Tuesday: Hili dialogue

It’s January 10, 2017, and National Bittersweet Chocolate Day. (And yes, I’ll keep the science posts coming.) It’s also the day that President Obama will deliver his “farewell address” in Chicago (I saw the huge line of people waiting to get tickets on Saturday). Say what you will of Obama, but you must admit that the guy had class, tried his best to promote a liberal agenda, and that, no matter how much you disliked him, you’ll long for his return within six months.

Historical events seen to be thin on the ground in early January. On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published his famous pamphlet Common Sense, which helped fire up Americans to fight for their independence from mean Britain. And—I did not know this—Wikipedia notes this about the pamphlet: “As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today.” On this day in 1863, the London Underground opened, with the first stretch between between Paddington and Farringdon; the cars were wooden carriages, lit by gas and hauled by steam locomotives (underground!) On this day in 1920, the treaty of Versailles, signed on November 11 of 1918, finally took effect. And on this day in 1984, the US established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, relations that had been prohibited since 1867 by a Congressional law resting on America’s anti-Catholic sentiments.

Notables born on this day include Robinson Jeffers (1887), Ray Bolger (1904; the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”), Max Roach (1924), geneticist Walter Bodmer (1936), Sal Mineo (1939), geneticist Godfrey Hewitt (1940), Jim Croce (1943), Rod Stewart (1945), Linda Lovelace (1949), and Pat Benatar (1953). Those who died on this day include Carl Linnaeus (1778, the man who gave us, among other things, the Latin binomial way of designating species), Sinclair Lewis (1951; raise your hand if you’ve read his (and Paul de Kruif’s) Arrowsmith (1925), a novel—perhaps the first about a working scientist—that inspired me to become a scientist), Spalding Gray (2004), and, one year ago, David Bowie.

Arrowsmith (yes it’s overwritten and maudlin in parts, but the code of the scientist it lays out has stayed with me ever since, as well as the crusty but demanding character Max Gottlieb, based on the scientists Frederick Novey and Jacques Loeb). It got the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1926, but Lewis declined it with these words:

I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

Those terms are that the prize shall be given “for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.”


Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is preening her lovely coat:

Cyrus: What are you doing there?
Hili: I’m taking care of myself.
In Polish:
Cyrus: Co tam robisz?
Hili: Dbam o siebie.


  1. serendipitydawg
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    (And yes, I’ll keep the science posts coming.)

    Well that’s a relief!

    • Marilee Lovit
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      Yes, that is very good news.

    • Posted January 10, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink


      • Claudia Baker
        Posted January 10, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink


    • jaxkayaker
      Posted January 11, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink


  2. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    I did read Arrowsmith, bu only after pursuing a scientific career. What struck me was the high level of the science conveyed. Lewis really paid attention.

    • Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      I read Arrowsmith during my medical Internship and absolutely loved it. But I did prefer both Main Street and Babbit.

  3. Christopher
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I missed it, but yesterday was Jimmy Page’s birthday, age 73.

    I’ve not read Arrowsmith, nor anything by Lewis, I’m embarrassed to admit, but I have read Impossible Vacation, by Spalding Gray, which didn’t inspire me to become anything but gave me one hell of a laugh, as did every one of his monologues. I miss his neurotic storytelling.

    • Christopher
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      It may or may not be important to note that Gray was declared missing on the 11th (although wikipedia gives it as his death date) but may have committed suicide the night before, possibly after seeing the movie Big Fish, which I’ve not seen.

  4. George
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Why do you think it will takes as long as six months to long for Obama’s return?

    • Christopher
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      6 seconds is closer to the truth. If even that long.

  5. George
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Thomas Paine was a great free-thinker. He was a deist as were many of the other founding fathers. From “The Age of Reason”:
    I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
    I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
    But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.
    I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      And even better

      “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Thank you for mentioning Arrowsmith! I had read that in my teens, and was overwhelmed by its spirit for science as among our most noble traits, but very puzzled about its occasional stilted drama.
    I recently stumbled across the old movie starring Ronald Colman that was made of it. I very much enjoyed it although I only caught the last half.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie, but I see that the movie is on Youtube, so if you don’t mind watching it online, you can catch the first half here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Bj0ZCAkSLM.

  7. adbass
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    For financial reasons I had to drop out of college in 1967 (pregnant wife). I decided one of the ways I could continue my education at home was by reading the classics. I read Main Street which lead to Arrowsmith which lead to Elmer Gantry. That book and a gift from an aunt of Letters From Earth by Mark Twain lead me away from the church and eventually to atheism.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    The Sinclair Lewis novel most applicable to these trying times is It Can’t Happen Here (which is just what many of us in this nation were saying until the unthinkable occurred two months ago).

  9. Janet
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Here’s my one and only New Year’s resolution:
    to click through Jerry’s emails to the website every time I read a post! We do not want to lose the science goodies, whew.

    • Janet
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Oh, and I meant to mention yesterday in the discussion of the science posts that not only do I enjoy reading such posts ‘fresh’, they serve as an invaluable resource even years later. I have come to this website many times to search for what Jerry and this community had to say about a particular subject. There is much value here!!

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    After six months of Trump – seems like already we have had two years of Trump. The next four years will be highlighted by inept, gross corruption and conflict of interests. With perfidious govt. people of the upper class. It will be a return to post-civil war United States and the so-called reconstruction period. Starting off with a Johnson and Grant and Grant very much like a Trump when it comes to business – a failure in almost everything but the army life. Trump a failure more than once in business who would not know a military man if he fell over a truck load of generals. But a twitter president that all twitter fans can and will identify with.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Just to be pedantic, not all Twitterers mate! This one wishes someone would take it off him. 🙂

      I wonder if anyone knows how to hack a verified account and is planning to do that to him?

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 10, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Just having a 70 year old with a 4 year old mind is a bit creepy. To then realize this is the president…I think dumbing down has reached the limit.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 10, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          Yep! I posted a cartoon on Twitter the other day called ‘Moving day at the White House’. An office chair with 44 on the back was being carried out and a high chair with 45 on the back was being carried in. Can’t remember who’s work it was off the top of my head, but it’s someone well known. (I’m in the wrong place to look it up.)

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted January 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

            That’s good. Maybe a nice size pacifier to go with it.

  11. Richard Jones
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    On this day in 2017 the London Underground went on strike. It carries over 4 million passengers a day; imagine the chaos in London today.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 10, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      WOW….and who said logistics is easy. I would get lost driving in London on a good day.

  12. Posted January 10, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    “And yes, I’ll keep the science posts coming”

    Thank you! 🙂

  13. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I think it is Frederick Novy.

    [Yes, I didn’t remember the name and had to search.]

  14. David Coxill
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Hi ,it was the armistice that was signed on Nov 11 1918 .The Versailles Treaty was signed on 28 June 1919 .

  15. Posted January 10, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve read _Babbit_ – a professor of mine gave me a copy as a gift one year. It was … interesting. And I remember hearing about _Arrowsmith_. Did Lewis pioneer what C. Djerassi calls “science in fiction”? (My father read a few of those.)

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m only familiar with Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” and “Elmer Gantry”, but alas not “Arrowsmith”.

    14 years after he declined the Pulitzer they gave it to “The Grapes of Wrath” which is one of the best ever American novels, but seems to not fit in with the stated goal of depicting the “wholesome atmosphere of American life”. A few years before it was given to “Gone with the Wind”, which for me would be grounds for declining it, but that is a bit compensated for by the later award to “To Kill a Mockingbird”.


    Anytime I hear about the London Underground I always think of my favorite line in John Cleese’s “A Fish Called Wanda”
    “Now let me correct you on a couple things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian! The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself!” And the London Underground is not a political movement! Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked ’em up.”

  17. Cate Plys
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Wow, thanks for including Sinclair Lewis’s statement turning down the Pulitzer Prize! I hadn’t read Arrowsmith, but I will now. Also, it’s great to acknowledge Ray Bolger.

  18. A Hakim
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    “…tried his best to promote a neoliberal agenda.”


  19. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 10, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    “On this day in 1863, the London Underground opened, with the first stretch between between Paddington and Farringdon; the cars were wooden carriages, lit by gas and hauled by steam locomotives (underground!)”

    This was one of the shallow sub-surface lines, a two-track tunnel and with frequent ventilation shafts, not one of the subsequent deep ‘tube’ lines which were electric from the start. In fact the Metropolitan wasn’t electrified until 1905. The steam locos were fitted with ‘condensing’ apparatus that ran the exhaust steam through the water in the tanks to condense it, they also used coke or ‘smokeless’ Welsh coal, nevertheless the atmosphere in the tunnels was notorious.

    However by 1863 railway tunnels were commonplace and steam locomotives were universal, so the idea of an underground railway probably seemed far more novel than working it by steam engines did.

    (See Wikipedia ‘Metropolitan Railway)


  20. peepuk
    Posted January 11, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    “And yes, I’ll keep the science posts coming”

    Makes my day.

  21. Posted January 11, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Our illustrious fellow atheist H. L. Mencken thought Sinclair Lewis was the real deal, and that’s good enough for me. You can criticize the style, sentimentality, or whatever of any author, and Lewis seems to have taken a lot of that kind of criticism in the last 50 years or so. It’s still a fact that he had an enormous impact on the period he lived in, and was a master at describing American types that are still with us today. He wrote five great novels; Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Dodsworth. After that, his habit of pickling his brain with alcohol caught up with him, and he went rapidly down hill. It doesn’t alter the fact that he was one of the greatest.

    As for Loeb, who was probably the main inspiration for Max Gottlieb, he despised Darwin and his theory. See, for example,


    …an article about Loeb in the “American Mercury” during its great years when Mencken was editor.

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