Archive for June 27th, 2010

The Arc

Fear, I repeat it, is at the bottom of all intolerance.

No matter what form or shape a persecution may take, it is caused by fear and its very vehemence is indicative of the degree of anguish experienced by those who erect the gallows or throw logs upon the funeral pyre.

Once we recognize this fact, the solution of the difficulty immediately presents itself.

Man, when not under the influence of fear, is strongly inclined to be righteous and just.

Thus far he has had very few opportunities to practice these two virtues.

But I cannot for the life of me see that this matters overmuch. It is part of the necessary development of the human race. And that race is young, hopelessly, almost ridiculously young. To ask that a certain form of mammal, which began its independent career only a few thousand years ago should already have acquired those virtues which go only with age and experience, seems both unreasonable and unfair.

And furthermore, it warps our point of view.

It causes us to be irritated when we should be patient.

It makes us say harsh things where we should only feel pity.

The day will come when tolerance shall be the rule, when intolerance shall be a myth like the slaughter of innocent captives, the burning of widows, the blind worship of a printed page.

It may take ten thousand years, it may take a hundred thousand.

But it will come, and it will follow close upon the first true victory of which history shall have any record, the triumph of man over his own fear.

—Hendrik Van Loon, Tolerance


The Dance

An Australian fertility researcher has discovered that the relationship between sperm and the female body is more complicated than previously imagined.

University of Adelaide professor Sarah Robertson says that her research has determined that sperm contain “signaling molecules” that activate immunity changes in a woman so that her body will accept it.

However, some apparently robust sperm fail to activate these changes, indicating that the female body can be “choosy,” and “needs convincing,” before it will allow just any old randy sperm into the egg.

Professor Robertson, who is a fertility specialist and leading a research project that examines the actions of the sperm in the cervix after sexual intercourse, says the male body provides data that heightens the chances of conception and progression to pregnancy.

The research shows that the female body on the other hand has a quality control mechanism that needs to accept compatibility with the sperm and also does an assessment on whether the conditions are as they should be for reproduction.

Some sperm, it seems, “fail to communicate,” are “unable to strike a chord.” Couples who are having difficulty achieving pregnancy may be suffering from “a communication gap between two fertility systems.” If the female is “not persuaded,” it ain’t happening.

Says Robertson:

“The male provides information that increases the chances of conception and progression to pregnancy, but the female body has a quality control system which needs convincing that his sperm is compatible.

“It’s rather like a two-way dance.”

When The Child Was A Child

One of the reasons I developed an almost instant aversion to Star Trek: The Next Generation was the presence of Wesley Crusher on the bridge. This seemed to be a clumsy, transparent attempt to attract younger viewers: in Reality—even in a sci-fi series—there would be no way some kid would be up there helping to run things, even if the ship’s captain did occasionally join loins with his mother.

At least the kid in Lost in Space, groused I, was not portrayed as some sort of super-genius; he was instead, well, a kid . . . as well as the oblivious focus of the often deeply strange attentions of a robot and a “doctor.”

Problem is, in my cynical Wesley-sneering, I was failing to allow for the fact that sometimes young people do know a thing or two. It’s good to get one’s crusted perceptions knocked around a bit, so it was well this week that I came across this piece about a group of seventh-graders who found a cave on Mars.

Sixteen students in a junior-high science class in Cottonwood, California were able through the Mars Student Imaging Program “to frame a research question and then commission a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question.” When they scrutinized what they got back, they noticed what is apparently known in the Mars trade as a “Martian skylight”—a hole in the roof of a cave.

These students had discovered a cave. On another planet.


When I Worked

June 2010
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