Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday: Ceiling Cat’s Day, and August 5, 2018. That makes it National Oyster Day, as well as the Christian (American Episcopal) joint feast day of Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald, and Lucas Cranach the Elder. That’s one religious feast day I can get behind, as I love all those artists, and think Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece is in the running for the World’s Best Painting.

On August 5, 1305, William “FREEEEEDOM!!” Wallace was captured by the English in Scotland. He was brought to London, put on trial, and executed in a gruesome way (hanging, drawing and quartering) on August 23.  On this day in 1735, in a famous trial, newspaper writer John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, with the jury finding that there was no libel because what Zenger said was true. He’s long been a symbol of freedom of the press in America.

On August 5, 1861, the U.S. government, trying to pay for the Civil War, levied the first income tax in the U.S. It was 3% on all incomes over $800, and was rescinded in 1872.  In 1913 the federal income tax was permanently reinstated by the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution. On this day in 1884, the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty was laid on an island in New York Harbor. Exactly thirty years later, the first electric traffic light was installed in Cleveland, Ohio.  On August 5, 1926, according to Wikipedia, “Harry Houdini performs his greatest feat, spending 91 minutes underwater in a sealed tank before escaping.”  That, of course, must be a trick, as nobody can survive that long underwater. On this day in 1957, Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”, featuring rock and roll music and dancing, had its debut on ABC.  On August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela went to jail, and was not released for 27 years.  Finally, it was on this day in 1981 that President Ronald Reagan fired 11,359 air traffic controllers who were on strike and had ignored an order to return to work.

Notables born on this day include Guy de Maupassant (1850), Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man” (1862), Conrad Aiken (1889), John Huston and Wassily Leontier (both 1906) and Neil Armstrong (1930, died 2012).  Here’s a photo of the real Merrick; doctors are still arguing about the cause of his condition. He died at 27 from asphyxia caused by the weight of his head when he lay down. (He always slept with his head up but may have tried an experiment.)

Joseph Merrick

Notables who died on this day include the Native American chief Spotted Tail (1881), Carmen Miranda (1955), Edgar Guest (1959; can you name his most famous poem?), Richard Burton (1984), and Alec Guinness (2000). As always on Burton’s memorial anniversary, I show a picture I took of his grave in Switzerland. As you see, some smitten lady has left a relic:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili becomes part of a living artwork; is this performance art?

Hili: What is this?
A: Still life with a worm inside.
In Polish:
Hili: Co to jest?
Ja: Martwa natura z robaczkiem w środku.

Some tweets from Matthew; first, an atheist’s response to a common canard:

Spot the cat. This isn’t that easy!

This cat doesn’t eat the peaches; he just likes to sit with them. Cats!!

Now this is an altruistic cat: imagine how that pricks!

Well, maybe—probably, if there are even historians around!

Can you work out these anagrams of Dickens novels? (The answer is in the thread.)

If only I could pet an owl—just once. Turn video and sound on. Can anyone identify the species?

Too bad they provided the answer right at the outset:

This is fricking adorable; a real heartwarmer.  Be SURE to watch the video:

Have you ever heard of a goral? Even if you have, go watch the video:

I haven’t seen the page, but Matthew did extreme editing of this revision of Sir David’s book, so I’m sure it’s a nice acknowledgment:



  1. Joe Hahn
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I think the Edgar Guest poem is “A house is not always a home.”

    • George Pawlus
      Posted August 5, 2018 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      I believe the title is just “Home.” Insipid is the word usually used to describe Guest’s poetry. Supposedly, Dorothy Parker said, “I’d rather flunk my Wassermann test (syphilis) than read a poem by Edgar Guest.”

      • Barbara Radcliffe
        Posted August 5, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Re the Wassermann test, I once knew a bloke called V.D. Wassermann, which the microbiologist in me found rather amusing. I can only assume that his parents were not microbiologists!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    The tax to pay for the civil war was an ancient tradition that no longer applies in this country and hasn’t for many years. That is, we use to pay for our wars and other things.

  3. George Pawlus
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I spotted the cat instantly. Primarily, I think, because I was not looking for it. I was scrolling down and something caught my eye. So if you can’t see the cat, check out the top of the middle stack of logs.

    • Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      It took me a while, even though I guessed (correctly) that it was a ginger.

  4. JohnH
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I would have put Bleak House and Christmas Carol as tied for number 1:

    10 Dombey and Son
    9 Oliver Twist
    8 Our Mutual Friend
    7 Old Curiosity Shop
    6 Bleak House
    5 Great Expectations
    4 Barnaby Rudge
    3 Nicholas Nickleby
    2 Christmas Carol
    1 Hard Times

  5. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature still doesn’t make much sense to me. Strip the music away from his lyrics and look at them in isolation and you’re left with some very occasionally great stuff that even then seems only to makes sense by sheer fluke. He never seemed interested in whether any of what he wrote meant anything, just in whether it sounded as though it did. And then along come his fans to translate it all and assure everyone else that, actually the thin man is the nuclear bomb and the rolling stone is the bus that Rosa Parks sat on and the Walrus was Paul, etc., and that he’s ‘the greatest poet who ever lived'(Van Morrison said that).

    I do feel conflicted about him though. I believe all of the above, and I think he’s hideously overrated most of the time. But then I listen to Lay Lady Lay, or My Back Pages or 4th Time Around and I don’t really care, because they’re so lovely. I’ve always thought a single wonderful melody is enough to justify the existence of any songwriter, and he’s written more than a few.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 5, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I can’t disagree! Dylan started with hashed, rehashed, borrowed & mashed country folk & learned how to stretch the medium to suit himself [& his limitations]. I like Girl From the North Country best which came about through his ’62 UK trip where he sucked on the teat of Martin Carthy & friends.

      Is he closer to Chance the Gardener or Chauncey Gardiner? He uses short syllables, common words only & nearly everything rhymes in the simplest way possible:

      “Better stay away from those / That carry around a fire hose / Keep a clean nose / Watch the plain clothes / You don’t need a weather man / To know which way the wind blows”

      – at the time this straightforward simplicity was innovative, but it has nowhere to go [like rap or hip hop]

      I had a period of borrowing every Dylan recording from the library & copying it. I ended up with 10 hours of stuff in chronological order & gave it a good old listen one weekend. The same old motifs & images pop up throughout [e.g. he’s big on circus imagery especially clowns]. I decided to stick to early Dylan & not dig deeper re his influences.

    • Posted August 6, 2018 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      But why strip the music away? Bob Dylan’s lyrics are meant to be sung to music and should be judged in that context.

      Reading Dylan’s lyrics without the context of the music is like reading the text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and claiming it’s not funny. You have to see the play being performed by actors to fully appreciate it.

      By the way, I’m not saying that Dylan deserved or didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature. But when you see Obama winning the Peace Prize just for getting elected president, you have to admit that the bar for the non science prizes seems to be set quite low.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Nice kitty in a woodpile – easy enough because I remember from last time
    Clue: A marmalade reposing in plain sight – full length of body. Once seen can’t be unseen.

    That was an intriguing Houdini stunt

    Doctors reckon the casket-in-a-swimming-pool held 5 minutes or so of air. The funeral home obtained casket refused to sink & people had to get in the water & put their weight on it to keep it on the bottom of the shallow end. I think the secret is in that anomaly somewhere – if Houdini had wanted the casket to sink without help he’d have ballasted it correctly, especially as he’d had one or two trial runs. I suppose he had a chemical secreted to absorb CO2 which will generate heat [reportedly it got very hot in the coffin] & some sort of O2 supply.

    30 years later James Randi repeated the trick live on NBC’s Today show – he remained for 104 minutes in a sealed metal coffin that had been submerged in a hotel swimming pool. Randi claimed at the time [I believe] there was no trick to it

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      “The funeral home obtained casket refused to sink …”

      Like Queequeg’s coffin that Ishmael clings to for safety at the end of Moby Dick?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Nice comparison ~ in both cases a coffin repurposed as life preserver & in both cases a portent of doom. Even as a rationalist unsupernaturalist it still feels to me like tempting fate to climb alive into a box meant for the dead.

  7. Merilee
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Now I see the marmalade kitty. Also possibly a blackish one on the top plank of the fence?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 5, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      See that portion rebalanced below – it is but a shadow’s shadow to quote the Bard 🙂

      • Merilee
        Posted August 5, 2018 at 4:21 pm | Permalink


  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    … in a famous trial, newspaper writer John Peter Zenger was acquitted of seditious libel …

    When I clerked for a federal judge after law school, my judge asked me to give the annual address at the Immigration Day swearing-in ceremony. He let me pick my topic, and I chose the First Amendment’s free speech clause. In the speech I recounted the Zenger story. The Judge apparently liked it, since he later asked me to write a speech about it for him to deliver at a bar organization meeting.

    The Zenger case was a touchstone not only for free expression, but also for the concept of “jury nullification” — the notion that, in determining innocence or guilt, the jury is not strictly bound by the law, but has the inherent power to reject any law that would be fundamentally unjust in its application. In Zenger’s day, truth was not a defense in a libel case — the only question was whether the published material exposed the complaining witness to public obloquy. Zenger’s counsel, Andrew Hamilton (the quintessential “Philadelphia lawyer”), argued the truth of Zenger’s statements to the jury anyway, and Zenger was acquitted.

    “Jury nullification” is a controversial topic to this day, and the bane of trial judges, who aren’t accustomed to juries up and ignoring their legal instructions. (I understand that when His Honor gave the speech I’d written to the bar organization, he inserted a line half-joking that the assembled bar members oughtn’t to get any bright ideas about trying that stuff in his courtroom.)

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 5, 2018 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Still, jury nullification is important. I think it was one of the main reasons for having juries, that they could (in theory at least) curtail the undue use of power by the authorities.


  9. DrBryon
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I like the tweet from Rob to Ken Ham.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    As you see, some smitten lady has left a relic:

    Looks to be about Liz’s cup size circa Cleopatra.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted August 5, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Speaking of Cleopatra, the film, years ago, I was casual friends with Hamza al-Din, a Nubian musician. He happened to be in Italy when they were shooting there, and was an extra in the film — a Nubian slave, natch.

      When I visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, there was a painted sarcophagus of an Egyptian female royal, recumbent and under glass, and my first thought was that the woman depicted looked remarkably like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. That’s the problem with having one’s sensibilities corrupted by the hyperreal verisimilitude of cinema, so when one sees the real thing, it frequently doesn’t match up with what was on the silver screen. However, once I adjusted my ‘perspective’, this was much better than the movie.

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t aware of Shaw’s Oscar for the screenplay for Pygmalion. In spite of Audrey Hepburn being just about my favorite actress of all time, I think Wendy Hiller’s performance as Eliza Doolittle is a tad more interesting than AH’s.


    The Elephant Man was quite the thing in the early 80s, a movie directed by David Lynch, a play by Bernard Pomerance (with a magnificent performance in the lead by Philip Anglim), and a key character in a Gothic thriller by Robert “Psycho” Bloch.

  12. Posted August 5, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I suppose Al Gore didn’t technically receive an Oscar for the picture he wrote and starred in. The producer and director was Davis Guggenheim. Gore gave an acceptance speech, though.

    Gore has a Nobel, a Grammy and an Emmy. By now he has probably influenced the world more than Shaw or Dylan, but I do think GBS was the best writer of the three 🙂

  13. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    The owl looks like it is in the genus Otus that includes a few screech-owls and flammulated owls. It is not a flammulated owl. It is most likely a variety of western screech-owl. I think this based on the darkness of the bill. The breast and abdominal markings look like one variety of the eastern screech-owl. Field guides indicate there is regional variation. Four or five fledged not far from my home this year. Since they are only active at night it is difficult to get a good sense of their markings. You are unlikely to see any screech owls east of the 100th meridian since the eastern screech-owl lives along the eastern edge of the range of the western screech owl.

    • Diane G
      Posted August 6, 2018 at 3:06 am | Permalink

      “You are unlikely to see any screech owls east of the 100th meridian since the eastern screech-owl lives along the eastern edge of the range of the western screech owl.”

      I’m not sure what you mean by that, Wayne? The Eastern Screech Owl’s distribution covers almost all of the eastern US from slightly west of the 100th to the Atlantic.

      • Wayne Y Hoskisson
        Posted August 6, 2018 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        You are right. I was misinterpretting the way Sibley described their range in his guide to western No. American birds.
        Other references show screech owls across the US. My Audobon lists only a single species. Since some have fledged near my home for two years I have started watching for them.

        • Diane G
          Posted August 6, 2018 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

          Ah, I love Sibley but this wouldn’t be the first time someone’s noted that his descriptions can be interpreted more than one way.* 🙂

          Anyway, you set me off on an odyssey. Per Wikepedia, there are 21 screech owl species, all New World birds. In the US we have the Eastern, the Western, and down in the south-easternmost corner of Arizona, the Whiskered Screech-Owl.

          Further complicating matters, the taxonomists have identified two subspecies of the Eastern, called the “Western Group” and the “Eastern Group.” Meanwhile, the Western Screech-Owl is divided into the Northern Group and the Southern Group. (This info from my Stokes guide–I’m sure Sibley covers it as well.) Now, how on earth could anyone find that confusing? 😀

          (*to be fair to David, this would be only the second time that I know of…)

  14. Posted August 6, 2018 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    Talking about William Wallace gives me an excuse to post one of the bravest comedy monologues of all time. This is Stewart Lee performing in Glasgow. I think it’s a testament to his genius that he didn’t lose the audience.

    • Posted August 6, 2018 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      Great stuff by Stewart Lee, as always. But, 2019 lurking in the near future, I wish an independent Scotland would join the EU 🙂

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