Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Alien Life-How Would We Know?

Look at that imaginary planet - made entirely of water, can you imagine what life would look like there?  Would we even recognize anything that wasn't carbon-based like ourselves?  And since we're over-certain to a fault as to how the series of chaotic accidents started the formation of one single cell on planet earth, I'm wondering what choas would cause "planet water" to evolve its life-forms, and obviously, how they'd appear.  If water is identical throughout the cosmos, there'd be no reason for an animal with lungs to evolve.  Underwater plants are very successful here, all they require is the current to float their food on by and they grab it, like the anemone.  But that's assuming water is water is water.  Everywhere.  Would "planet water" be composed of H2O and components we know and understand?  If not, what kind of life exists in this quasi-water and how would we recognize it? 

That's one of the questions scientists are asking with paleo-astronomers as NASA prepares to launch a series of missions in search of extraterrestrial life within our own solar system.  Just this tiny little spot on the face of our small galaxy affords a plethora of treasures to help us understand how the universe came into being.  The true heavy thinkers can't quite form a vision of, say, silicone-based life, so a 2007 report from the National Research Council has widened this search to include what they called "weird life".  Isn't that great?  They actually gave something a name which describes exactly what it is, in two one-syllable words - thank you! 

Dr. Steven Benner is a scientist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, and contributed to that report.  Obviously, the study of how a molecule evolves so many varieties of life on this one planet is a job many would pay to have (yes yes!)  The basic assumption about life is that it's like us - carbon-based and requires water to survive.  But that may not be the case in the rest of the universe.  "Weird life" is life we've never seen and cannot imagine. 

So how do we search for life we can't conceive of?  Life we may not recognize if we saw it?  Dr. Benner presents two plausible ways:  we can start with our own genetic code in the lab and play around with its structure (actually we already do that, have been, when we attenuate the DNA of a virus to make a vaccine, or just manipulating human DNA to study mutations in our genetic code) ; or, and this makes one think:  we can examine the environment we might be landing on and try to create a chemical structure that might exist there.  Like our "planet water"; in such an environment the hypotheses we could put forth about the genetic structure of life would be endless, given our knowledge of water on planet earth.  Yet again, is water water everywhere?  And if not, what chemical ingredient is missing, or added, and would it still be liquid?  Not as we know it, I would say. 

Many believe this galaxy and our own solar system have been visited by forms of life completely alien to the carbon-based earthly life we know.  These life-forms may have come and gone, perhaps through a "rip" in the space-time continuum, saw, took what they needed, experimented and left - just as we do on Mars, Venus, etc.  The definition of "superior life form" would surpass what we define it as now.  Those beings would know they were looking at evolving life in millions of forms here on earth.  They would have no use but curiosity to visit any other planets, all mostly gaseous, none able to sustain the animal, vegetable and mineral life which make up this planet and the only categories we know to exist.

So we're launching missions into our solar system.  We're looking for life.  The theory is, superior life can recognize inferior life.  Yet look at the simple ant - a life we easily think of as inferior, yet this insect runs a controlled colony where each member has a given task and does it, protects its queen who is the only life-giver, thereby controlling population, has a well-run nursery, they have soldier ants to fight off enemy attackers and give the colony a chance to hide the queen in a protective tunnel, they grow their own food by gathering vegetation as compost which grows a fungus which they feed on, they don't murder one another, don't rape, steal, or jeopardize their environment in any way, they don't skip work or call in sick.  Compare them to the superior human.  When we venture into space we may have to re-define that term.   

Again - I wonder what we'll find out there, and will we recognize it as inferior or ... not ?     



Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving still a ???

"So Cath, how was YOUR Thanksgiving?"  asks my Journal.

Staring at my keyboard, I start tapping out "Well, dear Journal, it hasn't happened yet but I'm hoping for the best - optomistic but prepared."

That's right, we haven't celebrated our "Day of Thanks" yet, but have all good intents of doing so today, in a few hours, down the shore in Belmar - at a restaurant.  (For some reason that always sounded so sad to me - yet I'm in good spirits because it seems a good portion of us will make it there).  "Who cares where?" say I !!  Bring on the giblets.

Truth is, in this entangled deeply troubled family, with more troubles on the way, half of us are ill and the other half are becoming symptomatic of weird things.  And we're all dysfunctional PTSD survivors.  Nevertheless, I'm going into the fray with a smile yet knowing I'd need battle armour for some sibs, as they tend to see this day as an excuse to bring up old (very old) slights.   Do hope they serve a ton of turkey, then everyone will be too busy eating to argue.

I'll tell you how the stuffing was.   

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Self-Pity Needs To Vent"

                                I'd like to have a day of joy

                               without the debt to pay for it -

                                   A motivation to go on,

                              without having to pray for it.

Still, I've had my laughing days,

and all of them realistic -

a favorite joy? at stars I'd gaze

each single glow magestic.

                          I've loved a many, loved them well,

                                  they tried to lift my heart -

                       Like angels they would round me dwell

                                  And still I'd feel apart,

The joy in life, I tried to find,

but only put on airs,

My father brought me peace of mind -

my mother taught me prayers.

                         Though some are born to melancholy,

                                 quite at home with grief,

                                I always felt I'd fall away

                                just like a loosened leaf.

It's not a story sad to tell

for I made a-many glad,

whether music, art, or poetry

I gave the gifts I had.

                             But this is just a Pity-Poem,

                              it needs its venting, too -

                     and though my state of mind will change, 

                             I share it now with you !

                      Catherine S. Rapicano - June 4, 2006                                                                                                       


"No Casket For Me, Please"

Lay me down in a bed of grass

when my body dies, that it may pass

deep into the essence of

this glorious earth I do so love.

But until that time:

My heart gives rise to the high places,

how transcendent is God in these spaces!

Where trickster breezes weave through my hair

and the miracles of life are everywhere.

Then soon:

As a falling leaf, my cheek doth kiss

this life I know I'll sorely miss;

so when you note my long, last nod,

just place me in the soft, green sod.

By Cathy S. Rapicano - June 4, 2006

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's Not Better For Me Because It's Worse For You

Why is sadness our immediate reaction to loss?  Do we not believe there's something better awaiting those who go before us?  Yet I collapsed in deepest grief when my Mother .... my Father ....     

I cry when someone hurts and not confused by those tears, I join people in grieving when they lose a dear one, I attend funerals and wakes and I pray and cry once again.  I light candles, I make special intentions.  The rituals of humanity in the face of what we can't explain - death.  Why now?  Why in such pain?  Why them?  Why so young?  To be human - you do.  You question.  Must. 

When I ache, people say "Don't feel bad, alot have it so much worse."  You mean don't feel bad because others suffer more??  I never did, I could never get relief from my own pain knowing someone else suffered more.  Yet that's what we say to each other, and with all great and good intent, still it makes no sense.

I've been reading how many friends in JLand have lost loved ones, 2-legged and 4, how they grieve, how they reveal and express their pain.  I join them and think how hollow a thing it is for me to say "how sad" yet how can we express our true selves and feelings for them?  If it's sad, it's sad and you should cry.  Yet I believe you should also remember what a gift it was having them in your life at all.  Once you start to see daylight again, once your nights bring a bit of sleep with those tears, once you return to everyday tasks, how comforting to know life is so miraculous, and that for a short time, you had a special one close to you, a loved one, an unforgettable spark of energy existing in memory forever.   

If life is a miracle, the continuation of life must be an incredulous, incomprehensible thing.  And isn't that what "death" really is?  The continuation of life on another plane?  Yes, we cling to the comfort of our faith but all I truly see is that the body stops.  I believe I have a soul, that's my personal choice.  With no science to support me, I believe the soul can never know death, I have a personal faith in a God, as most do in some form, and call upon Him with gratitude as I ask for ease in times of loss.  My mind knows it's only flesh decaying, my intellect tells me the "personhood" that once took residence in that flesh may not be within my grasp now, but wherever it exists and in whatever condition, it does live.  I call it a soul, it may be the spirit of everything that person experienced while walking the earth, and in fact as many theologians ponder, it may be nowhere at all - oblivion.  Inspired thinkers like Sts. Thomas Acquinas, Ignatius Loyola, Theresa of Avila, and the most religious of prophets all dwelt endlessly on the idea of oblivion, of nothingness, and if that was what awaited us.  No body, no soul, perhaps the smallest speck of dust floating endlessly in a universe with no center, no edges.  It's healthy to question what we cannot prove.  Yet if true, then life would seem just a futile, fearful, painful and terribly difficult walk on a stony road to nowhere.  Time would mean nothing.   

But I believe in a soul.  A part of me is not human, I can't explain it any more than you, it's of another energy, another plane, it's - to me - my God-part.  The small speck of divinity that dwells "of" me put there by a Great Transcending Power I call God and think of as the essence of pure Love.  This soul has no death, knows no hate, judges not, fears nothing, is never confused and exists in a state of love.  I know my body will be stilled, decay, return to dust and be no more.  I believe my soul will return into the "body" of its owner and maker, God. 

Many will read this and believe it a form of "magical thinking", a way to understand and justify so many inexplicable things we live with, like the death of a beloved.  Why be so quick to believe that more than their bodies have died?  Why not consider that life is so unique, so rare and miraculous, that it must surely have a finer, fuller path to traverse after the body ceases?  I chose to.  Even if it's self-deception, I chose to.  Not because it comforts me in times of sorrow, not because I was raised that way, not because I have the slightest bit of proof that it's viable and more true than not.  I chose to believe because I can.  My will is free.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Veterans

Oh how I miss them, flush in the arrogance of youth, lazing in that soft year between high school and college when everything had possibility and these two boys had hair longer than mine.  We shared our world and made flower crowns, sat in the park barefoot, talking about ancient philosophers, marched in the city for the war to end, missed our ride to Woodstock, and made promises that we'd be friends forever.  Just like all other teens in the sixties, we were immortal.  Me, Bill and George.  

The day Bill got his "Greetings" from Uncle Sam we'd just come from the reservation, feeding the deer in their enclosure.  George had daisies and grass all over his tie-dyed t-shirt, smiling and silly, and Bill just looked amused then serious.  "I have to go" he said.  We already knew.  This war was taking our youth - taking our naievte, stealing our time to be creative and replacing it with killing fields.  Oddly though, the boys who had done their 18-month tour and come back never seemed to want to discuss it, not in honest detail.    

There were about 12 of us gathered at Penn Station to see Bill off in true hippie fashion, everyone kissing, hugging, flowers, placards of "Make love not war" all the paraphrenalia of our time.  I noticed Bill and George had separated from the group and were in serious, head-bowed conversation so I inched closer.  

"Take care of her, George."

That's all I heard but all I needed to.  Bill and I had been about to fall off the sweet edge of new love, discovering another person you truly feel for, practicing all the time-honed rituals of passion and sweetness in that strange mix of tradition and rebelliousness.  Now we'd be separated.  He cared for me, I thought with a giddy butterfly in my stomach.  Wish he could stay ... I wish ...

Many boys couldn't stay when they got that draft notice, and with the boldness born of fear they escaped into college, some to Canada, and over 59,000 never escaped.  Then there were those who escaped deep into their crippled minds.  

George did take care of me for a time before he got his personal invitation to Viet Nam and I was off to my future in college.  When he finished his 18-month tour he returned basically the same but just not as silly, alot more quiet.  We married, had children, and he died in 1998.  He never talked about Nam and the one time I asked, I regretted it.

Bill returned after 10 months, but not entirely.  He left something over there he needed to survive, so upon his return, being wheeled off the plane directly to the V.A. Hospital, it appeared he had come back but since the only real sound he could make was a scream in the night, I suppose I never saw him again after that day at Penn Station.  Bill would scream about burning babies.  

His platoon had discovered a harvest of tiny little baby arms in a heap, all bearing a vaccination scar.  The mothers had amputated them thinking "Joe" was poisoning them out of existence.  These were South Vietnamese, our allies, the people we were there to help fight the Viet Cong and communism.  They wanted and needed our overpowering American help.  Yet in the end they only trusted their age-old instincts, and many Americans were very ugly in that war.  I saw pictures in Life, the continual loop on the evening news showing a constant play-by-play of that day's maneuvers, the inaccurate death tolls, the unusually paradoxical term "friendly fire" forced into our lexicon, I saw and heard all this but couldn't get my friend Bill to recognize a tree.  

Was there ever a time humans didn't feel the need to fight bitterly for something?  Does this mean it's forever inherent in our genes?  Are we destined to lose the humanity we had before our first kill?  Or worse, is killing part of our humanity?  And someone please tell me, is there really such a thing as a "good war" ?  

Bill was going to be my very first sweetheart, mycrush to remember for all my life.  Fate and a useless costly war took that experience and I'll never know what that future would've held.  George was a decent man but became so distant with time I felt I was working my way through life alone.  Though separated, we attended Bill's funeral together in 1973.  Bill was 19 when his number was called to war, 20 when his mind retreated into itself, and only 25 when his body stopped.  We mourned for our friend who never returned.  

I don't like war.  I studied it and will not study it again.  I didn't know what I was going to say in this post to commemorate Veterans Day, and still don't feel I've said anything.  So I leave it to wiser spirits to end this:

           " I WILL FIGHT NO MORE, FOREVER."  

                    Chief Joseph, Oct. 5, 1877        


Monday, November 5, 2007

Better Look Now

                       What    have    we    done .... ?

Most damage to our only home and the inhabitants we share it with began in the 19th and early 20th century, though now we note signs of sincere attempts to turn it all around, like hybrid cars and living "green".  But hard facts are truly written in stone.  Far too little, much too late. 

By 2035 the only place you'll see a wild bumble bee is - nowhere.  Dead in a museum, that's about it.  The bees that honey-farmers keep have been disappearing all over the globe in such great numbers science has taken notice.  By the way, without bees...well, follow it through.  They're both predator and prey.  Most life forms eat them or their by-products.  They pollenate flowers and allow fruit to grow.  Even carnivores eat fruit, we all do.  For some animals, it's their main source of energy.  If you extinguish prey, the predator starves.  Extinguish the predator and the prey also starve, from over-population.  But here's something much more alarming:

In a world-wide search for the cause of this disappearance, entomologists have discovered something called CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder, it's a virus, an immune disease, much like our Human IV.  They are infested with a parasitic worm which weakens their immune systems, and not only that, they cannot seem to digest their food and are starving to death, while eating.  The grain and pollen they eat sits undigested in their abdomen and kills them in great numbers.  Lab experiments show that this parasite also affects their ability to learn, memory, sense of community, basics for this animal.  They fly from the hive and cannot find it again.  They die.      

Green turtles are off the endangered species list - they're now on the 50-year line into extinction. 

Orangutans will also go extinct, in approximately 20 years, just around the corner. 

The cargil hummingbird cannot be found in the wilds of Indonesia or Asia anywhere, they may have completely died out there except in very high mountain nests, few in number.  Why?  Human animals like to boil their nests for soup.  Don't we have enough Campbells? 

The Arctic (northern) polar bear is dying out from sickness and addiction to human garbage.  Though a "protected" species, they too, are slowly sliding off the endangered list into extinction.  Another 30 years, maybe.  The generation of adult bears were once cubs, watching their mothers feed on dump-heaps of human waste and have grown to believe that's their main food source.  Many safeguards have been attempted but the bear remains a predator species, which is its want, and will certainly kill for what it believes is its food.  Introduction into the wild has been a real failure, the animal doesn't understand how to hunt, how to distingush what is food and what isn't, and which animals they must compete with for food.  This means sure death, they won't be able to fight off wolves for a deer carcass.  Those that do are being shot as pests by cattlemen whether it's hunting season or not.  Worst of all, because global warming is past control, their one habitat is disappearing.  They live on the Arctic sea ice sheets, which are melting into the sea as ice floes and much of it will be completely gone by the middle of this century.  Gone.  (I'm thinking of the rise in water levels all over the globe) When the solitary polar bear is forced into close living with others of its kind, the stress levels rise and lethal fighting insues - polar bears are a "marker" species, one of many which tell the human what condition this planet is in. 

Have you heard of M15?  It a gigantic glacier, a mountain of an iceberg, its bulk obviously found under the sea.  It's the highest found in the Arctic.  Due to higher temperatures, it broke off from it's main ice sheet a few years ago.  It's floating out to sea, crashing off in smaller ice floes and melting into the waters.  As the sea rises and habitat is lost, not a creature will be left unaffected.  Not a one.  From penguins, otters and seals to migrating birds.  And the incredulous find?  Parasites are living in the ice of the arctic glaciers and ice sheets.  Worms in the ice.  Not the usual marine bacteriological life that exists there normally, perfectly set in the food chain of this harsh climate, but parasites expelled from the dead bodies of other marine life.  This is advance notice of a planet gone terribly astray, extreme, unnatural, dangerous to life.  And we don't know where else life exists, now shouldn't that say at least some small thing about its value?         

Though the majority of the problem for our fellow inhabitants of earth is habitat loss, it's very frightening to discover an immuno-dificiency in the honey bee.  Parasites which starve them.  Life would not exist as we know it wthout this humble creature.  Why do we need so much land??  I still say the human animal has populated itself out of all control and if a higher species existed here we'd have been rounded up and shot in controlled numbers a few hundred years ago to save this planet and its other inhabitants.  Natural disasters do "cull" the human herd, but there's still too many of this one suicidal species - if humans were more of a beneficent life form, one that cared for and respected this earth and its other animals, things would never have gotten to this frightening level.  We brought on the industrial age which is killing everything.     

People are causing catastrophic futures they say they're sick of hearing about.  They're going to get alot sicker.   



Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Hallowe'en Ode"

                     My Simple Thoughts on Hallowe'en

By a wimper, with a whisper,

and a rumor - you will know,

something odd has caught your soul,

and no control, abroad you go !

Cautious walking

through the streets,

here you note a sight or two,

ghostie goblins, bats and bobbins

little ones proclaiming "BOO!"

Demanding that you offer tribute

in the way of sug'ry sweets,

they will tell you at the doorstep

"Tricks ahead if you've no treats !"

Memories come flooding back

of times when life was free and young,

nights that you yourself went treating,

n'er a trick would pass your tongue.

Now I see the guardians

accompany the little ones -

fearful that a real-life evil

grabs a child and tries to run.

Never in my childhood schemes

had I a fear of trick nor treat,

Wish we had it back again -

afford all evil strong defeat !!

Truly, here's a special time

for silliness to fully live -

so when a ghostie rings your bell,

just give and give and give !

                    by Cathy S. Rapicano 10-2007