Big Stuff

Other than both being on the surface of Tellus, it is seldom that an association is made between Greece and Alaska. Paleontologists digging near Grevena Greece have unearthed the remains of a mastodon whose tusks set a new record of five and four meters respectively. [Link] The find is expected to add new insight into the mechanism for mastodon extinction in Europe.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Max Planck Institut for Evolutionary Anthropology (OK, the uncertainty thing certainly seem to fit in a warped, physics sort of way) have mapped DNA extracted from an Alaskan mastodon tooth. [Link] The startling thing is that the elephant family diverged about the same time primates diverged. The reportage suggests a connection. Clearly that connection cannot be memory, nor bipedal locomotion, nor even tool use. Ah! Perhaps its noses?

As if in answer to this question, I next read in the Washington Times [Link] that people are increasingly less willing to evacuate from severe weather. Hmmmm. AS we know, when elephants are threatened they may form a circle around the children with tusks out. This seems the human equivalent.

I have to admit that I don’t find this very surprising. Once I was down at beautiful Eglin Air Corps Base when a security policeman – the air corps’ equivalent of an MP – rushed into the meeting room and told us we had a choice of getting off the base sine die or be interred for the duration of an oncoming hurricane. I immediately left and finding I could not get a flight from the Eglin air port drove to beautiful Montgomery to catch a promised ride back to Huntsville. Sadly the promise was empty and I got to Atlanta that evening just as the last flight to Huntsville was taking off. I spent an uncomfortable night in a seedy airline contract motel in Atlanta – my baggage was already in Huntsville – to return to the airport to sit until afternoon – the Huntsville airport was closed by the hurricane. I finally got home on the flight I was originally booked on. And yes, if I had had any inkling I would have just driven on to Huntsville, but the Yankee army travel rules made that a more harrowing experience than the one I experienced. But I do wonder how bad it would have been weathering the storm? According to some of my colleagues who did just that the experience was positive.

Evacuation from storms is relatively new, and from what we have seen in recent years a strong candidate for Chinese fire drill of the year, maybe the decade. (Yes, Virginia, it is an insensitive but technically correct term. Having had Chinese colleagues I know they are not undirected, irrational, and chaotic like the evacuations are.) If anything, they demonstrate the inability of both government and capitalism to respond to these things. However, I for one am not ready to change to permit better response. The likelihood of being stuck in a refugee camp is notably enhanced once there are refugee camps. Better I think to prepare individually and brave the environment. That is the value of weather observation and forecasting, preparing locally, not lemming like rushing.

Lastly, researchers at fair Harvard and U California have published findings that they say indicate that obesity is a social disease. [Link] The researchers claim, according to the reportage, that people determine their well being based on what they see in their friends. Thus, if you have obese friends, you are more likely to be obese. What is not clear are the dynamics of the phenomenon. Is this simply a matter of obese people flocking, a form as it were of Bose-Einstein statistics, or is there a dynamic, a force as it were, that compels people to move towards the state of their neighbors?

Somehow the distinction seems important if, as the reportage offers, efforts to counter obesity impact the many and not the one. Two possibilities immediately come to mind as examples. If obesity at least partly has a group dynamic then any progress must be made by all members of the group, presenting a much greater challenge than progress by each or some individuals. Further, if the group is “seeded” to obesity by a single member, then the complexity of making progress becomes doubly complex.

That’s why its important to know if its just simple size clumping or something else. Good start maybe but more work is needed.