Big Girls Play Good Games


I win, you win, we all win when the real facts are available for problem solving discussion.


Hi Folks,

(Oh, maybe I should stop saying that, some folks on the west coast think I’m trying to be folksy, talking down, but that’s not really it. I’ll tell you what it is, even though that’s not what I started out to talk about. What it is is “levels of organization.” Everybody knows the entire universe is made up of levels of how things are organized together. Otherwise, the whole thing wouldn’t work. There is us, to begin. We are made of tissues that come together in a miraculous way; the tissues are made of living cells that come together in a miraculous way; the cells are made of molecules that come together in a really miraculous way to perpetuate life; the molecules are made of atoms that etc., etc. But we are not the top of the miraculous heap. Above us are populations, above that are ecosystems and I don’t care very much about the rest, but there are more. God maybe. The point is, the rules are different for every different level, so the discussions and explanations area different at different levels, and usually what I talk about is populations or ecosystems. But then there is us folks. So if I say “Hi Folks” I’m talking about people and not ecosystems.)

So I started out to tell you folks a true, people-level story.

Day before yesterday I was playing with the neighbor dog that had previously been playing with a (now deceased) skunk. The dog’s tooth scratched my finger. Skunks in this neighborhood often carry rabies.

First I went to talk to the neighbor to find out if the dog had its rabies shots. The neighbor was concerned about the dog.

Then I went to my vet to find out how long after a dog is bit by a skunk does the dog survive if it has rabies. The vet was concerned about the regulations that had been violated by not reporting the skunk.

Then I went to the doctor to find out if I have to go and disrupt the entire county — health service, animal control, medical reports — over a tiny scratch on my finger that happened 30 days after the skunk incident. The DOCTOR said: “Don’t worry about it the dog would have been dead in ten days if it had rabies.” So I stopped worrying about it.

And it’s really nice to know someone who can tell the difference between MY big picture and everyone else’s little pictures.

Of course, we still don’t know if I will die of rabies. Or swine flu. Or something else.
Photo by Mary Ann

The Ecosystem Defends Itself

You may be aware that the homeland security (or someone) has been prepping us for an epidemic (wash your hands, stay home if you are ill, etc.). As a biologist with no connection to Homeland Security, except possibly as a suspect, I want to say this is a real concern. We have severely challenged the ecosystem. First I’ll tell you how, and then I’ll tell you what ecosystems do when they are challenged. Nothing personal; it’s just how ecosystems are designed — cause and effect. If we acknowledge and accept the laws of nature (that were presumably created by God or some other superhuman power, whatever we call it doesn’t change how the ecosystem functions), then we can exist nurtured within the ecosystem. Otherwise, here is what biology knows about the consequences.

The ecosystem has built in “limiting factors.” As in any web of cause and effect, the limiting factors change all the time depending upon what’s available in the system, but their practical value is to prevent any one species from overtaxing the entire web of life. These limiting factors will depend upon the circumstances, and they include: starvation; war and other abnormal behaviors; lack of water; changing characteristics of the ecosystem caused by us (that would seem to be climate change); and disease epidemics. The important point here is the more the population increases beyond the natural limits of the ecosystem, the more likely and more devastating will be the result.

In the last few hundred years, people are so clever, we have worked our way past a large number of limiting factors. The result is we are at the limit of the earth’s productivity, (even though we are killing each other almost as fast as we can) and the climate is changing, which means many organisms will be less healthy than normal, and we have set up a situation where it is easy for viruses to mutate and to find victims because there are so many people and animals all crowded together. So apparently (based on news accounts, and you know how that is) this new swine flu consists of an old swine flu that has added a piece of human flu virus among its genes. What that means? It means it’s a new disease for humans. Our immune system hasn’t met it before, so will be slow to respond.

And just a note to the unwise. It’s time to stop our reverence for technology as our Savior in this war against the ecosystem. Technology is human — God created the ecosystem. Technology can move us beyond one or more limiting factors, temporarily, and that is what we have been doing — but technology can NOT change how the ecosystem functions. It is time for us to heed the 9-1-1 call of the earth ecosystem and find ways to conform, because there is ALWAYS another limiting factor. The final limiting factor is the one biologists fear most. If we push beyond the fail-safe limits, the system itself could crash like a broken economy, or a broken egg that no longer contains what it needs to survive.

And don’t be fooled by time. It conceivably could happen almost overnight. Or it could be a few generations, but that is not a reason to ignore the reality of how the ecosystem works, because we do know how it works. The bottom line to remember is: Whatever it was like when you were born is NOT normal, and nobody wants to leave a legacy of destruction, even if it was well meant destruction.

The Power of Truth

“If no-one is listening is anyone right?”

For better audio go to Jordan Page web page



Power of Learning from our Mistakes

And STOPPING MAKING the same ones over and over again.

I can’t say it better than Sister Joan Chittister.

Off the Subject

We will have the first chapter done in a couple of days and will let you know as we upload the video version to Youtube. In the meantime, the below has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of recent days OR the goal of this blog, but I was asked, so here is the recipe for healthy bread. MMMmmm I can smell it now. Almost done.

I tell you what, I got real tired of paying an arm and a leg for breakfast cereal that is full of sugar and other odd things, and besides I must use my oven from time to time or the mice build nests in it, so we are addressing several problems here. I’m pretty sure it’s more energy efficient to use the oven once in a while than to have to throw it away because of roasted mice. No reason you couldn’t cook the rest of the week’s meals at the same time – just use it once a week or so.

This bread is very good with cheese and maybe a leaf off the dock plant outside the back door, and a tomato slice if available. It also handles peanut butter and jelly well, with a glass of milk.

Get all your stuff at the health food store, especially the corn meal. Don’t use some other kind of ground up corn. It doesn’t taste as good, but of course if you have something that needs to be used up you should do that.

Corn meal
Oats (quick cook is good, but today I’m using something out of a bin that probably is not quick cook)
Whole wheat flour
Unbleached white flour
Butter or oil, about half a cup but it works with none or more.
Something with sugar in it (I use the juice from canned peaches, usually, or jam or honey or whatever) (FYI, sugar is any substance with a chemical formula of C6H12O6 — that is carbon hydrogen and oxygen plus energy bonds — or several variations on that theme. It is basically anything that tastes sweet. Sugar has nothing to do with whether it is found in honey or jam or marmalade. Ultimately the sugar was built during photosynthesis in plants, using light energy from the sun. The carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are bonded together in a process in the plant cells that uses energy from the sun to make chemical energy that basically holds the molecule together. Chemical energy of this sort, made by plants, is the only source of energy for animals on this planet, and nobody can grow or even exist without energy, so be kind to the plants. They are much more important to your welfare than the oven. And the rest of the story is that the yeast breaks apart the sugar molecule and captures the chemical energy so it can grow more little yeast molecules and – skipping a few steps – that makes the bread rise.

1 tablespoon salt
3 cups of liquid (not counting the oil)
Leave all this stuff out of the refrigerator over night.
Start in the morning, sometimes it is slow to rise.

Take half a cup of water with something sugary in it (not the peach juice) and flick in two packets of yeast. I have found that Fleischmann’s always works, which is not true of the “organically grown” yeast even thought it is four times the price, so I use the former. I suspect the billions of little yeastlets that grow from it are probably not afflicted with anything. While that is getting bubbly, (you can mix it up or not, or mix it later if it’s in globs), you prepare the rest of the liquid things; that is, the oil or melted butter, whatever other sweet things you want, and the salt, all in a smallish bowl.

Then you get a biggish bowl and put in ½ cup of corn meal, ½ cup of oats, 1 cup of whole wheat flour (or up to two if you want) and stir it up and wait till the yeast is ready. When it is, you pour it into the bowl with the other liquids, and I have found the easiest thing at this point is to use a mixer set on low to stir it all up so it is well mixed. But you can stir with a spoon, I did that for a long time. Then you dump it into the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until well mixed, and add maybe one or two cups (not too much, it will depend on what’s already in the mix) of unbleached flour. Keep stirring, you should not be kneading, if you can’t stir you put in too much unbleached flour. But it should be almost too stiff to stir.

For kneading, I like to put it on a towel, so I can just wash the towel at the end, but some people have shiny kitchens with running water and no fire ants, and for them I would say use the metal counter top or one of those plastic boards. Wooden boards are hard to clean. So, having decided where to do the operation, you should spread out at least another cup of unbleached flour on that spot, get flour on your hands, dump the bread upside down in the flour and knead. Not too long and not too little. If your hands get sticky put them in the flour or get more flour. About the time your hands stop getting sticky is probably long enough if you did a proper knead (fold and push, fold and push, etc.)

Now you put it back in one of the bowls and let it rise with a loose cover over it, a towel or a damp paper towel (if you use paper towels, shame on you). After it has doubled, punch it down, turn it over, (optional-and let it rise again). Again after it has doubled, divide it in two (these will be smallish loaves; they seem to cook better). Put it in prepared bread loaf pans

I like it baked at 325o for just a weeeny bit shy of done, which is usually about half an hour, mostly you tell by how it smells. If you bake it too long it gets dry; if it’s too dry try using butter instead of oil.

If anything bad happens after the stage where all ingredients are combined it’s no biggie. This bread tastes good raw or cooked, fluffy or fallen or even brick hard, though that would be rare unless you forget to set the timer.

So Let’s Write the Book

It drives me crazy the media trying to teach us to not think, but only respond to their hype like a bunch of Pavlov’s dogs (Wikipedia should have that). We are not so dumb as that. So let’s get started. A book that explains the real facts about biology. Tentative title, “Biology for Voters and Activists and Politicians and Fundamentalists and other Normal People” Facts will be separated from opinions and fairy tales. (Fairy tales includes metaphors.)

Anyone who wants to participate is welcome. You will be credited if your questions or comments (or pictures or videos or drawings) are used in the book. For the videos we will have an online version or a DVD.

We will start the book with a question: What is The Creation (That is, strictly what it is now.)

My definition, which I swiped from Huston Smith (one of our prominent philosophers and scholar of comparative religion) in “Why Religion Matters.”: “Everything, as it is.” I checked with a religious site on the web and it agreed with that definition. So if anyone can provide a better definition and explain why it is a better definition with which to begin a book about the science of biology, please do so.

Bio-Milk, Bio-Ethics

“We had a professor at Stanford who thought milk was manufactured.” Dr. Paul Ehrlich.

(For all you city folks, our commercial milk comes out of cows, and cows eat grass or hay to get the energy they need to stay alive and make milk, and the grass or hay gets its energy from the sun. The important point here is that we can not eat sunlight — all animal life on earth gets the energy it requires to live – that is food – from plants. The number of plants is limited.)


The subject of this blurb is ethics, the ethics of scientists who have not been telling people these important facts, and I want to quote Dr. Ehrlich because I agree with him:

” . . . I prefer to think of ethics simply as shared values, and one of our ethical tasks should be to try to speed the evolution of the values of biologists. I think the vast majority of my fellow scientists already share the value that we should give our fellow citizens the benefit of our best counsel on issues at the interface between science and society. That already fits under one dictionary definition of ethics—“the principles of conduct governing a profession.”

(Some references are omitted here that appear to no longer be available on the web, see modern versions below. LL)

“I’d like to see bioethics evolve further, toward all biologists considering it their duty to report to the public (which supports them) the essential findings of their research—and toward training their graduate students accordingly.”

Additional references:

You can get the entire letter above, in pdf format from Dr. Ehrlich’s web site:
Ehrlich, P. R. 2004. Values and bioethics (letter). BioScience 54: 484. [pdf]

The letter was written to and published by American Institute of Biological Scientists (AIBS)

It was a response to a discussion of “Scientific Integrity in Policy-Making” on the web site of Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS

Ethics in the Blogosphere

090422_dsc0492ssAs you all know, I am taking a course in Political Blogging.  I’m not really into political; I think it’s too much about winners and losers, but I wanted to develop a blog and it’s easy enough to claim that all human behavior is political, so I did.  My goal was to get up a blog, and here it is.  I think the professor’s goal was to arrive at a good discussion of ethics in the media, and he also succeeded.

It is a question, isn’t it, about ethics.  It’s a fine thing for each of us to express an opinion that someone else actually can listen to, rather than to have a few media bigwigs control our communal flow of information.  But it might not be so good for the community that we bloggers, as a group, have no written-down code of ethics to guide us.  The media, especially the long-standing newspaper sources of information, mostly took pride in a code of ethics that prevented a secretive bias of the information.

So I was thinking about ethics and blogging and various scenarios, and I thought of the Huffington Post, that seems to be trying to make itself into a newspaper on line, and its recent creative foray into public information gathering about the TEA parties that were held all over the country on May 15 — and here are my questions:

1.  Was it ethical to send out the word to everyone online that they are welcome to attend whatever local TEA party that caught their interest, and then to contribute pictures and news reports by email to the Post?  Even if the contributors don’t know anything about news gathering or codes of ethics?

My answer is – Sure, why not?  The amateur reporters get to have a lot of fun, they get exposed to ideas that may or may not be different from their own, and they are doing something that couldn’t be done by a reporter.  The Post gets a real bonanza of pictures and stories they can use any way they want without paying anyone for the time and effort.  And the TEA parties get advertising.  It’s a win-win-win.

2.  Is it ethical to sort out these media to represent the bias of the publisher?

I say sure, why not, if the publisher acknowledges its bias from the get-go, but this is only a win-win, which is not as good as a win-win-win.

3.  Is it ethical to claim that you have posted all the photos and then selectively edit which photos that you post — or don’t post?

I say No.  Honesty (or as one of the speakers at my TEA party said) “honor!” is a bottom-line essential component of a media code of ethics, no matter your bias.

Furthermore, as it is obvious there are no either/or answers to these sorts of questions, I say we should evaluate them according to the “win-win-win” system.  I’m really tired of hearing from politicos that everything in the world is a “win-lose” emergency. Almost nothing in the world is a win-lose emergency, and I say anything less than win-win doesn’t fly. If we care about our community.

(And besides, my pictures were better.)