Category Archives: Totty

Who doesn’t love pretty girls?

Rule Five Hot Stuff Friday

Most folks who live in the West know about Yellowstone, and how the entire park sits in what is essentially a titanic volcanic caldera.  Most folks who live in the West and pay any attention at all know that if the Yellowstone megavolcano blows, it’s bye-bye North America.  So here’s an interesting piece on how geologists are monitoring this big volcano and the lake of red-hot magma that fuels it.  Excerpt:

The Yellowstone volcano has erupted three times in history – 2.1 million years ago, 1.2 million years ago and 640,000 years ago. Scientists have previously revealed that, should an earthquake occur, it could take less than two weeks before a catastrophic reaction event with the potential to wipe out three-quarters of the US is triggered. Now, it is the job of geologists to “intensely monitor” a large area of molten rock directly below the surface of the supervolcano, it was revealed in a documentary.

Volcanoes typically erupt when molten rock, known as magma, rises to the surface following the Earth’s mantle melting due to tectonic plates shifting. 

This act creates a series of small earthquakes, fracturing the rock above it days or even weeks before the main eruption. 

Robert Smith, from the University of Utah, is in charge of the seismometers around Yellowstone National Park.

This technology is designed to detect any change in activity, and give anyone in the immediate area some valuable time to evacuate.

Here’s the likely result of a major eruption:

Should the same (eruption) happen again, the ground around Yellowstone National Park would rise upwards forming a swarm of earthquakes.

Then, following the eruption, enormous pyroclastic flows would blast their way across the park. 

This mixture of ash, lava and superheated gas exceed temperatures of 1,000C and can move at speeds of up to 300mph. 

They are predicted to spread more than 100 miles out from Yellowstone, burying states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in three feet of life-extinguishing volcanic ash.

They mention evacuation, but it’s hard to say where folks around Yellowstone – or pretty much anywhere in the Mountain West – should evacuate to, as a major eruption would pretty much wipe out much of North America.  Further, the results of billions of tons of sulfuric acid and volcanic ash in the atmosphere would screw up the weather for quite a few years, likely making crop growing difficult if not impossible.

So, yeah, I’m in favor of keeping an eye on it, even though there wouldn’t be much we could do about it if it happened.  Personally I’d like to have a little notice.

I’ve had folks ask me if the idea worries me.  It doesn’t.  I reserve my worries for things I can change.  But if my world is about to end, I wouldn’t mind a little warning.

Rule Five Virginia Is For Lovers Friday

Boy howdy, Virginia is way into train-wreck territory.  First, their Governor did something naughty decades ago:

A muddled defense that included moonwalking and a blackface Michael Jackson costume may be enough for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to keep his job despite widespread calls for his resignation over a racially insensitive photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. 

Virginia’s Constitution says elected officials who commit “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty or other high crime or misdemeanor” may be removed from office. Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told USA TODAY “nothing that has happened so far is grounds for removal” under the state’s provisions for impeachment.

“There is nothing in his service as governor that satisfies those terms,” Tobias said.

Then, his Lieutenant Governor got accused of something more serious:

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of Virginia emphatically denied on Monday a woman’s claim that he sexually assaulted her in 2004, suggesting at one point that Gov. Ralph Northam’s supporters were trying to block his ascent to the governorship at a moment when Mr. Northam is besieged by demands that he resign over charges of racism.

“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this smear comes out?” Mr. Fairfax told reporters surrounding him in the rotunda of the state Capitol about whether he believes Mr. Northam, a fellow Democrat, was behind the accusation’s coming to light.

Now the third man in line, the Attorney General, has come out with some ancient shenanigans of his own:

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) said Wednesday he dressed in blackface during college, elevating the Capitol’s scandals to a new level that engulfed the entire executive branch of government.

Now, Herring, Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax – the state’s three top Democrats – are each embroiled in separate scandals that threaten their careers. Also on Wednesday, the woman who has accused Fairfax of sexual assault made her first public statements, going into graphic detail of an alleged 2004 attack which Fairfax has vehemently denied.

One might feel no small amount of schadenfreude at seeing Old Dominion Democrats hoist on their own petard.  While the sexual assault accusation is pretty serious – and the accuser has some pretty specific details – the other two, with Governor Northam and AG Herring, are pretty silly.

The right thing for Northam to do here is this:  Call a press conference.  Get as many members of the media there as his people can dig up.

Take the stage.  Ask the assembled throng, “which of you here can honestly say you never did anything dumb when you were young?  Raise your hands.  No one?  That’s what I thought.”

Drop mike.  Leave the stage.  Discussion over.

And he’d have a hell of a good point.  My own youth was pretty much a catalog of “hey, hold my beer and watch this” events, which is why I remain to this day delighted that cell phone cameras didn’t exist in the Seventies, or there would be some embarrassing footage of me on YouTube.

But yes, that’s all this is – embarrassing.  It is not nor should it be career-ending.  No matter what letter you have behind your name.

Rule Five Living Dead Friday

Thanks to all for the kind words and messages after yesterday’s post about my mother.  Your thoughts and kindnesses mean more than I can say.

But life goes on, and as my parents were both history buffs, they would have found this interesting.  Alexander of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, having conquered much of the known world, was renowned as one of the greatest generals of the classical world – until he died at age 32.  Legend has it that his body lay uncorrupted by decomposition for six days, which was cited as proof of his status as a divine figure.

Now one researcher has a more plausible theory; Alexander may not have decomposed for six days because he wasn’t dead.

Ouch.  Excerpt:

The death of Alexander the Great – general, king, conqueror – has been a mystery for over 2,000 years. Was he poisoned? Too much booze? Or actually malaria or typhoid, both rampant in ancient Babylon at the time?  

Now, a new theory has been put forward that is somehow even worse than all of those. Legend has it Alexander’s body didn’t show any signs of decomposing for six days after his death, a sign the ancient Greeks took that their warrior hero was a god. A new explanation is that he suffered from a rare autoimmune disorder that rendered him paralyzed and unable to communicate, although still compos mentis, right up until his death six days later than thought.

Dr Katherine Hall of the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago, New Zealand, argues in The Ancient History Bulletin that Alexander may have suffered from Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rapid weakening of the muscles caused by the immune system damaging the nervous system, and that may explain the conflicting evidence of how and when he died.

“His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded,” she said.

Here’s the onion:

“I have worked for five years in critical care medicine and have seen probably about 10 cases [of GBS]. The combination of ascending paralysis with normal mental ability is very rare and I have only seen it with GBS,” Hall told Fox News.

“His sight would have been blurred and if his blood pressure was too low he would have been in a coma. But there is a chance he was aware of his surroundings and could at least hear. So he would have heard his generals arguing over the succession, hear the arrival of the Egyptian embalmers, hear that they were about to start their work.”

Now, just for a moment, put yourself in Alexander’s sandals here.

You’re paralyzed, likely unable to see, unable to speak, but you can hear, and you will certain still feel pain – including the pain of those wacky Egyptian embalmers when they start cutting you open to remove your organs.

One suspects this sort of thing happened more often than we might imagine, given our modern medical sciences.  The legend of vampires, after all, may well have begun by burying a comatose patient, who recovered underground, in the coffin; some time later, for whatever reason, the coffin was disinterred and opened, only to reveal the desperate scratch marks on the lid made by the “undead” person trying to get out.

Honestly – one wonders if having history venerate you as a demigod would really be worth all that.

Rule Five DinoBirds Friday

Once in a while I hear someone make a comment about something being as “extinct as dinosaurs,” which enables me to reply “dinosaurs aren’t extinct at all.  In fact there are more species of dinosaur alive today than there are mammals.  We call them birds.”

Birds have been known for some time to be a branch of the theropod dinosaurs, but the exact mechanisms that brought about the modern form of the bird has been and continues to be widely discussed, but here is an interesting theory that posits that neoteny may have played a part.  Excerpt:

For decades, paleontologists’ only fossil link between birds and dinosaurs was archaeopteryx, a hybrid creature with feathered wings but with the teeth and long bony tail of a dinosaur. These animals appeared to have acquired their birdlike features — feathers, wings and flight — in just 10 million years, a mere flash in evolutionary time. “Archaeopteryx seemed to emerge fully fledged with the characteristics of modern birds,” said Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England.

To explain this miraculous metamorphosis, scientists evoked a theory often referred to as “hopeful monsters.” According to this idea, major evolutionary leaps require large-scale genetic changes that are qualitatively different from the routine modifications within a species. Only such substantial alterations on a short timescale, the story went, could account for the sudden transformation from a 300-pound theropod to the sparrow-size prehistoric bird Iberomesornis.

But it has become increasingly clear that the story of how dinosaurs begat birds is much more subtle. Discoveries have shown that bird-specific features like feathers began to emerge long before the evolution of birds, indicating that birds simply adapted a number of pre-existing features to a new use. And recent research suggests that a few simple change—among them the adoption of a more babylike skull shape into adulthood—likely played essential roles in the final push to bird-hood. Not only are birds much smaller than their dinosaur ancestors, they closely resemble dinosaur embryos.

Here’s the key bit:

“The first birds were almost identical to the late embryo from velociraptors,” Abzhanov said. “Modern birds became even more babylike and change even less from their embryonic form.” In short, birds resemble tiny, infantile dinosaurs that can reproduce.

This process, known as paedomorphosis, is an efficient evolutionary route. “Rather than coming up with something new, it takes something you already have and extends it,” said Nipam Patel, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

“We’re seeing more and more that evolution operates much more elegantly than we previously appreciated,” said Bhullar, who will start his own lab at Yale University in the fall. “The umpteen changes that go into the bird skull may all owe to paedomorphosis, to one set of molecular changes in the early embryo.”

Why is this interesting?  Because it mirrors something that happened to humans.  Look at the face and cranial structure of our closest relatives, the chimpanzee, and you’ll see an extended muzzle, a flattened skull, and ears set back on the head.  But look at an infant chimp and you’ll see something much more humanlike:  A flattened face, a more rounded skull.

What Dr. Abzhanov calls “Paedomorphosis” is also known as neoteny, or the retention of juvenile traits into adulthood.  Our species, Homo sapiens, exhibit a tendency to neoteny compared to our recent cousins and ancestors.  And when you examine juvenile dinosaur fossils as well as the developing skulls of young crocodilians, which are the closest living relatives of birds, you see the same sort of retention of juvenile traits.

It’s interesting how biology keeps demonstrating the same tricks over and over again.

Rule Five Shutdown “Crisis” Friday

National treasure John Stossel has some thoughts on the shutdown.  Excerpt:

This government shutdown is now longer than any in history. The media keep using the word “crisis.”

“Shutdown sows chaos, confusion and anxiety!” says The Washington Post. “Pain spreads widely.”

The New York Times headlined, it’s all “just too much!”

But wait. Looking around America, I see people going about their business — families eating in restaurants, employees going to work, children playing in playgrounds, etc. I have to ask: Where’s the crisis?

Pundits talk as if government is the most important part of America, but it isn’t.

We need some government, limited government. But most of life, the best of life, goes on without government, many of the best parts in spite of government.

Of course, the shutdown is a big deal to the 800,000 people who aren’t being paid. But they will get paid. Government workers always do — after shutdowns.

Columnist Paul Krugman calls this shutdown, “Trump’s big libertarian experiment.” But it’s not libertarian. Government’s excessive rules are still in effect, and eventually government workers will be paid for not working. That makes this a most un-libertarian experiment.

Here’s the kicker:

The Washington Post ran a front-page headline about farmers “reeling… because they aren’t receiving government support checks.”

But why do farmers even get “support checks”?

One justification is “saving family farms.” But the money goes to big farms.

Government doesn’t need to “guarantee the food supply,” another justification for subsidies. Most fruit and vegetable farmers get no subsidies, yet there are no shortages of peaches, plums, green beans, etc.

Disclaimer:  I come from a long line of farmers, on both sides of my family.  Both of my grandfathers farmed.  My Dad farmed for much of his life.  But there is a distinct tendency these days to treat “the family farm” as though it’s some holy calling.  It’s not.  It’s a business, like any other, and when new business models prove more efficient, old ones die out – and should be allowed to die out.

Speaking of dying out, is anyone in the Imperial City taking a good look at these “defunded” agencies that we seem to be doing quite well without?  There’s an opportunity here that nobody seems to be – heh – capitalizing on.  News stories on the fake crisis of the “shutdown” bemoan the “non-essential” government employees that have been furloughed.

Okay.  If they’re non-essential, then why the hell are we paying them with taxpayer dollars?

Barry Goldwater had it right when he said “I have no interest in making government more efficient, for I mean to make it smaller.”  But the two are not only not contradictory, they may actually be complimentary.  But I’ll settle for smaller, less intrusive government.  By hook or by crook.

We are seeing just a little bit of that right now.  More, I say!