Monday: Hili dialogue

February 3, 2020 • 6:30 am

Well, it’s Monday again: the third of February, 2020. It was lovely, warm and sunny in Chicago yesterday, but it’s back to cold weather this week. But with highs around freezing, that isn’t cold for Chicago.  It’s National Carrot Cake Day, celebrating the only vegetable-based dessert I like, especially with cream-cheese frosting (don’t mention the odious zucchini cake).

Other celebrations today: Elmo’s Birthday (from the Muppets), American Painters Day (celebrated on the day Norman Rockwell was born in 1894), International Golden Retriever Day, and The Day the Music Died (it was on this day that Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were killed in a plane crash in 1959, an incident that gave rise to Don McLean’s 1971 song).

And it’s Four Chaplains Day, marking the day in 1943 when four chaplains—including Methodist minister Reverend George L. Fox, Reform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Catholic priest Father John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister Reverend Clark V. Poling—were aboard a troopship that was torpedoed in the North Atlantic. There weren’t enough lifeboats or lifejackets for everyone, so the four helped as many as they could into the lifeboats, gave their lifejackets to those who lacked them, and then, as the ship went down, stood on deck, linked arms, sang, and prayed. They were good men, and here they are:

There was a 3-cent stamp in their honor issued in 1948, and I had it in my stamp collection when I was a boy:

News of the Day: the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 31-20 last night in America’s most commercialized sporting event. It was apparently a thriller, with the Chiefs scoring three touchdowns in the last 6½ minutes, giving Kansas City its first Superbowl in 50 years. I did not watch it. Here’s a 7-minute video of the game highlights.

Stuff that happened on January 3 includes:

  • 1690 – The colony of Massachusetts issues the first paper money in the Americas.
  • 1870 – The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing voting rights to male citizens regardless of race.
  • 1913 – The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, authorizing the Federal government to impose and collect an income tax.
  • 1933 – Adolf Hitler announces that the expansion of Lebensraum into Eastern Europe, and its ruthless Germanisation, are the ultimate geopolitical objectives of Third Reich foreign policy.
  • 1943 – The SS Dorchester is sunk by a German U-boat. Only 230 of 902 men aboard survive. [See above; this is the ship that carried the Four Chaplains.]
  • 1959 – Rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.
  • 1971 – New York Police Officer Frank Serpico is shot during a drug bust in Brooklyn and survives to later testify against police corruption.

You may recall the movie “Serpico,” with Al Pacino in the starring role. Here’s Frank Serpico today, still with us at 83:

Entire villages were wiped out, and inhabitants died by being buried in their homes by snow, which reached as high as ten feet in some areas. Here’s a photo:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1809 – Felix Mendelssohn, German pianist, composer, and conductor (d. 1847)
  • 1821 – Elizabeth Blackwell, American physician and educator (d. 1910)
  • 1874 – Gertrude Stein, American novelist, poet, playwright, (d. 1946)
  • 1894 – Norman Rockwell, American painter and illustrator (d. 1978)

Since it’s American Painters Day, honoring Rockewell and others, here’s one of his most famous paintings, “The Problem We All Live With“, depicting a moment in the Civil Rights struggle. Painted in 1964, it has this description on Wikipedia:

It depicts Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American girl, on her way to William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white public school, on November 14, 1960, during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. Because of threats and violence against her, she is escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals; the painting is framed such that the marshals’ heads are cropped at the shoulders. On the wall behind her is written the racial slur “nigger” and the letters “KKK”; a smashed and splattered tomato thrown against the wall is also visible. The white protesters are not visible, as the viewer is looking at the scene from their point of view. The painting is oil on canvas and measures 36 inches (91 cm) high by 58 inches (150 cm) wide.

The racial slur would certainly not be allowed to be exhibited today, and that’s sad because it depicts the reality of the segregationist South.

  • 1920 – Henry Heimlich, American physician and author (d. 2016)

Those who popped off on February 3 include:

  • 1924 – Woodrow Wilson, American historian, academic, and politician, 28th President of the United States, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1856)
  • 1959 – The Day the Music Died[16]
    • The Big Bopper, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1930)
    • Buddy Holly, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1936)
    • Ritchie Valens, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1941)
  • 1961 – Anna May Wong, American actress (b. 1905)
  • 1985 – Frank Oppenheimer, American physicist and academic (b. 1912)
  • 2005 – Ernst Mayr, German-American biologist and ornithologist (b. 1904)

I celebrate once more Mayr’s tremendous influence on both evolutionary biology and my own career, despite the fact that he made some scientific missteps, most notably promoting the idea of “founder effect speciation.” But his books helped made me an evolutionary biologist, and one interested in speciation. I wrote two pieces honoring him, one in Evolution while he was still alive, and the other a postmortem appreciation in Science.

Mayr as I remember him, courtesy of the Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is kvetching because Malgorzata not only spiced the meat for dinner, but fried it, rendering it inedible to the Princess.

Hili: You’ve spoiled all the meat again!
Małgorzata: I’ve left a raw piece for you.
Hili: Probably a very small one.
In Polish:
Hili: Znowu zniszczyłaś całe mięso!
Małgorzata: Zostawiłam dla ciebie surowy kawałek.
Hili: Pewnie bardzo mały.

This was posted by reader Laurie:

From The Cat House on the Kings:

From Jesus of the Day. I think I need one of these to complement my Jesus Cat tea towel:

Reader Terry called my attention to an article reporting that the Daily Express was conned into thinking that there was a new British passport. But there wasn’t. Have a look at what the Daily Express published—and missed:

And the source of the hamster quote:

Reader Barry found this impressive tweet showing head stabilization in yet another bird. Natural selection came up with the steady-cam before humans did.

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. First, an “earth ball” made by a badger:


Tweets from Matthew. I am lucky to have been alive when the photos in the first tweet were taken.

Short but sweet:

A thousand-bed hospital in two weeks! You have to credit the Chinese, even though they were slow to come to grips with the coronavirus crisis.


50 thoughts on “Monday: Hili dialogue

  1. I guess Iowa’s claim to fame will always be the plane crash. Down here in Kansas they celebrate the Kansas City, Mo. victory. It is like their home team since they have no team. Kind of a crazy team I would say. You don’t want them to get behind as that is when they beat you. In one playoff game they were behind 24-0 after the first quarter. At the half they were ahead 28-24. After that they just kept scoring.

      1. The Dems can use this against him in both Kansas and Missouri. “How can you think Trump has your interests in mind when he doesn’t even know what state Kansas City is in?”

          1. You are correct of course, although Kansas City, Kansas has always been pretty insignificant in comparison. For someone as far away from Kansas City as Trump to think Kansas, well that is kind of stupid. Especially, now that KC, Mo. is the largest city in Missouri. KC, Kansas is more like 3rd or 4th in Kansas.

            1. Facts are irrelevant to the Orange Menace. No doubt Republicans will work to change the state line to mollify the idiot.

      2. Love the Sharpie/Not So Sharpie,
        Even I, who basically hate football, knew that the team had to be from KC, MO.

  2. What’s the dog mean again?

    “Designed for 314 civilian passengers and 90 crew, she was able to carry slightly more than 900 military passengers and crew.[1]”

    The reference is 404, not found.

    What does it mean, “carry”? I don’t understand how a ship can be deliberately designed to leave a few to drown. Was this tragedy accounted for at all by any tragic problems in safety procedures?

    1. What does it mean, “carry”? I don’t understand how a ship can be deliberately designed to leave a few to drown.

      As a working hypothesis, they probably did have enough boats for the nominal complement of 404 POB, but whatever sank them either destroyed a number of lifecraft, or rendered them inaccessible due to fire.
      Overloading a vessel when operating as a troopship was pretty much SOP during WW2. Triple and quadruple height bunks in holds, that sort of thing. It’s very unfeasible to double or triple the number of lifecraft mounting points in a short visit to the docks. They took a gamble ; some people died in consequence.
      SOP for civilian vessel design – at least the ones I’ve worked on – is to assume that all the lifecraft on one side of the vessel are going to be unusable due to fire, explosion, impact of hurricane-upwards weather, and/or listing of the vessel, so the lifecraft on the opposite side of the vessel need to be able to carry the whole complement. That’s for TEMPSCs (Totally Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft) ; then you have enough liferafts on each side for the entire complement with all personnel trained in how to deploy them, as well as the liferafts being on hydrostatic releases so that at 10-20m submersion they release, float to the surface and in the process pull their inflation lanyards beyond the inflation point and then to tear the weak links.
      On a modern vessel, the only reason to end up in the water is catastrophic structural failure. Which certainly happens. Most people in the business have known people who have had to “swim home”. I’ve certainly met more than a few, and working above or alongside the wrecks of other vessels is thought-provoking.

      1. “whatever sank them either destroyed a number of lifecraft, or rendered them inaccessible due to fire.”

        Ah yes, of course.

        The design of the life-saving equipment- I know there’s a hard limit written on the equipment but when it comes down to it, the designers must have allotted for additional weight?… been listening to the blancolirio channel, you know…

        1. I happen to be acquainted with the regulations in force during the sinking of the Dorchester. They would have been required to have on each side of the vessel lifeboats with capacity to hold all persons on board. Additionally, there would have been rafts to accommodate 25% of those on board

          A ship refitted as a troopship at that time might have additional boats added, and certainly would have had rafts.
          I have some experience aboard liners converted to ww2 troop ships. Looking at the numbers on the Dorchester, It is my educated guess that there were not men bunking in the holds. Liners at that time were designed so that couches fold into beds, and could carry 900 by double occupying the staterooms, and adding extra beds to the suites.
          Putting racks in the holds is not optimal, as it reduces cargo capacity, and requires sanitary and ventilation arrangements.

          As for the capacity of boats and rafts, there is no safety factor built in. I have had lots of opportunity when launching boats for testing to see what it is like when they are full to listed capacity. A lifeboat full to capacity has way too many people in it. And those would have been open boats,probably of metal construction with flotation chambers (at least 10% of flooded volume) under the seats. I have been on such a boat when flooded. With four people, it is a real task to bail it out and start making way. A flooded boat is not designed to be bailed out when occupied by more than a few people. Since the Dorchester sank in 20 minutes, the boats would have been launched very quickly, and while the ship was still moving.
          All of these issue would have complicated the situation.

        2. Blancolirio’s channel primarily deals with aircraft, where space and weight are at a premium (and excess weight can have adverse effects on the overall safety).

          With ships, space and weight tends to be less critical. Overweight or badly distributed weight can have adverse consequences but it has to be a lot of weight, on a ten-thousand-ton ship a few dozen tons of liferafts is unlikely to be significant.


    2. What’s the dog mean again?/blockquote> Depression

      “Designed for 314 civilian passengers and 90 crew, she was able to carry slightly more than 900 military passengers and crew. What does it mean, “carry”? I don’t understand how a ship can be deliberately designed to leave a few to drown. Was this tragedy accounted for at all by any tragic problems in safety procedures?”

      It means SS Dorchester was designed as a luxury liner for 400 passengers/crew: a lot of spare space for a ballroom, dining rooms, sun lounge, smoking room, hair salon, extensive kitchens & food storage, promenade deck & all the other niceties required of the well heeled – each berth would have had a bathroom for example & the most expensive berths would have had a lounge. It was converted for use as a WWII troopship with room for 900 passengers/crew. Guns were added, extra lifeboats, [& I suppose Carling floats] & plenty of lifebelt stores.

      ** 3rd February 1943 at 0055 hrs she was hit by a torpedo in her starboard side & the water flooding in listed her to that side making her port side lifeboats & rafts useless.

      ** The troops below decks had been warned of a U-Boat in the area, but many didn’t keep their lifebelts on because of discomfort lying down in them & because it was very hot below decks [oil fired, steam driven ship].

      ** The torpedo knocked out the electrics & thus pitch black below decks – many men panicked & didn’t find their way out – they would have been completely unfamiliar with the layout, especially the position of ladders. Most of them would never have been on a ship before.

      ** A lifeboat or two capsized because overcrowding/panic

      ** The water & air was near-freezing – men in the water would be unable to haul themselves into a lifeboat or [move their arms & legs to swim] within five minutes or so. This was near Greenland in February at night.

      ** The ship went down by the bow & on its starboard side within 20 minutes

      ** Hundreds of lifebelted dead were found floating in the water on the 4th

      ** 230 men saved almost immediately by two cutter escorts & the remainder [approx 670] died in the ship or in the frigid waters

          1. “Poor old Black Dog. I miss him. In the early morning when I work, he’s not there on the kudu skin beside the typewriter; and in the afternoon when I swim, he’s not hunting lizards beside the pool; and in the evenings when I sit in my chair to read, his chin isn’t resting on my foot. I miss Black Dog as much as I miss any friend I ever lost.”

            Ernest Hemingway
            Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir, by A. E. Hotchner (New York: Da Capo Press, 2005), 243.

  3. I don’t watch Superbowls anymore, but they are not a complete waste of time. They clear the roads so I can go shopping with no hassle.

    1. “I don’t watch Superbowls **anymore** “

      One of my picks for National How About You Stop Doing That day.

      Note that this means I understand the interest and fun of the whole “pastime” of, in this case, football. There was a time for it. Now, I’ve moved on.

  4. Wait a minute. If the Sixteenth Amendment authorized the income tax, how was the federal government financed before 1913?

    “Prior to the early 20th century, most federal revenue came from tariffs rather than taxes, although Congress had often imposed excise taxes on various goods”.

    1. Income taxes were started during the civil war in the north to pay for it. Imagine that, we once thought it a good idea to pay for our spending. What a funny idea. The tax was stopped after the war.

      The Constitution gave the okay for taxing but many did not think it was good enough and that is why the amendment.

  5. “You may recall the movie “Serpico,” with Al Pacino in the starring role.”

    In the 1995 remake of the movie Sabrina, there is a scene in which Elizabeth’s (David’s fiancé) father gives a toast. He says, “I would like to propose a toast. Not always is the joining forever of two gorgeous people, but two gorgeous companies.” It’s cut out here in this trailer and would be in between 0:36 and 0:44 in. He then says in this odd accent, “…and may your first child be a masculine child.” Everyone at the table sort of thinks it’s a little different. Then his wife says to Harrison Ford explaining it, “It’s from Serpico.” I’ve finally figured out what that means now. At least I think that is probably the reference. I’ve never heard of Serpico before now except for that reference I’ve never understood.

    Sabrina (1995)

    1. The wife in the film was wrong “..and I hope that their foist child be a masculine child” is a quote from The Godfather [Luka Brasi, 1972]. I don’t know if it was a goof in Sabrina or an intentionally scripted error by the missus.

        1. That was what I wrote isn’t it Liz? “I don’t know if it was a goof in Sabrina or an intentionally scripted error by the missus”

    1. The Titanic had slightly more lifeboats than the Board of Trade requirements. This was based on the assumption that the ship would stay afloat long enough for the boats to ferry passengers to a rescuing vessel.

      Titanic was also equipped with watertight compartments and was, in its design, safer than most liners of the period. If it had rammed the iceberg head-on it would probably have remained afloat.

      If I’d been looking up a list of ocean liners and their safety attributes at the time, the Titanic is probably the ship I would have chosen to sail on. 🙂

      As it was, due to confusion and mismanagement, even the lifeboats that existed were only partially filled, and two were never launched. It’s not certain that more lifeboats would have helped much.

      (None of this means that I’m questioning the modern rule that a ship should carry lifeboats for all on board.)


  6. Martian Panorama: Furtherest visible point is 50 miles – a hill outside Gale Crater.

    Below is the Curiosity drive since landing at Bradbury [top of map in blue letters]. North to the top. Numbering of the dots along the yellow line indicates the Sol – curiosity has driven around 13.5 miles or 22 km. Map goes to Sol 2645 [Martian day = Sol = 24hrs & 40 mins on average] which was January 15, 2020 – today must be around Sol 2663.

    1. It’s pretty amazing that the rover has lasted so long in such a harsh environment – considering that commercial devices seem to break down pretty regularly here on Earth. It gives one the feeling that human habitation could work. There is a big difference, though, between a machine rolling around on the surface and a system good enough to maintain human life. There are issue of radiation, food, heat, oxygen, etc. I don’t think it’s likely I’ll live to see it happen, unfortunately – despite Elon Musk’s (and others) optimism. I must be satisfied to watch the machines.

      1. It is amazing. Curiosity has performed so well that the Mars 2020 rover follows its basic design. They have made the wheel treads stronger though as Curiosity’s wheels have holes from rolling over sharp, pointy rocks.

      2. Yes. Elon Musk’s Mars optimism [ignorance] annoys me – let him set up an Antarctic colony that is self-sustaining first. A quick look at the amount of stores required to be flown in to the Polar research stations is daunting & the coastal research stations on that continent have access to much more raw material than we will have on Mars.

        Nobody is considering building fabricators down there [even if it were legal] & Mars is out of reach as a settlement without thousands of bots to prepare the way for people for decades. A reasonable survey of Mars to pinpoint usable quantities of water ice & metal ores near the surface – that’s at least 50 years away.

        I think a reasonable aim would be to think about humans on Mars when Martian bots can build Martian bots on Mars – that’s the only labour force Mars can support. Shipping biological labour from Earth is ridiculous. And while we’re at it we can grow people on Mars by the time the bots have prepared the way.

        1. NASA, I think, is much more realistic. They might finagle a quick touch and go fairly soon, but they’ll need to return pretty quickly. Settlements on the surface are a long way off.

          1. NASA humans to Mars is provisionally earmarked for 2033, because good Earth/Mars orbital alignment. I would like 2033 used to collect the sample caches amassed by rovers – probably out of the question if the lander has to loft Marsnauts back into orbit too.

            Or a mission to Deimos [Martian moon] or any local icy moon – we can’t operate in space without tonnes of water for making LOX fuel & air for breathing, we need a cheap mini-gravity source rather than lifting it from deep gravity wells. That raw water would be worth $100,000,000/tonne [some estimates] to orgs working in space.

    1. Yes, totally not the usual one-sided game. Commercials were kind of a disappointment though. I absolutely hate the half-time show and skipped over it. I just don’t get that kind of “music”.

      1. I liked the half-time show though I don’t like that kind of music either. The performers are beautiful and know how to dance-wowza! They also had some good digs against Trump.

    1. Avian head stabilization in raptors is a piece of cake compared to, say, the miniaturized flight control of a housefly. I feel like I have defiled a marvel of nature every time I swat one.

  7. The four chaplains show why religion survives among humans evolutionarily. When someone … god… is supposedly watching, and thus rewarding us with ‘whatever you make up’ like heaven … then humans will do just about anything for others. In that sense, long live silliness … and as Voltaire said, as long as even one human behaves better … he supported belief.

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