Monday, January 31, 2011

Newton's Tempest

You may have heard several weeks ago about the 5,000 red wing blackbirds who died in a mass extinction event in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve. According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the official explanation is that they all perished form “blunt force trauma,” which is the clinical way to say they were “…flying into stationary objects such as trees, houses, windows, power lines, towers, etc." These crashes resulted from the fact that, “Arkansas blackbirds have poor eyesight and don't normally fly at night. The AGFC said the birds were probably disturbed by "unusually loud noises" and flew lower than normal due to New Year's Eve fireworks. The rare night flight was even recorded on radar data.”

Personally, I figured that perhaps they had become communally frustrated by the fact that they had been told that they could not migrate north for another few months and were just supposed to wait it out in The Natural State, and so they all flung themselves out of the trees from sheer boredom. (As a loyal Kansan, as especially as I write this on the sesquicentennial of our Sunflower Statehood, I feel bad for the birds. They could either spend the winter in Arkansas, or move north to Missouri. Not a good choice either way, if you ask me.)

However, my ED colleague Jason Hawver has made me aware of a new and even better theory of what did in our feathered friends. It’s called the Gravity Storm, and it’s so common I can’t believe it’s escaped the notice of science until right now. Gravity storms pull people to the ground without provocation. They appear to be localized phenomena, and just as tornadoes show a predilection for trailer parks, gravity storms seems to erupt at nursing homes. They also have a tendency to occur at specific hours, most notably sometime between when the resident was put to bed and when they failed to report for breakfast the next morning.

The results of gravity storms can be serious. Bruises and minor lacerations are common; hip fractures may result as well. I think this is worthy of further investigation, and I’ll need a federal grant to do a proper study. The grant will need to cover the costs of a theoretical physicist, an experimental physicist, an astrophysicist, and an engineer. Oh, and we’ll also need a blonde actress/waitress to provide snacks and a link to the real world. Which is my argument for including a late-forties, vaguely amusing emergency physician within the cast of the Big Bang Theory. And in comparison with the salaries negotiated by the cast in their new contract extensions, I think they’ll find my rates surprisingly reasonable. I’m my own agent. Call now!

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