Archive for December, 2007

20
Dec
07

Nashville to Norway, Bonaire to Zimbabwe, Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back!

I think as a nation we struggle with thinking outside of the borders of our own country. Try this and prove me wrong:

http://www.travelpod.com/traveler-iq?d0f2=b860

Thanks to some of the most incredible luck I’ve ever experienced in my young life, I made it to level 10. I should have been stopped at about level 5. It depressed me how many countries I sadly had very little familiarity with. Oh well, it’s a good work distraction nonetheless.

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19
Dec
07

The Economics of Christmas

Let me pose to you a question:

Say you have two pairs of pants. The first pair of pants you found on a discount rack, and they’re the latest fashion. Because they’re so trendy, you don’t want to wear them too much, so you wear them about once a month or less, and after about a year, they’re out of style, and you banish them to the part of your closet where you keep old Christmas sweaters given to you by your crazy grandma. The second pair are a bit more expensive, in fact, they’re a LOT more expensive. They’re a really nice pair of jeans, but they’re functional, and they become your “all the time” jeans, and you wear them about once a week, and they last you two years. Let’s say the first pair cost you $20, and the second pair cost $150. What’s the smarter purchase? Well, even though the second pair is 750% more expensive than the first pair, you’d probably be better off with the expensive ones. If you calculate it out, figuring how much each wearing will cost you, you’re looking at $1.66 each time for the trendy pair, and $1.44 for the durable, wearable pair.

So what am I getting at? Nothing, really. I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about the real value of things. Does that mean I’m trying to convince you all to shop at Dolce & Gabbana instead of Old Navy? Of course not. Anyone who knows me knows that the day I spend more than $40 on a piece of clothing there’ll be snowball fights in Hell– that’s not it. The thing I’ve been thinking about lately is this: we all know Christmas is too commercialized, and so much is focused on presents and material goods, and we all will say that’s not the real meaning of Christmas–but if we’re honest with ourselves, unless we own solar panels and clothing made out of wheat, we’re not going to stop Christmas shopping all together. So if we are going to buy gifts, how can we maximize value and minimize waste in a nation that is notorious for being the most wasteful in the world?

Consider this example: let’s say when you were a baby, on Christmas your distant uncle, let’s call him Melchior, gives you a gift of… oh, frankincense, which in case you don’t know, is an aromatic tree resin used to make incense. You, the helpless infant, have no use for said tree resin, and it ends up in a shoe box under your bed for six years, and you get never get any use out of it. So even if Uncle Melchior spent $300 on the frankincense, because you didn’t get any use out of it, he might as well have burnt the cash.

Now, let’s say instead of the frankincense, Uncle Melchior goes to Babys ‘R’ Us, and gets mom and (step)dad a $300 gift card, which they use on diapers, baby clothes, and things you actually need. Now, Uncle Melchy has still spent the same amount, but wouldn’t you say he’s used his money more efficiently? I would.

So does that mean I think we should all just exchange gift cards on Christmas? Honestly, I don’t know. Many Americans seem to think so, because sales of gift cards have gone through the roof, up to $80 billion in 2006. However, 8 of those 80 billion, economists assert, will never be redeemed. So there’s waste there, too. How do you get rid of the waste? What’s the answer? A stocking full of cash? A bunch of people sitting on Christmas morning, sipping hot cocoa and saying, “Merry Christmas, here’s how many dollars I would have spent on you had I bought you something that maybe you wouldn’t have liked”? Not a very meaningful holiday celebration, if you ask me.

So which is the better alternative? Honestly…? I dunno. I guess telling people what you do want for Christmas can minimize the potential for waste, but for a person like me, who loves to go out of their way to find that perfect gift for someone, there’s not much fun in turning Christmas shopping into something closer to grocery shopping. Maybe this is a symptom of an over-commercialized culture. Maybe it’s the result of a culture that produces families that are too busy to sit down and talk to each other, and as a result don’t really know each other anymore. Maybe it’s just a holiday tradition that we partake in, and it shouldn’t be that big a deal. The only thing I know is that I don’t know the answer.

So… what do you think?

14
Dec
07

Mighty Casey has struck out.

Gary Sheffield. Eric Gagné. Troy Glaus. David Justice. Kevin Brown. Mo Vaughn. Miguel Tejada. Chuck Knoblauch. Andy Pettitte. Jose Canseco. Jason Giambi. Mark McGuire. Ken Caminiti. Rafael Palmiero. Benito Santiago. Roger Clemens. Barry Bonds.

What do they all have in common? Well for starters, their respective careers, spanning the past few decades, have not only produced mind-boggling statistics, World Series victories, MVP awards, Gold Gloves, and Rookie of the Year awards, but they’ve also helped shape the sport of baseball and influenced the way the game is played. These names have sold tickets, they’ve inspired little leaguers, they’ve sold peanuts and hot dogs. Cards with the pictures of these men on them have clicked in the spokes of bicycles on streets across the nation.

And now, it seems it was all for naught.

These names also all appeared in former Senator George Mitchell’s investigative report on the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. That means each and every one of these players–these heroes, these role models–weren’t being honest with us. Barry Bonds? Sure, we all knew about that. But Clemens and Pettitte? For sports fans across the nation, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under us.

Now, thanks to Mitchell’s report, baseball is a mess. It was already on its way there, Mitchell just brought it all into the public eye. The shocking part about it is that all the information in Mitchell’s 400-plus page report came without the use of a single subpoena–that means that he didn’t have to force this information out of anyone, it was just out there to be gathered as long as you asked the right people, which is exactly what Mitchell did. It also means that there’s a lot of baseball players that are sitting at home tonight thanking their lucky stars that Mitchell didn’t use subpoenas, or else their reputation would be tarnished, too.

So what now? Well, for starters it’s safe to say the next few years in baseball are going to tell us a lot about the future of professional sports. You don’t have to look too far (Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Kobe Bryant, O.J. Simpson, Darryl Strawberry… need I go on?) to see that athletes these days seem to perceive themselves as above the law, whether or not they get caught, and it’s that attitude above all things that needs to be changed. If baseball can genuinely turn it around– if players can learn from this, and start to remember that baseball is a game, then there may still be hope for the sport’s future. And if baseball can turn it around, then maybe the other professional sports leagues in our nation will be able to look to the MLB as an example that it is possible to play sports without doing anything illegal.  We can only hope.

Baseball players need to also remember that ultimately they are in the business of entertainment, and thus they are indebted to their fans, (there would be no World Series if nobody cared who won it) many of whom are young boys and girls that look up to them. Players need to remember that the reason they’re in this business is because once they were little boys whose hearts were captured by the love of a game. Child psychologists say that after their parents, professional athletes have the greatest influence on children in America, and that could mean major trouble for future generations if baseball can’t fix the steroid problem. According to the Mitchell report, sales of the performance-enhancing supplement androstenedione went up 1000% after Mark McGuire admitted to using it, and by 2001, 8% of all male high school seniors had admitted that they had used androstenedione in the previous year. Still think athletes don’t influence the youth of America? Think again.

In the coming weeks, months, and even years, I’m sure there will be a lot said about Mitchell’s report, and what it will do to baseball–there already has been a lot said. I read one article that said the big winner out of this report was Barry Bonds– that is, now the whole world knows that it wasn’t just him, that plenty of guys do it, so Bonds can now shake his finger and say what ultimately boils down to: “neener neener neener.” To me, that’s not winning. That’s being a loser with company. If this report makes Bonds a winner, then we’ve really gone astray. Then we’re saying, “hey, steroids are so commonplace, why don’t we even the playing field by all doing them!!”

The purpose of the report was to admonish steroid use, not make it admissible by virtue of its popularity. Thus our national response should not be a defensive one, it should be a proactive one.  So now, like I said, it’s up to commissioner Bud Selig and the players themselves to roll up their sleeves, turn it around and wipe steroids completely out of the picture. And if that costs Bonds, Clemens, and McGuire their ticket to Cooperstown, then in my opinion, that’s a minuscule price to pay to salvage the future of America’s favorite pastime.

05
Dec
07

Happy Ho, Ho, Ho-lidays Friends and Family!!!!!

With Christmas around the corner, it’s the season for a lot of different things. Gingerbread houses, giving, and eggnog are the first three things that come to my mind. There are a number of traditions that make the season what it is, but one thing I’ve always enjoyed about this time of year is receiving family Christmas letters from friends at all corners of the globe. While we often received them, my family never wrote a Christmas letter, but I thought this year I’d try my hand at writing one myself.

The names of people involved have been at least slightly changed to protect the innocent (or guilty, depending on how you look at it).

*******
Season’s Greetings Friends and Family!!!!!!!

Well, the holiday season has arrived, although here in Southern California you can only tell by the sudden spike in retail, because as most of you know, the Mediterranean/dry summer-subtropical climate we enjoy here in the good ol’ City of Angels keeps us hovering comfortably in the serene seventies throughout the winter months. Even today we enjoyed clear skies and a comfy high of seventy-five!!!!! While most of you are shoveling your walks and scraping ice off your windshields, we’re out here improving our beach volleyball skills well into January! HA! Suckers… (just kidding, of course ;-) ) I like to think that the sunshine is God smiling on this, His favorite, most blessed city! We did have some rain last week, but I don’t think we’re going to be starting any trends, if you know what I mean!

So with the Christmas season upon us, and the year coming to a close, not only does it become a season of giving and sharing, but also a season of retrospection, and that’s the purpose of this letter. I never told myself I’d become one of those people who writes a generic Christmas letter, but here I am!! Surprise, surprise!!!!!!!!! With so many friends all across the country, it’s such a simple, easy way to update everyone, and have a little wintertime fun in the process, too!!!

Well, as most of you know, I recently moved into a new apartment, with three new roommates, Greg, JT, and Mark. We’re all loving it, and getting along famously! We’ve been doing a few small home improvement projects to our humble abode over the past few months, and now it’s starting to look and feel like a real, authentic home, although it’s safe to say, we’ve made more than a few Ikea runs!! (Ha, Ha, Ha) We’ve been trying to stay familiar with each other despite our diverging schedules, and have even made time once a week to get together and have dinner. Not only does it give us a chance to catch up, but it also gives us a great opportunity to share some great recipes with each other!! (I don’t know if any of you have ever had Mark’s famous kung pao chicken stir fry, but if you have, you’ll know what I mean when I say we had to refill the Brita more than a few times!!!!)

Since I’m sure you’re all wondering what we residents of apartment B32 are up to, it’s time for the roommate updates!!

Greg- Greg is in his fifth year at APU, because his senior year was so nice, he had to try it twice!! (JK, Greg!!!) Anyway, Greg is “tying up the loose ends” as we all like to say around here, planning on graduating in May (Class of ’08! WOOHOO!) and we’re getting excited for him!!! Greg’s got a lighter schedule than he’s had his previous four years, and so he’s been spending his spare time falling asleep to episodes of “The West Wing,” making-slash-studying state capitol flashcards, and teaching himself the “Soulja Boy” dance. You should see Greg “Supa Man dat hoe!!” It’s quite a sight to behold!!

JT- JT is also in his fifth and final year here at APU, and has accomplished a lot over this past semester!! Not only did JT fix a broken XBOX 360, but he’s also completed two (count em, TWO!!!) full games of Guitar Hero!! Great job, JT!! JT also took his talents into the real world, putting on a successful Guitar Hero Competition for all the students of APU, and was surprised to find he likely could have won his own competition (blindfolded, probably!!!) JT is currently battling through a nasty bout of tonsillitis, so here’s hoping Santa brings JT some healthy tonsils in his stocking come December 25th!!! Have you been good this year, JT?!?!?

Mark- Boy, are we ever proud of Mark around here!! Mark started his time with us a bit slowly, accompanied by a pair of crutches he acquired after dislocating his hip in a freak waterskiing accident over the summer. Those crutches, however, didn’t slow him from acquiring a great new job as a high school math teacher, complete with benefits and a nice paycheck!!! WAY TO GO, MARK!!!!!!! We like to joke that since Mark is the truest breadwinner around the apartment, we should let him take care of all the monthly bills, Haha!!! Between the classes he teaches, and the classes he takes getting his credential, we don’t really see much of Mark around here, but when we do, boy does he sure make an impression!! The one thing we’ve all learned from Mark this semester is that the absolute value of math is always POSITIVE!!

Penny- No discussion of the roommates would be complete without our unofficial “fifth” roommate, Penny (or Penj, as we like to call her). Penny’s around so much, she might as well be considered a part of the family, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!!! Penny’s got a job waiting tables at a ritzy restaurant in Monrovia, but when she isn’t smooth talking seniors for bigger tips (a particular specialty of hers, wink, wink!!!), she’s bringing her unique brand of sunshine into our apartment!! We like having her around despite the sarcastic jabs we may toss her way!! (only in jest, of course!!) Penny keeps us up to date on the hippest trends and all the slang words she invents, so I guess it all evens out! Mostly I think we keep Penny around because she’s one of the few people who will laugh at all of our jokes, haha!!!!

So that’s it for the roommate updates. As for me, if you’ve been keeping up your reading on the blog (as well you should be!!!) there’s not much more exciting news you don’t already know from my postings. We’re wishing the holiday season treats you as well as it’s been treating us here at B32, and here’s hoping your stockings (and stomachs) don’t stay empty long this pleasant holiday season :-) !!!!!!

Merry Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HO, HO, HO,
The Merry Folks of B32

02
Dec
07

Things I Think

A disclaimer for this post: normally, when I write on here, it’s because I want to share something with the wonderful world-wide interweb, or there’s something I specifically think people should know about, or that they might find amusing.  That being said, this one’s just for me.

Here’s a few things I think:

1. You may or may not know that Sean Taylor, former NFL free safety for the Washington Redskins, was murdered last week in his home in Florida.  For someone like me, who checks ESPN.com and other various sports websites every day, this story is inescapable.  I’ve read a number of articles about the story and a few sports columnists’ opinions about the matter, and I have a bone to pick.

For the most part, the media has been doing an okay job of showing respect to the family and friends of Sean Taylor.  The day he died, every sports site had headlines of the tragic loss of a talented football player.  The problem was the story right underneath that one.  Almost every website also had a “how will this affect the Redskins’ playoff chances?” article.  Tasteless, if you ask me.  Taylor, despite his character issues, was someone’s son, and someone’s father, and now he can’t be that anymore.  That’s the tragedy, not the potential failure of the Washington Redskins, which essentially, is a business organization.  He was not just a piece of talent plugged into a football machine that now may produce fewer wins.  To tell you the truth, I’m more upset with the public than the media over this, because the writers wouldn’t write what the readers don’t want to read, and the fact that there’s people out there that would think about what effect this would have on the performance of something that now seems so trivial is the real shame.

2.  Friday, a man took two people hostage in a Hillary Clinton campaign headquarters building in New Hampshire.  I’m not claiming this is a conspiracy–that’s right (let me repeat that in caps for emphasis), I’M NOT CLAIMING THIS IS A CONSPIRACY.  I merely think it convenient, as I’m sure Hillary’s campaign people do, that this came at a time when she was losing some ground in the polls, and this gave her an opportunity to not only get some more attention from the media, but it also gave her a chance to make a super “I’m-in-charge-everything’s-okay-and-if-I-can-handle-this-I-sure-can-handle-being-your-President” speech.  Like I said, I’m not claiming this was intentional or planted, but I doubt that Hillary’s people are worried about what this will do to her ratings, which is one of those awful-but-true aspects about spin and politics.  For more on this topic, go rent “Wag The Dog,” which is number one on my list of “Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But That Doesn’t Make Them Not Incredible” list.

3. Recently, our apartment got a letter from the Azusa Light and Water company that said that because of a drought, the city of Azusa was having some real water problems, and were thus making us decrease our water usage by 20%, or suffer some steep bill-related consequences.  I think this is great.  I’m no hippie, but I like the earth alright, and I think we should do what we can to maintain it.  I watched “An Inconvenient Truth,” and thought it was the most engaging powerpoint-presentation-turned-Oscar-winning-film I’ve ever seen.  If the statistics in that movie are right, we’re in a serious amount of trouble, so much so that only flushing after number two shouldn’t be that big of a deal.  My politically-inclined roommate tends to believe that if Al Gore said he was running for president any time before the first caucus, he’d be the next POTUS, and I tend to agree with him.  Right now, I think there’s two trains of thought in America: one that believes that we need to stop living so recklessly and stop draining our resources, and another that essentially says, “Heck, we’re Americans, we’re pretty badass, so nothing’s going to get in the way of us having a good time and doing whatever the hell we want, even if that means the next generation’s going to have a tougher go at it than we did.”  I think attitude #2 is a selfish one, and I think we’ve got to all move towards attitude #1 quickly, or else it’s going to be too late.

4. I think Christians need to stop whining about “The Golden Compass.”  In the same vein as Hillary possibly benefiting from the hostage situation, this movie, and the book it’s based on, is benefiting tremendously from a bunch of whiny Christians.  In this case, any exposure becomes good exposure, because it heightens the curiosity of the public and makes them watch it (or read it).  It doesn’t do wonderful things for the public’s view of Christianity either, because it’s yet another example of how, in the mind of a non-Christian, Christians are whiny, boring, no-fun downers that want to rain on everyone’s parade.

Here’s the situation, in case you’re unaware.  There’s a series of books by a guy named Philip Pullman who just so happens to be an atheist, and just so happens to really know how to effectively market his stuff (we’ll get to that later…).  Anyway, the books, and the movies inspired by them, draw a lot of similarities to the Narnia books, except Mr. Pullman uses his stories to denounce religion.  The preview to the movie makes it look like it’s going to be pretty big: it stars Nicole Kidman, James Bond, James Bond’s girlfriend, and a whole slew of other people, it’s got the standard cool special effects and talking animals, a budget of $205 million dollars, and it’s supposed to be the next “Lord Of The Rings.”  Upon hearing this, some members of the church decided to do what they always do when they’re presented with something that is different than what they believe: they immediately got defensive.

Now there’s chain emails, there’s facebook groups, there’s websites, all with the purpose of informing Christians that taking your child to see this movie equates to buying them a first class plane ticket to hell, and will become the number one reason that they later will get into drugs, alcohol, and loud music.  You know what I think about this?  I think somewhere, Philip Pullman and the executives at New Line Cinema are smiling.

There’s nothing like a bunch of whiny Christians to draw attention to a cultural phenomenon.  There’s a brand of Christian out there that thinks that this movie is somehow going to turn our children against us, and while they may not be the biggest group, they certainly seem to be the loudest.  And like I said, I think ol’ Phil is loving it.  There was a time when “The DaVinci Code” was the greatest threat to Christianity since a hoard of hungry Roman lions.  The church got all pissy about it, and somehow, the book still managed to stay at the top of the best seller list, and the movie still managed to be the most successful international blockbuster of the summer of 2006.  Raise your hand if you think the church actually helped it become so successful.

From what I’ve read, Philip Pullman is a guy who understands marketing.  He starts with a product that has some merit- a good story, maybe some decent writing- and then he exposes it to as many people as he can, with the help of some obnoxious religious nutcases.  Pullman has been quoted saying of his books, “My books are about killing God.”

Does he actually mean this?

Maybe.

Did he know that saying this would cause an uproar that would give his books more publicity than he could dream of?

Definitely.

It’s quite possible that Pullman is a true blue atheist who genuinely believes the things he says.  It’s more likely that he takes things he believes to the ultimate extreme just to get some attention.  Either way, should this affect whether or not you see the movie?  Maybe, maybe not.

I say, if you want to see the movie, go see it.  Don’t let some facebook group (or dare I say it, some guy behind a pulpit) stop you or limit your enjoyment.   If you decide you don’t want to take your kids to see it, or you don’t want to see it, that’s fine too.  But if you do make that decision, make it because you’re informed about it, and it’s truly what you think, not because your Aunt Betty forwarded you an email that says Nicole Kidman hates Jesus.

So that’s what I think.