Tuesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Tuesday, March 19, with only two days left until the advent of Spring. It’s National Oatmeal Cookie Day, honoring the worst of all possible cookies (many times I’ve been fooled into biting into one, thinking that the raisins were chocolate chips). And it’s “Return of the Swallow” Day, when the swallows are supposed to migrate back to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern California. Are you old enough to remember this cheesy Pat Boone song with that Capistrano trope?

Today’s sad news (it’s always sad these days): another shooting, possibly an act of terrorism. A Turkish immigrant killed three people on a tram in a Muslim area of Utrecht in The Netherlands. The motive is not yet clear.

On this day in 1649, the House of Commons of England abolished the House of Lords, deeming it “useless and dangerous to the people of England.” The Lords were not reinstated until 1660 when the monarchy was restored. On March 19, 1895, Auguste and Louis Lumière recorded their first motion-picture footage with the cinematograph. It was a scene of people leaving their factory, and was first screened on March 22 of that year. In December they screened the first public movies: 10 short films, each about 50 seconds long. Here’s a compendium of their 1895 movies. These could be seen as the first “real” movies:

On March 19, 1931, gambling was legalized in Nevada. Exactly 12 years later, Chicago mob boss Frank Nitti, facing criminal charges, shot himself in the head in the Chicago Central Railyard. On this day in 1954, the famous pool shark Willie Mosconi set a world record in a pool exhibition in Springfield Ohio, sinking 526 consecutive balls. That record has yet to be equaled.

On March 19, 1962, Bob Dylan released his first album for Columbia Records, an album simply bearing his name. Remember this?

. . . and the contents (I like “Freewheelin'” better, and “Highway 61” even better):

On March 19, 1982, the Argentinian military landed on South Georgia Island (of Shackleton fame), starting the war with the UK.  Exactly five years later, Jim Bakker resigned as head of the PTL (“Praise the Lord”) Club, as he’d paid off Jessica Hahn for her silence (she accused him of drugging and raping her). Head of PTL went to Jerry Falwell.

Finally, on this day last year, the last male northern white rhinocerosSudan, died (he was euthanized because of age-related degeneration). That ensured the demise of the subspecies. However, there are two subspecies, the northern, and southern, with the following distributions (orange: northern [Ceratotherium simum cottoni], green = southern [Ceratotherium simum simum].

Wikipedia states that they might be two species rather than subspecies (see below), but I don’t accept this claim, since they use the bogus “phylogenetic species concept” (PSC) and base the species diagnosis simply on morphological and genetic differences, which are subjective and arbitrary. Here’s how they mislead a gullible public:

Following the phylogenetic species concept, recent research in 2010 has suggested the southern and northern white rhinoceros may be different species, rather than subspecies of white rhinos, in which case the correct scientific name for the northern subspecies is Ceratotherium cottoni and the southern subspecies should be known as simply Ceratotherium simum. Distinct morphological and genetic differences suggest the two proposed species have been separated for at least a million years.

If you use the Biological Species concept, which bases species status on the proper criterion—reproductive isolation—their species status is unclear because they live in different places and thus we can’t see if they exchange genes. The weakness of the PSC, and ways to tentatively classify allopatric (geographically isolated) populations can be seen in Chapter 1 of my book with Allen Orr, Speciation (2004).

Notables born on this day include Tobias Smollett (1721), David Livingstone (1813), Wyatt Earp (1848), William Jennings Bryan (1860), Joseph Stillwell (1883), Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900, Nobel Laureate), Adolf Eichmann (1906), Lennie Tristano (1919), Glenn Close (1947), and Bruce Willis (1955).

Those who took the Dirt Nap on March 19 include Arthur Balfour (1930), Edgar Rice Burroughs (1950), Garry Winograd (1984), Louis de Broglie (1987, Nobel Laureate), Willem de Kooning (1997), John DeLorean (2005), and Arthur C. Clarke (2008).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is impatiently waiting for Spring:

A: What are you doing?
Hili: I’m watching the grass growing.
In Polish:
Ja: Co robisz?
Hili: Patrzę jak trawa rośnie.

Reader Jon sent this “Rhymes with Orange” cartoon by Hilary Price

Sam Harris retweets a scene from After Life with Ricky Gervais and Philomena! (h/t: Barry). It’s gotten good reviews but, since you have to pay for it and get Netflix on t.v., I haven’t seen it.

The Pedants’ Revolt, found by reader Jiten:

Tweets from Matthew. Matthew finished his book!

Didinium is the python of microbes!

I think you can make out the French here. Two brother chimps reunited.

Food-shaped gemstones!

Tweets from Grania.

Ichthyosaurs had such weird eyes:

I spent a long time studying these things, and concluded that they help the male grab onto the female’s butt before copulation (a male without them can’t grab well). Notice the chitin “spikes” at the base of each hair, which probably detect deformation of the hairs:

“Bird brain” should not be a term of disapprobation, and here’s why:

Look at this sweet baby kakapo (a flightless New Zealand parrot):


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    To each his own. A good home made oatmeal cookie is one of the best. Must say I am glad not to live in the flood prone area, Iowa and Nebraska. Live by the river and get wet by the river.

    • Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      I agree about oatmeal cookies — with the exception of the raisins. I could miss raisins in baked goods for the duration. Many friends feel the same way. (The word, “maggots” gets kicked around …)

      • merilee
        Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Better with chicolate chips in them.

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      +1 on oatmeal raisin cookies

  2. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Now I feel sorry for paramecium. What did it ever do to deserve that?


    • Mike
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      That was brutal.

    • Posted March 19, 2019 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      Paramecium is definitely more sympathetic.

  3. Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Congratulations Matthew! I look forward to reading your new book! What is the typical time from submission to when the book is available to the (USA) public?

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Are you old enough to remember this cheesy Pat Boone song with that Capistrano trope?

    The original “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” was released by the Ink Spots. Not the greatest tune ever, for sure, but superior to Pat Boone’s Wonder-Bread cover:

    • merilee
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Embarrased to admit I actually liked Pat Boone when I was 12 or so, and often “treated” my family to my rendition of this song when we drove by Capistrano in SoCal.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        Boone was infamous early in his career for re-branding so-called “race” music to make it appeal to white teenagers.

        He did something similar with heavy metal later in his career, but at least that had the saving grace of being pure camp.

        • merilee
          Posted March 19, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          I remember hearing about this album. But did he intend it as camp? I somehow doubt it. I seem to remember her had tattoos, too, though most likely fake.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted March 19, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            The best camp is unintended, meant to be taken seriously by its maker. That’s a one of the distinctions between camp and mere kitsch. Ms. Sontag discussed this at some length in her famous Notes.

            • merilee
              Posted March 19, 2019 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for the Susan S.

              One wonders how in the workd it even occurred to Pat B. to contemplate making such an out-of-character album.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 19, 2019 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        He is now an ultra conservative icon at the age of 84. He criticized DT for being soft on gays and abortion, etc.

        • merilee
          Posted March 19, 2019 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          I know…

    • revelator60
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      I submit that the best version of all is by Billy Ward and the Dominoes, with Clyde McPhatter, founder of The Drifters, in the lead:

      Music critic Greil Marcus writes:

      “The Dominoes were one of the founding black vocal groups, best known for their widely banned ‘Sixty Minute Man’; McPhatter, who later went on to form the Drifters, joined the Dominoes as lead tenor in 1950. He was seventeen.
      McPhatter died in obscurity in 1972; on these first recordings, he sings like an angel. His voice sweeps, moans, caresses melodies no one ever detected in the songs he made over.
      …All at once, McPhatter went back to the terrifying gospel of Blind Willie Johnson, and forward to the eroticism of Elvis Presley, whose debt to McPhatter was explicit––but what was at stake in this teenager’s music was less a range of styles than an extraordinary range of feeling…
      ‘When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano’ is a quiet, calming, almost unbearably lovely rendition of the end of the world.
      … the old sound cuts through the air like a visitation from another world.”

      • GBJames
        Posted March 19, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Much better than anything ever recorded by Pat Boone, IMO!

      • Deodand
        Posted March 19, 2019 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

        Never heard the song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” before, but I have heard the 2nd Symphony “”The Missions of California”” of Meredith Willson, which has a third movement inspired by the same legend.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted March 20, 2019 at 12:18 am | Permalink

          Very nice music! I hadn’t known of Willson’s symphonies. Thanks.

    • Matt Young
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      All I can remember is, “Like the swallows at Serrano/Return to Capistrano,” by Jack Benny.

  5. David Harper
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Minor point of scientific pedantry/accuracy: the astronomical equinox occurs on March 20 at 21:58 GMT, or 16:58 PCC(E) Daylight Time. It’s sooner than you think!

    In fact, during the 21st century, it will fall on March 19 or March 20 in European and American time zones, and never on the 21st. We won’t see a March 21 equinox again until 2103. The reason is the small discrepancy between the length of the calendar year (365.25 days) and the interval between equinox (365.2422 days, called the tropical year).

    • rickflick
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 10:33 am | Permalink


  6. Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What Stephen Pinker doesn’t know is that the man on horseback was making a comment about the weight of themas on foot.

  7. GBJames
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I hope that total, Matthew, is the number of words, not pages! 😉

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Willie Mosconi was the greatest pocket pool player ever. But I don’t think it’s fair to characterize him as a “shark.” That term connotes the kind of hustler who picks up money games against weaker players by disguising his skills. Mosconi was a gentleman.

    • Christopher
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      “Pocket pool” must mean something different where you’re from. Where I grew up, it’s not something you’d want to be accused of, and certainly not be known for being the greatest.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        I think the secondary meaning of which you speak was derived from the original regarding poking balls with a cue stick. 🙂

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    … (I like “Freewheelin’” better, and “Highway 61” even better) ,,,

    I do, too, and I’d add Blonde on Blonde to them.

    But peak Dylan for me is the three record set he released over just two years in the mid-Seventies — Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire.

    He did again with another great three record set later in his career — Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times — but that time around it took him nine years to do it.

    • merilee
      Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks!

  10. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    PCC[E] “Ichthyosaurs had such weird eyes”

    I looked it up & below is a nice [appropriately visual] explanation of those strange plates arrayed inside the edge of the skull eye socket as a fragmented bony disc – the eyes of all birds & many reptiles & some/all? dino’s had these & they’re called scleral rings:
    Scerotic Rings

    And here’s one in the eye for Deinonychus who isn’t looking to healthy, but still terrifying:

  11. Posted March 19, 2019 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    The paramecium looked the bigger of the two so the combined creature is more paramecium than not. Perhaps this didinium will henceforth identify as paramecium.

  12. rickflick
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    My sister went to high school with the nefarious Jim Bakker. She doesn’t remember him much. I know what kind of student he was though, just by knowing his style in adulthood.

  13. David Evans
    Posted March 19, 2019 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Birds have lighter brains for a given number of neurons because of their requirement to keep weight low. They still don’t have as many neurons as humans. “Neurons per ounce” is not really a good figure of merit.

    • Posted March 19, 2019 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      However, their higher “neurons per ounce” value means that their absolute brain size, measured by number of neurons (rather than mass or volume), has so far been underestimated.

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