Tuesday, February 23, 2010

N is for New Year Predictions

I understand that we are almost done with February, but since the letter “N” has offered very few good options, I decided I would give some predictions for this year. By the way, in case you missed it, last week I predicted you should follow USA Men’s Hockey team, and then on Sunday they gave us one of the more memorable hockey performances ever against Canada. So keep in mind that these predictions just might be worth paying attention to. Might.

* LeBron James will be the NBA Finals MVP. On a related note, Kobe Bryant will not. The Utah Jazz will then select John Wall for the first pick of the draft (and I will continue to daydream).
* Brazil will win the World Cup behind a legendary performance from Kaka. And by July you will know the meaning of what I just said.
* Alabama will not repeat as national champions, but the BCS will repeatedly suck the life out of sports fans across the country.
* Tiger Woods will come back to golf, it will be a bigger story than the Presidential Election of 2008, and he will reach the Britney Spears Zone (where you hate someone simply because you keep hearing about them over and over again, regardless of whether you actually cared before).

Pop Culture:
* Britney Spears will return to the Britney Spears Zone.
* James Cameron will begin initial photography for his next film called “Gaudy Spectacle!” The film will release in 2031.
* Twitter will be replaced by “Stocker,” a new program that allows you to put a camera on yourself 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
* Barack Obama will be nominated for a Golden Globe after an especially dramatic State of the Union address. He will, of course, win the award as well. Speaking of which . . .

* The politicians in Washington D.C. will continue to spend more and more money that they don’t have, and they will continue to bicker with each other like high school cheerleaders in a coming of age high school film.
* The same Americans who continue to accept the above status quo will continue to belittle anyone who advocates actual change.
* By December, my mood regarding politics will be even more bitter than it is right now.

* The same scientists who renounced Pluto’s status as a planet will openly question the validity of the color cyan.
* The housing market will make a fantastic turn for the better as builders tap into the vastly underutilized tree house market.
* Thanksgiving will be cancelled and replaced by a second Halloween to accommodate all the horror film releases.
* By December, my readership will triple in size (to a whopping 15 readers)!


Today’s recommendation: Whenever I eat at Gandolfo's I get the "Knickerbocker". And I always enjoy it. If you like vinegar in your sandwich, I think you'll like it too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

M is for "Miracle"

(By the way, I am writing today about American Sports. I’m pretty sure Russia wouldn’t agree with this post in the least. Actually, while we’re here, I’m pretty sure Russia hates my blog. Canada too.)

The Vancouver Winter Olympics are here. I love the Olympics for many reasons. The biggest reason I love them is for the incredible moments they provide. I wish I could tell you I didn’t cry when Keri Strug stuck the landing in ’96, but I’m pretty sure I did. I'm also pretty sure I have cried enough during the Olympics for an entire funeral. Sad, but true. There's just something about the combination of sports, country, and festivity that turns me into a fanatical weirdo during the Olympics (but in a good way).

Sports works in superlatives. Every game, tournament, or season is the worst or best of something. There is no normalcy in sports because that doesn’t make for a very good headline (“Game Goes as Expected” isn’t exactly a great hook). And the Olympics exemplify this. So, when I hear somebody refer to something as the greatest moment in sports, it doesn’t really mean that much to me. However, when I hear of the same moment being called the greatest moment in sports over and over again? Now that’s a miracle.

You probably know where I am going with this. 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. USA Men’s Hockey defeats the goliath Russian squad to pull off the greatest upset in hockey (and debatably sports) history, all at the peak of the Cold War. Herb Brooks. Mike Eruzione. Al Michael’s call of “Do you believe in miracles?!” You know the story, and you’ve likely seen the movie.

This year is the 30th Anniversary of those games. Herb Brooks has since passed, the Cold War has ended, hockey’s popularity has waned, and yet it is still generally acknowledged as the greatest sports moment in history. Why? Because it deserves to be.

In an industry chalk-full of superlatives, the “miracle” of the 1980 Winter Olympics provided a backdrop that would have made sports writers of today’s heads blow up. USA versus Russia, young college kids versus the most dominant team in the history of the sport. It’s more David and Goliath than . . . David and Goliath.

Bible analogies, political parallels, and other superlatives aside, it is really just a story about the incredible power of the human spirit. In a time when our country was desperate for hope, a bunch of kids inspired a nation. And behind it all is Kurt Russell—er—Herb Brooks: A man determined to create a miracle.

I really don’t know how to write about the “Miracle on Ice” without sounding like an Elmer’s Glue bottle. I've re-written the last four paragraphs like eight times, and no matter what I type, it all sounds gooey. So, let me say this: Watch “Miracle.” Whether you’ve already seen it, or whether you don’t care for hockey at all, watch it. And while you’re watching things, watch the Olympics. I guarantee there will be moments that you will never forget. And finally, watch this:


Today’s recommendation: Did you know that if the American Men’s Hockey Team wins a medal this year, it will be another miracle? They're being called too young and inexperienced. Sound familiar? I recommend you follow them these next few days. Sequels are rarely comparable to the original, but you never know.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

L is for Lincoln

(If you haven’t read “K” yet, I recommend you do so before reading this post)

“When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon – men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.” – Lord Charles Fox

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie “Amazing Grace,” what you just read is the quote given by Lord Charles Fox (played by Michael Gambon) at the end of the film, when William Wilberforce successfully (and peacefully) puts an end to slavery in Britain. The film was set in 1833, and it is based on a true story.

About 30 years later, on the American continent, another group of slaves were set free. And the champion of their freedom was a man named Abraham Lincoln: A man that I have revered from the time I was a young boy. Both William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln essentially ended their political careers (and lives) with the abolishment of slavery. However, the irony that I present to you is that Abraham Lincoln is far more like Napoleon than William Wilberforce, regardless of what you have likely been told throughout your life.

I’ve always been taught that Lincoln was akin to our founding fathers. Like them, he was a patriot who fought for liberty with valor. He was the Great Emancipator, and the man who saved the country in its darkest hour. However, after recently studying more about Mr. Lincoln, I have sadly found him to be something else. I recognize full well that if somebody were to tell me this even one year ago, I would have shrugged them off as a loon. Some might call any notion that Lincoln is anything other than a saint a conspiracy theory, not to be taken in the least bit seriously. I know this because I thought the exact same thing. My view had always been that Lincoln set the slaves free, and there is nothing nobler a man can achieve. However, I believe that view blinded me from the real Lincoln.

Any candid look at undiluted history proves Abraham Lincoln is not like our founding fathers in the least bit. They wanted smaller, less powerful government, while he wanted bigger, more powerful government. They wanted the government to serve the people, and he wanted the people to serve the government. Our founding fathers held individual rights to be the most precious things we have, while Abraham Lincoln viewed his mission to “save the union” (and the union itself) far more important than anyone’s individual rights.

I am writing this post because I hold our founding fathers in very high esteem, and I believe the Constitution is an inspired document that was designed for the wellbeing of all mankind. I am writing this post because I want people to understand that the government our founding fathers created was drastically altered by Abraham Lincoln, and because the Constitution has slowly come to mean next to nothing in our nation today—a precedent that President Lincoln established more than anyone. I am writing this post because I want people to see that slavery was not why Lincoln fought the Civil War (and even if it was, slavery could have been ended peacefully as it was in multiple other countries; see Wilberforce, William). I want people to see that the good Lincoln accomplished has given politicians justification to duplicate the bad he did without consequence, and that the implications of this justification explain a lot of our nation’s problems. Finally, I want people to see that Lincoln did save the union, but only after he nearly beat it to death with a crowbar.

I am not going to hash out my political opinions ad nauseam and try to undue a life’s worth of education you have likely endured. I am merely going to ask you to try to answer the following questions. And if you don’t know the answers, I encourage you to find them. And contrast what you find with what our founding fathers fought for. (Hint: Learn what historians who didn't name their son "Lincoln" have to say) And if you never cared for our founding fathers in the first place, or if you think the Constitution is outdated, you are excused from this exercise. Class is dismissed.

* What were Lincoln’s politics? For example, what platforms (economic and otherwise) did he campaign on? What were the political platforms of the Whigs (Lincoln’s first party of choice)?

* Lincoln never stated that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery. So, what were his reasons for going to war?

* Lincoln is lauded as a great politician. Why could he not resolve the conflict with the South peacefully? Did he want, or even try, to resolve things peacefully with the South?

* What were the reasons the South gave for seceding in the first place? (Hint: It wasn’t slavery)

* Were Lincoln’s thoughts about secession (that it was forbidden by the Constitution) consistent with those of our founding documents and founding fathers?

* Many historians (for and against Lincoln) have referred to him as a dictator. What did he do that compelled this analysis?

* Were Lincoln’s actions prior to and during the war (his well-written speeches set aside) consistent with or contradictory to the Constitution?

* What were the reasons laid out by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence for our founding fathers’ seceding from Britain and the rule of King George? Do Lincoln’s actions before and during the war share any similarities with those of King George’s?

* What were the long term results of Lincoln’s administration? What were the effects his administration had on state sovereignty, the power of the federal government, the checks and balances of the federal government, federal government’s involvement in the marketplace, and the Constitution?

* Why do many historians view the Emancipation Proclamation as a political gimmick (setting aside what it later became known as)? What were Lincoln’s views on African Americans? Could he be classified as a racist?

* If George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin met Abraham Lincoln in a tavern, which of the three would draw his sword first?


Today’s recommendation: Read the Declaration of Independence, and look for the specific grievances listed as reason for secession (and pay attention to how Jefferson stressed the independence of each individual state). Also, if you want to take your study another step further, read the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. Also, I strongly recommend you not burn my house down for writing this post.

Monday, February 8, 2010

K is for Knowledge

(This post is long. I freely admit it. However, I have a theory about knowledge, and I would like to share it with you. It took me more words to compile my thoughts than I would have liked, but please bear with me.)

As the dictionary claims, knowledge is the “acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.” But think about it. You learn a “fact” taught to you by an instructor or parent, and then store this in your mind as knowledge. But this fact isn’t necessarily knowledge of truth; it is merely a perceived knowledge of truth.

A child can know that storks deliver babies to the doorstep of moms and dads everywhere, but would you call that child knowledgeable? And so it is with all of us. Throughout our lives, we gain a database of knowledge (one that, in many cases, could be full of nonsense for all we know). And this database slowly formulates our perception of reality and the world around us. For better or worse.

Occasionally, we come across something that we know is true, not just in our mind, but in our soul (the discussion of how your “soul” knows something is true will be left for another day). For the sake of this post, we’ll call it certain knowledge. A mother’s love is a good example of this. You can know without doubt (mind and soul) that your mother loves you. You’re simply certain of it. And this certainty compels distinct behavior.

Now contrast this certain knowledge with my knowledge of the solar system. I’m pretty sure Earth is the third planet from the sun. There’s very good evidence in support of this fact; there are pictures and scientific data, etc. But I can’t say that I have ever cared enough about the numerical order of the planets to obtain certain knowledge on the subject. If a war broke out over the numerical order of the planets, I wouldn’t be compelled to join the fight (this is a stupid example—I know—but just go with it). However, if a war broke out that put my mother at risk, I would fight without giving it a second thought. I would even give my life to fight for the cause. Why? Because I have certain knowledge of my mother’s love, and that has truly changed my behavior. Certain knowledge is different from regular knowledge. It is what compels somebody to belong to a specific religion, for example.

I have a theory about the accumulation of certain knowledge we attain in our lives. As I explained in the last paragraph, and as I’m sure you’ve seen before, people will do anything because of certain knowledge they have. But what if their certain knowledge leads them to do things that are obviously in conflict with reality or truth? Take radical Islamist terrorists circa 2001. How did they become so convinced that God wanted them to kill innocent civilians that they learned how to fly a plane, and then hijacked a plane and flew it into an enormous building? I mean, I don’t want to offend any terrorists reading this blog, but they were wrong. I’m certain of it. (Uh oh, here’s where knowledge get’s confusing; two people knowing two things that completely contradict each other.)

Well, here’s my theory. I think because those terrorists clustered certain knowledge they acquired legitimately with other less-worthy bits of knowledge, their overall understanding was diverted to a reality that is far from correct. This clustering effect, I believe, can explain a lot of people’s beliefs and also their perception of what they know. In the case of the terrorists, I believe that they were taught actual truths, but at the same time they were taught those truths—and acquired certain knowledge of those truths—they were also taught erroneous facts (things like, “Christians are heathens worthy of extermination”). And both the actual truth and the fabricated truth came together into a type of knowledge stew.

For example, let’s say someone was taught as a kid that you should be kind to others. This is an absolute truth: You should be kind to others. Let’s also say that same person gained certain knowledge that this is true. Okay, now let’s say that when that person was taught the principle of kindness, they were also taught that the color pink is evil. (Again, this is a stupid example, but I feel I have to use stupid examples since every real example will likely be disagreed upon; and since nobody questions the virtue of the color pink, here we are). I believe that this person would then cluster these too things together, the virtue of kindness and the vice of pink.

Can you see the danger here? Their knowledge is now off-base, and yet they are likely certain that it is not. They could, of course, through study and experience, learn that there is nothing wrong with the color pink. But since they have false certainty of its evil, it will be difficult for them to come to this realization. And once your knowledge becomes off track, it is very easy for it to dissent farther and farther into nonsensical oblivion (ie. Islamic terrorists). Can you imagine what would happen if this person went to a fundraiser supporting the fight against breast cancer? (“Look at all these evil pink ribbons! I’m in hell!”) Before long, they would think breast cancer was evil (and in turn anyone who has breast cancer). It is then possible that when they finally realized the color pink is harmless, and that those who have breast cancer are innocent, they would assume that kindness really isn’t that important at all. Because one part of the knowledge stew turned out to be foul, the whole was assumed foul. Seeing the danger yet? The clustering effect can both prop up false knowledge and take down actual knowledge. While it is frankly silly in the case of the pink hater, it is utterly destructive in the case of the terrorist.

I really hope this makes sense. I believe this clustering effect takes place all the time. It happens in churches, homes, and schools every day. It penetrates every society, in every country, on every third planet. It is, in my opinion, a major reason why we as a human race never agree upon what is correct knowledge. It is imperative that we always be careful when we gain knowledge, to compartmentalize what we learn and not assume everything we hear is true.

What is my point? Well, for one, I have been formulating this theory for a few years now, but have never written about it. For another thing, I want to prepare you for my next entry. Because my next entry is going to question something you have always known to be true; something that I believe was wrongfully clustered into your database of certain knowledge. Consider yourself warned. For now, thank you for reading my words. I hope you have gained knowledge today, and that the knowledge you have gained has more weight to it than the idea that pink is an evil color (although, for all I know it could be evil).


Today’s Recommendation: Check out the band Fleet Foxes. Their music is like medieval indie folk, whatever that means. I especially enjoy their song “Mykonos.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

J is for Jazz

Being a fan is something that I take very seriously. Regarding the NBA, I’ve always been a Utah Jazz fan. However, I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. I was always torn when the Jazz played the Bulls, but I eventually cheered for the Bulls because, well, I idolized Michael Jordan. Put it this way, if Moses came down from Mount Sinai and saw me watching a Bulls game, he would have been outraged. I did go a little overboard with my golden statue of MJ. And the whole dancing around the statue while throwing rose peddles thing was just weird.

But I digress. Since Jordan retired and as time has allowed me to gain a little perspective, I have always secretly felt remorse for not supporting the Jazz when they were at the doorstep of the championship. I will always be an MJ fan (and I will adamantly oppose anyone who questions that he is the greatest ever), but the simple fact that he is kind of a jerk has forever changed how I view him. My point? I can never claim to be a die-hard Jazz fan. I would love to go back to 1997 (and ’98) and cheer against MJ when he played Utah, but I can’t. Therefore, I can never claim to be truly die-hard. I sincerely wish I could, but sports repentance is never as complete as real repentance. I am in many ways the prodigal son when it comes to the Jazz, but unfortunately there is no higher power in basketball that can cleanse me of my sports sins (God doesn’t care about “sports sins”). I cheered against the Jazz in the Finals, and that is simply unforgivable.

Having said all this, I do still care a little too much about Jazz basketball. I read up on them every day. I analyze their roster, their schedule, their schemes, their jerseys (I love the green throwbacks), and everything else associated with the team. I yell at my television set as well as anyone, I count how many white guys we have on the court and laugh, and when special things happen (ie Gaines’ last second shot to beat the Cavs), I jump and scream, and frolic about like some bad reenactment of a high school Peter Pan play. I’m essentially a die-hard, but an illegitimate version.

Some day the Jazz will win it all. And I will be euphoric about it. I will likely cry, and hug perfect strangers (two things I frequently do anyway, but whatever). I will talk about it for years to come, and even tell my grandkids about it. But as happy as I’ll be, I will be most happy that people who were with the Jazz through thick and thin will be rewarded for their loyalty. Not so much for me, but for them. Only if I had been there for the worst of the worst could I truly appreciate the best of the best. Sad, but true.

See, I always view sports from the perspective of the fan. And as happy as the athletes are, and as much as they care and deserve success, they are still working for a paycheck (and a ridiculously big one at that). And more times than not, their allegiances will change multiple times during their short careers. Fans don’t have that luxury (at least true fans don’t). We’re oftentimes stuck with who we first fall in love with as a child. Most die-hard fans can’t help that they love team so-and-so. It just becomes a part of who they are.

The Super Bowl is coming up this Sunday. I am neither a Colts fan nor a Saints fan. But the simple fact that I look at things from the perspective of the fan has dictated that I will most certainly be cheering for the Saints. I have to. Set aside that I really respect Peyton Manning and want to see my fellow alumnus Austin Collie do well, the people of New Orleans deserve this infinitely more than the people of Indiana. It’s as simple as that. My biggest hope is that some young boy in Louisiana who loves the Saints but also happens to worship Peyton Manning (gold statue and all) will make the right decision. I really hope he cheers for the Saints.


Today’s recommendation: Here are two trade proposals I created on ESPN’s “Trade Machine.” I really think the Jazz need to dump Boozer while his stock is high, and here are a couple great options (at least they are in my head). http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yzrwlqc and http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=yh7z4su. If you have better trade ideas, I’d love to see them (and no, I am not being sarcastic right now). Send them my way.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I is for iPhone

My grandpa took a trip with a friend this past holiday season. They were going to a cabin for a few days. No TV, no internet, no activities planned, no nothing. They were just going to go to the cabin. When I asked what he would do, he explained that he would spend a great deal of his time meditating. He then followed this up by adding that I probably didn’t understand why he would want to do that. And you know what? I didn’t.

Since then, I’ve thought about it some more, and I can’t deny the feeling that I probably should better understand my grandpa’s motives. I recognize a need for meditation and contemplation, unfettered by technological distractions, in my life. But I can’t get myself to do anything about it. I have therefore concluded that I am addicted to technology. And I don’t think I’m alone.

The revolution of the smartphone has propelled our world’s sophistication into something out of a sci-fi movie of yesteryear. If we want to know anything about anything, we can do so—instantaneously. If we want to, we can download a song, email a friend, look up the meaning of the word crapulence, or watch a sports game while taking care of more medieval concerns on the toilet. Kind of gross, but still. Technology has us on our own personal throne, where the kingdom is ours for the taking.

We (as a society) already lack the patience to appreciate good music (see “H”), learn about critical issues that affect our lives (see “F”), be curtious on the road (see “D”), and read long blogs (or so my readers tell me). And technology is only going to speed things up more. What will we lack the patience for in ten years? What about twenty? “Dang it, honey, the robo-cook isn’t working. It made Indian style curry, not Thai.”

Since I got my iPhone a year and half ago, I’ve become the petty kid at the store who won’t stop screaming until he gets his candy bar. Except replace the candy bar with news and twitter updates, email and GPS searches, and replace screaming with sulking. “Come on! No wifi? This is the last time I go hiking here.” In 2030, am I going to whine because the wifi on my hoverboard is squeamish when I am crossing a lake?

I grew up long enough ago that the only way I could know what was going on in the sports world was to wait for the newspaper every day. I would scour through its sports section and imagine each game in my mind. But after a few minutes, I saw all there was to see. So you know that I did next? I would go play sports. I needed an avenue to express my imagination. If I was a kid today, I would probably plop myself on the couch and watch ESPN until my eyes started to bleed; all the while I would be playing with my different iPhone apps. Once I was done there, I would likely turn on my Xbox and play some sports video game that was virtually identical to reality. And all the while, my actual sports skills would have been non-existent, and my imagination broken.

What’s my point? Well, besides feeling really bad for kids today, my point is that I’m pretty sure my addiction to technology is keeping me from acquiring real skills. I am never without a dull moment, but I get the feeling that may not be a good thing. Dull moments may just lead to meditation. Meditation and contemplation may just lead to inspired thought. Being inspired might just compel me to do something very worthwhile and spawn personal growth. Unfortunately, all this would require me to give up my iPhone and other technological handcuffs. And, therefore, I don’t know what to do. . . . I really need technology rehab. Ooh, I wonder if there is an app for that.


Today’s recommendation: Two songs. 1) “Relate to Me” by The Voyces. It kind of speaks to what I am talking about in this blog. 2) “The High Road” by Broken Bells. It doesn’t relate to this entry so much, but it is a side project of James Mercer (the headman for The Shins), and it is choice.