Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s a snowy Sunday in Chicago (December 18, 2016), with seven shopping days until Christmas and the first day of Koynezaa. As for food, it’s both National “I Love Honey” Day and National Roast Suckling Pig Day, I have some lovely homemade honey that I’ll have on toast, but there’s no pig—suckling or otherwise—in sight. It’s also International Migrants Day as decreed by the UN, and we should be mindful of those who leave everything they’ve known behind in search of a better life–often one without the fear of death or murder. Those who spurn migrants should consider what they would do in the same situation.

It’s not a day in history on which much happened. On this day in 1892, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker had its premiere in Saint Petersburg, Russia; it’s now a Christmas staple most everywhere.  And, in 1916, the Battle of Verdun ended with 337,000 casualties: a staggering number. It’s no wonder that a generation of British and American writers tried to come to terms with the situation of much of a generation of young men killed for no good (or comprehensible) end.

Notables born on this day include Nobel Laureate J. J. Thompson (1856), Joseph Stalin (1878), Paul Klee (1879), Ty Cobb (1886), Betty Grable (1916), Cicely Tyson (1924), Harold Varmus (1939), and Brad Pitt (1963). Also born on this day in 1946 was Steve Biko, the famous anti-apartheid activist murdered in 1977 while under torture by the South African police. Biko coined the phrase “Black is beautiful”, Google has a Doodle for him today (below), and Wikipedia says this about his death (remember, his activism was nonviolent):

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by the Port Elizabeth security police, including officers Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. The interrogation took place in Police Room 619 of the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth. The 22-hour interrogation included torture and beatings, sending Biko into a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody at the Walmer Police Station in a suburb of Port Elizabeth, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him into the back of a Land Rover, naked and manacled, and drove 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) to Pretoria to a prison that had hospital facilities. He was nearly dead from his injuries. He died shortly they arrived at the Pretoria prison on 12 September. Police said his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and found that he succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from massive head injuries.

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-6-41-42-amThose who died on this day include Antonio Stradivari (1737), Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1829), Richard Own (1892), and my academic grandfather Theodosius Dobzhansky (1975).  I started graduate school as Dobzhansky’s student at Rockefeller University in New York, but then I was drafted as a conscientious objector and had to work in a hospital. When I became free (after taking the government to court), Dobzhansky had moved to the University of California at Davis and was no longer taking students. I remember when I interviewed and met him: he took me into his office, where there was a huge framed portrait of Darwin over his desk. Doby (that’s what many called him, along with “Dodak) put his arm around my shoulders, pointed to the portrait and said, in his high, nasal voice, “See? There’s the old boy who started it all!”  I couldn’t help but feel that there was a line of succession, then, extending from Darwin to Dobzhansky, with me in the next generation. But of course I never had pretensions to be as good as either of those guys.

Here’s a picture of Dobzhansky working in Death Valley, where I continued the work begun by the people in the photo. Left to right: Dobzhansky, Steve Bryant (kneeling), my Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin (Dobzhansky’s student), a hippy-ish Steve Jones (Lewontin’s postdoc), and my postdoc advisor Tim Prout, also a Dobzhansky student. Dobzhansky died not long after this photo was taken.


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili shows she’s use any excuse to get noms:

Hili: A hot radiator stimulates appetite.
A: Interesting.
Hili: Yes, warming up the tail improves the taste of food.
In Polish:
Hili: Ciepły grzejnik pobudza apetyt.
Ja: Interesujące.
Hili: Tak, podgrzewanie ogona poprawia smak jedzenia.
Lagniappe: A cat cartoon to brighten this gloomy day (h/t: reader jsp). You might recognize the cat god as Bastet, late incorporated into Greek mythology as Ailuros,  which gave rise to the formal term for cat lover: ailurophile.


  1. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Notables born on this day include Nobel Laureate J. J. Thompson (1856),

    Hmmm, since you have to be alive to be considered for the Nobels, I wonder who the first-born of laureates was. [Off to Google & Wikipeia.]

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Well that was a bit harder work to do properly than I’d expected, but the results were also much as I’d expected. The second round of awards gave “Literature” to an 85 y.o. author in 1902, for a birth year of 1817 (+/- 6 months). Most recent was 1997, but you should be able to guess that one.
      Some interesting trends in the numbers. The average age of the ennobbled dropped slightly before world war 2, but has been rising since.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Exactly. One day, sooner than you think, you to could be a migrant. It would not be good living homeless today – roughly -13F / -25 C.

    • George
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      It is 10:20 am in Chicago and the temperature is a balmy 4F (-16C). That is supposed to be the high for the day. It will be down to -14F (-25.6C) by this evening.

      But who cares about the needy and less priviliged in a Trump society.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 18, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Donald Smallhands cares! He and his cronies needs those homeless out on the streets being a warning to those who dare to not succeed. Same reason he and his Billionaires Cabinet are deathly afraid of Obamacare and Medicaid.

  3. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Possible typo: is Richard Own supposed to be Owen?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      The date is right for it to be the DinoDaddy.

  4. rickflick
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    How appropriate to have a International Migrants Day. I used to worry about the negative effects of Islamic immigrants in the US and especially Europe. Since I’ve been reading Pinker’s “Better Angels…” I have a much more sanguine view. He points out that those who reject immigration of refugees over estimate the risks. The relatively few incidents of integration troubles in the US especially, when looked at in perspective, are really quite a small cross to bare. In the US, very little violence has been attributed to refugees. In Europe with many more refugees there are more incidents, but not so as to really “threaten Western democracy”. Compare that to earlier eras when it was likely that wars of attrition took lives in the hundreds of thousands. The danger must be kept in perspective and proportioned against the need for compassion.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      And just common sense goes against the myth that migrants or even illegal entry is a big criminal threat for the U.S. Migrants are nearly always low profile and want to stay that way. Mostly, criminal elements are home grown.

      The idea that they are naturally criminals makes about as much sense as a wall, for instance.

    • Dave
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      If I were a migrant driven to seek refuge in someone else’s country, I would leave any sense of entitlement at the door, display appropriate gratitude to my hosts, respect their social mores and obey their laws to the letter, seek to adopt and integrate myself into their culture and refrain from trying to turn my new home into a replica of the hellhole I’d just escaped from.

      The fact that so many Middle Eastern migrants do the exact opposite of these things is the reason that so many Europeans (myself included) spurn them and are willing to vote for politicians who promise to keep them out.

      And as for “keeping the danger in perspective”, try and explain that to the women sexually assaulted in Cologne last new year, the families of the people murdered by migrants in various well-publicised incidents, or the long-established and well-integrated Jews of France, Sweden and other countries who now find themselves the target of an imported Middle Eastern anti-Semitism.

      More migrants? No thanks. Let their muslim brethren in other Middle Eastern countries take them in.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Certainly entitled to your view and your’s is from Europe. Mine is not but I would not accept the fact of one or two or even 10 incidents without looking at all the facts. Such as real criminal activity overall and who is doing it.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        ” refrain from trying to turn my new home into a replica of the hellhole I’d just escaped from”

        That’s not how human nature works. Many of these people will feel a deep attachment to their homes (before it was turned into a hellhole). They will instinctively want to preserve their own culture – not all but some).

        I’m with Randall Schenck saying that you have to take the actual damage caused by immigrants into account, not the affront that their presence represents to you. Your attitude is quite understandable. Europe is a different story than the US and limiting and distributing the burden across countries seems like a reasonable approach.

        One comparison to make is that while refugees in the US account for less than 100 deaths over a decade or so. Traffic accidents have taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and we seem willing to suffer the loss without a lot of hair pulling. Cars get us from place to place – refugees desperately need a refuge from the hellhole.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted December 18, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          Another thing from the perspective here in the U.S. is that crime is so prevalent here, although much less now than 20 years ago, you must gather the stats before drawing any conclusion concerning local verses immigrant.

  5. Mike
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Migrant are used as were the Jews in Nazi Germay, to whip up the mass of the people to accept draconian and Fascist Governments, which as always, in the end turn on them.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Gotta have a whipping boy!

  6. GBJames
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Trying to wrap my brain around the concept of “homemade honey”.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Yes, me too. Is there a lot of time spent in the field with tweezers and a hypodermic-type nectar sucker?


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      It’s made in the homes of bees.
      I don’t think that “mouth-made by insects” would be a contender for “most effective marketing slogan of the year”.

    • Posted December 18, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      i.e. collected by a friend who’s an amateur beekeeper and adds nothing to the honey after extraction.

  7. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    The Nutcracker is a Christmas staple most everywhere in the US; in Europe, not so much. The idea of doing a big run of Nut was pretty much invented by George Balanchine, the founding director of New York City Ballet, who astutely realized that putting kids in costume on stage at the holidays was a great way to sell tickets to out-of-town relatives. For many companies, Nut is the cash cow that funds the rest of their season.

    I’m off to a matinee of Nut myself in a couple of hours. This will be my third time seeing it this month, which I admit makes me an extreme outlier. Hard-core ballet groupies usually give Nut a pass, but I view it as part of my job as a ballet school trustee to come and watch the students perform.

    My company is doing 42 shows of Nut this year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. This is particularly grueling for our Professional Division students (17 to 19 years old) who dance in nearly every show, have a full schedule of classes, and are also in the midst of rehearsing audition material for their job search that starts next month. So I like to show up and support them when I can.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Italic fail. Sorry.

      • Posted December 18, 2016 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        Fixed it for you.

        –The Management

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 18, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink


          • Doug
            Posted December 18, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

            When Disney’s “Fantasia” was first released, narrator Deems Taylor introduced “The Nutcracker Suite” by saying that it was from a ballet “that nobody performs any more.” That was in 1940.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted December 18, 2016 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

              In the “be careful what you wish for” department, Emil de Cou, musical director at Pacific Northwest Ballet, tells the story of how as a young student he acquired a copy of the Nutcracker score, fell in love with it, and dreamed of someday being allowed to conduct it once.

  8. Posted December 18, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I have a favorite Dobzhansky anecdote: He visited David Suzuki’s lab at University of British Columbia in about 1970 when I was there on sabbatical. They had a Drosophila stock he was interested in having. A graduate student gave him a vial of flies with this advice: “It’s not really illegal to take flies into the US, but sometimes the customs agents don’t know that, so it’s easier just to slip them into your inside coat pocket and not say anything.” Dobzhansky, in a wonderful Russian accent: “You think maybe I have never smuggled any flies?”

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