Friday, September 5, 2014

What God's Not Dead Gets Right (And Wrong)

I finally got around to seeing the surprise hit movie God's Not Dead. Contrary to my friend Alan Noble, who wrote a scathing review before he had even seen the movie, I think the movie has gotten a bad rap. While there were certainly some implausible scenes, I found that there were also multiple plausible scenes. And since the film currently has a 17% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, I think it's time that someone give the film a fair shake, recognizing what it gets right (along with what it gets wrong). To that end, in what follows I list the Most Plausible and Least Plausible scenes in the movie.

*SPOILERS BELOW* Before we get there, a quick summary of the film:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Favorite Writing Music in 2014

We're now into the second half of 2014, and as usual I've been keeping track of my favorite new albums. I'm never able to keep up with everything that comes out, but from what I have listened to thus far my top 12 albums list would probably include (in some order): The War on Drugs, Conor Oberst, Lykke Li, Old 97s, Cloud Nothings, Sun Kil Moon, Run River North, How to Dress Well, The Roots, Common, Spoon, and Atmosphere. 

Usually I approach a new album by listening to it all the way through a few times, then selecting the songs that I like from the album and adding them to a "Best Songs of [Year X]" playlist on Spotify. Those songs then get played extensively whenever I take up a writing project. Below, I've compiled my ten favorite writing songs from albums released in 2014. This isn't necessarily a "ten best songs" list. Rather, it's a list of the songs that have provided the best writing soundtrack. As you can see from the list, I tend to gravitate towards songs that are wistful, pensive, or earnest in tone. Suggestions/snide comments welcome.

(Since some albums had multiple songs that would have made the list, I decided to limit each album to only one song. Click on song title to check out the songs for yourself.)




Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Finally, a Langball Explainer

What is langball? (also known as "Lang ball" and "hang base ball")
Langball is a now-defunct game invented by C.G. Lang, a YMCA director in St. Joseph, Missouri, sometime around 1892. It's something like baseball or kickball, except that the batter in langball dangles from a horizontal bar or flying rings, striking the pitched ball with the bottom of their feet. Kind of like this:

Pic from Los Angeles Herald, April 19, 1896.

What happens after the ball is kicked?
The batter then runs to first base, much like in baseball, with the goal of eventually making it back to home base and scoring a run. Depending on the rules being used, there could be as few as two bases or as many as four.

Any fly ball caught by the defense is an out. But the rules for getting a runner out vary: if a light rubber ball is used, then the defense must hit the runner with the ball to get them out. Sometimes, however, a medicine ball is used. This brings an element of danger, for (as one early promoter of the game explained), "this indiscriminate throwing will endanger windows and apparatus, if not heads." Thus, the medicine ball version usually outlawed throwing at runners to get them out. Instead, you threw to the base, as in baseball.

Pic from Physical Education 1.2 (April 1892): 32.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

For Christians, Must Art Always Serve A Purpose?

Over at Christ and Pop Culture, Jordan Monson wrote a short piece titled "Do Christians Have Poor Cultural Taste?"

Monson began the piece by describing a "beautiful and melancholy" film that he viewed with a couple Christian friends. Monson loved the film: "In a mere three hours it led me through the full spectrum of human emotion," he wrote. "I empathized—even lamented—for its fictional characters. But my sorrow was of the redemptive kind, and it convicted me to go forward and share the hope of Christ with those who search in vain."

But his friends were not so enthused. One didn't like its lack of transforming robots; another thought that it did not teach viewers the proper moral behaviors.

From there, Monson began to wonder why it was that his friends and many other (evangelical) Christians were unable to appreciate the movie like he was. He assigned three factors to this tendency: having poor taste, "misunderstanding the role secular art can play in our lives," and something about fast-food culture vs. art.

Monson brought in the big gun for his analysis: C.S. Lewis. Lewis, according to Monson, argued that to have good taste one must receive art ("temporarily suspend judgment")  instead of use art (where art is simply a means to advance one's agenda). Monson agreed, arguing that evangelicals must learn to receive art (in a discerning way, of course), even from "secular" sources. And he suggested that approaching art in this manner "should inspire us to grow into better Christians, parents, evangelists, laborers, and listeners."

Like Monson, I too have wondered why it is that evangelical Christians have a tendency to enjoy terrible movies, music, and books. But it's not just the enjoying part -- the movies, music, and books that are most popular among the broad American population I often find terrible, too. What makes many evangelicals different is the fact that they often really, really want others to enjoy the cultural good as well (this is why they do things like rent out theaters for Son of God). Many believe that by getting others to partake of the cultural good, others will be sanctified or made better in some way. And on the other side of the coin, many evangelicals believe that some movies/music/books (often deemed "secular") will make people spiritually worse in some way. Why is this?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

College Majors and College Degrees for the 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

To complete my various posts related to the NBA and college degrees this week (see herehere, and here), it's time to take a look at the 2014 crop of NBA prospects

It should come as no surprise that most of the top talents in the draft don't have a college degree. The reason is simple: it makes little sense to stay in school for four years while the NCAA, your conference, and your school all make money from your basketball ability. If you are talented enough to be a first round pick in the NBA and get a guaranteed three-year contract worth millions, you should probably get out of the NCAA ASAP. If a college degree is important, there is always time to go back after (and even during) your NBA career.

Fitting in with recent precedent, this year only four of Draft Express's top 35 prospects can claim to have a college degree. But if the likely first-round picks are set aside, the number of college degrees ticks up quite a bit. Over half (thirty-eight in all) of Draft Express's prospects ranked from 36-100 have college degrees. And many of those prospects who do not have a degree are international players who did not attend an American college. In short, college players who are not locks to be a first-round pick often stick around for four years, get their degree, and then hope for a shot with an NBA when it's all done.

Of course, the transition from college to the NBA was not always set up this way. Originally, the NBA's rule was that rookies could not play in the NBA until their college class graduated. For example, when Wilt Chamberlain decided in 1958 to forego his senior year at Kansas, he had to wait a year -- even though he was drafted by Philadelphia through the NBA's territorial rule -- before he could enter the league.

Since players had to wait four years after high school graduation anyway, most stayed in college and got their degree before they entered the league. Those who did not generally had only a couple courses left to complete for the degree. This was the situation for Chamberlain's rival big man, Bill Russell. Russell planned to finish his classes at San Francisco during the summer after his first NBA season. However, when San Francisco made it clear that Russell would have to pay for the courses himself, he left the school, never to return (and never to receive his degree).

So what caused the NBA to change its policy?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Most Interesting College Degrees in the NBA

Over the past two days I've used a not-biased-at-all research process to determine which college degree has produced the best NBA players. (Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2). But since I only included the college degrees that had at least six NBA players, there were some interesting degrees left out of my analysis. Below, I've included a few of them.

1) Emeka Okafor (Finance), Jeff Hornacek (Accounting), and David Robinson (Mathematics)

The number crunchers. Before you get to the jokes about how boring accountants are, here's a video of Jeff Hornacek subverting accounting stereotypes.


2) Kyle Korver (Visual Studies), Kyle Singler (Visual Arts), Patrick Ewing (Fine Arts, poster/print design)

In contrast to our first group, these three are on the opposite side of the right brain/left brain false dichotomy. Kyle Singler's art projects used to get attention back when he was winning national titles with Duke. But no one has put their studies to better use than Patrick Ewing.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Fifteen Best NBA Teams Of All Time...If Those Teams Were Organized By Players' College Degrees (PART TWO)

Continuing on from part one, here are the seven best college degrees for producing star NBA players.  

7. COMMUNICATION
G - Gus Williams
G - Gary Payton
F - Hersey Hawkins*
F - Maurice Lucas
C - Elvin Hayes
6th Man - David West
Missed the cut: Derek Fisher, Vin Baker, Juwan Howard, Danny Ainge, Mark Jackson, Danny Manning, Michael Adams, B.J. Armstrong, A.C. Green, Ralph Sampson, Theo Ratlif, Al Horford, Charles Smith, Bruce Bowen, Byron Scott, Mark Alarie, Jim McKilvane, Jayson Williams, Landry Fields, Thurl Bailey, J.R. Reid, Muggsy Bogues, Tyrone Hill, Brian Grant, Damon Stoudamire

(*NOTE: I made an egregious error with this team. Somehow forgot Magic Johnson. I'd put him in Hawkins' slot. So read below for everything I wrote justifying why they are my 7th best team, before I added Magic. With Magic, I'd move this team up to the #4 slot)

More players have a communications degree than any other degree, so it's a little bit difficult to wade through roughly-equivalent players and nail down a six person team. I feel absolutely confident about four picks: Williams, Payton, Lucas, and Hayes. But Hawkins and West? I'm just throwing darts. Part of the problem is that there were no great small forwards to choose from. I ended up selecting Hawkins, a SG, thanks to his three point ability and his pesky defense -- the trio of Williams/Payton/Hawkins all averaged nearly 2 steals a game for their careers.

Some might argue that Mark Jackson deserves the PG spot. But I'd rather have a more multidimensional player to go alongside Payton. Williams may not be a household name, but he was one of the NBA's best guards in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Plus, his inclusion brings back happy memories for Seattle's NBA fans, and Lord knows they need it.

There's not much of a gap between this team and the Criminal Justice team. But Communication has the one-two swagger/intimidation punch of Payton and Lucas. They have Elvin Hayes, an all-star in three different decades, and Gary Payton, who won a defensive POY and was named to nine All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. On top of that, six players went to at least one All-Star game. There's just not much of a weak link, other than SF. But I'd take Hawkins over Lionel Simmons, and I'd take David West over Kenyon Martin.

I also can't let a mention of Maurice Lucas pass without referencing his famous fight with Darryl Dawkins. You do not mess with Lucas or his teammates.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Fifteen Best NBA Teams Of All Time...If Those Teams Were Organized By Players' College Degrees (PART ONE)

PART ONE. You can find PART TWO here.

Last week while reading an article about VCU coach Shaka Smart, I was reminded once again that Smart has a history degree. Every time I find out that famous people (and, by definition, famous people must be outside academia) studied history in college, I get excited.

As an NBA diehard, I began to wonder what college degrees have been most popular among the NBA's best players. A few hours later, this post was the result: a list of the top 15 NBA teams of all time, if those teams were composed only of players who earned the same college degree.

But before I get to the list, a couple quick notes.

1) I'll let others cite Elden Campbell and the recent North Carolina academic scandal to pontificate on the legitimacy of NBA players' degrees. The fact is, most professional athletes do not receive degrees, and for good reason: they want to get out of the exploitative NCAA system as quickly as possible. I want to recognize and celebrate those players who do end up getting a degree while also managing to make some money for themselves with their basketball ability.

2) At the same time, I'm not trying to suggest that all NBA players need to get a college degree, or that a college degree is the best measurement of of one's intellectual ability. It won't, for example, guarantee that you can tell the difference between a "2009" and "2012" New York Times story.

3) Finally, some quick notes on my rules for picking the teams:
  • To be represented here, at least 6 NBA players (from any era) had to have the degree.
  • Using my whims, biases, and limited knowledge, I ranked the teams ONLY on the quality of their top six players. I'm measuring quality, not quantity. 
  • If at all possible, teams were formed to make sure that two guards, two forward, and a center were represented, with a guard or forward as the 6th man. 
  • I attempted to put teams together based on "best fit" (i.e. how do I think they would play together) rather than simply going off of stats, or who was the best one-on-one player. 
  • Since degree programs are not uniform across all universities, I sometimes grouped degrees that were not titled exactly the same together. For example, I put social work with community studies, because there is often overlap between the two.
  • The teams are ranked in reverse order, from worst to first. 
  • If you'd like to know more about how I compiled this list and what sourced I used, shoot me a message. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New article: "A Short History of Christian Matchmaking"



Pictured above on the right is Charles Savidge, the main subject of research during my MA program at Nebraska-Omaha. If you've followed my blog at all for the past year, you've probably heard more about him than you'd like.

I bring him back up now because I managed to spin off some of my Savidge research into an article that was just published at the Religion & Politics online journal. My article uses the Christian matchmaking service that Savidge launched in 1913 as the take-off point for an examination of the rise of Christian online dating sites.

I've been a regular reader of Religion & Politics since they launched, so it is kind of surreal having my work featured on the site. Many thanks to their editorial staff for working with me to turn my fairly rigid graduate-seminar prose into something that is (I hope) slightly more accessible.