Sunday: Hili dialogue

January 9, 2022 • 6:45 am

Welcome to the Christian Sabbath: Sunday, January 9, 2022: National Apricot Day. This isn’t even apricot season, but apricot nectar, my favorite fruit juice, is available year ’round.

It’s also National Sunday Supper Day (Is this still a tradition? It was in my family), International Choreographers Day, National Word Nerd Day, National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (not for the young people), No Pants Subway Ride Day (yes, people do this), National Static Electricity Day, Play God Day (all cats participate), and—a holiday that I think is unique to India—Non-Resident Indian Day, which celebrates Indians who live outside their natal country but help it anyway. .

Here are people riding the subway with no pants (we’re using the American version of “pants”, known as “trousers” in the UK). If people doffed their “pants” in the UK (American “underpants”), they’d be naked.

News of the Day:

*According to the New York Times, the Biden administration has assembled a laundry list of sanctions to apply to Russia should Putin and his military thugs decide to invade the country. These “financial, technology and military sanctions”  would “go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine”. They include these:

The plans the United States has discussed with allies in recent days include cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions, imposing an embargo on American-made or American-designed technology needed for defense-related and consumer industries, and arming insurgents in Ukraine who would conduct what would amount to a guerrilla war against a Russian military occupation, if it comes to that.

Such moves are rarely telegraphed in advance. But with the negotiations looming — and the fate of Europe’s post-Cold War borders and NATO’s military presence on the continent at stake — President Biden’s advisers say they are trying to signal to Mr. Putin exactly what he would face, at home and abroad, in hopes of influencing his decisions in coming weeks.

What we have here is a high-stakes game of “chicken” (see Steve Pinker’s new book Rationality), but we, or rather Ukraine, has more to lose than Russia. I still think the invasion will take place, and Putin will ignore the relatively paltry sanctions.

*Number-one-ranked male tennis star Novak Djokovic has been refused entry into Australia to play in the Australian Open after his visa wasn’t accepted. (He had said he had a medical exemption from being vaccinated against Covid, but according to the Aussie government it wasn’t kosher. He has appealed, but I see no grounds for letting him in just because he’s a tennis star: in the game of pandemic suppression, no animals is more equal than others. If they let him play, it will be an act of arrant unfairness.  So, as he should be, he’s warming his tuchas in a hotel in quarantine. As Lindsay Crouse wrote in the New York Times,

The conversation is as much about fairness as it is about public health. Why should a player get a free pass when other players, and the fans keeping them in business, have to be vaccinated and abide by travel restrictions? Workplaces around the world are filled with Djokovics, difficult but valued or essential employees who expect special accommodations in order to come to work — even when the accommodations they seek are grounded in anti-science views that might put their colleagues at risk.

When it comes to athletes, what they do in public health situations matters even more. Beyond the social influence that comes with their platforms, star athletes are symbols of good health, success and leadership — that’s why they’re sought after as the public face of performance apparel and shoe companies, breakfast cereals and countless other brands.

. . . The Australian Border Force did what sports bodies are failing to do: say no. If athletes don’t like restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated, they could just get a shot like millions of other people — a privilege that millions more are still waiting for.

*Yay for humanity and science! We know now that the mirrors of the Webb Space Telescope have unfolded successfully!

Webb’s gold mirror began to take shape as the first of the two primary wings was unfolded and latched on Friday. These wings are side panels that hold three mirror segments each. This was followed by the unfolding and latching of the second panel on the other side Saturday.
While the deployment of the mirrors took only a few minutes each, the complicated “latching” together took several hours. What is so remarkable about this event, as contrasted to others, is that for the scope to unfold properly nothing could afford to go wrong. It’s a moment to be proud of humanity, and of science.

*By all rights of fairness, transgender female swimmer Lia Thomas from Penn should not be competing against collegiate women swimmers. She clearly has a muscle and strength advantage gained at puberty, and has bested biological women swimmers by huge margins. Yet both her school and the NCAA have stood behind her, though on bogus grounds:

Thomas has the support of her school, which said Thursday that she “has met or exceeded all NCAA protocols over the past two years for a transgender female student-athlete to compete for a women’s team. She will continue to represent the Penn women’s swimming team in competition this season.”

The Ivy League also backed Thomas.

“Over the past several years, Lia and the University of Pennsylvania have worked with the NCAA to follow all of the appropriate protocols in order to comply with the NCAA policy on transgender athlete participation and compete on the Penn women’s swimming and diving team,” it said in a statement Thursday.

“The Ivy League reaffirms its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form,” it added.

The problem is that Thomas still has a clear advantage since she transitioned only a few years ago, well after puberty. If you look up the NCAA policy for transgender females to compete against biological women, you get this:

A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.

But no maximum levels of circulating testosterone are given, nor would they work anyway. We’ve now learned that testosterone-suppression for a year, even according to Olympic standards, cannot overcome the physiological and physical advantages acquired at puberty. Even three years isn’t sufficient; the advantage appears to be permanent, especially given the transitory nature of an athletic career.

And this NCAA statement is, as we saw the other day, flatly wrong:

According to medical experts on this issue, the assumption that a transgender woman competing on a women’s team would have a competitive advantage outside the range of performance and competitive advantage or disadvantage that already exists among female athletes is not supported by evidence.

(h/t Divy).

*Matthew directs us to a Guardian article reporting what must be a record for postal slowness, even in a country famous for it. The U.S. postal service delivered a letter written by a soldier in WWII to his mother—76 years late!

Army Sgt John Gonsalves, 22 at the time, wrote to his mother in Woburn in December 1945 after the official end of the second world war, WFXT-TV reported Wednesday.

The letter would sit unopened for more than 75 years before being found in a US Postal Service distribution facility in Pittsburgh.

“Dear Mom, Received another letter from you today and was happy to hear that everything is okay,” the letter reads. “As for myself, I’m fine and getting along okay. But as far as the food it’s pretty lousy most of the time.”

He signed the letter: “Love and kisses, Your son Johnny. I’ll be seeing you soon, I hope.”

Gonsalves died in 2015. His mother has died as well. But the USPS found an address for his widow, Angelina, whom the soldier met five years after he sent the letter.

. . . Angelina Gonsalves, 89, spent another holiday without her husband, but she said this year, “It’s like he came back to me, you know?”

Ms. Gonsalves reading the Lost Letter:

*Great news: Winnie-the-Pooh (the mid 1920’s A. A. Milne version, is now in the public domain. Screw the Disney makeover; I love the original and all its illustrations, which can now be reproduced. Especially Eeyore, my dysthymic spirit animal.

Luke McGarry began drawing a nude Pooh Bear as soon as he heard the news. The original, nearly 100-year-old “bear of very little brain” from the Hundred Acre Wood had rung in this new year by entering the public domain. Now quite humbly, McGarry’s creative appetite felt rumbly.

The Los Angeles-based artist sat and penned his Winnie-the-Pooh idea in four panels, announcing the 1926 character’s free-for-all status as of Jan. 1, with a winking if satirically speculative interpretation: “Disney still owns their version of me. … But as long as I don’t put a little red shirt on, I can do as I like” — a reference to how the character’s attire regularly began to be depicted beginning in the 1930s.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 835,835 an increase of 1,524 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,503,741,, an increase of about 4,500 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 9 includes:

An artistic envisioning:

(From Wikipedia): Joan of Arc is interrogated by The Cardinal of Winchester in her prison, 1431. Painting by Paul Delaroche (1797–1856),

Here’s the Davy lamp, with the flame enclosed within wire to prevent ignition of mine gases:

There’s a photo of the boat leaving on its treacherous journey to South Georgia (24 April, 1916). They all made it, Shackleton got help and his men were eventually rescued safely.

  • 1916 – World War I: The Battle of Gallipoli concludes with an Ottoman Empire victory when the last Allied forces are evacuated from the peninsula.  

Here’s a scene from the 1981 movie Gallipoli showing a futile charge to death. Then a photo of the real thing:

  • 1957 – British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden resigns from office following his failure to retake the Suez Canal from Egyptian sovereignty.
  • 2005 – Mahmoud Abbas wins the election to succeed Yasser Arafat as President of the Palestinian National Authority, replacing interim president Rawhi Fattouh.

Abbas was elected for a four-year term, but, without any further election, he’s still President of the PA. Is this a dictatorship or not?

  • 2007 – Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the original iPhone at a Macworld keynote in San Francisco.

Here’s Jobs making that announcement:

  • 2015 – The perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris two days earlier are both killed after a hostage situation; a second hostage situation, related to the Charlie Hebdo shooting, occurs at a Jewish market in Vincennes.

Notables born on this day include:

When I was young I read all of Halliburton’s books, which were full of adventure. He swam through the Panama Canal, paying a 36¢ toll.  And that was one of his many exploits. Sadly, he was lost at sea in 1939.

Here he is after swimming the canal:

  • 1908 – Simone de Beauvoir, French philosopher and author (d. 1986)
  • 1913 – Richard Nixon, American commander, lawyer, and politician, 37th President of the United States (d. 1994)
  • 1922 – Har Gobind Khorana, Indian-American biochemist and academic, Nobel laureate (d. 2011)

Born in India, Khorana shared the Nobel Prize with two others for helping unravel the genetic code:

  • 1941 – Joan Baez, American singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist

Baez singing a Bob Dylan song at Sing Sing Prison in 1972. This is my favorite rendition of that song:

  • 1944 – Jimmy Page, English guitarist, songwriter, and producer
  • 1982 – Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Those who became food for worms on January 9 include only one person I consider “notable”:

  • 1923 – Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand novelist, short story writer, and essayist (b. 1888)

A great writer (and expat Kiwi) who should have had more time, she died of TB at 34, suffering a pulmonary hemorrhage after she ran up the stairs. As she was carried to her room, she said, “I’m going to die.” She did. Her short story “Bliss” (free here) is one of the finest pieces of short fiction in English.


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, today’s Hili dialogue is arcane, so Malgorzata gives an explanation:

This is understandable only in Poland. Our government introduced with fanfare an economic program named Nowy Ład (which I translated into “New Order),  which was supposed to help the country with the effects of the pandemic and to help middle- and low -ncome people. It’s a disaster. For example, teachers got a drastic cut in their (already low) salaries.

With that in mind, the dialogue:

Hili: I’m coming to establish a new order.
Paulina: Do not frighten people and cats.
(Photo: Paulina R.)
In Polish:
Hili: Przychodzę zaprowadzić nowy ład.
Paulina: Nie strasz ludzi i kotów.
(Zdjęcie Paulina R.)
And a shot of Kulka and Szaron:

Posted by Seth Andrews:

From Divy: The big conundrum of Christianity:

From Science Humor:

From Simon: An Indian variant on the usual donut-shaped vada, a snack made with lentil flour. As he says, “I imagine the cure for this one would be yogurt.:

From Barry, who feels sorry for the ants (as do I). Yes, this is a real phenomenon:

From Dom, the world’s smallest known snail  (0.5 mm is about 0.02 inches, meaning fifty of these snails, lined up, would extend only an inch). You can read the paper about it here.

From Ginger K., who loves Freddie Mercury:

From a hashtag started by Masih Alinejad asking Muslim women to weigh in on the hijab, #LetUsTalk:

Tweets from Matthew. Furtive petting!

I’d recommend watching this. Dr. Stavrakopoulou is not only a Biblical scholar who is an atheist, and has debunked a lot of Biblical myths, but she also has a wicket sense of humor.  It’s free, too.

Get the Zoom link here.

Great biological gargoyles!

Friday: Hili dialogue

January 7, 2022 • 7:00 am

Welcome to the first official “TGIF” day in 2022: Friday, January 7: National Tempura Day—a cultural appropriation, but, like most of them, a good one.

It’s also Harlem Globetrotter’s Day, International Programmer’s Day, National Old Rock Day, National Pass Gas Day (I suppose it’s because yesterday was National Bean Day), and National Bobblehead Day. Here’s a photo of an extremely rare Hitchens Bobblehead doll given me by a kind reader. Note the ciggie and glass of Mr. Walker’s amber restorative:

And the Christmas celebrations continue:

News of the Day:

*Well, yesterday passed without any assault on the Capitol: there had been predictions of some first-anniversary violence. But Biden, whose own political stock is sinking, took the opportunity to rightfully and forcefully call out Trump, without using his name, for his role in the events a year ago, including questioning the election results:

 President Biden forcefully denounced former President Donald J. Trump for promoting lies and tearing down democracy because he could not stand the fact that he lost a free and fair election, accusing his predecessor and his allies of holding “a dagger at the throat of America.”

In his most sustained and scathing attack on the former president since taking office, Mr. Biden used the anniversary of the Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol to condemn Mr. Trump for waging an “undemocratic” and “un-American” campaign against the legitimacy of the election system that he likened to the actions of autocrats and dictators in faraway countries.

“The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Mr. Biden said, standing in the same National Statuary Hall invaded by throngs of Trump supporters a year ago. “He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

*The Washington Post reports that judges are going pretty easy on Capitol rioters who plead guilty:

Federal judges in D.C. have gone below the government recommendation in 49 out of 74 sentencings held for Capitol riot defendants one year after the attack, about two-thirds of the cases. In eight cases where prosecutors asked for jail time, the judges instead opted for probation. Of the 74 people sentenced so far, 35 have been given jail or prison time, 14 home detention and 25 probation alone.

Probation is a deterrent? SInce when? LOCK ‘EM UP!

*One of the jurors in the Elizabeth Holmes trial has begun singing like a canary, and the Wall Street Journal reports the juror revealed the “smoking guns” that evoked the four “guilty verdicts.” One, contrary to what i thought, was the use of the phony “Pfizer” logo put on a fundraising report to imply that Pfizer endorsed Theranos’s machines:

Jurors zeroed in on two pieces of evidence they believed showed Ms. Holmes intentionally lied to investors, said Susanna Stefanek, known throughout the trial as Juror No. 8.

For some, the damning evidence was a report Theranos gave investors that Ms. Holmes altered to make it look like it was an endorsement from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., Ms. Stefanek said. What was worse for her, the juror said, was a document of financial projections given to prospective investors, including prosecution witness Lisa Peterson, who works for the DeVos family office, which had invested $100 million in Theranos.

“There were just so many falsehoods on that sheet of paper,” said Ms. Stefanek, an editorial manager at Apple Inc. The 2014 document projected $40 million in annual revenue from drug companies, though jurors had heard from government witnesses that Theranos had no such contracts at the time.

*Director Peter Bogdanovich, whose first movie happens to be what I consider the best of all American movies, has died at 82. The movie? The Last Picture Showa 1971 black and white masterpiece about growing up in a small oil town in North Texas in the Fifties.(It’s based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, who he grew up in the town where the movie was filmed.)  If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor, for the odds are you’ll like it a lot. Here’s my favorite scene: Sam the Lion’s soliloquy. The money quote, “Being a crazy about a woman like her is always the right thing to do.”

Never again did Bogdanovich come close to the artistry evinced in that movie. He was a one-hit wonder, but one was enough. (h/t Bill)

*I wonder whether somehow this story from the AP, like that of the two errant walruses that found their way to southern Europe, reflects global warming, though I don’t see how. This one involves a seal who’s taken to freshwater:

A juvenile harbor seal has forgone life in the ocean, instead choosing a home nearly 100 miles up the Hudson River — behavior that wildlife officials called “unprecedented.”

The animal was likely abandoned as a pup by his mother in Maine, officials say. A Connecticut rescue center cared for him, then released him in Rhode Island in early 2019 with an electronic tracking tag.

By that August, he’d settled down on the Hudson near Saugerties Lighthouse, under the watchful eye of the lighthouse keeper, staying for 620 days.

“It is a story like none we have ever heard of … a marine mammal showing such extended affinity and fidelity to freshwater,” said Tom Lake of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Almanac, The Daily Freeman reported Tuesday.

But the seal’s life on the river had one interruption.

Harbor Seal No. 246 — as he’s known officially — disappeared last April, leaving wildlife officials stumped for months.

Turns out he needed rescuing again, catching an infection and a skin condition called “seal pox” after swimming down to Long Island’s Atlantic Beach.

Poor seal! Maybe he belongs in a spacious aquarium. He’ll never find a mate in fresh water!

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 832,392, an increase of 1,404 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,491,637, an increase of about 7,300 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 7 includes:

  • 1608 – Fire destroys Jamestown, Virginia.
  • 1610 – Galileo Galilei makes his first observation of the four Galilean moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa, although he is not able to distinguish the last two until the following day.
  • 1835 – HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin on board, drops anchor off the Chonos Archipelago.

The islands, surrounded by the blue line, are off the coast of Chile and are largely uninhabited, even to this day:

Here’s the film. The sneezer is one Fred Ott, filmed when taking a pinch of snuff:

  • 1927 – The first transatlantic commercial telephone service is established from New York City to London.
  • 1931 – Guy Menzies flies the first solo non-stop trans-Tasman flight (from Australia to New Zealand) in 11 hours and 45 minutes, crash-landing on New Zealand’s west coast. Here’s Menzies, who survived the crash, with his wrecked plane:

Here’s an audio of that groundbreaking performance. Anderson also got attention by being refused to sing for the Daughters of the American Revolution at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in 1939. Thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt, she performed instead in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The singing starts at 2:20:

  • 1959 – The United States recognizes the new Cuban government of Fidel Castro.
  • 1999 – The Senate trial in the impeachment of U.S. President Bill Clinton begins.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1800 – Millard Fillmore, American politician, 13th President of the United States (d. 1874)

Here’s the last Whig President to serve in the White House. Have you ever heard of anyone else named “Millard”?

Bernadette’s song ended when she was only 35, dying in the convent from tuberculosis. Here she is when younger (remember, she had recurrent visions of Jesus):

A racist to his bones, Faubus refused to obey the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court, and ordered the National Guard to prevent black students from attending Little Rock’s Central High school in 1957. President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and stymied Faubus.  Here’s Faubus speaking to a crowd urging segregation of the Little Rock schools. It was a futile effort:


  • 1946 – Jann Wenner, American publisher, co-founded Rolling Stone
  • 1964 – Nicolas Cage, American actor

Those who relinquished their existence on January 7 include:

She was Henry VIII’s first wife, and, mirabile dictu, survived.  Here’s a portrait from 1520, when she was still alive:

  • 1943 – Nikola Tesla, Serbian-American physicist and engineer (b. 1856)

Here’s a drawing from Tesla’s successful patent application for a motor creating alternating current:

  • 1989 – Hirohito, Japanese emperor (b. 1901).  Here he is in his “enthronement ceremony” in 1928. Because the Allies couldn’t decide if he played a substantial role in WWII and Japanese war crimes, he was never tried and lived to a ripe old age:

  • 2006 – Heinrich Harrer, Austrian mountaineer, geographer, and author (b. 1912)

A great climber, writer, and also a Nazi (a card-carrying member of the SS), Harrer was apprehended by the British in India, escaped, and made his way to Tibet, giving rise to his later bestselling book Seven Years in Tibet. In 1938, he became part of the first team to climb the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland, a climb considered impossible (see below); his book on that climb, The White Spider, named after the treacherous ice field that’s part of the climb, is also well worth reading. The North Face:

  • 2021 – Brian Sicknick, Police officer who was present during the Storming of the U.S. Capitol (b. 1978)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Szaron needs to read a bird guide:

Hili: What do you see there?
Szaron: A bird of paradise.
Hili: Either you are lying or you are confused.
In Polish:
Hili: Co tam widzisz?
Szaron: Rajskiego ptaka.
Hili: Albo kłamiesz, albo coś ci się pomyliło.

From Tom: One of the great Far Side cartoons:

A meme from Athayde:

And one from Bruce:

A tweet from God:

From Ginger K., who sent this with great enthusiasm: “The late great Freddie Mercury – THE GREATEST LEAD SINGER OF ALL TIME – and his kittehs. He loved his  kittehs.”

From Simon: good news from the UK. Are we really seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

From Ken, who says “Yertle the Turtle at his dissembling best.”

Tweets from Matthew. First, a cat punching above its weight:

A poem AND a palindrome. Two, two, two treats in one!

Oy! “Please read BioLogos”????

WHAT A DUCK!!!! Watch it!

Monday: Hili dialogue

January 3, 2022 • 7:00 am

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s back to work we go! It’s the first work day of 2022: Monday, January 3, 2022: National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day. These are good only if they don’t use those cloying Maraschino cherries.

It’s also National Weigh-In Day (oy), J. R. R. Tolkien Day, honoring his birth on this day in 1892 (see below), National Drinking Straw Day (the first artificial straw was patented on this day in 1892, the same day as Tolkien’s birth), Write to Congress Day (details about contacting Senators are here (many have websites you can fill in); you might want to weigh in on the Islamophobia bill, which I just did), and, finally, it’s the tenth of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Wine of the Day:  I wrote “Barbera” on the bottle to remind me that this wine, with the new official denomination of “Nizza”, is made from the Barbera grape.

Review are few but laudatory, and it seems that this wine is about ready to drink.

AT $30, the wine was not exactly a bargain, but was quite good, redolent of cherries and red fruits. There was some acidity in the first glass but it dissipated within half an hour, and the second half of the bottle was excellent. I know very little about Italian wines, and the high end Barolos are still above my psychological price barrier, but in the future I’ll be investigating more Barberas.

News of the Day:

*The Covid surge continues, with hospital admissions increasing and with 2,500 flights canceled or delayed yesterday. It was a mess as it’s one of the busiest flying days of the year. Meanwhile, the Israelis are rolling out fourth shots for people over 60, and some immunocompromised patients in the US are surreptitiously getting five or more shots, despite the fact that the efficacy of these multiple jabs haven’t been tested.

*The editors of the New York Times have gotten together on an official editorial, “Every Day is Jan. 6 Now.” They raise the alarum of an existential thread in the form of many Republicans (and an appreciable number of Democrats!) are willing to use violence against the government. The difference is that it is Republicans and not Democrats who fomented the January 6 insurrection, and it is Republicans and not Democrats who are trying to disenfranchise voters throughout the U.S. (there are bills in 41 states).  The editorial is long; here’s an excerpt.

But peel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

. . . This is where looking forward comes in. Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters, according to a running tally by a nonpartisan consortium of pro-democracy organizations.

That’s pretty much true, and has worried many of us. Some of us (not including me) think that a right-wing overthrow of American Democracy is impending. So what to do? For Republicans:

Republican leaders could help by being honest with their voters and combating the extremists in their midst. Throughout American history, party leaders, from Abraham Lincoln to Margaret Chase Smith to John McCain, have stood up for the union and democracy first, to their everlasting credit.

Democrats aren’t helpless, either. They hold unified power in Washington, for the last time in what may be a long time. Yet they have so far failed to confront the urgency of this moment — unwilling or unable to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage. Blame Senator Joe Manchin or Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but the only thing that matters in the end is whether you get it done. For that reason, Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else.

Yes, and the “progressives” should stop pushing Biden more towards the extreme left, which vitalizes the right. The editors don’t seem to have absorbed one of their own predictions (my bold):

For now, the committee’s work continues. It has scheduled a series of public hearings in the new year to lay out these and other details, and it plans to release a full report of its findings before the midterm elections — after which, should Republicans regain control of the House as expected, the committee will undoubtedly be dissolved.

I don’t think this will be the customary midterm rollback of the dominant party.

*The Wall Street Journal reports that the Democrats are returning to Congress with a bent to ditch the filibuster rule in the Senate, which requires 60% of the body to vote for an end to the hiatus.

Many Democrats say they need to alter Senate filibuster procedures, which require 60 votes to advance most legislation, to pass bills designed to make it easier for people nationwide to vote. The party currently controls the evenly divided Senate, but some Democrats have resisted eliminating the filibuster outright, muddying the prospects for any legislative progress despite the fresh push.

I’m not up to speed on the filibuster, and so have no dog in this fight, but there will never be a time when the Senate can consider this dispassionately, for the numerically dominant party will always want to overturn the rule.

*According to the Washington Post,a cache of letters, poems, diaries and manuscripts from the Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—was put up for auction by Sotheby’s when it had been withheld from scholars for eight decades.

Last year, Sotheby’s announced it was preparing to auction a cache of literary manuscripts and first-edition novels, collected by the bachelor brothers William and Alfred Law, a pair of self-made 19th-century mill owners who amassed the library at their home, Honresfield House, not 20 miles from the parsonage in Haworth, where the Brontës wrote their masterpieces.

What’s in these treasures?

The Brontë material includes: 25 letters by Charlotte and seven of her famous “little books,” a manuscript collection of Anne’s poems, and diary notes shared and written by Emily and Anne, on their respective birthdays.

The jewel in the crown is an ordinary ruled notebook, the kind a student would buy in a stationery shop, that contains 31 poems by Emily.

The poems are all known. But here they are each written out in Emily’s own handwriting, and the remarkable thing about the manuscript is that Emily also appears to have penned edits of her poems — and so perhaps did Charlotte.

Emily’s cross-outs appear in ink. Charlotte may have annotated the works in pencil, scholars suspect. More will be known as the cache is pored over by the experts.

At the end of the manuscript are the words: “never was better stuff penned.” Pride of authorship? Or a sister’s loving blurb?

The British public, nucleus of the Brontë cult, wouldn’t put up with these literary treasures once again passing into private hands, and so put up the dosh themselves (Sotheby’s charitably agreed to delay the auction until they could see if the auction price could be raised by the public. Thank Ceiling Cat, it was:

Why, the richest men in Britain saved it. Sir Leonard Blavatnik, the American-British-Ukrainian petrochemical-finance-entertainment mogul, put up half the money [half is $10 million] to buy it for the public a few weeks ago — with a little help from Prince Charles and thousands of small donations.

Yay! The material will be given to research libraries and public institutions throughout the UK. Here’s a bit of the treasure: a little book by Charlotte:

*Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the two bull-goose loony Republican women in Congress (guess the other one!), has just had her Twitter account suspended permanently. The reason: Twitter’s biggest no-no: disseminating false information about Covid:

Twitter suspended Ms. Greene’s account after she tweeted on Saturday, falsely, about “extremely high amounts of Covid vaccine deaths.” She included a misleading chart that pulled information from a government database of unverified raw data called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, a decades-old system that relies on self-reported cases from patients and health care providers.

Twitter said that Ms. Greene had a fifth “strike,” which meant that her account will not be restored.

A hoax in Sweden, and one for the annals of wokeness: A  Swedish was taking a class in Critical Race Theory, and decided to scam the professor by writing a “grievance study” style of paper.

Arvid Haag signed up for “Critical Whiteness Perspectives on Nordic Culture” at Stockholm University because, he said, “local pandemic grant rules had equipped him and other students with an unexpected financial aid windfall.”

Haag thought he’d “get something fun” out of the “harmless” and “absurd” class, but he soon realized many of his peers took the “American-born ideology” seriously.

Arvid bided his time, occasionally offering some “critical” comments here and there, but saved the best for last: an essay titled “Black and White Drinks,” described as “an account of what had happened from the early 20th century in the struggle between coffee and milk.”

And, lo and behold, he got a B for writing stuff like this (he admitted that he didn’t read most of the papers he cited):

According to Fria Tider, Haag related “how the marketing of the coffee has been characterized by highlighting ‘black and exotic elements’ of the drink. When it comes to milk, it has instead been ‘the local and white’ that has been emphasized.”

The question one can ask is whether it is really a reconciliation between milk and coffee that has been implemented or whether adding milk to the coffee is a way to take away from the coffee its unique properties and instead impose the black drink white properties.

Milk in the coffee can with critical glasses be seen as a drink-based colonization. The hot and strong coffee cools and is rounded off in taste with the help of the milk, which thereby controls and domesticates the coffee.

It looks as if the Swedes, too, have fallen victim to Wokeism. The sad thing is that this is pretty close of the kind of stuff getting published in American scholarly “studies” journals.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 824,422, an increase of 1,254 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,461,879, an increase of about 3,400 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 3 includes:

Here’s that papal bull; I can’t find Luther’s name in it, but there appears to be another side:

  • 1777 – American General George Washington defeats British General Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Princeton.
  • 1870 – Construction work begins on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, United States.

It opened in 1883. This is one of four toll-free bridges connecting Manhattan to Long Island (can you name the other three?), and I still think it’s one of the world’s most beautiful bridges:

  • 1947 – Proceedings of the U.S. Congress are televised for the first time.
  • 1953 – Frances P. Bolton and her son, Oliver from Ohio, become the first mother and son to serve simultaneously in the U.S. Congress.

She served for 29 years, and her son for four.

Castro was excommunicated because he outlawed religion. Nevertheless, he met with Pope Benedict in 2012:

  • 1977 – Apple Computer is incorporated.  Here’s the house where Jobs and Woz founded Apple in 1976; it’s in Los Altos, California. Jobs was just 21. 

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1840 – Father Damien, Flemish priest and missionary (d. 1889)

Damien is famous for his self-service in tending those afflicted with leprosy (now Hansen’s Disease) sequestered on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. Here he is, riddled with leprosy, shortly before his death in 1889:

  • 1883 – Clement Attlee, English soldier, lawyer, and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (d. 1967)
  • 1892 – J.R.R. Tolkien, English writer, poet, and philologist (d. 1973)

Here’s Tolkien talking about inventing new languages, particularly Elvish. And he writes some Elvish. It’s been years since I read his books, so I didn’t remember that there was indeed a whole language created sui generis:

  • 1897 – Marion Davies, American actress and comedian (d. 1961)

Davies became Hearst’s mistress when she was 19 and he 53, and she stayed by his side until his death. She was mistress of “Hearst Castle,” which  you can see in this video and should definitely visit if you’re in Central California:

  • 1905 – Anna May Wong, American actress (d. 1961)
  • 1939 – Bobby Hull, Canadian ice hockey player
  • 1945 – Stephen Stills, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer

Steve Stills is one person I would have swapped my life with. He’s old and pudgy now, and has lost his voice, but I’m old and could never sing. Here he is in his young and handsome days, playing one of my favorite songs. Here he is on Dick Cavett.  Note that he blows one verse, but you wouldn’t know if it you didn’t know the song.


  • 1950 – Victoria Principal, American actress and businesswoman
  • 1956 – Mel Gibson, American-Australian actor, director, producer, and screenwriter
  • 2003 – Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist

Those who checked out on January 3 include:

Since Charles Darwin and his wife Emma were first cousins, they both had Josiah as their grandfather.  Like all the Darwins and Wedgwoods, he was an abolitionist, and produced the famous anti-slavery emblem, “Am I not a man and a brother?” that has been quoted many times since:

A Currier and ives lithograph, “A rush for the lead”, from 1867. Note that many horses have all four feet off the ground, something that wasn’t settled until Muybridge’s later photographs:

Hitler’s dad. If only a different sperm had fertilized Klara’s egg!

  • 1945 – Edgar Cayce, American psychic and author (b. 1877)
  • 1946 – William Joyce, American-British pro-Axis propaganda broadcaster (b. 1906)

William Joyce, known as “Lord Haw Haw” broadcast anti-Allied propaganda for the Nazis. He was hung after the war, and the scar on his face (caused by a razor slash when he was fighting Communists), which you can see in this video, ripped open as he was hung, leading to the photo below of his body.  This video is quite informative.

After the hanging:

  • 1967 – Jack Ruby, American businessman and murderer (b. 1911)
  • 1980 – Joy Adamson, Austrian-Kenyan painter and conservationist (b. 1910)
  • 2014 – Phil Everly, American singer and guitarist (b. 1939)

Here’s one of their last concerts together when they were both middle-aged. But their harmonies are still great, and this is my favorite among their songs. They had fallen out earlier, but it’s clear that they still had affection for each other:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s words don’t make much sense, nor is Malgorzata able to understand them.

A: What are you waiting for?
Hili: For a reason to meow.
In Polish:
Ja: Na co czekasz?
Hili: Na powód do miauczenia.

And a picture of Szaron:



Picnic Time for Anteaters, sent in by Bruce:

Another from Bruce; this is a real toy and you can buy it on Amazon for $16.68:

All of them wind up like this!:


A tweet from Barry. I suspect this is a purely learned rather than an evolved behavior, and it may have started from the birds soaking bread in the water before eating it, but now it is most clearly FISHING!

From Ginger K.: Look at that face!

From Simon. I forgot about Covid while watching it, and became mesmerized with the engineering:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, an infant gassed at two years old:


Tweets from Matthew. First, SPOT THE CATS! How many cats are in this picture, and where are they? It’s not easy! The answer is at bottom, below the fold.

The last uninfected continent succumbs to the virus. Fortunately, nobody was seriously ill, and everyone offered evacuation refused it.

Very cool. Someone or a program must be controlling them or else they’d all float to the top.

You can read more about this gorgeous insect here; it’s in the order Neuroptera with other lacewings.

Click “continue reading” below to see how many cats are in Matthew’s first tweet above and where they are.

Continue reading “Monday: Hili dialogue”

Saturday: Hili dialogue and New Year’s wishes from Leon and Kulka

January 1, 2022 • 7:00 am


It’s 2022!!! A new year has begun on This Saturay, January 1, 2022. (Don’t forget to stop writing 2021 on your checks-— if anybody’s still writing checks.) And a HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL; let us hope it will be better than 2*21, the unspeakable year of misery.

Of course it’s National Bloody Mary Day.

It’s also Apple Gifting Day, Commitment Day, Ellis Island Day, Euro Day (see below), Fruitcake Toss Day, National Hangover Day, Polar Bear Plunge Day (is anybody gonna do this?), Global Family Day, the last day of Kwanzaa (n.b. not “Coynezaa”, Emancipation Day, and the following New Year celebrations:

Here’s Ded Moroz (Santa) and Snegurochka in Belarus, where things are tough right now.

Google’s New Year’s Day gif (click on screenshot);

News of the Day:

*Well, 2021 went out the way it came in: miserably. New covid cases set a record: nearly 600,000 new cases in one day! Worse, Bloomberg reports that, by mid-January, there could be a million new covid cases per day! Are we all going to get the virus before this is over?

*And if you’re flying anywhere in the next few days, expect the worst: the NBC Evening News reported last night that 1,500 flights have been canceled, and now we’re facing terrible weather in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. (It will snow at least four inches in Chicago today.) Many pilots are out sick, and United Airlines has offered triple pay for pilots willing to fly extra legs. I’m very glad I didn’t go anywhere for the holidays.

*Along with this goes the cancellation of many New Year’s festivities throughout the world, though the Big Ball is going to drop in Times Square in New York. But in Las Vegas (of course), 300,000 people are predicted to crowd the Strip and there are no restrictions, including masks or proof of vaccinated (both required in New York City).

*I posted yesterday about Betty White’s unexpected death at 99. People that are centenarians or close to it are often asked about their “secret to longevity”, and it’s always something like “do what I did.” In Betty White’s case, Food & Wine Magazine posted her answer on December 29—just two days before she died (oy!):

Of course, Betty White – who turns 100 on January 17 – doesn’t need any help making headlines. And clearly, the lifelong actress knows a thing or two about entertaining answers for interviews. So what was White’s response when People recently asked about her dietary regimen at 99 years old? “I try to avoid anything green,” she joked. “I think it’s working.”

This was a woman after my own heart. Plus she loved animals!

*Speaking of animals, what about that cleaner in Florida who climbed a fence at night, snuck over to the tiger cage at a zoo, stuck his arm through the cage, and was grabbed by a rare Malayan tiger named Eko.  The schlemiel called the cops, who came and had to shoot that magnificent animal dead. The zoo is mourning Eko, who was much loved, while the guy is in the hospital in serious condition. The zoo closed on Friday so that the employees could mourn, and there was even a grief counselor available. It’s not yet clear whether authorities will bring criminal charges against the man.

*Need cheering up by now?Click on the screenshot to read a story about animals that has a great headline and a happy ending:

*Marshall Mathers, better known as the rapper Eminem, has just opened a faux-Italian restaurant in Detroit called “Mom’s Spaghetti”. (It’s a reference to his hit song “Lose Yourself”.)  The New York Times reviewed it (verdict: meh), and there’s a video below. The joint features an $11 “spaghetti sandwich”: a glop of pasta between two pieces of white bread. Gag me with a spoon!

*And the royal worshipers in the UK are all agog about Kate Middleton playing the piano at a Christmas gala at Westminster Abbey; she accompanied a Scottish singer. Some of the headlines are over the top. This video, for example, is titled “Kate Middleton DAZZLES during impressive piano performance.”  From what I can see, it’s not very dazzling. Note how the guy who sang with her osculates the bum of the Firm:


From the Daily Fail:

I’ll never understand the view of the UK public (I know, some of you don’t share this) that the royals are akin to demigods. And yet many smart and thoughtful people argue strenuously that we should keep the royals.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 823,903 an increase of 1,242 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,454,900, an increase of about 6,400 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on January 1 includes:

  • 153 BC – For the first time, Roman consuls begin their year in office on January 1.
  • 45 BC – The Julian calendar takes effect as the civil calendar of the Roman Empire, establishing January 1 as the new date of the new year.
  • 42 BC – The Roman Senate posthumously deifies Julius Caesar
  • 1500 – Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvarez Cabral discovers the coast of Brazil.
  • 1700 – Russia begins using the Anno Domini era instead of the Anno Mundi era of the Byzantine Empire.
  • 1739 – Bouvet Island, the world’s remotest island, is discovered by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier.

Here’s where it is, and a few words from Wikipedia:

Bouvet Island (Norwegian: Bouvetøya [bʉˈvèːœʏɑ] or Bouvetøyen) is a Norwegian uninhabited protected nature reserve. As a subantarctic volcanic island, it is situated in the South Atlantic Ocean (54°25′S 3°22′ECoordinates: 54°25′S 3°22′E), at the southern end of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge making it the world’s most remote island. It is not part of the southern region covered by the Antarctic Treaty System.

The island lies 1,700 kilometres (1,100 mi) north of the Princess Astrid Coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, 1,900 kilometres (1,200 mi) east of the South Sandwich Islands, 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) south of Gough Island, and 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) south-southwest of the coast of South Africa. It has an area of 49 square kilometres (19 sq mi), 93 percent of which is covered by a glacier. The centre of the island is the ice-filled crater of an inactive volcano. Some skerries and one smaller island, Larsøya, lie along its coast. Nyrøysa, created by a rock slide in the late 1950s, is the only easy place to land and is the location of a weather station.

Here’s that godforsaken island:

  • 1773 – The hymn that became known as “Amazing Grace“, then titled “1 Chronicles 17:16–17”, is first used to accompany a sermon led by John Newton in the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire, England.

Newton wrote the song: in 1772; he was an English poet and Anglican clergyman (1725–1807). I believe Olney is where they have the annual pancake race on Shrove Tuesday (I’ve been there).

The flag, which still retains traces of colonialism:

That lasted until 1922, when the Irish Free State (now just “Ireland” was formed), while Northern Ireland is still allied with the UK.

  • 1808 – The United States bans the importation of slaves.
  • 1863 – American Civil War: The Emancipation Proclamation takes effect in Confederate territory.
  • 1892 – Ellis Island begins processing immigrants into the United States.

Here are some immigrants who passed inspection, and are waiting for a ferry to Manhattan:

(From the NYT) PASSAGES Immigrants at Ellis Island awaiting a ferry to the city. Credit…Bettmann/CORBIS
  • 1898 – New York, New York annexes land from surrounding counties, creating the City of Greater New York. The four initial boroughs, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx, are joined on January 25 by Staten Island to create the modern city of five boroughs.
  • 1934 – Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay becomes a United States federal prison.

Even though the island isn’t far from San Francisco, the currents are rough and security was tight. Nobody is known to have successfully escaped. Here’s the island with the prison on it, and a view of the cells (#181, with the open door, was where Al Capone lived):

First the Nazis sterilized these people (not all of the defects were “genetic”), and later began to euthanize them—they were the first victims of the Nazi genocide. (The killing was later stopped after a public outcry. Here’s a poster urging euthanasia; the caption is from Wikipedia:

Propaganda for Nazi Germany’s T-4 Euthanasia Program: “This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too.” from the Office of Racial Policy’s Neues Volk.

And. . . here’s the first Canadian citizen, you hosers! How come everyone didn’t become Canadian instantly?

  • 1958 – The European Economic Community is established.
  • 1959 – Cuban Revolution: Fulgencio Batista, dictator of Cuba, is overthrown by Fidel Castro’s forces.
  • 1971 – Cigarette advertisements are banned on American television.
  • 1990 – David Dinkins is sworn in as New York City’s first black mayor.

Here’s Dinkens, who died about a year ago:

  • 1993 – Dissolution of Czechoslovakia: Czechoslovakia is divided into the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic
  • 1995 – The Draupner wave in the North Sea in Norway is detected, confirming the existence of freak waves.

These are often called “freak waves”: here’s one hitting an oil rig in the North Sea:

  • 1999 – Euro currency is introduced in 11 member nations of the European Union (with the exception of the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece and Sweden; Greece adopts the euro two years later).

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s a genuine Paul Revere dessert spoon from the 1780s; it’s only $18,000 on eBay:

  • 1752 – Betsy Ross, American seamstress, credited with designing the Flag of the United States (d. 1836)
  • 1864 – Alfred Stieglitz, American photographer and curator (d. 1946)

Considered the father of modern art photography, Stiegliz took many great photos, but this may be his best, “The Steerage”, the subject of a whole Wikipedia page.

Some info:

The Steerage is a black and white photograph taken by Alfred Stieglitz in 1907. It has been hailed as one of the greatest photographs of all time because it captures in a single image both a formative document of its time and one of the first works of artistic modernism.

“There were men and women and children on the lower deck of the steerage. There was a narrow stairway leading to the upper deck of the steerage, a small deck right on the bow with the steamer.
To the left was an inclining funnel and from the upper steerage deck there was fastened a gangway bridge that was glistening in its freshly painted state. It was rather long, white, and during the trip remained untouched by anyone.
On the upper deck, looking over the railing, there was a young man with a straw hat. The shape of the hat was round. He was watching the men and women and children on the lower steerage deck…A round straw hat, the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right, the white drawbridge with its railing made of circular chains – white suspenders crossing on the back of a man in the steerage below, round shapes of iron machinery, a mast cutting into the sky, making a triangular shape…I saw shapes related to each other. I was inspired by a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life.”

Although Stieglitz described “an inclining funnel” in the scene, photographs and models of the ship (see below) show that this object was actually a large mast to which booms were fastened for loading and unloading cargo. One of the booms is shown at the very top of the picture.

  • 1879 – E. M. Forster, English author and playwright (d. 1970)
  • 1895 – J. Edgar Hoover, American law enforcement official; 1st Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (d. 1972)
  • 1919 – J. D. Salinger, American soldier and author (d. 2010)
  • 1942 – Country Joe McDonald, American singer-songwriter and guitarist
  • 1943 – Don Novello, American comedian, screenwriter and producer

Remember Novello as “Father Guido Sarducci” on Saturday Night Live?

  • 1955 – Mary Beard, English classicist, academic and presenter

Those experienced their demise on January 1 include:

  • 1953 – Hank Williams, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (b. 1923)

Here’s Williams playing “Hey Good Lookin‘” , written by Williams in 1951. He died at only 29.

  • 1972 – Maurice Chevalier, French actor and singer (b. 1888)
  • 2015 – Mario Cuomo, American lawyer and politician, 52nd Governor of New York (b. 1932)
  • 2017 – Derek Parfit, British philosopher (b. 1942)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is washing herself in Andrzej’s chair, but the dialogue is arcane. Malgorzata explains: “Andrzej is saying (truthfully) that Hili might be more comfortable on the sofa. But his objective is not Hili’s comfort. He wants ro regain his own chair and Hili knows it. A situation in which you suggest something which is to your advantage (even if it’s also to the advantage of the other person involved) Hili calls populism and demagoguery.”

Hili: Taking care of one’s cleanliness is time consuming.
A: You will be more comfortable on the sofa.
Hili: This is populism and demagoguery.
In Polish:
Hili: Troska o czystość jest czasochłonna.
Ja: Na sofie będzie ci wygodniej.
Hili: To jest populizm i demagogia.

And here are Szaron and Kulka doing their business:

Leon has some New Year’s wishes, and he’s all dressed up to convey them:

Leon: Have a good time, do not scare your smaller brethren [this is a literal translation, it means: animals] and may you prosper in the New Year in friendship and love.
In Polish: Bawcie sie dobrze, nie straszcie braci mniejszych i niech Wam się darzy w Nowym Roku, w przyjaźni i miłości.
Kulka also has some wishes, and sits next to Andrzej’s new book, which is illustrated by photos of Kulka taken by Paulina:

On New Year Eve Kulka wishes everybody a nice reading (Picture by Paulina R.)

And the editorial team of “Listy z naszego sadu” wishes our readers everything they wish for themselves and perseverance to carry out these wishes against all obstacles.

In Polish:

Kulka, z okazji Sylwestra, życzy wszystkim miłej lektury (Zdjęcie: Paulina R.)
Zaś redakcja “Listów z naszego sadu” życzy wszystkim czytelnikom tego, czego oni sami sobie życzą i wytrwałości, żeby te życzenia wprowadzić w życie wbrew wszelkim przeciwnościom.

A cartoon from Jean:



From Bruce:

Reader Pliny The in Between’s last Far Corner Cafe cartoon of 2021:


A tweet from reader Barry about Betty White and this miserable year:

Two tweets via Ken. Why would the BBC interview Alan Dershowitz about the Ghislaine Maxwell trial when Dershowitz was not only one of Jeffrey Epstein’s former lawyers, but had been accused himself of sexual abuse by one of Epstein’s accusers? Oy!

They realized the error of their ways. . .

From Ginger K:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a marvelous array of bioluminescent corals. Why do they glow? To attract microorganisms? To scare away predators? Who knows?

It’s time to show this once again, a marvelous jazz rendition I call “Nom Nom”:

The sexual displays of male ducks of different species are not only remarkable, but unpredictably varied. Look at this one: what is the male showing to the female about his desirability as a mate?

With her tail!

On the Importance of Wild Felids:

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

December 29, 2021 • 7:00 am

Good morning on Hump Day, or, as they say in Russia, Горбатый день.  Yes, it’s December 29, 2021, the fifth and penultimate day of Coynezaa. It’s National “Get on the Scales” Day, which is impossible because I don’t own scales and never did. They’re just a source of anxiety: I judge my weight gains and losses by how my pants fit.

It’s also National Pepper Pot Day (it’s a soup), National Hero Day, and Tick Tock Day (a reminder that we’d better finish off our tasks for 2021). Finally, it’s the fifth day of Christmas and the fourth day of Kwanzaa.

News of the Day:

*Even the New York Times has taken the CDC to task for ham-handedness, the latest incident being the agency’s inaccurate estimation of the prevalence of the omicron variant among all Covid cases. The revisions have been drastic and constant, and, to be sure, it’s hard to estimate given that variants must be sequenced to be reported. Still, perhaps the CDC, if there is so much uncertainty involved, might either admit that it doesn’t know, or hedge its estimates by saying they could be considerably off.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the Omicron variant now accounts for roughly 59 percent of all Covid cases in the United States, a significant decrease from the agency’s previous estimate. The update shows how hard it is to track the fast-spreading variant in real time and how poorly the agency has communicated its uncertainty, experts said.

Last week, the C.D.C. said that Omicron accounted for approximately 73 percent of variants circulating in the United States in the week ending Dec. 18. But in its revision, the agency said the variant accounted for about 23 percent of cases that week.

In other words, Delta, which has dominated U.S. infections since summer, still reigned in the United States that week. That could mean that a significant number of current Covid hospitalizations were driven by infections from Delta, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, suggested on Twitter. Hospitalizations typically lag several weeks behind initial infections.

This matters because, as far as we know, the Delta variant is more likely to do in adults than the omicron variant. I know that these estimates are like trying to fix a car when it’s moving, but perhaps a lot of the public distrusts the CDC (and the vaccine) because they hear about these drastic revisions. The latest one, reducing quarantine time from 10 to 5 days for the asymptomatic people or those with abating symptoms, was made not for health but for public convenience, and it’s based on the “honor system.”

*Your Tax Dollars At Work Department: The New York Post (and the Times of London) report that, using government money, NASA has hired 24 theologians (that’s right, 24) Why? The Post explains  (h/t Barry):

Between heaven and Earth, where do aliens fit in?

That’s the question that NASA hopes theologians at the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) in Princeton, New Jersey, can answer, in a recent effort to understand how humans will react to news that intelligent life exists on other planets.

University of Cambridge religious scholar Rev. Dr. Andrew Davison, who also holds a doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford, is one of the 24 theologians enlisted to help with the project, the Times UK reported last week.

In a recent statement on the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity blog, Davison says his research so far has already seen “just how frequently theology-and-astrobiology has been topic in popular writing” during the previous 150 years.

Remember, it’s unlikely we’ll learn about life on other planets any time soon. This is just an exercise in wheel-spinning, giving theologians something to do besides interpreting works of fiction.

But wait! This isn’t the first time that NASA has given money to the enter for Theological Inquiry:

This is the latest dispatch to come in a partnership between the US space agency and the religious institute. In 2014, NASA awarded CTI a $1.1 million grant to study worshippers’ interest in and openness to scientific inquiry called the Societal Implications of Astrobiology study.

Studies have shown links between religiosity and belief in extraterrestrial intelligence. Research published in 2017 found that people with a strong desire to find meaning, but a low adherence to a particular religion, are more likely to believe aliens exist — indicating that faith in either theory may come from the same human impulse.

What about the separation of church and state? I don’t want my taxes used to line the pockets of theologians of any stripe, especially when they’re engaged in project as frivolous as these.

* Reader Ken tells us this (his quote):

“According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, Chief Justice John Roberts has the American public’s highest job-approval rating among federal officials.”

Sure, he’s a “centrist” in comparison to the five harcore conservative justices to his right, but let us not forget that he’s also the author of the Court’s two majority opinions gutting the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, as well as a host of other horrid opinions.”
Here are the other ratings. Note that Uncle Joe tops out at 43% approval, just one point below Kamala Harris, but Mitch “666” McConnell bottoms out at 34%. What do these numbers mean?

Click screenshot to enlarge:

*”Mr. Football”, aka John Madden, died yesterday at 85. No cause of death was given—just that he died “unexpectedly.” After coaching the Oakland Raiders football team for seven years, and winning one Superbowl—as ESPN notes, “Madden compiled a 103-32-7 regular-season record, and his .759 winning percentage is the best among NFL coaches with more than 100 games—he retired from coaching at 42 and became really famous for broadcasting and announcing football on television for decades. To the American public, he was the face and voice of the National Football league.  Here he is:

*According to reader Gert, who sent the link, the BBC reports that Russia’s oldest civil rights group has been, well, legally “liquidated” by the courts. It’s very sad. According to the report:

Russia’s Supreme Court has ordered the closure of International Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights group.

Memorial worked to recover the memory of the millions of innocent people executed, imprisoned or persecuted in the Soviet era.

Formally it has been “liquidated” for failing to mark a number of social media posts with its official status as a “foreign agent”.

That designation was given in 2016 for receiving funding from abroad.

But in court, the prosecutor labelled Memorial a “public threat”, accusing the group of being in the pay of the West to focus attention on Soviet crimes instead of highlighting a “glorious past”.

Founded in 1989, Memorial became a symbol of a country opening up to the world – and to itself – as Russia began examining the darkest chapters of its past. Its closure is a stark symbol of how the country has turned back in on itself under President Vladimir Putin, rejecting criticism – even of history – as a hostile act.

*The words of speech pioneer Thomas Paine are now being censored on Twitter and Instagram, according to Reclaim.  (h/t Anna)

Whatever the case, multiple Facebook and Instagram users were saying on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday that their posts were either removed or that they had their accounts temporarily blocked for uploading a picture of Paine and his quote, reading, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest,” that comes from Paine’s writings in the Pennsylvania Journal, 24 April, 1776. 

According to Facebook’s censorship machine, that is false information, worthy of bans and deletions.

The irony of yet another instance of suppression of speech is particularly painful here (no pun intended) given Paine’s own pro-freedom, individual liberty and human rights, as well as anti-slavery stances, that made him a prominent Enlightenment figure.

Here are two examples, the first from Instagram and the second from Facebook, about suspensions, the first showing the horrifying post that violates “community standards” (apparently the community being Oceania:

This post apparently was just of the meme above, and had nothing to do with information about vaccination and health. Nevertheless, Big Brother deep-sixed it:

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 819,201, an increase of 1,243 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,433,562, an increase of about 8,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 29 includes:

Here’s the entire movie Becket (1964), starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. The murder scene begins at 2:18:40, but the movie goes on a bit after that. In reality, he wasn’t killed like they show: the top of his head was sliced off with a single sword blow, and that did him in.

Here’s a representation of the Powhatan princess—the only one made during her lifetime. The long caption is from Wikipedia:

Engraved portrait of Matoaks or Rebecka, the Native American woman better known as Pocahontas, made in 1616 during her trip in England, where she died shortly after. It is the only known representation of her made during her lifetime. “It is believed that Simon van de Passe (1595-1647), the Dutch engraver, sketched her likeness in an actual sitting, then created the engraving for the Virginia Company to use in their publicity campaign. This is the closest we’ll ever get to knowing what Pocahontas looked like. […] The clothes that Pocahontas is wearing in the portrait are meant to show how well integrated she was into English life in order to reassure investors that the natives could be made to adopt English ways.” — Kevin Miller, in: Miller, Kevin (2018). Portraits. Pocahontas Lives!.

Here’s one of the Sioux leaders dead in the snow (caption from Wikipedia):

Son of Miniconjou, Lakota Sioux Chief Spotted Elk lies dead after the massacre of Wounded Knee, 1890

Here he is in 1880. The Lakota had surrendered peacefully the day before, but the Army attacked the encamped Lakota and massacred them:

Cheyenee River Delegation portrait, 1888

Here are nine minutes of excerpts, and you can watch the whole movie on YouTube:

A signed first edition of this book will run you around $45,000:

  • 1937 – The Irish Free State is replaced by a new state called Ireland with the adoption of a new constitution.
  • 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.

Sami were formerly known as Lapps, and the language was spoken in northern Scandinavia. Recordings of it still exist, but it’s not spoken as a regular language.

Notables born on this day include:

Goodyear is the man who learned to “vulcanize” rubber by combining it with sulfur and heating it, toughening the rubber. His name lives on in the company he started. Here’s Goodyear:

  • 1808 – Andrew Johnson, American general and politician, 17th President of the United States (d. 1875)
  • 1876 – Pablo Casals, Catalan cellist and conductor (d. 1973)
  • 1911 – Klaus Fuchs, German physicist and spy (d. 1988)
  • 1936 – Mary Tyler Moore, American actress and producer (d. 2017)

In both the Dick van Dyke show and her own eponymous show, MTM was fantastic.  Remember this opening of The Mary Tyler Moore show?  Her hat-tossing at the end of the intro has been memorialized in Minneapolis (where the show took place) with a bronze statue:

  • 1943 – Rick Danko, Canadian singer-songwriter, bass player, and producer (d. 1999)
  • 1946 – Marianne Faithfull, English singer-songwriter and actress

Remember the stories about her being found naked and wrapped up in a rug when the cops raided a party at Mick Jagger’s house (she was his girlfriend for a while)? Here’s a classic photo; caption by Wikipedia:

Michael Cooper, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Shepard Sherbell, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Brian Jones at the Royal Concertgebouw on 1 September 1967
  • 1972 – Jude Law, English actor

Those who made the frog sound on December 29 include:

  • 1170 – Thomas Becket, English archbishop and saint (b. 1118) [see above]
  • 1890 – Spotted Elk, American tribal leader (b. 1826) [see photo above]
  • 1894 – Christina Rossetti, English poet and hymn-writer (b. 1830)
  • 1926 – Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian poet and author (b. 1875)
  • 1937 – Don Marquis, American journalist, author, and playwright (b. 1878)

If you haven’t read his poetry and picture books about archy and mehitabel, starring a typing cockroach and an old female alley cat, do so immediately. One drawing:

Henderson was second only to Duke Ellington as a composer and arranger of jazz, and also conducted an orchestra. Here’s his big band playing his “Wrappin’ It Up”, a later hit for Benny Goodmen (though Henderson wrote the song). You can hear the echoes of earlier jazz but also a distinct style that influenced Ellington:

  • 1967 – Paul Whiteman, American violinist, composer, and conductor (b. 1890)
  • 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)
  • 2020 – Pierre Cardin, Italian-French fashion designer (b. 1922)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili takes Andrzej’s question literally.

A: We have to return to reality.
Hili: Which way?
In Polish:
Ja: Trzeba powrócić do rzeczywistości.
Hili: Którędy?

And Szaron in a nook by the fireplace where they keep the firewood.

From Charitha Fernando at Brave and Beautiful World. What animal do you see?

From reader Bruce:

A cartoon from reader Tom:

A tweet from God!

From Mark Plotkin. No explanation yet for this phenomenon:

Courtesy of Ginger K. a tweet from Bette Midler and a reply:

From the Auschwitz Memorial, a survivor (a priest):

Tweets from Matthew.  The first one links to a film that I’ll put below the tweet:

Squid chilling in the ocean:

I believe the Webb has already deployed the solar panels, but I’m not certain:

Monday: Hili dialogue

December 27, 2021 • 7:30 am

Well, for many it’s back to work today on December 27, 2021, the third day of Coynezaa (on this day my true love gave to me three matzo balls). It’s National Fruitcake Day, honoring the single fruitcake that is continually regifted around the West.

It’s also Make Cut Out Snowflakes Day, Visit the Zoo Day, and Constitution Day in North Korea.

Wine of the Day: This 2018 cava (the Spanish equivalent of Champagne, and made the same way) is produced by the family of my ex-postdoc (now a professor), and that’s how I was introduced to the wine. I had it with Christmas dinner: roast Chicken, rice, and yams.

If you’re tired of paying $40 and up for French champagne, consider a good Spanish cava like this one. I believe I paid just a tad more than $20 for it, and it was a terrific bargain. It’s very dry, a pigeon-eye red color, with with lots of bubbles and toasty as well as tasty, I swore I could taste some red fruit in there, though it may have been a color-inspired illusion. Llopart is a reliable name in cava, and produces several different types. I believe I’ve tried them all over the years, including the top of the line Ex Vite that you can’t get in the U.S.   If you see this rosé for around $20, snap up a couple bottles and put them in the fridge.

If you want a cheap(ish) but excellent bubbly, and can’t get Llopart, try Roederer Estate Brut from California, which runs abut $25.

A lovely glass:

News of the Day:

*Ed Wilson, the famous naturalist, evolutonary biologist, ant expert, and writer, died yesterday at 92. My post of earlier today gives a few memories I have of the man.

*I’ve lost track of how many Covid-19 “surges” we’ve had since I first heard about the virus, but, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll know we’re in the midst of another one (see below).  Anthony Fauci says “things will be much better in January,” but how does he know?

And France, for the first time during the entire pandemic, has recorded more than 100,000 cases in a single day for the first time.

*Over at the Washington Post, Dave Barry reviews the year of 2021, first overall and then month by month—all in inimitable Barry style:

. .  The spotlight now shifts to incoming president Joe Biden, who takes the oath of office in front of a festive throng of 25,000 National Guard troops. The national healing begins quickly as Americans, exhausted from years of division and strife, join together in exchanging memes of Bernie Sanders attending the inauguration wearing distinctive mittens and the facial expression of a man having his prostate examined by a hostile sea urchin.

. . . On the wokeness front, Dr. Seuss joins the lengthening list of individuals who are deemed to be Problematic, which also includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Pepe LePew and Mr. Potato Head. Also people are starting to take a hard look at the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and if you have to ask why YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

*And once again, the Sunday NYT features a sermonette by Tish Harrison Warren, the Anglican priest whom the Paper of Record has chosen to hector us about Jesus. In yesterday’s column, “How Christmas Changed Everything“, Rev. Warren says that all of us in the West—even the Jews—are saturated in Christian values:

But if you live in the West, the claims of Christmas have profoundly shaped your life and view of the world. You don’t have to believe in Jesus or even think about him for that to be true. The West is “so saturated in Christian assumptions that it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them,” said Tom Holland, a British historian and author of “Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World.” He continued, “We tend to take for granted that the lowest of the lowest do have dignity.”

These same radical ideas reverberate down through the centuries. They eventually motivated the invention of hospitalsmass education, and widespread literacy. They inspired those who opposed slavery and influenced the contemporary idea of universal human rights. Charles Malik, a Lebanese Christian who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, said, “The ultimate ground of all our freedom is the Christian doctrine of the absolute inviolability of the human person.” In different ways over time, the belief in the dignity of even the weakest in society flowed from people meditating on this same shocking story that the church tells at Christmastime today.

But then she says this:

The development of the idea of universal dignity could be understood as a result of an invisible hand guiding societies toward “progress” or even as a series of random accidents. A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher, argues that seeds of this concept can be found in the thoughts of Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius. Scholars like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Israel trace the origin of human rights to the enlightenment era.

But at the end she still touts God/Jesus as the Fount of Morality.  When will she stop this blathering, all founded on claims that aren’t true? When will the NYT say, “Okay, Tish—enough.”

*I did not know this, but in September the Center for Inquiry announced that the 2021 Richard Dawkins Award has been given to Tim Minchin. However, the video of the presentation, which includes a 90-minute conversation between Richard and Minchin (moderated by David Cowan) was just posted a week ago. I’ve put the video with the award and conversation below. From CFI:

In the 350-year-old Sheldonian Theatre, designed by the famed British architect Christopher Wren, musician, composer, comedian, actor and writer, Tim Minchin, received the 2021 Richard Dawkins Award before a sold-out crowd on October 10th, 2021.

Richard Dawkins gave a soaring and touchingly personal tribute to the awardee, calling him “a staunch upholder of rationalism, secularism, and scientific skepticism.”

In introducing the event, Robyn Blumner, CFI’s CEO, said that Tim is this year’s awardee because “Number one, the award criteria fits him to a ‘T,’ and number two, because he’s so freakin’ awesome.”

David Cowan, a CFI board member and Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur, masterfully moderated a lively 90-minute conversation between Richard and Tim, after sharing that he is a major fanboy of Tim’s and doing an on-stage selfie with him.

*I miss the reclusive Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic of the New York Times who departed in 2017. Her critiques were always incisive, even when I disagreed with them.I don’t know why she left, but she’s back with a literary retrospective and memoriam that is excellent: “Didion’s prophetic eye on America.” Of all the obits I’ve read about Joan Didion, who died this week, this is by far the best at pinpointing the power of her prose.

Didion’s utterly distinctive writing style — distinguished by its spareness, its surgical precision, its almost staccato yet incantatory rhythms — was also a tool for containing her often harrowing subject matter, be it her own experiences of loss and grief, reportorial assignments involving murder or war, or the melodramatic situations that the heroines in her novels so often faced. She had an eye for the prophetic detail and telling gesture, an ear for the line of overheard dialogue that might reveal all.

Didion prized control — getting the details correct in a story, making sure a recipe turned out exactly right — because she often felt it was elusive in her life as someone who suffered from migraines and Parkinson’s and morning dread. “You are getting a woman who somewhere along the line misplaced whatever slight faith she ever had in the social contract, in the meliorative principle,” she wrote. She described herself as “a sleepwalker,” “alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot,” the coyotes by the interstate, the snakes in the playpen.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 814,970, an increase of 1,328 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,418,562, an increase of about 3,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 27 includes:

  • 537 – The construction of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is completed.

Here’s that great building: first a mosque, then a Catholic church, then a museum, and, as of last year, a mosque again.

Here I am in 2008, feeding the mosque’s famous resident cat, Gli. (I always carry cat food when I’m in Turkey.)

The Beagle was a small ship: 90 feet from stem to stern and 25 feet across. Here’s a cross-section. I’ve circled the Captain’s cabin (Darwin, contrary to popular belief, was not the ship’s naturalist, but was hired to keep Captain Robert Fitzroy (a depressive) company. Darwin would dine with Fitzroy in FitzRoy’s cabin (circled at right), but then repair to his room at upper left, which had his cot. Darwin was seasick when afloat, and spent as much time as he could ashore.

  • 1845 – Ether anesthetic is used for childbirth for the first time by Dr. Crawford Long in Jefferson, Georgia.
  • 1927 – Kern and Hammerstein’s musical play Show Boat, considered to be the first true American musical play, opens at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Broadway.

Here’s my favorite song from the 1936 movie, “Old Man River,” sung by the inimitable Paul Robson. Imagine: two Jews wrote a song about the travails of a black stevedore. (There was another movie version, in 1951, with Ava Gardner.) Note that he uses the word “darkies” for blacks—a word expunged in later versions.

30 million Russians died on Stalin’s orders, including many in the Ukraine, who starved to death after Stalin ordered their grain shipped elsewhere.

  • 1935 – Regina Jonas is ordained as the first female rabbi in the history of Judaism.

Jonas, a German Jew, was murdered at Auschwitz in 1945, when she was only 42.  Her photo:

Here’s a caver A caver rappelling down from the cave’s mouth:

Notables born on this day include:

The song that made her famous “Falling in Love Again“, in the movie The Blue Angel (1930), in which she humiliates a professor she marries.

  • 1905 – Cliff Arquette, American actor and comedian (d. 1974)
  • 1906 – Oscar Levant, American pianist, composer, and actor (d. 1972)
  • 1930 – Marshall Sahlins, American anthropologist and academic (d. 2021)
  • 1943 – Cokie Roberts, American journalist and author (d. 2019)

From Wikipedia: “She received the nickname Cokie from her brother, Tommy, who as a child could not pronounce her given name, Corinne.”

  • 1946 – Polly Toynbee, English journalist and author
  • 1952 – Tovah Feldshuh, American actress, singer, and playwright
  • 1952 – David Knopfler, Scottish singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer

Here’s “Sultans of Swing” with Dire Straits. I love this song, and  Mark Knopfler’s solo is justifiably famous; his brother David is on rhythm guitar.

Savannah’s 50 today, but sure doesn’t look it! Here she is this year:

Those who went underground on December 27 include:

Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV, surely painted from life:

  • 1834 – Charles Lamb, English essayist and poet (b. 1775)
  • 1923 – Gustave Eiffel, French architect and engineer, co-designed the Eiffel Tower (b. 1832)
  • 1938 – Calvin Bridges, American geneticist and academic (b. 1889)

Bridges, a student of academic great grandfather T. H. Morgan, was himself a crack Drosophila geneticist as well as a ladies’ man, for he was very handsome:

  • 1938 – Osip Mandelstam, Polish-Russian poet and critic (b. 1891)
  • 1950 – Max Beckmann, German-American painter and sculptor (b. 1884)

Beckmann, whose work I like, painted several pictures with cats in them. Here’s one, “Friedel Battenbuerg” (1920):


  • 1972 – Lester B. Pearson, Canadian historian and politician, 14th Prime Minister of Canada, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1897)
  • 1981 – Hoagy Carmichael, American singer-songwriter, pianist, and actor (b. 1899)
  • 2007 – Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani politician, Prime Minister of Pakistan (b. 1953)

I was always sweet on Bhutto, but she was assassinated, which was practically inevitable. She was known to her friends as “Pinky” because she was an unusually pink baby.

  • 2015 – Meadowlark Lemon, American basketball player and minister (b. 1932)
  • 2016 – Carrie Fisher, American actress, screenwriter, author, producer, and speaker (b. 1956)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Szaron are plotting how to get food.

Szaron: We have to discuss.
Hili: There is nothing to discuss. We have to meow until they come and give us what we want.
Szaron: Musimy się naradzić.
Hili: Nie ma nad czym debatować, trzeba tak długo miauczeć, aż przyjdą i dadzą nam to, co chcemy.

From Pyers, the biggest spoiler of all time (yes, I know that it was intended to foreshadow the Crucifixion):

The painting is Adoration of the Magi (center panel of St. Columba Altarpiece, painted in 1455 by  Rogier van der Weyden:


From Bruce, a d*g tweet:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Ricky Gervais, touting his third season of his series After Life. I really like the show, though some are less keen on it. And. . . it has Diane Morgan!

Two Ginger K., duplicitous advertising!

Speaking of fast food, Bette Midler decries the perfidies of capitalism:

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, Nature red in mouth and pseudopod:

This really makes me hungry. There’s nothing like an English Christmas with beef or roast goose, and finished off with a steamed pudding:

Now he lives in Israel and fools my people with his deceptions. He also has a museum, which I will NOT visit should I visit the country:

Have a very veggie Christmas!

Sunday: Hili dialogue

December 26, 2021 • 6:45 am

Greetings on Sunday, December 26, 2021, the second day of Coynezaa and, of course, National Candy Cane Day. These confections are much of a muchness, with one exception: King Leo® Peppermint Sticks. These are packed with peppermint flavor and aren’t much softer than the usual canes, so you can either suck or chew the Leo Sticks. They’re head and shoulders above the others, and come packed in a lovely old-fashioned tin (they were created in 1901):

If you’re a peppermint fan, try a tin; you won’t be sorry, believe me. You can buy them on Amazon.

Today is also Boxing Day, National Thank You Day, and National Whiner’s Day, dedicated to all the woke students at Ivy League colleges.

Finally, it’s also these holidays:

News of the Day:

*Desmond Tutu died at 90 in Capetown on Christmas Day:

The statement did not mention a cause of death. Archbishop Tutu had fought an on-and-off battle with prostate cancer since 1997.

As leader of the South African Council of Churches and later as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Tutu led the church to the forefront of Black South Africans’ decades-long struggle for freedom. His voice was a powerful force for nonviolence in the anti-apartheid movement, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

When that movement triumphed in the early 1990s, he prodded the country toward a new relationship between its white and Black citizens, and, as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he gathered testimony documenting the viciousness of apartheid.

*I hope you were up early enough (in America, at least) to see the launch of the James Webb space telescope, an amazing fold-out device that will land in an orbit around the Sun a million miles from Earth.

Below is a video the successful separation of the folded-up scope from its booster, taken by a camera on the booster. We will not see it again, but fingers crossed that it works well and helps us learns amazing new things.

As I say below, what amazes me the most is that all this technology and material was wrested from the Earth and its atmosphere. Maybe that’s what Gregory Robinson meant in the first sentence below:

“The world gave us this telescope and we’re handing it back to the world today,” said Gregory Robinson, the Webb telescope’s program director, during a post-launch news conference in French Guiana.

The telescope, named for the NASA administrator who led the space agency through the early years of the Apollo program, is designed to see farther in space and further back in time than the vaunted Hubble Space Telescope. Its primary light gathering mirror is 21 feet across, about three times bigger than Hubble, and seven times more sensitive.

The Webb’s mission is to seek out the earliest, most distant stars and galaxies, which appeared 13.7 billion years ago, burning their way out of a fog leftover from the Big Bang (which occurred 13.8 billion years ago).

To me this is the biggest story of the day, but it gets below-the-fold treatment in media like the NYT. It’s SCIENCE, Jake!

*The NASA launch was somewhat marred by a celebratory speech by NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who blathered on and, at the end, made some religious remarks about Jesus, God, and the Star of Bethlehem. His sermon begins at 2:00:39 in the official NASA video below, with the goddy stuff intruding at 2:02:45.  He says that the telescope is going to visualize “the handiwork of God,” mentions Psalm 19, ending with “God bless you, and God bless planet Earth.” This guy is a government official and doesn’t know about the separation of Church and Space!

*At first I thought this Washington Post headline (below)was overblown, but, after reading the piece, there’s something to it. (Click on screenshot to read). It turns out that Bing Crosby’s classic rendition of “White Christmas” (the best-selling song of all time (100 million records sold), was first presented live on the radio on Christmas Day, 1941—less then three weeks after Pearl Harbor and the beginning of the American war against Japan.

For the many young men away at war, the song hit home. The early days of World War II were not good for the United States. Beginning with Pearl Harbor, the country suffered a string of defeats in the first few months of combat. Morale was low, and people needed something to hold onto. “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” became a lifeline for many Americans — especially overseas servicemen who heard it played on the Armed Services Radio Network.

But what’s odd about this is that the archetypal Christmas song was composed by Irving Berlin, who was Jewish—the son of a rabbi.

“White Christmas” was the brainchild of one on America’s greatest songwriters. Born Israel Beilin in western Siberia in 1888, Irving Berlin grew up on the mean streets of the Lower East Side of New York City. As a child, this son of an Orthodox rabbi [JAC note: Wikipedia says his dad was a cantor, not a rabbi.] learned about Christmas from an equally poor Irish Catholic family, the O’Haras. Young Izzy, as his childhood companions called him, was welcomed into their home, where they introduced him to what could best be described as a Charlie Brown tree. It left a lasting impression.

“This was my first sight of a Christmas tree,” Berlin told The Washington Post in 1954. “The O’Haras were very poor and later, as I grew used to their annual tree, I realized they had to buy one with broken branches and small height, but to me that first tree seemed to tower to heaven.”

Later, after incredible success as a writer of the American songbook, Berlin turned his attention back to those days to compose “White Christmas.” According to Kaplan, he probably tinkered with the idea for years before inspiration struck in early January 1940, when he said to his secretary, “I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.”

Berlin later said he intended to use “White Christmas” in a revue he planned to produce, but then decided to hold it for the movie “Holiday Inn,” which starred Crosby and Fred Astaire. That film, about a couple of country inn owners who put on musicals for each holiday, spawned several Berlin hits, including “Easter Parade,” “Happy Holiday” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.”

“White Christmas” was aded to “Holiday Inn”, and the rest was history. Try to listen to this as if you’ve never heard it before; it’s a great song:

“White Christmas” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1942.

Israel Beilin as a soldier in 1918. He lived to be 101.

*This is what we’ve come to, at least in the Wall Street Journal. Food and now drink are not pleasures, but medicine. Click on the screenshot if you want wines without alcohol:

*Reader Geoff sent in a link to a short BBC article and a 3-minute video of Polly Verity, a Welsh woman who does the most extraordinary paper folding. It’s not like classical origami, but what she creates is stunning. Cliick on the screenshot below (showing one of her works) to go to the article and video. (Her website is here, and you can buy her artwork. Another video is here.)

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 814,891, an increase of 1,345 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,414,808, an increase of about 3,500 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 26 includes:

This is why George Washington crossed the Delaware with his men on Christmas Day.

  • 1799 – Henry Lee III’s eulogy to George Washington in congress declares him as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. (This is not to be confused with Washington’s funeral on December 18.)
  • 1825 – Advocates of liberalism in Russia rise up against Czar Nicholas I but are suppressed in the Decembrist revolt in Saint Petersburg.
  • 1862 – The largest mass-hanging in U.S. history took place in Mankato, Minnesota, where 38 Native Americans died.

The crime? Killing settlers. Here’s a photo of the hanging, still the largest number of people executed in one day, and a partial list of the hanged below that. They designed a special scaffold to hang all 38 at once. 4,000 people showed up to watch.

From the Death Penalty Information Center:

After the execution, it was discovered that two men had been mistakenly hanged. The Minnesota Historical Society reports that “Wicaƞḣpi Wastedaƞpi (We-chank-wash-ta-don-pee), who went by the common name of Caske (meaning first-born son), reportedly stepped forward when the name ‘Caske’ was called, and was then separated for execution from the other prisoners. The other, Wasicuƞ, was a young white man who had been adopted by the Dakota at an early age. Wasicuƞ had been acquitted.”

  • 1871 – Thespis, the first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, debuts. It does modestly well, but the two would not collaborate again for four years and the score has been lost.
  • 1898 – Marie and Pierre Curie announce the isolation of radium.

Here are the pair, who won the Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1903. The family itself won five Nobel Prizes, as their daughter and son-in-law each won one (shared) and Marie won yet another. I believe this is the most Nobels garnered by a single family.

Photo from 1895:

My late friend Kenny King regarded the Bambino as the best player in the history of baseball, as he was a great pitcher as well as a great slugger. Here he is starting his career in school:

(From Wikipedia): Ruth (top row, center) at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912

Patton died in an automobile accident in December 1945. Paralyzed from the neck down, he lived for two weeks before he died, saying, “This is a hell of a way to die.” Here’s his simple grave in Luxembourg City:

  • 1963 – The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” are released in the United States, marking the beginning of Beatlemania on an international level.
  • 1966 – The first Kwanzaa is celebrated by Maulana Karenga, the chair of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Like mine, this is a recent holiday, with considerable overlap of the times.

  • 1991 – The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union meets and formally dissolves the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War.

Notables born on this day include:

Somerville and Caroline Herschel were the first women elected to the Royal Astronomical Society. An early portrait of Somerville, after whom Somerville College in Oxford is named:

Painting of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips (1834)

She’s also on the Scottish £10 polymer note:

  • 1791 – Charles Babbage, English mathematician and engineer, invented the Difference engine
  • 1872 – Norman Angell, English journalist, academic, and politician, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1967)
  • 1883 – Maurice Utrillo, French painter (d. 1955)

Sadly, Utrillo was a d*g lover and painted no cats. Here he is with his wife Suzanne Valore:

Miller in his house at Big Sur:

Here’s the Chairman in 1908 at age 15 or so:

  • 1939 – Phil Spector, American singer-songwriter and producer (d. 2021)/

Convicted of murder, Spector died in prison in January of this year. Below: Spector in court with a dreadful wig, and his mug shot:

  • 1956 – David Sedaris, American comedian, author, and radio host

Those who bit the dust on December 26 include:

  • 1530 – Babur, Mughal emperor (b. 1483)
  • 1890 – Heinrich Schliemann, German-Italian archaeologist and author (b. 1822)

Schliemann excavated (badly) the ruins of what seems to be Troy, giving some credibility to Homer’s writings. Here’s his wife Sophia wearing some of the treasures they found at “Troy”:

Remington was famous for his Western art depicting cowboys and Native Americans. Here’s one of his paintings, “The Flight”:

  • 1968 – Weegee, Ukrainian-American photographer and journalist (b. 1898)

Born Arthur Feilig, Weegee specialized in photos of NYC’s Lower East Side, specializing in murders, accidents, bizarre things, and everyday life of which the photo below is an example. He must have used a flash to get it. . .

  • 1974 – Jack Benny, American comedian, vaudevillian, actor, and violinist (b. 1894)
  • 1996 – JonBenét Ramsey, American child beauty queen and prominent unsolved murder victim (b. 1990)
  • 2006 – Gerald Ford, American commander, lawyer, and politician, 38th President of the United States (b. 1913)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is having a bit of fun with Szaron. (there are two photos in this dialogue):

Hili: I will jump on him in a moment.
A: It’s not funny.
Hili: It depends on one’s viewpoint.

Hili’s target:

In Polish
Hili: Zaraz na niego skoczę.
Ja: To nie jest śmieszne.
Hili: Jak dla kogo.

Below: a cat footprint on the stairs leading to Andrzej’s and Malgorzata’s house. As Malgorzata relates,

This morning we went out and found this footprint on the first step.There were no more footprints. Andrzej’s caption is “This step and no more. Too cold.”

Clearly one of the three cats gave up on going out!

From Bruce:

From Jesus of the Day. Can you spot the cat? (Click photo to enlarge.) It’s easy for some (but not for me). Answer is below the fold at the bottom of this post.

I was SO thrilled to see the rocket lift off successfully, and so far all has gone well. It still stuns me to realize that every bit of this rocket and the technology needed to forge it was created out of things taken from material pried from the Earth and its atmosphere. The takeoff:

Titania McGrath plays Scrooge:

From Simon, who says, “This is a bit like using rope circles to trap cats!” I’m not sure what the arthropods are. Sound up if you want to hear the animals scream (in human voices. I’m not quite why this is like a thesis proposal. . . .

From Ginger K. WHY did somebody do this?

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew:

This commercial is pretty good, but isn’t nearly as good as The Cat Herders!

A batty Christmas! But it’s a sad Christmas without Statler, the aged fruit bat, who died this year.

Click “continue reading” below to find out where the cat is.

Continue reading “Sunday: Hili dialogue”

Saturday: Hili dialogue

December 18, 2021 • 7:15 am

Welcome to Cat Sabbath: Saturday, December 18, 2021: National Suckling Pig Day (not kosher!). I’ve had it a few times, but I’m disturbed at the thought of killing piglets, even though I know that they’d have a rotten life even if they let them grow up.

Here’s a Jewish suckling pig joke:

An elderly rabbi, having just retired from his duties in the congregation, finally decides to fulfill his lifelong fantasy–to taste pork.

He goes to a hotel in the Catskills in the off season (not his usual hotel, mind you), enters the empty dining hall and sits down at a table far in the corner.  The waiter arrives, and the rabbi orders roast suckling pig.

As the rabbi is waiting, struggling with his conscience, a family from his congregation walks in!  They immediately see the rabbi and, since no one should eat alone, they join him.

Shocked, the rabbi begins to sweat.  At last, the waiter arrives with a huge domed platter. He lifts the lid to reveal-what else?–roast suckling pig, complete with an apple in its mouth.

The family gasp in shock and disgust, they quickly turned to the rabbi for any type of explanation.

“This place is amazing!” cries the rabbi. “You order a baked apple, and look what you get!”

It’s also National Ham Salad Day (not kosher), Bake Cookies Day, (Snow)flake Appreciation Day, National Twin Day, National Wear A Plunger on Your Head Day, and International Migrants Day.

News of the Day:

*Abortion news from reader Ken, who wrote:

You see that the FDA has lifted the ban on the sale of mifepristone — the pill that allows women to terminate pregnancies at up to 10-weeks’ gestation — through the mail? (Nineteen red states already bar such so-called telemedicine sales of abortion medication, and others are expected to follow suit now that the FDA has acted.)

*The longest sentence yet has been handed out to a Capitol rioter for the January 6 insurrection. Robert Scott Palmer, who admitted throwing a fire extinguisher (twice), a wooden plank, and a pole at the Capitol police has been sentenced to 63 months in federal prison. That’s a stiff sentence, but I think appropriate as a guideline for others convicted in the insurrection and a deterrent for future violent morons.

Palmer was first publicly identified by online sleuths, who tracked him down through pictures and video of Palmer in an American flag jacket brawling outside the Capitol. According to his plea agreement, Palmer sprayed a fire extinguisher at a line of police and twice threw the empty canister. When he refused to back down, Palmer was shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet.

Well, he’s got five years to nurse his sore tummy.

*There’s a new campaign afoot to rename places in America that have names that are now offensive. And there are many of them, mostly using derogatory terms like “squaw”, “Chinaman,” or “Negro”. (They were named a long time ago.) In fact, there are hundreds of such places, as this WaPo map shows:


A lot of the impetus for this action comes from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a Native American. And I have to say this is one renaming campaign I favor, at least for the names cited in the article, places like “Squaw Tits” (mountains), “Negro Mesa” and “Redskin Mountain.” Time for a change!

My only question is this: since “Negro” and “colored person” are clearly offensive, why haven’t they already changed the names of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and The United Negro College Fund”?

*The NYT reports on an efficient new rat trap that uses, yes, Oreo cookies, which rats apparently love. And it’s very clever, though I don’t favor killing rats:

The Italian-made battery-operated device, which wouldn’t look out of place in the MoMA design store, is a new development in controlling New York’s four-legged foes. They’ve also caught the attention of Mayor-elect Eric Adams. In a radio interview this fall, he called the traps “amazing” and vowed to explore deploying them across the five boroughs once he is officially leading City Hall.

Besides its innovative design and noxious chemicals, the rat trap also has a secret weapon: Oreo cookies. “Peanut butter Oreos are the best,” said Jim Webster, Rat Trap Distribution’s director of operations, while installing the contraption outside of Casa La Femme.

The scent of the cookies, crumbled and placed in the top compartment of the two-part trap, along with sunflower seeds, acts as a lure. For a week or so, rodents will be free to crawl through the device’s holes and snack as much as they want.

Once the rats become regulars and “get comfortable,” Mr. Webster said, the device will be turned on, and a platform will drop them into the lower part of the contraption, which serves as a catch basin not unlike a dunking tank at a carnival booth.

There’s ethanol in the catch basin, which supposedly knocks the rats unconscious before they drown, but it seems cruel to me. I’ve never been able to trap and kill anything but cockroaches.  And when they wanted to put glue traps in my lab to catch a few mice that were running about, I wouldn’t let them. Being stuck in glue and dying slowly is just cruel.

*Also at the NYT: a longish article on how Elizabeth Holmes has changed her clothes and her “look” to try to get the jury in her California trial to find her not guilty.

Instead there was … sartorial neutrality, in the form of a light gray pantsuit and light blue button-down shirt, worn untucked, with baby pink lipstick. She looked more like the college student trying on a grown-up interview look than the mastermind of a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.

By the time opening arguments began in September, the new look had been perfected: a no-name skirt suit (or dress and jacket or pantsuit) in a color so banal as to practically fade into the background. Her hair was set in loose waves around her face, like Christie Brinkley or a contestant on “The Bachelor.” Her face masks were light blue and green — the colors of nature. There was not a power heel or a power shoulder in sight. The only part of her outfit that was branded in any way was her diaper bag backpack (her son was born in July), which was from Freshly Picked and costs around $175.

In other words, Holmes is trying to win the jury’s sympathy by trying to look like somebody they could relate to instead of what she is: a narcissistic power monger. Telling defendants what to wear is of course normal procedure for a criminal lawyer, even if it seems shady. But if Holmes is found innocent given the evidence against her, and her dress and attractiveness played a role in that verdict (we’ll never know), I’ll be angry.

From Nellie Bowles’s essay on Bari Weiss’s Substack site:

Reads to get mad about:

No Mai Tais for you. Do you want tens of thousands of words in the best newspapers in America about how tiki bars are racist? Oh, you don’t? Too bad. Tiki bars are colonialism, says Eater. They are cultural appropriation says The Los Angeles Times. The New York Times says their past is underexamined. And this week a Chicago blog offers the latest in a couple years of very long pieces about how tiki bars are very bad.

No shallots, either: Meanwhile, the New Yorker this week offers 8,000 words on the young chef Alison Roman, who was cancelled and lost her New York Times column for calling Chrissy Teigen a sellout a year and a half ago. Roman comes out on top–it turns out she’s a hustler who never went to college. The profile is full of dings like: “but she has little to say about the sustainability of tuna.” Follow @micsolana for more, since I’m cribbing from his funny riff on this.

*John McWhorter’s latest biweekly NYT column is about the eternal value of great books: “Aristotle, Kant and company are the foundation a college education is built on.” It’s a vigorous defense of reading the “Great Books” as a way of becoming a better person. What does he mean by that? Well, McWhorter asked his mom, a University teacher, exactly what college was for. Her (and his) answer:

She said that after four years of college, students have, or should have, a sense of the world’s complexity, that everything did not easily reduce to common-sense observations of the kind you preface with “Well, all I know is …”

Mom had that right, I think, and Great Books lend precisely this perspective. Having a sense of how to decide what your life is for amid all the possible choices before you; understanding that the ethics of how civilizations and power operate is complex rather than reducible to facile binaries and snap judgments; tasting the elusiveness of the single, irrefutable answer and thus truly appreciating the wit of Douglas Adams’s famous proposal that the answer to everything is “42.” One is, surely, a better person with this perspective under one’s belt.

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 804,266, an increase of 1,294 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,363,546, an increase of about 7,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 18 includes:

He lived from 1215-1294, and decreed a stately pleasure dome.  Here’s a print that, says Wikipedia), makes him look younger than he was when he was older:

(From Wikipedia): Portrait by artist Araniko, sling drawn shortly after Kublai’s death in 1294. His white robes reflect his desired symbolic role as a religious Mongol shaman.
  • 1777 – The United States celebrates its first Thanksgiving, marking the recent victory by the American rebels over British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga in October.
  • 1865 – US Secretary of State William Seward proclaims the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery throughout the USA.
  • 1892 – Premiere performance of The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The great composer:

Tchaikovsky in Odessa, where he conducted five concerts in January 1893
  • 1916 – World War I: The Battle of Verdun ends when the second French offensive pushes the Germans back two or three kilometres, causing them to cease their attacks.
  • 1917 – The resolution containing the language of the Eighteenth Amendment to enact Prohibition is passed by the United States Congress.
  • 1932 – The Chicago Bears defeat the Portsmouth Spartans in the first NFL playoff game to win the NFL Championship.

The game was played under unusual circumstances; watch this 4-minute video to see why:

  • 1972 – Vietnam War: President Richard Nixon announces that the United States will engage North Vietnam in Operation Linebacker II, a series of Christmas bombings, after peace talks collapsed with North Vietnam on the 13th.
  • 1981 – First flight of the Russian heavy strategic bomber Tu-160, the world’s largest combat aircraft, largest supersonic aircraft and largest variable-sweep wing aircraft built.

Here’s a Tu-160 at a Russian air base:

  • 2018 – List of bolides: A meteor exploded over the Bering Sea with a force over 10 times greater than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
  • 2019 – The United States House of Representatives impeaches Donald Trump for the first time.

Notables born on this day include:

Thompson (below) got the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the electron, the first detected subatomic particle. Here he is ca. 1920-1925:

The assassination of the Archduke and his wife is what set off World War I. Here’s the bloodstained uniform that he wore when assassinated in Sarajevo:

Stalin as a young man. He was responsible for the death of some 20 million people, including his own people, many of whom he let starve to death:

Here’s his final speech in 1952:

  • 1879 – Paul Klee, Swiss-German painter and educator (d. 1940)

Klee: “Cat and Bird” (1928), depicts a thought—one that Hili often has:

  • 1886 – Ty Cobb, American baseball player and manager (d. 1961)

Cobb was a nasty person and an aggressive (but fantastic) baseball player. The caption of the photo below (from Wikipedia): “Charles M. Conlon‘s famous picture of Cobb stealing third base during the 1909 season”. Cobb would often slide with his spiked feet towards the base, making opponents wary of tagging him. 

  • 1897 – Fletcher Henderson, American pianist and composer (d. 1952)
  • 1913 – Willy Brandt, German politician, 4th Chancellor of Germany, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1992)

The prize was for his efforts to reconcile Eastern and Western Europe.

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

Every GI had this picture of Grable on his locker in WWII; it’s about as iconic as a pinup can get. What people don’t know is that she posed with her back to the camera, and a come-hither look, because she was visibly pregnant:

Grable was called “The girl with the million dollar legs” because she starred in this 1939 film:

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  • 1922 – Esther Lederberg, American microbiologist (d. 2006)
  • 1939 – Harold E. Varmus, American biologist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate

Varmus (right) interviewing reader and origami master Robert Lang at Kent Presents, August, 2018. He interviewed me, too, but I don’t have a photo. Varmus was a great guy, and showed me photos of his cats. His Prize was for discovering where retroviral oncogenes came from.

  • 1943 – Keith Richards, English musician
  • 1946 – Steve Biko, South African activist, founded the Black Consciousness Movement (d. 1977)
  • 1946 – Steven Spielberg, American director, producer, and screenwriter, co-founded DreamWorks
  • 1963 – Brad Pitt, American actor and producer
  • 2001 – Billie Eilish, American singer

Those who kicked the bucket on December 18 include:

Yes, the infamous Lamarck, who nevertheless did good biology, especially in botany.

  • 1892 – Richard Owen, English biologist, anatomist, and paleontologist (b. 1804)

He was also a critic of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Photo below (he looks mean):

  • 1971 – Bobby Jones, American golfer and lawyer (b. 1902)
  • 1997 – Chris Farley, American comedian and actor (b. 1964)

Farley and Beushi were the two great Comics of Size from SNL, and both died very young. Here’s Farley in a classic “Matt Foley” scheme. It’s hilarious, or so I think:

  • 2008 – Mark Felt, American FBI agent and informant (b. 1913)

He was the real “Deep Throat” of Watergate fame. Photo:

  • 2011 – Václav Havel, Czech poet, playwright, and politician, 1st President of the Czech Republic (b. 1936)
  • 2014 – Mandy Rice-Davies, English model and actress (b. 1944)

Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler helped bring down John Profumo, British Secretary of State for War:

  • 2016 – Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hungarian-American actress and socialite (b. 1917)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili and Szaron are being cats:

Hili: Why are all the doors closed?
A: And where do you want to go?
Hili: Everywhere.
In Polish:
Hili: Dlaczego wszystkie drzwi są zamknięte?
Ja: A gdzie chcecie wejść?
Hili: Wszędzie.

From Simon: Our new vaccination card:

From Science Humor: Well, I hope the “by chance” is also sarcastic, because real evolution isn’t “all about chance”.

From Nicole:

From Athayde:

From Ginger K: a really cool astronomy photo:

From Cesar, who asked, “Do snakes really do this?” Yes, some of them do. One of my Drosophila colleagues, collecting flies in Africa, was chased by a wickedly fast (and deadly) black mamba. He got into his car, whereupon the snake reared up and tried to climb in through the driver’s side window! (My friend survived.)

From Simon. I’m assuming that the head is “work”.

Tweets from Matthew, who was a bit hung over today. I disapprove of disturbing hibernating beetles this way, as it makes them use energy they need to conserve. Still, a cool video; sound up.

A Beatles-loving cat!

From Ziya Tong: a cockatoo on a Mission from God:

The question is, of course, “WHY did the buffalo do this?” They aren’t kin, or even of the same species, and there’s no possibility of reciprocal altruism!

TikTok, guns, and schools; what could go wrong?

Monday: Hili dialogue

December 13, 2021 • 6:30 am

I hope the start of the work week finds you well: It’s Monday, December 13, 2021: National Popcorn String Day, a way to decorate your tree with edibles.

It’s also Ice Cream Day, National Day of the Horse, National Violin Day, and Acadian Remembrance Day.

For Violin Day, I have a picture of the famous biologist Mark Ptashne playing his violin to one of his two Abyssinian cats, McCoy. (See more on this incident here.) Mark also told me this about his violin and sent a photo of it:

As I wrote on my post about Mark and his cats:

I asked Mark whether his own violin was a Strad, and he responded:

No, it is actually a well-known violin called “the Plowden” (1735, made by Guarneri del gesu)—better than a Strad!

And a picture of the Plowden:

News of the Day:

*A NYT investigation relying on 4 former U.S. intelligence officials revealed that American bomb strikes against ISIS in Syria regularly killed large numbers of civilians.

A single top secret American strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria, but in the process of hammering a vicious enemy, the shadowy force sidestepped safeguards and repeatedly killed civilians, according to multiple current and former military and intelligence officials.

The unit was called Talon Anvil, and it worked in three shifts around the clock between 2014 and 2019, pinpointing targets for the United States’ formidable air power to hit: convoys, car bombs, command centers and squads of enemy fighters.

But people who worked with the strike cell say in the rush to destroy enemies, it circumvented rules imposed to protect noncombatants, and alarmed its partners in the military and the C.I.A. by killing people who had no role in the conflict: farmers trying to harvest, children in the street, families fleeing fighting, and villagers sheltering in buildings.

The Army billed the 112,000 bomb and missile strikes as “precise”, but that wasn’t the case. “Defensive” strikes were ordered willy-nilly, resulting in a civilian casualty rate ten times higher than the rate in Afghanistan. Here’s one “defensive” strike ordered on virtually no evidence:

As the smoke cleared, the former officer said, his team stared at their screens in dismay. The infrared cameras showed women and children staggering out of the partly collapsed building, some missing limbs, some dragging the dead.

A photo of a big strike:

Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

*According to the Associated Press, Iran, still engaging in “disarmament” talks with Europe and the U.S., is preparing to launch a satellite (they’ve tried before, but have failed each time). This supposedly reflects Irans Iran’s desire to play hardball:

Conducting a launch amid the Vienna talks fits the hard-line posture struck by Tehran’s negotiators, who already described six previous rounds of diplomacy as a “draft,” exasperating Western nations. Germany’s new foreign minister has gone as far as to warn that “time is running out for us at this point.” about the nuclear talks,

I am still baffled as to what these talks are supposed to accomplish. They’re not going to stop Iran producing nuclear material and warheads; everyone admits that. It may slow Iran down some, but not much. Iran will get its nuclear weapons no matter what happens in the talks, so what is the point of negotiation? Many on the Left seem to feel that, well, the talks will bring peace, but they’re fooling themselves. Sooner or later, Israel, facing an existential threat, will take matters into its own hands, with or without the cooperation of the U.S. I support sanctions, not giving lots of dosh to Iran while it secretly fabricates nuclear weapons.

*One of Mexico’s most popular singers, Vincente Fernández, died on Sunday at age 81 after being hospitalized for several months. He was famous for “ranchera” music (traditional Mexican music, often played by mariachi bands), and he performed as a “charro”:

Emblematic of the macho Mexico of romantic legend, in his concert performances Mr. Fernández typically wore the traditional charro outfit of a Mexican rodeo cowboy consisting of a silk tie, vest jacket, tight pants with silver clasps, and a wide brimmed hat, all embroidered with gold and silver thread.

Wikipedia reports his honors:

Fernández’s work earned him three Grammy Awards, eight Latin Grammy Awards, fourteen Lo Nuestro Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He sold over 50 million copies worldwide, making him one of the best-selling regional Mexican artists of all time. In 2016, Fernández retired from performing live, although he continued to record and publish music.

Of course you’ll want to see him if you haven’t before, so here’s the man known as “Chente” or “El Charro de Huentitán”:

*Sadly, I still haven’t seen Peter Jackson’s documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back,” featuring previously unseen video of the group having to produce 14 new songs in 14 days. I’ve seen a bunch of clips on YouTube, though, and it’s frankly amazing how their creativity worked. Starting from just a few chords, a fantastic song would appear within a few minutes.  The NYT has an analysis of the magic in an op-ed by Jere Hester: “‘Improvise it, man.’ How to make magic like the Beatles.” From the eight-hour documentary Hester draws eight “creativity lessons.” Here’s one and an accompanying video:

New Blood Can Freshen Things Up

The arrival of the master keyboardist Billy Preston improves the vibe, the playing and the behavior of the Beatles as a unit. The creative spirit revived by Mr. Preston radiates beyond the band — to Yoko Ono’s impromptu vocalizing and Linda Eastman’s capturing the sessions in photos, each offering their own brand of inspiration. Ringo Starr goes from behind the drums to the piano to write “Octopus’s Garden.”

The guest appearance is so successful that Mr. Lennon suggests that Mr. Preston be made a Beatle, and Mr. Harrison calls for adding Bob Dylan. Mr. McCartney chooses humor over exasperation in his response: “It’s bad enough with four.”

*OY! A cream cheese shortage in New York City! That’s like a herbivore shortage in the Serengeti!  It’s a result of the supply-chain shortage (or perhaps a nefarious anti-Semitic plot), and only the NYT would print such a long article about it, for a bagel without cream cheese is virtually useless.

Mr. Pugliese of Tompkins Square Bagels said he had pondered eliminating less popular cream cheese flavors like espresso for a few weeks. Others said they had turned to lower-quality suppliers.

“It sounds kind of silly, talking about this like it’s some kind of huge crisis,” Mr. Pugliese said.

But, he noted, a bagel with cream cheese is a New York institution and a “big deal” to many of his customers.

“Sunday bagels are sacred,” Mr. Pugliese said. “I hate feeling like I’ve let people down.”

Anybody who puts espresso-flavored cream cheese on a bagel deserves to run out of product!  (h/t Stash Krod).

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 795,922, an increase of 1,298 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,324,322, an increase of about 4,500 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 13 includes:

  • 1545 – The Council of Trent begins as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.
  • 1577 – Sir Francis Drake sets sail from Plymouth, England, on his round-the-world voyage.

He returned to Plymouth three years later, on September 28, 1580 with Spanish treasure (Drake was somewhat of a privateer) and spices. The queen got half, and Drake was knighted. Heres a map of his voyage with a caption by Wikipedia:

A map of Drake’s route around the world. The northern limit of Drake’s exploration of the Pacific coast of North America is still in dispute. Drake’s Bay is south of Cape Mendocino.
  • 1623 – The Plymouth colonist established the system of trial by 12-men jury in the American colonies.
  • 1642 – Abel Tasman is the first recorded European to sight New Zealand.

Here’s Abel, painted by Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp, ca. 1637. It was thus probably painted from life: the only way we know what these people looked like:

The God Incarnate (1970) with his full set of decorations:

Here’s one of their EVAs in which they collect Moon rocks:

I used to visit this majestic building on the Rajpath every time I went to New Delhi, but since the attack you can’t even get close to it:

  • 2003 – Iraq War: Operation Red Dawn: Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is captured near his home town of Tikrit.

Hussein right after capture:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1797 – Heinrich Heine, German journalist, poet, and critic (d. 1856)

Heine, bed-bound for eight years before his death, was determined from hair samples to have died from chronic lead poisoning.

Here she is photographed sometime during the CivilWar:

  • 1887 – Alvin C. York, American colonel, Medal of Honor recipient (d. 1964)
  • 1925 – Dick Van Dyke, American actor, singer, and dancer

Remember the opening of the Dick Van Dyke show? He’s 96 today!

  • 1929 – Christopher Plummer, Canadian actor and producer (d. 2021)
  • 1989 – Taylor Swift, American singer-songwriter, record producer and actress

Those who bit the big one on December 13 include:

My Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin used to quote Maimonides upon occasion. The rabbi’s house in Fez, Morocco, still stands. Here it is:

And Dr. Johnson’s birthplace, in Lichfield, still stands:


Kandinsky is one of my favorite painters, and I believe was the first well known painter to produce a fully abstract work. This one is on the way to abstraction:

Painting with Houses (Bild mit Häusern) (1909). Courtesy of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

She was a nasty piece of work, sometimes called “the bitch of Belsen” [the camp]. She was one of the few women camp guards who were hanged. The caption below is from WIkipedia:

Irma Grese and former SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer in prison in Celle in August 1945
  • 1947 – Henry James, American lawyer and author (b. 1879)
  • 1961 – Grandma Moses, American painter (b. 1860)

One of her well known paintings (several on the theme of making maple syrup), “Sugaring Off”:

Here’s my favorite song from the group, “You didn’t have to be so nice“. Yanovsky is playing lead guitar in front, with John Sebastian on autoharp.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn: Hili touts the “cat way of knowing”:

A: Earth, seen from cosmos, is a blue dot.
Hili: From my point of view it looks different.
In Polish:
Ja: Ziemia widziana z kosmosu jest błękitną kropką.
Hili: Z mojego punktu widzenia to wygląda inaczej.

Szaron looking out at the snow. “Nope”, he’s thinking:

A great photo by Paulina of Kulka in action:

Matthew Cobb, picking up one of his daughters at Cambridge Uni. yesterday:

From Nicole, a seasonal highway sign:

From Bruce:

Titania is tweeting again: