Saturday, December 16, 2017

Virginia Resident Mauled and Killed by Own Dogs

Goochland County, Virginia resident Bethany Stephens was mauled to death by her two 125-pound Pit Bulls

Some will say that a dog that weighs 125 pounds is not a Pit Bull, but Ms. Stephens  disagreed.

Ms. Stephens, age 22, fancied herself a Pit Bull lover. On her Facebook page she had links to "Pit Bulls and Parolees", "Stop Pit Bull Bans (Ban the Deed Not the Breed)", "American Bully World and Reaper Bulls XL, XXL" and "Extreme Bully Style Pit Bulls and Phantom Rolls XXL Bully Pits".

Over-large molosser-type Pit Bulls (there is no terrier in them) have always been bred, from the time of Bill George to today, with the modern massive American Pit Bulls beginning with dogs bred by John D. Johnson in the 1970s.

And what of Ms. Stephens?

She is quite dead.

Ms. Stephen had defensive wound on her arms consistent with her being alive and trying to fight off her dogs. Her throat was ripped, and she was bitten hard around the face and through the skull.

Sheriff James L. Agnew said:

It was an absolutely grisly mauling. In my nearly 40 years in law enforcement, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I hope I never see anything like it again...

There were various articles of clothing, under clothing, scattered about the area not far from the body and torn into small pieces, there were patches of blood....

There were no strangulation marks, the victim had puncture wounds in the skull and this was not a homicide.

It took deputies more than an hour to wrangle the dogs which were standing over her body when her father found her. Neighboring Henrico County Animal Control was called for assistance, and they provided tranquilizers to subdue the dogs. Deputies spent eight hours collecting more than 60 pieces of evidence.

The two dogs, Tonk and Pacman, were reported to have come from the same litter, but one had recently come back to Ms. Stephens.

Killings of people by dogs is pretty rare in the U.S. -- only 20-30 deaths a year -- but serious dog bites are a great deal more frequent, and Pit Bull dogs are implicated in a disproportionate majority of these serious attacks.

In neighboring Maryland, Pit Bulls are deemed to be inherently dangerous a stance embraced by the courts after a particularly serious mauling case.

The core problem with Pit Bulls, as I noted back in 2012, is that this is a breed caught between two lies:

When it comes to Pit Bulls, two lies are commonly told.

The first lie, exemplified in the U.K.'s Dangerous Dog Act, is that Pit Bulls are as dangerous as wild lions.

Because of this patent falsehood, Pit Bulls can only be kept in Britain with specific permission from a court, and can only be walked when muzzled.

The second lie, told by Pit Bull aficionados, is that Pit Bulls are no different than any other dog. If you disagree with this statement, be prepared to be called a "breed bigot".

Here's the truth: both claims are lies.

In the United States, where Pit Bulls are a common dog, more people are killed by lightning strikes than by Pit Bulls. In fact, more children are killed by their parents than by Pit Bulls.

Does this mean Pit Bulls are just like every other dog in the world?

No. That too is a lie.

In the U.S., where Pit Bulls account for 2 to 3 percent of all dogs, this breed type (it is not a formal breed) accounts for
over 50 percent of all serious dog bites.

And while Pit Bull-related fatalities are low (about 10 a year), for every fatality there are thousands of hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Those who focus solely on the low number of Pit Bull fatalities are lying by omission when they fail to mention the physical and emotional scars left by Pit Bulls attacks.

So, does this mean that Pit Bulls are a problem?

Yes it does.

And part of the problem is that this breed -- like most others -- comes with a code inside it.

Of course, we all know that dogs come with a genetic code.

When we talk about Pointers and Setters, everyone knows these dogs are particularly "birdy."

When we talk about retrievers, everyone agrees this breed is particularly biddable, loves water, and has a desire to bring things to hand.

When we talk about Jack Russell Terriers, everyone agrees they hate rats, and have a natural inclination to go to ground.

But Pit Bulls?

The Pit Bull community wants us to think these dogs are just like any other! Never mind the illegal kennels here in America that crank out line-bred fighting dogs like Pez from a dispenser. Never mind the history of this dog as feral hog hunter, pit fighter, and junkyard protector.

To even suggest that Pit Bulls might have a different genetic code inside them than Pugs, Standard Poodles, Pointers, or Salukies is heresy among many breed-blind Pit Bull defenders.

Of course, canine genetics is only part of the equation. Along with nature comes nurture. In the right hands, even a Pit Bull with a lot of drive can end up being a happy, docile, and extremely playful family dog.

The sad truth, however, is most Pit Bulls in America do not end up in the right hands. This is a breed that tends to attract "the wrong types" to the point that research has shown that U.S. Pit Bull owners are far
more likely to have criminal records than other dog owners.

The predictable result of too many boisterous Pit Bulls meeting up with too many ill-prepared and unstable owners is that the dogs suffer.

And in America, Pit Bulls suffer terribly.

Nearly a million Pit Bulls were euthanized in American shelters in 2009 --
more than the sum of all dogs of all breeds registered by the American Kennel Club last year.

In the last decade, about 8,000,000 Pit Bulls were euthanized in U.S. animal shelters -- approximately four hundred million pounds of dead Pit Bull.

What makes this particularly distressing is that Pit Bull euthanasia rates in the U.S. have been on the rise for 30 years, even as all other canine impounds and euthanasias have been on a steady and steep decline.

What's going on with Pit Bulls?

The problem is not Pit Bull haters.

Ironically enough, the problem is Pit Bull lovers.

After all, it's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are breeding these dogs.

It's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are acquiring these dogs.

It's the Pit Bull "lovers" that are too often abusing the dogs through ignorance and neglect before abandoning them to their death a year or two after acquisition.

You mean Pit Bull "haters" are not the problem?

No, they are not.

The problem is young numbskulls who acquire these dogs in ignorance and haste, discover that they are too much dog to handle, and who then abandon them at leisure.

So what to do?

One of the most obvious ways forward, is to do with Pit Bulls what we have done for hawks, guns, and and cars in the U.S.: require a license conditional upon passing a basic training course.

When "hunter safety" courses were mandated in the U.S., accidental shootings fell to the point that golf and tennis are now deemed to be more dangerous than hunting.

When falconers were required to serve two-year apprenticeships, the longevity of captive birds soared, and concerns about raptor abuse plummeted.

And, of course, driving courses and driver's licenses have been in place since the beginning. Do accidents still happen? Sure, but no one argues that driver's license enforcement is not Step One to improved highway safety.

With dogs, however, the assumption is that everyone knows everything they need to know about dogs at birth -- and never mind if that is demonstrably wrong, especially for large game-bred breed like Pit Bulls.

And the consequence of this crazy idea?

Millions of dead dogs.

What is bizarre here, is that you would think there would be a natural constituency for a simple Canine Safety and Responsibility Course.

After all, teaching such a course could be a small money-maker for sponsoring groups such as the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, and dog-activity clubs.

Would a Canine Safety and Responsibility Course solve every Pit Bull (or dog) problem in the world?

No, of course not.

But it would solve a lot of them, and it would also serve as the "edge of the wedge" when it comes to tackling the human problems that too many dogs face -- ignorance about costs, responsibility, health, and training.

I am sure Bethany Stephens meant well. But meaning well does not give you a stable life style, real dog training, or the experience and physical size to handle two 125-pound dogs.

Most Pit Bulls are fine (there is one asleep at my feet as I type this), but these are not "nanny dogs" that can be "loved into being good," as if human emotion and intent is a quick and ready substitute for 5,000 hours of dog training and socialization.

A Pit Bull is a serious thing; every bit as capable of mayhem as a gun or a car. Owning one should be a right that is counter-weighted by a legal responsibility to carry insurance, to have at least 100-hours of dog training under your belt, and to have a properly fenced yard. 

If you're not serious enough about owning a Pit Bull to meet these expectations, then you are not serious enough to shoulder the responsibility of caring for, and training, a dog that requires daily exercise, daily training, and a jaundiced eye towards its potential for mayhem.

Finally, because I am from Virginia, and because I have written about the issue of Pit Bulls and southern culture before, let me say that I am not terribly surprised to find pictures of Ms. Stephens that suggest she was a young person acting out certain negative cultural manifestations and stereotypes.

As I wrote back in 2007, in a post on this blog entitled Black and White and Redneck All Over, and focused on the drama surrounding Michael Vick:

In Black Rednecks and White Liberals, sociologist Thomas Sowell suggests that the black pathology we see lionized by inner city thugs today is really just a kind of "black redneck" culture adopted from white rednecks in the South.

Sowell has a point. Both cultures embrace easy violence, routine inebriation, monthly government checks, and children born out of wedlock. Both cultures embrace prison tattoos and celebrate machismo posturing. Both cultures have a long love affair with fast vehicles, easy credit, and gambling.

Is it really such a shock, then, that a southern black redneck by the name of Michael Vick was caught with a dog fighting arena and a kennel-full of scarred Pit Bulls behind his house in Virginia?

Let's be clear what Vick was doing: He was raising dogs to fight each other to the death for entertainment purposes, and he had been doing it for at least 6 years as part of his "Bad Newz Kennels." The "winning" dog was lucky to survive his wounds, while the loser, if not killed outright in the fight, was shot, hung, or electrocuted.

Uh oh.

I’m talking about it
now, aren't I?

Yes I am.

Just to clarify: just because you are poor does not make you a redneck. Just because you are rural or Southern does not make you a redneck. There are good people, black and white, who do not have a lot of money or a lot of education and who happen to live in the South and buy their towels (and their deer-hunting ammunition) at WalMart.

Most of these people marry their children's mother, do not routinely get drunk, pay their bills, work hard at their jobs, and go to church. Call these folks "redneck," and you may be picking up your teeth.

A redneck is someone who confuses bad choices for culture. But don't take my word for it. Listen to any of the rappers who feel they have to routinely give a shout-out to their fellow "Niggaz," while singing about drinking their "40s" and shooting their "trey-eights," and cruising for their "hoes."

Better yet listen to country music star Gretchen Wilson celebrate "Redneck Women," whom she defines as those who would "rather drink beer all night, in a tavern or in a honky tonk, or on a 4 wheel drive tailgate."

And if you have a problem with her lifestyle of public drunkeness, she sings, "I don't give a rip, I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip, cause I'm a redneck woman."

Is it an accident that there's a Pit Bull in that big picture on her web site? I don't think so.

Great. These folks are glamorizing the folks who keep showing up drunk and shirtless on "COPS."

Bad boys, bad boys, who you gonna call when they come for you?

Bad choices.

Make enough of them, and they have a way of catching up with you.

Bethany Stephens
looked like she made more that a few of them, from the bad fake spray-tan and low-budget streaked hair dye job you can see on her Facebook page, to the selfies with the Rebel flag behind her, to the KKK bikini picture, and the Dixie flag drape she also posted there.

Could she possibly have done anything more to signal her desire to date someone in the Ku Klux Klan?

This is someone who clearly wanted to trot out a Gretchen Wilson "Redneck Woman" persona. A pair of 125-pound Pit Bulls simply filled out that character, same as her over-large tattoos.

My condolences to her family and friends who no doubt loved her and will miss her.  The chance that Ms. Stephens would be mauled, killed, and chewed on by her own giant dogs was never a given, and always quite remote.  That said, it was never outside the bounds of possible, was it? 

It reminds me of the folks who drink too much and drive too fast. When they wrap their car around a bridge abutment everyone at the funeral says it was a terrible "accident" and no one stops drinking, and there may even be another drunk driving death as people speed away loaded from the funeral.

Bad boys, bad boys, who you gonna call when they come for you?

Hole In One

Compare and Contrast

Eight years of grace without scandal. He came into office at a time when the nation was going under economically. Eight years later, unemployment was incredibly low, housing prices had recovered, and the stock market was at a record high.

Forced to dance on thin ice, he never slipped once, and he never fell through.

This family exemplified intelligence, dignity, humility, and hard work.

This is American greatness.

Friday, December 15, 2017

It Takes 200 Dog Skins to Make a Rug

Lost in Translation

A Strange World War I Recruitment Poster


This World War recruitment poster is a little odd in that it shows a German Shepherd in front of a burning town. Is that the right way to recruit American soldiers fighting a war against Germany?

Coffee and Provocation

Can Dogs Get Tetanus and Lock-jaw?
Yes, but it's very rare. Here's a case that worked out. This very nice looking pup was bred by Teddy Moritz and is owned by a lucky NJ hawker.

The Weight of God Fell on Houston
The rain that fell on Houston and the Texas coastline during Hurricane Harvey weighed 127 billion tons.

White People and Potatoes
Over at Quartz there is a terrific article whose thesis is that The Global Dominance of White People is Thanks to the Potato.

A Zoo of Mutant Mosquitoes
From StatNews: "Just three years ago, the idea of disabling or destroying entire populations of disease-causing mosquitoes using gene drives seemed a distant theoretical possibility. But advances in gene-editing have shoved the field into overdrive. And that vision is now very much in reach."

Not The New Yorker
What happens to cartoons that are rejected by The New Yorker?  They could end up here.

Don’t Take Odin Out of Yule
Santa Claus and his reindeer sleigh evolved from Norse myth.

Is North Korean Floating on Forgery?
A flood of near-perfect $100 bill in Seoul leads experts to think North Korea may be turning to forgery of American currency to prop itself up economically even as it hurts the U.S.

SPCA's Robot War on Homeless Faces Shit Storm

Two days ago, I reported that the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) were using a robot to hassle homeless people and prevent them from camping in their parking lot. Yes, the folks who want you to give money to support homeless dogs have declared war on homeless people.

But the people have fought back. De Zeen reports:

A robot patrolling a street in San Francisco to ward off homeless people has been removed after complaints from locals, who also knocked it over and smeared it with feces.

The Knightscope K5 security robot was deployed by the San Francisco branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to deter homeless people from sleeping and loitering near its building.

But it was forced to take away the 400-pound machine as it was operating in the public realm without a permit, and threatened with a $1,000-a-day fine.

The Politically Correct Wolf

Neverthess, She Persisted

Neverthess, she persisted.

Unboxing the Statue of Liberty, which was originally designed by Bartholdi to be a Berber woman holding a lamp at the entrance of the Suez Canal.

Nice Puppy

Marilyn and Lassie in August 1952. Lassie died in 1959, Marilyn in 1962.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Never Mind Reality, Listen to This Theory

Remember: Adverse consequences and signals of adverse consequences do not work.  Never mind what you see and what you do every single day of your life.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The Last of the Pet Shop Puppies

Back in 2011 I wrote about the last days of pet shop puppies, and I am happy to say the trend has continued.

The Last of Their Breed

Naked Robbery on the Hill

What’s going on now in the tax bill is naked robbery.

I was reading Philadelphia mob wiretap transcripts about 25 years ago, and there on the wire was a politician from Chester, Pennsylvania explaining his thesis about what to do about the poor folks:

“Fuck ‘em -- they don’t pay taxes and they don’t vote.”

I think that’s become the Republican party play book.

Look at the tax bill coming out of Conference Committee today, and they’re padding out the folks who make more than $100,000 a year because they vote.

The lunch bucket folks? They figure they would never vote for the Republicans (because they're black, or Hispanic, or hippies, or pro-choice, or anti-gun), or they don’t vote at all, or they’re gun and anti-choice nuts that the conservatives figure they cannot lose no matter what else they do to America.

And guess what?

That calculation put Trump in office.

We live in scary times.

Woody Guthrie is gone and the unions are very, very sick.

To tell the truth, I ain’t feeling too good myself….

From Politico Pro Report yesterday afternoon:

The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are hoping to make the most sweeping changes to federal safety net programs in a generation, using legislation and executive actions to target recipients of food stamps, Medicaid and housing benefits," report pPOLITICO's Andrew Restuccia, Sarah Ferris and Helena Bottemiller Evich. "The White House is quietly preparing a sweeping executive order that would mandate a top-to-bottom review of the federal programs on which millions of poor Americans rely. And GOP lawmakers are in the early stages of crafting legislation that could make it more difficult to qualify for those programs. In the meantime, the Trump administration has already begun making policy shifts that could have major ramifications.

"Federal health officials are encouraging states to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults on Medicaid — a major philosophical shift that would treat the program as welfare, rather than health insurance. The Agriculture Department said last week that it would soon give states greater control over the food stamp program, potentially opening the door to drug testing or stricter work requirements on recipients of the $70 billion program long targeted by fiscal conservatives," the trio write. "The president is expected to sign the welfare executive order as soon as January, according to multiple administration officials, with an eye toward making changes to health care, food stamps, housing and veterans programs, not just traditional welfare payments. To be sure, many of the changes are still in the talking stages, and it remains to be seen when and how they are actually implemented and at what political cost. And there remains internal debate in the administration over how to balance other priorities like an infrastructure bill. ... Defenders of the safety net programs, meanwhile, fear the effort could rob Americans — including many Trump voters — of a vital lifeline."

Our House is a Very Fine House

Graham Nash wrote this song about the house he shared with Joni Mitchell up in Laurel Canyon. They had gone to brunch and antique shopping and then Graham lit a fire because it was chilly and Joni put the flowers in a vase they had bought, and the whole thing was so ideally domestic that Graham memorialized it for the ages.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Blood Suckers Will Always Be With Us

The blood suckers will always be with us.

The IRS? Lawyers? Ex-spouses? Politcians?

No, no, no, no.


A recently uncovered piece of 99-million year old amber from Myanmar shows not only feathers of a dinosaur, but the tick that dined on the dinosaur, burrowing between and underneath the feathers.

99 million year old ticks preserved in amber.

SPCA Uses Robot to Hassle Homeless People

The SPCA in San Francisco has a security robot that is used to hassle homeless people and prevent them from camping in their parking lot. The robot uses lasers and sensors to monitor the area and alerts human authorities if people show up after hours.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Board of Animal Services Commissioners is seriously debating whether they should switch shelter dogs to a vegan diet. The city’s chief veterinarian, Jeremy Prupas, has said the move would raise costs and harm dogs in that it could deprive the canines of sufficient protein, calcium, and phosphorus, and that it could be inadequate for injured, pregnant or lactating pups.

Local Dog Killed by Coyote?

The local TV station is reporting that a dog may have been killed by a coyote Sunday night in Fairfax, Virginia.

A dog has died after a suspected coyote attack in Annandale, Va. overnight on Sunday, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

The dog is thought to have been attacked after the dog's owner let it out in the backyard to use the bathroom. The suspected attack happened in the 7000 block of Bradley Circle.

The owners couldn't find the dog for a few hours until it was found dead just outside the yard. Police say an animal, matching the description of a coyote, has been seen in the area before and after the dog was attacked.

Wildlife officials say their has been an increase in coyote reporting in recent weeks in the Fairfax County area.

As a general rule, when you hear hoof beats, assume horses and not zebras. In this case, I would assume another dog did the killing and not a coyote, especially after looking at the suburban neighborhood where this was supposed to have occurred, which is full of other food resources from bird feeders to trash cans. But could it be a coyote?  Sure.

For the record, every county in Virginia and Maryland (as well as the District of Columbia) has coyote in them, and pet attacks are very rare.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A New Type of Pure Bread Pug

Scientists at Seoul National University in Seoul, Korea have announced they have created a new pure-bread dog for the show ring.

The Journal of New Age Science (JNAS) reports:

Lead scientist Bo Hi Pak and his team (they call themselves "The Dog Pak" and refer to him as "the Pak Leader") worked for two years to isolate the gene cluster that determines eye number and location in dogs.

"We chose the pug for this first attempt at a purpose-bread dog because, after looking at all the possible candidates for genetic manipulation, we thought it looked most like a loaf of bread, and we really wanted to see what could be done with a pure bread dog as those genes are the ones that are best understood."

Pak and his team started with a young dog named "Cindy" imported from the U.K., and they crossed it with its own grandfather over 20 times in order to create 100 frozen zygotes that could be manipulated in the lab and then transplanted into the uterus of a Shi-Tzu.

"We wanted to create something unusual and, after a frustratingly long period of creating dead dogs and blind dogs, we managed to create Sy," said Pak, referring to the dog named after the mythical monster cyclops.
"Then we received the latest paper from the Royal Veterinary College in the UK about Building Better Brachycephalics, and we realized that a lot of smash-faced dogs like Pugs end up with serious eye issues, and often go blind in at least one eye, and we thought we could help."

The problem Pak and his team sought to tackle is indeed legion among brachycephalic (smash-faced) dogs. As the recent paper from the Royal Veterinary College notes:

"In a recent case series the majority of corneal ulcer cases were brachycephalic, with 50% represented by the prominent-eyed Shih Tzu and 25% by the Pekingese"

The good news is that Pak and his "Dog Pak" have come up with a perfect solution with a new breed of dog they are calling "EYE-SIS".

Said Carolyn Woodthorpe-Smalley, chair of the Kennel Club's Pug Health Committee: "This is a pure bread dog. Of this we have no doubt, as Cindy's lines, and her grandfathers, go back more than 100 years. Because of that, there is no question this is a registerable dog, and one that is clearly bread for function."

Pak says he has received more than 60 inquiries from prospective owners, many of them Americans, who are anxious to own a new version of this old breed.

"We didn't start this to make money," said Pak "but research is expensive, and we are grateful that we can see a possible new source of income to help us create Flat Coated Retrievers that have six legs, four in the back and two in the front. We think this might be the perfect solution for cancer and hip dysplasia in that line of pure-bread animals.  But first, we have to manipulate the gene for the Pug's sphincter, so it can breathe better from the hole in the back."

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?

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.

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.