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