Monday, October 29, 2012

Third Day Devonian

Tree-ferns in Nunniong, Australia
Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
The earliest known trees appear in Devonian. The Late Devonian Wyazzit looked much like the unrelated tree-ferns in the photo and could grow 8 meters high.

The greening of land
"The Devonian period marks the beginning of extensive land colonization by plants. With large herbivorous land-animals not yet present, large forests could grow and shape the landscape.

Early Devonian plants did not have roots or leaves like the plants most common today and many had no vascular tissue at all. They probably spread largely by vegetative growth, and did not grow much more than a few centimeters tall. By far the largest land organism was Prototaxites, the fruiting body of an enormous fungus that stood more than 8 meters tall, towering over the low, carpet-like vegetation.

By Middle Devonian, shrub-like forests of primitive plants existed: lycophytes, horsetails, ferns, and progymnosperms had evolved. Most of these plants had true roots and leaves, and many were quite tall.

In the Late Devonian, the tree-like ancestral fern Archaeopteris and the giant cladoxylopsid trees grew with true wood. (See also: lignin.) These are the oldest known trees of the world's first forests. The earliest known trees, from the genus Wattieza, appeared in the Late Devonian around 380 Ma.

By the end of the Devonian, the first seed-forming plants had appeared. This rapid appearance of so many plant groups and growth forms has been called the "Devonian Explosion".

The 'greening' of the continents acted as a carbon dioxide sink, and atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas may have dropped. This may have cooled the climate and led to a massive extinction event, Late Devonian extinction."

And God said, “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas; and God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind; and God saw that it was good.

And the evening and the morning were the third day.
Genesis 1:9-13 KJ21

1. Both texts specify the importance of plants that now begin to appear

2. Both texts list attributes of the various plant species

3. "Late Devonian Extinction"  -  "And the evening came" as boundary marks. Five major extinctions are known in the history of life on planet Earth. Genesis has six days of creation before the great Sabbath.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leonard Chess, Jews and African-Americans

Leonard Chess with future stars
Courtesy of Chess family archives. Vanity Fair

Cadillac Records (2008) written and directed by Darnell Martin is in many ways a remarkable movie and not just because of the stellar performance by Beyoncé. The movie tells the real story of the efforts of record company executive Leonard Chess (1917 - 1969) to promote a number of African-American musicians in Chicago. Many of them have since become world famous and recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Chess was born Lejzor Czyz in a Jewish community in Motal, Poland (but now within Belarus). He and his brother Fiszel, sister Malka and mother followed their father to Chicago in 1928. The family name was changed to Chess, with Lejzor becoming Leonard and Fiszel becoming Philip." (wikipedia)

Jews and people with dark skin
On the dark side of the subject we must recognize that there is in Judaism an old stream of racism against "kushites", black people. Especially the Orthodox Jews have not found it easy to absorb the Ethiopian Falasha immigrants to Israel because of the colour of their skin.

Also, in the current 2012 presidential elections in the USA we can detect certain racial underpinnings among some of the Jewish Americans and Israelis which does not go undetected by the black American majority obviously supporting the re-election of Barak Obama whose family came to the states from Africa. (Or was forcibly brought...)

Breaking the ugly chains of racism
Against the background of racial tensions between Jews and African-Americans the life work of Leonard Chess is nothing short of amazing and a beacon of hope.

It is not at all exaggeration to say that the persistence, patience and visionary work of Chess was of fundamental importance in breaking the racism still deep in the white population of the US in the 1950'ies.

The phenomenal musical gift, hot rocking beats, unforgettable melodies and often heart touching performances of blues and R&B penetrated the world of the American white youth and no police could stop them from dancing.

This breaking of the ugly chains of racism is so well depicted in the film Cadillac Records that I wonder is there any better way for us to learn history then seeing it so well lived again by deeply committed actors?

Abraham's blessing
When God chose Abraham He made a most wonderful promise - the children of Abraham would be a blessing to the nations of the world.

And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time and said,
“By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
Genesis 22:15-18 KJ21

And indeed, the Jewish people have been and are also today a blessing to the nations of the world.

Leonard Chess is a Jew who was in his role as promoter of gifted musicians crucial in changing the perception of African-Americans in the United States of America.

In showingn what they can achieve the heritage of Chess Records is a blessing for dark skinned people living in the States - and everywhere around the world - as music probably more than anything else has made white skinned people to realize what is going on.

Muddy Waters (1913 - 1983)
Photo link

"Last night I lost the best friend I have ever had"
Used in one of the unforgettable moments in Cadillac Records when Muddy Waters finds Little Walter

Can blues get more blue than this?

Well, try Etta James  I'd Rather Go Blind

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sacrifice of Isaac and abortion of Jason

He was one of those new atheists who had only recently broken the covenant of his baptism and left the Christian heritage changing praise of God to mockery of all those who believe in Him.

"Oh Mikko", he said vehemently, "the Bible is full of such inhuman and horrific stories like the sacrifice of Isaac. Imagine that, in the name of religion a father is going to murder his son and burn the body in fire. He even makes his son to carry the firewood. No wonder fanatical people who read such stuff do evil things to fellow humans in the name of the Father."

"Bible takes the story of Isaac extremely seriously", I said to him, "and the sacrifice never actually happened - God Himself stopped Abraham from killing his only son."

"But have you heard of that guy who so casually asked his girlfriend to abort the baby?" I asked him. "He was all against limitations on abortion and in this case it was simply inconvenient to have to take responsibility of a child as both he and his girlfriend had plans for study and work. The child would have been a boy with his father's hair and mother's eyes. His girlfriend had always wanted to have a boy called Jason."

Suddenly he went quiet and I saw like a tear drop in his eyes. "Oh that bastard! He forced her to make the abortion and promised all good things to her, but after the abortion she became very depressed. After two years he left her for another girl and she made suicide. That girl who wanted to have Jason was my sister."

We sat quietly for a while.

"Bible takes the story of Isaac extremely seriously", I said to him, "and instead of killing his offspring, his only son, Abraham became the father of a great nation."

And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”
And He said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.”
And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked; and behold, behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh [that is, The Lord will provide]; as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.”
And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time
and said, “By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son,
in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
Genesis 22: 10-18 KJ21

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Enemy at the Gates (2001) - first battle scene

Waiting for the enemy in a suburb of Stalingrad
When fighting the most fearsome army in the world
steel helmets might provide better protection than Nikitas
Photo wikimedia

When both Russian and German war veterans boo the epic movie Enemy at the Gates (2001) on the Battle of Stalingrad between 22 August 1942 to 2 February 1943, director Jean-Jacques Annaud must have done something right, as the saying goes.

The opening scenes of the film do bring to mind the famously rough scene in Saving Private Ryan (1998) depicting in graphic detail the Omaha Beach assault on June 6, 1944. But director Steven Spielberg was awarded with military honours and medals for telling it as it without demonising the Germans. In contrast, Jean-Jacques Annaud has been accused of severe historical inaccuracies and unfairness towards both Soviet and German fighters and officers.

Volga crossing
Therefore I did not and could not believe the first battle scene in Enemy at the Gates and said to myself "it cannot be".  The way Soviet soldiers are taken to the front in locked train wagons, forced by gunpoint to boats to cross Volga with petty officers eventually shooting with their pistols those who jump to water to escape a deadly Stuka squadron attack is already too much for me to believe. After all, these are Russian officers and Russian men, how could this be?

First attack on the enemy
But the real horror is in the depiction of the attack these shell-shocked men were taken straight from the boats to shout uraa and to run over an open town square against well-defended German position on the other side of it. The crazy attack is carried on by untrained men who have just arrived from a cruelling trip and who have been handed either a rifle or some bullets. The Wehrmacht, on its side, had provided soldiers with strong helmets and they have machine guns in addition to military rifles. Even some tanks are nearby to support the well protected line of highly trained German soldiers working in unison like a well-oiled machine.

The Soviet officers responsible for sending these hapless soldiers to certain death on such a frontal attack would today be judged as war criminals in court. Not to mention that after the useless and ill-prepared attack completely fails and those still alive try to run back to their own positions the Russians shoot their own men down. Possibly as a warning to other cowards...

Such a total waist of human lives, such stupidity by the commanding officers, such a lack of coordination, training and elementary military skills can surely not be! Mister Annaud surely has invented these things in the movie - they cannot possibly be based on what actually happened in Stalingrad.

One of the worst battles in human history
It bugged me so I just had to go and check the facts - never mind the duel between the two sharpshooters or the love story or the tragedy of the little boy - just to see how far from the truth Enemy at the Gates depiction of the battle must be.

And I was even more shocked after learning that probably it was exactly as Mister Annaud tells it, possibly even worse.

The Red Army sent thousands of men in Stalingrad to certain death in futile attacks against far superior German positions and executed those who tried to retreat or escape.

Did I say thousands?

Various scholars have estimated the Axis suffered from 500,000 to 850,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured) among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies, many of them POWs who died in Soviet captivity between 1943 and 1955.

According to archival figures, the Red Army suffered a total of 1,129,619 total casualties; 478,741 men killed or missing and 650,878 wounded. These numbers are for the whole Stalingrad area; in the city itself 750,000 were killed, captured, or wounded.

The Soviet authorities executed approximately 13,500 Soviet soldiers during the battle, equivalent to almost two rifle divisions.
Also, anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs during a single week of aerial bombing by Luftflotte 4 as the German 4th Panzer and 6th Armies approached the city; the total number of civilians killed in the regions outside the city is unknown.

In all, the battle resulted in an estimated total of 1.7-2 million Axis and Soviet casualties.
The city was utterly destroyed.

Today, Volgograd is a vibrant modern city celebrated as the place where Hitler's unstoppable attack on mother Russia was stopped.