Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is America the Best?

Now that the Olympics are over, and the medal count has been counted up, we see that order is restored in the universe. Kobe, Lebron, CP3, and D-Wayne have brought back gold for USA basketball. Micheal Phelps consumed more calories in a day than a Chinese household does in a week. And the United States won the medal count by 10 medals (110 to China's 100). But wait!!

China won more gold medals than the United States! How can this be? Wait, aren't we supposed to be the gold-medal winning medal-count winning powerhouse? Next thing you know, McDonalds is going to serve healthy food!


In my mind though, this begs a much larger question. Is America the "best?" Are we truly the greatest nation? And what does that all mean?

With our economy being crippled from rising gas prices (I'm trying not to think about the winter, with natural gas prices), and the dollar weakening worse than my willpower when I get a whiff of McDonald's fries, are we really the "greatest," or the "best?"

I'm no scholar or expert...I call it like I see it...and it seems as though this sentiment began after WWII. We entered the 1950's, we were secure, the GI's were beginning their families, and life was happy. As we began a cold war with the USSR, we pushed to be "the best"...the first man on the moon, we were in huge competitions with the Ruskies as to who had the most medal counts, thus giving us bragging rights as the "best" for the next 4 years.

Yet now, there is no more USSR. Russia is still just as scary as it was 25 years ago (even more scary, in my not-so-humble opinion, because I don't think we're paying as close attention to them as we should). We have China, which got a huge love fest from NBC and all the news stations that were invited. India, who are continuing to grow and grow. Korea is becoming more and more of a global player. And there's the United States.

I don't know if we're the best. I do know 3 things (for frequent readers, if you haven't noticed, my mind has to work in threes. If I don't have three reasons for something, I can't write about it...just a heads-up):

1. Without an operational definition of what "The Best" is, we'll never know. Do we have the best education? In grade school, I don't think so, but post-secondary education we are the best.

2. Don't think I'm downplaying the United States. We have the opportunities that might not be afforded in other countries. While living in Korea I ignorantly asked a Korean man, who was complaining about his job, "Why don't you switch jobs?" He told me that Korea isn't like America. You work at one job your entire life. You don't "switch." That's just not the way that careers are. But in America, it's commonplace to switch from job to job (notice the absence of pensions at many jobs as evidence of this).

3. I don't know if I'd say we're the "Best," because I need hard proof and specifics. But I will say we do set up a standard (like it or not, Americans, and like it or not, foreigners). Why do you think Microsoft and Apple are HQ'ed in America? What about Google? WalMart? Why do you think American movies are so popular overseas? Or many international athletes train here? We have an unwritten role to stand up as that standard.

**Random side note - I ALMOST pulled a TAMN and said we aren't the Best, but we are the Blest. Here I am, looking out for your financial well being by not having you smash your face into a computer monitor due to my attempt at being clever**

So no, I don't think we are the best, because we can't define that. But I do think we put forth a standard to the rest of the world. If that makes me a fat American who only thinks about McDonalds and having Chinese labor workers make $0.02 per day while stiching my jeans, so be it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why Can't I Hate You?!?!, or, Finishing Twilight

I did it. I finished Twilight, the international phenomenon by Mrs. Meyer. And in all honesty, it wasn't as bad as I thought.

I can hear your gasps now, and hear all of you falling off your chairs

I know, pick yourself up off the floor. I enjoyed a femmy, mushy, love story. Aside from the fact that she decided to take a different view of vampires, I found myself wrapped up in it.

But I won't tell you about the story, or about Belle as a typical 17-year old, or Charlie as the overprotective father...

I do want to talk about WHY it was enjoyable, and answer a question that was posed to me.

I find that there are 3 reasons why I didn't want to rip my eyeballs out while reading.

1. It was a story written about teenagers in high school. While in my mature 24-year old world I scoff at the "first kiss" and holding hands for the first time and the ever present area of crushes, I found this book to be transporting me back to high school. She wrote in from a girl's perspective, which is filled with the mushy details that girls love (and crave, something that my wife is still working on with getting me to participate), and while I did get bored in the middle of the book, the game of cat-and-mouse that they play brought back reminisces of high school love.

2. Vampires rock. That's all I have to say. I found the scenes where he was threading the line between human and vampire to be quite telling of the feelings we all have, doing the right thing compared to doing what we want to do. Not wanting to get all literary (because Ashley would eat me for lunch), but I did enjoy that

3. Going along with the vampires theme, she tried to do something different. Love or hate the character of Bella or Edward, love or hate the story, or the circumstances, she tried to break out of the box. Not a blatantly Mormon book (unless people know), but also not a book where she relies on the cliches of vampires and teenage love.

From Chelsey:

Let's talk about Twilight after you finish it.... I am betting you will find Bella as annoying as I did.

The annoyance I did find with Bella was the immaturity and wishy-washy-ness that goes with teenagers.



What I did find to be the utmost of annoyance is her constantly wanting to be turned into a vampire. For example, the end of the book when she tells Edward that she was kind of hoping that her getting all dressed up was for him turning her into a vampire, I wanted to scream at her. Again, at the time I was thinking "You are so stupid girl, why would you WANT to be a vampire, if other than to be with Edward?"

I thought about it more, and it really does show the immaturity and impulsiveness of teenagers. She took no thought as to how she would survive, how it took Carlisle decades of self-control and perseverance to practice medicine and be around blood, how she has no comprehension of the intoxicating power than humans can put off (according to Edward and James), and has no clue the struggle that Edward goes through.

But is that not a teenager? I did so much stupid crap when I was a teenager, not looking at the effect that it could have on the future. In all honesty, I should be either dead, in jail, or working at a 7-11 (is that really that bad of a career choice? Slurpees every single day? I SUBMIT IT IS NOT!) So while I did get annoyed with her (and her over-emphasis and over-analyzation of ever nuance), in a sense I appreciate it, because I think she captures what every teenage girl thinks. Which would explain why it's such a huge hit for teenies.


What's next on tap for me?

Reading - Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life - The Authorized Biography of Hugh Nibley by Boyd Jay Peterson (his son-in-law)...very good so far, with many anecdotes into his life and many wonderful stories about the man, myth, and legend

Watching - Now that the Olympics are over, I should probably catch up on TV shows for the upcoming fall season, but I'll probably end up being glued to the tube for the Democratic National Convention this week in Denver

Listening To - The newcomers into Radio and Record's Top 20, which include a debut by Archuletta called "Crush," a great diddy by Saving Able called "Addiction," and a rocker by my boy Daughtry called "What About Now." Ashley just told me that Chris has taste...and I was confused. She said that her and Chris Daughtry were so close that they had a first name, not a last name, basis going. Jim Rome is back from vaycay this week, and also I'm going to overload on Glenn, Rush, and Sean with the DNC happening tomorrow.

Questions, suggestions, or opinions that you want addressed can be emailed to brandt(dot)malone(at)gmail.com

Friday, August 22, 2008

Authoritarianism, Politics, Ego, and You!

With all the time off from school, I've been able to catch up on much that I've missed. Most importantly, I've been able to catch up with all the news that I've missed out on being in classes and what not.

For example, the Tigers (barring an improbable comeback a la the 2007 Rockies), they are out of the playoffs. Some guy named Michael Phelps can swim pretty fast. Gas is expensive. Stephanie Meyer is apparently J.K. Rowling's heir apparent. And John McCain is old.

Props to JibJab for the SNL grab.

I've also been able to catch up on all the latest comings and goings of a certain election that's nigh unto vital. And while I've been doing my best to listen to each side's argument (while agreeing with one side in particular), I'm amazed when I listen to people talk politics.

Perhaps I should add a caveat. I'm amazed when I listen to people talk politics AROUND HERE RECENTLY.

CIP - case in point (I've begun to limit my use of words because I find them tedious). Exhibit one occurs in a class I had in school. There was one that would, with his loud voice that would talk over everyone, spout off his political ideals and thoughts, very one-sided (read: conservative republican) while disparaging the other (liberal democrat). It's almost as if he found those who didn't have his same expectations of politics to be sinners!

Exhibit 2: Wednesday night at Coldstone I overheard a man talking to a woman next to him (presumably a date) about ANWR and drilling for oil. He seemed to be reverberating what he'd heard conservatives say (it's a small portion where we want to drill, blah blah blah). But the way he said it sounded so authoritative, as if there could be no other alternatives.

Exhibit 3: A case study - a guy that I worked with had an Obama '08 sticker that he placed on his backpack. When I asked him if he was an Obama supporter, he laughed and told me he wasn't supporting anyone. I asked him why he bought the sticker. He said he wanted to see people's reactions to it. I asked him if he'd gotten any interesting ones, and he told me that he had someone tell him that he wasn't worthy to hold a temple recommend if he supported Obama. Wait...seriously? The best part was he didn't even know the guy...it was some random dude on campus.

Now this isn't about bi-partisanship, or choosing the best for our nation. This is actually about the way people discuss politics. Maybe, due to the 2006 article by Salon.com stating that we were the "Reddest" city in the country, people forget that there are others who might not share their outlook. Or perhaps it's because we have a strong Republican stronghold here (check the numbers for Mitt Romney's visit to Idaho Falls last summer). Or maybe people know that Jesus votes Republican (...that should stir up some comments).

Here's my theory. Ashley's proud of me that I remember what she talks about (reference that one Klondike bar commercial..."Dan listened to his wife's story...give that man a Klondike bar). I mentioned that I think that the problem I have with these people is two-fold. One, they are regurgitating what they've heard on talk-radio and Fox News. I guess I'm a victim of that. I do that a lot, but I try to find what do I think, not what Rush, or Glenn, or Sean, or Michael (Medved), Laura (Ingrahm), or Ann (Coulter).

The second part is about ethos. Oh you didn't know? Ethos is "how the character and credibility of a speaker influence an audience to consider him to be believable. " (thank you Ashley). Basically what credibility does Joe Sixpack have when he states how small of an area that he wants to drill in ANWR is? Or about how he feels that anyone who supports Obama should have his temple recommend revoked? Or any of the republican rhetoric?

There is a flip side to ethos: Rush, Sean, Laura, Glenn, Ann, Michael, they all have ethos. While they might not be poli-sci majors, or political geniuses, they ARE credible because they are given a public medium to state their feelings and opinions, and their credibility comes through their ratings and respect from their constituents.

What's the solution? Easy. Take a page out of Covey's 7 Habits book.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Instead of spouting off Republican responses to talking books, tell me why YOU think drilling in ANWR is right. Answer my questions honestly, not with an agenda, or Republican rhetoric. Tell me why YOU think we should stay in Iraq. Or why you think that universal health care is bad. But you must establish yourself as a credible source. You must have that ethos. If you're spouting off what you've heard others say, without observing all angles, you're ignorant. But if you, after sincerely studying those issues, feel that way, more power to you. This is America. We can do what we want. We have hot dog eating contests broadcast on ESPN. We have the greatest basketball team in the world (I know it's preemptive, but it's true). We have world class swimmers that consume 12,000 calories per day. You can think how you'd like (even though you're wrong...)

And don't worry democrats, you're not off the hook. Just wait till I start posting about the DNC.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Overdue and Undercooked

Let me get the personal stuff out of the way...

#1. We are officially moved into our new place. It's still in Rexburg (sadly), but it's a nice place, a lot more room, air conditioning, a washer/dryer, and FULL UNBRIDLED ACCESS to the INTERNET!

#2. That being said, yours truly transported his entire apartment (which, contrary to what his father thinks, did NOT consist of 3 boxes) with naught but his God-given strength and a Chevy Tracker. That's right, that feeling you have is jealousy, and don't worry, it's normal.

#3. I need to finish some books. Right now, on my iPod, I have:

  • Obama Nation by Jerome R. Corsi
  • The Case Against Obama by David Fredosso
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks
  • Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman
  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
  • Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva

and that's not including the radio (Jim Rome, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and sometimes Dr. Laura). Ashley thinks I'm a dork (you need to have more music on there)

Now for the post.

The Introduction of the United States to Swimming?

I'm biased. I will say that first. I swam varsity for 4 years in high school, I played polo for my last 2 years, I swam for a semester here at college, and I'm anxiously awaiting for when I can get out of Rexburg to start swimming USS Masters. With that out of the way, I am very impressed with this year's coverage of swimming.

In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I didn't pay much attention. Probably because we didn't have cable, probably because I didn't care that much, but I didn't watch very much. In 2004, I was on my mission in Korea, and it really wasn't feasible to watch swimming. Yet this year, I've been absolutely drawn.

There's many different reasons why I'm drawn. Perhaps its because track doesn't start till later in the year. Or because Peter Vanderkaay, a dude I swam a few meets against (and got my butt slammed in), is in his 2nd straight Olympics. Maybe it's Dara Torres, 41 years old, winning a silver in the 4x100 relay. Maybe it's Brenden Hansen vs. Kosuke Kitajima in the 100m breaststroke for redemption. Or maybe, just maybe, it's one Michael Phelps going for 8 golds this year.

Every time Phelps swims, I'm intrigued. I'm drawn to the charisma he has when he swims, and the dominance he brings to the sport. Do I think he's going to do it? No. I think he'll tie Spitz's record, which is an achievement all in itself, but 8 will be difficult. I think he can do it in the individual events, and while he's got a Gold in the 4x100m relay (which was spec-friggin-tacular), it was a bit close. He's still got 2 more relays (4x200m freestyle relay, 4x100 medley relay). But the problem that's going to happen is the relays take the control out of your hands.

From a former swimmer, here's the perspective. When swimming individually, you have control. If you are Phelps, you can take the pace you want. You can start out fast, try to get people to chase and tire them out. You can have the flip turns the way you want, and when it's individual, you have the control over that last integral 25 meters.

In a relay, all you can do is cheer. You do your part, get out, and watch, and hope that they can keep up the pace you've set or the ground that you've made up. He doens't have control. And what would make me worried (if I were Phelps) was how close the 4x100m relay was.

So my prediction: Phelps will tie the record that Spitz set in the 72 Olympics in Munich, but won't get the 8 golds to give him the record.