Monday: Hili dialogue

December 27, 2021 • 7:30 am

Well, for many it’s back to work today on December 27, 2021, the third day of Coynezaa (on this day my true love gave to me three matzo balls). It’s National Fruitcake Day, honoring the single fruitcake that is continually regifted around the West.

It’s also Make Cut Out Snowflakes Day, Visit the Zoo Day, and Constitution Day in North Korea.

Wine of the Day: This 2018 cava (the Spanish equivalent of Champagne, and made the same way) is produced by the family of my ex-postdoc (now a professor), and that’s how I was introduced to the wine. I had it with Christmas dinner: roast Chicken, rice, and yams.

If you’re tired of paying $40 and up for French champagne, consider a good Spanish cava like this one. I believe I paid just a tad more than $20 for it, and it was a terrific bargain. It’s very dry, a pigeon-eye red color, with with lots of bubbles and toasty as well as tasty, I swore I could taste some red fruit in there, though it may have been a color-inspired illusion. Llopart is a reliable name in cava, and produces several different types. I believe I’ve tried them all over the years, including the top of the line Ex Vite that you can’t get in the U.S.   If you see this rosé for around $20, snap up a couple bottles and put them in the fridge.

If you want a cheap(ish) but excellent bubbly, and can’t get Llopart, try Roederer Estate Brut from California, which runs abut $25.

A lovely glass:

News of the Day:

*Ed Wilson, the famous naturalist, evolutonary biologist, ant expert, and writer, died yesterday at 92. My post of earlier today gives a few memories I have of the man.

*I’ve lost track of how many Covid-19 “surges” we’ve had since I first heard about the virus, but, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll know we’re in the midst of another one (see below).  Anthony Fauci says “things will be much better in January,” but how does he know?

And France, for the first time during the entire pandemic, has recorded more than 100,000 cases in a single day for the first time.

*Over at the Washington Post, Dave Barry reviews the year of 2021, first overall and then month by month—all in inimitable Barry style:

. .  The spotlight now shifts to incoming president Joe Biden, who takes the oath of office in front of a festive throng of 25,000 National Guard troops. The national healing begins quickly as Americans, exhausted from years of division and strife, join together in exchanging memes of Bernie Sanders attending the inauguration wearing distinctive mittens and the facial expression of a man having his prostate examined by a hostile sea urchin.

. . . On the wokeness front, Dr. Seuss joins the lengthening list of individuals who are deemed to be Problematic, which also includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Pepe LePew and Mr. Potato Head. Also people are starting to take a hard look at the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and if you have to ask why YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

*And once again, the Sunday NYT features a sermonette by Tish Harrison Warren, the Anglican priest whom the Paper of Record has chosen to hector us about Jesus. In yesterday’s column, “How Christmas Changed Everything“, Rev. Warren says that all of us in the West—even the Jews—are saturated in Christian values:

But if you live in the West, the claims of Christmas have profoundly shaped your life and view of the world. You don’t have to believe in Jesus or even think about him for that to be true. The West is “so saturated in Christian assumptions that it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them,” said Tom Holland, a British historian and author of “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.” He continued, “We tend to take for granted that the lowest of the lowest do have dignity.”

These same radical ideas reverberate down through the centuries. They eventually motivated the invention of hospitalsmass education, and widespread literacy. They inspired those who opposed slavery and influenced the contemporary idea of universal human rights. Charles Malik, a Lebanese Christian who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, said, “The ultimate ground of all our freedom is the Christian doctrine of the absolute inviolability of the human person.” In different ways over time, the belief in the dignity of even the weakest in society flowed from people meditating on this same shocking story that the church tells at Christmastime today.

But then she says this:

The development of the idea of universal dignity could be understood as a result of an invisible hand guiding societies toward “progress” or even as a series of random accidents. A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher, argues that seeds of this concept can be found in the thoughts of Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius. Scholars like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Israel trace the origin of human rights to the enlightenment era.

But at the end she still touts God/Jesus as the Fount of Morality.  When will she stop this blathering, all founded on claims that aren’t true? When will the NYT say, “Okay, Tish—enough.”

*I did not know this, but in September the Center for Inquiry announced that the 2021 Richard Dawkins Award has been given to Tim Minchin. However, the video of the presentation, which includes a 90-minute conversation between Richard and Minchin (moderated by David Cowan) was just posted a week ago. I’ve put the video with the award and conversation below. From CFI:

In the 350-year-old Sheldonian Theatre, designed by the famed British architect Christopher Wren, musician, composer, comedian, actor and writer, Tim Minchin, received the 2021 Richard Dawkins Award before a sold-out crowd on October 10th, 2021.

Richard Dawkins gave a soaring and touchingly personal tribute to the awardee, calling him “a staunch upholder of rationalism, secularism, and scientific skepticism.”

In introducing the event, Robyn Blumner, CFI’s CEO, said that Tim is this year’s awardee because “Number one, the award criteria fits him to a ‘T,’ and number two, because he’s so freakin’ awesome.”

David Cowan, a CFI board member and Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur, masterfully moderated a lively 90-minute conversation between Richard and Tim, after sharing that he is a major fanboy of Tim’s and doing an on-stage selfie with him.

*I miss the reclusive Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic of the New York Times who departed in 2017. Her critiques were always incisive, even when I disagreed with them.I don’t know why she left, but she’s back with a literary retrospective and memoriam that is excellent: “Didion’s prophetic eye on America.” Of all the obits I’ve read about Joan Didion, who died this week, this is by far the best at pinpointing the power of her prose.

Didion’s utterly distinctive writing style — distinguished by its spareness, its surgical precision, its almost staccato yet incantatory rhythms — was also a tool for containing her often harrowing subject matter, be it her own experiences of loss and grief, reportorial assignments involving murder or war, or the melodramatic situations that the heroines in her novels so often faced. She had an eye for the prophetic detail and telling gesture, an ear for the line of overheard dialogue that might reveal all.

Didion prized control — getting the details correct in a story, making sure a recipe turned out exactly right — because she often felt it was elusive in her life as someone who suffered from migraines and Parkinson’s and morning dread. “You are getting a woman who somewhere along the line misplaced whatever slight faith she ever had in the social contract, in the meliorative principle,” she wrote. She described herself as “a sleepwalker,” “alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot,” the coyotes by the interstate, the snakes in the playpen.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 814,970, an increase of 1,328 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,418,562, an increase of about 3,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 27 includes:

  • 537 – The construction of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is completed.

Here’s that great building: first a mosque, then a Catholic church, then a museum, and, as of last year, a mosque again.

Here I am in 2008, feeding the mosque’s famous resident cat, Gli. (I always carry cat food when I’m in Turkey.)

The Beagle was a small ship: 90 feet from stem to stern and 25 feet across. Here’s a cross-section. I’ve circled the Captain’s cabin (Darwin, contrary to popular belief, was not the ship’s naturalist, but was hired to keep Captain Robert Fitzroy (a depressive) company. Darwin would dine with Fitzroy in FitzRoy’s cabin (circled at right), but then repair to his room at upper left, which had his cot. Darwin was seasick when afloat, and spent as much time as he could ashore.

  • 1845 – Ether anesthetic is used for childbirth for the first time by Dr. Crawford Long in Jefferson, Georgia.
  • 1927 – Kern and Hammerstein’s musical play Show Boat, considered to be the first true American musical play, opens at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Broadway.

Here’s my favorite song from the 1936 movie, “Old Man River,” sung by the inimitable Paul Robson. Imagine: two Jews wrote a song about the travails of a black stevedore. (There was another movie version, in 1951, with Ava Gardner.) Note that he uses the word “darkies” for blacks—a word expunged in later versions.

30 million Russians died on Stalin’s orders, including many in the Ukraine, who starved to death after Stalin ordered their grain shipped elsewhere.

  • 1935 – Regina Jonas is ordained as the first female rabbi in the history of Judaism.

Jonas, a German Jew, was murdered at Auschwitz in 1945, when she was only 42.  Her photo:

Here’s a caver A caver rappelling down from the cave’s mouth:

Notables born on this day include:

The song that made her famous “Falling in Love Again“, in the movie The Blue Angel (1930), in which she humiliates a professor she marries.

  • 1905 – Cliff Arquette, American actor and comedian (d. 1974)
  • 1906 – Oscar Levant, American pianist, composer, and actor (d. 1972)
  • 1930 – Marshall Sahlins, American anthropologist and academic (d. 2021)
  • 1943 – Cokie Roberts, American journalist and author (d. 2019)

From Wikipedia: “She received the nickname Cokie from her brother, Tommy, who as a child could not pronounce her given name, Corinne.”

  • 1946 – Polly Toynbee, English journalist and author
  • 1952 – Tovah Feldshuh, American actress, singer, and playwright
  • 1952 – David Knopfler, Scottish singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer

Here’s “Sultans of Swing” with Dire Straits. I love this song, and  Mark Knopfler’s solo is justifiably famous; his brother David is on rhythm guitar.

Savannah’s 50 today, but sure doesn’t look it! Here she is this year:

Those who went underground on December 27 include:

Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV, surely painted from life:

  • 1834 – Charles Lamb, English essayist and poet (b. 1775)
  • 1923 – Gustave Eiffel, French architect and engineer, co-designed the Eiffel Tower (b. 1832)
  • 1938 – Calvin Bridges, American geneticist and academic (b. 1889)

Bridges, a student of academic great grandfather T. H. Morgan, was himself a crack Drosophila geneticist as well as a ladies’ man, for he was very handsome:

  • 1938 – Osip Mandelstam, Polish-Russian poet and critic (b. 1891)
  • 1950 – Max Beckmann, German-American painter and sculptor (b. 1884)

Beckmann, whose work I like, painted several pictures with cats in them. Here’s one, “Friedel Battenbuerg” (1920):


  • 1972 – Lester B. Pearson, Canadian historian and politician, 14th Prime Minister of Canada, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1897)
  • 1981 – Hoagy Carmichael, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actor (b. 1899)
  • 2007 – Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani politician, Prime Minister of Pakistan (b. 1953)

I was always sweet on Bhutto, but she was assassinated, which was practically inevitable. She was known to her friends as “Pinky” because she was an unusually pink baby.

  • 2015 – Meadowlark Lemon, American basketball player and minister (b. 1932)
  • 2016 – Carrie Fisher, American actress, screenwriter, author, producer, and speaker (b. 1956)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron are plotting how to get food.

Szaron: We have to discuss.
Hili: There is nothing to discuss. We have to meow until they come and give us what we want.
Szaron: Musimy się naradzić.
Hili: Nie ma nad czym debatować, trzeba tak długo miauczeć, aż przyjdą i dadzą nam to, co chcemy.

From Pyers, the biggest spoiler of all time (yes, I know that it was intended to foreshadow the Crucifixion):

The painting is Adoration of the Magi (center panel of St. Columba Altarpiece, painted in 1455 by  Rogier van der Weyden:


From Bruce, a d*g tweet:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Ricky Gervais, touting his third season of his series After Life. I really like the show, though some are less keen on it. And. . . it has Diane Morgan!

Two Ginger K., duplicitous advertising!

Speaking of fast food, Bette Midler decries the perfidies of capitalism:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, Nature red in mouth and pseudopod:

This really makes me hungry. There’s nothing like an English Christmas with beef or roast goose, and finished off with a steamed pudding:

Now he lives in Israel and fools my people with his deceptions. He also has a museum, which I will NOT visit should I visit the country:

Have a very veggie Christmas!

29 thoughts on “Monday: Hili dialogue

  1. “Here’s Knopfler in 1979 doing “Sultans of Swing” with Dire Straits. I love this song, and Knopfler’s solo is justifiably famous” – David is the rhythm guitar player in the yellow t-shirt, it’s his older brother Mark on lead guitar and vocals.

    1. That’s from a long-running German music show on television.

      Dire Straits have several songs with a similar feel, though this is probably the best. Those songs are wonderful. The up-tempo numbers are OK, the slow ones occasionally, but I just can’t get into the country-and-western-flavor stuff.

    2. Yup, and since we a piling on here, while its’s true that the Knopfler brothers were born in Scotland they were raised from a young age in Blyth in Northumberland, near Newcastle, and have distinctly Geordie accents. Plus the lyrics from Tunnel of Love are written in stone outside Spanish City in Whitley Bay – so they seem to be officially claimed by the northeast!

      1. Indeed! And the theme from the film Local Hero, which Mark Knopfler wrote the score for, is played at Saint James’ Park – he’s a fan of The Magpies (Newcastle United FC).

        1. The irony there being that Local Hero was set in Scotland! The thing I remember most about that movie (was it really 38 years ago!) is the “casserole do lapin” incident

    3. Glad I read the other comments before posting about this 🙂

      Although it is a damn shame that so many people don’t even know who David Knopfler is. His co-founding of Dire Straits and his solo work deserves recognition.

    4. We have been watching some show or other produced by the MTV Network, which apparently still exists.
      Anyway, at the beginning of the show, they display the MTV logo, and play “I want my MTV…” from Money for Nothing. I conducted an informal poll, and found that each one of us, every time it comes on, expects the drum intro and Knopfler’s amazing guitar. It is sort of a letdown when the show comes on instead.
      I always like it when any Dire Straits comes around on the eternal shop playlist.

  2. Did Hagia Sophia really start out as a mosque? I thought it was a Christian cathedral under the Byzantines first.

    1. Presumably there was a temple to more traditional local gods in pre-Constantine times. I wonder what was there.

      1. It was a christian cathedral until the fall of Byzantium. For a brief period in the 13th century it was latin catholic but for almost all its existence until the muslim conquest it was an orthodox christian cathedral. The minarets were, I believe, added in the 16th century.

    2. Its completion date of 527 predates the emergence of Islam by a little over a hundred years, and even predates the birth of Mohammed (c. 570).

      1. It was started in 360 as an orthodox church. It was catholic for a few years 1204 to 1261, and for a slightly longer period a mosque 1453 to 1931 Ataturk turned it into a museum, but under the theocratic yoke of Erdogan it was turned into a mosque again last year..
        So most of it’s existence it was an Orthodox church.

  3. Yes, I would definitely say that “the dignity of man” was a product of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, rather than the Christian religion. It was, after all, the Declaration of Independence and not the Sermon on the Mount that said that all men are created equal. Christianity seemed perfectly comfortable with a society that embraced the squalor of peasantry and serfdom, as well as of slavery, and the majesty of Princes of the Church.

  4. Whereas in the Sunday NYT Tish Harrison Warren quotes “The ultimate ground of all our freedom is the Christian doctrine of the absolute inviolability of the human person” , in our local newspaper philosopher Herman van Praag asserted that human rights started with the Thora. Van Praag’s new book has the title “Inherited from Moses: human rights in historical perspective”. (Wait for the translation to come out).

  5. Great timing on the Minchin/Dawkins info. A friend just sent me Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” song, which is quite lovely and very much along the lines of what I’ve listened to thus far in the Dawkins tribute.

  6. Tim Minchin! Be sure to watch “Storm,” one of the greatest satires of woo ever, and Prejudice, one of his greatest hits. Both on YT. Then go down the Minchin rabbit hole. Fun, enriching. I got to see him live a few years ago – what a great evening.
    Looking forward to learning more about Wilson. Sadly, just catching up on writings of people who’ve passed away is keeping me busy all the time. (Currently reading Joan Didion.)

      1. Thanks for the tip! Unfortunately, I can’t find any streaming services that have the show. I’ve checked the usual BritBox and Acorn. Roku’s search facility supposedly searches all channels available on their boxes and it comes up with nothing.

  7. There is more than one fruitcake in existence, as I have eaten my current weight and then some, in fruitcake over the years. No, it wasn’t one cake. I have never understood how anyone could sneer at fruitcake when abominations like carrot cake exists. Happy fruitcake day!

  8. There’s nothing like an English Christmas with beef or roast goose, and finished off with a steamed pudding

    The traditional English Christmas dinner consists of a turkey roast. In my family, we believe that many things – including beef and goose – are superior to turkey, so we haven’t followed tradition for about twenty years.

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