Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Salt Water on Enceladus

Researchers have confirmed that the Cassini probe has collected salt water from icy geysers on Enceladus, a small moon in Saturn's E-Ring. From Time:

In 2005, Cassini . . . endeavored to determine the composition of the exhaust in the most straightforward way possible: by flying through it and registering the thousands of high-speed pellets that collided with its skin. The speed and density of the pellets confirmed that they were ice. Analyzing the precise composition of that ice has taken years, but the results, published this week in the journal Nature, were worth the wait.

Not only is the ice made of ordinary water, but it's salt water, with sodium turning up in the samples no matter how many times the ring material was retested. "Our measurements imply that besides table salt, the grains also contain carbonates like soda," says Frank Postberg, a Cassini scientist working at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany.

Apparently, the chemistry of the ice points to a "large quantity of standing water" on Enceladus, water that "might be unusually hospitable to the emergence of life." (The article explains how liquid water can exist so far from the sun.)

While humanity has given up on the possibility of one day establishing diplomatic relations with little green men on Mars, we still can hope to one day encounter plankton-like organisms on the moons of Saturn.

It Has a Cover Now

You can see the cover of my new book, Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports, at Cokesbury.com.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tell Them That It's Human Nature

I confess that I felt a sense of relief when I learned yesterday that Michael Jackson died. For anyone who was alive and listening to pop music during the 1970s and 1980s, watching Jackson self-destruct—and allegedly hurt several children and their families along the way—has been painful. I can only imagine how painful the past 15-or-so years have been for Jackson, his close friends and family, and the aforementioned children and their families. It's as though Michael Jackson had been terminally ill. While his suffering and death were tragic, now that the illness has passed, we are free to remember and celebrate Jackson as he was before he got sick. So do yourself a favor today and listen to "I Want You Back," "Blame It on the Boogie," "Say, Say, Say," "Billie Jean," "Human Nature," and/or Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me." (Stay away from the Bad album; I listened to "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal" this morning, and they don't really hold up.) Embrace this opportunity to enjoy the contributions of one of the great performers in pop music history.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Odds and Ends

Monday, June 22, 2009

Right Article, Wrong Occasion

I love the Sports Illustrated Vault. One of today's featured stories is this piece by Jackie MacMullan from June 1997 on that year's NBA Draft. Jackie Mac argued 12 years ago that, "The reality of the 1990s is that the draft is nearly irrelevant when it comes to building a franchise for the long term." She cites the case of the Orlando Magic who scored two top picks in the early nineties. Shaq and Penny took the Magic to the 1995 Finals before Shaq left for L.A. and persistent injuries hampered Penny's rise to superstardom. Likewise, MacMullan recalls the Charlotte Hornets, led by top early 1990s picks Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The Hornets seemed poised to be contenders for the next decade, but—as with the Magic—one star left and the other succumbed to injury. She also notes:

Consider the drafts of 1987 through '94. Only two of the eight No. 1 picks from those years remain with the clubs that drafted them (chart, page 54): San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, a seven-time All-Star and the league's '95 MVP; and Milwaukee Bucks forward Glenn Robinson, a mildly disappointing performer whom the Bucks have considered trading. Also, of the first 10 selections from each of those drafts—a total of 80 players—only 17 have performed solely for the franchises that drafted them.

And the case of the ever-hapless Clippers:

From 1987 through '90, the Los Angeles Clippers' lottery picks were, respectively, a No. 4, forward Reggie Williams, who was a bomb; a No. 1, forward Danny Manning, who repeatedly asked for a trade and was finally granted one, to the Atlanta Hawks, in '94; a No. 2, forward Danny Ferry, who played a season in Italy rather than don a Clippers uniform and was eventually traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers; and a No. 8, Bo Kimble, who was a bust and played only 105 career games before falling out of the NBA.

All good points.

Here's the problem: The title of the article was, "Why Bother? Even if your team gets a stellar player like Tim Duncan in the NBA draft, it probably won't make any difference in the long run." Tim Duncan—whom the Spurs selected first in 1997—was the exception among 1990s top draft picks. Duncan has spent all 12 of his seasons with the Spurs (and won't be leaving any time soon); he's picked up two league MVPs and two Finals MVPs; and (with considerable contributions from the likes of David Robinson, Sean Elliot, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli) has been largely responsible for the Spurs being title contenders for as long as he's been in the NBA (and winning four championships along the way).

Had this article been written about the 1998 NBA Draft, in which the Clippers took Michael Olowokandi with the first pick, the article would have been very appropriate. But as it were, Tim Duncan did make a lasting difference—a difference more lasting than any number one pick since Magic Johnson in 1979.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Only 13 Years Until Soylent Green

(FYI: It's people.)

Popped Culture has put together this fantastic futuristic movie timeline:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pre-Order My Book, Kneeling in the End Zone

My book, Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports, which publishes in October, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. It's also up at Cokesbury, but I don't know whether you can pre-order it there. (I'll check on that.) There isn't much there at the moment; but as the pub date approaches, a cover image and more details will appear.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

10 Years Ago . . .

. . . I was living in a moldy, ant-infested basement in Evansville, Indiana and working at the Auntie Anne's pretzel store in the Eastland Mall for $6.00 per hour. So the last decade has been good to me. I've come a long way.

Every now and then I like to evaluate what I was doing 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago. (I'm getting to the point now where I can remember things that happened 30 years ago as well.) 15 years ago, for example, I returned home from a church youth group trip to Cedar Point to learn that O.J. Simpson was a murder suspect and that my band (called Liquid Refreshment at the time) had secured its first gig: a show at the TA Skate Shop on Indianapolis' east side.

I had planned to say more, but I think I'll leave it at that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fun With Google Images

Yesterday at work I dropped by Google Images in search of a picture of "sunday school." As with all Google applications, Google Images predicts what one is searching for by listing the most popular searches that begin with whatever letters the searcher has entered. When one types a single letter, a list of the ten most popular images searches beginning with that letter appears. It's the sort of thing I've noticed for a long time but have never paid attention to.

When I typed s for "sunday school," I was surprised to learn that the most popular Google Images search beginning with s is "selena gomez." Given the millions of names, places, and objects that begin in s, I didn't expect the most popular to be the teenage star of Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place. I attribute this to 12-year-old girls who want to cover their bedroom walls with pictures of their favorite stars, 12-year-old boys looking for pictures of their latest celebrity crush, and creepy older men doing what creepy men do best.

"stars" is the second most popular search beginning with s; "spongebob" is fifth; "sexual intercourse" is sixth.

Naturally, I was eager to see what would come up when I entered other letters. Here's what I learned:

  • The three most popular Google Images searches beginning with j are, in order, "jessica alba," "jesus," and "jonas brothers." I'm sure Jesus is excited to have topped the Jonas Brothers.

  • The most popular search beginning with i is "images." I suppose that if one is searching for "images" in a database of images one won't be disappointed.

  • "miley cyrus," another Disney Channel starlet, is the most popular m search in Google Images. But "demi lovato" is only the third most popular d search, behind "dogs" and "dragon."

  • Not surprisingly, the most popular search beginning with z is "zac efron." Actually, four of the top ten z searches involve Zac Efron.

  • "hitler" is the seventh most popular h search. Google Images has nearly 5 million Hitler pictures to choose from.

  • The most popular q search is "question mark."

Thank You, Pittsburgh Penguins, for Saving Us From the Most Obvious Sports Year Ever

Nothing against the Detroit Red Wings, but if the Wings would have won Friday night, they would have won a second consecutive Stanley cup, their third this decade, and their fifth in the last fifteen years. Certainly there have been more impressive championship dynasties in recent years—even in the NHL—but the Red Wings, given their recent history would have been this season's most obvious Stanley Cup champion. And the first six months of 2009 have seen way too many obvious champions. Consider:

NFL Super Bowl champion: Pittsburgh Steelers—second title in four years; have won more Super Bowl than any other NFL team

Australian Open Women's Singles champion: Serena Williams—fourth Aussie Open title this decade

NCAA Men's Basketball champion: North Carolina—second title in five years; winningest team in college basketball history

NCAA Women's Basketball champion: Connecticut—fifth title this decade; ranked #1 for the entire 2008-09 season

Indianapolis 500 winner: Helio Castroneves—third win this decade

Premier League champion: Manchester United—third consecutive title; eleventh title since the creation of the Premier League in 1992

NBA champion: Los Angeles Lakers—fourth title this decade; ninth title in the past 30 years; fifteenth title overall

Slightly less obvious, but still worth mentioning: Florida won its second BCS college football title in three years; Boston U. won its fifth NCAA ice hockey title; Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both won men's tennis Grand Slams (though it would have been more obvious if Federer had won the Australian and Nadal the French instead of the other way around). Surprisingly, Tiger has yet to win a Major, but that may change by the end of the week.

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't come from nowhere. They advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, and their roster includes two of the game's best players. Still, for much of the season, the Pens were no lock to make the Playoffs. They finished 17 points out of first place in the East but only 8 points out of tenth. And, as recently a few years ago, there were serious talks of the Penguins leaving Pittsburgh. Given what has happened in other sports this year, I'll take the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Cup.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stories That Need to Be Told

I posted this on Facebook a few days ago but neglected to post it here. From Slate:

They call them "enfants mauvais souvenirs," children of bad memories. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi women were systematically raped and forced into sexual servitude by members of extremist Hutu militia groups. Many of these women became pregnant. . . .

Photojournalist Jonathan Torgovnik first became aware of the estimated 20,000 Rwandan children born of rape in 2006. . . . Over the next three years, Torgovnik returned repeatedly to Rwanda to interview and photograph [genocide survivors]. The result is Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape, a new book and traveling exhibition of 30 haunting portraits of Rwandan women and their children.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Are You Familiar With the Lyrics to the Theme Song From M*A*S*H?

I did not realize that the theme music to M*A*S*H has a name and lyrics. The song is called "Suicide Is Painless" and the lyrics are as dark as anything written by Ian Curtis or Peter Murphy. Here's a sample:

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn't hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger—watch it grin—but
Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.

That these lyrics are set to such a sweet, catchy melody makes them all the more eerie.

"Suicide Is Painless" was written for the popular and critically acclaimed 1970 M*A*S*H film and plays (with the vocals) during the opening credits. So if you're over 45 or a movie buff, I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know. But what you might not know is that director Robert Altman's 14-year-old son Mike wrote these macabre lyrics. Some of the lines ("It brings on many changes") sound like they were written by a 14-year-old, but "Suicide Is Painless" is definitely more sophisticated lyrically than any song I could have written about suicide as a teenager.

(If you're wondering why I'm bringing this up now, one of my Facebook friends wrote a note a couple days ago titled, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," which I recognized as the title of the famous last episode of the M*A*S*H* TV series. Naturally, I had to read the Wikipedia entry on the M*A*S*H franchise, which led to this discovery. Now I find myself singing, "Suicide is painless; it brings on many changes . . ." to the tune of what I had previously known as an instrumental TV theme song. I have to hold my tongue when I'm around the kids.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

1993: There's a Revolution Going On—It's Called "Internet"

This is fun. It's a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news report on "Internet" from 1993, back when the Internet was mostly newsgroups and chatrooms and before web browsers were commonplace.

Friday, June 05, 2009

In Which I Disagree With Tim Kurkjian

I normally lack the audacity to disagree with ESPN's Tim Kurkjian on anything baseball related, but I take issue with something he said on this morning's SportsCenter. Following Randy Johnson's historic 300th win, Kurkjian suggested that no active pitcher had a realistic chance to become the next player to reach 300, noting that CC Sabathia, probably the best candidate, would need to average 18 wins per season for the next 10 seasons. While I agree that Sabathia is unlikely to win 180 games in the next decade, I would counter by saying that an average of 15 wins for 12 seasons, 14 wins for 13 seasons, 13 wins for 14 seasons, or 12 wins for 15 seasons would also get Sabathia to 300. In any of these scenarios, CC would be in his early 40s when he hit the milestone. And, as SI.com's Ted Keith points out: "The average age of the 11 300-game winners since World War II when they got their milestone win is 41.2."

Bring Your Gun to Church

This is so absurd it's fantastic. From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

A [Louisville area Assemblies of God] church is sponsoring an "Open Carry Church Service" in late June, encouraging people to wear unloaded guns in their holsters, enter a raffle to win a free handgun, hear patriotic music and listen to talks by operators of gun stores and firing ranges.

Pastor Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church said the first-time event is "basically trying to think a little bit outside the box" to promote "responsible gun ownership and 2nd Amendment rights." . . .

"It's just a celebration we're doing to coincide with Fourth of July," he said. "There are people who own firearms and do so responsibly and enjoy them as a sport, maybe like golfing or bowling."

Personally, I bristle at the idea of holding a worship service to coincide with the Fourth of July, regardless of whether guns are involved. (On a related note, see Greg Boyd's critique of Thomas Nelson's American Patriot's Bible.) That said, I give the church some credit for holding this service on a Saturday so that it won't "be confused with regular Sunday worship." And I have no problem with a congregation addressing the issue of gun ownership and use—a Sunday school series or Bible study that challenges Christians to think theologically about firearms would be totally appropriate. But bringing guns into the sanctuary is just bizarre. According to the article, the idea for the service came about in response to (thus far unfounded) fears that President Obama would place restrictions on firearms. I'm not convinced that these fears are a good reason to celebrate guns in church.

But, instead of picking on this one church in Louisville (as I have just done), those of us who are critical of gun raffles in church should look at our own congregations and reflect on whether our worship services include similarly inappropriate celebrations.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Links: So I Can Post Something Without the Burden of Original Thought

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Kids Washed My Car Tonight

It was supposed to be a surprise, but Resha Kate (pictured below on top of the car) couldn't hold it in. They washed the car with spray bottles full of water and hand soap:

Pixar's Sin of Omission and a Reason to Celebrate Dora

Rev. Karyn Wiseman, via Facebook, pointed me to this delightful NPR commentary by Linda Holmes:
Dear Pixar,

Please make a movie about a girl who is not a princess.

Of the ten movies you've released so far, ten of them have central characters who are boys or men, or who are anthropomorphized animals or robots or bugs who are voiced by and imagined as boys or men. These movies feature women and girls to varying degrees -- The Incredibles, in particular -- but the story is never "a girl and the things that happen to her," the way it's "a boy and what happens to him."

As a Pixar fan and the father of a three-year-old daughter, I concur. Stars of Pixar films are ubiquitous, and there's a real opportunity here to provide a strong heroine whom little girls can embrace.

The absence of non-princess female leads in Disney movies (with the exception of Mulan) gave me a greater appreciation for Dora the Explorer. Dora—a girl who wears shorts, carries a backpack, and explores the jungles of Central America—is the undisputed queen of early childhood television, and she provides a much-needed non-princess option when one's daughter is deciding which character's image will grace her next toothbrush, pillowcase, or pair of underpants. (I'm personally delighted that one of Resha Kate's favorite things right now is her Dora the Explorer baseball mitt.)