I have assembled three statements of human dynamic theatre. They very roughly parallel
Newton's three laws of motion. I cannot claim any originality here, but I think these
propositions are axiomatic.
I. There is no circumstance, however ridiculous, to which a human cannot adapt.
II. Parallel to Newton's second law, F = ma; Farce equals mess times acceleration.
III. It's comedy when it happens to some one else. It's tragedy when it happens to you.
The ISIS Anachronism
Truth be known, I am no expert on Islam (let's face it, few Americans are) but with just a
smattering of history of Islam following the death of Muhammad, if fact just the two years
following his death, it's possible to put together a startling, and I think possible,
inventory of ISIS plans for conquest of the world. Sound preposterous? Just read.
Having admitted to great ignorance, I hope those of you who know more about this than I do
will join in and enlighten the darker corners of my knowledge. (See main menu: Email Me.)
When the prophet Muhammad died in 632, Islam had not yet been fully formed, according to
Paul Freedman of Yale1. Certainly there had been wars between
Muhammad's followers and rivals where the outcome was the ascendency of Islam under Muhammad.
The result was a unity of the Arab world under the new religion. This amalgam was not a
state, however. It was unified by the personal loyalty of family, clan, or tribe to
Muhammad. At this time the Arabs were a loose informal confederation of more or less
Following Muhammad's death many of his followers wanted a successor. They wanted some one
to take his place in whom they could place their personal loyalty. Muhammad had ruled by
inspiration and that apparently was what they wanted. But can you elect such a person? It
wasn't clear what exactly a successor would be succeeding to. Was Muhammad a religious leader?
Was he a judge? Was he a military or political leader?
Muhammad's father-in-law, Abu Bakr, was elected as Caliph, which simply means
successor, in 632. This name should ring a bell if you've been watching the ISIS
news. The leader of ISIS calls himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Abu Bakr of Baghdad.
But more about him later.
Abu Bakr, the new Caliph, had a problem in that many tribes disagreed with the idea of
electing a successor. At this point, one of those fateful turning points of history, Abu
Bakr leads his loyal tribes to force compliance of these other reluctant tribes into a single
Islamic nation. At this he is successful. The military was built up and used to create a
sizeable and powerful block.
At the success of Abu Bakr there was then some kind of need
to keep going. Raiding and plundering had been one of the occupations of Arab tribes in this
rather austere infertile Arabian dessert. Indeed, in may parts of the world where resources
are scarce, people often resort to raiding to supplement whatever they can produce themselves.
But now the Arab tribes had been unified, some by force, and the internal energy of this
military build-up was tuned outward to the rest of the world around.
To make a long story short, Abu Bakr turns to Damascus, then part of the Byzantine Empire,
and conquers it. The Arabs had discovered that the successor to the Roman Empire, the
Byzantine Empire, was fatally weakened by its wars with Persia. And Persia was in the same
militarily exhausted condition. Next falls Jerusalem. And the Arabs were off on the conquest
of a vast new Arab empire eventually stretching from India to Spain. All this in an amazingly
short period of time.
Okay. Now here's my hypothesis. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has taken the name of Muhammad's
father in law, the unifier of the Arab tribes, as a signal that he views himself as
the true successor of Muhammad. ISIS under al-Baghdadi sees itself on the path of
re-unification of Arab tribes under Islam and will, if possible, compel compliance of Arab
Muslims to fulfill what he sees as their true faith commitment. Or, he will kill them.
So, it appears al-Baghdadi sees himself as that Imam, that Caliph, inspired by Allah and
indeed protected and empowered by Allah, to faithfully go out and do what was done in 632-634.
It's perfectly prophetic.
Ironically, the conversion of the world to Islam is probably not the goal. Conversion to
Islam was never the goal of the Arabs in all their conquests. The Arabs were perfectly
comfortable ruling over people of other religions. It didn't bother them. In fact, they tended
to be especially tolerant of Jews and Christians. And that's because Islam is built upon the
old and new testaments of the Bible. Jews and Christians were considered by them to be other
people of the book
So, I wouldn't go so far as to say the conversion of the world to Islam is al-Baghdadi's
goal, but you never know.
Now, here's the thing. It appears that ISIS has as it goal the re-enactment of the Arab
conquests going back 1,382 years! Truly, my American mind cannot possibly fathom the
psychology of this, but it seems to be born out by my admittedly short take on history. Is
this really possible? Can anyone enlighten me?
See also: Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. Modern Library ed. New
York: Modern Library, 2002.
Predicting Damage to Coral Reefs Due To Ocean Warming and
Scientists, and science aficionados like me, have been aware for some time that coral reefs
have been devastated by the increasing ocean acidification. This coral die-off, or coral
"bleaching" as it is often called, is due to the modern increase of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere, and due to the warming of the oceans as the Earths average temperature continues
In fact, scientists say that many shell-making organisms are threatened by the acid
condition of the ocean. These animals (not the scientists) find it increasingly difficult to
make their shells. Coral reefs and shells are made of calcium carbonate, which is produced by
the animal's cells. You'd think that since calcium carbonate sort of contains carbon dioxide
in its chemical formula, it should sound like a good thing. But not so. Acid conditions impede
calcium carbonate formation.
Published today in the journal Bioscience1 is a paper by an
international research team led by Peter J. Edmunds of California State University,
Northridge. "Most studies address the effects of ocean acidification on single species of
corals and calcified algae in tanks," they say. And so this paper purports to describe a
process of pulling together studies on all levels: from the cellular, to the animal,
to the colony, and on to the community (see the photo above), and finally an entire ecosystem
like Millennium Atoll.
While it's important to study individual animals and plants in the laboratory to understand
their biology and chemistry, it's going to be increasingly important to integrate this
knowledge across all scales to understand the real future of reefs as Earth changes.
This sort of reminds me of Ed Ricketts (1897-1948). His book Between Pacific
Tides2 was based on the concept that the most important facts of biology was how
organisms interact with each other. And he applied this philosophy to his study of the tidal
zones of the Pacific Coast. Merely discovering, naming, and describing animals was not what he
But this integration of science to combine the study of biology at all levels
simultaneously parallels a process also occurring withing the sciences in general. You'll get
the idea when I describe the processes that this all-level study implies. Cellular biology
is a field of study in itself. So is animal biology. The study of reef ecosystems is part of a
specialization of biogeography. Oceanography, the study of ocean currents and how they are
changing with the altering climates of Earth, is another specialty. Ocean chemistry is yet
another complex specialty in itself. And, of course, the best example of scientific
integration is climate science itself which combines many former separate disciplines.
The authors warn against expecting a grand unified theory of reef biology, however. Rather
it will take the usual dogged collection of field data, computer simulations, and research at
1 BioScience, published monthly by Oxford Journals, is the journal of the American
Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Follow BioScience on Twitter @BioScienceAIBS.
2 Ricketts, Edward Flanders, and Jack Calvin. Between Pacific tides: An account of
the habits and habitats of some five hundred of the common, conspicuous seashore invertebrates
of the Pacific coast between Sitka, Alaska, and northern Mexico.. Original version
1939. An updated version with Joel W. Hedgpeth and published by Stanford University Press is available.
It's commonly known that many, or at least some, glaciers around the world are actually
growing. And in some places there are record snow falls. So, global worming? Doesn't that
argue against global warming?
It does seem to go against the grain, until you look deeper into what is being reported by
observers around the world. Glaciers within the tropics, all of them to my knowledge, are
melting. This is what you would expect, of course, if that mid-region were warming
up as a whole.
But what about higher latitudes? Why are some northern glaciers growing? There is a reason,
and it fits within the global warming trend as far as I can determine by reading the available
literature. The heavier than normal snowfalls are a result of global warming simply because
the warmer atmosphere, on average, can hold more water. Warmer air holds more moisture. And
that leads, in the northern latitudes, to more snow. More snow doesn't mean that it's colder,
it means that there's more moisture in the atmosphere. It doesn't have to be colder to make
more snow. Temperature is not the snow factor. It's water. The temperature simply has to be
The more it snows in the mountains, the more snow accumulates year round to feed the
galciers. However, last I heard, the northern glaciers are actually melting faster than normal
in response to global warming. It's just that there's that much more snow to keep them in net
In Central Asia, the glaciers in the Tien Shan area are melting at a higher rate than most,
according to Danial Farrinotti of the GFZ Gernam Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam
as reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. The glaciers have lost about 25% of their mass in the
last 50 years. That's about 3000 square kilometers (1,200 square miles) of ice cover gone.
This makes a big difference for people living down stream. Like the situation at Mt.
Kilimanjaro, water supply will be diminishing for the people who have depended on it in the
This huge source of water will affect large areas of Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and
parts of China. And, as usual around the world, the human population is increasing at the same
time. See also the The World Glacier Monitoring
View of unfinished stool seat with dowel reinforced leg structure for added strength.
Making Cinderella Stools
I recently had the good fortune to be able to do something creative. I offered to repair a
prop stool for the upcoming Ballet San Jose production of Cinderella. Well, I got
carried away and built two new stools which, as far as I know, will be used in the production.
And I'm saying I built those suckers real good! You can read all about it, and how to purchase
actual reproductions of these hand made stools. Just read my latest article Making Stools for
in Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. Photo by Robert Shomler.
Photo courtesy of
Silicon Valley Ballet
Beer and Ballet: Open Rehearsal at BSJ
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley is in rehearsal for their next production,
Cinderella, to be performed May 8, 9, and 10. Get information and tickets
This past Friday afternoon and evening, the Ballet invited the public to watch rehearsal in
what they called a Beer and Ballet event. These B and B's are getting more popular among a
number of Ballet companies apparently to bring the public into more intimate contact with the
artists and process.
Rehearsals are fun to watch. Ballet is a spectacular kind of presentation and to see the
dancers and directors in a bit more relaxing mode was fascinating. Please see my more in-depth
article here. Click on the image for enlarged views.
NASA's Terra satellite captured this picture of snow across the eastern United States on Feb.
19 at 16:20 UTC (11:20 a.m. EST).
Historic NASA photo of Eastern US "Freezer"
If you click on the image at right,
you'll see a spectacular satellite image of the freezing conditions in the eastern United
States. Most all of that white down there is snow. The image
was taken on 20 Feb by NASA's Terra satellite.
(Click again on the expand symbol at lower right to get a huge image.)
According to NASA "There were widespread subzero overnight lows Thursday night
(Feb. 19) extending from Illinois to western Virginia, and numerous record lows were set.
Bitterly-cold arctic air is setting numerous temperature records across the eastern U.S.
and will keep temperatures well below normal on Friday (Feb. 20)."
And if your a Californian and have been Facebooking with friends in the East, you
know you've heard all about it.
"These long-lived shifts from the polar jet stream’s typical pattern have been responsible for
some wicked weather this winter, with cold Arctic winds blasting everywhere from the Windy
City to the Big Apple for weeks at a time." Climate scientist Jeniffer Francis,
So, what do you think? Is "Gobal Warming" a hoax? Since the press is full of the frigid
news, one might be forgiven for thinking so. But the eastern US is not the whole planet by
long shot, and in fact 2014 was the warmest year yet on record. What we're seeing is, I
think, climate change. Ironically, the instability of the circumpolar jet stream that's
causing all this freezer syndrome is caused by a warming Arctic.
Take a look at the figure to the right (click on it to enlarge). If I understand it
correctly, what the graphic is showing is a stable high pressure, more or less, over eastern
US (in blue) that is a mass of cold air from the arctic. At the same time, other parts of the
globe, namely western US and Alaska, are experiencing warming. Normally, this blue blob of
polar air would be more or less centered over the north pole.
According to Jennifer Francis of
Rutgers University what drives the polar jet stream is the temperature
difference between the polar region and the mid latidudes (Canada and the US, for example). In
the past the jet stream has been more stable due to the a stronger temperature difference
between Arctic and mid ltitude regions. But lately its behavior has been distorted because of
Arctic warming (to wit the loss of Arctic sea ice and the stress on polar bear and walrus
Thursday my wife and I went on one of our favorite walks along an old train bed in Pacific
Grove, CA. And along our walk we saw more monarchs in this area than we had ever seen before.
Pacific Grove is famous for its monarch parade each year to welcome the wintering
butterflies on their long migration.
We started snapping as many pictures as we could with our iPhones, and
managed to get a few videos. Monarchs don't make photography easy as they typically flutter
around in wildly changing paths. I'll bet this behavior evolved to evade predator birds.
Anyway, if you click on the picture, you're led to my video showing a monarch feeding on a
eucalyptus flower. I'm told that the monarchs like to over-winter here, in the eucalyptus,
because this tree flowers in the winter. If you look closely, you can see the proboscis
probing the flower.
Pacific Grove has a nature center where you can learn a lot more about monarch and other
butterflies, and just about anything else a local natural history museum can hold.
Visit on line at www.pgmuseum.org/monarchcounts.
PS: This old train bed carried the Del Monte Express train that ran into Ed "Doc"
Ricketts of Steinbeck's Cannery Row fame. Ricketts, a
marine biologist, was author of the much admired book Between Pacific Tides . You
can read more about this local history at Wikipedia:Ed Ricketts
Since the San Jose Mercury News put the obituary section in the A section of the paper,
(a move which I think indicates the marketing troubles newspapers are in these days) I
find myself glancing through the pictures and the ages of the deceased just to see, I suppose,
how I'm doing at my age of 67. Once in a while I come across a face that inspires curiosity.
is the latest of the mourned to catch my eye. I have no idea beyound the obit as
to who she was or what her life was like. But there were two pictures of her, one as an
educated intelligent and beautiful young women and one lately of a great grandmother with a
satisfied smile on her face. I imagine her life was very full, and indeed her obituary tells
that it was full of both heartache and great satisfaction.
She was a Palestinian Christian who, at the age of 26, was driven from her family's
previously peaceful home in Jaffa by the Zionists who considered her country now theirs. This
was 1948. She and her family were forced to move to Ramallah, along with many thousands of
Palestinian refugees. Then in 1967, another war turned Ramallah into part of a vast occupied
territory. After her family lost everything again to the Zionists in their second expansion,
she and her family decided to emigrate to the US.
There are several stories here; how the wisdom of age shows in our faces, how life can be
disrupted in the violence of conquest, and how we can face life with hope and hard work. Click
on this link to read this extraordinary rememberence by her loving family. I'm
thankful to her family for allowing us a bit of a glimpse into her life.
Help From the Experts on Evolutionary Biology
I could not prevent myself from spending money on this new book of 48 seminal articles
representing major conceptual steps in the evolution of evolutionary biology:
Ayala, Francisco J. and John C. Avise. Essential Readings in Evolutionary Biology.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. Print
I'm one of the "broader audience" of non-experts specifically targeted by Ayala and Avise,
and so I appreciate the help of these experts to guide my reading. Otherwise, I'd be poking
in the dark and, say, reading the entirety of Darwin's "Origins" when it would be better to
focus on a few sections that got right to the point and have kept all their validity and
importance with the passage of time.
Francisco Ayala is a professor of biological sciences, and of the philosophy of science,
at UC Irvine and is a respected and acknowledge expert in evolutionary biology. John C
Avise, also of UC Irvine, has a list of publications and accomplishments occupying
several laptop monitor screens.
The 48 seminal papers are reproduced in their original entirety and arranged in
chronological order. Each paper comes with and introduction by Ayala and Avise.
They also provide a book introduction and a brief timeline of evolutionary thought going back
to 600 BCE.
There are a lot of books out there explaining evolution. This book has an advantage in that
one can read the original papers that influenced the history and concepts of evolution theory.
The papers, being reproduced as published, also necessarily include full bibliographies. So,
if you want to dig deeper into evolution theory or just its history, you can.
Other Introductory Books
Here are a couple of starter books that I found to get myself up to speed. First is a
popular book by
David Young, first published in 1992 and now in its second edition.
Good photos and diagrams and very readable entertaining prose.
Young, David. The Discovery of Evolution. 2nd ed. Cambridge, 2007. Print.
I first got an introduction to the science of evolution through another popular explanatory
book by the late
E. Peter Volpe. It's a bit dated now but has since been turned into a
textbook by Peter E. Rosenbaum, available on Amazon
You can get a free e-book and audio book download available at bookarest.net.
Ohio geologists: Ohio earthquakes due to fracking
Ohio now joins Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas as having experienced dramatic
increases in earthquake activity that geologists say is due to fracking activity.
From the LA Times article: “While we can never
be 100% sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates
that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,”
said department Director James Zehringer.
Time Magazine has also covered this is today's issue.
Could Oklahoma's rash of earthquakes be due to fracking?
An article in The Nation by Steven Hsieh takes a shot at explaining the rather odd recent
increase in earthquakes in central Oklahoma. Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth
Observatory researcher Nicholas van der Elst thinks the quakes are most likely due to
the fracking injection wells in the area.
Stewardship of the deep oceans is coming into focus
It was true only a few years ago, and it may still be true, that we know more about
outer space, moons, planets and stars, than we do about Earth's deep oceans. It makes sense
that this should be so since space is rather more observable. Space is observed in
cubic light years, and unimaginably big volumes. On the other hand, the deep ocean is
observable mere cubic yards at a time. And, the deep ocean is the largest volume of
living space on the earth. Our lives here on the solid surface of
Earth involves only a thin crust, even if you take into account that bacteria, lots of them,
live as far down as a mile below the surface. But the average depth of the oceans
is about 2 miles and covers 70% of the earth.
Although events is space have had, and still have, a big influence on life on Earth, it
seems plausible that the deep oceans have had vastly more influence. Now, some scientists
are asking what the role of the deep ocean will be in the future?
Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at
UC San Diego, and several other experts, described the growing concerns in a news briefing,
"Deep-Ocean Industrialization: A New Stewardship Frontier" at the annual meeting of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago today.
In a nutshell, the deep ocean's role in our health and the health of the planet runs from
carbon sequestration to nurturing of fish stocks. At the same time, human population has
doubled in the last 50 years raising demands for food, energy, and raw materials from the
See The Levin Lab at Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, Itegrative Oceanogrphy Division.
Go to In Deep, the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative website for
excellent in-depth (pun intended) info.
Also, see Nautilus Minerals for the corporate website of a sea floor
gold and copper mining interest.
--13-Feb-2014, 20:00 PST
Ichthyosaur fossil may show oldest live reptilian birth
Ryosuke Motani and colleagues at UC Davis reported yesterday in the online journal
an ichthyosaur fossil that may show the oldest live reptilian birth. Ichthyosaurs were
giant marine reptiles that evolved from land reptiles and moved to the water.
The maternal partial skeleton, discovered in China, was associated with
three embryos and neonates: one inside the mother, another exiting the pelvis with half
the body still inside the mother, and the third outside of the mother. The
headfirst birth position of the second embryo indicates that live births in ichthyosaurs
may have taken place on land, instead of in the water, as some studies have previously
Dr. Motani said, "The study reports the oldest vertebrate fossil to capture the
'moment' of live-birth, with a baby emerging from the pelvis of its mother. The
248-million-year old fossil of an ichthyosaur suggests that live-bearing evolved on
land and not in the sea."
In my very short career playing farm team baseball (a notch below little league) I found
myself assigned to right field. At first, fly balls in my direction inexplicably went
over my head until I learned to track the ball and position myself where I judged the
ball would come down. How did I learn to do that and what exactly was I tracking?
How do pro ball players do it? How did Willie Mays make that spectacular catch, now known
simply as "The Catch", in the 1954 World Series where he turned his back on the ball, ran
straight out to the center field fence and caught the ball over his shoulder?
A team of researchers now think they can explain it. It's called optical acceleration
cancellation. Basically, as far as I can understand it, and it jives with my brief
experience, the outfielder observes whether the rise of the ball is increasing or
decreasing. That is, imagine a line drawn between the outfielder's eye and the struck
ball. If the angle that line makes with the ground is accelerating upward, the ball
is at that moment set to land behind the outfielder, so he'd better run out. If that
line is decelerating, it is destined to fall it front of him. If it is neither accelerating
nor deceleration, the ball will hit the outfielder between the eyes unless he puts his
The paper is published in the Journal of Vision. You can read it
Physical Science 1, Spring 2014
This is a page for my students, which covers our class in physical sciences. I intend to
update it regularly after each class meeting. I won't be posting grades or any personal
information, of course.
You can always email me at this site address by clicking on the "Email Me" link, but it
would be better to email me at my
For the first time an historic volume of original Nazi propaganda posters is presented for
the benefit of public interest and WWII scholarship. Click on the
link in the menu at left.
This is a collection of original Nazi propagand posters, called "wochenspruch", that were
produced from 1939 to 1944. The volume was originally produced in 1948 for the benefit of
scholarship in the study of Nazi Germany.
Retreating to the Hills
We went on a foothill walk through a venerable old retreat near San Juan Bautista.
Here's the story and some pics.
Jane Anderson's play "Looking for Normal" will play January 19 – February 3, 2013,
with a preview performance on January 18. It's about a 45 year old family man who has
been living a secret life as
a woman in a man's body. He decides that it's now time for a sex change operation.
Roy lives in Columbus Ohio with his wife, the love of his life, his 14 year old daughter,
and has a son who is traveling with a band. The play sensitively examines the adjustments
and struggles for understanding that he, now she, family and friends go through.
I play Roy's father, Roy Senior.
Ballet San Jose
is preparing to perform a brand new
version The Nutcracker. For the past five years I had been part of the old production as a
supernumerary performing minor non-dancing roles. But they can't use me in this new
production, with the new costumes and choreography. I will have to content myself with
watching from the audience, starting December 8 and 1:30pm. It will be spectacular, I'm
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