Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Waiting for the Light Arisen

One of the big debates out there right now is how the children of American (a mighty fine country I might add) should be taught how we got here. There are two camps -- intelligent design, a modernist-PC term for Creationism, and then there is Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection. These two campus usually fall along political lines to...conservative christian republicans support the former while liberal left wing democrats support the latter. Where do forward thinking, educated, fairly-religious, middle-of-the line folks fall in line? I can tell you it isn't that easy.

Let's first look at Creationsim...err "intelligent design." This is what has pretty much been believe in for all of human civilization, minus the last 150 years. It doesn't matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Native, etc, there is always some creation story. Most of these involve some sort of higher power(s) that made the earth and everything we see. The question becomes whether this higher power exists or not? Obviously it started years ago with primitive man trying to rationalize how we got here. They must of had vivid imaginations to come up with a lot of these things. What is great about it is that there is a lot of overlap to these stories in different cultures.

Religion is a popular thing throughout the world. Wars have been (and will be) fought over different beliefs. People die for it. It is a billion-dollar industry that influences elections, government officials, and anyone who wins an award (athletes and rappers particularly). I'm glad I have religion in my life. I try to go to church every week and I find it a positive thing in my life to believe in a higher power. Now do I follow the letter of the law? No, but not many people do. I'm also not one to push religion on people -- we all have our own beliefs & non-beliefs and I respect that.

So what I (like others) have been told from early on is that God created the earth, the stars, all the plants & animals, and created humans in his likeness. Ok, it's worth a shot, sounds good to a 6-yr old. Oh yeah, he did this in 7 days. He must be pretty darn good to do all that in 7 days! He must be good, he is God afterall. So this (with other creation stories) is what we've had for most of our existence. Not a problem. But where is the proof for this? Hmmm...puts a damper on things.

Well in the 1800s along comes this Darwin fella. He traveled around the world and studied animals, fossil records, and other anthropological stuff and started questioning this. He's pretty smart and says that instead of us being created by this ever-powerful God, we evolved. We evolved from monkeys! Ha! us, from monkeys? You cannot be serious?! But he provided evidence to support this. So we have a theory and we have evidence to prove it. Great! Or maybe not.

As mentioned, religion has always been important to homo sapiens. You go ahead and try to change a belief system that has been going on for thousands of years. Not that easy. It's been 150 years since "The Origin of Species" and the theory is still be challenged and people refuse to accept it. This is mainly because they live in a binary world -- creationism or evolution...there is no inbetween. If they let go a little maybe they would see that both theories can coexist and you can believe in both. Because you know what? Both are pretty convoluted if you ask me.

First there is this concept of God who created everything in seven days. If you think about all the intricacies to this world and how complex it is, not to mention that technology has shown us that there is potential for other worlds such as ours, and in consequence the possibility of life out there, it can be hard to fathom. There are also the fossil records that show that life on Earth has been around for quite a while, a lot longer then any religious book would tell you. You start thinking about it rationally and yeah, it can be pretty hard to digest.

So then you look into this evolution thing. Where did we come from? Monkeys, but where did they come from? Primitive primates, but where did they come from? Reptiles, but where did they come from? Amphibians, but where did they come from? Fish, but where did they come from? Single cell organisms. So over millions of years we started out as one-celled organism and have evolved into the most complex machine ever, homo sapiens. Before you grasp this idea of us evolving from a one-celled organism, you have to ask, how did that get here? Well if you subscribe to the Big Bang theory you get this: all mass in the universe (all planets, stars, universes, etc) were together. Not only were they together, this ball of stuff was so dense that it was infinitely small, but held all that stuff. Then at one moment (for whatever reason), it exploded and we got to where we are today. To accept the 2nd theory, a lot of things had to go exactly right for this to happen. A LOT.

So when you think about it both of these can be pretty hard to rationalize. Which one is true? Which one to believe in? A little of both or something else entirely? That is up to us to decide. There is one thing I do konw -- however we got here, it is quite a special place, and among all those billions of stars and galaxies, we are the only ones out there. Pretty damn cool if you ask me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Dial it in from South of the Border

It was quite a weekend as I took a very quick trip to Monterrey, Mexico to visit the OFOMOL. The journey began thursday night as I attempted to go to bed at 8:00 as I was waking up at 2:00 to drive the 2+ hours to the Pittsburgh airport to catch my first flight at 5:45. It was also the opening game of the ALDS and the Indians were off to a nice start. I decided to tune the game in on the radio to lull me to sleep. I got the game but I got a bonus too -- I had the tones of one Tom Hamilton coming through my radio 270 miles from the source signal. Gotta love the 50000 Watts of The Big One. I didn't end up falling asleep until 10 but did get to hear the Tribe pound the Yankees.

2:00 AM came too soon but with a Monster engergy drink I was ready to go. The drive was pretty easy and I can say that driving between 2:30 and 4:30 AM allows you to drive pretty fast with minimal traffic. I got to the airport and began my journey from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Houston to Monterrey. I cleared customs (guess they didn't find the drugs on me) and saw the OFOMOL. It was great to see her and we took a taxi to downtown and to our hotel and then checked out the city a little. It's a nice city. She's not enjoying it that much but coming from rural WV, it is just nice to be in a city with people and stuff to do. You know? We went to a nice little taqueria that was religious-themed. Religion is readily present among Latinos and it was fun to order the John Paul II/Juan Pablo II. It was quite tasty.

We then went out and met-up with her classmates. It was nice to meet the people she had been talking about as we had some drinks at a little bar. I was pushing being awake for 22 hours and was getting weary, even after 2 red bull & vodkas. The gang decided to hit up a club and we (OFOMOL & I) decided to only stay for a short time. We walk in and I hear "Bone" by the Killers. OK, good song, but the Killers are pretty popular so I'm not that surprised. We got our beers and I realized that the DJ was playing some kick-ass songs. The playlist was incredibly fulfilling and surprising as I wouldn't expect those songs in most clubs in the US, let alone Monterrey, Mexico. Some of the songs I remembered hearing:
Hot Hot Heat -- Talk to Me, Dance with Me
Radiohead -- Idioteque (live)
Morrissey -- First of the Gang to Die
The Strokes -- Last Night
Franz Ferndinand -- Take Me Out
The Smiths -- Bigmouth Strikes Again(?)
Blind Melon -- No Rain
Sublime -- One of their songs
Mika -- Love Today
Queen -- Bohemian Rhapsody

I was uber-impressed and if I ever end up back in Monterrey, I'll hit up that place again. What suprised me even more is that all the Mexicans were into the songs too and sang along to all of them. And the fact that they played both Morrissey and the Smiths in the short time we were there just confirms Latino's obsession with the Mozzer himself.

Saturday we had an opportunity to check out the city and spend time together. We had a nice mexican huevos racheros, but still good. We visited her campus and coincidentally there was a swim meet going on that weekend. It is a nice school and working in education, I like comparing campuses. We checked out the city -- the various buildings, museums, etc and took a walk on their new riverwalk. It was just nice to be with her and spend time together. We both realize how easier things are between us when we are physically together. Even though I was there for less then 48 hours, it was worth it and if I had the time and money I would do it again.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding

The story so far: Our hero [that's me folks] has embarked on a 7-week trip to Germany in the summer of aught-seven to spend with his girlfriend of [now} 2-years, the OFOMOL. They have spent time in crappy Pforzheim and visited Strasbourg, France. They are back in Dresden.

We were invited to a wedding of a friend of the OFOMOL in Berlin. They were in the same undergraduate program and she was getting married to an American with the same name as me! Pretty crazy! So we took the train (have I mentioned how much I love travelling by train?) to Berlin. We had already done the tourist trip there last summer so we didn't need to see all the sights. While on the train, slightly before we arrived in Berlin, the OFOMOL asked if I needed to use the bathroom. The rational of this is that when we got to Berlin the bathrooms in the main station would charge to use the bathrooms. It has been documented here before how much I HATE this concept of paying for the bathroom. It ain't right! I didn't need to use the bathroom (at the time) and sat contently as we rolled into Berlin.

We arrive and we stop at the OFOMOL's favorite coffee shop, Starbucks. I am working (slowly but surely) on learning more German and I felt comfortable enough to order our drinks in German. I do this and feel proud of myself and then the barista says "seven eruos please." D'oh! I work hard to talk in German and she speaks English back to me! Not only that she asked for my name twice (for our order) and when it arrived they called out "Paul" (which certainly isn't my name). They were supposed to be two medium (no Starbucks sizes for me) vanilla lattes but I know my tasted like it was sans-vanilla. Oh well, we took the cups for Paul and were on our way.

Then (maybe it was the coffee, it is a diuretic) I realize that nature is calling and I will need to use said bathrooms in the main station. I mention this to my beautiful girlfriend and she says "oh no, I told you to go on the train!" and rightfully so, she raises her voice and tells me I am a little kid. Probably because she told me to go and I didn't and she knows how much I hate paying for the bathroom. OK Ok, she gets over it but tells me I have to pay for the bathroom. I get my money out and realize I don't have enough money and must borrow some from her to use the bathroom. Oh the irony!

So we make our way to one of the suburbs outside of Berlin to attend the Poltabend. I would say this is a bit analogous to the rehearsal dinner for American weddings, but it was so much more. Since the groom is American his family and some of his friends came over. After a couple of weeks in Germany it was nice to converse with Americans. The food was great! Fresh grilled wurst, steaks, all sorts of salads, and of course plenty of German beer! But that wasn't all! After dinner we gathered around near the door to the house. Everyone was supposed to bring some sort of ceramic plate/dishware. All the guests then throw the plates/etc on the ground near the door. The belief is that the noise of the glass breaking will scare away the ghosts (polt, ie poltergeist) the night (abend) before the wedding. The OFOMOL's mother gave us a stack of plates to take -- I thought it was excessive, that was until I broke a plate! It was pretty cool. I mean, really, how often do you get to break plates on purpose? Everyone had fun doing it. That is not all though as before the bride and groom get married, the have to clean up the glass into some container. Anyone, however, can go and dump the shards(sp?) of glass out at anytime. So as the bride and groom were shovelling the glass into a wheelbarrow a couple of times someone would go and flip it over and they had to start over again. There are stories of people dumping it out in the middle of the night and on the steps of the church so they have to clean it up before the ceremony! It was a really good time and it is something that can definitely be incorporated into an American Wedding.

The wedding itself was heald in a little vacation area. There was a lake, horseback riding and the place we were staying had unfinished wood. Gives it that cabin/rustic feel to it. The big difference between American and German weddings is that they have to be conducted by an offical person who does weddings. Church weddings are not recognized legally in Germany. While the ceremony was nice (it was outside), it had a bit of a regimented feel to it. The rest of the stuff was like any other wedding I've been to. Well there was a lot of crappy Euro/German-pop music -- even the natives complained about the song selection.

One aspect that is unique to German Weddings is the kidnapping of the bride. Since we were on a lake, a group of people took the bride out on a boat in the middle of the lake. The DJ started playing the music from Pirates of the Caribbean and the groom was like "hey! What's going on?" He promptly grabbed his best man (yet another American married to a German) and they rowed out to save his bride. Upon rescuing her and returning to shore he said "I saved the flag" as they had an American flag and then stated "and I found this girl." Hehe.

I know I've written a lot for tonight, but it was a fun time. As I mentioned before, I like experiencing these different cultural things. Since dating her, I've come to appreciate the differences we all have.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Take a Break Driver 8

Chapter II where we find our hero and his girlfriend travelling to Strasbourg, France.

Being close to France we decided to take a day trip to Strasbourg. Now if you haven't been to Europe, trains are a great and efficient way to travel. Especially in Germany, the Deutsche Bahn does a great job. Now I've never ridden Amtrak but aside from the east coast, I believe that train travel in this country is a joke. After several experiences with the trains in Germany, I can say I enjoy train travel (must more over air) and wish we had a better system here.

Well we did run into a slight problem with the DB. Apparently the drivers/employees were on strike that week, well sort of. Instead of being on complete strike, they just refused to start working until 9am. Now I am no labor expert but I thought the point of a strike is to refuse to do your work until your demands are met. If you are providing a service (driving trucks, teaching kids, trains) and go on strike it disrupts yhe business and puts the employer in a corner to keep business going. Ergo, you are more likely to have your needs met. To me this seemed like a half-assed strike and only caused minor problems.

Because of this strike we were delayed for a good hour and a half and spent some quality time in Offenberg. Eventually we did make it to France. Unfortunately because of the EU, I did not get my passport stamped in France, oh well, c'est la vie. Strasbourg is a nice little city although it was a little chilly and we were faced with off & on rain throughout the day. We did see the cathedral. It is unique in that it should have two steeples, but they never finished the one side. So it looks a little funny and you can see where the 2nd steeple should go. Now all these cathedrals in Europe are great. They are huge and several hundreds years old and have a lot history to them. After seeing a few of them I can say that if you've seen one Gothic cathedral, you've seen them all. We were going to go to one of the art museums there but apparently it was closed on tuesdays. I should have known this as I took 3 years of French 12-14 years ago.

Instead of the museum we took a boat trip around the city. We got to see a lot of the historical sections and they took us past the European Parliament which is located in Strasbourg. As the weather was pretty crappy we did take the opportunity to go to the city museum. It had just reopened in the past week and featured a lot of interactive stuff. I enjoyed the museum as I have a soft side for all this historical stuff...never mind that I couldn't read anything. In the museum there was a little video session we saw, although since it was in French neither of us understood it and we wondered why we sat there for 10 min to watch the video.

Then we went to dinner. Since we were in France I had to try escargot. The snails were served with a very-garlic butter sauce. I wasn't too impressed and they were rather chewy. I would say they are similar to mussels, but not as good. Though the OFOMOL has had them before and said that the ones we had were not very good. I also had a beer from a brewery that was founded in the 11th century. The 11th century!!! We have no idea what the natives were doing here in the 11th century but in Europe they were brewing beer.

It was a nice experience. Yeah the weather could have been better but I can say that I have visited France. As a side note, the OFOMOL is travelling to Mexico tomorrow for a semester in Monterrey. Please wish her safe travels.

Coming Tomorrow: the joys of a German wedding

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Far Away From West Virginia

I am back in the states. I've been back for about two weeks but I've just found time to put up a new post. Hopefully all my readers are not totally kaput. I had a great summer spending 7 weeks in Germany/Europe. I can tell you that it was an amazing time. It isn't always easy being in an intercontinental long-distance relationship but we know that when we are together, we have a wonderful time and life is pretty much perfect. I can say without reservations that it was the best 7 weeks and the best summer I have ever had. We made lots of memories we will take with us for the rest of our lives. We did so much to include in one post, so I'll take the next couple of days to describe some of the experiences we had.

We spent the first 10 days or so in Pforzheim where she is in school. The OFOMOL doesn't think too highly of this city, but considering where I live, I had no problem with it. I flew into Frankfurt and had to take the train there. She met me in Karlsruhe and I had no idea where to find her. I got off the train and saw, out of the corner of my eye, someone running directly to me. What a great reunion it was.

I had a chance to meet most of her classmates. She is in an international business program so there are students from all over -- Germany (of course), Romania, USA, Belarus, Sudan, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Columbia, Turkey, and Lithuania. I think I got most of the countries. They are a nice group of people and I do appreciate being exposed to other cultures.

The first friday there I did do a 10K Race, the Citylauf Pforzheim. It has been quite awhile since I have run competitively and I thought I would be able to handle it but it kicked my ass. It was a 2K loop that we ran five times. I got passed by the top-guys during my 2nd loop (ie they were on their 3rd) and on my 3rd loop my legs were really starting to feel it. It became a battle of wanting to finish and keep my legs moving rather then try to do well. I finished with a stellar time of 52 minutes. Back in the day (18 months ago) I ran sub-36. But it was nice to get back into the running thing and I was treated to a very-tasty doner afterwards.

We also took a trip to the Daimler Benz Museum. That was pretty cool and I had a good time there. It is one of those interactive museums where you could spend hours in. There was a lot of history to the company. Some of the highlights include a Mercedes garbage truck in which I got to sit in and the Popemobile. As the Daimler Museum is in Stuttgart which is special in the fact that it has one of the American food places that the OFOMOL loves; that's right, Starbucks. Upon her insistence we stopped there for a coffee.

As Pforzheim is close to France, we did take a day trip to Strssbourg. The details of that trip will be addressed in the next post.