Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Penn and Teller Spend 90 Seconds on Vaccines

As what about dog vaccines?

As I noted back in 2009,

Nothing has done more for dogs than the rise of vaccination.

It's hard for folks today to understand how devastating distemper was just 60 years ago when going to a dog show was often the precursor to losing entire kennels, with one sick animal serving as a disease vector to hundreds of other fine animals.

Thanks to Britain's fox hunters, and America's fur farm owners, the world now has a decent distemper vaccine, and other vaccines have continued apace -- parvo, adenovirus, and parainfluenze to name the four most important.

But if a little something is good, is a lot of something better?


Most dogs are over vaccinated after their first year and

After a booster shot at the age of one year, dogs and cats have lifetime immunity from parvo and distemper.

As for other vaccines -- Corona, Lepto, Lyme, Bordatella -- those vaccines should generally not be given at all due to their lack of efficacy, relative danger, or the rarity of the disease and the ease of post-infection treatment.

Only in the case of rabies -- because it is a legal requirement -- is a booster shot needed, and in that case it is only needed once every three years after the first year.

But, what about all those booster shots? "My vet has been sending me reminders every year, and I have been paying a small fortune..."


And you have been ripped off.

The information I am giving you here is NOT NEW; it is old.

Read the rest at The Billion Dollar Vaccine Scam.

Coffee and Provocation

The Racist Roots of Square Dancing
Auto maker Henry Ford put a lot of money into promoting country music in the 1920s in order to discourage people from listening to black and Jewish jazz tunes. Frightened by the urban decadence of couples jazz dancing, he organized fiddling contests and promoted square dances across the country. To this day, American country music is a strangely white medium.

Feminist Fly Fisherwomen
The New York Times reports that women are the only growing demographic in the sport of Fly Fishing.

Terrier Training Fails
David Tennant, the actor who played Dr. Who and battled Daleks and Cybermen, was sent to the first-aid trailer by a Jack Russell Terrier named Ollie, who bit him on the left calf during filming for a highly charged scene for a new TV show in which Tennant was screaming at his co-star and waving his arms. Ollie, the Jack Russell, had had enough of the character that Tennant was playing, a demon by the name of Crowley who was bullying 13-year-old Sam Taylor-Buckand, and he put in his teeth. The on-set dog trainer claims the dogs is a perfect dear, but this same dog has already had a go at others, and so he has been replaced by three laser dots.  Computer generation will fill in the dog;s part later.

A Terrible Tumble in Tasmanian Tigers
The Tasmanian tiger, or Thylacine, went extinct in the 1930s. Researchers recently sequenced the Thylacine genome obtained from a preserved pup pickled in alcohol for the last 108 years. What they found was that the species had a massive die off during a period between 70,000-120,000 years ago when there was big climatic chill. Thylacines never quite recovered genetically -- a phenomenon we see today with cheetahs who also went through a genetic bottle neck around 10,000 years ago.

Less Antibiotics in US Food Animals
A new report from the FDA shows a 10 percent drop in the purchase of antibiotics for food-producing animals between 2015 and 2016.

Electric Beer Trucks
Budweiser has ordered 40 Tesla Semi (big!) electric trucks. Budweiser says the the electric trucks are part of its commitment to reduce its operational carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2025. Budweiser is also experimenting with self-driving autonomous beer trucks.

The Godfather of Coral
Over the last 50 years, Charlie Veron has discovered more than 20% of the world’s coral species.

What Would Happen?
What would happen if all of the world's trees disappeared?   What would happen if we blew up the moon?

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Stone in the Road

Life is a crooked path.  

We hit every stone:  Pride, sloth, greed, anger, lust, envy, gluttony. 
We fall down seven times
, and we get up eight.
We live and learn
 and, in the end, we die and forget it all.
Life is a joke
, and death is the punch line.

On the last day of life, we will beg God for more time. He will ask what we did with the time given to us.

We will fall down one last time, pushed over by age, disease, war, famine, but we will not get up. Life will carry on, our existence reduced to a rumor, and then less than that.  

But the stone in the road? It will wait, never sleeping.

The stone in the road endures.

A stone in my path outside the Colosseum in Rome.

Very Rapid Evolution in the London Underground

The future is always a rumor, and the past is always hearsay.

Over at Wired magazine, they note that while an excess of humans is killing off thousands of species, we are also creating some new ones too, a point I made back in 2005, in a post entitled Thinking About Species Loss in which I ruminated that,

It's worth remembering that even as we are losing species, we are also gaining them -- new types of chickens, pigs, apples, corn, and trees. New hybrids of canaries, geese, ducks, pigeons, cattle, horses, falcons, eagles, dogs and cats. And we are doing it with wild birds too.

The last time I flipped through a Sibley's Audubon guide to birds, I counted one extinct species of parrot (the Carolina parakeet), but 27 new species of introduced parrots that are found in wild flocks in the U.S. (65 species have been encountered in Florida alone). In California and Florida these wild-flocking parrots are already creating new hybrids. Wild parrot colonies are not just found in warm climates by the way -- they are found near my home in suburban Virginia, and in downtown parks in Seattle and Chicago. One hundred and fifty years from now my great grandchildren may find hybridized variations of these same birds listed as entirely new "American" species of parrots (the Sibley guide already notes the presence of many Amazon hybrids in Florida and California).

The theme is echoed in the Wired article, but with a very interesting example:

During World War II, Londoners often sought shelter from German bombs in the city’s subway tunnels. There, they encountered another type of enemy: hordes of voracious mosquitoes. These weren’t your typical above ground mosquitoes. They were natives of the metro, born in pools of standing water that pockmarked the underground passageways. And unlike their open-air cousins, London’s subterranean skeeters seemed to love biting humans.

Fifty years after the war ended, scientists at the University of London decided to investigate the subway population. They collected eggs and larvae from subway tunnels and garden ponds and reared both populations in the lab. The tunnel bugs, they confirmed, preferred feeding on mammals over birds. And when the scientists put males and females from different populations in close quarters designed to encourage mating, not a single pairing produced offspring. That sealed the deal: The underground mosquitoes were a whole new species, adapted to life in the subway tunnels people had built.

A whole new species! And created in less than 50 years! Amazing. And yet, as the article notes, is some variation of the phenomenon not occurring all the time?

The most obvious way that people create new species is through domestication. By picking out the traits in a wild population that are most beneficial to humans and breeding for them, people can “force evolution in different species,” [conservation scientist Joseph Bull] says. Wolves become dogs, nubby grass becomes maize, wild boars become pigs.

But humans can drive speciation in other, less purposeful ways. “It’s important to think about the creation of new species as a process,” Bull says. One of the most dramatic ways people put that process in motion is by moving members of an existing species from one place to another. Sometimes those individuals die in the new environment. Sometimes they hang on and interbreed with native species. And sometimes, they take over, like kudzu in the American South or snakes on Guam. Over time, the new environment exerts different pressures on the invasive population, causing it to diverge from its ancestors.

Right. Speciation is a process not an event, it is occurring all the time all around us, and at the raggedy starts and stops it's really a question of definitions. That said, how do the numbers add up? Are we creating about as many species as we are pushing off the edge to extinction?

Keeping these mechanisms in mind, Bull tallied up humans’ impact on species in a paper published today by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. During the last 12,000 years, scientists have recorded 1,359 plant and animal extinctions. Meanwhile, humans have relocated 891 plant and animal species, and domesticated 743 —- for a total of 1,634 species. It seems that human-driven speciation could be as much a mark of the Anthropocene as extinction is.

Maybe. Who knows? Merely relocating a species does not create a new species. If that's the assertion made by Wired, then it's simply wrong. That said, there are so many types of chickens, turkeys, pigeons, sheep, goats, cows, horses, pigs, roses, marigolds, corn, soybean, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, wheat, rice, etc, that I suspect a very strong case can be made that, under some definition, there are More Species Now than Ever Before.

It's also almost certainty true that most of the new species being created (it's a process not an event) are going to be demonstrably more useful to humans than any of the species that have been wiped out, which tend to skew towards island-endemic birds.

The future, immediately ahead, promises a dramatic growth in species development thanks to leaps forward in the world of genetic modification. Bull notes that "Even in a region like Europe, where the use of GMOs in agriculture is relatively uncommon, there are 146 distinct variants of genetically engineered plant are approved or awaiting approval for commercial cultivation."

Of course, the battle between taxonomic "splitters" and "lumpers" is never ending.  That said, it is also pretty pointless.  It is what it is.  One can argue that a mosquito created in an artificial environment does not count as a new species, and that it is only a temporal "mutant" of an existing species, same as a dog is simply a wolf that took a wrong turn on the way to its den.  Whatever, and we shall see.

The velocity of change in this modern world is phenomenal, and it appears that it has never been as slow and clock-work-like as some would imagine.  Are we racing toward an apocalypse full of a few "weedy" species, or a bright new world in which there will be more species, and more useful species, than ever before? We shall see. Or not. It will be what it will be.

The future is always a rumor, and the past is always hearsay.

Canine Trophies

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Anti-tank Kamikaze Dogs

Anti-tank dogs were dogs that were trained by Soviet and Russian military forces, between 1935 and 1996, to carry explosives to tanks, armored vehicles, and other military targets.

The training procedure was pretty simple: starve the dogs and teach them that all food was to be found under enemy tanks and armored vehicles. When the dogs slipped under a tank or an armored vehicle, a small wooden lever would be tripped and the explosives detonated where there was less armor.

One problem was that when the dogs were actually used during World War II, they had been trained on diesel powered Soviet tanks and so would would sometimes turn around and attack the Soviets’ own forces rather than seek out the German gasoline-powered vehicles.

Other times the dogs would spook at the rumble of engines, gunfire, and explosives on the battlefield, and would run away, becoming a kind of four legged "wild weasel" bomb that might end up anywhere killing almost anything.

Despite the problems, Russian anti-tank dogs were reported to have disabled 300 German tanks during WWII, though most historians think these numbers are propaganda, and that the true success rate was closer to a few dozen tanks despite thousands of dogs deployed.

Japan, Vietnam, and the U.S. have also tried using dogs to carry explosives into fortified positions such as machine gun nests, but the results have always been poor due to dog disobedience or intelligence.

During the Iraq war, more success was achieved using donkeys, which can carry larger amounts of explosive and which proved to be more reliable under battlefield conditions.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Dog Breeders and Rescues Who Never Ask

From what I can tell, most "dog breeders" and rescues are little more than "grab the cash" folks who, once money has changed hands, never again contact the homes where they claim to have so carefully placed a dog. 

If you are dog breeder or rescuer who is not even a little bit curious as to whether your pup is living outside in a broken down dog house or is sleeping on the bed, is going on vacations with the owner or is in a kennel with 15 other screaming dogs 100 percent of the time, you can take your bow.

Remember that pup you bred and cooed about 5 years ago? What was the name of the person you sold it to?  How is that dog doing now?  Do you even have the contact information to find out?

There are the pious few who will say they will take back a dog any time it needs to be re-homed, but if it's not an enforceable part of your contract, and you have lost contact with the person you sold the dog to, it's just words.

The simple truth is that about 20 percent of all dogs born in the U.S. every year are abandoned to their death, and an equal or higher number end up being bounced from their first "forever" owner to their second or third owner, without any continuity of care or training.

One of the few writers to ever give an unblinking look at what really happened to a litter that they themselves bred, was J.R. Ackerley, the author of My Dog Tulip

Ackerley starts off breeding his dog with all good intent, but in the end the litter that is produced is whelped by a temperamentally poor bitch (Tulip) to a stud dog of no consequence. 

The eight pups that result quickly overwhelm Ackerley and his apartment to the point that, despite all apparent intention of doing the right thing at the front end, on the back end he ends up abandoning the pups to anyone with a fiver who will walk one out the door.

What happens next is predictable:  disease, disappearance, abandonment, and death. 

And this was J.R. Ackerley!  He was not a mean person, a knuckle-dragger, an illiterate, or a person without some means. 

This was simply one more person who did not understand the full responsibility that comes when you bring a living thing into this world. When faced with shouldering that responsibility he failed.  Yes, he lost a little of his dignity but those pups lost their life.


It's the R-word no one really wants to talk about too much in the world of dogs.  

Instead, people want to talk about property rights and ribbons.  But responsibility to the dog?  Responsibility to the puppies being whelped?  The actual time, hard work, and due diligence to place 8 puppies in loving, stable and knowledgeable homes with the resources to actually care for a dog come what may?

When was the last time anyone said too much about that?.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

From Pearl Harbor to a Robot Economy

Pearl Harbor, USS Virginia

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, but if you ask a dozen people why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor back in 1941, not one will give you a complete answer.

Here's the short story: Too many people.

The entire War in the Pacific was initiated by overpopulation.

There is no "beginning" to this story, but suffice it to say that Japan was a very isolated country up until the late 19th Century. With the arrival of western influence, Japan began to change and demand for "western" goods such as steel and oil, skyrocketed.

So too did population.

In 1870, Japan's population was estimated to be 33 million. By 1900 it was about 45 million, and by 1930 it was over 64 million. An island nation, Japan's economy and social systems were beginning to show real stress by the second decade of the 20th Century. A key issue was lack of farm land.

Large rural families needed more land to support new families, but new land was simply not available. At the same time, rising urbanization created a new and rapidly growing demand for oil, coal, iron and steel -- commodities Japan had very little of.

Looking across a short stretch of ocean, the Japanese saw a vast amount of farm land and raw resources in northern China. In 1931 Japan invaded that region -- Manchuria -- in order to satisfy their "shortage" of resources which, in reality, was a "longage" of human population.

Japan's invasion of Manchuria led to a U.S. threat of an oil blockade of the island nation. This threat of an oil blockade led to the Japanese "first strike" at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

World War II is a long story, but the short version is that we won.  Japan had to give up its land grabs in Manchuria, Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

After the defeat of Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur encouraged the development of new laws in Japan, including laws to allow women to vote and to hold elective office. In addition, he encouraged the amendment of Japan's pre-World War II pro-natalist law so that it now legalized abortion (which remained illegal in the U.S. until 1973).

Why did MacArthur and the Occupation Forces turn Japan's old "pro-natalist" law into a "pro-choice" law?

Basically, because they understood the causal origins of World War II in the Pacific.

Japan's overpopulation (or over-shoot of its resource base) was seen as a core issue of geo-political consequence. Slowing Japan's rapid population growth rate was, therefore, at the top of both the national and the global agenda. As one Japanese web site (written in semi-fractured English) notes: "How to popularize family planning became the No.1 policy in health care of postwar Japan ..."

With the end of WWII Japan switched from being a pro-natalist country to being a country that was interested in slowing population growth.

After the death and carnage of World War II, no one in Japan needed too much encouragement to consider voluntary family planning as an alternative worthy of consideration and support.

How did fertility fall so quickly in Japan? The mechanics were simple and effective, if not particularly modern or enlightened: Condoms and abortion. To this day, these are the primary birth control options available to Japanese women. Though Japan is on the cutting edge of electronics, they are in the Dark Ages when it comes to contraception. Low-dose oral contraceptives, medicated IUDs, injectables and implants were still not legal in Japan as of 2004, and the diaphragm is no longer produced there due to lack of demand. High-dosage pills and the copper IUD were only approved in Japan in 1999.

Despite the lack of contraceptive options, the Japanese saw rapid and amazing reductions in fertility after 1945. While the rest of the world experienced a Baby Boom, Japan saws its total fertility rate (TFR) fall from over four to two in the space of just 15 years -- a phenomenal rate of reduction even by today's standards.

One factor driving fertility reduction was later age at marriage. Another factor -- too often overlooked -- was crippling poverty after the War. Japan in the late 1940s and 1950s was a miserable place, and few people could afford to have the large families they did prior to World War II.

The real driver of fertility reduction in Japan, however, was a desire for peace and prosperity. While prior to WWII large families had been seen as a source of prestige and economic growth, afterwards they were seen as destructive to the long-term peace and economic self-sufficiency of the nation.

Japan's new small-family ethic was fueled by both central government and local Government commitment to the goal of slowing pre-war rates of human population growth. A system of midwives, nurses, family planning clinics and doctors was put in place and it took root with assistance from the Family Planning Federation of Japan (FPFJ) and the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA).

While very wide, Japan's family planning program was not very deep. Despite a post-war interest in reducing the number of births, Japan has never really subscribed to what we in the U.S. think of as a "comprehensive" family planning program. Sex education in schools was (and still is) poor, and access to a full range of modern contraceptive choices was (and still is) very limited. In the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, the only "modern" contraceptive option was the condom. Though effective most of the time, the condom is not a perfect contraceptive vehicle. To be precise, condoms have a per-use failure rate of about 3%, which means even with "perfect use" the contraceptive device fails about 3 times a year on average (yep, 100 times a year is "average" according to the people that count these things).

In actuality, of course, we do not live in a perfect world with perfect and consistent humans. Due to inconsistent product usage (i.e. situational nonuse) the "real world" pregnancy rate for couples using only condoms is somewhere between 10 to 15 percent (numbers vary depending on the study).

Bottom line: There were (and are) quite a lot of abortions in Japan.

In 1996 the pre-World War II law was further amended and it is now called the "Mother's Body Protection Law" and remains the principle family planning law of Japan.

Today, Japan's total fertility rate is 1.4, one of the lowest in the world.

While Japan's fertility rate fell rapidly after WWII, and reached below-replacement levels by 1970, the nation's absolute population continued to grow. A population that had topped 64 million by 1930 was over 83 million by 1950, was over 103 million by 1970, and was over 123 million by 1990.

The good news is that Japan's population has very nearly topped out. The bad news is that it took 45 years AFTER it hit replacement level fertility (and then went far below it) to achieve this goal. And this is in a country with essentially zero immigration.

Today, across the world, the effect of Japan's post-World War II population growth is felt in the form of massive factory-like fishing fleets that prowl the world's oceans to feed that nation.

In the Southern U.S., massive chip mills pulp our forests to supply pulp for Japanese paper and wood-strand mills.

Forests in Burma, Indonesia, and Vietnam are being chainsawed to supply plywood. Around the world chainsaws and oil derricks crank out product going to a nation that had already "overshot" its resource base by 1931 -- and whose population has doubled since then.

While Japanese fertility declines have yet to translate into a smaller population size (I doubt Japan will ever return to a population small enough that it can actually live within the "carrying capacity" of the nation itself) a great deal of "Global Good" has come out of its lower fertility rates.

One bit of "good news" for Japan and the world was a tightening of labor markets that began to occur in Japan in the late 1970s as the low-fertility rates of the early 1950s moved their way up the population pyramid. As wages of entry-level workers began to rise in Japan due to labor market constraints, Japanese businesses began to export capital overseas in order to take advantage of lower-wage labor pools in developing countries (much as many U.S. businesses are doing today). Much of the "miracle" economic growth of South Korea was, in fact, abetted by Japanese money going overseas due to fertility declines in Japan that had begun 20 and 30 years earlier.

Japanese investment in Korea's economy, in turn, helped improve the status of women there and helped speed urbanization, which in turn helped to reduce fertility rates in that nation.

The same labor market constraints that drove some Japanese businesses to export capital in order to find cheaper labor drove other Japanese companies to automate. Today, Japanese industry has more robots and complex automation systems in place than any other country in the world -- one reason that both Japanese productivity and quality remain quite high.

Are there lessons here for the rest of the world? I think so.

Though far less pronounced than Japan's labor market contractions (due to a very long Baby Boom, higher domestic fertility, and high rates of international immigration here in the U.S.), U.S. capital movements to Mexico and other nations seem to be doing for these nations what Japan's money did for Korea (albeit at a slower rate due to increased diffusion of our capital over a larger area).

At the same time, the very same labor market forces that worked to push automation in Japan are doing the same here at home where timber, steel, and manufacturing plants are producing more products with less labor (and at higher quality) than ever before. Though we may not think factory automation has an environmental component, it most certainly does -- automated plants, as a rule, waste far less than their non-automated counterparts.

The big lesson, however, is that fertility decline is the START, not the end, of bringing the "runaway train" of population growth under control. Even after fertility has fallen to replacement levels, total population numbers continue to rise for decade after decade after decade.

For a country like the U.S., where the total base numbers are already very large, this is a very sobering thought.

In terms of absolute population size, the U.S. is already the third largest country in the world.

In terms of population growth rates we are not yet where Japan was in 1955 thanks to a combination of massive immigration and the highest fertility rates of any country in the industrialized world.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's middle-series projections, the U.S will add more people to its population in the next 50 years as currently live West of the Mississippi River -- and this is the middle-series (most likely) projection.

Our population growth will not end there, of course.

Once the Population Juggernaut starts to roll, it tends to roll a heck of a long way before it comes to a stop. This has been true for Japan (which had rapid and sustained fertility decline and no immigration) and it will be even truer for the U.S. (which has non-sustained fertility decline and high immigration). It will be even more true for countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that are still some distance away from achieving replacement levels of fertility.

Turnspit Man and the Art of War

Turnspit dogs are fine
, but did you know we once had horses, goats, and even people running inside giant hamster wheels in order to lift weights, turn grinding wheels, and power saws, hammers, and threshing machines? Here we see "Ludgar" the War Wolf trebuchet in action.

Monuments to Fascism

This is going to sell. Bigly.

Other items you can buy to give for Christmas:

Pollyanna Discovers Pandora's Box

Ratting with terriers in Cornwall.

Back in August of 2004, I posted a piece ("The End of the Game") about something called viral immunocontraception. The basic thrust of this Australian mad-scientist scheme was to create a virus to sterilize entire populations of animals: fox, rabbits, people, mice, rats, carp, etc.

The chance for such a thing to run out of control and end "Life on Earth as We Know It"seems pretty obvious ... but apparently not to a small cadre of Australian scientists warmly embraced by Animal Right lunatics willing to risk killing off everything on Earth in order to prevent hunters from firing a shot.

Scientists are looking at ways that genetic engineering might be able to help control invasive and pest species by altering the fundamentals of wild animal reproduction.

This research is strongly supported by the Humane Society and other anti-hunting groups across the world. Click here for more information.

One does not have to be a hysteric to see that genetic engineering in the reproductive arena could have a very serious negative impact on wildlife all over the world. The history of humans playing God on Earth is a very ugly one and -- ironically enough -- has often led to invasive species that escaped the "theory" of science and ran amok in the world like Frankenstein....

What's the problem with viral immunocontraception? One problem is that scientists do not have a terribly good track record guaranteeing sterility. For example, not all of the triploid Grass Carp released into weed-choked golf course ponds in the U.S. turned out to be sterile despite scientist's assurance that they all would be.

Another case of non-sterility occurred when it was found that not all of the "sterile" fruit flies released in California to combat a small outbreak of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly were, in fact, sterile.

Compared to fish and flies, a mistake with a replicating virus would be very difficult to contain. "Whoops!" is not a comforting comment to make after you have released a self-replicating immunocontraceptive virus that has wiped out every rabbit on earth.

The good news is that in 2005, 10 years of no substantive progress in the field, the Australian scientists lost their funding.

The bad news is that CRISPR technology has now made gene editing very cheap and very accurate, so the Mad Scientist contingent is sure to pop up and they will in all likelihood be unstoppable.

Already up at bat: a plan to wipe out brown rats in all of Britain (and never mind if it was the Brown Rat that stopped the Bubonic Plague).

From The Telegraph:

Now experts at Edinburgh University believe that a process called ‘gene drive’ could solve the [rat] problem. It works by spreading infertility genes through a population, which causes a catastrophic drop in numbers over several generations.

A similar approach is already being tested in mosquitoes, to help control diseases like malaria and zika. But now the scientists want to find out it if could also work in mammals.

The technology uses the DNA editing technique called Crispr, a natural process by which bacteria fight off viruses by snipping away at their DNA.

The rodents would be genetically modified in the laboratory before being released into the wild where they could mate with the native population.

Professor Bruce Whitelaw, of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, where Dolly the Sheep was created, said: “For the first time we have the makings of technology that could reduce or eliminate a pest population in a humane and species-specific manner.

“Crispr is perhaps the most exciting tool that has ever hit biology, and it is a fantastic tool for us to pull apart the function of genes and how the animal or plant functions.

“It’s time to explore what this technology can do.”

Right. The reporter on this piece has misspelled the word -- it's CRISPR in all caps, and to say it is a "natural process" is to suggest that the atom bomb is too.

As for the scientists who want to wipe out rats, I assure you that they have spent too little time thinking of the negative follow-on as other species (such as the black rat) fill in the ecological niches created, and as other species (such as snakes and fox) collapse from declining food sources.

As I noted back in 2004:

Scientists, after all, imported the cane toad to Australia as a way of controlling insects in the sugar cane field -- the legacy is poisoned dogs and a country stinking from a billion crushed toad corpses on the highway. The toads did nothing to control insects, by the way, but they have speeded up the death of many small marsupials that have either been poisoned by the toads or eaten by them (the toads are as big as dinner plates and can swallow a sparrow whole).

Scientists said introducing the Indian mongoose onto Caribbean islands would be a good way to control snakes that were decimating native bird populations there. Those same scientists were surprised to learn that the mongoose and the snake kept very different hours in the Caribbean and rarely saw each other -- leading the mongoose to turn to bird eggs and small hatchlings as a source of food. Rather than slow bird loss, mongoose introduction speeded it up!

It was also a scientist who brought the gypsy moth to the U.S. as part of a hair-brained scheme to start a silk worm industry in this country. The actual result, of course, was the destruction of vast stretches of forest.


But of course it would not end there would it?

If wiping out all the rabbits and fox in the world is not enough to give you pause, you might think a bit about where this is going. What can be done for rabbits and fox can easily be done for humans. It turns out that the the biology of mammal reproduction is not terribly different from one species to another as far as the zona pellucida protein is concerned.

The zona pellucida is the area where the egg and sperm unite, and which is effected by the genetically-modified virus that the scientists are experimenting with. The transgenic virus can do either of two things -- thicken the wall of the egg so that the sperm bounces off, or shorten the tail on the sperm so that it never reaches the "ramming speed" needed to break through the egg cell wall. Either way, fertilization does not occur.

Of course, a virus that merely left humans infertile may be the least of our worries. In their continuing quest to be helpful, the same Australian scientists working on an immunocontraception viruses for rabbits and mice have announced that a small change made to a "mousepox" virus made it incredibly more virulent and totally resistant to normally effective mousepox vaccines. They note that the same change can also be made to the human smallpox virus, with predictable results.

And so there we have it: Man's ability to fit and fiddle with the essential elements of biology and physics is the veritable opening of Pandora's Box. We would be wise to have someone other than Pollyanna at the table when the rules for use are crafted. I fear a small black box warning may not be enough.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Shame of Jack Russell

Let us talk about the elephant in the room.  


The great shame of the Jack Russell Terrier community is that the Reverend John Russell, the patron saint of all working and hunting terrier owners, named his first dog... Trump.

Russell said he bought Trump from a milkman whom he happened to be passing by while he was still a young man at Exeter College, Oxford. If so, it’s clear that the dog was not bought because it was a keen worker, but on the basis of looks alone.

Right. The dog was acquired for the sizzle, not the steak, same as the politician.

In fact, this rather cavalier acquisition of dogs seems to have been a habit with John Russell throughout his life. Though it is often said he bred a “pure” line of dogs, there is no evidence to support this assertion. Instead, there is considerable evidence that Russell bought and sold a good number of dogs as his fortunes rose and fell. He acquired and turned over numerous fox hound packs, and it is likely his terriers were acquired and passed on in a similar fashion, for Russell was more of a houndsman than a terrierman. In any case, white foxing terriers were not all that rare. Russell certainly seemed to have no trouble finding another white devon hunt terrier to use as a sire.

And is this not true for the Republican Party as well? They say they have pure convictions, but what are these convictions? The party of fiscal responsibility?  It is too laugh as they add another 1.5 trillion dollars to the U.S. debt. The party of meritocracy? Surely this is a joke -- the punch line that follows Hope Hicks' introduction as White House Communications Director. The party of sound business capitalism is fronted by a multi-bankrupt money-launderer who is being financially propped up by communist kleptocrats? The party of traditional values is fronted by a self-confessed pussy-grabber and alleged rapist who does not pay his bills? Right.  Not too many bedrock principles in evidence there, thought it should be said that there is a rather long list of Republican "never Trumpers".

One of the more common bits of bunk about Trump, the dog, was that she was “14 inches tall and weighed 14 pounds.” In fact, this assertion is a wild conjecture first penned by someone who had never met Russell, had never seen any of his dogs, and had only seen a drawing of Trump. This picture of Trump, it should be said, was created more than 40 years after the dog had died, and it was drawn by someone that had never seen the original animal at all. Russell said the drawing was “a good likeness” but in fact he may have been trying to be polite, as the picture was commissioned by Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) who befriended Russell in his old age, and had the drawing done as an homage to the old man. The dog shown, it should be said, is a not-too-attractive thing with an odd stance, a snipey head, and a squirrel tail.

But of course, size matters.
 Ask Trump the politician who, many years ago was described by Graydon Carter as a "short-fingered Vulgarian" and who seems to have never recovered from the slight. Trump wants you to think everything about him is YUGE, but in fact it's all bark and no bite. He is small in every way that matters; small of brain, small of heart, and certainly small of courage.

There is another matter of course; the temperament of the Jack Russell terrier. This is a dog full of energy, but not always full of discretion or direction.... a small dog in a world of big dogs, a dog defined by coat color rather something more substantive.

All of this is very Trumpian, in the modern sense of that world. But to name your first dog TRUMP? Oh John Russell, you have added insult to injury, and for that we hang our head in shame.  Surely we can do better.

Fencing in the Good, and Fencing Out the Bad

Lucy and Moxie with Austin in the kitchen.

For new visitors to this blog: Please read this before commenting as I do not waste too much time on folks who are too lazy to use the Google, who do not write in complete sentences, or who have clearly blown in from somewhere else to argue before reading.

Also, please note that this blog comes with a search engine in the right column. I am not sure why I should take the time to find information on this blog if you have not bothered to look for it yourself.

Finally, be advised that the world is a big place, and if what I write has put a wrinkle in the fabric of your universe, I am more than OK with you moving on. Seriously. I did not start this blog to meet you. If you take that line personally, see a psychiatrist.

No, nothing in particular prompts me to write this this morning. All is calm on this bend in the river. That said, I do like to set out the House Rules every once in a while, as I find it helps maintain order and keep the delusional, paranoid, stalkers, nutters, instant experts, fantasists, and fanatics at bay.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Coffee and Provocation

Dogs for Conservation
Scientists working in Australia's Great Otway National Park are using dogs as helpers in locating the incredibly rare Tiger Quoll.

Show Me a Sign!
Galileo's middle finger sits in a glass egg in the Florence History of Science Museum. Whether the finger points to the sky, where Galileo glimpsed the glory of the universe, or if it sits eternally defiant to the church that condemned him, is for the viewer to decide.

Just One Hour to the Beach!
No one in the UK lives more than 70 miles from the coast.

Australian Foreigners Killing the Natives
Cats kill 1 million Australian birds a day, study shows

Forensic Ornithology?
Apparently that's a thing.

Saddled Up To Die
Out of the one million horses drafted from England during WWI, only 62,000 returned.

World's Largest Starbucks Opens
The Shanghai Starbucks Reserve Roastery is 30,000 square feet, or about half an acre inside.

A President Meets the King

This was part of a stereoscope of President Teddy Roosevelt in Big Tree Grove, Santa Cruz, California in May of 1903.

At the grove, Roosevelt he gave an impromptu speech:

Cut down one of these giants and you cannot fill its place. The ages were their architects and we owe it to ourselves and to our children's children to preserve them.

Nothing has pleased me more here in California than to see how thoroughly awake you are to preserve the monuments of the past, human and natural. I am glad to see the way in which the old mission buildings are being preserved. This great, wonderful, new State, this State which is itself an empire, situated on the greatest of oceans, should keep alive the sense of historic continuity of its past, and should as one step towards that end preserve the ancient historic landmarks within its limits.

I am even more pleased that you should be preserving the great and wonderful natural features here, that you should have in California a park like the Yosemite, that we should have State preserves of these great trees and other preserves where individuals and associations have kept them. We should see to it that no man for speculative purposes or for mere temporary use exploits the groves of great trees. Where the individuals and associations of individuals cannot preserve them, the State, and, if necessary, the nation, should step in and see to their preservation. We should keep the trees as we should keep great stretches of the wildernesses as a heritage for our children and our children's children. Our aim should be to preserve them for use, to preserve them for beauty, for the sake of the nation hereafter.

More on TR's trip to the Big Tree Grove can be read here.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Trump Is Taking Our Protected Land

The Trump Administration is now engaged in the largest taking of protected land in American history.

It's time for all of us to stand and fight -- to occupy, monkey-wrench, organize, call, protest, and boycott.

Let this be a fight that our children's children will talk about 100 years from now.

Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia are joining the fight and REI and North Face have suited up as well as a coalition of five Native American tribes.

Patagonia was created 47 years ago to equip people who wanted to enjoy the great outdoors. Since the beginning, profits have been plowed back into supporting conservation efforts.

Patagonia is now joining with the Navajo nation and others to fight the Trump Administration in court. This is one of the most important battles of this generation.

We cannot afford to fail.

World Progress in Five Graphs

Later this month, you may read about Warren Buffet winning a million dollar Long Bet in which he wagered that:

"Over a ten-year period commencing on January 1, 2008, and ending on December 31, 2017, the S&P 500 will outperform a portfolio of funds of hedge funds, when performance is measured on a basis net of fees, costs and expenses."

On the other side of the bet was, and is, Protege Partners, a Hedge Fund that has already lose the bet, as there is no way for the world of hedge funds to cover Buffet's now massive lead.

More than 10 years ago I also made a Long Bet but not one about markets, but about the human condition. Specifically, I bet Steven B. Kurtz that:

“Over the next ten years, we will make measurable global progress in all five areas of the human condition: food, access to clean water, health, education, and the price of energy.”

As part of that bet I let Steven pick any metric from each of the five indices, and I further stipulated that he would win the bet if ANY of the five indicators showed a global negative trend over the 10-year life of the bet.

I won.

I mention this as an introduction to these 5 interactive graphs from Our World in Data.

That's the good news.

The bad news, as I noted in my bet, is that we need to measure the world in more than direct indices of of human welfare.

While I believe human welfare will improve, I also believe we will lose both wild places and wild creatures for the next 50 to 75 years as forests are fragmented, coastal and pelagic systems are over fished, reef systems are destroyed, wetlands are drained, and market hunting continues apace in some parts of the developing world. To put it another way, I believe that the human condition will generally improve for the next 10 years (and for the 50 years after that) while many overall negative trends for wild places and wildlife will continue apace. In short, I believe the history of the last 500 years will continue for the next 10 years and the next 50 years after that.

Mother Nature and Sexual Harassment

Go away you pushy boor!

Back in March of 2016
, before the current dust-up about sexual harassment, Gabby Bess at Vice wrote an article entitled Female Animals Make Themselves Look Ugly to Avoid Sexual Harassment. The strap line: "All men are bad—even the non-human ones. We talked to an evolutionary biologist and author of a new paper, 'Why aren't signals of female quality more common?,' that suggests female animals have adapted their appearance to avoid them."

It's long been observed that females are typically less decorated than their male counterparts—the sexual dimorphism displayed amongst peacocks is an obvious example. Previous explanations for the penchant for drab plumage among female animals have focused on the increased need for females to camouflage from predators and conserve energy for reproduction.

But Hosken theorizes that, "given that selection can favor female signals that reduce male harassment"—such as emitting an anti–aphrodisiac or forming communities away from males entirely—"it is very likely that the costs of male harassment could also select against ornaments that positively signal female quality, even if these ornaments would increase fitness in the absence of sexual harassment."

In other words, Hosken suggests that females look deceptively dull in part to ward off unwanted male attention because the threat of sexual harassment outweighs the potential benefits of being able to attract a better mate.

The Terrier Man of the South Oxfordshire Hunt

William Logsdail (British, 1859–1944) Source

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Coffee and Provocation

Darwin Loves the Sludge in Your Coffee Machine
Bacteria in the sludge that sits in you coffee machine has adapted itself to the high levels of caffeine and other compounds that are found in coffee.

Soybeans are the New American King Crop
For the first time ever, American farmers harvested more acres of soybeans this year than any other crop – 83 million acres. (Farmers planted more acres of corn than soybeans, but more soybeans survived to harvest time.)

Bobbit Worm
The Bobbit Worm, with its super sharp jaws, is named after Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her husband's penis while he was sleeping.

The First Patented Backpack
Camille Poirier patented the first backpack on Dec. 12, 1882 in Duluth, Minnesota (Patent No. 268,932) based on design that was already at least 100 years old. Called the Duluth Pack, it is still made in Duluth, Minnesota.

Mexico Does It Bigger and Better
Mexico has designated an ocean region near the southwestern coast of Mexico as North America’s largest marine reserve, at nearly 58,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers).

A Chilly Welcome
Early explorers assumed climates at the same latitude were the same worldwide. That was a critical mistake.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Cats and Dogs

The Jack Russell is the dominant one. Because, of course.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Sparrows, Horses, and Supply-side Economics

Former Congressman John Dingell on the GOP tax bill now in Congress.

Everything is connected to everything, which is a nice way of saying that when John Dingell's tweet about the current tax bill came across my iPhone, I smiled and remembered the "sparrow wars" of the late 19th Century.

The House Sparrow, (or "English Sparrow" as it is sometimes called) was first introduced to the U.S. in the 1850s and promoted to city officials across the East and Midwest as an effective form of pollution control -- sparrows were supposed to clean up the horse droppings littering America's streets.

Mayors, city councils, and park officials heralded the release of sparrow colonies in much the same way they heralded the arrival of gas lights and indoor plumbing -- as a sign of America's coming of age. The House Sparrow was, we were told, a kind of "equine catalytic converter" designed to make our increasingly crowded cities a cleaner place to live.

Within 20 years after its introduction, however, the booming population of House Sparrows in the U.S. was perceived to be having a negative impact on some native song bird populations, especially eastern bluebirds, tufted titmice, and various chickadees.

The friction between the immigrant and native birds was largely due to the aggressive nature of the House Sparrow which simply out-competed some native birds for housing and (to a lesser extent) food.

The rise of the House Sparrow created one of the more interesting environmental battles of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Dr. Thomas Mayo Brewer -- a great friend of John James Audubon and a co-author of the first modern catalog of American birds -- thought the House Sparrow was a wonderful and determined little bird and that, in time, it would prove to be one of America's favorites.

English Sparrow or House Sparrow, male and female

Opposing Dr. Brewer's love of the House Sparrow was Dr. Elliott Coues, whose "Key to North American Birds" remains one the most important works of American ornithology. Dr. Coues advocated an open war on House Sparrows, saying they were a peril to native birds. Dr. Coues described the House Sparrow as "sturdy little foreign vulgarians," and "animated manure machines ... without a redeeming quality."

This fray between naturalists was, believe it or not, a minor cause celebre, and was enjoined by the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe (on the side of Brewer) and the very young Theodore Roosevelt (on the side of Coues).

In 1883, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), a newly formed organization made up of the most eminent men in the field of birding, resolved at their first meeting to decide "the eligibility or ineligibility of the European House Sparrow in America," i.e., should the sparrow be granted the right to be called a naturalized American bird?

In the end, the AOU concluded that the House Sparrow could not be admitted as an American species.

Despite this ruling, the House Sparrow eventually made its way into the AOU's "Check List of North American Birds," as an "introduced" species. By 1931 this distinction had evaporated, and the House Sparrow was added to the AOU check list without any quibbling or further notation.

The House Sparrow had, for all intents and purposes, been assimilated and was now a "North American Bird" (though, it should be said, it remains one of the few birds that can be trapped and exterminated without a license).

At about the same time that the American Ornithologists' Union was removing the asterisk next to the House Sparrow's name, House Sparrow populations began to decline as automobiles replaced horses in America's streets. Changes in farming practices further reduced the amount of grain spillage and horse manure available for avian gleaning.

Panda Porn and Speed Dating

Over at Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog, they have a nice piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker that details The Complicated Legacy Of A Panda Who Was Really Good At Sex.

It's a good piece (read the whole thing), but it misses an interesting part of the story. You see, in her rush to make one particular panda by the name of Pan Pan the "savior of his species," Ms. Koerth-Baker missed the equally important contribution of porn.

Yes porn of the panda kind, which is to say sexy video tapes of pandas going at it in flagrente.

Back in 2007 I detailed what was going on in a post entitled Group Sex and Porn, in which I noted that there are several species that seem to rely on orgies for procreation, but that pandas seemed to be getting by on a new regime based on Viagra and porn.

The Telegraph caught up to that story in 2010 in an article entitled Viagra and Porn Used to Tempt Pandas to Breed:

Panda Makers, a BBC Two documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough, reveals how the Chengdu Research Base is attempting to breed a stable population of 300 bears in captivity and then set them free.

Just 50 years ago, it was thought to be impossible to breed a panda in captivity, but since then pioneering methods have yielded some success.

It is an uphill struggle, though: female pandas are in heat for less than 72 hours a year, and even the use of the drug Viagra and “panda porn” – videos of other pandas mating – doesn’t always achieve the desired effect. The documentary, which airs this evening at 8.00 pm, follows a futile attempt to persuade a male and young female to mate: subsequently, vets performed an artificial insemination.

Sir David described the Chinese centre – the most costly panda conservation effort ever mounted – as “a man-made solution to a man-made problem, an insurance policy against extinction.” 

Today Panda Porn is mainstream and there is even a Wikipedia page devoted to it.

Pandas are not alone in the world of porn and speed dating.

I once visited a horse farm in New Jersey that was shaped like a cross with an enormous skylight atrium at the center. It seemed like an incredibly elaborate barn to me, but I was informed that they bred racing horses there and that to "collect" from the stallions they put a "jump mare" at the center where it was mounted by the boys and an artificial vagina of some sort was used to collect the semen.

The first stallion was always the hard one, but after that it was easy to collect, as all the other stallions would have been hanging their heads out the  stall door to take in "the show" going on under the skylight.

"It's like 16-year old boys at a strip club" my hostess explained to me. "It doesn't take much."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Signs of Fall

Backyard leaves at my mother's house.

Apple orchard after Hurricane Ophelia in Ireland, October 2017.

The Search for Happiness

Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.

Endangered Species Helped by Foreign Invasives

The United States has over 5 million alligators today. One reason for their surge in numbers is that they were put on the endangered species list back in the 1960s, about 25 years after the Nutria was first released from a wayward fur farm started by the McIlhenny Tabasco sauce family.

By 1959, there were over 20 million nutria in Louisiana, and they soon migrated to other states such as Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, and Florida, providing ready fodder for a now-growing alligator population.

A more recent example of how an invasive species has helped a native species on the ropes can be found in the rapid evolution of Snail Kites in Florida whose population has adapted, evolved, and flourished with the arrival of a large non-native species of apple snail. From The New York Times:

The population of North American snail kites — birds that use curved beaks and long claws to dine on small apple snails in the Florida Everglades — had been dwindling for years, from 3,500 in 2000 to just 700 in 2007. Things began to look particularly bleak in 2004, when a portion of the Everglades was invaded by a species of larger snail that the birds had historically struggled to eat. Ornithologists assumed the shift would hasten the snail kite’s decline.

But the number of snail kites in the Everglades grew over the decade following the invasion of the larger snails. The reason, according to a study published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution, is that the snail kites have rapidly evolved larger beaks and bodies to handle the bulkier snails.

“We were very surprised,” said Robert Fletcher, Jr., an ecologist at the University of Florida and an author of the study. “We often assume these large-bodied animals can’t keep up with changes to the system, like invasions or climate change, because their generation times are too long. And yet we are seeing this incredibly rapid change in beak size of this bird.”

...[R]esearchers found suggestions of a genetic component to the changes, as well. By tracking the birds’ pedigrees, they found that large-beaked parents gave birth to large-beaked offspring, setting the stage for large-scale evolutionary change.

Thirteen years after the larger snails invaded, the population of the birds has nearly tripled, to “well over 2,000,” Dr. Fletcher said. “It’s been a major development for the recovery of this species.” Outside of Florida, related snail kites are found in parts of South America, Central America and the Caribbean, where they are not considered endangered.

Large invasive apple snails are two to five times larger than the native species.

Monty Had a Terrier Named Hitler

Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery had two dogs during the war; one a fox terrier he named "Hitler" and another, a spaniel, he named Rommel.

"Hitler" was a gift from BBC war correspondent Frank Gillard who heard Monty say he missed the animals he had with him in previous campaigns. Looking to fill the hole in Monty's life, Gillard cast about for a dog.

Normandy was not a terrific location for dogs right after D-Day, but Gillard managed to hear of a coastal village where a Frenchman had three young fox terriers. They had already been promised to buyers, but in the chaos following D-Day the reserve owners (probably Germans) had moved on with the war front. Gillard bought one of the young terriers and presented it to Montgomery as a gift from the BBC reporters attached to his armies.

For some reason, all dogs born in France in 1944 had to have names beginning with “S,” and this dog's name had been “Selijc”. Monty changed the name to "Schickelgruber" the putative maternal name of Adolph Hitler's grandmother. Around camp, however, the dog was called "Hitler".

Oddly, the real Adolph Hitler also had a fox terrier story.  You can read that here.

July 26, 1944