Thursday: Hili dialogue

March 12, 2020 • 6:30 am

We’re coming up on the weekend: it’s Thursday, March 12, 2020, and it’s National Milky Way Day, celebrating one of the U.S.’s best candy bars (even better when frozen).  There are two more food holidays as well: National Popcorn Day ( a good snack if you’re losing weight, so long as you douse it not with butter but simply add salt and a wee bit of olive oil) and National Baked Scallops Day.

It’s also National Girl Scout Day, marking the founding of this organization on March 12, 1912;  World Day Against Cyber Censorship;  and finally it’s National Alfred Hitchcock Day, celebrating the famous Director of Size, who, curiously, was neither born nor died on March 12. The occasion for this holiday, which few observe, is a mystery.

The Big News here is that the coronavirus pandemic has forced the University of Chicago, like most of its peer institutions, to suspend in-person classes and to require students to leave their residence halls on campus by March 22, except for those students who would have to go to CDC level 3 countries. I’m not teaching, so this doesn’t affect me, but it’s hard for my colleagues, especially those who teach labs. As the Chicago Maroon notes:

The University of Chicago will transition to “distance learning” for the entirety of spring quarter, and students must leave on-campus housing by 5 p.m. on March 22—the last Sunday of winter quarter—resident heads were told by email on Wednesday evening.

Although other colleges haven’t mentioned this explicitly, I presume this means that graduation ceremonies, which require many people to be in a small space indoors or outdoors, will also be suspended, which is sad for those students who want a formal celebration of the end of their time at college. I hope that universities can simply delay graduations so that students and their parents and relatives can still mark the official conferring of their degrees.

Stuff that happened on March 12 includes:

  • 1913 – The future capital of Australia is officially named Canberra.
  • 1930 – Mahatma Gandhi begins the Salt March, a 200-mile march to the sea to protest the British monopoly on salt in India.

Here’s a four-minute video on that famous example of civil disobedience. Students today need to learn the art of nonviolent protest! (Be sure to also watch this nice clip about the Salt March from the movie Gandhi.  I was going to say that today Kingsley wouldn’t be allowed to play Gandhi because he was British, but in fact he’s of Indian descent, he was born with the name Krishna Pandit Bhanji, his mother was English and his father, born in Kenya, was of Gujurati descent. )

  • 1933 – Great Depression: Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses the nation for the first time as President of the United States. This is also the first of his “fireside chats”.
  • 1993 – North Korea announces that it will withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and refuses to allow inspectors access to its nuclear sites.

Speaking of the devil we don’t know:

  • 2003 – The World Health Organization officially release a global warning of outbreaks of Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
  • 2009 – Financier Bernard Madoff pleads guilty to one of the largest frauds in Wall Street’s history.

Madoff has been in prison since 2009, and Wikipedia adds this:

In February 2020 his lawyer filed for compassionate release from prison on the claim that he was suffering from chronic kidney failure, a terminal illness and had less than 18 months to live. He was hospitalized for this condition in December 2019.


  • 2019 – In the House of Commons, the revised EU Withdrawal Bill was rejected by a margin of 149 votes.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1685 – George Berkeley, Irish bishop and philosopher (d. 1753)
  • 1832 – Charles Boycott, English farmer and agent (d. 1897).

Yes, he was the source of the word “boycott”. But he was not a boycotter, but the victim of a boycott—by his farm workers.

  • 1864 – W. H. R. Rivers, English anthropologist, neurologist, ethnologist, and psychiatrist (d. 1922)

Rivers had a fascinating career, but most of us know him through his psychological treatment of shell-shocked British soldiers (including Siegfried Sassoon) at a hospital in Edinburgh during World War I—episodes depicted in Pat Barker’s fantastic Regeneration Trilogy—one of the best series of novels written in our time. Read it NOW!

Here’s Rivers and the first volume of Barker’s trilogy:

W. H. R. Rivers

The first volume of the Regeneration Trilogy. The last volume, The Ghost Road, won the Man Booker Prize.

  • 1922 – Jack Kerouac, American author and poet (d. 1969)

Does anyone read Kerouac any more. I’m a big fan of his works, though some experts consider them puerile (also said of another favorite of mine: Thomas Wolfe). Here he is:

Jack Kerouac leans closer to a radio to hear himself on a broadcast, 1959. (John Cohen/Getty Images)
  • 1928 – Edward Albee, American director and playwright (d. 2016)
  • 1934 – Francisco J. Ayala, Spanish-American evolutionary biologist and philosopher
  • 1946 – Liza Minnelli, American actress, singer and dancer
  • 1947 – Mitt Romney, American businessman and politician, 70th Governor of Massachusetts
  • 1968 – Tammy Duckworth, Thai-American colonel, pilot, and politician

One of my senators! (A Democrat and a disabled war veteran.)

  • 1970 – Dave Eggers, American author and screenwriter

Those accosted by the Grim Reaper on March 12 include:

  • 1925 – Sun Yat-sen, Chinese physician and politician, 1st President of the Republic of China (b. 1866)
  • 1955 – Charlie Parker, American saxophonist and composer (b. 1920)

Here’s one of the very few videos (from 1951) of Bird playing live; he’s with his pal Dizzy Gillespie:

  • 1999 – Yehudi Menuhin, American-Swiss violinist and conductor (b. 1916)
  • 2015 – Terry Pratchett, English journalist, author, and screenwriter (b. 1948)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili uses the first part of the Latin epigram, “to err is human. . . ”

A: Errare humanum est.
Hili. That’s true. Put your trust in a cat.
In Polish (and Latin):
Ja: Errare humanum est.
Hili: To prawda, zaufaj kotu.

Also in Dobrzyn, here’s a new picture of Szaron taken by Andrzej. Isn’t he a handsome lad?

A cartoon sent by reader Smith (I can’t find a link to a cartoonist called “Danerae” or something like that):

From reader Barry, who loves this Venn diagram:

From Jesus of the Day:


From Earthly Mission with the caption: “Young snow[y] owls often sleep face down as their heads are too heavy to sleep perched.”

Titania is on a roll this week, first trolling Ilhan Omar:

I’m not sure who designed the poster at hand (so to speak), but it’s bizarrely woke. People don’t wash each other’s hands!


Also from Barry. I never get tired of watching fruit bats. Should I deem them Honorary Cats®?

From Luana: a mother lode of glyptodont fossils. Some species in this group were as big as Volkswagen Beetles!

Tweets from Matthew. Ricky Gervais’s cat Ollie died (Matthew also has a cat with that name):

As Matthew says, this is an interesting thread. He said (“Question—from 9 year old— is why is there no mouse-flavoured cat food. Thread, with further qs to Darren, and clear, reasoned responses, is interesting!”

If you’re an ailurophile, you’ll surely want to read this:

Remember that amazing tree-within-a-tree? Here it is again and an interview with the artist about how he does it. It’s as I suspected: he chisels away to expose a single growth ring:


30 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

  1. I wonder if those institutions that are suspending classroom instruction on campus will have to rebate tuition since students are paying for live interaction with faculty. Wouldn’t they have to refund also room and board fees?

    1. It seems really sensible to send students off travelling rather than keep them where they are!
      UCL has no plans to close (sadly! 🙁 ) partly because they feel students need support rather than trying to be shot of them.

        1. Menuhin’s post war family life is interesting. His second wife was Diana Gould a ballerina/actress, who was posh. She was a tough lady and immediately took over managing his career. Also witty: she wrote an autobiography entited “Fiddler’s Moll”.

          Both their sons (being posh) went to Eton and Gerard subsequently became a neo-Nazi sympathiser, as you note.

          Jeremy is a pianist and composer. He described his childhood as “economically privileged but emotionally “grotesque”, his father as “cold and detached”, and his mother as “domineering and volatile””. Which may go some way towards explaining how his brother turned out the way he has.

          He also married posh, a daughter of (Eton educated) William Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill, a Scottish peer, air pioneer and Japanese spy. British Intelligence caught wind of him selling secrets (for money) to the Japanese in the early 1920s (and that his servant was, in fact, a Japanese naval rating).

          It was decided not to procecute both because a trial would reveal to the Japanese that their code had been broken and, besides, it would be embarrassing. His father was an aide-de-camp to King George V.

          When WWII commenced he was promptly appointed to the Admiralty, where he promptly recommenced selling more military secrets for money to the Japanese. Eventually, after much angst from the Establishment, he was ousted, although we non-posh knew little of all this until records were unsealed in 1998/2002, long after the good Lord, himself, was dead.

          One last anecdote: In 1944 he travelled to Nova Scotia, met the Premier, and offered to buy part of the province. Well, why not? As TIME reported at the time, one of his titles was Baronet of Nova Scotia:

          “An ancestor, one Sir William Forbes, served King James I in England’s 17th-Century civil wars, had been rewarded with the baronetcy and 16,000 acres…

          Anyway, here is Jeremy playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with his dad:

    2. Just the first questions. This country is going places it has not been before. If we thought 2008 was bad???

    3. In virginia, the college of william and mary (jerry’s and my undergrad home), university of virginia, virginia tech, and christopher newport university have taken similar approach, as of yesterday, suspending in person classes and directing professors and students to teach and learn online. There is some (well, a lot of) hand waving about how to handle labs and clinical classes. I worry about connectivity and bandwidth at homes deep in some of the rural parts of the state, but guess having a pediatrician as governor gives me some confidence that the larger epidemiological issues properly drove these decisions.

      1. Speaking of William and Mary, I am in the middle of reading “Thomas Jefferson’s Education” by Alan Taylor. He discusses the school during the Revolutionary War period and the Early Republic. Apparently, education was the last thing that went on there. It was a playground for the sons of Virginia’s slaveholding elite. Professors were disrespected; rioting and drunkenness were common. Very few of the students graduated. This situation was a major reason that motivated Jefferson to help establish the University of Virginia.

        By the way, the book is great. A history professor at the University of Virginia, Taylor paints a vivid portrait of the Virginia elite during this period. It is not a pretty one.

        1. I read that book just a month ago. Very good one to learn more about Jefferson.

          The closing of the schools now just moves the problems from one place to many. I think they just avoid responsibility. So all the students hit the road, the airports and beyond headed home. What does this accomplish. It is like Trump shutting down travel from Europe. If the virus is already here, what does that do. We are causing great personal problems for little or no reason. Shut down all group events such as sports and conventions makes sense. But shutting down schools in the middle of a term does not make sense. It is panic.

        2. Yes. And if i recall correctly jefferson observed the same behaviors from the uva students upon opening his new university. The students were of the same culture as those that were at william and mary with him decades earlier. The real accomplishment in creating the secular uva, to me, was the break from church oversight, something that jefferson had tried to do at william and mary for years with no success…even with the influence one would expect him to have as governor of virginia and president of the united states.

        3. Apparently, education was the last thing that went on there. It was a playground for the sons of Virginia’s slaveholding elite. Professors were disrespected; rioting and drunkenness were common. Very few of the students graduated.

          Plus ça change … 🙂

          1. Yes, it was a mess at the new university and also at William and Mary. Jefferson thought William and Mary was a lost cause and he would do much better with the new University in Virginia. However, it did not work out that way. Fortunately for Jefferson he died soon after the place opened so he did not really see the results.

            At one point they were down to 6 or 8 students at W&M.

    4. Brazil currently has 69 official coronavirus cases, but no deaths reported yet. One of the confirmed coronavirus cases is President Jair Bolsonaro’s press secretary, diagnosed this morning, who last Saturday took part in a dinner with President Trump and Vice Pence at the Mar-A-Lago resort.
      Today the University of Campinas where I have taught for 30 years, despite having no Wuhan virus cases diagnosed in the city, has taken precautionary measures and will be suspending classes for a week, renewable, starting tomorrow. There is no question of tuition rebate: public schools in Brazil, including universities, do not charge tuition.

  2. Foxes are honorary cats. If we take “fox” in a vernacular sense, and not as a taxonomic term meaning any of several genera in the family Canidae, then fruit bats, which are commonly known as “flying foxes”, are honorary cats already.


  3. The fruit bats shows clearly why humans, at some point, invented the knife and fork. I want so much to help the little guy.

  4. Would humans buy mouse-flavored cat food? I doubt it. The cost of establishing mouse farms and getting all the necessary government approvals would also be prohibitive. Then there’s the mouse lobby to deal with …

    1. As I recall from my lab days, acetamide smells of mice if it hasn’t been purified properly. Maybe a small addition to each can of catfood? According to Wikipedia the LD50 is 7000mg/kg; but even a tiny amount is enough to stink out an entire lab.

      1. One of my cats murdered a mouse last night, left it on the floor, but didn’t eat it. Perhaps mouse flavor is overrated?

  5. Oregon State has taken a different approach. They are requesting that student stay on campus during spring break to prevent them from bring back the disease. Corvallis has no known cases within 30 miles.

    If all the students stayed, it would make sense, but many will go to Portland which has some.

  6. Yehudi Menuhin was a child prodigy. A review of a concert he gave aged 12 with Bruno Walter in Berlin in 1929 noted (with an avian metaphor):

    “There steps a fat little blond boy on the podium…like a penguin, he alternately places one foot down, then the other…you will stop laughing when he puts his bow to the violin to play”

    Here he is, aged all of 16, playing Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with his teacher, George Enescu, in 1932:

    And if Bach isn’t to your taste (heresy!) who can resist his duets with Stephan Grappelli?

      1. It’s wonderful! Many thanks. Yehudi had a pretty decent bunch of collaborators: Bach, Grappelli, Ravi Shankar…

  7. I was at the old site of SF Zen Center when some old friends did a service for Kerouac after his death The building is a Jewish synagogue Their current address is an old Jewish young women’s boarding home designed by a woman There where (are) menorahs screwed to the door frames Zen is the Jewish atheists default “religion “

  8. The hand washing chart deliberately shows a darker shade on one of the hands to emphasize how to wash correctly, and not miss anything. It was a design choice.

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