Strawberry Moon

Strawberry Moon

We went out last night to view the International Space Station (ISS) as it flew overhead. I attempted to photograph it, but was unable to get a decent image. I did however capture the waxing gibbous moon, what tomorrow will be the full strawberry moon. The ISS pass over started at 9:38 and lasted three minutes. A beauty of the space station is that it is never late. It was distinctly visible as it passed nearly directly overhead. To the naked eye, it looked like a fast moving plane. Interestingly, it first just appeared, well above the horizon and likewise it suddenly disappeared also well above the horizon. I later figured out that this phenomenon is caused by the ISS itself, first passing into sunlight and then back out of it again. I was a little concerned going out last night. Because of all of the civil unrest, here was a curfew in the city and not in the county, where I was, but sometimes these situations change rapidly. We were on the old AB Green ballfield and were the only ones out. My only mishap last night was collecting some chigger bites. Interestingly, when Anne and I walked this morning, our path brought us close to the city-county line. Suddenly, both of our cellphones simultaneously squawked then with an emergency security warning that announced last night’s city curfew. Good to know!

Smile When You Say That

Fluorapatite in Calcite

Pictured above are two elongated, six-sided fluorapatite crystals that have grown within orange calcite and were exposed when the calcite was trimmed away. Both teeth and bones are made from a closely related mineral, hydroxyapatite. I had a dentist appointment today and if my teeth were the color of these crystals, he would have been very upset, but since the sixties that is what the addition of fluoride to drinking water has been all about, turning natural hydroxyapatite enamel into harder, more decay resistant fluorapatite.

Today has been rather dismal. It was very foggy in the morning. This changed to a downpour, while I was coming back from the dentist. I am going to look for a new dentist who is closer to home. When we first moved to Saint Louis, we had a young dentist, whose practice was close to us. Eventually though, he moved to way West County, but we continued seeing him. We has retired now, but before he quit, he joined another dentist’s practice which was more robust, but also even further away. Now it is time to make a change and find another young up and coming dentist, who practices is closer to us, so I don’t have to drive so far.

Smile When You Say That – Temnospondyl

What was even more depressing than the weather and the dentist were the stock markets and the epidemic. Regarding the stock markets, the defensive position that I took in took in November 2016 is now paying huge dividends. Some of our savings accounts, the ones that are mainly equities have been roughly battered, but for those accounts, this doesn’t matter too much. It will be years, before we touch that money. Plenty of time for them to recoup. The account that we have been living off of and will continue to do so is only down about 5%, not including today’s loses, which is still pretty good I think, considering.

I watch the news, to hear when our theater season ticket series will be shutdown. It is only a matter of time now. These series cater to a grey haired clintele, who really shouldn’t be risking it, by going to large audience performances. Sports has already pulled the plug and on Broadway the arts too have called it quits. Here, like I said, it is only a matter of time, before our shows are closed too.

BREAKING: Saint Louis City Mayor has banned all gatherings of 1000 people or more. So, no Hamilton at the Fox this spring for us.

We made the mistake last night of watching the Oval Office pronouncements. It was Teleprompter Trump who was on, but he was so stilted and tenous in his delivery that I was not surprised to learn that the market’s curcuit breakers had been tripped, practically before he was done talking. Putting aside what he said or rather misstated, how he spoke was unnerving enough for me. It was sad.

Planet of the Chickens

Incubating Chicks

Chickens are now the most numerous vertebrate on the planet. 66 billion of them are slaughtered for food annually. And these are not your father’s chickens either, because these birds sprout legs and thighs that have been genetically modified and are significantly larger than their predecessor’s. These bird’s existence is yet another example of humanity’s impact here, on God’s little golf ball.

We are now living in the Anthropocene epoch. This is an era that is marked by significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, climate change. This was the thesis of Dr. TR Kidder’s talk, The Anthropocene Era: Have Humans Become a Greater Force Than All of Nature? He is the chairman of Washington University’s Anthropology Department and was this month’s speaker, at last night’s Science on Tap.

Kidder raised the question, in future epochs, will any signs of man’s existence remain? There is no need to worry about that. The birth of humanity has always been coincidental with the creation of garbage. Anthropologists rely upon first finding human garbage, as a means to search for human bones.

Examples of mankind’s impact on this blue marble abound. Plastiglomerate, stone that contains mixtures of sedimentary grains, and other natural debris and is held together by hardened molten plastic can be found everywhere. 500 million tons of elemental aluminum has been smelted, not a naturally occurring material. 50 billion tons of concrete has been mixed. That is enough concrete to cover the surface of the Earth to a meter’s depth. The geologic record of our existence will not soon disappear.

Archeologists like to separate earth’s history into neat little time periods. The K-T boundary, the geologic transition between the Cretaceous and Tertiary eras is a excellent facilitator for this behavior. Similarly, Kidder proposes July 16, 1945 as the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch. Not that that is when this era began. In actually began much earlier, but on that day near Alamogordo, NM, the first atom bomb was detonated. In subsequent years, through the sixties, following nuclear tests have blanketed the planet with a layer of Strontium-90, a golden spike that will crisply delineate in a geologic timeframe what preceded man and what came afterwards. Because chemically strontium mimics calcium, any child of the sixties has Strontium-90 embedded in their teeth and bones. Coincidentally, Strontium-90 is already being used to detect fine wine fraud.

The current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is now above 400 ppm, a level that has not been seen on this planet for 3 million years. No person alive today will see atmospheric CO2 concentration fall below that level. You could say that global warming is now sorta baked into the equation. It is generally thought that the rise of CO2 levels and the advent of global warming began in the Industrial Revolution, but polar ice core records show that CO2 rise began with the start of the Holocene epoch, some 11,700 years ago and coincided with the first farms. Slash and burn agriculture released CO2, but more importantly, the people of the cleared fields began changing the face of the earth. The last most significant decrease in CO2 levels occurred around 1610 or more than a hundred years after Columbus sailed. In between that date and his first voyage, it is estimated that some 20 million Native Americans died. Their deaths and the brief decline of agriculture in the New World is believed to be the cause for that CO2 dip.

Are we hard-wired for destruction? Our record as a species indicates that we are, even as far back as paleolithic man, on whom the extinction of many species of mega-fauna can be pinned. At this crossroads, we need to become better, more thoughtful stewards, but that is against our nature. Humanity has always had to wrestle with problems that offer either a pay now or pay later proposition. People invariably choose later, even though later is much more expensive.

Kidder’s talk was very informative, if a bit depressing. At least it took our minds off of the Corona virus for a while. I love the new venue for these talks, the Jefferson Ballroom on Chouteau. Anne and I shared a PW Pizza for dinner. We’ve been promised a much lighter topic for next month’s talk, Helium.

We’re All Going to Die, Maybe

First off, there is no maybe about it. We are all going to die, but hopefully not today and hopefully not any time soon. With the myriad of ways to go, one way as of late, has come to dominate people’s thoughts and that is because of the advent of the novel Coronavirus epidemic. Unrelated, I had an appointment with my doctor today. It was a regularly scheduled appointment, but as part of the screening process, I was asked if I had left the country in the past 30 days and if I had any respiratory disease symptoms. No and no.

My doctor’s visit progressed normally and everything checked out fine, but there was an emotional undercurrent to this appointment. It was my last visit with this physician, who I have been seeing for the last forty years. He is retiring in August. We spoke about retirement. I asked him about his future plans. Then he asked, if I had any other questions. So, I asked him about the Coronavirus.

Specifically, I asked him when he thought that the epidemic would arrive here. He wasn’t sure that it ever would. He touted the recent travel ban with China, but then worried about what would happen if the virus ever spread to Africa. I think that his concern was related to those nation’s relatively unsophisticated healthcare systems. That is, relative to ours. Then he launched into singing the epidemiological praises of one of the local medical research institutions that belied his concerns that were showing on his face.

Coincidentally, I’ve just discovered a YouTube channel, called MedCram. This channel provides medical information, in a format that a layman can understand, but with the this epidemic it has focused on the Coronavirus outbreak. Lately, it has offered daily updates. The video is nothing more than writing on a smart-board, but the information it supplies is good. 

Zoonotic Viruses

Zoonotic viruses are viruses that are transmitted from one species to another. In our homocentric world, these are viruses that transmit disease from animals to man. At the Smithsonian now, there is an exhibit that covers these diseases. It was created to commemorate the hundreth anniversary of the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, before it was done. This exhibit is still up, as we face the threat of a new epidemic.

Zoonotic viruses are some of the most deadly viruses known to man. Examples include Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Rabies, Ebola and HIV. While all of them can be deadly, of particular fear are the airborne ones, because they can most easily be spread. Influenza is the perennial king of these maladies. Reoccurring every year and killing 40 million Americans annually. Called coronaviruses, due to the crown-like array of appendages that dot their outer surface, members of this family of viruses are known by many names, SARS, MERS, Swine and Bird flu.

A new virus has appeared this year that is so new that it has been identified only by the family name, Novel Coronavirus. It originated in China and not enough is known about it yet. SARS also came from China, but was accompanied by a cover-up that has sown doubt and fear about the handling of this new disease. This week, fear was manifested, when stock markets tumbled over concerns, but that fear was mainly about Chinese quarantine effects on the global economy.

It remains to be seen how dangerous the Coronavirus will be. It is too soon to tell. Not enough is known yet, but it may be too late, before the story is clear. Don’t panic. Wear a surgical mask if you want, but wash your hands frequently.