Saturday: Hili dialogue

Good morning on a balmy Saturday in Chicago. It’s February 11, 2017: one day before Darwin’s birthday (and also Abe Lincoln’s; both were born on the same day in 1809), and three days before Valentine’s Day. To stay out of the doghouse, buy your cards and gifts now. It’s National Peppermint Patty Day, but the object of celebration is the candy, not the cartoon character:


It’s also Inventors’ Day in the U.S., so you should invent something.

On this day in 1826, the University of London was founded, and in 1858 Bernadette Soubirous had her first vision—there were 18 in all—of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, which is still waiting for Jesus’s mother to heal amputees.  Here’s Bernadette (now Saint Bernadette), who was 14 when she first thought she saw Mary:


If you want to see the well known movie about her, “The Song of Bernadette” (1943, with Jennifer Jones in the starring role), it’s on YouTube in two parts, with part 1 here and part 2 here.

On this day in 1978, China lifted its  ban on works by Aristotle, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens—authors whose idea surely would have subverted Communism.  Finally, on February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in Cape Town, ending 27 years of forced confinement.

Notable people born on this day include Thomas Edison (1847), Leo Szilard (1898), Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915; his travel books, relatively unknown today, are superb), Anthony Flew (1923), Paul Bocuse (1926), Burt Reynolds (1936), and Sarah Palin (1964). Those who died on this day include René Descartes (1650; no horse jokes, please), Sergei Eisenstein (1948), Sylvia Plath (1963), Eleanor Powell (1982), Paul Feyerabend (1994), Whitney Houston (2012), and Bob Simon (2015). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is complaining about the snow, while Andrzej points out that that’s not much of a snowfall for Poland:

Hili: We will be buried under this snow.
A: This is a joke—not snow.
Hili: Don’t scare me.
In Polish:
Hili: Zasypie nas ten śnieg.
Ja: To są kpiny, a nie śnieg.
Hili: Nie strasz mnie.
Lagniappe: Reader John S. sent the motto of a “first responder” team in Colorado. (I’m often asked if medicine and technology have led to degeneration of the human gene pool, and the answer is a qualified “yes”.)


  1. Billy Bl.
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Horse jokes? I don’t get it.

    • Walt Jones
      Posted February 11, 2017 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      If his horse survived him, one could make a joke about the order of their deaths. (I would never do such a thing myself.)

      • Walt Jones
        Posted February 11, 2017 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        Oops – other way around.

        • Walt Jones
          Posted February 11, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

          No, I was right the first time. It’s going to be a long day.

          • Billy Bl.
            Posted February 11, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

            Still don’t get it. Maybe I’m in for a long day too.

            • Walt Jones
              Posted February 11, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

              Perhaps you’re not familiar with the saying about not putting the cart before the horse. It’s a pun at poor René’s expense.

              • Billy Bl.
                Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                Ah. OK, thanks. I now know why I didn’t get it.

  2. Posted February 11, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Today is as good a day as any to recall my uncle who broke his leg getting off the plane to Lourdes. Fortunately he was in the right place. It was cured miraculously within 6 weeks.

  3. rickflick
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Every place I’ve lived has had locally developed ways of living with snow. In West Michigan, they purchase large plowing vehicle ideal for barreling down the expressway at 60 miles an hour throwing snow 200 feet in the air. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where snow falls almost every night to greet you in the morning, they adapt by smoothing the surface of the snow and driving on top of it. In central New York – not as much snow – county trucks are sometimes makeshift collections of light utility trucks with blades hastily clamped to the frame.

  4. Kevin
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Holy Delusion, Batman. Bernadette lived about as close to a lie as any have ever done.

  5. GBJames
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I object to the idea that a gene pool can degenerate!

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Having the anniversary and Valentines day almost on top of each other makes it really bad to forget. Guys tend to overlook the flowers, however my recommendation – don’t do that.

  7. Posted February 11, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on miracles to a local Secular Humanist group. A propos Bernadette Soubirous, I pointed out that the holy waters of Lourdes didn’t do her much good — she died of tuberculosis at age 35. And you know who doesn’t visit Lourdes when he gets sick — the pope.

  8. Posted February 11, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I just posted that slogan on my own Facebook page. Love it!

  9. Posted February 11, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I doubt that medicine and technology have led to deterioration of human gene pool. To begin with, humans have had technology ever since they became humans (stone tools are also technology); our physical strength and chewing ability have deteriorated indeed, but our cognitive abilities, the main adaptation tool of our species, have improved.

    Without medicine, we have a strong selection for pathogen resistance genes, some of which have deleterious other effects (e.g. sickle-cell anemia, maybe cystic fibrosis).

    Without advanced technology, we have a strong selection for lesser requirement of food – again, these genes may be not the nicest in other respects.

    At least, we need a criterion to grade gene pools.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 11, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      What does deterioration of a gene pool even mean?

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted February 11, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        I’m with you. When cave-dwelling fish lose their eyes, we don’t call that degeneration of the gene pool; we call it adaptation to local conditions.

        • jaxkayaker
          Posted February 11, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

          I wouldn’t call loss of sight in cave-dwelling organisms an adaptation. I expect it’s fitness-neutral.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted February 11, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

            It would be fitness-neutral if building and maintaining organs you don’t need had zero metabolic cost. But I doubt that’s the case.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted February 11, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        “What does deterioration of a gene pool even mean?” Umm…Donald Trump?

        • nicky
          Posted February 11, 2017 at 10:08 pm | Permalink


      • Posted February 12, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        I guess, increasing the proportion of deleterious mutations or decreasing polymorphism.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 12, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          If it is increasing, then in what sense is it deleterious?

          “Success” in evolution is measured by an increase in the relative proportion of genes in the gene pool. I don’t see how the idea of deterioration has any meaning at all. It would be like discussing the color of a gene pool and whether it was improving or not.

          • Posted February 12, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

            By deleterious, I mean decreasing the viability or fecundity of its carriers, related to those carrying other alleles.

            • GBJames
              Posted February 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              Everything else being equal, if it is decreasing the fecundity of its carriers then it is going to decrease the frequency of the gene in the population.

              From a genetic point of view, when technology removes the deleterious consequence of some gene, then I don’t see how that gene can still be called “deleterious”, at least not in evolutionary terms. (I suppose if it costs money to correct the problem, then it would be deleterious to your bank account.)

              These hypothetical genes should be called “formerly deleterious”, IMO. They would become deleterious again if for some reason the technology disappeared. At that point one would expect selection to resume against that gene.

  10. HaggisForBrains
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink


  11. Walt Jones
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    A more sublime Descartes joke that I heard on an old episode of the Atheist Experience (yesterday, by coincidence): Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender asks if he’s going to order a drink. Descartes says, “I think not” and disappears.

    h/t: Keryn Glasser

  12. jaxkayaker
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    There’s always Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song, which includes the lines “Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink, therefore, I am.”

  13. Blue
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Today, 11 February 2017, is
    International Day of Women and Girls in Science


  14. Dale Franzwa
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Seems like almost everyday The Pres, Donald, invents a new alternative fact. His high speed mouthpiece, KAC, sometimes three a day.

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