Monday, August 21, 2017

A Dustbowl Eclipse in Washington, D.C.

On April 19, 1935, the Senate saw the Dust Bowl problem up close and personal

Four days earlier, on April 14, 1935, the biggest dust storm in U.S. history hit the prairie states, pushing a tower of dirt more than two miles into the air, and moving 300,000 tons of topsoil towards the east coast.

This was "Black Sunday" -- the day the wind moved more dirt in a single afternoon than was dug by an army of machines toiling for over seven years to build the Panama Canal.

On April 19, 1935, five days after Black Sunday, Hugh Bennett, the head of the Soil Conservation Service, was in Room 333 of the Russell Senate Office Building pushing for land conservation.

As Timothy Egan notes in The Worst Hard Time:

He began with the charts, the maps, the stories of what soil conservation could do, and a report on Black Sunday. The senators listened, expressions of boredom on the faces of some. An aide whispered into Big Hugh's ear. "It's coming."

Bennett told how he learned about terracing at an early age, about how the old ground on his daddy's place in North Carolina was held in place by a simple method that most country farmers learned when they were young. And did he mention—yes, again—that an inch of topsoil can blow away in an hour, but it takes a thousand years to restore it? Think about that equation. A senator who had been gazing out the window interrupted Bennett. "It's getting dark outside."

The senators went to the window. Early afternoon in mid-April, and it was getting dark. The sun over the Senate Office Building vanished. The air took on a copper hue as light filtered through the flurry of dust. For the second time in two years, soil from the southern plains fell on the capital. This time it seemed to take its cue from Hugh Bennett. The weather bureau said it had originated in No Man's Land. "This, gentlemen, is what I'm talking about," said Bennett. "There goes Oklahoma." Within a day, Bennett had his money and a permanent agency to restore and sustain the health of the soil. When Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, it marked the first time any nation had created such a unit.

To force prices up enough for farmers to make a living, Roosevelt had the government buy surplus corn, beans, and flour, and distribute it to the needy.

Over six million pigs were slaughtered, and the meat given to relief organizations.

Crops were plowed into the ground — like slitting your wrist, to some farmers. In the South, when horses were first directed to the fields to rip out cotton, they balked. Next year, the government would ask cattlemen and wheat growers to reduce supply in return for cash. Hoover had been leery of meddling with the mechanics of the free market. Under Roosevelt, the government was the market. The Agricultural Adjustment Act created the framework, and the Civilian Conservation Corps drummed up the foot soldiers. They would try to stitch the land back together. Build dams, bridges. Restore forests. Keep water from running away. Build trails in the mountains, roads on the prairie, lakes and ponds.

In May, Roosevelt signed a bill giving two hundred million dollars to help farmers facing foreclosure. Now, before some nester's land could be taken to satisfy a bank loan, there was a place of last resort.

That summer, FDR launched the Second Hundred Days, signing into law the Social Security Act so that the crushing cycle of old age poverty that had bedeviled mankind since the beginning, might end.

Next up was the Works Progress Administration to fund the building of roads, schools, bridges and parks, and the National Labor Relations Act, which enshrined union rights in the workplace even as it outlawed wildcat strikes that could cripple the

And what was the result?

Things turned around. Farm economies began to improve with incomes 50 percent higher, and crop prices up 66 percent since Herbert Hoover's last day in office.

Money flowed back into the banks. People slowly returned to work.

Roosevelt took credit, and the American people gave him credit, but the Supreme Court disagreed, stepping in to say that government control of the American farm economy was unconstitutional. The government could not be the market.

Sound familiar?

Of course, today we do have price supports and market-making for all kinds of agricultural products.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers every year to leave over 30 million acres fallow -- land that supports fox, deer, quail, pheasant, sage grouse, and turkey, as well as scores of millions of song birds.

Social Security is the primary source of income for most Americans in retirement. If you are lucky enough to have gone to college, it's probably because your parents had a little money set aside now that they no longer had to provide economic sustenance to their parents (your grandparents) in old age.

The over one million acres of Dust Bowl land that the government bought from broken farmers in 1935 for $2.75 an acre, is now almost four million acres located in 20 publicly-owned National Grassland parks administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

And in the end, even the Republicans admitted it was all due to the good sense and steady hand of FDR.

When Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who had run against Roosevelt in 1936 saying he had no idea how to fix the Great Plains, was asked about the New Deal and its lasting effect on the country, he said it "saved our society."

And, of course he was right and the American people knew it. Alf Landon lost every state in 1936 except Maine and Vermont,losing the Electoral College by the largest margin ever, 523 to 8,

As for Hugh Bennett, the Big Man that Saved the Plains, he died in 1960 at the age of seventy-nine, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery just two miles from my house. On Saturday I may bike over to lay a flower on his grave; a great American not enough of us have ever been told about.

Imagine You Had All Human Knowledge

When The Eclipse Was from Locusts

In the Spring of 1875, in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska, the thing that darkened the sun was not an eclipse, but a massive swarm of Rocky Mountain Locusts that, based on a telegraph survey done at the time, was 1,800 miles long and at least 110 miles wide.

The swarm of locusts is estimated to have contained at least 12.5 TRILLION grasshoppers. A swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts passed over Plattsmouth, Nebraska for 5 days. The locusts ate everything -- fence posts, laundry hung out to dry, each other, and blankets people used to cover their gardens.

Less than 30 years later, the species was apparently extinct. The last recorded sighting of a live Rocky Mountain Locust was in 1902 in southern Canada.

Everything You See and Hear is True

Also, your dogs will damage their retinas unless you bring them inside, put them under a blanket, and whisper racist memes you found on Facebook to them.

Richie Kavanagh Might Own a Jack Russell

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Eclipse Will Not Harm Your Dog

What's the bottom line on your pets and the solar eclipse? Don't worry.

"Thankfully, pet parents won't have to worry about their pets staring directly at the sun and hurting their eyes because, inherently, cats and dogs don't do this."

As the good folks at NASA note,

“It’s no different than any other day,” said Angela Speck, co-chair of the National Solar Eclipse Task Force, in an Aug. 21 NASA media briefing. “On a normal day your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either.”

The sun doesn’t become more dangerous on the day of the eclipse. Warnings are only being issued because people are more likely to want to look at the sun.

Make Fascists Fear Again

Back in 1945, as the first wave of Nazis were being rounded up, Karl Popper noted that there was a paradox when it came to tolerance. The paradox is that if a society is tolerant without limit, their ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant. In short, if you don't bash the Nazis and the Fascists, because you have elevated tolerance and non violence to the highest level of moral authority, you will eventually be put in chains by Nazis and Fascists. Popper's conclusion was that in order to maintain a tolerant society, society must actually be intolerant of intolerance. Or, as I said back in January in the sign I made for the inaugaration, it's time to make fascists fear again.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wearing a Memory of a Great Little Dog

I found this at the back of a closet today: the late great Sailor on a brand new polo shirt.

Sailor was the best working terrier I've ever seen. She was smart, and could find anywhere. She rarely took much stick. She worked all that we have in this area, on over 300 successful digs. She was the only dog I knew that could hear the heart beat of a hibernating groundhog underground and locate it. A black widow spider killed her in her 7th year. She'll never be forgotten.

57 Years Ago Today: God Speed Belka and Strelka

On This Day In History: Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka became the first canines to fly in space and return safely to Earth, August 19, 1960.

In November of 1957, the Russians had fired the first dog into space -- a small terrier named "Laika". This is the story of what happened to her.

Friday, August 18, 2017

If You Stand With Nazis, You're a Nazi

From the editors of USA Today comes this summation: "[Trump] has spit on our values, stood on the side of hatred and bigotry, and stained our country in ways that will be studied with sadness for centuries."

From the editor of the conservative Federalist:

We’re done with the “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad and we should take what we can get” phase of this administration. It’s time for the “He’s a disaster and needs to go” phase. For everybody’s good, Donald Trump needs to not be president, and he needs to not be president yesterday.

I say “yesterday,” not just as an exaggerated form of “as soon as possible,” but referring literally to his disastrous press Q&A yesterday, in which he whitewashed (no pun intended) the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville by claiming that it included some “very fine” people who were just protesting the removal of a statue....

The rally in Charlottesville was called “Unite the Right,” which despite its name made no real attempt to bring together any recognizable strains from the mainstream American political right. Instead, it drew from a spectrum ranging from the neo-Confederates to the neo-Nazis to the white nationalists to the white supremacists—various ideological shades so indistinguishable from each other that you don’t need a special dispensation from Mike Godwin to just call them all Nazis.

Aside from the blatant Nazi style of the imagery, it includes a roster of headliners chosen from various white nationalist groups. So this was a Nazi march from the beginning, planned by Nazis, for Nazis. As to whether any hapless moderates strolled in there thinking this was just about the statue—well, I live in this area and used to be active in the local Tea Party group. I know people who are not white nationalists who oppose the removal of the statues based on high-minded ideas about preserving history. None of them were there, and if they had been, they would have bolted the moment they saw a bunch of guys with torches chanting “Blood and soil.”

The Robots are Coming

Fish on Friday

I saw one of these in a market in Korea once. Bizarre and a little terrifying.  This is forced perspective, however  -- the actual fish is about five feet long and most are about 3-4 feet.

And what's up with "fish on Friday"?  I tell that story here.

Howard Galton's Bloodhounds

I have written before about the intellectual history behind the the Kennel Club's theories, tracing them from Robert Bakewell to Erasmus Darwin to Charles Darwin and finally to Francis Galton (Charles Darwin's nephew) who was the father of eugenics.

Along the way, and without interruption, the talk was of dogs as well as other breeds of animals, including humans.

One of the more interesting notes is a letter from W.D. Fox to Charles Darwin about the effects of inbreeding in blood hounds owned by Howard Galton, who was Sir Francis Galton's uncle.

W.D. Fox quotes Howard Galton as saying:

"I have found from breeding in & in that there is considerable difficulty in keeping up the breed. Many of the females have never exhibited any sexual appetite & those which do so at all, very rarely.

The Knot in the tail appeared by accident in one of the finest Dog puppies I had, so fine that I kept it, notwithstanding this imperfection, and all his descendants had it until at last I got a cross with one of Lord Aylesfords' Bloodhounds, since which time it has disappeared.

The knot was always in the same part of the tail. Another consequence of breeding in and in is that the animals become prematurely old."

There is nothing new here, of course.

The deleterious effects of inbreeding have been known for as long as man has been alive, which is why there is a ban on it in all religions (one of the very few commonalities across the religious spectrum).

What is only notable here is the provenance of the observation: Darwin's inquiry into the effects of inbreeding in Howard Galton's blood hound pack dates back to 1838, more than 20 years before the first formal dog show in the U.K., and 35 years before the start of the Kennel Club.

Dog Whistles and Racism

The lead editorial in today's paper is about the overt racism being used to court voters at the top of the Republican ticket. Unknown to the writer, the dog whistle was first created by Francis Galton, the founder of the field of eugenics, which not only gave us the death camps of World War II, but which also gave us the twisted intellectual thread that holds the Kennel Club together to this day.

Mechanical Harvest of Brussel Sprouts and Sweet Corn

The folks who think we need a permanent and endless supply of unfree foreign labor in the United States are not paying attention to the speed of agricultural automation.

Here we Sweet Corn and Brusell Sprouts being mechanically harvested at incredible speed which results in both in-store freshness and lower prices for consumers.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Feed Me Like a Feral Dog

Scientists report that -- surprise -- most feral or "wild" dogs are actually eating quite a lot of garbage.

And that's not only true with Alabama feral dogs, but also for Southern European wolves which turn to garbage, small vertebrates, invertebrates, vegetables, and carcasses in the absence of larger prey such as moose, deer, wild boar, and domestic farm stock.

And what do zoo keepers feed their wolves?  Purina or any other commercial bagged kibble dog food.

Wolf biologist David Mech notes that grass appears in 14-43% of all wolf scat found in North America and Eurasia. Plant material in fox and coyote scat, including grass, is so common as to be unremarkable.

Leopards, jaguars, mountain lions, and bobcats also eat surprising amounts of grass. A sample of 215 leopard scats collected in the Tai National Forest of the Ivory Coast, for example, found 17% had a considerable amount of grassy vegetable matter.

9 Million Pages Views Since 2010

This blog has had 9 million page views since I put a counter on it in 2010.

The blog has actually been around since 2004, however, so I have no idea how many people have come here.

More than 9 million.

Why do we celebrate round numbers?  Dunno, but we do. In demography, we even have statistical ways of disaggregating data when people "lump up" to round numbers when asked their age or income (such as Myer's Blended Method).

None of Us Are Free :: Solomon Burke

If you don't say it's wrong then that says it's right.

Mechanical Berry Harvesting

The folks who think we need a permanent and endless supply of unfree foreign labor in the United States are not paying attention to the speed of agricultural automation. Blue berries and raspberries are historically pretty cheap, and this is why: harvests are way up and labor costs are down. That's a win-win for America, even if it's not for Maine harvesters of wild blue berries.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Is the President a White Supremacist?

The Kennel Club and the eugenics movement that spawned the AKC and the Kennel Club have common roots.

Even to this day, the show dog world is about breed purity, coat color, sterilization, and gas chambers. That's not an accident.

And is it an accident that the Westminster Dog Show paraded their winner over to Donald Trump every year?  I think not.

Operant Conditioning for Nazis

This is operant conditioning for Nazis.  It's not click and treat. It's more like an immediate punch to the face.

As with all training, the trick is consistency and timing.

This is truly excellent timing.

Coffee and Provocation

The Fire Down Below
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh analyzed radar scans of the West Antarctic Rift System and found 138 volcanoes hiding under the thick ice sheet. Distribution of the volcanoes roughly aligns with the jagged continental rift.

Where’s Jumbo?
Real-time tracking collars are now being used to keep tabs on 325 elephants in 10 countries.

Let There Be Cheap Light
From the beginning of history  through the 1850s, light was really expensive. Today? Not so much. By 1992 the cost to light a room with a compact fluorescent bulb was about 1/250th of what it was 1855 and 1/83rd of what it cost to do the same with a Coleman lantern. Since then, the switch to LED lighting has been swift and transformational. The best LED bulbs cut electricity use by 85 percent compared to incandescent light bulbs, and by 40 percent compared to fluorescent lights.

Trees Don’t Like to Touch
“Crown shyness" is the phenomenon where leaves and branches of individual trees don’t touch those of other trees, forming gaps in the canopy.

How Do You Move a Giant Sequoia?
In Boise, Idaho they moved a 105-year old, 10-story tall Giant Sequoia that grew from a seed collected by John Muir. The tree and root ball weighed more than 800,000 pounds.

Can We Re-Gift It?
Hundred-year-old fruitcake found in Antarctica has been deemed to be in "excellent condition".

Folding E-Wheels... at a Price
Brompton has released a new folding e-bike with 50 miles of range. The cost is a sobering $2,900 to $3,400. An electric Razor is much cheaper at only $250.

Solar Eclipse by Zip Code
Here's what the solar eclipse will look like in your zip code.

Genetic Testing for White Supremacists
White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests, but some don’t like what they are finding. For example, White supremacist Craig Cobb found out on a daytime TV show that DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be “86 percent European, and . . . 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.”

The FHA Was Created to Keep Minorities in Ghettos
NPR reports that "Federal housing policies created after the Depression ensured that African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects, such as Detroit's Brewster-Douglass towers."

Adios Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell died this week at age 81 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. This song was from his last studio album, Adios, released in 2017.

Mechanical Fields of the Future, 1967

Mechanical Apple Picker

From Scientific American
, circa 1967:

“The fact that the production of food and fiber engages only 5 percent of the U.S. labor force is primarily due to the mechanization of farming. Other technological developments -- chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plant breeding and so on—make essential contributions, but mechanization is still the outstanding factor. The picking and winnowing of a crop usually accounts for at least half of the total cost of production. It is also by far the most difficult part of the agricultural process to mechanize. Nevertheless, the mechanization of harvesting in the U.S. has made such strides that, in spite of the costliness of the machines and other technical aids, the cost of food to American families, in terms of its percentage (18 percent) of their income, is the lowest in the world.”

Note: Department of Agriculture figures from 2015 show the proportion of family food spending in the U.S. was still the lowest in the world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Geometry Of Terrier Work

Dog weights go up a lot with a very little increase in size, due to some very basic geometry.

First, let's consider the geometry of a Red Fox.  

The late Barry Jones,
 professional terrierman to the Cotswold Foxhounds in Andovers Ford, and a former Chairman and President of the Fell and Moorland Working Terrier Club, and the founding Chairman of the National Working Terrier Federation, spanned an average of 300 foxes a year and said "I have not encountered a fox which could not be spanned at 14 inches circumference."

A dog with a chest span of 14 inches, the same as that of a fox, has a chest that takes up 15.59 square inches of space.

A dog with a chest of 16 inches, however, is a dog that is taking up 20.37 square inches of space.

A dog with an 18 inch chest circumference is a dog that is taking up 25.78 square inches of space in the pipe.

And what about an AKC or JRTCA go-to-ground tunnel?  Those have an interiour space of 81 square inches!

This is just square area. Cubic area gives you even more impressive numbers.

For example, something that is one yard on each side (height, length, depth) is one cubic yard, but something that is 3 yards on each side is 27 cubic yards (3 by 3 by 3). The same thing happens with dogs; as height increases, so too does length and width, and these dimensions compound each other.

In the end, it is not weight or height that determines a terrier's ability to work so much as chest size -- and of course a strong dose of desire, a big dose of nose, and a willingness to use its voice.

No matter how much desire a dog has, however, it cannot overcome too large a chest size. Flexability has nothing to do with it except at the margins. Nothing is more plastic than water, and yet you still cannot put a half gallon of water in a pint bottle.

A den pipe is anywhere from 10 to 40 feet long -- far too long for a dog to excavate except, perhaps, at a few tight spots. A dog that is digging a lot to get to the quarry is bottling itself up by pushing dirt behind it, and is likely to reach his or her destination exhausted and oxygen depleted, without the room to properly maneuver to avoid the slashing teeth of the quarry. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

The bottom line:  Few dogs are too little or too smart to work, but many are too large and too dumb.

Monday, August 14, 2017

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land. Don't let Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration sell it or degrade it.

Nothing Uglier Than Racism and Failure

Treason, racism, and insurrection stain this nation again.

It's time for the Civil War monuments and statues to come down.

It's time to rename the schools and the roads for real Americans who believe in E Pluribus Unum.

This is not about "history."  

In Germany, there are no Hitler statues, and no one flies the swastika.

In Italy there are no statues to Mussolini and they do not fly a fascist flag.

Only in America do we put up statues to traitors who lost a war whose sole purpose was to maintain the slavery of its own populace -- a slavery every bit as pernicious and horrible as what the Nazis and Italians did to their populations in Germany and Italy.

If it's an identity that young people seek, I would suggest celebrating 300 years of music, food, and art rather than four years of failed insurrection to preserve slavery and the subjugation of other Americans in a brutal system of segregation and apartheid.

Celebrate the Delta Blues, the Memphis Blues, North Carolina barbecue, and Virginia Blue grass.

Celebrate good dogs and fast horses. Celebrate wild lands and wildlife. Celebrate anything but sedition, secession, slavery, racism, and brutality.

Why does this even need to be said?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

At the Monocacy Aqueduct

A smudge on the lens, but a good day out with my mother and my son nonetheless.

Because the place we intended to visit was unexpectedly closed, we took a detour to the Monocacy Aqueduct where the dogs could stretch out and noodle around a little.

Construction of the Monocacy Aqueduct began in 1829 and was completed four years later. Three separate contractors labored on the immense stone structure, which was constructed for $127,900. The plan for the Monocacy Aqueduct, often referred to as C&O Canal Aqueduct No. 2, was for a stone masonry structure with a waterway of 19 feet at the bottom and 20 feet at the top. The towpath parapet wall is 8 feet wide and the upstream wall is 6 feet wide. Benjamin Wright drew the plans with 6 piers, 2 abutments and 7 arches, each with a span of 54 feet. The piers are 10 feet thick with pilaster at each end. The aqueduct is 516 feet in length. Much of the building material was large granite stone blocks quarried at the base of nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.

During the Civil War, the Confederates tried to blow up the aqueduct, but they were unable to drill enough holes into the granite to place enough explosives to break the structure.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Wee Worker

I got tired of looking for the locator collar that I altered to fit this small dog, so last night I punched two more holes into all of them. A 10-inch collar on Moxie is quite loose.  Hard to believe this dog is that much smaller than the late great Sailor.

Humans are GMO and So Is Everything They Eat

Every person in the world is genetically modified, and so too is every apple, potato, tomato, ear of corn, steak, piece of chicken, or glass of milk.

Over at Quartz they write about GMO -- so-called genetically modified organism, noting that all of human production is dependent on GMO food, and has been for 100,000 years:

For many activists, genetically-modified anything is unacceptable. It is unfortunate that many advocates of sustainable agricultural practices and “green” thinkers have embraced ideas that lie well outside scientific reality, and have let the anti-science zealots control the environmental movement. The fact is that humans have been genetically modifying plants for more than 10,000 years.

Agriculture itself is unnatural. It took our ancestors tremendous time and effort to clear forests to make way for open fields, plant crops, and develop reliable food sources.

But, these painstaking efforts were a tremendous benefit to the human race and were the driving force behind the growth of civilizations. Humans were no longer hunter-gatherers, and were free to develop stable societies since the basic needs of food had now largely been met.
The article goes on to note that panic about GMO is mostly fear bolted to ignorance: failure to understand that GMO food is almost always the best environmental option because it means less spraying of toxic chemicals -- the kind of stuff that gave us "Silent Spring."

More evidence is accumulating that genetically enhanced foods could actually be the “greener” option.

In the past two decades since the first introduction of this new chapter of agriculture, two traits represent the majority of those genetically enhanced crops. The first is the “Round-Up Ready,” or herbicide-tolerance trait, which allows farmers to treat their fields to kill weeds, while leaving the crop-plant unharmed.

The argument against using this trait is that they will increase the use of these herbicides. It is true that the use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round-Up®) has more than doubled since 1996. But what is lost in this debate is how glyphosate is relatively non-toxic compared to the alternatives; for perspective, glyphosate is about half as lethal as vinegar, which is a recommended “natural,” home-gardening herbicide.

The article goes on to note that after glyphosate resistance, the other great leap forward in GMO production has been plants that fix their own BT bacteria:

The second trait is called “Bt” for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium. Plants that are transformed inserting a gene from this bacterium produce a natural protein called Cry1A, which is harmless to humans, but lethal for specific insects like the corn borer. Ironically, Bt/Cry1A sprays have been approved for use by organic farmers who face crop damage caused by insect attacks. Do anti-GMO activists feel that it is okay to douse your plants with this spray, but it’s not okay to develop a plant that can make its own Cry1A protein?

Should every person in the world be required to have a big "GMO to the Bone" tattoo on their forehead to let potential mates and employers know?

What the article does not mention is that humans themselves are genetically modified organisms.

For millions of years, ticks, mosquitoes, parasitic worms, and bacteria ingested with our food, have been adding foreign DNA into our mix.

 Over at Science magazine, the house organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they note:

You’re not completely human, at least when it comes to the genetic material inside your cells. You—and everyone else—may harbor as many as 145 genes that have jumped from bacteria, other single-celled organisms, and viruses and made themselves at home in the human genome. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which provides some of the broadest evidence yet that, throughout evolutionary history, genes from other branches of life have become part of animal cells...

In all, the researchers pinpointed hundreds of genes that appeared to have been transferred from bacteria, archaea, fungi, other microorganisms, and plants to animals, they report online today in Genome Biology. In the case of humans, they found 145 genes that seemed to have jumped from simpler organisms, including 17 that had been reported in the past as possible horizontal gene transfers.

So what does that mean? Does it mean if you are anti-GMO, you have to commit suicide?

Does it mean that every "genetically modified" human (all of us) will have to  have a big GMO tattoo on the forehead to let potential mates and employers know?

No, not at all.

 It does mean, however, that you might want to read more, and perhaps change your mind based on new information.

That's what Bill Nye "the science guy" did, and no one thinks less of him for it.

The real objection to GMO is not actually science-based.  It's based on the idea that "man should  not be playing God," and that if we do that Frankenstein might pop up around the corner.

What's funny is that man has been playing God since the beginning, and not only with apples, corn, potatoes, sheep and cows, but also with land, trees, and wildlife.

We "play God," every time we get in a car and go 60 miles an hour, get in an airplane and fly to another country, or vaccinate our dogs or kids.

We "play God" every time we communicate on our cell phones, or freeze ice cream, or turn on the air conditioner or the heater in our house.

How funny is it that the most reactive  "play God" opposition out there today is in the two areas vital to life and progress -- vaccination and food -- and that in these two arenas the people who embrace vaccines (very safe) are also the same ones who throw up the flag of fear when it comes to food (also very safe)?

Biting insects have already made you a GMO.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Nothing is Static in Nature

The first 5 years I worked this farm, this patch was open field and orchard grass. Now it's a forest filled with a luscious ground cover. The farmer says the fox are gone due to the arrival of coyote, but I suspect she is wrong; the fox are probably there, but far more wary than they used to be. Things are always changing in field and farm; it's the one thing that is consistent

Catch and Release Terrier Work

This is Moxie, an under 9-pound Jack Russell, in a pipe on a 13-pound groundhog. The groundhog was snared and released for another day. No animals were harmed in the making of this movie.

Off-Roading at 42 MPG?

Off roading with the hybrid... sort of. One of the ways you get 42 mpg is very low clearance. Anything more than this would be a mistake. Still, it got me and muttniks to the back of this farm.

Man the Conquerer is Doomed

Aldo Leopold on human population density and the American land ethic:

In all of these cleavages, we see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the search-light on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism.

[The poet E.A. ] Robinson's injunction to Tristram may well be applied, at this juncture, to Homo sapiens as species in geological time:

Whether you will or not
You are a King, Tristram, for you are one
Of the time-tested few that leave the world,
When they are gone, not the same place it was.

Horses for Courses, But Fox Are the Same All Over

Red Fox Taxidermy manikin with 12.75" chest. Source.
A repost from 2011

Armas writes from Finland about a post I put up some years back about the history of Jagd Terriers.

To refresh, the Jagd Terrier was a dog created as part of the völkisch thought paradigm which suggested Germany needed its own working terrier which would, of course be an uber hund which could do it all -- retrieve shot birds, go to ground on fox, bolt boar from thickets, and perhaps brew a mean cup of espresso as well.

The dog that was created is certainly game enough, but it turns out that a dog that is big enough to return shot birds is too big to easily go to ground in most tight settes, while a dog that is small enough to go to ground may not have the weight or size needed to bust Russian Boar out of a thicket.  Yes, there is a reason dogs are specialized!

Amras, however, says his Jagd Terrier is doing fine for him in Finland.  He writes:

I wonder do you have smaller foxes there? Because here in Finland Jagds represent 25-35% share of the dogs used for underground hunting. I have a 16-inch tall male Jagd, weight about 11 kilos (24.25 pounds), and it manages on its job fairly well. But we do have a little different species here too. 75% of our catch are raccoon dogs, 15% badgers and the last 10% foxes. My opinion is that dachshund are really the ones that are really too big for underground work; their chest size has grown in recent decades mainly because of the impact of dog shows. You might want to visit German and the Central Europe first, before you announce the German Hunt Terrier isn't that much in use there, because it really is.

Armas is asking a good question, and the answer is interesting enough that I break it out here in its own post.    I wrote back last evening:

We have, more-or-less, the same-sized red fox all over the world.  See the links under the terrier-spanning post I put up on the blog this morning for more general information on fox size.

So what's the difference?  The difference is in the animal that actually digs the holes in which your fox are denning!

In Finland, you do not have European rabbits outside of a small population of recent escapees around Helsinki, so the holes in which your fox are going to ground are, for the most part, dug by badger, as your native hares den above ground.

In England, most fox dens are lightly excavated rabbit burrows, as badger dens are generally given a pass due to a rather unforgiving law.  In the Eastern U.S., where our rabbits den above ground (in scrapes) as your hares do, fox generally use old groundhog dens which, like U.K. rabbits dens, are very lightly excavated if expanded at all.

Fox are not very good diggers and rarely excavate a long or deep den on their own, preferring to tuck into an existing den of some kind (badger, rabbit or groundhog), or else den under a natural structure (a tree that has blown over, a farm trash pile, an out building, a rock crevice).

Raccoons and raccoon-dogs (Tanuki) do not dig their own holes, and neither do our "third" quarry species here in the United States, the opossum.

Our Grey fox (not related to the red fox) will generally den in trees (this is a species of fox that can climb) or rock cracks, but will also be found, on rare occassion, in groundhog dens.

With dachshunds, chest size is largely determined by breeding. The very badly bred standard dachshunds of the U.K. and the U.S. have large chests, as you note, but working dachshunds (also known as "Teckels") have a very clear emphasis on chest size. See >> Teckels that are "Gebraushund" for more information about these true working dogs.

The bottom line:  there is a very real reason that working terriers are spanned at the chest, and why most working terriers around the world hover a shade over 12 inches in height, and with chests of 14-15 inches in span (the same chest size as that of working dachshunds).

A dog that stands 16 inches tall at the shoulder is going to have a span of 18 to 19 inches, which is larger than any normal fox anywhere in the world.  That dog may work in Finland, where most fox are found to ground in old badger settes, but it will have a limited utility in those parts of the world where red fox, raccoon, or Tanuki (raccoon-dog) are using holes made by rabbit and groundhog.

As for how Jagd Terriers are doing in Germany and Central Europe, I think the rise of artificial earths, and cartoons showing Jagd Terriers barely squeezing through these artificial settes, says quite a lot.  A dog at the very lowest end of the Jagd Terrier standard (13" tall and with a small chest) is a good prospect for fox work, but at the taller end, I would simple say that there is a reason why terriermen harp about chest size the world over.

A dog, no matter how much it may have "the fire called desire" cannot hope to excavate a 20-foot pipe or follow a fox down a tight tube that is half-blocked by root or rock, unless it has a chest size comparable to the quarry it is chasing.

Once the larger dog does get there, it will find itself jammed in tight, with little room to move to avoid the slashing teeth of the fox.

And what is the point? A larger dog brings little that is useful to the table, and quite a lot that is a burden.

A fox cannot dig away from the dog, and even with animals that dig, size is not the answer as larger size slows passage through the sette and increases the chance that the badger or groundhog will have dug away. A smaller dog can get through a sette faster and "box" at the end more easily (and less damage) and with more oxygen as well. There is a reason small dogs are valued more than larger ones in the world of working terriers!

This is how a taxidermy manikin becomes a mount.
. .

The Mongrol Horde Makes the Cover

Jreed gets the cover and the the insides of Countryside magazine, available at your local Tractor Supply store. Great article, but if you want cooking tips, you will have to go here.

A Common Sense Fence

Donald Trump wants to "build a wall," along the border to stop illegal immigration.

Great. Seriously. I am all for it. And so are you.

To be clear, it's not a new idea, and it's already been done, and it's been working for more than a decade with strong bipartisan support.

Read that last line again.

Strong bipartisan support. Senators Diane Feinstein, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton supported more and better border fencing. In fact, they voted to put in 700 miles of the stuff.

I have written about  immigration and U.S. population growth before, here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

I was talking about this stuff more than 35 years ago, before Eric Trump was born, and before Ivana Trump (Donald Trump's first foreign-born wife) became a naturalized United States citizen,

I supposed I should also say that I have something to do with this wall idea.

Yes me, the flaming liberal who supported Bernie Sanders, and who recoils in horror at a great deal of Donald Trump's unnecessarily divisive rhetoric.

You see, Donald Trump got the idea for the wall from Pat Buchanan, and Pat Buchanan got it from me when I appeared on Crossfire, a little over 28 years ago, to talk about the need for secure fencing along the border.

For the record, when I was on CrossfireI was 'the lefty" in the crossfire and Pat Buchanan was the apologist for open border immigration. But Pat Buchanan listened, and three days later he wrote his first piece in favor of border security.

What was I proposing, and why?

What I was proposing was not very remarkable physically, even if it shattered conventional thinking.

We have many thousands of miles of solid concrete and steel walls around major highways all over the U.S. The picture, above, is of I-66  right outside Washington, D.C. and it is a picture of this wall that got Pat Buchanan's attention back in 1989 when I first rolled out the "invisible sunken wall" idea.

A sunken wall? An INVISIBLE sunken wall? What's that?

The idea is common enough. You can see it where we have trenched highways, as along I-66 in Falls Church, Arlington, and Fairfax, Virginia, but you can also see it the "mote" enclosures used at zoos where a slope down to sunken retaining wall keeps bears and and lions and their viewers at eye level, but quite safe from each other.

The idea comes from 17th Century Land Skip architecture, when large estates wanted to prevent sheep, cattle, and deer from getting into their fancy, new, and very expensive gardens. Stone walls and rail fencing would have been an eye-sore, and so the "Ha Ha" was invented, and it has been working wonderfully ever since.

Will better fencing stop all illegal immigration?

No, of course not. 

But laws don't stop all murders and rapes, and yet we keep those laws and we take action to reduce numbers.

Because numbers matter.

If we want to continue to admit legal immigrants through the front door, we need to secure the back door against uninvited gate-crashers.

The backlash against immigrants we see now in the U.S. is a direct response to our long-standing and systematic failure to control numbers.

It's like a college party; if you advertise free drinks and don't control entry at the door, the police will show up with a paddy wagon soon enough, and unhappiness and disorder will follow.

You believe in border enforcement, and prove it every day when you lock your front door, or your car door, as you leave for work.

Why do you do this? Because you understand that you cannot feed and house everyone else in the world, and that at some point others are responsible for solving their own problems through hard work and difficult decisions.

The same is true for other people in other nations. And the same is true for this nation.

These points are common sense and are separate and do NOT support arguments for racism, or discrimination based on religion or national origin, or deportations, or registries and the like.

That's where Trump has fallen off the edge of the world. He has, literally, taken a good common-sense idea and made it anathema.  That's the very opposite of good policy and good politics.

But does fencing work to slow, if not stop, illegal immigration?  Like new money, as the figures below make clear.


And what does all of this have to do with terriers?  

What?  You have never heard of the Heugervein Wall Dog? A very famous breed, I assure you. I invented it myself.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

CRISPR Puppies

The wolf is already genetically modified, and without FDA approval. 

The new gene-editing technology called CRISPR makes it relatively easy for anyone with access to even a moderately decent bio lab to "hack" a gene, thereby adding or deleting bits of code to either remove a disease, or add a new ability or mutation.

CRISPR is the most significant leap forward in genetics in the last 100 years, is low cost, is relatively ease, and has a very high rate of success.

That combination of good news has some folks nervously twirling their prayer beads.  What if we create some sort of Frankenstein creature?

Right. And what if Mother Nature had already done that?  In fact she already has. It's called the wolf that chased us through the woods, the lion that chased us across the savanna, and the thousands of diseases such as Ebola, Malaria, and HIV-AIDS that have decimated human kind since the dawn of time.

Frankenstein has always been with us, and we have always edited genes. Look at the dog in your kitchen -- that's a gene-edited wolf.

The question now is whether we are going to allow CRISPR free-reign or light-reign.  Will scientists be allowed to create corn with short stalks that produce more grain with less loss and in a shorter season?  Will we allow tomatoes to be bio-engineered so they are worm-resistant, thereby doing away with tons of pesticides?  How about gene-editing mosquitoes so they cannot carry Malaria, Dengue, and Zika?

And what about dogs?

What if we gene-edited the Dalmatian so it did not have hyperuricemia and deafness?  What if we bio-hacked the working Jack Russell to ensure small chests?  What if we could make dogs resistant to heart worm, lyme, and bone cancer?

Those kinds of questions are now front and center.  Earlier this year, David Ishee, a Mississippi kennel operator and member of the nascent "bio hacker" movement, put in a request to the FDA to use CRISPR to gene-edit the Dalmatian in order to repair a single DNA letter associated with hyperuricemia.

The FDA response was to put out a science-devastating proposal to regulate all cattle, pigs, dogs, and other domestic animals modified by gene editing.

The FDA's new proposal is to treat the edited portion of an animal’s genome as a veterinary drug.

That means a gene-edited animal cannot be sold or given away without going through millions of dollars worth of tests and studies.

It took 20 years and millions of dollars for the “AquaAdvantage” salmon to get to market. That might make some sense with an animal that could "go native" in the wild.  But a Dalamatian?  A sheep?  A cow? These are unlikely threats to Mother Nature.

Adding stupidity to generalized fear-mongering is the fact that FDA rules will not apply to other countries where gene editing can be done without regulation. In short, we are guaranteeing that the U.S. will soon be massive losers in agricultural production even as we do nothing to keep the world even theoretically safe.

The notion that domestic CRISPR-modified animals should be regulated like a drug makes zero sense. Drugs are made in million-unit lots, shipped all over the world, are consumed internally by humans, and externalize their harm (if any). Gene-wrecked dogs have been born all over the world for a thousands years and the FDA has never given a damn about that. And why would they? A gene wrecked Dalmatian is a danger only to itself, is produced in very modest lots, and are not a consumable. It's hard to see how the Food and Drug Administration even has any standing in this arena. Is a Dalmatian a food? A drug? I think not!

The bottom line is that it's crazy to hamstring science
 in this arena, while doing absolutely nothing to require genetic diversity in farm stock, and while giving a business license to the American Kennel Club which requires breeding dogs within a closed gene pool that predictably leads to disease, deformity, and dysfunction.

The FDA is proposing we stay in the dark ages, and never mind the harm to animals.

We know, right now, how to make cows that produce no horns. That's a working CRISPR modification that could save the cost and discomfort of dehorning Holstein milk cows. But the new FDA rules threaten this bio-technology in the United States, while leaving other countries free to leap ahead.  Why?  What is the good, and what is the fear?

And what about humans? Last week news broke that scientists had used CRISPR to repair a genetic mutation linked to a devastating heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 36 human embryos. Will the FDA be a cheerleader for disease and death, or for genetic health and cost savings?

Ironically, the best hope for science may be the Trump Administration, which hates unnecessary regulation and which may veto these new FDA rules.  If that happens it will be a small glimmer of good in what has otherwise been a chaotic and amateurish administration that seems hell-bent on pushing us to the brink of pointless war.

Whatever action is taken, however, may be irrelevant in the long run. The FDA does not have the the personnel to visit drug companies and food processing plants more often than once every five years now, and CRISPR is cheap enough and easy enough that it will be done with or without FDA approval. In fact because the genetic map of the dog is so well know, because dogs have so many diseases and defects, and because the dog is not an animal we eat or that is likely to escape into nature to breed with wild stock, it's really the perfect animal for CRIPSR research. Someone please tell the idiots at the FDA.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Trump Could Fit It Into a Tweet

43 years ago today.

Rin Tin Tin is Dead and Lassie Was Given Away

I just read a conversation in which someone said that Lee Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin without an electric collar, so why does anyone need them today?

It's pretty thin logic; a bit like saying the Egyptians didn't need construction cranes and plate glass to build their buildings, so why do we need them today? Why not wait for the miracle of martians?

Rin Tin Tin was dead in 1932 and the first patent for a very early e-collar was 1934 using a Ford Model T coil as the power source with a wire running down the leash. The first battery-powered radio collar was patented in 1955, and the first commercial rigs came out in 1968. The modern e-collar did not show up until the late 1990s and has seen dramatic improvements in the last decade. Rin Tin Tin was not trained with an e-collar because they simply did not exist. For the record, neither did talking movies.  All but four of Rin Tin Tin's movies were silent films

The original Rin Tin Tin seems to have been a one-off; Lee Duncan could not repeat his success with other dogs, and he was not the trainer for the dogs used in the 1950s TV series.

When I made that point, the response I got back was a Lee Duncan quote. Apparently Lee Duncan, the trainer of the original Rin Tin Tin, said that “…the first step in controlling your dog is to be able to control yourself.”

OK. Agreed. But how is that responsive to the question of e-collars? It isn't. If the notion is that people with e-collars might abuse them, then I would suggest thinking that through. Far more dogs are abused by leashes and flat collars than by e-collars. Are we going to ban all leashes and flat collars?

And why stop there? Are we going to ban swimming pools because kids drown in them?

Alcohol is the greatest threat to dogs, wives, and kids in any house. Are we going to ban all booze?

"We kill over a million dogs a year in this country because people fail to train their dogs, or because that training fails."

How about guns? Gasoline? Steak knives? Hammers? Chainsaws? Cars? Aspirin? All are potential tools for abuse. More dogs are killed every year by hammers than by e-collars.

The simple truth is that you cannot start banning tools because they might be abused or misused by a nameless, faceless, someone, somewhere, sometime.

Go down that road and we'll soon be banning chocolate, cheese, and ice cream.

Here's a simple truth: We kill over a million dogs a year in this country because people fail to train their dogs, or because that training fails.

Why does that training fail? Simple: people treat dogs like children, and they do not know how to correct a dog in real time when it is either on-leash or off.

And it's not simply a problem of an owner not having magic skills and an endless amount of time.

Rudd Weatherwax, the trainer of Lassie, could never could get the original Lassie (Pal) to stop chasing motorcycles and so his owner abandoned him to Weatherwax rather than pay for all those Weatherwax lessons that got the dog to stop barking. Yes, Lassie was abandoned because his famous dog trainer failed him!

Today almost anyone could stop both of Lassie's problem behaviors in short order with a bark collar and an e-collar, and with levels of stimulation so low you would not even be able to feel the "correction" on your own skin.

If we can do that, why would we not do that?

Steve Jobs said that "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them."


You give people tools because most people are good and smart and will use them properly. The dim and the evil? They will do their business with rock or rope, water bucket and shovel, as they have since the beginning of time.

Removing tools does not stop the bad; it prevents the good and embraces the status-quo.

And in the world of dogs, the status-quo is a million dogs a year being killed or abandoned because their owners could not get them to stop barking or stop chasing motorcycles.