve seen a dozen times before.6

1. 1 jillion = 1,000 zillion.
2. In the final, obligatory hand-to-hand battle, Colonel Quaritch reaches into his Giant Fightin’ Robot utility belt and pulls out a laughably huge knife in a first-class example of unintentional comedy.
3. Suddenly I’m hungry for ham.
4. Or the fact that The Last Samurai did it years earlier.
5. Of course, it’s Astroturf from the distant future, and it’s out in deep space, where the locals just call it “Turf.”
6. Damn it all, I made it all the way to the end of this thing without making a single joke about Cheetara from Thundercats. Shit. Oh well. I hereby authorize you to make up your own joke, and if it's really funny and not too dirty, feel free to give me credit for it. And don't think that I don't know that it's going to be very, very dirty.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Your TV is Trying to Kill You

The latest news from the overstuffed Duh File is that watching television is bad for you.

To be clear from the start: while I’m not the biggest fan of TV in general, and of reality TV in particular, I’m not the kind of guy to drive around with one of those “Kill Your Television” bumper stickers on my car.1 Quite frankly, it’s none of my business what you do with your free time, or your work time, or the time you should be using to mold your kids into responsible, intelligent, thoughtful and decent adults instead of violent little self-centered psychopaths or mindless consumers. It’s not my business to tell you what to do with your lives.

So here’s what you need to do: sit down with a pen and paper, a calculator, or an abacus—whichever you prefer—and figure out how many hours per week (or per night, if you like), on average, you spend in front of the television. For me, when there’s a Denver Broncos game to suffer through every Sunday, I’m probably at around 8.5 hours per week. When the Broncos’ off-season begins—typically at the instant that somebody else’s team clinches the last remaining playoff spot—it’s probably five or six hours a week.2

That’s not too bad, I suppose, although it still seems like too much time to me. To put it in perspective, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that as of 2008, the average person spends more than 2.75 hours per day watching TV. For those of you without an abacus, that’s more than nineteen hours per week, or almost forty-two full days per year.3

For a bit of painful perspective, the same Bureau of Labor Statistics table that gives us the above info states that we spend, on average, barely forty-five minutes per day on socializing and communicating; less than half an hour caring for and helping household children; less than twenty minutes participating in sports, exercise, and recreation; and about nine minutes each on religious/spiritual activities and volunteering.4 It’s probably just a coincidence that there are about nine minutes’ worth of commercials in a half-hour of television . . . but it’s an interesting coincidence.

Every minute that passes is a minute you’re never going to get back. While it’s probably impossible to live every minute as if it were going to be your last—and likely unhealthy even to try—I think it’s worth considering that you may be frittering away all too many of your remaining minutes on, for example, a rerun of Friends that you’ve seen eight times before, and maybe didn’t really laugh at all that much in the first place.5 And if you’re willing to try to convince me that an hour spent watching a “reality” talent show can actually make your life even fractionally better in any significant way, please let me know where you live, so I can run to your house and slap you silly.6

And as it turns out, the more television you watch, the fewer minutes you may have left to fritter away in the first place. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, a study recently published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association7 suggests that
each hour spent watching TV [per week]8 was linked with an 18 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11 percent greater risk of all causes of death[,] and a 9 percent increased risk of death from cancer.

The article goes on to explain that the link between TV watching and bad heart health was found “not just among the overweight and obese but also among people who had a healthy weight and exercised.” This part came as a bit of a surprise to me, but not as big as a surprise as the suggestion that folks who watch too much television get cancer more often.


Honestly, how the hell does that happen?

So along with the avalanche of proof suggesting that television makes you stupid(er), there’s growing evidence that it’s willing to kill you to get what it wants. Whatever you do, don’t look directly at your television without professional oversight. Don’t lend TV money, don’t pick up the phone when it calls, and by all means, do not feed TV after midnight! Whatever mindless amusement it might give you is just not worth the risk to your head, your heart, or your family.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, one of my favorite House episodes is on. It's the one where he makes fun of the other doctors for being stupid, and cracks jokes about Cuddy's butt. Gotta go.

1. I’d probably approve of a bumper sticker that read “Slap Your TV around a Bit,” though. That seems appropriate.
2. This number would be somewhat higher if not for TiVo and Netflix, which both allow me to skip through commercials for dumb crap I wouldn’t buy anyway, which means I can get away with watching an hour-long show in about 43 minutes.
3. Numbers from the Nielsen Company—one of the most well-known organizations tracking just how often we’re willingly trashing our brains—suggest that the number is closer to 151 hours per month. Five hours a day, on average. So for every uptight elitist snob such as myself, watching a buttholishly self-important one hour per night, somebody out there may well have the TV on for nine hours a day.
4. Reading apparently wasn’t a popular enough activity to even register as its own category; maybe it’s included in our daily twelve minutes of “Other activities,” which presumably includes comparable wastes of time such as nose-picking, clipping toenails, and blogging.
5. You know the episode I’m talking about, it’s the one where Ross whines about something, Joey sounds mildly brain-damaged, and Phoebe acts like she’s from another planet.
6. The possible exception here being whichever episode first featured that sort of shlumpy-looking Scottish lady, Susan Whatever. She can really sing, and it was refreshing to see a bunch of people who were judging her by her appearance (probably using words like “shlumpy”) realize they were being total jerks.
7. Circulation almost qualifies as a clever title for a journal, especially a journal about the circulatory system. But not quite.
8. This quote from the Times article almost certainly contains a typo: the author presumably means “each hour spent watching TV per week,” because if not, and we really are talking about an 18% risk increase for every hour of TV watched over a lifetime, then even a moderate watcher like myself, having spent maybe 16,000 hours in front of the TV, has (assuming I’m working my abacus correctly) something like three thousand times the risk for cardiovascular disease as someone who doesn’t watch TV. That means I’d almost certainly be dead already, and my sources tell me I’m not.