Wednesday: Hili dialogue

October 2, 2019 • 6:30 am

It’s Wednesday, October 2, 2019, and in a few hours I’m off to Williamstown, Massachusetts to give a talk on free will (i.e., the lack thereof) at Williams College. If you’re free tomorrow evening, the announcement is here. It’s World Farm Animals Day, most of which are treated horribly, as well as International Day of Non-Violence (celebrating Mohandas Gandhi’s birthday in 1869; in India it’s also a national holiday, Gandhi Jayanti), World No Alcohol Day (screw that), National Name Your Car Day (25% of people have names for their cars, but I don’t; if you do, put your car’s name in the comments), and National Fried Scallops Day.

Fat Bear Week begins today (h/t gravelinspector), celebrating the fatness of Alaskan brown bears who beef up with salmon in the Brooks River  before their winter hibernation.  The livecam of bears in the water, scarfing up salmon, is here. Don’t miss it! There are also free e-books at the site, which include pictures like this, showing the Unbearable Fatness of Bears (top is before salmon, bottom after; click on screenshot to enlarge):

Stuff that happened on October 2 includes this (and the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi one year ago):

  • 1187 – Saladin captures Jerusalem after 88 years of Crusader rule.
  • 1789 – The United States Bill of Rights is sent to the various States for ratification.
  • 1919 – U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke, leaving him incapacitated for several weeks.
  • 1944 – World War II: German troops end the Warsaw Uprising.
  • 1959 – Rod Serling’s anthology series The Twilight Zone premieres on CBS. The first episode is “Where Is Everybody?”
  • 1967 – Thurgood Marshall is sworn in as the first African-American justice of the United States Supreme Court.
  • 2002 – The Beltway sniper attacks begin, extending over three weeks.
  • 2018 – Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1452 – Richard III of England (d. 1485)
  • 1800 – Nat Turner, American slave and uprising leader (d. 1831)
  • 1869 – Mahatma Gandhi, Indian freedom fighter, activist and philosopher (d. 1948)
  • 1879 – Wallace Stevens, American poet and educator (d. 1955)
  • 1890 – Groucho Marx, American comedian and actor (d. 1977)
  • 1897 – Bud Abbott, American comedian (d. 1974)
  • 1904 – Graham Greene, English novelist, playwright, and critic (d. 1991)
  • 1933 – John Gurdon, English biologist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate
  • 1945 – Don McLean, American singer-songwriter and guitarist

McLean is famous for his song “American Pie,” but I’ve gotten so tired of that one over the years. This one I didn’t like when I first heard it, but since I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and read the big biography of the man, it’s grown on me:

  • 1948 – Donna Karan, American fashion designer, founded DKNY
  • 1949 – Annie Leibovitz, American photographer
  • 1951 – Sting, English singer-songwriter, bass player, and actor
  • 1970 – Maribel Verdú, Spanish actress

Those who met their maker on this day include:

  • 1803 – Samuel Adams, American philosopher and politician, 4th Governor of Massachusetts (b. 1722)
Have a Sam!
  • 1927 – Svante Arrhenius, Swedish physicist and chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1859)
  • 1968 – Marcel Duchamp, French painter and sculptor (b. 1887)
  • 1973 – Paavo Nurmi, Finnish runner (b. 1897)
  • 1985 – Rock Hudson, American actor (b. 1925)
  • 1987 – Peter Medawar, Brazilian-English biologist and zoologist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1915)
  • 1998 – Gene Autry, American actor, singer, and guitarist (b. 1907)
  • 2016 – Neville Marriner, British conductor (b. 1924)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is deliberately ambiguous, conflating photographing and philosophy:

Hili: The background is very important.
Sarah: I agree, but why do you say that?
Hili: People don’t always notice.
In Polish:
Hili: Tło jest bardzo ważne.
Sarah: Zgadzam się, ale dlaczego to mówisz?
Hili: Ludzie nie zawsze to zauważają.

From Amazing Things, some scary peppers:

Maarten Boudry sent an exPURRiment:

What is it like to be a cat, and then what is it like to be a cat and see a cat?

From Simon, and the piece is well worth reading. It’s not the first time that Woke Culture has been compared to an evangelical religion, but the article, by Valerie Tarico (a former believer), is particularly good.

From Barry. The cat has found itself in a universe in which it doesn’t die:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. First, a cat with a resting bitch face (or is a queen face?):

If only humans could act like that monkey. On second though, they do. . .

Tweets from Matthew. A salacious and cryptic fish.

And a New Yorker story well worth reading. Read the thread, too.

Toads eat flies, but here’s a fly (or rather its larvae) that eats toads. This makes me sad, even though it’s just the result of evolution:


65 thoughts on “Wednesday: Hili dialogue

  1. So if you are both evangelical and woke you can be repulsive to darn near everyone. You have doubled down.

    1. … if you can *manage* to be both evangelical and woke…

      I suspect there are some major incompatibilities between the two postures.



  2. Mohandas K. Gandhi was a nasty little man. Tyrannical and racist. He was a useful idiot to the British. All they had to do was control Gandhi, and he would control the Indians.

    He got so used to controlling people, he expanded his domain. He addressed a letter to Jews advising them to commit collective suicide so that the Nazis won’t be forced to murder them and thus commit a crime.

    He told the Hindus to not resist when Muslims attack and murder them. If blood must flow, it should be Hindu blood, and even if every Hindu is killed, they would be morally victorious.

    The man was foxtrotting insane.

    In South Africa, he agitated against the government saying that Indians should not be treated on par with the “kaffir” black Africans. He thought it was OK to mistreat blacks because they were filthy, uncivilized and stupid.

    Gandhi is elevated to saintly heights but he was anything but. That he is revered in India is not surprising since Indians are generally ignorant of history and are not sticklers for the truth. (Disclosure: I am Indian.)

    1. His ‘advice’ to the Jews was completely insane, yes. And he had some dodgy views about blacks(racism among minorities is more common than white people think).

      But he’s a symbol, like MLK, and like Churchill. Their symbolic importance protects them against criticism like yours because what they stood for is too huge and important. The overall picture we have of them is too strong and singular to be undermined by some loose jigsaw pieces.

      I think it’s part of the human need to tell stories – we shape reality to fit those stories. The bits that don’t fit we sideline them, or ignore them. And the people in those stories need to be consistent, they need to fit, so we reshape them, and sand off the edges.

    2. Equally you could argue that “freeing India from British domination” also means “giving India back to the Brahmins”.

      When the local ruling class regain control from westerners this may or may not be a good thing for most of the people living there, depending on the nature of that ruling class. E.g. Hong Kong.

      1. Umm. . .you are aware that laws were made allowing dalits (“untouchables”) to occupy a considerable portion of governmental seats and college classes, and that A. C. Ambedkar was one of India’s founders, writer of its constitution, and its first justice minister. He, too was a dalit. India was NOT given back to the Brahmins.

      2. Pace, PCC(E), but I have serious problems with Gandhi; however, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and can recognize the positive things that he did; but just as with MLK and Churchill, I refuse to swallow the myths or subscribe to the belief that pointing out their abominations is taboo. In fact, I think it is critically important to see these men as they actually were in order to understand them and their accomplishments.

        I really cracked up this a.m when I saw the appallingly hypocritical editorial in the NYT by Narendra Modi, “Why India and the World Need Gandhi,” subtitle: “The great leader envisioned a world where every citizen has dignity and prosperity.”

        Modi and the BJP, with their imposition of fascistic Hindutva has done much to reverse the gains India has made that truly embody the positive aspects of Gandhi’s legacy. The BJP praises Gandhi’s assassin. This article “Say Howdy to Narendra Modi- But Don’t Mention Mahatma Gandhi” stands in stark contrast to his words in the editorial:

        Muslim “cow killers” and Dalits are brutally murdered, women gang raped, the habitats of tribal and forest dwelling people are being destroyed and co-opted. Just a few of the most visible activities his Hindutva encourages.

        However, with great fanfare he has declared India ‘open defecation free’ — an extremely dubious claim. In other words, his claim is a big, public crock of shit.

        It’s no wonder he and Trump got along so well. Trump even went to his very strange “Howdy Modi” event in Texas.

        1. I don’t believe that I said that we should swallow the myth of Gandhi or say that pointing out his abominations is taboo? Did you read the Orwell essay I linked to.

          You spend the bulk of your post going after Modi, whom I despise. What does that have to do with what I said about Gandhi?

          1. No, I didn’t read the link and will do so now.

            I went after Modi because of his op-ed and to demonstrate how he trades on Gandhi’s image (especially today, on Gandhi’s birthday) and legacy to present India as country that actually embodies Gandhi’s positive legacy, while in reality it is actively destroying it; yet another instance of the egregious contemporary politics of hypocrisy. At the same time, in typical schizo fashion, they are attempt to claim Gandhi’s legacy as their own. I find this interesting and important.

            I also wanted to stress that Trump and Modi are sympatico, and even that relationship involves Gandhi, if only in his absence from Trump’s history, which might well please Modi: during Modi’s recent visit, “Donald Trump heaped praise on PM Modi, who was visiting the US, saying, “I remember India before was very torn. There was a lot of dissension, fighting and he (Modi) brought it all together. Like a father would. Maybe he is the father of India.”

          2. Until relatively recently, I was one of those who assumed the veracity of the myth that Gandhi was truly enlightened was true, mainly because that’s what is presented for public consumption; and it was quite disturbing to learn of his flaws. At first I developed an extremely negative opinion of Gandhi and the more I read, the more disgusted I became. But certainly I cannot deny his positive works and philosophy, which was transformative for India and the world, and that legacy is now in jeopardy both in India and across the globe. I don’t deny this positive legacy. I celebrate it.

        2. “In fact, I think it is critically important to see these men as they actually were in order to understand them and their accomplishments”

          Yes. And confronting these realities doesn’t do much to their iconic status anyway, since they’re ‘too big to fail’.

  3. For a long time, I thought the song Vincent was titled Starry, Starry Night. If you want to see an incredible video of the song, watch the movie Loving Vincent. It is an animated movie. Not animated in the traditional way but rather using oil paintings. 65,000 in all.

    It should have won the 2017 Oscar, not Coco.

    1. Have been meaning to see that for such a long time. It sounds like the visual aesthetic is what makes it interesting, so I don’t know if it’d be a slog as an actual narrative drama.

        1. It’s on my ever-expanding Netflix list…I _will_ give it a go at some point. I keep getting choice paralysis.

  4. Apparently the mirror-test that the cat’s doing is the same one used by Wharton School for Trump’s admission test. If he displayed evidence of rudimentary self-awareness he passed.

    After three weeks of Trump arguing with his own reflection his dad just gave Wharton even more money and they let him in.

  5. I have a knock-down argument against free will : colds. Nobody chooses to get a cold, yet, colds are the product of individual choices – carelessly touching one’s face, inhaling dusts, etc. Clearly the choices made by the individual are set inside a matrix of prior conditions they have no control over. Even if they can develop e.g. a vaccine, as for flu, the individual does not get out of the game because the vaccine simply becomes the prior condition, and individual choice becomes, again, one reaction in a series of chain reactions constrained by prior conditions.

    Also, I call my car all sorts of names.

  6. Named cars: I currently drive a Honda Odyssey that my grandkids have dubbed the Fancy Van, in recognition of the accessories. They’re particularly partial to the retracting roof and the little door that opens like an inward-facing drawbridge that allows you to load CDs.
    I also have had cars named the Chickenmobile (extracted from a barn, covered with poultry droppings and feathers.) It was a 1976 Plymouth Valiant. Also had cars named after minnows, the Emerald Shiner (green Buick) and the Gizzard Shad (silver-gray Nissan).

    1. There is a(possibly apocryphal) story that the big PC manufacturers in the nineties would get regular calls from customers complaining that the ‘cup holder’ on their computer had stopped working.

      When the customer-support person asked them what they meant by ‘cup holder’, the callers would describe the ‘little tray that pops out when you press ‘eject”.
      Apparently some of the customers had been using the CD tray as cup holder.

      1. OH NO

        don’t try this if your cd tray is mounted with the normal to the disc plane vertical (i.e. parallel to the wall). Or if there’s liquid in the cup. Solid would probably be OK… I think…

        1. I don’t think I’ve ever used my disc tray on this laptop in three years. It would genuinely be more use to me as a cup-holder.

    2. I had a 1960 Plymouth Valiant for awhile, long time ago, late sixties. What can I say other than young and stupid. Today a Subaru Forester so times have changed. Never put a name to a car although my wife had a 1970 VW bug she called Bilbo.

    3. Only had one vehicle I ever bestowed a name upon, a ’68 Volkswagen van. Called it “Stan the Van.” My girlfriend and I drove Stan around the country in the late ’70s until, on my way to grad school, it let us down by cracking the engine block, in the middle of the nowhere in the middle of the night, with all our worldly belongings packed in the back.

      Hitch-hiked a ride to the nearest city, Nashville TN, about a hundred miles away. Rented a car and a tow-bar and ended up dragging ol’ Stan the rest of the way to school behind us, arriving about as broke as a couple could be.

    4. I’ve never named a car, but in high school, one of my friend’s dads had their white Ford station wagon painted ‘flesh’. No kidding, the weirdest color I’ve ever seen a car wearing. My friend started calling the car “The Flesh Cruiser”.

  7. “ … to give a talk on free will (i.e., the lack thereof) at Williams College. If you’re free …”


    “if you’re free” – “*Will*iams”… ugh. I’m not coming up with anything…. I have no free Williams joke to make here…

  8. Thank you for the memory, Dr Coyne:

    First thing* off of the pontoon plane in from King Salmon and onto the shoreline just off of Brooks Lodge which I had had to do (July y1997) is attend Bear – Watching School. Mandatory.

    Grizzlies, all of them, preclude — always — anywhere and everywhere including humans’ suppertime venue back at the ranch, the passages and the pilgrimages of humans: IF one or more Ursus arctos is between you and your noms, then you, Human, you wait.

    Including TO the point that you may altogether miss out upon the last served – up meal of the Lodge’s day !

    Darling sight for one’s eyeballs’ gaze this whole deal certainly so is.

    * … … after, o’course, hugging One o’m’Sons, Zac, who was that summer and fall in to its December then, a Brooks Lodge employee. Its tourists’ season ends end o’Septembers, but Zachary stayed on till … … only ONE bear, per the last most recent week, ‘ad been sighted .awake. and not yet in to hibernation. Cuz o’the Lodge’s / outbuildings’ protection against their clawing and destruction. Then when only one Zac sighted is when the bosses came in with a float plane and flew him out: early December.

    Only communication for months then was some sort of radio – telephone; they ‘called’ him once a week on Fridays for a number of sightings’ report ! I was worried, yes; he was only 19. What IF he, alone, had had an appendicitis – attack ?! Or something ?!


  9. The philosophy-cat is certainly struggling to interpret her experience. Our young dog, a Walker hound, had a similar experience with a mirror. After a few days, she pretty much ignored it, but occasionally will still be startled to see her image in that other room and stare at it awhile. What can they be thinking?
    I never named a car, but when my old VW bug rolled over on a snowy Michigan highway, I found a few choice words for it.

    1. All of this is so ‘Lacanique’ as in “the mirror stage” of child development a la Jacques Lecon*

      *All meanings of ‘con’ in French and English apply.

  10. My wife named our second-hand Ford Galaxy “Beastie McDiesel” because she was startled by the loud growl it made when she started the engine for the first time. This was back in 2008, so long before the “Boaty McBoatface” saga.

  11. My current car is ‘Blaze’, a red Mazda 3. I name nearly all my devices that connect via Bluetooth, which this does. That is so I can distinguish which device. I don’t like naming them ‘Office Computer’, ‘Main printer’, etc.

    But then I have to admit that my first car I named Rasputin because things happened to it and it just kept working. Two accidents, blown value cover gasket, cracked piston (I had to repair those two). I eventually sold it to a friend who a month later totaled it.

    And I named a couple other cars too. So clearly I am in the 25%, as are my kids.

  12. Betsy, 1, 2 and 3 so far. It’s what my Dad called his cars. My nieces call it the chicken car because of the skoda logo.

  13. That toad-eating fly larvae thing is going to be #1 in my new book, “The Animal Kingdom’s Nastiest Ways to Die”. I predict it will be a fixture on coffee tables everywhere.

    1. Quite a challenge for the marketing department. They’ll probably want to ship it wrapped in brown paper. 😎
      But, there is an attraction to the macabre. You’d sell some.

      1. These days there is quite an attraction to and interest in the macabre. But hurry and make it unique before someone beats you to it. Numerous books on the horrible ways humans can die but they’re limited to humans.
        But your book would need a specially reinforced coffee table.

        I think that more often than not, any death of an animal in the wild is nasty, unless it’s lucky enough to live long enough to expire of old age.

        PS I’m envious of your idea. Wish I’d thought of it.

    2. Item #15,297 on the exhibit list of ‘God, the Designer, is the most ingeniously sadistic bastard conceivable’.


  14. Valerie Terico’s post is excellent and worth bookmarking; the parallels cannot be denied. I must read more of her writing.

    I don’t yet know how to fit this into the picture but just yesterday, I read this disturbing article about Kanye West’s attempts to meld his performances with Christian evangelicalism: Kanye Christianity.

    It all comes off as terribly cultish, and his ‘theology’ is blatantly and offensively retrogressive, “West’s take on religion was very much based on loving and following Jesus blindly, as many slaves were taught to do to remain subservient and obedient to their masters. (And this from a man who once called slavery “a choice.”” Obviously, he’s gravely misinformed about free will, and given that he has a Goddy complex, this does not bode well. This also raises the contradiction that if god bestows free will, why are people enjoined to ‘freely’ give it up in exchange for slavish obedience to some phantasm that would determine every minute of their existence and every thought in their heads, and keep them metaphorically chained and beholden to whomever is the mouthpiece for that theology — the pastor, in this case, Pastor/god Kanye.

    I do not follow West or the Kardashians, in fact I abhor them but they’re difficult to ignore, they can be morbidly fascinating, and from a socio-cultural point of view (with emphasis on the “cult-” in “cultural,” they are worth studying.

    The Daily Beast article caught my eye, and “cult” immediately sprang to mind. Not that it’s a cult yet, but all the elements are there, ginned up by the off-the charts star stature he and his wife have (that I fail to grasp).

    He even has a line of very cultish clothing called “Yeezy,” that elicited this comment from Ice-T, “Kanye’s fashion show stuff looks like future Slave gear to me… Just sayin.” That from 2015 but I see little change from 2015 until now. The models and presentation look like refugees from Night of the living dead Zombie KanyeChristian hip-hop slaves?

    In addition, I’d wager that Kanye the Ignorant, he who praises Trump (two peas in a pod), considers himself the epitome of wokeness as well as goddiness.

    I wait to see what transpires with Kanye and his ‘religion’ of self.

    1. Well he’s a homophobic, misogynistic fuckwit so I don’t think he sees himself as part of the ‘woke’ movement. And along with the Trump connection he keeps saying some…unwise…stuff about how blacks have a slave mentality and how slavery is a ‘choice’*.

      But yeah, I’ve seen footage of his gatherings and they’re just creepy. Half of it’s just a blatant cash-grab for his clothing label. Definitely a culty vibe.

      *If you listen to the context of what he said it’s more subtle than that, but it was still pretty dumb.

      1. Points taken. Kanye has to to say about wokeness: “…Everyone swear they woke, but every everyone walkin’ dead eyes closed…”

        I read an article in the Boston Review that called him “Neo-woke.”

        But I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that he’d try to reincarnate wokeness in the service of his messianic obsession – just as I’ve found that the BJP in India seeks to co-opt Gandhi’s legacy when in fact they praise his assassin, as I noted in another comment in this thread.

        It also seems that West issued or was going to issue a studio album titled “Yandhi.” (Why did I have to learn this today of all days?) It’s unclear to me just what was actually issued or if the title was changed to the Jesus The King. The released tracks from Yandi don’t have anything overtly to do with Gandhi but the play on his name is clear, as is the name “Yesus” and the Yeezie clothing. Yeezus more powerful than Yandi.

        He’s bi-bolar and said he’s stopped taking his medication. My apologies to those who are bi-polar, but man, all this manic to me and it scrambles my brain. However, I detect little difference between the way he thinks and behaves today and when he was taking meds.

        1. He’s a complicated simpleton. And of course he’d love Trump, they’re basically the same.

          But, the reason he gets a pass on all this shit is because he is a frequently extraordinary artist. Yeezus is a fantastic, brutalist piece of music and the album he released before that has a claim to being the best of the decade. Even 808s And Heartbreak is getting reassessed as a brilliant album.

          Since Yeezus he’s tailed off, but when he’s on form he is imperious, crazy brilliant.

  15. As Annie Dillard said, “Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, insects gotta do one revolting thing after another.”

  16. I love the song Vincent, what a brilliant lyric. Very nice folk guitar playing.

    In the video Don McLean is playing a beautiful Martin 00. I love small guitars. I (almost) always play a 00 (of my own design).

    You can see a similar one here:

    (In the video, he says, “The whole record was just me and a guitar, just like this one.”)

  17. In the 1990s, my daughter’s then boyfriend had an somewhat unreliable MG-B. We named it ‘Cumquat’ since it was too small to be called a lemon.

  18. My car does have a name.
    I call it Mike Arr.
    My American cousin has a female car – yes of course they exist, don’t be sexist – and she is known as Miya To.

    Anthony K

  19. I agree about “America Pie”. It’s a bit overrated. But I absolutely love Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. He was truly the quintessential, tormented, artistic genius. That’s the reason his paintings fetch such astronomically high prices in the art world. Don Mclean’s “Vincent” is one of my most loved musical pieces,- and I think Mozart is the pinnacle musical genius! It perfectly sums up Van Gogh’s short, troubled life. Every single time I listen to that song I tear up. Just like I did now after listening to this posted video.

    Oh, and about the cat cartoon, cats are not scientists. They ARE jerks.

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