New Year’s Customs and Traditions

New Year's Eve fireworks in India

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

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

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

//tonos.ru/images/articles/dragon/ouroboros.jpg' cannot be displayed]Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes. The Indian Diwali festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//www.sfgate.com/chronicle/pictures/2005/02/09/ga_lunar01.jpg' cannot be displayed]

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

  • Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
  • Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
  • Chinese: Chu Shen Tan
  • Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
  • Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
  • Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
  • French: Bonne Annee
  • German: Prosit Neujahr
  • Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
  • Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
  • Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
  • Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
  • Italian: Buon Capodanno
  • Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
  • Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
  • Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
  • Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
  • Russian: S Novim Godom
  • Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
  • Spanish: Feliz Ano Neuvo
  • Prospero Ano Nuevo
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Lauren Weinstein.

R.I.P. Delaney Bramlett


Singer-Songwriter and Slide Guitarist Dies at 69.

New York Times.

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

Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

Little Blue Pills Among the Ways CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan

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

Four blue pills. Viagra.

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

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

via Washington Post.

The Curious Case of Street Lamp Interference

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

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

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

Four explanations for SLI have been proposed…”

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

Rubber hand feels real for amputees

nitrile glove

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

via Neurophilosophy.

Dystopia and the End of Politics

28 Days Later

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

via Dissent Magazine.

Wii blamed for ridiculous increase in British hospital visits

//www.blogcdn.com/www.engadget.com/media/2008/12/12.16.06---wii-injuries.jpg' cannot be displayed]

Are we having fun yet?

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

via Engadget.

A Mysterious Link Between Sleeplessness and Heart Disease

Sleep

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

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

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

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

via New York Times.

Scientists Shed Light On Festive Medical Myths

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

via NPR.

R.I.P. Harold Pinter, 1930-2008

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

via The Screengrab.

Archbishop Tutu: Use violence to remove Mugabe

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

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

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

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

via The Raw Story.

Happy Christmas

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

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

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

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

Take heaven.

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

Take peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

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

Options for a Red Giant Future

01 The Solar System PIA10231, mod02

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

via Centauri Dreams.

Deep-sea superorganism

Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis).

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

via Pink Tentacle.

Magnetic-Shield Cracks Found

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

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

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

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

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

via National Geographic News.

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

Mark Felt

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

via OpEdNews.

Michael Connell Was Warned About Sabotage Before Crash

Plane crash

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

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

via The Rag Blog.

Contrasting views of Cheney

The only patriotic solution
The only patriotic solution

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

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

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

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

via Politico.

Adrian Mitchell, R.I.P.

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

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

via New York Times obituary.

My Literary Career So Far

As I prowled through Parentheses

I met an Robin and a Owl

My Grammarboots they thrilled

like bees

My Vowelhat did gladly growl

Tis my delight each Friedegg Night

To chomp a Verbal Sandwich

Scots Consonants light up my Pants

And marinade my Heart in Language

Alphabet Soup was all my joy!

From Dreadfast up to Winnertime

I swam, a naked Pushkinboy

Up wodka vaterfalls of rhyme

And reached the summit of Blue Howl

To find a shining Suit of Words

And joined an Robin and a Owl

In good Duke Ellington’s Band of Birds

When Jesus met Buddha

Sunrise over Mt.

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

via Boston Globe.

Appointments Comment

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at a book signing.

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

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

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

via The New Yorker.

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

Hrc_logo.png, which has ...

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

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

via NPR.

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

Paid for by Ohio Republican Party

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

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

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

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

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

The Raw Story.

A World Enslaved

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

via Foreign Policy.

Solstice at Newgrange

Solstice at Newgrange

Solstice at Newgrange

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

via APOD: 2008 December 20.

101 Fascinating Brain Blogs

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

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

via Online Education Database.

Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal

A diagram of the forces on the brain in concussion

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

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

Design Observational studies, focus group, and biomechanical analysis.

Participants Head bangers.

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

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

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

via British Medical Journal.

Faith Equals Fertility

Clonmacnoise Co.

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

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

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

via More Intelligent Life.

R.I.P. Davy Graham

Davy Graham performing at the Troubadour with ...

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

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

via New York Times.

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

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The eyes of Arundhati Roy

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

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

via The Guardian.

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

An icebreaker navigates through young (1 year ...

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

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

via BBC.

Steven Waldman: In Defense of Rick Warren

The Purpose Driven Life book cover

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

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

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

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

via HuffPo.

Alec Baldwin on the Caroline Kennedy candidacy

Caroline Kennedy

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

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

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

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

via HuffPo.

The Painfully Unwatchable White House Christmas Video

(AFP OUT)  U.S. Pre...

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

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

via Jeffrey Feldman in HuffPo.

Cheney Taunts Bush, Pardon Me or Else

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

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

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

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

via David Latt in HuffPo.

Face transplants for the “socially crippled”

Dr. Frank Papay ...

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

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

William Saletan via Slate Magazine.

Warbot Pinup Calendar Revealed

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

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

— Noah Schachtman via Danger Room from Wired.

Do They Want Our Soles?

old shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

via The Independent.

What Ails Literary Studies

Cover of Baby Dayliner's second album

“The major victory of professors of literature in the last half-century — the Great March from the New Criticism through structuralism, deconstruction, Foucauldianism, and multiculturalism — has been the invention and codification of a professionalized study of literature. We’ve made ourselves into a priestly caste: To understand literature, we tell students, you have to come to us. Yet professionalization is a pyrrhic victory: We’ve won the battle but lost the war. We’ve turned revelation into drudgery, shut ourselves in airless rooms, and covered over the windows.”

via The Chronicle.

George Tenet’s Drunken Tirade

George Tenet, former director of United States...
George Tenet

‘A servant appeared with a bottle. Tenet knocked back some of the scotch. Then some more. They watched with concern. He drained half the bottle in a few minutes. “They’re setting me up. The bastards are setting me up,” Tenet said, but “I am not going to take the hit.” …According to one witness, he mocked the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and their alignment with the rlght wing of Israel’s political establishment, referring to them with exaxperation as, “the Jews.” ‘

Pretty damning, if true. Tenet, of course, has denied it all.

via Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic.

Drillers break into magma chamber

The Volcano Rumbles

“Drillers looking for geothermal energy in Hawaii have inadvertently put a well right into a magma chamber.

Molten rock pushed back up the borehole several metres before solidifying, making it perfectly safe to study.

Magma specialist Bruce Marsh says it will allow scientists to observe directly how granites are made.

“This is unprecedented; this is the first time a magma has been found in its natural habitat,” the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, professor told BBC News.”

via BBC.

Racial Extremists: Infiltrating the Military for Chance to ‘Kill a Brown’

Own work (the photo's subject, a neighbor, con...

New evidence suggests that skinheads are infiltrating the US Army as a result of lowered recruiting standards and lax enforcement of anti-extremist regulations. With genocide on their minds they are positioning themselves in units where they can receive combat training, attract fresh recruits, learn such skills as tactical bomb making, and gain access to weapons and ordnance. White supremacist leaders are encouraging followers without documented histories of neo-Nazi activity and without insignias of their affiliation such as tattoos to enlist as “ghost skins.” One wrote,

“Us racists are actually getting into the military a lot now because if we don’t every one who already is [in the military] will take pity on killing sand niggers. Yes I have killed women, yes I have killed children and yes I have killed older people. But the biggest reason I’m so proud of my kills is because by killing a brown many white people will live to see a new dawn.”

via AlterNet.

The 150,000-Word Sentence

Countries of the world where English is an off...
The Anglophone world…

Take that, all you doomsayers of the English language in the age of texting. Comes now word that the 517-page French novel Zone, by Mathias Enard — consisting of one 150,000-word sentence — will be published in English. Told from inside some guy’s mind as he takes a train trip, the story “has a lot of commas.” To which we can only add, exclamation point!

via New York Times Ideas Blog.

The Young and the Restless:

Image representing Barry McCarthy as depicted ...
Barry McCarthy

Why Infidelity Is Rising Among 20-Somethings

“Why is there so much cheating? All of the scholars I spoke with point to the higher median age at which young people get married as the most likely explanation. Since 1950, the age of first marriage has risen to 25 from 20 for women and to 27 from 22 for men. “It’s more common for people to be hooking up or having relationships with multiple partners” before marriage, says Prof. Laumann.

Even young people who engage in monogamous relationships before marriage may be hurting their prospects for a faithful married life. The habits they form in those premarital relationships are likely to affect their marriages, according to Barry McCarthy, a psychologist and professor at American University in Washington. “The most common way that dating couples end a relationship is by starting another” — that is, by cheating on their current partner. Moreover, once people have gone through a couple of breakups of long-term relationships, they may not be as worried about what will happen at the end of their marriage. “The costs of exiting have changed,” says Mr. Laumann.”

via WSJ.com.

So Different?

Nasdaq Compuesto mensual largo plazo
Image by trackrecord via Flickr

Josh Marshall observes in Talking Points Memo:

“Since the story broke a few days ago, I’ve been extremely interested in the arrest of Bernard Madoff, former Nasdaq chief, whose investment business has been revealed as a massive scam with loses of as much as $50 billion. Since I’m in the news business a lurid story with gargantuan bad acts and fabulously wealthy people claiming they’re on the way to the poor house is irresistible at some level. But that’s not the root of my interest. What we’re hearing is that this was a classic, if vast, Ponzi scheme. So in the annals of the great financial sector collapse of 2008, unlike the various Wall Street firms and high flyers who were ruined because of the Real Estate Bubble, illiquid mortgage-backed derivatives and generalized speculative euphoria, Madoff’s operation was just a scam, an old-fashioned fraud, that a lot of big players got suckered into.

But put me down as suspicious — suspicious that the difference between Madoff’s and the other investment implosions we’ve seen over recent months will turn out to be so clearly one of kind rather than degree.

Did Madoff start his operation as a consciously fraudulent enterprise? Or was he another operator who was massively over-leveraged, made a bunch of bad calls (you don’t have to make many if your leverage is high enough), lost virtually everything but then was able to keep operating and taking in money and claiming high returns because he had such insanely tight control over his books? In other words, did he start legit, get into trouble and then evolve, for lack of a better word, into a Ponzi scheme?”

I have been waiting for someone to ask if this was really so different from the credit collapse, but I would go even further. The entire economy has been built upon a pyramid scheme in which the losers — the poor suckers who are late investors — are the working poor whose real earnings have consistently eroded and whose debt burdens have steadily grown while the rich get richer. And the bailout is just an effort to prop up the scam so it can continue unabated.

Shoes Prohibited in Iraq

old shoes

After yesterday’s events, the US Iraqi Command has moved swiftly to ban shoes as a security threat. US forces have completed house-to-house sweeps of seven metropolitan areas in Iraq, confiscating all footwear with enough heft to be thrown. Those resisting turning over their shoes, and their families, are being preventively detained. A US spokesperson denied that the move is Draconian, promising that the Command will be issuing foam rubber slippers and flip flops to all who queue up at local police stations to apply.

Palm Pins Its Hopes on Nova

Photograph of a Palm Treo 700p CDMA Smartphone...

I am a longtime Treo user (on my third upgrade at present) and have long been a fan of Palm devices, although no one can deny that the operating system is antiquated and anemic. On the other hand, you cannot scoff at the plethora of third-party developers who have made wonderful products for the Palm platform. Palm was long expected to have a new OS in store and now comes word it will be introduced at CES next month. Of course, the market now is a far different animal than when Palm dominated the handheld spectrum and they are looking for only a modest bite out of market share. Speculation is that the new OS, dubbed Nova, will have to be applicable to far more platforms than just smartphones to situate them properly. They tried to take a tentative step up with the ill-fated Foleo, which they withdrew from sale immediately at the point of launch. I for one have hopes that Nova makes it and that my peripheral brain can continue to exist on a Palm platform.

BusinessWeek.

Report Spotlights Iraq Rebuilding Blunders

“An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.”

via New York Times.

Maliki takes revenge over new mandate

In this handout f...

“British forces in Iraq are facing a humiliating end to their six-year mission in the country as the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, takes his revenge for what he regards as the British surrender of Basra to hardline Shia Muslim militias.

Mr Maliki, incensed by Britain’s perceived failure to deal with the Mahdi Army of his bitter Shia rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, is stalling on a deal on Britain’s continuing presence in Iraq, barely a fortnight before the current arrangement expires. Frantic diplomatic efforts are under way to secure a legal framework for British forces after 31 December, when the current United Nations mandate expires.”

via The Independent.

Bush’s Final F.U.

(AFP OUT) US Senat...

“With president-elect Barack Obama already taking command of the financial crisis, it’s tempting to think that regime change in America is a done deal. But if George Bush has his way, the country will be ruled by his slash-and-burn ideology for a long time to come.

In its final days, the administration is rushing to implement a sweeping array of “midnight regulations” — de facto laws issued by the executive branch — designed to lock in Bush’s legacy. Under the last- minute rules, which can be extremely difficult to overturn, loaded firearms would be allowed in national parks, uranium mining would be permitted near the Grand Canyon and many injured consumers would no longer be able to sue negligent manufacturers in state courts. Other rules would gut the Endangered Species Act, open millions of acres of wild lands to mining, restrict access to birth control and put local cops to work spying for the federal government.

“It’s what we’ve seen for Bush’s whole tenure, only accelerated,” says Gary Bass, executive director of the nonpartisan group OMB Watch…”

via Rolling Stone.

‘Earth’ , Calling Space…

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 film)

“Twentieth Century Fox’s remake of sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still will be the widest release ever –if you count outer space.

At the same time that the film opens today in theaters, Fox and a privately owned celestial communications network will use equipment at Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin beaming “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to Earth. The galactic stunt is a first-ever for a Hollywood studio.”

via Variety.

Colin Powell on the Failure of GOP ‘Polarization’

“I think the party has to stop shouting at the world and at the country,”Powell said. “I think that the party has to take a hard look at itself, and I've talked to a number of leaders in recent weeks and they understand that.” Powell, who says he still considers himself a Republican, said his party should also stop listening to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

“Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh?” Powell asked. “Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?”

via CNN Political Ticker.

Sign the ACLU’s Petition to Shut Down Guantanamo Bay

Five high-profile detainees this week attempted to submit guilty pleas before the government’s ill-conceived military commissions at Guantánamo Bay. But, by the end of the day, their pleas were tied up in a blizzard of confusion over unresolved legal questions.

Whatever happens, it is abundantly clear is that, no matter how hard the government tries to advance the military commissions, this process doesn’t work.

What’s happening at Guantánamo flies in the face of justice, fairness and our American ideals. Please take a moment to tell President-elect Obama to close the prison at Guantánamo. Click here: http://action.aclu.org/openletter

It will take just a few minutes –and the public pressure is critical.

ACLU.

Meet the GOP’s wrecking crew

“This week Southern Republicans had a chance to go to bat for foreign automakers while simultaneously busting a union… The fiercest opposition to the loan proposal — and nearly a third of the 35 votes against ending debate on the deal — came from Southern Republicans, and the ringleaders of the opposition all come from states with a major foreign auto presence. Not coincidentally, nearly all of those states — except Kentucky — are also “right-to-work” states, which means no union contracts for most of the employees at the foreign plants. The Detroit bailout fell victim to a nasty confluence of home-state economic interests and anti-union sentiment among Republicans.”

via Salon News.

Decline, fall and then some

La nouvelle Jérusalem (Tapisserie de l'Apocaly...
The New Jerusalem (Tapestry of the Apocalypse)
“…[T]here is no shortage of doctors who excel at the literary arts. And none writes more elegantly and eloquently than the British essayist Theodore Dalrymple, the nom de plume of Anthony Daniels, a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist. The pseudonym was chosen, he tells us, to convey the sense of a curmudgeon’s stubborn refusal to go along with the defining orthodoxies and pieties of his age.

He believes that man is a fallen creature and so is dismissive of the idea of perfection or utopian thinking of any kind. He is unmoved by Marxism, or indeed any other ideological system that posits causation by abstract social forces. For Dalrymple, the locus of moral concern falls on personal behaviour rather than on social structure, and he is caustic about any notion that negates the idea of personal responsibility, or that suggests that we are simply passive victims of our environment. And unlike so many of the intelligentsia, he is ever mindful that, in this world at least, we do not get something for nothing: Improvement usually comes at a cost. Ideas that arise from the very best of intentions often result in disastrous social consequences.

Not with a Bang is Dalrymple’s third collection of essays on the decline of British society. …[T]hroughout these essays, two themes predominate.

The first is the state’s aggressive and grinding intrusion into the daily lives of its citizens, “… a juggernaut that cannot be stopped and is no longer under anyone’s control.” The state’s attempts to regulate its citizens, whether by passing explicit laws or by promulgating the official orthodoxies via speech codes, human rights tribunals and other such bureaucratic constructs, has resulted in a neurotic and dependent citizenry. For Dalrymple, such state-sponsored schemes — whether emanating from the political left or right — can be attributed to the naive view that “dissatisfaction and frustration arise from error and malice, rather than from the inescapable and permanent separation between man’s desires and what the world can offer him.” He is scathing in his condemnation of those politicians, bureaucrats and professors who, in the name of building the New Jerusalem, tread recklessly over civilization’s hard-won freedoms, and who are ready to sacrifice truth on the altar of political expediency: “… we have come to an almost totalitarian uniformity of the sayable, imposed informally by right-thinking people in the name of humanity but in utter disregard for the truth and reality of their fellow citizens’ lives.”

The second theme is that despite the fabulous wealth and prosperity of the Western nations, there is a deepening social malaise. In the midst of plenty, after all an individual’s material wants have been satisfied, we have nonetheless spawned new and quite horrific kinds of cultural impoverishment. Despite the fact that even the least-favoured citizens among us can now enjoy diversions and luxuries undreamt of by the monarchs of an earlier age, we have nevertheless invented new ways of imperilling the mind and soul: “Mankind has laboured long and hard to produce a cornucopia for itself, only to discover that the cornucopia does not bring the happiness expected, but only a different kind of anxiety.”

…Dalrymple’s essays provide a kind of eulogy for those public virtues that the world once associated with Britain: reasonableness, honour, stoicism, fair-mindedness, civility and courteousness. His analysis of the British fall from grace also provides fair warning to those nations…which, having travelled some way along the path pioneered by Britain, might yet avoid such a fate.”

via The National Post [thanks, walker].

And now for a world government

http://e...
The map of all UN members.
“I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.”

[Besides, wasn’t Obama just elected first world President? — FmH]

via Financial Times.

The Last Dick

Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States.

‘When Richard B. Cheney exits his undisclosed location next month, he will probably be the last major figure in American life to answer to the name “Dick.” ‘

via The Daily Beast.

Get Office 2007 from your boss for $30

“A lesser known part of Microsoft’s volume licensing programs for large companies and organizations is the Home Use Program (HUP).

It’s so little known many companies don’t seem to know about it and let their staff take advantage of it.

How it works

Organizations that subscribe to Microsoft’s Software Assurance program (part of Volume Licensing) can allow employees to buy a special license to use MS Office on a home computer.

Each Office license bought with the Volume License is actually two licenses – the Office application for use in the organization plus a corresponding Home Use Program license.

In other words, the HUP involves no additional cost to a company (except a little time to setup the HUP in-house). The organization has already paid for HUP entitlements as part of the Volume License / Software Assurance agreement.

Which organizations?

Any organization that has signed up for Software Assurance can become part of the Home Use Program if they are in one of these Volume Licensing programs: Open License, Open Value, Open Value Company-wide, Open Value Subscription, Select License, Select License Software Assurance Membership, Enterprise Agreement, Enterprise Subscription Agreement, Campus Agreement or School Agreement.

Most small, medium and large companies fall into that category as well as non-profits, schools, colleges and government departments.”

via Office Watch.

Immaculate perception (or: It’s All in Your Head)

“It had to happen really. After years of religious images seeming to appear in windows, cement, trees and even toast, someone’s ‘identified’ an image of the Virgin Mary in a brain scan.

And from the look of the scan, the Holy Virgin has decided to make a divine appearance in the upper tip of the cerebellum.

Inevitably, the scan is being auctioned off on EBay, although at least on this occasion it’s to help pay for the uninsured patient who has racked up huge bills due to her having the misfortune of being ill.”

via Mind Hacks.

Filmmaker Plans to Install Camera in His Eye Socket

Seven as a Borg drone.

“Rob Spence looks you straight in the eye when he talks. So it’s a little unnerving to imagine that soon one of his hazel-green eyes will have a tiny wireless video camera in it that records your every move.

The eye he’s considering replacing is not a working one — it’s a prosthetic eye he’s worn for several years. Spence, a 36-year-old Canadian filmmaker, is not content with having one blind eye. He wants a wireless video camera inside his prosthetic, giving him the ability to make movies wherever he is, all the time, just by looking around.

“If you lose your eye and have a hole in your head, then why not stick a camera in there?” he asks.

Spence, who calls himself the “eyeborg guy,” will not be restoring his vision. The camera won’t connect to his brain. What it will do is allow him to be a bionic man where technology fuses with the human body to become inseparable. In effect, he will become a “little brother,” someone who’s watching and recording every move of those in his field of vision.”

via Gadget Lab from Wired.com.

Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison

I'm getting very old. If I were a mutt
in dog years I'd be seven, not stray so far.
I am large. Tarpon my age are often large
but they are inescapably fish. A porpoise
my age was the King of New Guinea in 1343.
Perhaps I am the king of my dogs, cats, horses
but I have dropped any notion of explaining
to them why I read so much. To be mysterious
is a prerogative of kingship. I discovered
lately that my subjects do not live a life,
but are life itself. They do not recognize
the pain of the schizophrenia of kingship.
To them I am pretty much a fellow creature.

via The Writer’s Almanac. Happy birthday to Jim Harrison.

Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong

Sherlock Holmes in

“Cultural gadfly Pierre Bayard returns to the genre of “detective criticism,” which he invented fifteen years ago (in his rereading of Agatha Christie’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd), and immerses himself in Arthur Conan Doyle’s imaginary universe. The result is a new, startling way to think about one of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous cases.”

via Very Short List.

Mukasey’s smarmy Nixon defense of Bush crimes

{{w|Michael Mukasey}}, Attorney General of the...

Jason Leopold:

‘When it comes to protecting George W. Bush and his administration, Attorney General Michael Mukasey is stretching legal arguments as far as his predecessor Alberto Gonzales ever did – now even invoking the “Nixon Defense” for justifying presidential wrongdoing.

This week, Mukasey argued that there is no legal basis to prosecute current and former administration officials for authorizing torture and warrantless domestic surveillance because those decisions were made in the context of a presidential interest in protecting national security.

“There is absolutely no evidence that anybody who rendered a legal opinion, either with respect to surveillance or with respect to interrogation policies, did so for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful,” Mukasey said during a Dec. 3 roundtable discussion with reporters.

Mukasey’s argument is, in essence, the same as Richard Nixon’s infamous declaration in his 1977 interview with David Frost that – in the context of Nixon’s illegal wiretappings, black-bag jobs and infiltration of antiwar groups – “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” ‘

via Consortiumnews.com.

What do the Clintons have on Obama?

Academic and writer Camille Paglia
Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia doesn’t have any answers, but she deserves props for raising the question:

“As for Obama’s appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, what sense does that make except within parochial Democratic politics? Awarding such a prize plum to Hillary may be a sop to her aggrieved fan base, but what exactly are her credentials for that position? Aside from being a mediocre senator (who, contrary to press reports, did very little for upstate New York), Hillary has a poor track record as both a negotiator and a manager. And of course both Clintons constantly view the world through the milky lens of their own self-interest. Well, it’s time for Hillary to put up or shut up. If she gets as little traction in world affairs as Condoleezza Rice has, Hillary will be flushed down the rabbit hole with her feckless husband and effectively neutralized as a future presidential contender. If that’s Obama’s clever plan, is it worth the gamble? The secretary of state should be a more reserved, unflappable character — not a drama queen who, even in her acceptance speech, morphed into three different personalities in the space of five minutes.

Given Obama’s elaborate deference to the Clintons, beginning with his over-accommodation of them at the Democratic convention in August, a nagging question has floated around the Web: What do the Clintons have on him? No one doubts that the Clinton opposition research team was turning over every rock in its mission to propel Hillary into the White House. There’s an information vacuum here that conspiracy theorists have been rushing to fill.”

via Salon.

Paul Krugman’s depression economics

Princeton Profess...
Paul Krugman

Krugman interviewed by Andrew Leonard:

“The revised and expanded edition of Paul Krugman’s The Return of Depression Economics, originally published in 1999 but back in bookstores last week, features, in a reasonably large font on the front cover, the mini-bio: “Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.” The choice of the (re)publication date couldn’t be better. Not only are Krugman’s predictions of economic doom, first made in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, even more relevant as 2008 comes to a close, but he is also accepting his award in Stockholm, Sweden, this week. When I reviewed The Conscience of a Liberal a year ago, I wrote, “Now is a good time to be Paul Krugman.” I spoke too soon. Now is an even better time to be Paul Krugman.

You write that some economists (and this certainly goes for many Salon readers) believe that recessions and even depressions are necessary mechanisms for purging economies that have gotten out of control. There’s even a moralistic aspect to it: In the U.S., all those greedy investment bankers and housing speculators and overconsuming Americans are getting their comeuppance. But you seem to be suggesting something different: that the government can kick-start the economic machine back into motion, that we don’t have to be subjected to the torture of a severe recession. What do you say to those critics who claim that stimulating the economy out of this recession will just lead to bigger problems down the road?

My favorite Keynes essay is “The Great Slump of 1930,” in which he says “We have magneto [alternator] trouble.” If you’ve got electrical problems with your engine, that doesn’t mean you should junk the whole car. If part of your financial system has gone haywire, that doesn’t mean that millions of workers have to be unemployed.

There’s kind of a weird double-think involved in arguments that the slump should be allowed to follow its natural course. It’s true that classical economics says that we should let market forces do their work; but classical economics also says that severe recessions can’t happen. This idea that we must not intervene is based on a worldview that is refuted by the very fact that the economy is in the mess it’s in.”

via How the World Works – Salon.com.

Wirehead hedonism versus paradise-engineering

A rodent wirehead.

“Within a few centuries, it will be technically if not ideologically feasible to abolish suffering of any kind. If we wish to do so, then genetic engineering and nanotechnology can be used to banish unpleasant modes of consciousness from the living world. In their place, gradients of life-long, genetically pre-programmed well-being may animate our descendants instead. Millennia if not centuries hence, the world’s last aversive experience may even be a precisely dateable event: perhaps a minor pain in an obscure marine invertebrate.

Far-fetched? Right now, the abolitionist project sounds fanciful. The task of redesigning our legacy-wetware still seems daunting. Rewriting the vertebrate genome, and re-engineering the global ecosystem, certainly pose immense scientific challenges even to a technologically advanced civilisation.

The ideological obstacles to a happy world, however, are more formidable still. For we’ve learned how to rationalise the need for mental pain – even though its nastier varieties blight innumerable lives, and even though its very existence will soon become optional.”

via wireheading.com.

Related:

Experimental Musical Instruments

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My friend of almost forty years, Bart Hopkin, was in town this week giving a talk to the MIT Media Lab. He is the founder-editor of EMI, which was a journal for many years and is now a website for the design and appreciation of unusual instruments. He is himself an builder of unusual instruments, each of them beautiful, whimsical or outrageous, and each exploring a design issue or deep principle of music-making or what we think of as music. The site has photos of some of his instruments and links to his recorded music.

Although the boundaries have progressively loosened over the years, he has always had a prejudice in favor of acoustic instruments to the exclusion of electronic. At first it seemed a little odd that he was invited to talk to the Media Center. But the Media Center is all about interface design and Bart’s fascination with unusual instruments entails a preoccupation with interface in a creative endeavor. So it ended up making sense. The audience was entranced by the talk. It occurred to me that, as far as I recall, I had never blinked to his site. Enjoy, both producers and consumers of music among you.

Experimental Musical Instruments Home Page.

Will Cholera Bring Down Mugabe?

//commons.wikimedi...
African Union

“Kenya’s prime minister has called for foreign troops to enter Zimbabwe to help end that country’s deepening humanitarian crisis.

Speaking in Nairobi Sunday, Raila Odinga said the African Union must immediately authorize sending troops into Zimbabwe.

He said if no AU troops are available, the AU must allow the United Nations to send its own forces into Zimbabwe. Mr. Odinga said the foreign troops would, in his words, take over control of the country and ensure urgent humanitarian assistance to people dying of cholera and starvation.

Nearly 600 people have died from cholera in Zimbabwe since an outbreak that began in August. The country is also suffering from widespread food shortages and a breakdown of its health care system.

Elsewhere Sunday, a group of international statesmen said the current Zimbabwean government cannot lead the country out of its humanitarian crisis.”

via Voice of America.

Zombie Hand Mushroom

“Some days ago, a strange plant grow itself in my garden. I know that Indonesia is a country rich in biodiversity, but most people, including me are ignorant about it. Anyway, Indonesia’s biodiversity, never failed to make me wonder about how creative the nature is.”

via orimath.

A short, disgusting life

Obituary for the Hummer

via Salon News.

Orwell Strikes Again

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“The White House altered documents regarding the nations involved in the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” that aided the US invasion of Iraq.

A University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign political science professor says he found that the White House had modified elements of its website dealing with the coalition and in some cases deleted key documents in the public record.

At the onset of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the White House released a list of the nations participating in the coalition, an important part of Bush Administration PR efforts, as the war was not UN-endorsed. Over a period of years, however, the original releases were modified to account for the diminishing number of nations.

Two releases were deleted from the White House website entirely, the professor says.

“I think that it raises the question of whether or not we can trust the government to maintain public records of things that were said or done that later prove embarrassing,” Illinois political science professor Scott Althaus said.”

via The Raw Story.

Suit contesting Obama’s citizenship heads to Supreme Court

Barack Obama 44th President of The United Stat...

“The U.S. Supreme Court will consider Friday whether to take up a lawsuit challenging President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship, a continuation of a New Jersey case embraced by some opponents of Obama’s election.

The meeting of justices will coincide with a vigil by the filer’s supporters in Washington on the steps of the nation’s highest court.

The suit originally sought to stay the election, and was filed on behalf of Leo Donofrio against New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells.

Legal experts say the appeal has little chance of succeeding, despite appearing on the court’s schedule. Legal records show it is only the tip of an iceberg of nationwide efforts seeking to derail Obama’s election over accusations that he either wasn’t born a U.S. citizen or that he later renounced his citizenship in Indonesia.”

via Chicago Tribune.

Poor Children’s Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims, EEG Shows

‘Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but according to cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first author of the new paper, “those studies were only indirect measures of brain function and could not disentangle the effects of intelligence, language proficiency and other factors that tend to be associated with low socioeconomic status. Our study is the first with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity.”

Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health who currently is the British Columbia Leadership Chair of Child Development at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is not surprised by the results. “We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive.”

Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist, heads a joint UC Berkeley/UBC research program called WINKS – Wellness in Kids – that looks at how the disadvantages of growing up in low socioeconomic circumstances change children's basic neural development over the first several years of life.

“This is a wake-up call,” Knight said. “It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums.” ‘

via Science Daily.

R.I.P. Forrest J Ackerman

Sci-Fi’s No. 1 Fanboy Dies at 92: Ackerman was the beloved founder and editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which was one of my mainstays throgh my childhood from as soon as I was allowed to watch monster movies. Some say he was the inventor of the term sci-fi.

BBC.

Free Public WiFi?

“Have you seen this wireless network? I see it *everywhere*, and it’s so suspicious because it’s always ad-hoc (meaning broadcasting from a computer rather than a regular access point). I imagined for a long time it was part of a virus; it waits for someone to connect, redirects to a page that exploits some hole in Internet Explorer, scrapes your hard disk and sends your social security number to Russia, sets itself up as “Free Public WiFi”, repeat.

After seeing it for the thousandth time at the train station Philadelphia yesterday I decided to look it up. Turns out it’s not a virus (at least not in the usual sense) but rather an interesting fuckup on Microsoft’s part, with viral consequences.” [Read on for the explanation…]

via JSTN.

Self-Embedding Disorder: NOT


This is a newly-coined term appearing in a press release by the Radiological Society of North America to describe a form of self-injurious behavior, with which we psychiatrists are (unfortunately) far too familiar already. Placing foreign bodies such as hairpins and straightened paper clips into self-inflicted wounds and embedding them under the skin is, admittedly, a new trend in self-abuse, if we can believe the radiologists, whose press release describes the safety and efficacy of minimally-invasive image-guided treatment for the extraction of such objects. However, there is no need for a new diagnosis. Indeed, self-injuriousness in general is not an illness, or a diagnosis, unto itself, but rather a symptom of a variety of diagnoses. A fortiori for a particular kind of self-injuriousness. This illustrates one of the epistemological confusions plaguing the system for diagnosing behavioral problems, and is a perfect example of the needless proliferation of diagnostic categories.

Via The Neurocritic (By the way, I think the Neurocritic piece meant to discuss “foreign bodies”, not “foreign bodes”.)

The Five Stages of Collapse

I-35W Bridge Collapse(6)

Dmitry Orlov: “Hello, everyone! The talk you are about to hear is the result of a lengthy process on my part. My specialty is in thinking about and, unfortunately, predicting collapse. My method is based on comparison: I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and, since I am also familiar with the details of the situation in the United States, I can make comparisons between these two failed superpowers.”

Via Energy Bulletin via the null device. Orlov describes five stages of collapse — financial, commercial, political, social and cultural, and places the progress of the collapse of the US on that map.

The coming neurological epidemic

“Biochemist Gregory Petsko makes a convincing argument that, in the next 50 years, we'll see an epidemic of neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's, as the world population ages. His solution: more research into the brain and its functions. He also shares a few simple things we can do for ourselves to keep our brains healthy. (Recorded February 2008 in Monterey, California. Duration: 3:46.)”

via TED.