Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Copper-Salmon Wilderness, Oregon
Yesterday Barack Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, which will extend permanent protection for 2 million acres of wilderness land while extending further protections to 26 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territories that will be part of a new National Landscape Conservation System.
Said Obama at the signing of the legislation yesterday:
"This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share. That's something all Americans can support."
Wilderness lands now offered permanent protection include Oregon's Mount Hood and part of Virginia's Jefferson National Forest, along with sites in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia.
The new National Landscape Conservation System includes areas of archaeological and cultural significance including Canyons of Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado, and Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona, Nevada's Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area and California's King Range National Conservation Area.
The Landscape Conservation System will protect critical habitat for fish and wildlife and provides access to world-class hunting and fishing, while offering recreational opporunities for self-guided adventurers.
The legislation signed into law yesterday also authorizes additional funding to protect ecologically valuable coastal areas and estuaries.
To learn more about the new The National Landscape Conservation System, click here.
To see a map of the areas covered, click here (really big PDF).
The Jefferson National Forest, Virginia.
Over the course of the last 20 years, Africa's lion population has crashed from 200,000 to 30,000, and the numbers continue to drop fast.
One of the big reasons is that an American company -- FMC -- has sold a highly toxic, tasteless pesticide to African countries where herders are using it to indiscriminately wipe out all predators -- lions, cheetahas, leopards, hyenhas, etc.
Though FMC says it no longer sells Furadan (carbofuran) in Kenya, and is now trying to buy up stock that may still be on shelves, FMC has not said it will stop selling the drug in neighboring African countries or around the world.
To be clear, Furadan is such a horrible chemical that in July 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency initiated action to ban the chemical's use in the U.S. as it presented unacceptable dietary risks, especially to children, from consuming food or water with carbofuran residue in it or on it.
Want to help take action?
Send an email to Jim Fitzwater, FMC's corporate flak at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him directly at 215.299.6633.
Your message does not have to be long, and it does not help to be rude. It is enough to simply say that you want FMC to stop making this toxic poison, and that you are passing on this notice to 20 of your friends.
Make some heat, and maybe FMC will yet see the light!
I noted then that the companies that had been pushing for Social Security privatization -- Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs -- were now insolvent and headed to the knackers knife.
How ironic was that?
What I didn't know was that while no one was looking, the right-wing ideologues had moved off of Social Security privatization in order to quietly privatize the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).
What's the PBGC?
The PBGC is the agency that was created in 1974 to make good on defined benefit pension plan committments when companies go broke.
The PBGC is funded by insurance premiums paid for by defined benefit pension plan sponsors, by the assets of pension plans that have been taken over, and by investment income; no money comes from general tax revenue.
Only one thing: the PBGC does not actually pay out all of the money the bankrupted companies once promised. Instead, the PBGC pays out 60 cents on the dollar. To put it another way, if your company goes broke, and your pension is taken over by the PBGC, you are going to live on quite a lot less than you had planned in retirement.
In the past, the PBGC's investment income has been pretty rock-solid, largely due to the fact that PBGC money put its money into bonds.
The lunatics running the show in the last days of the Bush Administration, however, decided to move much of the PBGC's asset base into the stock market. The stock market, of course, promptly crashed, wiping out scores of billions of PBGC revenue.
How much did the Bush ideologues cost the PBGC? The PBGC will not say, other than to note that they lost 23% of their stock portfolio by September 30th -- well before the stock market began an even deeper and faster rush to the bottom.
Zvi Bodie, a Boston University finance professor who is an expert on the PBGC, says PBGC stock losses may ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers several hundred billion dollars.
He likens the PBGC's investment strategy to that of a company that insures against hurricane damage taking their portfolio and investing in beachfront property.
And what genius thought this was a good idea?
None other than Charles Millard, a former executive of Lehman Brothers who was appointed by George W. Bush. Millard's former company, of course, is now insolvent, defunct, and out of business.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Adult Americans spend an average of more than eight hours a day in front of screens -- televisions, computer monitors, cellphones or other devices, according to a new study.
People aged 45 to 54 averaged the most daily screen time at just over nine-and-a-half hours. The study did not include anyone under the age of 18.
For the record, nearly 90% of the injuries were dog-related, and females were more than twice as likely as males to be injured.
The most common injuries and the highest injury rates were for fractures and contusions/abrasions, and the highest fracture rates occurred among persons aged 75 and older. Twenty-six percent of falls involving dogs occurred while persons were walking them, and the most frequent circumstances were falling or tripping over a dog (31.3%) and being pushed or pulled by a dog (21.2%). Falling over a pet item (e.g., a toy or food bowl) accounted for 8.8% of fall injuries. Approximately 38.7% involved other or unknown circumstances.
Not said: How many people died from tripping over a dog or a dog toy.
My bet is that more people are killed by tripping over a dog than are actually killed by dog bites.
From The Arizona Republic:
COTTONWOOD - A bobcat walked into a roadside bar in Cottonwood.
What happened next was not a joke but "pandemonium": two or three minutes of chivalry, cellphone cameras and people jumping on top of pool tables to get out of the way.
When it was over, two people were scratched and bleeding, and the bobcat was gunned down by police in a parking lot on Main Street.
All that's left now is a barroom story that is sure to become legend.
And a series of rabies-vaccine shots.
"This was a rabid animal," said Zen Mocarski of the Arizona Game and Fish office in Kingman. "You've seen the cartoon Tasmanian Devil? That's a bobcat with rabies."
.... At about 11:40, three people walked out of the Chaparral, a neighborhood bar with signs for Schlitz, Budweiser and Coors over the entrance. Tuesday is free-pool night.
"I said goodnight," said bartender Scott Hughes, 41. "Next thing I know, they are running back in, followed by the bobcat.
"One jumped on the pool table, and two more jumped onto the bar."
The bar's video camera recorded what happened next.
The bobcat chased two people around a pool table.
Then, the animal stopped.
That's when people took out their cellphone cameras to get a picture.
Hughes told Kyle Hicks that he should not get too close to the bobcat.
"A bartender is supposed to command authority," Hughes said. "But he didn't listen to me."
In the video, Hughes can be seen reaching down to move Hicks.
That's when the cat jumped on Hicks' face, scratching him under his left eye and behind his right ear.
"Yeah, it didn't feel too good," Hicks said.
Hicks then knocked the animal to the ground.
"Look up 'pandemonium' in the dictionary," Hughes said. "That's what this bar was."
The 20 or so patrons started scrambling toward the back door. But so did the bobcat, which was now looking for a way out.
That's when Derek Oliver showed you can find a good man late at night in a Cottonwood bar.
"He was coming right towards two women," Oliver said. "So, I pushed them out of the way. That's when he got me. It wrapped itself around my leg."
Worse yet, the bobcat was moving up Oliver's leg.
"I punched it in the face real good," Oliver said.
The animal laid still for a moment, then it ran back out the front door.
By this time, police had arrived and found the animal in the parking lot.
"It started walking towards one of my officers," said Sgt. Gary Eisenga of the Cottonwood Police Department.
The officer shot the animal, killing it.
Witnesses said they heard three shots.
"We've had calls to that bar before, but never for a bobcat," Eisenga said.
By Thursday afternoon, Hicks had received his first of five rabies shots.
"In the arm," Hicks said. "They don't do it in the abdomen anymore. Thank God."
To which I can add: Only in America.
Of couse, these things happen. Rabid bobcat attacks make the news again and again. Ditto rabid coyotes, rabid fox, and rabid raccoons.
Me? I have no fear of rabid animals. The trick is to stay out of the bars.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The dogs are everything, and they want to hunt, too. Bird dogs plead with you to imagine the great things you could be doing together. Their delight is a lesson in the bliss of living. As Bob Dylan says, “You’ve got to serve somebody.” I serve my dogs and in return, they glom the sofa.Read the whole thing.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Some promotional video is up right now, however. Check it out.
The owner of this establishment is correct, in that he is running a state-of-the-art commercial dog breeding facility with a high-tech waste management system.
This is what a pretty good commercial dog breeding facility looks like: Small dogs (toy breeds and terriers) raised like chickens in battery cages.
And, for the record, this is what the AKC wants more of ... provided they are all AKC registered puppies, of course.
And why does the AKC want more commercial facilities breeding AKC dogs?
Simple: it needs more commercial kennel registrations in order to subsidize dog shows, which are not paying their way.
In the minutes of the September, 2006 AKC Board meeting (link to PDF file), Ron Menaker notes that the AKC has been registering puppy mill dogs "for the past 122 years" and "we have collected millions of dollars" as a result.
In short: Get over it!
And why does the AKC snuggle up to the puppy mill industry?
The Board of the AKC is rather blunt about the problem: though the AKC made a profit of several million dollars last year, it is not enough, as registration numbers are trending sharply downward and "events" are costing millions more than they are bringing in.
"Events," of course, is a euphemism for dog shows.
In short, because rosette-chasing is a money-losing proposition for the American Kennel Club, they need more puppy mill registrations in order to subsidize dog shows.
As recently as September of 2008, AKC President Ron Menaker wrote:
Today, there are at least 30 All-Breed registries in addition to the AKC, whose combined registration numbers exceed that of the AKC. If this trend is allowed to continue, if we do not stop the hemorrhaging of declining registrations, we will no longer be the premier registry in the world, let alone in our country.
Management has been directed by the Board to aggressively pursue all dogs eligible for AKC registration....
.... AKC used to dominate the marketplace. Even places like Macy’s and Gimbels sold AKC puppies. Many pet owners who bought these puppies, and I was one of them, tried their hand at showing and breeding. These owners who purchased their first purebred from a retail outlet, not only added to AKC’s registrations, but those who wanted to advance in the sport, then sought out fanciers to continue their
....Last year less than one half of our revenues came from registrations. Dog registrations peaked at 1.5 million in 1992. By the end of 2008 it is projected we will register only 725,000 dogs. This is a staggering 53% decline....
.... If the current trend continues and dog registrations decline to 250,000 over the next several years, AKC will face an annual revenue shortfall of $40 million. To put this in perspective, if this scenario occurred, and we relied solely on raising the event service fees to make up for this revenue shortfall, the fee would be a staggering $20 per entry.
I booted on my computer this morning find the above email from Amazon. I do not think I have bought anything through Amazon that would suggest my political inclinations at the moment (in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies), but there it is nonetheless.
The text reads:
In many ways, senator Barack Obama is the closest thing to a superhero, someone who has literally inspired millions of people simultaneously to step past fear, to be brave enough to hope, and to go past cynicism and imagine... Read more
You do not have to be a genius to imagine that in the near future there will entire web sites featuring this little fellow in compromising positions with Barbie, Ken and My Little Pony. Let the games begin!
Friday, March 27, 2009
When Rev. Thomas Malthus wrote "An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society" in 1798, the population of Britain was about 11 million.
At the time Malthus thought Britain was pretty close to its agricultural production threshold and that a doubling of Great Britain's population to 22 million was "probably a greater increase than could with reason be expected."
To suppose that Britain could feed a population double this size again (or 44 million people), would be "impossible to suppose," said Malthus, and this impossibility "must be evident to those who have the slightest acquaintance with agricultural subjects".
Of course, Malthus was wrong about agriculture.
Rev. Malthus failed to anticipate the degree to which outputs could be increased in Great Britain -- and all over the world -- thanks to machinery, fertilizer, modern farming practices, genetic improvements, and irrigation.
Today Great Britain has a population of over 60 million people and they are not starving. In fact, all over the world food production has risen faster than population growth, and this has been true for most of the last 200 years.
While increased agricultural outputs have been good for humans (less starvation) and generally good for wildlife (less wild lands put under the plow), there are increasing signs that not all is well.
Across the world many species of once-common wild birds are in decline. This is true not only in North America but in Europe as well.
The British are certainly taking a hard look at the situation. The British government monitors wild bird populations as a key measure of environmental health and they have noted fairly precipitous declines in their field and forest birds.
Now comes the latest news: reports from across Europe that populations of common house sparrows are in rapid decline. In fact, the decline in the house sparrow population has been so steep that it has now been put on the "red list" in the U.K.
No one is quite sure why house sparrows are in decline.
An observed decline in the number of eggs in house sparrow nests is an important clue. The size of the clutches of songbirds (passerines) and most raptors rises and falls in direct relationship to how much food is available (yes, birds understood and believed Malthus long before we did). A small clutch of eggs is typically a sign of a decline in one or more critical food components. One theory of house sparrow decline is that the phenomenon is linked to loss of critical insectivorous habitat. Insects are a critical component of house sparrow diets immediately after hatching.
Why are the insects disappearing?
One factor may be the rapid decline in British hedgerows. During a single 10-year period (1984-1993), more than one-third of all of the hedgerows in the United Kingdom were lost -- a whopping 121,875 miles of destruction. At least another 96,000 miles of hedgerow were lost in England from 1945 to 1984.
British hedgerows are fabulously vibrant ecosystems supporting myriad plant and insect species in dense thickets. An analysis of hedgerows has found a close correlation between the age of a hedgerow and its plant diversity, with some British hedgerows estimated to be as much as 1,000 years old. As hedgerows have vanished, so too have seeds and insects that once sprang from these hedgerows.
Why are the hedgerows disappearing so rapidly?
Much of the blame lies with agricultural policy and the desire to boost agricultural outputs by plowing edge-to-edge with ever-larger farm machinery. In addition, as more and more people have moved into the countryside to live on mini-estates, hedgerows have fallen to new housing developments and road widening.
Though a 1997 law was enacted in the U.K. to try to slow hedgerow destruction, the bulldozers continue to do their work. The decline in hedgerows across much of Europe may, in fact, prove to be a critical factor pushing the house sparrow over the edge.
The good news is that the population growth in Europe which first spurred the push to boost agricultural productivity, is finally slowing. The U.K., with a population of 60 million today, is expected to effectively achieve zero population growth around 2025. Much of the rest of Europe is headed the same way.
The bad news is that human population growth has pushed a great deal of the natural landscape of Europe right to the edge and changing land use patterns may be pushing it past the tipping point in some areas.
As more and more people move out of urban cores and into far off suburbs and once-rural areas, less and less land is available for agricultural production. In order to keep food production up, the land must be farmed more and more intensively in order to wrestle the same outputs from a declining number of acres.
The result, as we see in both the U.K, and the U.S., is the loss of hedgerows and shelter belt forests, increased incursions into the few large blocks of forest that remain, and a steady decline in forest and field bird species across much of the temperate-zone regions of the world.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Jemima Harrison has sent me a link to something that is completely new to me, which is the use of stem cells to cure some serious canine problems, especially hip dysplasia in aged dogs.
This appears to be pretty miraculous stuff, and as Martin Bashir at ABC News notes (video link and a lot more information here), this is no longer experimental therapy: It's available right now.
It's not cheap -- about $2,500 -- but a heck of lot cheaper than operating on two hips, or even one hip.
And if we can do this with dogs now, what will we be able to do with humans into the future if we allow science to continue apace?
Thank God Barack Obama has greenlighted stem cell research to continue apace.
Want to get your own copy of ABC Nightline's segement on how the American Kennel Club's standards and breeding practices are screwing up dogs?
You can order your very own CD -- just click here. And no, I don't know if it will run on European video machines which are (somehow) different.
Here’s a hypothetical. You have to give up your beloved family pet, a pit bull terrier, and you have the choice of entrusting it to Ingrid Newkirk, president and founder of PETA, or Michael Vick, trusting that whoever you pick will find the dog a good home. Who do you choose?
.... Humans are not necessarily born with an innate emotional bond to dogs, and it is not a sign of abnormal pathology when some individual lacks that bond and the compassion that it implies. It still leaves Vick as a bad guy, but a different level of bad guy — one who can conceivably reform.
In the meantime we have PETA, protector of animal rights and their leader, Ingrid Newkirk, a strange bird to say the least. Newkirk got her start in the animal rights business while working at a shelter in DC. Revolted by the living conditions of the animals there, she decided to do something about it. That something was euthanizing them. When she couldn’t get the administrators of the shelter to go along with her plans, she just took matters into her own hands: “In the end, I would go to work early, before anyone got there, and I would just kill the animals myself. Because I couldn’t stand to let them go through that. I must have killed a thousand of them, sometimes dozens every day.”
This (killing as a means of rescue) continues as a common theme of PETA today. I have trouble sorting out exactly what it is that PETA and Newkirk regard as animal rights. I am clear that they don’t want animals used in any way that might be useful to humans, such as for food or research. Newkirk again:
“Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”
But the right to life does not seem to be an animal right that they put a lot of stock in. PETA as an organization euthanizes a higher percentage of the animals entrusted to them than just about any other animal “rescue” organization. As high as 90 percent in some years. Some breeds go higher than that.
Newkirk seems to have a particular problem with pit bulls, and recommends that all breeding of them should stop and that pit bulls be euthanized as a matter of course. She says this is because they are more likely to be abused than other breeds, but it is noteworthy that she has been attacked by a pit bull in the past.
... As to my hypothetical question? If I delivered my pit bull to Newkirk, I would at least know his fate — he’d be headed out the back door in a plastic bag by the time I drove back home. I couldn’t be completely sure about Vick, but I think I’d have to take my chances with him.
This morning comes word that in 2008 PETA killed 95.8 percent of the dogs, cats and other pets put into its care last year.
In fact, during all of 2008, PETA found adoptive homes for just seven pets out of 2,216 animals taken in.
PETA has a long track record of killing healthy animals (see pictures here), and almost no discernible track record that I can find of placing dogs and cats in loving homes.
As Dana Cheek, the former director of the Norfolk SPCA wrote:
I often receive phone calls from frantic people who have surrendered their pets to PETA with the understanding that PETA will "find them a good home." Many of them are led to believe that the animals will be taken to a nearby shelter. Little do they know that the pets are killed in the PETA van before they even pull away from the pet owner's home … PETA refuses to surrender animals they obtain to area shelters for rehoming. If only the celebrity 'deep-pocket' donors on the west coast knew that their donations were going to kill adoptable cats and dogs here in Norfolk.
You will not find PETA's shelter in Norfolk, Virginia on Pet Finder, nor are there any visiting hours. Posters are not placed on coffee shop bulletin boards, nor do they work with PetSmart or anyone else to find homes for the dogs and cats relinquished to them.
Instead, PETA injects killing solutions into almost all the animals handed over to the them, and then it contracts with a waste disposal company to have several tons of animals a month trucked away, out of sight and out of mind.
Why? Simple: they believe a dog in a shelter is better dead than kenneled for even a few days or a few weeks, and they oppose pet ownership entirely. PETA's Norfolk staff cannot be bothered to take time away from media-whoring in order to do the tough work involved in actually rehoming animals. They leave that to real shelters.
PETA, of course, tries to hide all of this, but the state of Virginia is not having any part of it.
Virginia has a legal requirement that all shelters report out how many dogs, cats and other animals are surrendered, how many are placed, and how many are rehomed.
PETA refuses to fill out the forms as asked by the state of Virginia, however, and every year a little charade occurs. This charade appears to be designed to slow down the posting of PETA's kill information to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website. PETA, it seems, is embarrassed by their own numbers. Not embarrassed enough to change what they do, mind you, but just embarrassed enough to try to keep comparative data away from the public's prying eyes.
And so, instead of reporting the data in the form requested, PETA mixes in unrelated spay and neuter data. They have done this for several years running now, and apparently they are doing it again this year, as the numbers are still not up on the Virginia state web site. PETA will eventually cough up the forms properly filled out, of course, but by then several months will have gone by. Heck, several months have already gone by.
To be clear, no other shelter in Virginia does this or even tries to do this. And you know why? Because the other shelters are not afraid of telling you what they are doing because most of them are at least trying to get dogs and cats adopted out.
PETA, on the other hand, seems to do virtually nothing to try to get animals placed. That's too much like work and there's no "look-at-me" publicity in it. The blue solution of death is so much easier. And so PETA injects, dumps, and runs off to do another titty-show protest somewhere. Yippee! Look at me. I am nekkid!
So how do we know what PETA's numbers are for 2008?
Simple: Just because PETA intentionally mangles the paperwork so that the data does not show up up on time on the Virginia state web site does not mean that they do not file something as a place holder. That paperwork does exist, and you can read it yourself right here and tease out the kill data, just as I have.
You can also compare it to the track record of other Virginia animal shelter facilities right here, and you can also compare it to past years of comparable PETA data by looking at the table below:
To cut to the chase, here's how the data breaks down for dogs and cats put in PETA's care in 2008:
- Of 584 dogs surrendered to PETA's "shelter" last year, 555 were killed by PETA and only 4 were adopted out. Another 21 dogs were transferred to the Virginia Beach SPCA, and 15 dogs were still "on hand" with PETA as of December 31, 2008.
- Of 1,589 cats surrendered to PETA's "shelter" last year, 1,569 were killed by PETA and only 3 were adopted out. Another 13 cats were transferred to the Virginia Beach SPCA, and 2 cats were still "on hand" with PETA as of December 31, 2009
Now here's the important part: PETA is very clearly in violation of Virginia state law.
Last year on this blog, I noted that PETA is licensed under Virginia law to run an animal shelter or humane society. But PETA does not run an animal shelter.
But don't take my word for it. Here what PETA's Daphna Nachminovitch said in court:
"PETA does not maintain an animal shelter. PETA has a couple -- we call them 'quarantine rooms' -- which are used to house animals that are held for one reason or another. And animals who are, who have a chance for adoption, are usually fostered in private homes. We do not have a public facility that's open to the public where people can stroll through and pick an animal. That's not a service that we are able to provide. We're an office building."
Right. You are an office building. Not a shelter.
But PETA's license to handle powerful killing chemicals did not say it was running an office building, but that it was running an animal shelter or humane society.
Under Virginia law, an animal shelter means "a facility, other than a private residential dwelling and its surrounding grounds, that is used to house or contain animals and that is owned, operated, or maintained by a nongovernmental entity including, but not limited to, a humane society, animal welfare organization, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or any other organization operating for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for animals."
Under Virginia law, a humane society means "any incorporated, nonprofit organization that is organized for the purposes of preventing cruelty to animals and promoting humane care and treatment or adoptions of animals."
Under Virginia law, adoption means "the transfer of ownership of a dog or a cat, or any other companion animal, from a releasing agency to an individual."
In short, PETA is not running a legal shelter or humane society (as Ms. Nachminovitch conceded in court), and therefore their licensed access to killing chemicals should be revoked by the state.
PETA can then re-apply with the Virginia Department of Agriculture to run a slaughter house if they so choose.
And no, the slaughter house designation is not hyperbole.
In 2008, PETA's shelter in Norfolk, Virginia took possession of 2,216 dogs, cats, and other “companion animals” and killed all but 7 of them -- a 95.8 percent kill rate once the transfers are accounted for.
What's that look like? Well, if the average dog/cat weighs 30 pounds, that works out to be about 30 TONS of dead animals coming out of PETA's shelter every year.
Graphically, it look a bit like this, with the white-on-black animals being those that PETA killed, and the black-on-white animals being the ones they actually found homes for and did not kill.
Want to do something positive about all this? Here's my suggestion: Send a letter to all the candidates hoping to be Virginia's next Attorney General.
Ask each of the candidates to make a pledge to investigate, prosecute and/or close PETA's Norfolk animal shelter, which is being run as an unlicensed slaughter house, not as a true animal shelter seeking to find homes for adoptable animals. Send them a link to this blog for the statistics and the law.
How to contact the candidates:
- Steve Shannon - Democratic candidate for Virginia Attorney General. Contact here (web form) or call (best): 703-218-3501
- Ken Cuccinelli - Republican candidate for Virginia Attorney General. Contact here (web form) or call (best): 703-766-0635
- John Brownlee - Republican candidate for Virginia Attorney General. Contact here (web form) or call (best): 1-888-523-6724
- Dave Foster - Republican candidate for Virginia Attorney General. Contact here (direct email) or call (best): 703-349-2820
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Along the way, and without interruption, the talk was of dogs as well as other breeds of animals, including humans.
One of the more interesting notes is a letter from W.D. Fox to Charles Darwin about the effects of inbreeding in blood hounds owned by Howard Galton, who was Sir Francis Galton's uncle.
W.D. Fox quotes Howard Galton as saying:
"I have found from breeding in & in that there is considerable difficulty in keeping up the breed. Many of the females have never exhibited any sexual appetite & those which do so at all, very rarely.
The Knot in the tail appeared by accident in one of the finest Dog puppies I had, so fine that I kept it, notwithstanding this imperfection, and all his descendants had it until at last I got a cross with one of Lord Aylesfords' Bloodhounds, since which time it has disappeared.
The knot was always in the same part of the tail. Another consequence of breeding in and in is that the animals become prematurely old."
The deleterious effects of inbreeding have been known for as long as man has been alive, which is why there is a ban on it in all religions (one of the very few commonalities across the religious spectrum).
What is only notable here is the provenance of the observation: Darwin's inquiry into the effects of inbreeding in Howard Galton's blood hound pack dates back to 1838, more than 20 years before the first formal dog show in the U.K., and 35 years before the start of the Kennel Club.
A musical lesson in one take. This little number was part of the 1948 movie A Song Is Born, featuring Danny Kaye (announcing) the Golden Gate Quartet (singing), and Virginia Mayo (dubbed) and, of course, Louis Armstrong (singing and trumpet). Also appearing are Lionel Hampton (vibraphone), Benny Goodman (clarinet), Tommy Dorsey (trombone), and Charlie Barnet (sax). The plot revolved around the writing of an audio musical encyclopedia, and the movie was directed by Howard Hawks.
A question arises, in correspondence: Do different species really interbreed in the wild? And if they do interbreed on occasion, aren't they all sterile like the mules made by crossing donkeys to horses ?
The short answer is: Yes they do, and No they are are not all sterile. And, for the record, not all horses crossed with donkeys are sterile. Most are, but not all!
First, let me say that this point is basic to understanding biology: fertile hybrids occur, and they are critical to evolution.
This was a basic point of Darwin's Origin of Species and in subsequent works, such as the truly excellent The Beak of the Finch, whose authors spent 20 years on the Galapagos studying Darwin's finches.
The basic point here is that in the Galapagos the finches have not completely speciated, and the same is true for some of the Giant Tortoise and Iguana types on the Galapagos.
Even in those animals where we can say speciation has occurred under any definition, fertile crosses within genera are fairly commonplace.
On the Galapagos, each species of finch fills a distinct ecological niche for plant species, but the finches also cross-breed with some frequency which creates intermediate hybrids. Each type of bill (and there are more than a dozen types) is slightly more or less advantageous on each island, but due to the vagaries of weather (several years of drought in the Galapagos may be followed by several years of higher-than-average rainfall), no one beak is always right all the time, on some islands.
What this means is that while booming populations sometimes ride on the wave of the more extreme beaks and weather patterns, the core gene pool on which all variety on the Galapagos depends are the intermediates, which includes the crossbreeds or hybrids.
Because most hybrids are not genetically stable (i.e. a hybrid mated to a hybrid may produce offspring which look very different from their parents and each other), these hybrid birds are often the evolutionary watch spring which helps kick forward the next "population boom" of variety when weather patterns change for years on end.
What Darwin saw in the Galapagos was a perfect example of a common phenomenon.
In fact, hybrid animals are generally the fastest form of evolutionary advance and, as a consequence, hybrids occur all the time for the simple reason that a little "wobble" in the gene pool is always a good thing in a rapidly changing world beset, since the very beginning, by fire, flood, drought, tsunami, hurricane, global warming, global cooling, freak weather conditions, epidemics of disease, and wave after wave of invading "foreign" species.
Another point is that evolution is not something that happened "a long time ago" -- it is happening right now outside your door, and if you are really observant, you can even see it with your own eyes.
Look at your bird feeder, for example.
What the hell is that "little brown job" over there in the corner?
Yes, yes, it is a sparrow or finch of some type, but what type?
If you are really confused (and if you watch bird feeders long enough, you eventually will be), don't get too worried. You see, the bird you are looking at may be a bit confused too. It turns out that there are a lot of hybrid sparrows and finches out there, and most of them are fertile and quite a few breed.
There are hybrid Brewer’s × Black-chinned sparrows and hybrid Grasshopper X Savannah sparrows, and hybrid House X Tree sparrows, and ... the list is quite long.
Birds hybridize all the time. Ducks and geese are particularly proficient at it. Go to any major lake during duck migrations, and if you glass the water carefully, and for a long enough time, you will eventually see a free-ranging duck hybrid.
If you go "past the feathers" into the DNA of the birds, however, you will find that there are even more hybrids than at first meets the eye. A lot of duck species are not entirely "pure." Most mallards, for example, seem to have a little Black Duck coursing through their veins, while in Europe the Ruddy Duck and the Whiteheaded Duck hybridize so frequently, that there is some danger pure Whiteheaded Ducks may be pushed into extinction.
Geese too will naturally hybridize, of course. Canadian geese, for starters, will naturally hybridize with Greylag geese and Barnacle geese and White-fronted geese and ... well, you get the idea.
Here in the U.S and Canada, Dusky or Blue Grouse very occasionally hybridize with Ring-necked Pheasant, and Sharp-tailed Grouse very occasionally cross with Prairie Chickens, while Willow Ptarmigan will occasionally cross with Spruce Grouse.
In the bird-watching world, naturally occurring (and quite fertile) hybrids occur all the time between spotted owls and barred owls, as do crosses between Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Flickers, and the various species of Amazon parrots.
Mammals hybridize less frequently than birds, but they too are not too hard to find.
Object lesson one is the Red Wolf, found right here in the eastern Unites States. Not only is this animal nothing more than a stable hybrid between the Gray Wolf and the Coyote, it is a very fertile animal.
Coyotes and domestic dogs will, of course interbreed, as will Wolves and domestic dogs, and Jackals and domestic dogs, and Dingos and domestic dogs, and this progeny too is quiet fertile, though the estrus cycles may be a bit off from the natural version found among the wild animal population.
What about other animals? They too hybridize on occasion. Lynx and Bobcat will naturally interbreed in the wild where their ranges overlap and the population of Lynx is low (as it always is in the U.S.). These Lynx X Bobcat hybrids are fertile, and have been found from Maine to Minnesota, and confirmed by DNA analysis.
In Europe, hybrids between feral cats and European Wild Cats are so common that it is now very hard to find a pure European Wild Cat at all outside of an island sanctuary in the Outer Hebrides.
Even larger animals will hybridize on rare occasions. In 2006, for example, an American hunter in Canada shot what he thought was a Polar Bear, but upon close examination it was found to have brown splotches on its coat and a hump on its back, suggesting it was a Grizzly. DNA tests, however, confirmed that the animal was a naturally occurring Grizzly Bear-Polar Bear hybrid. Pairings of these animals have been done at zoos, and they have all been quite fertile.
Buffalo will naturally hybridize with cattle, and in fact they have done so for such a long time that there are not too many 100% pure buffalo around anymore.
Mule deer and Whitetail deer will naturally hybridize on occasion, though apparently the animals that come about from this union have erratic escape behavior patterns, which make them susceptible to predation.
What about fish? There are too many hybrid fish types to mention, but suffice it to say that trout, salmon and many other types of fish will naturally hybridize, as will some insects (such as butterflies and fruit flies).
In the world of reptiles, we find naturally occurring hybrids occurring between American Alligators and Cuban Caymans to the point that pure Cuban Caymans are getting harder to find.
And, of course, in the plant world hybrids are a dime a dozen, and include not only most of the plants we eat, and a very large number in the garden, but increasing numbers of plants found in our forests and fields as well (many are escapees from the garden, it should be said).
You will note that I have not even mentioned "prison romance marriages" where animals are kept in cages for long periods of time. If this is done, all kinds of hybrids are possible, and though most are sterile, fertile offspring between many types seems to be possible, and between some types it is the rule. For example, a hybrid cross between a male leopard and a female jaguar is called a Jagulep or Lepjag and they are always fertile. This hybrid animal, for the record, was once crossed with a male lion, and the progeny was displayed as a "Congolese Spotted Lion." The mind reels.
The bottom line: YES, hybrids DO occur in wild nature, and YES many of those hybrids are quite fertile.
So what happens to these fertile hybrids? Not all of them mate. It turns out (surprise!) that the ability to mate is not the same as actually doing so, and that many hybrids have inappropriate or awkward courtship displays.
Think computer geeks at a Star Trek convention, and you get the right idea.
So far as I can tell, however, most fertile hybrids do eventually mate with one side of their gene pool or another. For example, a Lynx-Bobcat hybrid is very like to mate with a Bobcat, further diluting the Lynx infusion and reverting the progeny, very quickly, back to type. No doubt this "infusion-pollution-dilution" of genes has been going on with birds and fish since the beginning.
Hybrids are, of course, statistically rare. When animals are in abundance, most species mate with their own kind.
That said, there are a lot of duck hybrids if for no other reason than than there are a hundreds of millions of ducks flying all over the world.
There are fewer Grizzlies and Polar Bear hybrids because there are fewer Grizzlies and Polar Bears, and both animals do not normally travel distances of thousands of miles several times a year as a duck naturally will.
And what about Mules? Well almost all mules (Donkey X Horse) and Hinnies (Horse X Donkey) are sterile, but at least a very, very few females are not. So even here, where the number of chromosomes between species is not even the same, we find the "rules of nature" being broken, and the wobble of genetic possibilities being preserved.
The movie is about the introduction of massive Nile Perch to Lake Victoria. The introduction of these fish into Africa's largest lake, around 1900, not only wrecked the natural ecology of the Lake, but perverted and twisted the economy as well.
Director Hubert Sauper writes:
Some time in the 1960's, in the heart of Africa, a new animal was introduced into Lake Victoria as a little scientific experiment. The Nile Perch, a voracious predator, extinguished almost the entire stock of the native fish species. However, the new fish multiplied so fast, that its white fillets are today exported all around the world
Huge hulking ex-Soviet cargo planes come daily to collect the latest catch in exchange for their southbound cargo… Kalashnikovs and ammunitions for the uncounted wars in the dark center of the continent.
This booming multinational industry of fish and weapons has created an ungodly globalized alliance on the shores of the world’s biggest tropical lake: an army of local fishermen, World bank agents, homeless children, African ministers, EU-commissioners, Tanzanian prostitutes and Russian pilots
The idea of this film was born during my research on another documentary, Kisangani Dairy that follows Rwandese refugees in the midst of the Congolese rebellion. In 1997, I witnessed for the first time the bizarre juxtaposition of two gigantic airplanes, both bursting with food. The first cargo jet brought 45 tons of yellow peas from America to feed the refugees in the nearby UN camps. The second plane took off for the European Union, weight with 50 tons of fresh fish.
Wow. This was bizarre. And what a story!
But what about the title? Hubert Sauper explains:
In DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE I tried to transform the bizarre success story of a fish and the ephemeral boom around this "fittest" animal into an ironic, frightening allegory for what is called the New World Order. I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil. Most of us I guess, know about the destructive mechanisms of our time, but we cannot fully picture them. We are unable to "get it", unable to actually believe what we know.
It is, for example, incredible that wherever prime raw material is discovered, the locals die in misery, their sons become soldiers, and their daughters are turned into servants and whores.... It seems that the individual participants within a deadly system don't have ugly faces, and for the most part, no bad intentions. These people include you and me.
That's such a deep thought, the movie so interesting sounding, and the whole thing such an odd accidental find that it makes it to the blog. Big hat tip to HT Trainer for finding this! As for the movie itself, it's available on Amazon. Just click here.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Yesterday was a good day in the field.
For one thing, I did not get up in the dark and rush down the highway to a freezing dawn. Daylight savings has started, which means it was just starting to get light when I swung my legs out of bed and, to tell the truth, I did not break any land speed records getting up and out. It was 10 am when I got to the farms, and it felt like I had been lounging around for hours.
The weather was perfect -- cool and sunny, with the ground springy under my feet from just the right amount of moisture. Perfect.
Spring is just about here. The buds are not yet on the trees, but the grass seemed a little greener, and so did the honeysuckle in the hedge.
The dogs pinged on a lot of holes, but the groundhog dens are still plugged up with loose dirt and leaves, and with the ground this soft, I was pretty sure that if the dogs could not get in right away, the groundhogs would probably dig away. Why break my back this early in the season on a futile dirt-chase, when there was still so much hole scouting to do?
The dogs marked a half a dozen holes, but could not get in past the backfill and leaves, and so I whistled them on, and we all had a grand time walking through field and forest.
I came down the edge of one long field, and realized I was near a large den Mountain had pulled a large possum out of several years ago. I had always thought this was an old fox den, but it had never held anything except that one time. In addition, while it was a very "foxy" looking sette up near the field, it was very much a groundhog pipe father inside the wood line, complete with smooth mounded entrance. No doubt it was an old sette, used by many creature over time. Still, it had held for me only that once.
As I approached the den, I remembered that the last time I had swung by I had noticed that a large tree had crashed down over the den. The downed tree was still there, of course, and as I got closer I could hear Mountain opening up to a short bay, underground, and back inside the broken limbs that lay shattered on the ground. Excellent!
Pearl was ahead of me, and she slid into the hole nearest the field just as I got there. Two dogs underground at once is not a good idea, but there was nothing to be done about it now, and it was a large sette. My dogs know each very other very well, and they will not push each other into quarry. Besides, I was not even sure these two holes linked up -- Mountain had pulled her possum from this sette without any digging at all, and it was a pretty long way from one hole to the other.
I stopped next to the hole where Pearl had slid in, and waited. An odd coughing sound came out of the pipe. Hmmm. Well, it wasn't an empty sette. And it didn't quite sound like a groundhog, did it?
I pulled out the Deben locator box and marked Pearl at five feet, and then she stopped baying and began moving. Just then Mountain began baying at the other end of the sette, and I climbed over a small bit of the downed tree and noticed an odd slash in the earth right between the two dogs. Apparently a new opening had popped into this sette. Had that occurred with the tree falling? Hard to say, but the hole did not look like it has been dug but ripped.
I was boxing the dogs for location right next to that hole, when a red fox sprang out of the gash in the earth and bounced off the fallen tree trunk right above me, before launching itself another three feet in the air to bounce off another fallen branch.
Yow! Wow! That was quite an explosion -- and right at my feet too.
It was not a big fox, but very dark red, the color of Georgia clay, and it was coiled up as tight as a watch spring as it ran. That was one booking animal!
It was probably a vixen, I thought.
And then, before another idea could flicker across my racing mind, this fox gave out a very loud sound halfway between a bark and a yelp.
Sound! You do not get that too often from a fleeing fox! How odd.
I squatted next to the hole, waiting to see what would happened next. Would another fox flush? But no, it was Mountain, coming out of the same ragged slit in the ground from which the fox had bounded. I grabbed her up, slipped a lead over her head, and staked her back from the hole.
Now what? I had just settled back next to the hole, waiting, when an enormous red dog fox bounded into the scene from stage right, at the edge of where the forest met the field.
This fox clearly had no idea I was there, and he was coming in pretty fast. He bounded on top of a log about 15 feet away from me, and at eye-level with my head. His neck ruffle was fully flared, and he was loaded for bear and facing me. At first, because I did not move and the wind was not to his favor, he did not see or smell me.
I slowly slid my hand back to see if I could pry the camera loose from the case at my waist. That was all the movement the fox needed, and now he saw me and was visibly surprised and confused that I was there. He was a magnificent fox, and though he probably froze on that log for only a second or two before bounding away, it was as picture-perfect a view of wildlife as I have ever seen. A real National Geographic moment. This was a very large dog fox with a deep red coat, and at the top of his game. A magnificent animal. I have seen a lot of fox over the years, but this one was very large - the largest I have seen in person -- and with a much richer color than any of the others. It was double the size of the little vixen that I had bolted, that was for sure.
And then, quicker than I can say it, the fox was gone.
I was still pumped up and in glory from the sight of this fox when Pearl came out of the same gash in the earth that the little vixen had bolted from. I grabbed her up, slipped a leash over head head, and moved both dogs farther away from the sette.
What had gone on back there?
The second fox was not the first fox, I was certain of that. The size differential was very real, and so too was the fact that this dog fox had clearly been clueless as to what was at the hole. He had only come in fast because the cavalry has been called for. That's what that Vixen's call had been all about.
I was not sure if fox pups were inside this den or not. There was not a scrap of feather, hide or bone at the entrance, but perhaps the vixen had just given birth or was about to. If the kits were still on milk, there would be no fox-toys about.
Or perhaps this was not a natal den at all. No matter -- my dogs will not harm very small fox kits (most terriers will ignore them) and no harm was done here, other than a small fright to the Vixen. If the fox did have kits in there, there would be no shortage of dens for them to move on to if they really wante to move. But the den had not been dug on at all. I suspected they would simple calm down and stay; the den was very far back on the farm, and it was unlikely there would be another disturbance of any kind. Not from me, that's for certain!
But wow, what a fox that was! It really was a magnificent animal.
I kept the dogs on leash for half a field, but they both knew the game was over, and when they got off lead, they hunted forward, checking more settes and pinging on a few more that were partially filled in with dirt. The good news was that this farm did not appear to be blank! When the weather warmed up, in about a month, there would still be very good groundhog hunting here.
We were almost to the truck when Mountain slid into another sette, and opened up to a nice bay. Excellent! Perhaps we would get in a dig after all. I downed tools and leashed up Pearl, clipping her to a piece of old hog wire fencing, well back from the hole.
Mountain was quite a bit farther up inside this den pipe than I would have imagined, but I located her perfectly and she was not deep at all. A very quick pop in, and I found the source of her blockage -- a thick root which I sawed away. Mountain moved forward another 15 feet and stopped cold. I popped in another quick hole, but there was nothing at the end of this pipe but the dog. Where had the groundhog gone?
I poked around with a Yoho trowel, and so did Mountain, but neither of us could find where the groundhog had gotten to. The ground was quite solid.
I pulled Mountain after 15 minutes of probing and looking, and unclipped Pearl, but she too was stymied. I barred around the stop end, but could not find the pipe. Oh well. Some get away, especially in this kind of soft soil.
I pulled Pearl, unclipped both dogs from their leads, and let them noodle around on top while I broke up branches and repaired the two den pop holes that I had dug.
I was just about finished repairing the den and re-landscaping the top, when Mountain began attacking the base of a nearby tree, pulling off a big slab of bark.
Eh? I was pretty sure she was after a chipmunk which I had seen scampering off in the wood pile, so I did not pay her too much attention.
Then Mountain really began digging away at the base of the tree, and in only a few minutes she had made quite a decent hole in the dirt.
Now I was interested. Let's see what happened here.
Pearl laid down next to the hole, her entire body on its side. She was clearly listening for something. Mountain, for her part, kept digging, and I pulled her just once to clear the loose dirt from the hole, and then let her go back to digging. Was she after a mouse?
Then Pearl was on her feet. She walked two feet forward, and began digging furiously at another spot in the dirt on top of the ground. Bang -- she was on it! Pearl had found the groundhog!
After a little victory ragging of the carcass by the dogs, this groundhog was placed on the edge of the hedgerow on a path next to the corn field which, from the look of the fox scat, was clearly part of the local fox patrol.
This was going to be Mr. and Mrs. Fox's dinner for the next day or two, courtesy of the Mountain and Pearl. A small peace offering for accidentally disturbing them earlier in the day. Mea culpa, apologia, Mr. and Mrs. Reynard, and bon appetite!
A German doctor at the same bar says: "We did that with a heart, and in 4 weeks the patient was looking for work."
A British doctor chimes in: "That's nothing, we transplanted an a$$hole from Scotland into 10 Downing Street, and now the whole damn country is looking for work!!!"
Monday, March 23, 2009
From The Wall Street Journal:
The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation.
The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry. Texas is such a huge textbook market that many publishers write to the state's standards, then market those books nationwide.
"This is the most specific assault I've seen against evolution and modern science," said Steven Newton, a project director at the National Center for Science Education, which promotes teaching of evolution.
Texas school board chairman Don McLeroy also sees the curriculum as a landmark -- but a positive one.
Dr. McLeroy believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. If the new curriculum passes, he says he will insist that high-school biology textbooks point out specific aspects of the fossil record that, in his view, undermine the theory that all life on Earth is descended from primitive scraps of genetic material that first emerged in the primordial muck about 3.9 billion years ago.
He also wants the texts to make the case that individual cells are far too complex to have evolved by chance mutation and natural selection, an argument popular with those who believe an intelligent designer created the universe.
In Japan and China, they are cheering this on, as the rejection of Darwin will set back American schools 100 years, and guarantee that Asia will dominate the global economy for the next 100 years, the Golden Age of Biotechnology.
In Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan, they are cheering this on as well, but for a different reason.
Could the religious zealots of the Taliban variety gain a foothold in the U.S.? It appears they are well on their way to do so. And all you have to do to help is remain silent...