Sunday, February 26, 2006

Avian Flu Hits Europe

The progress of avian flu across Europe gives us a picture of how the disease might look in our area.

It was mute swans that were the sentinels. Reports of dead swans came in rapid succession from first Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Bulgaria. Tests showed that they were positive for H5N1. A few days later they were finding dead swans in Austria, France, and finally Ireland. Dead swans were the first sign, probably because they are more susceptible and because they are easy to spot when the corpses wash ashore. These are mute swans, the same species that live in our lakes and rivers here in Leelanau. Still, it was notable how quickly the disease seemed to spread, even thought it is still early for the big migration season.

Avian flu has also been spreading in both Nigeria and India. Indian authorities have been notably coy about giving the world details about the situation there. In Nigeria, BBC news reports that publicity about the disease has sparked a rush to sell poultry, overwhelming the authorities' feeble attempts to contain the disease.

Today the NY Times reports that a large turkey farm in eastern France has suffered an infection. It is the first time the disease has been found in farm animals in the EU. It was a large farm, housing over 11,000 turkeys. Events have unfolded with blinding speed for this family:

Meanwhile, Daniel Clair, the owner of the turkey farm where the flu was confirmed, told the newspaper Le Parisien that he thought the virus was carried on bales of straw that he had put into his indoor pens after his turkeys had been treated for diarrhea.

A local veterinarian, Claude Lessus, who told Le Figaro that he had prescribed antibiotics for the turkeys, said Mr. Clair collected seven big bales of straw with his tractor, adding, "This could be the means by which the animals became

On Wednesday night, his turkeys were fine, he said. But on Thursday morning, he found 400 dead birds in his flock, and others that were sick. It was, he said, "a thing so thunderous, I immediately understood."

Mr. Clair's remaining turkeys were slaughtered, even before the final determination was announced after 1 a.m. Saturday.

Mr. Clair, his wife and their 8-year-old son are being treated with Tamiflu, an antiviral drug, and have been quarantined in their home. He said he had been told to notify the authorities if they became ill. An 11-year-old daughter, who was not at home when authorities intervened, has not been allowed to return.

A security zone of two miles and a surveillance zone of five miles has been created around the farm, French officials said. The police are disinfecting the farm, where other animals are also raised, as well as the wheels of vehicles that had traveled near the area.

Mr. Clair said that he wanted all necessary precautions to be taken, but he confessed he felt a bit like a pariah. The policeman delivering the flu medicine refused to come up to his house, but left the drug on the road, he said; his mail is not being delivered.

"I have begun to worry," Mr. Clair said. "We have started to run out of food."

It is still frustrating to note how much is not known about this disease. Before now, I have been thinking that we would get some warning that the disease was in the area before it actually hit our barnyards. Poor Mr. Claire's experience was much more sudden.

And the disease is spreading far faster than our understanding of the basic mechanisms of the disease. Yesterday's Effect Measure discussed the lack of a consistent pattern of connectons between the human victims of the disease and the birds. There are too many cases of human victims who had no known contact with birds. And when there is contact, researchers have not been able to find identical viruses in the birds and the people. There is speculation that there may be a connecting vector, another species that carries the virus from bird to humans. (Cats?)

So many questions and not enough research going on. Or the research is being ramped up way late. (This is why it is important, in good times, to keep funding research on seemingly silly questions. You never know when you might suddenly need to know about the migration patterns of ducks or the mutation rates of seemingly benign viruses. And if you have extra people trained and working as researchers, you can easily divert their expertise in an emergency.) We don't know how the virus travels, whether it moves mostly with wild birds or with domestic poultry moved by people. We don't know how it infects people; many people have been exposed to sick birds with no apparent effect, yet some people have gotten sick with no apparent exposure to sick birds. We are sadly lacking in any sort of large scale testing of humans in infection areas to determine how many people carry the antibodies to the disease, indicating that they had an infection with no symptoms.

Ducks seem to be good at carrying the virus without getting sick. I haven't heard any talk of the disease in songbirds, so I guess the bird feeders are still OK. Will we be worried about swimming in the lake with the ducks this summer, or about letting the kids chase seagulls on the beach?

I have chickens die from time to time. One will start to look peaked, standing in one place with her head scrunched down in her shoulder, staring off at nothing. A few mornings later I go out to the barn and find her dead. I used to try to nurse sick ones, but it generally isn't worth the trouble. I have never had birds die as fast as Mr. Claire's turkeys, and never more than one at a time.

The thought of having my family quarantined because of the chickens puts a new spin on things. I now have 15 chickens, including the nasty rooster and Harry Houdini. The hens are over two years old and are past their egg laying prime. I put off slaughtering the whole flock last fall, in part because I feared that the avian flu might make it hard to get replacement birds. (I also had no room in the freezer.) As I watched events unfold I plotted ways to get the flock out of the barn this spring and into a coop that I could more easily sterilize or even burn down if needed. Now I'm thinking I will slaughter them all after the spring egg season, or sooner if we start finding infected dead swans in the US.

Read the next avian flu post here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The New Look

I've been hankering for a change for a while and tonight I took the plunge.

Yes, that's my house up there. My real house is not on a hill, and it has mismatched windows and the siding is half old, half new. Funny how you can manipulate images.

This is a variation on the Blogger K1 template. The rainbow background is from a photo of the sky the evening of Jim Concannon's funeral. Jim was a painter. His wife, Penny, tells me of the rainbow that evening:

People who saw it thought of it as one more great paint job from Jim and his Uncle Don, already there, who taught him the beauty of a great painted house....

I had to degrade the image somewhat to make a file that will, hopefully, load quick enough to keep the site readable.

So let me know what you think. Too busy? Does it read in your browser, on your monitor? I will keep an eye on the traffic, see if it is attractive to readers, or if they glance and click on.

US Supreme Court Leaves Beach Walkers Alone

The Associated Press reports that the US Supreme Court declined to consider whether people have the right to stroll along the shores of the Great Lakes in Michigan.
Justices left undisturbed a state Supreme Court ruling last year that found beach walking is a right.
In its 5-2 ruling, Michigan's highest court said the area between the water and the ordinary high water mark on shore is accessible to all under the common-law doctrine of natural resources as a public trust.

I like that. You can't buy the right to keep other people from walking the beach.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fish and Weather Report

This has been an odd winter. In December it seemed the snow would never stop. In January, it seemed the lakes would never freeze up right. North Lake Leelanau's ice seemed to "make up to break up" on a daily basis. Richard kept at it, going out on the South Lake when he could find ice.
Just after Groundhog Day he nabbed this monster perch. He photographed it next to a full size oven mitt.

Anna took this picture of him holding it. It looks like he's really tired from all that fishing. That's my rosemary tree on the counter behind him.

The last three nights it has been really cold, around zero Fahrenheit at night. The ice is finally thick enough to trust, but the wind has been blowing around 25 everyday. Shelagh is coming home for "spring break" at the end of the week. Maybe she'll get to go ice fishing this time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yesterday I Agreed with the NRA

Usually I don't have much use for the NRA. They are much too interested in scaring me. They want to scare me about crime, which is why they think I should have a gun. They want to scare me about my government, which they say wants to take all guns away. The NRA scares me. There is something scary about a group of scared people with firearms.

But I was curious, yesterday, to see what the NRA had to say about the Vice-President Shoots Lawyer While Hunting story. Of the commentary I had heard and read so far, very little reflected any knowledge of how and why people go hunting. People were making fun of hunters, quoting Katherine Armstrong's comment that "these things happen from time to time," and her comment that the nature of the sport "ensures" that there will be accidents.

Yesterday the NRA was having none of that. Their home page highlighted a story in the Houston Chronicle about how rare hunting accidents are:

Hunting-Related Accidents Rare, State Data Show

Media feathers flew
after the South Texas quail-hunting accident that involved Vice President Dick
Cheney, but such incidents are rare, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department records

Read About It: Houston Chronicle

POSTED: 2/13/2006
Today that link was gone, but the NRA was linking to an article that decried the media coverage of the incident and dragged in ted Kennedy and Chappaquidick for good measure.

I keep coming back to the work "procedures". Guns are dangerous, that's why there are rules about gun safety and procedures for hunting. The gun safety rules are handed down as lore: "Treat every gun like it was loaded." The plan for a day's hunt is more flexible, but there is a plan and you share it with others; where you're going, when you'll be back, where to look if you don't come home on time. When you hunt with a group, everyone needs to agree on the plan before the hunt begins, and then follow the plan once the hunt is underway. If you're hunting buddies can't follow a plan, you need new hunting buddies. If you can't follow the plan, you need to quit because you're a hazard to yourself and others.

We didn't need a hunting accident to know that Dick Cheney's crowd considers themselves to be above procedures. There are procedures for going to war. There are procedures for competative bidding of government contracts. There are procedures for approving government wiretaps. There are procedures for vetting a persons credentials before appointing them to a job. The procedure manual for our nation -- the Constitution-- that's beneath them, too. They don't need no stinkin procedures!

These guys think that rules and procedures are for the common folk. We common folk know, sometimes from bitter experience, that the procedures are there for everyone's safety. Field and Stream magazine put it bluntly:"The onus is on everyone who carries a gun not to shoot at anyone else."

Cut corners and someone's going to get hurt. Hopefully, the greatest damage will be to your pride, as you will have to admit your bonehead moment to your wife, your brother, and everyone at the bar. In the worst case you will have to admit it to a police officer, or a judge, or your buddy's widow. Knowing we are responsible for what we do is what keeps us on the straight and narrow.

My husband doesn't hunt anymore. The last time I ate game birds, it was a couple of partridge that flew out in front of his truck when he was headed home from work. He carefully scraped them from his grill, brought them home, cleaned them, plucked them, and served them on a bed of wild rice. It was a nice meal, carefully prepared and well appreciated. I wonder what happened to Cheney's birds.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Riverbend Raid

Baghdad Burning blogs from Iraq when there is electricity. Today she posted a terrifying account of a raid in her aunt's neighborhood by the new Iraqi security forces.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Broke Oven Baking

We cook a lot in the winter.

Yesterday I baked a batch of oatmeal cookies to take to chess club and then started a batch of bread, using more white flour than usual. I divided the bread dough in half and made three pizzas with one half. We ate those for dinner, and I made the rest into two loaves of bread.

When the bread had risen, I turned on the oven, set the timer and went to read Anna a bedtime story. I came back downstairs expecting a hot oven and baked bread. What I found was a stone-cold oven and mile-high loaves in danger of imminent collapse.

Ours is a gas oven, with the ceramic igniter instead of a pilot light. While this design makes it impossible to fill up the house with gas and blow up the house, you just can't light it if the igniter won't cooperate. I tried this, that, and the other thing, but I could not light that oven.

Fortunately, I had spent an ovenless winter in my youth. That is when I learned to bake English muffins.

English muffins risiing on a boardFirst, I scrounged the recycling bin for a large soup can to use as a muffin cutter. Then, I turned the dough out of the pans and rolled it out again to ½ inch thick. I cut muffin rounds out with the soup can and left them to rise on the board, which I had sprinkled with cornmeal. More cornmeal sprinkled on top of the rounds would help keep the dough from sticking.
English muffins on the griddleI baked the muffins on top of the stove, on a griddle over low heat. We have a long griddle that stretches over two burners, but I have baked English muffins four at a time on a 10 in cast iron frypan. I let them rise again about 30 minutes, but the griddle was heating slowly for the last 10 minutes. The muffins cooked about 10 minutes on each side.
I set a few pan lids over them as they baked, to help keep the heat in. Even the castiron griddle had a few hot spots, so I moved them around a little as I checked to see if the bottom sides had browned yet.
Baking the other sideThey need to be turned with a pancake turner once, and only once, so the first side needs to brown before they are turned. Some of them rose and looked a little round, so I gave them one quick mash with the pancake turner to straighten the sides out to a right angle.

It may seem hard to believe that bread could bake on top of the stove. It works well for English muffins because we typically split and toast them, giving the inside a chance to cook a little more. It is a handy way to save the day when the oven fails you.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Good Story in the Enterprise.

This article in the Leelanau Enterprise answered a lot of questions I had about Dean's hostage taking attempt. This account sounds very much like the people who live in my community.

The Record-Eagle reporter chose to report the story using the "teen-gone-wild" formula that has been used over and over again since the Columbine school shootings. He played up the fear angle and told of how folks in this previously peaceful community were now locking doors. (We weren't.) He failed to even do a basic Google search on Dean, which would have turned up his step-dad's recent obituary; instead he quoted the sheriff as saying that everything had been going great for Dean. He twisted the interview with Ellen until she sounded like a helpless bystander. (Ellen is far from helpless, and she would never use the phrase "dark side" unless the toaster was broken.)

Chris Olsen's Enterprise report was through and well written. He interviewed the mother and daughter victims. They were scared, of course, but not helpless. Mom is retired military, with training in hostage negotiation, training that she put to use. The daughter recognized Dean's voice immediately, convinced him to take off the ski mask, and then spent the next half hour trying to convince him to put down the gun. When they finally convinced him to leave, they each took pencil and paper and went into separate rooms to write down what had happened while it was still fresh.

One of Mom's comments spoke directly to the fear-mongering that took place in the other paper:
“I don’t want everyone to go out and make the gun manufacturers rich,” the woman said. “Another gun would probably have only made matters worse. I think it will be years before anything like his happens again. We live in a safe community. This was an isolated incident.”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Skillet Granola

Anna has been taking my homemade granola to school for snack. Here, by popular demand, is the recipe:
  • 2 cups raw rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup chopped nuts
  • 2/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 2/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 2/3 cups wheat germ

  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup raisins, barely covered with hot water.
  1. Have all ingredients measured and chopped before you start cooking, as the cooking goes fast and requires constant stirring. Leave the raisins covered with water (to slightly hydrate them) until you are ready to add them.
  2. Use a large, heavy skillet. Put the oats and the nuts in the pan over medium heat, and stir until they just start to brown.
  3. Add the coconut and sunflower seeds.Keepp the heat and stirring constant.
  4. When the coconut has started to brown, add the sesame seeds and wheat germ, still stirring.
  5. Sprinkle the brown sugar and salt over the granola, then stir it all in. The brown sugar will start to melt and bind the grains together.
  6. Drain the raisins, but don't dry them. Add the wet raisins to the granola, stirring to let the moisture steam through the granola. Stir until you see no wet spots, then turn off the heat and let the granola cool thoroughly before storage.

This makes about six cups. You can cut the recipe in half if you don't have a large skillet.

Raccoon Day

If today is Groundhog Day, yesterday was Raccoon Day. Rose was barking outside for much longer than usual, and when Richard went to investigate he found a raccoon on the other side of the fence, nose through the fence, looking longingly at our dog.

In the summer a raccoon can climb that fence in no time, but yesterday's raccoon was kind of groggy. Was it sick? Still half hibernating? Had it been tapped by a car?

Richard chased it away from the fence by throwing snowballs. (He'll use any excuse to throw snowballs.) This morning he saw the tracks, where it had come down the hill from the neighbors and then had gone back.