Tuesday: Hili dialogue

July 18, 2023 • 6:45 am

Welcome to the Cruelest Day: Tuesday, July 18, 2023, and National Caviar Day (good luck with that; I’ve had the good stuff exactly once).

It’s also National Sour Candy Day and Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrated on Mandela’s birthday. As for sour candy, read this:

Sour candy has a low pH level, almost as low as that of battery acid, registering at around 1.8 on the pH scale.

And here’s the world’s sourest candy, as judged by these dudebros. You can buy the 1 Up candy on Amazon. You can skip to 5:33 to avoid all the mishigass. And note that the Amazon ratings are very low, centering around, “not that sour!”

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the July 18 Wikipedia page.

There was a Google Doodle yesterday, an 11-panel slideshow celebrating the birthday of Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888), described by Wikipedia as the discoverer of greenhouse gases, though her contributions remained unknown until the 21st century. She was also an abolitionist, an early feminist, and an advocate of temperance. From Wikipedia:

She was the first scientist to conclude that certain gases warmed when exposed to sunlight, and that rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels would change atmospheric temperature and could affect climate, a phenomenon now referred to as the Greenhouse effect.

Da Nooz:

*Apparently the wily Ukrainians blew up the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula (illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 ) to Russia itself. First, here’s the bridge (my arrow):

A predawn assault on a critical bridge linking the occupied Crimean Peninsula to mainland Russia forced the temporary closure on Monday of a main artery used by its military to support its troops in southern Ukraine, in yet another blow to a Russian military command that was already dealing with internal strife.

. . .Given the deep strategic and symbolic importance of the bridge, Monday’s assault was another embarrassment for Russia’s military leadership, which has been roiled by the fallout from last month’s failed mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group.

Russian officials said two people were killed in the attack and a third was injured. The extent of the damage remained unclear, but the assault again highlighted the vulnerability of this key piece of infrastructure far from the front lines.

Rail service over the bridge resumed Monday morning. But damage to the car lanes — which appeared to leave part of the road tilting, according to video verified by The New York Times — threatened to constrict Russian logistical operations. The top Russian-installed official in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said on the Telegram messaging app that drivers should seek alternative routes.

If the bridge were destroyed or severely damaged, Moscow would be left with a single major land route from Russia along the southern coast of Ukraine to support tens of thousands of soldiers fighting to hold onto territory captured in the first weeks of the invasion.

And that route would be at the upper left, where Ukraine is, and you can see from the small inset map how far that connection is from Russia.

Pro-war Russian military bloggers and commentators were quick to use the attack on the bridge as evidence of what they said was another failure by the Russian military command. Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who runs a prominent blog about military affairs, said that Ukraine would strike again and again until the link is severed.

Of course they will? The Russians will be doing everything they can to protect that bridge, but Ukraine has fighter jets, and soon their pilots will be flying F-16s from America.  That bridge is toast.

*I’m surprised that Russia was even participating in a grain deal that involved Ukraine, but it apparently did—until now. Russia has just pulled out of that deal, although they said it had nothing to do with the bridge.

Russia said Monday it was suspending its participation in a crucial deal that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain, once again raising fears over global food supplies and scuppering a rare diplomatic breakthrough to emerge from Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The agreement, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, was officially set to expire at 5 p.m. ET on Monday (midnight local time in Istanbul, Kyiv, and Moscow).

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Russia would not renew the pact right now, saying it “has been terminated.”

Russia has for some time complained that it is being prevented from adequately exporting its own foodstuffs, and Peskov cited that objection as the reason for pulling out of the deal. “As soon as the Russian part is completed, the Russian side will return to the implementation of this deal immediately,” he told reporters.

Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the main objective of the deal – supplying grain to countries in need – “has not been realized,” again complaining that Russia faced obstacles exporting its own food.

In case you’re wondering why these two countries were entangled in such an agreement, the explanation is lower down:

The deal allowed Ukraine to export grain by sea, with ships bypassing a Russian blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports and navigating safe passage through the waterway to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait in order to reach global markets.

Vessels were inspected before they arrived in Ukraine by Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials, to ensure weapons were not being smuggled into Ukraine.

It proved vital for stabilizing global food prices and bringing relief to the developing countries which rely on Ukrainian exports. The impact of the war on global food markets was immediate and extremely painful, especially because Ukraine is a major supplier of grain to the World Food Programme (WFP).

*Wanna live forever?Read the NYT’s interview, “Joyce Carol Oates figured out the secret to immortality.” First her famous output, whose quality (high) is often neglected:

Oates, whose latest is the unsettling short-story collection “Zero-Sum,” has published 62 novels, 47 short-story collections, 16 collections of nonfiction, 9 collections of poetry, plays and books for children and young adults, as well as a torrent of tweets (the latter of which occasionally get her in trouble). The sheer quantity of her output, impressive as it may be, is almost beside the point. The real achievement is that the quality of that work is so consistently high.

The title is partly answered in the article, but there’s a lot more, too.  The “way to live forever”, says Joyce, is to leave something behind—something like a novel. Everything else is ephemeral, but I find the answer a bit sad. Is a well-lived life of no value because all the living vanishes when you die?

In your book “On Boxing,” you have a line about how for fighters, life is about the fight and the rest is just waiting. Do you feel that way with writing? 

That’s a good question. It points to a philosophical issue of what is essential in our lives and what is existential or incidental. Thinking of my early married life, my husband, whom I loved. It’s 2023, and I have to concede that I don’t remember those students. All I have left of all that happiness is my writing of that time. A book or two, some stories. I think that’s a profound fact. It’s a kind of devastating fact. Everything that you think is solid is actually fleeting and ephemeral. The only thing that is quasi-permanent would be a book or work of art or photographs or something. Anything you create that transcends time is in some ways more real than the actual reality of your life. If you set your hand on fire right now, it’s ephemeral. It would hurt, but Plato would say it’s not as real as something that transcends time. I am a person who was married, and was very happily married. Yet, that’s all gone now. Where is it?

. . .Did you see the movie “The Great Beauty”? It’s about a man who’s 65 years old. He wrote a good novel that people liked, but then he was taken up by the beauty of Rome. In a way, he says, he wasted his life. People are seduced by the beauty of the close-at-hand, and they don’t have the discipline or the predilection or the talent, maybe, to say: “I’m not going to go out tonight. I’m not going to waste my time on Twitter. I’m going to have five hours and work on my novel.” If you did that every day, you’d have a novel. Many people say, “I’m going to pet my cat” or “I’m with my children.” There’s lots of reasons that people have for not doing things. Then the cats are gone, the children move away, the marriage breaks up or somebody dies, and you’re sort of there, like, “I don’t have anything.”

You don’t have anything now (except memories), but you did have something, and that IS something.

*I found this article via a Pinker tweet, to wit:

Alison Gopnik, a well known professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, also happens to be the sister of New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, and the column mentioned above is “Pessimism is the one thing Americans can agree on.”

Are Americans cockeyed optimists or incorrigible pessimists? Do they think that American society has improved or gotten worse in various ways—and how accurate are their views? You might imagine that the answer would be nuanced, that it would depend on factors like people’s politics or news-consuming habits.

But the answer isn’t nuanced at all, according to a new study. In research published earlier this year in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, Gregory Mitchell at the University of Virginia and Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania looked at these questions empirically. Everybody they tested—young and old, conservative and liberal, news-addicted or not—showed the same pattern. Everybody thought that most things had gotten worse, even if they had actually gotten better. Pessimism reigned.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Census and other sources to objectively assess 24 trends in American life within the last two decades or so. They looked at changes in areas such as the average wage, incarceration rates and life expectancy; they noted how many teenagers had babies and how many old people had their original teeth. They examined certain trends for minorities and women specifically. In 22 of the 24 areas, they found that conditions had measurably improved; a group of people from across the political spectrum who were shown the data agreed on whether the trends were good or bad.

. . . Overwhelmingly, people were too pessimistic and gave too little credit to positive change. For instance, the high-school dropout rate for Black students has decreased by about five percentage points in recent years—good news. But few people chose that response; the most popular answer was that the rate had gone up by the same amount. Participants were only overly optimistic about two questions, both about life expectancy—they thought it had risen more than it had—and accurate about only one trend, men’s average wages.

One reason they give is that people tend to remember the bad things more than the good ones (also, the survey was taken during the covid epidemic.) And yet if you read Pinker’s Better Angels and Enlightenment Now, you’d be a fool not to think that the world has improved immeasurably in the last two or three hundred years.  I’ll just say one word here: antibiotics.  And it’s not just because Steve is a friend that I’ll say vehemently that he’s gotten a bad rap about his view of progress, a rap he kvetches about above.  Would you rather be living now, or living in 1723? You probably wouldn’t even be living in 1723, because you’d have died quite young, possibly of an infection.

*I spent many weeks as a postdoc at UC Davis doing field work in Death Valley, the lowest and hottest spot in the U.S., and the site of the highest recorded temperature since records have been kept. I always worked there in the spring (March and April), because after that it’s simply too hot for Drosophila. (Where do they come from?) The AP reports that Death Valley came pretty close to attaining that record temperature this week.

Long the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley put a sizzling exclamation point Sunday on a record warm summer that is baking nearly the entire globe by flirting with some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded, meteorologists said.

Temperatures in Death Valley, which runs along part of central California’s border with Nevada, reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53.33 degrees Celsius) on Sunday at the aptly named Furnace Creek, the National Weather Service said.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 F (56.67 C) in July 1913 at Furnace Creek, said Randy Ceverny of the World Meteorological Organization, the body recognized as keeper of world records. Temperatures at or above 130 F (54.44 C) have only been recorded on Earth a handful of times, mostly in Death Valley.

I think that 134-degree record may have been questioned. But Furnace Creek Ranch is where my field work headquarters were (a pup tent in the camp ground), and one year I went there in the summer just to see if any flies were present. (There were none; they couldn’t have survived in the temperature and lack of moisture. My theory is that they come down from the surrounding mountains each winter.) It was about 120°F, and, by god, I’d never felt heat like that before. Even though I was a penurious postdoc, I spring for one night in the Furnace Creek Motel just to get some air-conditioning.

The only people in the Valley besides me and the rangers were dozens of GERMANS, who came to experience the heat. They were all at the swimming pool, burnt beet-red by the desert sun.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili saw a paraglider

Hili: I’m a bit surprised.
A: What about?
Hili: That humans are flying like birds.
In Polish:
Hili: Trochę jestem zdziwiona.
Ja: Czym?
Hili: Tym, że człowiek leci jak ptak.

And a photo of Baby Kulka:


From Divy:

From Beth (not sure whose cartoon this is):

From Jesus of the Day:


A tweet from Masih. The Google translation is:

Today is the birthday of #Aida_Rostami and #Mehsa_Mogoi. Two innocent people who went to the street for their dreams, but the Islamic Republic killed them.

Aida and Mahsa’s sin was lighting a candle in the darkness of government. A government that has not achieved anything other than pain and suffering for the people and is still in office with bullets and ropes. The presence of Aida and Mahsa in the street was the failure of Khamenei’s system of threats and intimidation.

Although they are not with us today to blow out their birthday candles, they each lit a candle in the hearts of their people. Now it is the duty of all of us to take care of this burning flame and keep the revolution #Zen_Zandagi_Azadi and its ideals alive.


From Luana. I can’t verify this but “cis” and “straight” people get no colorful flags!

From Barry, who says, “War declared!” Indeed.

From Malcolm: “Learning pest control.”  The hard way!

From the Auschwitz Memorial, someone who survived!

Tweets from Matthew. First, a brave Ukrainian cat:

This is from The Dodo, so you know everything turns out all right.

Why the huge testes?

22 thoughts on “Tuesday: Hili dialogue

  1. “Is a well-lived life of no value because all the living vanishes when you die?”
    Nothing has any meaning or point.
    As Balfour said, “Nothing matters very much, & most things don’t matter at all.”

  2. Speaking of heat, it may hit 102 in Wichita today. Did you know in some places prisons have no air conditioning. Texas is one of those places.

  3. This afternoon, in federal district court in the Southern District of Florida, the court will hold the first substantive hearing in Donald Trump’s “BOXES HOAX!” criminal prosecution. With this hearing, we may get a clue whether, this time around, district judge Aileen Cannon will endeavor to run a good, clean, according-to-Hoyle game. I’m betting (or at least hoping) that she will. Call me an indefatigable optimist, but — notwithstanding some recent high-profile exceptions — I think members of the federal judiciary (even ones with whom I disagree vehemently as to matters of judicial philosophy and policy) do their level best to answer the legal issues put to them honestly and accurately. I’m willing (at least provisionally) to chalk up Cannon’s egregious legal errors in the earlier search-warrant litigation to inexperience rather than malice. Plus, Cannon knows the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will be keeping a close eye on her every move. I doubt Cannon wants her enduring legacy to be that she made legally unsupportable, biased calls for Donald Trump.

    Meanwhile, yesterday, Trump had his ass handed to him by the Georgia Supreme Court in his frivolous effort to put a halt to Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis’s criminal investigation into Trump’s efforts to tamper with the state’s 2020 presidential election. A unanimous, nine-member Georgia Supreme Court — comprising eight Republican appointees and one justice who won his seat in a non-partisan election — rejected Trump’s arguments out of hand. You can read the court’s five-page opinion from that case here.

  4. “Why the huge testes?”

    Sperm competition?
    E.g. see https://bit.ly/3Om7f4Y

    “The effect of such “sperm competition” is apparent in chimps, where a female typically mates with all of the males in her group. To compete, male chimps have developed the largest testes of all the great apes. “

    1. “By comparison, male gorillas have exclusive access to a harem of females and have very small testicles.”

  5. Even if cis or het had colorful exciting flags, what business is it of any preschool through 12th grade (US or equiv.) to implicitly pressure the students – in a group setting – to choose one? Is it really necessary to “educate” on personal matters of whom one is attracted to?

    I elaborated yesterday on the literature, and arguments suggested that there is unlikely to be a “smoking gun” because there are privacy issues with schools, etc.

      1. Clever. But even if we had a video, a photo, from Twitter, it would be dismissed as anecdote. We’d need to know how the teacher – trained in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the US, not sure about the UK – conducted the political education (because what else is it?).

        What if it was Republican (elephant), Democrat (donkey), green (blank), libertarian (blank), or other, with blanks, to fill in your favorite animal?

        The point is implicit group pressure on children to make their minds up on political or even personal matters. That is indistinguishable from thought reform.

  6. Why are Americans pessimistic about the state of the nation compared to the past even though the metrics show this not to be true? I think a combination of factors explain this.

    • Yes, the country and the world may be better off than hundreds of years ago, indeed, just a few decades ago, but there is a sense that this condition reflects a snapshot in time and that the world is on a precipice, ready to fall off it at any moment. They read and hear about climate change or that the next pandemic will be worse than Covid. Hence, catastrophizing has become more prevalent.

    • People do not judge the quality of their life simply in economic or material terms. The cultural milieu they live in is often the main determinant of how they judge their lives. The raging culture wars is indicative of this. Perception, rather than reality, dictates how people feel about society. Rightly or wrongly, both the left and the right feel that the other side is out to destroy the things they hold most dearly. These “things” are not how much money they have in the bank or the size of their houses or even the state of their health. These “things” they can control by personal action, at least to an extent, limited as it may be. It’s what they have little or no control over whatsoever that most disturbs them. These include the changing demographics of the nation, and the state of religion, family, education and the concept of what it means to be an American.

    • All these factors contribute to people thinking that there was a past golden age when life was so better even if economically or healthwise they are better off today. This is not true, but the internet and cable news foster this belief. In contrast to just a few decades ago, people are bombarded by news on a 24 hour basis, with an emphasis on the “bad” or with distortions or ideological bias. It is no wonder that people are pessimistic. The world they desire is perceived as in great danger and can disappear in the blink of an eye.

    1. I was going to say something along your second point — that Americans (probably human beings in general) tend to love an Enemy. When I’ve argued that statistics show that many negative trends have improved, the reaction is often angry, as if I’m making excuses for whatever Evil they hold responsible.

      We don’t want cheaters to get away with cheating. One way to do this is to hold them accountable, and one way to hold them accountable is by darkly brooding on their iniquity, never relaxing vigilance, and making sure we don’t accidentally minimize their crimes. If things aren’t that bad that means THEY aren’t that bad. Hey, which side are you on?

  7. On this day:
    1290 – King Edward I of England issues the Edict of Expulsion, banishing all Jews (numbering about 16,000) from England.

    1723 – Johann Sebastian Bach leads the first performance of his cantata Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz, BWV 136, in Leipzig on the eighth Sunday after Trinity.

    1862 – First ascent of Dent Blanche, one of the highest summits in the Alps.

    1870 – The First Vatican Council decrees the dogma of papal infallibility.

    1872 – The Ballot Act 1872 in the United Kingdom introduced the requirement that parliamentary and local government elections be held by secret ballot.

    1914 – The U.S. Congress forms the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, giving official status to aircraft within the U.S. Army for the first time.

    1925 – Adolf Hitler publishes Mein Kampf.

    1968 – Intel is founded in Mountain View, California.

    1976 – Nadia Comăneci becomes the first person in Olympic Games history to score a perfect 10 in gymnastics at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

    1982 – Two hundred sixty-eight Guatemalan campesinos (“peasants” or “country people”) are slain in the Plan de Sánchez massacre.

    1992 – A picture of Les Horribles Cernettes was taken, which became the first ever photo posted to the World Wide Web.

    1994 – The bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Argentine Jewish Community Center) in Buenos Aires kills 85 people (mostly Jewish) and injures 300.

    1994 – Rwandan genocide: The Rwandan Patriotic Front takes control of Gisenyi and north western Rwanda, forcing the interim government into Zaire and ending the genocide.

    1995 – On the Caribbean island of Montserrat, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupts. Over the course of several years, it devastates the island, destroying the capital, forcing most of the population to flee.

    1670 – Giovanni Bononcini, Italian cellist and composer (d. 1747).

    1720 – Gilbert White, English ornithologist and ecologist (d. 1793).

    1811 – William Makepeace Thackeray, English author and poet (d. 1863).

    1843 – Virgil Earp, American marshal (d. 1905).

    1848 – W. G. Grace, English cricketer and physician (d. 1915).

    1853 – Hendrik Lorentz, Dutch physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1928).

    1861 – Kadambini Ganguly, Indian physician, one of the first Indian women to obtain a degree (d. 1923).

    1887 – Vidkun Quisling, Norwegian military officer and politician, Minister President of Norway (d. 1945).

    1908 – Peace Pilgrim, American mystic and activist (d. 1981).

    1913 – Red Skelton, American actor and comedian (d. 1997).

    1918 – Nelson Mandela, South African lawyer and politician, 1st President of South Africa, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2013).

    1921 – John Glenn, American colonel, astronaut, and politician (d. 2016).

    1922 – Thomas Kuhn, American physicist, historian, and philosopher (d. 1996).

    1929 – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, American R&B singer-songwriter, musician, and actor (d. 2000).

    1937 – Hunter S. Thompson, American journalist and author (d. 2005).

    1941 – Martha Reeves, American singer and politician.

    1950 – Richard Branson, English businessman, founded Virgin Group.

    Life is first boredom, then fear.
    Whether or not we use it, it goes,
    And leaves what something hidden from us chose,
    And age, and then the only end of age.

    1610 – Caravaggio, Italian painter (b. 1571).

    1698 – Johann Heinrich Heidegger, Swiss theologian and author (b. 1633).

    1721 – Jean-Antoine Watteau, French painter (b. 1684).

    1817 – Jane Austen, English novelist (b. 1775).

    1890 – Lydia Becker, English journalist, author, and activist, co-founded the Women’s Suffrage Journal (b. 1827).

    1892 – Thomas Cook, English travel agent, founded the Thomas Cook Group (b. 1808).

    1954 – Machine Gun Kelly, American gangster (b. 1895). [The Wikipedia list incorrectly says he was also born on this day; in fact the anniversary of his birth was yesterday.]

    1973 – Jack Hawkins, English actor (b. 1910).

    1988 – Nico, German singer-songwriter, keyboard player, and actress (b. 1938).

    2021 – Tom O’Connor, English comedian (b. 1939).

  8. Ahead of antibiotics, I would say that unlocking the vast store of the sun’s energy that was locked away millions of years ago in fossil fuels drove the enormous general improvement in the human condition since the 18th century. Advances in public health (including of course vaccines) enabled by electricity have been more important than the ability to cure individual sick patients (who may not recover enough vitality to go back to work and are often near the end of life anyway.). I’d allow a partial exception in the singular case of tuberculosis. Antibiotics certainly were decisive in preventing death from advanced disease and in the risk of contagion, particularly to young children. Even with TB, though, it’s nutrition, prosperity, and controlling alcoholism that prevents death. But otherwise fossil fuels have made our lives what they are, even for those who have never once needed antibiotics themselves.

    Remember most of the increase we have enjoyed in life expectancy at birth comes from reducing infant and child mortality which is a sanitation and living-standards issue, not chiefly an antibiotic issue. And we wouldn’t have been able to make antibiotics, or much else, without fossil-fuel electricity.

    Before coal, I’d say the Big Three inventions were the printing press, deep-draft sailing ships capable of crossing oceans to “new” continents, …and spectacles (which allowed skilled artisans to continue their trade after their 40s when presbyopia would have made them otherwise unable to do close work.). I’m leaving out firearms because I don’t want to start a fight.

    The antibiotic era started long after industrial coal did, and will end long before the fossil fuel era will end. Let’s hope our well-being depends more on the latter than on the former.

    1. The fossil fuel era may (or may not) end in this century with advances in nuclear fuel. My guess is that antibiotics will be used far into the future. Of course, I agree with 98% of what you are saying. I would add one detail. Coal made possible relatively cheap and widespread electricity. Electricity made Chlorine relatively cheap. Chlorine made water safe to drink. The impact on life-expectancy and general human health was profound. Add the Haber process and HVAC and the gains are vast.

  9. Regarding whether things are getting better or worse, it’s most important not to fool oneself, and oneself is the easiest person in the world to fool. That’s why I look to science—data—for the answer to this question. While the trend is not perfectly monotonic, the net direction is positive. Things are getting better.

    Where do those Drosophila in Death Valley come from? Spontaneous generation, of course! (Just kidding.)

    The hottest place I’ve ever been was in geological field camp in 1977 (run jointly by SUNY-Buffalo and SUNY-Binghamton), somewhere in Wyoming. It was ~120 degrees F at (what was informally named) the Inferno Anticline. Our task was to map this small geological feature. The heat was unbelievable. And when the wind blew, it felt hotter—like a blast furnace—rather than cooler, which was strange. But it was a “dry heat” as they say. Yeah, at that temperature one could dry to death in just a few hours without water (which I carried in abundance). Field camp was (perhaps still is) a right of passage in those days, but it was positively dangerous!

  10. I experienced 134 degrees F in the Sinai. I did not know until now that it matched the record. Of course, that is not official, but I measured it with a properly sited and calibrated thermometer.

    We just came from my wife’s ranch in West Texas. While we were there, the daily high was 110 on most days.

  11. “Russian officials said two people were killed in the attack and a third was injured.”

    I read some (other?) version of this in the NY Times early this morning – the person injured was the teenage daughter of the two parents killed (to the extent that that possibly matters – especially to those whose mindset is that of the admirable human primate Lindsay Graham.).

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