Thursday: Hili dialogue

December 30, 2021 • 7:30 am

Good morning on MY BIRTHDAY: Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, the fifth and last day of Coynezaa. I grow old. . . . I grow old. . .  And the food day for today is, appropriately, National Bicarbonate of Soda Day. Oy!

Because I’m celebrating another trip around the Sun, posting may be light today.

It’s also Bacon Day, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, and the sixth of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Pretty thin doings.

Thanks to all readers who sent me goodies and messages for Coynezaa. Here’s a beautiful birthday card made for me by Jacques Hausser, who works on shrews. Note the duck and Professor Ceiling Cat! (click to enlarge):

Wine of the DayThis 2018 California Cabernet is incredibly good for its price: $19 (probably more now). It’s made with a Bordeaux-like blend, including 85% Cabernet Sauvignon as well as with 7% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. I decided to have it with an aged baguette, niçoise olives, aged Gouda cheese, and some green beans for vegetation.

It was dark purple with the classic California cabernet nose: cassis with mint and eucalyptus. Smooth as a baby’s bottom and a great value if you want an upscale California cabernet but don’t want to pay upscale prices. Highly recommended.

News of the Day:

*The big news, legal-wise: Ghislaine Maxwell, procuress for and companion of Jeffrey Epstein, has been found guilty of all but one of the six crimes with which she was charged. From the NYT:

Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of a British media mogul and the former companion to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was convicted on Wednesday of conspiring with him over a decade to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.

A federal jury in Manhattan found Ms. Maxwell, 60, guilty of sex trafficking and the four other charges against her. She was acquitted of one count of enticing a minor to travel across state lines to engage in an illegal sexual act.

She’s going to jail for probably the rest of her life. One count on which she was convicted—sex trafficking of a minor—carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. Another count, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity, carries a maximum of ten years.  The remaining three counts of conspiracy carry a maximum sentence of five years each. Total maximum: 65 years. Halve that to get a conservative sentence, and it’s about 33 years. Maxwell is now 60.

I called this one, but I also called the Elizabeth Holmes case as having a guilty finding, and perhaps Holmes will get off.

*NYT book of the century-and-a-quarter: It’s the 125th anniversary of the New York Times Book Review, and the paper asked readers to nominate the best book of the lat 125 years. In October they published the 25 most frequently-nominated books (actually, whether the finalists were the books that got the most votes was unclear)..  There are some great books and some not-so-great books (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter), but by and large, it’s a good list.

Then the readers voted on the best of those 25 books. I won’t tell you which one it is. Try to guess when you look at the 25 finalists (I found some good reading suggestions there). And you can see the winner here, along with the critic’s appraisal of the book and the five runners-up. I’ll let you look for yourself, but I don’t think it should have beat Ulysses.

*Where is Webb? If you want to know where the Webb Space Telescope is, NASA has provide a really nice real-time page with constantly hanging speeds and positions, as well as maneuver points.  It even gives temperatures on the sun shield, which has been deployed. Bookmark it at the preceding link and have a look from time to time. Here it is in miniature, with half a million miles to go to L2 orbit. Click photo to enlarge  (h/t Malcolm):


*Quillette has a long interview of recently deceased biologist E. O. Wilson from 2009 conducted by Alice Dreger as research for Dreger’s best-selling book, Galileo’s Middle Finger.  It’s interesting as it’s all about the Sociobiology Wars and the backlash Wilson faced when he wrote that book. Lewontin comes in, too, for, as I said, Wilson helped bring him to Harvard. I’ll give one quote, but I think Dreger gets Lewontin completely wrong, and cozies up to Wilson way too much: There’s lots of juicy gossip here, though!

AD: I met Lewontin briefly in grad school. He was brought in to give a talk. I thought it was very odd. Here was a guy who was an intense Marxist, who spent so much time rallying on behalf of the proletariat, who was all about the class struggle. And he struck me absolutely as a BMW-driving, Cambridge-living, Romance-language-phrase-dropping snob.

EOW: You got that. I’ve never fully figured him out. I used to joke that when things got too hot, he could go to his dacha, like a member of the Soviet leadership. . .

. . .I’ll tell you a story about all of this. Around 1970, we were searching for someone in population genetics. He looked very good then. And he had this brilliant personality in conversation, this brilliant presentation, a real theatrical power. The search committee decided he was the best person, but this was after he had just adopted his political and public persona and he was known to be joining protests. I remember watching a news report one day about the takeover of a stage at the University of Chicago, where some government functionary had come to speak at the height of the anti-war protests. And to my astonishment, I saw Dick Lewontin rush up and take the microphone!

We had a meeting to take the final vote on Lewontin at Harvard, and a group of the older professors said they were worried about reports of his behavior at Chicago—that he might be disruptive or might have gotten away from genetics, and so would not be the right sort of person to be at Harvard. I made the speech I will regret for the rest of my life: I said we should never accept or reject someone because of their political views. I felt so good about myself making that political speech! “I know several key people at Chicago on the faculty,” I said. “Let me ask them about the key question: Is Lewontin’s new political activism affecting his performance at the University of Chicago, or affecting anything connected with his duties?” And they said, okay, ask and let us know.

By the way, Ms. Dreger, Lewontin NEVER drove a BMW.  Why don’t you do your homework?

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 821,302, an increase of 1,207 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,441,371, an increase of about 7,800 over yesterday’s total.

Not much stuff happened on December 30 and most of it is grim:

  • 1066 – Granada massacre: A Muslim mob storms the royal palace in Granada, crucifies Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacres most of the Jewish population of the city.
  • 1853 – Gadsden Purchase: The United States buys land from Mexico to facilitate railroad building in the Southwest.
  • 1890 – Following the Wounded Knee Massacre, the United States Army and Lakota warriors face off in the Drexel Mission Fight.
  • 1903 – A fire at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, Illinois kills at least 605.

This is still the most deadly single-building fire in American history. The first started when an arc light sparked and ignited a curtain. Many of the exists were locked or blocked, as in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  The dead were stacked up ten feet deep in front of some of the locked exits. Here’s an emergency van containing some of the victims:

Inside, after the fire:

  • 1916 – Russian mystic and advisor to the Tsar Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin is murdered by a loyalist group led by Prince Felix Yusupov. His frozen, partially-trussed body was discovered in a Moscow river three days later. He was hard to kill (a group of nobleman, worried about Rasputin’s influence over the Tsarina, engineered his death), but you can read about that at the link:

Here’s a documentary featuring Hussein’s executioner (Hussein was hanged). I won’t show you the video of the hanging, but here’s the memories of the hangman:

Notables joining me in being born on this day include:

  • AD 39 – Titus, Roman emperor (probable; d. 81)
  • 1865 – Rudyard Kipling, Indian-English author and poet, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1936)

The Kipling family lived in Vermont for a while, and that’s where he began writing The Jungle Books. Here he is in his Vermont study in 1895:

  • 1910 – Paul Bowles, American composer and author (d. 1999)
  • 1914 – Bert Parks, American actor, singer, television personality, and beauty pageant host (d. 1992)
  • 1928 – Bo Diddley, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 2008)
  • 1931 – Skeeter Davis, American singer-songwriter (d. 2004)

Her real name was Mary Frances Penick, and below is my favorite song of hers, and the song she’s known for. It reached #2 on the Billboard pop chart in America, though it’s basically a country song. It’s good!

  • 1935 – Sandy Koufax, American baseball player and sportscaster

Koufax was not only the best Jewish baseball player up to the present, but one of the best Major League pitchers of all time, and the youngest man ever elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame (he was 36, and retired early because of arthritis in his elbow). Here are some career highlights:

  • 1945 – Davy Jones, English singer-songwriter and actor (d. 2012)
  • 1946 – Patti Smith, American singer-songwriter and poet
  • 1949 – Jerry Coyne, American biologist and author

Yes, here’s ME, on pack ice in Antarctica, Nov. 2019. I’m going back in March!

I made it into Wikipedia! Check reference 15 documenting the date on the Dec 30 page.

  • 1953 – Meredith Vieira, American journalist and game show host
  • 1957 – Matt Lauer, American television journalist and anchor
  • 1959 – Tracey Ullman, English-American actress, singer, director, and screenwriter

Here’s Ullman as Angela Merkel. She has an amazing ability to change her entire look, like a chameleon, when she’s doing an impersonation:

Remember “The Hollywood Madam”? She was sentenced to 7 years in jail but served only 20 months.

  • 1975 – Tiger Woods, American golfer
  • 1984 – LeBron James, American basketball player, producer and businessman

Those who dropped dead on December 30 include:

See above.

  • 1947 – Alfred North Whitehead, English-American mathematician and philosopher (b. 1861)
  • 1970 – Sonny Liston, American boxer (b. 1932)
  • 1979 – Richard Rodgers, American playwright and composer (b. 1902)

A great songwriter, he wrote the music for, among other shows, Pal JoeyA Connecticut YankeeOn Your Toes, Babes in Arms, Oklahoma!Flower Drum SongCarouselSouth PacificThe King and I, and The Sound of Music. That’s a great lineup. Here he is (seated) with his later partner Oscar Hammerstein in 1945:

  • 2006 – Saddam Hussein, Iraqi general and politician, 5th President of Iraq (b. 1937)
  • 2012 – Carl Woese, American microbiologist and biophysicist (b. 1928)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, I get a special birthday Hili dialogue! Hili is shown as a kitten:

Hili: Since when have I known Jerry?
A: Since you were three months old.
Hili: Yes, I thought I always loved him. Happy birthday, JERRY!
In Polish:
Hili: Od kiedy ja znam Jerrego?
Ja: Od trzeciego miesiąca życia.
Hili: Tak mi się zdawało, że zawsze go kochałam. Wszystkiego najlepszego, Jerry!

Kulka is outside on the windowsill, and wants to come inside where it’s warm:

From The Cat House on the Kings, A lovely polydactylous kitten:

From Barry, a Biblical epic, but NSFW:

From Merilee:

And a birthday meme from Bruce:

A tweet from God:

From Barry. who asks, “Is there a more magnificent jellyfish than this?” My answer: I don’t know of any.

Reader Dom found a white-breasted robin:

From Ginger K.:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. As he says, “See thread. First puzzle shows them making a puzzle of that famous photo of New Year’s Eve in Manchester (see below for photo):

And here’s that famous photo:

© Joel Goodman Police detain a man whilst another lies collapsed in the road . Revellers in Manchester on a New Year night out at the clubs around the city centre’s Printworks venue . Photo credit : Joel Goodman

Even though this isn’t a fantastic drawing, I couldn’t stop watching until it was over:

Some very useful knowledge from physicist Jim Al-Khalili

92 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

        1. That’s why I added the second one. Although it could be argued that Jerry’s own website should be reliable for basic autobiographical details like his date of birth:

          Never use self-published sources—including but not limited to books, zines, websites, blogs, and tweets—as sources of material about a living person, unless written or published by the subject of the article

          (Boldface in the original.)

    1. Yes that one is awful. It has the craziest idea I’ve yet seen for woke science: sensitivity readers for research articles. It’s a make-woke project.

      Happy Birthday Jerry!

  1. As some genius once said to me – you’ll never be younger than you are today. You are just about 3 months ahead of me. There was a hour long program on the science channel last night about the Webb telescope. It was very good, very educational.

      1. Hili can always ask for more.

        And she gets it more often than Oliver, by the look of that waistline.

        I’ll just test my trebuchet in the greenhouse.

  2. Now that Ghislaine has gone down the drain and is facing all that time, I suppose the big question is whether she will try to give someone up in exchange for a sentence she can outlive. (The best time to have done so would’ve been before trial, when she had some negotiating leverage to plead out to reduced charges. But since she didn’t testify at her trial and deny the allegations under oath, she may still be of some value as a witness for the prosecution — if she can give up a large enough target, and if her testimony can be corroborated.)

    There may well be some well-known public figures sweating that question right now.

      1. If the woman they interviewed on CBS this morning is any indication she should’t get out until hell freezes over. She said Ghislaine is worse than Epstein because she is a woman.

    1. You have to wonder how she could have convinced herself, at the time(s), that anything but ruin for herself could possibly come out of all this. Even if she didn’t care about anyone else.

  3. 100 year anniversary of world premiere performance of opera “The Love for Three Oranges”, music by Prokofiev, here in Chicago.

    Some Wikipedia paste :

    The opera received its premiere performance on 30 December 1921 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, conducted by Prokofiev.

  4. Happy birthday.

    18″ might be bigger than 2 x 12″ but it’s only better if nobody wants pineapple (or everybody wants pineapple, but that would be weird).

    I called this one, but I also called the Elizabeth Holmes case as having a guilty finding, and perhaps Holmes will get off.

    I’ve lost track of the Holmes case slightly but is there seriously a chance she’ll be acquitted? Or is this just a joke about the gamblers’ fallacy?

  5. Happy Birthday!

    I was also born towards the end of 1949, and have expressed mixed feelings about being able to tell people “I’ve been alive during more calendar decades than many of you” since I experienced about a month of The Forties.

    (Of course this depends on counting calendar decades by the overt form of the year number – as I do. This should be uncontroversial, but then you run into the critics who balk at generalizing that to centuries.)



    1. As we computer people say: there are two hard things in computer science: invalidation, naming and off by one errors.

      One answer to the problem is to accept that the first decade only had nine years in it (as did the last decade BC).

      Another answer is to accept that the date of year 1 is totally arbitrary in the sense that nobody knows when Jesus was born so we can pick any instant in time as our baseline. In with case, we should go for 1st January 1970 00:00:00.000, which is the zero point of Unix time.

      Either way, you were born in the last year of the 1940’s, not the penultimate year.

      1. My understanding is that the Year Zero problem hits ordinal classifications, but not cardinal classifications. 2020 and 2021 are in the 2020s (cardinal); 2020 was in the 201st decade while 2021 is in the 202nd decade (ordinal). Both are clearly in the 21st century and the third millennium.

        To make matters simultaneously easier AND more complicated, ISO 8601 includes a Year Zero, even though the Gregorian calendar does not. Julius Caesar died in 44 BC/BCE, but in -43 ISO.

        1. Whoops, bitten by the off-by-one bug.

          2020 was in the 202nd decade while 2021 is in the 203rd decade (ordinal).

        2. No, it’s -0043 (four digit years please – we won’t be falling for that one again for another 7978 years!). Except it isn’t because ISO-8601 is only officially valid for dates after 1582-10-15 when the Gregorian calendar came in.

        3. I make JC’s deathday as a Tuesday, Julian Day 1705061 – but that’s with my own home-cut calculator, and I met enough “off-by-one” errors in putting it together that I’ won’t go to the gallows over that. For a start, unlike most calendars, the Julian Date counts form midday, not midnight.

          I take “the ides of March” as 15 March 44 BCE. But I can’t remember if JC got Brutalised in the morning or afternoon. Where’s Plutarch when you need him?

        1. It’s a useful thing to have in the mental toolbox. It paid my mortgage one month when nothing else was coming through.

  6. On the books list, I also am a fan of counting “Ulysses” at no. 1. One argument I had with the long list here was the preference for “The Great Gatsby” over Fitzgerald’s more serious masterpiece “Tender is the Night”.

      1. I had no idea how much they were having a blast.

        Can’t sing – might as well dance?

        Just a second – it only just struck me. “Russia’s greatest love machine”?? Surely that should be Feodor Vassilyev ?

    1. Rasputin’s friend tsarina Alexandra was German by birth, and her mother was UK Queen Victoria’s daughter. At the time of Ras’s death, Germany and Russia were at war. I wonder how much that had to do with the man’s elimination. In any case, the fact that the obscenely wealthy Russian prince Yusupov could have killed the charlatan without consequences recalls, at least with regard to the perpetrator, a recent similar case from Turkey.

  7. 1865 – Rudyard Kipling, Indian-English author and poet, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1936)

    Kipling was written into the script of John Huston’s adaptation of Kipling’s novella The Man Who Would Be King, played by Christopher Plummer as a journalist to whom the tale is told in the frame story. Here’s Plummer as Kipling, with the films leads, Messrs. Caine and Connery:

  8. I like the idea of Rudyard Kipling living in Vermont. Thinking about how cold it was & how he missed the tropics of India & sitting down & writing about it & that became “The Jungle Book”.

    Happy Birthday! May you have many more!

  9. Happy birthday to Ceiling Cat from me and my nine cats!

    Re the robin: in case anyone is confused, the European robin is different from the American one. the European: Erithacus rubecula, which is quite a bit smaller than the American robin, Turdus migratorius.

  10. Koufax was not only the best Jewish baseball player up to the present, but one of the best Major League pitchers of all time …

    Sandy was a top pitcher for only a half dozen seasons — essentially 1961 through 1966. But for those six seasons, he was as good as there ever was.

  11. Happy birthday, Jerry! Ducks and cats worldwide are celebrating.

    The unfolding of the Webb telescope seems to be going really well so far. In fact, it has been revealed that its lifetime has been extended due to the accuracy of the initial launch. This means less of its limited fuel will be used to get to its station, leaving more fuel for station-keeping. The deployment of the sun shield is obviously a big event coming up this weekend. Our fingers are still crossed.

  12. Many happy returns, Jerry. I’m about seven weeks behind you. Remember: growing old is inevitable; growing up is optional!

  13. Happy Birthday and Happy last day of Coynezaa. Bicarb day may not be so auspicious, but it’s not too bad to have your birthday fall on Bacon Day. (I had to check if it was the food or the former Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain…it was the food).

  14. BTW, you’re right about the Harry Potter entry in the great books. Sorcerer’s Stone is good, sure, but it’s far from the best of the series. Order of the Phoenix is the one that should be on the list!

  15. Happy Birthday Jerry! Hope it’s a fun one, Cheers!

    I too just completed another orbit a couple of days ago. Not sure of my precise age without doing the math, which I have no interest in doing.

  16. Speaking of Tracey Ullman, she was wonderful in many of the episodes of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. She played a city councilwoman with whom Larry had an undesirable sexual relationship in order to convince her to overturn an ordinance requiring Larry to install a safety fence around his pool. Good stuff!

  17. I understand that many Christians don’t take the bibles (the Christian bible and the real one) literally, but how do the literalists reconcile the paucity of adult human beings with the propagation of the species? I merely want to know the ‘explanations’.

    1. … with great difficulty.
      One I heard from a British Literalist, who not long previously had been crowing about one of his daughters graduating from university, was that “women didn’t matter enough to be mentioned”.
      I assume his daughter wasn’t allowed to use the Internet, while as a man he could be exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous unbelief.

      1. Happy birtuday Jerry,
        I’m several years behind you, but the older one gets the faster it appears to go.
        I think that is due to the exponential character of our time perception. I mean when you become conscious of yourself, say at 2, you double your lifetime by 4. To double that again you are 8. And 16 when doubling again.
        Maybe it is not that straightforward, but you get the gist. Your subjective time is measured against the time you’ve had.
        There also maybe a role of faster metabolism in the young

  18. Happy Birthday Jerry! Wishing you many more happy, healthy years, and bottles of good wine.

    I am 3 months ahead of you. Used to love telling my history students that I was born only 4 years after the end of WWII. It would blow their minds, considering my last classes of students were born in ’99-2000.

    We know that little kids cannot tell a person’s age very well, but even grade 10 students can’t: they would guess my age as anywhere from 25 to 89, when I was in my 60s. Lol.

    Regarding the 25 books: Michael Ondaatje and A.S. Byatt should be on that list.

  19. Happy Birthday Jerry! The last two trips around the sun have been real downers, hopefully 2022 will see you in Antarctica and make up for the last two crappy years. Great b-day card, thanks for sharing.

    What a cute kitteh Hili was. She looks even more like Kulka in that photo.

  20. I love Ms. Skeeter’s “singspiel” in her signature song. I wonder if there’s anybody under 40 left in Kentucky with that accent?

  21. Best wishes on your birthday! I hope it includes some fun activities and good food. I also hope that in 2022, you can start traveling again—I do miss the travel photos.

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