Welcome to a Hump Day (“Дзень гарба” in Belarusian): Wednesday, February 22, 2023: National Cook a Sweet Potato Day! (They microwave well.)
It’s also National Margarita Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Ash Wednesday, Be Humble Day, National Wildlife Day, Walking the Dog Day, Crime Victims Day in Europe, and, in Japan, National Cat Day, described in Wikipedia below:
In Japan, National Cat Day is celebrated on February 22, as the date resembles the words “nyan nyan nyan” (meow meow meow). The date was decided on this date in a poll between cat-keepers by the Executive Cat Day Committee in 1978. It is celebrated with people posing with photographs of themselves with their pet cats, and businesses selling cat-themed cuisine.
I tried “meow” on my Google translate app, but “February 22” didn’t sound much like “nyan” (which sounds like “nee-ah” in Japanese).
Here’s a video from 2015 on National Cat Day in Japan. The YouTube notes:
Cat lovers from all over Japan gathered in Tokyo to celebrate Cat Day and commemorate the 10th anniversary of the feline festival. Twenty pets selected from more than 150 entries around the world, vied for the coveted title of “Number One Cat in Japan.” The Executive Cat Day Committee also awarded a prize for an owner-pet pair that demonstrated the best bonding between human and animal in their relationship. The ‘Ichiban’ prize went to two cats named Kin-San and Gin-San, after a pair of plucky 103 year old twins whose popularity has swept Japan in recent years. They were judged to be the most unique cats of the year because of their eye colour. Kin’s eyes are golden while Gin’s are silver. The contest also featured a cat that survived the Kobe Earthquake last year.
Note the awarding of the Ichiban Prize (Number One Cat) to the “103 year old” white twin cats:
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the February 22 Wikipedia page.
*Putin’s army is attacking Ukraine hard, vows victory, and just pulled out of our only nuclear arms-control agreement with Russia. As things head up, Biden gave a speech yesterday in Poland pledging strong support for Ukraine, though of course there’s always room for interpretation of what “support” means. From the AP:
President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned of “hard and bitter days ahead” as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the one-year mark, but vowed that no matter what, the United States and allies “will not waver” in supporting the Ukrainians.
A day after his surprise visit to Kyiv, Biden used a strongly worded address in neighboring Poland to praise allies in Europe for stepping up over the past year and to send a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that “NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.”
“One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv,” Biden said before a crowd of thousands outside Warsaw’s Royal Castle. “I can report: Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall and, most important, it stands free.”
With Russia and Ukraine each preparing spring offensives, Biden insisted there will be no backing down from what he’s portrayed as a global struggle between democracy and autocracy — though polling suggests American support for ongoing military assistance appears to be softening.
“Democracies of the world will stand guard over freedom today, tomorrow and forever,” Biden declared. The U.S. and allies will “have Ukraine’s back.”
Three more things:
Despite his criticisms of Putin, Biden did not mention the START suspension during his speech. And the Russian Foreign Ministry later said that, despite Putin’s announcement, it would continue abiding by the treaty’s caps.
. . . and:
The administration on Sunday said it has new intelligence suggesting that China, which has generally remained on the sidelines of the conflict, is now considering sending Moscow lethal aid. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it could become a “serious problem” if Beijing follows through.
and from the Washington Post we hear that Biden echoed what Kamala Harris said last week:
“Autocrats only understand one word: no,” Biden said. He used the speech to accuse Russia of crimes against humanity, such as “targeting civilians with death,” using rape as “a weapon of war,” stealing Ukrainian children, and targeting train stations, maternity wards, hospitals, schools and orphanages.
I don’t know how US intelligence can discern what China is intending to do, but I’m sure that there must be some mole somewhere, or some interception of discussion, that has led to this claim. If China gets into it, things will get much worse, not to mention what they’re intending to do about Taiwan.
*Kai Bird has an extremely positive take on Jimmy Carter’s presidency. In fact, I can’t find anything about Carter’s actions in the White House that Bird takes issue with:
His presidency is remembered, simplistically, as a failure, yet it was more consequential than most recall. He delivered the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II arms control agreement, normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with China and immigration reform. He made the principle of human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, planting the seeds for the unraveling of the Cold War in Eastern Europe and Russia.
He deregulated the airline industry, paving the way for middle-class Americans to fly for the first time in large numbers, and he regulated natural gas, laying the groundwork for our current energy independence. He worked to require seatbelts or airbags, which would go on to save 9,000 American lives each year. He inaugurated the nation’s investment in research on solar energy and was one of the first presidents to warn us about the dangers of climate change. He rammed through the Alaska Land Act, tripling the size of the nation’s protected wilderness areas. His deregulation of the home-brewing industry opened the door to America’s thriving boutique beer industry. He appointed more African Americans, Hispanics and women to the federal bench, substantially increasing their numbers.
But some of his controversial decisions, at home and abroad, were just as consequential. He took Egypt off the battlefield for Israel, but he always insisted that Israel was also obligated to suspend building new settlements in the West Bank and allow the Palestinians a measure of self-rule. Over the decades, he would argue that the settlements had become a roadblock to a two-state solution and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. He was not afraid to warn everyone that Israel was taking a wrong turn on the road to apartheid. Sadly, some critics injudiciously concluded that he was being anti-Israel or worse.
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, Mr. Carter rightly resisted for many months the lobbying of Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and his own national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to give the deposed shah political asylum. Mr. Carter feared that to do so would inflame Iranian passions and endanger our embassy in Tehran. He was right. Just days after he reluctantly acceded and the shah checked into a New York hospital, our embassy was seized. The 444-day hostage crisis severely wounded his presidency.
As for his failure to win a second term, Bird says even that was good, as it allowed him to found the Carter Center, dedicated to solving the world’s hard problems. Why was he defeated? Bird says this:
The majority of the country rejected him as a president way ahead of his time: too much of a Georgian Yankee for the New South and too much of an outlier populist for the North. If the election in 1976 offered hope for a healing of the racial divide, his defeat signaled that the country was reverting to a conservative era of harsh partisanship. It was a tragic narrative familiar to any Southerner.
*While the news keeps telling us that Saudi Arabia is getting more and more liberal and democratic, here’s some news showing that it’s cracking down harder than ever on dissent at the same time that it’s creating social improvements:
“The scope of oppression really is unprecedented,” said Hala Aldosari, a women’s rights activist who left Saudi Arabia in 2014 for a postdoctoral fellowship in the United States and said she never felt safe enough to return.
Since then, Prince Mohammed has rendered the conservative Islamic kingdom nearly unrecognizable, setting in motion seismic changes — some of which activists like Ms. Aldosari spent years campaigning for.
He launched an ambitious plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy and ended a slew of religious and social restrictions that many Saudis found suffocating. Women, barred from driving until 2018, now work as Amazon delivery drivers, chief executives and ambassadors. Music, once effectively prohibited in public, thumps inside dimly lit restaurants where young couples flirt. The gender segregation that shaped public life for decades has dissolved.
At the same time, the modest space for political discourse has shriveled.
. . . Since 2017, the Saudi authorities have arrested hundreds of public figures across the political spectrum, including Snapchat influencers, religious clerics, billionaires and several of the prince’s own cousins. The killing in 2018 of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul, prompting international outrage, was the most dramatic example of a broader crackdown that has continued to deepen since his death.
Particularly harsh sentences are handed out for dissenting views on Twitter. Here’s one of them:
The authorities have paid special attention to Twitter, which is widely used in the kingdom.
Noura al-Qahtani, who ran an anonymous Twitter account, was among several people put on trial last year in relation to social media activity. On her account, where she had roughly 600 followers, she called for anti-government protests, criticized some social liberalization measures and wrote that Prince Mohammed was “not good enough to be a prince.”
After a court found her guilty of “challenging the faith and justice of the king and the crown prince” and “supporting the ideology of people who strive to disturb public order,” among other charges, she was sentenced to 13 years in prison. On appeal, she pleaded for mercy, saying that she was nearly 50 and had five children to take care of, according to a copy of her verdict. Instead, the panel of judges lengthened her sentence to 45 years in prison.
This is the only country I know of that is giving people more freedom socially but less freedom of speech. The leaders must be very, very afraid of criticism and dissent, which means that they’re fearing for their own dynasty.
*Florida has banned gender-affirming care for kids, and “prohibited puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, as well as surgical procedures, for new patients under age 18.” I’m not sure what they’ve done about non-medical therapeutic treatment, but I can’t say I’m opposed to using drugs and surgery until a person is 18 (I could probably live with 16). But NPR, while damning the Florida decision, is pretending that there is no downside to hormones and puberty blockers, despite evidence that puberty blockers can have negative effects, and of course hormones can sterilize you.
While medical treatment has made a postive difference for many kids who suffered from gender dysphoria, NPR is making dubious statements about their side effects, which erodes the idea of “informed consent”. For example:
Dozens of leading U.S. medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the Endocrine Society, endorse gender-affirming care as time-tested, effective, medically necessary, and potentially life-saving.
. . .Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Kristin Dayton, who runs the Youth Gender Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville, disputes claims that gender-affirming care is risky or experimental.
“There is tons of evidence to back my assertion that this is safe and healthy for children,” she says. “It’s pretty offensive to me, because I pride myself in being someone who always follows the evidence, does the right thing for my patients.”
This flies in the face of the facts, which is that there is enough evidence that puberty blockers may have dangerous side effects that some eEuropean countries do indeed consider them experimental, and will not administer them except in clinical trials. As for hormones, yes, of course they have “unsafe” side effects. For people considering transitioning, the net effect of hormone treatment seems to be positive (although there are “desisters”), but NPR mentions none of the unpleasant side effects that must be weighed when considering transitioning. NPR has produced a one-sided piece that is, in fact, dangerous.
*There’s an op-ed in the NYT by Brian Riedel of the (conservative) Manhattan Institute: “Biden’s promises on Social Security and Medicare have no basis in reality“. Riedel may in fact be right that keeping those programs as is, without changes to “new” oldsters, may cause serious fiscal damages to the US:
In his State of the Union speech this month, President Biden pledged to block any reductions in scheduled Social Security and Medicare benefits. He also promised that any tax increases would be limited to families that earn more than $400,000 — roughly the top-earning 2 percent of American families.
Together, these promises are almost certainly economically impossible.
Over the next three decades, the Social Security system is scheduled to pay benefits $21 trillion greater than its trust fund will collect in payroll taxes and related revenues. The Medicare system is projected to run a $48 trillion shortfall. These deficits are projected to, in turn, produce $47 trillion in interest payments to the national debt. That is a combined shortfall of $116 trillion, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. (To inflation-adjust these figures, trim by roughly one-third.)
These unsustainable figures result from demographics, rising health care costs and program design. The ratio of workers supporting each retiree, which was about 5:1 back in 1960, will fall to just over 2:1 by the next decade. People who live until age 90, a fast-growing group, will spend one-third of their adult life collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits. Today’s typical retiring couple will receive Medicare benefits three times as large as their lifetime contributions to the system, and also will come out ahead on Social Security (adjusted into present value), according to the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.
The president’s implication that full benefits can be paid without raising taxes for 98 percent of families has no basis in mathematical reality.
I think we all know that it’s likely these promises will entail large tax increases for everyone. Ridel’s solution is to “pare back the benefits,” not on those who are getting them now, but by increasing the age of getting Medicare and Social Security, and by reducing the amount of benefits that wealthy seniors get. Needless to say, this will not be popular. But neither will substantial tax increases.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Kulka are squabbling again:
Hili: You are a trespasser.Kulka: Get used to it.
Hili: Jesteś intruzem.Kulka: Przyzwyczaj się wreszcie.
From Doc Bill:
From Facebook: Good thing nobody was sitting on the throne!
God finally tweeted on Mastodon!
From Masih: Jamshid Sharmahd is almost certainly not guilty of spying and plotting an attack on a mosque. He was, as they planned to do with Masih, kidnapped by Iranian gents and taken back from Dubai for being a dissident:
Your innocent citizen, #JamshidSharmahd, has been sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
He had been kidnapped by the regime while he was travelling in Dubai.
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) February 21, 2023
Original tweet from Dom, which I retweeted:
The picture of "our church" is actually the London Natural History Museum main hall with Darwin's statue!
That's MY church! https://t.co/AFlslRlwIy
— Jerry Coyne (@Evolutionistrue) February 21, 2023
From Roz: goats scarfing down a wheelbarrow full of tomatoes!
Goats eating tomatoes.. 🍅
🎥 TT: ryleeranch pic.twitter.com/V34mXRPT8K
— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden) February 19, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial: a young woman dead at 19:
22 February 1924 | Polish Jewish woman, Felicja Wolf, was born in Lwów. She lived in Metz in France.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) February 22, 2023
Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, the admirable Jimmy Carter:
President Jimmy Carter flies commercial, greets every passenger on the flight. pic.twitter.com/xX8DIsMUZz
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) February 18, 2023
Hydrozoan needs to synch up:
A goofy hydrozoan. Is it meant to swim like this or are its muscle contractions are not synching up correctly? Reminds me of a time we woke up a nocturnal deigo flower hat jelly (Olindias deigo), which swam like a flapping taco a bit before it began to swim like a normal jelly. pic.twitter.com/t7iG0enxs0
— Keishu Asada (@CephWarden) February 19, 2023
Best sound ever! 🥰 pic.twitter.com/hkKwRALnVh
— LifeNews.com (@LifeNewsHQ) February 13, 2023