Zika? Toxo? Both?!


Say “Zika virus” and most Americans immediately want mosquito abatement. Yet of a disease that can be equally horrific – and like Zika, in about 4 of 5 those afflicted have no symptoms – there is barely a whisper.

This scourge too can masquerade as the flu and/or be sexually transmitted, and can cause babies to be born with shrunken heads. It’s true there’s a likelihood Zika could be an emergency of international concern, but I am not referring to or minimizing it here. The scourge already all over the country and the planet, why have we ignored that at our peril?

Already known to cause macro- or microcephaly (as in Zika-caused shrunken heads), the older condition stems from the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii. When a person first contracts it, there may be flu-like symptoms – or no symptoms at all, like Zika. Toxo can be especially devastating in already immune-compromised individuals, causing delirium, seizures, pneumonia, retinal inflammation, and/or encephalitis. Those who become ill in acquiring the parasite may have it reactivate, for it can lie dormant for years. It is proving to lurk within us for decades – sometimes forever.

T. gondii lies unconcerned, undisturbed in millions of people. In recent studies it has been shown to make women more outgoing and warm, men more suspicious and morose, drivers more impulsive and thus more likely to take reckless risks, and to make depressed individuals more prone to attempt suicide, more likely to use lethal means, and therefore more likely to succeed. Toxo is implicated in schizophrenia, which has costs into the hundreds of millions of dollars in this country alone; some die from its effects. Possibly, likely, Toxo is responsible for a million deaths annually worldwide – more than malaria, which kills someone every 12 seconds.

Toxo has been found in beluga whales, birds, pigs, sheep and Ohio white-tail deer. Have you perhaps ever eaten food animals without cooking the meat quite enough? The second leading cause of U.S. foodborne-illness death is Toxo. 

Although T. gondii could be said to want to get into a cat, the only place it can achieve sexual reproduction, it is “content” to practice asexual reproduction in dogs, farm animals, people. Does Toxo makes ocean creatures beach themselves? Until we know for sure, we’re taking chances with the lives of the animals which belong here – and our own.

An infected mouse may contain many tissue cysts of T. gondii, and a cat that ingests just one is soon capable of shedding millions of the parasite’s eggs or other tissue cysts in its feces. A new mom’s immune system can protect against E. coli or the flu, but not Toxo, which can result in a fetus being born blind, mentally retarded, or stillborn – the reason pregnant women have long been told to have hubby change the litterbox.

Yet many humans never dream of avoiding cats. Cat lovers have protested we must merely support Trap-Neuter-Release, when there aren’t enough volunteers to watch over the cats already in colonies, and which really means they don’t care if cats re-impose themselves on neighbors. At least Governor Mario Cuomo – seeing that cat populations were not going down even where TNR was practiced – decided that the American Bird Conservancy, Audubon and similar groups were the ones with the proper science: New York won’t be diverting any dog licensing fees to support Felis cattus, the introduced mesopredators, which have been called the ultimate meat-eating machine. In other words, in New York state at least, there will be no further pretense of cats being wildlife, since they aren’t.

Because humans spread rats and cats willy-nilly worldwide, we have likely made Toxo the most common parasite there is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts Toxo in the five Neglected Parasitic Infections (along with toxocariasis, cysticercosis, trichomoniasis and Chagas disease). We should not be treating unattended cats as cute forlorn kitties that can’t do anything unless people feed them, or as victims to be “helped” from trees (not to mention they’ve been known to scratch the would-be rescuer or to leap to the next tree) – they’re disease vectors!

Meanwhile Chicago blithely encourages no-kill shelters (without saying who’s going to pay for them, and if taxpayers, why?) and a plethora of cat cafes while the hazards are ignored. Before farming them out, so to speak, will these cats be tested for Toxo? Will anyone check the cafes for those sometimes airborne oocysts/tissue cysts, which can live dry for a year and a half? It would be unconscionable for the managers to keep quiet if it’s found, in hopes of getting more ferals adopted – but would they, because the parasite is whispering in their brains to hush up about cats?

Cats used to be viewed with the same scorn and disgust as mice and rats. Americans seem increasingly to be great thinkers and speakers, as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were, no more; perhaps Toxo on the brain explains why we are unable to manage long stretches of thoughtful discourse.

New Zealand has its children trained to quickly report anything with fur and beady eyes (the island country has nothing native with these attributes) so it can be eradicated. From otters off California’s coast to beluga whales which swim the cold and mighty Arctic, too many (and even one is one victim too many) have been found suffering from Toxo’s effects, undoubtedly from infected kitty litter washed away into the sea. If it’s Toxo that’s responsible when those oceangoers like whales and dolphins inexplicably beach themselves, if the cat disease is making these great beasts – which belong in their ecosystems, unlike cats – sicken and die, if it’s making humans stupid, we should be working far harder to eradicate it.

If cats have to perish for us to be great again, so be it.

Maybe there’s a Toxo/Zika link.  If we focus only on the latter and on mosquito abatement we might never know. Besides Governor Cuomo and the American Bird Conservancy, who will do anything about the other just-as-common out-of-control disease vector — cats?

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The Bane of Bird Feeders

I have been appalled to read recommendations not only to feed birds seed at a repurposed milk carton bird feeder, but to paint the entire container brown with acrylic paint.

Why? Shouldn’t we recycle? Don’t we care about birds?

If the instructions include to cover the container with craft glue and decorate with sticks and twigs, why would it “need” to be painted? Because acrylic paints, like most nail polishes, even if sometimes touted as non-toxic, will eventually fail, and neither humans nor birds need flecks of acrylic in their food. And if we’re to completely cover it with twigs, there is no point in painting it with anything, regardless of color.

Seed feeders do not take into consideration the nutrition birds get from insects, worms, and berries. Putting out seed does not encourage children to learn what each species of bird eats as the seasons change. It is a simplistic action which encourages the birds to become dependent on humans and confuses them if we go on vacation or forget.

Feeders are often hung from a tree branch with sturdy string, without concern for what kind of shield will prevent squirrels from coasting down the string and right into the feeder.  There is also seldom a mention of cleaning up spilled seed, an action vital to deterring rats, opossum, and other pests that are drawn to these easy meals. 

Good Earth stewards know that if we plant and maintain a variety of native plants, we and our kids will have a better chance of seeing a variety of native birds, butterflies, and other insects that belong here. We now know, for example, that planting buckthorn is a mistake because it leafs out sooner in the spring and has stiffer stems than native hawthorn. Both of these apparently good attributes of buckthorn in fact encourage birds to build their nests sooner and lower down, which in turn makes their nestlings easy prey for marauding cats and other predators.

There are more valuable ways to watch over birds that don’t involve the pitfalls detailed above. Keeping one’s cats indoors/under control and reducing disorienting building lights are primary. Know your USDA Zone, select plants adapted for your area and conditions, and garden accordingly.

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How to have peace in Chicago

There is a call for Chicago to shed its unsavory cloak termed “Chi-raq” and become a city of peace. There is a parallel cry, by Jessica Disu and a few others, to abolish the police. Can these even be accomplished?
It’s great that a few people have decided the solution should begin with themselves, because someone’s got to do something. We need lots more community gardens, and a lot of literate folk to mentor young readers, and people to step up as Scout leaders and to teach teens how to repair bicycles and ride them safely. But having no sworn officers available is a perfect setup for opportunists and the mob and other thugs to make themselves at home; it is a pipe dream to try to wish away law enforcement.
Will you, for example, take a statement on an accident today from one person, then tomorrow realize that was a lie when the real victim seeks you out for help?  If you’ve ever had your sleep disturbed by a neighbor’s party or their fireworks damage your property, maybe you’ve asked them nicely to keep the noise down or pay you for the damages and they laughed until you went away. Not very neighborly, and then, all alone, you would be stuck. Your insurance company is sure to want a police report number – who’s going to keep track of these things, and who will ensure those people do their job honorably?
Some people will drink too much and get behind the wheel; someone will crash. Should that person just get however many hours’ community service your group might suggest? Scammers are rampant, trying to sucker the elderly who don’t have someone to watch their finances like a hawk. There are predators among us: should a man who lures and sexually abuses a child – however much he might’ve been scarred himself when younger  – be merely remanded for counselling?
If you can’t you talk the punk (yes, perhaps he is somebody’s kid, corrupted by the gang life) out of attacking the old man who’s just trying to cut his lawn and robbing him, then what? No – not you? Now what – you can’t very well call Ghostbusters, can you? You call the paramedics – and the cops. When a young woman displays superhuman strength and anger because she’s off her medications and is not listening to you, only the voices in her head, and the medics want backup – thanks but maybe not you since we don’t know what your training might’ve been – the police are the answer.
When the celebrity hangs himself, when you find someone in your gangway dead with a needle sticking out of her arm, when grandpa’s expired in a garaged car with the motor running, how can a civilian possibly determine if it was suicide – or a crime? Who among you will put on gloves and turn over the body that’s been there over a week, flies beating you in the face in their desperation to find something else to lay their eggs in? After photographing it and whatever else nearby is possible evidence from all angles, of course. Who will keep the records?
Even if there was a cop on every corner, there would still be crime in the middle of the block. Society needs law enforcement. The job, so to speak, of civilians, is to soberly acknowledge his or her responsibilities, to promptly speak out against injustice, to report what is seen, heard, or planned that’s against the law, to sit on juries when summoned, to raise the children around you right, to help out and not bully.
If you’re not sworn, yet you feel certain you can take action without endangering anyone but the offender and you choose to “do something” before we get there, that’s out of our hands; it might be useful, but it might, viewed with a jaundiced eye, actually be excessive force and vigilantism. If you haven’t had our training and experience or something similar, I doubt you can know in the heat of the moment.
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The Pall that’s Palin

Sarah Palin is back in the news, most recently for endorsing Donald Trump for president, and trying to take to task those who question her parenting methods because of her grown son’s domestic disturbances.

Why anyone still cares what she might say is beyond me.

Perhaps she’s hoping to be chosen yet again for Vice President, without bothering to remember that voters disdained and overlooked her the first time, and since when she’s done absolutely nothing to improve her “brand.”

When she trotted out her tired old “Drill baby drill,” all of three people could be heard cheering – no doubt the only ones who still ignore scientists warning of global overheating.

Sarah would do well to tend her own home, by which I mean not only her own Alaska residence, but all the world. Almost all Alaska buildings, in fact, are in danger of breaking from the thawing of the permafrost they’re perched on, the same thawing permafrost which is also releasing greenhouse gases, something Republicans conveniently never seem to mention: maybe if they ignore it, it’ll go away! Any day now Palin will spin the coming catastrophe as “I feel the earth move under my feet.” (apologies to Carole King)

But I suppose TrumPalin does have a certain ring to it: the ring of ongoing fakery.

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Oregon bird refuge once again for the birds

I’m a veteran law enforcement officer who saw all kinds of problems with the so-called militia occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon.

Dwight and Steven Hammond are the father and son previously accused of child abuse (including punishing the family minor already known to self-harm) and set fires on federal land (one to cover up their illegal poaching of deer and another, in violation of a burn ban, which endangered volunteer firefighters). These are the individuals the Bundys claim they’re protecting, but the Hammond attorney says the Bundys and their hangers-on don’t even speak for the ranchers.

I am also a past Master Gardener, a TreeKeeper, and member of the American Bird Conservancy who knows this refuge, one of the first in the country (courtesy of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt), is an important rest stop for migrating birds.

The building the Bundy boys and their followers were sheltering in is a New-Deal-taxpayer-funded building near Burns, Oregon. The refuge was established almost a century ago, and is used annually by millions of birds on the Pacific Flyway.

The Bundys’ ranching operations would collapse without the support they gladly accept (“demand”, more likely) from the government, like their Small Business Association loan, the low-price leases and grazing fees, and Uncle Sam’s killing of apex predators that ranchers feel unduly endanger their cattle. That would be foxes, coyotes, bear, and mountain lions, which are necessary in ecosystems and whose ancestors here predate ranchers by millennia. And the very first people on this continent were the Native Americans – why didn’t the Bundys speak up for them instead, or also?

Why didn’t they choose to occupy a prison, or seat of legislative power? Because they know they haven’t enough supporters, firepower, or perhaps intestinal fortitude, they picked on an entity they perceive to be weak. Peaceful people who have differences of opinions with others will sit down and discuss their grievances, and won’t feel a need to flaunt whatever weapons they might possess.

In this and any future deliberate disruptions by those who threaten public employees and operations, the government should immediately institute grazing fees equivalent to what private landowners get and call in all the loans it made in a spirit of trust and understanding. Anything less permits these hypocrites the perception of increased and undue power, robs birds and everything related of safe haven, and slaps taxpayers in the face.

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Forward/against cat TNR, Antioch backwards

I’ve just learned Antioch caved to the pressure some cat lovers put on politicians, who decided to allow them to trap-neuter-reIMPOSE.

I am a long-time member of the American Bird Conservancy in Chicago who values almost all birds (no pigeons, grey gulls, or English sparrows please) over any outdoor cat. It’s bad enough there are neighborhoods here that are overrun by cats, even though the City has long had a ordinance, little used, which is supposed to compel all pet owners to leash and restrain their creatures. Many think it doesn’t apply to cats when it always has.

There are some who still don’t know – or care – about the science-based evidence used, most recently by the state of New York, where the governor correctly called out feral cats “guardians” and told them in no uncertain terms that ferals are not, in fact, wildlife. Cats are invasive predators, and our native animals largely have no defenses against them.
 My husband and I are starting to talk about where to retire with our City pensions, and I guarantee you it will not be backwards Antioch.
At least I found out before we bought anything, so we can instead look for and support a place where people value the nature that belongs!
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Meditation in motion

Once upon a time, those desiring peace could withdraw from the world to meditate alone.

That time is past. Partly there are few wild, lonely, unspoiled places to which one may withdraw due to the sprawl of humankind, but also because adversity may hunt any of us down. The peaceful can be unlucky, or mayhap careless,  unwittingly walking into the grasp of powermad individuals or groups.

The peaceful are thus compelled to seek training, to protect themselves and their loved ones. The training must be, now as ever, the martial arts, so the body will follow the mind – your will.

But it is not necessary to abandon meditation, which is good for the mind and soul. There is tai chi chu’an.

Tai chi trains us on every level: base level means the body becomes strong: middling helps us stay healthy: the highest level hones our spiritual well-being. And overarching, tai chi should be, can be, fun – but especially exhilarating.

Start tai chi, or any martial art, with the right teacher. You will never be the worse for it.

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