Archive for May, 2019

Irksome Pundit Speak: That said at the End of the Day he Doubled Down and It is What It Is

May 26, 2019

I watch too many cable news shows.  News networks that strictly report news get killed in the ratings, so most are 50% news and 50% opinion.  News networks hire pundits who comment on the news of the day.  Most pundits are has-been politicians or former aides to has-been politicians.  Almost all use annoying clichés that drive me crazy.  They can use a whole string of clichés to complete a sentence that in essence is completely meaningless.  Pundits can have entire conversations with each other without saying anything.  Here are some of the clichés they use that are the most irksome.

That said. Pundits use “that said” after they make 1 point and want to address a counterpoint.  The phrase is extraneous.  It is unnecessary to say “that said” because they already said something, and the viewers know what they just said.  I’ve even come across this phrase in written editorials.  I want to tell them “you didn’t say it, you wrote it, you idiot.” Whatever happened to the good old fashioned “however” or “on the other hand.”

At the end of the day. Pundits use “at the end of the day” to conclude their point.  Again, this is a completely unnecessary phrase.  When a pundit is finished making their point all they need to do is shut up and let somebody else speak.  Besides there is never an end to a political argument–they go on forever, long past the “end of the day.”

He doubled down. Pundits use this to describe a politician who makes a terrible gaffe, but instead of apologizing or admitting they misspoke, they defend their idiotic statement.  For example a politician could claim there was such a thing as consensual rape. (A Missouri state senator actually said this a few weeks ago.  What is it about Missouri politicians and their absurd views about “legitimate”  and “consensual” rape?) Instead of apologizing or admitting he misspoke the politician might say “there is consensual rape and 15 year old girls should be drafted to serve as sex slaves for our patriotic soldiers.”  Politicians who refuse to admit they said something dumb are not doubling anything.  They are just stupid.

It is what it is. This is perhaps the most meaningless cliché of all.  It means absolutely nothing  I can’t even explain what people are saying when they use this phrase.  It was what it was and could if it could but it would what it would.  What? I suggest to anyone with the urge to say “it is what it is” to just shut the hell up.

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Hardball with Chris Matthews is my favorite cable news show.  He asks the tough questions.  Usually.

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Sicily During the Late Pleistocene

May 19, 2019

Over the past few weeks I read The Sicilian by Mario Puzo, author of the famous Godfather series.  He also wrote the screenplays for The Godfather and Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  His early novels were critically acclaimed but didn’t sell, so a publisher suggested he write a novel that focused on the mafia.  In his earlier novels the mafia played just a small role.  He followed this advice only to see The Godfather rejected 20 times before he finally found a publisher.  The Sicilian is every bit as good, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been adapted for the cinema.  Mario Puzo doesn’t describe the nature of Sicily much in his novel.  He does describe the island as quite arid, and he frequently mentions the “red hawks” soaring in the sky.  As a supplement to enjoying this novel I engaged in a brief study of Sicily’s natural history.

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The “red hawks” referred to in his book were probably red kites (Milvus milvus), a threatened species.

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Location of Sicily.  

Sea level fluctuations during the Pleistocene led to intermittent land bridges connecting Sicily to mainland Europe and as a consequence Sicilian flora and fauna descend from species arriving from that continent.  The location of the island in the Mediterranean Sea moderated climate, and species that disappeared from most of Europe during severe Ice Ages found refuge on Sicily.  The region is now known for mild wet winters and hot dry summers.  Average annual temperatures were likely slightly cooler during stadials.  Myrtle, oak, and cork trees covered lower elevations, while oak-beech forests occupied higher elevations.  Volcanic mountains and abundant rivers vary the landscape.

Species of large animals living on Sicily during the late Pleistocene included bison, aurochs, horse, fallow deer, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, brown bear, cave lion, hyena, wolf, and giant tortoise.  2 unique species lived on the island then–a dwarf elephant (Palaeoloxodon mnaidriensis) and the dwarf Sicilian hippo (Hippopotamus pentlandi).  The dwarf elephant was closely related to the extant Asian elephant.  It weighed just 3000 pounds, and the species also occurred on the nearby island of Malta.  Both the dwarf elephant and the Sicilian hippo became extinct shortly after man colonized Sicily about 14,000 years ago.

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Artist’s depiction of P. mnaidriensis along with a few swans.  I don’t believe it is drawn correctly to scale, unless this is the depiction of a juvenile.  Dwarf elephants were small but they weren’t this small.

People gradually eroded the quality and quantity of wildlife on Sicily, and they utterly destroyed the natural ecosystems.  Most of the island was deforested during Roman rule, leading to prolonged droughts, and the last wolves were  exterminated during the 1920s.  Though 150 species of birds live on the island, including flamingoes and several species of eagles, many are endangered.  However, the island is home to Nebrodi Mountains National Park where roe deer, wild boar, hares, Eurasian red squirrels, crested porcupines, wild cats, and foxes still roam.  Small towns founded during the Byzantine Empire are scattered throughout the park, and farmers keep rare breeds of horses and black pigs here.  The oldest chestnut tree in the world (more than 2000 years old) grows on Mt. Etna.

I’m going to read a book about the human history of Sicily next and will write a blog article about it when I’m finished.

Reference:

Bofiglo, L. et. al.

“Bio-chronology of Pleistocene Vertebrate Faunas of Sicily and Correlation of Vertebrate Bearing Deposits with Marine Deposits”

Il Quaternario 16 (1BIS) 2003

 

Did Pleistocene Tapirs Shit in the Woods?

May 12, 2019

The answer is not as obvious as it might seem.  A new study found extant lowland tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) defecate more often in degraded woodlands than in deep forests.  They spend more time in disturbed forest openings that have been logged or burned because they feed upon young plants sprouting in the increased sunlight after canopy tree removal.  The study suggests tapirs facilitate forest regeneration by defecating viable seeds in their dung.  Scientists estimated the average tapir shits about 10,000 viable seeds per year in disturbed forests–3X more than in undisturbed forests.

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Lowland tapir standing near a forest edge.  They actually shit more next to the woods than in it.

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Mountain tapir (T. pinchaque).  This is the only species of extant tapir adapted to cooler climates.  The extinct species of tapir that formerly lived in southeastern North America was likely adapted to temperate climates, like this species.

The extinct Vero tapir (Tapirus veroensis) roamed across southeastern North America during the Pleistocene, and this species likely played an important role in forest regeneration then as well.  Herds of mammoths and mastodons stripped bark from trees, often killing them.  This was especially true during droughts when mammoths, normally grass-eaters, were forced to dine on the edible parts of trees.  Flocks of passenger pigeons also wiped out whole sections of forest.  Tornadoes and ice storms left large gaps in the forest canopy.  Tapirs attracted to these disturbed areas helped them regenerate.

Studies of extinct tapir bone chemistry indicate tapirs preferred to eat plants that occurred in deep forests.  However, they likely ate the young saplings that sprouted in gaps within forests.  Some of the plants tapirs may have consumed included pokeberry, persimmon, pawpaw, Osage orange, honey locust, wild squash, blueberry, composites, maple, and oak. These are plants that quickly colonize forest gaps.  And tapirs didn’t often shit in the woods.  Instead, they crapped on the edge of the woods or in open gaps within the woods.

Reference:

Paolucci, L.; C. Rattis, R. Pereira, and D. Silverio

“Lowland Tapirs Facilitate Seed Dispersal in Degraded Amazonian Forests”

Biotropica Feb. 2019

The Hoyo Negro Fossil Site Keeps Producing Surprises

May 5, 2019

I’ve already written about the Hoyo Negro fossil site located in Yucatan, Mexico twice (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/the-hoyo-negro-fossil-site-in-yucatan-mexico/ and https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/new-species-of-late-pleistocene-ground-sloth-and-peccary-discovered-on-yucatan-peninsula/ ), but new and interesting discoveries keep happening inside this underwater cave.  Scuba divers previously found a 13,000 year old human skeleton, the bones of 30 species of large mammals, and bat guano, containing valuable paleoecological evidence at this site.  Included among the mammal specimens were 3 extinct animals new to science–2 species of ground sloth (Xibalbaonyx oviceps and Nahochichak xibalbahakah) and 1 species of peccary (Mucknalia minimas).  Recently, scuba divers found another human skeleton here, this 1 dated to 12,000 years BP; and scientists identified the bones of 2 species of extinct carnivores previously thought to have been restricted to South America.

A team of paleontologists looking through bones excavated from Hoyo Negro realized 1 labeled as coyote had been misidentified.  The remains actually belonged to Protocyon troglodytes, an extinct wolf-like animal.  Subfossils of this species have been excavated from sites located in 6 South American countries, but this is the first time a specimen has ever been found in North America.  This team of paleontologists also recognized a bear skull misidentified as belonging to a spectacled bear was actually the skull of an Arctotherium wingei. This species of extinct bear was known from fossil sites in 3 South American countries, and this specimen is also a first from North America.  Photos of bear fossils from other sites in the Yucatan peninsula indicate these also are Arctotherium.  These discoveries extend the known northern range limits of these species by over 1200 miles.

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I think this photo is the Arctotherium skull found in the Hoyo Negro.  This specimen is preserved better than any previously known.

The Yucatan peninsula supported a unique fauna during the last Ice Age.  Paleontologists recently named a new species of extinct jaguar (Panthera balamoides) from a few bones found at another site in the region. This means there were 4 species of large mammals living on the Yucatan that may not have been found anywhere else.  Moreover,  both North and South American species had ranges that overlapped here and possibly nowhere else.  For example dire wolves co-existed here with protocyon, another predatory canid.  It seems likely a vast desert grassland isolated the Yucatan peninsula during Ice Ages.  However, the proximity of the Caribbean Sea allowed for more precipitation on the peninsula than farther inland.  This fostered the growth of jungles and wetlands that supported a greater variety of fauna, and new species that were different from populations on the other side of the desert evolved in this isolated paleoenvironment.

Reference:

Schubert, Blaine; et. al.

“Yucatan Carnivores Shed Light on Great Biotic Interchange”

Biology Letters May 2019