Wednesday: Hili dialogue

It’s May! It’s May! The lusty month of May. (May 1, 2019). To wit:

It’s National Chocolate Parfait Day, and also International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day (you’re supposed to plant sunflowers in your neighborhood), as well as Lei Day in Hawaii, when everyone is supposed to get lei’d, wearing an island-specific flower.

News of the day: Julian Assange was just sentenced to 50 weeks in a British jail for jumping bail—a sentence near the maximum possible. See the sentencing statement by following the links in this tweet (h/t: Grania):

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) celebrates the life of American sculptor Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), the daughter of Japanese immigrants who specialized in wire sculpture in “biomorphic forms” (see video here). Since she was neither born nor died on this day, I was a bit puzzled, but then I found that May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.


Here’s one of her works from 1956: “Untitled (S.563, Hanging Six Lobed Form with Two Interior Spheres)”

Thanks to the reader who sent a postcard from Paris after eating in one of the restaurants I highlighted there, but your name has been obliterated by the postal stampings. Please let me know by email who you are.

A lot happened on May 1, as you might expect. First of all, in 1707. according to Wikipedia, “The Act of Union joining the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain takes effect.” And in 1753, Linnaeus published Species Plantarium, the formal inception of the science of plant taxonomy. On this day in 1840, the Penny Black, the first official postage stamp with adhesive, was issued in the UK. Here’s what it looks like (it’s now worth £ 3,000-4,000):

On this day in 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago. It was mostly here in Hyde Park, but the only remnants are the Midway south of the main campus, and the Museum of Science and Industry, the Exposition’s Palace of Fine Arts.  On May 1, 1915, RMS Lusitania set steam from New York for its 202nd crossing of the North Atlantic. It was torpedoed six days later off of Ireland, with the loss of 1,198 lives.  Fifteen years later to the day, the dwarf planet Pluto (YES, IT’S A PLANET) was officially named.

On this day in 1945, one day after Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda committed suicide outside of the Führerbunker. Before they did, Magda killed her six children by putting cyanide capsules in their mouths. The murder of their children is, to me, is an act of unconscionable cruelty and selfishness. None of the children in the picture below ever got a chance to grow up:

On May 1, 1956, the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk was made available to the public. It’s a crime that Salk, whose work saved millions of lives (and from which he never profited), never got the Nobel Prize. Exactly five years later, Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba, abolished elections in Cuba, proclaiming it a socialist state.

On May 1, 1967, Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas. On this day in 1999, the body of British climber George Mallory was found on Mount Everest, after disappearing with his partner Andrew Irvine in 1924 trying to be the first to summit Everest. You can see a six-minute video about the finding of his body here. It’s still not clear whether the pair succeeded in reaching the summit, but I’d suspect not.  On this day in 2003, and I’ll throw this to Wikipedia, “In what becomes known as the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, on board the USS Abraham Lincoln (off the coast of California), U.S. President George W. Bush declares that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended'”. Finally, exactly eight years ago today, Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in a raid.

Notables born on this day include Calamity Jane (1852), Theo Van Gogh (1857), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881), Glenn Ford (1916), Jack Paar (1918), Joseph Heller (1923), Terry Southern (1924), Judy Collins (1939), Rita Coolidge (1945), and Sally Mann (1951).

I’m now reading this biography of Theo’s brother Vincent (they were very close, and there is a ton of information about both). It’s a 900-page monster, but absolutely fascinating. I’d recommend it highly if you like to read behemoth books, but it will make you sad, as Vincent’s life was far more tortured and failure-ridden than you know. (And do watch the Dr. Who clip on Van Gogh’s imagined trip to the future.)

Those who bit the dust on May 1 include David Livingstone (1873),  Antonín Dvořák (1904), Joseph and Magda Goebbels and their children (1945; see above), Spike Jones (1965), Eldridge Cleaver (1998), and Kenneth Clark (2005).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is shirking her editorial duties.

A: Don’t you think it’s time to get up?
Hili: I have a dissenting opinion in the matter.
In Polish:
Ja: Czy nie sądzisz, że pora wstawać?
Hili: Mam w tej sprawie odrębne zdanie.

Maru! In a famous meme!

A tweet from reader Barry. What is this dog doing? Scratching an itch? Masturbating? You tell me!

Two from Heather Hastie. First, meerkat versus real kat:

This woman pulls no punches:

From reader Nilou. This population of orcas differs from others in size, color, shape, and diet. But unless we have some way of measuring reproductive isolation between it and other populations, its species status will remain speculative.

Tweets from Matthew. Be sure to turn up the sound on the first one:

I don’t like this question, but it’s interesting to see how people voted:

Another bird song, and a particularly lovely one (Keats was right):

Tweets from Grania. I don’t know if the guy in this clip is pulling our legs, but if so he’s pretty damn sanguine!

I think this female tuxedo cat was deprived of having kittens. Have a look at the article.

Well? Groan already!


  1. Dominic
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    The Duke of Wellington celebrated 1st of May as his birthday though may have been a couple of days older – he was born 250 years ago…

    Not sure if those outside the UK can hear it but our Matthew did a very good Radio 4 programme yesterday about science publishing

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Sounds to me like Julian Assange was sentenced for bail-jumping rather than probation violation.

    • Posted May 1, 2019 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      Yes, my mistake; I fixed it, thanks.

    • Posted May 1, 2019 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      That is correct.

      Parole, in the UK, means they let you out of prison before your sentence is up. Until today, Assange hadn’t been sentenced for anything.

      It’s likely that he will eventually end up on parole as it’s rare for people to serve the full term in a prison. This is unless the US extradition request is still in play or Sweden asks to extradite him. If Assange is subject to an extradition request, they won’t let him out on bail this time while he contests it.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 1, 2019 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        As a foot note, in the UK (I don’t know about other countries), time served in detention on remand (waiting for your case to come before the court) is normally counted as part of one’s sentence. And typically any outstanding sentences in the UK would be served before an extradition request is honoured. So it could still be years before, in the words of a US law officer, he gets fried.

        they won’t let him out on bail this time while he contests it.

        Well, the prosecution may choose to object to further bail on the grounds that he’s a likely flight risk. The JP (or magistrate?) who hears that case may or may not accept the prosecution’s assertion.

        • Posted May 2, 2019 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          Do you think the magistrate is going to deny the idea that Assange is a flight risk?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted May 6, 2019 at 7:12 am | Permalink

            A JP could consider that, for example, surrender of passport and wearing a location-reporting ankle tag would be a sufficient mitigation of any flight risk that he represents.
            Being required to live a number of hours travel from any port of exit would be a workable one – as a non-resident non-property-owner, by definition he has no significant right to live in any particular place over any other.

        • Posted May 2, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          BTW, JP stands for “Justice of the Peace”. It’s the official title of a magistrate.

  3. Posted May 1, 2019 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Ah, Priscila Presley. I gather she has a nice beaver that she stuffed herself.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 1, 2019 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Better movie than Elvis ever made — excepting maybe for King Creole.

  4. Serendipitydawg
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Birdsong changed character completely for me after a wildlife show some time around 1970 that added a human soundtrack consisting of the phrases, “Hello ladies” (styled like Leslie Phillips) and, “Come over here if you think your’re hard enough” (in the style of a football hooligan) 😀

  5. drew
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Warning NSFW lyrics

    The first of May by Jonathan Coulton

  6. rickflick
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I’m currently taking a course called birding by ear. Fascinating stuff. In spite of the nice sonograms and mnemonics, it’s very difficult to fix bird song in memory. It is an important skill to develop though. For seasoned birders, identification is more often by sound than visual.

  7. Posted May 1, 2019 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I find the picture of Goebbels and his children strangely haunting. You are right, they are innocent of his monstrous crimes, so why should they die? What kind of mother would murder those lovely children?

  8. Posted May 1, 2019 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I have often seen dogs do that. Always looked to me like scratching. But really, WTF?

  9. Curtis
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I always assumed Salk and Albert Sabin had won the Nobel Prize. In 1954, three other men won the prize for research that led to Salk and Sabin’s vaccines. This article explain the reason that Salk and Sabin did not was because their discoveries were not view as particularly revolutionary science.

    “Examination of the Nobel Archives reveals that Dr. Sven Gard, Professor of Virology at the Karolinska Institute, convinced the Nobel Committee to name Enders, [Thomas Weller, and Frederick Robbins] recipients of the 1954 Prize. He wrote that ‘the discovery by Enders’ group is the most important in the whole history of virology…The discovery has had a revolutionary effect on the discipline of virology’. Salk was nominated for the Prize in 1955 and in 1956. The first time, it was decided to wait for the results of the clinical trial of Salk’s killed poliovaccine, which was in progress. In 1956, Gard wrote an 8-page analysis of Salk’s work, in which he concluded that ‘Salk has not in the development of his methods introduced anything that is principally new, but only exploited discoveries made by others.’ He concluded that ‘Salk’s publications on the poliomyelitis vaccine cannot be considered as Prize worthy’.”

    • Hempenstein
      Posted May 3, 2019 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Additionally, I gather that Salk was never inducted into the Nat’l Acadamy of Sciences. Also at the time he never acnkowledged the contributions of several who were instrumental in to the development of the vaccine, including my former dep’t chair, Julius Youngner, who was apparently responsible for developing cell culture techniques that were said to have cut a couple years from the time it took to develop the vaccine.

  10. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    This population of orcas differs from others in size, color, shape, and diet. But unless we have some way of measuring reproductive isolation between it and other populations, its species status will remain speculative.
    Mysterious Killer Whales Finally Spotted By Scientists Near Chile by @grrlscientist

    Fortunately getting adequate DNA samples does not these days require killing a specimen. Apparatus consisting of, in essence, a crossbow quarrel with a kitchen scouring pad on the end can obtain an adequate tissue and mucus sample for characterisation.
    It strikes me that the “melon” of the two orca races pictured is approximately the same absolute size, but the surrounding skull in the larger specimen protrudes around the fat-ball that is the “melon” than in the smaller specimen. Since the “melon” internally reflects and focuses the sound waves, you’d expect the sizes of “melons” to be constrained by the speeds of sound in fat versus water and so relatively invariant.
    On the other hand, different melon sizes would imply different operating frequencies – and a chain from there to the dimensions of the larynx.

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    This is what a Wren sounds like singing when it’s slowed down recorded on iPhone slo-mo

    For people of a certain generation, “Clangers”.

  12. Posted May 1, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I feel sad for the cat carrying toys, and for all pets that we deprive of progeny, including our family cat.

    • loren russell
      Posted May 1, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      Not limited to mom cats and their baby effigies. Toby, a “grade” Maine coon, was fond of carrying toys to pre-position for mousing drills. One spring, two of my slippers disappeared in the midst of a constant drain of the little foam balls Toby liked to play with.

      Eventually found that Toby had stashed the slippers separately in tall grass and stocked both with the foam balls — he could then practice his mousing moves, snatching the balls out and tossing them in the air.

      • loren russell
        Posted May 1, 2019 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Or just wait, I guess.
        The pace of discovery increases: Nature article announces a Denisovan mandible from the Tibetan plateau. Via a Living Buddha!

  13. loren russell
    Posted May 1, 2019 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Jerry: I’ve been looking for an excuse to ask whether you ever posted the item about the Luzon hominines [and species status of the various late-Pleistocene humans that seem to have crossed the Wallace Line. So I’ll shoehorn it into the orca thread.

    [You teased this before your Belgium trip and before your “sick days”. If I missed the item, sorry, I’m recovering from a nasty myself.]

    • Posted May 1, 2019 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Not yet; my good intentions were scotched by work. However, I still want to write about it.

      • loren russell
        Posted May 1, 2019 at 10:15 pm | Permalink


      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted May 2, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Yay, and its not even Yule!

  14. Posted May 1, 2019 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne. 1 May is the anniversary of the first general strike for the 8 hour day at 10 hours pay. The event took place in Chicago Illinois in 1886.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted May 1, 2019 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      1st of May is therefore International Labour day or Labour day in most of the World.
      Most of Asia (including China and India), most of Europe and Africa and all of Latin America

      • Posted May 2, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        I have read that Canada and the US put Labo(u)r Day in August because of the “communist” association of the May day.

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