Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

Yes, it’s Saturday, August 27, and all normal people will be relaxing.  In Texas, it’s a state holiday: Lyndon Baines Johnson day, which is “optional” for state employees (I’m not sure what it means). Regardless of what you think about LBJ, you really should read Robert Caro’s four volumes of The Years of Lyndon Johnson. (Caro, now 80, is planning one more volume.) Along with William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (he died during the writing of the third volume, but the first two are fully his), this is the greatest political biography in existence.  You may think LBJ’s life was boring, but Caro, who won a Pulitzer Prize for one of the books, and really should get it for all four, brings it to life with consummate reportorial and literary skills. I just recommended it to a friend, who was dubious, but now is deeply immersed in the Caro books and thankful that he found them.

On this day in 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the construction of the world’s first commercially successful oil well was built to collect it.  Here it is, and no, that’s not Abe Lincoln standing in front of it.


Notables born on this day include C. S. Forester (1899), Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908; that’s why it’s LBJ Day in Texas), Lester Young (1909), and Barbara Bach (1947, and still married to Ringo Starr). Those who died on this day include Gracie Allen (1964; if Stephen Barnard gets another pair of eagles, he should name them George and Gracie), Margaret Bourke-White (1971), Louis Mountbatten, who presided over both the partition of India and the English leaving it, and who was assassinated by the IRA in 1979, and Haile Selassie (1975).

Here’s one of Margaret Bourke-White’s most famous photos, “The Louisville Flood“, taken during the Great Depression:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is working up to her noms:
Cyrus: I’m tormented by a moderate hunger.
Hili: I’m not. Yet.
In Polish:
Cyrus: Dręczy mnie umiarkowany głód.
Hili: Mnie jeszcze nie.

And in southern Poland, Leon is sniffing out larvae. The monologue is explained by Malgorzata:

My dictionary says that “woodworm” is another name of bark beetle, Ips typographus [JAC: in the U.S. many wood-boring beetle larvae are given the name “woodworm”.] There are always woodworms in wooden structures in Poland. We have plenty in our house. You have to fight with them (we do) and when buying old wooden things you always check for woodworms.

Leon: There is a woodworm somewhere here!



  1. Dave
    Posted August 27, 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    “Along with William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Lyndon Churchill”

    Winston’s less famous brother?

  2. Posted August 27, 2016 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Hey, that’d make a good meme! Wooworm!🙂

    • Posted August 27, 2016 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Oh, Jesus, another typo. Fixed, thanks.

    • Christopher
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      That must be what happened to Deepak! He was infected by a wooworm when he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi back in ’85! Wonder if ivermectin could cure him…

  3. Historian
    Posted August 27, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Many years ago I read Caro’s “The Power Broker.” It is a massive biography of Robert Moses, who controlled the building of parks and roads in New York City in the mid-twentieth century. One may wonder why one would want to read such a long book on a bureaucrat. Well, it was absolutely enthralling as it showed how one man played a major role in the shaping of New York City through the use of raw power. People who have lived in or are interested in New York City will be captivated by this book.

    • Posted August 27, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, I wanted to recommend that book, too. It also won a Pulitzer Prize, so Caro has two.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I read the first three volumes of Caro’s LBJ bio back-to-back-to-back about 12 years ago. Then turned around and read The Power
      as soon as I was done. There is nothing else quite like Caro in all of American letters — and quite likely never will be again, given the tectonic shifts in publishing since advent of the internet.

      Caro’s books are absolutely absorbing.

    • Historian
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Speaking of Robert Moses, the NYT has an interesting article on the Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island) in 1776. As parks commissioner, Moses reconstructed the “Old Stone House,” which was on the battlefield. Moses used much of the reconstructed building as a restroom. It has subsequently been remodeled to better reflect its revolutionary heritage. As Caro pointed out, much of what Moses did was not good, particularly in his destruction of neighborhoods.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        Moses used much of the reconstructed building as a restroom.

        Yeah, that could serve as synecdoche for the blight Moses’s expressways and parkways and other projects brought to some neighborhoods in the outer boroughs and Harlem.

        Moses lived to be 92; were Caro to prove as durable, he should have no problem completing his LBJ opus.

  4. E.A. Blair
    Posted August 27, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    “On this day in 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the construction of the world’s first commercially successful oil well was built to collect it.”

    In China, wells dug for brine also yielded natural gas, and this gas was being commercially exploited as early as the fourth century BCE. Wells yielding petroleum were noted in literature dating back to the tenth century CE, but were probably in use much earlier. These wells, using the same drilling technology Drake used hundreds of years later, reached depths of 3,000 feet or more. Bamboo pipelines carried the gas to homes and other buildings and the petroleum was used for heating and other purposes (one of the most common uses was as fuel for evaporation pans which boiled the brine down to salt). So, no, Drake’s well was not the world’s first commercially successful oil well. (source: The Genius of China by Robert Temple, p.78)

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 27, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Might also call the eagles Burns and Allen. How many old enough to remember the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. From Vaudeville to Television. George was always the straight man.

    • Christopher
      Posted August 27, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      As a kid of the ’80’s, I only knew George Burns from those Oh, God! movies. I don’t know a thing about Gracie Allen except the oft-repeated “Say goodnight, Gracie” bit.

  6. Stephen Barnard
    Posted August 27, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Edmund Morris’s three volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt is excellent. The man was a phenomenon. The third volume is tough, though, because it documents a sad decline in health and influence, but it presents an interesting account of the Great War.

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