Wednesday: Hili dialogue

August 3, 2022 • 6:30 am

It’s Wednesday already, a hump day (or “Hmoob Dag” in Hmong): August 3, 2022: National Watermelon Day.  Here’s the record for greatest distance spitting a watermelon seed:

The July/August issue of Food Network Magazine (on stands June 24) features ten wacky ways that Americans are celebrating their favorite fruit. One way a local Texan celebrates fruit is by holding the watermelon seed-spitting record of 75 feet 2 inches.

Jason Schayot earned the Guinness Book Record for the longest watermelon seed spit in 1995 at the De Leon Peach and Melon Festival.

Here’s a handy guide for spitting seeds as far as possible:

It’s also Grab Some Nuts Day (they’re referring to the edible kind) and Clean Your Floors Day.

Stuff that happened on August 3 includes:

  • 1492 – Christopher Columbus sets sail from Palos de la Frontera, Spain.
  • 1527 – The first known letter from North America is sent by John Rut while at St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Here’s the letter, though it’s not clear how it got sent to England. Here’s Wikipedia’s account:

While in St. John’s, Rut, an English mariner, wrote to King Henry on his findings and his planned voyage southward to seek his fellow explorer. The letter in part reads:

Pleasing your Honourable Grace to heare of your servant John Rut with all his company here in good health thanks be to God.

…and concludes:

…the third day of August we entered into a good harbour called St. John and there we found Eleuen Saile of Normans and one Brittaine and two Portugal barks all a fishing and so we are ready to depart towards Cap de Bras that is 25 leagues as shortly as we have fished and so along the Coast until we may meete with our fellowe and so with all diligence that lyes in me toward parts to that Ilands that we are command at our departing and thus Jesu save and keepe you Honourable Grace and all your Honourable Reuer. In the Haven of St. John the third day of August written in hast 1527, by your servant John Rut to his uttermost of his power.

Here it is; it was renovated in 1907:

  • 1811 – First ascent of Jungfrau, third highest summit in the Bernese Alps by brothers Johann Rudolf and Hieronymus Meyer.

The Jungfrau (height 4,158 meters or 13,642 ft) as seen from the town of Interlaken. There’s now a railway that takes you to only about 700 meters from the summit; most of it is tunneled through the mountain:

  • 1852 – Harvard University wins the first Boat Race between Yale University and Harvard. The race is also known as the first ever American intercollegiate athletic event.

In the varsity race, the big one, Harvard has won 95 times, Yale only 59.

  • 1914 – World War I: Germany declares war against France, while Romania declares its neutrality.
  • 1921 – Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis confirms the ban of the eight Chicago Black Sox, the day after they were acquitted by a Chicago court.

The jury, after three hours of deliberation, found all eight of the accused not guilty. Nevertheles, Landis banned them permanently from baseball and excluded them from consideration for the Hall of Fame. Here are the eight, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, whose inquisition by a kid, “Say it ain’t so, Joe” (and Joe’s answer “I’m afraid it is, kid”, is both famous and apocryphal.

Here’s a German video of the heats, culminating in Owens’s victory in the race startingat 3:20, with Metcalfe a close second. So much for Aryan superiority!

Hiss, whose case is subject to controversy, was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, serving only 3 years and 8 months (the espionage statute of limitations had run out). He was released in 1954, and died in 1996.

  • 1958 – The world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, becomes the first vessel to complete a submerged transit of the geographical North Pole.

The ship was decommissioned in 1980 but you can visit it in Groton Connecticut (it’s under renovation for a few months). Here’s a tour of the ship; start about 5 minutes in to skip the unnecessary stuff:

How soon we forget, and I’d forgotten this one which took place in a big Walmart. If you want to be depressed, look at the Wikipedia article on “Mass shootings in the United States,” which lists the deadliest ones in order of most people killed. The El Paso shooting is tied for sixth place (can you name #1?). The El Paso shooting is described by Wikipedia as “the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history,  and is the deadliest mass shooting in the US to conclude with an alleged perpetrator being caught alive to face legal repercussions.” The accused shooter, Patrick Wood Crusius, still hasn’t been tried, but is facing 90 federal charges, including 22 counts of committing a hate crime resulting in death, 22 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder, 23 counts of a hate crime involving an attempt to kill, and 23 counts of use of a firearm during a crime. And there are additional state charges that will result in a second trial (the first may not begin for more than a year).

The suspect admitted he was targeting Mexicans, resulting in the hate-crime charges, but has also pleaded not guilty. The suspect:

Da Nooz:

*Yup, Nancy Pelosi stopped off in Taiwan, as was leaked yesterday, and, as expected, China is furious. Really furious! They have plans to take over the island, and they don’t want the U.S. interfering.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, casting aside private warnings from the Biden administration about the risk that her high-profile diplomatic visit could stoke a new crisis in Asia and immediately drawing a sharp response from the Chinese government.

A U.S. military jet carrying Ms. Pelosi landed in Taipei late Tuesday, after weeks of speculation about her travel plans. Her decision to proceed with the trip — shrouded in official secrecy until the last moment — makes her the highest-ranking congressional official to come to the disputed island in 25 years, and sets up a tense standoff with China that American officials said could lead to more aggressive military posturing.

In a statement released after her arrival, Ms. Pelosi said the visit was a sign of the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to supporting the island’s democracy.

“America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy,” she said. She added that the visit did not contradict U.S. policy on Taiwan.

China, which bristles at any perceived challenge to its claims on Taiwan, had repeatedly warned Ms. Pelosi not to make the visit, and the United States had urged Beijing not to turn the moment into a crisis. After a telephone call last week between President Biden and Xi Jinping, the president of China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned Ms. Pelosi’s expected visit, saying that “playing with fire will set yourself on fire.”

. . . Recently, Mr. Biden said he would act to defend Taiwan in the event of a conflict, but White House officials have repeatedly walked back those statements, saying a longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the defense of Taiwan remains in place.

The Chinese seem to be much concerned that Pelosi might actually spend the night in Taipei, which to them is an even more flagrant violation. Do I care that Pelosi visited there against Biden’s advice? No; the more support we show Taiwan, the better. Do I think her visit will make a difference, prompting military action by the Chinese against Taiwan? No again. But in the long term something’s gonna happen, and it won’t involve China giving up claims to the island.

*According to the Washington Post, Ivana Trump has been given a burial by her ex-husband, the Donald. The bizarre part? He buried her at his golf club. At least he had the decency to put her plot where it can’t be seen from the links. Why there? Read on:  (h/t David)

In his forced (and, he hopes, temporary) retirement, defeated former president Donald Trump has come up with a new undertaking. He’s undertaking.

Technically, his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., is now acting as a “cemetery company.” (Suggested slogan: “People are dying to get into Bedminster!”) And he has already landed his first occupant: He just buried his late ex-wife, Ivana Trump, right near the first tee.

Photos published by the New York Post on Sunday show a lone grave at the edge of a field with some yellowed grass around it, a clump of white flowers on the freshly turned earth and a flat stone marker with a less-than-effusive epitaph: “IVANA TRUMP, February 20, 1949 – July 14, 2022.” She died last month of an apparent fall.

The former president has shown little interest in conventional post-presidency pursuits, such as building a presidential library; he’s not much for reading, and he’s trying to hide his presidential papers, not display them. But why would he bury himself in, of all things, the interment trade?

Simple: He has seemingly turned his late ex-wife (and his oldest kids have turned their late mother) into a tax dodge. Dartmouth professor Brooke Harrington, a specialist in tax optimization, checked the New Jersey tax code and reported that operating a cemetery at the Trump National offers “a trifecta of tax avoidance. Property, income & sales tax, all eliminated.” She tweeted that it “looks like one corpse will suffice to make at least 3 forms of tax vanish.”

Here’s how she was laid to rest (photo from the NY Post):


*Legal news from Ken about another botched execution, and one that even the family of the victim opposes.

The State of Alabama executed Joe Nathan James, Jr., on July 28th. The execution was delayed for three hours because the executioners could not find a suitable vein on James with which to start an IV for the lethal injection. (Alabama has a history of botched executions.)
The victim’s family, which had pleaded unsuccessfully with Alabama’s Republican governor Kay Ivey to commute James’s sentence, requested to be allowed to go to the execution viewing room to hear James’s final statement, but than to be permitted to leave before the execution itself. They were told by an Alabama Dept. of Corrections official that they would not be allowed to do so, because “Once you’re in, you’re in.”
In Alabama, it apparently presents more of an affront to public morality to see a woman’s knees than to watch an inmate put to death.

Here’s the statement of the victim’s family requesting that Joe Nathan James’s death sentence be commuted:

Three hours to find a vein? Is that humane? If they’re going to do this, a simple injection of barbiturates would work, but nobody’s going to let a prison have decent drugs to do this. All this is just another set of reasons why we have to stop executing people.

*Hospitals continue to ignore federal law by refusing to post the prices for various procedures and drugs. This arrant behavior by greedy hospitals is the subject of an engrossing five-minute video by Martin Schoeller at the New York Times. The federal Hospital Price Transparency Rule, passed with bipartisan support, is ignored by 86% of hospitals.

The upshot, as I’ve said before, is that patients can’t comparison shop for procedures, which is exactly why hospitals are ignoring the law. Schoeller interviews several patients who were slapped with exorbitant bills that they couldn’t predict. This often ruins a patients savings as well as their credit rating.

Click below to watch the video. It’s important, and you’ll be infuriated. It’s time that we start demanding hospitals to give us prices in advance. Why have there been no lawsuits against hospitals that refuse to comply with the law? An there are only two fines. It’s as if the government doesn’t care.

The government’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have put up a list of all fines incurred by hospitals since this law took effect on January 1, 2021. Here’s their chart: two lousy fines that amount to beans for a hospital!


*Finally, reader Jez sends us a headline guaranteed to make you click (from the Guardian):

I’ve heard of British trains being stopped by leaves on the tracks, by “the wrong type of snow” (even the title of a book about UK weather and railways). But a tortoise?


A large tortoise on the track caused trains to come to a halt in south-eastern England, a rail company informed travellers on Monday.

Greater Anglia rail tweeted that trains between Norwich and Stansted airport were stopped for more than an hour due to a “giant tortoise”.

The operator first announced the line was blocked by “animals on the railway” early on Monday afternoon.

One passenger on a train to Norwich, Diane Akers, posted a photo of the tortoise standing on the track just after noon, reporting to the train company: “It’s still alive but injured.”

The tortoise’s shell appeared to have a large gash on top.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes to be honest!” Akers wrote.

A Greater Anglia customer adviser called Georgie later wrote that the tortoise was injured and had been taken to a specialist team for treatment. “We have been informed that he will make a full recovery,” the adviser updated.

Well. . . here’s the picture. It’s not a Galapagos or Aldabra tortoise, which are too heavy to lift. I’m not sure of the species, but it shouldn’t take an hour to remove a tortoise this size.

But I am very glad it can be saved. And yes, I’d gladly wait an hour if that could be done, but really, British rail needs to work on these delays.

By the way, sing out if you know the species

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili shows catlike indecision:

A: Are you coming in?
Hili: I’m just one step from deciding.
In Polish:
Ja: Wchodzisz do domu?
Hili: Jestem o krok od podjęcia decyzji w tej sprawie.
And a photo of Baby Kulka:

From Divy (they forgot the hat):

From Beth:

From Dilshan at Damn, That’s Amazing!:

A crack in the Earth’s magnetic field over the weekend (not uncommon around the Equinox) allowed the Solar Wind to pour in over Norway. It result in a fantastic display of Northern Lights, that look like it’s almost flowing to the ground.

And from Anna:


The Tweet of God:

From me:

From Simon, who adds “Old but still funny (as long as he doesn’t get re-elected).

From Ginger K. (I don’t know where this definition comes from, but it has to have something to do with wokeness.)

From Barry, one smart macaw (I refer to the second tweet, but the first is good, too). Sound on!

From the Auschwitz Memorial: This fellow lasted about a month:

Tweets from Matthew; the first via Ziya Tong:

Ah, remember this. It’s the craziest paper I’ve ever seen published in a first-class journal. You can see it here; the editor was Lynn Margulis. . . .

37 thoughts on “Wednesday: Hili dialogue

  1. That Wikipedia definition of “definition” is a fake, or rather it is satirical. It arose owing to “edit wars” on the Wikpedia page about whether a “recession” is defined as two quarters of reduction in GDP, or something vaguer (those edit wars resulting, of course, from dicussion of whether the US is technically in recession, and Biden’s comments thereon).

    1. Could be, the wording is a bit suspect. Still, the issue of “definition” is in fact quite a challenging one, both epistemologically and linguistically, and not just lexicographically. The tweet is a case where it is difficult to distinguish between reality and parody of reality.

  2. African Spurred Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) (in old money Testudo sulcata). Very commonly kept in British zoos, farm parks etc.

    1. To be fair, the tortoise is said to weigh over 9 stone, and it took 4 railways workers to lift it off the track.

  3. 1948 – Whittaker Chambers accuses Alger Hiss of being a communist and a spy for the Soviet Union.

    It was through his participation in the investigation of Hiss by the House Un-American Activities Committee that disgraced former US president Richard Milhous Nixon first slithered into national prominence. The notoriety Nixon gained on HUAC launched him into the 1950 US senate race in California and, thence, onto the bottom half of the 1952 Republican national ticket, to bolster Ike’s anticommunist cred at the height of the McCarthy-era Red Scare.

  4. Harvard University wins the first Boat Race between Yale University and Harvard. The race is also known as the first ever American intercollegiate athletic event.

    An it’s been downhill for American higher education ever since.

    I wonder if burying Ivana counts as a hole-in-one?

  5. Hiss’s conviction is controversial only because of Communist apologists, who seek to deny not only that Hiss was a spy, but that there any Soviet spies in America. Long live the Pumpkin Papers!

  6. The Golden Oldie with Obama/Trump side by side is very funny. Trump could have been so successful if he just stayed with comedy. But he believed his own PR. (And writes it, too.)

    1. Funny, yes, but every time I see something like that, the main thought that keeps going through my mind is “almost half of Americans, not to mention a clear majority of Republicans, actually want (or at least wanted) such a person as their president!” And a significant number of them not only want that person as president, they see him as a kind of messiah. Oh, despair!

  7. “Three hours to find a vein? Is that humane? If they’re going to do this, a simple injection of barbiturates would work, but nobody’s going to let a prison have decent drugs to do this. All this is just another set of reasons why we have to stop executing people.”

    It raises a sticky moral issue, this kind of situation. As you point out, reputable companies will tend not to sell appropriate pharmaceuticals to prison systems for use in executions, and most medical organizations strongly disfavor any truly qualified medical personnel from participating in such endeavors because it goes against the whole point of medicine, if that’s assumed to be the preservation of life over all else (it’s not always that simple, as physician-assisted suicide in the terminally ill, and even hospice care, demonstrates).

    However, this inhumanity and torture doesn’t STOP states from carrying out executions–in fact, for many people, the fact that the prisoner suffers is a bonus, and many victims’ families are not so admirable as this one was (though one can surely sympathize with such less-charitable families). Many consider it perfectly appropriate for executions to be as unpleasant as possible for the one being executed, so travesties such as this are NOT going to be what stops the practice of execution.

    So, if execution is going to happen, the withholding of decent pharmaceuticals delivered by qualified people is actually causing more suffering, albeit via a “sin” of omission rather than commission. It seems almost better for medical personnel and companies to treat these situations as similar to those of terminally ill patients who wish to end their own suffering and do their best to make the prisoner’s death as swift and free of suffering as it can be. To do so would not be–or so it seems to me–a violation of medical ethics but an affirmation of such ethics in a terrible situation.

    Doctors, nurses, and pharmaceutical companies are not “tainted with sin” in some way by being involved in an execution that will go on with or without their help. They are being compassionate, albeit in a very difficult situation.

    The way to protest execution and work against it is not via the increased suffering of the person being executed. At least, these are my thoughts right now.

    1. I can see your point but I believe that a physician who agrees to participate in executions is helping to prop up the practice of punishing criminals in this way. Even if their justification for doing so is truly a compassionate desire to prevent the execution being bodged by an unqualified, incompetent person I think they are wrong to do so. In reality I imagine (though I have absolutely no data to support this) that most medics participating in executions do so because they approve of the practice.

      I would like to think that the majority of the people involved in carrying out executions at least find it an upsetting process that they do in the belief that it is a necessity rather than something they take an active satisfaction or pleasure in. The harmful psychological effect on these people of having to implement such a deeply distressing task is yet another reason for considering the death penalty to be undesirable and in need of being abolished.

      I appreciate that others may see things differently.

      1. I think your point of view is a legitimate one, and it’s not a straightforward issue. I do suspect that the process of carrying out executions IS hard on many people. Though, as executioners and abattoir workers throughout history and throughout the world have shown, people can become desensitized to nearly anything and justify almost anything to themselves. And from a political point of view, the people who enact the legislation and those who vote them into office are (often, I think) only too happy for prisoners to suffer–they don’t have to see it happen, though we know even that has never deterred executions, which have historically been forms of public entertainment.

        I’m CERTAIN that some of this is the case in Florida, where the D.O.C. is openly predicated not on rehabilitation but “punishment” from their own stated mission. Competent, compassionate people abstaining from participating in executions will NOT stop the practice. When I was in FSP, it happened almost every month (on a Tuesday). Prisoners are regarded by MANY people in our society as sub-human, even those who are not capital criminals. It’s the way humans tend to think about “Them”.

    2. I think your point of view here is entirely valid. And I agree that this is a sticky moral issue.

      On the flip side, as it were, is the possibility that enabling easy humane execution will tend to perpetuate and even increase executions. This sort of general behavior is pretty common. Weighing this possibility against the view you put forth is difficult, especially when you include the many other factors that should be considered.

      Another such factor is the cost of the impact administering executions would have on the medical professionals tasked with the job. IMO the data on this is already clear. It’s very damaging and by itself enough for me to decide against a death penalty. But even in the scenario you laid out, where executions are going to happen, I think this factor needs to go on the scale too.

      1. It’s a very good point, and it may very well indeed make people who would be on the fence otherwise more sanguine about executions, which isn’t a good thing, and definitely pushes me away from my inclination. And in any case, the “state” is far too clumsy and stupid a leviathan to trust its courts to determine guilt worthy of execution, even if there is such a thing.

    3. Even highly skilled nurses in emergency departments working with a cooperative patient may be unable to find a usable peripheral vein in a long-standing intravenous drug user. Any vein that a skilled phlebotomist (whether an RN or not) can find has likely already been found (and ruined) by the addict himself. Addicts have often run through veins in the tongue and the penis that would never be used for medical purposes. Precariously cannulated veins often fail (“blow”) when you try to run fluid through them. A technician whose only practice is executing people may not have much skill. Ironically, it is a limitation to the idea that intravenous injection would be more humane than traditional methods of execution. One suspects that methods of execution evolve to make the business easier on the executioners, not on the condemned….more like putting down a sick pet. I don’t doubt that inflicting “a just measure of pain” on the condemned is part of the mindset….or at least is not something those in charge try at all costs to avoid.

      In principle, a large dose of a barbiturate could be given intramuscularly to an uncooperative prisoner, without needing to find a vein, but the lethal effect is unpredictable, particularly in a person taking other drugs such as alcohol that accelerate the liver’s ability to detoxify barbiturates before the fatal effect ensues. Previous use of fast-acting barbiturates intravenously was just to produce unconsciousness before giving reliably acting lethal poisons according to a timed protocol that doesn’t require medical assessment to determine if the person is “ready” to be poisoned humanely.

      None of the barbiturates relevant to executions has been in common human medical use for several decades now. As Robert points out, few remaining manufacturers are willing to sell them for this niche purpose. The poisons themselves are straightforward. Some require intravenous access, some don’t.

      State laws dictate the methods and drugs used in lethal injection and do not allow variance, since the doctor attending to certify death will not provide medical advice in the “treatment” of the individual condemned person.

      These observations could be used equally to argue for changing the method of execution to something relying less on the vagaries of human physiology, or to getting rid of it altogether.

      1. These are all absolutely excellent points, and I thought he must have been an addict for it to be so difficult. I often wonder why they don’t at least consider perhaps pure nitrogen asphyxiation, which would NOT give the sensation of suffocation but lightheadedness and then unconsciousness. It’s advocated by those who promote ways for the terminally ill to escape their torment in places where physician assisted suicide is illegal.

      2. How do folks feel about China’s apparent death-by-organ-donation policy?

        “The leading medical transplant journal in the world recently made the case that Chinese prisoners are being forced to give up organs at the expense of their lives. The journal article carried this shocking headline – “Execution by organ procurement: Breaching the dead donor rule in China.” 2022/06/13/execution-by-organ-donation-china-accused-of-forcibly-removing-organs-from-prisoners/

        1. I think China’s approach to criminal justice is reprehensible in numerous ways. This is but one example of its inhumane brutality.

    4. I fully agree with your point, I oppose the death penalty, for several reasons I won’t get into here. But if you do it, do it as ‘cleanly’ as possible. If you can’t get a a doctor to do it (bound by their hippocratic oath), get a vet to do it . They will put your ageing, ailing dog down in a second or two. They could easily do the same with a human.
      I’d also like to point out these executions are botched because of groce incompetence, not by intent. They are still way better than the wheel, quartering or the rack. We’ve made some minor progress over the centuries, I’d say.

    5. Personally I would try to avoid any physician with a cavalier/flexible/Sophisticated™ attitude towards “informed consent” and “first do no harm”.

  8. “It’s also Grab Some Nuts Day (they’re referring to the edible kin) …”

    Boy, are my sisters going to be surprised.

  9. The good news from last night’s elections is that the referendum to strip abortion rights from the state constitution went down in flames by nearly 20 points in deep-red Kansas. (This, despite a dirty-tricks campaign by Republicans to flood the state with text messages meant to mislead voters into thinking that a “yes” vote was pro-choice.)

    The turnout for the vote was extraordinarily high by mid-summer primary election standards, approaching what’s usually seen in the quadrennial presidential elections.

    1. That result in Kansas is a very good sign for Democrats nationally if the party can avoid shooting itself in the foot, as per their usual habit.

    1. À propos metamorphosis, can anyone recommend a good book on the evolution of metamorphosis, one that a lay person can also understand? I read Frank Ryan’s Metamorphosis, but I gather that it is also rather unorthodox, though perhaps not quite as loopy as Williamson’s suggestion.

    2. @Ken Pidcock

      Yes I have receipts:

      Of those three, the PNAS rebuttal was the most effective but the NCSE book review was the most fun to write.

      As a sabbatical project years ago I also put some time & effort into tracking down the practical joker who started Williamson down his sad path by putting sea urchin larvae into Williamson’s bowls of seawater containing tunicate eggs (sorry it’s a long story). I have email receipts for that work as well. Nobody working at that seaside laboratory (at Port Erin on the Isle of Mann) ever confessed to the deed or knew who might have done it. It is still a viable hypothesis for the origins of the whole larval transfer hypothesis (again sorry long story to explain that phrase, see the tweet thread by Ballenger, it’s a rabbit hole).

      1. Thank you for all of the clarification, with which I was not familiar. A reminder that this can be a remarkable forum for encountering experts.

    3. I cannot figure out the motivation for Ken Pidcock’s original comment, but I will say that commenter Mike has produced some most impressive ‘receipts’. And with regard to our host, in Mike’s droll NCSE book review (2012) I saw the following bullet point about the Williamson PNAS paper:

      • designation as “The Worst Paper of the Year” by the blogger and past president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, Jerry Coyne;

  10. “The El Paso shooting is tied for sixth place (can you name #1?).”

    The Virginia Tech shootings/murders, in excess of 30? (33?) (I haven’t done a search.)

    1. Life is too short to look these up but I’d guess #1 would be Las Vegas.

      Mere firearms won’t get you into the big leagues of mass murder: Twin Towers/Pentagon/Flight 93 considered as one crime, Oklahoma City, …

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