Saturday: Hili dialogue

Welcome to the Ides of August: August 15, 2020, National Lemon Meringue Pie Day, and an excellent pie it is, too. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything similar outside the U.S. It’s also International Homeless Animals’ Day, World Honey Bee Day, National Best Friends Day, National Relaxation Day, and, in India, Independence Day (see below).

News of the Day: Oy gewalt! The Post Office has informed 46 states, including key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan, that it may not be able to deliver mail-in ballots to the voters by Election Day, much less return them to the authorities for counting. (Trump, of course, refuses to ante up money to ameliorate the situation, for he claims, falsely, that mail-in votes promote voter fraud.)

Speaking of Trump, he hasn’t repudiated (but, indeed, has promoted) the ridiculous assertion that Kamala Harris isn’t eligible to be Vice-President because, though she was born in America, her parents were immigrants. That was settled by the courts a long time ago. On top of the Post Office caper, Trump looked even worse than usual yesterday. He simply cannot be permitted a second term.

Two previously unknown Frank Sinatra recordings have been found in his archives, and in both the Chairman of the Board is singing a cappella. But not all experts agree that it’s Frank.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 168,335, an increase of about 1200 deaths over yesterday’s report. The world death toll now stands at 763,955, an increase of about 8700 deaths from yesterday.

Stuff that happened on August 15 include:

Yes, the Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play, though of course heavily embroidered.

  • 1248 – The foundation stone of Cologne Cathedral, built to house the relics of the Three Wise Men, is laid. (Construction is eventually completed in 1880.)
  • 1483 – Pope Sixtus IV consecrates the Sistine Chapel.
  • 1534 – Ignatius of Loyola and six classmates take initial vows, leading to the creation of the Society of Jesus in September 1540.
  • 1843 – Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest still intact amusement parks in the world, opens in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • 1914 – The Panama Canal opens to traffic with the transit of the cargo ship SS Ancon.

Here’s the Ancon making the first transit of the Panama Canal, going through the Miraflores locks. I always wanted to know what would happen if the locks broke: would sea levels all over the world suddenly readjust themselves? (They’re different in the Atlantic and Pacific, as are tide levels.

  • 1935 – Will Rogers and Wiley Post are killed after their aircraft develops engine problems during takeoff in Barrow, Alaska.
  • 1939 – The Wizard of Oz premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, California.
  • 1941 – Corporal Josef Jakobs is executed by firing squad at the Tower of London at 07:12, making him the last person to be executed at the Tower for espionage.

Jakobs, who parachuted into the UK, was arrested as a spy. Here’s the chair in which Jakobs sat when he was executed; the broken frame and slats are grim. He was the last person executed at the Tower for any crime.

(From Wikipedia): The Windsor chair that Josef Jakobs sat on when executed by firing squad at the Tower of London on 15 August 1941.

  • 1945 – Jewel Voice Broadcast by the Emperor Showa following effective surrender of Japan in the World War II, Korea gains Independence from the Empire of Japan.
  • 1947 – India gains Independence from British rule after near 190 years of British company and crown rule, and joins the Commonwealth of Nations.
  • 1961 – Border guard Conrad Schumann flees from East Germany while on duty guarding the construction of the Berlin Wall.

I didn’t know a video existed beyond the famous picture, but there is one of Schumann’s leap to freedom. First picture, then video:

Photo by Peter Leibing. More information here.


I wasn’t at Woodstock (I was at the Watkins Glen Music Festival), but I did win a restrike of the original Woodstock poster, signed by several of the principals. Here’s my poster and the names at the bottom:

Signers (left to right): Arnold Skolnick (designer of the poster), Richie Havens, Grace Slick, Carlos Santana, and Wavy Gravy of Hog Farm fame.

This is the annotated data that gave the signal its label. According to the Wikipedia page on the signal, it hasn’t been satisfactorily explained, and the details are above my pay grade. But do read the last link above if you’re interested.

(From Wikipedia): The Wow! signal represented as “6EQUJ5”. The original printout with Ehman’s handwritten exclamation is preserved by Ohio History Connection.[1]

  • 2013 – The Smithsonian announces the discovery of the olinguito, the first new carnivorous species found in the Americas in 35 years.

The olinguito is a procyonid, in the family with coatis and raccoons. Here’s a photo of our newly-discovered mammal:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1785 – Thomas De Quincey, English journalist and author (d. 1859)
  • 1896 – Paul Outerbridge, American photographer and educator (d. 1958)
  • 1909 – Hugo Winterhalter, American composer and bandleader (d. 1973)
  • 1912 – Julia Child, American chef and author (d. 2004)
  • 1938 – Stephen Breyer, American lawyer and judge
  • 1972 – Ben Affleck, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter

Those who drew their last breath on August 15 include:

  • 1057 – Macbeth, King of Scotland
  • 1935 – Wiley Post, American pilot (b. 1898)
  • 1935 – Will Rogers, American actor, comedian, and screenwriter (b. 1879)
  • 1967 – René Magritte, Belgian painter (b. 1898)
  • 2015 – Julian Bond, American academic and politician (b. 1940)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s words are enigmatic, so I asked Malgorzata for an explanation:

Lazy Hili was thinking about going out to explore something but decided to stay. So she justifies her laziness with the statement that she was right, there probably was nothing worth investigating, so her decision to just stay where she was was correct.

Hili: I was right.
A: What about?
Hili: There is probably nothing interesting there.
In Polish:
Hili: Miałam rację.
Ja: W jakiej sprawie?
Hili: Tam prawdopodobnie nie ma nic ciekawego.

And here is Szaron with little Kulka on the windowsill downstairs. Although Kulka now weighs a full kilogram, she’s dwarfed by Szaron!

A meme from reader Pliny the in Between’s Far Corner Cafe:

A great cartoon from SMBC, contributed by reader Kieran:

From Joanne Cooper, a huge revelation (it applies only to male mallards):


Reader Barry is quite pleased with himself for thinking up this simile:

From Simon. It’s cool, but I think it would be a lot easier to just lay the blocks next to each other:

Tweets from Matthew: Obama obliquely goes after our insane current President. The first tweet gives a link to a 41-minute conversation with Barack.

Many men will automatically clutch their groin when they read this. But who’s doing the biting?

This is a pretty amazing tweet:

This is a very sweet video of two lost kittens being rescued. Chip and Dale! Sound up, please.

How true! How true!

The link is to a fascinating story of Biblical redaction by Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister. The second tweet came along with the first.

This is pretty good, but what species of bird is that?


  1. Roger Lambert
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    The USPS is evidently deliberately destroying sorting machines:

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      That is unconscionable, but is it legal? Can he just do that?

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        Legal? That word is for losers.

        • Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          Practically the only recourse is to impeach Trump and we know how that would turn out. Not that there’s time enough to do that before Election Day anyway. I’m assuming the courts won’t do any good as they take too long and Trump’s actions are probably constitutional. As we keep finding out, the real problem is electing someone like him in the first place. The Constitutional checks and balances just don’t work due to Republican control of the Senate.

          • Roger Lambert
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            “Trump’s actions are probably constitutional.”

            What makes you say that? That Congress, not the President, has the power to create the Post Office is in the Constitution. And restricting the function of the USPS during a Federal election during a pandemic could easily be unconstitutional disenfranchisement. One would think.

            • Posted August 16, 2020 at 10:59 am | Permalink

              I’m just saying that the Constitution gives the President lots of powers when it comes to running things. SCOTUS doesn’t want to rule on a President’s motivations. Trump and his defenders would just say that funding the Post Office is Congress’s responsibility. When you don’t like a President’s policies, there are only two choices: impeachment with removal from office and electing someone else. I would be fine with either one but clearly the only one that’s going to work right now is defeating Trump in the election.

      • Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        They are making it plausible by claiming that the USPS is running out of money (true) and, therefore, drastic cost cutting measures are needed. Trump then claims that he’s holding up funding for the USPS as a bargaining chip in negotiations to renew COVID bailouts. The real reason, of course, is that Trump wants the USPS to fail on Election Day in order to suppress the vote and to create sufficient chaos for him to claim the election to be invalid, assuming he loses.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      And many mailboxes are being removed, ostensibly to be replaced by ‘new’ ones. Amazing how little time it takes to destroy a 200+ year democracy. Well, not destroyed quite yet, but we’ll see in 3 months whether it stands.

  2. Paul Matthews
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    The speedy duck appears to be a young Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), known as the Goosander in the UK, which is where I think the twitter poster is from (though the video itself may be from elsewhere of course). I recall hearing that the common merganser is also among the fastest birds in sustained direct flight (i.e., straight-ahead long-distance flapping, as opposed to quick darts or dashes, or plummets like the peregrine falcon). A fast bird both in the air and on the water.

  3. Jon Mummaw
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    If the Panama Canal locks broke all that would happen is Lake Gatún would drain into both oceans.

    • Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Aside from that, there would be one hell of a back and forth tidal surge through the canal.

      • Jon Mummaw
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think so. There’s a mountain in the way.

        • Jon Mummaw
          Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
    • Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Yes, not that dramatic. Might make an interesting movie though if they ignore that fact. Or perhaps an alternate history in which the canal builders cut a channel directly from one ocean to the other, not realizing that the ocean levels differ until it is too late. Everyone dies except for some intrepid surfers.

      • Posted August 15, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        I’d probably watch it, especially if it was done as a comedy.

    • Dick Veldkamp
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Even the Panama Canal had been dug straight through at sea level without any locks, probably not much would happen, because the hydraulic resistance of the canal is large. So there would only be a small flow back and forth.

      Compare the Suez Canal, which has no locks.

      • Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        It’s only a 20 cm difference so, yeah, not too dramatic. I guess I’ll have to shelve my movie idea. 😉

  4. Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Did you see Trump & his wife just registered… for postal votes???!!! In Florida…

    • Historian
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Why does this surprise you? In addition to doing everything he can to suppress the vote, Trump’s campaign strategy is based on the premise that his supporters are low information voters, inattentive to what is really going on in the news. He addresses and encourages their grievances. In a world that is changing beyond their comprehension or desire, they are susceptible to the incoherent message of a mentally ill demagogue, which, at its core, is a promise to roll back the tide of history by restoring the nation to a past in which his supporters were at the topic of the social ladder. They either don’t know or don’t care about the contradictions between what he says and does. His catering to their never rending grievances is what he hopes will win him the election. Trump is a true reactionary (although he probably doesn’t realize this) – exactly the kind of person that appeals to those fearful of losing social status.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        So much like religion which gins up a fear of death and eternal torture and then promises to fix it. tRump gins up a fear of socialism and promises to fix it. Thing is, he can, and does, promise them every wish they may have and does not have to deliver because they soon forget the promise and keep the good feeling that they have a savior in tRump.

    • Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Much as I love a good jab at Trump, I really don’t get this argument. First, someone can legitimately use a service and still complain that others use it to cheat. Second, Trump often explains that all he is objecting to is the mass sending of ballots to all registered voters. He imagines that some will get these ballots, perhaps intended for a dead former resident, and fill them out in order to gain extra votes. Third, there is a difference between absentee voting, where one requests a ballot, and this mass mailing of ballots.

      Now don’t get me wrong, all of Trump’s arguments are hogwash and he’s just attempting to suppress the vote. Still, we should get our arguments straight.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        tRump doesn’t make arguments. He makes assertions. He’s a bullshitter so it doesn’t matter if the assertions are consistent.

        • Posted August 15, 2020 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          Sure, but it does matter that the arguments we make against Trump’s BS make sense. Otherwise we allow the other side to call us biased liars.

          • GBJames
            Posted August 15, 2020 at 10:08 am | Permalink

            You’re right. I misinterpreted your point.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        Apparently it was a Swiss invention, by Alexander Freshe, rapidly becoming popular in 19th Century Europe (Wikipedia supports that).
        Others have it that the Quakers invented it in the 18th century, although still others contend that that was just the lemon curd. Meringue itself is considered still older.
        At any rate I’ve eaten lemon meringue pie in Belgium and France, so it can be found outside the US.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          Oops, that was meant as a reply at 9.

        • Posted August 16, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          I was ready to believe that the Swiss invented postal voting, but you lost me at lemon curd 😀.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        One “can legitimately use a service and still complain that others use it to cheat.” Yes, but that is not what Mr Trump is saying. He says that in mail voting leads to systematic large scale cheating (although there is no evidence for that) and should not be allowed. Maybe not illegitimate, but definitely devious, if not hypocritical, to use such a system yourself.
        In order to defend his in mail voting, he makes the distinction between absentee vote (good) and mail in vote (bad), but he fails to elaborate what that great difference is.
        Finally, it should be noted that these states such as Michigan, did not send ballots -as Mr Trump deviously contends-, but applications for mail ballots.

        • Posted August 15, 2020 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

          First, I am not supporting Trump or his position, just trying to sharpen our criticism.

          “He says that in mail voting leads to systematic large scale cheating”

          Yes, but that’s different than saying everyone who mails in their vote is cheating. So I don’t find Trump’s own vote by mail as hypocritical. Obviously he is not cheating (for once). Here’s an analogy. I often drive on the freeway but I am not being hypocritical by pointing out that some people (or even most people) who drive on the freeway speed and, therefore, violate the law.

          “In order to defend his in mail voting, he makes the distinction between absentee vote (good) and mail in vote (bad), but he fails to elaborate what that great difference is.”

          Did you even read my comment? He does explain the difference. It’s the mass mailing to all registered voters. Absentee voting, according to him, is where an individual requests a ballot. If there are, say, dead people on the registered voter list, there will be ballots sent that people could use to get an extra vote. That’s what he’s thinking.

          “Finally, it should be noted that these states such as Michigan, did not send ballots -as Mr Trump deviously contends-, but applications for mail ballots.”

          Sure. Trump isn’t interested in these finer points which invalidate his premises. Unfortunately, we have to go state-by-state to explain how mail-in voting is safe and why it is safe. He’s doing the same thing by allowing that FL and other Red states have mail-in systems he approves. Of course, the key is that they have Republican governors, not that Trump has analyzed their mail in systems and blessed them.

  5. Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    The bird release looks like it could be termed “successful re-integration into its native habitat”.

  6. DrBrydon
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Can you vote, yet? Neither party has officially nominated its candidate.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I imagine the deadliest will vary by state, but I doubt any ballots are available yet, for the reason that you note.

      We received our mail in ballot applications yesterday (Chicago suburbs – they sent one to ll registered voters in the state). So we have to complete them send them back and then receive the actual ballot before we can even move forward on voting. Illinois has plenty of early voting too – I might just do that, have not decided yet.

  7. DrBrydon
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    The Schumann story puts a different spin on “who guards the guardsmen?”

    • GBJames
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      The point is clear. Get your ballot in as early as you can.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        My comment is attached in the wrong place. It was directed at DrBrydon’s #6.

  8. rickflick
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Lemon meringue pie is my favorite desert. I often have it on my birthday. To make it the best way possible, hold back on the sugar and mix in lemon zest.

  9. Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I’ve seen anything similar outside the U.S

    You can certainly get it in the UK: it was my grandfather’s favourite dessert. We even call it lemon meringue pie even though it doesn’t have a pastry lid like all proper pies.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I grew up with it in the UK. Per Wikipedia, it’s a 19th century recipe. The oldest known version being from Switzerland. Was popular in London restaurants in C19 (it says).

  10. Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I think it’s actually a metaphor, not a simile. I also think it doesn’t quite work because, whilst astrology is bunk, its relation to astronomy is more like the relation of alchemy to chemistry, IMO.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Technically, I think it’s an analogy rather than a metaphor or a simile.

    • Martin Stubbs
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      I like “Homeopathy is the Astrology of Medicine”, even if it may not be an entirely original idea. For example this 2014 tweet by Nitin Gupta (@Nitin_Rivaldo):
      Homeopathy is to Medicine what Astrology is to Astronomy.

  11. Simon Hayward
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    632 years is a pretty long construction project, even for a cathedral. I have a friend who may have used the same contractor for a kitchen remodel 🙂

  12. Sarah
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    In August the Ides falls on the 13th. It’s the 15th in only four months.

  13. Posted August 15, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I am digesting Pliny’s interesting Venn diagram. What are the things that can be imagined and are true, but are not science?

    • Posted August 15, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Maybe some pure mathematical notions, theorems, that kind of thing?

      • Posted August 15, 2020 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Yes, most likely. Although mathematical theorems can only be proven true given their axioms, so they are things that are “relatively true.”

  14. merilee
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Those blocks falling make a surprisingly pleasant “tock” sound. And I was surprised how they all went flat in the end,

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I concur, at first I thought it was going to be just an oversized domino-thing, but them falling perfectly flat and aligned at the ‘reverse’ was stunning. Really took me by surprise.

    • openidname
      Posted August 16, 2020 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      Anyone know how they go flat? They seemed to have a substantial overlap. It’s oddly satisfying, yet bewildering at the same time.

  15. mike cracraft
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    The postal service is deteriorating rapidly. I have now stopped paying bills via mail and have switched to direct bank payments. What Trump and his rogues are up to is corrupt and totalitarian. One of the earliest things that Biden can do is pass emergency funding to get the USPS back to normal. That is, after he has Trump and his stooges arrested for treason and thrown into prison.

  16. rickflick
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Brookings has an interesting piece on the election, expected high turnout, and the role of mail-in voting.

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