Monday, March 31, 2008

Unexpected Occurrances

I had an unexpected chance to sing the National Anthem at Kent State again this past weekend. I sang for Mid-American Conference women's gymnastics championship, which Kent State hosted for the fifth time on Saturday, March 29. It was certainly a different experience singing for the meet versus a basketball game for several reasons: first, when I sang at the men's basketball games, as I mentioned before I sang at center court with no one else on the floor; not even the teams. At this meet, I was on the floor with seven teams. I wish I could've gotten a picture of it. I'll have to check with the University Photographer to see if he got any. Because all seven teams were on the floor, I couldn't stand in the middle, so I stood just in front and to the left of the area used for the floor exercise (near the bottom left corner of the picture of myself!). Second, not only were the teams already on the floor, but all seven had been introduced as well, something that never happened at any of the basketball games I sang at except the Roosevelt game. If I sang with the teams on the floor (which I did at KSU women's games and all Lake Erie College games), I sang before the teams were introduced. I think I like singing after the player introductions just because it flows into the game better. I'm not sure how I can explain that, but it just seems like a better place to fit it all in, plus the home fans are standing anyway due to player introductions.

As for my singing, I thought it went pretty well. It wasn't my best, but certainly not bad. I was just thrilled to get the chance to sing at a conference championship. I got an e-mail from Chris, the guy in charge of special events at the MAC Center, earlier in the week. I was a bit surprised to see an e-mail from him at all, but once I read it, I sent an immediate YES response back. Not only was it a conference championship, but I've never sung for a gymnastics meet ever, so I guess now I can add it to the list of sporting events I've sung at!

The meet itself was actually very enjoyable. I hadn't been to any gymnastics meet since 2004 when I would go to the meets because I had a friend, Earline, who was on the team. It's SO much more fun to go to sporting events when you go with someone or you know someone on the team. I mean we weren't best friends or anything, but we knew each other from church and the LDS student organization. I ran into her at the meet on Saturday as her sister is now a freshman on KSU's team. If she didn't remember exactly who I was, she certainly didn't act like it. It was good to see her again. I always had a high opinion of her as a person and wondered where she went after I left Kent State in 2004 and went to BYU-Idaho. Turns out she's back in Florida studying something I'm somewhat familiar with: sport management. My aunt has a phD in it and teaches at Old Dominion University, so I'm familiar with it at least, plus I helped here and there getting surveys ready to send and hearing about the results while she was working on her doctrate at Ohio State in the late 1990's. Anyway, Kent State did REALLY well at the meet. They ended up winning by almost two points. In gymnastics, where scores are typically decided in tenths and even hundredths of points, winning by an entire point is a pretty "easy" win. Winning by two is a rout (earlier in the season KSU won a meet by six points...that would be like winning a basketball game by almost 100 points I think!). Not only that, but Kent State had individual winners on all four events. About the only thing they didn't win was the individual all-around. I'd say that was a pretty dominating performance! The only things I didn't really like were the ushers (well, one in particular) and the layout of the floor. Because all the event areas were set up, the lower level seating was all retracted, so only the balconies were available. That was OK for most of the meet, but things that got anywhere near the lower wall were unseen by people in the balcony. The vault in particular was virtually impossible to see without standing up if you were sitting on the east side of the MAC Center (opposite the press area). As for the one usher...geez these people take their little areas a bit too seriously. I was standing in one of the corner areas snapping a picture of the floor and was there all of 30 seconds when the nearby usher was like "can you find your seat?" "This area is for her," as she pointed to the camerawoman I was standing a few feet from. I was just like "I know. I'm just getting a quick picture." I wasn't even IN the area, I was behind it and it's not like I was blocking anyone's view or a walkway, nor was I there for an excessive amount of time. That happened when I took pictures at the Akron game back in January too. It's like the ushers establish their little kingdoms in their areas. I understand they are trying to do their job, but how come I can never get an usher to enforce the aisles in the student sections or keep extra rows from forming in front of the bleachers? Hmmmm....But heaven forbid I stand near the camera area for 30 seconds to take a picture!

The only other news of the day was Kent State men's basketball coach Jim Christian resigning to take the job at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth. I was surprised it was to TCU, but not at all surprised he left. We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Guess he's going to get paid over twice the amount he was getting paid at Kent ($250,000 per year, highest in the Mid-American Conference) and TCU has better facilities than KSU. It won't be an easy job though. TCU is one of the Mountain West Conference's also-rans and hasn't done squat since 1998, not to mention the fact that it's a major "football school" in football-crazy Texas. Hopefully Jim Christian will have better success turning TCU into a contender than his predecessors at Kent State did at the first post-KSU jobs. Both went to big-name schools (Rutgers and Arkansas) only to end up getting fired at the end. Although coach Christian did great things in maintaining the high level here at Kent, he never had to build a team up from scratch like he will at TCU. Good luck!! Thanks for all the great times at KSU!

Another "good" thing about this is that it's early enough that Kent State can get a new coach and get recruiting without much of a break. Really, the season isn't even over yet, so at least we're not well into the recruiting season when this happened. Also, whenever a school loses a coach like this, it gives them a chance to evaluate the program and where it is and serves as an impetus for improvements in facilities and other ameneties. One thing coach Christian said about TCU that he really liked was their brand-new practice facility for basketball. At KSU, practice is held at the MAC Center, so if the MAC Center is being used for other sports (five teams use the MAC Center during the school year), there really isn't anywhere to hold a true practice. Earlier in March, when the MAC Center hosted the Mid-American Conference wrestling tournament, the men's basketball team had to practice at the KSU Rec & Wellness Center, hardly an ideal place to hold a practice (though it IS a nice facility, don't get me wrong!)! The KSU athletic director has stated he would like to build a practice facility on campus, so maybe this is the thing that gets it rolling. We aren't just competing with MAC schools, but all division I schools. As much as I like the MAC Center as a place to play basketball, it is due for an upgrade or replacement at least for basketball. I'd like to see a new arena/convocation center built and the MAC Center become the home for the volleyball, gymnastics, and wrestling teams. Then it could just be the MAC (Memorial Athletic Center). With a renovation, it could be a great place for those three sports and even women's basketball. I'd like to see a new arena built at the corner of Loop Road and Summit Street where several dorms are currently located. They're scheduled to be torn down this summer (small group dorms), so the area would be available. Not only would it be a highly visible location on campus, but it would also be adjacent to several large parking lots. I just don't want them to build a new center out by Dix Stadium. Keep in near the heart of campus!

**Well, I didn't even get to post this and Kent State already has a new coach! Top assistant Geno Ford got promoted on April 2, so it should keep things moving smoothly for KSU!

Notes on pictures: 1. Just me behind the press area at the MAC Center just prior to the Mid-American Conference meet on March 29. 2. Layout of the MAC Center during the gymnastics championship. Can you see where the Kent fans were sitting?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Trippin' in DC

It's Spring Break at Kent State this week, so Katie and I took a few days to get out of town and visit our brother and sister-in-law in suburban Washington, DC. My brother Andy is, of course, still working and Heather has Spring Break next week (she's in medical school), so Katie and I have had the last two days to go off and visit the sights downtown DC. Of course, we did as much FREE stuff as we could, but anyone who's been to DC before knows that there is TONS of free stuff to do and see! Thankfully too, DC has a pretty reliable and extensive subway system (the Metro), so getting into and around town was not hard at all. I did get in my fair share of walking yesterday, though!

In reality, we actually didn't do much...we mostly saw the outside of buildings. On Monday we visited the Smithsonian Air & Space museum, which we both enjoyed, though like most things in DC, it was pretty crowded. I was happy to finally see the original TV model of the starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek TV series. It's located in the basement of the museum in their toy store section of the main gift shop. I wouldn't call myself a "Trekkie", but I do enjoy the Star Trek franchise. Seeing the Wright Brothers' original plane was pretty cool too as well as the displays from World Wars I and II. One of my classes I'm taking at KSU is called "Politics of War," so it was nice to see some application of what I've been learning in class about the history of warfare and strategy. One thing I found rather interesting was the Vin Fiz Flyer. It was the first aircraft to fly across North America back in 1911. The actual flyer is hanging in the ceiling, but right below it is a map of its 1911 flightplan. Turns out it landed in none other than Kent, Ohio on September 28, 1911 and stayed there until the 30th due to high winds. Today, the only airport near Kent is the Kent State University airport in neighboring Stow, but that wasn't built until the 1940's and obviously airports wouldn't exist ANYWHERE in the 1910's since air travel was brand new. Some other cool stuff (well, cool to me) at the Smithsonian Air & Space was a section of the original Skylab space station and the original Apollo 11 command module. One of the displays I really liked was like you were on board the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65), the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. I could never land a plane on a moving runway like that (I could never land a plane on anything for that matter!) amazes me that anyone can!

On Tuesday we mostly just wandered around downtown. The only thing we actually visited was the Holocaust Memorial and Museum and since we didn't have tickets, there wasn't a whole lot to see. Without tickets, you can only see the special exhibits (not the permanent ones). I enjoyed what I saw, but wish I could've seen more. The main special exhibit Katie and I went to was called Daniel's Story and basically it's a walkthrough of the life of a child named Daniel, who was a Jewish child in Germany who survived the Holocaust along with his father. The viewer walks through his "house" and then moves to the ghetto, then the concentration camp and there are little pages of Daniel's diary in each place giving the viewer an idea of what's going on. The only drawback was that it was VERY crowded and slow tp go through, but it still had a powerful message. Hard to believe something like that happened in modern times, but it did.

We had also tried to go up inside the Washington Monument, but again, that needs free tickets and we got there too late. We got some good pictures of the outside, though! We also saw the outside of the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court (where we saw the media all set up for live newscasts!). Of course we saw the outside of the Capitol, but we have been on a tour of that before (2005). Katie and I still had fun walking around and the weather wasn't too bad...just cloudy! Today we didn't have much planned (Katie visited a friend), so I have some time to get online! It's a good thing because it's been raining pretty hard much of the day...not a day to be wandering downtown!

On Monday I also was able to visit with my good friend and former missionary companion Will Graff and his wonderful wife Sarah, who live nearby in College Park, Maryland where Will is working on his master's degree at the University of Maryland. It was great to see them again and was the first time I'd seen them since their wedding in Salt Lake back in June 2006. Both times I've visited this area recently (June and September of 2007) they were out of town, so I was glad to be able to visit with them before they head off to Texas this Spring for Will's flight school. Will and I served as LDS (Mormon) missionaries together in Las Cruces, New Mexico from December 2002-February 2003. We had a lot of crazy and good times together and he is currently one of the few missionary companions I'm still in contact with and by far the only one I'm in regular contact with. We also seem to see things pretty similarly, particularly missionary work and the way the Church operates and the "Mormon culture." I had a wonderful dinner and visit with them!
Katie, Andy, Heather, and I had a lot of fun decorating Easter eggs last night. I made this one egg covered in silver looks like a freakin' disco ball. It was a lot of fun though...we're planning on going to Dave & Buster's tonight for dinner and general fun. The last time I went to Dave & Buster's was the night before Andy & Heather's wedding and I had some of the most fun I'd ever had in my life! In typical fashion, Katie, Andy, and I stayed up until like 4:30 AM this morning talking. It was great! Stuff like that happens every time we get together since we don't have many chances to just talk being all spread out.
Notes on pictures: 1. Me in front of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, March 18, 2008; 2. Katie and me on the National Mall in DC on March 17; 3. Victory at the Supreme Court!; 4. Waiting in line at the Skylab station at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum; 5. Andy, Katie, and I coloring Easter eggs; 6. showing off my awesome silver Easter egg!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Rematch a Mismatch!"

Well, in case you didn't hear, yes, Kent State was able to not only win the MAC tournament title this year, but sweep Akron in three straight in the process. I attended the MAC tournament championship game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and even I was surprised just how big a margin of victory Kent State won by. After winning 75-69 in Kent in January and then surviving that near-collapse with a 61-58 win March 9 in Akron, I expected a close game if not an Akron win. A lot of the Akron players and fans expected Akron to win as well, mostly because Akron had a lot more to play for. The thought, at least, was that since Kent State was virtually guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament and Akron needed to win the MAC tournament to get in that Kent would just not play as hard, blah blah blah. Well, Kent came to play and Akron did not. I admit, I was worried given the recent close games and the fact that Kent barely beat Miami (Ohio) in a very physical game last night 49-47, while Akron had little trouble beating #2 seed Western Michigan, a team that had beaten the Zips by 20 when they played during the regular season. I would find I had little to worry about. Akron only led briefly during the first half, but only by four at the most (13-9) as they got some three-pointers to fall. Kent ended the first half on a 16-1 run to go up 33-20 at the half. Akron was never closer than ten the entire rest of the game. I was happily stunned by the outcome. Sure, winning the MAC tournament is always fun and now we get to play in the NCAA tournament, but beating Akron in the process makes it even sweeter, not to mention we returned the favor of winning all three games against them this year. They did that to us last year.

This was my first trip to Quicken Loans Arena ("the Q", formerly known as Gund Arena) since the 2004 MAC tournament championship game when Kent State lost to Western Michigan. The Q looks even better than I remember as it now has a better scoreboard (though it took some getting used to in reading it) and really nice seats. All of the seats at the Q are cushioned and actually pretty comfortable. They're also that wine color now instead of the old "Cavalier blue" (a shade of bright blue used in the Cavs' old logo) they were when the building opened in 1994. I've only been in a few NBA arenas, so I can't really compare it to the others. The only other arenas I've been in are the old Richfield Coliseum (which the Q replaced) and Salt Lake City's Energy Solutions Arena (formerly the Delta Center). I can definitely say the Q is WAY nicer than the Energy Solutions Arena, that's for sure! Energy Solutions Arena isn't bad; the Q is just way nicer and it's a much more interesting building, plus almost all the seats in the Energy Solutions Arena aren't cushioned; they're just plastic. Anyway, I enjoyed my visit to the Q tonight, though it would've been more fun if I had had someone to go with. I seriously need a sports-minded friend who actually lives nearby!

I was a little disappointed in the size of the crowd. The listed attendance was just short of 13,000, which isn't that bad considering a sellout at KSU is 6,327 and 5,500 at Akron, but I always figured that a Kent State vs. Akron championship game would draw close to a sellout at the Q (which holds 20,520). Not even close as the third level of seating was curtained off. The game didn't even set the MAC record for attendance, which is over 14,000 at the 2002 championship when Kent State beat Bowling Green. I got to the game an hour early because I thought it might sell out. Oh well. I'd say the crowd itself was about 50-50 or maybe a slight majority of Kent State fans, at least from my vantage point and looking around when each team scored. If we did have a majority, it wasn't by very much.

I ended up sitting in one of the unofficial KSU student sections, in the middle level in the corner. They weren't bad seats at all, except the bulky shot clock blocks a little bit of the view. I wish the MAC would have the students sit in the end zone sections, especially in a game featuring local rivals like this where both schools could easily bring large student sections. Sadly, I doubt such a thing will happen as the ticket prices prove that the tournament isn't about the students, it's about the money. There were some fun signs from the section and thankfully someone got pictures of them and posted them on Facebook. The best one was the "Fea the oo" sign, which was mocking the "WE DON'T THOW STUFF" sign from the March 9th game. I still can't believe that first sign was even made. I can understand typing mistakes, but a spelling mistake on a huge painted sign? Must've been done in a huge hurry is all I can imagine...glad it wasn't me. I had enough problems going to Cleveland feeling stupid after I missed the parking garage ticket machine and had to get out of my car and walk up to it (usually downtown for games you just pay upfront, so that's what I expected), and then when I bought my ticket I had the hardest time figuring out where to sign the receipt because it was under my thumb. The lady at the ticket counter was very nice and showed me. I felt like quite the idiot...oh well, you know...Kent read, Kent right, Kent State!

Speaking of Kent State, though, I got home last evening after the game to find the official paperwork welcoming me into the Master of Arts in Teaching program, so it's now official: I will be a grad student at Kent this summer. I just need to fill out some more paperwork and send it back, basically showing that I accept. Most of what came was stuff to help me get familiarized with Kent State (instructions on registration, campus map, etc.) so I'm ahead of the game there! I will start classes sometime in June.

Now, though, it's Spring Break, so I'm off to the Washington, DC area with my sister Katie to visit my brother Andy, sister-in-law Heather, and some friends and just to get out of town for a few days!

Notes on pictures: 1. Top half of the sports page of the local Record-Courier here in Kent for Sunday; 2. Me at Quicken Loans Arena just before the start of the second half; 3. Picture of two of the signs from the KSU students "Fea the oo" and "Hey Akron, "throw" has an "R" in it!". I was sitting just in front of this, just out of the bottom left corner of the picture; 4. The final seconds tick off the clock of Kent State's 74-55 win!

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I have noticed that there have been some follow-ups to some of my recent posts that I thought I'd add here for the benefit of my readers =).

To the MAC Champions! : Turns out some Kent State students started a Facebook group called "WE DON'T THOW STUFF" in reference to the sign seen at the March 9th game at Akron. I had to laugh when some Akron student joined the group and then claimed that maybe the word "throw" was spelled wrong on purpose. Riiiiiiight. And spelling it wrong on purpose would accomplish....??? I guess if their sole purpose was to make themselves look bad, then they succeeded, but really as far as I've been able to tell the misspelling was not on purpose judging by the reaction of the Akron student section once they saw the sign for a few seconds and hurredly took it down. Hardly sounds like the reaction of a group who purposely spelled it wrong, eh? I only include this not because I think anyone who goes to Akron is stupid, but because many are always saying "can't read, can't write, Kent State" (or some variation of it). What's funny about that phrase is that we use it on ourselves all the time. I've seen it on campus in a few places from dorm windows to car window decals.

On a brighter note, Kent State took home some serious conference awards. Not only did coach Jim Christian win MAC Coach of the Year, but Haminn Quaintance ("Q") won MAC Defensive Player of the Year and junior Al Fisher was named MAC Player of the Year. Not bad to go along with four players named to the all-conference teams: Fisher to the first team, Quaintance and senior Mike Scott to the second team, and sophomore Chris Singletary an honorable mention. Now, on to the MAC tournament tonight in Cleveland against Toledo. All the talking heads seem to think Kent State can get into the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome of the MAC tournament, but I'd still like them to win the whole thing anyway and go into the NCAA's on a win rather than risking it like that. Even though another Kent State-Akron mathup would be fun (it is possible in the final), I'd like to see KSU vs. Western Michigan since we only played them once this season in Kent. I think that would be a good game. If Kent makes it to the final on Saturday, I'll be there to watch!

A little venting... : I got an e-mail from my friend Tina whose husband Jacob is currently stationed in Iraq in the community of Hawr Rajab in southern Baghdad doing pretty much what I was talking about in my post: reconstruction that doesn't get a lot of press. Turns out where he is, they've had a lot of success in rebuilding the infastructure and getting the economy up and running again, which is the biggest deterrent to terrorism in the area. Most people turn to terrorism because they are destitute and have no other way to get money; not just because they have some deep hatred for the U.S. (though obviously many do). As new jobs come in, they have new options. Schools have reopen, shops are up and running, and they even have a women's initiative group operating in the area (think one of those existed under Saddam?). The main item in the article discusses the vocational training school, known as the Village of Hope, which my friend Jacob is teaching classes in. The school teaches the residents the basics of construction. If anyone would like to read the article, let me know via e-mail and I can send you a PDF version of it. I first met Jacob and Tina Wilcock and their kids Melissa and Austin when I was on my mission in Alamogordo, New Mexico from February-August 2003. They were stationed at Holloman AFB, which was in the area that I covered. They became some of my best and closest friends and we've kept in touch ever since. I visited them about a year ago in England, where they are currently stationed at RAF Lakenheath until later this year.

Monday, March 10, 2008

To the MAC Champions!

I just wanted to post my congratulations to the Kent State men's basketball team on their thrilling and heart-stopping 61-58 win over Akron on March 9 that clinched the outright MAC East and overall MAC (Mid-American Conference) titles for Kent State. Had they lost, Akron, Western Michigan, and Kent State would've all finished in a three-way tie for the overall conference title (with Kent and Akron sharing the East), but Kent State (as I previously mentioned) already had clinched the number one seed in the MAC Tournament by virtue of their victories over Akron (January 23 in Kent) and Western Michigan. Western Michigan, in turn, defeated Akron during the season, which gave Kent the tie-breaker in the event that Akron had won the rematch yesterday. And they almost did!

For 38 minutes, Kent was really schooling Akron with stunning ease. The entire game Kent did their thing and Akron was just uncharacteristically out of sync and shooting terribly. All of the sudden, they clamped down and roared back from a 12-point deficit with under two minutes remaining to tie it at 58 with about nine seconds left. They were aided by a few Kent State free-throw misses and a few turnovers that the Zips all coverted into scores, not to mention they finally hit two three-pointers at the end (prior to those that had shot something like 1-for-21 from three point range). I really couldn't believe what I was seeing, but then Al Fisher dribbled down the court with and from the corner hit a three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left and Akron could not get a shot off before the clock expired. I guess a win is a win, but WHEW! I give Akron a lot of credit. Like I said I was stunned at how poorly they played almost the entire game, especially at their gym on Senior night. I expected Akron to make a comeback, but certainly not how or when they did.

Not only is winning the MAC regular season title cool, but beating Akron is always enjoyable, but especially so this year. Every once and awhile I read the blog on the Zips on the Akron Beacon-Journal's website I've blogged about it before (after the January 23 game in Kent...see my MySpace blog entry "National Anthem part 2" at The guy that writes it obviously HATES Kent State (his latest blog even said so). I expect disdain from a rival, but I also expect respect and praise when it is deserved. Sure, I can't STAND the Akron Zips, but that doesn't mean that everything that comes out of the University of Akron is bad or that I only wish bad things on them or fail to recognize the accomplishments they do achieve as a team. It would be one thing if his blog was a personal blog like mine, but his is published by a newspaper with a reputation (albeit, a failing one), so one would expect some level of professionalism and a degree of objectivity since the Beacon-Journal's readership includes a large amount of Kent State fans and alumni. I don't expect the blog to be neutral, of course, but you gotta give props where they are earned.

The guy that writes this delights in anything bad that shows up in the news associated with Kent State and is quick to report on it and present it, while he ignores or is slow to recognize anything positive attached to KSU. The latest news was that former KSU football player James Harrison, who was honored at a recent halftime presentation at Kent, was arrested on charges of assault. Just one day before the January 23 meeting in Kent, former KSU basketball star Eric Thomas, whose number was retired and hangning in the rafters of the MAC Center, was arrested on charges of rape in Ravenna. Two other football players were recently arrested for theft I believe. The Akron blogger just has to blog about this like it's a black eye for Kent and that somehow this reflects on our athletic program. Funny thing is, James Harrison (who is actually a native of Akron!) hasn't played for Kent State since the 2002 season, the same as Eric Thomas. Sorry, Kent State has nothing to do with how these players live their personal lives, especially SIX YEARS after they graduated. Of the two current players who were arrested, one was suspended immediately and the other had transferred by the time he was arrested. In other words, one was gone and the other was properly dealt with by the administration. It would be one thing if these players did such things WHILE they were playing for the Flashes (like basketball player Chris Singletary's DUI earlier this season) and the University did nothing about it, but KSU did do something about each thing. Even with Eric Thomas, while his trial is ongoing, his jersey has been removed from the rafters of the MAC Center. Some may consider this an act of judgement on the part of KSU, but I see it as KSU trying to stay away from being attached in any way or to draw any more attention to it. If he's found not guilty, I expect to see the jersey go back up.

Anyway, I'm happy to report that the Akron Zips athletics website,, is much more balanced and fair than the Beacon-Journal's Zips blog and I've found it very informative as well. How sad is that? No wonder people are so suspect of journalists!

I do have to add this little extra here from the game. I found out about this from Facebook groups and those who attended the game in Akron. The AK-Rowdies (Akron student section) felt the need to make a big sign for the visiting Kent State students in reference to the few who threw debris near the end of the January 23 game in Kent. The sign was supposed to say "we don't throw stuff," but, well, just look at the picture. Now which school can't read and can't write? It was only fitting after the AK-Rowdies snuck a sign into our student section at the January 23rd game that said "we suck." As one Kent State fan put it, "we don't have to sneak signs in, we just let them humiliate themselves." I also heard once the sign was displayed, it was met with a "hooked on phon-ics" chant from the KSU students. Priceless.

Can't read, can't write, CAN'T BEAT KENT STATE!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A little venting...

I haven't talked about what's going on in Iraq in a long time. So long, in fact, the last time I ever wrote anything about it was just after it started and I was on my "pre-blog" website opinion page. It's actually still there! Anyway, I felt compelled to make a comment after something one of my professors said in class on Wednesday. We were talking about the concept of democracy and whether or not "more democracy" was better and if democracy works. His "good" example of democracy "working," in terms of benefiting the most people, was the election of Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago in 1981. Before that "good" example, his "bad" example of democracy "not working" or benefiting that many people was the current situation in Iraq. He said the "average Iraqi is worse off" than they were under Saddam. It always irritates me when people say that because I know what they're basing that belief off of: media reports of violence and little else. There have actually been few formal studies and polls to ask "the average Iraqi" about their situation now versus before the ouster of Saddam in 2003. One was done in 2004 by ABC News (I included a link to it at the bottom of the page), one year into the operation, and it found that 70% of those surveyed felt they were "better off" than they were under Saddam. Now, of course it must be pointed out this was four years ago and things are certainly different. My main point, however, is not that I'm trying to prove that things are "better" for the average Iraqi, but to show that saying "things are worse" is by no means a definitive statement or free from debate.

The problem with basing the assumption that "things were better" under Saddam is that, to me, it demonstrates a lack of perspective and understanding of the way Iraq functioned prior to the U.S. invasion and also how the media works. How? Well, remember that Iraq was a dictatorship under Saddam. He had control of virtually every government office and operation, which included the media. Do you think that Saddam is going to allow his media to report on his attacks on Kurdish rebels or his executions of rivals or dissenters? I don't think so. That also translated into the rest of the world not being "on top of things" like we currently are with so many media outlets now in Iraq reporting almost instantaneously what is generally going on. In other words, just because we didn't hear about a lot of violence before 2003 doesn't mean it wasn't there. I've read estimates that Saddam killed between 300,000 and 1,000,000 of his own people while he was in power. That hardly says "relative peace" to me. It should also be pointed out that the media generally doesn't work by reporting rank-and-file stories; they work by reporting unusual and sensational stories. My best example is when we hear about a plane crash. Plane crashes are VERY unusual, but if we hear about maybe two within the same month or a few weeks apart, suddenly people start talking about how "unsafe" it is to fly. Look at what happened after September 11th and how that affected people's perceptions of flying. The media focused on the unusual and sesational side of that story (in terms of airline security) or any story like it. They didn't focus on the fact that there are several THOUSAND flights per day in the U.S. and all but the ones that crashed made other words, you have like a 99.9999% chance of getting to your destination safely if you fly. See how the media can falsely alter our perceptions? I see the same things happening with the reports on Iraq. We are hearing about the violence and the sensational side of things, but very little about the day to day stuff. The few times I've read stories about the progress that has been made as reported by people who have been there for some time (troops), they usually are found on the back pages or some Bush-hater labels it "propaganda." Not always, of course, but that seems to be a recurring theme. Basically, I think there's a lot more good happening there than we find out about because it's not "exciting" or "shocking."

Just to be clear: I'm NOT saying things are find and dandy for the average Iraqi, but I am saying we can't really say for sure yet that it's absolutely worse for them than it was under Saddam.

Here's a link to the survey ABC News conducted in 2004 and a link to an editorial that rang true to me:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Go Kent!

Well, I really shouldn't be posting right now as I have two essays to write and one to finish still, all due tomorrow of course. I have a hope that at least morning classes will be cancelled, but I know I can't bank on that, though we are currently under a winter storm warning as I write this with sleet and freezing rain falling outside. Things actually look pretty cool outside with everything coated in it's all glass or something.

Anyway, I went to the final home game of the season for the Kent State men's basketball team. This game was against Miami (Ohio) and was broadcast nationally on ESPN2. I got there early to get a decent seat in the student section (end zones), plus I wanted to make sure I got a a decent parking spot. Weekday games are OK, but the problem is that people are still in classes, so parking is hard to come by. I managed OK. Katie and her friend Caitlin (known to all of us as Gizmo) came during the first half. Not only was it a big game, but I also got to sing the national anthem one more time. I have to say this one was one of my better performances and it happened rather unexpectedly. I knew coming in that there was a slight chance I could sing, but I honestly didn't think I would. Chris, the guy in charge of that, told me at the KSU-Ball State women's game back in February that he remembered telling someone they could have the March 4th game against Miami, but he couldn't remember who and wasn't sure. So, I had it as a possibility. Well, about 13 minutes before tipoff they introduced the two seniors for their last home game and right as they were finishing up the second one, Chris walked over to near where I was sitting, pointed me out and motioned for me to come over. So basically, I had about three minutes to get ready. I was slightly warmed up "just in case," but not that much. Honestly, though, I thought it went REALLY well. I was hitting my notes with confidence and had some gusto! I was really happy with the end too. I ended it the same way I ended my performance at the game against Akron (the one I put on Youtube) with a really high last note, and this time people actually heard it. I got lots of compliments when I went back to my seat. It was great.

Oh yeah, the game went pretty well too, at least in terms of the outcome. It was quite the defensive and sloppy game, but Kent State pulled out a 50-39 win over the Redhawks to clinch the MAC East division and also won the MAC overall title and the #1 seed in the tournament after Central Michigan knocked off Western Michigan a little while later in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. The irony was that Bowling Green, which somehow beat Kent State on Saturday, was blasted 96-50 tonight at MAC doormat Buffalo. With the win, Buffalo "improves" to 3-12 in the MAC. Go figure. It is only Kent State's third overall MAC title (2002, 2006, 2008) and their sixth MAC East division title (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008). The MAC has only had divisions since 1998 I believe. Hard to believe Kent State has been in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) since 1951 and only has three overall titles, all in the last decade. This season also saw Kent State achieve their first win over a ranked opponent in the regular season; their first ranking in the regular season (first ever in the AP poll); their 1,000th win in program history; and their tenth-straight 20-win season, not to mention a perfect 16-0 record at home!

I should also point out that YES, I did exercise my patriotic right and duty to vote by voting in Ohio's primary election today on the Republican ticket. Let me just say it was one of the easiest elections I've ever voted on (most weren't even contested) and everything went very smoothly. Can I just say I LOVE voting by touch screen? Not only does it LOOK cool, but it is SO MUCH easier than punch cards or optical scan. I'll be very disappointed if we do away with the touch screen systems like the Ohio Secretary of State wants to. In addition, I saw Liz Bittinger, a friend of mine who I haven't seen in awhile. I went to school with her daughter Jenny and I just have such a high opinion of her and that family in general. Liz's husband Dave is the minister at Kent's Assembly of God. The members of that family, at least in my experience, are some of the most Christ-like people I have ever met. They strive to follow his teachings not only in the choices they make, but also how they treat people. It's nice to see fellow Christians who actually follow the Savior's example. To me, a true Christian is not just someone who believes in Jesus Christ, or wears a golden cross around their neck, or goes to a specific church, but also someone who emulates him and seeks to follow his example. That's why I get so irritated when people try to say that Mormons aren't Christian. We believe in Jesus Christ and we strive to live his teachings in our day to day life. Do we agree with Protestants and Catholics on all the details of the Savior's life? No, but that's not really what's important. It's not so much about which specific denomination you belong to, but more about how you live your life according to your belief.

Notes about the pictures: 1. Katie, her friend Caitlin (aka Gizmo), and me at the KSU-Miami game on March 4th in Kent; 2. The view from our seats. We sat in the fourth row of the south end zone. One of my favorite aspects of the MAC Center at KSU is how close fans are to the game.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I'm 26!

So I am now officially 26 years old. Honestly, I always assumed I'd be married by now, but I guess not. In fact, growing up, I always said that 26 was the ideal marriage age (it's actually pretty close to the average age in the U.S.). This is the first birthday I've celebrated at home since 2004. Since my 19th birthday in 2001, I've only celebrated 2 others at home, counting this one, due to my mission and being at BYU-Idaho for three years. Today wasn't too bad and I really enjoyed the presents I got from Mom and Katie to go along with the present I got from Becky a month ago (she gave it to me before they moved). Mom got me a Kent State basketball shirt, a nice blue shirt, and a new pair of denim shorts. Katie got me the EXACT gold fitted KSU hat I asked for (sent her a pic with size too) =) and a "Captain Planet" t-shirt. Yes, Captain Planet was one of my favorite cartoons growing up. Becky got me a Kent State jacket (seen in yesterday's blog) that I've been wearing as often as the weather has allowed me (it's actually a pretty warm jacket!). My dad gave me a $25 Visa gift card. I still have get-togethers with both sides of the family. Not sure when we're getting together on the Derby side, but on the Ridinger side, we're getting together next Sunday. I can't wait because I picked out a really good cake =).

Anyway, the real fun was, as always, in Primary today. I've said it a million times, but if it weren't for Primary, I'd have a hard time being motivated to come to church every Sunday. I've always said my calling is the best ever...I get all the benefits of being in Primary PLUS I get to do something I enjoy (and need to improve on) and I don't have to put a whole bunch of extra planning or effort into it. So today in Junior Primary (ages 3-7) Sister Horning had a lesson on the address of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon, which is found in Mosiah chapters 2-4. In the actual story, people from all over the Nephite nation gathered in the capital to hear what was to be King Benjamin's last address. All of them camped out in tents outside of the city and so many came that King Benjamin built a tower so more people could see and hear him. He also had what he said written down so more people could read what he said. To Latter-day Saints, this is pretty much how our General Conferences work...the prophet and church leaders address the entire church at once and all of it is recorded so we can read (and now watch) it again. The Conference Center in Salt Lake holds 21,000 people so lots can see it in person (I've been there on three different occasions), plus it is broadcast over satellite to the remainder of the church around the world. The Conference Center also contains translation facilities which allow the talks to be translated live into something like 80 languages.

Back to Primary, we made "tents" for the kids out of chairs and sheets and had one of them stand on a chair to be King Benjamin. That honor fell on Sam Mars, age 4, who had a rough start to the day, but reminded us that "when we're all done here we should put our toys away." He also asked if "there were any bad guys" in the story of King Benjamin. Unfortunately for Sam, the story of King Benjamin is not much of an action story! Sam was also moving around a lot, so Sister Horning said "Hey King Benjamin, you need to stand still." I added "hey, you're OLD," as King Benjamin gave the address shortly before he died. It was an all-around fun time and got the point across about the story. At the end of the day, the kids sang our happy birthday song to me (usually I'm the one playing it) and I got a little bag of Hershey's kisses, our standard birthday gift for all our Primary kids and teachers.

Notes on the pictures: 1. getting everything set in the tents; 2. the kids in the "pink tent" and Sam (far right) wait; 3. Sister Lisonbee showing Jed and Tony where we are in the Book of Mormon; 4. Curtis Rohal "looking up" where we are in the scriptures in his tent; 5. Sam Mars being King Benjamin while the Primary teachers have a laugh. Every Sunday has something fun; 6. The kids watch from their tents; 7. Tony Jeppson gives his talk while his mom (left) watches with Sister Custer. He did a fabulous job, by the way, and did not need any help reading it. Kids in the Church start speaking in front of groups at a pretty young age!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New Blog

Current mood: bummed

So, after a little bit of thought, I decided to move my blog from MySpace to Blogger. Basically, it boiled down to who could read my blog and comment on it. On MySpace, anyone can read my blog, but only MySpace members can post comments. I really enjoy comments, so on Blogger, I can set it up so anyone can comment whether they have a Blogger account or not. I can also comment on others blogs on Blogger who have theirs set to only allow other Blogger members to comment. SO, for those of you who have a supscription to my blog here (all three of you), fear not. You can subscribe to the RSS feed on my Blogger account, plus I'll try to post updates here when I make a post there. I posted new blogs there yesterday (2/29) and today (3/1). Of course I'll be leaving all my old blog posts here as well! My new blog, currently titled "Live from Kent..." can be found at

Disappointment in BG

I took a road trip to Bowling Green, Ohio to see Kent State play Bowling Green, aka BG or BGSU. Where is Bowling Green? It is in northwestern Ohio along I-75 about 20 miles south of Toledo, about an hour or so south of Detroit I think. Bowling Green State University and Kent State University are sister schools; they were founded on the same bill (known as the Lowry Bill) in 1910, so they have somewhat similar histories. I had never been to Bowling Green before and I wanted to see a road game, so I figured why not. My sister Katie came with me and one of my best friends Michelle, a fellow KSU alum who just happens to live just north of BG near Toledo, came too. A good number of Kent State fans made the 2.5 hour trip across the state. I was a bit surprised to find out the attendance was a measley 1,400+ and I'd say somewhere between 200 and 300 were Kent fans. The disappointment was how Kent State played. After their magnificent win over St. Mary's last Sunday on national TV, the Flashes were outplayed by a BG team they easily beat in Kent back in January (63-49 Kent win). The final score was 89-83 BG and while Kent State is still in the drivers seat in the MAC, it obviously hurts their ranking (they won't be ranked after this!) and their chances of getting to the NCAA tournament without winning the MAC tournament. There's just something about the I-75 corridor that causes Kent to play poorly. They opened the season with a loss at Detroit, then lost in February to Toledo, and now to BG, all three teams being below .500 teams currently. ACK.

So The good thing, at least for me, was that first, I got to see my friend Michelle again and spend time with Katie. I haven't seen Michelle since early last April when I stopped at her place on my way home to Kent from Idaho. The second thing was that I was able to see BG's Anderson Arena for the first time ever. It's a classic old-time college arena, but it doesn't seem to be maintained all that well. At least it has good sightlines and even the worst seats there aren't that bad. I was wondering if the school had any renovation or replacement plans for it and I found out at halftime that a local family has donated $8 million towards a new convocation center, so Anderson Arena's days are numbered. It also makes me wonder if Kent will pursue a new center soon. While I have fond memories of the MAC Center, it is far behind most facilities at this level (though it is better than the two other arenas I've been in- BG's and Akron's). I would like to see the MAC Center renovated to be an all-chair arena (now it's almost all bleachers) and used for the sports that don't draw as many people like wrestling, gymnastics, volleyball, and even women's basketball. Kent State needs a larger arena where the men's team (and probably the women's too) can play and can attract other events from outside the campus to Kent.
Anyway, the University of Akron's James A. Rhoads Arena still ranks as the worst arena I've been to, plus I attended a game at Copley High School the other night and wasn't too impressed with their gym (which is used every year for high school basketball sectionals because it has a large capacity). Both gyms have the same viewing problems in their balcony sections, so a large group of people have obstructions in seeing the game if they are sitting there, particularly in the forward rows of the balcony.

*Picture notes: from top to bottom- 1. Katie, Me, & Michelle after the game; 2. Inside Anderson Arena at Bowling Green State University from our seats prior to gametime; 3. Another view inside Anderson Arena. It is certainly a unique layout; 4. Inside Copley High School's main gym from my seat, about 2/3 up the balcony. As you can see, even as high as I was, the railing went right through the middle of my view and the ceiling is pretty close too; 5. Another view from the balcony at Copley High School. Here you can see how much of the floor is cut off for those fans sitting in the front rows of the balcony.