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Saturday, March 05, 2011

This Week I Am Proud To Be a BYU Cougar 

The BYU Honor Code has been in the news a lot this week. The starting center of the basketball team, Brandon Davies, was suspended from the team for violating the Honor Code. Because BYU is ranked #3 in the nation and was in the discussion for possibly receiving a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, it was big news. It ran on just about every national news outlet. A couple of co-workers have asked me about it. Although most of the press and commentary I’ve seen have been positive, praising BYU for sticking to its principles even when it might mean sacrificing a deeper run in the tournament, there has been some controversy and criticism, even from among the BYU faithful.

I believe BYU handled this situation absolutely perfectly. It’s unfortunate that Davies got himself into this situation, though he should be applauded for coming forward himself. But given that it happened (whatever it was), BYU did the right thing by suspending him from the team quickly and decisively.

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to apply to only two colleges: BYU and Stanford. BYU was more of the safe bet, the sure thing, the comfort zone for a kid who had grown up in Salt Lake City. Stanford was the stretch, the prestigious national university for the smart kid I hoped I was. I was accepted by both. I seriously considered Stanford, and from the moment I got their acceptance package, I was kind of assuming I would go to Stanford. But then I went to Palo Alto for a campus visit. I was wowed by the beautiful architecture, the pervasive aura of intelligence and learning, and the sense of fun that the students all had. The thing that stuck with me most, though, were the advertisements around campus and the conversations among the students I talked to and observed, about a certain party that weekend – apparently sponsored, or at least condoned, by the school – called the Exotic Erotic. This party, as I came to understand it, was deliberately and overtly sexual in nature: you were supposed to “dress up” in some way for it, and the greater the proportion of your body was exposed by your costume, the better. I didn’t attend, obviously, and I don’t pretend to assert that everyone at Stanford attended either, but the scuttlebutt about it left an impression on me that was one of the biggest factors in my decision to attend BYU over Stanford.

When it came down to it, I chose BYU because I felt like I would be more comfortable there. I chose BYU because I wouldn’t have to worry about things like the Exotic Erotic happening. I chose BYU because I wanted to be with and associate with people who wouldn’t go to that kind of party. In short, I chose BYU because BYU has an Honor Code and it expects its students to live by it.

A lot of people – even a lot of BYU students and alumni – misunderstand the Honor Code. They think that it is a mechanism for enforcing righteousness. They see it as a Big Brother who is always watching out to make sure everyone keeps the commandments. They think it’s a means to take away personal freedom and your ability to make choices for yourselves. But as I understand it, the Honor Code has very different purpose that it almost entirely unrelated to keeping the commandments. The Honor Code exists to maintain a certain image and environment at BYU. It makes BYU a special, unique place, unlike any other. The Honor Code keeps things like the Exotic Erotic from happening at BYU.

Yes, a lot of the things the Honor Code requires are also required by God. The universe of sins and the universe of Honor Code violations substantially overlap. But there are sins that are not Honor Code violations (failing to read your scriptures, unkindness). And there are violations of the Honor Code that are not sins (staying in the apartment of a member of the opposite sex after midnight, growing a beard). The difference is that the requirements of the Honor Code serve to make BYU what it is. The requirements of God serve to lead you to eternal life.

So when Brandon Davies commits a sin (as has been widely reported, but never confirmed by any official source) that is also an Honor Code violation, BYU absolutely should punish him by kicking him off the basketball team. But the reason he should be kicked off the basketball team is not because he sinned. It’s because he can’t be an official representative of the university to the world when he’s not living the kind of life that is expected of everyone who goes to the university. The fact that he sinned is not the concern of the Honor Code office – that’s the concern of Brandon Davies and his bishop. When people react to the Honor Code Office as though it were the caretaker of Davies’s repentance process, they miss the point. Yes, we should show Christlike love toward sinners. Yes, Jesus almost defended the woman taken in adultery and told her he didn’t condemn her (but he also told her to sin no more). But those are the reactions that should be directed toward sin. The Honor Code Office is not concerned with sin or the repentance process or Davies’s eternal salvation. That’s not its function. Its function is to make sure BYU remains a very different institution from Stanford and every other university in the land – somewhere where the Exotic Erotic would never happen. Somewhere where people like me and the hundreds of thousands of other students who have passed through BYU since 1875 can be comfortable in living the kind of life we want to live.

I don’t understand when people say there’s something messed up with the Honor Code Office because it suspended Brandon Davies from the basketball team. Yes, it was very harsh in this particular situation because he’s a high-profile player on a high-profile sports team, and it’s heartbreaking that he’s been through the media wringer that he’s been through. But that’s not the Honor Code office’s fault. If he feels like he has a scarlet A pinned on him, he knows that he pinned it on himself. He knew the rules of BYU and he knew the consequences of breaking them and he agreed to abide by them. Then he broke them. No one forced him to come to BYU, but in choosing to do so, he was obliged to abide by the rules that make BYU what it is. In this situation, it’s more about keeping your commitment than anything else (something BYU is institutionally very big on – remember Karl Maeser’s chalk circle?).

In such a situation where a student violates the rules he has voluntarily committed to keep, the Honor Code Office could do one of the following things:

1) Don’t enforce the Honor Code.
2) Enforce the Honor Code for all students except athletes.
3) Enforce the Honor Code for all students except star athletes.
4) Enforce the Honor Code for all students except star athletes on nationally-ranked teams that are receiving coverage from national media outlets.
5) Enforce the Honor Code for all students equally.

Is there really a choice here? Choices 2, 3, and 4 are a double-standard (BYU has been criticized in the past for having a double-standard for athletes *cough*McMahon*cough, and to the extent there has been a double-standard, that is unjustifiable). And Choice 1 means that BYU is no different than any other university in the country – bring on the Exotic Erotic.

The only choice is to enforce the Honor Code for all students equally, and that is exactly what BYU did. Brandon Davies broke the rules, and he, like everyone else, has to live with the consequences. I suppose some might claim that the enforcement was too harsh – maybe he should have only been suspended for one game, or maybe he should have just had to write sentences on the chalkboard. But if the violation is what it is rumored to be, I agree with the decision that he should not be a representative of the university for the foreseeable future. At least until he gets his life turned around and starts living like everyone is expected to live at BYU.

I am proud to be a BYU Cougar this week because the Honor Code is getting so much press. I’m proud to be affiliated with an institution that sticks to the old-fashioned standard that says that it’s a desirable thing to be in a place where people don’t drink, smoke, or have extra-marital sex. I’m proud that BYU decided that maintaining its standards is more important than making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament (and remember, BYU just declared independence in football for one main reason: EXPOSURE. How much exposure do you think The Jimmer & Co. going to the Final Four would have garnered for BYU? But the university made a decision that makes that far less likely). I’m proud that national sports pundits are applauding BYU’s decision to stick to its standards, even when they don’t relate to or agree with them. I’m proud that BYU takes its role as an educational institution more seriously than its role as a provider of athletic entertainment – after all, do you think perhaps Davies and the rest of the team (and who knows who else from among those watching the proceedings) have learned something about making and keeping commitments and letting people down? I’m proud to be a Cougar.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Our Time-share Presentation 

Shelly and I took the family down to Williamsburg last weekend in response to an offer to listen to a time-share presentation in exchange for three nights' accommodations now and two nights' later on (we did have to pay $198 for the accommodations, $100 of which was refunded after the presentation). We went into the ordeal expecting the worst, as we'd heard several horror stories from others, but it turned out to be not that bad.

After getting the kids squared away downstairs in their child care center, we sat down at a table in a noisy room full of little tables with our sales agent, Clarissa, a nice old Swedish lady. I thought that perhaps the room was so crowded and noisy in an attempt to make sure we leaned forward to be able to hear what Clarissa was saying, thus engaging us and making us more likely to buy.

She explained some of the basic parameters of Diamond Resorts' time-share opportunity. You buy an ownership interest in a group of resorts throughout the US, but you get a partnership with other resorts worldwide, and there's a couple of other partner programs you can participate in, for example, to claim other people's fixed timeshares that they can't use for a particular week. The presentation, to tell the truth, was unnervingly disjointed. Clarissa kept pulling out all sorts of different brochures and not letting us take a close look at any of them, explaining all the different programs that we would get to participate in, but in the end, I don't think I could have correctly listed the programs we would be a part of. Instead, the presentation focused on just getting us excited to vacation more. We saw a video of beautiful childless couples golfing and sitting under a Hawaiian waterfall and so forth (I did note that most of the people in the movie who were giving testimonials were at least in their 50s), and we took a quick tour of an updated unit at the resort there in Williamsburg - it was nice, and I'd love to stay there.

I found myself falling for the pitch just a little bit. It would be fun to have access to all of these vacation options, I thought. But it would depend on how much we'd have to pay. Is it a good deal?

When her presentation was finally to the point where it was time for her to tell us how much it would cost, Clarissa got up and then came back to the table with a little flyer with some dollar figures on it. About thirty seconds later, Terelle, our "closer" who had been coming in and out and telling us how much he loves giving stuff away to people, swooped in and gently reprimanded Clarissa because he didn't want her to show us those prices. We are entitled to a better deal, we were told. It was totally and obviously staged. I rolled my eyes. Terelle came back with the actual offer: $10,800 up front, plus $770 per year for the rest of our lives and the rest of our children's lives and the rest of their children's lives, on and on for eternity.

I was actually surprised at the near-reasonableness of this price. The way the system works is that you get a certain number of "points" each year, which you then redeem for vacations. You can buy more points, of course, but we were looking at the lowest level, which was 3,000 points. The points, we were told, could even be used for airfare, rental cars, or even merchandise at Best Buy. Clarissa told us several times how convenient it was for her to fly her granddaughter from LA to Stockholm using her points. I asked her the logical question: What is the exchange rate between points and dollars when you use it for airfare? She said, "You know, I don't have any idea." Red siren lights started whirling over her head. You don't know whether it would have been a better deal for you to pay cash? I asked Terelle that question as he gave us our offer, and he indicated that for most things, one point converted to about 15 cents, but it also converted to 2.5 air miles. I don't know what an air mile is worth, but I do know that he was asking me to pay $10,000 plus $770 a year to get points that are worth $450 a year.

When he said, "How do you want to take care of the down payment today?" I laughed and said we need a moment to talk about it. I told Shelly I was surprised at how tempting the offer was. I said I wouldn't mind if they eliminated the up-front cost and only charged us the annual cost; Shelly said she wouldn't mind the annual cost if they only charged us the up-front cost. But when you put the two together, given how much we usually spend on vacation lodgings in a year, we figured it would take us at least 15 years to break even. And yes, we would have this for more than 15 years. But it just didn't feel like it was worth it. Particularly when the benefits weren't explained to us logically, and we had not yet seen a piece of paper listing out the contract we would be making. So we said no.

Terelle came back with a second offer that he claimed to "need to get an exception for." (Yeah, right.) 3,000 points per year for $8,500 or so up front and $660 per year. That's a better offer. And Terelle had thrown in (from the beginning) two free week-long vacations and a three-night cruise and $1000 in "travel vouchers" (whatever that is). But we still said no.

To their credit, the only slightly mean thing the Diamond Resorts people ever said was as Terelle was walking away after our second rejection, he said, "That [meaning the $8000] is the same amount you're going to pay for one trip to Disney [World]. One trip!" He may be right, but I'm not locked into paying Disney several hundred dollars a year for the rest of my mortal life.

We spent a total of four hours at our allegedly "90-minute presentation."

When we got our voucher for the additional two nights' stay, it was so full of restrictions that we thanked our lucky stars we hadn't made another deal with these guys without seeing all the fine print. The farther away we get from the presentation, the more sure we are that we made the correct decision. They touted the main selling point of this timeshare program as its flexibility - you can go just about anywhere and do just about anything. But you know what is even more flexible than Diamond Resorts Points? Cash. And I think in the end, we'll go on all the vacations we want, and we'll spend less cash than we would have had we signed up. It was a good experience to have, and I don't regret the deal we made to listen to them in exchange for lodging, but I'm not so sure I'll ever do this again. Maybe when I'm old and rich like the people in the movie they showed us.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Interbirthday Day 

Today is the day that I can wish both of my big girls a happy birthday. Ellie's birthday was yesterday and Annie's is tomorrow. As we suspected from the moment when Annie's C-section was scheduled for two days after Ellie's birthday, both of them would end up celebrating their birthdays together on November 5 for years to come (at least till they're teenagers who can't stand each other).

So happy birthday to my sweet Ellie and my precious Annie! You two light up my life.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The First College Football Post of 2010 

It's been an interesting summer for college football fans like myself, but it never got more interesting than this past week when rumors started circulating on Wednesday that BYU was about to go independent in football and join the WAC in its other sports. I was trying to work from home at the time, and glanced at the headline, and my productivity dropped off steeply at that point. But the plan unraveled when the MWC, afraid of losing its cash cow, invited Fresno State and Nevada, who promptly accepted. It appears they first invited Utah State, but they turned the offer down because just last week the eight WAC schools had gotten together and pledged loyalty to one another, even going so far as to sign a contract with a $5 million penalty for leaving. I guess that didn't stop Fresno and Nevada. This leaves the WAC with six teams, and on the verge of death. I, like everyone else, have been thinking a lot about what might happen.

The first question is what BYU is going to do. It sounds like they're pretty serious about their intent to go independent, to leverage their national audience and their high-tech broadcast facilities and their already-on-60-million-people's-TVs cable network (something Texas can only dream of at this point). But they need somewhere for their other sports. The only serious options I've heard are a revived WAC, the MWC itself, or the West Coast Conference, which doesn't play football anyway, along with the likes of Gonzaga, Pepperdine, and St. Mary's.

A lot of the negative commentary I've seen, particularly from national writers, is that BYU is delusional if it thinks this is the way to a national championship. And they're right. This is not the way to a national championship, or even to better access to the BCS. The thing that people don't understand is that this is mostly about exposure. BYU is currently languishing on the Mtn., a stupid little cable channel that was the sole reason I got DirecTV a couple of years ago, but which I really don't enjoy. Not only is it not available to very many Americans, its production values are horrible. They might as well not be playing for all the exposure they get on the Mtn. When you're not on TV, you practically don't exist. I truly believe one of the reasons Boise State is doing so well in national perceptions lately is that they've benefitted from the WAC's contract with ESPN. They were on TV several times last season. They're in for a rude awakening when they join the MWC next year.

BYU is an arm of the LDS Church, and because of that, everything it does needs to be somehow related to the mission of the Church. The football program brings a lot of exposure to the university and the church, and highlights the clean lifestyles these young men live. It's a great public relations tool, if not a missionary tool. BYU just wants to get the football team out in front of more people to make this mission more successful.

And of course, there is the element of money. I would guess that exposure is the number one reason for going independent, but money is number two. BYU makes a paltry $1.5 million a year from the Mtn. TV deal. It has apparently talked to ESPN about brokering three or four games a year for an independent BYU, paying out about $1 million per game. That way, BYU doesn't even have to run advertising on BYUTV to show the other games - they're still way ahead of where they are in the MWC. ESPN likes BYU - we bring in ratings. And big-time teams will come play BYU if they're on ESPN. The Oklahoma and Tulane games last year were both brokered by ESPN just as much as they were by the schools' athletic departments.

The main problems I see with the idea of independence are 1) scheduling, and 2) bowl games. The proposed deal with the WAC took a lot of the pressure off of scheduling, as BYU would have agreed to play four to six WAC teams each year (including Utah State, who they were playing every year anyway). Add in an annual game with Utah, perhaps a new series with Notre Dame (they've said it would definitely be a possibility, especially late in the season when independents have a tough time finding opponents because everyone's thick into their conference schedules), and consider the fact that we've already got a four-game series lined up with Boise State and a brand new three-game series with Texas*, and you've only got two to four more games to find. Certainly there will be two to four Pac-12, Big 12, or other teams willing to play BYU - especially if it's on ESPN. I would hope that they would talk to Navy, one of the other independents, for a regular series, because I want to be able to see the Cougs in Annapolis.

As for bowl games, that would be more problematic. They'd probably have to scrape around for leftovers or perhaps even be shut out of a bowl for the first year or two, before they could line something up with a bowl game like Notre Dame, Army, and Navy have done. I would support getting in with pretty much any bowl game in California, Arizona, or Texas, especially the Holiday Bowl. Wouldn't that be a great venue to return to?

As things sit now, here are a couple of scenarios that I could see happening:

1. BYU stays put in all sports. With BYU, Fresno State, and Nevada, the MWC will have 11 teams. There's a decent chance they might make a grab for one more to be able to have a championship game (perhaps Houston, or, if they're lucky, Utah State). BYU would be fine, but they'd be stuck in that awful TV deal, and the MWC with that lineup isn't going to become a BCS conference. So basically things would continue in the decent-but-not-nearly-as-good-as-they-could-be way they are now.

2. The WAC folds. This might happen regardless of what BYU does. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the WAC, so I'll be sad to see it go. But it only has six teams now, and some of them are looking elsewhere. It appears that Utah State is trying to get a mulligan on its turn-down of the MWC (apparently the $5 million penalty doesn't apply now that FSU and UNR left). If I'm Louisiana Tech, I'm calling up C-USA and the Sun Belt so I don't have to be linked to all these western schools anymore. Hawaii is rumored to be pondering its own independence, banking on a lot of teams wanting to come to the islands in order to get that revenue-generating 13th regular-season game. They could have an 8- or 9-game home schedule. One scenario I saw had BYU playing AT Hawaii every year. Works for them because they don't have to travel; works for us because we recruit in Polynesia and we'd get that 13th game every year (of course, then we'd have to find someone to fill it). New Mexico State, Idaho, and San Jose State appear to be left out in the lurch. I don't know what will befall them if the WAC folds. The MWC probably won't take them.

3. BYU goes independent and joins the WCC in all other sports. Rumor has it the WCC wants BYU. We fit in culturally, as a religious school - they probably wouldn't have a problem with BYU's no-Sunday-play rule like the Pac-12 or Big 12. But athletically, I could see the Gonzaga or St. Mary's men's basketball teams beating BYU every now and then, but other than that, would any other BYU team lose a single conference game ever? I think BYU would get tired of pounding the likes of San Diego and Portland, and those guys would get tired of getting pounded. Plus, it knocks BYU's prestige down a little. I once thought this was a good idea, but I'm turning against it.

4. BYU goes independent in football and stays in the MWC for everything else. I don't know if this is a viable option, as the MWC has tight control over TV rights, and one of the reasons for independence was to get that control back in BYU's hands. The WAC reportedly was offering BYU free reign with that. Plus, now that BYU has told everyone it's interested in leaving, there may be a bit of bad blood (especially from TCU, who seems to hate BYU beyond reason for no reason). Would they want to keep us? It would be good for the other sports, and if we could arrange to play four to six MWC teams a year in football (I'd vote for CSU, UNM, and Wyoming, just to keep those really old relationships alive), that would be great. But I don't see this one happening.

5. The WAC expands and BYU goes there in non-football sports. This one might have legs, but I don't know where the WAC can pick up additional teams. It appears the best candidates right now are all 1-AA schools like Texas State, UT-San Antonio, and Montana. That's not the most prestigious thing you could do, and it's not like the world needs more "have-nots" in the world of big-time football, but if it keeps the conference alive, then I guess it's OK.

My personal hope is that the WAC nabs New Mexico and San Diego State. BYU wins because the WAC could take their other teams, and that would increase the WAC's basketball cred, which is great for BYU because we'd be there mostly for the basketball. The WAC wins because it gets to stay alive, and it would give SJSU and NMSU in-state in-conference rivals in the WAC. The MWC wins because the thing that is most likely to keep it from becoming a BCS conference when the evaluation period is up in two years isn't the fact that the top teams aren't good enough; it's the fact that the bottom teams are really really lousy. SDSU and UNM are the two worst teams in the MWC in football, so jettisoning them is actually in the MWC's BCS interests. (And it doesn't really hurt the WAC in that regard, because, let's face it, they were never in the running to become a BCS conference, even when Boise State was on board.) The only problem is that I can't see why SDSU and UNM would do it, except maybe to get those in-state rivals (but I'm not sure how much they want them) or to stay with BYU. But let's try to make this happen. It's way better than Texas State.

6. BYU convinces the Big 12 to let it join for non-football sports. This is a total pipe dream, but wouldn't it be cool? They wouldn't need to intrude on the delicate revenue-sharing balance the Big 12 struck this summer to preserve its own existence, because they wouldn't be involved in football. (But if they could get a commitment for a certain number of games a year, that would be just awesome.) Plus, when the time comes that Texas decides to do something different (like maybe follow BYU's example and strike out on its own as an independent) and the Big 12 implodes, or when they realize that it's weird to have a conference called the "Big 12" when there are only 10 teams in it and they look to expand, BYU is already sitting right there. I suspect part of BYU's motivation for independence in the first place was to audition for a place in the Big 12. If they can show them how valuable a media property BYU is just by itself, then a big-time conference can't pass that up. Here's betting it works. I bet if BYU goes independent in 2011, they'll be part of a BCS conference (probably the Big 12, but it might be some new one rising from the dust of the demise of the Big 12, and it might even be the Pac-16 when that happens) by 2016.

7. Some major non-BCS realignment happens. With the WAC in disarray, and with the MWC allegedly talking to C-USA about an inter-league championship game for an automatic BCS spot (not going to happen), the ripples are not going to stay in the far west. I could see major conference realignment, with all sorts of teams joining up and moving around until everyone has the home they think they want. I was going to try to post an imagined scenario, but it's just too hard to predict. I suspect not even the MAC will remain completely unscathed by the ramifications of BYU's independence. C-USA and the Sun Belt definitely will, I think.


Well, those are about all the thoughts I have for now. I'm excited to watch this play out. I hope it all works out for the best for BYU, and that we can get the exposure and results we want. I wish the best for Utah State too, after their lobbying for BYU within the WAC and their integrity to stick to their commitments. I will never cheer for Fresno State or Nevada to win another game, except maybe when they play teams from BCS conferences (my hatred of the BCS is still stronger than my newfound disgust with Fresno's and Nevada's backstabbing). And as long as I'm saying stuff like that, although it's not relevant to anything else in this post, I hope Utah beats all its nonconference opponents and finishes in the middle-to-bottom of the MWC this year (maybe 7-5 overall and 3-5 in-conference would be about right), then goes to the Rose Bowl next year as the Pac-12 champion, and then never ever wins another game against anyone ever from then on.

* I thought it was great that in the midst of all this uncertainty about BYU's future and its viability as an independent, there suddenly came this announcement that Texas and BYU have agreed to a home-and-home series in 2013 and 2014 to go along with their already-scheduled game in 2011. SDSU's coach said, "Who's going to play BYU now?" A couple of hours later, one of the country's premier football programs said, "We will." Classic. This proves that BYU will be able to schedule the big boys when it wants to.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

I am an iPhone Owner 

After several years of thinking and preparing and cajoling, I have finally convinced Shelly to let me have a grown-up toy. I got an iPhone 4.

I've had my eye on some sort of smartphone - and the iPhone in particular - for a very long time now. I've sort of been waiting until the technology had progressed to the point where I could have one gadget that could serve as a phone, email machine, camera, GPS unit, iPod, etc. all in one. I decided that the iPhone 4 is at least good enough, and it turns out that it is.

I was actually able to nab on on opening day, June 24, with no real problem. I was calling around to various stores in the area that were rumored to have them, when the Radio Shack in the local mall told me that they'd be happy to take my name and phone number a couple of days in advance, and if they got enough iPhones, they could set one aside for me. Well, the day before the big release, Radio Shack called and asked me to be there at 9 am when they opened the next morning. Fortunately, I didn't have much to do at work that day, so showing up late was fine.

At Radio Shack, everything went smoothly, except that the lady tried to force me (and each of the other four people there - they didn't get too many iPhones) to purchase not one, but two cases for the phone. I told her I didn't want a case, and I argued with her enough that she gave me one of them for free. I went back to a different Radio Shack a couple of days later and returned the other one for a full refund.

I got the phone and headed directly to work. I called Shelly to tell her I was successful, and after a couple of minutes, the call dropped. Welcome to AT&T, I thought. But as it turns out, I now believe my early call-dropping problems (that wasn't the only time) were more Apple's fault than AT&T's. Apple has recognized that there is a glitch with the antenna design, where it will have bad reception if you touch it in the most natural way to hold a phone during a call. So I guess it's a good thing I was forced to get a case - Apple has now announced they're giving them away for free to correct the reception problem.

So now I have a great toy, and life will really never be quite the same again. I can check my email whenever I want (it's actually even made my work life less stressful, not more, because I can check and be confident that I'm up to date with what people want from me, as opposed to just sitting there in ignorance, hoping no one is waiting for me to respond to something). I can play silly games while I'm waiting or sitting. I can know when the next metro train is coming to my station and therefore know whether I need to run to make it or not (I hate arriving in the station to see my train just pulling away, and the next one won't come for 6 minutes). I can Google anything with my voice. I can (and did) prepare a Sunday School lesson while we're at a water park. When Shelly was shopping for a new jacket and there was no mirror nearby, I just turned on the front-facing camera, and she looked at herself in the screen of the phone.

And boy, oh boy, do the girls love it too. In fact, I am not sure who loves the iPhone more: me or Ellie. As I type right now, Ellie is playing a little game on it. The new question I get all the time (from both big girls) is "Daddy, can I do something on your phone?" The favorite app is a paper doll princess thing where the girls can dress up a princess. There are even some slightly educational ones I'm trying to get them to use more often.

Even Shelly is beginning to love it more and more. Last night, we were watching a movie, and I asked her to pause it so I could run in to the bathroom for a quick break. As soon as I got there, Shelly called to me, "Why did you take your phone with you?" She wanted to play with it while I was indisposed. (She apparently doesn't realize that indisposed time is prime iPhoning time.) She also recently asked me if there was an app for recipes. Sheesh. In the next ten minutes I downloaded nine free recipe apps. Maybe this device will soon help us eat better too!

So I'm open to suggestions for apps I should get, and if there's anyone else out there with an iPhone 4 who wants to try out the FaceTime video-calling feature, please let me know!

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Boise State and the Mountain West 

I have been known to write all sorts of things about one of my favorite sports, college football, here on this blog. But I generally only do so during the September-to-January timeframe. But this is no ordinary June in the world of college football. The paradigm has been blasted this week, with all sorts of conference realignment going on. Colorado signed up with the Pac-10, which is reported to have an invitation out to Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, which would make it a superconference, probably known as the Pac-16. Nebraska has left the Big 12 for the Big Ten (as of this moment, due to Colorado and Nebraska's defections, the Big 12 has ten members, and the Big Ten has 12 members!). The SEC may be courting A&M. The Big 12 may stay intact and invite a Mountain West school or two (or not) to stay in business. If (as looks more likely) the Big 12 falls apart, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri (who thought they were going to be invited to the Big Ten, but apparently aren't), and Baylor will be left hanging, and may be snatched up by the MWC, the Big East, or C-USA. The Big Ten also has its eyes on Notre Dame (as always), Syracuse, Pitt, and Rutgers, among possible others. The SEC may raid the ACC and/or the Big East to get to 16 teams to compete with the new Pac-16 and a 16-team version of the Big Ten. It's all a little crazy right now, and frankly, it's exciting for a fan of the sport like me.

But I want to talk specifically about one conference realignment move that was made yesterday afternoon: Boise State accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference.

I see why both sides did it: The MWC is trying to position itself to become a BCS conference - to join the cartel, in other words. By adding BSU, they get credit for their great accomplishments the last couple of years in the formula that will be used in 2012 to reevaluate which conferences get to be part of the cartel. Boise is doing it because they want to be part of the cartel too, and the MWC is a better ticket to do that than the WAC. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's the philosophy of both the MWC and Boise State, and they are more likely to join 'em if they join forces with each other than they were alone. So that's why they did it.

But I don't like the move for five reasons.

1) First and foremost it decimates the WAC. There aren't any other good teams in the WAC (Fresno State and Hawaii are the next-best), so the gap between the haves and the have-nots - especially if BSU and the MWC succeed in joining the haves - just got a lot wider. Never again will there be two simultaneous BCS-busters like there were this past year, because all the legitimate candidates will be in the same conference (until that conference joins the cartel, anyway, then there won't be any legitimate candidates). These mega-conferences that appear to be forming are ominously leading up to some sort of playoff scenario (good) where the champions of the mega-conferences get in, and the little guys left behind, like the WAC, will be completely shut out (very bad). The discrimination inherent in the BCS system will only get worse. Maybe if the Big 12 leftovers get snatched up by C-USA, that conference can remain viable. Otherwise, goodbye WAC, C-USA, MAC, and Sun Belt. See you in the FCS (the former Division I-AA).

2) As a BYU fan, I don't want to have to play Boise every year. They're too good. I like to cheer for Boise, and I like to cheer for BYU. I don't like it when two teams I like have to play each other.

3) The MWC was the perfect size: 9 teams. That way, you play 8 conference games and 4 non-conference games. You play every team in your conference every year. Now we're either going to have to scrap one non-conference game (which I'm not interested in doing - it's fun to have games against Florida State and Oklahoma, as BYU did last year, and we've got this silly little thing where we have to play stupid ol' Utah State every year so that takes up one non-conference game each year) or else you miss playing one team from your conference. I don't know if I could handle a BYU season where we don't play our longtime conference rivals like Colorado State, Air Force, or New Mexico. And if this affects the BYU-Utah game, all heck will break loose in the state of Utah (it won't - they'll make sure that game gets played every year, but is that fair to, say, TCU, whose main rival, SMU, is not in the conference, or to San Diego State, about whom no one gives two hoots, rival-wise?).

4) I don't think it really will help Boise State as much as they think it will. They've been doing just fine in the WAC. In fact, you could argue that no team in the country has benefitted more from the evil BCS system than Boise State. They just keep tromping through the weak WAC and winning the occasional BCS game. They've gone from obscure nobodies to a national power in just a few years thanks to the weakness of the WAC and the evils of the BCS. Not a bad life. Now they're going to lose a game or two a year to BYU, TCU, and/or Utah, and we'll see how they like it then.

5) If the MWC joins the cartel, as the Boise State move is intended to help it do, how can I rail against the cartel when my favorite team is IN the cartel? Is it a morally correct move for a religious school like BYU to be part of such an evil system? Lotsa conscience searching if that happens.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ariel v. Belle 

As mentioned earlier, Ellie fell in love with Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" a few months ago. She and her sister Annie are still completely obsessed with it.* A couple of weeks ago we borrowed a copy of "The Little Mermaid," to try to expand their Disney horizons. They like it, but it's not as big a favorite as "Beauty and the Beast."

And with good reason. Re-watching both these films after having been borderline obsessed with them myself as a teenager when they were new, I am reminded why Belle is a much better person than Ariel, and therefore why "Beauty and the Beast" is a much better movie than "The Little Mermaid." Yep, I'm breaking my month-plus blogging silence by debating the relative merits of 20-year-old cartoons.

Here it is in a nutshell: Belle thinks about, is concerned about, and makes sacrifices for other people; Ariel is one of the most self-centered characters in the Disney pantheon.

Think about it. The whole conceit of the plot for "Beauty and the Beast" is based on the fact that Belle is so full of love for her father that she chooses to live the rest of her life in a dungeon, held captive by a monstrous, roaring, violent beast (or so she thought at the time she made the decision), so her father doesn't have to. In contrast, the whole plot of "The Little Mermaid" is based on Ariel forsaking everyone and everything she supposedly cares about so she can try out the notion in her head that it would be cool to be a human. Belle quite literally gives her life for her father; Ariel purposely and defiantly disobeys her father's most stern and ardent warnings and commands, which directly leads to him having to literally give his life for her.**

Other examples of Belle's charity abound throughout the movie:
- She is in the process of escaping from the castle when she's beset by wolves. The Beast, following her, fights them off, but is seriously hurt in the battle. Instead of continuing her flight, Belle actually turns back and nurses the Beast back to health***, for a second time literally choosing to give up her freedom to help someone else (this time someone she is afraid of and wants to escape from - it's one thing to give up your life for your father; it's another to do it for your enemy).

- Upon learning that her father is sick, she asks for permission and leaves the Beast - whom by this time she has grown to love - to help him, thus giving up a chance at happiness to go back to the poor provincial town where she is clearly not happy and will never find love.

- When Gaston leads a lynch mob to kill the Beast, Belle risks her life to go back to him and warn him.
And so on. In contrast, here is the complete compendium of instances where Ariel does something - anything - that might benefit someone else instead of herself:
- When she sees Sebastian on Grimsby's dinner plate, she beckons for him to hide on her plate.
That's it.

As far as selfish actions go, Ariel is constantly disobeying her father by going up to the surface, and collecting human whosits and whatsits galore. She makes fun of her best friend Flounder. She pretty much tells Sebastian to take a hike every time he tries to keep her out of trouble. The quintessential image of her is when she swims off with Flotsam and Jetsam (the eels, who she knows are trouble) to meet Ursula, her nose high, her eyes shut, and an insult on her lips for Sebastian, who is trying to help her. Heck, when we first meet her, she's forgotten that she's the star of a royal concert, because she thinks it would be more fun to go explore a sunken ship instead.

Belle does take some self-centered actions. She goes into the West Wing because her curiosity gets the better of her. Oh, and she decides that marrying Gaston is not a sacrifice of her own happiness for the sake of someone else's happiness that she is willing to make.

Beyond the specific selfless or selfish actions taken by each heroine, the themes and messages of the movies are starkly different.

"The Little Mermaid" seems to be teaching us to dream the most wild and crazy dream you can, and do whatever it takes to follow that dream, even if it means alienating, defying, hurting, and abandoning the people who love you. It'll all work out in the end, and you'll live happily ever after even if they don't, and that's all that matters.

In contrast, the theme of "Beauty and the Beast" is that we can all change from bad to good, and we can learn to love someone who at first doesn't seem worthy of love because everyone has something about them that is worthy of love, if we can just take the time to see it and draw it out of them. If you devote yourself to someone else and love them despite their faults, you can be happy together.****

Which character do you think I'd rather have my daughters emulate? Which lesson would I rather have them learn?

* Annie will constantly ask us completely out of the blue, "Why did Gaston lock Belle in the dungeon?" Cute, but after the 500th time of responding by paraphrasing Gaston's own words, "Because he can't have her running off to warn the creature!," a little exasperating.

** If you're foggy on the plot, as I was after 20 years, after Ariel fails to get Prince Eric to kiss her by Ursula's deadline, she becomes the property of Ursula, turning into one of those creepy little worm-like creatures featured in the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls." When King Triton finds out, he plays right into Ursula's hand, offering himself and his kingdom in exchange for Ariel - just like Belle did for her father - and becomes a poor unfortunate soul himself.

*** The big puzzler from "Beauty and the Beast": How does little old Belle get that ginormous Beast onto the back of her horse Philippe to take him back to the castle?

**** I also find it interesting that the villian in "Beauty and the Beast," Gaston, is bad mostly because he is uncharitable. He's not power-hungry or even necessarily evil for the sake of evil like most cartoon villains are (such as Ursula). He just wants to impose his will on Belle, and later, the Beast, regardless of what they think. While it's true that his brand of selfishness is a little different from Ariel's - he is vain and narcissistic whereas Ariel is simply unconcerned with others' feelings - I think Gaston and Ariel would have gotten along pretty well. Can't you just see her sitting beside those blonde airheads, singing, "He's such a tall, dark, strong, and handsome brute!"?

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Diversity on the Court Revisited 

I first posted the following in September 2005, when Sandra Day O'Connor was being replaced on the Supreme Court. Now that John Paul Stevens has announced his retirement, I think it's time once again to think carefully about the issues I raised nearly five years ago. I won't bother re-writing the essay to fit the current situation. Just read it and consider your position on the issues.


I was pleased to read the other day that President Bush said, in reference to his choosing a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, that "diversity is one of the great strengths of this country." He couldn't be more right, and I hope he will have the courage to act on his words.

The Supreme Court Justices, as we all know, were intended by the Founding Parents-of-Unspecified-Gender to be representatives of the people who would, in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein, understand "the problems real people have out there." Their personal characteristics and attributes come into play again and again as they decide weighty issues of civil procedure, ripeness, vicarious liability, and Commerce Clause power. It's obvious that the Justices first look to themselves and then to the people when judging cases, and not to some defined standard, as though it were written down on some yellowed piece of parchment.

That's why I'm a fervent supporter of true diversity on the Court. I'm pleased that in recent decades, Presidents have had the courage to nominate Justices who broke the mold of highly educated white men. We've expanded the panoply of Justices to include two highly educated black men and two highly educated white women.

But President Bush shouldn't stop there. Because it's so essential that the Supreme Court reflect the diversity of the nation, we now need a Justice who represents a larger cross-section of society than even the Justices we already have.

That's right. We need a stupid person on the Court.

Ever since John Jay was named the first Chief Justice, the Supreme Court has been the exclusive realm of very smart people. But most of the population in America isn't nearly that intelligent. The vast majority of Americans don't even know how to pronounce certiorari, let alone know what it means. How can these Smarty Pantses in black robes empathize with and stand up for the American people when the magnitude of ther intellects is so disparate from those of the people they are supposed to represent?

By restricting his choices to Ivy League-educated sharp thinkers, Bush will be neglecting those people who don't know much about the law. These people need representation on the Court. You might argue that intelligence is necessary to do a Justice's job. But I say, along with Feinstein and all the diversity-lovers, that a Justice's job isn't thinking--it's relating.

The most important quality of the Supreme Court is the way in which it reflects the demographics of our great nation. I call on President Bush to nominate someone who, like millions of Americans, never went to college. Someone who doesn't know the difference between who and whom. Someone who has never read the Constitution in his or her life.

This someone will be the greatest asset the Court could have. Because when the average American brings his case to the highest court in the land (never mind that he's doing it through his intelligent lawyer), he can look up at the nine faces on the bench, and know that, amid all the brainpower in the room, at least one of them knows exactly how he's feeling right now: absolutely and profoundly clueless.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Crying Foul 

On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz beat the Oklahoma City Thunder (the Zombie Sonics) by one point in overtime. As time was expiring in overtime, Kevin Durant of the Thunder launched a three-point shot and C.J. Miles of the Jazz put his hand up to block the shot. It looked like Miles got a piece of Durant's arm, but no foul was called. The ball fell harmlessly to the floor. Game over.

Wednesday, the NBA issued a statement saying that the referee messed up and should have called a foul on Miles. That would have meant that Durant, an excellent free-throw shooter, would have received three free throws and OKC probably would have won the game.

I don't understand why the NBA issued the statement. What possible good could come from the league saying, "Sorry, this call was wrong."? There are a lot of botched calls in every game every night. There were certainly other botched calls in this particular game that could have swung it either way (it was, after all, an overtime game, so even one additional free throw made in regulation by either team would have won it for them, or one fewer would have lost it). Do the league bigwigs think the statement will make Durant and the Thunder okay with the fact that they had a loss when they could have/should have had a win? "Oh, well, since the NBA recognizes it really was a foul, the fact that this loss drops us a spot or two in the playoff seedings really doesn't matter," they say. Was it intended to send a message to referees - sort of like a training exercise? If that's the case, why was it made public, and not just conveyed to the refs? Did they want to make the Jazz and Miles feel bad?

The only possible results from releasing the statement that I can see are: 1) it makes the Thunder angrier, 2) it de-legitimizes the playoff seeding of both the Jazz and the Thunder, and 3) it reduces everyone's - the players', the coaches', the fans', and the refs' - confidence in the refs' ability to get calls right. All three of those results are bad.

So even though it really was a foul, the NBA should have kept its mouth shut. Crying foul in this instance does nobody any good, and it does a lot of people a lot of harm.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010


It's time for some revisionist history. Or, rather, for incorrect notions to be corrected. After thinking about my last post, bemoaning the fact that Shelly beat me at March Madness yet again, I decided to check the record.

In fact, Shelly has NOT beaten me at March Madness every single year since 2003. I beat her in 2008. Here is the evidence.

And frankly, I'm not so sure we filled out brackets in 2003 - we weren't living in the same city, and we were pretty caught up with realizing that we both liked each other. So Shelly's record, for the record, is 6-1, maybe 7-1. But she is not undefeated. Her current streak stands at two years. And next year, I'll get my second win.

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