Saturday, September 19, 2009

Team of the Decade(s)

Well, with the 2009 baseball season nearing an end, pundits everywhere are proposing their "Team of the Decade". So here's mine:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Todd Helton
2B: Jeff Kent
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Derek Jeter
OF: Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana
RP: Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan

Before the bickering starts over who should be on the team instead, let me say that I computed these players. I went over to FanGraphs and grabbed the wRAA (Runs Above Average) for batters and WPA/LI (Situational Wins) for pitchers (see FanGraphs for more info). I chose those because:
  1. I wanted something I could quantify for each year
  2. I wanted a counting stat (like HR) not a rate stat (like AVG) so it would measure overall impact and not require a threshold like the best player with 2000+ at bats.
  3. I wanted it to be a comparison of above average performance to measure the stellar nature, not just their usefulness.
  4. And, as you'll see later, I wanted it to span quite a number of years, so I could look back at previous decades.
The downsides of these stats are:
  1. They don't count fielding prowess.
  2. They only go back to 1974.
So, the kicker in this was I didn't just calculate the best players of the 2000's, or just the best players of the 80's and 90's. I calculated the best players of every decade. In other words, I can show you who the best first baseman in the 10-year-span of 1992-2001 (hint: it's not the 1B of the 90's: Frank Thomas).

And here are the pitchers:

First, a few notes:
  • The year on the left represents the first year of the decade in which these players were the best. For example, Gooden was the best pitcher in the 1978-1987 decade.
  • From 2001 on, the player listed represents the best performance from that year to the present day. For example, Lincecum was the best pitcher from 2008 to present.
  • I chose to list the outfielders as the top 3 instead of listing LF, CF, and RF individually for this chart, as I felt that was more representative. I computed both, and as a point of comparison, in that version Manny Ramirez only showed up in 2003, 2004, and 2008, simply because he was competing with Bonds and Holliday for best left fielder.
  • For the pitchers graph, I listed the top starter, then expanded it to the top 5. These top 5 aren't in order of 1-5, but are grouped so as to show each pitcher's range of dominance. I did the same with relievers (showing the best, then the top 2).
  • Because it was impossible to keep pitchers in the same column, I color-coded all the pitchers that had multiple stints in the top 5, so as to make it easier to find them. For example, Mike Mussina is one of the top 5 in the decades starting in 1988, 1992, 1994, and 1998.
Now for the interesting tidbits:
  • I was so struck by the occurrence of hall-of-famers that I shaded all of them orange. Understandably, there aren't many who played their best ball in decades starting in the 90s, as most likely they're not even eligible for the Hall yet. But there is a WHOLE LOT of orange in the top of the graph. Which makes players like Evans and Raines stand out all that more. (What happened to the outfielders in the late 80s / early 90s? There's Henderson and Puckett, and that's it. Hello! Anyone out there?)
  • The only two hall-of-famers covered by this era that didn't make the chart are Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith. Gwynn had three decade entries as the top right fielder (85-87), but was effectively outdone by a second left fielder named Rickey Henderson. Ozzie Smith didn't make it at all... in fact, he never finished higher than 4th in any decade, behind Cal, Barry Larkin, and Alan Trammell. Of course, as mentioned above, this stat doesn't count fielding, which is what makes the Wizard so dominant of a shortstop.
  • In a similar fashion, looking down the list on both sides, it's easy to pick out the future hall of famers (steroids scandals not-withstanding): Piazza, Thomas, Kent, Chipper, A. Rod, Bonds, Manny, Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, Rivera, etc.
  • The vast ranges of dominance stood out to me, too. Bonds, Manny, Chipper, Boggs, Henderson, Murray, A Rod (at 2 positions), Clemens, Johnson, Schilling, Maddux, Pedro, and Rivera(!) all had such a longevity of being at the top of their game.
  • One interesting side-effect of this is that a player's decade of dominance can start even before they started playing. Cal Ripken was the best shortstop in the 1979-1988 decade, though he didn't start playing until 1981. Gooden and Clemens each pitched their first Major League game in 1984, yet they were the best starter in the decades starting 1978-1983.
  • I wonder if the most common Jim Rice argument (a decade+ of dominance) will translate to other borderline players, such as Blyleven: the best pitcher from 1977-1986.
Some unsung heroes:
SP: Saberhagen, Stieb, Cone, Kevin Brown, Halladay, Oswalt
RP: Henke, Foulke (remember how dominant he was)
C: Tettleton?!
IF: Bagwell, Biggio, Larkin
OF: Dwight Evans, Raines, Larry Walker, Matt Holliday, Adam Dunn

This was a lot of fun for me to do (yes, you should know by now I'm weird). Now, the next time someone argues that Beltran is the CF of the 2000's, I can say that if it were 2001-2009, I'd agree, but 2000 puts Jim Edmonds over the top.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Indy or Junior?

Near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy faces three obstacles to get to the Holy Grail. The second one is "The Word of God", which turns out to be directions to step on specially marked out stones to spell out Jehovah. Step on the wrong one (In Latin, Jehovah begins with an 'I'!), and you plunge to your death.

This week God showed me this is how I believe I should follow Him. I should carefully analyze all the clues that I get. Then slowly, carefully, I step in exactly the right place. I must be perfect, or else I will step outside of God's will and plunge to my doom (of failure, embarrassment, or the Father's disappointment).
But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
-- Luke 18:16-17
How do little children follow someone? How do they greet someone? How do they approach someone unhindered? Not with cautious and sequenced steps. No, they come like my 2-year-old comes to me. She runs full speed and doesn't slow until she slams into me. At her height, this poses some danger to me, but it's still a joy to be greeted with such unbridled excitement.

I know now I should come to God in the same manner. When I see where He is and where He's working, I should run headlong to Him. No pauses. No hesitations. Just do my best to barrel him over. And do you know what the amazing part of this whole thing is? The stones hiding the trap still exist, but my God knows me so well--how I run and exactly where I will step--that if I sprint to Him, my footfalls will land on solid ground with each and every step.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sin Stats

Wired Magazine has a fascinating article called American Vice: Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins. While the theologian in me wants to point out that all sin leads to death apart from the saving blood of Christ, and the statistician in me finds the graphs engrossing, the writer in me is drawn to comment on the choice of the statistic and how accurate it might be to measure the sin.

Greed : Average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line.

So, this is measuring the distribution of wealth; i.e., where the rich are ultra-rich and the poor are many. That's not too bad of a measurement, but I wonder how often it is simply measuring the wealthy areas of the country. Plus, money does not equal greed necessarily, but maybe having money without generously giving it away (locally?) does equal greed.

Envy : Total thefts (robbery, burglary, larceny, and grand theft auto) per capita.

It's a clever idea, trying to say that merchandise is stolen based on the desire to have what your neighbor possesses. I don't believe most thefts are for the desire of the object, though.

Wrath : Number of violent crimes (murder, assault, and rape) per capita.

Not bad, though I'd add road rage to the list.

Sloth : Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment.

What a clever way to measure sloth. Ideally it would measure employment hours and not percent of population employed, but I like the idea of comparing the amount of productivity to the amount of leisure.

Gluttony : Number of fast-food restaurants per capita.

Well, excluding C.S. Lewis's brilliant clarification of gluttony to mean more than eating excess food. Still, what greater symbol of gluttony is there than the hall of Super-Size?

Lust : Number of STD cases reported per capita.

I see what they're trying here. STD cases vary directly with the amount of sex being had (outside of lifelong monogamous relationships), and the amount of sex varies directly with the amount of lust. I think this fails, though, because STD cases also vary with the level of information the society has (to know to use protection), and of course lust has many other expressions than sex. I would think the amount of pornography viewed (if they had such a statistic) would be much more accurate.

Pride : Aggregate of the other six offenses—because pride is the root of all sin.

True. Putting your own desires first, above others and especially above God, is the only way to sin. It falls short, though, because not all sin is captured under the six sins listed above. Arrogance, judgmentalism, vanity, bitterness, and many more should be aggregated.

The biggest failing, though, of these graphs is that they appear to be graded on a scale, where the upper portion are marked as Saintly and the lower portion Sinful. Instead, the scale should start at Sinful and go down from there, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rotating the (Pitching) Tires

Well, I was going to post this in the comments on this blog entry by Rob Neyer, but it won't let me. Anyway, I'm realizing that for some reason, I'm politics-heavy recently, so let's lighten it up a bit with analyzing the five-man rotation in baseball.

From Rob:
Let's say these magical evaluations tell you that you've got two starters who will thrive on just three days of rest, two who will do better with four days, and one old left-hander who's most effective with five days of rest.

Let's call them 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B, and 5 (or you can call that last one 6, if he's the new Ted Lyons and is going to just pitch every Sunday afternoon). OK, now try to slot those guys into an actual baseball schedule. I fooled around for a few minutes, and I couldn't do it. I couldn't come close.

From me:

If a team really wanted to implement this, I imagine that instead of pigeonholing each starter into a number of days rest, they'd create a chart of how effective (in terms of both duration and quality) each starter is on 3, 4, 5, and 6+ days of rest. Sure, CC might be best on 3-days rest, but if there's only a slight drop-off pushing it to 4, maybe Girardi should do that so Pettitte doesn't go 12 days between starts or Brett Tomko doesn't get a fill-in start.

As far as creating a pitching schedule, that's what a computer is for. Maybe the ideal pitching schedule is impossible, but there's a good chance it would find something better. In fact, the worst thing it would come up with is the current 5-man rotation, since we know that already works.

One interesting thing is we're assuming the best starters are those that would thrive with the fewest days off. But maybe Wakefield (on the Red Sox) goes every 4 days and Lester goes every 6.

I think it could work in theory. I think it will fail in practice, because:
  • Pitchers would not be convinced this is the best for them, and for the team.
  • Injuries would upset the rotation much more than they do now (if your 3-day starter goes out and your replacement is a 5-day starter, that won't work).
Oh well, I guess this will remain in the realm of baseball simulations.

Why Universal Health Care?

I've raised this issue with friends in my church community, and I always seem to get the response that Universal Health Care is wrong.

First, the secular reasons:
  • It's socialism. But...
  • The cost is too high. But...
  • The government shouldn't tell us who to see. But... (this is a great explanation of the whole issue)
And more health care myths are shot down.

That's all well-and-good, but the biggest issue for me is that we're commanded to care for the poor over and over and over again, and the early church did just that, again and again and again.

The response I've heard is that it is the job of the Church and Christians to give freely, not to be taxed into giving. My response to that is if the Church and Christians were doing their job (myself included), there wouldn't be a need for health care reform. For that matter, there wouldn't be a need for health insurance at all. Anyone who needed medical care and couldn't afford it would be subsidized by the Church.

I think Richard Beck of Experimental Theology puts it best:
Where's the moral outrage in the Christian community about the uninsured? Churches by and large botched it during the Civil Rights Movement. Let's get on the right side of history this time around.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Scopes Redux

So, apparently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to challenge global warming, in court:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.
My brain is exploding with reactions to this:
  • How is the courtroom the right place to decide the truth of scientific matters?
  • Well, maybe it is. It is the place where the facts are determined behind criminal matters. In these cases, it is not the law that is in dispute, but rather the facts that determine how the law should be applied.
  • Is this more of a PR stunt than a legal stunt? Is it a way to get Joe Public on the side of business?
Maybe the real issue comes down to this quote:
EPA is set to formally declare that the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for climate change endanger human health, and are thus subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
And more questions:
  • Is it right for the EPA to expand its regulatory powers to include carbon dioxide?
  • Do businesses affected by this expansion have the right to fight it in court?
  • Why attack the science instead of attacking the interpretation of the Clean Air Act?
  • And maybe most confounding, why would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invoke the Scopes monkey trial when the scientific standpoint won out (and the opposition is seen as a laughingstock)?
I'm still processing all of this, but my initial reactions are:
  • I'd love to see a balanced debate on the issue of global warming, where scientific studies are brought to light.
  • On the other hand, there does seem to be something wrong with having a legal expert decide scientific theory.
  • Regulating greenhouse gases by the EPA should take an act of Congress, not an interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
[Story seen through Slashdot]

Monday, August 24, 2009

If Geeks Ruled the Universe

After seeing this comic, I just had to put in a plug for xkcd:

Crude? Sometimes. Off the charts geeky? Always. Blowing my mind with humor and/or that someone else thinks like this? Often.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bahama Mamas

I came across this article on this blog about a bill in the Bahamas that would make it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. I found this appalling: first, that a man would even consider raping his wife; second, that they would use the Bible to justify it; third, that others could use this as evidence for how backwards and cruel Christianity is. Here's a quote (of a quote):
"I disagree with the bill because I disagree that a man can rape his wife. The Bible tells me that a man's body is his wife's and her body is his. How could he rape her?" asked Ms. Sweeting.
True, the Bible says that (mostly):
The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.
-- I Corinthians 7:4
First, note the "to her alone": the wife's body is not solely her husband's now, but belongs to both of them. Second, the context indicates that believers should not withhold sex from their spouses except in special times of prayer, so they will not be tempted (by sexual sin).

The biggest issue, though, is not found in this context but in another of Paul's writings: Ephesians.
... husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
-- Ephesians 5:28
This is written in the context of men being challenged to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving Himself up for her. This passage is not about ensuring the sexual desires of the husband are met, but that he is focused on meeting his wife's desires.

When the Bible talks about the two bodies being one, it means that the husband should treat the wife's body as if it were his own, which he protects and cares for, not abuses. A rape of a woman would be analogous to--no, far worse than--being kicked in the groin over and over again. I know of no man, husband or not, who would wish that on himself.

Using the Bible to justify marital rape is distorting the entire text and the Message of Jesus: love. It is instead a feeble attempt by men to justify their desire to live for their own purpose rather than show sacrificial love.

Compound Guilt

In every financial investment class, they teach on the principle of compound interest. The way you make money over time is not by having your initial deposit earn interest, but having your interest earn interest.

I've been finding myself in a similar spot over the past few weeks, except it's been my guilt that's been earning interest. I set a goal in July to blog every other day, then proceeded to blog twice during the whole month. But once I had gone a week, I found it much harder to write than before. I was not only facing laziness and atrophy (i.e. I'm out of practice), but also the guilt of not having written for a while. As the days went, it was harder and harder to start, and the guilt piled on. "Aren't I supposed to be a writer? Didn't I get this goal of blogging from my time with God?" I asked myself. "Then why aren't I carving out the time, sitting down, and typing out words for His glory?"

This month, though, I've been reading God is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg, and one of the points he makes is that when you fail, you can start over immediately. God doesn't hold it over your head and keep laying on the guilt; that's the work of the Enemy. God's only desire is to get you back on track, following Him; once you've turned back, there is no more lingering guilt. If you ask Him about the guilt, He'll respond: "No, we're cool." (I'm sure that's in some modern translation.)

So, here I go diving back into blogging. I'm back to my goal of once a week, but more if I'm so inspired by a post. I don't know if there are any readers still lingering around (other than my ever-faithful wife), but I'm so grateful God sticks around to listen to every word I write or say.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Let There Be Light Speed

The other day, I was thinking about what I see to be the biggest problem with the Young Earth theory. (Yes, I think about those things in my free time... but I also think about baseball statistics and ways to solve puzzles, so I think I've secured my geek status well before this posting.)

I don't have the expertise in biology or geology to comment on those aspects intelligently. However, I do have a good grounding in astronomy, and there's one problem I can't get avoid, any time I can look up at the sky on a clear, dark night. The problem is that I can see the Milky Way, and in especially dark areas, the Andromeda Galaxy. Why is that a problem? Well, because they are really far away. The Andromeda Galaxy, for example, is 2.5 million light-years away.

The problem is not in the size of the universe, but in the fact that we can see it. When we look at the Andromeda Galaxy, we not only see something 2.5 million light-years away, but 2.5 million years ago. The light we can see in our night sky was produced from the stars in that galaxy 2,500,000 years ago. That just doesn't jive with the Young Earth theory of Creation happening less than 10,000 years ago.

Here are some other false starts of explanations:

Light was created (Day 1) before the Earth was created (Day 2?). The problem with this is though light was created on Day 1, the stars were created on Day 4, after the Earth was created. Even if that weren't the case, the literal interpretation only places 24 hours between creation of light and creation of earth, not 20,000 centuries.

Light was created "on its way", such that we could see all that God had created. While this would explain it, it seems on par with God creating an afterimage of the risen Lord as the sign of his resurrection. We'd see it, but it wouldn't be what's really real. For instance, we can see a supernova go off in a far away galaxy, from which the light couldn't possibly have reached us (i.e. we're still seeing light created on the way). That would mean the supernova didn't actually happen, and yet we see it. In other words, this explanation makes God a deceiver. Not a good plan.

Last try, and the one I was fiddling with. Maybe at the Fall (or the Flood), God set the speed of light. Beforehand, along with other laws of physics being different, light traveled at a near-infinite speed. Then, as part of our restriction as a fallen race, God made sure we were limited to our solar system, and only had interstellar travel in the movies. The problem with that is that the light itself would be distorted on the change in speed. There might be a tremendous gap of darkness, with all the pre-fall light having already reached us and the post-fall light not getting here yet. If the light gradually slows, it would be stretched out and therefore drastically red-shifted. If the light was instead repeated to fill the interval, then we couldn't see any galactic variations, such as supernovae.

There's just no way I can see reconciling a literal reading of the 6 days of creation to the observations any person in a rural area can make. This still allows for creation to occur, but only if freed from, in my opinion, the totally unnecessary restriction that it all happens in under a week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ball Hogs

My new favorite baseball site,, posted this article about the differences in team fielding between this year and last year. Here are the top 5 most improved teams:
Tigers 97.9
Pirates 89.8
Reds 89.7
Rangers 84.7
Mariners 69.6
Those numbers are what is called Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Other than being a very cool name, it indicates how many runs were saved by excellent fielding as compared to the average fielders. And since it is generally accepted that a difference of ten runs equates to a win, these numbers are fairly significant. It implies that the Tigers are on pace to win 10 more games than last year because of improved fielding alone.

And the bottom five:
Indians -51.0
Phillies -57.7
Mets -70.1
Red Sox -80.3
Nationals -81.7
The interesting thing from this is it's easy to point to certain acquisitions that make all the difference: Jason Bay from Pirates to Red Sox, Adam Dunn from Reds to Nationals, Raul Ibanez from the Mariners to the Phillies, Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians to the Mariners, and Endy Chavez from the Mets to the Mariners. (How about those Mariners upgrading the outfield!) Or new players coming up: Nyjer Morgan for the Pirates and Elvis Andrus for the Rangers.

And then there are my Orioles, at -40.7: losing 4 more games because of failing defense. Why? Well, because our outfield has fallen apart.

In 2008, the Orioles had Payton (+12.0), Jones (+9.9) and Markakis (+12.1).
In 2009, the Orioles have Reimold (-2.4), Jones (-4.8) and Markakis (-8.7).

Okay, fine. Switching out Payton for Reimold in left field cost us a decent bit. I'm willing to accept that to get a player 11 years younger (26 to 37) and 270 points higher in OPS (.908 to .637). But what happened to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis? Did someone install an obstacle course in right-center? Or is it simply one more reason for my favorite team to be the NotYankees?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life, The Universe, and Everything

In the past ten days or so, two articles on appeared, one on Mars and the other on Titan (Saturn's largest moon). Both talk of lakes on the surface of the globes: Mars a past water ocean, Titan a current methane lake system. And then both then mention the possibility of life developing there. Why is that? Why not stick to the questions at hand rather than going to conjecture? I can think of several reasons.
  • Journalistic appeal: an article on a far away lake is not interesting. The discovery of life outside of the Earth is.
  • Scientific longing: the desire to find something mind-blowing and paradigm-shifting.
  • Biological practicality: just like in the jungles of the Amazon, finding diverse life teaches us more about the life we know, and can grant us cures we couldn't get otherwise.
  • Historical genesis: if basic life is forming on other worlds, that would fill us in on how things may have come about here on earth.
  • Philosophical ache: one of the basic questions of this generation is, Are we alone in the universe?
  • Mythological debunking: if we find life on other planets, especially in the early stages, it puts a dent in the claims of a Creator God making a special Earth filled with fully-developed beasts.
This last one intrigues me especially, considering what the Bible says about life on other planets. What does it say? Oh yeah, nothing. Genesis talks about God's creation process on Earth, and it is only a weak inference that leads us to believe that life cannot be elsewhere. Furthermore, even if we hold to a special creation happening here on Earth (which I don't believe is strictly necessary according to Scripture), that does not preclude life developing naturally, does it? If Jesus heals a blind man, does that mean we cannot do the same using natural means?

In the same way finding other planets expanded our horizons of the grandeur of God's creation, so too the finding of life will open our eyes to the vastness of God's plan. Who knows? Other sentient life may exist in this vast universe, and it may be the call of our descendants to be witnesses to the end of their worlds, too (Acts 1:8).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bracket Time

We're rapidly approaching the end of the playoffs for two major sports leagues: the NBA and the NHL. Each league accepts 16 teams into their playoffs, and each matchup is a best-of-seven series. This, combined with a good number of off days explains why these playoffs last two months.

This makes me wonder why Major League Baseball can't involve more teams. Why do they only invite 8 teams to "the dance" where the other leagues invite 16. The NFL even invites 12 teams. Why not have best-of-seven series matching up more teams in baseball.

Then I realized, this pretty much already happens. It just happens during the regular season. What if, instead of playing another set of games at the end of the season, we just take the games already played, simulate a bracket, and have the "winners" play in the World Series? So, that's what I did, at least for the past five seasons.

Here are the rules:
All teams are seeded (per league) based on win-loss record. Ties are broken based on expected win-loss (which is based on runs scored and allowed). The 1 and 2 seeds in the AL get first-round byes, since there are only 14 teams. Each round is then "played" by looking at how these teams did head-to-head. If they tied (often teams play 6 games), then the team with the most runs scored wins. The winner of the AL bracket meets the winner of the NL bracket in the Bracket World Series.

For example, the 2008 American League bracket looks like this:
1 LA Angels (100-62) Bye
8 Cleveland (81-81) vs. 9 Texas (79-83)

4 NY Yankees (89-73) vs. 13 Baltimore (68-93)
5 Chicago Sox (89-74) vs. 12 Detroit (74-88)

2 Tampa Bay (97-65) Bye
7 Toronto (86-76) vs. 10 Oakland (75-86)

3 Boston (95-67) vs. 14 Seattle (61-101)
6 Minnesota (88-75) vs. 11 Kansas City (75-87)

In the first round,
Cleveland beats Texas, 6 to 4 [their season head-to-head record].
New York beats Baltimore, 11 to 7 [why do the O's always seem to stink against the Yanks?]
Chicago beats Detroit, 12 to 6
Toronto beats Oakland, 6 to 4
Boston beats Seattle, 6 to 3
Minnesota beats Kansas City, 12 to 6

In the second round,
Los Angeles beats Cleveland, 5 to 4
New York beats Chicago, 5 to 2
Tampa Bay beats Toronto, 11 to 7
Boston beats Minnesota, 4 to 3
There are still no upsets in the bracket, though real-life playoff team Chicago is ousted by the team with the better record, New York.

In the third round,
Los Angeles beats New York, 7 to 3
Tampa Bay beats Boston, 10 to 8
No Yanks and no Red Sox in this imaginary Series... it's a happy ending after all.

And for the AL crown, Tampa Bay beats Los Angeles, 6 to 3.

Again, these are the records these teams had head-to-head during the season. Is it really fair to discount that New York beat Chicago 5 out of 7 games, even if those games weren't in October?

I'll sum up the remaining brackets with the World Series matchups, then a few comments about how it played out.

2008 : #2 Rays vs. #2 Phillies
Surprisingly, this is the same matchup as the actual World Series. The Cubbies made it to the Finals, though, before losing to the Phillies, 5-1. They almost didn't, as they split their series 3-3 with the lowly #16 Nationals, only to be saved by scoring 7 more runs. Upset special: #12 Atlanta (72-90) knocks out #5 Astros (86-75) and #4 Mets (89-73) before getting eliminated by the Cubs.

2007 : #4 Angels vs. #4 Padres
The NL champ is the one who in reality was eliminated in a one-game playoff with the Rockies for the NL wildcard. The Angels beat #13 Orioles, #5 Tigers, #1 Indians in a tie-breaker, and #3 Yankees, 6-3. The Padres squeak by thanks to #8 Brewers defeating the top-seeded Diamondbacks, 5-2.

2006 : #6 Angels vs. #1 Mets or #2 Dodgers
Whoops! My tiebreakers wasn't breaking enough! In the first round, the mighty Mets (97-65) played the #16 Cubs (66-96) to a tie, 3-3, in which they managed each to score 35 runs. If the Mets "win" that match, they go all the way; if not, the Dodgers go in. As far as the 89-73 Angels go, they earn their bid. After dispensing with the #11 Mariners, they beat the #3 Tigers, the #2 Twins, and the #1 Yankees. They had a winning record against the top three AL teams (all playoff bound), yet missed the playoffs entirely. It goes to show you have to beat the bad teams, too.

2005 : #3 Red Sox vs. #2 Braves or #8 Brewers
Argh! Failed again! Milwaukee ended dead even with the Mets in the 3rd round, with 3 wins and 40 runs each. If they win, they beat the Braves for the title. If not, the Braves beat the Mets. This was the year of the upset. Besides the Brewers, the 67-95 Devil Rays take out the #4 Yankees, #5 Indians, and #9 Rangers (who beat the top-seeded White Sox) before succumbing to the Red Sox. But the bigger upset came when 67-95 16-seed Colorado beat the 100-win, top-seeded Cardinals by one run in the tiebreaker, 34-33.

2004 : #1 Yankees vs. #1 Cardinals
The first time a top seed makes it outright, though this year is not without excitement. #6 Texas makes it to the finals before losing 5-4. And a Dodgers/Brewers tie in the first round trickles into the finals before St. Louis ousts them all. The 71-91 Mets also make it to the third round by beating #5 Giants and #4 Astros.

So, what did I learn from this exercise, other than I have way too much time on my hands? Well, first, that I don't have enough time, for if I did, I'd have made a program that would download these records and compute the bracket for me. This way, I could tweak the tiebreakers, tweak the seedings, and even decide whether to re-order the winners based on seed or keep them in bracket (e.g. if a 16 beats a 1, do they play the #8 or the #2 next?)

And why doesn't MLB go to something like this? Well, other than the loss of revenue from playoff games and selling October as the big-time games, I can think of one really good reason. I can imagine a scenario in this bracket system where the last day of games determines the seeding. And, I can imagine that based on matchups, a lower seed may actually be better for a team. So, the worst-case scenario is if two teams are playing each other on the final day, and the LOSER will end up in the World Series. Imagine two teams each trying to throw the game. That's why this will only ever be an exercise for stat geeks like myself.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Desert Plant in Suburbia

Then God said to Jonah, "What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?"

Jonah said, "Plenty of right. It's made me angry enough to die!"

God said, "What's this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night.
-- Jonah 4:9-11 (The Message)
I was reading through Jonah this morning, and got God's holy 2x4 of conviction smacked across the back of my skull. I've had that uncomfortable sensation before, but this time it felt like a shade tree from the deserts of Assyria.

Here I sit in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in one of the richest counties in arguably the richest nation in the world. I'm a computer programmer for a defense contractor. I have a beautiful, intelligent, and loving wife, and an adorable, fun daughter. A nice comfortable house, two cars, and more old electronics equipment than I'd care to admit.

And time after time I find myself in grumbling mode. Grumbling to God that something isn't the way I want it. Termites crawling around out back. Grumble. Daughter gets a cold. Grumble. Two-hour meeting. Grumble. Then God gives me perspective.

A blog entry: Great Ways to Become Poor and Stay Poor, Item #8 : Be born in the third world.
A news article: Swat Refugees Facing Dire Hardships. Pakistani civilians are being severely affected by the war on terror.
There is no running water, no electricity, and food is scarce. There is no fuel left for generators and most medical facilities in the district are no longer functioning.
I must ask myself. What did I do to be born in the U.S.? To be raised in northern Virginia? I'm worried about inconveniences when there are millions in real need.

God, thank you for the blessings you have given me, from your grace alone. I deserve none of this. Thank you more so for humbling me. Carve out that grumbling heart and mind of mine and replace it with one of gratitude, and generosity.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

You Got Your Peanut Butter God in My Chocolate God!

As is my normal Sunday morning routine, I read the comics. Something just jumped out at me when reading Doonesbury. Now, if you know me, you know I don't fit very well into the stereotype that evangelical Christians are conservative Republicans. So, I'm not especially bothered by quips at the expense of the previous administration. But, it does irk me when someone continues a misconception about Scripture.
Whenever you read from the Old Testament, God is always crabby and snarky to everyone... but the New Testament isn't about anger at all -- it's about love.
Now I know the point of this was to make a (rather amusing) jab at the banking industry, so I excuse them (especially since they never claim to be knowledgeable on the Bible). But to show how wrong they are, here are a few passage of Scripture, for you to guess OT or NT:
Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom, Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half of the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you.
Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It's on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse. You can't squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah's son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I'm telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.
I'll sing a ballad to the one I love, a love ballad about his vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard, a fine, well-placed vineyard. He hoed the soil and pulled the weeds, and planted the very best vines. He built a lookout, built a winepress, a vineyard to be proud of. He looked for a vintage yield of grapes, but for all his pains he got junk grapes.
And now, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to start all over again. I'm taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I'll court her. I'll give her bouquets of roses. I'll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope. She'll respond like she did as a young girl, those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.
And then I'll marry you for good—forever! I'll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness. Yes, I'll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go. You'll know me, God, for who I really am.
So, as you probably guessed, the fire-and-brimstone quotes are from Jesus himself (Matthew 11:23-24, Matthew 23:33-36) and the love passages are from Old Testament prophets speaking for God (Isaiah 5:1-2, Hosea 2:14-15, 19-20). [All from The Message translation, so us NIV readers won't instinctively know who's saying it.]

So, what's up with this anger-and-love God? Does he have a split personality? Is it a good cop-bad cop ploy to get us to follow him? Yeah, maybe. But I think the real answer is he isn't a God who spreads a sanitized love around. He's a passionate God who wants to be our Lover. So, he does try to woo us, but he also does rightly get upset when we:
  1. Cheat on him with other loves, be it golden calves or other primary interests.
  2. Treat other parts of his bride (i.e. other people) with contempt.
  3. Try to keep his bride from finding him.
As a husband, I know I'm be ready to explode if any of those things happened in my marriage. And I'm sure my wife would feel the same way. But in our culture that sees God as distant, it's easy to forget how intimate He wants to be with us.

I just discovered a hilarious and ironic twist to this comic. The quote they start with to make the point:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
Well, that's actually Romans 1:18, from the New Testament.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hope against hope

God is love. -- I John 4:8
[Love] always hopes -- I Corinthians 13:7
But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. -- Romans 8:24b-25
Wait, what? Does that say what I think it says? If God is love, and love always hopes, then I guess God always hopes. But hope is by definition for something that is not seen. So, God must not see something in order for him to hope for it? Is that right?

It's certainly possible that hope means something different for the one omniscient Being in the universe. It's clear that God waits patiently for us, and you could make the argument that until we accept him as our Savior, he doesn't "have" us yet. It might also be that since God isn't constrained by time, hope means something entirely different. And there may be some subtlety in the phrasing that gets us out of this scenario.

But maybe, just maybe, it is true that God hopes for us, and in doing so has to somehow forget that he knows the future. While it may be figurative, God does claim to stop remembering our sins. And Jesus was able to give up traits of his deity to become man. Jesus (at least while on earth) stated there were things the Father knows and he doesn't.

So maybe, just maybe, while the Father stays sovereign and omniscient, the Son continues to give away and "forget" just enough of his foreknowledge so he can hope. He can time and time again come and show us his grace and mercy. And each time, he can think to himself: Maybe, just maybe, they'll choose Me this time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

How to Found a Kingdom on Earth in 12 Easy Steps

by Jehovah Elohim

1. Foundation
Choose a 75-year old childless couple as the base of your kingdom. Don't give them a child for another 25 years. Bonus: Convince the father to sacrifice the child once born.

2. Growth Plan
Send one member of your clan to slavery and/or prison; send a famine on the other members.

3. Independence
Choose a timid, word-fumbling murderer as your spokesman, to demand from the head of the greatest military that he should disband his free labor force. Bonus: When your group leaves, send them towards a large body of water.

4. Conquest
Attack the most protected city first. Do this by marching around it once a day for a week, blowing trumpets on the last day. Bonus: Get your intelligence from a prostitute.

5. Military Strategy
Before attacking a large army, whittle your forces down to 300. Bonus: Arm them with torches, jars, and trumpets.

6. Leadership
Go to a small town and choose a young man known especially for talents in music and animal husbandry. Bonus: Have him challenge the mightiest warrior of your enemy. Extra bonus: Have a death warrant placed on his head by the current government.

7. Defense
When an army of roughly 185,000 men come at your capital city, taunting you, whatever you do, don't rally your people's army in defense.

8. Advertising
Send your best speaker to a city doing everything they can against what you want. Bonus: nearly drown your speaker on the way.

9. Transition
Introduce your chosen leader in a small town, preferably in filthy living conditions. Bonus: Have him live in obscurity for the first 30 years of his life.

10. Executive Team
Choose only the best people to surround your leader, like uneducated fishermen and hated tax collectors. Bonus: Also take someone who will undermine your entire effort at a critical point.

11. Final Establishment
At the height of your leader's popularity, get him executed as a criminal. Hopefully his executive team will respond accordingly by hiding and denying they know him. Bonus: Choose a known killer of your followers to spread your message.

12. The Real Plan
Be the God of the Universe, full of Love and Grace, and turn the whole world upside-down with Your unconventional (i.e. miraculous) wonders.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I've been struggling for a while in my connection with God. It seems like He's distant, uncommunicative, and frankly boring. But I was challenged today with changing that, mainly by truly seeking God, not simply asking for stuff. I spent time rolling that around in my head, practicing the points of the message on the message itself. (Is that some sort of meta-devotional?) After some time of mentally chewing on it, God showed me the similarities between seeking after Him and one of my other favorite activities: stargazing. Like the universe, I know God is immensely complex and interesting, so it's similar to my going outside and seeing just a few stars. Here are the pointers on what's necessary to get the most out of the heavens, which will hopefully help get the most out of Heaven:
  • Go outside. What a no-brainer for stargazing, but how often do I complain about my lack of intimacy with God when all-the-while I'm not even giving him a second thought. I need to put myself in a place where it's possible to see God.
  • Get away. For those who have lived their lives in cities or brightly lit suburbs, counting the stars in the sky seems like a pretty trivial task. Get out where it's dark and you'll see the thousands you're missing (hundreds of thousands if you count the Milky Way band). It's also tough to see God when there's so much else going on drowning him out. Riches, worries and pleasures (Luke 8:14) and the busyness of life and our thoughts keep us from seeing more than a shallow view of God.
  • Allow time to adjust. If you go outside from a bright room, you'll see very little at first; you have to wait for your eyes to adjust and gain your night vision before you can see the faint objects. We need time for our souls to adjust as well, to get all the distractions out of us before we can see God clearly and deeply.
  • Use quality equipment. Your eyes can see a lot on a dark night, but adding even a low-powered telescope can add so much more. Moons of Jupiter, rings of Saturn, phases of Venus, shadows on the Moon, and even some of the brighter nebulae and galaxies are visible with just a little help. So too should we lean on the Bible, commentaries, devotionals, and the like to see deeper.
  • Clean the lens. If your lens is foggy or dusty, then there is no option but to see blurry and faded images. If your soul is dirtied with unconfessed sin, you can't see God for who He truly is. Get it clean, ASAP.
  • Focus. The analogy has already been made. You must focus a telescope before you can see through it. Mentally focusing on God is also necessary before you can see His glory.
  • Use long exposure times. Some objects are just too dim to see with what the eye can absorb. Setting a camera with an exposure time of minutes will take in enough light to make that object visible. Just remember that the camera must "follow" the object, to account for the Earth's rotation. Similarly, we must take the time to sit and absorb what God is telling us. A quick snapshot will often leave us in the dark. And God often wants to take us on a journey (He did that with me today), so be patient and follow Him.
  • Get a good guide. A lot of space is just that: space. You point a telescope at it and see black. Or maybe a few stars that are no different than those you can see on your own. Being able to have a guide (a person or book) that tells you exactly where the interesting stuff is and how to find it. When seeking God, our Guide needs to be the Holy Spirit. Invite him to guide you in your time.
  • Be prepared for uncomfortable times. Clear skies bring cold weather. Some celestial objects don't rise until quite late. If you want to see them, you need to get uncomfortable. There are times as well where God will want to show you something at an inconvenient time, in an inconvenient way. Set aside your discomfort and your own plans and turn to Him; let Him show you something wonderful.
  • Accept that some days are cloudy. You may have everything planned out. You may be completely prepared. You show up and see nothing, because it's all gray. You did nothing wrong. God sometimes makes my time with Him cloudy. I'm truly seeking after Him, and I get nothing in return. But just as the heavens are still stunning and majestic, God is still awesome and beautiful. And there will be a clear day coming. Wait for it. Hunger for it.
My telescope is packed away in my daughter's closet. I haven't broken it out in a couple years because it seems like it's always too much of a hassle. I can't let that be the case with my seeking after God. Our corner of the universe may not be worth the time and effort to explore, but the One who created it all with His thoughts sure is.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Live Long and Prosper

I've been a fan of Star Trek for quite some time, and am excited to see the latest movie. One of the intriguing aspects proposed by the series is whether Earth as a whole could join together and be at peace within itself. It's a great ideal, and some psychologists believe we can get there.

So, can we as a human species free ourselves from the horrors of war? Unfortunately, my vote is no, at least apart from Christ's reign.

First, Scripture indicates somewhat clearly that wars will continue to come. In the context of the "end times", Jesus says:
When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away." Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
Also, the second Rider in Revelation is "given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other."

But let's say for the sake of argument that a temporary but long-lasting peace could occur beforehand. At what scale would this peace occur? That is, in what sized groups would the fighting stop?

I can imagine that the combination of a global, interconnected economy and the growth of tolerance in the belief sets would make it possible, one day, for no nation to want to cause harm to any other nation. This might meet the technical definition of world peace, but not the spirit of it. After all, though the nations may try to stop it, groups of varying sizes (from dozens to thousands) will still exist for the purpose of causing harm. That means terrorist cells, organized crime syndicates, and gangs will not disappear. So, sure, India and Pakistan may call a truce, and somehow Israel and the rest of the Middle East could come to terms, but I can't see terrorist attacks or turf wars becoming historical oddities.

Why the pessimism? Because it's in our nature. We're all inherently selfish. Our natural reaction when we feel disenfranchised is to fight back if we can. And the most effective way of fighting back is to find others also willing to fight back. And why will there be those who feel disenfranchised? Because we as human beings do a pretty miserable job of following the simplest of rules Jesus laid down for us: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

If every human being aimed to follow this Golden Rule, we may not eliminate all conflict, but we'd sure be a whole lot closer to Star Trek than we are right now.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Who is my neighbor?

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:43-45a
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." -- Matthew 22:37-38
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." -- Luke 10:36-37
"The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey." ... "White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it." -- CNN survey
Why does it seem at times like the body of Jesus is missing the heart of Jesus?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Two Words that Blow My Mind

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God... The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.
-- Revelation 21:2, 16
Such a wonderful vision of hope--God replacing our decaying world with a new one--followed by a description of the city, complete with measurements. (As a side note, anyone know why God gives us the measurements of things seen in visions? I don't think we're going to re-construct this, and I'm pretty sure we'll know it when we see it. "Wait, no, this one's only 10,000 stadia... can't be the Holy City.")

In this passage, however, I am more struck with awe than hope. And simply because of two words. But before getting to those words, I want to discuss the rest of the passage. First, it helps to understand that 12,000 stadia is equivalent to 1,400 miles. So, when God is describing a city laid out like a square 1,400 miles on a side, he's talking about something this size:
That's Fargo, ND in the upper-left, Miami, FL at the bottom, and Maine & Quebec in the upper-right. And God is describing this all as one big city.

But that's not the kicker for me. It's the two small words: "and high". Yes, those two words say that God's city is 1,400 miles TALL as well. It's one HUGE cube. To give some perspective, Mt. Everest is 5.5 miles high (from sea level). The space station orbits at an altitude of 217 miles. 1,400 miles is insanely high. And assuming John did not document the first declaration of airspace, these are some LARGE buildings.

Looking at it a different way. Say we peeled the entire earth like a giant orange, with the peel consisting of everything between the height of Everest (5.5 mi) and the lowest point on Earth, the Marianas Trench (6.8 mi below sea level). We then take this "peel" and stack it up inside this cube. We'd run out of "peel" with another 170 miles of space to go.

Or a geekier way to look at it: The Death Star was a sphere only 100 miles in diameter.

I'll tell you one thing: that's no moon!

Week in Review - Lifehacks

For those unfamiliar with the term, a "lifehack" is something that helps make your daily life run more smoothly, efficiently, or purposefully. While I believe Jesus is the only necessary lifehack, I come across some tips that help me pull out the weeds that choke out the full life He offers. Other ones make me re-examine what it really means to be on purpose. Here are a few from the past week or so:

Finding Purpose: The story of college students choosing "fill the requirement" over "learn something" in his class really hit hard. How many times am I doing tasks because I'm required to do them? I find myself just waiting for the task to be over, that if I could fast-forward through this part of my life, I would. Yet, each moment is a gift from God, and God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose. I need to use each moment, whether it be for developing character, resting, or relying on His grace.

How to Ditch Meekness and Walk Tall: Well, this one pushed some buttons with the title alone. Jesus said that the meek are blessed, so I don't thing being blessed should be ditched. The key passage, however, is:
The root of meekness is low self-esteem. When our self-esteem is low, we respond to the challenges of life with doubts and fears.
Jesus may like meekness, but certainly not doubts (James 1:5-6) and fears (2 Tim 1:7). The resolution is simple enough: first, focus on God's esteem of you, not your self-esteem. Second, out of the strength of character He gives you, choose to be meek. That seems to be the model Jesus gave to us. Instead of ditching meekness and walking tall, we are commanded to die to self and carry our cross.

Why I'm Trying to Become a Quitter: The idea is once you realize something isn't valuable, cut your losses by quitting. Don't see it through just to be able to claim you've finished it. For me, there have been many times I've needed to quit a devotional or spiritual discipline because it was no longer bringing me closer to God; it had devolved into a habit that would allow me to check the "time with God" box.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Week in Review - Down with 'The Man'

Coincidentally, all three stories I found intriguing this week feature different ways of bucking the system. Not so coincidentally, they all come courtesy of Slashdot.

Evolution vs. Texas: So, the Texas school board is voting on whether to force teachers to raise doubts on the theory of evolution. My first reaction is to get the politicians out of the determination of knowledge, but then I realize it is effectively their job to ensure the "right" things are being taught. Is it right to raise doubts on evolution? My heart says yes, and my mind says no. (I just wish I could find one creationist argument that isn't easily refuted by current science.) Instead, I'd offer that they raise doubts on science as a whole. First, since science deals with studying the natural realm, there are things that science by definition cannot account for (like the supernatural); it is simply out of scope. Second, that what we "know" through science is just the best explanation we've come up with for the data that we have. Tomorrow, new data or a new explanation may supplant everything.

Bringing me to...

Supernova vs. Scientists: Knock knock. Who's there? Early supernova. Early super... Bang! When a person shows up early, they're called punctual. When a plane shows up early, it's called a miracle. When a supernova shows up early, it makes scientists wonder if they need to throw their current stellar evolution theories out the window. Isn't learning wonderful? It just goes to show that scientists can be wrong.

Which leads me to...

Famous Scientist vs. All: Freeman Dyson, a renowned physicist (and known to Star Trek fans for the Dyson sphere), is up in arms over the global warming stir. He claims "that climate change has become an “obsession” — the primary article of faith for “a worldwide secular religion” known as environmentalism." The saddest part of the whole situation is not in the disagreement, or that he's in the vast minority, but that it has led to name-calling instead of the intellectual discussion it deserves.

Several times I've seen a bumper sticker of the Anthony J. D'Angelo quote:
Your mind is like a parachute. It only works if it is open.
I completely agree with this statement. But a mind and a parachute also only work if they are properly anchored. So, keep your mind open, but also keep it tethered to the truth supported by evidence, whether it is the data of science or the historical accuracy of Scripture. Without it, your parachute may be open, but you'll be in for a very unpleasant surprise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Week(s) in Review : Baseball

All-Asian WBC, Oriole turned World Series hero retires, a superstar catcher about to debut, and Opening Day exactly two weeks away! What a wonderful time of year!

Yankees Outfield - The whole point of this article is to show that the Yankees didn't need Manny Ramirez because Nick Swisher is just as good. The player values or potential corner outfielders (both batting and fielding):
  • Manny: 36.3
  • Swisher: 34.0
  • Damon: 29.4
  • Abreu: 16.7 (for comparison purposes)
  • Matsui: 15.8
  • Nady: 14.9
So, the argument goes if you stick Damon in left and Swisher in right, that's just as good as Damon and Manny. My answer is, what about sticking Manny at DH instead of Matsui?

Of course, the real issue is right here: picking Nady over Swisher.

Most Indispensable Players - Buster Olney's gut versus Baseball Prospectus' numbers. I love to see the analysis of how much better a player is than his actual replacement. The one thing I note in the difference between the two lists is Olney has six starting pitchers and four batters, while BP has ten batters. While the splits on Brandon Webb are impressive, I do find myself wondering whether a guy who plays two-thirds of a game every five days is the most indispensable. Also interesting is where they disagree on the same team: Utley vs. Hamels (PHI), Wright/Reyes vs. Santana (NYM), Jones vs. Lowe (ATL), and Soto vs. Zambrano (CHC).

The Worst Contracts in Baseball - Not of all time, but just current ones. Thankfully, the Orioles only have two of the forty-four there, and one (Eaton) doesn't count because Philly is paying his salary.

Week(s) in Review : Humor

Right to the links:

You thought your customer was crazy? - I'm impressed most by the customer's "research".

Top 10 confusing place names - I don't know if this beats Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, especially when it's next to Elephant Butte.

Letters to God - Some are hilarious, others show what insight children have into the reality of humanity.

Week(s) in Review : Science & Faith

After a few weeks of spending free time and energy taking care of a sick daughter, it's time to review the news that sounded interesting to me:

If We Have Free Will, Then So Do Electrons - Yes, I'll admit to having not read the article, and instead getting the gist of it from the Slashdot comments. Oh well. It looks to be an 'Oh well' on the article as well, basically defining free will as non-deterministic. The problem is 'random' is non-deterministic, too.

Degree in Creation Science? - So, the question is can any (non-profit, private) institute confer a degree upon someone? I guess the simple answer is 'sure', but it won't be worth the imitation sheepskin it's printed on. The real question, though, is whether Creation Science should be acknowledged as a legitimate scientific branch. I don't know enough about the work being done in that field, but my gut says the main goal it is achieving is making all Christians look like they're still living in the Dark Ages.

Fewer Americans are Christian - Well, it also says more Americans are evangelical. To me, it says more Americans are getting honest about what they believe and have stopped labeling themselves Christians just because their parents were or they got married in a church. It's clear from the Bible that Jesus wants us to stop pretending and be open and honest... that's how He'll reach us and make us Christ-followers, and Christ-like.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Prayer is a Card from a One-Year Old

For Valentine's Day, my wife and I each received a wonderful card from our daughter. It was something we each treasured and enjoyed. Later that month, she accidentally hit my wife in the nose; the next time she saw her, my daughter gave her a piece of paper with a flower and a message saying "Katie Loves Mommy." Did I mention that our daughter is only 20 months old?

Looking at the whole thing objectively, we know that our daughter did very little to contribute in each of these cases. We each picked out and bought the cards, and we were the ones that sealed them in envelopes. We even directed her to "sign" each card, and to give the card to the other. Similarly, I wrote the message and drew the flower, and then directed her to give the paper to Mommy. Still, we acted as though Katie was the one making the effort.

It strikes me how much that mirrors our prayer life. God acts as though we're the ones really moving mountains, but how much of the effort is really ours?
  • Who prompts us to pray?
  • Who guides us how to pray?
  • Who gives us the right heart to pray?
  • Who listens to us?
  • Who reconciled us to give us the right to be heard in the first place?
  • Who answers the prayer?
God is certainly doing the heavy lifting in prayer, yet he rejoices when we pray. He makes the point over and over again for us to pray. Our prayers are like fragrant incense to him. But why is that, if he's doing all the work? What do we add to the mix?

We carry the card to Mommy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feb 15-22 in Review

Let's try this method... here are a few articles I ran across last week that I thought were worth commenting on:

I ran across this graph from this article, and there were two things that really surprised me. First is of those who categorize themselves as Jewish, 77% agree evolution is the best explanation of the origin of human life. I guess it just goes to show that I don't know much about the current beliefs of this religion. The second is that no group topped 81%, meaning that every religious category (including unaffiliated) has a fifth (or more) of its members that don't see evolution as the best explanation.

The other article (via Slashdot) talks about a drug capable of removing the anxiety from remembering stressful (e.g., PTSD) memories. While it's a little scary to think this may be the first step in dealing with all emotional hurt through chemicals, it's exciting to see medicine come out that may allow people to confront their past without the anxiety and fear that those memories usually carry with them.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Day the Fire Burned

[Inspired by an idea we had at writer's group.]

January 29, 2109 -- Day 5

God forgive me! I had no idea, no idea! No, I must record this, for posterity, to know what is possible.

Today started like any other day living 100 years in the future, amazed by the way everyone now lives. My foster parents--that's what I started calling Benjamin and Mary since they took me in, though they're a few years younger than I--informed me that today we would go shopping. I was told to prepare for an all-day experience. I was certain that meant long lines, but was once again mistaken.

We entered into what resembled a Super Wal-Mart, but only in terms of what it carried. Groceries, clothing, tools... virtually anything one could need. A major difference was there were no price tags on anything, nor checkout lines. I keep forgetting that money stopped being exchanged in 2031. I heard another story today from that year: it seems that a young man had broken his arm and could not work in construction for a few weeks. Well, the owner of the company gave him a raise on the spot to offset any medical expenses. He went to purchase his food and the grocer wouldn't take his money; he must take the food as a gift. He returned home to find a message waiting for him; someone at the electric company found out about his injury and credited him as having paid this month's rent. The man, having been so blessed at this outpouring of love then went and gave his entire paycheck to the local homeless shelter.

But back to the market. Apparently, it was not the act of shopping for items that took all day; it was the social atmosphere. Hundreds of people filled the store, from all around the community; each time we passed someone for the first time today, we stopped to talk, swap stories of joy, and most of all pray. I decided to use this to my advantage and find out as much as I could about these last hundred years and what had transpired to bring about this utopia. Here is what I could gather before... well, before.

No one remembers what instigated the change. Even the eldest only have vague memories from their childhood, meaning it had to have happened sometime before 2020. What I can gather is that the transformation was immediate and worldwide. Nearly 90% of the population accepted or re-committed to Christ within a year's time. The remaining holdouts were so moved by the majority's new overflowing of love, mercy, and goodness that within 5 five years everyone else had bought in and been saved.

In 2027, the militaries worldwide were disbanded, after rapid disarmanent the previous 3 years. Looking to find employment for hundreds of thousands of soldiers, governments across the world teamed up and christened the Warriors of Light. These men and women, trained in combat techniques, would now use their skills for spiritual warfare. To remind them of their duty, they continued to wear camouflage-patterned fatigues, but white and crimson, symbolizing the blood that washes us clean. I met a few Warriors while shopping, and besides having the most powerful prayer session I've ever experienced, I also learned that recently they've teamed with doctors to provide care.

I also chatted with two lawyers, as they call them now. Back in my time, the best word to describe them was theologian. I also ran into a locomotive conductor; with communities now the central hub of activity, and work being offered to everyone locally, the highway system and automobiles themselves are now relics of my age. Trains are used to transport goods, and the conductor herself, whose primary task is to share experiences from other parts of the world. Ships, by the way, still sail the seas.

Still, there are a few garages in town, though I might call them fix-it shops instead. Anyone who has an issue with a mechanical or electric appliance that is beyond their know-how may bring it there for repair. Jonathan ran one such shop, a shop I dearly wish now I had never entered.

I only went there yesterday, seeking to find parts to repair my time-traveling device, which was damaged upon arrival (for all those future travelers, please remember to start it on the ground floor). Anyway, Jonathan was thrilled to meet me and help tinker with something new. Looking back on it, I think he was more excited about having someone with which to share his work. He had worked with his dad before God blessed him into heaven.

We were making good progress, and I thought a few more hours would do it, but it was getting late. I asked Jonathan if he could turn on the lights so I could see these last parts. He said he didn't have lights. It seems that after his father passed on, he tried to maintain the same workload, laboring all through the night, night after night. One of his neighbors, on a sleepless night, noticed him still at work and was concerned. Soon after, the community elders came knocking to his door, saying they were blessed by his work, but in love they could not let him continue at this pace. The agreement was made that the lights would be removed, so he could work only in daylight and must rest at night.

Well, that's when it happened. I couldn't believe it. We were so close to finishing, and he just told me we had to stop. I grumbled. I bad-mouthed the elders. Jonathan tried to console me, and that's when I let him have it. How dare he get in the way of what I wanted to accomplish! What's with these stupid rules? And why couldn't he just stand up for himself, so I could get my repairs done. I shouted at him for what must have been ten minutes, and he just took it. Actually, he was a deer in headlights, unable to move. At the end of it all, he still stood there, waiting. Looking back on it, I think he was expecting an apology, an asking of forgiveness. I just told him to leave, that I didn't want to see him anymore.

Then, today at the market, that's when it happened. I faintly smelled something burning, but it grew. Then, there was a loud shriek and people scattered. Parents grabbed their kids and ran. A few people were knocked over the panic. This all felt like a normal reaction to me, but it was highly unusual for this age. If a fire broke out, people ran to put it out. Kids were guided away from danger by any adult. And never, NEVER, did anyone knock someone else over to get anywhere. And that's when I heard him. "I hate this market. I hate this town. I hate this world. And I hate God." It was Jonathan. I ran towards him, and saw him in a fury, standing over a flame no larger than a campfire. It was so unlike him. He's always been a gentle creature, full of compassion and humility. Just like everyone else I've met. Something had happened. No, I had happened. He saw me lose it, grumble, complain and shout. Simply be selfish. And he learned. Boy did he learn.

Since then I've heard stories across the community of other acts of lovelessness, some trivial, others heinous. It's spreading like a disease. A disease I infected them with. God, why? Why did you let me come here? Please, don't let this spread. Take it all out on me, and spare this town, this world. Bring fire from heaven, or whatever you must. Just don't let me become the Serpent for this Eve. Oh God! It would be better for me if I had not been born! Please take me now and spare this world. Please, I beg you, please!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To the Moon with Extremist Toleration

Lately I've been exposed to a number of articles just like this one that ooze religious tolerance. Now I'm all for each person being able to seek (or not seek) after God and follow his or her own path of spirituality, but I feel articles like this go too far. They seem to treat different religions as if they were flavors of ice cream; each person has a favorite, but clearly there is no right one that everyone should consume. And just because vanilla is the most popular doesn't mean that it's better than rocky road.

The problem with this hypothesis is that most religions--and most people who hold beliefs--don't treat the belief as if it is something internal to themselves. When they pray to God, most don't do it because they believe it's a form of "positive thinking"; they pray because they believe there is an actual God outside of them that may hear them.

The lesser form of the argument for extremist toleration is that we can't know which religion is right, so all have equal footing. And if religions were just made up of human thoughts trying to make sense of ethics, origins, and the afterlife, I'd wholeheartedly agree. However, many of them claim that real events occurred in real places at real points in time. Either Moses received the Ten Commandments from God or he didn't; either Jesus died on a cross and was resurrected or he didn't; either Muhammad received revelation from Allah or he didn't; either Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon or he didn't.

Each of these events, and countless others, claim to have occurred in actual space-time, and therefore there is evidence that supports the case or does not. So, given this, it follows that there is one truth among all the stories; one sequence of events that actually happened on planet Earth. My personal research indicates that the events of Christianity are the most likely to have occurred--more likely than they did not. And books have been written to provide evidence for this case. Is it an absolute proof? Of course not. Is it enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt? Maybe. Is it enough that it bears taking note of? Certainly.

As to the actions of Tim Tebow, I respectfully disagree with the author and state it is good for everything. I think it would be good no matter his religion, as it keeps the dialogue open to discuss the evidence behind each one. But I think it is even better because the one he promotes most likely corresponds to the truth. If we as a society stop weighing beliefs against the evidences and only shout "Tolerance!" for all viewpoints, we find ourselves going down the path that must say the Apollo moon landings could be fake, and is a belief just as valid as their happening. After all, it would be exclusionary of us to call the belief of the majority "right".