Tuesday: Hili dialogue

May 2, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to The Cruelest Day of the Week: Tuesday, May 2, 2023, and National Chocolate Truffle Day. Someone’s taken a bite out of this one!


It’s also Brothers and Sisters Day, International Scurvy Awareness Day, National Play Your Ukelele Day, World Asthma Day, World Tuna Day. and, in Bhutan, the Birth Anniversary of Third Druk Gyalpo.

Here’s a good song with some ukelele playing. It’s a George Harrison song, performed after his death at the 2002 “Concert for George“:

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the May 2 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*I’ve always maintained, in the face of some pushback from friends, that Iran was hellbent on building deliverable nuclear weapons, probably intended to destroy Israel. Apparently a lot of this information came from a British/Iranian “mole”, and now Britain has reported to Israel that yes, this mole did exist, and he was an Iranian who had once lived in Britain and obtained UK citizenship. Now the NYT reports that Iran has hanged the nuclear spy, named Alireza Akbarim, for espionage.

In April 2008, a senior British intelligence official flew to Tel Aviv to deliver an explosive revelation to his Israeli counterparts: Britain had a mole in Iran with high-level access to the country’s nuclear and defense secrets.

The spy had provided valuable information — and would continue to do so for years — intelligence that would prove critical in eliminating any doubt in Western capitals that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and in persuading the world to impose sweeping sanctions against Tehran, according to intelligence officials.

The identity of that spy has long been secret. But on Jan. 11, the execution in Iran of a former deputy defense minister named Alireza Akbari on espionage charges brought to light something that had been hidden for 15 years: Mr. Akbari was the British mole.

Mr. Akbari had long lived a double life. To the public, he was a religious zealot and political hawk, a senior military commander of the Revolutionary Guards and a deputy defense minister who later moved to London and went into the private sector but never lost the trust of Iran’s leaders. But in 2004, according to the officials, he began sharing Iran’s nuclear secrets with British intelligence.

He got away with it until 2019, when he was caught, put in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, interrogated (undoubtedly via torture) and then hanged.

The paper gives an account of Akbari’s life (and death) from various sources.  Two valuable pieces of information he imparted:

In April 2008, Britain received and shared with Israel and Western agencies the intelligence about Fordo, a uranium enrichment facility deep inside an underground military complex, that was part of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb. Fordo’s discovery changed the world’s understanding of Iran’s nuclear program and redrew the West’s military and cyber plans for countering it.

“The information about Fordo shocked us,” Yoni Koren, who was the chief of staff for Israel’s defense minister at the time, said in an interview in 2019. (Mr. Koren died in January.)

. . .Western intelligence agencies had long been aware through satellite imagery that Iran was building a facility deep inside the mountains at Fordo. But they had thought the site was a military storage facility and were unaware of its transformation into a secret nuclear enrichment site.

“The discovery of Fordo radically altered the attitude of the international community toward Iran,” said Norman Roule, the former national intelligence manager for Iran at the C.I.A. He added that it helped convince China and Russia that Iran had not been transparent about its nuclear program and drove the push for more sanctions.

The Wikipedia article on “Fordow” will show you how Iran lied and dissimulated about the plant.  And Akbari also gave up this:

In addition to accusing Mr. Akbari of revealing its nuclear and military secrets, Iran has also said he disclosed the identity and activities of over 100 officials, most significantly Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the chief nuclear scientist whom Israel assassinated in 2020.

*Drug cartel leader “El Chapo”, Joaquín Guzman, after escaping twice in Mexico after the cops got him, was finally extradited to the U.S., where he’s now serving life plus 30 years in ADX Florence, the toughest prison in the U.S. But his sons and associated persist, and now many of them have been indicted for not cocaine, heroin, weed, or meth (Guzman’s specialities), but for fentanyl, which they’re shoveling over the border like candy.

With Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán serving a life sentence, his sons steered the family business into fentanyl, establishing a network of labs churning out massive quantities of the cheap, deadly drug that they smuggled into the U.S., prosecutors revealed in a recent indictment.

Although Guzmán’s trial revolved around cocaine shipments, the case against his sons exposes the inner workings of a cartel undergoing a generational shift as it worked “to manufacture the most potent fentanyl and to sell it in the United States at the lowest price,” according to the indictment unsealed April 14 in Manhattan.

Synthetic opioids — mostly fentanyl — now kill more Americans every year than died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, feeding an argument among some politicians that the cartels should be branded terrorist organizations and prompting once-unthinkable calls for U.S. military intervention across the border.

“The problem with fentanyl, as some people at the State Department told me, has to be repositioned. It’s not a drug problem; it’s a poisoning problem,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico, who died Friday. “Very few people go out deliberately looking for fentanyl.”

. . . But making its own fentanyl — far more potent and versatile than heroin — in small, easily concealed labs was a game changer. The cartel went from its first makeshift fentanyl lab to a network of labs concentrated in the northern state of Sinaloa in less than a decade.

The U.S. has charged over two dozen Mexicans with fentanyl-related charges. This report is from two weeks ago:

The Justice Department on Friday announced charges against more than two dozen members of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel, including sons of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in a sprawling fentanyl-trafficking investigation.

The three Guzman sons charged — Ovidio Guzmán López, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar and Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Sálazar — are known as the Chapitos, or little Chapos, and have earned a reputation as the more violent and aggressive faction of the cartel.

Of the three, only Guzmán López is in custody, in Mexico.

*The NYT describes the first known example of a frog that pollinates plants. A lovely observation:

On warm evenings near Rio de Janeiro, you might find milk fruit trees covered in brownish-orange frogs. While many frogs eat insects, the tree frog species Xenohyla truncata has a taste for the pulp of bulbous fruits and the nectar in the tree’s flowers.

As they seek that nectar, the frogs dunk their entire bodies into the plant’s flowers, only their butts sticking out. When they emerge, pollen gets stuck to their heads and backs. Then they hop off, potentially transporting the pollen from their previous stop at the tropical buffet into the next milk fruit flower they encounter.

In other words, the frogs may disperse the plant’s seeds and pollinate its flowers — which would be the first time this has been seen in an amphibian.

“That’s completely, completely new, till now, nobody saw them actually doing that,” said Luís Felipe Toledo, head of the Amphibians Natural History Lab at the University of Campinas in Brazil and an author of a study published last month in the journal Food Webs suggesting the existence of this ecological relationship between frog and flowering tree.

Sadly, the journal is Food Webs, the article is paywalled, and the University of Chicago Library doesn’t subscribe to the journal. How are you supposed to read it? I guess you take the NYT’s word for it, which I will.  Here’s a frog that just supped on a flower, but has pollen on it and is ready to cross-fertilize!

(From NYT): Emerging from the Brazilian milk fruit flower with pollen grains on its back.Credit…Carlos Henrique de-Oliveira-Nogueira

*Over at the NYT, their former NYT columnist Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender woman (she writes occasionally for other papers now, but is an English prof at Barnard), advances the thesis that “Debates over trans bodies forget an important organ: the brain.” A few quotes

In the past decade, there has been some fascinating research on the brains of transgender people. What is most remarkable about this work is not that trans women’s brains have been found to resemble those of cisgender women, or that trans men’s brains resemble those of cis men. What the research has found is that the brains of trans people are unique: neither female nor male, exactly, but something distinct.

But what does that mean, a male brain, or a female brain, or even a transgender one? It’s a fraught topic, because brains are a collection of characteristics, rather than a binary classification of either/or. There are researchers who would tell you that brains are not more gendered than, say, kidneys or lungs. Gina Rippon, in her 2019 book “The Gendered Brain,” warns against bunk science that declares brains to be male or female — it’s “neurosexism,” a fancy way of justifying the belief that women’s brains are inferior to men’s.

And yet scientists continue to study the brain in hopes of understanding whether a sense of the gendered self can, at least in part, be the result of neurology. A study described by author Francine Russo in Scientific American examined the brains of 39 prepubertal and 41 adolescent boys and girls with gender dysphoria. The experiment examined how these children responded to androstadienone, a pungent substance similar to pheromones, that is known to cause a different response in the brains of men and women. The study found that adolescent boys and girls who described themselves as trans responded like the peers of their perceived gender. (The results were less clear with prepubescent children.)

This is a case of “well, we don’t know yet”. The study described by Ms. Boylan examined only 24 transgender people, and those were all trans women. There were significant differences in brain morphology, but were they the cause of gender dysphoria or did gender dysphoria cause the observed differences in brain morphology? Further, there was no control for sexual orientation of the dysphoric adolescents, and that, not “transgender propensities” may be what is causing any differences. The other study (described but not published in Sci. Am.) shows a brain response of gender dysphoric adolescents similar to that of their perceived gender, not their natal sex. Again, larger samples are needed, but again it’s not clear that this drug response is involved with pre-existing differences in brain structure or simply with gender dysphoria that is the result of sexual orientation (again, which is connected with brain structure). The way to resolve this is look at the brains of newborns, and then follow them to see if those with gender dysphoria, or who become trans people, had preexisting structural differences at birth. Another way is to use large samples and see if sexual orientation correlates more strongly with brain structure than does gender dysphoria.

*Speaking of Colombian drug kingpins, Pablo Escobar (singing with the choir invisible) supplemented his luxuries by importing a handful of hippos from Africa to help stock his private zoo. Now they’ve taken to Colombian waters like, well, fish to water, multiplying like crazy. According to the WSJ, there are now over 140 of them in northern Colombia. Shooting them didn’t work (I don’t understand why not), but now look what they’re doing!:

Castrating hippos wasn’t part of Cristina Buitrago’s veterinary training, especially since the natural habitat of the semiaquatic beasts is roughly 7,000 miles away.

But she has gotten a crash course in the procedure now that the Colombian government has declared the African natives an invasive species.

Her six-person team lures the target into a corral with 180 pounds of carrots, bringing it down with enough sedative-filled darts to fell three horses. Rolling the hippo comes next. Ms. Buitrago then extracts the testicles, located under thick folds of skin. The operation can take five hours under the tropical sun and cost up to $17,000 in a country that struggles to finance healthcare for humans.

“It’s dirty. There’s mud everywhere. You’re soaked in sweat,” says Ms. Buitrago, a veterinarian for Cornare, a state-sponsored environmental group. “This is not a practical way to solve the problem.”

So they’re trying a new tactic:

Now, Colombian authorities are teaming up with a Mexican animal lover to fly them out of the country.

. . .Mr. Zazueta points out that African hippos have been classified as either endangered or at-risk animals, which is why he opposes hunting or sterilizing them in Colombia. His plan involves trapping breeding-age hippos, placing them in custom-built metal crates and then transporting them to his reserve or to a large sanctuary in India.

“Depending on their size, we could get 15 to 20 on a single aircraft,” says Mr. Zazueta, a gravelly voiced 59-year-old who heads Mexico’s association of aquarium and zoo keepers. “This is a huge opportunity to help the species.”

This is an unpredicted side effect of drugs, but I’m really glad they’re not killing them. And castrating a hippo is about the nastiest job I can imagine!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is cryptic. I asked Malgorzata what she meant, and got this reply: “My interpretation: Hili has no idea what semantic is but is too proud of her own wisdom to admit it. She can see that there are no mice to catch so she adds that there is no semantic either just to sound like a wise and well-read individual.”

Hili: Semantic.
A: What about it?
Hili: It’s not here either.
In Polish:
Hili: Semantyka.
Ja: Co z nią?
Hili: Tu jej też nie ma.
And a photo of the affable Szaron:


A meme from Nicole:

Another bad sign from David:

From Merilee, the way things should be:

A tweet from Masih. The women still have to hide their faces, as they could be arrested and jailed, but the first step is taking off the hijab if they don’t want to wear it:

From Malcolm, cats behaving either badly or oddly:

From gravelinspector: The Official Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office is becoming quite the authoritarian!

From Luana: Classes in a public school segregated by race. Isn’t this a violation of the law?

Isn’t this a fantastic example of camouflage (“crypsis”) and mimicry?

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a 17 year old Jewish boy who didn’t survive:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. He commented, “Doh!” on the first one, but, truth be told, I didn’t know that, either!

Way cool: a reconstruction of how ancient Greek music might have sounded:

22 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. I wonder about the frog pollination article. Frogs seem like particularly poor pollinators for a fruit tree, though they might occasionally visit a flower and accidentally get pollen on them. It would be really hard for a frog to find and get from one tree to another if the trees are not very closely spaced in the forest. I’d like to see evidence that the frogs are actually transferring significant amounts of pollen, and I would like to see some evidence of specialization of the tree or frog, to show it is not an accident.

    I haven’t seen the article so I don’t know if these questions were answered there.

      1. Thanks Jerry. It is certainly very interesting that a frog eats flowers (including rotten ones where no pollination can occur) and fruits, and this behavior is the main thrust of the article. Pollination is not even mentioned in the title. No evidence is presented that the flower is in any way specialized for frog pollination, and there was no actual observation of pollination either. The frog also eats other flowers, including non-native garden irises, with no pollination involved.. The article only observes some pollen on the frog after a floral visit and suggests that the frog MIGHT sometimes pollinate the flower, but the flower attracts many visitors and this doesn’t appear to be a case of co-evolution of flower and frog, or anything like that. If the frog does pollinate the flower occasionally, this would seem to be an unimportant accident, as the other floral visitors would be much better pollinators.

  2. On this day;
    1536 – Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, is arrested and imprisoned on charges of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft.

    1611 – The King James Version of the Bible is published for the first time in London, England, by printer Robert Barker.

    1808 – Outbreak of the Peninsular War: The people of Madrid rise up in rebellion against French occupation. Francisco de Goya later memorializes this event in his painting The Second of May 1808.

    1920 – The first game of the Negro National League baseball is played in Indianapolis.

    1941 – World War II: Following the coup d’état against Iraq Crown Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah earlier that year, the United Kingdom launches the Anglo-Iraqi War to restore him to power.

    1945 – World War II: The Soviet Union announces the fall of Berlin.

    1945 – World War II: The US 82nd Airborne Division liberates Wöbbelin concentration camp finding 1,000 dead prisoners, most of whom starved to death.

    1945 – World War II: A death march from Dachau to the Austrian border is halted by the segregated, all-Nisei 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the U.S. Army in southern Bavaria, saving several hundred prisoners.

    1952 – A De Havilland Comet makes the first jetliner flight with fare-paying passengers, from London to Johannesburg.

    1964 – First ascent of Shishapangma, the fourteenth highest mountain in the world and the lowest of the Eight-thousanders.

    1982 – Falklands War: The British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror sinks the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano.

    1986 – Chernobyl disaster: The City of Chernobyl is evacuated six days after the disaster.

    2000 – President Bill Clinton announces that accurate GPS access would no longer be restricted to the United States military.

    2011 – Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the September 11 attacks and the FBI’s most wanted man, is killed by the United States special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

    2012 – A pastel version of The Scream, by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, sells for $120 million in a New York City auction, setting a new world record for a work of art at auction.

    1660 – Alessandro Scarlatti, Italian composer (d. 1725).

    1729 – Catherine the Great of Russia (d. 1796).

    1859 – Jerome K. Jerome, English author and playwright (d. 1927).

    1860 – John Scott Haldane, Scottish physiologist, physician, and academic (d. 1936).

    1860 – Theodor Herzl, Austro-Hungarian Zionist philosopher, journalist and author (d. 1904).

    1885 – Hedda Hopper, American actress and gossip columnist (d. 1966).

    1915 – Peggy Mount, English actress (d. 2001).

    1929 – Link Wray, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 2005).

    1945 – Judge Dread, English singer-songwriter (d. 1998). [Snodland’s finest.]

    1946 – David Suchet, English actor.

    1972 – Dwayne Johnson, American-Canadian wrestler, actor, and producer.

    1975 – David Beckham, English footballer, coach, and model.

    1985 – Lily Allen, English singer-songwriter and actress.

    On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everybody drops to zero:
    1519 – Leonardo da Vinci, Italian painter, sculptor, and architect (b. 1452).

    1957 – Joseph McCarthy, American captain, lawyer, judge, and politician (b. 1908).

    1964 – Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, American-English politician (b. 1879).

    1972 – J. Edgar Hoover, American 1st director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (b. 1895).

    1999 – Oliver Reed, English actor (b. 1938).

    2009 – Marilyn French, American author and academic (b. 1929).

    2010 – Lynn Redgrave, English-American actress and singer (b. 1943).

    2015 – Ruth Rendell, English author (b. 1930).

    1. IRT the first entry on today’s list, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

  3. From the J. Clin. Med. paper introduction (bolding assigned):

    “Transgender women are assigned male at birth but identify as female; transgender men are assigned female at birth but identify as male.”

    Secondary sex characteristics are observed, and one of two sexes is directly determined to be the more likely from the observations. “Assignment” is not the accurate word for that.

    “Assignment” is what Christiane Amanpour goes on on CNN, or how elementary school students are distributed into classrooms.

    1. Would we write “the patient was assigned to be pregnant.”? No – they would be determined to be either pregnant or not, the likelihood of which is directly based on all available observations.

      There is no spectrum of pregnancy.

      1. Well, one could argue that being ‘pregnant’ with a “mole” (or other gestational trophoblastic disorders) might be called something in between pregnancy and non-pregnancy. I would not call it a ‘spectrum’ though. And these things only happen to persons with large gametes: women, in other words.

    2. I go with “determined”. Sex is determined by the cognitive integration of observations made before and at birth. Remember you aren’t observing any gametes at normal births. You are determining the sex as, among other goals, a prediction of what gametes the child will eventually produce. You could even say sex is diagnosed but that over-medicalizes the process for normal births. Yet if there is even the slightest abnormality observed (anywhere, not just the genitalia), all eyes in the delivery room turn to the doctor to see what she’s going to tell the parents. That is an act of diagnosis, legally.

      You really see this in ultrasound exams because it can image the internal organs. If you see typical female vulva but can’t get images of a uterus or ovaries and see something in the inguinal canal, for example, what you eventually conclude is far more than just “observation”.

      I recognize the ambiguity with determined as in “caused by….” but in this particular case I don’t think the ambiguity hurts. People aren’t accusing doctors of causing babies to be the wrong sex. Yet.

      And “assignment” is just daft. But “assigned (fe)male at birth” has replaced “natal (fe)male” in the DSM V-TR so we are stuck with hearing it.

  4. It’s a George Harrison song, performed after his death at the 2002 “Concert for George“

    I feel that this is a sentence that could use more punctuation. I’m fairly sure that George Harrison did not die at the 2002 Concert for George.

    I didn’t know about the turquoise thing either, but now that Alice Roberts has brought it up, I’m thinking “doh” as well.

  5. ETHS is my alma mater and back when I attended having separate math classes for whites and blacks would have been considered extremely racist. I’m assuming they currently do have an option for mixed-raced classes. The high school is huge: only about 3,700 kids now but back in the 70’s it was 5,400. My guess is they’re trying an experiment.
    The test-score gap doesn’t surprise me. Even then there were obvious cultural differences between black and white students. Sad to see that doesn’t seem to have disappeared.

  6. The Greek music was fantastic and mesmerizing, especially the pipers. What an amazing feat!

    World Asthma day…I have asthma, is it supposed to go away today? That would be great. 🙂

    1. Yes that was great, I can well imagine Greek ‘classical’ music indeed sounded like that, but did it? We may never be sure.
      I wonder how these musicians achieved ‘circular breathing’ they are not birds, after all. Very impressive, how is it done?

      1. In the video, the narrator described the ‘circular breathing’, but I couldn’t 100% follow. I know that trumpeters worth their salt need to master circular breathing…probably the same with a lot of horn playing.

        Edit: I posted this comment using my iPad / Safari and for the first time in a long time, the edit button appeared. So I thought I’d take advantage and let out a Woot!
        Never see the edit button on any PC browsers…

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