Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

God was Mary Herrera

October 21, 2016

Morning Journal


God was Mary Herrera.

I did not know her well.

She worked in a clothes manufacturing shop in Los Angeles in the 1930’s. My mother worked in the same shop and was her friend, which is how I knew her.

I remember family visits to her house, which was in the same neighborhood in Los Angeles where Rochester- the Jack Benny Radio Show character- lived. When we drove by his house and happened to see him in the yard, my father shouted out “Hey Rochester, what ever happened to the gas man?” He smiled and waved.

She was a great cook. Even though they were divorced, her husband would be there, eating her chili, so hot it took his breath away and he couldn’t speak, sweat pouring off his bald head. She grew her own peppers, in soil she brought up from Mexico, because LA soil wasn’t up to the job.

Her children danced the jitterbug in the living room. But I didn’t. I was too young at the time. It was later on that I danced the “New Yorker” in my living room with my sisters. And the word “Pachuco” entered my vocabulary from the newspapers.

So I did not know her well.

“God was Mary Herrera.” Why did I say that? I don’t believe that she was, or was not, God. Not any more or less than anyone else. I used to say “God was a little Jewish tailor working in a small shop in the 15th Century, stitching together the fabric of existence, forward and backward in time from there.”

The ambiguity of past and future, the stitching together, like the orderly laying of bricks in a wall, my mother, who was a tailor, and my father , with whom I laid many bricks in the walls of a beautiful adobe hacienda in LA, together brought by the immanent existence of God coming forth in the diverse lives of many people. How can one write a simple sentence that says it all?

God was Mary Herrera.


February 18, 2014

Check out a new Page: Zooming up and down


December 5, 2013

The human community is exploding and imploding at the same time. What we know about the world outside of ourselves, and inside of ourselves, grows exponentially every day.      But the part of the human community that knows this knowledge grows daily further away from the vast unknowing majority of the human community whose daily labors produces the wealth that sustains the whole community.

But there is no “whole community”.

Humanity was cradled in community. Then it exploded out over the face of the earth, diversifying into innumerable communities that, discovering the roundness of the globe, now converge implosively upon each other in the global market.        But the global market is not a community. It is an arena within which the diverse communities of humanity encounter each other with both brotherhood and fratricide.

Science, the machine of worldly knowledge, forms its own community.      But in their hubris, the community of science eschews the questions community responds to: how to live a life and die a death that both have meaning.

Religion responds to these questions.      But, being vane and jealous, religion fractures the human community into competing orthodoxies.

Along the shore of the unfathomable sea, an old man walks along the beach, mulling all this over, playing with the rippling waters with his bare feet, watching for the waves that might sweep in, waiting for the final turning of the tide. He holds in his hand a bauble, a toy, an intricate new device that can serve an old purpose. Put a note in a bottle. Cast it into the sea. Wait for an answer.


Mineral evolution: Kelvin vs. Hutton

May 8, 2010

Blue gem mineral

A couple of weeks ago the very prolific Callan Bentley at Mountain Beltway raised some speculative questions inspired by the concept of mineral evolution, the idea that the mineral suite of the Earth has changed over time. I’ve been mulling over this proposition since, more or less in the back of my mind as more pressing personal happenings have been going on.

First, there is a terminological issue. The word “evolution” has meant very different things to different people over the centuries. Like most, if not all words, you cannot be assured that the etymological roots are anything other than a guide to the history. In today’s world, the word automatically brings up the name Darwin, even though it meant very different things to Erasmus than it did to his grandson Charles, who used it only sparingly.

Taken as its roots imply-unfolding in time-, the concept of mineral evolution would follow directly from logic of thermodynamics and an expanding Universe. Particular minerals, such as the one shown above, will form in environments wherein they are stable, or at least closer to equilibrium than whatever was there before. The parameters of the environment, as far as minerals are concerned, are temperature, pressure and composition. Consequently, in a Universe where energy is constantly dissipating, temperatures will constantly fall, and new, conceivably unique patterns of temperature, pressure and composition come and go. Predictably then, mineral suites will  change with time, with or without life!

Which takes me to Kelvin.

Geologists typically know Kelvin in the context of the age of the Earth debate. Geochemists and others whose curriculum involves thermodynamics know that aspect of his work: entropy, Kelvin scale, so forth. Never the twain should meet! But, in fact, they do. Albritton, in his book The Abyss of Time points out that the late 19th century debate between Kelvin and the geologists centered not so much on the age of the Earth as on the nature of geologic history. Kelvin’s  argument was not with Darwin the geologist, but through Lyell, with Hutton and his memorable phrase “no vestige of a beginning…” that we have all read, somewhat uncomprehendingly.

We read Hutton with difficulty, but not because of his writing style. You can check it out for yourself ( Theory of the Earth)   . What makes him difficult to understand is that he was writing in a thoroughly Aritotelian frame of reference that has eternalism at its base. Furthermore, he had no chemical atomic theory, no way to distinguish between fire, heat and phlogiston. No oxygen in his vocabulary. What he did have was the awesome ghost of Newton and the image of an eternally revolving system of Sun and planets. In short, at least according to historians of Geology like Martin Rudwick (Worlds Before Adam), no sense of geologic history as a series of unique events unfolding in a unique, non-repeating sequence.  This was the Huttonian foundation for Lyell’s cyclical uniformatarianism which made such difficulties for his admirer, Charles Darwin.

The mineral at the top of this page illustrates mineral evolution in the sense that it almost doesn’t exist. The conditions of temperature, pressure and composition that it requires are rarely achieved in the Earth, so it occurs in only one or two places on Earth. Fortunately for me, few people prize it as much as I do, so the price for this small example was within my wife’s birthday budget for me when I turned 65. I wore it as an ear stud until she passed.

More stuff on the Bucks Batholith

March 16, 2010

I have put up three more pages under the Bucks Batholith: The Pluton, the First of two questions, and The Second Question. Nothing earth shaking here. Just cleaning up some odd bits and pieces.

Most of what I know factually about the Bucks Batholith is in the literature referred to. My fantastic ideas about how it came to be the way that it is can correctly be left to expire on their own.

But if you are interested in what happens inside an intruding body of  magma, particularly near the top, there is a fact or two here you might find interesting and that are not reported in the literature to my knowledge. Plus a bit for the paleomag buffs.


Climate change: what can geologists do?

January 15, 2010

Here is a talk presented by Sir David King at the Geological Society of  London, on January 7:

on the above titled subject, at the end of which the question was asked.

Right Lateral, Into the Abyss of Time

December 12, 2009

We moved our family into Oakland in the late 60’s. We shopped in the Lucky Store, usually the one on Lakeshore Avenue, but occasionally we went to the Montclair store on Mountain Boulevard.

The Montclair store had a persistent problem with plumbing and damage to the floor in the meat department, which ran along the southern wall. After noticing this for several months, it occurred to me that the problem could be related to movement on the Hayward Fault, which might pass through the building.

Apparently, that was the case. The Lucky corporation decided to re-locate the store in a new building- the present site- and conducted a series of trenching studies, so they could place the new building completely on one side of the trace of the fault. The economics were such that they could take care of the persistent problem, but would not be too concerned about the long term exposure to seismic problems.

Following this process, I fully expected that the original building would be torn down. No way! It now houses the Rite Aid store. I have shopped there, just as I continue to shop at the Lucky Store. While I am aware of the hazard-shall I park in the basement or on the roof?- it does not impact my daily life. (more…)

Words and numbers: Aristotle and Ifrah

September 30, 2009

I have been playing with some time-lines, working on a 11×17 sheet that ranged through the last 10,000 years. It occurred to me to show on this graph the time periods covered by some books I have been reading lately. That is, to show the range of time that each book covered. My immediate reading was  The Trial of Socrates: I F Stone, but the first book I lined out on the graph was The Horse, the Wheel and Language: David Anthony. Then I tried to put on one of my favorites,  The Universal History of Numbers: Georges Ifrah, but it turns out that people have been symbolizing numbers a lot longer than we have been symbolizing word-sounds, so that I could not put them on the same graph.

The first recorded numbers were notches on sticks. The first written numbers were quite possibly words, rather than number symbols, which, in turn were quite possibly also the first words. Since that time, words and numbers have drifted apart into their own academic departments. Too bad!

According to Ifrah, the Brahmins who shepherded the number system that became ours across the threshold from oral to literate cultures asserted that the numbers had no history. They were simply given to the Brahmins by the gods. Plato said much the same thing about the spoken language as he and the other Greeks accomplished the same task for the spoken language.

We can follow the history of numbers through the mysteries of e, i, pi, 0 and -1. But what about the history of language development? By the time 2400 years ago when Aristotle recorded the rules of grammar, logic and rhetoric, the spoken language had been evolving for perhaps 800,000 years. Most of us ordinary people are still laboring to catch up with Aristotle.

Only in the time since then we have been able to look at written math symbols, apply logic to their manipulation, invent algorithms and equations like Euler’s.

Before venturing into some philosophical exploration of the meaning of all that one should recognize that natural selection did not produce these linguistic goodies for the sake of philosophy. Rather, there was some practical problem that they resolved in some way. And the resolution of practical problems only has to reach the standard of practicality. They don’t have to be “The Truth”.

High school earth science: Is it a good thing??

June 8, 2009

I have been “away” for the last few months coping with a birthday (77) and a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.  I ran into a piece at Oakland Geology on the subject of earth science courses in high school, particularly Prof Eldridge Moores efforts. That bounced me into writing the current post.

From the Preface: Physical Geology; Longwell, Flint and Sanders (1969) John Wiley.
“We believe the text will be readily comprehensible by students with no more than secondary-school background in physics, chemistry and mathematics.”

In 1969, secondary-school earth science courses were rare to non-existent. But the movement was on, rationalized in many ways, including the currrent ones. I was involved in this period with an NSF project at San Diego State College in training high school teachers in geology.

Then the Law of Unintended Consequences reared its ugly head. We all thought of earth science as being an enrichment of the high school curriculum. But it became a substitution, and that during a time when high school curricula were becoming generally impoverished, particularly in science. My own graduation from a basically average public high school in 1950 required four years of science in the academic track. But that has subsequenty been cut in half.

Thirty years later, when I surveyed my community college students in Physical Geology, nearly half had taken only an earth science course in the physical science category. Another 40% had taken chemistry, 10% had taken physics and all of those had also had chemistry. The remaining  group had nothing at all to report. Perhaps that was in part sampling error or simply due to the fact that a high school diploma is not required for community college entrance in California.

The consequences were as you would reasonably expect. The students who had only earth science were the least well prepared for a college level geology course.

Of course! The students were in my geology course, not in a physics course or a chemistry course, even though these courses also fulfilled the degree requirements. The “average student” avoids math based courses, in high school and in college, and arrives in the geology course with the expectation that nothing particularly challenging is ahead of them. There was occasional outrage at even the necessary reference atoms or elements or equations for gravity or seismic velocity. The students who had no background were at least aware that they were in for some work.

But the “average student” that graduates from a California high school does NOT end up taking Physical Geology at a prestigious University. The entrance requirements screen out “average students”. The aspiring elite students know that to get in to their first choice schools, they have to show high grades in hard courses, so they very well may meet the requirements stated above by Longwell, et alli., wherever they ended up (sometimes in my classes for personal reasons).

I urge you to take these circumstances into account. I am heated about the subject because my own career path took me from average grades in the average high school through a community college to the prestigious University. It is a well travelled path; a high percentage of university graduates follow it- perhaps half. Requirements are coercive. The aspiring elite student is already coerced by aspiration itself. Coercing the less aspiring into learning skills that open up posssibilities is not a bad thing. And in science, chemistry and physics are basic skill courses!

The unintended consequences of adding earth science to the high school curriculum has been the subtraction of basic science skill courses from their study lists by many students, to their ultimate detriment. In the long run, it hurts students and is counter-productive to enlarging the geological perspective that we so desperately need to cope with the problems the world community now faces.


January 2, 2009

Somewhere along the time-line of the Earth, extending from 4.7 billion years ago until now, everything you know about, care about, like or dislike, love or hate or are indifferent about came into existence. Nothingness may have existed somewhere forever, but no thing on the Earth that is present now in some form existed in that form at the formation of the planet. Every earthy thing came into its earthy form somewhere along that line. When you become convinced of the correctness of this proposition, a great many question spring up in any discussion or debate. When did the IT that you are debating begin? From whence did it come? What were its precursors in the time before? What were the causes, contingencies and coincidences of its formation?

At a New Year’s/birthday party, the assertion came out: “Virtuality was born in 1948, with the advent of television.”

While it is clear that “virtuality”, as an earthy thing, had to come into existence from its predecessors at some time, I think AD 1948 is way too late. It has erupted into the forum of debates at parties only much more recently, to be sure. But that is because it has only drawn attention to itself after being exponentially magnified by the digital revolution.  Before the digital revolution, virtuality was constrained, living only in the pages of novels, the scripts of plays, the exhortations of poets. In this guise it was frequently mistaken for “truth”, that is, something better than the imperfect grit of the world as it actually exists.

But it has been around here in that earlier form for a long time. And even before the printed page and literacy began molding the human mind, there was the oral world of myth and magic doing the same job in a simpler way. Pavlov’s dog showed the way. By the simple association of the sound of a bell with the presentation of food, Pavlov could prompt the dog to salivate simply at the sound of the bell- a virtual presentation of virtual food. Of course, he also found out that you couldn’t fool even the old dogs indefinitely.

The first practitioners of virtuality manipulation were the storytellers using the controlled bells of their voices to invoke the spirits around the campfires of our ancestors. That is also where we all start our journey through virtuality toward actuality, believing in the “truth” of the stories we are told. But from time to time, things fall apart- there’s a novel for you! Perhaps we are living in a Hegelian dialectical moment, when virtuality taken to extremes will succumb to its antithesis.