Irony can be ironic

One of Chapman’s news collector students e-mailed me the other day and said, you’re worth $3 million, not bad.

Sorry but I’m worth about $300,000.

Seems there’s this web site, Idol Net Worth, that pegged me worth $3 million as of March 15, 2019.

Sure, have 5 daughters, 3 grandsons, a divorce and $300K in house renovations so it doesn’t slide down the hill, don’t be employed for 2 years and watch where the money goes.

Apparently me and Minnesota politician Orville Freeman both fought for food safety regulations.

What bullshit.

I write because I love it (and Terry tells me I’m OK at it).

I go to my church, the arena, because I love it, but I hate not being able to be involved (and Australians, even the Canadian ones, know shit about hockey; my wife who has been playing for 4 years is now an expert; FML)

I don’t know where my brain is going but am both frightened and fascinated.

I do know the only one who can fix this – even temporarily – is me.

Australia wants to kill my cats

I never had warm-blooded pets as a child. I had turtles that would escape and be found behind a sofa.

In 1985, my soon-to-be veterinarian first wife brought home two kittens from the vet clinic: I named them Clark and Kent.

I’ve gone through a lot of cats over the years.

During our 16-year marriage which created four skilled and tough daughters, my ex would castrate the males on the kitchen counter and remind me that I slept with her.

I didn’t fuck around.

Now that I’m in Brisbane, I went away for a weekend talk and came home to find two fur-expelling kittens that were indoor felines because we were in a townhouse. Now that we own our own property, they roam the grounds, chase away magpies, and occasionally bring a dead (or live) possum into the house.

Why doesn’t Australia focus on the rodent-evolved possums like the Kiwis do?

Jessica Camille Aguirre of The New York Times Magazine writes that present national Australian policy is, feral felines are driving the country’s native species to extinction. Now a massive culling is underway to preserve what’s left of the wild.

In the deep winter weeks of last July, Shane Morse and Kevin Figliomeni nearly always got up before the sun rose. They awoke next to the remains of a campfire or, occasionally, in a roadside motel, and in the darkness before dawn they began unloading poisoned sausage from their refrigerated truck. The sausage was for killing cats. One morning near the end of the season, Morse and Figliomeni left the Kalbarri Motor Hotel on the remote western coast of Australia, where they dined on steak and shellfish the night before, and drove along the squally coastline. They kept their eyes fixed to the sky. If it rained, there would be no baiting that day.

Morse and Figliomeni unpacked their boxes, filled with thousands of frozen sausages they produced at a factory south of Perth, according to a recipe developed by a man they jokingly called Dr. Death. It called for kangaroo meat, chicken fat and a mix of herbs and spices, along with a poison — called 1080 — derived from gastrolobium plants and highly lethal to animals, like cats, whose evolutionary paths did not require them to develop a tolerance to it. (The baits would also be lethal to other nonnative species, like foxes.) As the sun brightened the brume, the baits began to defrost. By midmorning, when Morse helped load them into a wooden crate inside a light twin-engine propeller Beechcraft Baron, they were burnished with a sheen of oil and emitted a stomach-turning fetor. The airplane shot down the runway and lifted over the gently undulating hills of the sand plains that abut the Indian Ocean.

Rising over the mantle of ghostlike smoke bushes that carpeted the ground to the treeless horizon, the plane traced a route over the landscape, its bombardier dropping 50 poisoned sausages every square kilometer. It banked over the deep cinnamon sandstone gorges carved by the Murchison River, which extends to the coastal delta, surveying the edge of one of earth’s driest, hottest continents, where two to six million feral cats roam. As it flew, it charted the kind of path it had done dozens of times before, carpeting thousands of hectares of land with soft fingers of meat, laying down nearly half a million baits in the course of one month. Dr. Death, whose real name is Dr. Dave Algar and who is the principal research scientist in the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions for the state of Western Australia, told me that he began developing the recipe for the poisoned sausages by examining cat food in supermarkets and observing which flavors most thrilled his own two cats. As Morse said: “They’ve got to taste good. They are the cat’s last meal.”

These fatal airdrops owed their existence to Australia’s national government, which decided in 2015 to try to kill two million feral cats by 2020, out of grave concern for the nation’s indigenous wildlife — in particular, groups of small, threatened rodent and marsupial species for which cats have become a deadly predator. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology estimated that 211,560 cats were killed during the first 12 months after the plan was announced. Dropping lethal sausages from the sky is only part of the country’s efforts to eradicate feral cats, which also include trapping, shooting and devising all manner of poison-delivery vessels.

When the policy was announced, it was met in some quarters with apoplexy. More than 160,000 signatures appeared on half a dozen online petitions entreating Australia to spare the cats. Brigitte Bardot wrote a letter — in English, but with an unmistakably French cadence — beseeching the environment minister to stop what she called animal genocide. The singer Morrissey, formerly of the Smiths, lamented that “idiots rule the earth” and said the plan was akin to killing two million miniature Cecil the Lions. Despite anger from some animal rights groups and worries about the potential effects on pet cats, Australia went ahead with its plan, and the threatened-species commissioner replied by mail to both Bardot and Morrissey, politely describing the “delightful creatures” already lost to the world.

After that, Morse and Figliomeni spent much of each baiting season behind the wheel of their rig, hauling boxes to the most remote corners of one of the least populated places in the world, to beat back what Australia has deemed an invasive pest. As is the case on islands around the world, the direction of life in Australia took a distinctly different route than that on the larger continents, and unlike places like North America, the country has no native cat species. Over millions of years of isolation, Australia’s native beasts became accustomed to a different predatory order, so while cats aren’t necessarily more prevalent there than anywhere else, their presence is more ruinous. They have also become nearly ubiquitous: According to the estimates of local conservationists, feral cats have established a permanent foothold across 99.8 percent of the country, with their density reaching up to 100 per square kilometer in some areas. Even places nearly devoid of human settlement, like the remote and craggy Kimberley region, have been found to harbor cats that hunt native animals. The control effort, to which Western Australia’s baiting program belongs, was meant to ease the predation pressure that cats exerted in every corner of the country where they had settled. Faced with a choice between a species regarded as a precious pet and the many small creatures of their unique land, Australians seemed to have decided that guarding the remaining wild might mean they would have to spill some blood.

BTW, Ted Nugent sucks.

3 dead, 3 sick in UK hospital sandwich outbreak

I’ve told these Australian hospitals to stop serving raw sprouts and cold cuts to immunocompromised people.

They just call me crazy.

Three hospital patients in the UK have died in an outbreak of listeria linked to pre-packed sandwiches.

Public Health England (PHE) said the victims were among six patients affected in England and the deaths occurred in Manchester and Liverpool.

Two of the victims were at Manchester Royal Infirmary, with the other a patient at Aintree Hospital.

Sandwiches and salads from The Good Food Chain linked to the outbreak have been withdrawn and production ceased.

PHE said the products were withdrawn from hospitals when the links to the infections were first identified.

PHE said The Good Food Chain had been supplied with meat produced by North Country Cooked Meats which subsequently produced a positive test result for the outbreak strain of listeria.

This business and North Country Quality Foods, who it distributes through, have also voluntarily ceased production.

A spokesman for The Good Food Chain Ltd said the company’s production facility in Stone, Staffordshire, was “cross contaminated by an ingredient from one of its approved meat suppliers”.

Grammy-winning New Orleans musician Dr. John dead at 77

Dr. John, a six-time Grammy winner who in his incarnation as the “Night Tripper” brought the New Orleans voodoo vibe to America’s music scene and became one of the most venerated pianists in the city’s rich musical history, died on Thursday at age 77.

The New Orleans native, born Malcolm John Rebennack into a family of amateur musicians, including an aunt who taught him to play piano, died “towards the break of day” from a heart attack, his family announced on his official Twitter account.

Immersed in music from a young age, he was an avid radio listener, and his father, who sold records in his appliance store, sometimes took his son along to nightclubs when he worked on their sound systems.

In grade school he began hanging around clubs, and by the time he was a teenager, Rebennack was playing in rough bars and strip clubs. Along the way, he absorbed a blend of rhythm and blues, cowboy songs, gospel and jazz, as well as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras music, boogie, barrelhouse piano and funk – or “fonk,” as he pronounced it.

Early on he was principally a guitarist, but errant gunplay in 1961 led him to change course. One of his fingers was nearly blown off when he intervened to help the singer in his band, who was being pistol-whipped by another man.

The finger did not heal sufficiently for proper guitar playing right away, but was less troublesome on a piano, and eventually Dr. John would become an heir to the New Orleans keyboard tradition of Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Huey “Piano” Smith and Fats Domino.

Dr. John recorded some 35 albums, and three of them won Grammys – “Goin’ Back to New Orleans” for best tradition album in 1992; “City That Care Forgot” about the destruction and heartbreak of Hurricane Katrina; and 2013’s “Locked Down,” which touched on his prison time, drugs and efforts to repair his relationship with his children.

He also picked up Grammys for a 1989 duet with Rickie Lee Jones on “Makin’ Whoopee” and his contributions on the songs “SRV Shuffle” in 1996 and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)” in 2000.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

Dr. John was married twice and told the New York Times he had “a lot” of children.

Empathy, barfblog and rock and roll

I used to have Mick Taylor hair.

And then it turned grey, and went straight up, like Lyle Lovett.

I used to have a brain, but I feel it ever so slowly fading away, so I’ll get as much writing in while I’m somewhat together.

Personality, worse than ever, because I alternate between frightened, fearless and forlorn, and have no control over it.

This won’t end well.

Chapman asked me if doing all this end of life stuff like making sure my families were taken care of was a downer, and I say no, I’ve been fighting so long, it’s sort of cathartic.

My wife rolls her eyes and turns away when I tell people, I couldn’t remember my own phone number yesterday because I started taking pucks to the head in 1967.

She just thinks I’m a drunk.

Empathy may not be her strong suit.

Yet new research shows that just one concussion can mess the brain up.

I’ve had dozens, if not hundreds.

I’ve shared this with my physicians, but why not use this megaphone. When I die, someone please call this number and they’ll have a look at my brain. They’re hooked up with the CTE clinic in Boston (that’s a Sydney number, so needs a 61 first).

Research published by the American Psychological Association finds that even when feeling empathy for others isn’t financially costly or emotionally draining, people will still avoid it because they think empathy requires too much mental effort.

Amy’s had a lot to deal with and I blame her for nothing.

If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s the value of empathy (but like a good scientist, I want to know what works and what doesn’t, not just a bunch of catch-phrases).

I’ll stick with it as long as I can, because the reason I started the Food Safety Network in 1993 is still valid today: no parent, no individual, should say, they didn’t know the risk (followed by tragedy).

And where else would I get to play the music I love.

Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

Bacteria flip an electric switch to worsen food poisoning

Salmonella bacteria flip an electric switch as they hitch a ride inside immune cells, causing the cells to migrate out of the gut toward other parts of the body, according to a new study publishing on April 9 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Yaohui Sun and Alex Mogilner of New York University and colleagues. The discovery reveals a new mechanism underlying the toxicity of this common food-borne pathogen.

Salmonella are among the commonest, and deadliest, causes of food poisoning, causing over 400,000 deaths every year. Many of those deaths result when the bacteria escape the gut inside immune cells called macrophages. Macrophages are drawn to bacteria in the gut by a variety of signals, most prominently chemicals released from the site of infection. Once there, they engulf the bacteria as a regular part of their infection-fighting job. However, rather than remaining there, bacteria-laden macrophages often leave the site and enter the bloodstream, disseminating the bacteria and greatly increasing the gravity of the infection.

Tissues such as the gut often generate small electrical fields across their outer surfaces, and these electrical fields have been known to drive migration of cells, including macrophages. In the new study, the authors first showed that the lining of the mouse cecum (the equivalent of the human appendix) maintains a cross-membrane electrical field, and that Salmonella infection altered this field and contributed to the attraction of macrophages. Measurements of the polarity of the local charge indicated that the macrophages were attracted to the anode, or positively charged pole within the field. Once they engulfed bacteria, however, they became attracted to the cathode and reversed their migratory direction, moving away from the gut lining, toward vessels of the circulatory system. This switch was driven by a in the composition of certain charged surface proteins on the macrophages; the mechanism by which bacterial engulfment triggers this change is still under investigation.

“Dissemination, rather than localized infection, is the greatest cause of mortality from Salmonella (and other food-borne bacteria), and so understanding more about this polarity switch is likely to help develop new treatments to reduce deaths from food-borne bacterial infections,” said Mogilner.

5 dead, 22 sick: Multi-country outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes clonal complex 8 infections linked to consumption of cold-smoked fish products

The European Centre For Disease Prevention and Control reports a prolonged multi-country outbreak of 22 listeriosis cases caused by Listeria monocytogenes sequence type (ST) 1247, clonal complex (CC) 8 has been identified through whole genome sequencing (WGS) in five EU countries: Denmark (9 cases), Estonia (6), Finland (2), France (1) and Sweden (4). Five patients have died due to, or with, the disease. The first case had symptom onset in July 2014 in Estonia, and the most recent case occurred in Denmark in February 2019. Eight patients, out of twelve for whom a food consumption history was available, confirmed the consumption of cold-smoked fish products.

L. monocytogenes food isolates, matching the human outbreak strain by WGS, were detected at wholesale and retail level in four countries (i.e. France, Denmark, Italy and Sweden) from 13 batches of cold smoked or gravad salmon and from six batches of cold smoked trout products. Traceability information of the contaminated batches pointed to the Estonian processing Company A as the single common manufacturer of these fish products. The raw fish was received from suppliers in Norway and Finland. Environmental investigations and food testing at the Estonian processing plant showed the presence of L. monocytogenes that matched the outbreak strain in two samples on the processing line and in four batches of the final product.

The presence of L. monocytogenes matching the outbreak strain over several years in the fish products suggests the persistence of the microorganism at the Estonian company’s premises. Further investigation is needed to identify points of cross-contamination in the food processing plant. Control measures were implemented in Estonia, Denmark, France and Italy following the RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) notifications, but until the source of infection has been identified and controlled, new invasive listeriosis cases associated with this event may still occur.  

In general, pregnant women, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals are at increased risk of invasive listeriosis, which is associated with severe clinical course and potentially death. 

Looks like I missed this one too: ‘My mom’s death was needless’ Families want answers after Salmonella outbreak at Winnipeg care home

Tessa Vanderhart of CBC reported last month a Winnipeg care home where two residents recently died has confirmed it served frozen food from Thailand that was later linked to the Canada-wide outbreak of salmonella. 

Golden West Centennial Lodge executive director Joyce Kristjansson told staff and families in an email on Tuesday morning it had given residents cream puffs that are now on the recall list. 

Two residents at the 116-bed personal care facility in the Sturgeon Creek neighbourhood died in March, and a third was sickened. All three tested positive for salmonella.

The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed the three cases at Golden West are linked to the outbreak which has struck 73 people nationwide. 

Investigators have linked the bacteria-caused gastrointestinal illnessto Celebrate-brand frozen profiteroles and mini chocolate eclairs.

Science behind the human urge to tell stories

Whenever I speak with a psychiatrist or psychologist who is trying to rearrange my brain until I’m sane, they all say the same thing: stop with the stories and get to the point.

They think I’m using stories as a distraction tactic, whereas I’m using stories to enhance the meaning of what is or isn’t going on upstairs.

If you’ve seen the film, Lincoln, you may know what I’m storying about.

And the eggheads don’t get it.

Leo Robson of New Statesman America writes that although it has been more than 60 years since Ernst Gombrich delivered his Mellon lectures on art and illusion – the title of his subsequent bestselling book – the application of empirical thinking to works of culture or creativity is still considered a minority interest, even a kind of novelty. There are academic courses in critical approaches such as “evolutionary literary theory” and “cognitive poetics”, but they are taught by academics with devoted professorships in other fields of study.

With notable exceptions, most of the movement has been from the humanities towards the sciences, as was the case with Gombrich, who used cognitive psychology to illuminate the processes of visual representation; with the film scholar David Bordwell, who has cited Gombrich’s example; and with the Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd, who in his book On the Origin of Stories (2010) mentioned the “revelatory” experience of discovering Bordwell’s work. Now Will Storr, a journalist and writing teacher, has written an account of our story-telling instincts that doubles as a guide to telling better stories.

It would be hard to imagine a case of more wholehearted advocacy. The book is heavy with categories, dichotomies and tags (“identity claims”, “feeling regulators”). Storr begins with the idea that stories emerged to address the fact that life is “meaningless”. This does not explain why a child oblivious to the planet’s looming “heat death”, the “infinite, dead, freezing void”, may still enjoy an episode of Paw Patrol, but it’s true that a desire for order has always prevailed among human beings. Or, in Storr’s rather Tarzan-ish phrasing, “Story is what brain does.” He goes further, arguing with clarity and conviction that it is due to our brains’ desire for control that we are excited by stories of change. Boy meets girl. Stranger dismounts from horse. Complacent youth is humbled. Ancient order shows signs of frailty.

Storr succeeds in bridging evolutionary psychology and narrative theory, or making one the basis for the other. But unlike Gombrich or Bordwell, his aim isn’t to answer a critical question better. He’s probing his own craft in order to teach it to others. So it’s odd that he approaches the subject mainly as a researcher. He doesn’t bring to bear his experience of working on his novel, The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone; or of turning research into books, such as The Heretics; or, in his work as a ghostwriter, shaping reams of interview transcripts into a pleasing or plausible account of a life. It would be rather as if David Hockney had neglected to mention his life as “an artist, a mark-maker”, in Secret Knowledge, his remarkable study of optical devices.

Instead, Storr turns to novels and films for examples of storytelling that appeal to our neural processes, but they do little to help his case. He tells us that Raymond Chandler packs “a tonne of meaning” into the image “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”; and that the lines “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “These go to 11” are “so dense with narrative information it’s as if the entire story is packed into just a few words”. His most frequently cited case studies are Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day and Citizen Kane, though neither is very representative, being less stories than meta-stories, respectively a faux-memoir of an unusually ruminative sort and the portrait of a journalist assigned to uncover what made a man tick.

It’s in the writing manual section that the book is at its strongest. In one terrific passage, Storr explains that an audience’s curiosity – resembling the shape of the lower-case “n” – peaks when we know something and fades away when we know everything. Then, in an appendix, Storr elaborates his theory that “more traditional” – ie non-science-based – “attempts at decoding story”, such as Joseph Campbell’s monomyth” or idea of the “hero’s journey”, have emphasised ideas of plot and structure at the expense of what he calls “character work”. Storr’s concept of the “sacred flaw” – an over-compressed phrase referring to the faulty concept that a character holds sacred – is lucid, original, plausibly grounded in the science and proves once again just how much goodwill can be derived from a satisfying ending, even when it depends on a deus ex machina (I don’t speak foreign languages).

Ontario parents speak out after 2-year-old’s E. coli linked death

I seemed to have missed this, which is inexcusable, volunteer or not, medical stuff for me or not, but here it is, a month later (and if I did publish it, shows where my brain is going).

Avis Favaro of CTV News reported in early May that it all started with a romaine salad.

Kristen and Brad Bell felt a little sick after eating the salad last October.

Their two-year-old son soon started to show more severe symptoms. Cooper Bell was vomiting. He developed diarrhea. Then his mother noticed the blood in his diaper.

“I had no idea [what] was happening,” Kristen Bell told CTV News from her home in Stirling, Ont.

“I thought ‘This is not normal.'”

An emergency room doctor thought Cooper might have contracted a bacterial infection. The family’s pediatrician agreed, saying the Bells should keep their son hydrated and bring him back in the morning.

Soon after the Bells returned home, they noticed some worrying changes in Cooper’s behavior.

“He wasn’t responding to me the same as he was earlier. It wasn’t long after that, that he had a seizure in Brad’s arms,” Kristen Bell said.

Seeing their son shaking uncontrollably with his eyes closed, the Bells called an ambulance. He spent a few hours in hospital in nearby Belleville, Ont., and was then airlifted to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

Doctors at CHEO diagnosed Cooper with kidney failure brought on by E. coli. He suffered cardiac arrest and died. The Bells believe it was the romaine lettuce that made Cooper sick, although they were unable to send the lettuce for testing to confirm their belief because it had been thrown out.

There were 29 illnesses and 10 hospitalizations reported across Canada during last fall’s E. coli outbreak, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. It was one of three outbreaks in North America over the past year all of which were linked to romaine lettuce.

Keith Warriner, a food safety expert and professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, said in an interview that the food industry has long been slow to improve its testing practices something that could improve overall food safety, but would mean extra costs for their operations.

“The industry itself has known for many years what it needs to do, but it’s just been reluctant to do it,” he said.

The Bells agree. They’re sharing their story of grief with the hope it will help hospital workers and other parents better understand the danger of E. coli, but also because they want to see changes at the food production level.

“E. coli shouldn’t be in our food,” Brad Bell said.

“The way that we’re growing food is dangerous, and something has to change.”