Tuesday: Hili dialogue

February 16, 2021 • 6:30 am

We had a godawful snowfall last night (another 3 to 5 inches to come today!), and I slogged to work through snow that was sometimes up to my thighs. WHO’S a good boy? Photos to come. It’s so bad that the University even closed live classes today. IN CHICAGO! Everything will be shut down today.

Here’s a quick picture of me slogging to work in the snow. I sent it to Matthew, who said: “WELL DONE, YOU ARE AWARDED THE ORDER OF HERO OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY”

So welcome to the Cruelest Day: it’s Tuesday, February 16, 2021: National Almond Day. More excitingly, it’s International Pancake Day and Pączki Day, celebrating the exquisite filled Polish donuts that one can buy in Chicago. Here are some:

I bet you’d like some!

It’s also Mardi Gras, which will be quiet this year, with no parades or floats, and Tim Tam Day, celebrating the Aussie chocolate-covered bikkie that can be used as a straw to suck up hot beverages. In North Korea it’s the Day of the Shining Star, otherwise known as Kim Jong-il’s Birthday, and in Alaska it’s Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. celebrating the woman who, as a member of the Tlingit nation of Native Americans, fought for the Alaska Equal Rights Law of 1945 (see below).

News of the Day:

Bill Gates has a new book out: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster:The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.  A review in the New York Times finds the book “disappointing” on two grounds: Gates gets some of his figures wrong, and misunderstands the politics behind the issue. A quote re the latter:

So why aren’t we moving much faster than we are? That’s because of politics, and this is where Gates really wears blinders. “I think more like an engineer than a political scientist,” he says proudly — but that means he can write an entire book about the “climate disaster” without discussing the role that the fossil fuel industry played, and continues to play, in preventing action.

Well, at least the man means well. (h/t Dom)

According to the New York Times (and other sources), Hasan Gokal, a doctor in Houston is the victim of legal stupidity. With one vial of Covid vaccine due to expire within six hours, he desperately tried to vaccinate as many of his patients as possible (it must have been the Moderna vaccine, as his vial held 10 doses).  He used it all, and, with 15 minutes to spare gave the last dose to his wife, who has a serious pulmonary condition. For his efforts, he was charged with misdemeanor theft of the vaccine (worth $135). When the judge dismissed the charges, the local DA vowed to bring the case before a grand jury. Gokal was also fired from his job at the local health departent. The whole case stinks:

The officials maintained that he had violated protocol and should have returned the remaining doses to the office or thrown them away, the doctor recalled. He also said that one of the officials startled him by questioning the lack of “equity” among those he had vaccinated.

“Are you suggesting that there were too many Indian names in that group?” Dr. Gokal said he asked.

Exactly, he said he was told.

So he’s prosecuted and fired for not throwing away a lifesaving vaccine? Oy!

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 486,148, an increase of only 1,000 deaths over yesterday’s figure We are still liable to exceed half a million deaths within the month. The reported world death toll stands 2,420,338, an increase of about 7,800 deaths over yesterday’s total. The death rate appears to be dropping worldwide, too.

Stuff that happened on February 16 includes:

Here’s a tweet of the tomb, sealed 3,246 years before! (h/t Matthew). Note the good condition of the rope and the seal.

Here’s Elizabeth Peratrovich (see above; it’s her day in Alaska), instrumental in passing the law.  She died of breast cancer at only 47:

Castro and Che Guevara:

  • 1968 – In Haleyville, Alabama, the first 9-1-1 emergency telephone system goes into service.
  • 1978 – The first computer bulletin board system is created (CBBS in Chicago).
  • 2005 – The Kyoto Protocol comes into force, following its ratification by Russia.
  • 2005 – The National Hockey League cancels the entire 2004–05 regular season and playoffs.
  • 2006 – The last Mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) is decommissioned by the United States Army.

Notables born on this day include:

Galton has now been officially erased, for he advocated eugenics.  But here’s his photo from about 1850:

  • 1838 – Henry Adams, American journalist, historian, and author (d. 1918)
  • 1848 – Hugo de Vries, Dutch botanist, geneticist, and academic (d. 1935)

de Vries (below) was the first to suggest that the units of inheritances were particles, which he called “pangenes”:

She was, of course, the sister of Anne Frank. Both of them died in Bergen-Belsen of typhus, within a few days of each other. Margot was 18 or 19. Here’s Margot; she is reported to have kept a diary, but it’s never been found.

  • 1935 – Sonny Bono, American actor, singer, and politician (d. 1998)
  • 1958 – Natalie Angier, American author
  • 1989 – Elizabeth Olsen, American actress

Those who became quiescent on February 16 are but two, and not all that notable:

  • 1996 – Brownie McGhee, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1915)

Here’s Brownie in 1966 singing “Born and livin’ with the blues”:

  • 2015 – Lesley Gore, American singer-songwriter (b. 1946)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, I learned something from this dialogue and from Malgorzata. When Paulina, the upstairs lodger, was just a 15-year-old schoolgirl nine years ago, she and her older sister Aneta were the ones who brought baby Hili (3 months old) to Andrzej and Malgorzata.  They thought that they needed a cat after their previous cat, Pia, died, and the neighbor’s cat had just produced a litter of kittens. Hili was one of them.

Paulina reminds Hili of this (Malgorzata told me that she gave me this information years ago, but I didn’t remember!):

Hili: I have the feeling that I’ve always known you.
Paulina: When you were little I brought you to this house.
Hili: You did the right thing.
In Polish:
Hili: Mam wrażenie, że cię zawsze znałam.
Paulina: Jak byłaś mała to ja przyniosłam cię do tego domu.
Hili: Słusznie zrobiłaś.

Here’s baby Hili shortly after Paulina brought her to Andrzej and Malgorzata:

From Pradeep:

From Divy. The “Bernie Mittens” meme is being replaced by the “Cat Lawyer” meme:

Another cat meme from Nicole:

A tweet from Dom showing an lovely and unusual bird’s nest fungus:

From Luana: inequity in the Biden administration, an op-ed from Newsweek.

From Ginger K. Give that mutt a steak!

This, sent by Barry, is a nice thread, but you must read through it to see the best bits about plants. As Barry wrote, “I don’t see many long science-related threads on Twitter—simple, straight-ahead questions & answers, yes—but this one is pretty good. Thermogenic plants? Well, I just learned something new.”

Tweets from Matthew. This helicopter rescue is simply amazing; that pilot is so skillful! (This is from 2019).

The cat approves of this post:

A wary and energetic stoat with its expired prey. I think it’s a bunny 🙁



52 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

      1. Not necessarily. One could support just banning fossil fuels as soon as practicable. The market, even influenced by a tax, is not always the best option. The nuclear stuff is a false dichotomy: either you support nuclear power, or you don’t care about climate change. Not only is that wrong, but it also works against getting as many people as possible on board. There are serious issues with nuclear power. One which is not discussed much is terrorism. If one can fly a plane into the World Trade Center, one can fly one into a nuclear power plant.

        1. I don’t know of any reasonable alternative. Do you? There are new designs for nuclear plants that are safer. Wind and solar will not be enough to take us over the finish line. Especially when the wind don’t shine.

          1. Heck, I’ll throw my oar in the water too.

            I agree that nuclear should be seriously pursued. All the arguments about how expensive nuclear is are, to my mind, not convincing for one big reason. We put the kibosh on nuclear decades ago. It was stalled as a technology and an industry before it ever got off the line. A huge amount of the cost is due to artificially imposed barriers that could be changed and an industry & technology that has been stagnant instead of constantly evolving.

            On the technology side, there are many new nuclear designs that are promising enough that they should be pursued. Some designs in which the failure modes are inherently “safe,” as in no matter the kind of failure they can’t have a runaway reaction.

            There are some designs that could ultimately extract over 90% of the energy available in the fuel. To put that in perspective current reactors extract only about 5%. What this means is that all of the “spent” nuclear fuel sitting around in storage could possibly be used to produce as much as 17 times more energy than it was used to produce so far. As a bonus, long term radiation of the waste would be considerably less.

            Solar in particular is great. Solar, wind, geothermal, all should be pursued wherever they are practical. But the energy density of nuclear would be a great advantage and I believe we could do it safely enough.

              1. Yes, but when there is a disaster, it is very dangerous. Remember the chap who jumped off a skyskraper? When sailing past the third storey, he said so far, so good.

                Many industrial countries are already over fifty per cent with regard to renewable energy. Further advances in technology and more efficiency can probably bring that up to 100 per cent within a few years. No need to push nuclear. Also, one has to remember that, as Wilson said, politics is the art of the possible. Even if some fears of nuclear energy are exaggerated, they are there, and it would be more efficient if one gets as many people as possible on board for the common goal.

              2. That’s a nice little story but how do you justify this with reality? Obviously a disaster is dangerous by definition. However, few people have died from nuclear disasters. It is safer than other kinds of energy production so how do you justify your comment?

              3. Replying briefly to a few from Phillip Helbig:

                I simply will not believe you till I see specific evidence for your claims about the badness of the nuclear option. Give us some figures showing those facts, the nations, the probabilities, the likelihood estimates of years of human life lost over at least 3 or 4 generations.

                Then I’ll find, I’m confident, where these specifics are mistaken.

              4. Won’t say ‘put up or shut up’, but seems the latter.

                It seems impossible to find a single reasonable attempt to show increasing peaceful nuclear capability is a mistake.

                Just bandwagon hysterical fright is what this opposition is.

      2. I do think that in the short term a carbon tax makes sense. Nuclear power has it’s draw backs too , as already mentioned, although I think it can make a valuable interim contribution. However, in the long, or maybe not so long, run the energy source that appears to make most sense is Solar. The solar energy that reaches the earth is about 23000 terawatt (TW) per year, our total worldwide use is about 1.6 TW per year. Total coal reserves about 900 TW, total uranium reserves about 240 TW.
        Of course even Solar has it,’s drawbacks , eg the producing of batteries used to store it or the production of solar PV screens.
        I do understand your statement, but I do not fully agree.

            1. For one reason or other I can’t edit.
              Whichever way you look at it, of the renewables only solar energy appears to be able to deliver the amounts we need, and will need in future, without devastating huge surfaces of land such as needed for biofuels (the worst idea in ‘renewables’, at least the way it is done now) or even wind farms.
              I’m quite sure you will agree there.

            2. That’s not terawatts per year but rather terawatt years. Like kilowatt hours, it is power times time, or energy. So use 1 terawatt per year for 900 years, or 900 terawatts per year for one year. Note that for the Sun it is just the power; the Sun will continue to shine for billions of years.

              The first is sloppy; terawatt is a power and it is not per year. The second one is a bit better; it says terawatt years per year. The year cancels out, so one is left with the power. So not really clear.

              I know what they mean, of course, and the point that the Sun produces more than enough energy has been clear for a long time.

      3. I am reading it now & will follow with Michael Mann’s new book. Mann opposes nuclear I think, but Lovelock supports it. I can see both arguments…

        I think it is good that he supports change. I wish he’d done so years ago. Mann does mot pull his punches regarding the oil lobby however…

  1. Hopefully a few other people have made it in also and you have the makings of hot coffee or tea to sustain you while looking out the window at what is likely a pretty desolate (pretty but desolate?) landscape. What temperature is Chicago serving with all of that snow this morning?

    1. What is better than building a giant snowman and having a hot chocolatemilk, or even better, aniseeed milk, afterwards? I’m sure that is one of the pleasures I enjoyed as a child that I would still enjoy now.
      Did I mention sledging or snowball fights? With or without snow castle? I’m sure a creative mind could even turn the latter into some evolutionary game theory study. 🙂
      Jerry, acknowledge your privilege! You have snow! We only get -if lucky- a miserly half a centimeter of wet sludge in the mountains.

        1. A kick is a big word, but, although very dated (who would make a cartoon like that nowadays?) I took great pleasure. Thanks.

  2. Someone needs to introduce Dr. Kaitlin Gallagher to the Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t YouTube and podcast. Botany isn’t boring, but it’s often taught by boring people using boring methods.

    1. I’ve seen a few obese cats that need to go on a diet, but chubby is a good look for a feline, and it’s often a lifeline. Our Manxie Sierra is just rounding the corner after 3 weeks of nursing [minor surgery followed by infection, antibiotic reaction, inability to keep food down] and she needed every ounce of fat she had to survive the ordeal.

  3. I can’t figure out how to follow a tweeter thread, but an example of a thermogenic plant is our common skunk cabbage. Common in the woods, this large and stinky plant looks like a hosta during the summer. It flowers in the early spring while there is still snow on the ground, and then it uses a modified form of respiration to generate heat. This melts the snow around it, and the heat + the smell of the flowers attracts flies to pollinate it.

    1. Thermogenesis is widespread in the arum family, and generally used to ‘cook’ off nasty scents that attract dung- and carrion-feeding insects as pollinators. I have a nice stand of the Mediterranean Dracunculus vulgaris, with its magnificently evil-looking, 5- or 6-foot high inflorescences. It’s quite impressive, and mine are properly placed downwind from my back door. Even nicer is its rare, low growing relative Helicodiceros muscivorus, sometimes referred to as “pig’s butt arum”. I saw it once in Corsica — actually saw blow flies circling before I saw the flower. I grow it in a sheltered bed next to the house, so I usually smell it before I see it each year. Both of these have sterile tissue at the base of the spadix that do the cooking.

  4. Bill Gates is a smart guy. If he wanted to deal with the politics of climate change in his book, he would. IMHO, he leaves it to others to tackle the political barriers to implementing good policy. If he were to acknowledge them, it would give more power to those who want to maintain the status quo for their own perceived benefit. We’re always going to hear the fossil fuel industry claiming that some move will cost jobs in their industry. They’re not necessarily wrong but aren’t looking at the big picture. Around the turn of the century, we lost a lot of jobs in the buggy whip industry but we survived.

    1. I could not agree more. Jobs lost in an obsolete industry (eg coal) will always be (well, more or less) be balanced by jobs in the new industry replacing it.

  5. Someone needs to give that ermine a hand.

    It seems yesterday I saw something about sodium ?nuclear? power which supposedly would be safer than nuclear power as is. I believe it was mentioned as the latest Japan earthquake was presented.

    Hill had great presence even as a young one. Pounds creep up on one when aging unfortunately.

  6. Someone needs to give that ermine a hand.

    It seems yesterday I saw something about sodium ?nuclear? power which supposedly would be safer than nuclear power as is. I believe it was mentioned as the latest Japan earthquake was presented.

  7. Re Che Guevara. If you read the motorcycle diaries, he appears such a nice and idealistic young man. And later, serving with Fidel, he became such a cruel monster. I always found that difficult to fathom.

  8. The dog with the cucumber chomping bunnies is a mini dachshund called Loulou who lives in the Netherlands. Sadly the bunnies are no longer around but Loulou lives with her daughter Coco, an albino hedgehog and some ducks. She has her own You Tube account https://youtube.com/channel/UCFr3gGZfU6VEjD5Y23Coc6g

    Warning: They eat a raw meat diet and do so very enthusiastically.

  9. Thanks, Prof and Luana, for the link to Warren Farrell’s article in Newsweek! I last read Farrell’s books decades ago and found what he had to say insightful and beneficial. I’m exploring his Website now, rediscovering him and his works.

  10. I think the picture of Galton may have been taken when he was 50 rather than in 1850. Either that or he became bald and greying at a very early age.

  11. The bird’s nest fungi [Nidulariales] are an example of an elegant, if seemingly simple, solution to spore dispersal. They presumably evolved from puffball-like ancestors which dispersed clouds of spores, perhaps enhanced by mechanical disturbance — being stepped on, or perhaps played with by mischievous kids.. What’s peculiar in this group is the packaging of their spores in a few large “eggs”, and the bowl-shaped nest. Both are sized to harvest the energy of raindrops to shoot the spore parcels several feet. Then what? In western Oregon, our two common genera, Nidula and Crucibulum, both feed on dead twigs on the forest floor. The raindrops – a dead-center splat get them across a gap, but then what? Nidula eggs are gooey, and the goo must stick to the host. Crucibulum eggs are not sticky, but have a stalk that winds, bolas-style to make the attachment.

    As I said above, not an unbelievably complex story like the Xyris fungus we discussed yesterday. But very neat.. And if you want more just-so stories, the puffball allies provide them. Another close relative of the bird’s next group is the tiny “cannon fungus” Sphaerobolus stellatus. According to mycologist David Arora, this tiny dung-feeding fungus produces pop-guns that shoot sticky spore packets up to 17 feet, more than 1000 times the diameter of the fruiting body!

  12. Looking at Hili’s kitten photo, she looks even more similar to Kulka. And no mistaking the lovely white marking above her nose.

    Jerry, I know you just had a “Ask me anything post” just a couple days ago, and I should have asked this. I’m reading (and thoroughly enjoying) J.A. Baker’s book The Peregrine. I noticed a review/praise written by you on the accolades page. How does something like that come about? Were you asked specifically by the publisher, or? I would consider it an honor, especially since the book is so wonderful.

    1. I rarely tout a book on my website when I get it from the publisher; in fact, I can’t think of a case. I will BLURB a book for the cover if I like it and have read the whole thing.

      I can’t remember how I heard about “The Peregrine”. I believe I read about it somewhere, and that it was a neglected work of art. It must have been a good recommendation, because I read it, and now I recommend it enthusiastically to anyone who istns.

  13. That is an amazing bit of flying by the helicopter pilot. Very dangerous as the rotors get close to the snow when you go in nose first like that. I have the greatest admiration for helicopter pilots who do search and rescue from my time working at the C&O Canal and Mount Rainier. Rescues like this one in France are not actually unusual. I will never forget one rescue at Rainier where the pilot backed the Chinook helicopter into the glacier with only the rear wheels in contact with the snow. He hovered in that position for over 30 minutes keeping the ship steady by lining up the bottom of his door with something he could see in the snow, while his copilot kept him apprised of the various readings on the dashbord gauges. The rescue team was able to exit the rear door and package up the injured (and sadly, one dead) climbers and get them on board. I have read about cases in parks like Yosemite where the pilots actually hover close to the cliffs and manage to swing the rescuers over to access injured climbers.

  14. And sadly, Carothers, feeling himself a failure, committed suicide two months after that patent on nylon was awarded.

  15. “Presidents and their pet dogs” is now a little out of date, as Trump has blasted McConnell.
    The Beeb reports that Trump has issued a press release saying, inter alia,
    “Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” said Mr Trump, “and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again.” and
    “The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Senator Mitch McConnell at its helm,” the press release reads.
    Mr McConnell’s “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality” had cost the Republicans control of the Senate following last November’s elections, he said.
    Loyalty, for the Donald, has always been a one-way street; but I have no sympathy for McConnell or the Republican Party.

    And the Guardian is now reporting Maggie Haberman as saying that the press release had been toned down; and the NYTimes has more. I’d like to see the original.

    1. I agree, I did some flying in my younger days, but this rescue was absolutely AWESOME, and high risk: kudos to the pilot pulling it off.

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