Thursday: Hili dialogue

December 31, 2020 • 6:30 am

It’s the very last day of 2020: Thursday, December 31. Everyone will be glad to see this year leave and not slam the door behind it. Appropriately, it’s National Vinegar Day. It’s also Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year) and National Champagne Day, which of course coincides with New Year’s Eve. Other New Year’s Eve related holidays are: First Night (United States), Last Day of the Year or Bisperás ng Bagong Taón, special holiday between Rizal Day and New Year’s Day (Philippines), Novy God Eve (Russia), and Ōmisoka (Japan).

Google celebrates the New Year with a Doodle. Click on the screenshot and wait for the confetti:

News of the Day:

Here’s a pleasant surprise. Remember when we auctioned off an autographed and illuminated copy of Faith Versus Fact for $5300 not long ago? All the money went to Helen Keller International (HKI) to relieve malnutrition and eye disease throughout the world. We had hoped that our donation would be matched 1:1 by Friends of HKI, but that offer was time-limited. Well, when Kelly Houle, the artist who illuminated the book, called up HKI after she got no response to her email, we found out that they’re actually going to match our donation two to one, so HKI will get almost $16,000 for its cause (82.5% of donations go for programmatic activities. Thanks to friends of HKI for their generosity, and to Kelly for finding out about this new offer.  Sadly, I haven’t written any more books to do this for, so this may be the last such auction, and I doubt that Speciation will find any takers. (An earlier auction for WEIT netted over $10,000 for Doctors WithoutBorders.)

Mary Ann of Gilligan’s Island died. Her real name was Dawn Wells, and she died of Covid-19 complications at 82 (can it be that long since she was the “nice girl” on the show?)

Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), then and now. Photo by: Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

It looks as if Mitch “666” McConnell won’t even let the stimulus bill passed by the House—you know, the one with the $2000 instead of the $600 dollar checks—get to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Dear god, one of the great benefits of having both Senatorial seats go Democratic in January (and I’ve got my fingers crossed) would be that we won’t have to put up with that blathering Frog Man as majority leader any more. He’s a liar, a dissimulator, and charitable as I try to be, I don’t think he’s out to help the American people.

But do we really need these handouts? According to the NYT, economics experts say they won’t help stimulate the economy, as most people plan to put their checks in the bank. The experts think that the money should really go to those who need it most and will use it: the unemployed.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 342,577, a huge increase of about 3,800 deaths from yesterday’s figure, and about 2.6 deaths per minute. The world death toll is 1,814,712, another big increase of about 14,700 over yesterday’s total and representing about 10.2 deaths per minute from Covid-19—more than one every 6 seconds.

Stuff that happened on December 31 includes these events:

  • 1600 – The British East India Company is chartered.
  • 1759 – Arthur Guinness signs a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum and starts brewing Guinness.

For 50 years the symbol of Guinness was a toucan. Why? Get the answer here.

What? Well, yes, here it is, from Joe Cain’s website: “Dinner in the Iguanodon model, image as it appeared in Illustrated London News, 07 January 1854.” Joe was an undergraduate student whom I helped mentor at the University of Maryland; now he’s a professor of the history and philosophy of biology at University College London.

  • 1857 – Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa, then a small logging town, as the capital of the Province of Canada.
  • 1879 – Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time, in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

The first successful test in Edison’s lab of this lamp was only on October 22 of that year. Here’s the great man and one of his lamps:

Here’s the first celebration, but the date given elsewhere in several places is 1904 rather than 1907. Fix it, Wikipedia! I didn’t know that Times Square was named after the New York Times. There is no celebration tonight; only the third time it hasn’t happened since it began (the others were during WWII: 1942-1943). I went one year when I lived in New York, but it was a wonderful aggregation of people who were marinated in fellow feeling.

  • 1946 – President Harry S. Truman officially proclaims the end of hostilities in World War II.
  • 1991 – All official Soviet Union institutions have ceased operations by this date five days after the Soviet Union is officially dissolved.
  • 1992 – Czechoslovakia is peacefully dissolved in what is dubbed by media as the Velvet Divorce, resulting in the creation of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.
  • 1999 – The first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, resigns from office, leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the acting President and successor.
  • 2000 – The last day of the 20th Century and 2nd Millennium.
  • 2011 – Samoa and Tokelau skip the day of December 30, 2011 as they jump to the other side of International Date Line, changing their time zones.
  • 2019 – The World Health Organization was informed of cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause, detected in Wuhan. This later turned out to be COVID-19, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1514 – Andreas Vesalius, Belgian anatomist, physician, and author (d. 1564)
  • 1869 – Henri Matisse, French painter and sculptor (d. 1954)

Matisse was a cat lover; he owned many cats and painted a few. Here he is in bed with his moggies and one of his cat canvases:

  • 1908 – Simon Wiesenthal, Ukrainian-Austrian Nazi hunter and author (d. 2005)
  • 1937 – Anthony Hopkins, Welsh actor, director, and composer
  • 1941 – Sarah Miles, English actress

From Wikipedia: “Miles stated, in 2007, that she had been drinking her own urine for 30 years for health reasons.” She also had an affair with Stephen Spielberg and has a New Age belief in crop circles.  here she is in her most famous film, “Ryan’s Daughter“:

  • 1943 – John Denver, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (d. 1997)
  • 1943 – Ben Kingsley, English actor
  • 1948 – Donna Summer, American singer-songwriter (d. 2012)
  • 1965 – Gong Li, Chinese actress

Those who departed this life on December 31 include:

  • 1691 – Robert Boyle, Anglo-Irish chemist and physicist (b. 1627)
  • 1877 – Gustave Courbet, French-Swiss painter and sculptor (b. 1819)

Here’s a Courbet, Woman with a Cat, 1864, from the Worcester Art Museum. The cat looks okay but the woman’s head looks compressed from top to bottom:

  • 1972 – Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rican-American baseball player and Marine (b. 1934)
  • 1985 – Ricky Nelson, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (b. 1940)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has a question:

Hili: Does the Earth know that it is starting another run around the Sun?
A: No.
Hili: So, who invented New Year?
A: The producers of calendars with some help from astronomers and emperors.
Hili: Never mind: Happy New Year.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy Ziemia wie, że zaczyna kolejne okrążenie Słońca?
Ja: Nie.
Hili: To kto wymyślił Nowy Rok?
Ja: Producenci kalendarzy, z pewną pomocą astronomów i cesarzy.
Hili: Wszystko jedno, szczęśliwego Nowego Roku.

Here’s a “spot the cat” photo from Steve. It’s not hard, but it gives you a chance to practice your spotting skills:

From Divy:

From Beth:

A meme from Nicole:

From Titania. I well remember that HuffPost article, and in fact wrote about it last April.  The author is a selfish moron.

Some good news from Simon. Although the “UK mutant strain” of the virus apparently does spread faster, it doesn’t increase the risk of reinfection (which is already almost zero, I think) and, importantly, it doesn’t decrease the effectiveness of the vaccines.

A tweet from Barry. I can’t believe the first poster didn’t notice the mushroom cloud!

Maarten Boudry once again touts the musical abilities of his new cat Winston Purrchill. And, in face, here Winston plays Purcell. As Maarten says, “Nice pedal work, too!”

You definitely need the sound up on this one!

Matthew said, “Tough choice, Jerry”, but it wasn’t really a choice. I just enjoyed the duckling pwning the kitten:

Crikey! Live and learn. . . .

Pinker wins today!

33 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

  1. Do we really need all these handouts?

    I am only one person, not a “sample”, but yes, we do.

    We came very close to having to close. We got a grant (not a loan) from the state, from Federal money, that saved us.

    With it, we are able to bring back laid-off employees, replenish our food inventory, buy an outdoor menu board (solar powered), install an intercom between the takeout window and the grill room, and add one outdoor table and another canopy, and still have a little left over for the next few months in case anything comes up.

    Once the weather improves, we should at least be able to serve outdoors again, in addition to takeout. Our small town has had only a few cases in the last few weeks, but we are part of a larger county that is still in the red zone, so we can’t reopen the dining room as long as other parts of the county are still surging, so this money indeed was the difference between life and death for our business.

    Happy New Year, everybody.


    1. Linda, I agree. I doubt whether most people will put it in the bank. I think ‘the experts’ are, maybe not wrong, but exaggerating. At least financial packages to the jobless, the working and middle classes hit by a recession, generally work better to stimulate the economy than handouts to the superrich and large corporations, which use it to buy back their own stocks.

    2. I am also only one person. Were I an American, I would qualify for this handout, but my job has pretty much continued without interruption. The main difference for me is that I no longer have to commute to work which translates to a reduction in my expenses. Financially, I am better off than if the pandemic had not occurred.

      Would it be fairer for both of us to get $2k or for you – as somebody whose livelihood is destroyed by lockdowns – to get $4k and me to get nothing?

      1. In an ideal world, there would be a means to assess “fairness”, such that everyone would get what they need, and people who didn’t need anything wouldn’t take anything.

        In the real world, it’s a lot more expedient to make estimates, especially when some of the need is pretty dire. Would it be better to take until April or May to design a perfectly “fair” system, or is it better to get the money out there quickly?

        The people who question the relief money are largely the people who don’t need it.

        We didn’t spend all of the money we were given. But we spent what we did in several businesses, plus brought back our own employees who will now have money to spend that they didn’t have before.


        1. Other countries have managed to set up more equitable systems in pretty short order. The US “give everybody the same money regardless of whether they need it or not” idea is just a symptom of the dysfunctional nature of the US government.

          I do not question your need for relief money, I question my need for relief money. Here in the UK I have received no help from the government because I don’t need it. Others, who do need it, have received a lot of help. Our government, despite being reviled as one of the most incompetent governments in a Western democracy, managed to set up a reasonably effective and targeted set of reliefs for people who need them almost within hours of shutting the country down.

          “It’s too hard” is just an excuse for not trying.

          1. The current $600 relief check will go to people making up to $75,000 a year, if I am not mistaken. I made $24,600 last year, yet I get the same as those making 3x my income. It makes little sense. And as for the “experts” at NY Times, they clearly know fuck all about how us “little people“ have used and will use the money. Rent/mortgage, car payment, bills, food, and maybe clothes or paying down a credit card that’s seen far too much action. It won’t be sitting in the bank for long, that’s for damn sure.

            1. And of course, it’s making $75k last year. If you made that, even if you are not making anything this year you’rel SOL.

              As an aside, I asked my wife who “blathering Frog Man” described and she got it in one with no additional clues. So consider that one nailed.

          2. Part of the reason the US gives money to all rather than the most needy is that receiving “welfare” is considered a mark of your own failure. You are a disgrace in the eyes of society, which worships self sufficiency and independence. Thus, money for all relieves the few of embarrassment. What’s a 100 billion here or a hundred billion there when it comes to saving face?

    3. I’d prefer it if they could get more money to those who need it instead of sending a little to everyone. But this is government we’re talking about, decisiveness and details are not their strength. The US tried to limit PPP loans to businesses that needed it, but it didn’t work out that way.

      It’s better to have a lot of people squirreling money away than to have anyone go without food or housing.

    4. As I understand it, the purpose of the direct payment is twofold: 1) to give people money that they would immediately spend, therefore stimulating the economy and 2) help people in desperate financial straits. Wealthier people will not receive payments. Thus income reported on the 2019 form 1040 will determine who gets the payments, which will be most people. Unfortunately, income reported on the form 1040 is a poor proxy to determine the people that most likely will spend and/or need the money. I am not an economist, but it seems to me that these massive sums could have been more effectively utilized if spent on more aid to the long-term unemployed, small businesses, and state and local governments (many are in very bad shape and I believe will not be receiving anything). Certainly, the pandemic has hurt many people, but others are doing just fine. In other words, the direct payment approach is taking an axe to a problem when a scalpel is required. I suppose the approach can be justified on the grounds that it would take too much time to develop and implement a better formula to expend the funds.

      1. There could have been a graduated system set up, that would pay more to those with lower income, decreasing as the income levels increased.
        It doesn’t seem feasible to try fine-tuning it more than that, because there is more cost involved when it gets too targeted.

    5. And not only do millions of Americans need these “handouts” right now, they’re going to need them again in a few months. The pandemic is worse now than when the first round of relief went out. It’s only getting worse, as cases rise, the virus mutates and the vaccines aren’t coming out nearly as fast as promised (as if that’s a surprise under the dysfunction of Trump et al.). Hopefully GA will go to the dems, and another round of relief under Biden won’t be such a cluster fuck.

      This is what happens when unfounded conservative myths are foisted upon the masses. This particular myth is: if you give people handouts, they won’t want to go back to work and will become lifetime “welfare queens”. Reagan gave us that one, and republicans have been treating the myth as dictum ever since.

      1. That one is REALLY a myth.

        The reality is that, by Federal law, if you are receiving unemployment and you turn down work, you LOSE your unemployment.

        I haven’t heard any interviewer point that out to the Republican liars they interview who propound that nonsense.


  2. One can’t really call Andreas Vesalius (latinized from ‘van Wesel’) a Belgian, since Belgium did not exist yet, is was the Spanish Netherlands or Spanish Low Countries at that time.
    I’d rather call him a Brabanter, since he was born in Brussels and got most of his education in Louvain (Leuven) both in the southern Brabant Province of the Spanish Netherlands.
    I think he also worked in Paris and later in Padua in Italy.
    If you look at the places he went (and others, such as Händel) it is striking how ‘cosmopolitan’ these guys already were.

  3. … that blathering Frog Man as majority leader …

    Far be it from me to contradict a biology professor emeritus on such matters, but I believe the consensus to be that Moscow Mitch McConnell is more chelonian than batrachian.

  4. Does Donald Trump need it? It is nuts to give free money to the rich! It should be means tested, by some standard eg income.
    Note, I am not a US tax-payer!

    I used to know Sarah Miles’s son I think 30 years ago.

    I know Joe Cain – well I have met him & attended his professorial lecture, but he is a colleague of a couple of History/philosophy of Science friends.

  5. Maybe i do not understand the long bet parameters, but to me the worldwide response to the novel coronavirus is a bioerror and an ongoing single event. Fatalities themselves since 1July are over one million, with casualties being many more than that. So if my interpretation be correct, it seems that Rees wins. Though of course in either case the charity wins.

  6. I don’t see how Steven Pinker can claim to have won that bet.

    1. It’s within a 6 month period starting no later than today. He can’t claim victory until six months hence.

    2. COVID19 surely counts as “bio error”. It’s not an engineered virus but the bet doesn’t say that it has to be as far as I can see, only that it is “something which has the same effect as a terror attack, but rises from inadvertence rather than evil intent”.

    1. My point 1 needs some explanation. The event must start today, but today doesn’t finish for another 10 hours and 45 minutes (on GMT). So Pinker must at least wait until midnight tonight. Even then an event might start today and we not know about it for some weeks or months. The only way to be sure is if fewer than 1 million casualties have occurred by the end of June 2021.

      If more than a million casualties have happened by the end of June, we then need to know that the start was after midnight tonight for Steven to have won.

  7. I believe that one reason Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as capital of Canada was because it was far from the border with the U.S. Other possibilities such as Kingston were too close to the dangerous neighbours.

  8. “Here’s the first celebration, but the date given elsewhere in several places is 1904 rather than 1907. Fix it, Wikipedia!” – The Wikipedia New Year’s Eve article is referring to the “ball drop” element in Times Square, which did indeed begin in 1907. But it should mention that the site was used from 1904, so that does need to be added. (The article for One Times Square does already include the earlier festivities: )

  9. It is truly about time that Upper middle class Americans and that is most of the people here at this site, admit and realize, those socialist countries in Europe handle just about everything better than we do. Whether it is a virus, an economic disaster or everyday government they beat the hell out of us. Do they go through all this crap in 50 different states to pay out unemployment along with all of it’s fraud and screw ups. Do they beg the government for a few dollars to pay the rent and feed the family with millions lined up at food banks for a hand out. This country is pathetic and deserves the government it gets. Our motto is – the rich get richer and the poor get kids.

  10. Stimulus: Since I am safely retired and receiving Social Security checks, I intend to deposit my stimulus, then write checks to the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and the Farm Cooperative.

  11. … here she [Sarah Miles] is in her most famous film, “Ryan’s Daughter“ …

    Maybe most famous for you, boss, but I was still in late adolescence when I managed to wrangle my way into a downtown theater to see Mr. Antonioni’s Blowup, with its infamous troilist encounter involving Ms. Miles, Vanessa Redgrave, and David Hemmings. I don’t think I, or American moviegoing, have ever been the same since — given that that film, and that scene in particular, was largely responsible for blowing up Hollywood’s old Hays morality code.

    The following year the Motion Picture Association came up with its new ratings system.

  12. I’m retired and really shouldn’t get the dough as I’m pretty comfortable but I’ll do what I did last check and give most of it to an excellent microfinance charity that gives small loans to people all over the world to start/help their own small/family businesses: a dude’s motorcycle for his business in Vietnam, a lady’s cheese business in Albania, a sewing machine in Egypt, etc. Mainly women. Some US ones also and they have little bios of the recipients you choose from. It is a bit like crowdfund and started a decade or two ago by a Bangladeshi, Mohammed Yunis who (I think) won a Nobel prize. It was in Bangladesh I learned about it.

    The recipients usually pay it back so I just roll the funds over to new people who need it. I used to work in venture capital and I believe a small amount of help can be leveraged into a lot of good. Some of the dosh I’ll give to my (local) homeless friends I look after generally and if there’s any left The Good D*g Foundation who train dogs to visit hospitals. My own pooch worked with them. Here’s here and he’s adorable despite not being a cat –
    Happy 2021 folks and PCC (E).


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