Monday, July 24, 2006

COLUMN: Global Warming

This past week, I did an official Good Thing. This is when you do something that enables you to later pat yourself on the back for. Something that benefits the world. In the grand scheme of things, it might matter as much as a tinker's dam. The point is, it gives you warm fuzzies. It is a Good Thing.

My Good Thing is that I went to go see the Al Gore movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." Now, I know for some that spending an evening with the self-proclaimed inventor of the internet might not be that Good of a Thing. But for the card-carrying liberal that I am, the flick was required viewing.

The subject of the film is no laughing matter: GLOBAL WARMING. Basically it's a two-hour romp through the slideshow that Al's been giving for years. In summary, we are all very, very bad people. We spew toxic what-not into the air, the atmosphere gets warmer, and if we don't stop, weird little fish that only scientists have ever seen will die, Greenland will melt, and we'll be waking up daily to Neil Kastor giving us our daily hurricane warnings.

I sat glued to the movie. Mostly I did this because it was too hot outside to do anything else. Al Gore doesn't need a million facts and a fancy slideshow to convince me of global warming; Al Gore just needs to take me outside.

This past week has been unbearable. I mean, okay, there's hot, right? Like, "Hmm, hot one out today." Then there's the kind of hot that's SO hot it's almost amusing. You know, the kind of hot where it becomes socially acceptable to drive around in air conditioned cars pointing and laughing at joggers. The kind of hot where otherwise sensible people begin to ill-advisedly wander around shirtless.

But then there's been THIS week, where the heat has taken on altogether new and exciting dimensions. This week hasn't been just hot. It hasn't even been funny hot. No, this has been the kind of hot where you step outside with a look of puzzled wonderment because you don't understand how you can be in this heat and REMAIN ALIVE. I kept looking up, expecting to see birds erupting into flame mid-flight. Every time I smelled something good cooking this week, I had to look over and make sure it wasn't my BACK.

I am known far and wide for my absolute and total lack of motivation. However, if the weather of this past week has been, in fact, due to global warming, then I say it's time for action. I mean, come on, people -- HOW MANY MORE 16-YEAR-OLD GOLFING PHENOMS MUST ALMOST-VOMIT BEFORE WE HEED THE CALL OF DUTY? The time is nigh.

There has to be something we can do. If toxic what-not causes global warming, then surely some OTHER kind of deadly noxious thingamajig can cause global COOLING, right? I don't care if it's lethal or not. If someone right now came up and said, "Well, we can release this gas to cool the air outside, but I'm afraid it might kill every 8th person on the planet," I'd take those odds. I'm just a huge heat weenie.

Maybe we need to combat the problem by re-introducing CFC's. Yes, that's it. Let's all go outside and spritz can after can of hairspray into the air. That should be enough to re-open that pesky hole in the ozone layer and maybe all the heat will shoot right out of it to Mars. Hey, it looks good on paper. Okay, it looks good on the piece of scratch paper I've been doodling on. But STILL -- I'm being pro-active, and that's what counts.

Some of you might call me a hypocrite, I realize this. I've written before about my love of NASCAR, and hey, that sport is basically the equivalent of raising your middle finger to the sky and going, "Warming schmarming." I know this. So I went to Al's website,, and looked up the tips that each of us can do to stop global warming. For instance, it says, "Only run your dishwasher when there's a full load." Well, I'm such an environmentalist that I don't even OWN a dishwasher, so there. I'm doing my part.

But perusing the website was when I learned about the REAL enemy. It's right there in black and white. "Methane is the second most signifigant greenhouse gas and cows are one of the greatest methane emitters." I should have known -- IT'S THE COWS' FAULT. So here's my solution to the global warming crisis: THICKBURGERS, and lots of 'em. Every one of you needs to start wolfing down burgers until we as a people have eaten up the entire cow menace. Then and only then will we be safe to once again go from our cars to our offices without breaking out into a sweat.

Sure, we might all die of high cholesterol, but trust me, it'll be a Good Thing.

Monday, July 17, 2006

COLUMN: Sudoku

Sorry, folks, no column from me this week.

I know, I know. Please stop crying. It's not my fault, I swear.

It's not as if I've been too busy with my many philanthropic pursuits and stimulating hobbies (though, it must be said, the new Invasion Map Pack for Call of Duty 2 is pretty sweet.) It's not because my new kittens are turning my apartment upside down (including the tragic weekend mauling of one very innocent Hardee's biscuit in my trash.)

No, this time you don't get a column for a far more sinister reason: I was maliciously thwarted by the Japanese.

That's right, you heard me. The Japanese have sabotaged my writing skills, my ambition, my willpower, and the few remaining shreds of my dignity. And those cunning little buggers have done it all with a new weapon -- and it's one more powerful and mighty than all of the world's militaries combined.

I speak, of course, of Sudoku.

Sudoku (which literally translated means, "Way to finally get even with Yankee scum") is the latest logic puzzle fad from Japan that's sweeping America. Wikipedia says that the aim of the Sudoku puzzle is to "enter a numerical digit from 1-9 in each cell of a 9x9 grid made up of 3x3 regions" wherein "each row, column, and region must contain only one instance of each numeral."

Shane, however, says that the aim of the puzzle is to get through it without grinding your teeth down to the nerve each and every morning. "Puzzles" are supposed to be a form of entertainment. Sudoku is simply excruciating mental torture.

When our papers began carrying the puzzles, I was intrigued. They're tiny, cute, and look like an inviting and fun distraction. Then I actually tried DOING one. Within 5 minutes, I was already getting a headache behind my right eyeball. By the time I had passed ten minutes, I had already snapped a pencil in two and felt my resting heart rate go up 10%.

Yet strangely, I've become addicted to the evil things. It's like my own personal OCD or something - I can't focus on the day until I've filled in all 64 squares. And it's not as though Sudoku puzzles are fun - they're not. I just HAVE to do them, is all. I might have a problem. I'd form SA (Sudoku Anonymous,) but I fear half the Quad Cities would show up.

How on Earth did I become addicted to a number puzzle of all things? Usually I avoid numbers like the plague. From a young age, I realized that I was, in a word, mathtarded. Wait, I'm sorry, that's inappropriate -- let's just refer to is as being "numerically challenged." I spent my early school years coasting through classes, and then I hit 8th grade Algebra and my coasting ship hit an iceberg.

Imagine the look on my parent's face when my usual A-/B+ report card came home with a D. It wasn't pretty, but then again, neither am I when it comes to math. My father, the Physics junkie, duly and hopelessly spent countless hours trying to tutor me. When he finally gave up and bought me a programmable calculator that was capable of doing ALL my physics homework for me, I knew that even Dad had witnessed the maxing out of my mathetical prowess.

But, upon consideration, Sudoku has very little to do with math. All you have to do is NOT repeat any of the nine numbers; otherwise, they don't relate to math at all. It could be nine LETTERS and employ the same logic. That's when it hit me: Sudoku is little more than a fancy game of Clue.

Remember in Clue, when you had that little sheet where you checked off possibilities, like once you knew that Col. Mustard definitely did NOT use the candlestick in either the Kitchen or the Conservatory? Sudoku is JUST like Clue, except there's NINE people (Great Uncle Burnt Umber, perhaps?) nine weapons, and no secret passage from the lounge to the conservatory.

The puzzles range from "easy" (translation: hard) to "hard" (translation: solvable by only God,) and I need someone to take them away from me so I can go back to having a life. I truly wonder if the Japanese are planning to attack America, and sent us Sudoku as a distraction. Ninjas could be crashing in through my windows right now, and I'd just be like, "If THAT box has a 5 in it, then THIS box MUST be 4? Right?"

So I say we veto this migraine-in-a-box and send it back to Japan. That way we can get back to the good 'ol American way of life -- you know, driving Hondas, watching Ichiro Suzuki hit home runs, and playing our Sony Playstations.

Monday, July 10, 2006

COLUMN: World Cup

When it comes to sports appreciation, I am the lowest of the low. I am the guy that every TRUE enthusiast wants to kill. I am... a fair weather fan.

It's true. I used to LOVE watching the NBA -- until Krause broke up the Bulls and Jordan became a full time shoe salesman. I didn't give a hoot about NCAA ball -- until Dee Brown led the Illini into a fighting force. I was never a big fan of baseball -- until last year, when the White Sox decided to show their muscle; next thing I knew, I was high fiving strangers in bars with every win.

You can't blame me entirely. It's no fun to watch sports without someone or some team to root for -- and, living where we do, those opportunities don't come too often. I mean, what, am I supposed to be a Cubs fan? I prefer my teams to occasionally WIN, thanks.

And you "real" sports fans can't hold it against me, either. To a degree, we're ALL fair-weather fans. We as a people could effectively care less about men's gymnastics or the 100m breast stroke -- until every four years, that is, when the Olympics fill us with Team USA pride. As soon as the Olympics are over, we could care less. Who's that kid who won all the swimming medals at the last Olympics? I've already forgotten his name.

So, as a self-confessed fair-weather fan, there's been only one thing on my mind the past couple weeks. That's right, baby -- I've had a nasty case of World Cup Fever.

Soccer is a namby-pamby sport, and, as such, is played and adored by namby-pamby countries. By that, I mean every country on Earth except ours. I like to think that we Americans have the decency to realize that any sport where it's acceptable to TIE is a sport not worth watching.

In all honesty, though, I kind of like watching soccer, and I know that the sport's American fanbase is growing in leaps and bounds. But I don't watch it for the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, or even the bizarre complacency of a tie. Instead, I watch it the same way I watch rugby, or cricket, or Olympic handball -- with a puzzled look on my face.

As I've come to understand it, the goal of soccer is simple. Team A kicks a ball, while Team B does their best to sever the legs of Team A at the kneecap or below. I always thought soccer players wore long socks because they were weenies; truth is, they wear those socks to hide the blackened, bruised flesh that once were their calves.

Eventually, one team accidentally kicks the ball into a goal -- no, excuse me, a goooooooooooooooooooooal. Then the team's supporters take to the streets and pummel each other wildly until sun-up. The winner of the match is then determined by mathematically calculating the number of felony arrests divided by the amount of lager remaining in the host country.

And while we're on about soccer violence, how can a sport like this cause fans to erupt into hooliganism? The other day, I watched a Cup match that "erupted into a fight." Now, there was no sound so I couldn't exactly make out what the players were saying, but to my eye, it looked like this:

"Oh, terribly sorry, chum, I seem to have placed my foot into your groin."
"Correct, mate. Dreadfully painful, this."
"A thousand apologies. Perhaps I could offer you a cup of tea after the match?"
"Spot on. Earl Grey if you please. Cheerio!"

I mean, come on. Where's Dennis Rodman or Mike Tyson when you need 'em? If the US team really wanted to make an impact in the World Cup, let's just introduce lead striker Ron Artest. The first time the ref pulls out one of those little red cards, Artest would just deck him, then leap into the stands and deck his entire family. Here in the USA, our hooligans aren't the fans; they're the ATHLETES.

One thing the soccer players have picked up from us Americans, though, is our intuitive ability to flop and cry foul. You know how in the NBA how frustrating it is when a player commits a minor foul on a guy who then flops on the ground as though he's been hit by a Mack truck? Soccer takes that to new heights.

I saw one clip from a Cup match where a Brazilian player was fighting for the ball, then suddenly flailed to the ground clutching his leg as though the opposing player had just driven a spike through his kneecap. In slow motion replay, however, you can see that the two players DIDN'T EVEN TOUCH. That guy doesn't deserve a red card; he deserves an Oscar.

All told, though, the Cup went according to plan. Once again, Team USA went in with high hopes and went out in the first round from bad plays and bad officiating. Once again, Team England had 70% of their country watching but couldn't get past the quarterfinals. Once again, I couldn't understand a single one of the crowd chants.

I'm not giving up on soccer, though. One of my best friends holds season tickets for the Chicago Fire -- maybe I'll go check out a game next season. But only if they're doing good. And only if the weather outside is fair.

Monday, July 03, 2006

COLUMN: New Kitties!

Lately I've been feeling pretty okay with life. Still, I couldn't help but think recently that there's been something missing. Like a little nagging feeling that my karma's been just a touch askew. I just couldn't put my finger on it. Something I've needed...

Then it hit me like a bolt: It had been a tremendously long time since my legs and arms had been sliced up like sushi to the point of near hospitalization.

When I first started writing this column some two thousand years ago, the ones that would generate the most feedback were invariably the columns about my cat, Chelsea. This was, understandably, a bit of a mixed blessing.

I mean, praise is praise, right? Who doesn't like a pat on the back now and again? But there I was, getting rapidly pigeonholed as "that guy with the cat." I can't lie -- a little piece of me wanted a newspaper column just to shed the "lamer dweeb" stereotype I'd worked so hard to cultivate over the years. With my own column and some well-timed swishes of the pen, I could transform from Shane the Epic Nerd to Shane the Hunk-a-Hunk-a Brute Machismo.

But last time I checked, hunks of brute machismo did NOT waste valuable newspaper space waxing poetic about their wee 'ittle kittie-witties. Steaming hot chunks of man-meat like myself should be writing about their pit bulls named Lars or their boa constrictors that ate wee kitties for breakfast. But I couldn't help it; I liked my cat.

For what it's worth, Chelsea was no twee wussy cat herself. I mean, this was a cat with a POLICE RECORD for inflicting serious damage on hapless vet techs. This was a cat prone to jumping vorpally off the couch onto the arms of friends and going for major arterial damage. She was no meek kitty.

You've probably guessed by now that my liberal usage of past tense can't be good, eh? Well, about two weeks after the last column ran about Chelsea, I finally lost her to feline diabetes. My "low maintenance" cat required daily insulin shots, and her kidneys finally gave out. I didn't really mention it in my column, because I was pretty torn up about it, and, well, frankly, it's tough coming up with tasteful dead cat jokes.

But the spirit of Chelsea still haunts the apartment - I've even got the tiny little cat urn on the bookshelf to prove it. (Yes, they cremated my cat. Yes, I realize that it's a touch creepy. But when a girl comes over and goes "Oh, what a pretty vase" before realizing she's holding cat ashes, the look is priceless. Trust me.)

So here I've been, in a lonely apartment with a perfectly good $200 pet deposit being wasted on some cat dust. And I was fairly content in that "I'll never have another cat ever" phase - until Vickie called. Vickie runs Animal Aid, the humane society in Moline, and she wanted me to come over. Uh oh. I knew my resistance was weak; I called my friend Linn to come along for backup.

We walked into Animal Aid and Vickie immediately pulls out the tiniest, cutest kitten ever invented. At least I thought it was, until she brought out her SISTER (the cat's, not Vickie's. I don't even know if Vickie has a sister.) Suddenly I'm holding TWO of the cutest kittens ever invented. I realize that there's no such thing as an ugly kitten, but these two redefined adorable. Before I knew it, they were purring, they were yawning, they were walking on my shoulder, and my friend Linn's voice had magically gone up two octaves and was just saying "awwwww, kitties!" in that irreversible way. I was doomed.

I knew it the second I walked in, but I put on a good show regardless. Yep, I now have TWO cats. They eat together, they sleep together, they even go #1 together. My apartment should be quarantined for excessive cuteness. Except when they're NOT eating, sleeping, or #1-ing, that is. That's when they're engaged in mortal claw-on-claw combat, attacking each other with ninja-like stealth and fury -- and even THAT's so stinkin' sweet it makes you go, "Aww, lookit how cute they bite each other!"

Things are a bit chaotic, but I think I can do it. I think I can manage a multi-cat home. I've got the toys, I've got the food, and most importantly, I've got the housekeeper to stop by once a week and keep the place in check. Plus I've already got the all-too-familiar battle scars from my own production of When Claws Attack. If that's not macho, what is?

So, dear readers, welcome wee kitties Bez & Isobel to the Shaneiverse. I'll put pictures on my blog so you too can bask in the cuteness. I'm sure this won't be the last column I'll devote to 'em.