Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

July 3, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Saturday, July 3, 2021: Sabbath for Jewish cats and National Chocolate Wafer Day (a KitKat is one example).

It’s also National Eat Beans Day, International Cherry Pit Spitting Day (the world record is 28.51 meters or 93 feet, 6 inches!), National Fried Clam Day, and American Redneck Day. And, according to Wikipedia, it’s “The start of the Dog Days according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac but not according to established meaning in most European cultures.”

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) honors the life and work of neurologist Ludwig Guttmann, born on this day in 1899 (died 1980), who pioneered sports activities for people with disabilities by founding the Stoke Mandeville Games. These evolved into the Paralympics.

Wine of the Day: This Jermann Tuninia from 2015 is an unusual Italian white wine, made from a mixture of grapes: Friulano, Picolit, Ribolla, and Malvasia. I’ve heard of only the last one. But the reviews, all emphasizing its mixture of fruity flavors, made me choose it to accompany my go-to simple meal: black beans and rice with sauteed onions and a bit of thick Greek yogurt mixed in for creaminess.  (I could have chosen a German Riesling Spätlese, but that may have been too sweet.) You don’t want a bone-dry Chardonnay for a dish like that.

It was an estimable wine, laden with fruit and not resembling any white I’ve ever had. Full-bodied, a tad off-dry, and redolent with melon and pear flavors (I have trouble detecting other fruits in wines), it was a good accompaniment for my abstemious but healthy meal.  It was not over the hill by any means. I paid thirty bucks for it, and it goes for about twice that now. Would I pay that much again? Yes, I suppose, for the experience of such an unusual wine, but this will not be a regular in my lineup as the price/value ratio is too high.

News of the Day:

After nearly twenty years, the U.S. is pulling its troops out of Afghanistan, leaving Bagram Air Base just yesterday. By September 11, according to Biden, we will be gone. And what will happen is inevitable: the Taliban will take over, and the freedoms that everyone (but especially woman and girls) have enjoyed will disappear. Will Leftists now beef that Afghanistan is an “apartheid state” when women are no longer allowed to go to school and must wear burqas? Don’t count on it!

Reader Ken tells me that yesterday that, according to the Guardian, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Washington State florist who was fined $1000 for refusing to create a floral arrangement for a gay wedding. The florist, Barronelle Stutzman, apparently violated an anti-discrimination law and was ordered to henceforth make floral arrangements for gay weddings if she made them for same-sex weddings.  You may recall that the Court ruled a different way in an earlier case, allowing a cakemaker not to bake a cake for a gay wedding because it violated the baker’s religion. From Ken:

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court dodged the issue of civil rights laws vs. the Free Exercise Clause by deciding the case on the very narrow grounds that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had employed the wrong standard in determining what constituted “religious neutrality.”

In this case, Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington, the Court decided not to open that can of worms (or cakes or flowers) again. I was happily surprised to see that Amy Coney Barrett didn’t jump at the chance to join with other rightwingers to vote to take the case. It means the Ninth Circuit’s decision compelling the florist to provide her services to the gay couple stands.
And when I asked him why he was “happily surprised” by her decision, he replied that Barrett probably does want to use religious freedom to quash gay rights, but that this may have not been the right case:

There’s some speculation that Justice Barrett’s decision not to vote to grant cert was motivated by her desire to await the perfect case in which to rule for religious freedom over gay rights — or by her concern that the lawyers for the homophobic Alliance for Defending Freedom were not up to the task of presenting the case in its best light. See this tweet:

The WaPo has an analysis how three Justices: Coney Barrett, Roberts, and Kavanaugh, are moving the Court towards the right, though slowly and cautiously. But is this news? We are doomed until past my lifetime to have our laws interpreted by a bunch of religious conservatives.

Here are the results from my “Will Trump go to jail” contest in yesterday’s Hili Dialogue. By a large majority, people think Trump will never do the perp walk:

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 604,629, an increase of 230 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 3,981,135,, an increase of about 8,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on July 3 includes:

The Army, first commanded by Washington, lasted from 1775-1783.

  • 1819 – The Bank for Savings in the City of New-York, the first savings bank in the United States, opens.
  • 1863 – American Civil War: The final day of the Battle of Gettysburg culminates with Pickett’s Charge.

Under Robert E. Lee’s orders, 12,500 Confederate soldiers charged Meade’s Union army over an open field. It was a disaster: the Confederates were repulsed with more than 50% casualties. This has been described as the high-water mark of the Confederacy, and from then on it was downhill to defeat. Here’s a picture of a Union gun that repelled the charge:

(From Wikipedia): “A gun and gunners that repulsed Pickett’s Charge” (from The Photographic History of the Civil War). This was Andrew Cowan’s 1st New York Artillery Battery.
  • 1884 – Dow Jones & Company publishes its first stock average.
  • 1886 – Karl Benz officially unveils the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the first purpose-built automobile.

And here it is; only 25 were manufactured:

Here’s that reunion, with the graybeards shaking hands:

(From Wikipedia): Now the “Friendly” Angle One of the most affecting sights witnessed during the present reunion of Confederate and Federal veterans at Gettysburg is depicted in this photograph. Across the stone wall, which marks the boundaries of the famous “Bloody Angle” where Pickett lost over 3,000 men from a force of 6,000 these old soldiers of the North and South clasped hands in fraternal affection / / International News Service, 200 William St., New York.

It’s now in Edinburgh Castle, but here it was before it was in England, and then was stolen and returned to Scotland in 1996. Queen Elizabeth was crowned sitting over this block of red sandstone.

From the Daily Fail: The artefact – also known as the Stone of Scone – was used in the inauguration of Scottish kings until 1296, when King Edward I seized it and had it built into a new throne at Westminster Abbey in London. Pictured: King Edward I’s coronation throne containing the stone
  • 2013 – Egyptian coup d’état: President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi is overthrown by the military after four days of protests all over the country calling for Morsi’s resignation, to which he did not respond. President of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt Adly Mansour is declared acting president.

Notables born on this day include:

Every Fourth of July when I was a kid I’d watch the 1942 movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” with James Cagney playing George M. Cohan. I loved it, and Cagney’s performance was outstanding. Here’s the ending of the movie when Cohan gets a medal from FDR and then joins a parade singing Cohan’s song “Over There”.  Admit it; doesn’t it make you feel just a wee bit patriotic?

Kafka in 1906:

  • 1908 – M. F. K. Fisher, American author (d. 1992)
  • 1937 – Tom Stoppard, Czech-English playwright and screenwriter

My brush with fame at the Hay Festival, June, 2010 (later I smoked one of his cigarettes with him):

  • 1947 – Dave Barry, American journalist and author
  • 1962 – Tom Cruise, American actor and producer

Those who became the Dearly Departed on July 3 include:

  • 1904 – Theodor Herzl, Austrian journalist and playwright (b. 1860)
  • 1935 – André Citroën, French engineer and businessman, founded the Citroën Company (b. 1878)
  • 1969 – Brian Jones, English guitarist, songwriter, and producer (b. 1942)
  • 1971 – Jim Morrison, American singer-songwriter (b. 1943)

Here’s a live version of one of my favorite Doors songs (“Riders on the Storm” is up there, though I’m not as keen as others on “Light My Fire”:

And here’s Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (now guarded and fenced in because of vandalism and theft), photographed by me in November, 2018:

  • 2012 – Andy Griffith, American actor, singer, and producer (b. 1926)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili and Szaron discuss their plans:

Szaron: Are we going into the forest?
Hili: No, I’m going back home.
In Polish:
Szaron: Idziemy do lasku?
Hili: Nie, ja wracam do domu.

And Leon is weary of the week:

Leon: Is it Friday yet?

In Polish: Juz piątek mamy?

Here’s a confusing sign from reader David. I believe this is what happens when your math skills are deficient:

From Bruce:

From Jesus of the Day:

Titania adds part 37 to her list of things that have been deemed racist:

Two tweets from Luana: two statues get toppled in Canada.

. . . and religion in America continues its inexorable decline:

With this tweet, reader Ken adds: “One would think that the lawyers for the guy most likely to be “Unindicted Coconspirator #1″ in the Trump Org/Weisselberg indictment had advised their client to STFU on national tv.”

One would think that the lawyers for the guy most likely to be “Unindicted Coconspirator #1” in the Trump Org/Weisselberg indictment had advised their client to STFU on national tv.

Tweets from Matthew. I had no idea that the first of July was International Polychaete Day. Here’s a lovely specimen.

Matthew sent this tweet with a link and a comment: “Here’s the site Francesca’s correspondent refers to – really quite extraordinarily bonkers.” That’s an understatement!

Now here’s an unusual find: click on the link to the article to see the beetle, which is indeed amazingly preserved in a coprolite:

Friday: Hili dialogue

July 2, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Friday, July 2, 2021: National Anisette Day. It’s also World UFO Day, Comic Sans Day, and Freedom from Fear of Speaking Day (see below, though the holiday isn’t really about Freedom of Speech, but about a phobia). Nevertheless, the man in the painting almost surely had to overcome his fear of speaking:

Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” from the Four Freedoms series. Photographed at the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, October, 2012

I saw a possum crossing the street on my way to work this morning.

News of the Day:

Well. of course the big news is that criminal charges have come down on the Trump organization. The Orange Man faces no personal charges, but the Manhattan District Attorney accused the Trump organization of tax fraud, paying people without keeping records. And one of the executives, Alan Weisselberg, who was Trumps chief financial officer, is accused of grand larceny and tax fraud for evading taxes on $1.7 million in perks. Is Trump next? The NYT says this:

And while the indictment is narrowly focused on the scheme to evade taxes based on the provision of the benefits, the charges could lay the groundwork for the next steps in the investigation, which will focus on Mr. Trump.

The broader investigation into Mr. Trump and his company’s business practices is continuing. The prosecutors in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have been investigating whether Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization manipulated property values to obtain loans and tax benefits, among other potential financial crimes, The New York Times has reported.

Let’s have a poll!

Will Trump see prison time from the criminal investigations in New York?

View Results

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The Supreme Court handed down a decision that doesn’t look good for those of us who oppose the new Republican-led restrictions on voting enacted by  several states. The court upheld by a 6-3 vote, with the voting politically down the line, that several provisions of Arizona’s new voting-restrictions laws were legal, even if they imposed slight burdens on minority voters.  Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented. (The Court’s decision is here, with Kagan’s dissent particularly strong.)

Reader Ken sent me this note yesterday: “Today’s the last day of the Court’s term. The only remaining business is a decision in the California donor disclosure case, and whether 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer will announce his retirement, giving Uncle Joe the opportunity to nominate his successor while the Dems have the Senate votes to confirm.” It looks as if Breyer won’t resign, since that’s traditionally announced before the end of the Court’s term.

In the Surfside, Florida condo collapse, 18 people are now confirmed dead and 145 are still missing. After a week without water, it seems unlikely that anybody is still alive, but friends and relatives of the missing are still holding out hope. The search and rescue mission (it hasn’t been changed to the dreaded “recovery mission”) was paused today as workers worried that the rest of the building might come down.

On the lighter side, the San Diego Tribune reports a clutch of ten ducklings hatched in the nearby Oceanside Civic Center fountain, but had no way of getting out of the water. (You must know by now that baby ducks have to dry off on land from time to time). A kindly maintenance engineer built them a ramp to make their egress, which they haven’t yet used, but they have a ledge to stand on. That’s is NOT good enough: they should put a big platform attacked to the foundation. Most important, there’s no food there: they need to feed the ducks!! The report adds, “Wildlife rescue officials have been contacted and may come take the birds away, she said.Wildlife rescue officials have been contacted and may come take the birds away.” It will be hard to catch the entire brood AND the mother, as you want to keep the family together if you’re moving them to a more suitable location.  (h/t Susan)

Here’s a photo of the precarious ledge. I hope the ducks get proper help.

A British man has broken the Guinness world record for constructing the tallest stack of M&Ms.  Guess how tall it is? Not high; the answer is below (h/t Ginger K.)

Yep, just five. I’d think a Guinness guy would have to provide the M&Ms and be on the spot lest someone engage in chicanery with glue or other sticky substances.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 604,756, an increase of 263 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 3,972,356, an increase of about 8,500 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on July 2 includes:

  • 1698 – Thomas Savery patents the first steam engine.
  • 1776 – American Revolution: The Continental Congress adopts a resolution severing ties with the Kingdom of Great Britain although the wording of the formal Declaration of Independence is not published until July 4.
  • 1816 – The French frigate Méduse strikes the Bank of Arguin and 151 people on board have to be evacuated on an improvised raft, a case immortalised by Géricault‘s painting The Raft of the Medusa.

Here’s that painting, from 1818-1819, which you can see in the Louvre. Of the 151 passengers, only 15 were alive when the raft was rescued 13 days later.

The mutineers were freed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that they were rightfully revolting against the slave trade, which had been declared illegal.

Here’s a photo of that first Zeppelin flight:

  • 1934 – The Night of the Long Knives ends with the death of Ernst Röhm.
  • 1937 – Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan are last heard from over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to make the first equatorial round-the-world flight.

Here’s Earhart just before leaving on her last flight. The plane is a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra.

  • 1964 – Civil rights movement: U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 meant to prohibit segregation in public places.
  • 1976 – End of South Vietnam; Communist North Vietnam annexes the former South Vietnam to form the unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
  • 1990 – In the 1990 Mecca tunnel tragedy, 1,400 Muslim pilgrims are suffocated to death and trampled upon in a pedestrian tunnel leading to the holy city of Mecca.
  • 2002 – Steve Fossett becomes the first person to fly solo around the world nonstop in a balloon.

Here’s the gondola of his balloon, the Spirit of Freedom; the flight, leaving from and landing in Australia, lasted 13 days and 8 hours.

Steve Fossett’s Bud Light Spirit of Freedom Balloon Capsule (A20030128000) on display in the “Pioneers of Flight” exhibit (Gallery 208), Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., April 19, 2006. Photo by Eric Long. [SI-2006-5549]
Notables born on this day include:

When I was a teenager, I read several books by Hesse but didn’t like them. I didn’t know what he looked like, so I just looked him up, and he looks pretty much like I imagined.

That’s the shirt with the alligator on it.

Marshall was the first black Supreme Court Justice, appointed by LBJ in 1967. Here he is in the Oval Office, presumably after a chat with the President:

  • 1925 – Medgar Evers, American soldier and activist (d. 1963)
  • 1937 – Richard Petty, American race car driver and sportscaster
  • 1947 – Larry David, American actor, comedian, producer, and screenwriter
  • 1956 – Jerry Hall, American model and actress

When I was researching my children’s book about cats in Bangalore, the hero, Mr. Das, acquired a new stray female kitten. I proposed to call her Jerry, but Mr. Das said that women weren’t named Jerry. I then googled Jerry Hall and showed her to him, and he agreed to name the cat after me.

  • 1990 – Margot Robbie, Australian actress and producer

Those who perished from this Earth on July 2 include:

  • 1566 – Nostradamus, French astrologer and author (b. 1503)
  • 1961 – Ernest Hemingway, American novelist, short story writer, and journalist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1899)

Here’s a photo of Hemingway from the Daily Beast accompanying a misguided article called “Why the hell are we still reading Ernest Hemingway?” Perhaps because he wrote some really terrific stuff.

  • 1973 – Betty Grable, American actress, singer, and dancer (b. 1916)

Here’s Grable in what was undoubtedly the most popular “pin up girl” affixed to walls by soldiers in World War II. The caption: “Grable’s iconic over-the-shoulder pose from 1943 (due to the fact she was visibly pregnant) was a World War II bestseller, showing off her ‘Million Dollar Legs'”. The photo was by Frank Powolny.

  • 1977 – Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-born novelist and critic (b. 1899)
  • 1991 – Lee Remick, American actress (b. 1935)
  • 1997 – James Stewart, American actor (b. 1908)
  • 2007 – Beverly Sills, American operatic soprano and television personality (b. 1929)
  • 2016 – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, activist, and author (b. 1928)

Here’s Wiesel photographed in the concentration camp of Buchenwald on April 16, 1945, four days after the camp was liberated. I’ve circled him:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron have a chinwag about a snack:

Hili: Did you see something tasty?
Szaron: I did but it flew away.
In Polish:
Hili: Widziałeś gdzieś coś smacznego?
Szaron: Widziałem, ale odfrunęło.

And we have Mietek and Leon together! Malgorzata explains:

“This is an old saying which means that two heads are better than one, or two people can solve problems better than just one. I don’t know whether you have something like that in English.”

Indeed we do! So let the caption be “two cat heads are better than one.”

In Polish: Co dwie głowy to nie jedna

From Nicole:

From Jesus of the Day. If you don’t understand this, you’re too young.

A clever ad from reader David:

A tweet from Barry, whose email says, “Aliens have visited Earth. . . . I just had no idea that they’d be so cute!

Here’s a tweet sent by Luana and issued by Democratic Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts; it shows the the inequity of heat distribution:

Tweets from Matthew. The Hebrew translation is “Summer school.” That is one happy hog!

This is like a calving iceberg. It’s geology, Jake!

A tweet from Matthew.  What I want to know is how Matthew knew that Harry was dreaming about drinking tea!

The higher-flying individual is almost as high as the summit of Mount Everest (8849 meters). There’s not much oxygen that high, and one wonders if that’s a problem for the snipes.

Cat encounters Honorary Cat®:

It’s only July 2, so I can pronounce this as Tweet of the Month:

Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

May 22, 2021 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Cat Sabbath: May 22, 2021: National Vanilla Pudding Day. (That reminds me of Bill Cosby, who used to advertise Jell-O puddings but is now in jail.) It’s also Italian Beef Day (a sandwich best consumed in Chicago), United States National Maritime Day, Harvey Milk Day in California (see below), International Day for Biological DiversityWorld Goth Day, and Canadian Immigrants Day.  

News of the Day:

Jerrold Nadler, a senior Jewish congressman and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, maintains in a NYT editorial that “Democrats have not changed their position on Israel.”  An excerpt

But the vast majority of Democrats are thoughtful and considerate, and recognize nuance in a conflict shaded by centuries of complexity, suffering and pain, and this has always been the case. We know that the only solution is one where both Jewish and Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and security. We support the humanity of both parties in the conflict as well as small-d democratic values. And we stand resolutely against attacks on Israel’s right to exist. Really, this moment reflects a coming out of the silent majority of American Jews whose values are both liberal and supportive of Israel, as a recent Pew study indicates.

As the most senior Jewish member in the House of Representatives, a longtime Congressional Progressive Caucus leader and the House member who represents the largest and most diverse Jewish population, I’m more familiar with this issue than most. The Democratic Party, of course, welcomes robust debate. However, the conversations I have had with a wide range of members of my party, including many of the 25 Jewish Democrats in the House as well as a number of progressives, reflect a reality that the headlines do not: On Israel, there exists a broad, mainstream consensus around a number of core principles.

Would that he were right, but I don’t quite buy it. Israel’s right to exist?  Did he also talk to members of the Squad? Bernie Sanders? One of my biggest sources of stress these past few weeks is watch the Democratic Left, almost predictably, move the needly slowly away from Israel’s right to exist toward Hamas, which denies that right. I still don’t quite understand it.

Speaking of which, have a look at Peter Savodnik’s new analysis (on Bari Weiss’s Substack site) of why America has suddenly become so much more anti-Semitic (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

Over the past two decades, this obsession with identity has intensified and spread. Progressives are now incapable of talking about anything important without mentioning human beings’ immutable traits.

Any politics of identity was bad for the Jew. On the right, the identiarians said that the Jew lacked whiteness — it was a new version of the old Nazi claim about our impurity. On the left, the Jew was said to have too much.

In 2021, we are well-aware of the white-nationalist inanities. We have memorized the horrific footage from Charlottesville. We remember every Jew murdered in Pittsburgh and in Poway.

But their chants of “Jews Will Not Replace Us” are now being joined by the identitarians of the left, who wield vastly more capital and power, in government, in the media, in the universities, in Hollywood, and in Silicon Valley. (It’s curious that Rep. Rashida Tlaib has accused Israel of “forced population replacement.”) Together, they form a bleating chorus of grievances. Somehow their roster of The Hurt never includes the Jew.

How can you not want to read the answer to Michelle Goldberg’s title question in her new NYT op-ed (click on screenshot)?

And, surprisingly, her answer is “yes”, based not only on Hitchens’s work but mainly on a “compelling new podcast,” “The Turning: The Sisters Who Left,” about those who left Mother Teresa’s order.  An excerpt:

What makes “The Turning” unique is its focus on the internal life of the Missionaries of Charity. The former sisters describe an obsession with chastity so intense that any physical human contact or friendship was prohibited; according to Johnson, Mother Teresa even told them not to touch the babies they cared for more than necessary. They were expected to flog themselves regularly — a practice called “the discipline” — and were allowed to leave to visit their families only once every 10 years.

Joe Biden handed out the first Medal of Honor of his administration to a 94-year old Korean war vet who got out of his wheelchair and discarded his walker to stand up and receive America’s highest military award. I’m not a big fan of war, but somehow the story of Col. Ralph Puckett, Jr. tugged a bit at my heart. Here’s a photo (click on it to go to the story):

The Wall Street Journal has a mouthwatering article on some of Italy’s best white wines, which are not too expensive (the examples given range from $19-$30). The tasting notes make me want to explore this genre, about which I know almost nothing.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 588,846, an increase of about 700 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 3,458,946, an increase of about 12,900 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on May 22 include:

Fourteenth. As Wikipedia notes, the first certain appearance of the comet was in 240 BC from a Chinese record.

  • 1455 – Start of the Wars of the Roses: At the First Battle of St Albans, Richard, Duke of York, defeats and captures King Henry VI of England.
  • 1804 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition officially begins as the Corps of Discovery departs from St. Charles, Missouri.
  • 1807 – A grand jury indicts former Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr on a charge of treason.
  • 1826 – HMS Beagle departs on its first voyage.

This is not the voyage that carried Charles Darwin, which was the second (and last) voyage of the ship. Here’s a view of the ship, which was much smaller than you think:


And here’s that patent:

  • 1960 – The Great Chilean earthquake, measuring 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale, hits southern Chile, becoming the most powerful earthquake ever recorded.
  • 1964 – Lyndon B. Johnson launches the Great Society.
  • 1987 – First ever Rugby World Cup kicks off with New Zealand playing Italy at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • 1998 – A U.S. federal judge rules that U.S. Secret Service agents can be compelled to testify before a grand jury concerning the Lewinsky scandal involving President Bill Clinton.
  • 2002 – Civil rights movement: A jury in Birmingham, Alabama, convicts former Ku Klux Klan member Bobby Frank Cherry of the 1963 murder of four girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

Here’s the white supremacist and Klansman (Klansperson?) Cherry, who died in a prison hospital in 2004:

  • 2010 – Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich 2–0 in the Uefa Champions League final in Madrid, Spain to become the first, and so far only, Italian team to win the historic treble (Serie A, Coppa Italia, Champions League).
  • 2017 – Twenty-two people are killed at an Ariana Grande concert in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.

Notables born on this day include:

I couldn’t have told you what Wagner looked like, so I looked him up. Here’s a photo:

Here’s a fine Cassatt: “Sara holding a cat” (ca. 1908):

Matthiessen remains the only person to have won a National Book Award for both fiction and nonfiction. Here’s a brief remembrance:

  • 1930 – Harvey Milk, American lieutenant and politician (d. 1978)
  • 1942 – Ted Kaczynski, American academic and mathematician turned anarchist and serial murderer (Unabomber)

Those who croaked on May 22 include:

  • 1802 – Martha Washington, First, First Lady of the United States (b. 1731)
  • 1885 – Victor Hugo, French novelist, poet, and playwright (b. 1802)
  • 1967 – Langston Hughes, American poet, social activist, novelist, and playwright (b. 1902)

Hughes was one of the black writers I read when I decided to read early 20th-century black literature and nonfiction as the pandemic started. Here’s his portrait by Gordon Parks:

  • 1997 – Alfred Hershey, American biochemist and geneticist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1908)
  • 2010 – Martin Gardner, American mathematician, cryptographer, and author (b. 1914)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Paulina is stalking all cats with her camera:

Hili: I thought that Paulina was hunting for Kulka.
Szaron: For her every cat is tempting.
(Photo: Paulina R.)
In Polish:
Hili: Myślałam, że Paulina poluje na Kulkę.
Szaron: Każdy kot ją kusi.

And Leon and Mitek have an exchange:

Leon: Oatmeal for breakfast? Are we converting to vegetarianism?

In Polish: Owies na śniadanie? Przechodzimy na wegetarianizm?

From Woody; a most excellent meme:

From Jean:

From SMBC via Ginger K:

From Titania. I’m not sure exactly what this Lego kit is, or what it’s supposed to demonstrate:

From Simon, who I hope doesn’t carry cats in his maw! Poor kitty!

Tweets from Matthew. If I posted this before, well, here it is again.

And a second and related tweet:

Sadly, this was yesterday, and we won’t be alive to see its recurrence:

The discovery of drinkable cow excrement (the first one is clocks):

Darwin was often depressed and lugubrious, as he was 153 years ago yesterday.


Thursday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

April 29, 2021 • 6:30 am

Grease the new day (as a friend used to say)! It’s Thursday, April 29, 2021: National Shrimp Scampi Day (that’s a dish I’ve never had). It’s also National Zipper Day (this convenient fastener was patented on this day in 1913) and Viral Video Day.  In honor of the last day, here are the 25 most viral videos of 2020. #2, near the end, is the best!

Finally, it’s two UN holidays: Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare and International Dance Day (UNESCO).

Wine of the Day: To drink with my big pot of turkey chili, which should last a few days, I’ve chosen one of my favorite genres of red wine: Rioja! This one, ten years from vintage was about $25.

The experts’ ratings look good, and I’m writing this on Wednesday before I’ve cracked the bottle.

2 hours later (Wednesday), very good again, but not a world-beater. Juicy with ripe cherry fruit, well balanced, but nothing to mark it as a superb wine. I’ll drink another two glasses tonight and see if it improves.

News of the Day:

Joe Biden gave his first speech to Congress last evening, proposing sweeping reforms. Hold your thoughts on that, as we’ll have a discussion post later.

The Supreme Court is considering an important free-speech case in which a high school cheerleader, not chosen to be part of the elite “varsity squad”, ranted and cursed the school on social media. What she said:

“F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything,” 14-year-old Brandi Levy typed into Snapchat one spring Saturday. Like all “snaps” posted to a Snapchat “story,” this one sent to about 250 “friends” was to disappear within 24 hours, before everyone returned to Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy Area High School on Monday.

Levy was suspended from her junior varsity squad for a year, whereupon her parents filed suit in federal court, and it’s gone all the way up to the Supremes. I think they’re likely to rule in her favor, as Levy’s “speech” was on social media, so why should she be punished for her private free speech? This is not harassment, bullying, or any other form of speech prohibited by the First Amendment. But it’s not a trivial case:

“This is the most momentous case in more than five decades involving student speech,” said Justin Driver, a Yale law professor and author of “The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind.”

The Court may be conservative, but if it rules in Levy’s favor in this case, I think it will have ruled properly. This kind of incident will become increasingly frequent as speech is disseminated on social media.

The feds searched Rudy Giluiani’s home and office yesterday,  acting on a federal warrant. As the New York Times reports,

The federal authorities have largely focused on whether Mr. Giuliani illegally lobbied the Trump administration in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainian officials and oligarchs, who at the time were helping Mr. Giuliani search for damaging information on Mr. Trump’s political rivals, including Mr. Biden, who was then a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan and the F.B.I. had sought for months to secure search warrants for Mr. Giuliani’s phones and electronic devices.

Reader Ken, who knows his law, told me this:

To secure such warrants, the government would have had to establish, to a federal magistrate’s satisfaction, fresh probable cause to believe that the search would yield evidence of a crime. The agents reportedly seized Giuliani’s computers and electronic devices.

. . . The search of a lawyer’s premises (not to mention the premises of a lawyer for a former US President) is a big friggin’ deal. See section 9-13.430 of the US Justice Department Manual. Main Justice has to sign off on it, and the government had to be convinced that Giuliani couldn’t be trusted to turn over the materials sought in response to a subpoena.

On a sadder note, astronaut Michael Collins, who stayed in the command module during the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, and who helped ensure tht the lunar module containing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin docked properly before their return to Earth, died yesterday at 90 of cancer. He wrote extensively about his journal (they trained for six years for the mission), and memorial tweets show some of his writing:

This is a touching photo and caption:

There are two big vertebrate genome papers in Nature. One paper reports complete genome sequences of 16 vertebrate species in the 8 major lineages, and the other reports a complete sequence for the playtpus and partial sequence of one echidna species, both monotremes—egg-laying mammals. I have yet to read either paper but wanted to call them to your attention. (h/t: Matthew)

Stuff that happened on April 29 includes:

  • 1429 – Joan of Arc arrives to relieve the Siege of Orléans.
  • 1770 – James Cook arrives in Australia at Botany Bay, which he names.
  • 1910 – The Parliament of the United Kingdom passes the People’s Budget, the first budget in British history with the expressed intent of redistributing wealth among the British public.
  • 1916 – Easter Rising: After six days of fighting, Irish rebel leaders surrender to British forces in Dublin, bringing the Easter Rising to an end.

Here’s a 6½-minute BBC video summarizing the Easter Rising:

  • 1945 – World War II: Führerbunker: Adolf Hitler marries his longtime partner Eva Braun in a Berlin bunker and designates Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor; Hitler and Braun both commit suicide the following day.
  • 1945 – Dachau concentration camp is liberated by United States troops.
  • 1967 – After refusing induction into the United States Army the previous day, Muhammad Ali is stripped of his boxing title.

Here’s a short video about Ali’s refusal of induction. He had applied for conscientious objector status but was refused. After a trial, he was sentenced to five years in jail but remained free until the Supreme Court overturned that decision on the grounds that the refusal of CO status was not accompanied by a reason.

  • 1968 – The controversial musical Hair, a product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, opens at the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway, with some of its songs becoming anthems of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
  • 1970 – Vietnam War: United States and South Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia to hunt Viet Cong.

The invasion of Cambodia energized all of us in college, leading to widespread protests and, at Kent State, to the shooting of unarmed students.

  • 1974 – Watergate scandal: United States President Richard Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of White House tape recordings relating to the scandal.
  • 1992 – Riots in Los Angeles, following the acquittal of police officers charged with excessive force in the beating of Rodney King. Over the next three days 63 people are killed and hundreds of buildings are destroyed.

This was the first time video was taken of a brutal police beating of a suspect. You can see it below, and yet the officers were acquitted. This would never stand today:

  • 2015 – A baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox sets the all-time low attendance mark for Major League Baseball. Zero fans were in attendance for the game, as the stadium was officially closed to the public due to the 2015 Baltimore protests.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1854 – Henri Poincaré, French mathematician, physicist, and engineer (d. 1912)
  • 1893 – Harold Urey, American chemist and astronomer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1981)
  • 1899 – Duke Ellington, American pianist, composer, and bandleader (d. 1974)

There aren’t a lot of videos of Ellington’s band, particularly in its best years—the early forties. This one, of his signature tune “Take the A Train” (written by Billy Strayhorn), was made in 1943. I prefer the all-instrumental version. I’m reading a biography of Ellington now.

  • 1929 – Walter Kempowski, German author and academic (d. 2007)
  • 1933 – Willie Nelson, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actor
  • 1945 – Brian Charlesworth, English biologist, geneticist, and academic

My colleague and former chairman of my department, Brian is now retired but still very active at Edinburgh. He was a great colleague (we wrote some papers together) and an excellent chair:

  • 1954 – Jerry Seinfeld, American comedian, actor, and producer
  • 1957 – Daniel Day-Lewis, British-Irish actor
  • 1970 – Andre Agassi, American tennis player
  • 1970 – Uma Thurman, American actress

Those who went to their Just Reward on April 29 include:

Don’t ask me to explain Wittgenstein’s philosophy; that’s above my pay grade. But I can show you a photo:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is concerned with enforcing the rules. As Malgozata notes,

This old sign says: “It’s forbidden to dump tires under the penalty of shooting your brains out”. It’s written in a “slangy” language. We found it many years ago on a dump outside a closed, abandoned and ruined factory.
A: What are you looking at?
Hili: I’m checking to see whether people are breaking bans.
In Polish:

Ja: Na co patrzysz?
Hili: Sprawdzam, czy ludzie nie łamią zakazów.

And we have a Leon monologue!

Leon: “What kind of wonder of nature is this?”

In Polish: A coż to za cud natury?


Here’s little Kulka:

A meme from Bruce:

From Facebook via Mark: the Jean-Paul Sartre Parking Garage. But how can you pay if you don’t exist?

From Su: A duck trying to connect with the Beyond:

Tulsi Gabbard, who surely counts as a woman of color, here decries the increasing racialization of America, using the Hawaiian conception of “aloha”:

From Facebook. It’s time to do our occasional check-in with Iranian women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad. Here’s her reaction (yes, it’s on Fox News) to Iran being chosen to be a member of the UN Commission on Women’s Rights. (The UN is such a joke these days!):

Tweets from Matthew. I believe I’ve posted about Ricky Gervais adopting a foster tabby that he named “Pickles”, but here’s a tweet and some new video:

From the University of Chicago! Two days ago the temperature was about 82°F (28°C), and it was glorious. But they should have included a photo of Botany Pond with the ducks!

Donkeys run free after a winter of being cooped up. Sound up so you can hear as well as see their joy:

This link would make good background music while you’re working; it’s almost like working in the jungle:

This looks to me like a very small slug getting a drink (and getting engulfed by a water drop):

Thursday: Hili dialogue (and all the Polish cats)

February 25, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Thursday, February 25, 2021: National Chocolate Covered Nut Day. Lots of food celebrations today: it’s also National Chili Day, National Clam Chowder Day, National Toast Day (in Britain, and they could have at least had “Beans on Toast” Day), and “Let’s all Eat Right” Day.  It’s also Digital Learning Day, but who wants to celebrate that?

And today, for the first time, we have pictures of all five famous Polish cats from Dobrzyn and Wloclawek. Can you name them all?

News of the Day:

News we already knew: A U.S. intelligence report expected to be released today points the finger at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. What will this do to U.S./Saudi relations? Little, I suspect.

Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, now seems likely to be rejected by Congress. The crime: bad tweets. The NBC evening news says that the White House is investigating “other options,” and the Wall Street Journal notes this:

Over the weekend, once it became obvious that Ms. Tanden’s nomination was in serious trouble, lawmakers and aides say they saw scant evidence of an intensive campaign to salvage the pick from a team that promised to bring Capitol Hill savvy back to the West Wing.

Over the weekend, once it became obvious that Ms. Tanden’s nomination was in serious trouble, lawmakers and aides say they saw scant evidence of an intensive campaign to salvage the pick from a team that promised to bring Capitol Hill savvy back to the West Wing.

Since one Democratic Senator already said he wouldn’t vote for her, one Republican has to back her to achieve the tie that Kamala Harris would break to secure Tanden’s nomination. That doesn’t seem likely.

The Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, which is just a single shot and can be stored at refrigerator temperature, will soon be approved. Its efficacy is a tad less than Pfizer or Moderna jabs, but it’s highly effective against severe illness:

The vaccine had a 72 percent overall efficacy rate in the United States and 64 percent in South Africa, where a highly contagious variant emerged in the fall and is now driving most cases. The efficacy in South Africa was seven percentage points higher than earlier data released by the company.

The vaccine also showed 86 percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 in the United States, and 82 percent against severe disease in South Africa. That means that a vaccinated person has a far lower risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19.

. . .Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, who urged influencers such as Paltrow against spreading misinformation.

He said: “In the last few days I see Gwyneth Paltrow is unfortunately suffering from the effects of Covid. We wish her well, but some of the solutions she’s recommending are really not the solutions we’d recommend in the NHS.”

Now how did the punctilious Paltrow get Covid in the first place. And would she PLEASE shut her gob when it comes to health and medicine?

Speaking of the virus, Gwynnie just got chewed out by Britain’s National Health Service for her usual worthless medical advice (h/t Jez).

Gwyneth Paltrow has been urged to stop spreading misinformation by the medical director of NHS England after she suggested long Covid could be treated with “intuitive fasting”, herbal cocktails and regular visits to an “infrared sauna”.

The Hollywood star, who markets unproven new age potions on her Goop website, wrote on her latest blogpost that she caught Covid-19 early and had since suffered “long-tail fatigue and brain fog”.

But the Brits, as ever, were very polite about it:

Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, who urged influencers such as Paltrow against spreading misinformation.

He said: “In the last few days I see Gwyneth Paltrow is unfortunately suffering from the effects of Covid. We wish her well, but some of the solutions she’s recommending are really not the solutions we’d recommend in the NHS.”

Have a look at Gwynnie’s post (click on screenshot), in which she uses her own “detox regimen” and other “curative” stuff to sell useless and overpriced products to the credulous fools who frequent her site. Can she be stopped? And seriously, is she really on the “detox” thing?

Finally,  today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 505,643, a large increase of about 3,200 deaths over yesterday’s figure  The reported world death toll stands 2,510,567, a big increase of about 12,200 deaths over yesterday’s total.

Historical news from February 25 is scant, and includes this:

  • 1336 – Four thousand defenders of Pilenai commit mass suicide rather than be taken captive by the Teutonic Knights.
  • 1836 – Samuel Colt is granted a United States patent for his revolver firearm.

Here’s that first patent (there were many more):

  • 1870 – Hiram Rhodes Revels, a Republican from Mississippi, is sworn into the United States Senate, becoming the first African American ever to sit in Congress.

Revels served for two years, and then, his appointment over, became president of a historically black college and later a preacher. Here he is:

  • 1932 – Hitler, having been stateless for seven years, obtains German citizenship when he is appointed a Brunswick state official by Dietrich Klagges, a fellow Nazi. As a result, Hitler is able to run for Reichspräsident in the 1932 election.
  • 1956 – In his speech On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, denounces Stalin.
  • 1991 – Disbandment of the Warsaw Pact at a meeting of its members in Budapest.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1991 – Disbandment of the Warsaw Pact at a meeting of its members in Budapest.
  • 1873 – Enrico Caruso, Italian-American tenor; the most popular operatic tenor of the early 20th century and the first great recording star. (d. 1921)

Want to hear the great Caruso? Here’s a recording that’s been reconstructed. The YouTube notes say this:

This is Caruso’s performance (Nov. 7, 1909) of the aria “Il fior che avevi a me tu dato” (Bizet’s Carmen) restored by a sound engineer at the famous Lucas Film Studios using the latest digital audio computer technology.

Caruso died at only 48 from an infection. Here’s his body lying in state in the Vesuvio Hotel in Naples, August 3, 1921:

  • 1894 – Meher Baba, Indian spiritual master (d. 1969)

But don’t worry! Meher Baba is here! I have this card taped on the wall next to my desk, which I got in graduate school. Doesn’t that big grin cheer you up?

The origin of Zeppo’s name is unknown. He was the youngest of the Marx Brothers, and the last to died. He appeared in only the first five Marx Brothers movies; here’s a brief summary of his career.

  • 1917 – Anthony Burgess, English author, playwright, and critic (d. 1993)
  • 1943 – George Harrison, English singer-songwriter, guitarist and film producer; lead guitarist of The Beatles (d. 2001)

We can’t forget George; here he is with Eric Clapton and other famous musicians in 1987:

Those who ceased metabolizing on February 25 include:

  • 1723 – Christopher Wren, English architect, designed St Paul’s Cathedral (b. 1632)
  • 1957 – Bugs Moran, American mob boss (b. 1893)
  • 1975 – Elijah Muhammad, American religious leader (b. 1897)
  • 2001 – Don Bradman, Australian international cricketer; holder of world record batting average (b. 1908)

Even I know that Bradman’s seen as the greatest batsman (Americans would say “batter”) of all time. Here he is in Sydney, being carried off the field by his OPPONENTS in a chair after scoring 452, a world record at the time. (The current record is 501 runs in an innings, held by the great Brian Lara.)

I emailed my friend Andrew Berry (a cricket maven) whether “innings” was really singular, and he said “yes.” He also added this about Bradman:

But Bradman’s real claim to fame is this.  The real measure, as in baseball, of a batsman’s worth is in his batting average (per innings) at the international ‘test’ level (i.e., the highest level of the game). Here are the all time top rankings, below. [JAC: see chart below photo.] Notice that he is a quantum leap removed from all the competition. More info: He needed only 4 from his final innings to get a final average of 100, but got 0.

Andrew sent me some impenetrable cricket jargon describing Bradman’s last innings when he missed his 100 average:

And then came the Ashes Test at The Oval in 1948 that has inked his name in immortality. Overlooked for the first four Tests of the Ashes series despite England’s prolonged struggle, Hollies was included in the team for the final Test at The Oval. Ray Lindwall routed the Englishmen for 52 and Arthur Morris and Sid Barnes put on 117 in just over a couple of hours. At this juncture, Hollies got Barnes to snick one to Godfrey Evans — the moment the entire stadium was waiting for.

In walked Don Bradman, in his last Test, his approach to the wicket accompanied by deafening ovation. England captain Norman Yardley gathered his men, raised his cap and called for three cheers. Bradman took guard after shaking hands with his rival skipper. His collection of runs stood at 6,996 after 69 completed innings, at an average of 100.14.

Hollies sent down a leg-break, and Bradman went back and across to play it to Allan Watkins at silly mid-off. The next ball was the most famous googly ever bowled. It came out of the back of the hand. Bradman, drawn forward, missed it and was bowled for a duck. He famously walked back four short of 7,000 runs and an average of 100 in Test cricket.

And Sir Don briefly dilating on his triumph, which took place on January 6, 1930):

  • 2015 – Eugenie Clark, American biologist and academic; noted ichthyologist (b. 1922)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili awaits her noms:

Hili: The kitchen is one of the best inventions of humans.
A: You may be right.
In Polish:
Hili: Kuchnia to jeden z najlepszych wynalazków człowieka.
Ja: Możesz mieć rację.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Leon chastises Mietek:

Leon: “Move over a bit!”

In Polish: Posuń się trochę!

Here are two pictures of Paulina’s kitties:

Caption: Kulka and Szaron through Paulina’s lens. (In Polish: “Kulka i Szaron w Pauliny obiektywie.”)

From Bruce:

From Nicole:

From Divy, “The Giving Cat” book for kittens:

From Charles. Boebart is of course the Official Loon of Congress who wants to carry her Glock onto the House floor.

Tweets from Matthew. I find this first one sad, and doubt that the frog can actually see:

And I’m worried about this, too: how will Mom and ducklings to the water? I asked that question below her post, but someone else answered, and unsatisfactorily!

Spiders mating; I don’t know the species.

Two black cats joined these folks for a very long walk, and even brought them a mouse (poor mouse!)

The parachute of the Perseverance rover displayed a complex code, explained a bit in the tweets below (see the thread for more information).

This isn’t a real penguin, but the explanation of the jumpers (second tweet) is sweet:

Wednesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon and Kulka monologues)

December 30, 2020 • 6:30 am

Good morning on Wednesday, December 30, 2020. And guess what: it’s the last day of Coynezaa:—my birthday! And guess what else? I have to go to the dentist and may have to get a tooth pulled. Some fun! The end of the annus horribilis. Because of this ill-timed annoyance, posting will be light today.

But the misery is leavened by this lovely birthday drawing that Jacques Hausser made for me. Ceiling Duck!!! (Jacques studies shrews, so there’s one in there, too.)

Well, it’s a crappy food day: National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, presumably to recover from all your holiday eating. It’s Bacon Day, for those still indulging,

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) celebrates Elizabeth Peratovich (1911-1958), described by Wikipedia as

“. . . an American civil rights activist and member of the Tlingit nation who worked on behalf of equality for Alaska Natives. In the 1940s, her advocacy was credited as being instrumental in the passing of Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.”

News of the Day:

We have two waterfowl stories today, both about bird love. This first one is sad, and comes from the Guardian. It’s about a swan mourning for its dead mate (h/t: Jez):

Police and firefighters in Germany were forced to intervene to move an apparently “mourning” swan that was blocking a high-speed railway line, according to a statement released by the rescuers on Monday.

The swan was pictured blocking the line near Fuldatal, causing at least 20 trains to be cancelled, after a second swan was killed when it flew into the overhead line above the tracks.

After the accident the second swan settled on the railway tracks below, preventing trains from passing on the route from Kassel to Göttingen. According to reports in local media, firefighters brought in specialist equipment to remove the dead swan from the overhead lines and the second swan from the tracks, taking it to the Fulda river where it was released.

This almost brings tears to my eyes. And here’s a photo:

Reader Jeremy pointed me to a story about another beautiful but errant Mandarin duck drake (Aix galericulata), this one in a pond near Cincinnati. (If you recall, a Mandarin showed up in the Central Park pond last winter.)  But the Ohio drake seems to be in love with a mallard hen, and the species aren’t all that closely related (their common ancestor lived about 20 million years ago).  Reader Jeremy went to see the duck, snapped a photo of the drake and his would-be paramour, and said this:

I stopped by and took a couple of pictures from my phone last week. Thought you might be interested. Beautiful bird indeed!

Matthew tweeted this, and it looks like the new UK coronavirus mutant really is spreading much faster that the “normal” one:

The first isolate of this mutant has now been identified in the U.S.—in a Colorado man in his twenties with no recent travel history.

Yesterday, Republican congressman-elect Luke Letlow, only 41, died from complications of coronavirus. There will be a special election to fill his seat.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 338,767, a huge increase of about 3,600 deaths from yesterday’s figure, equivalent to 2.5 deaths per minute. The world death toll is 1,799,076, another big increase of about 15,500 over yesterday’s total and representing about 10.8 deaths per minute from Covid-19—more than one every 6 seconds.

Stuff that happened on December 30; pickings are slim!

  • 1066 – Granada massacre: A Muslim mob storms the royal palace in Granada, crucifies Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacres most of the Jewish population of the city.
  • 1890 – Following the Wounded Knee Massacre, the United States Army and Lakota warriors face off in the Drexel Mission Fight.
  • 1916 – Russian mystic and advisor to the Tsar Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was murdered by a loyalist group led by Prince Felix Yusupov. His frozen, partially-trussed body was discovered in a Moscow river three days later.

The postmortemrumors were that he had been almost impossible to kill, but we don’t really know what happened with a group of nobleman, worried about Rasputin’s influence over the Czar, decided to murder him. Here he is with his wife and daughter Matryona (Maria) in his St. Petersburg apartment in 1911. Matryona later moved to the U.S. where she became a riveter and a circus performer, and died in 1977. 


  • 1922 – The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is formed.
  • 2006 – Former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein is executed.

Notables born on this day include:

  • AD 39 – Titus, Roman emperor (probable; d. 81)
  • 1865 – Rudyard Kipling, Indian-English author and poet, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1936)

Kipling and his family lived in Vermont for several years, where he began The Jungle Books(a great favorite of Matthew). Here’s Kipling in his study at Naulakha, Vermont in 1895:

  • 1910 – Paul Bowles, American composer and author (d. 1999)
  • 1928 – Bo Diddley, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 2008)
  • 1931 – Skeeter Davis, American singer-songwriter (d. 2004)
  • 1935 – Sandy Koufax, American baseball player and sportscaster
  • 1945 – Davy Jones, English singer-songwriter and actor (d. 2012)
  • 1946 – Patti Smith, American singer-songwriter and poet
  • 1949 – Jerry Coyne, American biologist and author.

Here’s Coyne in the Karni Mata “Rat Temple” in Deshnoke, India.  In the rear are some of the thousands of resident rats, drinking a sacred offering of cream.

  • 1959 – Tracey Ullman, English-American actress, singer, director, and screenwriter
  • 1965 – Heidi Fleiss, American procurer
  • 1975 – Tiger Woods, American golfer

Those who kicked the bucket on December 30 include:

  • 1916 – Grigori Rasputin, Russian mystic (b. 1869) [see above]
  • 1979 – Richard Rodgers, American playwright and composer (b. 1902)
  • 2006 – Saddam Hussein, Iraqi general and politician, 5th President of Iraq (b. 1937)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, I got special birthday greetings from Hili!

Hili: Is a birthday an adaptation?
A: Probably not. Why do you think it is?
Hili: Gifts help survival. Happy Birthday, Jerry!
In Polish:
Hili: Czy urodziny są adaptacją?
Ja: Chyba nie, dlaczego tak sądzisz?
Hili: Prezenty pomagają przetrwać. Happy Birthday, Jerry!
And I’m told that Szaron wishes me a happy birthday in his “shy and silent way”:

Happily, we have our first Kulka monologue: she got so excited that she finally spoke!

Kulka: A new cardboard box!

Kulka: Nowy karton!

In nearby Wlocawek, Leon also has a few words to say (unlike Mietek, he likes the holidays and parties).

Leon: My place for the New Year’s Eve party
In Polish: Moja miejscówka na sylwestra

From Stephen, who says, “A vivid example of the law of the excluded middle.” I like it, though. 

A cat mugshot from John:

An old cartoon from Sarah:

From Titania:  This is an actual poster from the strike at Bryn Mawr College. It was posted in the Science Building on November 9 of this year.

From Simon, a good XKCD cartoon:

Tweets from Matthew, who points out: “Alfred Russel Wallace falls even further. After spiritualism and human specialness, he became an anti-vaxxer.” The story is a bit more complicated, as doctors were exaggerating the effiacy of vaccination back then.

They need to get these individuals together:

This is sad and sweet at the same time.


Pandemic albatrosses:


Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

December 29, 2020 • 6:30 am

It’s Tuesday, the Cruelest day: December 29, 2020: the fifth day of Coynezaa, the fifth day of Christmas, and the fourth day of Kwanzaa (United States). It’s not a food holiday but the end of one: National “Get on the Scales Day”. (Hili is going to the vet soon as she’s gotten too fat.) It’s also National Pepper Pot Day, celebrating a soup that in its authentic version has tripe in it. I’ve tried tripe at least twice, and couldn’t abide it either time. I will not try it again.

Wine of the Day: This lovely Argentinian Torrontés, drunk with chicken, was a bit old for this grape, and I could tell that oxidation was beginning to set in. But it was still a decent tipple, smelling for all the world like candied grapefruit peel. Torrontés can be a great white wine when you find a good specimen, and it’s not at all expensive. Just drink it fairly young.

News of the Day:

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted 322-87 to override Trump’s veto of the defense spending bill (note: this is not the pandemic relief bill!). If the Senate also votes to override, which is not certain, it would be the first time Congress had repudiated a veto.  One of his big objections to the bill was its call to change the name of military bases named after Confederate generals.

By now most Americans know that Trump gave in and signed the pandemic relief bill on Sunday. Yesterday the House passed a bill increasing the checks given to many Americans from the $600 specified in the original bill to $2000.  But this won’t happen until the Senate also approves the measure, and it’s not clear when this will happen.

This is a dog-bites-man story from Saudi Arabia, which seems to get much less flak than Israel despite its much more oppressive behavior. Right now the murderous ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who probably gave the go-ahead for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is busy cracking down on protests and anti-theocratic activism. Yesterday a Saudi court sentenced Loujain al-Hathloul, 31 years old and a well known women’s rights activist, to six years in prison.  (al-Hathoul was an influential figure in campaigning for, and winning, Saudi women’s right to drive.) The charge was “terrorism-related” according to her family, but prosecutors presented no evidence for terrorism or anything like it. She was prosecuted solely for activism. Given that she’s already been in prison for several years, and that some of the sentence was suspended—prosecutors wanted twenty years!—she could be out in six months.  Her sister alleges that she was tortured after being arrested and jailed in 2018.

Here’s a short video report:


Aunt Becky is out of jail, having served two months for the CollegeGate scandal.

Reader Christopher informs us that not only the Guardian has horoscopes, but also Canada’s Globe and Mail. Click if you want your prognostication for 2001:

But it’s just harmless fun, right?—even though people spend billions of dollars a year consulting these fraudulent people and their pages, and it buttresses faith and superstition.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 335,141, an increase of about 1,900 above yesterday’s figure, and about 1.3 deaths per minute. The world death toll is 1,783,597, an increase of about 10,100 over yesterday’s total and representing about 7 deaths per minute from Covid-19—one every 9 seconds.

Stuff that happened on December 29 includes:

Here’s the site of Becket’s killing, carried out by four knights after Becket pissed off King Henry. The caption is from Wikipedia:

Sculpture and altar marking the spot of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom, Canterbury Cathedral. The sculpture by Giles Blomfeld represents the knights’ four swords (two metal swords with reddened tips and their two shadows).
  • 1845 – In accordance with International Boundary delimitation, the United States annexes the Republic of Texas, following the manifest destiny doctrine. The Republic of Texas, which had been independent since the Texas Revolution of 1836, is thereupon admitted as the 28th U.S. state.
  • 1890 – Wounded Knee Massacre on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 300 Lakota are killed by the United States 7th Cavalry Regiment.

A picture of the dead Native Americans being put in a common grave:

A signed British first edition of this book will run you about $138,700. Here’s one:

  • 1937 – The Irish Free State is replaced by a new state called Ireland with the adoption of a new constitution.
  • 1940 – World War II: In the Second Great Fire of London, the Luftwaffe fire-bombs London, England, killing almost 200 civilians.
  • 1989 – Czech writer, philosopher and dissident Václav Havel is elected the first post-communist President of Czechoslovakia.
  • 2003 – The last known speaker of Akkala Sami dies, rendering the language extinct.

The language, one of the Sámi languages, was spoken in only three villages of the Kola Peninsula in Russia.  Here’s an introduction to the 10 Sámi languages. There’s another that has only two native speakers.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1800 – Charles Goodyear, American chemist and engineer (d. 1860)
  • 1808 – Andrew Johnson, American general and politician, 17th President of the United States (d. 1875)
  • 1809 – William Ewart Gladstone, English lawyer and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (d. 1898)
  • 1876 – Pablo Casals, Catalan cellist and conductor (d. 1973)
  • 1936 – Mary Tyler Moore, American actress and producer (d. 2017)

Here’s Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) doing a number of the Dick Van Dyke Show. She was criticized for wearing Capri pants on the show (back then, women in sitcoms wore dresses), but she started a fashion.

  • 1943 – Rick Danko, Canadian singer-songwriter, bass player, and producer (d. 1999)
  • 1947 – Ted Danson, American actor and producer

Those who took the Big Nap on December 29 include:

  • 1170 – Thomas Becket, English archbishop and saint (b. 1118)
  • 1894 – Christina Rossetti, English poet and hymn-writer (b. 1830)

Rossetti in her late twenties:

by (George) Herbert Watkins, albumen print, late 1850s
  • 1926 – Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian poet and author (b. 1875)
  • 1986 – Harold Macmillan, English captain and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1894)
  • 2004 – Julius Axelrod, American biochemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1912)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is again wheedling for noms (like hobbits, many Poles do eat “second breakfasts”):

Hili: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
A: And then?
Hili: And then the second breakfast.
In Polish:
Hili: Śniadanie to najważniejszy posiłek dnia.
Ja: A potem?
Hili: A potem drugie śniadanie.

Little Kulka, hated by Hili, licks her paw:

And in nearby Wloclawek, housemates Leon and Mietek differ about the holidays. Mietek loves them, but Leon clearly doesn’t:

Leon: Such a hassle this holidays is!
In Polish: Zawracanie głowy z tymi świętami.


From Divy. Can you name the television game show that inspired this cartoon?

From Irena:

From Jesus of the Day: it’s all in the jingle bell, I guess.

From Matthew Cobb as well as Barry.  Richard issued the tweet below and got tons of pushback. There were jocular comments but a lot of stuff that, were I to receive it, would seem hurtful. I didn’t understand it; my view is that of Barry, who said this:

I don’t understand why this has been getting so much traction on Twitter or why people are so bothered by it. As this person tweeted: “Are people so churlish not to see that Richard Dawkins was creating a funny image to make a point about how he thinks spiders are under-appreciated?”

That’s true, and if you want to see all the people who made fun of this tweet, go over and have a look. I can attribute it only to the nastiness that Twitter evokes, and to the fact that people have a mysterious animus against Dawkins.

Tweets from Matthew. First, the world’s most beautiful duck:

I used to have an aquarium full of hissers as a grad student, and would horrify visitor by making them hiss:

This is a good person. (Sound up.)

A brilliant new Canadian sport:

Do read this article. It describes a genetic condition in which the fingerprints aren’t formed (they don’t mention toeprints). There are no bad medical side effects, but there are severe social side effects: these poor people can’t use smartphones and can’t get passports or driver’s licenses.

A map of the rabbits of North America. I’m guessing that a lot of the cottontail “species,” which live in geographic isolation from others, don’t really deserve the status of distinct species.

I broke my own rule and criticized this anti-athiest post on Twitter, but the best response is, “This isn’t atheism’s job. It’s just non-belief in gods, for crying out loud!”

Monday: Hili dialogue (and Mietek monologue)

December 21, 2020 • 6:30 am

Christmas week and Coynezaa week are at hand! It’s Monday, December 21, 2021: four shopping days to either holiday.

The Winter Solstice began at 4:02 a.m. Chicago time, and it’s now the shortest day of the year. Further, tonight is The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which will be visible in the night sky given that it’s clear. Today’s Google Doodle celebrates this Conjunction (click on screenshot):

As NASA reports,

What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”

The closest alignment will appear just a tenth of a degree apart and last for a few days. On the 21st, they will appear so close that a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky. The planets will be easy to see with the unaided eye by looking toward the southwest just after sunset.

From our vantage point on Earth the huge gas giants will appear very close together, but they will remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. And while the conjunction is happening on the same day as the winter solstice, the timing is merely a coincidence, based on the orbits of the planets and the tilt of the Earth.

The NASA site will tell you where and how to look for this rare event. You should definitely see this if you can, as one thing’s for sure: you won’t be around for the next one. Find an unobstructed view in the southwest (if you’re in the US) an hour after sunset, and you should see this:

It’s also National Fried Shrimp Day (not kosher!). National Hamburger Day, National Kiwi Fruit Day (a friend calls them “gorilla balls”), Anne and Samantha Day (read the link), Crossword Puzzle Day (see below), Yule (the first day of winter) and São Tomé Day

News of the Day:

On January 12, before Biden gets a chance to stay her execution, Lisa Montgomery will be executed in federal prison for a 2004 murder. If you want to see  a bunch of circumstances mitigating against her execution, read this NYT article about how Montgomery was sexually and physically abused, tortured, and traumatized during much of her early life.  At the very least she should not be killed (she also suffers from bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder, psychosis, traumatic brain injury and most likely fetal alcohol syndrome). And her lawyers didn’t adequately represent her. Nevertheless, I doubt Trump will lift a finger to stop the lethal injection.

The Senate finally approved a $900 billion stimulus package for coronavirus, including loans for small businesses, checks for individuals (you can get up to $600), money for cultural institutions and for vaccine distribution—you name it. It was bipartisan, but the Democrats didn’t get what they wanted. That will come in a month when Joe Biden is President (thank Ceiling Cat!)

As the Moderna mRNA vaccine wends its way throughout the U.S., travelers are wending their way home for Christmas. Yes, I understand the impulse, but some California ICUs are already operating at nearly 300% of capacity and we don’t need yet another wave of infections. I wish people could just stay home—just this once. And many countries have stopped allowing flights from Britain to land because of the new extra-infectious mutant strain in the UK.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 317,800, an increase of about 1,500 from yesterday’s figure. The world death toll is 1,701,085, an increase of about 7,500 over yesterday’s report.

Stuff that happened on December 21 includes:

  • AD 69 – The Roman Senate declares Vespasian emperor of Rome, the last in the Year of the Four Emperors.
  • 1620 – Plymouth Colony: William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims land on what is now known as Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • 1879 – World premiere of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • 1913 – Arthur Wynne‘s “word-cross”, the first crossword puzzle, is published in the New York World.

Here’s a re-creation of that puzzle. Can you solve it? Note that there are no “up” and “down” categories but pairs of numbers.

Disillusioned, the firebrand socialist (a hero of Hitchens, I believe), left Russia in 1923 and published a book about her stay there. Here she is on a streetcar in 1917:

Here’s a trailer for the movie. Can you name all the dwarfs? I can, but there used to always be two I forgot:

The heart, from a female donor, actually functioned perfectly, but Washkansky died from pneumonia contracted after getting immunosuppressive drugs.

  • 1968 – Apollo program: Apollo 8 is launched from the Kennedy Space Center, placing its crew on a lunar trajectory for the first visit to another celestial body by humans.
  • 1988 – The first flight of Antonov An-225 Mriya, the largest aircraft in the world.

Only one of these planes was built, designed to carry cargo. Wikipedia notes this: “The airlifter holds the absolute world record for an airlifted single-item payload of 189,980 kg (418,830 lb), and an airlifted total payload of 253,820 kg (559,580 lb). It has also transported a payload of 247,000 kg (545,000 lb) on a commercial flight.  Here’s the behemoth, and look at all those wheels!


Notables born on this day include:

  • 1550 – Man Singh I, Mughal noble (d. 1614)[8]
  • 1795 – Jack Russell, English priest, hunter, and dog breeder (d. 1883)
  • 1804 – Benjamin Disraeli, English lawyer and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (d. 1881)
  • 1866 – Maud Gonne, Irish nationalist and political activist (d. 1953)

Gonne was also an actress and a feminist, and well known for having been the love object of William Butler Yeats, who proposed to her four times (she turned him down every time) and wrote several famous poems inspired by her.

Two great geneticists were born on this day, one year apart (the first two below):

Wright almost made it to 100. I corresponded with him in his last years, and then, after his death, collaborated with two colleagues on two papers (1997, 2000) that dismantled what he saw as his greatest achievement, the “shifting balance theory of evolution”, a theory that was deeply flawed and no longer has much influence. Wright would have been furious, but fortunately he never saw them. He did send me a reprint of his article on evolution in the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Muller had a colorful life: he worked with T. H. Morgan in the “Fly Room”, tried to kill himself with sleeping pills in 1932, and then and went to the Soviet Union to do genetics between 1933 and 1936, where he became disillusioned with Lysenkoism and then moved to Edinburgh. He also never had a real academic job until after he won the Nobel Prize, which he got for showing that X-rays caused mutations. Indiana University then hired him. Muller was an absolutely brilliant geneticist but a difficult colleague, the kind who demanded constant credit for his work—perhaps the result of being unrecognized when younger.  Here he is looking at Drosophila—with an eye loupe!

  • 1937 – Jane Fonda, American actress, producer, and activist
  • 1940 – Frank Zappa, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (d. 1993)
  • 1959 – Florence Griffith Joyner, American sprinter and actress (d. 1998)
  • 1969 – Julie Delpy, French model, actress, director, and screenwriter

If you’ve seen the “Before Trilogy“, you’ll know this actress, shown here with her co-star Ethan Hawke.

  • 1977 – Emmanuel Macron, President of France

Those who found their Heavenly Abode on December 21 include:

Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at 44 while eating a chocolate bar and reading the Princeton alumni magazine. He’s one of my literary heroes, though he couldn’t spell worth a damn (his editor Max Perkins corrected any errors). Gatsby is the book everyone reads, but I love Tender is the Night. When I read Fitzgerald’s first book—This Side of Paradise—as a teenager, I decided to go to Princeton (that’s where the book is set, and where Fitzgerald went to college), but my parents told me they didn’t have enough money to send me there. I wound up at William & Mary, which was probably better for me.  Here are Fitz and Zelda in 1921:

  • 2009 – Edwin G. Krebs, American biochemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1918)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili makes a wise statement, informed by the Polish past:

Hili: How did humans create gods?
A: By looking for the best model of secret police.
In Polish:
Hili: Jak człowiek stworzył bogów?
Ja: Szukając najlepszego modelu tajnej policji.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Leon has a task:

Elzbieta: Find the angel!

In Polish: Znajdź aniołka.

And young Mietek is sleeping, saying this as he dozes off:

Mietek: Just until the holidays. . . .

In Polish: Byle do świąt…

Little Kulka is still wearing her jacket to prevent her licking her wounds after she was spayed.  She hates it! It will be removed on Wednesday.

From Facebook:

From Bruce:

Here’s a festive coffee mug for the holidays from Jesus of the Day:

More of Titania’s predictions come true:

Now Helen Keller is privileged?? What does it take to be unprivileged?

Tweets from Matthew. Yes, ’tis the season of cats and trees:

A lovely photo from 1959:

Don’t forget the Great Conjunction tonight. Here’s why it’s happening:

Such stealth!

Wonderful pictures, wonderfully restored and looking quite au courant:

Thursday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

December 17, 2020 • 6:30 am

Good morning on another chilly day: Thursday, December 17, 2020. It’s National Maple Syrup Day, and here’s a tip from one who loves the stuff.  Maple syrup used to be graded A, B, or C, depending on how much flavor they took out of it (C, the darkest kind, was the best). Now it’s ALL grade A, but they have substituted adjectives describing the categories. Always get the “very dark color, strong taste” kind; it’s not only the cheapest, but also the best. (The “dark color, robust taste” is less intense.) This is getting harder to find, but is well worth the search; here’s an example from Amazon.

It’s also Wright Brothers Day, celebrating their first successful flight on December 17, 1903, and Pan American Aviation Day.

Wine of the Day: Forget the chardonnay and pinot grigio: there’s better value for money—and nicer wines— in sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc. This bottle of  2019 Matetic EQ sauvignon blanc, from Chile, is one of the finest specimens I’ve had at any price, and was under $15. Used to wash down a chicken dinner, it was a tad off-dry and had a lot more citrus in the aroma than the classic “grassy” nose customarily described for this grape. A very complex and powerful aroma leaps at you from the glass, urging you to have another. If you can get this, do so; it’s drinking very well.

News of the Day:

It’s been almost six years since the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, and, finally, the trial of the accused has concluded. All fourteen defendants were found guilty of criminal conspiracy or terrorist complicity, though the two shooters were killed shortly after the 2015 attack. The heaviest sentence was given to one defendant who provided weapons to the shooters: 30 years in prison with a minimum of 20 years before the possibility of parole.

And French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19 after showing symptoms. He’ll isolate himself for a week but still plans to work remotely.

And remember, this astronomical conjunction is TONIGHT:

Nabisco has announced the upcoming release of a new flavor of Oreo to celebrate the release of Lady Gaga’s new album, “Chromatica”, the new cookie announced by Gaga herself (below). The NYT describes the diversity of Oreo flavors, whose avowed purpose is not to make a profit but to keep attention on their classic brown-and-white cookie:

Since releasing the Birthday Cake Oreo in 2012 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its signature cookie, Oreo has introduced 65 flavors, including, in the last three years alone, Hot Chicken Wing Oreos, Wasabi Oreos, Crispy Tiramisù Oreos and Carrot Cake Oreos. (Certain flavors are only available in specific markets; the Wasabi and Hot Chicken Wing Oreos were released in China.)

Over the years, there have been Blueberry Pie Oreos; Waffle & Syrup Oreos; Jelly Donut Oreos; Mississippi Mud Pie Oreos; Key Lime Pie Oreos; Piña Colada Oreo Thins; Banana Split Oreos; PB&J Oreos; Root Beer Float Oreos; Neapolitan Oreos; Peeps Oreos; and “Mystery Oreos,” which were eventually revealed to be churro flavored.

I’ve tried several of these novelty flavors, including carrot cake (meh), mint (ok), and peanut butter (ok, but not as good as mnt), but the only one I really liked were the green tea Oreos, a package of which was sent by a kind reader in Japan.

Here’s Gaga touting Oreos (oy!):

Has Trump’s insanity been any more evident than now, when he’s continuously tweeting about the “stolen” election? Even Mitch “666” McConnell—and an increasing number of Republicans—admit that Joe Biden won.


Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 307,295, a big increase of about 3,400 from yesterday’s figure, with deaths occurred at about 2.4 per minute. The world death toll is 1,657,385, a huge increase of about 13,400 over yesterday’s report—about 9.3 people dying per minute.

Stuff that happened on December 17 includes:

  • 497 BC – The first Saturnalia festival was celebrated in ancient Rome.
  • 1790 – The Aztec calendar stone is discovered at El Zócalo, Mexico City.

Made between 1502 and 1521, the stone isn’t really a calendar. The excellent Wikipedia entry says this:

The sculpted motifs that cover the surface of the stone refer to central components of the Mexica cosmogony. The state-sponsored monument linked aspects of Aztec ideology such as the importance of violence and warfare, the cosmic cycles, and the nature of the relationship between gods and man. The Aztec elite used this relationship with the cosmos and the bloodshed often associated with it to maintain control over the population, and the sun stone was a tool in which the ideology was visually manifested.

I saw this remarkable stone in 2012 when I visited the fabulous National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. I wasn’t allowed to take photos, so here’s one from Wikipedia:

  • 1862 – American Civil War: General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order No. 11, expelling Jews from parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

WTF? Ulysses S. Grant expelled the Jews from the South???? Wikipedia says this:

General Order No. 11 was a controversial order issued by Union Major-General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, during the Vicksburg Campaign, that took place during the American Civil War. The order expelled all Jews from Grant’s military district, comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Grant issued the order in an effort to reduce Union military corruption, and stop an illicit trade of Southern cotton, which Grant thought was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.”

The “running the world” trope never ends.

Here’s a remarkable photo of the first flight (there were three that day): the plane went 120 feet in 12 seconds. Orville is at the controls, while Wilbur runs alongside. The first flight captured on film! And 65 years later the Concorde was flying!

  • 1933 – The first NFL Championship Game is played. The game was at Wrigley Field between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears. The Bears won 23–21.
  • 1938 – Otto Hahn discovers the nuclear fission of the heavy element uranium, the scientific and technological basis of nuclear energy.

Hahn won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944, but, since he was a German in custody of the British when the prize was awarded the next year, couldn’t give his lecture. He did so in 1946.  His collaborator, Lise Meitner, a Jew who had fled to Sweden, should have shared that prize.

  • 1944 – World War II: Battle of the Bulge: Malmedy massacre: American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion POWs are shot by Waffen-SS Kampfgruppe Joachim Peiper.
  • 1989 – The Simpsons premieres on television with the episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire“.

Here’s that first episode:

  • 2014 – The United States and Cuba re-establish diplomatic relations after severing them in 1961.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1778 – Humphry Davy, English chemist and physicist (d. 1829)
  • 1853 – Pierre Paul Émile Roux, French physician and immunologist, co-founded the Pasteur Institute (d. 1933)
  • 1908 – Willard Libby, American chemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1980).

Libby got the Prize for developing radiocarbon dating, and he did so at The University of Chicago. Here he is at the U of C:

  • 1936 – Pope Francis
  • 1987 – Chelsea Manning, American soldier and intelligence analyst

Those who made their final exit on December 17 include:

  • 1830 – Simón Bolívar, Venezuelan general and politician, 2nd President of Venezuela (b. 1783)
  • 1833 – Kaspar Hauser, German feral child (b. 1812)

Well, he wasn’t a feral child, and his own story is full of holes. Still, it’s worth reading about Hauser.

Before she wrote books, Sayers worked in advertising, and she wrote this jingle for Guinness:

Why did an Irish stout use a toucan as advertising? You can read the story here.

  • 2008 – Sammy Baugh, American football player and coach (b. 1914)
  • 2011 – Kim Jong-il, North Korean commander and politician, 2nd Supreme Leader of North Korea (b. 1941)
  • 2012 – Daniel Inouye, American captain and politician (b. 1924)
  • 2013 – Janet Rowley, American geneticist and biologist (b. 1925)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Today’s Hili dialogue also needs an explanation from Malgorzata. “Hili sees her reflection in the window. So she talks about illusions. When Andrzej doesn’t want to approve of her very general statement she demands food for herself and for her reflection – if it’s not an illusion, the other cat should get food as well.”

Hili: The world is full of illusions.
A: Don’t exaggerate.
Hili: Fill the bowl for both of us.
In Polish:
Hili: Świat jest pełen iluzji.
Ja: Nie przesadzaj.
Hili: Napełnij miseczki dla nas obu.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Leon comments on a Polish tradition. Malgorzata explains: “Before Christmas, all proper women are cleaning their houses from top to bottom or the other way around. It’s as if they expected a sanitary inspector instead of family and friends.”

Leon: Oh, all this cleaning!

In Polish: Ach, te porządki!

From Facebook (perhaps from a reader, but I’ve no record):

A meme from Nicole:

From the Internet:


Yes, Titania’s irony is over the top on this tweet, but the renaming of Abraham Lincoln High School is real. In fact, San Francisco is renaming 44 of its 125 public schools, including those bearing the names of Thomas Edison, Herbert Hoover and—Dianne Feinstein, the latter because when she was mayor of S.F. 36 years ago, she allowed the Confederate flag to fly over City Hall. Cancel her IMMEDIATELY!

From Simon, who wonders if this is a real video. So do I!

From Barry: I’ll be damned if this cat isn’t enjoying the bovid tongue bath:

Tweets from Matthew. Look at this mimic! It is likely a Batesian mimic, repelling predators because it resembles a bumble bee, but it could be a Müllerian mimic if the beetle is toxic and the predator has learned to avoid both convergently evolved warning patterns.

I don’t think the analogy is really good here, as an empty bottle is useless, but one can reread books you’ve already read and benefit from it:

Talk about stealing the joy from Christmas!

Beautiful metro stations, with many in the thread. Only one in the US and none in the UK, though!

Saturday: Hili dialogue

November 28, 2020 • 6:30 am

Saturday is here already: due to the holiday, the week seems to have flown by. It’s November 28, 2020, and National French Toast Day (this is cultural appropriation in both name and object). I love French toast with sausages on the side and real maple syrup; my mom used to make it for me if I was a Good Boy. It’s also Turkey Leftover Day (this will go on for a week), Letter Writing Day (I can’t remember the last time I wrote a real letter, but we should do it more), and Red Planet Day, celebrating the launch of Mariner 4 in 1964, the first spacecraft to fly by Mars and give us close-up views of the planet.

News of the Day: I watched the news and read the NYT on Friday evening (as I write this), and it’s very grim. COVID-19 is making a huge comeback, and if I don’t miss my guess based on holiday travel data, in about two weeks we’ll see a huge spike.

Is there war impending in the Middle East? The top nuclear scientist of Iran, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated yesterday in his car, shot by gunmen along the road he was traveling. He’s long been identified by both the U.S. and Israel as a key figure in Iran’s supposed covert program for developing nuclear weapons, and Iran blamed both countries for the killing.  I doubt that there will be all-out war between Iran and Israel, but it’s unsettling, and I doubt Iran will do nothing in response.

Crikey, yesterday statues were defaced and toppled all over the U.S., and I’m not talking about Confederate statues, but those of respectable people. In Minneapolis, a statue of George Washington was toppled and defaced with the spray-painted words, “Genocidal maniac.” A statue of pioneers was also defaced. The Star-Tribune article mentions other vandalism that happened this week:

In Chicago, somebody tried to pull down a statue of President William McKinley in McKinley Park. The sculpture was also tagged with graffiti and the words “Land Back.” [JAC: This is the slogan for promoting giving land back to Native Americans.]

In Spokane, Wash., a statue of Abraham Lincoln was vandalized with red paint. In Portland, Ore., a monument in the city’s Lone Fir Cemetery, dedicated in 1903 to the veterans of the Civil War, Mexican, Spanish-American, and Indian wars, was tagged with anti-colonialism graffiti and its statue toppled and sprayed with red paint. Three people were arrested after protest-related vandalism damaging storefronts and spraying the words “Land Back” on buildings, Portland police said in a news release.

Here’s the photo of the toppled Washington in Minneapolis; you can read “Genocidal Maniac” on the left.  What genocide did Washington commit? And a “maniac”?

Photo: Shari Gross

I’ll pass along a reading recommendation from reader Ken. I’ve read the Brooks op-ed, which is good, but not yet the other one. The issue is distrust between the elites who determine what is “true”, and the others, who feel disenfranchised and empower themselves by embracing conspiracy theories. Ken’s note:

I don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to read David Brooks opinion piece in yesterday’s NYT “The Rotting of the Republican Mind.”

It cites, and is largely based upon a longer piece from National Affairs by Jonathan Rauch, “The Constitution of Knowledge.” That essay deals in greater depth with the Right’s detachment from reality covered by Brooks’s piece, but, in the latter part, also addresses the problems caused on campus, and in the media, by the radical left. It is well worth the read.
And some good news from the site: Matthew’s new book, The Idea of the Brain, has been named one of the Time’s “Best Philosophy and Ideas Books of the Year 2020” and a Sunday Times Book of the Year. The announcement:


Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 264,724, an increase of about 1,400 from yesterday’s figure.  The world death toll is 1,451,167, a big increase of about 11,600 over yesterday’s report. 

Stuff that happened on November 28 includes this:

  • 1520 – An expedition under the command of Ferdinand Magellan passes through the Strait of Magellan.
  • 1582 – In Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway pay a £40 bond for their marriage licence.

Here’s the marriage record. Shakespeare was 18, Anne Hathaway 26, and pregnant with their first child:

A photo of that first vote from the New Zealand Herald:

Heavily outnumbered by men, women turn out to an Auckland polling booth in November 1893 to vote in their first election after securing the right to vote. The overall turnout of female voters was unexpectedly high. Photo / File

What this means is that this was the election in which Kiwi women were first allowed to vote.

Here’s Duryea’s winning vehicle. Average speed: 5.4 miles per hour (a marathon runner does way better than that!):

  • 1919 – Lady Astor is elected as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. She is the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. (Countess Markievicz, the first to be elected, refused to sit.)

Lady Astor served until 1945; here’s a photo:

  • 1925 – The Grand Ole Opry begins broadcasting in Nashville, Tennessee, as the WSM Barn Dance.
  • 1941 – In Germany, Mufti of Palestine met Adolf Hitler in November-28-1941, whose agents had to convince themselves he is not “pure arab” in blood.  The nazi leader still refused to shake his hand or even drink coffee with him for considering Arabs inferior. They agreed on cooperation against Jews.

And here’s a photo of that meeting:

  • 1958 – First successful flight of SM-65 Atlas; the first operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), developed by the United States and the first member of the Atlas rocket family.
  • 1967 – The first pulsar (PSR B1919+21, in the constellation of Vulpecula) is discovered by two astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish.
  • 1972 – Last executions in Paris: Claude Buffet and Roger Bontems are guillotined at La Santé Prison.
  • 1980 – Iran–Iraq War: Operation Morvarid: The bulk of the Iraqi Navy is destroyed by the Iranian Navy in the Persian Gulf. (Commemorated in Iran as Navy Day.)
  • 1990 – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resigns as leader of the Conservative Party and, therefore, as Prime Minister. She is succeeded in both positions by John Major.

Notables born on this day include:

Like many artists, Blake couldn’t draw cats. Here’s his “Tyger”:

  • 1820 – Friedrich Engels, German-English philosopher, economist, and journalist (d. 1895)
  • 1904 – Nancy Mitford, English journalist and author (d. 1973)
  • 1908 – Claude Lévi-Strauss, Belgian-French anthropologist and ethnologist (d. 2009)
  • 1929 – Berry Gordy, Jr., American songwriter and producer, founded Motown Records

Gordy, now 91, is still with us, and is responsible for much of the great soul music of the Sixties and Seventies.

  • 1962 – Jon Stewart, American comedian, actor, and television host
  • 1987 – Karen Gillan, Scottish actress

Those whose lives were obliterated on November 28 include:

Part of Bernini’s interior for St. Peter’s Basilica:

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s baldachin, interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Ivor Clarke/Alamy
  • 1859 – Washington Irving, American short story writer, essayist, biographer, historian (b. 1783)
  • 1939 – James Naismith, Canadian-American physician and educator, created basketball (b. 1861)
  • 1954 – Enrico Fermi, Italian-American physicist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1901)
  • 1960 – Richard Wright, American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet (b. 1908)
  • 1976 – Rosalind Russell, American actress and singer (b. 1907)
  • 1994 – Jeffrey Dahmer, American serial killer (b. 1960)
  • 1994 – Jerry Rubin, American businessman and activist (b. 1938)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili finds a reason to go on living:

Hili: In spite of everything.
A: In spite of what?
Hili: In spite of everything I’m curious what will happen next.
In Polish:
Hili: Mimo wszystko.
Ja: Co mimo wszystko?
Hili: Mimo wszystko jestem ciekawa co będzie dalej.

And in nearby Wloclawek, Mietek and Leon are on the prowl together (note that Mietek is now full grown!):

Leon:  Let’s go back, there is nothing for us here.

In Polish: Wracamy, nic tu po nas.

A meme from Divy:

An great early New Year’s meme from Bruce. Better early than never!

Posted by Seth Andrews on Facebook:

Screenshot of a tweet sent in by Smith Powell. This is a good one:

From reader Barry, two tweets showing Jordan Peterson. The first I don’t think shows that he’s a “grifter”, he simply hadn’t thought through the issue when he pronounced judgment.  The second is a bit reprehensible: a demonstration of confirmation bias by Peterson, who’s conversing with Matt Dillahunty.

Tweets from Matthew. This first one is indeed a stunning time-lapse photos. It also shows that the birds leave the tree in horizontal flight:

Here’s an Amazon comment on Matthew’s new book; the loon is apparently identified in the comment thread:

It wasn’t the cat!

Imagine what the staff had faced in the past!

Matthew channels Rudyard Kipling. Read about mosasaurs here.