Category: Education

Learning with Lisa!

It is amazing what can be shared these days!

But to get you in the mood, I am going to start with this video about small dog breeds for young persons.

Right, now to the essence of today’s post.

My son, Alex, recently sent me details of a new teaching programme introduced by his partner, Lisa. It is called Learning with Lisa.

It consists of 32 videos each one being published at 0700 British time (presently GMT). In other words one new video each working day; i.e. Monday to Friday.

Here is the background to this new service.

Learning with Lisa.

I am a qualified primary school teacher of 26 years now teaching a series of early phase phonics lessons designed for children in the Early Years Foundation Stage (pre-school and reception).

The first series – “Preparing for reading and writing in the Early Years” aims to give children, aged 3 to 4, the best possible start with early literacy skills by providing fun yet challenging activities 5 days a week. Some of the later sections are also suitable for children aged 4 to 5.

These videos are suitable for parents, carers and their children, trainee teachers and other early-years practitioners.

Here is the link to the YouTube channel that you will need if you want to subscribe to each new video:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGlsoYGeT6YOZAvbsOWe9YQ/featured

Preparing for reading and writing in the Early years.

The video gives an outline of the lessons included in the series and discusses the teacher’s philosophy. The video is aimed at parents, carers and early-years practitioners and gives an understanding of the processes involved in early phonics, reading and writing.

It will help viewers to navigate their way through the series so their child can participate in a fun and challenging experience. The series aims to give pre-school children the best possible start to early literacy.

Below, this is the first teaching video in the series.

If there are any readers willing to share and subscribe to Lisa’s channel please do.

Especially those that have 3-4 year old children and/or grandchildren, that would be great.

Have a think as to your friends who have young children and send them this link: Please!

More on that Aflatoxin alert.

This is important!

The FDA has announced that Midwestern Pet Food is expanding its recent recall to include more brands and over 1000 lots of its dog and cat foods because they contain potentially deadly levels of aflatoxin.

FDA is aware of at least 70 deaths and 80 illnesses in dogs who ate the affected products.

So informed me at the start of an email received in the early hours of this morning (yesterday).

You will recall that we had a post back on January 2nd about aflatoxin. This is a further report.

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Deadly Dog and Cat Food Recall Expands: More Brands, Over 1000 Lots

Important: Illustrations not complete. Additional images will be added if or when they become available.

January 11, 2021 — The FDA is alerting consumers that Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. is expanding its recent recall to include over 1000 lots of Sportmix and 2 other brands of dog and cat food because they contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin.

As of this date, FDA is aware of more than 70 deaths and 80 illnesses in pets that have eaten the affected products.

This is an ongoing investigation. This count is approximate and may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

What’s Recalled?

On December 30, 2020, Midwestern Pet Foods announced a recall of nine total lots of Sportmix pet food products.

  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 50 lb. bag
    Exp 03/02/22/05/L2
    Exp 03/02/22/05/L3
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L2
  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 44 lb. bag
    Exp 03/02/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Premium High Energy, 50 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Premium High Energy, 44 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 31 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 15 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L2
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3

On January 11, 2021, the company expanded its recall to include all pet food products containing corn that were made in the firm’s Oklahoma plant and that expire on or before July 9, 2022.

More than 1000 lot codes are affected, so they are not listed individually.

Lots of the following pet food products have been recalled if the date/lot code includes an expiration date on or before “07/09/22” and includes “05” in the date/lot code, which identifies products made in the Oklahoma plant:

  • Pro Pac Adult Mini Chunk, 40 lb. bag
  • Pro Pac Performance Puppy, 40 lb. bag
  • Splash Fat Cat 32%, 50 lb. bag
  • Nunn Better Maintenance, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 15 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 31 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Maintenance, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Maintenance, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix High Protein, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Stamina, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Stamina, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Bite Size, 40 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Bite Size, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix High Energy, 44 lb. bag
  • Sportmix High Energy, 50 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Premium Puppy, 16.5 lb. bag
  • Sportmix Premium Puppy, 33 lb. bag

Lot code information may be found on the back of bag and will appear in a three-line code, with the top line in format “EXP 03/03/22/05/L#/B###/HH:MM”

About Aflatoxin

Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus and at high levels it can cause illness and death in pets.

The toxin can be present even if there is no visible mold.

Pets are highly susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning because, unlike people, who eat a varied diet, pets generally eat the same food continuously over extended periods of time.

If a pet’s food contains aflatoxin, the toxin could accumulate in the pet’s system as they continue to eat the same food.

Pets with aflatoxin poisoning may experience symptoms such as sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums or skin due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea.

In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues and/or death.

Some pets suffer liver damage without showing any symptoms.

Pet owners whose pets have been eating the recalled products should contact their veterinarians, especially if they are showing signs of illness.

There is no evidence to suggest that pet owners who handle products containing aflatoxin are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning.

However, pet owners should always wash their hands after handling pet food.

What to Do?

Affected products may still be on store shelves, online, or in pet owners’ homes.

Pet owners should stop feeding their pets the recalled products listed above and consult their veterinarian, especially if the pet is showing signs of illness.

The pet owner should remove the food and make sure no other animals have access to the recalled product.

Contact Midwestern Pet Foods Consumer Affairs at 800-474-4163, ext. 455 from 7 am to 4 pm CT, Monday through Friday, or by email at info@midwesternpetfoods.com for additional information.

Further information regarding this recall can be found in the related FDA Bulletin.

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to the FDA’s “Report a Pet Food Complaint” page.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

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As always, please share this food alert as widely as possible.

Sangah Noona

A real find!

Jean and I belong to a local group of Freethinkers and Atheists and at our Zoom session held last Saturday someone mentioned how he was a follower of Sangah’s music. We hadn’t previously heard of the South Korean musician but these days it didn’t take much effort to find out a lot more.

Sangah has her own website from which the following is noted:

Sangah Noona was born in Seoul, South Korea. Shortly after beginning her piano lessons at the age of five, her piano teacher was able to hone her talents for music, and suggested that she seriously consider pursing music for her future. She grew up with her piano as her best friend. She loved to practice, usually spending five to seven hours a day. At the age of nine, she had all but decided to focus her attention on becoming a musician. Before moving to the United States in 2010, she was able to have many great experiences and fond memories as her musical career flourished in South Korea. After moving to the US with a fresh start, she was able to live at a more manageable performing pace, but as she can’t live without music in her life, she will never stop performing! Sangah’s overall objective for music, including her teaching, is being able to share her gift of music with others.

Plus Sangah is a dog lover!

Her dog’s name is Bubuji.

Then watch Sangah on the piano.

And for something a little more classical.

Beautiful!

Origins of the Shih Tzu Breed

A Guest post from Rick Hatfield.

For the life of me I can’t recall how the connection between Rick and me was made; sign of the times! But Rick asked for a link to his website to go onto my blogroll and then offered this guest post.

So without any further ado here it is!

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Origin of Shih Tzu Breed

The shih tzu has enjoyed a long history, starting in its country of origin, Tibet. Although the exact date of the breed being recognized is not known, what is known is that a short, rather squat dog which fits the general description of the shih tzu was first recorded around 1000 BC. This means that it is possible to record the history of the shih tzu from that point forward, although it is believed that the dog was around for centuries before that time.

Tibet & China

While the exact origin point is not known, the shih tzu does appear to be from Tibet. You can see evidence of their presence with the famous statues of Tibetan “Lion Dogs” which are part of Buddhism. It appears that the shih tzu was bred to resemble lions, albeit in small form. In fact, the very name “shih tzu” means “lion”. Of the holy dogs that were part of Tibetan culture, the shih tzu quickly became the most famous.

It was not long before the breed spread from its origin point from the mountains of Tibet and into China itself. The fierce looking dog with the gentle nature quickly became a favorite at the royal courts of Chinese rulers. However, they would not gain their current appearance until a millennium later when trade was opened to another part of the world far away from China.

Change from Europe

Contact between China and Europe dates to the Roman Empire. And from such countries as Malta, Persia, Greece, and Turkey small dogs were provided as gifts to the Chinese rulers which in turn were bred to the “lion dogs”. The Pug and Pekingese were intermixed with other breeds and the shih tzu as we know it came about.

Although a favorite in the courts of China, their original purpose was as guard dogs that would warn the Emperor of people or animals that approached their presence. When they became smaller in size, the shih tzu was adapted to becoming a companion dog. When this occurred, it became rare for a shih tzu to leave China as they were so revered.

Explosion of Popularity

The shih tzu that we see today can be credited to Dowager Empress Cixi who had a kennel that included Pugs and Pekingese as well. However, when she died in 1908, the breed was seemingly lost as the kennels were dispersed.

But in 1930, a pair of shih tzus arrived in England. Over the next three decades, more shih tzus arrived which helped expand the breeding population. As this was happening, soldiers returning from the China theater during World War II brought the dog to America where it was quickly bred. Soon, the dog became extinct in China as they were expanding around the world.

While the breed was recognized in England in 1949, it would take another two decades before being officially recognized in the US. Today, the shih tzu is one of the most famous breeds in the world. A stark contrast to its near-extinction 80 years earlier.

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Rick clearly knows the history of the Shih Tzus as this fascinating account reveals. Fancy the history going back to 1000 BC! But of course the history of dogs being associated with humans goes back much beyond 3,000 years ago; to at least 20,000 years ago and there are reliable accounts of dogs going back, perhaps, another 20,000 years for a total of 40,000 years ago. What beautiful creatures!

Anyway, this was a lovely guest post as I am sure you will all agree.

More on a healthy gut!

A continuation from yesterday!

I wasn’t going to post anything today but then in response to Val Boyco’s comment: “Good stuff Paul. Thank you! Please do more research and share here 💛 My gut will thank you!” I did do some more research and quickly came upon another article that was published recently and is worth of a read!

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How to prepare and protect your gut health over Christmas and the silly season

December 20, 2020

By


Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University

Disclosure statement
Claus T. Christophersen receives funding from NHMRC and WA Department of Health. He is a co-author of The Gut Feeling Cookbook linked in this article – all proceeds from sales of this cookbook go directly back into supporting our research, no personal financial interest.It’s that time of year again, with Christmas parties, end-of-year get-togethers and holiday catch-ups on the horizon for many of us — all COVID-safe, of course. All that party food and takeaway, however, can have consequences for your gut health.

Gut health matters. Your gut is a crucial part your immune system. In fact, 70% of your entire immune system sits around your gut, and an important part of that is what’s known as the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), which houses a host of immune cells in your gut.

Good gut health means looking after your gut microbiome — the bacteria, fungi, viruses and tiny organisms that live inside you and help break down your food — but also the cells and function of your gastrointestinal system.

We know gut health can affect mood, thanks to what’s known as the gut-brain axis. But there’s also a gut-lung axis and a gut-liver axis, meaning what happens in your gut can affect your respiratory system or liver, too.

Here’s what you can do to bolster your gut microbiome in the coming weeks and months.

Read more: Gut health: does exercise change your microbiome?

How do silly season indulgences affect our gut health?

You can change your gut microbiome within a couple of days by changing your diet. And over a longer period of time, such as the Christmas-New Year season, your diet pattern can change significantly, often without you really noticing.

That means we may be changing the organisms that make up our microbiome during this time. Whatever you put in will favour certain bacteria in your microbiome over others.

We know fatty, sugary foods promote bacteria that are not as beneficial for gut health. And if you indulge over days or weeks, you are pushing your microbiome towards an imbalance.

For many of us, Christmas is a time of indulgence. Shutterstock

Is there anything I can do to prepare my gut health for the coming onslaught?

Yes! If your gut is healthy to begin with, it will take more to knock it out of whack. Prepare yourself now by making choices that feed the beneficial organisms in your gut microbiome and enhance gut health.

That means:

  • eating prebiotic foods such as jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions and a variety of grains and inulin-enhanced yoghurts (inulin is a prebiotic carbohydrate shown to have broad benefits to gut health)
  • eating resistant starches, which are starches that pass undigested through the small intestine and feed the bacteria in the large intestine. That includes grainy wholemeal bread, legumes such as beans and lentils, firm bananas, starchy vegetables like potatoes and some pasta and rice. The trick to increasing resistant starches in potato, pasta and rice is to cook them but eat them cold. So consider serving a cold potato or pasta salad over Christmas
  • choosing fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables
  • steering clear of added sugar where possible. Excessive amounts of added sugar (or fruit sugar from high consumption of fruit) flows quickly to the large intestine, where it gets gobbled up by bacteria. That can cause higher gas production, diarrhoea and potentially upset the balance of the microbiome
  • remembering that if you increase the amount of fibre in your diet (or via a supplement), you’ll need to drink more water — or you can get constipated.

For inspiration on how to increase resistant starch in your diet for improved gut health, you might consider checking out a cookbook I coauthored (all proceeds fund research and I have no personal interest).

Good gut health is hard won and easily lost. Shutterstock

What can I do to limit the damage?

If Christmas and New Year means a higher intake of red meat or processed meat for you, remember some studies have shown that diets higher in red meat can introduce DNA damage in the colon, which makes you more susceptible to colorectal cancer.

The good news is other research suggests if you include a certain amount of resistant starch in a higher red meat diet, you can reduce or even eliminate that damage. So consider a helping of cold potato salad along with a steak or sausage from the barbie.

Don’t forget to exercise over your Christmas break. Even going for a brisk walk can get things moving and keep your bowel movements regular, which helps improve your gut health.

Have a look at the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and remember what foods are in the “sometimes” category. Try to keep track of whether you really are only having these foods “sometimes” or if you have slipped into a habit of having them much more frequently.

The best and easiest way to check your gut health is to use the Bristol stool chart. If you’re hitting around a 4, you should be good.

If you’re hitting around a 4, you should be good. Shutterstock

Remember, there are no quick fixes. Your gut health is like a garden or an ecosystem. If you want the good plants to grow, you need to tend to them — otherwise, the weeds can take over.

I know you’re probably sick of hearing the basics — eat fruits and vegetables, exercise and don’t make the treats too frequent — but the fact is good gut health is hard won and easily lost. It’s worth putting in the effort.

A preventative mindset helps. If you do the right thing most of the time and indulge just now and then, your gut health will be OK in the end.

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That book that Claus refers to, the one on the gut Gut feeling: Mindful menus for the microbiome is here. It looks a very good book.

Well Val (and many others), did you find this interesting? It was a rhetorical question because I know that you did.

I will continue to republish these posts and, especially, the one on exercise. Because as I have often said: Diet and exercise are key!

Onwards and upwards!

Being healthy in your later years.

This is a key article!

Now this has nothing to do with dogs. Well not directly but the longer we humans live the longer we can have dogs as pets.

I was having an email ‘conversation’ with Jon over in England and he pointed me to Professor Tim Spector. Prof. Spector writes on his website that he:

Tim Spector is a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Director of the TwinsUK Registry at Kings College, London and has recently been elected to the prestigious Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He trained originally in rheumatology and epidemiology.

In 1992 he moved into genetic epidemiology and founded the UK Twins Registry, of 13,000 twins, which is the richest collection of genotypic and phenotypic information worldwide. He is past President of the International Society of Twin Studies, directs the European Twin Registry Consortium (Discotwin) and collaborates with over 120 centres worldwide.

He has demonstrated the genetic basis of a wide range of common complex traits, many previously thought to be mainly due to ageing and environment. Through genetic association studies (GWAS), his group have found over 500 novel gene loci in over 50 disease areas. He has published over 800 research articles and is ranked as being in the top 1% of the world’s most cited scientists by Thomson-Reuters.

He held a prestigious European Research Council senior investigator award in epigenetics and is a NIHR Senior Investigator. His current work focuses on omics and the microbiome and directs the crowdfunded British Gut microbiome project.

Together with an international team of leading scientists including researchers from King’s College London, Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts University, Stanford University and nutritional science company ZOE he  is conducting the largest scientific nutrition research project, showing that individual responses to the same foods are unique, even between identical twins.

You can find more on https://joinzoe.com/ He is a prolific writer with several popular science books and a regular blog, focusing on genetics, epigenetics and most recently microbiome and diet (The Diet Myth). He is in demand as a public speaker and features regularly in the media.

That is quite a CV!

Then I came across an essay on The Conversation website about being healthier in one’s old age.

Read it!

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Keen to be healthier in old age? Tend your inner garden

By

Clinical Senior Lecturer, King’s College London

Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London

January 29, 2016

Grub’s up. Lunch by Shutterstock

The world’s oldest man, Yasutaro Koide recently died at the age of 112. Commentators as usual, focused on his reported “secret to longevity”: not smoking, drinking or overdoing it. No surprises there. But speculation on the basis of one individual is not necessarily the most helpful way of addressing this human quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.

The “very old” do spark our interest – but is our search for a secret to longevity actually misguided? Wouldn’t you rather live healthier than live longer in poor health? Surely, what we really want to know is how do we live well in old age.

Clearly as scientists we try to illuminate these questions using populations of people not just odd individuals. Many previous attempts have approached this question by looking for differences between young and old people, but this approach is often biased by the many social and cultural developments that happen between generations, including diet changes. Time itself should not be the focus – at least, in part, because time is one thing we are unlikely to be able to stop.

Yasutaro Koide made 112. Kyodo/Reuters

The real question behind our interest in people who survive into old age is how some manage to stay robust and fit while others become debilitated and dependent. To this end, recent scientific interest has turned to investigating the predictors of frailty within populations of roughly the same age. Frailty is a measure of how physically and mentally healthy an individual is. Studies show frailer older adults have an increased levels of low grade inflammation – so-called “inflammaging”.

New research published in Genome Medicine by Matt Jackson, from our group at King’s College London, investigated this question in an unlikely place – poo. Recent evidence indicates that our immune and inflammatory systems are trained and educated in our gut, through key interactions with gut bacteria. So we asked if changes in our gut bacteria could be part of the process of inflammation driving frailty.

Our recent work found that the frailer an individual, the lower the diversity of gut bacteria they have. We looked at stool samples from more than 700 healthy British twins and found that a group of bacteria belonging to the species with a tricky and slightly unpleasant name, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, were found in higher amounts in the healthier twins. This is a particularly interesting microbe as it has been linked with good health in many other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and is believed to reduce inflammation of the gut. Could this bug help protect against frailty?

Putting in the research. Paper by Shutterstock

There were other microbes seen in increased amounts within the frailer twins. One was Eubacterium dolichum, which has been seen to increase in unhealthy Western diets. We found the same picture when comparing frailer, more elderly, individuals from the ELDERMET study, by the University of Cork. This suggests that dietary changes might be an easy way to encourage healthy ageing.

Our study does not yet clarify whether the changes to the gut bacteria are a cause of poor ageing itself or are just a consequence of frailty – longitudinal studies that follow people over several years will be needed to sort this out. But these results are exciting for researchers in the ageing field and suggest that if you want to age well you should perhaps do fewer crosswords and spend more time looking after your microbial garden, for example by eating plenty of plant fibre, for example in a Mediterranean-type diet.

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Well this essay was published nearly 5 years ago and one wonders if more information has come to light.

Certainly Jeannie and me are heavily into a plant-based diet with a small selection of fish from time to time.

I will do more research and see if there are any updates that may be published.

In the meantime stay as healthy and as happy as you can be!

 

Yet another dog food alert!

This is regarding Sportmix.

This alert came into my inbox on December 30th.

The FDA has announced that Midwestern Pet Food is recalling select lots of Sportmix dog and cat foods because they contain potentially deadly levels of aflatoxin.

FDA is aware of at least 28 deaths and 8 illnesses in dogs who ate the affected products.

So this is extremely important.

The full details now follow:

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Sportmix Dog and Cat Foods Recalled Due to Deadly Mold Toxin

December 30, 2020 — The FDA is alerting consumers that Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. is recalling nine lots of Sportmix pet food products because they contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin.

FDA is aware of at least 28 deaths and 8 illnesses in dogs that ate the recalled products.

This is an ongoing investigation. Case counts and the scope of this pending recall may expand as new information becomes available.

What’s Recalled?

The dry pet food products to be recalled by Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. on December 30, 2020 include:

  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 50 lb. bag
    Exp 03/02/22/05/L2
    Exp 03/02/22/05/L3
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L2
  • Sportmix Energy Plus, 44 lb. bag
    Exp 03/02/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Premium High Energy, 50 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Premium High Energy, 44 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 31 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3
  • Sportmix Original Cat, 15 lb. bag
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L2
    Exp 03/03/22/05/L3

Lot code information may be found on the back of bag and will appear in a three-line code, with the top line in format “EXP 03/03/22/05/L#/B###/HH:MM”.

As new information becomes available, the product list above may continue to expand.

FDA and the Missouri Department of Agriculture are working with the firm to determine whether any additional products may have been made with the same ingredients containing potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin.

About Aflatoxin

Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus and at high levels it can cause illness and death in pets.

The toxin can be present even if there is no visible mold.

Pets are highly susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning because, unlike people, who eat a varied diet, pets generally eat the same food continuously over extended periods of time.

If a pet’s food contains aflatoxin, the toxin could accumulate in the pet’s system as they continue to eat the same food.

Pets with aflatoxin poisoning may experience symptoms such as sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums or skin due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea.

In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues and/or death.

Some pets suffer liver damage without showing any symptoms.

Pet owners whose pets have been eating the recalled products should contact their veterinarians, especially if they are showing signs of illness.

There is no evidence to suggest that pet owners who handle products containing aflatoxin are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning.

However, pet owners should always wash their hands after handling pet food.

What to Do?

Affected products may still be on store shelves, online, or in pet owners’ homes.

Pet owners should stop feeding their pets the recalled products listed above and consult their veterinarian, especially if the pet is showing signs of illness.

The pet owner should remove the food and make sure no other animals have access to the recalled product.

Further information regarding this recall can be found in the related FDA Bulletin.

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to the FDA’s “Report a Pet Food Complaint” page.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

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Please, please take note of this and wherever possible please share this email around.

Mid-Winters Day.

An essay about the 2020 winter solstice!
Winter solstice 2020 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 2:02 AM on Monday, December 21. That is our local Pacific Time which is 8 hours behind UTC.
So in UTC terms that is 10:02.
For some reason I have always regarded the Winter solstice as special, no doubt because in the Northern Hemisphere it is the time for the shortest day! It is the start of the new year!

Here is that essay published by The Conversation.

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What you need to know about this year’s winter solstice and the great conjunction

December 18, 2020
By William TeetsActing Director and Astronomer, Dyer Observatory, Vanderbilt University

Editor’s note: Dr. William Teets is the director of Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory. In this interview, he explains what does and doesn’t happen during the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Another cosmic phenomenon is also going to occur on the same day called “the great conjunction,” where Saturn and Jupiter, both of which can be seen with the naked eye, will appear extremely close to one another.

What happens on the winter solstice?

The winter solstice this year happens on Dec. 21. This is when the Sun appears the lowest in the Northern Hemisphere sky and is at its farthest southern point over Earth – directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For folks living at 23.5 degrees south latitude, not only does this day mark their summer solstice, but they also see the Sun directly over them at local noon. After that, the Sun will start to creep back north again.

The sequence of images below shows the path of the Sun through the sky at different times of the year. You can see how the Sun is highest in the Northern Hemisphere sky in June, lowest in December, and halfway in between these positions in March and September during the equinoxes.

The winter solstice is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere but not the day with the latest sunrise and earliest sunset. How is that possible?

The winter solstice doesn’t coincide with the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset. Those actually occur about two weeks before and two weeks after the winter solstice. This is because we are changing our distance from the sun due to our elliptical, not circular, orbit, which changes the speed at which we orbit.

If you were to look at where the Sun is at exactly the same time of day over different days of the year, you would see that it’s not always in the same spot. Yes, the Sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter, but it also moves from side to side of the average noontime position, which also plays a role in when the Sun rises and sets.

One should also keep in mind that the seasons are due to the Earth’s axial tilt, not our distance from the Sun. Believe it or not, we are closest to the Sun in January.

What is ‘the great conjunction’?

Saturn and Jupiter have appeared fairly close together in our sky throughout the year. But on Dec. 21, Saturn and Jupiter will appear so close together that some folks may have a difficult time seeing them as two objects.

If you have a pair of binoculars, you’ll easily be able to spot both planets. In even a small telescope, you’d see both planets at the same time in the same field of view, which is really unheard of. That’s what makes this conjunction so rare. Jupiter and Saturn appear to meet up about every 20 years. Most of the time, however, they’re not nearly as close together as we’re going to see them on Monday, Dec. 21.

For a comparison, there was a great conjunction back in 2000, but the two planets were separated by about two full-Moon widths. This year, the orbits will bring them to where they appear to be about one-fifth of a full-Moon diameter.

We have been encouraging folks to go out and look at these planets using just their eyes between now and Dec. 21. You’ll actually be able to see how much they appear to move over the course of a single day.

The next time they will get this close together in our sky won’t be for another 60 years, so this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. In fact, the last time they got this close together was in the year 1623, but it was really difficult, if not impossible, to see them then because they appeared much closer to the Sun and set soon after it. Go back another 400 years to 1226 and this would have been the last time that we would have had a good view of this type of conjunction.

What advice would you give to people who want to see the great conjunction?

If weather permits at Dyer Observatory, we’ll be streaming a live view of the conjunction from one of the observatory’s telescopes, and I’ll be available to answer questions. Even if you don’t have a telescope or a pair of binoculars, definitely go out and check out this very rare alignment with your own eyes. Remember that they set soon after sunset, so be ready to view right at dusk!

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From the introduction that was received by email:

I want to include another piece on the conjunction. It comes from the introduction to that item above: It’s been a tough year. To many of us, every day during the coronavirus pandemic has felt incredibly long. Perhaps it will come as a relief that Monday will be the shortest day of the year. December 21 will also bring a rare cosmic phenomenon. If the sky is clear over the next few nights, look out just over the southwest horizon. You may see Jupiter and Saturn coming together and then drifting apart in an event known as “the great conjunction.” Although this occurs once every two decades, the last time they came this close, and we Earthlings got such a clear view, was in 1226.

I also want to include a copy of an article on the website belonging to KRCC  that talks of the Great Conjunction.

Why The Jupiter And Saturn Conjunction During The 2020 Winter Solstice Is Extra Special

By Mike Procell

December 18, 2020

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn appears over Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. Jupiter appears brighter and to the lower right of Saturn. Saturn, to Jupiter’s upper left, has a slightly golden hue. Photo taken December 5, 2020. The planets will be closer than they have been observed from earth in over 800 years on the Winter Solstice

A rare celestial event will help mark the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere on Monday, Dec. 21.

Jupiter and Saturn are currently appearing very close together from an earthly vantage point. These two gas giants are in conjunction, an occurrence that happens every 20 years or so.

This one though, is extra special.

“Really, really close conjunctions like this one are quite rare,” said Hal Bidlack with the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. “We haven’t been able to observe Jupiter and Saturn this close since the year 1226. And we won’t see them again this close for decades and decades to come.”

The two planets were last about this close together in the year 1623. But the pairing occurred while the planets were close to the sun from earth’s perspective, Bidlack said, and the sight was basically washed out in the sun’s glare.
In reality, Saturn and Jupiter are hundreds of millions of miles apart.

“On the 21st they will appear so close that if you held a dime on edge at arm’s length, that’s how close they would be together,” Bidlack said.

From Colorado Springs, sky gazers only need to look toward Cheyenne Mountain to catch a glimpse. Elsewhere in Colorado, Bidlack said folks can look to the southwestern skies, low near the horizon.

The pair sets around an hour and a half after the sun does, about 4:39 p.m. on Monday.

The planets will begin to separate when viewed from Earth, and will eventually disappear altogether from the night sky until reappearing in the morning sky in early 2021. See more skywatching tips from NASA.

If you have managed to stay on today’s post until near the end you would have seen the following: “We haven’t been able to observe Jupiter and Saturn this close since the year 1226. And we won’t see them again this close for decades and decades to come.”

Just about 800 years ago since this last happened.

If you can, go outside with a telescope or a pair of binoculars and watch the sight! That time of the sunset is 4:39 PM Pacific Time. I think that wherever you are in the world starting to watch as soon as  it is dark would be a good idea.

For me the new year starts now!

Happy Solstice!

Returning to the history of dogs.

Reflections!

Yesterday’s post about the loyalty of dogs brought to mind a post that I published way back in 2013. Let me take an extract from yesterday’s post:

It’s no secret that domesticated dogs are descendants of wolves. Even today, modern dogs continue to share similar genes to wolves that live in the wild. The idea of “the loyal dog” is both a cultural and biological construct, as humans have created the dog over years of selective breeding and domestication to be this way. Essentially, humans picked and chose the wolf characteristics that would best serve their own benefit, transforming a wolf’s hierarchical structure and social bond to their packs into obedience and loyalty to humans.

The fact that is key is that dog packs are hierarchical. They have three status roles and the rest of the pack are all pack members. The three roles are Alpha dog, always a female, the Beta dog, always a male, and the Omega dog that could be either male or female.

The role of the alpha dog is to have first pick of the eligible males and to move the whole pack if in her analysis the territory becomes unsuitable for the pack. The role of the beta dog is to keep the pack under control and not to let fights get out of hand. The omega dog is to keep the pack happy and playful.

So to the post that was first published on the 10th April, 2013.

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Yearnings for a new start!

You may wonder about the title of this post?  Stay with me for a moment.

As has been written before on Learning from Dogs, when dogs were living in the wild just three animals had pack roles.  The leader of the pack, always a female animal, was the alpha dog. Second in command was the beta dog, always a dominant male, and the third role was the omega or clown dog.  The wild dog pack was thought to have consisted, typically, of about 50 animals.

Pharaoh
The wisdom of thousands of years showing clearly in Pharaoh’s eyes, our very own beta dog. Beloved Pharaoh. Born: June 3rd., 2003 – Died: June 19th., 2017. A very special dog that will never be forgotten.

As leader of her pack an alpha dog had two primary functions .  One was having first choice as to the male dog she was going to mate with – thus demonstrating how women always choose! 😉

Her second important duty was deciding that her pack’s home range was insufficient for the needs of her ‘family’.  As wolves still do, wild dogs lived within small, well-defined territories when food was abundant.  When food became less abundant then it was time to move to more fertile grounds.  As an aside, research in South Africa as to the area requirements for a small pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) shows they require from 65 square kilometers (25 square miles) to 150 sq. km. (58 sq. mi.). (See footnote.)

Dogs, like all wild animals, instinctively live in harmony with nature.  So the call from the alpha dog to find a new range didn’t mean they left their old one as a barren disaster area.  You can see where this is heading!

Wild dogs were in contact with early man at least 50,000 years ago. (Just reflect for a moment on the length of that relationship between man and dog.) So each specie has had plenty of time to learn from the other.

Thus, as mankind is on the verge of discovering that our existing ‘territory’ is becoming unsustainable for the healthy life of the species,  one fundamental learning point from dogs appears to have escaped us: Mankind doesn’t have a new range available to our species.

This preamble came to mind when I recently read a short but powerful essay on Alex Jones’ blog The Liberated Way.  The essay was called A global leaky bucket.  Alex has very kindly given me permission to republish it.

A global leaky bucket

Global weather extremes will force people to hard choices.

Nature will have the last word in the debate over sustainability.
Nature will have the last word in the debate over sustainability.

I write this in despair, it is snowing again here in Colchester UK.  I admit envy for those of you who live in California or Hong Kong area, I see your photographs where the seasons always seem to be warm and sunny.  The northern Jet Stream refuses to move, Greenland enjoys growing strawberries as the lambs die in the fields of Britain from the winter that refuses to let go.

The extremes of weather are noted in the South of the world as well as the North.  Argentina has had the worst floods in decades last week.  The cause is that the systems such as the Jet Stream are paralysed in one place, thus everyone suffers flood, drought or winter in excess.  Nobody is sure why this paralysis is going on with systems like the Jet Stream, some say it is climate change, the point is that we are experiencing this, and it appears to be more than a temporary issue.

My opinion is that these weather extremes are here to stay for the long duration.  One is then left with a harsh reality of does one seek to control the weather or adapt to the weather? How does one control the weather, a chaotic energy system where even a small change can have great consequences? Perhaps adaptation is the better option, but does one know how huge those adaptations will have to be where drought and flood could be lasting decades?

Lets say food, water and energy are all contained in a bucket.  We take a jug and scoop out from the bucket what we need.  There is a tap that is constantly running filling the bucket with the food, water and energy.  We waste those resources so the bucket leaks.  We disrupt or destroy the renewal systems in the ecosystems so the tap is no longer running as fast as it should.  We are greedy consumers so we take more than we need from the bucket with our jug.  How will the bucket look now? Is this a sustainable future to you?

If our global weather extremes continue as they are it will be like a storm rocking the bucket spilling its contents, will our bucket future look even less sustainable? Extreme weather destroys harvests, kills animals, sends already distressed ecosystems into the abyss.  What happens when the bucket is so empty that people can no longer enjoy their lifestyle of wasteful excess, or worse that people grow cold, hungry and thirsty? Do they sit there and do nothing but die? Will they fight? Who will fight who? As the bucket contents get ever smaller, who will win in the fighting for what is left?

Copyright (c) Alex Jones 2011-2013.

Colchester has a place in my past as I started and ran a business there between the years of 1978 to 1986.  More about that some other day.

Back to Alex’s essay.  It strongly resonated with a recent item on Peter Sinclair’s excellent blog Climate Denial Crock of the Week which I will refer to tomorrow.

So I will leave you with this tragic, emotional thought – where, oh where, is our alpha dog?

Footnote:  The figures for the ranges of wild dogs were taken from a fascinating paper published by Lindsay, du Toit and Mills that may be read here.

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One thing that has become clearer over the years and with the advent of DNA analysis is that the process of wolf and man coming together, and wolf becoming dog, was in the timeframe of 25,000 to 40,000 years ago. It’s a very wide band of time but there’s no scientific method, certainly at the moment, to refine the years down to a shorter number.

But even taking the lower limit, 25,000 years ago, it is still an indescribably long time back in the past.

They are such precious animals.

Science explains why dogs are so loyal.

A fascinating article!

I had a particularly uncomfortable 24 hours Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning.

I went to upload an update to my iMac early on Monday afternoon but for some reason it all went wrong. As in the iMac became unresponsive and continuously showed the Apple icon for about 10 minutes and then went blank for another 10 minutes, and went on repeating itself.

On Tuesday morning I spent several hours on the phone to Apple support and finally the third adviser told me to turn everything off and do a cold reset. That fixed it and I didn’t have to go down to Medford and leave the machine with Connecting Point Computers. Plus I saved $99!

So I am very grateful to be able to share this post with you all! It’s an article on Treehugger, Why Are Dogs So Loyal?

Enjoy!

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Why Are Dogs So Loyal?

There’s a scientific explanation to what makes them “man’s best friend”

By   Katherine Gallagher
Updated December 09, 2020

Daniel Grill / Getty Images

Any dog owner will tell you that there’s something indescribable and unique about their loyal companions. Dogs wait for their humans patiently by the door when they leave, act like they’ve been given the world when their dinner bowls are filled, and express a sense of devotion that is rare in many other pets. Where does this trait, the trait that makes dogs “man’s best friend,” come from? Why are dogs so innately loyal? The obvious explanation would be that their owners provide them with food and shelter, but the deeper answer actually comes down to science.

It’s no secret that domesticated dogs are descendants of wolves. Even today, modern dogs continue to share similar genes to wolves that live in the wild. The idea of “the loyal dog” is both a cultural and biological construct, as humans have created the dog over years of selective breeding and domestication to be this way. Essentially, humans picked and chose the wolf characteristics that would best serve their own benefit, transforming a wolf’s hierarchical structure and social bond to their packs into obedience and loyalty to humans.

Selective Breeding

Throughout history, long-term domestication has resulted in hundreds of different dog breeds designed to fulfil specialized functions in society, many with significant behavioral differences. Early humans likely participated in selective breeding without even knowing they were doing so, by killing off the dogs who attacked or bit a member of their family or community. Additionally, dogs who were naturally gifted as loyal hunters would have been better cared for, upping the chances of successful and repeated reproduction. Dogs that contributed to society were kept for longer, while aggressive or unskilled dogs weren’t. And, as humans promoted dogs with tame or friendly characteristics, physical attributes began to change as well.

The early domesticated dogs intelligent enough to associate their owners with things like food and shelter in exchange for obedience (think: “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”) were more likely to survive longer. In a reliance comparison between dogs and cats, for example, studies show that dogs attempt tasks before looking at their owners while cats do not.

While it may have started with a simple exchange of food and shelter for animal-assisted guarding or hunting, humans eventually began to favor dogs that were more docile and sociable. As humans evolved to hunt less and moved on to more secure lifestyles, the domestication process eventually began to encourage companionship.

Pack Behavior

Dogs, like their wolf ancestors, are pack animals at their core. In order to survive in the wild, members of a pack have to be trusting and cooperative. A wolf leader, or alpha, is in charge until it becomes too sick or old to perform at its highest abilities and is eventually challenged by a stronger wolf for the betterment of the entire pack. This suggests that wolves are motivated by the good of the group rather than pure loyalty to its leader. This is exactly what a 2014 study in Vienna found when researchers examined lab-raised dog and wolf packs, concluding that the relationship between dogs and humans is hierarchical (with their owner at the top) rather than cooperative. As wolves were slowly domesticated into modern dogs, the study suggests, they were bred for their loyalty, dependance on human masters, and ability to follow orders.

Social Bonding

Oxytocin, the peptide hormone released when people hug, snuggle, or bond socially, also has a part to play. Gaze-mediated bonding, as well as petting and talking, increases oxytocin levels in both humans and dogs. This is a human-like mode of communication, since wolves rarely make eye contact with their handlers, meaning that the fact that you and your dog like to lock eyes is a trait likely picked up during the domestication process. Oxytocin is linked to feelings of attachment and confidence, which in turn facilitate the establishment of loyalty and love in emotional relationships. The fact that oxytocin increases in both humans and dogs — but not wolves — while engaging in eye contact and communicating social attachments may have supported the evolution of human-dog bonding.

Are Some Breeds More Loyal Than Others?
The domestic dog, or Canis lupus familiaris, is the first and only large carnivore ever to have been domesticated by humans. Mostly within the last 200 years or so, dogs have undergone a rapid change characterized by maintaining breeds through selective breeding imposed by humans. Compared to other wild and domestic species, modern dogs display incomparable genetic diversity between breeds, from a 1-pound poodle to a 200-pound mastiff.

We’ve all heard stories of individual dogs known for fierce loyalty, like Hachiko, the Japanese Akita who waited for his master every day by the Shibuya Station in Tokyo even after he passed away at work. A 2018 study on the genomic make-up of the Czechoslovakian wolfdog found that a common German shepherd crossed with a wild wolf has the same tameness and loyalty to its master as a fully domesticated dog.

There isn’t much scientific evidence of certain breeds being more loyal than others, though one could certainly argue that dogs bred for specific jobs like hunting and herding would have a higher chance of staying loyal to their owners. Breeds that are known for specific tasks may not check all the boxes depending on qualities preferred by the owner. The dependency on human guidance desired in companion dogs may get in the way of a rescue dog’s ability to function successfully in situations when its handler isn’t around, for example. There is a “nature vs. nurture” aspect to consider as well. It isn’t all about genes, though they do play a critical role, but a dog’s individual environment and history can also greatly affect its lifetime behavior.

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There, the science behind a dog’s loyalty.

Despite having spent a number of years writing and learning about dogs there were still a few points mentioned in this essay that were news to me.

As they say, one is never too old to learn!