Scott's Soapbox

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NPR's "Speaking of Faith"

Jonah Goldberg at NRO directed people to a show that aired Sunday on NPR. As part of their Speaking of Faith series, they interviewed physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne. Jonah and I both happened to catch it, and I agree with him- it was a fascinating discussion.

The fact that Polkinghorne is both a priest and a physicist may seem an odd combination- but should it? NPR asks: "Science and religion are often pitted against one another; but how do they complement, rather than contradict, one another?" Good question. The so called "line" between science and religion has mostly been invented by scientists on one side looking down upon the "irrational" religious, and the religious trying desperately clinging onto their hold over "truth". The reality is of course, they mostly ask different questions. When one asks, whether the Earth revolves around the Sun, or how does a cell work, or how did life evolve on Earth, one should ask a scientist. Why these things are so, how (or what) gives our lives meaning in not the province of science.
"The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go."
No matter which religion (or none at all) one believes in, 2 plus 2 still equals 4. Conversely, arithmetic has little to say about what happens after we die. Religion has lost credibility with many for its refusal to accept its limits, and over the course of history there have been too many Inquisitions, too many heretics burned at the stake for their scientific beliefs.
"It vexes me when they would constrain science by the authority of the Scriptures, and yet do not consider themselves bound to answer reason and experiment."
Polkinghorne attempts not to recognize this limit, I think, but merely to get around this by saying (the particular example was about the Book of Genesis and its scientifically inaccurate depiction of the beginning of life on Earth) of course, they were not writing a scientific textbook, one cannot take the poetry of the Book literally like prose. He suggests this is a misinterpretation of the meaning of the text- implying almost some sort of artistic license in changing the story. (I hope to convey his meaning accurately, I am working from memory here- I do not see a transcript available.) This seems to me, however, as merely intellectual slight-of-hand, dodging the question and refusing to concede that the Book is, in fact, wrong. One coming from his position could make a credible argument that while of course the Book is the word of God, the human interpretation of it was based upon the science of the time this was written and so forth...but he doesn't.

Polkinghorne makes an interesting point near the end of the broadcast about how while science has mostly carried the discussion, putting religion in response mode to it (i.e., we scientists have discovered this or that; now respond and defend religion) now religion is beginning to ask more questions back. The example he gave was "how do we define what is a person- what constitutes the whole of a person's being" a question which both sides can contribute. The attempt to blend science and religion is not an easy one, the first step must be a recognition from people on both sides that such an understanding is possible. Science and religion are generally intended to ask, and answer, different questions. Where they intersect is where the battle is happening now (with intelligent design versus evolution, the issue of when life begins in the abortion debate, etc.) and has gone on for thousands of years before. At least today, we generally refrain from burning people on the stake for their beliefs- progress marches on.
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

NOTE: The blocked quotes throughout this piece all come from the same man, Galileo Galilei- the Italian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and one of the best and most fearless minds our Earth has ever known. I still have on my lower bookshelf, between the dense textbooks of college and popular mathematical books of today, Galileo and The Magic Numbersby Sidney Rosen. A child's book, it tells the story of Galileo's life from childhood through his brilliant and controversial career, through his condemnation by the Papal Inquisition, all the way until his death. The simple beauty he found in mathematics and geometry, the incredible and exciting discoveries he made in astronomy, the idea of seeing new things (through his newfangled "telescopes") in the sky -of which he was literally the first human to ever see- all of this inspired me. Although apparently the book is out of print now (one can be had on Amazon for $40.00!), I still have my aged copy: the outside plastic cover is long gone with only inside cover Scotch tape lines remaining as evidence of its past existence; the price (50 cents) penciled in on the top of the first page, a school library stamp telling the book's origin at the bottom. I wonder how much of my love for science, particularly of mathematics, and perhaps as well, my distrust of organized religion, comes from this book, which is as warm and familiar to me as an old friend.

The quotes above and many more can be found here.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

NHL Playoff Preview (Part 3)

Might as well get it all out now:

Stanley Cup- Detroit over Ottawa in 7 games

Eastern Conference- Ottawa over New Jersey in 6

Western Conference- Detroit over Dallas in 7

All three of these series above could be classics.

Hart (League MVP) - Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Miikka Kiprusoff

Vezina (Goaltender) - Miikka Kiprusoff, Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco (all M's?)

Norris (Defenseman)- Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Neidermayer, Sergei Zubov

Calder (Rookie)- Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf

Adams (Coach)- Tom Renney, Peter Laviolette, Lindy Ruff/Randy Carlyle

Masterton (dedication to game)- Teemu Selanne

NHL Playoff Preview (Part 2)

Edited: I wrote this last night, but it never posted I guess? So I as I try again, I hope none of the games going on right now make me look foolish. :)

Western Conference:

2) Dallas vs. 7) Colorado
Dallas has to be the least hyped great team in the league. All year, they flew under the radar, quietly winning 53 games along the way. They are solid in every area: a gamebreaker in Mike Modano plus good scoring depth up front, a good defensive core, and great goaltending from Marty Turco. For some reason, their power play, despite having a solid quarterback in Sergei Zubov was only 20th in the league. Besides that, the really have no weaknesses. Colorado was supposed to suffer from the lack of high-priced stars Peter Forsberg (see below) and Adam Foote. Instead, they reloaded and are back again in the playoffs. Quiet star Joe Sakic is still their Mr. Everything, chipping in another point-per-game season in his Hall of Fame career. Their goaltending is uncertain to say the least, with newly acquired Jose Theodore (save percentage of only .882 in this nightmarish year) being expected to carry the load. Dallas is simply better than Colorado in every area, and the Avs are not feared as they once were- Stars in 6. What to watch for: Mike Modano carrying the puck in full flight- prettiest skater to watch in the league.

Eastern Conference:

4) Buffalo vs. 5) Philadelphia

I don't know how Buffalo won so many games this season. I look at the stats, marvel at how they have suceeded all season long with scoring by committee (an amazing 10 players have at least 15 goals) and good defense. Goaltender Ryan Miller has become a star, and wins some games by himself. This team is young, quick, and eager. In contrast, the Flyers have not quite come together, plagued by injuries and problems fitting in all the new players added over the course of the past year or so. The Flyers play a more bruising style of game, banging you up and down the wall. On both teams, the goaltending is good but without much playoff experience. The Flyers have been worse than the sum of their parts, the Sabres better. But the Flyers have better parts, and that should be enough to take this series in 7 games. What to watch for: Peter Forsberg may be the best all around player in hockey- pretty passes and huge hits.

3) New Jersey vs. 6) New York Rangers
Two teams going in totally opposite directions meet in this battle for New York. The Devils won their last 10 games, in skating past Philadelphia and New York (losers of 5 in a row) to win the Atlantic division. Brian Gionta scored a francise record 48 goals (half on the power play) and Patrick Elias was excellent following his return (45 points in just 38 games). The defense is good but not great, and their penalty killing is surprisingly bad at 16th overall. Martin Brodeur is still in goal, and that is enough said about the best, most clutch goalie of his generation. New York had a rennaisance season, making the playoffs for the first time in forever. As much as I despise him, I am a long time Caps fan, Jaromir Jagr should be the league's MVP this season. Although he lost the scoring title to San Jose's Joe Thornton in the last week of the season, he had 54 goals to Thornton's 29. The next highest scorer on the Rangers behind Jagr's 123 points is Michael Nylander with just 79. The defense is mediocre and soft, without much scoring punch- although adding Sandis Ozolinsh at the dealine helps that. In goal, rookie sensation Hendrik Lundquist is coming back from an injury, and gave up 5 to Ottawa in his only game back before the playoffs. The Rangers had lots of opportunities to play big games down the stretch and did not come up big in any of them. This team still needs character type players which New Jersey has in abundance. That, plus Broduer in goal, give the Devils a win in 6 games. What to watch for: How much passion will the Rangers bring against their cross-town rivals? My guess is, this European-dominated lineup does not have enough grit to stick it out.

2) Carolina vs. 7) Montreal

My first thought is...who cares? Carolina has suceeded beyond all expectations this year, and Eric Staal surprised everyone by putting up 100 points this year. Goaltender Martin Gerber finally got a shot at a number one job and played great, winning 38 games. But, they do not excite me, and I cannot see me watching much of this one. Montreal is a hard team to figure out- they traded for David Aebischer to be their number 1 goalie following his impressive Olympics, but watched Cristobal Huet be dynamite down the stretch, stopping almost 93 percent of the shots he faced. No one on this team had over 65 points, and only Michael Ryder scored 30 goals- exactly 30. They do not have enough firepower to comptete, and are relying on their goaltending to get it done. Carolina is better in every area, and while Montreal's goalies may steal a game or to, they should get it done in 6. What to watch for: The Canadiens wear the simplest, classiest, uniforms in hockey, the Hurricanes are simply unwatchable in their disgusting sweaters. Plus, the name maybe not the best this year (at least New Orlenas doesn't have a franchise).

Friday, April 21, 2006

NHL Playoff Preview

Well, it's that time again. Where the coolest game reaches its best time and men from around the globe compete for the greatest trophy in all of sports. The NHL playoffs are a rare event in sports- where words like honor, character, courage and sacrifice actually apply in sports. Okay, so it's not exactly the military, but you get the idea.

The sport is better, faster, and more exciting thanks to the rule changes and strict officiating this season. One of the main questions ending into the playoffs this year is will the referees keep calling so tight, or will they let more things go. I hope the keep it exactly the same- let the boys hit and scrap, but cut down on the hooking, holding and interference.

Now, prediction time for Friday night's games:
Eastern Conference:

1) Ottawa vs. 8) Tampa Bay
Ottawa can beat you any number of ways- offense, defense, special teams. While Dominink Hasek is still out injured (with prognosis uncertain) rookie Ray Emery has held down the fort, winning 23 games to only 11 defeats. Luckily for Ottawa, their offense is so good he doesn't have to be brilliant. Even with average goaltending, they can overcome their traditional playoff swoon and advance. Tampa Bay seems like nowhere near the team they were the last time Lord Stanley's Cup was awarded- when they were celebrating in Florida. They have struggled all season with inconsistent offense, a mediocre power play, and that paired with inconsistent goaltending is not a winning formula. This is become a trendy upset pick in recent days, but I'm not buying it- Sens in 6. What to watch for: The number 19 is worn by wonderful and similar players on both teams- Jason Spezza for Ottawa, Brad Richards for Tampa Bay. Both are creative talents, terrific passers who think the game so well and creat highlihgt-reel goals.

Western Conference:

1) Detroit vs. 8) Edmonton
Detroit has been #1 in the league all season long, and has simply incredible depth and leadership in all departments. They have a nice mix of young and old, and guys that know what it takes to win. The names of Yzerman, Chelios, Lidstrom are all headed to the Hall of Fame (and so should Shanahan), the young guns Datsyuk and Zetterberg are ready. They have been denied in the playoffs is recent years, but not this time. Edmonton made some nice offsesaon moves (affording Chris Pronger and Mike Peca-big contracts they never could in the "old" NHL) and picked up Dwayne Roloson to stop pucks and Sergei Samsonov at the dealine to give them a little more flash up front. They should have made a major push forward this year, but they just didn't. Instead, it's just another Edmonton team that battled down the stretch to squeez into the 8th spot in the playoffs. This team simply doesn't scare me is any way. There is no one, no line, you have to stop. Detroit just has way too much for Edmonton, and wins in only 5 games. What to watch for: Will Edmonton have enough discipline to avoid penalties and give Detroit too many powerplays.

4) Nashvile vs. 5) San Jose

Nashville looked much scarier before goaltender Tomas Vokoun went out with a rare blood disorder, and Marek Zidlicky and injured as well. I really like Nashville, and they have been built well for the new speedier NHL. With Kariya added to the mix up front, they got the scorer they need to take the next step forward after their first-round playoff loss last time out. San Jose has been the Joe Thornton-Jonathan Cheechoo story since Thornton got there in a trade from Boston earlier this season. Cheechoo led the league with 56 goals, and Thornton became the first ever player to be traded and win the scoring title in the same year. They are strong up the middle with Patrick Marleau right behind them, and have some speed on the wings. Nashville has gone from being a feared opponent to the team everyone wanted to play after the injuries hit. They battle, but San Jose wins in 7 games. What to watch for: How Chris Mason handles goaltending in his first ever playoff games.

3) Calgary vs. 6) Anaheim
I think the best series of the first round, with a contrast in styles. Calgary is built from the goaltender out- with Miikka Kiprusoff and a strong young defense. They are mean, tough, and no fun to play against. Calgary scores just enough to get by (they are by far the lowest scoring team in the playoffs, 27th out of 30 teams in the league) and is planning on riding coach Darryl Sutter's defense-first philosphy all the way back to the Cup Finals. In their way is Anaheim, a younger, faster team that plays a game built on speed and transition. The are a fun team to watch, with resurrected 40-goal scorer Teemu Selanne leading the way up front along with centerman Andy McDonald, as Scott Neidermayer runs the blueline while playing over 25 mintues a game. They have many exciting rookies as well- Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Chris Kunitz have all been major contributors. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere won the MVP trophy the last time he was in the playoffs. This series will hinge more than any other on whether or not the referees keep on calling the hooking, holding, and interference penalties. If they do, Anaheim's speed will create turnovers and power play chances. If not, Calgary will be able to rough and tumble their way into the second round. I'll say Ducks in 7, in the best series of the opening round. What to watch for: How the Ducks respond to Calgary's physical play. They will be pushed around, but they need to simply turn the other cheek and score on their ensuing power play.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Little Congressional Correspondence

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., probably did not mean what was in the last sentence of this letter she sent out to a constituent. Her office claims to have no idea how the conclusion, "i think you're an ass^&*" got appended on. Needless to say, embarassment and apologies now rule the day. You can see the letter here.

Caution: it took me forever to load the letter, but it did come up. Requires Adobe Acrobat to see.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

From the Real News

Scott McClellan is out as White House spokesman, possibly Tony Snow in? (Added: John Dickerson of Slate has suggestions here) Obviously the new chief of staff is shaking things up, and it's about time. Responsibilites shift for Karl Rove, who loses the policy part of his title, and now is focused solely on politicking. How much this will change his influence on the President depend on who you ask- Howard Fineman in Newsweek writes of "Clipping Rove's Wings" and that new Chief of Staff Josh Bolten "by ripping a star from Rove's epaulet—the first time Rove has ever lost, rather than acquired, power in the Bush circle—Bolten showed that he can be effective, that he can influence events." Mike Allen in Time also gives Bolten credit, saying the change "showed his assertiveness" but that Rove's role really would not change. He is still the "big thinker" around the President, and Bush's most trusted advisor.

The administration's problems cannot be even addressed, let alone solved, by simply shuffling the deck in there. Putting the same people in different chairs is not the answer. Many high level staffers have been there throughout Bush's presidency, many of the political people since the campaign. All these jobs are stressful, time-consuming, and incredibly draining. The best chance to bring in new blood would have been just after the election, to bring in some fresh ideas and show the American people some new faces. Any changes made now may be too little too late to help an administation which has been stuck in neutral since reelection.

From the Oddball News

Via CNN:
"A man who said he bought a device that allowed him to change stop lights from red to green received a $50 ticket for suspicion of interfering with a traffic signal."

He bought the device of eBay for $100, and said it cut his down on his drive to work. Worth every penny, I'd say. Although crazily unsafe and illegal. But tempting, very tempting.

Monday, April 17, 2006

For Smiles- Pig Olympics!

Check out this story about the Pig Olympics in Russia! How adorable. Specifics about the pig training can be found here. Seriously.

There is Swimming...


and even Soccer!

Some pictures of the Chinese version of these games are here. The pig at bottom right in Number 4 is hilarious.

It looks like there are a couple different "Pig Olympics"- one in China, on in Russia. How come they get to have all the fun? Seems like in the USA would be on ESPN 8- "The Ocho" right after dodgeball.

This is it- the pig olympic picture jackpot. I squealed with delight...but I'm funny that way.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

One Thing I Forgot

I like the incredible, free, 2 hour long DJ mixes at I have downloaded all the Shiloh mixes and many of them are exactly how I think dance music should be. Progressive, melodic, with the occasional block-rocking beat. By turns, happy, funny, dark, and deep, it's really good stuff. There's always at least one or two tracks that are absolutely cracker, and I have to go find them. It's gotten me into some newer artists by checking the setlists. Anyone into Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk, Armin van Buuren, all the way to James Holden should check it out.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Write Your Own Joke...

Only a matter of time:

A Massachusetts correctional officer is being disciplined for showing the gay cowboy movie "Brokeback Mountain" to inmates at the state's largest prison because his boss determined that the film includes content inappropriate for a prison setting.

Some things I like

Great jazz pictures: Like hockey, jazz works best live. You can see the emotion coming through here.

This t-shirt. No, sorry, we do not have to tolerate people who act like this.

Jonah Goldberg's timewasters from The Corner: Illusion, sand, mysterious picture.

This speech where Al Franken sticks it to Ann Coulter.

People who are prescient.

Although Robert Wright (see above) is much more liberal than I am, I am hooked on it's like being at a cocktail party where smart people discuss the issues of the day. I miss Chris Suellentrop at Slate.

I might be the only person who LOVES Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm and HATED Seinfeld. I know, I know. But it's true. You know what else was terrible- Friends. I feel vindicated by the lack of success of all the cast members after those shows ended. I think the guy who played Kramer made my sandwich the other day at Panera.

Oh Yeah, I forgot, I'm back

Once you write something, you feel obligated to do it every day. Make it better, edit it. Write drafts, overthink, analyze the life out of it....forget all that.

I thought my entire life was heading in the right direction. Personally, professionally...everything was coming together. But, then, something awful happened. Not health/heart related, I'm fine. I lost a lot of time, money, and effort into something. Now, I don't know where I'm going. I don't know where I want to go. It's all up in the air.

In the meantime...

I'm just going to try to throw some stuff at the internet and see what sticks.

Kerry on Imus

Following his op-ed proposal calling for fixed dealines for the Iraqi government to come together or face a U.S. troop withdrawal, John Kerry was on Don Imus' show Friday morning- transcript. As I was reading this, and I thought again how much better he seems in these informal situations, where he is just being a dude, not a senator. This guy- laughing, joking- could have, would have been president. They were discussing his proposal and Kerry said: "I thought in my plan I'd give -- give the Iraqis until May 15 to have a functioning government. Give [the] Bush White House until May 16 to have a functioning government." That's a good line! It reminded me a lot of Al Gore after the election. The Al Gore who appeared on Letterman and, most memorably, on Saturday Night Live would have won easily.

Why do the Democrats keep nominating candidates who seem uncomfortable in their own skin? Dukakis, Gore, Kerry...a string of Democrats who seemed artificial, stiff, and unrelaxed. Their nervousness translated into America's nervousness. I remember Kerry being asked once about the barbeque question, asking between him and Bush, who people would rather have at their barbeque (Bush won in a landslide). He stiffly thought that shouldn't matter in electing a president. But it does- we are going to have this person in our lives every day for the next four years. We cannot be comfortable with them if they are not comfortable with themselves.

One candidate making great strides in this seems to be Joe Biden. When he ran back in 1988, he had a little bit too much energy, too much youth. Right now, he seems to have bridged the gap of being an elder statesman (6th term Senator) and having a common touch. He was excellent on Real Time with Bill Maher last night- really a good performance on what turned out to be a very good episode- catch the rerun if you can. (Much better than last week- who cares what Seth green thinks about anything? Or most of Hollywood for that matter?)

As an aside, it always bugs me when Republicans beat on Hollywood people for saying stuff about political matters. I remember a few weeks ago Charlie Sheen said something about there being a 9/11 conspiracy and the right wing got all riled up. Does anyone really think a person is going to base their vote on what Charlie-freaking-Sheen has to say? Gee, I was a Bush supporter, but now that I hear what the rakish star of "Young Guns" and "Two and a Half Men" has to say...I wonder. Let it go. Sheen is about as credible as Michelle Malkin.

(Except without the racism. Probably with more cocaine though).