Welcome once again to the Cruelest Day: Tuesday, February 28, 2023, and the last day of the month. Tomorrow March comes in like a lion! It’s National Chocolate Souffle Day, though I doubt any readers will be partaking of that today.
It’s also Global Scouse Day (celebrating the Liverpudlian stew), World Spay Day, National Science Day, National Tooth Fairy Day (I got a quarter for each lost tooth), Kalevala Day, also known as the Finnish Culture Day (Finland) and also National Science Day in India.
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the February 28 Wikipedia page.
Wine of the Day: This is a bargain for Barolo: “only” $39, which seems to be the going price. I now have a taste for Italian reds, but I can indulge it a bit because I have enough dosh to afford good vino and still have tons left to leave to charity.
This was consumed with a toasted baguette, oil-cured black olives, fresh tomatoes drenched in goo Italian olive oil, and Trader Joe’s “Unexpected Cheddar Cheese”, a terrific cheese at a good price (it tastes like a sharpish cheddar with a touch of Parmesan, and I recommend it highly). The wine’s nose was of black cherries; its color was light garnet. The wine, a bit high in tannin, was flavorful, tasting of red fruit, but a bit thin. I would not rate it as highly as Parker did below. It might improve in a few years, but I wouldn’t buy it now with those hopes.
Here’s Robert Parker’s review, though I think he no longer tastes many of the wines himself (he became a mini wine empire). When I developed my taste for wine, Parker was my guru, and thanks to him I bought my first Bordeaux futures—in the great vintage of 1982. His site rates this Barolo highly:
This wine consistently delivers one of the greatest values to be found in Italian wine. The G.D. Vajra 2018 Barolo Albe has all its cards in play as an immediately enjoyable and extremely food-friendly Nebbiolo. This really is the top of the category in that sense. With straightforward winemaking (fermentation is in steel and aging in large Slavonian oak casks), the wine offers bold cherry, wild plum and plenty of fragrant blue flower and violet. This vintage has the added benefit of softly textured richness. Rating: 93+
*The trade status of Northern Ireland was always a thorn in the side of Brexit. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are cheek by jowl, and trade had flowed freely between them. With the departure of the UK from the EU in the “Brexit” move of early 2020, Northern Ireland would leave the EU but the Republic of Ireland would remain. And that means that trade would no longer be free between the two parts of the green isle. The issue has been in limbo until this week, when the EU and Britain brokered a deal:
The agreement, concluded after weeks of confidential talks and multiple false starts, could have far-reaching economic and political consequences: averting a trade war between Britain and the European Union, smoothing Britain’s relations with its Continental neighbors and opening the door to restoring a functioning government in Northern Ireland after months of paralysis.
It could also remove a lingering irritant between Britain and the United States. President Biden had pressed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain to negotiate an end to the impasse with Brussels, and the deal could smooth a visit by the president to London and Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of bloodshed known as the Troubles.
There is a tangle of issues:
Northern Ireland’s trade rules, as fiendishly complex as they are, have become a totemic issue for Brexiteers and unionists because of the territory’s unique status: It is part of the United Kingdom but shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, a member of the European Union and its single market.
The rules, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, were designed to avoid customs checks at the land border, which would be unacceptable for Ireland and for many people in Northern Ireland, particularly the nationalists, the largely Catholic part of the population that wants the territory to unite with Ireland.
But the rules alienated the unionists, the largely Protestant part of Northern Ireland that wants to remain in the United Kingdom, by creating obstacles to trade with the rest of Britain.
From another article in the NYT:
The plan meant more checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain, effectively creating a border down the Irish Sea and dividing the United Kingdom. Some British companies stopped supplying stores in Northern Ireland, blaming the added paperwork.
And, in brief, the solution:
Although the full details of the deal are still sparse, one key change announced by Mr. Sunak and Ms. von der Leyen is the introduction of “green” and “red” lanes for goods arriving in Northern Ireland.
There will be no routine controls on goods passing through a “green” lane designed for trusted traders whose products will not travel beyond Northern Ireland. The “red” lane is intended for goods destined for Ireland — within Europe’s single market — that will be checked.
Mr. Sunak said the agreement would not eliminate the role of the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s top judicial authority, in determining trade disputes, but he said the deal would give Northern Ireland’s politicians an “emergency brake” for any new or updated European legislation.
I asked an Irish friend their opinion of this deal, and here’s the reply (quoted with permission):
The agreement partly mitigates problems resulting from Brexit by reducing barriers on the movement of goods intended for local consumption from mainland Britain to NI. NI already has easy movement of goods south of the border. It (the agreement) has the further benefit of painting the hard-line unionists (most of whom are young-earth creationists) in a corner of their own making. In principle it means that UK scientists might again be eligible for Horizon – the flagship EU grants scheme. This would be hugely welcome but we will have to see if the UK government has the sense to rejoin Horizon. But these changes highlight the contrast with Scotland, which voted against Brexit by a much higher margin than NI, but has had none of the downsides of Brexit mitigated.
*Did the Covid-19 virus originate from a leak in a Chinese lab? I’m still not sure why people worry so much about whether Covid-19 came from a Chinese lab or a wet market, unless they think the Chinese were developing it as a bioweapon. But I don’t think they would do that, for it’s semi-suicidal: once the virus is unleashed, whether through a leak or deliberately, it’s going to spread around the world and infect many people, including the Chinese themselves. But the latest news on this front is the revival of the lab-leak hypothesis, long denigrated by the media. The U.S. Department of Energy, on only weak evidence, has now concluded that a leak from a lab is the most likely source of the pandemic:
Republican lawmakers said the Energy Department assessment that the Covid-19 pandemic likely originated with a leak from a Chinese lab backed up their long-held suspicions, and they urged declassification of more evidence related to the outbreak.
The Energy Department, which had previously been undecided on the origins of the pandemic, recently joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in saying the virus likely spread via a mishap at a Chinese laboratory, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), chairman of the House select committee on China, called for the Biden administration to declassify Covid information. He said he is seeking to pass legislation to impose sanctions and other restrictions on China-affiliated scientists until there is a full investigation into the Wuhan lab.
“As evidence clearly mounts in favor of the lab-leak hypothesis, the American people deserve complete transparency,” Mr. Gallagher said. “In order to prevent the next pandemic, we have to know how this one began,” he said.
Well, I’m not sure. As the paragraph below notes, the confidence in the lab-leak theory is low, and other government agencies adhere to the zoonotic hypothesis.
The Energy Department made its judgment based on new intelligence, albeit with “low confidence,” according to the Journal’s reporting. Four other U.S. government agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still believe the pandemic was likely the result of a natural transmission from an infected animal, while two others are undecided.
We don’t know (and may never know) how the virus got into humans. Based on this uncertainty, I don’t think that there should be any talks of putting sanctions on China (even if it was an accidental lab leak, why punish the country?), or of figuring out how to “stop the next pandemic.”
*Chicago’s mayor election today (I’ve voted by mail already) is not going to give us a mayor. That’s because there are nine candidates, and none of them has a majority. The incumbent, Lori Lightfoot, whose election was deemed historic because she’s gay, black, and female, isn’t even leading the pack.
As residents of Chicago prepare to elect a mayor, they are staring at a highly uncertain picture: a race so wide open that even the incumbent, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who won every ward in the city in the final balloting four years ago, is not assured a spot in an expected runoff election.
Chicagoans will pick on Tuesday among nine candidates at a pivotal time to lead the city, which has wrestled since the pandemic with a spike in homicides and an emptier downtown. At least four of the candidates are seen as serious contenders to make it to an April 4 runoff, and Ms. Lightfoot finds herself in between candidates casting themselves to her political left, and also to her right.
In the final days of the race, Ms. Lightfoot has attempted to embrace her spot in the middle, arguing that the city needs to stay the course with her. Before a crowd at a union hall over the weekend, she accused one opponent of being an undercover Republican. Another, she said, would raise taxes and cut policing.
In addition to Ms. Lightfoot, the top tier of candidates includes Jesús G. García, a progressive congressman; Brandon Johnson, a county commissioner endorsed by the local teachers’ union; and Paul Vallas, a former public school executive with a far more conservative platform on policing and education.
I voted, but not for Lightfoot, mainly for the reasons the article outlines: crime has soared in the city (several of our students were killed in the last few years), and she’s been at odds with unions and the school boards. She hasn’t been a particularly strong leader. You can tell that this election is all about crime because when I see ads for all the candidates during the evening news, every one of them is about rising crime rates.
What will happen is that the two top candidates will face each other in a runoff election in April
*This headline scared the bejeezus out of me when it popped up on my laptop as news: “Zero calorie sweetener linked to heart attack and stroke, study finds.” I’ve long given up most sugar and replaced it with Splenda, which you can get cheaply in 1000-packet lots from Amazon. So of course I went to the site, and it turns out that Splenda, which is sucralose, is not the guilty party. But read below to see if you should be concerned about what you use:
A sugar replacement called erythritol — used to add bulk or sweeten stevia, monk-fruit, and keto reduced-sugar products —has been linked to blood clotting, stroke, heart attack and death, according to a new study.
“The degree of risk was not modest,” said lead author Dr. Stanley Hazen, director of the center for cardiovascular diagnostics and prevention at the Cleveland ClinicLerner Research Institute.
People with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke if they had the highest levels of erythritol in their blood, according to the study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.
“If your blood level of erythritol was in the top 25% compared to the bottom 25%, there was about a two-fold higher risk for heart attack and stroke. It’s on par with the strongest of cardiac risk factors, like diabetes,” Hazen said.
Additional lab and animal research presented in the paper revealed erythritol appeared to be causing blood platelets to clot more readily. Clots can break off and travel to the heart, triggering a heart attack, or to the brain, triggering a stroke.
“This certainly sounds an alarm,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health, a hospital in Denver, Colorado, who was not involved in the research.
“There appears to be a clotting risk from using erythritol,” Freeman said. “Obviously, more research is needed, but in an abundance of caution, it might make sense to limit erythritol in your diet for now.”
Of course Big Artificial Sweetener says that this is bogus: that decades have study have shown sweeteners like erythritol to be safe. And remember, the risks appear to devolve upon those who have “existing risk factors for heart disease”, like diabetes. You can go here to see if your sweetener has erythritol. I was relieved to find (though I have no risk factors for heart disease, that the original blend of Splenda, which I use, is made from sucralose, not erythritol. But also remember that you aren’t going to lose much weight substituting any artificial sweetener for sugar: about a pound overall. Its best use is for diabetics, where sweeteners like Splenda do not cause spikes in blood sugar.
*The “crying Indian” antipollution commercial is no more, deemed a purveyor of stereotypes. The AP reports:
Since its debut in 1971, an anti-pollution ad showing a man in Native American attire shed a single tear at the sight of smokestacks and litter taking over a once unblemished landscape has become an indelible piece of TV pop culture.
It’s been referenced over the decades since on shows like “The Simpsons” and “South Park” and in internet memes. But now a Native American advocacy group that was given the rights to the long-parodied public service announcement is retiring it, saying it has always been inappropriate.
The so-called “Crying Indian” with his buckskins and long braids made the late actor Iron Eyes Cody a recognizable face in households nationwide. But to many Native Americans, the public service announcement has been a painful reminder of the enduring stereotypes they face.
The nonprofit that originally commissioned the advertisement, Keep America Beautiful, had long been considering how to retire the ad and announced this week that it’s doing so by transferring ownership of the rights to the National Congress of American Indians.
Here; I put it below. Do you think it’s inappropriate because it stereotypes Native Americans. I thought, and still think, that it’s clever:
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili won’t let Szaron share the cuddles:
Szaron: Is there a place for me?Hili: Don’t even think about it.
Szaron: Czy jest tam miejsce dla mnie?Hili: Nawet o tym nie myśl.
Another picture of my beloved hen Honey, which I have labeled “Proud Honey”:
From Now That’s Wild:
God made a “toot” on Mastodon (he’s been remarkably silent lately):
From Masih. The tweet seems to have disappeared but the Guardian article is still there. The Google translation from Farsi is this:
In an interview with the Guardian: The chemical attack on school girls in Iran is biological terror and J. Islami’s revenge on the women who shook Khamenei’s Berlin Wall. The United Nations should investigate and the leaders of democratic countries should condemn this series of poisoning.
The next tweet down, which hasn’t disappeared though it seems to say the same thing.
در مصاحبه با گاردین: حملهٔ شیمیایی به دختران مدرسهای در ایران انتقام جمهوری اسلامی است از زنان شجاعی که دیوار برلینِ خامنهای رو به لرزه در آوردند. رژیم ایران از دختران و زنان آزاد نفرت دارد، من از زنان سراسر دنیا به خصوص دختران مدرسهای میخواهم که صدای دانشآموزان ایرانی باشند… https://t.co/cs5mTYnFFY
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) February 27, 2023
From Malcolm, who says, “not quite,” but the smol guy MADE IT!
— lined cats (@lined_cats) February 25, 2023
From Barry; the amount of food these guys can pack in their cheeks is unbelievable. Such is the power of natural selection. . .
This hamster.. 😂 pic.twitter.com/jzhN3IFNYV
— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden) February 26, 2023
From Simon, a look back at the tenure (so far) of the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (12 years and counting). Go here for a boatload of Larry photos. Notice, too, that he’s with Obama below.
Larry the Cat’s 12 Years as Chief Mouser – 19 photos from Larry's term as Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street in London, which has seen five Prime Ministers so far. https://t.co/WObWHDl6mV pic.twitter.com/OEYE9gPhPt
— The Atlantic Photo (@TheAtlPhoto) February 23, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial: After the trauma of arrival and head-shaving, this Polish woman lived but three months:
28 February 1921 | A Polish woman, Józefa Górska, was born in Rzeszów. An accountant.
In #Auschwitz from 29 January 1943.
She perished in the camp on 1 May 1943. pic.twitter.com/klzm0GK3fG
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) February 28, 2023
Tweets found by Professor Cobb. This first one warms my heart: the guy’s a true animal lover. I wish I could do this for my ducks!
Allow me to introduce you to the most ridiculous yet amazing thing you will see this week. pic.twitter.com/MHlGmz9Ph2
— fragrance and foolishness (@Brieyonce) February 27, 2023
Lovely ice formations, and a theory about how they were formed:
Obviously formed from frozen foam. But remarkable! pic.twitter.com/CFnRr1EoZa
— Muriel Gray (@ArtyBagger) February 26, 2023
Matthew says, “It’s just a bush.” I don’t think so!
Just a bush. pic.twitter.com/GXpDQqKflR
— There is no cat in this image (@Thereisnocat_) February 27, 2023
23 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue”
The impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland was probably the most egregious example of the dishonesty of Boris Johnson (though there is plenty of competition). He swore that there would be no issue in accommodating continued free trade across the border with the Republic while having no checks or limitations on trade between Norther Ireland and the rest of the UK. This was never a possibility. It is to be hoped that Sunak’s deal will allow things to move forward now but it is far from certain that the hard line Unionists in Northern Ireland or many of the more Brexit-obsessed Tories at Westminster will accept the deal.
Yes, Johnson went to Northern Ireland and said, “There will be no border down the Irish Sea” and insisted that there would be no additional paperwork – he said that anyone told to fill any out should instruct the person asking them to do so to address the forms to him at Downing Street so that he could “file them in the No. 10 waterpaper basket”. Lo and behold, there was, inevitably, a border down the Irish Sea and costly new paperwork….
It should go its own way, whatever that might be, so we do not have to subsidize them. public spending per person there is approx £12,000 per person, in England approx £9,500.
It was actually more according to Statistica:
So much for the evils of Westminster…
Ah I was about 3 or 4 years out of date!
On this day:
1525 – Aztec king Cuauhtémoc is executed on the order of conquistador Hernán Cortés.
1947 – February 28 Incident: In Taiwan, civil disorder is put down with the loss of an estimated 30,000 civilians.
1953 – James Watson and Francis Crick announce to friends that they have determined the chemical structure of DNA; the formal announcement takes place on April 25 following publication in April’s Nature (pub. April 2).
1975 – In London, an underground train fails to stop at Moorgate terminus station and crashes into the end of the tunnel, killing 43 people.
1983 – The final episode of M*A*S*H airs, with almost 106 million viewers. It still holds the record for the highest viewership of a season finale.
1986 – Olof Palme, 26th Prime Minister of Sweden, is assassinated in Stockholm.
1991 – The first Gulf War ends.
1993 – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents raid the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas with a warrant to arrest the group’s leader David Koresh. Four ATF agents and six Davidians die in the initial raid, starting a 51-day standoff.
1997 – GRB 970228, a highly luminous flash of gamma rays, strikes the Earth for 80 seconds, providing early evidence that gamma-ray bursts occur well beyond the Milky Way.
2013 – Pope Benedict XVI resigns as the pope of the Catholic Church, becoming the first pope to do so since Pope Gregory XII, in 1415.
1683 – René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, French entomologist and academic (d. 1757).
1901 – Linus Pauling, American chemist and activist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1994).
1906 – Bugsy Siegel, American gangster (d. 1947).
1909 – Stephen Spender, English author and poet (d. 1995).
1915 – Peter Medawar, Brazilian-English biologist and immunologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1987).
1925 – Harry H. Corbett, Burmese-English actor (d. 1982). [Like J K Rowling, he had no middle name but invented an initial for professional purposes. He joked that the “H” stood for “hennyfink”, a Cockney pronunciation of “anything”.]
1929 – Frank Gehry, Canadian-born American architect and designer.
1942 – Brian Jones, English guitarist, songwriter, and producer (d. 1969).
Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust:
2003 – Chris Brasher, Guyanese-English runner and journalist, co-founded the London Marathon (b. 1928).
2007 – Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. American historian and critic (b. 1917).
2019 – André Previn, German-American pianist, conductor, and composer. (b. 1929).
2020 – Joe Coulombe, founder of Trader Joe’s (b. 1930).
2020 – Freeman Dyson, British-born American physicist and mathematician (b. 1923).
On this day in 1909 Henriëtte Ronner (née Knip) died (she was born in Amsterdam, 1821). She knew how to paint a moggy (as well as the occasional d*g). Her fans appreciate and admire how she captured the ‘cat gaze’. Others think her paintings are ‘too cute’, perhaps cheezy.
Without getting in to the more rabid politics of it, the origin of the pandemic does seem important to me. If it was just another zoonosis from a wet market, we were unlucky and perhaps should reconsider the whole issue of wet markets in terms of public health. If it was a lab leak, and there were explicit warnings about poor biosecurity practices at the Wuhan Institute, then procedures there and at other level 3 and level 4 labs should be more closely monitored with deficient labs being shut down until they improve their standards. Handling a SARS virus with gloves and paper mask was irresponsible.
For those reasons it is useful to know what happened. No need to get into the whole ‘China must pay’ nonsense. They won’t, and it was as much a disaster for them as for us.
Like a lot of events, the reaction by our government is more intriguing than the origin itself.
The near-universal message from government and media was that expressing a view that perhaps the bat virus lab might have been a source, was a dangerous view. In lots of cases, the phrase “debunked conspiracy theory” was repeated over and over. People were denounced, some lost their livelihood.
Keeping so many people on message is expensive. I am not implying that news executives were paid to propagate the message, but they were surely lobbied to do so.
The source of the virus is important for those who are tasked with putting policies in place to prevent the next pandemic, but for the rest of us,it makes little difference whether it came from an accidental safety lapse, a sick lab worker spreading it into the community, or someone eating a sick bat.
This is a case of the US Government taking an official position on the virus origin, which they may well have known was false at the time. Beyond that, they expressed the view that any other opinion was dangerous, and pressured broadcast media to spread that message, and silence any who dissent.
Of course China is developing bio weapons. So are the US, Russia, and probably a lot of other countries with the means and infrastructure to do so. I don’t think we have any reason to believe that Covid was part of such a program.
Recommend recent Sam Harris podcast on lab leak hypothesis: https://www.samharris.org/podcasts/making-sense-episodes/311-did-sars-co-v-2-escape-from-a-lab
The analysis that can be downloaded from
is highly convincing in favour of a lab leak. It is also a classic example of how Bayesian analysis can start from a very low prior and end up with near certainty.
Unfortunately, the Brexiteers are so obsessed with the alleged evilness of the EU that they put their personal prejudices ahead even of doing good science.
I can’t think of a single more disastrous policy decision made by any UK government. Maybe joining in with the First World War could be one.
Just a yearly reminder :
The last day of February (i.e. “The Cruelest Day” this year) is the same day of the week as the following _dates_, leap year or not:
… I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.
I think the lab leak issue has three aspects: 1) When did China know that Covid was in the wild compared to when they informed other countries? I have seen suggestions that it might have been as early as November 2019; 2) To what extent was the US government funding the research in Wuhan? (And why?); 3) And with regard to the campaign against the lab leak theory, which involved censorship and cancellation, and in which the Federal government participated, what were the motivations of those people and what did they know and were trying to suppress?
The “Crying Indian” commercial was routinely aired when I was a kid and it made a lasting impact on me. I know I’m biased (I’m white after all) but the commercial has never seemed to me to be in any way disrespectful towards Indians. My impression was rather the opposite. The Indian seemed to be noble and wise while the rest of “us” were irresponsible, dirty and selfish.
I didn’t think about it in these terms when I was a kid, but thinking about it now I’ve no doubt that the people that made that commercial were intentionally evoking the noble savage myth to gently shame the audience to stop littering. For their tactic to work they needed the Indian character to be perceived as more respectable than the audience, not less.
I’ve no idea what the general consensus of Indians was or is about the commercial. I wouldn’t be surprised or offended if many took exception to the it.
Funny. Along with some dishonest jump cuts, I see a now-lost industrial prosperity replaced by fentanyl, obesity and despair.
And have you ever seen the litter, uncollected garbage, junked cars, and illegal dump sites on a modern Reserve or Reservation?
What’s most cringeworthy about that old ad is the idea that native people somehow “just knew” how to live in harmony with nature when the fact is they simply lacked the technology to exploit it. They leapt at the chance to use horses, firearms, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorboats, pickup trucks, bannock, insulin, and cellphones when they became available, with all the fenced agriculture, carbon emissions, and environmental despoilage that technology entailed. It’s true that most consume those products less vigorously than the settler culture does, but they produce little of economic value with which to buy them.
Part of it might be that the actor was of Italian heritage.
Paul Bloom’s new book, “Psych” just came out today, a book form of his intro Psych course at Yale, supposedly. In the first chapter, he’s already footnoted Professor Cobb’s book, “The Idea of the Brain”, so he’s off to a good start!
I remember the crying Indian ad, as I was a teenager when it came out. I was just starting to become politically aware. At the time I thought it was a very effective ad. It was very respectful to the Indian, at least by the standards of the day.
How effective was it, & is it possible to measure that?
I think part of the problem with the ad is that Iron Eyes Cody is not Native American, but Italian. He lied about this during his life, but it came out after he died.
Same with the Native American Sacheen Littlefeather of Oscar fame.
Born Espera Oscar de Corti – I had no idea!