28 December 2005

Skiing, Seahawks, Scorpions & Optimism

Even if you don't like the Seahawks, stick with me on this one. Its not completely devoted to sports--some of this post is about games.

The Seahawks are rolling and still I'm forced to respond to detractors (those few still not on the bandwagon). Sure, Peyton and the rest of the starting crew didn't play the whole game. Yes, many starters on defense were injured and did not play. All of this ignores the fact that the 'Hawks were up 14-3 before Manning went to the bench. And if you want to talk about injured defensive starters, how about this stat: the Seahawks defense was missing 3 CBs, 2 LBs, 1 FS, and 1 DT. For more, check out this great article from Mike Sando of the Seattle Times.

If you're not someplace warm (like the Carribean) I hope you spend at least some of your break on the slopes. According to my brother (who gives me hourly snow reports), the entire western US is supposed to get a lot of snow for the next week. My home mountain, Alta, always gets more than everyone else. Colorado isn't bad (its definitely big) but I'll take Little Cottonwood any day of the week--especially Tues., Thurs., and Sat. next semester when I don't have class. I wont be able to Ski Utah! till I get back for school, but next week I'll ski Fernie and Red Mountain for the first time and give you a full report.

Last week I wrote a fairly scathing review of the BYU v. Cal game and BYU's season in general. I've taken a little heat from some of you and feel a little bad. On the whole I am very optimistic about BYU football. Coach Mendenhall has replaced the malaise surrounding the team with direction and purpose. I think the players believe Bronco and believe in him. Next year the defense will be better--those still there will improve and newcomers will help. Cameron Jensen will no doubt lead a much improved defensive unit. On the offensive side of the ball, the best news is that most of the O-line will return. These guys were definitely the strength of the team. From 2002-4 the lack of depth and experience led to a very weak O-line. With Kuresa as an anchor and the dynamic Reynolds brothers duo, we now have a great line. Where they couldn't seem to block anyone before, now the QBs have time to go through their entire progression and have time to throw it off to their check-down WR if everyone was covered. Curtis Brown is back and he will be even better and Beck will provide leadership and experience. Next year we should win the conference.

Scorpion Watch
Some time ago I introduced something I called the "Scorpion Watch." It was a story in the news that related to the principle taught in the tale of the Scorpion and the bull-frog. This was a tale my roommates of the 105-106 used to explain nearly every situation in life. The first post was about conservatives and taxes. This one is a little more pop cultural. Check out this article by Diane Mapes of the Seattle Times.
(Note: because it's in their archives you will have to register--it's free!--to access it)

26 December 2005

Post-Christmas Bullet Points

I'm told the week after Christmas is one of the biggest shopping weeks of the year. It's almost a holiday in its own right. I'm addicted to eBay, but some other online retailers are pretty good too. Among other things, I figured I'd post links to a few of my favorites.

Every year after Christmas Nordstrom has their Men's Half-Yearly sale. If you're in the Seattle area my friend Sarah works the sale at the Southcenter Nordstrom in Tacoma. Stop by and buy something; I'm sure she'd appreciate the commission. If you live in a Nordstrom-deprived area, click here to shop online.

If, like many of my friends (Ammon, Morgan, Brandon) you are a new professional, then you might want to check out the men's sale at Brooks Brothers. Sometimes they provide additional discounts for things purchased online.

Though they tend to cater to a little older demographic, some of the Filson-made bags and leather goods are great. Check out Filson (like Nordstrom, another Seattle based company) and Mulholland Brothers.

My brother will probably get mad at me for sharing a family favorite, but if you're looking for a parka and don't want to wear The North Face like everyone else, check out Arc'Teryx. Between my dad, brother and me we own 4 different Arc'Teryx parkas and love them all. Also look at Cloudveil (their "Troller" glove is great), Eider, and a new one Matt discovered the other day--Norrona.

I've been asked by several people to identify a good do-it-all ski. Though my research has been admittedly limited, I have pointed most to this ski, the Atomic M:EX. With 84mm at the waist, this is a good all-mountain ski. In fact, though I'm told they changed a lot, it is the descendent of the Atomic R:EX--a ski my dad owns and one I have skied. Variations of the R:EX won ski of the year from different publications for 3-4 years in a row. It is a heavy ski with a heavy binding but it is great in the crud and wide enough for the powder and yet not so wide that you can't ski it well on the groomers. It is very stable at high speeds. $400 is not a bad price for skis and bindings.

In the days leading up to Christmas several people asked me for book recommendations. Both Trevor and Morgan provided great suggestions. I make no attempt to create an exhaustive list here (at least not yet), but these are a few suggestions if you are looking for a book to buy with your Barnes and Noble gift card. I will never recommend a book I haven't read.

Short Novel: "The Dante Club" by Matthew Pearl. If you enjoy mysteries and the such you will like this book. Pearl is a great writer and here he tells a great story weaving literature ("The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri) and history (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others in Boston circa 1865). I don't read many novels but this one was great.

Long Novel: "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. This is an author known more for his Cold War-era spy novels but the historical fiction of "Pillars" is awesome. This is a long book that tells the tale of the construction of a cathedral in England. No one writes people better than Tolstoy, but Follett's characters in "Pillars" are compelling.

Biographical History: "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris. Teddy Roosevelt is one of my heroes and Morris really brings him to life in this, the first of a two part biography. This half of Roosevelt's bio tells about his childhood, his days as a bronco buster, a rancher in the Dakotas, experiences at Harvard, in the New York State legislature and as commander of the Rough Riders and their role in the Spanish-American War. Great book.

As always, comments related to good books, good skis, or any other topic are invited. Thanks. Let me know about skis and outdoor gear/apparel, I'm thinking about doing a more extensive list of recommendations.

24 December 2005

A Few Christmas Thoughts

Like any other family, mine has several Christmas traditions. Some of those traditions are more foundational and religious than others. Many are common to families across the America. From Christmas treats (I also like banana popsicles from Blue Bunny)to Christmas trees (we get ours Christmas Eve and it is always a challenge to get the best tree for free and legally) we enjoy all things Christmas. One of my favorite traditions is gift wrapping. I pay my sister to wrap my gifts to the family (including hers). After Econ 110 and lectures on the law of comparative advantage, I learned there is a better reason to have her do it than the fact I flat hate wrapping gifts--thanks Dr. Pope. Oh yeah, and my brother, sister and I watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation before going to bed and yes, we know all of the words.

On Christmas Eve we have a family devotional. Our family, like yours, reads from Luke 2, and reflects on the birth of Jesus Christ. We often sing Christmas hymns and sometimes, if enough extended family is present, we'll act out the Nativity scene while someone reads from the aforementioned text (Matt is usually the donkey--his role comes from a proud heritage of Lybbert's reprising donkeys, I understand my dad was once the donkey, I'm usually one of the wise-guys).

For the last few years we have added another text to our Christmas devotional; we read a piece from the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal. Since 1949 they have printed the same editorial by Vermont Royster. It is a beautiful column devoted to the gift of liberty given us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This blog is rarely devoted to religious topics, but they are never far from my mind as I consider some of the more serious material on which I opine. Even if you don't add this editorial to your family's Christmas Eve devotional, read it, and share it with someone else. Better yet, refer them to my blog and they can read it here (or buy a copy of today's Journal and read it there). Either way, Merry Christmas.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster of the Wall Street Journal and has been published annually since.

In Hoc Anno Domini
December 24, 2005

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression -- for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter's star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

23 December 2005

There's always next year, right?

Its one thing to be able to say we got beat by a better team, but I am tired of losing games because of our own mistakes.

I guess my post about how to win the game came a little too late. I should have posted it when the coaches were putting their game plan together. How many pass plays did we run before handing it off to CB? I know, I know, they called a run play and then Beck audibled to a pass. But that was only one play. We knew we needed to put together long offensive series. Why then did they come out and throw the ball every down going 3 and out on two consecutive series? They should not give Beck so much latitude to do what he wants. He is not Peyton Manning.

I love the fact that Nate Meikle plays hard. He may be the ugliest football player this side of (insert the name of the ugliest football player you know), but gosh he gives it his all. However, do we really want him getting that many touches? We have to find a way to get the ball to Curtis

The good football teams tailor their schemes to fit their talent. I don't know, maybe some rich alumni who helps pay Bronco's salary is forcing the team the sling the ball around the field because that's how they used to play. Maybe that's why Coach Anae seems to ignore what is obvious to even casual observers--we win when Curtis does well. Yesterday I included a link to an article that showed that when CB got over 100 yards rushing the team was 5-1. Considering we've only won 6 games I think that's significant.

I understand that we don't have the personnel to field a good defensive unit. I don't blame the players for that. What I cannot understand is why we are unable execute a routine tackle. It was so bad yesterday that the ESPN analysts said it was some of the worst tackling they had ever seen. At one point they showed a stat that showed 174 yard receiving. Of those, 173 came after the catch. This means they caught the ball close to the line of scrimmage and then ran--a lot. With extra time to plan for Cal our coaches should have put our offense in a better position to succeed.

And it's not just me who is critical of their tackling. I will readily admit that my analysis is worthless. However, I think a quick anecdote will prove enlightening. Last February I was giving myself a tour through the student-athlete center. While walking down the stairs I saw someone watching video from the last season. Wondering who would be watching football video that time of year I stepped in and introduced myself. The man was a scout for an NFL team and because he requested, I wont mention his name or the team. I sat there and talked to him for the next 2.5 hours while we watched film. I picked his brain about everything. I mentioned that there were many of us, (casual, untrained observers, but big fans) who thought that BYU wasn't very good at tackling. Before I could even get the question out of my mouth he immediately agreed, saying that they were among the worst tackling units he had ever seen in 30+ years of coaching and scouting. My opinion doesn't count for anything, but how about his?

Among the inexplicable were the 11 penalties in the first half. I have been a leading proponent of the whole officiating-conspiracy theory. One team manager said there were four penalties called against BYU last year that didn't get called in any other game (read: obscure). But that is no excuse for the ridiculous amount of penalties in one half of football. If you believe officials have a bias against you and are going to call the game tight, for the love of football, play cleaner than clean, play squeaky clean.

I think Bronco is a good coach. Every player I talk to is very complimentary and even those who had questions in the past have become Bronco believers. Who then do we blame for breakdowns in what Bronco has identified as his biggest principles? The mistakes that stood out--penalties and poor tackling (we'll ignore the dearth of run plays)--were the difference in the game. One comment I read in a message board last night noted that BYU teams as far back as Lavell have been poor tacklers. I am at a loss to explain this. Do they not teach tackling in practice? Or are the poor fundamentals being taught at the high school level? Maybe we can just blame the entirety of high school football in the state of Utah (I'd love to draw that conclusion being that I'm from Washington and think our football is better) but then that wouldn't explain the incredible job Kyle Whittingham has done with his defenses over the years--typically populated by BYU's state of Utah leftovers.

In typical form--one friend called it a microcosm of the season--BYU almost won despite their poor performance. They were just teasing us. If people wonder why so many of us have become cynical about BYU football, it's because they have become so adept at giving the game away.

22 December 2005

To Win, BYU Must...

This one is obvious--or at least it should be--give the ball to Curtis Brown. Just do it. Don't think about how many points you could score if you'd just throw it on every down. Don't think about how Todd Watkins might be able to change his label from hugely overrated to just mildly overrated by having a career game (I'm not even sure Todd is the best WR on the team, I think by the time Michael Reed graduates you will have forgotten there ever was a player named Todd Watkins who every once in a great while caught the deep ball if it were thrown just right). Don't think about how John Beck throws a nice deep ball. Please, in the name of the football running-god, just give the ball to CB.

If there were any doubts in anyone's mind, cast 'em out, Curtis is the best player on the offense--heck, he might be the best player on the team. If we want to win this game he needs to get thirty to thirty-five touches--at least twenty-five of those should be run plays. And please, don't run the ball out of the shotgun every time (by the way, has anyone watched Reno play this year? they have a sort of hybrid shotgun that allows the RB to line up behind the QB at a depth similar to the I-formation, thoughts?). We have two fullback-type RBs in Fahu Tahi and Manase Tonga, have John Beck line up under center and let them lead block, running the ball like everyone else in college football. And then, play-action-pass. In case anyone forgot, we have a really good offensive line and they have proven that they can run block. They need to do a lot of that today.

Cal has got the type of offense that could get in a groove and control the game. It wont matter that we can score in under 27 seconds. Cal will get the ball and they will run and they will run and they will run some more and then you will look up at the screen and see that there are only 2:30 left in the game and you are down 24-3. Want to help our defense with its porous secondary? Run the ball. It's really not that complicated. Give the ball to CB twenty-five times and Tahi ten to fifteen times. If we run the ball forty times I guarantee a win.

Today is a chance for John Beck to prove he's not just a stat-book hero. There is no direct correlation between Beck throwing for piles of yards and TDs and a win. There is, however, a direct correlation between rush yards and attempts and wins. My favorite win of the year--the win against Colorado St.--is a perfect example of the good things that happen when you run the ball.

21 December 2005

Why Conservatives Are Smarter

With finals on I missed this piece from the Opinion Journal. It addresses an issue I have thought a lot about: the chimera of liberal intellectual superiority. Though conservative on most issues, I at least understand that there can exist an intelligent opinion opposite mine. My problem with liberals is the attitude that "if I were only as intelligent as they, then I would see the world as they see it." Alas, most conservatives are dumb (or are dumb people conservatives?) and will remain in ignorance of the obvious liberal solutions to the world's problems. You know, like immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

The following is an excerpt from a piece by Jonathan Rosenblum with analysis by James Taranto (one of those dumb conservatives).
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Rosenblum of Jewish Media Resources ponders the careers of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice-designate Sam Alito, and in the process makes an excellent point about Ivy League conservatives and liberals:
Because of their minority status it is far more difficult for conservative students to entertain the illusion that all smart people think like them. They are exposed to many obviously bright young men and women whose opinions on almost every issue vary radically from their own. . . .

Being forced to recognize that there are different points of view helps make bright young conservatives such good debaters. They learn early on the limited persuasiveness of shouting at someone with whom they disagree, "You're an idiot." Of necessity they have to develop the ability to cast their arguments in ways that appeal to those starting from very different premises. . . .

Liberals can be wonderful people, and boon companions, but they often have a hard time dealing with people of opposing views--especially when they cannot dismiss them out of hand as idiots. Too often they have spent their entire adult lives surrounded almost entirely by those who think just like them, and it comes naturally to dismiss those of other views as intellectually or morally challenged.
This is true beyond the Ivy League, as we noted just after the 2004 election. With liberalism the dominant ideology in the news and entertainment media, it is virtually inescapable to any American who doesn't go to great lengths to insulate himself from it. Big-city liberals, by contrast, can easily filter out conservative ideas, and thus need contend only with their own prejudices. Thus conservatives are smarter than liberals--not necessarily in terms of native intelligence, but of understanding the world around them.

Regarding his conclusion that conservatives are smarter... I don't necessarily agree. I think Mr. Rosenblum confuses intelligence with being open minded. The stereotype holds that conservatives are, by definition, more narrow minded than their liberal, progressive brethren. I think that exactly the opposite is true. There is a very narrow, liberal ideology, and anything that does not fit that paradigm is discarded offhand, literally labeled the less-intelligent (even dumb) or less enlightened (owing to their Enlightenment roots) point of view.

At least most conservatives don't think competing opinions are dumb. I certainly don't.

20 December 2005

Top 10 Christmas Movies of All-Time

I've already written this post once, and, thanks to Firefox, I get to write it again. I know I have advertisements for Firefox on my site, and though they are better than Internet Explorer, I still prefer Apple's Safari. At least it doesn't crash when I'm nearly finished creating a post, wasting at least a half-hour of work.

1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
In the genre of Christmas films Cousin Eddie is possibly the best character. I also think he is a composite of several members of my extended family. If you've only ever watched this on tv, be prepared to fast-forward a couple parts

2. A Christmas Story
Red Rider BB guns, the neighbor's hounds, the smiling Christmas duck, chocolate ovaltine--this movie has it all. And you can't beat the tongue on the flagpole--that's the type of humor that appeals to all ages.

3. Scrooged
We love watching the angel/ghost beat the snot out of Bill Murray's character. If you like Groundhogs Day or What About Bob? or Ghostbusters you'll love Bill Murray in this movie. Ditto on the self-edit, the tv version cuts out some of the unnecessary crass material.

4. It's a Wonderful Life
I'm sometimes sentimental but never sappy. This is one you can watch with the whole family.

5. Elf
This movie is good, but not great. I particularly enjoy the scene where Will Ferrell tries to put the star on the tree. Also, answering his father's office phone, "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?" is classic and oft repeated. Speaking of oft repeated quotes from Will Ferrell, can we please be done with everything being "kind of a big deal?" Sure, I think more cowbell is just as funny as the next guy, and I know Ferrell is popular because even the dumb get his jokes, but still, can we let this one die, please? It's overused in the way "alrighty then" from Ace Ventura Pet Detective was abused. Apologies to those of you too young (especially my frosh American Heritage students) to remember that movie or the quote or, if you do, don't remember why it was funny. You probably don't remember because it wasn't that funny in the first place. But, in ten years when some little-read blog writes about Anchorman and how everyone used to wait around for the obligatory reference to something being "kind of a big deal," you'll wonder at the fact that you thought it was so frickin hilarious. And then, you'll know what I mean.

6. The Santa Clause
My sister wanted me to include this one. And yes, I did watch Home Improvement growing up, and loved it.

7. Santa Claus The Movie
Before there was Elf there was this movie where an Elf leaves the North Pole because he doesn't fit in. This movie has Dudley "need I say" Moore? Seriously. Need I?

8. White Christmas
I first watched this movie because Chevy Chase's character (Clark Griswold) referred to it in his famous rant near the end of Christmas Vacation. Watch this one with grandma.

9. Home Alone
What is it about pain that gets such big laughs? Suspend your hate of Macauley Culkin and watch this one with your younger cousins or neices and nephews--that way you can either laugh at the movie or their response.

10. A Muppet Christmas Carol
My favorite version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This one should also appeal to your friends of the Angry Left. I don't know why I wrote that, it just felt right (no pun intended).

18 December 2005

Everything Seahawks + Doug Jolley

I just finished watching my DVR (one of the Top 10 Greatest Things Ever) recorded Seahawks game. Sure, they only beat the lowly Titans 28-24, but they could have had a let-down against the Chargers at home. Way to go Dolts. At least Edgerrin James got one TD to help me beat Kenty in our first round fantasy football playoff matchup.

I'm tired of people (my roommates) saying that Matt Hasselbeck is no good. Have you watched him play a game? Have you looked at the stats? With what do you back up your ridiculous critique of Matt Hasselbeck? He leads one of the top offenses in the NFL--just today he was 21-27 for 285 yards and 3 TDs. He will never throw it 40 times a la Peyton Manning--not with All-World RB Shaun Alexander making defenses look silly. Defying all comprehension is the fact that Eli Manning, Michael Vick, and Drew Bledsoe all have more Pro-Bowl votes than Hasselbeck--despite the fact that he leads them all in nearly every statistical category. Darrin Beane of the Tacoma News-Tribune wrote a great article about Hasselbeck.

Speaking of Shaun Alexander, today's 26 carries, 172 yards and a TD continue his march toward MVP. Still think he's slow? Don't tell that to Adam "Pacman" Jones who just flat couldn't keep up. Check out this article from Danny O'Neil of the Seattle P-I.

One last Seahawk shout-out. Lofa Tatupu will win Defensive Rookie of the Year. I know, that was a game winning play by Shawn Merriman against the Dolts, but he can't compare with Tatupu. Lofa's stats read like a Pro-Bowl LB. 93 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 INTs and a TD--this guy is leading the defense like a seasoned vet. Greg Bishop of the Seattle Times reports.

A few parting shots for the Seahawk doubters. Matt Hasselbeck has been getting it done without his top two WRs for most of the season. Bobby Engram just returned a couple games ago and today's game vs. the Titans was Darrell Jackson's first game back (big ups for the TD, D-Jack). And the Seahawks defense? They are missing two starting LBs (mis-reported by Fox's broadcast team - Jaimie Sharper and D.D. Lewis), their starting FS (Ken Hamlin), and two starting CBs (Andre Dyson & Kelly Herndon). Despite all the injuries they still destroyed the Eagles and 49ers, though their lack of depth obviously showed against the Titans.

Next up: the Dolts on Christmas Eve. All I want for Christmas is the for 'Hawks to beat the Colts.

One last thing... Congrats to BYU product, Doug Jolley for making ESPN's Top 10. He is a good guy and a good football player.

17 December 2005

Something for Everybody

With finals done I can finally return to making regular posts. Apologies for the lack of content this last week. I've been writing, its just been devoted to research papers. One, for my German history class, required fifteen pages. Two days and thirty-nine citations from thirty-five different sources later I (are you like me?) turned in my paper thiry minutes before the deadline.

On Thursday at the Christmas party of a mutual friend, I spoke with Kelsey Nixon of kelseyskitchen.com about her tv spot, website and budding career as a chef. I promised a good write-up (I've eaten a few of her desserts and they are delicious) and link to the website. Congratulations are in order on her plans to spend the summer at an elite French (oxymoron?) bed-and-breakfast, learning French and teaching the culinary arts.

I will, however, have to disagree with her and several others at the party regarding Martha Stewart. Abrasive though she may be, she most certainly did not commit a crime worthy of prison time. She definitely didn't commit the crime they were investigating--insider trading.

Bad news (?) for Mariners fans. Bill Bavasi is the M's GM and we still haven't figured out how to convince Billy Beane to leave the A's. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that our offseason will be "highlighted" by the signings of Carl Everett (a team player?) and Jarrod Washburn. Steve Kelley's comments pretty much sum it up.

For those of you who still haven't traveled home, please, do so safely. My blog has such a small readership I can scarcely afford to have those few of you killed off by a sideswipe from a semi.

Stay tuned for posts on everything from the Seahawks (yes, again), Iraqi elections, a list of the Top Christmas Movies and (dare I mention?) a recent article entitled, "Friends with benefits. Buddies. Booty calls. Is this what dating has become?" What might surprise you most is that it was not written for the Daily Universe.

08 December 2005

Money = Happiness

Finals got you down? Try bidding and winning something on eBay. There's nothing like a new piece of ski gear or favorite team memoribilia to lift your spirits. And it looks like there is economic evidence to suggest that money can indeed buy happiness.

Arthur C. Brooks, associate professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs, explains "economists aren't so sure" about the idea that money can't buy happiness. "They note that people with a lot of money tend to express a higher subjective happiness than people with very little. According data from surveys by the National Opinion Research Center, for example, people in the top fifth of income earners are about 50% more likely to say they are "very happy" than people in the bottom fifth, and only about half as likely to say they are "not too happy."

Not only can money buy happiness, but there is evidence to suggest a correlation between increases government taxes and spending and decrease in overall happiness.
Perhaps you're unconvinced. In fact there is another explanation for unchanging happiness levels over time which is rather less supportive of income redistribution. As incomes rise, so generally do levels of government revenues and spending, and there is evidence that these forces work against personal income on the overall level of happiness. For example, a $1,000 increase in per capita income is associated with a one-point decrease in the percentage of Americans saying they are "not too happy." At the same time, a $1,000 increase in government revenues per capita is associated with a two-point rise in the percentage of Americans saying they are not too happy. In other words, not only can money buy happiness, but it may be that the government can tax it away as well.

But beyond earning, taxing and spending, there is an even clearer link between money and happiness: charity. The evidence is unambiguous that donating money (and time) is one of the best ways to buy happiness. People who donate to charity are 40% more likely to say they are "very happy" than non-donors. Psychologists have even tested whether charity makes people happy using randomized, controlled experiments -- the same procedure used for testing pharmaceuticals, except that, instead of administering a drug to one group and a placebo to the other, researchers randomly assign one group to act charitably toward another. The results are clear: Givers of charity earn substantial mental and physical health rewards, even more than do the recipients of charity -- empirical evidence that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.
Though money may be in short supply, there is good news here. The type of happiness he is referring to can be "bought" with service. Whether you are busy with finals or busy with work or busy prepping for the next powder, take a few minutes and give a little. This type of investment pays happiness dividends.

07 December 2005

Pearl Harbor Day

Before 9/11 became the most infamous date in American history there was Pearl Harbor Day. Americans tend to like dates they can celebrate, more than the ones they memorialize, but this sentiment doesn't make them any less important.

The United States circa December 1941 was a country torn between a virtuous desire to aid the free, democratic countries of Europe, and its heritage of isolationism. Anyone with a basic knowledge of this history knows that it started early--George Washington's Farewell Address. Historians, political scientists and politicians of various ilk point to this speech as the genesis of whatever foreign policy position they want to endorse. Joe Ellis points out that the term "entangling alliances" didn't come from this speech, despite our subconscious association.

Historical minutiae aside, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor woke us from this internal debate--a debate that has been internally waged before, during and after every armed conflict in American history. We teach in American Heritage that this attack joined self interest, with the virtuous desire to liberate Europe. The combination of these two strong impulses, we explain, makes the victory of WWII the perfect example of the marriage of these two ideals.

Maybe 9/11 was the Pearl Harbor that allowed us to fight terrorism and bring democracy to the Middle East. If, like me, you believe in the righteousness of the war against terror and the ongoing attempt to bring democracy to Iraq, then you see the parallels between Pearl Harbor and 9/11. The Japanese started out our enemies, but in the aftermath of WWII became our closest allies--aiding us today in Iraq and elsewhere. But the Japanese people were never our enemies and neither are the Iraqis. They were both subject to religious fascists and once liberated, embraced democracy.

This is the path we are on in Iraq. Car bombs will continue, but they aren't set off by an Iraqi people angry at our "occupation" of Iraq. They are set by radicals, fanatics manipulated like so many pawns by the Islamifascists who really are evil and do not care about the future of Iraq. The Iraqi people, the ones who care about their country, they are the ones who voted in overwhelming numbers in their two elections this year and who will, on December 15th, turn out to vote (women too!) once again.

I believe our legacy in Iraq will end with the Iraqi people among our closest allies in the war on terror. A war that will not be won by ceding Iraq to the insurgents abroad or defeatists at home. The only similarity between Iraq and Vietnam is the fact that John Kerry lied about both.

Whether you agree with my position on Iraq or not, take a minute to remember the sacrifice of patriotic Americans who gave so much. In case you need a little refresher, take a hard right at the rack full of Pearl Harbor (Ben Affleck is an idiot) at your local Blockbuster and check out Band of Brothers. It doesn't give you Pearl Harbor history, but it is WWII and, at least as far as I have read and studied, is fairly historically accurate.

06 December 2005

Las Vegas Bowl

I guess my campaign to make Curtis Brown the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the year fell a bit short--or at least came a year to early.

Named to the 1st Team Offense along with John Beck and Johnny Harline, CB lost out to the fact that Dontrell Moore is a Senior, and, well, people like to give awards to Seniors. Call this the kickoff for his MWC Offensive Player of the Year 2006 campaign.

Thanks to the fact that the BCS is a horrible system and East Coast Bias still prevails, Oregon will take its #6 AP and #5 Coaches ranking and go to the Pac Life Holiday bowl and play 7-4 Oklahoma. When are people going to realize that the Big 12 is over rated? Seriously. The one positive thing to come out of this is that BYU gets to play Cal instead of Toledo (where is Toledo?). Matt and I are still trying to figure out a way to make it to the game.

Remember how the Utah beat BYU? Yeah, me neither. And apparently neither does recruit Mike Muehlmann of American Fork. On Monday this TE withdrew his verbal commitment to be a Ute and made a commitment to Coach Mendenhall. Add this to that list of instances where Utah wins but still loses (yes, I know it's short).

When I was a freshman at BYU back in 1999 I watched BYU beat Cal, 38-28 (I also watched BYU beat UW, remember that one MJ?). My dad and brother were at the game and I remember that we had seats next to a math professor from Cal who had some type of role with the team--academic adviser, maybe. As we were waiting for the Cal kicker to kick the PAT he said that the kicker had hit the upright 6 times already that season. He had been asked to calculate the likelihood of that happening and came up with some ridiculous number--winning the lotter was more likely. Just as he finished telling us this story, the Cal kicker kicked and hit the upright for the 7th time that season. Now what are the odds?

Click here for a generic but good review of the BYU football season.

Click here for random notes and statistics about the Cal vs. BYU Las Vegas Bowl matchup.

Seahawks fans click here for a great article by David Locke of the Seattle PI. Eagles, Giants, Cowboys--if it weren't for hitting the upright (what are the odds?) Seattle would have completely dominated the NFC East--the "toughest" division in the NFC.

05 December 2005

Wal-Mart & American Heritage

These last two weeks in American Heritage have found us discussing issues ranging from the progressive income tax to political correctness. In the middle of this discussion of the free market, capitalism, and government intervention has been a discussion of the value of Wal-Mart. As the largest retailer in America (the world) it shouldn't come as a surprise that they find themselves under the magnifiying glass. Most of the comments in class have been critical, taking issue with low wages and poor healthcare. As I was thinking about these critiques, I came across an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal that poses the question: Is Wal-Mart good for America? (click for WSJ subscribers)

I post this first for my American Heritage students who read my blog and think critical about these vexing issues and second for all the rest of you. As always I encourage my students (and other readers) to read this skeptically as they would anything else. However, I think it makes some good points.
Is Wal-Mart Good for America?
December 3, 2005; Page A10

It is a testament to the public-relations success of the anti-Wal-Mart campaign that the question above is even being asked.

By any normal measure, Wal-Mart's business ought to be noncontroversial. It sells at low cost, albeit in mind-boggling quantities, the quotidian products that huge numbers of Americans evidently want to buy -- from household goods to clothes to food.

Wal-Mart employs about 1.3 million people, about 1% of the American work force. Its sales, at around $300 billion a year, are equal to 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product. It is not, however, an especially profitable company. Its net profit margins, at about 3.5% of revenue, are broadly in line with the rest of the retail industry. In fiscal 2004, Microsoft made more money than Wal-Mart on just one-eighth of the sales.

The company's success and size, then, do not rest on monopoly profits or price-gouging behavior. It simply sells things people will buy at small markups and, as in the old saw, makes it up on volume. We draw your attention to that total revenue number because, in a sense, it tells you most of what you need to know about Wal-Mart. You may believe, as do service-worker unions and a clutch of coastal elites -- many of whom, we'd wager, have never set foot in a Wal-Mart -- that Wal-Mart "exploits" workers who can't say no to low wages and poor benefits. You might also accept the canard that Wal-Mart drives good local businesses into the ground, although both of these allegations are more myth than reality.

But even if you buy into the myths, there's no getting around the fact that somewhere out there, millions of people are spending billions of dollars on what Wal-Mart puts on its shelves. No one is making them do it. To the extent that mom-and-pop stores are threatened by Wal-Mart, it's because the same people who supposedly so value their Main Street hardware store find that Wal-Mart's selection, or prices, or parking lot -- something about it -- is preferable. Wal-Mart can't make mom and pop shut down the shop any more than it can make customers walk through the doors or pull out their wallets. You don't sell $300 billion a year worth of anything without doing something right.

What about the workers? In response to long-running criticisms about its pay and benefits, Wal-Mart's CEO, Lee Scott, recently called on the government to raise the minimum wage. But as this page noted at the time, Wal-Mart's average starting wage is already nearly double the national minimum of $5.15 an hour.

So raising it would have little effect on Wal-Mart, but calling for it to be raised anyway must have struck someone in the company as a good way to appease its political critics. (Bad call: Senator Ted Kennedy quickly pocketed the concession and kept denouncing the company.) The fact is that the company's starting hourly wages not only aren't as bad as portrayed, but for many workers those wages are only a start. Some 70% of Wal-Mart's executives have worked their way up from the company's front lines.

The company has also recently increased its health-care options for employees on the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder. Starting in January, one of those options will be a high-deductible health-savings account, which is a great way to insure yourself if you're relatively young, relatively healthy and yet want to protect against the onset of some catastrophic illness. Mr. Kennedy, who recently called Wal-Mart one of the most "anti-worker" companies around, has been a chief opponent of these pro-worker, pro-market health insurance vehicles.

But suppose Wal-Mart did look more like the company its detractors would like it to be, with overpaid workers, union work rules, and correspondingly higher prices on goods. It would not only be a less attractive place to shop, and hence a considerably smaller company. It would drive up the cost of living for the millions who shop there, thus hurting those in the bottom half of the income-distribution tables that Wal-Mart's critics claim to be speaking for. One might expect this fact to trouble the anti-Wal-Mart forces, except that their agenda is very different from what they profess it to be.

As our Holman W. Jenkins Jr. pointed out in a recent column, the vanguard of the Wal-Mart haters is composed of unions that have for decades kept retail wages and prices artificially high, especially in the supermarket business. Those unions have had next to no success organizing Wal-Mart employees and see Wal-Mart's push into groceries as a direct threat to their market position. And on that one score, they may be right.

But seen it that light, it becomes clear that much of the criticism is simply a form of special-interest lobbying in socially conscious drag. And why an outside observer should favor the interests of unionized supermarket employees over those of Wal-Mart shoppers and employees is far from clear (unless you're a politician who gets union contributions).

Any company as successful as Wal-Mart will invariably run afoul of such vested interests. It is in the nature of the rise of a new giant on the scene that it disrupts established ways of doing things and in the process upsets established players. So it was with Standard Oil at the beginning of the 20th century, IBM in the middle and Microsoft at the end of the century. Wal-Mart, perhaps because it restricted itself to towns of less than 15,000 people as a matter of policy into the 1990s, at first avoided and later seemed blindsided by the attacks that have come its way.
What do you think?

04 December 2005

Top 10 Best Christmas Albums Ever

Last week I promised a list of my favorite Christmas music. With 445 songs from 108 artists and 33 different albums comprising one complete day of music (thank you iTunes for that stat), my Top 10 is comprehensive and authoritative.

To be sure of my rankings I've done nothing but listen to Christmas music the entire weekend, spurning invitations to dinner, movies, and other social events. Living on nothing but a steady diet of haribo gummi bears and diet cherry coke, addled by too much Kenny G, I present THE TOP 10 GREATEST CHRISTMAS ALBUMS EVER.

1. Christmas to Christmas - Lee Greenwood
Famous for his patriotic favorite, "God Bless the USA" (you know you sang it in elementary school) this country artist produced the best Christmas album ever. From "Tennesse Christmas" to "Lonestar Christmas" this one is a classic

2. Home for Christmas - Amy Grant
"Breath of Heaven" is the signature song from this album that is a favorite of my roommate Marc--he's a big Amy Grant fan.

3. When My Heart Finds Christmas - Harry Connick Jr.
Not to be confused with the imposter, Michael Buble, this master of big band, jazz, and the silver screen (awesome performance in "Independence Day") is best known for "It Must Have Been 'Ol Santa Claus." This is my brother Matt's favorite.

4. An Airus Christmas - Kurt Bestor
More religious than the Top 3, the best songs on this album are "Coventry Carol" and "What Child Is This."

5. Once Upon A Christmas - Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton
For all you young kids enjoying holiday romances, try this selection from Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. You say you've never heard of Kenny Rogers? Ask your parents. "A Christmas to Remember" and "Christmas Without You" are the best.

6. Faith - A Holiday Album - Kenny G
Good album, just don't listen to it repeatedly. Oh, and if you haven't seen it already, Jon Stewart did a great parity of Kenny G in a SNL sketch a few years ago. Download it.

7. White Christmas - Bing Crosby
The Godfather of Christmas music and Christmas movies. Before "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation" there was "White Christmas." Was he the first to sing "The Christmas Song"?

8. Making Spirits Bright - Dean Martin
This Rat Pack member gets credit for having the best version of "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"--popularized by Elf. Check it out.

9. Christmas with the Beach Boys - The Beach Boys
Call this a concession and a shout out to all my friends from SoCal. My mom likes this album too. "Merry Christmas, Baby" is the star-track.

10. Reggie Bush for Heisman
He doesn't have a Christmas Album, but my guess is that if he did, it would be a winner. Maybe we could try putting his Fresno St. highlights together with selected tracks from "A Tribe Called Quest" and call it a Christmas special. I know I would watch it.

Also: Kent wanted me to mention 98 Degree Christmas but I put a moratorium on boy bands. Sorry Kent.

02 December 2005

East Coast Bias

Turns out not everyone holds an East Coast Bias. Perusing ESPN Page 2 I came across an articled titled, "The suffering of a Seahawks fan." Its noteworthy (and the reason for the title of this post) that Jackson (the author of the article) lives in Connecticut.

Written by Kevin Jackson, Executive Editor for ESPN.com, he recounts the painful history of the Seattle Seahawks and gives us his Top 10 Worst Seahawks losses. What makes this list particularly galling is the fact that he had to limit them to the "New Millenium." Here's the list, click on the link for the whole article.
The 10 Worst Seahawk Losses of the New Millenium

1. Jan. 4, 2004, NFC wild-card playoff: Packers 33, Seahawks 27 (OT). "We want the ball, and we're going to score." Matt Hasselbeck was right … but his pass near midfield scored a 52-yard TD for Green Bay's Al Harris.

2. Nov. 23, 2003: Ravens 44, Seahawks 41 (OT). The NFL later apologized for the refs' failure to restart the clock in the final two minutes. The Seattle defense apologized for blowing a 17-point lead in the final six minutes.

3. Oct. 10, 2004: Rams 33, Seahawks 27 (OT). On the bright side, Seattle was up 27-10 with six minutes left. (Editor's note: No, this is not a typo. Seattle really did blow a 17-point lead in the final six minutes of two games in back-to-back seasons.)

4. Jan. 8, 2005: Rams 27, Seahawks 20. Bobby Engram couldn't pull in a potential game-tying TD pass in the game's final seconds.

5. Dec. 6, 2004: Cowboys 43, Seahawks 39. Dallas erases a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes, with the help of a recovered on-side kick, a TD "noncatch" by Keyshawn Johnson and 1,256 rushing yards from rookie Julius Jones.

6. Jan. 9, 2000: AFC wild-card playoff, Dolphins 20, Seahawks 17. The final game at the Kingdome. Holding a 17-13 lead, the 'Hawks have Dan Marino backed up on his own 8-yard line, facing a third-and-17 late in the fourth. Marino gets out of the hole and levels the 'Dome with the final meaningful drive of his career.

7. Jan. 6, 2002, Jets 24, Raiders 22. True, the Seahawks weren't playing. But after beating Kansas City earlier in the day, all Seattle needed was a win by the heavily favored Raiders to make the playoffs. Instead, John Hall hit a miracle 53-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jets their first win in Oakland since 1962.

8. Oct. 26, 2003: Bengals 27, Seahawks 24. Matt Hasselbeck has two passes tipped into the air for interceptions in the final eight minutes, both coming with the Seahawks in range for a potential game-tying field goal.

9. Oct. 2, 2005: Redskins 20, Seahawks 17 (OT). The only real "Seahawk loss" on this year's schedule so far. Josh Brown raises his hands in victory as he clanks a 47-yard field goal off the left upright as time expires.

10. Oct. 24, 2004: Cardinals 25, Seahawks 17. A terrible Cardinals team drops Seattle to 3-3 after the 'Hawks had looked terrific in a 3-0 start. Hasselbeck plays the worst game of his career, misfiring on 27 of 41 passes and throwing four interceptions.
At least losses like these make it easy to distinguish between the true fans and the bandwagoners.

01 December 2005

Oil for Terrorism

A lot has been uncovered about the corrupt "Oil for Food" program. Links between the UN, Russian, French, and even American government officials, corporations and other individuals and Saddam Hussein have been firmly established. It seems their desire to stop the war had less to do with concerns for peace than concerns for getting their piece. Granted, not all those who opposed the war were getting kickbacks from uncle Saddam, but a disturbing number of them were.

We would know more but Kofi Annan crony Iqbal Riza's primary responsibility for his last three years of employment was to oversee the shredding of documents having to do with the Oil for Food scandal--before US committees (including Volcker) could get their hands on them.

It was a great program, really, if you are a corrupt government official. Saddam overpays for services and gets a 10% kickback. In exchange for laundering his money you are paid handsomely and expected to support him, given the opportunity. Thus, the connection between pre-war Saddam sympathizers and Oil for Food.

On Wednesday Claudia Rosett, journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote a piece about Oil for Food. Among other things she reported on a movement in the UN to obtain the documents used in the Volcker report. If you think they will end up anywhere other than the shredder, think again. One of the interesting details was this admittedly circumstantial (and may remain so because of Riza's shredded documents and if the UN has its way with the others) between Saddam and Osama bin Laden.
Another odd oversight in the Volcker report is the glaring lack of follow-up on suppliers--especially ones that were, according to Mr. Volcker, based in places such as Cuba and Afghanistan--that, as far as Mr. Volcker could determine, paid no kickbacks. That could mean they were just companies so honest, selling goods so desirable, that in these cases Saddam simply forsook his crooked ways. Or it could mean Saddam for more worrisome reasons was so eager to transfer money to these companies that he did not even bother to demand a kickback. These companies include U.S. suppliers of food and equipment, a drug manufacturer in Cuba; and a company listed by Mr. Volcker as operating out of both the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan, some of that during the years in which Osama bin Laden, courtesy of the Taliban, was resident there, planning the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.

The likeliest explanation of Saddam's growing zest to overpay for relief, and his apparent benevolence toward select companies in places not generally famed for their shopping centers, is that both these tendencies offered Saddam ways to transfer purloined relief money to suppliers who were in a position not only to sell him rice, soap and medicine, but to do sanctions-busting favors for Saddam--such as procure illicit goods, forward money to secret bank accounts, or send it onward to people whom Saddam wished to support. Arms dealers and terrorist groups come to mind. All that would have been possible, under cover of these U.N. contracts, no less. Saddam's suppliers under the U.N. program included companies based in or linked to such financial havens as Liechtenstein and Switzerland; such arms-trafficking hubs as Russia, China and Belarus; and such trouble spots as Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and--as Mr. Volcker notes in passing--Cuba and Afghanistan.
(for WSJ subscribers, read more here)

The UN is not a transparent organization. Its officials aren't responsible to an electorate. One professor of mine, interested in politics, had an internship at the UN. After a few short months he quit because virtually no one did anything. This, coming from a man who worked for both the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations Committees--committees of a branch of government not known for its work ethic. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the UN wants to keep this information from other, critical eyes.