Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 22nd, 2008

A short history of nearly everything, by Bill Bryson  (part 4)


 Thomas Midgley, Junior was an engineer by training but developed an interest in the industrial applications of chemistry.  With an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny, Midgley invented chlorofluorocarbon CFC that is eating our ozone layer in the stratosphere and tetraethyl lead that spread devastation to human health by killing millions from lead contamination and increasing the lead content in our bones and blood 650 times the normal dose.

Tetraethyl lead was used to significantly reduce the juddering condition known as engine knock.  GM, Du Pont and Standard Oil of New Jersey formed a joint enterprise called Ethyl Gasoline Corporation with a view to making as much tetraethyl lead as the world was willing to buy this new gasoline and introduced this product in 1923. Lead can be found in all manner of consumer products; food came in cans sealed with lead solder, water was stored in lead-lined tanks, and lead arsenate was sprayed onto fruit as a pesticide and even as part of the composition of toothpaste tubes. However, lead lasting danger came as an additive to motor fuel. 

Clair Patterson turned his attention to the question of all the lead in the atmosphere and that about 90% of it appeared to come from car exhaust pipes.  He set about to comparing lead levels in the atmosphere now with the levels that existed before 1923. His ingenious idea was to evaluate these levels from samples in the ice cores in places like Greenland; this notion became the foundation of ice cores studies, on which much modern climatological work is based.  Patterson found no lead in the atmosphere before 1923.  Ethyl Corporation counter attacked by cutting off all research grants that Patterson received.  Although Patterson was the unquestionable America’s leading expert on atmospheric lead, the National Research Council panel excluded him in 1971. Eventually, his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and to the removal from sale of all leaded petrol in the USA in 1986.  Lead levels in the blood of the Americans fell by 80% almost within a year; but since the atmosphere contains so much lead and cannot be eliminated and is for ever, we are to live with a new constitution of heavy lead concentration in our blood stream and our bones.  Lead in paint was also banned in 1993, 44 years after Europe has banned it.  Leaded gasoline is still being sold overseas.  Ironically, all the research on lead effects on health were funded by the Ethyl Corporation; one doctor spent 5 years taking samples of urine and faces instead of blood and bones where lead accumulate.

Refrigerators in the 1920s used dangerous gases and leaks killed more than a hundred in 1929 in a Cleveland hospital.  Thomas Midgley came to the rescue with a safe, stable, non-corrosive, and non-flammable gas called CFC.  A single kilo of chlorofluorocarbon can capture and annihilate 70,000 kilos of atmospheric ozone which is no thicker than 2 millimeter around the stratosphere and whose benefit is to capture the dangerous cosmic rays.  CFC is also a great heat sponge 10,000 times more efficient than carbon dioxide responsible for the greenhouse effect of increasing atmospheric temperature. CFC was banned in 1974 in the USA but 27 million kilos a year are still being introduced in the market in other forms of deodorant or hairspray for example.  CFC will not be banned in the third world countries until 2010.

The natural level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should be 280 parts per million but it has increased to 360 and is roughly rising 0.025% a year and might be around 560 by the end of the century.  The seas soak up tremendous volumes of carbon and safely locked it away.  Since the Sun is burning 25% more brightly than when the solar system was young, what keeps our Earth stable and cool?  It seems that there are trillions upon trillions of tiny marine organisms that capture carbon from the rain falls and use it to make tiny shells. These marine organisms lock the carbon and prevent it from re-evaporating into the atmosphere; otherwise, the greenhouse effect of warming the atmosphere would have done much damage long time ago. These tiny organisms fall to the bottom of the sea after they die, where they are compressed into limestone.

 Volcanoes and the decay of plants return the carbon to the atmosphere at a rate of 200 billion tones a year and fall to the Earth in rain.  The cycle takes 500,000 years for a typical carbon atom.  Fortunately that most of the rain fall in oceans because 60% of the rain that fall on land is evaporated within a couple of days. Human has disturbed this cycle after the heavy industrialization era and is lofting about 7 billion tones each year.  There is a critical threshold where the natural biosphere stops buffering us from the effects of our emissions and actually starts to amplify them.

Is our immune system still functioning properly?

In 1952, penicillin was fully effective against all strains of staphylococcus bacteria.  The US surgeon-general, William Stewart declared: “The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases. We have basically wiped out infection in the USA”. Remarkably, 70% of the antibiotics used in the developed world are given to farm animals in stock feed to promote growth or as a precaution against infection. The bacteria mutated and evolved a resistance to antibiotics and 90% of the strains developed immunity to penicillin. Only one type of antibiotics called vanomyncin remained effective.

In 1997, vanomycin failed to check a new strain.  The pharmaceutical industry hasn’t given the world an entirely new antibiotic since the1970s, preferring to produce a whole gamut of antidepressants that people take everyday for ever.  There is a process of discovery that many ailments may be bacterial in origin such as ulcers, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, several mental disorders, many cancers, and even obesity.

Fish is no longer that abundant in the surface seas. According to one estimate, there could be as many as 30 million species living in the sea, most are undiscovered. However, the world’s seas are not uniformly bounteous.  For example, Australia has the longest coastline of 36,735 kilometers, yet it is not a fishing nation because it has no fish for lack of nutrients from the rivers that do not carry much there. In the 1970s, Australia and New Zealand discovered vast shoals of “orange roughy” at a depth of 800 meters.  The fishing fleet was hauling 40,000 tons of roughy a year.  In no time the roughy was disappearing because this type of fish was leading an unhurried lifestyle, spawning once in a lifetime, for the water was resource-poor.

Sharks are captured, the fin tail sliced off, and then dumped back to die: In the Far East, the kilo of fins is sold for $110 and a bowl of shark-fin soup retail for $100 in Tokyo.  As of 195, some 37,000 industrial-sized fishing ships, plus about a million boats, were taking twice as many fish as they had 25 years earlier.  A quarter of a fishing net contains “by-catch” that has to be dumped back, mostly dead, because they are too small or the wrong type. For every kilo of shrimp harvested, about 4 kilo of fish is destroyed.  Cod and halibut are almost extinct off the northeast coast of America.  A single lobster in the catch used to weight 9 kilos and they don’t weight one kilo presently: lobster can live up to 70 years but is not given time to mature.  Fishermen are reduced to fishing the hideous hagfish; these days, “fish” is whatever is left.  It seems that the crab-eater seals are the mammal species of large size that are the most numerous after humans and they live on the pack ice around Antarctica. 

Earth Atmosphere

Without our atmosphere that extends 190 kilometers, Earth would be a ball of ice averaging minus 50 degrees Celsius.  Altogether, the gaseous padding is equivalent to 4.5 meters of protective concrete.  The immediate layer is the troposphere that represents 80% of the atmosphere mass and contains water vapor and oxygen; it is 16 kilometers’ thick at the equator and around 11 kilometers in the temperate climates. 

The crowding of atoms in the troposphere and, although they travel at the speed of 8 millionths of a centimeter, their collisions provide enough warmth for our survival.  Human can live to altitude around 4,500 meters by developing large chests and lungs and increasing the density of oxygen-bearing red blood cells by a third but we are not made for high altitudes. At an altitude of over 6,000 meters every step demands a colossal effort of will. The temperature drops about 1.6 degrees with every 1,000 meters you climb; around an altitude of 10,000 the temperature reaches minus 57 degrees.  A rise of an inch in the barometer represents half a ton of air piled upon us; the reason we don’t feel crushed is that our body is almost of water that is not compressible.  Only 0.035% of the Earth’s fresh water is floating around as cloud soaked water vapor.

The next layer is the stratosphere then the mesosphere and then the ionosphere or thermosphere where temperature reaches 1,500 degrees Celsius.

The rejuvenating processes on Earth

Huge amount of heat, energy and electricity are created and transferred around the globe every second. A single thunderstorm contains an energy equivalent to 4 days use of electricity for the whole USA.  At any moment an average of 1,800 thunderstorms are in progress around the world. Day and night about 100 lightning bolts hit the ground every second. A typical weather front may consist of 750 million tons of cold air pinned beneath a billion tons of warmer air; the strength of wind grows exponentially so that a wind blowing at 300 kilometers an hour is 100 times stronger than 30 kilometers per hour wind. Thus, a tropical hurricane can release in 24 hours as much energy as France uses in a year.

Air always flows from areas of high pressure coming from the equator to areas of low pressure to keep pressure in balance. Moist and warm air from the equator rises until it hits the barrier of the troposphere and spreads out. As it travels away and cools, it sinks. When it hits bottom, some of the sinking air looks for an area of low pressure to fill and then heads back for the equator, completing the circuit through convection. This convection process is explained by the Coriolis effect that results from the fact that Earth spins at 1,675 kilometers an hour at the equator but the spin reduces its velocity as it is closer to the poles to become almost negligible; a straight line seems to curve to the right at the north hemisphere and to the left at the southern hemisphere.  The Coriolis effects sends hurricanes spinning off like tops.

The other current that is the main agent of heat transfer is known as thermohaline circulation.  For example, England and Ireland are very lucky that the Atlantic is more saline than the Pacific; the denser saline water sink at the bottom, and aided by the Coriolis effect, huge amount of warm water are charred by the Gulf Stream to warm the weather and keep many part of Western Europe from becoming icy like Canada and Russia. 

As the water of the Atlantic gets to the vicinity of Europe, it grows denser and sinks to great depths and begins a slow trip back to the southern hemisphere.  When they reach Antarctica, they are caught up in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and driven onward into the Pacific.  This process takes 1,500 years for water to travel from the North Atlantic to the mid-Pacific, but the volume of heat and water they move are very considerable and the influence on the climate is enormous.  Unfortunately, with the increase of the greenhouse effect the higher melting rate of the Greenland ice is diluting the Atlantic Ocean and could disrupt the cycle disastrously.

Earth experienced many periods of Ice Age; we are in one Ice Age but within a period of a warmer one.  Just figure an ice sheet 800 meter thick and many kilometers long and wide progressing at 150 meters a year; no obstacles can resist the progress of this monster ice sheet; boulders are carried away and placed at mountain tops and many islands were thus attached to mainland such as Cape Code, Long island, and Nantucket in the east of the USA. 

The Swiss Natural History professor Louis Agassie borrowed that idea from his colleague Jean de Charpentier and then toured the world lecturing his theory and traveling and climbing the craggiest Alpine peaks.  The USA was the homes that embraced his idea and offered him a chair in Harvard and build him a first-rate Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The cause of ice age starts in cool summers that prevent snow to melt in the poles and incoming sunlight bouncing off by the reflective surface and thus, exacerbating the cooling effect and encouraging more snow to fall and stick.  It is not necessarily the amount of snow that causes ice sheets but the fact that snow is lasting.  The process is self-enlarging and unstoppable.

The last chapter of “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson described how Man came to exist 100,000 years ago; modern human is so recent on Earth that the genetic differences among 55 chimpanzees are much larger than the whole human species.

Yet, modern human has managed to damage extensively Earth, its environment, and thousands of species in such a short period. Apparently, human activities are causing more than one thousand species to go extinct per week.  The nineteenth century, especially in the USA and Britain, experienced a deliberate wiping out of any animal species that was not considered a pet such as animals living in farms. 

The States in America paid out bounties for eastern mountain lions and other pests. The dodo flightless bird was wiped out from the island of Mauritius in 1693 simply because the ship crews needed to have something to do.  In the USA thirty genera of very large animals disappeared; ten million mammoth carcasses are thought to be frozen in the Siberian tundra.  A walrus-like creature called Steller’s sea cow, 9 meters in length and weighting 10 tones got extinct in the mid 18th century. The golden head and emerald green Carolina parakeet was wiped out because it was considered a pest by farmers. The dog-like Tasmanian tiger was wiped out in Australia by 1936.

I generated two articles from that manuscript: “A version of the genesis of Earth and Man” and “What animal instincts do they fear in me?”

A short history of nearly everything , Part 3

Astronomy and cosmology

 Around 1930, Vesto Slipher was taking spectrographic readings of distant stars at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona and discovered signs of a Doppler shift toward red, which meant that the stars were moving away.  Annie Jump Cannon, known as one of the Computers in the 1920’s at Harvard and who was studying photographic plates of stars and making computation, devised a system of stellar classifications still in use today. 

Another Computer at Harvard, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, noticed that a type of star as a Cepheid such as the Pole Star pulsated with a regular rhythm because they are dying giant red star.  Leavitt realized that by comparing the relative magnitude of Cepheids at different points in the sky you could work out where they were in relations to each other in relative distances.  

Edwin Hubble began to measure selected points in space and showed in 1923 that M31 was a galaxy at least 900,000 light years away. Hubble inferred in 1930 that galaxies are moving away from us in all directions and that the further away the faster they were moving.  Stephen Hawking said if the universe was static it would collapse in upon itself and would have made the whole intolerably hot.  It was the Belgian priest-scholar Georges Lemaitre who suggested that the universe began as a geometrical point, a “primeval atom”, which burst into glory and had been moving apart ever since. 

In 1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson spent a year trying to shut out a persistent background noise when trying to make use of a large communication antenna owned by Bell Laboratory in New Jersey.  They phoned Robert Dicke at Princeton who was pursuing an idea suggested by George Gamow, a Russian astrophysicist, in the 1940s that if you looked deep enough into space you should find some cosmic background radiation in the form of microwaves reaching Earth originating from the Big Bang.

In 1934 the journal Physical Review published a concise abstract of a presentation that was conducted by Fritz Zwicky and Walter Baade.  Bade was responsible for most of the mathematical sweeping up.  This abstract provided the first reference to supernovae as neutron stars where all the other matters, even electrons, collapsed to the sort of densities found in the core of atoms; no light would penetrate that neutron star or Black Hole star.  A spoonful of its mass would weight 90 billion kilograms.  Very few supernovas explode but when they do then they release enormous amount of energy and matters that keep our universe alive and warm.  

Cosmic rays are theorized to be consequences of the explosions of supernovas.  Robert Oppenheimer got all the credit five years later.  Now, if supernovae exploded at a distance less than 500 light years, then Earth is a goner; fortunately, in our near galaxies not a star is at least ten times bigger than our sun to form supernovae.  In 1987, Saul Perlmutter at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory used charge-coupled devices, like an excellent digital camera, and wrote a sophisticated program so that the powerful computer would systematically search for supernovas through the thousands of pictures. 

Reverend Robert Evans in Australia searches the sky every night using a 16-inch telescope hunting for supernovae and he managed to locate 36 supernovas as of 2003.  How we recognize supernovae?  It is a black star and when we notice light in this dark location then we know a supernova has exploded.  Suppose that you spay salt randomly on 1500 black tables and then you add an extra grain; this is how Robert Evans has the knack of discovering supernovae.

It was Fred Hoyle who coined the term Big Bang in 1952 to express his exasperation of this theory because he favored a steady-state theory.  Hoyle realized that if stars imploded, such as supernovas, they would liberate huge amount of heat in the range of 100 million degrees which favor the formation of heavy elements from carbon onward in a process known as nucleo-synthesis.  His theory explained the existence of heavy elements, at least on Earth, since Big Bangs only releases the lighter elements only.  One of Hoyle’s collaborators W.A. Fowler received a Nobel Prize for this discovery.

Frank Drake, a professor at Cornell, worked out in 1960 an equation designed to calculate the chances of advanced life existing in the cosmos.  There might be millions of intelligent life forms in the cosmos but there are no ways of communicating with them because if any one of these advanced species, say 200 light years away, detects a signal from Earth then it would be looking at humans during the time of the American Revolution with horses and white wigs.

How Earth got to exists? Reginald Daly in the 1940s offered this explanation: about 4.6 billion years ago, 99.99% of the dust and gases swirling wildly in the universe went to making the Sun.  Out of the leftover materials the planets started to assemble in endless random permutations.  In just 200 million years the Earth was essentially formed.  An object the size of mars crashed into Earth and formed the companion Moon from the crust of Earth, thus the fact that there are no heavy elements on the Moon that constitute the core of Earth. 

When Earth was about one third of its present size, its atmosphere was leaden with noxious gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen, methane and sulfur. The carbon dioxide formed a greenhouse effect that prevented Earth from freezing because the Sun was still significantly dimmer and could not heat Earth efficiently.  Comets, meteorites and other galactic debris pelted Earth for a long while creating water to fill the oceans.

 Physics, the quantification of Earth, and the Universe

The physicist Michio Kaku said: “In some sense, gravity does not exist; what moves the planets and stars is the distortion of space and time.”  Gravity is not a force but a byproduct of the warping of space-time, the “ultimate sagging mattress”.  This new understanding of the universe that time is an intrinsic dimension as space was offered by Albert Einstein through his Special Theory of Relativity.

Among other principles, Einstein realized that matter is energy that can be released under specific conditions so that energy is defined as the product of mass and the square of the speed of light c = 300,000 km/s.  In his attempt to unify classical and relativity laws, Einstein offered later on his General Theory of Relativity and introduced a constant in the formula to account a stable Universe; Einstein declared that this constant was “the blunder of his life” but scientists are now trying to calculate this constant because the universe is not only expanding but the galaxies are accelerating their flight away from the Milky Way.

In 1684, Edmond Halley, a superb scientist in his own right and in many disciplines and the inventor of the deep-sea diving bell, visited Isaac Newton at Cambridge and asked him what is the shape of the planetary paths and the cause of these specific courses.  Newton replied that it would be an ellipse and that he did the calculation but could not retrieve his papers.  The world had to wait another two years before Newton produced his masterwork: “Mathematical Principles of natural Philosophy” or better known as the “Principia”. 

Newton set the three laws of motion and that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.  His formula stated that force is proportional to the product of the masses and inversely proportional to the square of their corresponding distances.  The constant of gravity was introduced but would wait for Henri Cavendish to calculate it.  It is to be noted that Newton was more serious in alchemy and religion than in anything else, most of his life.

Henry Cavendish was born from a dukes families and was the most gifted English scientist of his age; he was shy to a degree bordering on disease since he would not meet with anyone and, when he visited the weekly scientific soirees of the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, guests were advised not to look him straight in the face or address him directly.  Cavendish turned his palace into a large laboratory and experimented with electricity, heat, gravity, gases, and anything related to matter.  He was the first to isolate hydrogen, combine it with oxygen to form water.  Since he barely published his works many of his discoveries had to wait a century for someone else to re-discover the wheel. 

For example, Cavendish anticipated the law of the conservation of energy, Ohm’s law, Dalton’s law of partial pressures, Richter’s law of reciprocal proportions, Charles’ law of gases, and the principles of electric conductivity; he also foreshadowed the work of Kelvin on the effect of tidal friction on slowing the rotation of the earth, and the effect of local atmospheric cooling, and on and on.  He used to experiment on himself as many scientists of his century did, such as Benjamin Franklin, Pilate de Rozier, and Lavoisier.  

In 1797, at the age of 67, Cavendish assembled John Michell’s apparatus that contained two 350-pound lead balls, which were suspended beside two smaller spheres. The idea was to measure the gravitational deflection of the smaller spheres by the larger ones to calculate the gravitational constant of Newton. 

Cavendish took up position in an adjoining room and made his observations with a telescope aimed through a peephole.  He evaluated Earth weight to around 13 billion pounds, a difference of 1% of today’s estimate and an estimate that Newton made 110 years ago without experimentation.  John Michell was a country parson who also perceived the wavelike nature of earthquakes, envisioned the possibility of black holes, and conducted experiments in magnetism and making telescopes; Michell died before he could use his apparatus which was delivered to Cavendish.

The 18th century was feverish in measuring Earth, its shape, dimensions, volumes, mass, latitude and longitude, distance from the sun and planets and they came close to the present measurement except its mass and had to wait till 1953 for Clair Patterson (a male geologist) to estimate it to 4,550 million years using lead isotopes in rocks that were created through heating.

“A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, (part 2)

How living organisms were created?

 Earth had no oxygen in its environment when it was created.  Cyanobacteria or algae break down water by absorbing the hydrogen and released the oxygen waste which is actually a very toxic element to every anaerobic organism; our white blood cells actually use oxygen to kill invading bacteria.  This process of releasing oxygen is called photosynthesis, undoubtedly the most important single metabolic innovation in the history of life on the planet. 

It took two billion years for our environment to accumulate 20% of oxygen because oxygen was absorbed to oxidize every conceivable mineral on Earth and rust it and sink it in the bottom of oceans. 

Life started when special bacteria used oxygen to summon up enough energy to work and photosynthesize. Mitochondria manipulate oxygen in a way that liberates energy from foodstuffs and they are very hungry tiny organisms that a billion of them are packed in a grain of sand.  Mitochondria maintain their own DNA, RNA and ribosome and behave as if they think things might not work out between us.  They look like bacteria, divide like bacteria and sometimes respond to antibiotics in the same way bacteria do; they live in cells but do not speak the same genetic language.  

The truly nucleated cells are called eukaryotes and we ended up with two kinds of them: those that expel oxygen, like plants, and those that take in oxygen, like us.  Single-celled eukaryote contains 400 million bits of genetic information in its DNA, enough to fill 80 books of 500 pages.  It took a billion years for eukaryotes to learn to assemble into complex multi-cellular beings.

Microbes or bacteria form an intrinsic unit with our body and our survival.  They are in the trillions grazing on our fleshy plains and breaking down our foodstuff and our waste into useful elements for our survival; they synthesize vitamins in our guts, convert food into sugar and polysaccharides and go to war on alien microbes; they pluck nitrogen from the air and convert it into useful nucleotides and amino acids for us, a process that is extremely difficult to manufacture industrially. 

Microbes continue to regenerate the air that we breathe with oxygen.  Microbes are very prolific and can split and generate 280 billion offspring within a day; once every million divisions they produce a mutant with a slight characteristic that can resist antibodies.  The most troubling is that microbes are endowed with the ability to evolve rapidly and acquire the genes of the mutants and become a single invincible super-organism; any adaptive change that occurs in one area of the bacterial province can spread to any other. 

Microbes are generally harmless unless, by accident, they move from a specialized location in the body to another location such as the blood stream, for example, or are attacked by viruses, or our white blood cells go on a rampage.  Microbes can live almost anywhere; some were found in nuclear power generators feeding on uranium, some in the deep seas, some in sulfuric environment, some in extreme climate, and some can survive in enclosed bottles for hundred of years as long as there is anything to feed on.

Viruses or phages can infect bacteria. A virus are not alive, they are nucleic acid, inert and harmless in isolation and visible by the electron microscope; it barely have ten genes; even the smallest bacteria require several thousand genes..  But introduce them into a suitable host and they burst into life.

Viruses prosper by hijacking the genetic material of a living cell and reproduce in a fanatical manner.  About 5,000 types of virus are known and they afflict us with the flu, smallpox, rabies, yellow fever, Ebola, polio and AIDS.  Viruses burst upon the world in some new and startling form and then vanish as quickly as they came after killing millions of individuals in a short period.

There are billions of species and tropical rainforests that represent only 6% of the Earth surface harbor more than half of its animal life and two third of its flowering plants. A quarter of all prescribed medicines are derived from just 40 plants and 16% coming from microbes.  The discovery of new flowery plants might provide humanity with chemical compounds that have passed the “ultimate screening program” over billions of years of evolution.

The tenth of the weight of a six years pillow is made up of mites, living or dead, and mite dung; low temperature washing just get the lice cleaner!

 Water is everywhere. A potato is 80% water, a cow 74%, a bacterium 75%, a tomato at 95%, and human 65%.  Most liquid when chilled contract 10% but water only 1%, but just before freezing it expands.  When solid water is 10% more voluminous, an utterly bizarre property which allow ice to float, otherwise ice would sink and oceans would freeze from the bottom. 

Without surface ice to hold heat in, the water warmth would radiate away and thus creating more ice and soon oceans would freeze.  Water is defying the rules of chemistry and law of physics.  The hydrogen atoms cling fiercely to their oxygen host, but also make casual bonds with other water molecules, thus changing partners billions of times a second and thus, water molecules stick together and can be siphoned without breaking but not so tightly so that you may dive into a pool.  Surface water molecules are attracted more powerfully to the like molecule beneath and beside them than to the air molecule above so that it creates a sort of membrane that supports insects.

All but the smallest fraction of the water on Earth is poisonous to us because of the salts within it.  Uncannily, the proportions of the various salts in our body are similar to those in sea water; we cry sea water, and we sweat sea water but we cannot tolerate sea water as an input! Salt in the body provoke a crisis because from every cell, water molecules rush off to dilute and carry off the sudden intake of salt.  The oceans have achieved their present volume of 1.3 billion cubic kilometer of water and it is a closed system. 

The Pacific holds 52% of the 97% of all the water on Earth.  The remaining 3% of fresh water exist as ice sheet; Antarctica holds 90% of the planet’s ice, standing on over 2 miles of ice.  If Antarctica is to completely melt the ocean would rise about 70 meters.

“A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson (written on September 25, 2007)

This is a voluminous book of 575 pages that describes and explains the scientific achievements that tried to comprehend Earth and the life processes.

I will try to summarize the discoveries chronologically, each discipline taken separately such as physics, chemistry, and geology and so forth.  It is a long undertaking but it would be useful for me in this assimilation process and quick review of science on the march, to explain, and to conquer.

The manuscript is divided into 6 parts: lost in the Cosmos, the size of the earth, the new age, dangerous planet, life itself, and the road to us.  I am including a few quotations of scientists that preface each main part.

Hans Christian von Baeyer in “Taming the atom“: “The physicist Leo Szilard announced to Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: “I don’t intend to publish.  I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God”   Bethe asked him: “Don’t you think God knows the facts?”   Szilard replied: “God knows the facts, but not this version of the facts

The Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy describing the solar system: “They’re all in the same plane. They’re all going around in the same direction.  It’s perfect, you know.  It’s gorgeous. It’s almost uncanny”.

Alexander Pope in an epitaph intended for Sir Isaac Newton: ” Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said: “Let Newton be!” and all was light”

An anonymous: “A physicist is the atoms’ way of thinking about atoms”

The British geologist Derek V. Alger: “The history of any one part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror”

Freeman Dyson: “The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming”

Remark of the wife of the Bishop of Worcester after Darwin’s theory of evolution was explained to her: “Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known”

Byron in “Darkness”: “I had a dream which was not all a dream

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander…”

Lonely planet

Earth is not the easiest place to be an organism, even if it is the only place in our nearest galaxies.  The portion of land mass or continental area we are able to live in is only about 12% because we are not adaptable to hot or very cold weather.  Apparently, the most recent super volcano eruption occurred at Toba in Northern Sumatra, about 74,000 years ago and almost annihilated human kind; maybe a thousand human survived, which account for the lack of our genetic diversity.

Greenland ice cores show that the Toba blast was followed by at least six years of “volcanic winter” and many poor growing seasons after that.  There are currently 13 active super volcanoes and Yellowstone in the USA is the only continental one.  Yellowstone is estimated to erupt every 600, 000 years and is ready for another of his monstrous feat; the last eruption was estimated to spew enough ash to bury the State of California under 6 meters of ash; ash covered the whole western states of the USA and a large part of Canada.

We belong to the portion of living things that decided 400 million years ago to crawl out of the sea and become land-based and oxygen-breathing creatures.  We abandoned the vast seas for a more restricted area with the advantage that we can climb over 7000 meters and live at very high altitude while the feat of the Italian Umberto Pelizzari recorded 72 meters under water.  We cannot bear the pressure of the water; for every 10 meters of depth we add one atmosphere.

A few professional divers, aided by weight to descend up to 150 meters, their lungs are compressed to the dimensions of a Coke can.  Since our body is mostly water and water cannot be compressed by water, it is the gases in our body that is fatal in the depths.  At a specific depth, Nitrogen in our system starts to bubble and enter our blood stream and obstruct the tiny blood vessels, depriving cells of oxygen.

Human technology was able to send a diving vessel to the deepest point in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific at 11.3 kilometers down; they discovered a type of crustacean similar to shrimp but transparent.  There are particular microbes that strive in water at temperature over 70 degrees Celsius.

Observers have identified two dozen fortunate breaks we have had on Earth to create the living organism.  If the Sun was larger it would have exhausted its fuel before Earth could be formed because the larger the star the more rapidly it burns.  If we were two light minutes closer to the Sun we would be like planet Venus that cannot sustain life; Venus surface temperature is 470 degrees Celsius and all its water has evaporated driving hydrogen away into space.

If we were 1% further from the Sun we would be like frozen Mars. If our core didn’t contain molten liquid we would not have magnetism to protect us from cosmic rays.  If our tectonic plates didn’t collide to produce more gases and continually renew and rumple the surface with mountains then we would be under 4,000 meters of water.

If our moon was not large enough, one fourth the size of Earth, then Earth would be wobbling like a dying top with unstable climate and weather. It is to be noted that the Moon is slipping away at a rate of 4 centimeters a year, relinquishing its gravitational hold.  If comets didn’t strike Earth to produce the Moon or asteroid to wipe out the Dinosaurs or if we didn’t enjoy enough stability for a long time human would not be what they are.

Earth contains 92 naturally occurring elements and barely 6 of them are of central importance to life.

Of every 200 atoms in our body, 126 are hydrogen, 51 are oxygen, 19 are carbon, 3 are nitrogen and the remaining atom is divided among all the other elements such as iron to manufacture hemoglobin, Cobalt for the creation of vitamin B12, Potassium and Sodium for the transmission of electrical charges in the nerves, Molybdenum, manganese and vanadium to keep the enzymes purring and Zink to oxidize alcohol.

Oxygen is the most abundant element on Earth crust of about 50%, then silicon, and aluminum the fourth.  Carbon is only the 15th most common element or 0.05% of Earth crust, but is the most promiscuous since it adheres to almost every atom and holds extremely tight, and is the very trick of nature to build proteins and DNA.

What we marvel at is not that Earth is suitable to life but that it is suitable to our life.  A big part that Earth seems so miraculously accommodating is that we evolved to suit its severe conditions.  When elements don’t occur naturally on earth, like plutonium, we have evolved zero tolerance for them.  Selenium is vital to all of us but is toxic at a little higher level; even tiny dozes of arsenic, lead, copper and other natural elements we have managed to tolerate but industrialization is not allowing the natural tolerance process in evolution to absorb these huge amounts of noxious elements in our artificial environment.

The building blocks of life might be the 20 amino acids that combine in certain sequences to form the 700,000 kinds of proteins in our body; the number of proteins discovered is increasing and might be in the range of one million kinds.

Hemoglobin is only a chain of 146 amino acids long, a runt by protein standards in length, and yet it offers 10 at an exponent of 190 possible amino-acid combinations in order to have the exact sequence of the different kinds of amino acids.

To make the protein called “collagen” you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence which means you need 1,055 spinning wheels with 20 symbols in each wheel to coincide exactly for the jack pot! Thus, the odd that any protein was formed by hazard is nil.

Any protein cannot reproduce itself and it needs DNA, which is a whiz in replicating itself.

DNA can do nothing but replicate proteins and proteins which are useless without DNA.  Are we to assume that these two organisms arose simultaneously with the purpose of supporting each other?

No atom or molecule has achieved life independently; it needs some sort of membrane to contain them so that they come together within the nurturing refuge of a cell.  Without the chemicals, the cell has no purpose.  It is little wonder that we call it the miracle of life.  Forming amino acids is not the problem because if we expose water to ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and methane gases and introduce some electrical sparks, as a stand-in for lighting, then within days you will have amino acids, fatty acids, sugar and other organic compounds.

What was needed is a process of a few of these amino acids to procreate and then cluster to discover some additional improvement.

What do we know about cells so far?

A single cell splits to become two and after 47 doublings you have 10 thousand trillion cells and ready to spring forth as a human being.  Each cell carries a copy of the complete genetic code, the instruction manual for your body, and it knows far more about you that you do, and is devoted in some intensively specific way to your overall well-being.

The human body has at least a few hundred types of cells and they vary in shape, size, and longevity; we have nerve cells, red blood cells, photocells, liver cells that can survive for years, brain cells that last as long as we live and they don’t increase from the day we are born but 500 die every single hour, and so forth.  The components within a cell are constantly renewed so that everything in us is completely renewed every nine years.

The outer casing of a cell is made up of lipid or light grade of machine oil but on the molecular level it is as strong as iron, then the nucleus wherein resides the genetic information and the busy space called cytoplasm. The cell contains about a thousand power plants or mitochondria that convert processed food and oxygen into ATP molecules or battery packs.

A cell would use up one billion ATP molecules in two minutes or half the body weight every day. The electrical energy activities in a cell is about 0.1 volts traveling distances in the nanometers; or when this number is scale up it is the equivalent of 20 million volts per meter or the amount of what a thunderstorm is charged.

Each strand of DNA is damaged 10,000 times a day and swiftly repaired, if the cell is not to perish by a command received from a hormone. When a cell receives the order to die then it quietly devour its components. For example, nitric oxide is a formidable toxin in nature but cells are tremendous manufacturers of this substance which control blood flow, the energy level in cells, attacking cancerous cells, regulating the sense of smell, and penile erection among other things.

Our body contains 200,000 different types of protein and we barely understand a tiny fraction of them. 

Enzymes are a type of protein with tasks to rebuild molecules and marking the damaged pieces and other protein for processing. 

A cell might contain 20,000 different types of protein.

In the 1860s, Louis Pasteur showed that life cannot arise spontaneously, but come from pre-existing cells. 


“The Second sex” by Simone de Beauvoir (Written in September 21, 2007)

Note:  It is a long fat book.  I reviewed what I have read so far.

The Second Sex is of two books; the first book is on Destiny, History and Myths, and the second book discusses the formative years, Situation, Justifications, and toward Liberation.

I started at page 282, chapter 3 of the first book about Myths and Reality.

A myth is a transcendent Idea that escape the mental grasp entirely, and is confused with the recognition of significance in the object:  the significance of an entity is revealed to the mind through a living experience.

Few myths have been more advantageous to the ruling caste than the myth of woman: it justifies all privileges and authorizes their abuse.

The first static myth is the division of humanity into two classes of individuals, male and female.

The myth on women is sublimating an immutable aspect of the human condition and project into the realm of Platonic ideas a reality that is directly experienced.  In place of facts, value, significance, knowledge, empirical law, it substitutes a transcendental Idea, timeless, unchangeable, and necessary.

This myth Idea is indisputable because it is beyond the given and is endowed with absolute truth. Against the dispersed, contingent, and multiple existences of actual women, mythical thought of two classes opposes the Eternal Feminine, unique and changeless.

If a woman does not match this conception the woman is not feminine, instead of considering that the myth of Femininity is wrong.  It is the mutual recognition of free beings who confirm one another freedom; the relation is a struggle between conscious beings each of whom wishes to be essential.

The second myth is to define Woman with Altruism, and thus to guarantee to man absolute rights in the devotion of his woman.  Altruism is to impose on women a categorical imperative. Paternalism that claims women for hearth and home defines his woman as sentiment, inwardness, and immanence.

When paternalism offers the woman’s existence no aim, or prevents her from any aim, or rob her of his victory then this transcendence falls back into immanence. This lot assigned to women is in no way a vocation, any more than slavery is the vocation of the slave.

It is not reality that dictates to society the choices but society’s needs in every period.  Very often, society project into the adopted myth the institutions and values to which they adhere.  Patriarchal society centered upon the conservation of the patrimony; this implied that women should not take property away and put it in circulation.

Men who swindle and speculate are repudiated by the group of men; women employing erotic  attraction can induce men to scatter their patrimonial and still be within the law.  While society view women who use their attraction to influence men are regarded as evil and called “bad women”, these women are considered within their families as the guardian angels who saved them from destitution.

Since a man can show his love actively by supporting his woman financially, or giving her a social standing, or making her presents then man economic and social independence allow him to take the initiative.

For example, very often the man is busy and the woman idle: he gives her the time he passes with her… Does the woman accepts these benefits through love or self-interest?  One thus can almost judge the degree of man’s affection by the total picture of his attitude,but a woman hardly has means for sounding her own heart: she submits passively to her sentiments and moods.

When the situation is reversed and she becomes the bread-winner then the mystery is reversed.  Kept on the fringe of the world, woman cannot be objectively defined through this world, and her mystery conceals nothing but emptiness.

A woman is taught from adolescence to lie to men, to scheme, to be wily; she wears an artificial expression on her face, she is cautious, hypocritical, and learns play-acting because her situation as servant is to turn toward her master a changeless smile or an enigmatic impassivity; the mystery belongs to the slave. 

Mystery is never more than a mirage that vanishes as we draw near to look at it.

The third myth is to assimilate women to Nature and to simply act from prejudice.

Humans are rooted in nature but women are more enslaved to the species than are males and thus, woman’s animality is more manifest. Men need not bother with alleviating the pains and the burden that physiologically are women’s lot, since these are “intended by nature“.

Man use this myth by making his woman work like a beast of burden and refusing to grant her any rights to sexual pleasure. Man has written the laws under this bloody epigraph: “Woe to the weak“.

The fourth myth of feminine “mystery” in essence is firmly anchored in masculine hearts, surely “mysterious as is all the world”.

Instead of admitting ignorance, man is happy to substitute an objective resistance for a subjective deficiency of mind.  A capricious behavior in a woman or a stupid remark is excused on ground of mystery.

In the company of a living enigma, man remains alone with his dreams, his hopes, his fears, his love, and his vanity…the active relationship is replaced by mystical ecstasy. The opacity of knowing oneself is thus denser in women because of her complex physiological nature, a body where she feels a stranger most of the time.

To say, not that a woman is silent, but that her language is not understood, hidden behind veils, then the mystery is carried to the level of communication. One can say that a woman is good or bad in her work, an actress not that talented and thus, a female colleague is without mystery unless the mystery is shrouded in the nature of economy.

Discrimination between the imaginary and the real can be made only through behavior.

The myth of woman is a luxury and in large part explained by its usefulness to man.  The more relationships are concretely lived, the less they are idealized; the fellah (peasant), the Bedouin, the artisan, and the day worker of today has in the requirements of work and poverty relations with his particular woman companion which are too definite for her to be embellished with an auspicious aura. 

The epochs that have been marked by the leisure of dream, such as the period of feudal chivalry or the gallant 19th century, have been the ones to set up the images, black and white, of femininity.

Man would have nothing to lose if he gave up disguising woman as a symbol. Quite the contrary; cliché are poor and monotonous affairs beside the living reality.

To discard the myths is not to destroy all dramatic relation between the sexes; it is not to deny significance, to do away with poetry, love, adventure, happiness, and dreaming.

It is simply that behavior, sentiment, and passion be founded upon the truth. The 18th century regarded women as fellow creatures: the heroines were without mysteries and women were truly romantic.

The men of today are readier to accept women as a fellow, an equal and claiming autonomy, but they require women to remain the inessential, to be object, to be the Other.  It is disturbing to contemplate woman as at once a social personage and carnal prey.

It is becoming very difficult for women to accept at the same time their status as autonomous individuals and their womanly destiny.

It is more comfortable to submit to enslavement than to work for liberation, to be the sisters in intimacy without ulterior thought of exploitation, to regain her place in humanity, a free human being.

The sexual relation that joins woman to man is not the same as that which he bears to her:  the bond that unites woman to her child is unique.  Thus, women plights were not created by the bronze tool alone, and the machines alone will not abolish her and we cannot be blind to woman peculiar situation.

De Beauvoir rejects the sexual monism of Freud that interpret all social claims of woman as phenomena of the “masculine protest”; she also reject the Marxist historical materialism in its explanation of women plight that perceives in man and woman no more than economic units, woman sexuality expressed in relation to economic situation.

Thus, Simone view is that the categories of “clitorid” and “vaginal” like the categories of “bourgeois” or “proletarian” are equally inadequate to encompass a concrete woman.

Freudianism derives its virtue from the fact that the existent is a concrete body and the Marxian thesis’ virtue is derived on the basis that the project for becoming (ontological aspiration) of the existent take concrete form according to the material possibilities offered, mostly opened up by technological advances.

There must be an existentialist foundation that alone enables us to understand in its unity that particular form of being, which we call a human life. The contributions of biology, psychoanalysis and historical materialism can discover woman when they exist concretely for man only in so far as he grasps these contributions in the total perspective of his existence, when they are defined only in a world of values.  The basic project is that the existence seeks transcendence.

When two human categories are together, each aspires to impose its sovereignty upon the other.

Existentialist philosophy says that man acts to transcend life by risking life for a project such as to protect his family, his clan, his business, or his future. The warrior put his life in jeopardy to elevate the prestige of the horde, the clan to which he belonged.  Man has worked not merely to conserve the world as given… he has broken through its frontiers and laid down the foundation of a new future.

Because of its peculiar biology, woman, lacking birth control, was reduced to give birth almost every year and care for the offspring at her dwelling.

Although woman could not take part in the hunting and warriors’ expeditions, she still recognized her existence and the need to create and thus, she celebrated wholeheartedly with the warrior and bread-winner and shared his values and never set up female values in opposition to male values.

Woman was destined for the repetition of Life while man had to create values and get involved in a project for transcendence.

While women lot was very hard in the primitive horde and the offspring did not enjoy men’s attention, the situation changed when early man settled down to tilling the soil. 

Property, even in a communal setting, offered man a purpose for caring for his offspring in order to inherit them continuity in his life effort, to achieve survival through the land and that they would exploit.

Since man was still not perceived to have any bearing on the procreation of women, but that women gave birth through the medium of spirit, the woman was given a mystical position of fertility that extended to the harvest.

Woman was viewed as the one capable of keeping the prosperity of the clan and man erected totems in the image of women. The Goddesses in that era were all-powerful and remained powerful until the Bronze Age when man acquired new realization that he can control matters and forge them to his desire and purposes.

This was a period of matriarchal society but it was man who wanted this matrilineal system of mystical elevation of women so that he keeps his freedom to act as the sole category relevant to the real world.

The transition from all-powerful Goddesses to all-powerful Gods was done incrementally as man asserted his victories over nature and comprehended his contribution to fecundity and his real input in increasing the output of the harvest in working the fields through his numerous ingenuousness in irrigation projects, improving the crops with different seeds, soil fertilization and letting the soil fallow.

Man encouraged exogamy (marriages outside the clan) because it had advantages to expanding commerce and a mean for communication with the outside; woman was a possession that could be traded or sold for improving the lot of the clan.  The religion of woman was bound to the reign of agriculture, of chance, of waiting, and of mystery. The reign of “Homo Faber” is of time management, of project, of action, and of reason.

Thus, from the day agriculture ceased to be an essentially magic operation and became creative labor then man laid claim to his children and to his crops.  Man put the legal system into harmony with reality of what he already possessed and conquered.

Aeschylus and Aristotle stated that man is “better and more divine” than woman because man is movement and woman just matter. Woman was referred to as the Evil as Pythagoras wrote: “There is a good principle, which has created order, light, and man; and a bad principle, which has created chaos, darkness, and woman“.

The laws of Solon give no rights to women.  The Roman code puts women under guardianship and asserts her “imbecility”.  Canon law regards women as “the devil’s doorway“.  Only when woman marries does she becomes a rivulet that join the main river.

How to make of the wife at once a servant and a companion is one of the problems that man seeks to solve.

The advent of private property dethroned woman and her lot became bound up with the property.

In Egypt, where land was the property of the Pharaoh and the noble casts woman kept her standing in society as an equal to man; when private property was established, marriage transformed into a contract because women would not relinquish their well established traditional privileges.

In Persia, families with no women and whose sons died could adopt a wife and her offspring belonged to the family that adopted her so that property survives.  Thus, when the system of private property took hold man instituted a system where property transcended his life and the owner could transfer and alienate his existence into his property and continue to exist beyond the body’s dissolution.

Man refused then to share with woman either his gods or his children and wives were shut away in the gynoecium where they could not mingle with men.

The Greek society did not include polygamy, but in practice man could satisfy his carnal pleasures as he wished. Demosthenes proclaimed: “We have hetaerae (modern women with artistic inclinations) for the pleasures of the spirit, concubines for sensual pleasure, and wives to give us sons.”

Thus, in ancient Greece, the concubine replaced the wife when she was ill, indisposed, pregnant, or recovering from childbirth; there were no differences with our more recent harem. Greek law assured the wife a dowry and thus the widow no longer passed like a hereditary possession to her husband’s heirs or the oldest male in the larger family but returned into the hands of her parents.

In the city of Sparta, since the land was communal, women were treated almost on an equal level, but could not participate in the public affairs.  Girls and boys were hoarded into military activities and the husband saw his wife fleetingly and occasionally at night.  The wife didn’t have to be confined in her husband domicile and the very idea of adultery disappeared when the patrimony disappeared. Woman underwent the servitude of maternity but no restraint was put upon her liberty.

Prostitution was rampant in all regions in the antiquity and the sacerdotal class made profit by allowing prostitutes in the temples for the maintenance of the religious institutions.

Herodotus relates that in the 5th century BC, each Babylonian woman was in duty bound once in her lifetime to yield herself to a stranger in the temple of Mylitta for money and thereafter she went home to lead a chaste life. The seacoast towns instituted the “dicterions” where portion of the proceeds reverted to the State and where sailors and travelers relieved their sexual needs.

In Rome, regardless of the strict laws of guardianship women enjoyed practically a god standing.  The wife sat in the atrium; she guided the education of the children and shared the labours and cares of her husband and she was regarded as co-owner of his property.

The legal status of the Roman woman was brought into agreement with her actual condition and gained a positive guarantee of independence; as Plautus said: “In accepting the dowry, the husband sold his power”.

Under Marcus Aurelius and after 178, the children were the heirs of their mother, triumphing over the male relatives….

“How to dance forever” by Daniel Nagrin, (September, 8, 2007)

Daniel Nagrin is a performing artist, solo dancer and choreographers since 1940.  He trained under Helen Tamiris, Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, and Anna Sokolow and ended his career as a Professor of dance at Arizona State University in Tempe. He planned to become a psychologist. I had spent an entire night convincing his father to pay for a dancing career at the university.

The book contains eleven chapters on dancer’s day, diet, danger, healers and treatments, questions asking to be researched, the heart-mind of the dancer, backup, tricks, the survivors speak, the youth conspiracy, meditation techniques, vocal projection, and how to really dance forever.

Within the psyche of Western European history, there is an unresolved war between the mind and the body.  The Chinese word “hsin” means mind and heart, a oneness of passion and reason, the darkness and the light; thus in Western civilization order to be good, you must not be as bad as you would like to be. 

It is frequent that certain kinds of twisting and strutting of the body that is sending signals and signs that the body is beautiful might result is slaps, and hints that these behaviors are bad.  For a thousand years, there were all kinds of arts in Europe, except professional dancers who were prohibited in any respectable arena, stage or space.  Dancing was considered outside the pale of acceptable human and social behavior. 

Even in the USA, most Ivy League universities do not teach dance, at best professional dancing courses are minor diversion.  Thus, trace elements of self-doubts and guilt exist in professional dancers; there are either plagued by inhibitions or fly to the opposite pole of defiant vulgarity to justify the common moral disapproval.  Dancers who shun sensuality or those who seek in stage erotic connotation are in trouble as artists and as people. 

When the head is not right and the mind not in harmony with the body and the sense of self is an unresolved battlefield then the body is in danger and plenty of work has to be done.

Professional dancers are not all kinds of people in the USA because they share more common ground with professional dancers from Argentina or China than with the surgeon in the local towns.  Professional dancers have repeatedly experienced mystical happenings when the body is hot and flowing and frequently deep in the heart of fatigue. 

While dancing, there is a shift, and the dancer no longer has any skin, the floor becomes pliable, the music is coming from everywhere at once, the walls dissolve, there is no limits in space; a dancer feels that he can do anything, “a universe in us and outside us is us and all of us are whirling about in the dance and our body is stirring it all up”.  We never notice when it begins for while it is happening we are as happy as we can ever be and the beauty is that we are to busy dancing to know we are happy.  Professional dancers experience feeling “high” and it can be transmuted into addiction. 

The dancers continue dancing because they know that they will re-experience this exquisite high, for without this high why dance?  Dancing is a too hard a job, too risky and not rewarding financially, thus, why then dance if the experience of mystical happening does materialize? 

Most dance students consider the techniques as a way to gain control of the body, a way of controlling the beast body in line, a constant regimen of ordering its motion, not letting the body run free, an existence carrying the shadow of self-flagellation.  A dancer might have appearance, virtuosity, and even passion to dance but if he fails to convince and draw an audience into his expression and performance then he cannot qualify. 

A sense of pride in one’s physical presence on stage is the spine of the dancer’s craft and art; otherwise, performing can only be a torturous experience. Without pride in the body in front of an audience then better focus on choreography or other related specialty in dancing.

Daniel Nagrin tries to focus on the injuries that professional dancers undergo during their career and the types of professional healers and medical practitioners available such as general practitioner, general surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, chiropractor, acupuncture, physical therapist, kinesiologist, osteopathic, podiatrist, Rolfer, neurosurgeon, nutritionist or masseur, and how these practitioners are perceived, how long the career of professional dancer could last and what can be done after retirement.  

The motto “no pain no gain” is anathema to Daniel because he thinks that this saying could have been conceived by a sadistic sergeant: Daniel believes that the body knows its limitations and it is better to take plenty of rest breaks while sustaining the exercises and training; the body knows when it is demanding repose because not to heed the signs then a major injury is in the making.

Nagrin is not happy with the “youth conspiracy” where older professional dancers are eliminated from the shows that seek young dancers.  It seems that the Greek welcomed the older people to participate in ceremonial dances and the leaders, political, military, or artists, were encourage being part of the dance performances and in theater plays. 

The Romans Empire viewed dancing as effete and degenerate and only the slaves were allowed to entertain in dancing before the real show of the bloody games.  The Christian church inherited that revulsion for dancing from the Roman Empire and professional and public dance were prohibited and disappeared for a thousand years until the Renaissance.

“Tadjoura” by Jean Francois Deniau (written on Sept. 6, 2007)

I finished reading yesterday the French book “Tadjoura” that I borrowed from my aunt Montaha a week ago.

Twelve male individuals who had a long career, and some still holding on their jobs, have decided to meet once a month.  Everyman in the group has the name of a specific month, and on his namesake month the person will organize a dinner for the party and tell true anecdotes, though never about his adventures or himself.  This group has set rules to guide their behavior and the conversation.  August died and the group decided to elect a female to fill the vacant place.

July tells the story of Julius Gross who became a professional assassin hired by the Zionist terrorist movements after the WWII war to eliminate personalities that played roles in finding equitable solutions between the Palestinians and the Israeli State.  Julius is a Jew from Ruthenia, a territory attached to Slovakia.

Israel had already committed many atrocities like blowing up the British Headquarter in Jerusalem and killing comte Bernadotte, the UN mediator, and mass killing Palestinians in their villages.

The Zionist terror groups relied on the theory of the Irish Independence leader Michael Collins who argued that terrorism is valuable only in democracies because it can change public opinion; a professional killer should never take pleasure in his job.

During the Exodus ship adventure carrying Jews, and not being allowed to dock in Palestine, Julius was given order to blast the British Foreign Affair in the Chamber of Common.  Then Julius received a telegram to retrieve the bomb because the Israeli government re-examined the dire consequences; which he did by disguising as a lady cleaner.

August told of the French Doctor who visited the hot places where civil wars and famine where in full swing and how he managed to liberate a few compatriots by playing them with his tampered dice.  Doctor M drank no alcohol or womanized but he was an addict of gambling and loved to cheat in his games.  He told the French President: “Modern cruelty is the barbarous tendency for indifference

September recounted the mafia intrigues in Marseille and Corsica and the law of the islands that are too logical to an extreme for keeping account of the balance in the number of vendetta. Lucky Luciano, the number one public enemy in the USA and who was sentenced to 50 years in Sing Sing prison, was expedited to Italy as a reward for the Sicilian mafia aid during the landing in Sicily of the US troops.

The main traffic was in the Chesterfield cigarette which tripled the profit from the city of Tangier to Marseille.  Because of a lousy undelivered box of Havana cigars, a war among the mafia gangs left over 17 deaths within a period of twenty years.

Another time, the newly elected French President had by rule to visit all the districts in France and thus, he had to pay a visit to Corsica where a dangerous independent movement is active.  The government paid $100 millions for a peaceful visit. The mafia was upset that the political movement didn’t have the politeness to share part of the money and another round of vendetta killing started for a long period.

October told stories about explorers and adventurers and heros of war and he stated Chesterton: “There is no good idea if it cannot be translated with words.  There are no good words if they cannot be translated in actions”.

October recounted the war adventures of Vanden, a sub officer in the French army who could neither read nor write, and who collected a gang of Vietnamese from army prison camps and trained them as night commandos and attacked the Vietcong at night and terrified them and became a recognized prized enemy. Once, Vanden faked to be a captured prisoner by his followers who were disguised as Vietcong and when they entered the headquarter they wiped out the guerilla leaders in the sector.

A French Ambassador in an African State plagued by civil war refused the landing of two French commandos companies on the basis that if he shows that he is afraid then he might be considered guilty by the African citizens and the French would be targeted. His categorical refusal saved the French nationals.  The Ambassador said after all went right: “We can count the dead that we are responsible of, but not the people that we were able to save

During the presidential election, most parties from left and right selected the head of the Parliament to run against De Gaulle because he was considered the most efficacious to challenge him and he refused.  The opposition tried to blackmail him by taking pictures of sexual encounters and the politician refused again saying: “No. If you publish the photos I won’t be able to run anyway

November told anecdotes about spies and the theme of “who controls who“.  The case of the French spy Henry Dericourt during the Second World War was recounted extensively. This was more than a triple agent to the British, German and Soviet Union and he managed to convince the Germans that the landing is planed for Pas de Calais and not in Normandy.  The French resistance had to pay a heavy price in its cadres in order to let the German spies trust the information of Dericourt.

December, a sea navigator, set up the meeting on an island off the French coast in the Ouessant where many naval wreckages testify to this dangerous location during this time of the year.  Only 6 members showed up and January, the President of the circle, received a letter from member May stating that he would have committed suicide by the time the party met.

May blamed January for his decision to commit suicide because he allowed questions of personal nature to insinuate within the conversations, and that his double personalities was becoming a burden for him.  May was a pedophile or liked younger males and August had divulged this information accidentally during the November meeting.

January decided to resign and August was elected President.  December said that no sailor is alone in sea and recounted the solo maritime adventure around the World of the Great Joshua Slocum a century ago. Slocum told the story of finding a Spanish navigator from the fifteenth century guiding the sail while he was suffering from a debilitating fever.

January invited the circle to his residence at Tadjoura, an island facing Djibouti but he didn’t show up.

January was made prisoner in Ethiopia during his service and for many years laughed during torture instead of reacting as is appropriate to the tormentors. Three semi African ladies were caring for the invitees; the grand mother, her daughter and her grand daughter; the members guessed that some sort of incest has been taking place in this house; as Lord Knowland said: “Incest is not a grave matter as long as it stays within the family


August 22, 2007

“Finding Joy” by Charlote Davis Kasl


“Finding Joy” by Charlote Davis Kasl is one book of the dozen that Lisa stuffed my bag to read.  I started to read a few chapters at a time just to break the heavy progress on my other books.  There are twelve major parts: Discovering the power of joy, Loving yourself no matter what, Tapping the power of your mind, Lighten up and finding balance in a crazy world, Marvel at your amazing body, Reaching out and breaking a few rules, When you’re sinking then grab a life line, Loving your body in spite of it all, Loving children and discovering ourselves, More years and more wisdom, Dancing with life, and Joy to the world.

I liked the section on “let joy into your being” where T.S Eliot said “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” because it has a feeling of beauty and lightness and it creates an entity beyond words and an experience like a piece of tender music.  I liked also “prepare for joy” like when you are planning for a trip or backpacking and you start to exercise and get ready physically and mentally for your adventure weeks ahead of schedule. In his “Ode to Joy” Friedrich Schiller says: “By that holy fire impassioned, to thy sanctuary we come”.  Emily Dickinson expressed well the theme of hope bringing joy:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops, at all.

William Blake, whom I am under the impression of being humorless, said about holding on tightly and letting go lightly:

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

There were times in San Francisco when I allowed time for simple pleasure to permeate me; I would set aside a couple of days a week with no advance plans and would walk to parks, read a book and tan and get lost in side streets and stops at libraries and discover the world around me or take ride with whoever was driving outside the city to investigate the environs and the tiny exotic or peculiar villages, the old forest and even stay two days in Reno for free because a co-worker could get free stays in the casino as a frequent client.  I didn’t leave any park or public place go unnoticed in San Francisco; I would have enjoyed chatting with the bummers on the streets but they were too pushy and too dirty for pleasurable moments.

Look for the positive intentions in your behavior.  Instead of working on a behavior change or a plan to forget the feeling of depression or strangeness or other negative feelings which basically does not heal the spirit, it is more advisable to explore the positive intentions, for example if you stay in bed in the morning because your feel safe and cozy in bed for reasons dating from childhood then consider these feelings as positive and not that bad and then get out to the kitchen table the place that feels as safe and cozy.  We are perfectly imperfect and there are no one just like our imperfections; thus, for any behavior that you cringe of having try to discover the positive intentions and go on with your life sensing the joy of everyday lot.  Much of our problematic adult behavior stems from ways we protected ourselves as children; it is time to recognize the great goblins of our parents, churches, schools and the authoritarian “shoulds” that distort our self-esteem.

Tapping the power of the mind provides the ability to change the emotional and physical state simply by changing our thoughts.  Say the following: 

No matter what I have done, I deserve respect.

No matter what mistakes I made, I am worthy of love.

No matter what are my looks or skills, I am a valuable person.

You can be late and upset and anxious and frustrated or you can convince yourself that you are simply late.  The mind that accepts garbage in will spew garbage out and thus you need to change the channels of your mind from words that upset you to words that bring balance; substitute totally negative words and calamitous tendencies to words that express possibilities for recovery from disadvantageous situations. The power of positive thinking that was expounded by Norman Vincent Peale is right.

There are sections suggesting repeating affirmations because they create light energy such as “I can take care of myself” or “I can learn to develop traits that help me have good relationships”.  These affirmations shouldn’t feel phony such as saying opposite feelings that you are not feeling; the affirmations should suggest possibilities as “I have the power to feel better” and add movement while saying affirmations like dancing or taping or clicking on a lap counter. This method might sound like New Age stuff but it works.

Many problems have their sources to negative paired associations in our childhood like a teacher saying that we have no talent or feeling humiliated by our inabilities.  These problems, when identified, can be corrected by inviting the right person to reverse the association to a pleasurable endeavor.  That was then, this is now and I can do it differently.  Hmm, that’s interesting; it happens to people all the time.  It is not my fault and I can change it.  I am not bad, I am not stupid and it is not a catastrophe.  I get to ask for what I want.  Self-esteem chorus group can play therapy games channeling energy by working together.

Every time we bury our emotions we contribute to creating a stiff body and to access our inner world we need to sing, dance, jump, yell, howl in order to feel grief, sadness, joy, anger, and stripping away our self-consciousness.  Start my moaning and by the by your voice take a bright and high sounds because the energy vibrations can clear the tension.

There is a spiritual aspect to simplify your life and clearing the clutter around you and getting rid of possessions that we never use.  Try potluck parties “a come-as-we-are party” instead of getting frantic and frazzled preparing parties for others.

Death is part of life and one of the task of the dying should be to help the left behind and leaving a trail of dignity and completeness in the presence of death.  There is a group in Missoula, Montana, called the “Chalice of Repose” who minister to the dying with music and choral concerts.

If you practice reading the energy emanating around you it would be like a thermometer for self-preservation; instead of believing that it is your fault that the atmosphere is dense when you go to a meeting you start recognizing the persons who are the culprits with low energies and tense emotions.

Always remember that if you feel lonely that it is not necessarily that you are alone among the billions of individuals who are in your situation or even far worse.  Thus, it pays off to adopting a cosmic perspective; earth has been around for millions of years and human kind less than a hundred thousand.  As specie we will get extinct but earth will have a chance to rejuvenate and get rid of the existing pollution and devastation. 

Any hobby that you have the urge to undertake then it is worth doing even badly; you need not be afraid of mediocrity or clumsiness; it is better to be a run-of-the-mil player than go to the grave regretting you never tried what you really wanted to do.  There are situations when you have the tendency to procrastinate, not because you lack the skills but because the task overwhelm you, then if you feel like a baby and want to scream and badly need aid, get a baby-sitter who will talk to you and care for you until you finish your task; you always require a friend in need because you are trained to take care of everything single handedly.

There are times you need to relax your over careful behavior and take the plunge; at a certain point you have to stop being picky and worrying about every little thing and just do it.  Imperfect situations can be part of the fun if you see them as drama and think that things could go right more often than not.

There are situations when you are going against your principles but can’t seem to stop yourself and you resolve to control your behavior and you find out that you are doing it again to your chagrin and bitterness; the approach of stay-awake-stay aware allows you to observe your behavior and ask relevant questions every time the situation recurs then you go through your drama with your self-esteem intact; the approach helps you break the trance of the addictive behavior by attempting to tune into your inner world.  The stay-awake-stay aware technique does not result in immediate gratification because consciousness and addiction cannot co-exist. Thus, lighten up and keep slowly observing yourself.

Going on a binge, eating, drinking or shopping, is fun because you hide your shame secretly which is part of the high and then you say what a horrible and terrible person you are.  When you are planning a binge, invite a friend to be with you and make him agree to be a support and then reach inside and talk out loud about what is going with you.  This process might make you realize that binging for the wrong reasons doesn’t make much sense and it involves transformation rather than quitting cold turkey without understanding.

Suppose than a wild fire is coming from one direction and the wind from the opposite direction, then what you should do? Run away like hell and pray for rain.  If you are in a situation where your neighbors are throwing garbage out the window and are not relenting, then you should move.  There are times to bail out, quit, leave the struggle, and have more time for joy.

The dance of the journey to joy involves being open to detours in the road.  You should set goal but you need to keep your eyes on the present and the various opportunities offered to you and listen to your calling and follow the guidance that comes around.  The idea is to live by the truth and not a plan hatched twenty years ago.  When your mind is focused on the present it provides a constant feedback loop that helps you assess and re-assess your goals that might be changing. 

On the path toward joy you need to equip yourself with first aid kit such as: Learn to focus on breathing, to say “I am sacred and whole”, “it matters, but it’s not that serious”, “Whatever it is it will pass”, and learn to direct your attention outward and focus on concrete things around you, and play music and dance and laugh and hike.  When your mind is scattered and feel that you are losing control and overwhelmed then write a short list of tasks that you can do and stick to it.  As you take control, you may feel part of you rebelling and trying to distract you or make you sleepy, but hang in to your list long enough and the anxiety will slip away.  It might take several attempts to be able to stick to a list of simple tasks and in the mean time go ahead and take a nap and try again.

The trick to bypass the recurring child feelings of being out of control is first, to learn to connect with your feelings and backtrack to when you first got off course and then ask yourself; “What can I do about it?”; second, you need to connect with another person because the goblins in our mind get bigger in isolation; and third, you need to connect with your spirit because it is drama and not about your worth.  Remember to shout for help; even if nobody heard you, at least you heard yourself and you are ready to open to the vast powers of the universe.

Mistakes are made to occur and everyone is liable of making mistakes no matter how controlling he behaves.  Put the mistake in perspective, it is not usually a big deal and earth will turn.  Just because your parents screamed and yelled when you made mistakes doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

Clear your feelings one at a time otherwise your feelings will keep going in circle.  Learn not to let another emotion takes over your train of thought and talk all the way about a single emotion until you create a secure base from which to make decisions or find solutions.  This technique of focusing on a single emotion will help you be a better listener and thus we expand our lives and create deeper intimacy, and feel more joy.  Remember that there are always choices, even bad alternatives but you need to get over the “I can’t” status which is the joyless victim stance and move on.

No matter what your age and physical abilities it is how you feel and not how you look.  In Western medicine, health is seen as a lack of pathology such as a lump, fever, sore throat, or illness and not how alive and how you create a glow of vitality.  Accept your body the way it is today and don’t walk away from your spirit.  Exercising means bringing in more oxygen which is good for the immune system, the muscles and every cell; it helps stimulating the endorphin in the brain which bring feelings of pleasure and aid you to think clear and more at peace and have an abundance of energy. Exercise even badly but exercise; a little is much better than never.  The body heals faster when you exercise.

When you wake up massage your body and linger on the tender spots and the parts that feel sore; get the necessary pleasure from your body by touching it and massaging it and training it. From time to time make a date with yourself for a couple of hours; clean your room, take the phone off the hook, start a scented bath, and listen to soft music and sensuously touch your body all over.  You are how you eat, so learn to have a balanced diet.  Thus, when you are sleepy, sleep.  When you are hungry, eat what keeps you light and alive.  When you are full, stop eating and drinking.

When raising children you need to remember that the kids are looking up at giants and it is your job to either scare them off and curtail their normal growth or stoop in front of them and look them up in the eyes and takes them on your knees and relegate to them the power to communicate with you in comfort, confidence and joy.  It is not a matter of raising your own children but to get into your head that every kid is the next generation and you have the duty to care for every kid around you who might need your time and compassion.

Old age is hard work and those who reach old age are no Sissies because it takes a lot of determination and will power to go about the daily chores of surviving.  Old people realize that they have to make peace with their turbulent life and rediscover new passions if they failed to prepare early.  Old people need to re-learn to stay wild and restoring their sense of humor.  Lyla, an eighty-year old, who felt an outsider in her childhood, found it hard to inviting people to do things, yet she loved to be invited.  This lady participated in a Reiki class and opened up; she is staying active and open to introspection about her childhood and continued to make changes in her life.  It is excellent for older people to expand their circle of friends to include younger generations; it is not the age it is soul mates’ affinity.  Margaret Wickes told the anecdote of asking her husband: “Do you think you are dying?”  Her man answered: “I don’t know, I’ve never died before”.  Margaret was asked how she is handling so many of her friends dying and she said: “This is the reason my new friends are much younger”.

“Lebanon: safeguarded by its culture”? by Phares Zoghbi

August 19, 2007 “Liban: le salut par la culture” 

I am a frequent visitor to the Phares Zoghbi’s library in Cornet Shehwan and which was turned over to the University of Saint Joseph for management. This private library is to find domicile at Zoghbi’s house.

Phares Zoghbi’ is a renown lawyer and is 94 years old.  I asked the resident director of the library, Rita Zoghbi (not a relative), about books that Maitre Zoghbi has published and she gave me two for free, both written in French: “Liban: le salut par la culture” and “A livres ouverts, une vie de souvenirs(An open book: A life of remembrance), a biographical book.

Two months ago, I overheard Maitre Phares asking Rita about the final count on the books in his library and she replied: “I think we reached over 50,000 manuscripts and counting”.  Most of the manuscripts and magazines are in French and Arabic, and the library host rare books on legal matters and legal opinions.

The following critical summary merges the two books because the philosophical views of the author are shared in both books.  I didn’t translate the French quotations into English and thus, the style is hybrid.  It is funny that even the word processor is very confused trying to auto-correct the typos.

“Liban: le salut par la culture” discusses the meaning of culture, the Lebanese political and social realities and the viable remedies, the Lebanese national pact, the genesis of Maitre Phares’ philosophical views, the subject of the Francophone, a sarcastic description of the US dollars supremacy, and other topics.

The chapters on Lebanon are interesting and offer rich perspectives; even the many sections that deal with topics about the social and political problems of Lebanon, which I am familiar with, are worth reading carefully because I discovered a few gems and personal and historical facts.

The definition of culture and what culture is needed for the Lebanese as a people is worth diagnosing.  During the colloquium of Avignon in April 1982 that discussed establishing a Euro-Afro-Arab university in Alexandria (Egypt), since Lebanon was still involved in a civil war, Jacques Berque said: “La culture c’est le movement d’une societe qui s’ efforce de chercher ses explications et de se donner une expression”.

I quote “La culture n’est plus fin de partie, elle est appareillage; un projet de retrouvaille qui ramasse le passe, le présent et le future dans une perspective d’un grand dessein qui galvanise les désirs et les espoirs, un projet qui œuvre sur l’environnement, produit du médiat et de l’immédiat”.

In that perspective, Maitre Zoghbi delineates the following principles for a socio-historic research for our culture:

1. Islam admits the idea of a State-nation. There is nowhere mention in the Koran or in the hadith that when Moslems are part of a nation that Islam should dominate.

2. As the Christian religion should not be confounded with the periods of inquisition, Islam experienced long periods of tolerance and the sourate of the Table is an example.

3. That historically and sociologically, the culture of any community cannot dissociate from its surrounding.

4. If the West is presently our primary source of cultural nourishment, the East is our lot, our beginning and our destination.

5. That this enterprise of long-term cultural osmoses and synthesis should not entitle any constraints in religion, ethnic particularities, any refusal of differences as long as the communal effort is preserved.

In support of these principles, the author was encouraged by the views of many intellectuals that converged with his opinions like Antoine Messarra, Michel Hayek, Roger Arnaldez, Hisham Nachabi, Youssef Ibech,  Sobhi Saleh, Rene Habashi, and Jean Maroun.

What is disturbing is that the author failed to mention Antoun Saaadeh who wrote in 1940:

“Islam (peace) in his two messengers: Jesus and Mohammad” and proved that the fundamentals of these two religions do not differ and that, when thirteen years later Mohammad established firmly his message, he had to deal with the socio-economic and political divergences among the tribes and had to codify their behaviors and thus, interpretations were necessary and differences with evolving societies required fine tuning…”

My impression is that the author followed the auto-censorship in the Lebanese system to keep Sa3adeh a taboo name, otherwise credibility would be robbed from the author and his ideas utterly invalidated.

Frankly, I have realized that auto-censorship for a long while in this confessional, feudal, and isolationist system that exhibited fascistic pressures on cultural movements that might exhibit serious threat to its survival.

Maitre Zoghbi explained in great length the historical creation of the Republic of Lebanon.

In 1919, Father Henri Lammens summed up the historical evolution of the Syrian nationality in well defined geographical borders and tradition, which the classical Antiquity and the Greek, Roman, and Arab empires recognized the fact that the people within these natural borders constitute one nation.

In fact, the colonial powers recognized that the people in the Near East constituted a cohesive entity within natural boundaries linking the east and Africa with rich and qualified human resources,  natural raw materials, and might eventually disrupt the colonial trade and expansion.

The current political States, established by the mandatory powers, should not erase the fact that we are one people in history, geography and culture, regardless of political consensus among the political states to live as independent States.

It is true that Israel would like to divide these States even further according to religious sects in order to provide political legitimacy to its existence and also to be able to subjugate these tiny and helpless States, one State at a time.  The Israeli archives prove that the Maronite Patriarchs and the Maronite parties of “Al Ketlate Al Watania” of the Edde family and “Al Kataeb” of the Gemayel family were in constant negotiations with Zionism, long before its foundation as the State of Israel.  Many Maronite clergy and political leaders were in cohort with Zionism so that it might acquire some political legitimacy in Lebanon in the face of the Moslem majority.

It is true that genuine representative democracy should offer minorities, whether religious sects, classes, or professions, proportional representation in parliament, government and jobs.  Thus, our genius should be directed at easing the apprehension of the minorities and establishing a unified civil code that group us as one people under the law.

First, we should start by diminishing the powers relegated to the 18 recognized religious sects,  the de facto ruler of our lives from birth to death. For the central government to recover its responsibilities over all the Lebanese citizens it can start by taxing heavily the financial resources of these religious hierarchies and gradually recuperating the duties that the central government is entitled to in modern democracies.

Since our independence in 1943, the motto of ruling class was that we need first to erase the confessional inclinations from our mind before putting in writing a civil code, as if it is possible to reach a civil society without first codifying our civil status as the law of the land.

The National Pact of 1943 for tiny Lebanon was not bad in itself if the intention was to represent the various communities constituting the Lebanese fabric, but it quickly degenerated into a confessional oligarchy of spoilage of the political privileges between the feudal and financial figures of the Maronite and Sunny sects, which dominated the urban centers and economic comprador infrastructure.

The flawed electoral systems since the independence meant the hegemony of the leaders of the two sects; it is so true that leaders in these two sects had to run in the districts of Bekaa, Akar, and the south in order to win a seat in the parliament when they failed in their own districts.  The various alternative electoral systems prevented a normal evolution toward a stable democracy because political secular parties and associations were unable to be represented and when they had the popular support then the governments managed to cheat them out of their due rights; this political system could not generate a stabilizing effect in our multi-religious society.  Lebanon suffered two “military coup d’etat” simply because the system refused to recognize the election of secular figures.

My opinion is that it seems that the Lebanese intelligence is not so far working toward a stable and secure State after over 65 years of independence from the French mandate.  What is needed is to create a bi-level parliament; one parliament would be constituted by political parties, professional associations and syndicates in a proportional quota and the other parliament represented by one deputy for one electoral district so that all religious minorities will be represented. The latter parliament would have a certain level of veto power over specific legislations by the former parliament and would also cater specifically to the individual districts.

It is hoped that the combined number of deputies in both parliaments should never exceed 128 deputies who are taxing heavily our resources and providing largess to their descendents in amenities and political privileges.

The issue of national resistance against the successive aggressions of Israel on Lebanon and the neighboring Arab States has been discussed.  The author mentioned the articles of Michel Chiha in the daily “Le Jour” where he warned in 1948, four days after the foundation of the State of Israel, that resistance is a question of life and death for the Near East and Egypt.

Again, either the author wanted to restrict his references to articles written in French and didn’t want to venture into translating from Arabic manuscripts or he just wanted to select articles that appeared in the daily “L’Orient Le Jour”, or most probably the auto-censor is working against the teaching of Antoun Saaadeh.  The leader Saaadeh has founded a party in 1937 for the purpose of uniting the people against the Zionism development; he warned that if an organized force is not formed to counter the ever expanding forces of Zionism then the State of Israel will be founded and we will have to suffer the consequences of precarious existence for centuries.

Sa3adeh also was the first to warn that oil is an international weapon that was not used to counter the schemes of the Western nations in Palestine.  Actually, Sa3adeh was summarily executed because the British and American were anxious to have the oil pipeline “Tapeline” contract ratified and Habib Abu Chahla, the appointed Lebanese lawyer for Tapeline, was the force behind convincing the President of the Republic Bechara Khoury to get rid of that Saadeh nuisance to the comprador economy.

Since every single one of our problems is current from the time of our Independence, and getting worse, it is worthwhile to discuss the immediate quagmire about the election of a new president to the Republic.  And since the President is elected by the members of the parliament it would be fair to suggest that the timing of the election to the Chamber of deputies be done four months before the end of the term of the President in order to correspond to the wishes of the people.

Obviously, the terms of the deputies must be modified from four to three years or one third of the chamber should be renewed every two years.  The President should be given the right to dismiss the parliament once in his term and also to dismiss the government once in his term so that the system can avoid these gridlocks so very frequent in our history and go back to the people for referendums.

If we have any intelligence left to organize our society, it is about time to re-think a Constitution that has learned from our constant and frequent political troubles and insert any revised national pact into the one an unique Constitution as the foundation for our survival and progress.

A section in “Lebanon: safeguarded by its culture” was reserved to analyze the Sepharade Jews, over 65% of the Jews in Israel, who came from the Arab States and carried with them the customs and traditions of the Orient and were forced not to learn Arabic and dissociate from their oriental culture as a heavy baggage for the development of a modern Israel.

“A livre ouverts: une vie de souvenirs” by Phares Zoghbi is a biography of an individual trying to discover his entity, his culture, and his philosophy to life.  The author lost his father when he was ten and his mother had to let go of her son when his married uncle without child volunteered to adopt him in Lebanon.

From a care free life style in Brazil the author had to experience a controlled and restricted atmosphere where communication was limited since the new family could not speak Portuguese and he could not speak Arabic or Spanish.  I was pained that the author had to forget and forgo the Portuguese language when he moved to Lebanon and had to learn Arabic and French.  It is my contention that a language that you can master its reading is an additional soul that enriches your perspectives and enlarges your horizon and increases your moral character and diversifies your philosophy on life.

Maitre Phares is one of thousands of Lebanese children like me who had to learn or relearn their mother tongue when born overseas, simply because we have no strong national spirit to unite us and stick to a national language which is Arabic.

The schools overseas that teach Arabic are so scarce and so poorly taken seriously that we feel plagued by an inferiority complex that drives us to master other languages to an extreme.  The problem of how a language can balance between the scientific exigencies and the cultural demands is even more acute in Arabic, notwithstanding that updates on the new development and social changes that require new terminologies and different structure in expression are not followed up.

Maitre Fares mentioned several people and books that affected his system of beliefs such as Emmanuel Mounier “Le Personnalisme”, Denis de Rougemont “L’Aventure occidental de l’homme”, Jean Guiton “Portrait de M. Pouget”, Pierre Boisdeffre ” Metharmorphose de la litterature de Barres a Malraux”, A.M. Alberes “L’Aventure intellectuelle du XX siecle”, Jorge Amado “Bahia de tous les saints”, Rene Habachi “De l’homme et de la connaissance”, Malraux, Bergson “L’Energie spirituelle”, Teilhard de Chardin “Le phenomene human”, Camus, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and Michel Foucault in “Les mots et les Choses” who is the representative of the Structuralism movement that announced the “death of man” and the irrelevance of the subject matter since human kind is basically doomed even before Earth vanishes to smithereens.  I quote: “Man is an invention that the archeology of our thinking easily proves that man is a recent creature and that his end is coming soon”.

Claude Levi-Strauss has become a major source to Maitre Zoghbi to comprehend structuralisme or the new science mouvement; Levi-Strauss’ published  books are: “Tristes Tropiques”, “Mythologiques: le cru et le cuit”, “Du miel aux cendre”, “L’Origine des manières de table”, and “L’Homme nue”.  Maitre Zoghbi is on the lookout for any philosophy that would restore his belief in man and personal evolution.  The favorite magazines (revues) of Phares Zoghbi were Esprit and Les Temps Modernes.

I am proud and happy that our neighborhood has a library founded by the sweat and dedication of an internationally cultured man.  I am still baffled why Maitre Phares decided on the Ph in his name instead of the simple F.

 “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, (written in July 3, 2007)

Morrie, a Brandeis sociology professor, is finding out that he is afflicted by Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that atrophy the muscles and which is terminal.  This ailment reduces the patient to a totally dependent state, even for wiping his behind at an advanced stage, before his lung muscles kill him by suffocation.

Mitch Albom, Morrie’s former student, has appointments with Morrie every Tuesday to talk and record his feeling and ideas about death and other sticky issues.

Morrie gave up driving when he could barely push the brakes, gave up swimming when he could no longer undress himself, he gave up teaching after he warned his class that he has a fatal illness and may not live to finish the semester. 

The illness begins at the legs and works its way up and is like a lit candle that melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax and confined to a wheel chair and then helped to piss.  Morrie decided that he would allow to be studied as a patient throughout the difficult and embarrassing periods of degeneracy of his illness.

Mitch forgot his professor for 13 years until one night he watched Ted Koppel Nightline program covering his crippled professor at his home.  Mitch visited Morrie and they decided to meet every Tuesday as they used to do during college and Mitch carried a tape recorder because these sessions were going to be a work project or “final thesis” and the subject was the meaning of life and taught from experience, about death, marriage, family, feeling sorry, regrets, emotions, fear of aging, money, culture, forgiveness, and perfect day. 

Mitch called Morrie “Coach” and the latter called him “Player”.

Morrie had many friends who came to visit with him during his dying days and many of his former students and he used to focus on individual people and giving them his undivided attention.  Henry Adams says: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”.

After Morrie reached a state of total helplessness, except for talking, he said that he leaned to enjoy total dependency because we all know how to be a baby; we just refuse to remember how to enjoy being a child and plainly enjoy the situation when once our mother used to caress us, hold us, rock us and take care of us. 

Morrie worked in a mental hospital for five years after graduation on a grant to observe patients and record their treatments, a place for research where he could contribute without exploiting others.  He learned that what most of these mentally ill persons wanted was someone to notice that they were there.  He befriended some of the patients and had gotten through them.  Morrie’s mother died when he was ten and he learned it through a telegram and his father forbade him to mention her name and would not talk to him or touch him or tuck him in bed.

Morrie learned to let emotions of fear, anxiety, loneliness, and horror sink in, dive in, all the way, over his head, and completely experience them and recognize the feel of their progress and their texture and then to detach from these emotions and step away from them.  Morrie learned to turn on the faucet of emotions, of tears, of fear and not let them inside so that he may control them.  

(Now I can relate to the meaning of detachment from emotions contrary to the dry and academic Raja Yoga lecturer such as Dr.Prashant who never told us a personal story; what I understood from his lecture is not to let emotion sink in but to eliminate them from our soul consciousness.  My nephew William tried to explain that raja yoga focus on the personal qualities of love, security, knowledge of the whole, and courage.)

Morrie said that what gives real satisfaction is not money or power or material belongings but the possibility of offering something that you have.  Offering to teach elderly people computer skills, storytelling for kids, companionship to lonely and homeless people by playing cards, just giving your time to someone who can enjoy what you have to offer. 

That is how you get respect because you are needed.  Morrie told Mitch a story: “a little wave in the ocean was having a great time when she saw the waves ahead of her crashing against the shore and she started to look grim. A second wave behind her asked her why she is looking so sad and she said that all of us are going to be nothing.  The second wave told her: “you are not a wave; you’re part of the ocean.”

On the twelfth Tuesday they talked about forgiveness and Morrie said: “You’ve got to learn to forgive yourself before you die for all the things you should have done and then forgive others and make peace with everyone around you.  Pride and vanity are the culprits for wasting sound and special relationships.”

On the thirteenth Tuesday, Mitch learned that Morrie wanted to be cremated and told his rabbi: “Make sure they don’t overcook me.” He said that in hospital they pull a sheet up over the dead patient and wheel the body to a chute and push it down as if death is contagious. Morrie thought last night that it was the end and a certain peace fell upon him; the sensation of accepting what was happening, being at peace like being ready to crossing a bridge into the unknown.  Morrie felt that he could cross the bridge if he wanted. 

The hardest thing is to make peace with living.  We are different from plants and animals in that we can remember the feeling of love we had; you live on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured.  Death ends a life, not a relationship.

Mitch asked Morrie what he would do if he knew that he could be normal for 24 hours and he said: “I’ll do my exercises, have my favorite breakfast, go for a swim and invite friends over for lunch; talk about families and their issues, then go for a walk in a garden and take in the nature. In the evening we’d all go to a restaurant and dance the rest of the night and then have a deep sleep.” It was perfection of an average day.

In business, people negotiate to win but in love you should be concerned about the partner’s situation as you are about your own.

On the fourteenth Tuesday, Mitch received a call from Charlotte telling him that Morrie was not doing well.  Morrie said: “You are a good soul. You touched me in my heart” and laid Mitch’s hand on his heart and kept it there.




October 2008

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