Monday, November 30, 2009

The Forgotten Job Generation

My job generation has gone through some wild stuff. We entered during the consulting heyday, where firms were spending money almost as fast as they were making it; were there for the .com boom and the subsequent bubble bursting; and have survived (or not) the worst job market in 20 years.

A recent article on workplace Generation X (approximately age 32-44) cites the increasing angst of this group, people who want the work-life balance, high pay, and are largely waiting for the job economy to improve so they can shop themselves. According to the author, this group feels slightly neglected, being trapped between the Baby Boomers who won't or can't retire with their devastated 401(k) and IRA accounts, and the bright-eyed and eager "just happy to have a job" Generation Y kids, who apparently are supposed to be the hope for the future.

I can see some evidence of this. While I count myself blessed in terms of having a healthy and robust career, I've been in at least two job cycles in two different companies where upper management either formally or informally communicated that raises and promotions were going to become somewhat restricted due to broader economic forces. I've seen numerous friends who have been unceremoniously laid off by a restructuring company, or lingered underemployed simply because "there's nothing better out there". Growing up as entry-level employees when "work-life balance" was the trendy thing in HR gave us the belief, right-or-wrong, that it was actually possible to make tons of money without working tons of hours. Growing up in the tech-boom gave us the belief that, hey, anyone can come up with an innovative idea, go entrepreneur, cash out, and live out the rest of my life doing non-profit work.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Maybe it's just a case of being in the wrong place or the wrong time, but somehow this generation's battle-tested adaptability, plus undying cynicism and wariness towards every other generation will get them through just fine.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 11 Recap

Millburn Mustangs over Trail Mix. Great win for my Mustangs, who came out on top in a good match against Coach Yeoh's Trail Mix. It was an interesting showdown, with both principals in an early season trade (I had traded away Tony Gonzalez and a not-as-important Antonio Bryant in exchange for Greg Jennings and a not-as-important Dustin Keller) paid some nice dividends for their current teams. A couple of my guys, including Calvin Johnson, Jennings, and newcomer Justin Forsett were instrumental in helping secure a near-clinched playoff spot. Trail Mix is still in the hunt, but is definitely on the bubble.

Beginner's Luck? over Team Singletary. This was almost a major upset, as Coach Kwon's squad stood 5 points behind Team Singletary going into the Monday night game, needing Chris Johnson to cover the difference. Fortunately for Coach Kwon, Johnson didn't sprain his ankle on the opening drive, and provided sufficient points to put Beginner's Luck over the top. With the win, Beginner's Luck also stays on the inside track for a playoff spot.

No Yankees over Pablo. This was a win that Coach Huang definitely needed more than Coach Tae, but behind the strength of monster games from Eli Manning and Ricky Williams (Ronnie Brown who?), No Yankees romped with a decisive victory, similarly putting them a strong position to clinch a playoff spot. Coach Huang was done in by poor showings by Joe Flacco and Jonathan Stewart, but unfortunately for him, nobody was beating No Yankees this week.

Cooler than Baptists over Go Yankees. The "Baptist bump" somehow didn't happen for Coach Beenken's squad, as Coach Fehringer stayed alive for a playoff spot with a decisive victory over Go Yankees. Cooler than Baptists were paced by Aaron Rodgers and Jerricho Cotchery, while Adrian Peterson's sub-par effort doomed Go Yankees. The bad news for Coach Beenken is that this might be the nail in the coffin. The good news for the rest of us is that Andrew can go back to researching life saving therapies as opposed to wasting his life scanning the waiver wire.

Punch in the Face over Don't Tread on Me. In what was a tight match, Coach Lee's Punch in the Face continued it's march to perfection with a win over Coach Cummings' Don't Tread on Me, aided by solid performances by all three of his wide receivers and a monster individual defensive player performance by James Laurenaitis. Hey, if you're getting good production from a St. Louis Ram, all power to you. No word on whether Coach Lee will rest his players for the playoff run (his last two regular season opponents are desperately trying to convince him to do so.)

ANSKY over Midgets. Coach Lee bounces back from a mini-losing streak by topping Coach Kang's Midgets in a shootout. Trade newcomers Percy Harvin and DeSean Jackson combined for 30 points, with his two running backs combining for 40. If Phil gets performances like this during the playoffs, look out. As for Coach Kang's crew, another strong performance falls short, leaving the team to wonder how in the world they have the same record as Team Singletary.

Hamsters over HE HATE ME. In an impressive and surprisingly lopsided win, Coach Cheng's Hamsters crushed Coach Song's HE HATE ME in a battle of attorneys, punching himself a ticket to the dance. Ah, the competitiveness of lawyers. First it starts with a little fantasy football smacktalk from Song, and then Cheng crushes his team. Then Song brags about his large bonus, and then Cheng has drugs planted in Albert's car. We're a fun bunch, we are.

Updated Standings (Top 8 after Week 13 go to playoffs, * clinched playoff spot):

*1. Punch in the Face (Lee) 11-0-0
*2. Hamsters (Cheng) 8-3-0
3 ANSKY (Lee) 7-4-0
4 Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 7-4-0
5 No Yankees (Tae) 7-4-0
6 Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 7-4-0
7 Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 5-6-0
8 Don't Tread on Me (Cummings) 5-6-0
9 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 5-6-0
10 HE HATE ME (Song) 5-6-0
11 Pablo (Huang) 4-7-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 4-7-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 1-10-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-10-0

Monday, November 23, 2009

Props to Ah-Ma

In a recent study referenced in Newsweek, Leslie Knapp and Molly Fox, a couple of biological anthropologists at the University of Cambridge assessed the impact of grandmothers on the survival of their grandchildren, with some analysis of the different results between the paternal and maternal grandmothers.
"The most striking effect was of the paternal grandmother," says Fox. In six of the seven societies, having a paternal grandmother nearby improved the survival of granddaughters (50 percent X-relatedness) by up to 4.5-fold, but for some unknown reason decreased the survival of grandsons (zero percent) by 8 to 29 percent.
That would be my mom, who is "ah-ma" (Taiwanese for "grandma"), but "grandma" to Daniel and Sophia as "ah-ma" too closely resembles the word for "mom" in Korean. Ah, the curse of those "half-breed" families!

In any case, I'm happy to say that I see at least the positive effects of this phenomena. My mother and father watch Daniel and Sophia two afternoons a week while Sarah teaches piano, and during that time she fattens them up with lots of food, does a reading with our son, allows them to watch some PBS Kids or other educational video and gives them a bath before bringing them back to our house. Both Sarah and I are quite grateful of the love that my parents give to our kids, and it's a nice stabilizing influence. It's like "supplemental parental love".

What I don't quite observe is the gender specific findings of Knapp and Fox. My mother's affections and nurturing seem to be pretty evenly divided between Daniel and Sophia. My father, as well as my father-in-law, are far more smitten by Sophia, but my hypothesis are that the grandfather effect generally pales in comparison to the grandmother effect, as my father and father-in-law are happy to hug and toss Sophia, but otherwise aren't really keen on doing any real work to care of the kids. Heck, I've already established that my role as grandfather will be to sit on my recliner and tell my grandkids about what's going on in the game that I'm watching during the commercials - but they'd better not interrupt grandpa during the game. But going back to grandmothers...

Knapp argues that the phenomena exists because by doing a little math: "maternal grandmothers are related to granddaughters and grandsons equally, for an "X-relatedness" of 25 percent. But paternal grandmothers are twice as close to granddaughters (50 percent) and not at all to grandsons (zero percent)." The basic gist being that you'll nurture based on common composition of genetic material.

Well, I'd better not tell my mom that she has little in common (genetically) with Daniel. At least this makes sense when my mom tells me that "Daniel has a horrible temper, just like your "lao-bei" (father)." To which I'll respond half-jokingly in the future, "Yes mother, and Sophia's loquacious, charming and manipulative, just like you."

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Blessings and Hardships of Down-Syndrome Parenting

There was a website called "Jump The Shark" which was long ago taken over and blown up by TV Guide, that essentially served as a message board of people's favorite memories of old television shows. I remember reading a the board for "Life Goes On", an old ABC drama about the Thatcher family, who had a son Charles a.k.a. "Corky" who had Down syndrome. The posts on the board, like most of the ones on the site, were of the biting and sardonic variety, including on reminiscing about an episode where the expecting mother, played by Patti Lupone, announced to her husband and daughter, Becca, after a pre-natal visit, "Good news everyone! The baby's normal!" Corky, who unbeknownst to everyone had wandered into the kitchen, overhears and (obviously hurt) says, "What do you meansk, normalsk?" and runs away wounded.

The truth of the matter is that it was apparent on this website, that most of the postings about Life Goes On were thinly veiled potshots at Corky, mocking the way that he talked (e.g. ending many words with an "-sk") and other assorted cheap jokes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh out loud at some of them. The developmentally disabled is easy prey for cheap gag, which was something that the Farrelly Brothers also did for "There's Something About Mary" and "The Ringer", though in fairness to them, they're actually huge advocates of the Best Buddies program and the Special Olympics.

I thought of this topic as I read a recent article about the decrease of Down syndrome births in the United States. The article ran on two themes. First was the tragic figure that 90% of women who are carrying Down syndrome babies are choosing to abort their unborn children. My views of abortion and my moral convictions notwithstanding, I have a great deal of compassion for those mothers and parents who encounter such a life situation. But as Dr. Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist at Children's Hospital Boston says, "I am concerned about mothers making that informed decision. Are they making it on facts and up-to-date information? Research suggests not, and that mothers get inaccurate, incomplete and sometimes offensive information." The article also references a woman who aborted her Down syndrome child who confessed that her doctor "didn't paint the brightest picture."

The second theme in the article is quite uplifting, and tells the story of parents who have opted to go through with the birth of their child with Down syndrome, which have been punctuated with moments of joy between siblings and fantastic support from groups such as First Call. As one mother reflected, "I am a better person and a better parent (because of her decision to keep her Down syndrome child). We have a ways to go yet, but like everything else, she'll get there. She is determined, fearless and happy."

Closer to home, Sarah and I had Down syndrome screening done for Daniel and our third child (but not Sophia, not sure why) but never with the intention of aborting our child, which we would strenuously morally oppose, but rather to provide a heads-up for us to plan. We're not naive about the challenges to Down syndrome parenting, being friends with a family with a Down syndrome child. While I can't honestly say that I would "hope" for such a scenario, I've looked with a great deal of admiration and respect (but not pity) towards our friends. Their son Jack is a happy and healthy boy, and also happens to be one of Sophia's favorite playmates.

When Sarah and I go through the pre-natal screening process, what we've also tried to do is reframe the whole though process into one where we are doing our best to trust God's providence and best plans for us. This isn't done in some naive or rose-colored filter. Again looking at the example of of friends, we are both aware of the immense challenges of such parenting and amazed at the love, grace and patience exhibited by these friends of ours.

I remember talking about this topic with Sarah, and one of the things that we preached to ourselves was the belief to believe strongly in the love that God had for our child that, for example, might have Down syndrome. Instead of framing it as a "woe is the child and woe is us!", should we instead frame the scenario as, "God loves this child dearly and would want to put this child in a family where He is confident that he will be loved, nurtured and well provided for. Knowing from Scripture that God is not going to give us more than we can bear and He has richly provided for us, should we not see this as, dare we say it, a privilege and an affirmation from God to the strength of our family?"

Of course it's easier said than done. But I am heartened by the stories in the article which testify to how overwhelming the love of a family can be in light of such circumstances.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 10 Recap

Millburn Mustangs over Don't Tread on Me. The good news is that I picked up a good win against a solid Don't Tread on Me squad, further cementing my playoff position. The bad news is that Michael Turner looks like he twisted his ankle pretty badly. Let's put it this way, if he's out during our playoffs, I'm pretty much sunk. Coach Cummings was largely hamstrung by the Houston Texans having a bye, putting some of his key players on the bench. With a 5-5 record, he's still very much in the hunt.

Beginner's Luck? over No Yankees. Even though Coach Tae was pretty much sunk with the NY Giants having a bye this week, I'm not sure it would've made a difference given how strong Coach Kwon's 'Luck played this past week. Kurt Warner, Brandon Marshall, and Chris Johnson all had monster games, giving Coach Kwon the highest score of the week. I have to say that the neophyte coach winning it all would make for a great movie. Here's the sample trailer:
Paramount Pictures presents... a young man in a cruel new world (scene of actor playing Rich Kwon sitting in front of his laptop in his boxers looking confused)... trying to take on the establishment (scene of actor playing Chin Ho angrily screaming, "You'll never win in this league, Kwon! What do you know about football? Just give me Dallas Clark for goodness sake!"... until one day a serendipitous event ... (scene of Coach Kwon crying the rain finding a tattered copy of Athlon's Pro Football) ... and the kindness of others (scene of actor playing Will Fehringer consoling a despondent Kwon, saying "Look Rich, I'll throw my game so you can get at least one win. I'm obviously going to make the playoffs anyway.") led to one of the greatest fantasy football stories ever told (scene of Kwon screaming victoriously thrusting his arms skyward in front of his computer).
C'mon, like you wouldn't pay to watch this movie?

Go Yankees over Pablo. A close loss and perhaps a playoff-possibility-maiming loss for Coach Huang's Pablo, who just lost to Coach Beenken's Go Yankees by a measly 3.8 points. On one hand, you can look at the past week and wonder if the downgrade from Antonio Gates to Brandon Pettigrew was the culprit (on the other side, Derrick Mason outscored Chris Chambers by 0.80 points). It would've been close, but that's Fantasy Football for you. Both of these teams are on life-support for the playoffs with six losses, and each will need to win out to make it.

Trail Mix over Cooler than Baptists. I've got to hand it to Coach Fehringer, he's a good sport given his team has had this weird effect (that Will has coined the "Baptist Bump") of making opposing teams play exceptionally well against his team. Coach Yeoh was definitely aided by a great game by Peyton Manning, but Coach Fehringer also did himself no favors by making some unfortunate starting lineup moves. Starting Mike Wallace (1.6 pts) over Jerricho Cotchery (13.8 pts) and Julius Jones (1 pt) over LaDainian Tomlinson (21 pts) proved fatal.

Punch in the Face over ANSKY. Another close win for Punch in the Face, another win for Steve Lee aided by a shrewd trade, and another painful loss by single digits for ANSKY.

Hamsters over Midgets. In what continues to be the "soft" part of Coach Cheng's schedule, his Hamsters maul the midgets, for all intents and purposes clinching a playoff spot. It's clear by now that Coach Lee and Coach Cheng are the two most brutal negotiators in the league, which is not surprising given that they're attorneys (Albert, given his corporate law life is obviously too busy billing 100 hours a week to entertain trades). Do they drive a hard bargain? Let's just put it this way - I'm glad they're on "our" side as opposed to the sleazebags on the other side of the law. This is how I'd imagine their workplace negotiations:
Lee: Okay, Paul Huang, for your heinous moving violation, I'm going to offer you 20 years, but I'm going to sweeten the pot by offering you parole after 10 years for good behavior.
Cheng: Are you kidding me? Paul, don't take that deal, I'll give you 20 years with a possibility of 8 for good behavior. All I ask is that you accept a measly $1 million fine. Can you really put a dollar amount on two precious years with your wife and child?
Huang: But I just made a turn on red...
Cheng: Can you imagine what would've happend if you hit a poor pedestrian??? I'm thinking of pulling my deal off the table, but I like you. Okay, just for Olivia's sake, I'll give you 20 years with 8 years with good behavior with a $1 million fine, and I'll give you this plastic pen from BarBri.
Lee: I'll give you Chin's deal minus the fine and give you two pens. But you strike a hard bargain, my friend.
Like I said, it's good thing they're the "good guys" in Law & Order. I just hope they can do the D.A. Jack McCoy "head shake". Chin knows what I'm talking about.

HE HATE ME over Team Singletary. In the midst of client dinners at Per Se, sucking up to partners, billing 100 hours a week (as mentioned earlier), and ruthlessly backstabbing the rest of his associate class, Coach Song is doing a heckuva job navigating his team towards playoff contention. There are hard fought victories which demonstrate the character of the team, and this wasn't one of them.

Updated Standings (Top 8 after Week 13 go to playoffs, * clinched playoff spot):

*1. Punch in the Face (Lee) 10-0-0
2 Hamsters (Cheng) 7-3-0
3 ANSKY (Lee) 6-4-0
4 Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 6-4-0
5 Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 6-4-0
6 No Yankees (Tae) 6-4-0
7 Don't Tread on Me (Cummings) 5-5-0
8 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 5-5-0
9 HE HATE ME (Song) 5-5-0
10 Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 4-6-0
11 Pablo (Huang) 4-6-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 4-6-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 1-9-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-9-0

Monday, November 16, 2009

'2012' and Destructo-Porn

If you own a television, recently have gone to see a movie or live in a major city filled with poster and billboard advertising, you probably have seen a trailer or poster for the upcoming movie '2012', which stars John Cusack as a guy who tries to keep his family alive while the earth literally gets destroyed around him. You can't miss it - it's the footage of the Los Angeles freeways crumbling with cars and their passengers falling into chasms, trains rolling into cliffs, aircraft carriers splashing into the White House, Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue crumbling on top of worshippers, etc.

It's a visual spectacle. I was admittedly intrigued when I saw the teaser trailer in the movie theater a few months ago, and I watched intently in my hotel room a few weeks ago when it was showing a free extended trailer. But do you know what, it's sick. And I don't mean that in a colloquial "cool" way, I mean it's sick in a disturbing way.

In the ad's biggest high-five moment, (Cusack's) little escape plane zips between two parallel high-rise towers just seconds before those towers collapse into each other, presumably killing thousands of CGI flyspeck humans. Forget the towers! the trailer seems to say. How cool was it that the plane threaded that needle?! Awesome! Cusack lives!
It would be funny if it wasn't so sad, but Harris is exactly right. We're left with focusing on this one guy who's managing to escape without giving much thought to the fact that billions of people are dying at the same time. The billions of people who are being crushed to death or being burned alive are just background plot and fodder, but audiences shouldn't focus on that - just focus on John Cusack! Doesn't this seem consistent with a society which is so individualistically focused? As Harris says: Forget the towers! Cusack lives!

It truly is "Destructo-Porn", appealing to our basest voyeuristic desires to see things get blown up and people get killed. From the toddlers who like knocking down block towers to the little arsonist or fireworks lover that lives in most teenage boys, it's definitely there. I just hope that films like '2012' don't contribute to what I feel is a growing desensitization that we have towards human suffering and calamity.

I just hope there's something more redemptive in the movie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Korean Pride

Interesting article in the New York Times about the ethnocentrism of Koreans and a growing tide of xenophobia in South Korea, punctuated by palpable disdain of Koreans towards Korean women who are seen socially with foreigners and thinly-veiled disgust (which is oddly juxtaposed with fascination with their culture) towards Americans, Chinese and Japanese.

I've been told be a number of Korean friends that their culture holds a lot of pride in its cultural homogeneity, which manifests itself in this obsession with "pure blood" Korean labels and associations of which "clan" you may have derived your ancestry from. To be fair, the government is actively trying to address this through public education (which I applaud) and legislation (which I get nervous about if, as the address seems to imply, that muttering a racist slur becomes an criminal offense).

I've lived through this firsthand, even here in the States. I can tell you that it was far more difficult for Sarah's parents to accept her dating a non-Korean than for my parents to accept me dating someone who wasn't Taiwanese or Chinese. And I have also known far more Korean friends whose parents insisted upon them "marrying within their race" (or sub-race, however you define Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc.) than any other ethnic group. Heck, one of my guy Korean friends, Dave, jokingly boycotted my bachelor party as a protest against "yet another non-Korean guy stealing one of our women." Well, at least I think he was joking.

Well, if there's one group that Korean men have a particular hatred for in this respect, it's probably Taiwanese guys. Seriously, I know at least eight other Taiwanese men off the top of my head (let's see, Paul, Ambrose, Jim, Abe, Deerrun, Luke, Jimmy and Phil) who have Korean wives. I think it goes back to my theory of the coming together of two demographic groups who have been pissed on all of their lives. Korean women grew up as marginalized girls overlooked by their male-dominated "I'm fasting and going early morning prayer meeting to pray that the unborn baby is a boy" household, and Taiwanese men grew up as Taiwanese boys beaten into submission with a dominant mother who ruled with an iron chopstick, where sisters were treated as princesses. If you're a Korean son or Taiwanese daughter, you were pampered and got pretty much whatever you wanted compared to your other-sex siblings. So the two other groups, sick of dealing with members of their own ethnic group's opposite sex (Korean men, Taiwanese women) who have this overwhelming sense of entitlement, end up with each other. Well, it's a theory which I concede is founded on tongue-in-cheek generalizations. If you're pissed reading this and you're a Korean man or Taiwanese woman, you've just proved my point. Wink.

Anyway, I have no idea how this ethnic identity thing is going to work out for Daniel and Sophia. At least we can always use the "half-blood" thing as an excuse for why Daniel seems to be retaining absolutely nothing from his Korean school lessons.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 9 Recap

Millburn Mustangs over ANSKY. This might be the turning point of my season, with my Mustangs taking out Coach Lee's ANSKY. ANSKY is arguably the 2nd best team in the league, and I lucked out with a monster day from Michael Turner along with a sub-par days from ANSKY's Drew Brees and Chad Ochocinco. I clearly need this win more than Coach Lee did, and this will help me get off the playoff bubble. For at least a week.

Beginner's Luck? over Go Yankees. What's the deal with Coach Kwon and his masterful general management of his team? After a slow 1-3 start, 'Luck has won 4 out of its last 5 and has surged into playoff position. With all his deft management, we'll stop with the jokes that Coach Kwon was behind the implosion of Lehman Brothers. Coach Beenken was tripped up with a number of sub-par performances by a number of his key players, including Matt Ryan and Torry Holt.

Trail Mix over Pablo. Wow, Coach Yeoh managed to set his roster a day before Sunday, and when he did, he set the wheels in motion for a surprising a decisive win. Coach Huang's Pablo was done in by awful performances by Joe Flacco and Reggie Wayne (hmm... Paul sure could use a quarterback - maybe he can ask Coach Lee if Tom Brady or Jay Cutler's available). Coach Huang's hope of giving Olivia a baptismal gift of a dedicated victory didn't quite happen.

Don't Tread on Me over Cooler than Baptists. Coach Fehringer continues his nasty habit of having a good team who happens to bring out the best in his opponents. Cooler than Baptists had a good performance, which is fine except for the fact that Coach Cummings' squad went bonkers, with impressive showing from Joseph Addai and Greg Olson. When Greg Olson is lighting it up for 25 points, and you crush your opponent even without filling a roster spot, you just have to chalk it up to an irrational hatred that Alan has for Will.

Punch in the Face over Midgets. What can you say? It was almost an upset for the ages, saved only by a clutch performance by Hines Ward. A team with starting three players on their "bye" week almost toppled the undefeated best team in the league. Coach Lee would've had to deal with a horrible loss after watching the Yankees celebrate their 27th championship. It was a tough week as it was. But on the plus side, Coach Lee did clinch an Emmanuel Classic playoff spot.

No Yankees over HE HATE ME. Coach Tae ignored the five fantasy owners picking against him and took out Coach Song's HE HATE ME, despite an awful gag-job by the Giants. Despite the Giant loss, the players put up some nice stats, and that DeAngelo Williams trade is looking pretty good right now.

Hamsters over Team Singletary. Anyone surprised by this? Unlike the Punch in the Face over Midgets matchup, there wasn't any Cinderella story or David vs. Goliath ending. Okay, moving on.

Updated Standings (Top 8 after Week 13 go to playoffs, * clinched playoff spot):
*1. Punch in the Face (Lee) 9-0-0
2 Hamsters (Cheng) 6-3-0
3 ANSKY (Lee) 6-3-0
4 No Yankees (Tae) 6-3-0
5 Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 5-4-0
6 Don't Tread on Me (Cummings) 5-4-0
7 Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 5-4-0
8 Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 4-5-0
9 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 4-5-0
10 Pablo (Huang) 4-5-0
11 HE HATE ME (Song) 4-5-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 3-6-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 1-8-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-8-0

Monday, November 9, 2009

Complete Transparency Around Stewardship

I read with great interest an article which announced that Norway had acted upon a previously approved law to publicly release the annual income and overall wealth of nearly every taxpayer in that country. Proponents of the new legislation cite its benefit in enhancing transparency, thus promoting an open democracy; another benefit might be the easy identification of tax evaders. Detractors, of course, cite the gross invasion of privacy and the provision of a useful target list for criminals.

Whether or not this should be a legislated practice, I won't say, but I will say that I think there's something healthy about the transparency of how people earn and spend their money within the context of a Christian community. I remember that my friend Andy telling me that while he was living in D.C., the members of his Bible Study agreed to openly share their tax return documents. Why? The members of the group thought it would be a good accountability exercise - to be able to lovingly ask questions and challenge each other around tithing, excessive consumption, saving for a rainy day, and such. I'm sure it takes exemplary relationships forged under faith, love and trust to make sure transparency doesn't lead to unedifying judgment and condemnation rooted in jealousy and envy, or the devaluation of people simply because of the size of one's salary.

Money is a difficult subject to talk about within the walls of a church. I've been to, and am presently going to a church where more than a couple of people are wealthy, including those who serve in leadership positions. I struggle (as someone who also might be deemed as relatively well off) with the "Rich Christians in World of Hunger" dilemma, which essentially begs the question: How can Christians live lives enjoying their expensive houses and luxury cars without even thinking twice about the fact that there are people in the world who lack food and sufficient health care and that there are churches and missionaries desperately trying to reach people for Christ that are starving for funding?

I know all the "right answers", and like a good Presbyterian elder I'd say something around the danger of binding consciences beyond the call of Scripture. I'll also admonish people to do some self-examination around whether they feel that their material possessions and wealth are an idol to them. I'd point them to Scripture around the rich young ruler, and ask if they feel that they, too, could sell all that they have, give to the poor, and follow Christ should that be their calling. These are the same questions I'd ask myself. Perhaps I'll also throw out some strong examples of faithful men and women in the Bible who also had great wealth, but used it in a redemptive way.

But at the end of the day, it is a matter of conscience. But that doesn't mean that the topic should never get preached from the pulpit, and it certainly doesn't mean that it's an off-limits topic for loving challenge to a fellow Christian.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Freedom of Speech! ... or No Intolerance!

I have trouble understanding why people seem to speak out on both sides of their mouths when it comes to freedom of speech and the censorship of things deemed offensive. Basically, if you believe in something that offends others, scream "Freedom of Speech!". If you're offended by something, scream "Intolerance!" or "Hate!"

At Temple University in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, the campus was awash in controversy around guest speaker Dutch politician Geert Wilders, known for his anti-Islamic and anti-immigration beliefs. Wilders allegedly inciting hatred of Muslims after releasing his short film "Fitna," in which Quran verses are shown alongside images from terrorist attacks. More shocking, Wilders had called for bans on the Quran - likening it to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf - and the burka, the Muslim women's garment that covers most of the body.

People around the campus were rightly offended. What I found to be alarming is the number of people, ironically from affinity groups, who wanted Wilders to be banned outright. Isn't diversity and inclusion about allowing freedom of speech even for those with whom you disagree? The much better tact - and one which would be consistent with true freedom of expression and diversity and inclusion ideals - would to have demonstrations and speakers (which did happen) of people who gave an opposing viewpoint. Silencing people isn't the answer. Engaging with them in constructive debate or voicing contrary views serves the purpose of respecting their rights while not counteracting what you feel is wrongheaded thinking.

So for me, I absolutely detest the messages that will be featured on atheist ads to be filling New York City subway stations. But if we're in a true liberal democracy, it would be improper to stifle such freedom of expression by banning their right to purchase public advertising space - after all, they're not walking into a church with a megaphone. All I ask in return is that pro-faith advertising and forms of expressions should be allowed, and they are - ranging from the occasional sign I see publicizing a church, the the man handing out tracts in the station.

People need to be consistent about their convictions of freedom of speech and diversity and inclusion. For those of us who value those three ideals, the absolute worst thing you have have is "selective freedom of speech" and the "inclusion" for only the people that don't offend you. That really isn't freedom of speech and diversity and inclusion at all. In fact, I can think of few things as intolerant.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Musings on #27

With great happiness I watched the Yankees win their 27th World Championship last night, taking out the Philadelphia Phillies last night to clinch the World Series in six games. Here were some of my random thoughts during and after the game:
  • Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are going to be free agents, and the conventional wisdom is to let one or both of them go given their advanced age and large contracts. It'll be just a little tougher to do that given how clutch they were in this World Series. I mean, Matsui won the World Series MVP, singlehandedly beating the Phillies in Game Six, and this guy might not get a contract offer so the Yankees can vacate the DH spot to spell Jorge Posada and (maybe Johnny Damon). It'll be sad to see either of those two go.
  • Interesting to see Yankees in the midst of the celebration on the mound after the game who were pretty much AWOL for the season, including Chien-Ming Wang and Xavier Nady sightings. An ungracious teammate could grab either of those guys in the midst of the hugs and high-fives and say, "Uh, and you helped us get here by doing what, exactly?"
  • So can we now officially deem the "drought" of Yankees world championships between 2000 and 2009 "The Curse of Mike Mussina", who left the Orioles for the Yankees after the 2000 season and retired last year? You've gotta feel a little bad for Moose, who just missed on both ends.
  • Still on this point, it dawned upon me how skewed things are with announcers talking about ending the "drought" of championships which has lasted a whopping nine years. Nine years is a long time between World Series? Sarah had gone to bed after the sixth inning, and when we woke up this morning we talked about the final score and realized that this was the first Yankees world championship we've gone through together (having started dating in 2001). "It won't be the last," she added. I agreed, but again thought of the privilege or entitlement of Yankee fans who can be so bold to assume that they'll see championships oh, every couple of years or so. There were entire generations of fans in New England who never lived to see a World Series championship for the Red Sox (86 years). Same thing with the White Sox (88 years). And don't even talk about this to Cubs fan (101 years and still counting).
  • It'll be interesting to see the trajectory of A-Rod's career after this moment. Now that he has the World Series ring that has eluded him for 16 years, will this liberate him to simply go out there and dominate as he is able to do, recognizing that the pressure of having to justify himself as a "winner" or "true Yankee" is now gone? Or will this take the hungry edge off of him? I think it's the former, and look forward to seeing Mr. Kate Hudson laying waste to the rest of the league.
  • I'm not sure what C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira do for an encore after this, their first year of their respective monster free agent contracts, but I'd say that they've distinguished themselves from the Carl Pavano and Jason Giambi signings.
  • Speaking of Teixeira, I think he is rapidly becoming my favorite player and in this series demonstrated how you need to keep yourself mentally sharp and find ways to help your team win, namely with great defense, even if you're in a terrible hitting slump.
  • I know this is not what Phillies fans want to hear, but the Phillies were actually close to winning this series and could've easily done so if not for a few pivotal plays here and there. Johnny Damon's double-steal of Brad Lidge in Game 4 was arguably the turning point of the Series. The Phillies had just tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning with Pedro Feliz's clutch home run off of Joba Chamberlain (shades of Jimmy Leyritz in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series), who had just made the previous two batters look silly. Lidge easily dispatched Matsui and Jeter in the top of the 9th, and Citizen's Bank Park was absolutely going nuts, anticipating that with Phil Coke coming into the game, it was just a matter of time until the Phillies evened the series. Instead, a few minutes later it was 7-4 with Mariano Rivera coming in - please turn off the light as you leave. If Game 4 goes to the Phillies, the Phillies win Game 5 behind untouchable Cliff Lee and the pressure is all on the Yankees to sweep the next two games. Heck, the Phillies could've easily won Game 2 if Chase Utley doesn't hit into that double play with two on in the 8th inning.
  • I finally got a baseball prediction right.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Emmanuel Classic - Week 8 Recap

Millburn Mustangs over Midgets. My Millburn Mustangs crushed Coach Kang's Midgets in a game which illustrated Coach Kang's arrogance in thinking that he could win without having active players in four slots. Oh who are we kidding? Tim has completely mentally checked out and is probably spending as much time on his fantasy team as most guys spend time watching Oprah. In a salute to the Paul Huang school of ruthless general managing, I promptly waived newcomer Shonn Greene after a subpar performance and replaced him with another player who nobody has heard of, WR Malcom Floyd.

Beginner's Luck? over Trail Mix. You have to hand it to Coach Kwon, his team is starting to get hot, and he's just reached the .500 mark. What's Coach Yeoh doing? Leaving a roster spot manned by a player on a bye? Has fatherhood so stunted your focus that you're neglecting your fantasy football team? How in a world do you leave a player named Sabby Piscitelli on your roster? As for Coach Kwon's resurgence, it just goes to show that you don't have to be an expert in football, you just have to have to be a research junkie and a desire to waste hours of time sitting in front of a computer. It also helps to be Korean. It also helps when your opponent, Coach Yeoh inexplicably decides to bench Maurice Jones-Drew who would've scored 30 points.

Pablo over Don't Tread on Me. Okay, I have to address this Pablo/Punch in the Face controversy. Coach Huang of Pablo traded Jay Cutler to Coach Lee's Punch in the Face for Johnny Knox. Who? Exactly. Jay Cutler is a top quartile quarterback and he goes for a WR who's fighting for the 2nd receiver spot on the Bears? So with Tom Brady, Jay Cutler and Anquan Boldin all being former Pablo players that are now property of Punch in the Face, the questions are starting to emerge: Is there money under the table? Does Steve Lee have some compromising photographs? How in the world did Obama win the Nobel peace prize? In any case, Pablo did pull off the win, and now he joins the large cluster of 4-4 mediocrity.

Cooler than Baptists over ANSKY. The matchup that I deemed as a key game to watch ended up being was as good as advertised, with the strange phenomenon of Coach Lee on Monday night rooting for Drew Brees (on ANSKY) to throw plenty of yards and touchdown passes to Devery Henderson (on ANSKY), but definitely NOT to Jeremy Shockey (on Cooler than Baptists). It looks like that this very well could be a playoff preview.

Punch in the Face over Hamsters. Speaking of playoff previews, this could be another one. As Chin corrected me earlier, this wasn't nearly as good as a matchup as it could be, with Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker all being taking a bye. Coach Lee's Punch in the Face took a costly victory, with Owen Daniels going out for the season with a knee injury. But the undefeated machine moves on to another dangerous showdown with the Midgets... HAHAHAHA, I couldn't say that with a straight face. Sorry Tim. Well, there's always ANSKY on Week 10.

HE HATE ME over Go Yankees. Now that Coach Song is back in the saddle, he's showing just how dangerous HE HATE ME can be. Just a note to Coach Song, as he's picked up Roy Williams who I recently waiver: buyer beware - trust me, he's not that good and is currently more fragile than Brad Lidge's psyche. As for Coach Beenken's Go Yankees, another amazing performance by Adrian Peterson goes for naught.

No Yankees over Team Singletary. Coach Tae shakes off the whipping he got at the hands of the Hamsters last week and bounces back with a surprisingly close win against Coach Lin's Team Singletary. Well, given how awful the Giants stunk it up against the Eagles, I suppose it wasn't that surprising. As for the Philadelphia versus New York rivalry weekend, I think it's fair to say that most New Yorkers (at least those who root for both the Giants and Yankees) would willingly trade a Week 8 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia would a Game 4 World Series Yankees win in Philadelphia.

Updated Standings (Top 8 after Week 13 go to playoffs):
1 Punch in the Face (Lee) 8-0-0
2 ANSKY (Lee) 6-2-0
3 Hamsters (Cheng) 5-3-0
4 No Yankees (Tae) 5-3-0
5 Cooler than Baptists (Fehringer) 4-4-0
6 Millburn Mustangs (Kuo) 4-4-0
7 Don't Tread on Me (Cummings) 4-4-0
8 Pablo (Huang) 4-4-0
9 Beginner's Luck? (Kwon) 4-4-0
10 HE HATE ME (Song) 4-4-0
11 Trail Mix (Yeoh) 3-5-0
12 Go Yankees (Beenken) 3-5-0
13 Midgets (Kang) 1-7-0
14 Team Singletary (Lin) 1-7-0

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sin, Repentance and Pleas for Help

There was a news report recently about a gunman in Indianapolis who, upon seeing the tears and crying out for God of the clerk who he was holding up, stopped for 10 minutes to pray with the same clerk before running off with the clerk's cell phone and $20. In his short, uh, prayer request time with the clerk, he shared that he had a 2-year old child and asked for prayers so that he could overcome his hardships.

I had a number of different reactions to this. I was relieved that in the end, nobody was physically harmed. I predictably found that the whole episode was amusing - almost funny. I also felt sadness and dare I say it, sympathy for a man who cared enough to pray, but apparently felt desperate enough to turn to crime to overcome whatever problems he was facing.

What caused him to pray? Was it repentance? Was it a compassionate act to assure the clerk that he didn't plan on killing him? Perhaps a deep down knowledge that was he was doing was wrong - and a chance to ask God to enlighten him about a better way to get out of whatever mess he was in?

In some ways, maybe we're not that different. We all may not rob convenience stores, but who can truly say that they never take moral detours and shortcuts in a desperate attempt to force an outcome that we think we absolutely need to have? And perhaps we've even repented for such moral failures and have asked God for deliverance - and the vision and courage to walk accordingly.

Redemption for this gunman was so close - he was right to get on his knees and plead for help - but ultimately gave in to finish the crime, taking the phone and the $20 from the cash register. So close - yet so far. Hopefully all of us, including the gunman, will find that courage each day to seek righteousness and turn away from mistakes we've already made.