Friday: Hili dialogue

Good morning: we’ve now reached the end of most people’s work week—Friday, February 17, 2017. It’s both National Indian Pudding Day and National Cafe’ Au Lait Day. Indian pudding, a baked concoction of molasses, cornmeal and other good stuff (recipe here) is best served warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love it, and recommend that you try it if you’re in New England (I doubt you can find it outside the northeast US). Here’s what it looks like:


If you’re in Boston, try this at the Durgin-Park restaurant near Faneuil Hall; their version is very good.

And in Europe today, it’s World Cat Day.

On this day in 1600, Giordana Bruno was burned alive for heresy, but of course (as the scholars of science tell us) it had nothing to do with religion. On February 17, 1801, there was an electoral tie between Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson for President; it was resolved by the House of Representatives, which made Jefferson our third President and Burr the Vice-President. On February 17, 1904, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly opened at La Scala in Milan, and, in 1980, the Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy made the first winter ascent of Mount Everest.

Notables born on this day include evolutionary geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher (1890), creationist Duane Gish (1921), Alan Bates (1934), Gene Pitney (1940), Huey P. Newton (1942), and Paris Hilton (1981). Those who died on this day include, beside Bruno,Molière (1673), Jan Swammerdam (1680; one of Matthew Cobb’s heroes), Geronimo (1909), and Thelonious Monk and Lee Strasberg (both 1982). I asked Matthew to write a brief summary of Swammerdam’s life, and here it is (the Swammerdam website can be found here, though there is no authenticated portrait of the man):

Swammerdam was a pioneer microscopist and entomologist who made a number of discoveries in the 1660s and 1670s. In particular, he showed that the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same organism, and came up with an aphorism that might seem trivial today, but which was truly revolutionary at the time: all animals are born from an egg produced by a female of the same species. He died of malaria at the relatively early age of 43. He contracted the disease in Europe some time in the 1670s – malaria was finally eradicated in Europe only in the 20th century.

Ironically, one of his most striking drawings is of the mosquito, the insect which transmitted the disease that killed him:

SWAMMERDAM: MOSQUITO. Illustration by Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) from his 'Histoire Generale des Insectes', posthumously published in 1682.

Illustration by Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) from his ‘Histoire Generale des Insectes’, posthumously published in 1682.

His manuscripts, which many of which are held at the University of Leiden (where he studied) or at the University of Göttingen (it’s complicated) show when he was ill – his handwriting becomes weak and scratchy. His friends, in particular his patron, the mysterious Melchisedec Thévenot (one-time ambassador, spy, inventor of the spirit level and bibliophile) tried to obtain ‘Jesuit’s bark’ (the bark of the quinine tree) to help him, but to no avail. There is a plaque marking the site of his grave in Amsterdam, but the grave has long been cleared. His birthplace – not far away – is marked by a fine stone plaque set into the wall.


Swammerdam features largely in Matthew’s well-regarded book, Generation: The Seventeeth-Century Scientists Who Unraveled the Secrets of Sex, Life, and Growth 

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata and Hili are having a lie-down:

A: Have you decided to take a nap?
Hili: Maybe we need a short rest.
 In Polish:
Ja: Położyłyście się na drzemkę?
Hili: Widać potrzebowałyśmy krótkiego odpoczynku.
Here are two animal tweets, both furnished by Matthew:

Finally, in honor of Trump and his bizarre press conference yesterday, we have this lagniappe:



  1. Dominic
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    If someone would like to lay a trans-Atlantic pipe, perhaps you could pump Indian pudding to the world! mmmm…
    PS When is “hey, we elected a loony as president” day?! 😉 I suppose you cannot eat those words – they stick in the throat!

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      We have done Sean Spicer a disservice. It is Trump, not he, who is channelling Baghdad Bob aka Comical Ali. A “fine tuned machine” indeed. All that is missing are the background explosions. Even Faux News is getting the picture. (See Shepherd Smith.)

  2. jeremy pereira
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    On this day in 1600, Giordana Bruno was burned alive for heresy, but of course (as the scholars of science tell us) it had nothing to do with religion.

    Shouldn’t that be “nothing to do with science”?

    Bruno was burned alive for disagreeing with several Catholic doctrines e.g. that Jesus is God not for any of his scientific opinions.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Well they would say that, wouldn’t they’ Apologies to Mandy Rice – Davies.

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        That’s not the point though. PCC(E)’s text claims that scholars of science say his execution had nothing to do with religion. That’s a position that no credible historian could possibly hold since he was tried for heresy by an organisation run by the Church for views that contradicted Catholic theology.

        The claim that Bruno’s execution had nothing to do with religion is completely unsustainable but the claim that it had nothing to do with his scientific opinions is sustainable although not necessarily true.

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:24 am | Permalink

          Hence why I thought the last word in the text should have been “science” not “religion”

          • Dave
            Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

            Jerry is just being ironic here. He’s mimicking the style of those apologists who pop up after each terrorist atrocity to assure us that bombings, beheadings and drive-by massacres have “nothing to do with Islam”, despite the perpetrator(s)invariably shouting “Allah hu Akbar” before, during and after the attack.

            • darrelle
              Posted February 17, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

              He is also mimicking the ostensibly pro-science people that always pop up at any mention of Bruno being flame-broiled by the RCC to claim that it had nothing* to do with religion. Happens all the time. It has happened here in the WEIT comments several times over the years.

              *Or very little, or not much, or not entirely, and always with the implication that saying that the RCC killed Bruno because of religious reasons is inaccurate.

            • Posted February 17, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

              Yes, at least one person got that.

  3. Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    When I first encountered cultures of Drosophila, shortly afterward I went to a Thanksgiving dinner and found myself eating Indian Pudding. It looked strangely familiar. I suddenly realized that if you added agar and mold inhibitor, and sprayed it with a yeast culture, it would become Drosophila medium.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      That’s not really very encouraging!

      • Posted February 17, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        Well, fly food is made with good stuff usually, except for agar and mold inhibitor. Molasses, Karo syrup, bananas, cornmeal, etc.

        • Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          In those days the recipe for Indian Pudding was cornmeal, molasses, and Karo syrup (corn sugar syrup). Which were the first three ingredients in Drosophila medium too.

          More recently the Indian Pudding recipes have gotten more sophisticated, with maple syrup, etc.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you Matthew Cobb for the interesting write up of a scientist I never heard of … UNTIL NOW.

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Keep in mind, no actual citizens voted for the President back in 1801. So you see they could screw it up without popular vote. However, unlike more recent elections, they finally got it right and without any involvement by the court. Thanks to Alexander Hamilton.

  6. ChrisH
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    World Cat Day?

    Hmpf. Just reminded me that a) I don’t have an overlord currently and 2) I didn’t see the friendly overlord who is often talking to passers-by on my way to the station!

  7. Randy schenck
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I do hope PCC says something on the press conference yesterday. With the circus going out of business, this is the greatest show on earth. And no animals were harmed in the making of this 77 minute show.

  8. Marilee Lovit
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Indian pudding at Durgin Park– truly delicious. I had it there back in the days when the wait staff at Durgin Park really was mean.

  9. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Jan Swammerdam is honoured in the scientific names of a number of moths in the families Yponomeutidae and Incurvariidae. These are tiny cratures which have the distinction of names that, when printed in any readable font, greatly exceed the size of the actual insect! Examples include: Paraswammerdamia albicapitella, Swammerdamia compunctella, Pseudoswammerdamia combinella, Nematopogon swammerdamella.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      tiny creatures! (Damn sticky keyboard!)

      • Dominic
        Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        Covered, no doubt, with tiny creatures!

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted February 17, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink


  10. Posted February 17, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    According to Holy Mother Church, Bruno’s theory of “the plurality of worlds” (the belief that there were other worlds which also sustained life), was “a doctrine repugnant to the whole tenor of Scripture and inimical to revealed religion, especially as regards the plan of salvation.”

    It’s a good day to recall his famous last words, “Perhaps it is with greater fear that you pass the sentence upon me than I receive it.”

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

    Thanks to Prof. Cobb for his appearance on Infinite Monkey Cage, appropriately talking about ‘how to make the seemingly invisible, visible’ His maggot expertise got an ooooooo from the audience . . .

  12. Posted February 17, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    About the Gnus: paging E. Gettier … paging E. Gettier …

  13. busterggi
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I want to like Indian pudding, its so New Englandy. But every time I’ve tried it – yech!

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Bruno??? Some think the most common mistake made here is that his execution had anything to do with science!!!

    Bruno opposed the Trinity and believed in infinite worlds, a whole bunch threatening stuff.

    However, the Vatican didn’t really start to get worried about Copernican astronomy until about 11 years after Bruno’s death!!!

    His execution had EVERYTHING to do with religion.

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