Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Musings on Banned Books

Banned Book List for 2014
(Opens window)

When I read over the banned book list, I realized that I had read quite a few of them for school. Some I read for leisure after I had graduated from school. However, I was surprised at how many banned books that I had unwittingly read, since so few of them seemed to have perturbed me.

 The banned books and other classics that I read for school were actually meant to be read only by mature people. As teenagers, we often missed the point that the author was making. But since it was probably the only exposure that we would have to any serious literature, we were required to read them.

 The banned book that everyone wanted to read was J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” At the time, it was not considered worth studying. However, we had heard about it being smutty and vulgar. So, naturally everyone had to read it on the sly.

 Meanwhile, the state school board required that everyone read “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Even though it was reported to be racist, they still wanted us to read Twain’s classic of American literature. At the time, my school was a majority African-American/ Hispanic high school. Half the students had problems with the dialect of the characters, while the other half with the culture it portrayed. Racism was the last thing on people’s minds as to why they disliked the book.

 The other books that we had to read for American literature class were “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane, and “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The complaints that my class had about all these books was that someone always ended up dying in them. We were so sick of reading about dead and dying characters that we revolted and stopped reading. As far as I know, none of these books were banned because for having too many deaths depicted. What adults failed to realize is that teenagers do not share their sensibilities. Each group is shocked by unrelated things.

 With the other banned books that I read as an adult, I was unaware of any controversy. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury and “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein, I read since I enjoy science fiction. However, I disliked Heinlein’s fascist overtones in his book. I was thrilled to read “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Finally a book about women’s health issues written by and for women! “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown fascinated me with its counter point of view of history. However, I disliked Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” because for me, it was a racist soap opera.

 I met people who both loved and hated these books. I think that each book, in its own way, make adults uncomfortable. Moreover, I think that some adults transfer their discomfort to children. Rather than realizing that people do have the freedom not to read, certain adults decided to instead ban these books. Personally, I think that the more attention paid to these books, the more people will want to read them. (Consider “Catcher in the Rye.”) As for whether children would be troubled by them, people such as Stephen King, noted horror author, have pointed out that what bothers children is different from what adults are concerned about.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Stick Insects or Phasmids (Phasmatoidea, Phasmatidae) encompass about 2,700 known Insect species. With their long bodies that give them a twig-like appearance, Phasmids are almost invisible among the leaves of trees. When They are disturbed, Phasmids will lay motionless for hours pretending to be a stick. Sometimes, They will sway to mimic a twig blowing in the wind.

To avoid being eaten, Phasmids have many unique defenses. Although Most rely on passive camouflage to avoid predators, many large Phasmids have large spines on their hind legs for self-defense. Other Phasmids will discourage their attackers by regurgitating food at them or by squirting them with poison. American Walking Stick (Anisomorpha bupestiordes) sprays his intruder with a chemical spray that causes blindness.

Female Phasmids can reproduce without mating. Some populations consist entirely of mature Females and their Offspring. The Young are identical to their Mother. Sometimes Mother Phasmid will search for a rare Male to mate with. She will either find Him with his Friends or will attract Him by emitting a seductive scent.

Unlike other Insects, many people like to have Phasmids as pets. Usually all They require is blackberry leaves and water to thrive. However, They do prefer to have their leaves in their cages lightly misted.

Phasmids teach about having as many choices as possible. For example, people call Them by many names--Walking Stick, Stick Insect, or Stick Bug. Female Phasmids can reproduce with or without a mate. Phasmids defend Themselves in various ways. Some simply become still, while Others will squirt a poison. In life, it is important to have many options available to you.
Phasmids are cousins to Grasshoppers and Mantids.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ponderings on Time

"When as a child I laughed and wept, Time crept.
When as a youth I waxed more bold, Time strolled.
When I became a full-grown man, Time RAN.
When older still I daily grew, Time FLEW.
Soon I shall find, in passing on, Time gone."
Poem from the front of the clock case in the North Transept of Chester Cathedral, attributed to H. Twells (1823-1900).

To perform a personal examination of time, please document a single minute of time. Using a watch with a second hand, observe this one minute as carefully as possible. Then write as many details as possible: the location you are in, the sounds and sights available to you, and the 'feeling' of the time you are observing. Have you proved that time is relative?
Proving whether time is relative or not is something that I cannot do. As with many people who have a brain injury, I have lost my sense of time. I live in the Eternal Now, with the past, present, and future merging into a singular whole. Not only that, but now I see time as colors – blue days, purple months, green hours. (It is a form of synesthesia.) If I focus on time, it becomes a kaleidoscope of colors merging, fracturing, and flowing. Time, as I experience it, runs counter to most people’s sense of time. Therefore documenting a single minute of time is impossible.

 Because my sense of time is gone, I decided to research how others see time. What I uncovered was that there is not agreement on how time is perceived. One thought is “presentism” in which “time is experienced but does not pass.” The other is “flowism” in which time flows whether people perceive it or not. “Flowism” says that people perceive the passage of time by reflecting on their experiences. The philosopher Immanuel Kant agreed with this. He wrote that “the phenomenology of passage of time is a necessary condition for any experience.” For him, time existed and was “true” whether we experienced it or not (A priori reasoning).

 Before Kant, western philosophers traditionally defined time to be a construction of the self, starting with St. Augustine. (“I measure my self, as I measure time.”) Therefore perceived time is the “mental state of the beholder.” According to this philosophy, we perceive time as we feel. For example, depressed people usually see time as slowing down. However with a brain injury, my perception of my self is detached from how I feel. Therefore time is nonexistent to me, and is only an artificial construct. What exists for me is the illusion of time.

 From a psychological point of view, people may experience time in one of two ways. “Polychrons” experience time as one continuous current much like a river flowing from the past through the present, and on to the future. Meanwhile, “monochrons” perceive time as discrete intervals, which are divided into fixed elements such as hours. Furthermore, societies tend to organize themselves on either of these perceptions of time. Since western industrial society is monochromic, the notion that time can be proven to be relative is plausible. (Of course a polychromatic society would not even consider the idea.)

To gain an understanding of how time could perceived in relative terms, I compared watching a football game to a hockey one. Fifteen minutes of watching players skating frantically trying to score seemed like an instant. Watching the last few seconds of a football game with the losing team trying to score seemed endless. I suppose that in relation to me and the action of the game, time could be seen as relative. However, sports games are usually measured in “sports” minutes, which differs from “standard” minutes. A fifteen minute quarter in football may result in thirty minutes of “standard” time. Therefore, proving how time is relative in sports can be problematic.

 Since I live in a monchronic society, I have to accept the idea that time exists in measured units. To be in sync with others, I have to develop methods of “timekeeping.” Otherwise, I would simply follow the rhythms of my body in sleeping and eating. Monchronic time divorces many people from natural rhythms, and forces them to see time differently.

 Works Used.
 Hahn, Harley, “Time Sense: Polychronicity and Monochronicity.” Web.
Janiak, Andrew, “Kant’s View on Space and Time.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 14, September, 2009. Web.
Le Poidevin, Robin, “The Experience and Perception of Time.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2009. Web.
Musser, George, “Time on the Brain.” Scientific American. 15 September 2011. Web.
 Prosser, Simon, “Passage and Perception.” Paper. Web.
 Wittmann, Marc, “The Inner Experience of Time.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 31, May, 2009. Web.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carving in Stone: Washington National Cathedral (U.S.)

Living in Washington D.C., much of what happens is already recorded in history. However, there are parts of the City that still hold their mysteries close. One of those places is the Washington National Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.)

 Dedicated in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this Gothic Cathedral has been continually worked on by various stone carvers and masons, ever since. Officially finished in 1990, the Cathedral is still being labored on, since there are grotesques and gargoyles still be carved. Also, after the 2011 Washington Earthquake, they have endeavored to repair the damaged done to the Cathedral.

 Throughout the many years, the stone carvers developed a deep sense of intimacy and connection to the Cathedral itself. As Master Carver Vincent Palumbo noted, “The sculptor creates it (the work), but we give it life. When we carve it in stone, that is the resurrection.” Many of the carvings around the building reflect this closeness. One gargoyle depicts Master Carver Roger Morigi as the devil with his stone working tools, while another one is of a mushroom cloud coming out of his head. Both are in reference to his bad temper. (People who do not know this, often think that the mushroom cloud is a commentary of the modern age.)

 Other signs of the intimacy between the Cathedral and the stone carvers are the numerous carvings of their exploits. One grotesque shows Palumbo in a truck with a flagpole. This memorialized the time when he hit the Cathedral’s flag pole with his pick-up truck. At the north side of the nave, there is a flying buttress that remains uncarved. This is to commemorate in stone the death of Stone Carver Joseph Petti, who died there, when a scaffolding gave way.

 The stone carvers share the story of a fellow carver who worked there in the 1950s. He commuted daily from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington D.C., and therefore few people had met his family. When his wife died, he wanted her to be buried in the Cathedral. (Other people who had been interred there were President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.) He asked the Dean of the Cathedral Francis Sayre if his wife could be also. After being told no by the Bishop, Dean Sayre offered his apologies to the stone carver. Dean Sayre said that the man told him that it was already taken care of. According to the Dean, the masons had mixed the ashes of the wife of the stone carver into the mortar. She holds several stones together atop the south transept. Rumor has it that after the earthquake, she and the stones are still intact.

 Although Dean Sayre verified authenticity of the story, several elements make it a legend. The names of the stone carver and his wife are unknown. When the Dean was asked about the story, it was forty years after the fact. Furthermore Dean Sayre only stated what he surmised. Palumbo, who was interviewed about his long tenure at the Cathedral, told many stories, to the reporter, about specific people. The ashes of the stone carver’s wife was not one of them. Also, the legend of mixing of the ashes of the dead into the stone mortar is a story often told about other cathedrals as well. Whether it is true or not, it remains a testament to the closeness and love of the stone carvers for their Cathedral.

 Works Used.
Meyer, Graham, “Mysteries of the Washington National Cathedral.” The Washingtonian. September 2007. Web.
 Ringle, Ken, “Carving Out a Niche at the Cathedral.” The Washington Post. 18, November, 1999. Web.
 Washington National Cathedral Official Web Site. Web.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

AFRICAN ELEPHANT: Having a Rich Emotional Life

To those first encountering African Elephant, He seems large and strong. With his great curved tusks, long nose, and great ears, African Elephant seems like a creature from prehistory. At one time, the earth was filled with Trunked Mammals (Proboscidea), and now there are only two left – Asian Elephant and African Elephant (who are not close relatives).

Despite African Elephant’s great weight, He walks almost noiselessly through the African plains and forests. Using his long trunk as a hand, African Elephant browses trees and grass, chomping on green plants. Playing a vital role is the ecosystem of Africa, He is a keystone species. His herd’s paths act as a firebreak. His wallows are small pools for water. He disperses seeds from one place to another, converting the savannah to grassland.

Living a close-knit group, African Elephant’s herd is ruled by a Matriarch, an Old Cow. (The Bulls have their own small group within the herd.) Ever affectionate, African Elephant is willing to risk his life to prevent a death of a family member.  Greeting his friends with low rumbles and trumpets, He welcomes Them back to the herd. He snorts and rumbles good-bye to his Friends when He leaves to browse.

“An elephant never forgets” is in reference to African Elephant’s rich emotional memories. He remembers what happens to Him and his Family Members especially if They are harmed in any way. African Elephant notices and remembers when One Elephant has something the Others cannot have. He will settle scores and harbor grudges.

African Elephant has a rich emotional life. He beckons you to have one as well. Like people, African Elephant cares what happens to Him and Those he loves.

Just do not harbor grudges like African Elephant does.
Note: Although Asian Elephant (Elephas maxims) and African Elephant (Lexodonta African) are the only remaining members of the Proboscidea (trunked mammals) Order, they are not close relatives of each other. Asian Elephant, which is closer in DNA to Mammoths, evolved as a separate Asian species. African Elephant has larger ears and a sloped head.

Conservation Note: African Elephant is endangered.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Archeoastronomy: Babylonians

Noted for their complex astrology, the Babylonians (the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia: Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria) were also accomplished astronomers. From their seven story Ziggurats, these astronomers watched the rising and setting of the stars, as well as, the five bright planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). By keeping meticulous records of lunar and solar events, the Babylonians were able predict the next eclipse. Some of their contributions to astronomy are the discovery of many of today’s constellations.

Using their based-sixty numerical system, the Babylonians set circles at 360 degrees. Stemming from this, came the measurement of angles. With their degree system (similar to longitude and latitude), the astronomers could pinpoint the position of various stars. Using their records, they developed formulas to predict the next celestial event. Their observations were so accurate that some modern people wonder if the Babylonians had invented a primitive telescope.

 Starting their month with the New Crescent of the Moon, the Babylonian astronomers divided the period into six phases, each with its own particular meaning. They measured synodic months to be the period between full moons. To insure that their year started on the first day of spring equinox, the Babylonians devised a nineteen year cycle (235 synodic months), that contained leap years. Six of the nineteen years had a month added called Addaru, and another year at the seventeen year mark had the month Ululu added. This cycle of 235 synodic months, known as the Saros cycle, allowed for the repetition of celestial eclipses at defined periodic intervals.

Since the Gods resided in the heavens, the Babylonian rulers had to understand the stars. Their power came from correctly interpreting the desires of the Gods. In fact, the dynasties of each city state and later empire were tied to particular Gods. Therefore before any decisions of State could be made, the Gods had to be consulted.

According to the Babylonians, the Gods communicated with humans through various celestial events. They built their Ziggurats to reflect this belief. Each of the tower’s seven stories represented the bright planets, the sun, and the moon. Using’ their careful records of correspondences of local and celestial events, the Babylonians astrologers could interpret the will of the Gods. The Babylonians used their astronomy/astrology to aid their rulers in the affairs of State.

 Full-time astrologers became the intermediaries between the ruler and the Gods, by translating the will of the Gods. Some of their predictions were “when the Moon occults Jupiter that year a King will die.” On that particular day, the king would have a substitute king be killed. “When Jupiter goes out from behind the moon, there will be hostility in the land.” When the ruler was informed of that, he prepared his armies.

 The Babylonians watched the skies to understand what their Gods were telling them. Since their ruler acted by the consent of the Gods, he had to know what They were telling him. His astrologers not only informed him of the will of the Gods but also what the future would be. In this way, Babylonian astrologers ensured a well-ordered society.

 Works Used:
Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky.” Thames and Hudson: New York. 2009. Print.
 Halsall, Paul, “The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, c. 2500 – 670 BCE.” Ancient History Sourcebook. March 1999. Web. .
 Kolev, Rumen, “Some Reflections About Babylonian Astrology.” Centre Universitaire de Recherche en Astrologie. 2001. Web. .
 Lendering, Jona, “Kidinnu, the Chaldaeans, and Babylonian Astronomy.” Articles on Ancient History. 2014. Web.
Magli, Guilio, “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy.” Copernicus Books: New York. 2009. Print.
 White, Gavin, “The Exaltation System in Babylonian Astrology.” May 2009. Web. .

Monday, October 27, 2014

Archetypes in Mythology: Norse: Building of Asgard

The Wall of Asgard (Norse)

Read the Myth at Hurstwic Norse Mythology 
This myth details the relations between the Giants and the Gods. Both indulge in treachery to obtain their goals. The Giant, who had disguised himself, is both the Shapeshifter and the Shadow. When he bargains with Odin, the All-Father, he presents himself as an ordinary mortal. However, neither he nor his horse are that. In payment for building the wall around the Gods’ city, the Giant would receive Freya, Mani, and Sunna (Sol). By tricking the Gods, he shows Them for who they really are, people who do not keep their word.

 Loki, an Outsider, is the Trickster who devises a way out of the Gods’ dilemma. He shapeshifts to trick the Giant’s horse. Depriving the Giant from finishing the wall, Loki saves the Gods and presents Odin with a gift. From the union between Him and the Giant’s stallion comes Odin’s steed, Sleipnir.