Douglas Preston’s New Yorker article (thanks, abby) is a cogent and readable summary of thoughts on the fate of the Russian skiiers who perished in the infamous1959 Dyatlov Pass incident in the Urals. Preston, who has many New York Times bestsellers on his resume, writes about archaeology and anthropology for the New Yorker, often in their “far-flung correspondents” department. I’ve mentioned Dyatlov on FmH before, pointing to an Atlantic article about the Russian public’s obsession with the mystery. I love a good mystery, especially one that is eerie and chilling (no pun intended), and the Dyatlov Pass incident occupies the intersection of many of my fascinations — backcountry pursuits, extreme weather, indigenous societies, cryptozoology, conspiracy theory, and Cold War intrigue, to name a few. These may be Preston’s interests as well, and he considers them in turn. His conclusions are satisfying and, if similar issues tweak your fancy, it is worth your time.
‘LSD flashbacks have been studied for decades, though scientists still aren’t quite sure why some people experience them. A subset of people who take psychedelics and then experience flashbacks develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), a rare condition in which people experience regular or near-constant psychedelic symptoms. There’s currently no cure for the disorder, though some studies suggest medications may alleviate symptoms…’— via Big Think
But that’s not all. Some people have a first psychotic break from a hallucinogen trip or heavy cannabis use and go on to have a persistent or relapsing psychotic disorder. The verdict is out on whether it is “caused” by the drug use (whatever that means) or if it was an “accident waiting to happen” with any of a number of provocative influences. And, finally, some hallucinogen or stimulant users go on to develop epilepsy, particularly temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), a seizure disorder whose bewildering variety of symptoms can look like psychotic presentations. Just saying…
The most notable fact I gleaned from this article by Andrew Sheldon (via AAA Network ) was mention of a 2008 study correlating having bumper stickers on your car with being a more aggressive driver. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when you think about it, since a bumper sticker seems usually to be an attempt to be “in the face” of surrounding drivers.
‘Hundreds of people who share the first name Josh gathered on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., to vie for the “right” to their name. Armed with pool noodles, Joshes from across the country met at Air Park, where they brawled as onlookers with other names cheered from the sidelines….’
— Chloee Weiner via NPR
‘…The plaintiffs in Corlett include a New York state gun rights group and two New York men who applied for a license to carry a handgun in public and were denied that license. They claim that “law-abiding citizens” have a Second Amendment right to carry a gun in public — and the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, could agree with them.
Indeed, Corlett could potentially dismantle more than a decade of judicial decisions interpreting the Second Amendment, imposing prohibitive limits on lawmakers’ ability to reduce gun violence…’
— via Vox
‘Underground peat fires are bedeviling: They refuse to die, even when flooded with water. Could this new weapon put them down for good?… “Smoldering is the most persistent type of combustion on earth, because it’s really easy to start and very difficult to stop,” says Imperial College London engineer Guillermo Rein, co-author of a new paper describing the work in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. “They call them zombie fires, but the equivalent would be like an army of zombies. They are very, very difficult to suppress.”
‘Although Americans tend to think of Sasquatch as a North American phenomena, there are legends of hidden giant apes or ape-men all around the word. These legends are fed by unexplained sightings, which are most surprising when they are made by those unfamiliar with the local legends, such as American troops in Vietnam. Gary Linderer of the 101st Airborne reported seeing a five-foot-tall creature with muscular arms when he was on patrol in the Kontum Province near the borders of Laos and Cambodia….’
— Via Neatorama
‘The number of so-called breakthrough cases we’re seeing is even lower than expected….’
— Via Slate
‘Furthering the growing interest in unidentified flying objects, or what the US government refers to as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), the Department of Defense confirmed on Thursday that recently leaked photos and videos of UFOs were legitimate and taken by navy personnel.
Sue Gough, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, confirmed to CNN that images and footage of a blinking triangular object in the sky, along with other UAPs that were categorized as a “sphere”, “acorn” and “metallic blimp”, were taken by navy personnel in 2019….’
— Via The Guardian
‘A newly discovered coronavirus — but not the one that causes COVID-19 — has made some dogs very sick….’
— Via Big Think
‘How the quest to own the most Instagram-worthy pup has bred a world of problems….’
— Tove K. Danovich via New York mag
A devastating indictment of what humans have done to our entire “best friend” species. #adoptdon’tbuy
‘Over the last year, the scientific community has been reluctant to openly discuss its missteps. But coming clean could help prevent the next pandemic….’
— C. Brandon Ogbunu via WIRED
‘…The zoologist Arik Kershenbaum argues that because some evolutionary challenges are truly universal, life throughout the cosmos may share certain features…’– via Quanta Magazine
‘The Pentagon’s pilots have seen a lot of UFOs, a lot more than they’ve told the public about. That’s according to John Ratcliffe, Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe told Fox News that an upcoming Pentagon report about unidentified aerial phenomena will detail more UFO interactions than had been previously reported…’– via Vice
Yeah but… Vice? Fox News?
‘…Unless aliens decide to visit Earth, the most likely answer is by scanning the skies for “technosignatures,” which are observational evidence of technological or industrial activity in the Universe.
In a recent paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, a team of NASA-funded researchers outlined some of the most promising ways scientists and space agencies could search for technosignatures. The paper included a somewhat surprising proposition: Humanity’s “first contact” with aliens is likely to be with a much more advanced civilization.
In other words, there could be many alien civilizations throughout the Universe, or even in our galaxy, but if they’re similar to us in terms of technological advancement, we probably can’t spot them yet. The same goes for those human-like civilizations spotting us.
That’s because the “cosmic footprints” of our civilization and theirs would be relatively small, compared to highly advanced alien civilizations. The researchers call this concept “contact inequality.” …’– via Big Think
‘More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud published a case study about a young woman he called “Dora.” She was diagnosed with hysteria following allegations of sexual harassment and assault by a family friend (possibly through a deal made by her own father). The teenager was analyzed by the famous neurologist and said to be repressing feelings for not just that one older man but also her father. And, of course, the diagnosis labeled her as being irrationally emotional about something that didn’t happen. Basically, “Dora,” whose real name was Ida, was not just a victim of sexual harassment but also of gaslighting.
The study, titled Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (also published as Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria) has been viewed from a feminine perspective for decades, but perhaps never so visually dynamic and concisely poignant as in the short documentary Hysterical Girl, directed by Kate Novack (The Gospel According to André)
Hysterical Girl revisits, in just 13 minutes, the story of “Dora” by casting actress Tommy Vines as a modern version of the patient. As if being interviewed for the documentary, she tells her side, a confession intercut with a voiceover reading of Freud’s analysis. Also mixed in is the kinetically compiled montage of movie clips, archival films of the doctor, news footage of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford and other accusers of sexual harassment or assault, as well as shots of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and other rapists and predators, plus other materials that create an effective collage overlapping historical parallels.
As usual with Op-Docs, the director has written an accompanying article. Novack’s is very brief, which is good since her doc (produced with Andrew Rossi) perfectly speaks for itself — expressing through a powerfully overwhelming amount of imagery without the possibility of overstating its point. But just in case you need it more spelled out: “During the 11-week treatment,” she writes, “Freud chipped away at the case: Why would you continue to see the man you say assaulted you? Are you out for revenge? Did you secretly want it? A century later, the questions women face in similar circumstances haven’t changed much.” …’– via Nonfics, with thanks to Barbara
‘More concerning than Kavanaugh’s weirdly emotional take on calendars and defensiveness about blacking out was, of course, the credible allegations against him of sexual assault. While the FBI was said to have conducted a “supplemental investigation” of claims against Kavanaugh made by Christine Blasey Ford, Democrats said at the time that the probe was a “farce,” a “sham,” and a “horrific cover-up” that crucially omitted key witnesses at the White House’s request. Now, that investigation may be getting a second look…’— via Vanity Fair
‘…The Women’s Funding Network…, in connection with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, launched the campaign “Signal for Help” in April of last year. It is a one-handed gesture that anyone who feels threatened can show another person, who could then report the situation to the authorities. These days, people are spreading more awareness about this hand gesture so that those experiencing abuse will know how to discreetly get help and so that others will be able to recognize it and take action.
The hand gesture is simple, but easily recognizable You face the palm towards the other person, tuck your thumb inwards, and then cover it with your other fingers. It’s even better than codewords, because it was designed to be discreet and you can let other people know that you’re in distress without making any sounds or noticeably moving.
The gesture can be shown during a video call, which has become our main means of communication during the pandemic, or when answering the door. It is simple enough to make, but also distinct enough that those who know it will recognize it instantly. That is why it is so important to make more people aware of this hand gesture, because the victims can only be helped when the person they are showing it to knows what they are trying to say.— via Bored Panda
What then are we to take from the distinct and quite public fascination of the two richest men in the world—Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, together worth more than $375 billion—with the sci-fi works of Iain M. Banks, an avowedly socialist author who set his far-future fiction in what might best be described as a post-scarcity, anarcho-communist utopia; a world where your Bezoses and your Musks are not just irrelevant, but actively sought out and disempowered by a society comprised of property-less workers and all-caring, mostly-benevolent A.I.s?— via Blood Knife
‘I’ve deliberated many times about discussing grief in a food column – you’re possibly here to read about new ways with couscous – yet the two topics are more linked than one might imagine’
— via The Guardian (thanks to linkmachinego)
‘Consistently ranked as one of the leading causes of death around the world, malaria doesn’t have an effective vaccine yet. But researchers have invented a promising new blueprint for one — with properties akin to the novel RNA-based vaccine for COVID-19.
Making a vaccine for malaria is challenging because its associated parasite, Plasmodium, contains a protein that inhibits production of memory T-cells, which protect against previously encountered pathogens. If the body can’t generate these cells, a vaccine is ineffective. But scientists recently tried a new approach using an RNA-based platform.
Their design circumvented the sneaky protein, allowed the body to produce the needed T-cells and completely immunized against malaria. The patent application for their novel vaccine, which hasn’t yet been tested on humans, was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Feb. 4….’
‘What if we’re all just trapped in conversations we want to end?’— Inverse
Okay, so you think two methods are useful? Here‘s an article (from scienceofpeople.com) claiming to offer 62 methods.
Why We’re Not Done With Trump Yet
‘America, we got lucky. On the laundry list of things Donald Trump has been terrible at, transforming our country into a fascist autocracy was only the latest….’
— Via HuffPost
Finding Flowers, and Solace, in the Cracks and Grit of an Urban Jungle
The (American) Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times writes about the Japanese reverence for, nay obsession with, flowers, and the discovery of reason to hope in the ‘treasure hunt for floral beauty’
— Via The New York Times
‘For two decades, the U.S. government has been engaging with faith leaders in Muslim communities at home and around the world in an attempt to stamp out extremism and prevent believers vulnerable to radicalization from going down a path that leads to violence.
Now, after the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory helped to motivate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, with many participants touting their Christian faith — and as evangelical pastors throughout the country ache over the spread of the conspiracy theory among their flocks, and its very real human toll — it’s worth asking whether the time has come for a new wave of outreach to religious communities, this time aimed at evangelical Christians.
“I personally feel a great burden, since I came from these communities, to try to figure out how to help the leaders,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security who resigned from Trump administration in April 2020. The challenge in part is that, in this “particular case, I don’t know if the government is a credible voice at all,” she says. “You don’t want ‘Big Brother’ calling the local pastor and saying, ‘Hey, here’s your tips for the week.’”
Neumann, who was raised in the evangelical tradition, is a devout Christian. Her knowledge of that world, and her expertise on issues of violent extremism, gives her a unique insight into the ways QAnon is driving some Christians to extremism and violence.
She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same….’
— Via POLITICO
I’ve written before about this community grooming adherents to assume power (probably sounding conspiratorial). Pence was the avatar of Christian authoritarianism in the trump administration. Ironic and perhaps fortunate that, on Jan, 6th, he momentarily remembered his oath uphold the Constitution and became confused about which aspects of love of country were consistent with his love of God.
‘…literary icon who opened doors for the Beat Generation has died at 101…’
— via Literary Hub
Ferlinghetti preferred to call himself the last of the Bohemians rather than the first of the Beats. Founder of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Press, publisher of Ginsberg, friend of them all. I am deeply saddened.
‘Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University—he was the first tenured African-American professor of sciences at Columbia. His research focuses on the “behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactive drugs in humans.” Hart’s new book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups, is a bold and engaging effort to counter what he sees as generations of misinformation and moral grandstanding about drug use.
…(M)ost drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and some responsible drug-use scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning….’
— By John Steele via Nautilus
The Frigid Consequences of Global Warming:
Climate scientists have spent years exploring the relationship between extreme winter weather and warming temperatures in the Arctic Circle. Some studies suggest that the warming Arctic disrupts a natural phenomenon known as the polar vortex, which normally contains cold air in the north.
We inch closer to doomsday:
‘America is building a new weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear missile the length of a bowling lane. It will be able to travel some 6,000 miles, carrying a warhead more than 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will be able to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a single shot.
The US Air Force plans to order more than 600 of them.
On September 8, the Air Force gave the defense company Northrop Grumman an initial contract of $13.3 billion to begin engineering and manufacturing the missile, but that will be just a fraction of the total bill. Based on a Pentagon report cited by the Arms Control Association Association and Bloomberg News, the government will spend roughly $100 billion to build the weapon, which will be ready to use around 2029.
To put that price tag in perspective, $100 billion could pay 1.24 million elementary school teacher salaries for a year, provide 2.84 million four-year university scholarships, or cover 3.3 million hospital stays for covid-19 patients. It’s enough to build a massive mechanical wall to protect New York City from sea level rise. It’s enough to get to Mars.
One day soon, the Air Force will christen this new war machine with its “popular” name, likely some word that projects goodness and strength, in keeping with past nuclear missiles like the Atlas, Titan, and Peacekeeper. For now, though, the missile goes by the inglorious acronym GBSD, for “ground-based strategic deterrent.” The GBSD is designed to replace the existing fleet of Minuteman III missiles; both are intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. Like its predecessors, the GBSD fleet will be lodged in underground silos, widely scattered in three groups known as “wings” across five states. The official purpose of American ICBMs goes beyond responding to nuclear assault. They are also intended to deter such attacks, and serve as targets in case there is one….’
— Elizabeth Eaves, via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
David Leonhardt’s op-ed piece in the New York Times captures a lot of my concerns about our absolutist tendency to “cease all behavior that creates additional risk” during an emergency. During the pandemic, this has led not only to the discouragement but in some places the prohibition of behaviors even minutely increasing risk. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic describes the colossal waste of time, effort and in some cases expense of “hygiene theater“, when we are long past any sense that Covid is spread by unclean surfaces (The Lancet) other than human hands. This week, UC Berkeley banned exercise with or without masks and UMass Amherst has banned outdoor walks, although there are no scientifically documented instances of outdoor transmission unless people were, as one journalist puts it, “breathing the air that other people exhale.”
In my work as a psychiatrist, I treat OCD, one of the major categories of which is contamination fears leading to excessive cleaning and hand washing. So what’s wrong with keeping exceptionally clean? After all compulsive behaviors function to assuage fears but, famously, mental illnesses are defined not only by their symptoms but by the criteria of causing distress or interfering with function. People with contamination OCD will abrade the skin off their hands from their hand washing behavior and clean so compulsively that they cannot get to sleep or get out of the house for their appointments.
Much of our ritualistic behavior in response to Covid fears is analogous. The price we pay for minimizing danger at all times, especially with scientifically unreasonable behavior, is far worse than the benefit. Leonhardt observes that “some of the clearest voices against Covid absolutism are researchers, and especially those who devoted their careers to studying HIV.
‘They know the history. The demonization of sex during the AIDS crisis contributed to more unsafe sex. If all sex is bad, why focus on safe sex?.. There is a similar dynamic with Covid. People do not have unlimited energy, so we should ask them to be vigilant where it matters most…’
Enforcing unnecessary mask-wearing may undermine wearing masks where they make a difference. Banning college students from outside walks will arguably increase the chance that they surreptitiously gather indoors (Mercury News). And needless deep-cleaning is an enormous waste of resources.
When I studied cultural anthropology, I thought a lot about the purpose of ritual. It appears that it is not to bring about the desired culturally articulated goal of the ritual. Instead, because rituals are defined so exactingly that we will fail at completing them perfectly as prescribed, they serve to reconcile us to the continued sorrow and distress of life. The Gods cannot be placated. And, similarly, if our Covid rituals as a society are functions of magical thinking, they will not assuage our grief and anxiety but may instead exacerbate it. In short:
‘Rules that are really more about showing that you’re doing something versus doing something that’s actually effective are counterproductive…’
People and security members run away after Kurdish animal-rights activists released a bear into the wild, after rescuing several bears that were held in captivity in people’s homes, in Dohuk, Iraq, on February 11, 2021.— Photos of the Week, The Atlantic
As recipient of this year’s Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry Laurie Anderson will be offering her six Norton Lectures free (via Eventbrite registration) for a virtual audience. The first lecture airs Wednesday at 5:00 pm EST.
— BY Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite via Harvard Gazette
What can the most liberal justice accomplish on the most conservative court in decades?
‘Sotomayor is … poised to take over Ginsburg’s role as the functional minority leader. There are calls for 82-year-old Stephen Breyer to retire while a Democratic president and Senate can replace him, and Joe Biden has promised to nominate the first Black woman to the Court. On a Court that runs on seniority, Breyer’s move would anoint Sotomayor as the most senior justice in what is usually, in the most heated cases, the resistance — the true heir to Ginsburg and, before her, John Paul Stevens and Thurgood Marshall….’
— Via New York Magazine
‘Imbolc, in the Celtic seasonal calendar marks the beginning of the lambing season and signals the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life. It is Feile Brighde, the ‘quickening of the year’. The original word Imbolg means ‘in the belly’. All is pregnant and expectant – and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a ‘just-showing’ pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring. Here is hope. We welcome the growth of the returning light and witness Life’s insatiable appetite for rebirth.
It is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle. (‘Spring cleaning was originally a nature ritual’ – Doreen Valiente). It’s a good time for wish-making or making a dedication.
Imbolc is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit), so loved as a pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church as St Bridget. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is a Goddess of Fire, of the Sun and of the Hearth. She brings fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. She is the Triple Goddess, but at Imbolc she is in her Maiden aspect….’
‘The troubling thing is this. America’s not asking the question. It’s not on the lips of pundits. Ezra Klein is still busy pretending fascism didn’t happen, and Chris Hayes is right back to obsessing over political minutiae. American pundits have never been good with either the big picture or the truth. And the average American and politicians take their cues from them. So the whole question of “what does it take to recover from fascism” is going entirely unasked. And in that way, America isn’t learning anything from the Trump Years. So will it? Can it?…’
'A man walks into a bar and says: Take my wife–-please. So you do. You take her out into the rain and you fall in love with her and she leaves you and you’re desolate. You’re on your back in your undershirt, a broken man on an ugly bedspread, staring at the water stains on the ceiling. And you can hear the man in the apartment above you taking off his shoes. You hear the first boot hit the floor and you’re looking up, you’re waiting because you thought it would follow, you thought there would be some logic, perhaps, something to pull it all together but here we are in the weeds again, here we are in the bowels of the thing: your world doesn’t make sense. And then the second boot falls. And then a third, a fourth, a fifth.
A man walks into a bar and says: Take my wife–-please. But you take him instead. You take him home, and you make him a cheese sandwich, and you try to get his shoes off, but he kicks you and he keeps kicking you. You swallow a bottle of sleeping pills but they don’t work. Boots continue to fall to the floor in the apartment above you. You go to work the next day pretending nothing happened. Your co-workers ask if everything’s okay and you tell them you’re just tired. And you’re trying to smile. And they’re trying to smile.
A man walks into a bar, you this time, and says: Make it a double. A man walks into a bar, you this time, and says: Walk a mile in my shoes. A man walks into a convenience store, still you, saying: I only wanted something simple, something generic… But the clerk tells you to buy something or get out. A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river but then he’s still left with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away but then he’s still left with his hands....'
— Via if seeing is believing
‘…[James Cawley, an Elvis impersonator and] Star Trek fan …used the blueprints to the sets of the original Star Trek Enterprise to lovingly re-create those sets in a former supermarket in upstate New York. “Star Trek: Original Series Set Tour” is located in downtown Ticonderoga, New York….’
— Gareth Branwyn via Boing Boing
Wired reported on this in 2016. It just so happens that my family and I were passing through Ticonderoga this past Thanksgiving weekend and discovered this. However, I don’t think Cawley, whom we met during our visit, just recreated the sets from the blueprints. As we were told, he spent what he referred to as an “astronomical” sum buying up original set dressings, props and furnishings from Desilu Studios and shipped them cross-country to set them up in Ticonderoga. We also learned that William Shatner toured the set and had a load of fun. Cawley and friends filmed and released their own versions of the Original Series online as well.
‘Cawley starred as Kirk early on; later, professional actors got involved, including George Takei and Walter Koenig. They made 11 episodes before CBS, the rights holder, instituted new guidelines prohibiting that kind of fan-film. But the company granted Cawley permission to open his set to the public…’
Trump and Justice Dept. Lawyer Plotted to Oust Acting AG After He Refused to Use DOJ to Overturn GA Election Results:
‘The Justice Department’s top leaders listened in stunned silence this month: One of their peers, they were told, had devised a plan with President Donald J. trump to oust Jeffrey A. Rosen as acting attorney general and wield the department’s power to force Georgia state lawmakers to overturn its presidential election results.
The unassuming lawyer who worked on the plan, Jeffrey Clark, had been devising ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark.
The department officials, convened on a conference call, then asked each other: What will you do if Mr. Rosen is dismissed?
The answer was unanimous. They would resign.
Their informal pact ultimately helped persuade Mr. trump to keep Mr. Rosen in place, calculating that a furor over mass resignations at the top of the Justice Department would eclipse any attention on his baseless accusations of voter fraud. Mr. trump’s decision came only after Mr. Rosen and Mr. Clark made their competing cases to him in a bizarre White House meeting that two officials compared with an episode of Mr. trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” albeit one that could prompt a constitutional crisis….’
— Via New York Times
We were much closer to a full-on coup than we knew.
‘I have two asks of every American: Give Joe Biden a chance to surprise you on the upside and challenge yourself to surprise him.
American businesses need to surprise us by telling Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch that their network fueled the Big Lie that led to the ransacking of the Capitol and that they are no longer going to advertise on any show that spreads conspiracy theories. The best news I heard this week is that My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell — an avid Trump backer and advertiser on Fox, who has pressed debunked claims that the 2020 election was rigged — said Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and other retailers were dropping his products. Good for them.
Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have to surprise us by once and for all stopping the elevation — for profit — of news that divides and enrages over more authoritative, evenhanded news sources.
There is no equivalent on the left to the right-wing white supremacists and other extremists who just ransacked the Capitol. Not even remotely. But liberals would surprise a lot of people on the right, and maybe even get a few to support Biden, if they forcefully rejected political correctness when it stifles dissent and called out not only violence by the police — a huge priority — but also the sources of violence in minority neighborhoods that are terrorizing Black, brown and white residents alike. I see it in my hometown, Minneapolis, every day.
And now that the threat of Trump is gone, all of us in the news business need to get back to separating news from opinions. We need more places where Americans of all political stripes can feel that they’re getting their news straight — without being enraged, divided or woke; leave that for the opinion sections.
Finally, as I said, before we tear Biden apart, how about everybody give him a few months to surprise us on the upside? Give him a chance to put country before party and fulfill his oath of office…’
‘Trying to pick the most notable lies from Donald Trump’s presidency is like trying to pick the most notable pieces of junk from the town dump.
There’s just so much ugly garbage to sift through before you can make a decision.
But I’m qualified for the dirty job. I fact checked every word uttered by this President from his inauguration day in January 2017 until September 2020…’
— Analysis by Daniel Dale via CNNPolitics
There’s this anonymous reader, about whom I wrote here in the past, who’s continuing to rate every post even remotely critical or contemptuous of trump with 1 star.
I had considered dispensing with the ratings system. Any cogent reaction to a post ought to result in a comment rather than just a click on a star, since my followers are by and large articulate and intelligent readers. But I thinkI have decided to keep the ratings widget because I am kind of enjoying seeing that I get under at least one person’s skin that much. I personally am a fan of righteous anger (as if that wasn’t already obvious to my readers) even if misguided. So my critic should keep it up! I promise the negative posts about the Twice-Impeached Molester-in-Chief will continue.
So so sorry there is no way to arrange for you to indicate a ‘0’ star rating, since that would probably suit you more.
Someone suggested facetiously that the shitposter might be trump himself. If you’re reading this, now that your social media access has been largely axed, rest assured that you still have access to FmH. Keep ’em comin’!
Or you can even expand your activity here. For instance, the obituary below is about a person of color. That get under your skin too? Why not downrate it as well?
Mike Pence publicly defied the president once in four years, and for that solitary show of independence, his own political future could be all but finished.
‘Pence’s rise and fall is emblematic of that of so many people who tethered themselves to Trump with disastrous results. When he agreed to become Trump’s running mate, his career was in peril. He was an obscure governor facing a difficult reelection campaign. At the time, his national profile centered on a bill he’d signed that critics feared could be used to discriminate against the LGBTQ community on religious grounds. By putting him on the ticket in 2016, Trump rescued him from a potentially career-ending loss—a point that Trump hasn’t hesitated to make in private discussions with White House aides.
From the first, Pence worried about alienating a thin-skinned president in constant need of validation. He stayed on message even when there was no message. James Melville, a former U.S. ambassador to Estonia, told me about a visit Pence made to that nation in July 2017. When Pence would huddle privately with aides, he’d invariably ask: “Were there any tweets? Did I miss anything?” Melville recalled. “I thought it was shocking and amusing” that Pence would be engaged in so much “hand-wringing over what the boss was saying.” Working under Trump, Melville said, was akin to “living with an alcoholic. You’re always waiting for the next disaster.”…’
— Peter Nicholas via The Atlantic
‘In the menagerie of right-wing populist groups, the boogaloo bois stand out for their fashion, for their great love of memes, and, to put it plainly, for the incoherence of their ideology. Which is saying a lot, considering that the riot at the Capitol last Wednesday featured partisans of the long-gone country of South Vietnam, Falun Gong adherents, end-times Christians, neo-Nazis, QAnon believers, a handful of Orthodox Jews, and Daniel Boone impersonators.
The boogaloos weren’t a huge presence in that mob. But according to federal officials, the attack on the Capitol has galvanized them and could inspire boogaloo violence in D.C. and around the country between now and Inauguration Day. The FBI warned earlier that boogaloos could launch attacks in state capitols this Sunday, January 17.
The boogaloos don’t appear interested in fighting for Donald Trump—they tend to despise him, mostly because they think he panders to the police. But for the past year, boogaloo bois all over the United States have been cheering on the country’s breakdown, waiting for the moment when their nihilistic memes would come to life and the country would devolve into bloody chaos.
It’s hard to know how seriously to take the boogaloo threat. Some are likely just joking when they “shit-post” about shooting cops or “yeeting alphabet boys”—killing government law-enforcement agents. But others seem serious. They’ve already shown up heavily armed (and in their signature Hawaiian shirts) at protests and at state capitols. They’ve allegedly killed law-enforcement officers, talked about throwing Molotov cocktails at cops during the racial-justice protests this summer, and plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They say they want a total reset of society, even if they haven’t thought very hard about what, exactly, should come next.
Who are the boogaloo bois? And why do they want to start a civil war? I’ve spent the past few months trying to figure that out…’
— Michael J. Mooney via The Atlantic
Why physicist Avi Loeb thinks there’s a “serious possibility” that ‘Oumuamua was an alien spacecraft
‘..[W]hen a bizarrely fast, cigar-shaped interstellar object jetted past Earth on its trip through our solar system, Harvard professor Avi Loeb believes scientists weren’t ready to seriously consider that it was of artificial origin. But Loeb is beyond consideration — he says it’s very possible that ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “oh moo ah moo ah”) was an interstellar spacecraft.
Back in October 2017, a postdoctoral researcher named Robert Weryk at the University of Hawaii was sifting through the usual data stream from the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey of the sky when he noticed an unexpected object. It appeared to be highly elongated, like a stick, with a long axis 10 times longer than its short axis — unprecedented for an asteroid. Some hypothesized that ‘Oumuamua swung towards our solar system as a result of a gravitational slingshot of a binary star system; others, that it might be an odd comet, though no tail was evident. Thus the search began to collect and analyze as much data as possible before it left our solar system.
Immediately upon discovering its physical properties, researchers realized its shape — which would minimize abrasions from interstellar gas and dust — would be ideal for an interstellar spacecraft. The idea understandably sent shockwaves through the scientific community and stoked controversy. Ultimately, scientists coalesced behind the idea that it was of natural origin, rather than artificial. But Loeb, who is the former chair of astronomy at Harvard University, remains certain that it was something akin to a light sail — a form of interstellar propulsion — spacecraft created by an extraterrestrial civilization. So much so that he wrote a whole book about it.
That book would be “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” in which Loeb argues that the scientific community’s resistance to discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life has hindered taking seriously his hypothesis that ‘Oumuamua was an alien light sail. Loeb reflects on how what happened with ‘Oumuamua was a bit of a missed opportunity, and that academia must invest more in the search for life in our universe to better prepare us for another interstellar visitor. But perhaps, most importantly, in a time when Earth faces an urgent global warming crisis, Loeb says that it could be finding extraterrestrial life that saves us from ourselves….’
— Via Salon.com
‘Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump has remained hugely popular among fellow Republicans. As recently as December, after Trump had lost the 2020 election to President-elect Joe Biden, some polls showed the president with an approval rating in the high 80s among Republicans.
But a new poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that the events of the last few weeks — a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, and then Trump was impeached for the second time in his presidency — are finally starting to weigh on Republican voters. The poll was conducted from January 8-12, so it was conducted entirely after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
The poll shows Trump with a disastrous 29 percent approval rating among US adults. Notably, this rating, the lowest of his presidency, appears to be driven in large part by a significant minority of Republicans who have lost faith in the president. Only 60 percent of Republicans approve of Trump, a stark drop from previous Pew polls.
Pew Research Center
The poll potentially bodes bad news for the Republican Party, as it shows that a rift may be forming within the GOP between hardcore Trump loyalists and Republicans who would prefer to see the party leader fade away. Other recent polls have also found a sharp decrease in Trump’s support, as FiveThirtyEight’s tracker shows, though not all to such a low….’
— Via Vox
‘It’s becoming clear that the assault on the Capitol last week was well-planned. Here are a few of the latest findings:
The riot may have been coordinated with the help of at least three far-right U.S. Representatives: Andy Biggs, AZ, Mo Brooks, AL, and Paul Gosar, AZ.
Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill, NJ said she saw GOP “colleagues leading groups on “reconnaissance” tours of the building” a day before the riot.
“One freshman lawmaker, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), is also facing criticism for tweeting about the location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) while the Capitol was under siege,” reports The Washington Post.
“Several Capitol Police officers have also been suspended and more than a dozen others are being investigated for suspected ties to rioters or for showing inappropriate support for last week’s attempted insurrection,” reports the Post.
“The attack on the Capitol was coordinated and planned. Here are the insurrectionists talking about the plan, including detailed schematics of the Capitol building.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s chief of staff, Sarah Groh, said the panic buttons in her office had been removed. From the Post:…’
— Via Boing Boing
Isolated and angry at aides for failing to defend him as he is impeached again
‘Though Trump has been exceptionally furious with Vice President Pence, his relationship with lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of his most steadfast defenders, is also fracturing, according to people with knowledge of the dynamics between the men.
Trump has instructed aides not to pay Giuliani’s legal fees, two officials said, and has demanded that he personally approve any reimbursements for the expenses Giuliani incurred while traveling on the president’s behalf to challenge election results in key states. They said Trump has privately expressed concern with some of Giuliani’s moves and did not appreciate a demand from Giuliani for $20,000 a day in fees for his work attempting to overturn the election….’
— Via The Washington Post
‘…Certainly, Trump deserves to be impeached for inciting an insurrection; lawmakers, direct targets of the attack, have ample justification for doing so. If Trump had any integrity, he would resign. If Vice President Pence had integrity, he would invoke the 25th Amendment. If Republican congressional leaders had integrity, they would see to Trump’s removal before he can do more harm. On Tuesday, an unrepentant Trump said his riot-inciting speech was “totally appropriate” — as if any more grounds were needed to justify his ouster.
Even if Trump were removed in his final week, though, the punishment would be inadequate, because it lets his co-conspirators off the hook. The attack on the Capitol was not a protest but a crime. The many people complicit in encouraging, planning, financing or condoning it need to be held to account: Members of Congress, state legislators and attorneys general, and the Internet platforms, businesses, advertisers and political action committees that aid them, must be prosecuted, hit with civil litigation or defunded.
Trump may preemptively pardon himself in the coming days, but he won’t be beyond civil and financial punishments. Let’s hope his enablers will be likewise held accountable for convincing millions that the election was stolen, and moving some to violence…’
‘A loyal lieutenant to President Donald Trump, Pence was criticized by the president over his role counting Electoral College votes in Congress and was one of the people trapped inside the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters stormed the building as the votes were being tallied.
“While the vice president and his family were in a bunker in the Capitol, the president did not reach out to check on his safety nor did he condemn those who said the VP should be executed,” said sources familiar with the matter. Video shows rioters shouting, “Hang Pence!
“We strongly condemn all calls to violence, including those against any member of this administration,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Pence and Trump have not spoken since the riots unfolded, according to a source familiar with the matter….’
— Kristen Welker et al via NBC News
I have wondered if trump’s announcement he will not attend the inauguration (what made him expect he was invited anyway??) represented a coded message to his mob that it would be okay to attack that gathering, with Pence and other prominent figures in attendance? Posts on pro-Trump forums continue calls for violence ahead of Inauguration Day. (NPR)
‘Social media platforms have (finally) clamped down on conspiracy theories. But this has simply moved them to ‘alt-tech’ platforms, where there’s no moderation and less critical analysis…’
— Yasmin Green via WIRED UK
‘It’s understandable that his critics on the Hill — who were hunkered down in the belly of the Capitol while Trump’s supporters raided their offices Wednesday — would be tempted to snatch the president’s keys to the “red button.”
But the House speaker does not have the authority to try to keep the nuclear codes from Trump. Like it or not, the president of the United States has sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon.
Pelosi knows this full well — and that’s the point.
The move was political, a way to gin up support for the new Democratic push to impeach Trump over his incitement of the violence that occurred at the US Capitol on Wednesday. (The Washington insider newsletter Punchbowl reported Friday that some Republicans would be “sure to support the move” to impeach.)
Pelosi is a savvy political operator, and painting Trump as not just unhinged but an imminent threat to global security is certainly a way to heighten pressure on members of Congress to support impeachment….’
— Via Vox
‘Hidden amidst the physical cleanup and repairs necessary after a mob of rioters stormed and occupied the US Capitol are significant cybersecurity concerns. At Wired, Lily Hay Newman writes about the cybersecurity implications of the invasion, explaining some of the breaches that happened and discussing others that could have happened if foreign intelligence agents piggybacked on the takeover.
Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, wasn’t surprised, noting, “You have to step back and realize that foreign intelligence could have looked at this and said, ‘Yeah, this is going to be an opportunity.’” Other experts commented on the massive amount of work needed to assess the damage and remediate or monitor any potentially compromised accounts, devices, and networks.
We should all take to heart the words of Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, who said, “Any time there’s a physical breach of a space, I automatically assume it was a digital compromise as well.”…’
— Via TidBITS
‘Whether you’re a longtime astronomy enthusiast or someone embracing a newfound quarantine hobby, here are ten celestial events visible from North America to mark on the calendar….’
— Via Smithsonian Magazine
‘But if the Democrats dare to use their power, a brave new world might be possible…’Roxane Gay in The New York Times
I share Gay’s central point. We do not stand a chance if we give credence to the outpouring of sentiment after the coup attempt that “This is not who we are.” Face it, The Capitol events show us clearly that this is exactly what America has become and we had better face it, or we are whistling in the dark while the monsters descend on us.
‘Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival will be hosted digitally this year, except for The Isolated Cinema, which allows a single viewer to watch all 60 films alone at an abandoned lighthouse, empty theater, or deserted arena…’
— via AV Club
I agonized awhile ago over whether a coup was happening. I should have realized, as concrete and simpleminded as trump is, that when he tried to pull it off there would be no doubt.
I think four options are worthy of urgent and immediate consideration in dealing with the unfit lying tyrannical dangerous narcissist:
- Reimpeachment and removal from office. If he has not committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there is no meaning to the words. trump’s actions lie at the very core of the offenses contemplated by the Constitution’s impeachment standard. There is so much procedural discretion allowed the two houses of Congress in pursuing their roles in the impeachment process that it could be done incredibly rapidly, many legal experts believe. And keep in mind that removal from office is not the only possible outcome of impeachment. It is possible, and will be necessary, to permanently disqualify him from office in the future.
- As I have long advocated, utilizing the 25th amendment provision to remove trump from the presidency as unfit to serve. Finally, there is some serious consideration of this option. Vice President Pence would go down in the history books as a decent and honorable man who did much to save the republic if he would orchestrate this move, together with a majority of the Cabinet if there are enough of them left who have not resigned.
- Immediate arrest on one or many of diverse criminal charges which in my mind could include sedition, domestic terrorism, inciting to riot, conspiracy, and accessory murder. Don’t think for a moment there aren’t a myriad of law enforcement officers impatient to get their hands on trump and take him into custody, especially after his actions led to the killing of Brian Sicknick, one of their own, in the Capitol siege. trump would be welcome to have his court jester Rudy Giuliani argue whether he had immunity from prosecution on these crimes… once he is behind bars. Oh, wait, Giuliani could very well be in custody as well.
- Consideration of involuntary civil commitment to a psychiatric facility. I honestly don’t know why this is not being seriously considered. Tell me if you see anyone but me discussing this in the media, because I haven’t seen it. As a psychiatrist, although I am not familiar with the involuntary commitment regulations in the District of Columbia in particular, it seems clear that trump meets the criteria of presenting a risk of imminent harm to others by virtue of mental illness. I do not believe that any claim of Presidential immunity would extend to civil commitment.
The choice among the four options essentially comes down to whether this was an act of presidential disability (options 2 and 4) or one of presidential culpability (options 1 and 3). I personally have a hard time seeing his actions as those of a fully rational but morally culpable man, but then I have not evaluated him psychiatrically. [Here is an armchair psychoanalytic formulation of trump from Dave Pell at Nextdraft.] There are many arguments extant right now for each of the two poles. Of course, even if he is arrested and charged criminally, he might require a forensic psychiatric evaluation. Certainly, there is more furor in the mainstream press for responding to him as a criminal insurrectionist than as dangerously mentally ill:
- WaPo Editorial Board: Trump caused the assault on the Capitol. He must be removed.
- NYT Editorial Board: “The president needs to be held accountable — through impeachment proceedings or criminal prosecution — and the same goes for his supporters who carried out the violence.”
- The Atlantic: Remove Trump Tonight.
However, I do not see that at all as based on clinical assessment as much as political feasibility and expediency. Why can’t we simply wait for Jan. 20th without taking any action? Both for the sake of the Constitution and because the madman still holds the nuclear launch codes and I for one do not trust that there are adequate safeguards in place against his further acting out.
Related: 50 Spot On Reactions People Had To The Events In The US Capitol. (Bored Panda)
‘Meet the Denmark Strait cataract, the largest waterfall in the world. The gigantic waterfall is located between Greenland and Iceland, stretching over 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide and plunging 11,500 feet (3,505 meters) down from the Greenland Sea into the Irminger Sea…
The Denmark Strait cataract is formed by the difference in temperature between the ultra-cold Arctic waters of the Greenland Sea meeting those of the slightly warmer Irminger Sea. Since the molecules in the cold water are less active and take up less space than in warm water, they are packed together more tightly, making colder water denser. That means that when water from the Greenland Sea meets the Irminger Sea water, it slides right down through it to the bottom of the ocean….’
— Via Neatorama
‘The ruling is based not on whether the WikiLeaks founder violated the Espionage Act, but on the implications of subjecting him to the US carceral state….’
— Via WIRED
I am drawing up Articles of Impeachment. Donald J. Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives & removed from office by the United States Senate. We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath.— Twitter
‘Researchers recently used a huge telescope in Hawaii to study primordial black holes.
These black holes might have formed in the early days from baby universes and may be responsible for dark matter.
The study also raises the possibility that our own universe may look like a black hole to outside observers….’
— Via Big Think
‘The coronavirus can cause insomnia and long-term changes in our nervous systems. But sleep could also be a key to ending the pandemic….’
— James Hamblin MD via The Atlantic
Early in the pandemic, a Cleveland researcher examining the structure of the newly identified virus found it could potentially be blocked by melatonin, a physiological hormone that calibrates sleep and the immune response. Subsequent studies have shown that patients taking melatonin, which is available as an over the counter dietary supplement, have reduced rates of Covid infection and better survival. (Trump was given melatonin as well as other more experimental therapies at Walter Reed). Eight clinical trials of melatonin are currently ongoing, making it one of the most studied potential treatments. But is it melatonin per se or the improved sleep it facilitates, and In turn the effect that has on immune function, that improve Covid-19 outcome?
Initially clinicians saw rampant sleep disturbances and attributed them to pandemic anxiety. But long-term neurological sequela after infection, including sleep disturbance, are becoming apparent and appear out of proportion to patients’ level of preoccupation or worry. Post-Covid symptoms were assumed to be autoimmune reactions, similar to those known in the CNS after other viral infections. But autoimmune researchers feel the effects of Covid don’t exactly fit the bill, being more sporadic and widespread. As one put it, it is “haphazard inflammation — less a targeted attack than an indiscriminate brawl,” with symptoms resulting from a number of mechanisms, perhaps similar to myalgic encephalitis or “chronic fatigue syndrome,” which is poorly understood, widely misrepresented, poorly treatment-responsive, and stigmatized. Interestingly, many clinicians and theoreticians believe the sleep disturbance is central in myalgic encephalitis. Impairment of stages of deep (slow wave) sleep dysregulate metabolism and immune response. This reinforces the idea that melatonin treatment should be part of standard practice.
And, with some discipline, routines to regulate sleep are possible during the pandemic, unlike so many other uncontrollable factors in our current lives. Recommendations may sound prosaic but are profound, and include consistent sleep-wake times, even on weekends, scheduled walks, sunlight exposure early in the day, reduction in blue light exposure for at least the last hour before bed, and maintaining meaningful social connections with others. As Hamblin opines, “Sleep like your life depends on it.”
‘…[G]iven the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected….’
— Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor (in information technology, not virology) at UNC, in The Atlantic
David Frum spins out the consequences in The Atlantic:
‘In a bombshell conversation with Georgia’s secretary of state yesterday, President Donald Trump made monkeys of every Republican official and every conservative talking head who professed to believe Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. The president himself made clear that he had only one end in view: overturning the 2020 election.
…[A] president desperate enough to try to steal an election on a recorded line is desperate enough to try a self-pardon. If a president can pardon himself as well as his or her subordinates, a president can order any crime, or commit it himself, with absolute impunity. The very notion of a self-pardon is radically inconsistent with democratic accountability. If Trump tries to pardon himself, his successors must fight his attempt all the way to the Supreme Court. And given the Raffensperger recording, who doubts that Trump will try it?…’
— Via The Atlantic
One of the keys to the puzzle appears to be ‘metal-poor disc stars’:
‘…[O]ver the past two years, researchers have rewritten nearly every major chapter of the galaxy’s history. What happened? They got better data.
On April 25, 2018, a European spacecraft by the name of Gaia released a staggering quantity of information about the sky. Critically, Gaia’s years-long data set described the detailed motions of roughly 1 billion stars. Previous surveys had mapped the movement of just thousands. The data brought a previously static swath of the galaxy to life. “Gaia started a new revolution,” said Federico Sestito, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory in France.
Astronomers raced to download the dynamic star map, and a flurry of discoveries followed. They found that parts of the disk, for example, appeared impossibly ancient. They also found evidence of epic collisions that shaped the Milky Way’s violent youth, as well as new signs that the galaxy continues to churn in an unexpected way.
The Gaia satellite has revolutionized our understanding of the Milky Way since its launch in December 2013. Taken together, these results have spun a new story about our galaxy’s turbulent past and its ever-evolving future. “Our picture of the Milky Way has changed so quickly,” said Michael Petersen, an astronomer at the University of Edinburgh. “The theme is that the Milky Way is not a static object. Things are changing rapidly everywhere.”…’
— Via WIRED
‘Someone I follow on Twitter, Erika Chappell, recently encapsulated my feelings about The Simpsons in a tweet: “That a show which was originally about a dysfunctional mess of a family barely clinging to middle class life in the aftermath of the Reagan administration has now become aspirational is frankly the most on the nose [manifestation] of capitalist American decline I can think of.”
For many, a life of constant economic uncertainty—in which some of us are one emergency away from losing everything, no matter how much we work—is normal. Second jobs are no longer for extra cash; they are for survival. It wasn’t always this way. When The Simpsons first aired, few would have predicted that Americans would eventually find the family’s life out of reach. But for too many of us now, it is….’
— Dani Alexis Ryskamp via The Atlantic
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…
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 and elsewhere in South America, 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.
The crescent-shaped Copacabana beach… is the scene of an unusual New Year’s Eve ritual: mass public blessings by the mother-saints of the Macumba and Candomble sects. More than 1 million people gather to watch colorful fireworks displays before plunging into the ocean at midnight after receiving the blessing from the mother-saints, who set up mini-temples on the beach.
When taking the plunge, revelers are supposed to jump over seven waves, one for each day of the week.
This is all meant to honor Lamanjá, known as the “Mother of Waters” or “Goddess of the Sea.” Lamanjá protects fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks. Believers also like to throw rice, jewelry and other gifts into the water, or float them out into the sea in intimately crafted miniature boats, to please Lamanjá in the new year.
In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, people also take a New Year’s Day plunge into the water, although of course it is an icy one! 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, or Dipawali, 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.
- 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. The more broken pieces you have, the greater the number of new friends you will have in the forthcoming twelve months.
- 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. This is also a practice in parts of Finland, apparently.
- El Salvadoreans crack an egg in a glass at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight; whatever figure it has made in the morning is indicative of one’s fortune for the year.
- Some Italians like to take part in throwing pots, pans, and old furniture from their windows when the clock strikes midnight. This is done as a way for residents to rid of the old and welcome in the new. It also allows them to let go of negativity. This custom is also practiced in parts of South Africa, the Houston Press adds.
- In Colombia, walk around with an empty suitcase on New Year’s Day for a year full of travel.
- In the Philippines, all the lights in the house are turned on at midnight, and previously opened windows, doors and cabinets throughout the house are suddenly slammed shut, to ward off evil spirits for the new year.
- In Russia a wish is written down on a piece of paper. It is burned and the ash dissolved in a glass of champagne, which should be downed before 12:01 am if the wish is to come true.
- Romanians celebrate the new year by wearing bear costumes and dancing around to ward off evil
- In Turkey, pomegranates are thrown down from the balconies at midnight for good luck.
“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.)
So if the Germans watch British video, what do you watch in Britain? A number of sources have suggested that it is Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, “even though it’s awful and everyone hates it.“
On a related theme, from earlier in the same week, here are some of the more bizarre Christmas rituals from around the world.
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
- Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
- Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
Chu Shen TanXin 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!]
Which of these customs appeal to you? Are they done in your family, or will you try to adopt any of them? However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty!
- Lucky Foods for the New Year (wholefoodsmarket.com)
- New Year’s Day food traditions around the world (examiner.com)
- Lucky foods to Eat on New Year’s Day (kasamba.com)
- 10 Good Luck Foods (beatcancer2010.wordpress.com)
- Good luck food for New Year’s Day (mnn.com)
- New Year’s Eve Traditions 3 (languagelearnersandteachers.wordpress.com)
- How to Manifest Good Luck in the New Year (norinedresser.wordpress.com)
- New Year’s foods for prosperity and luck?
- What’s Cooking in January
- Pickle, Peach, Carp Drops Mark New Year
- It’s New Year’s Eve, You’re Drunk and Damnit, You Drove
- Regency Christmas Traditions: Hogmanay (trsparties.com)
‘Fewer people were executed in 2020 than in any year for nearly three decades, and fewer people were sentenced to die than at any point since the Supreme Court created the modern legal framework governing the death penalty in 1976. Those are two of the striking findings in the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) annual report, which was released on December 16.
One significant reason so few people were executed in 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic — which has slowed court proceedings and turned gathering prison officials and witnesses for an execution into a dangerous event for everyone involved. But even if 2020 is an outlier year due to the pandemic, DPIC’s data shows a sharp and consistent trend away from the death penalty since the number of capital sentences peaked in the 1990s.
…The trend away from new death sentences and executions has continued despite two recent significant pro-death penalty opinions from the Supreme Court.
…Why has the number of death sentences and executions declined so sharply?…’
— Via Vox
‘Botanists discover a new species of flower on a remote slope in Hawaii.
The new plant is called Cyanea heluensis and features white, curved flowers.
The plant is so rare, there is only one of its kind found so far….’
— Via Big Think
‘“We’re now approaching the technological threshold where the little guys can do it to the big guys,” one researcher said….’
— Via The New York Times
‘A new paper reveals a persuasive case that an extinct human ancestor tried to hibernate.
The evidence is from nutritional diseases that leave permanent marks on the skeleton.
This group of humanlike primates spent winters sheltered inside dark, but safe caves….’
— Via Popular Mechanics
‘Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic creatures that have possibly taken over the lunar surface. Scientists believe that these animals are now thriving on the moon after an Israeli spacecraft crash-landed on the Moon in 2019. The spacecraft contained a ‘library of life,’ which included a stack of disks archiving 30 million pages of information about Earth, a copy of the entire English-language Wikipedia, human DNA samples, and thousands of tardigrades:
Beresheet’s strange occupants were dehydrated tardigrades, a process which essentially slows their metabolism down and suspends them in a near-life state. The idea was that, if they were to be rehydrated by someone or something, then they would come back to life, ostensibly telling future lunar explorers about life on Earth today.
But the spacecraft carrying the tardigrades didn’t land on the Moon according to plan, instead crashing on the lunar surface and losing contact with ground control.
Despite the impact, scientists believe that if anything survived the crash intact, it may well have been the tardigrades. The microscopic creatures were sandwiched between micron-thin sheets of nickel and suspended in epoxy, a resin-like preservative that acts like a jelly — potentially enough to cushion their landing.
This is not a totally outlandish idea. Tardigrades have been shown to survive the harsh conditions of space in the past….’
— Via Neatorama
‘A giant puddle in Russia’s Far East city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is being described as “invincible”, after it somehow survived unfixed for over a quarter of a century. It now has its own Instagram page and over 16,000 followers….’
— Via Design You Trust
In many countries celebration is far from over once Christmas has come and gone. December 26 is observed as Boxing Day, an official holiday in the UK, former British colonies, and many European countries. When Boxing Day falls on the weekend, as it does this year, the subsequent Monday is observed as a holiday.
There are varied origin stories for Boxing Day. Many of them relate to the British aristocracy’s proclivity for giving gifts or charitable donations to the less fortunate – either their servants, once their own celebration was over and employees were allowed to get some time off; or filling the donation boxes of churches with food and other supplies for the poor.
But the European tradition of giving money and other gifts to those in need or in service positions dates as far back as the Middle Ages. Some countries call the day after Christmas Saint Stephen’s Day in honor of the first Christian martyr stoned to death in AD 36. Saint Stephen was known for serving the poor, making charity and the distribution of alms a fitting way to celebrate his feast day. Another story, immortalized in the Christmas Carol “Goode King Wenceslaus”, refers to the 10th Century Duke of Bohemia noticing a poor man trying to gather firewood in a blizzard when he was out surveying his lands on the “feast of Stephen,” the day after Christmas. He was moved to go to the man’s house with a box of food, wine, and other items.
In Ireland, where the custom used to be for “wrenboys” to kill a small bird, tie it to a pole decorated with holly and ribbons, and go door-to-door singing the “Wren Song” and asking for money, food, or small gifts, the day was referred to as Wren Day. Reputedly, tradition said that it was bad luck to kill a wren except on the feast of St. Stephen. Sparing the birds today, parades led by people with coal-blackened faces dressed up in wrenboy costumes made of straw, or wearing women’s dresses, mark the festivities. The revelers sing carols and ask for donations to charity. Similar practices occur on the Isle of Man and in parts of Wales. Sylvie Muller writes in more detail of the folklore of the wren and Wren Day in a scholarly article for the Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society.
While not generally observed in the United States, Massachusetts Governor William Weld in 1996 declared December 26 as Boxing Day in that state in response to efforts of a local coalition of British citizens. Unfortunately, it did not gain stature as an employee holiday. The 26th marks the opening of the season for people to return unwanted gifts for exchanges or refunds and to redeem gift cards in the United States. When I first heard of Boxing Day growing up here in the US, I thought in fact that the name had something to do with boxing up these unwanted presents for return.
Observance of Boxing Day has been inconsistent. It is an important day for sport, especially in the horse racing, rugby, football (soccer) and cricket worlds. And, indeed, significant boxing matches have taken place on Boxing Day.
The Boxing Day Dip is a charity event in which hundreds of brave souls, many of them in fancy dress, swim in the sea. It occurs in several venues around the UK and Europe. North Sea water temperatures are usually 49F, or 9.5C, and many participants are in only up to their knees. Roaring bonfires meet them upon their retreat.
The 2012 British film Boxing Day, directed by Bernard Rose, addresses the theme embodied by the holiday as a businessman (Danny Huston) and his chauffeur (Matthew Jacobs) drive into the heart of the Rocky Mts in increasingly perilous weather on the day after Christmas. When the journey becomes life-threatening, the businessman must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice for someone less fortunate.
Even if government offices and banks are closed that days, stores are open and, as is increasingly our wont, it is often observed as a day of commercial excess like Black Friday. (Retailers, after all, increasingly need our charitable giving too!) Also like the recent trend with Black Friday, many retailers run sales for several days before or after December 26, often up to New Year’s Eve, branding it as Boxing Week. So far, thankfully, there has not been a trend for retailers to be open on Christmas Day and force their employees to work on that day as there has been on The Day Before Black Friday holiday. There has been a worker’s movement in the UK to ban the opening of shops on Boxing Day to give employees a much needed day off and place an obstacle in the way of the relentless commercialization of the Christmas holiday season. In any case, many British retailers, especially because of emerging American ownership of retail chains, have begun to emphasize the Black Friday tradition instead, leading to a demonstrable drop in British store traffic on Boxing Day and the days after.
An episode in the 10th season of M.A.S.H. has visiting British soldiers attempting to persuade the uni that it was a “Boxing Day tradition” for officers and service members to switch positions and responsibilities for the day. You can kind of see that as a conceptual extension of the original tradition of the aristocracy giving gifts to the servants, I suppose (not that they would ever take it as far as treating places!).
’Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing a traditional Boxing Day pantomime with the kids. Nothing gets you in the festive spirit like watching classic family favourites such as Dick Whittington, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel. Panto for short is a traditional Christmas play where audience participation is expected. Kids love getting involved by shouting out “It’s behind you” or “Oh no it’s not, Oh yes it is.” All the stars come out to take part and dress up as pantomime dames such as Widow Twankey which is always portrayed by a man. Other well known pantomime characters include her sons Wishy Washy and Aladdin….’ – Paul Denton
Of course in some countries the day is another excuse for copious drinking. Even teetotalers often spend the day in congenial gatherings with family, friends, and feasting. Boxing Day’ s celebratory foods are a mixed bag, coming as they do from English tradition. The BBC has compiled a menu of recipes for Boxing Day brunch including Christmas cake soufflé, cheesy sprout fondue, and several dishes involving mincemeat.
Sausage rolls (New York Times recipe) are also a traditional Boxing Day dish in the UK. Although the concept of savory chopped meat wrapped in dough exists in most cuisines, the British have proudly claimed sausage rolls as their own. An article in The Telegraph suggests that these easy-to-cook, tasty, and greasy items became holiday fare because of upper class families were left to fend for themselves in the kitchen and to find a use for the leftovers on that day.
In a year in which many have been hard hit in unprecedented ways, perhaps December 26 could be a chance to get back to some version of the original intention of the holiday by making sure to give a meaningful gift to someone in need.
— Via ABC News
The vaccine may not be as effective for you as it was shown to be in the pre-authorization trials. Real-world factors in vaccine storage and administration may have an impact. And your health is unique. The level of population immunity necessary to limit vaccine spread is unknown. The duration of immunity invoked by vaccination is unknown and needs to be monitored going forward. Clinical trials did not assess whether vaccination decreases viral transmission and prevents asymptomatic infection, as distinct from its proven value in decreasing the risk of getting sick. Thus, public health measures need to continue unabated.
‘Previous presidents have tended to take the view that it is better to look forwards in the name of national healing than backwards at the failings of their predecessor. And for good reasons – any prosecution would probably be long and difficult, act as a huge distraction, and expose the incoming president to accusations that they were acting like a tinpot dictator hounding their political enemy.
That a possible Trump prosecution is being discussed at all is a sign of the exceptional nature of the past four years. Those who argue in favor of legal action accept that there are powerful objections to going after Trump but urge people to think about the alternative – the dangers of inaction.
“If you do nothing you are saying that though the president of the United States is not above the law, in fact he is. And that would set a terrible precedent for the country and send a message to any future president that there is no effective check on their power,” said Andrew Weissmann, who was a lead prosecutor in the Mueller investigation looking into coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
As head of one of the three main teams answering to the special counsel Robert Mueller, Weissmann had a ringside seat on what he calls Trump’s “lawless White House”. In his new book, Where Law Ends, he argues that the prevailing view of the 45th president is that “following the rules is optional and that breaking them comes at minimal, if not zero, cost”…’
— Via The Guardian
No surprise that I am firmly on the side of hoping for prosecution. The prior checks and balances on autocratic rule depended on little besides the presumption of good faith on the part of the President, and the last four years have made it abundantly clear that that is not sufficient. As would-be dictators go, trump although brazen has been inept and contemptibly stupid but not to act could embolden someone far more skillful and crafty the next time. To refrain based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of national reconciliation and healing is simply naive.
— Via Bored Panda
Instead, we obscured the reality of a Trump presidency.
‘Last month, President Trump lost his bid for reelection. Hundreds of his appointees will soon be leaving the government, including some who didn’t vote for him in 2016 or 2020. What are you to make of the Trump skeptics who joined the administration thinking they could temper his worst instincts?…’
— Sarah Isgur, director of the Justice Dept Office of Public Affairs from 2017-2018, via The Washington Post
However, there is a storm of reaction onTwitter, e.g. ‘I remember Isgur from her frequent appearances as a surrogate for Trump and the GOP. To my recollection there was no one meaner, dirtier or happier to provide misinformation.’ In particular, she appears to have been an enthusiastic apologist for the child separation program. We may be on the verge of a torrent of self-serving revisionist attempts by people who served trump. On the other hand, numerous innocent would-be do-gooders may be exiting the Washington bureaucracy in confessional disillusionment. As with Isgur, it may be a badge of distinction to have actually been fired by trump.
‘Those waging the war against this devastating wave of the venomous species have taken on an ‘eat ‘em to beat ‘em’ approach…’
— via Smithsonian Magazine
As we’ve seen most recently with Mitch McConnell, William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Georgia governor Brian Kemp, trump turns on everyone as even the most spineless reach their limit in sustaining lips-to-buttocks devotion to his unprecedented effort to stay in power and spread Covid-19 as widely as possible. Then there’s the news that he has had White House discussions, including perjured former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and pitiful court jester Rudy Giuliani, about invoking martial law to force a “rerun” of the election in battleground states. Not that it is going to happen, but as David Frum pointed out, how unprecedented is it that we reached the point of having to have the first official military denial that they would participate in the overthrow of a democratic election?
Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the conservative thinktank The Ethics and Public Policy Center and former speechwriter to three Republican Presidents, writes in The Atlantic that this state of affairs is the logical extension of “(trump)’s disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies” evident from long before he became president. Increasingly desperate and despondent, enraged and embittered, uncontrollably consumed by his grievances, and preoccupied with ever more bizarre conspiracy theories. Wehner writes that ‘trump is losing his mind’ and is not the first to draw parallels to Lear.
It cannot be emphasized how dangerous his destabilization is, in terms of its influence on both the scores of cowards in the Republican party and his base in the electorate – delegitimizing the governing power of our newly-elected officials and paralyzing medical science’s ability to mount an effective response to a surging pandemic.
‘This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition—his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy—became lethal. Trump’s negligence turned what would have been a difficult winter into a dark one. If any of his predecessors—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, to go back just 40 years—had been president during this pandemic, tens of thousands of American lives would almost surely have been saved…’
As I have said many times here, every day we postpone removing this sick, sick man from office using the 25th Amendment process available to us is a day when we do not stop wholesale massacre.
‘…I am talking about the people who are giving Trump their full-throated support to the very end, even as he mulls a military coup; the people who buy weird paintings of Trump crossing the Delaware, or who believe that Trump is an agent of Jesus Christ, or who think that Trump is fighting a blood-drinking ring of pedophiles. These supporters have gone far beyond political loyalty and have succumbed to a kind of mass delusion. It is not possible to engage them. Indeed, to argue with them is to legitimize their beliefs, which itself is unhealthy for our democracy.
I don’t want to treat our fellow citizens with open contempt, or to confront and berate them. Rather, I am arguing for silence. The Trump loyalists who still cling to conspiracy theories and who remain part of a cult of personality should be deprived of the attention they seek, shunned for their antidemocratic lunacy, and then outvoted at the ballot box.
If we’ve learned one thing about “Trumpism,” it is that there is no such thing as “Trumpism.” No content anchors it; no program or policy comes from it. No motivating ideology stands behind it, unless we think of general grievance and a hatred of cultural and intellectual elites as an “idea.” And when views are incoherent and beliefs are rooted in fantasies, compromise is impossible. Further engagement is not only unwarranted, but it can also become counterproductive….’
— Tom Nichols via The Atlantic
‘President-unelect Trump has studied every play in the Coups-for-Dummies playbook: court challenges, pressure on Republican officials to overturn the election, even a half-baked plan for martial law from pardoned convict Michael Flynn. But no luck.
Now, Trump’s final hope rests with Tommy Tuberville….’
— Dana Milbank via The Washington Post
“The Shortest Day” – Susan Cooper
So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
— Via Greenside Up
Life While-You-Wait. Performance without rehearsal. Body without alterations. Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play. I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot just what this play’s all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living, I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands. I improvise, although I loathe improvisation. I trip at every step over my own ignorance. I can’t conceal my hayseed manners. My instincts are for happy histrionics. Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more. Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can’t take back, stars you’ll never get counted, your character like a raincoat you button on the run — the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance, or repeat a single Thursday that has passed! But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen. Is it fair, I ask (my voice a little hoarse, since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).
You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no. I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is. The props are surprisingly precise. The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer. The farthest galaxies have been turned on. Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere. And whatever I do will become forever what I’ve done.
— Wisława Szymborska via Brain Pickings
The arborist has determined: senescence beetles canker quickened by drought but in any case not prunable not treatable not to be propped.
The branch from which the sharp-shinned hawks and their mate-cries.
The trunk where the ant.
The red squirrels’ eighty-foot playground.
The bark cambium pine-sap cluster of needles.
The Japanese patterns the ink-net.
The dapple on certain fish.
Today, for some, a universe will vanish. First noisily, then just another silence.
The silence of after, once the theater has emptied.
Of bewilderment after the glacier, the species, the star.
Something else, in the scale of quickening things, will replace it,
this hole of light in the light, the puzzled birds swerving around it.
— Jane Hirshfield via Brain Pickings
‘A few days ago, UK health officials announced that another new coronavirus mutation was spreading rapidly in the south of the country. The strain featured 17 distinct genetic changes, most of them impacting the spike protein. One of them is called N501Y, affecting the receptor-binding motif of the spike protein, according to the UK COVID-19 Genomics Consortium. The mutation did not appear to cause more severe illness, according to public health officials.
Now, a few days later, South African authorities have reported another SARS-CoV-2 mutation that’s apparently driving the second wave in the country. South Africa is nearing 1 million infections, with more than 24,000 people having died of COVID-19 complications. The second wave started in mid-November, with the country registering more than 10,000 cases in a single day a few days ago. This appears to be the second wave’s local peak, but the case count might continue to climb.
South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the 501.V2 mutation of the virus, reports The East African. Unlike the UK strain, this one might cause more severe illness. The official said on Twitter that local clinicians had found anecdotal evidence of the clinic presentation of patients. They said that a larger proportion of younger people are developing critical illness without suffering from other comorbidities.
“The evidence that has been collated, therefore, strongly suggests that that the second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant,” Mkhize said during a virtual briefing on Friday.
The second wave also seems to be spreading faster than the previous one, according to local officials. The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) discovered the mutation in several provinces, noting between 10-20 mutations that were not seen in other strains since September. It’s unclear whether the new version came from.
Health officials “remain convinced” that current vaccines will work against the new strain, says The East African…’
— Via BGR
I’m not a virologist — anybody reading out there who can correct any misconceptions I have? — but I think it is ironic that all this news of new mutations is cascading out just as the vaccines roll out. The coverage I’ve been reading of both the London and South African variants invariably concludes by citing authorities’ assurances that the current vaccines will still be effective but it seems a little too pat to me to be really comforting.
First, my reading is that the vaccines raise an immune response to the virus’ spike protein and it is precisely the spike protein that is mutating from strain to strain.
Next, the vaccines were developed after rapid sequencing of the viral genome and required significant empirical testing to assure effectiveness, while the world held its breath. I’m not sure on empirical grounds that anyone can say yet that the vaccine invokes immunity against any different strain, particularly when those strains appear to differ with respect to precisely the antigens targeted in the vaccine.
If you think, for example, of immunization against influenza. It is effective only against the current combination of antigens in this year’s variant, and there are major antigenic shifts from year to year, making reimmunization on an annual basis necessary. In a given year the flu vaccine may be more or less effective, largely depending on how good the match is between vaccine developers’ best guesses (and, I guess, samples in the wild) about this year’s antigens and the reality. It is possible that the same situation will be true with respect to SARS-CoV-2.
Another factor is that we all hope that an unprecedented proportion of humanity will be vaccinated against Covid-19 compared to any other disease. Vaccine-based immunity may actually become the driving force selecting for new virulent mutations which were more resistant to vaccine-based immunity. Think survival of the fittest and selection pressure on viral strains.
So I’m still holding my breath.
trump Bows to Reality, Asks Confidants, Should I Do ‘The Apprentice’ Again?
People familiar with the matter note that he has been casually dropping references to his earlier, pre-presidential debacle into conversation. Mark Burnett slavers over the moneymaking potential and has reportedly given him the go-ahead, in the face of a string of other flops in his TV production business MGM.
— Via Daily Beast
The plan may be met with relief by members of trump’s inner circle as a way to divert his attention into something marginally less ludicrous and pitiful than his current preoccupation with conspiracy theories and stolen elections, and to reinflate his ego to the monumental levels he requires.
‘Mike Flynn, the former general fired (and later pardoned) by President Trump for lying about his contacts with Russian officials, says that the military should overturn the results of November’s election…
Interviewed on the conservative site Newsmax, Flynn called Thursday for Trump to use “military capabilities” to force key states to repeat elections that had the wrong result….’
— Via Boing Boing
‘In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking Daniel Dennett offers a list of rules formulated decades ago by the legendary social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport:
How to compose a successful critical commentary:
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism….’
— Via Pocket
Let’s be real, though. There is a certain class of disagreement that has become especially prevalent in the last four-plus years in which:
- there is no way to re-express your target’s position clearly, vividly, and fairly without sounding delusional
- there are no appreciable points of agreement
- nothing is learned from your target.
Veterinarians fear this is just the beginning.
‘Which animals can catch Covid-19, which can’t — and why it matters….’
— Via Vox
Can humans become immortal?
‘Scientists are currently mapping the human brain in an effort to understand the connections that produce consciousness. If we can re-create consciousness, your mind can live on forever. You could even laser-port your consciousness to different planets at the speed of light, download your mind into a local avatar and explore those worlds.
But is this transhumanist vision of the future real or is it a pipedream? And if it is real, is it wise? Join theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, neuroscientist David Eagleman, human performance researcher Steven Kotler, skeptic Michael Shermer, cultural theorist Douglas Rushkoff and futurist Jason Silva….’
— Via Big Think
‘Known as the best and most visible meteor shower of the year, the Geminids started on December 4th and end on December 17th, but tonight, December 13th, will be the climax. Here’s how to watch one of the most exciting astronomical events of the year….’
— Via Space.com
Opinion: Airborne transmission, not surfaces, is the covid-19 threat
Exactly. Except for one thing — the compulsive cleaning helps in treating the substantial psychological impact of the pandemic, binding our anxiety.
‘President Donald Trump has made grievance a primary feature of his life and presidency, from the thousands of lawsuits he has filed to, most recently, his repeated claims of national election fraud. His opponents, and even many of his supporters, have wondered why he can’t seem to control his urges to lash out at perceived enemies.
I am a violence researcher and study the role of grievances and retaliation in violent crime. Recently, I’ve been researching the way grievances affect the brain, and it turns out that your brain on grievance looks a lot like your brain on drugs. In fact, brain imaging studies show that harboring a grievance (a perceived wrong or injustice, real or imagined) activates the same neural reward circuitry as narcotics….’