Sunday: Hili dialogue

July 9, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to Sunday, July 9, 2023, and National Sugar Cookie Day. They’re best when made with cinnamon and brown sugar, and this subspecies is called “snickerdoodles”.

Photo source and recipe

It’s also Fashion Day, National No Bra Day (when I was in college in the Sixties, this was every day), and Nunavut Day, celebrated in that Canadian territory.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the July 9 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The AP reports that one of the “Manson Girls”, Leslie Van Houten, might be freed very soon. If you have a good memory, you’ll remember that there were four: Van Houten, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins (I can still remember them). Squeaky was released on parole after 34 years in jail for pointing a gun at President Gerald Ford. Krenwinkel, who participated in several murders, has been in prison since 1971: the longest-incarcerated woman in America. She has a parole hearing this November.  Susan Atkins, also convicted of murder, died of brain cancer in prison in 2009 after 38 years in jail. As for Van Houten, also convicted for murder, she may be set free:

California’s governor announced Friday that he won’t ask the state Supreme Court to block parole for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, paving the way for her release after serving 53 years in prison for two infamous murders.

In a brief statement, the governor’s office said it was unlikely that the state’s high court would consider an appeal of a lower court ruling that Van Houten should be released.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is disappointed, the statement said.

Newsom had previously overturned a parole board’s recommendation for release in 2021, but apparently the California Supreme Court can overrule the Governor’s decision

Van Houten, now in her 70s, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers in the 1969 killings of Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife, Rosemary.

Van Houten could be freed in about two weeks after the parole board reviews her record and processes paperwork for her release from the California Institution for Women in Corona, her attorney Nancy Tetreault said.

She was recommended for parole five times since 2016 but Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown rejected all those recommendations.

However, a state appeals court ruled in May that Van Houten should be released, noting what it called her “extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends” and favorable behavior reports while in prison.

“She’s thrilled and she’s overwhelmed,” Tetreault said.

“She’s just grateful that people are recognizing that she’s not the same person that she was when she committed the murders,” she said.

After she’s released, Van Houten will spend about a year in a halfway house, learning basic life skills such as how to go to the grocery and get a debit card, Tetreault said.

“She’s been in prison for 53 years. … She just needs to learn how to use an ATM machine, let alone a cell phone, let alone a computer,” her attorney said.

Van Houten and other Manson followers killed the LaBiancas in their home in August 1969, smearing their blood on the walls after. Van Houten later described holding Rosemary LaBianca down with a pillowcase over her head as others stabbed her, before herself stabbing the woman more than a dozen times.

Smiling at the trial. The AP caption is “From left: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten, walk to court to appear for their roles in the 1969 cult killings of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate, in Los Angeles, Calif.”

*It’s a slow news day, but perhaps you’ll be interested in the NYT’s report (and the paper) on the first beetle ever discovered missing its elytra (the hard wing covers of a beetle that makes them tough.  You can find the paper free by clicking on the screenshot of its title:

The insect in the small specimen collection of Lund University in Sweden looked out of place.

“OK, this is a prank,” Vinicius Ferreira, an insect taxonomist and evolutionary biologist, said to himself. “It’s a joke.”

The beetle — only one-tenth of an inch and found in 1991 in Oaxaca, Mexico, among leaf litter of a pine and oak forest floor at an elevation of more than 9,500 feet by the naturalist Richard Baranowski — was most definitely a male. But it was missing one of the animal’s defining characteristics: the tough forewing casing known to scientists as the elytra.

After careful analysis, Dr. Ferreira described the insect this month in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society as a previously unknown but “extraordinary” elytra-less species of beetle: Xenomorphon baranowskii.

“Boom. We found this really weird animal. The ‘alien’ beetle,” Dr. Ferreira said, selecting a name that honored Dr. Baranwoski and also called to mind the “Alien” of his favorite sci-fi movie franchise.

Wing loss has been seen in several beetle species, as well as loss of the elytra in females. But this male (only one specimen has been described) is the first to lack both wings and elytra. A photo is below: the scale shows how small it is.

(From the paper): Xenomorphon baranowskii. A, C, D, dry specimen. B, E–G, photographed in glycerin. A, dorsal view. B, ventral view. C, detail of head in dorsal view. D, thorax in dorsal view. E, detail of mouthparts. F, detail of male terminalia in ventral view. G, male genitalia in dorsal, lateral and ventral view.

Xenomorphon is the first anelytrous adult male beetle to be discovered. At first thought to be a damaged specimen, a thorough examination of its morphology indicated that it was, indeed, an individual that naturally did not have either wings or elytra, which is evidenced by the lack of a scutellar shield and other commonly found features present in the alinotum (Fig. 2A); in fact, the alinotum of the specimen fully resembles that of the larvae of other elateroid beetles (see Costa et al. 1988Ferreira and Ivie 2022). The new genus displays a similar condition to that found in some ‘larviform females’, having a remarkable morphological similarity to females of Lampyris noctiluca Linnaeus, 1758 (Lampyridae) (Novak 2017Keller 2022), the common glow-worm of Europe, for example.

This male shows a paedomorphic condition, in which the junvenile morphology of the individual persists into adult life. The authors note that there may be advantages of losing wings and elytra at high altitudes, like being less likely to be blown away by the wind. But the males also sacrifice their ability to find females. All in all, we don’t know why these males have lost their wings and elytras, but first we need to find more than one male to be sure this is a general condition. And, as the authors say, “Further studies are needed for a definitive answer to explain the loss of elytra of Xenomorphon.”

*Here’s a headline from Newsweek, courtesy of Luana. Click to read; I’ll quote a bit below. It’s funny because Ben & Jerry’s are always proclaiming that they occupy the moral high ground. Not this time!

An Indigenous tribe descended from the Native American nation that originally controlled the land in Vermont the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters is located on would be interested in taking it back, its chief has said, after the company publicly called for “stolen” lands to be returned.

Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of The Coosuk Abenaki Nation—one of four descended from the Abenaki that are recognized in Vermont—told Newsweek it was “always interested in reclaiming the stewardship of our lands,” but that the company had yet to approach them.

It comes after the ice cream company was questioned as to when it would give up its Burlington, Vermont, headquarters—which sits on a vast swathe of U.S. territory that was under the auspices of the Abenaki people before colonization.

“The U.S. was founded on stolen Indigenous land,” the company said in a statement ahead of Independence Day. “This year, let’s commit to returning it.”

If they did, I think this would be a real first for American companies and universities, and others would be pressured to follow.

Maps show that the Abenaki—a confederacy of several tribes who united against encroachment from a rival tribal confederacy—controlled an area that stretched from the northern border of Massachusetts in the south to New Brunswick, Canada, in the north, and from the St. Lawrence River in the west to the East Coast.

This would put Ben & Jerry’s headquarters, located in a business park in southern Burlington, within the western portion of this historic territory—though it does not sit in any modern-day tribal lands.

“We are always interested in reclaiming the stewardship of our lands throughout our traditional territories and providing opportunities to uplift our communities,” Stevens said when asked about whether the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe would want to see the property handed over to Indigenous people.

While the chief said that the tribe “has not been approached in regards to any land back opportunities from Ben & Jerry’s,” he added: “If and when we are approached, many conversations and discussions will need to take place to determine the best path forward for all involved.”

Unfortunately, Ben & Jerry’s have no comment about the situation. Let’s see if they put their factory where their mouth is.

*We’re told that this week had some of the hottest days on record, or even in many thousands of years, but since records have been kept for only about two centuries or so, you might have asked yourself, “How can they make such a statement”? The Washington Post gives us some clues.

In recent days, as the Earth has reached its highest average temperatures in recorded history, scientists have made a bolder claim: It may well be warmer than any time in the last 125,000 years.

Tracing climatic fluctuations back centuries and millennia is less simple and precise than checking records from satellites or thermometers. It involves poring through everything from ancient diaries to lake bed sediments to tree trunk rings.

But the observations are enough to make paleoclimatologists, who study the Earth’s climate history, confident that the current decade of warming is exceptional relative to any period since before the last ice age, about 125,000 years ago.

Our understanding of conditions so long ago is far less detailed than modern climate data, meaning it’s impossible to prove how hot it might have gotten on any given day so many thousands of years ago. Still, the Earth history gleaned from fossils and ice cores shows the recent heat would have been all but impossible over most of those millennia.

“There’s no way to drop one hot day into the middle of the ice age,” Richard Alley, a geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University, said.

. . .If any a single day in the past 100,000 or 125,000 years could have been as hot as the Earth this week, scientists said it could only have occurred about 6,000 years ago. At that time, the planet had warmed with the end of the last ice age, and a period of global cooling began that would continue until the Industrial Revolution.

Scientists are confident that, apart from the global warming of recent decades, it was Earth’s warmest period in the past 100,000 years. They estimate that temperatures averaged somewhere between 0.2 degrees Celsius and 1 degree Celsius (0.36 to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than they were from 1850-1900.

. . .That assessment states with “medium confidence” that temperatures from 2011-2020 exceed those of any multi-century period of warmth over the past 125,000 years.

Further, there is no evidence anywhere in scientists’ understanding of Earth’s history of warming that occurred nearly as rapidly as the ongoing spike in temperatures, caused by the burning of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases.

If a hotter day happened on Earth anytime in the past, Alley said, it was the result of natural processes.

“The current rise is not natural, but caused by us,” he said.

*From Greg:

The New York Times‘ fondness for woo continues to grow: a big homepage article today declares that Uri Geller has “emerged the victor“. The evidence for this: Geller is rich and has opened a museum about himself; an Australian has written a coffee table book about him; and he has outlived his critic James Randi (who was 18 years older than Geller, and died in 2020 at the age of 92). And besides, what harm can there be in cultivating the habits of mind that allow people to believe in telekinesis? The Times used to be a little less credulous about such things, and the harm they can cause.
The article is in the “Business” section, so I guess how much money you have is the right way to judge who ‘wins’. But there’s nary a mention of the size of Randi’s estate– how can we be sure who really won?
From the NYT:

It’s a fortune he might have never earned, he said, without a group of highly agitated critics. Mr. Geller was long shadowed by a handful of professional magicians appalled that someone was fobbing off what they said were expertly finessed magic tricks as acts of telekinesis. Like well-matched heavyweights, they pummeled one another in the ’70s and ’80s in televised contests that elevated them all.

Mr. Geller ultimately emerged the victor in this war, and proof of his triumph is now on display in the museum: a coffee-table book titled “Bend It Like Geller,” which was written by the Australian magician Ben Harris and published in May.

The victor? The VICTOR?  The NYT then admits that Geller wasn’t really banding spoons or was psychic; it was all trickery:

And the point is that Mr. Geller is an entertainer, one who’d figured out that challenging our relationship to the truth, and daring us to doubt our eyes, can inspire a kind of wonder, if performed convincingly enough. Mr. Geller’s bent spoons are, in a sense, the analog precursors of digital deep fakes — images, videos and sounds, reconfigured through software, so that anyone can be made to say or do anything.

And get a load of this:

If Mr. Geller can’t actually bend metal with his brain — and civility and fairness demands this “if” — he is the author of a benign charade, which is a pretty good definition of a magic trick. Small wonder that the anti-Geller brigade has laid down its arms and led a rapprochement with the working professionals of magic. He is a reminder that people thrill at the sense that they are either watching a miracle or getting bamboozled. And now that fakery is routinely weaponized online, Mr. Geller’s claims to superpowers seem almost innocent.

No civility and fairness don’t demand the “if”—the possibility that he really was bending spoons with his brain. His followers now more or less admit it, and magicians like Randi could do it regularly.  By saying that Geller “won”, and putting in that “if”, the NYT is once again pandering to woo. And if it wasn’t woo, but just magic, then Geller lost and Randi won. Oh, and the NYT also lost.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the cats are discussing demeanor and philosophy:

Szaron: Nothing induces me to be optimistic.
Hili: You can always choose a stoic calm.
In Polish:
Szaron: Nic mnie nie skłania do optymizmu.
Hili: Zawsze można wybrać stoicki spokój.

And a nine-year-old dialogue with Hili and her late friend Cyrus the d*g:

Hili: And a cat will lead you.
Cyrus: If you keep talking so much, I will bite your tail.

in Polish:

Hili: I kot będzie cię prowadzić…
Cyrus: Jak będziesz tyle gadać to ugryzę cię w ogon.


From Thomas, a Speedbump cartoon by Dave Coverly.

From Merilee, a Bizarro strip by Wayne and Piraro.

From the Absurd Sign Project 2.0:


From Masih, a brave Iranian woman, of which there are many:

I found this one. Lovely cloud, and very colorful! (Read more about pileus clouds here.)

From Luana, who was born in Brazil.  Look at all this torment!

From Barry, whose caption is: “No, no! You got me all wrong. I wasn’t going to jump you. I just wanted to see if I could stand on two legs.”

Sound up:

From Malcolm. How many cats would do this?

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a girl gassed upon arrival. She was five.

From Dr. Cobb. First, a NYT article about the Nazi destruction of a synagogue:

Here’s a piece of the rubble that may have the Ten Commandments (I don’t read Hebrew). Photo from the NYT:

I wonder if it ordered “milk, neat”, and then knocked the glass off the table:

A sad note: Michael Ashburner, a great Drosophila geneticist, just died. I knew him slightly: a terrific guy. But he smoked like a chimney, and that did him in.

World tallest d*g (now an ex-d*g)

March 6, 2023 • 12:00 pm

As I head out for Poland, I leave you with a video of the late Zeus, THE WORLD’S TALLEST D*G.  Zeus was a Great Dane in every sense of the word, and he has his own Wikipedia page, which says this:

Standing on his hind legs, Zeus stretched 7 feet 5 inches (2.26 meters), and when measured in October 2011, Zeus was 3 feet 8 inches (1.12 meters) from his foot to his withers.

But it also says that Zeus died in 2014 at the age of six.  Big dogs tend to die young, and I’m not sure why that is. Chihuahuas, on the other hand (and I’ll stifle myself here), seem to live forever.

Anyway, enjoy a big d*g! If you’re a canid lover, be sure to check out Wikipedia’s “List of individual dogs.” Zeus actually seems to be the tallest d*g of all time, beating out “Giant George” by an inch.

My theory (which is mine) about artists, actors, cats, and dogs

February 11, 2023 • 12:30 pm

This is both a speculative theory and a speculative explanation, but it came to me when I was preparing today’s “Caturday felid” post.  Whenever I see a photo of an artist with a pet, it’s almost always a cat (very often a Siamese cat as well). In contrast, whenever I see an actor with a pet, it’s very likely to be a d*g.  I can think of tons of artists (I mean those who paint, photograph, or draw) who had cats, artists like Klimt, Matisse, Warhol, Picasso, O’Keeffe, Warhol, and so on.

And my feeling is that actors have dogs more often than do artists.  I can’t name many, but here are a few. I don’t think this is due to confirmation bias. Cat photos do tend to stick in my mind, but it’s irrelevant whether the cat is with an actor or artist.

Yes, there are artists who had dog and actors who have cats, but I’m making a statistical argument here. You could do a 2 X 2 table with the cells labeled “cats” and “dogs” at the top and “artists” and “actors” on the side.  To do this right, you’d have to get several people to make a big list of actors and artists, not knowing about their pets, and then look up whether they had cats, dogs, or both. My guess is that artists would be significantly more cat-heavy than are actors, and you could test this association with a Fisher’s Exact test. (I suppose some people have both, so you’d have to add another cell and do a 2 X 3 chi-squared test.)

I have predicted this in the absence of known data, but here is my theory for such an association if it exists.

Here it comes: I am about to expound my theory.

My theory, which is mine, is that artists have cats because they admire their grace and beauty, which art is largely about. Cats are, in a way, living sculptures.

Actors, on the other hand, live for approbation and immediate and constant love.  You can get that kind of affection from dogs, but not from cats, who are more aloof.  If you want someone to tell you how great you are all the time, you’ll want a dog. If you want to simply admire the beautify of an animal, then a cat is where you should go.

This immediately suggests that politicians, who want obsequious followers, would in general have dogs more often than cats. I don’t know if Trump has a pet, but if he does, you know it would be a dog. Wikipedia’s list of “Presidential Pets”, which you should look at, suggests that, in general, I am correct. (Some presidents had pretty weird pets that were neither cats nor dogs.)

And that is my theory, which is mine. You may attack it if you will, and you’re welcome to do so in the comments. But you can’t refute it merely with anecdotes: by citing actors whom you know have cats and artists who have dogs. We are looking for a large-scale statistical association to test my theory, which happens to be mine.

I have no theory about musicians, except that I know Taylor Swift has several cats—the only thing I like about her. Oh, and Freddy Mercury had cats, too. If musicians tended to have cats more than dogs, though, that would refute the psychological underpinnings of my theory, for musicians, even more than actors, need immediate love. Actors often do their work onscreen where the love comes later, at the box office, but performing artists crave immediate gratification in the form of cheers and applause.

I was brought up imbued with science, so I’ll be glad to be tested, and will freely admit it if the data show I’m wrong.

The smartest dog in the world?

January 31, 2023 • 2:00 pm

I have four writing projects to finish, so for the next few days posting will be light. Bear with me; I do my best.

Here’s an 8.5-year old 60 Minutes segment largely about Chaser, a border collie touted as the “world’s smartest d*g” and “the most important d*g in the history of scientific research.” Chaser is a border collie, of course.  The show displays demonstrations of her “intelligence”: she’s learned the names of over 1,000 toys, including a variety of different balls with different names. She also knows the difference between nouns and verbs. This does not, of course, mean that the dog knows language, as in “language with syntax” but it shows an extreme ability to associate words with objects.

Chaser and some other dogs we’re shown, understand the meaning of “pointing”, though I’m not sure that the demonstration we see distinguishes pointing as a referent to the object pointed at from pointing as a command “come to what’s by my finger.” We’re also shown brain scans of other dogs demonstrating that different parts of their brains light up when they smell their owners as opposed to a stranger, but that’s what happens when a dog learns by association, which isn’t the kind of “intelligence” I expected.

The real question is whether dogs can solve novel puzzles: putting together separate bits of knowledge in a useful way.  Can they do, for instance, what crows can? I don’t think so.

I’m not trying to diss dogs here, nor extol cats; I have, so to speak, no dog in this fight. I just wish the show had shown the kind of intelligence evinced by other animals. That it, it could have discussed “intelligence” and demonstrated the different varieties.

As they say on the show, border collies are both bred and trained to understand commands, so I’m not surprised that Chaser wins the prize for understanding commands and learning the names of toys. When I was in England and the telly was on, I was always transfixed by “One Man and his Dog”, a televised competition between border collies and their trainers to see which teams best herd sheep. And I’ve even seen this skill in person in New Zealand. Regardless of whether this evinces “intelligence”, sheep-herding behavior is impressive and (to me) mesmerizing.

Here: have an hour of “One Man and His Dog”:

Tuesday: Hili dialogue

June 15, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Tuesday, June 15, 2021: National Lobster Day.  It’s also National Cherry Tart Day, National Electricity Day (see below), Native American Citizenship Day, Magna Carta Day (agreed to on this day in 1215 by King John; see below), Nature Photography Day (take some photos and send them to me!), Global Wind Day and, in the UK, National Beer Day (United Kingdom).  Would some reader in the UK please drink a pint of Landlord for me? I keep asking readers to quaff a pint of my favorite British ale, but everyone says they can’t find Landlord.

I am rather low today, so posting is likely to be light.

Today’s Google Doodle (below), created by senior Milo Golding at Lexington (Kentucky) Christian Academy, was the winning submission among thousands of entries from K-12 in a national contest. Milo wins a $30,000 college scholarship on top of a $50,000 technology package for his school.

The Doodle honors MIlo’s dad, who died of a heart attack when the artist was just 13. As the Lexington Herald-Leader reports:

“Milo’s Doodle, titled ‘Finding Hope,’ speaks to the resilience and hope that lives in all of us,” Google officials said. “The Doodle is inspired by his father’s advice to find hope in all circumstances as a source of strength. It was inspired by Milo’s journey to find hope after the loss of his father”. . . .

“I am strong because I have hope,” Milo said, describing his entry and its inspiration. “I once asked my father how he overcame obstacles and became who he wanted to be. “

His father, Deeno Golding. replied, “Hope, hope keeps me strong.”

“After I unexpectedly lost him at 13 due to a heart attack, it helped me overcome grief and support other children who lost loved ones.,” Milo said.

The Doodle:

An old photo with Milo, his mom, and his dad:

Lexington Christian Academy senior Milo Golding with mom Yanya Yang and dad Deeno Golding. PHOTO PROVIDED

Congrats, Milo, and may you attain your dreams.

News of the Day:

The news is thin as Biden slowly wends his way towards Russia for the big summit with Putin. Some good news for conservationists, though: Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has asked President Biden to restore environmental protections for three national monuments that were eroded by the Trump Administration. From the NYT:

In a report sent to the White House earlier this month that has not been made public, Ms. Haaland recommended that Mr. Biden reinstate the original boundaries, which included millions of acres at Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two rugged and pristine expanses in Utah defined by red rock canyons, rich wildlife and archaeological treasures.

Mr. Trump had sharply reduced the size of both national monuments at the urging of ranchers and many Republican leaders, opening them to mining, drilling and development. At the time, it was the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.

I’m pretty sure Biden will assent; so far, his efforts on the environment have been excellent.

BIG MOUSE PLAGUE DOWN UNDER! As the Washington Post reports, agricultural areas in Southern Australia are overrun with millions of mice, ruining the crops and costing farmers millions. They also carry diseases that can infect humans and die in the walls of houses, making an unbelievable stench. NOTE: if you like mice, don’t look at the pictures! One below just shows the density of the rodents. (h/t Randy)

Photo credit not given at the WaPo

Jump for Joe: You java drinkers should take heart, for a new piece in the NYT gives us good news, “The health benefits of coffee.” Coffee is no longer bad for you! And the benefits are many; here’s an excerpt:

The latest assessments of the health effects of coffee and caffeine, its main active ingredient, are reassuring indeed. Their consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of all kinds of ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, depression, suicide, cirrhosis, liver cancer, melanoma and prostate cancer.

In fact, in numerous studies conducted throughout the world, consuming four or five eight-ounce cups of coffee (or about 400 milligrams of caffeine) a day has been associated with reduced death rates. In a study of more than 200,000 participants followed for up to 30 years, those who drank three to five cups of coffee a day, with or without caffeine, were 15 percent less likely to die early from all causes than were people who shunned coffee. Perhaps most dramatic was a 50 percent reduction in the risk of suicide among both men and women who were moderate coffee drinkers, perhaps by boosting production of brain chemicals that have antidepressant effects.

It’s not all positive: coffee can cause insomnia (duh!) but can also increase the rate of miscarriage. There’s also this: “When brewed without a paper filter, as in French press, Norwegian boiled coffee, espresso or Turkish coffee, oily chemicals called diterpenes come through that can raise artery-damaging LDL cholesterol.”  Still, I’ll keep using my espresso machine.

This year’s Westminster Dog Show, held outside because of the pandemic, was won by a male Pekingese named Wasabi.  Here’s a photo of the Best in Show winner from the NYT. Put a stick up its rear and you’d have a mop!

And for you dog lovers, here’s an eight minute video of the competition. Wasabi shows up at 5:58 and wins his crown at 7:20.  I love the way he walks!

And for you lovers of Greece, a group that includes me, there’s a short but colorful article in the NYT on unvisited corners of rural Greece where people still wear their traditional costumes. Now I have a list of new places to visit. (My last visit, to the Peloponnese one September about 20 years ago, was one of the best trips I’ve ever had. The tourists had left, but it was still warm and the seas wonderful for swimming. Go see the Mani!)

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 599,486, an increase of 339 deaths over yesterday’s figure. We will probably pass 600,000 deaths by Thursday.  The reported world death toll is now 3,828,472, an increase of about 8,300 over yesterday’s total. Remember when 200,000 deaths was regarded as an unimaginable toll?

Stuff that happened on June 15 includes:

Here’s one of four surviving copies of the document, though the King’s wax seal has been lost. You can see this in the British Library:

  • 1520 – Pope Leo X threatens to excommunicate Martin Luther in Exsurge Domine.
  • 1648 – Margaret Jones is hanged in Boston for witchcraft in the first such execution for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • 1667 – The first human blood transfusion is administered by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys.

Denys performed several transfusion (forcibly) on a madman abducted from the streets. The first one seemed to work, but the man died after the second one.

  • 1752 – Benjamin Franklin proves that lightning is electricity (traditional date, the exact date is unknown).
  • 1844 – Charles Goodyear receives a patent for vulcanization, a process to strengthen rubber.

The original additive to harden rubber was sulfur, discovered by Goodyear when he accidentally dropped a mixture of sulfur and rubber into a hot frying pan, and it didn’t melt.

  • 1877 – Henry Ossian Flipper becomes the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy.

Here’s Flipper who, predictably for a black officer, was court-martialed and discharged. He was first exonerated and then pardoned by Bill Clinton:

Here’s that series with the caption from Wikipedia; note that in two photos (second and third in top row) all the horse’s feet are off the ground. This was a long-standing debate that was settled with a single piece of empirical evidence. (Of course, one could argue that other horses’ feet never left the ground.

“Sallie Gardner,” owned by Leland Stanford; ridden by G. Domm, running at a 1.40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19th June, 1878 (1878 cabinet card, “untouched” version from original negatives)

Alcock and Brown landed in a bog in Ireland, and the result is below, but neither were hurt and both feted as heroes:

The mountain, called the “Killer Mountain” was finally summited by Hermann Buhl in 1953. It’s a lovely peak:

  • 1970 – Charles Manson goes on trial for the Sharon Tate murders.
  • 1977 – After the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the first democratic elections took place in Spain.

Latest news: Franco is still dead.

  • 1992 – The United States Supreme Court rules in United States v. Álvarez-Machaín that it is permissible for the United States to forcibly extradite suspects in foreign countries and bring them to the United States for trial, without approval from those other countries.
  • 2012 – Nik Wallenda becomes the first person to successfully tightrope walk directly over Niagara Falls.

Here’s Wallenda’s walk; he seems to have no safety rope!

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s one of Steinberg’s cat cartoons:

  • 1937 – Waylon Jennings, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 2002)
  • 1941 – Harry Nilsson, American singer-songwriter (d. 1994)
  • 1943 – Johnny Hallyday, French singer and actor (d. 2017)
  • 1963 – Helen Hunt, American actress, director, and producer
  • 1970 – Leah Remini, American actress and producer

Those who relinquished their ghost on June 15 were few, and include:

  • 1849 – James K. Polk, American lawyer and politician, 11th President of the United States (b. 1795)
  • 1996 – Ella Fitzgerald, American singer and actress (b. 1917)
  • 2014 – Casey Kasem, American radio host, producer, and voice actor, co-created American Top 40 (b. 1932)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili has a rodential “present” for Paulina:

Paulina: You brought something from the garden to the verandah, again.
Hili: It’s a still life meant for later consumption.
In Polish:
Paulina: Znowu przyniosłaś coś z sadu na werandę.
Hili: To martwa natura przeznaczona do późniejszej konsumpcji.

From the Harnish Vet Service’s Facebook page. The best thank-you note ever!

From Divy:

A bad groaner from Bruce:

A tweet from reader Ken, who helpfully adds, “Trump daughter-in-law Lara (wife of son Eric) tells Fox New’s Jeanine Pirro that the solution to problems at the US border (which consist in large measure of crossings by unaccompanied minors) is for locals on the border “to arm up, get guns, and take matters into their own hands”:


Tweets from Matthew.  Lovely photo in the first one. But where are the clowns? Well, maybe next year.

A lovely portrait of a lion:

I believe this is a fruit bat who needs something to cuddle:

Speaking of fruit bat, here’s a lovely video tweet from Bat World, home of Statler the geriatric fruit bat:

You do remember Statler, don’t you. He’s too old to fly, but the workers carry him about so he can flap his wings and remember the old days. . .

Even though his cinematic roar was fearsome, Leo must have been pretty tame!

And the only cat gargoyle I know of, complete with a kitten as lagniappe!

But can it herd sheep? Spot, the Boston Dynamics robot

February 1, 2021 • 2:30 pm

Here’s the YouTube video of Spot the Robotic D*g, of course a product of Boston Dynamics. It’s programmed to do this stuff, meaning it doesn’t find trash by itself and deposit it in the basket (at least, as far as I know). That’s coming, though. And of course it would be good for police work, disposing of bombs, and so on. Spot can certainly bring you your slippers, too!

The YouTube notes:

Now that Spot has an arm in addition to legs and cameras, it can do mobile manipulation. It finds and picks up objects (trash), tidies up the living room, opens doors, operates switches and valves, tends the garden, and generally has fun. Motion of the hand, arm and body are automatically coordinated to simplify manipulation tasks and expand the arm’s workspace, making its reach essentially unbounded. The behavior shown here was programmed using a new API for mobile manipulation that supports autonomy and user applications, as well as a tablet that lets users do remote operations. For more information, watch our launch event at 11am EST tomorrow.

And that launch will be at this site.

h/t: Bryan

Howling with wolves

January 19, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I’m off to the dentist downtown for my first cleaning since the pandemic began. I will wear a mask except when they’re scraping my teeth, and now one must gargle with a hydrogen peroxide solution. That’s okay by me!  I’ll leave you with a short animal video.

If you think yawning is contagious, look at this mischievous woman starting a group howl. What a racket! But how did she get to be with the wolves?

Readers’ wildlife photos (and videos)

October 14, 2020 • 7:45 am

Stephen Barnard from Idaho is back with some lovely photos—and two videos as lagniappe. His captions and IDs are indented.

The first four are mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight. Migratory mallards are pouring in from Canada and parts north. There will soon be thousands. Duck hunting season, popular here, starts October 19. You’ll be happy to know I don’t hunt ducks or allow it on my property. [JAC: Yes, I am delighted at this!]

Next is a photo of Hitch (Canis familiaris), two more mallards, two Canada geese (Branta canadensis), and a moose (Alces alces). It’s not much as a photo, but funny.

This bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sometimes perches in this tall blue spruce (Picea pungens) in my back yard, scanning the creek for fish. This is probably Lucy.

A rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) consuming a callibaetis (Callibaetis) mayfly.

Two short videos:

Rainbow trout spawn in the spring, and brown trout (Salmo trutta) spawn in the fall, which is convenient when they coexist because they use the same spawning beds, called redds. These brown trout are on a particularly nice redd, which is also what anglers call a “prime lie” — a favored spot for fish to feed and rest.  They compete with each other, and drive away the rainbows that threaten to eat their eggs. The bird calling in the background is a marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris).

Hitch moving cows (Bos taurus).

Toby, the duck-guarding dog

August 24, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Finally—d*gs do something good for waterfowl besides scaring them. Here we have a maremma (technically known as the Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog) who spends his days guarding ducks). These dogs are best known as sheep guardians,  but they do a terrific job with ducks. Or at least Toby does.

From Gold Shaw Farm, we have these terse YouTube notes for a 15-minute video.

Let me tell you the story of our farm dog, Toby. He is a maremma who guards the ducks on our farm.

h/t: Reese

Readers’ wildlife videos

June 26, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have two—count them, two—videos.

I had forgotten about the backlog of wonderful videos by the late Ecuadorian naturalist and photographer Andreas Kay, but he posted quite a few before he died at only 56. I’ll parcel them out over the coming months.  Here are his notes on a remarkable caterpillar that almost certainly deters predators by mimicking a snake. Note that, relative to the body, the “snake head” is upside down so, when presented by a clinging caterpillar, it looks like a right-side-up head.

Snake-mimic caterpillar, Hemeroplanes triptolemus, Sphingidae from the Amazon rainforest near Puyo, Ecuador. When disturbed this larva of a sphinx moth expands and exposes the underside of the first body segments, mimicking a snake head with black eyes and even light reflections. Sometimes it also strikes like a snake to deter predators such as lizards or birds. Photos here.

And Rick Longworth made this video, complete with music, of a den of foxes (mom plus kits). The play behavior of the kits is adorable. Rick’s notes:

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). At the end of May, I noticed a group of about 5 or 6 young foxes across the Snake River at a distance of about one third of a mile from my back deck. The mother had dug a den in an earthen mound at the end of a utility road between two farms. At maximum magnification, the uneven heating of the atmosphere made the image quite unsteady.