Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bad Things Are Happening in Sri Lanka

While much of the international community has been focused on volatile political situations in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, bad things have been going on in the Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka. January floods affected more than one million people and left more than 400,000 homeless. More flooding this month left another 400,000 people without homes. The media has invested fewer pixels covering the Sri Lankan floods than it did in its coverage of recent floods in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia (and those stories probably didn't get the coverage they deserved). Yet, "UN officials report hundreds of thousands of [Sri Lankans] are in dire straits and in urgent need of assistance."

Even before the flood waters rushed in, Sri Lanka was recovering from an armed conflict between the government and a rebel group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers for short). Like the floods, that conflict was responsible for displacing a few hundred thousand people. Now that between 25 and 40 percent of the nation's agricultural harvest could be lost, tough times are ahead for Sri Lanka.

Donate to Sri Lankan relief and development through UMCOR.

Follow @weepwith on Twitter for updates.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cassy Herkelman Wins by Forfeit, Draws the Ire of Internet Commenters

Last week, Cassy Herkelman of Cedar Falls, Iowa became the first girl to qualify for the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament. (Moments later a second girl, Maegan Black, qualified. Wrestling in Iowa is like basketball in Indiana or hockey in Minnesota; qualifying for the state tournament is a big deal for any wrestler.) Today, Herkelman became the first girl to win a match in the state tournament when her opponent refused to wrestle her on religious grounds.

If this story sounds familiar, it was the plot of an episode of Zoey 101.

I read a couple articles about this story, and in both cases I made the mistake of reading the comments. People argued that girls shouldn't be allowed to wrestle boys or wrestle at all, that Herkelman was putting herself in danger; they made unflattering assumptions about Herkelman's appearance (the ESPN article doesn't include a picture); some worried that a teenage boy might become aroused while wrestling a girl; some suggested that a boy wrestling a girl was no different than a man assaulting a woman (which our society otherwise frowns upon).

I've done a little reading up on this story, and there are a few things that these commenters—and popular Calvinist theologian John Piper, who wrote this 2009 tirade against female wrestlers—need to know/understand/keep in mind:

  • Cassy Herkelman has a record of 20-13, against boys, and she qualified for the state tournament as a freshman wrestling varsity. She's obviously a well-conditioned athlete who holds her own against boys in her weight class. I wouldn't worry too much about her safety.

  • While wrestling is a contact sport in which competing athletes attempt to dominate one another physically, it is still a sport. It has rules and regulations and officials. No one should mistake a wrestling match between a girl and boy for boy-on-girl violence.

  • Wrestling is a growing sport among girls. Apparently, in the off-season, Herkelman wrestles other girls and has won several AAU state and national titles. A few states sanction girls wrestling as an interscholastic sport. Iowa does not. If Herkelman wants to wrestle for her school, she has to wrestle boys. This sort of thing works both ways. For instance, several boys in New England have played for girls' field hockey teams. (Here is one example.) Like the girl wrestlers, they've attracted their share of critics. So there's no double standard. In this era of budget cuts when few schools have any desire to invest in a girls' wrestling team or a boys' volleyball team, maybe coed competition will become more commonplace. Or maybe everyone will end up playing korfball.

Tuesday Night Trivia on Thursday

First, the answer to last week's challenge: The three letters, besides S that begin the names of 15 or more countries are B, C, and M. The exact counts depend on whether you call the country between India and Thailand "Burma" or "Myanmar." Now this week's challenge:

Several combinations of four letters can be arranged to create four uniquely spelled words. For example: E, I, L, V (evil, live, veil, and vile); A, E, M, T (mate, meat, tame, team); and E, I, M, T (emit, item, mite, time). Can you name a combination of four letters that can be arranged to create SIX uniquely spelled words?

I can think of one. It includes three consonants and one vowel. There may be others.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sledding on a Snow Day

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Celebrating the Career of Sheb Wooley

The guy in the picture is Sheb Wooley. I know him as Cletus, the principle in Hoosiers. I didn't realize until this week that Sheb also wrote and recorded the popular novelty song "The Purple People Eater," which topped the charts in 1958. He also appeared on Hee Haw and The Muppet Show as drunken cowboy crooner Ben Colder and had notable roles in several westerns in the 1950s and 60s.

Perhaps Sheb's greatest contribution to American art and entertainment was the Wilhelm Scream, a sound effect that has appeared in more than 250 movies and television shows. Wooley recorded the scream as a voice extra in 1951's Distant Drums, a "Florida western" about the Second Seminole War. Apparently the director needed a scream for a scene in which a soldier is bitten by an alligator and dragged underwater. The scream owes its name to Private Wilhelm, a character in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River who makes the sound when shot by an arrow. Here is a montage of 50 years of film scenes use the Wilhelm Scream

Sadly, Sheb Wooley died in 2003. Were he alive today, he would turn 90 on April 21. In his honor, we should all take time that day to watch a movie that includes the Wilhelm Scream. (Any Star Wars or Indiana Jones movie is eligible.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tuesday Night Trivia

Yet another question involving the initials of sovereign nations:

By my count, the English-language names of 25 sovereign nations begin with the letter "S." (Southern Sudan will make 26.) "S" is by far the most common first initial. Only three other letters begin the names of 15 or more countries. Name these three letters.

Note/Hint: The exact number of nations whose names begin with these letters depends on which name you use for one of the countries. It has two, both of which begin with one of the letters in question.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Aaron Rodgers Thinks He Quoted Francis of Assisi: Tinley's Law at Super Bowl Media Day

Today was Super Bowl Media Day (happy belated Super Bowl Media Day!), the day on which reporters who don't usually cover football ask the principle players on the two teams questions about anything and everything. Someone asked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers something about his faith, and his answer included a quote that he attributed to Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." (Thanks to Gavin Richardson for drawing this to my attention.)

"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." It's a great quote (although one should not overlook the importance of being able to verbally articulate one's faith story and beliefs). I come across this quote at least once a month, every time it is attributed to Francis of Assisi. But there's no evidence that Francis ever actually said it.

Tinley's Law states:

The more frequently a quotation is attributed to a certain person the less likely it is that said person was the actual source of the quotation.

Or, worded differently:

The frequency of attribution is inversely proportional to the probability of authenticity.

See here for some examples of instances where Tinley's Law holds.

I'll be eager to see how Aaron Rodgers preaches the gospel without words this Sunday, but his performance will have nothing to do with Francis of Assisi.