Greetings on the cruelest day of the week, Tuesday. It’s September 14: National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day. (I shudder to think what’s in most of the “cream.”) Two more days and I blow this pop stand for The Home of the Bean and the Cod.
It’s also Eat a Hoagie Day (a “hoagie” is a large submarine sandwich), Gobstopper Day, National Quiet Day, National Coloring Day, and, in India, Hindi Day (but only in the Hindi-speaking states of India). Here, from Wikipedia, is a map of India divided up by each of the predominant languages used in each area. You can see what a melange of tongues it is, and many are mutually unintelligible. (Many Indians speak English and Hindi, though.) I was always nonplussed to take long-distance bus or train trips in India and, waking up some mornings, find that all the languages on the signs had changed overnight.
News of the Day:
North Korea has apparently fired two cruise missiles, low-flying jet-propelled missiles that in principle can carry a nuclear warhead. The DPRK says they hit on target at a distance of 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). Once they can fit it with a nuclear warhead, Japan is screwed, and so is everyone else. What can we do about it? Nothing. All we can count on is that we have nuclear-missile-armed submarines around the Korean peninsula, so if the DPRK wanted to start trouble, it would be committing suicide. There’s no use in negotiating with them; inspections are impossible and they can’t be trusted. (This is basically the situation with Iran as well.)
Thirteen gorillas at the Atlanta Zoo have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus after an initial infection came from one of their keepers. Fortunately, they don’t seem to have become seriously ill: they show “runny noses, mild coughing and loss of appetite.” The infected ones, who can’t be quarantined due to the cage setup, are receiving monoclonal antibodies (a 60 year old gorilla is of particular concern). Before you start going off on Georgia, note that the staff member was vaccinated and was wearing PPE. The apes and other beasts will also be vaccinated with
. . . the Zoetis coronavirus vaccine developed for veterinary use, the [zoo’s] statement said.
Other animals at Zoo Atlanta that will receive the vaccine in the coming days will include Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions, and a clouded leopard.
The 18 authors include Dr. Philip Krause and Dr. Marion Gruber, F.D.A. scientists who announced last month that they will be leaving the agency, at least in part because they disagreed with the Biden administration’s push for boosters before federal scientists could review the evidence and make recommendations.
The Biden administration has proposed administering vaccine boosters eight months after the initial shots. But many scientists have opposed the plan, saying the vaccines continue to be powerfully protective against severe illness and hospitalization. A committee of advisers to the F.D.A. is scheduled to meet on Friday to review the data.
In the new review, published in The Lancet, experts said that whatever advantage boosters provide would not outweigh the benefit of using those doses to protect the billions of people who remain unvaccinated worldwide. Boosters may be useful in some people with weak immune systems, they said, but are not yet needed for the general population.
The study is concerned not with infection as much as with hospitalization and serious illness. For people who are not immunocompromised nor older than 75, the article suggests that the standards jabs are fine at keeping you from having illness serious enough to require hospitalization. They are worried about the limited supply of vaccine, and suggest, correctly, that worldwide health is better off giving vaccines to people who haven’t gotten them rather than manufacturing booster vaccine. Of course, if there were an unlimited supply of vaccine, the doctors would recommend boosters—or so I think.
Also, at the NYT, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, you can see a selection of the paper’s 9-11 photographs with comments by the photographers. Here’s just one and the comment:
I was watching NY1 when I saw that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I grabbed my gear and ran to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. My partner pointed to a plane flying over the Statue of Liberty, and I knew what was going to happen: I was going to witness hundreds of people die. I remember thinking, “No, no, no!” But I took a breath and told myself: “This is history. Do your job.” I put the camera to my face, framed the skyline wide, and I waited for the plane to come into my frame.
Okay, this really ticks me off as a biologist. This article in the NYT is by Carl Zimmer, who presumably didn’t write the headline and gets the gist of the experiment right, which is that it is NOT going to bring back the freaking woolly mammoth. Click on the screenshot:
When I heard about this endeavor a few years ago, I thought. “This can’t happen: they’d need an entire woolly mammoth genome AND the genes would have to be arrayed properly on mammoth chromosomes before they were all put into a de-genomed but fertilized elephant egg and implanted in an elephant. That’s impossible.” Well, that’s not how George Church, who’s gotten $15 million for this dumb experiment, says his team is going to do it. Zimmer reports:
A former researcher in Dr. Church’s lab, Eriona Hysolli, will oversee the new company’s efforts to edit elephant DNA, adding genes for mammoth traits like dense hair and thick fat for withstanding cold. The researchers hope to produce embryos of these mammoth-like elephants in a few years, and ultimately produce entire populations of the animals.
That would be sixty genes, maximum, out of thousands of genes, most of which surely differ in some way between an elephant and a woolly mammoth. It’s not going to be a wooly mammoth, but a hairy, tubby elephant.
But wait, the nonsense doesn’t end there!
Initially, Dr. Church envisioned implanting embryos into surrogate female elephants. But he eventually soured on the idea. Even if he could figure out in vitro fertilization for elephants — which no one has done before — building a herd would be impractical, since he would need so many surrogates.
Instead, Dr. Church decided to make an artificial mammoth uterus lined with uterine tissue grown from stem cells. “I’m not making a bold prediction this is going to be easy,” he said. “But everything up to this point has been relatively easy. Every tissue we’ve gone after, we’ve been able to get a recipe for.”
An artificial mammoth uterus??? Give me a break! I’ll bet anybody $250 that he won’t even get a single viable offspring from this project. And I haven’t even mentioned the ethical concerns about releasing these things into the wild. Zimmer does discuss that, and also notes several scientists who, like me, think this is an exercise in lunacy.
Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 661,579 an increase of 1,827 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,654,303, an increase of about 9,000 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on September 14 includes:
- 1752 – The British Empire adopts the Gregorian calendar, skipping eleven days (the previous day was September 2).
- 1812 – Napoleonic Wars: The French Grande Armée enters Moscow. The Fire of Moscow begins as soon as Russian troops leave the city.
That’s about as far as Napoleon got into Russia in his ill-fated invasion. Here’s a Russian cartoon of the time with the Wikipedia caption, “A 19th-century caricature (lubok) of Napoleon meeting Satan after the Fire of Moscow, by Ivan Alekseevich Ivanov.” Notice that Satan is a skeleton.
- 1901 – U.S. President William McKinley dies after being mortally wounded on September 6 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz and is succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.
Here’s a famous drawing of McKinley’s assassination. It took him a week to die, but he would have lived if there had been antibiotics:
- 1917 – The Russian Empire is formally replaced by the Russian Republic.
- 1959 – The Soviet probe Luna 2 crashes onto the Moon, becoming the first man-made object to reach it.
Here’s a model of Luna 2, which is also the first human-made object to touch another celestial body:
- 1975 – The first American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, is canonized by Pope Paul VI.
As Wikipedia notes, “After her death, she became the first person born in what would become the United States to be canonized by the Catholic Church (September 14, 1975). She also established the first Catholic girls’ school in the nation in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she likewise founded the first American congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity.”
It didn’t say what the two miracles were that entitled her to be “St. Elizabeth.”
- 1994 – The Major League Baseball season is canceled because of a strike.
- 2007 – Financial crisis of 2007–2008: The Northern Rock bank experiences the first bank run in the United Kingdom in 150 years.
The Viscount Matt Ridley, who you may know because of his biology books, was chairman of Northern Rock, and Wikipedia notes that his policies contributed to the bank’s downfall. He resigned in 2007.
- 2015 – The first observation of gravitational waves is made, announced by the LIGO and Virgo collaborations on 11 February 2016.
This still amazes me. It involved measuring the waves given off by a pair of merging black holes, expected to produce gravitational waves. They were measured by a pair of large and expensive detectors (each with two arms) built in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana. A photo of the Hanford Station is below.
The difference in measurement by the two stations is simply fantastic. Wikipedia notes this (my bold):
This first direct observation was reported around the world as a remarkable accomplishment for many reasons. Efforts to directly prove the existence of such waves had been ongoing for over fifty years, and the waves are so minuscule that Albert Einstein himself doubted that they could ever be detected. The waves given off by the cataclysmic merger of GW150914 reached Earth as a ripple in spacetime that changed the length of a 4 km LIGO arm by a thousandth of the width of a proton, proportionally equivalent to changing the distance to the nearest star outside the Solar System by one hair’s width.
That still boggles my mind!
Notables born on this day include:
- 1769 – Alexander von Humboldt, German geographer and explorer (d. 1859)
- 1804 – John Gould, English ornithologist and illustrator (d. 1881)
Gould, pictured below in 1880, played an important role in Darwin’s thinking. For it was Gould, who had worked his way up from a gardener to a respected ornithologist, who discovered that the birds Darwin collected on the Galápagos islands were not, as Darwin thought, finches, blackbirds, wrens, and “gross-bills”. They were in fact all finches, and bore similarities to South American finches. This helped form Darwin’s theory of migration-followed-by-radiation that explained the radiations of species like finches on oceanic archipelagos.
- 1879 – Margaret Sanger, American nurse and activist (d. 1966)
- 1914 – Clayton Moore, American actor (d. 1999)
Do you remember his greatest role?
- 1930 – Allan Bloom, American philosopher and academic (d. 1992)
- 1934 – Kate Millett, American author and activist (d. 2017)
- 1983 – Amy Winehouse, English singer-songwriter (d. 2011)
Here’s a tribute to La Winehouse set to her version of “Our Day Will Come”:
Those who turned toes up on September 14 include:
- 1214 – Albert Avogadro, Italian lawyer, patriarch, and saint (b. 1149)
- 1321 – Dante Alighieri, Italian writer (b. 1265)
I love this painting of Dante and his inamorata Beatrice, painted by Henry Holiday ca. 1882-1884. Google Arts and Culture explains it:
On one occasion due to a misunderstanding Beatrice refused to acknowledge the great Italian medieval poet when they met by chance in the street. In this painting Beatrice, in the centre of the group of three women, looks away from Dante. The artist has drawn a sharp distinction in character, dress and attitude between the extrovert Monna Vanna, Beatrice’s friend on her right, and Beatrice herself, who looks intently forward.
- 1715 – Dom Pérignon, French monk and priest (b. 1638)
- 1836 – Aaron Burr, American colonel and politician, 3rd Vice President of the United States (b. 1756)
- 1901 – William McKinley, American soldier, lawyer, and politician, 25th President of the United States (b. 1843)
- 1927 – Isadora Duncan, American-Russian dancer and choreographer (b. 1877)
Below is apparently the only existing film of Duncan dancing. Wikipedia notes, “It is a few seconds of footage of a recital given outdoors in an open space. A group and men and women sit and stand round the space. They watch the performance and applaud at the end. There are three versions of the footage here. The first is the full version of the film. The second is just a section of the footage but clearer. The third is in slow motion, which gives time to watch Isadora more closely.” The film starts 50 seconds in:
- 1982 – Grace Kelly, American-Monegasque actress; Princess of Monaco (b. 1929)
- 2009 – Jody Powell, American diplomat, White House Press Secretary (b. 1943)
- 2009 – Patrick Swayze, American actor, singer, and dancer (b. 1952)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili, now a middle-aged dowager cat, is still climbing trees, but for no particular reason.
Hili: Neither birds nor flowers.A: So what did you climb up there for?Hili: For the hell of it.
Hili: Ani ptaków, ani kwiatów.Ja: A po co się tam wdrapałaś?Hili: Tak sobie.
From Divy: Sexual selection in a nutshell:
Titania is on the case!
I don’t see why we should have to put up with this kind of racism just because Spaniards are too lazy to learn English. pic.twitter.com/SbY0zxpmsQ
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) September 13, 2021
From Barry, who adds, “Love the flying sandal. If this were a moment for a movie, no doubt multiple takes would’ve been needed to get it right.”
What a way to start the morning pic.twitter.com/ATdeqbA77g
— Tomthunkit™ (@TomthunkitsMind) September 13, 2021
From Paul. The account is a spoof one mocking the kind of things a Woke Dean would tweet or say:
Please note, we’ve renamed ‘Animal Husbandry.’ It is now the ‘Consensual Partnering for the Procreative Science of Non-Human Animated Species Department’
— Associate Deans (@ass_deans) September 10, 2021
From reader John, who wants to know if this sable (Martes zibellina, from northeast Asia) is an Honorary Cat®. I say yes!
— Cozy Club (@CosyCIub) September 3, 2021
From Ken, who notes this:
For some reason known only to god & Trump, the Donald decided to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in part by speaking at the Moonies’ annual conference, where he praised fellow cult leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon:
The Moonies conference has started.
Here is Donald Trump praising both Rev. Moon and his wife for their “incredible story.”
Their story is they started a dangerous authoritarian mind control cult 50 years ago that is still operating.
— Jim Stewartson, Antifascist, #RIPQ 🇺🇸🏴☠️ (@jimstewartson) September 12, 2021
From the Auschwitz Memorial. This guy lived but five days after arrival.
14 September 1905 | A Polish Jew, Abraham Kohn, was born in Radomsko. A tailor.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) September 14, 2021
Two tweets from Matthew. This is what happens when a writer doesn’t do her research. She makes more excuses further down the thread.
Hello, and thank you for this, and for so many great responses! That picture is definitely NOT the color I had in mind for Achilles. And also not the color I saw when I went to olive pressings, which was a much deeper, richer color–though true, not without green. /1
— Madeline Miller (@MillerMadeline) September 18, 2020
I gather this tweet is true, and Matthew notes that there are other examples (as well as jokes) further down the thread:
WASP was originally spelled ‘waps’.
BIRD was originally spelled ‘brid’.
CURD was originally spelled ‘crud’.
FRESH was originally spelled ‘fersc’.
DIRT was originally spelled ‘drit’.
THRILL was originally spelled ‘thirl’.
The reordering of sounds like this is called METATHESIS. pic.twitter.com/ezaGcdIiaD
— Haggard Hawks 🦅 (@HaggardHawks) August 25, 2021