Who Would Have Guessed?

Rafe at rc3 comments:

How bad is the current state of US foreign relations? Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. Before Bush was elected, who would have guessed that at the end of 2002, Germany would have sided with Iraq against the United States, and that South Korea would side with North Korea against the United States? To be honest, I would have considered those things outside the realm of possibility. Relations between Israel and the Palestinians are as bad as they have been since the start of the intifada. Islamist parties are gaining ground all over the world, despite our concerted efforts over the past year to deter Islamism wherever we can. It’s a given that the Bush administration has done a poor job domestically, the counter argument is that events have demanded he focus on foreign policy. Ironic that we’re perhaps doing even worse on that front. I expect that countries like France, Russia, and China would oppose the US agenda as a matter of course — not so with countries like Germany, South Korea, and Turkey.

While I love as much as anyone to drip with contempt for the Bush dysadministration, the point is not just the craven ineptitude in the management of our foreign policies. While conflicts in the non-Western world are ramping down, the dysadministration’s mismanagement — provoking North Korea, dismantling the fragile stability of arms control accords, paradoxical encouragement of virulent Islamic fundamentalism, and utter disregard for the multilateral foundations of security and stability — is singularly responsible for making this a much much more perilous planet on which to live, endangering my life and, more important, those of my children…

New Year’s Day History, Traditions, and Customs.

This is a reprise and an amplification of a New Year’s Day post from FmH in years past:

Years ago, the Boston Globe ran a January 1st 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:

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

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

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

The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:

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

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

In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. A similar 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. The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year. In Rio, you would be plunging into the sea en masse at midnight, wearing white and bearing offerings.

In China, papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune.

Elsewhere: pancakes for the New Year’s breakfast in France; banging on friends’ doors in Denmark to “smash in” the New Year; going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland; making sure 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.

However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come!

Hyperthymic Temperament:

Born to Be Happy, Through a Twist of Human Hard Wire:

In the course of the last year, the woman lost her husband to cancer and then her job. But she did not come to my office as a patient; she sought advice about her teenage son who was having trouble dealing with his father’s death.

Despite crushing loss and stress, she was not at all depressed— sad, yes, but still upbeat. I found myself stunned by her resilience. What accounted for her ability to weather such sorrow with buoyant optimism? NY Times

Post-Hoc "Explanation":

The Mind Explains It All

One afternoon in my psychiatric practice, I saw two patients suffering from depression in back-to-back sessions.

Each had classic symptoms, including what is called diurnal variation of mood: depressed patients typically feel worse in the morning and get better toward evening. The pattern is believed to be caused by the daily fluctuations of hormones and neurotransmitters.

This theory was not, however, how my patients understood their symptoms. The first patient explained that he felt bad during the day because of work pressures, and he improved in the evening because he was alone and could relax. The second patient, a musician, said her solitary days made her depressed; it was only when she arrived at work in the evenings and was around people that she felt like herself.

I suspect that the two patients’ reasoning reflects a phenomenon that crops up constantly in therapy: the post hoc “explanation” of feelings and behaviors. Patients attribute their symptoms to specific life events — an approach that appears to make sense.

But this drive to come up with the causes of events is hardly limited to therapy patients. Neurophysiologists discovered the same phenomenon in a radically different context. While mapping the brain, they were amazed to find that when the area responsible for an emotion was electronically stimulated, subjects experienced the mechanically induced feeling, then instantly came up with reasons for their responses. NY Times

Build Your Own Fusion Reactor:

The Fusor.net Newbie Center

Pictured above is Philo T. Farnsworth. On the left is the difficult thing that he invented in the 1920s. You are probably familiar with it. It’s called “television.”

On the right is the “impossible” thing that he invented in the 1950s.. You are probably less familiar with it. In fact you are probably not familiar with it all, because the device was never perfected nor made practical. At least, not yet. Indeed, the impossible takes slightly longer. In this case, about 40 years longer…

The device is a nuclear fusion reactor. [via slashdot]

Unintended Consequences Dept:

Bubbly Threat to Spain’s Rare Lynxes:

“Cracking open the New Year bubbly could contribute to the first feline extinction since the prehistoric Saber-tooth tiger, wildlife campaigners said on Friday.

Lynxes in Spain and Portugal are becoming critically endangered as their cork-forest habitat dwindles.

With demand waning for traditional corks in favor of synthetic stoppers in wine and champagne, farmers are felling the cork forests to make way for more profitable crops and the pointy-eared Iberian lynx could become one of the casualties.” Reuters

Bunny Speak:

So bOing bOing mentions a weblog I’d never heard of called Silflay Hraka, of all things. It didn’t reallly captivate me but I became curious about the name. Turns out it is an epithet in the rabbit language of Watership Down, which I had never read. Here is a glossary, in case someone swears at you in a gutteral, otherwise unintelligible tongue and you’re interested in the derivation.


In the grand tradition of year-end reviews — The Good, The Bad, The Worst:

“As years go, they don’t get much worse than 2002. The year’s main saving grace – that we haven’t yet invaded Iraq – suggests that, believe it or not, 2003 could be even worse.

A year that came on the heels of 9/11 was probably doomed from the start. Yet the ongoing War on Terrorism that most characterizes our times has cast a muddy shadow on public life that hints of the paranoia and knee-jerk nationalism of the 1950s.

Although we have experienced no acts of domestic terrorism in the 15 months since the Sept. 11 attacks, our country is becoming increasingly unrecognizable – constricted by fear, hysteria, xenophobic intolerance and a whole new set of laws and government intrusions that most of us couldn’t have imagined in the relatively rosy days of pre-9/11…” — Don Hazen, AlterNet


Happy New Fear: “…(I)t’s been another bumper year for half-baked scares and misinformed hysterias.

Like White Christmas and Auld Lang Syne, some are timeless classics. So, we’ve seen further alarms this year about the contraceptive pill, pesticide residues on our food and the drug ecstasy. Mobile phones continue to fry our brains, apparently, if they’re not causing us to crash our cars. Passive smoking and air pollution are giving us lung cancer, so we’re told. If global warming doesn’t get us, a ‘global killer’ asteroid will….” [more] sp!ked

So Many Holes…

…So Few Hacks: “Hole after hole, breach after breach, flaw after flaw is found — and most of the time, it’s in a Windows system. Yet hackers generally don’t exploit them. Why is that?” Wired

Switching Doesn’t Have to Sting.

Wired reports number portability is finally coming to cellular customers in November 2003. Cellular providers have resisted this for a long time for obvious reasons — both the cost of providing this service and the fact that their customers would no longer be hostages to their lousy service. After Sprint complained, the FCC gave them a year’s reprieve for this requirement that was originally intended to go into effect this month. With Michael Powell at the helm of the FCC, I’m actually surprised he is doing this to his chums at the telecomm giants at all. I’ll believe it when I see it.


cites what I find an amazing statistic of a 30% annual ‘churn rate’ — the number of customers who change providers — even without the ability to preserve their numbers. The cellular companies used that fact to argue that customers don’t need number portability, but a good proportion of those who switch these days may be doing it not because of dissatisfaction with their providers as, in a sense, their providers’ dissatisfaction with them (grin) — by which I mean they may be the customers who get shut off for not paying their bills rather than customers whose lifestyle or business depends on the stability of their contacts being able to reach them at a consistent number. Number portability may indeed open as yet unforseen floodgates.

I don’t know if I’m lucky or just masochistic; while I admit that having to tell everyone in my address book of a new number would have been an enormous disincentive to switching, I have kept my cellular provider and my cellular number without the temptation to switch ever since I first contracted for service in 1993. I don’t think my standards are low; I just haven’t been dissatisfied with either the customer support and technical assistance I’ve gotten or the quality of my signal (since going from analogue to digital years ago, I can count the number of dropped calls on the fingers of one hand), but maybe I’m just dense and don’t know what I’m missing. Could the best be yet to come? I do look forward with curiosity to seeing if the threat of a switch brought about by this regulation does improve my service.

Spews & Spam:

“…A shadowy group is using some severe tactics to rid the computer world of Spam — and with some effectiveness. NPR’s Dan Charles reports.” NPR Morning Edition [with link to Real Audio]

Here’s the SPEWS site.

“SPEWS is a list of areas on the Internet which several system administrators, ISP postmasters, and other service providers have assembled and use to deny email and in some cases, all network traffic from.

This private list is now available for the general public to read and/or use for email filtering.”

Clonaid, Credibility and the Press:

Reporter Becomes Actor in Human Clone Drama

Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, the chief scientist for Clonaid, a company founded by a sect that believes life on Earth was created by aliens 25,000 years ago, raised eyebrows around the globe on Friday by announcing the arrival of the world’s first cloned baby.

She backed up her assertions by producing not the baby nor the mother nor pictures nor genetic tests, but a journalist, Michael A. Guillen. Dr. Guillen, a former science editor at ABC News, declared that it would be his job “to put her claim to the test.”

From Clonaid’s perspective, Dr. Guillen — who says he is not a member or employee of the sect, the Raëlians — is brimming with credibility. He has a doctorate in theoretical physics, mathematics and astronomy from Cornell University. He taught physics to undergraduates at Harvard. He is an Emmy-award-winning science journalist who appeared regularly on “Good Morning America,” `20/20″ and other ABC news programs for 14 years before leaving the network in October.

But Dr. Guillen’s critics say that as a reporter he was too credulous of fantastic pseudoscience claims, citing his earnest news reports about astrology, ESP, healing at a distance, auras and cold fusion — topics dismissed by most scientists as nonsense. NY Times

Information Grazing and the Unwashed Masses:

The Internet has become a staple source of information for American households about health care, government services and potential purchases, a survey to be issued on Monday finds.” NY Times … which neatly seques into this:

Killing prompts suit against Internet brokers: This story about the obsessed father reaching out to sue anyone he could after his daughter’s murder is “no different from that of other parents who lose a child”, as even this article concedes. But the obsessed killer, that’s a different, chilling, matter:

Boyer and Youens graduated from Nashua High School in 1997. Though her family says she never knew him, Youens had an obsession for Boyer that went back to junior high.

The infatuation was chronicled on a Web site where Youens described his murder plot in gruesome detail.

“I don’t love her anymore, I wish I did but I don’t,” he wrote. “I wish I could have killed her in Highschool (sic). I need to kill her so I can transport myself back into highschool. I need to stop her from having a life.”

Youens paid Docusearch Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida, about $150 to get Boyer’s Social Security number and other information, including her work address.

“Docusearch pulled through (amazingly) it’s like a dream,” Youens wrote on his Web site.

A few weeks later, Youens pulled alongside Boyer’s car after she left her job at a dental office and shot her 11 times before killing himself. CNN

Game On:

“This Christmas, Santa’s sack will not be weighed down by any one particular consumer electronics product. The recession has hit the market fairly badly, not just in terms of economics, but in terms of innovative products coming to market. And this is likely to continue in 2003. For the first time in recent memory, the consumer market lacks a killer app. Analysts have pointed to several consumer segments making small, but interesting, progress in 2003. This week, Electronic News examines what’s in store for the consumer market in 2003.”

Ostrich-Mode Dept:

Wal-Mart Yanks Pregnant Barbie Pal from Shelves:

“Barbie’s long-time pal, Midge — now married and pregnant — was yanked from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shelves earlier this month after customers complained about the doll, a company spokeswoman said.

Midge is sold as part of the “Happy Family” set, wearing a tiny wedding ring and a detachable stomach with a curled-up baby inside. Her husband, Alan, and 3-year-old child Ryan are sold separately.” Yahoo! News

Wal-Mart declined to comment on whether shoppers’ objections were based on the suggestion of teenage pregnancy embodied in the doll’s being sold alone, rather than only in a ‘happy family’ unit. Parents who bought this doll for their children would have to discuss pregnancy, also unpalatable for Wal-Mart’s customer base.

The great novelists not fit for duty in this war of words.

“War is Heller. It is also Tolstoy, Owen, Vonnegut and Hemingway, among many others.

But according to the Pentagon, war — at least the impending war in Iraq — is Shakespeare, the 5th-century BC Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and two modern bestsellers about heroism and wartime correspondence. Before Christmas the US Defence Department began distributing free, pocket-sized copies of these books to its troops, to ensure that soldiers are improving their minds while removing Saddam. More than 100,000 copies have been given away so far.

The project, set up by a group of publishers with charitable support and Pentagon help, is a deliberate echo of the mass distribution of paperbacks to American soldiers that took place in the Second World War; the largest handout of free literature in history. In 1942 the US War Department hit on the idea of the Armed Services Edition, books specifically for servicemen in the field. The books were cheap to produce, horizontal in format, oblong-shaped to slip into an ammunition pouch, with large print to be read by candle or torchlight and cover designs resembling film posters. The titles catered for every brow height, from the Odyssey to Forever Amber; from Dickens to Twain to Virginia Woolf; literary classics, popular novels, non-fiction and even plays. ” Times of London

Of course, the publisher-organizer of the project, which echoes the mass giveaway of paperbacks from the highbrow to the low- to GIs during WWII, chose to include a book he himself edited among the four books distributed so far.

The Idea Was Not to Have a New One:

Michiko Kakutani reviews the year in arts for the New York Times:

So why do so many newer acts and projects feel so synthetic? The thinking behind movie franchises, certainly, is that it’s easier to sell and merchandise a brand-name product — familiarity, the reasoning goes, makes for bigger opening weekends, and a longer shelf life with spinoffs, video games, soundtracks and other corporate tie-ins. And in the music industry, the growing use of digital processing (using software like Pro Tools, which makes it possible to correct pitch and adjust timing) has made for more synthetic-sounding recordings, while changing the criterion by which singers are judged. As Billboard magazine noted: “Major-label executives readily admit that signing an act now is as much about star presence as it is about the artist’s actual ability to consistently sing the notes.”

As 2002 slouches to a close, however, all was not lost. Amid the cultural wreckage, there were potent albums from the alternative country band Wilco and the Detroit garage band the White Stripes, and novels by Ian McEwan, Jeffrey Eugenides, Richard Flanagan, Bruce Wagner and Alice Sebold that were as emotionally powerful as they were ambitious. Several new television shows like “24” and “Boomtown” tried, however unevenly, to push narrative conventions in new directions; and Larry David’s HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gave us a hilarious look at the absurdities of modern life, as seen through the eyes of an endlessly put-upon curmudgeon.

Both Kakutani and John Pareles, who does the year-end review of music for the Times, feel that puerile pop is dead, supplanted by “unvarnished sincerity — or a decent facsimile…”, as Pareles puts it. Would that it were so! Many other year-end cultural pundits have made a similar observation, although no one has a plausible explanation for such a hopeful trend in the tastes of Western pop culture consumers.

The Republicans Try to Redefine Civil Rights:

“The issues championed today by traditional civil rights groups, from affirmative action to ending racial profiling, have become virtually identical to the Democratic Party platform, and many are antithetical to the race-neutral goals of Republicans. The most egregious forms of discrimination were essentially dealt with in the sweeping legislation of the 1960’s and 70’s, supported by mainstream members of both parties.” NY Times

Mencken Gets into his Usual Hot Water with the Polity:

‘On this day in 1917, H. L. Mencken’s “A Neglected Anniversary,” his hoax article on the American invention of the bathtub, was published in the New York Evening Mail. Mencken’s lifelong campaign to deride and derail Main Street America — the “booboisie” — had a number of easy victories, but this joke succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. In the omniscient tone of newspaper editorials, Mencken lamented and reprimanded that such an august cultural moment as the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bathtub should arrive and “Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.” This was worse than unhygienic; it was unpatriotic.’ Today in Literature

Although Mencken has generally been dismissed because of his racism and anti-Semitism, you can’t fault this curmudgeon’s generic misanthropy. While we’re on the topic, in honor of Mencken, here’s how you say “curmudgeon” in some other languages:

  • Nederlands (Dutch):

    chagrijn, vrek

  • Français (French):

    grincheux, râleur

  • Deutsch (German):


  • Ελληνική (Greek):

    τζαναμπέτης, στραβόξυλο

  • Italiano (Italian):


  • Português (Portuguese):

    avarento (m), rabugento (m)

  • Русский (Russian):


  • Español (Spanish):

    gruñón, malhumorado

  • Svenska (Swedish):

    gnidare, bitvarg
  • 中国话 (Simplified Chinese):

    存心不良的人, 难以取悦的人

  • 中國話 (Traditional Chinese):

    存心不良的人, 難以取悅的人

  • 日本語 (Japanese):


  •   العربيه (Arabic):

    ‏(الاسم) عجوز ذو طبع حاد‏

  •   עברית‬ (Hebrew):

    ‮רע, קמצן‬
  • Prestigious Colleges Ignore the Inadequate Intellectual Achievement of Black Students

    “(C)olleges… seem to reproduce the inequalities of American society in ways that they can’t avoid, despite their best intentions. Perhaps it’s time to stop pretending otherwise and deceiving minority applicants into thinking that they will achieve the same academic and social success as their white counterparts — or even be held to similar standards.” Chronicle of Higher Education [via Arts & Letters Daily]

    New Software Products:

    This site “list(s) the latest new software products in over 160 categories. If you have a Software Product released within the last 6 months please feel free to submit it for inclusion in our directory.” Currently there are more categories than links, but it might catch on. Since endusers are usually pretty specific in what kind of software they’re searching for at a given moment, the pigeonholing seems appropriate.

    It was easy.

    At a reader’s request, I went back to Blogger’s configuration and reset my XML feed to provide full content rather than headlines only. I can’t figure out why I hadn’t had it set up that way from the beginning. If you find it elegant or efficient to read your content via XML, here’s the Follow Me Here RSS feed.

    I’m very happy with Amphetadesk under Windows as an XML reader, BTW. If you use AmphetaDesk, you can simply click here to subscribe to FmH in XML. I’m also playing with Feedreader, also free, which has a slightly more cumbersome interface but, unlike Amphetadesk, doesn’t choke on an il-fomed feed, it just skips the individual item with the error. For example, there’s something wrong with the XML version of one of the FmH posts today.

    Although I’ve explored this before in some detail, here’s a Guardian article on RSS newsreaders that introduces the scene.

    BTW, if you go to any FmH archive pages, you’ll find that some of the image links are broken. That’s because I just finished converting all my .GIFs to .PNGs, both because they load abit faster and because they avoid the contention about whether the .GIF format is proprietary. The archive pages still link to the now nonexistent .GIF images. Forgive me for not correcting this on each and every page. [If I were to wipe out all my archive files and then told Blogger to rearchive, would it use the new version of the template, I wonder?] Addendum: Yes; republished and fixed now.

    Spiritual Connection on the Internet:

    “Requesting prayers and joining virtual prayer circles has become commonplace on the Internet, as worshipers can e-mail an order of nuns and request a prayer or enter a chat room and ask whoever reads their message to pray on their behalf. But e-mailing a prayer for the intercession of a saint is new.” NY Times This somehow reminds me of my bemusement to find enormous water- and wind-driven prayer wheels everywhere in my wandering among the Buddhist monasteries of Nepal in years past. It is easy to understand the handheld versions which send out a prayer every time one is mindful to twirl them (I have one at home which, indeed, charms my children…). Mechanical means of spinning the prayer wheels which remove the need for human intercession, on the other hand, seemed somehow to miss the point.

    "…Heroes against villains at all costs…":

    Getting Into Gang War: Beginning with the superficial similarities between The Two Towers

    and Gangs of New York as regards bloody hand-to-hand combat, Salman Rushdie writes a Washington Post op-ed piece contrasting the moral certainty of the War of the Rings with the “amoral world of bare-knuckle power” of Scorsese’s New York. Here’s his punchline: “Ambiguity is out of fashion, however. We will be given a war of heroes against villains at all costs. After all, The Two Towers is a vast popular success, and Gangs of New York is doing no better than modest business. Perhaps when the time for the Oscars comes round, the academy will see fit to reward the more profound complexities of the Scorsese movie. But by March we may all be preoccupied by a greater, darker contest than the one for the Academy Awards.”

    From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

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    “The Jesus pictured on the cover of this month’s Popular Mechanics has a broad peasant’s face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a prominent nose. He would have stood 5-foot-1-inch tall and weighed 110 pounds, if the magazine is to be believed.

    This representation is quite different from the typical lithe, long-haired, light-skinned and delicate-featured depiction of the man Christians consider the son of God.

    Israeli and British forensic anthropologists and computer programmers got together to create the face featured in the 1.2-million circulation magazine, which occasionally veers from its usual coverage of motors and tools to cover the merger of science and religion.” CNN

    Happy Boxing Day

    but, more to the point, St Stephen’s Day:

    “St. Stephen was a Christian martyr who was stoned to death for his belief in Jesus. He is the patron of stoneworkers and also is associated with horses. This day ‘drew in’ other more ancient traditions. In Ireland, boys go from door to door gathering money for a ‘dead wren’ they carry, supposedly stoned to death, but really a remnant of ancient Druidic wren sacrifices for the winter solstice. In Poland, people throw oats at the priests and walnuts at each other – things supposedly symbolic of the stoning, but in reality these things were done long before as fertility rituals.”

    “Give a toast to those who try to do good despite the odds, and a toast to those who struggle to do better despite tough circumstances.”

    Moscow officials examine Potter books:

    “Moscow prosecutors have opened an investigation into whether the Harry Potter series of children’s books incite religious hatred, an official said Wednesday.

    The investigation was started at the request of a Moscow woman who was upset by the novels, said Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the Moscow city prosecutor’s office.

    Petrenko gave no futher details on the complaint. The Interfax news agency reported that the woman who sought the investigation believes the second volume in the series contains occult propaganda.” Associated Press

    All the Sex Has Been Edited Out.

    Or Has It?

    Inspiration for the series struck in 1999 when Ms. Carton, a sculptor, was surfing through online pornography and found her eye drawn not to the bodies in one particular image, but to two background objects: a model Corvette and a copy of “The Grapes of Wrath.”

    “I can understand the car, but I’d never seen any literary reference in porn before,” she said. “It grabbed my eye. At that moment, I started saying, ‘What does this have to do with desire?’ I started looking at the details in a different way.” NY Times

    Expounding a New View of Accidents

    Accidents happen. In fact, they have always happened, from the asteroid that presumably wiped out the dinosaurs to the great fire that razed central London in 1666. But there are accidents and there are accidents. A good many, like earthquakes and tornadoes, are unavoidable acts of nature. But many more are human accidents provoked by the very technology that we celebrate: they represent the dark face of progress.

    Paul Virilio, 70, a French urbanist, philosopher and prolific writer, began developing this thesis after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States in 1979. Now, he believes, we are more accident-prone or rather, technology and communications have made accidents more global in their impact. In his view, if an accident was long defined as chance, today only its timing and consequences are hard to predict; the accident itself is already bound to occur.

    To underline the importance of this unwelcome variable to modern society, Mr. Virilio is promoting the creation of a Museum of Accidents. NY Times


    i.e. video weblogging: “Welcome to a new age of blogging: video blogging. I’ve created two video weblogs — one about the new World Trade Center designs and one about my Christmas tree — because (a) there’s new software that makes it easy [more on that below] and (b) I’m becoming convinced that video is the next frontier for blogging. It’s a simple equation: We bloggers do not compete with newspapers, because we do not have news operations. Instead, bloggers compete with pundits because what we do have is opinions. And where do you find the most pundits? On TV.” BuzzMachine by Jeff Jarvis I don’t think I’d have the stomach for video content as insipid as some of what is to be seen in the weblogging world. I mean, come on, his Christmas tree??? I’m reminded of the quip about how opinions are like a certain part of your anatomy, you know the one, everybody’s got at least one of them. I don’t think “vlogging” will catch on, at least not with me. Unlike text weblogs, I wouldn’t have the patience to waste as much time as it would take to sift through content without quality control in a realtime streaming medium. A wannabe talking head could be painful to watch in a way a would-be commentator can never be, no matter how badly they write, in a text medium. Just take a look at Jarvis’ posed profundity if you need convincing. He is clearly a man who wants to be a seminal trendsetter. After all, he created “THE Vlog”. I should know; I write THE FmH. [Hmmm, maybe I’m just jealous…}

    The World at Your Fingertips:

    Kroger Lets Shoppers Pay Via Fingerprint: “Suppose you endured the checkout line at the grocery store only to find that you were short on cash, or you’d forgotten your wallet. What if you could settle the bill with just the touch of your finger?

    Kroger Co., the largest U.S. supermarket chain, is offering some customers just that opportunity, testing finger imaging as a method of payment in three of its Texas stores.” Reuters Technology

    To Lay Me Down…

    Oh, yes, as some of you have noticed, I’ve been playing around with the template again, trying to do table-less layout. Some people have written that there’s some white space bleeding over from the sidebar and obscuring the leftmost edge of the main-column text. Please write me and tell me if that’s happening for you, and let me know what your browser, browser version and OS/platform are. I’m particularly interested in hearing from people with something other than Win NT/XP, since I’ve tested the layout in Mozilla and IE6 at various screen resolutions on my Windows system. There have been suggestions that the extra white space is coming from broken links to images in the sidebar, which leave you with a box of “alt” text if your browser is set to display alt text for broken image links by default. I’ve taken out one such broken image link and currently there don’t appear to be any others…

    In Search of Mr. Right:

    “Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the author of Why There Are No Good Men Left, discusses the challenges facing today’s single women, and argues that the contemporary courtship system needs to be transformed“. She essentially argues that social changes in recent decades have resulted in a deliberate choice to stay single longer. This, she says, is merely an incidental change with few consequences for men, but makes a profound difference for women because of the constriction of social opportunities to meet the right man and competition from younger women.

    What needs to change, then, she suggests, is not the contemporary woman’s postponement of the search for a spouse, but the courtship system itself. A well-functioning courtship system, she emphasizes, should succeed in bringing a society’s eligible young people into appropriate partnerships. But today’s courtship system fails on that count, leaving singles who have aged out of the college scene to fend for themselves.

    She expresses confidence, however, that given the urgency of the need, new courtship mechanisms—tailored to fit the needs of busy professionals with limited time (both in the day and in their window for finding appropriate partners)—will spring up to fill the void. The Atlantic Monthly

    I’m not sure Whitehead has gotten at the heart of the asymmetry. She falls into the trap of many social historians, who consider only a one-way causal flow between social structures and individual psychology. For caring men, the difficulty meeting people once you are several years out of college is no less daunting than it is for women. The real asymmetry, it would seem, is in the socially-shaped differences in the value men and women place on intimacy and a loving partnership. Changing courtship structures in society won’t do much to change the male psyche, now that feminist consciousness-raising is passé.

    The Film that Spielberg Wouldn’t Make:

    Portrait of Der Führer as a Young Man

    Standing on a bare stage before a packed audience is a young man with shiny jet-black hair. He wears a leather jacket and the peach fuzz of a fresh mustache. He stands quivering for a moment, before he speaks. When he does, his energy suddenly bursts forth — like a bottle-rocket.

    The speaker is Adolf Hitler. The speech is gleaned from the first passage of Mein Kampf. And one can find this apparition in Max, writer-director Menno Meyjes’s new film about the life of Hitler before his rise to power.

    As the speech demonstrates, the film is an exploration of how Hitler became Hitler and of the relationships and choices that could and did change history. These are questions that have been asked for years in scholarly books, such as Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler and Ian Kershaw’s two-volume biography. But with Max scheduled to open in New York and Los Angeles on December 27, Meyjes is about to find out if audiences are prepared to see such questions discussed in a filmed drama… Forward

    ‘When I met Joe Strummer’

    Stephen Dowling: “When I met Joe Strummer in the summer of 2001, to say he was energetic was putting it mildly.

    He was conducting interviews at the Groucho Club in central London, his shoes and socks off, and a pile of coffee cups and water bottles next to an overspilling ashtray.

    He was in rude health, and utterly enthused about making music again. ” A nice reminiscence. Also:

    Other stars reminisce here. Billy Bragg writes of Strummer and his influence on him. A November 2001 interview with Strummer from the WOMAD Festival in the Canary Islands is here. A brief history of punk: “The death of former Clash frontman Joe Strummer has reminded us how original and influential the first punk rockers were.” All from BBC

    Study: 9/11 dust …

    …not a health threat: “The dust that gathered in lower Manhattan after the September 11 terrorist attacks was not likely toxic enough to cause serious long-term health problems, a new report has concluded.

    The study, reported Tuesday in The New York Times, found that most dust particles collected in the week after the attacks were large enough to be expelled from the lungs.” CNN


    A European Weblog-Conference: “Web-based publishing, communication and collaboration tools for professional and private use” , Vienna Austria, May 2003, organized by the Center for New Media, Danube-University Krems [via Red Rock Eaters]

    Partnership of the Year:

    Why George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are a formidable team: “This war has two faces, one a promise, one a growl. One says we will defend liberty wherever it lives, plant our values where they have never grown. The other says if you challenge us or threaten us or even just invade our sense of security, you will have started a fight that you will certainly lose. Wartime leadership requires a dual message. It has been President Bush’s role from the earliest days to handle our hopes, reacquaint us with our resilience and remind our allies of our resolve. It has fallen to Vice President Cheney, a nighthawk with a darker imagination, to focus our fears. The risks of inaction outweigh the risks of action, he warned this summer, because we face an enemy that will never relent and never recede until it is destroyed.” Time Magazine

    Tripping with the hip tipsters

    ‘I recently learned about the 1960s-era anarcho-touristic group Scramble!, which used to provide visitors to London with false maps in order to confuse them. Likewise, Scramble!rs would visit, say, Paris, equipped with a map of Istanbul. Why, you ask? ”Tourism was a function of capitalist control whose system had to be subverted,” ex-Scramble!r Piotr Jozefow told the London Review of Books:’ Boston Globe

    Peter Green’s discussion of ancient maps (LRB, 21 February) reminded me of an anarcho-tourist grouping from the late 1960s with which I was briefly involved. The idea behind Scramble! (the title was suggested by its Scottish founding member, the concrete poet and printmaker Greg Ross) was that tourism was a function of capitalist control whose systems had to be subverted. Not only that, but the corporate city with its directions and signposts was an expression of chartered space which had to be broken down. Not content with pointing visitors to London in wrong directions, Scramble! produced deliberately confusing maps. These might be made of bread or of toothpicks inserted into assemblages of steel wool and masticated paper. The most effective at outright confusion were simply maps of cities different from those we happened to be in at the time. Thus a visit to Paris would require a plan of Istanbul. With these tactics we attempted to deprogramme ourselves of the urban knowledge that any city-dweller or casual visitor would deem essential. We failed, needless to say, but had a lot of fun baffling ourselves as well as tourists. LRB (Letters, Vol. 24 No. 6, 21 March 2002)

    Paging Dr. Perfect —

    Maureen Dowd assesses the Frist choice:

    He’s a Princeton grad and Harvard med school grad who flies planes and owns a house in Nantucket. He looks like a TV anchor, and has a far smoother bedside manner than Tom DeLay and Dick Armey.

    Senator Clinton was hoping that Mr. Rove and Mr. Lott would overreach with a majority Senate, and frighten suburbanites.

    But now in 2008, St. Hillary might face Dr. Perfect. NY Times

    Interestingly, Dowd seems to feel that Bush and Rove have 2004 sewn up tight, and that attentions should turn to the balance for 2008. In the meanwhile, a CNN poll finds Hillary Clinton would lead the Democratic pack if she chose to make a 2004 White House bid. What a disaster.

    lake effect

    is back publishing this week. Scroll down past the December 19th post and all of a sudden you’re back at October 10th and, before that, September 2nd, with little from Dan Hartung by way of explanation or apology beyond his October comment that it is for “personal reasons I won’t discuss here.” Glad to have him back, even though his mission, which I read as a thoughtful exposé of the follies of kneejerk leftism, strangely leaves him sparing the warmongers similar courteous scrutiny.

    Eat, drink, be merry:

    “Charities, cops, government bodies, men of the cloth and economists are falling over themselves to warn us of the financial, familial, emotional, stressful, criminal and diet-related disasters that make up the holidays. From disease-spreading office parties to wife-beating on Boxing Day, from getting robbed on the high street to falling out with your family, Christmas seems to have become one long holiday from hell. Or as a happy-clapper vicar puts it: ‘Over the Christmas period, more people attempt suicide, more families break up, there are more arguments, and people can’t stand it….’

    What ever happened to goodwill, good cheer and having a good time? To carefree celebrations with family (sometimes a burden) and friends (often a laugh)? Forget it. Now we have a not-so-festive season that is apparently a straining, stressful and depressing time that can push even the most rational adult over the edge of too much turkey, booze and selection boxes. So let us give praise that there are more than three wise men to help us through the yuletide psychological traumas.” sp!ked

    First Local Government in the United States Refuses to Recognize Corporate Claims to Civil Rights:

    Bans Corporate Involvement in Governing:

    “There is now an escalation of events in Pennsylvania regarding corporate personhood.

    The elected officials of Porter Township, Pennsylvania, have passed a law declaring that corporations operating in that township may not claim civil and constitutional privileges. A unanimous vote cast on December 9, 2002, evolved out of long-time efforts by citizens and public officials to bar corporations from dumping toxic sludge on township lands.

    The new law declares that corporations allowed to do business within Porter Township possess none of the human rights that corporations have been wielding to overrule democratic processes and rule over communities.”

    R.I.P. John Mellor:

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    Dead at Fifty of an apparent heart attack… and better known as Joe Strummer, singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Clash, ‘the only band that matters.’ And I agree, at least as far as punk went. There was a cliché that punk was less a musical genre than a state of mind. I never cared much for the Sex Pistols, had only a passing interest in the Ramones (despite growing up with several of them), but, ahhh, the Clash, that was when punk became music, with melodiousness and proto-worldbeat sensibility. Then there was the righteous politics. No, more than anything else was the fact that they were utterly incendiary.

    “Do you know those shots from above a rocket gantry, especially those Sixties, early-color shots of Cape Kennedy or Cape Canaveral? There’s that moment after they count down, ‘Three, two, one . . .’ when clouds of smoke billow from the rocket and then it begins to thrust and burn a whole in the atmosphere — that would be the feeling of a Clash show. And it would seem about that length of time too,” said Strummer about the Clash experience.

    It looked as if the Clash were going to regroup for their March induction into the R’n’R Hall of Fame. I’ll always be grateful, as well, that Strummer had the audacity to fill in for Shane McGowan with the Pogues. [The Mescaleros, his current project, aren’t half bad either.] Go listen to Combat Rock, especially if you haven’t in awhile… and play it loud.

    Buy a Flight Manual…

    …and Get a Grand Jury Subpoena?

    For a variety of obvious reasons, the federal government today is cracking down on aviation security nationwide. Whether or not the attempt will succeed is anyone’s guess.

    I speak from experience.

    A few months back, I successfully bid on an E-Bay item, advertised as a CD-ROM B-737 ground-school course. I was sure that Boeing had made such a CD-ROM, but there was no particular indication that such an object would contain sensitive or even proprietary information. The ad described the manual as “siimilar to that used by major airlines.”

    So I made the purchase and, in good time, the instructional CD-ROM arrived at my house.

    Then, as they say, the manure hit the air compressor. [via Declan McCullagh’s Politech mailing list]

    Coffee, Tea, or Should We Feel Your Pregnant Wife’s Breasts Before Throwing You in a Cell at the Airport and Then Lying About Why We Put You There?

    Despite his outrage as his and his wife’s treatment, author Nicholas Monahan, a Los Angeles film industry worker, puts the events described in context:

    I don’t know how many I’ve read where the writer describes some breach of civil liberties by employees of the state, then wraps it all up with a dire warning about what we as a nation are becoming, and how if we don’t put an end to it now, then we’re in for heaps of trouble. Well you know what? Nothing’s going to stop the inevitable. There’s no policy change that’s going to save us. There’s no election that’s going to put a halt to the onslaught of tyranny. It’s here already – this country has changed for the worse and will continue to change for the worse. There is now a division between the citizenry and the state. When that state is used as a tool against me, there is no longer any reason why I should owe any allegiance to that state.

    Spending More Money Faster Dept: “…(I)f people only bought what they actually needed, the entire American economy would collapse…” On his weblog, Douglas Rushkoff posts a version of a “CBS Sunday Morning” commentary he did just for the shoppers among us.

    “…This may look like an average suburban shopping mall to you — but today’s retail environments are selling machines engineered to extract the most money per second from your wallet.

    The science of retail design – what the industry calls ‘atmospherics’ – was born by accident in 1956, with the very first shopping mall, “the southdale center” in Minnesota. This realization of an “indoor main street” provided laboratory conditions for the study and influence of shopping behavior…” [more] [thanks, David]

    Related: Retailers Pin Holiday Sales Hopes on Last-Minute Customers: “Despite bustling stores and malls during the last weekend before Christmas, retailers remained anxious and uncertain after a hoped-for sales bonanza failed to materialize.

    Many storeowners disappointed by consumers’ cautious buying are now looking with some desperation to last-minute shoppers and post-Christmas bargain hunters for some relief in what has been a difficult holiday season. ” Nando Times

    Spending More Money Faster Dept: “…(I)f people only bought what they actually needed, the entire American economy would collapse…” On his weblog, Douglas Rushkoff posts a version of a “CBS Sunday Morning” commentary he did just for the shoppers among us.

    “…This may look like an average suburban shopping mall to you — but today’s retail environments are selling machines engineered to extract the most money per second from your wallet.

    The science of retail design – what the industry calls ‘atmospherics’ – was born by accident in 1956, with the very first shopping mall, “the southdale center” in Minnesota. This realization of an “indoor main street” provided laboratory conditions for the study and influence of shopping behavior…” [more] [thanks, David]

    Related: Retailers Pin Holiday Sales Hopes on Last-Minute Customers: “Despite bustling stores and malls during the last weekend before Christmas, retailers remained anxious and uncertain after a hoped-for sales bonanza failed to materialize.

    Many storeowners disappointed by consumers’ cautious buying are now looking with some desperation to last-minute shoppers and post-Christmas bargain hunters for some relief in what has been a difficult holiday season. ” Nando Times

    The Decline and Fall (cont’d):

    US Infant Homicide Rates Doubled from 1970-2000: ‘The rate of infant homicides in the US has more than doubled over the last 30 years, according to a new report by Child Trends, a not-for-profit research organization in Washington, DC.


    “Although tragic, the numbers of children who die each year from infant homicide do not indicate that a huge social epidemic is taking place. Nonetheless, the data offer important information that may be useful in trying to reduce the numbers of infants who are victims of homicide each year,” said Brett Brown, director of social research for the organization and a project director of Child Trends DataBank.

    Brown explained that, most likely, two factors play a role in the increase in the number of infant homicides. For one, more babies are being born to unwed teens, who are known to be at highest risk for infant homicide, Brown told Reuters Health in an interview.

    Secondly, the reporting of infant homicides has become more accurate over the last 30 years, Brown pointed out.’ Yahoo! News

    All your instant messages are belong to AOL:

    Today brings with it some potentially ugly news for Yahoo and Microsoft. America Online has secured a patent for Internet instant messaging services. Filed in September of this year, the patent grants broad ownership rights to the technology, which is used by millions of people to chat quickly and cheaply across the Internet. The implications of this are, of course, legion. “The claim is it’s a system where you have a network; you have a way to monitor who’s on the network,” Gregory Aharonian, publisher of the Internet Patent News Service, told News.com. “If you’re doing something like that, you’re potentially infringing.” ‘ siliconvalley.com

    The Return of the Repressed: The Strange Case of Masud Khan

    In February 2001 the psychoanalytic world was shaken by a London Review of Books article by Wynne Godley [which I sent around to every colleague I could think of — FmH], visiting scholar at Bard College’s Levi Economics Institute, professor emeritus of applied economics at Cambridge University, and onetime member of H.M. Treasury Panel of Independent Forecasters (the so-called Six Wise Men). “Saving Masud Khan” tells the story of Godley’s lengthy psychoanalysis with Mohammed Masud Raza Khan, the charismatic Anglo-Pakistani who—it was recently revealed—slept with and abused many of his patients. In Godley’s telling, he was essentially tortured by Khan from beginning to end. It was a “long and fruitless battle culminating in a spiral of degradation.”

    (…)The professional reaction to Godley’s revelations has been swift and defensive. While it is no secret that equally serious violations of the professional boundary between analyst and patient plague analysis today, there remains the damning fact in his case that many of Khan’s contemporaries—the venerable Winnicott included—knew of his infractions at the time he was committing them but did nothing. “This is like a return to the days of Freud and the earliest psychoanalytic pioneers. Everything is being criticized and re-evaluated here, everything is up for grabs,” says Gregorio Kohon, an animated Argentine émigré and senior member of London’s Institute of Psycho-Analysis who studied with Khan in the early 1970s. “Every family has secrets. And what we are witnessing in the ‘family’ of psychoanalysis is nothing less than ‘the return of the repressed.’” Kohon suggests that the present purging of the tradition may be the first steps of a return to the original promise of psychoanalysis. Boston Review

    The Intolerability of Freedom? Don’t Set the People Free: “Theodore Dalrymple says that many poor souls need institutions, but the ideologues and cost-cutters insist on giving them autonomy…

    Spare a thought, then, for those poor souls this Christmas who will try desperately to insinuate themselves into hospital, in order that they should not be alone during the festive period; upon whom our society places a burden that they cannot bear, for lack of real charity and in the name of a crude ideology. Our giant apparatus of welfare, to which we devote an ever increasing proportion of our income, is — to adapt, slightly, a well-known phrase from an official report — institutionalised callousness.” Spectator

    Related (?)The Rehab Don’t Work‘: Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, my favorite medical iconoclast from the UK, reflects:

    The key shift signalled by the promotion of ‘detox and rehab’ is away from a ‘law and order’ approach to the drug problem towards a new therapeutic strategy, emphasising education, treatment and support. (It is not surprising that Keith Hellawell, the drug tsar, had to go: New Labour’s crusade against drugs needs a social worker or a counsellor, not a policeman, as its symbolic head.) ‘Detox and rehab’ now go together like ‘rum and coke’, but what do they mean?

    (…) ‘Many people who oppose the ‘war on drugs’ say that the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ is ‘treatment’. This is baloney. Addiction treatment is a scam.’ (11)

    The phrase ‘treatment works’ is repeated like a mantra in the government’s ‘Updated Drug Strategy’. Everybody in the world of drug policy is desperate to believe that it is true. Indeed it is supported by evidence from research that is either carried out directly by government agencies (such as the National Treatment Outcomes Research Study) or commissioned by them. But are such studies reliable? Here the British authorities might learn from the (vast) experience of the USA in this field.

    Research on the efficacy of treatment programmes for problems of addiction in the USA follows a now-familiar pattern. This begins when promoters of a new scheme or programme claim dramatic successes (often accompanied by media and celebrity endorsements). Early studies, often influenced by the enthusiasm of the promoters and the zeal of those they have cured, tend to confirm impressive results. Later, when the publicity had died down and independent researchers take a more dispassionate view of the outcomes of treatment over a longer period, the extravagant claims cannot be sustained. sp!ked

    A Passion for Japanese Calligraphy:

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    “A substantial chunk of that collection is on view at the Metropolitan Museum in a show titled “The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Painting From the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection.” It’s installed in the museum’s Japanese galleries, and it’s wonderful.

    Calligraphy has long been the most revered of art forms in China, and in the sixth century A.D. Chinese Buddhist monks carrying sacred books called sutras brought it to Japan. Eager to have their own copies of sutras, the Japanese learned Chinese and adopted its script as their own, engendering a love of the written word — the word as an expressive, information-rich image — that continues today.

    The show is really about that love. It begins with a copy of an eighth-century sutra taken directly from Chinese prototypes. Clarity and accuracy were its primary goals, and its script is as crisp and regular as a printed typeface. But already a subtle sensuousity graces the calligraphic endeavor: the writing paper in this case is impregnated with specks of aromatic wood.” NY Times

    A Warm and Happy Winter Solstice!

    And so the Shortest Day came and the Year died,

    And everywhere down the centuries of that snow white world

    came people

    Singing, Dancing

    To drive the Dark away.

    They lighted candles in the winter trees

    They hung their homes with evergreens

    They burned beseeching fires, all night long

    To keep the Year alive

    And when the new Year’s sunshine blazed awake, they shouted


    Through all the frosty ages, you can hear them

    Echoing behind us.


    All the long echos 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: Welcome Yule!

    All: Welcome Yule!

    — Susan Cooper, “The Shortest Day”

    A POX On You: //hubblesite.org/db/2002/16/images/a/formats/web.jpg' cannot be displayed]A tiny galaxy is born: “New detailed images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope show a “late-blooming” galaxy, a small, distorted system of gas and stars that still appears to be in the process of development, even though most of its galactic cousins are believed to have started forming billions of years ago. Evidence of the galaxy’s youthfulness can be seen in the burst of newborn stars and its disturbed shape. This evidence indicates that the galaxy, called POX 186, formed when two smaller clumps of gas and stars collided less than 100 million years ago (a relatively recent event in the universe’s 13-billion-year history), triggering more star formation. Most large galaxies, such as our Milky Way, are thought to have formed the bulk of their stars billions of years ago.” STScI

    Little Lott?

    N.C. rep. admits to “segregationist feelings”:

    Responding to Sen. Trent Lott’s recent comments, Rep. Cass Ballenger told a newspaper he has had “segregationist feelings” himself after conflicts with a black colleague. Friday morning, he went on local radio to say it was a stupid comment to make.

    Ballenger, a North Carolina Republican, had said in Friday’s Charlotte Observer that former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., so provoked him that “I must admit I had segregationist feelings.”

    “If I had to listen to her, I probably would have developed a little bit of a segregationist feeling,” Ballenger told the Observer. “But I think everybody can look at my life and what I’ve done and say that’s not true.

    “I mean, she was such a bitch,” he said. Associated Press [via Salon]

    A Lott Like Lott?

    Life after: “Bill Frist, the likely new Senate majority leader, is hailed as a moderate, but he’s an antiabortion hard-liner who votes much like Trent Lott.” —Michelle Goldberg in Salon


    “Few senators have a worse voting record on civil rights than Trent Lott — but Bill Frist is one of them,” the National Organization for Women’s Kim Gandy said in a press release. “Frist has voted against sex education, international family planning, emergency contraception (the morning-after pill), affirmative action, hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This is the man who is supposed to save face for the GOP in the Senate? Think again.”

    Also: Leadership in Recapturing Senate Pushed Frist Into Spotlight: “Until 1989, Bill Frist had never voted. Until Thursday, he had expressed no interest in being Senate majority leader. Now he will lead the United States Senate.” NY Times

    And: a broader warning from Paul Krugman: Gotta Have Faith:

    I’d like to think that the furor over Trent Lott’s nostalgia for Jim Crow, hidden in plain sight for years, would serve as a signal to ask about other uncomfortable truths hidden in plain sight. But I suspect that it won’t, that we’ll soon go back to worrying about politicians’ haircuts.

    And then, years from now, when it becomes clear that much public policy has been driven by a hard-line fundamentalist agenda, people will say, “But nobody told us.” NY Times

    Annals of the Assault on Privacy:

    ‘The Bush administration is planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users.

    The proposal is part of a final version of a report, “The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace,” set for release early next year, according to several people who have been briefed on the report. It is a component of the effort to increase national security after the Sept. 11 attacks.’ New York Times

    What Do Intellectual Property Owners Want?

    “Researchers around the world were stunned. A promising young graduate student, Dmitri Sklyarov, came to the United States to deliver his insights about weaknesses in a commercial product to a well-known computing conference. A few hours after his presentation, he was in jail.

    I don’t want to belabor this case because it has already been aired in the press a great deal, particularly since last Tuesday’s startling ruling in favor of the Sklyarov’s employer, ElcomSoft, by a jury that was clearly repulsed by the idea of punishing people who make software with legitimate uses.

    But Sklyarov and ElcomSoft start off this article because his arrest marked a milestone in modern life—a fulfillment of the old prediction that computer hackers used to utter as a joke: “Write a program, go to jail.” It’s still scandalous that Sklyarov spent time in jail for his non-crime.

    (…) Civil libertarians and analysts in the computer field have long expected legal tensions about computer and Internet use to come to a head, but they expected it to happen over something overtly political: transmission of censored content, or software that could compromise computer security, or something related to cryptography. (Computer cryptography expert Phil Zimmermann was under investigation by the FBI for a while, but he was never indicted.)

    Why copyright? Why did this obscure branch of “intellectual property,” this private concern of entertainment and software firms, become the most pressing public policy area of the computer field?

    Neil Gaiman writes:

    ‘On the 11th of November a young lady named Anneli in Sweden wrote me a fan letter. The address she wrote on the front of the envelope was “The author Neil Gaiman. Lives in a big house of uncertain location in Minnesota USA”. On the 20th of November the United States Postal Service delivered that letter to me, care of DreamHaven Books, 912 W Lake St, Minneapolis MN 55408. And I picked it up the other night from DreamHaven when I got home from the UK.

    Which means

    1) The US Postal service (or, more probably, somebody working for it) is a lot smarter than I ever gave it credit for,


    2) Sometimes very unlikely things happen.

    And please, don’t try this at home. If you have something to send, then send it to DreamHaven at the above address.’

    An Aria With Hiccups:

    The Music of Data Networks — “Listen carefully to the sound of the network, and you will hear the difference between congestion and the seamless flow of data.

    So says a music professor who has applied his ear for subtle changes in pitch to the problem of delayed or dropped data on the Internet.” NY Times

    Long, long war ahead:

    World War 3 Report

    monitors the global War on Terrorism and its implications for human rights, democracy and ecology. We scan the world media and Internet with a critical eye for distortions and propaganda. Our only loyalty is to the truth.

    Every week, we cover the top stories in the War on Terrorism, as well as important stories overlooked by the mass media. Everything we report is sourced, and we endeavor to fact-check and probe deeper when something smells funny–whether it comes from the New York Times or a fringe web site. We annotate with historical, cultural and political context when it is relevant and overlooked by our source.

    “Does my country really understand that this is World War III? And if this attack was the Pearl Harbor of World War III, it means there is a long, long war ahead.”

    — Thomas Friedman, NY Times, 9-14-2001

    Pentagon Debates Propaganda Push in Allied Nations:

    When, in February, Rumsfeld was forced to abandon a then-recently-announced plan for an Office of Strategic Initiatives for the express purpose of providing disinformation to shape foreign public sentiment about the US, something seemed fishy about how quickly it all went away. Did we think the menacing shadows would clear out of our bedroom just because we rolled over and mumbled something half-intelligible before settling back down to sleep? I mean, when the government announces its intention to create an agency with the express purpose of lying to the world, you’re going to believe them when they tell you they’ve disbanded it? Here it is again, it would seem, without the name. NY Times In fact, in a November 18 press briefing in which he also comments on the scandalous Poindexter Total Information Awareness project, Rumsfeld said:

    “And then there was the office of strategic influence. You may recall that. And “oh my goodness gracious isn’t that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.” I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”

    Did you get that? The quote is in the first paragraph of the briefing transcript, but read the whole thing to get a sense of the audacity, the disdain for the niceties of the Constitution and public opinion, and the infantile grandiosity of the man appointed to fight our wars for us. There’s also this little exchange, admittedly out of context:

    “Q: We are not making the Public comfortable here.

    Rumsfeld: If I haven’t answered that I don’t have control of the English language.”

    He said it, I didn’t, but it certainly raises the question, now that you mention it. To judge from these somewhat extemporaneous remarks, it would seem the man’s thinking is somewhat confused, imprecise and vague, when he isn’t behind a veil of carefully pre-scripted spin.

    And here is what appears to be an unclassified version of the “classified” Directive 3600.1 for propaganda operations against US allies. [via cryptome]