What to Write About?

•November 6, 2008 • 8 Comments

As I begin to write this one of the five I must do each week, I think back to my beloved father as I did not realize him to be before he diagnosed the Alzheimer’s which took him so mercifully, just as he went through the stages he predicted so accurately. He was probably the most intelligent person I ever knew, but I just took him for granite, which he was indeed. What a doctor he would have been, but he was busy at other matters, like putting together the North end of Halifax after the December 6, 1912 Halifax Explosion, the greatest man-made explosion before the atomic bomb. This is off my subject, somewhat, which is ‘What to write about’. By the way, Dad was the first minister of the United Church of Canada, seven years or so before it was formed, and so each Sunday he preached a sermon, aimed at the converted, the not-so converted, and the hopeless. To get back to my subject.

In his case, it was ‘What to preach about’ and he had the answer to that. “Preach for about twenty minutes”; nobody listens longer than that, even God, who has so many good, bad and awful preachers trying to hold His attention as the they lose the attention of the faithful in the pews.

As I go about my blogs, I can hear him. This is of course why I cleverly do first a written page. If you can’t make your point in twenty minutes, I mean one written page, it can’t be much of a point. Have I made my point?


Flies, Evolution, Survival

•November 6, 2008 • 1 Comment

It is difficult to use the word ‘evolution’ without being drawn into Darwin, religion, politics, and such matters as dinosaurs and ancient horses the size of today’s rabbits. However, this piece is about flies, and my inspiration is one fly which does not know that it belongs over on that rotten banana which started the population of tiny flies which is doing all too well, thank you.

These particular flies seemed to come from nowhere, but of course their eggs were on the banana; already fertilized, of course. This way flies travel with all tropical fruit and, in today’s refrigerated giant containers in giant ships, they are everywhere, save possibly somewhere in the Antarctic, but since we humans are there with our foods, of course they must be there too.

My title deals with this. We know that the shorter the generations, the more opportunituy for changes to the gametes. So the flies do very well and do their bit as the short generations roll. The tiny indivduals of my particular population don’t survive very well or very long, but their descendants’ descendants do. For sure. Their kind survives, and their numbers can go from a pair to more indivduals than the total of all humans, of all generations, can match, and this can be in one of our years.

The lesson here is that if you would discuss life, its changes, its numbers, then the focus of your enquiry should be the tiny things, the short generations, the vast numbers in the shortest times, the certain survival of some. Any humans who doubt the survival of changes in our own generations, that is ‘Evolution’, should consider the fly, and be wise, or as wise as our limited capacities can manage.

For something, I went upstairs three times!

•November 6, 2008 • 1 Comment

Just as the leg bone is connected to the back bone somehow, all our nerve connections are connected.  So, as I went upstairs, of course I forgot why I was going, and this happened twice.  Then I knew why, and kept on my way to get this sheet of paper and while I was at it, about a hundred more.  This describes my way of life now very well, and I could write many blogs about it which would make pause to my faithful readers.  My synapses are not what they were.  Whether they are less efficient or more tangled with existing ones I will never know.  However, whoever I am, I must be both determined and careful, or I will arrive at some unintended waystation, or just nowhere.

As always now, I am my best (or is it my only) observer, and am usually sustained by the conviction that what I observe is, not only not just about myself, but universal, perhaps far beyond humankind.  With a few lines left to write, I’m sure there is a lesson here, and not just for myself.  I think I know what it is, for me and for you.

As we, or rather the synapses in our inherited and developed nervous system, fade or fail, we must be more careful and more determined, as we would with any metal or wooden tool of choice.  From here, life does not have to be worse, as we appreciate every little or large satisfaction left to us.  As we get ready to go, why wouldn’t what is left be more precious, indeed.  “Que sera, que sera” – “Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think”.  Goodbye.  For now.

On Slicing an Onion

•July 15, 2008 • 13 Comments

On Slicing An Onion
Donald Kennedy Crowdis

I never took to onions;
Not just they made me cry,
I knew that they were vegetables,
That was my reason why.

Now I like my onion soup,
With onions fried, then stewed,
And it’s the slicing of the onions
That put me in this mood.

In botany quite long ago,
The inner skin of onion ring,
A diagram of living cell
Led on to everything

That lives, including me,
And now I know, or think I do,
That I am distant cousin
To a very motley crew,

For we are both eukaryotes,
The onion cell and I
And mushrooms, squid, and billy goats,
And that’s the reason why

We cannot just sit idly by
And think the harm we do
Will not come round to haunt us,
Or say we never knew

What to the Earth we’re doing;
And maybe it’s too late
To say that we are sorry –
We may have sealed our fate.


Our candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night,
But O my victims and my friends,
It gives a lovely light!!

That’s Not What I Herd

•March 6, 2008 • 2 Comments

As I turn the pages of the morning papers, I still marvel at the incompatible ideas which are taken for granted by somebody – the editor, the writer, the people written about. The firmness with which opinions are held must be based on something, and I am convinced the question becomes clear when you identify the group which is represented by the expressed opinion, or in a word, the HERD. By nature and by nurture we cannot be solitary, but must belong with others. The most natural group is the one in which we are born and nurtured.

As baby becomes infant becomes child, it becomes a member of larger, and not always compatible, groups. The result is that each of us is driven to hold various incompatible premises, and so we have, in varying degrees, troubled minds, conscious and unconscious. Usually, this is dealt with by adopting a single premise for the appropriate occasion and forcing everything to fit with that. This can be a Faith, and that can be elevated to be God’s will. At least that puts logic in its proper place, as it follows the current premise.

For me, this is the herd exerting proper discipline. We must belong, so we must believe, and faith trumps evidence when necessary. Faith removes need for trial or for evidence, and the mind is clear. We can sleep at night, we can go into battle, we can die deliberately in the Cause, we can die just to take others with us, going to Paradise ourselves while they are off to Eternal Damnation.

Whatever, the herd has won. It cannot lose.

My Small Companions

•March 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We do not live alone. We would hate it. Cheer up – to live alone would not be possible. We ourselves in our most intimate relations are committee jobs anyway. We cannot ever claim ownership, or identity, with the various DNA that we are. In spite of all this, we come to consider ‘other’ forms of life as a threat! Advertisers push sprays, lotions, filters and more, to protect us against tiny forms of life, which of course must be hostile to us. The truth and the problem with this view is that many tiny life forms are very friendly, and some make our existence possible. Some contribute to our pleasures. Begin with the most present one which is our food, with its smell, taste, and why it is the way it is.

Let’s begin with bread, or if you will, cheese, or perhaps beer. If you are more classy or erudite, take wine. Bread is what it is because of yeast bubbling in the dough, so it is not soggy, so this tiny organism is a friend for that. Of course, beer and yeast are a great subject themselves, including ‘great’ in economic terms. Cheese is not cheese without attacks of the right bacteria, and great industries and literature relate to these tiny wonders. Or are they threats now?

To go back a step, the soil which makes all food (or most of it) what it is, is the result of breakdown of everything by worms, bacteria, and others which we have not yet identified.

This is only a preface to the subject of ‘Our Small Companions’. We will be back, again and again.

Evolution of Death

•February 25, 2008 • 17 Comments

We speculate how life began and how it developed into the millions of forms it did. Often, we draw a line between ourselves and the other forms and just as often we don’t draw enough of a line and think of all life in terms we understand from our own experience. We think of life beginning as it does for us from two parents of different sex and as ending with death; death from old age, if accident, murder or disease don’t get us first. Neither this beginning nor this end is necessarily so.

If you think of single-celled animals, and plants as well, you will realize that they multiply when one divides into two. There was one ‘parent’ which has gone, but there are two ‘children’. Each generation is a fresh start and nobody dies of old age. But, when animals grew into many cells, we had division of labour and some cells were muscle, some nerve, and only a few got the job of continuing the race by way of eggs and sperms. They went on living in the new generations as their ancestors had, but the muscle and nerve and gland and bone cells couldn’t start new individuals, so they had no chance to begin again at the beginning and, eventually, as we all must, they grew old and died. That is, if accident, murder or disease didn’t get them first.

So the idea of death isn’t part of the idea of life; but if you stop to think what has been made possible by brains and muscles and all the specialized tissues we have, perhaps the ability to play the violin and to look out in wonder at the universe is worth the penalty. You wouldn’t want to be a protozoan or a bacterium, and I wouldn’t either.