Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Trump Evaluation Quiz

Throw the rascals out-

seemed to be the creed attracting the Trump followers.  There was some value seen to rooting out entrenched legislators who appear to be at the beck and call of money and power brokers.  But the cure turned out to be worse than the disease.  Bi-partisanship seems to have vanished with the death of John McCain.

The art of the deal seems to consist of insults, lies, extortion, deceit, and bribery.  Trusted authorities are those who agree with you.  Sometimes it seems Fox News, Rush, Sean, and Kelly may provide unbiased analysis so I can't automatically condemn their statements.  A Trump deal appears to be a solution tailored to his request.  His imposition of a government shutdown looks like an attempt to extort money for the wall from congress.  But he probably won't accept any compromise until the lack of funds ends the FBI investigation of his alleged wrong deeds.

For each topic below, read the statements under the topic heading,  Then on the line in front of the topic enter a "T" if the statement(s) is (are) true; enter an "F" if the statement(s) are false or fake news.


Trump started debates of presidential contenders of his party by focusing on the one he probably thought was most vulnerable to nasty comments.  He continued to pick off others, often minimizing their strengths as failings.  Insults are readily applied to those opposed to any view of his.

_____ LIES

His tweets on Twitter as well as more formal presidential statements are full of self-contradictions,  It seems that any thing supporting or opposing a particular view could be documented by his utterings.  Is he guilty of lies, memory lapses, mental processing failures, or some combination of all of the above?  His lies directed at others often seem to be projections of his own failings.


The government shut-down is his doing.  He seems to think blaming democrats for it will make them agree to his demands.  That it is a ploy for something else seems indicated by his stomping out of a meeting he arranged with two congressional leaders.

_____ DECEIT

Circumstantial evidence points toward keeping his income statements under wraps so profiting from bankruptcies, Russian contacts, and shady deals won't be seen.  Unreported control of foreign financial accounts could be evident and lead to unreported campaign financing.  I thought he talked a lot about Hillary's email and other problems before they were publicized and before the Russian influence  was evident.  It was easy for me to think he had advance clues from them, perhaps from suggestions he dropped.


I can't believe his lawyer took care of his girlfriend problems without some instruction.


His off-the-cuff remarks show little sensitivity to humans.  His reading from the scripts his speech-writers put on the teleprompter make me think he is a sensitive person.  But tweets confirm the insensitivity and lack of appreciation for anyone of other sex, race, national origin, political view, and not visible in his mirror.  If it were not for this problem we would have far fewer children separated from their parents, fewer people born in this country and living admirable lives while facing deportation.

Results     5 or 6 T's, watch Fox News sometimes;  5 or 6 F's,  watch CNN sometimes; 3 or 4 T's or F's, its a puzzling world, isn't it.

Other than the above, and messing with medical care, the economy, foreign relations (did you see the recent clip of his elbowing a head of state out of the way so he could be front and center of a photo-op during a foreign meeting?), and causing an exodus of experienced leadership in government departments-  well, other than that he isn't doing bad and God still loves him.

Joe Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan      January 22, 2019

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Variable Rates of Extinction and Evolution

A New Theory?

While composing the previous post about the status of survival/extinction of the Tasmanian tiger I thought of the impact of impending extinction on rates of evolution.  It may be discussed in literature I am not familiar with, but it was new to me; perhaps the first new idea  about evolution that I have had in ten years and certainly the first since I turned ninety last year.😊

The theory of "punctuated equilibrium" in rate of evolution proposed by Gould has largely been abandoned as variation caused by probable artifacts of sampling problems faced by paleontologists.  The assumption of a uniform rate underlying known variability around such a rate has been accepted by many molecular phylogeny researchers and caused the errors in our understanding of the relationship of major phyla to one another as shown by the sixth post on this blog site posted 5/31/2013.

The Tasmanian tiger

Maybe it is extinct, maybe it is surviving in remote areas of Tasmania and/or continental Australia.  But the bounty on them in Tasmania reduced them to such a small population that there has not been accepted evidence of them in the past few dozen years.  Could some have learned to avoid inhabited areas or developed excellent ways of avoiding human contact?  Not doing so could have eliminated those lacking such skills during the time the bounty was effective.

Genetic diversity

A reduced population makes it likely that some genetic diversity is lost and thus adaptability and the chance of surviving becomes more limited, possibly causing further loss of genetic diversity and ultimate extinction.  Extinction from such an event is not as dramatic as extinction from natural disasters such as asteroid impact, disease, introduced predators, climate change, and evolution of better competitors.

The ecology of extinction and expansion of range

There are many causes of both factors.  In a stable environment competition is a major factor as some balance is reached if the less well adapted species can specialize in utilizing a part of its environmental resource of food and housing more effectively or, alternatively, utilize a greater range of resources.  Migration and other factors may also be part of the equation.

Either being a specialist or a generalist can be an effective way of competing for survival,  The generalist probably will yield a greater diversity of new specialists following a major extinction event.  The best specialists may also do well and dominate in the same post extinction time.  If overspecialization occurs a species may become extinct earlier during a major extinction episode.

Species differ in their habitat requirements.  Large predators typically require large suitable areas.  Fragmented habitat may make life difficult for many species although connecting corridors of suitable habitat can help survival.  The prey species of predators also have their special requirements.  For the Tasmanian tiger, life may have been difficult to sustain because many of the medium sized marsupials of forests are adapted to tree-dwelling.  Kangaroos and larger wallabies are more likely be in more sparsely forested habitats.

Human activities would seem to be generally detrimental to survival for many species.  Besides our causing reduction of favorable habitat, pollution, introduction of pest species, and our general lack of awareness of the damage we do should put us in awe of the survivors.  The good that we do by providing some food at critical times can be canceled by the danger feeding stations provide for disease transmission as well as sites attracting predators.  The natural spacing of species and their survival is more likely to be enhanced by well-designed land conservancy programs.

In retrospect, I do not have a new theory, it is just awareness of the complexity and breadth of application of existing ones.

Joseph Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan     January 18, 2019 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Tasmanian Tiger, Extinct, or Not?

The uncertain state of affairs

The question of exinction of the Tasmanian tiger (the thylacine) was raised in an interesting article, "Paper Tiger" (Brooke Jarvis, The New Yorker, July 2, 2018, pp. 44-54).  According to Jarvis, the last one in captivity died in a Hobart, Tasmania, zoo in 1936.  That was twenty years before I arrived and was mentored by Dr. Eric Guiler, an expert on many Tasmanian zoological topics, during my year as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Tasmania.

On several field trips with Dr. Guiler (see endnote), and others by myself, many other animals or their sign, such as tracks or droppings were seen.  But such lack of evidence is not very convincing because- such rarities as the Tasmanian devil and the platypus I only saw in zoos, Michigan mammals known to exist but seldom seen outside of zoos include badgers, bobcats, cougars, flying squirrels, mink, and otters.

It seems reasonable that with the bounty put on tigers, to reduce their predation on farm animals, their numbers may have been reduced beyond their ability to survive.  But Tasmania has much uninhabited potential tiger habitat where few would have chances to observe them.  Some suspect that some may still survive in wild country along the north coast of the Australian mainland.  Both are plausible, but seem to require better documented evidence than is presently known.

A few potential factors

In favor of their non-extinction is the possibility those most adapted to avoiding humans may have left some survivors.  Anecdotal reports would seem to support this view.  But the ease for humans to see what they want to see has caused the shooting death of numerous hunters and a few cattle during the hunting season in Michigan; eye-witness testimony is of questionable reliability.

Extinction is perhaps more likely when numbers are greatly reduced.  Habitat reduction is one cause.  But small numbers may increase inbreeding and thus increase the likely of mortality due to deleterious genes.  Small numbers can also interfere with opportunities for mating and consequent reproduction.  Other factors may also operate if social learning is involved, although I have not heard of Tasmanian tigers forming packs.

Extinct or not, it is still an open question.  Negative facts and hypotheses such as extinction are very difficult, if not impossible, for a scientist to prove.

endnote: Dr. Guiler is the one standing to the left in the picture in post number 51 -

Joseph G. Engemann      Emeritus Professor of Biology    Western Michigan  University, Kalamazoo, Michigan       January 15, 2019

Monday, January 7, 2019


There seems to be a burst of energy put into discovering new species that add to knowledge of the diversity of life in the Cambrian and earlier fossil fauna described in Gould's book about the Burgess Shale deposits in the Rocky Mountains of Canada.  A recent issue of Science summarizes the results of the summer fossil collecting season of an additional site not far from the Burgess Shale site.  Additional sites, especially in China, are major locations of fossils from the same general time over 540 million years ago,

The discoveries are largely more of the same - arthropod groups, some now extinct, and some ancestors of relatively rare living groups such as horseshoe crabs and onychophorans that have not greatly changed.  Ancestral trees show relationships of major arthropod groups appearing rapidly during a few million years of time.

I do not have much hope of researchers finding fossils that clearly show the origins of annelids and mollusks more than indicated in earlier posts of this blog.  It is a little bit like me, not much is new since I turned ninety.

Joe Engemannn     Kalamazoo, Michigan     November 30, 2018

The issue from the mid-November Science issue had a bit about discovery of a method providing information about epithelial layers formerly thought to be unable to present fossil evidence.  It seems unlikely to provide reliable evidence leading to wholesale understanding of gross aspects of fossil structure, although interesting information seems to be revealed.

Arthropods ancestral to known groups may have not provided fossil evidence for a number of reasons such as - inaccessible ancient rock strata, lack of structures that fossilize,  Isolation of one or more small sub-populations of a species provides opportunities for more rapid development of new species.

My shutdown of blogging for the past month had nothing to do with the current government shutdown other than my wasting my time thinking about the ridiculous current events.

Joe Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan    January 7, 2019