Tuesday: Hili dialogue

December 14, 2021 • 7:30 am

Welcome to the cruelest day: Tuesday, December 14, 2021. It’s National Bouillabaisse Day, a blatant cultural appropriation if ever there was one.

I’m late today because I was feeding ducks; it’s extraordinarily warm and six ducks (three pair) were in the pond. I decided to give them an early breakfast as they tend to leave later. Thanks to those of you writing to inquire whether I was okay. I’m fine, thanks!

It’s also Roast Chestnuts Day, Free Shipping Day (don’t count on it), Alabama Day, celebrating Alabama’s admission as the 22nd state on December 14, 1819, Forty-seven Ronin Remembrance Day in Japan, and Monkey Day, celebrating “all things simian”.

Here is a print of the 47 Ronin (samurai) avenging their master. They all committed seppuku after killing the man whose actions led to their own master’s death. This is a true story.

Here’s a modern re-creation of a samurai ready for battle:

There are only 11 shopping days left until the beginning of Coynezaa.

Wine of the Day:  I was going to have a Rhone wine with my T-bone steak the other night, but I hadn’t put that bottle vertically for a few days to let the sediment settle before decanting. I thus had to make do with a gutsy Beaujolais from the Morgon cru: my favorite of the 11 crus in that region. Good Morgons improve with time and have a lot of stuffing, but retain the fresh berry flavors of the gamay grape. This bottle was $23 when I bought it (recommended by my wine store), and that wasn’t long ago (it’s a 2020):

It was an excellent bottle, with the glass deep purple and exuding that familiar odor of cherries that’s unique to Beaujolais. The wine went down like silk. (The Côte du Py is the best region for strong, ageworthy Morgons). It was a wee bit tannic but had enough stuffing to stand up to a steak (also biscuits and green beans). My one regret is that this wine will certainly be even better in 5-10 years, but I had only one bottle. Infanticide!  Remember, if you want a good Beaujolais, look for a Morgon, and the name Georges Duboeuf is always reliable.

News of the Day:

*THIS JUST IN: The NBC News reported last night that the U.S. has now passed 800,000 deaths from Covid 19. Do I hear a million? My data below don’t reflect that because I think the NYT uses time-averaged daily values taken over a week. Also, 1 out of every 100 older Americans (65+) has died from the disease, making up 3/4 of the total victims.

AND good news: the new Pfizer pill intended to be given to people in the first three days of Covid-19 symptom onset has proved to be remarkably effective. As the NYT reports:

A highly anticipated study of Pfizer’s Covid pill confirmed that it helps stave off severe disease, the company announced on Tuesday.

Pfizer also said its antiviral pill worked in laboratory studies against the Omicron variant, which is surging in South Africa and Europe and is expected to dominate U.S. cases in the weeks ahead.

“We are confident that, if authorized or approved, this potential treatment could be a critical tool to help quell the pandemic,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Last month, Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the pill, known as Paxlovid, based on a preliminary batch of data. The new results will undoubtedly strengthen the company’s application, which could mean that Americans infected with the virus may have access to the pill within weeks.

In Tuesday’s announcement, Pfizer said that if given within three days of the onset of symptoms, Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent. If given within five days, the risk was reduced almost as much, to 88 percent.

*Reader Randy called my attention to a disturbing article in the Washington Post about Senator Joe Manchin, perennial spoiler of Democratic initiatives. It turns out that Joe’s family business involves selling waste coal to power plants, plants which are notorious polluters. Because much of Manhin’s assets are in a blind trust, he says he knows nothing about what he’s holding, supposedly excusing him from conflicts of interest. But it ain’t so!:

When pressed about whether he has a conflict of interest, Manchin bristles. “I have been in a blind trust for 20 years. I have no idea what they’re doing,” the senator told reporters in September, referring to his family’s coal firm. “You got a problem?

But contrary to his public statements, documents filed by the senator show the blind trust is much too small to account for all his reported earnings from the coal company, as of his latest financial disclosure report, which covers 2020 and was filed in May.

Manchin’s latest financial disclosure report says that the West Virginiafamily coal business that he helped found and run, Enersystems, paid him $492,000 in interest, dividends and other incomein 2020, and that his share of the firm is worth between $1 million and $5 million. He signed a sworn statement saying he is aware of these earnings, underscoring that he is not blind to them.

. . . If Manchin’s coal interests are not in a blind trust, ethics experts said, it calls into question the impartiality of a senator who in October forced Biden to drop the plan in his Build Back Better bill to phase out the same kinds of coal plants that are key to his family company’s profitability.

This is what they call “bad optics.”

*Also, Manchin and Biden were scheduled to talk yesterday about the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, which Manchin hasn’t yet agreed to endorse. Without his vote, the measure won’t pass the Senate, and leader Chuck Schumer wants that bill passed by Christmas. Manchin says he can’t render a verdict until he sees the final version of the bill, which sounds fair enough, but he may be dissimulating.

*Now this is a surprise to me. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that New York State’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, which allows exemptions for medical but not for religious reasons, will stand. (Doctors and nurses had challenged the case in court.) It’s a good ruling, and I’m pleased that the religious majority didn’t overturn the mandate because it didn’t allow religious exemptions. The “emergency” decision didn’t give reasons, but two dissenting Justices did:

As is often the court’s practice in rulings on emergency applications, its unsigned order included no reasoning. But Justice Neil M. Gorsuch filed a 14-page dissent saying that the majority had betrayed the court’s commitment to religious liberty.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Justice Gorsuch’s dissent. Justice Clarence Thomas also said he would have blocked the vaccine requirement, but he gave no reasons.

*After taking the stand on her behalf for 25 hours in her Theranos trial for wire fraud, Elizabeth Holmes’s defense have rested their case. She faces 20 years in jail for each count, but don’t bet on her seeing more than a few years of jail time. (And yes, I do think she’ll spend some time in stir.) The Financial Times summarizes all the things the jury has to consider, which comprise 900 pieces of evidence. The FT zeroes in on what it consider the most significant evidence, including weak (in my view) evidence that she was actually being manipulated by her business and romantic partner, Sunny Balwani (this after she touted herself as a strong and independent woman). She also admitted falsely manipulating documents to show nonexistent endorsements by companies like Pfizer, like this one:

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 797,208, an increase of 1,276 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,331,366, an increase of about 7,000 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 13 includes:

  • 1287 – St. Lucia’s flood: The Zuiderzee sea wall in the Netherlands collapses, killing over 50,000 people.
  • 1542 – Princess Mary Stuart becomes Queen of Scots at the age of one week on the death of her father, James V of Scotland.

While Mary grew up, Scotland was ruled by regents while the Queen moved to France. She returned to reign at age 18 after her husband of two years had died. She reigned until 1567 and was beheaded 20 years later. Here’s what she looked like in her late teens:

François Clouet – Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87)
  • 1780 – Founding Father Alexander Hamilton marries Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York.
  • 1782 – The Montgolfier brothers first test fly an unmanned hot air balloon in France; it floats nearly 2 km (1.2 mi).
  • 1812 – The French invasion of Russia comes to an end as the remnants of the Grande Armée are expelled from Russia.

The same thing happened after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union; the Germans got within sight of the Kremlin but were driven back, with many of them dying of the cold.

Planck published his paper shortly thereafter and thus was Born (pun intended) quantum mechanics. Here’s Planck’s paper theorizing that electromagnetic radiation could be emitted only in discontinuous quanta. His photo is below:


The first real flight was three days later, on December 17, 1903—and it was photographed!  Caption from Wikipedia:

The first powered, controlled, sustained airplane flight in history. Orville Wright, age 32, is at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. His brother, Wilbur Wright, age 36, ran alongside to help balance the machine, having just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. (Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.) This image was restored by User:Wright Stuf in November, 2018 using GIMP.

Here are the successful Norwegian’s. Scott’s team was a month late, reaching the Pole on January 17 of 1912, and all his men died on the journey back. Join me in the Antarctic as I talk about this in March:

  • 1918 – The 1918 United Kingdom general election occurs, the first where women were permitted to vote.
  • 1940 – Plutonium (specifically Pu-238) is first isolated at Berkeley, California.

Here’s some plutonium; caption from Wikipedia:

A ring of weapons-grade 99.96% pure electrorefined plutonium, enough for one bomb core. The ring weighs 5.3 kg, is ca. 11 cm in diameter and its shape helps with criticality safety.

The southern pole of inaccessibility is the point on the Antarctic continent most distant from the Southern Ocean. A variety of coordinate locations have been given for this pole. The discrepancies are due to the question of whether the “coast” is measured to the grounding line or to the edges of ice shelves, the difficulty of determining the location of the “solid” coastline, the movement of ice sheets and improvements in the accuracy of survey data over the years, as well as possible topographical errors.

The pole of inaccessibility commonly refers to the site of the Soviet Union research station mentioned below, which was constructed at 82°06′S 54°58′E (though some sources give 83°06′S 54°58′E). This lies 878 km (546 mi) from the South Pole, at an elevation of 3,718 m (12,198 ft). Using different criteria, the Scott Polar Research Institute locates this pole at 85°50′S 65°47′E.

  • 1964 – American Civil Rights Movement: Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States: The Supreme Court of the United States rules that Congress can use the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to fight discrimination.
  • 1972 – Apollo program: Eugene Cernan is the last person to walk on the moon, after he and Harrison Schmitt complete the third and final extravehicular activity (EVA) of the Apollo 17 mission.
  • 2004 – The Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world, is formally inaugurated near Millau, France.

Here’s that tall bridge, which at its highest is 336.4 meters (1,104 feet). I’d be scared driving over it!

  • 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: Twenty-eight people, including the gunman, are killed in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
  • 2017 – The Walt Disney Company announces that it would acquire 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio, for $52.4 billion.

Note: that’s $52.4 BILLION!

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1546 – Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer and chemist (d. 1601)

Here’s a contemporary portrait of Brahe, surrounded by the shields of his ancestors. He had a formidable ‘stache!  A note from Wikipedia:

As an astronomer, Tycho worked to combine what he saw as the geometrical benefits of Copernican heliocentrism with the philosophical benefits of the Ptolemaic system into his own model of the universe, the Tychonic system. His system correctly saw the Moon as orbiting Earth, and the planets as orbiting the Sun, but erroneously considered the Sun to be orbiting the Earth. Furthermore, he was the last of the major astronomers to work without the aid of telescopes for his observations.

  • 1896 – Jimmy Doolittle, American general and pilot, Medal of Honor recipient (d. 1993)
  • 1911 – Spike Jones, American singer and bandleader (d. 1965)

Jones was a great arranger, and one video is below. He smoked 4-5 packs of cigarettes a day, though, and eventually developed the emphysema that killed him at 55. Near the end he performed onstage with an oxygen bottle. Here’s his funny arrangement of “Cocktails for two”:

  • 1922 – Don Hewitt, American journalist and producer, created 60 Minutes (d. 2009)
  • 1924 – Raj Kapoor, Indian actor, director, and producer (d. 1988)
  • 1935 – Lee Remick, American actress (d. 1991)
  • 1946 – Jane Birkin, English-French actress and singer.

Jane et Serge:

English actress Jane Birkin and French musician Serge Gainsbourg at home in Paris. (Photo by Reg Lancaster/Getty Images)

Those who went to their Forever Home on December 13 include:

  • 1799 – George Washington, American general and politician, 1st President of the United States (b. 1732)
  • 1861 – Albert, Prince Consort of the United Kingdom (b. 1819)

Albert died of a stomach ailment at only 42, leaving Victoria disconsolate, but not before they produced nine children!

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and their nine children, 1857. Left to right: Alice, Arthur, Albert (Prince Consort), Albert Edward (Prince of Wales), Leopold, Louise, Queen Victoria with Beatrice, Alfred, Victoria and Helena[84]
  • 1873 – Louis Agassiz, Swiss-American zoologist and geologist (b. 1807)
  • 1943 – John Harvey Kellogg, American physician and businessman, co-invented corn flakes (b. 1852)

An early for cornflakes:

Her book The Yearling, which one the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a classic, well worth reading. I see Wikipedia classifies it as an early form of “Young Adult Fiction,” but it really isn’t. Highly recommended. Here she is:

  • 1974 – Walter Lippmann, American journalist and author (b. 1889)
  • 1985 – Roger Maris, American baseball player and coach (b. 1934)
  • 1993 – Myrna Loy, American actress (b. 1905)
  • 1994 – Orval Faubus, American soldier and politician, 36th Governor of Arkansas (b. 1910)
  • 2001 – W. G. Sebald, German novelist, essayist, and poet (b. 1944)
  • 2013 – Peter O’Toole, British-Irish actor (b. 1932)
  • 2014 – Bess Myerson, American model, activist, game show panelist and television personality; Miss America 1945 (b. 1924)

And how can I leave out Bess, the first Jewish Miss America?

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Andrzej is upset with the world’s insanity:

A: Absurdity is chasing absurdity.
Hili: So you see, we cats are rational, we either chase mice or we sleep.
In Polish:
Ja: Absurd goni absurd.
Hili: No widzisz, my, koty, jesteśmy racjonalne, albo gonimy myszy, albo śpimy.

Andrzej’s photo of little Kulka in the snow:

A groaner from reader Bruce:

From Nicole:

Revenge! From Only Duck Memes:

Titiania has a new article in which she argues from the premise that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a self help book.

A tweet from Simon. I’ve put this up before, but hey, it’s the Christmas season! Note that this wears out the plant, though (see the comments after the tweet).


From Barry. Whoever thought this is entertaining is pathetic. Imagine making teachers grovel for dollars to fund their classrooms! And yes, this really happened.

Tweets from Matthew. I have no idea what this one is about, or even if that armored cat is in the real painting. (Note: this tweet has disappeared; I’ll try to find a replacement.)

This is the Alex Honnold of cats.

These are seeds dropping from a tree! Google translation: “In commemoration of the publication of “Mysterious Tree Fruit Book”, I will upload this video. The state of fruit drop of Shorea siamensis of the family Dipterocarpaceae shown on p70 of the illustrated book.”

Natural selection accomplished this clever way to disperse seeds.

The second tweet is the one at issue:


28 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. I agree on Morgon and on Georges DuBoeuf. I’ve had better Beaujolais (than DuBoeuf) from small makers (mostly via Kermit Lynch); but DuBoeuf is widely available (USA) and consistently good.

  2. The story of the 47 Ronin is very popular in Japan and there are several movies on it. The shrine of the 47 Ronin is located near the spot where it all happened in Tokyo. It does not get a lot of tourists, but I found it an excellent memorial. It has an excellent small museum that has the receipt the Ronin gave to the wife of the man they beheaded. When the Shogun sentenced the Ronin to commit seppuku as their punishment, the Ronin exclaimed “No! This is our reward!”

    I highly recommend visiting if you are ever in Tokyo.

  3. I saw that dash for cash business in South Dakota on a couple of different news programs yesterday. South Dakota should be shamed for such a pathetic thing. Yes folks, in South Dakota where teachers pay ranks 50th, this is what they do to get money for school supplies.

    I would like NBC news to stop referring to the Jan. 6 insurrection as a riot. I hope some got to watch on CNN last evening when the House Committee voted on the contempt of congress and heard the reading of some of the emails and messages. Call it a coup, a revolt an uprising but not a riot.

      1. I have not seen the actual power point itself but have seen several stories on it in the news, Washington Post and others. Apparently it is very strange.

    1. I hope some got to watch on CNN last evening when the House Committee voted on the contempt of congress and heard the reading of some of the emails and messages.

      Mark Meadows’s assertion of blanket executive-privilege as to testimony before the Jan. 6th committee after he has turned over hundreds of damning text messages, emails, and other documents — and after he has published a book about his time as Trump’s chief-of-staff — does not a coherent legal strategy bespeak.

      He’s calculated he’d rather face incarceration for contempt than the wrath of The Cult.

  4. After taking the stand on her behalf for 25 hours in her Theranos trial for wire fraud, Elizabeth Holmes’s defense have rested their case. She faces 20 years in jail for each count, but don’t bet on her seeing more than a few years of jail time.

    If convicted, Holmes may have bought herself some extra time in stir with that 25-hours’ testimony. Section 3C1.1 of the US Sentencing Guidelines authorizes a federal district court to enhance a defendant’s sentence by two levels where the judge finds that the defendant engaged in an effort to obstruct justice, including by giving materially false testimony at trial. Depending upon where Holmes otherwise winds up on the guidelines’ sentencing grid in the event of her conviction, that could mean another year or two imprisonment. (It’s also possible that, if her trial testimony was egregiously false, she could be separately prosecuted for perjury by the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, although such post-trial prosecutions are relatively rare.)

  5. We (I) need some guidance on shipping wine to a certain Chicago resident – there are lots of internet wine sources – any preferred ones?

    How about sending wine by USPS – just wrap it up good, or what?


  6. It seems to me to solve the problem of Manchin’s conflict of interest, you can imagine the federal government or some proxy buying his business for, say, twice it’s market value. Manchin’s happy – Biden’s happy – the world buys the chance to slow the melting of the planet.

  7. The Millau Viaduct is impressive. I’m always delighted when the Tour de France runs under it. I believe that has happened quite a few times but I don’t remember them ever going over it. Googling it, I discovered that cyclists aren’t allowed on it but I’m sure they are talking about times other than during Le Tour. I believe it carries a major highway so they may not want to close it for a bike race.

  8. Whoever thought this is entertaining is pathetic. Imagine making teachers grovel for dollars to fund their classrooms!

    Lemme know when the Pentagon starts funding defense contractors through the same method. I’d go down to the hockey rink to cheer that.

  9. I drove over the Millau Viaduct when I was in France in 2018. It’s rather unremarkable when you’re driving on it. You could be on any long bridge, really, as you’re going too fast and too far from the edge to see just how high you are. A bit of a let down!

  10. SARS-CoV-2 is extraordinarily unlikely to be able to mutate itself around Paxlovid, too. It inhibits the protease that cleaves the pre-protein that the viral RNA encodes, cleaving at eleven sites where the sequence runs Glutamine-Glycine (aka Gln-Gly, aka QG), to liberate the dozen mature proteins needed to form new virions.

    The active site of the targeted protease is particularly specific for binding a Gln residue. For the virus to mutate itself around that, it would have to simultaneously change all 11 of those sites plus the binding specificity of the protease to fit those changes. Added bonus: we have no endogenous protease specific for cleaving at Q.

    This came out of prior work targeted at the SARS-1 virus and that was shelved when SARS-1 died out. It could well be active vs. other coronaviruses responsible for common colds, to boot!

  11. The duck as hunter cartoon brought to mind my favorite poet.

    The hunter crouches in his blind
    ‘Neath camouflage of every kind
    And conjures up a quacking noise
    To lend allure to his decoys.
    This grown-up man, with pluck and luck
    is hoping to outwit a duck.
    Ogden Nash

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