Welcome to the cruelest day, Tuesday, January 11, 2022: National Hot Toddy Day, and perfectly appropriate for Chicago’s current temperature of 8ºF (-13ºD). It’s also National Milk Day, National Shop for Travel Day (a good idea), Girl Hug Boy Day, Secret Pal Day, and National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
News of the Day:
*Is the New York Times all that liberal and progressive? Not when it comes to their bottom line! As the Guardian reports, they’re opposing a union of their own employees:
The New York Times is one of America’s most vital totems of mainstream liberalism, right up there with expensive coffee and defensive explanations for sending your kids to private school. The New York Times is also, it turns out, one of America’s very best examples of how a boss is a boss. Because even as the paper pontificates about the dangers of inequality and gives sympathetic coverage to major union drives, the leaders of the company’s business side are busily trying to undermine their own unions.
Last April, 650 tech employees at the New York Times announced that they were unionizing. Rather than applauding them and proceeding to negotiate a contract, the company instead refused to voluntarily recognize the union. This is despite its own editorial board supporting a bill that would have made it legally binding for employers to voluntarily accept union requests when they are backed by a majority of the staff.
As the paper’s own editorial explained: “Under current law, an employer can reject the majority’s signatures and insist on a secret ballot. But in a disturbingly high number of cases, the employer uses the time before the vote to pressure employees to rethink their decision to unionize.” Now, this is what the New York Times company is accused of doing to its own employees.
. . .If you find this sort of anti-union behavior from the New York Times surprising, remember that another unit of unionized workers at the paper, those who worked for the product review section Wirecutter, had to go on strike during the busy Black Friday shopping weekend in order to secure a minimally fair contract. So while most of the editorial employees at the Times have been unionized for decades, the company is still exhibiting a chesty commitment to doing everything possible to keep any more of its workers from securing the same sort of benefits.
Bunch of hypocrites!
*You’re probably aware that there have been several interspecific heart transplants to humans from chimps (“xenotransplants”), and all failed within hours. We now have a better strategy: genetically modify an animal to minimize the probability of rejection and use animals hearts , like those from pigs, that are more similar to humans than those of chimps—and more readily available and modifiable. A xenotransplant was in fact done from a genetically modified pig to a human on Friday, and so far it’s working well, though we’re only four days in:
A 57-year-old man with life-threatening heart disease has received a heart from a genetically modified pig, a groundbreaking procedure that offers hope to hundreds of thousands of patients with failing organs.
It is the first successful transplant of a pig’s heart into a human being. The eight-hour operation took place in Baltimore on Friday, and the patient, David Bennett Sr. of Maryland, was doing well on Monday, according to surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“It creates the pulse, it creates the pressure, it is his heart,” said Dr. Bartley Griffith, the director of the cardiac transplant program at the medical center, who performed the operation.
“It’s working and it looks normal. We are thrilled, but we don’t know what tomorrow will bring us. This has never been done before.”
. . . Pigs offer advantages over primates for organ procurements, because they are easier to raise and achieve adult human size in six months. Pig heart valves are routinely transplanted into humans, and some patients with diabetes have received porcine pancreas cells. Pig skin has also been used as a temporary graft for burn patients.
Well, you’re surely asking, “How was the pig genetically modified?” The answer is a stunner:
The pig had 10 genetic modifications. Four genes were knocked out, or inactivated, including one that encodes a molecule that causes an aggressive human rejection response.
A growth gene was also inactivated to prevent the pig’s heart from continuing to grow after it was implanted, said Dr. Mohiuddin,who, with Dr. Griffith, did much of the research leading up to the transplant.
In addition, six human genes were inserted into the genome of the donor pig — modifications designed to make the porcine organs more tolerable to the human immune system.
The team used a new experimental drug developed in part by Dr. Mohiuddin and made by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals to suppress the immune system and prevent rejection. It also used a new machine perfusion device to keep the pig’s heart preserved until surgery.
If you’re not astonished by all that, you’ve lost your capacity for wonder.
*And another piece from the Guardian, this time even more disturbing. A new study from Canada indicates that, even after controlling for age, comorbidity, and the nature of the operation, women operated on by male surgeons die 32% more often than men operated on by male surgeons. That’s a big difference! A few quotes:
Women are 15% more liable to suffer a bad outcome, and 32% more likely to die, when a man rather than a woman carries out the surgery, according to a study of 1.3 million patients.
The findings have sparked a debate about the fact that surgery in the UK remains a hugely male-dominated area of medicine and claims that “implicit sex biases” among male surgeons may help explain why women are at such greater risk when they have an operation.[JAC: n.b., the study was among Canadian patients in Canada.]
“In our 1.3 million patient sample involving nearly 3,000 surgeons we found that female patients treated by male surgeons had 15% greater odds of worse outcomes than female patients treated by female surgeons,” said Dr Angela Jerath, an associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto in Canada and a co-author of the findings.
. . . “Implicit sex biases”, in which surgeons “act on subconscious, deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and attitudes”, may be one possible explanation, she said. Differences in men’s and women’s communication and interpersonal skills evident in surgeons’ discussions with patients before the operation takes place may also be a factor, she added. And “differences between male and female physician work style, decision-making and judgment”.
You’re probably thinking, “What about female surgeons? Do men do better with them, too?” The answer is no: the outcomes for male patients are about the same regardless of the sex of their surgeon.
Now remember, death after surgery isn’t that common, so a difference between 1% and 1.4% mortality is reported as an increase in 40%. Still, this finding disturbs me, because, according to the Guardian, the researchers seem to have controlled for everything but sex of the surgeon. If that makes a difference, it’s worrisome. After all, one unnecessary death is already one too many. You can find the paper, published in JAMA Surgery, here, and I hope some readers will go through it. I want an explanation!
*Every day I rethink my opinion about whether Russia will invade Ukraine. Most of the time I think they will, then I read something about “progress’ in the news and I think, “Well, maybe the Russians are bluffing.” And this ambivalence is exactly what Russia wants us to feel. But their demands are too far out of the U.S.-interest ball park, like withdrawing NATO lines back to decades ago, and our threatened “sanctions” are laughable. Today, with progress very slow, I think Russia will invade. Ask me again tomorrow.
*Over at Medium, Peter Burns (who apparently has stolen my joke about pea color), has a good summary piece called “The Shameful Decline of Scientific American.” There’s not much new here, though it does call attention to one of the most ludicrous papers in “studies” that pretends to be scientific, and you can read it here. It is a paradigmatic example of conflating science and “studies”, and I just remembered that I wrote about it here. If you want a good laugh, read the paper. (h/t Anna)
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 837,911. an increase of 1,653 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,514,603, an increase of about 6,900 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on January 11 includes:
- 630 – Conquest of Mecca: The prophet Muhammad and his followers conquer the city, Quraysh surrender.
- 1569 – First recorded lottery in England. Wikipedia has an interesting description:
the first recorded official lottery was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, in the year 1566, and was drawn in 1569. The 400,000 tickets issued cost £0.50 each (roughly three weeks of wages for ordinary citizens), with the grand prize worth roughly £5,000. This lottery was designed to raise money for the “reparation of the havens and strength of the Realme, and towardes such other publique good workes”, including the rebuilding of ports and new ships for the royal fleet. Each ticket holder won a prize, and the total value of the prizes equalled the money raised. Prizes were in the form of both “ready money” and valuable commodities such as silver plate, tapestries, and fine linen cloth. Additionally, each participant was granted immunity from one arrest, “so long as the crime wasn’t piracy, murder, felonies, or treason.” The lottery was promoted by scrolls posted throughout the country showing sketches of the prizes
- 1759 – The first American life insurance company, the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Presbyterian Ministers and of the Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of the Presbyterian Ministers (now part of Unum Group), is incorporated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- 1879 – The Anglo-Zulu War begins. Here’s a photograph of Cetshwayo kaMpande in 1875, who led the Zulus during the Ango-Zulu War. The Zulus lost.
- 1908 – Grand Canyon National Monument is created.
- 1922 – Leonard Thompson becomes the first person to be injected with insulin.
Thompson was 14 at the time and lived 12 more years, dying of pneumonia at 26. Here’s a photo:
Here’s the plane she used: her reliable Lockheed Vega, now residing in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Northern Virginia:
- 1946 – Enver Hoxha, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Albania, declares the People’s Republic of Albania with himself as head of state.
Hoxha died in 1985, having been President for Life well, for life. He did some good stuff, but was also an autocrat, reportedly killing 25,000 of his own people:
- 1972 – East Pakistan renames itself Bangladesh.
- 1973 – Major League Baseball owners vote in approval of the American League adopting the designated hitter position.
BAD DECISION. Everybody who plays should take their turn at bat!
Notables born on this day include:
- 1755 – Alexander Hamilton, Nevisian-American general, economist and politician, 1st United States Secretary of the Treasury (d. 1804)
Hamilton is on the American tenner. He died in agony after he was shot in the lower abdomen by Aaron Burr during a duel (he lived 31 hours after he was shot):
- 1842 – William James, American psychologist and philosopher (d. 1910)
Here he is. His brother was the author Henry James:
- 1889 – Calvin Bridges, American geneticist and academic (d. 1938)
A student of T. H. Morgan, and therefore my distant academic cousin, Bridges was a terrific fly geneticist and also very handsome. I won’t recount his many exploits, including with women, but I recall he was once arrested for violating the Mann Act. Here he is inspecting dipterans:
- 1906 – Albert Hofmann, Swiss chemist and academic, discoverer of LSD (d. 2008)
- 1923 – Carroll Shelby, American race car driver, engineer, and businessman, founded Carroll Shelby International (d. 2012)
You can see part of his story in the excellent movie Ford v. Ferrari, which came out a few years ago. Here’s his most famous car, the Cobra (this model is the AC427:
- 1946 – Naomi Judd, American singer-songwriter and actress
Those who cashed in their chips on January 11 include:
As the brewer of Canada’s most famous beer, Molson’s name will be immortal, eh? Here’s his funeral monument in Montreal:
Here’s a Canadian ad for Molson’s: “I am Canadian.” You can put the Molson’s into a Canadian, but you can’t take the Canadian out of a Canadian!
- 1843 – Francis Scott Key, American lawyer, author, and songwriter (b. 1779)
- 1882 – Theodor Schwann, German physiologist and biologist (b. 1810)
Here’s Schwann, famous for arguing, correctly, that animals as well as plants have cells:
- 1928 – Thomas Hardy, English novelist and poet (b. 1840)
Here’s the cottage Hardy grew up in, followed by the graves of two of his cats (Snowdrop and Kitsy) in his larger and later home nearby (he carved the stones himself, and there are several other buried moggies), followed by the manuscript draft of his most famous novel. I photographed these while staying in Dorset in 2006. Hardy, to his credit, was a big-time cat lover.
- 1941 – Emanuel Lasker, German mathematician, philosopher, and chess player (b. 1868)
- 1966 – Alberto Giacometti, Swiss sculptor and painter (b. 1901)
Here’s Giacometti’s sculpture “Cat,” which is how every house cat would like to present itself at dinnertime:
- 1988 – Isidor Isaac Rabi, Polish-American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1898)
- 2008 – Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer and explorer (b. 1919)
Here’s Hillary’s ice axe with which he summited Mt. Everest; I photographed it in Wellington, NZ a few years ago:
- 2015 – Anita Ekberg, Swedish-Italian model and actress (b. 1931)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili is surprised and peeved:
Paulina: There is no meat.Hili: What do you mean, there is no meat?(Photo: Paulina R.)
Paulina: Nie ma mięsa.Hili: Jak to nie ma mięsa?(Zdjęcie: Paulina R.)
Posted by Seth Andrews:
From Jesus of the Day:
Heartwarming: from the days when Jews and blacks used to be friends:
Sidney Poitier – the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor, has died at age 94
In 2013, he spoke to Leslie Stahl for "Sunday Morning" and reflected back on the moment things began to happen in his career – when someone taught him to read https://t.co/VWCYyCGZc4 pic.twitter.com/Os5zcIEIko
— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) January 7, 2022
From John Cleese, who doesn’t listen to his doctors:
I have great news to share with my Twits !!
My big toe on my left foot is healed !!
Two years to the day when I have a bone spur removed. ( a real one )
Two years !! And 46 doctors !!
It's been a true saga, and I have the film rights !
' My Left Toe '
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) January 4, 2022
It took so long to heal because 1. I am very, very old.
2. I am prediabetic 3. The circulation in the legs is not
as good as in the rest of the body 4. The wound was on the bottom of the toe, so walking kept it from getting better
It took me a long time to obey the doctors..
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) January 4, 2022
So when the 46 doctors said ' Try to stay off it ', I thought they were being funny
So if you get a similar problem…
Try to stay off it
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) January 4, 2022
From Barry: a tweet showing state senator Scott Baldwin of Indiana, who later walked back his position (or rather, lack of a position). See him extricate his metatarsals from his mouth here.
I hoped that I was wrong, but instead my fears were confirmed.
Here is a sitting senator insisting teachers can only “provide instruction on the existence” of Nazism, but “we’ve gone too far when we take a position on” it pic.twitter.com/VJfKAuOFXX
— Matt Bockenfeld (@MrBTheTeach) January 6, 2022
From Ginger K. (I may have posted this before):
— Black Sparrow Hawk 🦅 (@CorbieCrow) December 12, 2021
From reader Frank: a cowardly d*g tries to sneak into a cat’s bailiwick:
Dog pulls off mission impawssible in cat's territory.🐕🐾🐈😂😂 pic.twitter.com/0fg2QOWG1s
— 𝕐o̴g̴ (@Yoda4ever) January 9, 2022
From reader Barry, who says “What is going on here?” I wrote my ant-biologist friend Phil Ward, who responded, ” These two ants are weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina), but I have no idea what they are doing with that plant structure and why. I guess they are treating it as a possible food item.”
— Nature Inc. (@Nature_Incorp) January 9, 2022
Tweets from Matthew. This first one is really cool:
In another galaxy, a red super-giant (like Betelgeuse) was acting suspiciously and young researchers decided to keep an eye on it for 100+ days, and… paydirt! A Type II supernova! 1st time humanity collected data before the big event. Oh, the physics!https://t.co/56wvrGGbaO
— 𝐃𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐝 𝐁𝐫𝐢𝐧 🛰 (@DavidBrin) January 10, 2022
Here’s a video that purports to be a visualization of the nascent nebula, but surely part of it, if not all of it, is animated. Correct me if I’m wrong:
Repositioning in important work when a tiny box is your chosen bed pic.twitter.com/Vm9ChR4nd6
— Bodacious the Shepherd Cat (@1CatShepherd) January 4, 2022