Monday, November 15, 2021

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: In a Sentimental Mood (1963)

 Jazz Classics

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: “In a Sentimental Mood” (1963), a jazz classic, the first track on the album, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, released in January 1963. The song dates to 1935, with Ellington composing the music.
Via: Youtube

Friday, November 05, 2021

Some Reflections On The Covid-19 Pandemic: Religion, Science & Knowledge


“Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.”
Galileo Galilei,
Il Saggiatore (1623)
As translated in The Philosophy of the Sixteenth
 and Seventeenth Centuries
By Richard Henry Popkin

This Covid-19 pandemic has been instructive, even enlightening, as much as it has brought us pain, suffering, inconvenience, change and uncomfortable truths. We have seen how individuals behave and how governments react, and in some cases did too little and were ill prepared and in other cases did too much and over-reacted, chiefly out of an abundance of caution. Yet, even so, I think that Canada has, thus far, done well during this Pandemic. 

Could we have done better? Probably. But is this not always the case when you look back? Given what we have learned and the knowledge that we have gained, we will likely be better prepared for the next pathogen(s) to infect us. In a rational mind, we weigh the benefits of a course of action versus doing nothing. We do so using all the available knowledge. We use the knowledge of the present, and we learn from our past mistakes, knowing that perfection is an ideal; it can never be a reality. A current example being zero Covid.

It is no stretch of the imagination to say that this pandemic has altered not only our expectations but also our understanding of existential threats. What do we hold dear? What have we learned? Many things, particularly when watching what has been taking place the last few decades in America, across from our southern border. It is a different reality, one where religion plays a greater role in the public square and in the political domain than it does here. Equally important, the U.S. has since its inception has had strong anti-authority sentiments and periods of moral convulsions. Such has created fault lines and deep fractures in a nation that is deeply polarized. In many ways, it is reflects a marked division between science and religion. People have taken sides, often unintentionally, by dint of getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and adhering to public health guidelines. 

Canadians have generally been more willing to do so, yet some of these ideas of non-compliance and resistance to government mandates have also found fertile ground here. It is more emotional than rational. Thus, we here must also not lose sight of what is important. We must also work to protect and strengthen liberal democracy and its institutions, which are under pressure by reactionary and regressive forces, who see liberal democracy as a threat to a traditional way of life. Such atavistic ways are not my ways. I do not want to return to a dark ignorant past, where religious and supernatural thinking primarily informed our understanding of nature, our natural world and the universe.

I find it discouraging to see today a return to such thinking among a cohort of evangelical Christians, and Orthodox Jews who tend to lean right and identify themselves politically as Republicans, in contrast to the majority of American Jews,who identify as liberals and Democrats, A recent Pew Research Center report (May 11, 2021) surveying Jewish Americans on their religious and political views confirms this finding. Joining the group who subscribe to alternative medicine and conspiracy theories are New Age adherents, who are part of a movement against reason, the Enlightenment Model and the Scientific Revolution; the new religion integrates into the old religion. It is disheartening to read and sometimes hear such a loud and persistent defense of anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-modern views, and then also argue that such is not only normative but also preferential.  

Common to such views are a distrust of modern society, a distrust of (western) science and the scientific methods and a fear of doubt and free inquiry. I can see why some would find this mindset appealing, even as I could not and would not. Consider this. One of the basic and important distinctions between science and religion the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states is that “science concerns the natural world whereas religion concerns both the natural and supernatural.” It is clear from this definition that science has no concern with the supernatural, which includes proving (or not proving) the existence of any supernatural being, including God. Without a doubt, religion does have a place in people's lives. I have argued in these very pages that it does, and did so in one of my first blog posts (September 2010). I continue to defend the place of religion in society.

There is a caveat. All in all, I am in agreement with Stephen Jay Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA), which says that science and religion have separate and distinct domains. Religion can provide comfort, community and a place of belonging, as well as giving its adherents great meaning or purpose. Religion, however, has no place in the domain of science for very good reasons. It is ill-equipped to operate in such a domain, where the language is not of faith, prayer, certainty and belief, but of skepticism, uncertainly, discovery and mathematical symbols & equations. It is a place to seeks evidence-based answers of the natural world, often through experimental trial and error.
This is a continuing never-ending process. The Book is never closed; the Science never completed. Science acknowledges uncertainly and lives with it. Not everyone can live with such uncertainty, for humans crave certainty; thus, not everyone can be a scientist. Yet, for a scientist, there is joy in unraveling the mysteries of the universe. Scientists often go down unmarked or strange paths, untrodden; scientists often speculate, at times not leading anywhere, not at first. Or the 20th time. But then, much later, a scientific breakthrough.

It comes together. An important breakthrough for humanity, like a new mRNA vaccine for a novel coronavirus. It was decades in the making; decades of diligent scientific effort from hundreds of scientists. With this vaccine for SARS-COV-2, we are experiencing the scientific process in real time, as was probably the case with the Salk vaccine for polio, almost 70 years ago. Some, perhaps many, find this disconcerting, yet the vaccines are safe, adverse reactions rare, such knowledge gained after billions of doses have already been injected into people's arms. Equally important, there are scientific and health standards, along with regulatory agencies, to ensure both efficacy and safety. It comes down to trust: trust in the scientists, trust in the science, trust that the science is done properly and, equally important, trust in your doctor, your family physician or pediatrician.

To be sure, we can't have absolute certainty, but we can determine the degree of confidence in a scientific study or medical trial (e.g., 95%, 99%, etc.) using known and accepted methods and standards. Such studies, when conducted in a rigorous way, help us gain knowledge and better understanding of the natural world. This does not mean that Science has no laws. it does; many laws. For example, there are a number of long-proven scientific laws, such as the Universal Law of Gravity, Copernican Heliocentrism, Newton's Laws of Motion, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and Bernoulli's Principle (fluids), to name a few that are all well known to the general public.

What the general public often finds confusing and frustrating is that this understanding of Nature can change, and does so when our knowledge of Nature changes. When the collected scientific evidence becomes irrefutable and repeatable, so does scientific understanding and knowledge. This does not happen overnight or in a vacuum; it often takes years and years of careful observation discussion, debate and continued experiments. Such speaks of a scientific consensus (though not unanimity, since there can always be some who disagree); this is because science is self-correcting, one of its major strengths. 
At times, the change is monumental. When this happens, it is a big deal. Copernicus Heliocentric Theory (1543), Hooke's discovery of the cell using a microscope (1665), Newton's Laws of Motion (1687); Jenner's smallpox vaccine (1796), Darwin's Theory of Evolution (1859), and Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1905;1915) quickly come to mind, as does Fleming's discovery of penicillin (1928); Watson & Crick's discovery of the DNA double helix (1953) and Salk's polio vaccine (1953).

We must be cognizant that there will likely be both new health threats and new medical discoveries and breakthroughs. Such is not fear mongering, but knowledge. I prefer knowledge to ignorance. It is knowledge after all that moves us forward; it is knowledge that gives us better health; and it is scientific knowledge that gives us hope, because real hope is always based on reality. The Covid-19 vaccines are such a marvelous breakthrough, one based on years of scientific work, which is how science works, building blocks of knowledge put or painstakingly pieced together. New knowledge adds to previous knowledge, and so forth. 

I can understand the difficulty that some find in studying science. It is not easy; it has a particular language; and it uses a lot of math and equations. It goes without saying that apprehending Nature through science takes great and consistent effort. Its rewards are many, including a better and increasing understanding of ourselves and our place in the Universe. In that regard, the Book of Science; the Book of the Universe; the Book of Humanity is still being written.  

With this, we return to current matters, to the pandemic. In closing, when it comes to what to do during a pandemic, I think it is better to listen to medical science and your physician, whether a family physician, a medical doctor, a pediatrician or anyone with a medical degree and is licensed to practice medicine. They recommend vaccination. If you have not yet done sogotten vaccinatedI would encourage you to take that step. Be kind to yourself and good to others.

Note: Natural Philosophy (Philosophiae Naturalis), a wide range of subjects whose goal is the study of nature, was the term used up to circa mid-1800s, when the term scientist was standardized.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Rita McMahon: Helping The Wild Birds OF NYC

 Avian Friends


Rita McMahon: “Helping The Wild Birds OF NYC.” A very good video on someone doing very good work to help rehabilitate injured birds. As a bird lover and animal lover, this video gives me hope & encouragement. In our home lives a cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) named Arya, an intelligent sentient being who gives us much joy.
Via: Youtube & WNYC

Rita McMahon founded the Wild Bird Fund in 2001, after seeing and picking up an injured Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on the side of a highway. The Canada goose, unfortunately, did not survive, not having a good chance of survival, because there was no dedicated veterinary facility to take care of wild injured birds. This inspired McMahon to act; she got training and became New York City's first and only wild animal hospital, becoming a nonprofit in 2005

McMahon runs it out of her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan, housing up to 60 birds in any one day. The Wild Bird Fund treats about 7,500 birds a year. There is also a dedicated space to rehabilitate birds at a veterinary hospital nearby, Animal General. Most of the birds are injured during their migratory path, the East Coast migratory flyway, during which the birds hit the glass windows of high rise buildings. 

The danger, for the birds at least, is that these buildings are situated in an ancient migratory flyway. There are often tragic consequences, Wikipedia writes:
The New York City Audubon Society estimates the number of bird deaths by window collision in the city to be between 90,000 and 230,000 each year.[12] Most crashes occur during fall by birds making their first migration.

These bird-building-window collisions happens right across the U.S. “[U]p to 1 billion birds die every year in the United States after building collisions,” NPR writes. Almost half of collisions (44 percent) take place in homes and other buildings one to three stories in height, reports the American Bird Conservancy, which has some tips and ways to make your home more friendly to birds on their migratory path. 

In Canada, about 25 million birds die each year from window collisions, Avian Conservation & Ecology reports, noting that here in Canada individual homes account for about 90 percent of bird collisions. Again, there are ways to make your home, notably the windows, easier for birds to see. And should a bird get injured, it is good that there are organizations like Wild Bird Fund and people like Rita McMahon to help out our avian friends.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Carl Sagan: Cosmos Episode 1: The Shores Of The Cosmic Ocean (1980)

 The Cosmos

“We humans appear on the cosmic calendar so recently that our recorded history occupies only the last few seconds of the last minute of December 31st.”
Carl Sagan: Cosmos Episode 1:
 “The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean” (1980)

Carl Sagan: Cosmos Episode 1: “The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean” (1980). Anna Druyan co-wrote this 13-part series along with Carl Sagan and Steven Soter. Druyan married Sagan in 1981 and they were married until Sagan's death in 1996. This episode originally aired on PBS-TV on Sunday September 28, 1980. The complete series was called Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, with the 13 episodes airing on Sundays between September 28, 1980, and December 21, 1980.
Via: Youtube


Introduced by Anna Druyan, 25 years later, she provides updated knowledge of current events and compares this to what was happening when the series first aired in 1980. The Cold War might be over, but human conflict is not. There is a possible antidote to our hubris. If only we would look up at the vast Cosmos, we might not be so arrogant. Or watch this series.

Consider the following cosmic calendar. The universe is some 13.8 billion years old (or 13.8 Ga).* The earth is 4.5 billion years old (4.5 Ga). Life began with microorganisms as early as 4.28 billion years ago (4.28 Ga). The Eukaryote cells date to about 2 billion years ago (2 Ga);  land vertebrates about 370 million years ago; dinosaurs around 300 million years ago; and birds 160 million years ago, with birds being the only known living dinosaurs. 

Hominins, our ancestors, emerged about 6 million years ago. The first homo sapiens evolved in Africa about 300,000 years ago. When you consider the geological timescale, we modern humans are really Johnny Come Lately. Moreover, we are a mere blip in Cosmic time. So, from where does our hubris come? Scientific ignorance and a developed lack of respect shown to our fellow species or organisms come to mind.

Such is our human history and of holding an anthropocentric view. Knowledge and acknowledgement can go along way to increase our respect and our humility. Our planet Earth is big and fascinating and, yes, weird. The Cosmos even more so.  We don't even know what we don't know. But we continue on. We humans have much more to observe and to learn. Our story continues to be written.


*Note: This is based on the prevailing idea that the universe had a origin, beginning as a single point, a singularity, and expanded and stretched in accordance with what is known as The “Big Bang” theory, first suggested by a Belgian Catholic priest and astronomer, Georges Lemaître, in the 1920s. There is some current discussion, however, that  postulates that the universe always existed. This theory is called “Big Bounce.” Carl Sagan also said as much.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Carl Sagan: Interview On Charlie Rose (1996)

 The Cosmos

“Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don't conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It's an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science.”
Carl Sagan [1934-1996],“Why We Need To Understand Science
 in The Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 14, Issue 3 (Spring 1990)

Carl Sagan [1934-1996]: “Interview On Charlie Rose,” which took place on May 27, 1996. Sagan's last book was The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995). Sagan died a little more than six months after this show was broadcast, on December 20, 1996. He was 62. 
Via: Youtube

Like many of my generation, I grew up watching Sagan's brilliant and illuminating series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980). Sagan was one of the scientists who indirectly inspired me to go into science and to be (and remain) an independent and critical (and creative) thinker. Sagan reminds me of the importance of facts, truth and science, and although it might sound silly to say so, these are important. Well, perhaps not so silly today, where many view magical thinking and superstition as normative and science as “suspect.”

For me, as well, this video interview is a reminder of the world in which I grew up, where scientists like Sagan were prominent public intellectuals and scientists, and not at all controversial. I now see only remnants of this world, a place where critical inquiry is respected and held up to great esteem. It is not that I am trying to be sentimental, and I well might be, it is that I sense that we have lost something important, something valuable. Something that is of great benefit to humanity. 

That is to say, acknowledging and agreeing that the truth supported by verifiable facts is what keeps our society together, is what makes democracy work. This is the basis of science; this is the basis of the scientific method (We owe much to Galileo, the Father of Modern Science). And modern is a key word, which some find problematic. Yet, the modern world requires modern thinking and solutions. Without such a consensus, there is no democracy, there is no science. And without such pillars, our citizens will languish in ignorance.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Shoah Foundation: Jewish Survivor Testimony Leon Leyson

Shoah Foundation Jewish Testimonies:
Testimony No.: 5


Remembering is foundational to the Jewish People. Zachor. These are the testimonies of Jewish survivors. Hope, not hate. Hope.

Every Friday I plan to post a testimony of a Jewish Survivor of the Shoah. To remember and not forget. This is Testimony No. 5, from Leon Leyson.

Shoah Foundation: “Jewish Survivor Testimony Leon Leyson.” Leyson was about to turn 10 when Nazi Germany initiated the Second World War by invading Poland on September 1, 1939. He was the youngest of Oskar Schindler's factory workers. Leyson was 66 when he gave his testimony.
ViaYoutube & USC Shoah Foundation

The Details:
Leon Leyson.
Born: September 15, 1929, in Narewka, Poland
Date of Testimony: November 16, 1995
Place of Testimony: Fullerton, California USA

Saturday, October 16, 2021

John Ogdon: The South Bank Show (1989)

 European Classical

John Ogdon: “The South Bank Show” (1989). John Ogdon [1937-1989] was a great British born classical music pianist, who somehow has not received much attention after his death in 1989; he was 52. This is an excellent entrée into his music and what he accomplished as a musician. Ogdon might have first gained International recognition of his tremendous talent when he shared first prize, with Vladimir Ashkenazy, at the 1962 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, then a part of the Soviet Union.To his credit are more than 200 compositions, including two piano concertos, three cantata, four operas, and chamber music. 
Via: Youtube

Friday, October 15, 2021

Shoah Foundation: Jewish Survivor Testimony Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman

Shoah Foundation Jewish Testimonies:
Testimony No.: 4


Remembering is foundational to the Jewish People. Zachor. These are the testimonies of Jewish survivors. Hope, not hate. Hope.

Every Friday I plan to post a testimony of a Jewish Survivor of the Shoah. To remember and not forget. This is Testimony No. 4, from Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman.
Shoah Foundation: “Jewish Survivor Testimony Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman.” Skotnicka-Zajdman was almost 11 when Nazi Germany started the Second World War by invading Poland on September 1, 1939. Skotnicka-Zajdman was 69 when she gave her testimony.
Via: Youtube & USC Shoah Foundation
The Details:
Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman.
Born: October 23, 1928, in Warsaw, Poland
Date of Testimony: October 23, 1997
Place of Testimony: Montreal, Quebec  Canada

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Fall Colours (October 2021)

Fall Colours

Fall Colours (October 2021). Although many in Canada find fall (or autumn) to be somewhat sad, since its arrival signals that winter will soon be upon us, its magnificent colours are to be enjoyed.  Yes, I do stand in awe of the splendor of the season in all its resplendent glory. We can and should take it in while it lasts. Perhaps I might even have something good and pleasant to say about winter this year, contrary to my generally pessimistic nature. Perhaps so, but from the comfort of inside. That is, from the inside looking outward.
Photo Credit: (c) 2021. Perry J. Greenbaum

Friday, October 08, 2021

Shoah Foundation: Jewish Survivor Testimony Frank Shurman


Shoah Foundation Jewish Testimonies:
Testimony No.: 3

Remembering is foundational to the Jewish People. Zachor. These are the testimonies of Jewish survivors. Hope, not hate. Hope.

Every Friday I plan to post a testimony of a Jewish Survivor of the Shoah. 
To remember and not forgetThis is Testimony No. 3, Frank Shurman. 

Shoah Foundation: “Jewish Survivor Testimony Frank Shurman.” Shurman was 24 when Nazi Germany started the Second World War by invading Poland on September 1, 1939. Shurman was 81 when he gave his testimony.
Via: Youtube & USC Shoah Foundation

The Details:
Frank Shurman (born Fritz Schürmann).
Born: January 8, 1915, in Hildesheim, Germany
Place of Testimony: Deerfield, Illinois USA
Date of Testimony: January 15, 1996