Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021
It is always a cheery thing to reflect on the fact that humans are not currently fitted with shock collars.
As a crowd masses at an international border, pressing up against the gateway to a purportedly safer country, held at bay by armed guards, yet another stream of refugees fleeing from some armed conflict over differing versions of reality, a hawk flies over the crowd and enters the airspace of the safe country. It has violated the airspace, yet no passport was presented, no fighter jets scrambled, no shots were fired, and nobody was led away in leg irons to a holding cell. The hawk disappears over the ridge. Say goodbye.
Zoologists will fit animals with radio collars to monitor their movements. Pet owners will fit dogs with shock collars to prevent them from traveling into a restricted area, like the neighbor's garbage can. Police will fit errant humans with ankle bracelets to monitor their movements and prevent them from traveling into a restricted area, like Shorty's Tavern. Yet, we see no herds of migrating humans outfitted with shock collars.
Incidentally, despite the short step from ankle bracelet to shock collar, most humans willingly fit themselves with cellular phones that monitor their movements. While our data is liberated from our accounts and pored over by men in trenchcoats with thick accents, we are deterred from entering actual locations and relationships. Don't walk on the neighbor's grass. Don't talk to the person next to you on the bus. Keep focused on the flat screen. Something follows this. We have all found out that the buzzing in the coat pocket often precedes an intense episode of humiliating interrogation by some older relative or salesperson. This is called conditioning. Do not imagine what is next.
Now, as noted, the restricted areas are often imaginary lines, ones invisible to sentient beings, with the clear exception of us wayward humans, who have the unique ability to perceive things that don't really exist and to wage war with those who perceive a conflicting unreality. This battle over unrealities is called the March of History. It is the unenviable load of historians to attempt to describe what is not actually there in such a way that the reader segregates it from fiction. This is unsustainable. This is why most history books are ephemeral, like a shimmering mirage in Death Valley, filled with the bones of millions of men and women who crawled across the sand convinced that it was a real freshwater lake filled with real schools of promise. Enter the next dynasty, the one with a conflicting version of unreality, and the books are revised, banned, or burned. A new mirage appears and another crowd forms on the imaginary shoreline.
The fences in the field create fences in the mind. Thoughts in isolation do not thrive; this is not an original thought. It's like the ghost image of our schoolteacher that appeared when we closed our eyes after staring at her standing in front of a black chalkboard for 20 minutes. Life reproduces phantom life in the mind.
Here is a paradox: inbreeding depression is the effect seen when a population becomes isolated and breeds with closely related individuals. They become unfit, less likely to survive. Thus, if children had been segregated according to hair color, while we would experience no suprise if blondes were to wage war with brunettes in the near term, in the long term, after several generations of blondes interbreeding with blondes and brunettes interbreeding with brunettes, we would expect bad traits to arise, an upwelling of deleterious characteristics. Sloped foreheads, brow ridges, palm hair, whippy little tails, and a host of deleted or duplicated parts like extra sets of legs, cartoon hands, or the proverbial Third Eye.
Dagnabbit, this keyboard is too small for all these fingers.
At the same time, isolation of populations is said to drive what is called speciation, the creation of new species, which develop traits and reproductive behavior that renders them incompatible with their parent population. Think leopards and jaguars, dingos and coyotes.
Don't get too excited. Looming over all of this is the March of Science, in which the scientific method seeks to establish a more perfect conception of reality. Michaelangelo once stated, "The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material." That is art, that is science. The hard truth at the center may be: we are still in the quarrying phase.
Despite the provisional status of ideologies, angry crowds full of assumption push to the front of the line. If variety arises from isolation while isolation creates unfit varieties, the question arises, What happens to us? Better check your watch. There is a huge mob forming at every international border and each side perceives the other side to have deleterious characteristics - their shape, color, language, gestures, height, weight, the way they laugh, the way they greet, the way they think.
Militias arrive with truckloads of shock collars. Say goodbye.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
There is no doubt that the author of the book, The Ecology of Sasquatch, does not exist.
It is a fact, the evidence of the author is scant and what little is produced has been misidentified. Most experts believe he is a storefront mannequin, a shaved ape, a manatee, or a man-shaped balloon from the 1928 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that came unmoored and drifted away, landing in Tercentary Theater at Harvard University where it was awarded an honorary degree in Hyperbole. That is not an exaggeration.
There is a lot of wind in his book, enough, it is said, to power 1,600 wind generators, enough to power all the homes in the city of Denver, Colorado. Not only that, the wind is strong enough to force the winds coming out of Canada right back up into the Arctic, where it compresses and warms, adding to the catastrophic melting of permafrost. Global warming is caused by hot human breath!
This just has to be true because one can read it right here right now and this was passed along by 453 virtual friends - they could be if they were. This is the definitive description of nothingness, the absence of something.
Looking to fill the void, one fires up the television machine, leans forward, and squints at the grainy, minute-long film of a man in a rabbit-fur suit, look, the zipper is visible in the front. There he is again, the ape-like creature, swinging his arms, punching Gorosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Gigantophis, Pterodactylus, sea serpents, and Godzilla. The imagery is high definition, the sound is stereophonic, and the subwoofer shakes the living room floor as he roars and stomps across the land. Our hands sweat, our heart pounds.
The problem is, studies have shown that actors can actually get lost in a role, like that circus clown in the corner booth at the cafe who sprays the waitress with his lapel flower and eats his hat. A 2019 study concluded, "portraying a character through acting seems to be a deactivation-driven process, perhaps representing a 'loss of self.'" Another study from the same year observed, "simulating others changed self-knowledge, such that the self becomes more similar to the simulated other." Uh oh.
There are two sides to this story. The man in the rabbit-fur suit made our palms sweat and heart pound. He transformed our perception of the world around us. This becomes clear after one has watched the ape-man terrorize members of the actors guild and the theater audience for two hours and then steps outside into the dark night. The shadows between the buildings, the rooftops beyond the streetlight, the dark, empty space between the parked cars, the back seat in our automobile, each has taken on a threatening aspect, has become less secure, less devoid of danger.
The problem is, we have learned that Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah are not real, no more than the lonely, impotent Mr. Sasquatch. A few miles down the highway, listening to elevator music, our mind ejects the ape-man in the back seat. He flies off into space. Our hands dry off, our heart settles down.
In the 1940s there were newsreels that showed images of carpet bombing in Europe. In the 1960s, the nightly news showed identical images, in color, of carpet bombing in Southeast Asia. Acres of pockmarks, like ground acne, a moonscape right here on earth, air force lakes, Swiss Cheese School of Landscaping, just like Bonny and Clyde's bullet-riddled gangster car. Today, the nightly news shows images of a scarred earth, with roadside bombs, melting Greenland, oil spills in the Niger Delta, coral bleaching, mounds of plastic garbage on remote beaches, and the daily street battles between opposing ideologues pitching tear gas canisters at each other.
One sits back and turns off the imagery. After a few miles, a few kitten videos, a few minutes of elevator music, his hands stop sweating and his heart settles down. He has recovered his self-knowledge. The monster is ejected into outer space again as he drives away.
Brown Steven, Cockett Peter and Yuan Ye 2019. The neuroscience of Romeo and Juliet: an fMRI study of actingR. Soc. open sci.6181908. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181908
Meyer ML, Zhao Z, Tamir DI. Simulating other people changes the self. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2019 Nov;148(11):1898-1913. doi: 10.1037/xge0000565. Epub 2019 Apr 29. PMID: 31033322.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Languages die. Or it is has been said.
When a language falls into disuse, when the last native speaker has uttered his dying word, when there is no society to carry it, the language has become dead. Any interest beyond that is academic, like archeologists digging in a graveyard exposed during the construction of a museum. But deadness is highly prized, like cadaver teeth to a Civil War dentist. Dead things don't move, aren't subject to change, thus, a dead language is a very useful container for those who would want the linguistic meaning of their work to be stable.
Latin is a dead language, having fallen out of use centuries ago - with the exception of quaint Latin Clubs and the Latin Church, whose leaders bemazed onlookers with a theatrical display of it until the 1960s. That's the reason scientists selected Latin as the language to name and describe living things, geologic formations, and scientific processes. These words would be fixed and stable for all time. Yes, our name is Homo sapiens, and we are stuck with it until we de-evolve into simple primates. Comparatively, the English word "human" is subject to change. At this point in history, the meaning of that word has mutated under tremendous selective social pressure and it bears little resemblance to what it meant just a few decades ago. Just look around.
Memories evolve. Or so we think. Cornell University published a study in 2002 in which they showed participants an advertisement describing Bugs Bunny at Disneyworld. Bugs was called "an impossible character" because there is no Bugs at Disneyworld. Bugs is under contract with Warner Brothers, not with Disney. Were he to be spotted, he would be escorted from the premises, face legal action, and his stuffing would be found floating in a canal south of Lake Okeechobee - blown to bits by a cartoon bomb. Authorities said that this was the fate of Bug's older brother, Fritz, whose dismembered foot was found in San Francisco bay - attached to a chain. His movies were destroyed in the 1934 fire at the Burbank studio, destroying valuable evidence. Only some original production drawings remain.
By the way, after viewing the phony advertisement, thirty percent of the participants said they recalled meeting Bugs at Disneyworld as a child. The suggestion of an impossible event, bolstered by fabricated evidence produced a false memory.
To be a memory is to know war. From conception until death, memories are under fierce selective pressure. Only the fittest memory is able to survive REM sleep, the dark hours when the mind stalks and preys upon the daily storylines, purging the weak, culling the herd, a brutal nightly assault that makes us toss and turn, grind our teeth, and jolt up straight in bed, screaming at the shadow suspended in midair above our bed. In the morning, we don't remember a thing, but we have a slight headache. That's the hole where reality was. In the mind's war between reality and desire, the difference is what is recalled.
So we put our words in Latin, hoping to fix and stabilize the ideas, but Latin does not determine the nature of the idea. We only imagine that reality does not die. "Reality" is a word that has mutated under intense selective social pressure. At this point in history, the meaning of that word bears little resemblance to what it meant just a, well, a few nights ago. Just look around.
As we indulge our desires, knowing what we wish to know, sinking deeper into a post-truth world, where outlying data is given equal weight to the preponderance of data, where science is believed to be opinion, where the loudest voice is equal to truth, where two plus two equals five and it's that cabal of billionaire mathematicians just trying to control our minds, we are heading toward one massive headache.
So, as the reality of real reality escapes us like a madman twisting out of the grasp of hospital orderlies, running into the street, screaming, we imagine that he has lost his mind, but he is just trying to get away from us.
Friday, January 01, 2021
Well, the numbers are in and the winner is.
There continues to be talk about a manned mission to Mars. It's been in the planning stage since about 1877. That's when Giovanni Schiaparelli described canali, or waterways on the Martian surface. In 1892, Camille Flammarion ran with that idea and described an entire race of superior beings. In 1950, Ray Bradbury chronicled his tours of the Martian cities. Over the years, various motion pictures were made on location. Many motion picture stars died in horrific battles on Martian soil and in the Martian skies. Alas. Today, millions of the faithful travel to Area 51 in hopes of spotting one of the reclusive aliens that inhabit the region, and if not, they may see a dead singer or two not far away in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Venus goes unnoticed. Mars is half the size of the earth, further away from the sun, covered with red dust, no surface water, with an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than the Earth's, composed almost entirely of CO2, with an average temperature of minus 60 celsius. Still, there are thousands of people camped outside of the launch pad gates, hoping to be some of the first in line to buy tickets to fly to the Red Planet. Vacation in the red rocks, lose pounds instantly, get a tan, feel the stress melt away.
Venus, on the other hand, has a similar mass, radius, density, composition, gravity, year, and day as the earth. It is about 2/3 the distance to the sun. Leave the crowds on Mars - picture yourself out on your deck, cold drink in hand, basking in the Venusian sun. This could be you!
We need to work out a few ergonomic issues with Venusian travel, however. The surface temperature averages 465 degrees celsius, the air pressure is 90 times that of Earth, the sky is obscured by clouds of sulfuric acid, and the windstorms are legendary, at least as bad as those in Livingston, Montana where it can blow 90 miles an hour on a clear day, and perhaps as bad as those in North Dakota, but we are not so sure since communication there has not advanced much beyond the telegraph - the singing wire! - and all accounts seem to have been inflated by at least as much wind as was said to be in the storms. We have heard that a North Dakota man lost his hat in one storm coming hard out of Canada, which blew his hat straight to the south. It went clear out of sight. He stood there and looked at his watch. A minute later he turned around, faced into the wind, and caught his hat blowing right at him from the north.
Anyhow, life on Venus is not.
Returning to earth, where the aliens landed, apparently in search of oxygen and a spot of shade - and, we might add, apparently victims of species profiling because all humans seem to think that all aliens have teardrop-shaped heads, large glowing eyes, small mouths, wasting musculature, holes where there were once ears, and they whisper and point at everything - here, back on this climate-controlled earth, we find that our air conditioning has seized up and is pouring out smoke.
The numbers are in for 2020:
Total acres burned in the United States: 10,274,679. This beats the modern-day, Smokey-The-Bear-Era record set in 2015. And that's just the US. This year produced some grim satellite imagery of the earth on fire, from the Amazon to Siberia to Austraila and North America.
I think I saw one of those aliens in that line at the launch pad.
Friday, November 08, 2019
The blogs have been compiled into a book, How the Earth Was Lost. It has most of the absent essays plus new essays, illustrations, and photographs. 25 chapters plus an introduction. It even has footnotes. That is more reading than doctors advise in a day.
This may or may not be good news.
We hope to create more blogs on the gyrating world of ecology, but that depends. If the public outcry is too severe, we will hang it up.
In the meantime, you can find it at Amazon. It is in print format but we hope to have an ebook version out shortly.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Monday, January 01, 2018
It is the end of the year and this is a good time to review the list of the wildfire acres in the US for the past 58 years (data from the National Interagency Fire Center).
You will note that the past year was the third worst fire season since 1960. And you will note that the average acreages have about doubled since the 1960's and the top ten fire seasons have occurred since 2000.
*** Update: Since this was posted on January 1st, the final numbers for the 2017 fire season came in and it proved to be the second-worst fire season since 1960, surpassing the 10 million-acre mark for the second time. ***
Plot this on a graph, describe the slope of the line, and see where it leads you in say, 20 years, at which time you may reminisce about the days when you didn't camp in fireproof tents.
These are carnivorous plants, inhabiting fens, bogs and peatlands in the northern latitudes. Pretty as they may be, these peatlands are killing fields. Insects are attracted to a sweet mucilage secreted by the glandular hairs on the sundew leaf. The hairs are thigmonastic, that is, they move in response to touch or vibration. The hairs converge on the struggling insect. The musilage contains enzymes: chitinase, esterase, peroxidase, phosphatase, protease. The mucilage secretion is stimulated by specific molecules. A quote from Matusikova 2005: "The reaction of sundew leaves depends on the molecular nature of the inducer applied." And from Gallie 1997, regarding pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), another carnivorous plant found in fens and bogs: "Hydrolase expression is induced upon perception of the appropriate chemical signal."
This is to say, the glistening tentacles of sundew respond to touch and the chemistry of the insect that lands on them, inducing the plant to produce enzymes and to curl the tentacles around the insect.
The purpose of all of this is to convert the insect into digestible material for the plant, enabling it to live in a nutrient-poor habitat, such as bogs are.
Yes, like a cold fog, death creeps across the sodden moor.
That is not all. These northern bogs have two other carnivorous plants. Pitcher plant traps insects in a leafy vase filled with rainwater and enzymes. The vase is lined with sharp spikes, like concertina wire, preventing any escape. Bladderwort (Utricularia) has a submerged bladder under negative pressure that has a trap door and a lever. A water flea or mosquito larvae that touch the lever open the trap door, sucking it into the bladder within tenths of a second. Once again, it is bathed in digestive enzymes.
The insect dies within 15 minutes, and it is safe to say that these are the most horrifying 15 minutes of his brief, hapless life, as the powerful enzymes attack his defenseless, softening body and reduce it to a soupy meal.
We are pleased that insects do not scream, at least in a range heard by humans.
Soil seed bank, to be precise. These are flowers in Death Valley, many of which are annuals, germinating from seeds in a rare year when rains are sufficient. Look up "Superbloom." The seeds have been in the soil for years, waiting for the right rains to come.
The Soil Seed Bank is the repository of seeds in the leaf litter, soil surface, or soil layer. They are like a bank in that they are available for germination in a landscape that has failed to produce seeds in one growing season or more. This failure can happen in times of drought, fire, landslide, floods, hail, human disturbance. The seeds in the seed bank may germinate when favorable conditions return, restoring the historic array of species. That is, as long as the seeds remain viable over the course of the unfavorable conditions.
Seed banks are found wherever plants, animals, wind or other vectors deposit seeds: in the black prairie soils, the bottom of lakes, the muck in swamps, bogs, and marshes, dunes, badland soils, and even permafrost. Some species of seed may be viable for decades, even centuries. In 2012, Russian scientists regenerated Silene stenophylla (narrow-leaved campion, a plant found in Siberia and northern Japan) from a 32,000-year-old late Pleistocene seed that had been buried in the permafrost. Although this specimen wasn't regenerated from a seed, it indicates a potential for ancient germplasm in ice-age seed repositories.
Some of the seeds in our modern soils may have a very long viability in the seed bank. In 1879, botanist William Beal put seeds from 20 species in glass bottles and buried them 20 inches deep. Every 5, 10, or 20 years scientists have dug up a bottle of his seeds to see which ones germinate. In 1980 they were able to germinate moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria), common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and common mallow (Malva neglecta), over 100 years after their burial.
So, the natural cycles of disturbance may play within these time limits, but we are not convinced that anthropogenic disturbances play by the rules. Like the story of the Romanov family, we have the alarming capacity to eliminate a whole lineage in one dark night.
Photo 10/4/06 in Corson County, SD.
This is probably a Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) nest. It's made out of Artemisia cana sticks, in an isolated location, no closer than 1.43 miles from any human habitations. No bones, feathers, or other signs of activity at the time of the photo.
No surprise. In the early 1900's, North Dakota was referred to as the "ferruginous-rough-leg state" because of the abundance of the species. At that time North Dakota had vast, unbroken prairie, ideal Ferruginous Hawk habitat. The hawk thrives in expansive, open, arid grasslands and shrub-steppe communities.
This preference for large, unbroken habitats suggests that Ferruginous Hawk is an interior species. Interior species are adversely affected by highly fragmented habitats and prefer the interior of large, unbroken, relatively undisturbed habitats. Here is a quote from the USDA:
"Fragmentation of a landscape reduces the area of original habitat and increases the total lineal feet of edge, favoring species that inhabit edges at the expense of interior species that require large continuous patches. Ecologists, such as Wilcox and Murphy, believe that habitat fragmentation is the most serious threat to biological diversity and is the primary cause of the present extinction crisis."
Extinction crisis. That's for another day. Should I live to see it.