Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mally Walks!


Here's proof:

Who Will Be Remembered in 200 Years?

At some point during my teenage years, I decided that, if my life and achievements were not remembered 200 years from now, my life would not have been worth living. I no longer believe this, and I feel that such an approach to life is unhealthy and dangerous. (I once knew a guy who said that, if he was reaching the end of his life and still had done nothing noteworthy, he would attempt to assassinate the president, just so he'd be remembered. He was young. I'm sure he feels differently now.) Still, recalling my former views on life, value, and notoriety got me thinking: Of people currently living today, who will best be remembered in 200 years?

I have some ideas, but I thought I'd throw out the question to the Internet and collect some feedback before compiling a list. Here are a few criteria and things to consider:

  • To be more specific, let's change "who will best be remembered in 200 years" to "who will best be remembered in the United States in 200 years." I have no way of judging which persons will have lasting notoriety in Sri Lanka or Estonia. That said, a person need not be American to make the list. Were we to make a list of persons from 200 years ago whom Americans today remember, Napoleon almost certainly would be high on the list.

  • Let's define "best remembered" as a combination of name recognition and familiarity with a person's life and accomplishments. For example, when considering persons alive two centuries ago, many people today recognize the names of James Monroe and Martin Van Buren because both were American presidents. But aside from a passing familiarity with the Monroe doctrine, few really have any idea what these presidents did while in office. While the names of John Keats, Mary Shelley, and Henry David Thoreau are probably no more recognizable than those of more obscure American presidents, our culture is much more familiar with the work of Keats, Shelley, and Thoreau than with the actions of Monroe and Van Buren.

  • I am not looking for a list of the greatest people alive today, but those who will be the most notable two centuries from now. People have a tendency to remember those who are controversial or even wicked. In other words, don't limit your suggestions to people you like or admire.

Leave your suggestions in the comments, on Facebook, or wherever.

Links I've Posted on Facebook Recently

For those of you not on Facebook, there's some good stuff here:

Friday, January 22, 2010

What College Basketball Rankings Tell Us About the BCS

North Carolina's mens basketball team began the week ranked in both of the polls. (This was before Wake Forest went into Chapel Hill and beat the Heels by double digits.) UNC gets a lot of credit for playing a brutal schedule and for early wins over Ohio State (on a neutral floor) and Michigan State. But UNC has six losses and zero road wins and their only other decent win is a home victory over Virginia Tech. Even before this week's Wake Forest loss, the Heels had lost three of their last four, including a loss to College of Charleston and a home loss to Georgia Tech. I find it absurd that UNC is ranked in both polls while UAB (16-2, undefeated in conference road games, nonconference wins over Butler and Cincinnati) and Vanderbilt (14-3, undefeated in conference road games, eight-game win streak, nonconference wins over St. Mary's [on the road] and Missouri). But North Carolina began the season ranked in the top 10 in both polls and has won two national championships in the past five years. The Heels have to mess up really bad to fall out of the rankings. Vanderbilt and UAB, on the other hand, were unranked coming into the season and are the sorts of programs that hang banners when they advance to the Sweet 16. (In my opinion preseason expectations also are the reason why Syracuse, which probably has a better résumé than any team in the country, lags behind other one-loss teams; why Michigan State has remained in the Top 10 despite having three not-so-great losses; and why Duke continues to be highly rated despite not having won on the road.)

I don't care that much about college basketball polls because they are meaningless. They are voted on by coaches (USA Today/ESPN) and persons in the media (AP), many of whom are familiar only with a certain team, conference, or region. These voters do not have the time, expertise, or resources to compare all of the Division I teams worthy of consideration. The only assessment of teams that matters in college hoops is the work of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The selection committee is much better equipped than the poll voters to determine how teams stack up against one another, and the committee doesn't care who's ranked in the top 25.

So college basketball fans would be wise to ignore the polls. College football fans, however, cannot. In major college football such human polls account for two-thirds of the formula used to select the teams that play in the BCS National Championship Game. (Swap the media types voting in the AP poll for a team of experts with similar geographical biases voting in the Harris poll.) (They also are used to determine which teams are eligible for at-large slots in other BCS games.) Those who are critical of the BCS's method of selecting a college football champion often devote much of their energy to making a case that a playoff would be a better, more fair way to choose a champion than a system that arranges a game between the top two teams. While this is true, it will be several years before replacing the BCS National Championship Game with a playoff is a real possibility, and critics of the BCS may be better off critiquing the current method of picking the top two teams. I'm not convinced that polls of coaches and insiders (who must vote in haste each week) are a reliable means of comparing teams from across the country. We would be better off with a panel that is equipped to evaluate every possible contender without regard to preseason rankings or program reputation.

Monday, January 18, 2010

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 Amendment 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 Georgetown 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, less time trying to bring an end to systems of oppression and more time trying to bring an end to fights over who gets to be Alvin and who has to be Simon, less time building God's kingdom and more time building with Legos®. 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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Subjects I Was Going to Blog About But Didn't

Over the past couple years I've become a lazy, mediocre blogger. At the moment, I feel as though I should say something about the recent Haitian earthquake, but I really don't think that I have anything unique to add. Five years ago blogs were a great way to connect people to disaster-relief agencies; now, Facebook and Twitter are much more effective media. So I probably won't deliver a Haitian-earthquake post. (You can click here to donate to the relief effort.)

Here are some other things from the past couple months that I was going to write about but didn't. Each of these is the subject of a post that is currently saved to my Blogger account as an unpublished draft.

  • Brit Hume's advice to Tiger Woods (I have no problem with Hume extolling the benefits of Christianity, but I don't think he understands Buddhism at all.)

  • Internet comments (The level of discourse in Internet comment threads—particularly those attached to new articles—has sunk so low that I was going to advocate that the FCC get involved. I've never been an advocate of censorship, but the garbage that people post under the guise of discussion these days is just appalling.)

  • The shortcomings of the BCS and why college football needs a playoff (A team should have to lose a game to be eliminated from championship contention, and the human polls that make up two-thirds of the BCS formula are not reliable enough to play such a key role in selecting the top two teams.)

  • Rick Warren's silence on Uganda's horrifying proposed anti-homosexuality legislation (Warren, who has a relationship with Uganda's head of state, has since spoken up.)

  • Prayer in public schools (The public school Meyer attends is all about school prayer—the kind of prayer that doesn't mention Jesus by name but would nonetheless seem foreign to anyone who isn't an evangelical Protestant.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Buy Kneeling in the End Zone and Press Your Luck for Wii

According to Amazon, people who buy my book, Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports also frequently buy Press Your Luck for Wii. Amazon even suggests buying the two products together for $47.19 (which is just the combined price of the two products). Interesting.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Sort of Thing Mally Has to Put Up With

Courtesy of Meyer:

Courtesy of Resha Kate:

Reasons to Celebrate on January 5

I always feel a little down during the first week of January. After a month-and-a-half of paid holidays, family gatherings, free food, seasonal decorations, and assorted celebrations, returning to the humdrum of the five-day work week (sans decorations and free food) always has been difficult for me. So this year I've decided to find some reasons to get excited about the single-digit days in January. Here are some things we can celebrate today, January 5, 2010:

  • Today is the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the dwarf planet Eris. The discovery of Eris largely was responsible for the reclassification of Pluto. Astronomers said (and I'm paraphrasing), "This thing is bigger than Pluto, but we're not really comfortable calling it a planet. But if this thing isn't a planet, Pluto can't be a planet either." (I say "this thing," because Eris did not become "Eris" until September 2006.)

  • Today is the seventieth anniversary of FM radio being demonstrated to the FCC for the first time. FM would be approved one year later. And people still listen to FM radio today (when they forget to charge their iPods (and if they don't have satellite radio)).

  • Today is the eighty-fifth anniversary of Nellie Tayloe Ross being elected governor of Wyoming and becoming the first female governor in the United States.

Have a happy January 5, 2010.

Monday, January 04, 2010

My Date of Birth Is Closer to the End of World War II Than to the Present Day

Here's a neat little article from the Financial Times (though I'm not sure what it has to do with finances). An excerpt:

Time may slow down from hour to hour, but from year to year it has a uniform tendency to accelerate. We can demonstrate this with a little game. We are now in the year 2010. Measure the number of years back to a certain event in your life – say, your entry into university, if you attended one. Then measure the same number of years back from there. Invariably, the event in the middle will seem closer to this year than to the older date, even though it is equidistant from the two.

The article adds that the release of The Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks is closer to World War II than to 2010. (For that matter, so is my date of birth.) The Beatles' first single, released in 1962, is closer to World War I.

My high school graduation is now closer to the Carter administration than to the current day. (My parents' high school graduations are closer to the Wilson administration.) My grandmother's birthday is significantly closer to the Mexican-American War than to 2010. The 1986 Challenger explosion is closer to the Kennedy assassination.