Saturday: Hili dialogue

December 25, 2021 • 7:00 am

Merry Christmas and Happy Coynezaa! (the latter six-day féte begins today). My holiday card to readers (photo by Terrence James for the Chicago Tribune).

It’s Saturday, December 25, 2021, and National Pumpkin Pie Day. (You can buy a huge (3.5 lb.) and excellent one very cheaply at Costco.)

The James Webb Space Telescope will launch today (probably before this post goes up), but I’ll have already posted the links to the live feed.

It’s also Jesus’s Birthday, and No “L” Day (Noel get it?), when you’re supposed to remove all the “l”s from writing or speech.

Matthew sent me a virtual Christmas card, consisting of the cover of a children’s book and a greeting from Matthew and Ollie, the cat who slashed my nose open when I visited Manchester:

News of the Day:

*As you know, the James Webb telescope was launched successfully from French Guyana this morning, and at the time this is posted all has gone fantastically, with the scope heading out into orbit a million miles from Earth. I hope you watched. Note that this was due to international cooperation, with collaborators from many nations.  Here’s a tweet from NASA showing our last view of the scope as it heads out a million miles from Earth. (h/t Matthew).  The only thing that marred the luanch was the head of NASA’s religious blather at the end of his speech, mentioning the star over Bethlehem, Jesus the King, and the glory of God the creator. Oy!

*Otherwise news is a downer today, with the omicron variant raging, resulting in the cancellation of over 3800 flights around the world yesterday because of infected pilots/crew or bad weather. I hope everybody reading here got to where they were going. If you are one of the canceled, here’s how to get your refund.

*If you do get to your destination, be careful if you want to rent a car. Average daily prices have risen 31% in most places, but can top $100 per day in sought-after locations like Maui or Bozeman, Montana (a ski place).  I found this out when I paid nearly $600 for an 8-day rental in Austin, Texas. The cause? Companies sold out their fleets during the pandemic, and haven’t replenished them. Don’t expect prices to drop hugely after the pandemic wanes.

*The good news—and let’s have good news today to replace the lacuna when we realize, in about three posts, that baby Jesus really wasn’t really born on this day—is that omicron is more transmissible than existing variants, it’s not as lethal. South Africa, the first place heavily infected with omicron, has lifted some restrictions:

South Africa’s government, buoyed by encouraging data showing that infections from the Omicron variant aren’t as severe, has dropped quarantine restrictions for all but symptomatic people.

That includes allowing people who have tested positive but show no symptoms to gather with others, so long as they wear a mask and social distance. A top health official explained that since the variant spreads so quickly, there are likely many infected people socializing with others and it no longer made sense to quarantine only those who have tested themselves.

The move was yet another step toward a slow acceptance that many countries around the world will likely need to find a way to live with Covid, rather than avoid it.

*Senator Joe “Roadbump” Manchin has shown some signs that he’ll favor “taxes on billionaires”, raising hopes that the Democrats can still pass the Build Back Better Bill, albeit in a scaled down form. But Kyrsten Sinema is making grumpy noises:

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), long the biggest hurdle to Democrats’ tax aspirations, has again in recent days raised concerns about some of the revenue measures the party is pursuing.

In particular, Sinema has questioned whether owners of “pass-through” entities — companies structured so the owner “passes through” income onto their personal income tax returns — should be exempted from a new “surtax” intended to fall on the very rich, two people familiar with the matter said. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations

The White House was forced to dramatically revamp its tax proposals after Sinema previously ruled out increasing the corporate tax rate, which Biden initially sought to raise from 21 percent to 28 percent.

*Now this is much better. Two brothers in New Hampshire have given new meaning to the word “regifting”:

Two New Hampshire brothers have gotten their holiday regifting skills down to an art — they’ve been passing the same hard candy back and forth for over 30 years.

It started in 1987, when Ryan Wasson gave a 10-roll Frankford “Santa’s Candy Book” with assorted fruit flavors to his brother, Eric Wasson, as a joke for Christmas, knowing that Eric wouldn’t like it.

“I didn’t eat them,” Eric Wasson told WMUR-TV. “And so the next year I thought, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to give it back to him. He’ll never remember.’”

But Ryan immediately recognized it. They’ve been taking turns ever since, keeping a log of their exchanges. They’ve gotten creative about it.

Ryan Wasson told the station the candy has been frozen in a block of ice and put in Jell-O, adding, “He one time sewed it into a teddy bear.”

The tradition has also involved family members, co-workers and even a sheriff’s department. Last year, it was presented to Ryan Wasson on a silver platter at a restaurant.

Here’s the well-worn gift and the record of the regifting (all photos from Ryan Wasson family via the AP)

Note the first entry on the right-hand page:

The Lie of the Year Award goes to this guy. Click on the screenshot to read about it:

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 814,792, an increase of 1,345 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,411,321, an increase of about 8,100 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 25 includes:

  • 336 – First documentary sign of Christmas celebration in Rome

We’ll have a post today by Peter Nothnagle about the “history” of the Nativity.

Here’s an “arm reliquary of Charlemagne at Aachen Cathedral Treasury”:

  • 1013 – Sweyn Forkbeard takes control of the Danelaw and is proclaimed king of England.
  • 1066 – William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy is crowned king of England, at Westminster Abbey, London.
  • 1758 – Halley’s Comet is sighted by Johann Georg Palitzsch, confirming Edmund Halley’s prediction of its passage. This was the first passage of a comet predicted ahead of time.
  • 1776 – George Washington and the Continental Army cross the Delaware River at night to attack Hessian forces serving Great Britain at Trenton, New Jersey, the next day.

Here’s the famous painting: “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze, MMA-NYC, 1851:

With no anesthesia! It must have been benign, for the woman lived 32 years after the operation.

  • 1831 – The Great Jamaican Slave Revolt begins; up to 20% of Jamaica’s slaves mobilize in an ultimately unsuccessful fight for freedom.
  • 1868 – Pardons for ex-Confederates: United States President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to all Confederate veterans.
  • 1914 – A series of unofficial truces occur across the Western Front to celebrate Christmas.
  • 1950 – The Stone of Scone, traditional coronation stone of British monarchs, is taken from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalist students. It later turns up in Scotland on April 11, 1951.
  • 1968 – Apollo program: Apollo 8 performs the first successful Trans-Earth injection (TEI) maneuver, sending the crew and spacecraft on a trajectory back to Earth from Lunar orbit.
  • 1989 – Romanian Revolution: Deposed President of Romania Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, are condemned to death and executed after a summary trial.

You can see a documentary and some video of the execution here. The firing started too quickly for the cameraman (yes, they filmed it) to capture the whole thing.

  • 1991 – Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the Soviet Union (the union itself is dissolved the next day). Ukraine’s referendum is finalized and Ukraine officially leaves the Soviet Union.
  • 2004 – The Cassini orbiter releases Huygens probe which successfully landed on Saturn’s moon Titan on January 14, 2005.

Notables born on this day include:

A portrait of Jesus, apparently painted from life. (He doesn’t look very Jewish.)

  • 1642 (OS) – Isaac Newton, English physicist and mathematician (d. 1726/1727)
  • 1821 – Clara Barton, American nurse and humanitarian, founder of the American Red Cross (d. 1912)

Barton worked tirelessly to help the wounded soldiers of the Union in the Civil War. Here’s a photo of her in 1866, shortly after war’s end:

  • 1876 – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indian-Pakistani lawyer and politician, 1st Governor-General of Pakistan (d. 1948)
  • 1886 – Kid Ory, American trombonist and bandleader (d. 1973)
  • 1899 – Humphrey Bogart, American actor (d. 1957)

A scene from “The Big Sleep”:

Cab was a great bandleader and, shall we say, an “energetic” one. Here is is conducting his most famous hit, “Minnie the Moocher“:

  • 1924 – Rod Serling, American screenwriter and producer, created The Twilight Zone (d. 1975)
  • 1946 – Jimmy Buffett, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actor.

Here’s the music video for my favorite Buffett song, and he begins by explaining what and who’s in the video:

  • 1971 – Justin Trudeau, Canadian educator and politician, 23rd Prime Minister of Canada

Those who passed away on December 25 include:

  • 1946 – W. C. Fields, American actor, comedian, juggler, and screenwriter (b. 1880)
  • 1983 – Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1893)

Miró painted a fair number of cats; this one is “The Farmer’s Wife, Kitchen, Cat, Rabbit”, with a detail of the moggy:

  • 2005 – Birgit Nilsson, Swedish operatic soprano (b. 1918)
  • 2008 – Eartha Kitt, American singer and actress (b. 1927)
  • 2016 – George Michael, British singer and songwriter (b. 1963)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Andrzej and Hili are speaking of determinism:

A: I know what you are thinking about!
Hili: But I don’t know yet.
In Polish:
Ja: Wiem nad czym się zastanawiasz!
Hili: Ale ja jeszcze nie wiem.

And from nearby Wloclawek, Mietek has a wish:

Mietek: Have a wonderful Christmas!

In Polish: Wspaniałych Świąt!

From The Far Side:

A Hitchens cartoon from reader Barry:

From Divy:

Below, a Christmas Meme from Andrzej. You don’t really need a translation, but here’s one from Malgorzata, “”IKA.  Christmas Tree – a set to assemble at home.”

And the meme came with a Christmas message from Andrzej and Malgorzata:

Andrzej: “We wish all our readers fascinating conversations with their four- legged friends, a nice atmosphere together with their two-legged loved ones, and frequent return to ‘Listy‘”.

In Polish: “Wszystkim naszym czytelnikom życzymy fascynujących rozmów z ich czworonogami, miłej atmosfery z dwunożnymi bliskimi i częstych powrotów do ‘Listów‘”.

A tweet from Masih and friend:

From Gethyn: Can you spot the kitty? I couldn’t! Readers, help!

From Simon. Yes, sound on, and remember that an elephant never forgets. This is a heartwarmer.

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. The first from Jennifer Ouellette, and I put the relevant video below it. It’s great: a human choreography of a starling murmuration:

Crabs on the move!

I was worried about the frog, but it’s apparently okay:

43 thoughts on “Saturday: Hili dialogue

      1. You could equally say the rocket was launched from France. Guyane is a French province. They also used a French rocket to boost Webb into space.

  1. Nelson’s ridiculous comments (I guess god likes this telescope more than the crew of Challenger) reminded me of NASA’s equally gross contribution in 2014, which unsurprisingly included additional funding from Templeton:

    And the attempts to wrap today’s launch (and, conveniently, any and all future discoveries) in religious hokum is really no different than Hobby Lobby’s attempt to usurp the history and content of its stolen (and now returned) Gilgamesh tablet.

    But aside from all that, a great morning. So Merry Liftoff, everyone.

  2. The cat (rather its mirror image) is in one or more of the Christmas balls, I think. (Or should I say “Christmas bas”)

          1. Your pic is different from the post pic, different angle etc. makes it much easier to see the cat by its eye and nose. The post pic just shows the white coat mass, really, and whilst it’s a bit lighter than the ‘rest’ of the carpet, it’s easy to interpret it as carpet.

  3. That is a very naked xmas tree from Poland. Not too sure it is fixable. Reminds me of long ago in my working days we had to ship live trees from the west coast to many places in the pacific. I’m not sure the word live should apply after the trees have been cut down. Anyway, the way they survive the trip is to ship them in refrigerated containers at a temperature of around 40/45 degrees. Also put a 55 gal. barrel in the middle of the container about half full of water. Hose down the trees as you load them. If the Reefer Van should loose temperature during the trip, the trees will all look like the one in your photo.

  4. The start of the religious blather was the point I stopped watching the live broadcast from ESA – it is a scientific and technical endeavour, there is no place for fairy tales otherwise he would have also thanked the great noodly one and the invisible pink unicorn.

    Happy Coynezaa to all

  5. Merry Christmas!

    The Jamaican slave revolt of 1831 was not in vain; it was one of the, if not the, proximate causes of the Parliamentary Act that ended slavery in the British Empire (not India) two years later. Indeed, to the extent that revolts added to the image of slavery as dangerous and unstable, none of the revolts were in vain, in the West Indies or America.

    The raid on Trenton is my favorite Christmas story. There really needs to be a movie about it.

  6. Relaxing in a post-prandial Xmas haze with (some of) my children and (some of) my grandchildren. Hoping that the James Webb continues to go according to plan, and looking forward to its unfurling in all its glory. And of course it’s 100% down to human ingenuity: no Invisible Magic Friends involved at all.

    Wolcum Yule to all!

  7. I watched the launch, but I had to turn my attention to making lunch before the religious blather started, so I missed the god-bothering. I was, however, very annoyed that in the pre-launch segment, the NASA people insisted on using Fahrenheit when explaining how cold the telescope needed to be in order to work correctly. Come on, NASA, you should be leading by example and using Celsius.

    1. Ditto – I managed to watch the launch itself but not much else – it was odd hearing the countdown in French.

      Yes, the use of non-SI units by NASA is puzzling. I seem to recall a mix of measurement systems led to the costly loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter (although it was Lockheed Martin who were responsible for using imperial units on that occasion)

  8. It’s not quite right to say that the Jamaican slave revolt of 1831 (led by Samuel Sharpe, now a National Hero of Jamaica) was unsuccessful. Though the revolt was suppressed, it was a major contributing factor in the passage by Parliament of the slavery abolition act less than two years later.


    EDIT: I paused while adding this comment to have breakfast, came back and posted it, and I now see Dr. Brydon had in the meantime made the same point. Great minds think alike–or something!

    1. Britain, being confirmed capitalists and seeing in 1832 that slavery wasn’t the money making business it used to be, had parliament use tax money to buy slave freedom. British tax payers finally paid off the former slave owners in 2015; the latter, besides not losing a cent, hired back former slaves as field workers paying them slave wage.

  9. Happy Coynezaa!

    … is there a nice saying we might use for Coynezaa? Not necessarily in English? I like those borrowed phrases for Christmas…

  10. Here’s the music video for my favorite Buffett song …

    My favorite Buffett song is “A Pirate Looks at 40.” Buffett wrote it about an old buddy of mine, Phil Clark. (When Buffett wrote it, Phil wasn’t yet a friend, since I was still a college boy back in O-hi-o. But a couple years later, I was in Key West, and Phil was a regular at the oyster shack on the docks where I was tending bar.)

    Last time I saw Phil, we were in, of all goddam places, a gynecologist’s waiting room, while our respective girlfriends, who worked in the same restaurant, were getting examined in the back. He and I sat around swapping jokes and lies about fishin’, though, as I recall, beneath it all we were eying each other a bit suspiciously, wondering whether both our girlfriends’ having developed yeast infections at the same time was completely coincidental.

    Phil died a couple years later, while I was in law school. He fell off a boat and drowned, which seems passing strange, since he was one of the best hands aboard a boat I’d ever met. The next time I was in town for a visit, there was scuttlebutt going around that there might’ve been foul play involved, but nothing ever came of it.

      1. After writing the above, I did a search to see if there was anything new about Phil Clark, and I chanced upon this video where Buffett and Jerry Jeff Walker reminisce about him and play “A Pirate Looks at 40”:

  11. We’ll have a post today by Peter Nothnagle about the “history” of the Nativity.

    I haven’t read the post to which you refer yet, but do you not have the scare quotes around the wrong word? Given that the Nativity, at least as celebrated by Christians, is a fiction cobbled together from stories in two of the gospels, I should be ‘the history of the “Nativity”‘.

    Also, I think the date of Jesus’ birth got a bit mangled. I think You meant to write 4BC – 6AD, except that this represents the period in which Jesus couldn’t haver been born if either of the gospels of Matthew and Luke are not fiction.

  12. A: I know what you are thinking about!
    Hili: But I don’t know yet.

    [music emoji]”All I want for Crismars is …
    One of those handy primate prehensile tail thingies, for confusing hoomins with the light switch. Can I haz one wiv tail-tip eyeball? [music emoji]

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