Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Mietek monologue)

December 22, 2020 • 6:30 am

Good morning on the cruelest day: Tuesday, December 22, 2020. But cheer up: we have two vaccines now, it’s only three days until Christmas and the beginning of Coynezaa, most people will have a week’s break until the New Year, and most Americans will have a $600 stimulus check to defray those holiday expenses. It’s also National Date Nut Bread Day, which nobody eats any more, National Cookie Exchange Day (I got some but didn’t have any to exchange), and, in India, it’s National Mathematics Day.

News of the Day:

The big news for science buffs is the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn since the 13th century!  For many, like those in Chicago, it was too cloudy to see anything. But, And, as I’d hoped, a reader sent in photos. These are from Terry Platt, and you can make out Saturn’s rings in its shape! Terry’s caption is indented, and please click on the photos to enlarge them.

The weather is bad today, but I got some quite nice shots of Jupiter and Saturn last evening (20th). Here’s a moderately wide shot with a nice old oak tree framing the pair, plus a closer shot to show the disks of the planets with Jupiter’s moon Callisto a little up and left of Jupiter. Taken with a Nikon D7200 + telephoto lens.

But damn NBC News, anyway! They finished their final piece of the evening on the conjunction by asking whether that could have been the star of Bethlehem (was there even a conjunction at the purported time of Jesus’s birth?). They said astronomers don’t think so, but in these dark times we can always use a little added light. And then Harry smith said, “Behold” showed the conjunction behind a CROSS on top of a church. We can’t get rid of these Christian myths! To see this juxtaposition, go here and then go about 20 minutes in.

BEHOLD! (Thanks to NBC News for the image. . . )

There’s been a big cheating scandal at West Point: 73 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy were accused of cheating on a remotely-given calculus exam. Most admitted they did it:

After an investigation by an honors committee made up of trained cadets, two cases were dropped for lack of evidence and four were dropped because the cadets resigned, Ophardt said. Of the remaining 67 cases, 55 cadets have admitted cheating and have been enrolled in a six-month rehabilitation program focused on ethics. They will be on probation for the rest of their time at the academy. Three more cadets admitted cheating but weren’t eligible for the rehabilitation program.

The evening news characterized this by saying “the honor code is working well.” Yes, I suppose so since the miscreants admitted they cheated, but this is West Point, in the business of turning out military officers. Why weren’t the 55 booted out of the Academy?

Joe Biden got his first injection of the coronavirus vaccine yesterday—on live television. Here’s Joe’s Jab. He was a good boy and didn’t flinch or cry!

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 319,762, an increase of about 2,000 from yesterday’s figure and roughly 1.4 deaths a minute. The world death toll is 1,710,967, an increase of about 9,900 over yesterday’s report and the equivalent of about 6.9 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on December 22 include:

  • 1807 – The Embargo Act, forbidding trade with all foreign countries, is passed by the U.S. Congress, at the urging of President Thomas Jefferson.
  • 1808 – Ludwig van Beethoven conducts and performs in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, with the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).
  • 1885 – Itō Hirobumi, a samurai, becomes the first Prime Minister of Japan.

Here’s Hirobumi, who was assassinated in 1909 by an advocate for Korean independence:

  • 1894 – The Dreyfus affair begins in France, when Alfred Dreyfus is wrongly convicted of treason.
  • 1944 – World War II: Battle of the Bulge: German troops demand the surrender of United States troops at Bastogne, Belgium, prompting the famous one word reply by General Anthony McAuliffe: “Nuts!”

As I’ve said before, when I was a teenager in Germany, with my father, an Army officer, stationed in Heidelberg he drove the family especially to Bastogne so he cold see where McAuliffe said “nuts”! He admired the man’s persistence!

This is being re-enacted now in the U.S., except the books are not by Mao but by Robin DiAngelo. And “re-education” courses are springing up in dozens of U.S. colleges.

  • 1984 – “Subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz shoots four would-be muggers on a 2 express train in Manhattan section of New York, United States.

Goetz, a folk hero to many, served eight months in prison as well as probation for five years and also paid a $5,000 fine. A civil suit saddled him with $42 million dollars as well, but he couldn’t pay it, and declared bankruptcy.

His photo is below; as PopSugar reports, he’s in the same place but playing with squirrels. 

Goetz chose not to be a part of the Netflix docuseries, but a snippet at the end of the episode notes that as of 2017, he was still living in the same apartment on 14th Street as he was back in the 1980s. He has run for public office twice in recent years and currently spends his time advocating for legal marijuana and playing with squirrels. Trial by Media even mentions that Goetz still rides the New York City subways regularly.

  • 1989 – Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate re-opens after nearly 30 years, effectively ending the division of East and West Germany.

Here’s a news clip of the re-opening. Freedom!

  • 1990 – Lech Wałęsa is elected President of Poland.
  • 2001 – Richard Reid attempts to destroy a passenger airliner by igniting explosives hidden in his shoes aboard American Airlines Flight 63.

Reid, shown below along with his explosive shoes, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus 110 years with no possibility of parole. He’s also serving them in the Florence Supermax prison—the worst place to be incarcerated in America.  Have a look at his prison mates at the Wikipedia article on the prison.

  • 2010 – The repeal of the Don’t ask, don’t tell policy, the 17-year-old policy banning homosexuals serving openly in the United States military, is signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1639 – Jean Racine, French poet and playwright (d. 1699)
  • 1858 – Giacomo Puccini, Italian composer and educator (d. 1924)
  • 1912 – Lady Bird Johnson, American beautification activist; 38th First Lady of the United States (d. 2007)
  • 1945 – Diane Sawyer, American journalist

Here’s Sawyer with Nixon in 1972, when she was about 27. Sawyer worked at the Nixon White House, initially writing press releases and then working her way up to Staff Assistant to Nixon.

  • 1949 – Maurice Gibb, Manx-English singer-songwriter and producer (d. 2003)

Of the three Bee Gees and their brother Andy Gibb, only Barry Gibb (now “Sir Barry) is still alive. Robin (below), Maurice’s fraternal twin, is gone, and yet they were only a week older than I.

  • 1949 – Robin Gibb, Manx-English singer-songwriter and producer (d. 2012)
  • 1962 – Ralph Fiennes, English actor
  • 1970 – Ted Cruz, American lawyer and politician

Those who found Eternal Rest on December 22 include:

  • 1880 – George Eliot, English novelist and poet (b. 1819)
  • 1940 – Nathanael West, American author and screenwriter (b. 1903)
  • 1942 – Franz Boas, German-American anthropologist and linguist (b. 1858)
  • 1943 – Beatrix Potter, English children’s book writer and illustrator (b. 1866)

You can’t get better than this illustration from Potter. Tom Kitten AND ducks!

Tom Kitten, Moppet and Mittens with the Puddle-ducks
  • 1989 – Samuel Beckett, Irish author, poet, and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1906)
  • 1995 – Butterfly McQueen, American actress and dancer (b. 1911)
  • 2014 – Joe Cocker, English singer-songwriter (b. 1944)
  • 2019 – Ram Dass, American spiritual teacher and author (b. 1931) [

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili mourns how technological progress has reduced the thrill of hunting.

A: There already is the first restaurant serving meat produced in a lab.
Hili: That is cruel.
In Polish:
Ja: Jest już pierwsza restauracja z mięsem produkowanym w laboratorium.
Hili: To okrutne.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Mietek’s getting ready for Christmas:

Mietek: I will check whether this is edible.

In Polish: Sprawdzę, czy to jest jadalne.

A meme from Bruce:

From Nicole:

And, speaking of Jesus, this is from Jesus of the Day:


A tweet from Jez in the UK, who adds this:

I don’t know if the Thomas the Tank Engine books made it across to the US (Ringo Starr narrated the later popular TV adaptation for quite a while). Given that no trains, trucks, or planes can travel from the UK to France at the moment this tweet of the illustration from one of the original books is quite apt! And we haven’t even got started on the mess that will be Brexit…

Julia Galef on her favorite letter not just from Charles Darwin, but from any scientist. It shows Darwin’s graciousness in responding to critics. As to that critic’s claim that Darwin couldn’t show that the change that produced “macroevolution” was gradual, well, that’s true: Darwin didn’t have a fossil record worth speaking of. Now, though, we have direct fossil evidence of macroevolution: fish evolving into amphibians, amphibians into reptiles, reptiles into birds on one hand and mammals on the other, and so on.  As for Darwin being underrated for his intellectual honesty, I don’t agree: every Darwin scholar and maven knows about that virtue.

Matthew sent me the tweet, I explained it while retweeting it:

Tweets from Matthew. Sound up to hear these deer enjoying a hearty wallow in the mud:

The rescue ducks at Marsh Farm are being moved. Listen to them quack! And how they love their water!

I think the little specks are Jupiter’s moons, right?

Click on the photo to see the cat-eaten bit:

36 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Mietek monologue)

  1. Yes, those are indeed Jupiter’s moons. I’ve been thinking about maybe setting up my scope but viewing conditions here suck, and I’m not sure I’ll have the time.

  2. So 73 at West Point cheated and got caught. In other news Trump will be visiting West Point later today to pass out awards and pardons.

  3. I think that the little specks are jupiters moons…right? Yes, right -these are the four moons that galileo saw through his earlytelescope, though through modern observations including spacecraft flybys there are many more moons known today. These four moons move very quickly and tonight’s and each succeeding night will produce a different configuration. Sometimes one or two moons may pass behind or in front of the planet and not be visible, though if you have enough observing time that night it might become visible again during your session

  4. More good news of the day: the chief executive of BioNTech, who developed the Pfizer vaccine, is confident that it will work on the new mutation circulating in the UK – and even if it doesn’t, they can tweak it to be effective within six weeks!

      1. It will be two weeks before they know if the vaccine is effective on the mutant strain. Even if the efficacy is reduced, I suppose it might still offer an acceptable level of protection for those who have already had the existing Pfizer jab (about 500,000 in the UK) given that the 95%(ish) effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines are much higher than for many other types of vaccination programmes. Hopefully the mutant coronavirus will be successfully confined to the UK, at least for a while. I’m not clear about whether shots containing a “tweaked” formulation could also include the original recipe and so protect against both strains of the virus.

    1. My mother still likes to tell the story of how one day when I was 2 or 3, right after she cleaned me up and dressed me in white shorts and a white shirt to go somewhere, I promptly went outside and began stomping around in a mud puddle.

      1. Oh dear – I dare say you got into the same trouble as Tom Kitten, Moppet, and Mittens in the Beatrix Potter story that PCC(E) got the illustration from. (Though hopefully your own clothes weren’t stolen by the Puddle-ducks!)

  5. … the Florence Supermax prison—the worst place to be incarcerated in America …

    The USP Florence ADMAX is the worst prison in the US in terms of prisoner isolation (since most prisoners there are in a form of extreme solitary confinement) and the concomitant strain that puts on prisoners’ mental health. But it is clean and safe from attacks by other prisoners. And qualified inmates can participate in a “step down” program in which, through good behavior, they can earn their way off the special housing units into general population or even to transfer to the adjacent maximum security prison or to another federal penitentiary. In terms of overcrowding, danger, and filth, there are much worse hellholes in our state prison systems.

    1. I agree. I read the description and thought that it didn’t sound all that bad. The Florida DOC actually brags about the fact that, except in mental health facilities, they don’t use air conditioning. And it is true.

  6. 2019 – Ram Dass, American spiritual teacher and author (b. 1931)

    F/k/a Richard Alpert, PhD, Timothy Leary’s acid-eating running buddy at Harvard and then at the upstate NY commune to which they repaired upon being cashiered from Harvard.

  7. Awesome astro pic! It is exciting that a simple setup – is it simple and low tech? – is sufficient to show the moon… amazing!

    1. I’m not sure I’d call a Nikon 7xxx-series camera “simple” or “low-tech”. Not even in the user interface – when I plough through my decade-older Nikon, I still have to squint at the little icons on the various dials and try to translate what they mean in terms of an incident-light meter and choosing the focal ratio of the lens. As intuitive as … something not very intuitive.
      But I get what you mean. When I tried sticking two lenses into a tube and pointing it at the rest of the universe, it was a struggle to even focus across the road, let alone 1/16th of the way across the inner Solar system.
      At least Galileo, ehmm, “focussed” on the important basics : a reasonably solid mount. With that, you can tolerate wobbly optics much better than fine optics and a wobbly mount.

  8. For Jez and others who might be curious, Thomas the Tank Engine did indeed make it to the USA and in a big way. Both my sons were huge fans. George Carlin appeared as Mr. Conductor in the series Shining Time Station and succeeded Ringo as the narrator of the TV adaptation using the famous models. Yes, willy-nilly, I have way too much of my cerebrum devoted to memories of TTTE. 🥴

      1. I hear you, Mark (pun intended)! That theme music has been my earworm too many times to count in my life. Like you, I’m resisting this worm right now. 😉

    1. Thanks, StephenB – that’s interesting to know. According to Wikipedia, Thomas’s first TV appearance was on live TV in 1953:

      The live broadcast did not fare well. Reportedly, a failure to switch the points caused the model of Henry to derail and viewers of the live broadcast witnessed a human hand, said to be one of a crew member, picking him up and placing him back on the rails. Models moved jerkily, and all effects and music had to be superimposed.

      By 23 June, news of the broadcast hit the front pages of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Awdry himself branded the episode as “unprofessional”, and the point-switching debacle as an “elementary mistake”. As a result, the second episode scheduled for 28 June 1953 was put on hold, and then later cancelled.

  9. The evening news characterized this by saying “the honor code is working well.” Yes, I suppose so since the miscreants admitted they cheated

    I don’t know: I think an honour code that worked well would be one in which people didn’t cheat in the first place. Cheating and then admitting it seems to have negative consequences for the cheaters’ careers.

    1. The evening news wasn’t doing the characterization. They were quoting some West Point representative who said “While disappointing, the honor system is working, …”. See the segment at 11 minutes:

      1. Seems to me they did not have much choice but to confess. They all had made the same error on a calculus question.

        1. Yes. “The honor system is working” was just a lame attempt at face-saving. The purpose of an honor system is to prevent cheating. It is not a win that the cadets, when caught, admitted cheating. I guess it shows they aren’t pathological liars.

  10. Re. the British SARS-CoV-2 “strain”, start at about 55:00 here on my favorite Virology podcast for their take. They are emphatic that from all yet presented, it is a variant and not a strain, and explain the difference.

    The segment just prior to this takes up another report in preprint form that has apparently gotten some traction, and they trash it emphatically.

  11. The big news for science buffs is the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn since the 13th century!

    ? Really, I couldn’t care less unless it would be the Sun putting a mission to a planet in radio shadow – though astrologists are likely excited about their “conjunctions”.

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