Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dasha Turns Three

Masha, Andrei, Dasha, Tania
Yesterday my granddaughter Dasha (Daria) turned three.  Her mother asked her what she wanted for her birthday.  She said "Cake, lots of gifts, and balloons".  She got her wish and even blew out her candles in one blow.

Her party was at the Egoist Restaurant.  They have lots of private rooms along with a big regular area and great food.  Nine adults and four kids.  The adults ate and drank while the kids played with the gifts, stopping long enough to inhale a piece of pizza or some french fries.

Tania got Dasha to sit on her knee long enough to eat something.  I held out my arms and she came to me.  She sat on my knee, nestled down in my arms and totally relaxed.  Then I said something you NEVER say to a small child at a birthday party. "Are you tired?" She went back to her mom.

Ukrainian culture tends to push traditional gender roles.  Dasha played with her toy stove and brought us "food" in the frying pans or dutch ovens, then she played with her baby doll with its own potty, pampers and all.  But her favourite toy was a green van with a friction motor.  She is her father's daughter and crazy about cars and trucks. Give her a little doll and a truck and she will put the doll in the truck and take it for a drive.

I tend to be counter culture. I bought Masha a crossbow and a slingshot but it was too late to do any good.  I think I will buy Dasha a set of John Deere farm equipment and a set of wrenches.

Dasha and her green van, in motion

Sunday, April 24, 2016

And now for something completely different

Last week was a long week for me.  It had been a while since I posted anything on Ukraine or Russia so I spent the week reading it felt like hundreds of articles from the internet.  Russian Justice was the result of some of it.  Ukrainian Corruption will be next.  But I needed a break.  It is hard work and as Sveta said at lunch today, I take everything into myself.  I do not understand greed nor lust for power though with fear they are the three most powerful driving forces of human kind.

So today is a collection of nonsense from Facebook beginning with the worst joke of the month.

The City of Regina clean-up crew found over 200 dead crows on the Dewdney avenue near McNally's pub recently, and there was concern that they may have died from Avian Flu. A Pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, and, to everyone's relief, confirmed the problem was NOT Avian Flu.

The cause of death appeared to be from vehicular impacts. However, during analysis it was noted that varying colours of paints appeared on the bird's beaks and claws. By analysing these paint residues it was found that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with motorbikes, while only 2% were killed by cars.

The city then hired an Ornithological Behaviourist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate percentages of motorbike kills versus car kills. The Ornithological Behaviourist quickly concluded that when crows eat road kill, they always have a look-out crow to warn of danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows could shout "cah", not a single one could shout "bike".

My favourite

This video is so funny. I have watched it many times.  The boy's laughter is contagious.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Russian justice is an oxymoron on scale with Russian truth and Russian news.  It is arbitrary, fictional and serves the Kremlin’s purpose only. Any Ukrainian falling into Russian hands who is viewed as having potential to politically damage Ukraine is in great danger.

The highest profile is Nadiya Savchenko, who has been in Russian prisons since June 2014 and has been sentenced as of March 2016 to 22 years in prison ostensibly for murder and illegally crossing into Russia.  She is a Lieutenant in the Ukrainian Army, Iraqi war veteran and Mi-24 attack helicopter pilot.  She was fighting as an infantryman with the Aidar Battalion against the Russian proxies in Donbas when she was captured and showed up three weeks later in a Russian jail.

She was accused of acting as an artillery spotter and deliberately calling fire on the journalists Voloshin and Kornelyuk out of hatred for Russians.  Just exactly whose fire killed them and the circumstances under which they were in that location might be questioned.  The Russian proxies have been accused of deliberately putting expendable journalists into dangerous positions so their deaths can be blamed on the Ukrainian ATO. This included a BBC crew that were filming at Donetsk Airport after it was captured by the Russian proxies when suddenly their handler delegation disappeared and mortar fire started dropping around them, from Russian controlled territory.  They got out just in time

The fact that Savchenko’s mobile phone calls prove she was nowhere near enough to the place to call fire on it AND that she had been captured an hour previous to the shelling cut no ice with the judge.  The man who said he captured her, “Ilim” (Andrei Tikhonov), a soldier for “Lugansk People’s Republic” admitted in a recent interview with Meduza, that he captured her before noon on June 17th.  However, he was not called to the witness stand or even interviewed by the investigators.

Then there is 73-year-old Yury Soloshenko, arrested in Moscow and sentenced to six years in a maximum security prison for spying.  He is suffering from a severe heart condition and has just been diagnosed with cancer but is in a regular prison cell and unlikely to see his kids or grandchildren again.

Soloshenko is the retired director of the long-bankrupt Poltava-based Znamya factory which once specialized in high-frequency electro vacuum lamps used in anti-aircraft warfare.  The factory had always depended for its survival on orders from Russia, meaning that there was nothing secret between the two countries, with it all a single system.  The FSB, however, claimed and a Russian court accepted that Soloshenko had been in August 2014 in Moscow “when trying to illegally purchase secret components for S-300 surface to air missile systems which were supposed to reinstate Ukraine’s air defense system.

He was not allowed the lawyer of his choice.  The Russian state forced a lawyer on him who persuaded him that if he pleaded guilty he would be returned to Ukraine.

Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh were arrested in Russia in March and August 2014 under murky circumstances.  They were held incommunicado for long periods, with Klykh only able to see a lawyer of his choice after 10 months in detention, and Karpyuk after almost a year and a half.

According to Russia’s investigation, at the beginning of 1990 in Ukraine a radical right wing “UNA-UNSO” militant nationalist organization, one of the goals and objectives of which was opposition to the Russian authorities in any form and destroying Russian nationality”.

They claim that in the period from December 1994 to January 1995 Karpyuk and Klykh together with other members of the gang repeatedly participated in combat clashes with soldiers of the Armed Forces in the territory of the Presidential Palace, “Mynutka” area and railway station of Groznyi town, during which at least 30 soldiers were killed and at least 13 were injured.

They claim that in the period from December 1994 to January 1995 Karpyuk and Klykh together with other members of the gang repeatedly participated in combat clashes with soldiers of the Armed Forces in the territory of the Presidential Palace, “Mynutka” area and railway station of Groznyi town, during which at least 30 soldiers were killed and at least 13 were injured.

The two men also confessed that they committed these terrible ‘crimes’ together with Ukraine’s ex-Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and a number of other Ukrainian politicians.  All of this nonsense was publicly repeated as fact by the head of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin.  

Both men retracted their so-called ‘confessions’ as soon as they had contact with a lawyer, and both have given detailed accounts of the torture they say was inflicted in order to obtain the testimony.

Klykh was in L’viv writing university exams at the time, while Karpyuk was caring for his dying mother.  Neither have ever been to Chechnya. Of the 30 men they are supposed to have killed, 18 were killed in a place other than where the crime supposedly took place and 11 did not die of gunshot wounds.

However, the prosecution does not give up easily.  Hired thugs terrorized defense witnesses to keep them from testifying, documentary evidence is refused to be admitted, including Memorial Human Rights Centre analysis of the 30 Russians allegedly killed by the defendants.  Confessions to fictitious heinous crimes are read out in court in spite of the fact that the men are not charged with them. Allegations regarding torture were not allowed, though the men still bear the scars.

Klykh’s extremely disturbed behaviour during court hearings before he was finally removed would only confirm his account of having been given psychotropic drugs over a long period.  Despite application for an independent psychiatric examination, Russian medical personnel found nothing wrong with Klykh, and on April 4, criminal proceedings were initiated against him for allegedly ‘insulting’ the prosecutor.

One of their lawyers has also been charged with insulting the judge.

Serhiy Lytvynov, a 33-year-old village cowherd from Luhansk Oblast near the Russian border, has been convicted and sentenced to 8 ½ years in a maximum security prison, for an imaginary crime after charges of imaginary war crimes were forced to be withdrawn.

He had gone to a Russian hospital across the border to deal with an abscessed tooth.  He was seized and savagely tortured until he confessed to rape and murder of 39 civilians including old women and young girls.  This was given wide coverage on Russian TV as “proof” of the Ukrainian genocide against Russian-speakers in Donbas.

Once he got a lawyer he retracted his “confession” as given under torture. This would not have stopped the judge but the lawyer also proved that the alleged victims did not exist and that the addresses given for them were also fictitious.

Since Lytvynov had already been in jail for a year, they now charged him with armed robbery of a Russian national, Alexander Lysenko, who reported this armed robbery one day after the war crimes charges were thrown out and over a year after it allegedly happened.  

Lytvynov and two unidentified others supposedly burst into the house where Lysenko was staying, with a machine gun.  They beat him up and stole his two cars, a Lada and an Opel.  There is no record that Lysenko legally entered Ukraine, nor is there any record that he owned the two cars in question.  In fact the motor registration bureau said he did not and that the Lada registration had been cancelled many years ago and reissued to a Zhigulu.

Lytvynov is no political prisoner in any normal sense of the word and would scarcely be able to explain what is happening in the country.  He can, however, and has vividly described the torture he was subjected to.  He is equally adamant that he had never set eyes on Lysenko or set foot in the place where this ‘robbery’ is alleged to have taken place.

This post does not even begin to cover the events in Crimea and the war against the Tatars, nor those arrested and convicted of imaginary charges such as Crimean activists Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Kolchenko, Oleksiy Chyrniy, Gennadiy Afanasyev).

For a more complete list of Ukrainian political prisoners see Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine: Ukrainians Illegally Detained in Russia and in the occupied Crimea

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Walker Colt and the .44 Russian

Louis L'Amour wrote a great many Western novels and short stories.  Rarely does a story go by without a mention of a Walker Colt or a .44 Russian or if he is feeling expansive, perhaps both.

The 1847 Walker Colt was designed by Samuel Walker and Samuel Colt for the US Army.  It was a single action six-shot revolver using a .44 lead ball and a black powder charge of 60 grain, twice that of a normal revolver.  Until the advent of the .357 Magnum it was the most powerful hand gun ever built.  It weighed 2.5 pounds with a 9" barrel.

Only 1100 of the pistols were made, of which 300 were returned with split cylinders. The flash from firing one shot could and did set off the remaining charges at the same time.  The solution was to pack lard into the open end of the cylinder on top of the bullets or to convert them over time to cartridges rather than cap-and-ball.

Whenever you read of some 10 year old kid packing his father's Walker Colt, you can only hope he never had to fire it.

The .44 Russian was derived from the 1870 Smith And Wesson Model 3, a single action, six-shot, cartridge firing, top-break revolver.  The Russian army initially ordered 41,000 with specified modifications.  The Model 3 was straight bored and fired .44 American externally lubricated heeled bullet cartridges which were the standard at the time, (and which .22 cal ammunition still uses).

Modern vs heeled bullet
Lead bullets were soft and lead would eventually build up in the bore unless lubrication was used.  With a "heeled" bullet (the bullet is the same size as the shell casing, with a step or heel to fit inside the cartridge), the lubrication could be external but would collect dirt. A non-heeled bullet could use a soft lubricant in grooves on the part of the bullet inside the casing. That meant the barrel would have to be of a smaller bore than the chamber holding the cartridge.  So S&W used a .430 bore and a .457 chamber creating not only the first weapon using non-heeled internally lubricated cartridges but also the most accurate American-made cartridge to date, which packed a tremendous punch.

There was a reason that the .44 Russian figured in American Westerns.  There were a great many of them available. While S&W did eventually sell over 131,000 Model 3 revolvers to the Russian army, the .44 Russian nearly bankrupt the company.  As soon as the Russians got the first order, they reverse engineered the weapon and manufactured it themselves as well as farming it out to other European suppliers. The European weapons were high quality and cheaper so the Imperial government cancelled the order and refused payment on revolvers already delivered.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ethics is a county in southern England

Today is tax filing deadline day in America.  Canada has another 15 days.  Other countries have their own schedules.

How you feel about your taxes depends on a number of things but it boils down to two main ones: perceived equitability and perceived benefit. Taxes are NOT legalized theft any more than your salary or your business income from provision of goods and services is legalized theft. Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society. IRS Building Washington DC. Though usually attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the thought had been expressed several times previously by other legislators. 

Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force. Governor of Vermont 1852

Yet people seem the think it is 'my' money and 'I' earned it, why should I share it with you?  Really?  Then I suggest you take 'your' money and 'your' business to Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Russia or Venezuela and see how you make out.

Taxation in Europe (likely other countries as well) was historically targeted primarily at the poor and what little middle class there was and used to support the lifestyles of the secular and clerical nobility and finance the king's wars. (In Russia, the nobility accounted for about 1.5%, the serfs about 85% and the rest made up the balance). Consequently very little if any was spent to benefit the population and therefore taxes were to be avoided at all costs. 

This attitude has changed over time as people began to see benefit for their money, not just to themselves but to society in general.  Here an American who lives half time in Sweden discusses the benefits of paying taxes in Sweden as opposed to America: Swedish taxes are easy to pay, rational, and efficient. Best of all, rather than take away opportunities, Swedish taxes expand them. 

It was arch-Conservative Bismark who introduced spending on society as a whole on the grounds that if the people were content they made fewer problems for the government. However tax avoidance is still a priority with most people given the opportunity.  The European attitude towards taxes carried forward to America where it was used as an excuse by the colonial ruling class to stir up the population so they would support a rebellion against the British.

Taxes are not legalized theft but there is a great deal of legalized theft of taxes.  By the powerful, not by the poor, the sick, the immigrant or people of colour. The Panama Papers exposed it but we always knew the game was rigged against us.  In Russia and Ukraine, it is quite crude.  In Canada, America and elsewhere rent-seeking (getting something for nothing) is far more sophisticated.  Politicians are bought and paid for by the 1% and pass legislation providing for upward transfer of wealth. Legalized tax avoidance is only one such method.

In 2003 I attended the annual conference of the American Society of Agricultural Consultants (ASAC) in St Louis.  (St Louis, for those of you who have not had the dubious pleasure, is in the heart of bible belt America.  Even the Hooters girls wore Mother Hubbards.  The ASAC banquet was dry and there was no dance following.  Not that I cared much but I was greatly amused).

The reason I went was primarily to take a one-day ethics course offered after the conference.  I wanted that to meet my certification requirements.  We learned how to be ethical agricultural consultants but NOT how to be ethical members of the human race.

One of the consultants, a very nice, sincere young man, was located in California.  His business was advising huge, wealthy rice farmers on how to structure their farm businesses to collect the largest amount of subsidy possible.  Rice is the fourth most highly subsidized crop in America, followed by cotton and sugar. These subsidies do irreparable damage to farmers in what is euphemistically known as the developing world and account for a great deal of poverty in those nations where these crops are grown.

The massive agriculture subsidies characterized as a crucial “safety net” for struggling family farms are actually pocketed mostly by the well-to-do. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), between 1995 and 2010:
·         10 percent of farmers collected 74 percent of all subsidies,
·         62 percent of U.S. farmers did not collect subsidy payments
·         The bottom 80 percent of recipients averaged just $587 a year

It is easy to find a map by county of farm subsidy payment distribution but not so easy to find one of recipient location.  USDA wants you to see the former, not the latter.  I saw one several years ago from EWG, I think, and it showed a concentration of payment recipients living in places like LA, SF, Dallas, NYC etc.  Not many living in ND, SD, Montana, etc. Can't find it again, but this article is close.

I never asked either the instructor or the participants about the ethics of farm subsidy programs or the ethics of helping the rich get richer.  Maybe I should have.  And I haven't even mentioned the military. Or the state of social safety nets, infrastructure, schools and health care. No wonder Americans hate taxes. Unlike the Swedes, they get nothing for them.

Tanya's Flower Pictures

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Spring, at last

The days are warm.  Bird songs fill the air.  The trees are going rapidly from light green to dark green as the leaves explode.  Apricots are in full pink or white bloom everywhere. And we are having a thundershower as I type.

When we left for Kyiv Monday evening, there were a few blooms in Tanya's flower beds but today it seemed like everything burst into colour. Tulips, daffodils, early lilies, miniature hyacinths, miniature iris and bedding plants Tanya had purchased.

These are my photos.  Tanya's are much better and I will use them next time. Click to enlarge.

Front flower garden

Kitchen garden, outlined in Iris

Colourful corner

My favourite spring flower

Tanya's new tulips, her favourite this year

Coat of many colours


Our apricot tree, just starting to bloom.  This will be our first apricots from this tree

Tanya planted six Scotch Pine this spring

The side flower garden

And four Spruce trees

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Another Flying Trip to Kyiv

Tanya had to go to Kyiv to provide biometrics (finger prints and retinal scan) to get her Schengen visa so we can go to Spain next month.  Our travel agent in Dnipro had looked after the visa application and biometrics was needed to collect her passport with the visa. The biometrics are good for 5 years and maybe Ukraine will get visa free access to the EU in the meantime*.

She had to be at the visa centre at 7:40 am.  There were no berths on the night train which would get us in at 6:00 am so we had to take the evening express and get a hotel room for 7 hours.  There are a number of new mini-hotels springing up around the railway station so Tanya booked a room in one of them at $25 for the night.  It was only a 10 minute walk from the railway station but we took a taxi since it was after 11:00 pm. That cost us $10 because we went out the new entrance at the opposite end of the railway station instead of the old entrance.  The way the streets are laid out it was a good 10 minute drive to get to the hotel and the driver did not take a long route.

The hotel was the third floor of a tall block of apartments and it was new and very nice.  Furnishings consisted of a double bed, two night stands, a TV, a small closet and a three-quarter bath not quite big enough in which to change your mind.  For only $25.  These hotels will destroy the one-night flat-rental business.

We rolled out at 6:30 to find the Gulliver Mall at the Sports Palace Metro stop.  Could have waited until 7:00 but better early. The Gulliver is a multi-story shopping mall filled with expensive stuff we don't need.  By 7:30 the Rotunda was filled with people, all waiting for their particular travel agent.  Our agent from Anik Travel (??) was a teeny tiny girl with a teeny tiny voice.  There were 30 to 50 people crowded around her and the ceiling of the rotunda was several stories up.  She spoke for several minutes instructing people about applying for a visa, documents etc.  Tanya did not need any of it which was just was well as she couldn't hear much anyhow. What they needed was an old Babushka with a voice like a foghorn.

There were well over a hundred people taking the elevator up to the 8th floor which was the Schengen visa centre.  We waited about 15 to 20 minutes, Tanya's name was called and in 5 minutes she was back with all necessary documents.  Much more efficient than dealing with individual embassies.

At 9:00 we found a real restaurant and ordered breakfast. No McDonalds for me this trip.  Two omelets, tea and coffee.  Tanya's tea came in a regulation size coffee mug, about 400 ml capacity.  My Coffee Americano came in a small tea cup, all 120 ml of it. Coffee Americano for the uninitiated is a 60 ml Espresso with 60 ml hot water added. If I had wanted something to sip, I'd have ordered a double Scotch, which here is 100 ml.  I said to the waitress, why can't I get a cup of coffee that size? No problem.  By the time I finished my small cup of coffee she was back with a mug full of coffee.  THREE Coffee Americanos. It was awesome coffee, strong enough to float a horseshoe.  By the time I finished it (total coffee intake equivalent of a double double espresso) I could have threaded a needle in a running sewing machine.

We had made arrangements to meet a couple of friends for lunch about 1:00 so we had time to kill and headed for Khreshchatik Street.  So many shops closed and places for rent.  This is the high end of fashion and jewelry so it appears the economy has been hit hard enough to slow even luxury goods purchase.

Valeria met us at an Azerbaijani restaurant in the Bessarabska Rinok Building.  It was only a 10 minute walk from her office with USAID.  Lera had worked for several years with STEP including two projects I had worked on and so we know her well and try to get in a visit whenever we go to Kyiv. Natasha had farther to come but got there eventually.  Tanya and I met her on one of my STEP projects in 2006 before we were married.  She translated several documents for me which were useful to the employees and customers of a feed company she worked for.  We had lost track of her for a few years until one day she showed up on Facebook.  After pleading for a visit for 10 years she is now going to come and see us in a couple weeks.

By 3:00 we were in the railway station and I was asleep on a couch in the lounge. Tanya was in the book store next to it.  She found three books and said she would do nothing useful for the next three days. At 5:30 we caught our train home.  People watching is fun and on trains there are always one or more people that catch my eye for whatever reason.  There were two couples in their late teens sharing three seats.  The girls were dressed to the nines.  Black party dresses, black nylons (but wearing running shoes). The boys were quite respectable but in ball caps, muscle shirts and jeans.  My conclusion: they were returning home from a wedding and the boys had shucked the fancy duds.

On the way up there had been a tall not unattractive young woman wearing a faded denim western shirt, pointed yokes, pearl snap fasteners and all.  Not a usual occurrence.  In fact, first I'd seen.  I would loved to have asked her about the shirt but Tanya doesn't like me talking to strangers.

Lina house sat over night for us.  Her instructions were to feed the cats and dogs, and no more.  Yeah, right.  When we got home at 11:00 pm Tuesday, Lina had gone home and the house was spotless from top to bottom.

*I hear Canada and USA may need visas for the EU if they do not allow visa free entry to ALL EU countries, not just the more trustworthy ones.  For Canada it means allowing Romanians and Bulgarians visa free access.  For USA there are a few more countries.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Human Fetal Development - Part 2

Once the blastocyst implants in the uterine wall, it splits into two sets of cells, one of which will become the placenta and one the embryo/fetus.  The placenta sends hormone signals to the woman’s body that it is pregnant.  On Day 14 the zygote stage ends and the embryo stage begins.  This stage is when cell differentiation into different organs begins. The first step, known as grastrulation sees the embryo form three germ layers from which all the tissues will be formed. By Day 20 there is the beginning development of brain, heart, spinal cord and gastro intestinal tract. The embryo is the size of an apple seed or a grain of rice*.

Human fetus at about 4 weeks. Adapted from

Embryo development from 4 weeks to 8 weeks
At the end of 30 days, the embryo is about the size of a raspberry, some 10,000 times larger than the original fertilized egg.  At 8 weeks, the embryo is about 25 mm and weighs 10 grams; by 13 weeks, the end of the first trimester, it is perhaps 80 to 100 mm and 28 grams.

At the end of 26 weeks or the second trimester, the fetus could be born and survive with proper care, developing into a healthy baby.  The third trimester is primarily about the growing and maturing fetus. So far, I have described what we can see and measure in the developing fetus from conception on.  What is not as well-known as it is more difficult to measure is the development of the non-physical.  If birth after 26 weeks is viable then these must be in place by then also.

The bottom line is that the process is extremely complex and it is a wonder that any of us turn out “normal” in the statistical sense of “what usually happens”. (It is also normal ie it usually happens, that one in 800 births is a Down Syndrome baby). So many things from both internal and external sources can affect fetal development.  Alcohol; drugs, licit and illicit. It may not take much and timing is sometimes everything.  If 45 grams of a certain plant are fed twice daily for three to a pregnant sheep beginning on day 29 of pregnancy, the lamb will be stillborn with one huge eye in the middle of its forehead.  If a heifer calf is born twin to a bull, the male hormones over power the female hormones and the female is born sterile.

You can reach your own conclusions to this story but at least now you have a better idea of how things work.

*For a good overview of fetal development from conception through birth, see 

Human Fetal Development - Part 1

The most enjoyable blogs for me are the ones with no real theme other than a general one, just whatever comes into the mind of the writer.  If I manage to get a thought in my head, it is like a pinball in a Black Rose arcade game.  This past week, I was thinking about embryo development and how complicated that is.  Bovine embryo development, I am familiar with but human, not so much.  Sure, we had four kids but it was kind of like bowling through a blanket; no idea what was happening after the initial roll, so to speak.

DNA is kind of magical stuff. Data is stored in binary format, surprisingly enough. There is roughly one CD worth of data in the human genome; all crammed into a cell nucleus about 6 one-thousandths of a millimeter in diameter. DNA is organized into genes which makes you what you are.  Not just the physical (some of which is also normally binary such as male or female plumbing) but also the unseen stuff like personality, sexuality, intelligence, humour. . . How you respond to your environment is hard wired into you, as we are all both nature and nurture. The more we learn, though, the more nature seems to have the upper hand in so many things.

DNA contains not only the information for your physical and mental self, it also contains the information that turns the various genes on and off when and where appropriate so you are not just one huge blob of identical cells, like yeast or something (Stifle, Edith). The vast majority of this happens during the first few weeks of embryo development (bovine and human).  There is a great deal that can go wrong during that time and estimates are that only 30% of fertilized human eggs result in a live birth (with cattle, it is 70%). The majority of spontaneous abortions or miscarriages have chromosomal abnormalities. The causes of most congenital abnormalities are unknown.

A quick review of ordinary cell division from highschool biology: (Click on pictures to enlarge)
The following videos are simple enough even for me to understand and should be watched in the order listed if you are serious about all this.  Number 5 is optional unless you are really serious.
  1. Video explaining Cell Structure (7:21)
  2. Video explaining DNA to protein (2:42)
  3. Video explaining how DNA is replicated (3:27)
  4. Video explaining Mitosis (6:10)
  5. Video explaining DNA structure (5:57)
When I count days or weeks in this blog post, it is from the time of fertilization of the egg.  Some of the references I ran into counted from the date of the end of the woman’s last period which is confusing as ovulation/fertilization usually occurs about 10-12 days after that so why not start there?
All the cell contents and half the chromosomes are in the egg.  Sperm is not much more than half the chromosomes with a tail.  Relative size is sort of like a rocket ship circling the moon.  Millions of sperm are released but only one enters the membrane of the egg. The reason it takes millions of sperm is that being male, they do not ask directions and most get lost enroute. Once a sperm cell has entered the egg, the membrane becomes impermeable to all other sperm.

On Day 1, the pronuclei of the sperm and egg unite to form a nucleus with a full complement of chromosomes at which point the egg becomes a zygote, about the size of a grain of salt, a stage which lasts about 14 days.  One day 1, the single cell becomes two cells.  On Day 2, the two cells divide again becoming 4 cells and by Day 3 it becomes 8 cells.  

By this time the genetic function that was egg-oriented (egg mRNAs decrease) has pretty much wound down and genetic functions reprogrammed to development mode (development mRNAs increase). The overall size of the zygote does not change as more cells are added.  The membrane of the egg becomes the protective membrane (zona pellucida) of the zygote up to Day 6 when the blastocyst hatches and is ready to implant on the uterine wall on Day 7 to 12*.

* For detailed pre-implantation development, see

Sunday, April 3, 2016

And sadness cut through me. . .

Many of the poems I learned in school are still with me, at least the first and usually more lines.  Hard to say why other than I liked or loved the poem. Everything from Walter de la Mare's 'Someone Came Knocking' and 'Silver'; William Wilfred Campbell's 'Indian Summer';  or Bliss Carmen's Vestigia.  Kipling, Tennyson, Browning, Noyes were all favourite authors, along with Coleridge, Longfellow, Hardy, Elliot, and many more.

CT Fyfe's anthology 'A Book of Good Poems' was one of my grade 11 and 12 Literature books.  My teacher, the late Sister Mary Annella (Pek), had Fyfe as her prof at University and she loved poetry as did I.  I had two copies which my children now have though I wish I had one of them back. Two of the poems I love to read when ever I am sad and do not want to play 'hurtin' music'.

Both poems leave the reader hanging as to who, why, and what happened which adds to the melancholy. The wordsmithing is incredibly beautiful.  I hope you enjoy them.

The Listeners Walter de la Mare

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Beyond The Last Lamp By Thomas Hardy (Near Tooting Common)

While rain, with eve in partnership,
Descended darkly, drip, drip, drip,
Beyond the last lone lamp I passed
Walking slowly, whispering sadly,
Two linked loiterers, wan, downcast:
Some heavy thought constrained each face,
And blinded them to time and place.
The pair seemed lovers, yet absorbed
In mental scenes no longer orbed
By love's young rays. Each countenance
As it slowly, as it sadly
Caught the lamplight's yellow glance
Held in suspense a misery
At things which had been or might be.
When I retrod that watery way
Some hours beyond the droop of day,
Still I found pacing there the twain
Just as slowly, just as sadly,
Heedless of the night and rain.
One could but wonder who they were
And what wild woe detained them there.
Though thirty years of blur and blot
Have slid since I beheld that spot,
And saw in curious converse there
Moving slowly, moving sadly
That mysterious tragic pair,
Its olden look may linger on -
All but the couple; they have gone.
Whither? Who knows, indeed . . . And yet
To me, when nights are weird and wet,
Without those comrades there at tryst
Creeping slowly, creeping sadly,
That lone lane does not exist.
There they seem brooding on their pain,
And will, while such a lane remain.