Things I don’t understand on Friday

I am thinking about renaming the blog “things I don’t understand”. There are so many of these, and I find them mostly very interesting. Like Royal Canin donating 1.6 million tons of dog food and 1.2 million tons of cat food to a shelter that feeds 750 cats and 17 dogs. I understand that calculation so little it borders on WTF.

Currently my experience of the world vacillates mostly between bafflement and outrage, with bafflement tipping the scale. This is good, of course. Between the two there are moments of wonder, like this evening when the early moon hovered like a huge, mutant orange between the dark shapes of the Johburg skyline as I left Mint Road, and rose slowly as I drove home on the thawing city streets. Fordsburg itself is a joy on a temperate Friday evening. The streets buzz with families and cool guys punching each other on the shoulder, and informal commerce, and cooking food. I wished for a moment that I could just hang around, but then I got in my car and around the corner I caught the moon. So that wasn’t bad either.   

I edited a wellness manual for soccer players this week. There was a lot of information in there that I found very interesting. I did not know, for example, that women are born with about a million  immature eggs (protected by hollow balls of cells in the ovarian follicles) tucked in their ovaries. About half of the ovarian follicles (and their eggs) are absorbed by the body before puberty, at which point 10-20 ova start maturing on a monthly basis. Only one mature egg is usually released by the ovaries during ovulation. I knew that last bit about the one-montly-egg, of course, but to complete the story, the mature (free!) egg then swans its way down the fallopian tubes in the hope of being accosted within 24 hours by millions of quivering sperm swimming in the opposite direction, all wanting to get in there.

Not all of this was in the manual. I found most of  it on some website. The manual’s writers chose/had to simplify the whole thing, of course. Their target audience is soccer players, and a soccer player with even “vagina” in his vocab must be a rare enough  gem (with the exception of Roger, of course. I am quite sure that he is well-versed in female anatomy), so maybe they thought that “ovarian follicle” would be pushing things a bit.

So. Discovering something about one’s body is not baffling. But the body’s sums, just like Royal Canin’s, seem so… inexplicable. Let’s say a woman ovulates for about 40 years (a very generous and old-fashioned estimate, which assumes that puberty starts at 12 and menopause at 52). That means she ovulates 520-odd times. In that period, about 10 400  (generous estimate, again) eggs will start the process of maturation, and only 520 will be released. (Although in biology, a one-in-twenty survival rate seems great, actually.)

Let’s say (to make the calculation easy, but not necessarily out-of-the-ballpark) that by the beginning of puberty, a woman has about half a million immature eggs tucked away in her ovaries. It means, ultimately, that out of every 900-ish eggs, one makes it down the tubes. So to speak. And ULTIMATELY, only 2-3 of the whole lot turn into human beings. Those are terrible odds – one in 250 000, average – it sucks, really. Tadpoles have a better survival rate where on average, five frog eggs out of every 2000 become adult frogs. Human sperm, on the other hand, do much worse. Perhaps this is where we should start with redefining biological determinism.

Another thing that puzzled me today was the Mail and Guardian’s apparent determination to fuel hysteria about swine flu. I know two people have died, including one strong, healthy 20-something Stellenbosch rugby player, but more people die of regular flu every year. I tried to find general stats on flu deaths on the net, but failed again. There is no site at the moment that marries “death” and “flu” without throwing in “swine” as a qualifier.

Generally, I had a good week in terms of work, but a more frustrating time in terms of the things that make life puzzling, and interesting.

Something I do understand now is how come Bill has such a roving eye. With Hillary on safari in Mzanzi, it has been possible to scrutinise her very closely. She looks more and more matronly by the day… waving heavily to puzzled crowds and lurching onto podiums and so on. I did some video research on Madiba (the SABC has stopped striking, so it was possible) on Wednesday, and spent a bit of time watching him meet a whole range of absolutely gorgeous women during and after his tour of duty.  He looked like he just loved it. The TV pictures of him and Hillary this week were very… eh… formal, in spite of the close relationship he has with her husband, and I could clearly imagine his next conversation with the other ex-president: “So… Bill… about that Monica girl….”


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