Tuesday: Hili dialogue

March 14, 2023 • 6:45 am

It’s Tuesday, the Cruelest Day, March 14, 2023, and in two days I head back to Warsaw to catch a late-afternoon flight to Chicago. It’s National Potato Chip Day, celebrating my favorite snack food. I can never buy them because I’ll eat so many (usually with a PB&J sandwich) that I’ll get a stomach ache. But I do love the ruffled ones.

It’s also Pi Day (3/14), Science Education Day, Celebrate Scientists Day (Einstein was born on this day in 1879), Genius Day (same reason), Learn About Butterflies Day, Moth-er Day (another celebration of Lepidoptera) National Save a Spider Day, and, in Japan and other Asian countries, White Day when men give gifts to women; complementary to Valentine’s Day.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the March 14 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Obituaries first: Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, everyone’s favorite House feminist, died yesterday at 82 from complications of a stroke.

Mrs. Schroeder, who grew up in a household where her father assumed women could do anything, earned a pilot’s license at 15, weathered sexism to become a Harvard-trained lawyer and was a 32-year-old mother of two when she was first elected to Congress from Colorado in 1972. “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both,” she quipped when one male lawmaker questioned how she could be a wife, mother and congresswoman.

When she arrived in Washington, there were only 14 women in the House, several of whom were widows filling out the terms of their deceased husbands. She described the institution as “an overaged frat house.”

During her 12 terms in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Schroeder was outspoken on issues that ranged from women’s rights and family matters to military policy. She was appointed to the House Armed Services Committee and then fought vigorously to be heard and respected.

. . . She was the primary sponsor of the National Child Protection Act of 1993, which established procedures for national criminal background checks for child-care providers, and she played a pivotal role in the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which was intended to help law enforcement and victim services organizations fight rape and other forms of violent crime against women.

I don’t know any Democrat who didn’t like her.

*According to the NYT, the International Criminal Court in the Hague has opened two cases against Russia for violation of international law.

The International Criminal Court intends to open two war crimes cases tied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and will seek arrest warrants for several people, according to current and former officials with knowledge of the decision who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The cases represent the first international charges to be brought forward since the start of the conflict and come after months of work by special investigation teams. They allege that Russia abducted Ukrainian children and teenagers and sent them to Russian re-education camps, and that the Kremlin deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure.

The chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, must first present his charges to a panel of pretrial judges who will decide whether the legal standards have been met for issuing arrest warrants, or whether investigators need more evidence.

It was not clear whom the court planned to charge in each case. Asked to confirm the requests for arrest warrants, the prosecutor’s office said, “We do not publicly discuss specifics related to ongoing investigations.”

Some outside diplomats and experts said it was possible that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could be charged, as the court does not recognize immunity for a head of state in cases involving war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

As the article notes, though, it’s very improbable that we’ll see Russians in the dock at the Hague. And that’s for two reasons: Russia (along with the U.S., Israel, and Sudan) have declared themselves non-signatoreis of the treaty that empowered the court, and, for any criminal action to take place, these nations (including Russia) would have to surrender their accused to the Court, which has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening.

*More bad news: is it going to be like 1929 all over again? The failure of two banks in California has led to a loss in consumer confidence so that runs on other banks throughout the U.S. are happening and bank stocks are slipping badly. Things haven’t yet melted down big time, but don’t think that they can’t. It’s so worrisome that the President has hasn’t to reassure worried Americans:

The unexpected seizure of two banks in three days by regulators intensified fears of a broader financial crisis, sending the stocks of more than two dozen banks into free fall on Monday, even as President Biden reassured Americans that the banking system was resilient and that customers’ money was safe.

Banks of various sizes in different parts of the country — from San Francisco-based First Republic Bank to Salt Lake City-based Zions Bank — found themselves battling market turmoil as customers rushed to withdraw their deposits and investors, worried about more runs, dumped bank stocks.

In a brief televised statement from the White House shortly before the U.S. markets opened, Mr. Biden said that the government was responding decisively to the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in ways that would protect depositors without rewarding risk-taking executives and investors.

“Americans can rest assured that our banking system is safe — your deposits are safe,” the president said. “Let me also assure you we will not stop at this; we’ll do whatever is needed.”

Mr. Biden’s comments didn’t immediately appear to assuage investors, as shares of banks large and small closed the day in the red, with the KBW Bank Index, a proxy for the industry, down nearly 12 percent. On a day when the S&P 500 stock index ended up flat, shares of First Republic tumbled 60 percent and Western Alliance slumped 45 percent.

Despite the echoes of the 2008 financial crisis, when 465 banks failed within four years, sometimes dozens in a month, regulators and banking officials were quick to insist that the current panic is far more contained, and that the banks whose stocks tanked had enough funds to meet their obligations.

I’m not that worried—yet—but you can never predict whether people who keep their money in banks could panic and then everything would melt down. That’s what caused the Great Depression to begin in 1929. If people keep their heads this would blow over, but there are no guarantees.

*I noted before that a bill that would permit the teaching of creationism had passed the Senate in West Virginia, but didn’t know there was one in Minnesota as well. But there’s good news today: reader Steve notes that The Sensuous Cumudgeon reports the demise of both bills.

Two more crazy creationist bills have gone down in defeat. The news comes from our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), written by Glenn Branch, their Deputy Director. Let’s take them one at a time.

When the first bill was proposed a month ago, we wrote about it in New Minnesota Bill — Creationist, or Just Crazy? The thing was proposed by Glenn H. Gruenhagen, an insurance agent. His bill required teachers to explain “how sickness, disease, pain, suffering, and death are a consequence imposed by the Creator of complex living organisms.”

Impressive, huh? But according to NCSE: Minnesota’s bill requiring instruction about “the Creator” dies.

. . .The last time we wrote about it was West Virginia Senate Passes Creationism Bill. That piece of junk was Senate Bill 619, which would allow teachers in public schools to teach intelligent design, described in the bill as “a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist.”

The crazy thing had passed the Senate with a 27 to 6 vote, and it looked like it might go all the way — but it didn’t. NCSE just posted West Virginia’s “intelligent design” bill dies.

I was more than a little worried about this given the unbalanced vote for the West Virginia bill. If it passed, teachers and parents would surely appeal to the Supreme Court, which has previously ruled out teaching creationism on First Amendment grounds (and a federal district judge rule out teaching Intelligent Design on the same grounds). But today’s Supreme Court cannot be trusted to distinguish science from religion, and might well have ruled that both bills were Constitutional

*Although this is an op-ed (by Helaine Olen), it’s not really “opinion” but news: consumers are mad as hell about the long waits for service while calling companies on the telephone. But whether we will “not take it anymore” seems to be up to the companies themselves, who claim, unbelievably, that customers like the robots and endless attempts to connect with a real human being.

It shouldn’t be this hard to speak to a human. But, increasingly, companies large and small are making it difficult to access a real, live person when help is needed. Contact numbers are hard to find. Wait times to speak to an operator are long — one industry analyst estimated the average wait tripled from 2020 to 2022 and says he believes they still are a third worse than before the pandemic. Some phone lines are seemingly staffed entirely by robots, forcing you to go through menu after menu in quest of a live, real person. Or, increasingly, companies don’t offer a telephone option at all.

This is not simply inconvenient. It’s contemptuous. And consumers pay the price in emotional aggravation, in precious time and in literal money, as people give up on legitimate financial claims because they are unable to surmount the barriers in their way.

Companies say they are reducing options for human contact by popular demand. They claim customers often prefer a virtual option — so said Frontier Airlines after it recently ceased offering customers access to live phone agents, directing them to text, chatbot or email instead. But as the Wall Street Journal noted late last year, Frontier is simultaneously telling its investors that call centers are “expensive,” while use of chatbots eliminates the customer’s ability to negotiate.

A survey by OnePoll in 2021 found that more than two-thirds of respondents ranked speaking to a human representative as one of their preferred methods of interacting with a company, while 55 percent identified the ability to reach a human as the most important attribute a customer service department can possess. “When people are anxious or have problems, they really, really want to talk,” says Michelle Shell, a visiting assistant professor also at the Questrom school. “You need human contact.”

The reason?

What’s really going on here is a question of power. Increasingly, leverage belongs not to the customer paying the bills but to the company offering the needed service — sometimes one for which there is no competition. Foisting the work onto the consumer is a bet that the customer has no other options or won’t choose to exercise them. And often, that bet is a good one.

Don’t take it anymore! Write to the companies (don’t call them!) or put out a tweet. Rage, rage against the dying of the right to speak to a human.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Editor Hili liked my piece on language and sickle-cell anemia, which was translated into Polish on Listy (and I took her photo!)

Hili: I read your article about sickle cell anemia.
Jerry: Did you like it?
Hili: Yes, it’s very inclusive.
(Photo: JAC)
In Polish:
Hili: Czytałam twój artykuł o anemii sierpowatej.
Jerry: Podobał ci się?
Hili: Tak, jest bardzo inkluzywny.
(Zdjęcie: J.A.C.)


From The Cat House on the Kings:

From Malcolm: Maps turned into portaits:

From Cats That Have Had Enough of Your Shit, a Mark Parisi Cartoon:


From Masih: Five Iranian women were forced to publicly apologize for the crimes of uncovering their hair and (god forbid) dancing. Note the difference between the way they’d like to dress and the way the Iranian theocracy forces them to dress.

Two from Malcolm. By clicking, you can put the hand anywhere in the world and then see how many people are within a radius of that point varying between 10 and 100 km. Click here to get started. I found places in Tibet where there are no people within a 100-km radius.

And another—biker d*g. I love the goggles:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a boy gassed at eight:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. Blessed be the people who save the animals:

Nah, it’s not what the bat “wants”: the feet are up because the claws evolved pointed down but the bat has to use them to catch fish:

Best bird mimicry ever!

18 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. On this day:
    1663 – According to his own account, Otto von Guericke completes his book Experimenta Nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de Vacuo Spatio, detailing his experiments on vacuum and his discovery of electrostatic repulsion.

    1757 – Admiral Sir John Byng is executed by firing squad aboard HMS Monarch for breach of the Articles of War.

    1794 – Eli Whitney is granted a patent for the cotton gin.

    1900 – The Gold Standard Act is ratified, placing the United States currency on the gold standard.

    1903 – Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the first national wildlife refuge in the US, is established by President Theodore Roosevelt.

    1931 – Alam Ara, India’s first talking film, is released.

    1942 – Anne Miller becomes the first American patient to be treated with penicillin, under the care of Orvan Hess and John Bumstead.

    1964 – Jack Ruby is convicted of killing Lee Harvey Oswald, the assumed assassin of John F. Kennedy.

    1967 – The body of U.S. President John F. Kennedy is moved to a permanent burial place at Arlington National Cemetery.

    1982 – The South African government bombs the headquarters of the African National Congress in London.

    1833 – Lucy Hobbs Taylor, American dentist and educator (d. 1910).

    1836 – Isabella Beeton, English author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (d. 1865).

    1854 – Paul Ehrlich, German physician and biologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1915).

    1863 – Casey Jones, American engineer (d. 1900).

    1879 – Albert Einstein, German-American physicist, engineer, and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1955).

    1887 – Sylvia Beach, American-French bookseller and publisher, who founded Shakespeare and Company (d. 1962).

    1933 – Michael Caine, English actor.

    1933 – Quincy Jones, American singer-songwriter, trumpet player, and producer.

    1934 – Eugene Cernan, American captain, pilot, and astronaut (d. 2017). [The last man to walk on the Moon, for now…]

    1945 – Jasper Carrott, English comedian, actor, and game show host.

    1948 – Billy Crystal, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter.

    1997 – Simone Biles, American gymnast.

    Raged against the dying of the light:
    1883 – Karl Marx, German philosopher and theorist (b. 1818).

    1932 – George Eastman, American inventor and businessman, founded Eastman Kodak (b. 1854).

    1976 – Busby Berkeley, American director and choreographer (b. 1895).

    2014 – Tony Benn, English politician, Postmaster General of the United Kingdom (b. 1925).

    2016 – Peter Maxwell Davies, English composer and conductor (b. 1934).

    2018 – Stephen Hawking, English physicist and author (b. 1942).

    1. 1933 – Michael Caine, English actor.

      I can think of no better way to celebrate Mr. Caine’s birthday than with the competing impressions of him done by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in the 2010 road movie The Trip:

  2. …reports the demise of both bills.

    That spoilt all the fun! The bad news is that we won’t find out what the SC thinks.

    The crazy thing had passed the Senate with a 27 to 6 vote,…


  3. The telephone wait at my doctor’s practice was several hours recently (more than once). My waits ended when the repeating automated message changed from “Your call matters to us” to “Our offices are now closed. Regular business hours are from 7:00 AM to … .” I had no choice but to hang up and write a complaint letter both to the practice and to the state Attorney General. It’s been a huge problem, and has even made the local papers. (Not my specific complaint, but the general problem of phone service that sucks.)

    1. Something that sometimes works when talking to a robot on the phone: mumble. I’ve had the robot ask me to repeat my message a couple of times and then transfer me to a human.

      1. Also, when told “Press 1 to be ignored ; Press 2 to be ignored contemptuously ; Press 3 to be treated as non-existent …” pressing a key that isn’t mentioned can sometimes trigger an “unhandled exception” – which may result in the call being dropped from the menu system to what is the normal “error handler” of a human being.
        Entering sequences of hashes (“#”) and stars (“*”) can also trigger the human error handler.
        This isn’t intended performance of the phone menu systems – it’s because cheap companies use cheap interns to program computers (the phone system) instead of people who understand the concepts of “error handlers” and “exceptions”.

    2. There is a cartoon of a rather over weight guy holding a conventional wall phone.
      “Your call is important to us, please stay on the line until your call is no longer important to you”

  4. Spot the golden plover: I think its the one on the right! Seriously though that is the most amazing camougflage.

  5. 1757 – Admiral Sir John Byng is executed by firing squad aboard HMS Monarch for breach of the Articles of War.

    … triggering Voltaire’s Candidism that “Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.”
    His offence, IIRC, was of not pursuing the enemy with sufficient vigour. His family are still arguing that the punishment was unjust and an attempt to cover up the Admiralty’s incompetence.

  6. For people concerned about FDIC insurance coverage at failed banks, I suggest that they do not read explanations by various new outlets since I have found many of them incomplete, confusing, or wrong. The best thing to do is to download the official explanation via its brochure at the FDIC site. It is comprehensive and quite understandable. It is quite possible to have accounts at a single bank totaling more than the $250,000 that are fully insured if, for example, a husband and wife are involved. The insurance limit can be above $250,000 depending on the ownership category of the account. Understanding the concept of ownership category is critical to understanding how the FDIC insurance works. For example, the FDIC considers single ownership and joint ownership separate ownership categories.

    If anyone thinks I said something incorrect, please comment. This is my own understanding of how FDIC insurance works and I take no responsibility if I am wrong. So, check out the regulations for yourself.


  7. Regarding robot chats, when they say “Please say yes or no” (or whatever)_ when I reply with “yes or no” they claim they didn’t understand. I did exactly what they instructed me to do. Who designs these questions?

  8. The population radius map focuses on a place in Melbourne very close to where I grew up! Since then, the 1970s/80s the city’s population has grown from 3 to 5 million making it almost equal to Sydney as Australia’s largest city.

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