Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nightmare

It is said that the Earth's oil reserves were created somewhere between 10 and 160 million years ago. Give or take. Oil is the product of the decomposition of plant and animal life, which existed during those times. So, the petroleum based products of today are derived from life forms which may or may not be familiar to us. Bud Selig was watching a baseball game on the evening of June 2, 2010. In his role as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, he watches lots of games. He tries to be attentive, but at seventy-five years of age, sometimes he dozes.

It was the middle of the fifth inning with the score, Detroit 1 and Cleveland 0, when Allan Huber Selig fell into a fitful sleep. The British Petroleum oil leak was on his mind. Selig had a heck of a nightmare. It was so startling that it scared him awake. He had been thinking of the oil contamination of the Gulf of Mexico all day. The leak had been ongoing for forty-five days with no end in site. BP was stumped and the President was going back for another visit, his third. Selig's dream, however, wasn't about BP or Mr. Obama. It was about an amoeba.

Amoebae are single celled organisms with no definite shape. They contain one or more nuclei and a central vacuole to maintain internal osmotic pressure. Maintaining balanced osmotic pressure is critical to their survival. They are capable of assuming a dormant form, pending adverse conditions, called a microbial cyst. The organism covers itself with a protective membrane and it can maintain this state for long periods of time, until better conditions present themselves. Amoebae are remarkable for the number of base pairs in their genome . The common Amoeba Proteus for example, has 290 billion base pairs in its genome. In contrast, the human genome has only 2.9 billion base pairs. Pretty complex for a one celled doo daddy.

British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon used to sit atop the deepest oil well ever drilled. After the Horizon collapsed, oil and gas continue to be released. The well extends seven miles below the surface of the Gulf. The oil, natural gas and whatever else released by the Deepwater Horizon was not only millions of years in captivity but deep into the Earth. In his dream, Bud imagined that the living protoplasm, which had contributed to the organic substrate for the released oil, included an extinct form of marine life. This extinct marine animal was as big as whale, but wasn't a mammal. It resembled an octopus, a giant squid, with one big eye. Millions of these squid lived in the aqua blue Gulf waters. They ate lots of shrimp. A genomic switch flipped and a mutant amoeba was formed. Until that point the amoebae had been living in harmony with the giant squid. After the mutation, the amoebae parasitized the squid. The squid began to perish in epidemic numbers.

The mutated amoebae developed a unique pseudopod, or protoplasmic projection, which could pierce the outer eye lining or cornea of the squid. The pseudopod secreted toxic enzymes which dissolved the protective eye layer. Once through the cornea, the amoeba moved quickly through the eye, blinding the squid. The octopus-like creatures became disoriented and unbalanced. Within a few days the amoeba found its way down the optic nerve to the squid's brain causing the squid to convulse and die. And millions died in a relatively short period of time. It was these millions of blind squid along with the flora of the day which, became the spoils of the Deepwater Horizon.

In Bud's hellish fantasy, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are pumped full of microbial cysts. Bud dreamt they were called Amoeba Spitballius. Odd name, but perhaps it was somehow linked to Bud's disdain of spitballs, corked bats and performance enhancing drugs. As microbial cysts are wont to do when conditions are favorable, the cysts morphed back into live amoebae. The amoebae like the hospitable, warm surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico

The tragedies started near New Orleans. Two kids, aged 12 and 13, came down with a mysterious illness after swimming at Grand Isle State Park. They were cousins, vacationing with their families. They lived in Baton Rouge. Two days into their stay both boys complained of visual blurring and within twenty four hours, they were blind. Their eyes turned to mush. They died in uncontrollable status epilepticus within two more days. Within a week, over one thousand water exposed folk from Louisiana to Florida experienced a similar fate. The doctors were initially stumped, but it didn't take long to identify a protozoan, which resembled Amoeba Proteus. But this was no ordinary amoeba.

No drugs slowed it down, stunned it or killed it. There seemed to be no defense against the organism once it hit the eye. States of emergency were called. No one was allowed in the water under any circumstances. Oddly giant octopi, never actually seen before, began to surface from the depths of the sea, some dead and some dazed, blind and seizing. Selig was thrashing about in his Lazyboy, abuzz as if the spitballers had entered his brain from his optic nerves. He awoke abruptly. His body was sweat soaked like he was taking a shvitz. He used to go for a shvitz when he a young man. He fingered his eyes. He thought they would be mush. He thought he was blind.

His senses began to return. He felt his eyes with his index fingers. No mush. He opened his eyes. He had some sleep blurriness, but he could see. He focused in on the TV. The time on the cable box said PM 9:05. The announcer was saying it was a mistake, the replay showed it. He went on, without a doubt Galarraga was robbed. Jim Joyce, the first base umpire blew the call....



Armando Galarraga, a twenty-three year old Venezuelan pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, had thrown an almost perfect game. Twenty seven batters up and twenty-seven down, that's a perfect game. Galarraga mowed down twenty-six. The twenty-seventh batter for the Cleveland Indians was Jason Donald, a twenty-five year old shortstop from Clovis, California. He hit a dribbler to the right side fielded by the Tiger first baseman, who made a clean throw to Galarraga who was covering first base. The replay clearly showed Donald to be out. There was no disagreement except for the fact that umpire Joyce called the runner safe! The cool Galarraga set down the next batter and the game ended with a 3-0 victory for the Tigers. Galarraga was credited with a one hit shutout.

After the game, Mr Joyce admitted he made a mistake and he forthrightly apologized. Galarraga exhibited nothing but class. If this had been a disputed home run decision, the ump could be corrected by instant replay. In a case such as this, major league baseball does not allow the use of instant replay. Mr. Selig will need to step in on this matter. Hmmm. One nightmare after another....

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