Tuesday: Hili dialogue

January 25, 2022 • 8:00 am

Note: Readers’ wildlife photos won’t be posted today as I am overwhelmed with work, esp. all the details needed to prepare for Antarctica. I hope to resume this tomorrow. In the meantime, please keep sending in your photos.

Welcome to the Cruelest Day: Tuesday, January 25, 2022: National Irish Coffee Day. This is one adulterated coffee drink I like, especially on a chilly day, and if there’s a decent titer of hootch in the cup. Here’s a good one, and made with the proper spirits:

It’s also Burns Night (I recommend McSween’s nonvegetarian but not organ-containing haggis), Fluoride Day, and A Room of One’s Own Day, celebrating author Virginia Woolf, born on this day in 1882. Burns Night of course requires copious draughts of whiskey (or is it “whisky”?), but not Jameson’s, which is Irish.

News of the Day:

*The James Webb Space Telescope has reached its final destination, putting it in orbit around the Sun. So far everything has been “nominal,” so I’m quite pleased. It’s not over yet, though:

Several hurdles remain before the telescope begins its mission, including aligning the instrument’s mirrors and calibrating onboard instruments. Routine science operations are expected to start in about five months, according to NASA. With its 21.5-foot-wide golden main mirror and infrared sensors, the telescope is 100 times as powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope and is designed to capture images of stars and galaxies as they were 13.5 billion years ago.

*The Legal News from reader Ken:

The Court granted certiorari in a number of cases yesterday. Included is Sackett v. EPA, in which it seems poised to gut the Clean Water Act. (The Court already has pending for consideration this term West Virginia v. EPA, a challenge to the federal government’s authority to regulate power plant emissions.)

Also included in yesterday’s cert grants are cases challenging race-conscious admission programs at Harvard and UNC–Chapel Hill.

The second case is of special interest to academics—indeed, everyone—because the court is poised to take on an issue on which it’s held steady on since the Bakke case in 1978: the use of race in making admissions decisions. That’s been seen as acceptable so long as “quotas” aren’t used. The rationale in Bakke was that diversity of a student body is an inherent good worth striving for, though I prefer affirmative action based on admissions as reparations. At any rate, it’s a complete mystery to me which way the court will decide (the hearing will be this fall, and the decision in perhaps a year):

The court said it would examine the admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, most probably in the term that begins in October. Lower courts found that both schools complied with Supreme Court precedents that said race may be used as one factor universities can consider in a wide-ranging evaluation of applicants.

. . . Subsequent Supreme Court rulings, in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger and in 2016 in Fisher v. University of Texas, continued to uphold the limited use of race-conscious admissions. However, the court in its 2016 opinion was closely divided, 4-3, and its membership has changed significantly. The author of that majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, has retired, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who also supported the opinion, died in 2020. President Donald Trump appointed their replacements.

But the slim Supreme Court majorities that decided Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003 and reaffirmed it in 2016 are gone, replaced by a much more conservative bloc. Challengers say the court should overturn those precedents and rule that considerations of race, which aid underrepresented Black and Hispanic students, violate federal law and the Constitution.

The Harvard case is about discrimination against those of Asian descent; that of UNC about discrimination against both Asians and whites. As I said, I favor affirmative action with a reparations basis, but I object to the kind of dissimulation given below (my emphasis):

Harvard describes race as a potential “tip,” or plus factor, that could influence a close decision if an applicant comes from an underrepresented group such as Black or Latino students. Harvard says race can only be a plus and is never a minus.

How can that be? In a zero-sum situation, when if one student gets in, another one doesn’t. You cannot have “only pluses” because every time you give a plus, somebody moves down the scale, in effect getting a “minus.”

*As Russia prepares to invade Ukraine (I have little doubt now), the U.S. has put 8500 troops on alert, ready to deploy as part of a NATO force to do—what? We’re already sending military equipment to Ukraine, but what are the troops supposed to do?

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said about 8,500 U.S.-based troops are being put on alert for possible deployment — not to Ukraine but to NATO territory in Eastern Europe as part of an alliance force meant to signal a unified commitment to deter any wider Putin aggression.

Ah, I see: we’re going to be part of a non-fighting virtue signal! Surely that will scare Putin—not! But it does show that the U.S. is more convinced than ever that Putin will sent his flying monkeys into Ukraine.

*On that note, there’s a good op-ed in the NYT by Fiona Hill, a former intelligence agent with the Russian beat. Her piece is called “Putin has the U.S. right where he wants it,” and she makes a good case for her claim.  One excerpt:

Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States. Over the last several months Mr. Putin has bogged the Biden administration down in endless tactical games that put the United States on the defensive. Russia moves forces to Ukraine’s borders, launches war games and ramps up the visceral commentary. In recent official documents, it demanded ironclad guarantees that Ukraine (and other former republics of the U.S.S.R.) will never become a member of NATO, that NATO pull back from positions taken after 1997, and also that America withdraw its own forces and weapons, including its nuclear missiles. Russian representatives assert that Moscow doesn’t “need peace at any cost” in Europe. Some Russian politicians even suggest the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against NATO targets to make sure that we know they are serious, and that we should meet Moscow’s demands.

*Books To Read Department: The NYT mentions that the books of a Nobel Laureate in Literature AND a Booker Prize winner, Olga Tokarczuk, are now being translated into English. And I’ll be sure to read one, perhaps starting with the Big One:

Her novels — they are often both pensive and mythic in tone — are slowly making their way into English. In addition to “Drive Your Plow,” these include the philosophical and often dazzling “Flights,” about travel and being between stations. It won the 2018 Man Booker International prize.

Tokarczuk’s most ambitious novel — the Swedish Academy called it her “magnum opus” — has long been said to be “The Books of Jacob,” first published in Poland in 2014. It’s here now. At nearly 1,000 pages, it is indeed magnum-size.

. .  Set in the mid-18th century, “The Books of Jacob” is about a charismatic self-proclaimed messiah, Jacob Frank, a young Jew who travels through the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, attracting and repelling crowds and authorities in equal measure.

Frank is based on a real historical figure; the author has clearly done her research. Tokarczuk hews closely to the twists and turns of Frank’s fate as he converts to Islam and then to Catholicism and, along the way, becomes a proto-Zionist.

Convicted of heresy, he spends many years in prison. His ideas are important, as they say, if true.

To remark that “The Books of Jacob” is about the vexed wanderings of a cult leader, however, is akin to remarking that Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” is about two men who go for a walk.

“The Books of Jacob” is an unruly, overwhelming, vastly eccentric novel. It’s sophisticated and ribald and brimming with folk wit. It treats everything it bumps into at both face value and ad absurdum. It’s Chaucerian in its brio.

Okay, I’ll read it. But first I have to finish John McWhorter’s Woke Racism, which I got today via interlibrary loan.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 867,868, an increase of 2,083 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,624,686, an increase of about 9,400 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 25 includes:

  • 41 – After a night of negotiation, Claudius is accepted as Roman emperor by the Senate.
  • 1533 – Henry VIII of England secretly marries his second wife Anne Boleyn.

She was queen for three years and then beheaded for “adultery, incest, and treason.”, but the real reason is that she didn’t produce a son. Here’s a painting with the Wikipedia caption, “Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Édouard Cibot (1799–1877)”

  • 1585 – Walter Raleigh is knighted, shortly after renaming North America region “Virginia”, in honor of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, sometimes referred to as the “Virgin Queen”.
  • 1819 – University of Virginia chartered by Commonwealth of Virginia, with Thomas Jefferson one of its founders.

Here’s Jefferson’s gravesite, with the three accomplishments he was proudest of (this done at his behest). Note that “President of the United States” is not one one of them:

How many times have we heard this? But here’s a fancy version by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado:

  • 1890 – Nellie Bly completes her round-the-world journey in 72 days.
  • 1909 – Richard Strauss’s opera Elektra receives its debut performance at the Dresden State Opera.
  • 1915 – Alexander Graham Bell inaugurates U.S. transcontinental telephone service, speaking from New York to Thomas Watson in San Francisco.

Here’s the 1876 patent issued to Bell for the telephone:

Here is a brief video with scenes from the first winter games:

  • 1945 – World War II: The Battle of the Bulge ends.
  • 1961 – In Washington, D.C., US President John F. Kennedy delivers the first live presidential television news conference.
  • 1971 – Charles Manson and four “Family” members (three of them female) are found guilty of the 1969 Tate–LaBianca murders.

The LA Times headline. Besides Manson, the guilty included Susan AtkinsPatricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten.  Krenwinkel and Van Houten are still in jail; the parole board granted Van Houten clemency, but the governor hasn’t signed her release.

Yeltsin was brought the briefcase with the orders to launch a nuclear attack, but the all-clear came at the last moment.

  • 1996 – Billy Bailey becomes the last person to be hanged in the United States.

Bailey could have chosen lethal injection but preferred hanging. His last meal was a well-done steak, a baked potato with sour cream and butter, buttered rolls, peas, and vanilla ice cream. Well done? That’s a capital crime in itself. Here’s Bailey:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1759 – Robert Burns, Scottish poet and songwriter (d. 1796)
  • 1874 – W. Somerset Maugham, British playwright, novelist, and short story writer (d. 1965)
  • 1882 – Virginia Woolf, English novelist, essayist, short story writer, and critic (d. 1941)

Here’s a photo of Woolf and the only recording of her voice I could find.

  • 1900 – Theodosius Dobzhansky, Russian-American geneticist and pioneer of evolutionary biology (d. 1975)

He was known as either “Doby” or “Dodek” to his students. I started out to be one, but he retired and so I got my Ph.D. with one of Doby’s earlier students, Dick Lewontin. That makes Dobzhansky my academic grandfather.

Here’s Lewontin in his office in 2009 with his photos of Doby and the next generation—moi—making the first ascent of Mount Lewontin without clothing:

  • 1949 – Paul Nurse, English geneticist and biologist, Nobel Prize laureate
  • 1981 – Alicia Keys, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actress

Those who laid down their arms (and legs) on January 25 include

His “Adam and Eve” with strategically placed leaves. Note that they have navels!

  • 1640 – Robert Burton, English physician and scholar (b. 1577)
  • 1891 – Theo van Gogh, Art dealer, the brother of Vincent van Gogh (b. 1857)

Theo and Vincent are buried together in Auvers-sur-Oise, their graves entwined by Ivy. It’s well worth the short trip from Paris:

  • 1947 – Al Capone, American gangster and mob boss (b. 1899)
  • 1990 – Ava Gardner, American actress (b. 1922)

In my view, the world’s most beautiful woman–and if you look up “sultry” in the dictionary, you’ll see her photo:

The Flying Dutchwoman!

  • 2017 – Mary Tyler Moore, American actress and producer (b. 1936)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is preoccupied:

A: Can you come for a moment?
Hili: In a minute, I will just swallow something.
In Polish:
Ja: Czy możesz przyjść tu na chwilę?
Hili: Zaraz, tylko coś połknę.

And Kulka at the window, waiting for Spring:

From Divy.  This is certainly a joke, but the two face masks below are real and for sale:

From Malcolm who says, “Meanwhile in the box, Schrödinger’s cat plots its revenge.”

From Bruce:

Titania is back tweeting every few days or so. Here’s her latest. But what is Kirstie Alley doing there? Did I miss something?

A case of mimicry from Dom. Looks like a false head to me, and false heads have evolved because they induce the predator to peck at the wrong end, allowing the prey a better chance to escape. This false head, complete with fake eyes and antennae, is a good one.

From Ginger K. Saying “bad cat!” to the moggie is of course useless:

From Simon, who’s writing a grant proposal:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, a lovely video:

An oddly colored “senior wren”. One explanation here, another below it.

Translation: “One of the most important life lessons we can teach our children is to be kind and respectful to others. Have a nice Sunday.”

Did I post this before? If so, it’s still beautiful.

43 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. As I predicted last week, the ultra-right Supreme Court is in the process of deconstructing the administrative state, in the words of Steve Bannon. Assuming the Court remains far right, the process will be slow, largely invisible to those not paying attention, and take about a decade to complete. The two cases discussed in the post are examples. By the time the Court finishes the deconstruction, the country will look very different from the one created by FDR and LBJ. Under the guise of expanding individual freedom (remember corporations are people), the social welfare state will be gone. Libertarians will be very happy, but for the rest of the populace, they will be living in a society characterized by even more gross inequality, economically and socially. Political and social tensions will rise as the social safety net will be gone and discrimination will not face legal barriers. There is very little that can be done with the Court short of a change in its ideological makeup or some other structural reform. Neither seems likely in the foreseeable future.

    1. A minor point, but do you use the 4-syllable “deconstruction” and “deconstructing” to mean something different, perhaps more subtle, than the unmodern, not-quite-with-it 3-syllable words ‘destruction’ and ‘destroying’?

  2. So glad to hear that the Supreme Court is going to bring back smog and polluted water.

    What would the oligarchy do without them (the Court, not the pollution)?


  3. … there’s a good op-ed in the NYT by Fiona Hill, a former intelligence agent with the Russian beat.

    Folks may recognize Ms. Hill as being, along with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (and Vindman’s hapless twin brother) and others, among those who were cashiered from the National Security Council and from the US State Department for giving honest testimony under subpoena before the House committee that held hearings leading to ex-president Donald Trump’s first impeachment — the one stemming from Trump’s “perfect” telephone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.

    1. Fiona’s terrific! I’ve got her new book downloaded on Kindle but haven’t gotten to it yet (story of my life),

        1. ” . . . so an unusual career trajectory…!

          The NY Times, as is its wont, would be hard-pressed to refrain from calling the trajectory “unlikely.”

  4. I am not sure what to think about Ukraine. I hear a lot of “Why die for Danzig?” talk on the right, but a revanchist Russia is unlikely to stop with just Donbas, especially if Europe rolls over. If we could dissuade Putin from action by sending a couple divisions to Ukraine, I’d say do it. But 8,500 troops is just a trip-wire; unlikely to act as a deterrent, but guaranteed to get us involved.

  5. McWhorter’s book is excellent and provides some nice stuff that is very usable in discussions with the Woke. I read it in a day or two after it was released.

    1. The real reason he had her beheaded was that he liked his wives energetic and athletic, and unfortunately, she wouldn’t walk, she wouldn’t run, she would just…Anne Boleyn.

  6. Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard Woolf was a civil servant in British Ceylon, and served in my home town in the early 1900s. He too was a writer. His novel Village in the Jungle was made into the Sinhala film Baddegama, with Arthur C. Clarke playing the small but important part of the civil servant 🙂

    Robert Boyle of Boyle’s Law was born on the 25th.

      1. A Scientology guy tried to recruit me once. In the middle of the conversation — which I was thoroughly enjoying — he asked me if I had heard of Tom Cruise. I said no. He seemed surprised, but I stuck to my story of not having heard of Tom.

    1. Biology anyone? Those aren’t navels, they are apples.
      [The Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree is a tree grown by Eliza Tibbets in Riverside, California, in 1873. ]

  7. it’s a complete mystery to me which way the court will decide

    Is that sarcasm? With the federal government asking the courts not to take it or interfere with precedent, the only reasonable explanation is that they intend to interfere with precedent.

    That doesn’t mean a complete overturn is a lock, of course. It only takes 4 judges to agree to grant cert while it takes 5 to make the decision, so there’s a small chance that the judges who want to overturn the EPA’s authority aren’t in the majority. Even if they are, it’s possible Roberts joins the majority so he can pick himself to write the opinion and he writes it narrowly. But overall, I think a ruling upholding precedent as it stands now is very unlikely.


    Re: Ukraine, I found this BBC article, “Long Journey Home to Rebel-Run Donetsk” interesting. Sounds from the article like a Russian invasion would simply consolidate/make official territorial borders they already unofficially control. No I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of it or say we should let it happen. I’m firmly in the “oppose with everything short of war (though it would take smarter people than me to figure out how to make that work)” camp. I’m saying instead that it’s an eye-opening article because I didn’t realize things were so far gone already.

  8. “not organ-containing haggis” – inorganic?!

    Tokarczuk was translated into English years ago – I read Flights after it won the foreign literature Booker Prize in the UK. It was OK. Interesting, not spectacular.

    1. Yup, I think it’s only The Books of Jacob that has just been translated into English. You’ll like the original title of House of Day, House of Night: (Dom dzienny, dom nocny)!

  9. —- *As Russia prepares to invade Ukraine (I have little doubt now), the U.S. has put 8500 troops on alert, ready to deploy as part of a NATO force to do—what? —

    As someone who grew up in the 70s/80s worrying, like everyone else, about nuclear war with Russia, this is hitting an old nerve. It looks like it’s at least headed for some form of military conflict.

    I have no competence in understanding such world politics and saber rattling so…can someone explain to me how this DOESN’T end up in a war with Russia (and also doesn’t lead to world war?).


    1. Watching PBS News this evening, I learned that in 2020 NATO had made Ukraine an “Enhanced Opportunity Partner.” What does that possibly mean (surely not a few viewers who cared to rub a few neurons together asked.) I guess corporatese long ago invaded governmental entities. Am reminded of Wal-Mart designating its serfs – er, uh, Ah mean employees – “Service Associates.”

      PBS started the program with words-to-the-effect that a Russian invasion of Ukraine “is possibly imminent.” I suppose that is better than “probably imminent.” What speculation can’t one throw out there when employing the word “possibly” (and its confreres “can,” “could,” “may” and “might”)?

      Seems to me the U.S. goes out of its way to avoid acknowleding legitimate Russian security concerns, just as the U.S. would cite security concerns and take great umbrage and invoke the Monroe Doctrine should any foreign power seek to expand its equivalent of NATO into Latin America over a couple of decades. Over the last hundred or so years we’ve overtly and covertly intevened as we pleased, and not just in Latin America.

  10. In re: to your lede about the Webb telescope arriving at its target, I humbly suggest that PCC(E) use “Those who reached their final destination on today’s date… ” as lede to the Hili Dialogues obit section

  11. The scariest scenario is that Russia will launch an attack in Ukraine to draw attention away from a possible indictment of their no 1 agent in the US (DJT), China takes advantage by invading Taiwan.
    Please tell me I’m raving.

    1. The scariest scenario is Ukrainian saboteurs attacking the new bridge crossing the Kerch Strait,the one that links Russia and Crimea, and having Ukraine declare it a black flag operation conducted by Russia to justify their attacking Ukraine. Russia would have to attack and the US, NATO, and the rest obliged to come to Ukraine’s defense. Somehow I think we are dealing with US-Ukraine underhandedness [remember Syria’s weapons of mass destruction?] designed to deny Crimea to Russia and cut off Russian access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean Seas. Cutting off Russian natural gas to Germany also seems to be part of the game, at least the necessity is constantly brought up by US and other western media, left, right and center.

  12. I guess Green vine snake Oxybelis fulgidus or Green whip snake Ahaetulla mycterizans. Can any expert give his/her opinion?

  13. The painting of Adam and Eve showed they had navels. They also undoubtedly had dead skin cells on the surfaces, protecting live skin cells beneath. Does that mean there was death in Eden, before the fall?

  14. From today’s hard-copy NY Times article on university race-based admissions: “Such a ruling would, all concerned agree, also likely reduce the number of Black and Latino students at nearly every SELECTIVE [my caps] college and graduate school, with more Asian American and white students gaining admission instead . . . “SELECTIVE [my caps] universities like Harvard and U.N.C.-Chapel Hill . . . .”

    How is “selective” defined here? What makes these institutions “selective”? On what basis are they “selective”? Applicant academic acheivement/merit? If not, then what? Aren’t the plaintiffs/appellants pushing for merit-based admittance and Harvard/UNC-Chapel Hill opposing that? If “selective” is defined by merit, it seems anyone supporting the universities’ position should stop referring to “selective” institutions (perhaps rather referring to them as “prestigious”?).

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