Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Snarchives 8/26/2007: Biosmut

Like most Americans, I am deeply concerned by the issues impacting our country*, such as the pollution issue, the foreign policy issue, the cellulite issue, the April/May Cosmo, etc. But I think I may aver without fear of accuracy that foremost among these is: the smut issue.

I recently found myself face-to-face with this very issue while reading my biology textbook. It is for your edification as well as my own that I reprint the following verbatim excerpt, which concerns the sporophyte of the liverwort Marchantia, and should for enhanced effect be read as though the text consists of the words “what are you wearing?” Better yet, experts recommend first spending an afternoon immersed in a work such as Loins of the Mississippi by Jessamyn Torso**, so as to get yourself in the proper frame of mind. Then, feast your endoplasmic reticula on THIS baby:

“The mature capsule contains spores and elaters, which are elongate structures with spirally thickened walls. Eventually the wall of the capsule dries and bursts, releasing the spores. Ejection of the spores is aided by the elaters, which twist and jerk as they dry, thus throwing the spores from the capsule.”

The passage goes on to describe, in painstaking detail, the capsule’s subsequent cigarette. Now I’m not saying science is finally good for something, but, well…I’d be a fool not to open my mind.

At the same time, I must admit to some conflicted feelings over this. My main problem is reconciling myself to this new perception of my bio book. I’m just not sure I can do this. For one thing, the book is old.*** It dates from my father’s own biological studies at the University of Pennsylvania (motto: “Not The State School! The Other One!”). Reading it in its entirety has been one of my summer projects, which also include Russian and popsicles. I have become fond of this book, against my better judgment and despite its repeated attempts to make me feel as though I fall, on the Great Intellectual Barometer of Intellectualness****, somewhere between “microbe” and “leader of the free world”*****. Take this scintillating nugget (topic: “The Effects of Qualitatively Unequal Cleavages”) (really):

“We have already seen that the cytoplasm of the unfertilized egg is often not homogeneous. Most animal eggs contain stored food material, or yolk, which being usually concentrated in one part of the cell, establishes a distinction between animal and vegetal hemispheres. Another distinction between them is that the animal hemisphere often has much more pigment in the cytoplasm than the vegetal hemisphere. It is reasonable to think that other materials may be similarly restricted to certain regions of the cytoplasm.”

OH! So I CAN think that other materials may be similarly restricted to certain regions of the cytoplasm! I feel MUCH better now! Don’t you?

But my point is, I have heretofore viewed this book solely as a source of infinite tedious enlightenment. For example, if not for Chapter 21 (”In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into A Tight Place”), I might never have become acquainted with the myriad classes of algae, which include Chrysophyta, Rhodophyta, Phaeophyta, Toyota, Rhododendron, Morticia, Mexican Hairless, and Neil. Sociology enters the picture, too, with the introduction of Lycopsida, the highly exclusive and icy-hearted “club mosses,” whose ranks consist primarily of Connecticut orthodontists who, it is widely rumored, would never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

This is not to say I trust the book implicitly. Far from it. In fact, I have had occasion to be convinced of its pulling a fast one on me. Hardcore followers of my dad’s biology book will know I am referring to page 464, paragraph 2, line 6, aisle 8, adjacent the bendy straws, wherein the author has the gall to assert that our bodies feature such structures as “meiotic spindles,” which, as of now, I have not located ANYWHERE on my personal body. Fortunately for those readers less prone than I to independent thought, this chicanery is blatantly exposed on neighboring page 465. Here we are shown a picture of Canada geese, which - and I’m sure many eminent biologists will back me up on this - have nothing to do with meiotic spindles whatsoever.

Come to think of it, this makes me feel much more sanguine vis-à-vis Smutgate, as if maybe the whole thing is just a harmless trick to see if we’re still paying attention. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know many’s the time I’ve found my thoughts diverging from the text before me, informative though it may be, little knowing the author has inserted a passage teeming with such filth as to boggle the “Oh, Trent,” moaned Jessamyn, her qualitatively unequal cleavage pulsating with wild bilateral symmetry. “Do it do it DO IT.” “Okay,” said Trent, his massively bulging biomass bulging massively as he Back with me now? Thank you.

*America, or as some lah-dee-dah astronomy types will insist on calling it, “Earth”.
**Available wherever loins are sold.
***As evidenced by this actual excerpt from the inside cover page: “©The Pleistocene Epoch”.
****Sponsor: Claire’s Accessories.
*****Notice I have deftly arranged this sentence so that you may interpret it any way you wish. You’re welcome.

©2007, Nicola McEldowney/The Snark Ascending

No comments: