Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: English Porcelain and Bone China

Title: English Porcelain and Bone China 1743-1850



Author: Bernard and Therle Hughes

Date: 1955

Publisher: Lutterworth

ISBN: none

Length: 248 pages plus index

Illustrations: several black-and-white photographs and sketches

Quote: “Antique porcelain is one of England’s most fascinating but tantalizing treasures...a major delight is the limitless range of [t]his subject.”

Fresh data about old ceramic work is always turning up...and in this book, Therle and Bernard Hughes supply enough detailed data about antique British chinaware for the serious collector.

That’s what you will and won’t love about this book. It explains which of the myriad of brands of porcelain and china on the market have high collection value, and why...with descriptions of the colors each manufacturer used, the techniques, the favored decorative motifs, sometimes the names and biographies of the people who made up each manufacturing company. It's like a guidebook to consult while deciding what to bid on most competitively at an auction.

Since 1955 makers of replicas have had the chance to use this book to make more credible faux antiques, so the Hughes’ work may have become a less reliable guide to separating the replicas from the Real McCoy. (Speaking of which, of course...this book doesn’t discuss U.S. ceramics at all, and never mentions McCoy.) On the other hand, the complexity and expensiveness of antique porcelain production has tended to limit the profitability of fake antiques. Nine out of ten people who buy plates with landscape pictures on them are satisfied with either a friend’s efforts or a mass-produced, frankly plastic piece; for those who want the real thing, a few corners may be cut, but it’s not easy to fake eighteenth-century china without actually making something close to the equivalent of eighteenth-century china.

Current information about what’s selling at what price is, of course, available online. For historical information, still valid, about the antique British trademarks to look for, here’s more than anyone not in the antique business could possibly have asked for about Chelsea, Bow, Longton Hall, Derby, Bristol, Worcester, Caughley, Liverpool, Lowestoft, Nantgarw, Swansea, Madeley, Plymouth, New Hall, Spode, Coalport, Minton, Rockingham, Davenport, and Wedgwood.

You’ll learn why a porcelain owl or pheasant was once an exciting technological breakthrough, which colors could have been used on a china figurine in 1750 and which would only have been available in 1850, which manufacturers always stamped a nice clear label on the bottom of each piece and which ones didn’t, and the precise chemical reasons why some antique china had distinctive tones or textures that might not be found in other antiques from the same year.You’ll learn which brands often identify the work of women artists (sometimes husband-wife or brother-sister teams) and which brand was painted by men who threatened a strike when women artists were hired.

This is the kind of book that belongs under the counter for reference, and would also make ideal bathroom reading, in an antique shop.

Amazon shows limited availability of relatively cheap paperback copies and collectors' prices on hardcover copies...and what I have is a hardcover copy. What you'll get, if you send this web site $5 per book + $5 per package (you could fit four books of this size into a package) + $1 per online payment, will be a paperback copy. If you're opening an antique shop or selling a relative's collection, that could be a great investment.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Arthritis

A Fair Trade Book (but there's a new edition)


Title: Arthritis: What Works

Author: Dava Sobel with Arthur C. Klein

Author's web site: http://www.davasobel.com/

Date: 1989

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

ISBN: 0-312-03289-7

Length: 455 pages plus 15-page index

Quote: “This is...a detailed report of what's out there, with a painstaking analysis of what works.”

First the bad news:

(1) 1989. That doesn't mean that what works has changed a great deal, but it does mean that what's out there has changed. The patients' reviews of medications are obviously no longer as complete and accurate as they were when the authors took their survey. You didn't need to be told that; you just wanted to be reassured that I had noticed.

(Actually, as I saw when I looked up the book on Amazon, newer editions exist...the very newest have shifted the focus to "what exercises work," though.)

(2) The publishers' blurb on the back of the jacket is a bit of a commercial come-on. “[Y]ou'll find a documented, step-by-step nutritional formula that could end arthritis pain forever...A formula that works!” Inside the book, although the authors have carefully analyzed the responses of patients who were helped by improving their diets, and have produced a sample menu plan with recipes that will meet a lot of people's dietary needs, they admit that no nutritional formula is going to end everyone's arthritis pain forever. The number of variables in the equation is so immense...

I'm not saying this to rain on anyone's parade. It's a solid fact that, for masses of people with arthritis, there is a diet plan that can help to relieve, and may cure, their bone and joint pain. Another solid fact is that no single diet plan is going to work for everybody. If, for example, stubborn non-rheumatoid arthritis is the primary symptom of your celiac disease, Sobel's menu plan (which features lots of whole wheat) won't help you. If you already know that you are or are becoming lactose-intolerant, you can substitute soy, rice, or nut “milk” products for cows' milk products, but if you don't have that information, any menu plan that expects everyone to use cows' milk as a primary source of calcium is not going to work for you. And so on.

Many doctors (though not our faithful correspondent John McDougall) hesitate even to discuss a nutritional approach to medical treatment. The subject is complex; it's outside their specialty, and unless their partners happen to be nutritionists they may not even know where to send you to start exploring nutritional treatment options. Doctors don't want to be scolded, they don't want to be sued, they don't want patients to say “Dr. X just gave me a menu plan that didn't do me a bit of good”...so they tend to tell arthritis patients things more like “Either you have one of the temporary kinds of arthritis that will go away all by themselves, or you'll be totally disabled and in unbearable pain in a few years. When the pain becomes intolerable we can start with the heavy painkillers, dangerous injections, or surgical replacements of your ruined joints. Meanwhile, try to ignore the pain and enjoy the short time you have to live. Have a nice day.”

I got a version of that speech in 1989, when I did, luckily, happen to have one of the temporary kinds of arthritis that go away all by themselves—the kinds caused by minor infections that attack joint tissue. Within eight weeks an immune-boosting diet regimen would have me feeling so good I was downright annoying, bounding out of bed to go jogging at dawn, losing flab while gaining healthy weight...I was very young, but perkiness is a side effect of a successful immune-boosting regimen at any age. And yes, those do help, although they don't completely cure, some people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Anyone who's been through the ups and downs of viral arthritis, the bordering-on-bipolar bounce between “I'm getting better! Life is glorious!” and “With arthritis in my neck, shoulders, knees, toes, and fingers, I'll be a quadriplegic in five years. Why don't I just lie down and die right now?”, will agree that it's cruel to publish anything that claims that nutrition can cure all arthritis patients. Nutrition will help some arthritis patients. Results will vary. Even if there is a diet plan out there that will cure you, the one presented in this book may not be it. Appropriate exercise, rest, weight control, etc., will still be as important as food choices are. Medication or surgery may still be necessary. Damage already done may or may not be reversible. Sobel and Klein actually emphasize these points in the book; it's outrageous that a publicist was allowed to generate a salesmanly blurb that ignores them.

Arthritis actually presents, on page 249, a table of which foods different patients report to be reliable pain triggers for them. All patients with gout need to avoid sardines; most patients with other kinds of arthritis do not. For most diseases that cause joint pain there's not even that kind of clear, though confusing, pattern. More than 10% of Sobel's and Klein's respondents found it helped to avoid red meat, avoid simple sugars, and/or limit fat intake. Almost 10% felt a need to avoid salt. Chocolate, which contains simple sugar, saturated fat, and caffeine, may also contain lactose, and may also be a specific allergy trigger, might be the single food arthritis patients were most likely to find it helpful to avoid. Several, but fewer than 5 percent, of patients were aware of needs to avoid “the nightshades” (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines), alcohol, refined grain products, wheat products, various chemical additives in commercial foods, acidic foods, citrus fruit, processed meat, cow's milk products, soda pop, the “purine” foods that specifically trigger gout, spicy foods, fermented foods, or eggs. “Someone else could be allergic to peanuts,” one patient reminded the researchers, though none of the patients who completed their survey seemed to have that allergy.

Several patients also identified types of food that seemed to help them. Almost 20% specified that they felt better when they ate more fresh vegetables, almost as many specified fresh fruit, and several patients mentioned benefits from “fiber” and water. The common denominator here...Jethro Kloss didn't sing it as a jingle, actually, but he discussed it at length...constipation triggers inflammation. The only specific vegetable mentioned, other than the general category of “greens,” was garlic. Some patients mentioned benefits from eating “whole grains,” fish, fowl, and lean meat, and about 5% mentioned that they got good results from diets that featured milk or “calcium-rich” foods. Sobel and Klein don't count honey and vinegar as foods, but do discuss them as quack remedies later.

Working with these specifications, Sobel and Klein enlisted a nutritionist to offer a diet based on “less fat, more vegetables, less red meat, more fish, more (skinned) poultry, less salt, less sugar, lots of fiber, a good breakfast, lots of liquids,” while continuing to warn readers to “Learn your own food sensitivities.” The menu plan was specifically designed around recipes that “serve four—so your family or friends can enjoy sharing these meals with you.” Why not? There's nothing radical about this meal plan. Although it requires some home cooking, it's mainstream U.S. cuisine with familiar ingredients. If you can cook, you can try it. It might help.

A few new readers may not be aware that our own sporadic contributor, Grandma Bonnie Peters, was one of the arthritis patients who've been helped by a nutritional approach. Even people who've only recently met her in real life probably don't guess...GBP is more active, energetic, and cheerful at 82 than she was at 32. As a young woman she was sickly, chronically fatigued, chronically overweight, with major PMS and problem pregnancies, and then she started waking up in the middle of the night with acute pain in her shoulders, and some doctor told her “It's arthritis of the spine; you'll be in a wheelchair in about five years; nothing can be done.” What it was, was an allergic reaction triggered by the primary arthritis trigger suspects listed above (red meat, sugar, fat, and “the nightshades”) and caused by undiagnosed celiac disease—she was one of the fat celiacs. GBP eliminated her allergy triggers from her diet and avoided becoming disabled, then, after several years, eliminated wheat gluten from her diet and became positively healthy for the first time in her entire conscious life. She can be evangelical about this. It's a powerful experience, for those who have specific food intolerances, to discover that we too can be healthy if we're willing to become rigid picky eaters. In her adventurous life GBP has used wheelchairs after injuries, but she still walks a mile before breakfast. For her, the diet Sobel and Klein recommend isn't radical enough. She's a “McDougaller.” And while she'll allow that pretending to promise that any one diet plan is a cure for arthritis can be cruel, she says that denying the potential benefit of the right diet plan for an individual patient is at least equally bad.

It would also be unethical to tout, as the blurb writer did, nutrition as the only treatment the arthritis patients rated helpful...and that's not what Sobel and Klein do. This was, in its time, a comprehensive study of all the treatments arthritis patients were trying, from copper bracelets to orthopedic surgery. For each category of medical care providers, medications, etc., there's a chart showing the percentage of patients who mentioned “Dramatic long-term relief; moderate long-term relief; temporary relief; no relief; made participant feel worse.”

Orthopedists and rheumatologists, not surprisingly, got high ratings, while massage therapists got low ratings for arthritis relief. Occupational therapists, physical therapists and exercise coaches, nutritionists and dietitians, and (for some patients) psychotherapists, got good ratings.

About massage therapists I can agree with Sobel and Klein. They found that, if arthritis patients had tried massage in 1989, they generally agreed that “Most are bad, some are good, some have done the best they could,” but if massage worked it almost had to be provided by a physical therapist in combination with exercise. I was a novice massage therapist in 1989, and I saw that too. Massage therapists have studied muscle strain. That, we can treat. Very few of us have studied arthritis. Too many of us were, in 1989, too eager to offer some sort of help for everything, including conditions where massage is actually contraindicated. This was not always the result of greed, but of overconfidence, over-eagerness, just being so dang young, and believing that our good intentions would set up healing vibrations even when we couldn't do a patient any good—which was not necessarily the case. A lot of us believed, as I myself did in 1989, something like “It's mostly a social or emotional pleasure for patients to lie back and be touched; we're not doing any medical good or harm.” (Sometimes we were blessed to find that we were doing good, and not harm.) Over the next soon-to-be-thirty years I've seen a wonderful increase of awareness that massage can do medical good or harm, more reluctance to “try and see” whether we hurt someone we shouldn't touch, more specialized studies of how much it's possible for massage to help those whom it does help...but arthritis is a complicated group of diseases. I've generally avoided arthritis patients myself and don't know anyone who's actually helped an arthritis patient with massage. Sometimes muscles tense in reaction to joint pain, and it's possible to relieve the muscle tension while the pain subsides; when the pain returns, so does the tension. The best-case scenario, with arthritis patients and massage therapists, seems to be an emotional bond that doesn't affect the joint pain much but does offer a temporary soothing effect.

Sobel and Klein don't discuss the specific problem “sensual massage” presents for arthritis patients (since it's not actually a health care practice, it merely sounds like one), so I will. “Sensual massage” is not muscle therapy; it offers either to “tease” or to “release” clients' erotic feelings. I'm not sure how anyone can guarantee such things but, when the clients would otherwise be participating in prostitution and spreading AIDS, I think cities should salute the practitioners of “sensual massage” rather than trying to banish them. But sexual pleasure triggers a prostaglandin surge, so when “sensual massage” has its advertised effect on arthritis patients, five minutes later those patients are likely to be much more conscious of pain. If that prostaglandin surge arrives on its own in the middle of the night, it's more likely to begin to subside by the time the patients need to work, drive, or talk to people...

After reviewing different types of medical practice, Sobel and Klein review the medications that were commonly prescribed in 1989, from aspirin by the handful through Motrin and Prednisone. Motrin generally got the best ratings in the anti-inflammatory category, “but as we said earlier, they don't predict the way the drugs will behave for you,” Sobel and Klein warn. Prednisone got even higher ratings, but still got very mixed ratings for having lots of nasty side effects.

Of non-prescription drugs, “more than half of our 1,051 survey participants rely on” aspirin and “give aspirin...the highest [rating] on our scale.” “Aspirin is not only good medicine. It's cheap,” Sobel and Klein affirm. However, heavy users of aspirin (some arthritis patients take literally dozens of aspirin tablets daily) seem to be more likely than the general population to develop allergy reactions: “[A]bout one person in five hundred is truly allergic to the drug...In our group of 1,051 survey participants, however, 8 individuals (about 4 in 500) say they do not use aspirin because they are allergic to it.” The chapter on non-prescription medicines compares ratings not only for aspirin, Tylenol, and other non-prescription painkillers, but also for topical counterirritants. Majorities of users of all the rub-on pain treatments “found [each one] (somewhat) effective,” with Myoflex and Mineral Ice outscoring cheaper formulas like Icy Hot, Ben-Gay, and Heet. (Biotone, which I used to offer to patients with acute inflammation for the traditional reason—free samples—came out later and is not discussed.)

Most people who've been diagnosed with arthritis never need surgery to fuse or replace a damaged joint, but enough respondents did for the book to include a chapter charting the percentage of patients who reported good results from different types of surgery. Here more than ever, results vary. While some treatments' ratings clustered in the middle, ratings for surgical procedures clustered at the ends, with a majority of patients for whom the surgeries were recommended raving over the results they got—and a minority ranting that the surgeries did more harm than good.

Of the “Additional Orthodox Treatments,” Sobel and Klein summarize: “Exercise is the best, provided it's tailored to your needs...Hydrotherapy feels great while you're wet...but the effects are temporary. Heat is an effective treatment...Cold works even better than heat for some people's pain...Psychological Counseling is a worthwhile adjunct to arthritis care...Massage is at least soothing,” if not really helpful, but “Traction can relieve some kinds of pain by taking pressure off pinched nerves. In the wrong hands, this treatment can hurt as much as help.” Finally, somewhat obviously: “Biofeedback requires your own finely honed powers of concentration to help you achieve relaxation and pain relief.”

(I've known exactly one person for whom elaborate biofeedback equipment was really useful—not an arthritis patient, but a cerebral palsy patient who was unable to speak. Biofeedback was that patient's primary means of communication. For other people, hooking up to a lot of monitoring devices can help us learn to control body processes, but it's not necessary.)

Then there's an “Uncensored Look at Arthritis Quackery,” which begins with a complaint that the Arthritis Foundation included legitimate, reasonable, merely unverified home remedies in its too-broad, somewhat paranoid definition of quack remedies, and goes on to investigate the genuinely quacky treatments. “Rating copper bracelets...shows the jewelry to have less than a placebo effect” since a lot of people were annoyed by the sight of copper oxide on their skin, and some patients seemed to get good results from a treatment designed to flush copper out of the body. Eight patients told Sobel and Klein they'd tried spraying WD-40 on an inflamed joint; four thought it helped, four didn't. No points for guessing why Sobel and Klein withhold recommendation from “bee sting therapy.”

Chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and yoga get a separate chapter. All three are controversial, rated highly by some respondents but carrying some inherent dangers. Many have been helped, many have been harmed, and many have been cheated, by practitioners and teachers of these treatments. Just by being “alternative” practices they seem to attract a few shameless charlatans, and yet, when practiced honestly and competently, they can work.

The chapter on experimental treatments is obviously the chapter that aged fastest in this book. By now the results of what was experimental in 1989 are beginning to be fully collected.

There's even more information, of the evergreen variety, about emotional self-care (for those who didn't guess, a flare-up of arthritis is generally accompanied by a flare-up of unhappy thoughts), adaptive devices, exercises, and quick fixes for sudden bursts of pain. There's also a reasonable amount of “back matter,” information about the survey, books and publications cited.

One omission now seems to need to be filled in. Norman Cousins' experience with “arthritis of the spine” (Anatomy of an Illness) seems to be deliberately ignored. Even when people feel that “maintaining a positive mental outlook” is likely to help, laughing out loud at pain can seem incongruous. In the 1990s more research explained how Cousins and other people were able to use laughter as pain medicine: we ho-ho-ho by exercising the diaphragm muscle, so laughing has the same endorphin-boosting effect that yoga breathing, Lamaze breathing, singing,  chanting, and aerobic exercise have. Sobel and Klein discuss yoga and aerobic exercise separately but don't discuss the role of the diaphragm in pain management at all.

Finally, another short section that's become incomplete is the table of known drug interactions. Some readers may remember how The PillBook expanded in the 1990s, as new drugs came on the market and more interactions and side effects were documented. The more a promising medication (even aspirin) is used, the more we learn about its shortcomings, so in one edition there might be one paragraph of warnings about a drug and in the next edition ten pages. By and large I think Arthritis is still likely to be a useful first book for anyone diagnosed with any of the diseases that cause chronic joint inflammation, but readers need to know that they cannot rely on pages 437-448 for all the warnings arthritis medications should carry today. By now a really reliable list of interactions and side effects for arthritis medications alone might well have reached the size of older editions of The Pill Book (which tried to list all the prescription medications).


Some things haven't changed since 1989. “Arthritis” is still a category of symptoms that can be caused by more than a hundred known diseases. A few of those diseases are better understood than they were thirty years ago. Many remain incurable. Many people still “have to live with” arthritis, but at least understanding is growing that diet, exercise, and self-care can reduce the pain most of them feel.

Given that there's a 2005 edition, I'm not sure whether Sobel actually wants you to buy the 1989 edition as a Fair Trade Book. Buying the new book as a new book would show even more respect. If, however, you can afford to buy both for comparison purposes, a first edition of Arthritis will cost...$15 per book, plus $5 per package (two books of this size should fit into one package), plus $1 per online payment. This was truly a groundbreaking book in 1989, a massive improvement over what was available in public libraries at the time, so it's an historic achievement and it's become collectible. So the first edition costs about the same as the updated edition does. If you buy it here we'll send $2 to Sobel or a charity of her choice. If you buy the updated edition as a new book she'll probably get more than that.

(But there's also a 1991 paperback edition, poor little orphaned thing, that's still available as a Fair Trade Book for $5 per book. If you buy that one, Sobel or her charity gets $1...as this web site discussed when we tried to support Laura Ingraham last year, some people's favorite charities don't even bother with donations of $1.) 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: 51 Sycamore Lane

A Fair Trade Book (finally!)


Title: 51 Sycamore Lane

Author: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Date: 1971

Publisher: Macmillan

ISBN: none

Length: 122 pages

Illustrations: drawings by Lisl Weil

Quote: “The ladies in the club were like a mixture of pizza and whipped cream and French fries and taffy. Separately they were fine, but when they got together they were awful. Except for Stella Verndale who was awful all by herself.”

Paul, Quentin, and the anonymous narrator of this first-person story are middle school boys. The story is short and easy enough to challenge third grade students, funny and sassy enough to amuse adults.

When Mrs. Richardson moves in to 51 Sycamore Lane, the boys think they may have “A Spy in the Neighborhood.” Mrs. Richardson isn't like the ladies in the club. She gets mail from overseas, in a strange language, and she keeps a pet hen called Miss America. The boys are interested enough to try “investigating” or spying on this possible spy. Stella Verndale objects to the free-range hen living in their suburban neighborhood. Mutual distaste for Ms. Verndale (“Ms.” is not yet in general use; the woman signs herself “Stella Verndale,” and the boys privately call her “Stella” as a show of disrespect) motivates the boys to bond with Mrs. Richardson and her hen.

It's a delightful story for anyone who keeps pet chickens, or would like to, although as a child I remember feeling disappointed that the hen herself is only a minor character. The drawings aren't lifelike enough to specify a breed identity; Miss America appears to be mostly White Leghorn, a breed systematically bred for lack of survival intelligence and unlikely to contribute much to a story, although a single White Leghorn hen will normally contribute all the eggs that a single human needs to eat for two or three years. Brown Leghorns, and the other egg-producing breeds like Andalusians and Anconas, have more personality. As a middle school chicken fancier, I accepted Miss America as a typical White Leghorn and wished she'd been a more interesting type of bird. My hens answered to names and did stupid pet tricks.


Anyway, 51 Sycamore Lane affirms the value of respect for others, non-interference, and keeping a good healthy distance from others rather than trying to control their personal choices. It made Marjorie Weinman Sharmat's career and led to her Maggie Marmelstein, Nate the Great, and other comedies for young readers:


For me, and this may be because I discovered them at the right formative age, Sharmat's Maggie Marmelstein trilogy was her all-time best. Plenty of people feel differently...and you're free to order any and all of this writer's vintage books from this web site, $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, a price at which (depending on your picks) you could probably order ten or twelve books for only the one $5 shipping charge. Then you'd know which of her books you think are the truest, funniest, or just all-round best. The fact that several of these books have been reprinted is a hint--an accurate one. Fair Trade Books include any book by a living writer that's been out long enough to be easy to find cheap on Amazon; when we mail out a Fair Trade Book we mail out a payment to the writer or a charity of his or her choice. If you ordered 51 Sycamore Lane, all three Maggie Marmelstein books, two Nate the Great books (out of a series of 26), and two of the Laurel-Leaf teen romances, just to determine which type of children's book this author did best, you'd send this web site $45 (U.S. postal money order) or $46 (Paypal), and we'd send $8 to Sharmat or her charity.

51 Sycamore Lane seems particularly timely-all-over-again with so many people rediscovering chickens as outdoor pets...or even in view of the way the HSUS #WarOnPets has affected some people's relationships with cats and dogs.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: Indian Summer of the Heart

Title: Indian Summer of the Heart


Author: Daisy Newman

Date: 1982

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

ISBN: 978-0395325179

Length: 376 pages

Quote: “In the summer of his seventy-ninth year Oliver Otis of Firbank Farm fell in love.”

“And? So...?” some might ask. “What makes that a novel? Sounds like a romance.”

And if you're reading for the plot alone I might as well admit that it is a romance, pretty much, although a romance between people in their seventies is guaranteed at least to be different from the first-kiss-on-page-35 paperbacks certain “romance” purveyors crank out by the half-dozen. But one doesn't read Daisy Newman's novels for the plot alone. Indian Summer of the Heart is the sequel to I Take Thee Serenity; together they're the story of the nicest family in New England. Newman wanted to offer readers a healthy dose of niceness while making some points about the social issues of the late twentieth century, and sharing the history and beliefs of her religious community—the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

Oliver is a gentleman farmer who enjoys working out in the fresh air. His wife, Daphne, found time to be a painter, and eventually became somewhat rich and famous at it...

It already seems silly now, but in the twentieth century many people seriously believed that the old French Socialist fantasy, in which women were supposed to preserve some sort of spirituality in the home by not having jobs or money of their own, might have a place in the real world. I don't remember any husbands who felt that they'd been “unmanned” if their wives were earning better wages than they were, even in the 1970s. I remember Real Men (like my father) who felt that money was money and if men didn't know how to cook and clean they should've joined the Army, and I remember Common Bums (like one with whom I blush to admit I ate lunch once) who openly wanted to latch onto a rich woman and spend her money. Funnily enough I don't remember ever having heard a friend reminisce about the kind of “No wife of mine has to go out to work” scene the commercial media were kicking around in the 1970s, either. The sociological study of what was actually going on, that passes a reality check and is also a salty good read, is The Hearts of Men.

But...did Oliver ever mind that his wife had become rich and famous, and he was a farmer? Whatever for, he says when asked, they weren't in competition with each other. Oliver obviously never needed a full-time day care provider to follow him around the house, cleaning up his mess.

By the time Daphne died Oliver wasn't bothered much by hormone surges any more, and was prepared to spend his celibate old age with his young relatives, the charming idealist couple readers had met in I Take Thee Serenity (Serenity, or Rennie, being the bride) and their children. Then he meets Loveday Mead, a retired college dean whose family were Quakers but who's not had the full benefit of a Quaker spiritual life.

Dean Mead is an active feminist, researching a book about how sexism stifled a talented woman, smothering her into domesticity. Feminist readers can probably guess where this is leading from the fact that Loveday's heroine of choice is Anna Maria Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus's older sister. Luckily for the Mozart family, “Nannerl” seems to have accepted the fact that her brother was a genius and she had just enough talent to entertain her rich husband and his friends.

Can Newman convince you that Loveday Mead is not being stifled in any harmful, sexist, patronizing way, but genuinely comforted, when she decides to marry Oliver before she's finished her feminist screed about poor stifled Nannerl? Newman's job is easier if you've read the existing biographies of the Mozarts...I'm guessing that she'll convince you. Along the way, she'll share a lot of firsthand observations about late-in-life romance, about Quakers, about Europe, about New England, and about grandparenting.

Indian Summer of the Heart is a feel-good book that may come to us straight from the Lost Planet of Nice, but if you're looking for a story that offers more insight and information than suspense, this is a particularly nice one. It's not outrageously overpriced on Amazon (yet) so the usual price, $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, applies to this title too if you choose to buy it here; four books of this size will probably fit into one $5 package, and the others could be Fair Trade Books.

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Take Me Riding in the Car, Car..."

Although you still need to support this web site...

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4923804

...here's a free cat memory, because today's e-mail contained a publicity "contest" that's just too cute to ignore. Check out the cute picture that set me off here:

https://www.truecar.com/savethemall/

That's such an iconic picture of the pet waiting to start off on an adventure with its humans, or waiting at a stopping point in the course of a trip...it's not something I like to see on the actual road, though. If that truck were moving, that dog would be in danger, just like the human children who also like to stick their heads, hands, or feet out to catch the breeze on a hot day.

"Little" Mo, Heather's brother, didn't seem especially keen on being taken to the house at the end of this ramp in a car. He seemed pleased once he got there, though. He liked the human who had built the ramp.

For cats, the safest way to transport a cat is in a locked carrier box secured to the floor. Cats who really like riding in cars would, of course, prefer to be on your lap and/or looking out the window. In a crash, those positions offer the cat no security whatsoever and could make the cat more hazardous to humans. And although your cat probably has better sense, cats have been known to jump out even through a crack at the top of a window, even before the vehicle reaches a full stop.

However, Black Magic, the Founding Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, was not only in the minority of cats who are very social, and the minority of cats who hear and respond to specific words, but also the (somewhat larger) minority of cats who just love riding in the car.

That was one of the first things her human godfather noticed when he brought her to me. She was small for a three-month-old kitten, she had mostly white skin under her nearly all black fur, she had a super-loud and almost nonstop purr, she had been brought up as a pet and seemed to like and trust him, and she perched on the back of the passenger seat in his Subaru economy car, purring like all get out, all the way from downtown Kingsport to the house that was not yet a Cat Sanctuary.

I've never been a car person myself, but Magic's human godfather was a native of Kingsport, Tennessee, where all the men and most of the women are seriously into cars. His Dad was one of the investors in the Bristol Motor Speedway. One of his best friends sold Allstate motor insurance. His brother-in-law had a car rental business. Hearing that I liked getting paid to exercise, these people got me a part-time job in a hand car wash, where I modelled NASCAR T-shirts, hung damp chamois rags over my shoulders, and raked in the tips. Magic's human godfather had owned at least one car since the age of fifteen, seldom missed a NASCAR race on television and watched a few races live each year, and collected NASCAR souvenir shirts...including the early Dale Earnhardt (Senior) shirts that presented early Earnhardt cars as "Black Magic" and "Black Velvet," which were the names he and I later gave Magic and another black cat who was living with me that year.

Cars were a big theme in his and my whole relationship. I liked the young man at the time and remember only good things about him, but when I look back our dates seem like an immersion course in Kingsport's car culture. We watched races, he taught me to drive a stick shift, we took road trips, we wore shirts with cars on them, we bought shelves of model cars (NASCAR souvenirs of course) and studied the differences between racing cars' and ordinary cars' engines; we even borrowed or rented different cars to compare the driving experience. Sometimes we'd test-drive cars just for a cheap date.

In addition to the Subaru, that year, we drove Hondas, Toyotas, Chevrolets, Nissans, a Geo, a Plymouth, an Acura, a Hyundai, a Lincoln Continental, a Pontiac Grand Prix, and the Renault Alliance I hated so intensely. Both of us generally liked the economy cars--apart from the Renault, which was old, had cost $200 to buy, and might possibly have been brought up to standard for another $2,000 or maybe $5,000. My rating system had three tiers: Nice and Economical, Nice but More Expensive than Necessary, and That Renault. His was more elaborate, with the Honda Accord in first place, points deducted from all Ford models just because someone his Dad didn't like sold Fords, and the Geo Metro down at the back beside That Renault. (I liked the Geo Metro.)

2017 Toyota Prius
This car was invented after Magic's lifetime. The Prius used to be an extremely pricey and prickly model with a lot of bugs, but now I know a perfectly normal couple who have one that's served them well for several years. Can you afford a Prius yet? Find out at https://www.truecar.com/prices-new/toyota/prius-pricing/

And if Magic didn't ride in every one of those cars with us (which she didn't), it wasn't her fault. Most cats don't like leaving their homes. Magic wanted to go where her humans went, even if large unfriendly cats or dogs were there--somehow other animals always seemed to respect Magic, if they didn't actually bond with her, even when she was a tiny kitten. She always remembered her human godfather and liked to perch on his shoulders too, but her favorite car was one in which I was sitting in the passenger seat, where she alternated between purring on my knees and perching on my shoulders.

We were adults, but we were very young and didn't take Magic to the right vet. It never occurred to us to buy a cat carrier box. We did use seat belts, for ourselves; we didn't think about a well-behaved cat needing one too. And, since we were luckier than we probably deserved to be, nothing ever went wrong on any of Magic's road adventures with us.

Since those long-ago days I've known several other cats who enjoyed visiting friends with me, even seemed to enjoy the actual car trip. Some other cats have even been social enough that the cats who've lived with my human friends have become their friends. Bounce and Pounce liked to bounce and pounce through other people's houses. Mogwai, Iris, and Ivy liked to visit friends.

And Dusty the shelter cat was so good a passenger that, when loaded into a car without the benefit of a secure carrier, she would lie right down on the floor, brace herself between the seats, and purr. She'd sit on my lap if I picked her up, but she knew that her proper place in a car was on the floor!

Dusty was still alive when I acquired my cheap cell phone that takes bad photos; the reason why there's no digital picture of Dusty is that, although she moved from my home to another Pet Sanctuary where she was supposedly up for adoption, by the time I got this phone there was no way Her Human would ever have let anyone adopt Dusty. In a general way, Dusty was the type of cat seen below. If she had any really distinctive feature it was the way she appeared to be a spring kitten when she was rescued from a highway and taken to a shelter, and during the next seven years, until she died of what might have been a geriatric cat disease, she never looked a day older...whether she lived eight years or eighteen years will never be known.

Blossom
Blossom from Atlanta...sounds as if she just might be a stolen barn cat. Always double-check before giving money to shelters to make sure an animal wasn't stolen. In summer so many unwanted cats and kittens are legitimately put up for adoption that it's hard to imagine anyone finding time to steal a cat, but cat haters have been known to steal barn cats and place them in shelters: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/35770173

Nicky
Nicky from Herndon: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/38965868

Bonnie
Bonnie from New York City: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/38375992

"Those cats don't look alike," you say. Well, they don't, and I'd never mistake any of them for Dusty...but that's the general type of cat Dusty was. In the shelter she really was covered in dust, and appeared to be gray all over. I wondered whether she'd be a different color when the gray dust was combed out. She was just slightly different--turned out to have subtle tabby markings on her face, legs, and tail, and very subtle tabby markings on her body. Basically she was just a light warm shade of gray, with yellow eyes. She was slim, mouthy, and bossy enough to convince me she was part Siamese. Nobody would have picked her for her looks. But she was a good pet; she converted Her Human from "lifelong dog person, never had a pet cat" to "cat person" within a year.

Ferplast Atlas 10 Cat and Dog Carrier, Blue
We knew Dusty had found her Forever Home when Her Human bought one of these...well, the kind that was on the market ten years ago. Dusty loved it! It was almost as if the new human's buying her a carrier box convinced her that he really cared.

Book Review: The Stranger Beside Me

Title: The Stranger Beside Me


Author: Mabel Seeley

Date: 1951

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: none

Length: 272 pages

Quote: “Why was it Christine who attracted him?”

The Stranger Beside Me admittedly draws heavily on Karen Horney's studies of “neurotic personalities,” though one has to wonder whether a family or neighborhood drama motivated the writer to create such characters. Carl and Christine are such a matched pair of “neurotics” that they seem an ideal couple. How deceptive appearances can be. The best thing to be said for one half of the unhappy pair is that, when this spouse goes berserk...but that'd be telling.

Have this couple ever known each other? Er, um...would anyone who really knew either of them consent to sit next to them on a train? If anyone poked Christine, a gusher of morbid, thirteen-year-old-type self-obsession would spew out. Carl seems like just another introvert struggling to pass for a “weak” extrovert on a sales job.

Karen Horney earned respect in a difficult time. Her descriptions of “neurotic personalities” were based on sound observations. However, after eighty years of additional research, even those psychologists who still study the learned, socially conditioned aspects of personality have abandoned the vague term “neurotic personality.” In Horney's time people thought they knew what "neurotic personalities" looked like, but there turned out to be several very different kinds of "neurotic personalities." 

As Horney observed and Seeley portrays in this novel, many young people are insecure mainly because they are young. They know they're less mature and competent than other people, and believe themselves to be more inadequate than they are. Other people, many of whom aren't even natural introverts, may be ticking bombs of repressed hostility, or even “schizoid” types whose depression, suspicion, anxiety, or laziness may become a disability.

One strength of Horney's research (and of Seeley's) was that they called attention to the function of social rules about sex roles in shaping “neurotic personalities.” When they were young, it was just obvious that neither shame-bound Christine nor shell-shocked Carl was a natural salesman; the department store hired her as a waitress and him as a floor manager. People expected her to “retire” and have babies before she was twenty-five, and she did; they expected her return to the economic world to be a self-limited effort to make a little money off a hobby, and it is. The expectation that she ought to be somewhat “weak” creates a favorable surprise, though also some whispering about her “competing with” Carl, when she does succeed. 

Although the rules about how men's and women's economic careers are supposed to go most obviously hurt Christine at first, over time we see that they hurt Carl as much or more. He had no chance to face his inner demons. He had to be the breadwinner. Karen Horney didn't get as much recognition as she deserved from 1970s feminists because she recognized that corporate careers hadn't been “liberating” for men like Carl at all, had in fact aggravated their misery, and weren't likely to be "liberating" for women like Christine either. Other men tell Carl he's not “strong” enough. Testosterone both helps men build real physical strength, and gives them a temporary illusion of strength through violent rage and hypertension. Carl isn't diagnosed with cardiovascular syndrome in the course of this novel; in real life, many men like him died from it.

The Stranger Beside Me is an unsatisfying read because the psychology that identified Carl and Christine as “neurotic” failed to explain, prevent, or cure their “neuroses.” There is still no really satisfactory way to identify, much less defuse, ticking-bomb personalities.

Are they “loners”? Some are, but they're not healthy, productive introverts who enjoy whatever they do alone and share it with friends or customers. Some are, like Hitler, failed artists, but even the formula of “failed artist on drugs” does not reliably produce mass murderers (thank goodness). Sometimes failure as a creative artist is partly explained by brain damage, which may also explain the hate and rage some, not all, “loners” eventually act out. In other cases it's explained by lack of talent; the “loner” may not be an introvert at all, but an extrovert with inadequate social skills, a loser by all possible measures, which undoubtedly contributes to the rage some, not all, of these “loners” spew.

If a “loner” who does have a few close friends (even if they're not living in the same house, even if they're not human, even if they're no longer living) and some sort of talent (even if it's not marketable) is safe to have as a neighbor or co-worker, but a “loner” who is really friendless and talentless is dangerous...you might guess that the real ticking-bomb type might lie (even to himself) and say he has friends and interests, while having none. This is, unfortunately, still true, as portrayed in the novel.

And although The Stranger Beside Me is a readable outside view of how the ticking bomb's miserable life goes, it doesn't really tell us more than we already knew. It leaves us a little closer to some answers than Horney was able to come in 1951, but not much. As a result, although The Stranger Beside Me is a credible novel, I found it an unsatisfactory read.


This probably explains why 99 out of 100 Gentle Readers are not in the small niche market for this novel. If, however, this review is making you think, “Mmm, research!”, then The Stranger Beside Me is for you. Read it and ask yourself whether you want to spend your life looking for ways to help people like Carl and Christine.

The usual terms apply: $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment. Mabel Seeley wrote several other novels, some classified as mystery rather than suspense stories, and any four of them would probably fit into one $5 package. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Status Update: Backing Down from Patreon

Status update: I'm about to run out and see whether it's possible to sell $55 worth of small handknitted items in time to keep electricity connected at the Cat Sanctuary. (A sponsor pledged to keep my lights on for a year; this person is not known for fidelity to long-term commitments.)

You need to be sponsoring this blog:

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4923804

Obviously I can't afford to go on sponsoring e-friends on Patreon, although I'd like to. So I thought I'd post briefly about the experience of sponsoring someone on Patreon, for those who feel afraid to try it:

1. You do need a separate, very small, Paypal-specific bank account, because Paypal will eagerly deliver your bank account information along with your Patreon payment. I hadn't been aware of that. Somehow I'd expected Paypal to process payments to Patreon the way it processes deposits into the bank and/or payments to other individual Paypal users, with a nice straightforward "X has sent you money via Paypal." However, it's always been a good idea to have a Paypal-specific bank account. If you also have large savings or investment accounts, it's a good idea to set up your Paypal bank account at a separate bank.

2. Having linked your Paypal account to your Paypal bank account, then, click on the large rectangular button on the right side of the screen, the one that says "BECOME A PATRON." Follow the instructions that pop up. Don't all web sites that process payments make it very easy to send them money? Patreon certainly does. You'll become an online sponsor in five minutes or less.

3. If your income during the past year was over US$12,000, you should be sending this web site at least one and really more like five dollars a month, anyway. You'd pay that much for a magazine, and although it's impossible for one person to generate a whole magazine as distinct from a newsletter, the Link Logs were certainly delivering more information and entertainment than most magazines. (It was your choice, not mine, to discontinue the Link Logs; they can come back.)

4. If, however, your income was genuinely low, or you're in some sort of ghastly financial straits we don't need to describe in detail here, you may need to be a one-time sponsor. My income was genuinely low, so after sponsoring two e-friends just to show how easy it is, I needed to make sure I was a one-time sponsor. Right. As a sponsor you have a Patreon account of your own. Your account page will show a squarish button with three horizontal lines on it at the top right corner. (I think that's intended to be a widely used Internet symbol that suggests something in the real world, although when I look at it I can't see what.) Clicking on this button will open a menu button that includes "YOUR PLEDGES." Click on those words.

5. If you've sponsored a lot of people, you'll have to cancel each pledge individually. Click on the name of the Patreon account to which you want to stop sending a monthly pledge. The screen that opens will display a menu, on the right side, that will include "Delete Pledge." Click on those words. The system will ask you to confirm that you're deleting the pledge and to choose one from a list of reasons why you're doing that. The list of reasons will include a line like "I intended to pledge for a limited time." If you feel so moved, you can add a line about your income or your dire financial straits.

It should be as easy as that. Now go and support this web site...even if you hate it, the computer is making it clear that you love to hate it, so pay up.

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4923804

(Should this post include an Amazon book link? Why not?



The Amazon page indicates that this book was not written by a dog, even as it might easily have been nonverbally dictated to the human, and is more "common sense" than funny.)

Book Review: Oscar of the Waldorf

Title: Oscar of the Waldorf


(This image is of the reprint edition; it may be a copy of a paper dust jacket that my book no longer has, but it's not the first edition, which is what I have for sale in real life.)

Author: Karl Schriftgiesser / Oscar Tschirky

Date: 1943

Publisher: Dutton

ISBN: none

Length: 238 pages

Illustrations: several black-and-white glossy plates

Quote: “Being a hotel man has been more than my job. It has been my profession...my life.”

Who was Karl Schriftgiesser? Why is this biography of Oscar Tschirky, copyright by Oscar Tschirky, written in the third person “by Karl Schriftgiesser”? Was Oscar of the Waldorf vain enough to invent a biographer in hopes of sounding more modest...or was he prudent enough to hire an assistant whose native language was English in order to produce a well-written book in English? It hardly matters now, because this is not the story of Oscar, personally. It's the story of his hotel.

Oscar and the Waldorf Hotel flourished in the “Gilded Age” between 1890 and 1930, a time when Marxism flourished as a reaction to the extravagance of the obscenely rich. Money did, of course, trickle down in its slow inefficient way. “Wealthy Willy” Waldorf Astor built his luxury hotel on the site of his father's home, in the hope that his own name would displace his father's name from history, with a mission of making himself famous by operating the most extravagant luxury hotel the world had ever seen. He succeeded, possibly because he hired a sturdy Swiss immigrant away from Delmonico's and basically put that immigrant, Oscar, in charge of stocking the hotel with the people William Waldorf Astor wanted for friends. Oscar and a full crew of cooks, waiters, cleaners, messengers, even live elevator operators, profited from Astor's dissipation of his inheritance. If they didn't become rich in the sense that Astor was rich, Oscar, at least, had no worries about retirement.

Oscar didn't chatter at the customers, he tells us. He was not the head chef, but the head waiter, or as they say in Europe the maitre d'hotel. Over the years, because he gave good service and wasn't chatty or gossipy, he did come to seem like a friend to some of the hotel's patrons. Sometimes he heard things. Once, he says, once in his lifetime, he was able to tell some of them something important enough to make him break his rule and speak before he was spoken to. Oscar had his small part in the design of the Panama Canal.

Celebrity gossip is of course the main attraction of his memoir. Most of it is bland, amusing, newspaper-style gossip. John “Bet-a-million” Gates, an early patron, wagered a hundred dollars that one raindrop would reach the bottom of a window ahead of another one (he won). Lillian Russell couldn't make up her mind whether she wanted cantaloupe or ice cream for dessert; Oscar gave her half a cantaloupe with ice cream in the center and named this dessert “cantaloupe a la Lillian Russell.” Horace Fletcher, an eccentric medical researcher who believed in eating very plain food very slowly, frustrated Oscar by ordering bread and water for lunch. When a Barnum & Bailey employee turned eighty, still on the job, the company paid Oscar to make a banquet for 400 mostly famous people into a literal circus, with trapezes overhead. Early in his career Oscar had published a book of recipes he'd collected from New York's best chefs, with the result that people thought he was a chef himself; he continued collecting recipes and encouraging chefs to invent new ones, and his “war cake” recipe appears on page 173, but most of the recipes he collected were for enormous amounts of food—and one of his favorite finds, he says, came from a prison chef and could have been officially named “Clam Chowder a la Sing Sing.”

By the 1940s, when friends urged Oscar to write this book, it appears that he had become a somewhat nostalgic and querulous old man, always missing and reminiscing about an era that had passed. In the early twentieth century conservation laws forced him to stop offering endangered wild animals as main courses. Then the World Wars forced him to curb the extravagance and comply with “shortages” and “austerities.” Prohibition forced him to ruin, in his own mind, his terrapin soup by making it alcohol-free. The Depression took all the fun out of being extravagant, and eventually his beloved hotel closed down. It reopened on schedule, but it just...wasn't...the same.

Not that he was bitter. Having invested his whole life in the hotel had its benefits. At seventy-five, Oscar could probably have retired in any place and style he might have fancied...and he chose to move into the “new” Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where he was allowed to work part-time as a greeter for as long as he wanted. (His wife, whom he doesn't embarrass by mentioning more than three times in the book, moved in with him.) That the children and grandchildren of the “old” Waldorf's early patrons kept coming back, among other things to see the institution Oscar had become, gives his memoir a happy ending.

Oscar Tschirky had no problem with extravagance, snobbery, or inflated prices, and it probably wouldn't bother him at all to know that his memoir has become a collectible book. If you don't demand the first edition, of which I can't guarantee I'll find more than one, a copy of Oscar of the Waldorf will cost $30 per book plus $5 per package (four books of this size can fit into a package) plus $1 per online payment.  


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wrymouth and the Tasmanian Devils

In one of those odd, useless, meaningless synchronicities, after posting yesterday about poor little Wrymouth Possum--who died and, due to my fear of its infecting nicer possums with whatever it was dying of, has been incinerated--I went home and turned up an old news item I'd saved to remind myself to check for updates: the endangered species status of a similar but even uglier species, Australia's Tasmanian Devils.

The well-known cartoon "Taz" reflects a short description, not a serious study, of real Tasmanian Devils. They are carnivorous marsupials. They have some "devilish" qualities--they have no capacity for showing or recognizing affection; they are predators, not known to kill humans but well known to eat dead humans; if they're hungry they'll eat their own young. Up to fifty pups ("joeys") are born in one litter; only four can nurse at one time, so if little Tasmanian Devils had any empathy for their siblings they'd starve. Adult "devils" have black coats, reddish eyes, a peculiar gait (that doesn't keep them from moving faster than the average human, when they choose), raucous voices, and big heads and thick necks that allow them to chew up bigger animals' bones. They have been "tamed" to some extent but never become cuddly pets. Nevertheless, Australians find them useful because they quickly remove every trace of carrion.

The Wikipedia article about this endangered species is extensive and recently updated:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_devil

Two devils, sitting side by side, the one of left with a white stripe under its neck. They stand on a dirt patch. Stones can be seen in the background.
These Tasmanian Devils are not even trying to compete with possums on lack of visual appeal...to my eyes, they're winning that contest! Photo donated to Wikipedia By Willis Lim - http://www.flickr.com/photos/willislim/3172976845/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11454933

They don't actually spin around like little tornado clouds, but do share that hop-while-twisting-to-the-side threat display with the Virginia possum. They also have opposable "thumb" toes, on the forepaws where the animals can use their thumbs to hold food. (Virginia possums have thumbs on their hind paws and use them to hold on to branches when climbing. Tasmanian Devils apparently don't climb as much, and have fatter, less useful tails.) In some other ways their place in Australian ecology is analogous to those of swine, dogs, or hyenas in the rest of the world--and they don't coexist with dingoes.

Early researchers imagined that Virginia possums and Tasmanian Devils would belong to the same genus, meaning that with some encouragement from humans they'd be able to crossbreed. This has not turned out to be the case. The animals look somewhat alike but aren't closely related. If one of each species was put into one cage, the fast-moving, aggressive, carnivorous Tasmanian Devil would probably devour every trace of the slow-moving, peaceable, omnivorous Virginia possum. There's more than one way of winning, though...Tasmanian Devils are hostile but not truly solitary, while Virginia possums are truly solitary but not (usually) hostile, and this trait allows some Virginia possums to be domesticated. Although our possums are smaller animals with shorter life cycles, they often live two to four times as long, as pets, as they do "in the wild." They don't snuggle, as cats do, or lick hands, as dogs do, and they spend most of their non-foraging time (at night) finding different places to hide and sleep through the day, but they have soft inner coats and can become friendly with humans and domestic animals. Tasmanian Devils don't.

Recently, it seems, Tasmanian Devils have been turning up looking even uglier than is normal for them, due to bare, scabby, disfiguring tumors on the outsides of their mouths and faces. The tumors are described as a contagious form of cancer transmitted when the animals bite one another. Though most often seen on the sides of the face, the tumors can form inside the mouth, in skin on other parts of the body, or inside the animals where they're only found by dissection. The cancer can also metastasize into bones and organs.An Australian government PDF published for animal rescuers shows early stages of "Devils' Facial Tumour Disease" inside the animals' mouths looking more like small surface wounds than like abscessed teeth, but apparently the "tumours" can form anywhere and spread to anywhere else. The spread of this disease is selectively breeding more Tasmanian Devils with higher resistance--paradoxically, these individuals otherwise seem to be weaker, less dominant types. The cancer is thought to have killed most of the animals who were stronger, more dominant, and thus more likely to win fights.

Apparently fights happen fairly often because, although they don't hunt cooperatively, when one Tasmanian Devil finds meat it can't resist an urge to scream and snarl and call attention to itself, thereby attracting other Tasmanian Devils to gather around and fight over the meat. They can eat side by side without fighting as long as the supply holds out...but biting is what Tasmanian Devils do best. Compulsive competition for food seems to be what Tasmanian Devils have in the way of social life, and may serve some useful biological purpose. It looks almost like a moral fable--an illustration of how much better off the poor "devils" would be if they could at least eat carrion quietly, as Virginia possums do.

Three Tasmanian devils standing on bark chips huddled with their heads close together.
These three Tasmanian Devils were at peace with one another at the moment when they were photographed By Willis Lim - http://www.flickr.com/photos/willislim/3173810890/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11454863 ...but note the ear closest to the camera.
You might wonder whether such off-putting animals would be missed, but extinction is forever, and bone-crunching scavengers may do less harm to humans than carrion-eating flies do. The Australian government is still working to save a limited number of Tasmanian Devils.


I checked and found no evidence that "D.F.T.D." is spreading to North America. Virginia possums are protected from a tremendous majority of the diseases to which their diet and habits expose them, because their metabolism is slower and their body temperature is lower than other warm-blooded animals. Tasmanian Devils also have a slow metabolic rate, but if anything their healthy body temperature may run higher than a human's--it seems to vary. This might or might not mean that Virginia possums would be as immune to the diseases Tasmanian Devils get as they are to the diseases humans, cats, dogs, and cows get. 

Warning: The fact that possums themselves do not share diseases with other warm-blooded animals does not mean that possums can't carry diseases to other warm-blooded animals. They can. A possum that has been doing its ecological job, eating nasty stuff, will have fresh bacteria and protozoa stuck to its paws and fur; even after those disease agents drop off and die, the possum is likely to carry fleas and ticks that may transmit pathogens between other animals. The only animals that ordinarily get any kind of disease carried by possums are horses, but when humans handle possums they are creating an extraordinary situation where anything is possible.

Another possible explanation of why poor little Wrymouth Possum was so sick and ugly, so friendly to an unknown human, and so hostile to an inoffensive kitten, is Metabolic Bone Disease, a catchall term for nutrient deficiencies sometimes found in wild possums, and very often found in pet possums reared on inadequate diets. Seems some humans who try to adopt young possum-pups try to feed them as if they were kittens. (In fact, given a choice of foods, some possums will choose a vegetarian diet for weeks on end; one LiveJournal blogger lived with a pet possum who wanted to live on peaches and cream, or rather yogurt. Despite the preponderance of nasty stuff in their natural diet, possums love fruit and probably need it.) These possums become malnourished and may become "vicious" or even "cannibalistic." Their bones and teeth fail to develop normally, all sorts of other things go wrong, and the poor little things aren't even fit to correct their own nutritional imbalances when the frustrated would-be rescuer "releases them into the wild." They have no idea what they need to eat and may not be strong enough to take it when they find it. 

I can't muster a lot of respect for this organization's policy of "We'll tell you how we rear viable possum-pups if and when you pay us $25 per year for a membership fee," but for anyone who really wants to cuddle a possum, a limited amount of information is found at this web site:


If all that was wrong with Wrymouth was a dietary deficiency...No. Wrymouth was too big, too dangerous to kittens, and too far gone, for me to have tried to cure it. All I really regret, in my short acquaintance with this possum, is having been too ill to take it somewhere out of my animals' sight and end its sufferings. But I can warn readers that if you adopt and inadvertently malnourish a baby possum, you too may create a monster like poor Wrymouth. Possums can live on almost anything but they don't thrive on an all-protein diet. If you're going to teach an animal with no natural instinct to cuddle that inviting you to groom and pet it is a good way to solicit food treats and/or lose ticks and fleas, you might at least feed it right...or, failing that, at least euthanize it yourself and instead of dumping it out, even near the homes of animal rescuers.