Tuesday: Hili dialogue

February 28, 2017 • 6:30 am

Good morning! It’s the final day of February—the 28th—in 2017. It’s also National Chocolate Souffle Day, and although that’s an estimable dessert, I doubt that any reader will be having one. If you are, weigh in below. And it’s Rare Disease Day, National Science Day in India (celebrating the discovery of the Raman Effect by C. V. Raman on February 28, 1938), and World Tailors Day, celebrating the invention of the sewing machine by William Elias Howe, whose birthday is said on Wikipedia (twice!) to be today. The only thing is that “William Elias Howe” was not a person (“William Howe” was a British nobleman, the inventor was “Elias Howe”) and Elias’s birthday was not today, but July 9 (1819), so any celebration is simply on the wrong day. I suspect Wikipedia screwed up three times here.  I’ve been waiting a long time for Greg Mayer’s critique, “What’s the matter with Wikipedia?”, which has languished as a draft post for years. Greg???

Today’s political reading: a pathetic old man (Trump) livetweets television stories, often minutes after they appear.

On Februaty 28, 1525, Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, was executed on orders of the ruthless Hernán Cortés. In 1784, the Methodist Church was chartered by John Wesley. On this day in 1935, Wallace Carothers, working for Dupont, invented nylon. and in 1939, the “ghost word” dord, which is not a real word, was discovered in Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary: a lexicographical scandal. It turned out to have been an editor’s mistake:


On this day in 1953, Watson and Crick announced to friends in a Cambridge pub that they had discovered the “secret of life”: the structure of DNA. What a feeling that must have been! In 1983, the last episode of M*A*S*H aired on this day, setting a record “last episode” viewership of 106 million.  (I never liked that show.) Three years later, Olof Palme, Sweden’s prime minister, was assassinated in Stockholm. The crime has never been solved. And ten years after that, the ATF assaulted the Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, Texas; nine died, including David Koresh, the cult’s leader. And on this day in 2013, Pope Benedict resigned his popehood (papacy?)—the first Pope to resign since 1425.

Notables born on this day include Karl Ernst von Baer (1792), Ben Hecht (1894), Linus Pauling (1901), Bugsy Siegel (1906), John Fahey (1939, ♥), Bernadette Peters (1948), and Paul Krugman (1953, see his strong anti-Trump editorial in yesterday’s New York Times). Those who died on this day include Henry Luce (1967), Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (2007), Paul Harvey (2009), and Hal Roach (2012).

John Fahey is one of my musical heroes; one of the most adept and original acoustic guitarists of our time. Sadly, he died at 61 after a bypass operation; he had abused his body with alcohol for years. I once saw him perform live in Cambridge, Massachusetts; he was already on the downhill slide, was drunk, and the admission fee was about a dollar. But in his prime he could play (and write songs) like nobody else, and even his covers (often reworkings of old folks songs or hymns) were sui generis. I even corresponded with him for a while. Here’s one of my favorite Fahey songs, “Beverly”; the YouTube notes say it was performed in 1978:

If you liked that one, listen to “Knott’s Berry Farm Molly” (his songs often had very strange titles).

And my favorite cover: his version of the hymn “In Christ There is no East or West“, from the Blind Joe Death album. Religious music never sounded so good!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is posing a nom-related algebra quiz to Andrzej:

Hili: There are 18 pieces in this bowl and the bowl was full, so how many did I eat?
A: Quite a lot.
(Photo Sarah Lawson)
In Polish:
Hili: W miseczce jest 18 chrupek, a miseczka była pełna, to ile ja zjadłam?
Ja: Sporo.
(Foto: Sarah Lawson)

Out in the frigid wastes of Winnipeg, Gus got a new box, for he nommed his last one to shreds. His Canadian flag and polar bear license plate have been affixed to the replacement. So much box to eat, and so little time!


And, courtesy of reader Moto, we have a Science Cat:


56 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. I have a 1975 edition of The International Webster New Encyclopedic Dictionary. It doesn’t have “dord”, but may years ago I noticed that it didn’t have “conciliatory”. I can understand a few words slipping through the cracks, but to add a word that doesn’t exist is bizarre.

    1. If it was an editor’s mistake, I’m trying to imagine how it might have arisen. What misinterpreted word might have given rise to it. But I can’t think of one.


      1. @infiniteimprobabilit re Dord…

        According to Snopes: “In the first edition of Webster’s, entries for abbreviations and words had been intermingled: the abbreviation lb (for “pound”), for example, would be found immediately after the entry for the word lazy.

        In the second edition, however, abbreviations were supposed to be collected in a separate section at the back of the dictionary. In 1931, a card had been prepared bearing the notation “D or d, cont/ density” to indicate the next edition of the dictionary should include listings for D and d as abbreviations of the word density. Somehow the card became misdirected during the editorial process and landed in the “words” pile rather than the “abbreviations” pile, and so the “D or d” notation ended up being set as the single word dord, a synonym for density.”

  2. On the food front it’s also shrove tuesday, or fat tuesday or mardi gras. In the UK that’s pancake day (mentioned in the NYT I saw this morning). I am a firm equal opportunity celebrator of food festivals from any tradition, so it’s cheese and bacon pancakes, followed by lemon pancakes this evening.

    1. If you’re from Southeastern Pennsylvania, it’s also Fastnacht Day. My daughter and I were up super early this morning to make ours (they’re more or less a potato based donut).

      1. I guess Reading would qualify. My family on both sides are from Reading. We used to visit frequently when I was a boy but I’ve never lived there myself.

        I remember lots of good food though. V&S sandwich shops, Good’s potato chips (fried in lard of course), ring bologna, Lebanon bologna, and a local white cheddar so sharp it would make the roof of your mouth bleed. And some really good local sodas. We used to collect bottle caps so we could get into Hershey Park for free. Lots of good memories from those visits. Though I don’t recall anything about Fastnacht Day.

  3. Rare Disease Day. That strikes me as a little bit quixotic (besides sounding vaguely absurd. I’m afraid I have a hyperactive sense of the absurd). The thing about rare diseases, the really important feature that distinguishes them, the reason they’re rare in fact, is that very few people have them.
    So I’m not entirely sure that trying to make people aware generically of rare diseases – whose only similarity is that they’re rare – is very productive.

    (But then I’m a cynic when it comes to commemorative days. Maybe it gives those directly involved a warm fuzzy glow. When is Sarcastic Old Curmudgeons Day, by the way?).


  4. Re Hili and her food bowl ,does she scatter bits of her food around ?, my 4 little sods do .
    I was so fed up of picking bits of food off the floor i bought 4 small pizza trays and put the food bowls on them .
    I offer this tip to the staff of cats everywhere .

    1. Small bowel on a larger plate helps some. If you can get those small cardboard tray like boxes with two or three inch sides, turn it upside down and put the bowl on that. It allows the cat to eat with the head up higher. Our cats like that.

    2. Hili is a very dainty eater, as was her predecessor, Pia. Not one piece is outside the bowl (unles I scatter them when adding to the bowl) so there was never the need for a tray. Cyrus scatters his food freely (as did his predecessors, Darwin and Emma) but he tidies it up all by himself after emptying the bowl.

    3. We had an Abyssinian years ago who was separated from his mother too early (she died) and so didn’t learn some of the basic cat skills. We got him at about 12 weeks old and over a period of time he picked up some of the basics from our older female cat. For example grooming. He (Ender) wasn’t very good at it, but he did learn to groom himself by watching her (Kitani).

      But when it came to eating? He never picked that up. His method of eating was to place one cheek down against the surface of the food bowl and then plow his face through the food while opening and closing his mouth. Very messy! And hilarious. Our older female cat was disgusted by his eating habits. She was very persnickety. The cleanest, neatest cat I’ve ever known.

      1. Hi ,thanks for the replies .
        I am a carer for my brother and i visit a carers forum .
        One of the regulars there just had to have her 18 year old cat put to sleep .
        It has upset me more than i care to admit ,after all it wasn’t my moggie ,i have the feeling sooner or later i am going to start crying .

        1. I am very sorry to hear that David. I can completely understand your feelings. My condolences to the cat’s human friend(s).

  5. Also – re MASH. I always enjoyed watching the series in the UK – the BBC played it without either ads or a laughter track. Found it pretty unwatchable in the US with those two additions – the laughter track in particular is horrible.

    1. Indeed – when I rewatched it recently at a recommendation of a friend, I noticed that I enjoyed it a *lot* more without.

      It *is* too repetitive, though, but does have a lot of brilliant bits.

      One of my favourites is Margaret offering to dance with BJ because, needless to say, his wife isn’t in Korea with him.

  6. So Watson and Crick announced they’d ‘solved’ DNA (and beaten Linus Pauling to it) on Linus’ birthday. Gotta love the irony, though I’m sure it wasn’t intentional.


  7. That was a lot of stuff to cover in the first post of the day. Krugman is fresh air in a very polluted country. Is it possible to shame stupid out of people?

    I thought MASH was okay but certainly a departure from the movie. Also taken over by too much by one actor. The real history of the Korean War is always painful, thanks mostly to one guy. The forgotten war if there ever was one.

    1. The Korean War marked a turning point in the American experience with warfare. Prior to this conflict, the United States had generally won its wars decisively (the War of 1812 was an exception). This war ended in stalemate. I think this result was particularly frustrating to the American public since early in the war it appeared that the United States under the leadership of General MacArthur would decisively defeat the North Koreans and reunite the peninsula. Then, in November 1950, the Chinese entered the war and drove the Americans and its U.N. allies south of the 38th parallel (the boundary between North and South Korea). Eventually, the Americans stabilized the front line at the 38th parallel. Fighting continued until July 1953 when an armistice was signed stopping the fighting. This armistice continues to the present day with the danger that it could break down at any moment.

      Truman relieved MacArthur of his command in April 1951 on the grounds of insubordination. MacArthur then became a hero of many Republicans (if not President Eisenhower) because he insisted that he could have won the war, possibly with the use of atomic weapons.

      It is now clear to most that since the end of World War II the nature of warfare has changed and that the likelihood of a superpower such as the United States gaining total victory in small, asymmetrical conflicts is not likely. This lesson should have been learned with this country’s experiences in Vietnam and the Middle East. This is all relevant to present day politics since just yesterday President Trump said he wants America to start winning wars again. With his apparent total ignorance of American history and just about everything else, the chances are more than insignificant that he could lead us into a disastrous conflict. We can only hope that the military establishment and the Secretary of Defense will be able to rein him in should he propose something crazy.

      1. I see a lot of MacArthur in this Trump character. Old dugout Doug was one big self promotion of himself. A legion in his own mind and very dangerous. Some of his actions in the Korean war got lots of people killed. Sure he did the landing at Inchon but after that he was a joke. He caused the Chinese to enter the war and everything changed. Truman had to fire him.

        The lesson the historians learned about Korea, and it took a long time, is that Korea was a success – the mission was accomplished. That mission was to get the North, who started this thing, out of the south and that was accomplished and still holds today. The Vietnam conflict never had a mission. It could never be won. The lesson that was never learned from Vietnam is an old one – don’t go to war unless you have a real plan, a mission, and backing of the people. We had none of those things in Vietnam.

        1. from Wikipedia:

          “At 03:30 local time on 8 December 1941 (about 09:00 on 7 December in Hawaii),[127] Sutherland learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor and informed MacArthur. At 05:30, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General George Marshall, ordered MacArthur to execute the existing war plan, Rainbow Five. MacArthur did nothing. On three occasions, the commander of the Far East Air Force, Major General Lewis H. Brereton, requested permission to attack Japanese bases in Formosa, in accordance with prewar intentions, but was denied by Sutherland. Not until 11:00 did Brereton speak with MacArthur about it, and obtained permission.[128] MacArthur later denied having the conversation.[129”

          Yep, McArthur was warned and did not folloow orders to defend the Phillipines as per a pre-existing plan, then he denied receiving the orders. Another great pre-Trumpian leader.

          1. Yes, there are many pages in the Dugout Doug history. He got totally off the hook for what he did in the Philippines, yet the guys in Hawaii were crucified. Pathetic.

            There is a song or poem about good old Dugout Doug MacArthur as he lies ashaking on the rock. Battling Bastards of Bataan. Much in the same vain as Trump only worse, how everyone was afraid of the guy.

            Even Truman took awhile to finally fire the bastard in Korea. That is as close to Seven Days in May as we ever got.

            1. But look how bravely & proudly he strides ashore (through salt water that his shoe shiner must have worked overtime to repair) after other men died fighting over so he could be more photogenic.

            2. But look how bravely & proudly he strides ashore (through salt water that his shoe shiner must have worked overtime to repair) after other men died fighting over so he could be more photogenic.

      2. O my, my: thank you Historian and Randy, for your lessons. I appreciate knowing (now) what my secondary history class – instruction (advanced / propounded to us then – teenage kiddos .during., by the way, the Vietnam one) so never did impart.

        And as re “the chances are more than insignificant that,” … … whooooa ! Please, please, please: at least let the President’s “advisors”, IF he himself has not, to have learnt from this forgotten (and from others of such) war’s lessons.


  8. What I gather from Swedish friends is that they pretty well know who Palme’s assassin is, they just can’t prove it. I think the evil guy who can feel no pain in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy may be based on him. (Authentic Swedes pls weigh in!)

  9. The note on Pope Benedict and his dementia reminded me of the amusing (ha ha) news from yesterday: “Pope Francis reversed decisions to kick pedophiles out of the priesthood”.

    It seems due to the recent and much touted “crackdown” they were to be defrocked. Now, however (in an even newer climate of “mercy”) pedophiles will only be required to do a “lifetime of prayer”. Now that sounds fair, doesn’t it? I think the dementia runs much wider and deeper that just one pope.

      1. Which one of them is infallible ?, did the old one lose his infalliblility when he resigned ,or do they each get a share .

        1. The “infallible” card is played when he’s trying to get Catholics to toe the line on something like giving him money. More commonly he’ll be seen using the “shift the blame” card to obstruct criticism.

  10. If you go #PancakeDay you can find a collection of video clips of high born, some robed, English gentlemen competing in pancake races. This involves running while tossing a pancake. Tossers.

  11. I saw John Fahey back about 1970 or so at a concert in Madison, WI. As was your experience, PCC[E], he was drunk but still played very well. The thing I remember most is an audience member calling out something like “Play xxxx” (I don’t remember exactly, probably something from Blind Joe Faith), to which Fahey responded “You play it.”

  12. Thanks! I’m learning some Davey Graham on my guitar. I’ll check out Fahey as well.

    If you like (acoustic) guitar, please spend three minutes and watch this (guaranteed universal appeal):


    This is the exposed end of a vein of gold. Check out Josh’s channel for plenty of other genius arrangements.

      1. Yeah, kids these days! Josh is a wonder. Judging by your musical taste, it might be worth a skim through his channel to find his versions of Little Wing (on mandolin and Graceland – and 50 more. He also does great classical arrangements (guitar, lute (!)), and plenty of acoustic songs, e.g. Dylan, and lots of banjo. He has a great set of cohorts singing duets, and albums released on iTunes. He’s a fantastic player of any fretted instrument, but I think his great genius is in the arrangements.

  13. The word ‘popehood’ was more widely used in earlier centuries as is listed in Merriam-Webster as “obsolete”

    Thomas Carlyle has been quoted as saying
    “The poor old Popehood will not die away entirely, as Thor has done, for some time yet; nor ought it.”

  14. That Cambridge pub of Crick and Watson fame (duly noted at the entrance) is The Eagle, wherein I spent many a pleasant hour, though it closes damnably early.

  15. Someone needs to tell that cat he’s fooling no-one: there isn’t a slide on the microscope!

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