North Africa, Newfoundland

•February 24, 2008 • 2 Comments

In school, we used to marvel at how Africa fitted into South America as if the two had been pulled apart. In school now, they teach that they were pushed apart and the Drifting Continent Theory is accepted. Along the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from North to South at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, molten material pushes up and out. The Americas are pushed west and Europe and Africa pushed east a few more inches each year. Some day this will stop and they will drift back again; that is, they will if they repeat the past, because twice already the Atlantic Ocean has closed completely.

Apparently, there are great plates which drift about on partly melted rock deep down below the continents and not so far below the ocean bottoms. Once, India left Africa and drifted against Asia so hard that it pushed up the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world. Right now, a piece of East Africa is cracking off and will be off on its own in a few million years or so. California and that piece of Mexico that hangs out below it are preparing to drift out and up toward Alaska.

Nearer home, we have souvenirs and the best of them are in Newfoundland. The eastern half looks like a Parker House roll and that is because Europe scraped the ocean bottom up as it squashed Newfoundland against North America, twice. The last time Africa pushed the southeastern corner of Newfoundland and left part of North Africa behind. We call it the Avalon Peninsula, but it is really part of Africa.


The Lonely Ones

•February 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Nearly all of us think that we are the lonely ones. Everyone else has friends and lots of them. As we walk down a street at night, everyone else is in a warm house, with a fire, and a choice of friends. Only we are doubtful.

In this day of music with lots of decibels drawn at great expense from the great ether, only the quality of the sound seems to matter, so that when we sit down to our old piano and, shamefacedly, bring out the old, somewhat mouldy (flood in the basement 22 years ago) hymn or songbook we play softly, hoping the landlady or neighbours don’t catch us being so sentimental or amateurish and know that we are the only relic of the old melodic sentimental non-relevant days, and more than the quality of our music troubles us.

The problem is that we are out of date and the suspicion is that we always were third class in all our cultural choices and non-choices… we feel guilty for indulging our own evidences of cultural inferiority… we don’t belong to any minority so we must be doubly-damned – once for being oppressors and a clincher for being insensitively inferior. Our ancestors chopped down trees, damned streams, saved pounds, ate oats, when they should have been bowing at the altars of the superb Europeans who licked the boots of Otto the Great, Ludwig the Mad, Medici the Murderer… All our grandparents did was pull taffy, raise barns, build schooners and prepare the way for the true refugees from autocrats who brought with them the evidences of our inferiority. There are times when I could cry but I usually lie down until the feeling goes away and then I wake and need something to eat.

Granite and Fudge

•February 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

When I was young, I learned that you made butterscotch candy by not letting it stay too long on the stove and by pouring it out thinly. The best butterscotch was made by taking the pan outdoors and pouring it on a sheet of ice so it hardened at once and looked like light brown glass. When you made fudge and left it too long, it could easily crystallize back into sugar.

Around Halifax, there are lots of rocks and not far away the rocks are granite. Glaciers have carried rocks about and granite boulders are pretty common. Granite went into many building foundations and the graveyards have lots of it in headstones. I was always fascinated by the specks in granite, but I never wondered why they were there. I can remember what a flash of insight it was when I realized that both candy-making and rock-making were the same.

If melted rock comes from a volcano and cools quickly, the result can be black glass, very like the butterscotch of my childhood. If the same rock were allowed to cool very very slowly, it could be granite, complete with three colours of crystals. And this, of course, is what happened outside of Halifax. The granite cooled deep down millions of years ago, all the rock above has been worn away, and there it is. Just like candy, but it takes more time.

One Room School House

•February 23, 2008 • 1 Comment

I never went to a One-Room-School-House but I taught in one. Before I got there, it seemed impossible to teach nine grades at a time but it wasn’t. We did nature study together, and along the brook and down at the shore, the big ones looked after the little ones. Most of the time, everyone worked on his own and they went to each other for help as much as they came to me. When stories were read to the little ones, the big ones listened. By the time anyone got to higher grades, they’d heard the work before more than once, and the next arithmetic or grammar wasn’t a surprise. Friendships were across the grades and any would-be bully wouldn’t have gotten far.

Now, I wish I’d stayed longer and kept track of them better because they were my friends and I suspect they turned out alright. They didn’t have the advantage of school buses, sound systems, audiovisuals, specialist teachers for each subject, cafeterias, career files. In fact, they didn’t have any advantages at all. The heating system was two oil drums and the plumbing was outdoors. But they did learn to work by themselves and to help each other, they learned to make the most of the resources available, they certainly weren’t alienated or lost among two thousand others milling through corridors. Today you hear of the advantages of smaller units, independent study, students helping students, teachers being friends, guides and advisors. It sounds very much like my one-room school of quite long ago.


•September 3, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Of course I know that is not how you spell it; after all I have three university degrees and parts of several others, including a Doctor of Education at Columbia University in New York City, Riverside Drive. But it is how I choose to spell it, currently, if not the day after tomorrow. Face it, if languages were fixed and proper, how would we have families of languages, like Romance and all that? Actually, new words, and I do believe new languages, are being spawned more right now than ever before. There are technical phenomena, that have no precise words, happening at an increasing rate, not to mention the increasing speed of worlds of communication clashing their local usages, forming shells of languages, joining the old areas of languages, and what could be expected but new stuff, including grammar (though that seems to be genetic, in forms anyway). Perhaps our greatest philosopher was the inventor of Humpty Dumpty, even though Queen Victoria did not know his correct name. “Words mean what I mean them to mean, neither more nor less”; this cannot be improved upon. Leaving to one side that each of us does not always mean the same thing by a specific word, let alone a synonym, how could language not change with use?

Perhaps the clearest statement about language may be “You know what I mean” from Wonderland, and this is true even when we do not want the other person to know what we really do mean. If I sound mean about all this, this is in keeping, as nice-sounding words often mean something really mean, if I make myself clear.

My Unter Mind

•August 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Unter MindWe know that a large part of our brain or at least our nervous system operates without our attention. Our heart, our digestion, our liver and our kidneys go it on their own and it is best if we leave them alone to do what they know so well how to do.

Then there is our conscious mind, where we turn to alcohol to keep us from worrying about it worrying too much. In between, somewhere, is the part of our nervous system which we program, sort of, and of it I speak. There is an extremely good memory, so we can ask it to look after some things. I can go to sleep and know that I will wake at the time I intend to do that. I can postpone decisions and I will be smarter later. It will turn me away from matters which to others and to me make sense, but deep down my committee knows to stay away. I believe it is where all the experiences, for better or for worse, are kept for later use as advisers. The advice to ‘sleep on it’ is always good advice. It comes out in folk sayings like ‘look before you leap’. It seems to be totally against any method of instant decision making. I think it spots the faulty premises (or lack of any). Generally, it is hooked into folk wisdom, and remembers it far better than I do. It is a personal form of Aesop’s fables, designed to avoid so many of the classic mistakes. By nature, and thank God, I am a postponer, and I intend to trust my Unter Mind, though of course, I do not understand it.

Investing in fat pays off

•May 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Pig In the ⅓ of the world’s population of humans which are starving or close to it, fat people do not exist. Fat is storage for when food is scarce. Nutrition is another project because small amounts of many elements and compounds are needed for good health. In our own ⅔ of the world’s population, many people are too heavy and far too many are actually obese. There are causes for our fat overload, and money to be made in urging us to put it on and lots of money to help us get it off. As I am saying, it pays (someone) to put it on us, and it pays (us and them) to take it off. Either way, we live on the fat of the land.

The energy we use comes from burning carbohydrates in the blood with oxygen in the blood. The oxygen comes from the air we inhale, and the carbohydrate is one simple sugar, glucose, which is mostly broken down other carbohydrate. Starches and complex sugars must be ‘digested’ to become the simple glucose, and all is well. All is well unless there is a surplus or a shortage of glucose which must stay within strict limits. Too much, and glucose is stored mostly as fat, too little and some stored fat is released to provide glucose. These mechanisms include insulin and glycogen from the Isles of Langerhans in the pancreas.

Back to fat and the ‘fat cats’ who profit as it goes on or comes off. First, we are certainly not saying that what comes under a chemical definition of fat is bad, for some fat is so good as to be an absolute necessity, as in the production of cholesterol, itself an absolute necessity and a lurking menace.

My rule is one page per blog, so I must stop. But I will return – 30 –