Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Past is Our Future

As the end of the year approaches, you see everywhere the lists of the best and the worst of the year in retrospective. It is, we think, an interesting commentary on our lives as humans that we spend more time, often, looking back than looking forward. And, as the warning etched in the mirror warns, what we see in the rear-view mirrors of our lives, are closer than they appear. Some of the greatest discoveries of the past year never really made big news, but as we look back, these discoveries may have an incredible impact on our future.

Skull 5
So, the tale begins, as we look back on some of the most intriguing scientific discoveries of the year, and ponder their impact of our lives.

Let's start with the discovery of an incredibly well-preserved skull found in Dmanisi, Georgia. This 1.8 million year old skull  may be a missing link suggesting we, the members of the Homo genus, may not have been a distinct species coexisting with the likes of Mr. Neanderthal, but instead, branches from the same tree which has brought us to us. This skull, referred to as Skull 5, was found with others of variable characteristics demonstrate that hominids flourished outside of Africa at a significantly earlier date than previously believed. This could be the turning point in rewriting the theories of how we became to be as we are.

And now, from evolution to faith, we have the completion of a ten year investigation and criminal trial involving an Israeli antiquities collector who acquired an ossuary, a limestone burial box inscribed with the earliest known references to Jesus. The conclusion: it's the real thing. On the side of the ossuary, the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," is chiseled in an Aramaic script, and the investigators have concluded it is legitimate.

Ossuary of James, brother of Jesus

This would be an unbelievably rare find scientifically, historically and spiritually -- physical evidence of Jesus and his family.

Now, from the awe-inspiring to the curious. The linguist in me was utterly mesmerized by this next little tidbit. Those who study such things, have known since the 19th century that all modern Indo-Eurpoean languages have descended from one root. This single tongue, aptly named Proto-Indo-European, (or PIE for short -- mmmmm, pie) was spoken by our ancestors from roughly 4500BC to 2500 BC. They left no written texts, yet academics working together all over the world have managed to recreate what they believe the spoken word may have sounded like. Click below to listen.

And now to the truly fantastic: the US Government finally released classified documents confirming the existence of Area 51 as a real government testing site. The report is a snoringly long 400 page (the pdf is available on the link below. Although significantly redacted before release this year despite having been written more than twenty years ago, the most interesting fact about this document, is that it makes no reference to the status of Area 51 after 1974.

From science fiction fantasies to science fact: 2013 also witnessed the confirmation of the existence of a new element, never before discovered. This 115th element, Ununpentium, is a super-heavy element discovered in Germany, and confirmed by Russian chemists. Now, not to get too excited, this element has an incredibly brief life-span (measured in milliseconds) and is in the company of five more elements awaiting confirmation. But it is exciting to think that since the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev published that first periodic table with fifty-nine elements in 1869, how much we have learned about our the make-up of our own planet. 

And now, for science fiction meets fact :  Voyager I has left the solar system. After a thirty five year journey, which began one year before this image made famous in the first Star Trek movie, Voyager has reached interstellar space. This is a milestone -- travelling almost 19 billion km from the sun, this is the first human creation to reach out beyond our own solar system neighborhood. 
 And so we end our trip looking back on 2013 with an eye to what lies ahead. Discovering the truth about ourselves, our past, and the world in which we live, is, we believe, a noble goal for the future of J and L.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Tis the Season with a Reason

At J and L we believe in Christmas and the reason behind it. This may not be politically correct but it is how we feel. Since the purpose of our blog is research, travel and exploration, we recently searched and found some celebrating the greater purpose for this wonderful time of year.

Del Rosa Christian School in San Bernardino, California put on the production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens at the Sturges Theatre in downtown San Bernardino on the 12th of December. It was a great production directed by Jessica Barr, the 6th grade teacher who planned, produced. and cajoled a large group students into performing this tale in a professional and well-packed venue.

These children did their best to do Dickens proud and succeed they did which brings this writer to the point about this season. The joy we saw on the faces of those young actors made us realize that this is really the time for giving to those we love. Parents. grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends were in that large audience in the middle of December and all attention was on the children on stage. Cameras snapped, video cameras whirred and cell phones flashed as these elementary school thespians went from scene to scene doing their very best to entertain the crowd but also to instill the message Dickens himself wrote down on paper.

It is the small things in life that make a difference. A smile at a stranger, a chuckle with a friend, forgiving those who have offended us and reaching across a sometimes cold surface with a hand to be accepted or not. This is what the great writer showed Scrooge and us with his prose.

It is a time of the year when we need to look inside ourselves and wonder how we can do better for those around us. We only have one chance at it.

Those children that night showed this writer they truly loved those in the audience because each and every heart on stage was bursting with enthusiasm and excitement to prove they could give their best for their family and friends.

And is not that the reason for the season?

Bravo children - bravo.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A New Adventure - Film Investment

 In 2008 J and L decided to do something they had never done before - invest in a Hollywood movie. Real estate, stock, bonds and the lotto we were used to investing (or gambling) in but a big time film production? Never - but what sort of adventurers would we be if we didn't try something new?

Approached by a financial consultant with this 'great idea' we decided to give it a chance. After all, isn't that what gambling is about? So we put up what was to us, a good deal of cash to help finance, along with a good number of other investors, the making of Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, an animated film. There is trouble in Oz and only Dorothy can help!

The story is adapted from Roger Stanton Baum's novel. He happens to be the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum the original author of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' which is a mainstay in American story telling.

Due to the confidentiality clause J and L can not detail any of the inner workings of the film but we had a chance to view it on December 7th, 2013 at the Universal City AMC Theatre at the Universal Studio City Walk in Los Angeles. It was a 'sneak preview' for the investors and turned out to be a very relaxed and enjoyable evening. The author Roger S. Baum and his lovely wife sat in the seats directly in front of J and L and it was quite a thrill to meet such an accomplished man with many 'Oz' books to his credit.

The production team, the brothers Roland and Ryan Carroll were on hand to give a short explanation of the time-table for release and other facts and then Baum stood up and addressed the crowd giving the film two thumbs up.

"I truly believe this will be one of,  if not the best film of 2014."
Of course, the entire theater crowd nodded their heads in unison hoping the film will be a smash and have great returns on all our investments.

After a few moments of introductions and the like, Summetime Entertainment ran the first of a series of trailers for the film which truly knocked our socks off. It was powerful, to the point and had us wanting to watch the film.

Then the film - WOW!

Being an animated movie in 3D brought all the characters vividly to life and with the voices of Lea Michele (who plays Dorothy), Martin Short, Patrick Stewart, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, and a host of other major stars only added to the professional quality of the movie. It is truly a very well polished and entertaining work.

When the credits rolled slowly away on the screen and the lights came on we knew that we had just watched a wonderful family film which any age viewer will find enjoyable and memorable.

We smiled all the way out of the show knowing that on May 9th, 2014 in over 4,000 theaters across America there will be smiles just like ours after viewing such an uplifting piece of art.