Thursday, April 30, 2009

Will Swine Flu Be an Economic Tipping Point?

Pandemics have been with us for a long time, are ongoing, and have never gone away.

Anyone heard of malaria, HIV, cholera, or tuberculosis?

All are huge killers, with millions dying every year across the globe, and no one blinks.

Regular-old influenza is a seasonal pandemic we have already normalized.

Consider this: in the average year, 30,000 to 50,000 people die in the U.S. from the flu, and across the globe the death toll is about 20 to 30 times that.

Ho hum. Let us bury the dead, stay calm and carry on.

So what's new about the swine flu pandemic that has everyone aflutter?

Well for one thing, the speed of transmission is pretty darn impressive.

A hat tip to the airlines and mass transit which have helped make that possible.

Another issue is that this stuff may be pretty virulent. We don't have a good denominator to work with yet, so we're not sure, but there's some small sign this strain of flu might be a bit stronger than the stuff we normally see. That, combined with the speed of transmission, gives epidemiologists a reason to worry.

The good news is that we are not living in the world of 1918.

We have better communications, better monitoring abilities, and more health care interventions than we did back then.

The bad news is that today's flu is being spread much faster, and our vaccine-producing technologies are still very old-fashioned, very slow, and very labor-intensive.

The bottom line here is that there is no way to make enough vaccine to stop a pandemic once it begins to really roar down the track.

We will just have to ride it out.

Another bit of bad news is that our crowded world has become a particularly flu-friendly place, and we are likely to see more of this kind of thing in the future.

As a 2005 article entitled "Preparing for the Next Pandemic, put it:

It is sobering to realize that in 1968, when the most recent influenza pandemic occurred, the virus emerged in a China that had a human population of 790 million, a pig population of 5.2 million, and a poultry population of 12.3 million; today, these populations number 1.3 billion, 508 million, and 13 billion, respectively. Similar changes have occurred in the human and animal populations of other Asian countries, creating an incredible mixing vessel for viruses.

Another bad sign
is that the current flu epidemic appears to be striking a disproportionately high number of healthy people between the ages of 18 and 40 years, which suggests a virus-induced "cytokine storm" may be occurring inside today's swine flu victims.

In a cytokine storm, the human immune system is pushed over the edge, and an auto-immune "do-loop" leads to acute respiratory distress syndrome, and that can lead to the kind of death knell numbers we saw back in 1918. As Michael Osterholm noted back in 2005:

If we translate the rate of death associated with the 1918 influenza virus to that in the current population, there could be 1.7 million deaths in the United States and 180 million to 360 million deaths globally.

So should we all be freaking out?

  • No.

  • Yes.

Paradoxically, both answers can be true at the same time.

The chance of any one individual actually dying from swine flu, even under a worst-case scenario, is not very high.

That's the good news.


The bad news is that a real pandemic could lead to schools and offices shutting down, restrictions on airplane travel, and a shuttering of subway and train lines.

Add to that economic catastrophe, a further drop in productivity due to people getting sick, and well people being forced to stop work in order to take care of family members who are sick, and the undertow of an economic vortex could be set in motion.


What if the next pandemic were to start tonight? If it were determined that several cities in Vietnam had major outbreaks of H5N1 infection associated with high mortality, there would be a scramble to stop the virus from entering other countries by greatly reducing or even prohibiting foreign travel and trade. The global economy would come to a halt, and since we could not expect appropriate vaccines to be available for many months and we have very limited stockpiles of antiviral drugs, we would be facing a 1918-like scenario.

.... we could vaccinate fewer than 500 million people — approximately 14 percent of the world's population. And owing to our global "just-in-time delivery" economy, we would have no surge capacity for health care, food supplies, and many other products and services. For example, in the United States today, we have only 105,000 mechanical ventilators, 75,000 to 80,000 of which are in use at any given time for everyday medical care; during a garden-variety influenza season, more than 100,000 are required. In a pandemic, most patients with influenza who needed ventilation would not have access to it.

We have no detailed plans for staffing the temporary hospitals that would have to be set up in high-school gymnasiums and community centers — and that might need to remain in operation for one or two years. Health care workers would become ill and die at rates similar to, or even higher than, those in the general public. Judging by our experience with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), some health care workers would not show up for duty. How would communities train and use volunteers? If the pandemic wave were spreading slowly enough, could immune survivors of an early wave, particularly health care workers, become the primary response corps?

Health care delivery systems and managed-care organizations have done little planning for such a scenario

Bottom line: An already weakened global economy could be pushed into a very serious free fall.

... Or not.

After all, as I noted at the beginning of this post, the world is being assailed by "pandemics" all the time, and yet we, as a species, continue to roll forward without too much of a hitch in our giddy up.

Death? That old thing?

Who cares about AIDS, or cholera, or malaria?

Let's talk about something interesting, like Mel Gibson's divorce.

Of course, that will change quickly if over-educated white people start dying by the train full. Then it really will be time to panic!

That said, I seriously doubt that swine flue will be the Last Waltz.

Let us remind ourselves, however, that unless we change the way we do business, there will be a Last Waltz some day, and disease will be part of that.

As Issac Asimov noted in a speech entitled "The Future of Humanity,"

"There is no need to decide whether to stop the population increase or not.

There is no need to decide whether the population will be lowered or not.

It will, it will!

The only thing mankind has to decide is whether to let it be done in the old inhumane method that nature has always used, or to invent a new humane method of our own [i.e. family planning and birth control].

That is the only choice that faces us; whether to lower the population catastrophically by a raised death rate, or to lower it humanely by a lowered birth rate.

And we all make the choice."


Or as I like to put it: "If we continue to breed like rats, then one day we are sure to die like flies."

In the interim, however, please pass the bacon.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Punked by a "Cornell" Press Release

A taxidermied museum specimen.

It sounded like amazing news.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported that the long thought extinct, Carolina Parakeet has been REDISCOVERED in Honduras.

Long believed to be extinct,--the Carolina Parakeet, North America's only member of the parrot family -- has been discovered in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in the Mosquitia region of northeastern Honduras ... A full report is due to be Published in the journal Science in the April issue. The findings include multiple sightings of the long thought to be extinct parakeet as well as preliminary data collected from an male bird tracked through radio telemetry. The evidence was gathered during an intensive year-long search in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve (RPBR) involving more than 50 experts and field biologists working together as part of the Parakeet Conservation Partnership, led by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy.

"The bird we currently have in captivity, the individuals we have seen in the wild and the male we are tracking through telemetry are absolutely the Carolina Parakeet" said Hubin Tubbs, the Science article's lead author. "We know from historical data that the Carolina Parakeet was migratory to this general region. There must have been individuals that did not migrate and they have formed a small but viable non-migratory population all this time."

A few more minutes of research, and I discovered the sad truth -- the whole thing was (is) an April Fool's Day joke.

Which would be fine, if the damn press release was not still up.

Which it is.

And perhaps this is not such a funny joke.

You see, Cornell was complicit in the Ivory Bill Woodpecker fiasco a few years ago.

The "rediscovery" of the Ivory Bill in Arkansas now appears to be either: 1) a hoax perpetrated by folks trying to preserve land along the White Water River, or; 2) a genuine misidentification due to what the New York Times has referred to as "faith based ornithology."

Either way, it was (and is) a black eye for the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

So where does the April 1st press release come from?

No clue. It is up on a "Google Docs" account, which should have been my first clue that there was a problem with the story.

A genuine Cornell logo and a few email addresses from The Nature Conservacy and Cornell, plus a very straight-forward presentation of the story, had me fooled, however.

It all sounded plausible, and I wanted to believe. And, truth be told, I did not look at the date on the press release.

Too bad it's just another chain-pull that rips a hole in the heart.

Thanks for that, whoever you are....

Gun Nuts & Zombies Come to the Aid of the HSUS

Sometimes I think no one embarrasses ethical hunters more often than right wing reactionaries.

A case in point: the right wing reactionary nuts who are now bashing Rush Limbaugh because he did a Public Service Announcement for the Humane Society of the U.S.

Now, I think regular readers of this blog know three things:

  1. I defend ethical hunting 100% of the time, and;

  2. I loathe people like Rush Limbaugh, not only for his message, but also his methods.

That said, hell will freeze over before I will join this pile-on against Rush, even though I loathe the man.


Well, first of all, I believe in free Speech. Rush Limbaugh can say and think whatever the hell he wants to, and I am got going to try to bully him into thinking something else.

Bullying is the right wing reactionary Republican way of doing business.

It is what you have to resort to when you are incapable of changing someone's mind through persuasion, education or example.

In the case of Rush Limbaugh's fan base, of course, bullying is their regular modus operandi. Most of them know nothing but intimidation because they are too lazy to actually "use the Google" to collect information on their own.

These folks are such brain-dead zombies, they describe themselves as "ditto heads."

Case made.

So what was Rush Limbaugh saying about the Humane Society of the U.S. that got all the right wing ditto heads so upset?

Not much actually.

It seem he did two radio Public Service Announcement's
, one of which was to give a thumbs down to dog fighting, and other to give a thumbs up to faith-based morality and the notion that Good Original Design and Mother Nature might deserve a little respect.

Dog fighting? The right wing reactionary hunters are bashing Rush Limbaugh because he is opposed to dog fighting?

And God? The right wing reactionaries are opposed to the notion of morality and the idea that Good Original Design, as found in forest and field, might be worthy of some respect?

Are these people morons?

Well, YES. Didn't I tell you that at the beginning? Pay attention!

Now, here is what is so pathetically sad: In their attack on Rush Limbaugh, the right wing hunters have completely ignored what Rush Limbaugh actually said and instead have decided that "it's all about hunting."

Yes, that's right, the folks at Ducks Unlimited, the Masters of Foxhounds Association of Noth America, Boone and Crockett, Whitetails Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and 23 other organizations have managed to equate a thumbs down on dog fighting with an full-on attack on hunting.

Which is perfect as far as the Humane Society of the U.S. is concerned.

"It's all the same" say the folks at the Humane Society of the U.S.

"Yes it is,"say the brain-dead leadership of these organizations, which have been stampeded into panic by the "I'm scared of the woods" crowd at the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

In fact dog fighting and hunting have nothing do with each other.

Zero. Nada. Empty Set.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply strutting their ignorance and should STFU.

You want some more twist?

Consider this: the same ignorants who are bashing Rush Limbaugh because he did not do his research on the Humane Society of the U.S., are the same sort of people who say Rush is right about everything else.

Ha! Wonderful.

But wait .... there's more.

You see, while Rush has taken to the airwaves to denounce the torture of dogs and cats, he has simultaneously taken to the airwaves to salute and cheer the torture of human beings.

Water-boarding? Yes! Rush is all for that.

Smashing towel-heads into a wall until their brains are as loose as a coddled egg? Yes! Let's do more of that says Rush.

Rush Limbaugh wants the GOP to be the party of torture.

But only for humans.

He is a one-man cheering section for that.

Anyone else see the irony here?

Which brings me the real point of this post.

Please, God, let us strive to Kill All Zombies.

It's not too late for each of us to do a little research and think through the issues for ourselves.

Please, God, let us all take back our minds.

Let us pledge allegiance to simple common sense and independent thought based on a careful gathering of real facts.

If more people will do that, I will not fear for this nation.

But unless we begin to do that, all else is lost.

Terrierman's guide to shovels.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu, the Movie, the Map, the Political Vote

Want to avoid swine flu? Wash your hands a lot. Nothing else will do more, short of not riding in closed subways, trains and airplanes where you are cheek-to-jowl with 250 people who might have the sniffles.

Want to track the rapid spread of what may be a pandemic? This being the modern era, there is a Google Maps application for that. Check it out.

Want to treat the pandemic if it breaks out? Vote Democrat!

"Right Underneath the Big Taco Bell Sign"

On April 4th of this year, Diana Durre, of Chambers, Nebraska, died after a 75-foot tall Taco Bell sign fell on her truck cab while she was in it. The pole broke at a welded joint about 15-feet above the ground due to strong winds. Diana was meeting a Wyoming couple to sell them some dogs. Officials said they agreed to meet in North Platte, Nebraska about 1 p.m., “right underneath the big Taco Bell sign.”

The dogs, a female Yorkshire Terrier and a male Norwich Terrier, were uninjured.

More People Meant Less Moa


The tallest bird that ever lived was the 12-14 foot tall Moa of New Zealand, which disappeared before 1400 AD.

In all, there were 11 species of Moa, ranging from 40 to 600 pounds. Early settlement sites in New Zealand are littered with moa bones suggesting they were a favorite food of pre-European settlers.

Scientists have never doubted that the moa was hunted into extinction, but what is astounding is how few people it took to accomplish the task.

A population model done by Richard Holdaway, a paleobiologist from Palaecol Research in Christchurch, New Zealand, assumed an original moa population of 158,000 birds -- a number that is double what is believed to have actually existed.

Holdaway's model also assumes no moa eggs were eaten (though midden piles make clear they were) and that all of the moas that were killed for food were at least one year old. The calculations also assume a small clutch size, which is suggested by semi-fossilized moa nests found in caves and overhangs.

So how long did the moas last? Not long.

According to Holdaway's calculations, if 100 Polynesians arrived, and their population grew 1 percent per year, and 20 people ate one female moa per week, and there was no habitat decline due to intentional burning, the birds would have gone extinct in 160 years.

If 200 people arrived, the population grew 2.2 percent per year, and 10 people ate one female moa each week, and habitat loss is factored in, the birds would have vanished in just 50 years.

While there is clearly a lot of wiggle room here (the numbers predated on would have slowed as numbers declined, human population may not have grown quite as quickly, nest size may have been a little larger that suggested in the model, and not all of the moas that were eaten were female) Jacomb's numbers appear to be supported by what scientists see in the field.

The first humans settlers to New Zealand are now believed to have arrived from Polynesia around 1280 AD, and no moa bones are found in caves that were occupied after 1400, suggesting the faster decimation scenario, rather than the slower one.

Rumors of moas existing at last as 1700 or 1800 are due to the fact that the birds often nested in caves and overhangs, which preserved bones and near-perfect eggs (see picture of semi-fossilized moa skeleton, above)

For more information, see >> Rapid Extinction of the Moas by R. N. Holdaway and C. Jacomb, Science, March 24, 2000, pp. 2250-4.

The current total fertility rate of New Zealand, by the way, is 2.0 -- just below replacement. Immigration, however, means New Zealand's population continues to grow.

Medical Maintenance and Digging on the Dogs

A few minor problems over the course of the last week...

Mountain and Pearl got into a knock-down fight, probably over the Invisible Fence shocking Mountain. Pearl was standing close by, so she got nailed simply for standing there. Not good! Pearl suffered some punctures, one of which was close to an eye. Those healed up in a few days (there were no rips), but then Pearl came up lame in her back leg. The lameness was unrelated to the fight, but perhaps associated with three days of crating. The good news there is that her leg seems better now, and everything is back to chaotic normal again.

Trooper seems to be doing better in terms of cognition. He's still a few marbles short of a complete set, but he seems happy and healthy and his back legs are no weaker than they were. I am going to take him to the vet this week to get a small sebaceous hyperplasia/benign mammary tumor taken off. He may last longer than I thought. We'll see...

I have discovered a soft mass on my elbow where I think I may have chipped something. It feels like a fatty tumor, perhaps built around a bone chip. Not sure. which my research tells me is elbow bursitis. It hurts when pressed on, and it needs to come off get drained as soon as possible, so I will be going in to see my vet as well. Oh joy!

Doug P. came up from North Carolina for a little digging, and he brought Gracie, his 7-year old miniature schnauzer.

At the first hole where Mountain located, we ended up having two groundhogs in the sette at once, but both got away due, in part, to the fact that Mountain needs to lose weight and Pearl was not with us due to her convalescence. Mountain was trying to work both sides of the sette at once, with the result being that one groundhog got to dig in, while the other slipped off into an undiggable part of a tree trunk. You win some, and you lose some ...

On the upside, we found another occupied sette a little way up the creek, and Gracie got to see what a groundhog looks like up close.

Gracie's a bit big, and not too game, but I could see the wheels rolling around in her head, and by the end of the day she was checking holes out. Not bad for a first time out!

Doug and I spent another hour or so at another farm, and I misplaced an old fox sette at about the same time I lost Mountain. I thought the sette was in the corner of this one hedge, but it was actually about 80 feet up.

When we finally found Mountain, she was in that sette and had been underground for at least 15 minutes. Mountain stayed underground, but did not open up to a bay. I located her with the box and popped into a very shallow hole in a rocky pipe, just as she exited from a nearby bolt hole.

There's no way of knowing, but Doug and I both suspect she may have bolted a fox out of this five-eyed sette while we were up the hedge. A fox can slide out of a hole and disappear into the brush as quickly and quietly as cigarette smoke dissipating in a strong breeze.

Gracie and groundhog.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Recidivist with a Tattoo, And This Is News?

Talk about your bad news bears!

The state of Maryland has caught a recidivist, whom they have identified from his tattoos.

The perpetrator in question was a young black bear found on the Eastern Shore in Maryland.

Originally thought to have come from Pennsylvania, he has been identified as a New Jersey bear based on his tattoos, his propensity for wearing "Members Only" jackets, and his insatiable love of bird seed.

The full story can be found at The Washington Post.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Weights and Measures at the Polo Grounds?

21 polo ponies died all at once under mysterious circumstances in Florida.

Before the last one had even slipped into rigor, I was asked whether I thought it was the work of animal rights lunatics?


I doubted it.

"My bet is that it will be an accidental supplements toxin due to mislabeling by someone who does not speak English too well," I replied.

It looks like I might be right.

This was an Argentine polo team trying to get their hands on a vitamin supplement (Biodyl) made by a U.S.-based veterinary supply company called Merial (they make Heartgard).

Biodyl is not approved for use or sale in the U.S. for animals or humans.

Rather than live with the ban on this not-FDA approved substance, the Argentine polo team apparently got their regular veterinarian, Felix Crespo, to partner with U.S.-licensed veterinarian to do a "work around" on the law by going to a compounding pharmacist.

What's a compounding pharmacist?

Compounding pharmacies are generally small-time operations that cock up mixtures of cold medicines and lotions for doctors. It is not uncommon for compounding pharmacists to pay kickbacks for referrals.

I am not alleging any kickback in this case -- I am simply describing the slippery nature of compounding pharmacies where the "slither quotient" is often pretty high. If a doctor sent me to a compounding pharamacist, I would probably change doctors.

So what's the story with these poisoned horses?

Time will tell, but I will be that it will turn out to be a case of Selenium poisoning.

Selenium is needed in micro amounts by the body, but it is pretty toxic at higher doses.

The problem in Florida was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and with each turn of the spoon the chance for the supplments recipe to get screwed up rose exponentially.

Time will tell, but I will bet that the final story is that the Spanish-speaking veterinarian gave a formula to the U.S. vet, who then gave it to the compounding pharmacist. Somewhere along the way -- perhaps due to translation problems -- I suspect a microgram measurement for Selenium was translated as a milligram measurement for Selenium. The result was that 21 horses got 1,000 times more Selenium injected into them than they should have.

Death followed pretty quickly.

This is, of course, entirely speculative. For all I know, the compounding pharmacy hired people straight from a psych ward who then filled every order that day with undiluted rat poison.

But I doubt it.

A weights and measurement mistake in a supplement due to language problem fits the probability curve much better.

A toxins panel will soon reveal what's up. Stay tuned.

Bravery and Kindness as Brand Builders

I liked this ad from Argentina, despite the improbable story line.

At its core, this ad is about simple dignity and respect, and it's about looking past suits and haircuts and letting everyone have an even chance of confirming your worst beliefs -- and quiet hopes -- about human nature.

If a U.S. bank ran an American version of this ad, I think they would (pardon the pun) be making big bank very quickly.

People know what's right, and they would like to salute it, but most of us are simply not very brave. And yet, when we see bravery -- either personal or corporate -- have any of us ever forgotten it?

Swine Flu and the Next Pandemic

Back in 2005, I noted that the next major global pandemic was likely to come out of China or Southeast Asia due to the fact that the Chinese routinely mix the excrement of humans, pigs, fish and fowl and then dose it with massive amounts of antibiotics in order to keep fish healthy in over-crowded fresh-water aquaculture ponds

Now comes word that 5 new swine flu cases have appeared in California and Texas, and that "the unusual strain of the respiratory infection is spreading from person to person."


The Center for Disease Control says "We don't think this is time for major concern around the country."

They are probably correct.

That said, this is how it will start, mark my words.

  • Follow Up:
    It looks like things are heating up, Voice of America reports: "Mexican and U.S. officials are taking emergency steps to contain the possible outbreak of a new multi-strain of swine flu that has killed at least 20 people and may be responsible for scores of other deaths.Mexican health officials confirmed at least 20 deaths associated with the new flu strain Friday and ordered the most sweeping shutdown of public gathering places in decades. Authorities closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters in the capital, Mexico City, to try to contain any possible outbreak. Many people in the capital were wearing face masks while in public. Authorities say 1,000 people have become ill."

    Without being too alarmist, this thing is spreading way too fast and it is not too benign and it is not even normal flu season. Not good. Even more not good is that New York health officials began testing 75 students at a Queens school on Friday, suspecting flu.

    "The new virus has genes from North American swine influenza, avian influenza, human influenza and a form of swine influenza normally found in Asia and Europe, said Nancy Cox, chief of the CDC's Influenza Division."

  • Related Posts
    ** Populations, Oceans and Influenza
    ** Sharing Death and Disease Across Species
    ** China, Export Fish, Antibiotics & the Next Plague

Playing God With Milk Cows

The Washington Post reports this morning that scientists have managed to sequence the entire genome of an eight-year old Hereford cow living in Montana, the first time a farm animal's entire genome has been published.

Hidden in her roughly 22,000 genes are hints of how natural selection sculpted the bovine body and personality over the past 60 million years, and how man greatly enhanced the job over the past 10,000.

As with other species, genes governing the immune system, the metabolism of nutrients and social interaction appear to be where much of the evolutionary action has occurred. The result is an animal that lives peacefully in herds and grows large on low-quality food, thanks to the billions of bacteria it carries around....

So what? How does a sequenced gene lead to anything positive?

The short answer is that a sequenced gene should enable cattle breeders to create more productive cattle faster because they will be able to find sires with the correct genetic outputs without having to go through the time-wasting (and expensive) process of actually crossing cows and tracking their production over a lifetime.

Traits carried by bulls are important in determining how much milk a cow produces. Because bulls don't make milk, however, a bull's "performance profile" has to be sketched by observing the milk production of his daughters -- a process that takes about six years and costs $25,000 to $50,000. Now, male calves can be tested at birth for milk-enhancing traits using gene-chip technology.
Of course, the great thing about cows and chickens and sheep, is that they actually have a milk, meat, and eggs axis upon which to evaluate the animal.

In the dog world
, a true axis for performance is largely gone. You can find it in the world of racing greyhounds, and (arguably) in the world of working terriers, sled dogs, and border collies. But Chihuahuas and Bulldogs, Scotties and German Shepherds?

Not so much.

Can We Force Texas to Secede?

Kicking Texas to the curb would solve a lot of problems.

Teabagerstan? A perfect name for the new nation!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lwaxana Troi Gives $4 Million to Her Dogs

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, set aside $4 million so her dogs could continue living in one of her mansions. The dogs' longtime caretaker, Reinelda Estupinian, was given $1 million and residential rights to the expansive home.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry was not only Gene's wife -- she also appeared as a regular actor on Star Trek, both as as Lwaxana Troi (Dianna Troi's mother), and as the voice of the Enterprise.

Gene Roddenberry died in 1991, and he and Majel's ashes are scheduled to be rocket-launched into deep space sometime next year.

Scotty's remains (aka James Doohan) were launched into space back in April 2007.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thank You for Not Breeding

From Science Daily:

Overpopulation is the world’s top environmental issue, followed closely by climate change and the need to develop renewable energy resources to replace fossil fuels, according to a survey of the faculty at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).

Earth 101

You are here. You will never be anywhere else. Take care of it.

From a post four years on this blog: The Real Threat to Hunting in America:

Most of us know the big picture: forests are falling to farms, and farms are falling to freeway all over the planet. Across the globe wild rivers are being dammed, and increasing numbers of species are being pushed on to the endangered species list. Cars, factories and electricity-generating power plants are spewing forth greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, even as mile-long gill nets decimate fishing grounds, and raw sewage spills untreated into once pristine waters.

The environment is not committing suicide -- we are killing it. As Pogo so aptly put it, "we have met the enemy, and he is us." The common denominator to every clearcut forest and decimated hedgerow is human population growth.


Animal Rights Terrorist Added to FBI Top 10

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading directly to the arrest of Daniel Andreas San Diego (pictured above). From the FBI's Most Wanted web site:

An animal rights extremist wanted for allegedly bombing two San Francisco-area office buildings in 2003 has been added to our Most Wanted Terrorists list—the first domestic terrorist to be included with international terrorists such as Usama Bin Laden.

Daniel Andreas San Diego, 31, should be considered armed and dangerous. His domestic acts of terror were planned to destroy property, to cause economic hardship for the companies he targeted, and possibly to take lives—one of his bombs was laced with nails to create potentially deadly shrapnel. We are offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information directly leading to his arrest....

.... Animal rights and environmental extremism pose a significant domestic terror threat. To date, extremists have been responsible for more than 1,800 criminal acts and more than $110 million in damages. Currently, we are investigating approximately 170 such extremist incidents across the country.

San Diego, known to be involved with a group called SHAC—Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty—is wanted for his alleged involvement in bombing two biotech facilities that did business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, a company that conducts animal experimentation for the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

The first bombing occurred on August 28, 2003, outside Chiron Life Science Center in Emeryville, California. When authorities responded, a second bomb was discovered, but exploded before it could be disarmed, raising the possibility that the device was planted specifically to target first responders.

Less than a month later, another bomb exploded outside a company based in Pleasanton, California. That bomb was made with metal nails to create more powerful shrapnel and destruction.

Note that SHAC has been associated in the past with people working for and with the League Against Cruel Sports in the UK, and PETA in the U.S., and both organizations are linked to off of the SHAC web site.

Stimulus Package

My new boiler was installed yesterday. Total cost $6,680 including old unit out, new unit in, and same-as-cash 12-month financing.

This unit was made in Germany and installed by two recent immigrants and one made-in-American.

I think that little story tells you everything you need to know about the current economy.

This is a fine boiler, I am sure, and seemed to be expertly installed by folks who were competent and extremely nice, but I am not sure what part of this purchase helped the American economy.

I am told this country is down to one maker of cast iron furnaces and that they did not make a size that fits my capacity needs (yes the company that did the installation did sell those made-in-America furnaces as well).

Bottom line: Even when you want to buy made-in-America by Americans, it's nearly impossible!

U.S. Torutured for Dick Cheney's Political Agenda

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

"While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coffee and Provocation

Dogs More Like Us Than Chimps?
Are dogs more like us than chimps? Maybe. Jozsef Topal of the Institute for Psychology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences says so, in any case: "In my view, pet dogs can be regarded in many respects as 'preverbal infants in canine's clothing,'" he says, adding that many dog-owner relationships mirror human parental bonds with children. >> More here

Healthy Dalmatians?
Healthy Dalmatians? There's an idea! Here's the back story for those trying to keep up. Want to help set things right? Here's a start: an ipetition to the AKC asking them to allow backcross Dalmatians to be registered.

The Sibley Guide to Birds is Now Online:
Good news: the Sibley bird guides are now on line. Yes! Yahoo!

The Ironic Death of an Organic Farming Guru & Health Nut:
Jerome Irving Rodale was the founder of the organic food movement, the publisher and creator of Prevention magazine, and the author of a huge book on composting that my father used to own. In 1971, he told interviewer Dick Cavett that he'd live to 100. Moments later, the 72-year old Rodale slumped dead in his chair from a heart attack. That episode of The Dick Cavett Show was never broadcast.

Gouldian Finch:
There are now far more Gouldian Finches in captivity than there are in the wild. How many other animals is this true of? The Siberian Tiger, and most other subspecies of Tiger I think. The Hyacinth Macaw, I am pretty sure. Cotton-top Tamarins. Anything else??

Different Strokes:
The opening of the old TV show, with different music. Yes, music does make a difference!

50 Things Every 18-year-old Should Know:
Basic stuff we should all know. Now, what are the 50 things a 50-year old should know?

God Hates Figs!
Yes, you read that right. God hates figs. See Mark 11: 12-14 and Matthew 21: 18-20 and Jeremiah 29:17 for conformation. I am pretty sure God loves everything else, however!

First Gorillas, Now Orangutans:
National Geographic says a large population of over 2,000 Orangutans has been discovered in Borneo. This follows the new discovery of a very large (100,000) population of Lowland Gorillas found in the Congo last year.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Evolution 101

A simple "Evolution 101" video that deals with both hybridization and genetic drift. Nice!

Genetic drift is why breeding dogs in a closed registry is always a bad idea, as there is no such thing as a gene pool that will never have health problems.

Mother Nature prefers a wobble.

Hat tip to Patti S. for bird-dogging me to this one.

Bacteria Invade, Communicate and Vote


Pearl and I took a walk down to the river yesterday. There were scores of cormorants fishing, and a lot of humans too. The shad are on the run, and it looks like the run is up again this year, which is excellent.

You want to know what Spring fishing can be like just below my house? See this article from Angus Phillips from The Washington Post at about this time last year.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Last Wish of the Anatomy Professor

When Osteology Professor Gordon S. "Grover" Krantz died, he wanted his skeleton, and that of his beloved Irish Wolf Hound, Clyde, put on public display.

Against all probability, it has been done, and the full story is up at The Washington Post. And yes, both dog and man are smiling.


Stem Cells to Cure Most Common Blindness

From The London Times:

BRITISH scientists have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years’ time.

The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells. It was pioneered by scientists and surgeons from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital.

This week Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical research company, will announce its financial backing to bring the therapy to patients.

The treatment will tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness. It affects more than 500,000 Britons and the number is forecast to increase significantly as people live longer. The disease involves the loss of eye cells.


Elizabeth Warren on the High Cost of Deregulation

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Saturday, April 18, 2009


The real singing voices here are the alway-wonderful Alison Kraus, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch.

The allegory, of course, is to the Sirens that attempted to seduce Ulysses and his crew. In the movie, George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, who is married to Penelope (Penny) played by Holly Hunter. John Goodman plays a massive one-eyed killer Bible salesman, aka, the Cyclops. Many other Homeric references are scattered throughout the film.

The name of the movie, by the way, is a reference to a movie never made within a movie that was made. The movie that was made was the 1941 film, Sullivan's Travels in which the producer is intent on making a serious social commentary film to be called O Brother, Where Art Thou? Instead, he finds that his backers want him to make a comedy, because they do better at the box office.

Kiwi Killers

Stoats were first introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century to combat the rapid proliferation of rabbits, another introduced species.

Unable to control the rabbit population, the stoat (aka weasel or ermine) is nonetheless doing a bang-up job killing off young kiwi chicks.

The population of Little Spotted Kiwi (Apteryx owenii) has dropped to 1,200 birds, and the Rowi or Okarito Brown Kiwi (Apteryx rowi) is down to just 300 individuals.

Another introduced species helping push the Kiwi over the edge is the Brush-tailed Possum, introduced from Australia.


Friday, April 17, 2009

When To Shoot a Wolf

April 13, 2009 photo, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Two wolves standing over 2 dead sheep, previously killed by these same wolves in Baker County, Oregon

I have not been shy about the stupidity of shooting wolves on National Forest lands in order to protect sheep grazing allotments on those lands. It is stupid, stupid, stupid.

Sheep on National Forest land costs U.S. taxpayers more money than they bring in, and if there is one place in the world where wolves should be allowed to run free, it's in our National Forests, on BLM lands, and in our National Parks.

That said, there is a place to shoot wolves, and that is when they venture on to private property and begin a campaign of systematic stock predation.

I have always said so, and I say it again now.

Oregon has had wolves for over a decade, and there has never been any stock lost -- until now.

Recently a small contingent of wolves in Baker County, Oregon has discovered that sheep are nothing more than lamb chops on the hoof. In less than two weeks, 23 sheep have been killed on a single ranch.

Proper response: a bullet to the brain of the offending wolves.

No debate, not question, no protest.

Wolves have their place and their rights, and so too do stock owners. Both sides need to have a place where they can live in peace.

The rules of engagement are not hard to discern: Get sheep out of public lands and get wolves out of private lands when they threaten ranching stock.

Everywhere is New, Same as It Ever Was

I'm planning a train trip to London-Paris-Madrid-Gibralter-Tangier-Fez-Marakech with my son, and my father sent me a note from a travel book which said Marakech is not what it used to be.

Ah well, what is? People are wiping out every place we ever thought was anywhere.

On the other hand, every place is new every day and I am pretty sure the Garden of Eden is not what it once was, and that neither is Olduvai Gorge.

Which, of course, reminded me of these "mad dance" videos.

A bit of fun to watch at the end of the week. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 16, 2009


I looked out the front door this morning to find this broody paid of mallards in the front yard. When I popped open the front door to take their picture, they waddled over next to the greenhouse.

Never had ducks in the front yard before. They were pretty clearly looking for a safe nesting site, but I would not recommend my front yard, as I have raccoons and fox that come there every night looking for a meal, to say nothing of a Coopers Hawk that plinks off the occasional bird from the feeders handing off the steel pole at right.

Coffee and Provocation

Pop Goes the Weasel:
Terrier work is humane, but slow, and will not work when controlling smaller rodents such as ground squirrels, gophers, and prairie dogs. In the past, control of these animals has been achieved with poison, but now there is a new tool for organic farmers and commercial farms to use -- the "Rodenator." See the video -- you will be amazed, and perhaps a little frightened

Family Planning and Economic Recovery:
Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the TARP bailout said, back in 2003, that a lot of the economic mess people find themselves in could be traced back to simply having children. As Time magazine summarized her thesis: "To buy into the right locale, couples must take on far more debt than their parents did to provide the same standard of living -- and even more debt to send the kids to college. The only way to cover that debt is for both parents to work, and still they are stretched too thin. It is this phenomenon ... that has made having a child 'the single best predictor' of financial ruin. Married couples with children are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as childless couples; they are 75% more likely to be late paying bills and also more likely to face foreclosure on their homes." Irony alert: the book that this quote comes from was co-written by Warren and her daughter!

AKC Thinking:
Gina Spadafori has a nice piece which describes how it probably really went down over at the AKC when they decided to take mutt money. She even provides dialogue!

Got Chickens?
Do you have chickens, but would still like to sleep in on occasion, or even go out to the movies at night? Here's the solution: a simple Do-It-Yourself Remote-Control Chicken House Door Opener, complete with instructions. And yes, it can be put on a timer. For a video of the thing at work, see here.

Wolves on the Prowl:
Male wolves, coyotes and fox are not allowed to hang out in their natal territories into maturity, but instead are driven out to find a harem of their own -- one way Mother Nature avoids inbreeding depression. Female wolves will also voluntarily strike out on their own in order to end the oppression of forever being a pack Beta or Omega. Yes, that's right -- the "lone wolf" is not a myth! The word out of Colorado is that one of the Yellowstone's wolves traveled over 1,000 miles to get to that state before dying from unrevealed causes. A sad ending, but an epic bit of travel. This is, in fact, the second female Yellowstone wolf that has made a 1,000-mile walk to Colorado. The previous wolf was hit by a car near Idaho Springs in 2004.

How to Make a Smarter Kid:
Want to raise the IQ of your spawn? Professor Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just put out a new book entitled Intelligence and How to Get It, in which he details the three fundamental to raising above-average children: 1) Praise effort more than achievement, 2) Teach delayed gratification, and; 3) Limit reprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity.

It's Hard to Talk When You're Teabagging:
If Anderson Cooper says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

Not Just Another Pedophile Priest:
The 57-year old president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, has admitted to fathering a child while serving as a Roman Catholic bishop. The child is now almost 2. Lugo met and "seduced" the mother when she was just 16 years old and he was 47.

Help a Few Lions In Need:
Drakenstein Lion Park in South Africa is a shelter for lions rescued from canned hunts and other shady operations. They are in need of funds, and your U.S. dollars can go a long way in South Africa as the conversion rate is 9 rand to the U.S. dollar. Click here to save a few lions and click here to find out why rescuing lions in Africa is needed now more than ever.

A Fool's Bet at the Greyhound Track:
Only a fool would bet on an AKC Greyhound to win a race at the track. That's what makes it so amusing to read these old letters to the AKC when lure coursing was added to the list of AKC activities. . What was the AKC afraid of? Hat tip to Retrieverman for bird-dogging this.


Obama as Commander in Chief

Click to make bigger.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Get on the Bus With the AKC!

The American Kennel Club is very excited and wants to tell you all about their latest plan.

For the past one hundred twenty five years, the American Kennel Club has been the nation's premier advocate for dogs and the people who love them. Today, we are delighted to tell you that AKC can now act even more broadly and effectively as the dog's champion. Our Board of Directors has voted unanimously to proceed with a program for mixed breed dogs.

It seems that that for $35 they'll now register your mixed breed dog.

  • No, you cannot show it. You cannot show a mixed-breed dog because mixed-breed dogs are, by definition, ugly. My God, if you go down that road, what will be next: allowing non-whites to compete in beauty contests?

  • No you cannot breed it. Mixed breeds must be spayed and neutered. Mandatory! They are, after all, God's mistake.

  • No, there is no mention of being able to compete a mixed-breed dog in a working or hunting dog trial. Think it through: what if a mixed-race mixed breed dog won a working trial? The humiliation! We could never allow that to happen.

  • Yes, your dog can compete in agility, obedience and rally, but only at stand-alone events, and never at All Breed Shows, Group Shows, or independent specialties. The AKC discourages race-mixing.

  • No, your dog will not be able to compete directly with AKC dogs. Mixed breed dogs will compete in separate class divisions from AKC purebred dogs. Be happy we even allow you to sit at the back of the bus.

Best off of all: You get a window sticker for your car and a chance to buy pet insurance from the AKC!

Who can resist that offer!

Remember: The AKC is your dog's best friend, but NO INTEGRATION!


Tax Day


Don't Shoot the Horse!

A while back I reported on the supposedly miracle cure that stem-cells are doing for lame dogs.

Now comes word that the same stem-cell repair technique has helped repair hundreds of race horses with tendon injuries, and that it is now going to be tried on humans with human Achilles tendon damage.

Apparently, more than 1,500 race horses have been treated using stem cell injections, and follow-up data suggests a 50 percent reduction in re-injury over a three year period, compared with conventional treatment.

The stem-cell repair work in horses was pioneered by surgeons at the Royal Veterinary College in the U.K., which helped set up spin-off company called MedCell Bioscience which will start doing clinical tests on human Achilles tendon repair within the next 12 months.

If all goes well, a larger confirmatory study on humans will start at several European hospitals in 2011.

Hat tip to Sarah B. for sending this one to me!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Probably Not.

A reader writes:

I live in Alabama, and recently a friend had her dogs tested for tick-borne diseases. Neither had specific signs of disease, but both had been bitten by ticks because she lives in a rural area, and one is middle-aged and had some vague "lessened energy" signs.

The tests for both dogs came back positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and they are now on doxycycline.

Hearing that, another in our group of dog friends had her healthy dogs tested, and they came back positive for RMSF. So, another just started treating her dogs without testing since the tests are expensive. Several others are now having their dogs tested.

My reader wondered what was going on? Are her friends being ripped off, or is there some horrible new contagion sweeping the nation?

My answer back:

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) was not diagnosed in dogs until the 1970s, and is self-limiting and generally asymptomatic. In short, it is generally not a big deal, and once a dog recovers from RMSF, the dog is immune to the disease for life.

Look around you: Are you reading about an epidemic of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in humans or pets? Are you hearing about dogs in your area dying from RMSF? Is your dog seriously sick?

No, I didn't think so.

I would worry about almost anything and everything before I started to worry about RMSF, and my dogs are in the woods and field every week in the area of the country where half of all RMSF is to be found! You and your dog are more likely to be struck dead by lightning that catch RMSF.

What is particularly telling here is that you have two asymptomatic dogs being diagnosed with RMSF by the same vet. Now that's an interesting coincidence! And how convenient that the tests are expensive!

What, exactly, is the veterinarian treating to prevent?

After all, treatment of the dog is not necessary to prevent the spread of RMSF to humans. Ticks that feed off of dogs are done feeding and drop off (or are pulled off) and dogs have such an attenuated strains of RMSF, that dog ticks almost never pass on RMSF to humans. Again: You are far, far more likely to be struck dead by lightning than to get RMSF from your dog's ticks.

So again, I am not clear why this person's dogs were being tested, or why the dogs were being treated.

If your dog is seriously sick, and RMSF might be the issue, the proper veterinary protocol is NOT to test and wait for the results -- it's to give the dog doxycycline immediatly and see if it gets better very quickly. The test for RMSF takes too long and is too expensive, while the cure for RMSF is quick and cheap and harmless to the dog even if the animal turns out to be clear of RMSF. You do not even need to go to a vet to get doxycycline. Simply dose your dogs with bird doxycycline for a week (10-20 mg /kg body weight given twice a day).

For the record, I doubt that either of these dogs had RMSF at all. RMSF is amost always seen in younger dogs, not older dogs, and general lethargy in a middle-aged or older dog could be due to almost anything.

And please, let us not talk about "never being too careful." If I tell my doctor I had a headache last night, and he wants to give me an MRI, that's NOT good medicine; that's fraud.

Do you get an upper and lower gastro-intestinal workup every time you have a case of diarrhea? Do you go the hospital for an x-ray every time you pull a muscle? No? Then stop doing it for the dog!

Dogs deserve veterinary care when sick, but mild lethargy in a middle-age dogs, or a short-term limp after running around in the forest is what we all get -- dog and human alike -- and is no reason to rush off to a vet. It will probably get better in a week or two without veterinary care, same as the minor aches and pains we humans have from time to time.

Still worried about RMSF? Then simply treat your dogs for ticks and fleas on a regular basis, and check them over after you come in from a walk in forest or field, and again a few days later.

Tick prevention is good medicine; running to the vet in order to do expensive testing for every little thing is not.