Sunday: Hili dialogue (with extra Leon)

by Grania

Happy birthday to Sam Harris, the Bob Newhart of the “New” Atheists.

Sam shares his birthday with Australian ballet dancer Robert Helpmann (1909 – 1986).

June Brae and Robert Helpmann in Dante Sonata the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 1939. Baron/Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Later on in his career, Helpmann played the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and scared the bejeezus out of a generation of children.

It’s also the birthday of Tom Lehrer (1928), satirist and songwriter. Never one to fear offending people he said:

“If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.” (It would be inadvisable to try this at home, kids.)


Today is also the day Saddam’s statue was toppled in Baghdad in 2003, in 1865 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant marking the beginning of the conclusion of the  long and bloody American Civil War.

From Poland, two cats have opinions today.

Hili: Strange thing.
A: What is so strange?
Hili: This ladybird is a transvestite. [poss. reference]

In Polish:

Hili: Dziwna sprawa.
Ja: Co jest takie dziwne?
Hili: Ta biedronka chyba jest transwestytą.

And from Leon, the most serious of cats:

Leon: From here I enjoy our guests even more.


  1. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Since this is a science-oriented site, here’s Lehrer’s famous Elements song, elegantly animated by Timwi Heizmann

    I’m in awe as to how Lehrer remembers them all without missing or repeating any.


  2. Historian
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Two comments:

    1) I haven’t heard the “Vatican Rag” in decades, but it is as relevant and funny now as it was when Tom Lehrer first sung it.

    2) Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House effectively ended the American Civil War. It took a few months more for a couple of other Confederate armies to surrender, but everyone knew the war was over when Lee gave up.

    • cherrybombsim
      Posted April 9, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      I was about eight or nine years old and in Catholic school when this song came out. I had it memorized :). Even then, I assumed that religion was just something left over from the Middle Ages when people didn’t know any better, and would be dying out pretty soon. Sigh.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted April 9, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        My experience as well. I grew up listening to An Evening (wasted) With Tom Lehrer, and I can still sing several of them from memory.

  3. Claudia Baker
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    So refreshing to hear Lehrer sing this. Haven’t heard it in years, but as a young person, growing up catholic, I remember how delicious it was to hear back then.

    I wonder when someone will be able to publicly perform a similar song about Islam…

  4. tubby
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I recall that when I was in college someone in the college of performing arts sang the Masochism Tango for their senior vaudeville show. People were apparently horrified. I only heard about this second hand because some friends knew I enjoyed Lehrer’s music. It’s weird thinking back that as a child I was aware of BDSM as a kink because of his song.

  5. Richard Bond
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Soon after we met, my late wife and I were sharing a house with an accountant. We played one of Lehrer’s records. Having laughed our heads off through several tracks, we asked Tom what he thought. Rather puzzled, he said “He’s a good pianist.”

    It is difficult to pick a favourite, but, despite my usually poor rote memory, I can still recall all of the words of The Irish Maid.

    I love the last verse of the Boy Scout song (can’t remember the exact title), again remembered from years ago:

    If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind
    And you come across a girl scout who is similarly inclined
    Don’t be nervous, don’t be frightened, don’t be scared
    Be prepared!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 9, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Yep. For some reason, not having heard his Irish ballad (Rickety Tickety Tin) for decades, I thought of it in the course of a long walk, and by the end of the walk almost all of it had come back to me. Something very compelling about his lyrics.

      Of an Irish maid I’ll sing you a song
      A rickety tickety tin
      Of an Irish maid I’ll sing you a song
      She didn’t keep her family long
      Not only did she do them wrong
      She did every one of them in

      And I especially liked the last couple of lines –
      My tragic tale I won’t prolong,
      And if you do not enjoy the song,
      You’ve yourselves to blame if it’s too long,
      You should never have let me begin

      Classic Lehrer!


  6. Jan
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Today is also the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 9, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Yes where 3500 Canadians died and more were wounded.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted April 9, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        There are 5000 Canadians there at Vimy today, marking this anniversary. It would be very moving I would think. I was there a few years ago, but not for any ceremony, and I found it a moving experience as a Canadian.

        And, we’re still, as a race, dropping bombs on each other. Sheesh. Will we never learn?!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 9, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          Yeah CBC covered the whole ceremony. So terrible especially with Canada being such a young country and having no choice but to fight in such a senseless war.

  7. Blue
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Ms Grania, for out of all of them !, finding this particular one Sam Harris – video ! “neurotransmitters giving rise to all this cuteness” re his very own bambina ! What a darling hoot of Mr Harris’ these moments of his funniness are !

    A particular favorite snippet is sort of a “Faith vs Fact” one. Analogously, Mr Harris’ “Witchcraft vs Science” ! and just HOW DANGEROUS it must have been, during the Burning Times then, for the few who did not believe in witchcraft to come forward with that … … nonbelief ! and, how funny used inside the present day that now sounds: “witchcraft is far more nuanced than that” — … … as well as knowing how Dr Coyne just adores the word, & its derivatives of, “nuance !” Soooo NOT !

    “a voice in your head that just says things. Haven’t you noticed ? He looks a little bit like Ben Stiller … … “

    “Elvis is still alive” in a job interview: “automatically pays a price” of “ill – concealed laughter !” No shit !

    “giving up a perfectly serviceable Tuesday evening” with “Nothing Hitchens ever does is boring.”

    To you … … all well – deserved delight on this, your day, Mr Harris: a haaaappy, happy birthday !


  8. Derek Freybegr
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    My introduction to Tom Lehrer’s music was as a first year PhD student – the then chairman of the Chemistry Department at UVa gave a party for the new class, and he had a set of Lehrer records. My favorite at the time was “Lobachevsky” – key quote: “Only be sure always to call it please ‘research'”; but pretty much any Tom Lehrer song is still good. He used to teach at UC Santa Cruz, and I think still lives in the area.

  9. David Duncan
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Did it taste good Hili?

  10. bric
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I have very fond memories of Robert Helpmann and Frederick Ashton as the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, each trying to upstage the other

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    When I was a parochial schoolboy, one of the nuns, a math teacher, brought a turntable and a Tom Lehrer album to class, to share with us his song “New Math,” which she thought was the cat’s meow (though its subtleties were lost on us sixth-graders).

    After “Vatican Rag” was released, Sister Josephine never made mention of Tom Lehrer again.

    His LP, I suspect, got cast upon the pyre, like Giordano Bruno.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    The Sam Harris montage displays his mordant wit, but, with the exception of his last line about Ben Stiller, the clips aren’t really funny. All the original Four Horseman could use wit to great effect, but alone among them, Christopher Hitchens could make people laugh out loud.

    I have a theory (which is my own) that it was Hitchens’s humor that kept the religiosi from venting the same spleen at him that they do regularly against Dawkins and Harris. That, and the fact that Hitchens had (and had on ample public display) all the common vices. If there’s one thing evangelicals love even more than a fellow evangelical, it’s a reprobate sinner who might yet find the path to redemption.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 10, 2017 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      There may be something to that (your Hitchens Hypothesis), but I think many of the religiosi were simply scared of him. He was very good at making people look like asses.

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