Saturday: Hili dialogue

March 26, 2022 • 8:57 am

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO THOUGHT I MIGHT BE DEAD: I’m alive. But the ship’s Internet shut down just when I finished today’s Hili dialogue. So here it is, better late than never. It’s just now come back; we’re in thick fog in Patagonia and perphaps that plays hob with reception. In the meantime, I’ve just given a lecture so posting will be light today. As always, I do my best.

Where we are now: The ship’s real-time map shows that last night we traversed the Beagle Channel, and, sadly, were unable to see the famous icebergs because it was dark. Here’s our position and yesterday’s route: we’re emerging on the west coast of South America and will now proceed northwards toward Valparaiso, docking in eight days:

All around us are the scattered islands of western Patagonia, one of the reasons why it was hard to find a way from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Straits of Magellan or the Beagle Channel:

Below was the view from my cabin balcony at about 7:15 this morning. (I was returning from my rapid test for coronavirus, which was negative; this is required for when we go ashore to tour Puerto Natales tomorrow. Since I left the U.S. I’ve had more swabs up my nose than Murphy has pigs.)

So a hearty “good morning” on another Cat Sabbath: Saturday, March 26, 2022, with only a bit more than a week to go on the voyage. I’d better fill up on milkshakes, as it’ll be a long time till I have another. It happens to be National Nougat Day, but it’s best to avoid this tasteless “confection”:

If you want to help out with “this day in history”, go to the Wikipedia page for March 26 and give us your favorite notable events, births, and deaths.

I’m late with the news today because I am lecturing again this morning and suffer from a want of time. Here, though, is the headline from the New York Times click screenshot to read). It and the accompanying articles suggest that Russia may not be doing well at all, and might be satisfied with taking just the eastern part of Ukraine:

*And here are the headlines:

President Biden wraps up a three-day trip to Europe on Saturday, having met with NATO leaders over the military and economic responses to President Vladimir V. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, as Russian military officials signaled that the war could be entering a new phase focused on securing control of separatist regions in the east of the country.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet with President Andrzej Duda of Poland, a key NATO ally, on Saturday and is expected to visit in Warsaw with some of the more than two million refugees who have arrived in the country after fleeing the fighting in Ukraine.

It is heartening to think that I may have been wrong in thinking that Russia would take over Ukraine, either absorbing it like an amoeba ingests a protozoan or taking over part of it and leaving the rest in the hands of Putin’s stooges. I hope I was wrong, but the “solution” I just outlined is hardly satisfactory. Millions of Ukrainians might end up displaced, and Russia (at the cost of thousands of soldiers) will have gained a bit of land. I have given up trying to guess what will happen.

*The paper says that experts warn, and this is pretty predictable given the conditions in some cities of Ukraine, that “a public health crisis is looming“:

Ukraine has alarmingly high numbers of people living with H.I.V. and hepatitis C, and dangerously low levels of vaccination against measles, polio and Covid-19. Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions for refugees are breeding grounds for cholera and other diarrheal diseases, not to mention respiratory plagues like Covid-19, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Organizers of efforts to help people with those conditions in Ukraine are rushing to prevent the war from morphing into a public health disaster. The conflict, they say, threatens to upend decades of progress against infectious diseases throughout the region, setting off new epidemics that will be nearly impossible to control.

*According to the Washington Post, the theater in Mariupol that was supposed to be a safe haven for civilians, but which the Russians bombed anyway, might contain 300 or more dead Ukrainians. Another war crime for Putin. My fondest wish is to see him tried, but that might be hard, since he has to be tied to the crimes by specific orders. I do think there will be enough evidence, but getting Vlad to the Hague is no easy task.

*As for the military clashes, here’s today’s headline from the Wall Street Journal (click on screenshot):

And here we learn this:

Russia said it was refocusing its mission in Ukraine on the country’s east, a shift from its initial attempt to capture the capital, Kyiv, and swaths of the country after meeting relentless resistance and suffering heavy losses.

The military pivot came as Moscow more than doubled the tally of its service members killed since its invasion and as President Biden traveled to Poland, signaling U.S. support for Ukraine in the form of high-tech weaponry. Mr. Biden also met with troops and with Poland’s president, a day after a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit at which members pledged further military backing of Ukraine.

When Russia launched its assault on its smaller neighbor, it attacked on several fronts and rushed to take Kyiv with an airborne assault that quickly faltered. A thrust toward Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, also stalled.

Is it possible that, in the face of fierce resistance by Ukrainian soldiers, the mighty Russian army could fail to take the country’s capital? Well, the Nazis didn’t take either Leningrad or Stalingrad, so anything’s possible. Even Mariupol, battered and crumbling, has not been taken (but for a heartbreaking video, go here.) I imagine Putin stumbling around the corridors of the Kremlin at night, just as Nixon did in the White House during Watergate, asking himself why things went wrong.

*After a week in the hospital with an unspecified infection, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is out on the streets again, free to undermine American jurisprudence. But during his confinement the guano hit the fan, for text messages released between Thomas’s wife Virginia and Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the January 6 debacle show that she’s as much of a right-wing loon as her husband. What this means for us (“here’s what you need to know”) is that a judge is supposed to recuse himself from cases in which their spouse is involved. And there are already two cases that Thomas voted on having to to do with Insurrection Day. As a Los Angeles Times op-ed notes,

. . .  on Feb. 22, 2021, Clarence Thomas dissented when the court rejected a Pennsylvania case from Trump Republicans seeking to throw out some mail-in ballots. This year, on Jan. 19, he was the sole dissenter in the court’s 8-1 decision to require the National Archives to release Trump papers related to the insurrection to the House committee investigating the attack. No fair-minded citizen could read Ginni Thomas’ texts and not doubt his impartiality in those cases.

There will be more such cases, and since there’s no higher court to review Supreme Court decisions, Thomas can do what he wants. But the lunacy of his wife, which may have influenced him, is astounding. Just one excerpt:

She passed along bizarre conspiracy theories, including one that the “Biden crime family” was being sent before military tribunals at the Guantánamo Bay naval base for “ballot fraud,” and another, popular among QAnon adherents, about a pro-Trump sting operation involving watermarked ballots. Meadows replied, “We will fight until there is no fight left…Thanks for all you do.”


*And if that wasn’t enough bad news for this morning, several readers sent me links to reports tnat Antarctica appears to be melting. Well, a huge section of an ice shelf, the size of New York City, broke off the continent, and that may be a sign of climate change, especially because that area of East Antarctica hasn’t been prone to diminution.  As the Associated Press reports:

The collapse, captured by satellite images, marked the first time in human history that the frigid region had an ice shelf collapse. It happened at the beginning of a freakish warm spell last week when temperatures soared more than 70 degrees (40 Celsius) warmer than normal in some spots of East Antarctica. Satellite photos show the area had been shrinking rapidly the last couple of years, and now scientists wonder if they have been overestimating East Antarctica’s stability and resistance to global warming that has been melting ice rapidly on the smaller western side and the vulnerable peninsula.

The ice shelf, about 460 square miles wide (1200 square kilometers) holding in the Conger and Glenzer glaciers from the warmer water, collapsed between March 14 and 16, said ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She said scientists have never seen this happen in this part of the continent, making it worrisome.

Did you see the mistake in the report above? While 1200 square kilometers is indeed about 460 square miles (equivalent to a square about 21 miles on a side), the story reports area as if it were width (“The ice shelf, about 460 square miles wide. . . ).  I doubt that’s a typo; it’s probably some reporter who thinks that “square miles” is a linear measurement.  Regardless, and I know this is selfish, I’m glad I live in a time when I was able to see the continent in nearly its full glory.

Readers: see the continent while it’s still there!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has become a music critic!

Hili: Do you hear birds singing?
A: I do.
Hili: They are singing out of tune.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy słyszysz śpiew ptaków?
Ja: Słyszę.
Hili: Strasznie fałszują.

And Andrzej has a letter to readers of Listy accompanying a picture of Karolina (the 8-year-old visitor from Kyiv). I’ll give Malgorzata’s translation, and you can see the original Polish here.  (BTW, they have another refugee, more temporary this time, sleeping upstairs in the lodgers’ flat.)

Dear readers,

Because of the war which caused an increase of the number of people on our floor surface, we are working under different conditions. This may cause more mistakes in our work, either because of difficulties concentrating or because of interference from small fingers belonging to a small human being who lately likes to help us. We are asking for your understanding and for informing us about any mistakes you notice.

The picture shows my new helper with the cat bed on her head, in the process of heroic efforts to make me look at her and not at my computer screen.

From Jenny, a clever and practical use of medieval paintings:

I’m starting to get more ads populating my Facebook page again, but found this one particularly offensive because of the attempt to gussy up the word “shoes” by giving them the foreign-sounding name “Schüs”—even putting in an umlaut!  It’s like “Häagen-Dasz” ice cream, whose name means absolutely nothing in any language, but was made up by Reuben Mattus, a Polish Jew who emigrated to the U.S. and started selling frozen confectionary. Wikipedia tells us the rest:

The Senator Frozen Products company was profitable, but by the 1950s the large mass-producers of ice cream started a price war leading to his decision to make a heavy kind of high-end ice cream. In 1959, he decided to form a new ice cream company with what he thought to be a Danish-sounding name, Häagen-Dazs, as a tribute to Denmark’s alleged exemplary treatment of Jews during World War II, a move known in the marketing industry as foreign branding. Rose Mattus would dress up in fancy clothing to distribute free samples, giving the ice cream an air of sophistication and class.

Who knew?

From Crap Bird Photography:

A tweet from Ukraine:

After a long hiatus, Titania has tweeted!

Real men hydrate squirrels:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:


Tweets from Matthew:

Real men rescue birds, too:

Duck on the loose!

What can you say but “oy”?

If I’ve posted this before, well, then I’m posting it again. Do you think the cat’s really showing off her kitten?

24 thoughts on “Saturday: Hili dialogue

  1. On this day:
    1812 – A political cartoon in the Boston Gazette coins the term “gerrymander” to describe oddly shaped electoral districts designed to help incumbents win reelection. – Thankfully, no-one would try to rig elections nowadays…!

    1830 – The Book of Mormon is published in Palmyra, New York.

    1934 – The United Kingdom driving test is introduced.

    1942 – World War II: The first female prisoners arrive at Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland.

    1971 – East Pakistan declares its independence from Pakistan to form Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Liberation War begins.

    1975 – The Biological Weapons Convention comes into force.

    2017 – Russia-wide anti-corruption protests in 99 cities. The Levada Center survey showed that 38% of surveyed Russians supported protests and that 67 percent held Putin personally responsible for high-level corruption

    1516 – Conrad Gessner, Swiss botanist and zoologist (d. 1565)

    1633 – Mary Beale, British artist (d. 1699) – Her 1663 manuscript Observations, on the materials and techniques employed “in her painting of Apricots”, though not printed, is the earliest known instructional text in English written by a female painter.

    1773 – Nathaniel Bowditch, American mathematician and navigator (d. 1838) – He is often credited as the founder of modern maritime navigation; his book The New American Practical Navigator, first published in 1802, is still carried on board every commissioned U.S. Naval vessel.

    1874 – Robert Frost, American poet and playwright (d. 1963)

    1900 – Angela Maria Autsch, German nun, murdered in Auschwitz helping Jewish prisoners (d. 1941)

    1911 – Bernard Katz, German-English biophysicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2003)

    1911 – Tennessee Williams, American playwright, and poet (d. 1983)

    1930 – Sandra Day O’Connor, American lawyer and jurist

    1931 – Leonard Nimoy, American actor (d. 2015)

    1940 – Nancy Pelosi, American lawyer and politician, 60th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

    1941 – Richard Dawkins, Kenyan-English ethologist, biologist, and academic

    1943 – Bob Woodward, American journalist and author

    1944 – Diana Ross, American singer-songwriter, producer, and actress

    Those who threw a honey cake to Cerberus:
    1726 – John Vanbrugh, English playwright and architect, designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard (b. 1664)

    1827 – Ludwig van Beethoven, German pianist and composer (b. 1770)

    1892 – Walt Whitman, American poet, essayist, and journalist (b. 1819)

    1923 – Sarah Bernhardt, French actress and screenwriter (b. 1844)

    1959 – Raymond Chandler, American crime novelist and screenwriter (b. 1888)

    1969 – John Kennedy Toole, American novelist (b. 1937) – his excellent, but sadly posthumously published, novel A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

    1. And ME! I’m happy to be born exactly 30 years after Dawkins! 🙂 I went to see him talk in Brooklyn just before Covid and he was in fine form.

  2. In other news from Ukraine, Russian troops are reported to have deliberately run over their own brigade commander with a tank after 50% of the unit were killed. It is unclear whether he survived.

    In the same report, The Guardian says that a seventh (!) Russian general has died in combat in Ukraine. Wikipedia’s list names all seven, but says there are conflicting reports about the last one having died.

    Vlad badly miscalculated!

  3. Pace Hili: “It’s probable that in the artistic hierarchy birds are the greatest musicians existing on our planet.” — Olivier Messiaen
    Speaking of modern composers, I believe we missed recognizing the anniversary of the birth of Krzysztof Penderecki, born November 23, 1933, Debica, Poland. His Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima blew my mind when I first heard it decades ago. I must listen to it again, apropos of the fraught times we’re living through now.

    1. Oops, I meant to say the anniversary of his death: March 29, 2020, Kraków, Poland. It looks like we have a few more days. (Heads up, Jez! 😉) Sorry for any confusion caused; I hadn’t had my morning caffeine yet. 😬

      1. Many thanks, Stephen! I’ve added Krzysztof Penderecki to the list in the March 29 Wikipedia article now so hopefully I’ll remember to include him.

  4. More Antarctica in the news… (misspelling Antarctica, no less!)

    The 460-square mile wide ice shelf, which was roughly the size of New York City and helped keep the Conger and Glenzer glaciers from warmer water, collapsed between March 14 and March 16, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute ice scientist Catherine Walker told The Associated Press. University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff said the collapse was worrying because eastern Antartica holds five times more ice than western Antartica, and if the whole region were to melt, it could raise sea levels across the globe more than 160 feet, according to the AP.

  5. Wow, this post day today is so good that I can’t even find the best part. It has everything: Hili being snarky (about bird song no less), our beautiful Ukrainian girl being funny and cute, several real men, a hilarious snail PSA, etc., etc. It’s so good.

  6. We do not know if Virginia Thomas, a far right activist, consulted with her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in regard to the bizarre emails she sent to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Nevertheless, we have here a classic case of the appearance of corruption, if not actual corruption. At the least, Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself in any cases dealing with the January 6th, 2021 insurrection. If is found that he actually colluded with his wife then he must resign. As of September of last year, Gallup found that the Court’s approval rating was at an all-time low of 40%. It may very well be lower now. This incident is contributing to the American public losing faith in another governmental institution. This doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy in this country.

    1. I agree, but I doubt Thomas will ever recuse himself or resign. SCJs seem to be nearly untouchable. There’s always impeachment, but that too seems unlikely.

  7. The Ukrainian rock band Антитіла́ (Antytila) had their offer to play from Kyiv at next week’s charity fundraising event in the UK turned down:

    […] singer Taras Topolya said they had been refused a slot as the concert had a “purely humanitarian” purpose.

    Organisers apologised, saying it must avoid association with the military.

    “Because we are standing with guns and helmets, we are soldiers, and this concert is not for soldiers but for helping civilian people,” the lead singer said. “[But] first of all we are musicians, helmets and body armour are temporary, but we understand the answer and we accept it. […] The main thing is the people of the United Kingdom must stand with Ukraine.”

    Proceeds from the concert will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian appeal, which is providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance to refugees in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

  8. Re: fog & internet. My old ‘internet guy’ frequently blamed connectivity issues on the fog. I assumed he was pulling my leg. Maybe some of the IT knowledgeable folks here could shed light, is it true?

  9. Apropos the ‘Crap Bird Photography’ item, I learned yesterday (via the Tw*tter account of Professor Alice Roberts) of the existence of “Effin’ Birds”, a spoof field guide to birds by Canadian humourist Aaron Reynolds. The perfect gift for the ornithologist in your family. Provided they have a sense of humour.

  10. ” I imagine Putin stumbling around the corridors of the Kremlin at night, just as Nixon did in the White House during Watergate, asking himself why things went wrong.” A better analogy might be Benito Mussolini or Saddam Hussein, strategic thinkers at Putin’s brilliant level, asking themselves that same

  11. I personally admire any and all who are moving through the horrible noisy chaos of Ukraine with cats. I can’t imagine my doing it with my group. The pictures I’ve seen of children holding their cat in their coat fronts is amazing. Maybe my 16 yo would put up with it but not anyone else in my menagerie.

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