Thursday: Hili dialogue

December 23, 2021 • 7:00 am

First, don’t forget to send me a Christmas-themed cat photo as I requested yesterday evening.  A few words of explanation (and the moggy’s name) will also be useful. Thanks!

Welcome to Thursday, December 23, 2021: National Pfeffernüße Day.  These are iced gingerbread cookies (see photo below and go here for a recipe), and I love them.

It’s also Festivus, National Re-gifting Day, National Roots Day (about your ancestry, and I’ll soon have my results from 23AndMe), as well as Night of the Radishes in Oxaca, Mexico, Tibb’s Eve in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Tom Bawcock’s Eve in one of my favorite British towns, Mousehole(pronounced “Muzzle”) in Cornwall.  Tom Babcock was a fisherman who went out in a storm to help catch fish to relieve a town famine. In his honor, the residents eat a most disgusting pastry: Stargazy Pie, a fish pie with fish heads protruding from the pie!:

The Night of the Radishes celebrates the radish in Oaxaca, native to China but introduced by the Spanish into Mexico (colonialism and cultural appropriation).  People compete to carve the best radish, all of them displayed in Oaxaca’s town square (tonight!)  Note the radish tacos!

News of the Day:

*Two pieces of good Covid-10 news in the face of the Christmas surges and lockdowns. First, research in South Africa shows that the omicron variant may be less severe than thought—even less severe than the delta variant

. . . A study by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) suggested that those infected with Omicron were much less likely to end up in hospital than those with the Delta strain. read more

COVID-19 cases also appear to have peaked in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where Omicron first emerged, it said.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, compared South African Omicron data from October and November with data about Delta between April and November.

“In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” the NICD’s Professor Cheryl Cohen said.

But caveat emptor.  These results are preliminary and not yet published.

Further, the FDA has just authorized the Pfizer antiviral pill for home use against the virus, and it appears to work against all variants!

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s drug for adults and children ages 12 and older with a positive COVID-19 test and early symptoms who face the highest risks of hospitalization. That includes older people and those with conditions like obesity and heart disease, though the drug is not recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems. Children eligible for the drug must weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms).

The pills from both Pfizer and Merck are expected to be effective against omicron because they don’t target the spike protein where most of the variant’s worrisome mutations reside.

. . . Patients will need a positive COVID-19 test to get a prescription. And Paxlovid has only proven effective if given within five days of symptoms appearing. With testing supplies stretched, experts worry it may be unrealistic for patients to self-diagnose, get tested, see a physician and pick up a prescription within that narrow window.

See  the third tweet at the bottom for what may be the best Covid-19news of all.

*The Washington Post has a report, a photo, and a link to a paper describing the best preserved unhatched dinosaur ever found (h/t Paul). First, the stunning photo of the fossil, an ovoraptor found in China.

(From the article): Nicknamed Baby Yingliang, one of the most well-preserved dinosaur embryos in the world suggests that dinosaurs tucked their heads before hatching, a practice that is common among modern birds. (Lida Xing/University of Birmingham/AFP/Getty Images)

And some text:

In one of the most well-preserved dinosaur embryos ever found, a baby dinosaur curled its back and tucked its head in a position that is similar to modern birds before they hatch, a discovery that scientists say could shed new light on how dinosaurs developed in their early stages.

A peer-reviewed article, published Tuesday by iScience, said the dinosaur had its head placed between its legs and under its body, with its back bent along the eggshell. The research team said this position, previously not found in any non-avian dinosaurs, is comparable to pre-tucking in a bird embryo like that of a chicken.

By tucking their heads under their wings in the days before hatching, chicks can stabilize them and have a better chance of surviving the birthing process, the paper explained, adding that this behavior was thought to be unique in birds but now may be traced to dinosaurs.

*The two big trials of the moment, those of Ghislaine Maxwell and Elizabeth Holmes, are now in the hands of jurors. The Miami Herald reports that the jury’s repeated questions to the judge indicates that they’re carefully scrutinizing the testimony of the accusers (who say they were procured by Maxwell for sex when underage), and these questions have heartened the defense attorneys. The jury has taken a break for Christmas.

In the Holmes case, the Washington Post reports that the jurors asked the judge whether they could take the 39 pages (!) of jury instructions home with them to “review them at length.” No dice:

The request was swiftly denied by the judge.

“All deliberations must occur in the jury room,” Judge Edward J. Davila said he would write in response to the jurors. “No.”

Lawyers on both sides agreed with his decision. The jurors have three months of evidence to sift through while considering their decision on whether Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing start-up Theranos, should be convicted on 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The jury is scheduled to be off Wednesday and reconvene Thursday.

*I didn’t know about the Netflix show “Emily in Paris,” but an old Paris hand, Jason Farago, takes it apart in the NYT in one of the funniest nasty reviews I’ve seen. What really twists Farago’s shorts is that they filmed an episode in one of his favorite and little-known bistros, now sure to attract hordes of tourists. I feel his pain!  A bit of the review:

I have friends who say they watch idiotic television like this to “turn their brains off,” but I had the opposite sensation: My brain was so untaxed it started working overtime. When I wasn’t scrolling on my phone, I found myself involuntarily writing new episodes that could bring a little real Paris into the Place Emily. After an hour they just started writing themselves: Emily mistypes an address in her taxi app, and ends up at an Éric Zemmour rally. Emily’s best friend from Dubai visits, but her head scarf causes a commotion at Savoir …

But Paris, in “Emily in Paris,” is less a city than a series of convertible backdrops. Lunch at the Café Marly at the Louvre. Coffee on the roof of Galeries Lafayette. Drinks at the bar of the Lutetia Hotel. Above all there is the Place Emily, the perfect little left-bank hideaway, where our American takes over my square for her own private dinner party.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 810475, an increase of 1,349 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,396,088, an increase of about 8,000 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 23 includes:

  • 1688 – As part of the Glorious Revolution, King James II of England flees from England to Paris, France after being deposed in favor of his nephew, William of Orange and his daughter Mary.
  • 1783 – George Washington resigns as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland.
  • 1815 – The novel Emma by Jane Austen is first published.

A first edition of this puppy will cost you $33,400:

Note that no name is given on the title page:

  • 1947 – The transistor is first demonstrated at Bell Laboratories.

Here is “A replica of the first working transistor, a point-contact transistor invented in 1947.”

It was between identical twins, and so was a success—the recipient lived 8 more years and died of nephritis from his pre-transplant condition. This was the first time surgery had ever been performed on a patient (the donor) without anything being wrong.  In 1990 Murray shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine with E.D. Thomas for work on transplantation.

Here’s the transplantation team: (left to right): Harrison, Merrill, Murray

The Pueblo is now an anti-American museum moored in Pyongyang. Here’s a DPRK propaganda photo of the prisoners, secretly flipping off the photographer:

(From Wikipedia): North Korean Propaganda Photograph of prisoners of USS Pueblo. Photo and explanation from the Time article that blew the Hawaiian Good Luck Sign secret. The sailors were flipping the middle finger, as a way to covertly protest their captivity in North Korea, and the propaganda on their treatment and guilt. The North Koreans for months photographed them without knowing the real meaning of flipping the middle finger, while the sailors explained that the sign meant good luck in Hawaii.

13 survivors were ultimately rescued after two of them first climbed the peak behind this memorial as the crash site, but had to return. The rescue occurred when two hiked down and saw some men across a river. They threw a letter, wrapped around a rock, across the river, which led to the rescue.


The note that brought rescue:

  • 1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without aerial or ground refueling.

Amazing: they were aloft for 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds.  Here’s a 13-minute video of the flight from start to finish:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1745 – John Jay, American jurist and politician, 1st Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1829)
  • 1805 – Joseph Smith, American religious leader, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (d. 1844)
  • 1854 – Henry B. Guppy, English botanist and author (d. 1926)
  • 1902 – Norman Maclean, American author and academic (d. 1990)

Maclean was one of our: a professor of English at the University of Chicago. He’s best known for his wonderful book, A River Runs Through It.

  • 1929 – Chet Baker, American jazz trumpet player, flugelhorn player, and singer (d. 1988)

Here’s Chet Baker and his Quintet in Belgium in 1961:

  • 1952 – William Kristol, American journalist, publisher, and political activist/pundit
  • 1958 – Joan Severance, American actress
  • 1963 – Donna Tartt, American author

Tartt (below) wrote The Goldfinchwhich won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013. I’ve been contemplating reading it—should I? Tartt is five feet tall and dresses in men’s clothes, sometimes with combat boots.  Here she is interviewed by Charlie Rose:

  • 1967 – Carla Bruni, Italian-French singer-songwriter and model

Those who took their last breath on December 23 include:

  • 1939 – Anthony Fokker, Indonesia-born Dutch pilot and engineer, designed the Fokker Dr.I and Fokker D.VII (b. 1890)
  • 1948 – Hideki Tojo, Japanese general and politician, 40th Prime Minister of Japan (b. 1884)

Tojo supervised many events that were war crimes, “including the massacre and starvation of civilians and prisoners of war. He was also involved in the sexual enslavement of thousands of mostly Korean women and girls for Japanese soldiers, an event that has consistently brought renewed strains to modern Japanese-Korean relations.  He was hanged for his actions in 1948. Here he is with his decorations.

Right before he was arrested in 1945, he tried to shoot himself in the heart but missed and survived, only to be hanged in three more years. Here’s after his botched suicide attempt. Wikipedia says this:

After recovering from his injuries, Tojo was moved to Sugamo Prison. While there, he received a new set of dentures, made by an American dentist, into which the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” had been secretly drilled in Morse code. The dentist ground away the message three months later.

Beria was a nasty piece of work. As Stalin’s head of the secret police (NKVD), he was responsible for the death of thousands, including 22,000 Polish intellectuals and soldiers shot in the Katyn Forest in 1940 (Stalin always claimed that the Nazis had done it). He was also a sexual predator who kidnapped and raped hundreds of women, and killed many of them. In the end, Beria was tried for treason shortly after Stalin’s death and shot; reportedly on his knees and begging for his life.

Here’s the evil man:

And here’s an important document, the order for the Katyn Massacre (caption from Wikipedia):

The first page of Beria’s notice (oversigned by Stalin and several other officials), to kill approximately 15,000 Polish officers and some 10,000 more intellectuals in the Katyn Forest and other places in the Soviet Union
  • 1973 – Charles Atlas, Italian-American bodybuilder and model (b. 1892)

Remember these ads for his body-building system?:

  • 2007 – Oscar Peterson, Canadian pianist and composer (b. 1925)
  • 2013 – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian general and weapons designer, designed the AK-47 rifle (b. 1919)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili again bemoans the death of reason. Someone give her Pinker’s new book!

Hili: Skepticism is a niche for reasonable people.
A: A tiny niche.
In Polish:
Hili Sceptycyzm jest niszą rozsądnych.
Ja: Bardzo malutką niszą.

From Divy:

From Bruce:

From somewhere on Facebook (I can’t recall): a woman sharing a snack with a gorgeous mallard hen:

From Ken, who says, “This one should send the anti-vaxxers into lower earth orbit.”  What could go wrong?

Also from Ken, who adds, “One needn’t be able to read the past-performance charts in The Daily Racing Form to figure this one out”. The first group are infection cases; the second group is deaths.

Speaking of vaccinations, reader Barry sent this tweet saying, “Holy crap, indeed!”

From Ginger K., who asks, “Seriously, what’s the difference?”

Tweets from Matthew, who love mimicry as much as I do. And I have NEVER heard of a feather mimic!  Note that the video was taken by the late great Andreas Kay, naturalist nonpareil and rediscoverer of my eponymous frog Atelopus coynei.

I forgot whether I tweeted this before, but it’s worth seeing again. A 110-pound millipede that was eight feet long!

There are times I admire Francis Collins, head of the NIH who just announced he’s stepping down. This is not one of those times:

Matthew said, “this will cheer you up”, and it did!

37 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

  1. Note the radish tacos!

    Forget the tacos – the second picture is emblazoned with a radish proclaiming allegiance to the “Juego de Pelota” – which I hadn’t heard of outside the Basque Country. So it has got across to the Atlantic to Mexico, has it.
    Actually, given the speed of the game – well the ball, at least – the short bouts (rounds?, sets?) allowing the advertisers to get their slice of time … I’m slightly surprised that it the TV sponsors haven’t caught onto it. Or maybe they have, and the news hasn’t come back across the Pond.

    1. The pelota vasca is not only played in the Basque Country. I know somebody who used to play the pala corta specialty at a competitive level in Southern Spain. Mexico has won 50 gold medals at the World Championships, Argentina 48, according to Wikipedia; these two countries have won almost as many gold medals as Spain and France.

  2. The BBC just marked the 40th anniversary of the Penlee Lifeboat Disaster in which eight volunteers, most of them from Mousehole, died trying to rescue the crew of a stricken ship. The landlord of Mousehole’s only pub was amongst the lifeboat crew and that year’s Tom Bawcock’s Eve was cancelled. The docudrama features the testimonies of relatives of the crew. Sadly, all those who had been onboard the ship the Union Star were also lost, including the captain’s pregnant wife and children who were in the lifeboat when it sank. You can listen to the programme here:

  3. Covid-10 news

    Typo –^^

    First, research in South Africa shows that the omicron variant may be less severe than thought—even less severe than the delta variant

    The warnings coming from the UK’s health authorities though point out that even if Omicron results in (say) 50% of the hospitalisations, if the rapid spread results in 250-350% of the case numbers, you’re still going to have a severe problem.
    The speed at which case numbers are increasing in the UK – with a strong testing basis – does not bode well. As that kicks off in America – within the “festive” week – that’s going to give some bad numbers. While vaccination and boosters do seem to be managing the death- and hospitalisation- tolls to a significant degree, the medication front need to get ahead with something that has a longer-lasting effect on either infection or transmission. Targeting another surface protein, perhaps? or something in the replication or transcription biochemistry (but that has a higher chance of interacting badly with human physiology)? I’m sure people are trying different strategies.

    1. Molnupiravir targets replication and was just (narrowly) approved. It seems to only be moderately effective, tho.

      The big one, I think, will be Pfizer’s Paxlovid, approved yesterday. It targets the viral protease that specifically cleaves the virally-encoded pre-protein at 11 sites where there is a glutamine-glycine (QG) sequence. For the virus to escape that, the specificity of the protease and all 11 of those sites would have to change simultaneously. Checkmate!

      1. Unfortunately, Paxlovid is most effective within the first 3–5 days of symptoms, and the FDA approval requires a positive PCR test for a prescription. So people will have to recognize symptoms, then get a test, then get the test result back, then go fill the prescription. Seems likely to delay effectiveness of the treatment. It sounds like a great drug but under the circumstances should be available OTC.

    2. Did anyone else catch this boner?: “Walter Reed Army Institute of Research . . . received its first DNA sequencing of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020.” The patently false DNA claim is transcribed from the military technology source site: COVID-19 is caused by an RNA virus that doesn’t contain DNA. And pardon me, but it is not possible to predict future viral mutations and develop a single anticipatory vaccine against them. Our tax dollars at work!
      And yes, if the omicron variant only kills half as many of those infected but infects 10 times the number of people, we are in deep stuff. Let’s hope Paxlovid turns out as effective as it is billed to be.

  4. ”Tartt is five feet tall and dresses in men’s clothes“

    Rather unusual, but probably irrelevant to her literary output. Of course, being unusual is usually a conscious decision.

    I remember when women wearing blue jeans were considered to be wearing men’s clothing.

    I’ve also seen a few straight (“cis”) men with finger- and toenail polish.

    Thankfully, I am immune to fashion.

    1. Not too ling ago, women wearing blue jeans WERE wearing men’s cloths.

      When I first started wrangling horses in the mid ’70s, women’s jeans were not sturdy enough for anything resembling ranch work. I wore men’s jeans because they stood up to the job I was doing.

      There are some companies now that make good work clothes for women, like Duluth and Berne and a few others, but the pants don’t fit me right. I don’t know how representative I am. My winter coveralls are Berne and they fit perfectly, but don’t involve a waistband.


    2. To actually (attempt) to answer Jerry’s question

      Tartt (below) wrote The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013. I’ve been contemplating reading it—should I?

      A year or so after it’s release, the wife got the book as an audiobook for a driving trip we had. Neither of us can remember a thing about it – it was stunningly (sense : liable to induce unconsciousness) interesting. The wife is a Donna Tartt fan – or was until then.

  5. Jerry, from assorted reviews, I gather “‎The Goldfinch” is a few hundred pages too long. But I read and recommend “The Secret History”: a great crime spiel with immense scholarship.

  6. Further, the FDA has just authorized the Pfizer antiviral pill for home use against the virus, and it appears to work against all variants!
    […]The pills from both Pfizer and Merck are expected to be effective against omicron because they don’t target the spike protein where most of the variant’s worrisome mutations reside.

    A new protein target is necessary. But it’s also a new evolutionary pressure on the virus, which will evolve to evade it. What is needed is to get sufficient different lines of attack going in each experiment (vaccine/ treatment recipient) that each suite of mutations in each individual virion doesn’t have sufficient advantage over the next to “break out” from the “killing ground” – to use the language of warfare.
    Ooops, that’s Hogmanay shot in the back of the head. (I missed the midday news.)
    Well, no surprise there.

    1. Fighting Covid isn’t just keeping people from getting sick. It also involves slowing viral adaptation. One way to slow its evolutionary response is to keep the number of Covid cases, and therefore the number of virons available to mutate into new pernicious variants, as low as possible. Mild cases of Covid-19, because they are so common, may be as or more important than severe infections in generating new disease variants.

      1. That is probably true. But the likelihood that the populace will put up with stringent (or any) public health restrictions to control transmission of a trivially mild disease against the chance that someday it might mutate again is precisely zero.

        This isn’t just supposition. We’ve already voted that way on booster doses of vaccine The WHO pleaded and scolded rich countries (the ones with old fat populations) to forgo third doses in order that poor countries (with young lean populations) could ramp up their vaccination programs, and pointed to that reason of enlightened self-interested. Well. We are seeing how that worked out.

  7. If you have not looked at the Voyager please do. It is very good, although not 13 minutes, 31 minutes. I may have mentioned Dick Rutan was in the Air Force and was stationed at RAF Lakenheath during part of the same time I was there. We were both in the same outfit – 492 Tactical Fighter Squadron (TAC). He was a pilot & test pilot and I was a crewchief.

  8. For readers, one correction if you are scheduling your viewing: the voyager video is about 31 minutes, not 13 minutes long. But well worth the watch. Thanks jerry.

  9. 1929 – Chet Baker, American jazz trumpet player, flugelhorn player, and singer (d. 1988)

    Baker’s most popular vocal was probably his cover of the Rodgers & Hart showtune “My Funny Valentine.”

    In his early years, Baker had chiseled good looks that landed him the romantic lead in a couple Hollywood movies. But a life of dissipation and drug addiction — as well as a beatdown he took that forced him to change his embouchure — left him in the condition captured in a series of portraits Richard Avedon took of him, some of which graced the covers of Baker’s later albums:–swing-jazz-chet-baker.jpg

    1. I guess everything counts – his sound though is the strongest – deeply expressive, trumpet or voice –

      Satchmo and Baker – I do not recall any other horn-and-vocal musicians besides them.

    2. ” a beatdown he took”

      What is that?

      Yeah – his look really changed – his sound stayed (to my ear).

      … On that topic, Bill Evans look also evinced in me a certain pain, seeing his fingers so swollen from methadone. Yet, his sound was brilliant. It is tragic.

      1. Baker got badly beaten up, resulting in a broken tooth, likely during a drug deal gone bad. His assailants were never arrested or charged, in part because Chet gave inconsistent accounts of the incident.

  10. It looks to my eye like the prisoner bottom row 2nd position from left to right has his head pasted on from another photo. The head has proportions just a tad different than my eye is expecting from the shoulders, the other heads, etc.

  11. 225 year old cat and kitten prints on my fireplace hearth

    As a Twitter commentator commented, the bricks were evidently marked before being set, so the brick maker (or brick layer, if different) clearly selected the marked bricks and chose to set them together.

    It isn’t implausible that the “kitten” and “adult” size prints were made by the same paws, several years apart, and the brick maker kept the first one until he noticed the second and decided to incorporate them as a “feature”.
    And if you’re thinking that way, then there may be an entire trail of prints – first and second generation – and an entire trail of 225-year-ago customers, each individually charmed by their uniquely whimsical kitchen floor bricks.

    1. In the world of brickmasonry that I’ve gotten into in the last four years, a brick laid with a distinguishing mark or flaw on one side is called a “shiner”. Shiners can be good or bad. If the objective is a wall with all uniform bricks, laying a shiner is a momentary lapse. You might hear, “You got a shiner there.” Or, you might want to show some artistic feature on one side of a brick, so you might hear, “Did you want this one laid as a shiner?”

  12. I would think that feather mimicry might be counter-productive. I can imagine a bird scooping that up for use in building a nest. (And can also imagine a cartoon where the nest is mostly those caterpillars, and walks off.)

    1. If the caterpillar belongs to a Megalopyge moth, and it looks like it may, it has a terrible sting, and the caterpillar’s feather-like pattern is likely warning (aposematic) in function. A bird inhabiting the calm interior of an Ecuadorian rainforest is likely to be suspicious of conspicuous white feathers ‘magically’ walking along branches, and once stung, would give feather-like caterpillar a wide berth. If the caterpillar were edible, the bird’s algorithm should be “if a feather walks, eat it.” The caterpillar’s resemblance to a feather would be, in this view, something akin to Müllerian mimicry.

  13. I forgot whether I tweeted this before, but it’s worth seeing again. A 110-pound millipede that was eight feet long!

    2.5m-long 50kg millipede!!!

    It’s nice to see a body-fossil of Arthropleura – which is considerably better known from it’s ichnofossil (“footprint trace”, very loosely) Diplichnites cuthensis, which is found in many Carboniferous-age coal basins, and thus has featured in many geology student’s field trips. As is the nature of trace fossils, it is hard to precisely associate one particular pattern of marks constituting a trace fossil with one particular set of remains of a body fossil. There may well have been a number of different organisms that gave rise to this trace fossil over a period of millions of years. The famous “first family” footprint trails at Laetoli, Tanzania are often described as “human” footprints, though at 3.7 million years old, it’s fairly unlikely that the trail-makers were even members of the genus “Homo” (whichever particular definition of “Homo” you’re using in this phase of the Moon)

    One thing that can be said with certainty is, that in common with almost all millipedes, it did not have 1,000 legs – the researchers believe it had at least 32, but it may have been up to 64.

    There was a recent (last few weeks?) discovery of a few specimens of a millipede with specimens whose leg-count does average above 1000. But a couple of hundred is much more typical.

  14. [Lavrentiy] Beria was a nasty piece of work. As Stalin’s head of the secret police (NKVD), he was responsible for the death of thousands …

    According to Nikita Khrushchev and others who were present, as Stalin lay in a coma dying, Beria began badmouthing him to the other Soviet leaders who had gathered for the deathwatch (probably in an effort to position himself as Stalin’s successor). Suddenly, Stalin stirred in his hospital bed, and Beria, fearing he had regained consciousness, fell to his knees, kissing Stalin’s hand and praising him as a great leader.

    A real piece of work, indeed.

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