Real-time Earth and Moon phase

Saturday, February 28, 2009

See the world through the waves




The U.K. Daily Mail yesterday published an article with a few breath-taking breaking wave pictures, shown above, by the "surfer-turned-photographer" Clark Little. The article, with a long tittle "Pictured: The daredevil surfer taking amazing photos from INSIDE huge breaking waves", has this introduction:
These stunning images capture the power and glory of waves as they are about to crash down onto the shore.

They have been taken by surfer-turned-photographer Clark Little who swims in terrifying seas and crouches on shorelines to get the breathtaking images.

'I try to capture the beauty of these monstrous waves from the inside out,' said the father of two, who has just published his favourite images.

'I'm always in the water before dawn to try to snap that perfect picture as the sun rises.'

There are a lot of more pictures from Mr. Little's own site here. Here's a few great ones from there:

Clark Little modestly said:"I try to capture the beauty of these monstrous waves from the inside out . . ." I think he he did a whole lot more than that. As a matter of fact, I am not aware of anyone else has been able to capture this kind of extensive nature beauty yet.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A freaque wave from the Bearing Sea

This news reported by the local KUCB News of Unalaska, AK:
The headline of this news is "Wave destroys ship's navigational equipment" I guess that's the good news -- nothing but equipment damage. Note that there is a NDBC buoy 46073 in the nearby southeast Bearing Sea recorded over 30 ft significant wave height earlier. So it is plausible that reported condition of 27 ft seas is about right. Of course, freaque waves can happen any place, any time, happen in Bearing Sea is certainly entirely possible.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who's who and what's what

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet, things most U.S. people love.

Constitution, liberty, justice, and in God we trust, things that made U.S.A. the greatest nation of the World.

Henry Ford, General George S. Patton, Richard Feynman, and Martin Luther King Jr., heroes who are natural born U.S. citizens.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Albert Einstein, and Barry Hussein Obama, people who are NOT natural born U.S. citizens.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;
wash me, make me whiter than snow.
Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my guilt.
A clean heart create for me,
God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from your presence,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore my joy in your salvation;
sustain in me a willing spirit.

(Psalms, 51:9-14.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happened off Año Nuevo Point

Another sad case happened, this time in northern California. According to Bay City News Service in Almanac News:
A 210-foot U.S. Coast Guard vessel is searching for a missing fisherman whose boat sank off the coast of Ano Nuevo Point in San Mateo County Saturday afternoon.

The Coast Guard found two men in a life raft among other debris near the area where the vessel sank around 1:30 p.m., rescued them and treated them for hypothermia, junior grade Lt. Simone Mausz said.

However, officials are still searching for the third fisherman.

A rogue wave overturned the boat and caused it to sink, according to the Coast Guard.
SFGate further reports that

The vessel sank around 1:30 p.m. off Año Nuevo Point, said junior grade Lt. Simone Mausz, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

The two survivors were being treated for hypothermia. They said they saw their companion enter the water before the boat sank.

None of the men was wearing a life preserver.

The Coast Guard cutter Steadfast was searching through the night. A helicopter is expected to join the search at daybreak.

The vessel, a 36-foot wooden boat named the Della C., was berthed in Moss Landing.

The point needs to be continuing stressed here is the note that "None of the men was wearing a life preserver." Wearing life preserver is something that can never be over emphasized.

Let us pray, on this fine Sunday morning, may the Coast Guard be successfully finding the missing fisherman alive and well.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The art of winter

I am intrigued by the title of this article in the travel section of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota along with this wintry frozen lake picture:

The editor gave a rather poetic title for the article, "The art of winter", which I borrowed here to be the title of this blog today. The article and the picture are by Kerri Westenberg. Here's the opening paragraphs of the article:

Outside the window, waves lapped the shore and sunrise cast an orange glow over the water. A tree swayed in the breeze.

This was a great winter getaway -- and I was in Grand Marais, not to be confused with Grand Cayman or any number of other grand Caribbean islands. Temperatures in this North Shore town approached minus-10. But who needs snorkeling and nightclubs after a five-hour flight south when there is snowshoeing and fine dining via a five-hour drive north?

I have been to Duluth and the nearby Two Harbors many years ago to set up a shore recording station for a Waverider buoy. Grand Marais will be a few more hours further driving toward northeast. It was late summer when I made the trip and that was a working trip, I certainly did not develop any poetic sense about Lake Superior shore on that trip. I regret that I did not try to enjoy the local charm at the time while I could when I read Westenberg 's description:
. . . while Superior can be lovely in summer, it's in winter that the water shows its moody beauty.
I guess it must be a rather lonesome experience when Westenberg decided to take a stroll on the beach in deep winter. Here are some great writings:
Vapor rose from the water into the chilly air, making the lake resemble an oversized hot tub.

Soon I arrived at Artists' Point, a peninsula of rocks and pine trees cut through with hiking trails. At the tip of the point, bushes hung heavy with ice, the result of spray from rogue waves. An even coating of snow disguised craggy rocks. I took one step and sunk a few inches; my next step found me thigh-deep in snow.

My face felt taut with cold and my fingers started to ache, so I returned to the trees, a shield from the most brutal of Superior's winds. Steely water showed through tree branches, and then at a bend in the trail, the town came into view, a collection of humble buildings hugged by a harbor and a bay. After half an hour of exploring the lake and its rugged shoreline, the vision was almost a surprise -- and a relief.

I admire the author's superb writing skill. She made the severe north American winter alive and poetic. By the way, I assume Kerri is a she. Here's her further adventure "Under a starry sky"

As dusk began to settle, I drove up the Gunflint Trail into the deep woods. I was on the hunt for moose, which often come to the road to lick salt (none that night), and a good cross-country ski trail, which I found at Bearskin Lodge.

I strapped on rental skis under the pale glow of the parking lot and headed out. Deep shadows cast by low-lying lights defined the groomed trails. I aligned my skis with the grooves and set off. Quickly, trees drowned the glow of the lodge.

Under the soft blanket of night, I felt further from the stress of life than I would have felt lying on a hot beach. My legs moving, my arms pulling poles, I was impervious to the subzero temperature.

I first noticed the sky -- black and luminous at the same time, speckled with innumerable stars, some bright, some as faint as distance fireflies -- when I tumbled on a gentle hill and landed on my back.

Now she come to an even philosophical ending:
Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control point to unexpected beauty: You see the night sky because you fell down. You discover the wonder of a North Shore winter because the south, this year anyway, was beyond your reach.
Thanks Kerri, for a great article that makes the north Lake Superior shore in winter poetic and artistic!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tow-in big wave surfing

I have heard of tow-in surfing frequently, but I am not quite certain how that works. I guess it has to be applied to big waves. Here's a video, which I found here, that shows how the tow-in works from the very beginning and it led to an unbelievably spectacular as well as smooth ride. They made it looks so easy:

Giant wind farm

Here's a picture of the Jurassic coast of England. According to Wikipedia:
"The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site on the English Channel coast of southern England. The site stretches from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in East Dorset, a distance of 153 kilometres (95 mi).[1] Chartered in 2001, the Jurassic coast was the second wholly-natural World Heritage Site to be designated in the United Kingdom."
It certainly appears as a stunning beautiful place. The UK Daily Mail has a news article today that headlined as "Uproar over plans for giant wind farm off Dorset's Jurassic coast." In this seemingly era of alternative energy, this kind of news should be of interest and exciting to everyone.

Well, the uproar part is just the bickering about the controls between the developer and the local people. But a similar site on this side of the Atlantic has also long been proposed as an ideal location for giant wind farms, but can not be done because of the veto power of the local, stronger than royalty, power family. American people are probably not aware of what's happening. Because it is out of limit of the zombie media's reporting.

Would the "Hope and Change" new royalty, hmmmm, administration in D.C. going to do anything about it? Hardly. How long can American people continue to be seduced by pitiful politicians' empty, deceiving, meaningless rhetorics?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fascism -- A civic lesson

I don't read newspaper, weekly news magazines, or watching tv news like I used to be. But I feel I am more informed and knowledgeable about the country and the world by surfing the internet for the news sources and commentaries I trust.

I found the following comments by Michael Ledeen educational for me:

Newsweek magazine, which has given us many of the most damaging deceptions about America in recent years (remember the “Koran-Down-the-Toilet” hoax?), now weighs in with a pretentious and embarrassingly ignorant cover story, “We Are All Socialists Now.” To be sure, the basic theme–that the huge “stimulus” and the big big big TARP is leading once-capitalist America down the dangerous road to socialism–is not limited to the skinny weekly. You hear it all over the place, from Right to Left, from talk radio to the evening news (or so I am told; personally, I haven’t watched an evening news broadcast since 1987).

There’s an element of truth to the basic theme (although not to the headline): the state is getting more and more deeply involved in business, even taking controlling interests in some private companies. And the state is even trying to “make policy” for private companies they do not control, but merely “help” with “infusions of capital,” as in the recent call for salary caps for certain CEOs. So state power is growing at the expense of corporations.

But that’s not socialism. Socialism rests on a firm theoretical bedrock: the abolition of private property. I haven’t heard anyone this side of Barney Frank calling for any such thing. What is happening now–and Newsweek is honest enough to say so down in the body of the article–is an expansion of the state’s role, an increase in public/private joint ventures and partnerships, and much more state regulation of business. Yes, it’s very “European,” and some of the Europeans even call it “social democracy,” but it isn’t.

It’s fascism . . .
Well, according to Wikipedia:
Fascism is an authoritarian nationalist ideology focused on solving economic, political, and social problems that its supporters see as causing national decline or decadence. single-party state in which the government is led by a dictator who seeks unity by requiring individuals to subordinate self-interest to the collective interest of the nation, . . .
A-ha! Seeking unity by declare "I won" so the 46 percent of the voting people's voice will be silenced. Isn't that how we just ended up with the freaque porkulus, uh-m, stimulus, bill in our Capital Hill? So yes, Mr. Ledeen is exactly right! No one admits it yet, but like it or not, the U.S. in 2009 is indeed rapidly becoming fascism!


* * * 1359 days to next election. * * *


Whither freaque wave II

A tragic case recently may illustrate the peril of following the modern media. Because they don't really tell you what really had happened. The case actually can better be simply viewed by these headlines:
British holidaymaker drowned off Dominican Republic coast (Telegraph.co.uk)

A FREAK wave is believed to have claimed the life of a popular mum . . . (Sundaysun.co.uk)

Mum drowns whilst snorkelling on dream Caribbean holiday (Mirror.com.uk)

Freak wave could have killed Carlisle mum-of-three (newsandstar.co.uk)
Now that's all about what's there to know on what's going on. Of course I was alerted to these news by the word "FREAK"! Was there a freaque wave involved? Who knows? The word only appears in the headlines. Nothing in the detail reporting. I must conclude that this is NOT a case of freaque waves.

"A FREAK wave is believed . . ." and "Freak wave could have . . ." characterize the typical media practices. Using the words of "freak" or "rogue" is not merely a media fad. Sadly they really convey a brand of sensationalism that modern main stream media crazes. That applies to UK and US zombie medias alike.

Now here's a personal observation not based on any data or analysis: what do you think were the two most favorable sensational words the US or even the world media types like to use ? ? ? You guessed it! Yes, that would be "FREAK" and "OBAMA".

From the Psalm today

From Psalms 32:
(7)
You are my shelter; from distress you keep me; with safety you ring me round.

(10-11)
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.

Mother dear, O pray for me,
whilst far from heav'n and thee
I wander in a fragile bark
O'er life's tempestuous sea.

O Virgin Mother, from thy throne,
So bright in bliss above,
Protect thy child, and cheer my path
with thy sweet smile of love.

Mother dear, remember me,
And never cease thy care,
Till in heaven eternally
Thy love and bliss I share.

Mother dear, O pray for me,
Should pleasure's siren lay
E'er tempt thy child to wander far
From virtue's path away;

When thorn s beset life's devious way,
And darlking water flow,
Then Mary, aid thy weeping child,
Thyself a Mother show.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Amen

Friday, February 13, 2009

Do we know how freaque waves work?

There are plenty of writings appeared in the media about freaque waves. Most of them can be characterized as ho-hum information recycling. Today I came across the article in "howstuffworks", entitled "How rogue waves work" by Ed Grabianowski, which is a fairly more extensive than usual one. While it's still basically a gathering of well-known things, there's one short paragraph there which I think is more synthesis than recycling:
While scientists have gained a greater understanding of rogue waves in the last decade, they are still quite enigmatic. No one has ever ­filmed the formation of a rogue wave in the ocean or followed one through its entire life cycle. There are very few photographs of rogue waves. For centuries, the best evidence for their existence was anecdotal -- the countless stories told by sailors who had survived one.
It's a good summarization of the state of the art of freaque waves researches today. Yes, it is still enigmatic, we really have no idea what life cycle a freaque has. But no one seems to be interested in investing in systematic measurements to find out what is really going on out there either. Academic types only interested in their theoretical formulations, ship building and cruise companies are contended to let insurance to take care of their deficiencies, and governments certainly have no concern with damages that generally not raised to the disaster level.

I guess Grabianowski noticed the symptoms but, like everyone else, did not think it's a major drawback. At least he did spelled it out unwittingly. At any rate, it will be a long time before we'll able to really know, beyond conjecture, how freaque waves work!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th birthday, Abe!

When I started working in the US a few decades ago, there were two President's birthdays we celebrated as national holiday in February: George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's. I still think that's the way it should be. When they lumped the two into one and calling Washington's birthday the President's Day, they really adulterated the significance of the celebration. American people can make mistakes, not every president they elected deserves that kind of commemoration. There were plenty of four or even eight years of sufferance American people had to endure through in modern history.

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, it should be a day of celebration. Happy birthday, Abe!

Let me celebrate the day by recalling some of Lincoln's timeless speeches which may still be immensely relevant today. Let me start by his first political announcement on March 9, 1832:
Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.
Note that Lincoln wished to be "truly estimated" by his fellow men and rendering himself "worthy of their esteem". Not to be worshiped as messiah by cult followers or idolized by obtuse, empty-headed media types. Abe Lincoln got nothing to hide, never has to "seal" any records from people. Abe Lincoln is a true natural born American, never ashamed of where or when he was born, never has to seal his birth certificate.

Lincoln's faith in God has never been questioned. This his words should be remembered by everyone:
I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side.
Now this from his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861:
I therefore consider taht in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall taken care, as the Constitution itself expressly injoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully excuted in all the States.
Note that Lincoln never had to tell people "I won" and tried to push his ideology onto the people did not vote for him.

Here's what Lincoln had to say about history on December 1, 1862:
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.
So in the long run everything will be judged by the history fairly, no one can alter it. (In the short run, however, the problem will be the so called "historians" are not much different from those obtuse, empty-headed media types.) The following tidbit told by Lincoln on September 30, 1859 can be a good quote to conclude this blog today:
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: 'And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
Yes, for us malcontent types who's counting the days to the next election -- This too shall pass!

Again, Happy 200th birthday, Abe!
God bless America!


P.S. I found the quotes from here and here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our Lady of Lourdes

The following article, appeared in the Manila Bulletin Online today, provides the best inscription for today:
We celebrate today the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was on February 11, 1858, that the Blessed Mother first appeared to a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France.

It was a week before Ash Wednesday when the mother of Bernadette noticed that they had run out of firewood in the house. Bernadette and her sister Toinette volunteered to go and pick up branches at the riverside. At first, the mother expressed her disapproval because of the bad weather. Jeane Abadie, their neighbor, offered to go with the two children and the mother consented. They decided to go southward to Merlasse.

When they reached the end of the Monsieur de la Fittes field, nearly opposite the grotto of Massabieille, her companions left Bernadette behind because she was reluctant to cross the cold river due to her constant poor health. Soon afterwards, she heard a rustling noise and caught sight of a beautiful lady in a hollow of the Massabieille rock. Bernadette fell to her knees and prayed the Rosary. The lady identified herself as the "Immaculate Conception’’ and requested that a church be built on that site. The apparition was followed by 17 more until July 16, 1858.

It was on February 25 that the young Bernadette was told by the lady to scratch at the ground. The lady then asked her to drink and wash in a spring that came up. In a matter of days, the spring began to be the source of many miraculous occurrences.

The water still flows today, and continues to be a source of God’s healing through the Blessed Mother’s intercession for many people. This is why Pope John Paul II pronounced that February 11, the day the Blessed Mother first appeared to Bernadette in 1858, be specially designated as the World Day of the Sick. The apparition was finally approved by the Church in 1862 and a church in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary was dedicated in 1901. The grotto of Lourdes in France is now one of the most visited pilgrim sites in the whole world.

In the Litany of Loreto, one of the titles attributed to the Blessed Mother is "Health of the Sick.’’ It is not Mary who heals the sick. It is her Son Jesus Christ who brings about healing to many people. Mary just allows herself to be used as an instrument of God’s grace of healing.

On this feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes, may we receive the healing grace of God through her. Moreover, like Mary, let us allow God to use us as his instruments of healing to all those in need of this grace. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!

Yes, indeed, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!

Current events

Timely current events cartoons:
by Robert Ariel:

and by Michael Ramirez

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lucky fishermen from Riverton, NZ

While we are still enjoying Sunday evening in eastern US, New Zealand is already Monday. Here's a freaque wave news from Southland Times there, reported by Shane Cowlishaw on Feb. 9, 2009:

Five fishermen took an extended dip yesterday afternoon when a rogue wave flipped their boat off the Riverton coast.

Tim Brewster, Glen Blasby, Wes Cooper, Rodger Findlay and Pete Menlove were fishing at "The Reef", about 16km off the coast, at 11am when a freak wave swamped their boat and capsized the 6.5-metre Stabicraft boat.

Luckily the men were all wearing lifejackets and clung to a rope on the bottom of the craft for an hour and a half before being rescued by a nearby commercial charter vessel, Charisma.

Some details follow:

Mr Brewster said the boat was equipped with an emergency beacon and flares but they were trapped in the cabin underwater.

The men tried several times to dive down and recover the equipment but were unable to enter the cabin, he said.

The wave had taken everyone by surprise, Mr Brewster said.

"There must have been an undercurrent and a rogue wave just came up and swamped the boat," he said.

"We just knew we had to contact someone, wave someone down."

Three boats passed by in the distance before the Charisma arrived, unable to see the men despite frantic waves and shouts.

Riverton Coastguard skipper Noel Anderson said Charisma's skipper Robbie Wallace initially thought the capsized boat was men in kayaks before realising what had happened.

Mr Wallace took the men on board before the coastguard transported them back to land, Mr Anderson said.

Riverton is in the south end of New Zealand. There are at least 5 happy families celebrating the return of their love ones. This blog always advocates the use of lifejackets, now this happy ending story shows solid proof for that!

Encounter of an Indonesian Navy ship


Here's a brief news that demonstrate again that freaque waves can happen any place and any time. This time it happened this morning to an Indonesian Navy ship near East Java. According to the Jakarta Post:
Warship KRI Kupang -581 nearly sunk after being hit by a freak wave near Surabaya, East Java, on Sunday morning.

"A sudden surge of large body of water overcame KRI Kupang. Ship captain Suyadi quickly directed the ship to shore and dropped down the anchor as he called for help from a nearby ship," Navy spokesman Toni Syaiful said, as quoted by kompas.com.

He added that another nearby warship, KRI Slamet Riyadi, had answered their call of distress.

The 20-year old watercraft will be towed to Surabaya.
According to Nina Susilo of Kompas, KRI Kupang was en route to rescue a fishing boat when they themselves encountered the freaque wave first. As the details are very sketchy, but we may presume that there are no casulties. Thank God for that!

By the way, Java is an island of Indonesia and the site of its capital city, Jakarta. Based on area, Java is 13th largest island in the world. But also the 5th largest island in Indonesia after New Guinea, Borneo, Sumatra, and Sulawesi.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The year that was 1989!

There are many important and memorable dates and years during the 20th Century. The year 1989 must be the most important and memorable one among them. The following list from this web site clearly attests to that effect. In 2009, after 20 years, it should not be taken for granted but to commemorate the great historical significance and triumphant in freedom and democracy of what the year 1989 was:

1989: The End of Communism in Central Europe
  • April 5: Poland. The Communist government and Solidarity agree to share power and hold free elections.
  • May 8: Yugoslavia. The nationalist Slobodan Milosevic is elected as president.
  • June 4: Poland. Solidarity wins a huge majority of the vote, including 96 of 100 Senate seats.
  • Aug. 19: Poland. Mazowiecki is elected as Poland's first non-Communist prime minister.
  • Sept. 10: Hungary. 60,000 East Germans go through Hungary to cross into Austria.
  • Sept. 27: Yugoslavia. Slovenia asserts its right to secede from Yugoslavia.
  • Oct 7: Hungary. Socialist Workers Party (formerly Communist) renounces Marxism, embraces democratic socialism, and is renamed the Hungarian Socialist Party.
  • Oct. 18: East Germany. Mass demonstrations force President Eric Honecker to resign.
  • Oct. 18: Hungary. Parliament ends the one-party monopoly and announces elections for next year.
  • Nov. 9: East Germany. The Berlin Wall is opened and five million people come to Berlin to celebrate the end of the Wall, the end of the Cold War, the end of Communism, and the reunification of Germany.
  • Nov. 10: Bulgaria: Todor Zhikov, head of state and leader of the Communist Party for 35 years, resigns.
  • Nov. 17: Czechoslovakia, Hundreds of thousands of protesters march in Prague.
  • Dec. 10: Czechoslavakia. President Husak resigns and installs a coalition cabinet with communists in the minority.
  • Dec. 13: Bulgaria. The Communist Party renounces their monopoly on power.
  • Dec. 16-21: Romania. Secruity forces opens fire on thousands of demonstrators; hundreds are killed and buried in mass graves. As Christmas arrives, everyone in Europe watches the revolution on television.
  • Dec. 22: Romania. The army revolts, joining with demonstrators, and the Council of National Salvation declares the government to be overthrown.
  • Dec. 25: Romania. In an two-hour trial, the Communist dictator Ceausecsu and his wife are convicted of genocide and immediately executed by machine gunfire.
  • Dec. 26: Poland. Radical free-market reform plan is announced.
  • Dec. 29: Czechoslavakia. Playwright and human rights compaigner Vaclav Havel, who spent years in prison as a dissident, is the new president of Czechoslavakia.
While everyone of the listed events are individually important, but the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9 may be most symbolically important. That may also allow us recalling another most memorable speech in history two years earlier, on June 12, 1987, by the US President Ronald Reagan:

Friday, February 06, 2009

Charles Darwin, the scientist!

Next Thursday, February 12, 2009, will be 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. The science world has been buzzing toward a grand celebration. The heavy weight journals like Nature and Science have filled with articles in preparation, and so are many other scientific and non scientific magazines alike. I just read the article by Paul Johnson in the latest Spectator, a non scientific publication, which I think provided a refreshing perspective for me to view Charles Darwin, the real human being and a fitting tribute to Darwin the true scientist! The article, entitled "Would Darwin have put atheist slogans on buses?", may not appeal to the fervent Darwin followers. But I believe Johnson, presumably a U.K. chap, has duly read many of the Darwin's works and I can't help wonder how many of Darwin followers had ever really read The Decent of Man.

Johnson's article is very readable. The first part of the article clearly reflects the title of the article:

The more I see of the intellectual world and its frailties, the more I appreciate the truth of G.K. Chesterton’s saying: ‘When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything.’ It is one of the tragedies of humanity that brain-power is so seldom accompanied by judgment, sceptical moderation or even common sense. The vacuum left by the retreat of formal religion is most commonly filled, today, by forms of pantheism. Zealots devote their lives to ‘saving’ the rainforests, deserts or habitats of endangered species. They believe, passionately, in pseudo-scientific myths like climate change, global warming and the greenhouse effect. Some worship science as a faith and a way of life. Others hate it. Occasionally on the Quantocks I see fierce young men in semi-military kits, often crudely armed, who vary their activities between physically attacking staghound followers and besieging laboratories where animals are used for experiments. In appearance and behaviour they resemble the original zealots or Sicarii of the time of Christ, who met nemesis at Masada. I do not exactly fear them, any more than I fear the Muslim suicide bombers whom they so much resemble. But their appearance, on the heath once tramped by those gentle nature-lovers Coleridge and Dorothy and William Wordsworth, adds to my concern about what is happening to the world.

The atheistic pantheists who have now taken to advertising their beliefs on buses stand close to those who wish to deify Charles Darwin, and have taken the opportunity to do so on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Of course they are not the first. Leslie Stephen, a former clergyman who lost his faith as a result of On the Origin of Species, ‘admired Darwin as a god’, and some of the things he wrote, about his centrality in modern intellectual history, have the flavour of the Apocalypse. Much rubbish is currently being published about Darwin as a ‘super-scientist’ and ‘transcendental prophet of the humanist triumph’ (two expressions I have noted in the last week, one on the BBC). They do not do the poor man justice, for he was not only a fine scientist but a modest man of rare decency and dignity who would have found his current apotheosis repellent and frightening. If ever a good man needed to be saved from his followers, it is he.

What he described may be more of an U.K. phenomena overtly. But I think Darwin followers are everywhere and in every fields. Once I was chatting with an engineer from New Zealand over lunch during a conference. He's been trying to agree with me on things out of politeness. But when I indicated that I have doubts on evolution theory, he raised his voice in indignation: "How could you?"

Johnson told the tragic story of Darwin lost his 10 year old daughter:
It is important to realise that Darwin was a man of exceptionally strong emotions, albeit capable, in his work, of cool ratiocination. The central event of his emotional life was not the development of his theory of natural selection, although that gave him great joy and satisfaction. It was the death, from fever, of his ten-year-old daughter Annie in 1850. Annie was his favourite child and his intense affection for her was reciprocated in full. He said he had never needed to rebuke her for the slightest fault; she was ‘an angel’. When she became chronically ill in her ninth year, from some kind of gastroenteritis, or typhoid, Darwin’s concern for her was overlaid with guilt, for he suffered from similar complaints all his life and he believed she had inherited his constitution. He attended her throughout her final prolonged illness, marked by phases of recovery followed by relapses, and he often sat with her all night. His description of her sufferings — and his own — make harrowing reading. When she finally died, emaciated, a skeleton, he could not bring himself to attend her pathetic funeral. He was tortured by remorse and rage, and quoted Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’:

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life?

Twice during her death-agony, Annie made touching efforts to sing, and her destruction seemed to Darwin such an act of unthinking wickedness as to destroy for ever his faith in a benevolent universe. He was to write in The Descent of Man, ‘The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts.’ But this was something Darwin himself could never do. His thoughts continued to circulate around the death of his beloved child. He never got over it. It killed his belief in God and eternity much more comprehensively and finally than anything uncovered in his scientific enquiries. The circumstance in which he finally lost his faith confirms the view to which all my own experience and observation attest: that belief in the supernatural is a matter of emotion, not reason. Darwin never forgot Annie: her fate overshadowed the rest of his life and coloured his thoughts indelibly. He wrote a letter, six years after her death: ‘What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel world of nature!’

This quotation illustrates what seems to me a weakness in Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and one shared by almost all his followers, especially his most enthusiastic ones. He and they have a tendency to attribute moral qualities to a process which, by its nature, ought to be entirely impersonal. Nature is not, and cannot be, cruel. The weakness is illuminating because it points to a more fundamental one. Although natural selection eliminates design (and so God the Creator), Darwin seems reluctant to drop design entirely. He drops it logically but it keeps popping back. He often implies that Nature ‘designs’ things.

which is something I have not heard before. I guess pointing out weakness in Darwin's theory might offend many Darwin followers. But I found the following comments plausible:
I find it hard to believe that Darwin worked out a perfect explanation of the origin of species, as some of his present-day followers seem to suppose. On the contrary, Darwin’s writings raise as many questions as they answer. For instance, why does natural selection lead to endless complexity? Complex organisms are more fragile than simple ones. They are less capable of repairing themselves when things go wrong. If natural selection has a purpose, surely it is durability rather than complexity. How can it become more durable by becoming more complex? It may be that selection leads to complexity in the short run but in the long run it ought to lead to simplicity, which must make it more durable. Again, there appears to be no mechanism which links lifetime changes in phenotypes to genetic variation. Why is this? Why have not organisms, in the process of natural selection, acquired the ability to pass on acquired characteristics by genetics? There are many other riddles.
Johnson's final paragraph tells a whole lot more about Darwin the scientist. Again it's something I have not heard before, but it certainly demonstrated how thorough a scientific exploration should encompass, even in a study on earth-worms:
My guess is that Darwin’s general theory will eventually be overthrown, or fundamentally modified, as Newton’s was by Einstein’s relativity. Unlike his fundamentalist followers, Darwin was not afraid of change, even if it proved him wrong about some things. He saw science as progressive. He continued to practise science in old age. He studied earth-worms. He found them to be surprisingly intelligent. He turned his billiard room into a working laboratory so he had more room to examine them and see how they responded to stimuli. He had them in earth-pots covered in glass. At night he flashed lights at them — lanterns, candles, paraffin lamps. He found that intense light frightened them but anything dim had no effect. He organised his household to see how they reacted to noise. One played the piano, another the bassoon, or shouted, or shrilled on a tin whistle. He puffed scent and tobacco fumes at them. I wish his followers and panegyrists today would engage in such entertaining and possibly useful activities, instead of treating him as a god. And I wish the spirit of Darwin would forbid them to engage in the vulgar activity of advertising atheism on buses.
I am gratified to learn that Darwin continued to practice science in his old age. I think that's what a real research scientist suppose to be. I heard that Darwin's expedition onboard of HMS Beagle at age 22 was done as an "unpaid naturalist". Now along with his study on earth worms in his old age, I surmise that his scientific study and accomplishments had never been subjected to funding considerations. I think therein lies the main difference between Darwin and his modern day followers in the science world. How can a scientific accomplishments be measured by the amount of funding? But that's the standard for the second half of 20th and the early part of 21st century today. So another relevant question to ask would be: supposing Darwin is alive today, just wish to do his research out of interests, can he still securing a teaching or research position in any of the elite or not so elite universities?

My hat tips to Mr. Paul Johnson for a superb article in Spectator. I quote Johnson's article extensively here to serve as my personal tribute to Darwin, the great scientist! Finally I would also like to show the following picture:

which is Mount Darwin, the highest peak of Tierra del Fuego, Chile, elevation 2488 m, located at 54-45 S and 69-29 W, that was named by Captain Robert FitzRoy of HMS Beagle on February 12, 1834, in celebrating Charles Darwin's 25th birthday. Well deserved!

Monday, February 02, 2009

London Snow

I guess the biggest news on the Groundhog Day of 2009 is not that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, nor that the U.S. new president insists on backing the crooked tax evading guy he nominated to turn the country's health system into a socialistic one. The biggest news is really, well, the London snow!

Just take a look at these headlines:
London crawling: Snow shuts down British capital.
The day the snow came -- and Britain stopped.
Snow brings deaths and travel chaos to Europe.
British grinds to halt under heavy snow.
Heaviest snow in 18 years blankets UK.
among hundreds of news items around the world. All tends to insinuate the negatives. Typical MSM! But there is an exception: Snow brings out the best of British, along with this rare scenery of London under snow:


One can not help recalling Robert Bridges (1844-1930) poetry "London Snow"
When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled - marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder!'
'O look at the trees!' they cried, 'O look at the trees!'
With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul's high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.
I guess it's all a matter of in the eyes of the beholder!

Happy Groundhog Day!

Happy Groundhog Day!

It was reported from Punxsutawney, Pa. this morning that
(AP picture)

The world's most famous groundhog saw his shadow Monday morning, predicting this already long winter will last for six more weeks.
Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn in front of an estimated 13,000 witnesses, many dressed in black-and-gold to celebrate the Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl victory the night before.
Well, Punxsutawney Phil is not the only one though (may be in Pennsylvania). Let's see, there are, according to Ingrid Peritz of Globalmail:
Wiarton Willie of Ontario, Canada,;
Buckeye Chuck of Marion, Ohio,
General Beauregard Lee of Yellow Rivwe Game Ranch, Georgia;
Shubenacadie Sam of Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park, Nova Scotia,; and
Balzac Billy of Balzac, eight kilometres north of Calgary.
Today they have all seen their shadow today, so there will be six more weeks of winter. (May be they are equally or even more accurate than the Accuweather meteorologists.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

May be or may be not, that is the question!

A paper published in the latest Geophysical Research Letters is making news. Here's the public available abstract:
On 23 June 2008, a fishing boat with 20 crewmembers onboard sank in reportedly moderate sea-state conditions in the Kuroshio Extension region east of Japan. To determine the sea state at the time of the incident, we conducted a hindcast wave simulation, as realistically as possible, using an improved third-generation wave model driven by wind and current reanalysis products. Our results indicated that at the time of the accident, the wave steepness increased and the spectral peakedness narrowed, creating a sea state favorable for freak wave occurrence due to quasi-resonance. Detailed analyses of the spectral evolution revealed that nonlinear coupling of swell and windsea waves was the key to generating the narrow spectrum. Under the influence of rising wind speed, the swell system grew exponentially at the expense of the windsea energy, and the bimodal crossing sea state transformed into a freakish unimodal sea.
The news of the lost of the fishing boat did not seem to get around the international circuit and the abstract did not give much details either. Some immediate questions: What was the fate of the crew members? Was there any indication of freaque waves at the time? Was there any actural wave measurement? Since it was reported "moderate sea-state conditions" why the need for a "hindcast wave simulation"? There has never been an even plausible evidence of any connection between wave models and freaque waves, what does it mean by "bimodal crossing sea state transformed into a freakish unimodal sea?"

Nevertheless, Science Daily seems to have impressed and reported this paper with the title: "Freak Waves May Be Sinking Ships Off The Coast of Japan." Or may be not, and all is a question of speculation. In the era of model almighty, any simulation by an "improved 3rd generation" model and added an ingradient of "nonlinear coupling" will be easily becoming media reality. But the mere truth is: we haven't learned anything new yet!


Update

The case of the Japanese fishing vessel, Suwa Maru No. 58, was actually reported in Intrafish of Norway on June 24, 2008 the day after the happening:

SUWA MARU NO.58 – JAPAN

Portsmouth, UK, June 24. Fishing vessel Suwa Maru No.58 (135 gt, built 1999) overturned and sank 330 km from the Pacific coast of Chiba prefecture, Japan, on June 23. According to the Coast Guard, the vessel had a crew of 20 and seven were rescued about an hour after the incident. However, four of them died shortly afterwards. The search for the remaining 13 crew continued. Five Japanese patrol vessels and three aircraft were sent to the area, and these were joined by 34 fishing vessels at the accident site. Equipment from the vessel was recovered on June 24, but not her 13 missing crew. Local media reports said the vessel capsized after she was hit by high waves in rough seas.

But the news had not been well circulated.

On February 16, 2009 a new article by Robert Matthews that was appeared in The National of Abu Dhabi in an effort of discussing freaque waves and reporting on Suwa Maru No. 58 and the GRL paper by Tamura et al., however, was tainted with clear factual error when it reported that "a monster of the sea which claimed the ship and all 22 on board."