Washing, wages, wax and worms

A review of recent studies suggests many amoebae have sex! Miscellany from Douglas G. Pearce’s Countryside Digest.

June 16, 2011 | | Back Issues | Countryside Digest | Departments | Environment | Summer 2011

Two Firsts

The first car to be imported into British North America was made by Elijah Ware, an inventor from Bayonne, NJ, and shipped to Georges-Antoine Belcourt, the parish priest in Rustico, PEI, in 1866. The first public showing of this steam-powered car resulted in positive reviews. The second began well, but the machine accelerated uncontrollably and crashed into a fence, giving us Canada’s first automobile accident. From “Driving Ambition,” by James Mays and Ryan Rogers, in Canada’s History, Apr-May/11.

Key to Invention

“I don’t think that necessity is the mother of invention – invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness.” Agatha Christie, 1965.

Key Contribution

“Darwin described how worms occur in great density over much of England, and how they emerge in their countless thousands in the darkest hours, their tails firmly hooked in their burrow entrances, to feel about for leaves, dead animals and other detritus which they drag into their burrows. Through their digging and recycling they enrich pastures and fields, and so enhance food production, thereby laying the foundation for English society. And in the process they slowly bury and preserve relics of an England long past. Darwin examined entire Roman villas buried by worms, along with ancient abbeys, monuments and stones, all of which would have been destroyed had they remained at the surface; and he accurately estimated the rate at which this process occurs: about half a centimetre per year.” From Here on Earth, by Tim Flannery (HarperCollins, 2010).

Key Omission

“As the year 1814 entered its last months, the owner of a Baltimore music store sought to profi t from the sudden popularity of a new song titled ‘Defence [sic] of Ft. McHenry.’ Thomas Carr, proprietor of Carr’s Music Store on Baltimore Street, apparently didn’t like the song’s name because when he published the tune in October 1814, he changed it to ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ Perhaps in his haste to capitalize on what a 21st-century publisher would call the buzz about the song, he left off the name of author Francis Scott Key… “His edition includes a seven bar introduction and acknowledgment that the octave-and-a-half melody, notoriously tough for bad pop singers at sporting events, was originally ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ the official ditty of an 18th-century club for English amateur musicians.” Dale Keiger in Johns Hopkins Magazine, Spring/11.

Dark Sark

“Sark, the smallest of the four landmasses in the United Kingdom’s Channel Islands, has no paved roads, no cars, and no public street lighting. When it gets dark, it gets really dark, making for spectacular Milky Way views. “The island’s rustic ways have now earned it the title of the world’s first ‘dark sky island,’ bestowed by the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), which raises awareness of light pollution and its effects. Many of the island’s 650 residents have modified the lighting on their homes and businesses to minimize the amount of light spilling upward, says Steve Owens, a member of the IDA committee that identifies and recognizes sites with suitably dark skies. With the new recognition, he notes, Sark will likely see a boost in tourism, especially among amateur astronomers.” From Science, Feb 11/11.

Aye Workin’

“Oh she died of a whole complication of things… She died of overwork as so many women did. The women of the working class in those days were first up in the morning and the last to go to bed. They kept the houses clean and they kept themselves clean, they kept the family’s clothes clean in the worst possible conditions. They had a communal wash house in the back court with a coal fire boiler and they had to wash for the family in that. They had no equipment at all, there was no washing machines, there wasn’t even hot water, you had to put on a kettle. (Councillor Davidson, born in Cowcaddens, Glasgow in 1909, paying tribute to his mother and all the women like her.)” “My mother was always washin’, always cleaning, she was aye workin’. She never got anywhere. That was her life.” (Flora MacDonald) From She Was Aye Workin’: Memories of Tenement Women in Edinburgh and Glasgow, by Helen Clark & Elizabeth Carnegie (White Cockade, 2003).

Just Reward

“Clearly the most unfortunate people are those who must do the same thing over and over again, every minute, or perhaps twenty to the minute. They deserve the shortest hours and the highest pay.” John Kenneth Galbraith

Wax Facts

“Earwax, also called cerumen, acts as a cleaning agent for the ear with lubricating and antibacterial properties. Cleaning occurs because the epithelium – the surface layers of the skin inside the ear – acts as a conveyor belt carrying dust or dirt out of the ear. “Starting at the eardrum, this epithelial migration is as slow as fingernail growth but, aided by jaw movement, accelerates as the entrance of the ear canal is reached. Earwax is formed in the outer third of the ear canal, a mixture of watery secretions from sweat glands and more viscous secretions from the sebaceous glands.” Mike Follows, in New Scientist, Apr 12/11.

Morning in America

“In the short run, Reagan took the solar panels off the White House roof … In the slightly longer run, his worldview gave us not only the Bush administrations but also the Clinton years, with their single-minded focus on economic expansion. The change was not just technological; it wasn’t simply that we stopped investing in solar energy and let renewables languish. It’s that we repudiated the idea of limits altogether – we laughed at the idea that there might be limits to growth. Again, not just right-wing Republicans but everyone. Here’s Larry Summers, treasury secretary under President Clinton, now Obama’s chief economic advisor: ‘There are no… limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind any time in the foreseeable future. There isn’t a risk of apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.’” From Eaarth, by Bill McKibben (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2010).

Amoeba News

“The tiny organisms are not the asexual reproducers we typically think they are. A review of recent studies suggests many amoebae have sex.” From New Scientist, Mar 26/11.

About the Author More by Douglas G. Pearce

Douglas G. Pearce is a retired scientist who lives in Mono, you can read more miscellany in other issues of Countryside Digest.



  1. They may have it on special occasions, the worms, but I’m pretty sure they don’t enjoy it.

    Don Lemna on Sep 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply

  2. Amoeba News

    -A little bit, maybe.

    Don Lemna on Sep 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Reply

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