Archive for August, 2021

Of Morbid TV Shows and Wrinkly Foreheads

August 27, 2021

When I was about 4 years old I used to tell people my physician father “cures his patients.” Unfortunately, I had difficulty pronouncing the word, cure, and it sounded more like I was saying my dad “kills his patients.” My parents told me to stop saying that. At the time my dad was trying to build up his practice, and mispronouncing cure into kill didn’t help. I always think of this memory on Tuesday mornings when I start my hangover jog. I binge drink wine every Monday night, then jog in 90 degree heat the next morning, and I figure the exercise will “kill” or “cure” me. Most experts recommend not even going outside in this kind of heat, let alone running over 3 miles in it. I am 59 years old and probably suffer from high blood pressure, so this activity is by far the most hazardous part of my weekly routine. Nevertheless, it’s worth the risk for my psyche. I’d feel old, if I couldn’t do it, and I’d rather be dead than feel old.

I like to watch a television show on the Reelz network known as Autopsy: The Last Hours of… In each episode Michael Hunter examines the lifetime medical records of celebrities and determines exactly how they died. Some of his analysis is laughably unnecessary. For example Jerry Lewis had health problems throughout the later years of his life but lived to the age of 95. Just being the age of 95 should be reason enough for why he died. Frank Sinatra was another non-mystery. He drank a bottle of whiskey and smoked 2 packs of cigarettes every day for 50 years. It’s astonishing he lived to be 80. Other episodes do delve into more mysterious deaths. Luke Perry, star of Beverly Hills 90210, died of a stroke at the reasonably young age of 52. He was seemingly in good health–he exercised regularly and ate an healthy diet. Dr. Hunter did find 1 unexpected factor that may have contributed to his early demise. Perry had deep lines in his forehead, and an unpublished French study found people with deep lines on their forehead have an higher risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.

Michael Hunter, host of the Reelz series Autopsy: the Last Hours Of. (Channel 238 on DirecTV) He examines the medical details of celebrity deaths.

Luke Perry died at the age of 52 from a stroke. Note the wrinkly forehead. An unpublished French study found people with deep wrinkles on their forehead had an higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The Luke Perry episode set off alarm bells for me because I have noticed I have a wrinkly forehead. Soon after I watched this episode, I researched the study on the internet. The unpublished results of the study were discussed at a European Medical Symposium during 2018, and a press release was issued detailing the study. It was a 20 year study that looked at 3200 people who were 32, 42, 52, or 62 years old when the study began. Over this 20 year time span 233 of the subjects died. Of the subjects who died, 15% had deep forehead wrinkles, 6% had moderately wrinkled foreheads, and 2% had no wrinkles on their forehead. I immediately noticed the bad math. 15% + 6% +2% = 23%. What about the other 77%? I sent an email to the author of this study asking about this discrepancy but so far have gotten no response. None of the other news outlets that reported the press release mention this disparity. Sciencenewsdaily.com simply plagiarized the press release and repeated the bad math. Other news outlets skipped over it (they must have noticed but said nothing). It may be true that atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) shares a genetic pathway with wrinkly foreheads but until someone explains the goofy math, I’m not going to worry about it. Most of the subjects in the study who died were probably in their 70’s, close to the average life expectancy anyway. I can think of worse ways to die than from a sudden cardiac event. If I die jogging in 90 degree heat while hungover, so be it.

Reference:

Esquirol, Yolande

“Deep Forehead Wrinkles May Signal a Higher Risk for Cardiovascular Mortality”

European Society of Cardiology Press Release 2018

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Adolf Hitler Never Won a Legitimate Election

August 20, 2021

I always yell at the television when some ill-informed political pundit falsely claims Adolf Hitler was democratically elected. Bernie Sanders made this claim a few years ago, and a Washington Post fact-checker gave him 4 Pinocchios–their highest falsehood rating. Last week, Bill Maher again repeated this myth on his show, Real Time, and a guest agreed with him. Maher has regurgitated this lie numerous times in the past, but there is no way for an average shmuck like me to contact him and set him straight. Maybe someone can bring this article to his attention, but I doubt it.

Adolf Hitler ran for President of Germany during 1932 and lost to Von Hindenburg twice. He lost the first election by over 19% points and the second by almost 17% points. The results were not close. However, Hitler did take advantage of the democratic process to gain power, so perhaps the Washington Post’s 4 Pinocchio rating given to Bernie Sanders was too harsh. I’d give him 1 Pinocchio or the mostly false rating used by Politifact fact-checkers.

Results of the 1932 German Presidential Election and the Run-off. Von Hindenburg beat Hitler twice. From wikipedia.
Von Hindenburg was the only person in Germany who could have stopped Adolf Hitler. Instead, he appointed him chancellor to form a coalition government. He could have formed a coalition government with the Christian Democrats, but he hated the more liberal party. In contradiction to the tone of this photo, Hitler thought Hindenburg was a doddering old fool and Hindenburg called Hitler a damned corporal, and he made fun of his Austrian accent.
The Nazis burned down the Reichstag (the German Congress building) and blamed it on the communists. Von Hindenburg approved of the Enabling Act which gave Hitler dictatorial powers based on this crisis manufactured by the Nazis. Photo from the Smithsonian magazine.

During the 1928 German parliamentary elections the Nazis garnered just 2.6% of the vote. Then the Great Depression began, the economy collapsed, and the Nazi Party won 37% of the seats for the Reichstag during the July 1932 parliamentary election. This was more than any other party but not enough for a majority. Von Hindenburg was forced to broker negotiations for a coalition government. Von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor–the most important cabinet position. He also appointed 2 other Nazis (Goring and Frick) to other positions, while the 8 other cabinet positions went to members of other political parties. Von Hindenburg did not have to do this. He could have formed a ruling coalition between the the moderate Christian Democrats, his own Centre Party, and a number of minor parties that could have pushed them over the top in the Reichstag. But Von Hindenburg hated the Christian Democrats. His own Centre Party was right wing and supported by the Conservative Catholic Church, and they despised the more liberal Christian Democrats. The former Chancellor, Von Pappen, still had influence with Von Hindenburg, and he persuaded him to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Hitler had promised to make Von Pappen Vice-Chancellor in exchange for convincing Von Hindenburg to appoint him. Moreover, 22 leaders of German industry lobbied Von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler because they feared the communists, and they felt Hitler was the best leader who could prevent the spread of Bolshevist revolution. Von Hindenburg, himself an extreme right winger, actually agreed with all of Hitler’s positions, except for his persecution of the Jews. One can understand why Von Hindenburg appointed Hitler, but he wasn’t forced into it.

Another parliamentary election was called in November of 1932 and the Nazis lost 35 seats but still held more than any other party. Here again, Von Hindenburg could have sacked Hitler and replaced the coalition government, but he did not. During February 1933 the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag building and blamed it on the communists. They did such a good job of hiding the real arsonists that historians couldn’t prove the Nazis were behind the Reichstag fire until as recently as 2013. Hitler used this crisis to influence the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, a law that suspended civil liberties and gave him more power than anyone other than Von Hindenburg who Hitler knew was dying of cancer. The law was not passed democratically. Members of the Reichstag who were Christian Democrats or Communists were arrested and prevented from voting against it. During his time as Chancellor Hitler gained control of the police and the military. After Von Hindenburg died during August of 1934 Hitler combined the office of the President with that of the Chancellor and called it the Fuhrer meaning supreme leader. He appointed himself Fuhrer. That does not sound like a democratic election to me.

After Hitler made himself dictator, there were elections but they were all rigged to make it look like the Nazis won in a landslide every time. Hitler ruled Germany for 11 years before killing himself in a bunker when he couldn’t deny that he had led Germany to its destruction.

Reference:

Shirer, William

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

MJF Books 1961

My Pleistocene Mammal Checklist of East Central Georgia 36,000 Years BP Revised

August 13, 2021

8 years ago, I wrote a blog entry listing the exact species of mammals I thought probably lived in east central Georgia 36,000 years ago. I chose this time because it was the most recent period when climate was similar to today’s climate, coinciding with the last time when man was probably absent. I wondered what mammals would live in an environment untouched by man but with a similar climate. My list was an educated guess because there is only 1 Pleistocene-aged fossil site in this region, though there are some to the immediate north, south, and east. This time period was an interstadial–a warm wet period between colder drier Ice Ages. Pollen evidence suggests oak tree populations expanded. So I assumed the ecosystem was a mix of open oak woodlands, some grasslands, wetlands, and relict arid scrub environments persisting from the previous stadial. Since I wrote this blog, new information has come to light, and my list needs to be revised. Before I started to write this, I didn’t realize I had already edited some of the changes into my original article. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/if-i-could-live-during-the-pleistocene-part-xii-my-mammal-checklist/ )

The 9-banded armadillo is an addition to my list. 9-banded armadillos have recently recolonized the region, but until a few years back scientists didn’t realize this species had also lived in southeastern North America during the Pleistocene. Their fossils had been confused with those of the beautiful armadillo, a different extinct species that was about twice as big. But analysis of genetic material shows that both co-existed over the same range.

On my original list I put question marks next to species that I was unsure lived in the region during this time period. Fox squirrels are 1 that should have a question mark next to it. There is no evidence in the Florida fossil record of fox squirrels until very late during the Pleistocene ~12,000 years BP. However, fox squirrel remains have been found in a Georgia cave that date to the LGM ~21,000 years ago. They may be a late invader of southeastern North America, but on the other hand they could just have been local in distribution and perchance never left remains in fossil sites. By contrast gray squirrels are commonly found in regional fossil sites. Perhaps east central Georgia was an area where fox squirrels occurred 36,000 years ago and from where they expanded into the rest of the south, but the dearth of fossil sites explains why this is unknown.

On my original checklist I included 2 species of horses, but it seems likely there was only 1–Equus caballus. Fossils of the pseudo-asses that date to the late Pleistocene are restricted to the west. The pseudo-asses did occur in southeastern North America during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene, but by 36,000 years ago they were not living in the region.

I included elk on my original checklist, but genetic evidence suggests this species did not colonize North America until about 15,000 years ago. No radiometrically dated remains of elk on the continent prior to that date have ever been found. Unless there was an extinct lineage of elk ranging here, I don’t think they lived in the region. White-tailed deer were likely the most common species of deer in the region then, just like today. However, I do believe woodland caribou and the extinct stag-moose did occasionally range into the region. Fossil remains of both species have been found at this latitude. They were probably more common in the region during Ice Ages, but I think it seems likely a few stragglers did wander into the region during interstadials. After all, this was unchecked wilderness. Some caribou herds likely migrated haphazardly, and sometimes they wandered into the region.

I think herds of caribou wandered into east central Georgia even during interstadials.

Scientists identify the remains of a medium-sized canid as coyote from fossil sites that are known to date throughout the late Pleistocene. However, genetic evidence suggests coyotes diverged from the population of gray wolves that crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America just 20,000 years ago. So what were these coyote-like canids? I think they are an unnamed extinct species anatomically difficult to discern from modern day coyotes. This species likely played a similar ecological role. On my list Canis latrans should be changed to unnamed extinct canid.

Dire wolves and jaguars were likely the most common large predators in the region. Giant lions and saber-tooths may have existed in low numbers here. The former were more common in the more open grasslands to the south of the region. But I think bears were by far the most common carnivores. If a person could travel back in time and take a walk in the woods of this region, it would be impossible not to run into a bear. Bears are omnivores and can breed and reproduce even when there are low populations of other large mammals. Grizzly-sized black bears, Florida spectacled bears, and giant short-faced bears all roamed the region then.

I still think most of the other famous Pleistocene megafauna occurred in the region, but some may have been transitory. I think Jefferson’s ground sloth and Harlan’s ground sloth were year round residents as were stout-legged llamas and long-nosed peccaries. Herds of long-horned bison roamed around looking for fresh pasture. Mammoths possibly passed through during annual migrations. And mastodons moved up and down the river valley bottoms.

Birds Hunting Bats

August 6, 2021

During the Cretaceous mammals, including our ancient evolutionary ancestors, hid in the shadows from terrifying predatory dinosaurs. 65 million years later, some things never change because bats (along with rodents, rabbits, and small monkeys) still fall prey to the dinosaurs that didn’t become extinct–birds. 1 study compiled all accounts of diurnal birds hunting bats, and the authors cataloged 237 species of birds that have been recorded hunting bats. Some of the species are not surprising. 107 species of hawks and 36 species of falcons prey upon bats. Other species are more surprising. 94 non-raptor species from 28 families prey upon bats. The list of bird species that prey upon bats includes Mexican gray hawks, red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, Cooper’s hawks, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. 1 species of falcon specializes in hunting bats and is even called the bat falcon (Falco refigularis). Owls probably kill more bats than hawks do because they are nocturnal and active when bats are most active. Species of owls that hunt bats include barn owls, barred owls, great horned owls, short-eared owls, and long-eared owls. Even some song birds prey upon bats. Brown jays, a tropical corvid, attack bats when they exit caves. And birds in the goat sucker family, such as Chuck-will’s-widows, swallow bats whole in flight. Some species of bats are particularly small and can be the size of large insects.

Red-tailed hawk hunting Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo from BBC Earth video on youtube.
This bird is actually called the bat falcon because it specializes in hunting bats. Photo from the Birds of the World website.
Even some species of songbirds eat bats, including this tropical brown jay. Photo from ebird.
Look at the gaping mouth of this Chuck-will’s- widow. They swallow small birds and bats whole while in flight. Photo from the Kiawah Island banding blogspot.

Mexican free-tailed bats live in colonies of hundreds of thousands. Raptors attack this species of bat in shifts. Red-tailed hawks attack the bats when they leave their cave in the evening; peregrine falcons attack the bats when they return to the cave in the morning. Birds normally attack bats when they are stragglers flying by themselves. Bats flying close together may be harder for birds to single out and hunt. For bats there is safety in numbers.

References:

Lee, Ya-fu; and Yen Man Kuu

“Predation on Mexican Free-Tailed Bats by Peregrine Falcons and Red Tailed Hawks”

Journal of Raptor Research 35 (2) 2001

Mikula, P.; F. Morello, R. Lucas, and D. Jones

“Bats as Prey of Diurnal Birds”

Mammal Review 46 (3) Feb 2016