Tuesday: Hili dialogue

February 21, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to the Cruelest Day: Tuesday, February 21, 2023, and it’s National Pancake Day. (Today IHOP is giving everyone a free short stack.) Here’s a banana/bacon pancake I had in Amsterdam in 2019:


It’s also National Sticky Bun Day, Pączki Day, celebrating the filled Polish donut, which you cannot eat because cultural appropriation, National Grain-Free DayInternational Mother Language Day (UNESCO), and the ancient Roman Holiday of Feralia, which celebrated the spirits of the dead. Here’s a specimen of the pączki that I had in Poland:

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the February 21 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*BREAKING NOOZ: Putin has announced that Russia is suspending participation in START, its last nuclear weapons treaty with the U.S.

President Vladimir V. Putin said on Tuesday that Russia would suspend its participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty, declaring a sharper break with the West by pulling back from the last major such agreement remaining with the United States. In a national address, he again falsely claimed that Ukraine and its allies had “started the war” and showed no sign of ending his invasion despite failing to achieve almost any of his military objectives after nearly a year of brutal fighting.

Later on Tuesday, and 800 miles away, President Biden is scheduled to deliver a speech in Warsaw, a day after a brief but dramatic visit to Kyiv that highlighted the American commitment to supporting Ukraine.

Putin is a lying idiot But he’s a dangerous lying idiot.

*You want a heartbreaking story from Ukraine? I’m sure there are many, but this one was particularly poignant, “They were married. They shared a trench. They died in it together” (if it’s paywalled, you can find it archived here). It’s about the life and death of a young Ukrainian couple (two of the few Jews left in that country) and how poorly equipped Ukrainian soldiers can be. They had no training, and they died (not from lack of training, but from Russian bombardment).

Everybody who knew Taras and Olha Melster was surprised when they signed up for a Ukrainian volunteer unit on the first day of the war.

They had no military experience. They were professionals building their own businesses. They were trying to have kids.

“I was afraid — immediately,” said Taras’s mother, Liudmyla Shestakova, who was close to both her son and daughter-in-law. “I knew what war meant. War means death. War never brings anything good.”

But Olha brushed it off. “We’ll be fine,” she reassured everyone. “No worries.”

They weren’t fine. Tara though he’d be doing computer stuff behind the front lines, while Olha was a cook. Tara was transferred to the front lines in Donbas, and Olha, despite much advice to stay behind, insisted on joining him. Having met at 8, they were inseparable.

They got some firearms training — for one and a half days, Mr. Bilous said. Then they deployed to a pine forest near the city of Sievierodonetsk where they were supposed to be the second or even third line of defense, the unit’s commander, Capt. Volodymyr Kanchuk, said. With so many professional soldiers killed, they were pushed all the way forward to what is called the “zero line.”

Olha was the only woman in the unit. Their mission was to hold a trench and keep the Russians from advancing. But the Russians were shelling the area so hard that by mid-June, the 80-person combat unit had — because of desertions, casualties and other problems — been cut down to 25.

And they died—still together—in a trench hit but a Russian cell. Untrained civilian volunteers like them are doing a lot of fighting for Ukraine, and, amazingly, are holding off the Russians.

While Russia has relied on prisoners and mercenaries to do some of its dirtiest fighting, all ranks of society have been mobilized in Ukraine. Among them are countless urban professionals like Taras and Olha who felt moved to serve, along with famous athletes, award-winning filmmakers, inspiring environmentalists, one of the country’s best pyrotechnics experts, a beloved urban tour guide, singers, dancers, poets, painters, scientists, entrepreneurs and linguists. A year into the war, thousands of them are dead.

“The choice we face is simple,” said Yevhen Mahda, a political scientist. “We continue fighting and lose the best of the best or we let them turn this country into Bucha,” the ravaged Kyiv suburb where, last spring, Russian troops killed hundreds of civilians in cruel, barbaric ways.

. . . Ukrainian military officials have not disclosed what percentage of the million-or-so strong fighting force is made up of people with no previous experience. Estimates put it as high as 40 percent or 50 percent.

“This is the Ukrainian Army,” explained Oleksandr Mykhed, a Ukrainian writer who recently lost a good friend, a celebrated film editor turned soldier. “It started in 2014, with the first wave of volunteer battalions who went from Maidan to the front,” he said, referring to a protest movement that began at the Maidan square, in Kyiv. “We are a combination of official armed forces and the fresh energy of those who come by will of heart.”

A photo of the couple, with the caption from the NYT:

The mantel of Taras and Olha’s tiny, bare-walled apartment, which they shared with their huge dog, Mika. Photo by Ivor Prickett

*Here are two stories of Jimmy Carter, living out the last days of his life in hospice care in his old house in Plains, Georgia. The first shows their humble existence, unique for an ex-President, and one of the reasons I admire what he’s done after leaving the White House (I haven’t always agreed with his politics or views on foreign affairs, but still, have a read of “The Un-Celebrity President”, also archived here.

Jimmy Carter finishes his Saturday night dinner, salmon and broccoli casserole on a paper plate, flashes his famous toothy grin and calls playfully to his wife of 72 years, Rosalynn: “C’mon, kid.”

She laughs and takes his hand, and they walk carefully through a neighbor’s kitchen filled with 1976 campaign buttons, photos of world leaders and a couple of unopened cans of Billy Beer, then out the back door, where three Secret Service agents wait.

They do this just about every weekend in this tiny town where they were born — he almost 94 years ago, she almost 91. Dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, with plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of bargain-brand chardonnay, then the half-mile walk home to the ranch house they built in 1961.

. . .The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth.

Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents.

. . .When Carter left the White House after one tumultuous term, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, he returned to Plains, a speck of peanut and cotton farmland that to this day has a nearly 40 percent poverty rate.

The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.”

. . . Since [Gerald] Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”

Ceiling Cat bless the man! And here’s another story:

*A nuclear reactor was melting down. Jimmy Carter came to the rescue” (also archived here).

The world was in the grip of the Cold War in 1952 when a nuclear reactor began melting down.

That reactor, located at Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, had suffered an explosion on Dec. 12. Radioactive material had escaped into the atmosphere, and millions of gallons of radioactive water flooded into the reactor’s basement. Thankfully, no one was injured, but the Canadians needed help to disassemble the reactor’s damaged core.

The United States sent 28-year-old Jimmy Carter.

Carter had graduated from Annapolis in 1946, the year he married Rosalynn. Here’s their wedding picture: aren’t they cute?

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter on their wedding day in 1946. (The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

In 1952, Carter was selected to join an elite team to help develop the Navy’s first nuclear submarines. Once he had trained his crew and the submarine was constructed, Carter was to be the commanding officer of the USS Seawolf, according to Carter in his 1976 book “Why Not the Best?: The First 50 Years.”

Then the partial meltdown happened, and Lt. Carter was one of the few people on the planet authorized to go inside a nuclear reactor.

Carter and his two dozen men were sent to Canada to help, along with other Canadian and American service members. Because of the intensity of radiation, a human could spend only 90 seconds in the damaged core, even while wearing protective gear.

First, they constructed an exact duplicate of the reactor nearby. Then they practiced and practiced, dashing into the duplicate “to be sure we had the correct tools and knew exactly how to use them,” Carter wrote.

. . .Eventually, it was Carter’s turn. He was in a team of three.

“Outfitted with white protective clothes, we descended into the reactor and worked frantically for our allotted time,” he wrote.

In one minute and 29 seconds, Carter had absorbed the maximum amount of radiation a human can withstand in a year.

The mission was successful. The damaged core was removed. Within two years, it had been rebuilt and was back up and running.

He had risked his life. This is a story most of us don’t know, but there’s this aside in that article:

It was in these years that President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military. Robert A. Strong, a politics professor at Washington and Lee University, recounts an incident from this period. While his submarine was docked in Bermuda, British military officers invited White members of the American crew to a party. At Carter’s urging, the entire crew refused to attend because it was segregated.

*The Wall Street Journal recounts how Biden secretly went to Ukraine in his recent journey: “Sneaking a President from DC to Kyiv without anyone noticing” (also archived here).

Biden’s surprise 23-hour visit to Ukraine on Monday was the first time in modern history that a U.S. leader visited a warzone outside the aegis of the U.S. military — a feat the White House said carried some risk even though Moscow was given a heads-up.

But Russia knew what the Ukrainian public did not. U.S. officials had given Moscow notice of Biden’s trip.

The president had been itching since last year to join the parade of other Western officials who have visited Kyiv to pledge support standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the capital.

He didn’t fly to Poland on Air Force One:

Biden’s planned trip to Warsaw, Poland, and the Presidents’ Day holiday provided an obvious opening to tack on a stop in Kyiv. A small group of senior officials at the White House and across U.S. national security agencies set about working in secret for months to make it happen, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday. Biden only gave the final sign-off Friday.

Sullivan said the trip “required a security, operational, and logistical effort from professionals across the U.S. government to take what was an inherently risky undertaking and make it a manageable risk.”

Once Biden was secreted aboard the Air Force jet, the call sign “SAM060,” for Special Air Mission, was used for the plane instead of the usual “Air Force One.” It was parked in the dark with the window-shades down, and took off from Joint Base Andrews at 4:15 a.m. Eastern time.

. . . After a refueling stop in Germany, where the president was kept aboard the aircraft, Biden’s plane switched off its transponder for the roughly hour-long flight to Rzeszow, Poland, the airport that has served as the gateway for billions of dollars in Western arms and VIP visitors into Ukraine. From there, he boarded a train for the roughly 10-hour overnight trip to Kyiv.

. . . .Meanwhile, in Kyiv, many main streets and central blocks were cordoned off without explanation. People started sharing videos of long motorcades of cars speeding along streets where access was restricted — the first clues that Biden had arrived.

Biden traveled with a far smaller than usual retinue: Sullivan, deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon and the director of Oval Office operations, Annie Tomasini. They were joined by his Secret Service detail, the military aide carrying the so-called “nuclear football,” a small medical team and the official White House photographer.

Only two journalists were on board instead of the usual complement of 13. Their electronic devices were powered off and turned over to the White House for the duration of the trip into Ukraine. A small number of journalists based in Ukraine were summoned to a downtown hotel on Monday morning to join them, not informed that Biden was visiting until shortly before his arrival.

Even with Western surface-to-air missile systems bolstering Ukraine’s defenses, it was rare for a U.S. leader to travel to a conflict zone where the U.S. or its allies did not have control over the airspace.

That is a LOT of preparation, but that’s what the Secret Service does.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is deep into the weeds of epistemology:

Hili: How to research the veracity of a hypothesis?
A: It depends on what it is based on.
Hili: That explains it.
In Polish:
Hili: Jak zbadać prawdziwość hipotezy?
Ja: To zależy na czym jest oparta.
Hili: To wyjaśnia sprawę.


From Barry:

From Nicole:

From Merilee:

From Masih, who’s traveling throughout Europe making trouble for Iran. Notice that she has security guards, as Iran really wants to kill her:

Titania is back, and bowdlerizing:

From Dom: More Christian prosyletizing gone astray!

From Barry: a greeting from a guinea pit. Sound up!

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a man who lived less than a month:

Tweets from Doctor Cobb. He sent me something very late British time, and I asked him why he was still awake. I didn’t get a reply, but here’s the answer:

The same thing happened to Jennifer Garner’s Maine Coon Cat (sound up):

Matthew is right. NEVER feed bread to ducks; it’s very bad for them!


16 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. On this day:
    1804 – The first self-propelling steam locomotive makes its outing at the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Wales.

    1808 – Without a previous declaration of war, Russian troops cross the border to Sweden at Abborfors in eastern Finland, thus beginning the Finnish War, in which Sweden will lose the eastern half of the country (i.e. Finland) to Russia.

    1848 – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto.

    1918 – The last Carolina parakeet dies in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

    1925 – The New Yorker publishes its first issue.

    1947 – In New York City, Edwin Land demonstrates the first “instant camera”, the Polaroid Land Camera, to a meeting of the Optical Society of America.

    1965 – Malcolm X is gunned down while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

    1972 – United States President Richard Nixon visits China to normalize Sino-American relations.

    2022 – In the Russo-Ukrainian crisis Russian President Vladimir Putin declares the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic as independent from Ukraine, and moves troops into the region. The action is condemned by the United Nations.

    1788 – Francis Ronalds, British scientist, inventor and engineer who was knighted for developing the first working electric telegraph (d. 1873).

    1794 – Antonio López de Santa Anna, Mexican general and politician, 8th President of Mexico (d. 1876). [President of the Mexican Republic four times and of the United Mexican States another four times. One of his prosthetic cork legs was taken as a war trophy and is held by the Illinois State Military Museum. A second peg leg was also captured by the 4th Illinois and reportedly used by the soldiers as a baseball bat; it is displayed at the home of Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby (who served in the regiment).]I

    1893 – Andrés Segovia, Spanish guitarist (d. 1987).

    1903 – Anaïs Nin, French-American essayist and memoirist (d. 1977).

    1907 – W. H. Auden, British-American poet, playwright, and composer (d. 1973).

    1910 – Douglas Bader, English captain and pilot (d. 1982).

    1933 – Nina Simone, American singer-songwriter and pianist (d. 2003).

    1940 – John Lewis, American activist and politician (d. 2020).

    1943 – David Geffen, American businessman, co-founded DreamWorks and Geffen Records.

    1946 – Tyne Daly, American actress and singer.

    1946 – Alan Rickman, English actor and director (d. 2016).

    1955 – Kelsey Grammer, American actor, singer, and producer.

    1962 – Chuck Palahniuk, American novelist and journalist.

    1962 – David Foster Wallace, American novelist, short story writer, and essayist (d. 2008).

    1969 – James Dean Bradfield, Welsh singer-songwriter and guitarist.

    1986 – Charlotte Church, Welsh singer-songwriter and actress.

    Done for:
    1554 – Hieronymus Bock, German botanist and physician (b. 1498).

    1677 – Baruch Spinoza, Dutch philosopher and scholar (b. 1632).

    1974 – Tim Horton, Canadian ice hockey player and businessman, co-founded Tim Hortons (b. 1930).

    2002 – John Thaw, English actor and producer (b. 1942).

    2018 – Billy Graham, American evangelist (b. 1918).

    2019 – Peter Tork, American musician and actor (b. 1942).

  2. For some reason, National Sticky Bun Day reminded me of this poem:

    The Common Cormorant or shag
    Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
    The reason you will see no doubt
    It is to keep the lightning out.
    But what these unobservant birds
    Have never noticed is that herds
    Of wandering bears may come with buns
    And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

    (I realise that the buns in the poem aren’t explicitly sticky.)

  3. Soon as I heard that Joe was in Kyiv, I wondered about the logistics. A 10-hr train ride sounds particularly hazardous.

    And for a good, recent bio of Jimmy Carter, Kai Bird’s The Outlier is quite good. I understand that the family thought it was among the best too – quite balanced. Included in it, how Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller were the main culprits behind getting him to let Shah into the US, and how this was the big issue with the students holding the hostages.

    1. BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme this morning quoted a White House source as saying that the reason Biden went to Kyiv by train was that the Russians’ ability to hit a moving target on the ground “really sucks”.

      1. Also, Joe was probably delighted to get to Kyiv by train since as everyone may know, he’s a train guy. I wonder if this is the first train he’s been on since becoming POTUS?

        A college classmate was a congressional aide for many yrs, and tells when he was once on a crowded train headed to NY when Joe got on to go back to Delaware per usual. There were no seats so he just found a place on the floor and spent the ride going thru his papers. When it was his stop, he just got up, shook some hands, and got off without further fuss.

  4. It was in these years that President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military. Robert A. Strong, a politics professor at Washington and Lee University, recounts an incident from this period. While his submarine was docked in Bermuda, British military officers invited White members of the American crew to a party. At Carter’s urging, the entire crew refused to attend because it was segregated.

    Jimmy Carter, who’d long served as a deacon of the Baptist church in his hometown of Plains, GA, was also instrumental in getting that church to desegregate. Here’s the story as reported by Christianity Today back in 1976.

    I voted for Carter twice, though without any great enthusiasm. He has, however, been the former US president who’s comported himself with the greatest humility and dignity during our lifetimes, hands down.

    1. Well said Ken. Thank you. To borrow from last week’s WEIT – a mensch…a really tough and unusual characterization for a politician at his level.

  5. The tweet from Titania is most likely in reference to the works of Roald Dahl being updated for the perpetually offended reader, should anyone by any chance have missed the story.

  6. Here’s Marjorie Taylor-Greene’s response to Biden’s visit:

    “This is incredibly insulting. Today on our President’s Day, Joe Biden, the President of the United States chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war. I can not express how much Americans hate Joe Biden.”


    And I am reminded of Trump’s adulation and trust of Putin and Kim Jong-un and other strong men and his condemnation and distrust of American Intelligence services and our European partners and alliances.

    And I am reminded of Trump, while in France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice day, stayed at the hotel because it was raining. Snowflakes melt in the rain…

    Just pointing this out in hopes of keeping irony alive.

  7. Does voodo work? I’d seriously consider using it on Putin. Just enough for him to “pack his bags” and fuck off.
    Perhaps some bad nightmares for the rest of his miserable life.
    Ok this could be misappropriation and a voodo war could result as a by product. BUT I’d FEEL good!

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