Sunday: Hili dialogue

December 25, 2022 • 6:45 am

The temperature in Chicago this morning is below in Fahrenheit, equivalent to -16ºC.  There is no wind, so this is what it feels like. It’s positively tropical!

Welcome to CHRISTMAS, a capitalistic and gustatory celebration of the birth of a fictitious miracle-working being. Yes, It’s December 25, 2022, and of course it’s National Pumpkin Pie Day. Get the big ones at Costco: four pounds of delicious pie, with no artificial ingredients, for only six bucks!

And of course it’s the First Day of Coynezaa, my own personality holiday which began at midnight last night and ends on midnight of my birthday, December 30. Rejoice! JC is come!

But Santa did not come for me. I must have been a bad boy this year.

Back to Costco pumpkin pies, which I recommend with great enthusiasm. They are also extremely tasty, made with high-quality ingredients. Here’s a video. It’s worth joining Costco just to get their pies (the apple, cherry, and pecan are also superb):

And, according to Wikipedia, it’s:

Christmas Day, Christian festival commemorating the birth of Jesus. (Internationally observed)

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the December 25 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*I missed this one two days ago, but Cassady Hutchinson, who worked at the White House under Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, has now spilled additional beans. (Her first spillage was her voluntary testimony to the House Jan. 6 committee detailing incriminating stuff about White House complicity.) Now there’s more: she was unethically pressured by White House lawyers:

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that she was advised by her first lawyer to deliberately withhold information from investigators and was wooed with job offers and promises of financial stability in exchange for her loyalty to former president Donald Trump.

The claims — which, if true, amount to possible witness tampering — were detailed at length by Hutchinson in interview transcripts that the committee released Thursday.

In her testimony, Hutchinson accuses her first lawyer, former Trump White House ethics counsel Stefan Passantino, of coaching her to tell committee investigators during her interviews that she did not recall certain things. She said he also discouraged her from jogging her memory or even bringing notes to her interviews that investigators could then collect.

“The less you remember, the better,” Hutchinson recalled Passantino telling her. “Don’t read anything to try to jog your memory. Don’t try to put together timelines. … Especially if you put together timelines, we have to give those over to the committee.”

In addition to her own lawyer, Hutchinson claimed that Trump’s former campaign lawyer, chief of staff, White House lawyers and other close confidants to the former president showered her with praise and promised that her loyalty would be rewarded.

“We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world,” Hutchinson said Passantino told her in one phone call days ahead of her scheduled testimony. “You don’t need to apply other places. We’re gonna get you taken care of. We want to keep you in the family.”

There’s also an op-ed about this in the Washington Post, “For Cassidy Hutchinson, ‘I don’t remember’ wasn’t good enough.” (It damns the Trump team.)

*You probably remember that nine student groups at Berkeley have prohibited hosting any speakers who were “Zionists” (i.e., supporters of the state of Israel), even if they weren’t actually going to talk about Zionism. Opponents called this anti-Semitism, supporters that it wasn’t anti-Semitic but merely against those who believed that Israel has the right to exist (these include the Jewish dean of the law school). The NYT reports on the ongoing skirmish, noting that the Jewish organization at Berkeley has a similar rule but for those who “delegitimize” Israel by being Zionists (by the way, I oppose the policies of both groups).

The controversy, pushed along online by conservative commentators, hits two of the pressure points in campus politics today. The bylaw was adopted as antisemitism is rising across the country. And some critics of academia have cast left-wing students as censors who shout down other viewpoints, all but strangling, they say, honest intellectual debate.

That collision of issues all but guaranteed a tense debate over free speech, even if a broad swath of speech experts say that student groups are allowed to ban speakers whose views they disagree with.

“A student group has the right to choose the speakers they invite on the basis of viewpoint,” said Mr. Chemerinsky, who is Jewish and a Zionist. “Jewish law students don’t have to invite a Holocaust denier. Black students don’t have to invite white supremacists. If the women’s law association is putting out a program on abortion rights, they can invite only those who believe in abortion rights.”

Mr. Chemerinsky said that excluding speakers based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation would not be allowed, but he noted that the student groups were excluding speakers based on viewpoint. True, he said, many Jews view Zionism as integral to their identity, but such deep passions do not change the law.

Other legal experts noted that the controversy showed just how mangled the understanding of the First Amendment had become, even at a place like Berkeley, the epicenter of the 1960s free-speech movement. The debate, they said, should focus on whether these bans align with the academic ideal of open, intellectual debate. Even if student groups can prohibit speakers, should they? And should such bans be codified — formally adopted with a bylaw?

“There’s a real confusion about freedom of speech as a cultural value and freedom of speech as a legal concept,” said Will Creeley, the legal director of Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free-speech advocacy group.

Reread that last paragraph. Yes, both groups can ban speakers with viewpoints they don’t like, even if the speaker doesn’t express those viewpoints, but they’re plugging their ears by doing it.

*This is a topic we’ve been talking about lately, now a NYT op-ed by historian Molly Worthen: “How would you prove that God performed a miracle?” I’ve written in Faith Versus Fact telling me what would convince me (provisionally, since to a scientist there’s no 100% “proof”) that a miracle involved not just God, but a Christian God. But what does Worthen say?

She cites the work of Josh Brown, head of neuroscience at Indiana University, and his wife Candy, who search the world for healings that have no “natural” explanation. (Brown himself was healed from a glioma, a usually fatal brain cancer.)

But the Browns’ experiences and research — not to mention the abundance of healing testimony from other witnesses, especially outside the West — deserve serious consideration. Watertight proof of divine causation may be an impossible goal, but the search for it forces us to confront the assumptions that prop up our own worldviews — whether one is a devout believer or a committed skeptic.

Well, it wasn’t really diagnosed as a glioma!

He quickly volunteered to me that he never had a biopsy, but doctors often diagnose this type of tumor on the basis of M.R.I.s and the patient’s symptoms. “One way or another, the tumor went away,” he said. “I’ve been symptom-free for 19 years. The doctors said very little.” The Browns felt grateful — and perplexed. “At that point I wondered why, when I had seen so many things that seemed miraculous and difficult to explain, why was there so little careful investigation of these things?” he said.

Then, funded by Templeton (of course!), Brown searched the world for “miracle cures”. A bit more:

Christians have sought to scientifically evaluate miracle claims at least since the 16th century, when the Council of Trent tightened up the verification process for canonizing saints. But the Christian God does not work in randomized, repeatable trials. He works in history. So maybe medical histories are a more appropriate approach. “Medical case reports rely on a different epistemology, which is more of a historical epistemology,” Josh Brown said. “It’s not something you can necessarily recreate, whatever the time course of a disease.”

In 2011 the Browns helped found the Global Medical Research Institute, which publishes case studies on the small number of inexplicable events that its staff members can scrupulously document — like a blind woman who, while praying one night with her husband, regained her sight and a teenage boy who depended on a feeding tube until his stomach suddenly healed itself during an encounter with a Pentecostal minister. “When we write these case reports, we’re not claiming these must have been a miracle of God, but these are the facts of the case,” Josh Brown told me.

Most professional scientists won’t go for this. “Case methods are fine as a way to start,” Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and a historian of science, told me. “But how do you shift from case studies to more experimental protocols that are the gold standard?”

Dr. Shermer sometimes asks believers about all the times prayer fails to heal. “Their answer is, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ It’s just hand-waving,” he said. Divine mystery is central to Christian faith, but it creates problems for a scientific method premised on the assumption that the laws of cause and effect are uniform — and will yield up their mysterious ways if you test and measure again and again.

They then finish by quoting ID advocate William Dembski, who of course does believe in miracles. The thing is, if God wanted us to know of His/Her/Its presence, why doesn’t he just SHOW UP instead of trying to convince us with a handful of unexplained medical remissions?

*The Associated Press strongly hints that soccer great Pelé is close to death in Sao Paulo:

Family members of Brazilian soccer great Pelé are gathering at the Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo where the 82-year-old global icon has been since the end of November.

Doctors said earlier this week that Pelé’s cancer had advanced, adding the three-time World Cup winner is under “elevated care” related to “kidney and cardiac dysfunctions.” No other hospital statements have been published since.

Edson Cholbi Nascimento, one of Pelé’s sons and known as Edinho, arrived Saturday, one day after he gave a news conference to deny he would visit his father in hospital. Edinho, who works for a soccer club in southern Brazil, had said then that only doctors could help his father.

“He (Edson) is here,” Kely Nascimento, one of Pelé’s daughters, said in a posting on Instagram with a picture showing her sitting next to Edinho and two of his children at the hospital. “I am not leaving, no one will take me out of here.”

Hours later, Edinho, a former Santos goalkeeper, posted a picture showing his hand holding his father’s.

“Dad… my strength is yours,” Pelé’s son said.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who is globally known as Pelé, had a colon tumor removed in September 2021. Neither his family nor the hospital have said whether it had spread to other organs.

Here’s an assessment of his greatness on the field:

*Reader Athayde informs us that the Darwin Correspondence Project, which has all of the man’s letters online, has now been completed. Just go to the link for anything you want. He was a prolific correspondent: there are 15,000 letters. The link above points to four final ones of note.

Here’s Darwin’s last letter (appropriately, to T. H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”), dated March 27, 1882. Darwin died on April 19.

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

March 27th. 1882

My dear Huxley

Your most kind letter has been a real cordial to me.—1 I have felt better today than for 3 weeks & have had as yet no pain.— Your plan seems an excellent one, & I will probably act on it, unless I get very much better. Dr Clark’s kindness is unbounded to me, but he is too busy to come here.2 Once again accept my cordial thanks my dear old friend. I wish to God there were more automata in the world like you.—3

Ever yours | Ch. Darwin

and an earlier one, from Feb. 13:

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

Feb 13th 1882

My dear Sir

I must write one line to thank you & Mrs Tait for your very kind note on my birthday.—1

I feel a very old man, & my course is nearly run.—

I remain— | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Senior Editor is being bothersome

A: You are disturbing me a bit.
Hili: I’m doing what I can.

In Polish:
Ja: Troszkę mi przeszkadzasz.
Hili: Robię co w mojej mocy.
And Paulina took a picture of Baby Kulka—in a Christmas hat!


From Paul:

A Mark Parisi cartoon from Facebook:

From Facebook:

From Merilee, a Dave Whammond cartoon:

. . and a cute Instagram video sent by Malcolm (trigger warning: D*G!):

Over at Mastodon, God is in a poetic and a Christmas-y mood:

From Masih; the execution of protestors continues in Iran:

A snarky cartoon from Luana:

From Andrew Doyle, this shows the confusion about sex and gender in Scotland:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a Norwegian Jew, gassed (with her sister) upon arrival:

Tweets from Matthew; the first is a poorly drawn medieval hedgehog (what ARE those round things), which a wag has made into a Christmas tweet:

Christmas for isopods!

. . . and a lovely bird of paradise:

25 thoughts on “Sunday: Hili dialogue

  1. Happy Coynezaa, dear PCC(E)!

    Due to awful road conditions, we’ve had to change our Festivus celebrations to local. So we’re missing out on a fantastic potluck at my mother’s house. The food here will still be great, so we’re grateful for that and the company of our little family circle here.

    My burning question over the decades has been about the Baby Jesus. Why is the poor chillun in just a loin cloth, when his parents are swathed in many yards of fabric themselves?

  2. The hedgehog was believed to roll on fallen apples in order to impale them and then carry them off to eat at leisure.

  3. I don’t get “the water is racist” meme. I’m not understanding the supposed humor behind it. Usually a joke is situated in some broad or specific idea or it references one. But what is the reference being made here? “The water is racist” seems like a non sequitur to the half full/half empty “debate.”

    1. I believe it is a reference to the phrase; “if your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails”. Just so, to anti-racists (the “leftists”) the reason for any differences is racism.

      Also….Merry Coynezaa to all.

    2. I thought it was pretty funny.
      Explaining a joke makes it ‘unfunny’, so I won’t. You can figure it out for yourself, and still find it not funny, such is life, I guess.
      On the other hand, I’m completely mystified by the Ceasar salad candy canes. It might just as well have been written in Chinese, I positively don’t get that one.

      1. The Ceasar salad candy canes come from Archie McPhee, a store of strange goods in Seattle. They also offer bacon, pickle, brisket, catsup, sardine, and other flavors of candy canes. They also offer instant underpants and other hard to come by items such as Jesus bandages.

  4. Re, NYT op-ed: What would be good evidence for God? Remission of cancer is worthless. Happens all the time. If I pray for a pet penguin and one instantly appears in the bathtub, and every time I pray for a penguin, another appears in the bath tub. Once the bathtub is overflowing with penguins, QED.

  5. These medical miracle stories often don’t check out when critically examined, like that nun in the Lourdes post, which is why I spent some time with the meagre clues available. If you can find one flaw, the whole thing collapses.

    Yes, unproven brain tumours can regress.
    Yes, blindness can be “functional” and can resolve when whatever need the blindness was serving no longer exists. I saw a case as an intern.
    The boy with the feeding tube didn’t have any problem with his stomach. If he had, the feeding tube in the stomach wouldn’t have been able to work, would it. So the problem was somewhere else. Maybe he had an eating disorder and wouldn’t swallow. And with other mental health treatment he had—which is never given any credit in these tales—he got better and started to eat again.

    Not claiming that these are the correct diagnoses, just that these would be basic epistemological questions to pursue thoroughly before ascribing events not instantly explainable to miracles.

  6. To Professor Ceiling Cat: many thanks for posting on this and other holidays when those of us who do not “do” holidays often lack social connections. Especially the cats help!

    And an anecdote from an atheist friend who lives in a retirement village where many of the residents are very religious: there is a manger scene in their dining hall that included the Baby Jesus. But he kept disappearing, only to turn up in a nearby drawer. The man responsible insisted that Jesus wasn’t born yet, so he couldn’t appear in the scene until Christmas day. Such is the religiosity and lack of logic in south central PA….

  7. No mention of Newtonmas? The blessed Isaac is the reason for the season, after all! Happy Newtonmas everyone, and remember to obey all three Laws of Motion!

  8. Your photo of the caesar salad candy canes reminded me of a story a friend told me. Is it a Chicago thing of eating a candy cane with a pickle?

  9. ““Medical case reports rely on a different epistemology, which is more of a historical epistemology,” Josh Brown said.”

    What’s historical epistemology supposed to mean? Epistemology of history, sure, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as historical epistemology.

  10. To sober-minded non-believers, every claimed Christian “miracle” implies an absurdity, if not an obscenity.

    When the single survivor from the jet crash says “God saved me, it’s a miracle” any rational mind will see this implies God withheld such benevolence towards everyone else on the jet, no matter how desperately they begged or prayed. The very context of such a miracle claim suggests God is more wicked than loving.

    The same goes for the Christians in that awful NYT article and elsewhere who claim God miraculously intervened to help them. The overwhelming suffering in the world, relative to the paucity of God’s intervention, undermines the message the Christian thinks he is spreading with such “miracle” stories.

    1. With the mortality in modern airliner crashes almost always either zero or 100%, the absurd sole-blessed-survivor trope gets little traction, fortunately.

      What about the circumstances where there was only one fatality, and that one a hero who died trying to save another? What did God have against him? I could cite the mission commander in the Entebbe rescue, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.

      Or if we quibble that as the boss, he had to die if anyone did, we can consider Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, who at 27 years of age quite literally laid down his life for his friend, and was the only fatality in the crew of seven in the Lancaster he went to war in. He could have saved himself but didn’t. Despite his nominal rank he was just a humble air gunner in the action for which he as awarded the Victoria Cross.

      So tell me, God, why did you kill the heroes (well, those night’s heroes, anyway) and save all the rest?

  11. “if God wanted us to know of His/Her/Its presence, why doesn’t he just SHOW UP instead of trying to convince us with a handful of unexplained medical remissions?”

    Perhaps because He/She/It is Ceiling Cat, not Ceiling Dog, and doesn’t do tricks on command. Happy Coynezaa!

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