Thursday, October 29, 2009

10 amazing truths you already suspected

Go ahead, pretend you didn't know. Pretend it wasn't obvious. (Volume II!)

As with Volume I, we shall start easy.

We'll begin with a truth so forehead-smackingly obvious you might worry that its very presence will cause you some sort of concussion o' blatancy. Which is, ironically, just about right ...

1) Your semi-rhetorical question du jour: What do basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, lumberjacking and "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" all have in common? That's right, none of them causes nearly as much brain damage as America's most beloved sport-of-thugs: football. It is, without doubt, the most violent and sadistic gladiator game we have ever invented for giant, vaguely homoerotic males who weigh more than 250 pounds. Except for boxing.

Witness Malcolm Gladwell's half-stunning, half-obvious piece in a recent New Yorker, summed up thusly: nearly every football player in America, from high school on up through the NFL -- especially there -- will suffer some level of brain damage and head trauma, from moderate to severe to early-onset dementia, even after just a year or two of play, even if he never turns pro at all. Turns out the human skull simply cannot endure that many blows and concussions and not have the brain ripped, torn, bounced, pounded into a damaged lump of spasm and drooling and memory loss. The game is just that brutal.

2) Gladwell goes on to talk about Michael Vick, and suggests football has a direct parallel with the morally nauseating "sport" of dogfighting. It's a tenuous analogy, I thought, until the end when he talks about the scene at your average dogfight: the bloodthirsty crowd, the intense passion of the dog owners, the wholehearted willingness of the dogs themselves to fight to the death for your entertainment. Good luck making a distinction.

3) Are you aware that many desperate media honchos think the savior of fast-dying newspapers, magazines, even book publishing might just lie in the next must-have gizmo, like the Kindle? Well they do. Then again, until about 2005, most of them thought the Internet was run by tiny astronauts and magic rubber bands. But never mind that now.

Here stumbles Barnes & Noble, not exactly a bastion of tech innovation or cultural relevance, actually releasing a decent eBook device of its very own, called the Nook, to compete directly with Amazon's clunky, hideously ugly Kindle. The amazing thing: They improved upon it. Not difficult, I realize. But still. Barnes & Noble?

Translation: If even B&N can make a decent slab, the bar is set very low indeed. Somewhere, Steve Jobs is smiling. Again.

4) Here's an astonishing fact: China just surpassed the United States as the world's largest automobile market. Are you surprised? What's more, they will easily outsell the U.S. this year in sheer units moved, upwards of 13 million cars (the U.S. will move about 11 million).

But that's not the amazing part. It's this: They say that in a mere five or six years that number will almost double, to about 20 million cars per year, a simply staggering amount the wimpy little U.S., once the car capital of the world, has never, ever matched, and never will. And the Earth went, groan.

5) Wait, it gets better -- and scarier. Behold, the single most stunning China-related stat I've read in ages: "China is expected to build more square feet of real estate in the next 15 years than the United States has built in its entire history, and it has no green building codes or green building experience," says everbleak Foreign Policy mag. Yes, everything we have built in more than 200 years, surpassed by China by the time your newborn hits high school. Amazing. Disorienting. Oddly disturbing.

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