The Long View 2005-03-18: Extinctions: Periodic & Deserved

As far as I know, nothing serious ever came out of Rohde and Muller's 2005 on cyclical extinctions, but I linked the image above to a copy of the original paper. I think is usually a mistake to look for alternative explanations for the Cretaceous extinction.

Extinctions: Periodic & Deserved


Just when you thought it was safe to read the paleontological journals again, this story appears:

BERKELEY, CA -- A detailed and extensive new analysis of the fossil records of marine animals over the past 542 million years has yielded a stunning surprise. Biodiversity appears to rise and fall in mysterious cycles of 62 million years for which science has no satisfactory explanation...For their study, Muller and Rohde defined fossil diversity as the number of distinct genera alive at any given time...Muller suspects there is an astrophysical driving mechanism behind the 62 million year periodicity...[On the other hand] "My hunch, far from proven," Rohde said, "is that every 62 million years the earth is releasing a burst of heat in the form of a plume formation event..."

That asteroid impact on the boundary between the Cretaceous and the Tertiary, the one that is supposed to have exterminated the dinosaurs, is pretty well established. On the other hand, there have always been paleontologists who insist that extinctions were already underway when the asteroid (or asteroids, in some accounts) struck the Earth. Perhaps the impact simply worsened a bad situation. Conversely, maybe a similar impact at another time would not have such serious effects.

Oh, and by the way: if that last big die-off was about 65-million years ago, and the period of diversity collapse is about 62-million years, then...OH MY GOD!!!

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As another example of an aggravating factor, consider the lead opinion piece in the Weekly Standard of March 21, entitled "Let 'er Rip." Written by Fred Barnes, who suffers from the delusion he is doing the Administration a favor, the piece encourages President Bush to ignore all those reports he has been hearing that his privatization plan for Social Security makes the national gorge rise. Rather, Barnes advises, the president should promote his proposal in season and out, until the public awakes to the splendor of the concept. Barnes concludes with this flourish:

The Washington Times checked what would have happened if individual accounts, invested in market index funds, had been established in 1978. The Dow since then has soared from 820 to nearly 11,000, the S&P 500 from 96 to more than 1,220, and Nasdaq from 118 to roughly 2,050. Retirees would be living in high style. So, Mr. President, let 'er rip on individual accounts. You've got nothing to lose and momentous reform and a booming Republican Party to gain.

This is like an incident in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: the captain of the C Ship that crashes on the primitive Earth decides to jumpstart the new colony's economy, so he declares the leaves on all the trees to be currency. That does make everyone on the C Ship a multi-trillionaire, but it means that a single peanut from ship's stores will cost three deciduous forests.

Look, all those corporations listed in the securities exchanges are worth only so much. You can't make them worth more by pouring the savings of tens of millions of people into the markets in which their securities are traded. At best, you would get a much lower return on capital. At worst, and more likely, you would get a bubble bigger than the South Sea, followed by a bust big enough to scare a dinosaur to death. That is in fact what happened to the private-account systems in Britain and Sweden, to the great consternation of all concerned.

Would someone please put this wounded Grendel of an idea out of its misery?

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And speaking of bad ideas, here's the worst idea for a new performance genre since cold-water mud-wrestling:

"Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq" is not a very good play, but it's worth your attention for two reasons. It's the only political drama in New York written from the point of view of an Iraqi who lived through the American invasion, and, for better or worse, it inaugurates an entirely new (and seemingly inevitable) theatrical genre - the blog play...

The blog in question is Riverbend, by the way. And what exactly happens on stage?

Instead of building a character, the show includes readings of her words from three women and one man, which adds to the muddled feel...When not speaking, the actors pace in a triangle or perform synchronized gestures that make them look like backup singers to a 1960's pop band.

It might be better to put laptops on the stage, linked to big flat-panel screens, on which the text of the blog and of the reader comments scrolls down. That way, the actors could be absent as well as the audience.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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