Monday: Hili dialogue

It’s a dreary Monday in Chicago: February 17, 2020, but it’s warming up, with prediccted high of 38° F (3°C) today. It’s National Café au Lait Day, which is cultural appropriation. Perhaps you should drink a latte instead, which is what I’m quaffing as I write, but that probably treads on Italian culture. It’s National Cabbage Day as well, and also as a day celebrating one of my favorite desserts, National Indian Pudding Day, a true American treat. I used to get it in Boston at Durgin-Park, a classic old restaurant that recently (and sadly) closed; the dessert is still is on tap at the Union Oyster House. If you click on the photo you’ll get a recipe. It’s best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, as shown below.

It’s Presidents Day in the U.S., a federal holiday that used to be known as Washington’s Birthday. George was born on February 22, 1732, but the holiday is now celebrated on the third Monday in February so that workers get a three-day weekend. Finally, it’s Random Acts of Kindness Day and My Way Day, celebrating Frank Sinatra (only kidding about the Chairman of the Board, but it is My Way Day).

News of the Day: I solipsistically note that as of Saturday we passed 70,000 subscribers (see below for latest tally). Will we get to 100,000 before I die? Should I care? But I am chuffed that so many people subscribe, even if not everyone is amazing.

Except for the “blog” characterization, it’s good news.

Stuff that happened on February 17 include:

  • 1600 – On his way to be burned at the stake for heresy, at Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, the philosopher Giordano Bruno has a stake put through his tongue to prevent him continuing to speak.


  • 1801 – An electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr is resolved when Jefferson is elected President of the United States and Burr, Vice President by the United States House of Representatives. [JAC: That’s even worse than the last election.]
  • 1863 – A group of citizens of Geneva founded an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which later became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • 1867 – The first ship passes through the Suez Canal.
  • 1904 – Madama Butterfly receives its première at La Scala in Milan.

Below is a famous aria from that opera, Un bel dì vedremo, sung by one of my favorites, Dame Kiri (a Kiwi born in Gisborne). I didn’t know until I just looked it up that she was born Claire Mary Teresa Rawstron, and was given up at birth because she was illegitimate. (Can you still use that word?). Te Kanawa is half Māori, and was adopted by another mixed-group couple (she has refused to reconcile with her birth father). Here’s a younger Kiri, age 22, with her adoptive parents:

Kiri Te Kanawa with her adoptive parents, Tom and Nell Te Kanawa, at a party in their garden at Blockhouse Bay, New Zealand, on the eve of Kiri’s departure for the opera stages of London in 1966. (Credit: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa)

The lovely aria:

  • 1949 – Chaim Weizmann begins his term as the first President of Israel.
  • 1980 – First winter ascent of Mount Everest by Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy.
  • 1996 – In Philadelphia, world champion Garry Kasparov beats the Deep Blue supercomputer in a chess match.

Here’s Wielecki on the summit, photographed by Cichy. He is a tough old bird.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1864 – Banjo Paterson, Australian journalist, author, and poet (d. 1941)

Paterson wrote the Australian National Anthem (well, it may as well be), “Waltzing Matilda“. Here’s an original manuscript from Wikipedia. The explanation:

The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back. The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or “swagman”, making a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat. When the jumbuck’s owner, a squatter (landowner), and three troopers (mounted policemen) pursue the swagman for theft, he declares “You’ll never catch me alive!” and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby billabong (watering hole), after which his ghost haunts the site.

Original lyrics of Waltzing Matilda c.1895 Music by Christina Rutherford Macpherson (1864-1936) based on a remembered tune Words by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson (1864-1941) music and lyrics written down by Christina Macpherson ink on paper; 31.0 x 24.8cm Manuscript Collection National Library of Australia

  • 1890 – Ronald Fisher, English-Australian statistician, biologist, and geneticist (d. 1962)

Here’s Fisher, one of the smartest biologists of our time, who made fundamental advances in evolutionary genetics and statistics.  And yes, he was somewhat of an advocate for eugenics.

  • 1921 – Duane Gish, American biochemist and academic (d. 2013)
  • 1929 – Chaim Potok, American rabbi and author (d. 2002)
  • 1940 – Gene Pitney, American singer-songwriter (d. 2006)
  • 1942 – Huey P. Newton, American activist, co-founded the Black Panther Party (d. 1989)
  • 1981 – Paris Hilton, American model, media personality, actress, singer, DJ, author and businesswoman

Those who began putrifying on February 16 include:

  • 1600 – Giordano Bruno, Italian mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher (b. 1548)
  • 1680 – Jan Swammerdam, Dutch biologist, zoologist, and entomologist (b. 1637)
  • 1856 – Heinrich Heine, German journalist and poet (b. 1797)
  • 1982 – Thelonious Monk, American pianist and composer (b. 1917)
  • 1982 – Lee Strasberg, American actor and director (b. 1901)
  • 1994 – Randy Shilts, American journalist and author (b. 1951)
  • 2013 – Mindy McCready, American singer-songwriter (b. 1975)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili plays dumb.

Hili: Your keyboard is full of hairs.
A: I wonder whose they are.
In Polish:
Hili: Twoja klawiatura jest pełna sierści.
Ja: Ciekaw jestem czyjej.

From Jesus of the Day:

A nice GIF I found on Facebook:

And we shouldn’t forget the world’s most famous cat, Maru, who is still up to his old tricks:

And this was posted by Diana MacPherson:

A tweet from reader Paul (I may have posted this before, but I grow old . . . )

From Gethyn: caracal encounters a mirror. I wish the sound were better.

A nice video from reader Barry that he titled, “I got this!”

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. I thought this first one was a joke, but it’s not. Republicans are capable of anything! (Anything nefarious, that is. . .)

And a witty response:

Two tweets from Dr. Cobb. The first one is a Maru-like Muscovy:

Cuttlefish are adorable, even before they’re hatched:



  1. Dominic
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Sanitary products are now free at schools in the UK

    …come on US!

    • JezGrove
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Only for girls – shameful discrimination!

      • sted24
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Apparently not. The Telegraph reports recent Government advice: “Schools must make sure free period products are available in “communal areas” so they can be accessed by girls who identify as transgender boys.”

        Although, as written (well, it’s The Telegraph) this sentence is an act of violence. For clarity the latter part should read “…so they can be accessed by boys who identify as transgender boys.”

        ‘Communal availability’ may have other benefits. Many feminists advocate more and more open conversations about periods to remove stigma, etc. So one can imagine, for example, teenage boys taking a keen interest in who is availing themselves of such supplies. Thus empowered one can further imagine them approaching period product users to discuss their periods with them, with all the tact and delicacy typical of teenage boys (although this may be a stereotype).

        Doubtless most teenage period product users would much enjoy this.

  2. Bruce Lilly
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Plenty of items of interest as usual, but a few small errors: typo “wel” should have another ‘l’, and today is indeed February 17th, not the 16th as in the “stuff that happened”, “notable [sic] born on”, and “those who began putrefying” items.

    Predidents’ Day also commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th (1809). Back in the good old days, both days (on the actual days) were holidays of sorts.

    Congratulations on the number of subscribers, but I suspect that reflects only a fraction of readers. WEIT is a listed source in, a news (etc.) aggregator, and is likely available via other sites.

    • Glenda Palmer
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Yes, congratulation PCC on passing 70,000 on this super website.

  3. Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    George [Washington] was born on February 22, 1932

    I had to Google to see if there was some other George to whom you were referring. I concluded that no, you just mistyped.

    • Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Okay, I have to fix this stuff.

      • Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        I apologise. I just read my post back on seeing you replied to it and it now reads a little bit snarky. It wasn’t meant to be.

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Shame the caracal vid didn’t have sound. I would have liked to hear its peeps.

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      How did it become this house pet. Vacationer, scientist,domestic breeder etc. A beautiful cat.
      It looked similar to the Norwegian cat shown a short time ago.

  5. Richard Bond
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Fisher was apparently a fairly nasty person, although surprisingly respectful of a few of the people with whom he disagreed, such as Harold Jeffreys. He treated his wife and daughters less than charitably. One of those daughters married George Box, one of the authors ofStatistics for Experimenters, the bible in the eponymous subject. When they divorced, Box sadly remarked that his wife was too much like her father.
    Regardless, Fisher was one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century: a leading figure in three different albeit related fields: statistics, genetics and the improvement of crop yields.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      I always thought he was just a bit of a curmudgeon, not that he treated his wife and daughters badly.
      But then, I also thought he was a high myopic, but his glasses look more hypermetropic if anything, or did he have his lenses removed?
      A part from being a genius, he also maintained for a long time that smoking didn’t cause lung cancer, or at least that the statistics were flawed. (Which, coming from him, was probably true at the time, with the limited data available).

  6. TJR
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I give a very introductory lecture on experimental design (randomisation, blocking, factorial designs etc) to about 10 courses, and often ask if anyone has heard of R.A. Fisher, and almost nobody has.

    All he did was invent modern statistics and experimental design while also being the leading geneticist of his age.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Fisher, Haldane and Wright, I always heard those three made ‘the modern synthesis’, but that probably is a mythical simplification too…..

  7. rickflick
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Dame Kiri is half Māori. listening now.

    • sted24
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      And all woman!

      One of my favourite tracks of hers is ‘Boy Wanted’ from ‘Kiri Sings Gershwin’. There she makes it clear that anyone with George Clooney-level looks, charm, status, money, etc (or above) may apply.

      Somehow, even at my most lovelorn and broke, she gave me hope.

      • sted24
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Hmm. Seems I posted the wrong track. Never mind, this is lovely too.

        And if you want to hear ‘Boy Wanted’ just check out ‘Kiri Sings Gershwin’ on YouTube.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink


    • Posted February 17, 2020 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Kiri’s wonderful. I love that aria and enjoy this rendition by Ying Huang as well:

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    1982 – Lee Strasberg, American actor and director (b. 1901)

    Strasberg was probably most famous as an acting teacher, one of the founders in the middle of the last century of The Actor’s Studio, which was in large measure responsible for inculcating a generation of American thespians in Konstantin Stanislavski’s “method.”

    For that, and for his iconic turn in Godfather Part II as “Hyman Roth” (who “always made money for his partners”), based loosely on the Jewish-American mobster Meyer Lansky.

  9. boudiccadylis
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Who says girls can’t just pick up snakes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t always work out so well. Just ask the tender woman from the Al Wilson song. 🙂

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Thomas Jefferson and Arron Burr, history is always full of irony and apparently Burr has something more in common with Jefferson. New evidence that Burr fathered two children of color with Marry Emmons, a servant in the Burr home. Apologize if you cannot read the article in the Post:

  11. merilee
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Love the caracal!

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Me too, and those ears are amazing! I didn’t know they could move like semaphores, and separately. It “uses 20 muscles – in three distinct groups – to independently control each of those large tufted ears. They act as super sensitive parabolic sound antennas, and the long tufts at the tips are thought to enhance their hearing by funneling sounds into the ears.” This from

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Sadly, in South Africa, many consider these magnificent cats, known as ‘rooikats’ as vermin (because of -generally unjustified- accusations of predation on lambs), to be shot on sight.
        It is, again sadly, not a protected species, since it’s status is ‘least concern’.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          That makes me damned sad and angry. They are truly magnificent.

  12. Charles E. Jones
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I was surprised to see Duane Gish listed merely as a biochemist and academic. He was a notorious creationist!

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      And not just some creationist, but one that could overwhelm a serious debater with his infamous “Gish Gallop”: stating so many falsehoods in a very short period of time (at least a dozen per minute), that his opponent could only refute a very small part of it, and giving him the appearance of winning the debate.

  13. Mark R.
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I have to ask: What’s wrong with Republicans? I think the answer is that which poisons everything: religion.

  14. Shirley Beaver
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Was George Washington really born in 1932???

    I somehow thought he was a bit older than that…


  15. E.A. Blair
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m willing to bet that the occupant of the Oval Orifice thinks that My Way Day is just for him.

  16. Deodand
    Posted February 18, 2020 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    To quote innumerable Australian schoolchildren (at least in the late ’70s…)

    “Waltzing Matilda, who b****y killed her, lying in the grass with a dagger up her a**e…”

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