Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, March 23, 2019, and I’m off today to the Low Countries: the Netherlands (Amsterdam) and Belgium (Louvain, Brussels, and Ghent). Posting will of course be light in my absence, but I hope to post photos from my trip. As always, I do my best. Grania has kindly agreed to cover the Hili dialogues in my absence.

It’s National Chips and Dip Day, and if I can’t have Doritos and guacamole (I haven’t had a Dorito in years), I’ll take ruffled potato chips and onion/sour cream dip. It’s World Meterological Day, celebrating the establishment of the World Meteorological Association on March 23, 1950. And, as Philomena might say, it was on that day that weather began.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry delivered his famous Revolutionary War speech, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia. Jefferson and George Washington were in the audience, and the speech is thought to have prompted Virginia to commit troops to the War.  On this day in 1806, Lewis and Clark, having reached the Pacific Ocean, turned around and headed back home. On March 23, 1919, in Milan, Mussolini founded his Fascist Political movement. In 1933, the German Reichstag passed the “Enabling Act of 1933,” which in effect made Hitler the dictator of Germany.

On March 23, 1956, Pakistan became the world’s first Islamic Republic; this is celebrated today in that country as “Republic Day”. In 1977, or so says Wikipedia, “The first of The Nixon Interviews (12 will be recorded over four weeks) is videotaped with British journalist David Frost interviewing former United States President Richard Nixon about the Watergate scandal and the Nixon tapes.” Finally, on March 23, 1983, Reagan proposed his “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. It died aborning.

Notables born on this day include John Bartram (1699), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749), Emmy Noether (1882), Juan Gris (1887), Erich Fromm (1900), Werhner von Braun (1912), Donald Campbell (1921), Roger Bannister (1929), and Catherine Keener (1959). Here is Gris’s portrait of Pablo Picasso (I couldn’t find any cats from the artist):

Those who joined the Choir Invisible on this day include Stendhal (1842), Raoul Dufy (1953), Elizabeth Taylor (2011), and Joe Garagiola (2016).

Here’s “Le Chat” by Dufy:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has become positively Socratic. Should she get a Templeton Prize for her humility?

Hili: I’m starting to understand.
A: What are you starting to understand?
Hili: That it’s impossible to understand everything.
In Polish:
Hili: Zaczynam rozumieć.
Ja: Co zaczynasz rozumieć?
Hili: Że wszystkiego nie da się zrozumieć.

Two ‘memes’ from #ScienceHumor Here’s a helpful chart about risks. Why aren’t they banning peanuts?


A tweet from reader Nilou. Eagles can get lead poisoning from ingesting lead shot used to kill (or ingested by) animals lower on the food chain.

From Heather Hastie. It’s a bumper crop this year for endangered kakapos, the world’s only flightless parrot. Here’s one with its fuzzy chick (“Anchor”, Heather says, refers to Anchor Island, a place from which predators have been removed so the vulnerable parrots can thrive.)

Reader Barry wondered how cats can climb up glass, but I’m sure this is a screen:

Tweets from Matthew. This first one, showing the changes in population in different areas over twelve millennia. It’s a horse race at the end between China and India:

I didn’t realize that cockroach species could be so lovely:

I have in fact noticed the phenomenon below; look for it in your area as the snow melts:

Ceiling Cat bless New Zealand!

Tweets from Grania. Brexit first:

I’m not sure how this works, but it’s way cool:

I’ve seen these gorgeous bats: white fur and pink skin! They are Ectophylla alba, and nest in rolled-up leaves that they turn into tents.

Stuff like this buttresses my faith in our species:


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Have a good and enjoyable journey. Might want to consider a one way ticket.

    Many know the famous speeches of Patrick Henry during the revolution but should also note Henry did not fight during the revolution and was later about as anti Federalist as one can get. He refused to be on the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional convention, said he smelled a rat. He was the lead spokesman against ratification of the constitution and pretty much against everything except Virginia.

  2. rickflick
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering why China and India separated themselves, population-wise, from everybody else, around 5,000 years ago. Perhaps they simply had great agricultural advances. But then you’d think, if it was technological advances, the rest of the world would catch up, but they never did.
    Maybe it was something in the water that lead to more zealous fertility?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Good question and size has something to do with it. But most important was likely when human population progressed from the hunter gatherer to the domestication of animals and farming. This allowed for specialization and creation of cities. Population took off due to food production by fewer people to support this.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      (1) Present day country size – if you added Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and the Levantine countries together you’d get a rather different picture – and probably also if you added together all the Central American countries.
      (2) They’re all tropical or sub-tropical countries, because warm temperatures lead to faster plant growth.
      (3) All developed organised irrigation systems early on, and kept them.
      And I think they’re the main aspects.
      I was looking at the relative populations of India vs China, and I think the changes in position largely reflect periods of war, disruption and invasion. But it’s hard to keep track on a video like that. Not having a major war or famine for over a century has India leaping ahead, for the moment.

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        A better map, IMHO, would simply show where the people are in the world at each time instant using the saturation level of a single color to show population density per pixel. I vaguely remember seeing such a map. It’s always amazing to realize how few people there were up until the recent explosion.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 26, 2019 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          I was looking at the numbers a few months ago, and puzzling over what happened in the mid-1920s to produce an inflexion point in the population-time curve then. The best I’ve got is that would be about consonant with nitrogen-fixing (Haber-Bosch process) getting cheap enough that the nitrogen starts to go into fertilizer instead of explosives.

          • Posted March 26, 2019 at 10:24 am | Permalink

            Was it not just a post-WWI baby boom, similar but smaller than the post-WWII one? People tend to put off getting married and having kids during a war and then get back to it with, say, renewed passion after. Partly it is due to lack of opportunity during the war but also feeling lucky to be alive after.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted March 27, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

              It was about 8 years after, which seems a bit long for a post-war boom, and it was a sustained increase in global growth rate.
              The World Wars barely register in population statistics, and the post-WW2 “baby boom” only really happened in the west. The rest of the world carried on growing pretty much regardless, all the way through. China probably slowed a bit, between the Japanese and their civil war, but that’s hard to see in the numbers.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      China and India were both pretty well protected by natural barriers. China has the o ean on the east, deserts to the west and world’s highest mountain chain to the southwest.
      India was protected from invaders by the Indian Ocean, mountains to the north and deserts to the west.
      That I vrkuwvws wxplaina a lot of their growth rate free from wars and disease from outside.

      • Posted March 24, 2019 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        That I vrkuwvws wxplaina a lot of their growth rate free from wars and disease from outside.

        That’s easy for you to say.

        • Posted March 24, 2019 at 7:15 am | Permalink


          That I think explains . . .

          Seemed clear enough to me.

  3. BJ
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I think we should just ban kids who have extreme allergies to peanuts. My brother has to constantly monitor what his kids take to school for lunch, lest any other kid in the school come into contact with peanuts. No peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in your lunch bag? That’s some bullshit, man. A kid’s gotta be able to get that PB&J fix.

    • BJ
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      (before anyone gets angry, I just want to be clear that this was sarcasm)

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Glad you cleared that up. Sarcasm is hard to pick up in short written comments. Should always be marked as such.

        • BJ
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          I actually hate doing that and think it’s usually pretty clear when I’m making a sarcastic comment, but I didn’t want to end up starting a fight with anyone who has a kid with a deadly peanut allergy.

          • Posted March 23, 2019 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

            Just recently they have come up with a ‘cure’, i say that with caution and i can’t remember the source but it was encouraging. The gist, exsposing them to whatever it is in peanuts in small doses at a young age and gradually increasing it.

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I want to know what happened since I was a kid. This was never a thing. I hated PB&J sandwiches (love PB on toast) but I can’t remember it killing anyone.

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Way back then the population was a lot smaller. And mass media and communication was still primative, so you would not have been as likely to hear about it. Also, research on allergies may not have been invented yet.
        I am assuming you are as old as I am. Apologies if my assumption is not correct.

        • Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          When I was a kid back in the 1960s, I suffered from allergies (olive pollen, household dust, bermuda grass) and underwent desensitization therapy (I think that’s what it was called), so allergies were certainly a thing way back then. I would be surprised if peanuts were not involved in the panel of tests I went through to discover my allergies, though I don’t know it for a fact or have forgotten. I’m just saying that PB&J was ubiquitous and, as far as I know, no kids died at my school.

      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Given how lethal peanut allergies can be, maybe all the children who had them died before you got the the chance to meet them.

        It was the same for me, by the way. As a child I do not recall ever knowing another child with a nut allergy. Certainly, some of them got hay fever but never other allergies.

        • Posted March 23, 2019 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          You have a point. If kids disappeared and they weren’t my close friends, I might have assumed they just moved away.

  4. Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Love those white bats! Bats amaze me.

  5. Jenny Haniver
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    This might come in handy – a Dutch swearwords guide
    More on the internet.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    50 is a good number.

    What was not so good to see was the historical demographics of poor China!

    Finally, the myopic view of death risks is especially ill suited for drugs. Marijuana is psychoactive so have side effects, one is that it may hugely increase psychosis risks [ ]. Assuming the list covers US, that number could be compared to an added 5:100,000 risk or potentially on the order of 15,000 patients, roughly equal to homicide cases. (Likely not due to potency and demographics, but still nothing to shrug at in the terms of the list.)

    Surely no one goes nuts from peanuts (it isn’t even a nut)?

    • Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      In Georgia they are known as gober peas.

      One of the state’s main crops. Most are now sent to China. (Maybe not now after the trade war and Chinese tariffs.)

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    … Reagan proposed his “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. It died aborning.

    Reagan’s SDI wasn’t croaked (or, rather, renamed the “Ballistic Defense Missile Organization” by Bill Clinton) until 1993. Seems a helluva protracted moribund birthing process.

  8. Posted March 23, 2019 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting the population chart. I saw some real surprises watching the population growth. I learned something.

  9. Posted March 23, 2019 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    More about marijuana:

    “Despite overwhelming public perception of the safety of these substances, an increasing number of serious cardiovascular adverse events have been reported in temporal relation to recreational cannabis use. These have included sudden cardiac death…”
    (Singh et al. 2018, Authors have included also synthetic cannabinoids)

    “A 35-year-old man presented with behavioral disturbances of sudden onset after oral cannabis consumption and major self-mutilation (attempted amputation of the right arm, self-enucleation of both eyes and impalement) which resulted in death…”
    (Deltail et al. 2018,

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Anecdotal evidence is great isn’t it?

      Doesn’t it seem likely that the guy who knackered himself was mentally disturbed? Because, most other marijuana smokers (as in, virtually all of them) don’t do that.

      For evidence of what some guys will do even after just a couple of beers see all the Youtube ‘fail’ videos…


      • Posted March 24, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        The fact that “virtually all” marijuana smokers don’t to such things is little consolation to the relations of the few who do. Same with guns: virtually all of them never do any harm to anyone, a few fall into the hands of criminal or mentally disturbed individuals and do great harm, but this is anecdotal.
        More anecdotal evidence: the chain of events that led to the death of Michael Brown started with an alleged robbery of cigars, presumably to use them for pot consumption. In my country, an 18-yr-old killed his 12-yr-old friend because the latter broke his pots with marijuana plants. (There were comments what could connect an 18-yr-old to a 12-yr-old in the first place.) Of course, it is all anecdotal evidence. I wonder why at this site where everyone accepts evolution, it is consensus opinion that a plant has evolved a biochemical pathway to synthesize elaborate compounds just to give perfectly harmless amusement to anyone who would eat it.
        As for alcohol, its harm is known.

  10. Posted March 23, 2019 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Reader Barry wondered how cats can climb up glass, but I’m sure this is a screen

    It’s either a screen or it’s a window that is in front of another window that itself has multiple panes of glass judging by the thickness of its frame.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      My question is, how do geckos climb up glass? And walk on the ceiling?


      • Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Like this

        Gecko climbing technique

        • rickflick
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          What? Not little micro hairs?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 24, 2019 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

            But how the heck do micro hairs get a grip on glass? Other surfaces, yes.


            • rickflick
              Posted March 24, 2019 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

              I think they actually do. It’s amazing, but the micro hairs are so small they actually grip glass.

            • ratabago
              Posted March 24, 2019 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

              rickflick is on the right track. The hairs are so small and so numerous that they hold the glass due to van der Waals interactions.


              • rickflick
                Posted March 24, 2019 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

                See? Wat’d I say. Van der Waals it is.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 25, 2019 at 7:42 am | Permalink

                OK! That’s truly marvellous.

                Not only are the geckos experts in molecular physics (!) 😎

                but that explains how their feet can grip equally well on glassy smooth surfaces or microscopically rough ones like painted ceilings. (Which suction pads wouldn’t).

                It also explains how they can grip and release so fast (ever seen a gecko run across a ceiling?) which the obvious theory – that the little hairs somehow ‘hook into’ the surface like Velcro – fails to accommodate.


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry, that didn’t really help. I have never seen a gecko lick its toes before setting off up a window. 8)


          • Posted March 24, 2019 at 9:43 am | Permalink

            What are you talking about? Steve Martin didn’t lick his toes.

  11. David Coxill
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    One of them cockroaches looks more like a ladybird ,ladybug for you Americans .
    The orange one with the line running down it’s back ,are they it’s (word beginning with E ) wing cases ?

    • ratabago
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      It’s a beetle mimic, the beetle being unpalatable. Prosoplecta sp., a cockroach from S. E. Asia.

      • David Coxill
        Posted March 24, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for setting me straight ,damn mimicry .

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Stuff like this buttresses my faith in our species …

    Number 50 knows how to dish an assist. Number 0 needs to work on getting back on defense in transition. 🙂

  13. Posted March 23, 2019 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    #50 for President!

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    How that t-rex optical effect works?

    There are effectively a number of different ‘stills’ of the T-rex walking, like different frames of a movie. Each ‘still’ has been cut up into a number of vertical strips and spaced out on the paper, interleaved with the strips of all the other stills. Like, 1-2-3-4-5-6-1-2-3-4-5-6-1-2-3-4-5-6 and so on.

    The overlay sheet has narrow clear strips with black masking in between. As it is slid across the page, it successively uncovers each ‘still’ in turn. Which the brain puts together the same way it does a movie. Or, viewing one of those paper ‘flip books’ that kids used to play with. (This is what I mean:


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 23, 2019 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      P.S. I found it much harder to explain that in, hopefully, comprehensible terms, than it was to understand what was going on. 🙂


  15. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted March 24, 2019 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Ingestion of lead shot or bullet fragments is a serious problem for a number of bird species. As far as I am aware lead ingested with shot carrion is one of the main issuess holding back the recovery of Californian Condors. Other carrion eating species are also affected.
    Other birds – such as swans, ducks and geese, ingest grit to help macerate their food in the gizzard. Lead shot from shotgun cartridges and fishing weights is mistakenly ingested, leading to the poisoning of the birds. It has been estimated that about 5,000 metric tonnes of lead shot are deposited over the UK annually from shooting.
    A number of countries have laws regulating/limiting the use of lead ammunition and fishing weights. In the UK it is illegal to use lead shot when shooting over wetlands but this is hard to police and it is believed to be widely flouted. Also terrestrial species also ingest grit and are at risk of lead poisoning. Some countries, such as Denmark have a complete ban on all lead ammunition and it seems that the hunting community in Denmark has adapted to this perfectly successfully.

  16. openidname
    Posted March 24, 2019 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Number zero? Who gives a kid number zero? Especially when it looks as if he has some sort of spectrum disorder or developmental delay.

  17. Posted March 25, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    On the population chart – incredible that Nepal appears on it for a bit.

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