What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?

24 05 2015

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?

Quite often I think about a Charlie Brown special I saw when I was in my mid-teens, in 1983. It’s designed to continue the story of the film, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!), and commemorates some of the events of World War I and World War II.

Linus quotes John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. I find it nearly as moving as the recitation of Luke 2 in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Periodically, I’ve searched Amazon, hoping that this had been released on DVD or better (the only consumer release was on VHS video). It’s finally coming this fall, as part of Peanuts: The EMMY Honored Collection (DVD)!

Sadly, the as-I-recall-excellent Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!! is still, apparently, only available on used VHS.





Android v. iPhone

5 05 2015

Spock, from Star Trek, looking incedulous, with a caption that reads, 'When an iPhone user sees you drop a fresh battery into your ’droid.'





The Lord YOUR God

13 11 2014

But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” (Gen 27:20, ESV)

(Image: Isaac Blessing Jacob, Govert Flinck, oil on canvas, 1638, currently in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.)

(Image: Isaac Blessing Jacob, Govert Flinck, oil on canvas, 1638, currently in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.)

I find the specific choice of words, “the LORD your God” to be troubling, especially as a parent.

I want my children to have a personal faith of their own. I don’t want them to think of the Lord as “That God my dad worships.”

Actually, I want them to have a more real, personal faith than I had at their ages—living and tempered by both love and righteousness, by faith and reason.

It would be quite a long time before Jacob could truly call the Lord his own God, not merely that of his father.





The Scale of the Solar System (or, the Solar System to Scale)

11 10 2014

“Space,” [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen …

Inspired by this NASA Web page, and Miss Sarah’s work-related interest in space science (too bad she spent all those years not reading science fiction), we decided to lay out our solar system in a manageable scale, complete with to-scale outlines of each planet.

Naomi plants herself just outside the orbit of Mars.
(Naomi plants herself just outside the orbit of Mars.)

Here are the scale sizes and distances, along with the real distances.

Body Diameter (mm) Avg. Distance
(yards)
Distance (in) Avg. Distance
in AUs
km miles
Sun 17.00 0.0 0.0 0.0 0 0
Mercury 0.06 0.8 28.8 0.4 58,000,000 35,000,000
Venus 0.15 1.4 50.4 0.7 108,000,000 67,000,000
Earth 0.16 2.0 72.0 1.0 150,000,000 93,000,000
Mars 0.08 3.0 108.0 1.5 228,000,000 142,000,000
(Asteroids) 0.00 4.0 to 8.0 144.0 to 288.0 2.0 to 4.0 450,000,000 279,000,000
Jupiter 1.75 10.5 378.0 5.2 778,000,000 484,000,000
Saturn 1.47 19.0 684.0 9.5 1,427,000,000 887,000,000
Uranus 0.62 38.0 1,368.0 19.0 2,871,000,000 1,784,000,000
Neptune 0.60 60.0 2,160.0 30.0 4,498,000,000 2,795,000,000
Pluto (avg) 0.03 79.0 2,844.0 39.5 5,906,000,000 3,670,000,000
Voyager 1 See http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/where/ 128.9 19,287,178,000 11,984,000,000
Voyager 2 for current locations of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. 105.8 15,761,118,000 9,793,000,000

Isaac and Naomi lay out the inner planets.
Isaac and Naomi lay out the inner planets.

I’ve made a Google Sheets spreadsheet with this data publicly available, here.

You can also grab and print this Acrobat/PDF file which has the sun and planets to the same scale as the planetary distances: planets_to_scale.pdf. At this scale, the sun is only 17 mm in diameter, Jupiter is tiny, and the inner planets are nearly invisible.

tiny_planets

DSCN3009
(“It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere, I’m all alone, more or less …”)

Now, are you ready to have your mind blown?

Our nearest neighboring star is a binary star, Alpha Centauri. It would be, if we could see it from the northern hemisphere. It’s about 4.3 light years (271,930.8 AUs; 25,277,549,200,000 miles; 40,680,272,100,000 km) away.

At the scales we’re dealing with, how far away do you think Alpha Centauri would be?

Think carefully. When you’re sure, follow this link for the answer.

Space … is … big.





Diligence

4 04 2014

I want to brag a little bit about Naomi.

Naomi's Five-Pocket Poster for her project on Annalee Thorndike

Naomi’s Five-Pocket Poster for her project on Annalee Thorndike

This is the finished result of a multi-week school project. It’s called a “Five Pocket Project,” and has a number of interesting features, but that’s not what this is about.

On Tuesday, after a full day of school and two hours of dance classes, NaNi got out her zipped organizer binder to work on her project, and was distressed to discover that all the work from her project was missing. She looked everywhere, and made phone calls, and thought carefully, but was resigned to the fact that she wouldn’t find the work: The questions she had to answer for the biographical part of the project, and all the research she’d already done were gone. I expected she’d find it the next day in school, but she never did.

That evening she started rebuilding her research, getting the questions-to-be-answered from a classmate by phone, and digging in to the unpleasant task of redoing the significant research she’d already completed.

She continued this Wednesday evening.

Thursday was a long day. She had a full day of school, then an after-school dress rehearsal for the school Variety Show, then 2 1/2 hours of dance. Getting home at 8:30 last night, she dug right into the work, as the project was due this morning.

And work she did. There weren’t enough hours to make up everything she’d lost in a reasonable manner, but that didn’t stop her. She took small breaks to eat, but stayed at the task, finishing the research questions and biographical data first, and then moving on to the already-mostly-complete artistic portion of the project.

She did all this without a single complaint or whine, or even the loss of a smile.

When I gave up and went to bed at 12:30 am, she was still at it. I think she finished around 1:00. She set her alarm for a little later than usual, but still early enough to get up, make some last minute adjustments to the poster, get dressed, and get out to the bus on time.

I am very proud of her.





Racism: Things Really Have Changed

3 03 2014

Racism has always shocked me. When I was 7 I was astounded to hear a neighbor declare, “Randy’s father doesn’t like black people.” I can’t remember how old I was before I understood what the “N word” employed as a quotation in a comic book adaptation of The Cross and the Switchblade meant, because I had never heard the word. In my family, thanks to my parents, racism simply wasn’t employed, ever.

One of the things I am proud of with my own children is that they don’t “get” racism. I tried watching one of the few sports films I like—Remember the Titans—with them a few years ago, and it was meaningless. The main point of the drama’s racial tension went completely over their heads, as they had no context for it.

It is very rare now for racism to intrude on my life, and it still surprises me. In Florida, I overheard someone claim that a recent increase in drug problems in the local area were all due to blacks. I laughed, though, when, the next morning, a photo of the two major drug dealers in the town was on the front page after a sting operation had gone down: They were both most certainly Caucasian.

Over time, though, with so few reminders of our country’s very racist past, I’ve tended to minimize it, much like Louis CK explains in his appearance with Jay Leno.

Then I read this week’s “Honorary Unsubscribe” in the “This Is True” newsletter to which I subscribe. It tells the story of Lee Lorch, who passed away last week. Give it a read.

Due to his stand for equality, Lorch, a Jewish mathematician:

  • He was fired from his teaching position at City College of New York
  • He was fired from Pennsylvania State University
  • While at Fisk University (a historically black school), he argued (but failed) to prevent a meeting of the Mathematical Association of America from being, as per policy, “Whites only”
  • He was ordered to testify at the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he directly denied being a Communist, and then refused to answer questions about his politics, citing the First (not Fifth) Amendment to the Constitution. This got him indicted, and tried (but acquitted) for contempt of Congress, and then fired from Fisk.
  • While at a Black College in Little Rock, he and his wife volunteered to help escort the Little Rock Nine to school, earning them numerous death threats, and leading them to move to Canada.

This is greatness. Not winning an Oscar, not being elected to office, not amassing wealth …

May I be so determined to fight, and live, for what is right.





Not a Prayer

18 09 2013
When no prayer finds my lips,
And Your blows crush me to the earth,
And the light from above cannot illuminate 
The mire of my sorrow,

Then
   in my torment,
   in my lament,
   in the despair of my soul,

You begin to find me,
Though blackness remains.

(I was inspired to poetry during the Michael Card concert, and jotted this down. It is reminiscent of the utter blackness of what happened 3 years ago, and, thus, autobiographical, but not recent.)





Live Free!

7 03 2013
Yep, that about sums up the political differences.

Yep, that about sums up the political differences.

Historical note: These quotations are from the Nemo Blizzard, February 8, 2013.





Imponderably Improbable

5 03 2013

This weekend’s This American Life program was entitled, “No Coincidence, No Story,” and featured a huge selection of fascinating short stories.

Life is full of coincidences, but I’ve never experienced one that seems more improbable than this:

In 1995, I was visiting the Rondon family in the Dominican Republic, and spent some time looking through their library. A book that caught my eye was, La Ira del Tirano, a book by Miguel Guerrero, about the assassination attempt Trujillo (a truly “wonderful” dictator) made against the then-president of Venezuela, Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello, who had the nerve to support democracy in Latin America.

The Rondon children explained that Guerrero was a friend of the family, and I borrowed the book to read to improve my relatively meager Spanish skills. (It would take me years to get through, but it was, eventually, helpful.)

Later that day, I was passing about a quarter hour of free time when the kids were watching television together, the only time in a full week in which the television was on. They had tuned to the Nickelodeon channel, and a filler program was running, showing on-the-spot interviews conducted with random visitors to Universal Studios, Florida.

In those few minutes of time, among the thousands of visitors to Universal Studios that day, at the only moments we were actually watching television, who was selected for an interview but the book’s author, Miguel Guerrero himself!

Imponderably improbable.





God Is Born

24 12 2012

Around Christmas, I always think about my favorite Christmas hymn: “God is Born” (“Bóg się rodzi”). I’ve only got one recording of it in English, on an old cassette entitled “An English Christmas.” It is the National Christmas Hymn in Poland, where it originated. Here’s what I’ve been able to transcribe from the English version I have:

“God is Born”

God is born and night is shaken
He the Heaven’s King lies naked.
The living Word knows brightness darkened,
He the Limitless takes limit.
Born disdained yet worship given,
Mortal, yet the Lord eternal.
Now indeed the Word made flesh
Has come on earth to dwell among us.

What hast thou, O Heaven better,
God abandoned thy perfection?
Here to share the trial and sorrow
Of His poor, beloved people.
Suffered much and suffered dearly,
For we all were guilty sinners,
Now indeed the Word made flesh
Has come on earth to dwell among us.

Born into a common stable,
He is cradled in a manager.
How then tell me what surrounds you
Hay and peace and simple shepherds.
You were ones who had the honor
Him to greet, and kings came bowing.
Now indeed the Word made flesh
Has come on earth to dwell among us.

I love the old hymns that are filled with such great doctrine. (So much of our modern popular and sacred music is vacuous—or at best superficial—by comparison.) Here the subject is the Incarnation: God the Son lowering Himself to become one of us. Wow!

Have a listen: