Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, June 4, and still overcast in Boston. The big news is that Muhammad Ali died yesterday in a Phoenix hospital at age 74. For many years he’d had Parkinson’s disease, perhaps instigated or exacerbated  by blows to the head. He was controversial, but I’ll always admire him for one act: he sacrificed over 3 years of his boxing career, while he was in his prime, by refusing to be drafted and requesting status as a conscientious objector. Convicted of draft evasion, he appealed and was ultimately vindicated, but he’d been stripped of his boxing title in the meantime and did not engage in prize fighting for several years.

Others who died on this day include W. H. R. Rivers (1922) and Dorothy Gis (1968). Notables born on this day include Bruce Dern (1936). On this day in 1913, the suffragette activist Emily Davison was killed by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby; she was trying to draw attention to her cause but was trampled to death. You can see a depiction of this in the recent movie “Suffragette.” Exactly 6 years later, the U.S. Congress approved the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. And, on June 4, 1940, Churchill gave his “We ahall fight on the beaches” speech to the House of Commons.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has a very enigmatic dialogue. I don’t understand it and Andrzej, taking a nap, can’t explain at the moment what he wrote. Readers will have to struggle with it as best they can!

Hili: I have to go out from this shadow.
A: Why.
Hili: To show my modesty.
In Polish:
Hili: Muszę wyjść z cienia.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Żeby zademonstrować swoją skromność.



  1. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Re Ali, I’m buggered if I can see how or why someone should lose a sporting title because they have been found guilty of purely political offences.


    • rickflick
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 6:41 am | Permalink


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Because the bully-boys who ran boxing in those days were political reactionaries. They took Ali’s title from him as soon as he refused draft induction — yet routinely allowing multiple-felony thugs (like the fighter Ali had taken the title from, Sonny Liston) to keep their boxing licenses.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Maybe because that’s politics. As I recall, without looking anything up, refusal to go into the draft or be drafted resulted in up to 5 years prison at the time if your excuse did not get you out. I think his was religion – who knew what Islam was at that time but he was newly converted. The removal from fighting was strictly the boxing business. Anyway, Howard Cosell became the big supporter for Ali and it probably made Cosell famous at the time.

      Had he gone in to the Army he would have been treated similar to Elvis. Actually going into battle or anywhere close to it, like normal people, would not have happened.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 4, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        “Had he gone in to the Army he would have been treated similar to Elvis.”

        Even more reason to refuse, then. So as not to be used as a poster boy for napalming Vietnamese peasants.


        • Randall Schenck
          Posted June 4, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          It is always easy to take the high ground and make judgement after the fact. That is why it is generally a mistake to take your current knowledge and prejudices back in history.

          Elvis went to the entertainment part of the Army, where most celebrities went when drafted.
          The idea that it was pure propaganda or as a poster boy for napalming Vietnamese is mostly in you imagination. To perform for the soldiers in USO shows – I guess that means Bob Hope was in favor of killing children in foreign counties also.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted June 4, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            You’re right that Ali could have pulled an easy stint in the Service like Elvis. But Elvis didn’t serve in the “entertainment part” of the Army. He did his time as a regular GI in the Third Armored Division in Germany, never performing publicly during his time in uniform. (I have ambivalent feelings about Elvis the soldier, just as I do about Elvis the man and Elvis the entertainer — in this instance, respect for his not seeking any overt special treatment from the Army, repulsion at his willingness to play yes-man to “Colonel” Tom Parker’s Svengali.)

            Ali likely could have gone into the Army and fought exhibition bouts for a couple years the way Joe Louis did during the War (without the same subsequent IRS persecution, probably). That he could have had such an easy ride of it provides all the more reason to respect his principled, courageous stand resisting the draft, facing down death threats, the loss of his title, and a potential five-year bid in federal prison.

            I’ve never been prouder of an American athlete than when Ali told his draft board “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong” (which is actually a slight paraphrase, as is his famous “no Vietcong ever called me ‘nigger'”).

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 4, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

              I think Ali would have had it worse than Elvis — Ali was a black man and black soldiers, historically, didn’t fair as well.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                But Ali had celebrity, and celebrity goes a long way as a check and balance on military abuse. Joe Louis served prior to the U.S. military’s desegregation, and he faired all right (as to the physical demands made of him by the Army at least, not financially thanks to both his promoter, Mike Jacobs, and his Uncle Sam).

                Anyway, the U.S. Army didn’t have much use for rock-n-rollers back in the late ’50s when Elvis served — especially for “a white boy who sounded like a colored boy,” as his original record producer, Sun Record’s Sam Phillips, put it.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted June 4, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

            “It is always easy to take the high ground and make judgement after the fact. That is why it is generally a mistake to take your current knowledge and prejudices back in history.”

            After the fact? The evils of the Vietnam war were well obvious at the time. Hence all the opposition to it.

            I know Elvis pre-dated Vietnam, IIRC he got used for propaganda. So would Ali have been.


            • Randall Schenck
              Posted June 4, 2016 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

              Possible you did not understand or I did not make clear my comment above. You said – “so as not to be used as a poster boy for napalming Vietnamese peasants.” Not being in favor of that war or wars in general is fine. I am the same. But the statement is kind of juvenile and would be offensive to a lot of people who did serve and did go to Vietnam. Were all of them propaganda for napalming as well? How about the 50 thousand plus who died. Make sure the criticism is of the politics or actions of the government and not confused with the people who did the job of serving and fighting.

              If you recall…maybe you do not… Many of the people getting out of the service during this period were treating very poorly by the folks back home. When I got out in 72 it was certainly this way and you wanted to get out of the uniform as quickly as possible. Many were treated like shit, kind of like the black soldiers after WWII.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted June 5, 2016 at 1:16 am | Permalink

                50,000 dead? What about the 1.3 million Vietnamese, or don’t they count?

                My comment about napalming Vietnamese was exaggeration for effect, like yours about Bob Hope and killing children, but with regard to Vietnam you’re defending the indefensible. To make it clear, I blame the napalm on the US Government, and I’m sure they would have used Ali for propaganda purposes if he had served.

                Your bad luck to be in a thoroughly disgraceful / unpopular war, but half of all soldiers end up on the wrong side in one war or another. I’ll end up reciting ‘Universal Soldier’ in a minute…


              • Randall Schenck
                Posted June 5, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

                Your failure to make a respectable argument is due partly because you do not listen. I never defended Vietnam and for you to think this is a joke. You think you are the judge of who is on the right or wrong side of a war…good luck with that.

                Additionally, I never said I was in the Vietnam war so there you are again, making wrong statements about something you apparently know little about. “My bad luck in being in a thoroughly disgraceful / unpopular war.” What a ridiculous idea. What popular wars since Vietnam are you going to name? And what did you do about them? Nothing, is my guess except to give us your opinion, after the fact.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted June 5, 2016 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                Well if you weren’t in the Vietnam war you certainly gave that impression. “When I got out in ’72…”

                Are you trying ‘appeal to authority’, ‘nobody who wasn’t in a war should have an opinion’ ?
                Doesn’t matter, I think this thread is stale.


        • Taz
          Posted June 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          Elvis left the army in early 1960. The Vietnam War hadn’t entered the American zeitgeist yet.

        • Posted June 4, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          Napalm was not the only man-made factor killing Vientamese peasants. Many of them were killed by land reform, in peacetime:

          “The reform led to allegations of many villagers being executed… Following the official condemnation of the excesses of Land Reform, the party newspaper Nhan Dan reported that 30% percent of all convictions were erroneous…

          Executions and imprisonment of persons classified as “landlords” or enemies of the state were contemplated from the beginning of the land reform program. A Politburo document dated 4 May 1953 said that executions were “fixed in principle at the ratio of one per one thousand people of the total population.” That ratio would indicate that communist Vietnam contemplated the execution of about 15,000 “reactionaries and evil landlords” in carrying out the program…

          On July 9, 1953, the first landlord executed was the woman Nguyễn Thị Năm, who had in fact been an active supporter of the Vietnamese Communist resistance.”

          Muhammad Ali thought that the people doing this in North Vietnam should be allowed to do it in South Vietnam as well.

  2. Posted June 4, 2016 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Hili is being ironic.

    I rather like some of the things Ali said as recounted in this article:

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    No contemporary American public figure, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan (born eight months earlier, and whose career oddly paralleled Ali’s) has had a greater impact on my mental landscape. Losing Ali is like losing family. I’ll be sitting the equivalent of goyish shiva for the next week.

  4. Posted June 4, 2016 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I really liked what George Carlin had to say about Muhammad Ali at the time, “The government wanted to kill people, he said nooo that’s where I draw the line. I’ll beat em up but don’t want to kill ’em.”

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Cool clip, man. The three-time heavyweight champion of comedy (as young hipster, then counterculture icon, finally as grouchy old guy) on the three-time heavyweight boxing champ.

  5. Ken Phelps
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I think Hili is engaging in public virtue signalling.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      A cat’s version of virtue signalling, which is even more self-centred.

  6. Posted June 4, 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I once thought of writing you about lack of paragraph break between necrology and Hili dialogue, but now that you’ve inserted the break, I see that the unannounced juxtaposition between the self-importance of our human existences and Hili’s supposedly unimportant dialogue provokes thoughts.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I guess cultural icons are reflecting what you want to see in them. Because I just read an eulogy where Ali was said to refuse his draft in part so he *wouldn’t* miss out on his best years as boxer!

    Speaking of reflecting wishes:

    “For many years he’d had Parkinson’s disease, perhaps instigated or exacerbated by blows to the head.”

    That sounded an amazing cause, but Wikipedia on Parkinson’s disease claims that among known factors. But it looks like a shaky factual basis to me. The article point to two meta analyses (!).

    The study that mentions it in the abstract puts it among many less powerful factors, and points to a few of the set as possibly powerful enough to be fact. But head trauma was not among them.

    Could it be that the world wants boxing to lead to neuro-degenerative diseases, and the disease articles reflect that wish?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      … an eulogy where Ali was said to refuse his draft in part so he *wouldn’t* miss out on his best years as boxer!

      That’s patently ridiculous. Ali knew exactly what the stakes were when he refused the draft. He sat out three years at the absolute peak of his prime, and went broke, rather than capitulate to the Selective Service System.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 4, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        In this regard, compare the plucky, principled political stands taken by athletes of that era, like Ali and like Jim Brown and Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul Jabbar (and Bill Walton and Phil Jackson and many others) with Michael Jordan’s lame excuse for his unwillingness to speak out on social issues that “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      I believe (from occasional radio discussions in the UK) that the sport is struggling to find doctors to supervise bouts. Their existing list of boxing-supporting doctors gets thinner every year as the doctors die, retire, or resign from the list with every death or serious injury.
      Oh dear.
      What a pity.
      Never mind.
      Let’s hope that we’re the last generation to see this loathsome excuse for a sport.
      (Ali seems to have been a genuinely nice guy. tough that was what he chose to do for a career.

      • Mary Sheumaker
        Posted June 5, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        I think eventually popular culture will look back upon ‘sports’ like boxing and football, with horror and amazement that it even happened— due to the connection with brain damage- I think the turning point will be the struggles that are becoming more and more publicized of former pro football players ravaged by CTE. I thank Ceiling Cat that my son hasn’t had an interest!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 6, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          Ah, that would be American football? The derivative of rugby, but played with padding and huge numbers of spare players.
          Rugby gets enough pretty serious injuries – collapsing scrums in particular – but the absence of any protection more substantial than a gum shield and shin pad probably means that the hitter is a bit more careful about how hard he hits the hittee.
          There is an argument (not that I’m defending or promoting boxing, in the slightest) that the worst thing for boxer’s health was the introduction of boxing gloves. Bare-knuckle boxers tried to avoid breaking their knuckles by not punching their opponent’s heads.

  8. Mary Sheumaker
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I think there was a clip of suffragette Emily Davison running onto a racetrack in front of horses on Philomela Cunk’s Feminism video. Old vintage film clip.

  9. Posted June 4, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, Ali had an unlikely pen pal (and fan); a legend in his own right. They later corrresponded over Ali’s refusal to go to war, but Ali initially had no idea who this gentlemen was…

    Letter 1
    Letter 2

    (h/t Jamie S)

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