Weather addendum: it was 6° F (-14.4° C) this morning when I walked to work.
Welcome to both a Hump Day (“siku ya nundu” in Swahili) and the first day of the month, Wednesday, February 1, 2023. That means it’s National Cake Pops Day (one of the worst ideas for a treat I know of.
Canned Food Month
National Chocolate Lovers Month
National Cherry Month
National Grapefruit Month
National Snack Food Month
National Potato Lovers Month
Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month
National Hot Breakfast Month
!st week of Feb- African Heritage & Health Week
3rd Weekend of February: National Margarita Weekend“Superbowl Sunday” : National Pork Rind Day (aka National Pork Rind Appreciation Day)
It’s also National Baked Alaska Day (warning of future global warming), Decorating with Candy Day, National Dark Chocolate Day, Change Your Password Day, National Serpent Day, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, World Read Aloud Day, and National Freedom Day , the day in 1865 when Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery (it wasn’t ratified by the states until later).
And, appropriately, it’s the start of Black History Month (United States and Canada)
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the February 1 Wikipedia page.
*Newly elected Republican Congressman George Santos from New York, who is also one of the most arrant liars of our time, having faked his entire past, has said that he’s not stepping down from his set just because he “embellished his resume” a little. Of course he should resign given that he’s not only a serial liar, but is wanted for check fraud in Brazil. It’s amazing that the Republican House leadership still supports him. But fall he must, and it’s already beginning:
The temporary retreat from committees marks Santos’s first major concession after weeks of maintaining a steadfast resistance to any consequences over his fabrications.
Santos told colleagues he will step down because “he’s a distraction,” according to a Republican lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. The conversation comes one day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
In that meeting, Santos and McCarthy discussed various scenarios, according to people familiar with the conversation. Santos asked if his committee spots could be held in reserve until the conclusion of an investigation by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, the people said. McCarthy expressed support for that idea, telling the New York congressman that he appreciated it.
Santos should leave his House seat as he’ll be a permanent distraction, especially as the Brazilian government starts charging him with crimes. And his personal flaws are so obvious that he cannot be effective. The sick part is that the House is majority Republican, and if the House eventually votes on booting him out, he won’t get booted.
*From the NYT comes the story of an unusual friendship between two people of divergent stripes, as if a cat befriended a mouse: “One of the strangest friendships in Washington.”
It might be the strangest friendship in Washington.
He’s a well-known Christian conservative who speaks out against gay marriage and abortion. She’s a former civil rights lawyer who has spent much of her career fighting to desegregate schools and protect transgender kids from bullying.
Given their résumés, one might think that Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, and Anurima Bhargava, who worked in President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, would be adversaries — if they ever crossed paths at all. Yet, over the past five years, they have managed to forge a bond that transcends politics and proves that you don’t have to agree on values here at home to promote basic human rights abroad.
They met in 2018, when they were both appointed to serve on the nine-member U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a quasi-governmental body of unpaid volunteers that investigates religious persecution abroad. Mr. Perkins was appointed by Mitch McConnell; Ms. Bhargava by Nancy Pelosi. On the commission, they spoke up for the rights of Yazidis in Syria, Baha’is in Iran and Muslims in India. Even after their terms expired in 2022, they kept in touch.
What does it mean when a Hindu from the South Side of Chicago joins forces with an evangelical Christian from Louisiana to fight for the rights of religious minorities abroad? Maybe it means that we’re all human, and when we lean into that common humanity, good can come of it. Mr. Perkins, Ms. Bhargava and their fellow commissioners pushed for the release of people imprisoned for their beliefs, including a Quranist Muslim in Egypt, an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan and a Christian pastor in Turkey.
And their friendship has had salubrious effects on the religious freedom commission:
For the moment, the commission, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October, is proving that it can be a rare bipartisan success, despite the division “religious freedom” can spark here at home. Thanks, in part, to efforts by Ms. Bhargava and Mr. Perkins, it has largely overcome the partisan infighting that plagued its early years. Christians helped push through the confirmation of President Biden’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom — Rashad Hussain, a Muslim — at a time when other ambassadorships were held up. This year’s international religious freedom summit, which opens on Jan. 31, lists both Samantha Power, President Biden’s U.S.A.I.D. administrator, and Newt Gingrich as speakers.
It’s sad that the bipartisan friendship is categorized—correctly—as “rare”. Surely there are many views that are shared by individuals on both Right and Left, but polarization prevents any “reaching across the aisle.” It’s ineffably sad, but I see the report above as at once heartening but also likely to remain the exception.
*CNN reports plans to resurrect the extinct dodo. It will not work because of difficulties in genetic manipulation of eggs, but, more important, they are NOT resurrecting an extinct creature. At great labor and expense, they are trying to put a few dodo genes into a pigeon genome, hoping to get something like a dodo. That won’t happen: the genetic differences are too great, many trait difference are based on many genes that remain unknown, and at best we’ll get a multiply mutant pigeon (h/t: Barry)
Now, a team of scientists wants to bring back the dodo in a bold initiative that will incorporate advances in ancient DNA sequencing, gene editing technology and synthetic biology. They hope the project will open up new techniques for bird conservation.
“We’re clearly in the middle of an extinction crisis. And it’s our responsibility to bring stories and to bring excitement to people in way that motivates them to think about the extinction crisis that’s going on right now,” said Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Shapiro is the lead paleogeneticist at Colossal Biosciences, a biotechnology and genetic engineering start-up founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church, which is working on an equally ambitious projects to bring back the woolly mammoth and the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger.
Shapiro said that she had already completed a key first step in the project — fully sequencing the dodo’s genome from ancient DNA — based on genetic material extracted from dodo remains in Denmark.
The next step was to compare the genetic information with the dodo’s closest bird relatives in the pigeon family — the living Nicobar pigeon, and the extinct Rodrigues solitaire, a giant flightless pigeon that once lived on an island close to Mauritius. It’s a process which would allow them to narrow down which mutations in the genome “make a dodo a dodo,” Shapiro said.
At least CNN mentions some of the problems in this foolish endeavor:
However, the subsequent work that’s needed to resurrect the animal — programming cells from a living relative of the dodo with the lost bird’s DNA — will be significantly more challenging. Shapiro said she hopes to adapt an existing technique used involving primordial germ cells, the embryonic precursors of sperm and eggs, that has already been used to create a chicken fathered by a duck.
The approach involves removing primordial gems cells from an egg, cultivating them in the lab and editing the cells with the desired genetic traits before injecting them back to an egg at the same developmental stage, she explained.
Even if the team is successful in this high-stakes endeavor, they won’t be making a carbon copy of the dodo that lived four centuries ago, but an altered, hybrid form.
HA! No, not even a hybrid. A hybrid has half its genes from a pigeon and half of its genes from a dodo. CRISPR gene editing won’t even get close to that. If this project works, which it won’t, it will produce, as I said, a multiply mutant pigeon which at best will be weak and unfit.
Truly, I wonder why people not only do this, but why scientists and journalists haven’t spoken up about how hopeless these endeavors are. (To be fair, Matthew has criticized George Church’s project to resurrect the wooly mammoth, which at best will produce an elephant that needs a shave.) The mammoth-dreamers promise us “mammoth calves” between 2025 and 2027. Anybody wanna bet?
*There’s a big kerfuffle in Scotland about the treatment of transgender women: biological men who self-identify as women. The background, according to a reader, is this: “Scotland has passed a law allowing men to gender self-identify as women and then be moved to women’s prisons.” The report below implies that that law, however, needs to be approved by the UK, which seems reluctant to approve.
The result, according to the BBC, was dire: a man who was convicted in Scotland of raping two women decided to change gender while awaiting trial (I’m not sure if there was any surgery or hormone treatment, but there was certainly a change in asserted self identity) and the new “she” was put into a woman’s prison. There was an outcry, and the prisoner was moved back to a men’s prison:
A trans woman who raped two women before she changed gender has been moved to a men’s prison, BBC Scotland understands.
Isla Bryson was remanded to Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling after being convicted of the rapes when she was a man called Adam Graham. She has since been moved to HMP Edinburgh.
Bryson decided to transition from a man to a woman while awaiting trial.
She was taken to a male wing of HMP Edinburgh on Thursday afternoon.
It came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that Bryson would not be allowed to serve her sentence at Cornton Vale.
Remember that Bryson had already been put in a women’s prison according to Scottish law. this put Sturgeon in a difficult bind. If transwomen are women, and the law is the law, why was Bryson transferred to a men’s prison. Sturgeon stammered and equivocated (see below), and then decided that, at least in Bryson’s case, transwomen were not identical to biological women!
Bryson is due to be sentenced next month after being convicted of the rapes on Tuesday. It is thought to have been the first time a trans woman has been convicted of raping women in Scotland.
But where that sentence should be served has been the subject of heated debate, with concerns being raised about the safety of other women in the female jail if Bryson was placed there.
The Scottish Parliament passed legislation last month aimed at making it easier for people to change their legally-recognised sex, but Ms Sturgeon has said the changes did not play any part in the Bryson case.
The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has been blocked by the UK government over its potential impact on equalities laws that apply across Scotland, England and Wales.
. . . Ms Sturgeon said she expected that Bryson would not be at Cornton Vale in Stirling by the end of a 72-hour segregated assessment period, which ended on Thursday afternoon.
The first minister also stressed it was careful that people “do not, even inadvertently, suggest that trans women pose an inherent threat to women”, adding: “Predatory men, as has always been the case, are the risk to women.” BUT Bryson was a predatory biological man who identified as a woman. In other words, moving Bryson to a men’s prison did indeed suggest that trans women can pose a threat to biological women (note that she draws a distinction between “women” and “trans women”).
Speaking to journalists outside the chamber, Ms Sturgeon said she had not given any “formal direction” to the Scottish Prison Service on removing Bryson from Cornton Vale.
A spokesman for the first minister would not say if it was now Scottish government policy to bar all rapists from female prisons.
Here’s Bryson before transitioning:
Opposition parties say the government’s handling of the row has been “botched”, and characterised by “chaos, confusion and U-turns”.
The controversy began last week when Isla Bryson, who now identifies as a woman, was convicted of two rapes committed prior to her gender change.
Pending sentence, Bryson was initially remanded to Cornton Vale women’s prison, near Stirling – prompting an outcry – before she was transferred to HMP Edinburgh.
. . .At the weekend it was reported that another transgender woman, Tiffany Scott – who was convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl before her transition and has a history of violence – was due to be moved to the female prison estate.
Justice Secretary Keith Brown then announced a “pause” on the transfer of transgender prisoners, with a history of violence against women, to women’s prisons. An urgent review is now taking place into the Bryson case and there is an ongoing review by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
Now this is not a common situation, as there are only 15 transgender prisoners in Scottish jails (7 in men’s prisons, six of which are trans women; and 8 in women’s prisons, 5 of which are trans women). But what this shows is that the mantra “trans women are women” and “trans men are men” sometimes doesn’t hold in practice when other factors like jail are involved. (Another of these factors should, of course, be athletic participation.)
J. K. Rowling, often accused (wrongly) of being a transphobe, took at dig at the situation. The video of Minister Sturgeon Posed by Rowling below is funny, as Sturgeon tries to completely avoid a dogged reporter’s question about whether trans women like Bryson really are women. Sturgeon can’t bear to respond “not in every circumstance,” but that’s the tenor of her answer. Politicians! (A “TERF” is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist”—a pejorative term for feminists who, like Rowling, have been characterized by trans activists as transphobes.)
I don't know about you, but excluding women from women's prisons just because they've got penises, male pattern baldness and have committed a couple of rapes seems awfully TERFy to me. https://t.co/1OtW8KVcFN
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 30, 2023
*There’s trouble at the Houston Zoo: Dorito-eating miscreants are stealing and releasing the animals. Two lovely monkeys were just taken or let loose. Even a clouded leopard got loose recently, but it was recovered.
When police said two small monkeys were taken from the Dallas Zoo this week and a cut was found in their enclosure, it deepened a growing mystery that has included other cut fences, the escape of a small leopard and the suspicious death of an endangered vulture.
Police said Tuesday that they’re still working to determine whether or not the incidents over the last few weeks are related. Police, who haven’t made any arrests in any of the incidents, released a photo and video Tuesday of a man they want to talk to about the missing monkeys.
The photo shows the man eating Doritos chips while walking, and in the video clip he is walking down a path.
Here’s what is known so far about the incidents:
WHAT HAS HAPPENED AT THE ZOO?
The zoo closed Jan. 13 after workers arriving that morning found that the clouded leopard, named Nova, was missing. After a search that included police, the leopard weighing 20-25 pounds (9-11 kilograms) was found later that day near her habitat.
Police said a cutting tool was intentionally used to make the opening in her enclosure. A similar gash also was found in an enclosure for langur monkeys, though none got out or appeared harmed, police said.
On Jan. 21, an endangered lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead by arriving workers. Gregg Hudson, the zoo’s president and CEO, called the death “very suspicious” and said the vulture had “a wound,” but declined to give further details.
Here’s what the two monkeys who were purloined, emperor tamarins (Saguinus imperator), look like (Dallas Zoo via AP). The name reportedly comes from their prominent mustache, making them look like the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
Wilhelm II, who doesn’t look like this monkey (the ‘stache, for one thing, is curled the wrong way):
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili mourns the winter, as she always does. Doesn’t she look sad?
Hili: Evenings are getting longer and less dark.A: But it’s still a long time until spring.
Hili: Wieczory robią się dłuższe i mniej ciemne.Ja: Ale do wiosny daleko.
From Merilee, a Wayne and Piraro cartoon:
From Jesus of the Day:
From Masih. It’s weird that both Orthodox Jews and strict Muslims ban mixed-sex dancing. In this case, the crime was compounded by anti-regime activism. Click on the blue button to see this horrible crime.
For the crime of dancing, these two young Iranians have been sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison.#AstiyazhHaghighi 21 & #AmirMohammadAhmadi,
22 danced in the streets in support of #WomanLifeFreedom revolution in Iran.
They don’t deserve such brutality.#MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/Bs9VxqnxFV
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) January 30, 2023
From Rita King, a Futurist at the :
Cleaning out my closet, I came across this gown and remembered the little girls who sent me a letter and asked me to wear something sparkly for a talk I gave at NASA so they could believe that scientists could also be sparkly. pic.twitter.com/xOcZgkbiRg
— Rita J. King (@RitaJKing) November 2, 2019
From Malcolm. The cat likes it! (There’s music.)
Cat slide.. pic.twitter.com/L0uz7lKCxd
— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden) January 30, 2023
From Gravelinspector, who adds, “We’ve all laughed at the creationist’s ‘argument’ of ‘what use is half a wing?’. And here, in a quite domestic setting, is an example of sequential replacement and acquisition of additional function.”
Let’s learn a #CaturdayCatFact!
While a cat’s adult canines grow in, they go through a phase where each quadrant of their jaw has TWO CANINES! The adult tooth starts growing in next to the baby tooth, allowing the kitten to never go without the function… https://t.co/C3MbtGtA0x pic.twitter.com/CMuxp8S81r
— Ashley Reynolds – email@example.com (@ashinonyx) January 29, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial. Gassed upon arrival; ten years old.
1 February 1932 | A Dutch Jewish boy, Salomon Levie, was born in Meppel.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) February 1, 2023
Tweets from Matthew. Alison Martino is the daughter of the late singer Al Martino:
Sunset Strip in 1952. To think my dad had just moved out to L.A. at this time. He was living on Orchid Ave at the time with Nicky Blair. They could’ve easily been traveling in one of these cars – probably headed to Ciro’s which dad went on to headline the following year! ￼￼￼ pic.twitter.com/s2x5XPRAND
— Vintage Los Angeles (@alisonmartino) January 29, 2023
You can read about this narcissistic bear (and see more selfies) at the Guardian; it was on the NBC news two nights ago:
"Bear goes selfie-crazy by snapping 400 pictures on Colorado wildlife camera" https://t.co/moxTn78XAA
— Dr. Dawn Wright also @deepseadawn elsewhere 🇺🇦 (@deepseadawn) January 30, 2023
On the first day of February, I declare this the Tweet of the Month for January:
I wish I had a duck pic.twitter.com/qfDF26u9oH
— why you should have a duck 🦆 (@shouldhaveaduck) January 29, 2023