Wednesday: Hili dialogue

April 26, 2023 • 6:45 am

It’s Wednesday, a Hump Day (or “კეხის დღე” in Georgian), April 26, 2023, and National Pretzel Day. The only acceptable form is the big soft German-style pretzels, liberally dipped into mustard and preferably accompanied with a liter of beer. The Catholic Review says these are good for Lent!

I’m still a bit under the weather, and will probably have to put off a podcast I was scheduled to do Friday. I should be okay by Monday, but I’ll start “Readers’ Wildlife” as soon as I can.  (Doing it always makes me nervous: it has to come out looking perfect.)

It’s also Audubon Day (he was born on this day in 1785), Hug an Australian Day, National Help a Horse Day,  and World Intellectual Property Day

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the April 26 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Obituaries first: The great Harry Belafonte has died at the ripe old age of 96. He was a singer, an actor, and a civil rights activist, though I first became acquainted with him from my parents’ LP album of his calypso songs, which included this classic (“a beautiful bunch of ripe banana/hides the deadly black tarantula” is not one of music’s better rhymes).  It’s a traditional Jamaican folk song.

Harry Belafonte, who stormed the pop charts and smashed racial barriers in the 1950s with his highly personal brand of folk music, and who went on to become a dynamic force in the civil rights movement, died on Tuesday at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He was 96.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said Ken Sunshine, his longtime spokesman.

At a time when segregation was still widespread and Black faces were still a rarity on screens large and small, Mr. Belafonte’s ascent to the upper echelon of show business was historic. He was not the first Black entertainer to transcend racial boundaries; Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and others had achieved stardom before him. But none had made as much of a splash as he did, and for a few years no one in music, Black or white, was bigger.

Born in Harlem to West Indian immigrants, he almost single-handedly ignited a craze for Caribbean music with hit records like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” His album “Calypso,” which included both those songs, reached the top of the Billboard album chart shortly after its release in 1956 and stayed there for 31 weeks. Coming just before the breakthrough of Elvis Presley, it was said to be the first album by a single artist to sell more than a million copies.

. . .Success as a singer led to movie offers, and Mr. Belafonte soon became the first Black actor to achieve major success in Hollywood as a leading man. His movie stardom was short-lived, though, and it was his friendly rival Sidney Poitier, not Mr. Belafonte, who became the first bona fide Black matinee idol.

But making movies was never Mr. Belafonte’s priority, and after a while neither was making music. He continued to perform into the 21st century, and to appear in movies as well (although he had two long hiatuses from the screen), but his primary focus from the late 1950s on was civil rights.

Both Belafonte and Tony Bennett participated in Dr. King’s famous Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965. Here they are discussing it:

*We’re in for a replay of the 2020 election, for Joe Biden announced today (as expected) his candidacy for the next Presidential election. If he’s elected, he’ll be 82 at the beginning of his next term.  Here’s part of his video, and since Kamala Harris is in it, she’s likely to be running for another term as do-nothing Veep:

President Biden formally announced on Tuesday that he would seek a second term, arguing that American democracy still faces a profound threat from former President Donald J. Trump as he set up the possibility of a climactic rematch between the two next year.

In a video that opens with images of a mob of Trump supporters storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the president said that the “fight for our democracy” has “been the work of my first term” but is incomplete while his predecessor mounts a comeback campaign for his old office that Mr. Biden suggested would endanger fundamental rights.

“Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms,” Mr. Biden said, using Mr. Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan to describe the former president’s allies. “Cutting Social Security that you’ve paid for your entire life while cutting taxes for the very wealthy. Dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books and telling people who they can love. All while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote.

“When I ran for president four years ago,” he added, “I said we were in a battle for the soul of America. And we still are.”

Here’s Biden’s disapproval rating from FiveThirtyEight, and it’s pretty much beenin the dumper since February of last year.

He hasn’t been a bad President (certainly far, far better than Trump!) but he hasn’t been able to convert his acomplishments into figures that would guarantee him re-electon. And he’s pretty much tied with Trump in terms of approval:

One challenge for Biden is that his presidency has arguably been quite successful — his wins just haven’t been enough to save his approval rating. Despite only barely having majority support in the U.S. Senate for all of his time in office so far, the post-honeymoon phase of Biden’s presidency was surprisingly productive: He was able to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, a bipartisan infrastructure bill and another bipartisan gun-safety bill. In addition, almost half of Americans gave the Biden administration decently high marks for its initial handling of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. The president also received praise after he announced a popular plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt (though that’s currently tangled up with the Supreme Court).

But none of those victories really helped Biden in the court of public opinion. Even Democrats’ strong performance in last year’s midterm races failed to move the needle for him, and now that Republicans control the U.S. House, it’s unlikely that Biden will be able to usher through meaty legislative priorities. Compared to past presidents, though, Biden actually starts his reelection bid as somewhat of an underdog. In fact, as of April 24, only 42.5 percent of Americans approved of his job as president. That’s actually not far off from Trump (41.3 percent) and former President Barack Obama’s (45.1 percent) approval numbers on April 24 the year before they sought reelection. But, perhaps worryingly for Biden, he’s still on lower end compared to recent presidents.

. . .Voters currently say that they don’t want a redux of the 2020 election — but they might get one anyway. Biden and Trump, who is currently leading the Republican primary field, are currently favored to win their respective party’s nominations. And according to Lichtman, Biden’s run for a second term already gives Democrats an edge in 2024 since they avoid both an internal party battle and have the power of incumbency on their side.

But that doesn’t mean Biden will skate into a second term unscathed — far from it. In fact, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Biden’s age could be a liability in a general election, especially if he faces someone like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (currently polling second after Trump in FiveThirtyEight’s 2024 Republican primary polling average) who, at 44, is just over half Biden’s age, making for an easy generational contrast.

I just heard NBC News report that 70% of Americans (including more than half of Democrats) don’t want Biden to run again, while 60% of Americans don’t want Trump to run again. That may well be, but I for one cannot bear to think that we’ll have to put up with a mentally ill Republican President again.

The conclusion? We don’t know enough yet, and might not until Election Day is over, but we do know that this is going to be close. The Washington Post has a rundown of potential candidates, but those willing to challenge Biden are few, and include the crystal gazer Marianne Williamson and the anti-vaxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. It’s gonna be a grim year.

*On a better—and more biological—note, the WaPo lists four free apps for your phone that can help you identify plants and animals around you. I have one of them, and it’s amazingly good. Here’s mine:

There are more than a dozen apps promising to help you identify the natural world, many of them paid. Don’t bother. Four apps, designed and managed by scientists with world-class data, meet all your ID needs free of charge. And every observation will advance our scientific understanding of the natural world.

The easiest to use is Seek. The app, an offshoot of iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, lets you shoot live video. It automatically grabs frames and analyzes them. The augmented reality experience is like downloading a foreign language into your brain. The app identifies the taxonomy of plants and animals instantly as you shoot. If it can’t figure out the species, it will give you its best guess.

In less than an hour, I had racked up dozens of plants and insects near my house from Bombus vosnesenskii, a native yellow-faced bumblebee, to the purple-flowered bush lupine it was buzzing around. The only drawback? The app doesn’t include deeper context about the species it identifies.

And it keeps learning as more people use it. For more context, try

. . .  iNaturalist and Pl@ntNet. Both offer sophisticated, if slightly less user-friendly, apps that upload and analyze photographs of flora. In seconds, they typically return a ranked list ofpotential candidates with rich descriptions of each. The identification of the most common species is a slam dunk

And here’s one I MUST get NOW:

Finally, there’s Merlin Bird ID, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Merlin feels like magic. The app uses a phone’s sensitive microphone to identify bird vocalizations in the sonic landscape around you, painting a visual representation or sonogram analogous to a musical score.

*The East Coast uses a groundhog to test the beginning of spring: whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on February 2. (If he doesn’t Spring will be early.) In Las Vegas, though, they use a tortoise, Mojave Max, whose emergence from hibernation (called “brumation” in these reptiles) signals the onset of Spring. And he just came out:

 A desert tortoise that is the focus of schoolchild predictions and local lore about the start of spring has emerged from its winter burrow at a nature preserve in Las Vegas, officials said Tuesday.

Mojave Max’s appearance above ground with a burrow-mate at 3:40 p.m. Monday at the Springs Preserve marked the latest date since an annual watch contest began in 2000 for the critter compared locally with Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania. Phil’s handlers said Feb. 2 that their groundhog predicted their spring wouldn’t arrive until April.

In Las Vegas, where the threatened species’ reptilian winter rest is called brumation, the earliest a Mojave Max has emerged since 2000 was a little before noon on Feb. 14, 2005. The latest had been April 17, 2012.

Three male tortoises have borne the moniker Mojave Max. Today’s Max is marked with a radio transmitting device attached to his shell. The tortoise seen with Mojave Max on Monday does not have a name.

Here’s his appearance:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili faces down The Ball (“Kulka” is Polish for “ball”). But nobody was hurt.

Hili: You asked for it.
Kulka: I was only joking.
(Photo: Paulina)
In Polish:
Hili: Prosiłaś o to.
Kulka: Ja tylko żartowałam.
(Zdjęcie: Paulina)


More misspelling from David:

From Jesus of the Day. Can you figure out how to get around this one?

From Phil:

Two from Masih. First, a Rosa Parks-like moment in Iran:

And they’re still attacking schoolgirls with chemicals:

From Dom, a mother peregrine and her chicks:

A tweet from Simon on Tucker Carlson; Simon thinks Carlson “will pop out of the grave at some point”:

From Malcolm, a cat and a metronome:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a 22 year old woman gassed upon arrival.

Tweets from Matthew. The Google translation of this one is:

What a wonderful image of Deimos, the smaller of the 2 moons of #Mars.  The Emirati probe Hope approached it at 100km, the closest flyby ever made of this moon, observing its surface at an unprecedented resolution. Images were also acquired in IR and UV

It looks a bit like buttocks. . . .

It’s the helicopter Ingenuity!. Click to enlarge the photo. It made a flight on April 23, so it’s been operating for 737 days!

Here’s the first in Matthew’s 23-tweet series on Rosalind Franklin and DNA:

29 thoughts on “Wednesday: Hili dialogue

  1. “Turn the World Around”

    That is a universally empowering message.

    Imagine a world without Belafonte – how much worse it would be – that’s his greatness.

    1. Belafonte sang these lyrics :

      “See one another clearly”

      I thought we used to – before Tw1773r bios.

      “Do you know who I am?”

      Now we do because of what is written in everyone’s Tw1773r bio, including every emoji.

      Case closed.

      [ adjusts thick black rimmed glasses ]

  2. Merlin Bird ID is quite a useful app, but sometimes a bit idiosyncratic in the possible IDs it presents you with, particularly with the descriptive ID (size, colour, where seen etc).
    In the same vein, you might enjoy a couple of other apps. I like Seek for plant identification, and Startracker for identifying stars and constellations.

    1. Sometimes, when I’m in the garden and feeling childish, I turn my cellphone volume up and use Merlin’s “Sound ID” feature to play a game of Confuse A Sparrow.

    2. I find that Merlin works pretty well, especially at picking out the faint sound of a bird against a lot of background noise. The interface can be a little confusing at first.

      Seek does not ID everything, but it has a pretty high hit rate for me. Pretty amazing apps, really.

    3. I’ve used Merlin Bird many times. To great satisfaction! For me it’s been very good in picking out bird song.

    4. Merlin plus eBird is a good combo: if the Merlin ID is doubtful, eBird will tell you if others have seen that species nearby on recent days.

  3. Agree about the Pretzels, although with a Weißwurst as well as the Bier and Senf it would be even better.

  4. On this day:
    1564 – Playwright William Shakespeare is baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England (date of birth is unknown). [Traditionally, Shakespeare’s birth has been marked on 23 April, which is also the date of his death.]

    1803 – Thousands of meteor fragments fall from the skies of L’Aigle, France; the event convinces European scientists that meteors exist.

    1865 – Union cavalry troopers corner and shoot dead John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, in Virginia.

    1933 – The Gestapo, the official secret police force of Nazi Germany, is established by Hermann Göring.

    1933 – Nazi Germany issues the Law Against Overcrowding in Schools and Universities limiting the number of Jewish students able to attend public schools and universities.

    1937 – Spanish Civil War: Guernica, Spain, is bombed by German Luftwaffe.

    1954 – The first clinical trials of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine begin in Fairfax County, Virginia.

    1962 – NASA’s Ranger 4 spacecraft crashes into the Moon.

    1970 – The Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization enters into force.

    1981 – Dr. Michael R. Harrison of the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center performs the world’s first human open fetal surgery.

    1986 – The Chernobyl disaster occurs in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

    1994 – South Africa begins its first multiracial election, which is won by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

    121 – Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (d. 180). [The namesake of our much missed stoic cat Marcus Clawrelius.]

    1785 – John James Audubon, French-American ornithologist and painter (d. 1851).

    1798 – Eugène Delacroix, French painter and lithographer (d. 1863).

    1886 – Ma Rainey, American singer-songwriter (d. 1939).

    1889 – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian-English philosopher and academic (d. 1951).

    1897 – Douglas Sirk, German-American director and screenwriter (d. 1987).

    1900 – Charles Francis Richter, American seismologist and physicist (d. 1985).

    1938 – Duane Eddy, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor.

    1970 – Melania Trump, Slovene-American model; 47th First Lady of the United States. [And Ceiling Cat help us, not the 49th too…]

    Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home: [Francis Bacon]
    1970 – Gypsy Rose Lee, American actress, striptease dancer, and writer (b. 1911).

    1976 – Sid James, South African-English actor (b. 1913). [He died on stage at the Sunderland Empire theatre.]

    1984 – Count Basie, American pianist, composer, and bandleader (b. 1904).

    1986 – Bessie Love, American actress (b. 1898). [I remember briefly meeting her at an RSC birthday party in Stratford upon Avon in the mid-’70s.]

    1989 – Lucille Ball, American model, actress, comedian, and producer (b. 1911).

    1999 – Jill Dando, English journalist and television personality (b. 1961). [A 2012 a cold case review named Serbian warlord Arkan as a suspect in her murder, although by this time he had died.]

    2013 – George Jones, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1931).

    2017 – Jonathan Demme, American filmmaker, producer and screenwriter (b. 1944).

    1. 1976 – Sid James, South African-English actor (b. 1913). [He died on stage at the Sunderland Empire theatre.]

      Dying is easy; comedy is hard.

  5. Konrad Adenauer was 85 years old when he was elected German Chancellor for the 4th time in 1961. He left the office in 1963, age 87. So Joe Biden has a few more years before he reaches that age. 😉

    1. Indeed! Adenauer remained a wily operator throughout his career (and for what it’s worth, after stepping down as chancellor he continued sitting in the Bundestag until his death aged 91). The British sacked him as mayor of Cologne in December 1945, claiming that he was incompetent – in fact he was probably simply insubordinate, refusing to see why Germans couldn’t be respected by those in charge of the British zone of occupation. This helped him both win his first term as chancellor and embarrass the Brits. His determination to make reparations to Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference in the face of opposition both in Germany and Israel was ultimately successful and a testament to his willingness to confront the past wrongdoing of the Nazis. (However, the presence of ex-Nazis in his cabinet and in the foreign ministry highlight that Adenauer was far from perfect, of course.)

      1. The relationship between both East and West Germany and Israel is the subject of Lorena De Vita’s Israelpolitik
        German–Israeli relations, 1949–69
        (Manchester University Press, 2020). I must declare a conflict of interest, as I proofread the manuscript before publication.

  6. Seek/iNaturalist are often incorrect but good for suggesting possibilities to look up. Also not possible to transfer data between the two. But iNaturalist does let you look up things reported by other people which is handy.

  7. Pretzels were just so omnipresent to me growing up that I didn’t give it a second thought. It’s only as an adult that I learned that I grew up in the “Pretzel Belt” of south east Pennsylvania, that something like 80% of the nation’s pretzel production is concentrated in that region, and that residents of that area eat on average 6 times more pretzels than the national average.

    And for the record, while soft pretzels with mustard might be my favorite, I certainly won’t turn down a nice hard sourdough pretzel (the kind you have to suck on for a while to make it soft enough to bite into), or really just about any pretzel.

  8. Can anyone explain the collapse of Biden’s Approve/Disapprove ratio in early 2022? What happened, beside the 2021-2022 wranglng over the Build Back Better Act—that finally resolved into the Inflation Reduction Act passed in the summer of 2022? Is there a phone app that can detect the reasons for the seeming unpopularity of the Biden administration?

    1. Biden crossed the threshold into a permanent state of disapproval during the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. The 538 folks make that clear in their article; the above chart isn’t ideal without the accompanying text –especially since my aging eyes gravitated to that large font “2023” in the upper right corner rather than the two-digit year dates in itsy bitsy font on the axis! Am I misreading your question?!

      I know that the knock on RFK, Jr. will be “antivaxer”, but I think that those who remember a very different Democratic Party in their earlier years than the one we find today will welcome much of what he has to say. The processes by which any political party can, essentially, become nearly the opposite of what it once was on an array of issues is fascinating. And we have two examples of such transformation happening in front of us now–one being more striking than the other.

      1. Most readers may know this, but I had only vague recollections of RFK Jr.’s anti-vaccine advocacy from before Covid. This AP story, while concentrating on his opposition to Covid vaccines in 2021, outlines his previous and continuing opposition to childhood vaccines on the basis of debunked claims around thiomersal and autism and all the rest of it. He is not merely against vaccine mandates as a political question but he is against vaccines per se.

        And this one by his relatives, from before Covid.

        1. Leslie, I responded to this earlier today, but the comment seems to have vanished into the ether.

          I acknowledge your point on vaccines, but my original point about his candidacy still stands. I welcome the voice into public debate.

          I wasn’t using scare quotes around “antivaxxer”, but it could have reasonably been read that way. I was suggesting the knock that others would use against him. As an aside, I have never met an antivaxxer–though I imagine they exist in some religious sects. Yes, I know people who do not vaccinate their children, but when asked what they would do if one of their children were bit by a rabid bat, every single one of them would get the child vaccinated. Many people who get tarred with the label simply have a different view of risk / benefit—sometimes informed, oftentimes not. Would we apply the term to a healthy 40-year-old who declined the flu vaccine despite having had a tetanus booster? Myself, I don’t use the term. All things ad hominem and euphemistic suggest to me morally suspect or intellectual weak positions.

          As to RFK, Jr., he denies that he is against vaccines (I heard him say so yesterday), but one must compare that to his record. And there is much there that one could question. I explored his work for the Children’s Health Defense years before COVID when a relative forwarded me some material and asked my views. There was the usual mix: information that had been discredited in credible studies; questions that were worth asking and answers that were plausible but overstated given the current research; and questions that challenged powerful interests and were not getting the public attention they might deserve.

          My take on Kennedy is that he has a healthy distrust of monied interests and is alert to any corporate capture of either the media or the regulatory agencies. (This used to be a common stance within the Democratic Party.) But sometimes he lets his suspicions run ahead of the evidence. His vaccine-related work will be used as an excuse to shut him out of public discourse because many of his political positions would hold a mirror up to the current Democratic establishment and show them how far they have drifted from the party of his father’s era. There I go, thinking that powerful forces may try to stifle dissent, smear people by association, and take a man’s worst moments as indicative of his best.

          Tablet Magazine did a great, extended interview with him. Let the man speak for himself. How many of us would like to be known solely by what our sisters say!?

  9. The 4 for $5 means that each is $1.25. In the US, n for $X typically doesn’t mean you must buy n to get that price. If buying n is required, it is usually stated in the price tag. So the most you can get here is 3 for $3.75 although you could buy 0, 1, or 2 or more than 4 unless there is a limit stated.

  10. As an aging birder (okay, I’m the same age as Jerry) I highly recommend Merlin. For one thing I don’t remember bird songs as well as I used to (and I was never that good at remembering them). And for another thing it can hear and identify birds that I can’t hear any more.

    It’s not perfect but it’s still pretty darn good.

  11. I haven’t had good results from Seek. Most of the time, it gives me only the family — not even the genus, much less the species.

    I was delighted the one time it identified a gray bird grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens), but that was very much the exception that proves the rule.

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