Rare And ‘Horrific': Frilled Shark Startles Fishermen In Australia

Via NPR:  ‘Normally, we wouldn’t call something a living fossil. But the name seems tailor-made for the frilled shark, whose roots are traced to 80 million years ago. Its prehistoric origins are obvious in its primitive body; nearly all of the rare animal’s closest relatives are long extinct.

In the most recent of those 80 million years, the frilled shark has been scaring the bejeezus out of humans who pull it out of the water to find an animal with rows of needle-like teeth in a gaping mouth at the front of its head.

That’s what happened recently off Australia’s coast, where a fishing trawler’s net snagged a frilled shark.

“It was like a large eel, probably 1.5 meters [about 5 feet] long, and the body was quite different to any other shark I’d ever seen,” fisherman David Guillot tells 3AW radio. “The head on it was like something out of a horror movie. It was quite horrific looking.” ‘

 

Imports of British Chocolate Barred

Chocolate War Bars British Cadbury Eggs From NYC Stores - West Village - DNAinfo.com New York

Via DNAinfo.com:  ‘It’s a war on Cadbury. British businesses in New York City, including the Village’s Tea & Sympathy, are up in arms over a lawsuit preventing them from importing Cadbury eggs and other candies from England…

“It’s just another thing to make everybody miserable, Why are we having a fight about chocolate? I mean, chocolate! … You know what’s behind it, right? Hershey’s doesn’t want people to eat Cadbury’s, because Cadbury’s is so much better, people aren’t going to be buying their filth.” ‘

 

7 natural wonders that humans could destroy within a generation – Salon.com

The Citizen Candidate Movement

Via  Drew Curtis for Governor:“It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.” – Douglas Adams

We have a theory that we’re about to see a huge change in how elections and politics work. Across the country, we have seen regular citizens stepping up and challenging the status quo built by political parties and career politicians. They have been getting closer and closer to victory and, here in Kentucky, we believe we have a chance to win and break the political party stronghold for good.

We are not politicians. We are Citizen Candidates.

Citizen Candidates evaluate ideas on merit, not on outside influence, campaign contribution sources, or party ideology. They believe a good idea is a good idea, no matter which political party supports it. Citizen Candidates are regular people with common sense. They are capable leaders who would be fantastic elected officials – if they chose to run.

Most don’t. And we can’t blame them.

Political parties have shut out any outsiders from the process. But we think we see another way.

We’re not the only ones either. In just 2014 alone, we saw the following:

– Bob Healey, an educator and political activist, ran for Governor of Rhode Island and won 22% of the vote – and spent just $35 to do it.

– Greg Orman, an entrepreneur and Independent candidate for Senate in Kansas, knocked the Democratic candidate out of the race and was polling close with the Republican incumbent the entire election.

– Columbia Law professor Tim Wu ran a campaign that almost put him on the Lt. Governor ballot for the November 2014 election.

– House of Representatives Majority Whip Eric Cantor was knocked out of the GOP primary by David Brat, a professor from Randolph Macon College.

None of these people were politicians.

All ran for office with the goal of finding a new way to seek elected office. And now we believe there is a path to victory in Kentucky and a chance to shatter the glass permanently. It goes beyond Kentucky though. Win or lose, our plan is to produce a blueprint others can use to get elected – in any state – without party help.

This campaign is important to everyone, not just citizens of Kentucky.

This is our chance. But it takes everyone’s help to make it happen. We are standing up against career politicians, political parties, special interests, and every group that thinks they deserve more influence than you.

Influence money can’t stop the power of citizens when they are unified.

In 2014, 1,000,000 people contacted the FCC in support of net neutrality – a policy that Big Telecom like AT&T and Comcast have been fighting for decades. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fight it, and yet, none of it mattered once a million people voiced their support to the FCC. Now even the President has come out in support of it, addressing the issue in the State of the Union.

If we are ever going to change the tide…

…against special interests and political parties in our electoral process, we need that same kind of overwhelming support. We need more than just your votes. To remain viable in the face of so many forces trying to keep third party candidates out of the election, we need your financial support too. Citizen Candidates can’t raise money from special interest groups – because it doesn’t buy influence. We won’t cater to their demands. We need to raise it from their grassroots supporters, so please donate what you can.

If every voter gave their candidate just $5, special interest money would be powerless.

Not only does your financial support help us stay competitive, it proves legitimacy to the mainstream media. The deck has been stacked against us, but you can change that.

Not only do we want to win this election and shatter the electoral status quo, but we need to produce a blueprint so Citizen Candidates can win in all 50 states without political party support.’

 

How Ayn Rand Helped Turn the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation

Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Le...

Via Alternet:  ‘Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans.

A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep.

At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.’

 

Why You Should Care That The FCC Is Trying To Redefine Broadband

Via Gizmodo:  ‘…(The) FCC is required to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability [read: broadband] to all Americans”. So if it doesn’t think that enough households have broadband, it can use a selection of tools to ‘encourage’ competition — tools that scare companies like Comcast or TWC.

So it’s clear why the telecoms companies want to keep the definition of broadband down: a lower threshold for broadband keeps regulators off their backs, and allows them to perpetutate the (very valuable) oligopoly that exists in the high-end broadband market.

And, in turn, the position of companies like Netflix and Google, who are advocating for faster broadband speeds, should be equally clear. Faster internet means a better experience for consumers, which means more paying customers for Netflix, and more eyeballs on videos for YouTube.

From an individual’s perspective, there aren’t really any downsides to the bar for ‘broadband’ being moved higher. If the FCC gets its wish, and overnight 25/3 becomes the minimum standard for broadband, the only negative effects will be for telecoms companies that sell internet packages. They’ll be shamed for not offering broadband to wide swathes of America; but more importantly, an ‘entry level’ broadband package will be something you might want to own, rather than a low-price face-saving tool designed to make telcos look good.’

 

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Oklahoma’s Lethal Injection Drugs

7 Worse Problems For The NFL Than Deflategate

Via WGBH: ”I wish I could say I cared about deflate-gate though. But I don’t. You see the NFL and I already parted ways this summer. I am a serious sports and football fan…. But I just can’t watch the NFL anymore and it’s been tough. I seriously miss watching with friends and family. But I’m also a Political Scientist whose research focuses on issues of equality and public policy in the United States. And the divergence between these concerns and the norms of the NFL just became too untenable. “

​Here’s A Spider So Awful You’ll Wish It Would Only Bite You To Death

Via ​io9: ‘The hackled orb weaver has no fangs. If you’re its prey, that might sound like good news. It’s not. It means that it will kill you in an even more excruciating way than spiders normally do.

The hackled orb weaver spider doesn’t actually have any penetrating teeth, apparently because that gets the delicious business of killing over with too quickly. Instead of paralyzing and liquifying its victims, the orb weaver chooses to do its own personal riff on the Saw movies — it wraps the victim in its silk.

Buried alive, you say? That sounds rather nasty, you say? You know nothing. Because once the orb weaver has its victim surrounded in silk, it keeps going. More and more it wraps. Tighter and tighter it wraps. A single moth gets 460 feet of silk put into its death. How does it finally die? Well, after the spider has broken the insects’ legs and wings to prevent any chance of escape, it concentrates on the head — eventually it wraps its prey so tight that the insects’ own eyes get forced down into its head, killing it.

That’s right, this spider wraps things so tightly that it kills them with their own inward-exploding-eyeballs.’

 

Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock 2 minutes closer to midnight

Via Salon.com: ‘Thursday morning, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hand on the Doomsday Clock 2 minutes later, setting the time to only 3 minutes before midnight. The clock, which symbolically represents Earth’s proximity to disaster, now indicates that the “probability of global catastrophe is very high.”

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947. It has changed 18 times since then, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991.

It has been at five minutes to midnight since 20112 and the last time it was three minutes to midnight was in 1983, when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its iciest.’

 

Freshly Eaten Snake Makes Amazing Escape—Find Out How

India’s Tigers May Be Rebounding, in Rare Success for Endangered Species

India's Tigers May Be Rebounding, in Rare Success for Endangered Species

Via National Geographic:  ‘More money has been spent on tiger conservation than on preserving any other species in the world, yet wildlife biologists have been seemingly unable to stop the decline of the iconic big cat in the face of poaching and habitat loss.

That appeared to change Tuesday, when the government of India—the country is home to most of the world’s wild tigers—announced preliminary results of the latest tiger census that reveal a surge in the number of the big cats in its preserves over the past seven years.’

 

Should MLK Jr. Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 Bill?

Why Should We Still Have to Retrieve Black Boxes from Airplane Crashes?

We’re Close To Achieving The Second Ever Global Eradication Of A Human Disease

Via IFLScience: ‘Back in 1980, the World Health Organization officially declared that one of the deadliest diseases in human history, smallpox, had been eradicated. This marked the first time that a disease had been completely eliminated from the planet. Achieving this was certainly no mean feat. It took an enormous collaborative effort, mostly involving global vaccination campaigns, surveillance and prevention measures.

Now, amazingly, humanity is tantalizingly close to eradicating the second ever human disease from the planet, and you might not have even heard of it: Guinea worm disease.

Although it’s rarely lethal, which could be why it has not received the attention that it deserves, Guinea worm disease, or dracunculiasis, is utterly horrific and can be permanently debilitating…’

 

Declinism: is the world actually getting worse?

Declinism: is the world actually getting worse? | Pete Etchells | Science | The Guardian

Via The Guardian: ‘A recent survey suggests that 71% of people think that the world is going to the dogs. Are things actually that bad, or is it a psychological trick of the mind?

Let’s face it, 2015 hasn’t been the most positive of years so far. But is the world really going down the pan? Radio 4’s The Human Zoo kicked off a new series this week, taking a look at “declinism” – the idea that we’re predisposed to view the past favourably, and worry that the future is going to be dire. In a survey run by YouGov for the programme, 71% of respondents said they thought the world was getting worse, and only 5% said that is was getting better. But what’s the reality of the situation?

Declinism is a trick of the mind …

Two lines of psychological research might provide insight into why people might think things are getting worse…’

 

New evidence for anthropic theory

Via phys.org: ‘Fundamental physics constants underlie life-enabling universe: For nearly half a century, theoretical physicists have made a series of discoveries that certain constants in fundamental physics seem extraordinarily fine-tuned to allow for the emergence of a life-enabling universe. Constants that crisscross the Standard Model of Particle Physics guided the formation of hydrogen nuclei during the Big Bang, along with the carbon and oxygen atoms initially fused at the center of massive first-generation stars that exploded as supernovae; these processes in turn set the stage for solar systems and planets capable of supporting carbon-based life dependent on water and oxygen.

The theory that an Anthropic Principle guided the physics and evolution of the universe was initially proposed by Brandon Carter while he was a post-doctoral researcher in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge; this theory was later debated by Cambridge scholar Stephen Hawking and a widening web of physicists around the world.

German scholar Ulf-G Meißner, chair in theoretical nuclear physics at the Helmholtz Institute, University of Bonn, adds to a series of discoveries that support this Anthropic Principle.

In a new study titled “Anthropic considerations in nuclear physics” and published in the Beijing-based journal Science Bulletin (previously titled Chinese Science Bulletin), Professor Meißner provides an overview of the Anthropic Principle (AP) in astrophysics and particle physics and states: “One can indeed perform physics tests of this rather abstract [AP] statement for specific processes like element generation.”

“This can be done with the help of high performance computers that allow us to simulate worlds in which the fundamental parameters underlying nuclear physics take values different from the ones in Nature,” he explains.’

 

Alot of Malarkey: Little Boy Who ‘Came Back from Heaven’ Lied

Via People.com: ‘In 2004, Alex Malarkey, who was then 6 years old, was in a car accident with his father, Kevin. The crash left him paralyzed and in a deep coma. It looked like he wouldn’t make it – until Alex woke up two months later with an incredible tale to tell: He had been to heaven.

His account was turned into a best-selling book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, and, later, a TV movie. But it was all a lie.

In an open letter to Pulpit and Pen website published earlier this week, Alex wrote succinctly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”

He explained: “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.” ‘

 

2014 Ranks as Earth’s Warmest Year on Record, U.S. Scientists Say

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Gays Nationwide Can Marry

Via NYTimes.com: ‘The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The court’s announcement made it likely that it would resolve one of the great civil rights questions of the age before its current term ends in June.

The justices ducked the issue in October, refusing to hear appeals from rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states. That surprise action delivered a tacit victory for gay rights, immediately expanding the number of states with same-sex marriage to 24 from 19, along with the District of Columbia.

Largely as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s failure to act in October, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage has since grown to 36, and more than 70 percent of Americans live in places where gay couples can marry.

The pace of change on same-sex marriage, in both popular opinion and in the courts, has no parallel in the nation’s history.

Based on the court’s failure to act in October and its last three major gay rights rulings, most observers expect the court to establish a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But the court also has a history of caution in this area.’

 

2015 is getting an extra second and that’s a bit of a problem for the internet

Via The Verge: ‘On June 30th at precisely 23:59:59, the world’s atomic clocks will pause for a single second. Or, to be more precise, they’ll change to the uncharted time of 23:59:60 — before ticking over to the more worldly hour of 00:00:00 on the morning of July 1st, 2015. This addition of a leap second, announced by the Paris Observatory this week, is being added to keep terrestrial clocks in step with the vagaries of astronomical time — in this case, the slowing of the Earth’s rotation. And it’s a bit of a headache for computer engineers.’

 

When T.S. Eliot Invented the Hipster

English: T. S. Eliot, photographed one Sunday ...

English: T. S. Eliot, photographed one Sunday afternoon in 1923 by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Via The Atlantic:  ‘January 4th marks 50 years since the death of poet T. S. Eliot. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of one of Eliot’s most famous poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the work that thrust Eliot onto the modernist stage. An embodiment of turn-of-the century angst wrought by a world sucked dry by skepticism, cynicism, and industrialism, Prufrock bears striking similarities to a subculture of mostly white, urban, detached-yet-sensitive young adults at the cusp of our own century. One might say Eliot invented the hipster.

In a keen essay on the hipster at the New York Times, Christy Wampole

Book by T. S. Eliot

describes the urban hipster as nostalgic “for times he never lived himself.” Before he makes any choice,” Wampole explains, the hipster “has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream.” A pastiche of allusive, retro gadgets, hobbies, clothing, hairstyles, and facial hair—ever increasingly referential—the hipster is “a walking citation.”

In other words, he is J. Alfred Prufrock.’

 

Monsters in America: a cryptozoological map of the USA

If Your Robot Buys Illegal Drugs, Have You Committed a Crime?

How Ambient Intimacy Became So Overwhelming

Via Pacific Standard:  ‘Today, with actual friends, brands, publications, and advertising all using the same social channels, it’s more difficult to tell who or what you’re emotionally connecting to than it once was. To solve the dilemma of ambient intimacy, we need to figure out more ways to filter it and to make the possibility of intimacy more useful to us when any entity online can buy access to the spaces we share with friends. The problem has become, how do we be intimate with only the people we actually want to be intimate with online?’

 

Former TSA Employee: Airport Security is a Farce

Via Big Think: ‘According to Jason Edward Harrington, among the folks who hate TSA the most are its own employees. He of course used to be one of them. In an article originally published at Politico but currently reprinted at The Week, Harrington recounts tales of bitterness and regret working for an agency he calls “a farce.” He speaks of the dreadfully low employee employee morale, the Orwellian bureaucracy that always seemed to have ulterior motives, and the many issues that irked airport travelers, in particular the full body scanners he says everyone in TSA knew were useless.’

An Argument in Favor of Cancer as the Best Way to Die

Former Editor of BMJ Richard Smith (via Big Think): “So death from cancer is the best… You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.

This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.”

 

Nice Solar System, Would Travel Around Its Star Again

Why Not Try a Real Socialist for a Change?

We Need to Kick Racism Out of Criminal Justice Now

A Weird Phenomenon That Might Change How We See Neutrinos

Happy New Year!

New Year Sunrise

New Year Sunrise

This is the annual update of my New Year’s post, a tradition I started early on on FmH:

I once ran across a January 1st Boston Globe article compiling folkloric beliefs about what to do, what to eat, etc. on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune for the year to come. I’ve regretted since — I usually think of it around once a year (grin) — not clipping out and saving the article. Especially since we’ve had children, I’m interested in enduring traditions that go beyond getting drunk [although some comment that this is a profound enactment of the interdigitation of chaos and order appropriate to the New Year’s celebration — FmH], watching the bowl games and making resolutions.

Marteniza-ball

A web search brought me this, less elaborate than what I recall from the Globe but to the same point. It is weighted toward eating traditions, which is odd because, unlike most other major holidays, the celebration of New Year’s in 21st century America does not seem to be centered at all around thinking about what we eat (except in the sense of the traditional weight-loss resolutions!) and certainly not around a festive meal. But…

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

“Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

“Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.”

The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...

Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve

focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:

“Three cornered biscuits called hogmanays are eaten. Other special foods are: wine, ginger cordial, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, carol or carl cake, currant loaf, and a pastry called scones. After sunset people collect juniper and water to purify the home. Divining rituals are done according to the directions of the winds, which are assigned their own colors. First Footing:The first person who comes to the door on midnight New Year’s Eve should be a dark-haired or dark-complected man with gifts for luck. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, red-head or beggar is unlucky. The person brings a gift (handsel) of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Mummer’s Plays are also performed. The actors called the White Boys of Yule are all dressed in white, except for one dressed as the devil in black. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Year’s Eve.”

Here’s why we clink our glasses when we drink our New Year’s toasts, no matter where we are. Of course, sometimes the midnight cacophony is louder than just clinking glassware, to create a ‘devil-chasing din’.

In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. In Greece, there is a traditional New Year’s Day sweetbread with a silver coin baked into it. All guests get a slice of the bread and whoever receives the slice with the coin is destined for good fortune for the year. At Italian tables, lentils, oranges and olives are served. The lentils, looking like coins, will bring prosperity; the oranges are for love; and the olives, symbolic of the wealth of the land, represent good fortune for the year to come.

A New Year’s meal in Norway also includes dried cod, “lutefisk.” The Pennsylvania Dutch make sure to include sauerkraut in their holiday meal, also for prosperity.

In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. (If any of the grapes happens to be sour, the corresponding month will not be one of your most fortunate in the coming year.) The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year. In Rio, you would be plunging into the sea en masse at midnight, wearing white and bearing offerings. In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, they will have a tradition of people plunging into the cold water on New Year’s Day. The Coney Island Polar Bears Club in New York is the oldest cold-water swimming club in the United States. They have had groups of people enter the chilly surf since 1903.

Ecuadorian families make scarecrows stuffed with newspaper and firecrackers and place them outside their homes. The dummies represent misfortunes of the prior year, which are then burned in effigy at the stroke of midnight to forget the old year. Bolivian families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck.

In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes.

The Indian Diwali festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.

//www.elanguages.org/images/16245' cannot be displayed]Elsewhere:

  • a stack of pancakes for the New Year’s breakfast in France.
  • banging on friends’ doors in Denmark to “smash in” the New Year, where it is also a good sign to find your doorstep heaped with broken dishes on New Year’s morning. Old dishes are saved all years to throw at your friends’ homes on New Year’s Eve.
  • going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland.
  • making sure the First Footer, the first person through your door in the New Year in Scotland, is a tall dark haired visitor.
  • water out the window at midnight in Puerto Rico rids the home of evil spirits.
  • cleanse your soul in Japan at the New Year by listening to a gong tolling 108 times, one for every sin
  • it is Swiss good luck to let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.
  • Belgian farmers wish their animals a Happy New Year for blessings.
  • In Germany and Austria, lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old divining practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death.
  • It’s a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.” (Watch on Youtube, 11 min.)

Some history; documentation of observance of the new year dates back at least 4000 years to the Babylonians, who also made the first new year’s resolutions (reportedly voews to return borrowed farm equipment were very popular), although their holiday was observed at the vernal equinox. The Babylonian festivities lasted eleven days, each day with its own particular mode of celebration. The traditional Persian Norouz festival of spring continues to be considered the advent of the new year among Persians, Kurds and other peoples throughout Central Asia, and dates back at least 3000 years, deeply rooted in Zooastrian traditions.Modern Bahá’í’s celebrate Norouz (”Naw Ruz”) as the end of a Nineteen Day Fast. Rosh Hashanah (”head of the year”), the Jewish New Year, the first day of the lunar month of Tishri, falls between September and early October. Muslim New Year is the first day of Muharram, and Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 10th and Feb. 19th of the Gregorian calendar.

The classical Roman New Year’s celebration was also in the spring although the calendar went out of synchrony with the sun. January 1st became the first day of the year by proclamation of the Roman Senate in 153 BC, reinforced even more strongly when Julius Caesar established what came to be known as the Julian calendar in 46 BC. The early Christian Church condemned new year’s festivities as pagan but created parallel festivities concurrently. New Year’s Day is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision in some denominations. Church opposition to a new year’s observance reasserted itself during the Middle Ages, and Western nations have only celebrated January 1 as a holidy for about the last 400 years. The custom of New Year’s gift exchange among Druidic pagans in 7th century Flanders was deplored by Saint Eligius, who warned them, “[Do not] make vetulas, [little figures of the Old Woman], little deer or iotticos or set tables [for the house-elf] at night or exchange New Year gifts or supply superfluous drinks [another Yule custom].” (Wikipedia)

The tradition of the New Year’s Baby signifying the new year began with the Greek tradition of parading a baby in a basket during the Dionysian rites celebrating the annual rebirth of that god as a symbol of fertility. The baby was also a symbol of rebirth among early Egyptians. Again, the Church was forced to modify its denunciation of the practice as pagan because of the popularity of the rebirth symbolism, finally allowing its members to cellebrate the new year with a baby although assimilating it to a celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus. The addition of Father Time (the “Old Year”) wearing a sash across his chest with the previous year on it, and the banner carried or worn by the New Year’s Baby, immigrated from Germany. Interestingly, January 1st is not a legal holiday in Israel, officially because of its historic origins as a Christian feast day.

Auld Lang Syne (literally ‘old long ago’ in the Scottish dialect) is sung or played at the stroke of midnight throughout the English-speaking world (and then there is George Harrison’s “Ring Out the Old”). Versions of the song have been part of the New Year’s festivities since the 17th century but Robert Burns was inspired to compose a modern rendition, which was published after his death in 1796. (It took Guy Lombardo, however, to make it popular…)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here’s a hand, my trusty friend
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Here’s how to wish someone a Happy New Year around the world:

  • Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
  • Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
  • Chinese: Chu Shen Tan Xin Nian Kuai Le (thanks, Jeff)
  • Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
  • Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
  • Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
  • French: Bonne Annee
  • German: Prosit Neujahr
  • Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
  • Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
  • Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
  • Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
  • Italian: Buon Capodanno
  • Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
  • Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
  • Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
  • Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
  • Russian: S Novim Godom
  • Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
  • Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
  • Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan
  • [If you are a native speaker, please feel free to offer any corrections or additions!]

However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty! [thanks to Bruce Umbaugh for research assistance]

30 Cult Movies That Absolutely Everybody Must See

“No civilization would tolerate what America has done”

2014 in review

22 animals that went extinct in 2014

Why are professors at Harvard, Duke, and Middlebury teaching courses on David Simon’s The Wire?

Via Slate: ‘Interestingly, the classes aren’t just in film studies or media studies departments; they’re turning up in social science disciplines as well, places where the preferred method of inquiry is the field study or the survey, not the HBO series, even one that is routinely called the best television show ever. Some sociologists and social anthropologists, it turns out, believe The Wire has something to teach their students about poverty, class, bureaucracy, and the social ramifications of economic change.’

The Dominant Life Form in the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots

The Dominant Life Form in the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots | Motherboard

Via Motherboard:  ‘If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won’t look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It’s likely they won’t be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. While scores of philosophers, scientists and futurists have prophesied the rise of artificial intelligence and the impending singularity, most have restricted their predictions to Earth. Fewer thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction, that is—have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is one who has. She joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper “Alien Minds,” written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.

“Most people have an iconic idea of aliens as these biological creatures, but that doesn’t make any sense from a timescale argument,” Shostak told me. “I’ve bet dozens of astronomers coffee that if we pick up an alien signal, it’ll be artificial life.”

With the latest updates from NASA’s Kepler mission showing potentially habitable worlds strewn across the galaxy, it’s becoming harder and harder to assert that we’re alone in the universe. And if and when we do encounter intelligent life forms, we’ll want to communicate with them, which means we’ll need some basis for understanding their cognition. But for the vast majority of astrobiologists who study single-celled life, alien intelligence isn’t on the radar.

“If you asked me to bring together a panel of folks who have given the subject much thought, I would be hard pressed,” said Shostak. “Some think about communication strategies, of course. But few consider the nature of alien intelligence.”

Schneider’s paper is among the first to tackle the subject. “Everything about their cognition—how their brains receive and process information, what their goals and incentives are—could be vastly different from our own,” Schneider told me. “Astrobiologists need to start thinking about the possibility of very different modes of cognition.”

To wit, the case of artificial superintelligence.

“There’s an important distinction here from just ‘artificial intelligence’,” Schneider told me. “I’m not saying that we’re going to be running into IBM processors in outer space. In all likelihood, this intelligence will be way more sophisticated than anything humans can understand.”

The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the “short window observation”—the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. It’s a twist on the belief popularized by Ray Kurzweil that humanity’s own post-biological future is near at hand.

“As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.” ‘

 

The operation making paralysed walk for first time

BBC - Future - The operation making paralysed walk for first time

Via BBC:  ‘Around 2-3million people worldwide have spinal cord injury. When the spinal cord is injured every part of the body is paralysed below it and without sensation.

But now scientists have achieved a remarkable feat. For the first time a cell transplantation treatment has allowed a man paralysed from the chest down to get up from his wheelchair and walk.

The pioneering therapy takes the regenerative cells that repair and renew our sense of smell, and uses them to form new connections to form in the damaged spinal cord. Thanks to this, 40-year old Darek Fidyka from Poland, who suffered his injuries after a knife attack, can now walk using a frame.

The man who has spent decades developing the procedure is Professor Geoffrey Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London’s Institute of Neurology. In this video he describes his tireless journey behind the achievement, how it works, and why he thinks no-one should have to pay a single penny for his achievements.’

 

The Bizarre Case of the Woman Who Saw Dragons Everywhere

Via io9:  ‘Recently, a group of neuroscientists examined a woman who complained of an unusual ailment. The people around her kept turning into dragons.

The fifty-something woman said the problem had been plaguing her for most of her life, and eventually prevented her from holding a job. When people turned into dragons, she reported, their faces turned “black, grew long, pointy ears and a protruding snout, and displayed a reptiloid skin and huge eyes in bright yellow, green, blue, or red.”

A group of researchers who examined her later wrote in a paper:

She saw similar dragon-like faces drifting towards her many times a day from the walls, electrical sockets, or the computer screen, in both the presence and absence of face-like patterns, and at night she saw many dragon-like faces in the dark.

The blogger Neuroskeptic notes that the basis of her condition is basically “a mystery” — doctors found no brain abnormalities after doing multiple tests. But she did eventually recover slightly after going on an “anti-dementia medication.” The dragon sightings became mild enough that she’s held a job for over 3 years now.’

The Bizarre Case of the Woman Who Saw Dragons Everywhere

Is anyone reminded of the 1988 US science fiction film They Live? The difference is that, in that film, it took a pair of sunglasses found by the protagonist to see the aliens among us.

 

Salon: Have a Very Disturbing Christmas!

Salon.com

How to keep the peace with your conservative relatives this holiday: Complain together! The family that kvetches together … makes it through dinner without any tears … together

Help these kids today: America’s quiet homelessness nightmare is 1.3 million homeless students. This Christmas, homeless data is changing in shocking ways: Fewer people on streets, but a record for homeless kids

How to win Christmas arguments: Salon’s guide to defeating your crazy right-wing uncle. Your right-wing uncle is all excited to talk about politics this Christmas. Lucky you!

Bill O’Reilly ruined Christmas: Why his nonsense undermines the holiday I love. With every predictable rant by the human outrage machines, the holiday loses a little magic for me. Here’s why.

“The Nutcracker’s” disturbing origin story: Why this was once the world’s creepiest ballet. From pedophilic godfathers to gruesome seven-headed mice, the first versions of the classic ballet were — different.

The most awkward sex ever? 8 epic holiday hookup tales. “I asked if he wanted to have sex — while he was talking about his dad having a stroke”

Terrifying gifts from the 22nd century: The hottest holiday presents for a post-apocalyptic tomorrow. The world will be way scarier by then, but there are still plenty of fun options for Christmas

via Salon.com.

Steven Pinker’s Mind Games

Via NYTimes.com:  ‘Steven Pinker is every bit the populist. All but three of his nine books are aimed at the general public (“The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” is available in 21 formats and editions; the CD comes out this week). Dr. Pinker’s teaching is similarly accessible. Just look at the test questions here, culled from one of his Harvard courses, “Psychological Science.” He explains his approach: “The questions that psychology tackles are the ones that obsess us in everyday life: family relations, sexuality, kindness and aggression, the reliability of knowledge. Not surprisingly, many concepts in academic psychology have crossed over into popular culture, such as conditioning, Freudian psychoanalysis and cognitive dissonance. Exams that invoke these memes test whether students understand the theories well enough to reason about them when they are presented away from a familiar textbook context and are applied to real life.” ‘

Take the ten-question quiz; how did you do?

 

How Smartphone Use Is Changing The Way Thumbs and Brains Communicate

Via  IFLScience:  ‘Opposable thumbs gave ancient humans a huge evolutionary advantage by allowing for use of tools. More recently, these thumbs also allow for people to quickly type on screens of smartphones and other touchscreen devices. A new study has found that this recent widespread mode of communication is actually changing the way thumbs and the brain talk to one another, demonstrating the plasticity of the human brain. Arko Ghosh of the University of Zurich is lead author of the paper, which has been published in Current Biology.’

 

13 of the Most Amazing Things Discovered in Space This Year

Via WIRED:  ‘Scientists discovered some pretty amazing things in space this year. There were yet more planets, including the first Earth-like one in a star’s habitable zone. Astronomers found what might be a black-hole triplet, stars in the midst of merging into one giant one, and a star made of diamond.

But some of the most exciting things were found right in our own solar system. These discoveries include the first rings ever seen around an asteroid, plumes of water vapor spewing out from the dwarf planet Ceres, a disintegrating asteroid, and what appears to be a new dwarf planet billions of miles away. Oh, and we landed on a comet for the first time. Here are some of the most fantastic astronomical finds of the year, reminding us that space is a truly awesome place.’

 

Monkey Appears To Resuscitate Dying Friend

Via IFLScience: ‘A video has gone viral that appears to show a rhesus macaque resuscitating his friend who had been electrically shocked at a train station in Northern India. The video shows snippets of one monkey poking and prodding at the other for a period of 20 minutes, even trying to splash water on it. Ultimately, the unconscious macaque did wake up – but what were the actual intentions of the helpful friend?

National Geographic reports that it isn’t entirely clear how different primate species are affected by the death of those they are close with, but there have been recorded events of monkeys shaking and biting their fallen friends. However, it isn’t known if they are confused by why the other monkey isn’t moving, or if they are actually trying to revive the individual.’

 

Common Painkillers Could Decrease Skin Cancer Risk

Via IFLScience:  ‘Common over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can decrease risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, according to a study published today in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common types of skin cancer.

The results mean these drugs may have potential as skin cancer preventative agents, especially for high-risk people, said study co-author Catherine Olsen.’

 

Krampus the Christmas Devil: Where’s He From?

This Orangutan Is Now A Legally Recognized Nonhuman Person In Argentina

Via io9: ‘History was made this past weekend in Buenos Aires when an appeals court ruled that an orangutan held in a zoo is a nonhuman person unlawfully deprived of its right to bodily autonomy.

The legal strategy used in this case is similar to the one recently employed by the Nonhuman Rights Project in the United States. Both are claiming that highly sentient animals like great apes are deserving of bodily autonomy, or habeas corpus.’

 

Today is the ground breaking ceremony for the $50 billion Nicaragua Canal

Is Moral Offsetting™ Right for You?

Via 3quarksdaily: ‘Everywhere we turn there are people demanding that we take moral responsibility for ever more features of our lives and the implications of our actions. Almost everything we do turns out to be involve a moral choice, or more than one, in which our deepest principles are at stake.

 

If you’re an egalitarian, how come you help your kids with their homework? If you’re against child-slavery, how come you still eat chocolate? If you’re against racism, how come you enjoy ‘white privileges’ like not being afraid when the police pull you over? And so on. Want to put milk on your breakfast cereal? There’s a moral philosopher out there who wants you to read about murdered baby cows first…

But it gets worse. Although they are presented as moral challenges, as tests of your principles, many of these demands are actually moral puzzles with no right answer…

If everything we do is wrong, why bother to even try to do the right thing?

Fortunately the solution is at hand. Here at Moral Tranquillity plc we believe that good people should be able to live a life free from guilt. That’s why we have developed a range of Moral Offsetting™ products that make meeting your moral responsibilities simple and affordable.’