Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happy Towel Day!

Happy Towel Day! (I actually took a towel to work today but left it in my car.) To celebrate, here are my four favorite paragraphs by Douglas Adams (and possibly the finest four paragraphs of prose ever written in English). From the beginning of chapter 15 of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is no problem about changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.

The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s “Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations”. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intension of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later editions of the book all the pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstration, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Celebrate Pentecost by Taking a Quiz

Happy Pentecost! If you have an opportunity to take a break from the Pentecost celebrations that surely will fill much of your day, try this Pentecost quiz that I put together for Beliefnet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast—Epidsode 6, "Clock Reform, Part I: Metric Time"

Now available in the iTunes Music Store.

I hope to redeem myself after the previous episode ("Tuesday Night Disco") with this episode, the first of two podcasts about clock reform. This installment advocates discarding hours, minutes, and seconds in favor of a decimal, metric system of time-keeping.

Click here to subscribe or download individual episodes or make your way into the podcast department of the iTunes Music Store and search for "Scrambies."

I Wonder What Sumatra Is Like Right Now

Though most major news outlets overlooked or gave only passing coverage to the floods that ravaged Middle Tennessee less than two weeks ago, by late last week Nashville had become a major national news story. It remained so for about two days; then just about everyone outside of Tennessee, southwestern Kentucky, and northern Mississippi moved on.

Most people here haven't moved on. For many, moving on is not an option. In greater Nashville, flood relief and cleanup will be a major news story for several months. And even after the local news outlets move on, there will still be neighborhoods that need help cleaning up and rebuilding.

With that in mind, I wonder what things are like in Thailand and Sumatra and Sri Lanka right now. Little more than five years ago an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Indian Ocean took the lives of more than 200,000 people. I wonder what Azad Kashmir, where a magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed nearly 80,000 people, is like. I wonder what Sichuan, which lost nearly 70,000 people to an earthquake in 2008, is like. I wonder what Haiti is like right now. And I wonder what Cedar Rapids, which less than two years ago experienced flooding that was more widespread (albeit not as deadly) than this month's Tennessee floods, is like right now.

I'm not sure what my point is, except to say that national media outlets devoted a few days to the flooding in Middle Tennessee, but cleanup efforts here will last months, or even years. And, while I am aware of some out-of-state church groups who have made plans to join the relief effort this summer, I imagine that, by Labor Day, most Americans will have only vague memories of the Nashville flood. So what of this decade's many other historically deadly and destructive natural disasters? How many people have forgotten them? I know I have. I mean, when given the task of making a list of twenty-first-century disasters, I can come up with quite a few; but I've done nothing in recent months and years to raise awareness of or donate money to post-quake Pakistan or post-tsunami Thailand or post-flood Iowa. Like most people, I've moved on. The public's capacity for empathy and generosity is limited.

If you'd like to donate to the Middle Tennessee relief efforts, text REDCROSS to 90999. Then consider also donating to UMCOR's International Disaster Response.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Saving Pro Basketball in Indiana

After last night's death-of-basketball-in-Cleveland event, my first instinct was to come up with a plan that the Pacers could use to lure LeBron James to Naptown. Why not? Investing all of the teams' resources into a vain effort to attract a superstar with no desire to move to Indiana would still be more productive than anything Larry Bird has done in the last three off seasons. (Sorry, Larry.)

Then I had a better idea. The Pacers should change their name to the Indiana Joneses and should rename Conseco Fieldhouse "The Temple of Doom." (I'm really not sure why this hasn't happened already.) Under normal circumstances, no one wants to pay money to see Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Troy Murphy drop a regular season home game to the Charlotte Bobcats. But if bullwhips, stubble, and legendary artifacts are involved, everything changes.

Fast forward to December 2013. I foresee two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1
Down 62-47 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the third quarter, the Joneses call timeout. The Temple of Doom stadium announcer says over the PA, "All right, Jones fans! Cover your eyes! It's time to OPEN——THE——ARK!" 18,000 fans, all wearing matching fedoras, yell "open the ark" in unison with the announcer. (And those who don't cover their eyes will feel the wrath of the face-melting light of God.)

Scenario 2
In Seattle's new Bill Gates Arena, one fan turns to another and asks, "Why does our new team have so many 6'10" white guys?" The other fan responds, "Good question. And how is it that our team can miss the Playoffs every year without ever getting a good draft pick?"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Scrambies Declares South Pasadena High Track Team the Rio Hondo League Champion

From SI.com:

This is the story of a high school pole vaulter whose successful leap in the last event won the meet and the league championship for her team -- until an opposing coach pointed out she should be disqualified for breaking a rule, reversing the outcome so that his team captured victory and the league title.

The girl's infraction? Wearing a friendship bracelet.

That's right. South Pasadena High School's Robin Laird (pictured) clinched the league title for her team with a clutch performance in the pole vault, the meet's final event. Moments later officials disqualified Laird because, as opposing coach Mike Knowles (of Monrovia High) pointed out, she was wearing braided colored strings around her wrist. Section 3, Article 3 of the National Federation of State High School Associations says: "Jewelry shall not be worn by contestants." A friendship bracelet is jewelry. I guess. Because of the disqualification, Monrovia won (in some sense of the word) the Rio Hondo League.

Had an official noticed the bracelet and disqualified Laird, his or her actions would be defensible, albeit petty. But officials in this case acted at the suggestion of a coach who waited until Laird had clinched the championship for South Pasadena to point out the violation. Laird and her teammates lost the title because Monrovia's coach was a bad sport and a sore loser. (Sorry. He was.)

Just about anyone who has played sports at any level has heard gruesome stories about athletes and jewelry. I remember hearing a story about a basketball player who lost a finger when his wedding ring got caught on the net, and I vaguely recall stories about athletes who were choked by necklaces. Though I suspect that both of these stories are urban legends, I understand the reasoning behind barring jewelry from athletic competition. That said, I'm not sure that Laird was putting herself or anyone else in danger by pole vaulting wearing a friendship bracelet. And if Knowles was really concerned about Laird's safety, he would have pointed out the violation prior to the event.

Safety aside, Laird wearing a friendship bracelet in no way gave South Pasadena a competitive advantage. (And, according to some of the comments from the LA Times blog, several Monrovia athletes were guilty of similar violations. The South Pasadena coach didn't alert officials, presumably because doing so would have been petty.) Thus, I'm declaring South Pasadena the winner.

This story is similar to the story from last fall about the cross country team that was stripped of a county title because one of its runners wore shorts with the wrong color of stitching under his uniform. But that story didn't involve a tattletale opposing coach.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ideas Worth Ignoring Podcast—Epidsode 5, "Tuesday Night Disco"

Now available in the iTunes Music Store.

Loyal listeners of the Ideas Worth Ignoring podcast (if there are any) have been waiting two weeks for a new episode. I'm not sure if this episode, "Tuesday Night Disco," is worth the wait. Inspired by a conversation with my manager at Wendy's back in 1996, Tuesday Night Disco is a way to bring people together and make routine the breaking of one's routing.

Click here to subscribe or download individual episodes or make your way into the podcast department of the iTunes Music Store and search for "Scrambies."