Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"The Greatest" is dead

Pat Forde, a real journalist at ESPN, wrote yet another weak piece for the web site I do appreciate Forde's calling for an end to the BCS, even though his writing lacks, in my opinion.

In general, ESPN journalism is an effort in one-upsmanship, much like the fan-dom of today’s athletics- “Who is the single best? Who, throughout history, has achieved more in sports, ascending to the throne of greatest?” The question really is that silly. Realistically, achievement in sports more accurately mirrors the stock market or the tides. Michael Jordan ought to be considered for superlative greatness in 6 or 7 out of the many years of his life.  

Best ever cannot be said. By such simple measures and ignorant assumptions, mediocre writers get front page print by waving superlatives in a fit of delusional authoritative prose. So sad that one cannot simply state Michael Phelps has won the most medals of any Olympian ever.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow once defined an aspect of behavior in terms of human potential. He called it “self-actualization.” Self-actualization is the achievement of one’s potential to extent of rising above one’s circumstances or otherwise perceived limits. Isn’t that “greatness?” Gandhi and Martin Luther King jr. are examples of such “greatness.”

The significance of these Olympic moments may pale in comparison to Jesse Owens humiliating Hitler and single-handedly precluding the Nazi demise, or the greatness of Carl Lewis in multiple disciplines on the track, or the precision and grace in gravity defiance of the great Nadia Comaneci, or the crippled clinching of Gold by Keri Strugg. It may just pale in comparison to the anchor of the US 4x100 swimming relay, Jason Lezak, that gave Phelps gold, with the heroically defiant "smashing" of an arrogant French anchor man.

Or Dara Torres, 41 years old, swimming for gold with a young daughter cheering her on. Melanie Roach is 33 and mother of 3 children. She came in 6th in weightlifting, successfully completing all of her target lifts. Reese Hoffa was orphaned by his mother at a very early age. Now he competes for Gold in the Shot put. Or even Walton Eller, who won Gold in the double trap. Perhaps if there were more trap events…

No doubt Michael Phelps is earning a spot among legends in the Olympics, but I submit that winning Gold does less than he might think to solidify his place in history. It’s how you do it and against what odds. We and future generations will remember that Tiger Woods once won the U.S. Open with a broken knee and torn ligaments.

No, Phelps is most likely not the greatest Olympian ever, simply because there are no metrics to gauge such a claim across so many events and so many circumstances. Thus, foolish is the statement "the Greatest." 

"Like anyone could ever know that, Napoleon."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mormon Speculation

This post comes from a comment I wrote on Times & Seasons, an LDS blog. The subject was on the perpetuation of LDS urban legends and speculation, such as the recently skewered one about pioneers bowing at the feet of those who lived at the time of President Hinckley. The author argues basically for restraint in our stating what we think is a truth. I couldn't agree more.


Great post. I’ve read many of the comments as well and I’d rather address the original post than any of the reactions.

"Scientific Uncertainty" is a fundamental principle of rational decision-making. What we can be sure of in any production of science, history, or rhetoric is that there will be another side of the coin, an opposing argument, a different interpretation. We are interpretive creatures. We do like to create assertions and develop arguments to "prove" the truth of those assertions, but in the end our assertions are based on our interpretation of facts, sensory experience, or otherwise. You’re right on when you posit a wiser, more conservative approach to fact-finding.

Socrates spoke volumes when he said "True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing". I think there are things to know- we don’t know nothing whatsoever, but such a saying ought to cause us to glance at our references- heuristics, schemas, frames of reference, citations, paradigms, what have you. For me, credibility comes from a subjective approach. Objectivity is necessary, but reference to one’s perspective must be the foundation for such an approach as it guides one’s objectivity. Even then, uncertainty exists because we cannot fully take on another’s perspective (Joseph Smith said "No man knows my history."), and we cannot form such a thing into just the right words so that there will be no subjective interpretation of the words.

This raises a more important question. What can we know and how can we know it? Knowing the Gospel is true is something God promises that we can know. That knowledge is conveyed through spiritual manifestations. These "manifestations" sometimes get us into trouble. When I hear about us being Generals and having pioneers bow down, I just get all misty and warm inside. Who’s to say that’s not a manifestation and confirmation of truth. Well, hopefully myself.

This does not destroy our art of rhetoric and debate. We are welcome to assert and argue, but a wise person will not stand by his assertions with a figurative bomb strapped to his chest yelling "me or you, baby!" Persuasion is an art, just as being persuaded is an art, though more difficult to master.

In the end, the wise man can say, "I don’t know" and in the Church, we can say, "The idea of me being a General has no bearing on my identity as a member here and now. I still have so much to do in so little time." I try to live by a philosophy of preparing myself today for opportunities I don’t know about tomorrow. I live in the now. This takes some distrust of such premonitions and speculation. I find it quite liberating. In the Church context, hopefully we can focus on our simple testimonies of being children of God and members of the church, and fulfill our duties today.

Again, great post. I agree.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

For those Interested...

In political philosophy:

I've been studying political philosophies lately because of what I perceive as gross misrepresentations in the terms "conservative" and "liberal". Basically, I think people like to call opposing opinions one or the other, depending on their own opinion of course. And so very often, our understandings of each side of the spectrum neglects the opportunity for laudable "middle" opinioning. I think this is more a form of ignorance than anything as individual's opinions on issues never fall exactly in the same place on the continuum of underlying political philosophy anyway. An easy example is hearing someone's opinion on immigration and agreeing, but then seeking to add or subtract something. It's already not the same opinion. Personally, I see merits in many philosophies and lean towards some more than others. As well, I see that there are serious flaws in the various philosophies. I found an article about some of this kind of thing:

Conservatives and Libertarians

I am a conservative, but consider myself to be very close to a small-l libertarian. Whatever the theoretical differences between these viewpoints, I think that in contemporary America two practical distinctions are fundamental. The first relates to the limits, and the second to the purpose, of libertarian policies.

Bill Buckley got to the essence of the first distinction 25 years ago in an interview with Reason magazine in which he said that he “shares about 90 percent of the views of most libertarians”:

Now if, for instance, a society feels that its attachment to that society is substantially vitiated in virtue of the toleration, let’s say, of a movie based on a comedy treatment of Dachau, it tends to lose self-esteem. And to the extent that it loses self-esteem, it stands in danger of reducing that which is its principal resource in matters of emergency. An America that hates itself cannot possibly defend itself against the Soviet Union or anybody else.

…I’m talking about morale. A morale is not the kind of stuff you see at a football game. I’m talking about a morale in the sense of urging you or me voluntarily to make sacrifices for the survival of something we cherish. Now if we don’t cherish it, then we’re not disposed to make any sacrifices.

The Soviet Union no longer exists, but enemies spring eternal, and if we alienate the affections of our own society we will be unable to defend ourselves. Until the world settles into an endless commercial peace, we must accept some limits on lifestyle and economic freedoms in order to retain the social cohesion necessary to meet inevitable external threats.

Unfortunately, I can’t rely on Bill Buckley’s eloquence to delineate what I believe to be the second key distinction, namely the Libertarian movement’s misapplication of libertarian ideas.

A central insight of Hayek, Popper & Co. was that our ignorance of human society runs deep. We need the experimentation of an open society not only because different people often want different things, but even more importantly because we’re never sure what works. I generally support, for example, a high degree of legal toleration of behavior that I find personally objectionable. I recognize, though, that others believe that what I think should be tolerated goes too far and threatens social cohesion, or what Buckley called morale. How do we resolve this impasse?

The best answer for conservatives or libertarians is federalism, or more precisely, subsidiarity – the principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority. After all, a typical American lives in a state that is a huge political entity governing millions of people. As many decisions as possible ought to be made by counties, towns, neighborhoods and families (in which parents have significant coercive rights over children). In this way, not only can different preferences be met, but we can learn from experience how various social arrangements perform.

The characteristic error of contemporary conservatives in this regard has been a want of prudential judgment in trying to enforce too many social norms on a national basis. The characteristic error of contemporary Libertarianism has been the parallel failure to appreciate that a national rule of “no restrictions on non-coercive behavior” (which, admittedly, is something of a cartoon) contravenes a primary rationale for libertarianism. What if social conservatives are right and the wheels really will come off society in the long run if we don’t legally restrict various sexual behaviors? What if left-wing economists are right and it is better to have aggressive zoning laws that prohibit big-box retailers? I think both are mistaken, but I might be wrong. What if I’m right for some people for this moment in time, but wrong for others or wrong the same people ten years from now? The freedom to experiment needs to include freedom to experiment with different governmental (i.e., coercive) rules.

Now, obviously, there are limits to this. What if some states want to allow human chattel slavery? Well, we had a civil war to rule that out of bounds. Further, this imposes trade-offs on people who happen to live in some family, town or state that limits behavior in some way that they find odious, and must therefore move to some other location or be repressed. But this is a trade-off, not a tyranny.

We live in an imperfect world. Ironically, given the deeply anti-utopian orientation of Hayek and Popper, contemporary Libertarianism has veered off into increasingly utopian speculations disconnected from the practical realities that ought to animate it. At the same time, the Conservative movement has become increasingly ideological about enforcing moral norms. Both could learn a lot from re-engaging with one another.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I am Iron Man

My mission trainer is a triathlon "enthusiast". I've always wanted to do one, mostly because I think it is just about the toughest thing anyone can do. And I'm all about tough.

So, last Saturday, I flip on the TV and the Ironman is on. I watch as the best cross the finish line. The women's winner was a girl from England and she was absolutely beaming. She was ear to ear smiling- pure joy. I didn't get to see team Hoyt- the father/disabled son pair. There were 60+ year-old folks finishing- one blind, led by is son. One of the coolest was the man with prosthetic legs.

After watching all these people finish, I decided I want that feeling, so I emailed my trainer at told him that in 5 years, we're doing Ironman.

My Running Workout

Last year I pretty much limped through the finish line of the Salt Lake 1/2 marathon. I registered for the thing in November and started running. I didn't run in December or January. In February, we got a tax refund, I got new Nike+ shoes and the accompanying pedometer sensor. I started running again. In my second week of running, I did 5 miles- more than I had ever run in my life. The 3rd week, I ran 8 miles- again, more than I had ever run in my life. I moseyed through the next week, got sick for a few weeks straight and all of the sudden the 1/2 marathon was a week away. I ran a few times the week of- 2 miles as fast as I could- and went to the race. I was confident because of the drastic success I had early in my training, but also very wary. I paced myself to a very conversational pace and bonked at 9 miles. The remaining 4 miles was walk/jog and extreme pain. I mean pain. My legs and hips were aching and burning all at once. I was miserable.

This year, I registered 11 weeks prior to the day of the race. There's a few reasons:

1) I know that I am a procrastinator, but also that I can turn out impressive work in the short amount of time I leave myself.

2) I really didn't think I could get myself to get running again. It's hard to get up and give myself time to run with everything else going on- the same lame excuse we always give and always hear.

I am in week 2 of running. Last week I ran 3 miles total- 2, 1.5 mile jogs around the block. This week I ran 1.5 miles, 2.2 miles fast, and today, 5 miles. I feel like it's riding a bicycle.

I credit my optimism and success with running to 2 things:

1) A genetic predisposition for endurance. (rather than speed as my football career displayed)

2) A very good workout regimen.

I got my workout online from a site I already lost track of, so I do not take any credit for it's results except those I have made for myself.

The workout consists of running 4 days a week and alternating intensities:

Day 1- Monday- Recovery
The purpose of day 1 is to help your body recover from the last run of the week before. Running easy helps the muscles pump out leftover lactic acid and other substances. It is an easy jog (60% intensity), conversation pace- you can talk freely without gasping for breath- and is timed. To begin 20 minutes is good. I've gotten up to 40 minutes with a focus on speeding up, but still maintaining my breathing.
This is a good out-and-back run: 10 minutes out (my sensor tells me when I'm 1/2 way) and 10 minutes back for a 20 minute run.

Day 2- Tuesday- Rest

Day 3- Wednesday- Fartlek
Funny name, very challenging. Basically, this is where you will alternate intensities. You can time it or use distance. I use time. Example:
35 minute run- 5 minutes @ 60%, 5 minutes 80%, 5 min. 60%, and so on until time is up. This is good overloading work. If there is a good hilly area to run on, that will give you the increased intensity you need without having to time it or anything.

Day 4- Thursday- Intervals
This is the hard day. I find a local track and jog and sprint alternating distances. At first I'll jog turns and sprint straightaways for 1 mile (4 laps). I'll work up to jogging a 1/2 lap and sprinting a 1/2 lap for 1 mile, then 2. After 5 or so weeks, I'll be able to jog one lap, sprint one lap for 4 miles or so.

Day 5- Friday- Rest

Day 6- Saturday- The Big One
Today is race simulation. I am at 5 miles this week. Next week I'll do 6 miles and I'll add 1 mile every week until race week. This is run at race intensity (60-80%), which is entirely up to you. I love the sense of accomplishment this run gives when its over. It usually hurts a bit, but I love a little workout pain.

Day 7- Sunday- Rest

So that's the workout. I try to eat healthy carb stuff throughout the week and within 45 minutes after a workout, I drink a full glass of Chocolate milk- it gives the perfect ratio of protein to carbs for your body to recover energy and build muscle at the same time. Nothing is better for you.

Benefits of Nike+:
Timed or measured workouts using your iPod. You tell it what your goal is: time, distance, whatever. It tells you how far you've gone, how far you have to go, how long you've run, how much longer you have to go, when you've gone half way. After the workout, you plug in the iPod to your computer and let it upload your workout to On the site, you can set a long-term goal, coordinate goals with other people, have competitions (I'm running for Republicans, Men vs. Women, the State of Utah, and the 25-29 age group right now), but most importantly, you can see all your runs graphed by how fast you were running at each moment, what the mile splits were, your pace, etc. It gives great info. I highly, highly recommend it. And the shoes are the most comfortable I've ever worn.

Good Running!