Friday, January 30, 2009

Evansville #1 on SportsCenter "Top Plays"

Check it out here.

That's two wins over Drake. We might end up getting a decent Bracket Buster game this year.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"And the Kids"

A couple days ago I signed a Facebook birthday card "Josh, Ashlee, and the kids" because the Group Card application did not allow me enough characters to write "Josh, Ashlee, Meyer, Resha Kate, and Malachi." Never before had I denied my children their unique identities by naming them as a collective—"the kids." (At least, I had never before done such a thing in a greeting card.)

Early in our relationship, when Ashlee and I would exchange cards for different occasions, we would include in our salutations the names of individual cats (i.e. "Love, Josh, Naomi, and Reggie"). As our cat population grew and listing the name of every cat became untenable, "Naomi, Reggie, Rivers, Curtis, etc." became "the cats." (Now the cats are lucky to be mentioned at all.) It's weird to see the same thing happen to our children.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another "Snow Day" in Nashville

When I first moved to Nashville from Indiana, I thought it was cute that Nashville-area schools would close for the following "inclement" weather conditions:

  • chilly rain

  • 20 percent chance of snow

  • temperatures below 30° F

Now that I'm married with children, and now that my ability to go to work and Ashlee's ability to sleep (she works nights) depend on Meyer and Resha Kate being in preschool three days a week, it's not so cute. (Preschools tend to close whenever the public schools in their district close.) Adding injury to insult: Unlike primary and secondary schools, preschools don't make up missed days, which is great for the kids but not so great for the parents who have to pay for the children to not go to school because school officials have an irrational fear of cold water.

Oh well. Maybe it's worse out there than I realize.

Update: At least it's snowing now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No Big Dance for Vanderbilt and Evansville—Why Do I Care So Much?

With each passing week the likelihood of either of the universities I attended being represented in the NCAA Tournament grows smaller. At this point the only hope that Vanderbilt or Evansville has for a tourney bid is to win its conference tournament. I suppose that the Missouri Valley Conference is up for grabs, and with a healthy A.J. Ogilvy an SEC tournament run isn't out of the question for Vandy. Still, I'm not optimistic about either of my schools getting its conference's automatic bid.

I confess that I'm legitimately upset by my teams' waning postseason prospects, so upset that I no longer enjoy watching college basketball. When the season began, I saw a lot of promise in both teams: Vanderbilt's freshman class would be possibly its best ever; Evansville showed considerable improvement during MVC play last season and would be led by a trio of talented seniors. Thanksgiving weekend, Vanderbilt won a tournament in Mexico, picking up victories against mid-major powers Drake and Virginia Commonwealth; at the time, the Commodores' only loss was to Illinois. On December 13 Evansville celebrated a 72–40 win over a Western Kentucky team that had upset #4 Louisville; that win gave the Aces a 7–1 record, the only blemish being a road loss to a talented Butler squad. Even though few experts had tapped Vandy and Evansville as potential NCAA Tournament teams, I felt early in the season that both teams had put themselves in position to be in the at-large-bid conversation come March. Then Vandy was upset by Illinois-Chicago and handily beaten by a mediocre Georgia Tech team before beginning the SEC season 1–4. Evansville dropped two close games to opponents with losing records and already has lost two home games in conference play. As of this writing both teams are 12–7.

I feel as though both of my teams have let me down, which is silly a) because no one directly involved with either team has any idea who I am and b) because I can only imagine that everyone involved with both teams is much more frustrated by their 12–7 record than I am.

And what if either Vanderbilt or Evansville hadn't faltered and ultimately earned that NCAA bid? Vandy has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen twice since I graduated from its Divinity School; thus anything less than a Commodores run to the Elite Eight will leave me underwhelmed.

Evansville, by contrast, is the type of school that hangs a large banner to commemorate a postseason bid, regardless of the team's performance in the tournament to which it was invited. For the Aces, earning a spot in the Big Dance is a big deal. They last got an NCAA Tournament invite in 1999, my senior year at the school. That semester I spent more hours evaluating the Aces' hopes of earning an at-large bid than I did working on my senior project. I pored over RPI rankings, examined the tourney profiles of several other at-large candidates, and wrote angry e-mails to experts who weren't impressed with the Aces' résumé. I drove back and forth between Roberts Stadium and the University Crescent office so that I could participate in an interview my band was doing for the school paper and watch Evansville's final regular season game against Missouri State (then Southwest Missouri State). The Aces won in overtime, clinching the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. I don't remember much about the profile of the National Biscuit Company that ran in the next week's Crescent. I drove to St. Louis to watch Evansville lose a close game to Creighton in the championship game of the MVC tournament, thus failing to earn an automatic NCAA bid. I was a nervous wreck on Selection Sunday, frightened by the possibility that Evansville might not get an at-large nod. But the Aces got the bid, and I drove to New Orleans to watch Evansville play Kansas in the first round. Though I have several great memories of watching the '99 Aces, and though I enjoyed the road trip to New Orleans, sitting in the upper deck of the Louisiana Superdome dressed in purple and orange watching Kansas beat Evansville by 30 was not a pleasant experience: "We went through all this for the right to play one game in which we weren't even competitive?"

I say that, but I'd love another chance to drive twelve hours to watch the Aces lose a first-round NCAA Tournament game (though I no longer have the time nor the disposable income to make such a trek).

I've written several hundred words and am no closer to making a point than I was before I decided it would be a good idea to write a blog post about my alma maters' basketball teams failing to live up to my unrealistic expectations. So I'll stop now.

But before I go, I should say that the chances of Vanderbilt and Evansville getting some sort of postseason invite after they are bounced from their respective conference tournaments seems very likely, provided they can keep their overall record above .500. today announced that it would be sponsoring a fourth postseason college basketball tournament. Now teams that aren't quite good enough for the NCAA, NIT, or CBI tournaments have something to look forward to in March. 129 teams will now get postseason bids of some sort. To put this in perspective, I would say that the tourney is the basketball equivalent of a college football team being sent to Shreveport for a late December game against a 6–6 Conference USA squad.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Because I Don't Have the Energy to Write a Proper Blog Post . . .

. . . here are some links:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Mouse

That's what we're calling Malachi: The Mouse. We had been calling him Mal, Mal being an obvious abbreviation for Malachi. Mal soon became Mals, because we're into faux-plural abbreviations. Sophie, Resha Kate's twin cousin*, heard Mals as Mouse, giving us no choice but to refer to our youngest child as "The Mouse." There you go. Here's The Mouse:

* Resha Kate and Sophie aren't actually twin cousins, foremost because there is no such thing. They weren't even born on the same day. But they are a mere four days apart, so I won't apologize for my use of "twin cousin."

I Feel Like Giving Away Some Three Hit Combo Downloads

The former members of Three Hit Combo (formerly Pink Mongoose) got together this past weekend for the first time in months. In honor of that occasion, here are some free Three Hit Combo songs:

If you want more, you can go to iTunes (see the sidebar).

Three Hit Combo was:

Me: vocals, bass, piano/keys
Brian Fuzzell: drums, percussion
Zach Collier: vocals, guitar, trumpet, piano/keys

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy MLK Day!

Note: Some version of this post appears on this blog every January.

On this day when we celebrate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should take an honest look at the man whom I consider the greatest American ever to have lived.

First, we should remember that King was a great American, precisely because he effected significant cultural and political change using only those tools granted by the first amendement of the U.S. Constitution: speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition. He practiced nonviolence and never resorted to malicious or dishonest tactics.

But in the relatively short period of time since Dr. King's death, we have turned him into someone much safer than he actually was. While he remained true to the rights guaranteed by the first amendment, King and the Civil Rights Movement distrupted life-as-usual, politics-as-usual, and faith-as-usual in the United States. King's efforts forced Americans to deal with issues of injustice and inequality immediately, without hesitation. Often, by forcing the hand of American culture and government, King and others in the movement knowingly put themselves at great risk.

His message was also much more radical than many people today realize. As a culture, we remember King as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 and turn him into someone who simply wanted a color-blind America. But Dr. King wanted much more. Michael Eric Dyson, a Baptist minister, professor at DePaul University, and scholar of race in American culture, writes in I May Not Get There With You:

We have sanitized [King's] ideas, ignoring his mistrust of white America, his commitment to black solidarity and advancement, and the radical message of his later life. Today right-wing conservatives can quote King's speeches in order to criticize affirmative action, while schoolchildren grow up learning only about the great pacifist, not the hard-nosed critic of economic injustice. . . .

King was attacked within the civil rights movement and beyond for his daring opposition to war. He broke with other leaders in a dramatic but heartfelt gesture of moral independence. . . . Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed the Vietnam War because he was a profound pacifist and proponent of nonviolence, because he was a Christian minister, and because he was, as noted Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said ten days before his death, a "great spiritual leader."

On the other hand, because of King's undeniable greatness, America made him a saint within two decades of his death and relieved him all of his faults. As a nation, we do not recall that King's commitment to his family was sporadic at best, that he cheated on his wife, that he was wary of putting women in leadership roles in the movement, and that he was somewhat of a misogynist in general.

Now that I have three children, I think a lot about King and other great prophets and their family lives. For me, having small children has meant spending less time changing the world and more time changing diapers. I regret that, in the past few years, I've done little to raise a prophetic voice or get my hands dirty for the sake of equality and justice. Of course, neglectful parents are one cause of poverty and injustice (along with a host of other problems), and one should not underestimate the importance of strong family relationships.

King was a prophet, a great leader, and an American hero. We should celebrate his life and work, and we cannot credit enough the Civil Rights Movement for making the United States a better, more moral nation. And while the folktale version of King that we have created may have a place in our society, we should not neglect to take an honest look at the real Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his great contributions in the struggle for equality, his radical message, and his shortcomings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Links for the Long Weekend

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Took This Picture With My MacBook

Yes, my computer is once again fully operational. I was able to service it without spending any money but not without the graciousness of the United Methodist-affiliated organization that let me borrow its office MacBook for an afternoon (allowing me to rescue all my stuff before wiping out my hard drive). I also received word today that my video camera has been fixed. (I dropped it on the kitchen floor a few weeks ago.) So look forward to more of my YouTube creations next week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mathematicians Fight Gerrymandering

I'm glad that I'm not the only one who believes that something must be done about geometrically offensive congressional districts. From Slate:

The most interesting proposal of the afternoon came from a Caltech grad student named Alan Miller, who proposed a simple test: If you take two random people in a district, what are the odds that one can walk in a straight line to the other without ever leaving the district? (Actually, it's without leaving the district while remaining in the state, so as not to penalize districts like Maryland's 6th, which has to account for Virginia's hump.)

Excellent idea, Alan Miller. I concur. Convex sets.

The article also includes a slideshow of the most bizarrely gerrymandered districts.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Few Things You Might Enjoy

What Slavery in Brazil Teaches Me About Myself

This story was buried in the "World" section of this weekend:

(CNN) -- Slavery may seem like a quaint notion in a 21st century world, but that distinction is lost on up to 40,000 Brazilians who find themselves toiling for no real wages and can't leave the distant work camps where they live.

Actually, I almost dismissed this story because it seems so small in comparison to genocide in Darfur and the Congo, child conscription in Burma, etc. 40,000 slaves. No big deal. Nothing to lose sleep over.

Here are a few of the things that have caused me significantly more stress in the past few days than slavery in Brazil (or genocide or child conscription for that matter):

  1. My laptop will not boot up, and to save my data I must find some kind soul an Intel-based Mac who doesn't mind my dumping 23 G's of songs, videos, and photos onto his or her machine.

  2. My two-year-old daughter is regressing in her potty training.

  3. Alge Crumpler fumbled on the one-yard line.

  4. I spent much of Saturday morning and afternoon cleaning the house. By Sunday evening my work had been undone entirely.

There you go. These are the sorts of things that bother me more than slavery and genocide. That's unacceptable.

Actually, I had two reasons for not dismissing the Brazilian slavery story. They were:

  1. I thought I could use it in my Sunday school class.

  2. I figured it would make good blogging material.

Obviously, my priorities are out of whack. This much was confirmed by this morning's Upper Room devotional. Pray for me. I have a lot of work to do.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Not Every Generation Gets to See the End of the World—Consider Yourself Fortunate

you are doomedThe History Channel has devoted this week to all the ways in which humankind could meet its demise in our lifetimes. (Christmas is over folks; it's time to get serious.) They call it Armageddon Week"Are you gettin' it? Armageddon it!"—though I have yet to see any programming related to the hill in Israel whose name inspired a mediocre Michael Bay movie.

Last night's installment was about how December 21, 2012 is the end of a major cycle in the ancient Mayan calendar and thus the end of the world as we know it. The History Channel has been hyping the Mayan doomsday for years. Now, to add credence to idea that the world is doomed because of the length of an ancient culture's calendar cycles, History has turned to the Freemasons, a major alignment of heavenly bodies, and especially Nostradamus for supplementary evidence. (The program, Nostradamus 2012, airs again on Sunday at 4:00 CST if you want the details.)

As it were, Michael Bay has signed on to do a movie about a 2012 apocalypse. I'm not kidding.

Regarding Nostradamus, I grew up with the understanding that the sixteenth-century French prophet had predicted that a dictator in a blue turban would start World War III sometime in the late nineties or early this decade, ending life as we know it. Despite the best efforts of the outgoing administration, that didn't happen. Apparently (as I've learned from Armageddon Week), Nostradamus actually predicted that life as we know it will end early next decade as a result of global warming and/or cosmic radiation. He said it all in Quatrain 3,46:

Through clear signs and fixed stars,
That the time of its sudden change is approaching,
Neither for its good, nor for its evils.

See? It's obvious.

Tonight on History: The Last Days on Earth. Tune in. It should be fun.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Scrambies Declares Utah National Champion

I don't need to wait for Thursday's BCS title game to award my NCAA Division I FBS championship trophy to the Utah Utes. (I'm thinking of actually dropping by the trophy shop and picking up something that I can have engraved and shipped to Salt Lake City.) I've been planning on writing a why-Utah's-as-deserving-as-anyone post for several weeks. Now I don't have to, because more talented writers than myself have done the work for me.

Heather Dinich:

There is plenty of indisputable video evidence to overturn the notion that the non-BCS schools aren't deserving of at least a shot at playing for the national title. It's not like Utah beat Pittsburgh (that was sooo 2005). Utah dominated a national championship-caliber opponent. An SEC team that was ranked No. 1 in the country during all of November. . . . It's hardly as if Alabama was Utah's first victim. The Utes beat a TCU team that was ranked No. 12 at the time, No. 14-ranked BYU, Michigan and an Oregon State team that had just come off a huge win over USC.

Mike Lupica:

Of all the arguments against the BCS, and there are so many you lose count, maybe Utah is the best of all. If Utah is BCS-worthy, then the Utes are national championship-worthy if they are the only undefeated team, or the whole thing is a joke. Computer nerds don't decide the champion anywhere else, polls don't decide the champion, strength-of-schedule doesn't decide. The games do.

John Feinstein:

There are many reasons for all of you to cast your votes for the Utes on Thursday night after the final game is finally over. . . . It isn't just because they are the only one of the 119 so-called BCS teams that finished undefeated. It isn't even because they went to New Orleans last Friday and handily beat an Alabama team that spent the last month of the regular season ranked No. 1 in every poll. It isn't just that they beat Alabama with considerably more ease than Florida did in December . . . . The reason to vote for Utah is simple: This is the one and only way you can stand up to the BCS bullies -- the university presidents, commissioners, athletic directors and the TV networks who enable them -- and, to renew a catch phrase, just say no.


Rick Reilly:

Utah is the national champion. The End. Roll credits. Argue with this, please. I beg you. Find me anybody else that went undefeated. Thirteen-and-zero. Beat four ranked teams. Went to the Deep South and seal-clubbed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The same Alabama that was ranked No. 1 for five weeks. The same Alabama that went undefeated in the regular season. The same Alabama that Florida beat in order to get INTO the BCS Championship game in the first place.

Dan Whetzel:

Why didn’t Utah merit consideration to play for the BCS national title? Why are the Utes, despite their 13-0 record, victories over four Associated Press top-25 teams and the champions of a conference that went 6-1 in the regular season against the Pac-10, watching one-loss teams Oklahoma and Florida play on Thursday?

In Defense of Snark

Never before have I so enjoyed a review of a book that I have not read. The book in question is Snark: It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation by New Yorker film critic David Denby; the review is the work of Adam Sternbergh in the New York Magazine Book Review. As a connoisseur of snark, I appreciated Sterbergh's snarky critique of a book that dismisses snark as sophomoric banter. Here's one of my favorite bits:

I’d argue that slackers adopted irony not as a pose of hipster cynicism but as a defense against inheriting a two-faced world. When no one—from politicians to pundits—says what he actually means, irony becomes a logical self-inoculation. Similarly, snark, irony’s brat, flourishes in an age of doublespeak and idiocy that’s too rarely called out elsewhere. Snark is not a honk of blasé detachment; it’s a clarion call of frustrated outrage.

Monday, January 05, 2009

My Thoughts on Nashville's Ridiculous English-Only Vote

The citizens of Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County are currently voting on an amendment to the city charter that, if passed, would eliminate the use of any non-English language by Metro government. Currently, I live just outside of Davidson County and therefore do not have a vote; but since I work and go to church in the city, I feel that my opinion on the matter is at least fractionally valid.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and many of the city's business leaders have opposed the amendment, fearing that it would inhibit the city's ability to attract businesses in an increasingly global marketplace; the administrators of Nashville's several universities have opposed the amendment, fearing that it would inhibit their ability to attract the best students from around the world; Nashville's religious leaders have opposed the amendment, citing God's command to love and show mercy to the foreigners living among you. Yet, conventional wisdom says that the amendment will pass. Xenophobia is a powerful force.

This recent Nashville Scene article on Eric Crafton, the father of the English-only amendment, explains Crafton's motivation for introducing such an unnecessary change to the city's charter. Apparently, while Crafton was serving in the Navy in the early 1990s, he was stationed in Japan. When he learned of his assignment, he stocked up on books and tapes and taught himself Japanese. By the time his ship arrived in Yokosuka, Crafton was semi-fluent. A few years later he returned to the states with a mastery of Japanese and with a Japanese wife. Good for him.

Crafton expects anyone who moves to the United States to learn English much in the way he learned Japanese—immediately. But, as the Scene article correctly points out: "Learning a new language with the full backing and resources of the American Navy, they argue, is so removed from the life of your average Nashville non-native speaker that it might as well take place on another planet." Refugees fleeing civil war and genocide don't have the option of stocking up on English books and CDs—they have neither the time or the resources to learn English before they settle in the U.S.

My church shares a facility with a congregation of immigrants from Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and Laos, many of whom are refugees; it also hosts English-as-a-second language classes for students of dozens of nationalities. The pastoral staff recently issued a statement on the English-only amendment that included the following regarding the immigrant members of our church community: "All of these persons are eager to learn the language. Navigating our government and school systems in English can be difficult and frustrating. Without language assistance it would become impossible and completely inhospitable." Exactly.

See also:

Aunt B. on Tennessee's tendency to make things double and triple illegal

Southern Beale on all of the city leaders who are opposing the measure

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Re: Football Penalties

I'm a little bothered by the number of football games I've watched lately in which 15-yard roughing the passer, roughing the kicker, personal foul, and unnecessary roughness penalties have had a significant impact on the game's outcome (often by giving a team that is struggling to move the ball an easy, unearned first down and a good chunk of yardage).

I don't have a problem with penalizing late and helmet-to-helmet hits, but 15 yards is disproportionate to the severity of many roughing penalities and personal fouls. A pass rusher cannot be expected to come to a dead stop as soon as the quarterback releases the ball, and a team that has forced its opponent into a fourth-and-long situation should not have to give up 15 yards because one of its players grazed the punter's leg while trying to block the kick. Sure, several late hits are egregious and dangerous and deserve to be punished accordingly; but many are incidental or accidental and are not cause for rewarding the opposition with fifteen yards.

Here's my solution: Football should have two types of fouls, much like basketball does. Regular fouls—for instance, when a player's momentum carries him into a quarterback or punter shortly after the ball has been thrown or kicked or accidental helmet-to-helmet hits where there is no evidence of malicious intent—should be subject to a 5-yard penalty and an automatic first down, except in the case of roughing the kicker. Incidental roughing the kicker should be subject to a 5-yard penalty and no automatic first down. (If it's fourth and 11, the offensive team shouldn't get a first down just because a defender accidentally touches the punter's foot.) Flagrant fouls—for instance, when a player clearly could have avoided running into a quarterback or kicker but did not or when there is evidence of malicious intent—should be subject to the regular 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

I'll work on a letter to the competition committee.