Friday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Happy Friday! I’m always glad to see it.

Today was the birthday of Charlie Chaplin (1889 ), Spike Milligan (1918) and Gerry Rafferty (1947).

Apollo 16 was launched on this day in 1972, NASA’s second-last trip to the moon.

JAC addition: today’s Google Doodle celebrates the life of George Peabody (1795-1869), an American financier known as “the father of modern philanthropy”. (Today is the day on which he got the Congressional Gold Medal for his generosity):

Here are a few of the many institutions he helped fund, and his foundation continues to dispense money:

1852 The Peabody Institute (now the Peabody Institute Library),Peabody, Mass: $217,000
1857 The Peabody Institute (now the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University), Baltimore: $1,400,000
1866 The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University: $150,000
1866 The Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University: $150,000 (at the suggestion of his nephew, Othniel Charles Marsh, early paleontologist)
1867 The Peabody Academy of Science, Salem, Mass: $140,000 (now the Peabody Essex Museum)
1875 George Peabody College for Teachers, now the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. The funding came from the Peabody Education Fund
Peabody Hall, housing the college of Human Science and Education, Louisiana State University.

On the internet today, we have a very tiny squirrel. It’s found in the central mountain ranges of Borneo and adults are around 83 mm in size, which is practically Pokemon size.

God got mean on Twitter yesterday. It seems he prefers scientists to evangelists.

In slightly weird news, you can listen to the speech that JFK never gave,  his voice recreated and pieced together by sound engineers. The paranoid part of me thinks it’s wonderful that we now have the technology to construct speeches and put them in the mouths of people who never uttered them. This can only be used for good things. You’ll see.

Random factoid of the day that makes me smile.

In honor of this weekend’s Paddy’s Day celebrations, here’s a silly cartoon.

PSA from Ireland: if you hear someone calling it St Patty’s Day, please admonish them and direct them to this handy chart. The Irish get quite testy about this distinction.

Finally, if you haven’t heard about Steve before, it’s an Aurora Borealis-like light seen in Canada further south than “northern lights” are typically seen. It finally has a research paper all of its own

From the abstract:

Observations from the Swarm satellite as it crossed the arc have revealed an unusual level of electron temperature enhancement and density depletion, along with a strong westward ion flow, indicating that a pronounced subauroral ion drift (SAID) is associated with this structure.

From Poland today it seems the pets are restless and the humans are tardy. (Pro-tip: four-footed friends about to go on a walk always think this of humans).

Cyrus: He’s still looking for something.
Hili: Let’s go, he’ll catch up with us.

In Polish:
Cyrus: On jeszcze czegoś szuka.
Hili: Chodź, dogoni nas.

JAC addendum II: Let’s all thank Grania for doing the Hilis while I’ve been gone, producing them after a full day at her regular job.

Today’s noms

I’ve been out walking for 6.5 hours (minus 1.5 hours for food), and worked up an appetite.  I visited the State Capitol, the University of Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace Convention Center on the waterfront, and the area around the University. I took a bunch of pictures, but for now will confine myself to today’s meals.

My first destination, brought to my attention by Annie Laurie Gaylor, was the University Dairy (Babcock Hall Dairy Store), an ice cream and cheese purveyor, with product made from milk sourced from University-owned cows and processed by the Agriculture School and its students.

I always visit university dairies when I can (this is my third, after Penn State and Michigan State), as the ice cream is always fresh, high quality, and delicious. Unfortunately, the UW Dairy store, in Babcock Hall, is located in a remote part of campus, and many students I asked didn’t know where it was. (What is wrong with students these days?)

But nevertheless I persisted, and after 1.5 hours of searching I found it!:


The next difficulty was choosing a flavor. They were all high in butterfat, and it was 11 a.m., so I knew I would eat lunch in a few hours. I had to be abstemious. Here are just a few of the flavors on tap:



After avid discussion with the counterman, I decided on a triple scoop of Badger Blast, Chocolate Turtle, and Angel Food Cake. Here’s my prize. I think the Badger Blast was the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had. The Chocolate Turtle, also wonderful, is the top scoop:

After your snack, you can follow the cow-shaped footprints upstairs to see the whole dairy operation, where they bottle milk and cream and make cheese and ice cream:

It’s a HUGE operation:

The building is named after Dr. Stephen Babcock, who gained immortality in the annals of dairying by developing a simple way to assess the amount of fat in milk, which allowed breeders to breed for that trait in their cows. Here he is performing his test. And I believe the University dairy has been going since the late 1880s:

I was full after my bowl of high-butterfat ice cream, and knew I had to walk for a few hours to get hungry again (I’ve been abstemious here, having had a light breakfast and an eggplant sandwich for lunch yesterday [no dinner] and sushi for dinner the night before. I decided to head to a Madison institution for lunch, The Old Fashioned, known for local Wisconsin cuisine.

The ambience is that of a Wisconsin roadhouse:

The laws of physics determined that I had no choice about what I ordered: a classic Wisconsin meal. To wit: a double bratwurst with onions, pickles, and mustard on a roll, a side of fried cheese curds, and a local brewski: a One Barrel Brewing Penguin Pale Ale (5.7% ABV). This is a perfect meal! (Anybody food-shaming me had best go elsewhere):

Gus was fascinated by cheese curds, especially because he heard that, when not fried, they squeak when you bite them. I sent him a photo, which he’s looking at here, pointing at the cheese curds.

And oy, am I full! Today is normally a fasting day for me, but those go out the window when I’m traveling. I’ll make up for it on the weekend.

FFRF’s “Ask an Atheist” show from yesterday

Here’s yesterday 40-minute discussion with Dan Barker, co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Andrew Seidel, one of the FFRF’s crack constitutional attorneys with whom I’ve worked in the past. This video can also be found on the FFRF Facebook page if it doesn’t show up here. It will eventually appear on YouTube

Needless to say, I haven’t watched it, but I think it went all right:

My visit to the Freedom From Religion Foundation

I’ve long been a supporter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whose headquarters are in Madison, Wisconsin. I’d never visited that town before, so when they invited me up to do some events, I jumped at the chance, taking the three-hour Amtrak train from Chicago to nearby Columbus, Wisconsin.  Plus I wanted to visit their new headquarters, which involved a remodeling of and addition to their earlier, cramped building. It’s located just a stone’s throw from the Wisconsin State Capitol Building, which you can see in this photo taken from the South:

The East Entrance of Freethought Hall. It’s definitely a Frank Lloyd Wright look.

The north entrance (the main entry to the building). Security is tight here; you have to be buzzed in and there are cameras everywhere. The reason is obvious.  Note the illuminated sign: “In students we trust”. The message changes every five minutes.

One had me on it, in honor of my visit:

There are four floors. This is the legal wing where the real business is done: filing lawsuits, writing letters to Constitution violators and so on. The FFRF has two big cases underway: the exemption for ministers’ housing allowance (violation of the First Amendment), and the right of Dan Barker to give a secular prayer in the House of Representatives (it was denied; that’s also a First-Amendment violation since it privileges religion).

I wasn’t sure what the turkey tail represented on the legal wing wall. I wrote FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel (see below) for clarification, who explained:

That is an excellent question. Diane Uhl, the generous donor who gave her name to the legal wing, wanted us attorneys to keep kicking all those theocratic turkeys’ butts. She brought the framed feathers as both congratulations and a motivational reminder, or, as she put it “an artistic, fun mission statement: work your tail off.”

A picture of Clarence Darrow, atheist and fierce defender of civil rights, adorns the legal wing.

If you’ve been to the FFRF conventions, you know that they auction off “clean money”: US currency printed before 1957, when the words “In God We Trust” were added under President Eisenhower. Here’s a framed display of clean money in the hall:

This is the only remnant of the house that was later turned into FFRF headquarters. It was saved and mounted on the wall at the request of Annie Laurie:

A portrait of Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899), the “Great Agnostic”, a wonderful orator and exponent of “freethinking” (atheism) in the 19th century. Right now I’m reading his biography by Susan Jacoby.

This is a Darwin Wedgewood plate (Darwin was of course married to his first cousin, Emma Wedgewood of the pottery factory), carefully brought back from England by Annie Laurie.

I love the atheist signs that hang over every restroom (mixed gender, of course). Katherine Hepburn: “I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.”

Here’s another. Emily Dickinson:

“Faith is a fine invention for gentlemen who see—
But microscopes are prudent in an emergency!”

The television and radio studios:

Inside the video studio where we recorded the “Ask an Atheist” Facebook stream (next post) and the “Freethought Matters” video.

The control room:

A selfie in the bathroom, which, like all spaces in the building, has various freethought items. This is a thank you from school kids to Dan for giving a talk:

Also in the bathroom: all of Dan’s nametags from various conventions and meetings:

One of the many whimsical freethought items that pop up here and there in the building:

The wonderful library, full of freethought and science books. There’s a full-sized latex statue of Darwin in the library. I’m told that once, when the building door was found to be open, the police came and went through the building. Seeing this statue in the dark (and it looks very realistic), they ordered it to put its hands up. Darwin didn’t comply, and they almost shot him! It would have been amazing to have Darwin with a bullet hole in him!

Who could resist having their photo taken with Chuck D? He was tall for a Victorian man: about 5′ 10″, I think. Certainly taller than I.

The face; it’s very well done and very realistic.

There’s a book on how the effigy was made (I didn’t remember the details), but it was built up bit by bit. This is what Darwin looked like before they added his beard.  And that’s what he would have looked like as an old man had they shaved his beard. Who does he look like to you? He reminds me a bit of Gollum.

Darwin’s hands:

Andrew Seidel, one of the FFRF’s constitutional attorneys, and one I’ve worked with in the past. Notice the “Don’t give up the ship” banner, appropriate for lawyers used to losing their First Amendment cases. But I’m told the FFRF wins 2/3 of the cases it brings to court. Their legal accomplishments are one reason why I support them so strongly.

Dan in his office. Like me, he collects toys, artifacts, puzzles, and stuff, so his office is full of whimsy. (Dan told me that his job at the FFRF was “to provide levity”.)

Although he gave up the ministry and became an atheist, Dan still retains his valid certificate of ordination, which he displays here. It allows him to still perform marriages, which he often does.

Here’s a small cupola in the building, a place where Dan often performs marriage ceremonies:

Annie Laurie busy preparing for the 40th anniversary convention of the FFRF, to be held this fall in San Francisco.

Dan gets some makeup before the afternoon taping of the “Freethought Matters” t.v. show (broadcast locally on Saturdays). It will also be up on YouTube, as will the “Ask an Atheist” video we also made yesterday.

Dan and Annie Laurie just before we taped:

This is the auditorium where Dan and I had our 1.25-hour conversation and Q&A last evening. I think it went well. Dan is great at running conversations, and we have good rapport. Afterwards we signed our books, which you can see on the table to the right. Before the discussion, Dan played the piano, a gift to the FFRF (Dan used to write and play hymns; now he does jazz and popular songs).

And another message flashed on the building.

If you’d like to donate to this worthy organization—in my view, the best of all secular and humanist groups—go here. For only $40 a year (tax deductible), you get a membership and a spiffy monthly newspaper full of cool items.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Good morning, welcome to the day where the world got its the first registered domain on the internet in 1985, Yes, the domain still exists and has been turned into a kind of internet museum.

It’s the birthday of evangelist and fraud Jimmy Swaggart (1935), and musicians Terence Trent D’Arby (1962) & (1975).

Deaths today include, Julius Caesar in 44 BC, surely a contender for most dramatic death ever although we probably have Shakespeare to thank for that, and writer HP Lovecraft in 1937 who has taken on a new life in the Age of the Internet as the spawn point of countless Cthulhu memes.

Putin has inspired a new meme all his own this week.

And someone has been spending his time productively and has produced a visual chart aid for Billy Joel’s 1989 song “We didn’t start the fire”.

Here’s something I did not know about walruses. (Okay, there’s a lot I don’t know about walruses, but this was one of them).

Finally, a remarkable encounter while skydiving.

Onto the cat portion of this post.

Someone has clearly been fat-shaming Hili.

A: What are you thinking about?
Hili: How to lose weight before the next meal.

In Polish:

Ja: Nad czym myślisz?
Hili: Jak schudnąć przed następnym posiłkiem.

And up in Winnipeg, It’s too darned hot for Gus, the spoiled cat of the century….

And as a lagniappe, a public service announcement.

Hat-tip: John H. ; Matthew

Darwin selfie

There’s a life-size latex Darwin in the FFRF library. Jerry couldn’t resist.



It’s maybe a little bit smiley-er than the original.

Stephen Hawking, and a poll

I have to admit at the outset that I’ve never read a single book by Stephen Hawking. Although I know of his accomplishments in physics, including his work on black holes, his idea that the universe began as a singularity, and so on, I never read a single one of his seven popular books (or 5 coauthored books, not to mention his five children’s books written with his daughter). But his willingness to keep on doing physics, despite 55 years of being debilitated by ALS (surely a record), made him a very admirable man.

You can read the New York Times obituary by clicking on this picture:

Most of us know Hawking as an atheist, and that’s how he saw himself, though his occasional and unwise use of “God” metaphors prompted the faithful to embrace him. Wikipedia says this about his lack of faith:

Hawking stated that he was “not religious in the normal sense” and he believed that “the universe is governed by the laws of science”. Hawking stated:

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.

In 2008, Hawking stated, “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws”. In an interview published in The Guardian, Hawking regarded the concept of heaven as a myth, believing that there is “no heaven or afterlife” and that such a notion was a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark”.  In 2011, when narrating the first episode of the American television series Curiosity on the Discovery Channel, Hawking declared:

We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

In September 2014 he joined the Starmus Festival as keynote speaker and declared himself an atheist.[313] In an interview with El Mundo, he commented:

Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.

Here’s a poll based on the claim that Hawking’s books, especially A Brief History of Time, are the most popular unread science books in history:

It’s Pi Day!

Having consumed my share of Costco pies the last few weeks (they’re good, too!), I’m happy to report that it’s Pi Day, celebrated with the following Google Doodle (click on screenshot to go to the Doodle site):

Google itself explains the Doodle here, adding a video and, at the link, a recipe for a scrumptious salted-caramel apple pie. I hope at least one reader makes it:

Happy Pi Day!

Celebrated each year on March 14th (3.14), Pi Day is dedicated to the mathematical constant, Pi. First recognized 30 years ago in 1988 by physicist Larry Shaw, Pi Day observers often celebrate with a slice of their favorite pie in honor of the number’s delicious sounding name.

Notated by the Greek letter “𝛑”, pi represents the ratio between a circle’s circumference (perimeter) to its diameter (distance from side to side passing through the center), and is a fundamental element of many mathematical fields, most significantly Geometry. Though modern mathematicians have calculated more than one TRILLION decimal places beyond the standard “3.14,” pi is an irrational number that continues on to infinity! It’s an important ingredient in the formula for the area of a circle, A=𝛑r².

Today’s delectable Doodle – baked & built by award-winning pastry chef and creator of the Cronut® Dominique Ansel – pays homage to this well-rounded mathematical constant by representing the pi formula (circumference divided by diameter) using — what else — pie!

Go behind-the-scenes of today’s Doodle below!

By the way, has anybody ever proven that pi must be an irrational number? Or did it just work out that way?

Note that Pi Day can only apply in parts of the world where they write March 14 as 3/14/20-; most of the world does it wrong, using 14/3/20. Such parts of the world can have NO Pi day, and therefore they don’t deserve pie.

Note, though, that this Doodle’s reach extends much wider than that of a regular Doodle. Only sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and, curiously, Norway and Finland lack the Doodle and and, apparently, pies:

Here are the favorite pies of Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus); I am leaving out savory pies:

Malgorzata’s fresh cherry pie made with walnut crust

Pear cream-cheese pie

Peanut-butter/chocolate cream pie

Key lime pie, but only when made with real Key Limes rather than bottled juice. The pie is not nearly as good when made with regular (“Persian”) limes.  There are only a few places in America where you can get the real thing in a restaurant (Manny and Isa’s in Islamorada Florida, on the Keys, used to be one of them, but I don’t know if it’s still there); but you can make it using the tiny Key limes available in many high-class markets.

Blueberry pie, especially when made at Helen’s Restaurant, in Machias, Maine, where they use lowbush blueberries (the small ones) and heap a mixture of cooked and fresh blueberries into an open-top crust, slathering a thick layer of whipped cream all over the top.  Here’s a piece. Hungry?

What’s yours? Anybody eating pie today? I doubt I’ll get the chance.


Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ genderfluidity

Today’s Jesus and Mo, called “fluid,” continues to satirize Islam’s ambiguous attitude towards women: fragile vessels who must be protected by oppression and violence:

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

While Jerry is gallivanting around I’m in charge of putting up the Hili Dialogues. Good morning from a dark and gloomy Ireland where it is actually trying to snow again.

There is sad news this morning: scientist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, which is a respectable age for any human to attain, and all the more so in his case as he had suffered from ALS for over five decades. People are paying tribute to his life and his work over on Twitter.


Today is Albert Einstein’s birthday (1879), and also Quincy Jones (1933) and Jerry Greenfield (1951) of Ben & Jerry’s fame. It’s also Pi Day if you are an American and write your dates the wrong way round.


In Things On The Internet this morning:

Here’s a baby elephant who thinks she’s a kitten. It’s cute, but I hope she grows out of the habit soon, or things are going to get uncomfortable real fast.

Won’t somebody think of the children?

Bats being batty.

Marine mammals frolicking

Leon the Serious Cat puts in an appearance.

Leon: So, are we going to paint?

In Winnipeg last night, Gus was on the night watch for bunnies:

And we have a few words of wisdom from Poland’s most philosophical cat.

Hili: There are texts worth returning to.
A: Oh yes, and there are some not worth starting on.

In Polish:

Hili: Są teksty, do których warto wracać.
Ja: O tak, ale są i takie, których nie warto zaczynać.

Finally, armchair experts, what’s going on here?


Hat-tip: Matthew