Wednesday: Hili dialogue

December 29, 2021 • 7:00 am

Good morning on Hump Day, or, as they say in Russia, Горбатый день.  Yes, it’s December 29, 2021, the fifth and penultimate day of Coynezaa. It’s National “Get on the Scales” Day, which is impossible because I don’t own scales and never did. They’re just a source of anxiety: I judge my weight gains and losses by how my pants fit.

It’s also National Pepper Pot Day (it’s a soup), National Hero Day, and Tick Tock Day (a reminder that we’d better finish off our tasks for 2021). Finally, it’s the fifth day of Christmas and the fourth day of Kwanzaa.

News of the Day:

*Even the New York Times has taken the CDC to task for ham-handedness, the latest incident being the agency’s inaccurate estimation of the prevalence of the omicron variant among all Covid cases. The revisions have been drastic and constant, and, to be sure, it’s hard to estimate given that variants must be sequenced to be reported. Still, perhaps the CDC, if there is so much uncertainty involved, might either admit that it doesn’t know, or hedge its estimates by saying they could be considerably off.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the Omicron variant now accounts for roughly 59 percent of all Covid cases in the United States, a significant decrease from the agency’s previous estimate. The update shows how hard it is to track the fast-spreading variant in real time and how poorly the agency has communicated its uncertainty, experts said.

Last week, the C.D.C. said that Omicron accounted for approximately 73 percent of variants circulating in the United States in the week ending Dec. 18. But in its revision, the agency said the variant accounted for about 23 percent of cases that week.

In other words, Delta, which has dominated U.S. infections since summer, still reigned in the United States that week. That could mean that a significant number of current Covid hospitalizations were driven by infections from Delta, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, suggested on Twitter. Hospitalizations typically lag several weeks behind initial infections.

This matters because, as far as we know, the Delta variant is more likely to do in adults than the omicron variant. I know that these estimates are like trying to fix a car when it’s moving, but perhaps a lot of the public distrusts the CDC (and the vaccine) because they hear about these drastic revisions. The latest one, reducing quarantine time from 10 to 5 days for the asymptomatic people or those with abating symptoms, was made not for health but for public convenience, and it’s based on the “honor system.”

*Your Tax Dollars At Work Department: The New York Post (and the Times of London) report that, using government money, NASA has hired 24 theologians (that’s right, 24) Why? The Post explains  (h/t Barry):

Between heaven and Earth, where do aliens fit in?

That’s the question that NASA hopes theologians at the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, New Jersey, can answer, in a recent effort to understand how humans will react to news that intelligent life exists on other planets.

University of Cambridge religious scholar Rev. Dr. Andrew Davison, who also holds a doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford, is one of the 24 theologians enlisted to help with the project, the Times UK reported last week.

In a recent statement on the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity blog, Davison says his research so far has already seen “just how frequently theology-and-astrobiology has been topic in popular writing” during the previous 150 years.

Remember, it’s unlikely we’ll learn about life on other planets any time soon. This is just an exercise in wheel-spinning, giving theologians something to do besides interpreting works of fiction.

But wait! This isn’t the first time that NASA has given money to the enter for Theological Inquiry:

This is the latest dispatch to come in a partnership between the US space agency and the religious institute. In 2014, NASA awarded CTI a $1.1 million grant to study worshippers’ interest in and openness to scientific inquiry called the Societal Implications of Astrobiology study.

Studies have shown links between religiosity and belief in extraterrestrial intelligence. Research published in 2017 found that people with a strong desire to find meaning, but a low adherence to a particular religion, are more likely to believe aliens exist — indicating that faith in either theory may come from the same human impulse.

What about the separation of church and state? I don’t want my taxes used to line the pockets of theologians of any stripe, especially when they’re engaged in project as frivolous as these.

* Reader Ken tells us this (his quote):

“According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, Chief Justice John Roberts has the American public’s highest job-approval rating among federal officials.”

Sure, he’s a “centrist” in comparison to the five harcore conservative justices to his right, but let us not forget that he’s also the author of the Court’s two majority opinions gutting the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, as well as a host of other horrid opinions.”
Here are the other ratings. Note that Uncle Joe tops out at 43% approval, just one point below Kamala Harris, but Mitch “666” McConnell bottoms out at 34%. What do these numbers mean?

Click screenshot to enlarge:

*”Mr. Football”, aka John Madden, died yesterday at 85. No cause of death was given—just that he died “unexpectedly.” After coaching the Oakland Raiders football team for seven years, and winning one Superbowl—as ESPN notes, “Madden compiled a 103-32-7 regular-season record, and his .759 winning percentage is the best among NFL coaches with more than 100 games—he retired from coaching at 42 and became really famous for broadcasting and announcing football on television for decades. To the American public, he was the face and voice of the National Football league.  Here he is:

*According to reader Gert, who sent the link, the BBC reports that Russia’s oldest civil rights group has been, well, legally “liquidated” by the courts. It’s very sad. According to the report:

Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered the closure of International Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights group.

Memorial worked to recover the memory of the millions of innocent people executed, imprisoned or persecuted in the Soviet era.

Formally it has been “liquidated” for failing to mark a number of social media posts with its official status as a “foreign agent”.

That designation was given in 2016 for receiving funding from abroad.

But in court, the prosecutor labelled Memorial a “public threat”, accusing the group of being in the pay of the West to focus attention on Soviet crimes instead of highlighting a “glorious past”.

Founded in 1989, Memorial became a symbol of a country opening up to the world – and to itself – as Russia began examining the darkest chapters of its past. Its closure is a stark symbol of how the country has turned back in on itself under President Vladimir Putin, rejecting criticism – even of history – as a hostile act.

*The words of speech pioneer Thomas Paine are now being censored on Twitter and Instagram, according to Reclaim.  (h/t Anna)

Whatever the case, multiple Facebook and Instagram users were saying on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday that their posts were either removed or that they had their accounts temporarily blocked for uploading a picture of Paine and his quote, reading, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest,” that comes from Paine’s writings in the Pennsylvania Journal, 24 April, 1776. 

According to Facebook’s censorship machine, that is false information, worthy of bans and deletions.

The irony of yet another instance of suppression of speech is particularly painful here (no pun intended) given Paine’s own pro-freedom, individual liberty and human rights, as well as anti-slavery stances, that made him a prominent Enlightenment figure.

Here are two examples, the first from Instagram and the second from Facebook, about suspensions, the first showing the horrifying post that violates “community standards” (apparently the community being Oceania:

This post apparently was just of the meme above, and had nothing to do with information about vaccination and health. Nevertheless, Big Brother deep-sixed it:

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 819,201, an increase of 1,243 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,433,562, an increase of about 8,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 29 includes:

Here’s the entire movie Becket (1964), starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. The murder scene begins at 2:18:40, but the movie goes on a bit after that. In reality, he wasn’t killed like they show: the top of his head was sliced off with a single sword blow, and that did him in.

Here’s a representation of the Powhatan princess—the only one made during her lifetime. The long caption is from Wikipedia:

Engraved portrait of Matoaks or Rebecka, the Native American woman better known as Pocahontas, made in 1616 during her trip in England, where she died shortly after. It is the only known representation of her made during her lifetime. “It is believed that Simon van de Passe (1595-1647), the Dutch engraver, sketched her likeness in an actual sitting, then created the engraving for the Virginia Company to use in their publicity campaign. This is the closest we’ll ever get to knowing what Pocahontas looked like. […] The clothes that Pocahontas is wearing in the portrait are meant to show how well integrated she was into English life in order to reassure investors that the natives could be made to adopt English ways.” — Kevin Miller, in: Miller, Kevin (2018). Portraits. Pocahontas Lives!.

Here’s one of the Sioux leaders dead in the snow (caption from Wikipedia):

Son of Miniconjou, Lakota Sioux Chief Spotted Elk lies dead after the massacre of Wounded Knee, 1890

Here he is in 1880. The Lakota had surrendered peacefully the day before, but the Army attacked the encamped Lakota and massacred them:

Cheyenee River Delegation portrait, 1888

Here are nine minutes of excerpts, and you can watch the whole movie on YouTube:

A signed first edition of this book will run you around $45,000:

  • 1937 – The Irish Free State is replaced by a new state called Ireland with the adoption of a new constitution.
  • 1989 – Czech writer, philosopher and dissident Václav Havel is elected the first post-communist President of Czechoslovakia.
  • 2003 – The last known speaker of Akkala Sami dies, rendering the language extinct.

Sami were formerly known as Lapps, and the language was spoken in northern Scandinavia. Recordings of it still exist, but it’s not spoken as a regular language.

Notables born on this day include:

Goodyear is the man who learned to “vulcanize” rubber by combining it with sulfur and heating it, toughening the rubber. His name lives on in the company he started. Here’s Goodyear:

  • 1808 – Andrew Johnson, American general and politician, 17th President of the United States (d. 1875)
  • 1876 – Pablo Casals, Catalan cellist and conductor (d. 1973)
  • 1911 – Klaus Fuchs, German physicist and spy (d. 1988)
  • 1936 – Mary Tyler Moore, American actress and producer (d. 2017)

In both the Dick van Dyke show and her own eponymous show, MTM was fantastic.  Remember this opening of The Mary Tyler Moore show?  Her hat-tossing at the end of the intro has been memorialized in Minneapolis (where the show took place) with a bronze statue:

  • 1943 – Rick Danko, Canadian singer-songwriter, bass player, and producer (d. 1999)
  • 1946 – Marianne Faithfull, English singer-songwriter and actress

Remember the stories about her being found naked and wrapped up in a rug when the cops raided a party at Mick Jagger’s house (she was his girlfriend for a while)? Here’s a classic photo; caption by Wikipedia:

Michael Cooper, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Shepard Sherbell, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Brian Jones at the Royal Concertgebouw on 1 September 1967
  • 1972 – Jude Law, English actor

Those who made the frog sound on December 29 include:

  • 1170 – Thomas Becket, English archbishop and saint (b. 1118) [see above]
  • 1890 – Spotted Elk, American tribal leader (b. 1826) [see photo above]
  • 1894 – Christina Rossetti, English poet and hymn-writer (b. 1830)
  • 1926 – Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian poet and author (b. 1875)
  • 1937 – Don Marquis, American journalist, author, and playwright (b. 1878)

If you haven’t read his poetry and picture books about archy and mehitabel, starring a typing cockroach and an old female alley cat, do so immediately. One drawing:

Henderson was second only to Duke Ellington as a composer and arranger of jazz, and also conducted an orchestra. Here’s his big band playing his “Wrappin’ It Up”, a later hit for Benny Goodmen (though Henderson wrote the song). You can hear the echoes of earlier jazz but also a distinct style that influenced Ellington:

  • 1967 – Paul Whiteman, American violinist, composer, and conductor (b. 1890)
  • 1986 – Harold Macmillan, English captain and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1894)
  • 2004 – Julius Axelrod, American biochemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1912)
  • 2020 – Pierre Cardin, Italian-French fashion designer (b. 1922)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili takes Andrzej’s question literally.

A: We have to return to reality.
Hili: Which way?
In Polish:
Ja: Trzeba powrócić do rzeczywistości.
Hili: Którędy?

And Szaron in a nook by the fireplace where they keep the firewood.

From Charitha Fernando at Brave and Beautiful World. What animal do you see?

From reader Bruce:

A cartoon from reader Tom:

A tweet from God!

From Mark Plotkin. No explanation yet for this phenomenon:

Courtesy of Ginger K. a tweet from Bette Midler and a reply:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a survivor (a priest):

Tweets from Matthew.  The first one links to a film that I’ll put below the tweet:

Squid chilling in the ocean:

I believe the Webb has already deployed the solar panels, but I’m not certain:

82 thoughts on “Wednesday: Hili dialogue

  1. ”Sami were formerly known as Lapps, and the language was spoken in northern Scandinavia. Recordings of it still exist, but it’s not spoken as a regular language.”

    The last native speaker you mention was the last native speaker of a dialect of Sami spoken in Russia. In northern (and, due to movement within the countries, in other parts of) Scandinavia as well, Sami is alive and well and is an official language in Sweden and Norway (and, probably, Finland, although Finland is not part of Scandinavia, but is part of the Nordic countries).

    1. Yes, I was going to post the same. Although the last native speaker of that variety of Sámi (or Saami) died, there are others who speak it as a second language. There is also a Sámi language institute in Norway.

    2. Seems indigenous languages are going extinct all the time. Wikipedia has a list of 27 that have disappeared — the last known speaker died — since 2010. That is more than one language lost per year. Curiously, a significant number, eight, disappeared from the US compared to “only” three from Brazil. What goes?

      1. Firms go out of business all the time when they can no longer make what people what to buy. Why shouldn’t languages be also subject to creative destruction? Subsidizing loss-making businesses is as foolish as paying to teach an indigenous language that no one else in the world speaks, and one that not even the native speakers care enough about to pass on.

  2. ”Sami were formerly known as Lapps, and the language was spoken in northern Scandinavia. Recordings of it still exist, but it’s not spoken as a regular language.”

    The last native speaker you mention was the last native speaker of a dialect of Sami spoken in Russia. In northern (and, due to movement within the countries, also in other parts of) Scandinavia, Sami is alive and well and is an official language in Sweden and Norway (and, probably, Finland, although Finland is not part of Scandinavia, but is part of the Nordic countries).

  3. Sorry for the repeated comment. The first one didn’t show up, so I assumed that it didn’t get through (reloading the page didn’t help). Both appeared with some delay (it is now 3 minutes after the second one that I see them both for the first time).

    Also, I no longer have the option to edit them.

    Anyone else with similar problems?

    1. Yep. It happens to me, too. The first time or two, I reposted, but then found out that both ended up coming through. In retrospect, only a few posts have been lost to the ether.

      I don’t know if it is a bug with WordPress or with my browser extensions.

      Based on the fact that your posts are character-for-character identiI guess you’re composing them in a different editor; I approve. I usually just compose mine directly in my browser. I should have learned by now. *sigh*

    2. Yes, in the sense that often my comments take a while to show up. I usually wait for about ten minutes before reposting.

      The edit button does not appear consistently, so I am thinking of writing the longer comments somewhere else and pasting them here — too many mangled sentences otherwise.

      1. At some point I noticed the edit button, but since then I have always seen it, until today.

        Interestingly, I saw your comment in the RSS feed a few minutes before it showed up here, allowing me to reply to it.

        Something strange is going on.

        I write many comments and usually everything works. Some never get through. I suspect that that is because they are misclassified as spam and the blogger doesn’t respond to my requests to look into it. Occasionally they just don’t show up, or with delay; such problems are usually temporary, almost always WordPress sites. Some always work. I’ve gotten into the habit of writing a comment, then selecting it and copying it in case I need to repost it.

        EDIT: the comment following this one hasn’t showed up yet, so “back to normal” was just a temporary reprise. I also have the edit button for this one but not for the other ones.

    3. Hrm. I posted the response that I was having problems (due to WordPress or my browser extensions?) and appreciated that you were apparently saving your posts in a separate file in case the post wasn’t successful.

      And then I went downstairs to feed four hungry cats. By the time I finished, it looks like, *poof* my post is gone. Most of my missing posts eventually show up, but one yesterday did not.

    4. The edit function never appears on my PC, but it does on my iPad. I will see if I can edit this comment as I’m on the iPad.

  4. Realizing politics is a distant second to football, Harry Reid, Senator from Utah also died yesterday, age 82. Maybe Gallup could have another meaningless poll. You know things are getting bad when every poll is another embarrassment.

  5. Between heaven and Earth, where do aliens fit in?

    I’d like to hear theologians take a position on this upfront: which is more consistent with the existence of God — that God so loved humankind that He made it unique in the universe, or that God so finetuned the universe that the universe is rife with life, including intelligent life. Because I think they could argue that one either way, the law of noncontradiction be damned.

    1. On top of that, if these intelligent life forms have souls, then they had to wait billions of years for earthlings to bring them the Gospel. How many millions or billions of them perished and went to hell before they received the Good News of the Savior?

      1. Ah, but Baby Jesus might have been sent directly to them, taking the form of their most advanced sentient beings, long ago – maybe billions of years ago.

        And suppose those alien beings had evolved noodly appendages? That would imply that their Baby Jesus was the Son of the FSM.

        See, we can do Advanced Theology too!

      2. My understanding is that it goes both ways. Not only have I heard (*) that people claim that Jesus’ death, etc., happened multiple times on Earth (North America, Korea, elsewhere), but that it could also happen on other planets. That said, I believe Catholic doctrine currently says that people who died before Christianity was revealed to them are not necessarily damned.

        Basically, there are a lot of conflicting stories. Nothing new here.

        (* I don’t know how much of this people actually believe.)

      3. Some of this is dealt with by Orson Scott Card in “Speaker for the Dead,” in which a previously inhabited planet was settled (with permission from the locals) by a mainly catholic group of colonists (of Portuguese descent). It’s a superb sci-fi novel, the sequel to “Ender’s Game”, but of course, no religious conclusion is drawn, nor is it really relevant to the plot. Still, it’s one of my favorite sci fi novels, and I recommend it and its antecedent book if you like such things.

        1. Thanks for the recommendations, Robert! Card is one of my favorites, too, though I think the last time I read him was 40 years ago. (Yes, I am of a certain age.) My first reading project in the new year is reading a couple of collections of short stories by Clifford D. Simak, another favorite SF author I haven’t read in decades.

      4. They could solve this by embracing the original Christianity, that of Paul — the worship of a celestial Christ who had never had a body on earth (he was “found in appearance as a man” but that was up in a lower heaven) and who communicated with a few earthlings through visions and inspired readings of Scripture. Presumably such a being could be equally accessible to extraterrestrials — no problem for these exotheologians.

        I would like to see Jesus-mythicism help put an end to Christianity, but failing that, at least it might make for a better Christianity!

  6. … multiple Facebook and Instagram users were saying on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday that their posts were either removed or that they had their accounts temporarily blocked for uploading a picture of Paine and his quote, reading, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest” …

    Facebook and Instagram are making the same fundamental error in interpreting Paine as the internet trolls themselves: just because you offend people doesn’t mean you’re being honest; instead, if you’re being honest, you risk offending some people.

    1. Yes, in other words, they’re making a converse error, a type of error I’ve been noticing more and more these days.

      1. Unfortunately, I do not think that is the error they are making. I don’t think they want to block the sentiment, but the people expressing it. For the last several years, troll culture has gravitated towards reposting innocuous and ‘legitimate’ content to screw with people, everything from cartoon characters to various hand gestures. Unfortunately, I think social media corporations are trying to block trolls by blocking the content they create. Their error is that they continue to play this never-ending game of whac-a-mole.

  7. Am I wrong or was archie the cockroach able to use only lower-case letters because he worked the typewriter by jumping down from a height onto the selected key? He had no way to hold down the Shift key (shift for him) and he was not heavy enough to engage Shift Lock.

      1. Indeed, although there’s one brief episode in which the Caps Lock is activated and everything archie types is in ALL CAPS.

  8. When I scanned the post, I thought Goodyear was Lincoln without the beard.

    I shook my head to see the cat and it worked beautifully. But now I think I can see it faintly without having to shake my head.

    1. Didn’t work for me. I can see there’s something there but no amount of shaking my head will bring it into focus. Thought it was a chicken at first but even that didn’t last.

          1. The scrolling did not work for me either, but that gave me an idea, and it worked.

            Rather than scrolling up and down, grab the side of the browser window and drag it sideways back and forth to rapidly change the size of the window (presuming you’re not in full-screen mode). This has the effect of shifting where the graphic appears, and the cat becomes visible.

            That worked for me. Although, even after seeing it, it wasn’t visible for me once I stopped.

            Note that just moving the whole window left-right didn’t work.

            Hope this helps.

              1. It’s easy to see why Paul and disperser are atheists. They can’t see the optical illusion of our revealed God. LOL!!!

              2. That’s true; we don’t fall for the illusion of religions and their imaginary gods.

                But, in this case, we used science and testing and established it’s just a poorly-drawn cat . . . which, while better than, it’s still not a god.

    2. I had the same experience with the hidden cat; once I saw it, it remained visible without any head-shaking. This shows that a cat, once seen, can never be unseen.

      (And I too thought Goodyear was Lincoln for a moment.)

    3. Thanks for that; I’m reluctant to needlessly shaking my head, and now I don’t have to. I mean, I can’t see it, but I now know what it is, and that’s sufficient.

  9. To the American public, he was the face and voice of the National Football league.

    The face perhaps. The voice, no. That was John Facenda and always will be.

  10. One quick comment . . . the pants weight-control method only works when the pants remain the same size over the years. In my experience, from observation and for most people, new pants are often bought in a more comfortable (waist) size than the previous pair.

    However, I agree about not fretting about one’s weight (within reason 25-30 BMI isn’t bad, although the CDC is rather more aggressive in its 18-25 recommendation) provided one is reasonably active … says me as I sit in front of my computer for hours.

    Also, I suggest a return to moderated forums as opposed to subsidizing Twitter and Facebook.

    . . . I miss forums . . .

    1. There are plenty of forums (fora?) out there. I’ve heard good things about the Discord platform but I think it depends a lot on each particular community, or “server” as the Discord folk call them. I have a Discord account but haven’t used it beyond clicking around for a few minutes to explore.

      One of the political websites for which I’m a paying member is The Bulwark, a bunch of Never Trumpers who put out good content, IMHO. They don’t allow comments on their articles because they don’t want the cost and trouble of moderating them. Instead, they support discussions on their Discord server. I will admit that I don’t know how that helps but I’ll take their word for it.

    2. Thanks for the suggestion, but I should have been more specific . . . I mean diverse forums where one might engage someone with vastly different opinions about a subject.

      Forums these days (the few I still belong to) are much narrower in scope and membership, and moderators are often not so much that, as they are gatekeepers . . . and they have to be because ‘bad actors’ (trolls) infest every corner of the Internet. But, because of it, honest dissent/questioning is often flagged as trolling, and thus limits the discussion. You can see it in people bending themselves backwards and dancing around touchstone subjects/arguments.

      What you describe is exactly what I mean . . . communities, but without the diversity of an actual community.

      These days, I seldom comment anywhere (even here) preferring to limit myself to listening to diverse inputs.

      I’m then occasionally moved to write opinion pieces on my blog (which hardly anyone reads), but those are mostly for me to compose and distill my thoughts for future review and to keep track of how my views change over time.

    3. There is o evidence a BMI between 20 and 25 is better than a BMI of 25 to 30. However, a BMI of less tha 20 is associated with a shorter life expectancy.

      1. Yeah, I wasn’t trying to give advice, merely remarking on the CDC guidelines (18-25) as being a bit aggressive and probably unrealistic for most people, especially as they age.

        For me, it’s a matter of comfort (170-175 is a good weight range for me). If I get to 180, I tend to feel restricted in motion, uncomfortable when sitting and lying down). Of course, that’s also dependent on muscle versus fat. But, that’s 26-27 BMI for me, and the CDC wants (suggests) me to get down to 165 lb . . . but they don’t recognize Nutella sandwiches as a food group.

        So, in a way, I agree with the above; I’ve worn the same size clothes for decades, and if they get too snug, I’d rather lose a bit of weight rather than buy new clothes.

  11. My guess is that NASA is just trying to keep its “base” happy, much like the New York Times. They depend on taxpayers viewing them favorably which is hard to do with multi-billion-dollar budgets, frequent cost overruns, awesome visuals, and producing scientific data that most of the population doesn’t care about. To those that worship God, they can’t appear as godless rocketeers. Unfortunately.

      1. If by “playing the people”, you mean fooling them then I don’t see it. I don’t care about theologians’ judgement of alien religions but it seems pretty transparent what they are pushing.

    1. Did anyone expect to learn that Heaven had been found once airplanes were able to climb above the clouds? If they did, I’ve never heard any accounts of that. But there is the related earth-bound account in Ron Thomason’s hilarioius monologue, The Baptism of Little Roy in the Dry Branch Fire Squad’s Live at the Newburyport Fire House album. Highly recommended.

  12. I generally don’t buy the narrative that the CDC is ham-handed in its communications. In this case, there are in fact studies behind the quarantine reduction to 5 days (and if you want more info than is appropriate for mass release, spend 5 minutes Googling). Apparently it is mostly based on Delta data, but reasoning is Omicron is less severe. There is also some concern that guidance does not require a negative test before release, and that is indeed partly a bow to practicality and the severe pressures some sectors are under, but is not wreckless. And keep in mind guidance is more strict for the unvaccinated, as it should be.
    You would not know any of this based on many ledes in the media.
    IMO, the issue is not the CDC or any of its guidance through Covid. It’s the refusal or inability of a significant fraction of Americans to follow it.

    1. I do think they could have structured their messages more carefully. The pandemic and its response has so many moving parts and perspectives and, of course, it’s constantly changing. If they let most of the message be driven by reporters’ questions, it all seems kind of random. Smart people, like those who read and comment here, can reassemble the fragments into something like sense but I doubt whether regular folk can.

      A good example of what I’m talking about was on a few weeks back. It was just after Omicron variant hit the scene. Some guy who claimed he was vaccinated and boosted said that he had just had a breakthrough COVID episode so it must have been the Omicron variant. He came to this conclusion because he had dodged COVID up to that point so he assumed his infection must be the new variant for which he was less protected. He hadn’t been told this by medical authorities. Of course, this might be true but it was unlikely since Omicron was relatively rare at that point. This is someone who is obviously trying to do the right thing but he came to an unreasonable conclusion and then amplified it for others to consume.

      I don’t think the CDC can prevent this kind of spread of misinformation but they could definitely do better, IMHO.

  13. Here’s what the James Webb Space Telescope is doing today:

    Webb Team Begins Process of Extending Deployable Tower Assembly

    So far, so good! In fact, the spacecraft has used less fuel than expected for its path corrections on the way to its observing position. This means more fuel left for station-keeping and a longer useful life, all other things being equal:

    NASA Says Webb’s Excess Fuel Likely to Extend its Lifetime Expectations

  14. > I generally don’t buy the narrative that the CDC is ham-handed in its communications.

    There are around 200 countries (depending on which governments you personally choose to recognize as sovereign). The CDC are tied to one of almost 200 Ministries/Departments of Health worldwide. While I do not agree with everything the CDC says, I realize how unimportant my agreement is.

    I hope anyone who doesn’t like what CDC’s background looks at what similar bodies worldwide have to say. This is not a one-country epidemic. Following recommendations from Germany, Japan, Jordan, and other countries could help, too.

    Heck, follow recommendations at Health Canada.

    As libertarian as I am, the experience of the last two years shows that national Ministries of Health are simply not sufficient; health research should be global.

  15. The best explanation for the dramatically greater non-COVID death rate among the unvaccinated – a study that involved something like 11M people, BTW, is that unvaccinated people make poor decisions, and it shows up, fatally, for other reasons as well.

    1. More subtle than that, which is why science is so fascinating.
      We subscribe to the print edition but the article is paywalled on line and I can’t remember if we have access. Since the opening few lines say that the CDC study was not able to offer an explanation for the observed effect, I will offer the following hypothesis:

      Socio-economic determinants of health have been recognized as having powerful effects on all-cause mortality (i.e. life expectancy) since the work of Marmot in the British civil service and extended to the non-working population subsequently. The DoH’s, which doctors can’t do very much about, trump the usual “medical model” causes of ill-health like tobacco, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol by an order of magnitude. We do what we can but using medicine to prevent things gives little bang for the buck.

      Now, voluntary adoption of behaviour that is believed to promote health, (good decisions) whether vaccination, Brussels sprouts, fish and olive diets, seat-belt use, exercise, quitting smoking, remaining lean, and taking medications as prescribed, tends to be concentrated in the educated upper classes who are going to have lower all-cause mortality whether vaccinated or not (and whether they eat Brussels sprouts and exercise or not.) The point is these behavioural habits don’t even have to be beneficial — merely being highly correlated with social class will make them appear to be wise decisions. Lower Covid mortality in the vaccinated will not overwhelm this effect on non-Covid mortality, especially because in the under-80s the vaccine effect is small in absolute numbers of deaths prevented. There will still be a socio-economic gradient in both vaccinated and unvaccinated (and in exercisers and the sedentary.) In the United States wealth is mapped to race, because race is routinely collected in all kinds of health data but income and education rarely are, unless you have funding to ask those questions. A study that asked those questions prospectively of 11 million people would be very expensive. (Zip code of residence is a surrogate often for income and race but not necessarily for education — the starving grad-student effect.)

      That’s why randomized controlled experiments are so important in demonstrating that yes, vaccination is a wise decision because it actually does cause a reduction in mortality from the target disease. No one knows if forcing people to eat Brussels sprouts or run three times a week makes them live longer (it might only seem longer.) Attempting to tease out the “active ingredients” in these behaviours (like omega-3s and Vitamin E) and test them in trials have been mostly disappointing….partly because the people who will volunteer for and stay with long trials of this type are already so healthy that they live forever anyway!

      Another recent study from CDC (reported on NPR) found that Covid mortality was higher in 2020 Trump states than in Biden states, even among the vaccinated. That is, even if red states had achieved the same vaccination rate as blue states, they would still have suffered worse Covid mortality, on top of the higher non-Covid mortality they already suffer from underlying health status. This is interesting because many blue states have higher proportions of racial minorities which, by conventional thinking, should impose a disadvantage in health outcomes, but they don’t always. (If the CDC had broken mortality down by county these effects might have emerged at the cost of statistical robustness — thousands of comparisons instead of 50.) This gives some credence to the idea that health is determined more by class — and the method of decision-making doubtless plays a mechanistic role — than by race and racism.

      1. Recently came across studies on sleep as it relates to health, and it seems quality (as well as length) of sleep can significantly impact overall health.

        It’s tempting to say that is also related to class (education, wealth, or whatever passes for class these days), but that’s not necessarily true because of various modern distractions.

        . . . perhaps all we can say for certain is what this xkcd cartoon says:

        1. Much truth there in that cartoon.
          Sometimes causation just works in the other direction. Healthy people sleep better.
          That’s why randomized trials rock. Simple statistics. No risk of over-controlling or hidden confounders. As Rutherford might have said if he was a bioscientist; everything else is stamp collecting.
          (Of course, a good RCT will be designed so as to allow lots of post hoc hypothesis-generating retrospective analysis as well, in order to fuel the next grant.)

    2. No, IMO the best explanation is that:
      1. A major group of people not getting the vaccine are the elderly and those with serious health complications (and the two are correlated).
      2. The above groups (the very elderly, those with compromised health systems, and those both elderly and compromised) are the most likely to die from other causes.

      Shades of Hanlon’s razor here; don’t attribute to malicious decisions what can be explained by bodily incompetence.


      On the NASA decision to fund theologians, with no info about this whatsoever I’m going to optimistically think “earmark.”

      1. Good point in principle. However, vaccination rates are highest for the elderly and those with serious health complications, not lower. You could argue that people who are very near death from, say Alzheimers, cancer, or heart failure might decide (or their families might decide) not to get vaccinated if they were almost certainly going to die this month. Two doses with a gap complicates the decision–it’s like the gallows humour about not buying green bananas.. But severe Covid is a drag if you’re already really sick, and I don’t know how many people actually make this calculated choice not to get vaccinated, especially since no one can predict death until (sometimes) it’s going to be in a few hours. It is certain that someone who is “actively dying” would not get vaccinated. We just don’t know the magnitude of that effect on the 11 million people in the study..

        Note first that the people over 85 who don’t get vaccinated still had “only” an ~18% chance of dying in a whole year. If the reason they weren’t vaccinated was because they were moribund, you would expect all of them to have been long dead before they had served out a “person-year” of life. For all other age groups and for all racial groups, the risk of the unvaccinated dying in a year is much less than for the 85+. While there are many reasons that could cause someone not to get vaccinated, imminent death from non-Covid causes doesn’t seem to explain very much, especially given the effort to vaccinate preferentially the elderly and those with high-risk conditions..

  16. Goodyear probably started with elemental sulfur (I haven’t been able to find out), which had the effect of crosslinking the monomers that became known as rubber vulcanization, but a better product emerged from using a variety of sulfur-containing organic compounds. One of those is disulfiram, aka tetraethylthiuram disulfide. You may be more likely to recognize that by its pharmaceutical trade name, Antabuse, which is an inhibitor of aldehyde dehydrogenase, yielding about the same adverse symptoms in pre-treated people who consume alcohol as Asians who carry a Glu–>Lys substitution at position 487 in the mitochondrial version of that enzyme.

    The initial observation of adverse symptoms was made in Scandinavia at the end of WWII.

  17. NASA in infested with religious fruitcakes. Anytime instruments suggest conditions might be favorable for the existence of life in some newly accessible corner of the universe, you can expect NASA to shortly begin planning a mission there to look for it. This is never, to my knowledge, done seriously taking into account whether the place in question has had a past history conducive to the origin of life or biological evolution. NASA seems to follow a creationist Principle of Plenitude that maintains the universe is planned, organized, complete, and without gaps, something like pictured in the Great Chain of Being. Giordano Bruno did this, and it got in hot water with the Inquisition when he mused that G*d wouldn’t create other worlds without also putting people on them to use and abuse.

  18. Out of curiosity, are you able to see the Royal Institution Christmas lectures from the BBC?

    All about viruses & COVID. Very good!

  19. It’s entirely plausible that this is all automated and the learning algorithms have been trained to see that image as promoting misinformation. May try it out to see if I can replicate it.

    1. According to a journalist named Rougement, Cambronne replied: “La garde meurt mais ne se rend pas !” (“The Guard dies but does not surrender!”). These words were often repeated and put on the base of a statue of Cambronne in Nantes after his death.

      Other sources reported that Colville insisted and ultimately Cambronne replied with one word: “Merde”

      A commonly known curiosity.

  20. Can those sophisticated discussions, all the advanced threads compress into a 2-second recap, and move on, beyond that press of refined thoughts?

    Probably not, the human mind doesn’t work that way, the opposite experience would probably have to be an extraordinary experience.It’s not even about speed itself, but wisdom, extraordinary acumen and the power to grasp problems.

    “I’m dying slowly reading empty words, I’m literally dying”

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