Total Pageviews

Friday, December 30, 2011

We love legends

I am drowning under the annual end-of-year lists that permeate the run up to our calendars rolling into a new 12-month cycle. Some of them are kind of cool (the top ten soccer goals of the year) but the majority are somewhat lame (7 cars for your new year's resolutions...seriously?). However, the one that caught my eye this morning was Year in Review: In Memoriam 2011 on MSN.

All of us have different outlooks on life; and that's just fine. I believe strongly in one thing, others believe something else. Obviously a lot of folks like to keep up with all the happenings in the celebrity world. I've touched on our loosening definition of celebrity before but now seems a good time to take a deeper look into who we (or maybe just the media) think is someone deserving of the term legend or icon...

                                 Amy Winehouse

I've listened to some of Amy's music; I don't like all of it but some of it's OK. I had to resist the temptation to insert a less-than-flattering picture of Amy. There are so many out there that give testament to a troubled life. I'm sorry we lost her so young, but legend?

           I didn't realize they had high heels in Egypt...

Is it fair to say one person is a legend and another is not? The whole legend discussion is still open for debate but I will grant that Ms. Taylor is a screen icon. She was definitely old Hollywood royalty and as the first actress to be paid $1 million for a picture? She's got some cred.

                   Beware of people offering you fruit...

Steve Jobs has millions of acolytes. And these don't include the millions more that just have an iPhone. In a business and technology sense I suppose you could say he classifies as a legend. Still, there's something about this whole picture that makes me wonder...

                    OK, this one is easy...

Jeff Conaway had a couple of popular roles; one as Travolta's sidekick in Grease and another as Bobby on Taxi. Icon? No; legend? No. I pray he rests in peace.
      Can I ask you just one more thing?

Everyone loves Peter Falk as Columbo. I don't know why; they just do. I grew up watching Mr. Falk play the shuffling, disheveled detective in the 1970's. But I also thought he did swell as the grandfather reading the fairytale in The Princess Bride. Icon? Maybe; legend? No.

           Andy had some serious eyebrows...

Here's another guy I remember seeing way back when. It's crazy to think that an unassuming yet opinionated journalist could be considered a legend. I would have to vote yes on his icon status but only his eyebrows were legendary. Rest in peace Mr. Rooney...


I know several people that thought Ryan Dunne's show (I can't say the name) was crazy funny. I'm sorry he passed away but no, he's neither legendary nor an icon. He gained celebrity by doing insane things, one of which eventually killed him.

One sad thing about any in memoriam list is how many people we know of that died this year. More poignant is how many regular people we know that died this year. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters.

I may seem a bit callous deflating the status of the folks highlighted in this blog. I will ask for your forgiveness in advance for that was not my intention. What I strove to communicate is that our society looks at celebrities as our legends and icons. In fact there are millions of ordinary people that no one (but a few) has ever heard of who passed away this year. Many of them were far more extraordinary in their contribution to society at large than most of those we term celebrities.

There is no right argument for this. All of us - each and every one - has value as a creation of God. I mourn the passing of each of His children and pray that good decisions were made before their lights were extinguished on earth. I fear that for some on this list, that is not the case. Fortunately, for anyone reading this, it's not too late...

And to those few who do stop by The Stream periodically to read whatever digital claptrap I happen to  come up with, thank you; God bless you; and God's blessings on you and yours in the coming year.

In closing, I'll list one more that we lost in 2011. He wasn't the most important man on the planet. He did not control the fate of nations. He did not write the great American novel. But he made us laugh and he made us think. Thank you Sherwood, where ever you are...

       Sherwood Schwartz in 2004

                         I remember these castaways..

Happy New Year everyone...


Thursday, December 29, 2011

This just in...

[Approx. 1003 BC - Threshing Floor of Kidon] A servant of King David, Uzzah, was struck dead today. Eyewitness accounts are consistent and reveal that in the moments leading up to his death Uzzah did nothing that could have been considered sinful in the eyes of the Lord. After interviews with members of the King's entourage, it appears that just before his death, Uzzah had been walking next to a new cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Although details are few, the brother of the deceased - Ahio - and other witnesses say the cart tipped sideways and, fearful that the most holy Ark would fall to the ground, Uzzah reach out a hand to steady the heavy wood and gold object. It is believed that immediately after touching the Ark, Uzzah died.
       Uzzah falls to the ground just before his death (anonymous photo)

King David has declined all interview requests but is reported to be furious that God would strike down one of His servants, especially one who was a member of an elite team bringing the Ark back to Jerusalem. Our sources have also indicated that David will leave the Ark with Obed-Edom, the Gittite, while the King considers the situation and mourns the loss of Uzzah.

Attorneys for the deceased are considering options on behalf of Abinadab and his family.

© Jerusalem Press International
Of course, this press account of the events detailed in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13 is fictional. As I studied 1 Chronicles 13 this morning, I wondered how our modern culture would react to such an event occurring today.
No doubt there would be reporters from major news sources on site; there would be satellite trucks, microphones, make-up artists and other accoutrements of the modern news engine. Eyewitnesses would be telling their stories to anyone who would listen; some with an eye toward turning a profit. 60 Minutes would no doubt be there with special access interviews and disturbing inside information.
But what of the real story?
I've heard several comments over the years about how (and why) God would kill someone who was just trying to help. David, Uzzah and all of the people in this procession were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. Wouldn't it be sacrilege to let the Ark fall to the ground? After all, this was the holy chest in which the Ten Commandments were kept. The Mercy Seat, where God Himself appeared to the High Priest, was the lid of the Ark, sculpted with two cherubim, outstretched wings touching above the surface.
What seems to be lost in the modern world we inhabit is the nature of obedience. It is untenable for some to be placed in a position where absolute obedience is required. God had told Moses and Aaron that no one could touch the holy things [Numbers 4:15]. But our (human) instinct is to believe that there are exceptions to every rule, no matter what. There will always be circumstances where a rule can be bent, circumvented or completely broken - and for good reason.
On the surface, this seems to be one of those circumstances.
Uzzah was merely trying to keep the Ark from falling. However, what is overlooked by our modern interpretation is that God's rules are absolute. Despite the fact that this rubs against the grain of our sensibilities, there was no room for interpretation.
Has anyone considered the hubris inherent in Uzzah's actions? If the Ark was the object of God's presence on earth, wouldn't it be presumptious of us to assume that God needs help?
Something else that may often be overlooked by those who read the Bible is that while God may seem harsh in His dealings with us, He is not capricious, He does not act on a whim. If He said it, we can bank on it. As harsh as it may seem, this is a silver lining we can take away from Uzzah's death: God keeps His promises.
So what's the point of this event in history? For me, today, the point is we can know that some things in life (and death) are absolute. Truth is not something we can interpret for our own benefit. And there are indeed times when we just need to do what we've been told - even if it doesn't make any sense at the moment.
What do you think?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 in Inanity

It’s nearly the end of the year – or the beginning of another – if you’re more of a glass is half-full type. In this natural environment of mental wandering, I thought it would be nice to talk about some of the most inane news stories I’ve seen this year. And since I suffer from CRS (can’t remember stuff), most of them will be recent.

Jesus had short hair; seriously.

     Jim Caviezel portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ

Perhaps the font of inanity are Brian Palmer’s Explainer articles on Slate. In this edition from December 23rd, he opines on why Jesus would probably not have had the long, flowing hair He is popularly depicted with. Since becoming a Christian, I’m more acutely aware of the artistic image of our Savior – or mis-image, as the case may be. Ancient believers in God were probably not much different than us today in the sense that many seemed to prefer their deities to be good looking. Certainly the Old Testament didn't shy away from going on about how David, Solomon, Absalom, Esther and others were not hard on the eyes. Yet in his Messianic prophesy, Isaiah noted that Jesus would be an average Joe [Isaiah 53:2] …He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.

Although the real reasons that Israel rejected Jesus as Messiah are more complex, it doesn’t take much to imagine how different it might have been if He had been muscular and handsome.

Charlie Sheen and Egypt are homies.

Today (see, I told you these would be recent) an article on listed the year’s top hashtags. Since Twitter in and of itself is somewhat inane, this may be redundant.
  1. #Egypt
  2. #Tigerblood
                                   No caption required...

I’m definitely not implying that the events in Egypt this year were inane…far from it. However, that a Twitter hashtag relating to Charlie Sheen would be number two on the list shows us just how much inanity exists in our world today. Of the two top hashtags, one has global significance while the other, well, doesn’t.
He’s a caddie for Pete’s sake.

                         I'm thinking he cashed all the checks...

Way back in November ESPN ran this story about Steve Williams. In a (sports) world brimming with drama, excitement, heartbreak and a host of other visceral emotions, Golf doesn’t jump right out there. It’s understandable when the media makes high theater out of Tiger Woods winning the 2008 US Open in a playoff…on a torn knee. I mean this is the stuff that packs us in theaters to watch Rocky. Fast forward three years to a world drunk on American Idol, X-Factor and way too much Snooki; now, ESPN presents the pure and emotional drama of…a bunch of golfers and caddies having a few drinks and telling off-color jokes. Was it in poor taste? Absolutely. Was it news? I doubt it. Was it inane…you be the judge.

The 2011 Republican debates.

No, that’s not the number of debates that have been held leading up to the Iowa Caucuses; it just seems like it. I know it’s kind of like fishing a baited pond, but politics and inanity just kind of go together these days. There were – and continue to be – so may inane moments leading up to the kickoff vote in Iowa it’s hard to pick one. I really didn’t want to single out Governor Perry but for sheer inanity, I’d say this sums up the overall tone of the Republican debates.

Maybe he enjoyed a caucus or two backstage prior to the debate? According to caucus is Medieval Latin for drinking vessel.

Surely there are thousands of inane events that permeated this year. What are your favorites?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Red sky in the morning...

I"m not much of a sailor; God didn't give me inner-ear stability I guess. But we've all heard the proverb that begins Red sky in the morning...

Since I'm usually arriving at work around dawn, I can use the old sailor's wisdom to determine what our weather will be. This morning, it was definitely red:

                              Red in the sky and red on the map...

As we approach Christmas, I thought a little bit about the larger context of Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning. Can we take that simple proverb and expand it to encompass other parts of life? In Matthew 16 Jesus said, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." 

This was in response to a request by the Pharisees and Saducees for Jesus to give them a sign from Heaven. At this point, Jesus had accomplished many things and the signs of who He was and what He was about were there for all to see through His work; yet the teachers of the Law were not convinced - they wanted a sign. It's interesting that all the miraculous things that Jesus had done already were overlooked - or ignored - in an effort to get our Savior (to paraphrase the book and film wizard Gandalf) to perform parlor tricks like some cheap conjurer. If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you'll remember that Samwise had no doubt that Gandalf could turn him into something unnatural, he didn't need to ask for a sign.

In a sense, we haven't progressed at all in the last two thousand years or so. We all seek signs from the world around us; signs to aid us in making decisions. I already knew it was likely to rain today and had my umbrella in the car as I drove to work. The radio weather person confirmed the storm front you see in the picture above from The Weather Channel that also predicts - no doubt accurately - that we'll have some serious rain today. Red sky in the morning...

But that was exactly the point of Jesus' retort to His inquisitors. We, all of us, can easily read the signs in the sky: Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning; red sky at night, sailor's delight.

                     Which way do I go?

And that's my thought for today...what signs do we follow in our own lives? What signs do we look for in order to make wise decisions? Do we act and then wait for positive or negative feedback from our friends, family and co-workers to validate whether a particular action or statement was wise? Do we seek out Dr. Phil or Oprah and listen to what they have to say on a particular subject before making up our minds?

                                  Beni and the charms...

This seems to be my day for film 1999's The Mummy, the smarmy ex-legionnaire Beni is confronted by the mummy. In true Red sky in the morning fashion, Beni pulls out a handful of bling that would make Mr. T blush and one by one begins chanting prayers based on each amulet's origin. I don't remember each one but Beni had something representing Buddha, Jesus, and who knows what else. However, it's the Star of David and the Hebrew prayer that arrests the mummy. Hebrew was the language of the slaves in Egypt - and the mummy needed a slave...Beni was saved...for the moment.

Sunday we'll celebrate Christmas. Christmas gets more and more airplay with each passing year. Christians get up in arms about how society is taking Christ out of the holiday; secularists wish the Christians would lighten up. Erstwhile peacemakers are running around trying to create all-inclusive holidays that we can celebrate together.

What's your sign this year? As you celebrate Christmas, are you truly honoring the birth of Jesus or are the tree, presents and meal plans taking priority? What sign are you seeking that the road you're on is the right one? What color is your sky this morning?


Monday, December 12, 2011

For that 'hard-to-buy-for' person...

I don't know what it is. Maybe it's age; maybe it's attitude. A few years back, you'd never find me listening to anything but music in my car.  With the advent of the CD and, more recently, the MP3 format, one might posit that radio as we know it would fade away like a weak signal on a lonely Arizona highway.
                                         Where's that station...

But as visitors to The Stream might have noticed, I occasionally derive inspiration from my daily doses of National Public Radio. Conservatives amongst my friends may be horrified to learn that I think NPR is a wonderful thing - with the possible exception of Terry Gross. Don't get me wrong, Ms. Gross is a great professional; I just don't personally appreciate the directions she takes in (some of) her interviews.

What about those gift ideas?

Right. Listening to Morning Edition on my drive in today, I heard a brief story about what a great cook Martin Ginsburg was. For the uninformed - which I was until about 6:20 this morning - Mr. Ginsburg is the not-so-well-known (late) husband of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Forgive me for using the familiar, but Marty Ginsburg was apparently well known in his own right for many things, one of which was for being an excellent cook.
                  Justice and Mr. Ginsburg

All this is riveting I'm sure, but stay with me...what got my attention during this morning's segment wasn't the fact that Mr. Ginsburg was an accomplished chef; it wasn't that he was married to one of our Supreme Court justices; it wasn't even the fact that a bunch of people put together a cookbook to honor Mr. Ginsburg (on the occasion of his passing, may he rest in peace). What caused me to sit up and listen was the fact that you could buy said cookbook in the Supreme Court Gift shop.

Say what?

Now, after researching this a little further, it should be noted that the gift shop is actually entitled the Supreme Court Historical Society Gift shop...but that's sure not the way NPR put it out there this morning. Maybe I just missed the nuance.

In any case, as we draw near to the day on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (i.e. Christmas), some of you may be stuck for what to buy the person in your life who has everything, or never likes what you give them, or whatever.

Starting at the low end - there's actually a link in the left frame of the gift shop's website to gifts that are priced at $0 - $20. Something tells me none of these gifts are free ($0). Anyway, clicking on the link yields sixty-one gifts in that price range, ranging from Supreme Court Pencils (a bargain at 95 cents apiece) - complete with two-headed, gavel-shaped erasers...
                                       Work is now in session... a key-keeper turtle for $19.95. I have no idea what this turtle is doing in the Supreme Court Historical Society gift shop. It doesn't have a logo or anything on it - it looks like the standard key-holding turtle you can buy at the hardware store and hide amongst your bushes in case you forget your house key...I don't know, maybe someone forgot the key to the Supreme Court one day and came up with this great idea...

There are several more price ranges to browse through, all of which have quite interesting items for those on a variety of budgets. But I thought I'd take a peak at what sort of top-of-the-line gear you could score for $500 and up...the highest price range available.
                                             These are sweet!

The next time I pick up a dress shirt, I'm going to be thinking about how cool it would be to have these sterling silver, solid 14kt. gold and gold plated cuff links holding my sleeves together. Then I'll remember the $595 price tag and enjoy my buttons.

The rest of the high-dollar gifts aren't nearly as exciting. For the princely sum of $1,000, you can actually join the Supreme Court Historical Society. And the benefits of membership? Mostly, getting copies of quarterly newsletters and a few other publications. Although you also receive an invitation to some swanky dinner once a year (for which you have to pay extra, I think). But hey, you also get 20% off on any item in the gift shop, so those cuff links are looking better already...

Feel free to browse and, by the way, you could pick up a copy of the tribute cookbook dedicated to Mr. Ginsburg - a tasty bargain at $24.95. But sadly, it's currently out of stock.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Space...the final frontier (that we'll never get to?)

Mark this down on your calendar:

Yesterday, according to this article on MSN, our shiny Keppler spacecraft discovered what is believed to be an Earth-like planet, orbiting a sun not unlike our own. The catch? It's roughly 600 light years away.

                        We can't get there from here...

I'm not against exploring our universe. I think it's kind of cool, actually. I still remember watching the Apollo missions on TV and hearing those famous words, "One small step for man..."

I do have lingering doubts though about spending $500 million on a spacecraft that is cruising around taking pictures of far-distant planets in neighboring solar systems. As neat as all this is, I have to ask:

What's the point?

Let's just say for the sake of argument that Keppler 22b is found to be the Goldilocks planet (you know, the one that's just right).
                                                 Road trip!

What are we going to do with that amazing nugget of information? After all, Keppler 22b is six hundred light years away. I'm not very agile with numbers but I have it on pretty good authority that it would take in the neighborhood of 7 million years for someone to get there from here, in our present technological state - assuming for the moment that we could figure out a way to attach a big enough gas tank to our ship.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, estimates there are 1 trillion planets in the Milky Way alone. "Surely some of them have undergone what Earth has undergone and developed life, and eventually what we call sentient life," he says.

So, it appears that it's relatively easy for scientists to take probability and trot it out a ways to buy into the possibility of extra-terrestrial life - or at least life-sustaining worlds - yet it's difficult for some of these same scientists to consider the possibility that the Bible is correct and our universe was purposely created. I mean, with all due respect to Carl Sagan, we've spent billions and billions of dollars and found pretty much bupkis.

But I'm not writing to discredit science or start another round of Big Bang vs. Creation Smack Down.

In fact, Shostak goes on to note that the argument (for extra-terrestrial life) is simply one of probability. "If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, or for that matter in the universe, then we are truly a miracle," he says.

Now there's something that makes sense, don't you think?

In any case, let's get back to my original question: Let's say that Keppler or some other, future, exploration system finds an Earth clone; a planet that mirrors ours and can easily support life.

                                        Home sweet....ach!

Is it possible to get six or seven billion people onto spacecraft and over to the nearest life-sustaining world? Not if you believe we will never be able to economically break the speed of light barrier, and have the technology to do it in huge proportions, ferrying people, livestock, agricultural supplies, etc. to our new home. Oh, and I hope there's plenty of water there or that we also have the technology to generate A LOT of it.

As excited as I am that we're exploring the universe and finding cool stuff out there, I really can't get too overwhelmed at finding a planet that might, possibly, be in the neighborhood of supporting life. Right now, we couldn't even get a couple of folks over there to check it out - much less put together a large-scale exodus ala Battlestar Galactica.

So enjoy the pictures, artist's renditions and bubbly prognostications of sister worlds, etc. I'm going to finish my coffee and think about ways to make this old Earth a better place to live.

What do you think?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's all about me...not

Unless you live in a cave, high in the Himalayas - with no satellite reception or 3/4G air card, you have heard the news that Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is in the midst of an ugly investigation into allegations they were complicit in the (alleged) horrific child abuse by one-time defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. I say alleged because we live in America where one is innocent until proven guilty. However, in the court of public opinion, Sandusky has already been convicted and the torches and pitchforks came out early. To be fair, I rank among those that believe with so many allegations stacked up, there has to be a least some truth to the accusations - and I wrote about it in this entry.

                        Penn State is a brand?

On NPR this morning, I listened to a short report about a session University leaders had with Penn State students. Apparently, a large number of erstwhile Nittany Lions are concerned that the value of their degree is diminishing even as we speak in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Using a handy online tuition calculator, and what I believe are the out of state costs per credit hour, I came up with a walloping $63,840 in tuition costs alone for a shiny Turf Grass Bachelor of Science degree. Interestingly, a run-of-the-mill BS in Business costs the same.

So I suppose it's not out of line for PSU students to be concerned that the value of their degrees - in whatever discipline - could be tarnished by recent developments.

What stunned me though, was the sense of selfishness that came out of the report. I'm not naive enough to think that there isn't competition between University graduates or that certain degrees aren't considered more prestigious than others.  I get that.

But every comment I heard was something along the lines of, "What are potential employers going to think when I trot out my Penn State degree in the interview?"

With the answer to that rhetorical question being, "You went to Penn State? Well, thank you for coming in to speak with us...we'll be in touch." Followed by the sound of their resume hitting the bottom of the garbage can as they left the building.



There are hiring managers in the workplace that would seriously hold the sins of Jerry Sandusky and the rogue's gallery of enablers at Penn State over its graduates' future? That would be like me interviewing Florida State graduates in the wake of the Free Shoes University scandals or academic cheating scandals by football players and calling them Criminoles. Granted, what Sandusky is alleged to have perpetrated is so far beyond comparably petty events that sports fans like to trot out when their team is winning...

But still; I'm not going to hire you because of some completely unrelated event that happened before you even attended the university?

The first thing that Acting Penn State President Rodney Erickson should've said when fielding the first few comments about student's concerns over their diminishing returns?

It's not about you - it's about the kids.

Next question.