Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Russell Terrier: Another Pretender Breed

Show dogs are about boxes and theories, not den holes and reality.

On June 27th, 2012, the AKC added the "Russell Terrier" to their list of breeds fit for a rosette.

What's a Russell Terrier?  

Like the "Parson Russell" Terrier invented before it, this dog is a show ring creation cocked up by fantasists who hope to sell puppies to romantics and those eager to get in on "the ground floor" of a "new breed that is actually very old."

Right.  (cough :: cough )

The Wikipedia page on this breed tells you something else, of course.  Here we find this bit of clap trap:

[The Russell Terrier] is a working breed not a companion breed. They are bred by dedicated Fanciers to preserve their working functional conformation and the instinct to employ their original purpose as earth terriers.

This is bunko advertising typed up by a dog dealer hoping to sell to a pretender, neither one of which will ever own a locator collar or dig a hole five feet to a dog facing formidable quarry underground.

Dedicated fanciers? What gibberish. 

People who hunt their dogs are not "fanciers," they are hunters. They are killers. They are men and women who go into the field with worn boots, forged shovels, and steel digging bars, and who consider it a good day if their dog comes out alive and there are no vet bills to pay.

What does "working functional conformation" even mean?  The only "conformation" requirement of a working terrier is that it have a chest small enough to get to ground, and on that score the only meaningful judge has four legs and teeth, not two legs and a Facebook account!

So what is a "Russell Terrier"?

Simply said, it's just another dog for the pet trade. It's one more tall tale from Kennel Club rosette chasers.

I have written the true history of the Jack Russell Terrier on numerous occasions in books, blogs, web pages, and magazine articles. A short version was told in Dogs Today last year.

The thumbnail version is that after the Kennel Club ruined the Fox Terrier by pulling it into the show ring and making it too big in the chest to actually fit down a hole, and with too soft a coat to actually thrive in winter, that dog fell out of favor in the field.

Kennel Club Fox Terriers as digging dogs? Mostly fantasy for more than 100 years.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the Jack Russell Terrier -- the non pedigree Fox Terrier -- soared.

In response, the Kennel Club decided to pull the working Fox Terrier, now called the Jack Russell Terrier, into the show ring for another try. There was only one small problem: the Jack Russell is a working dog and because the standard is the work, there's a huge variety in the size of the dog depending on what is being hunted and where. A working Jack Russell Terrier may stand anywhere from 10" to 15" tall.

What to do?

Kennel Club theorists have never let actual experience with working dogs get in the way of crafting "standards" or writing up just-invented histories. And why should they? After all, the folks in the Kennel Club are not actually interested in working dogs. Their interest is in ribbon-chasing and puppy peddling to people who want pets.

For these arm chair sages, the solution about what to do with an overly-broad working standard is as simple as a razor: cut the dog into two breeds and cut work and health out of the equation entirely.

A standard that required honest work below ground would make for too small a class at shows.

Simple tests to make sure the dog had a good nose and a solid voice would take too much time at ring side, and might reduce interest in the dog as well.

Remember, the Kennel Club sages tell each other, the goal here is to promote the breed and in order to do that we need to make it easy to participate.

Dog shows, after all, are a "sport" that caters to 60-year olds with bad knees and a little too much weight on the trunk. Asking these folks to dig three feet to a baying dog is a bit much, don't you think? Instead, how about if we simply judge the dog by walking it around the ring once on a string leash? And how about if we make allowances for the incompetent and infirm as well, and allow dog owners to pay someone else to walk their dog around the ring? I mean we do want to be inclusive, don't we? Not everyone has the time or the strength to attend a dog show and walk once or twice around a ring. Some people only have money, the poor things!

And thus was born the "Parson Russell" terrier, a dog created whole-cloth by the Kennel Club based on the putative "standard" of a man who hunted badger with his terriers -- a creature John Russell never hunted at all.

And the end result?

About what you would expect -- a dog sliding into the tar pits along the same route taken by the Fox Terrier 100 years earlier, with chests quickly becoming too big to work fox in natural earths, and with coats too soft to stand up in winter.

And what about the smaller dog?

This is the "Russell Terrier" -- the dog now on the cusp of making its formal debut on the Big Stage in the AKC.

The history here is a joke, of course. Believe it or not, the AKC ascribes the origin of this dog to Australia -- a country the Reverend Russell never so much as visited!

And are any of these "Russell Terrriers" actually worked to ground? Nope, not that I am aware of. And why would they be? You do not need Kennel Club registration to work a dog -- you need a locator collar and a shovel and a little knowledge about wildlife. Not much of that in the world of show dogs!

Now could a "Russell Terrier" work? Oh sure.

Provided a dog has a small enough chest and a little piss and vinegar coursing through its blood, any dog can probably be made to work underground if given experience and opportunity.

But working underground is not really the purpose of the "Russell Terrier," is it?

This is a dog designed for the pet trade and for show ring pretenders, not honest diggers.

Why not be honest about that and leave the Reverend John Russell out of the story, and the name of the breed too?

Oh right -- I forgot. Dog sales are all about story. You need romance. You need fantasy. You need nonsense and lies to drive sales.

Without those, pet buyers might as well be getting their dogs from the pound. Where's the cash in that?

Welcome to Missouri

Yes, they gave these people guns.

Feel better now?

This video was recently filmed at a pro-gun rally held at the Missouri State Capitol.  This is the Tea Party, folks.  Nuttier than squirrel shit, paranoid, delusional, and simply making stuff up left, right and center.   Wall-pounding, howling at the moon crazy.

Obama Gets It Wrong on Immigration

Obama gets it absolutely WRONG.

IF you were born in America, you are a native, and that is as true for the residents of New York's Chinatown as it is for the residents of the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

If you were born here, you did NOT "come from somewhere else."

This land is your land.

NO, we do NOT have to roll over on immigration because our mothers, grandfathers, or great-great grandmothers, came from Africa or Ireland or Korea or Mexico, whether that happened 20 years ago or 300 years ago.

Everyone not living in the Olduvai Gorge is the product of some distant migration.

So what?

What does that have to do with current problems of a too-crowded country, massive unemployment and increasing automation, a mounting debt, and increasing demand on social services?

America has a right to determine who comes, how many come, and how we enforce our immigration laws.

As I have noted in the past, I have yet to see Korean Americans pushing for more Africans, or the Congressional Black Caucus pushing for special dispensation for Cubans, or the Irish asking for more admissions from Mexico.

When it comes to immigration, it seems all the advocacy groups from the KKK to the Mexican American Legal and Education Fund have the same answer: More people that look like me.

Of course, employers want massive numbers of immigrant workers.

This country was built on unfree foreign labor, from indentured servants on the wharfs to slaves in the field, from Chinese workers on the railroads to Mexican workers at the car wash.

The argument "these are jobs Americans won't do" is simply a variant of "no free white man will pick cotton." Give me a break!

Given a decent wage and decent working conditions, Americans will mine coal on their side, lay hot tar roads in the desert, clean cesspools, and pluck chickens.

But if those workers are to get decent wages and decent working conditions, then their bargaining position cannot be undercut by an endless tide of foreign workers willing to live 15 to a garage, and work for little more than bucket of chicken heads.

Jobs, wages and working conditions are important.

So too are crowded schools, crowded housing, packed roads, and rising social service costs.

The issue that concerns me most, however is population growth.

When I first started working on U.S. population policy in 1980, culling through thousands of pages of testimony delivered to the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, the population of the U.S. was just 226 million.

In 2003, when I was Director of the Population & Habitat Program at the National Audubon Society, I wrote a short note about the fact that the U.S. had added 33 million people to its population between 1990 and 2000. I noted at that time that:

  • 33 million more people in the U.S. requires over 12 million housing units, assuming current U.S. average household size.

  • 33 million more people in the U.S. means 15.8 million more passenger cars on America's roads, assuming average per capita car use. 

  • 33 million more people in the U.S. can be expected to consume about 825 million barrels of oil a year (25 barrels per person per year). To put it another way, 33 million Americans will consume all of the economically recoverable oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in less than four years time.

  • 33 million more people in the U.S. can be expected to consume 2.26 billion cubic feet of roundwood per year (80 cubic feet per person) assuming average U.S. consumption patterns. Assuming 35 cubic feet of roundwood grown per acre of forest per year, over 75 million acres of forest will be needed to supply 33 million people with their paper and wood needs. Seventy five million acres is an area considerably larger than the total area to be protected under the roadless forest conservation rule promulgated under the Clinton Administration (58.5 million acres).

  • Of course, we are not talking about 33 million people anymore, are we?

    In the last 23 years, the population of the U.S. has increased by 66 million, from 248 million in 1990 to over 314 million today.

    Almost all of this population growth is due to immigrants, or the children of immigrants, that arrived in the U.S. after 1980.

    We can't grow on like this.

    America cannot take all of the world's displeased and dispossessed, and we might as well stop trying.

    We no longer live in an era of schooner and candles. If folks have family member overseas, those family members are only a phone call away -- and the call is free with Skype!

    It's only a few hours across any ocean for a visit.

    Email is free and nearly instantaneous, and it's a fact that even people living in the street in India now have access to cell phones.

    The simple, but harsh, truth is that if anyone feels "divided " from their family, then they can simply go back home.

    As for illegal aliens without work authorization, I am sorry but you knew the situation you were getting yourself into when you came over. Sorry, but millions of people have been waiting patiently to legally immigrate to the U.S., some for years and years. Why should you be rewarded for cutting in line and thumbing your nose at the law?

    So who is pushing for this "big wink" illegal alien amnesty and the massive chain migration that will flow from it?

    On the left, it's folks looking for a CHEAP CAUSE.

    On the right, it's folks looking for CHEAP LABOR.

    On both sides, it's naked pandering for very small blocks of voters capable of perhaps tipping a few local and regional and national elections.

    But at what cost?

    At the cost of jobs, money, massive amounts of more immigration, and, of course, at the cost of millions and millions of acres of land since forest will have to fall to field, and field will have to fall to freeway to accommodate the masses to come.

    When you add 20 million, 40 million, 60 million, 100 million more people to this country, something has to give, and that is always Mother Nature.

    So Obama gets it absolutely wrong.

    You are not a foreigner in your own country. This land is your land. This land was made for you and me, and there is no shame in standing for a smaller (and still very diverse) America. ..

    Weekend reading

    It's been a big week. Shane and Sarndra arrived here last night on a surprise visit. and soon I'll hear the pitter patter of little feet again when Alex wakes up. The weekend will be busy for me with family and work I need to get through before Monday. I hope you have time to relax and enjoy life.  See you next week.

    Information about a disaster recovery payment for Queenslanders affected by

    The Sad Arc of Human Existence

    Since man first crawled out of the caves at Olduvai, it seems the sum total of our race to conquer has been to deliver us three things: a bigger pile of cheese fries, more porn, and new ways to fight.


    Just a Little Bit Harsh

    This cartoon reminds me of the time a rather pretty but ever so slightly brain-dead girl at the DMV asked me if the person I had been talking to was my brother.   I said yes.  "He's really good looking," she said.  Then she looked down at my driver's licence (I was 16) and said, "You two don't look alike at all."   FML.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2013

    Feral Cat Lovers Learn Science Isn't for Sissies

    Over at the Scientific American Culturing Science blog, they boldy look at the numbers:

    Every few months, the fact that domestic cats are ruthless killers hits the news. This past summer it was the Kitty Cam, memorably explained by webcomic The Oatmeal, which saw nearly one-third of cats kill 2 animals each week on average. In 2011 a study found that domestic cats were responsible for nearly half of predation on baby gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), a shy bird common in the mid-Atlantic and named for its cat-like call. And this morning, Nature Communications published a large analysis estimating how many animals are killed by cats annually in the US: 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals each year.

    Let me repeat: every year BILLIONS of birds and mammals are killed by free-ranging domestic house cats, Felis catus. And millions of reptiles and amphibians on top of that.

    This is not a cue for you to pat Fluffy on the head and congratulate her for being such a “natural little killer.” These data are no joke. Domestic cats are on the IUCN’s list of the top 100 World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species for their ability to decimate prey populations. Those razor-sharp claws strike the hardest on islands, where animal populations are relatively confined. A 2011 review found that, on islands, cats are the primary cause for at least 14% of bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions and the principal threat to almost 8% of critically endangered animals (2).

    The new data drive home the point that, even on large continents, cats can do serious damage. Easily more damage than collisions with buildings or wind turbines do to birds. And, the authors hope, it’s a fact that wildlife management groups will not be able to ignore.

    Feral cat populations are out of control–but what can be done about it?

    Now we come to the bold part:

    The problem is that trap-neuter-release programs don’t work. Cat fertility is so high–a single female can have 3 litters of 4-6 kittens each year–that a just a small percentage of the population needs to be reproductive to make up for the natural death rate. (Even if most of the kittens born end up dying before reproducing.) Additionally, trap-neuter-release isn’t even cost-effective compared to euthanasia, even if all the cat feeding, capturing and neutering is performed by volunteers.

    And, meanwhile, all those neutered cats are still doing what they do best: catching and eating small animals.

    So the obvious answer then is that, if we value biodiversity and wildlife and can manage to overcome our predilection for cute cat faces over cute bird faces, cat populations should be controlled through humane killing, just like many other invasive species.

    Right.  But....

    But the funny thing is that no one suggests that. In compulsively researching this blog post, I read many papers showing that trap-neuter-release doesn’t work, or studies showing that, in computer models, euthanasia reduces cat populations more effectively than trap-neuter-release. But then in their concluding paragraphs, after providing evidence that current methods aren’t working, the action steps proposed by the authors are: (1) all pets should be neutered and (2) owners should be be better educated so they don’t abandon their cats.


    Look, I’m as sentimental as the next person. (I cried for the entirety of Les Miserables.) I love my cat and she gives my life meaning. But I also can admit that the science is staring us in the face. We can’t bear to talk about euthanizing cats because they are so friggin’ cute–but, if we’re honest with ourselves, the best solution to this problem is to kill cats. Kill them, with their cute little faces, their soft fur and their snuggles. Some of the cats need to be dead.

    Yep, this is Scientific American
     Read the whole thing.  I quote so much here only as an antidote to the fact that people are lazy.


    Homemakers and disaster survival

    I think homemakers could play a vital part in helping people survive a disaster. When disaster strikes, homemakers, mothers, fathers and carers come to the fore. We are not among those running to the supermarket to stock up when the conditions are dangerous and cash registers and ATMs are not working. We rely on our stockpiles or our well-stocked pantries instead. We've already cleared the toys

    The Cat in the Hedge vs the Hound in the Field

    A Hundred Year War: Cats as Enemy, Circa 1914
    David MacDonald is the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, and Oxford’s first Professor of Wildlife Conservation.
    In his book, Running With the Fox, MacDonald notes that no human action has been as beneficial to the red fox as the mounted hunt. The reason for this is simple: fox hunting has bestowed on fox an economic and cultural value, and mounted hunts are so terribly inefficient that they do not do much to suppress fox populations. Not only did the mounted hunts import red fox to North America and Australia -- where they have thrived in spectacular numbers -- but they also led the charge to ban efficient traps and poisons in the U.K. Indeed, the highly pejorative term "vulpicide" specifically means the killing of fox by means other than with hounds and terriers. As mounted hunts gained in popularity, fox coverts were planted and maintained on U.K. farms and estates, artificial breeding earths were constructed, and fox were live-trapped and moved into areas where they had been depleted. The result is that across the U.K. -- and across the world -- there are now far more red fox running about than there were just 150 years ago.
    MacDonald is not fundamentally opposed to fox hunting. In fact, he note there is very little moral distinction between fox hunting and eating fish or owning a cat. He notes that "people's gastronomic enjoyment outweighs their concern for the consequences of harvesting billions of fish annually, as their enjoyment of their cat's companionship outweighs regret at the deaths of millions of hedgerow birds annually."
    So is the hound in the field worse that the cat in the hedge? Not according to the word's preeminent fox biologist.
    In fact, the hound in the field has done quite a bit of good for fox and dogs (the distemper vaccine was created by fox hunters).
    The feral cat? Maybe not so much, except for the coyote that enjoy dining out on them.
    To order Running with the Fox, see Amazon or ABE.

    Feral Cats: TNR or JKT?

    The folks who cringe at killing anything, whether for meat, population management, sport, or vermin eradication, are very big on something called "TNR" for feral cats.

    The acronym is supposed to stand for "Trap, Neuter,and Release," but it more properly stands for "Trap, Neuter,and Re-abandon."

    Now a new study published today in Nature Communications notes that:

    [F]ree-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. Un-owned cats, as opposed to owned pets, cause the majority of this mortality. Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals.  

    Cats are killing billions and billions and billions of birds and small mammals in the U.S. every year. 

    Cats "are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals."

    And so we get back to it.  

    Why is it OK to give a "big wink" to billions of murdered Mourning Doves, decapitated Chipmunks, and ravaged baby rabbits, but not OK to simply trap and humanely dispatch feral cats?

    Feral cat apologists like Nathan Winograd argue that feral cats do no more predation of small wildlife than red fox or raccoons, ignoring the fact that red fox and raccoon are game animals, and that hundreds of thousands are trapped, shot, and skinned every year. 

    If cats are to be thought of as being exactly like red fox and raccoons for ecological purposes, why can't we treat them the same for sport and vermin control purposes, which is to say trap and shoot them in season and/or at will? 

    How many Mourning Dove lives is a feral cat worth? 

    Two? Ten? Twenty? Two hundred? Two thousand?

    To be clear, I am not advocating gratuitous cat killing. 

    What I am asking is a simple question:  Why is one feral, non-native, and invasive species given a complete pass when it is "likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals"?

    Do murdering foreign feral cats deserve more protection than peaceful native birds, rabbits, and small mammals? 

    Don't our native species deserve protection from the foreign four-legged killing machines we have wantonly abandoned among them? 

    Or, as Charles Dickens, Jeremy Bentham, and Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame might put it, Don't the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one?

    Is it time to rethink TNR for feral cats?

    Is it time to consider JKT ("Just Kill Them") instead?  

    Good people can disagree, of course.

    But if we're forming a jury, let's make sure Mourning Doves are on the panel.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2013

    I'm back! We're all safe and settling in

    We finally got our phone and internet back this morning. What an incredible couple of days. Kerry, Sunny and Jamie arrived, not mid-afternoon as they expected, but at 9pm. I was starting to get worried. The roast chicken and vegies I had cooked for them was transferred to the fridge early in the evening and I sat in the lounge room knitting, listening to the wind and rain. They couldn't call me

    Mass Hysteria Over Mass Extinction?

    Over at Science magazine, Mark J. Costello, Robert M. May, and Nigel E. Stork have put out a paper entitled Can We Name Earth's Species Before They Go Extinct?

    Actually, what the paper is really about is pretty simple:  most of the "math," and numbers tossed around when it comes to extinction rates are pure and unadulterated malarkey, and that is as true for butterflies as it is for taxonomists.

    As the abstract to the paper notes:
    Some people despair that most species will go extinct before they are discovered. However, such worries result from overestimates of how many species may exist, beliefs that the expertise to describe species is decreasing, and alarmist estimates of extinction rates. We argue that the number of species on Earth today is 5 ± 3 million, of which 1.5 million are named. New databases show that there are more taxonomists describing species than ever before, and their number is increasing faster than the rate of species description. Conservation efforts and species survival in secondary habitats are at least delaying extinctions. Extinction rates are, however, poorly quantified, ranging from 0.01 to 1% (at most 5%) per decade. We propose practical actions to improve taxonomic productivity and associated understanding and conservation of biodiversity.

    In short, we know more about animal and plant species that ever before and -- and here's the important part -- extinction rates are far slower than most folks would have you believe.

    To review, where do these nonsense rates of extinction come from? 

    Most are derived from the work of a handful of ecologists who looked at single-site samples in rain forests and on islands, and then extrapolated from there to the world

    Most honest academics will privately admit that the numbers tossed about by people like E.O. Wilson and Norman Myers are complete nonsense, but they will then chime in that the nonsense numbers are still "useful" (even if entirely wrong) in order to generate panic, concern, and political action. 

    In short, it's O.K. to lie if you think the lie is useful. 

    Pardon me if I do not salute this way of doing business.

    Here's the simple truth:  The observed rate of extinction is likely to be pretty close to the REAL rate of extinction because big, fierce animals are rare, and the smaller the animal, the more likely it is to propagate quickly and/or appear extinct when naturally rare but still very much alive. 

    A review of the 16,000 papers published annually announcing new species finds that most are talking about new species of arthropods, a group that dominates global biodiversity and includes crustaceans and insects.  Mollusk discoveries come in second.

    Both groups are surprisingly resistant to extermination and quite fecund, even if little studied due to their small size and (for the vast majority of the them) their lack of economic or charismatic value.

    As Nigel Stork told the Environmental News Service and Science Daily:

    "Surprisingly, few species have gone extinct, to our knowledge. Of course, there will have been some species which have disappeared without being recorded, but not many we think."


    In fact, as I noted in a post written in 2005 and entitled Thinking About Species Loss, the IUCN Red List details fewer than 850 animal species and vascular plants that have gone extinct in the last 500 years, and most of these species have been animals or plants living on very small islands decimated by introduced infestations of rats, pigs and goats.

    Oh sure, people will cite astronomical theoretical numbers for species loss, but ask any of them to produce a list, and it will contain less than 850 observed plant and animal species pushed into extinction in the last 500 years.

    Never mind observable reality, the species extinction hysterics will tell you -- look at my complicated mathematical model based on insecticide-fogging of two trees in Madagascar!

    Pardon me if I find such arguments a little less than impressive.

    And yet, these kinds of nonsense numbers are carried forward because they serve both global political  objectives (changing human behavior) and personal economic agendas (getting more grant money).

    Now, I agree with the broad thrust of the political objective. I used to be Director of the Population and Habitat program at the National Audubon Society. That said, I do not think any serious debate about the environment is well-served by bad science, and that is as true for my side of the population-environment debate as it is for Sarah Palin's.

    Mark J. Costello, one of the authors of the recent Science report, was a bit amazed at how thinly supported most extinction rate claims are.  He notes,
    “We were quite surprised to find that the extinction numbers being thrown around also vary widely, even more so than the number of species people think are on earth."

    Right.  Wide variances.  Very, very wide variances.

    Here's the essential question:  Do you base your extinction rate on observation of the entire world for 500 years, or do you base it on a mathematical extrapolation of the entire world based on a two acre sample of life collected from a single Caribbean mangrove swamp island on a single day?  

    Take a guess as to what the common-sense answer there is!

    Now consider this. 

    When people cite fantastic numbers for the number of species in the world, they almost always leave off three very important bits of information:

    1. The vast percentage of animal species are insects.
      In fact, almost all of the claimed (but unseen and uncatalogued) species on earth are supposed to be insects..
    2. Most of the species going extinct have to be insects.
      If species are going extinct at the rapid rates claimed, then most of the species going extinct will have to be insects, and a significant number will have to be species we have already seen and catalogued.
    3. There are no documented mass extinctions of insects.The thousands of insect species that should be going extinct every year simply cannot be found. In fact, they cannot even be found among butterflies and moths, whose populations are extremely well documented due to their high visibility and extreme collectability.  It should be noted that even when we intentionally attack the hell out of certain species of insects (such as mosquitoes, corn borers, gypsy moths, cotton weevils, wood-boring beetles, termites, fleas, and bedbugs) we cannot seem to permanently extirpate them locally or regionally, much less globally.

    Does this post mean I am suggesting in any way that we should not protect animal and plant species and their habitat? 

    Hell no!   No, no, no, no.

    I consider slowing human population growth and protecting habitat the two most important issues on earth, and have devoted years of my own life to both causes.

    But do I think making up numbers, and otherwise engaging in bad science, is the way forward? 

    No.  This is not the right way forward now, or ever.

    So, full applause for this new report in Science, and full applause to the other reports that have preceded it in Nature and other publications. 

    It's high time the world of science put correct denominators and correct numerators on species extinction. 

    The reality of human population growth, habitat loss, and species loss is serious enough without padding out the data or contriving a larger crisis than we already have.


    Monday, January 28, 2013

    We're safe !

    Hello everyone

    I'm At Kerry and Sunny's tapping this out on an iPhone because we've lost all phone and Internet access at our place. This is the second day it's been off. We've still got power but with Telstra and bigpond down here there is no way to do the blog till it's back up.

    Kerry, Sunny and Jamie are here I'm at their home now. They are all fine.  Shane, Sarndra and Alex missed most of

    Killing Owls in a Flight of Ignorance and Stupidity

    The latest genius idea to come out of normally sane Canada is that it's a good idea to shoot REAL LIVE OWLS in order protect an invented subspecies of another owl which freely cross-breeds with the type of owl that the Canadians have decided to shoot.

    The owl the Canadians have decided to shoot is the Barred Owl (Strix varia), which freely cross-breeds with the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), which is simply an invented subspecies that freely interbreeds with regular Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis), which can be found all over western North America and into Mexico.

    But the geniuses in British Columbia say screw Mother Nature.

    What does SHE know?

    And never mind if shooting owls will change nothing, as the area in question is too large to actually patrol and cull, and owls are simply too hard to spot.

    All that will come out of all of this is a lot of dead Barred Owls.  Yippee!

    Another victory for Stupid on a Stick.



    I feel bad about doing this.
    I do not wish to add poundage to anyone,
    but so many of you asked...
    and I could not reply via email
    (will be repaired soon WoOt)

    so Tada!
    Cookie Butter
    "A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent
    of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits"
    a la Trader Joes

    it's grainy and sweet but not too sweet
    celery, apples, ice cream, pretzels

    now here is the disclaimer..
    several pals have tried with 
    mixed opinions...
    for me?
    Hand me the engraved vintage spoon...

    in bold and italics

    for all the loving comments and emails last week.
    Since I was unable to reply to most of you
    please accept this group hug
    from me to all of you.

    I tried nearly all of your suggested remedies
    and something worked, 
    or I simply survived the required 7 days.
    Nighttime cold syrup chugged
    straight from the bottle.
    Now THERE is a remedy. wink

    One Hundred Years of Border Terriers

    This is a repost from 2008, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the first Border Terrier registered by the Kennel Club in 1913.

    Pictures from Walter Gardner's book About the Border Terrier

    The two pictures, above, show what Border Terriers looked like around 1916-1920. I think if these dogs were in the field today most people would not call them Border Terriers -- they would be presented as Fell Terriers.

    Though some claim an ancient history for the Border Terrier, no breed of terrier is very old and the Border Terrier is no exception, first appearing around 1860, and being so undifferentiated from other rough-coated terriers that they were not admitted to the UK Kennel Club until 1920 -- after first being rejected in 1914.

    The true history of the Border Terrier is exceedingly short and simple despite all the efforts to muddy the water with talk of Walter Scott, Bedlingtons, gypsies, and dark dogs seen in the muddy corners of obscure oil paintings. Such stuff is pure bunk.

    The Border Terrier was a kennel type of rough-coated terrier of the Fell type bred by the Robson family. John Robson founded the Border Hunt in Northumberland in 1857 along with John Dodd of Catcleugh who hunted his hounds near the Carter Fell. It was the grandson's of these two gentlemen -- Jacob Robson and John Dodd -- who tried to get the Border Hunt's little terrier-type popularized by the Kennel Club.

    The first Kennel Club Border Terrier ever registered was "The Moss Trooper," a dog sired by Jacob Robson's Chip in 1912 and registered in the Kennel Club's "Any Other Variety" listing in 1913. The Border Terrier was rejected for formal Kennel Club recognition in 1914, but won its slot in 1920, with the first standard being written by Jacob Robson and John Dodd. Jasper Dodd was made first President of the Club.

    For a terrier "bred to follow the horses" the Border Terrier does not appear to have been overly-popular among the mounted hunts. The Border Terrier Club of Great Britain lists only 190 working certificates for all borders from 1920 to 2004 -- a period of 84 years. Considering that there were over 250 mounted hunts operating in the UK during most of this period (there are about 185 mounted hunts today), this is an astoundingly small number of certificates for a period that can be thought of as being over 15,000 hunt-years long. Even if one concedes that borders were worked outside of the mounted hunts, and not all borders got certificates that were recorded by the Border Terrier Club of Great Britain, the base number is so slow that adding a generous multiplier does not change the broad thrust of the conclusion, which is that Border Terriers never really had a "hay day" for work.

    The relative lack of popularity of the Border Terrier as a working terrier is borne out by a careful review of Jocelyn Lucas' book Hunt and Working Terriers (1931). In Appendix I Lucas provides a table listing 119 UK hunts operating in the 1929-1930 season, along with the types of earths found (sandy, rocky, etc.) and the type of terrier used.

    Only 16 hunts said they used Borders or Border crosses, while about 80 hunts said they preferred Jack Russells, white terriers or some type of fox terrier. Lakelands and Sealyhams, or crosses thereof, were mentioned by some, with quite a few noting "no preference"(hunts are double-counted if they mention two kinds of terriers or crosses of two types).

    The Border Terrier does not appear to be faring any better today, with even fewer workers found in the field than in Lucas' times. In fact, there is not a single Border Terrier breed book that shows a border terrier with its fox -- an astounding thing considering the age of the breed and the ubiquitous nature of the camera from the 1890s forward.

    A STAGED PHOTO: William Carruthers poses in a photographers studio with a stuffed otter. The dogs shown are "Allen Piper", "Jean" and "Tally Ho," and the picture was taken sometime after 1923

    There is some disagreement as to why the border terrier is not more popular in the working terrier community. Some mention the fact that the dogs are often slow to mature. Others note that the dogs are very expensive, while others note that borders are getting too big. Still others note that the dog is now so rarely worked that it is nearly impossible to get a pup out of two real workers.

    To say that the border is not popular in the field does not mean that it has fallen out of favor in the show ring or in the pet trade, however! Border terriers are among the top 10 breeds in the UK Kennel Club, and nearly 1,000 border terriers were registered with the American Kennel Club last year -- up about 100 dogs from the previous year.

    * * *

    Two final notes:
      It's worth mentioning that John Dodd of Catcleugh is a name that shows up in the border sheep records of the 1850s, a fact I noted in 2011 in a post entitled Who Put the Border in Border Collie?   I believe I am the first person to go back to the original records to find that the two men who more-or-less made the modern Border Terrier and the modern Border Collie were both frequenting the same sheep shows and auctions in 1850!

    Another historical stone I believe I was the first to lift was to show that the roots of the Patterdale Terrier can be traced back to the "blue" (aka black) Border Terriers bred by Joe Bowman.  Bowman called his black Border Terrier variant a "Patterdale" after his place of birth, and also to give a tip of the hat to the fact that the Ullswater Foxhounds which he became master of in 1879 at the age of 22, and been formed in 1873 by combining the Patterdale and Matterdale hunts. 

    Today, non-registered Patterdale Terriers, along with non-registered Jack Russells, are the preeminent working terriers in the world.

    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    Weather stops the move

    It was a typical day here yesterday although the summer sun was shaded by thick clouds and heavy rain. I love days like that, knowing that the rain will pour down, making me feel cosy and safe. I rose at 4am and checked the blog.  Nothing much to be done there so I had a chance to look in my Reader and go visit a few of my favourite bloggers. Emails were waiting too I answered about 10 of them

    Saturday, January 26, 2013

    Sleeping Babies

    I have been either watching tv or stalking blogs
     and tumbler for six phlegm filled days now.
    Many blogs have gorgeous images of babies sleeping.
    Posie gets Cozy is a favorite.
    Then I remembered that over Christmas I 
    had captured my babies sleeping.
    Is there anything more warming to
    a Mama's heart?

    My 324 and 264 month old babies.

    Home, safe and asleep.
    Switching from teas
    to coffee...
    The worst is over,
    fingers crossed...

    Honest Kitchen?

    As always, I do not care what people feed their dogs. 

    To tell the truth, most dogs do fine on nearly anything that is fed to them, from frozen raw meat to generic dog food bought at WalMart, and from low-salt table scraps to home cooked meals assembled from organic exotic foods bought at the local farmer's market.

    The simple truth is that most dogs do not suffer from poor nutrition -- they suffer from being over fed. 

    With that caveat, whenever people sell or buy anything, I always give points for simple transparency, and I take away points for self-delusion.

    There's not much transparency in dog food sales, and there's a lot of self-delusion when it comes to dog food purchases.

    In the past I have talked about a lot of brands, from Purina (what I feed my own dogs), to Natural Balance, Canine Caviar, Wysong, Blue Buffalo, Redpaw, Dick Van Patten's dog food, Humane Choice as well as occasional mentions of companies like Canidae, Apex, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul, Country Value, Wellness, Premium Edge, Professional, 4Health, Solid Gold, Taste of the Wild, and Kirkland (Costco), all of which hired, at one time or another, Diamond Dog Food to "co-manufacturer" their brand.  

    As I have noted, "Co-manufacture" is nothing more than fancy-talk for "we pay a company in another state to make the food, while we tell grand stories about it in the ads and on the label."

    So what's new in the world of dog food, other than scientists telling us that dogs were made to eat carbohydrates like corn, soy, wheat and potatoes?

    Not much.  Same-o, same-o, in fact. 

    There is still a lot of "co-manufacturing" going on.  I call this "lick and stick" dog food, because that's the real relationship between the contract company that actually makes the food and the company that designs the label and the marketing campaign.

    Lick and stick dog food company owners are not at the factory testing the ingredients or overseeing the manufacturing on a daily basis.  If something goes wrong (and it often does in the world of dog food) they can blame the manufacturer as so many have done before.

    In all fairness, lick and stick is pretty common in the world of dog food because the whole thing is, more-or-less, a sham. 

    No dog food has ever been proven to be better than any other dog food. 

    No recipe or list of ingredients can be copyrighted or patented. 

    What that means is that the business  of dog food mostly comes down to two unimportant things and three important things. 

    The two unimportant things:  the label and the "story" that is used to sell the brand.  These are vital to profit and market penetration, of course, but completely irrelevant to the quality of the food or its manufacturing security.

    The three important things are:  a vertical, well-known and old supply chain of domestic-produced ingredients; direct manufacturing of the product by the named company itself, and; a food that is made of bagged, fire-cured, hard kibble (fire kills most pathogens and hard kibble stores better).

    So how does "Honest Kitchen," the latest bit of trendiness in the world of dog food, fare when we look at it through this common-sense lens? 

    Not great. 

    Which is NOT to say that it's not fine dog food.  The people who buy Honest Kitchen dog food seem happy with it, and that's good enough for me, even if it's not good enough for my dog.

    Let me start with the name -- it's a lie. 

    "Honest Kitchen" is not dog food made by hippies in a kitchen in California, where it is headquartered.  This is dog food made in a giant junk-food factory in Illinois, several time zones away. 

    This is dog food made by people who come straight out of the corporate dog food business and who (probably correctly) believe that dog food is a soft market where real money can be made. 
    I do not fault them for this.  I believe in capitalism, and I would prefer experience over no experience. 

    That said, is "Honest Kitchen" the right name for this dog food? 


    For instance, where, exactly, is the Illinois food factory that makes this dog food?

    "The facility names are confidential due to privacy for the other high-end human foods that are also made there, as well as for homeland security."

    Right. Alarms are clanging. 

    I am sure everything is fine at the factory, but homeland security has never restricted consumer knowledge about where human foods are made (and certainly not for dog food!).  You want to know who makes MREs for the troops?  Here you go.  Just don't ask for the Illinois address where Honest Kitchen makes its dog food!

    So another lie. Why, why, why??

    Another small point:  This is not raw food.  This food is cooked at 104-165 %.  Cooked is cooked.  Yes, this dog food is cooked at a lower-than-normal temperature, but that's not necessarily a good thing, as anyone who has ever wielded a meat thermometer can tell you. 

    Again, everything is probably fine, but if you are a raw-food faddist, then this food is outside that arc.

    Another thing:  this is processed food. This food is chopped, ground and extruded in a factory that normally makes cookies and cakes. The result, as the Honest Kitchen web site notes, is a product that has "a texture resembling muesli or ‘loose mixes’ before hydration, with some colorful pieces of recognizable fruits, veggies, and grains."   

    The average Honest Kitchen dog food mix is loaded with grains, such as oats, barley, rice, rye, and quinoa. The fact these are grains are not corn or soybeans does not make them healthier or better, nor does repeating nonsense claims such as these "grains provide primarily qi, blood and yin to the diet. They are usually more cooling than meats in nature." 


    Qi?  Yin?  Grains provide blood to the diet?? Cooling??? Since when did we begin citing Chinese voodoo nonsense when making dog food?

    This food is loaded with foreign-sourced ingredients. We are told the ingredients are "carefully sourced from around the world," but that none comes from China. 

    Right.  China sucks. Screw the Chinese. 

    But it's OK to eat stuff from Thailand, Egypt, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, India, Iceland, and the Philippines? 


    It's not like "Honest Kitchen" has a clue how any of the stuff they put in their dog food is handled as it moves from dozens of farms in more than half a dozen countries on five continents to a factory-with-no-address located in another state two time zones away. The folks at "Honest Kitchen" take it on faith (and maybe contract), same as all of us do everyday when we go to the grocery store to buy food, or when we eat at a restaurant. They hope it works out all right. But are they actually running a factory or standing at the loading docks anywhere? Nope.

    And how about those "free range" chickens that are used in making Honest Kitchen dog food? 

    It turns out those chickens might be a little less "free range" than most consumers imagine. Honest Kitchen says it uses "chickens from Petaluma Poultry, but when Michael Pollan actually visited Petaluma Poultry (which has a real address, never mind "Homeland Security") he found their "free range" chickens spend most of their lives in crowded sheds and not a single bird was outside either time he visited.  Of Petaluma's "free range" claim, Pollan writes:
    Since the food and water and flock remain inside the shed, and since the little doors remain shut until the birds are at least five weeks old and well settled in their habits, the chickens apparently see no reason to venture out into what must see to them an unfamiliar and terrifying world. Since the birds are slaughtered at seven weeks, free range turns out to be not so much a lifestyle for these chickens as a two week vacation option.

    So strip it all down, and what have you?  

    Simple enough: you have a dog food that is probably as good as any other, but not provably better.   

    You have one more "lick-and-stick" dog food company that is all about its marketing story. 

    You have one more dog food company that has a lot of foreign-sourced ingredients combined at a no-name factory that puts it all together several time zones away from where the company is actually headquartered.

    You have one more dog food company that wants you to marvel at all the exotic ingredients they have wrapped in cool adjectives. The haddock (it's not just fish) is "wild caught" from Iceland, the grain is "quinoa," the chickens are "free-range".  

    When you buy their dog food, it will be made out of  cool stuff like bananas, coconut, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cabbage, celery, papaya, apples, basil, wild whiting (another fish), kelp, cranberries, wild salmon (there seems to be a lot of killing of wild animals here!), and garlic.


    I am pretty sure dogs have been doing fine without bananas, coconut, and quinoa for a few millennia. 

    But because these kind of exotic ingredients appeal to human owners with a lot of money to waste, and a need to feel they are special people with special dogs that must be treated in a special way, these nonsense ingredients are tossed into the mix. 

    What matters here is story, not common sense.

    And isn't that always the way with dogs? 

    Remember how many people will turn up their nose at a Heinz-57 puppy straight from the pound. 

    Give that dog a good wash and a haircut, and proclaim it to be a Baravarian Trufflehund with a nice exotic just-invented history, however, and these same people will often shell out $1,200 a pup!

    Same thing with dog food.  

    Take the right mix of protein, carbohydrates and fats, and slap a well-designed label on it, and an exotic story, and people will show up running. 

    And if it's packaged weird -- freeze-dried, frozen, shipped only in 100-pound lots, or whatever -- so much the better.

    And will the dogs do fine on it?  No doubt.  Of course, the people who buy Bavarian Trufflehunds will also tell you that their special breed has a special personality as well -- and never mind if it's a different personality with every dog!

    And so it goes.

    I could review the two new "Herbal Teas for Pets" that are now being produced by Honest Kitchen, but I am going to trust that you can figure that one out yourself.   

    Herbal tea?  For dogs?  This is from The Onion, right?


    A few details from a walk.  Nice to have a phone camera with me all the time.

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    God Bless America

    Click to enlarge.

    This 3,200-year-old giant sequoia rises 247 feet from the ground and was photographed by Michael "Nick" Nichols who stitched together 126 images in order to get the job done.  The video, below, shows how those 126 pictures were actually taken.

    For more, see the David Quammen article in National Geographic: Link | Photo Gallery

    Science Proves the Obvious

    Science is the business of observation.

    Sure, you have observed that almost every dog in the world is doing GREAT on a diet that includes all kinds of carbohydrates.

    Sure, you have observed that even the bunko dog food companies that sell food that costs a lot more (using nonsense words like "human-grade," "holistic," "natural" and "homeopathic" ) pack their tins and bags with potatoes and peas, quinoa and rice, pumpkin and whatever else that is not the natural diet of a wolf (i.e. dead mice, dead rats, and road-kill deer).

    Surely your eyes have told you that dogs are omnivores, same as humans?


    You need someone in a lab coat to point you to something invisible?


    Next you'll be telling me you are part of a religion cult that requires you to give 10 percent of your income to a man in a black dress who claims he talks to an invisible man in the sky.

    Some people!

    Ah well.  For those people we have "science" in the form of a DNA-looksie:

    Axelsson and his colleagues analyzed the entire genetic codes of 12 wolves from across the globe, as well as the genomes of 60 individual domestic dogs from 14 different breeds. They pooled the domestic pups' results so that the genetic traits of individual breeds wouldn't skew the findings and then compared the pet dogs to the wolves, looking for places where the genomes diverged.

    This game of "spot the differences" led the scientists to focus on 36 different regions. They found that 19 of these regions contained genes crucial for brain functioning, including eight important for the development of the nervous system.

    It was no surprise to see differences in brain genetics, Axelsson said, given that dogs had to modify their behavior to fit into human society. What did surprise the researchers, however, were 10 regions held genes involved with diet, specifically the breakdown of starches. Humans are well-equipped for starchy diets: Human saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which starts breaking down starches as soon as food hits the mouth. Dog drool doesn't have this advantage, but dogs do excrete amylase from their pancreases, allowing for the digestion of starches in the gut.

    The researchers found that dogs have more copies of a gene called AMY2B, crucial for amylase production, than wolves. And in dogs, this gene is 28 times more active in the pancreas than in wolves.

    Dogs also showed changes in specific genes that allow for the breakdown of maltose into glucose, another key starch digestion step, and in genes allowing for the body to make use of this glucose.

    Whoops!   So dogs are not wolves... hence the different vocalizations, the different estrus cycles, the different marking glands, the different ways that these pack animals pee and mate....

    And now SCIENCE tells us dogs are actually MADE to eat carbohydrates. 

    Good to know.

    Of course, we always suspected it, but that was just based on stuff we actually observed.   Now someone we have never met, who wears a lab coat, has affirmed it, so we can believe it. 

    Obama and Scalia Agree!

    From the Heller decision authored by conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

    Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

    From the amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice:

    The court of appeals correctly held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess firearms unrelated to militia operations. By its plain text, the Second Amendment secures a "right," a term that the Constitution consistently uses to refer to indi vidual freedoms rather than state prerogatives. The text also makes clear that the right is not limited to members of a select body (like today's National Guard) but extends to "the people" generally.... Like other provisions of the Constitution that secure individual rights, the Second Amendment's protection of individual rights does not render all laws limiting gun ownership auto matically invalid. To the contrary, the Second Amendment, properly construed, allows for reasonable regula tion of firearms, must be interpreted in light of context and history, and is subject to important exceptions, such as the rule that convicted felons may be denied firearms because those persons have never been understood to be within the Amendment's protections. Nothing in the Second Amendment properly understood-and certainly no principle necessary to decide this case-calls for in validation of the numerous federal laws regulating fire arms.

    From Senator Barack Obama's statement on the Heller decision:

    I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe. Today's ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country. As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.