Monday: Hili dialogue

January 13, 2020 • 6:45 am

It’s Monday, January 13, 2020, and I’ll be heading for Boston (mostly Cambridge) this week for a week’s R&R. Posting may be light for the next ten days, but, as always, I do my best.

It’s National Peach Melba Day—a dessert of peaches, raspberries, and vanilla ice cream. It was invented in the early 1890s in London’s Savoy Hotel to honor the Australian soprano Nellie Melba, and so eating it as an America constitutes a double act of cultural appropriation.

It’s also Korean-American Day, National Gluten-Free Day (count me out),and National Rubber Ducky Day. But the Pecksniffs have gotten hold of this beloved bathtime toy. They’re full of germs!

It’s also Make Your Dream Come True Day, and I don’t know how to do that on a single day, but perhaps some of us can make other people’s dreams come true. And maybe we can’t even do that, but we can tell our loved ones that we love them. That would be a good thing to do.

As for the weather, our snow is over and the temperatures in Chicago will be hanging around the freezing point, or above it by a few degrees, for most of the week. The high today, for instance, will be 36° F, or 2° C. We won’t have snow until Friday, and not much then.

News of the Day: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth are squabbling as the Democratic race in Iowa tightens up, the Iranian people are once again demonstrating against their regime after its admission that yes, it really did shoot down the Ukrainian flight, and there will be a high-level summit meeting in London as the Queen and Prince Charles try to persuade Harry and Meghan to walk back their “conscious uncoupling” from the royalty.  Such is the soap opera that occurs when they try to slot real people into a zombie-like Royal Family.

Stuff that happened on January 13 includes:

  • 1842 – Dr. William Brydon, an assistant surgeon in the British East India Company Army during the First Anglo-Afghan War, becomes famous for being the sole survivor of an army of 4,500 men and 12,000 camp followers when he reaches the safety of a garrison in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
  • 1888 – The National Geographic Society is founded in Washington, D.C.
  • 1898 – Émile Zola‘s J’accuse…! exposes the Dreyfus affair.

Here’s the famous headline on that day:

  • 1910 – The first public radio broadcast takes place; a live performance of the operas Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci are sent out over the airwaves from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
  • 1942 – World War II: First use of an aircraft ejection seat by a German test pilot in a Heinkel He 280 jet fighter.
  • 1966 – Robert C. Weaver becomes the first African American Cabinet member when he is appointed United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
  • 1968 – Johnny Cash performs live at Folsom State Prison.

Here’s a two-minute documentary of Cash’s historic concert at Folsom Prison:

  • 1982 – Shortly after takeoff, Air Florida Flight 90, a Boeing 737 jet, crashes into Washington, D.C.’s 14th Street Bridge and falls into the Potomac River, killing 78 including four motorists.

Bob Silberglied, a colleague at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, was killed in that Air Florida crash. He was an entomologist who studied insect behavior, and had recently taken a position in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He was also a really nice guy, and has been greatly missed. You can read his New York Times obituary here.  Here’s a photo of Bob from about 1975:

  • 1990 – Douglas Wilder becomes the first elected African American governor as he takes office as Governor of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1808 – Salmon P. Chase, American jurist and politician, 6th Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1873)

Chase featured on America’s second-largest currency bill, the $10,000 note, no longer printed but still legal tender (there’s also a $100,000 note with Woodrow Wilson’s portrait on it). Here’s Chase, who, by the way, is the “Chase” in “Chase Manhattan Bank”:

  • 1832 – Horatio Alger, Jr., American novelist and journalist (d. 1899)
  • 1893 – Chaim Soutine, Belarusian-French painter (d. 1943)
  • 1924 – Paul Feyerabend, Austrian-Swiss philosopher and academic (d. 1994)
  • 1927 – Sydney Brenner, South African biologist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2019)
  • 1932 – Barry Bishop, American mountaineer, photographer, and scholar (d. 1994)
  • 1955 – Jay McInerney, American novelist and critic
  • 1961 – Wayne Coyne, American singer-songwriter and musician
  • 1961 – Julia Louis-Dreyfus, American actress, comedian, and producer
  • 1975 – Andrew Yang, American entrepreneur, founder of Venture for America, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate

Those who traipsed across the Rainbow Bridge on this day include:

  • 858 – Æthelwulf, king of Wessex
  • 888 – Charles the Fat, Frankish king and emperor (b. 839)
  • 1864 – Stephen Foster, American composer and songwriter (b. 1826)
  • 1929 – Wyatt Earp, American police officer (b. 1848)
  • 1941 – James Joyce, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet (b. 1882)
  • 1956 – Lyonel Feininger, German-American painter and illustrator (b. 1871)
  • 1978 – Hubert Humphrey, American pharmacist, academic, and politician, 38th Vice President of the United States (b. 1911)

As I’ve said before, I regard Feininger as one of the greatest modern artists, though nobody agrees with me. Here’s one of his paintings:

If you’re a Joyce fan, you’ll have read Ulysses, and will remember how, near the book’s beginning, Leopold Bloom feeds his cat while making breakfast for his wife Molly. You may remember that the cat says “Mkgnao!”, which is a great transcription of a cat cry. Here’s an analysis from The Joyce Project on Bloom’s interaction with his cat (Joyce’s text is doubly indented and the cat’s vocalization are in bold):

It is no exaggeration to call this exchange at the beginning of Calypso a dialogue. In context, the cat’s properly spelled first word (Bloom’s “Miaow” much later in the chapter is a human bastardization) reads as “Hello there, you! I’m here”:

      — Mkgnao!
— O, there you are, Mr Bloom said, turning from the fire.

When Bloom says that he will give her some milk, the cat’s somewhat longer reiteration comments impatiently on the fact that he is not actually doing it:

He bent down to her, his hands on his knees.
— Milk for the pussens, he said.
— Mrkgnao! the cat cried.
They call them stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them.

Her third speech, louder and longer still, clearly demands, “Feed me!”:

     — Mrkrgnao! the cat said loudly.

And Bloom feeds the cat. Her response to this satisfactory outcome, whatever subtleties of feline intention it may contain, obviously means “Yes!”:

     — Gurrhr! she cried, running to lap.

The cat has other modes of discourse, Bloom reflects: “The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just how she stalks over my writingtable. Prr. Scratch my head. Prr.” The communication between man and beast effected in these exchanges is as real as the communication between man and wife that is narrated several paragraphs later:

     He said softly in the bare hall:
— I’m going round the corner. Be back in a minute.
And when he had heard his voice say it he added:
— You don’t want anything for breakfast?
A sleepy soft grunt answered:
— Mn.
No. She did not want anything.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the cynical Princess is fed up to here with politics as she sees a Polish politician on Andrzej’s computer screen:

Hili: Look, a politician!
A: Yes, so what?
Hili: He is almost coherent.
In Polish:
Hili: Patrz, polityk!
Ja: I co z tego?
Hili: Mówi jakby coś rozumiał.

My friend Andrew Berry is lecturing on a university trip to Tasmania, and sent me this photo, for I often use the phrase spelled out in shrubbery. He noted:

I believe this magnificent monument to Coyne argot is advertising an exhibit at the Sydney Botanic Garden on carnivorous plants.

Yes, there is such an exhibit; it’s called “Plants with Bite.

An exchange about Japanese hamster bread (yes, it’s a thing) from Jesus of the Day:

Posted on FB by Phil Ferguson:

Titania’s tweet below highlights an important issue: much of the transitional surgery of this type is forced upon gay men who, to have sex with men, must become transsexual women because homosexual activity is a capital crime. This is also the case in Iran. And yet, as in the clip below (sound up), such forced mutilation of gay men is celebrated as an “LGBT-friendly” stand of these countries!


Caste differentiation in ants, based not on real altruism but on relatedness. You can play the video by clicking on the tweet and going to the Twitter site.

A tweet from Heather Hastie via Ann German.  A nice cop helps a bob-tailed cat across the road.

Tweets from Matthew. He explains the origin of the first one: “A foreign student used ‘serpent’ in an essay I am marking, which got me thinking, and then tweeting”:

Well, deep-dish or stuffed pizza may be special occasion pizzas for many Chicagoans, but because I don’t have pizza very often, the fat ones are “go-to” pizzas for me. (n.b. if you’re visiting Chicago, write me for recommendations).

Matthew reproached me for missing this tweet on January 7. But better late than never:

Sugar glider vs. cat: the marsupial wins. Matthew also clarifies: “DM = Dungeon Master (from Dungeons and Dragons game)”.

Look at that glider leap!

Emily, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at Emory University, presents a 37-tweet tutorial on cat coat genetics. It’s good, too, so if you’re interested, click on the tweet below and then read down on the Twitter site.


35 thoughts on “Monday: Hili dialogue

    1. I had not heard of Lyonel Feininger before reading this post, a great pity as the images found on the net are all very good and I will certainly be looking out for a chance to see some of his stuff in as gallery.

      Seeing some of the paintings made me wonder whether they had inspired Neo Rauch, my favourite living artist. Their stuff is not that similar but I could see a relationship, especially in the use of strong colour and, in some, over-sized people.

  1. Stuffed pizza or deep dish was always my preference. The thing I could never understand about Chicago pizza, though, is why it’s cut into squares.

  2. 1.

    Anyone remember a movie “I Accuse My Parents!”? It’s presented as a serious movie but Mystery Science Theater 3000 made a delightful farce of it. I always wondered if “J’Accuse!” inspired it – probably in a general way.


    The Feininger painting is dramatic, exhilarating. Nice pick.

  3. The 1982 Air Florida Flight 90 crash was a clear case of icing and pilot error. Shows a condition that, even pilots with lots of hours and experience can be ignorant on some aspects of flying. Even a light overnight frost can cause great problems for an aircraft if not removed prior to take off.

      1. I had to go look again. De-icing had taken place but done poorly. Then there was a long delay. The pilot thought he was helping by getting his plane close behind another one to melt the snow off the wings. Bad idea as that probably made it worse. They also did not turn on the de-icing internally so instruments were giving bad readings.

        1. I believe modern more-efficient aerofoil sections are more sensitive to contamination of the upper surface (i.e. ice) than the older ones used to be. So de-icing is now regarded as even more critical.


    1. I was trying to fly out of Heathrow when the infamous “10cm of snow” shutdown of December 2010 happened. It wasn’t even the first flight I’d lost to icing that month – I’d been stuck on a rig for 9 days because one particular helicopter company had “saved” the cost of de-icing equipment on their helicopters. One job overflows into another and 4 days after I get home, I’m sitting at Hellrow, watching the wings getting de-iced for the third time and working out what lay behind the “do you want fish or chicken?” – another 3 days of bowdlerising around until I finally got to Newfoundland – to sit around staring at the inside of a fog bank.

        1. Oh, I got that point very well, thanks. A couple of months into that job, I had to review a – who’re the Canadian equivalent of the Air Accident Investigation Board? Whoever. – 150-odd page report on a helicopter crash that had killed a number of crew from the vessel I was on. Looking for lessons that were relevant to helicopter operations in the North Sea. Very hard work reading that much material and digesting it in time to get a response out to “the office” ahead of the UK news cycle.

  4. Hamster bread. Mmmmmm!

    On the cat coat genetics … How exactly do you go about controlling the length of the fur in a coat? Does a particular follicle grow for a certain period, then stop until the hair is plucked out (which is definitely not how my beard or thinning skullcap do it)? Or … do hairs grow continuously but vary in thickness (which presumably controls the average duration until the hair snags, breaks and shortens)? Or … Some sort of thermoregulation effect in addition to the annual moult?
    Freddie Mercury is a black beauty!

    1. I’ve had the same question. How does a hair know when to stop? Dr. Google says: The cells that make the hairs on your arms are programmed to stop growing every couple of months, so the hair on your arms stays short. The hair follicles on your head, on the other hand, are programmed to let hair grow for years at a time, so the hair can grow very long.

  5. Seemingly innocuous rubber ducky, who knew the evil that lurks beneath your rubber shell. I don’t want to know about rubber chickens.

    1. A few squeezes in some dilute bleach and presto – clean yellow ducky. There’s a hole in the bottom of the toy and it’s how I kept my sons’ bath toys clean.

  6. Don’t read books that tell you what ‘Ulysses’ is all about. Read the book itself.

    Got stuck? (A lot of people get stuck on Chapter 3, ‘Proteus’). Skip it. Get on with the next bit. Go with the flow.

    Read it again. You will get more out of it every time. I reckon I’ve read ‘Ulysses’ about 18-20 times. I find something new each time.

    But if you find that too time-consuming or intimidating, then just read our host’s favourite Joyce story, ‘The Dead’. Then read it again. And again. Genius.

    1. Good advice! I haven’t read Ulysses since Spring Break Sophomore year, when I loved it, but I’m sure missed most of it.

    2. Good advice! I haven’t read Ulysses since Spring Break Sophomore year, when I loved it, but I’m sure missed most of it.

  7. It is not widely known, but Dr. William Brydon was not the sole survivor of the British force lost in the First Anglo-Afghan War – one Harry Flashman also survived and made it back to Jallalabad.

  8. I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend Bob. As a long-time resident of the DMV, I remember that day very well. Also, thank you for posting the link to the thread about cat coat genetics. Very interesting!

  9. I’m afraid to say I don’t 100% believe that story about Lot and his daughters (shock horror, something untrue in the Bibble?).

    If he was unconscious, how did he, errm, get it up sufficiently to get his daughters up the duff?

    I reckon he was just playing possum and making the most of it. ‘Unconscious’ was just his alibi. A bit like ‘an angel did it’, only with genders swapped.


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