Saturday: Hili dialogue

The weekend is here, it’s Saturday, January 7 (2017), and the temperature is a balmy 3°F ( -16 °C) in Chicago. It’s National Tempura Day in the U.S., and it’s Christmas in some countries, like Russia, that adhere to the Eastern Orthodox calendar.

On this day in 1927, the first transatlantic phone service was established, allowing one to call London from New York. On January 7 1955, singer Marian Anderson becomes the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. And, you may recall, today is the second anniversary of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, with 12 people killed and 11 wounded. Here’s the first cover of the magazine after the murders (I have a copy):


I’ve found that around this time of year not much happened in history: it was probably too damn cold, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Births, on the other hand, reflect activity nine months before, and so not particularly sparse, and winter is a frequent time to die. Notables born on January 7 include Millard Fillmore (1800), Butterfly McQueen (1911), Gerald Durrell (1925), Jann Wenner (1946; he’s 70 today), Katie Couric (1957) and Nicholas Cage (1964). Those who died on this day include Nikola Tesla (1943), Trevor Howard (1988) and the great mountaineer Heinrich Harrer (2006), who made the first ascent of the treacherous North Face of the Eiger in 1938 (read his book The White Spider). Here’s what he and three others climbed:


and a traverse that shows the difficulty:


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is staying inside almost all the time, and even then needs extra warmth:

A: Are you so freezing cold?
Hili: It’s biting cold outside. I have to put on something extra.dsc00002p
In Polish:
Ja: Tak ci zimno?
Hili: Mróz za oknem, lepiej się przykryć.

Cats and free will! Two of my favorite topics, here depicted in the cartoon Diesel Sweeties by R. Stevens, contributed by reader Phil




  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    If you consider the salutations for the Orthodox Christmas, the guy who started saying “Merry Christmas” can be considered to have started the “war on Christmas”.

  2. Sarah
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I was surprised that Marian Anderson was still singing in 1955 and breaking into the Met as the first black singer! She had great courage and perseverance! I hope there are a few statues in her honor.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I just don’t understand that – Because it’s there reasoning?

    Fist phone service across the pond in 1927 and first flight. The world was made smaller.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Sorry, my editor is off today, and everyday.

      It’s First…

  4. rickflick
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood why some people see a mountain like Eiger and develop an urge (like cats in boxes) to climb. My reaction is more like Hili – curl up on the couch (hot chocolate doesn’t hurt either).

    • Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      I have to say that had I discovered my love of the mountains earlier, I would have become at least a part-time climber. When I’m in the Himalaya, for instance, I have a very strong impulse to GET UP THOSE MOUNTAINS. But I have had to be satisfied with hiking among them, something that is no small satisfaction itself.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 7, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        It’s probably genetic.

        • Alpha Neil
          Posted January 7, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          It’s definitely genetic. I have a natural affinity for high places and I’m happiest above treeline. When looking at a map, I immediately look for the highest points. If there are mountains within sight, I have trouble thinking of anything else. I’ve been that way since childhood.

    • strongforce
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      This is a quote from my good friend explaining his need to do semi-extreme mountaineering/canyoneering. First an example. This is his TR from Christmas in Utah two weeks ago.

      Quoting Ram(Steve:
      “Margin? There ain’t no stinkin margin!
      Kidding aside…there isn’t one. For me, it’s part of the draw. To have several hours of REAL concentration, that means something. That has consequences.
      Wouldn’t do it though, if it didn’t open the door to such wonders and discovery. I LOVE the discovery. Bottom line. If you hurt yourself and are not ambulatory….Fours hours to really deep doo doo, depending on how much shock is involved. I suppose you could carry enough stuff, for at least two and ensure it stay dry. Maybe it’s irresponsible not to. Don’t know. Speed seems the safest calculation. Not so much speed that you sweat. I don’t think I shivered or sweated the whole day. Dance that line between the two. Glad to do it a few times a year. Makes my tail wag. Feel young again without doing anything really hard. Not like you on the East Ridge of Logan when you have to be “game on” for weeks, at a time.”

      • Dee
        Posted January 7, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        I know Ram! I might know you too. He is definitely one of a kind.

        • strongforce
          Posted January 7, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Fancy that, Well Hi Dee. We will have to make this a challenge as to who figures out the identity of the other first.

          • Dee
            Posted January 8, 2017 at 6:35 am | Permalink

            Hm. I have no idea who you might be – maybe Doc Science?

    • Posted January 7, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      I agree, but I still like reading about mountaineering!

      One book that explores, rather brilliantly I think, the motivation of those who do climb mountains is The Beckoning Silence by Joe Simpson. It’s also about the north face of the Eiger.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 7, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        I love reading about mountaineering and I love mountain country (flat = boring as far as I’m concerened). However I don’t climb myself, not least because I’m moderately afraid of heights, I get nervous at the top of a ladder.

        But I can absolutely understand the urge to climb them.

        The Eiger north face is probably unique in its accessibility*, its proximity to a town and its visibility (when not hidden by clouds). Hugely impressive from Grindelwald.


        (*Quite aside from catching the train, which has apparently been done… )

  5. Gilbert Klapper
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    In my opinion, this site misses important birthdays, e.g. Zora Neale Hurston, Nicholson Baker, by not looking at The Writer’s Almanac.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Could always put them on your site.

  6. HaggisForBrains
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Shirley, Jann Wenner must be 71. Are you still writing 2016 on your cheques as well, Jerry?

  7. E.A. Blair
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    It’s -16 °C in Chicago. Meanwhile, in Iceland, here are the temperatures from the Weather Underground website’s reporting stations in Iceland:

    Akureyri – 7 °C
    Akurnes – 6 °C
    Auðkula – 7 °C
    Bergstaðir 7 °C
    Bolungavik – 4 °C
    Breiddalsvik – 6.9 °C
    Dalatangi – 7 °C
    Egilsstaðir – 7 °C
    Grimsstaðir – 9 °C
    Gufuskalar – 3 °C
    Reykjavik – 3 °C
    Keflavik – 4 °C
    Stykkisholmur – 2 °C
    Vestmannaeyjar – 4 °C

    Those readings are all above 0 °C. That’s downright balmy.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Spent a year in Iceland in ’98-’99 and found it quite balmy compared to Eastern Ontario’s winters. Very windy all the time though.

  8. W.Benson
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I spent last week in balmy Rio. Every day was 99o F and above, and one day hit 108.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted January 9, 2017 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      I hope you had access to a/c in your last week. And were paid to be there.

  9. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Cöyne’s Cat: The cat in the box is simultaneously both without free will.

    • W.Benson
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      The girl talking to the cat also lacks free will, and the reader to boot. What a fine potion of satire and irony.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted January 7, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      The prettified version:

      Coyne’s Cat: The cat in the box is simultaneously without free will.

    • busterggi
      Posted January 8, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      The cat has free will, the box does not.

  10. Jenny Haniver
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    It needs to be stressed that Butterfly McQueen wasn’t just notable for playing Prissy in the odious, racist paean to the Antebellum South, “Gone With the Wind,” but she was a proud and outspoken atheist. I quote from Wikipedia “In 1989, the Freedom From Religion Foundation honored her with its Freethought Heroine Award. “I’m an atheist,” she had declared, “and Christianity appears to me to be the most absurd imposture of all the religions, and I’m puzzled that so many people can’t see through a religion that encourages irresponsibility and bigotry.” She told a reporter, “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.”

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted January 9, 2017 at 1:45 am | Permalink

      I remember the day I felt free from what I had been brought up in. It still took decades before I could gather the nerve to really be totally unchained. It was not an easy road along the way.
      I owe many thanks to many of you here, and Dr. Coyne. My wish is that my child will have the opportunity to pass forward to other girls her passion for STEM and STEAM.

  11. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Hili is so cute!

  12. Rick Bannister
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    You missed one historic birthdate; Sir Sandord Fleming(January 7, 1827 – July 22, 1915), the inventor of standard time. The Google doodle today at the .ca site commemorates his birth. He was also featured on a Canadian postage stamp a few years ago.

  13. amy
    Posted January 7, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    It’s Horoscope! :))

    Capricorns, the goats, of course they love mountain.

    Me, the Cancer, don’ have much itch for mountains, but I LOVES water and sea…

    Please don’t say….Please let me have fun on horoscope.

    Somehow, I feel the one who wrote this morning piece, is in the mood for SOMETHING…

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted January 9, 2017 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      How does this horoscope thing work and what is it based on?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 9, 2017 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        How it works is, the most junior reporter on staff gets told he’s going to do it. So he gets old back issues, selects a dozen at random, takes one star sign from each, lightly rewrites them and that’s what gets printed. If he’s feeling really pissed he transposes some of them to see if anyone notices.


  14. Helen Hollis
    Posted January 9, 2017 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    The Oatmeal gives a tribute to Tesla that is amazing.FWIW.

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