Friday: Hili dialogue

December 9, 2016 • 6:30 am

Good morning on a chilly December 9 (Chicago temperatures -4°C, 25°F), with Arctic cold and snow approaching my town this weekend. It’s National Pastries Day, and I have one cupcake waiting for me at work (note added in proof: it’s now in my alimentary canal). There’s an unusual holiday in Sweden and Finland today; as Wikipedia notes: “Anna’s Day marks the day to start the preparation process of the lutefisk to be consumed on Christmas Eve, as well as a Swedish name day, celebrating all people named Anna.” I like the idea of name days (where’s “Jerry’s Day”?), and wonder if every day of the year is a name day in Sweden. But about that lutefisk: from what I know of it, I’d rather be named Anna than eat that lye-soaked pottage. Here’s a novice tasting the stuff for the first time; the best he can say is, “It’s not like I”m going to fall over and die.” Then he goes off camera and appears to vomit.

I mark with sadness yesterday’s death of John Glenn, war hero (in two wars), test pilot, astronaut, Senator  (he was the main author of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978), ambassador for space, and, according to all save Tom Wolfe, a genuinely nice guy, never pulling rank. At the age of 77, he went up in space again, still approaching the adventure with childlike wonder.  When I was a kid I had an autographed photo of all 7 Mercury astronauts (unfortunately, that photo vanished), and he was the last to die.


On this day in 1905, France passed a law providing for the separation of church and state. And, exactly thirty years later, the first Heisman Trophy, for achievement in collegiate football, was awarded to Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago Maroons. We’ll never see the likes of that again at my school; we have no athletic scholarships and a noncompetitive team. On December 9, 1961, Tanganyika gained independence from Britain, and, on this day in 1979, the final eradication of smallpox was proclaimed: a huge achievement for scientists, epidemiologists, and field workers. (No credit to prayer or religion here.) The disease has not reappeared, though frozen viruses reside, I believe, in two locations.

Notables born on this day include John Milton (1608), Margaret Hamilton (1902; you’ll know her as The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz), Kirk Douglas (1916; he’s 100 today, and still with us!), Judi Dench (1934), and Donny Osmond (1957). Those who died on this day include Edith Sitwell (1964) and Mary Leakey (1996), Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, while Cyrus goes after his ball, Hili pursues mice and birds, but Cyrus, ever protective of his little friend, warns her about predators of cats:

Hili: You can play with the ball and I will catch something.
A: Be careful not to get caught yourself.
In Polish:
Hili: Wy bawcie się piłką, a ja sobie coś złapię
Ja: Uważaj, żeby ciebie nie złapali.

Finally, have two GIFs of foxes hunting for prey under the snow. They hear the rodent under several feet of snow, and, with the help of the earth’s magnetic field, dive on the (usually) right spot. Those pounces are generally toward the northeast; read about their remarkable snow-hunting ability here.



38 thoughts on “Friday: Hili dialogue

  1. Note it dives with the sun behind so the low sun does not get in its eyes…

    Here is the paper on their magnetic navigation…

    I see the north magnetic pole is not north east of the Czech Republic but presumably the lines of magnetism are north east? Can someone explain that? I would like to see a paper – is there one? – from Canada where the direction was aligned similarly but with a different direction, reflecting the different alignment there.

      1. Yes. For magnetic compass navigation in aviation we use adjustment values for the direction of the lines of force. This is called magnetic variation – the angle between true north and magnetic north which varies all over the world. As each new edition of navigational maps are published the values can slowly change.

    1. “I see the north magnetic pole is not north east of the Czech Republic but presumably the lines of magnetism are north east?”

      It’s become much easier to get readings ever since the iron curtain came down….

  2. In the Orthodox and Catholic churches each day of the year is assigned as the feast day of one (or more) of the saints and it is customary in the Orthodox church for people to be named after saints and to celebrate their ‘name day’ in much the same way as we would celebrate a birthday.
    In France (and I presume other predominantly Catholic countries)it is common to see calendars printed with the saints’ days indicated for each day of the year. I am not sure that there was a St Jerry but you could perhaps opt for St Jeremy (February 16) or St Jerome (September 30). Somehow, I don’t imagine you will! 🙂

    1. I don’t know anything about St Jeremy, but don’t pick St Jerome. He was one of the biggest misogynists in history.

      He translated the Bible into Latin (Vulgate) and made deliberate changes to lower the status of women in comparison to men. The RC Church knew of this and never fixed it.

      He was very screwed up when it came to women, but he had a lot of women followers (and only women) amongst the Roman aristocracy who followed him to live an ascetic life in the Holy Land.

      The women he singled out for praise were those who starved themselves to the point they stopped menstruating because it “made them more like men.”

      He also complained about being “tortured” by dreams of dancing girls.

      He wasn’t keen on babies either, writing they “vomit and shit all over you.”

    2. True. In my traditionally Orthodox country, besides people with names of saints who have obvious name days, many others are assigned name days by association. My name (Maya) is too pagan for this, but all with names of flowers have their name day on Palm Sunday, and all with names based on “joy” have theirs on Christmas.

    3. I am not sure that there was a St Jerry but you could perhaps opt for St Jeremy (February 16) or St Jerome (September 30). Somehow, I don’t imagine you will!

      Two party days and a Coynezaa? I bet Jerry snaps up the excuse to indulge his inner (outer?) gastronome.

  3. My daughter Lauren graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. I have a high regard for the place and it is often mentioned in Garrison Keillor’s stories as being a center of Norwegian-American culture. The food at the college was just wonderful, but at this time of year Lutefisk Season came on. Lauren told us that the caf served the gelatinous, lye-soaked cod dish regularly at yuletide, perhaps every day. The stuff made the whole building reek, she said.
    St. Olaf is a very musical place and the choir and orchestras do Christmas up to the nines. You may have seen the excellent St. Olaf choir on public TV. The Christmas season brings the Sweaters to St. Olaf in large numbers. “Sweaters” is the student name for alumni who return to the alma mater (or whatever the Norwegian for alma mater may be), resplendent in their fancy Norwegian embroidered holiday sweaters, which are actually sold in the bookstore. The Sweaters walk about campus, visit old professors, take in a Christmas concert or five and they also like to hit the caf for lutefisk.

  4. Name day: Yes, every day is a name day in the Swedish Calendar, with only a handful of exceptions such as New Years Day and a few Christian holidays such as Christmas Day. The origin is the Roman Catholic calendar of Saints Days, but the habit of celebrating name days remained even after the protestant reformation almost 500 years ago (commanded by king Gustavus Vasa in 1527. Some staying power of folk tradition, even in this secular age in this secular country! The official name calendar has shifted over the centuries, antiquated names removed in favor of names in common use. My own name day, Karin, is August 2nd, and there used to be raspberry and blueberry cake then, when I was a child. And, no, there is no date for Jerry, although there was for a while, some 20-40 years ago, on June 19th, originally dedicated to Gervasius, a Christian martyr in the second century, removed in favor of Germund in 1901. Name days are not celebrated nearly as much nowadays as they were, but you will find them printed at the top of the front page of some newspapers, and I do try to remember to call my brother Anders on his day, November 30th.

    Here is a list:över_namnsdagar_i_Sverige_i_alfabetisk_ordning/A#A

    1. The original Monsters of the Midway. The Chicago Bears stole both their nickname and wishbone C logo.

      Berwanger was also the first player ever drafted in the first ever NFL player draft in 1936. Philadelphia drafted him, could not meet his salary demand ($1,00 per game) traded him to the Chivago Bears who refused to pay him the $15,000 a year that he wanted so he never played professional football.

      Berwanger used his Heisman Trophy as a doorstop in his library. Technically, it did not become the Heisman Trophy until 1937. In its first year, it was called the Downtown Athletic Club trophy. You can see the trophy at the Ratner Center on the UofC campus.

      The coolest thing on display at the Ratner Center is a game used basketball from 1909 that was taken into space in 2009 on the last Hubble Telescope repair mission. Among those who used that ball was Edwin Hubbble, a member of the 1908 and 1909 National Champion (by vote, no tournament back then) University of Chicago Maroons.

      Hubble was a great athlete. In high school, he set the Illinois state record in the high jump.

  5. … and, according to all save Tom Wolfe, a genuinely nice guy …

    I thought Glenn got reasonably flattering treatment in The Right Stuff.

    Also thought Ed Harris was great as Glenn in the movie version. For that matter, the whole movie was wonderfully cast and acted. Wonderfully directed and edited, too.

  6. Concerning the secularity law in France, this is still imposed and a town was recently told to remove a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary from a public park. For some reason this does not extend to wayside crucifixes which are frequently seen at crossroads. When this law was enacted, the State took over ownership of all churches is existence at the time, so although congregations are dwindling the fabric of the buildings is maintained.

  7. In Hungary there are several names for every day and they are on most calendars. Shops sell Happy Name Day cards and many food shops and markets write the names for the day next to the bargains of the day.

  8. I am of almost completely Norwegian heritage (USian though). We were “treated” to lutefisk and lefse every Christmas.

    When I traveled to Scandinavia (eventually) and asked my family in Norway and Sweden about these foods, they were surprised that I even knew of them and said: “We stopped eating that generations ago. That was just survival food.” (And, “Here, have a nice waffle with cloud berry jam on it. And don’t forget this fine smoked salmon and ekte gjetost.”)

    In my experience, lutefisk is simply without merit as a food (beyond calories). The taste is bad and so is the texture. (Especially when compared to fresh, baked cod or a dish made from bacalao – salted cod!)

    I compare lutefisk to eating a foul-tasting blend of gelatin and plastic bags. The texture, in particular, is repulsive.

    However, it continues to be a favorite in Lutheran Church basements throughout the upper middelwest of the USA, wherever Scandinavians settled.

    As a friend of the family (now deceased) described it:

    “The piece of cod that passeth all understanding.”

    Which, if you know the American Lutheran Church liturgy from the 1970s, is a very funny pun. (And no wonder, the HQ for the ALC was in Minneapolis, as I read in the Wiki.)

    Must be liked boiled cabbage and corned beef for those of Irish heritage in the USA. (I will not speak of green beer.)

    1. Yes, that is the typical immigrant experience: for some reason, the immigrants don’t realize over time, how much their original culture changes. When newly-arrived Lithuanian immigrants visited the Lithuanian World Center in Lemont, IL during the 90’s, they were shocked, and said everything was 40-50 years behind the times.

    2. Ralph Bunche, the first black (and an African American) to win a Nobel Prize (the Nobel Peace Prize) died on Dec. 9, 1971.

      Apologies to those of Nordic origin but Wikipedia states that “Sterling silver should never be used in the cooking, serving or eating of lutefisk, which will permanently ruin silver. Stainless steel utensils are recommended instead.” If it does this to silver, why would people eat something that was marinated for days in lye? Is it that delectable?

        1. The fish was dried outdoors by the fishery and stacked as hard thin board-like pieces, to be stored in a dry place. To prepare for eating it was softened in lots of water whitch was changed daily, then treated in a bath of lye (“lut” in Swedish)for some days, and finally rinsed in water changed daily again. The procedure took two weeks, thus starting on Anna day, 9 december, was adequate to be ready for serving at Christmas. The balance between lye and rinsing is delicate, and mistakes may end in the fish totally disintegrating when cooked. — I remember watching this at my grandparents’ when I was five, and how intriguing and exciting it was to go down into the basement to change the water. My mother loved “lutfisk”, and served it in classical Swedish style with white sauce, pepper and allspice, and boiled potatoes. But I never learned to appreciate it.

        1. Lye? Oh, caustic soda. Right.

          I thought it turned organic matter into soap. I do hope they wash the lutefisk thoroughly before eating it…

          Ummm… soap. I suppose that would explain the taste.


      1. which will permanently ruin silver. Stainless steel utensils are recommended instead.

        Hmmm, alkaline and tainting, discolouring or weakening silver. I’d guess there’s something nasty going on with low-oxidation-state sulphur compounds – possibly hydrolysed sulphur-containing amino acids? There’s a memory tickling away in the back of my mind that there’s another, less “out there” foodstuff with a similar reputation for damaging the silverware.

        1. You could digest your own insides.

          It would certainly fix any excess acidity in your stomach.

          … sometimes it’s kinda satisfying to contemplate the ghastliness of things one is never, ever going to eat…

  9. I was noticing in the second fox gif that the hind feet go exactly where the forefeet go. We used to see fox tracks in winter in Labrador and they look just like a line of single prints, unlike tracks of other canids (d**s)

    1. Some kinds of snow make crunching or squeaking sounds when stepped on. A fox will probably walk making less noise if the hind feet step in the compacted snow left by the forefeet. Also note that the fox stamps down its forefoot quickly and firmly into the snow. It may make less noise that way and, I speculate, be less likely to interfere with hearing or spooking a prey animal.
      D**gs don’t have to sneak up on food bowls.

  10. There is an annual Jerry Day in San Francisco, but it is specifically in honor of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. It is held annually at the Jerry Garcia amphitheater in McClaren Park (with a concert), one of the less traveled large public parks in San Francisco. The park is named after John McClaren who also was the landscaper of the better known Golden Gate Park, but the park named after him is in the far less traveled SouthEast corner of the city.


    The same year that the Wizard of Oz came out, Margaret Hamilton also appeared in the first major pairing of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland “Babes in Arms” playing essentially an identical character as the Wicked Witch’s Kansas counterpart, Emily Gulch. In the summer of 1939, “Babes” was a much more successful movie than “Wizard”.

  11. In the early ’60s, just after college graduation, I was working at a General Dynamics factory in San Diego that was building the next generation rocket to be used by the astronauts. One day a group of them visited the factory to talk to us workers about how their lives would depend on the quality of our workmanship. Very inspiring to meet and talk with them. Don’t remember if John Glenn was part of that group.

  12. Wikipedia article on John Glenn has:
    “John Glenn stated that he saw no contradiction between believing in God and the knowledge that evolution is “a fact”, and that he believed evolution should be taught in schools. He explained:
    I don’t see that I’m any less religious that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact. It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.”

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