Sunday, January 11, 2009

Civil War at the Y

About three times a week as I arrive at the law school, I pick up a copy of the Daily Universe (DU). I read it not for its deep insight or journalistic & linguistic achievements; no, I read it mostly for the letters to the editor. These letters are almost always argumentative, flawed, brash, inane and ... hilarious. But other than a good laugh, the opinion section (and the paper) typically serves little purpose.

Earlier this week, though, the DU printed an article titled "Textbook return policy puts 'tax on honesty'" prompting a controversy that, at least to me, deserves special attention.

The article dealt with a three-year-old BYU Bookstore policy. The policy says the bookstore will refuse to refund students who attempt to return a book that has been replaced by a book from another source (internet, friend, etc.). The policy is unique among Utah colleges largely because, lacking an honor code or the moral guilt that goes with it, those colleges simply have no way to enforce such a policy.

At BYU, though, guilt keeps the students, by and large, in compliance and, consequently, a subtle rift has arisen between poor students (who feel the policy is capitalism at its worst) and the bookstore (who feels the policy necessary to prevent wanton abuse of the system, allowing students to, essentially, check out books from the bookstore while they shop around for a better price).

The article, in a unique move for the DU, was pretty well balanced; both sides got in some good hits. Tom Hirtzel, head textbook guy at the bookstore, put in plenty of points and did a decent job backing the bookstore's perspective. On the other side was, among others, BYU econ. prof. Mark Showalter who, in no uncertain terms, condemned the bookstore's policy as a "tax on honesty." The editors/writers at the DU rightly clung to this phrase in their title. (I mean, it got my attention).

But other than the impartiality (in a paper renowned for its pro-BYU bias), there was nothing extraordinary about the article. And it probably would have gone the way of all issues of the DU (kindling for homeless cougars?) had the bookstore not taken its next, stunning move.

The next day, they pulled ALL of their advertising from the DU.

This was a tizzy fit of the highest order. A brash, boisterous, and blatantly bad move on the part of a Bookstore who must be riddled with self-doubt and fear that they may lose a semi-monopoly if students find out what's really going on.

As the DU pointed out in a subsequent editorial, "[p]ulling advertisements for pointing out a real, continuing subject of public dialogue is petty" - AMEN - "[t]he Bookstore's response demonstrates narrow-mindedness" - AND AMEN.

As you may know, I'm graduating soon. I've already made my last foray into the cankerous world of college textbook economics (and what a twisted, troubled world it is). But if I weren't, the Bookstore's actions would have given me all the impetus I need to NEVER BUY ANOTHER TEXTBOOK FROM THEM AGAIN (they say ALL CAPS is the written equivalent of shouting ... TRUE THAT)! I've always been upset by the Bookstore's seeming disregard for the students who keep it in business. As an arm of the University, the Bookstore should be putting us first. That they do not (and will not) is more disturbing now than ever before.

A tax on honesty? No ... what we have here is something far worse.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Genie in a Jug: A Practical Alternative to Radar?

While evaluating whether a court should take judicial notice of the accuracy of radar in detecting speed in 1959, Judge Ruark of the Missouri Court of Appeals had this to say:
"Whether the radar device is an instrument applying known laws of science, or whether it is a genie in a jug, emitting evil emanations, makes no difference; the important thing is that it works."
Of course, Judge Ruark's brilliant quote begs an important social question: Why has the law enforcement community ignored the enormous potential of the "Genie in a Jug" speed-detection method? After all, troopers around the country have known about this important tool for decades (ever since Officer Van Laddaman of the Vermont State Troopers first employed the technology to pull over speeding semi-trucks in the early 1950s). Some have argued that the conscious disregard of this vital technology may simply be another form of religious intolerance in a country that professes acceptance of all creeds.

After all, we all know that "Genies" first gained prominence as part of their important role in the Islamic religious tradition. The Genie, or Jinn, is a supernatural fiery creature which possesses free will (mentioned in the Qur'an where an entire Sura is named after them (Al-Jinn)). Analysts suggest that the decision not to use Genies to enforce speeding ordinances is a clear sign that this country does not accept Islam or those who practice it.

But I think the real answer is far less troubling. Clearly, there are vital reasons NOT to use the "Genie in a Jug" method: Namely, Genie's are often PURE EVIL (as, apparently, are the ones Judge Ruark proposes using). While some are good (see Aladdin) evil genies are said to lead humans astray. In fact, in Islam, Satan, known in Arabic as Iblis, is the iconic genie that refused to bow down to Adam when ordered to by Allah.

This nation simply cannot afford to let Genies shoot their "evil emanations" at its citizens merely to enforce speeding laws accurately. Clearly, the costs (humanity's destruction based on unchecked use of evil, mystical powers leading to some sort of Armageddon) far outweigh the benefits (more fines for speeding).

I say the time has come to put the "Genie in a Jug" argument to rest. After all, radar works ... and I for one will sleep better knowing a disgruntled trooper won't be able to use his speed-detection device to enslave the general populace.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Barestaugmo ...

While texting a friend, the predictive function on my phone pulled up this wonder of a word as the MOST PROBABLE entry. Now, granted, I probably missed a letter (or added one in), but it was hard for me to understand how something like "Barestaugmo" could even be an option (extra letter or not)?

As I thought about it though (and yes, this does reveal a rather Everest-ian level of boredom), I realized that mayhaps this is just my phone's subtle way of encouraging me to break out of society's linguistic sinkhole and really stick it to the man with words that inspire both confusion AND admiration (I mean, people who can come up with words that imaginative should be leading this country ... or at least the BCS).

And what's more, I realized that making up words has a long and glorious tradition. After all, where would the world be if Lewis "the Dodgson" Carroll or ol' Bill hadn't jumped the verbal mores of their day? We certainly wouldn't have words like "chortled" and "galumphing" or "dexterously" and "assassination" (though, of course, in Shakespeare's case he may not have invented the words so much as been the first one to write them down ... still, give the man props).

So in honor of Carroll, Shakespeare and ... my phone, I propose the following words to both gladden the heart and spicen the tongue (most words provided by my phone's predictive text function):

Barestaugmo: Formal name for a class of psychological conditions tied largely to television viewing. Includes, among others, Festaction (an unexplainable need to spend hours watching various reality television shows, esp. The Hills) and Nubbitasteesm (a belief that one is wittier and has a larger vocabulary than one actually does, typically arising after multiple hours of watching Gilmore Girls or Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Tuckervine: A type of dance originating in the hinterlands of Canada. Performed while wearing up to six layers of thick animal fur, the finer movements of this dance are often indistinguishable from standing. However, practitioners frequently claim that if observers could see their legs, they would be utterly astounded.

Nurtuaj (silent 'j"): A type of creature resembling a large squirrel the makes its home predominately among a library's bookshelves. While sometimes resembling young undergrads with weeks of facial hair growth, these easily-frightened creatures are fond of both peanut butter and soothing music. They are frequently observed towards the end of scholastic semesters.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Life is a Musical ...

A dear friend of mine asked me via text (and rather randomly) "when you think of the most loved musicals of all time, which names come to mind?" Jolly good question, wot. I mean, are there certain shows that, by their cheery goodness and musical prowess, immediately rise above the dross in all their melody-driven glory?

Well, taking a rather broad definition of the term musical (including shows originally created for film as well as those written for the stage), here are the first five that jumped to mind when I thought about the phrase "Most Loved Musicals of All Time":

(1) The Sound of Music: After all, the hills are alive with it - the very foundations of Nazi Germany quake at the mention of it. Anything Julie Andrews touched was pure gold (and a reason her shows make two of the top five - see below). Funny, family-friendly and filled with some of the most catchy, nay, infectious tunes of all time, this Rogers and Hammerstein standby remains classic for good reason.

(2) Fiddler on the Roof: I took a class from Michael Ballam as an undergrad all about the power of music (and its history). We spent a lot of time talking about musicals. One day he told us the story of Fiddler. Apparently, when the show was set to open the writers, director and producer were all on pins and needles because they didn't think anyone could like a show about Russian Jews. They suffered through opening night steeling themselves for boos while hoping for cheers. What they got, however, was silence. No one moved. No one clapped. No one did anything for a long while. Then, slowly, the audience began to disperse. The next day, feeling certain that the show was a complete disaster, they came to the theater and saw a line of people longer than they could imagine. The show went on for a (then) record-setting total of 3,242 performances. All I can add is my own "Bravo."

(3) Les Miserables: Who'ld a thought that unadulterated tragedy could turn into one of the most amazing musical productions ever seen? Of course, I gotta give props to Victor Hugo and his source material (perhaps the most amazing novel every written), but an equally well-deserved cheer goes out to Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil whose genius transcends blog description. Good on ya, Frenchies.

(4) Mary Poppins: Can you possibly not love this show? I mean, really ... try. It's not possible. We've got singing bankers, dancing penguins, semi-neurotic nannies, and Dick Van Dyke ... who could ask for anything more? And with SNL's lovely send up to supercalifragilisticexpealidocious ("a disease of the liver ... "), this one must be at the top of any musical-junkies list.

(5) White Christmas: It may be the season ... it may be the snow, but whatever the reason, this one does float to the top. After all, how can you beat that Danny Kaye/Bing Crosby dynamite.

(6) My Fair Lady: Most beloved of all time or not, I had to throw this one in because it's my personal favorite. Why, you ask? For the complexity of the plot, the lovely tunes, the undiluted chauvinism of Prof. Henry Higgins and ... for the following lyrics:
"Women are irrational, that's all there is to that. Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags. They're nothing but exasperating, irritating, agitating, calculating, vacillating, maddening and infuriating hags."

Well, that about does it for me. For those two or three of you who may read this, feel free to add to the list. I'd be interested in what pops into your head.