Cautious optimism …

April 23, 2012

We are two weeks into the 2012 season, and the doom and gloom that was predicted to be the White Sox season has not yet materialized.  Tonight, the Sox push their winning streak (on the road, on the West Coast) to 4 games after sweeping the Mariners and winning the opener of a series in Oakland.  Throw in

* Jake Peavy opening up 3-0 with a nonexistent WHIP and just adding a complete game win.

* Adam Dunn is not sucking.  Really … he isn’t!

* A.J. Pierzynski is off to a hot start (standing at and squatting behind the plate)

* Paul Konerko is off to a great start.

* We have almost (almost) forgotten the non-existent season Alex Rios  had last year.

*And, uhhh … Phillip Humber did a thing.

Throw in the Cubs dedicating their season to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic by collectively sinking like 46 tons of twisted, hulking steel into the cold depths of the National League Central.  Word is the new Cubs management will be holding a special day where Bill Paxton will pass through the stands looking for a lost diamond.  At least in baseball, things are well.

Keep going Robin’s batmen!


Way cool sonic boom!

April 18, 2012

I haven’t talked physics in a long time, so now’s as good a time as any.

The video below is a demonstration of sonic booms.  It is really nice, and shows some condensation clouds created by planes nearing the speed of sound.  Folks of seen this before.

One additional neat thing:  the video shows that as light enters the pressure wave, and refracts, one can see an effect similar in many ways to a desert mirage … except that it will move away from the aircraft along with the wave.  It is at the end of the video, and I thought it was pretty cool!


Time for life to renew, time for a new year to begin

April 6, 2012

Renewal means second (or third or fourth) chances ….

One of the oldest stories about this in Western literature is the story of Sir Percival.  Percival was raised in the woods (despite a noble birth), until one day in his teenage years he saw some of Arthur’s knight decked out in all their glory and wanted to be all that.  He proved himself worthy, and was given a seat at the Round Table.

Percival’s one main adventure is tied to the lore of the Holy Grail.  In the earliest stories of Arthur and the Grail, it is Percival who finds the Fisher King and the Grail at his castle, because only he among the many great knight was virtuous enough.  The Fisher King, the keeper of the Grail, is a crippled man, and can only be restored to health help if a most virtuous visitor asks a particular series of questions about the Grail.  Percival leaves without doing this, only to discover later that he could have helped the generous king.  He then spends time trying to find his way back to the castle and fulfilling his duty the second time.

Interestingly, as time went on, Percival got knocked down the list of important knights by authors writing the legends of Arthur and Camelot.  Instead, Galahad got promoted to the role of “grail Knight”, and Percival was some lowly assistant.  However, the idea of “Second chances” is a powerful story … and Percival continues to inspire with his story.  Richard Wagner wrote the opera Parsifal based on Percival’s story.  The 1991 film The Fisher King puts Robin Williams in the role of Percival set in modern day America.

But when it comes to really tying the story of Percival to the idea of renewal, Bernard Malamud did it the best.

In Malamud’s novel, Percival is a young boy named Roy Hobbes who is a gifted athlete, but gives in to temptation, and is seriously wounded, and is unable to finish his mission to become a professional athlete.

16 years later, a team called the Knights is being run by a coach named Pops Fisher … a man who has never won a championship (his wound), and his team is mired in last place.  Roy is signed as a 30 something rookie (his second chance), and goes about trying to win games, which he does with prodigious, near miraculous hitting and a little magic.  The rest o the novel is mired in scandals and getting Hobbes to throw games … in fact, the novel ends with him failing to get the game winning hit, and Pop’s dreams fading away.

That book was The Natural … and when Robert Redford came along to film it, they changed the ending.  In the finale, Percival does lose his magic bat, but then realizes that his true power is his virtue … his inner strength …  It is one of the most beautifully choreographed endings in film history.

Today is Opening Day, and while the prospects for the coming year aren’t very good, Opening Day is a day of perpetual hope!*  I mean, the last time the White Sox hired a manager who was a former player who played the left side of the infield, we were convinced nothing good would come of it.  We were so, so wrong.  It is a day of renewal and celebration of something that is a thread woven through the fabric of a collective history.  It reminds us that no matter the ugliness of the  world, there is something elegant and beautiful that goes away in the increasing darkness and cold of autumn … but that one day in Spring as warmth and the light return … it is back.  Even if I don’t get to see a game, I know it is there, and that is comforting.

Last year, I approached Opening Day as I contemplated turning 40.  I can say it turned out to be one of my better birthdays, but in last year’s post, I quoted from A. Bart Giamatti’s beautiful essay on baseball, and I feel compelled to leave a link here so you can go back and read it …









* Promise of perpetual hope not valid for fans of the Chicago Cubs.  Number 104 is coming this year.  The only constant in the universe is change, but some things in the universe change very, very slowly.  Live with it!

Another end run around evolution: child soldiers

April 3, 2012


Tennessee … the same state that nearly a century ago convicted a biology teacher for teaching science is gettning ready to make the latest attempt to turn science classrooms into something less than scientific.

The new law recently passed the Tennessee General Assembly (with the governor has said he will likely sign it), gives protection to teachers who permit students from speaking out against “controversial” ideas in science, such as evolution, global warming, gravity, geologic time, vaccinations, etc.  This is interesting on a few levels.

1.  The bill does not in anyway alter the curriculum.  It also does not explicitly add any religious doctrines like intelligent design or political ones like global warming denialism.

2.  The bill inherently parallels the prescribed duties of teachers:  protect students, especially if they are representing a minority opinion (with minority being interpreted very loosely here).

Given the history of folks who have in the past tried to infiltrate schools with arguments against various scientific ideas, you can be assured that there will be training manuals given to students on how to invoke the law to grandstand a class and subtly introduce religion while disrupting the class.

Generally speaking, if a student tries to disrupt the class by framing the disruption as a debate on the topic at hand while really proselytizing to the class, the teacher is (in most states) required to cut off the debate, and, if needed, remove the student. the Tennessee bill would allow teachers to allow students to continue proselytizing without risk of retribution.  In the cases of teachers who oppose evolution (or any other theory), this gives them the opportunity to introduce a religious side to the argument, without any fear of legal retribution.

Oh … while Tennessee has a tenure law for teachers, it is so ridiculously easy to strip it that, for all intent and purpose, it doesn’t exist.  Any teacher who now would oppose allowing these students to speak, run the risk of getting below average evaluations and losing their tenure.