Monday, April 06, 2020
Sunday, April 05, 2020
Whatever happened to the Bubonic Plague?
Like so much that is fundamental to history (Whatever happened to the Dust Bowl? Why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor?), this question is sidestepped by most grade-school teachers.
The simple truth is that RATS ended Bubonic Plague pandemics in Europe -- an odd but true story that, no doubt has been suppressed by public health officials uncomfortable with such inconvenient truths.
First, a little history. Plague has probably swept through the Old World time and time again. Plague-like pestilences are mentioned in the Bible (the so-called “scourge of the Philistines”), and at least five great outbreaks are noted by historians.
For modern purposes, however, the "big plague" was the so-called "Black Death" that swept through Europe beginning in the 14th Century and carried forward, with fits and starts, until the middle of the 17th Century.
The first wave of this plague killed off one-third of the population of Europe within two years of its arrival in the port of Messina, Sicily in 1346.
The vector, or transmission agent, for this wave of Bubonic Plague was the black rat Ratus ratus, which was host to the black rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, which in turn was host to the bacterium Yersinia pestis that actually causes the Plague.
Large-scale incidents of plague in Europe ended with the arrival of a very aggressive new immigrant -- Ratus norvegicus, aka the Brown or "Norwegian" rat.
In fact this rat is not Norwegian. It probably originated in Asia, and got to Europe through the Middle East, first arriving in England on a load of timber from Norway (hence the name given to it by the British)
The Brown Rat and the Black Rat look somewhat similar, but they have very different temperaments.
A Brown Rat is not only larger that its Black Rat cousin, it is also far more aggressive. When the Brown Rat arrived in Europe and began to multiply, it quickly pushed the smaller and more mouse-like Black Rat out of buildings, alleys, storage sheds and sewers. In fact, over time, it pushed the Black Rat almost totally out of existence in the temperate world.
Though fleas and lice are opportunists, they tend to gravitate towards, and specialize in, certain hosts. Different species of bird lice, for example, specialize in different species of birds. In fact, many species of bird lice can only be found on very specific bird species. The extinction of a bird species may, in turn, result in the extinction of one or more species-specific types of bird lice.
Many types of flea also gravitate towards, and special in, certain kinds of hosts. Though a species of flea may theoretically be able to draw a blood meal from a wide variety of mammalian hosts, most thrive on a specific list of hosts and generally fail to thrive if these particular hosts are not around.
So it is with Xenopsylla cheopis, the oriental rat flea, which is the flea most likely to be implicated in transmission of the Bubonic Plague.
The oriental rat flea thrives on a few species of rodents, and the Black Rat is far and away the most common of its rodent-host carriers.
With the rapid spread of the Brown Rat in Europe, the Black Rat was bullied and beaten into extirpation across most of the civilized world.
Today the Black Rat is commonly found only in the tropics. Even there it is most likely to be found high up (running along roofs and feeding at the tops of date palms) in order to avoid running into the neighborhood bully, the Brown Rat.
Bottom line: the Bubonic Plague was brought to Europe by fleas riding on Black Rats, while Brown Rats largely drove that species of rat out of Europe (and much of the rest of the world), thus eliminating the oriental rat flea and the Yersinia pestis bacteria that brought with it the Bubonic Plague.
|Churches and priests were common plague vectors. That's true today with Covid-19 too.|
THE AKC is furloughing a large number of staff due to COVID-19. See letter, below.
- Staff were given no notice and no severance pay.
- There is no indication that top management is taking a salary cut.
- A reminder that the AKC signed an expensive lease on new Park Avenue office space last year.
- As I noted in January: “If you read the AKC balance sheet, you will see that their pension liabilities exceed their total assets. They’re broke, but staying afloat on the cash flow of investment income (which was declining in 2018).”
- Investment income is likely to decline significantly in 2020 as stocks and bonds decline.
- AKC registrations have declined over 70 percent since 1992, even though Americans have more dogs (both total and per capita) than ever before.
- In 2010, I noted that “the organization will be gone by 2025 unless a drastic change is made.” So far, no change has been forthcoming.
Saturday, April 04, 2020
Where to start?
Let me start with how we find new medicines to treat both old and new diseases. Folks thing it must be a very complex process. Often it is not.
An example: back in the mid- to late 1990s, the good folks at the National Institute for Health (NIH) were growing aggressive colorectal cancer tumors in the lab and squirting everything they could find on them to see if something might slow their growth.
Eventually, they got around to trying a sheep worming medication called Levamisol, and much to their amazement, it worked like gangbusters -- the first medicine to ever do so.
When used to worm sheep (one dose every 6 months), the medicine was 6 cents a pill, but when given to humans (every day) to prevent colorectal cancer, the pill was $6 a tablet. Same dose, same manufacturer, same factory. And therein lies a story....
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg came down with colorectal cancer she was treated post-surgery with Levamisol, a drug I knew the price of when used for farm stock.
When I pitched a drug price-gouging story to Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace at 60 Minutes, it was the Levamisol story I led with, and below that I appended a table of the ten drugs most commonly used by seniors and their prices in the US, Canada, and Mexico.
The result was an often-repeated story that was featured in the U.S. presidential debates and which eventually propelled the creation of the Medicare drug program that has since lengthened the lives of millions while saving them billions of dollars.
So what's the latest?
The latest news is that scientists in Australia think another sheep and dog-worming medication *may* (and please note the emphasis on "may") knock down Covid-19 (see paper here). It seems to do so in the lab, but no human trials have yet been initiated.
The drug in question is Ivermectin, a very common parasite-fighter that has been used around the world on farm stock, dogs, and humans for 40 years
I know a great deal about Ivermectin and while I advocate for its use for dogs as both a preventative and as a treatment for heartworm, I urge folks who do not know their ass from their elbow to NOT rush down to the Southern States and start dosing themselves with horse wormer if they feel sick.
Do NOT do that!!
Horse wormer is dosed for 2,000-pound horses and though Ivermectin has a wide range of tolerance, you CAN overdose on this stuff if you do not know the difference between a microgram and a milligram.
In addition, there is NO EVIDENCE (yet) that Ivermectin will help treat Covid-19.
What works in a petri dish does not necessarily work in a live animal. Ivermectin's success in treating other viral diseases is very uneven; sometimes it helps, sometimes it does nothing.
To the extent you want to use Ivermectin to treat your DOG, get Sheep Drench, which is diluted down to a 0.08 percent solution of Ivermectin, and then follow the weight and droplet guidelines found at the link in this paragraph. DO NOT USE HORSE WORMER!
Whenever anyone talks about Ivermectin use in dogs, someone always pops up to say "yes, but it will kill collies." Well actually, no, not if properly dosed.
In fact, Heartgard, the primary low-dose heartworm preventative used in the U.S. is so safe for collies that the company features a Border Collie on the box. The Border Collie community routinely routinely uses low-dose ivermectin (often the sheep drench variety cited here) without harm because they are NOT idiots using horse worming paste.
Do NOT use horse-worming paste!
And, for now, DO NOT take Ivermectin to treat yourself for anything -- see a doctor if you think you have Covid-19 and self-isolate. Please DO NOT POISON YOURSELF because you do not know the difference between a milligram and a microgram.
If Ivermectin works, we'll know soon enough.
It's a natural thing first isolated from Japanese soil.
Soil microbiology has enormous potential for new medicines.
Another game changer drug -- Rapamune or Sirolimus -- was first isolated from Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and it has made heart stents and organ transplants possible.
Friday, April 03, 2020
Thursday, April 02, 2020
Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Terry, a Cairn Terrier trained and owned by Hollywood dog trainer, Carl Spitz, was in the 1934 Shirley Temple movie "Bright Eyes” some 5 years before she appeared in The Wizard of Oz. Terry was trained to respond to silent hand signals.
Carl Spitz was a German immigrant and student of Germany’s Colonel Konrad Most who was one of the first professional dog trainers who pioneered many of the dog training techniques used to this day.
Carl Spitz opened his own Hollywood Dog Training School in 1927. He later helped set up America's WWII War-Dog Program.
Carl Spitz trained “Buck” to star in the 1935 adaptation of Jack London’s Call of the Wild with Clark Gable and Loretta Young.
Wee turtles were leaving the canal and crossing the tow path to lay eggs in the woods. The big turtles will trundle out later.
Monday, March 30, 2020
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Saturday, March 28, 2020
|Possums for Sale, New York City, 1916.|
Americans look down their nose at the fraying ends of other cultures, with little reflection on our own.
In America, we hunt and eat every kind of wild animal, including animals so similar to humans they are used as body part replacements for living people.
You did not know?
Now you do
They eat snake in country XYZ?
They eat snake in America too (as well as giant lizards).
They eat rat in country XYZ?
We do too. We even have Muskrat beauty queens, Nutria festivals, and possum fries.
In America, the main religion is based on a talking snake.
Adherents are told they are mud people cursed by a mass-murdering god who sent his “son” to be murdered before he returned as a zombie. To show their fidelity to this story, practitioners of the faith wear a copy of the murder weapon of their messiah around their neck.
It’s strange stuff, but Americans manage to bridge the gap by never reading.
My father’s job was to explain America to the rest of the world — how a country that said “all men are created equal” could in fact be the same country that built its economy on slavery and institutionalized racism and sexism.
How do you explain that the country that says it was “founded on the rule of law” somehow forgot to teach about the stolen lands and broken treaties?
Do people not know that the “rule of law” (and supporting religious texts) made it legal to own slaves and disenfranchise women?
And now we face a new spate of xenophobia because a foreign microbe has been unintentionally spread around the world?
Ha! There’s a story the Chippewa, Choctaw, Cherokee, Sioux, Navajo, and Hopi have heard before, only this time no blankets seem to be involved.
And what is the solution?
Why, it’s not to rush out and provide free health care for all, is it?
No. Instead the politicians who only a month ago were demonizing Medicare For All as “socialist healthcare” are pushing a $7.5 trillion government bailout, mostly directed towards Wall Street and big corporations.
Apparently socialism is needed to save capitalism, but it can’t be used to save you.
Get sick with Covid-19?
Even if you survive a hospital stay, the bill is likely to kill you.
Think most Americans have thought about any of this?
We don’t read much. We don’t Google.
Instead, we believe in American Exceptionalism, which appears to be one hell of a drug.
Fire up the crack pipe; let’s see what’s on Fox News.
Friday, March 27, 2020
In the U.K., folks can wander over private property without asking permission.
This is called “the right to roam” and its legal legacy can be traced back to a grassroots movement started by Benny Rothman in the 1930s.
Rothman was a member of rebellious group of Manchester factory workers who called themselves “ramblers”. The ramblers sought to get out of sooty Manchester on their time off in order to see the beautiful Peak District that surrounded them. The problem was that almost all of this land was in the hands of private landlords who hired game keepers to keep walkers (and possible poachers) at bay.
This had not always been the case. Some 300 years earlier, most of the land in the UK has been part of the Commons where people could graze livestock and hunt as they could.
Beginning in the mid-18th century, however, the Enclosure Movement worked to privatize most common land in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. This has been described as "a revolution of the rich against the poor," and it transformed the countryside and shaped the world of dogs in general, and terriers in particular.
Benny Rothman was a member of a rambling club called the British Worker’s Sports Federation. One day while he was out with friends from that group, they were chased off by gamekeepers employed by the landowner. Benny and the other ramblers had had enough, and they decided there had to be strength in numbers. If enough folks showed up, the game keepers employed by absentee landlords couldn’t possibly stop them. And so Benny Rothman gathered up a big group of ramblers to walk up a small mountain called Kinder Scout in order to prove the point.
Gathering in a quarry at Kinder Scout, Rothman stood on a large rock and talked about the rights that the common working man had lost during the Enclosure Acts. He emphasized that the trespass they were about to do on Kinder Scout was meant to be peaceful. With that said, and the rules of the mass trespass detailed, they set out up the mountain. The game keepers, of course, did show up and there was a brief scuffle before the outnumbered game keepers retreated.
|BennyRothman addressing the group at Bowden Bridge quarry, 1932|
That would probably be the end of the story, but the game keepers called the police who came to arrest the six ringleaders as they came down the mountain. Five of the six arrested were given prison sentences of two to six months.
While arrest is never good, it can have an impact. In this case, the effect was to propel the mass trespass on Kinder Scout into the national news, where it received a great deal of popular support. Soon there were more mass trespasses, and in 1951 Britain opened its first national park, not coincidentally located in the Peak District where so much trespass activity had been occurring.
In 2000, the Ramblers got what they had always sought; an act of Parliament that created the right to roam. Happily, Benny Rothman lived to see that day; he died of a stroke in 2002 as the age of 90.
Lukas Saville writes to let me know he has written a detailed and accurate guide on Kinder Scout, that has information about the location, a thorough route guide, and even GPS coordinates anyone can download for free. Check it out.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has digitized a Japanese falconry book from the 1860s entitled Ehon taka kagami, or An Illustrated Mirror of Falconry.
The woodcuts, by Kawanabe Kyôsai, shows falconry equipment and training methods, as well as the Siberian goshawks that 19th-century Japanese falconers favored.
Some copies of Kyôsai's prints were printed with flecks of mica embedded in the paper in order to lend sparkle to the bird's feathers.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
John Steinbeck reads his great short story "The Snake"
8.3 MB file which can be downloaded.
8.3 MB file which can be downloaded.
This is a true story, told by John Steinbeck about his friend Ed Ricketts (aka Dr. Phillip in the story).
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race was one of the few spring 2020 American sports events not cancelled or postponed by the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.
The winner: Thomas Waerner of Norway and his dog team, who completed the 1,000-mile race in 9 days, 10 hours, 37 minutes, 47 seconds.
Waerner is the fourth non-Alaskan and the third musher from Norway — the second in three years — to win the Iditarod.
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race commemorates the 674-mile 1925 diphtheria serum run to Nome completed by 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs in 5 ½ days, saving the small town of Nome.
When was the diphtheria vaccine first created, and what’s that have to do with dogs? See here for that story.
It’s time for Republican Senators over age 60 to voluntarily and intentionally infect themselves and their spouses with Covid-19 in order to show they are willing to sacrifice themselves for an uptick in Boeing stock prices.
This intentional infection should start in 2 weeks when the hospitals are already swamped with Covid-19 cases, and the senators should be required to attend local hospitals without any form of special treatment.
The voluntary infected should include: Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Ron Johnson, John Cornyn, Marsha Blackburn, Richard Burr, Jim Inhofe, Richard Shelby, Pat Roberts, Jim Risch, Lisa Murkowski, John Boozman, Rick Scott, David Perdue, Mike Crapo, Mike Braun, Jerry Moran, Bill Cassidy, John N. Kennedy, Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Roy Blunt, Deb Fischer, John Hoeven, Rob Portman, Mike Rounds, Mitt Romney, Shelley Moore Capito, Mike Enzi, and John Barrasso.
Within the Trump Administration, the over age-60 voluntarily infected and their spouses should include: Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Bill Barr, Mark Meadows, Sonny Perdue, Wilbur Ross, Ben Carson, Elaine Chao, Betsy DeVos, Peter Navarro, and Gina Haspel.
Hopefully, these folks will survive infection and will be able to return to work without permanent lung scarring. Mortality for the over 60 varies by age, but if we assume a 4 percent mortality rate, only 4 or 5 of the above-named individuals and their spouses should die, and just think what a massive political statement it would make about their faith in God, their belief in sacrifice, and their commitment to Boeing stock prices.
Monday, March 23, 2020
Back in 1986, I was the organizer of a session on census adjustment at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The topic of the panel had to do with census reapportionment for congressional seats. If the courts decided to exclude illegal immigrants from the count, how could that be done? How did we count permanent resident green card holders? Did we count them at all? And what about the millions of young black men who, for whatever reason, were always missing in census counts? Was a deep sample survey actually more accurate than a nose-by-nose count?
All good questions, but before we got too far into the thicket, I wanted to prick a few balloons.
I began the panel by noting that in 1980 the U.S. Census Bureau had counted exactly 226,545,805 people, but that the margin of error that the Census Bureau freely admitted to was 2.5 percent.
In short, I observed, the one thing we had some confidence in was ... wait for it ... wait for it .... that only the first digit of that big official number was probably right. All of the other digits in the apparently precise official count were subject to change based on the Census Bureau’s freely admitted margin of error.
I tell this story to stress that folks who do not work with numbers, day in and day out, tend to fall in love with false specificity.
We don't have an exact count on a lot of things. The good news is that even if we do not have a precise count, we have direction and velocity data, and some ballpark numbers which, it turns out, are good enough for most policy purposes.
I bring this up in the era of coronavirus testing and mortality and stock market and other economic loses resulting from the same.
How many people have *really* contracted the disease in the US, since testing has been slow and bungled, and a portion of the population is asymptomatic and also contagious?
How many deaths are *really* due to Covid-19, when so many patients are presenting with co-morbidities and some early deaths were (apparently) coded as seasonal flu?
Is the Dow Jones weighted too much on airlines, and therefore suggesting more economic collapse than is real?
Is the S&P 500 masking real economic loss at the level of barbers and non-chain restaurants and gyms, coffee houses and bars whose “stock” is not traded on any exchange?
All good and interesting questions, but again ignore the false specificity, and instead look at direction and velocity.
Is the data that you do have going in one direction?
Is it slow, fast, or variable?
Is there a doubling time?
Are curves flattening?
If the answer is “a lot” and “more” and “pretty damn fast,” you don’t need to know anymore.
Compounding is a mathematical construct.
The math behind both doubling times and halving times is the same, and it has no ideology.
A human population that grows at 2 percent a year doubles in just under 35 years based on the natural log of 2.
By the same calculation, if you have a steady rate of financial return of 7 percent, your money will double in just shy of 10 years.
The spread of coronavirus is jaw-dropping. It is not doubling in years or months or even weeks, but in 6-7 DAYS.
The good news is baked into the bad news: that speed of transmission will slow, but only when a sizable portion of the population has antibodies due to having caught the disease and survived it, or having been vaccinated.
“Herd immunity” kicks in when about 75 percent of the population carries antibodies. In all liklihood a vaccine will only kick in a year or 18 months from now, by which time we can expect 3.5 to 5 billion people across the globe to have been infected, with 35 to 50 million dead as a result of that infection.
It’s possible an antibody-based vaccine can be developed before then, but it would also have to developed and rolled out at a global scale within the same time period to sharply reign in the numbers.
And there’s another Joker in the deck: Covid-19 is a “slippery” virus that seems to mutate easily.
The first mutation enabled the virus to spread easily from people-to-people, and the second created a new, even worse, strain of the disease that is now being seen in the Middle East.
With two strains of the virus now circulating, we don’t know if recovery from one strain confers immunity to the other.
A rapidly spreading double infection, and a virus that shifts quickly, “slipping” out under a vaccine, is an epidemiological nightmare.
Is that in the future?
We don’t know.
All we know now is direction and velocity, and that’s enough.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard says U.S. unemployment rate may hit 30% in the second quarter, and GDP may fall 50 percent.
The chart, above, is of nationwide unemployment claims as of Thursday (four day ago).
THIS IS THE START, not the end.
Stay in your house, wash your hands aggressively every time you come back to the house, try not to touch anything, practice social distancing, do not touch your face, and carry a clorox-soaked washcloth in a plastic bag in your car.
This is funny, but I am genuinely worried about seniors all over, starting with family and friends.
On the musical scene, Loretta Lyn is 87, Willie Nelson is 86, Charley Pride is 85, George Jones is 81, and Mavis Staples is 80. Bob Dylan is 78 years old and Chet Atkins, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Carole King and Brian Wilson are 77. Mick Jagger is 76 and Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Roger Daltrey, Jimmy Page, Roger Waters, and Ray Davies are 75. Debbie Harry, Eric Clapton, and Rod Stewart are 74, and Neil Young and Dolly Parton are 73, as is Van Morrison.
A similar list could be done for much-loved politicians, comedians, actors, business, and local leaders.
Sunday, March 22, 2020
I was walking the dogs and checking on an eagle nest when Moxie found a possum. I could not understand why she didn’t pull it, but when she finally broke off, it was self-evident: the hole was cross-braced by a two-inch thick root. Not sure how the possum got in, but it was not coming out that way. Moxie was no worse for wear — not a mark on her. That said, never pull on a dog that is gripping unless you can see who has who — you don’t want to pull your dog’s face off. The possum was left in the hole; no digging on this day.
The train is already starting to small things locally, with jobs and income being lose across the area.
And it's not all small employers taking the hit either.
Last night, Marriott announced it was going to being furloughing tens of thousands of employees, including many thousands at its corporate headquarters in Bethesda. The Daily Beast describes hotels as "coronavirus ghost towns" and the industry is looking for a $150 billion bailout, with the head of the American Hotel and Lodging Association describing the pandemic as already (and it is still early days), having a bigger impact that 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined.