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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rock 'em, Sock 'em!

Holy cow (or, sacred, large animal that used to be a wriggly, single-celled, lower organism)!

Driving to work this morning, I heard a snippet about a YouTube video featuring Bill Nye - you know, the Science Guy. I had to search this video out and watch it because the short news burst I heard this morning included the quote, "I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems."


I've never met Mr. Nye but I've seen him many times on television and he was always polite, charming, intelligent and had a way of explaining all things scientific that was engaging and made science, well, fun.

I have a few knee-jerk comments about the quote above:

  1. It's not as if, I believe the earth is flat and I am teaching my children that if they walk far enough, they'll fall off into space. Creationism requires a level of faith; faith that something outside of our current understanding either created our world and everything in it or at least set that process into motion. Frankly, I think that belief in a creator is not any more fantastic than the belief that, at just the right moment, at just the right location in an infinite universe, a random sequence of events took place that has - over billions of years - resulted in the complex organism sitting in this chair, typing this message. In my mind, it might even take more faith to believe that our world and every living being on it is the product of some great cosmic coincidence.
  2. As one of those grown-ups that Mr. Nye refers to, I'd like to split a hair, if I may. I believe in evolution. I'm also a Christian and believe that the God of the Bible created our world and us. How did that happen? When did that happen? I'm not exactly sure, but enough of the historicity of the Bible has been corroborated for me to take a few things on faith. How do those two things square with each other? The evolution that Mr. Nye is referring to - in my mind - is different than the evolution I believe in. Ever notice how it seems that kids are all bigger than their parents? Ever notice that runners are faster today than they were fifty years ago? Ever notice how people can be sensitive to different climates and environments, but over time adapt to a comfortable level? I believe that there is some form of evolution that naturally occurs as humans and animals adapt to a changing world. If these changes occur rapidly (think asteroid impact or some other natural disaster), we don't have time to change or adapt - or flee. That's a totally different idea than saying my ancestors were nothing but a swath of slimy protoplasm.
  3. And, frankly, to tell me that I shouldn't teach my children to believe in something that I believe in with all my heart? Well, that's just wrong. And to infer that I am illiterate or incapable of building things or, you know, that I can't solve a problem? That's flat out insulting. 
I don't think we'll ever have a knock-out...

As I note in the caption above, I don't think we'll ever have a day when one side or the other will hold up what would be the Rosetta Stone of creation and shout, "Take that, home boy! We win!"

At some time in the future, life will simply cease to exist due to one or more external factors. Or maybe a huge asteroid will slam into the earth and that will be that. Or maybe, everyone on earth will be standing around, staring at a massive, worldwide lightning event in the sky and hear a sound like some huge brass horn as an undetermined number of folks either disappear or drift off-planet, leaving the earth behind.

Secretly, a lot of evolutionists probably hope for the first or second choice in order to affirm their science - even though it will be too late by then. Likewise, Christians hope to be the ones that finally get to say, "See! We weren't crazy after all!"

Faith would prevent me from gloating (I hope), but I suspect many would be tempted to look down as they drifted upward toward Jesus and say, "Ha! We told you so."

I prefer to believe that I would be one of the ones who cried as my Spirit left this world, looking down sadly on Bill Nye and others in whom we had failed to stir a faith in things yet unseen.

Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." [John 20:29 (ESV)]


Monday, August 27, 2012

You play ball like a girl!

Subject matter over here at the Stream is quite, er, subjective. When it comes to blogging, I'm sort of like that talking dog, Dug, in the movie UP (Pixar)...

We all have moments in life where things are going along and then we figuratively say, "Squirrel!"

Lately, I've had the distinct pleasure of blogging about classical music and science. But lest I get too high brow for my own good, I'm going to descend from these Olympus-like subject-matter heights and talk about movies!

National Public Radio's weekend version of All Things Considered is running a series entitled, 'Movies I've Seen a Million Times'. This past weekend, Regina King - an actress I could not have picked out of a police lineup - talked about one such film in her family, "The Sandlot".

I'm with Regina; I could watch The Sandlot just about every weekend. What's really interesting to me is the breadth a film like The Sandlot has with a generation of kids that wasn't even born when the movie was made (1993). I was playing some whiffle-ball in the front yard the other day with some of the neighborhood kids and we were talking about baseball and dogs and such and I mentioned that whenever they were playing ball, they needed to make sure their ball didn't go over our fence. One of the boys asked me why and I replied that our new German Shepherd, Abby, was like The Beast.

I didn't even have to explain what I meant - they all knew exactly what I was talking about.

Well, naturally, reading about Ms. King's choice of a movie she could watch a million times started me thinking about films that I would put in that category, besides The Sandlot. And since I have a blog...

1. Star Wars: I'm old enough to be one of those people who doesn't call the original Star Wars film Episode IV. All that prequel stuff really made things confusing. Nowadays, if you're talking to someone and say, "Hey, did you catch the first Star Wars on TV this weekend?" they'll either say, "Do you mean Episode I or Episode IV," or "Why watch it on TV - don't you have the box-set?"

You gotta have faith...

Yes, I have a box set with all six Star Wars films; call me crazy, but I will still watch the movies on this list, commercials and all, if they come on TV. And I'll likely watch them more often that way than if I'm sitting around and think to myself, "Hey, let's pull out Episode II and make some popcorn."

2. Indiana Jones: I will change the channel in a heartbeat just to watch the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There's something about watching the Paramount logo turn into some nameless mountain in South America, followed by the haunting John Williams score, as this mysterious character in a beat-up leather jacket and fedora makes his way through the jungle with his crew of ne'er do-wells. If I have time, I will watch the entire movie, but I will at least watch it up to the part where Belloq starts monologuing to the Hovitos and Indy takes off; right there - when Belloq mimics slicing his throat with that back-and-forth shish-shish noise, and with his maniacal laugh echoing through the deadly Peruvian wilderness - man, that's movie making.

Film fail...even I know that little bag of sand won't weigh as much as a golden head

I've heard critics pan Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I don't know, it's got all the elements of the early films and the story isn't so bad. I'm not a big fan of Shia LaBeouf but he's pretty good in Skull. Along with Star Wars, I'll watch any of the Indy films a million times.

3. That Thing You Do: It took everything I have not to put Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, National Treasure (which I watched again last night - on TV), The MummyZorro, or any of another dozen movies I've watched a million times - and will likely watch a million more - on this list. Admittedly, Star Wars and Indiana Jones were low hanging fruit, but I sincerely love those movies - so they belong at the top. As I thought about other movies I have watched over and over, this one kind of popped into my head. That Thing You Do is a sometimes campy but altogether believable tale about a band from PA (that's Pee-A) who, despite all the odds, make it to the big time. They score a hit record (the title track), head to the coast (is there more than one?) getting bit parts in a cheesy 60's beach movie, only to have the band disintegrate because the principle song-writer gets a case of artiste!

I don't know what it is about this movie. Is it the music, the characters - I could make a list just including movies featuring Liv Tyler - the believable 'where are they now' credits at the end? I can't put my finger on any one thing. It's just one of those goofy, enjoyable movies that are easy to watch over and over - just like The Sandlot.

What movies are on your, "Watch it a million times" list?


Saturday, August 18, 2012


As my small but faithful readership knows, I try to be a man of faith. However, that does not mean that I am anti-science. I'm fascinated by our ability to fly a rocket an incredibly long way (anywhere from fifty-four million kilometers to over four hundred million kilometers), detach a landing module and deposit a technical dreamboat onto the surface of a distant, red planet. In fact, if you go here, you can read all about NASA's current program managing several rovers on the surface of Mars, including the latest, Curiosity. According to NASA:

Human space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system. Through addressing the challenges related to human space exploration we expand technology, create new industries, and help to foster a peaceful connection with other nations. Curiosity and exploration are vital to the human spirit and accepting the challenge of going deeper into space will invite the citizens of the world today and the generations of tomorrow to join NASA on this exciting journey.

This looks like a spot I visited in Saudi Arabia!

I'm not here to debate the wisdom of spending billions of dollars on space exploration. There are some tremendously useful technologies that have come out of the space program - things like cordless tools, for example. What is on my mind are those things that we do in the name of science that, well, have some questionable value to mankind as a whole.

In fact, I was listening to NPR yesterday morning and heard about an ongoing experiment to determine if animals flock together (herd, school, etc.) to be safer. The very first line of the on-line report says "By tricking live fish into attacking computer-generated "prey" scientists have learned that animals like birds and fish may indeed have evolved to swarm together to protect themselves from the threat of predators."

In a burst of sarcasm I will likely regret I thought, "Really? Marlin Perkins taught us that in the Sixties without the aid of computer generated prey."

Our generations' Steve Irwin

I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, with Marlin Perkins traveling around the world teaching us about animal behaviors and all manner of weird things - including the fact that when you were watching a herd of wildebeests on the plains of Africa, the one straggling in the back was likely to get eaten by that cheetah hiding in the brush.

At the risk of mixing metaphors in this blog, that's not rocket science.

Near the end of the NPR segment, Christos Ioannou (University of Bristol, UK) says, "I think it's the first evidence that this coordinated behavior we see in bird flocks and fish schools, where individuals are really highly coordinated in the direction they're heading, has an anti-predatory effect, to our knowledge that's the first time it's been done in a really clear, experimental way."

Again, can't we see this type of behavior playing out in the wild nearly at will? Perhaps the caveat is in an experimental way. I'm not sure how much this experiment cost or who paid for it but this is just one example of science trying to prove something that seems, well, intuitive.

I'm sure that there are other reasons that creatures flock or school together but after growing up watching Wild Kingdom and other shows that presented cool information about animals, this is just an area where I didn't think we needed to expend a lot of resources. Of course, Wild Kingdom isn't on the television anymore and sadly, Steve Irwin has passed, so maybe there is a need for folks like Ioannou and his fellow researchers to come up with video games for predatory fish. If nothing else, perhaps they are this generations' Marlin Perkins?

Or maybe, they'll end up like these guys:

What do you think?


Friday, August 17, 2012

Second Sight: Claude Debussy

If I were a music critic, this blog would be full of commentary regarding the depth and texture of Michael Castellaw's piano playing. I would wax poetic about his note manipulation and gift for melody. I might even critique him for choppy transitions between movements during one or two compositions - whatever that means.

Couldn't find a Debussy cartoon...

The fact is, I love eighties music and smooth jazz. But I'm not an aficionado, if you know what I mean. The only instrument I can play is the stereo. However, my spirit is moved by particularly well-played music, as I'm sure all spirits are from time to time.

My first exposure to what I'll refer to as symphony was during sixth grade. I had never heard classical music before and as I sat in that darkened theater and listened to the orchestra play, I was astonished...affected. To someone with musical talent like Mr. Castellaw, a similar experience would probably be the genesis of a musical career. In my case it planted seeds that led me to appreciate what is admittedly a very shallow pool of classical music including Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and, yes, Debussy.

If I asked most people I know if they liked Claude Debussy, they would probably say, "Who?" But if we were watching the end of Ocean's 11 (the 2001 remake) and I asked them if they liked the song that plays when the gang are gathered in front of the Bellagio, I suspect most would say, "Yeah, that's cool."

Which brings us to Second Sight: Claude Debussy. Castellaw brings a touch to this piano work that stirs the same, spirit-affecting feelings experienced in a dark auditorium so many years ago.

Honestly, I don't know the significance of Deux Arabesques, Suite Bergamasque, Images: Book II, or Preludes: Book II; I do know that Clair de Lune, the haunting tune playing in the background of the video clip above, and part of the Suite Bergamasque, is played here with a finesse that belies the lack of orchestral support.

You can write me off as a know-nothing hack; a non-musical person blindly (deafly?) promoting a friend who happens to play piano. Or you can listen to Michael Castellaw's Second Sight: Claude Debussy and judge for yourself.

If you love piano, you'll do yourself a disservice if you pass this by.


Thursday, August 9, 2012


Does anyone teach Roman numerals in school anymore?

Obviously, the title of this blog has the potential of being wildly misconstrued. To clarify for those who have been hiding in an undersea air pocket living on kelp, we are in the middle of the thirtieth Olympiad. An X in Roman numerals denotes our number ten (10). Thus triple X denotes ten plus ten plus ten (10 + 10 + 10), or thirty (30).

Fair warning: This is not going to be a warm and fuzzy blog about the Olympics.

I'll try not to be hateful because that's not really my style, but my lovely wife will tell you that when I get perturbed about something, my lips tend to thin out and I get an expression on my face that is apparently hateful-like. I'm working on that.

Let's start with the XXX Olympiad. Thirty isn't a very large number, considering the Olympics started in Greece somewhere in the neighborhood of 776 BC. By definition, an Olympiad is a four year period (beginning in January) during which the Summer Olympics are set to occur. I'm no math wizard but four times thirty (4 x 30) equals one hundred and twenty (120). If it's the year 2012 now, and we subtract 120, we get 1892. But according to Wiki-know-it-all-Pedia, the first Olympiad of the modern era started in 1896.

If you love math and/or obsolete number systems and want to know all there is to know about how we (someone) decided to number the Olympic games, please go here. Because I'm done with that (poor grammar intended).

NBC has the sole broadcast rights for Olympic television coverage. You can go here and find NBC's mother lode Olympics website. On the surface, a veritable cornucopia of Olympic media. In reality, a frustrating web site I've only used to get results for the events I was mildly interested in. In fact, unless you live in the UK or the USA's Eastern timezone, it can be a real challenge to stumble upon television coverage for the event you want to watch. Of course, that assumes that you really are an Olympic fan, because in this Age of the Internet, chances are you already know the outcome of the event and you're just watching the tape-delay broadcast to revel in the (replayed) moment. It's only natural that NBC wants the prime time audience; after all most people aren't home to watch live coverage during the day. Personally, I even find it hard to watch tape delays of events I'm really interested in - especially if I already know the final results. And I just won't go around the office all day with my fingers in my ears bleating, "La la la la la la." to block out any spoilers that might be lurking in the break room.

Olympic swimmers are alien lifeforms

Speaking of busted coverage (that's right, the NFL and major college football seasons are almost here!!), Mediacom's onscreen programming guide shows blurbs about when specific events will be on; only, when I tune in at the appointed time, it's usually nothing remotely resembling what was advertised to be broadcast in that time slot. I still haven't been able to catch any of the women's soccer - not just the USA team's games - when the guides say they are being played. It's not rocket science: if you want people to watch, tell them when the events are on television. And then show them at that time on the correct channel!!!

Despite my inability to watch any of the Olympic events I truly wanted to see, I have been inundated with a stream of Olympic media. Here are a few observations from that onslaught:

  • LoLo Jones is a fine hurdler although there are some sour grapes out there (you know who you are) that think LoLo is the next coming of Anna Kournikova. Frankly, that's not even fair unless you consider the fact that Anna K won some major doubles championships, and was ranked number one in the world in doubles in 1999. She was also reached a career high singles ranking of 8 in 2000. Oh, and they're both very attractive. Stinks to be LoLo. Not.
  • Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete...ever. See? Potheads can be productive
  • Men's soccer...oh yeah, we didn't qualify. Gabon, a small country in West Africa with a total population of about 1.5 million did. Thanks a lot, Little League.
  • I recognized three things in the opening ceremonies: Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Craig and the Queen. There were peasants, an industrial revolution, some pretty fly special effects with fireworks made to look like molten iron. But the crazy plot line reminded me of a Stanley Kubrick story - good thing Matt and Meredith were there to narrate or I would've been completely lost!
  • Women in the Olympics were everywhere! A Saudi woman in judo, a lot of hyphenated beach volleyball players and, frankly, except for Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, women are all I've seen - gymnastics, swimming, diving, volleyball, more gymnastics, more swimming, more volleyball, beach volleyball, water polo, track, field...not that that's a bad thing but I heard someone complaining about women in the Olympics on the radio the other day. I don't see the reasoning.
  • And speaking of Usain Bolt, he's turning the marquee track events into WWE. Stop it!

Top Olympic moments so far, in no particular order:

  • Oscar Pistorius (RSA). Double amputee in the 400 meters; do his prosthetic legs help him or give him an unfair advantage?  I don't know, but unless they have nuclear power cells it's still his own muscle and coordination that allow him to run. Awesome job!
  • Gabby.
  • US Women vs. Canada (Soccer): Wow. I had the live text of this game on at work; it was exciting and I didn't even get to see it. Like War of the Worlds on the radio must've been.
  • US Women vs. Japan (Soccer): USA. Gold Medal. Hope Solo was a rock between the posts and Carli Lloyd was a female Messi. Epic! (Oh, and I couldn't even FIND the live text feed for this one until the second half and that was on some obscure web site. Thanks again NBC.

I have scored this many goals!

Alright, all things considered, the Olympics aren't that bad. I definitely appreciate the years of work that many of the athletes put in and the hardships they endure through training and qualification (excluding the likes of LeBron and co.).

And I'll continue to follow the action as haphazardly as NBC allows me to.

After all, I have to do something until the World Cup qualifying starts!

What are your thoughts on this, the XXX Olympiad?

X (just one)