Archive for April, 2014

The Hive Mind

I visited the bees the other day. Sitting quietly, watching all their activity, I became aware of a steady increase in their buzzing. Several bees then flew in my direction and stung me on the forearm and right between the eyes. Ironically, despite spending my life attempting to help my fellow species, animals hate me, almost without exception. Who else can say they have been attacked by both a dolphin and a dugong?

Once I had iced my face and arm and popped an antihistamine I did start thinking about the bees that laid down their lives to protect the hive they felt, for some unknown reason, was in danger, and I wondered how that sort of mind works. Orson Scott Card tried to describe it in the aliens he created for the classic “Ender’s Game”. The buggers, as they were called in the book, relied totally upon their queen. When the queen was killed the rest of the colony died as well, not too dissimilar to bees.

The more I thought about it the more I realised that we are not actually all that different to the bees. We, too, possess a hive mind. We, too, lay down our lives for what we consider the good of the colony. That is presumably why so many willing combatants march off to war on such a regular basis, to save their hive from whatever religious, ethnic or economic danger they believe is threatening it.

We call it heroism, self-sacrifice or altruism but, ironically, if fewer people were prepared to lay down their lives for causes and we all acted more selfishly perhaps there would be fewer wars too (and fewer people running into burning buildings or huge surf in order to rescue their fellow man)? It is hard to imagine an army of cats banding together to defend the common good, the way bees do. In their world it is every cat for itself. And that seems to work perfectly well for them.

The marvel of evolution and natural selection is that just because one paradigm works, does not mean there is no room for other completely different, but just as successful, lifestyles.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Mind Your Language

I am always happy to see my tax dollars at work printing expensive government brochures in exotic languages such as Tagalog, Vietnamese and Dinka, for people who can’t be bothered to learn the language of their adopted country. I would have thought that, as a matter of common sense or even self-defence, if I emigrated to a country the first thing I would do would be to learn the language, although I did meet an American who had been living in Costa Rica for five years and did not speak a word of Spanish. Personally I would prefer to see those tax dollars spent on English classes for migrants, such as my parents attended many years ago. I notice that none of these documents are presented in German but maybe that’s because the Germans feel they have caused enough trouble over recent years and actually make the effort to learn the language of their new country.

Who can blame the French for being upset that everyone expects them to speak English, even in their own country? Still, French linguistics does not easily lend itself to English pronunciation. Zoos seem to attract film crews and, on this particular occasion, we had a French one wandering about. At one stage of the shoot the director asked us to “put your turkey on the table”. Bemused, the keeper and I looked at each other and shook our heads. In the time honoured technique used by people the world over when the person you are talking to has no idea what you are saying, he repeated his request, only louder. “Put your turkey on the table!”

Exasperated, he finally pointed at the two way radios hanging from our belts, also known as walkie talkies. In French, the talkie obviously became a turkey.

Of course being completely ignorant of a language can have its advantages. Many years ago my wife and I spent over ten hours hiking through the jungle to a research facility situated in the Costa Rican rainforest. The day before we were due to hike out a small supply plane landed on the grass strip. Not being keen to repeat the arduous walk my wife asked about the possibility of being flown out instead. Being horrified by all forms of aerial transport I declined to join her, greatly preferring the walk, which turned out to be only six hours and gave us a wonderful encounter with a family of coatis foraging on the beach.

As the plane was in a rush to leave we hastily repacked, so that my wife took most of the heavy articles with her. Upon landing she boarded a bus bound for San Jose. The bus originated in Panama and had not yet passed its border check. Officials boarded the bus wanting to see everyone’s identification. My wife produced her passport only to be astonished to see a photo of me staring up at her. In our haste we had inadvertently swapped passports.

Speaking no Spanish whatsoever, my wife also feigned a complete lack of understanding regarding the gestures directed at her by the customs official, especially the one about coming back to his private office for further “discussion”. Fortunately the Costa Ricans are reasonably relaxed about such things (after all they have no army) and the customs official, realising today was not going to be his lucky day, eventually grew tired of the exercise and let my wife go. Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, was obviously smiling on her that day.

To close, I am reminded of the recently retired American couple who decided to embark on a rail journey across North America. Some days into the trip the train pulled into a station. The wife asked her husband to enquire as to their whereabouts. He accosted the station master who replied, “Saskatoon, Saskatchewan”.

Upon returning to the cabin the wife asked expectantly, “Well, where are we?”

To which the husband replied, “I don’t know. They don’t speak English.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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Playing God

I find it intriguing that when certain groups of people don’t like something, like stem cell research or euthanasia, they deride it by saying the proponents are, “playing God”. This is presumably because the proposal is attempting to tamper with the “natural” order of things. What I don’t hear is very many people invoking the “playing God” concept when it is their own child with a broken bone that needs mending or a prescription of antibiotics for their own very sore throat. Surely every time a doctor does anything to alleviate suffering he is “playing God” by interfering with the natural course of events?

Personally, I don’t have a problem with this as I don’t see God joining in the game. It seems a bit churlish that, just because they are his toys and he refuses to play with them, we aren’t allowed to either.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Too Fit To Run

I ran my first (and probably last) marathon in October last year. About a month later I started getting heart palpitations. I have always thrown the odd palpitation and been assessed several times by cardiologists, as I have a family history of heart disease. No matter how many times they make me run up the vertical treadmill they have always failed to kill me.

However, the sporadic nature of these palpitations changed rather dramatically just before Christmas. Now I was getting them every day for most of the day. If you have never had a palpitation the feeling is quite hard to describe. It is a bit like a cross between having butterflies in your chest and going down a roller coaster or hitting a massive air pocket, only it is happening all the time. If I take my pulse I can feel the missed beats and irregularities that correlate with the butterflies. It is amazing that my heart can be bouncing around like that without producing any symptoms.

These particular palpitations went away with exercise, which seemed like a good excuse to run, run, run. Thanks to the shorter waiting times, because of my private health insurance, I only had to wait three months to see a cardiologist.

When I finally did darken his door he just waved the palpitations away as being inconsequential, because there were no accompanying symptoms. No exercise intolerance. No shortness of breath. No chest pain. Not completely inconsequential, however, because he warned me off any future marathons. 15 km was okay, 42.2 km was not. Apparently that amount of cardiac stress for that long tends to cause myocardial fibrosis, or scarring, which can then lead to potentially fatal arrhythmias (http://running.competitor.com/2012/06/news/how-much-running-is-bad-for-your-heart_54331, http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00473-9/abstract). Happy news.

And he stuck a 24 hour monitor on me just to see what my heart was getting up to when no one was watching. Not much, it seems. While I am asleep, so is my heart. My sleeping heart rate dropped to as low as 27 beats per minute (60-80 is average) with up to six seconds between beats. Apparently this means I am either fit or have severe conduction issues that will need a pacemaker to sort out. Ironically the only way to decide is to make me unfit and see if anything changes.

So for the next six weeks I have been banned from running. He wanted to ban me from doing anything at all but I convinced him to let me keep going to the gym as long as I didn’t “do anything silly” as he put it. That’s two races I now have to miss, including chasing a historic steam train into the hills.

I must admit to having mixed feelings about the marathon ban. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to put myself through all that training again anyway. However, the complete running ban is something different altogether. I can already feel my fast (and slow) twitch fibres getting twitchy.

And how confident can you be in the prognostications of a fat cardiologist? Isn’t obesity one of the key risk factors for heart disease? I half expected him to light up a Marlboro and start chewing on a lard sandwich.

Still, for the moment at least, the running ban is irrelevant as I smashed my back escaping from Eddie’s headlock at last Monday’s Krav Maga session. I have so much pain in my right thigh (referred presumably from my spine) and have taken so many different analgesics that even typing is a challenge at the moment.

The unbelievable irony of all this has not escaped me. Everything I read, see, and hear tells me to go out and exercise. Be active and I will live to 156. Having taken that advice I am now being told that I am too active, and possibly too fit and that I need to spend the next month sitting on the couch watching television. This could get very ugly before it is over.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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