Wednesday: Hili dialogue

December 8, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on a humpuuki päivä, as they say in Finland. It’s a cold hump day on Wednesday, December 8, 2021: National Brownie Day.

It’s also National Christmas Tree Day and National Lard Day (that’s right; we’re celebrating fat!):

News of the Day:

*Biden had a two hour Zoom call with Putin today, and it wa unenlightening. Biden said Russia will face economic consequences if it invades Ukraine, while Putin requires a “legally binding agreement” that Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe will not join NATO.  La-dee-da on the economic consequences, as I doubt Putin really cares. I’m worried about armed conflict. From the NYT:

 President Biden warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Tuesday that an invasion of Ukraine would result in heavy economic penalties for him and lead NATO to reposition its troops in Europe, measures that he said would go well beyond the West’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea seven years ago.

In a two-hour video conference that American and Russian officials both described as tense, but occasionally pierced by humor, Mr. Biden also said an invasion would end Russia’s hopes of completing the Nord Stream II gas pipeline to Europe, which would be a major source of energy revenue. Hours after the negotiation was over, a senior State Department official, Victoria Nuland, confirmed that in a Senate hearing, saying, “I think if President Putin moves on Ukraine, our expectation is that the pipeline will be suspended.”

*Speaking of Ukraine, our Sunday poll of whether readers think Russia will invade Ukraine gave the results below, with people evenly split.  I voted “yes”. (I do wish that more people would vote; what do you have to lose? And it makes me happy to see people participate.)

*The Washington Post reports that acquiring a spectator seat in the courtroom where Elizabeth Holmes is being tried for wire fraud “is the hottest ticket in Silicon Valley.”  People line up for eight hours or more in advance to get in, as the trial is being neither recorded nor livestreamed.

“It went from very interesting to extremely boring,” Marlie Spillane, a retired health-care worker, said of the first day she attended in the middle of the trial.

. . . That changed when Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, took the stand to defend herself on Nov. 19. In the four days of testimony since then, she has alternately cried, smiled and calmly defended herself. She admitted to adding the logos of pharmaceutical firms to the tops of reports Theranos sent to investors and told the prosecution last week that she was responsible for the company.

She also accused her former partner Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani of sexually assaulting and controlling her, down to her daily schedule, what she ate and how much she slept. Balwani, who was also an executive at Theranos, has denied the allegations.

Holmes’s testimony will likely finish this week, and the trial is expected to go to the jury by the end of next week.

My prognostication: guilty. The evidence against Holmes is overwhelming, and that for the “dominance-by-Balwani” defense unconvincing.

*The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian poem dating from 1800 BC is, as Wikipedia notes, “regarded as the earliest surviving notable literature and the second oldest religious text, after the Pyramid Texts.” It describes a great flood, supposedly the precursor of the Biblical Flood, a Garden-of-Eden-like scenario, and even more similarities to the Bible. This supports the idea that the Bible is fiction transformed from earlier fiction.. Now a fragment of the poem, looted from Iraq 30 years ago, has been returned to that country:

A small clay tablet dating back 3,500 years and bearing a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh that was looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago and recently recovered from the United States formally returned to Iraq on Tuesday.

The $1.7 million cuneiform tablet, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, is one of the world’s oldest surviving works of literature and one of the oldest religious texts. It was found in 1853 as part of a 12-tablet collection in the rubble of the library of Assyrian King Assur Banipal.

The tablet was looted from an Iraqi museum during the 1991 Gulf War. Officials believe it was illegally imported into the United States in 2003, then sold to Hobby Lobby and eventually put on display in its Museum of the Bible in Washington.

Federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations seized the tablet from the museum in September 2019. A federal judge in New York approved the forfeiture of the tablet in July this year.

Hobby Lobby! Here’s a photo of the clay tablet just returned:

AP photo by Khalid Mohammed.

*Reader Steve informs me, via the Guardian, that Orwell’s famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is being rewritten from the feminist viewpoint of Julia, Winston Smith’s secret companion.  Here’s a bit of the reportage:

In Julia by Sandra Newman, the incidents of Nineteen Eighty-Four are seen through the woman’s eyes. “It was the man from Records who began it, him all unknowing in his prim, grim way, his above-it-all oldthink way. He was the one Syme called ‘Old Misery’,” writes Newman. “Comrade Smith was his right name, though ‘Comrade’ never suited him somehow. Of course, if you felt foolish calling someone ‘Comrade’, far better not to speak to them at all.”

“Prim, grim way”? The writing seems clunky, but we’ll see what the reviews say.

*The AP gives a long list of 2021’s most mispronounced words, which include “omicron”. For your delectation, here’s how that one is pronounced:

Omicron (AH-muh-kraan / OH-mee-kraan): A new variant of COVID-19 first identified in November, named in keeping with the World Health Organization’s system of identifying variants with Greek letters. [Esteban]Touma notes it’s pronounced differently in the U.S. and the U.K.)

I favor the long “o” and the “mee” version. That’s how I learned it in Greece (I supposedly spoke fluent Greek as a young child in a suburb of Athens, or so my mother told me. I can still pick it up readily, though not fluently, when I go back to Greece.)

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 790,040, an increase of 1,292 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,289,855, an increase of about 8,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 8 includes:

  • 877 – Louis the Stammerer (son of Charles the Bald) is crowned king of the West Frankish Kingdom at Compiègne.
  • 1660 – A woman (either Margaret Hughes or Anne Marshall) appears on an English public stage for the first time, in the role of Desdemona in a production of Shakespeare’s play Othello.

Here’s a portrait of Margaret Hughes about 1670. I hope she didn’t appear this way in the play!

Here’s Francisco de Zurbarán’s “Immaculate Conception” from 1630, which I guess wasn’t yet dogma:

Remember two things: the Pope is inflammable (as Archie Bunker used to say), and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not mean that Mary conceived Baby Jesus when she was a virgin.

Here’s the speech given by Roosevelt that led to the declaration of war. Of course only Congress has the power to declare war, a stipulation that’s been ignored a lot lately. (Another good 6-minute video, with an analysis of Roosevelt’s speech, is here.)

Here’s a photo of John’s bloodied glasses, worn when he was shot; the photo was tweeted by Yoko Ono as a plea for gun control. Chapman is still incarcerated at the Attica Correction Facility in New York.

  • 1991 – The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine sign an agreement dissolving the Soviet Union and establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • 2010 – With the second launch of the Falcon 9 and the first launch of the DragonSpaceX becomes the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.

Here’s the launch on that day:

  • 2019 – First confirmed case of COVID-19 in China.


Notables born on this day include:

  • 1542 – Mary, Queen of Scots, daughter of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise, at Linlithgow Palace (d. 1587)
  • 1765 – Eli Whitney, American engineer, invented the cotton gin (d. 1825)

This is a device that separates seeds from cotton, which had a huge impact on making cotton a viable crop in the southern U.S., and you know what the result of that was. (Previously, seeds had to be separated by hand.) Here’s one of Whitney’s early gins, which could process 50 pounds a day.

  • 1865 – Jean Sibelius, Finnish violinist and composer (d. 1957)
  • 1886 – Diego Rivera, Mexican painter and educator (d. 1957)

Here’s a photo of part of a Rivera mural that I photographed in Mexico City in 2012:


  • 1922 – Lucian Freud, German-English painter and illustrator (d. 2011)

Lucian Freud’s portrait of David Hockney:

I should point out Sammy Davis Jr. is a fellow Jew. Here he proclaims “I gotta be me”:

  • 1939 – James Galway, Irish flute player
  • 1943 – Jim Morrison, American singer-songwriter and poet (d. 1971)

Morrison singing (live) one of my two favorite Doors songs (the other is “Riders on the Storm”) on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968

Morrison’s grave, well protected, photographed at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 2018. Can you translate the Greek? See here for the answer.

A great song by the Allman Brothers featuring Allman on lead vocal. It was written by Sonny Boy Williamson. Dickey Betts is great on guitar, as usual.

  • 1951 – Bill Bryson, American essayist, travel and science writer
  • 1966 – Sinéad O’Connor, Irish singer-songwriter

At the end of this bit on Saturday Night Live you can see the action that made Skinhead O’Connor (my nickname) infamous.

Those who crossed The Great Divide on December 8 include:

  • 1709 – Thomas Corneille, French playwright and philologist (b. 1625)
  • 1859 – Thomas De Quincey, English journalist and author (b. 1785)
  • 1958 – Tris Speaker, American baseball player and manager (b. 1888)

An all time great. Wikipedia gives his stats:

Considered one of the greatest offensive and defensive center fielders in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB), he compiled a career batting average of .345 (sixth all-time).  His 792 career doubles represent an MLB career record. His 3,514 hits are fifth in the all-time hits list. Defensively, Speaker holds career records for assists, double plays, and unassisted double plays by an outfielder. His fielding glove was known as the place “where triples go to die.”

Look at the greats in this picture from Wikipedia, captioned: “Lou Gehrig, Speaker, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth, 1928″. It was the last year Speaker played professional baseball.

  • 1978 – Golda Meir, Ukrainian-Israeli educator and politician, 4th Prime Minister of Israel (b. 1898)
  • 1980 – John Lennon, English singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1940)

You know this one, here performed live in 1975.

  • 1982 – Marty Robbins, American singer-songwriter and race car driver (b. 1925)
  • 1983 – Slim Pickens, American actor (b. 1919)
  • 2016 – John Glenn, American astronaut and senator, first American to go into orbit (b. 1921)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is on Andrez’s chair:

A: May I sit here?
Hili: If you have to.
In Polish:
Ja: Czy mogę się przysiąść?
Hili: Jeśli musisz.

Andrzej has a bonus picture of Kulka soozing on a pillow on Malgorzata’s chair in the dining room.

From Colin: How to leverage whatever Social Justice you want:

From Bruce, a groaner of a holiday pun:

Stalking cats from Nicole:

From Masih, reminding us that the country we’re having talks with is still oppressing its women (and gays and many other people), something that won’t be part of the talks:

From Simon, who says, “I used to drive past this regularly.” He also notes that there’s more information on this removal here.

From Barry. I’ve posted this wonderful video before, but the reason for this odd behavior isn’t only protection from predators as a group, but ensures that everyone goes to the bottom regularly, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to feed as well as to be in the most protected position—on the bottom of the fish ball.

Weird shoes sent in by Ginger K.:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is a doozy, but it’s explained in the tweet. Heartwarming!

This is about as aposematic (warningly colored) as you can get! But a correction on the taxonomy in the same thread: “Different family. These are leaf footed bugs (Coreidae).”

If I owned this cat I’d name it “Baguette”:

67 thoughts on “Wednesday: Hili dialogue

  1. It’s also…National Lard Day (that’s right; we’re celebrating fat!)

    Don’t knock it, we need it! Like other things in modern society, it’s the excess that is bad, not the presence.

    Relevant anecdote: “Alive” is a wilderness survival show where they drop a bunch of individuals in northern Canada or Alaska in August/September (separately; they do not work together) with some minimal tools, and see how long they last. Must can’t gather, hunt, or fish enough food and don’t make it a month before they have to tag out. In one of the recent seasons, one of the contestants bagged a moose. Hundreds of pounds of meat, enough to last the entire winter! But he didn’t keep the fat, and was eliminated within a week or two of getting the moose because without enough fat, his body couldn’t convert the digested meat into usable proteins. Like a situation out of a horror movie or greek Hadean torture, he’d keep eating more and more of it to stay strong, but he kept getting weaker and weaker and losing more weight.

    So appreciate your fat! And remind yourself that you NEED that bowl of ice cream for dessert so that your body can digest that boneless skinless chicken breast you choked down for dinner. 🙂

    1. Our favorite potato chips growing up, which we could only get when we’d visit family in PA, were fried in lard. Visiting the cousins in PA was always a great time. Aside from the water skiing, dirt bikes, dune buggies and snowmobiles, there was the food. Of which Good’s potato chips, fried in lard, figured prominently. Perfect for topping a sandwich of local ring bologna and extra sharp white cheddar (So sharp it made your mouth bleed).

  2. … and National Lard Day (that’s right; we’re celebrating fat!>

    Reminds me of the scene in My Cousin Vinny in which the short-order breakfast cook dumps a huge spoonful of lard on the griddle, and Joe Pesci asks him if the people down here have heard of about the ongoing cholesterol problem in the country:

    1. Pesci and Tomei. Both awesome. Haven’t seen Pesci in anything lately but Tomei is in the latest run of Spiderman movies.

    2. And knowing how long you must cook grits allows for a key point of vinny’s defense cross examination later in the movie. I had enjoyed this diner scene many times but had not noticed the connection until seeing the video snippet this morning. Thanks ken.

      1. … knowing how long you must cook grits allows for a key point of vinny’s defense cross examination later in the movie.

        Plainly, an instantiation of the dramatic principle Chekov’s grits. 🙂

        1. Yes, just like Vinnie’s rear wheel spinning in the Alabama mud. At first we think it’s just to underline for us how low the fortunes of our heroes have, er, sunk. But then, Posi-Trac and independent rear suspension! Thank you Marisa Tomei.

          As a doc, I like the illustration of Bayes’s Theorem in the cross-exam of the automotive expert on the matching of the tires of the boys’ car with the rubber left by the getaway car. My little statistical heart went pitter-pat as certainty of guilt deflated to a nothingburger.

  3. “while Putin requires a “legally binding agreement” that Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe will not join NATO.”

    Easy promise to make. So why not do so?

    1. Because it’s not our promise to make. We don’t speak for NATO, and we don’t speak for the countries that may want to join it.

      I also personally think it’s somewhat unethical and hypocritical to trade away Ukrainian (and Estonian, etc.) self-determination for our own personal benefit. How can the US say we are dedicated to the causes of freedom and democracy, if we make pacts like that? We would be tacitly agreeing to letting a dictator maintain geopolitical power over a free nation. I’m not arguing for military intervention here, but I do think we should do the “at least” option of opposing Putin’s efforts rather than legitimizing them through treaty.

      1. I like that answer. As good as any I’ve heard. i would be one that thinks Russia will not invade but just a guess. Invading and then holding on to other countries is very costly. Dictators like to threaten. Just look at Trump. Also notice how quickly we got a run down on the communication with Puttin. Never would have happened with Trump. The first we always heard about any thing with Russia was from Russia. He was Puttin’s little slave.

        1. Sure seems like he wants at least a bigger piece of the country. I’m sure if he can get it through some means other than a hot war he will (in Crimea he used the “protecting people of Russian heritage” line. Look to see it used again.)

          I’m not a political scientist but what always leaves be scratching my head is why he’s going after Ukraine instead of Kazakstan. They’ve got the Russian’s space launch facility and far more 1990s nuclear infrastructure. I guess he just doesn’t feel any ‘threat of independence’ from that side, whereas with Ukraine he’s afraid they’ll join the EU, NATO, and trade west instead of east?

      2. “How can the US say we are dedicated to the causes of freedom and democracy, … ?”

        Nobody outside the US believes this. The US are dedicated to their own economic interests, which is understandable.

        1. Could say I worked for NATO one time long ago. Kind of a distant member, in the Air Force and stationed in Europe at the time. I don’t think I knew all the members but went to several countries that were members like, Italy, Denmark, Spain and Turkey. From a base in England it was considered committments to other NATO countries. Many of these countries believe we are committed – why else would we be there?

        2. Interesting. You imply that caring about freedom and democracy is incompatible with dedication to one’s economic interests. I care about both, as I expect most Americans do.

          1. Yet half of America is willing to elect an autocrat as President. I’m not sure “most” Americans care about freedom and democracy. After Trump, someone like Putin likely sees America as extremely weak nowadays. We’ve had two failed wars that lasted over 20 years and has left the public tired of overseas conflict, we have red states willing to subvert democracy to elect the people (mostly autocrats) they want, and we have a country so polarized, that it is hard to see that any POTUS will have the full support of its people if the US decides on war…hell, as a country we can’t even come together and agree that Covid is a deadly pandemic.

            Either way, I’m still encouraged that Biden is POTUS and not Trump or another Putin-ally. As Leslie said below, I think messing with the pipeline is a sound strategy. Putin is not popular right now, their economy (like most) is stagnant and fossil fuels are the only viable economic option Russia has (or seems to be interested in).

            1. Sure, that other half of America believes the lies of Trump and his GOP slaves. Still, most of those people still believe in freedom and democracy but falsely think that Trump will give it to them. Most of us on the Left see Trump as installing a government somewhat like Putin’s but his followers don’t realize it. They look to Trump to punish the Left but fail to see that they’ll be punished too if he gets his way.

      3. The satellite countries can’t just join. NATO has to let them in.
        On the hypothetical, there could be a mutual “legally binding” pact where NATO agrees the satellite countries can’t join, and Russia agrees they won’t invade.
        But that does read like a prelude to a world war, doesn’t it?

        1. It was not that long ago that Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, under the Soviets. Today they are a member of NATO and we have troops and exercises in Poland. If Russia tried something in Poland, would we go to war? You can bet we would.

        2. On the contrary, speculation that Ukraine might join NATO would lead to war, at least in Ukraine. Remember Georgia and the rumours of Georgia joining NATO before the war in Abchazia?

          “Biden also said an invasion would end Russia’s hopes of completing the Nord Stream II gas pipeline to Europe” It is to be hoped that Biden conferred with the European countries involved. This sounds like treating Europe as a vassal.

          My prediction would be that nothing much will happen. A bit of threatening Ukraine diverts attention from Belarus, and Ukraine might a bit more careful about its army advisors. For instance, Israeli advisors rather thanNATO.

          1. That goes from talking about something without knowing the whole story. Biden spent time on conference call with Europe partners before talking to Putin and then got back with them after the call. This is not Trump.

    2. Even if the West was willing (foolishly) to tie its hands forever on Ukraine and NATO, there is no “legally binding” way to make a commitment between two sovereign nations because there is no competent court that has supranational-sovereign authority to make binding, enforceable judgements in the resulting disputes. The closest things are treaties and U.N. Conventions which become part of the national law of the signatories once ratified. But even they in the end are just pieces of paper if a signatory sees a chance for advantage if it abrogates and does not fear the consequences. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact comes to mind.

      I think messing with the Nordstream pipeline is your pressure point with Russia. This will discomfit the Germans but it is good that they receive an object lesson in the folly of having allowed a single-interest pressure group to dictate their energy policy. And what has Germany done for the United States in the 40-odd years since the USSR evaporated?

  4. The evidence against Holmes is overwhelming, and that for the “dominance-by-Balwani” defense unconvincing.

    The closest “dominance-by-Balwani” comes to being an actual legal defense is what’s known as “duress, coercion, or compulsion.” This is the federal jury instruction on that defense applicable in the federal district court in which Holmes is being tried. It is a so-called “affirmative defense” that the defense bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence. One of the elements of this defense that the defendant must establish is that he or she “had no reasonable opportunity to escape the threatened harm.”

    Seems an awfully tough nut for Holmes to crack.

  5. Visited Morrison’s grave in the 80’s. Very small and crowded. On the path out we came across a large grave with a full body of the deceased cast in bronze on top. All the bronze had a dark color except for his crotch with was bright and shiny from much passer by rubbing. Seems he was known as quite the dandy and people hoped to acquire some of his powers.

  6. A history question since this is the day war was declared on Japan and we entered the ongoing struggle against evil. Who was the architect of our strategy for WWII? It was not some general or group of military staff. It certainly was not Churchill, much as he might like it to be. It was Roosevelt who did the overall plan thoughout. I would go so far as to say, without FDR it is doubtful we would have done it. If you think otherwise read some of the more current history on the issue. I would recommend one of Nigel Hamilton’s books, Commander In Chief.

    1. I was in college when John Lennon was murdered. That was longer ago now (41 years) than the “Day of Infamy” speech was then (39 years). Damn, I’m old.

      1. I failed my driving test in Kent on the day that John Lennon died – the examiner found the only street with a patch of snow still left for my emergency stop. It was also my mum’s birthday (still with us and 86 today). The next day my sister saw Queen playing live in London – the bass drum head had been replaced with a portrait of John although as I wasn’t there I don’t recall which Beatles song the band covered in the encore.

          1. Thanks Paul, missed your comment as I was writing mine below. If I recall correctly, the tickets cost £6 which was considered to be extortionate at the time…!

  7. In other news, a Federal court issued nationwide injunction against the vaccine mandate for Federal contractors.

    While the Procurement Act explicitly and unquestionably bestows some authority upon the President, the Court is unconvinced, at this stage of the litigation, that it authorized him to direct the type of actions by agencies that are contained in EO 14042. Pursuant to clear United States Supreme Court precedent, Congress is expected to “speak clearly” when authorizing the exercise of powers of “vast economic and political significance.”

    1. And so, why does the congress not do that? Are they too busy? No, it would never make it thru the Senate and the cult party of death. You know, the ones who are all preserving life as long as you are not yet born.

      1. And 6 of the current (and self-described non-partisan) Supremes would seemingly apply precedent rather selectively.

  8. Grits, I like to make with vegetables and sausage for breakfast. Tomato, eggplant and celery pair some hot peppers go nicely with cocktail smoked sausages, as one example.

    But as far as the predecessor, hominy goes, the canned stuff that’s packed in a watery solution is rubbish. What you want is genuine Manning’s Hominy! Tightly packed, you have to dig it out of the can. Put that in the frying pan with your eggs & bacon. Fine eating!! (But warning: keep a cover over it while frying – at high enough temps some kernels will explode. The only places I’ve ever seen it on store shelves is in Maryland or maybe shore areas in VA. I need remember to order a case of the herring roe the outfit sells, too, when they’re back in season.

    1. I’ll have you know that my wife is an amateur artist and the first thing that she and I both noticed was the rendering of the folds and draping in her clothing. That’s my story and I‘m sticking to it.

  9. “ I should point out Sammy Davis Jr. is a fellow Jew.”

    Davis himself once quipped that he is not only Jewish but also Black and Puerto Rican, so when he moves in, the neighborhood is GONE.

    His guest appearance on All in the Family is a classic.

    Almost 40 years ago now, here he is on a German television variety show (after his first song, before the second) where the host (Dr. Alfred Biolek, a lawyer who used to work for the television network as a lawyer but then became a television personality himself, one of the most famous in his day) is overwhelmed by his compliments:

    1. A lovely clip, thanks! Nice to see Sammy Davis Jr being so genuinely moved – and playing the drums as the credits roll.

      1. What is it about German lawyers that enabled them to become popular TV hosts? Friedrich Karl Kaul was an East German lawyer who uniquely, if I recall correctly, was also eligible to practise in West Berlin. He was a rare case of an East German owning luxury sports cars as a consequence and also became a celebrated TV host for his “Call Kaul” show. (Earlier, Kaul had planned to represent East German Jews at the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in an attempt to embarrass the West German government by emphasising the continuing links to its Nazi past, but was thwarted from doing so.)

  10. As the Wikipedia entry notes, the song “One Way Out” was first recorded by Elmore James. Sonny Boy Williams II worked in Elmore’s band, The Broom Dusters. It is not clear who stole the song from whom.

  11. I’m no entomologist but, based on Google images, it looks like the species correction needs correcting. The bug in question looks more like the images returned for “mesquite bug” than “leaf footed bugs (Coreidae)”. What made me suspicious was that I didn’t see how the pictured legs and feet could be considered “leaf-footed”.

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