Friday, December 26, 2014

Help- The Herald Angels "Sing"...

My particular little corner of Purgatory has been enhanced this year; resulting in even less brain function available for positive uses.

Smidgen- now to my horror 9 years old - has become an enthusiastic singer.  This is much my doing, since I have worked for multiple years to teach her "how".  She was not a "natural".  That doesn't bother me; many "non-natural" singers can and do learn, and sing beautifully.

I, unfortunately was a natural.  One of those sometimes despised individuals who learn new long melodies almost instantly; and correctly.  And my sense of pitch, inherited from my mother; was such that our very meticulous high school band director - would have the oboe give the A to tune the band- and use my ear to indicate flat/sharp - for the entire band.  Thank god I never thought that was anything to be snooty about; I'd have been killed quickly.  Just physics and dumb genetic chance.

Smidgen, to my very great joy as a parent, has reached the point where she enjoys her music.  And she loves learning new songs.  She now sings- constantly.  And only semi-conciously; yesterday was "Silent Night".  All day.  Erupting repeatedly in inattentive moments; being suppressed, then re-erupting.  Even the periodic "Look, kid!  Go outside and sing to the dogs and cats for the next half hour, ok?", once performed; does not result in any decrease in the internal pressures driving the eruptions.

Many of you know what comes next; there are multiple aspects of "music" that she has not mastered- or even noticed, yet.  Her internal sense of relative pitch is ok; but what ever key you are singing in, when she joins in she will bring her own key with her.  She'll stay in a key, once found; but her sense of melody is unique, in my experience.  She learns melodies ( like phrases and variations in Silent Night) - not sequentially, but by gestalt.  She knows, truly, the entire gestalt of the entire Silent Night.  When she sings; she reproduces the gestalt accurately - and completely at random.

The outcome for the onlooker is jarring.  It works ok if she's singing the same song (in the same key this time) with 2-3 other people, then you're likely at the end to hear "My, Smidgen; you sing harmony beautifully!  However did you learn?" which will result in a baffled, and growling, Smidgen.

Oh, the sanity!

Happy Everything; Anyway.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ah, the news.

Wanna talk about the news?   You're crazy.  Ick.  Wow.  I don't think I'm imagining it- my impression is that the news, in particular the "Big News" has gotten just astonishingly horrifyingly worse in the past few months.  Not one thing after another; but 10 things, after another, all life-threatening for the planet and/or our species, and/or any remaining shreds of what we used to call "civilization".

So; I want to share this with you; I'd encourage you to go to YouTube, see it full screen, and maybe turn your screen brightness up a bit, as this clip is a little dim (it's supposed to be dusk in the movie, for one thing.)  I've sworn that one day - I'm going to DO this.  On a crowded street.  The time is ripe.

I think- it would be good to start a movement of THOUSANDS of people DOING this - around the world.  The world is revolting yes?  This would fit right in.

And it is by far the most cogent comment on the world and news I know of.  And Steve Martin had it nailed in 1987.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ebola- keep your fingers crossed.

Thank goodness- the worst did not happen in the USA.  Or a lot of other places.

But as this sound and really pretty hopeful article keeps repeating- now is not the time to relax.  Rather it's the time try to get ahead of the virus.

Ebola cases are currently stabilizing in Guinea and Liberia; but accelerating (after a drop) in Sierra Leone.  "The exact causes of the lull are unclear." The perpetual frustration of epidemiologists; pathogens can surge, and recede- without any obvious reasons.  In this case one factor may be burial customs- the people in the epidemic areas have actually changed the practices, because of education on the risks.  People apparently can be taught.  That's hopeful, all on its own.

The long range risks are still there, alas.  With thousands still sick, and thousands of survivors sent home but possibly still infectious via semen or breast milk, the virus still has the largest chance it has ever had to get out of Africa- and into India; China; Europe...

So; fingers crossed.  Yes, we could actually get lucky.  But- I'd rather not rely on luck, when a virus is involved.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Listen to the Silence, too.

As part of our "how to understand the world" theme here; I'll point out that what the media is not saying is very often as significant as what they are.

I've been searching the web since last night; and cannot find any official news about the state of Dr. Craig Spencer, being treated for Ebola at Bellevue Hospital in NYC, that is more recent than 2 days ago.  And only one other blogger who has also noticed.  Not a peep from CNN or anyone else.

That's scaring me a bit.  The entire world seems to be assuming that of course, he'll recover; since he's being treated in the USA, etc, etc.  He did receive a blood transfusion from an Ebola survivor; several days back; and that was about the end of the updates; that he was "tolerating" the transfusion well.

This is a young man who deserves to get well, and to be appreciated for his warm humanity.  If he made any mistakes, it was the grave sin of believing what he was told by his superiors.  "This is safe." they said.

I fear the social consequences too; if he does not recover- dies- the impact on our fear and chaos levels will be very large; and very little of that would be beneficial.

Listen for when the crickets quit.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yes! No! Maybe....Not!

So; who to believe?  About which?

I think I wouldn't worry about it, since between Governors declaring public health emergency quarantines, but not enforcing them, and nurses deciding to ignore Governors, and judges deciding their job is to judge science, not law....  you're not getting any of the choices in here, anyhow.

Crazy, yes?  This is some of the damage caused by fear-panic in plagues.
Current results; the State Troopers in Maine are no longer sure if they should obey the Governor's orders; or wait for court clarification.  Citizens - have no idea who to listen to.

There is a saying in all the armies I can check on; so old it defies attribution; "Order, counter-order, disorder."  Chaos is just around the corner; when people do not know who to follow or who to trust.

The business world has a similar Law: "Even a bad decision is better than no decision."  A little more subtle, but proven true repeatedly.  Make a bad decision?  You may find that out quickly, and change direction.  No decision?  The Universe will decide for you, and you probably won't like it.

So who's in charge here?

Yep, I don't know either.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

School Shootings. (so you can avoid this if you wish.)

Old-timers here know my opinion.  Which has just been clearly demonstrated, again.

This young man, almost certainly, would never have chosen this method of suicide, if it hadn't been pounded into him repeatedly that this is a great way to die.

I will not belabor it; I already have here.  The reason for bringing it up at all is that the present instance is a change; a metastasis of the disease.

This is blindingly obvious to me; and I truthfully am unable to comprehend how it is NOT obvious to everyone.

These events are suicides; every one of them.

A certain type of potential suicide will choose this path- not because it hurts people; but because it makes the shooter an instant world-wide celebrity.  Next week, everyone will still be discussing how your potty-training made you a killer, your face will be everywhere; they'll write books about you, and every time a similar suicide happens, they'll run all your stories again, with photographs.  Immortality, really.  By god, the world will never forget what a shitty deal you got.

We don't publish names and photos of rape victims; and no one suffers because of that horrifying restriction on our "right to know!"  The fact is, the papers love these events now- because they make SO much money off them.  Someone needs to document the money; imagine the headline then: "Numbers reveal CNN makes $130 Million for every school shooting."  They do, you know.

This young man experienced something traumatic last week; probably with his cousins, and it was difficult to live with.  In normal times, he might have hanged himself, alone.  That would be horrible, and should be prevented if possible.

But it would not even have occurred to him to shoot his cousins also- except that at his age, they've been having "shooter lock-down" events at school since he was in kindergarten.  Obviously, this is what's expected.

Never publish the names.  Never publish the photos.  Never discuss their "reasons" (which baffle the authorities always).  If the shooters are "erased"; there will be no shooters.

Can anyone explain why (besides the money) this is not obvious?

Because I literally don't get it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ebola 12. The Mali Border.

I saw this photo first yesterday, on BBC.  It has been haunting me; literally; ever since.  I've been on and off about whether to share it here; it seems to have mostly vanished from the media feeds; I would guess because it is too disturbing; thought provoking, bottom of the pit sad, and frightening.

The file I uploaded is high enough resolution for full screen; get it big enough so you can really see it.

My narrative:  This beautiful woman has dressed up, neat and lovely in her good clothes; for a day in town.  A treat, pretty certainly.  She has put worries aside, for just a little while.

Then she is abruptly confronted.  Required to stand still and be monitored.

To see if she is going to be the next to die.

She knows she needs to stand, for the good of all.  She stands.  She wishes she could run away from the muzzle of the thermometer; which feels like a gun; though she knows perfectly well it isn't.

She can't run; there isn't anywhere to run.  She has already seen death, or knows it is coming closer every day; and there is nothing to do; but stand.  And wait.

I find the panic in our press and among our officials offensive beyond belief.  These people on the Mali border are not panicked.  They're doing all they can to cope; and live, while they can.

With nothing but words from the rest of the world, to help them.  She knows.

I have a lot of contempt boiling inside these days, too.

She haunts me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ebola 11 — New York City, and Mali.

And what can one say?

I hope Dr. Spencer pulls through.  I really hope he was not shedding virus in the NYC subway system Wednesday evening.  Or into the NYC sewer system, with the large resident rat population.

Will rats spread Ebola!?!  Gasp!  We just, plain, totally, absolutely DO NOT KNOW.

I guarantee you will hear a pundit from NYC today scoffing at the idea of rats becoming infected, probably citing the CDC, and, dripping scorn, "Oh, this has just never been known to happen!"  And that's totally true.  "We" haven't seen it.  You need to learn to recognize that language as intentionally misleading, however.  This is what the CDC has to say, buried in the technical bits:

"...these viruses naturally reside in an animal reservoir host or arthropod vector. They are totally dependent on their hosts for replication and overall survival. For the most part, rodents and arthropods are the main reservoirs for viruses causing VHFs. The multimammate rat, cotton rat, deer mouse, house mouse, and other field rodents are examples of reservoir hosts. "

Generally, for the entire class of viral hemorrhagic fevers.  Spencer had diarrhea before he went in to the hospital.  Ebola is known to be able to survive for 1-2 days outside the body.

And what can you do about it?  Not a darned thing.  What can the Mayor of NYC, and the Governor of NY do about it?  Not a thing; we'll just have to wait and see.

Amid all the utter nonsense still being broadcast by the major media; I found the video below yesterday.  I recommend it highly; and I'll say that scientifically, I'm in 100% agreement with this man's views.  But so far, he's the only one from the inside of the Epidemiology world who is pushing these points.  Keep in mind this is a talk to an audience primarily of his peers; highly educated public health workers.  Sometimes he talks very fast, and in jargon; but most of it is quite easily understood.

I admire Dr. Osterholm greatly- he has huge courage; and stamina, to speak out in this fashion.  It will make him no friends, and change few minds, and no one will ever thank him.  And he knows it; and keeps at it.  Someone made the mistake of placing him as Director of The Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.  How a diligent, intelligent, articulate, and fully competent scientist wound up in that seat, I do not know.

I won't try to imbed the video here, that seems to go goofy; so just go right to YouTube.

Incidentally, I am not at all a fan of the person who posted the video; I'd have chosen differently, but this was the only version I could find.

And in Mali.  That story is a complete heartbreaker.  The stories haven't settled yet, but it's clear it was a small child- whose mother/ or father/ or grandmother (I've seen all 3) died of Ebola in Guinea; and relatives took the the child into Mali to place it with a relative who could care for it.  Ebola rode along; on "public transport"; the child has Ebola.

As Osterholm states, repeatedly; we don't know anything about the virus in this outbreak.  And the very most dangerous thing you can do; regarding controlling panic in the population - is lie to them,  Us.  When all the people in NYC do not believe what the "authorities" tell them- then we'll have chaos.

So; gloomy.  One weird cheerful aspect; a pessimist blogger is already on record as betting that now, no more doctors will travel to West Africa to help; because they are not truly protected.

I know a bunch of doctors.  I'm going to bet the opposite.  I will bet you there is a substantial uptick in US doctors volunteering to go.  You have to be crazy to want to be a doctor in the first place, right?  There you go.  Doctors want to be needed; it's a basic motivator.  Nobody needs them more than West Africa.

And hopefully, next time- returning doctors will go to a lovely lodge on an island off Maine; and stay there relaxing for a month.  No, not 21 days.  We utterly do not know that's a real limit; it's just the one we've seen so far.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola 10 - Today's Mystery.

The US seems to have escaped having Ebola get loose in the general population.  A very good thing, and very lucky thing, considering the number of bloopers from the various agencies involved.

Like Sherlock Holmes (and Broadway, presently), we are still presented with a mystery of absence; the "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime."  The dog that did not bark.

How did Duncan's fiancée escape infection?

I'm totally delighted for her that she did, and the 3 other people who shared the apartment; but according to what we think we know about how the virus is transmitted- she should be infected; and apparently, is not.  I would not be surprised if she came down with it yet; somewhere out past the theoretical 21 day limit  Evolving to work more slowly is a good tactic for most pathogens, and is on the route to becoming non-lethal some day.  But at this point in the epidemic, emerging more slowly, with fewer symptoms, is an excellent way to escape control methods; and keep spreading.

But it's looking good at the moment.  Keep your fingers crossed.

The news from Africa is not any better, however.  And a factor to keep in mind; the headlines on Ebola today, there on Page 2, are first; "Nigeria Free Of Ebola!"  - which of course, is simply not true- the virus is pretty certainly still there in its animal hosts; what they mean is, no humans in Nigeria now have active Ebola.  That's good; but not in the least unexpected, since the infection there was always very limited, and rapidly addressed.  Second headline, much smaller font, is the information that cases in the core epidemic are still accelerating, and ability to cope with it there is still totally inadequate.  But, hey- no new cases in Dallas.


Ok, two useful points, I hope; both to do with panic.

Firstly, we just had a wonderful, terrific, demonstration of PANIC!!! in the USA.

Not- among the populace.  Sure, 3 hypochondriacs called 911 reporting they thought they had it; but everybody else in the USA was pretty calm about it all.

The world of "Officialdom", though- was something else.  Officials everywhere were, truly, panicking.  Making announcements, pontifications, taking "actions" to ensure your safety, blithering and blathering nonstop.  And the Press provides them with an echo chamber, to keep the PANIC! reverberating.  Sells papers, you know.

Expect that.  It will continue.  Most officials are terrified that someone will now hold them immediately responsible- for something.  And it scares the bejeepers out of them.  Particularly when some nitwit is shoving a microphone in their face and demanding what they're going to do.

Secondly - if/when you find yourself starting to panic; someday somewhere; literally— stop it.

You can stop it.  As in; find yourself panicking; and regain your self control.  I know you can; because I've done it.

I loved "caving" when I was in college; otherwise known as "spelunking."  Wonderful, top to bottom.  Good companions, good tests of yourself, fascinating biology and geology.  Great.

So, like ya do, I kept pushing myself further and further, attempting harder and harder caves.

Until; one day; I found myself under about 300 feet of solid limestone; about 1,000 feet into a crack so tiny you had to take your helmet off, push it in front of you, and turn your head sidewise; with at least another 1,000 feet yet to go; all of it that tight...

All of a sudden- I did not want to be there.

Really really did not.  Hated it.  Wanted out.  NOW.  And as my anxiety came up; I very, very seriously considered panicking; and making somebody else responsible for getting me the hell out of there.

What stopped me was the forceful realization that in all probability; if I panicked in that tiny impossible crack- no one would ever be ABLE to get me out.  And the realization grew, that panic was a very poor option; with bad probabilities for survival.  Screw the self esteem and public opinion; panic was likely going to kill me.

So, I didn't.  The only way out of here was forward.  So I went.  Then I had to go back through that crawlway again; but now, of course, I knew I could do it.  And of course ego balloons, when you emerge from the cave altogether.  Whoa, cool; when can we do that again?

But I've never forgotten the "almost".  I just about lost it.  Within millimeters.

But I didn't.

So; when you see your mayor and the sheriff panicking- remember.  You don't have to.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola 9. Not yet, probably.

So here we are at Ebola Does Dallas 2.  Although now it turns out it may also be Ebola Does Frontier Airlines, Cleveland, and Akron- and maybe Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

The second nurse from Dallas- was in Akron, Ohio for several days, visiting family... before she went to the Cleveland airport, flew back to Dallas, and was placed in isolation the next day.  And- some sources are reporting she 'had a slight fever' before she got on the airplane.  In other words, she was "symptomatic" in Cleveland.

But hey, Frontier assures us they "cleaned the aircraft thoroughly, according to CDC guidelines" before putting it back into service.  "Flight 1143, on which the woman flew from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth, was the last trip of the day Monday for the Airbus A320. But Tuesday morning the plane was flown back to Cleveland and then to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., back to Cleveland and then to Atlanta and finally back to Cleveland again...:

Then they took it out of service when notified about the ebola on board.  In other words, their cleaning was not for ebola; but just their standard.

Remember my points about wandering about in airports?  Here we are.  This is a huge vulnerability.

This is a deeply systemic weakness; quite apart from our astonishing stupidities.  Whose idea was it to ok travel to Ohio for a nurse who'd just been working closely with ebola???

Would I run from Dallas now?  Not yet.

At the moment, all the cases are associated with the hospital there.  They might be able to contain that, yet.  If we get to the point where there are a couple of new ebola cases a day in Dallas- which are not instantly relatable to the hospital; I think that would do it.  Even the very slow responses of officialdom might, at that point, be willing to roadblock Dallas; and only allow people in and out who have official reasons.  You and your family, don't qualify.

I was delighted to see the NYT actually cite "evolutionary biologists" - who study viruses - on their opinions about ebola.  I was not delighted with the messages transmitted from these scientists however- there are glaring errors - of "belief" not science.  One of the most bizarre, to me, is the repetition of "oh, we've never seen that happen." followed by the statement that therefore, obviously, it never will.

Stunning to me; this kind of thinking is now possibly the prevailing habit in both science and medicine. And I promise you, 40 years ago, that opinion would have been laughed out of any seminar; it's not only asinine; it's been proven wrong repeatedly, definitively.

Our science; our medicine, have been becoming stilted and untested, and un-culled by reality.  The truth of the value of your science it not its reproducibility; its only the repeatability of your grants.  A huge amount of science now being published is NOT reproducible; possibly as little at 10-30%;  a few are starting to worry about that.  One major driving force- try getting a grant to reproduce someone else's work.  Instant shredder.

It may be too late to worry; our world depends our out technical knowledge- and it's been compromised.


This is from an old post here; but is precisely illustrative of the current state of our scientists; and their supposed "oversight". This guy is staggeringly out to lunch.

Used to be only ninnys didn't think problems all the way through- but it seems to be a pathway now being taught to PhDs.

The next example, which pushed me over the edge, is from BBC Science.

This professor guy (and not a minor one, but "the director of the scientific aquaculture programme at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts") is spending huge amount of money working on training aquaculture fish to come back when called, in the ocean; by a specific sound.

Then, see, they could go find some of their own food, and wouldn't always be pooping in the same toilet, but would come back when you wanted to feed- or kill them.

First try didn't work. Predators ate them, as soon as they were allowed to escape from the cage. I'll be darned.

Besides which- gosh, if you've got your fish trained to come and be fed, and the signal is a sound... exactly how long do you think it will take the predators to learn that the sound means- time to come and get fed? Right here?

I think any signal, in any medium, you can use to train your fish will emphatically be intercepted by the predators, immediately.
At first, the fish began to forage outside of the aquadome, moving in and out at the prompt of the sound, just as the researchers had hoped.
"But then we start seeing these bluefish circling our cage. And these are notorious for being ravenous and ruthless hunters," he says.
"Very frustratingly, we went back day after day to find these fish still showing up at the cage, and we couldn't for the life of us call the black sea bass back.
Tagged black sea bass (Scott Lindell)
The tags helped the researchers to identify their bass
"They were scared to death - we went diving, and we could see them amongst the rocks, but nothing was going to make them run that gauntlet between the rocks and the cage when it would put their lives at risk."
And the fish had good reason to be scared.
When the team caught one of the bluefish and slit open its belly, they discovered 12 tiny tags - the fish that they had been attached to had already been digested.
But. Big, hopeful, news coverage on the BBC!! Hey, the funders will love it.
And his answer? Gonna build robotic sheep-dog sharks to keep the little predators away.

What a good idea.


Ok, so the hammer is not working on this machine screw. Maybe if I hit it from the side, with more money...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ebola 8.

Not having any fun today.  I'll keep this short, because there's plenty of "in depth!" coverage on the new Ebola patient in Dallas (not the dead one); and they're updating rapidly now.  First a nurse in Spain, following the rules, gets it; now a nurse in Dallas, following all the rules, gets it.

I would not bet the current head of the CDC will still have that job a month from now.  The noises I hear from his office do not make me think he's smart and in charge; more like he is not very bright, and is reading the Instruction Manual For Pandemics: 1. Be sure your ass is covered.  2. Prevent panic, lie all you want to achieve this.

"Clearly it must have been a protocol breach." - before any investigation, is not smart.  It would actually be better for Item 2 if you said, for the public; "Of course, we're looking into all possibilities, including that the virus may have changed.  That's unlikely; but we're watching."  But it would, of course, violate #1.

There were 2 things today that actually shocked me.  I'll pass them on:

1) In the NYT, well buried in the article, was this tidbit:

"Health officials have been monitoring 48 people in the Dallas area who may have come into direct or indirect contact with Mr. Duncan, including health care workers and Mr. Duncan’s relatives. But they said the person who tested positive was not among those under observation and had been “self-monitoring” to check for symptoms of Ebola."

Emphasis mine.  Current wording in the article is a little different now; but the statement is there.  So; the nurse infected is not even one of those thought to be at "higher risk".  I will be totally astonished if Duncan's girlfriend, and some of the others in that apartment, do not become symptomatic in the next 2 weeks (it may be that long).

And 2).  The Ebola mutation rate?  We hear it's "high"; but- I got to wondering about sample sizes, etc.

It's much, much MUCH worse than they're reporting.  The science gives the details; but the reporting does not.  I was guessing, before I dug out the science; that out of 4,000 dead, they might have sampled the DNA from, oh, maybe 4-500 people?  Since they report finding "more than 300" mutations that show this present virus is different from previous outbreaks?


They had blood samples from 78 people; all from Sierra Leone, in the first 24 days of the outbreak.

From 78 people; they sequenced DNA from 99 viruses.

In 99 viruses, they found- "more than 300" separate mutations.  How many?  Well; 395, actually, but only 340 that are really, really different.

395 mutations found in 78 people- at one location, months ago.  Yes, that's really bad; and our journalists are either blindingly incompetent- or... worse.

I wouldn't leave Dallas today- but I might start packing the vehicle, and being sure it's full of gas.  Think that's over reacting?  Just read all the above again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hang on to the good stuff.

Peanuts Comic Strip on

In the middle of all this insanity.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ebola 7. Insanity in Texas.

In the previous post I stated that plagues make humans insane.

Not only insane- but broadly brain dead.  Evidently there is no one in the state of Texas with a functioning brain.

I'm guessing that sometime in the next 24 hours, it will dawn on someone- that to require the family of the Ebola patient to.... STAY IN THEIR APARTMENT FOR 21 DAYS-  is a death sentence, for all of them.

And insanely cruel.  Tell me; is there no other apartment in the city of Dallas where these "asymptomatic" people, humans we suspect; could go instead?  So that they do not have to stay in the apartment; where the sweaty sheets and vomit of the patient - either have not yet been cleaned up; or were cleaned only after hours and hours?

Insane.  Utterly inhumane.  And blindly panicked.

Scream, for those poor people- if you can find someone to scream at.

Ebola 6. The trickle of information.

A major part of "paying attention" is digging for more information than the upfront reassurances; and then sorting our the nonsense.  Can get very time consuming it you let it, of course.

Some things we "know" today, that have trickled down to us since yesterday-

The flight Thomas Duncan was on did not come directly from Monrovia, Liberia- he first flew to Brussels, spent about 7 hours in the airport there, then flew to Washington DC, Dulles airport, for another 6-7 hours (I hear) - then to Dallas and the health care debacle there.

IF the virus has mutated so that shedding of infectious particles now starts before the fever- and not only is there no barrier to that happening, but there is very high evolutionary pressure for it to happen right now- and quintillions of quintillions of virus particles to mutate- yes, he could have been shedding virus from Brussels on.  As an evolutionary ecologist; the probability of that particular mutation happening is quite hight, and I would not be at all surprise if it has already happened.  Such a mutation would escape all the barriers now in place to the virus spreading; they take your temperature; no fever? Go anywhere you want.

When I went to bed last night, we were hearing "one other person is now being confined", with no symptoms; and "there are 18 others being monitored."  Today those sources say 100 may have been "exposed"; including children in 4 different elementary schools.

Frightening.  No jokes.  Really, truly, pay attention.

A very serious question: We have one air traveler we know walked through all the procedures, and wound up in genuine "big city", and then had the opportunity to infect others (almost certainly other family members will have caught it.)  What if- this person had gone not to the USA; but to Mumbai?  Mexico City?  Nairobi? Shanghai?

The probability is increasing daily- that it has already happened.

There simply are NO good outcomes ahead.  We're not yet to the point where global pandemic is certain; but we are closer, and so far nothing being done is going to prevent it.

After the last post here, reader Reuben asked this:

 Ruben said...
Greenpa, could you please fairly quickly do a post on how we should prepare? I don't mean bullets and bunker prepare, and I know that any one of us could end up sitting beside the person who turns out to be the patient in Dallas.

But, if this becomes a bigger thing, what sort of physical and behavioural precaustions make sense to prepare?N95 masks, rubber gloves and a water filter?

Thank you.

Yike.  As I've already cited in a previous post, What would Greenpa do? - giving advice is dangerous to all concerned.  All courses may go ill.

But.  I'll tell you what I would do if I lived in Dallas.

If my kids were within one school of the 4 publicly mentioned, I would pull my kids out of school, now; and keep them out until officials announce all ebola is cleared from Dallas.

I would call my relatives or very close friends who live in a different city; at least 200 miles away; and ask if you could bring your family to stay with them "temporarily" in case of "emergency".  And I'd figure out exactly how you're going to get there.  Getting out ahead of a true outbreak is the best hope.  Once a true outbreak is in progress; you will not be allowed to leave; and the military will be manning the roadblocks.

Stock up on bleach, 50 lb bags of dried beans, and some cash.  You might reach a point where you don't want to open your door to anyone for a week, or two.

Folks, there's no guessing.

Two things for sure. 1) In a plague situation, people go crazy.  Criminals become blatant and extremely violent very quickly; non-criminals may become criminal because they are terrified.

2) The con men have their plans all in place ready to go.  They'll sell you cures, and "bug out" packages guaranteed to be everything you need- already going on.  Saw one yesterday selling herbs to bolster your immune system.  Pure bull.

You could hit a place where you are simply on your own.

The government can be very easily overwhelmed.  The CDC is "responding with full force" to the Dallas event.  They've sent 10 people.

I would give the Dallas authorities until they find 1 Ebola case in Dallas from someone they did not guess might be infected; and then I would go stay with my relatives for 2 weeks; and see how it goes.

Speed, and don't wait until it's for sure and obvious; that can be too late, and the roads will be closed.

So far; keep in mind all government responses have been to little too late- exactly as I predicted in my Aug. 8 post.  That is not at all likely to change; anywhere in the world.  7 billion people- is not sustainable- as we all know; and this is one of the reasons why.  We're food; and we've become an immense concentration of it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ebola 5

I would bet you've heard the news already: Ebola is inside the USA.

Sad to say; it followed my scenario posted very nearly 2 months ago, in the post "Just a bit much, and Ebola" pretty much exactly. A man got on a plane with no symptoms, and didn't show any until several days after getting off the plane in Dallas, Texas.  And was sent home undiagnosed from the hospital when he went in.

The authorities are still saying 'oh, don't worry, we'll handle it."  with the additional assurance that their methods are "tried and true."  They've been working great so far, after all.

My advice: pay very close attention.  You can already smell panic in the air.  Think now, about what your options are.

Keep in mind; there is NO, ZERO, barrier to the virus evolving around all the hopes;

It can evolve so it sheds infectious particles before symptoms show.

It can evolve to spread through the air.

It can evolve to stay infectious on surfaces for days.

And it's in a perfect situation to do any or all of those; and it's easily possible it has done so- already.  That would go far towards explaining how so many health workers are catching it and why their control measures are not working.

And- the fact that we've found one in the USA?  Suggests it may already have happened in some other world city.  Mumbai?  Mexico City?  Shanghai?

Friday, September 26, 2014

I have a favor to ask you.

Nope, not about Ebola, though that is still a very serious, changeable, contentious topic, with news that is nearly all bad.

It's about atmospheric carbon dioxide.  Too big a problem for individuals to affect; we're constantly told.

I disagree completely- I think history shows that it is only individual actions that lead to change.  No university or government agency ever came out with a clarion call (let alone actions) to give women the vote.   None ever worked hard to end the endless and unregulated slaughter of wildlife - to put feathers on women's hats and provide 8 different kinds of duck on the menu- every day.  Individuals. (Then, when there's a big group of individuals marching in the same direction- that's when the politicians, etc, jump in front of the crowd and announce they've been leading this parade all along.)

I have a specific action I'm asking you to take; a specific project you can support - meaningfully, with a few clicks.

Long-timers here will know already that I live close to, and work with, these folks: Badgersett Research Farm.  They've just launched a new initiative; one I'm familiar with, and believe in.

Most of you have probably heard some noise about the "promise" of "biochar"; to get carbon out of the atmosphere.  Lots of big names have agreed- like Bill McKibben, for example.  His calculations are usually sound.  You'll notice that article is from 2009, though.  Anybody in your neighborhood doing it? Selling, making, buying?  That will be a 99% "no" answer.

Biochar is "hanging fire"; so to speak; older vernacular for "failure to launch".  Lots of new research underway - many dozens of "NewBiochar Center!" announcements- all doing- research.

The Badgersett folks think the research already done (like this one from just a few days ago, that says "Hey, it works!" - again)- plus the 3,000 year old evidence from the Native American made soils in the Amazon- show quite adequately; the benefits are real- and faster and last longer than anything else we've got on the list of "maybes".  It's time to get real-world, practical tools into the hands of - the farmers.  So- they've got the design; and they need the money to support the labor to make and test the prototypes.  Designed by farmers; for farmers. Via Kickstarter.

BadgerChar Mobile.

I'm asking; as favor to me- please take a look at that; and please- make a donation; even a tiny one is hugely helpful.  The more backers, even at $1-$10, the more likely other folks will support it too.

Why is the use of biochar failing to take hold?  We think it's because almost all the research is done by - biochar enthusiasts; for biochar enthusiasts.  They want to know exactly how it works, and they want to be sure they can maximize and optimize everything.

Sorry- but- you're not ever going to sell that to my neighbors.  They don't know much about it; and none of them are interested in becoming optimized biochar producers; they're corn, bean, and beef farmers.  In Iowa right now, you can in fact buy truckloads of biochar - at $500 to $1,000 per ton; an insanely high cost.

Now- if you can give them a tool that A) they can afford, B) they can use without learning new difficult skills. C) will improve their soils and crops.  D) will make a product they can sell if they want to. and E) will make it easier to manage the odd corners of their crop lands and farms, and improve their timber lots (less work, not more) - That, they will do.

And that is exactly what the BadgerChar Mobile system is designed to provide.  My neighbors don't really care if it's the fastest, etc; only that it can actually fit into their operation.  This will; and could result in thousands of farmers making and using biochar in just a couple of years; and many more after that.  With, maybe, real progress on removing carbon dioxide from the air.  For 3,000 years.  (Compost only removes some carbon for 10-100 years).

So - please- become a Backer; and then share your pledge on your own networks and email lists etc, etc,, and help get the word out.  Only 20 days left!  And a long way to go yet.

It's a very small action- but one that can have a very large impact, if we make the project fly.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ebola 4

So - more people are getting scared about it.  Including the BBC; which  to my amazement has this as their top headline right now: Ebola crisis: Liberia 'faces huge surge' says WHO.  Not the #1 Most Read article on the Washington Post right now; New Royal Baby!!

The BBC goes on to say "Ebola is spreading exponentially in Liberia, with thousands of new cases expected in the next three weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) says."

I'm still not quite buying the "exponentially"; but yes, this sounds more serious.  As SquashPractice pointed out in a comment on the previous post here, Wikipedia Ebola page now does have the graph I've been looking for (new deaths and new cases / day); and it does have an "up curve", which, yes, is more scary - there are two unrelated phenomena which could account for that, without meaning Ebola is actually becoming more aggressive.  Which is not to say it's not; you understand.

The two factors; A) The reporting of new cases has possibly/likely increased dramatically in the past weeks. B) The disease is expanding- think of an ever increasing circle as it moves into the population. There will be many more infections on the circumference of the larger circle.   That's to be expected; and to me is not any more threatening than previously.

It was always expected the cases would expand, and accelerate; no mutations required.

So; bad, but not OMG we're all going to die.  The "thousands of new cases", however, do mean the risk to spread to distant cities will go up rapidly in the near future.  Keep paying attention.

So, now the bad Ebola news.  What they're not telling us.

One factor, reported in Wikipedia and nowhere else at all, so far as I can tell; the small, unrelated outbreak in the DR Congo?  Is less small; and not unrelated.

"On 20 August, several people, including four health care workers, were reported to have died of Ebola-like symptoms in the remote northern Équateur province, a province that lies about 750 miles north of the capital Kinshasa.[102] By 21 August, 13 people were reported to have died with similar symptoms."   So - at least 20 dead in DR Congo, including 4 health workers, not the 13 the WHO reports.

And: "Blood samples were sent for testing and on 24 August it was reported that the samples were positive for Ebola; one tested positive for the Sudan ebolavirus, which is a different species of ebolavirus than the one responsible for the West African outbreak; the other tested positive for a mixture of the Sudanese and Zaire species, the species that is responsible for the present outbreak in West Africa.[104][105]"

Italics mine.  Ok, that's scary, from the evolutionary standpoint.  2 virus strains are mixing (I don't use the word "species" here, I don't think it's correct.)  That means- lots more chances to evolve, now.

And one more; this is my own guess, unsupported by any official statements; I think the WHO knows, and is not telling- that the Ebola virus has already mutated to become more transmissible.

Take a look at the photos in the BBC article.  The health workers are wearing isolation outfits designed to prevent breathing in contaminants.  Which, they tell us officially, does not happen.

And also from that article: "Transmission of the virus in Liberia was "already intense", and taxis being used to transport infected patients appeared to be "a hot source of potential virus transmission", the WHO said."

Taxis?  Also - not a big source of "direct contact with body fluids".  But; if the virus can now survive in dried sweat or sneeze droplets?  That would do it; and I do think - it has already happened.

Keep paying attention.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ebola 3

Roz just made this comment on the previous post:

          hey Greenpa - is this chart a little like what you were looking for? It's a bit scary, it is.

         BBC- Ebola-How bad can it get?


  Good catch, Roz; I was just getting ready to make a post here about that exact article.

The graph is not what I want to see; but this is the presentation that made "that other guy" go all wacky and start saying "OMG, Ebola has gone asymptotic!"

This looks so scary because they are adding all deaths in the epidemic together to make the next point on the graph.  That's not an entirely illegitimate way to look at the numbers; but from the epidemiology standpoint, it is not as informative as a graph tracking "number of new cases this week" or "number of new deaths this week" would be.  

Those graphs give an appearance that is much less accessible to the general public - they're very jagged, and the "trend" is harder to see; and most of the jaggedness is purely accidental; caused by differences in reporting, not differences in actual infection/mortality.

Last I really looked at the numbers, the data for "new cases" looked something like "43, 17, 30, 59, 28, 37, 19, 67"  etc.   The question is "is the disease accelerating",  not "totals".  Still have not seen the data presented that way.  There are standard ways to draw a line for "best fit" that evens out the jags.  If you have a straight, but up-slanted line; that means the epidemic is still speeding up, and that's not great.  It's when that  line goes asymptotic- that it's time to be very, very scared.  Not happening yet, I think.  The WHO was reporting "new" cases in mid August; but they're not, now.  Not sure why.

That BBC article - is notable for 3 things; basically all good, actually.

 1)   It's the first "scary" article in the major press I've seen - telling the truth about the epidemic.  Yes, it's potentially dangerous, to the entire world.

  2) The author did a good job of talking to researchers, and translating for the public.  That's been very uncommon on the BBC in the past few years, and getting worse; but this one is excellent.

  3)  Some of the researchers raised good points I had not thought of in particular, which could easily lead to epidemic outcomes that are less than apocalyptic.  That would be nice.  In particular, the scenario where the virus mutates to "more transmissible"; which could then lead to evolving to "less lethal" more quickly than if it stays as it is.  Reaching a point where it never goes away, but subsides to normal "bad disease" status, where it is all around the world; it still makes people very sick during outbreaks, but maybe only 5% of infected people die.  

That's actually a fairly high probability in the evolution of pathogens scenarios.  I was focusing on the vastly increased chances for it to become easier to catch; now that there are uncountably more virions available for evolution to act on.  That's very scary.  But yes; the next evolutionary tactic is usually to: stop killing your host.

I recommend folks read that article.  Twice; once today, and again in a couple days.  Lots of information to absorb there, and it's far more honest than other stuff still being circulated.

There are several other hopeful developments too; like the preliminary finding that there may be many people in the region who are already immune to Ebola; for reasons they're guessing at.  Fewer susceptible people would be a huge help.  And; those fighting the disease think they may be able to use blood from those who managed to survive the infection to treat active patients.  That would sure help.

All in all; keep paying attention.  But total imminent world collapse is looking a little less likely - from Ebola, anyway.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ebola 2.

The Ebola news is not great.  I'm a little more worried than previously; enough that I have added the WHO reports URL to my news menu bar, and check it daily.  This is where most of the press get their update information; and if you look at this one from yesterday, you'll see that - the press is not passing on the news: Ebola now in Congo; different strain.

Also; the Washington Post is reporting research from Harvard that the mutation rate in the main outbreak is "very high".

And the BBC reports that the WHO expects 20,000 cases before they can bring the outbreak "under control".  We're a little under 3,000 cases right now.  That's a big expansion.

All that adds up to significantly increased risks that the virus may become more transmissible; and also that the virus may escape much further away from current sites.  Maybe into a big city.

The fact that the press is not putting all this together, and passing it all on quickly - indicates official actions to suppress news, and decrease panic potential - so you can't believe what they're telling you.

So; as before; pay attention.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I've been hit hard by the loss of Robin Williams.  Many of us have.

Here is something I first saw years ago, that I want to share with you.  This is an "unlisted" YouTube video; you only get the link if you're looking at Koko's site.  If it runs slow or fuzzy- try again, it's actually good quality video.  And you'll see Robin.  An exceptional human.

A little more, on Koko's site..

Me too.

Friday, August 8, 2014

It's just all a bit much. And, Ebola.

Hi Guys.

According to Blogger- you're all still here, tuned in.  I'm honored.

The reasons I've been quiet are still the same; massive overloads In Real Life - and a lack of anything genuinely useful to say about current world insanities.

Today, though; I do have something useful to tell you; out of my particular Biology/Evolution/Etc. background.

We're experiencing the largest outbreak seen of the Ebola virus.  Should you worry?  Or not?

You need to pay attention, is what you need to do.  (Not to me.  To what's going on.)

So far I have seen a great many of the disasters, problems, conundrums that are known to occur during "plague" outbreaks; already happening.  We have history to look at; I recommend it.  People can be harmed in epidemics by many things other than the bug itself.

Here is a list of "Already here" bad things, that do not help:

Politicians lying about the extent of the epidemic.
Politicians telling you :"There's no risk to us!"  then- 'There's almost no risk to us!"  And I've already seen "We'll probably get a case or 2 inside the US, but we can handle it."
Press printing any blathering nonsense they can find.
Finger-pointing between nations and agencies.
New committees.
An experimental "cure" - with a tiny supply; and fights about who gets it.
Con men selling fake cures to desperate people.  (saw an ad on Facebook already)
Wall Street types jockeying to capture the profits.
Military roadblocks going up - and cities sealed off - too late.
Desperate people sneaking through roadblocks, and bribing their way.
Soothsayers announcing "This is IT!  Run!"

All of those are happening now; and will likely get worse.

Here's my "no bull" advice.

Don't panic.  It doesn't help.  Is this virus dangerous - to you and your family?  Yes, it is; but we don't know how it's going to turn out.  Disease organisms follow the "rules of Epidemiology" - when you can average 1,000 different viruses and bacteria together.  Individually - they do not have to follow anyone's rules.  It could mutate to be more infectious; or less.  Or both, on different expansion fronts.

This scenario is possible: You live in Denver?  Far from everything.  But; the incubation period for Ebola is stated as "between 2 and 21 days."  That's really dangerous.  An infected person, at day 15 of his infection; gets on a plane.  Yes, he might be shedding virus by then.  Gets off the plane in Cairo, Egypt, 2 hours later, having transmitted it to 2 other people; the steward, and the lady in the next seat.

He stays in Cairo, vanishes into the countryside and is never recognized as dying of Ebola.  The steward flies next to Paris, becomes symptomatic and infectious 17 days later, infecting an entire flight crew...  and on; until an infected but not yet symptomatic person gets off the plane in Denver... goes to a rock concert/ all night rave-revival party - throws up...

"It's not likely!"  No, it's not; but the bigger the epidemic gets, the more chances; and there's really no way to prevent that kind of scenario - short of shutting international air traffic; off.

If that happens?  You'll know it's getting serious; and that it's too late to be effective, and the next step is martial law.  In Denver?  Yes.

This kind of thing has happened repeatedly, historically, in plague events, going back to Rome, at least.  But they didn't have air traffic; or the Mexico City slums - etc.

This virus is not capable of suddenly mutating into a disease that can blow in the air from somewhere miles away.  An epidemic in Africa is not a threat to you - today.  One case in NYC - is not much threat even to NYC.  If, however, we wake up one day and there are 2,000 new cases in NYC today- that's a threat.  Neither hospitals nor police will be able to control things.

Think about what you can do, if you have to.  I would say start thinking now.

And the statistic I would watch is the daily CHANGE in death rate and infection rate.  That was a  lot of the reason I decided to write this; I've already seen one "seer" shrieking "It's gone asymptotic!!"  My respect for that source dropped through the floor; not that it was all that high.  Just as pure statistics; that's crap.  Yes, there's a jog up in deaths and new cases - in the past 2 days.  It could very easily be a pure fluke; better reporting yesterday, for example.  The probability of "fluke" is much higher than "asymptotic!"

If the rate of change keeps climbing up for a week- yes, I'd start to worry.  If the rate of increase keeps going up for 2 weeks, with no break; I would have to predict that a great many people will die before it's over; but we still cannot know when, or where, it could suddenly shift into a trivial virus.

Like everything else in our future now; we do not know what will happen next.

Keep an eye on the Wikipedia "ebola" page.  Seriously.  I know, that used to be a joke line; but it's not anymore.  It is the only source of information on the technical knowledge of the virus that just says this; right up front: "Transmission: It is not entirely clear how Ebola is spread."  That's from a CDC document; not one I could find, but its cited here.  The WHO at the moment is putting out the official line that "ebola is very hard to catch, and requires direct 'bodily fluids' contact".  The Russian weapons experts are saying "maybe not."

 The great majority of sources will have some "agenda" they want you to swallow.  Wikipedia now has dozens of actual experts monitoring the information changes - and if you put something up that anyone can criticize as "not true" - down it comes. 

Don't panic.  Pay attention.

And find a copy of Sinclair Lewis's "Arrowsmith" - a novel about exactly this situation; from the viewpoint of the medical researcher.  They gave him the Pulitzer Prize for that novel; and he refused it. His insights into human behavior during a plague - are... well, Pulitzer material.

The entire text is online; here; Arrowsmith text   Public domain, pretty sure.

UPDATE: 8/14 - I managed to find the WHO current statistics page.  They report new totals for deaths and new cases, every 2-3 days.  There are lots of ups and downs in the numbers- imagine the difficulties of "counting", and reporting, in the middle of it all.  It's clearly horrific for those caught in it. Overall, it does appear that new cases and numbers of new deaths are increasing; but it's a long way from "asymptotic."  Somebody out there - could use these data to produce a good graph.  I'd rather see a graph of new cases and new deaths than total cases and total deaths, and I haven't seen one.  I'd do it; but- several people would kill me if I stole that time.  :-)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Not dead yet!

Hi, guys.  I haven't forgotten you.  Just busy; and boy is it hard to find non-depressing stuff to write about these days.  Which, since we are bombarded with new depressing stuff daily, I'd rather not add to.

I am still active in various ways, when I see something I can tackle; and I thought you'd be interested in seeing this one.  Which is; actually, about someone special who is NOT not dead yet.

You may remember that I had the top comment on the NYT when Norman Borlaug passed away- another huge scientist just passed, and the NYT gave him top coverage; for hours, he was the top feature on the paper, front page, center, "above the fold", or above the scroll, these days.  But unlike Borlaug, who thousands knew of; almost no one knew of Dr. Snow.  But he was so important; and a shining light for anyone hoping to be a good human being.

Here's my comment.  Read his obit; it's worth it.  And how very odd this post should come right after one about bones.  Ever watch "Bones" on TV?  Or any of the dozen like it- or read any of the novels on forensic anthropologists?  With maybe 2 others, he created the entire field.  And, he was a good man; a good human.  I have vague fantasies that someone might read my comment- and be moved to act on it.  Not impossible, right?

Hang in there.  Keep your sleeves rolled up.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Burning my old friend's bones.

A year ago, at the end of that exceptionally hot, dry, summer, I lost a very old friend.

This friend was someone I'd watched, walked beside, touched, admired, and cheered for, for decades.

She was a very large, strong, and beautiful red elm.  I say "she", which is not biologically accurate, because she often shed large amounts of seed.  At least twice, I put down tarps beneath her, collected her seed, and planted it.

I'd watched her nearly die, and then fully recover, 20 years ago; so I'd been hoping she'd make it this time.  That year had been hot and dry, too.  This one was apparently too much.

Red elm is one of my favorite trees; I like their attitude and behavior.  They can grow very fast when they're where they belong, tend to make big strong logs that can be used in more ways than oak.  The wood is beautiful; almost as dark as freshly cut black walnut, with lovely grain; the wood is as strong as oak, tougher than oak, very rot resistant, often splits as easily as any wood can; burns hot, makes the best long lasting coals for holding fire overnight - and - it will dry out completely just standing in the woods for a year.  Oak will never- ever- dry out on the stump; not if dead for 2 decades.  Oak requires great foresight, and careful storing to dry for use as fuel.  And a lot of sweat, wrassling all that soaking wet, heavy as pig iron, oak biomass- at least twice.

Elms are more forgiving (our elms, anyway) - if you weren't able to get this winter's wood cut and stacked under a roof two years ago- you can just cut an elm that's been dead for a year- and burn it efficiently today.  (Well, the top.  The butt log will be wet enough it will need drying.)  Red elm is the same as "slippery" elm; humans have used the inner bark for food and medicine for millennia (which is one reason the tree is less common these days), but in addition to food from bark, the red elms in Canada produced such heavy seed crops that Ernest Seton reported the passenger pigeon flocks migrated specifically to gorge on slippery elm seed.

Probably part of why I like red elms is they are ignored, misunderstood, and undervalued.  Underdogs in the canopy.  If you look them up on the internet, you'll find the pharm pages usually calling them by a Latin name the botanists declare obsolete; and both sources say "the wood is of no commercial value" - therefore, it's fine when they die after all their bark is stripped.  No value?  The mind boggles.  Never mind all the creatures dependent on them in the ecosystem, in the early 1980's, many of my neighbors made a lot of money- selling their big red elms- to Italian wood buyers.  True, local loggers didn't want them.  But the Italians paid the same money as for black walnut.  They shipped the logs to Italy.  Where they were veneered, and the veneer used to make very expensive furniture.

And the freshly cut wood is fragrant.  For me, it's a scent associated with childhood- in an unusual way.  When I was 8 years old, or so, my family spent 3 weeks in Japan.  The shops that specialized in wood carvings all had the same strong, pleasing, fragrance as you walked in the door.  I was too young to ask which wood it was, but many of the boxes and figures of dark wood carried it.  I'm pretty sure, now, it was Cryptomeria wood, Japanese cedar.  The smell of red elm is identical, as far as I can tell, and when I split it, or handle it, it brings many bits of those years and that trip back.

When I first got here, in SE Minnesota, our farm woods had 3 (at least) species of elm; American elm (Ulmus americana) predominated, then red elm (U. rubra), then rock elm (U. thomasii), which I confused with American for years.  We had huge American elms; but 90% of them died in my first 10 years here, from Dutch Elm Disease (DED).  American elm trees are lovely to look at- but of very little use to humans otherwise.  The wood rots immediately; making it dangerous to fell a big tree dead more than a few months- they call them "widow-makers", because huge portions of the top can crack off in felling- and fall the opposite way.  On you.  The wood is pretty, distinctive, but very little used because it tends to crack as it dries, and warps like crazy. And when the wood burns- it stinks; the farmers in most of the midwest called it "piss-elm".  Dry American elm does make a hot fire, though, if stinky; apparently unlike English elm.  Most versions of the firewood rhyme from England say "Elmwood burns like churchyard mould; even the very flames are cold."  Ew.

Red and rock elm are just a little resistant to the DED fungus.  Part of the picture is that American elm is a tetraploid species- it has 4 copies of the chromosomes, which often makes a plant more vigorous.  And it was faster growing, and often bigger than red or rock- but they are diploids; and sometimes slower growing means tougher.  Sometimes, the diploids can get DED - and get over it.  My old friend did; in that previous hot dry year; I watched, afraid I was going to lose her.  The stress of the drought brought on a serious attack of DED- I watched the leaves in the crown wither and die.  And rejoiced, in the literal meaning of that word, when she recovered over the next few years.  I admire survivors.  That was when I started gathering and planting her seeds.

No, I never named her.  Though I knew her intimately.  She stood just beside the tractor road I made into our woods, which we immediately also used for walking and skiing.  There were very few times when I traveled that road, in any mode, when I did not pause and look up at her crown, to see how she was doing.  I watched hard in the spring of 2013.  But she was gone.

She was big.  By anyone's standards.  I felled her yesterday, and the stump where I cut is about 30 inches in diameter.  Very large, for this area; our Minnesota hardwoods are lovely- but smaller than those East and South.  The wood from the crown, fully dry after one year, will heat two households for several weeks.  Her crown was unusual.  Very broad; branching, rising, and spreading with curves that I can only describe as Art Nouveau.   And each branch sensible, individual, and functional.

The big trunk is blocking the road now- and will likely block it for a couple weeks, until we can get in through the deep snow and haul the log out with the tractor.  I have fantasies of getting one or two of the logs cut for boards.  We can use them.  And I'll try to get some of the top turned into a bowl or two; red elm is a favorite of wood turners, too.

How does it feel, to burn my old friend's bones?

Warm.  Decades of warm.

Long years of memory; long years of companionship.  She was my companion.

I don't know if she knew; the gulf between our species is very large; but I knew.  And it wouldn't surprise me at all, as either human or scientist, if she knew.  Most tree species are tens of millions of years older than our paltry 2 and half or so.  They are very sophisticated creatures- and survivors.  Their life-pulse is so slow, few humans can sense it; they live in an utterly different way, and time.  Right beside us.

She is my companion still.  With every chunk of her I put into the stove, I remember our lives.  I think she's glad.  Now she's warming two houses, full of my family.  Her stump is 4 feet tall, and will last for at least 20 years.  Big enough to sit children up on; big enough to host hundreds of smaller creatures yet, in that time.

She's taking care of my babies.  I'll take care of hers.  Some 20 or so of her seedlings are growing; I'll see to it they get a chance.

There is no goodbye here.  I looked at her crown so many thousands of times, I'll always see it when I look at her children.  Clear as clear.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Fukushima- soon dumping in the ocean.

I haven't been posting all the stuff on Fukushima for a good while- it's mostly just too depressing, and there's nothing we can do about it in any case.

But today they're getting ready to cross a new line- and no, it's not in the news.  Unless you're a Japanese fisherman in the area.  The "government" (no longer "Tepco", since they've gotten nothing done) is asking local fishermen to agree to them - dumping radioactive groundwater, directly in the ocean.  They just can't handle the 400 tons a day, in any other way.  Here's the entire story, from NHK, Japan National TV English news feed.  Note that for PR purposes, this is a "bypass plan" - not "ocean dumping".  As always, their PR advisors are earning their keep, bigtime.

Government explains groundwater bypass plan

"The Japanese government has sought the understanding from the nation's fisheries industry to release groundwater into the sea at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

"The government presented measures under a new policy to fisheries industry representatives on Monday.

"At the Fukushima plant, groundwater flowing into reactor buildings coming into contact with water used to cool nuclear fuel continues to increase the amount of contaminated water.

"The central government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, which operates the plant want to introduce a bypass plan for the groundwater.
The measure is aimed at reducing the amount of water flowing into the reactor buildings by altering the flow of groundwater.

"The groundwater will be pumped up at the mountain side of the compound before it reaches the reactor buildings, where radioactive water has been accumulating, to reduce the amount that flows in. Then, the groundwater will be discharged into the sea. (italics mine)

"But the government and TEPCO have yet to obtain consent from local fishermen following a string of leaks into the sea of contaminated water, which has raised concerns over harmful rumors.

"Senior vice economy and industry minister Kazuyoshi Akaba met Chairman Hiroshi Kishi of the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations on Monday.

"Akaba explained the measures to reduce the amount of contaminated water and new policies the government has been studying since last fall. Akaba reportedly told Kishi the radioactive levels of the water in the bypass plan will be set lower than the standard set by the state for releasing water into the sea. He also said the government will release information to the public to prevent harmful rumors.

"After the meeting, Kishi said he acknowledges the need for the bypass plan, but it can't move ahead without the understanding of local fishermen. He also said he plans to make a final decision after carefully examining how the bypass process will be monitored, and measures to prevent harmful rumors.

"Currently, 400 tons of groundwater is flowing into reactor buildings every day. The groundwater bypass plan is expected to reduce the amount by about 100 tons.
Feb. 3, 2014 - Updated 11:58 UTC"

So - they're asking the local fishermen for permission.  Not you, nor I, nor the world community- nor the Pacific Islanders...  And, what do you suppose they'll do if the local fishermen say "no"?  That's right- they'll dump it anyway.

This story avoids addressing what's in that "groundwater" - that "has been in contact" with water leaking directly from the reactor cores - but it's the bad stuff; radio-strontium and tritium along with the normal cesium stuff.  Might even be some radio-iodine, depending on how long it's been "in the ground"- that's short lived, but the reactor cores are making new, all the time.

Troll in the dungeon.  Thought you ought to know.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"All circuits are busy."

Hi.  Haven't forgotten you.  Delighted so many are still here.

My repeated attempts to blog more frequently have not succeeded, as we all know.  Many, many reasons; one of them possibly being a "natural lifecycle" for bloggers and blogs.  I take some comfort from the fact that both Sharon Astyk, who was a hyper-maxi-turbo blogger for years, and Crunchy Chicken, likewise, both of whom became my good friends as we all blogged- have gone through this exact process- Crunch first, then me, then Sharon.

We're not any of us dead yet- but no question we've slowed down.  Have we run out of things to say?

I don't think so; I think it's more a matter of "iceberg fatigue" with the blogs.  I think the blogs make a difference- and help us all - but eventually it starts to feel like "this isn't enough"... and the energy necessary to keep going flags.

I am, of course, still pushing on icebergs; as are Sharon and Crunch.  That's part of the problem; for me and I know for them- the other icebergs have loomed up on us, and are taking more of our available time and energy.  My "other life" has gotten really busy, in my case.

And, as we accumulate a body of writing here, there's a desire to not repeat ourselves.  And, in my 350 posts here, I did talk about a bunch of different stuff.  Lots of it could use updating, etc.; but the fact is that kind of writing is just not as much fun for us writers; it's careful work; instead just ripping off a good rant.

But!  Still here. Still interested in Life, the Universe, and Everything (which hopefully won't just all vanish on us too soon).  And still cruising the internet sometimes, trying to track down things that interest me.

I found one, recently; which I can share with you.  A blogger much younger in the lifecycle, so hopefully she won't disappear on us soon.  She has two blogs; one is simply her dream journal (she has incredibly lucid and detailed dreams) which you can find at Dreampan (she works in the movie business; pretty sure that's a camera pan reference.)

And the other is her photographic journal of Life- and she has a wonderful eye, a good camera- and a genius for whimsy.  That would be at Thistrinket; and here is the specific post which cracked me up so thoroughly that I wanted to share her with you:

Not everyone who headed out West made it.

Brilliant, Shandra.  :-)  Thanks.