Monday: Hili dialogue

It’s the start of another work week: Monday, June 15, 2020, and at the University of Chicago some researchers will be allowed back in their labs, but on a limited basis. It’s National Lobster Day, Nature Photography Day, Justice for Janitors Day, Global Wind Day, and, in the UK, National Beer Day.  Have a Timothy Taylor’s Landlord for me, as it’s certain I won’t get to quaff my favorite UK beer for some time.  Finally, it’s National Electricity Day, honoring the day in 1752 when Benjamin Franklin supposedly flew his kite in Philadelphia to demonstrate that lightning was a discharge of electricity. But that date is listed in some places as June 10. Has somebody looked up the weather records in Philly on those two days?

News of the Day:  It’s the usual panoply of depressing stuff, so take a break and read this article about the discovery of bizarre new sea creatures, including siphonophores and larvaceans, whose thin and mucus-y can now be visualized with new technology. Some may be 150 feet long!

Today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 115,472, less than yesterday’s reported figure of 115,545; this must be a recording error of sorts unless some people have come back to life. The world death toll now stands at 433,164, and increase of about 3,500 from yesterday.

Stuff that happened on June 15 includes:

  • 763 BC – Assyrians record a solar eclipse that is later used to fix the chronology of Mesopotamian history.
  • 1215 – King John of England puts his seal to Magna Carta.

Here is that document, one of whose copies you can see in the British Library:

(From Wikipedia) The Magna Carta (originally known as the Charter of Liberties) of 1215, written in iron gall ink on parchment in medieval Latin, using standard abbreviations of the period, authenticated with the Great Seal of King John. The original wax seal was lost over the centuries.[1] This document is held at the British Library and is identified as “British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106
  • 1648 – Margaret Jones is hanged in Boston for witchcraft in the first such execution for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • 1752 – Benjamin Franklin proves that lightning is electricity (traditional date, the exact date is unknown).
  • 1844 – Charles Goodyear receives a patent for vulcanization, a process to strengthen rubber.
  • 1878 – Eadweard Muybridge takes a series of photographs to prove that all four feet of a horse leave the ground when it runs; the study becomes the basis of motion pictures.

I guess they run so fast that nobody could really see this, or people would argue about what they saw. In this case the camera didn’t lie: Muybridge’s pictures clearly show (top row, 2nd and 3rd photos from the left) that the horse’s feet are all off the ground:

(From Wikipedia): “Sallie Gardner,” owned by Leland Stanford; ridden by G. Domm, running at a 1.40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19th June, 1878 (1878 cabinet card, “untouched” version from original negatives)

Here’s Nanga Parbat, in a picture that shows you why I love the Himalayas so much. What you see in vistas like this are enormous mountains, too large to comprehend, looming in the distance over regular landscapes. Nowhere else in the world can you see anything this majestic.

Nanga Parbat, in terms of chances of surviving a climbing attempt, is the third deadliest mountain in world: the fatality rate among climbers is 20%. The deadliest is Annapurna 1, which kills 32% of the climbers who attempt it, followed by K2 at 29%. Everest is #10.

I posted about it at the time, and included the video below, along with the note,

Granted, he’s wearing a safety harness, by stipulation of the ABC television network, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless.  He’s walking at night, and through heavy mist.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s a New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg:

  • 1921 – Erroll Garner, American pianist and composer (d. 1977)
  • 1932 – Mario Cuomo, American lawyer and politician, 52nd Governor of New York (d. 2015)
  • 1937 – Waylon Jennings, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 2002)
  • 1941 – Harry Nilsson, American singer-songwriter (d. 1994)
  • 1943 – Johnny Hallyday, French singer and actor (d. 2017)
  • 1963 – Helen Hunt, American actress, director, and producer
  • 1964 – Courteney Cox, American actress and producer
  • 1970 – Leah Remini, American actress and producer

Those who gave up the ghost on June 15 include:

  • 1849 – James K. Polk, American lawyer and politician, 11th President of the United States (b. 1795)
  • 1996 – Ella Fitzgerald, American singer and actress (b. 1917)
  • 2011 – Bill Haast, American herpetologist and academic (b. 1910)

Haast, who lived to be 100, was owner of the Miami Serpentarium, and was famous for his macho displays of “milking” the venon from snakes using only his hands and a rubber-topped cup. He was bitten by venomous snakes at least 172 times, and attributed his longevity to the venom, to which he acquired immunity by repeated injections of small doses of various venoms.  From Wikipedia:

By 1965 the Serpentarium housed more than 500 snakes in 400 cages and three pits in the courtyard. Haast extracted venom 70 to 100 times a day from some 60 species of venomous snakes, usually in front of an audience of paying customers. He would free the snakes on a table in front of him, then catch the snakes bare-handed, and force them to eject their venom into glass vials with a rubber membrane stretched across the top.

Soon after opening the Serpentarium, Haast began experimenting with building up an acquired immunity to the venom of KingIndian and Cape cobras by injecting himself with gradually increasing quantities of venom he had extracted from his snakes, a practice called mithridatism. In 1954 Haast was bitten by a common, or blue, krait. At first he believed his immunization to cobra venom would protect him from the krait venom, and continued with his regular activities for several hours. However, the venom eventually did affect him, and he was taken to a hospital where it took him several days to recover. A krait anti-venom was shipped from India, but when it arrived after a 48-hour flight, he refused to accept it. He received his first cobra bite less than a year after he started his immunization program. During the 1950s, he was bitten by cobras about twenty times. His first king cobra bite was in 1962. Haast was also bitten by a green mamba. Many times Haast donated his blood to be used in treating snake-bite victims when a suitable anti-venom was not available. More than twenty of those individuals recovered.

Here’s a 4.5-minute profile of Haast. Watch it unless you’re afraid of snakes:

  • 2014 – Casey Kasem, American radio host, producer, and voice actor, co-created American Top 40 (b. 1932)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is doubly mad at viruses:

Hili: There was a beautiful tree here.
A: We had to cut it down, it was attacked by a virus.
Hili: Oh, these viruses!
In Polish:
Hili: Tu było piękne drzewo.
Ja: Trzeba je było wyciąć, bo je wirus zaatakował.
Hili: Ach te wirusy.

Two duck memes:

The “kids”, here, of course, are mallard ducklings:

And Matthew’s cats: Harry, Ollie, and Pepper, resting together on the bike shed in his garden:

From Titania. I always knew Winnie was on the chopping block. Press the arrow to play.

A few months old but still relevant. Enlarge the video

Tweets from Matthew: This is cool—and nefarious:

I badly want one of these, but it is unique:

But did this aptly named fly get the female?

Cat Man strangles Hitler!!!

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This is a true story:


Puffins are adorable, and this becomes twice as adorable with the sound on


34 thoughts on “Monday: Hili dialogue

  1. Back in the day, nobody had facebook so they were forced to argue about the only things they knew, which was horses and phlogiston.

      1. Usually the debate went something like:

        “No it is not appropriate to put an ‘e’ after words any time you feel like it.”

        “Yes it moste certainly is correcte to do thate.”

        Needless to say the anti-e people won the day.

  2. 1) Its surprising that Annapurna has a higher fatality rate than K2, and that so few people have climbed it, given that it was the first 8000er to be climbed. (Note: data seem to be from 2012)

    2) Alcock and Brown’s plane can still be seen in the Science Museum in London

    3) The man famous for opposing Nazism right from the start? Yeah, cancel the bugger.

  3. When I visited Pakistan in the ’80s we took a flight past Nanga Parbat. The Pakistan International Airline planes on the route back then had a flight ceiling of 8,000m so we had to fly around the mountain rather than over it. The forty-five minute single flight cost about £5 and was absolutely spectacular. The friend I was travelling with, and who had done all of the research and planning, only told me afterwards that it was rated one of the most dangerous flights in the world because of the rapidity of changes in the weather conditions – I was pretty glad not to have been aware of that little detail while we were in the air.

      1. I don’t, I’m afraid – I only recall that it had propellers, which was a first for me.

        1. Thanks. Probably an unpressurized plane. That generally keeps you below 10,000 ft. for sure.

          1. The route was Islamabad to Gilgit and judging by Wikipedia (I know…!) it seems likely to have been a Fokker Friendship of some sort. One went missing on the return route a year or two later, which I can remember hearing about. (All these years later, and they still haven’t found the wreckage apparently.)

        2. Propellers are still used in commercial aviation. Alaska Airlines, for example, flies the twin turboprop De Havilland Canada Dash-8 on its Seattle/Spokane and Seattle/Portland routes. It’s noisy as heck in the cabin, but the flights are generally under an hour, so it’s not too bad.

    1. Google have apologised. Apparently the default photo of Churchill that appeared was when he was younger than his more familiar WW2 image so they stopped it from appearing but nothing immediately replaced it. I’m not sure how they erased his first period as prime minister, though!

      1. Jezgrove,

        apparently, the algorithm/design only left in the dates for a person’s last period as PM. Apparently Gladstone and Macdonald were only assigned their later dates as well. Baldwin is shown in your screenshot as 35-37 but it would be interesting if it also missed his run from 24-29

        My memory said Macdonald was PM from 1929 rather than the 1931 stated (which was a General Election he won while PM) so it looks like the whole thing is borked in various ways.

        Other sources confirm that my memory got that one right but missed the brief 1924 stint.

        Perhaps an indication that people are getting too reliant on simple searches and should check further.


        1. Thanks, Ross. Yes, a timely reminder that it is always a wise move to be sceptical when looking at information – online or anywhere else.

          1. My favourite piece of personal scepticism concerns the Wikipedia article about the Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton. The article claims that as a promising Kart racer he learnt to ride a unicycle because his karting rival (and future F1 teammate) Nico Rosberg could ride one. Teenage rivalry with Rosberg over unicycling sounded unlikely, but it was referenced using an article published inThe Guardian. However, it isn’t unknown for strange “facts” from Wikipedia to find their way into respectable newspapers via time-pressured journalists and for those newspapers to then be used on Wikipedia to support the “facts”. So I checked out The Guardian‘s article – it was an interview with Hamilton in which he himself made the unicycling claims. So, unlikely as it seemed the claims appear to be true – but I’m glad I checked anyway. (There’s another issue about how far you can trust claims that someone makes about their own life, but that’s a whole separate can of worms!)

  4. Like you prof I’m thirsting for a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord but they’ve shut all the pubs and you can’t get it. Never did I think the day would come. Bottles available but there’s nothing like the draught.

  5. With a name like Haast, surely Bill was all but destined to work with snakes. His self-inoculation with venoms to develop resistance makes sense, since that is how antivenom is made using horses (I think that’s still how it’s done), but I’m frankly amazed that he didn’t develop some form of autoimmune disorder as a secondary consequence, a la rheumatic fever and the like. Maybe because there were such a variety of venoms none of them elicited the kind of broad and deep immune response that could cross-react with bodily proteins. I’m pretty skeptical of his claims about his exposures being the source of his longevity–they smack of a bit of magical thinking–but I suppose it’s not completely impossible. More likely, though, he was just genetically blessed, physically active, and otherwise lucky in banal ways. Still, what an interesting character.

    1. Also, I wonder if the fact that (it seems) he worked with and exposed himself to the venom mainly of elapids, which tend to have mainly neurotoxic venoms made a difference…the hemotoxins of viper venoms might have been more problematic. Are there any herpetologists here that could comment?

  6. Years ago, I took my wife and daughter to Bill Haast’s house In FL. He had just built a rattlesnake pit in his backyard at the Miami Serpentarium in Punt Gorda. I spoke to his wife and she invited us back the next day to watch Bill milk some snakes. Unfortunately, we were leaving in the morning so we missed a great opportunity!

  7. The Haast story is amazing! I bet his genes predisposed him to such remarkable immunization results!

  8. The Iranian woman is not having any of it, she is fighting back like a lion.
    I think his ego will be hurt more than hers.

    1. Do we even know what he was objecting to? Her hijab didn’t cover enough?

      I’ve met a fair few Iranian women over the years (in British universities) and I suspect many would have reacted similarly. They’ve always seemed to include a high proportion of no-nonsense types.

  9. I have a question. On National X Day, do people do more X? Do people eat more lobster today? Do they drink more beer in the UK today?

    1. I’m in Britain, and I’m drinking a glass of cider right now. Does that count? Maybe if I called it apple beer?

      1. Weirdly, in the US cider includes apple juice – if you want the real stuff you need to ask for “hard cider” (at least in Oregon, where my British-born sister now lives – she learned the hard way (pun intended)!

  10. I’m pretty sure I saw Bill Haast milking snakes on my first trip to Florida around 1975. If it was, then I have a photo of him somewhere milking a king cobra, that as I recall wasn’t too cooperative. If I can find it, I’ll send it to Jerry.

  11. That Catman #20 is worth $thousands$ even in low grade. Hitler covers from the Golden Age of comics always garner a lot of dosh. I just checked eBay and a 2.5 (very low grade) is priced at $4,500.00.

    Loved the owl diorama and the puffins.

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