Many people have asked (ok, actually a member of one of our immediate families), "Smells like Science", "The truth is up there somewhere"? What's up with that? Seems pretty cryptic.
Fair enough. So, when cooking up this blog idea, I shared this video posted below. I think that you can now see where these lines come from. This is a white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) and a dead zebra in the Masai Mara. However, the IUCN updated their red list of yesterday (Oct 29, 2015) and downgraded the status of African vultures, reporting that half of all African vultures are now endangered, including Gyps africanus.
So, that clears up "Smells like Science".
Brain eddy or not, we try to squeeze some science out (stinky bad pun intended), or at least some cool natural history. We all know that vultures are carrion feeders, and obviously, this group found this dead zebra. However, by far the common field encounter with these vultures is seeing them picking on the remains of a carcass after the hyenas, lions, cheetahs, jackals, ... have consumed their kill. Old world vultures do not have a sense of smell, so they circle in networks and when they find an animal, they all hone in on it. They found this zebra, which had succumbed to disease or something: the carcass was intact. White-backed vultures apparently do not have strong jaws and can not rip skin to enter the carcass. Predators (listed above) and the Lappet faced vultures do. However, given that neither mammals nor the lappet faced vultures had yet happened upon this carcass, the white backed vultures were faced with a package of food that they could not unwrap. This one crafty vulture was getting in there the only way possible (once other vultures had nibbled out the eyeballs and tongue).
This video serves to remind us that nature may be cool, pretty, fascinating, but getting by on the plains of Africa can get pretty gritty. Life is not for the squeamish.
We mere regular folk often have difficulty keeping up with the self-avowed “genius of Donald Trump.” It takes the collective effort of all of us to collect observations, take stock, analyze data to put two and two together, so to speak. This is our contribution to keeping up with Trump.
Donald Trump is very keen on building a wall between us and Mexico. Why is this such an important issue to him? The answered came to us in a flash: commercial property venture. The next Trump miracle! We are building the wrong dang wall!
Here is where we started to catch up with Donald on this issue. He says wants to build the big fence. We all think that it won't work. Of course it won’t work. The critical idea: It doesn’t need to work. Where has Donald Trump succeeded? Luxury attractions! Trump Tower, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Hotels and Casinos, Trump Entertainment Resorts. Coming soon: The Trump Wall of America! You've been to Mall of America? Go shop Wall of America. You've been to Six Flags? Take in Two Flags in the Wall (three in Texas).
Trump knows China. The other wall that tried to stop unwanted immigration, the Great Wall of China, failed in its primary mission. It kicks butt at its secondary mission: tourism and commerce.
Listening to Dan Carlin’s great podcasts on the great Khans of Mongolia brought me to thinking about the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall was begun more than a 1000 years before the Mongolians sacked some previous marauders from the steppes that had set up a Chinese dynasty (the Jin, who themselves sacked the previous regime established by marauders from the north (the northern Song dynasty)). Northern tribes ransacking the Han Chinese went on for thousands of years. Not surprisingly, this lead the Chinese to perceive themselves to have an immigration problem that they, at one time, thought a wall could fix. Most of the wall we see today is post-Mongolian. When the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty collapsed, the ethnically Han Chinese-led Ming dynasty got busy finishing that wall.
The Great Wall was not an effective deterrent from the north. Marauders from the north continued to sack China despite the wall. New marauders (Europeans) came from the sea. But that does not make the wall a failure. It is a consistent jobs program (construction, maintenance and staffing). Well, they used slave labor to build it, many of whom died, but importantly it kept people busy. But, here is the kicker: 500 years later on and the Wall remains the largest single tourist attraction in Asia. That is the very (Trump) definition of success.
Mr. Trump wants to build a legacy for the future – a tourist attraction for the masses. This will dwarf the malls and theme parks of America as we know them. This is HUGE! Think of the opportunities to attract visitors to a wall that runs 1954 miles from the Pacific to the Gulf, traversing mountain ranges and crossing reservoirs. It is relentlessly warm and sunny from coast to coast. This is replete with marketing opportunities. Take the cruise ship like train from the Gulf to the Pacific; shopping, hotel rooms, entertainment and amusement parks all the way. Home of the next Dollywood?
OK, so that is only part of the genius. Here is the rest. Trump wants Mexico to pay for it. Sounds Republican enough, but don’t forget that Donald is an astute businessman. So, what does that tell you? First, build the Wall of America in Mexico. Duh! The real estate, labor and regulatory costs will be a fraction of what we are paying in the US. Our current eyesore of a wall is just another botched job by the liberal leftist elite. The Trump Wall will be a Mexican jobs program. Mexico will pay for it given the amusement rides and businesses will provide Mexican jobs!
Finally, Trump can do it as a business enterprise with Mexico and not have a conflict of interest (on the off chance that he actually becomes President). Trump will deploy his usual astute business tactics: build it, bring it into chapter 11 bankruptcy, negotiate with investors to pare debt (ie screw them out of their investment). It’s not personal, it is business. (paraphrased from the Wikipedia). Sheer genius.
Now, every project has a weakness. At 1954 miles, this wall would be just 35% of the length of the Great Wall of China. Weaknesses provide opportunities. The wall won’t work, people will penetrate US borders by sea, from Canada, or say, through airports where they legally enter but then fail to go home. Hence, additional wall opportunities abound. A wall with Canada is about the same length as the Great Wall of China, making the combined walls trump those pesky Chinese (Again, Donald Trump knows China). Besides, the US should protect against pesky northern marauders just as insurance for the future. Can we really trust Canada?
Finally, if this goes well there are franchising opportunities. Mini-walls / resorts around all US international airports is a fantastic opportunity to garner local interest, replace aging convention centers and franchise the “walling-off-America” endeavor. Once walled off from the world maybe we can re-think the scourge of immunization.
Thus, I say, flipping Ronald Reagan’s famous line to Mikhail Gorbachev about the Berlin wall: “Mr. Trump, build that wall”. Donald Trump is one smart son-of-a-gun.
OK, this is a conservation science blog. This wall seems like a horrible idea for nature . All manner of species will find their populations isolated. So, here is an idea. Has anyone studied genetic differentiation across the Great Wall of China and has it been a biological barrier: yes they have, and yes it is.
Su et al. 2003. Heredity 90:212-219. They studied 6 species of plants and found genetic isolation across the wall greater than across control montane distances. Cool!.
Here we have a placeholder to announce that today, October 22, 2015, we are pushing off from shore. No frills, no shandies. OK, Shandies at 5. Right now: life jackets and helmets on, paddles in hand, away we go!
“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.”
--Capt. Ed. Smith, Titanic
So say we about Nature's Confluence.
It might be science, it might be nons(ci)ense, but it still smells.