Good morning on Thursday, February 3, 2022: National Carrot Cake Day. This is the only treat made with a vegetable that I like (corn fritters may be another). A good carrot cake (with cream-cheese frosting, of course), is hard to beat. But please, hand me no rhubarb pies, and if you tell me they’re good; I’ll respond that taste is subjective.
It’s also Four Chaplains Day (United States, also considered a Feast Day by the Episcopal Church), American Painters Day, International Golden Retrievers Day, National Sweater Day (in Canada), and The Day the Music Died. (you know about that one, but if not see “1959” below). Finally, it’s Martyrs’ Day in São Tomé and Príncipe.
Read about the Four Chaplains here. A true case of altruism: sacrificing one’s life, attaining no reproductive benefits, but saving the lives of others, allowing them to reproduce. (Of course one of the chaplains was Catholic.) The point is, however, that you almost never see such altruism in nature. It is a cultural phenomenon and cannot be the product of natural selection.
Wine of the Day: I haven’t drunk many Barolos, as they’re usually above my psychological price barrier, but this fine specimen of a 1997 (photo below) was given to me by a generous reader. And oy, was it good! 25 years old, and still years to go (there was a substantial sediment, and the cork crumbled, but careful decanting and filtration fixed that).
Dark garnet in color, and with a strong aroma of road tar and roses (yes, that’s what I smelled), this is a beefy wine that perfectly complemented my weekly T-bone. (My meat consumption has dropped to a bit above one meal per week). In fact, this wine was so delicious that I broke my rule and drank 2/3 of a bottle instead of half, making myself slightly tipsy.
Don’t ask the price, as it was a gift. Suffice it to say that we would bridle at the price—if we could find it, but it was undoubtedly cheaper when purchased a quarter century ago. The bad thing is that now I’ve developed a taste for great Barolo, and a) the good stuff is out of my price range and b.) I’ll be dead when a young Barolo matures. Many thanks to the kind reader who sent it to me for Coynezaa!
News of the Day:
*Things are heating up with respect to the Ukraine situation. Biden has announced that he’ll send 3,000 U.S. troops to the region. Not to fight, mind you, but to help our allies fight:
The troops, including 1,000 already in Germany, will head to Poland and Romania, the Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, said. Their purpose will be to reassure NATO allies that while the United States has no intention of sending troops into Ukraine, where President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has been threatening an invasion, Mr. Biden would protect America’s NATO allies from any Russian aggression.
“Its important that we send a strong signal to Mr. Putin and the world that NATO matters,” Mr. Kirby told reporters at a news conference. “We are making it clear that we are going to be prepared to defend our NATO allies if it comes to that.”
Yes, it does send a signal, but what’s the distinction between “fighting” and “helping our allies fight”?
*A new column in the NYT by Tom Friedman, “Neil Young and Liz Cheney, thanks for sticking your necks out,” Friedman applauds those who take personal risk to stand by their principles. For Young it was giving Spotify an ultimatum, “Carry me or carry Joe Rogan, or I’m gone” (they chose Rogan), and for Cheney is for being the one Republican who stands up against the mania afflicting that party. His mantra is “truth and trust”: (h/t Ken)
We are out of harmony with each other and out of harmony with nature. Unless more people take principled stands against those undermining truth and trust, we simply will not have the tools we need to roll back extreme politics or extreme weather or extreme pandemics — once we’ve exhausted all the other possibilities. Later will be too late.
Both lack of truth and lack of trust play out in politics these days:
When Fox News and Donald Trump have converted the G.O.P. into a cult where the price of admission is embracing a Big Lie on election integrity, we can’t depend on the truth protecting us. When social networks like Facebook and Spotify are just fine with making money by prioritizing or hosting voices spewing outright falsehoods about vaccines, we can’t count on trust protecting us. When progressive cancel culture has permeated so many universities, institutions and newsrooms that many people are afraid to say what they believe — or to challenge orthodoxies — truth and trust are both hobbled.
Nothing could be more dangerous, because truth and trust are to our democracy what polar ice caps and tropical forests are to our biosphere: essential stabilizers that keep the system working. Once they melt away, a democratic system starts to unravel.
But Friedman’s conclusions seem unjustifiably optimistic
But both she and Young are just reminding us — we have agency! If enough Americans stand up to defend a sacred commons, a space where truth must prevail and trust can be forged, we can make a difference. Without that effort, our democracy and our planet are in peril.
The problem, of course, is that people have been cowed into standing up for free speech by both sides (mostly the Left), while of course Republicans are cowed into silence for fear of Trump’s power. And who will actually do something about our Great Tragedy of the Commons: global warming?
*The “Havana Syndrome”, as you probably know, is a complex of neurological and physical symptoms suffered by American diplomats and their families who claimed that it came on after they heard weird, high-pitched noises. For a while it was taken seriously as the result of hostile governments’ actions, but lately HS has been dismissed a psychological phenomenon not connected to anything outside embassies. This seemed improbable to me given the number of cases, where the onset occurred, and the similarity of symptoms among the afflicted.
Now, however, opinion is being walked back. According to The Washington Post, a panel of experts has issued a report on “Anomalous Health Incidents” that concludes that there could indeed be external and hostile causes. Here’s the summary of the experts’ report (see also here):
The key: “psychosocial factors alone cannot account for the core characteristics” of the syndrome.” The WaPo adds more from the report:
In the end, the experts determined that “pulsed electromagnetic energy, particularly in the radio-frequency range, plausibly explains the core characteristics” of the health incidents. That finding was not definitive, and “information gaps exist,” the panel wrote in a summary of its findings. But “there are several plausible pathways involving various forms of pulsed electromagnetic energy, each with its own requirements, limitations, and unknowns” that could be making people sick.
Sources of energy exist, the experts wrote, that “could generate the required stimulus” on the human body, and that could be concealed and have “moderate power requirements,” suggesting that the energy could come from a portable device.
Such a device would apparently not be common, but it could be effective. “Using nonstandard antennas and techniques, the signals could be propagated with low loss through air for tens to hundreds of meters, and with some loss, through most building materials,” the summary stated.
That’s nefarious, and also violates all rules of diplomacy. The worrisome thing is that the U.S. apparently doesn’t apparently have the technology that can clarify all this. If we did, the claims of the victims would have never been doubted by the government and by scientists.
*Below, an announcement from the FB page of Art Spiegelman, creator of the recently-Tennessee-banned graphic novel Maus (his book has jumped up to #3 on Amazon, a great example of the Streisand Effect).
He’ll be in a conversation hosted by “concerned Tennessee officials” on Monday at 7 pm Eastern Time. I’ll try to remember to announce the link. This should be good. (h/t Jean):
*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 893,147, an increase of 2,658 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,720,580, an increase of about 12,500 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on February 3 include:
Here’s the first twenty-shilling note:
- 1870 – The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing voting rights to male citizens regardless of race.
- 1913 – The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, authorizing the Federal government to impose and collect an income tax.
- 1917 – World War I: The American entry into World War I begins when diplomatic relations with Germany are severed due to its unrestricted submarine warfare.
- 1933 – Adolf Hitler announces that the expansion of Lebensraum into Eastern Europe, and its ruthless Germanisation, are the ultimate geopolitical objectives of Third Reich foreign policy.
Here’s how much Lebensraum Hitler planned for, and it got most of it and more—for a short while:
The Four Chaplains gave their life jackets to others and went down with the ship. Here’s a 1948 stamp honoring them; I remember it well from my stamp collection:
- 1953 – The Batepá massacre occurred in São Tomé when the colonial administration and Portuguese landowners unleashed a wave of violence against the native creoles known as forros.
Hundreds of the locals were killed, brutalized, and tortured. A picture:
- 1959 – Rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed in a plane crash along with the pilot near Clear Lake, Iowa, an event later known as The Day the Music Died. A photo of the crash site after the pilot lost control in bad weather. Curiously, Waylon Jennings was also in Holly’s band but at the last minute gave up his seat after a coin toss.
- 1971 – New York Police Officer Frank Serpico is shot during a drug bust in Brooklyn and survives to later testify against police corruption. Here’s a trailer for a documentary of Serpico, featuring the man himself:
- 1995 – Astronaut Eileen Collins becomes the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle as mission STS-63 gets underway from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Notables born on this day include:
- 1809 – Felix Mendelssohn, German pianist, composer, and conductor (d. 1847)
- 1821 – Elizabeth Blackwell, American physician and educator (d. 1910)
Blackwell, below, was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.
- 1874 – Gertrude Stein, American novelist, poet, playwright, (d. 1946)
She’s way overrated as a writer, but here’s a photo of her in her studio in Paris with her modern art collection. The big painting to the right is a portrait of her by Picasso:
- 1894 – Norman Rockwell, American painter and illustrator (d. 1978)
- 1904 – Pretty Boy Floyd, American gangster (d. 1934)
- 1920 – Henry Heimlich, American physician and author (d. 2016)
Yes, he invented the Heimlich Maneuver, but now the Red Cross recommends the “five and five” maneuver, with five sharp blows on the back and five “old” Heimlich abdominal thrusts, repeated until the throat is clear.
The mother of Gwyneth Paltrow, but don’t hold Danner responsible A scene with Danner; one of my favorites (from “The Prince of Tides”):
- 1957 – Eric Lander, American mathematician, geneticist, and academic
Those who entered The Great Beyond on February 3 include:
- 1924 – Woodrow Wilson, American historian, academic, and politician, 28th President of the United States, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1856)
- 1959 – The Day the Music Died
- The Big Bopper, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1930)
- Buddy Holly, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1936)
- Ritchie Valens, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1941)
- 2005 – Ernst Mayr, German-American biologist and ornithologist (b. 1904)
One of my mentors and role models, Mayr was in the MCZ where I got my degree, though I didn’t see him often. After I came to Chicago, we did correspond fairly regularly, and perhaps I should donate his letters to some archives:
- 2020 – George Steiner, French-American philosopher, author, and critic (b. 1929)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is bored—and probably thinking of noms.
A: Is there something interesting?Hili: No, I think I will stop observing.
Ja: Coś ciekawego?Hili: Nie, chyba przestanę obserwować.
Here are Szaron and Kulka on the same windowsill as above. Every cat has their own blanket but Kulka isn’t using hers:
From Facebook, a cool duck boat:
From In Otter News:
God addresses humanity. But isn’t he omniscient, even about the future?
I never would have made you this smart if I knew you were going to be this stupid.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) January 27, 2022
From reader Ken, who notes, “Kari Lake, the Donald Trump-endorsed candidate in this year’s election for governor of Arizona:”
Kari Lake: “I took 6 pills” of Ivermectin.
Kari Lake 1 hour later: “Correction: Took 3 pills.”
Kari can’t remember how many pills she’s taken, but wants to be Governor of Arizona. pic.twitter.com/Qd6G79xofS
— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) February 1, 2022
From Ginger K. Is the cat really doing science according to the demarcation criteria?
Hello we are doing science pic.twitter.com/KPplNwjpWm
— Imogene Cancellare (@biologistimo) January 19, 2022
Tweets from Matthew. Google translation of the first one: “When I was shooting, this happening (Both are straddling, so my palm hurts)”. I think it’s a bit cruel, though:
— Ray (@RayArmonia1) December 8, 2019
Is this really ridiculous? The shape, originally fashioned by natural selection to be cryptic and look like a twig, might simply be constrained by development, while the insect might have become toxic and advertised its toxicity with “warning coloration”.
— Dr. Michael Skvarla (@mskvarla36) February 2, 2022
This tweet seems to have vanished, but I have a screenshot. I like it.
I may have put this up before, but I love jumping spiders. I had one on my desk the other day, and I’ll put its photo below.
Rachel @onychophora1929 told me she had just eaten some crisps. They are covered with hydrocarbons, as are female spiders – maybe we have a new assay for identifying sex pheromones in salticid spiders!
— Matthew Cobb (@matthewcobb) January 14, 2022
I wonder if this is a real phobia:
Anatidaephobia – Fear of Being Watched by a Duck pic.twitter.com/qguCgcvAqE
— Rabih Alameddine (@rabihalameddine) January 14, 2022
It was, after all, in a Far Side cartoon: