Archive for January, 2020

Mountain Goats Woodpeckers and Football Players

January 16th, 2020

What do mountain goats, woodpeckers, and football players all have in common? Head butts. Why is it that a woodpecker can pound his head millions of times and not suffer from debilitating brain injuries, and while, we’re at it, what about rams? Heck, even their name identifies what they do.

There have been numerous studies of woodpeckers to attempt to determine what the differentiator is relative to brain injuries and their natural assignment of beating holes in trees with their beaks. These beaks, if you haven’t noticed, are attached to their heads which is where their tiny little brains hang out.

Woodpeckers have to peck pretty hard to get the bugs and insects they’re after. It was originally believed they had a special bone-like, foam material between their brain and their skull, but after dissecting a few deceased woodpeckers, according to MIT professor, Lorna Gibson, it was clear they did not have any foam lining. She and several other scientists dug in and found woodpecker facts.

The woodpecker is absolutely the headbanger of the bird world. They also peck to profess their love and to layout their territory. Their pecking speed would absolutely produce a concussion for a human. They bang their beak at 15 mph between 700 and 12,000 times a day, at up to 20 times per second. That, my friends, is a lot of pecking.

They have thick, strong neck muscles which contract just before their bill hits the surface. This allows some of the force to dissipate down through the bird’s body which protects the bird’s skull from the full blow. They also have unequal upper and lower beaks which lowers the force of the peck from hitting the brain.

Another shock absorber is their tongue. Woodpeckers have tongue supports that wrap around their brains, and work as a safety harness. Plus their brain weighs only two grams and is tightly fit in the skull.

That configuration keeps the brain from banging around inside the skull. Because their tails help brace them against the tree and their toes also are built to brace them, you can say they’ve found the proper pecking posture.

In spite of all the protections Mother Nature provides for them, woodpeckers do get brain damage, but they also have an accumulation of a protein called tau which actually protects them from suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like the chronic traumatic encephalopathy that our football players get.

Because of these studies, all kinds of technological and safety advances have been implemented in sports equipment, but it is believed that the presence of tau in woodpeckers is a protective adaptation, because in moderation, it works to stabilize brains cells.

Tau is typically found in human patients with brain diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to traumatic head injuries. Consequently, it is now up to scientists to discover why tau is good for woodpeckers and how that protein can be adapted to protect football players and others from brain injuries.

Rams, on the other hand, typically bash their heads together at a speed ranging from 20 to 40 mph without injury. How do they do it? Rams have strong, flexible horns that absorb much of the shock of the collisions, in addition to a physical anomaly that slows the blood flow from the head to the body.

Scientists studying football players in Colorado discovered that football players at higher altitudes had 30% fewer head injuries. Their hypothesis is that higher altitudes increase the volume of fluid in the cerebral venous system which provides another layer of protection.

So, maybe the solution is to equip football helmets with horns, to genetically modify the players’ toes, tongues, neck muscles and cerebral blood flows, to make sure only those players with smaller brains take or give the hits, and for goodness sake, to move all of the teams to the mountains.

Or maybe we should study the impact of tau?


Addressing fear and hatred In 2020

January 1st, 2020

Can we show more love, respect and kindness to each other in 2020?

During a conversation with a good friend who has deep knowledge of the economy, he suggested that our putrid economic growth rate of 2 percent is because we’re in the midst of a revolution, an unnamed revolution that is not dissimilar to the agricultural or industrial revolution.

It’s an information revolution, and because we’ve been providing all of the raw material to those in charge for free through apps like Facebook, Google, Snapchat and Instagram, we collectively have not personally benefitted economically from it. The bottom line is millions of Americans are hurting economically, and that’s when things get stirred up.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was a symptom that comes from economic suppression or depression. One other thing about this movement appears to be clear; it seems to be based on fear, not scaredy-cat fear, but actual deep-seated fear of economic insecurity and loss of power. Hence the distressing chant, “They will not replace us.”

Every time this movement has pulsated, it’s been during economically challenging times. No matter how well the stock market and unemployment percentages are doing, people are still hurting.

Maybe a look back at the history of our country from the podcast “On the Media” will put some things in more perspective. University of Chicago professor, Kathleen Belew, explained that participants in the White Power movement see numerous issues as threats to their power, threats to white reproduction which, in their minds, will result in their loss of even more economic control.

Interestingly, none of this is new. The expansion of our country into the western frontier in the late 1800s was said to be part of a post-Civil War effort to deal with both new immigrants and freed slaves. It was thought to have been done to keep the non-white population from taking control of the former slave states. There was also fear that the less affluent immigrants would use their new voting rights to encourage more socialism.

When we ran out of the land in the West, Theodore Roosevelt began to build an un-acknowledged empire. The author of “How to Hide an Empire,” Daniel Limmerwahr, explained that in 1888-89, we engaged Spain in war and took over Puerto Rico, Guam, and later Hawaii and American Samoa. We also had a very bloody war for possession of the Philippines where over 1.5 million Filipinos were killed. The borders of the United States of America’s lower 48 States only lasted for three years before we expanded.

Our political leaders were very careful, however, in that the non-white residents of the majority of these conquered islands were given only limited rights by the United States government. We now had a country that was an empire, ruled by white people, but not a country ruled by representative government.

Our leaders didn’t want the new residents to have voting privileges. The acknowledgment of white supremacy was quietly brushed under the rug, and the people who lived in the territories were and still are relegated to the shadows.

The hopeful news about all of this is we are seeing what we had complacently over-looked in the past and are beginning to address some of the root causes of this fear and hatred. Some have described the current situation as similar to a supernova in that this approach to governing is shining brightly before it burns out.

Someday, we might finally become a country of, by, and for the people of all races, religions, creeds and countries of origin.

A personal note: I had one grandfather who, in his youth, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and the Shrine and another who was a repressed Italian immigrant. Pick one. I’m just trying to figure out where all of this hatred and fear lives to try to make things better for my grandchildren.