I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

Feel free to comment, to offer your perspective, or to give suggestions for subjects.
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Friday, September 30, 2011

Caffeine - How Much Do You Need?

Now a days, coffee comes in many varieties, such as Frappacino and espresso, as well as different flavors and sizes. Colas are made with artificial flavors and added caffeine. The amount of caffeine in all of these different drinks can vary widely. Coffee used to be just "black". Coca-Cola® was originally made with Kola nut extracts and contained cocaine, no wonder it was so popular! Energy drinks are a new trend in highly caffeinated beverages. They contain a wealth of sugar and other natural stimulants that help provide that sought-after energy boost. Caffeine is also found in many weight loss preparations and in some over-the-counter pain, diet and stimulant medications.

Here are the most common sources of caffeine for Americans:
  • Coffee - Contains about 100mg per 8-ounce cup though most coffee drinkers will use a larger cup (12-16 ounces) for their daily brew.
  • Black Tea - Contains 50mg per 8-ounce cup. Green Tea contains 25mg.
  • Caffeinated Sodas - Coke, Pepsi, and others contain 40-50mg per 12-ounce can.
  • Super-Caffeinated Colas - Jolt contains 70mg per 12-ounce can.
  • Energy Drinks - Red Bull and RockStar contain about 80mg per 8 ounce can.
  • Milk Chocolate - Contains 6 mg/ounce.
  • OTC Medications - Anacin contains 32mg/tablet. Extra Strength Excedrin contains 65mg/tablet. NoDoz and Vivarin each contain 200mg/tablet.
How much do you consume? Add it up and see. I would guess, if you are a typical caffeine consumer, that you top out over 300mg per day.

Caffeine has long been considered an unhealthy lifestyle choice. Caffeine's negative effects on the nervous system and how it increases anxiety, heart rate and sleepless nights have always been a concern. But recently coffee and caffeine have been shown to have some significant medical benefits.

After more than 10,000 scientific studies over the past 30 years the findings indicate that people who drink one to three cups of coffee a day are less likely to contract diabetes, develop Parkinson's disease, or have gallstones. Additionally, coffee reduces the risk of colon cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Some of these findings may be due to the health benefits of the coffee bean itself, but most can be linked directly to caffeine. Coffee has also been shown to be beneficial in asthma (caffeine is a bronchodilator), stopping headaches (a vasoconstrictor) and improving mood (releases dopamine), all due to the systemic actions of caffeine.

In spite of these beneficial effects, it is still recommended to consume caffeine in moderation. Enjoy your day cup(s) of joe - or my favorite, Diet Pepsi® - but remember that too much of a good thing is not always better. Everything in moderation, nothing to excess.

For more on Caffeine, be sure to read my previous blog, Caffeine - Celebrating National Coffee Day.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 "A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (NIV)"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Caffeine - Celebrating National Coffee Day

Tomorrow (Sept 29th) is National Coffee Day. To celebrate we will take a look at the main draw in that cup of joe, Caffeine. Check the Internet for coupons from your favorite coffee house; you just might get a free cup.

I don't drink coffee but that does not mean I miss out on my daily caffeine fix. I mentioned it in a blog about Ice last month. Caffeine is the most popular psychoactive drug in the world. Every day enough cups of caffeine (not just coffee) are served up to give one cup to every man, woman and child on the planet!

Although the FDA calls caffeine a "generally recognized as safe food substance", it is clearly a drug with profound physical and psychological effects. In humans, caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. It also has diuretic properties. Long-term consumption can lead to addiction and tolerance. Withdrawal symptoms can also appear within 12 to 24 hours after your last latte. In spite of this, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world.

Caffeine is a bitter xanthine alkaloid. It is occurs naturally in varying amounts in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of a number of plants. In these plants it acts as a natural pesticide, killing the insect pests that are damaging to the plant. Caffeine is a natural component of coffee, tea and chocolate, and is added as an energy boost in most colas and energy drinks. About 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine every day in one form or another with more than half of all adults consuming more than 300 milligrams (3 cups of coffee) daily. Caffeine was first isolated from coffee in 1820. Today most pure caffeine comes from the process used to make decaffeinated coffees and teas.

Caffeine is also found in diet pills and some over-the-counter pain relievers and medicines. Medically, caffeine is used as a cardiac stimulant and a mild diuretic. It also acts as a bronchodilator. In beverages, it is used to provide a "boost of energy". More and more people are taking energy drinks to stay awake while working or driving long distances. Many people feel as though they need a morning cup of coffee to get going for the day and provide the wake up jolt it gives them.

Caffeine operates using the same biological mechanisms that amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin use to stimulate the brain. Caffeine impacts the functioning of the neurotransmitters adenosine and dopamine. It blocks the adenosine receptors so you don't feel sleepy and your blood vessels constrict. This causes adrenaline to be released, which stimulates the body. Caffeine also blocks dopamine reuptake thus increasing dopamine levels resulting in elevated mood, improved memory and cognition, and increased heart rate. If you feel like you cannot make it through the day without it, then you may be addicted to caffeine. In excess it can cause restlessness, insomnia, muscle twitching, gastrointestinal disturbance, cardiac arrhythmia and a host of other problems.

The problem with caffeine is its long-term effects, which tend to cycle downward. Once the effects of caffeine wear off you face fatigue and depression. So what are you going to do? You get another cup of caffeine to get the cycle going again. As you can imagine, having your body amped up all day long isn't very healthy, and can make you edgy and irritable.

Worse still is the effect that caffeine has on sleep. The half-life of caffeine is about six hours. That means that half of the caffeine you consume at 3:00pm is still in your body at 9:00pm when you are trying to go to bed. You may be able to fall asleep, but you will probably miss out on the benefits of a deep sleep. The next day you will feel worse, so you need more caffeine as soon as you get out of bed. And the cycle goes on day after day. This is why so many of us consume caffeine daily. Once you get in the cycle, you cannot get out because if you try to stop the caffeine, you get very tired and foggy headed with a splitting headache forcing you to run back to your caffeine crutch.

In spite of all these side effects, we all love our Frappe Mocha Latte in the morning. And caffeine has some benefits as well. We will look at some of our favorite caffeine fixes and their caffeine content as well as the benefits of caffeine in the next blog release.

So the Israelites must have run out of coffee when they confronted Moses on this day! Exodus 15:24 - "So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, 'What are we to drink?' (NIV)"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Aspirin - Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

Got a pounding headache? Migraine? Fever with the Flu? Body all aching and wracked with pain? Arthritis? Take two aspirin and call your doctor in the morning. Previously had a heart attack or stroke or just want to reduce the risk? Take a low dose aspirin daily (only at the direction of your physician). Aspirin was originally the trade name belonging to Bayer AG for acetylsalicylic acid and first went on sale in 1899. Aspirin, an analgesic, antipyretic, and anticoagulant medication, is arguably the most commercially successful drug ever. It is one of the most widely used medicines in the world today, with an estimated 40,000 tons consumed each year.

Aspirin is classified as a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) that works effectively to ease pain and swelling, lower a fever and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. For pain, it is as effective as Tylenol® (acetaminophen) as well as NSAIDs Advil® (ibuprofen) or Aleve® (naproxen). Physiologically aspirin works by suppressing prostaglandins and thromboxanes. Prostaglandins function in pain transmission, body temperature control and inflamation. Thromboxanes are responsible for the aggregation of the platelets that form blood clots.

Chemically aspirin is known as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) and was first discovered in 1853. It was derived from salicylic acid, which is found in willow bark. Salicylic acid is the principle metabolite of aspirin and had been in use medicinally for centuries.

Aspirin use decreased significantly in the late 50's until it was discovered in the 80's to have efficacy as an anticlotting agent. It has found renewed support when used prophylactically in stroke and heart attack survivors as well as those at risk for these diseases. It is now suggested that taking an aspirin or two at the onset of a suspected heart attack may decrease the morbidity or mortality of the event. The FDA suggests to first seek emergency care (call 911) and then take aspirin only at the direction of the doctor.

Aspirin use can have some potentially serious side effects. It can cause nausea and heartburn and long term use contributes to GI bleeding and stomach ulcers. Large doses, such as when used for arthritis, can cause tinnitus or ringing in the ears. In children under 18, aspirin has been linked with increased likelihood of Reye's Syndrome, and it should not be given to anyone under the age of 12 who has a fever.

Aspirin, in spite of its age, is truly still a wonder drug. It should be a staple in everyone's medicine cabinet and first-aid kit, along side the Band-Aids® and Betadine®.

One day God will relieve all pain and suffering from our world. Revelation 21:4 - "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (NIV)"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (NIV)"

What does this proverb mean? When was this written? It was written during the Iron Age in the Middle East. Iron was not very pure at that time but contained other metals, such as nickel and copper, as well as carbon. Steel is iron with a certain proportion of carbon (between 0.2% and 2.1%). Pure iron is soft and carbon steel can be as much as 1000 times harder than iron. Iron in those days contained varying amounts of impurities and was of different strengths. Sharpening is defined as the process of creating or refining a sharp edge to an appropriate shape on a tool or implement designed for cutting. Sharpening is done by grinding away material on the tool with another abrasive substance harder than the tool itself. This is sometimes followed by a process to polish the sharp surface, increasing smoothness and correcting small mechanical deformations without regrinding.

When one thing sharpens another, the substance on the sharpening surface must be harder than the material being sharpened, such as two different alloys of iron. In a similar manner, one man who is stronger in faith can sharpen another to help him become stronger. This can be in knowledge of the Word or in action and deed to become more like Christ. Hebrews 10:24 (NIV) expresses a similar concept, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (NIV)”

Very sharp knives sharpen at an angle of about 10 degrees (which implies that the knife's edge is a 20-degree angle). Material, iron in this case, is scraped off as the edge is made finer and more acutely angled to make the cutting edge of the sword or blade. This removing of the burrs refines the edge until it can easily cut through the toughest materials. In the same way bad habits and negative thoughts and actions are removed from our lives as we are sharpened by the encouragement and loving criticism of a fellow believer. Just as a blade may be polished to increase its ability to cut more cleanly, we may be polished by the support of another and more brightly reflect God's love shining in our lives.

In the sharpening of iron with iron, both pieces change — the sharpener and the one being sharpened. In the same manner our faith is strengthened when we test and encourage another. We must help each other to remain strong in the faith, able to defend the faith, even against the direct attack of the enemy. Just as the Bereans searched the scriptures daily to confirm the Word (Acts 17:11 (NIV)), we can sharpen one another by searching the scriptures together to understand God's Word.

Sharpen can also mean intensify or focus. The cutting edge of the blade is more intensely focused into a very fine line as it is sharpened and can cut more deeply. In the same way one person can intensify another's focus onto the things of God by sharpening his knowledge and understanding of the Word. The sharpening itself may be thought provoking and at times even painful, but in the end we are stronger and better for it. Warren Wiersbe observes, “If we’re not disagreeable, we usually learn more by disagreeing, ‘speaking the truth in love' Ephesians 4:15(NIV), than by giving in and refusing to say what we really think."

Likewise, friends ought to be able both to offer help and receive instruction. God's psychology insists that friends sharpen each other instead of tearing down. The Scripture gives many examples of God honoring communication between friends: "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Proverbs 27:5-6 (NKJV)." We need to come to appreciate both the encouragement and the candid criticism from our friends, as well as their kindness and generosity. "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3 (NKJV)"

The sharpening of iron by iron represents how God desires us to be in fellowship with each other to strengthen, encourage, instruct, support and sharpen our understanding of His love. Just as blades must continue to be sharpened to keep their sharp edge, so must we as Christians continue to study God's Word to stay focused in our walk with Him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hemoglobin - It Takes My Breath Away

I got a call the other day from the Blood Bank. They wanted me to come in and donate. I have O+ blood, the most common, and they are in need. I donate three or four times a year and I was due so I went in. It got me thinking about how important blood is to life and how it plays a significant role in our salvation (Romans 5:8-10 NIV). But I was also thinking; "What is the most critical component of blood?"

Blood has four key components, red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), platelets and plasma. Plasma is mostly water and is what carries the rest of the components throughout the body. Platelets are important for blood clotting. White blood cells are the soldiers of our immune system. Red blood cells are the most critical part. They carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, all the way to the cellular level. And what is it that does this work? Hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is the carrier of oxygen from the lungs to the cells and it returns CO2 to be exhaled as waste. Hemoglobin is the major protein inside the RBCs, accounting for 97% of the non-water weight of red blood cells. In humans it is made up of four protein sub-units, two each alpha (141 amino acids) and beta (146 amino acids) protein subunits, joined together to form the full hemoglobin molecule. Each protein subunit also contains a heme group, a small iron containing molecular structure that bonds with the O2 molecule. With hemoglobin, the blood can carry seventy times the oxygen that it would carry if the oxygen was dissolved in plasma alone.
Hemoglobin: Wikipedia
red = alpha protein
blue = beta protein
green = heme group

The iron in the heme group bonds to the oxygen to transport it. This "oxyhemoglobin" is red in color. The oxygen bonds to the hemoglobin in the lungs and is released at the cellular level where it is used in energy production. The hemoglobin then returns to the lungs as "deoxyhemoglobin" which is purplish-blue in color. Each hemoglobin molecule can bind up to four oxygen molecules. The binding is "cooperative" in that as each oxygen molecule is bound, it bends the hemoglobin protein in such a way as to improve the binding of oxygen at the remaining heme groups.

People with iron poor blood, or iron deficiency, have fewer RBCs and thus cannot transport oxygen efficiently. Anemia develops slowly in those with low iron intake and can result in weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath. Occasionally one of the hemoglobin protein sub-units is affected by a rare genetic mutation. Most of the time the mutation causes no physiological affect but sometimes the alteration in the protein changes certain aspects of its behavior. Two types of disorders that can result from genetic mutations include sickle cell disease and thalassemia.

In sickle cell disease, the alpha chain is normal. The disease-producing mutation exists only in the beta chain. People who have one sickle mutant gene and one normal beta gene are carriers of the sickle cell trait but do not develop sickle cell anemia. It requires both genes to be mutant genes for sickle cell anemia to be expressed. This results in defective hemoglobin molecules that stick together and cannot efficiently carry oxygen.

In thalassemia, the body produces insufficient quantities of one of the two protein subunits. The subunits created are properly formed, just in low concentrations. This creates an imbalance between the number of alpha proteins and beta proteins. This imbalance damages the red blood cells, producing anemia. A number of other genetically altered forms of hemoglobin also exist that can cause disease.

Besides oxygen, hemoglobin can also bond with carbon monoxide (CO). Hemoglobin actually bonds carbon monoxide much more readily than oxygen. This is why carbon monoxide is so deadly. Smoking, car exhaust and improper furnace ventilation are major sources of carbon monoxide. A home CO detector is available to warn if levels get dangerously high. Carboxyhemoglobin (hemoglobin with bound CO) is a very bright red color and makes the skin appear pink in CO poisoning. Other compounds that also inhibit oxygen binding include cyanide (CN), nitric oxide (NO) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S), all of which are toxic.

Glycosylated hemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin to which glucose is bound. This binding of glucose to hemoglobin serves as a record for the average blood glucose levels over the lifetime of the red blood cells, typically 120 days. The levels of glycosylated hemoglobin can be measured to monitor the long-term control of diabetes mellitus. This measurement is called hemoglobin A1c. Diabetics who keep their A1c levels close to 7 have a much better chance of avoiding diabetic complications than those whose levels are 9 or higher.

Hemoglobin is essential in the transport of oxygen within the vertebrates and oxygen is essential for almost all animal life. God has created a balance between the animal kingdom (generally uses O2 and generates CO2 as waste) and the plant kingdom (generally uses CO2 and generates O2 as waste). This balance helps to maintain our environment for the continued support of life as we know it. In the same way the blood of Christ does this for our souls, it creates and maintains an environment for the support of our spiritual life in Him.

"Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:54 (NIV)"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Methane - My Second Mass Transit Time Saver

"OK, that's it! I can't do this anymore!" I mumbled to myself after yet another two-hour commute home from work. I told you a few blogs back that I live 50 miles East of LA. Everyday I drive, or should I say chug along, 44 miles one way to my day job. I have worked there for 15 years and for the last 8 plus, I have had access to the mass-transit mover - the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) Lane, better known as the Carpool Lane. No, I was not the good citizen forming a group hug with my neighbors to save on gas. I drove alone. How did I do that, you ask?

In 2003 I purchased a car that California classified as a super ultra–low emission vehicle (SULEV) and then in 2008 I bought an advanced technology partial zero–emission vehicle (ATPZEV). In California, if you have, or had in the case of the ATPZEV, one of these you can ride solo in the HOV lanes. My first vehicle was an all-electric Toyota Rav4-EV. I motored this for five and a half years and racked up over 125,000 gas-free miles. It was a blast! This electron powered ride got me the SULEV white sticker and I was off to the carpool races, cutting a minimum of 60 minutes from my previous three plus hour round trip commute. Then I purchased a Toyota Prius, with a yellow ATPZEV sticker and drove it another three years and almost 75,000 miles, keeping my daily excursion to about two hours.

But California, in its infinite wisdom, expired the yellow stickers this past July. "OK", I thought, "I'm tough. I did this before and I can do it again." So for two and a half months I have endured daily 90 minute one-way commutes with frequent two-hour struggles thrown in. Finally I said enough is enough and I started the search for another white sticker savior. Now the white stickers are essentially limited to only one of two types of cars. The first is what I had before, an all-electric car, of which there are almost none that can make the 88 mile daily round trip without an intermediate charge. With my Rav4EV, I was able to charge at work but that option no longer exists.

The second choice is a vehicle that runs on Methane or natural gas (80%+ methane). These vehicles still sparsely populate the gamut of consumer transportation options available, at least in the USA - I understand in other countries like Brasil they are widely driven, but compressed natural gas (CNG for short) is often used in fleet vehicles, such as city buses and utility trucks. A vehicle that runs on methane qualifies for the white sticker so if I could find one, I would be "In Like Flint." There are essentially two choices available here, a Honda Civic GX or a Toyota Camry CNG. The Camry was only made for three years and as far as I can tell, only about 800 were made. I was looking for a used car and I am definitely a Toyota fan so when I found one of the rare Camry CNGs, I scooped it up faster than a hummingbird in a hurricane. Now I have my second white sticker and I am sailing past the minions on the 605.

So what is the big deal about methane? Why does it get white sticker status over a petrol-electric hybrid? Methane is CH4, the simplest of hydrocarbons. It is clean burning, producing mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). Because it produces fewer nasty emissions than its big brother gasoline, it is preferred for reducing carbon pollution. It does add to the total global CO2 load and it is considered a "greenhouse gas" on its own, however. Compared to gasoline the pollution reduction is significant and being locally grown, reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

Natural gas is abundant and relatively inexpensive which makes it attractive as a fuel source. Compared to a gallon of gasoline, currently at just under $4 in my town, a gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) of natural gas is about half the price. Transportation is not its only use, it is piped into millions of homes here in the United States, as well as in other countries, and is used for space heating, cooking and hot water. It is also used industrially to generate electricity and as a starter for the formation of fertilizers. Natural gas is mostly methane but does contain other heavier hydrocarbons, most notably ethane (C2H6) and propane (C3H8), the stuff that fires up the Barbie.

Methane has now come to save me from my endless drive-time hassles and I am blessed. Cruising to work in my white steed, my Camry with the HOV sticker, I am free again, at least until 2015!

"The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. Proverbs 4:18 (NIV)"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spiritual Water

The Ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles held that water is one of the four classical elements along with fire, earth and air. Water is not only necessary for physical life, it is essential for our spiritual life as well. It is used for ritual cleansing or purification, healing, to infer a blessing or salvation and as a reference to the spirit of God. God used it in the Flood to cleanse the Earth of the unrighteous. Water was one of the first things God created, even before he said “Let there be Light”. And God was that light. "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3 NIV)"

In almost all religions water is used for cleansing, either ritually in the physical or as a form of spiritual cleansing, such as in baptism. Baptism is a symbol of the spiritual cleansing we receive when we accept Christ. In Judaism, ritual water cleansing (mikvah) was necessary when someone was considered defiled or "unclean" due to contact with a corpse or a leper. It was required before being allowed to participate in temple rituals. Hindus must perform a morning cleansing in water before entering the temple and Muslims must wash before each of the five daily prayers (wudu).
In Christianity, Baptism is considered an outward symbol of an inward conversion or salvation as part of accepting Christ as our Savior. Catholics and others believe that baptism infers salvation but many, including evangelical churches, rightly recognize it as a symbol of our salvation. Jesus started His public ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River; "And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.' Matthew 3:17 (NIV)" The Bible speaks of the Living Water, which is Jesus: "But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14 NIV).
Baptism of Jesus
James G. Howes
In Genesis, God selected Noah and his family as the only righteous among men and preserved them in the Ark when He sent forty days of rain upon the Earth, killing all who lived upon the land. "The LORD then said to Noah, 'Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.' (Genesis 7:1 NIV)." Prior to the Flood, a fog or mist totally covered the world and there was no rain. The Flood was caused by the raining down of this mist upon the land and after the Flood the weather patterns we know today were established with scattered clouds which can produce rain and a rainbow.
Noah in the Ark
published in the US before 1923

Christianity uses water especially prepared for religious purposes (holy water) such as a blessing or in baptism. Some religions consider particular sources or bodies of water to be sacred, including Lourdes in Catholicism, the Jordan River, the Zamzam Well in Islam and the River Ganges in Hinduism. In Lourdes, people with disabilities or disease descend into the spring and hope to come up healed. Over 200 million people have visited Lourdes since 1860 and the Catholic Church as authenticated numerous miraculous healings.

"Water" or "Waters" occurs 597 times in the Bible. Water is part of many miracles of God. Besides the Flood, God turned the Nile River into blood (Exodus 7:17), parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16), and supplied all of Israel with water from a rock in the desert (Exodus 17:6). Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1), walked on water (Matthew 14:24), was baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13) and gave sight to the blind man with mud (John 9:1). He even offered living water to the woman at the well (John 4:6).

God has made water a central part of His creation and the story of His people in the Bible. "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17 (NIV)."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11 - The Chemistry of Forgetfulness

Ask anyone old enough to remember where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001 and they can tell you. Our Nation was rocked awake from its sleepy dreams of safety and protection as the Twin Towers came down and two other planes exploded, each with a passenger list full of Americans. Men, with hatred in their hearts, rammed four jumbo jets into three landmarks and a field in Pennsylvania. The cry was "We shall not forget".

For those that were there or those who lost family and friends, they truly will not forget. The tragic images and unbelievable grief are burned into their memories forever. But what about the rest of our Nation? What is it we will not forget? It needs to be more than just a fading memory of the loss of 3000 American lives that day.

Time is the catalyst of forgetfulness and comfort is its substrate. Complacency is the morphine for the pain and we have become addicted. We have forgotten.

We have forgotten the God we cried out to that day for safety and protection, compassion and mercy.
  • Spontaneous Memorials popped up all over Ground Zero shortly after the attack. Were these just the seed that fell on the rocky soil? (Mark 4:5 NIV)
  • Congress joined across the aisle and embraced - with calls for prayer and songs of unity. We cannot do this today, even as our nation sinks into the quicksand of backbreaking debt.
  • Now are we, in the name of tolerance, denying the same call for prayer on this day of remembrance? Tolerance once meaning open-mindedness now forces an idea on all and calls anyone who does not agree intolerant.
  • We don't want to display the Cross from Ground Zero because some might find the Cross offensive?

We have forgotten the evil in the hearts of those who did this.
  • Radical Islam is still alive and well, working for the destruction of all who do not believe in its tenets. Yet we continue to support them with our addiction to oil and our acceptance of their treatment of Israel.
  • We squabbled over the building of a mosque near Ground Zero while it seems any peaceful and compassionate religion should see that this is not the time nor place for such an action.

We have forgotten the innocents who died at work or on a plane, their families and the men and women who rushed to their aid.
  • The Memorial at Ground Zero seems to have been more about political posturing than it is about those who suffered and died there. Men, hungry for fame and notice argued over the design much too long. After ten years it is just now coming together, slowed by these continued squabbles about how the site should look, not to be completed for another two years or more.

We can not forget the pain of that day, the suffering of those who innocently died, the memory of those who rushed in unselfishly to save those they could and in doing so suffered or died with them. But especially we can not forget the unity that descended upon our great Nation in a cause and cry for freedom; freedom from tyranny, freedom from hatred, freedom to call upon a God who loves us in our time of suffering. It is this pain and suffering that must be seared into our minds and hearts. We are a great Nation that has been blessed by God and we must continue to fight for the freedoms we have fought so strongly for in the past.

Without pain and without difficulty we come to believe we do not need God, that we can do all on our own. Sometimes a wake up call is needed to take us back to what made this country great. The continued remembering of the events of September 11, 2001 can be that wake up call. This Tenth Anniversary remembrance should not just be a day of great speeches with empty words, or halfhearted soliloquies, but a day for remembering we are one Nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

We must remember, we can never forget.

"If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)"

Monday, September 5, 2011

Water for the Healer and the Healthy

Southern California is a desert, little rain and not enough water. East of Los Angeles, up against the mountains where I live, it is especially hot in the summer with temperatures frequently in the 90s and reaching into the 100s a couple of weeks a year. With five kids, and a herd of grand kids, you need a pool to keep them from going crazy when schools out. Water is great for swimming and keeping cool in the hot Sun. Water's ability to absorb heat cools us off while its buoyancy allows us to float near the surface easily to breathe but still allows us to dive and glide underwater.

Swimming is recreational and relaxing but also has medicinal properties. It is great exercise and keeps us in shape with limited possibility for injury, as opposed to running or jogging with compression injuries from the repeated pounding of your joints against the road. Hydrotherapy, with it soothing whirlpools and hot tubs, relieves pain and promotes healing of burns and other skin lesions. Back in the day, that is before Advil® and Aleve®, water was also used outside of the pool for pain relief. I can remember using a hot water bottle, filled with hot or ice cold water, to take away the aches of a stiff back or the pounding of a migraine, making sleep almost attainable.

Medically water has other as well. In the old days boiling water was used to sterilize baby bottles, today water or steam can be used to sterilize surgical instruments or canning jars. Water also is used as a blood volume expander, a storage solution for organ transplants (as a saline solution) and as a medication diluent. Many drugs are either dissolved or suspended in water prior to administration. Lotions, creams, and ointments are mixtures of water with increasing amounts of oil, becoming more viscous as the oil percentage increases. I use water in my CPAP machine to deliver moist, pressurized air to my lungs while sleeping to prevent snoring and sleep apnea.

Recreationally, there is more to water than just swimming. The ocean provides opportunities for surfing and scuba diving. Boating can be done on rivers and lakes as well as the ocean. The buoyancy of water, the Archimedes Principle and his bathtub discovery, allows boats to float.

As the story goes, Archimedes was trying to solve a problem for King Hiero II. A gold crown had been made and the king suspected that the goldsmith was dishonest and had substituted silver for some of the gold. Archimedes had to find a way to determine if the crown was pure gold. While taking his bath, Archimedes observed that the water level rose as he got into the tub, and recognized that he could use this effect to determine the volume of the crown. If silver had been substituted the crown would weigh less than a similar volume of solid gold. Archimedes was so excited by this that he took to the streets naked shouting "Eureka!" He tested the crown and proved that silver had indeed been mixed with the gold.

Based on this principle the boat displaces its own volume in water and as long as the volume of boat weighs less than the volume of water it displaced with some boat left above the waterline, it will float. This principle allows massive ships, weighing many tons, to float upon the ocean and submarines to glide at any depth.

Now previously we have examined water chemically, physically, biologically, environmentally and in space. Today we looked at some of its medical and recreational uses. This brings us to the final attribute of water, which we will consider next time, "Spiritual Water."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Snowball's Chance in Heaven

As I mentioned in a past blog or two, I live just outside of LA, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Now LA is not known for its high mountains with deep snow but every year as a family we would drive up to Big Bear or Wrightwood at least once to rock and roll in the fluffy white stuff. All kids seem to love the snow and we have five. They would sled down the hills on cardboard or make snow angels. And of course there would be a snowball fight or two (or three, I have three boys!). It was always a blast. Now if we enjoy snowball fights that much, might God not also enjoy His creation in the same way? He could and He does. Comets are just giant snowballs hurled around the stars at the hand of God.

Comets are often popularly called "dirty snowballs", consisting mainly of water ice (NASA says at least 85%), other frozen gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia, rocks, and dust. Recently it has been shown that they can have dry, dusty or rocky surfaces, suggesting that the ices are hidden beneath the nuclear crust. Comets can orbit the large planets but most orbit the Sun. Many of the orbits are large parabolic ellipses passing close to the Sun at one end. It is while orbiting close to the Sun that the comet out-gasses the water ice and other frozen compounds, forming the coma and tail.

Philipp Salzgeber
As a comet approaches the Sun, solar radiation causes the volatile ices within the comet nucleus to vaporize and stream out, carrying dust away with them. These streams of dust and gas form a coma, a huge and extremely fragile atmosphere, around the comet nucleus. Then the Sun's radiation and solar wind blow this atmosphere into an enormous tail that stretches far out from the comet body and always points away from the Sun. Both the coma and tail are illuminated by the Sun and may become visible as the comet nears the Earth, the dust reflecting sunlight directly and the gases glowing from ionization.

The comets are not the only locale for water within the Solar System. Water exists on other planetary bodies as well. Water vapor is found in the atmosphere on:

* Mercury - 3.4%
* Venus - 0.002%
* Mars - 0.03%
* Jupiter - 0.0004%
* Enceladus (a moon of Saturn) - 91%

Liquid water is present just under the surface of Enceladus and is also found on Europa (a moon of Jupiter). Water ice is found on:

* Mars - in the polar ice caps
* Europa
* Titan (a moon of Saturn)
* Enceladus
* And even under the crust of our very own Moon

Ice is probably also part of the internal structure of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Evidence of water on other planets is critical to the possible discovery of life outside of our small blue sphere.

The existence of water on Earth is vital to the existence of life, as we know it. The Earth is located in the habitable zone of the Solar System; if it were slightly closer to or further from the Sun the conditions which allow the three phases of water to be present simultaneously would be far less likely to exist. Earth's mass allows sufficient gravity to hold an atmosphere. Water vapor and carbon dioxide held in the atmosphere provide a greenhouse effect that contributes to maintaining a relatively steady surface temperature. If the Earth were smaller, the resulting thinner atmosphere would cause temperature extremes preventing water accumulation except in polar ice caps (as on Mars). If the Earth were larger, the water on it could be solid even at high temperatures, because of the high pressures caused by increased gravitational forces.

Our World truly is in a unique spot in the Solar System, if not the Universe, to retain water in equilibrium and thus is the premier candidate for the presence of life.

Deuteronomy 10:14 "Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, and the earth with all that is in it. (NKJV)"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

"Water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink." This plea of the Ancient Mariner calls to mind the rarity of pure drinking water in the vastness of the open ocean.

published before 1923
and public domain in the US

Saltwater oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface and hold 97% of the planet's water. Glaciers and polar ice caps contain 2.4%, and all other land surface water such as rivers, lakes and ponds contain just 0.6%. The Antarctic ice cap contains 90% of all fresh water on Earth. Even though the amount of fresh water is only 0.6% of all available free water on the planet, it is enough to support our population of over 6 billion people. The collective mass of water found on, under, and over the surface of the Earth is called the hydrosphere. Earth's approximate water volume (the total supply of water in the world) is 1,360,000,000 km3 (326,000,000 mi3). This is enough water to fill half a million Olympic Size swimming pools for every man, woman and child on Earth.

A number of blogs ago (was it the July 4th Weekend?) I wrote about how my family was caught in a sudden hailstorm in Sequoia National Forest. This caught us by surprise but was part of the routine motion of water through our environment in the Water Cycle. This perpetual rotation of evaporation, precipitation and runoff moves water from the oceans to the dry land and back again, replenishing the fresh water supplies. Wind carries water vapor from over the ocean to land in a delicate balancing act as runoff flows back into the sea. Evaporation and transpiration from the land add to the ocean's water vapor falling as rain or snow. Condensed water in the air sometimes refracts the sunlight to produce rainbows at the edge of a storm front, reminding us of God's promise after the Flood (Genesis 9:15). Some water is trapped on land as snow or in lakes and rivers and provides reservoirs of fresh water for plants and animals living on the watershed. The movement of water through the Water Cycle constantly refreshes and replenishes this most precious resource.

We hear a lot about carbon dioxide and Global Warming but water is the ultimate global warming molecule. It has a high heat capacity and helps to regulate the temperature on the Earth's surface. Cloud cover regulates the environment as well, holding in the heat reflected from the surface or blocking the heat from the sun. Water has a significantly greater impact on temperatures than all of the carbon dioxide man has produced in his short tenure on this planet.

The movements of water alters the shape of our world hour by hour and day by day. Through erosion, runoff creates river valleys that provide rich soil and level ground for cities and towns to prosper. Some of this runoff can be diverted for agricultural irrigation. In my home State much of it travels through the California Aqueduct, a man-made ribbon of "milk and honey" (Leviticus 20:24), bringing Northern California water to the desert of Southern California, helping to keep LA green. Tides and waves continually change the shape and depth of marine water bodies and shorelines.
Water also infiltrates the ground and goes into underground storage areas called aquifers. This groundwater later flows back to the surface in springs, or more spectacularly, as hot springs and geysers like "Old Faithful" in Yellowstone National Park. Groundwater and fresh water are useful to humans as water resources, supplying wells and man-made reservoirs.

Fresh water runoff is often used for power generation. This hydroelectric power comes when water diverted from a river or lake drives a turbine generator. Many times a man-made lake formed behind a concrete and steel dam will supply the water to create the power. This form of electricity is a low-cost, non-polluting, renewable energy source. Pressurized water is used in water blasting and precision water jet cutters. Water is also used as a coolant in numerous applications from automotive engines to nuclear power plants.

Water is a remarkable resource, shaping our planet physically with its power, modulating our thermostat with its protective covering, creating energy with its motion, and providing refreshment to a thirsty World.

"He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. (Deuteronomy 8:15 NIV)"