Tuesday: Hili dialogue

September 14, 2021 • 6:30 am

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.

More about boosters: The New York Times reports today on an article in The Lancet suggesting that it’s not advisable to give Covid booster shots to the general population.

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.

Kelly Guenther

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. 

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:

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.”

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.

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.
In Polish:
Hili: Ani ptaków, ani kwiatów.
Ja: A po co się tam wdrapałaś?
Hili: Tak sobie.

From Facebook:

From Divy: Sexual selection in a nutshell:

From Facebook. I am unable to verify if this is true, but perhaps a reader can. Felix looks as if he gets a lot of sausages!

Titania is on the case!

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.”

From Paul. The account is a spoof one mocking the kind of things a Woke Dean would tweet or say:

From reader John, who wants to know if this sable (Martes zibellina, from northeast Asia) is an Honorary Cat®. I say yes!

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:

From the Auschwitz Memorial. This guy lived but five days after arrival.

Two tweets from Matthew. This is what happens when a writer doesn’t do her research. She makes more excuses further down the thread.

I gather this tweet is true, and Matthew notes that there are other examples (as well as jokes) further down the thread:

51 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. Japan is screwed, and so is everyone else. What can we do about it? Nothing.

    The Kims are likely first and foremost concerned about regime survival. What we need to do is figure out how to assuage that paranoia while normalizing their relationships i.e. opening the borders to trade, movement and communication. IOW I think our first priority should be the people, not getting rid of the dictatorship. Of course South Korea has been trying that for decades and been unsuccessful, and China may oppose it, and I have no brilliant new ideas. Nevertheless, I still think that’s the grain of the correct idea. Hold our noses, figure out some deal where the people gain some minor bit of improved living and freedom while the Kims take credit for it, and when the Kims like that result, repeat. Not Trumps bloviating though; this likely should be led by South Korea. Heck, the whole strategy might work better if Japan and the US publicly opposed it while South Korea went ahead and did it. This would let the Kims get even more cred for ‘sticking it’ to the Americans.

  2. What can we do about it? Nothing.

    This is false, you can desist from annihilating regimes who swear off the development of nuclear weapons and cooperate with UN Weapon Inspectors like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, so that small pariah states don’t get the message that America poses an existential threat unless they develop a nuclear program.

    Oh wait, we could have done something about it, and we made a conscious choice to encourage rogue states to develop a nuclear capability or face destruction, so we should celebrate North Korea’s nuclear program as another positive and predictable consequence of American foreign policy under W. and Obama. Besides which, didn’t Reagan tell us more nuclear weapons meant a more peaceful world?

      1. Hopefully that is correct. Nuclear armed Great Powers are probably a force for political stability, I am not so sure that small rogue states obtaining nukes is so great, especially when regime collapse could lead to nukes falling into the hands of criminals and/or terrorists.

    1. You’re arguing a false dichotomy. The third choice available to them is stop being rogue. After all, South Africa and Brazil also had nascent nuclear weapons programs, gave them up, and we didn’t destroy them.

      Iraq’s not a good example either, as I think most Americans today will admit that the choice to overthrow Saddam Hussein was at least partially to do with Bush looking for revenge on the guy who tried to assassinate his father. Nothing much to do with how rogueish Iraq was at the time, though the Bush administration certainly tried to paint it that way.

      1. South Africa had more than a nascent program, it had nuclear weapons, six of them, which it dismantled shortly before going democratic. It may also have conducted a nuclear explosion (link)

        1. South Africa, an American ally, had no choice as the US made it clear that post-Soviet, they were not going to support an apartheid state, and if they wanted international financial support and investment, they couldn’t have a nuclear program. Same deal with Ukraine.

          Brazil and the US have had their tiffs, but when a 500 lb. gorilla says no nukes, you get rid of your nukes. If they neighbored China, they would probably still have a nuclear program.

          No, these are not rogue states, they are US allies and frenemies with no geopolitical backing from any other great power at the time they scrapped their weapons programs. Iran and North Korea have always been enemies of the United States.

          1. “South Africa, an American ally, had no choice as the US made it clear that post-Soviet, they were not going to support an apartheid state, …”

            Well no, not really, that wasn’t the issue. South Africa had the weapons through the apartheid era. They dismantled them in 1989, the same year Mandela was released from jail, and when it was clear they were heading for full democracy (and thus black-majority rule).

            If one looks at Zimbabwe (or indeed the current South African leaders, who are not in the Mandela league), one can see why they would be wary about ongoing possession.

            1. I guess another interpretation is that under apartheid they had the “us against the world” mentality that underpins possession (cf Israel, North Korea), but that would end with the arrival of full democracy.

      2. Stop being rogue?

        You mean like opening up Iraq to UN Weapon Inspectors, or signing a deal and normalizing relations with the West like Gaddafi? Or like Iran signing an agreement with the West which Trump turned around and repudiated?

        Are we really to believe that if North Korea scrapped its nuclear program, the US is going to tolerant a retrograde Stalinist dictatorship allied with China in East Asia, and not do everything in its power to overthrow the government covertly or directly? Ditto Iran.

        1. Look at what happened to Allende in Chile and to Morales in Bolivia. If the “States” doesn’t like you, and you don’t want to be overthrown, you gotta have teeth.

  3. The Grauniad also had the woolly mammoth story:

    Lamm said: “Our goal isn’t just to bring back the mammoth, but to bring back interbreedable herds that are successfully rewilded back into the Arctic region.”

    Whether Asian elephants would want to breed with the hybrids is, for now, unknown. “We might have to give them a little shave,” said Church.

    Good grief! https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/sep/13/firm-bring-back-woolly-mammoth-from-extinction

    1. He’s not bringing back the fricking mammoth, but a hairy elephant. It will be able to produce fertile hybrids with Asian elephants because it IS an Asian elephant with at most 60 mammoth genes. But, as far as I know, Asian elephants don’t live in Siberia.

      1. There was an interesting documentary a few years ago talking about people harvesting mammoth tusks from the melting Siberian permafrost, and a Chinese company that’s looking to do something similar with genetic engineering – Genesis 2.0.

        Worth a watch.

      2. Yes, I meant to put “woolly mammoth” in scare quotes. The idea of shaving the hairy elephants for their date nights is probably the least ridiculous and most feasible aspect of the whole crackpot project – which says a lot!

      3. I don’t know any more about this, other than “mammoths seem sort of cool”, and what I have read since reading the post.
        But it is interesting to think about. I was trying to read a bit about elephant interbreeding, if such a thing is common, but found the following- “Ancient species of elephants and mammoths interbred, swapping genes that helped them adapt to new habitats and climates, a practice that is lost among modern-day elephants, researchers said… The genome studies “revealed multiple major interbreeding events between different ancient species, highlighting how this played a fundamental role in elephant evolution,” said the report. But they showed no genetic evidence of interbreeding among African forest and savanna elephants, “suggesting they have lived in near-complete isolation for the past 500,000 years, despite living in neighbouring habitats”. ”

        The question of whether African and Asian elephants can interbreed was not answered. There was a chart that showed the Phylogeny, and it appears that the woolly mammoth and the Asian elephant are both of the genus Elephas, while the African elephants are Loxodonta. But it was not particularly linear.

        So, without addressing whether their technical aspirations are possible or likely, It seems like if they do succeed, they won’t have a perfect Mammuthus primigenius. But from looking at the charts provided, there were several types of mammoth, including some more distantly related from each other than Mammuthus primigenius is to the Asian elephant. Elephants seem to have a complicated taxonomy.

        If they succeed, they might end up with “a mammoth”, in the sense that they share physical characteristics and a potential habitat with various ancient mammoth species. And if such an animal was found preserved in the arctic, it would be classified as a mammoth species.

        But again, look at the Nazi aurochs. Very dangerous and ill tempered creatures.

        I was in a bar in Thailand once, and a distraught elephant crashed through the patio and into the bar. Exciting times. I think that people who expect newly bred mammoths to peacefully roam the northern latitudes and avoid interactions with humans or farms might be disappointed.

    2. Do they know that Siberia is warming fast? Wait a couple of years, the time that wild fires decrease, and then use the money to herd existing Proboscidea toward Siberia. This would perhaps be a more profitable undertaking for the elephants and unborn pseudo-mammoths.

    3. Is Church doing a Margulis here?

      His 1984 paper with Walter Gilbert in PNAS described the solid-phase sequencing method that made the Illumina company possible, led to most of the genomics advances of the last 20 years, and has been cited >10,000 times. I guess they will get a Nobel Prize for that someday.

      I would be sad to learn that his judgement has been warped by his past success and his well-justified high opinion of his own ideas.

  4. In this painting Beatrice, in the centre of the group of three women, looks away from Dante.>

    In her defense, it appears she was on her cellphone.

  5. The front page WTC photo on the NYT that day was made by my friend and fellow orchid grower Steve Ludlum. He had a nice camera for taking orchid pictures. Then this happened. He knew he had an iconic picture, but this was in the early days of digital and he still used film. He had to wait an hour to see ithe picture, because he needed to have it developed at one of those photo-finishing stores that used to be everywhere. He won the Pulitzer Prize for it.


    1. That has been a problem from the beginning. At least in our hospital system, anyone treated is tested, and every positive becomes a Covid patient.
      Even if they were admitted for cancer or a broken bone. Whether they had Covid symptoms was not considered relevant.
      If the patient died, they became a Covid death.

      The larger issue is that doing so contaminates the data. It may be years before we can accurately assess the danger of and harm done by Covid.

      Dr. Blancke, who has been following the party line thus far, is starting to get a bit grumpy about how things are going, particularly with the booster shot situation, and the almost complete disregard for the possibility of lasting natural immunity in recovered Covid patients.

      1. “..Even if they were admitted for cancer or a broken bone. Whether they had Covid symptoms was not considered relevant.
        If the patient died, they became a Covid death…”

        However, the significant numbers are far in the opposite direction: At least twice I have read that the excess deaths in US, or parts thereof, over statistically expected, during several months of this pandemic, were roughly 30% or 35% higher than the reported deaths from that virus. And similarly in other countries with a big enough population to make those numbers reasonably accurate statistically.

        We’ll know soon enough of this, which is probably the best estimation of actual covid deaths, maybe with some analysis to slightly modify it (e.g. traffic deaths not quite as would have been expected). By “actual covid deaths” I mean the number of deaths which would not have occurred if covid hadn’t occurred, so don’t nickel and dime me on that definition being ambiguous.

        Even now I’m pretty certain that US is over 3/4 million (very likely > 900,000), and will surely reach a million.

    1. My memory is that Delores Umbridge was played by Miriam Margolyes. That turns out to be false. Umbridge was actually played by Imelda Staunton, who is pictured in the Tweet.

      The above is a long winded way of saying yes.

  6. In other news, AOC went to the Met Gala in a gown that said “Tax the Rich” on the back. She needs to look around and see which side of the firing squad she is on these days.

    1. I don’t understand your point. It is possible to be wealthy and simultaneously recognize that the wealthy are severely under taxed. AOC wouldn’t be the first to do so. The firing squad analogy is pure hyperbole.

        1. Also, she didn’t have to pay for her ticket – they wanted her there and she is not rich. So, I mean, she could have just not gone – but it seems like she decided to use a visible platform to spread a message she feels strongly about.

        2. One of Buffett’s memorable quotes:

          There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.

  7. “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” – He’s not alone:

    Previously, such events held by Unification Church named Rally of Hope, gathered speakers from Trump Administration, e.g. former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Advisor Paula White.


  8. 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.

    Early this summer the daily death toll got down to 197. We could have sustained that were it not for a few red states and their governors. So deeply sad

  9. I like the map of the main languages of India. I know a European country, half the size of Lake Superior, where language on the signs changes after crossing a river, a tunnel or an invisible language border and no national language is understood by everybody.

  10. 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.

    One fun fact about the Hanford location – they had to factor in the wolf packs running about on the reservation to the calculations. Neat stuff!

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