Good morning on a frigid Chicago Thursday, January 27, 2022, National Chocolate Cake Day. Make mine a Sachertorte. It’s also National Geographic Day (the society was founded on this day in 1888), Thomas Crapper Day (he invented the ballcock, and died on this day in 1910), World Breast Pumping Day, and these two liberation holidays:
- Day of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad (Russia)
- Liberation of the remaining inmates of Auschwitz-related observances:
News of the Day:
*The good news is that Joe Biden finally gets to nominate a Justice to serve on the Supreme Court. The bad news is that it’s just to replace one of the three liberal justices already on the court: Stephen Breyer. For Stephan Breyer has announced his retirement. CNN reported that Breyer will stay on till the end of the term (summer, I think) or until a replacement is confirmed. Biden hasn’t commented but has said that his first nomination for a Justice will be a black woman.
The ideological balance of the court won’t change, but Democrats have urged Breyer to retire now lest the balance of Senatorial and Presidential power change towards Republicans. And he did that. Now if only Clarence Thomas could retire, too. . . isn’t he getting up there?
*This new paper in Science Advances reports that a cocktail of five drugs, put in a “BioDome”—a plastic device affixed to the amputated limb of an African clawed frog—promoted substantial regrowth of the limbs, to the point where frogs could swim with it. This is, to my knowledge, the first limb regrown to such an extent in vertebrates that aren’t salamanders (salamanders can regrow limbs). The Wall Street Journal, covering this, also reports:
In previous research, scientists tried to prompt limb regrowth in various animals using techniques including electrical stimulation and cell transplants. For the new study, a team led by Tufts University biologist Michael Levin took a different approach. They amputated the hind legs of more than 100 anesthetized African clawed frogs and treated the stumps of some of the frogs with five growth-promoting drugs.
Silicone caps containing a drug-infused gel—including compounds known to encourage the growth of nerve, blood vessel and muscle tissue and to block the formation of the collagen involved in scarring—were sewn onto the stumps. The caps, which the scientists call BioDomes, were left in place for 24 hours before being removed.
Within two weeks, the researchers saw a significant increase in soft tissue growth among frogs that had been treated with the drug cocktail. Over the next 18 months, those frogs also showed increased bone regeneration and nerve and muscle development compared with their untreated counterparts. Ultimately, the treated frogs grew appendages with new knee joints and several boneless toes—not fully formed legs but good enough for the frogs to swim with.
The drugs were not leg-specific, and that raises the question of whether this technique would work not only in other species, but in humans. It’s all unclear now (humans, for one thing, begin producing scar tissue almost immediately), and way into the future, but I’m betting that in a few years, new human amputees will be lining up for trials with the BioDome. Imagine if we could regrow severed limbs!
*In a NYT op-ed, Thomas Edsall discusses the increasing political polarization in the U.S. and reports on a new study of polarized democracies, “What Happens When Democracies Become Perniciously Polarized?,” written by Jennifer McCoy of Georgia State and Benjamin Press of the Carnegie Endowment. The U.S. has not only become more polarized politically, but is among the most polarized democracies on Earth. Here’s a chart from the paper showing comparisons of polarizations in several areas over four decades:
What happens in polarized democracies is not good. They generally become less democratic:
In their report, McCoy and Press make the case that there are “a number of features that make the United States both especially susceptible to polarization and especially impervious to efforts to reduce it.”
The authors point to a number of causes, including “the durability of identity politics in a racially and ethnically diverse democracy.” As the authors note,
The United States is perhaps alone in experiencing a demographic shift that poses a threat to the white population that has historically been the dominant group in all arenas of power, allowing political leaders to exploit insecurities surrounding this loss of status.
An additional cause, the authors write, is that
binary choice is deeply embedded in the U.S. electoral system, creating a rigid two-party system that facilitates binary divisions of society. For example, only five of twenty-six wealthy consolidated democracies elect representatives to their national legislatures in single-member districts.
The outlook? According to Edsall, bad:.
As the McCoy-Press report shows, only 16 of the 52 countries that reached levels of pernicious polarization succeeded in achieving depolarization and in “a significant number of instances later repolarized to pernicious levels. The progress toward depolarization in seven of 16 episodes was later undone.”
That does not suggest a favorable prognosis for the United States.
*Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier of China, of sexual misconduct, still seems to be missing. While she made an occasional awkward (and apparently staged) appearance in government video, the Women’s Tennis Association, which has suspended all play in China, hasn’t been able to talk to her directly. And now she’s saying her initial accusations were “misunderstood,” and has retracted them.
But the WTA, whose leaders still have been unable to make direct contact with Peng, has not softened its stance or its demands, fearing that she has been coerced into the retraction.
“We appreciate seeing the support continue for Peng Shuai,” Simon [chief executive of the WTA] said Wednesday in an email. “The WTA is proud of Peng Shuai in speaking out for what is right, and we continue with our unwavering call for confirmation of Peng’s safety along with a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault. This is an issue that can never fade away.”
Magda Linette, a leading Polish player and member of the WTA player council, said she hoped Peng could speak with players directly or with Simon. “If we could see her in an environment where we know she is not being really controlled and we can have at least a conversation, because she has been refusing that, I think that would be a really good step to trying to rebuild the trust, trying to rebuild the relationship again to see how things are going and how she is actually,” Linette said.
*I thought fish could live longer than this. The Associated Press has a report on the oldest aquarium fish still alive, an Australian lungfish named Methuselah:
Methuselah is a 4-foot-long (1.2-meter), 40-pound (18.1-kilogram) Australian lungfish that was brought to the San Francisco museum in 1938 from Australia.
A primitive species with lungs and gills, Australian lungfish are believed to be the evolutionary link between fish and amphibians.
Here is (if I can use the phrase), the 84-year-old Senior Fish, who dwells at the California Academy of Sciences:
But is this the oldest known aquarium fish? Nope, but Methuselah isn’t far from the record:
Until a few years ago, the oldest Australian lungfish was at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. But that fish, named Granddad, died in 2017 at the age of 95.
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 874,733, an increase of 2,466 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,647,268, an increase of about 8,100 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on January 27 include:
- 98 – Trajan succeeds his adoptive father Nerva as Roman emperor; under his rule the Roman Empire will reach its maximum extent.
- 1302 – Dante Alighieri is condemned in absentia and exiled from Florence
It was politics, Jake! Dante (did he always wear a red robe?):
- 1606 – Gunpowder Plot: The trial of Guy Fawkes and other conspirators begins, ending with their execution on January 31.
Fawkes’s signature before (below) and after (top he was tortured. The difference is clear:
- 1820 – A Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Petrovich Lazarev discovers the Antarctic continent, approaching the Antarctic coast.
There is no evidence that Polynesians were the first to discover (i.e., set eyes on) Antarctica.
Here are the Mussorgsky brothers in 1858, with Modest to the right and Immodest to the left:
The drawing of the lamp accompanying the patent:
Here’s Lenin’s body on display? Is it real, or is it wax? Who knows? I’ve seen Mao’s body in Beijing, and Lenin’s corpse is on my bucket list. I wanted to see Stalin, too, but they cancelled him and buried him by the Kremlin wall:
- 1967 – Apollo program: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of their Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
A short news report on the fire:
- 1973 – The Paris Peace Accords officially ends the Vietnam War. Colonel William Nolde is killed in action becoming the conflict’s last recorded American combat casualty.
- 1983 – The pilot shaft of the Seikan Tunnel, the world’s longest sub-aqueous tunnel (53.85 km) between the Japanese islands of Honshū and Hokkaidō, breaks through.
Here’s that big breakthrough! The tunnel connects the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido (second picture):
- 2010 – Apple announces the iPad.
Notables born on this day include:
- 1756 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Austrian pianist and composer (d. 1791)
- 1832 – Lewis Carroll, English novelist, poet, and mathematician (d. 1898)
Here’s a photo of Alice Liddell (yes, the Alice) taken by Carroll in 1858:
- 1836 – Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Austrian journalist and author (d. 1895)
- 1885 – Jerome Kern, American composer and songwriter (d. 1945)
- 1921 – Donna Reed, American actress (d. 1986)
- 1956 – Mimi Rogers, American actress
She was born with a Jewish father and Christian mother, but then was a member of the Church (?) of Scientology for a long time. Rogers has since left the church(?). Here she is during her two-year marriage to Tom Cruise:
Those who perished on January 27 include:
- 1596 – Francis Drake, English captain and explorer (b. 1540)
- 1851 – John James Audubon, French-American ornithologist and painter (b. 1789)
Audubon has now been canceled, but here’s his photo and his painting of mallards from Birds of America:
- 1901 – Giuseppe Verdi, Italian composer (b. 1813)
- 1910 – Thomas Crapper, English plumber and businessman (b. 1836)
- 1922 – Nellie Bly, American journalist and author (b. 1864)
- 2004 – Jack Paar, American talk show host and author (b. 1918)
- 2009 – John Updike, American novelist, short story writer, and critic (b. 1932)
- 2010 – J. D. Salinger, American soldier and author (b. 1919)
- 2014 – Pete Seeger, American singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist (b. 1919)
- 2021 – Cloris Leachman, American actress and comedian (b. 1926)
Here’s Leachman, as Coach Popper’s wife, in the stirring last scene of The Last Picture Show. Sonny, with whom she had an affair, comes to visit her long after their relationship had ended. Then they reconcile—or so it seems. Leachman won the Best Supporting Actress in 1972 for her performance in this best of all American films. (If you haven’t seen it, you can’t be my friend.)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s dialogue is a bit hard to understand. Malgorzata explains, “Hili is learning formal logic and is having some trouble with it. Andrzej commiserates with her difficulties.”
Hili: If A then not B and out of two evils…A: I do understand you.
Hili: Jeśli A to nie B, to z dwojga złego…Ja: Ja cię rozumiem.
From Jesus of the Day. This is a good person.
A cartoon from Episcopal Church Memes via Jenny. Click to enlarge:
The tweet of God, who I’m sure is a Democrat (he’s Jewish, for crying out loud!)
Sometimes in life all you need is for half the country to shut up.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) January 25, 2022
From Paul, first animated lighthouses of Europe, then all the world’s lighthouse. Do you think there would be a way to do away with these cumbersome objects that are often inhabited?
Press the arrow to see the animation:
— Ethan Mollick (@emollick) January 24, 2022
From Barry: an amazing glass octopus:
Rare glass octopus spotted by an underwater robot deep in the Pacific Ocean pic.twitter.com/hmyeGGxe86
— Steve Stewart-Williams (@SteveStuWill) January 24, 2022
Watch this to find out more about the species (only 3 min long and a good video):
From Ginger K. Of course some people will beef because they claim that Pluto isn’t a planet.
#TDIH in 1979: Pluto's orbit moved inside Neptune's. For 20 years, Pluto was closer to the Sun than Neptune was. This won't happen again until 2227. More on Pluto's unusual orbit: https://t.co/tFooHD9XGt pic.twitter.com/oUePBki7xh
— National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace) January 21, 2022
Tweets from Matthew. This is a very spiffy cat.
— Dr Niki Rust 🌱 (@NikiRust) January 16, 2022
This anteater had cojones:
Really cool threat display by this anteater after being attacked by a presumptuous raptor https://t.co/rnXaW3fVZ7
— Taal Levi (@taaltree) January 16, 2022
A nice reconstruction:
Using 5-minute ASOS data nationally, I constructed a loop of 10-minute pressure change, showing the shockwave from the volcanic eruption progressing through the United States this morning: pic.twitter.com/Be2kwMMTNh
— Tomer Burg (@burgwx) January 15, 2022