Guest Blogger: My Late Father, George

 

On this day, 29 years ago, my father died at dawn. For 37 years, he had been the consummate educator… delivering his Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Mathematics lectures to two generations of teenage students residing in Minnesota and Michigan.

As a sophomore and junior I had answered, “Here” during each of Dad’s Monday – Friday morning role calls… as a senior I had been his lab assistant. Of course, I had also benefited from his home schooling, which encompassed life’s lessons.

As most of us know, historically, public school teachers have been underpaid and under-appreciated. So, to supplement his meager income, Dad expanded his lecture circuit… his byline appearing beneath our weekly, local newspaper’s front page column: “The Science Corner”.

Had Dad been born a bit later and lived longer than his 75 years, I’m positive he’d now be an enthusiastic blogger… perhaps even setting up his “lectern” right here @WordPress. I know he’d be thrilled by the prospects of his wisdom and wit spreading outward… at the speed of light… to all four corners of the Earth.

Keeping all the above in mind and with my saved and cherished, time-yellowed, brittle, actual hard copy newspaper propped up before me, I’ve decided to transcribe one of Dad’s lectures. And since 23 of my 46 chromosomes are my father’s… in a sense… 5 of my 10 fingers are his as I… no strike that… as we both… type it out.

I cannot think of a more fitting way to honor my father this day… than to afford him a bit of Internet immortality… resurrect his thoughts… restore his “voice”…  allow him to mind-meld with countless other minds, anew.

 

The Science Corner

DATELINE Thursday, July 2, 1953

 

The age old question – which was first, the chicken or the egg – has been used as a debate-ender, a counter dilemma, and even as a joke. If one discounts the dissertations of the debaters and philosophers and the quips of the comedians and truly strives for a scientific answer, then both the meaning and answer become crystal clear.

All living things, both plants and animals, are made up of tiny bits of protoplasm (living matter which looks very much like raw eggwhite). These bits of protoplasm are called cells. In animals, including the chicken, there are skin cells, muscle cells, bone cells, sperm cells and egg cells – to name just a few. All of the types of cells mentioned above except sperm and egg cells are ordinary body cells and are called somatic cells. The sperm and egg cells (collectively called germ cells) differ from the somatic cells in that the former are used to perpetuate life.

When a sperm cell unites with an egg cell, fertilization takes place. All cells, including new somatic cells and new sperm or egg cells, originate from the fertilized egg cell through processes of division and differentiation. In keeping with these principles, both the new chicken (somatic cells) and all of the eggs (germ cells) that the new chicken will ever lay come from the same egg. To put it still another way, the fertilized egg produces both the body cells which will make up the new chicken and all of the new eggs which the new chicken will lay during its lifetime.

The answer, then, to the original question is: the egg must have been first, because it came necessarily from the previous egg and not from the new chicken.

This concept, first enunciated by the German biologist – August Weismann, is known as the continuity of germplasm theory. According to this concept, the germ cells are immortal if reproduction takes place.

Next Week: Why Does Smoke Rise in a Chimney?

 

 

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Super-Patriot? Political Partisan? Pedantic Pedagogue?

During my sophomore year, my guidance counselor told me our high school’s college prep program required that I enroll in a public speaking course.

Wow… how pleasantly unexpected and win-win his revelation had been! I mean, finally, something mandatory, which could actually jibe with (maybe even enhance and advance) my fledgling aspirations of becoming a writer, radio announcer and DJ.

There was some icing on this curricular cake, too. The instructor (let’s refer to her as Ms. W) APPEARED to be cool… well… at least that was the “411” from my elder sibling, who had previously taken this same course from this same teacher.

Of course… as is oft true in life… APPEARANCES can be deceiving (more about that in a moment).

Traipsing back into the positive territory… my speaking, regularly, before a roomful of my classmates, wound up extracting this introvert from his shell, as it were. My boost in self-confidence was greatly aided by Ms. W allowing us some freedom to choose topics we felt passionate about while knocking off each of her assignments (e.g., staging formal debates, oral interpretation of literature, composing/presenting original poetry, delivering a eulogy, etc.).

It had been that last listed assignment where I had run into trouble… learned how uncool my teacher actually was.

My “mistake” had been to “eulogize” President Richard (Tricky Dicky) Nixon, even though my praise was thickly saturated with damning satire… in spite of the fact that, at that juncture, he was, most assuredly, physically alive.

My rationale for doing so? As a passionate pacifist, Nixon’s broken campaign promise to end the Vietnam War… indeed, his doing a total 180 to escalate his war rendered me deeply horrified. The accompanying upsurge in atrocities attributable to him forced me to deem him both morally and politically dead… a conscience barren, lying, warmongering political cadaver… a figurehead who was (figuratively) lying in state in the Oval Office.

On the morning I had delivered Nixon’s eulogy, as I got in my political digs, I had a tough time maintaining a straight face… the proper, somber presentation for the circumstances. And upon my conclusion, as I stepped out from behind the lectern, I found myself amidst the enthusiastic cheers and applause from my liberal compatriots. Unfortunately, this left lefty me oblivious to the ominous signs that not all who were present were in agreement… inclusive of our instructor.

Well, the sobering moment of truth had arrived. Not unlike what we commonly see during today’s primetime, TV talent show broadcasts, Ms. W presented her customary, in-classroom, for all to hear critique. Long blog short, she was totally uncool with my presentation. Her ice-cold appraisal followed where she patronizingly suggested that perhaps I didn’t know the definition of the word “eulogy”. She then went on to mention that since my other classmates would still be presenting their eulogies the following day, this would give me some time to prepare a proper tribute… and that it had better be for someone who had actually died. So, it all boiled down to this…

Either “correctly” complete Ms. W’s assignment or accept a C+ for my Nixon piece.

Well, I wasn’t inordinately concerned. Since my past performances throughout that semester had netted me much higher marks, I knew that one and only C+ was not going to significantly drag down my overall GPA. Ergo…

With nearly all eyes in this classroom now focused, intently, squarely upon me, I used my best public speaking skills to deadpan…

“I’ll accept that C+ because all that applause I got makes me feel as if I earned an A+!”

My not knuckling under to my teacher had netted me a second round of applause… just as the bell rang to end that day’s class session.

Later on, during that evening’s family dinner table chit chat, my politically liberal, Chemistry teacher father (employed at the very same high school, no less) was also hard-pressed in maintaining a straight face as he informed me that Ms. W had confronted him in the teacher’s lounge to vent her still unresolved outrage towards me.

Of course, I knew fully well that Dad was a professional, who’d never do anything to undermine a colleague’s authority. BUT… neither would he do anything to further punish me. How could he? He loathed Nixon as much as I did. Besides, nowhere amidst Ms. W’s complaints had she accused me of sassing off to her. So, Dad knew that, while standing my political ground, I had tempered my assertiveness with respectfulness.

Possible Psychological Profiles…

Even over the passage of four+ decades’ worth of time, I’ve yet to conclude, decisively, exactly what raw nerves my Nixon eulogy had struck. But I have narrowed it down to these theories.

  1. Ms. W might’ve been a super-patriot… one who wholeheartedly subscribed to that “My country right or wrong” dangerous, mindless nonsense. Just for the record, a true patriot always questions questionable leaders and their policies… to not do so promotes fascism and enables tyrants.
  2. She might’ve been a political partisan… an amoral, hawkish, war profiteering, no questions asked, archconservative… one who’d brand anyone who disagreed with her as an un-American, Commie pinko. Again, for the record, I am a true blue American. And since my country deludes itself into believing it’s a Christian nation, I ask, why the hell can’t the “devout” find it in their hearts to accept pacifists?
  3. She might’ve been a pedantic pedagogue, who the rockers, Pink Floyd, (nine years later) would lyrically classify as an uninspired / uninspiring teacher. More to the point, they did sing… “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”. And once more, for the record, Ms. W apparently could not see beyond the literal meaning of the word, “eulogy” and that got her caught up in something akin to a head-on collision with, yet, another viable literary vehicle… namely… satire.

Lessons Learned…

  1. Whether or not Ms. W was aware of this, she had tried to squelch my imaginative (if not spot-on) premise that it is possible for someone to be morally and politically dead… and eulogize said person accordingly.
  2. She taught me that, as a liberal, I am viewed as a political leper (even more so in our troubled contemporary times). She served to condition me / desensitize me to the point where I don’t give a flying F that, perhaps up to 51% of my compatriots strongly disagree with me… if not outRight loathe me… if not outRight wish me dead.
  3. While I would’ve never expected any staunchly conservative, non-critically thinking, “my country right or wrong” teacher to ever agree with my anti-Nixon message, at the very least, she should’ve been able to check her blazing red political cloak at the classroom door… hang her red hued, hang-ups in the cloakroom long enough to reward this messenger for his creativity.

And need I even remind that I have history to vindicate me, too?

A scant four years after my mild run-in with Ms. W, Nixon, himself, eventually came to the realization that he was morally and politically dead. Hell, he even delivered his own eulogy… a.k.a. his nationally broadcasted, August 8, 1974 resignation speech. I vividly recall how, the very next day, at high noon, he performed his fancy footwork to tuck tail, cut and run and get out of Dodge/DC… to be rarely heard from again… and I’d wholeheartedly add… rightfully so!

Epilogue… I cannot help but wonder just how many of today’s flag wavers, conservative “thinkers” and “bricks in the wall” are continuing along the same lines as my above featured teacher. In a YUGE [sic] way, those engaged in such undertakings have, either unwittingly or otherwise, been doing their damnedest to bastardize the true meaning of patriotism, warp public opinion towards the far, Far, FAR right and stifle young, creative minds. If left unchecked, these formulaic, “teach to the test” “educators” will continue to breed an electorate filled with enablers of political vermin / viruses, who’ll infest / infect the body of our nation… this all leading to America’s premature death?

If that, indeed, were America’s dismal fate, I, for one, would never want to be around to deliver that eulogy!

 

Oh… To Be Multilingual! (99 Word Blog #073)

As public school first grader, I had the honor and privilege of being taught by a woman who not only spoke fluent English and Spanish but also was eager to teach both languages to everyone in her classroom.

At my highly impressionable age, my wide-open mind was soaking up her every word.

When the closed-minded, local Board of Education caught wind of this, they were outraged… said they…

“Americans only speak English and we don’t need no one [sic] confusing our students.”

Regrettably, these ignoramuses rendered me monolingual… now prevent me from enjoying WordPress bloggers posting in languages foreign-to-me.