Friday: Hili dialogue

August 20, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Friday, August 20, 2021: National “Bacon Lover’s” Day. There are issues with that name. First the scare quotes around “Bacon Lover’s”? Are these people who only pretend to love bacon? And is there only one bacon lover being celebrated? It should be either “Bacon Lovers'” or “Bacon Lovers”.  It’s also National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day (you don’t need the chocolate), National Lemonade Day, National Radio Day, National Men’s Grooming Day, and World Mosquito Day.

News of the Day:

The big news is Afghanistan, of course, and a lot is going on there. First, the Afghans will not go gentle into Islamist oppression. The people, used to more peace and a lot more freedom, have begun protesting against the Taliban, and it’s a miracle that only a handful of protestors have been killed. It may be that the Taliban have bitten off more than they can chew, and if they want to govern Afghans used to freedom, they’ll have to learn to allow them more freedom. While I’m hoping mightily that they do, I don’t believe the Taliban are willing to relax their religious strictures. Whether burqas are required, and women can go to school—these things will tell the tale.

In the meantime, behaving as I expected they would, the Taliban are looking for collaborators, conducting what the BBC describes as a “door-to-door manhunt” for those who collaborated with American forces and NATO. That doesn’t bode well for what will happen. In the meantime, Afghans are fighting their way to Kabul airport, desperately hoping to get out. If the Taliban let everyone leave who wanted to, they would have no country to govern.  It is chaos, it is heartbreaking, and I doubt Biden’s claim that this kind of chaos was simply unavoidable. But perhaps it was given the inhuman speed at which the Islamofascists took over the country.

I am pinning my hopes on this: that the countries of the world will financially squeeze the Taliban into granting freedom. This squeeze has already begun:

As they struggle with the immediate crisis, the Taliban is facing threats to the long-term stability of the state. The new regime is finding itself frozen out financially.

The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves, a decision that followed pressure from the Biden administration. An agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt.

This is a double-edged sword, of course, because it also hurts the Afghan people. But what recourse do we have? If we do nothing, a gazillion people, who simply want to live their lives, are turned into slaves to medieval theocracy.

Although Americans are in favor of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new YouGov/Economist poll also shows they don’t like the way Biden did it. In April,  of Biden’s handling of this crisis was 41%, with 35% disapproval. Now the figures are reversed: 32% approval, 42% disapproval. Well, that too shall pass, but Biden’s total job approval rating has fallen to 44%, the same figure as his disapproval rating. Here’s the graph since he took office (h/t: Enrico).

Will the lines cross? Do I look like a pundit? Approval could go down as the immigration crisis deepens, or go up if the infrastructure and budget bills pass. But one thing’s for sure: he’s still a damn sight better than Trump.

The other big topic is covid, with hospitalizations rising nearly everywhere. Those of us who have been “fully” vaccinated are now told by the administration that we’ll need a booster shot—ideally eight months after the second jab. But now there’s pushback—from the WHO, for one thing, and it’s not just a matter of priorities in allocating the vials. The data on the efficacy of boosters in preventing hospitalizations isn’t crystal clear, for one thing. Further, as WHO has emphasized, every booster an American gets is one less vaccination for someone who hasn’t been vaccinated, and that means in countries with low amounts of vaccine. On television they analogized getting a booster shot to giving a lifejacket to someone who already has one, while ignoring someone who’s drowning. There’s a point to that, but the White House says we don’t have to make that choice—we can do both. Can we, though?

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 626,099, an increase of 911 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,418,199, an increase of about 11,000 over yesterday’s total.

Here’s the new surge in U.S. cases from the first link in the preceding paragraph:

Stuff that happened on August 20 includes:

Here’s the joint paper; note that it was communicated by Lyell and Hooker, two of Darwin’s colleagues and friends.

  • 1866 – President Andrew Johnson formally declares the American Civil War over.
  • 1882 – Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuts in Moscow, Russia.
  • 1920 – The first commercial radio station, 8MK (now WWJ), begins operations in Detroit.
  • 1938 – Lou Gehrig hits his 23rd career grand slam, a record that stood for 75 years until it was broken by Alex Rodriguez.

It was in that season that Gehrig first started developing the symptoms of ALS that killed him 3 years later.  Here’s a video about that (By the way, Rodriguez, who was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, wound up with 25 grand slams (a home run with the bases loaded).

  • 1940 – In Mexico City, exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe by Ramón Mercader. He dies the next day.

In 2012 I visited Trotsky’s house in Mexico City (it’s just two blocks from Frida Kahlo’s house), and took a self-tour (it was empty). It’s just as he left it, and here’s the desk at which Trotsky was sitting when he was bludgeoned with the axe. I was told that it’s just as it was when he was attacked.

Her is a recording of that speech, with the immortal words coming at 3:04.   Do you know the other three speeches and their famous lines?

This is the attack that gave rise to the phrase “going postal”.  And here’s Sherrill:

  • 1991 – Dissolution of the Soviet Union, August Coup: More than 100,000 people rally outside the Soviet Union’s parliament building protesting the coup aiming to depose President Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • 1993 – After rounds of secret negotiations in Norway, the Oslo Accords are signed, followed by a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. the following month.
  • 1998 – The Supreme Court of Canada rules that Quebec cannot legally secede from Canada without the federal government’s approval.

I guess this means that if one day Quebec votes for independence, the federal government has to say it’s okay before there’s a new country.

  • 2020 – Joe Biden gives his acceptance speech virtually for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. 

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1833 – Benjamin Harrison, American general, lawyer, and politician, 23rd President of the United States (d. 1901)
  • 1881 – Edgar Guest, English-American poet and author (d. 1959)
  • 1886 – Paul Tillich, German-American philosopher and theologian (d. 1965)
  • 1890 – H. P. Lovecraft, American short story writer, editor, novelist (d. 1937)

Doesn’t he look like the guy who wrote that stuff?

  • 1905 – Jack Teagarden, American singer-songwriter and trombonist (d. 1964)

Here’s a pair of pals—Teagarden on the trombone and Louis Armstrong on trumpet—playing “Jeepers Creepers”. Armstrong’s humor and clownish behavior later in life distracted from the fact, which you can discern in his playing here, that he, like Teagarden, was a fantastic musician.

  • 1941 – Slobodan Milošević, Serbian lawyer and politician, 1st President of Serbia (d. 2006)
  • 1948 – Robert Plant, English singer-songwriter

From Wikipedia. And this is NOT EVEN WRONG!

A powerful and wide vocal range (particularly evident in his high-registered vocals) has given Plant a successful singing career spanning more than 50 years. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 15 on their list of the 100 best singers of all time. In 2011, Rolling Stone readers ranked Plant the greatest of all lead singers. In 2006, Hit Parader magazine named Plant the “Greatest Metal Vocalist of All Time”. In 2009, Plant was voted “the greatest voice in rock” in a poll conducted by Planet Rock.

A very good singer but “the greatest voice in rock”. I don’t think so. . . .

Those who kicked the bucket on August 20 include:

Two great scientists become friends; this is a lovely story in Wikipedia:

On 24 March 1882, Ehrlich was present when Robert Koch, working since 1880 at the Imperial Public Health Office (Kaiserliches Gesundheitsamt) in Berlin, presented the lecture in which he reported how he was able to identify the tuberculosis pathogen. Ehrlich later described this lecture as his “greatest experience in science.” The day after Koch’s lecture, Ehrlich had already made an improvement to Koch’s staining method, which Koch unreservedly welcomed. From this date on, the two men were bound in friendship.

Here’s Ehrlich in his office in Frankfurt, ca. 1900. What a mess!

  • 1917 – Adolf von Baeyer, German chemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1835)
  • 2001 – Fred Hoyle, English astronomer and author (b. 1915)
  • 2012 – Phyllis Diller, American actress and comedian (b. 1917)
  • 2017 – Jerry Lewis, American actor and comedian (b. 1926)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili is not at all pleased (Kulka, in Paulina’s arms, looks on):

Paulina: Do you see Szaron?
Hili: I do, he is lying on my blanket.
In Polish:
Paulina: Widzisz Szarona?
Hili: Widzę, leży na moim kocu.

From the NY Daily News Facebook page:

From Susan:

From Jesus of the Day:

Masih has an op-ed in the Washington Post about the Taliban’s pledge to “respect women’s rights”. You can imagine what she says about that.

A quote or two:

Women understand Islamist groups better than most because they suffer the harshest consequences. The Islamist war is first and foremost directed against women. Mujahid’s statements bear an eerie resemblance to the assurances given by Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, to the Western press before he came to power in Iran.

On Wednesday, one of the most popular Afghan pop singers, Aryana Sayeed, was seen crammed into a military airplane leaving Kabul. She has divided her time in recent years between Kabul and Istanbul — but now she fears that she will never able to return to her true home in the Afghan capital. She told me she was devastated about by the uncertainty of her future. She incarnated the hopes of many Afghans. She broke so many taboos: perhaps most famously in September 2015, when she sang in a stadium in Kabul filled with men. Back when the Taliban was in power, it banned women from even entering stadiums — much less singing in them, proudly unveiled.

And so here’s that:

A tweet from Barry, who asks, “How is this even a real bird”?, for he’s amazed by the colors. But yes, it’s a real bird (Andigena laminirostris), and if you look at photos, the colors below don’t appear to have been manipulated. It lives in Ecuador and Colombia, so perhaps reader Lou Jost has seen one.

Tweets from Matthew. Well, maybe bats babble, but I can’t hear it at the link in the tweet. I hear nothing!

Speaking of bats, here’s Richard Dawkins doing so. And yes, Carnivora and Chiroptera (bats) are both orders of mammals. But I don’t think the diversity of lifestyle and morphology among bats is as profound as that among carnivores.

This question will show how risk averse you are. The expectation under the coin flip is $50,000—five times the guaranteed sum. But perhaps you need the dosh and don’t want to risk losing.

Cryptic pipefish:

A bittersweet story of a ceiling cat, but with a happy ending:

40 thoughts on “Friday: Hili dialogue

  1. I think Plant is a fantastic singer, but since taste is a matter of subjectivity, there’s no way to measure who is the greatest rock vocalist of all time. It’s not like there are stats that can be compared as in baseball. He’s got great range, and his solo work has shown that he can perform in many genres (did you hear his album with Alison Krauss?) But, subjectivity. That’s why I hated shows like American Idol, or others in which they rank people for their talent. Music isn’t a competitition. People with shitty, or questionable voices, can make great music. John Prine did not have a great vocie, but people love his music. Doc Neeson is another whose voice was unique, but not “greatest of all time,” and yet the Angels were revered in Australia. Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, we could go on.

    I’m not a fan of ranking music as you may have guessed.

    1. I tend to agree. Even aside from the subjectivity issue it depends on what one means by “best singer.” Does this mean best in a technical vocal skill sense? Best in an entertainment sense?

      I’ve always really liked LZ and they are still a favorite. I do think Plant is one of the best singer / frontman in heavy metal history. But I’ve never considered him to be one of the greatest vocalists in rock. He’s good, but he is not at the level of vocalists like Freddie Mercury, Prince, Steve Perry, Eddie Vedder and many more.

      One metric that carries a lot of weight for me is how a singer sounds live. I saw Page & Plant live in 1995(?) and of course I’ve heard lots of live recordings, and IMO Plant does not sound good live, generally speaking. Let me also throw Mick Jagger under the bus, possibly the worst live vocal performance (early 80s) I’ve ever experienced.

      The best vocals I’ve personally experienced live in concert, in no particular order, were BB King, Steve Perry (Journey), Steven Tyler (I guess they just happened to be sober that night and they were on, I was really surprised), Ann Wilson and, a real surprise to me here though it probably shouldn’t have been, Mike Reno of Loverboy. My wife and I saw them in a very small venue in the early to mid 90s and they were great. One of the best live rock performances I’ve ever seen. The vocals were amazing and the instruments were too. They sounded better than on their albums. And I say this as a person that is not a huge Loverboy fan (though I do like them).

      1. The venue and the sound equipment are going to make a difference in live performances as well. Stadiums are mostly terrible, and generally the smaller the space with the least amplification the best.
        Even trying to compare studio tracks is unequal, it will depend also on the equipment and the skill of the sound engineer.
        All of this to agree with the original point, there is no point in ranking singers.

        1. Definitely, venue and equipment can make a significant difference, but it’s still usually possible to distinguish a poor vocal performance from a good one much of the time, or to at least realize that you can’t tell whether it’s a good performance or not because of a poor recording or sound equipment setup. Particularly with multiple data points. At least 2 of the best sounding rock vocal performances I’ve personally heard were in stadiums with crowds of 80,000 plus.

  2. If Robert Plant isn’t the greatest voice in rock…..then who? FWIW, I don’t disagree with you. I tend to think Paul Rogers for male voice, and Freddie Mercury for overall voice + stage presence = frontman. I imagine who you might argue is “The Greatest” is influenced by your birthday. Chris Cornell had an amazing voice, but his band isn’t my era, and he simply isn’t singing to me. He’s not a rock singer, but Donnie Osmond has a singing voice as good as any.

    I think it was Steve Martin that said arguing about music is like dancing about architecture.

    1. It is, of course, a matter of taste.

      In my book, Ian Anderson from the early 1970s up until the late 1970s or early 1980s: not just very good, but unique. He is also one of the most interesting acoustic-guitar players, and the ONLY strong frontman in rock with a flute. And he wrote essentially all of the music and lyrics.

      Other great singers: Lou Graham (probably Ian Anderson’s favourite singer), Klaus Meine (who, amazingly, sounds as good today as he did 50 years ago), Steve Perry, Floor Jansen.

      Of course, it might be hard to appreciate a voice if you don’t like the music, but if you are talking technical quality and aesthetic aspects, then it should be possible (even though you might prefer other music with a worse singer, e.g. Dylan).

  3. I am pinning my hopes on this: that the countries of the world will financially squeeze the Taliban into granting freedom.

    Has this tactic ever worked? E.g. Cuba?

  4. The bat squeaking is very high pitched and it’s possible you can no longer hear in that frequency. I vaguely remember reading that one apparently loses the ability to hear high-pitched sounds as one gets older. 🙁

  5. Armstrong’s humor and clownish behavior later in life distracted from the fact, which you can discern in his playing here, that he, like Teagarden, was a fantastic musician.

    I think “clownish” is a bit harsh. There was an embarrassing touch of minstrelsy in Pops late in his career, around the time of “Hello Dolly” (and even “What a Wonderful World,” which is a gorgeous tune, but sure as hell ain’t jazz), what with all the smiling and and the bulging eyes and the hanky. But his influence on jazz instrumentalists is almost incalculable. And his influence on vocalists, both jazz and popular, is vastly undervalued.

    1. I’m baffled. He was certainly “clownish”, rolling his eyes and doing funny stuff. I’ve always emphasized his importance in the history of jazz, but “minstrelsy” is certainly far more pejorative than “clownish”. And yes, he was clownish.

      1. I qualified my statement both by referring to your characterization as a “bit” harsh and by referring to Louie’s behavior as having an embarrassing “touch” of minstrelsy — by which I meant simply that it consisted of a black man of a certain age and background playing into the stereotype of the jovial, non-threatening negro.

        I confident that we’re both reacting to the same behavior (and share a similar high regard for Louis Armstrong the a musician); we’ve just given the behavior in question a slightly different interpretation.

  6. The Taliban is not “covering up” pictures of women, they are not even just defacing them. It would be faster and easier to rip the posters down, and move on, these are very deliberate destructions.

    The Taliban wants you to see woman as monsters. These are the faces from literally dozens of horror movies, where the evil, vindictive woman-thing must be destroyed.

  7. Regarding the “Bacon Lover’s” Day…maybe there really is only one person in the world who merely pretends to love bacon, but actually does not, and this is that person’s birthday? Whoever it is, funds should definitely be raised to look for a cure…

    (Wait, that was a literal “no pun intended” moment, but now that it’s there, I want to pretend I did it on purpose).

  8. 1941 – Slobodan Milošević, Serbian lawyer and politician, 1st President of Serbia (d. 2006)

    Also: war criminal.

    1. I was able to visit his war crimes tribunal in The Hague while I was there on a Model United Nations trip. It was educational.

  9. @J. Coyne: Speaking of evolution through natural selection, I have a question regarding what is said below about the evolution of archaea. Is it now an established fact in biology that archaea evolved from bacteria, such that bacteria are the first and oldest post-LUCA organisms?

    “Life as we know it began roughly 3.8 billion years ago and depended on the cell known as LUCA surviving long enough to replicate. By 3.5 billion years ago, LUCA’s descendants had diverged to form what we now know as the kingdom occupied by Bacteria. Archaea then soon branched off to form a second kingdom.”

    (LeDoux, Joseph. The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains. New York: Viking, 2019. p. 63)

    1. It seems likely that eukaryotes are more closely related to present Archaea than to the prokaryotes, as we share several unique features with Archaea that are unlikely to have evolved independently. We don’t know what the LUCA was, but whatever it was, it branched into “true” bacteria, as well as a lineage of simple organisms that branched later, one of those lineages becoming modern Archaea and the other eukaryotes, ancient and modern.

  10. While I’m hoping mightily that they do, I don’t believe the Taliban are willing to relax their religious strictures.

    Me neither. They seem to be ‘Iran with more willingness to pull the trigger.’ So I would frankly expect them to be more oppressive than the Iranian regime, not less.

    I am pinning my hopes on this: that the countries of the world will financially squeeze the Taliban into granting freedom.

    I think we have to step very softly here and be willing to give concessions (i.e. release western money) for even relatively minor or baby steps. That’s going to anger a lot of liberals. Why I think that: because if we play hardball on women’s rights or other social freedoms, they’ll just go to China, Russia, and Iran for the money, and the strings attached to that will be completely opposite our interests and have zero human rights value. China in particular would likely be more than happy to put another south Asian country in their financial debt to help counterbalance India and foment opposition to the US. So I see the financial situation quite pessimistically as ‘get a little bit of what we want, or get nothing and allow China to expand their economic empire’.

    1. As Max Blancke points out, it may well be the case that the Taliban leadership really does want to go lighter but that they have weak control over their fighters on the street. Of course, that doesn’t mean things will improve. It was reported that they beat a boy for wearing shorts.

  11. Would you rather have $10,000 guaranteed or a coin flip chance of $100,000?

    A no-brainer: go for the price. Any time you can get 10 to 1 on a 2 to 1 proposition, take it.

    1. It depends on how much the $10,000 means to you.

      Suppose you owe the mafia $10,000 (which you don’t have), and it’s been made clear to you that patience has run out, and that they’ll shoot you dead tomorrow if you don’t give them the $10,000. Better to take the $10,000 and continue living than take the 50:50 risk surely?

      1. Easy fix: I’d contact the mob boss and offer to cut him in for half the winnings — $50k — if I won the coin toss in exchange for forgiveness of the debt if I lost. Wiseguys can calculate odds better than most.

        Only thing could keep me from taking that bet is something along the lines of needing $10,000 for life-saving medical treatment for a child.

    2. If you received this type of offer regularly, then certainly the coin toss is better, as you’ll do better in the long run. But, surprising though it may seem, I don’t regularly get offers for a free $10k. I mean sure, $100k would be a lot nicer, but it’s still 50% odds of nothing vs. 100% odds of $10k.

      That said, it’s right at the border of what I’d take as an acceptable knockdown for the sure thing. I’d also shift my thinking if it was $100 vs. $10, since that is getting into sums where losing out on $10 isn’t a big deal.

  12. Let us list all the wars and major conflicts of the past where the loser pulled out, withdrew and left in a nice orderly fashion and no chaos.

      1. Civil War? Southern armies did go home but,100 years of KKK , Jim Crow, Lynchings
        I think some black Americans might disagree.

  13. Military resistance to the Taliban regime is already forming in the Panjshir valley. The valley has successfully resisted both the Soviet occupation and the first dictatorship of the Taliban from 1996 – 2001.

    “The son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the main leaders of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, has pledged to hold out against the Taliban from his stronghold in the Panjshir valley.

  14. At least in English you say “bats”, using a plural. In French you very often read or hear the use of the singular referred to groups of many, even thousands, of species. Like “la chauve-souris” (the bat), “la fourmi” (the ant), “le papillon” (the butterfly). I mean they use the singular when talking about the whole order or family; on TV, radio, newspapers. One gets the impression that the Fables of La Fontaine might be their main source of knowledge about nature.

  15. The Taliban does not have a very strict command and control structure. Even if the leadership were serious about even slight reforms, the troops themselves are still basing their actions on their version of Islamic law. And it is a version tending towards the harsher side of strict.
    Beyond that, this new version of the Taliban leadership includes Al-Qaeda alumni.

    This will be a disaster. Many Afghans face unimaginable horrors in the near future. I am also confident that this will cause lots of problems for the west over the next few decades.

    Looking at how this was done from a military perspective, every aspect of the pullout was based on negligently bad decisions. You always evacuate the non combatants before drawing down the military. That is such a basic and obvious rule. You coordinate your actions with the allied forces you share bases with.
    If you have to fall back to a single defensive position, you fall back to a place that can be readily defended and supplied. Like Baghram AFB. Beyond being a better defensive position, it has vast amounts of fuel storage. An airlift from Baghram would not need to purchase fuel from the Taliban.
    And such an airlift, conducted while the country was still under stable military control, would allow evacuation of non-combatants from all over the country. It would be somewhat controlled, and followed by a strategic drawdown of military forces, which would include removal or destruction of military assets and classified materials. We did not need to arm the Taliban and supply them with high end nightvision gear, a network of well fortified bases, and an air force.

  16. Pecan Pie: (you don’t need the chocolate)

    Fully agree. Similarly, a green salad has no need for raspberries.

    However, in re. lemonade, strongly encourage addition of a few branches of rosemary to the simple syrup. Both astonishing and amazing!

  17. “It lives in Ecuador and Colombia, so perhaps reader Lou Jost has seen one.”

    Yes, it is a common bird on the west slope of the northern Andes. Those are its real colors! We have it in two of our ecological reserves, including the reserve that protects Atelopus coynei. It is one of my favorite birds, and I have painted it and photographed it.

    There are three other members of this genus (Andigena), all gorgeous.

  18. I’m so against the booster which seems like it will make only a marginal difference and (whatever the W.H. says) HAS to be at the expense of poorer countries. Even if we can avoid the morality of that …. while COVID burns through the 3rd world the chances of a REALLY nasty variant developing there grow, a variant which will come and bite us in the ass down the line.
    Getting ALL of humanity at least minimally vaxed must come ahead of “2nd lifejackets” for the rich.

    Maybe we should deport the anti-vaxers to a place where science isn’t taken very seriously: Kabul?

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