The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Stuff I didn't read because I was having lunch in the sun

We have actual spring weather today, so instead of reading things while eating lunch I was watching things, like this corgi:

I do have a few things to read while coordinating a rehearsal later tonight. To wit:

  • New York City declared a public health emergency because of measles. Measles. A childhood disease we almost eradicated before people started believing falsehoods about vaccination.
  • White House senior troll Stephen Miller has the president's ear, with predictable consequences.
  • Where did all of Chicago's taverns go? We used to have two to a block.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin admitted that the White House and the IRS have discussed releasing the president's tax forms, contrary to the statute meant to keep the White House from influencing the IRS.
  • Why is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau imploding so fast?
  • The UK Government has started preparing for EU elections next month, a sign that they expect to get an extension on the Brexit timeline from the EU. If not, then they will crash out of the union at 5pm Chicago time Thursday, scoring one of the worst own-goals in the history of world politics. (It's worth noting that losing the American colonies was another one.) I can't wait for PMQs tomorrow.

Today's weather, of course, is just a teaser. We even have snow flurries in the forecast for Friday. Welcome to Chicago.

Two stories of North American irrationality

First, William Giraldi, writing in Medium, proclaims "[e]verything you need to know about the mess that is America in 2019 can be explained by our deepening national belief that Bigfoot is real:"

Bigfooters believe they are questing for bipedal apes in California, but they are really questing for their own lost boyhoods, their Boy Scout days, those formative experiences in the woodlands of fancy and faith, and for the thrill of certain belief as it was before the adult world broke in to bludgeon it.

Remember that preadolescent frisson, the dread-tinged excitement of knowing, absolutely knowing, that monsters were real, not the myths, folklores, and allegories that adulthood insists they are? If Wordsworth laments adulthood’s injection of sobriety and rationality into the childhood sublime, Bigfooters aren’t having it. They’ve found a means of resurrecting that boyish wonder, of plugging back into the child’s reciprocal, imaginative bond with nature. If it comes at the cost of evidence — to say nothing of dignity — since when have children ever bothered with evidence? These scientists and their mocking, scoffing facts are a drag. What did John Keats says about Isaac Newton’s achievements with light? “He destroyed the poetry of a rainbow by reducing it to a prism.”

In concert with their wish to plug back into their boyhoods, these men, loose in the woods, are searching for the approval and acceptance of other men. No optional male group endeavor, none, is exempt from this law, one that hearkens back to the mastodon hunt, during which a male proved himself worthy of the clan and thus worthy of the protection and resources the clan controlled.

Which isn’t to say that time in the woods is idyllic. Believer and journalist John Green, the grandfather of Sasquatchia, once wrote, “The average sasquatch hunter is so pig-headed that two of them together are pretty sure to have a falling out before long… People who will go hunting for an animal that is rejected by the world of science and almost everybody else are bound to be people who don’t pay much attention to any opinion but their own, and expect not only to have an opinion but to act on it.”

Remember Jonathan Swift: “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”

Our second story comes from the CBC via IFLScience, showing that our Canadian neighbors have shown a disturbing lack of immunity to our American anti-intellectualism.

It seems a Vancouver dad worried so much about the (totally discredited) myth that vaccines cause autism that he didn't get his kids vaccinated. Flash forward 10 years and add a family trip to Vietnam, and one of his kids became Patient Zero in a British Columbia measles outbreak:

[Emmanuel] Bilodeau believes one of his three sons contracted measles during a family trip to Vietnam earlier this year and that it has since spread at the French-language schools his children attend.

Bilodeau said he brought his sons to a travel clinic on Broadway Street before their trip where they received other vaccinations, but not for measles.

It was on the plane ride home that his 11-year-old son began experiencing symptoms, including fever.

Measles. In 2019. In Canada, which has perhaps one of the three or four most advanced health-care systems the world has ever seen.

So, go ahead and believe in 3-meter-tall ape-people wandering the forests of Oregon, but try to apply some logic and rationality to life-or-death decisions like whether to prevent people from getting a disease so easy to prevent we had almost eradicated it before the beginning of this century.

The cone comes off

Parker got his leg stitches out yesterday. Mysteriously, the suture in his neck had already dropped off. Regardless, both incisions have healed well enough for him to ditch the cone:

His fur is growing back pretty quickly too, in part because it's winter. He really, really liked going to the vet yesterday. And he's a much happier dog today.

Quick Parker update

A week after his surgery, Parker seems a lot better. He's resumed his previous walking pace, and seems generally less sullen, despite the fact that I'm out of the house a lot more this week than the last few. We also switched up his antibiotics which should help his body get rid of the last bits of gunk around his knee.

His stitches come out next Wednesday, and with that, his cone comes off.

Further updates as the situation warrants.

Parker's home

He has a weird haircut and he's back in the cone for two weeks, but Parker is otherwise happy and healthy.

My wallet, however... Jeez, these older models cost a lot in repairs.

Parker recovering fine

Parker's surgeon just called. She had no difficulty removing the plate from his leg and she got the fatty cyst out of his neck without complications. She also identified the screw that had hidden the infection from his immune system and has sent it in for culture, but she suspects it's a run-of-the-mill bacterium that, absent the screw, his body would barely have noticed.

He'll be a little wobbly for a day or so and he'll have to wear his cone for two weeks, but the surgery wasn't nearly as invasive as the original repair. So, he's expected to make a full and speedy recovery before the end of the month. I'll pick him up tomorrow morning and post photos of his new haircut shortly after.

Parker update

Oh, dog.

As I mentioned earlier, Parker has developed an infection around the implants in his leg. In itself this isn't life-threatening, but it is pretty uncomfortable, especially when stuff oozes out of his leg.

So, tomorrow he's having the implants out. And while he's under anesthetic, the surgeon will also remove a fatty cyst from his neck—also not dangerous, just uncomfortable.

The surgeon, his regular vet, and I all agree that this is Parker's last surgery. No matter how healthy he seems right now, at 12½ he hasn't got a lot of years left. But removing the steel from his leg and cleaning out the infection (which could well be a biofilm) will make his last few years a lot more comfortable.

I'll post an update when Parker comes home Thursday morning.

Detecting Alzheimer's in a novel

Researchers used the Iris Murdoch's last novel to quantify how Alzheimer's first signs show up in language:

As [neurologist Peter] Garrard explains, a patient’s vocabulary becomes restricted, and they use fewer words that are specific labels and more words that are general labels. For example, it’s not incorrect to call a golden retriever an “animal,” though it is less accurate than calling it a retriever or even a dog. Alzheimer’s patients would be far more likely to call a retriever a “dog” or an “animal” than “retriever” or “Fred.” In addition, Garrard adds, the words Alzheimer’s patients lose tend to appear less frequently in everyday English than words they keep — an abstract noun like “metamorphosis” might be replaced by “change” or “go.”

Researchers also found the use of specific words decreases and the noun-to-verb ratio changes as more “low image” verbs (be, come, do, get, give, go, have) and indefinite nouns (thing, something, anything, nothing) are used in place of their more unusual brethren. The use of the passive voice falls off markedly as well. People also use more pauses, Garrard says, as “they fish around for words.”

For his analysis of Murdoch, Garrard used a program called Concordance to count word tokens and types in samples of text from three of her novels: her first published effort, Under the Net; a mid-career highlight, The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker prize in 1978; and her final effort, Jackson’s Dilemma. He found that Murdoch’s vocabulary was significantly reduced in her last book — “it had become very generic,” he says — as compared to the samples from her two earlier books.

Apparently there's a movie about Iris Murdoch too.

Quick Parker update

Before everything descends into 18 hours of post-election punditry and chaos, a quick update on the dog.

Last week he developed an infection around the site of his April surgery, complete with oozing drainage channel just below his knee. After a couple days of antibiotics, he's stopped oozing. We met with his surgeon today, and she said that the infection is in retreat, so he probably won't need additional surgery to pull the plates out. We'll continue antibiotics for three more weeks and I'll keep an eye on his knee through the end of the year.

The surgeon also hypothesized that the proximate cause of the infection was, ironically, his teeth-cleaning last month. She said she has observed cases where mouth bacteria can get into the bloodstream during cleaning, and interfaces between surgical steel and bone make good hiding places for them.

Fortunately, at 12½ years old, Parker will probably never have his teeth cleaned again—at least not by a vet while under anaesthesia.

So, Parker is fine, with no further ill effects except for another few days with the cone.

Sick on flying?

The Economist's Gulliver blog this morning asked exactly the same question I did when I woke up: how likely is it to get ill from flying on an airplane? Not very:

Planes are widely regarded as flying disease-incubators. If one passenger is sick with a contagious disease and coughing those germs into the air, it makes sense for fellow-flyers to feel that the germs will simply be inhaled by everyone else on the flight, since there is nowhere else for the things to go.

In reality, though, the situation is not that bad. Allen Parmet, a former US Air Force flight surgeon who serves as an aerospace medicine consultant, explained recently to The Verge, a technology and science news site, that infections actually don’t spread well on planes. The reason is the very dry air in the cabin. Many bacteria die in the low humidity. As for viruses, they travel on water droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. But these water droplets also evaporate in the low humidity, and the plane’s fast airflow from ceiling to floor prevents them from travelling far.

[M]ost viruses take days to show symptoms, and there were indications that the illness was contracted by people before they boarded the plane. This tale will probably end the usual way. A few passengers, by the laws of probability, will get sick in the coming week, and they will assume it had something to do with all the germs floating around the plane. It may not be true, but it is for them a satisfying enough explanation.

Well, sure, but I swear the dozen or so babies and toddlers running around (literally) my cabin earlier this week may have contributed to how I felt today.