Risky Business

I was walking down the city streets the other day with my daughter when she pulled on my shirt and said, “Daddy what is that man doing?”  I was a bit shocked to see a man urinating on the wall of a building in the middle of the afternoon and I told my daughter to look away and not pay attention to the bad man.  My daughter said, “Dad, how do you know that he is bad?”  I told her that the man was doing his business like our dog does when we take him for a walk and that people should not be doing such things outside where others have to see them.  I went on telling my girl that even when we do such things inside of our house, we always close the door, so nobody has to watch us.

My daughter acknowledged that she understood what privacy was, but she said that I did not answer her question about why the man was bad.  I told her that I was very proud that she understood privacy issues, but that this was more of an indecency issue when someone does their business outside in front of others.  I said that it was because the man was being indecent, that was what made him a bad man.  Decent people plan for their natural urges and they should not do this sort of thing anywhere that they want.

A decent person will take care of their needs before they leave their house and if an emergency does happen while they are out, then they find an appropriate place to relieve themselves.  There are rules that all people who live in cities must follow.  If a person lives in the country where they are isolated from other people, then these rules may be a bit different or more relaxed.  My daughter said, “I guess this man is bad because he lives in the city.”

I told my daughter that she was on the right track with her thinking, but perhaps I should not have said that the man was bad, and maybe I should just have said that the man made a bad choice.  There is a public restroom right across the street and it would have been better if the man had gone in there to do his business.  My daughter told me that all of this talk about restrooms has made her feel like she has to go.  I told her that was a good idea, but that since I would not be allowed into the ladies’ restroom with her, that she would have to come into the men’s restroom with me.

We walked across the street and we went into the men’s room and it had this awful odor, so I told my daughter to hold her nose and we would make this real quick.  Luckily, there was nobody in there and we entered the first stall, but someone had dropped a turd the size of an aircraft carrier in the toilet and did not flush it, so we quickly exited that stall.  The next stall was even a bigger mess having liquid fecal excrement all over the floor.  It was so appalling that this horrifyingly disgusting, downright nasty, toxic, foul, shithole made me want to vomit on the spot.  We both ran out of there and I said, “Honey are you sure that you can’t hold it in a little longer?”  My daughter said, “Daddy I have to go real bad, can’t I go on the wall of that building like the man did?”  I told her that it was a bit risky, but it was probably much safer than going back in that disgusting restroom.

Horse Tale

Al Khamsa is a designation applied to specific desert-bred bloodlines of the Arabian horse considered particularly pure by Arabian horse breeders.  Around 610, Muhammad (570–632) Arabian founder of the religion of Islam, accepted by Muslims throughout the world as the last of the prophets of God, chose his foundation mares by a test of their endurance, courage and loyalty.  The hot desert wind blew against the tent, driving the dust inside.  Fatima his the youngest daughter, the only child of the prophet and his first wife Khadijah who lived to adulthood, walked softly in carrying an earthenware jug full of cold water, and handed it to the Prophet.  “Please, stop tormenting yourself, Mohammed”, she said, “drink some water!”  Mohammed responded, “I will drink when the test is over, and then the horses can drink, too.  I cannot drink while I know that the horses are thirsty.”  Fatima angrily answered, “I do not understand this test, nor do I like it.  Depriving the horses from drinking for three full days is cruel.  Why would a man who a man who loves animals so much ever even think about doing such a thing.”  Her father replied, “I must, as Allah commanded me.  Would you have me disobey God?  The spread of Islam depends greatly on our horses being loyal and strong.  Allah said the best of these horses, will be honored till the end of time.  It has been a long journey through the desert for all of us and now it is the evening of the third day, so let’s go to the horses and conduct the test.”

Mohammed took a horn that hung at the entrance to his tent, then he walked by an enclosure where about a hundred horses were confined, a short distance away from the water hole of the oasis.  The horses looked reproachfully at their beloved master as he quickly opened the gate.  Muhammad turned his herd of horses loose toward an oasis for a desperately needed drink of water.  They were tormented by thirst, so the horses galloped to the water hole, but before they could reach it, Mohammed raised the horn to his lips and blew his battle horn for the horses to return to him before the herd reached the water.  Most of the horses ignored it.  They were so thirsty that perhaps they couldn’t even hear it, and went on galloping toward the water.  Only five mares responded, as they stopped and returned without hesitation.  These faithful horses returned to Mohammed, ready to do whatever was required of them.  The Prophet stroked their silky manes, with tears in his eyes as he led them to the water and envisioned the glorious future as they drank. He knew that these mares had became his favorites and they would foal the finest of Arab horses, the only horses of pure blood, the horses that would help bring Islam to every corner of the Earth.

God took a handful of South wind and from it formed a horse and said, “I create thee, Oh Arabian.  To your mane, I secure Victory in battle.  On your back, I set a rich spoil and a Treasure in your loins.  I establish you as one of the Glories of the Earth.  I give you flight without wings.”  Mohammed was instrumental in spreading the Arabian’s influence around the world.  He instructed his followers to look after Arabians and treat them with kindness.  He said that special attentions should be paid to the mares because they insure the continuity of the breed.  There are five great families of the Arabian horse, which are the Kebeilan, Seglawee, Abeyan, Hadban, and Hamdami, which are collectively known as ‘Al Khamseh’ and each of these breeds are believed to have been derived from one of five mares of the Prophet.

Semiramis

When Noah and his family left the ark after the flood, they settled first at the northern feet of Ararat, then the families of Japheth, Shem, and Ham began to spread out into the fertile crescent regions of Mesopotamia (which would come to be called Sumer and Akkad), as well as the Nile valley, the Anatolian and Iranian plateaus, Arabia, and Ethiopia.  Most of the stories about Semiramis are just legends, but supposedly she was born in Ashkelon (in present-day Israel), being the fruit of a pairing between the Syrian goddess Derceto  (a local version of the Phoenician goddess Astarte and the Babylonian Ishtar) and a young Syrian man.  Ashamed of the relationship, the goddess abandoned the baby girl, who at first was cared for by doves.  Later, the chief shepherd of the king of Assyria ended up adopting the child and giving her the name Semiramis.

Noah’s grandson Cush got married to this woman named Semiramis.  Cush and Semiramis had a son who they named Nimrod.  After Cush died, Nimrod married his own mother and he became a powerful King.  Semiramis was known as the goddess Ishtar or Astarte and the whore of Babylon, and also the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.  Nimrod thought of himself as a god in a new religion that he created and he lead the world into an open rebellion against God.  Shem was a son of Noah and he watched his great nephew Nimrod organizing the human race into a world government centered on idolatry worship and human sacrifice.  Shem decided to do something about this tyranny and prove that Nimrod was not a god.  Shem saw the hold that evil had over Nimrod, so he went to his house and he managed to gouge out one of his eyes and then he beat him to death.  Shem had Nimrod’s body cut up into 14 little pieces, which were distributed to all the cities under Nimrod’s rule, as a warning against people practicing the pagan religion of sun worship and using sorcery to control people.

Semiramis gathered all of the parts, except she was not able to locate his reproductive organ.  Semiramis claimed that Nimrod could not come back to life without it and told the people of Babylon that Nimrod did ascend to the sun and he was now to be called Baal, the sun god.  Queen Semiramis also proclaimed that Baal would be present on earth in the form of a flame, whether it be a candle or lamp, when it was used in worship.  Semiramis further developed this new and mysterious religion, and with the help of Satan, she set herself up as a goddess.  Semiramis claimed that she was immaculately conceived.  She eventually became pregnant, while still asserting that she was a virgin and she claimed that it was the rays of the sun-god Baal that caused her to conceive.  Semiramis named her son Tammuz and she claimed that he was Nimrod reborn.

California Succumbs To Fires

Fast-moving wildfires are raging across Northern California, killing people, sending others to hospitals, forcing many to evacuate while it is destroying landscapes, houses and buildings and damaging critical infrastructure.  In the wake of these fires, white smoke has blotted out the Sun and people are returning to smoldering debris and their charred personal effects.  The property damage is already among the worst ever seen in California from a fire, and this is only expected to increase as these fires keep burning.  Curfews have been put in effect to protect against looting.

The heat, the lack of humidity and the wind gusts exceeding 50 miles an hour are all driving this very dangerous situation and making it a recipe for disaster.  California had a wet spring which allowed new vegetation to grow, but the summer was very dry and now this newly grown vegetation is just making more fuel for the fires.  Many people are getting smoke in their eyes and others are chocking from smoke inhalation.  Firefighters are braving hot temperatures and other dangers, as they are trying to contain the outbreak, but they are being hindered because a number of roadways, including highways are being blocked by these immense fires.

Winds have been propelling the fires faster than people can run.  Embers are leapfrogging hundreds of yards, even jumping across six lane wide highways, which would ordinarily serve as an ideal, built-in fire break.  The fast moving wind-driven fires have been shifting, causing them to spread to places where many residents and first responders have been caught off guard and any hesitation on the part of evacuees is proving to be lethal.  It is very dangerous out there as trees are engulfed with flames, while clouds of hot ash fall down.  Many of the dead have been so badly burned, that their bodies were reduced to ash and bones.  Authorities will need to use dental records, fingerprints, tattoos and serial numbers on hip implants to identity many of these victims.  The fires were so hot that car wheels made of aluminum, which has a melting point of 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit have turned into puddles.

The fires have whipped through the arid wine country north of San Francisco, and at least 15 fires in nine counties are not predicted to succumb to the firefighters’ efforts any time soon, as they are expected to continue burning for the next few days.  Entire neighborhoods, a hotel, big-box stores, and a trailer park have all burned down, and two hospitals have been forced to evacuate their patients.  Jerry Brown California’s Governor initially declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, and later on he4 added Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange counties.

Cloaking

Now you see it, now you don’t.  It is said that there are only two real magic tricks, those being making things vanish, and making things appear.  Objects are visible to the human eye because they distort light waves according to their shape.  We see the objects by registering these distortions when the light from the objects hits our eyes.  In a similar way an object can also be visible to a radar, which transmits radio waves or microwaves that bounce off objects in their path.  Light can bend around corners, actually light always bends around corners to some extent.  This is a basic property of light and all other waves.  The amount of light that bends around a corner depends on the exact situation.  For visible light on the human scale, the amount of light that bends around corners is often too small to notice unless you know how to look for it.  The ability of light to bend around corners is also known as diffraction.  Controlling and bending light around an object so it appears invisible to the naked eye is the theory behind fictional invisibility cloaks.  No material in nature has the properties necessary to bend light in such a way. However, scientists have managed to create artificial nanostructures that can do the job, and these are called metamaterials.

Recently optical and nanotech experts have been able to create a large swath of multilayer 3-D metamaterial operating in the visible spectral range.  They accomplished this feat by using nanotransfer printing, which can potentially be engineered to modify surrounding refractive index needed for controlling propagation of light.  The nanotransfer printing technique creates metal/dielectric composite films, which are stacked together in a 3-D architecture with nanoscale patterns for operation in the visible spectral range.  Control of electromagnetic resonances over the 3-D space by structural manipulation allows precise control over propagation of light.  Once this technique is mastered, larger pieces of this special material can be created, and researchers at the University of Central Florida have already managed to create a large-scale invisibility cloak that masks the spectrum of visible light.

This is significant, as invisibility cloaking has previously only been possible for very specific wavelengths of radiation (say, microwaves).  Visible light, which covers a broad swath of terahertz-level frequencies, has so far proven very hard to mask.  Researchers at UCF, have created a cloak that actually bends and masks visible light using a fishnet-type of metamaterial.  The metamaterial fishnet is composed of metal and dielectric composite films, created using a nanotransfer printing method.  The films are layered in such a way as to create a fishnet-like pattern, which in turn allows the control of visible-spectrum light.

The cloak hides objects by wrapping them in layer of gold nanoantennas, only 80 nanometers thick.  The antennas in the cloak manipulate the light as it hits the object in a way that makes it look like it’s bouncing off a flat surface instead thus making it impossible to see the geometry of the object.  The downside of this new cloaked technology is that it only works for light at 730-nanometer wavelength, which is visible light near the infrared part of the spectrum.  While this could be useful to hide things from for specific devices, such as radar, it would have to be improved to scatter lights from all wavelengths on the visible spectrum to be able to hide from the human eye.  We are still some miles away from doing this, but we are getting closer.

I Do Believe in Spooks

This is my favorite time of the year when people are decorating for Halloween and deciding on what costumes they will wear.  I believe in spooks, because I am a spook.  I am a member of the Adams family and I resemble Uncle Fester.  I am still practicing how to light up bulbs by putting them in my mouth, but mostly I believe in spooks, because I believe in myself.

“The Addams Family started,
When Uncle Fester farted,
They all became retarded,
The Addams Family!”

 

The Old Man and the Sea

The biggest, fastest, most dangerous game fish in the sea is the billfish and the largest of all billfish is the marlin.  They top speeds of 60 miles an hour on migrations that can span 9,000 miles.  The largest, always female, weigh in at over 1,000 pounds, and are known as ‘granders’.  Ernest Hemingway immortalized the grander in The Old Man and the Sea, which is a story about an elderly fisherman locked in a life and death struggle with this apex predator.  To Hemingway’s great disappointment, he himself never landed a grander, although his novella captures the impact of this huge and graceful creature.

The story begins with an old man named Santiago living in Cuba during the 1950’s, whose wife has died, and he apparently has no children.  He is a fisherman who has had a string of bad luck, as he has not caught a fish in 84 days, whereas the other fishermen are catching fish almost every day.  Santiago is a native of the Canary Islands, who made frequent trips to the coast of Africa, but he is not eating very much.  This old man goes to sleep dreaming of the lions he used to see back in the day when he visited Africa.  He wakes before sunrise and does what every fishermen does, gets in his small boat and heads out to fish.

Santiago’s past life hasn’t been easy, so he’s been toughened, accustomed to hardship and he is able to accept it easily.  He is an old, seasoned Cuban fisherman, that maintains a positive attitude, as he sets out to sea and goes fishing every day, even though he keeps on returning empty-handed.  Santiago is a dedicated fisherman whose craft is integral to his own identity, his code of behavior, and nature’s order. The old man works harder than any of the other fisherman, but despite the hard work, he just doesn’t catch fish.  It is so obvious that he is unlucky, that the parents of his young, devoted apprentice and friend, Manolin, have forced the boy to leave the old man in order to fish in a more prosperous boat. Nevertheless, the boy continues to care for the old man upon his return each night.  He helps the old man tote his gear to his ramshackle hut, secures food for him, and discusses the latest developments in American baseball, especially the trials of the old man’s hero, Joe DiMaggio.  Santiago is confident that his unproductive streak will soon come to an end, and he resolves to sail out farther than usual the following day.

Santiago is not a religious man, it is unclear whether or not he actually believes in God, or if he does practice religion.  It seems likely that he does believe in God, because he mentions God often throughout his struggle and he speaks to Him.  He says, “I am not religious, but I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Mary’s that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin de Cobre (Patroness of Cuba) if I catch him.  That is a promise.”  Santiago reciting Christian prayers is anything but superficial, although he does say his prayers mechanically.  Sometimes he would be so tired that he could not remember the prayer and then be would say them fast, so that they would come automatically.  He thought that Hail Mary’s were easier to say than Our Fathers.  The sea is Santiago’s dwelling place, and his connection to the sea gives him all the spirituality that he needs.

On the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak, Santiago does as promised, sailing his skiff far beyond the island’s shallow coastal waters and venturing into the Gulf Stream.  He prepares his lines and drops them. At noon, a big fish, which he knows is a marlin, takes the bait that Santiago has placed one hundred fathoms deep in the waters.  The old man expertly hooks a really, really, ridiculously big fish, the largest marlin he’s ever seen, but he cannot pull it in.  He works harder than any other fisherman would have to catch this giant marlin, and any other fisherman would have given up, on this earth-shattering struggle of mythical proportions, and then the fish begins to pull his boat.

Unable to tie the line fast to the boat for fear the fish would snap a taut line, the old man bears the strain of the line with his shoulders, back, and hands, ready to give slack should the marlin make a run.  The fish pulls the boat all through the day, through the night, through another day, and through another night.  It swims steadily northwest until at last it tires and swims east with the current.  The entire time, Santiago endures constant pain from the fishing line.  Whenever the fish lunges, leaps, or makes a dash for freedom, the cord cuts Santiago badly.  Although wounded and weary, the old man feels a deep empathy and admiration for the marlin, his brother in suffering, because of its strength and resolve.

On the third day the fish tires, and Santiago, sleep-deprived, aching, and nearly delirious, manages to pull the marlin in close enough to kill it with a harpoon thrust.  The old man sees the fish as his brother, not his enemy, yet he never wavers in his resolution to kill the thing.  Dead beside the skiff, the marlin is the largest Santiago has ever seen.  He lashes it to his boat, raises the small mast, and sets sail for home. While Santiago is excited by the price that the marlin will bring at market, he is more concerned that the people who will eat the fish are unworthy of its greatness.

As Santiago sails on with the fish, the marlin’s blood leaves a trail in the water and attracts sharks.  The first to attack is a great mako shark, which Santiago manages to slay with the harpoon.  In the struggle, the old man loses the harpoon and lengths of valuable rope, which leaves him vulnerable to other shark attacks.  The old man fights off the successive vicious predators as best he can, stabbing at them with a crude spear he makes by lashing a knife to an oar, and even clubbing them with the boat’s tiller.  Although he kills several sharks, more and more appear, and by the time night falls, Santiago’s continued fight against the scavengers is useless.  Despite the old man’s best efforts the fish is entirely gone by the time he gets back to land.  The marlin’s precious meat has been devoured, leaving only its skeleton, head, and tail. Even though he works harder than anyone else, and even though he actually catches the big fish, he ends up with nothing at the end.  Santiago chastises himself for going out too far, and for sacrificing his great and worthy opponent.  He arrives home before daybreak, stumbles back to his shack, and sleeps very deeply.

The next morning, a crowd of amazed fishermen gathers around the skeletal carcass of the fish, which is still lashed to the boat.  Knowing nothing of the old man’s struggle, tourists at a nearby café observe the remains of the giant marlin and mistake it for a shark.  Manolin, who has been worried sick over the old man’s absence, is moved to tears when he finds Santiago safe in his bed.  The boy fetches the old man some coffee and the daily papers with the baseball scores, and watches him sleep.  When the old man wakes, the two agree to fish as partners once more.  The old man returns to sleep and dreams his usual dream of the same lions of his youth at play on the beaches of Africa.

The old man is struggling against age, poverty, loneliness, and mortality to maintain his identity and dignity, reestablish his reputation in the community, and ensure for all time his relationship with those he loves and to whom he hopes to pass on everything he values most.  Ultimately, Santiago’s heroic struggle not only redeems himself but inspires and spiritually enriches those around him.