Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blessing through suffering - Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday
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Legendary singer Billie Holiday (1915-1959) has profoundly influenced how artists sing jazz, blues, swing and pop music. This has been a great blessing to artists and music lovers around the world. Her own performances are outstanding and a gift to us even when heard through the recording technology of yesteryear.

Billie Holiday has been a great blessing to people of non-white skin color by breaking through American racial prejudices against almost impossible odds. She did this simply by the extraordinary quality of her voice and heart-felt performances. She has been a blessing both to African American and other "different people" through her performance of Strange Fruit in 1939 (youTube).

Like a pearl born through the hurting chip of sand in the shell the blessings world has received through Billie Holiday were born through extraordinary suffering.

Lonely death
Billie Holiday died in the Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her ... The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.
Gilbert Millstein
Cirrhosis of the liver from extensive drinking, heart disease where the cause of her death at the young age of 44. Perhaps we can also add broken heart as one of the causes?

Abandoned by her own mother
Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Sarah Julia "Sadie" Fagan (née Harris). Her father, Clarence Holiday, a musician, did not marry or live with her mother. Her mother had moved to Philadelphia at the age of thirteen, after being rejected from her parents' home in Sandtown-Winchester, Baltimore for becoming pregnant. With no support from her own parents, Holiday's mother arranged for the young Holiday to stay with her older married half sister, Eva Miller, who lived in Baltimore.

Billie Holiday had a difficult childhood. Her mother often took what were then known as "transportation jobs", serving on the passenger railroads. Holiday was left to be raised largely by Eva Miller's mother-in-law, Martha Miller, and suffered from her mother's absences and leaving her in others' care for much of the first ten years of her life
Can a little girl be pushed lower in life?
Holiday's mother returned to their home on December 24, 1926, to discover a neighbor, Wilbur Rich, raping Holiday. Rich was arrested. Officials placed the girl at the House of the Good Shepherd in protective custody as a state witness in the rape case. Holiday was released in February 1927, nearly twelve. She found a job running errands in a brothel. Holiday's mother became a prostitute and, within a matter of days of arriving in New York, Holiday, who had not yet turned fourteen, also became a prostitute for $5 a time.
Searching for her father - getting abused instead
Eleanora Fagan took the artist's pseudo-name Billie from actress Billie Dove and last name Haliday (sic!) from her probable father whom she did not know.

It is not unusual that children with such background are strangely attracted to strong violent men and this was also the case with the "romances" in Billie Holiday's sad life.
In 1935, Billie Holiday had a small role as a woman being abused by her lover in Duke Ellington's short Symphony in Black: A Rhapsody of Negro Life. In her scene, she sang the song "Saddest Tale."

Holiday stated that she began using hard drugs in the early 1940s. She married trombonist Jimmy Monroe on August 25, 1941. While still married to Monroe, she became romantically involved with trumpeter Joe Guy, who was also her drug dealer, and she eventually became his common-law wife. She finally divorced Monroe in 1947 and also split with Guy.

On March 28, 1957, Holiday married Louis McKay, a Mafia enforcer, who like most of the men in her life was abusive, but he did try to get her off drugs. They were separated at the time of her death, but McKay had plans to start a chain of Billie Holiday vocal studios, à la Arthur Murray dance schools.
In November 1938 Holiday was asked to use the service elevator at the Lincoln Hotel, instead of the passage elevator, because white patrons of the hotels complained. This may have been the last straw for her. She left the band shortly after. Holiday spoke about the incident weeks later, saying "I was never allowed to visit the bar or the dining room as did other members of the band ... [and] I was made to leave and enter through the kitchen."

Pearl of performance 
All of me
Why not take all of me
Can't you see
I'm no good without you

Take my lips
I want to loose them
Take my arms
I'll never use them

Your goodbye
Left me with eyes that cry
How can I go on dear without you

You took the part
That once was my heart
So why not take all of me

All of me
Why not take all of me
Can't you see
I'm no good without you

Take my lips
I want to loose them
Take my arms
I'll never use them

Your goodbye
Left me with eyes that cry
How can I go on dear without you

You took the best
So why not take the rest
Baby, take all of me

Listen to Billie Holiday and hear for yourself what is this pearl of performance, a blessing through suffering...

"This has been my life" Bertrand Russell

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life:
the longing for love,
the search for knowledge, and
unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.
These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love,
first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it,
next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it
finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined.
This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what--at last--I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge.
I have wished to understand the hearts of men.
I have wished to know why the stars shine.
And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux.
A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart.
Children in famine,
victims tortured by oppressors,
helpless old people a burden to their sons,
and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be.
I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

paragraphs formatted and emphasis added by me

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quantum Biology

Download the BBC podcast Discovery: Quantum Biology.

Below are excerpts from the BBC News introduction to the highly interesting subject.
Disappearing in one place and reappearing in another. Being in two places at once. Communicating information seemingly faster than the speed of light.

This kind of weird behaviour is commonplace in dark, still laboratories studying the branch of physics called quantum mechanics, but what might it have to do with fresh flowers, migrating birds, and the smell of rotten eggs?

Welcome to the frontier of what is called quantum biology.

It is still a tentative, even speculative discipline, but what scientists are learning from it might just spark revolutions in the development of new drugs, computers and perfumes - or even help in the fight against cancer.

A paper published in Plos One this week shows that people can tell the difference between two molecules of identical shape but with different vibrations, suggesting that shape is not the only thing at work.

Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey is investigating whether tunnelling occurs during mutations to our DNA - a question that may be relevant to the evolution of life itself, or cancer research.

He told the BBC: "If quantum tunnelling is an important mechanism in mutations, is quantum mechanics going to somehow answer some of the questions about how a cell becomes cancerous?

"And suddenly you think, 'Wow!' Quantum mechanics is not just a crazy side issue or a fringe field where some people are looking at some cranky ideas. If it really might help answer some of the very big questions in science, then it's hugely important."

Jason Palmer and Alex Mansfield BBC News and BBC Radio Science units

Read the entire article BBC 28 January 2013

I write about these subjects more in my blog
  God, thy thoughts are very deep

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jerry Coyne and fruit fly sex

Fruit flies in action!

God of Israel who is the only real God there is has created the fruit fly.  Although flies appear in a negative context in the Bible - Lord of the Flies is Beelzebub in Aramaic -  a reader of the open Book of Nature who has been given the gift of faith in God cannot but join the scientists in admiring the genius apparent in this little animal.

Professor Jerry A. Coyne
American professor of Biology Jerry A. Coyne (b.1949) has specialized in the study of evolution and has in this context focused on the precise genetic study of fruit flies. These insects have traditionally been of great interest to biologists because of their short life cycle that allows scientists to study their communities and mutations in laboratory conditions within reasonable time frames.

Professor Coyne is also an active atheist and prolific writer criticizing the Intelligent Design school of thinking (which btw I also oppose). The popular book (and associated Web site) Why evolution is true (2009) has a title that suggests that it is aimed at people who actually deny that there is any evolution in natural life.

In this short text  I briefly 1) describe one of Coyne's articles written with his colleagues on fruit flies and 2) comment as a Christian what Coyne as 1) a scientist and 2) an atheist has written about this magnificent little insect.

Llopart, A., S. Elwyn and J.A. Coyne. 2002. Pigmentation and mate choice in Drosophila melanogaster. Nature 419: 360

1. Brief description of the article

Drosophila melanogaster

Drosophila melanogaster is interesting for genetics and evolutionary research because
  • Some males and females have different colors (dimorfic): the posterior of males is black while that of females is striped. Accordingly, the sex of the insect is visually in a way that we may assume is noted during mating and helps to avoid waist of time with futile same-sex courting. 
  • Some males and females are similarly colored (monomorfic): both have striped posterior part and sex is not visible in the pigmentation. 
Coyne and his colleagues criticize the theory presented by professor Artyom Kopp on the basis of experimental research in Kopp laboratory. According to Kopp, the stripes are caused by the bric-à-brac (bab) gene which inhibits in females the black male pigmentation. During mating time males notice better striped females and avoid trying to mate other males causing natural selection in favor of striped females. This, in turn, should by time cause an evolutionary change by natural selection in the fruit fly population as seen in the increase of the relative number of females with striped posteriors.

Jerry Coyne and his colleagues suggest in their article on the application of Darwin's idea of natural selection on fruit fly colors. They suggest that the method of observation used by Kopp is such that it influences the results and thus distorts the real situation. They say that in free nature the fruit fly stripes are not relevant in the mating choices and that the behavior pattern reported by Artyom Kopp is result of the faulty research method.

2. Christian Theologian comments the work of an Atheist Biologist
The biologists writing in the article at hand are ask does the specific methodology of their distinguished colleague provide reliable results concerning the relationship between the pigmentation and mating choices of Drosophila melanogaster males and females.

As a Theologian I have no formal competence in Evolutionary Biology or Genetics. Nevertheless, I dare to make the following claim:

in scientific evaluation of Kopp's methodology it is irrelevant does Professor Jerry Coyne believe in God or not or what is the nationality or religions affinity of Professor Artyom Kopp.

Do you agree with that?

The same generic note - irrelevance of Coyne's personal religious and philosophical views - applies also to the scientific discussions in these articles he has written with his colleagues on fruit flies:
  • Coyne, J. A., A. P. Crittenden, and K. Mah. 1994. Genetics of a pheromonal difference contributing to reproductive isolation in Drosophila. Science 265:1461-1464
  • Price, C.S.C., K. A. Dyer, and J. A. Coyne. 1999. Sperm competition between Drosophila males involves both displacement and incapacitation. Nature 400:449-452.
  • Greenberg, A.J., J.R. Moran, J.A. Coyne and C-I. Wu. 2003. Ecological adaptation during incipient speciation revealed by precise gene replacement. Science 302: 1754-1757.
You can find more scientific texts on fruit flies and other subjects by Jerry A. Coyne in the University of Chicago Faculty of Ecology and Evolution page.

About faith and lack of it 
It is a matter of faith that I personally accept the unbearably comprehensive claim made in the Holy Bible that God of Israel has created and sustains all life, including fruit flies.

It is a matter of lack of faith that Jerry Coyne personally rejects the unbearably comprehensive claim made in the Holy Bible that God of Israel has created and sustains all life, including fruit flies.