Tuesday, December 27, 2005

KG and Oprah

The media often ignores the good for the bad. Scoop Jackson says it best in his 2005-in-review column:
How do you make Mother Moses cry? In a year when ball players were getting press for "str8 stupidness" it seemed strange that Kevin Garnett's written appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show went notice-free.

He wrote her a letter. They gave her the letter on-air as a surprise. In the letter, he said he wanted to donate something to her Angel Network, which was building houses for those who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. His pledge: To build one house per month for the next two years. That's 24 homes! Two seasons of "Extreme Makeover." Financially funded by one person … with no commercial return on his donation. A gesture that should have landed him on the cover of Time alongside Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as Persons of The Year. A gesture that made Oprah -- read it again, Oprah -- break down.

But still, no member of the media wrote a story about it. USA Today scripted a blurb; ESPN.com made a mention. But overall -- nada.

Now, let Kevin Garnett or any other athlete run a stop light; let them miss a practice unexcused; let them miss a child support payment -- Bam! Lead story on "SportsCenter," forum discussion on "Rome Is Burning," breaking news on CNN.

In an era when it is too often publicly asked: "Where are our kids' role models?"; in a society that is starved for areas of positiveness to come from our professional athletes; in a world where we have been conditioned to believe that every one of these young superstars is unappreciative, ungrateful, undeserving and a void soul, a situation arose that could have shifted the entire perception of their existence. What Kevin Garnett did was just that big.

But guess who dropped the ball? Us. The media, for not saying anything about it, and the public, for not demanding that we do.

The moral of this story: How do you make the media not pay attention to you when you are a superstar athlete? Do something humane.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
And peace on earth to people He favors.
Luke 2:14

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Love Is the Greatest Revenge

Every autumn at the church I go to, their 20's-something ministry has a month-long series where they bring in a different person each week who can share his or her unique experiences from the work that they do. This series is always refreshing because we get to hear stories and perspectives from people who don't live in our geographical area. (Sometimes these people come from overseas, sometimes they're celebrities, etc.)

Anyway, one of the teaching pastors had his brother, Justin Dillon, who's a rock musician, come in and share his story with us back in October.

Nobody on either side of Dillon's family tree had any known musical talent (nobody played instruments, sang, etc.). However, at age 16 he decided he wanted to learn guitar and be a rocker. So he began taking lessons and got to be pretty good. He formed a band and they started playing small gigs, gradually working their way up. Dillon was making progress, but when it came to closing the deal with a record company, he was a strikeout - repeatedly.

Every time he made the 6-hour drive down to L.A. for an audition, the trip got longer and longer; and of course, the rides back home without a record deal were even longer. Many a time he found himself on the phone saying to his brother that it was all over and time to quit music.

One night, when he was a little over 30 years old, he got a prank call from somebody claiming to be from New Line Cinema, saying that they wanted to use one of his songs in a movie. Of course, Dillon wasn't duped by this prankster. However, the caller persisted, "No, seriously, we think you have a hit on your hands." Dillon finally said, "Okay, e-mail me right now if you're legit." So the caller e-mailed him and sure enough, he was legit. This wasn't a prank call afterall.

So Justin Dillon's big break came in the chick flick How to Deal. (His song, Promise Ring, starts to play when Mandy Moore is making out with some guy, which is ironic considering that Dillon wrote the song several years earlier for a friend who was going through a divorce).

Anyway, Dillon sang Promise Ring and Room 139 for us at church. (Room 139 is loosely based on Psalm 139 -- O LORD, you have searched me and you know me...). I can personally testify that Dillon's voice is amazing in a live performance. Also, it's neat that he's decided to give 50% of all his first album's royalties to charity.

Justin Dillon's band is Tremolo. Their album is Love Is the Greatest Revenge. Check them out. (If you act now, you can download O, Holy Night for free on their Web site.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cory Maye

If you don't know who Cory Maye is, my guess is, you will.

Who is Cory Maye? Picture this, if you will: Let's say that...

...cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.
Interesting. Did I mention this happened in Mississippi? Cory Maye is set to be executed for this crime. Add to this that Maye's original legal counsel was likely quite inadequate and you have a very likely innocent man set to die.

Cory Maye's case is becoming well known after it was discovered by blogger Radley Balko while researching related material. He ran across the case of Cory Maye and blogged his initial findings. Other bloggers across the political spectrum have picked them up and the story has spread. Interestingly, this may someday be one of the first best examples of a story being found by bloggers and eventually picked up by mainstream media and leading to a resolution. At this point, however, the mainstream media has not yet jumped aboard.

You can read all about the story at Balko's blog. I have little doubt from reading the entire story that something extremely fishy has been going on. I suggest reading from the bottom (starting at the beginning) to the top and familiarize yourself with the story if you're interested. Currently, another public defender has taken up Maye's case and Balko's research may have attracted bigwig pro bono representation. Balko recently obtained the original trial transcript and will be posting it online shortly. It seems to me a story that could end up having a documentary made about it (a la Murder on a Sunday Morning). It's shameful that the possibility of injustice still exists in today's courts.

You can continue to follow and read all about the case here. My guess is, though, it won't be only there you hear about Cory Maye for long.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Reading List

One of the things I love to do is to read, and there are always books out there which I want to read (if only I had the time). Most Christmases, I like to put several books on my Christmas wishlist to add to my collection of books I want to read that I haven't. This year is no exception. That being the case, I thought I'd share with you some of the books on my list this year. I should note, I've actually already gotten a couple of these, but I'll still include them anyway.

The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! by Tim Harford

Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions by Lisa Randall

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity by Ronald Sider

Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? by Ronald Sider

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Belief by Ergun Caner and Emir Caner

Beyond the Cosmos: The Extra-Dimensionality of God: What Recent Discoveries in Astrophysics Reveal About the Glory and Love of God by Hugh Ross

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

And in case you were wondering, paperback is much preferred. 8^)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wiki Wiki Wiki

Astute IJAB readers will note that I have already apprised them of the fabulous free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. However, lest any reader find themselves not completely up-to-date on the latest Internet drivel, I thought I'd better fill you in.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that is user-edited. Read the above-linked post for more info if you're confused. To make a long story short, a prankster wrote an article on Wikipedia saying that distinguished editor John Seigenthaler plotted to kill the Kennedys as a joke. Obviously, it wasn't true. And thus, the fuss.

Critics said this was a sign that the resource that Wikipedia is couldn't be trusted. The veracity of all Wikipedia's content was called into question. People called for anonymous editing to end and controls to be put in place. "How," they ask, "could an encyclopedia that lets anyone anonymously create and edit articles possibly be a repository of reliable information?"

I personally think it's a little silly. Wikipedia's a good resource for a first look at a subject. I don't think any reasonable person would suspect that it's fully 100% correct or complete. I myself have made various Wikipedia edits. It is what it is-- a good resource to begin research.

And in fact, that viewpoint has been validated. It turns out that a study conducted by the journal Nature has found that Wikipedia is just as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica (a decidedly not free print book).

So, go ahead you Internet warriors, Wiki away, and may the knowledge be with you.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


You may recall after the 2004 election seeing a map redrawn to reflect where the country's population lived rather than the actual geography.

I recently came across a similar map showing the world's population spread. It's somewhat astounding to see the visual reminder of where the U.S. ranks in relation to other places in the world. The overwhelming color on that map is definitely not North America.

Sometimes I think our head knows this, but it doesn't always sink in. As I'm often reminded during flying as I look down at the twinkling lights of the villages passing beneath, the world is a big place. And we are very small in comparison.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Google Transit

A brand new release from Google is a takeoff of their Maps feature called Google Transit. This new program features to and from directions for locations, but instead of via car, via the available public transit. As a proponent of transit, this is extremely exciting. This sort of routemaking efficiency is all that's been stopping many from choosing transit as their transportation mode. I will say, the possibilities this new feature entails seem pretty cool.

Obviously, this first release is very beta, and so there are still bugs. It's exciting, though, for the potential it holds, not for what it is right now. Currently, only one metropolitan region is available, that being Portland, Oregon. I CANNOT wait until this expands to Chicago. At least I hope it will. Having multiple public transit agencies, and different ticket pricing schemes, this is just the place a tool like this would be useful. Whether it will happen here assumes of course that Chicago's agencies will be willing to release their data and work with Google. Some cities are not willing. For now, I won't worry about that. I'll imagine the possibilities this holds instead. At the very least, I hope this means they'll add the public transit locations and stations to their base Google Maps.

Someday soon, if the API is released by Google, I imagine a mashup whereby you could search for homes or restaurants within a certain distance of the el.

Or, for a trip to the suburbs, you would be able to time compare (transit vs. live driving time) and cost compare (fare vs. gas cost) your mode choices. You could select a trip where the first link was via transit and the second via car or vice versa.

You could even begin to add multi-city trips with jumps (airplane trips) in between transit and car portions of the trip. Very cool.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Yeah, I miss da Bulls.

This past Friday the Chicago Bulls retired Scottie Pippen's #33. I watched a video of the halftime ceremony online later that night, and I was overrun with nostalgia.

From May 1993 to June 1998, I was a Chicago Bulls fanatic. I never made it to Chicago Stadium, and I've yet to be inside the United Center, but I watched them on TV all the time. They were just a fascinating team to watch. Sure, it helped that they were winners, but I also enjoyed the team chemistry and personalities (especially for the 2nd 3-peat).

Looking back, perhaps I spent too much time watching the Bulls, but you know what? I sure enjoyed it while it lasted. Just thinking back on the team that won 72 games... wow, what a year. It's hard to compare different teams from different eras, but that '96 Bulls team has to be considered the greatest NBA team of all time if you insist on trying to pick one.

For that '96 Bulls team, having Michael Jordan, the greatest all-around player and clutch performer in NBA history was a good start. (If NBA history teaches us anything, it's that you don't bet against Michael Jordan in the prime of his NBA career.) But while that team started with Jordan, it certainly didn't end there. At the other starting guard position they had Ron Harper, who was bigger than most guards and able to play great defense, yet knew enough to get out of Jordan's way on offense. Coming off the bench at guard they had Steve Kerr (to this day the highest % 3-point shooter in NBA history), and Randy Brown (the quickest defender on that Bulls team, which is saying something).

If the team had a weakness, it was at the center position. However, I purposely used the word if. When people try to find fault with the '96 Bulls, they usually attack Luc Longley as being an average center who would be dominated by the greats throughout history (Wilt, Russell, Kareem, etc.) I disagree. Luc Longley was a good center on offense and defense. Moreover, he fit well into the Bulls' team strategy.

On defense, Longley could typically neutralize the other team's center. On offense, he was a good passer, good jump shooter, and was an accurate free throw shooter (even in the clutch). With 2 minutes left in a close game, if you fouled Shaq, it's hold your breath. If you fouled Longley, it's 2 points for the Bulls.

When Oscar Robinson was asked whether Wilt Chamberlain was the best ever, he replied, "The books don't lie." I couldn't agree more. Chamberlain has two titles. Longley has three.

Okay, so I'm not saying Longley's better than Wilt. But consider this: Wilt played the game back in the 1890s (okay, more like the 1960s and early 70s, but you get my point) when there weren't many centers his size (7' 1" 275 lbs). In short, Wilt wasn't dominating guys like Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, or Hakeem Olajuwon. He was dominating guys like Jack Haley.

As Exhibit A below, I present to you an "action" shot from Wilt's storied 100-point night:

In Exhibit B below, apparently this was the most impressive photo NBA.com could find of Wilt Chamberlain's career:

Wait a second, who's that on defense? Nick Smith?

Furthermore, Wilt's career free throw percentage is two points lower than Shaq's. I'd argue that Shaq is a more dominant center than Wilt; and Tim Duncan is a better team basketball player than either. Yet none of them would have caused Luc Longley to lose much sleep while he was on the '96 Bulls.

Coming off the bench at center, the Bulls had Bill Wennington who was a phenomenal shooter (great jumper and 86% free throw accuracy), but a liability on defense and not as good a passer as Longley. Wennington wouldn't excite you as a starting center, but as a back up, he was one of the best in the league.

At power forward, the Bulls only had the greatest natural rebounder of all time, Dennis Rodman, aka "The Worm." Rodman did a lot of the little things that the average fan doesn't notice on the basketball court. According to some people, Rodman's basketball I.Q. was second to none. He knew how to move without the ball, make the best pass, and get inside his opponent's head to attain a psychological advantage. Rodman could also play defense against guys who were bigger in size. I remember he sometimes would guard Shaq - and relatively well I might add.

Coming off the bench at forward was Toni Kukoc, who would have started on almost any other NBA team in history. Any time he touched the ball on offense, he was a 6' 11" triple threat to shoot, pass, or dribble.

Of course, having all of these talented players doesn't mean anything if you can't get them to work together as a team. Phil Jackson, the head coach, did a masterful job of handling the egos and differing personalities. He and his staff also worked wonders with the X's and O's (six championships speaks for itself).

And if that weren't enough, they also had a guy who started at small forward who wasn't half bad. Sure, he didn't play ball in junior high and he was mainly the water boy his junior year in high school. He ended up going to a tiny college in Arkansas without a scholarship, but somehow made it to the Bulls and did okay. Of course, I'm talking about Scottie Pippen, the most accomplished small forward in NBA history.

Pippen was an amazing athlete. At 6' 7", he had long arms (7' wing span), but was also very quick. While he wasn't the best shooter in the world, he could dribble around people and dunk with the best of them. (Side note: Did you know that Pip taught MJ how to dunk from the corner using his left hand?) (Side note 2: I never hear people comment on this, but I noticed that Pippen had a knack for going glass in the crunch. At about a 45 degree angle from the basket, up to 15 feet away, he seemed to be about 80% accuracy when he chose to go glass. I specifically remember many occassions when the Bulls needed a big bucket, he would go to this play with a high rate of success. However, he didn't do this very often -- only on "special" occassions. Has anyone else noticed this or am I making this up?)

While Pip's offense was great, his defense was exceptional. He was every bit the defender that Jordan was, and ironically, if there was one person in the league whose defensive skills could have slowed down Jordan's offense, it was Pippen. But fortunately for Chicago fans, Pippen and Jordan were working with each other, not against each other.

Job well done, #23 & #33. Rest those numbers in peace.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Commuting Nightmares

As you know if you live in the midwest, Chicago was hit with their first big snow of the year on Thursday afternoon and evening. All in all, we got almost 10" at my house.

Needless to say, Murphy made it certain that the one day I don't get to ride the convenient, on-time-even-in-a-blizzard el was Thursday. Yes, I had to head out to my company's suburban location via the automobile. And, of course, I had a basketball playoff game in my city league that evening. Knowing this had the makings of a problem, I knew I would need to leave early. My game was at 6:30, and so I decided I would leave at 3:30 to make certain I made the normally one hour trip in time.

As indicated above, that's just after the snow began to fall. To make a long story short, traffic began to move slower and slower. The commute was becoming a hectic mess. I still held out hope of making it when, frustrated with the standstill on the interstate, I exited to travel via local roads. Needless to say, after some moments of hope, my time winnowed away.
Now, as you may know, I grew up in Minnesota. Despite the snow we were having, I was not ever in danger on the road, at least from myself, due to my Minnesota experience. In fact, I don't think the snow in and of itself would have added a tremendous amount of time to my trip. The other drivers on the road, however, that was a problem. Let's just say that there definitely were some people I wanted to go around. There were some terribly slow drivers. Now, maybe they didn't have a clue how to drive in snow and were thus taking it safe, which was probably the case, but regardless I sat frustrated in the car.

I finally made it to my destination at 7. I had spent 3.5 hours squirming in the drivers seat. The trip is about 30 miles. I had made a roaring average of under 10 mph. Consequently, I had arrived just in time to see my team be forced to forfeit (I was only our 3rd player to get there).

The lesson as always, don't make plans.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Big and Getting Bigger

What item in America has been constantly increasing since the early 1900's? No, I'm not talking about our waistlines?
It's our homes. In 1970, the average American home was 1,400 sq. ft. Today, in 2005, the average American home is 2,349 sq. ft. while the average household size is 2.
Wow, talk about inflation. Does the average person need 500 sq. ft. more in living space to function today? Despite the large size of our homes today, they continue to grow. In fact, for a segment of the American population, it is their dream to own a bigger house. Says Georgia Psihas,

Bigger bigger, better better, it's just a part of life.
Talk about lofty ambitions.

The sad thing is that the house people think is their dream house doesn't bring happiness. Says Georgia,

I don't know if I enjoy it more. The only room I ever sit in is the office. Then I go to sleep in my bed. I don't even know what my bedroom looks like.
Bonnie Bennett adds in regard to one of the rooms in her 8,000 s.f. home,
It's kind of stupid, because we never sit in here.
Alyson Skinner notes,
The irony is, the bigger the house, the more junk you buy. Then you have nowhere to put it, so you want more storage.
The environmental footprint for the owner of a megamansion such as the one under construction above is undoubtedly giant. The question we must ask ourselves when we consider our living space is, how much is too much? There are alternatives.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Link of the Day -- Citysearch

Most of you may already be aware of today's link, but I thought I'd throw it up there anyway, in case it helps someone.
Citysearch is a nationwide online restaurant and activities guide, which lists reviews and rankings for businesses in most of the nation's metropolitan areas.
Each year they have their own categories for which they produce top ten lists (mostly for restaurants) and people can vote on their favorite BBQ place or burger joint. Those lists are a good resource if you're looking for places to try. I know we check out a city's lists if we're going to visit on vacation.