By Gus

A PRIMER IN HOW TO RECOGNIZE NEANDERTHAL GENES IN OURSELVES AND OTHERS

Now that the human genome has been sequenced, and Neanderthal genes have been found in up to 4% of our DNA, we can no longer deny our ancestral roots.  Some of us have more of it and others less.  Asians and the native people of Oceana have more Denisovan genes than the Neanderthal genes, up to 5% in some of them. Denisovans were not a known hominid species until recently when a discovery in Siberia of hominid skeletal and dental remains was uncovered.  The DNA was neither Homo sapiens or Homo neanderthalensis but a heretofore unknown hominid.

Neanderthal (also written as Neandertal) appeared in the Pleistocene Epoch  (2.6 million years to 11,800 years ago) first found in the Neander Valley (Tal) in Germany.  When first discovered in 1856, they were thought to be deformed H. sapiens, but when they were found all over Europe and the Middle East, the deformed theory was discarded and they got their own species name, even though some paleontologists thought that a bit premature. Strangely, 25,000 years ago Neanderthals disappeared. Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859. Various theories of their extinction have been postulated.  This was in the midst of the last ice age.  Could that have been their death nail? Did we out-hunt them, competing for every bit of protein in the cold barren land that was overwhelmed with ice?  Did we absorb them as suggested by our own DNA? Or did we kill them?  There is evidence of cannibalism that could have contributed.

Getting back on how to recognize them within and amongst us.  They actually had a larger brain housed in a lower profile cranium. The brows were more prominent, and the nose and eye sockets had bigger openings. The front teeth were larger, spaced farther apart, and the occipital ridges were more prominent, suggesting stronger posterior neck muscles.

The chin was what we would classify as weak. Their hyoid bone in front of where the voice box would be, suggested they had similar linguistic skills to us. Also, they could not have had the stone tool technology and social customs, such as the burial of the dead, decorative arts, and even flute-like musical instruments without language.  They had pale skin and possibly red hair, making them more sensitive to UV light and prone to skin cancers.  Other genetic studies suggest they were prone to depression and eating disorders. 

They did not have the ability to domesticate animals and lacked dogs that could have helped them in hunting larger game.  This lack of skills with taming animals may have contributed to their demise.

Putting it all together.  If you see a red-haired very muscular person, especially the back of the neck, about 5 foot 5 inches tall, a barrel chest with large hands and size 13 shoes, a weak chin, prominent brows and premature aging from sun damage, with possibly a skin lesion or two, who is kind of mean, hates dogs, and is grouchy, you may be meeting one of them. 

 

NEW BOOK

My next book is close to hitting the ranks of published works, which you will be surprised to know is about 300 books a day for the US alone.  This will be my seventh book (eight if you count the first one with the ignominious title that Amazon required me to change and now is the respectable title of Tales of a Country Surgeon. Sadly the sales plummeted with the title change).  This new book is entirely respectable, WHAT I FORGOT TO SAY. This book is a sequel to the book titled, WHAT I STILL WANT TO SAY. Like that book, it is an anthology of essays on a variety of subjects.  I copied the content page of what is written to give you an idea of what is in it.  I have in mind 10 to 15 more chapters.

1 We are all Homo Sapiens1
2 Leonardo da Vinci4
3 The Wall9
4 My Take on the Last Few Days of Evil in SoCal13
5 Area Code 80516
6 Epistemology19
7 The Ibiza Affair23
8 Retirement26
9 Can Feminism be Toxic Too?31
10 Explaining Trump and Why Impeachment is Not a Good Idea35
11 What is the Point of Impeachment?38
12 The Magic of German Compound Words41
13 Doppelgänger45
14 The Green New Deal48
15 Alfred Nobel52
16 The Naked Ape59
17 Medicare for All64
18 Water68
19 Entanglement71
20 The Making of a Surgeons73
21 Two Men, Two Disasters75
22 The American Revolution or Do We Owe It All to a Woman77
23 DNA Does Not Lie80
24 Ancient Genes that still Haunt Us83
25 Origins86
26 A Primer in How to Recognize Neanderthal Genes in Ourselves and Others88
27 Skiing90
28 Entropy93
29 In Defense of Suicide96
30 Anchor Baby98
31 Life101
32 Colon Cancer for Dummies104
33 Who has the Better Vision108
34 Impeachment and Trial of a President111
    

The cover is my favorite flower from my native country, Austria.  It is the Forget-Me-Not flower to serve as a flowery metaphor for the title.

IMPEACHMENT AND TRIAL OF A PRESIDENT


The vote is in, 52 to 48 for acquittal of Donald Trump on the abuse of power charge and 53 to 47 on the obstruction of Congress charge. There are several possible interpretations.
1. 52 Republicans believed that the charge of abuse of power did not occur and 45 Democrats 1 Republican and 2 Independents thought that it did. On the obstruction of Congress, 47 thought that it happened and 53 did not. The No’s have it.

2. 52.5 Republicans believed, that although Trump did not act properly, that it did not constitute what has been described as high crimes and misdemeanors, and therefore did not justify removal from office. Conversely, 47.5 Senators believed that it did constitute high crimes and misdemeanors and therefore requires removal from office. Of course, 47.5 votes lack being the two-thirds majority (66) it would need to be anyway. Again, the No’s have it.

3. 52.5 Republicans ignored what the House presented and voted against what they knew to be the truth only to support the Republican in office, regardless of what the truth is. Conversely, the Democrats held their noses and voted with their party to get rid of Trump, knowing that his actions did not reach the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. As they say, the end justifies the means.

4. 47 Democrats want to get rid of the man they have been trying to get rid of ever since he got elected, and saw this as one of the fourth or fifth reason to do so (1. the Stormy Daniels’ affair, 2. the Muller investigation, 3. The Putin link, and of course 4. the Zelensky phone call. There must be a few others I don’t recall).

5. A combination and permutation of the above four!

One has to assume that if #1 or #2 are not the correct interpretations, the other possibilities, #3, #4, and #5 require dishonesty, deceit, unethical, or criminal behavior ( or all of the foregoing) on both sides.
The House and Senate are all elected officials with long track records, all with a sworn testament to uphold the truth, most of them being lawyers. It would seem that if they stoop to lying, corruption, and criminality they would have shown evidence of that behavior at other times, but none of that is evident or provable beyond a doubt. If there were such provable evidence, they would likely not be walking free at this time. Their political opponents would have seen to it.
Senator Kamala Harris called the results “a travesty of justice.” It is precisely the opposite. It is what was created by our Constitution and 19 prior impeachments of presidents, judges and various federal officials that have been conducted since1798 on. The rules are there, but nothing is set in stone that cannot be changed by 51 votes. The rules were followed, even about the part for no witnesses, and if you don’t like the result, your issue is with the Constitution of the United States, the framers and the rules that have evolved since inception. Name-calling is not helpful nor the way to voice your concerns. It exposes ignorance of history and adds to the disrespect for a system that has worked quite well for over two centuries, and furthermore falls into the same type of behavior we witnessed for showing lack of decorum in the legislative chamber that belongs to the people of the United States.
I believe that the majority of Senators, whether they voted Yea or Nay, acted on their convictions and true conscience. I believe that those who voted to convict felt justified to do so, and those that voted against conviction truly felt this was uncalled for. Even though the vote was almost down the party line, as most of us know who are not naïve, most votes tend to be down party lines because each Senator brings with him, or her, their own set of internal rules that define him/her as a liberal or conservative. The one Senator who split his vote, is in my opinion, more evidence that Senators voted their conscience. Both sides have been spewing their views, clearly and succinctly, from the argument that “the evidence is incontrovertible” from the left to the right’s question, “Where is the crime? Abuse of power to benefit one’s electability is not on any list of impeachable offenses! In fact, if it were, no one could get elected.” As stated by Alan Dershowitz, a recognized constitutional law scholar. Furthermore, precedence in history proves it to be so.
House members who are so intent on conviction for abuse of power have not read the history of Jefferson and Adams. Jefferson, as Adams’ vice president, was so horrified at Adams for what he considered abuse of presidential power that he walked out on Adams and left Washington for Monticello to plot his revenge. The Alien and Sedition Acts gave Adams unprecedented powers to imprison people. Jefferson came back three years later, in an unbelievably bitter campaign, to win the Presidency. Both sides used deceit and slander that makes today’s politics pale in comparison. Jefferson accusing Adams of being a “hideous hermaphroditic criminal character” while it became public knowledge that Jefferson supposedly had lecherous dalliances with slave women at Monticello, something that haunted him the rest of his life. Nevertheless, Jefferson prevailed, he took office March 4, 1801. Had today’s standards for abuse of power prevailed, Adams would have been impeached and convicted. And furthermore, Jefferson would have gone to jail for slander.
Today, neither the Republicans nor Democrats buy each other’s arguments, despite that both sides are very earnest in their beliefs. To get consensus, you would have to have at least some compromise on each other’s arguments. That is just not happening. You would have to be a super cynic or a die-hard fan of Game of Thrones to believe that the majority of the Senators on both sides committed perjury by this vote. Jefferson and Adams were bitter enemies for 12 years but eventually reconciled, remaining friends until they died 5 hours apart on July 4, 1826, a history lesson our Congress should emulate which our country desperately needs and from which it would greatly benefit.
My interpretation of the vote points to the first two possibilities being the only viable and likely explantation. A patriotic American of either party would have to believe that our legislators are by and large honest people of principle even if some of them have drunk too much of the blue or red Kool-Aid, but they are not a bunch of conspiratory Mafioso. We now must accept the results and let it go if we believe in the process of our democratic form of government.
If we continue to wallow in this muddy, swampy bog, we risk harming our form of government, our economy, and our way of life. The OMB (Office of Management and Budget) said that holding up funds for Ukraine was illegal. That assertion has not been tested in the courts. We could run that question all the way up to SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States). Or, better yet, let’s review the Muller Report one more time that refused to call the abuse of power question in the first place and maybe (or not) give us the answer. The DOJ (Department of Justice) calculated the cost of the Russia probe to be $32 million so far. That could be doubled and in another 2 years, we could (or not) get the final answer. The DO-NOTHING CONGRESS could do nothing quite a bit longer yet. I know, let’s call Bolton to testify. He could read his book for the Congressional Record. That would be a great way to continue to do nothing, especially since the content of the book is already known, but it would be better than getting an Oprah endorsement. How about a re-impeachment?
Have we not had enough? In just a few months, we have the opportunity to elect a president. This will be the time to exercise our rights as citizens and make a decision that we then must abide by, and start acting like reasoning adults instead of spoiled children who will not shake hands or tear up each other’s papers which by the way were historic documents belonging to us, We the People.

ORIGINS

                                                    The   Missing Link

It has become clear that we, homo sapiens, have DNA from other ancient hominids and not so hominids.  It seems that neat stick drawings of evolutionary trees are not a realistic picture of where we came from.  Europeans have 2-4% Neanderthal DNA, while South Asians and people from Oceana have at least 5% Denisovan DNA.  There are other as yet unidentified DNA sequences from at least two “Ghost” subspecies, now extinct, that have had dalliances with homo sapiens in the last 50,000 years. These have been temporarily named with the placeholder designations of EH1 and EH2.  There were a lot more eligible bachelors and bachelorettes available then, that would have made for much more exciting TV shows than what we are forced to watch now.  The EH1 group has disbursed its DNA within 2.6 to 3.4 percent of Asian and native Australian populations.  While the EH2 hominids are limited to Indonesia, specifically the Island of Flores where the skeletal remains of a small hominid named H. floresiensis were found.  Because of its size, it is given the nickname of “the hobbit.”  Although this name is currently under legal challenge by the Tolkien estate which claims it is the copyrighted property of the author J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote the book, The Hobbit.

When I was in high school, I recall in biology class the enigma we were all taught about, our link to monkeys was just not there.  “The missing link” was proof positive that Darwinian evolution was all godless bunk.  As it turns out, multiple missing links have been dug up in various sites of the Rift Valley, especially at the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by the Leaky’s and others.  It was Louis Leaky who gave Jane Goodall her start in studying the daily life of chimpanzees, which led her to slay many of the sacred cows of what supposedly defines our species as human, such as using tools, communicating with each other, and social behavior. 

Further down the Rift Valley in Ethiopia, “Lucy” was found.  She was a 3.7 million-year-old Australopithecus hominid who walked upright and appeared after the split into two families, Pongidae (monkeys) and Hominidae (hominids). It is all very complicated with crosslinks and the ancient species leapfrogging into our species, leaving tell-tale bits of DNA behind. That all elusive “missing link” is not missing anymore. Not only did fossil evidence spring out of the ground, but DNA from test tubes leaked into the evidence pool to become even stronger proof of our origins. 

The discovery of Denisovans, an entirely new species of Homo, was based on DNA obtained from the tip of a 50,000-year-old phalanx bone of a child found in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, and subsequently confirmed from the DNA isolated from an adult’s molar tooth.

It is no longer possible to deny that we are a melting pot of organisms with ancient DNA residing in our cells and floating in our bodily fluids.  It is time we own up to our origins and our relationship to the rest of the miracle of life.  

Ancient Genes that Still Haunt US

There are a variety of afflictions from which we suffer that are remnants of ancient genes floating around in our DNA.  Migraine headaches, for example, were once genetically selected when the saber-tooth tiger was prowling around.  If you were an Australopith that had migraines, you would be hiding in a cave much of the time because light really bothered you, making your eyes tear and your head split.  All your brothers and sisters that did not have this affliction were out hunting small game and gathering roots and berries.  They became saber-tooth tiger food while you survived in your cave.  But you got the benefit of reproducing; however, your offspring also suffered from migraines, but nevertheless escaped the tiger. The migraine gene was preferentially selected. Now we don’t have the tiger to worry about anymore but have more humans with the migraine gene.

A large study done at Vanderbilt University of 28,000 people, in conjunction with records from Kaiser Permanente, studied people with depression. Interestingly the population who had a large percentage of Neanderthal genes in their genome was more likely also to have depression and had much more difficulty in quitting cigarette smoking. Homo Neanderthal is the closest extinct relative of Homo sapiens, us.  The first Neanderthal was found in the Neander Valley, a small town near Düsseldorf, Germany.  No Neanderthal has been seen for 25,000 years since our last ice age.  Why they disappeared remains a mystery.  Did H. sapiens outbreed them; were they unable to tailor warm fur clothing, or did we just absorb them?  The latter has some merit as much of 4% of Neanderthal DNA can be found in our DNA, suggesting there was more than casual contact.  The Neander Valley is known for its Octoberfest beer, and I suspect that had much to do with the higher genetic content of their DNA in us.  Too much beer interferes with good judgment and as they say, “shit happens!”

Neanderthal had a whole host of other questionable traits that would have made any H. sapiens’ (meaning wise) mother warn their sons to stay away from the Neanderthal ladies.  For example, they were prone, not only to depression, but to eating disorders resulting in malnutrition.

Furthermore, the Vanderbilt study found other undesirable traits such as skin cancer was more common amongst them, as well as an increased risk for blood to clot, which would be useful in case of an injury but could also lead to a pulmonary embolism. They were prone to carry the known cancer-causing virus, Ebstein Bar.  Altogether, not great genetics! But Neanderthals were pretty spectacular artists.

Unfortunately, our genes are the most important factor in what we look like, what diseases we are prone to, what our body weight is likely to be, our eye and hair color, how long we will live, and pretty much everything else. Whatever environmental changes we have at our disposal, whatever medicines or surgical treatment we undergo cannot change the genes. Just choosing different parents would do it.  Of course, that would take a time machine or a wormhole in the fabric of space-time.  There is nevertheless some hope for the future.  GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) have been around for a few decades.  Regrettably, there is not much public support for it.  Stories of genetically modified foods bring up visions of horror shows with the modified genes taking over our bodies with new diseases, and furthermore, the wild genes creating mutations that are then passed on to our offspring. Movies showing fly heads implanted on human bodies and other monstrous assaults on our delicate biochemical structures have frightened us.  But that is mostly hype of people who read too much Sci-Fi and trust the environment and nature more than it deserves to be trusted.  GMO’s, on the contrary, have done a lot of good, from providing better yield in growing produce, to animals that are healthier, make more milk, and provide more meat.  The entire dog population is GMO created.  We would not do very well having a wolf sleeping with us at night.  But with just a few modified genes, we get cute, friendly, puppies that grow into the best friend man (or woman) can have.

T-cells are a special lymphocyte in the blood that are central in formulating the body’s immune defenses. It has become possible to snip out parts of a DNA sequence that is harmful or inactive in a T-cell and replace it with a beneficial sequence.  Diseases that were incurable are now nearer to a cure than ever with gene therapy.  Certain malignancies and Multiple Sclerosis can be controlled by harvesting your T-cells in the blood, getting a virus that has been pre-programmed to carry a beneficial DNA snippet that infects your T-cells, thus inserting the good DNA into them.  Now your T-cells are ready to take on the fight against whatever malady with which you are afflicted.  It sounds impossible, but it is here and now.

Buckminster Fuller, the architect, inventor, and futurist who discovered that the rate of new knowledge increases with ever-accelerating speed, and now our fund of knowledge doubles every 12 months. It took us 3 million years to get from the Rift Valley in Kenya to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and about another 69 years to reach the Sea of Tranquility on the moon.  We are starting a new decade; it will be astounding*!

 

*Line was stolen from Walt Adair, former Chief of Police of Santa Paula, CA.

DNA Does Not Lie

DNA is the code for all of life.  Francis Crick and James Watson, two molecular biologists, proposed the model of the double helix of polysaccharides (deoxyribose) that are interconnected by four types of nucleic acids that are always (almost always) in the same pairs: Adenine -Thymine, and Guanine-Cytosine. For that, they received the Nobel Prize in 1962.  Chromosomes contain most of the DNA which is transmitted to the offspring, half by the mother and half by the father.  There is DNA outside of the chromosomes in the mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the cell.  This DNA comes entirely from the mother.

Crick’s pencil drawing of their concept of what DNA looks like

 

The patterned sequence in which these base pairs appear on the ladder of the spiral determines the code which directs the cells to make everything from whether you become a worm or a rocket scientist. A segment of code pertaining to a single characteristic is called a gene.  There are over three-billion base pairs spread over 23 chromosome pairs. A number of base pairs constitute one gene.  It is estimated that the number of genes for humans is around 20,000. 

Mapping our entire genetic makeup, the human genome, has become the gold standard in the study of a whole slew of science subdivisions.  In criminology, we can determine who the killer is from just a small sample of his or her body cells.  Paternity can be established without a doubt.  Clever ways of collecting specimens have included getting samples of saliva off stamps. The suspect was trapped by sending back a letter to collect supposed lottery winnings.  The various genealogy organizations that promise to help you find your ancestry are a veritable treasure trove for DNA evidence, and have already yielded a number of notorious convictions. 

In paleontology, we can determine who is related to whom and by what routes they populated the earth.   As yet, health insurance companies have not to date used genetic data to weed out those people that have a genetic predisposition for various diseases, but my guess is that it is just around the corner. 

Genes can now be spliced, removing a harmful segment and replacing it with a beneficial code. This can also be used to treat genetic diseases, but could be misused to change the fetus’s traits, designer babies with blue eyes and blond hair, smarter, better athletes, or even more sinister characteristics are now possible!  Wait until the Olympic Committee has to deal with GMA’s  (genetically modified athletes). 

Cancer is a disease of the cell’s DNA that directs the cell to multiply without a purpose that then invades and pushes out the healthy cells.  We are beginning to attack this dreaded disease by altering the DNA to make it behave, or make it more susceptible to our chemotherapy. 

GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) has a bad reputation.  People read package labeling and avoid anything that smacks of genetic alteration.  But contrary to popular opinion, just such manipulation has saved billions from starvation.  Norman Borlaug, an agronomist, crossbred wheat to increase the yield by at least 300% through making it more resistant to disease, creating a strain with a double wheat season, and making a shorter (dwarf) plant that is not damaged by heavy storms.  It is practically impossible to get non-GMO bread anymore. Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 because he improved the world food supply, saving many lives. As Thomas Malthus, the economist, warned, the lack of food leads to wars.

97% of scientists believe that humans developed from earlier species of animals.  In the US, 40% believe that is the case, while 40% do not, and 20% are not sure.  The only country that has a higher percentage of “creationists” is Turkey, where 50% do not believe we evolved. 

Men are forced to pay child support, and people are sentenced to life imprisonment, while others have been exonerated based on genetic tests. DNA is accepted as a valid and proven means of certain identification. The odds that two people (not twins) have the same DNA is 1 in 70,000,000,000,000 (70 trillion).  Putting this in perspective, winning Powerball odds are roughly 1 in 300,000,000. Finding a genetically identical human would be 233,333 times less likely than winning at Powerball, or put another way it would take nearly 8,750 times our current world population of 8 billion to make it mathematically possible to find two (non-twin) identical human beings on earth, not impossible just very, very unlikely.

98.5% of the gene sequence of the chimpanzee is identical to ours, while we only share 44% of the genes of Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly.  I am just guessing, but I will bet we are more closely related to chimpanzees than fruit flies.  DNA does not lie!

We have sequenced the genome of Australopithecus, Denisovans, Neanderthals, and other hominids. Lo and behold, we have even more DNA in common with them.  Some of our population has a higher percentage of these early human genes than others.  You can occasionally see them in the throng of people at the mall, and even have to deal with them on a one on one basis. They are easily identifiable not only by appearance, but also by their tell-tale neolithic intellect.  It appears that there was a lot of crossbreeding going on in the last 100,000 years.  It is likely that much of it was consensual, but undoubtedly not all of it.  I suspect that paternity suits were not all that common then, and the “me too movement” was not yet well established.   

 

 

SKIING

This year marks the 55th  year anniversary of my trips to Mammoth Mountain, California to participate in the veritable religious experience for me of skiing.  It is an exhilarating occasion of liberation, almost like flying. All you hear is the wind whistling past your ears, the snow crunching beneath the skis, and the sensation of the trees speeding past you.  Your entire concerns are focused on getting down the mountain.  Your abilities control everything that really matters at that moment, and nothing else is important. It is an adrenalin rush, all the mundane business of life and your place in that life is secondary. It is freedom!

I started skiing in Austria when I was four years old.  It was not just a sport but a necessity to get down the hill from our abode high in the Alps every winter.  Our villa was a beautiful home donated for the town doctor and his family during World War II by the Duke of Eulenburg.  To get anywhere, skiing was essential.  Later it was my only way to get to school that I started  in 1949.  My first-grade teacher, Maria Moser, was an excellent skier and my first ski instructor every afternoon in winter after school was out.  She was an earlier adapter of the sport.  Pictured here second from the right in 1910 when she was in her early twenties, she was already an enthusiast.   Skiing had come to the Alps only a quarter of a century before from Norway, where it originated hundreds of years before as a sport, but more importantly for hunting and military applications.  Skiing may actually be older than most sports.  Remnants of skis were found in Russia dating back 8000 years ago.  Stone-age cave drawings document this as a Neolithic activity. 

The word “Ski” is from an old Norse word meaning “sticks of wood.”  Skiing was first codified in Nordic law in 1274: “Skiers could not disturb moose on private land when hunting.”

The first skiing outside of the Scandinavian countries was in the Schwartzwald, Germany in 1866, but took several decades to get to Alpine slopes.  The first ski club was in the city of Steyr, Austro-Hungary and was named for the cross-country style the “Telemark Club” in 1898.

Austria added a variety of technology especially in the boards they called and still call “Bretter.” They were literally just a single layer of hand-carved hard-wood board of Birch or Hickory, but now are a technological wonder sandwich of fiberglass, carbon-Kevlar, steel , and aluminum. Bindings were the other advancement Austrian skiers contributed.  Initially, it was just leather straps holding sturdy leather hiking boots onto the boards, then a variety of cable and springs added sturdiness and safety.  More recently, the quick release bindings and the modern ski boot have made it high tech. 

Another addition that since has been relegated to the dustbin of obsolescence, is the art and science of ski waxing.  It was the study of what wax to place on the bottom of the skis to make them perform better, with higher speed and more control. What wax to use was a spiritual, and literally hereditary, secret knowledge passed on to the next generation in a rite of passage ritual, in which I participated through my cousin, Sergi, a ski demigod who was a mentor and also a member of the Austrian Olympic team.  It depends on the snow texture, dry, wet, hard, soft, etc.  Now the various plastics have made waxing unnecessary and obsolete, but nevertheless something I miss dearly. The first ski school was initiated by the Austrian, Mathias Zdarsky, who also originated “Torlauf,” Slalom racing.

From the Austrian Alps, Skiing spread like the proverbial avalanche around the world from Mount Fuji in Japan, to the New Zealand Southern Alps, to the Rockies, and even Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Skiing did not make it into the Olympics until 1936 at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany games. Needless to say, Austria has garnered more medals than any country to date at all levels, gold, silver, and bronze. 

In 1965 when Mammoth first opened, it allowed 65-year-old skiers to ski free when lift tickets cost $5.  Now the tickets cost $199, and the age when free tickets are issued is 80.  I will just have to wait them out for another three years.

 

 

What is the Point of Impeachment?

Seal of the United States Senate (slightly modified)

What has the impeachment cost us, the taxpayer?  We will likely never really know, but estimates range from $32,000,000 to $40,000,000 so far.  The word “impeachment” is derived from the Latin word “impetire” as in impede  (pedis)  to catch by the foot. It requires that the government official so accused has committed crimes.  These are restricted to very serious crimes, including “Treason or Bribery”, but also less defined so-called “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Keep in mind impeachment does not remove POTUS.  It means formally accusing him of wrongdoing, as only the House is empowered to do. If the House votes to impeach the president, it sends the whole matter to the Senate for a trial to be decided by that body with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding.  It requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate to find him guilty of the accusations.  As an aside… our Founding Fathers, knowing human foibles,  were indeed clever and brilliant to ensure the separation of powers. 

Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton are the only presidents that have undergone this process to date, and neither of them has been found guilty.  Johnson had removed Edwin Stanton and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War.  This was deemed “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” by the House because it violated the Tenure of Office Act which they passed over Johnson’s veto to protect Stanton from that very act of firing him.  The final conclusion of Congress was that the legislative branch did not have the right or authority to interfere with the executive branch’s power over the makeup of its own cabinet. 

Clinton’s impeachment was much more sanguine.  He was accused of High Crimes and Misdemeanors for lying under oath and obstruction of justice, over the Paula Jones sexual harassment trial and the testimony regarding Monica Lewinsky with his now-famous words, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”  and the other line, “It depends on what the definition of is, is!” Clinton received 45 votes to convict and 55 votes for acquittal on the lying charge and an even 50/ 50 split on the obstruction of justice charge.   Neither of which reached the two-thirds threshold. 

The Trump impeachment which has been months of jockeying, is now history with the vote in and counted on the abuse of power charge, 230 voted yes and 197 voted no.  On the obstruction charge, it was 229 yes and 198 no.  This was right down the Republican Democratic party-line split, except for two democrats that voted against impeachment and one, the democratic representative from Hawaii (also a presidential candidate in 2020), who did not vote except to say she was present.  Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors charges stem from his conversation with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky,  where Trump is charged with pressuring him to investigate Biden for corruption.  The ugly truth is Zelensky did not investigate Biden and furthermore denied being pressured.  Presidential conversations are deemed constitutionally protected by executive privilege and not subject to outside scrutiny.  This comes down to the same issue as the Andrew Johnson indictment.  Does the executive branch have the authority to execute its duties, such as deciding what the composition of its cabinet is or conferring with other heads of state under the protection of executive privilege and safeguarding national security?   It is a fight of the legislative branch vs. the executive branch powers, who trumps and who doesn’t (pun intended). 

The fact that not one Republican in the House voted for impeachment gives you a subtle clue as to how the Senate will vote.  There are two senators from each of our fifty states. The 116th United States Congress currently has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 independents. I am willing to wager all my chips and go out on a limb that Trump will not be convicted of High Crimes and Misdemeanors by a two-thirds majority.  Jimmy the Greek would take my bet if he were not dead.

Looking at the question purely from a pragmatic point of view, why is our Congress wasting our money, our time, and not doing the people’s work instead?  Is it to make a point, a very expensive point? Or is there a deeper-seated motive like influencing the 2020 election, also costly and not exactly the way we usually decide, nor arguably should be influencing elections? Besides, it is not clear in which direction the voter will be influenced. The anti-Trump voter will remain anti-Trump.  The pro-Trump voter will still be pro.  The independent might get tired of the whole thing. The question that comes to mind is which is more repulsive to the democratic process: to discredit a candidate for office by questioning his integrity (did Biden or his son engage in corrupt acts – wouldn’t you like to know?) or conversely have it done for you by a partisan vote of Congress (did Trump abuse his powers – and like Clinton, obstruct justice?)  Logic would suggest that letting the 2020 election decide would be more democratic, egalitarian, and cheaper.

The American Revolution Revisited or Do We Owe It All To a Woman?

Two years after the War of the Austrian Succession starts, the satiric political cartoonists see Maria Theresa, Empress of the Austrian Empire, losing her clothing just like she lost her richest provinces: Silesia, Parma, and Piacenza to Frederick the Great.

It all started when Charles VI (Karl VI), Holy Roman Emperor, and the last of the male Habsburg line changed the rules.  With only two offspring surviving into adulthood, and both being female, Charles needed a change in the Salic laws going back to the first Frankish King, Clovis I (466- 511 CE), which forbad female inheritance.  Charles VI reformed this, and female succession became sanctioned. He now felt secure that a Habsburg would succeed him.  When he died (reported to be from mushroom poisoning by Voltaire), his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, became the Empress of Austria at the ripe old age of 23 (much like Elizabeth II did in England). Maria Theresa had married for love, and proved it by having 16 children, with Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine, France.  She and her husband ruled the Austrian Empire jointly until his death when she became the sole sovereign.

The Salic laws, however, continued to receive partial enforcement at various times in history, and it prevented  Queen Victoria from becoming the Empress of Germany in addition to Great Britain, as she was descendent from the Hause of Hanover. Had she been male, she could lay claim to the throne of Prussia, as Kaiser Wilhelm II did in 1888.  He was Queen Victoria’s eldest grandson.

Despite the fact that Maria Theresa’s education was, as most aristocratic girls, in frivolities of the wealthy and leisure class, which meant religion, music, and art, but not much current history, sciences, or mathematics, and especially not the fields of knowledge that would help her reign one of the great empires of the world.   Because she was intelligent and also handpicked competent advisers, she became a successful and enlightened ruler.  She had the reputation of being feisty, yet she ruled with wisdom and maternal instincts for the benefit of her subjects. She introduced reforms in economics, education, public health, taxation, and eliminated torture to extract confessions.  She made education mandatory for both genders, something very much against the tenure of the times. She introduced smallpox vaccinations for the population, and personally attended the children who lined up at Schönbrun Palace for immunization, the palace she converted from a small hunting lodge to a grandiose palace, the equal of Versailles. She added policies that allowed for population growth with economic and health reforms that improved life.  One of her advisers, her personal physician, was instrumental in improving infant mortality and in determining the cause of death in adults, thus preventing their premature demise.  Maria Theresa ordered all deaths in the city of Graz (which a couple of centuries later was the hometown of Arnold Schwarzenegger and also for the first few years of my father’s life) to undergo an autopsy to that effect.  She and her oldest son, whom she made co-regent after her husband’s death, streamlined the military to make it a much more powerful and effective strike force.  Another reform was to create a civil service of professionals that replaced the old guard aristocrats who ran the country by favoritism and nepotism.  She ruled as an absolute monarch but was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment and its reforms, even though she claimed to despise it, using the principle expressed by her son and co-regent Joseph II,  “Everything for the people, nothing from the people!”

The power brokers of Europe who had initially agreed to the Charles VI Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 that would allow women to succeed now reversed their position.  When Maria Theresa first ascended to the throne, they did not accept a woman monarch, especially Frederich the Great of Prussia.  He marched into Silesia, one of Austria’s most valuable lands, and with that, the War of the Austrian Succession started. It spilled over to North America. There the combatants were France and Great Britain over the mastery of the Ohio River Valley.

In 1748 the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) ended all the hostilities, and Maria Teresa remained Empress of Austria.  But peace did not last more than eight years.  Frederick the Great just could not leave it alone and attacked Austria again.  France, Austria, Russia, Spain, and Sweden were now fighting Britain,  Prussia, and Portugal.  This was the Seven Years War. Churchill much later called it the First World War.  But in North America, they called it the French and Indian War.  This would eventually lead France to intervene in the American Revolution on the side of the  Revolutionaries, who sent Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to the court of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Maria Theresa.  Without France’s military and diplomatic support, it is likely that we would still be paying a tax on tea to England.

Without Maria Theresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette, it is doubtful that an American Revolution would have gotten off the ground nor have had the results it achieved.  The revolution followed too soon after the War of the Austrian Succession and after the Seven Year War for George III to fully recover. Those wars sapped the strength of the British Empire.  Even with the help of the 29,875 Hessian auxiliary troops sent from Prussia to help, George III did not have his former manpower at his disposal to crush the revolution.  So we have much to be grateful for Maria Theresa, and should give her the credit she deserves.

The Making of a Surgeon

William A. Nolen wrote a book, The Making of a Surgeon, in 1986.  It was his story of becoming a surgeon, and is still a popular book read by many aspiring surgeons to be.   This is my brief take on the history of surgery and becoming a surgeon, (and a shameless ad for my book).

Surgery has been practiced by homo sapiens for at least 8,500 years, and maybe even longer as evidence can only be gathered from materials that do not decay, such as bone.  Carefully chiseled perfectly round trephination holes have been found in skulls that were buried 6500 BCE in northern France.  These skulls belonging to our species survived these “operations” as the edges of the openings showed signs of healing several years after they were drilled.   Surgery was practiced in ancient Egypt and India around 1500 BCE with complex procedures such as flap reconstructions of facial injuries, and sophisticated ways to stop hemorrhage and prevent infection. But then the first “Dark Ages” let down their curtains on surgical progress in 1200 BCE, probably related to climate change caused by unprecedented volcanic activity.  It was the Greek culture that resurrected medicine and surgery with Hippocrates shortly after 400 BCE.  He introduced the idea that illness was not caused by the gods but by our environment, and could be “cured” or at least tamed by environmental manipulations. The Romans copied from the Greeks and added their own wisdom and knowledge through physicians such as Galen and Celsus.  Galen, a consummate surgeon, learned from his experience taking care of the gladiators of the Pergamum Coliseum (now in Turkey). 

 

The second “Dark Ages” from the 5th to the 15th century CE brought down the curtains on surgery again.  The Middle Ages reverted to superstition and magic to care for the sick.   Illness was again seen as God’s punishment for man’s wickedness, and to help those unfortunates was going against God’s will.  Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius were the standard-bearers that pushed back the walls of ignorance with observation, trial, and error.  Leonardo da Vinci secretly dissected human bodies and made detailed accurate drawings of how we are put together which advanced surgical knowledge dramatically.   The first appendectomy for appendicitis, a major killer of humans, was by a French surgeon, Claudius Amyand, in 1735, done in London at St. George’s Hospital. 

 

In the 19th century, surgical science exploded through the genius of people like Theodor Kocher with thyroid surgery, Berhard Langenbeck’s teachings, and Theodor Billroth’s innovations in abdominal surgery.  They, in turn, were aided by the basic science contributions of Joseph Lister – with surgical asepsis, and Robert Virchow – with pathology.  

It is those individuals, the giants of surgery, on whose shoulders we now stand, to see further into vistas that we could only dream of a hundred years ago.  Alexis Carrel gave us the knowledge of repairing and sewing arteries and veins.  He and his good friend, Charles Lindberg, of flying fame, teamed up to give us the first artificial heart pump. William Halsted, who went to Europe to glean the secrets of how to teach surgery, then came back to the US and started to produce great surgeons one after the other at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Greats like Harvey Cushing, father of neurosurgery, and Hugh Young, father of urology, founded residency programs that perpetuated “Halstedian principles” for the ages.  Many more greats have given us surgery techniques, knowledge, and inspiration to do bigger and better surgical procedures. .  Michael DeBakey not only gave us coronary bypass and aortic surgery, but was the inspiration that created the TV series and movie “MASH.” C. Walton Lillehei, the King of Hearts, as his residents fondly called him, invented the repair of congenital heart defects, saving thousands of children that would not be alive today. Then came along Dr. Joseph Murray, with the first kidney transplant, and Dr. Thomas Starzl, with the first liver transplant, and  Dr, Christaan Barnard, with the first heart transplant that lived,  Human ingenuity and skill are not stoppable!

A surgeon is a doctor first.  He or she must understand the anatomy and physiology of the human being before knowing what the scalpel can add to the patient’s wellbeing. Four years of pre-med college give the foundations of chemistry, biology, and the humanities that allow an individual to communicate in a cultured and educated manner.  Then comes medical school, the first year the basics: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, histology.  The second-year starts with the study of diseases and how to diagnose them, fondly called P-dog (physical diagnosis) by the sophomoric sophomores.  The third-year and fourth-year are the clinical years, medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology.  Graduation comes too quickly, not nearly enough time to learn all there is to know.  In fact, learning never stops!  Almost everything I learned in medical school has changed.  It requires a life-long dedication to keep up, until the day you stop taking care of patients, and even then if you teach you must still keep up, lest you transmit outdated information. 

Every state has different requirements for post-graduate clinical experience. The first year used to be called the Internship, but the ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education) has removed that moniker.  It is now called the first year of post-graduate training, the residency.  Nevertheless, every state requires anywhere from one to three years clinical experience before you may apply for state licensure that allows you to write prescriptions and exercise independent medical decisions on real patients.  Surgical Residency at this time is five years, including the first year of what was once called “the Internship.”  Although, because of a new restriction on duty hours of a resident, the person in training has less time to acquire all the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfill their mission.  When I finished my residency program in the early 1980s, my average time spent a week was 100 hours, and sometimes 120 hours.  The current ACGME rules allow an average of 80 hours maximum a week when spread over 4 weeks, at least 20% less time than the previous generation.  If a resident complains to the ACGME about working more than 80 hours, a surgical program could be shut down. This came about through the sad case of Libby Zion.   Libby was a college student that died at a Cornell affiliated Hospital in New York, the cause of which was blamed on tired residents making wrong therapeutic decisions.  This was actually not the entire or even accurate story, but it nevertheless changed the rules for all of the US from then on. The traditional work hours of the past (don’t quit till the job gets done – quoted from the song by Jason Aldean “The only way I know”) from the old days of Halsted were thrown on the heap of history, despite that it had served us well, producing surgeons that were competent and multi-talented.  80% of residents now take an additional one to three-year fellowship training, usually in a surgical subspecialty, vascular, oncology, pediatric, cardiac, colorectal,  minimally invasive, critical care, or transplant surgery.  All of which makes the general surgeon more and more obsolete.

If this little vignette piques your interest and you want to know more, read my book:  We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants  – A Brief History of Surgery, available through Amazon.com.