July 30, 2009

Death... and a Good Majority of His Friends

Happy "Marco Belinelli Day" everyone!

So... I think I've finally figured out the Coldplay thing. Um,
for those of you who aren't following (i.e., all of you), let me back up a bit; I've never taken to Coldplay the way the majority of my peer group has, and it's been a point of minor contention between me and some of my friends. In a nutshell, they have accused me of not liking Chris Martin & Co. simply because they're so popular, while I've steadfastly denied that and claimed that, "I just don't find their music all that interesting." Well today I had a bit of an epiphany. You see, I finally caved in and decided to put Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head on my iPod and give them a fair listen (I haven't purchased any new music in a long time, so I decided to raid my wife's CD collection). Before today, I had never heard either of those two albums in their entirety... I had only experienced the unadulterated mediocrity of X & Y and the good -- but over-hyped -- Viva la Vida. Anyway, as I was listening to the aforementioned two albums, I think I came to a realization that my friends are right... at least partially. I think I would like Coldplay more if they were a less heralded band, but I still don't think I would love them... and that, in turn, is why I dislike them. I'm guessing you didn't follow that -- I'm sure it even makes sense -- so let's see if I can break it down more clearly. It occurred to me as I listened how Coldplay is quite similar to Travis; both are soft rock bands from the UK, both have one song that I would count among my all-time favourites ("Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" for Travis; "Trouble" for Coldplay) and a handful of other songs I really like (including "Side", "Happy to Hang Around", and "Flowers in the Window" for Travis; "Yellow", "The Scientist", and "Viva la Vida" for Coldplay). The big difference is that Coldplay is HUGE, and Travis is just Travis -- a mid-size band who's known to people who are serious about their "Brit Pop", but not universally. To me, that makes it fun to like Travis ("Let me tell you about this cool Scottish band I like..."), but the lack of any sense of discovery makes it not fun to like Coldplay ("Let me tell you about this band that just sold out a massive stadium tour..." -- it just doesn't work as well). If the tables were turned and Travis was huge, I'd probably like Coldplay more and like Travis less. Does that make sense?

That "sense of discovery" thing is part of my issue, but I still think there's a deeper reason why I've always resented Coldplay -- I don't like the fact that they're quite possibly going to be remembered as the defining band of our generation. Coldplay? Really!?!? As I just explained, I've been unfair in judgement of Coldplay in the past. They're really good at what they do, which is create simple, well-crafted pop songs. That's a great thing, but there's no way you can rationally argue that they've made the best music of the "aughts". Bands like Copeland, House of Heroes, and Thrice have been much more daring in pushing the artistic envelope, while maintaining (especially in Copeland's case) the same pop sensibilities Coldplay displays.

[Side tangent: I think another thing that annoys me about Coldplay is the way they can lead to this exchange when shopping at an HMV:

"Excuse me, do you have the new Copeland album?"

"Did you say Coldplay?"

"No Cope-land -- like the guy from The Police."

"Oh, OK, let me check. (pause) We've got one called 'Dressed Up and In Line'."

"No, that's their B-sides album, the new one is called 'You Are My Sunshine'."

"(pause) Sorry, I don't see that in our system."

Anyway, it's just a frustrating coincidence that the name of the best band of the decade is phonetically similar to the biggest band of the decade... also, it annoys me that HMV doesn't stock Copeland CDs more thoroughly.]

I know I'll (likely) never succeed at sufficiently educating the civilized world about the greatness of Copeland, HoH, and Thrice -- it won't stop me from trying, of course -- and as a result I'm having trouble reconciling the fact that someday little Ray-Ray (my future son) might come up to me and say... so what was it like to be around at the height of Coldplay's career. How do you answer that, "Umm... very OK?" I mean, this isn't like being around for The Beatles or Nirvana or even early Oasis. It'll be even worse when he first hears about Nickelback ("Really Dad, they were the most popular radio band in the early part of the millenium... why didn't you do anything to stop it?" -- I tried, Ray-Ray, I really tried).

To be fair, the Coldplay boys have definitely played their cards right and genuinely deserve the fame they've cultivated. For starters, they do a really good job of selecting singles. You'll notice that all their songs I mentioned as favourites of mine have been singles. I feel this is something that few bands do well nowadays, with Copeland being the worst offender (if I was telling somebody about Copeland, their singles are generally the last songs I'd use to showcase them). Also, from all accounts, Coldplay puts on a terrific live show, and I can tell just from little TV things I've seen that Chris Martin is one of those rare front men who seems to have mastered the everyman-charm-mixed-with-rock-star-charisma thing. Still, I feel like they somehow outgrew themselves and seem destined to be remembered as a better band than they actually are.

So... here's my proposal: can we all just agree that Radiohead was the most important band of our generation? I mean, they were commercially viable, yet they still reek of artistic integrity. They put out two or three albums that are all-time classics (I don't know The Bends as well as I should, so I'm giving it a maybe) and even tried their hand at revolutionizing the way music is distributed (the pay-what-you-want gimmick with In Rainbows). Most importantly, I could happily bounce little Ray-Ray on my knee while listening to Kid A and discussing how dissonance can be a viable musical tool if used in the right way.

Hmm... I really hope Ray-Ray likes music.

June 25, 2009

It's Getting Draft-y in Here

Hey Favourite Readers,

Tonight is one of my most anticipated nights of the year... no, it's not the night that Reg comes over and reads me a bedtime story... it's the NBA Draft! At first glance, it might not appear very exciting, but this night brings with it endless hope and possibility... and, more often then not (since I'm a Raptors fan), the chance to watch all that hope and possibility come crashing down around me. My good friend, Paul, and I have fond memories of throwing cushions around in his parents living room and discussing whether we should jump ship and become Nets fans after the Raptors drafted Charlie Villanueuva and Joey Graham ahead of Danny Granger a few years ago. Paul's not here with me this year... and I don't have cable, so I'm relegated to following the pick-by-pick draft recap on ESPN.com. Still, that's not going to stop me from sharing my draft night thoughts with all of you. The good news is that I should be relatively calm tonight as it doesn't look like the Raptors are going to make a colossal error this time around (I guess they could always surprise me and draft B.J. Mullens, or something). Regardless, I'm trying to keep my ripoff of Bill Simmons' patented "Draft Diary" column as subtle as possible, so rather than keeping a running diary of the draft's events, I'll settle for sharing some of my thoughts on each pick... let's see how long this can last. I'm betting that I can keep writing longer than you can keep reading. Hmmm... it doesn't look like there's any benefit to you for taking me up on that bet... aside from a juicy and insightful look into the draft thoughts of yours truly.

Pick No. 1 - Los Angeles Clippers
Selection: Blake Griffin (PF) Oklahoma

Thoughts: No surprise here... by all accounts Griffin is as close to a sure thing as there is, and he is far and away the best player in this draft class. I only watched 20 - 30 minutes of Blake Griffin playing in college, but in that short time it was pretty clear that he has all the tools to succeed in the NBA... a great body (some have called it one of the best NBA bodies since Karl Malone), big hands, a good sense of the game, and breath-taking athleticism for a guy his size. The wild-card here is that he has to play for the Clippers and you can just sense that something weird is going to happen and completely derail his career. In fact, I think you could say that the biggest loser in this year's draft are Blake Griffin's ACLs (I'm glad that I was able to be the 2,457th person to make that joke). Bill Simmons wrote an extremely thorough article about the Clippers snake-bitten history, and it's really staggering to see it laid out like that all in one place. Obviously I don't put much stoke in his idea that the franchise is cursed, but at the very least you have to admit that something fishy is going on with that team. For Griffin's sake, I hope all his major tendons and ligaments can hold out for four years until he's able to sign with another team.

Pick No. 2 - Memphis Grizzlies
Selection: Hasheem Thabeet (C) Connecticut

Thoughts: This has been the pick rumoured that Memphis would make for some time now... even though Ricky Rubio is clearly the second-best player in the draft. Before I talk about Thabeet, I want to say a little something: being a Raptors fan hasn't exactly been carrots and sugar-corn, but I can't even imagine being one of the poor souls that hopped aboard the Grizzly train back in 1995. This franchise has been terrible for so long and has had so little happen to even let the fans get excited about... at least us Raptors followers got to enjoy the Vince Carter era, not to mention being witness to the career of Alvin Williams. What's more, the team was never really given the chance to get off the ground in Vancouver and was sadly relocated to Memphis. I guess they did make the playoffs three straight years in the Pau Gasol era, but I'm pretty sure they got swept in the first round every time. How's that link for depressing... Grizzlies fans have never had the chance to celebrate a single playoff victory! Unbelievable! Anyway, I just heard the sound indicating that the next pick has been made, so I should give some thoughts on Thabeet and move on. I do think they're reaching a bit on Thabeet at No. 2, especially since he has some bust potential, but at the same time, I don't necessarily hate the pick. The upside of Thabeet is that he could develop into a bonafide defensive stopper in the NBA (a la Dikembe Mutombo). On the flip side, I don't think you're ever going to get anything from him offensively, and if he fails to adjust to the speed and length of pro players, he may just be another tall, lanky guy who ends up on a lot of posters... in a bad sense (a la Shawn Bradley). Since he's going to play for the Grizzlies... I'd bank on the latter.

Pick No. 3 - Oklahoma City Thunder
Selection: James Harden (SG) Arizona State

Thoughts: I'm a little disappointed in the Zombie-Sonics on this one. They have been building a really good young core of players with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russel Westbrook and I was hoping to see them swing for the fences with Ricky Rubio and look to create a potential dynasty that would be enormously fun to watch. Still, Harden is a safe pick and positionally fits in well with that group of players. After the Draft Lottery, I was hoping he was a player who would fall to the Raptors at No. 9... it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to get that lucky. He's the type of player who's high basketball IQ is really valuable to his team, but I've heard he's only an average athlete and seems destined for to be a good-but-not-great player. He seems like a bit of a reach at No. 3, but Sam Presti is a smart GM and must see something he likes in Harden (either that or he's working on a trade).

Pick No. 4 - Sacramento Kings
Selection: Tyreke Evans (SG) Memphis

Thoughts: Evans is another player that I was initially hoping would fall to the Raptors. Still, Sacto desperately needs a PG and this seems like a strange pick with Rubio and even Jonny Flynn still on the board. I really don't see Evans developing into a point guard in the pros, but he could always surprise me. I do think he has an uncanny knack for getting to the basket and finishing around the rim. Apparently there have been some Dwyane Wade comparisons with him, but I heard Chad Ford shoot those down pretty definitively... he doesn't have nearly the athleticism of Wade and tends to finish below the rim, rather than above it. Not a bad pick, but not one that I see saving a terrible Sacramento team that is in danger of relocating.

Pick No. 5 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Selection: Ricky Rubio (PG) Spain

Thoughts: Finally somebody grabbed Rubio! Apparently the T-Wolves decided that a teenage prodigy from Spain who held his own against Chris Paul in the Olympics -- even with one injured arm -- and whose passing skills have been positively compared to Steve Nash, Pete Maravich, and Larry Bird was worth taking a chance on. I would tend to agree. This pick definitely justifies the strange trade they made with Washington to acquire the No. 5 pick when they already owned the No. 6... speaking of which, let's see who they nabbed with that one.

Pick No. 6 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Selection: Jonny Flynn (PG) Syracuse

Thoughts: OK... now I'm confused. There has to be another trade in the works for the T-Wolves... it doesn't seem to make sense to take another point guard after grabbing Rubio. I like Flynn a lot and he was one of the more intriguing options the Raptors had their sights on. He's one of those tough little guys who's tenacity alone will keep him in the league for a long time. I see him as a slightly more talented Kyle Lowry. I only saw a little of him during the NCAA tournament this year, but during that time I saw him stand in and take a charge from Blake Griffin, who had a full head of steam at the time. It was pretty impressive, even if it was one of the dumbest things I've ever witnessed a human being do. Anyway, we'll see how this plays out because I don't see the T-Wolves keeping both of these guys.

Pick No. 7 - Golden State Warriors
Selection: Stephen Curry (PG) Davidson

Thoughts: Looks like I'm finally caught up to the real time action, and pretty much just in time to see what the Raps do. By the way, I love this pick. A lot of people are worried about Curry's size, but I don't really see a scenario where he doesn't develop into a very decent NBA player (at a minimum). I had the privilege of watching him in person during the 2008 NCAA tournament, and there was just something about him that set him apart from the rest of the players on the floor. Partially, it was the fact that he was the guy dropping one three-point bomb after another to rip the heart out of Wisconsin, but it also had to do with the way he carried himself with an extreme confidence (not cockiness) and just knew that he was the guy who was going to dictate the flow of the game. He is incredibly adept at creating space for himself and has such a beautiful, high-arcing shot that he can get it off in traffic, even against guys who are much taller than him. I don't know about them projecting him as a point guard... he'll be able to handle the position, but I think he'll excel playing off the ball. Golden State should be an ideal situation for him, as that offense will allow him to get his shots, and his defensive shortcomings won't really matter, since they don't really play defence anyway.

Pick No. 8 - New York Knicks
Selection: Jordan Hill (PF) Arizona

Thoughts: I'm sure the Knicks were heart-broken to watch Curry get snatched up just ahead of them, as I heard he was the guy they really wanted. Jordan Hill was probably the right pick here... sometimes you just need to get the most talented guy available. Hill now gives them the option of letting David Lee walk in free agency, which will keep with their strategy of clearing as much money as possible for the LeBron push in 2010.

Pick No. 9 - Toronto Raptors
Selection: DeMar DeRozan (SG) USC

Thoughts: I knew going in that I probably wouldn't have a huge opinion on any of the guys the Raps took here. Brian Colangelo stated the other day that he was targeting five guys (Jonny Flynn, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Gerald Henderson, and James Johnson) and you knew most of those guys would be available at No. 9. Johnson was been the only guy I would have really been unhappy with. Holiday and DeRozan are wait-and-see guys, either of whom could end up being stars (or flops), while Henderson or Flynn would have been safer picks with a lower ceiling, but less risk. I probably would have preferred Henderson, but DeRozan most seemingly fills their glaring need for an athletic wing. The question will obviously be whether he can harness his raw athleticism and actually become a well-rounded basketball player. It's a little unsettling that he had such a mediocre year in college, after coming in with so much hype. Anyway, he's now my guy (that's the way this thing works) and I'm here to tell you that he's going to be the next Kobe Bryant... he'll be a lock-down defender and will be impossible to contain on offense. He'll probably win at least three MVP awards and should lead the Raptors to seven NBA Titles... if not more. I love DeMar DeRozan!!!

[Note: It's interesting that the Raptors never even mentioned Brandon Jennings in their list. By all accounts, he has more talent than anyone on their list. I guess there was something about him that BC didn't like.]

Pick No. 10 - Milwaukee Bucks
Selection: Brandon Jennings (PG) Italy

Thoughts: Speaking of... You couldn't really fault the Bucks for any pick they made here, since they have so many holes across their roster. I'm not sure what to make of Jennings, as he sounds like a bit of an enigma... tons of talent, but on the flip side, he didn't even get heavy minutes playing in the Italian league last year. Still, if Michael Redd comes back healthy, it's conceivable that he and Jennings could form a formidable backcourt tandem, with Ramon Sessions (if they resign him) being the spark-plug off the bench, which is the ideal role for him, in my opinion. Like DeRozan, Jennings could be a star or a flop, so I think this is another pick that we'll have to wait to evaluate.

Pick No. 11 - New Jersey Nets
Selection: Terrence Williams (SG) Louisville

Thoughts: After they traded Vince Carter earlier today, it was pretty much a given that the Nets were going to take Williams. I don't know much about Williams, but from the small amount I've seen, he's nowhere close to the kind of scorer that Carter is -- he's more of a guy who's good at everything, but not great at anything. I guess it's a given that they weren't going to replace Carter's points, since you're not supposed to be able to find a guy like that this late in a weak draft... but they are really left with a dearth of scorers after this trade. It'll be interesting to see how the structure the team next year... they could actually be pretty decent if they are able to play solid team defence and if Brook Lopez continues to improve and they play a pick-and-roll game with him and Devin Harris on offense. I still don't see them being a major player in the East, but they will still be competitive, which would be impressive after pretty much straight-up dumping Vince Carter to shed salary (they did get Courtney Lee in the deal, who's not bad... but still).

Pick No. 12 - Charlotte Bobcats
Selection: Gerald Henderson (SG) Duke

Thoughts: It's always fun to see which rookie is going to have to put up with Larry Brown jerking his minutes around... looks like Henderson gets the "privilege" this year (as an aside, I wonder if there will be any Duke - North Carolina tension in the locker room between those two). I actually really like this pick... I feel that in weaker drafts it's always best to go for proven players who have spent time learning the game in strong college programs. These players sometimes tend to get underrated, since scouts love players with raw talent... unfortunately, in a lot of cases that talent remains untapped. Teams tend to be guilty of staying away from guys who appear to have already reached their ceiling, even if that ceiling is better than what you'll get from the "raw talent" guys nine times out of ten. Probably the best recent example of this is Gilbert Arenas, who fell to the 2nd Round in the 2001 draft. Back to Henderson, as much as I dislike Duke -- and most of its players -- I actually don't mind Henderson and think his game has a good chance of evolving nicely at the pro level. I don't think he'll ever be a star, but he should provide solid (possibly great) defense and timely scoring as the 3rd or 4th option on a team. I think this is a really solid pick for Charlotte.

Pick No. 13 - Indiana Pacers
Selection: Tyler Hansbrough (PF) North Carolina

Thoughts: Haha... I was looking forward to this part of the draft (i.e., the part where I get to make fun of Hansbrough for a whole paragraph). In one sense it's nice that the hard-working guy who's proven he can play well in college for four years gets taken ahead of talented underclassmen who have never had to work for anything... but what was Indiana thinking here? Even if Earl Clark doesn't attend practice for the rest of his life, he'll still be a better pro player than Hansbrough. I heard that Hansbrough actually surprised some people with his measurements at the combine, but he's still undersized to play PF in the pros, and there's no way he has the quickness to transition to SF. If he had a better basketball IQ or passing skills, he might be able to develop into a niche-PF a la Kevin Love, but that's not the case. In fact, he really doesn't have any definable skills apart from "good hustle" (similar to me when I played baseball). The good news is that the locals in Indiana will probably like him just for playing the game "the right way". The bad news is that he'll only get to play "the right way" in practice and garbage time.

Pick No. 14 - Pheonix Suns
Selection: Earl Clark (PF) Louisville

Thoughts: Here's another guy that was high on my pre-draft "wish list" for the Raptors. To be honest, if we had drafted him, I would be absolutely terrified that he would live up to the career standards of his best "NBA comparison"... Mr. Tim Thomas. On the other hand, it's hard not to be intrigued by his raw talent (I know, I'm doing exactly what I just recently criticized scouts for... I'm a hypocrite). Very few guys have the combination of length and agility that Clark has. It's also a good sign that he was such a good rebounder in college. I think he could end up being a really good player in the Suns system. With Shaq gone now, maybe they can play small ball with Amare playing centre and either Clark or Robin Lopez played the 4... they would suffer defensively, but does that really matter to the Suns? Besides, they would be a impossible for most teams to match up against. Since they don't really have a chance to compete next year, they may as well go back to being the most entertaining team in the league, right?

Well folks (and by that, I mean Reg and Paul), thanks for staying with me this long. That's the end of the lottery, and I don't think I'll have much interesting to say for the rest of the picks (I'm not even sure that I did for the previous ones). I do think it's interesting that Jrue Holiday fell out of the lottery... he's got to be a reasonable gamble for any team at this point... but apart from him and Eric Maynor (my draft sleeper), I don't think there will be any impact players drafted from this point on. Actually, it might be worth keeping an eye on Wayne Ellington and DeJuan Blair, as both fit my "proven players from elite college programs" theory that I outlined in the Gerald Henderson section.

This was a fun exercise in speed writing, so I'll probably go back and do a quick edit, but I doubt the grammatical quality of this post will be up to my usual standards. If you're looking for the same sort of thing -- only much, much better -- be sure to check out Bill Simmons' Draft Diary on ESPN.com tomorrow... it's never let me down in the past.

May Your Future Paths Lead You to Successes that are Equalled or Surpassed by DeMar DeRozan,

May 22, 2009

More Oral Hash Art

There are more of you... very good [I'm twiddling my fingers in a sinister manner],

I made a little observation after my previous blog post: apparently each entry is listed under the date that you start drafting it, rather than the date it is posted. This led to the scenario in which my "brand new" post on May 6, showed up as April 16. Although it probably won't take me three weeks to complete every entry, I've decided to insulate myself from this risk by typing each post in a .txt document and throwing it on the blog editor only when it's ready to go. So, from now on, you should be seeing the actual dates of when things go up.

Now that that little bit of housekeeping is out of the way, I can get back to business. The other day, I was reading an exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. Obviously this exchange was quite interesting, as it was between the preeminent writer of our generation... and also the guy behind such best sellers as "Blink", "The Tipping Point", and "Outliers" (see what I did there). At one point, they started discussing the NBA draft system, and whether it's really a good thing to reward teams who perform poorly with the best draft picks. I found this discussion quite fascinating and would love to rehash it, but I understand that a lot of you wouldn't be interested... for those that are, you can read their exchange here (go to Gladwell's last section in Part 2 for the start of the draft conversation). Anyway, during their discourse on the subject, Gladwell introduced a concept called moral hazard and defined it as, "the idea that if you insure someone against risk, you will make risky behavior more likely." Apparently, moral hazard is an economics term that has come to prominence recently due to the fallout from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and subsequent federal bailouts. There is a particular school of thought that reasons that by rescuing many of these large companies from the consequences of their bad decisions, they are more likely to continue to make similar bad decisions in the future. I'm not anywhere close to being an expert on economics, so I won't bother to delve into that discussion, but it struck me that the concept of moral hazard can be easily extrapolated to the realm of human behavior. Take for example, the case of the stereotypical spoiled, only child (lets call this the "Dudley Dursley Corollary"). These kids have anything they want and are consistently told that they can do no wrong; every decision they make is praised by their parents and they lack a heavy hand of direction in their life. What's more, any time they do get themselves into trouble, they have their parents around to bail them out. In a sense, they are insured against risk to an extreme degree. These are the type of people who typically grow up into some of the most awful, hateful individuals around (and are also the most likely to go on American Idol and humiliate themselves in front of millions of people).

This got me to thinking about a specific issue I've seen rise to prominence within the Church recently, and specifically within my peer group... the whole "Freedom in Christ" craze. Actually, that's probably not the best way to frame it -- the idea itself is not some sort of "craze", but rather comes from a very real Biblical truth -- the problem is the way people have, in my opinion, misinterpreted the concept. For the most part, my parents' generation grew up in Churches that were heavily rooted in fundamentalist ideology. This meant there was a very heavy-handed view of the "Law" aspect of Scripture... there were certain things that Christians did (i.e. be at Church every Sunday, respect your elders, dress in certain ways, etc.) and, perhaps more importantly, there were certain things that Christians DID NOT DO (i.e., play cards, dance, listen to Led Zeppelin, etc.). This type of Law-based value system reflected a distorted view of Scripture, one that completely ignored the grace that is preached extensively throughout the New Testament. Our parents started to see this and slowly distanced themselves from the kind of Pharisaic, rule-oriented religion they were raised in. Our generation took this change in direction to another level and started to talk a lot about liberty, liberty, liberty. However, as tends to be the typical human response, the correction away from fundamentalism was probably too severe. Our generation wants liberty, but often forgets that the example Christ gave always paired liberty with moderation and wisdom. When Jesus was famously accused of being "a glutton and a drunkard" by the Pharisees, He notes that, "wisdom is proved right by her actions." [Matthew 11:19b] Jesus knew liberty like no other human before or after Him, and yet His actions were always guided by wisdom. Paul addresses the issue of Christian liberty more directly than any other writer, specifically in the book of Romans. In fact, in my limited understanding, I would suggest that the struggle between grace and the law (and our response to it) is the central theme of that book. After hashing out the basics of humanity's fall and God's salvation, Paul reasons, "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more." [Romans 5:20] I think this is essentially the crux of the problem with my generation of Christians; we understand grace really well, and we know that the beauty of the salvation we have in Christ is that we can never get to a point where we are no longer covered by His grace. In this sense, we are insulated against the "risk" (i.e., consequences) of our actions. If, in our freedom, we have to straddle the line between sin and prudishness, wouldn't we rather err on the side of sinning, knowing that Christ has already provided an amazing grace to cover our sins? It's an understandable position, especially for many of us who have seen previous generations turn Christianity into a "religion" in the worst possible sense -- full of empty rules and devoid of the vibrant relationship we are called to share with Christ. Still, I can't help but think that we've missed the mark with our interpretation as well. It is wrong for Christians to set themselves apart from the world in the wrong ways (i.e., being judgmental and hypocritical), but I think it is equally wrong for Christians to be indistinguishable from the world, and it seems like we're moving more and more in that direction all of the time.

What we need to remember, is that after coming to his the conclusion about grace increasing as sin increases, Paul goes on to make a rhetorical argument, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" [Romans 6:1-2] I think that makes it pretty clear that erring on the side of sin is never the right decision.

We, as Christians, are in the amazing position of being covered by a limitless grace... we have been liberated from sin by Christ and this is a gift to cherish... but not to abuse. I think we often fall into the trap of thinking that living in freedom and liberty is easy and precludes us from making difficult decisions, when, in fact, it's the opposite. We have to learn about moderation and constantly grow in wisdom. On top of that, we need to exercise a high degree of discernment in the decisions we make. The great thing is that we have Christ (and the example He set) to guide us along the way. And, of course, we always have grace to catch us when we screw up (I would throw a little winky face in there, but that seems a little juvenille, so instead I'll use way too many words to get the same point across).

Feeling Remorse that I Previously Wished the Swine Flu on All of You,


P.S. I know this is a big topic and I most likely didn't do it justice. It stemmed from a thought I had when "moral hazard" came up in the Simmons/Gladwell piece and I just tried to expand on it as I wrote. Please know that my intent was not to throw stones, but simply to stimulate discussion on something I feel should be a talking point among my generation. Excuse the generalities I used (it's not fair to paint my generation -- or previous generations -- with one brush). It's something I struggle with, and I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this topic as well. Your comments are always appreciated!

April 16, 2009

Growing Up: Me and Matty T

Greetings Follower (I hoping to one day be able to pluralize that),

So the blog is just over a month old and I've made you wait over a month for a new post... you might want to get used to this kind of apathy from the author.
As I stated in my maiden post, the intent behind this blog is to give my self an outlet to write when I feel like it and see if anything good comes of it. So far this blog has taught me that I'm still generally lazy and, on a typical evening, would much rather play video games or hang out with my wife than spill the frivolous contents of my mind all over the Internet. Suffice to say, it's probably not worth your time checking back here regularly for new content. I'll try to keep people updated on new posts via Facebook, that way you can save yourselves a couple of mouse clicks every few days. Anyway, enough with the excuses. I know the lack of new content must be tearing you apart, so I decided to get off my butt and write another post. [By the way, if you think that last sentence was simply an excuse to link to my new favourite YouTube clip... you're absolutely right. Thanks Bill Simmons!]

I recently borrowed Relient K's The Bird and The Bee Sides from my brother Nathanael (I think I officially have to drop the "little" from his title) and listened to it for the first time. Now, I normally wouldn't wait so long to check out a new release from one of my favourite bands, but I've always had some sort of bigotry against B-sides. I didn't even buy Copeland's B-side album -- and I would probably buy a recording of Aaron Marsh locked in a studio with a steel drum and a kazoo -- so this is pretty deep-rooted stuff. I guess the concept of a B-side album always seemed to me like an idea cooked up by record label executives trying to make a few more bucks off the backs of hard-core fans... just by publishing a bunch of songs that the artist previously decided weren't worthy of public consumption. Well, I gave
The Bird and The Bee Sides a chance and, to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Looking back, that really shouldn't have been much of a surprise at all: there's a reason Relient K has been one of my favourite bands for a long time now... Matt Thiessen (the genius behind the band) just doesn't write bad songs.

[A quick side note: although the intent of this entry is not to give a review of The Bird and The Bee Sides (by definition it's below average for RK), I will say that "The Lining is Silver" would easily have been one of the better songs on Five Score and Seven Years Ago... and I think "Here I Go" might be a song they're working on for their next album... and that's a good sign.]

This fresh enjoyment for a new batch of RK songs got me thinking nostalgically about my journey with the band, and specifically with Thiessen. As most of you probably know, I can often be a bit of a fanboy, and tend to get easily caught up in things I really like. This especially applies with music. However, even with that said, I don't think I've ever felt a connection with a band/songwriter as strongly as I have with Relient K / Matt Thiessen. I think the reason for this struck me the other day when I was reading an interview with Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra (I've been reading a lot about that band since their latest CD came out last week). While reading the article, I realized that even though I love the music Andy writes and his lyrics always give me something to chew on, he's just not a guy I can easily relate to. From what I've read, it seems that Andy has some extreme social anxieties and just generally views the world from a different perspective than I do. In fact, when I started to run down a mental checklist of my favourite songwriters, I found that more often than not, I don't feel like I connect with them on a personal level. Jesse Lacey (Brand New), John Nolan (Straylight Run), and even Aaron Marsh (Copeland) are too dark and brooding; Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) is an alcoholic (although possibly recovered... or I might be confusing him with Ryan Adams) and musical genius, who, like most geniuses, is pretty eccentric; Michael Shepard (Lovedrug) shows signs of being extremely bitter and jaded; David Crowder seems to be a great guy, but I think he operates in a different headspace than I do; Martin Smith (Delirious?) and Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay) are from a different generation than I am; Jim Adkins (Jimmey Eat World) and Andrew McMahon (Something Corporate / Jack's Mannequin) view the world through "secular" eyes, so I miss out on deep connections with them; and the list goes on. In fact, out of all of my favourite songwriters, the only guys I can think of to whom I relate really well are Seth Alan Roberts (watashi wa / Lakes), Dustin Kensrue (Thrice), Tim Skipper and A.J. Babcock (House of Heroes), Thiessen, and maybe Jon Foreman (Switchfoot). That's a short list... and even out of those guys, Thiessen stands apart as the one who's connected best with me through his songwriting. It might be crazy, but I just get the sense that we would be great friends if we were put in the same circle. I guess part of the reason I feel this way is that Relient K has been so readily accessible throughout their career; doing little things for their fans such as tour journals, webisodes, plenty of interviews, etc. Seeing them in these different contexts gave me the impression that I knew them outside of their music. And this stuff wasn't just throw-away fodder that they pumped out. Thiessen's old tour journal was utterly hilarious and used to be my favourite thing on the Internet, and was directly responsible for me starting my old email newsletter (essentially my first blog). Just having access to his thoughts in that way made me feel like I knew him on a different level than most artists.

Still, I think that only begins to tell the story of why I've connected with Relient K the way I have. It really seems as though there's been this uncanny way in which each of their albums seemed to hit me at the perfect time in my life... they were always right in my wheelhouse musically and the themes Thiessen tackled often reflected stuff I was dealing with at the time. In short, I feel like I've grown up with the band. Their first two CDs (Self-Titled and The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek) both came out when I was in high school and I really appreciated the care-free exuberance of the music and unfiltered zaniness of the lyrics. I also appreciated how Thiessen would hide legitimate virtue in and around ridiculous songs about Marilyn Manson, Skittles, and Lion-O. He also wasn't afraid to occasionally step out from behind his veil of humour and write the occasional song that was a lot more pointed lyrically ("Softer to Me", "For the Moments I Feel Faint", "My Way or the Highway", "Less is More", etc.). I related to this because I was a guy trying to build an identity around my sense of humour, but I still had deep thoughts (apart from the ones authored by Jack Handy) kicking around in my brain that I dared to share with others from time to time. What was great, was that as I matured, so did Thiessen, and it came through in his songwriting. Throughout Two Lefts Don't Make a Right... But Three Do and especially mmhmm, you can really see how he came into his own as a lyricist and mastered his ability to seamlessly incorporate depth into his lyrics, while maintaining his trademark wit and uncanny ability to fit seemingly any lyric within the flow of the song. Musically, these albums also showed progression and maturity and fit right into the type of music I was most enjoying at the time (Anatomy was perfect pop punk for high school, Two Lefts transitioned to more melodic pop rock at a time when I was loving harmonies and catchy hooks, and mmhmm added more edge, power, and emotion to their music just when I was first discovering emo and indie rock). On their most recent album, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, the band spent time experimenting with a number of different sounds (expanding their musical horizons, at a time when I was trying to expand mine) and drew a lot from Matt's happiness at being in a great relationship... and it came out just after I started dating Jess and felt unbelievably joyous and care-free. It just seems that as I've gone through life, Matt Thiessen and Relient K have been there every step of the way (well... at least since 2000).

Having this sort of musical journey with Relient K stands in stark contrast to my experience with a band like Thousand Foot Krutch. I loved TFK in high school, but as I got older and matured, their music and themes seemed to stay stagnant (i.e. still targeted at high school kids). It's not that I have a problem with this -- in fact I'm really happy that those guys have carved out a niche for themselves and are experiencing the success they deserve -- but I do feel like I've naturally "grown out" of them. They are simply something nostalgic from my past. Relient K, on the other hand, is right here in my present, going through life with me... just like they've always have been.

Hope you get the Swine Flu (it's gonna be like this until someone helps me figure out a good sign off line),

March 17, 2009

Mixtape in a Minute: The Best Songs of 2008

Hey Not-Yet-Loyal Readers,

Today I'm starting what hopefully will evolve into a semi-regular feature here on the blog where I present a little music mix (generally 10 - 20 tracks) of stuff I think you'd be well served to check out. I'm a big fan of music and I love to share the music of good artists I discover with my friends, but I know at times I can be a little too excited and oversell the music with my own opinions and hyperbole... so when I post these mixes, I'll simply provide the track name, artist, and (if possible) links to a streamed version of the song and/or the artist's MySpace page and let you form your own opinions. [Quick note: Don't worry, I'm still planning on posting CD reviews occasionally, and in that forum, I'll let loose with the opinion sharing and hyperbole blasting.] If you have a chance to check some of the stuff out and find something you like... please support the artist. I think everyone is aware by now that the music industry is struggling, and a lot of these bands need cash flow just to keep producing their art for public consumption. Let's not allow our kids to grow up in world where the only new music is coming from Nickelback clones and the 80 year-old U2 dudes (it's bad enough that we have to still put up with them).

All right, I got that slightly hypocritical rant out of the way... now on to the list. I'm hoping to start this feature off with a bang, so today I'm sharing my favourite songs from 2008. When picking these songs, I kept to the simple criteria that:
a) the song had to be from an album released in the 2008 calendar year (the only one I'm not totally sure about is the Jon Foreman track, but it's dated in my iTunes as 2008)
b) I have to have listened to the song enough times to have formed a solid opinion on it
c) if possible, I wanted to limit it to one song per artist... this was tough for bands such as House of Heroes, Thrice, and Lydia... and absolutely impossible for Copeland
d) I tried to offer stuff from various genres, but I find I'm listening to mostly mellow stuff these days, so that might not have been accomplished
e) I tried to organize it in such a way that it would make a great iTunes mix, and
f) each song has to be mind-blowing.

So, after the previous ado, but without any further... here's the list:

  1. Copeland - Should You Return
  2. Good Old War - Just Another Day
  3. Matt Pryor - Confidence Man [The song is streaming on his MySpace page.]
  4. Death Cab for Cutie - Grapevine Fires
  5. Thrice - Broken Lungs
  6. House of Heroes - Sooner or Later [Definitely the catchiest hook of the year. Not streaming, but use the link to download "Sooner or Later" plus two other quality HoH tracks.]
  7. Lydia - Hospital
  8. The New Frontiers - Mirrors [Not only can you stream this song, but it's up for download on their Purevolume page... so there is absolutely no reason for you not to download and fall in love with this song.]
  9. Jon Foreman - Somebody's Baby
  10. Manchester Orchestra - I Can Feel a Hot One
  11. Coldplay - Viva la Vida [You may think I'm joking after you watch the music video, but I actually do like this song. Also, sorry if you haven't heard of these guys... I think they're a new indie band (likely from somewhere foreign)... they're probably relaying on people confusing them with Copeland in order to sell any records.]
  12. Jack's Mannequin - What Gets You Off [I found this one on a random site... hopefully the link still works... let me know if there are any problems.]
  13. Augustana - Hey Now
  14. Copeland - The Day I Lost My Voice (The Suitcase Song)
  15. Bon Iver - Re: Stacks
So, there you have it... a ton of great music crammed into a very tiny space. I sincerely hope anyone who reads this finds something they enjoy.

If Anyone has a Good Signoff, Please Call Me...

March 15, 2009

Is It Really Madness if Everyone has It?

Today is "Selection Sunday," which (for the uninformed) is the day they set the field for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament... or, as it is more commonly known, March Madness. In my personal life, this marks the start of the annual three week period where I ravenously follow a sport that I largely ignore for the other 49 weeks of the year. Mind you, I do occasionally check in on my adopted team, Villanova, to see how they are fairing through the conference season, and this year I have been reading Mark Titus' "Club Trillion" blog, which documents his experiences playing for the Ohio State basketball team [by the way, I recommend everyone check this blog out, especially if you enjoy hilarious, well-written, sometimes informative blogging... which is why I assume you're here in the first place]... but the point is that my love of college basketball is generally contained within this single three week window every year.

I'm not going to waste your time with some drawn out treatise on why this event captures my attention like it does... especially when anyone who has ever experienced March Madness can tell you the reasons can be summed up in a few simple words: brackets, miracle shots, Cinderella stories, Gus Johnson, and trying to figure out which school has the most attractive cheerleaders (surprisingly, Arizona often cleans up in this category). Those things, combined with the shear volume of basketball one gets to watch in a condensed timeframe, are what draw people to the madness. Actually, now that I think about it, another underrated aspect of the tournament is the strangely surrealistic experience of watching someone like Butler play and seeing five white guys on the court for one team at the same time... it gives you a good chuckle anyway.

I'm digressing, so, like I said, I'm not going to waste your time with that. Rather, I prefer to waste your time in another way... I'm going to tell you about a yearly ritual I have that coincides with the madness. In a nutshell, I use the three weeks of the tournament as a condensed scouting season for my beloved Raptors. As I have no influence whatsoever in the decisions of that organization, how this usually plays out is that during the course of the tournament I generally fall in love one or two guys and desperately hope that the Raptors will draft him... then invariably get crushed when draft day comes and the Raptors decide that they'd rather take their chances on Rafael Araujo (I'm not even going to waste my time checking if I spelled his name correctly). Past examples of my "tournament crush" include (chronologically) Antawn Jamison (who the Raptors actually did draft, but immediately traded for some guy named Vince Carter), Kirk Hinrich, Delonte West, Chris Paul (in only two games, as Wake Forest lost early and destroyed my bracket), Jordan Farmar, Randy Foye, Luc Richard Mbah-a-Moute, and Stephen Curry (everyone who watched March Madness last year can feel me). I have a couple guiding principals for picking my tournament crush; first of all, you're automatically disqualified if you play for Duke or Kentucky... and you're going to really have to impress me if you play for UConn. You get bonus points if you play for Villanova or UCLA, or if you have an awesome name (see Mbah-a-Moute). It generally helps to be 6'-3" or under and you have to have at least an above-average jump shot (Mbah-a-Moute is the exception here, but see above about the name thing). I also tend to drift towards scrappy players who can single-handedly will their teams to a win. Most importantly, I like players who bring more things to the table than they take off. In short, they're players who play the way I wish I could play. Anyway, for whatever reason, even knowing it's going to lead to heartbreak at the draft, identifying and rooting for this player is my favourite part of March Madness every year.

The word out of Bracketville is that Davidson is not going to make the tournament this year, meaning no Stephen Curry, meaning there is a large hole in my heart waiting to be filled by any player who is willing to step up to the challenge. So James Harden, Eric Maynor, Jonny Flynn, Scottie Reynolds (bonus points for playing in Philly and having the same last name as characters from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and all you dark horse candidates out there... the torch is ready to be passed... feel free to come and take it.

Still Looking for the Perfect Sign-off...

March 13, 2009

The Start of Something (B)old

Sup Friendlies,

Well, this is awkward... I decided to start a new blog (I kept one a few years ago on this thing called Myspace) and this is it. The thing is, I really haven't fully decided what this is going to be. More than anything, I wanted a forum to keep my writing skills sharp. On top of that, I want to post a few things that will make one or two people laugh, or think, or laugh about thinking... but definitely not think about laughing because that's a little depressing. These things will likely be in the form of sports commentary, music reviews, and some occasional ramblings. Anyway, I think I'm going to keep this to myself for a little while and try some things and see where this goes... once (and if) I think I've got something good going on, I'll share it with the couple dozen or so people I think will find some value in this here piece of business. So hopefully by the time you see this post, there will be something up that will make it worth your while visiting this blog... because this sure doesn't qualify.

Searching for a good sign-off...