Photo of White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham
Stephanie Grisham, White House Press Secretary

A couple of days ago (mid-October 2019), a (I won’t insult dogs), an employee of the White House Press office, referred to persons such as myself as “pond scum”. I wanted to respond in kind but that would be so “not Buddhist”.

Now what was she calling me exactly? According to the Urban Dictionary the term is defined as

One you would consider a very primitive life form. A person without principles or morals.

A useless person. … By her recent official actions one might conclude that she is only slightly better than pond scum. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pond%20scum

Oh, dear! This is how I was being described?! Quel horreurs! But I will say that Ms. Grisham, has pretty much described herself, as I would see her.

But did “pond scum” really deserve to be dragged into my verbal food fight with someone I wouldn’t know from Eve?

In the spirit of making something good out of, well not much, let me report on my research. Turns out pond scum is rather interesting. If you Google the term you get lots of scientific articles including some with pretty pictures. [See below.] Pond scum tends to be disapproved of because it is often smelly, noxious and can do nasty things like kill fish and aquatic life and even dogs and people. Pond scum can look bad, but seriously, the stuff can be very dangerous.

Image of pond scum.
Image of pond scum.

Scientifically, it’s totally fascinating. The American Chemical Society has a nifty little video that discusses the stuff in the usual general level of detail (4th grade level) with a slightly more sophisticated video as a companion to the basic explanation. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2016/june/what-makes-blue-green-algae-dangerous-speaking-of-chemistry.html. The video will take you to a super cool TED Talk via an NPR on-line report. https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2011/03/24/134822927/the-benefits-of-pond-scum-explained The TED talk features a report about genetically modified creatures whose brains literally react to certain types of light. That ability, called “phototaxis” was found in certain types of “pond scum” and has opened all sorts of possibilities in a new (about 10 years old) field known as optogenetics.

I spent a pleasant hour going all Scientific American learning about pond scum (the real stuff as opposed to political opponents of the current regime) and didn’t think about Ms. Grisham’s boss for a minute. Felt like a long vacation.

So, thank you Ms. Grisham for an hour’s pleasant distraction and I now take a certain pride in being referred to as “scum”.

Veteran Cat Servant

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