Friday, August 31, 2012

So You Think You're Smarter...

Quick post to invite anyone who's interested to join a couple of ESPN competitions. I thought it might be interesting to give readers of the blog the chance to compete against each other. :-) (All 2 of you!  Hi Mum!!)

FIRST, you get a chance to pick winners in college football. ESPN selects 10 games each Saturday, all you have to do is pick the winners!

Get in the NCAA action now:

THEN, if NFL is more your thing, there's a comp for you. This is just a straight up pick 'em comp. The only twist is that there's some mercy shown as your worst week is omitted from the final score.  Here's the link for that:

Get in the NFL action now:

Get excited!!! It's football season again!!!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Wildcard

I'd write about Carlton missing the finals and firing Brett Ratten and the terrible run with injuries we've had this year... but I'd just spill more tears in my keyboard.

Instead, I'll write about my US sports team still shooting for a shot in the playoffs: "MY" St. Louis Cardinals. As I write, the Cardinals hold down a wildcard spot with a one game lead over Pittsburgh and San Fransisco. BUT only because MLB added an extra wildcard team to the playoffs in 2012.

This year each conference will have TWO wildcard teams. (The two teams with the most wins who failed to win their division.) These two teams will play one, that's right one, uno, one game to determine who will advance to the playoffs proper.  The fact that the rest of MLB is built around 3 & 4 game series in the regular season and 5 & 7 game series in the playoffs apparently doesn't challenge the integrity of a one game playoff.

I understand that this winner take all game will add tension and excitement to the playoffs. It also rewards the teams who win their divisions by giving them some additional rest. It also gives an additional fanbase some hope and more teams will have something to play for. They're all great reasons for holding this game. (Did I mention TV ratings and revenue?)

But after playing 162 games over the course of the season. After playing multiple games in each city the team visits to test the depth of the pitching staff and ensuring the cream really rises to the top. Despite heralding the effectiveness of a 5 or 7 game playoff series in determining who really is the best team. Now Mr Stern wants to convince us that a sudden death playoff is a great way to decide a playoff spot! That just doesn't make a lot of sense. (Although, I will be pretty pumped if "MY" St Louis Cardinals squeeze into that extra spot!)

It's not just baseball that's illogical with its playoff system. Since I opened with an Aussie Rules comment I guess I can close with one too. (Read the complete list of VFL/AFL finals variations here.) The old VFL for many years just had the top 4 teams make the finals. Then in 1972 this changed to the Final Five. In the wake of Brisbane and West Coast joining the competition the finals were expanded in 1989 from the Final Five to the Final Six. In 2000 the league moved to the current Final Eight as there were then sixteen clubs.

This crazy situation means that until Gold Coast joined the competition in 2011 you only had to finish in the top half of the competition to make the finals! Hardly a standard of excellence. But realistically, it's all about making money, not creating a fair system. I guess really, the most fair system is the English Premier League which simply rewards the team with the best record at the end of the season: No finals.

The fact that only one AFL team has won the premiership after finishing fifth (Adelaide 1998) only adds to the futility of expanding the number of teams in the finals. At least in baseball 5 wildcard teams (including "MY" St. Louis Cardinals in 2011) have won the World Series demonstrating that it's reasonable for them to be competing.

Although the movement is always to allow more teams to qualify for post-season play, it still irritates me.  Making the playoffs should be a reward for a top season, not a right for being slightly better than average.

I'm so glad that God's gone 2000 years without any changes to his requirements for qualifying for "post-life" experience. It must be tempting to change the standards and let more people qualify. After all, we know that God doesn't want anyone to miss out. (2 Peter 3:9) But God is consistent. Jesus is THE way, truth and life, "No one comes to the Father except through him." (John 14:6).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

To Save a Life

Not a long post today. I just want to point my readers to a friend's post about MLB umpire Jim Joyce. Jonathan discusses the two times this guy's made ESPN headlines in the past couple of years. Read his post HERE.

In 2010 Joyce botched a call that robbed Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga of a historic perfect game

HERE's a longer ESPN interview and story written 6 months later. It's a fascinating read. I am particularly amazed at the messages the baggage handlers in Detroit wrote on his luggage tags!!

You can watch the call and hear Joyce's apology in the post match interviews. Joyce's honesty and willingness to answer this many questions is amazing!! (NOTE: the language is a little salty in spots.)

In 2012 Joyce turned up to umpire a game and ended up performing CPR and saving a woman's life. Read the details HERE.  There's no question which is the more significant action!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Perfection exists in baseball, at least for 23 pitchers in the history of the sport. Last week Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners became the 23rd pitcher to ever throw a perfect game. If you're not sure what that means, pitching a perfect game means no opposition batter ever makes it to first base. (You can read a more complete description here.)

Even more incredible is that this is the third perfect game this year!  Before the season started there were only 20 perfect games in over 100 years of professional baseball. Now there are 23! (Hernandez, Matt Cain, & Philip Humber)

But even for these great pitchers, their perfection is momentary. There's no such thing as a perfect month, or a perfect season. Interestingly, batters are at the other end of the spectrum. They don't even have to get on base one-third of the time to be a super-star. At the time of writing only three players in MLB have an average above .333 (and one of them was just suspended 50 games for taking PEDs!).

In the Sermon on the Mount, just after Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, he drops this bomb, "Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly father is perfect". (Matthew 5:48) Of course, we can never live a life free from sin. We'll always muck up and need forgiveness. But God wants us to have the goal of perfection. He wants us to imitate Him as much as we're able.

Just as occasionally baseball pitchers can achieve moments of perfection, we too can achieve moments of perfection in our lives. And we can do so with a lot more regularity than a pitcher. In fact, no pitcher has ever thrown 2 perfect games in a career. Yet as the Holy Spirit works in us, transforming us into the image of God our moments of perfection can continually increase.

Most pitchers never pitch a perfect game, but they still try every time they play. We need to take a similar approach to life. We won't ever life a perfect life, but we keep shooting for perfection, and honour God in the process.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Packing Up My Olympic Vocab

The Olympics have ended. I'm going to make another post about them anyway.

It amazes me how natural all the Olympic terms feel even though I only unpack them every four years. Usually, if I ever use the word "pike" I'm referring to a fish, or a large medieval lance. But everyone knows that during the Olympics the only meaning of "pike" is a reference to the style of somersault in diving.

In swimming, we suddenly understand that "splits" doesn't refer to a painful stretch, but to the time elapsed when the swimmer reaches each end of the pool.

Cycling apparently takes place in a "velodrome". I wonder how these cyclists ever practice because I've never seen a velodrome outside of the Olympics.

The work "skull" normally has a negative connotation to me as I think of death and skeletons and murder mysteries. The other Aussie definition of the term involves much alcohol consumption and is equivalent to the US word "chug".  But the Olympics redeem the term with the rowing.  Sculling is apparently a style of rowing, an oar, and the name of the boat! (Thanks Wikipedia!) Now see if I can remember that in Rio.

Sometimes we hear words we have no idea what they're referring to, but they just sound cool. For me, it's the "circle runner" in handball. I know nothing about handball, except that it's an Olympic sport, but I think I'd like to say that I'm "circle runner", unless of course it's a synonym for "running in circles" then it just sounds like your lost!

On the other hand, it doesn't matter how many times you refer to Soccer as Football it still doesn't sound right.  Another one that's odd for me is hearing ESPN talk about the men's 400m medley relay. In my Australian experience it's always referred to as the 4x100 relay.

All this is a good reminder that Christianity also has its own "technical" language that we often throw around and expect everyone to understand it. This video gives a good demonstration:

If you're not familiar with these terms, here's a quick primer just for you.

If you're looking for some serious lists of "church words" and their definitions, I've put together a few links here, here, and here. Or you could just google "Christianese".

Just don't wait 4 years to try them out!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Usain Bolt is FAST!!!

A friend on Facebook shared this link with me. I think it's pretty interesting. In 1896 you could have won the 100m at the Olympics in 12 seconds. With a bit of training, I think you'd be a shot!

This graphic video compares all the medal winners in the 100m since the first modern Olympics in 1896. It's hosted by the New York Times. At the bottom of the page there are similar comparisons for the 100 metres freestyle and the long jump.

It's interesting to ponder if there's a limit to the performance of the human body. Can we continue shaving off seconds here and hundreds of a second there? Is there a point at which nature just says, that's far enough and fast enough? Go beyond that point, and you'll explode! If such a point exists, will anyone watch the Olympics any more, or will it just seem an exercise in futility?


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An Olympic Way of Counting

The Australian team at the 2012 London Olympics has not lived up to the expectations created by past successes. For the first time in years there were ZERO individual gold medals in the pool and only ONE in a relay on the first night of competition. However, the team has won a lot of silver medals. At the time of writing Australia has a total 2 Gold, 12 Silver and 8 Bronze. This has prompted [attempted] witty newspaper headlines like: Is Silver the New Gold? or Going for Silver? Some wags have even kept track of how the Aussies are doing in the Silver Stakes, where "he with the most silver wins!". (For the record, the Aussies are tied with Japan and Great Britain for Equal 4th. Much better than the official 19th overall!)

Since Australia will never win the most medals of any colour, our media often does the simple math of dividing the population of each country by the number of medals. (See HERE for a 2012 example.) Then there's always some people who just have to take things to another level. Check out this crazy set of computations ranking the nations by wealth (GDP), population, and size of the olympic team.

But it's not just the Aussies that benefit from changing the way we measure success. The official Olympic medal count rankings are based on the number of GOLD medals a country has won. So South Africa is ranked higher than Australia because it has 3 Gold medals to Australia's 2. But, overall, Australia has 22 medals to South Africa's 4.

While the rest of the world ranks the teams by GOLD medals, the United States base their rankings on total medals. So Australia jumps 10 spots to 9th on the US medal table. Thanks USA! Now the cynic in me would say it's a tactic to keep the US at the top of the table longer. In Beijing 2008 the US had a total of 110 medals to China's 100 so topped all the US rankings. But China had a whopping 51 Gold medals to the United States 36 which gave China the overall win in the rest of the world.

Here's a little table I've created of the overall Olympic medal count since Sydney 2000.

Sydney 2000

Athens 2004

Gold Total

Gold Total
United States 37 94
United States 36 102
Russia 32 89
China 32 63
China 28 58
Russia 27 92
Australia 16 58
Australia 17 49
Germany 13 56
Japan 16 37
France 13 38

Beijing 2008

Gold Total

China 51 100

United States 36 110

Russia 23 73

Great Britain 19 47

Germany 16 41

Australia 14 46

Interestingly, in 2000 the sequence of both columns are identical. However, in 2004, Russia and Germany would have benefited from the US counting system. In 2008, USA is the most obvious beneficiary while Australia would also have climbed a spot on the US rankings.

You can track the 2012 official standings here and the United States rankings here.

I'm grateful that God has amended his way of counting also. We often think usually think of God as perfect and without flaws, but His counting skills are seriously compromised by His grace.  Check out these verses.

Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,
        and whose sins are covered. 
 Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord  Romans 4:7-8 (CEB)

God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.     2 Corinthians 5:19

People often think of God as the ultimate counter who counting every little thing we do wrong. These verses remind us that when we're Christians God has a new way of counting. In fact, He stops counting in deference to the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that he wants to be family with us. Because of Jesus he now forgives our sins because he values reconciliation with us more than accuracy.