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New Year’s Customs and Traditions

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
  • Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
  • 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]

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Blue Moon on New Year’s Eve

[Image 'http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:qTBNeD-sbH22mM:http://api.ning.com/files/1edgfT45wsn-veMuyde8uTkmoqcQGYAIG8vlI-hSELcqnJTMxjjMvaGA81RER1s-8nMAEIrwt*W-0oZQCq3Z2oy9h2Fp19zW/blue_moon1.jpg' cannot be displayed]

For the first time in almost twenty years, there's going to be a Blue Moon on New Year's Eve.

…Don't expect the Moon to actually turn blue, though. “The 'Blue Moon' is a creature of folklore,” explains [professor Philip Hiscock of the Dept. of Folklore at the Memorial University of Newfoundland]. “It's the second full Moon in a calendar month.” (NASA).

Related:
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Going to Bed

I check the locks on the front door

and the side door,

make sure the windows are closed

and the heat dialed down.

I switch off the computer,

turn off the living room lights.

I let in the cats.

Reverently, I unplug the Christmas tree,

leaving Christ and the little animals

in the dark.

The last thing I do

is step out to the back yard

for a quick look at the Milky Way.

The stars are halogen-blue.

The constellations, whose names

I have long since forgotten,

look down anonymously,

and the whole galaxy

is cartwheeling in silence through the night.

Everything seems to be ok.

— George Bilgere
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R.I.P. Vic Chesnutt

[Image 'https://i0.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/12/26/nyregion/26chesnutt_CA0/articleInline.jpg' cannot be displayed]

Singer and Songwriter Dies at 45: Vic Chesnutt, whose darkly comic songs about mortality, vulnerability and life’s simple joys made him a favorite of critics and fellow musicians, died Friday in a hospital in Athens, Ga., a family spokesman said. He was 45 and lived in Athens.

He had been in a coma after taking an overdose of muscle relaxants earlier this week.

Mr. Chesnutt had a cracked, small voice but sang with disarming candor about a struggle for peace in a life filled with pain. A car crash at age 18 left him partly paralyzed, and he performed in a wheelchair.

The accident, he has said, focused him as a songwriter, and it became the subject of some of his earliest recordings. “I’m not a victim/Oh, I am an atheist,” Mr. Chesnutt sang in “Speed Racer,” from his first album, “Little,” produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and released in 1990.

In a recent interview on the public radio show “Fresh Air,” he told Terry Gross: “It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say.”

Although he never had blockbuster record sales, Mr. Chesnutt was a prolific songwriter who remained a mainstay on the independent music circuit for two decades, making more than 15 albums.

Musicians flocked to work with him: he recorded with the bands Lambchop, Widespread Panic and Elf Power, as well as the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and in a recent burst of creative activity he made two albums with a band that included Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of the Montreal indie-rock group Thee Silver Mt. Zion.

Because of Mr. Chesnutt’s fondness for simple guitar chords — after his accident his fingers could no longer form the jazzier ones, he has said — his work was often described as a variant of folk-rock. But the sound of his albums changed with their revolving collaborators, from stark recordings of Mr. Chesnutt alone to finessed full-band arrangements.

…He sings about suicide in “Flirted With You All My Life,” from his recent album “At the Cut,” describing death as a lover he must break up with because his accomplishments in life are incomplete:

When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind

But I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no no, cold death

Oh death, I’m really not ready.

(New York Times obituary)

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R.I.P. James Gurley, Big Brother Guitarist

[Image 'https://i0.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/12/25/arts/25gurley_CA0/articleInline.jpg' cannot be displayed]

“James Gurley, who played guitar in Big Brother and the Holding Company, the psychedelic rock band that brought Janis Joplin to fame, died on Sunday at his home in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 69. One of the central groups of San Francisco’s fertile mid-1960s rock scene, Big Brother and the Holding Company took blues-based songs on long, strange, electric trips that often featured Mr. Gurley’s protracted solos. In an interview in 2007 with The Desert Sun, in Palm Springs, Calif., Mr. Gurley said that his approach was inspired by the music of John Coltrane.” (New York Times obituary)

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Happy Yule

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

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The vast left-brain conspiracy

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London

‘I use the term “neuro-enthusiasta” for those given to excessive excitement over what brain science teaches. I have been warning, often in these pages, of its mostly amusing excesses and its tendency to produce newspaper headlines exclaiming that the brain “lights up” when people think and feel various things.

Still, I did not foresee “neuro-” becoming a universal prefix. We have neuro-economics, neuro-theology, neuro-aesthetics and now, if Iain McGilchrist is to be believed, neuro-history.’ — Owen Flanagan (New Scientist)

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New Scientist 2009 trivia quiz

“If you want to read about the big science stories of the year, you have come to the wrong place – turn back to the news review gallery. Here we are celebrating the science trivia of 2009. Read on and test your mental mettle in New Scientist's annual end of year quiz, and we will see whether 2009 has truly been the Year of Science as promoted by the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science, or rather a Year of Superstition, Ignorance and Minds Like a Sieve.” (New Scientist)

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Marburg Fever Survivor Puzzles Scientists

This negative stained transmission electron mi...

“The Marburg virus had never before reached North America, as far as experts know. It is a close relative of Ebola, and the diseases these viruses cause are among the world’s most dreaded, because they can have horrific symptoms and high death rates and are easily transmitted by bodily fluids. There is no vaccine, cure or even specific treatment.

Infectious disease experts had warned for years that someday an infected person might board a plane and carry one of these deadly viruses halfway around the world, potentially exposing countless others along the way. Now it had happened.

But Ms. Barnes survived, and no one else became infected, even though epidemiologists calculated that 260 people — hospital and lab workers, friends and family — had potentially been exposed.” (New York Times )

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Can you really be “addicted” to shopping or using the Internet?

Heroin bottle

“Despite the scientific implausibility of the same disease—addiction—underlying both damaging heroin use and overenthusiasm for World of Warcraft, the concept has run wild in the popular imagination. Our enthusiasm for labeling new forms of addictions seems to have arisen from a perfect storm of pop medicine, pseudo-neuroscience, and misplaced sympathy for the miserable.” — Vaughan Bell (Slate)

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Top 25 Censored Stories for 2010

via Project Censored.

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One-Liners Of The Decade

The short quips, phrases and exclamations that defined the '00s.

How many can you identify?:

  • “Wassup?”
  • “The Tribe has spoken.”
  • “The American people have now spoken. But it’s going to take a little while to determine exactly what
  • they said.”
  • “Holy Fucking Shit.”
  • “There are known knowns… we also know that there are known unknowns… There are also unknown unknowns.”
  • “Shock and awe.”
  • “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”
  • “Wardrobe malfunction.”
  • “He’s just not that into you.”
  • “Combine enough nonhits on the Long Tail and you’ve got a market bigger than the hits.”
  • “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
  • “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
  • “I wish I knew how to quit you.”
  • “What are you doing?”
  • “F—-ing Jews… The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
  • “An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator: These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.”
  • “Leave Britney alone!”
  • “Yes, we can.”
  • “I drink your milkshake.”
  • “The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”
  • “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.”
  • “You lie!”
  • “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, I’m sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”

For the attributions, go here. (Buzzfeed via walker)

[Are you as glad as I am that that decade’s done?]

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The Strange Consensus on Obama’s Nobel Speech

Barack Obama, President of the United States.

“Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices. Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same. To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance. When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday: a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.” — Glenn Greenwald (Salon)

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Deepest View of Universe

Location of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field on the...

“NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has made the deepest image of the universe ever taken in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. No galaxies have been seen before at such early times. The new deep view, taken in late August 2009, also provides insights into how galaxies grew in their formative years early in the universe’s history. The image was taken in the same region as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), which was taken in 2004 and is the deepest visible-light image of the universe. Hubble’s newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) collects light from near-infrared wavelengths and therefore looks even deeper into the universe, because the light from very distant galaxies is stretched out of the ultraviolet and visible regions of the spectrum into near-infrared wavelengths by the expansion of the universe.” (HubbleSite)

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Living Off Found Money

“For the past 10 years, Jesus Leonardo has been cleaning up at an OTB parlor in Midtown Manhattan, cashing in, by his own count, nearly half a million dollars’ worth of winning tickets from wagers on thoroughbred races across the country.

During his glorious run, Mr. Leonardo, 57, has not placed a single bet.

“It is literally found money,” he said on a recent night from his private winner’s circle. He spends more than 10 hours a day there, feeding thousands of discarded betting slips through a ticket scanner in a never-ending search for someone else’s lost treasure.

“This has become my job, my life,” he said. “This is how I feed my family.”

Leonardo, who favors track suits and wears his graying hair and bushy beard in long ponytails, is what’s known in horse racing parlance as a stooper — a person who hangs around racetracks and betting parlors picking up tickets thrown away by others. Most tickets are losers, but enough are winners to make it worth his while.” (New York Times [thanks, abby])

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Ugly Bug Contest

“The biologists from Dow AgroSciences, NAU Imaging and Histology Core Facility, ASU International Institute for Species Exploration and W. M. Keck Bioimaging Laboratory are pleased to present the Ugly Bug contestants for 2009. Each of the bugs are anxious to be crowned champion so be sure to vote soon and vote often… and remember…Ugly is only cuticle deep.” (ASU-Ask A Biologist)

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Ezekiel’s Wheel Over Norway?

[Image 'https://i2.wp.com/spaceweather.com/swpod2009/09dec09/Jan-Petter1.jpg' cannot be displayed]

“This morning in arctic Norway, onlookers were stunned when a gigantic luminous spiral formed in the northern sky. “We are used to seeing lots of auroras here in Norway, but this was different,” says Nick Banbury of Harstad who witnessed the phenomenon on his way to work “between 7:50 and 8:00 a.m. local time.” Onlooker Jan Petter Jorgensen took this photo:

The first reaction of many readers when they see this picture is Photoshop! Surely this must be a fake. But no, many independent observers witnessed and phtotographed the apparition. It is real.

Banbury continues: “It consisted initially of a green beam of light similar in color to the aurora with a mysterious rotating spiral at one end. This spiral then got bigger and bigger until it turned into a huge halo in the sky with the green beam extending down to Earth. According to press reports, this could be seen all over northern Norway and must therefore have been very high up in the atmosphere to be seen hundreds of km apart.”

UPDATE: Circumstantial evidence is mounting that the phenomenon was caused by a malfunctioning rocket, possibly an ICBM launched from a Russian submarine. A Navtex no-fly alert was issued for the White Sea on Dec. 9th, and photographers appear to have recorded the initial boost phase of a launch below the spiral (see inset). A rocket motor spinning out of control could indeed explain the spiral pattern, so this explanation seems plausible, although it has not yet been confirmed.” (SpaceWeather.com via julia)

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The Talented Ms. Highsmith

upright=1.

Review of Joan Schenkar’s The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith: “She kept 300 snails as pets. She drank a quart of gin a day. She considered robbery worse than murder. She left the United States to live in Europe because of what she called ‘the Negro problem’ — by which she did not mean discrimination against Negroes, but the civil rights movement that had Negroes demanding their rights.

A houseguest once left her window open; she threw a dead rat inside. She took tips left on restaurant tables. She’d drive 60 miles to get a cheaper spaghetti dinner. She called Hitler’s extermination policy a ‘semicaust’, because only half the world’s Jews died.

She thought that ‘life didn’t make sense without a crime in it.’ Her idea of happiness was to write a murder. At 1:30 in the morning, standing in a lover’s apartment, she didn’t hesitate to make a booty call to another woman. ‘I am a man and I love women,’ she wrote. She liked young blonds, very made up.

A mental health professional, observing her for only a few minutes, pegged her as a psychopath. Another writer described her as ‘a black cloud.’ Her own assessment: ‘If I were to relax and become human, I could not bear my life.’

…Why would you even think of reading more than 600 pages about such a monster?” (Head Butler)

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What Do Facebook Quizzes Really Know About You?

American Civil Liberties Union

“Ever take one of those Facebook quizzes to find out which superhero most resembles your dog, or have a friend who seems to spend most of their life doing so? Then you might be in for a surprise when you take this quiz and learn just how much of your personal information these quizzes can access.Even if your Facebook profile is “private,” when you take a quiz, an unknown quiz developer could be accessing almost everything in your profile: your religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, pictures, and groups. Facebook quizzes also have access to most of the info on your friends’ profiles. This means that if your friend takes a quiz, they could be giving away your personal information too.But don’t take our word for it – take this quiz and see for yourself! And, yes, we know it’s a little weird to warn you about Facebook quizzes by asking you to take a Facebook quiz – but at least you know who we are and that we have a real privacy policy that we’re committed to upholding. Can you say the same for every unknown author of every quiz you or your friends take?” (ACLU)

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Humans Wonder, Anybody Home?

Synaptic Gasp

Clues to consciousness in nonmammals: “Many people (some scientists among them) would like to believe that consciousness sets the human mind apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But whether in humans or other creatures, behavioral signs of cognizance all arise from the tangled interactions of neurons in the brain. So a growing number of scientists contend that animals with brain structures and neural circuitry similar to humans’ might experience something like human awareness, even if a bit less sophisticated.” (Science News)

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Death to smiley

“…When I see a smiley, my first thought is, “What are you, 12 years old?” What is it about the emoticon that fills me with such loathing? Maybe it's the wastefulness of the enterprise, the redundancy of it, the implied lack of confidence in the writer's ability to communicate, or mine to comprehend. If you say, “I'm looking forward to seeing you tonight,” I think you're looking forward to seeing me. If you say, “I'm looking forward to seeing you tonight. :-),” I think you're not sure I understand the extent of sentiment in that seven-word message. And if you write, “I'm looking forward to seeing you tonight ;-),” I think your assumption of getting laid this evening may have been a bit premature, Winky.” — Mary Elizabeth Williams (Salon)

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Autoimmune response to pig brain mist fells slaughterhouse workers

A human brain showing frontotemporal lobar deg...

‘Doctors at the Mayo Clinic and government public health experts have confirmed the mysterious illnesses in 24 slaughterhouse workers in Minnesota and Indiana from 2006 to 2008 was caused by an autoimmune response to a mist of pig brain tissue.

Their article was published Monday in the British medical journal Lancet Neurology. Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Daniel Lachance, the lead author, said it was the first comprehensive account of the outbreak and response from Mayo, the state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This was really a kind of unique experiment of nature where an unusual form of harvesting a part of an animal was utilized and inadvertently exposed individuals through their respiratory tract or their eyes or mouth and ended up triggering an autoimmune response in their own bodies”…

The immune response attacked the nervous systems of the 21 workers in Minnesota and three in Indiana from November 2006 to May 2008, causing painful symptoms that included weakness and fatigue to confusion and seizures.

All are improving and most no longer have measurable symptoms… although two may have permanent damage.

All the patients worked in or near areas where compressed air was used to extract pig brains, which are considered a delicacy in some Asian countries. It was a rarely used process then, he said, and he knows of no slaughterhouses that still use it.’ (The Associated Press)