Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oh, The Joy Of It All

I feel very free to write whatever I want here, because I don't think anyone in the world knows this thing still exists. With that liberation in hand, I am going to share some of the joys of having moved back to Utah; a place with which I have a conflicted relationship. I love many of the people that are here, but I loathe many of the practices that give this place its color. Also, speaking in generalizations is dumb and dangerous, so consider this post idiotic and unsafe. So without further ado, here are 3 joys I have been able to bask in since moving back to the wild, wild west.

1. The amount of stuff here in Utah is astounding. It seems like a great deal of people have a great deal of stuff. Sometimes I feel like I am choking on the materialism. Louis C.K., a stand-up comedian, has a bit where he talks about how evil he is. According to his own self-analysis, one of the qualities that makes him evil is that he drives an Infinity. He explains that he could trade in his car and still drive a nice car, maybe a Toyota or something, and get like $20,000 back. Yet he does no such thing even though he knows there are people in the world that could use his help because they can't buy food, clothing, or medicine and are dying because of it. So he continues to drive his Infinity, he doesn't help those people even though he could, and he subsequently sleeps like a baby. It is a kind of humorous take on the confluence of no longer being blissful because you're no longer ignorant and the notion that if you've been given much, more is required of you. Does that help explain my choking feeling?

2. I understand the desire to have an accepted image. Who doesn't? In fact, I don't really believe there is a way to separate yourself completely from image consciousness. Even people who purposefully try to buck the trend end up looking like others who are trying to do the same (I'm looking at you hipsters). But it has been apparent to both Whit and I that there is a difference in the age norm that surrounds appearance trendiness here in Utah. Anecdote time! We went to dinner a few weeks ago and had to wait a while for a table to be ready. The restaurant we went to was attached to a mall (classy, right?), so we decided to go for a stroll and get some massages at the Brookstone while we waited (has anyone actually ever bought anything at Brookstone?). We were both completely fascinated with the number of middle aged men wearing designer jeans. I'm not talking about nice jeans, but jeans with fancy, sparkly designs on the butt. Maybe I've simply missed the boat, but I don't think those jeans were designed to be sported on a 5o-something-year-old rump. It just seems like a reach for an image I don't quite get. And that reach can be applied to other overly-trendy clothing making and body altering decisions that seem to be made here by a slightly more "experienced" age cohort.

3. I can appreciate people's political opinions. In fact, I am glad people have varying takes on these sorts of things because it adds a different dimension to life. But, and I think we can all agree on this, there are appropriate times and places for stating those deeply rooted opinions and there are some inappropriate ones. To me, church meetings fall under the inappropriate ones. I don't want to hear your Beck-isms or Olbermann-isms at church. Trying to weave your political paradigms into a Sunday School comment is not cool. Yet even more inappropriate than this are the partisan insinuations (some can't even be considered insinuations) that are mixed into prayers. Really people? Can't we say prayers for the entire congregation without trying to make a political point? If you want to do that in your own prayer, be my guest, but don't expect an "amen" from me if you're preaching politics during the invocation at sacrament meeting.

As my good friend Spilkagaga would say, holler.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Drumroll Please. The Iconic Movie of the Decade is...

(Note: I suppose I should start by giving credit where it is due. ESPN's Bill Simmons brought this up on a recent podcast of his with Chris Connelly, but I thought it was important to take this question to the masses. That is what prompted the "Fill in the Blank..." status update on facebook and the following opinion.)

It is the end of the decade. You may be scratching your head in disbelief, but its true. We are in the last year of the 00's (BTW: what are we officially calling this decade?). What does this mean exactly? Well, besides the inevitable, yet exciting news that we only have to wait a few more years to get VH1's "I Love the 00's", it means we get to start discussing the "bests" of the last 10 years and where is a better starting place than with the most iconic movie of the decade? There were some good suggestions like Lord of War, No Country for Old Men, and Snakes on a Plane (my favorite suggestion and one hell of a cinematic feat). Nonetheless, it seemed like the winner was The Dark Knight. Coincidentally, this was the movie the Bill Simmons suggested in his podcast. I would be ok with that one, but ultimately, I think it is missing some of the best things movies of this decade had to offer. Let me offer a suggestion...

At the end of the day, I think this last decade will be known for the explosion of indie films. Go to and check out all of the trailers that are currently posted for indie films. Keep in mind we are in the middle of the summer, AKA the most crucial time for big production companies and their blockbusters, yet there are plenty of indie films on a mainstream trailer website. Think about how many times you remember a movie advertising that it faired well at the Sundance, Cannes, or Tribeca film festivals in the 90's. Can you even name an indie movie from the 90's? The most notable ones are Reservoir Dogs which only made $2.8 million at the box office (and it cost $1.2 million to make) and only gained steam after Pulp Fiction made Quentin Tarantino a superstar and The Blair Witch Project which was actually bought and distributed by a big production company (Artisan Entertainment).

So if this has been the decade of indie films, which was the most important and the most iconic? I think it is Napoleon Dynamite (ND). That may seem crazy, but hear me out. ND was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures in June of 2004 (this is before any of the other big name indie films were released this decade) and it became a phenomenon. During the following Academy Awards, ND was still being hailed as one of the biggest cultural events of the last year. It wasn't nominated for anything, but when Jon Heder (the actor who played Napoleon) made an appearance, electricity entered the room. Other presenters made jokes about it. Simply put, it was not "just another movie" to the viewers or people in the industry. In fact, it set quite a precedent and launched one of the most important movie companies of the decade.

What was the precedent it set? It let the average movie goer know that indie films could be enjoyable and relevant. Other indie films that followed enjoyed a path of success that had been cleared in the most significant ways by ND, which made over $46 million. Each year since ND at least one indie film has grossed over $100 million (the arbitrary dollar amount the makes something a blockbuster). In 2005 Brokeback Mountain made over $178 million (Note: Coincidentally this indie film set the table for Heath Ledger to win an Oscar for an iconic performance in The Dark Knight. Sorry, but it wasn't his stellar work in The Brothers Grimm, A Knight's Tale, or 10 Things I Hate About You). In 2006 Little Miss Sunshine brought in over $100 million. In 2007 Juno hauled in a whopping $231,411,584, which is dwarfed by the $360,032,690 Slumdog Millionaire made in 2008. I doubt these films experience the same success without the trailblazing done by ND.

What company did it launch? It made Fox Searchlight pictures a viable production company. Just look at the production company's track record prior to ND: in the 90's Fox Searchlight made a total of 10 films and their most notable movie of this decade before ND was either Bend it Like Beckham or Super Troopers. After the release of ND, Fox Searchlight may have become the decades most productive production company. Check out this list of movies they released since ND came out: Sideways, Thank You For Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine, The Last King of Scotland, Juno, The Wrestler, and Slumdog Millionaire. Between these 7 films, Fox Searchlight was honored with 25 Oscar nominations which resulted in winning 13 Oscars! This may have happened without the resounding success of ND, but it isn't likely.

Not only is ND a well done movie that gets funnier and more pertinent to your life each time you watch it, but it was a ridiculously influential film when you see what indie films accomplished after it's release. I think the success of ND was the result of a perfect storm. It was a light hearted movie that didn't take itself seriously, which contributed to its ability to break down some of those walls between average movie goers and indie films. In addition to the pure comedy of ND, it paved the way for a movement that was unique to this decade and to me, that makes it the iconic movie of the 00's.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Iraq and DC

During our trip to DC, my step-dad Scott made a comment about an email he had received that made the claim that Iraq was a safer place to live than our nation's capital. This comment caught me off guard. I have spent a little over a third of a year in DC over the past 4 years and I have never once seen a car explode, a man running down the street with an automatic weapon, or violent protests in the street. I realize DC has its problems with violent crime, but it just did not jive with me that it was on par with Iraq.

The email my step-dad referred to was a report given on on the 29th of May, 2006. This is what it said:

Iraq Less Violent than Washington, D.C.

Despite media coverage purporting to show that escalating violence in Iraq has the country spiraling out of control, civilian death statistics complied by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, indicate that Iraq actually has a lower civilian violent death rate than Washington, .C.

Appearing with Westwood One radio host Monica Crowley on Saturday, King said that the incessantly negative coverage of the Iraq war prompted him to research the actual death numbers.

"I began to ask myself the question, if you were a civilian in Iraq, how could you tolerate that level of violence," he said. "What really is the level of violence?"

Using Pentagon statistics cross-checked with independent research, King said he came up with an annualized Iraqi civilian death rate of 27.51 per 100,000.

While that number sounds high - astonishingly, the Iowa Republican discovered that it's significantly lower than a number of major American cities, including the nation's capital.

"It's 45 violent deaths per 100,000 in Washington, D.C.," King told Crowley.

Other American cities with higher violent civilian death rates than Iraq include:

· Detroit - 41.8 per 100,000

· Baltimore - 37.7 per 100,000

· Atlanta - 34.9 per 100,000

· St. Louis - 31.4 per 100,000

The American city with the highest civilian death rate was New Orleans before Katrina - with a staggering 53.1 deaths per 100,000 - almost twice the death rate in Iraq.

This is what I found after having researched this topic for myself:

Washington DC

The total number of homicides that have taken place in DC since the beginning of 2003 is 811. These numbers only go up through 2006 as the data from 2007 has yet to be totally finished. So to be fair in our comparison we can add in 482 homicides twice, for the years of 2007 and 2008 (which is only half way over). The number 482 represents the highest homicide rate DC has had in close to 50 years, which happened in 1991. Having added an outstandingly high number twice (especially when you consider the homicide total in 2006 was a 169), the total we will use is 1,775.

For a more historical perspective, the total number of homicides in DC since 1960 is 11,404.

The total number of aggravated assaults that have occurred in DC since 2003 is 17,125. Again, these data are only through 2006. If we take the average number of aggravated assaults in DC from 2003-2006, which is 4,281, and add them to our previous total two times to account for 2007 and 2008, our new total in 25,714. Again, we are counting 6 months of a year in these numbers that has yet to actually happen.

Military in Iraq

The total number of military deaths that have taken place in Iraq since March of 2003 is 4,428 (4,114 of which have been U.S. soldiers). Even after having added the highest murder rate DC has seen in 50 years to the known total two times and adding in 6 months of crime totals to the DC count, the number of deaths experienced by servicemen and women in Iraq surpasses that of DC by slightly more than 2,650.

Since March of 2003, military deaths in Iraq have totaled 39% of the total homicides DC has experienced in the last 48 years.

Those U.S. Military wounded in Iraq since March of 2003 total 29,978. This number does not include servicemen and women from other countries, yet it still out-numbers the total of aggravated assaults in DC by more than 4,000.

One thing to be noted about all of these numbers: they are raw numbers, meaning they are not standardized by 100,000 to make for a fair comparison. We are comparing a city of approximately 581,530 with a group of U.S. troops that has never exceeded the initial number of 250,000 that were deployed in 2003. Currently there are around 185,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. This is about 32% of the total population of DC. In other words, a group 32% the size of DC has experienced significantly more death and violence than the citizens of the much larger city.

In order to truly understand the amount of instability and violence that is really occurring in Iraq (as if the number above were not startling enough), you also have to look at the violence endured by the Iraqi people.

Iraqi Citizens

The number of Iraqi deaths since the beginning of the war is much disputed. The Opinion Research Business has it listed at 1,033,000 as of August of 2007. Johns Hopkins has it listed at 654,965 excess deaths due to the war from 2003 through 2006. The World Health Organization has it listed at 400,000 excess deaths from 2003 through 2006, although they only list 151,000 of those as "violent deaths". To compare fairly, we need to standardize this number per 100,000 to compare it to DC's murder rate, as Iraq has a population of 29,267,000 and comparing raw death numbers between Iraq and DC would skew reality in Iraq’s favor.

In an attempt to be fair, we can take the middle number of the three proposed totals (654,965) and divide it by 3 (the number of years its death toll covers). That total of 218,321 leads us to a death rate of about 742.3 per year. That is to say, the average violent death rate of Iraqi citizens between the years of 2003-2006 is about 742 people per 100,000. Since 2003, the average murder rate has been 37.4. In the last 48 years, the highest murder rate DC has endured was 80.6 in the year 1991. This means that the Iraqi death rate between the years of 2003-2006 is 9.2 times higher than the highest DC murder rate of the last 48 years.

(A note about my analysis in comparison to the one used in the email. In all the numbers I saw, there were a few estimates that did tricky things with the death totals in Iraq. They somehow were able to qualify some deaths as "violent war" deaths and others as some other type of death. It seems to me that would be tough to do considering there are such glaring discrepancies in the total number of deaths to begin with. When one figure says over 1 million and the next says 50,000, it doesn't speak to very high levels of competence within the ranks of whoever is supposed to keep track of this stuff. It also makes me think that qualifying deaths would be a huge stretch given the obvious difficulty in just counting how many there actually were. That is why I tried to be fair in my estimation and I took the middle number of the three I was able to track down. Also, the numbers used in the email did not seem to speak to the violence among the soldiers fighting the war. It would be convenient to make your point if you left out the men and women on the front line.)

Emails like the one my step-dad received and people who provide the information used to create them can be dangerous. These types of false rumors can affect our fundamental understanding of two key issues in our day. First, the violence that is taking place in Iraq is horrific. Maybe it is better than it was before the war started, maybe it isn't. That is another issue entirely. The fact that unfathomable amounts of violence persists is the issue.

Second, false information like that in the aforementioned email distorts the fact of how lucky we are to live where we do. It also may affect how we see some of our fellow citizens, as some may view them in the same light they see insurgents running the streets with automatic weapons and deploying car bombs. The reality is, we don't deal with the type or frequency of violence many others do, and assuming we do is an egregious error with very real and deep consequences that distort our vital world views. These reports can lead to very severe commands with truly inappropriate repercussions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


So I'm a little hurt. Trevor assembled his "top notch" superpower debate panel and I wasn't invited. I acknowledge the fact that I probably have spent a substantially less amount of time with my nose in a comic book or my eyes fixated on orcs than some, but hey, I can make a free throw. Ok, that was a low-blow. My bad. Either way, I think I could have added some jewiness to the discussion. Every complete panel needs that, right? And no, I do not think the best superpower would be the ability to create a recession-proof, high yield savings account.

I like the suggestions the aforementioned panel suggested. To read more about them, click here. Although I concur that time travel would be sweet, it should be noted that consensus has nearly been reached on the dangers of time travel. The ripple effect it may create could way heavily on the mind of the time traveler, much like the conscience "sterility touch". There is also great danger found in possessing such a powerful power. If you can time travel, you can change the past and that is something many powerful people are interested in doing. If you can fly, it is cool and may invite some odd requests, but I do not think it would lead down the same danky paths as time travel would.

May I suggest a great power that is often overlooked: huge cajones. I do not want this to be misinterpreted, so please read on. I am not suggesting anything in the literal sense, but am proposing that the gall to consistently do something that borders on insane is truly a superpower. Think of Batman or Iron Man. Both are normal, mortal men. Sure they have absurd amounts of green backs, but physically speaking, they are average joes. (Except for their bellies which are full of high quality eats prepared by their personal chefs. In turn, this leads to higher energy levels and longer life expectancies. They also have personal trainers and massage therapists which allow them to stay in peak physical shape while being relatively pain free. But besides that stuff...) But these cats are different in some way, right? (No, the difference is not found in the fact that they are fictional) If someone were to give you a few billion, would you decide to consistently put your physical, social, emotional, and mental life on the line to help a bunch of schmoes you have never met? Sounds like a typical, altruistic billionaire attitude, doesn't it? I think they do have a superpower and it is their gargantuan cajones.

Now some may say this doesn't qualify as a superpower. They may say that it doesn't qualify because there are actually people that demonstrate this ability. To this I respond you cannot prove that people do not demonstrate the others. However unlikely, it is impossible to truly know. Secondly, isn't it cooler to think of a super power as an uncommon attribute that both common-folk and super heroes both demonstrate? That way, we can have moments when we are teetering on the edge of being like a super hero. You know? Those moments where you run into a burning building or a cat from a tree branch or try to scale the side of a building with suction cups wearing your undies on the outside of nothing but spandex. Oh yes. That is all it takes. Just imagine: a man, a building, spandex, and monstrous cajones.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Finals Rundown

So this post may be a lot shorter than I would like, but I haven't had time to write it yet and the finals get under way tonight so I've got to get it down before then.
I have heard so many commentators give the series to the Lakers without much hesitation, but I think there is a need to pause before making a choice. I am not saying I disagree with their pick, but I think people have become disillusioned by the Celtics performance in the playoffs and forget the success they have had all year. 66 wins is no joke. They are a phenomenal defensive team. They are not merely good or great, but they are very special when it comes down to what they can do defensively. And if the past 17 years have shown us anything, it is that defensive teams fare very well in the whole winning championships thing. The Celtics' defensive numbers match up much more favorably with those of the champions since 1991 than do the Lakers. And when I say much, I mean much. I think people become enamored with great offenses and expect them to accomplish more than they are capable of (i.e Phoenix Suns). Having said that, I think the Lakers have shown they can play defense when necessary too, although they proved it against a sporadic offense at best in San Antonio.
One other quick point. The collapse of Ray Allen in the playoffs has been incredible. He is the wildcard for them. PP and KG are both consistent in their around 20 ppg. They may abberate from that occasionally, but not by much either way. If Allen can play well in this series the Celtics will not seem to struggle offensively nearly as much as they have so far in the playoffs. His collapse really is the reason the Atlanta and Cleveland series both went 7 games. Not surprisingly, the series he had 2 good games was the 6 game Detroit series; a much tougher team that either Atlanta or Cleveland. He makes a huge difference in their offensive productivity. His outside shooting opens up the mid-range game for PP, the driving lanes for Rondo, and the box for KG. Without it, teams can sag on defense and it makes them much more stagnant offensively. If he shoots well, the Celts are very tough to beat.
The advantage I keep hearing for the Lakers is Kobe. Everyone keeps saying that he is the determining factor. He is what tips the scales in the Lakers favor. I remember watching MJ in his prime. Kobe is not MJ, but he is as close as we have had since then. He is the only player since MJ retired (from the Bulls the 2nd time) that has shown periods that he can completely dictate the outcome of a game. That was very apparent in the San Antonio series, especially in games 1 and 5. San Antonio is a great defensive team, so that may be a decent barometer of how he can play against Boston, but whether he will or not is another question. With all of the defensive and Ray Allen talk, I think that is the biggest factor in this series. Will Kobe absolutely take over like he did against San Antonio, or won't he?
I think he will. Lakers in 6.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Good Words

I liked this article.
It kind of puts Kobe in perspective. Check it out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sleepless Nights and Thanks

I don't know what the deal is, but I have had a slew of sleepless nights lately. During the school year, I didn't have a lot of nights like this, but now that school is over it is like my body realizes I don't have to sit in class or work all day and it doesn't want to shut down for the night. Oh well. I'll make due and hope I can find the ol' rhythm when things get back to a heavier grind. For now, I will continue to sit up at night and think about the opportunity I have to teach my own course this summer. That is what seems to dominate my thought while I am sitting around trying to trick my body into thinking it is tired.

I really do feel blessed to have my own class. It was a little over 6 years ago that I decided I wanted to be a teacher. (I say teacher instead of professor because I want to teach, not profess) Since that decision, I have tried hard to orient my life in the direction that would someday get me to the front of a classroom and that day is approaching quickly. I am still a few years off of really achieving my goal and getting a real paycheck, but I can't help but get really excited for my first crack at it, and I don't mean the paycheck thing. My adult life is a pretty small chunk of time, but this is what I have been hoping for and working towards for that time and I cannot wait for it to be here. Its like when I was little and played the dreidel while waiting up at night for Santa to come. Oh, the good old days.

Anyway, the reason I am blabbering about this is to say thank you. Chances are, if you are reading this, you have played a significant part in my life at some point and I cannot take credit for my successes as I, in part, am a sum of those that have surrounded me. So thank you.