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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Evolution of Life and Environment on Planet Earth (and Beyond)

As I have done after my previous three semesters in the Golden ID program, I have been reviewing my lecture notes and the text book for Geology 124.  The amount of material relating to both the physical and the biological sciences was significant but it was not all heavy.  How to cook rice, for example, was discussed (don’t stir it) as was the formation of soap bubbles and that shower curtains are a good environment for cyanobacteria.

For me, the course was ultimately about the growth of human knowledge about the universe around us.  The daily expansion of that knowledge was demonstrated by the discussions of the discoveries by the MSL Rover on Mars.  The class featured hands- on participation in observing and describing rocks on a field trip around campus and also by the collection of our hair samples for isotopic analysis.  From that data, students were required to create a hypothesis concerning “you are what you eat.”

Also stressed was the importance of the continued questioning of scientific hypotheses by identifying past hypotheses that took many years before general acceptance (such as continental drift) or a hypothesis that was recently created (such as snowball earth) which is now doubted by many.  A possible flaw in the most important biological hypothesis in history, evolution, was identified by its creator, Charles Darwin.  That possible flaw was eventually resolved by technical advances in microscopes, but Darwin had the intellectual honesty to first raise the question himself.

As someone whose last previous college course in science was during the Lyndon Johnson administration, I sometimes looked around at the young students and wondered what they would remember 45 years from now about Geology 124.  My bet would be that they will remember a lot.

 

Monday, December 17, 2012

"They're all our children"


"...we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.  This is our first task — caring for our children.  It’s our first job.  If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.  That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. 

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?  Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?  Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return?  Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?..."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I kind of like this dead tree

I walk by it almost every day and each time I tell myself I should photograph it...




...and today I did.




It's on the shallow west end of the pond, shown not prominently in the center of the picture below.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Another warm winter?

Early December and the weather is in the 60s.  Tomorrow the 70's.

Are mild winters like last year's and the seemingly increasing numbers of violent storms indications that warnings of global climate change are correct?  Not necessarily.  These are short term weather variances in one geographic area while climate is longer term and global climate is, well, global.  It's not those of us experiencing weather changes, but the climate scientists who look at all the data and draw their conclusions about global climate change.  An overwhelming number believe that it is changing and that this change has been especially drastic since the Industrial Revolution.  They could be wrong, and I hope they are but they're probably not.  Industrialization in the US and everywhere else is not going to be reversed, so I have no idea how this trend would be corrected.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Late season fishing summary

In the past few weeks I've made a couple of trips to the pond and caught bream both times.  The first time I caught about three and the latest trip, Monday, I caught one.

I've also done out for trout twice.  The first trip was to the Little Patuxent where I caught a couple of fallfish.  On the other trip to Morgan Run on Tuesday, I caught nothing.  My waders were leaking when I found some rising fish, and I was getting somewhat uncomfortable by the time I realized there was a hatch of small, black stoneflies.  I have some patching to do of the leak.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Conference of the Birds

Yesterday afternoon I attended an excellent jazz concert at the University of Maryland which featured performances by two of the professors in their jazz program within the music department. The concert was appropriately titled "The Jazz Professors" and was as educational as it was entertaining.

Before each number, one of the professors would give a short talk about the piece, the composer, and the significance to the history of the music. The pieces were performed in more or less chronological sequence beginning with Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues", a song probably about a hundred years old.

One of the last songs on the program was composed by bassist Dave Holland in 1972, and I listened to that album often in those years. Although until yesterday I probably haven't heard it in 30 years, I always found the melody of "Conference of the Birds" so haunting I can summon it into my mind's ear anytime. It was a real treat to hear it live.

Link to listen to the original.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Camille Paglia, Johnny Cash, and Johann Sebastian Bach

When I awoke yesterday morning, my wife strongly recommended that I listen to an interview with Camille Paglia, the controversial commentator on art, politics, and anything else that strikes her fancy, so I accepted the ear bud to her MP3 player and listened while in bed.  Among other comments, Paglia criticized art academics for their secular humanist scorn for anything religious.  Although herself a skeptic of traditional religion, Paglia maintains that religious fervor has produced some of the greatest art in history and to dismiss it is to lose something vital in Western Civilization.  I can't say that her words influenced how I had planned to spend my day, but when I returned home in the evening I reflected how my day contained significant doses of both art and religion.

After my morning geology class and lunch at the Student Union, I walked to the Clarice Smith Center and there I listened to a brief mid-day concert of Bach's NUN Komm, Der Heiden Heiland BWV 61 inspired by passages from The Gospel of Matthew and other parts of the New Testament.  "Music's only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit"  Bach once said, and while I don't know if any Creator felt glorified, I felt my spirit uplifted by the voices and the instruments.




In the foreground below is one of the featured soloists.  That most of the performers were in their regular street clothes made the event casual, as if an interlude of beautiful music should be a normal part of the weekday.



For a version of this work click here

After that I proceeded to the campus Art Gallery for the new exhibit "What It Is, What It Was:  Music Video As Art."  When I was a young man in the photographic industry, there was general agreement that combining rock music with visual images was going to be big, but when MTV arrived I was disappointed with the quality of the short films being created for the music and haven't watched many of these videos over the years.  I never even got around to watching a widely praised one by one of my favorite singers, Johnny Cash, although it's been around now for ten years.  I got my chance yesterday because Johnny Cash's "Hurt" is one of the videos chosen to be projected wall size as part of the exhibit.  Ms. Paglia would have approved because Christian imagery is a major component and is appropriate because Cash was an intensely religious man.


To watch this video, click here

Radiohead, R.E.M., Tom Waits, Kanye West and other recording artists are also featured in the exhibit.  I spent about an hour there and plan to return.  It's art as far as I'm concerned and worth serious looks and listenings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Backyard Maple Tree






















Not all trees reach their seasonal peak at the same time.





Farmers' Market



There are a number of good ones nearby, but we go most often to Takoma Park.





We went yesterday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's the time of year when the view changes daily...







 These were taken three days ago on a walk in the park.  The view today would be quite different as Hurricane Sandy moves in.













Saturday, October 27, 2012

Field trip to the Smithsonian

Our geology class took the subway today from College Park into DC to the Natural History Museum.

The professor is placing a standard geological scale on some petrified wood next to the outside steps:


Inside he's showing us a depiction of what the earliest life forms on earth are believed to look like:


The students and the professor gather out on the Mall to prepare to return to campus:



Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A fine morning on the Chesapeake

Yesterday I met my friend Greg at his marina in Deale, Maryland, and we fished some of his nearby spots on his 17 foot Boston Whaler.



Naturally, he caught more fish, but I was happy with the steady action I was getting using a fly rod.  We were catching undersized rock fish but then got in to some sizable white perch which excited Greg because they're his favorite eating fish.  Even so, he generously gave me all the fish after he did all the fileting:



After finishing, we had sandwiches and beer at the local spot between his home and the marina.  Greg is good company and a fine fisherman who understands the benefits of learning the workings of a local environment.




Monday, October 15, 2012

Clarence at 3 months




We added him two weeks ago and named him for the late saxophonist from the E Street Band.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Music and Writing

"Some writers are curiously unmusical. I don’t get it. I don’t get them. For me, music is essential. I always have music on when I’m doing well. Writing and music are two different mediums, but musical phrases can give you sentences that you didn’t think you ever had."

I quoted the late Barry Hannah's words in a post on February 22 of this year, and last Sunday's NY Times contains an article by Oregon writer Aaron Gilbreath which presents a specific example.  Gilbreath explains how he learned concision and economy of style from listening to jazz trumpeter Miles Davis' music from his middle period.  Like most post-WWII jazz musicians, Davis was heavily influenced by the great saxophonist Charlie Parker, but by the late 1950's he had transitioned to a leaner style that "rather than squeezing as many notes and changes into solos as possible, Davis dispensed with clutter and ornamentation and pared his mode of expression down to one defined as much by the notes and phrases he played as by the silences left between them."

Gilbreath goes on to give samples of writing which reflects a similar economy but an economy of words rather than musical notes.  He believes this brevity strengthens the writing by  implying rather than stating directly, thus inviting the reader to speculate which tightens the bond between author and reader.  I'm not familiar with the authors he cites, Abigail Thomas and Tony Earley, but the passages quoted are certainly sparse yet powerful.

He contrasts these minimalists with what he calls maximalists like Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac, and says that he thinks young readers are particularly drawn to their "flamboyant displays" of prose.  The thought reminded me of the long ago advice of an English professor I mentioned in this blog on July 27, 2011.  This professor recommended reading Thomas Wolfe when we were young because otherwise we wouldn't read him at all.  At the time I thought this was a reference to Wolfe's (who died young) self-centered, arrogant yet vulnerable young protagonists and their point of view, but now I think I think the professor may have meant the extravagance of Wolfe's writing style.  I've sometimes thought that if I tried reading Wolfe again I'd get bogged down by the repetition of his lyrical passages and be thinking, "ok, ok, get on with it."

Gilbreath is dead on in his descriptions of the music of Miles Davis, and I too prefer his style of the late 50's and early 60's as demonstrated on the classic album Kind of Blue which should be issued to every American high school student.  It would strengthen and enrich us as a country if this were done.

 For further reading go here.