Thursday: Hili dialogue

July 29, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Thursday, July 29, 2021: National Lasagna Day (culturally appropriated). It’s also National Chicken Wing Day, National Chili Dog Day (two American comfort foods), National Lipstick Day, and International Tiger Day.

News of the Day:

There might be hope yet for Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Yesterday the Senate voted 67 to 32 (that means 17 Republicans joined the Dems) to take up the bill. Could it be that, at least in this case, Biden’s promises of bipartisanship will materialize?

And Biden is scheduled to announce today that all Federal workers will either have to be vaccinated or submit themselves to regular Covid tests, masking, social distance, and travel restrictions. What an uproar will ensue! But he’s right.

To culturally improve its younger generation, France gave every 18 year old in the country a smartphone app called Culture Pass, which entitles each recipient to get, for free, 300 euros ($354 U.S.) worth of cultural items like these:

Teenagers can buy physical goods from bookstores, record shops and arts supply or instrument stores. They can purchase tickets to movie showings, plays, concerts or museum exhibits. And they can sign up for dance, painting or drawing classes.

The app, good for two years, cost 80 million Euros this year, and is likely to double next year. That’s a lot of dosh. So what are the kids buying?

Answer: Mostly manga (Japanese style comics). As the NYT reports, 75% of the money used since May has been for books, and two-thirds of that are manga books, or about 50% of all the money used. You can buy video games so long as they’re made in France and aren’t violent.  Good idea or bad? In my view, a waste of dosh, though it will be really helpful for some kids. There’s got to be a better way to introduce young people to “higher” culture.

In a world beset with problems, a moral philosopher from Chile has written this op-ed in The New York Times (click on screenshot):

Why would be bad/immoral for watching? Because, says author Sasha Mudd, a moral philosopher from Chile, we’re complicit in being entertained by an Olympics rife with badness:

The Olympic Games in Tokyo have been even more fraught than usual with ethical issues. Alarm over the rising number of Covid-19 cases and the Games’ deep unpopularity with Japanese people sit atop perennial concerns about corruption, cheating, the abuse of athletes and the environmental impact of mounting such an enormous event. These problems have fueled debate, hand wringing and even demands to end the Olympics altogether.

Mudd concludes that while we are indeed complicit in these harms, it’s still okay to watch the Olympics:

In an unjust world, there is often no way to act without harming or being complicit in harm. But just because all complicity is bad does not mean that it is always morally criticizable. This is especially true in modern societies, where mass consumption links us in global networks, telegraphing both harm and benefit on a vast scale. Making it one’s goal to avoid all complicity sets the bar impossibly high, demanding a life of radical asceticism.

I think philosophers are running out of things to worry about. . .

Bruce Grant was my undergraduate advisor at William and Mary, an energetic and charismatic young professor who set me on the road of evolutionary genetics. Now that he’s retired, written a new book on his speciality, the classic story of the evolution of melanism (darkening color over evolutionary time) in the peppered moth Biston betularia. Melanism evolved as industrial pollution killed off lichens on British trees and darkened them, making the typical light-colored moth visible to birds. Predation then led to preferential survival and reproduction of the once-rare dark “morph” over the easily-spotted light “peppered” morph. This was the classic study of “evolution in action” that used to be in all the textbooks. Bruce and I had some altercations about this because I found some problems in the early experimental work on melanism by Bernard Kettlewell. But later work in England, combined with Bruce Grant’s observation of a parallel rise (and fall) of melanic forms in North America, also correlated with the rise and fall of pollution, however, convinced me that the classic story is right.

Click on the link below to see the book on Amazon. It gets very positive reviews from many people I know, including Matthew Cobb and my ex-Ph.D. student Mohamed Noor.

After 10 months of absence, a missing duck named Sally was reunited with her staff in Queensland. Sally disappeared during a storm, but her presence was noted on social media by residents 30 km away. After two attempts at rescue, the staff finally succeeded: Sally was rescued and reunited with her sister Henry (a hen). The thing is, the duck just below appears to be a muscovy, but, as shown in the other two pictures in the article, Sally is a Pekin (a domesticated white mallard that’s a different species). What gives?

Sally from the ABC News headline:

(From below the headline): Sally the rescue duck is reunited with her family(Supplied: Kyesha Mostyn)

But another picture of Sally does not show the duck above:

(From the story): Ms Mostyn says her pet ducks Sally and Henry love each other’s company.(Supplied: Kyesha Mostyn)

Well, something’s screwed up. At any rate, did Sally recognize her owners? An academic weighs in:

Professor of Biology Glen Chilton is a specialist in Ornithology at James Cook University.

He said it was likely that Sally recognised her owners.

“There’s 10,000 species of birds in the world and some of them are just as stupid as mud.

“Some of them of course are very, very clever … and ducks are somewhere in the middle.

That’s damning with faint praise. After all, a duck is perfectly adapted for being a duck, not a parrot. If ducks needed to be smarter, they’d evolve more intelligence. And can parrots swim and dive? (h/t: Peter)

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 611,708, an increase of 316 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,203,968, an increase of about 9,700 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on July 29 includes:

  • 1148 – The Siege of Damascus ends in a decisive crusader defeat and leads to the disintegration of the Second Crusade.
  • 1567 – The infant James VI is crowned King of Scotland at Stirling.

Of course James VI didn’t really rule while he was an infant—four people ruled in his stead—but he took over in 1583, when he was 17, and ruled until his death in 1625.

  • 1818 – French physicist Augustin Fresnel submits his prizewinning “Memoir on the Diffraction of Light”, precisely accounting for the limited extent to which light spreads into shadows, and thereby demolishing the oldest objection to the wave theory of light.

After Fresnel, the wave theory of light dominated, but of course now we know that light can act as both a wave and a particle, as the double-slit experiment tells us.

Here’s Belle, who was arrested six times but never spent a day in prison:

  • 1907 – Sir Robert Baden-Powell sets up the Brownsea Island Scout camp in Poole Harbour on the south coast of England. The camp runs from August 1 to August 9 and is regarded as the foundation of the Scouting movement.
  • 1921 – Adolf Hitler becomes leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Here’s Hitler in 1921, when he was 32 years old.

Adolf Hitler in 1921, two years after he wrote the letter.
  • 1948 – Olympic Games: The Games of the XIV Olympiad: After a hiatus of 12 years caused by World War II, the first Summer Olympics to be held since the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, open in London.
  • 1957 – The Tonight Show – Tonight Starring Jack Paar premieres on NBC with Jack Paar beginning the modern day talk show.
  • 1958 – U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • 1976 – In New York City, David Berkowitz (a.k.a. the “Son of Sam”) kills one person and seriously wounds another in the first of a series of attacks.
  • 1981 – A worldwide television audience of over 700 million people watch the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

I guarantee you that if you start watching what’s below, you’ll watch the whole thing. Because if you start, you’re curious. If you don’t care, you won’t start watching.

Here’s a 9½-minute video of that ill-fated union. What pomp!

  • 1987 – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President of France François Mitterrand sign the agreement to build a tunnel under the English Channel (Eurotunnel).

After six years of construction, it was opened in 1994. Here are the two boreholes meeting in the middle:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1805 – Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian and philosopher (d. 1859)
  • 1878 – Don Marquis, American author, poet, and playwright (d. 1937)

Marquis created one of the best series of stories I read as a kid: the “Archie and Mehitabel” series, with Archie being a typing cockroach, too light to press the shift key (ergo no caps), and Mehitabel a female alley cat who reminisced about her wild early life (“there’s still a dance in the old dame yet”). I wonder if anybody still reads these wonderful poems/stories. Here’s the pair:

  • 1883 – Benito Mussolini, Italian fascist revolutionary and politician, 27th Prime Minister of Italy (d. 1945)
  • 1898 – Isidor Isaac Rabi, American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize Laureate (d. 1988)
  • 1905 – Clara Bow, American actress (d. 1965)

Bow was the original “It Girl“, so named because she starred in a 1927 silent movie called “It” (1927); here are some scenes set to a song written by Harry Reaser “She’s Got It”. Bow, a sex symbol of the first magnitude, was one of the models for the cartoon character Betty Boop.


Christian, who died of tuberculosis at only 25, was an immensely talented jazz guitar player who found fame as a member of Benny Goodman’s band. Here’s an example of his playing, which really founded the modern use of amplified guitar in jazz—”Swing to Bop” (1941).

  • 1953 – Ken Burns, American director and producer

Those who returned to dust on July 29 include:

  • 1856 – Robert Schumann, German composer and critic (b. 1810)
  • 1890 – Vincent van Gogh, Dutch painter and illustrator (b. 1853)

van Gogh is surely in my top five artists of all time. I’ve tried to see every van Gogh I’ve been near, and can’t name a favorite (though all of them are his late paintings). Here are two. The first, Cypresses, is from 1889:

And here’s van Gogh’s interpretation of a Millet painting, “Noon: Rest from Work”, painted the year van Gogh died:

Here’s Millet’s original, the far inferior “Noonday Rest” (1886):

  • 1974 – Cass Elliot, American singer (b. 1941)
  • 1979 – Herbert Marcuse, German sociologist and philosopher (b. 1898)
  • 1981 – Robert Moses, American urban planner, designed the Northern State Parkway and Southern State Parkway (b. 1888)
  • 1994 – Dorothy Hodgkin, Egyptian-English biochemist and biophysicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1910)

Hodgkin, who did incredibly intricate and clever work using X-ray crystallography to determine the shape of molecules, was honored by headlines like the ones below. Nobel Prize for a wife? Would Francis Crick’s announcement say “Nobel Prize for British husband”? Such were the times. . .

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is idly philosophizing:

Hili: Have you pondered life going by?
A: No, I leave this subject to cats.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy zastanawiałeś się nad przemijaniem?
Ja: Nie, zostawiam ten temat kotom.

Another superfluous sign from David:

Likewise from reader s.s.:

From Bruce:

After a long hiatus, Titania McGrath has started tweeting again! Here’s one (I haven’t read the article, but it must be the consonants):

A tweet from Barry; sound up to hear the beautiful song.

From reader Ken. According to CNN:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy a “moron” after being asked by a reporter about his criticism of the Capitol physician’s mask mandate in the House, another sign of the souring relationship between the two House party leaders.

Which led to this exchange, with the Speaker touting science:

Tweets from Matthew. First, knife skills! This guy makes what will be an amazing French fry.

What made this car think it could pass?

The strength of ants is amazing. This one is hauling a huge hoverfly (two tweets):

Why did the squirrel do this? (I’m not even sure it touched the bottom step.)

40 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

  1. Jerry, could you give us your theory of aesthetics that leads you to claim that the Millet painting is “inferior” to Van Gogh’s reworking of the same subject?

    1. Well look who dropped by to purvey a little snark. As you must surely know, these matters are subjective, and even if I had a “theory” (rather than reasons why van Gogh’s painting would move me more than another one), another person would have a different theory that would show the opposite.

      Your question is not an honest one, and you’re not really interested in an answer. Nor do I have a theory of aesthetics. What “theory of literature” shows that Anna Karenina is, to me, better than War and Peace? It’s a matter of taste, and one can give reasons but reasons don’t constitute a theory. The sad thing is that you already know that, which is why your question is not an honest one.

    2. My theory of aesthetics: “I know what I like”.

      I like the Van Gogh better mainly because I’ve always loved what he does with colour and in this case, the scene is rendered much more vibrant as a result.

  2. Is McCarthy a moron? He certainly takes order from one. And Trump may be losing his grip on the cult in Congress. He threatened them if they voted for the bill last night but many still did. Even Moscow Mitch.

  3. Fellow ‘Archie and Mehitabel’ fan here. I read them as an adult and still re-read them occasionally. Always good for a chuckle.

  4. What made the car think it could pass? Maybe that is what went wrong, the driver was waiting for the car to think. Driver is lucky not to be dead.

  5. I love Archy and Mehitabel and George Herriman’s illustrations and plan to have “Toujours Gai” carved on the tombstone, or maybe “There’s a dance in the old dame yet”.

  6. In other news, Dusty Hill of the Texas Blues / Rock band ZZ Top died yesterday. He was 72 years old.

    ““We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX. We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’. We will forever be connected to that “Blues Shuffle in C.”You will be missed greatly, amigo. Frank & Billy””

    1. Yeah…when I was 16 or so I used to “steal” my older brother’s ’67 Mustang (fastback/3-speed) and when I drove it around my highschool, it was very much ooh and awe and aah. I revved the motor, of course. In the back of my head, when I think of those fun times, I’m thinking…”she don’t love me, she loves my automobile…dadadaadada.” What a fun song!

  7. Good idea or bad? In my view, a waste of dosh

    I’m a book lover, but books, movies, music downloads or CDs and the like are probably too low on ‘price point’ to make people change their behavior significantly. Ignoring Covid for the moment (i.e. to speak more generally about benefits like this), I’d limit it to live theater, concerts, ballet, museum entrance fees, and the like. No, it doesn’t have to be all ‘high culture,’ I’m fine if people use it to go to a rock concert or whatever. But the point is those things tend to have a much higher price point that can deter regular folk from doing them unless they really want to. So by giving credit for just those things, you increase the ability of people to experience cultural things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Just my opinion.

    Mudd concludes that while we are indeed complicit in these harms

    What a bunch of malarky. IMO complicity requires you know about a bad act, and meaningfully be able to do something about it, and don’t. None of us regular tv-watching spectators know who is cheating or which country programs are using drugs or abusing their athletes. None of us could meaningfully do anything about it even if we did. So not complicit. Yeah sure, we have a general sense that probably someone is cheating or being abused by some coach or program. But without knowing the details or being able to act on them, it’s difficult to assign any moral responsibility for the harm to us. Complicit is Bob hit Mary in my presence, and I chose not to tell Bob’s boss. Complicit is not ‘somewhere in Tokyo a coach I haven’t identified hit an athlete I can’t identify, and 14 hours later I watched a tape-delayed competition including that athlete even though I wasn’t aware they were the one hit,’ and eventually my watching probably resulted in some few cents going to that athlete/coach program and the abusive coach got paid for a job well done.’

    1. Agree. This is in part how Chidi Anagonye ended up in The Bad Place: by inventing fictitious moral harms, and then paralyzing himself with worry about whether he was violating these imaginary norms.

      And it’s unnecessary to do so: there are lots of good tangible reasons to despise the IOC or to favor alternatives to the Olympics without inventing new imaginary ones like “I’m a bad person if I watch the Games on tee-vee.”

      1. **** Spoiler alert!! *** 🙂

        Another Good Place bit which bears on the topic is when they learn everyone goes to hell because people are being held responsible for literally every downstream effect of their action, no matter how incidental or unintended. This is kind of the same. Prof Mudd is arguing that it goes on my moral tally when my watching -> sports are valued -> winning and coaches are valued -> coach abusive behavior is ignored or cheating occurs. That’s pretty downstream and unintended. Arguably my watching intends the opposite: to the extent that I choose to watch sports which I don’t think are rigged, I am attempting to ‘reward’ not-cheating over cheating.

  8. “Here’s Belle, who was arrested six times but never spent a day in prison”.

    Wikipedia is sort of self-contradictory about this. While it says she was never incarcerated, it then goes on to say:

    “She was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe.[19] She was arrested again in June 1863, but was released after contracting typhoid fever.[20]”

    It would seem that she spent a month in some kind of prison in 1862, and when she was arrested in 1863, she would not have caught typhoid and have it diagnosed in less than a day after arrival, so I don’t know why Wikipeda would also claim that she was never incarcerated.

    Further evidence that she was incarcerated comes from the title of her (admittedly fictionalized) autobiography: “Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison”.

    So the Wikipedia account doesn’t make much sense.

    1. Indeed. The Battlefield Trust website says this about her:

      “Boyd was arrested six or seven times, but managed to avoid incarceration until July 29, 1862, when she was finally imprisoned in Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. She was released after a month as part of a prisoner exchange, but was arrested again in July 1863. Boyd was not a model inmate. She waved Confederate flags from her window, she sang Dixie, and devised a unique method of communicating with supporters outside. Her contact would shoot a rubber ball into her cell with a bow and arrow and Boyd would sew messages inside the ball. In December 1863 she was released and banished to the South. She sailed for England on May 8, 1864 and was arrested again as a Confederate courier. She finally escaped to Canada with the help of a Union naval officer, Lieutenant Sam Hardinge, and eventually made her way to England where she and Hardinge were married on August 25, 1864.”

  9. Now that there are still so many covid-deniers & especially so many anti-vaxxers, I’m beginning to reconsider one of my favorite Don Marquis poems–“The Lesson of the Moth.” Just how far are those people willing to go for their moronic beliefs?

  10. I think I understand why the car tried to pass. The driver didn’t realize that the trailer and the car/truck pulling it were connected. He/she thought they could just duck in between the two vehicles and then pass the pulling vehicle in a separate maneuver. Wrong!

  11. I love archy and mehitable. archy’s thoughts on the destructiveness of humans were ahead of their time. The final paragraph is particularly damning, but accurate!

    what the ants are saying

    no insect likes human beings
    and if you think you can see why
    the only reason i tolerate you is because
    you seem less human to me than most of them

    it wont be long now it wont be long
    man is making deserts of the earth
    it wont be long now
    before man will have used it up
    so that nothing but ants
    and centipedes and scorpions
    can find a living on it
    man has oppressed us for a million years
    but he goes on steadily
    cutting the ground from under
    his own feet making deserts deserts deserts

    what man calls civilization always results in deserts

    men talk of money and industry
    of hard times and recoveries
    of finance and economics
    but the ants wait and the scorpions wait
    for while men talk they are making deserts all the time getting the world ready for the conquering ant
    drought and erosion and desert
    because men cannot learn

    each generation wastes a little more
    of the future with greed and lust for riches

    it wont be long now It won’t be long
    till earth is barren as the moon
    and sapless as a mumbled bone

    dear boss i relay this information
    without any fear that humanity
    will take warning and reform

  12. My theory on the Biden infrastructure bill is that McConnell is giving him a little rope so as to make him believe it’s going to happen. Plenty of time and scope left for McConnell to scupper the deal. There will be a million reasons he can offer why the bill is a “bad deal for the country”, the result of “Democratic overreach”, or a “budget buster”. McConnell has already announced that his goal is to prevent the Biden administration from implementing its policies. He can’t allow Biden this win.

    1. Yes, and he’s done this kind of thing many times before. Voted for something at an earlier stage and then orchestrated its death at a later stage.

  13. Listening to the hwamei melody reminds me of French composer Olivier Messiaen’s famous statement, “It’s probable that in the artistic hierarchy birds are the greatest musicians existing on our planet.”

  14. Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where Charlie Christian was recorded in 1941 playing guitar in the video above, would, within a couple years, become the birthplace of bebop, with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other great players working out their chops there night after night.


  15. There’s got to be a better way to introduce young people to “higher” culture.

    You can lead a horticulture….

  16. 1. McCarthy is not a moron, he’s another two-syllable word. He held a press conference about “Country In Crisis” and his top three crises are 1) inflation, 2) crime, 3) immigrants with covid. Somehow he forgot to mention the tens of millions of antivax antimask Republicans.

    2. Squirrel got stung by a bee would be my guess.

  17. Minor correction. Jack Paar did not invent the nighttime talk show. Steve Allen did in 1954.

  18. I’ll have to remember “stupid as mud.” It’s up there with “dumber than a bag of hammers.”
    What are some other good metaphors for stupidity?

  19. That laughingthrush has an amazing song! However, for pure beauty I prefer the Veery (Chathartus rufescens) and its cousin Swainson’s Thrush (Cathartus ustulatus).

  20. Re: “Nobel Prize for British Wife”: on pg. A11 of the Thur 7/29/21 NY Times is the headline, “Texas Widow Endorsed by Trump Loses Runoff.”

    “Texas” is informative. Why “Widow”? Apparently it was because she was the widow of the man who held the elective office who died while in office. Were she the widow of a non-office holder, and she decided to run for office, would the Times have referred to her as a “widow”? Were the deceased officer holder a woman, and the spouse a man, would the Times have used “widower”? Would the Times have used “widow” had she been a Democrat or had Trump not been involved? To wear it out, what if the deceased office holder were a transman, survived by a transwoman (not to mention non-binary)?

    1. Yes in both cases an argument can be made that the paper is just trying (very pithily, so with no nuance), to tell the reader something their regular assumptions would miss. In the first case, without making some reference to the winner being a woman, a reader of the era would assume it was a man. Someone wins the Nobel every year; the eye-catcher of that time is the fact that it was a woman.
      And in the second case, unless you tell them this is the wife of the former office-holder, nobody’s going to know that. “Texas woman endorsed…” doesn’t tell you that.

      Still even assuming this reasonable intention, there are probably better ways to do it in the same character count. And in the first case, since the paper is publishing her picture next to the title, identifying the winner as a woman in the headline text might have been completely unnecessary.

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