Monday, February 23, 2009

Best Job in the World

My cousin Heidi submitted a video application for the Best Job in the World. Please follow the link below to view her video and rate it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Girl Power!

We had a really great day yesterday! We had our appointment for my 20 week ultrasound, and given our history with Evie, I got a little more than the routine treatment. I saw 3 specialists for about a half hour each: 1 to do the routine ultrasound, 1 who looked only at the structure of the heart, and 1 who looked at all the other organs and bones and such. All in all my belly was abused for about an hour and a half! But it was so fun. One of the very first things we found out was that it's a GIRL! And the best thing we found out is that she seems to be in great health. They can't see everything on the ultrasound, but they can see a lot--including most of our concerns about the heart. Everything is in its right place and appears to be the right size. Thanks to everyone who prayed for us and encouraged us! We feel so lucky.

Interesting coincidence--I knew that the person who would be looking at the heart would be a cardiologist from Children's Memorial, but I imagined the chance of it being someone we knew would be slim because they have nearly 20 cardiologists on staff and we only met with 3. It just happened to be that the cardiologist who came to do my ultrasound was a Dr. we met on the very first day that Evie was admitted to Children's. She did Evie's echocardiogram on that day, but that was the only time we met her. She still remembered me and Evie even though it has been over a year! Such good people.

I feel that while I'm being honest about my joy I should also be honest about my grief. I found that when we discovered that the heart was in great shape I was so relieved, but then also heartbroken all over again that Evie didn't get to have the same fortune. I wish our 2 daughters could have had the same opportunities. Matt and I have seen a therapist periodically since Evie's death and we have talked extensively about future children. One thing he's always noted is that with the joy of seeing milestones in our children's lives, grief will also come. I didn't take that to heart until yesterday and now I can see what he means. While I feel like I have gotten a great gift, I also am bound to remember that Evie got cheated out of the gifts of health and life.

With that said, we are THRILLED! So happy that we got a good health report, and also that pigtails and dresses are in our near future. :) Poor Matt will be outnumbered in his own home!

The Kid

If I remember right, the very first baseball game I ever went to was when my grandpa took me to see the Bellingham Mariners. They were a single-A farm team for Seattle. I don't remember much of what happened at that game. We sat on the steel bleachers eating peanuts and my grandpa spent the game explaining to me what was happening and how the game was played, but he also talked a lot about this "Kid" that had been playing outfield for Bellingham earlier in the spring. He said this 18 year old right out of high school was dominating on the field and in the batters box. He said, "He'll be in the Major leagues soon, and he's going to be a superstar". Grandpa was right and for the next ten years all the baseball fans in Seattle and across the country were thrilled by a Kid who seemed destined for the Hall of Fame. Needless to say, the announcement that Ken Griffey Jr. will return to the Mariners this season has made me giddy as a school boy again!

No one will argue that Griffey has enviable career numbers, though his tenure in Cincinnati was less productive--certainly due to the significant injuries that hampered his performance. Some will look at the decline in his statistical production and consider his age (39) and say that signing with Seattle is a dumb move-- that he's going to decline even further and it'll rob playing time of younger up and coming players. While that's very possible, I'd argue that there's a good chance he can provide a good contribution to the team this year.

With the departure of Raul Ibanez, the team needs some power hitting in the middle of the line up. Of course, last year Jr. only hit 18 homers slugging a moderate .424 (which might not be Hall of Fame power, but only three hitters on the M's last year did better), and considering the standard decline of power hitters, that could be discouraging. On the other hand, we've come to learn that he had been playing with some discomfort in his knee again and that it has been rehabilitated in the off season. A lot of your musclebound power hitters (and juicers) use upper body strength to smash the ball, but Griffey has always relied on what we call "the sweet swing", and that starts in the legs. With a healthy knee, we can probably count on better HR production. It was only two years ago when he hit 30 homers. It'll also help to be playing in Safeco, where a short right field fence lends itself well to a lefty who can pull the ball. Also to consider is that where Griffey struggles the most is against lefty pitchers (he only hit .202 last year against LHP)-- his line against RHP is much better. If we can effectively platoon him in the DH/LF positions, you can expect his numbers to be better. The Cubs were able to do this effectively last year with Jim Edmonds (another aging former star). After a miserable start with the Padres (hitting .178) he was let go, but then the Cubs picked him up and Lou Pinnella played him against righties and Edmonds slugged .521 against them. Sometimes these old guys pull together one last big season late in their career, lets not assume Griffey can't do the same. Its unlikely to be an All-Star caliber season, maybe he'll hit a .270/.360/.460 line with 20 dingers; which is decent enough in its own right and when you consider the kind of hitters we put out there last year (Vidro, Sexson, Cairo, Wlad Balenetein)-- Griffey will at the very least be a wash, most likely an upgrade.

What about defense? Can he play the outfield anymore? Its obvious age and injury has taken a toll on his legs, so many people prefer to see Griffey solely in the DH role. I might argue that "range" isn't everything when it comes to playing outfield. Griffey didn't hit real great for the White Sox last year, but surprisingly one great play in the outfield helped the Sox squeak into the playoffs. With a 1-0 lead in the one game playoff against the Twins, Griffey threw a strike to A.J. Pierzinksi from the outfield to stop a third base runner from tagging up and scoring at home. All that to say, throwing accuracy should count for something in the outfield inspite of limited range. We have Endy Chavez slated to play LF right now. He's allegedly an amazing defender but a pretty mediocre hitter. The M's would do well to utilize him in late-inning substitutions on any day that Griffey plays OF. Griffey won't be terrible in the outfield, but the risk of injury says he should stick to DH as much as possible.

Finally, there are the "intangibles" of having Griffey back in Seattle. 2009 is a rebuilding year, we've got a lot of new young players to develop. Griffey has experience and leadership. He's a positive presence in the clubhouse. Younger players will benefit from his mentorship. Its also no secret there was a lot of discord in the clubhouse last year. Griffey is an affable and sensible player. His presence might help smooth things out a bit so focus can be put back on winning games and less on passing blame.

So the Kid might be a bit of an old man now, but after a miserable year of Seattle sports (the M's losing 101 games, the Seahawks settling at the bottom of the NFC west, the disappearance of the Sonics from the face of the earth), Griffey is a breath of fresh air. One of the greatest athletes to play in the city from one of the most exciting eras of sports in the city. Welcome back, #24.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Last Minute Gifts!

Hey folks, I'm going to do a quick plug for an organization I'm doing some work for this weekend: Urban Meadows is a non-profit florist that employs people who suffer from mental illness. Not only does it help individuals with new job skills, but its also a work environment that is therapeutic for them. Their shop is in the loop, but they deliver to most of Chicagoland.

Most people I know are shying away from Valentines Day extravagances this year, but if you are going to send flowers to someone in Chicagoland--support a good organization instead of the fat-cats at the big chain florists.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Joe Buck Sucks

Some of you know of my intense... err, uh... "dislike" of Bob Costas. For as long as I remember he's come across as a pompous, arrogant, and somewhat insipid sports commentator. Then HBO gave him his own freaking show. I just didn't get it.

In more recent years my hatred dislike of Costas has waned a little. This is mostly due to the fact that I have a newer sportscaster to loathe: Joe Buck. Listen to Buck's voice when he calls baseball playoff games. He seems bored out of his mind. As he makes commentary on various football games, I often find myself wondering if we're watching the same game? Then there was this little gem from a year ago:

One of the most amazing plays in Superbowl history, and Joe Buck seems more occupied watching the grass grow. Basically, he's a terrible sportscaster. And he's terribly boring. .

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recession-nomics: Part II

You can read more in depth analysis below, but this provides a good visual in regards to the mess we find ourselves in:

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Balance Sheet

In case you hadn't heard, our economy is bad. I'm not an economist, I'm a pastor. I'm not very good at math, but I do have (some) common sense. As a pastor I should (ideally) have some insight into our spiritual condition. With that in mind, I thought I'd throw out a few humble observations I'm making about our economy these days.

First off: how bad is it? This morning we learned that the "official" unemployment rate is now 7.6%. I use scare quotes here because I understand that unemployment is actually worse than that. If you look at the Bureau of Labor statistics there are more than 7.6% who are looking for a job; you have the folks who've been so unsuccessful at finding a job we just stopped counting them (called "discouraged workers") and you have the folks who work part-time but still don't have sufficient income to live on (called "marginally attached workers"). Those numbers put unemployment much closer to 14%-- almost double the "official" numbers you probably saw on the news today. I know this is the case, because I'm one of the other 6.3%. I have a little part time work and some odd jobs to help out, but on our income we can contribute near zero to our savings and I've even been forced to defer my student loan payments for the time being. Times are tough.

Why? The housing crisis was a big reason. The value of our houses was artificially inflated, and we borrowed against it to buy stuff. We were told that real estate is a great investment, that the value of your house will nearly always climb. Here's where my common sense kicked in-- is it really possible for home prices to always keep going up? What happens when all the people who can afford a house have one? What happens when all those new condos and developements get finished and there are more of them than people with the income for mortgage payments (see above)? Our resources are not limitless. It was a lie we chose to believe. Now we're paying the price... not in a deflated home value. But in jobs.

Here's where else my common sense took me: where do we work anymore? What does our post-industrial economy produce? A small fraction of us make food, most of it is imported. Most of our goods are imported too, produced in squalid conditions for low wages. Most of us who work don't actually create or produce things-- we just kind of shuffle them around and skim a little off the top for our selves. Isn't that what the stock market is? Isn't that what retail and consumerism does? The job sectors that are hurting the most are manufacturing. Again, we've believed a lie that our goods and materials are limitless. You can't get something from nothing, and not everyone can become rich at the expense of a smaller labor force working for less.

These are the reasons I feel some complusion to speak about the economy. This is a spiritual problem. Work is good. Its good for people to have work not simply because of the income (though that's important), but because human beings are designed to have vocation. Without meaningful work to do, we suffer existential angst. That's why I'm much more concerned about unemployment than I am about the stock market. In fact, I'd argue that an obsesion with "growth" in our stock market has adversley affected the employment situation in our country. Take a look at these companies who have never laid off a single worker. Something most of them have in common is that they are privately held--that means when times are good, profits aren't shipped off to investors, but can be reinvested into the workers (cash assets can be set aside in order to make payroll during lean times). The Hebrew Prophets in particular have much to say about how the wealthy should treat their workers. Its time for managers, owners, and wall street to see its labor force not as a liability--but as an integral asset.

But this is not simply a rant against a select few of the wealthiest among us. We all bear personal responsibility for the condition our economy is in. No one has clean hands in this mess. All of us have a responsibility to steward our resources wisely. The debt we've incurred due to our consumeristic lifestyle has hollowed out our economy. Consider this, would we have had the foreclosure crisis if we took a lesson from the Amish? It turns out that the mortgage banker who serves the Amish of Lancaster County, PA has never lost money on a loan to them:

"The Amish live well within their means — no splurging on iPods or HDTVs, no dinners out that they really can't afford... This old-fashioned system works. In this year of financial crisis, of storied old banks collapsing in hours, Hometowne Heritage [the local community bank] has had its best year ever."
The Amish know a thing or two about following the radical gospel of Christ. I'd be surprised if they're wrong on this one.

If we can avoid a total catastrophe of unemployment, perhaps there is a silver lining to this recession. For decades the American savings rate has plundged, to the point of a rate of zero last year. In just the few months since all our idols of mammon started falling, its jumped up to 3.6%. Of course, that makes retailers upset because its less money buying their junk. But in the long run, it might make us a more healthy and sustainable society.

As I said, I'm not an economist, so I can concede there are some of these things are a bit beyond me. I don't know what (if anything) the government can do to help. Some things in the stimulus plan I like, others I don't. But ultimately this is a problem of values: do we understand our place in the world? That our resources are NOT limitless? Do we consider that the health and welfare of our neighbor is directly related to our own health and welfare?

What does all that look like? Maybe Mr. Berry of Kentucky knows.