Tuesday: Hili dialogue

March 17, 2020 • 6:30 am

It’s Tuesday, the cruelest day: March 17, 2020, and it’s also cruel to the American Irish, as it’s St. Patrick’s Day (the traditional date given for the saint’s death in 461 AD). But throughout the U.S., nearly all celebrations and parades are closed. Even the traditional dyeing of the Chicago River to bright green has been canceled.

As I am dispirited, posting may be lighter than normal. I don’t want to write about the pandemic, as I have nothing to say; I have no expertise, and I’m unable to predict what will happen. My only plans are to feed myself and my ducks.

As for food, it’s National “Eat Like the Irish” Day, with scare quotes that imply that there’s something wrong with eating like the Irish. And anyway, the restaurants in Illinois are closed, and isn’t this cultural appropriatio anyway? But, to honor the Irish, it’s also Corned Beef and Cabbage Day: one of my father’s favorite dishes (I prefer my corned beef on pastrami with mustard).  Finally, it’s National Submarine Day; here’s the genesis of the holiday:

On March 17, 1898, St. Patrick’s Day, Irish-born engineer John Philip Holland demonstrated a submarine he designed, the Holland VI, for the U.S. Navy Department, off the coast of Staten Island. During the demonstration, the vessel was submerged for 1 hour and 40 minutes. Holland launched the submarine the year before, on May 17, 1897, after it was built at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The submarine was noteworthy for having features that would become the standard for submarines in future years. It and other of Holland’s submarines are also noteworthy for being the first to run on electric batteries when submerged, but on internal combustion engines when on the water’s surface. We celebrate the Holland and all other submarines on March 17 each year.

Stuff that happened on March 17 include:

  • 1776 – American Revolution: The British Army evacuates Boston, ending the Siege of Boston, after George Washington and Henry Knox place artillery in positions overlooking the city.
  • 1861 – The Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed.
  • 1942 – Holocaust: The first Jews from the Lvov Ghetto are gassed at the Belzec death camp in what is today eastern Poland.
  • 1950 – Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley announce the creation of element 98, which they name “californium”.
  • 1969 – Golda Meir becomes the first female Prime Minister of Israel.
  • 1973 – The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph Burst of Joy is taken, depicting a former prisoner of war being reunited with his family, which came to symbolize the end of United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Every year I post about this, and every year I have to give the sad story of the photo’s aftermath. The picture takes on a while different cast when you read what’s below:

Despite outward appearances, the reunion was an unhappy one for Stirm. Three days before he arrived in the United States, the same day he was released from captivity, Stirm received a Dear John letter from his wife Loretta informing him that their marriage was over. Stirm later learned that Loretta had been with other men throughout his captivity, receiving marriage proposals from three of them. In 1974, the Stirms divorced and Loretta remarried, but Lt Col Stirm was still ordered by the courts to provide her with 43% of his military retirement pay once he retired from the Air Force. Stirm was later promoted to full Colonel and retired from the Air Force in 1977.

After Burst of Joy was announced as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, all of the family members depicted in the picture received copies. All depicted children display it prominently in their homes except for Colonel Stirm himself, who says he cannot bring himself to display the picture.

Low resolution, fair use image of an historic photograph by Slava “Sal” Veder, 1973. Minnesota Historical Society
  • 1992 – A referendum to end apartheid in South Africa is passed 68.7% to 31.2%.

Notables born on this day include:

Oates, a British Captain known as “Titus”, was one of the five men who made the dash to the South Pole in Scott’s party on the Terra Nova expedition (I talk about this on my “Terra Nova and Science” lecture I gave in Antarctica). Weak and starving, and unwilling to be a burden to the three remaining men who had survived on the way back, Oates walked out of his tent into a blizzard, knowing he would die. As Scott wrote in his diary (a book found with the three frozen bodies months later): “”We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.” Scott also wrote that as Oates left the tent he said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He was only 32 years old, and his body was never found. Some day a glacier will expel it at the edge of the ice shelf.

Here’s the altruistic Captain Oates:


  • 1881 – Walter Rudolf Hess, Swiss physiologist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1973)
  • 1902 – Bobby Jones, American golfer and lawyer (d. 1971)
  • 1919 – Nat King Cole, American singer, pianist, and television host (d. 1965)
  • 1938 – Rudolf Nureyev, Russian-French dancer and choreographer (d. 1993)
  • 1944 – Pattie Boyd, English model, author, and photographer

Boyd, as you may know, was married to George Harrison and then divorced him to marry Eric Clapton. She is the subject of this Derek and the Dominoes song, which I still consider the best of all rock songs except for the slow second bit. The solo that starts at 2:56 is pure vintage Clapton—a treat for the ears. You can stop listening at 4:00, when the slow bit begins. (Yes, yes, I know that at least one reader will say that the slow part is the best, or an integral part of the whole.)

Here’s Boyd as Layla:

  • 1972 – Mia Hamm, American soccer player
  • 1979 – Stormy Daniels, born Stephanie Gregory, American adult film actress

Those who croaked on March 17 include.

  • 1782 – Daniel Bernoulli, Dutch-Swiss mathematician and physicist (b. 1700)
  • 1871 – Robert Chambers, Scottish geologist and publisher, co-founded Chambers Harrap (b. 1802)
  • 1956 – Irène Joliot-Curie, French physicist and chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1897)
  • 1965 – Amos Alonzo Stagg, American football player and coach (b. 1862)
  • 1974 – Louis Kahn, American architect and academic, designed Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban (b. 1901)
  • 1993 – Helen Hayes, American actress (b. 1900)
  • 2006 – Oleg Cassini, French-American fashion designer (b. 1913)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has her priorities right:

Hili: Friendship is important but don’t forget to fill up the refrigerator.
A: I understand your concern.

In Polish:

Hili: Przyjaźń jest ważna, ale nie wolno zapominać o zaopatrzeniu lodówki.
Ja: Rozumiem twój niepokój.

A great cartoon from Jesus of the Day:

From reader Bruce. (How many Beasts with Two Backs were incited by back rubs?).

From Wild and Wonderful: “A Mosquito’s foot at 800X magnification”:

Godfrey Elfwick, the male equivalent of Titania McGrath, has a spoofy and woke new article at The Spectator:

From reader Barry. Arnold is back, along with Whiskey and Lulu.


Tweets from Matthew. Greg Mayer told me about this penguin walk yesterday, adding that he heard that some of the fish behaved weirdly, as if they knew something other than humans were looking at them.

Excited kitty is excited.

I suspect we’re going to have a lot of virus-related tweets in the next few days. Here’s a bored guy playing tic-tac-toe with his cat. The cat will always lose, and it doesn’t like it. You’ll have to watch the video by clicking through to Twitter.

The cat is a sore loser!

Yo-Yo Ma is playing cello remotely for healthcare workers. Ceiling Cat bless those brave and dedicated people!

This happened to me once after lecturing; I headed to the bathroom after lecture and forgot to remove my mike or turn it off. Fortunately, I met someone and chatted with them for a minute, and someone in the lecture hall, hearing me talk over the PA, came out and told me.

But this poor schlub will be tarred forever!

And something to cheer us all up:



11 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. Two journal papers that I was due to proofread this week have been cancelled because the authors have been unable to finalise the manuscripts due to coronavirus-related issues. Even the ivory tower of academic publishing is being impacted.

  2. On the original Derek and the Dominos version of “Layla,” the great part about the outro you don’t like is the harmonic guitar interplay between Clapton and Duane Allman (and the piano playing, reportedly by Rita Coolidge).

    That outro was put to great use by Marty Scorsese in Goodfellas, over the montage of Jimmy Burke closing the books on his co-conspirators from the Lufthansa heist:

    1. Goodfellas is, of course, the very first thing I think of when I hear or read about the song.

      While I love Clapton’s work with Cream and Derek and the Dominoes (and even some of his solo stuff), I still think he’s one of the most overrated guitarists of all time. He can certainly give great emotion to his music, but many other guitarists can do that and are also far more technically superior. From Mark Knopfler to Jerry Garcia and fifty others in between, I just don’t see how Clapton makes the cut when it comes to pure guitar playing. Again, I’m not dismissing his body of work, as I listen to much of it regularly. I just don’t think he’s one of the greatest guitar players of all time.

    1. Looks like Clapton went off with a certain Malia McEnery in 2002. Boyd remarried in 2015. Can’t these people ever feel satisfied?

    2. Let’s not forget that George while with Patti had an affair with Maureen, Ringo’s wife. Later, while still with George, Patti had an affair with Ronnie (Woods).

      When Malia (McEnery) met Eric he had been dumped by Patti many years before. Malia, at that time was dating Chris (Losinske, a coffee shop worker).

      Similarly, when Patti had taken up with George she had dumped Eric (Swayne, a photographer).

      I think I have that straight.

      For the record I’d it noted: I have never (knowingly) dumped anyone for a world-famous rock musician.

      1. Wow, I had no idea! I only knew that she left George for Eric. Thanks for this very interesting history lesson!

        1. It’s the Internet. And being curious about which faintly remembered memories from 50 years ago (I was there) are actually correct.

          My provisional conclusion? Some!

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