Monday: Hili dialogue

It’s Monday again, February 25, 2019.  It’s also National Chocolate Covered Peanuts Day, and meh. But yay!—it’s Meher Baba’s birthday (he was born on February 25, 1894).  Don’t worry—be happy! He will help you!

He isn’t helping us with the weather in Chicago, though, as it has gotten cold again: it was 7° F (-14° C) when I walked to work a short while ago.  While the weather was mild yesterday (close to the freezing point), the wind was dire: up to 60 mph during the day, and blowing my car around on the road. I could barely walk on the streets at some times. Here’s PROOF (h/t Grania and Matthew, who both found this):

Note to readers: Posting will be light until Sunday as I have visitors most of this week as well as a conciliatory lunch with Scott Aaronson, whose views I criticized on this site but who was nice about it and suggested that we chat when he next came to Chicago. Bear with me; perhaps you can read the science posts of last week.

I didn’t watch the Oscars last night (in years past I did, but they’re boring and too long), nor did I (to my eternal shame) see any of the nominated movies. I note only that The Woke are upset that “Green Book” won the Oscar for best picture. Here’s HuffPo’s huffy take (click on screenshot):

Not much happened on this day in history. On February 25, Samuel Colt was given a U.S patent on his famous Colt revolver. And here’s a new one on me: on this day in 1866, according to Wikipedia, “Miners in Calaveras County, California, discover what is now called the Calaveras Skull – human remains that supposedly indicated that man, mastodons, and elephants had co-existed.” Well, like Piltdown Man, it was a hoax, with the skull only about 1,000 years old.

On this day in 1919, Oregon became the first U.S. state to tax gasoline: one cent per gallon.  On February 25, 1932, Hitler obtained German citizenship, enabling him to run for Reichspräsident in the same year. He lost to Hindenburg, but became well known to the German people.

On February 25, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, gave a speech denouncing the “cult of personality” that had arisen around Joseph Stalin. The speech was called On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences, and Wikipedia notes:

The speech was shocking in its day. There are reports that the audience reacted with applause and laughter at several points.There are also reports that some of those present suffered heart attacks, and others later committed suicide. The ensuing confusion among many Soviet citizens, bred on the panegyrics and permanent praise of the “genius” of Stalin, was especially apparent in Georgia, Stalin’s homeland, where the days of protests and rioting ended with the Soviet army crackdown on 9 March 1956. In the West, the speech politically devastated the organised left; the Communist Party USA alone lost more than 30,000 members within weeks of its publication

On this day in 1986, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos fled the country after ruling it for two decades, and Corazon Aquino took over as the nation’s first woman president.  Finally, on this day in 1994, a Jewish man, Baruch Goldstein, committed an act of terrorism, using an automatic weapon to fire on Palestinian worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in the city of Hebron. After he killed 29 and wounded 125, he was beaten to death by those who survived. Some misguided people still hold him up as a Jewish icon, but he was just a murdering thug.

Notables born on this day include Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841), Karl May (1842), Enrico Caruso (1873), Meher Baba (1894, see above), Zeppo Marx (1901), Millicent Fenwick (1910), Anthony Burgess (1917), Sun Myung Moon (1920), George Harrison (1943), Téa Leoni (1966), Nancy O’Dell (1967), and Chelsea Handler (1975).

Those who died on February 25 include Paul Reuter (1899), Bugs Moran (1957), Mark Rothko (1970), Elijah Muhammad (1975), Tennessee Williams (1983), Glenn Seaborg (1999, Nobel Laureate), and Don Bradman (2001, the greatest cricket batsman of all time). Here’s part 1 of a video biography of the great Bradman:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s dialogue is a bit opaque. Malgorzata explains: “Hili, like her servants, has an aversion to philosophy. She happened to read a Wikipedia entry and decided that the concept of ‘absolute’ might be useful.”

Hili: I’ve achieved an absolute.
A: What of?
Hili: Skepticism.
In Polish:
Hili: Osiągnęłam absolut.
Ja: Czego?
Hili: Sceptycyzmu.

Here’s a swell cat cartoon from reader Merilee: the Cat Hall of Fame:

A tweet with a duck:

Reader Barry interprets this as affection from the owl, and why the hell not?

Tweets from Grania, with the first being a TRUEFACT:

A majestic lynx in the snow (note that it’s a video):

The subtitles suggest that the baitballs, like the one shown below, are maladaptive to the schooling fish. But overall, considering the life cycle of the fish, I doubt it. If they risked their lives more by tightly schooling this way, then the behavior would disappear. Of course the baitball may be a maladaptive byproduct of schooling that evolved under other circumstances, but I don’t think so.

A rare example of a cat being helpful. (“GOAT” = “greatest of all time”):

Tweets from Matthew. Does this first one show self-awareness?

Matthew says “Watch the whole video [below] to be convinced.” I am! This is the first case of mimicry I know of in which an organism evolves to look like a feather.

Whole video of the above:

And this gets Tweet of the Week: a night heron fishing using bait. It’s amazing how he retrieves the bait when the fish are too big. I can’t interpret this in any way other than it’s a bird who’s learned to fish with bait.



  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    … Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, gave a speech denouncing the “cult of personality” that had arisen around Joseph Stalin.

    There’s the story, perhaps apocryphal, that during the speech, while Khrushchev was railing against Stalin, someone in the audience called out, “Where were you?!”

    Khrushchev stopped, looked out, and demanded to know, “Who said that?” After a long pause in which no one claimed credit, Khrushchev nodded and said, “That’s where I was.”

  2. Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    That’s interesting about bait balls. Do they try to cull their own numbers? Maybe they like the excitement?

  3. Alan Clark
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Statistically, Bradman must be the greatest sportsman of any kind. His batting average in international cricket was 99.94, while his nearest rival is in the low 60’s.

    • Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Interestingly, his test match average (which you quote) is higher than his first class average which would include games against non international sides.

      He only needed four runs off his last test match innings to finish with an average of 100. He was out for a second ball duck.

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        But the first class average will be over many more innings, including all of the test match innings so it is not really surprising that it is lower.

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:25 am | Permalink

          Though having just checked the first class and test averages of a number of prominent players I note that they have higher FC averages than test averages so you are right! In any case Bradman remains far out in front of his rivals.

        • Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          I was surprised because you’d expect to meet a higher standard of bowling in test cricket.

          It’s not necessarily that the test team bowlers are significantly better than the best bowlers from the next tier down (in England, that would be the first class counties) but that all of the bowlers would be as good as the best bowlers from the next tier down.

    • davelenny
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Bradman’S performance is all the more amazing in that he achieved this result in an era without some of the protective gear, bowling and field restrictions available to modern batsmen, who also benefit from air travel and don’t have their careers disrupted by WWII.

  4. randallschenck
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I remember well in 1986 when the U.S. Air Force flew Marcos and his group out of the Philippines and on to Hawaii, on board a C-141. While looking for permanent housing on Oahu they stayed in military housing (BOQ) or guest housing at Hickam AFB. They also got a shopping spree at the Hickam BX and I’m not sure if the BX was reimbursed for that. Sadly it does not appear much improvement has taken place in the Philippines since.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Did the BX stock some new designer kicks for Imelda?

      • randallschenck
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        I did not get an inventory of all the things they crabbed at the BX but shoes would probably be on it. I see she is still in the Philippines and even running for some office.

        • randallschenck
          Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          should be Grabbed. Where is my editor.

  5. Jenny Haniver
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Wow! that night heron is truly clever, and waits and re-casts the lure until it finds just the right sized, and surely tastiest, fish to gobble up.

  6. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    A common saltwater fishing technique is to look for birds feeding on a bait ball. Here’s a video I made while fishing for false albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus) off Harker’s Island, North Carolina. This was the largest and most persistent bait ball I’ve ever seen.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      It would seem that if one fish simply abandoned the ball and swam fast in a random direction, it might evade being eaten. This trick should spread through the gene pool until it was standard practice. We would call it the “starburst” defense.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      It’s my impression that the predator fish (at least the false albacore) cause the bait ball to form with a coordinated attack. Once the density of the bait exceeds some threshold, the optimal strategy of the individual bait fish changes. Any bait fish that wander or are chased out of the ball are easy pickings, so it’s better for an individual’s survival to stay with the crowd.

      You could reason that it would be optimal for the *group* for the bait to take off in all directions, but they don’t. Maybe this is an argument against group selection.

      I’ve never seen a bait ball without predator fish on it. (Humpback whales do a similar thing on a much larger scale with their bubble feeding.) The birds are attracted to the bait that the predators push to the surface, and to the crippled. The fishermen are attracted by the birds.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Probably the individuals being picked off makes the gradual evolution of a synchronized move impossible. The landscape model would have scattering as a desirable peak and being picked off would be the deep valleys impossible to cross.

  7. Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    The narration on the baitball omits the obvious adaptive feature of these crowded fish. Yes, most fish are going to be eaten by something sooner or later. However, the question of importance to the individual fish is, which individual fish will be eaten?

    In a baitball, there’s usually somebody else between individual A and the predator — somebody else who will be eaten first. Each individual can benefit from being inside the baitball, even if the baitball draws predators.

    • Posted February 25, 2019 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      It’s the “I only have to run faster than you” approach to predation avoidance.

  8. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I believe the heron is a Green Heron Butorides striatus. The species is known to sometimes use deliberately placed bait when fishing. See e.g.

  9. Neil
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I knew Jerry had a weakness for soccer (yes I’m an Englishman with no issues with calling it that), but if we can get him with cricket we will truely own his soul!

    • Frank Bath
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Alas I think NZ is more likely to own that.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I have to confess, I know next to nothing about cricket. I find it completely baffling. Compared to cricket, soccer is simplicity itself and I have no trouble following it even though I was not brought up playing it. There is something amusing about watching a ridiculously complex and tedious sport like cricket being played by grown men and talked about in such reverent tones that reminds me of the absurd aspect of many of life’s time-wasting endeavors. Anyone for badminton?

      • Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Cricket can be exciting or tedious just as football can be.

        The most tedious sporting event I have ever attended was a football match between England and a team from one of the then newly created Eastern European countries that ended goalless. The only entertaining thing about the whole affair was the small enthusiastic bloc of away fans who had brought their own entertainment in the form of musical instruments and crazy costumes. Still, at least it only lasted ninety minutes.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

          Ninety minutes? In this day and age, that’s an eternity. Pass the bourbon.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        I think you have to play a game or two of cricket to begin to get it – facing that ball is somewhat terrifying & it ain’t easy to do anything well in cricket.

        As a spectator sport? Cricket requires watching live in comfy deckchairs, on a beautiful sunny day with good company & a tipple or two. ie when the cricket becomes an occasional distraction from an otherwise perfect day.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          I wonder if that kind of pastoral lifestyle can be achieved in the US. We are gradually giving up on baseball which was developed as a country sport for Sunday afternoons with nothing to do. The leagues keep coming up with new rules to “speed up the game”. Basketball, Hockey, and American football seem to hold peoples attention pretty well. There’s enough violence and speed to keep viewers from drifting off. As for me, I pretty much gave up watching sports entirely.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            Thousands of decent, unremarkable British pubs have been ruined by the god of sport – a TV in every direction the eye cares to look. Copying the American sports bars I suppose. Hate ’em.

            I enjoy track athletics & the various jumping sports. Also a spot of women’s beach volleyball – highly skilled…

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 25, 2019 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

              Yep to athletics & jumping. Also beach volleyball and regular volleyball which I rate as the best spectator sport.

              And tennis, if the players are any good.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        I can understand cricket. Can’t understand football (I mean ‘soccer’) – what the hell does ‘offside’ mean?


  10. Roger
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I feel betrayed by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga for playing us like that with the corny marketing shtick. Okay it worked because people are suckers bit it’s wearing thin.

  11. Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    The feather caterpillar is great, and the heron even greater!

  12. Otternaut
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Both the owl and the lynx cause me second thoughts about possibilities of Reincarnation

  13. John Conoboy
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I am probably not very “woke,’ but I won’t go to see the movie Green Book. It may well be an excellently made movie, but Hollywood, as they did with the movie about the Navajo Code Talkers made the movie about a white guy. Today on Fresh Air they interviewed the filmaker of a documentary about the Green Book that will air on the Smithsonian channel. She pointed out a couple of other flaws. In the movie, they only use the Green Book in the South, but the book covered the entire country and was more useful outside of the South. Also in the movie they portrayed all the places in the Green Book as “dumps” but that was not the case. I have seen the Smithsonian channel documentary and I recommend it for anyone interested in this topic.

  14. Jim Swetnam
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    That owl looks pretty affectionate to me.

  15. Peter (Oz) Jones
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 8:32 pm | Permalink


    conciliatory lunch with Scott Aaronson, whose views
    I criticized on this site but who was nice about it
    and suggested that we chat when he next came to Chicago.

    (I am sure is aware of this, but . . . )

    If PCC has time, maybe take a quick look at one
    of these videos, that a web search may pull up:

    tutorial “halting problem”

    The origin is a weirdly named paper from 1936 by Alan Turing,
    who many regard as the father of modern computer science.

    On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem

    It might suggest that in spite of determinism the future cannot always be foretold?

    Turing had an awesome mind, but sadly was very poorly treated.
    Got a posthumous apology in 2009 (suicide was in 1954).
    He worked in secret at cracking “War 2” secret codes @Bletchley, UK.

    Contributed to AI, neural nets etc.
    (eg can we decide if we are communicating
    with a yooman or machine).
    AKA “Turing Test”.
    Contributed to mathematical biology as well.

    There is an annual “Turing Award” and lecture too.

    More here:

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Peter quote:

      If PCC has time, maybe take a quick look at one
      of these videos, that a web search may pull up:

      tutorial “halting problem”

      The origin is a weirdly named paper from 1936 by Alan Turing,
      who many regard as the father of modern computer science.

      “On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem”

      It might suggest that in spite of determinism the future cannot always be foretold?

      I’m having to guess your intent here Peter – I assume this is a free will related argument? We already know that all but the simplest physical world systems are unpredictable [without invoking quantum noise] to some degree & unknowable until we observe the future unfolding or until we do a calculation which takes time & also therefore in the future.

      Now we move onto Turing machines [TM] & the halting problem: this changes nowt. A TM is fed an input & we will have no idea if its program will halt until it does so. There is no point in coming time where we can be sure of the fate of a TM until it does halt – we can never say “this TM that’s still running will run for ever because it’s already run for ten years.”

      A particular input plus particular TM will run identically every time so there’s no door into ‘free will’ opened by Turing if that’s what you mean.

      I’m pretty sure you don’t consider “unpredictable” to be a free will argument so I’ve wasted electrons writing all this. Probably. 🙂

      • Peter (Oz) Jones
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        Hi Michael
        I was sort of channelling Ben Goren,
        a previous frequent commenter here.

        And in so doing thought that Scott would
        maybe have used the sort of issue of the
        “Halting Problem”, dunno, of course.

        And, sadly we cannot build some TMs,
        as we’d need an infinite amount of memory
        for even trivial (verra looong)
        parentheses matching.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 25, 2019 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

          Yes. I recall you brought up jolly old TMs & Ben on the January WEIT Aaronson post. I would say that the a deterministic universe isn’t predictable anyway, TM or no TM.

    • Posted February 27, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      The paper is perfectly named: it is exactly what the paper is about (but not just this, as it happens)

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 27, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    GOAT ??

    So a month ago I dropped a ring & a clip down my bathroom sink and I’ve been scared to try to save it because

    Don’t US plumbing ACOPs (Approved Codes Of Practice) include a water trap under all sinks, baths, showers – in fact, anything that connects to the drains – to prevent (1) bad smells and (2) flammable gases from the drains getting into the house?
    So, any time something goes gurgling down a drain, just let the water drain away (slowly, while you find a bucket or large basin, and a dirty towel) then unscrew the trap (over the bucket, gripping it with the dirty rag), retrieve the lost item, put it back together and get hero worship from whoever dropped the valuable thing.
    How did Marvin The Paranoid android put it? “It gives me a headache to think down to that sort of level.”
    [Watches video, just in case cat manages elementary plumbing without opposable thumbs.]

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 27, 2019 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Oh hell – it’s one of those plugs. Horrible things. Pass the paper clip.

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