Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Humpback Posse

"[They (Humpback whales) were] taking shots essentially, taking swings at these transient orcas."
"[Those watching heard the humpbacks] trumpeting like we have never heard [sounding like ferocious wild elephants]."
"This was a heavyweight division going against a lightweight and the heavy-weights won."
"We've got all of these whales recolonizing the Salish Sea after a half-century not being here and we've got record numbers of transient killer whales. So we've got two species that are recolonizing an area, and this might be a turf war."
Michael Harris, executive director, Pacific Whale Watch Association, Victoria, British Columbia

"This is the first time I've ever seen anything like this [two oceanic species in physical conflict at close range]."
"I explained to the guests how rare this kind of interaction is. [The humpbacks'] predator is the orca and they didn't run away. They actually came to the aid of another mammal."
"So they all went to their neutral corners, if you will."
Captain Russ Nicks, B.C. Whale Tours, Victoria, British Columbia

"I probably wouldn't have believed the story if I wasn't there."
Captain Shane Aggergaard, Port Angeles Whale Watch Co., Olympia, Washington
Image: Pacific Whale Watch Association
Image: Pacific Whale Watch Association

An unusual drama took place recently off the coast of southwestern British Columbia, that doubtless takes place on many an occasion out at sea where there are no human witnesses to marvel at the phenomenon of two species of large ocean-dwelling mammals coming head-to-head over territorial aggression and hunting for prey. In this instance the conflict had a surprising other source, when humpback whales came across a scenario that offended their sense of -- what? fair play?

Whale-watching operators in the Salish Sea on September 11 witnessed four humpbacks form a protective cordon around a Stellar sea lion, that was being attacked by orcas. The humpbacks were observed slapping their pectoral fins and flukes in a warning of counter-assault should the orcas persist. Captain Nicks collected his passengers, explaining to them as they watched the drama, what was occurring before their eyes.

What was happening was that the humpbacks, one after another, dove and slashed at the orcas. This was a repetitive assault that continued for forty minutes. Finally the orcas retreated. The humpbacks have no sharp teeth, but they do have the advantage of size, weighing between 40 and 50 tons. Once the orcas had retreated, and the sea lion was no longer threatened by the predators, the animal was given a personal escort by the humpbacks to safety.

A study published in the Journal of Marine Mammal Science established that humpback whales will defend other marine species from orca attacks. Seals, sea lions and grey whale calves have all been beneficiaries of the protective auspices of the humpbacks, seemingly obeying some altruistic instinct to be of aid in rescuing creatures they share the ocean with from certain death by carnivorous predators.

Two researchers from Cascadia Research Collective from Olympia, Washington just happened to be in the close vicinity on a boat belonging to the Port Angeles Whale Watch Co. and they were witness to the unfolding scenario. The whale-watch operators had previous familiarity with two of the humpbacks. Waters off British Columbia and Washington state are now known as the "humpback comeback" for the amazing resurgence of  the once-threatened species.

Marine mammal scientists now have been presented with the opportunity to study the species which fifty years ago were on the verge of extinction. When whale hunting was banned in 1966 there were about 1,600 of the creatures in the eastern North Pacific. At the present time, over 21,000 humpbacks roam the ocean. An immense grouping of 60 humpbacks was reported off Sooke, British Columbia in mid-September.

A clash between a pod of transient killer whales and two adult humpback whales and a calf was reported near Jordan River, British Columbia, in August. According to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, "an epic tussle never seen before by most whale-watchers in this region", occurred and was witnessed and recorded.

Orcas take on humpbacks in battle of B.C. whales 

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Jewish Tradition in China

"Harbin is a modern city that has a deep tradition of music."
"We want to rejuvenate this tradition so we can bring it to the next level."
Liu Shifa, Harbin city deputy mayor

"[Harbin city officials have a goal] a vision of building a cultural bridge with Israel."
"So I came as a catalyst between the two sides."
Zubin Mehta, music director, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

"The Jewish community made huge contributions to the establishment of Harbin's musical tradition."
Miao Di, director, Harbin Museum of Music

"Every city in China is trying to find its niche, and it's clear that Harbin discovered theirs early."
Jindong Cai, professor, musical conductor, Stanford University, California
Main Synagogue in Harbin; 105 years old, refurbished by the Chinese government.. (photo credit:JEWISH COMMUNITITES OF CHINA)
Russian Jews, eager to escape pogroms and state persecution, began to settle in China in the late 19th Century. By the 1920s the city of Harbin saw up to 20,000 Jews settled there, propelled to escape the Bolshevik Revolution and World War 1. Other Chinese cities such as Shanghai had even larger Jewish communities, partly resulting from Japan's invasion of China, and the official Japanese penchant for regarding Jews as a superior race economically nimble believing that Judaism and Shinto had much in common. Going out of their way to give them protection from Nazi persecution even though Japan was an ally of the Third Reich.

A strange situation, given the reality that the Japanese invasion of Korea and China led to horrible atrocities committed by the Japanese, upon Koreans and Chinese, even while Japan thought highly enough of Jewish influence that they hoped to use their careful treatment of Jews to gain influence themselves by manipulating Jews of industry and wealth, believing that, as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that infamous piece of slanderous propaganda pointedly claimed, Jews were set on ruling the world.

There were Schindler counterparts that were Japanese and Chinese; just as the Swedish diplomat went out of his way, courting personal danger, to do what he could to protect Jews from the atrocities of the Third Reich which meant to obliterate Europe's Jews, so too did a Japanese and a Chinese diplomat issue visas to desperate Jews, enabling their escape from the Holocaust's annihilating agenda.

Classical music was introduced to Harbin through the presence of Jews throughout the early 20th Century, when the city was nicknamed the St.Petersburg of the East because of the presence of Russian Jews. Jews living in Harbin were cultural leaders, and one of the features of their presence was the introduction of a symphony orchestra, most of the members of which were Russian Jewish musicians.

An old wry joke illustrative of the kind of bleak, black humour common within the Jewish community, has never ceased making the rounds that Jewish affinity for music ensured that the violin was the instrument of choice for its portability; whenever Jews were expelled they could make a quick getaway with their beloved music-making violins.

Now, a "cultural renaissance" in China has been invoked by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Harbin has decided to invest millions in its bid to highlight its rich cultural musical past. The city has built a new concert hall and a huge opera house, along with a $116-million music conservatory designed and built to traditional neoclassical architectural standards.

Musicians from around the world flocked to the city's 33rd annual Harbin Summer Music Festival. And at the same time that the city has revived its musical traditions, it has paid its respect to its Jewish past; even while giant sculptures of classical Chinese instruments have been erected, standing next to statues of Western composers, in the 49-hectare Harbin Music Park, the city has invested millions more in restoring venerable Jewish synagogues.

The city has set aside millions of dollars to be spent in the restoration of structures built by its former Jewish residents. It has recently refurbished and now maintains a once-neglected cemetery where former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's grandfather, Joseph Olmert, is buried. Jews settling in Harbin were often of the merchant and entrepreneurial class as economic migrants who fled Europe and Russia in hopes of a safer and more prosperous future.

As a Chinese city noted for Western classical music as well as the site of the nation's first symphony orchestra dating from 1908, Harbin had 30 music schools where prominent international musicians received their training. In Harbin, jazz orchestras were established, ballet performances were featured, theatre companies thrived, and there was even an exclusively Yiddish theatre.
"Most Chinese will think Jews are smart, clever or good at making money, and that they have achieved a great deal. This logic - that the Jews are admired for their success despite their small numbers and historical oppression - has also led to a burgeoning industry of self-help books that use Jewish culture and the Talmud to preach business tips."
Professor Xu Xin, director, Institute of Jewish Studies, Nanjing University (one of over half a dozen centers in China dedicated to studying Judaism)
Tsarist Russia encouraged Russian settlement in their important Trans-Siberian-Railway outpost by waiving the then 25-year long military service obligation. For Jews who settled there, the restrictions applying in Russia were also waived. Photo: Harbin Ice        

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Isolation and Loneliness in the Elderly

"There's been an explosion of public awareness here, from local authorities to the Department of Health to the media."
Paul Cann, founder, The Campaign to End Loneliness, London, U.K.

"The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem."
Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, geriatrician, University of California, San Francisco

"This is the first time we've found a cellular substrate for this experience."
"And we saw the change after 24 hours of isolation."
Dr. Kay M. Tye, neuroscientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Denying you feel lonely makes no more sense than denying [that] you feel hunger."
Dr. John T. Cacioppo, professor of psychology, University of Chicago

"We have this kind of male pride thing. We say, 'I can look after myself. I don't need to talk to anyone', and it's a complete fallacy."
"Not communicating helps to kill us."
Mike Jenn, 70, retired charity worker, London

"I was a bit anxious walking into a roomful of people."
"But I immediately thought, 'Yeah, this is a place [the Men's Shed workshop/social gathering] that could work for me'."
Keith Pearshouse, 70, retired school principal, London 
Campaign To End Loneliness page header

Neuroscientists at MITT recently published new findings of research linked to the brain and loneliness. Their study, appearing in the journal Cell, identifies a region known as D.R.N., or dorsal raphe nucleas, earlier recognized as a link to depression. Dr. K.M. Tye and colleagues discovered that when mice were kept in a social unit dopamine neurons in the D.R.N. remained relatively inactive.

Once the mice were separated and isolated from one another, even for a short period of time, the neuron activity surged once they were reunited with other mice, after having been apart. Researchers have evidence that links loneliness to physical illness as well as to cognitive decline. Loneliness, as far as they are concerned, is a better predictor of early death than obesity.

In Blackpool, England, a 24-hour call center was established to aid older adults requiring help in filling a most basic need; contact with others. Loneliness is increasingly viewed in Britain as an issue seriously affecting health and as such has become a public health matter worthy of receiving public funds and attention. The call center, named The Silver Line helpline, handles roughly 10,000 calls on a weekly basis.

Local governments and the United Kingdom's National Health Service have established programs whose purpose is to mitigate loneliness and dozens of towns and cities in England, now host these programs.

Professor Cacioppo deplores the negative aspect given to loneliness, that it is a sign of weakness, or an indication that someone is incapable of independence. His laboratory work has demonstrated the effect of chronic loneliness, associated with increased levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone, along with higher vascular resistance, capable of raising blood pressure while decreasing blood flow to vital body organs.

White blood cells are affected by signals activated in the brain through loneliness whose affect has the potential to impair the effectiveness of the immune system. A national survey of older adults rendered data in 2012 enabling Dr. Perissinotto to analyze the relationship between loneliness and health outcomes in older people. Of the 1,604 study participant, 43 percent reported being lonely and they were seen to have significantly higher rates of declining mobility, of difficulty performing routine activities, along with higher rates of death six years on from the study.

It was noted that 70 percent of the calls to The Silver Line come from women; men are more loathe to admit they are lonely. Retired charity worker Mike Jenn operates a "Men's Shed" in London for the purpose of welcoming older men into a comfortable environment doubling as a woodworking shop. A concept that was initiated in Australia, it has been shown to work very well. Over 300 Men's Sheds now operate throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Surprise Wolf Attacks

"The whole incident is unusual, very unusual."
"If, in fact, it was a wolf attack, it's way outside what we understand and [what] we know."
"Wolves rewrite the book on how they behave all the time. We don't really know everything about them."
Paul Paquet, mammalian biologist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

"If a person gets attacked, it is likely that it is being tested by the wolf, to see if it might serve as prey."
"I am convinced that the animal would have attacked the kid if we hadn't intervened [in Yellowstone Park when a 'habituated' coyote stalked a five-year-old before being chased away]."
Dennis Murray, conservation biologist, Trent University

"Workers are encouraged to report all wildlife sightings to the site safety or environment departments at our operations."
"Scare cannons [ are used in instances of persistent wolves; Saskatchewan law permits] lethal means [to be used, as a last resort]."
Gord Struthers, Cameco representative
Mike Drew/Postmedia News
Mike Drew/Postmedia News     A young wolf near a picnic area on the Banff Parkway. In the past 12 years there have been three suspected wolf attacks on adult men near Saskatchewan’s Cigar Lake, site of a large uranium mine.

Recalling an incident that occurred at the Cigar Lake uranium mine in Saskatchewan on August 29, a mine representative explained: "A single wolf basically pounced on him". A security guard that night happened to hear what sounded like a scuffle at midnight that she took to be two men working at the uranium mine having an argument. When she got into her vehicle with the intention of intervening, her headlights identified a wolf, its jaws on the neck of a 26-year-old kitchen worker.

Her arrival frightened the wolf away, enabling her to render first aid.

Wolves around the Cigar Lake area have a reputation for following hikers, unafraid of being "visible" to people, where wolves normally make an effort to shield their presence from human eyes. Workers at the mine claim that wolves have made it a habit to follow work crews, watching their activities from the space of distant ridges. "They are absolutely huge ... they have no fear of man and come into the job sites often at night", said S.J. Rowe, formerly a worker at the mine.

And it seems that this particular mine is not unique in this way. There appears to be a discernible pattern evident across the region of northern Saskatchewan, home to countless mines as one of the world's most copious natural resources of uranium. Three suspected wolf attacks on adult men taking place within 100 kilometres of one another, within the range of a single wolf pack, are reputed to have occurred in the past twelve years.

Facebook/Chad Glyn Baggott
Facebook/Chad Glyn Baggott   A 2015 photo of a wolf at the Cigar Lake mine site. This particular animal is said to have "jumped" a worker, but was fended away by a blow from a backpack.

Cameco mine worker Fred Desjarlais was walking home on New Year's Eve of 2005 when a wolf suddenly lunged out of a ditch. The man reacted by grabbing the animal around its neck, holding tight until other workers came to help him. Kenton Carnegie, 22, a university student at a mining exploration camp was killed, at age 22, by what a coroner's jury determined to have been a wolf attack. Halfway between those two attacks is the location of the Cigar Lake mine.

Once wolves -- and bears -- lose their fear of the presence of humans as a threat to their existence, and begin to view them as a source of food linked to discarded food ending up as garbage, they are said to have become 'habituated' to the presence of people linking their presence with the easy availability of food. From there they become accustomed to roaming about nearby, without making an effort to hide their presence.

A natural outcome of that scenario is one that biologists speak of as the potential of an "exploratory attack", to determine if they can succeed in taking down a human as they would another large mammal, for food.

There is nothing new in this adaptation of wild animals to the presence of people. In the 15th century, Parisians were aware of the threats associated with wolf pack urban invasions "accustomed to eating human flesh", according to contemporary accounts. Banff and Jasper national parks are under continual pressure when wolves regard unattended campsites as their personal picnic grounds, leading Parks Canada to maintain a vigil at all hours to ensure that wolves do not venture where they should not.

Parks Canada
Parks Canada A grey wolf in Banff National Park.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Recognizing Problems, Finding Solutions

"[Addressing the acute problem of First Nations suicide epidemics] will require co-ordination among education, justice, employment and social welfare sectors."
Laura Egertson, Kirsten Patrick, Canadian Medical Association Journal

"Some factors driving suicide are] crowded housing, intergenerational trauma, family violence, family history of suicide [as well as] witnessing or experiencing physical or sexual abuse, [medical problems such as] depression, substance abuse, mental health disorders [and social dysfunction related to] intoxication, access to means, hopelessness [and] isolation."
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Sky-high suicide rates are blooming on some of Canada's most isolated and economically depressed First Nations reserves where miserable life outcomes have become all too common. So how to solve issues contributing to hopelessness and misery caused by isolation? First Nations tribes tend to cling to their heritage lands and memory of living off the land, though they currently live on the land, but not off it, preferring to emulate the use of convenience foods, commercially produced durables and food, and watching television, over being actively engaged.

Solving such intractable problems as familial dysfunction, community violence, drug abuse, scorn for education and independence given by seeking sources contributing to earning a living and subsequent lack of pride in subsisting on universal welfare doled out to aboriginals goes well beyond daunting. How to convince First Nations that it is in their best interests, to solve these intractable problems, to pursue a fully advanced lifestyle by being absorbed by the prevailing social lifestyle in Canada's larger community?

Which cannot be achieved while First Nations tribes insist on living dependent on government handouts in geographic areas that confine them to an untamed wilderness where there are no employment opportunities, where direct access to science and advanced health care, and exposure to sound education for their children is denied them. If competently trained health care workers, fire fighters, policing services and teachers cannot be found from within their own communities, why is it surprising that those services will not come to the isolated regions courtesy of non-native volunteers?

Canada's suicide rate is 11.4 per 100,000 population, about average for many countries similar to Canada in their advanced-level functioning capabilities. Yet some countries admired for the success of their socially advanced communities have come under scrutiny for the level of their suicide rates, higher than Canada's. Germany has a rate of 13 per 100,000, Sweden 13.2, and Finland a whopping 16.7 per 100,000. Canada's rate would be even lower if it were not influenced by the suicide rates in First Nations communities.

On First Nations reserves the suicide rate comes in at five and a half times the rate throughout the country, in Canada. Canada's Inuit populations most particularly rate as being among the highest on the globe. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami's suicide prevention statistics give the Nunavut suicide rate at 117 per 100,000; a number twice Russia's rate which qualifies as a world leader in suicides. In Nunavut suicides accounted for 13.5 percent of all deaths.

'I do not believe that it is respectful for the government to prescribe solutions for Indigenous peoples when it comes to suicide,' Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told parliamentarians Tuesday. CBC -- Natan Obed, president, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
"Each one of us is personally affected by suicide and this comes from a very early age and it affects our entire life course."
"Imagine a scenario where you grow up understanding how to die by suicide. You have friends, family members, loved ones who have died by suicide. And suicide is normalized in your community."
"I came away frustrated and have continued to be frustrated by the way in which the discussion has happened to date."
"It is as if Indigenous suicide and Inuit suicide is something completely outside a public health context and somehow the answers only lie with us and us alone."
"What they are looking for in many cases is a particular component of suicide prevention that is Indigenous only that usually has something to do with on-the-land camps or cultural continuity, that is relatively cheap."
"I do not believe that it is respectful for the government to prescribe solutions for Indigenous peoples when it comes to suicide."
"Many of the reasons why our communities are the way they are is because of colonization and because of programs and policies of the Canadian government."
"Specific interventions and investments are going to be necessary from different federal departments."
"This, of course, isn't a three to five year push. This is a generational thing."
Natan Obed, president, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Bitterly critiquing the federal government in its attempted approaches to bringing a solution to such dreadful problems, insisting that it is not non-Indigenous who must plan and implement working solutions, but complaining that cheap won't do it, and funding must be lavished on communities which have thus far dismally failed to solve their problems, preferring to lay the blame on the colonialist past solves nothing, but it is typical.

Only once the non-Indigenous and the Indigenous people make a sincere effort beyond well-meaning on the part of government, and determined-to-succeed on the part of Indigenous leaders, will any kind of remedy to the current problems afflicting First Nations come close to solution.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Everything New Is Old Again

"The expression of malignant osteosarcoma indicates that whilst the upsurge in malignancy incidence is correlated with modern lifestyles, there is no reason to suspect that primary bone tumours would have been any less frequent in ancient specimens."
Research paper, South African Journal of Science

"[Cancer that] a striking rarity of malignancies [in the anthropological record suggests that cancer is] limited to societies that are affected by modern lifestyle issues such as tobacco use and pollution."
Egyptologists writing in the journal Nature Reviews

"We don't have anything to report on pathology from these fossils yet [Homo naledi fossils, discovered in 2013]."
"Some really interesting aspects of health leave only very subtle traces on bone [in primitive fossils], so we can't definitively rule anything out."
John Hawks, paleontologist, Johannesburg

The oldest known case of cancer having occurred in an early human ancestor called a protohuman who lived 1.7 million years ago in the Early Pleistocene era was unearthed by a team in the countryside of South Africa. There seems little practical reason not to believe that the same natural threats to human health caused by exposure to the ultraviolet radiation from the sun and radon seeping out of the ground, did not pose a health hazard to early versions of humankind, and on through the ages.

Viruses, similar to those in our present environment, also causing a threat to human health, circulated in primitive eras and had the same effect of corrupting DNA to produce cancer. Hormones known to become active during certain periods of life, accelerating cell multiplication, increasing mutations likelihood represent an internal threat to longevity, with the onset of cancer; then and now. Science points at external sources that invade organisms, causing cancer, but causes are complex and various.

Evidence of a cancerous tumor was found on a bone fossil dating back 1.7 million years. Credit Patrick Randolph-Quinney/University of Central Lancashire
Paleoanthropologists discovered ancient fossilized remains in Swartkrans Cave, located northwest of Johannesburg, producing a research paper describing the discovery of an osteosarcoma in fossilized protohuman remains, describing the find as the most ancient known instance of cancer discovered in a human ancestor.

There is a tendency to believe on the basis of knowledge of cancer prevalence that in modern times humans are more susceptible to cancers than at any other time in human history. Overlooking the fact that human life-expectancy is far greater now than at any other time in human history, and most cancer is acknowledged as a disease of old age, for the most part. Osteosarcoma, of the type discovered in the ancient fossil happens in younger people, responding to spurts of growth in limbs.
In 1932, anthropologist Louis Leakey, top, and his crew discovered a fossilized jawbone in Kenya with an abnormal-looking growth. At the time, Leakey claimed it was the oldest evidence of early human ancestors. While that view has changed, the fossil is still considered remarkable for the possible tumor it carries on its left side. Now housed at the Natural History Museum in London, the bone is known as the Kanam mandible, named after the fossil bed where it was found.
John Reader/Science Source

Kanam Man, who lived some 700,000 years ago in East Africa was held, when it was discovered in 1932,  to be the previous oldest humanoid suffering from cancer, discovered in a tumorous jawbone. Of the Swartkrans discovery, a footbone is all that remains. Since the discovery of Kanam Man diagnostic techniques have greatly advanced with microfocus X-ray computed tomography technology validating earlier hypotheses.

The conclusion reached by two Egyptologists writing six years ago, that cancer's manifestation is a present-day malady resulting from exposure to environmental carcinogens,  not one that persisted in primitive eras forward, appears to have been precipitate, even though in that same year scientists studying bones from two burial sites in Egypt dating to 3200 B.C., along with a German ossuary of between 1400 and 1800, concluded that adjusting for longevity, cancer rates have remained steady for centuries.

It is difficult to discern with any accuracy that malignant tumours elsewhere in the body, representing the full range of the disease, existed to plague humankind when only bones remain after burial, and it is only cancers that afflict the bone that can be studied, since all that is left of human remains is calcified bone.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Threatening Biodiversity

"It's never just one thing that brings down trees. It's always a combination. The first may weaken trees; the next stresses trees over time. Then comes a third, shutting down the trees' immune and defense systems."
"Finally, the last may come along to disrupt nutrient systems. When all this happens at once, or in rapid succession, trees are no longer able to save themselves."
David Rizzo, head, plant pathology, University of California, Davis
Californian sudden oak death epidemic 'unstoppable,' new epidemics must be managed earlier
Large-scale tree mortality in northern Sonoma County, California. Credit: David Rizzo

Dr. Rizzo and Matteo Garbelotto, professor of environmental science policy at the University of California, Berkeley, studied the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, discovering that it had settled in to infest coast oaks before anyone realized what was happening. The pathogen, which has funguslike characteristics, is known by the more plebeian name that aptly describes its lethal effect on certain trees, of "sudden oak death". But it wouldn't be nearly as effective at killing oak trees were it not for other, complicating issues.

As Dr. Rizzo notes, it's never one single issue that can be held to be responsible for the dreary spectacle of California's Sierra Nevada and North Coast forests crammed with dead and dying conifers and deciduous trees; oak to pine, a combination of drought, warmer winters thanks to climate change, and the presence of killer pathogens, aided and abetted by native fungi ready to take advantage of opportunity, all together manifesting challenges to the health of forests.

Climate change is no doubt involved in periods of prolonged drought, and it certainly is held to be responsible for the warmer winters that no longer freeze to death forest pestilence as they once did; bark beetles known to be deleterious to the longevity of certain trees are now able to withstand the rigours of warmer winters, reproducing in far greater numbers and laying their larvae under the bark of trees to feast on the hapless hosts, destroying their ability to thrive normally.

Add to that non-native interlopers, plant pathogens of immense potency that have infiltrated from abroad in plant specimens imported for cultivation, carrying with them nasty stowaways that thrive in the high humidity areas of the North Coast; some of them hitching rides in other ways, thanks to global trade. The forest floor, littered with dead trees, becomes susceptible to wildfires feeding on the resulting combustible woody debris.
Californian sudden oak death epidemic 'unstoppable,' new epidemics must be managed earlier
Map shows risk of infection in 2030 under no control on left; control on and ahead of wave-front on right. Credit: Nik Cunniffe

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Pines and other conifers are falling victim to the deadly combination of circumstances. Oh, and that "sudden oak death" interloper that has steadily been victimizing great swathes of forests has likely been around since the mid-1980s, reckons Drs. Rizzo and Garbelotto. Who estimate five million to ten million coastal trees have perished resulting from the onset of sudden oak death. Nothing new about such pathogens, a century earlier in Ireland, a cousin pathogen created the Great Potato Famine.

The wet, cool climate of the North Coast presents an ideal environment for sudden oak death to thrive. The vector of the disease spread by the pathogen is the bay laurel tree, itself immune to the deadly affect of the Phytophthora ramorum, but as a host implicated in its spread. When rain occurs the water falling on the contaminated bay laurel leaves spills over onto the forest floor enabling the lethal spores reach close-by trees such as tan oaks and coast oak.

Once the pathogen penetrates the bark, lethal spores are launched sapping the tree of its nutrients and inviting native fungi to follow, along with other pests. Their efficient invasion of a healthy tree leaves it dead within a few years. The potential for the pathogen to spread even further in Northern California's redwood forests, felling trees as it spreads, increases the risk of wildfires resulting from all that dead wood, threatening the prized redwood giants' survival.

Photo of tree trunks in a coastal redwood forest
National Science Foundation -- Pathogen that causes sudden oak death leaves redwoods vulnerable to fire

To place the issue into a greater perspective of potential harm, over one hundred species of trees and shrubs species are known to be susceptible to the threat that the pathogen presents; the situation is one of dire existentialism, threatening the biodiversity of invaluable ecosystems. That aside, in a more personal perspective, we owe much to the presence of trees and forests as carbon sinks, cleaning the air we breathe, and awing us with the beauty of their life forms, their venerable age and their importance to the survival of all living things.
Sudden oak death is known to affect over one hundred species of tree and shrub, presenting a significant risk to the biodiversity of many ecosystems

Read more at:
Sudden oak death is known to affect over one hundred species of tree and shrub, presenting a significant risk to the biodiversity of many ecosystems

Read more at:

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Introvert/Extrovert Matched Friends

"Treating friends like investments or commodities is anathema to the whole idea of friendship."
"There's a limited amount of time and emotional capital we can distribute, so we only have five slots for the most intense type of relationship. People may say they have more than five [friends] but you can be pretty sure they are not high-quality friendships."
Ronald Sharp, professor of English, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

"People don't like to hear that the people they think of as friends don't name them as friends."
"Reality might be that] the possibility of non-reciprocal friendship challenges one's self-image."
Alex Pentland, MIT computational social science researcher

British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar explains his take on friendships; that they are layered with the ultimate layer represents one or two people; a spouse, for example and a best friend where daily contact reflects the closeness. The second tier represents maximum, four people with whom weekly contact is made, because there is an affinity between the character and the needs of those friends for emotional support.

The lower tier or tiers are represented by friends with whom relationships are strictly casual, seen far less frequently, interacted with sporadically and with whom the emotional connection may be more practical, not a tight one. Alexander Nehamas, professor of philosophy, Princeton University, feels that the connection we call friendship "is difficult to describe. It's easier to say what friendship is not, and foremost, it is not instrumental".

In essence friendship is a deep regard for others, an intangible connection of great psychological meaning and inner need fulfilled. The purpose of which is not to gain something material or some kind of status, but to satisfy an emotional need for the company and regard of someone with whom one feels a need to communicate and whose company is deeply satisfying in fulfilling that social/emotional need.

Research of recent vintage confirms that of perceived friendships, only fifty percent turn out to be mutually regarded. Taking for granted that someone is your friend might be surprisingly wrong; that person may have no more than a slight interest in a reciprocal friendship. And of course the reverse occurs as well, that someone who doesn't enjoy your high regard feels secure in the belief that they do.

Social scientists are convinced of the need for people to be fulfilled through social relationships that feed an emotional drive. Without that fulfillment, they feel convinced that most people suffer blows to their health outcomes and harbour feelings of unappreciation and loneliness. A recent study took 84 subjects to analyze friendship connections of people aged 23 to 38. The subjects were urged to rank one another.

They were all in a business management class. A five-point recognition of closeness ranged from "I don't know this person" to "one of my best friends". The result identified feelings that were mutual 53 percent of the time even as the expectation of reciprocity was seen to hover at 94 percent. So what is perceived is not necessarily what pertains.

According to Dr. Sharp, friends are those people whom you make the effort and take the time to try to understand, permitting them in exchange to understand what matters to you. Those who reach out casually to increase the numbers of people they can count on as being their friend leads to shallow, non-reciprocal relationships.

The lack of depth and commitment of those relationships, according to medical experts risks feelings of isolation and friendlessness which in turn can make people obsess about the emotional facade their life represents lacking depth, and this is when harmful habits may kick in like smoking, alcoholism and over-eating, leading to obesity and early death.

Science also recognizes the part of the brain that responds to helping people to invest themselves in maintaining quality relationships. "It's huge to have good vagal ['smart' vagul nerve] tone, because it modulates our instinctive fight, flight or freeze response", explains Amy Banks, a psychiatrist specializing in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, author of "Wired to Connect: The Surprising Link Between Brain-Science and Strong, Healthy Relationships."

When authentic friendships do not occur, the theory is that the smart vagus nerve remains unexercised, losing tone and leaving someone with deep anxiety. That state of being makes it ever more difficult to connect with others. Identifying the people in your life who matter to you requires some questioning of yourself.

Who values time time spent with you? Whose company makes your life richer and more interesting? Whose absence would you grieve? Who would experience sadness if you were absent for any reason from their life and circle of friendship? On the other hand, given the results of the experiments determining how often people misinterpret the depth of their friendships, perhaps the questions would all be affirming rather than confirming.

No one wants to believe their investment of time, emotion and need is a wasted effort. And of course there are always people who prefer solitude, have no deep emotional need to share their lives with anyone in a meaningful way, and somehow manage to live deeply satisfying personal lives, and whose longevity and health is no different than those with a close coterie of friends.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Storr Lochs Monster

"Look, a lot of specimens are in museums for a long time before they're studied, so it's easy to go back to that trope [criticism that a half-century has passed since the discovery of an ancient ichthyosaur, its bones in storage, no research undertaken]."
"I don't think there were any here at the time [1966], actually [vertebrate paleontologists]."
"One of the reasons I came here is that I thought it was really under-studied [Scotland's fossils]."
"There's a good chance it's a new species just because it's from a part of the world and a place in time where very few fossils are known. We know that quite a lot was happening then [Middle Jurassic Period]. On land, the tyrannosaurs were getting their start, and it's probably when the first birds were flying around, and in the ocean you had this big turnover event when smaller marine animals were replaced by bigger ones."
"So it's frustrating because it seems like an active period in evolution but one with very few fossils [discovered in Scotland]."
"So few people have ever looked for fossils here. Scotland isn't what you think of when you think of fossils. But there are a lot out there waiting to be found."
Steve Brusatte, researcher, vertebrate paleontologist, University of Edinburgh
Forget Loch Ness — Storr Lochs Monster Ruled Ancient Scotland
Artist's rendering of Storr Lochs Monster.    Credit: Todd Marshall
The big story in paleontology and the ancient creatures that once lived is that the Loch Ness Monster has taken second billing as an imaginary sea monster mind-titillating to those who claim to have seen her, to the reality of the discovery of one that swam in local waters off Scotland 170 million years ago. The venerable remains of this beast were discovered by a power station worker for the Isle of Skye in 1966 the bones removed and placed in storage.

There is a reason that the fossil remains were unstudied for a half-century.

For one thing the science of vertebrate paleontologists had no representatives in Scotland until very recently when Dr. Brusatte entered the picture. For another, the fossil's vertebrae were encased in hard stone, and a way had to be found to free the marine reptile skeleton from its encased condition. So the valued relic of primeval times was carefully placed in storage until some future time when it might become feasible to dedicate time and expertise to the full exploration of what it represents.

That time has come for the fossil's preservation awaiting scientific enquiry to finally render under expert scrutiny details that will place the beast within a recognized coterie of similar such creatures, or persuade the experts that they are examining a totally new, as-yet-undiscovered species. Dr. Brusatte in his early research appears of the opinion that the ichthyosaur shares similarities with marine reptiles discovered in other geographic locations.

The educated theory is that the Storr Lochs Monster would have resembled a dolphin, attaining the size of a small boat, a predator of a sea monster whose mouthful of conical teeth were used to full advantage as a carnivore feasting on fish, itself representing the top of the marine food chain. Despite which, Dr. Brusatte is convinced that once their investigation is complete this find will add a new species to the roster of identified primal beasts.

fossil The fossilised skeleton will be analysed by palaeontologists
Melissa Hogenboom/BBC
What the fossil represents is the most complete marine reptile skeleton ever found in Scotland that is so impressively ancient. Now, new techniques have been pioneered to release fossils from their rocky beds without destroying them in the process. Fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period, which the Storr Lochs Monster represents, are rarely discovered anywhere in the world.

Palaeontologist Nigel Larkin and the fossil
The fossil will eventually go on public display --  Nigel Larkin

"The Storr Lochs Monster highlights the rich fossil heritage of Skye."
"Collaborations between scientists at National Museums Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere in the UK are beginning to shed new light on the Middle Jurassic of Skye - a time when dinosaurs were dominant on land but mammals were also diversifying."
Dr. Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences, National Museums Scotland

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Evolutionary Biology

"It looks like they've moved up the Metro-North line into Connecticut. There's also a population in Hastings-on-Hudson."
"It's a body plan [10 centimetres in length, split-second fast, evolutionarily flexible] that has been around for hundreds of millions of years. That's the cool part of this story. We have this historical perspective that evolution is one of these processes that takes a really, really long time. But we're also finding that evolutionary changes can take place over a few generations."
"Across the board, this is just an interesting ecological oddity."
"I think it's possible they are jumping on a train [facilitating their geographic spread]. But it's more likely that they are just running up the train tracks They're really fast, and it's a straight runway."
Colin Donihue, post-doctoral biologist, Harvard University
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

They do get around, for tiny animals not native to New York, let alone Connecticut and elsewhere in the United States where they're showing up. Their native habitat is far from the United States, though. They're not called Italian wall lizards as a cute reference to sleazy bar-hangers-on of Italian origin. These tiny reptiles are originally from the Tuscany region of Italy where it is hot and sunny and dry. And just as many exotic species of living things find their way into pet stores, so too did Italian wall lizards.

It has been theorized that the creatures somehow escaped their shipment boxes either en route to the pet stores where they were meant to be sold, or in the shops themselves. In the late 1960s evidently, a Bronx pet dealer was said to have sold 210 of the lizards to the township of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, touting them as a natural pest control solution to a local problem. Releasing them to the environment in the interests of ridding it of undesirable insects would have the natural consequence of their adaptation and subsequent natural increase.

When this lizard species was brought to an island off Croatia their usual diet of insects underwent a change in the absence of insects, with the lizards swiftly turning to the local flowers, berries and foliage for sustenance. After life on the island for 36 years, a researcher discovered they had managed to develop a solution to their changed diet; a new pocket in their gut for processing the plant material, and that, in evolutionary terms is a swift blink of the eye in terms of time.

The fascinating topic of species' adaptation on introduction to new environments -- when nature has established their presence elsewhere, providing the required food that is species-specific, discovering that some species are capable of accepting alternate foods that are available in a new environment -- keeps biologists busy scrutinizing all examples that come to their attention. Dr. Donihue is being aided by colleagues at Yale University.

YPM R 19238
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

In Vienna, Austria, it was discovered that spiders began to build webs close to street lights to take advantage of moths drawn to those lights during the dark night hours. While in Amsterdam, Madrid, Berlin and Prague as well as other geographic name-places, European blackbirds which had abandoned their native forests for urban life, sing as a result, at a higher pitch, to be heard over traffic sounds. In the process, something which might have been a source of aggravation, led them instead to develop temperaments that were calmer.

Ecosystems have been altered in lock-step with the globalization of travel, where long-distance air, and ship travel introduced the potential for not only human beings but other natural creatures to travel unnoticed, as extra cargo. That's what happened when bird-eating snakes, securing themselves in the landing gear of airliners introduced themselves to Hawaii. As for the lizards, they were somehow released in Ohio, Kansas and British Columbia, as well.

At least four of the five boroughs around New York City have discovered these tiny lizards in their midst. And since there are no existing native lizards in New York, the Italian lizards pose no threat to local biological peers. Dr. Donihue is interested in tracking the lizards to discover how far north they will be able to move, surviving cold in winters far surpassing that of their native habitat. To survive they must also hide from predators like cats, snakes and birds and the rocky beds of train tracks could be their salvation, Dr. Donihue feels.

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

"High Price for a Low Fish"

"We kept thinking we'd find a success story, a place where seafood wouldn't be mislabelled."
"Every single study that we reviewed, except for one, found seafood fraud."
"It is likely that the average consumer has eaten mislabelled fish for sure. You're getting ripped off ... you're paying a high price for a low fish."
"This report [on seafood fraud] reveals that it's a global problem. And it's not going to go away on its own."
Beth Lowell, senior campaign director, Oceana

According to the ocean conservation group Oceana, one in five seafood samples undergoing tests on a global sweep turned out to be completely other than what the menu or the packaging containing the fish claimed it to be. Over 25,000 seafood products were sampled and when the group analyzed the contents, a full twenty percent were proven to be labelled incorrectly.

The group, whose lead author was their senior campaign director, analyzed over 200 previous studies from 55 countries. One of the studies examining the situation in Italy identified that 82 percent of the 200 samples of perch, grouper and swordfish had been mislabelled. In South Africa, another study pointed out, King mackerel, known to be high in mercury content, was billed as "barracuda" and "wahoo".

And in Hong Kong, one only of 29 samples of "abalone" product was correctly identified on the label. In Southern California, two sushi chefs in Santa Monica sold endangered whale meat which they had identified as "fatty" tuna, and for their troubles they were charged with fraud, as a result. An interactive map was produced by the Oceana researchers demonstrating where cases of inauthentic fish were found.

Asian catfish which, with its white flesh is readily disguised when presented as fillets and drenched in sauce, turned out to be the most common of the impostor fish, sold in lieu of 18 types of more costly fish species including perch, cod and grouper. The group's study include DNA analyses from peer-reviewed papers, newspaper investigations and Oceana's own previous studies.

Examples were found of mislabelling practices reflecting every level of the supply chain handling seafood; the wholesaler, the importer and the retailer. Roughly 80 percent of the studies took their samples at grocery stores and restaurants, reflecting the final stage of the supply chain, resulting in retailers being found to have higher levels of mislabelling. The consumer, needless to say, remains blissfully unaware.

The researchers simply presented what they discovered, making no effort to apportion blame. They were, in fact, not certain whether food stores and restaurants deliberately make an effort to deceive clients, or whether they are themselves victims of false claims when they purchase the fish they later highlight with uncertain identities.
Linda Hughes/Shutterstock
Of the mislabelled samples, 58 percent were found to have been substituted for some types of fish that potentially might surface as health risks to consumers such as pregnant women and children. One New York grocery store was given as an example of this finding: the researchers discovered blueline tile-fish -- a species on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Do Not Eat" list resulting from its high mercury content, labelled "Alaskan halibut", and alternately "red snapper".

Occasionally, substituted fish turned out to be, in reality, an endangered species. Instances occurred in Brazil where "shark" was actually fish meat from the large-tooth sawfish, critically endangered, as is highlighted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Stricter regulation for fish tracking through the supply chain is considered to be one way that this kind of fraud can be controlled.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Canada and the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

"I note that as the family has currently no status in Canada and is not eligible for health care coverage and has no funds to pay for their treatment, therefore it may be a better option for Vladyslav Zadorozhnyi to return to Ukraine and receive treatment, where he has a status and the treatment is available to him."
Inland Enforcement Officer D. Sliwka, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada

"He was literally wailing, especially when he started to tell me about the persecution he experienced in Ukraine and his fear of being returned. In this case, he and his family are doomed. He has good reasons to expect that they will kill him."
"He needs support. I hope that he will be successful in seeking refugee status, which may give him some relief in terms of the very traumatic situation he was, and is, in."
Felix Yaroshevsky, psychiatrist

"[Mr. Zadorozhnyi was victim to a] swindle [in 2011, and an arson event in 2014 but the] allegation of a current conspiracy of criminals and government officials extorting him using a threat of death or harm to his family is not supported by credible evidence."
Immigration and Refugee Board Canada case worker
 Tyler Anderson / National Post
Tyler Anderson / National Post   Vladyslav Zadorozhnyi, 15, (left) with his younger brother Andriy Ryabinin (centre), 7, and mother Maryna Zadorozhna (right) in Toronto, Ontario, Wednesday, September 7, 2016.

Appealing to Canada for haven from political persecution and the danger of violence directed against them, the family of Andriy Ryabinin, step-father to Vladyslav Zadorozhnyi, 15, Maryna Zadorozhna, the boy's mother and wife of Mr. Ryabinin, and their 7-year-old son Andriy junior, were turned down, their application failing to convince the Border Services Agency that they were indeed in dire danger if they were to be returned to Ukraine.

The experience of this family in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkov, bordering Russia in East Ukraine, was rife with threats and danger, the family claiming that the 15-year-old was forced to cancel all his normal routines for danger of abduction and had to be driven by armed guard to attend school. The mother was harassed and warned of danger lurking behind them, and her husband felt himself in mortal danger.

Andriy Ryabinin, 45, owned a number of businesses in Kharkov; three clothing stores, two restaurants and the production of a magazine. Claiming extortion by gangsters and threats from corrupt police, they sought refugee status in Canada. Fears of kidnapping and violence caused such stress in the 15-year-old that he attempted suicide when the family was informed their claim had been rejected.

A deportation order had been issued, which led to Vladyslav Zadorozhnyi taking an overdose of prescription drugs. He was hospitalized until his heart normalized after a week, and lives in fear of being sent back to Ukraine. The Canada Border Services Agency refused to defer deportation on medical and compassionate grounds on the basis of "insufficient evidence" the family would suffer as they claimed: "undeserved or disproportionate hardship".

Canada is involved in the Russia-Ukraine dispute over Ukraine's sovereignty, in support of Ukraine against the bullying and threats that Russia represents, as it backs, arms and aids ethnic-Russian Ukrainians rebelling against being governed by Kyiv. Moscow's illegal seizure of the Crimean Peninsula, depriving Ukraine of its internationally-recognized, lawful territory, elicited sanctions against Russia.

It can be seen how this family's situation has been impacted by the conflict. But that Canadian authorities feel it to be appropriate to detain the family head in jail, as a flight risk, and that the rest of the family had also spent some time in jail cells for fear of their attempting to escape before being deported back to Ukraine, seems unwarranted.  The Public Safety Minister appears to have granted a stay of deportation for the family, in the interim.

Tellingly, Kharkov, despite its eastern Ukraine location bordering Russia, did not go the way of Luhansk and Donetsk which capitulated to the Ukrainian rebels and remain in their hands, bisecting Ukraine. Most Ukrainians living in Kharkov, whether or not they represent ethnic Russian stock or not, preferred to remain loyal to Ukraine, rejecting the rebels' call to join their violent separatist rebellion.

And the family of Vladyslav Zadorozhnyi was obviously caught up in this vortex of rival loyalties, making it feasible to imagine that they felt their Russian roots stirring to the refrain of Russian entitlement to Ukrainian heritage as their very own, since Russia always has felt that Ukraine was their very own.

A female newly graduate of the University of Military Air Forces marches in Kharkiv, Ukraine, during a graduation ceremony. Even as the region stays clear of the separatist war, the upheaval next door is forcing it to pivot westward. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Eureka! Bacterial Exposure Useful to Children's Immune Systems

"We found [in laboratory mice] exactly what we found in the children [exposed to bacteria-laden dust]."
"If we gave the Amish dust, we protect the mice [research experiment]. If we give the Hutterite dust, we do not protect them."
Dr. Donata Vercelli, associate director, asthma and airway research center, University of Arizona
Image credit: Ad Meskens via Wikimedia Commons

The conclusion that new research reached, and the study published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine, is not exactly new, but it is additional validation of previous studies that hypothesized that allergies are more common in today's generation of children than they have been historically because of the simple fact that modern hygiene is that more effective in ensuring that young children in their infancy don't too often come in direct contact with germs.

We protect our very young children from exposure to dirt and grime and all the germs and pathogens that may be in them so religiously that our children's immune systems don't have the opportunity to build natural immunity as they would if exposure did occur and parents were less rigorous in protecting children from dirt and from natural surroundings. It has been known for years that children develop asthma as a result of too-clean environments.

This time around, investigating scientists feel they have discovered what it is that prevents asthma in children and that something can be microbes from farm animals which in farming communities are invariably carried into the home through dust particles hosting those microbes. If and when children become exposed to microbes whose presence stimulates the immune system in their earliest years of development, protection against asthma can fairly well be assumed.

Children from two very disparate but similar groups, the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of North Dakota, became part of an experiment. Rare among the Amish, affecting no more that two to four percent of their population, asthma is common among Hutterite communities, with fifteen to twenty percent affected, in comparison.

Amish communities originated in Switzerland, while Hutterites developed as a culture in Austria. What they have in common is that both groups have large families and see value in practising
a simple lifestyle, with similar diets, and children from both groups experiencing little exposure to tobacco or polluted air. Both of these groups look askance on indoor pets, and both maintain meticulously clean and tidy home interiors.

One significant difference is present in their farming methods, with the Amish living on single-family dairy farms and the Hutterites on large, industrialized communal farms. The Amish eschew the use of electricity, using horses to haul their plows, and for transportation purposes, with barns close to their homes, where the children are permitted to play. The Hutterites, on the other hand, house their cows in huge barns, distanced from their homes and children do not tend to play in those barns.

Thirty Amish children comprised part of the study, none of whom had asthma, but they all did have a lot of neutrophils -- white blood cells, acting as 'paramedics' for the immune system. The neutrophils emerge from bone-marrow, as evidence of a continual low-grade reaction to microbial presence in their system. Of the 30 Hutterite children in the study, six had asthma, and all of the Hutterite children had much ewer neutrophils in their bloodstream.

Their blood, by contrast, swarmed with another type of immune cell, eosinophils, which have a tendency to provoke allergic reactions. The researchers' study led to analyzing dust from the Amish and the Hutterite homes, to discover that the Amish dust was full of debris from bacteria, while the Hutterite dust was free of such debris.

When the researchers tested the dust on laboratory mice, the little creatures furnished evidence of the hypothesis that exposure to microbial bacteria resulted in few incidents of asthma because of an energized immune system, prepared to react at any given time to protect the body's integrity, while the reverse was true of the bacteria-free dust; it led to a potential for the onset of asthma as a result of a non-exposed immune system that had no reason to send out its 'paramedics' which had become lazy through disuse.
Image result for asthma, farm children
Asthma is rare among Amish children, who live close to animals on farms like this one in Pennsylvania. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Fit To Judge

"What did he get from asking that? What did he expect me to say?"
"He made me hate myself, that I should have done something [to prevent the assault], like I was some kind of slut ... "
"I hate myself that I let that happen, that I let that judge speak to me that way."
"My mom had a very similar story, where she's been assaulted and it's just kinda overlooked. I struggle a lot about where my family has come from and been overlooked by the justice system."
"[I] cleaned up my addictions and I got a job, so that's really good."
24-year-old aboriginal woman -- unnamed rape victim

"Why not -- why didn't you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn't penetrate you?"
"And when your ankles were held together by your jeans, your skinny jeans, why couldn't you just keep your knees together?"
Judge Robin Camp, Alberta provincial court, 2014 court case: Wagar rape trial

"[The question for the 5-member panel is] not whether Robin Camp's shortcomings can or have been remedied, but whether public confidence in the judiciary can be remedied without his removal."
"[The inquiry purpose is to balance] how his comments impact [upon the independence, integrity and impartiality expected of] the judiciary, writ large."
Marjorie Hickey, presenting counsel, Judicial Counsel Inquiry, Calgary
Federal Court Justice Robin Camp arrives with his wife Mariaan, right, and daughter Lauren at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in Calgary.
Federal Court Justice Robin Camp arrives with his wife Marian, right, and daughter Lauren at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in Calgary. (Canadian Press)
Little wonder that women who have been sexually assaulted often prefer to bear the burden of the criminal act perpetrated upon them, rather than have their verity questioned, become a public figure of disgrace, perhaps be viewed by police and hospital personnel as having been involved in inciting the sexual attack they suffered by some action on their part, precipitating rape. As though the situation isn't difficult enough for any woman; for a then-19-year-old aboriginal woman who already has a number of preconceptions to bear, having the dignity of her right to personal bodily security questioned by a judge must surely have been devastating.

All the more so when the judge found for the accused, judging that insufficient integrity could be found in the  young woman's description of events and what had occurred, preferring to believe that she could have averted the sexual violence had she made the effort, if that was what really had occurred and the sex act was not mutually consented to. The man against whom the young woman brought charges of rape was acquitted by the judge who had already demeaned the victim by his suggestions and further disgraced justice by letting her rapist go free.

The remarks he addressed to the young woman at trial would have been a devastating assault to her fragile self-confidence. For the fact is that when women undergo that kind of intimate violence they are already in a state of psychic delicacy, in doubt about themselves and raging within at the same time that they were violated; ashamed and forever burdened. Canada's criminal justice system, the judges, and the lawyers tasked to find a just solution to a complainant's suffering is at stake relating to an issue much in the news, where other such trials often fail to deliver a verdict reflecting justice.

In this instance, a young woman was raped, her rapist was brought to trial and the presiding justice questioned her veracity and why she, a vulnerable victim, did nothing to stop her attacker, and in the final analysis deciding he was unconvinced that a rape had taken place. She was three times assaulted; once by the rapist and twice by the system of justice that had failed her. But it just happened that Justice Robin Camp's quoted remarks to the young woman made the news and elicited public outrage, and by extension questions arose as to his suitability to sit on the bench.

But not before, soon after this trial, he was appointed to the Federal Court of Canada. He is now struggling to explain himself after having apologized for his lapse of judgement, hoping to save his job and not be removed from the Federal Court where his salary is a generous $314,000 annually to dispense justice at the federal level in the country. This dreadfully inconvenient questioning of his suitability to remain on the bench rather than be removed in disgrace, comes at a most awkward time for this 64-year-old man who is seeing the fruit of his inappropriate and demeaning conduct to a helpless victim being re-visited, this time in a court of judicial review.

His lawyer has stated that his client "will admit some of his thinking was infected by myths", but that he should be forgiven because he is at heart an empathetic and good judge who has since undergone counselling, mentoring and training with a judge, a psychologist and an academic expert on the issue of sexual assault. All of which broaches the thought: why, if he was so egregiously unprepared, was he sitting on the bench in this capacity to begin with?

Judge Camp is now held to have displayed "an antipathy" to the rape-shield portion of the law, exhibited "stereotypical or biased thinking" relating to sex assault complaints, leaning on "discredited stereotypical assumptions", and proceeded to render derogatory remarks aimed at the trial prosecutor, committing unforgivingly to comments "tending to belittle or trivialize" the complainant's allegations and women in general.

The inquiry now being held to pass informed judgement on whether or not this man should continue to sit as a respected and discerning justice on the Federal Court of Canada will determine whether the public has good reason to believe that justice will be meted out when women suffer the most degrading and spirit-destroying assaults possible launched on females from all walks of life in all situations imaginable. It is now up to the committee of three senior judges and two lawyers to make that decision.

Donald Walker and Jessica Daigle
Donald Walker and Jessica Daigle hold signs in support of victims of sexual assault outside the room where the inquiry into Justice Robin Camp's handling of a 2014 trial is being reviewed. (Carolyn Dunn/CBC)

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