New Year’s Customs and Traditions

New Year's Eve fireworks in India

This is the my annual 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.

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…

//' cannot be displayed]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 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.

//' 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.”

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 withthe 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 (although I prefer 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

//' cannot be displayed]

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
  • 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 Neuvo
  • Prospero Ano Nuevo
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan

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

California’s ‘Super-Stupid Anti-Science Cell Phone Law’

“Well, today's the day that political expediency and anti-science stupidity combine for the banning of handheld cell phones while driving in California.

I've discussed this topic here several times before, noting that virtually every study shows no reduction in accident rates when talking on a hands-free cell phone vs. handheld units. In fact, there are concerns that people fumbling around to dial and answer hands-free units may actually make matters worse.

Even the Luddite who spent years pushing through this legislation admits that the science and studies are against him, but he's convinced that having both hands on the wheel is safer. Of course, the law doesn't require two hands on the wheel — which would be fairly difficult for stick drivers like me in any case, eh?

When I was out driving earlier today, I saw one women swerving while putting on make-up, and a guy weaving all over while apparently wolfing down a burger. Another car almost didn't make a stop while the woman inside appeared to be screaming at her kids in the back seat — all classic distractions unaffected by the new law. However, I saw several people now driving illegally but safely with handheld cell phones.

There are already laws against distracted driving. The new cell phone law (as applied to adult drivers) is both unnecessary and counterproductive — the latter by making people erroneously believe that they're safer with hands-free phones while driving.

This sort of “feel good” law that flies in the face of science, studies, and logic, is an example of our political system operating as a pandering pomposity of the most inane kind.”

via Lauren Weinstein.

R.I.P. Delaney Bramlett

Singer-Songwriter and Slide Guitarist Dies at 69.

New York Times.

Oh no. I had been listening to my Delaney and Bonnie albums again the past few years, with incredible enjoyment, especially 1971’s Motel Shot (look at these “& Friends” in “Delaney and Bonnie & Friends”: Duane Allman – guitar; Joe Cocker – vocals; Kenny Gradney – bass; John Hartford – banjo, fiddle; Eddie James – guitar; Jim Keltner – drums; Bobby Keys – saxophone; Dave Mason – guitar; Gram Parsons – guitar, vocals; Carl Radle – bass; Leon Russell – piano, keyboards; Clarence White – guitar, vocals; Bobby Whitlock – vocals!!) and the 1970 live on tour disc with Eric Clapton (who joined their band after they opened for Blind Faith and he felt they blew Blind Faith away). They are in heavy rotation in my iTunes library. I’m deeply saddened to hear this.

Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

Little Blue Pills Among the Ways CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan

“The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You'll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills…”

via Washington Post.

The Curious Case of Street Lamp Interference

It’s about midnight and you are heading home. Suddenly, the street lamp above turns off without reason, and you find yourself in the dark. It is natural to experience a chill. But what would you think if street lamps kept turning off when you passed them by?

It is something that many of us have experienced, at least once. Many don’t take notice, but others do and wonder if the cause of such interference lies inside them…

The idea is that there appears to be an effect that is not consistent with our current knowledge of how people interact with the physical world, and which occurs in specific circumstances.

Four explanations for SLI have been proposed…”

— Massimo Polidoro, an investigator of the paranormal, author, lecturer, and cofounder and head of CICAP, the Italian skeptics group. Via The Skeptical Inquirer. I have previously mentioned SLI here, given my own experiences with a particular pair of streetlights on my block.

Rubber hand feels real for amputees

nitrile glove

“…Swedish researchers show that a simple illusion can induce amputees to experience a rubber hand as their own, so that tactile stimuli directed to it produce sensations which are localized to their missing limbs. The study, which is published in an open access paper in the journal Brain, is therefore an important step towards the development of neuroprostheses which feel like real limbs.”

via Neurophilosophy.

Dystopia and the End of Politics

28 Days Later

The new cultural prestige of disaster: A visit to a bookstore or multiplex confirms the new strain of morbidity in the air. Every other month seems to bring the publication of at least one new so-called literary novel on dystopian or apocalyptic themes and the release of at least one similarly themed movie displaying some artistic trappings. (Artsy, but not quite aspiring to be art, films like 28 Days Later and Children of Men might be called, without scorn, “B+ movies,” to distinguish them from ordinary apocalyptic crowd-pleasers.) What is striking is not so much the proliferation of these futuristic works—something that has been going on for generations—but the wholesale rehabilitation of such “genre” material for serious or serious-seeming novels and movies. If ordinary citizens are taking their direst imaginings more to heart than before, so, it would appear, are novelists and filmmakers.”

via Dissent Magazine.

Wii blamed for ridiculous increase in British hospital visits

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Are we having fun yet?

“Nintendo's Wii has been maiming careless gamers since the day it was launched, but an inexplicable uptick in Britain has professionals scratching their heads. According to Dr. Dev Mukerjee of Broomfield Hospital: “There has been a 100 percent increase in patients complaining of Wii-itis.” Turns out, Wii-itis is their word for playing so much Wii that you injure yourself. Astonishingly, up to ten people per week are being “hospitalized with injuries caused by playing Nintendo Wii games,” which has forced medical personnel to “issue warnings of the dangers associated with the video game system.” Some of the most common injuries are Wii-knee (seriously) and tendon stretching / tearing, both of which could likely be avoided if gamers would bother to stretch before breaking a sweat.”

via Engadget.

A Mysterious Link Between Sleeplessness and Heart Disease


‘Although a number of studies have suggested that people who sleep less are at greater risk of heart disease and death, this is the first investigation to measure how much its subjects actually are sleeping, said Dr. Sanjay Patel, assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University and expert in sleep medicine. Patients’ own self-assessments can be very inaccurate, he added.

What isn’t clear is whether reduced sleep triggers physiological changes that increase heart disease risk, or whether a third, unrelated factor causes both changes, he said.

“It’s possible, for example, that people who are under more stress may be both sleeping less and at higher risk of heart disease,” Dr. Patel said.

If so, he added, “If we got those people to sleep more but they still were under a lot of stress, it wouldn’t change their risk of heart disease.” ‘

via New York Times.

Scientists Shed Light On Festive Medical Myths

“Indiana University doctors Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll have debunked a group of health-related myths in an article in the medical journal BMJ. As we approach the end of the year and its attendant celebrations, bear in mind these scientific findings.”

via NPR.

R.I.P. Harold Pinter, 1930-2008

“Harold Pinter, who died at the age of 78 on Christmas Eve, was very likely the only writer ever to win the Nobel Prize, the French Légion d’honneur, and inspire an episode of Seinfeld. He was also a towering enough figure in modern theater to lend his name to a word: “Pinteresque.” It was most commonly used in reference to the famous pauses written into his plays, and many a theater lover born during or after Pinter’s first period of success knew long before discovering his plays that describing the sight of an actor daring the audience to wonder if he’d just forgotten his lines as Pinteresque was an easy way of seeming smart. More generally, and more and more as Pinter’s career went on, it came to stand for the whole mysterious, threatening world he created on stage, a place where everyone seemed to be nursing a secret grudge and perpetually squaring off against and testing each other, and the balance of power kept shifting. Pinter, who attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1948, entered theater as an actor and spent twelve years struggling to get by as a member of various repertory companies; for about half that time, he performed under the name “David Baron.” His time as a starving young actor in London overlapped with that of Michael Caine, and Caine has often enjoyed telling interviewers about the time good old “David” stormed out of the pub, saying that he was bloody sick to death of this bloody business and was going home to try to write something.”

via The Screengrab.

Archbishop Tutu: Use violence to remove Mugabe

Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched a stinging attack on South Africa Wednesday, accusing it of failing to stand up to Zimbabwe‘s President Robert Mugabe and betraying its apartheid legacy.

Tutu, the retired archbishop of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-apartheid campaigner, told BBC radio he was “ashamed” of his homeland.

He suggested that South Africa had surrendered the “moral high ground” which it gained in the post-apartheid era.

Tutu also told BBC radio that violence could be used to remove Mugabe, who should then be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

via The Raw Story.

Happy Christmas

Fra Angelico, fresco from the cells of San' Ma...

“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not already, but there is much, very much, which though I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.

Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this precious little instant.

Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and courage in the darkness could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their coverings, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, and wisdom, and power. Welcome it, greet it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.

Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims wending through unknown country our way home.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem now and forever.

The day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

— Christmas greeting from a letter written by Italian friar and painter Giovanni da Fiesole (Fra Angelico) 1387-1455

Options for a Red Giant Future

01 The Solar System PIA10231, mod02

“Considering the possibilities of preserving the Earth during the Sun’s transition into a brighter and much larger object, the authors discuss alternatives like raising the Earth’s orbit to a safer distance or using a parasol to shield the planet from its rays. That might tide us over for a few billion years beyond the point where an unprotected Earth could survive as a habitable place. But the paper only begins here. After the sunshade, the authors go on to discuss their plan to create an artificial sun in the Kuiper Belt, where an Earth slowly moved into an outer orbit by gravitational swing-by techniques can eventually find its new home in a stable orbit around a life-giving source of heat and light. Call it an ArtSun, as they do, and ponder how much science fiction it might inspire.”

via Centauri Dreams.

Deep-sea superorganism

Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis).

“Here is some terrific video of a bioluminescent deep-sea siphonophore — an eerily fantastic creature that appears to be a single, large organism, but which is actually a colony of numerous individual jellyfish-like animals that behave and function together as a single entity. The individual units, called zooids, all share the same genetic material and each perform a specialized role within the colony. The best-known siphonophore is the poisonous Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis), which lives at the surface of the ocean, unlike the one shown in this video (filmed at a depth of 770 meters). Some siphonophore species can grow up to 40 meters (130 ft) in length.”

via Pink Tentacle.

Magnetic-Shield Cracks Found

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska — The Aurora Bo...

‘An unexpected, thick layer of solar particles inside Earth’s magnetic field suggests there are huge breaches in our planet’s solar defenses, scientists said.

These breaches indicate that during the next period of high solar activity, due to start in 2012, Earth will experience some of the worst solar storms seen in decades.

Solar winds—charged particles from the sun—help create auroras, the brightly colored lights that sometimes appear above the Earth’s poles.

But the winds also trigger storms that can interfere with satellites’ power sources, endanger spacewalkers, and even knock out power grids on Earth.’

via National Geographic News.

‘Deep Throat’ betrayed murdered policeman in ‘Omaha Two’ case

Mark Felt

“William Mark Felt, the infamous ‘Deep Throat’ of Watergate fame, was no hero. Sometimes portrayed as heroically risking his job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to expose President Richard Nixon’s illegal ‘Plumbers’ unit that burglarized Democratic National Committee headquarters, Felt coveted the job as director. Felt, who had engaged in and covered up dirty tricks and illegal conduct of FBI agents for years, was making a move to become the new boss.”

via OpEdNews.

Michael Connell Was Warned About Sabotage Before Crash

Plane crash

45-year-old Republican operative and experienced pilot had been warned not to fly his plane in the days before the crash.

“Connell…was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged… And twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, cancelled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane.”

via The Rag Blog.

Contrasting views of Cheney

The only patriotic solution
The only patriotic solution

‘Historian Julian Zelizer calls Vice President Dick Cheney the most influential vice president in history. Lanny Davis agrees with Joe Biden that Cheney was “the most dangerous.” To Grover Norquist, Cheney’s story is a “tragedy.”

To Steven G. Calabresi, the tragedy was the “Borking” of Cheney by his opponents. The nation should be thankful, said business executive Steve Steckler, that Cheney, not Biden, was “manning the tower walls” when the country was attacked on 9/11.

Such were the contrasting views of Cheney presented Monday by contributors to Politico’s Arena forum in a debate that inevitably will play out for decades to come. It followed Cheney’s appearance on Fox News Sunday, in which he would only go so far as to call himself a “consequential” vice president.

The conversation came as a CNN poll reported that nearly a quarter of those surveyed nationally thought Cheney was the worst vice president in history. Another 41 percent rated his performance as “poor.” ‘

via Politico.

Adrian Mitchell, R.I.P.

British Poetry’s Voice of the Left is Dead at 76: ‘Mr. Mitchell, a spiritual descendant of William Blake, Walt Whitman and Bertolt Brecht, combined ferocity, playfulness and simplicity, with a broad audience in mind, in his poetry, plays, novels, song lyrics, children’s books and adaptations for the stage. His voluminous output included white-hot tirades against the Vietnam War, rapturous nature poems, nonsense verse and children’s tales of a wooly mammoth who returns to the modern world.

“Mitchell is a joker, a lyrics writer, a word-spinner, an epigrammist, a man of passion and imagination,” the art critic and novelist John Berger once wrote. “Against the present British state, he opposes a kind of revolutionary populism, bawdiness, wit and the tenderness sometimes to be found between animals.”

via New York Times obituary.

My Literary Career So Far

As I prowled through Parentheses

I met an Robin and a Owl

My Grammarboots they thrilled

like bees

My Vowelhat did gladly growl

Tis my delight each Friedegg Night

To chomp a Verbal Sandwich

Scots Consonants light up my Pants

And marinade my Heart in Language

Alphabet Soup was all my joy!

From Dreadfast up to Winnertime

I swam, a naked Pushkinboy

Up wodka vaterfalls of rhyme

And reached the summit of Blue Howl

To find a shining Suit of Words

And joined an Robin and a Owl

In good Duke Ellington’s Band of Birds

When Jesus met Buddha

Sunrise over Mt.

“Knowing other faiths firsthand grants believers an enviable sophistication, founded on humility. We could do a lot worse than to learn from what we sometimes call the Dark Ages.” — Philip Jenkins, professor of the humanities at Penn State University.

via Boston Globe.

Appointments Comment

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at a book signing.

What if Governor Paterson, prompted by the squalor of his Illinois colleague’s maneuverings, were to put aside mundane calculations and take full advantage of his theoretically unfettered freedom of choice? The Senate was originally conceived as a sort of chamber of notables, but most of its members, over the years, have been notable mainly for their mediocrity. New York is full of interesting people. Want some suggestions? Try these, collected from an informal canvass—a baker’s dozen, in alphabetical order:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thoughtful and scholarly, would give the new President someone to shoot hoops with. Christiane Amanpour would be a slam dunk for the Foreign Relations Committee. The impossibly distinguished Vartan Gregorian is a one-man academy of arts, letters, and the humanities. Bill T. Jones, who doesn’t need words to make a speech, would make C-SPAN 2 worth watching. A non-dynastic Kennedy, the novelist William, would give upstate New York representation of the first order. Paul Krugman would provide ornery economic smarts. Arthur Laurents, conveniently, is already in Washington, directing the National Theatre revival of his “West Side Story.” If you doubt that Lou Reed knows politics, listen to his album “New York.” Felix Rohatyn is as senatorial as you can get without wearing a toga. Ed Sanders—poet, Pentagon levitator, classics scholar, founding member of the Fugs—is a political force in Woodstock, New York. Toni Morrison’s majestic voice would warm the Senate chamber. No one who ever spent the equivalent of two Senate terms in a complex, ceaselessly scrutinized job in New York has ever done it better than Joe Torre did as manager of the Yankees. Harold Varmus, the head of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and, like Morrison, a Nobel laureate, got lots of money from Congress for the National Institutes of Health when he ran them, during the nineteen-nineties. Perhaps he could do the same for New York—not that such petty considerations are worthy of this exercise.

All fantasy, of course. But not so fantastical as Rod Blagojevich’s notion that a seat in the United States Senate was his for the selling.”

via The New Yorker.

Will Obama Press For End Of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’?

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‘Mr. President-elect, you rarely spoke out as a candidate against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that excludes openly gay people from the military. But when the group Human Rights Campaign asked you about it a year ago, you said this: “America is ready to get rid of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. All that is required is leadership.”

Then in July, when The Military Times asked you about ending that policy, you sounded a bit more conciliatory. “This is not something that I’m looking to shove down the military’s throats,” you said…’

via NPR.

‘Karl Rove’s IT guru’ dies in plane crash

Paid for by Ohio Republican Party

I had seen the headline and initially found it only moderately interesting. Poor guy ran out of gas and crashed short of his landing in Ohio. However, it turns out to be a connect-the-dots story for you conspiracy theorists.

Michael Connell, a Republican IT operative who had created websites for Bush and McCain, was associated with a firm hired by the Ohio secretary of state to set up the state’s official election results website in the 2004 election. It happened to be hosted on the servers of a Chattanooga-based company which also provided hosting for a long list of Republican domains and was arguably the matrix for the GOP cabal.

When the scandal about the Justice Dept’s politically-motivated firings of US Attorneys erupted several months later, other researchers found that the email domains used by White House staffers to evade FOIA law by communicating outside official White House channels was provided by the same company. And… they were set up for the White House by Mike Connell. This roused suspicions about the GOP’s use of this same infrastructure to tabulate the votes which gave Bush the final electoral college margin he needed to secure his reelection in 2004.

The Raw Story investigator working on these connections ( says that Connell was frightened and that he was being threatened (ePluribus Media). The alleged threats appear to be the result of the re-opening, through the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act/RICO claim, of the stalled investigation into the 2004 Ohio Elections. Connell was reportedly getting ready to talk.

[As an IT pro, did he make backups of his data, especially if he was frightened that people might kill him for what he knew?]

The Raw Story.

A World Enslaved

“There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves.”

via Foreign Policy.

Solstice at Newgrange

Solstice at Newgrange
Solstice at Newgrange

“Tomorrow’s solstice marks the southernmost point of the Sun’s annual motion through planet Earth’s sky and the astronomical beginning of winter in the north. In celebration of the northern winter solstice and the International Year of Astronomy 2009, you can watch a live webcast of the the solstice sunrise from the megalithic tomb of Newgrange, in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange dates to 5,000 years ago, much older than Stonehenge, but also with accurate alignments to the solstice Sun. In this view from within the burial mound’s inner chamber, the first rays of the solstice sunrise are passing through a box constructed above the entrance and shine down an 18 meter long tunnel to illuminate the floor at the foot of a decorated stone. The actual stone itself would have been directly illuminated by the solstice Sun 5,000 years ago. The long time exposure also captures the ghostly figure of a more modern astronomer in motion. To watch the live webcast follow the indicated link below. The webcast is planned to go live at 0830 coordinated Universal Time (for example, at 3:30am Eastern Time in the US) tomorrow, Sunday, the 21st.”

via APOD: 2008 December 20.

101 Fascinating Brain Blogs

A sketch of the human brain by artist Priyan W...

“Whether you are a specialist in the field of neuropsychology or just love reading about how the human brain works, there are plenty of interesting blogs on the Internet to help you find out more. In order to make it easier to for you to discover great blogs, the following list is categorized for easy browsing. With blogs by psychiatrists, scientists, psychologist, and even those dealing with mental disorders, you will find many thoughtful and thought-provoking blogs to keep your brain stimulated.”

via Online Education Database.

Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal

A diagram of the forces on the brain in concussion

“Head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass — Patton and McIntosh 337: a2825 — BMJ (Abstract):

Objective To investigate the risks of mild traumatic brain injury and neck injury associated with head banging, a popular dance form accompanying heavy metal music.

Design Observational studies, focus group, and biomechanical analysis.

Participants Head bangers.

Main outcome measures Head Injury Criterion and Neck Injury Criterion were derived for head banging styles and both popular heavy metal songs and easy listening music controls.

Results An average head banging song has a tempo of about 146 beats per minute, which is predicted to cause mild head injury when the range of motion is greater than 75°. At higher tempos and greater ranges of motion there is a risk of neck injury.

Conclusion To minimise the risk of head and neck injury, head bangers should decrease their range of head and neck motion, head bang to slower tempo songs by replacing heavy metal with adult oriented rock, only head bang to every second beat, or use personal protective equipment.”

via British Medical Journal.

Faith Equals Fertility

Clonmacnoise Co.

“Religious people have more babies than non-believers–and not just for the obvious reasons…

Mary Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California, has suggested several ways in which the experience of forming a family might stimulate religious feelings among parents, at least some of the time. She notes that pregnancy and birth, the business of caring for children, and the horror of contemplating their death, can stimulate an intensity of purpose that might make parents more open to religious sentiments. Many common family events, she reasons, might encourage a broadly spiritual turn of mind, from selfless care for a sick relation to sacrifices for the sake of a child’s adulthood that one might never see.

Eberstadt argues that part of the reason why western European Christians have become more secular is that they have been forming fewer stable families, and having fewer children when they do. This, she suggests, may help to explain some puzzles about the timing of secularisation in certain places. In Ireland, for example, she notes that people started having smaller families before they stopped going to church …

via More Intelligent Life.

R.I.P. Davy Graham

Davy Graham performing at the Troubadour with ...

Virtuoso guitarist and leading figure in Britain’s 60’s folk revival: “Graham drew on a range of influences, including jazz, classical, Indian and Arabic music. …[I]t was Graham’s unusual family background — his mother was from South America, his father from a remote Scottish island — and access to blues records through his work at the British Library that decisively shaped his sound.

”Davy started unusual alternate tunings for guitars that really caught on,” according to Dick Boak, the artist relations manager at C.F. Martin & Co., the famous U.S. guitar maker. ”He influenced Paul Simon, of course, and John Renbourn, and Laurence Juber, and many others. Just about anybody who has anything remotely to do with finger-style guitar has to in some way pay tribute to Davy.” “

via New York Times.

Arundhati Roy: Mumbai was not India’s 9/11

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The eyes of Arundhati Roy

“The Mumbai attacks have been dubbed ‘India’s 9/11’, and there are calls for a 9/11-style response, including an attack on Pakistan. Instead, the country must fight terrorism with justice, or face civil war

…What we’re experiencing now is blowback, the cumulative result of decades of quick fixes and dirty deeds. The carpet’s squelching under our feet. The only way to contain (it would be naïve to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We’re standing at a fork in the road. One sign says Justice, the other Civil War. There’s no third sign and there’s no going back. Choose.”

via The Guardian.

Has global warming in the Arctic reached a ‘tipping point’?

An icebreaker navigates through young (1 year ...

“Computer models have long predicted that decreasing sea ice should amplify temperature changes in the northern polar region.

Julienne Stroeve, from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union that this process was under way.”

via BBC.

Steven Waldman: In Defense of Rick Warren

The Purpose Driven Life book cover

“Obama was wise to ask him to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.

  • First, Warren has used his fame and fortune primarily to help the most destitute people in the world. He reverse tithes, giving away 90% and keeping 10%. Please contemplate all the religious figures who have gotten rich off their flock and pocketed the money. Who among you reverse tithe or would if you were rich? I know I don’t, and every time I think about what Warren has done it makes me question whether I’m giving enough. That is a Christ-like example.
  • Second, he’s worked hard to get other conservative evangelicals to care more about poverty…

  • Third, he has voiced his own spiritual doubts. This is hugely important…

  • Finally, he’s mostly about God. Yes, he says things that are controversial and, I believe, is sometimes ill-informed and insensitive. But The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose of Christmas barely mention the hot-botton culture war issues. He has his views on those issues but really believes that getting right with God is most important thing.
  • For Obama, picking Warren for the inauguration is a smart move.”

via HuffPo.

Alec Baldwin on the Caroline Kennedy candidacy

Caroline Kennedy

“…[T]there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this in the current political climate. I think it is ill-advised for New York Democrats to play the Good Dynasty/Bad Dynasty card. Especially now. The Bad Dynasty is not even out the door. The Illinois Governor is reminding Americans that abuse of power is a non-partisan disease. And New York Governor David Paterson will also face consequences for this decision.

This is more about protecting a Democratic Senate seat than romanticizing it.

Appoint an individual (fine…man or woman) who has been elected to something. Something! Then there is a race in 2010, if I understand New York’s electoral mechanics properly. That is not that long from now. Then certain New Yorkers could run. And probably win. I would probably vote for her (er…them).

But this must be done with great care. Patience and care. You know, the way that we beat John McCain.”

via HuffPo.

The Painfully Unwatchable White House Christmas Video

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“Given this week’s events, I did not think it was possible to find a video more excruciating to watch or more embarrassing to the United States than the footage of an Iraqi journalist shot putting his shoes at George W. Bush. Oh…wait…I found one: The 2008 Barney Christmas Video from the White House.

My question: How much of this White House Christmas video mit Hund can you watch before your fight-or-flight reflex kicks in and have to stand up and run–not walk, but run? I made it through about 30 seconds.”

via Jeffrey Feldman in HuffPo.

Cheney Taunts Bush, Pardon Me or Else

Beavis & Butt-head as George W. Bush & Dick Cheny

“With his ABC interview Vice President Dick Cheney put a smoking gun on the table. He admitted that he, along with other top administration officials, personally approved the CIA’s waterboarding of prisoners. That he said it unapologetically is merely his low-keyed way of declaring open war.

President Bush has been working on his legacy by circulating an upbeat, 2-page talking point memo with a description of his successes in office. Bush likes to white-wash and obfuscate. Cheney prefers a more aggressive approach.

Always blunt, two-fisted, and condescending, the question is, why admit that he approved waterboarding? And why now? Maybe it was egotism, pure and simple, his own version of a legacy campaign where he takes credit for a policy that he asserts made America safe. But to his detractors it is an admission of guilt that is prosecutable, as damning as Jack Kervorkian’s 60 Minutes interview that landed him in prison.”

via David Latt in HuffPo.

Face transplants for the “socially crippled”

Dr. Frank Papay ...

“Don’t look now, but a woman in Ohio has a new face. And the world has a new kind of medicine: socially necessary surgery.

The operation, announced yesterday at the Cleveland Clinic, was a face transplant from a corpse. Similar procedures have been done three times before, but this was the biggest. Doctors replaced 77 square inches of the patient’s face, from her eyelids to her chin. Go look at yourself in the mirror. That’s practically the whole you.”

William Saletan via Slate Magazine.

Warbot Pinup Calendar Revealed

Transformers Figure - G1 MICROMASTERS - MILITA...
Image by Simon Davison via Flickr

How big of a military tech fetishist do you have to be to hang a warbot pinup calendar in your room? That’s the question I keep asking myself, as I leaf though this piece of awesomely bad swag, from military contractor Qinetiq. Almost all of the pictures are hilarious — although it’s not always easy to tell whether the comedy is intentional or not. There’s mustachioed firefighter, gently caressing his robot; the Army bomb squad, posing with ridiculously heavy weaponry; the hammy shot of George W. Bush; and, of course, Santa’s unmanned, gun-toting helper…

— Noah Schachtman via Danger Room from Wired.

Do They Want Our Soles?

old shoes

A friend and I were talking about Bush’s recent run-in with Shoe Bomber II in Baghdad. In response, we propose that people package up their old shoes and send them to Bush at the White House between now and January 20th. This would serve a whole roster of functions.

  • It would give a needed boost to the US Postal Service’s income.
  • The White House could contribute the received footwear to the needy, to the impoverishment of most of whom it has already been a major contributor.
  • Furthermore, the right shoe would help stop Bush from putting his foot in his mouth so often.
  • And, finally, the action would be a symbolic reminder that we are giving the Bush administration the boot.

In sum, we think this is a shoe-in. [thanks, henry]

Science journal mistakenly uses flyer for Macau brothel to illustrate report on China

“A respected research institute wanted Chinese classical texts to adorn its journal, something beautiful and elegant, to illustrate a special report on China. Instead, it got a racy flyer extolling the lusty details of stripping housewives in a brothel.

Chinese characters look dramatic and beautiful, and have a powerful visual impact, but make sure you get the meaning of the characters straight before jumping right in.”

via The Independent.