Sunday: Hili dialogue

November 7, 2021 • 6:30 am

Today is the Sabbath that is made for man (and woman and all genders): Sunday, November 7, 2021: National Chocolate Almonds Day. Meh.

If you didn’t set your clocks back an hour last night, do so NOW.

It’s also Zero Tasking Day, International Inuit Day, and Hug a Bear Day. Here I am hugging my faithful bear Toasty, who’s exactly as old as I am. I suppose he’s eligible for Medibear.

News of the Day:

*This doesn’t often happen in the U.S., though it does in Mecca. A crowd of 50,000 attending the musical Astroworld Festival in Houston suddenly surged forward during a performance by rapper Travis Scott. 8 people died, 11 had cardiac arrests (we don’t know how many of the former had the latter), and many were injured. This Associated Press article explains how crowd surges kill people. Often it’s simply asphyxiation.

And here’s a list of mortality records during crowd surges (religious festivals and soccer games are the main venues). The all-time record seems to be from 2015, when at least 2,411 Muslim pilgrims died in a crush during annual pilgrimage (the hajj).

*Given the number of federal appeals courts, this was bound to happen: one of them, in New Orleans, temporarily blocked Biden’s mandate for all workers in companies or establishments with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly (and wear a mask at work if they’re tested):

A three-judge panel on the New Orleans-based Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay prohibiting enforcement of the rules for now, saying they raise “grave statutory and constitutional issues.”

The Fifth Circuit said it would quickly consider whether to issue an injunction against the vaccine and testing requirements, ordering the Biden administration to file initial legal papers by late Monday afternoon.

If the court upholds the stay, this one’s quickly headed to the Supreme Court. I’m curious what the Big Court would do.

*Another federal appeals court, this one in Ohio, reversed a lower court by upholding a state law prohibiting a doctor from performing an abortion on a women if she says she is getting the abortion because she fears the fetus has Down Syndrome. The vote was heavily split, 9-7. This would seem to be an unconstitutional decision given that if the abortion is sufficiently early, prohibiting it (whatever the woman’s reasons) violates Roe v. Wade. But the judge said “nope”:

In the opinion, Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder, a George H.W. Bush appointee, wrote that Ohio had legitimate reasons for enacting the law that outweighed the “minor burdens” on a woman’s protected right to an abortion.

She wrote that Ohio had an interest in both protecting the Down syndrome community from the stigma associated with Down-syndrome-selective abortions and “protecting pregnant women and their families from coercion by doctors who advocate abortion of Down-syndrome-afflicted fetuses.”

This too appears headed for the Supremes.

*The NYT’s Maureen Dowd gets into the post election finger-pointing, but it’s too late: she’s not saying anything new, but just saying it with her patented snark. In fact, it sounds as if she phoned in her piece. Click on the screenshot to read.

She doesn’t seem to be a deep thinker, nor are her witticisms amusing:

We’ll see. So far, tiptoeing around Jabba the Trump has had limited utility. Despite everything, he still has great sway in the Republican Party.

And if the Supreme Court were to outlaw abortion and approve open carry on guns, that could scramble the equation all over again, sending moderate suburbanites back into the arms of Democrats.

*Over at the Observer, Kenan Malik discussed renamings of “impure” people, using as a prime example Imperial College’s recommendation to rename the Huxley building, originally honoring famed biology (and, for his era) progressive Thomas Henry Huxley:

It is difficult to know what the renaming of Huxley Hall would add to our understanding of the man, of his age or of racism. It is equally difficult to know how it would take away anything of the actual racism that black people face today. What we end up with is a Zuckerberg version of history in which symbolic gestures come to replace material change and in which rebranding becomes an all-purpose tool to avoid serious discussion.

History is akin to a continuous conversation with the past, a conversation that inevitably changes over time as values and beliefs change, and that inevitably reflects contemporary preoccupations, but cannot simply reflect contemporary preoccupations. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in rebranding, not in enriching our understanding of the past or in helping ameliorate the present.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 753,885, an increase of 1,215 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,062,229, an increase of about 6,000 over yesterday’s total.

Lots of stuff happened on November 7 including:

Here’s the last voyage, which left Columbus and his men stranded on Jamaica for a year. They curried favor with the locals and got supplies by accurately predicting a lunar eclipse using astronomical charts.

  • 1775 – John Murray, the Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia, starts the first mass emancipation of slaves in North America by issuing Lord Dunmore’s Offer of Emancipation, which offers freedom to slaves who abandoned their colonial masters to fight with Murray and the British.
  • 1786 – The oldest musical organization in the United States is founded as the Stoughton Musical Society.

You can see a socially-distanced 2020 Christmas concert by the Society here.

Here’s the Nast cartoon (note the NY Times, depicted as a unicorn, running from the elephant):

Here’s Sir Donald Smith driving the last spike, ending the time in that fair land when the railroad didn’t run.

  • 1907 – Jesús García saves the entire town of Nacozari de García by driving a burning train full of dynamite six kilometres (3.7 miles) away before it can explode.

Garcia was killed but he saved many lives. Here’s the account from Wikipedia:

Jesús García was the railroad brakeman for the train that covered the line between Nacozari, Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona. On 7 November 1907 the train was stopped in the town and, as he was resting, he saw that some hay on the roof of a car containing dynamite had caught fire. The cause of the fire was that the locomotive’s smokebox was failing and sparks were going out from the smokestack. The wind blew them and got into the dynamite cars. García drove the train in reverse downhill at full-steam six kilometers out of the town before the dynamite exploded, killing him and sparing the population of the mining town.

Praise Jesús!

Here is Jesús riding a horse, supposedly a few days before he died:

  • 1916 – Jeannette Rankin is the first woman elected to the United States Congress.

Rankin (photo below), a suffragist, served two widely-spaced terms in the House: 1917-1919 and 1941-1943. Since then no woman has been elected to congress from Montana.  Her political career was effectively over when she became the only member of the House or Senate to vote against war on Japan on December 8, 1941, and abstained later from voting on going to war against Germany.


  • 1917 – The Gregorian calendar date of the October Revolution, which gets its name from the Julian calendar date of 25 October. On this date in 1917, the Bolsheviks storm the Winter Palace.
  • 1929 – In New York City, the Museum of Modern Art opens to the public.
  • 1940 – In Tacoma, Washington, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapses in a windstorm, a mere four months after the bridge’s completion.

Here’s newsreel footage of the bridge’s collapse; it was called “Galloping Gertie”:

  • 1967 – Carl B. Stokes is elected as Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, becoming the first African American mayor of a major American city.
  • 1972 – United States presidential election: U.S. President Richard Nixon is re-elected in the largest landslide victory at the time.
  • 1989 – Douglas Wilder wins the governor’s seat in Virginia, becoming the first elected African American governor in the United States.

Here’s Wilder, who served four years but couldn’t run for reelection immediately as multiple terms are permitted only if they’re not consecutive.

  • 1989 – David Dinkins becomes the first African American to be elected Mayor of New York City.
  • 2000 – Controversial US presidential election that is later resolved in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court Case, electing George W. Bush the 43rd President of the United States.

A history of that debacle from CNN:

Notables born on this day include:

He’s another of my favorite painters. Here’s his St. Francis (1640-1645):

Cornell was founded as a purely secular university, and White, an anti-theist, wrote this book, one of the ones I read before writing Faith Versus Fact.  It’s been heavily criticized by believers and accommodationists, but it’s not at all worthless: the critics just don’t like the idea that science could conflict with religion. They’re wrong.

Curie was Polish, born in Warsaw with the name Maria Salomea Skłodowska.  Here’s her official Nobel Prize photo; she was just 27:

  • 1878 – Lise Meitner, Austrian-Swedish physicist and academic (d. 1968)

Meitner was snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee even though she made a huge contribution to a prize-worthy discovery: nuclear fission. Her collaborator Otto Hahn got it by himself. The photo below shows both of them:


Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein to a Jewish family in a small Ukrainian village. Despite his contributions to the Revolution, he was never rehabilitated by the Soviets (Stalin had him assassinated in Mexico).  I visited his house in Mexico City in 2012 and took many photos. As you can see, his house was a compound surrounded by high walls and a guard tower. He knew that Stalin was coming for him:

  • 1913 – Albert Camus, French novelist, philosopher, and journalist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1960)
  • 1918 – Billy Graham, American minister and author (d. 2018)
  • 1943 – Joni Mitchell, Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist

Here’s Joni in 1998, petting Bill Clinton’s dog Budy in the Oval Office:

Those whose pull date was November 7 include:

  • 1627 – Jahangir, Mughal emperor (b. 1569)
  • 1907 – Jesús García, Mexican railroad brakeman (b. 1881) [see above]
  • 1913 – Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh-English biologist and geographer (b. 1823)

It’s a good thing you can’t be canceled for spiritualism, which Wallace embraced in his later years. I’m sure they’ll find some reason that he was ideologically flawed, though, as he was a Victorian. Here he is in Singapore in 1862:

  • 1962 – Eleanor Roosevelt, American humanitarian and politician, 39th First Lady of the United States (b. 1884)
  • 1964 – Hans von Euler-Chelpin, German-Swedish biochemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1863)
  • 1980 – Steve McQueen, American actor and producer (b. 1930)
  • 1990 – Lawrence Durrell, British novelist, poet, dramatist, (b. 1912)

It’s been years since I read his most well known book The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960), which I read in junior high school. I liked it then but have no idea whether I’d like it now. A first edition with slipcovers, and boxed, will run you only $350:

  • 1990 – Tom Clancy, Irish singer and actor, (b. 1924)
  • 2011 – Joe Frazier, American boxer (b. 1944)
  • 2016 – Leonard Cohen, Canadian singer-songwriter and poet (b. 1934)

Here’s the memorial in front of Cohen’s Montreal home five days after his death:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili pricks up her ears.

A: What are you doing?
Hili: I’m changing my mind.
In Polish:
Ja: Co robisz?
Hili: Zmieniam zdanie.

From Facebook, a picture of what is said to be not a polar bear, but an albino brown bear. I think it’s for real.

From Diana MacPherson:

From Bruce: This year’s winning Halloween costume, and it’s a doozy!

A tweet from her Wokeness, Titania McGrath:

This question from Richard Dawkins is a good one (I think I discuss it in Faith Versus Fact, too).  Any world that wasn’t “governed by mathematics” would be chaotic, and in fact evolution, much less humans, would not be possible. Nor, perhaps, would matter itself. There must be regularities, and thus there must be mathematically described regularities.

Barry is disappointed that this parrot can’t sing the correct tune.

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a Frenchman who lived about a month after arrival:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a real rarity: a working cat!

Three-dimensional projections in Tokyo. I’ve shown the kitty before, but not the spacecraft:

Clearly Matthew was into cats yesterday as he traveled back from Spain:

Well, these are frog mating postures:

37 thoughts on “Sunday: Hili dialogue

      1. Sorry! If it’s any consolation, I’m stuck with that parrot’s off-key rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.

    1. When I was in Moscow I asked our guide if there was any recognition of Trotsky, as we saw all kinds of monuments, graves, plaques, etc. of other notable revolutionaries. Apparently, I hit a nerve as he mumbled about Trotsky was mentioned in history books and the conversation ended.

  1. The all-time record [for crowd-surge deaths] seems to be from 2015, when at least 2,411 Muslim pilgrims died in a crush during annual pilgrimage (the hajj).

    William Langewiesche wrote an excellent piece about this disaster (including an explanation of crowd-surge mechanics) for Vanity Fair, “Stampede.”

  2. It will be interesting to see how the vaccine mandate fares at the Supreme Court. People pointed out when Biden made the announcement that OSHA emergency rules have, in general, not been successful in the courts.

    1. We would not want to remove people’s right to get sick and die, however, I will be vaccinated so they don’t infect me. And I’ll bet you will to, eh?

  3. … one of them [federal appeals courts], in New Orleans, temporarily blocked Biden’s mandate for all workers in companies or establishments with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly (and wear a mask at work if they’re tested) …

    The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles appeals arising from federal district courts in Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana, is widely considered to be the most reactionary federal court in the country.

    1. I read “reactionary” as a court taken over by religious zealots, and, of course it serves the Southern states, thus trying to bring down the rest of the states to their benighted level.

      1. The first Black person elected mayor of Atlanta took place in 1974, and since then all of Atlanta’s mayors, men and women, have been Black. I thought that fact belonged here.

  4. 2011 – Joe Frazier, American boxer (b. 1944)

    Smokin’ Joe and Muhammad Ali fought a total of 41 rounds against each other, over the course of three fights, and split them pretty much evenly. The second fight — a non-title 12-round bout in Madison Square Garden in January 1974 — was a rather boring affair with Ali, who did a lot of clinching, winning a close and controversial decision. But the first and third bouts — respectively, the so-called “Fight of the Century” between undefeated champs in 1971, won by Frazier, and the “Thrilla in Manilla” in 1975, won by Ali — were two of the greatest fights in heavyweight history.

    Only the last fight failed to go the distance, when Frazier’s corner man, Eddie Futch, threw in the towel after the 14th round, for fear that his fighter, who had one eye swollen shut in the sweltering daytime Manilla heat, wouldn’t live through the final round.

    1. Have you checked out Burn’s recent documentary: Muhammad Ali? His coverage of the “Thrilla in Manilla” was especially fascinating. I also thought the fight was a good ending for Michael Mann’s Ali.

      1. Yeah, I’ve watched the KB doc.

        You ever read the piece HST wrote about the aftermath of the first Leon Spinks fight, “The Last Tango in Vegas”? (I believe it’s included in The Great Shark Hunt, too.) It’s one of the best, and funniest, things ever written about Ali.

        Hunter did a follow up about the rematch (in which Ali whupped Spinks and won the heavyweight title for the third time), “The Battle of New Orleans.”

        Hunter was also in Zaïre to cover the “Rumble in the Jungle,” in which Ali reclaimed his title in 1974 from George Foreman — along with George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, and a host of other big-name writers — but never wrote about it (and apparently didn’t even go to the fight, instead spending the night in the hotel pool, floating on a bale of marijuana. Go figure.) Plimpton and Mailer both wrote about the fight, and about Hunter in Zaïre, in their respective books, Shadow Box and The Fight.

        1. Yes, I have read HST’s “The Last Tango in Vegas” and agree with your assessment. Thanks for the link though, I’ll have another go as it’s been a number of years. I remember his failure to cover the 1974 Foreman fight…I thought he had a legitimate reason, but I forget…maybe he was just too high.

  5. “This question from Richard Dawkins is a good one (I think I discuss it in Faith Versus Fact, too).” – yes, in Chapter 4, pp. 158-166 (in my paperback edition).

  6. Thank you for honouring The Last Spike. Because the Wikipedia page does not name them, two characters of general interest in the photo::
    The portly man with the dark whiskers to Sir Donald’s right is the American force of nature, Cornelius Van Horne, General Manager of the CPR. Looking almost Edwardian (although Victoria is still on the throne) with his dark whiskers and Regent hat, he is keeping a close eye on Sir Donald attempting to drive the spike because, darn it, he (Van Horne) is paying for those spikes and Sir Donald is just a money guy, not even Van Horne’s boss.

    The large man looking at the camera, with white whiskers and top hat, is Sir Sanford Fleming, chief engineer (as in P. Eng., not as in engine-driver) and inventor of standard time, essential for railway safety. Daylight saving time was not his idea. But the very idea of the Pacific Railway was his.

    So far as I know, no one has dug up anything on them that calls for them to be cancelled. But of course the whole railway was a project of colonialism, which the Prime Minister at the time has been assigned all the blame for of late.

    Several other subjects have recorded names and later did great things elsewhere in the world but most are the humble navvies and coolies who happened to be toiling at the ends-of-track toward the meeting point, high in Monashee Pass. At Van Horne’s insistence, those at the ceremony were going to be just those who had worked on building it, or had paid full fare to get there. All he had to say was, “All I have to say is the work was well done in every way.” I suppose they all wanted to get in out of the November rain.

  7. Hoo-boy, Tish Harrison Warren’s new Faith ‘n Science column at the NYT is guaranteed to set Jerrys’ teeth grinding to dust. It did that for me.

    I wish they allowed commentary on her columns at the NYT website. Interesting that they don’t allow it.

    And I also wonder who exactly are they trying to court with her stuff. Are they trying to throw a rope towards the Christians to say “Hey, look, even though we are a lefty newspaper we’ve got some religious stuff to interest you?”

  8. I want to push back on Dawkins here. Mathematics is invented by people. The fact that mathematics is extremely useful at predicting physical phenomenon is extraordinary.

    While it is not probable, or maybe even possible that you could have something like the human species in a non-orderly, rational universe, It is entirely possible that you could have an orderly, rational universe that was not comprehensible to human beings. After all, our universe is orderly and rational, and many animals lack any comprehension of it. It is in fact extraordinary that humans made up a tool that reveals the secrets of the material universe. Further, it strikes me that there could be principles of order exhibited in the universe which are beyond human conception (but could be revealed to extraterrestrials, if such beings exist, for example). Certainly, as it was, there were principles of order that were hidden to humans due to limited computation power.

    1. Eugene Wigner delivered a lecture sixty years ago titled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” in which he explored this theme. It’s well worth reading, and the text of the lecture is available online.

    2. I’m not sure, but it sounds as if you are making a different point than Dawkins. Your point is that humans’ cognitive abilities are extraordinary, that evolution has endowed humans with the ‘brain power’ to model our reality to a much higher degree than any other animals is an amazing thing.

      Meanwhile, Dawkins point is about the nature of reality. Pretty simply, if there were no discernable patterns in nature then our reality would be nothing like the one we actually inhabit. No regularity of patterns would mean no matter, no EM, no strong or weak forces, etc., and certainly no living things. Certainly not anything like we know, and arguably impossible, period. All these things, even the most basic information, means patterns. Stuff is patterns. No patterns, no stuff.

      Mathematics is a tool for describing and working with patterns. Dawkins point is that given mathematics it’s not surprising that it can model our reality because if there weren’t patterns in our reality nothing we are familiar with would exist, and given that we do exist then of course there are patterns. You are saying, hold on, mathematics is not just a given, that humans can make and use such a tool is the thing that is extraordinary.

      I think both points are valid, but they are about different aspects of the same thing. But I do think that Dawkins point is more on target regarding the question of “why mathematics is so well suited to explaining the universe & natural world.”

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