NPR miscellany #7: opening blind eyes

I heard a fascinating story this morning on NPR Morning Edition about a man whose blindness was corrected by doctors, but who still can’t see very well. As it turns out (and this really should come as no surprise), sight not only depends on hardware (your eyeballs) but has a pretty significant software component as well (neuron pathways in the brain). This man had lost his sight at the age of three, and, by the time it was restored at age 43, he had lost many of the neuron pathways necessary to drive the sight experience. Based on his hardware, he should have 20/20 vision, but, because of the state of his brain, he can make out only vague shapes and movement, but no detail. To really cure blindness, it turns out, we’ll need to figure out how to restore all those pathways in the brain.

The reason this story fascinates me is that I’ve recently been reading a lot about the kind of new birth Jesus talks about in John 3:3 where he says that we must be born again or we cannot see the kingdom of God. Elsewhere the new birth is compared to God opening one’s eyes so they can see him for who he really is and accept him by faith. The implication I see from this story is that, in our sinful and dead state, not only do we need new eyes, but a new heart, mind, and soul. We need to literally be reprogrammed or we cannot have our eyes truly opened. I think this is what second birth is really about. Of course, there are also accounts of Jesus literally healing the blind in the Gospels, and I see implications in this story for those accounts as well. God is the great physician, healing the whole person, hardware and software, able to perform miracles modern medicine and science can only speculate about.

You can read and listen to the story on NPR’s website: “Treating Blindness Takes More Than Meets The Eye” (listen). 

NPR miscellany #6: jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter

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I heard a great interview early this morning on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. NPR’s Liane Hansen interviewed Charlie Hunter, a jazz musician who plays an instrument unlike any I’ve ever heard of before, a modified eight-string guitar. I’m given to understand an eight-string guitar is usually nothing more than a regular guitar with a slightly extended range, adding one string to the top and one to the bottom. However, Hunter has his guitar modified and tuned in such a way that his three bottom strings are genuine bass guitar strings and the other five are regular guitar strings, though he notes in the interview that he’s recently removed his top string and prefers to play without it since he felt it got in his way. Eight strings or seven, though, what’s fascinating is this guy is simultaneously playing the bass guitar, rhythm guitar, and solo guitar parts in real time! My dad plays both guitar and bass (though not simultaneously, of course), so I thought he especially would get a kick out Hunter’s unique instrument and style.

Hunter’s latest record has a nice jazzy, upbeat feel with the 7-string guitar plus a couple trombones, a trumpet, and drums. The few song clips they aired during the interview were really fun to listen to. Besides talking about his unique instrument and playing style, they also discussed his practice regiment, why he chose to record the album in mono instead of stereo, and how he is learning to play the drums because it informs the way he plays the guitar, so the interview was generally entertaining for all these reasons. I’m going to be looking around online for Hunter’s albums now.

You can listen to the article on NPR’s website: “Charlie Hunter Has ‘Neglected To Inform You’” (listen). End mark

NPR Miscellany #5

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Every once in a while I hear a story on NPR that simply fascinates me. Yesterday it was a story on All Things Considered about a previously undiscovered portrait by Van Gogh. This new painting was not “discovered” in the sense that it was found in the basement of some old museum. Rather, it was discovered hiding beneath the paint of another Van Gogh!

Apparently, Van Gogh had reused a canvas by painting a new painting over the top of an old one, and scientists used a new x-ray technique to see what the painting underneath looks like. They were even able to determine the colors of paint by analyzing the chemical makeup. Listen to the story and watch the accompanying video to see how they did it: “Experts Uncover A Painting Van Gogh Covered Up” (listen and watch). End mark

NPR miscellany #4

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I’ve been using LibraryThing to catalog my books since September 2005. All Things Considered on NPR recently featured LibraryThing in a story called “Web Sites Let Bibliophiles Share Books Virtually” (listen).

I especially love the intro to this story:

You know that you’re a bibliophile if you check out peoples’ bookshelves when you visit their homes, if you never pass a used bookstore without going in, or if you have a giant wishlist on

That fits me to a tee. If it fits you, you owe it to yourself to check out LibraryThing! End mark

(hat tip: The LibraryThing Blog)

NPR miscellany #3

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I’ll come clean and say that Poker is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve got a Texas Hold ‘Em game on my Treo and I usually stop to watch whenever I’m channel surfing and run across a high-stakes Poker tournament on TV. I’m also a modest fan of Jazz music, so I was entertained by a story I caught today on Weekend Edition. The story was about a new music collection that’s been released by Ricky Jay called Ricky Jay Plays Poker. The collection includes Poker-related music down through the decades, a good portion of which is classic Jazz and Folk music. Snippets of the songs were played throughout the interview. I especially like the last song they played, “Dolan’s Poker Party” by Frank Crumit. Here’s the story: “Hustler Ricky Jay Deals Poker Music, History” (listen).

Another interesting story I heard today, also on Weekend Edition, was about an Eagle Scout from Maryland who has earned all 122 merit badges the Boy Scouts of America has to offer. His last merit badge was bugling, which he says he saved until the end because he never was very musical. It’s interesting to hear how getting all these merit badges has positively affected his career choices and his understanding of the world around him. Here’s the story: “Maryland Eagle Scout Earns All 122 Merit Badges” (listen).

A third and final story I found interesting today, once again on Weekend Edition, was about the Scott’s Miracle-Gro company and a controversial policy they have against employing people who smoke cigarettes. The policy (among other changes) was initially proposed to cut health care costs. The story was done in two segments. Here’s the first one, where Scott’s VP of Corporate Communications, Jim King, answers questions about the policy: “Miracle-Gro Faces Lawsuit over No-Smoking Policy” (listen); and here’s the second one, where they discuss in further detail a lawsuit over the policy that’s being brought against Scott’s by one of its employees: “Former Miracle-Gro Employee Challenges Policy” (listen). :syzygy:

NPR miscellany #2

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I heard a great story yesterday on This American Life that was apparently a repeat, but I hadn’t heard it before so it was new to me. I only caught the first act1, but it was a hilarious true story of a kid named Alex who got shipwrecked on a desert island in the middle of New York City. The island he got stuck on is Ruffle Bar which is situated in the middle of Jamaica Bay to the Southeast of New York City, within two miles of civilization on all sides. The story involves drinking and some generally irresponsible behavior which I should say I don’t condone. What makes this story so entertaining is the irony that someone could get stuck on a deserted island so close to civilization.

I can’t link straight to the episode because This American Life has a horrible archiving system (no permalinks!), but if you want to find it (to order a CD or whatnot), go to This American Life, click the 2006 archive on the left sidebar, and look for the episode that originally aired February 3 titled “In the Shadow of the City”. What I can provide a link to, though, is the streaming audio feed for this particular episode: Listen. Enjoy! 

  1. This American Life is typically broadcast in two to five acts, usually different stories on a similar theme. The theme of this episode (in three acts) is strange places within short distances of major metropolises. The third act, about the government cracking down on smoke stack emissions in Chicago even though the residents like the emissions, sounds like it could also be entertaining, but, as I mentioned, I haven’t heard it, yet. []

NPR miscellany #1

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I hear a lot of interesting stories on NPR, so I’m going to start highlighting a few of them from time to time on my blog. Tonight I heard a couple great stories on All Things Considered that I’d like to share.

The first story is about a bizarre problem that’s killing commercial bees all over the U.S. called Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a big deal because a lot of the crops we consume are pollinated by these bees. Here’s the story: “Disease Hits Bees, and Vital Crops Suffer” (Listen).

The second story is about one the best Iranian food chefs in Washington, D.C. The kicker is that he’s not even from Iran. Instead, he’s from El Salvador. He started as a bus boy in an Iranian restaurant and worked his way into the kitchen. Now he owns his own restaurant and flies all over the world to cook for special events. My favorite part of this story is the part about the deeply religious people who are shocked to find out that a Christian Latino had prepared their Islamic Halal dinner (they calm down when they learn he does everything by the book). Here’s the story: “In D.C., Top Iranian Chef Hails From El Salvador” (Listen).