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Posted (crates) in Books, Philosophy/Religion, Photography on March-31-2009

I was reading this incredible book (God’s Demon by Wayne Barlowe) about the demons of hell and the story of one demon who attempted to regain Heaven and I came across this character called Lilith.  I had heard of Lilith before, of course, but I really knew nothing about her.

Much has been written about Lilith.  There were stories of demons named Lilitu and Lilu in ancient Sumeria and Assyria which took on various attributes, but  often interacted with people in a number of sexual ways.    One source describes her as:

“A female demon of the night who supposedly flies around searching for newborn children either to kidnap or strangle them. Also, she sleeps with men to seduce them into propagating demon sons. Legends told about Lilith are ancient. The rabbinical myths of Lilith being Adam’s first wife seem to relate to the Sumero-Babylonian Goddess Belit-ili, or Belili. To the Canaanites, Lilith was Baalat, the “Divine Lady.” On a tablet from Ur, ca. 2000 BCE, she was addressed as Lillake. ”

There are many ancient allusions to her, but the accounts that I find the most interesting is the references to her from Jewish FolkloreSome of these stories said that God created Lilith before Eve as quoted below from an article in Wikipedia. The photograph is also from Wikipedia:

“After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not


listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air.”

The angels chased after Lilith to bring her back but she would not come, agreeing to one hundred of her babies dying each year as a penalty, but having dominion over boy babies by causing them sickness for eight days after birth, and female babies for twenty days after birth.

When the angels insisted on returning her, she agreed to leave the babies alone if they wore an amulet with the likenesses or names of the angels upon it.  Thus for over a thousand years the Jewish people made amulets for their children to ward off her daughters who were called the Lilim.

Thus two traditions of stories portray Lilith in two ways: one as an incarnation of lust that leads men astray, and another as a baby strangling witch.  Here is an interesting account of the legends.

Posted (crates) in Personal Stuff on March-29-2009

I have noticed for a long time that whenever I go to look up a meaning of a term or phrase,  I often do not understand the definition or explanation that is given.   Often the definition involves jargon or words with which I am unfamiliar.  Take the following examples.

I was looking up information on Word Press, a blogging program, and was reading the following introductory  sentence in Wikipedia:

“WordPress has a templating system, which includes widgets that can be rearranged without editing PHP or HTML code, as well as themes that can be installed and switched between.”  Already I am confused by the terms.  What is a templating system?  What is a widget?  I am fairly familiar with the terms PHP and HTML, but I could see how somebody who knew even less than I do might be confused by this sentence which was supposedly written to convey information to uninformed people. Now some of these terms are linked to other sites which can be followed to determine the meaning.  But then one can find oneself in an endless link quest.

Not knowing what a template processor was,  I looked that term up–also on Wikipedia, and found the following:  “A template processor (also known as a template engine or a template parser) is software or a software component that is designed to combine one or more templates with a data model to produce one or more result documents.”    Ok, the template processor is a program(?) designed to combine templates (now what is a template?) with a “data model” (?) to produce a “result document.”

I follow the link to template since I’m not what exactly the mean by the term and find the following: “

The term template, when used in the context of software engineering has various technical specifications, but is generally identified as any processing element that can be combined with a data model and processed by a template engine to produce a result documentI got the feeling that I was going in circles and really not understanding much.  How did I get here?  Oh yes, I was looking up information on Word Press, trying to understand more about it.

Is it just me?  Am I stupid or what?  I find this problem almost every where that I look.  It seems, in my humble opinion, to be a real need for people, when writing to an ignorant audience, as opposed to one who is already knowledgeable about the subject, to write in clear concise terms.  One shouldn’t have to follow endless links to more obfuscatory articles which offer more links to unknown terms, etc.  Actually the more I think about it, the more I think that even IF the article is aimed at a jargon-savy audience, it should STILL be written in a clear, concise manner!

This is just one example.  I could list numerous such writings that I run across every day.  When I do run across a clear explanation of a subject in which I am interested, it is like a breath of fresh air.

Posted (crates) in Books, Philosophy/Religion on March-28-2009

Long ago I read an early English comparison of a man’s life to that of a sparrow, who flies through a mead hall out of a stormy winter’s night.  The sparrow is briefly exposed to the light, warmth and safety of the hall before it vanishes back into the night and storm.  I have always remembered this and have thought of how apt it was, but I had forgotten the reference until now. 

         I looked it up and found that this story was told by The Venerable Bede in his The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  In Northumbria of the seventh century, King Edwin called a meeting to decide if missionaries should be allowed to preach.  Paulinus had tried to convert Edwin to become a Christian, but Edwin wished to consult his friends and advisors.  The chief priest Coifi recommended that Edwin follow the teaching of Christianity, and another advisor agreed saying:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in
comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the
swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit
at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes,
while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed,
but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.
The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out
at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry
tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he im-
mediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter
to winter again. So this life of man appears for a
little while, but of what is to follow or what went before
we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine
tells us something more certain, it seems
justly to be followed in our kingdom.”

The below site depicts a sparrow in flight through such a mead hall:


Posted (crates) in nature on March-24-2009

Today, while on a walk I was staring at the pipe where my little stream exits after traveling beneath and across the road.  The stream parallels the road for most of the way down to the beach, and just before the beach is reached, the stream enters a large concrete pipe, travels beneath the road, and exits on the other side of the road where it eventually runs into the sea.

This end of the pipe is covered with moss, and the water as it exits,  splashes merrily on a pile of rocks below.  So I was standing there, staring almost hypnotized at the smooth stream of water as it came out of the mossy pipe and watching the splashing of the water.   As I watched, I was aware of something that began to niggle at my attention.  I gradually realized that it was the splashing of the water on the rocks that was beginning to rankle me.

I could see that the splashing of the water appeared to be  almost random in the pattern of the drops as they bounced about.  The water as it exited appeared to be smooth and uniform with no visible turbulence.  Thus it seemed to me that if the water flow was uniform and constant then it seemed that the splashing should be uniform with the drops falling in a recognizable pattern.  But it wasn’t.  The drops splashed in what appeared to be an erratic and  random sort of way.  The splashing was not uniform at all.

This set my mind off on several tangents.  The water flowing through the pipe reminded me first of all of laminar flow and turbulence, and how when Werner Heisenberg (of quantum mechanics fame) was supposedly asked what he would ask God when he met him, said “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.”

This apparent dissonance in the splashing of the water also reminded me of one of the problems in the Big Bang Theory.  According to the theory the early universe should have been uniform and smooth, but it was not.  It appeared after a short while to be lumpy and dimpled.  Gravity alone doesn’t seem to be the reason that the universe has congealed into galaxies, stars, planets and people in such a short time.  Perhaps dark matter had something to do with it?

And what about the little game called Quincunx that Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, came up with (from which developed the pin ball machines)?  Think of a board with nails stuck in it with slots at the bottom.  When marbles or steel bearings are released at the top and allowed to fall to the bottom, each one strikes a nail and bounces either to the left or to the right before eventually arriving at one of the slots at the bottom.  Here is an illustration of the apparatus if you find it hard to imagine.  Due to the fact that there are many more paths to the center slots than to the slots at the margin, more marbles collect in the center slots than those at the sides.  Eventually a bell shaped or normal curve is formed.  The fate of one of the marbles is unknown when it is released at the top, but the fate of many of these marbles can be predicted statistically.

This in turn reminded me of a fertilized egg as it proceeds through the blastula, gastrula and other early stages of the embryo, each cell containing the same DNA and each cell, like the marbles falling down the plank, eventually turning down a particular developmental path becoming specialized into epithelial, nervous, connective or muscle tissue.

And what you may ask does all this have to do with anything?  Well, the apparent randomness of the splashing water proceeding from what appeared to be the smooth flowing water through the pipe, made me think of turbulence, which reminded me of the lumpy nature of the universe which reminded me of the apparent randomness of the bouncing marbles which actually show a pattern, which reminded me of the identical cells developing down what seemed random developmental paths to form organized tissue.

When I put it that way it all makes sense…doesn’t it?

Posted (crates) in biology, Evolution on March-23-2009

     I came across a reference to camel eyes while reading a work by David King (Skeletons on the Zahara), who wrote about the crew of an American ship who were shipwrecked on the African Sahara in the early nineteenth century.   Since the eyelid is very thin, the camel often closes this eyelid in sandstorms and keeps on walking since he can still see through it.  Camels also have long eyelashes that help protect the eyes from the sand.  Their feet are also broadened (often as large as a large plate) to walk up on sand with out sinking into it.  Planet pets gives a great illustration of the third eyelid of camels that act like a windshield wiper on a car and wipes the sand away. 

     There are other mammals that have this so-called nictitating membrane.  The full membrane is common in Marsupials and Monotremes, but is also found in polar bears, seals and aardvarks.  In most other mammals there is just a remnant of the membrane.  The full membrane is also found in fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds.

    I remember as a child noticing this membrane while trying out some interesting experiments with chickens.  I heard that if a chicken had its beak held down to a line on the ground (or a rope), it would stay in position when released as if paralyzed.  Also if its head was pushed up under its wing it would remain motionless on the ground if released.  The latter is true, although I never really was able to test the line hypothesis very well. 

    While holding the chicken I noticed that its ear appeared to be a simple hole in its head covered by a small flap of bristly feathers.  When I rubbed this flap of feathers, the nictating membrane of the chicken would immediately close over the chicken’s eye and it seemed to go into an estatic trance.  Or at least it seemed a trance to me, because I could set the chicken down on the ground and it wouldn’t run away, but would sit there in a somewhat befuddled state.  This was my first time that I noticed the nictitating membrane.

       I later found out that although chickens have no real outer ear or pinna, they do have a type of ear lobe.  Also you can predict the color of their eggs from the color of this ear lobe.   I found this hard to accept actually.

     They think that the same gene that controls the lobe color also controls the egg color.  Their ear lobes typically run from white to near black, whereas the corresponding egg color ranges from white to a deep brown in conjunction with the lobe color.

     Chickens are curious creatures, I have always thought. 

Posted (crates) in Consciousness, Philosophy/Religion on March-19-2009

           We are self-aware entities cursed, or blessed, with the foreknowledge of our personal extinction.  We realize that our passage through this amazing universe is a short, fleeting journey.  And as we pass along, our journey seems to accelerate, and with growing apprehension, we watch the wonders flash by us as we approach the inevitable.

          Our actions become influenced by this foreknowledge.  We grasp at the flashing seconds, trying to savor more fully the fleeting, evanescent scenes that seem as dreams as we pass by,  looking back with astonishment like travelers in a speeding train, trying to discern the landscape behind us that passes into shifting mist and then is lost.

           A blessing and, yes, a curse.  But as our existence accelerates, we can make a conscious decision to…put on the brakes, to pause and examine closely, in detail, each moment like a precious golden coin, squeezed between our fingers, savoring the details, the look, the touch, the taste and realizing that in this great universe there are wonders beyond belief and imagination, beyond comprehension, and then we can appreciate how incredibly blessed we are to have had this journey, not only to have had it, but to have been fully conscious of its wonders.

           Make a conscious decision now to decide just exactly what it is in this life that is important to you.  Decide this and then decide to consciously be aware of each precious moment.  Then take it and live it!

Posted (crates) in nature on March-17-2009

I’ve spent a great deal of time categorizing things.  We all do this from birth, some more than others I think.  As we grow up from early childhood, we are always learning new things, and trying to place everything in the proper perspective.  We learn to name things.

As a child I learned the names of all the common trees and birds.  I learned most of the flowers in my mother’s garden, and then later after becoming interested in snakes and other reptiles, I learned  the names of most of the ones in that part of Texas where I grew up.  I memorized the scientific names of all of them and proceeded to learn the scientific names of amphibians, birds, flowers, insects, plants and so on.  I still have an intense interest in learning the names of everything.  On a recent trip to Panama I was extremely frustrated because I didn’t know the names of anything!

I think that learning to differentiate between things is a good thing in many respects.  I can tell a black oak from a red oak,  and Bufo woodhousei from B. valliceps for example.  Learning to differentiate between all the various living things that have interested me has given me an intense appreciation of just how varied and diverse life is on earth.  It has also organized my mind and the way that I think about things.  We need labels, tags, names to get a mental grasp of the universe in order to make some sort of coherent sense of it.

However, I have noticed something about this naming process.  After I had learned all the various minutiae concerning the genera and species of a wide spectrum of creatures, I was immensely perturbed when somebody changed the name of a beloved and well known species.

Due to the  esoteric regulations governing the taxonomy of flora and fauna, it sometimes happens that a diligent taxonomist finds a problem and feels it is necessary to rename an organism.  This has become especially common as DNA analysis has revealed that a group that was believed to contain an assemblage of closely related organisms was found to be made up of widely different types of organism which didn’t not share a common ancestor.  In other words they were found to not be that closely related.   There were groups of birds, for example, that were found to be made up of individuals that weren’t that closely related (e.g. ratites).  This invariably results in a renaming of the organisms.

I have become highly incensed when this has happened, and I know that other people react the same way.  However, I got to thinking about this, and realized that changing the name of an organism did not change the creature in any way!  The organism remained the same, the bird was the same bird, the snake the same snake (re: the genera Haldea and Virginia!).   I still have to stop sometimes and remind my self that the pointer is not the object! To name something is not to possess it or to change it in any way (despite stories about how knowing the true name of something gives one power over it); the essence of the object remains the same.  And this essence is unknowable in an ultimate sense.  We can intimate the essence, but it remains forever outside of our grasp.

Posted (crates) in nature on March-15-2009

      Last May in western Tanzania, two men with long knives forced their way into a family’s home while they were eating breakfast and hacked off the legs of a young girl and made off with them.  She died soon afterwards.

      A few days ago a twenty year old man in Burundi was attacked by a group of men who hacked off his arms and legs, the fourth such butchery in this country in the past month.  A string (more than 40) of such murders have occurred in the past year in this part of Africa including that of an 8 year old boy who also had his arms and legs hacked off and a 6 year old boy in February who was dismembered alive in his home.   

     These unfortunate people were all albinos, and were murdered out of a superstitious belief that their body parts have magical potency.  These albino body parts can bring thousands of dollars in Tazania where witch doctors use them to make lucky charms.

 One albino woman had her tongue,  eyes and breasts removed in a similar attack.  Another man tried to sell his albino wife for her body parts.

     Albinos are not always so mistreated.   Albinism in the Hopis is about 100 times more frequent than in the population at large (1 in 200 as opposed to 1 in 20,000).  The Hopis apparently value the members of the tribe that exhibit this trait, with albinos often becoming chiefs, healers and religious leaders.  They are also spared from working in the fields in the direct sun, and also apparently enjoy a sexual advantage.  The lack of pigmentation in albinos makes them much more susceptible to skin cancer, so this behavior most likely increases the lifespan of such Hopi.

        One possible factor in the high number of albinos in the Hopi besides their sexual advantage and their protection from the sun, might be genetic drift, or random change that can occur in small populations.   High incidences of albinism can also be found in small protected squirrel populations in city parks for example.  Here random changes and protection from predators probably aid in the spread of this character.

     What causes this loss of pigment?  Traditionally it has been considered to  be a recessive mutation in the gene that produces melanin (pigment).  Take the following example:

        Let A=gene for normal pigmentation.  Let a=gene for albinism (a person needs two a’s to have the albinism trait).   Thus the cross between two people with normal pigmentation but with a hidden recessive gene for albinism would look something like this.

                         Aa x Aa==> 1/4 AA, 1/2 Aa and 1/4 aa.

Thus there would be a one chance in four of having a child with albinism. 

     However, it has been found to be more complicated than this.  There has been found at least four different mutant genes that produces the common form of albinism (oculocutaneous albinism which produces a lack of pigmentation in the eyes, skin and hair) .  These mutations are on non-sex chromosomes (autosomes).

      There are other types of albinism in people: Ocular albinism (a lack of pigmentation only in the eyes) which is a mutation on the X chromosome and  more obscure types of mutations that interfere with pigment production.

     In other animals such as birds and reptiles there are other types of pigments besides melanin which can be responsible for brown, black, gray and yellow colors.  Mutations in the genes controlling the production of these pigments can result in a variety of effects.

Posted (crates) in nature on March-14-2009

 Plutarch tells the following: An old man in the Olympic games being desirous to see the sport, and unprovided of a seat, went about from place to place, was laughed and jeered at, but none offered him the civility; but when he came to the Spartans’ quarter, all the boys and some of the men rose from their seats, and made him room. At this, all the Greeks clapped and praised their behavior; upon which the good old man shaking his hoary hairs, with tears in his eyes, said: Good God! how well all the Greeks know what is good, and yet only the Lacedaemonians practise it!

     I think of this story often.  The Greeks knew what was good, but only the Spartans practiced what was good.  I think of today and how situational ethics has seemed to undermined any absolute standard of what is right and what is wrong, and I cannot but feel some envy of the Greeks who as Plutarch claimed knew the right and the good.

          There many definitions of the word “good.”  I know that I really can’t add anything to the mountains that have already been written on this subject, so I wonder why I even talk about it.  Much of what I write on these pages is an effort to clear things up in my own mind…to help me straighten the tangles out.

          It seems to me that in order to have any concept of good one must proceed from a particular viewpoint.  The viewpoint that we all have, of course, is the human viewpoint…or at least that’s where all of our standards  begin, I think.  I find it difficult to believe that anybody knows anything about an ultimate good or evil which would be outside our experience.

     We tend to think of that which is good as being something that impacts our lives in a positive sort of way.  The absence of good is “not good,” bad or evil depending upon the severity of the impact.

   We can think of some things as being good if they impact us directly.  The satisfying of hunger and thirst, for example.   Being social primates, however, what is individually good is not always good for the group.  Many times it is, but a conflict can arise if the two are not compatible.

     From an evolutionary standpoint what is good could be considered as anything that adds to  increasing the number of our surviving offspring.  This isn’t necessarily incompatible to individual and social good, but it can be.

      The idea of what is good and not good, has expanded far beyond the individual and the group, of course.  It can be applied to the larger social group, the country, and even more inclusive, to the species.

    There has been a tendency to apply the concepts not only to our species, but also to other species, to the ecosystem, and ultimately to the Earth itself.  So it seems that what is good, and what is not good, can be applied to many different levels.  Ultimately I believe that these ideas began with the individual, and then became more inclusive.

Posted (crates) in nature on March-9-2009

I’m sure that most people have thought about this question at one time or another.  The answer that a person arrives at will determine his attitude towards various practices in our society.

Does a person become a person at fertilization of the egg?  We know that the oocyte is alive and that the spermatozoan is alive, but neither of course has the ability to become a person before the egg is actually fertilized and the two nuclei fuse to become a cell that has the potential to develop into a fully formed person.

If you believe in a soul, then when is this imparted to the developing ball of cells?  Does this occur at fertilization?  Does it occur at birth?  Or is it a becoming, a gradual process that occurs as the fetus develops?  If you don’t believe in a soul then substitute “person” instead.  When does a person come into being?  It gets even  more complicated when you consider chimerism, when two plus fetuses fuse to form one!  I have written about this here.

I often think of these questions when I read about the arguments for and against abortion.  Abortion opponents have it relatively easy.  They simply declare that a person begins at fertilization and are done with it.

Abortion advocates have a harder time it seems to me.  However, I assume that the abortion advocates have reached some sort of conclusion in their own minds in regards to these questions.  Since I’m sure that nobody advocates murder, then it follows that the advocates of abortion must not believe that a fertilized egg is a person.  In fact, I often hear somebody making the statement that the very early fetus is simply a lump of undifferentiated tissue, as if this proves that it couldn’t possibility be a person.  Of course any student of Embryology knows that from almost the very beginning there are intricate structures forming in the ball of cells–including a brain and heart, etc.

Since such people must not believe that an early fetus is a human, then I always wonder just when they believe a fetus becomes a person.  It is a curious problem and the ramifications are numerous. Some say that a baby really isn’t a person until it can live on its own.  However, in some cases this would mean the teenage years at least. Others say that a baby is not really a person until it has the full physical capacities of a person–until it has fully developed in other words.

I especially think about this when I read about late term abortions.  I have even heard of the fetus being “terminated” by the attending physician before it actually emerges from the birth canal.  Advocates of this practice seem to promulgate the idea that the baby isn’t a real person until it is born. Now this idea does simplify things.  It allows women “freedom of choice” and frees them from any potential guilt.  In other words it is acceptable to dispose of the baby as long as it occurs before the actual birth.  This is a nice convenient stance, almost as simple as the abortion opponent’s claim that fertilization is the beginning of the person.

However, this belief raises even more questions in my mind.  If a baby only becomes a person when it is born, then it seems a mite arbitrary in my opinion.  The only difference that I can see between the baby in the birth canal just before birth and the baby right after birth is location.

Also, just what constitutes full development in a baby?  Some used to say that the physical development of the brain didn’t cease until the baby was several years old.  However, more recent studies have  suggested that brain development doesn’t reach its full potential until twenty or thirty years old.   From such studies, some could make the argument that a person is NOT a person until twenty or thirty years of age.  This simplifies the question immensely!

Think about this a moment.  If a person is not a person until full brain maturity is reached, then we can determine with more confidence the time that personhood is reached and do away with all the previous uncertainty.

Now we can, with a clear conscience, throw our young people into the maelstrom of war.  They aren’t really people yet, so sacrificing them in this manner is perfectly excusable.  Also infanticide, or the disposing of babies after birth is now acceptable.  Newborn babies clearly aren’t people based upon brain maturity.  Capital punishment advocates now have an overwhelming argument supporting their stance if the accused is less than twenty years of age.  And so on and so on…I’m sure there are many other areas that will be impacted by this idea.