Thursday, September 29, 2011

Great, Great Night for Baseball (not so much for Boston....YES!)

Okay, let's get something straight. My team had nothing to do with last night's drama, but that's just the magic of sports. I was trying to tell this to some friends of mine the other day. It's not just the competition, or the excitement of your team. It's everything that's involved with it. There are teams and rivalries, big names and snubs, and the most amount of drama you can imagine. The most amazing part of it all? You can't script any of this stuff. Sports are so much better than anything else you will ever watch or participate it because it not only becomes a part of you, the craziest things happen and you can never anticipate that kind of outcome.

A team with over $160 million in payroll, the Boston Red Sox, were practically handed the World Series trophy before the season even began, and for four months the regular season, all those prognosticators looked to be spot on. And then September happened.

The team that had been the best suddenly became the worst. They had a 9 game lead for a playoff spot and then when 7-19 in September to fall into a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays who have a quarter the Red Sox payroll. 6 months of regular season play and a 162 game season come down to one last game for two teams battling for either a playoff berth or a playoff for the playoff berth. It's unreal. I had to teach my class while everything began to unfold, but I was checking on the scores all along the way. When my class started, the Rays were losing 5-0 and Boston was up 3-2. Finish class and all of a sudden Tampa is down 7-6 with one inning, and Boston and the Orioles are in rain delay. Race home to find Tampa has tied it. Flash to the Sox-O's and watch their collapse in the bottom of the 9th inning. 4-3 Orioles. Game change to Tampa Bay in the midst of Evan Longoria's at-bat when he hits a home run in the bottom of the 12th to win the game and get the wild card spot that the Sox had choked up. As close as that is to read in text was how it happened in reality. 3 minutes after the Sox blew their 9th inning lead Longoria hit a walk-off home run. Unbelievable.

I wish there was a better quality video, but this will suffice. The guys on Sportscenter are always kind of juvenile, but I loved Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt because you can see that their reactions are so genuine. And Scott Van Pelt's lines are priceless. My favorite that's not in this video was, "I wanna vomit and I don't even have a dog in the fight."

"Sports are better than anything else. Always." Truer words have never been spoken. I remember when Bo Jackson destroyed his hip in the playoff game against the Bengals when I was 8 or 9. I remember when Francisco Cabrera knocked in Sid Bream with David Justice running up his back in 1991 to win the NLCS in the bottom of the ninth. I remember a lot of sports night. And I'll remember this one for many years to come. Just amazing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Europe Video

My first attempt at putting together one of these videos. I'm no Dan, but this was fun. I'm really looking forward to Havasupai now.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A few things...

Oh man. Is it a perfect Fall season or what? I can't believe the weather lately. I had my first full week of running last week since probably weeks before the Deseret News race and it felt amazing. I had a six mile run up towards the mountain near us and it was awesome. Climbed 400 feet, sun was setting, and I was just cruising. It felt perfect. I started thinking while on that run that I might never train intensely enough to ever qualify for Boston or do an Ironman, but I think I will always run, and probably always run marathons for as long as my body and time will allow. It feels so good to just be out there moving, sweating, and just feeling good. I'll have more about how to get started running, or to run more, in a post forthcoming. I've been thinking about that one for awhile.

I read the most interesting article today about Bush 43. You can find the article here. W is a very impressive man. I haven't gotten into his biography that my brother gave me for Christmas, but now I'm really looking forward to it. About Obama, Bush said, “No matter who wins, when he hears what I hear every morning, it will change him.” I thought that was a really telling line about why Obama has pursued the foreign policy that he has, and this was something I said even before O got elected to office. Getting daily reports of national security threats changes your perspective on things. But how about a brief excerpt from the lengthy article:
The president gestured for me to sit facing the beautiful, sunny vista, and he sat facing me, his back to the yard. We lit up, puffed on our cigars, caught up on family news, talked briefly about my memoir and my column in the Post-Dispatch, which he had read. I could think of only one question to ask him: “What is it like to be president of the United States?”

President Bush leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and stared at me intently. “Are we off the record?”


And he began to talk—and talk and talk for what must have been nearly three hours. I’ve never told anyone the specifics of what he said that night, not even my wife or closest friends. I did not make notes later and have only my memory. In the journalism world, off the record is off the record. But I have repeatedly described the hours as “amazing,” “remarkable,” “stunning.”

President Bush—and he was, no doubt, by then a real president—talked expansively about Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, China, Korea, Russia. He talked about his reelection strategies, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, WMD and how he still believed they would be found, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Vladimir Putin. He talked about his aides and how tough their lives were, the long hours and stress and time away from their families, about how difficult it was for his daughters. He said that compared with everyone around a president, the president had the easiest job. He was the same confident, brash man I had met years ago, but I no longer sensed any hint of the old anger or the need for self-aggrandizement.

As he talked, I even thought about an old Saturday Night Live skit in which an amiable, bumbling President Ronald Reagan, played by Phil Hartman, goes behind closed doors to suddenly become a masterful operator in total charge at the White House. The transformation in Bush was that stunning to me. Perhaps a half hour into the conversation, we were joined by Bush’s campaign media adviser, Mark McKinnon, whom Bush had nicknamed “M-Kat.”

“M-Kat used to be a Democrat, too,” Bush quipped, referring to me. “I converted him.”

After about an hour, Bush said that Laura was out of town and asked if McKinnon and I would like to join him for dinner. We did, of course, and we moved into the residence dining room, where Bush sat at the head of the table, McKinnon and I on either side, while the president’s black cat, Willie, lounged on the far end. Really, he just kept talking. I thought perhaps it was my naiveté that was making the evening seem so remarkable. But when the president was called away from the table for a few minutes, I asked McKinnon if working in the White House was as demanding as Bush had said. He said it was, and then he got a sort of faraway look in his eyes. “But then you have an evening like tonight,” I remember him saying. I left the White House in a daze. I even got lost in the pitch-black darkness and had to drive around the small parking lot for a few minutes to find my way to the gate. I called my wife, and she asked how the evening had gone. I couldn’t answer.

“I’ve never known you to be speechless,” she said, genuinely surprised.

I finally said, “It was like sitting and listening to Michael Jordan talk basketball or Pavarotti talk opera, listening to someone at the top of his game share his secrets.”
Cool, right?

My teams mostly fared well over the weekend. The Angels shot themselves in the foot by giving up 4 runs in the 9th to the lowly A's to fall two games back. Darn that Jordan Walden. His 10 blown saves cost them the playoffs.

But BYU did great and we have the luxury of deciding on a whim to go to the games. Without tickets or any advance thought, we showed up at the stadium and bought tickets for $5 a piece off some guy. Fun game.

Even better? I think I can start to hold my head up high after the Raiders beat the Jets yesterday. Darren McFadden is the real deal. If he stays healthy, he's an MVP candidate, and I don't think I'm one to throw around that kind of claim lightly.

Lastly, this song. I can't get enough of the new Sublime album. They return to fill a void in music that only they can fill. Great punk/reggae sound. Love it.

Have a good one!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Warren and Obama Are Dummies

Hopefully you've heard of some of the news recently regarding Obama and his recent proposals. I'm not even sure how else to label them. Economic? Reform? Jobs things? Not sure. Anyway, much publicity has been directed towards Warren Buffets comment about how the rich need to shoulder more of the burden for government revenues, i.e. taxes, but his own situation is very unique indeed. The most controversial comment that Buffet made recently was about how he pays less taxes than does his secretary.

Thanks goodness for these guys and their dumb comments, right? Because of them, a lot of people have been fact-checking recently because it just doesn't seem to make sense. How can one of the richest people in the world be getting away with paying less than someone who maybe doesn't even make .01% of what we makes in a year? It's jarring to think, so as a result, a lot of people followed up on it.

This story from MSNBC gives a good overview. The truth is the wealthy bear most of the burden. From that article:
The 10 percent of households with the highest incomes pay more than half of all federal taxes. They pay more than 70 percent of federal income taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Economist Larry Kudlow elaborates further saying that the top 1% pay 40% of all the taxes, and 50% of income tax filers don't pay any taxes at all.  He also says in this post:
No one even knows what the targeted group is going to be. A New York Times story suggests that the Buffet tax will hit three-tenths of 1 percent of taxpayers, which could be 450,000 people out of 144 million tax returns.

A Wall Street Journal story suggests the Buffet tax would have hit just 22,000 people in 2009, those households making more than $1 million annually and paying less than 15 percent of income in federal income taxes. According to the Tax Policy Center, doubling the tax burden of those 22,000 would raise just $19 billion a year. How silly is this?


And Paul Ryan makes another key point: Tax investment more, and you’ll get less of it. If these kinds of tax hikes are ever passed, the economy will be doomed to stagnation over the long-run. Penalizing incentives will do that. And lower growth means higher deficits.

Why in the world doesn’t President Obama follow the overwhelming consensus for fundamental tax reform to lower marginal rates and broaden the income base? Economists of all stripes agree on this.

At the end of the day, it sure looks like our president wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations in order to spend more and enlarge the size and scope of government. From the standpoint of jobs, growth, and prosperity, it just won’t work.

And I thought this blogpost was especially insightful from Mark Perry over at Carpe Diem. He cites a couple of WSJ articles that I can no longer find. But here are some excerpts from the post:
(WSJ: Millionaires Go Missing)"Those with $10 million or more in reported income fell to 8,274 in 2009 from 18,394 in 2007, a 55% drop. As a result, their tax payments tanked by 51% (see chart, from $110.8 billion in 2007 to only $53.7 billion in 2009). These disappearing millionaires go a long way toward explaining why federal tax revenues have sunk to 15% of GDP in recent years. The loss of millionaires accounts for at least $130 billion of the higher federal budget deficit in 2009."

(Perry) Even taking every last penny from every individual making more than $10 million per year would only reduce the nation's deficit by 12 percent and the debt by 2 percent.  There's simply not enough wealth in the community of the rich to erase this country's problems by waving some magic tax wand."

Bottom Line: As the WSJ points out, "If Warren Buffett wants to reduce the deficit, he should encourage policies to create more millionaires, not campaign to tax them more." 

And here's another post where Perry relates a Canadien perspective on the Buffet case. His point is mainly that Buffet pays too little in taxes, not because he's so rich, but because the US tax system is so poor.
The Obama plan to simply increase personal income tax rates on the rich and hike capital gains and dividend taxes will hurt rather than help growth. Higher personal tax rates will reduce the incentive to invest by entrepreneurs, who are most responsible for growth.  Capital gains and dividends (subject to federal-state personal tax rate of 20%) are currently highly taxed at more than 50% once taking into account the 39% corporate income tax rate that reduces the amount of profits distributed to shareholders or reinvested by the company. More double taxation of dividends and capital gains hurts the economy.

Already the highest-income taxpayers — about 5% of taxpayers — pay almost 60% of U.S. income taxes. The bottom half of the population pays only 3%. So any tax increase imposed on high-income earners should be in areas where some, like Warren Buffett, are paying far less than other wealthy individuals. Warren Buffett’s 17% tax rate results only because he gets a large number of breaks that other wealthier Americans, like doctors, cannot use.

Which gets to the main point. The United States needs major tax reform, rather than playing at the edges to make the system more progressive than it is already. U.S. income taxes are complex, inefficient and highly unfair. The statutory rates, once taking into account federal and state income and payroll taxes, are already high, even with the Bush tax cuts.  The problem is that too many targeted preferences reduce the amount of taxes paid, undermining economic growth.

The list of special preferences in the United States is mindboggling and could fill a book on how not to run a tax system. A major tax reform that lowers rather than increases personal and corporate tax rates and eliminates a number of special preferences would make the tax system more efficient and fair, and it would grow revenue over time by growing the economy.

Anyway, if you didn't watch it last week, watch this video now. It does a really good job encapsulating what needs to happen with tax reform and why.

Meet Us In Switzerland

Our flights were mostly uncomfortable, the day felt twice as long, and we were running on the fumes of the few hours of sleep that we had gotten in the prior two nights, but nothing could dampen the excitement of flying over new terrain that you know to be a world that would be new to the both of you. We landed in Zurich, Switzerland sometime around 8 AM on Friday. Our task now was to find the train that would take us to Bern, then to keep ourselves occupied until we would meet up with the Johnsons who were on their way from Germany. What we thought would be a minimum two hour train ride only turned out to be a half hour one. For about $100 Swiss Francs ($113 US) you would think that we would have been traveling a much farther distance, but this initial cost would hint at the high costs that everything in Switzerland would entail.

We arrived in Bern, the Swiss capitol, several hours ahead of the Johnsons. Exhausted, but excited to start wandering this new city and country, we had to find a place to unload our luggage. I was surprised that it took so long to find someone who spoke English who could direct us to where we could dump our stuff. I guess I am that Me-centric American that just assumes everyone would speak English. It was only a few minutes before we unloaded our things and began touring around on foot.

The were several highlights of Bern that day. One was the beach volleyball tournament that handed out the body wash and shampoo that I would use the rest of the trip. The train station had a very prominent Coke Zero promotion going on that whole day so anytime we needed a zero calorie, but tasty, pick-me-up all we had to do was walk through there. A public pool provided us with some shaded area and grass to perch ourselves, and a lovely lesson in how comfortable Europeans are with their bodies. Nicer still were the cobblestone streets, the gigantic cuckoo clock, local farmer's market, and the general taste of Swiss-European culture.

The arrival of the Johnsons was a nice boost to our travel-weary bodies. A family of 8 is always a spectacle in Europe as I would come to find out, but was an especially welcome sight when Amy and I had walked just about as far as we could walk while also not wanting to dish out more money just yet. With everyone together, we explored Bern with the help of Rick Steves. We went to the local cathedral and checked out the sights from up high. The warm weather left us desirous to jump in the river running right through the middle of the city, which was about when we realized that the locals commonly float the river as we saw some guys jumping off a bridge, the first one doing a backflip.

We left the city that evening to travel to what would be home for the next several nights. We had a lot of trouble before coming out finding a place that would not only accommodate 10 people, but also for a reasonable price. Given all of that, it shouldn't have been so surprising to find that our housing was everything that it was advertised as: a 400 year old farmhouse in a Swiss village not really close to anything. The ceilings were low. There would be no locking the front door at night, not just because the place was so safe, but because there was no lock anyway. But the place had its own charm and although we'd laugh about it for the rest of the weekend, it very adequately filled our needs.

The next day we visited Lauterbrunnen and took a gondola up to Mannlichen which is located up in the Swiss Alps. Before heading up we picked up lunch from a local Swiss grocery store. This place was so novel to me with all of its foreign (to me) products that I couldn't help but get excited about every item that I looked at. We eventually settled on salami and cheese sandwiches and a bunch of snacks that we had brought with us.

When I look back now on the pictures I'm still blown away at how amazing all of it is. From the peak we were on you could see down to some little Swiss villages, hear the clang of cowbells hanging from the necks of actual cows, and see the vast expanse of green lands and majestic peaks. It was really cool. What was supposed to be a 30 minute or so hike turned into a hike that lasted somewhere between one and two hours. I guess we were just enjoying the countryside from our perch on the side of the mountain.

After touring Lauterbrunnen for a bit, we had to forage for dinner. We eventually found a lakeside Italian restaurant that could serve us pizza for a very reasonable (for Switzerland) price. Amy and I got one that featured parmesan and gorgonzola cheese, with prosciutto and basil. So Italian, right? It hit the spot.

Our last day in Switzerland was on the Shabbat. We made our way out to Church that day, I forget where, but on the way we found a perfect spot to get some pictures of the cows that we could hear off in the distance from our rustic farmhouse. (Church was in Lausanne). Finding our lady photographers a curious sight, the cars pulled over and the cows wandered right up to the fence and Lisa and Amy were able to get some really great close-ups. They both lamented having to get back in the car for Church, but somehow pulled themselves away.

Church may have been my favorite part of the day. We happened to be in the French speaking part of Switzerland and without any hesitation or prompting, one of the young men who had blessed the sacrament was translating all of sacrament meeting for us. I was just so impressed by him and touched that he would serve us so unflinchingly. During the meeting I heard an American name I recognized mentioned in a French accent. Not thinking I would ever randomly run into someone I know on the other side of the world, I didn't think anything of it, that is, until the end of the meeting when I looked back and it was my freshman high school English teacher whose father was in my home ward growing up. I couldn't believe it. We had some fun catching up, and then I started talking to one of the missionaries in the ward. He impressed me so much. His family is Chilean so we had a connection there, and then he was also from Southern California, so he and I both had a good little conversation.

Turns out vacation church is some of my favorite kind of church. It's just so cool making connections with people, new and old, and seeing how easy it is to connect with other people in spite of cultural and language barriers when we all have a common gospel connection. It's inspiring and fortifying.

Lunch ended up being hosted by a local gas station in Montreaux on our way to the Chateau de Chillon that sits perched on the side of Lake Geneva. The gas station food turned out to be some of the best we had in Switzerland. The Chateau was just gorgeous and fun to tour through. I loved hearing (or was it reading?) the stories about famous writers from previous centuries visiting that same castle. Lord Byron was so inspired by a prisoner's story that he wrote a ballad about him, The Prisoner of Chillon. I'm pretty sure I heard Victor Hugo's name at every place we went. That guy seemed to get around.

And we ended that night playing Dominion. Always Dominion. I love that game. Loved Switzerland. For Amy's pics in Switzerland and blogposts, go herehere, and here

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday, Monday, Bah, Dah....

You know that song, right? And onward...

For all of you who have been waiting to get one ever since you saw the Rocketeer, you're about to be very satisfied. The Martin Jetpack goes on sale in 2012 for $100,000. If you're worried about where you might be able to fly this thing or whether it's "street" legal, worry no more. It will comply with FAA regulations. You'll be able to fly up to 63 mph with a flight time of 30 minutes. Go here for more info.

My life is weird right now. The work I do doesn't have much to speak of in the way of tangible output. I have my own schedule that I set. I basically do what I want when I want. I've never had things this unstructured before. I'm getting used to it. I came up with a spreadsheet to divide up my time, downloaded an online timer that stresses the Pomodoro Technique, and have my whiteboard with my To Do's listed (I know that's not possessive, but it looks weird just as "Dos," right?). It's still weird though. My time will be divided between on-campus office hours, grading papers, working on my thesis, working on my fellowship, and now studying for the GMAT. It should be enough to keep me busy, but I'm still figuring out how to manage this stuff.

Speaking of GMAT, I talked with a few people I know that are recently enrolled in this year's MBA class. They couldn't have been more excited about what they were doing. I'm still leaning that way, but not decided yet. We'll see, but in the interim I have lots of math to brush up on.

I bought the STP greatest hits album the other day after discovering that I don't own have any digital copies of their music. It surprised me because I had a few of their tapes. You read that right: tapes. Anyway, I've been digging on this song lately:

Which has led me back to this song that I just loved during high school. In the mid-late 90's there was a Led Zeppelin tribute album and this was their contribution. I just loved it.

And then one last thing. Read this article from a pro-lifer over in the UK writing for the Spectator. You just don't get the same kind of writing here in the US. I just wanted post a few excerpts:
If you’re still convinced that all abortions, even the late ones for babies with hare-lips, are good, then here’s a question: how do you feel about killing kittens? I ask because it’s often abortion’s greatest fans who feel most indignant on behalf of animals. They’ll go to the wall to save a chicken-killing fox from hounds, but sod the babies. There was a story last year about a group of scientists who had decided that dolphins were so intelligent that they should be given official rights. ‘The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin relations,’ said the zoologist. Well great, let’s fund an inquiry into dolphin rights, I’m all for it. But what about that group of pre-born living beings whose neuroanatomy might suggest an even greater psychological continuity with our own?

If you want cold-blooded reason, look at it another way. A utilitarian calculus would, I’m pretty sure, tell you that the most ethical thing to do with an unwanted pregnancy, what would make most people most happy, is for the reluctant mother to carry an unwanted baby to full term and give it up for adoption. The adopted parents will be thrilled, and their happiness has every chance of lasting a lifetime — longer than the biological mother’s discomfort. And then there’s the child’s happiness to consider. It’s daft to ask which it would prefer — what would you prefer? Anyone would rather be adopted than aborted. To suggest otherwise is to spit in the eye of life.

That’s what I think of this very gung-ho attitude to abortion — it’s just bloody ungrateful. A spit in the eye of life. Yes, nature’s pretty cruel, but no sane, well-fed bitch would kill her healthy puppy because its lip was twisted. There’s a tragicomic horror about a society in which every year a few couples undertake the incredible business of making a new human, only to throw it away because a tiny bit of it’s folded wrong, and you know, the corrective operation might leave a scar. But far worse is a society in which even to raise some doubts about this is to be considered a laughable lunatic. The best and only explanation I can come up with is that secretly we all know this; we know the current consensus is wrong, but it’s just easier to stay in denial.

Just thought that was interesting. See ya!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Paul Ryan Explains Economics

Paul Ryan is a rising star in the GOP. He's a representative from Wisconsin and he is doing a better job than any other politician of clearly explaining economics. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he is leading the way in economic political discourse by coming out with a series of videos explaining how America can get back on the path to prosperity. You can find the committee's YouTube page here.

This is the third video in that series of videos that explains tax reform and loopholes. Even if you're not interested in politics, this is explained in a way that's very accessible to the common citizen. It's amazing to be honest. It's really great. Please watch at least this video:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Celebration...About Time!

I had a dream last night, I don't even remember the rest of the details of it, but the essential message was that I didn't get the sports consulting fellowship. I was really bummed in my dream. The reason they gave was insufficient funding, which I thought was weird because it's already an unpaid fellowship, so how do you get cheaper than free, right? I was disappointed, but I accepted it pretty quickly and felt like I was content to move on to other things, even after I had woken up.

I had a phone interview the Friday almost two weeks before we left for Europe, so that was August 26th or thereabouts. The guy said he'd let me know the following Monday. When I got no call, I followed up to let him know that I would be out of the country until the 11th. At first I was nervous when I didn't hear back, but then he let me know that he was also out of the country and would be getting back to me.

When we came back from our trip and I still hadn't heard anything, I thought that was a good sign because I figured if I didn't get it, I would have just gotten an email saying I missed the cut. But after a few days of being back and not hearing anything, I got nervous again, hence, the dream.

Then about a half hour ago an email notification popped up and the guy's name with the word "Congratulations" was immediately invisible and I got really excited after that. How do you celebrate at about 8:30 in the morning when everyone is at work and doing stuff, and you don't see anyone online?

The work is basically this: I will be assisting some professors at the University of Pittsburgh in research and manuscript authoring in behavioral trait research as it relates to sports. I will work directly with a senior member of the company and gain greater knowledge and experiences within the greater sports industry. Fun, right?

It's only 15 hours a week and I set my own schedule so I'm excited as this is just another resume builder for the next few months and one that could potentially lead to work directly related to my degree field in something that sounds right up my alley. I have to say, it's just really validating to get job offers and opportunities. When everything first started to unfold and it was looking like I was a shoe-in, I was feeling really confident about my career path and opportunities, but when it started to peter a bit, I was left feeling unsure of myself.

Don't worry though, because I'm feeling back on top of things. It's a nice feeling.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Well, we're back. I have to say, I think it's so much easier to adjust to the time difference traveling back west than it is to go east. I don't think I ever really got used to being on Germany time, but after just the first night back, I feel like I'm already back to MST.

The trip was a blast. Switzerland is beautiful. The one piece of France we saw was so quaint. And Germany was just awesome. I had repeatedly had the thought that of all of the places to live in Europe, Germany has to be at or near the top of the list. Stable country and economy. Beautiful countryside. Rich history, even if some of it is simply awful. But just all around great and near so many cool places.

Our trip involved the following:
  • 7 Rick Steve's walking tours
  • Hike in the Alps
  • A palace and 5 castles
  • 5 or more cathedrals
  • Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, Rise of the Nazi Museum in Nuremberg, and Museum of Torture in Rothenburg
  • The night watchman tour in Rothenburg
  • A bundesliga game in Stuttgart
  • At least 10 hours of Dominion
  • Many croissants, crusty roll sandwiches, some streussel, and some kind of turkey or pork steak with handmade noodles
  • And pictures. Many, many pictures
Amy is working on her pics, and I'll link to her blog and post some of those on here also, and I'll start working on my account of our time in Europe.

And that's your preview, folks.