Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tortie Tuesday: Then There Was One

I'm not sure that Serena would even cooperate with the idea of posting about the kittens. The day after our last cat post went live, the smallest of the three surviving kittens died. 

The kittens were not dark three-colored cats, or "Torties." They weren't even mostly-white three-colored cats, or "Calicos," like their amazing grandmother Serena. They were white with varying amounts of black on top. Above you see the smallest kitten approaching Silver. When the picture was actually snapped, he had about a week to live.

The middle-sized male lived almost another month...up to the next major glyphosate poisoning episode.

He lived just long enough to accept a name. Because (when viewed from some angles) the black patch on his back looked like a letter E, he was the E-Cat. Whether this E might have been short for "Easy" or "Explorer" was never determined.

Whether he was going to become a really social cat, I can't say. Serena "socialized" her daughter's kittens quite effectively--gently, like the gracious Queen Cat she is, with extra slurps of milk to reward or encourage target behaviors. 

You have to watch a social cat rearing kittens to believe it. "Herding cats" is usually used as a metaphor for something that can't be done. Social mother cats make it easy. Serena reared her kittens, and then in turn her daughter Silver reared her kittens, out on the porch but Serena wanted them indoors at night for security, after they started toddling out of their nest. So every night, about sundown, I'd look outside and there would be the kittens all lined up in a well-fed, docile, sleepy little row (or if I was late it might be a pile), waiting to be taken in for the night. Every morning, about sunup, they'd line up at the door and wait to be taken out for breakfast. 

Before Serena's own four kittens started eating solid food, they had feline enteritis. Serena brought them to me with what must have been some sort of instruction in good manners. They were too small and too sick to get into much mischief, but they didn't seem interested in mischief anyway. Baby kittens have a good sense of time (their stomachs tell them when it's been four hours) and this litter would toddle out of their basket and line up for meds at what should have been their meal time, then go back and curl up in the basket until the next meal time.

And Serena's great-great-grandmother was one of a litter, just one generation removed from a city alley, who used to line up in order to be groomed and petted: the year-old cats first, then the autumn kittens who were the near-adult cats' half-siblings, then the five spring kittens who were one of the near-adult cats' babies. There was an order in which the spring kittens lined up for attention, too. The feral-born generation of that family seemed stricter about etiquette-with-humans than later generations, who were more familiar.

So this spring Serena had five kittens of her own. None lived long enough to leave the nest and nibble at kibble. Silver then had four kittens, but had some trouble nursing them, at first, so for a few days Serena was feeding two separate litters. Then there was only the one litter: four mostly white kittens with black spots, four different sizes. Then Silver's smallest kitten, the female, died. Then the next smallest.

Then E-Cat. 

Everyone around the Cat Sanctuary knew why they died. None of them had enteritis. None of them had Manx Syndrome. All of them died during glyphosate reactions. Humans had those reactions, too. For some of them the Department of Transportation, the Southern Railroad Company, and a couple of other people were to blame, but what kept Silver's three sons from growing up was that Professional Bad Neighbor I mentioned in a previous post. Ratbag sprayed a field close to the Cat Sanctuary daily after being told that glyphosate vapors made me sick. Defoliated the Incredible Feral Peach Tree on the property line. Completely killed several old apple trees. Berry harvests were drastically reduced (and unfit to eat), and even the possum wouldn't eat the peaches that fell off the Incredible Feral Peach Tree as leaves began to grow back on some of its branches. When a possum leaves peaches on the ground, you know something is badly wrong--in fact this possum, Dorsa with the dark dorsal stripe, lost its companion, Parva the smaller possum, in June. Most of the medicinal and ornamental flowers in the not-a-lawn did eventually bloom, but flowers appeared late, stunted and runty, some off color. Fire blight claimed several plants and trees that were not directly sprayed. The adult cats felt the effects of glyphosate poisoning. 

One day in July a lot of poisonous vapor had built up in the air. I'd leaned over and been sick in the yard myself so I couldn't blame Serena when she was sick on the steps. I mopped the step with one of those "pet odor eliminator" products sold in big-chain stores, then popped a couple of charcoal capsules from Wal-Mart into a cup of water, stirred until the water looked black, and gave each cat a dose--5 cc's for each adult, 2 cc's for each kitten. 

The trouble was that this set a precedent. 

Silver, Serena, and Sommersburr managed to control themselves for the rest of the summer, but every time the little guys felt sick, they'd wait for me to come out on the porch and then very deliberately, looking right at me, they'd try to make a mess. (They did not always succeed; sometimes E's and Daisy Chain's reactions included spastic colon.) No amount of scolding or putting them off the porch ever broke this behavior pattern. They were hoping I'd give them more of the home remedy that had helped them feel better the first time. 

Unfortunately you can't use charcoal, or give it to animals, every day; it adsorbs and cleanses nutrients out of the digestive system, as well as poisons and bacteria. E and Daisy Chain had a malnourished look from the day they were born, and never did look as if they were the same age as the biggest kitten, Burly. Before they died I was starting to wonder whether feeding them was even humane. They spent so many of their days feeling sick. 

So I'd scold them, put them off the porch, tell them to go to the sand pit. Daisy Chain was especially likely to run right back out and plop his scraggy, ribby, stomach-bloated little self down on the toe of my shoe, nonverbally saying, "But you really want to pick me up and snuggle me, because I'm cute." E would then plop across my shoe too, not to be outdone. Burly would usually sit down, a yard or two away, and watch with an air of calm superiority as the smaller kittens acted like babies. (Burly snuggles if he feels like it, but has never solicited snuggling.) 

In this snapshot Burly was waiting for one of the smaller ones to run around a corner and be chased. I may have one of his watching them snuggle, with calm superiority, somewhere.

Kittens bounce and pounce when they're not actually near death, though, and Burly seemed to enjoy his brothers' company. They enjoyed his. Of course they weren't as big, as strong, or as fast as he was. They seemed to have a good time trying to work out ways to compensate. When the racing and chasing led to play-fighting, the smaller ones seemed to start it.

On his last day E seemed to be mature enough to have some idea what was happening; he followed me around, soliciting snuggles, not trying to foul the porch. Overnight his skinny little body seemed to have turned into a bag of bones with a bloated stomach. Around sundown it seemed to me that Serena was telling him, "Go to the human for one last cuddle," and he did. It was hard to be sure, because E was chilly, losing the ability to warm his own feet, and stayed on my lap long enough that Serena seemed to lose patience and start nonverbally telling me, "Enough is enough! He's dying but there's no need to be foolish about it." 

Burly participated in the porch-soiling game only once when his brothers were doing it, but last night he did it again. He made a big point of pulling one plastic grocery bag out of a bag full of them, spreading it out on the porch, and squatting on it, as some intelligent cats will do when they choose to "think outside the litter box." The mess looked normal. 

The lonely only kitten, I knew...wanted attention, wanted to be chased, wanted to be caught and dosed with charcoal. Silver and Serena are still young cats, fairly frisky when not reacting to poison, but not bouncy kittens any more. Who knows whether cats even have ways of communicating to each other, as Serena might well do, "Cheer up--you'll live--I was a lonely only kitten too." 

Being an only kitten gave Serena more milk, and more indoor time, and the chance to work out a sort of language she used to "talk" to me. It helped to make her the big strong clever cat she is. She didn't like it, though. Given the chance to play with another kitten of the same age, she never looked back.

In my hand Burly still felt like a good-sized kitten, not fat but with sturdy bones and muscles. How long that will last, who knows. The season when "weeds" grow back after being sprayed, cut, burned, or even stepped on is over. For the Professional Bad Neighbor, spraying glyphosate has nothing to do with the "weeds." 

We need laws about this. Laws with teeth in them, about the property being automatically awarded to the complaining victim and the former property owner spending a minimum number of years physically cutting back vegetation along road verges. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Status Update: McDonald's Is Open

Not that I care or dare to eat there every day, but McDonald's have reopened their dining areas in Virginia, at last. It was jolly high time; nonprofit public-access computer centers have not. 

I am sitting in McDonald's. I just saw a little Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (a female, no conspicuous red spot on the throat) flitting around the colorful sign in the window. 

Just to annoy those who don't like my flights of animal whimsy, let's postulate that she was buzzing around the store because she'd heard a fellow customer singing the praises of their French Vanilla Iced Coffee...No. Probably not. Probably somebody had spilled something with real sugar in it on the ground, where the hummingbird couldn't drink it, and the bird was hoping that the colorful sign was the source of that lovely sugary smell. Sorry, bird.

I'd like to mention the French Vanilla Iced Coffee because I never heard of such a confection. I like one cup of hot black coffee in the morning. After that, I like to rinse out the cup with water. After that, depending on which is a better bargain, I can drink more coffee, or maybe tea, or maybe soda pop. At my fa-a-a-avorite cafe, where I don't plan to hang out again until they've had a chance to recover from last year, I liked to alternate between black coffee, sweet coffee, and sometimes decaf coffee. At McDonald's my afternoon cold drink of choice is Coca-Cola. If I had to keep buying drinks to use the Internet at some other places I might start with Mountain Dew or Mello Yello and then move on to something without caffeine in it, because the most popular kinds of soda pop in my part of the world contain very high levels of caffeine and were not meant to be sipped all day.

But this gentleman wanted everyone to know that such a thing as French Vanilla Iced Coffee exists. He says it's sweet, but not too sweet, yet also sugar-free. It's cold enough to drink on a hot summer afternoon, and, he says, he finds the flavor and caffeine content satisfying enough to feel like lunch. 

McDonald's still does hamburgers, fries, and soda pop (and you can still get at least the cheap version of each of those for 99 cents), but in recent years they've been trying to attract adults with all kinds of trendier, hypothetically healthier food and drinks. 

Hummingbirds literally live on sweet drinks--specifically the nectar of tube-shaped flowers, and different species feed primarily on flowers that are the right size for their bills. So there's a reason why this one might be attracted to McDonald's. However, they need real natural sucrose: preferably from flowers, or failing that from natural sugar. They can't live on the sugar-free sweet drinks some humans prefer. They can't live on the ice cream and milkshakes people have been ordering, either. They might be able to drink sugary Coke or Sprite or Hi-C, but it wouldn't be good food for them...so I hope this hummingbird has found some real flowers to feed on by now. 

Here's an update some local folks may not have heard. Most of us have had the coronavirus by now, or the vaccine, or both--not necessarily in that order. On hearing that a mutant strain of virus may still be able to affect people who've had the vaccine, I expect a lot of people in Gate City to react the same way I did. "Dang-bang-blast it all, we had that, last year. I'm NOT going to bother about it a-GA-in!" For most of us there was no need to "bother" worrying, or panicking, or probably even having the vaccine unless it was to protect other people, at any time in the whole COVID saga. If we weren't already reacting to something else we didn't know we had it. Some of us still don't know whether we had it or not; we had a cough, or felt tired, or had vivid memories of mononucleosis, when everyone else was having COVID, But It Was Nothing To Miss A Day's Pay Over, Really... 

Meh. Mehhh. I've not thrown out any of my masks, and I'm still a huge fan of social distancing, especially from older people and those known to be at special risk. But seriously, we are still talking about a chest cold. Head colds, flu, strep, and other stupid little infections no normal adult even notices having, are still more dangerous to the fragile than any strain of coronavirus ever was. For many of us not only glyphosate reactions, but also "breaking in" new shoes or sipping too-hot coffee, are a lot more painful than coronavirus. The only cause for special concern about coronavirus was to try to prevent whole towns from all going down with it at once, and since natural immunity formed by having the virus is more effective than vaccines, I think few if any of us have any reason to worry. 

I'm tempted to speculate that anybody who notices any form of coronavirus symptoms, now, is probably having a glyphosate reaction. Of course that's wrong. Some of these people have AIDS or lupus or cancer--which is why asking which individuals have COVID or what else was going on with them is not nice. If they want us to know, they'll tell us. (The tendency of older people to share Too Much Information about their health is widely documented. Some of us are just making heroic efforts not to be boring about it. Given any encouragement, quite a few baby-boomers for whom it's still "news" that we're not bursting with crazy teenage energy any more will discuss ailments all day long.)

I merely maintain that there was no valid reason for any businesses to shut down altogether, or anyone to lose their job, last year and there's even less of one now. We've all at least had a chance to learn something from the coronavirus. We all should know, about places like McDonald's: If you're not ill and haven't been ill, consider yourself an immune carrier--if not of coronavirus, of a couple dozen things that are probably more dangerous to the fragile. Go ahead and sit at the same table with people you know to be immune carriers of the same kinds of virus, bacteria, and fungi. Do not go into the restroom, even though it still has two toilets, while anyone you don't know well is in there. (Stop, look, listen.) Do not sit down at a table adjacent to one where people you don't know well are sitting. If the place gets crowded (which I've not seen happen, because by now people know the drill), that's what those picnic tables out on the grassy lawn are for. 

Actually, for most of the day, a lot more people could come inside McDonald's without violating the official rules for social distance. We have learned the drill. More people could come inside the other restaurants, too. It's no longer true, as it once was, that any of our local restaurants is likely to get crowded enough that writers who come in mostly to use the Internet would feel ethically obligated to go out for a walk and make sure all of the eat-and-run crowd could find tables at a good healthy distance from one another. However, many people still prefer to take food out of restaurants, to their cars or to their jobs, and that's fine with the restaurant owners and nice for those of us who can only reliably connect to the Internet from a public place in town. 

One way or another, everybody (except those who are seriously allergic to sugar-free sweet stuff, or caffeine, or maybe vanilla) should have a chance to try French Vanilla Iced Coffee for themselves. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Status Update: Why We Are Still Ahead, However Sick I've Been

Here's the deal: Humankind scored a few points last year when the EPA agreed to correct its guidelines to discourage the practice of spraying glyphosate directly on food. Overnight, many people who had "become allergic" to several foods were able to eat them again...at least, if we chose the right brands. If we could afford the right brands.

I dared to eat part of a peach in a restaurant. No trouble. I bought name-brand peaches in supermarkets. No trouble. I bought store-brand, specifically "Clover Valley" brand from the Dollar Store, canned peaches. I felt sick in minutes and remained sick until every bit of those peaches had come back up.

However, the corporations that had encouraged farmers to spray glyphosate directly on food are completely evil. They do not learn. They need to have their stock redistributed, by court order, such that 55% of each company belongs to one of the "celiactivists" involved in Glyphosate Awareness. That is probably the only alternative to just having all the decision makers in each company drowned in a vat of glyphosate, which becomes an increasingly appealing idea...This spring, Gate City had particular, specific reasons to be appalled as a new farm supply store opened in competition with the old familiar Tractor Supply Company chain. The new store blatantly advertised itself to Christians with Bible verses on its ad supplements and discounts for church group...and it advertised glyphosate, front and center, on pages five or six of ten-page ad supplements inserted in local newspapers. In order to compete, T.S.C. and local farm supply stores like Broadwater's had to push the poison too. 

As a result many people who were feeling better this spring are feeling worse than ever by now. Probably this is temporary. I hope. It's still commonplace, almost every one of the few times I've gone downtown, to hear somebody in any public place saying something like "I don't know why, I just woke up this morning feeling so dizzy I can hardly walk." 

Take a stroll around your neighborhood next morning, neighbor, and you'll see why. You'll know who sprayed. That person made you sick, just as if person had dropped some sort of drug in your coffee, or maybe torn a strip off your arm. Under the oldest laws of civilized nations you'd have the right to go into person's house and cut a strip off person, but why would you want to? What good would that do? I'd rather see a law more suitable to modern civilizations whereby you'd have the right to take over person's house and land, and person (the poisoner, the violent criminal) would have the right to live in a basement flat in a filthy apartment project if person survived forty years of hard time.

We at the Cat Sanctuary have a particular problem. What I don't know is whether Bayer, which is known to have paid goons to infest otherwise glyphosate-free neighborhoods and demand a "right to spray," has specifically targeted the Cat Sanctuary, or whether it's just more of a certain person's long career as a Professional Bad Neighbor. 

What he is, is a real estate investor with a record of doing particularly vile things with real estate he's acquired. This guy does not go up to people, even if they've advertised property for sale, and say "I'd like to offer a lower price than you advertised for that piece of land." They'd boot him off their porches if he did. So he sneaks around, talking behind the backs of target property owners, sneaking onto their property at night, doing anything he can think of to make people who aren't really attached to their property want to leave it.

Item. A family whom I've previously mentioned here under the screen name "Lopez" sold out after Mr. Lopez was sent to prison for a crime that's much more often mentioned in false accusations than it's actually committed--a crime so despicable that it's usually just mentioned as a general all-purpose insult to any man, with no serious suggestion that he'd actually commit it. I don't know the particulars of the case. I can't say for sure whether Mr. Lopez was framed, but, considering who bought his little farm, I wouldn't be surprised if he were completely innocent, of that crime or any other. Unfortunately his alleged crime is one that gets no sympathy in the prison culture. Mr. Lopez's life is ruined. Maybe he deserves it. Maybe he doesn't. Certainly evil rumors about everyone else in the neighborhood have run about since Mr. Lopez lost his farm; if a person took them seriously that person would have to imagine that what is actually a peaceful, pretty corner of the mountain has been more like an institution for the violently insane. Certainly some of the most honest, honorable, generous, and moral people I know have been accused of everything from burglary to incest.

Item. When Grandma Bonnie Peters' business was floundering, she felt desperate enough to sell some land near mine to a family friend who promised not to sell it. (He was the kind of real estate investor who liked to restore or recreate a lovely traditional house on a piece of land.) The land was not ideal for home building, and many times I heard him say, "You know I never even wanted to buy that land; I'm only holding it for Miss Bonnie." Then some of our neighbors, who had been pleased with the condition of our private road--alarming but not undrivable--before, suddenly decided that the road was too accessible and needed to be made rougher...causing our new neighbor to say things like "The road is too rough for me. Driving in and out is torture with my bad back. I'll never be able to do anything with that land." Then an emergency hospital visit (verified) made him feel desperate, and the Professional Bad Neighbor acquired his acres too. 

Item. The contract of sale in this case specifically reserved some use of the said acres for GBP and for me. Those specifically reserved rights were regularly and deliberately violated. The contract did not specify in writing, but the discussion did include, that no "pesticides" were to be sprayed on the land in any circumstances--George Peters having sensitized the entire neighborhood to this issue back around 1970 when a neighbor who was then alive developed Parkinson's Disease. However, more than once I observed and photographed evidence that poison spraying had occurred. Each time the Professional Bad Neighbor offered an unconvincing alternative explanation of how valuable plants had been killed.

Item. Harassment and vandalism at my home began while I was living in the city; my parents noticed early examples of what became regular occurrences after the Professional Bad Neighbor owned two (non-adjacent) tracts of land in the neighborhood. A clear pattern emerged, and includes physical evidence that this individual was to blame. Three distinctive features of this harassment are that (1) any property stolen has been valueless and some property has been left on the ground, as if it had just flown out through a locked door; (2) vandalism takes place at times and in weather when most adults are at home in bed; and (3) when the vandal carried a light, which he usually did not, he consistently left my home crossing a neighbor's woodlot--raising mutual suspicion between that neighbor and me. This is the neighbor to whom I've given the screen name "Young Grouch." Though he and my brother were school friends, though he and I have never actually quarrelled and share an interest in rescuing animals, and though I have even made some efforts to defend his property when it was the target of the vandalism, he has distrusted and avoided me and I've come to dislike and avoid him.

Item. Harassment has specifically included what is known to be this character's trademark--leaving dead animals' bodies in the road, sometimes wrapped in plastic bags, sometimes not. Bodies found on our road have included deer taken out of season (including pregnant females), at least one of my resident possums, and the skeleton of a cat of the peculiar size and shape of our former Queen Cat Heather. Heather, as regular readers may recall, went missing on the night (a) when seven small dogs were abandoned near the Cat Sanctuary, (b) before a record freeze arrived; the pack of dogs gradually shrank while I was looking and calling for Heather. How many dogs the Young Grouch was able to rescue, and how many froze to death, I don't know. 

Item. The Young Grouch's property had remained unsold for several generations and was supposed to have been entailed to prevent sale. Nevertheless, earlier this year, he sold two acres to the Professional Bad Neighbor. Those two acres happen to adjoin my property and to have been the property I have most wanted to buy since I was thirteen years old. 

Item. The Professional Bad Neighbor has, since buying these two acres, openly boasted that he intends to run all of the original property owners out of the neighborhood. He has specifically mentioned a claim (not very sustainable in our climate) that my home contains FIRE HAZARDS. I have heard this man leading people past my home, sounding as if they were not even keeping to the road, talking about his opinion of the house, and displaying information he could not have acquired legitimately about the damage to the house. Here we had been thinking the roof continued to leak in certain places because it was an old roof...but why would someone who had never been in the house, or talked to anyone living in it, know exactly where those places were? 

Item. I have documentation of several claims mentioned and not mentioned here, to which I am the sole witness; but, for technological reasons entire and alone, it's not conclusive documentation. 

Item. I "know" the Professional Bad Neighbor in the way residents of small towns know one another; we are not and have never been friends, but have a good deal of information about each other. He is a distant cousin of mine on my father's mother's side, a distant cousin of another neighbor's on that neighbor's mother's side. He is older than I am but rode the same bus to the same school for a couple of years. (He seemed a conceited spoiled brat then, too.) However, the facts that (1) the harassment of my mother and me has been sex-free, and (2) the harasser obviously has much better than average night vision and late-night alertness, as I have, point to a relative of mine--and within that group, the body silhouette and footprints would be pretty conclusive if I hadn't heard the voice. I did not know who had committed the first few acts of vandalism the local police sleepily shrugged off as petty, ten years ago--I know who's been doing it now. I know that, among other things, he may believe he is immune from criminal prosecution because his sister (who was in my classes at school) worked for the FBI while living. I don't know whether he has ever been a registered employee of the federal government.

Item. And so, last May, the Professional Bad Neighbor told a laborer who has worked for several neighbors that he intended to put a trailer house on the two acres near the Cat Sanctuary, and put in a sewer line. I told the laborer that I, for one, intended to oppose any attempt to put in a sewer line on the grounds that it would disturb the Mountain Spring. The laborer, and everyone else I know in real life, had heard a good deal of what I've learned about glyphosate in the last few years--about why his property became a kudzu graveyard, and why his chronic medical issues, which have been recognized as a "disability" although he can still outwork younger men on most days, flare up on certain days. So, the next time I saw him after mentioning the Mountain Spring, he reported that the Professional Bad Neighbor now planned to "clear" the land and run cattle on it, after "cleaning out all the weeds" with glyphosate spray and a bulldozer. He has done a great deal of visible damage to the soil during the summer, and has sprayed poison on the land almost daily. 

Item. He has specifically and deliberately killed my one remaining peach tree, which is locally somewhat famous--a feral descendant of a winter-killed Elberta peach tree, which sprouted from seed right on the property line, and has been the source of the small but succulent peaches I've been sharing with friends for years. Most years peach trees do not actually bear fruit in Virginia; the winters are too cold. In years when no other peach tree produced fruit, that one did. In July it was loaded with the fruit everyone was looking forward to. In August it was dead. 

So of course I, as much as anyone else, have lost the ground we were starting to gain from the official "discouragement" of spraying glyphosate directly on food. Maybe more than most; most of the idiots still spraying glyphosate don't want to waste it by spraying it every day, nor do they spray poison on peach trees. That's how all of Serena's kittens and one of Silver's kittens have already died, and why two of Silver's three surviving kittens have remained so much smaller than the third (they were all born on the same day). We've all spent a lot of time indoors, feeling besieged. I've lost some blood and quite an astonishing lot of hair, this year, both white and black; what's left can now be described as grey rather than "black lamee" hair, but the difference people notice is how much less hair that is. I've spent the whole summer picking my hairs off my clothes and furniture, by ones. Yes, that's part of the general immune system reaction people have to toxins or even "allergies." 

Last week I was not online because I had a real-life odd job to do. Fortunately the job was far enough from recent glyphosate poisoning sites that I was able to do some work when I got there. I was slow, especially on Monday, when I woke up with heart palpitations that refused to settle down even when I went into the "alpha" meditative state, and joked to the employer that anyone but an Irish celiac would have called in sick and spent the day being tested at the hospital. I would not have...well, I might have been physically capable of doing a day's work in my own orchard, but I wouldn't have cared to risk further injury by proving it.

Irish celiacs are, however, tough as nails. The flip side of the chronic sickliness for which our trait first became known is that, when we avoid our kryptonite (wheat gluten, and now glyphosate), the trait is a flippin' superpower. In order to survive the years we live with "celiac disease" we are, have to be, by nature stronger than the average person, and apt to live longer. This summer I've felt about a hundred times worse than I ever felt when I had that silly little coronavirus that's caused so many people so much unnecessary panic, but guess what, for me that's been merely reverse-aging back to the way I felt when I was thirty years younger. Most days I've not been lazy, or even grumpy. The Professional Bad Neighbor has been doing himself more harm than he's been doing me--and he's older. I expect this problem to be short-term. Very short. I saw the fool yesterday, and he already looks like a prematurely "old" sick patient. 

At least two of those three neighbors the Professional Bad Neighbor has cheated were big men who might have looked more dangerous than I am. Appearances can be deceptive. 

If a democratically elected government were capable of "caring about people" in any way, of course, glyphosate would not be available to the Professional Bad Neighbors of this world to use as a weapon of violence--against disabled veterans, and animals, and my mother and me, both of whom were widows and fatherless, and not a one of whom had done this evil man any harm. If any readers still feel inclined to place any faith in government as a solution to problems, let them learn something from this post. If government existed for the purpose of preventing violent crime, the Professional Bad Neighbor would have been where Mr. Lopez really is, years ago.

Will the corporations really "phase out" glyphosate in a few more years? Hah. Like the way Bayer "pulled Roundup off the market" last year, they will. But the fools who are still buying and handling the stuff are all but guaranteed to be the ones who show the most obvious indications that glyphosate shortened their lives, and--allowing for actual age and natural, pre-glyphosate conditions--they're also likely to die before the rest of us. Glyphosate and all poison sprays are going out of use, faster than the greedheads in the corporations care to admit...like cigarettes, like driving without seat belts, like water-flush toilets, and probably like the Internet, doomed to obsolescence by their own natural unsustainability. The task before us, Gentle Readers, is to speed up the process so that fewer people die.

Some Trump-haters still believe the Biden Administration seriously "cares about the environment." Bosh. Trump had a financial interest in one of the smaller chemical companies, not Bayer; he was all in favor of bashing Bayer but not in favor of actually doing anything about glyphosate, for predictable, venal, tacky reasons that show how incomplete his alleged religious conversion was. Is Biden any better? Is Harris? I see no evidence of that. From here it looks as if this administration is exploiting more Poison Green ideas more than the Trump Administration did, but actually doing, if possible, less to conserve our natural environment. I would love to see evidence that I'm wrong. Just one True Green thing anybody in this administration is doing, Gentle Readers. Just one.

The Public Interest Research Group is on board now. Robert Kennedy is on board. Carey Gillam is on board. Vandana Shiva is on board. Glyphosate Awareness, as a network of individuals and as a movement, is going to dance on the poisoners' graves. Literally? Quite likely, and likely to happen quite soon. Figuratively, collectively, philosophically? Never doubt it. 

I've not been online much but I have relished the reportage, the explanatory videos, and the indirectly supportive educational sites I've found online. (I think monarch-butterfly.com is an especially pretty educational site. I'm not sure how many people want to support their work by rearing smaller, more common orange butterflies in classrooms, but they deserve the support.) I've spent a fair bit of time in communication with sponsors and lawyers, myself. Youall have been doing a fine job. You could carry it on without me, no trouble, but since numbers still matter I'll still be active if and whenever I have reliable Internet access again. Or the Internet implodes, which also seems likely, and in the case of which I still have most of my manual typewriters.

Meanwhile here are three things that might be worth trying. (Things I've been doing, so far as the general lack of phone or Internet service has permitted, from home this summer.)

* Talk to local teachers, in places like Virginia where students are being allowed to attend live classes again. See if they can identify patterns of a lot of students missing school, coming in late, becoming ill during the day, making no progress or falling behind with their studies, having more learning or behavior problems, or just feeling tired--all in different ways--all on the same days. See if those "everybody's having a bad day" days coincide with extended glyphosate poisoning incidents (spraying road verges, railroads, or waterways). 

* Check traffic statistics in your area. Look for a small but consistent increase in accidents on and near sections of roads that have been sprayed.

* Look for general, statistical information about admissions to hospitals. In areas where it's possible to track patterns of widespread glyphosate spraying, measure the increase, even and especially in what have been reported as possible coronavirus cases, after spraying has been done. Theoretically a COVID-19 emergency is different from a glyphosate reaction: the list of commonly observed glyphosate reaction does not include a sudden rise in fever. However, the most obvious part of an explanation of how glyphosate reactions work is that glyphosate destroys the "friendly bacteria" that are a large part of our immune systems...and from what I've been able to observe, people were more likely to report serious cases of COVID-19 after glyphosate exposure. 

Remember how, last year, I reported that The Grouch thought he had COVID and I said "Poison sprayed along the railroad is what you've got"? Tests subsequently showed that he had COVID, after exposure to visitors from New Jersey, and his self-isolation was what protected the rest of our town from getting it too. But his having a serious reaction was anomalous; though not young, he's not obviously "old" or frail, as most people who have serious reactions to COVID are. This is what I'm seeing more of. I would expect that youall will see more of it too, and if you live in an area where COVID has not run its course, you'll want to bear it in mind as you protect yourself and your elders. If you have noticed glyphosate reactions they'll be different from whatever reactions you notice to COVID, but if you notice reactions to COVID they're likely to coincide, overlap, and mutually exacerbate reactions to glyphosate. I don't have anything close to a scientific study of this. Check your newspapers; talk to your friends. Together we can find out the truth.

Young celiacs, especially...hang in and hold on. We are going to win this. You are going to recover your health and develop your superpowers and recover your looks in time to enjoy being young. You probably feel hopeless, rather often, now; I felt hopeless, rather often, when I was young--and I feel intensely angry, rather often, now that I'm no longer young and know that these silly mood swings come from people deliberately and knowingly trying to hurt people like you and me. Ignore the mood swings. They are a symptom, worth mentioning only as a symptom. You have a reasonable reason for reasonable anger, which is that you've been forced to spend what are generally imagined to be "the best years of your life" being sick, and most recently having your lives messed up by a lot of idiotic panic about an alleged disease that's nothing to what you live with all the time--and that reasonable anger feels different than the mood swings do, even to you. If you don't take your mood swings seriously and do something violent, some of you are destined to be the ones of your generation keeping track of who does and does not attend your hundredth birthday parties. 

USPIRG on the T-Mobile Data Breach

 This should have been a web page I could have linked on Twitter. Since it's not, here is the content of an e-mail from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, where I did my first grown-up full-time job more summers ago than I want to count...


T-Mobile just announced it experienced a major data breach in which hackers stole the personal information of more than 54.7 million customers.1

The hackers stole names, birthdates, Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers -- all information that can lead to identity theft. While this is not the first data breach T-Mobile has experienced, this could be its worst breach yet.2

The hackers stole data from past, present and prospective customers, so even if you don't currently use T-Mobile, you could still be affected.

T-Mobile has yet to announce how or when it will notify customers whether their data was stolen.3 In the meantime, here are the best ways to protect yourself:

  • Change your passwords: While T-Mobile does not believe any user passwords were stolen, updating your passwords and PINs could add an extra layer of protection and secure your account.
  • Watch out for scam calls: Hackers could pose as T-Mobile employees to get even more of your information. Don't provide or confirm any personal information to a caller you weren't expecting.

You can read more about the best ways to protect yourself with this helpful article.


Faye Park

P.S. Keeping you up-to-date on data breaches and consumer protection news wouldn't be possible without supporters like you. If you found this email helpful, consider supporting all the work we do with a donation today.

1. Teresa Murray and Hannah Rhodes, "T-Mobile data breach: Tips to protect yourself," U.S. PIRG, August 20, 2021.
2. Chris Velazco, "Here's what to do if you think you're affected by T-Mobile's big data breach," The Washington Post, August 20, 2021.
3. Chris Velazco, "Here's what to do if you think you're affected by T-Mobile's big data breach," The Washington Post, August 20, 2021.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

E-Book Review: I Have the Watch

Title: I Have the Watch

Author: Jon S. Rennie

Publisher: Jon S. Rennie

Date: 2019

ISBN: 978-1099487095

Length: 116 PDF pages

Quote: “If you’re a leader, you have the watch…In the Navy…[i]f you had the watch, you needed to be awake and alert because you literally had the lives of your shipmates in your hands.”

Here are some of a proven leader’s thoughts on leadership, often book reaction posts from his blog. Rennie had leadership experience in the Navy, in someone else’s business, and then in a business of his own.

It's taken me a while to get this review live, because I had so many reactions while reading this book. I've led a business; I know introverts can do that. I'm not one now; I know I have things to learn from people like Jon Rennie. I've tried not to write a whole other book. While offline, I've read the book three times and written three reviews. This is number three. 

Something you may love: If this had been a full-sized printed book published by Time Warner or Simon & Schuster, an editor might have asked Rennie to expand it with more anecdotes from world history. Since it’s his own book, the author sticks to his own fresh stories. If you don’t want to slog through old familiar discussions of leadership from the days of Sun Tzu and Alexander the Great forward, this book is for you.

Only one of Rennie's thoughts seems controversial, but he’s given me food for thought…about Glyphosate Awareness, and other things. This post is about what you’ll find in I Have the Watch. Glyphosate Awareness may become a whole separate site.

Who should read this book? Anyone up for promotion to a management job, preparation for such promotion by serving as a project team leader, teaching…or activism.

Something I didn’t love: This is one more book from the extrovert planet where nothing is known about how introverts lead and are led.

This post is specifically about the book’s relevance to introverts, because that’s what I have to add to what others have said about it (that it’s a good, short, practical, encouraging explanation of what that promotion means and whether you really want it). Unfortunately I Have the Watch is not addressed to introverts; in fact it’s another book that assumes that extroverts are such a majority that their experience can be considered normative. That belief was based on older studies that evaluated people’s ability to learn social behaviors that were pressed upon them, rather than more recent studies that recognize the invisible, permanent, physical differences in our neurological “wiring.”

We do, of course, have our own set of social instincts. The right ways to lead and to be led are part of that set. Few introverts have consciously studied how leadership works for us. If we want to read about the subject we have to do a lot of translation and, due to discrimination, most of us may have to do some speculative thought.

Attempts were made to get gifted introverts in the baby-boom generation to think about leadership. (In the 1970s the Boy Scouts of America changed the name of their high school division from “Explorers” to “Leadership Corps.”) What many of us thought about it was “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you have to work with turkeys.” When we’re working for other people, we’re apt to think “Meh…why can’t I just follow? Well, sure, I want higher pay…but this crew of no-talents…”

About that kind of situation Rennie has something useful to say to introverts, inspired by his reading of Susan Cain’s work. As long as we are thinking in terms of “working for other people” who have hired a “crew of no-talents,” to put it charitably, we’re not going to be good leaders, and companies should find other ways to reward our years of service, rather than “promoting” us from the jobs we were doing well into jobs where we’re expected to make up for the shortcomings of all those no-talents. Being a leader requires a certain level of passion for both the job and the people. Introverts may have that level of passion for art, science, religion, nature, or some humanitarian cause; few if any of us have it for causes like helping General Motors sell more Pontiacs or more Chevrolets. Company policies should recognize that we might prefer to be better-paid followers.

So what happens when we do care enough about the cause and the people to be able to lead other people effectively? Whatever it is, it happens slowly and quietly. We prefer to lead and be led more in the style of Jesus, Thoreau, or Gandhi than in the style of Alexander or Napoleon or even W Bush. Our instinct is to focus on tasks, doing things as they ought to be done, and pay more attention to other people only when we notice someone else doing something better than we have been. When we look up and notice people following us, we may instinctively think “Oh, no, they ought to be following some other person,” and sometimes this is right, and sometimes not. In a few cases, things that work when we’re leading fellow introverts can even be the things that cause extroverts to perceive us as bad leaders, even as “jerks.”

Scaling down the emotional tone of conversation, for instance. When Rennie describes the jerkish manager who seems to look away when an employee approaches, feeling that a real leader owes followers some full attention, what comes to my mind is a gifted programmer with whom I worked for part of a year. He and I were in our early twenties. We breezed through the work and sat in our windowless cubicles, separated by a door, bringing in things of our own to do and chatting cheerfully around the door. Both of us were going through a painful emotional process of detachment from male friends who meant more to us than we seemed to have meant to them. We found each other unattractive but not all that repulsive. Face-to-face conversations with lots of eye contact would have become unsuitable-for-work in no time. Conversations around the door stayed at the collegial-banter level. I suspected the programmer would have done better at recognizing the talents of some of our other co-workers if they’d ever learned how and why to converse around a door. And it wouldn't surprise me if, at fifty, he was still his charming, empathetic, approachable self, always willing to walk people through what they didn't understand, when and only when those people talked to him around a door...because every year, for people like him, the lesson sinks in deeper that people who insist on eye contact are prejudiced in any case, and should be treated like enemies.

I, myself, have not always got the “Whyyy are you WITHHOLDING eye contact from me?” whine. Having astigmatism means that I can appear to be making eye contact when I’m not actually seeing any eyes yet; I see clearly, in detail, at all distances but it can take several seconds for my eyes to change focus, so when the face-reader types are passing judgment on whatever they think my eyes are doing, I’m looking in the direction of the voice I hear and seeing a human-size blur. Ears and memory, not eyes, tell me whether a person who pops into my field of vision and starts talking is a friend or stranger, male or female, adult or child. And if I look at other people’s faces until I see them clearly, the owners of those faces are likely to feel stared at. I’m not a very large or aggressive person but I do have beetling brows, craggy cheekbones, and broad shoulders, a typical Cherokee combination that tends to intimidate some White people. I get accused of looming and towering over people (at least two of whom were taller than I), burning holes in them with my eyes, staring, glaring…when what I’m actually doing is waiting for their faces to come into focus. Most of my close friends have been, not blind, but visually impaired in some way, such that they listened, rather than trying to read faces, during conversations. In any kind of teaching or management situation my conscious effort would be to avoid setting off the string of emotions that go with the perception that a teacher or manager is staring, glaring, etc. Withholding eye contact is another fairly typical introvert behavior on Rennie’s list of behaviors typical of “jerks.” And it's another stupid snap judgment extroverts should be telling one another to stop making...like Hillary Clinton, I've caught a fair bit of hate just because, although I've not had to pay for specially made glasses so far, I happen to have a minority type of eyeballs. (In males, genetic studies have linked this to a talent for math. In females the link seems to have broken.)

Some introverts positively work to avoid being promoted to management positions. This tends to frustrate corporate managers. If people don’t want to be managers, what do they want?

Other introverts become “accidental managers.” We didn’t need much managing, so we didn’t learn how to manage people who do. Typically we just continue to focus on our own jobs, “lead” entirely by example, and to some extent justify the claim that we’re not good managers and should not have been promoted.

Rennie hints at one of the alternatives some introverts might prefer: “more respect.” Typically introverts define respect as leaving other people alone, pride ourselves on giving others as much of that kind of respect as we’d want to get from them, and are perceived as uninterested in those others. (Of course, every time we’re told how alien we are to some other people, we disengage from those people and lose interest in them more and more, because obviously they just don’t understand and, if we wanted to waste our time talking to creatures that didn’t understand, we could just adopt pet rocks.) From the viewpoint of motivational psychology, of course, I’d have to say: just accept it and get on with it. We like doors that lock from the inside. Install them. We like uninterrupted work time to focus completely on a task, followed by decompression time like a two-hour lunch break in the park. Work with that. We like flex time. Thank us for that (it’s called “being the selfless heroes of traffic safety”). Yes, we know it hurts your feelings to admit that the thing you can do that would please us best is to get out of our sight. Yes, you’ll survive.

Introvert personalities are not actually shaped by a primary desire to avoid all other people—only to avoid extroverts. We find it much easier to coexist with one another, at least when we’ve given up trying to be or pass for extroverts. For many of us, what makes the company of extroverts so tiresome is that everything they do and say is one big show of lack of a healthy respect for others. Sometimes introverts think we want to be managers because we think that job title communicates respect. Lacking insight into what people who need to be managed want, need, or expect from managers, however, can make it easy for us to be bad managers who are resented more than respected. In a word, jerks.

Rennie recommends more respect for employees, generally, as a motivator just to work. He’s right about the benefit of respect for employees but, once again, he’s writing from the extrovert planet. Really, if these people’s brains had developed completely they’d know that we show respect by, e.g., speaking only when we have something to say (no “greetings” without conversations), avoiding interruptions, never touching people, never looking at any part of anyone’s body but the eyes and never prolonging eye contact. When people with healthy consciences are learning new jobs, we expect a supervisor to be close by to answer every question and make sure we’re learning to do the jobs right, which shows due respect for the jobs; once we’ve learned our jobs, we expect not to be noticeably supervised at all, which shows respect for our healthy consciences.

Extroverts tend to be attracted to the idea of a social hierarchy where “getting away with” disrespect shows that they’re at the top, therefore respectable and interesting people. Introverts tend to be underwhelmed by such displays. We’re attracted to people who show how respectful they can be. An introvert’s display of respect for someone as a human being may be misread by extroverts as a submissive display that should be answered with a dominance display. They’re so wrong. Our instinctive feeling about the diss-as-dominance-display is that it represents vanity, which should be pulled down. A little fault-finding, failure to listen, calling people by the wrong names, etc., costs the extrovert manager any honest respect we might have felt for his different talents. Those behaviors are field marks for turkeys.

Possibly the best-case scenario occurs when several like-minded introverts happen to be interested in the same thing at the same time. It can be interesting to try to identify a leader in these groups. Very large gaps in age, education, achievement, or ability may qualify someone for special treatment, or any noticeable leadership position in the group may be task-specific and rotate as different people’s suggestions are followed. Dominance displays, even subtle ones like “Only some of the offices have windows and only senior managers qualify for those offices,” generally express hostility and contempt among introverts so they aren’t used by introverts who want the respect of our peers. Introverts usually don’t bother demeaning ourselves by asking for better office space. We just disengage. If nicer work spaces are reserved for turkeys who kiss up to somebody’s sick ego, we’re only serving time while we look for nicer jobs or save money to launch our own ventures. If companies want more “employee engagement,” one good idea might be to restructure everyone’s job so that working from home (no cameras, no time-watching software) becomes normal and ample interpersonal space becomes available for everybody.

About those introverts who walk away from corporations and do their own things, well enough that they then hire help…one person’s bad boss or jerk may be another person’s great leader. Some people I remember as great bosses, real leaders, and dear friends, others have described as “difficult” or “no, not difficult, impossible to work with.” Not sharing their talents, but sharing their task focus and self-starting qualities, I found them delightful to work with. So what if they tended to forget that what they did was more difficult for most people than it was for them, and that most people did not inherit the math gene. I think it might have been good for at least two men’s characters if more co-workers and employees had been able to quote at them, “Talents differ: all is well and wisely put. If I cannot carry forests on my back, neither can you crack a nut.” I did that but I learned useful skills from them and even caught some of their enthusiasm for their jobs.

Not all people of good will and superior talent are good at hand-holding. Possibly, as awareness of introversion as a valuable permanent trait grows, more people will be recognizable as excellent leaders for self-starters only.

People who want to lead large (or fast-growing) companies may want the benefits of employing a diverse group. They are the ones who most need to study leadership as a separate topic. It would be helpful if the material available for them to study avoided repeating the hateful value judgments that are so tediously familiar to introverts, and that tend to cause us to tune out and disengage. What does it say about our society that the word that people with talents for computer technology reclaimed for themselves was “geeks”? Some “geeks” can afford a little self-deprecating humor to the tune of “more than a hundred thousand a year,” but even they may want to study and practice how to encourage people who don’t look forward to being left alone with their in-boxes all day. Rennie offers checklists that could be both more objective and more detailed, but they’ll do for a start.

Identifying employee disengagement as a drain on corporate America, Rennie goes so far as to say that businesses can afford to think of “putting employees ahead of customers.” The cognitive dissonance here may be semantic since his idea is that, if employers “put employees ahead of customers,” the employees are all mentally sound people of good will and will instinctively want and know how to “take care of customers.” That may even work for the Navy or for companies that build big expensive machines they sell to corporations. People in those workplaces don’t spend much time with customers. The Navy doesn’t even have customers in the ordinary sense of the word: taxpayers don’t pop into the Navy store for a pound of security. In ordinary stores and restaurants, I see entirely too many employees who seem to have heard that they can or should be “put ahead of customers.” I don’t think they’ve been done any favor. “I don’t feel like thanking people when they give me money, because I have a hangover” is the identifying call of an employee who needs to spend a few months at home, unemployed, ineligible for unemployment insurance, and with a bad reference, until person feels better adjusted to the reality of being an employee.

An employee whose ability to thank people upon taking their payments depends on the employee’s sick emotional feelings is, indeed, a liability to the company. Possibly the employee's feelings come from discouragement or disengagement. Probably it will help for managers to consider some of the other ways they cut off the first little tendrils of engagement with a job, systematically, as they form.

One example: People under 30 are, for all practical purposes, kids. People under 25 are still growing for pity’s sake. And they tend to be all wrapped up in their shiny new adolescent self-consciousness, and their obsessive mating-and-nesting urges are so burdensome to everyone around them that some of the world’s biggest employers have historically required employees to take vows of celibacy. Still, even at 17, they see what’s going on when adults are encouraged to “retire” during what may be their most productive years. On paper 50-year-old women automatically gain only 20 to 30 percent more productive work time, but in practice they may be more than 50 percent more productive than 25-year-old women are. Re-TIRE-ment? But we’re not tired. We have the use of all the energy our bodies wasted for years on those stupid hormone cycles. Some 50-year-olds, male or female, do want to “retire” from working for other people and be self-employed entrepreneurs; others are more valuable assets than younger employees, even if the young work cheaper. “Mandatory retirement” is a tip-off to Bright Young Things not to plan on careers with that kind of company, to disengage and start planning their own “retirement” from that company before they’re even 30.

A related example would be any concern with “looks” or “grooming.” Much progress has been made during my lifetime but I was still perturbed to read of employers using Zoom technology to criticize the way young women paint their faces, or don’t, when working at home. Climate, skin type, and the kind of attention a woman gets determine whether she paints on protection from the harsh wind or lets her bare skin breathe. If her employer even notices that, she may be a courtesan selling her hormonal “sizzle” rather than a prostitute forced to sell her physical “steak,” but she is a sex worker: the way men's hormones react to her matters more than the job she's doing does. Women don’t go to university in order to be sex workers so the mere idea of a supervisor noticing a woman’s “makeup,” or lack thereof, is a valid reason for permanent and total disengagement. 

A different related example would be the practice of promoting younger workers ahead of once-loyal senior employees. At the same time that respect for young people’s intelligence and morality seems to be a problem, promoting “Joe College” ahead of the people who know how to do the job is a de-motivator for the senior employees as  well as Joe College. I used to know a lady who went to work in a factory in the 1940s and stayed into the 1970s. She had trained several younger workers until the day she encouraged a 23-year-old, “When you learn how to do this you’ll be qualified to do my job,” and the young man beamed, “Oh I don’t want to do your job, Mabel, I want to be your boss!”…“And by the time he was 25 they probably would have made him my boss. Just because he had a degree in engineering instead of elementary education. Not that what my boss did was engineering, any more than what I did was elementary education. So I quit,” said Mabel.

Then there are the cultural conflicts that give the modern urban office its exciting cosmopolitan flavor. Most Anglo-Americans have heard something about looking at their own shoes and backing away being ways people show respect in some cultures, and standing too close and even cheek kissing being ways they show heterosexual same-sex friendliness. Most have not heard that, to Highly Sensory-Perceptive introverts, a forced smile is a hideous thing to see, and extroverts who’ve been in the habit of telling themselves to force a smile need at least to identify people they know who would dislike them much less if they let their faces relax. (You can’t force your eyes to smile, and if your eyes aren’t smiling, baring your teeth is a threat display.) Or that, for most introverts, corporate “fun” events are of two kinds: the ones that are tolerable if they don’t impinge on our family time, and the ones that positively motivate us to quit jobs. Recognizing these things as culturally ingrained behaviors that we can at least learn to “read” and predict accurately in relationships with individuals can make it possible at least to talk rationally about them without writing each other off as jerks, turkeys, etc.

These matters are not discussed in depth in I Have the Watch, possibly because fixing them may not be an option available to every office “team leader.” Let’s just say that I was favorably enough impressed with I Have the Watch that I’d be interested in reading Rennie’s new book to see whether he talks about them there. What he has to say about respecting and encouraging employees will probably leave you, too, wanting to think, read, and try more.

So, the good news is that there is more. The new book is called All in the Same Boat and it's available from Amazon or from jonsrennie.com. Audible (digital recordings) versions of both books are available, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Tortie Tuesday: So You Want to Be a Grandmother Cat

(Translated whimsically from the nonverbal communication of Serena, an awesome classic calico cat. Serena's timely decision to share mothering responsibilities with her daughter, Silver, allowed three of Silver's four kittens to survive a glyphosate poisoning episode, though none of Serena's own kittens survived. The three kittens are now growing rapidly, being nursed by both adult cats. In view of Serena's reaction when Silver's brother and sister were adopted at about this age, these kittens are NOT YET available for adoption. Other kittens are. Visit a shelter...litters of mixed-breed kittens are rarely petnapped, so you can probably adopt them with a clear conscience.)

The human and I are sure that someone Out There thinks she wants to try being a social cat grandmother. Certainly this is a rewarding job but the reader should know that it’s not as easy as I make it look. Few things are.

(Serena is washing the face of E the Explorer, while Daisy Chain lurks in the background. Further from the camera are incomplete images of Silver nursing Burly. It's hard to tell whether the kittens have accepted these as permanent names yet; they still answer to voices rather than names.)

Well, first, of course, you have to have been a mother cat for at least one year. Some kittens have been known to have kittens of their own before they were a year old, but social kittens seem to wait until they’re old enough to do the job right.

It is not necessary to have kittens of your own to help bring up your grandkittens, and it certainly is not necessary to lose the dear little things only a few days after your grandkittens are born. That happened because the Bad Neighbor caused that smell that the wind always has for a few hours before everyone feels ill. I have lost several kittens after that smell was in the air! It ought to be the Bad Neighbor who lies down and dies. There is no justice in this world. However, as the grandmother cat you do not have to be lactating when your grandkittens are born, unless your daughter is completely unable to nurse them. (Actually Silver was not completely unable to nurse, but she lacked confidence.) As a social cat you will visit the babies; they will sniff about and find where your milk will come in, and given a chance, they will start the hormone cycle, and in a day or two your milk will come in. Even normal cats usually start lactation easily, and most of us enjoy it.

The problem with lactation is getting enough food and water to support the cycle. Feral cats, and cats who conceal their kittens from their humans, sometimes have a hard time lactating because they have to work too hard to get food and water. Their own bodies start to compete with their kittens’ needs for nutrition. This can cause the adult cats, the kittens, or both to become ill. I suppose nature gave social cats the ability to nurse one another’s kittens so that everyone would have a better chance to survive when food is hard to come by.

If you have not gone through a lactation cycle yourself you will be unprepared for the way it affects your hormones. Some of you may have been hard-bitten and hard-biting alley cats who thought you could always hunt down enough food for yourself and your family. Then your body starts pumping out prolactin in place of thyroxin, and where did your energy go? You feel mellow and languid all the time, and just want to lie about adoring your babies, purring, and snoozing. The babies’ father is likely to come around, inquiring whether you have got rid of the babies yet and when you want to try starting another lot. Nature has provided you just enough energy to redesign his ears and send him home, and after that, all you want to do is eat, drink, snuggle, and repeat. It gets old by the time kittens’ eyes open, but you feel too lazy to care. At least there is no need to worry about gaining weight during these lazy days. If you’re like me and have never been a very heavy eater, even preferring to let your possum eat some of your food rather than feel stuffed, you will find it hard to wake up and eat enough to maintain your weight, and will probably become thin. Though broad-framed.

Speaking of possums, dogs, and other inferior animals, this may sound coldhearted, but if they do happen to be old-for-their-species when that smell is on the wind, when you are nursing two litters at once it’s easier to say goodbye, as you need all every calorie you can get. It is hard to overstate the value of training a human to pay attention to your health, coat, and figure. A well trained human will guess that you are nursing kittens if you start to lose weight in spring, and will instinctively offer more and better food. This behavior should be encouraged. Now is the time to indulge any urges your human feels to cuddle you as if you were a baby human. It’s a special treat for them and it helps keep your prolactin levels up.

A very well trained human will enjoy seeing the kittens. If you want to reward especially good behavior, consider allowing the human to stroke the top of each little head with one finger. Further intimacies should be discouraged, though it can be hard to keep them from trying to scoop up your kittens in their hands to count toes and guess genders. With mine disapproval does not completely extinguish that behavior, but does keep it to a low level. (Disapproval plus minimal nest access kept the human from picking up my babies.)

Of course many of you live with humans who are not as well disciplined as ours and are likely to carry diseases to which your milk may not fully immunize your kittens. In that case you must do as you think best. Scratching and biting humans tends to confuse them and bring in other undesirable behaviors along with the behavior you were trying to correct, but even that is better than letting them infect your babies with diseases. We have heard of humans who will pick up and cuddle a kitten who obviously has distemper, then without even washing its hands, much less changing its clothes, immediately try to touch your kittens! Such things used to go on at oldfashioned “pet stores” and still go on at some shelters. They must be stopped by any means necessary. Humans can survive the loss of enormous quantities of blood.

But if you are confident that your human has no infections likely to harm you, and is steady and sensible enough not to harm your kittens, a little bonding between them may be a good thing. I’ll admit I don’t particularly like seeing my human make a fuss over anyone else but me…but I like seeing her make an effort to find the higher-protein kibble, and it’s a blessing to have her trained to bring the kittens indoors at night. The secret is to give them their last snack for the day and wait for the human to come to where they are snuggled up, purring and dozing, and take them inside. 

As soon as kittens’ eyes open they start to wonder about the world beyond the nest. When they wonder, they begin to wander. It takes a few days for them to build up the strength to leave the nest. You can keep them in the nest for four to six weeks if you try, but since Silver had somewhat lazily chosen a corner of the porch floor as a nest, there was no real chance of keeping them from wanting to explore. Again you must use your judgment. The sooner they start to leave the nest, the sooner they start to nibble at solid food. You may have to help them eliminate some disgusting messes if you let them do this too soon.

By the time spring kittens are toddling around the porch it will probably be summer. A great help to peace of mind can be obtained by training your human to deliver water on command. Even if your daughter is in full lactation by now, and the kittens are well fed and watered for today, this will not always be the case, so the kittens must learn to eat and drink by themselves. You can always run out to the spring, but the kittens can’t. Find a suitable container, sniff pointedly at it, and stare at your human. Despite the horror stories everyone has heard, the normal human reaction will be to pour some water into the container. Ideally they will say things like “Of course you want water! How stupid of me not to think of it sooner.” They are valuable friends but they are fairly dumb animals, and it never hurts to remind them so.

Then of course you have to teach the kittens how to drink water while you are still producing enough milk to support them, and at the same time you have to teach them to choose the right places to squat. This can be hard on them. They think they have just learned wonderful new skills. They want to show all their human friends, “See what I can do now!” It’s not faaair that so many humans will yell at them or put them out. Their control of their new skills is not perfect. If it were they would call the humans to follow them and see them “perform” in the sand pit, or litter box, or whatever. Learning to recognize that strange unpleasant smell as coming from them takes a few days after they have learned to eliminate their bodywastes all by themselves.

And then, as if you did not have enough to do being the Queen Cat, in order to keep your readers up to date, your human has to go into town and leave you alone with all of the responsibility for the property resting on your narrow little cat shoulders. 

Nevertheless, just like humans who wail and carry on about how busy and tired they are, deep down inside you will love being a grandmother cat. That is, of course, provided that you have been given the great good fortune to be a mother cat in the first place.

To those who aren’t cats of any kind, empathy purrs from Serena the Awesome Grandmother Cat…