Greetings on Hump Day (known as Dia de Gepa in Catalan), May 25, 2022: an excellent day for food and drink because it’s National Wine Day , and I’ll celebrate by introducing you to one of the world’ finest sweet sherries (below). In the U.S. it’s also National Missing Children’s Day, National Tap Dance Day, and Towel Day in honour of the work of the writer Douglas Adams.
Here’s the best tap dance routine I know of, with a fantastic performance by the Nicholas Brothers beginning about 1:32. It has lagniappe: a starting bit by Cab Calloway singing in his usual “jive” style. Don’t miss this if you haven’t seen it:
Stuff that happened on May 25 include:
- 240 BC – First recorded perihelion passage of Halley’s Comet.
- 1521 – The Diet of Worms ends when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, issues the Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.
Here’s a reconstruction of that meeting. Everyone was much relieved when the DIet ended.
- 1787 – After a delay of 11 days, the United States Constitutional Convention formally convenes in Philadelphia after a quorum of seven states is secured.
- 1895 – Playwright, poet and novelist Oscar Wilde is convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.
That broke his health, and then he went to Paris, where he died. Here’s Wilde (from the Oscar Wilde Site):
I always show this photo when I mention Scopes because the Discovery Institute hates it, and made it into an entire column. The issue: Scopes taught from a textbook that, they say, had eugenics in it. The response: Scopes taught biology for only one day as a substitute teacher, and didn’t teach eugenics. Here I am at his and his wife’s gravesite in Paducah, Kentucky (2013). It was hard to find that gravestone!
- 1955 – First ascent of Mount Kangchenjunga: On the British Kangchenjunga expedition led by Charles Evans, Joe Brown and George Band reach the summit of the third-highest mountain in the world (8,586 meters); Norman Hardie and Tony Streather join them the following day.
One of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Kangchenjunga is best viewed from Darjeeling, 75 km away. I went there especially to see the mountain, but the view is usually socked in by clouds. Finally, on my fifth and last day, clouds lifted to reveal a view like this from atop Tiger Hill (not my photo; from Wikipedia):
As I recall, they didn’t form a continuous line of people across the U.S. holding each other’s hands, but they did pretty well, and raised $15 million for charity
- 2001 – Erik Weihenmayer becomes the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, in the Himalayas, with Dr. Sherman Bull.
Weihenmayer, who had a rare disease that rendered him totally blind at 14, made it to the top with the help of voice commands, from his co-climbers. Not only that, but he climbed the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on every continent). Here’s a brief video and interview with him.
Wine of the Day: I’ve been touting sherries for a long time as one of the world’s best wine values. (They’re not for everyone, but the quality/price ratio is extraordinarily high. My favorites are at the driest end (finos; the ideal aperitif drink) and at the sweetest end. The wine below, made entirely from the Pedo Ximénez grape, a white grape that’s dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars and then pressed for its fantastic nectar. If you are not a sherry maven, you’ll want to look for wines by Lustau: I’ve never had a bad one. And the Lustau sherries tend to come in the cheaper (but still good) versions without a name, and then the top-of-the-line versions usually labeled “Almencista”.
For example, this wine (aged eight years in a solera [stack of barrels of various age] before bottling) is thecheaper “San Emilio” version of Pedro Ximénez sherry, but there’s one I haven’t had (“VORS,” or “very old rare sherry”) that was aged 30 years before bottling and comes in 500 cl bottles.
San Emilio PX is simply luscious. Thick, sweet, and intensely flavored with dried fruits: figs, raisins, and prunes. A little goes a long way, so this $23 bottle (a great bargain) will provide at least ten glasses. It’s best drunk on its own, either as dessert or after dessert. The flavor lasts minutes in your mouth, and it’s the ideal wine to sip while reading a good book. I’ve never seen a bad review of a Lustau PX; you can see a few here.
Though made from a white grape, the drying and aging process turns the wine dark brown. Here’s a glass held up to the light, an even then you can barely see through it. Note the “legs”: the glycerin drops left on the side of the glass when you swirl it. Only thick sweet lines will leave these markings.
I can’t recommend this wine highly enough if you like sweet wines. It’s not a cloying sweet wines like the junk I used to buy for 99¢ a bottle in college (“Sly Fox” or “Boone’s Farm Apple Wine”); this is a serious, world-class tipple. And because all sherries are fortified, with alcohol added to stop the fermentation, it’s also very alcoholic: 17.3%. But you won’t get drunk, for just a third of a very small glass will do for you.
*I hate leading off this way, but once again there’s another mass shooting in America, at another school, that apparently has killed several people (as I write this on Tuesday night only two are reported dead. According to the New York Times, and 18 year old man with a handgun and possibly a rifle entered an elementary school in Ulvalde, Texas yesterday afternoon and started firing. The toll, as I said, is two dead with 14 others wounded, and the assailant is reported to be in police custody.
This is the 212th mass shooting in America just since the beginning of the year.
UPDATE: Half an hour later (5 p.m. Chicago time), the toll has risen to 14 children and one teacher dead. The suspect is also dead. And I’ve just listened to Lester Holt, anchor of the NBC Evening News end his broadcast saying that we need a solution, but all he could suggest is to “hold your love ones close.” That, of course, is no solution at all. If you could make one technical change to prevent these shootings, just enact gun laws as strict as there are in England and Scotland. That, of course, is politically impossible in our Wild West Society, but how many deaths will it take till they know that too many people have died? Now, listening to the Illinois gubernatorial debate, the three candidates have nothing better to offer than “enforce existing gun laws.” It makes me sick. (The killer, Salvador Ramos, bought his guns legally.)
And now another update: today’s NYT relates that 19 children and 2 adults were killed, the greatest toll since the Sandy Hook massacre ten years ago (that one killed 20 children and six adults. I keep imagining a parent at home getting an unexpected call with the horrible news that their child was dead. The pain is unimaginable, and then multiply it by the number of victims (as for the adults, they have loved ones who also grieve. No motive has yet been revealed.
Guns are the leading cause of death for children in America.
*Henry Kissinger, soon to turn 99, is regarded as some kind of god in Foreign Affairs, and I won’t doubt the man is canny. But neither can I worship his latest pronouncement, a declaration that Ukraine should simply surrender territory to Russia to end the war.
After saying that Western countries should remember Russia’s importance to Europe and not get swept up “in the mood of the moment,” Kissinger also pushed for the West to force Ukraine into accepting negotiations with a “status quo ante,” which means the previous state of affairs.
By “status quo ante”, Kissinger means a return to the situation in which Russia formally controlled Crimea and informally controlled the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Ukrainian President Zelensky is unlikely to agree to the second bit, and I doubt that Putin will agree to this at all. After all, if he agrees, he’s gone to war and achieved nothing. Not only that, but there may be two new countries in NATO.
*President Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki (a William & Mary alum), has finally given up her position at the White House to accept an undoubtedly more lucrative position at MSNBC. Her new job will apparently involve appearances on the network’s streaming and cable shows, as well as her own show. She lasted a bit more than two years.
*John McWhorter’s latest column in the NYT is called, “Constantly updating terminology isn’t going to achieve progressive aims,” and I cheered when I read it. On some level progressives have to realize that this is true, but they keep updating anyway. The latest was “Latine”, a supposedly improved version of “Latinx” (rejected by Hispanics), which itself was an upgrade from “Latina” or “Latino”, which could be best replaced by “Hispanice”. But changing lingo is a cost-free way of demonstrating virtue, and so it goes. An excerpt:
I’m certainly not arguing for intolerance toward those who can become pregnant but don’t identify as women. I’m saying that even if we’re not being forced to use the new terms, the way they’re introduced, almost as if by fiat, can make it seem as if sticking with the old ones is a kind of thought crime. But it isn’t that those on the left have some weird, childish yen for control. Rather, they seem to be operating under an attractive but shaky idea that language channels thought: Change how people say things and you change how they think about things and then the world changes.
That’s not how it works, though. Good intentions frequently don’t translate into efficacy. So, the question is, how much does changing terminology really accomplish?
His answer is “not much, and research supports that”, but he uses some almost humorous examples of what Steve Pinker calls the “euphemism treadmill.” This is one of McWhorter’s better columns, and I recommend reading it. It also has a good ending:
Far better to teach people what you think they should think about something, and why, instead of classifying the way they express themselves about it as a form of disrespect or backwardness. After a while, if you teach well, they won’t be saying what you don’t want them to say. Mind you, you may not be around to see the fruits of the endeavor — a frustrating aspect of change is that it tends to happen slowly. But “Change words!” is no watchcry for a serious progressivism.
*If you’ve studied biology, you probably know what is considered the paradigmatic case of natural selection in action: the evolutionary change in color of the peppered moth, Biston betularia. During and after the Industrial revolution in Britain, the black-and-white speckled moth evolved into a largely black form because of predation by visually-hunting birds. If you want to be considered at least partly educated in evolutionary biology, read Current Biology‘s (free) quick guide to what we know about this rapid change. (There’s also a free pdf.)
The study of industrial melanism in the British peppered moth population has produced one of the most complete examples of adaptation through natural selection. The melanic carbonaria form was first discovered in Britain in the mid-19th century. Over the next 50 years, it rapidly increased in frequency to make up over 90% of the population in some industrial and smoke-blackened regions. This was followed by a decline in melanic frequency in these areas after smoke control was introduced in the mid-1970s. A number of experiments have demonstrated that selective predation by insectivorous birds is the major factor driving these frequency changes. Light morphs are better camouflaged against light backgrounds, such as lichen-covered trees, whereas black morphs are better camouflaged against dark backgrounds, such as tree barks darkened by coal pollution. Crucially, the rapidity of the phenotypic change in populations of the adult moths provided the first evidence that natural selection could be very strong, challenging the prevailing view of early evolutionary biologists that evolutionary change was invariably slow.
Here’s the change in color that occurred in most populations in the mid-19th century when soot covered the trees, making the darker forms to the right (the “carbonaria” morph) more camouflaged from birds. What’s equally remarkable is that a similar change occurred independently in the northern industrial parts of the U.S. some time later (this is the work of my undergraduate advisor Bruce Grant). And to up the ante, when pollution abated in both countries, the lighter form (“typica”) began increasing in frequency again.
That info will make you an instant hit at parties.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili declares herself not guilty of avicide:
A: What are those feathers on the verandah?Hili: I don’t know, ask Kulka.
Ja: Co to za piórka na werandzie?Hili: Nie wiem, zapytaj Kulki.
From Peter: a cat hopelessly addicted to ‘nip: (click the arrow):
Contributed to Facebook by Manar Al-Ahmed. Remember, animals get hot, too.
Richard Dawkins’s mother Jean, who wrote poetry, died not long ago at 102. Richard reproduces his poems read by his former wife, actress Lalla Ward. Richard also notes that reproduced on his website.the poems are
My mother’s poems, posthumously published by AC Grayling, have now been beautifully read by Lalla Wardhttps://t.co/9bYFSEKm83
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) May 23, 2022
A photo of Jean Dawkins:
A neighbour was putting up a Lost Cat poster. I said to her “sorry to see this. I’ll keep a look out.” She said “I’m taking them down.” She had spent all day printing and putting them up. She had just finished the last one and turned around and her cat was there, staring at her.
— Peter Stafford (@peterstafford) May 22, 2022
From Barry: Duck 1, Cats 0 (I refer to the second tweet, which I can’t separate from the first; can some reader help me separate linked tweets?)
Help !!! pic.twitter.com/nuQcr6b8BO
— Cak Solikin (@solikin_cak) May 18, 2022
From Ginger K: Cats teach biology:
The bacterial capsule is a thick layer of polysaccharides that protects cells from various environmental and host-derived stressors pic.twitter.com/8Ntn54EeuY
— Elisa Granato (@Prokaryota) April 15, 2022
From the Auschwitz Memorial:
25 May 1929 | A Hungarian Jewish girl, Edit Spitzer, was born.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) May 25, 2022
Tweets from Matthew: This one’s called “play the flute at feeding time”:
Tired of using inferior raccoon-gathering methods?
This mystical Raccoon Bard has a solution for you… pic.twitter.com/BVZ2aLIcLv
— Dick King-Smith HQ (@DickKingSmith) January 31, 2020
Fell through the roof of a French bakery, in a lot of pain right now
— Jesse (@JesseDoctor) May 22, 2022
Well, I hope you got the pun. Somebody else didn’t and the tweeter toyed witg them (to me it seems a bit cruel):
How tall was Wadlow? How about nearly nine feet: to be exact, 8 feet 11 inches (2.72 m), and he weighed 439 lb (199 kg) at his death. Sadly, he died at just 22, for he had abnormal levels of growth hormone, and was in fact still growing when he died.
Such a condition doomed him to an early death, and here is its cause:
On July 4, 1940, during a professional appearance at the Manistee National Forest Festival, a faulty brace irritated his ankle, leading to infection. He was treated with a blood transfusion and surgery, but his condition worsened due to an autoimmune disorder; he died in his sleep on July 15.
I wonder if today’s antibiotics could have saved his life, at least for a while.
Robert Wadlow, tallest human in recorded history (back, middle) with his parents and siblings pic.twitter.com/W7eZreT7Lr
— trouteyes (@trouteyes) May 11, 2022
Wikipedia shows one of Wadlow’s shoes with the caption: “Wadlow’s shoe (US size 37 AA; UK size 36 or approximately European size 75) compared to a US size 12. Us size 12 is still a large shoe!