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Ruminations is where I share works in progress. Please follow the pointers below to learn more about me and the stories you’ll find on these pages. Thank you for visiting. Please return and tell a friend.

Who is Tom Abate and what does he write about?

Eclectic notions arising from my experiences and observations.

Stories and commentary based on research, interviews, and observations.

Satire, fiction, humor, and advice from the Dead Blogger’s Society.

Experiences and events that formed my character and inform my work and beliefs.

The perfect politics of the pearl

When it comes to solving problems, humans could learn from oysters.

Oysters live in shallow waters and feed by sucking algae through tiny openings in their shells. If a grain of sand or other particle lodges in its flesh, the oyster coats the irritant with minerals and proteins to form thin layers of nacre, the milky white substance that hardens into pearls. Australian researchers recently sought to understand how this simple creature heals itself so elegantly.

They used a tiny saw with a diamond wire to slice a pearl into cross sections, which they examined with microscopes as we might study the rings of a tree felled with a chainsaw. They discovered that layers of nacre had been laid down in various thicknesses, more here, less there, until the jagged irritant was encased in a smooth sphere. “In one example the (scientists) counted 2,615 layers in a pearl, which were deposited over 548 days,” wrote journalist Rachel Crowell, summarizing the study in the December 4th, 2021, edition of Science News.

Scientists still don’t know how or why billions of molecules worked together to complete the task. But they learned that the variations in the thickness of the layers followed a pattern common to many biological and natural phenomena, from the regular behavior of brain waves to the rumblings of ordinary underground seismic activity. Moderate actions toward stability appear to be how nature maintains and repairs itself, while herky-jerky bursts are associated with epileptic seizures and earthquakes.

People often liken politics to a pendulum that swings steadily back and forth. That’s the theoretical ideal of democracy: if we trust and respect one another’s judgments, the rough edges will be smoothed over even if we can’t see how. But humans are more complicated than oysters. We aren’t mechanisms. We have minds of our own and when we get irritated, our emotions can cloud our judgments and tarnish our ideals. So, it’s better to think of politics as a game of seesaws because it takes cooperation to maintain a rough balance. There’s always a risk that playground bullies might scooch back to their end to hold up the other end until the kicking and screaming attracts enough weight to tilt the balance. Then what? Does cooperation resume, or does the game get uglier?

I write after an unusually anxious American election and though it’s not clear whether the seesaw will tilt right or left, the vote seems to have swung toward balance. On the eve of the election, I spoke with a woman who was not the least bit apprehensive about the outcome. “When we stay engaged, that’s all that can be asked of us,” she said, adding with pearl-like wisdom, “And do it from love.”

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