Month: December 2019

New Year's Customs and Rituals

New Year Sunrise

New Year Sunrise

This is the annual update of my New Year post, a longstanding FmH tradition. Please let me know if you find any dead links:

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.

Marteniza-ball

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

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

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

blackeye_peas_bowl_text
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.”

English: Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year'...

Fireworks over Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

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

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

In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. (If any of the grapes happens to be sour, the corresponding month will not be one of your most fortunate in the coming year.) The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year.
In Rio,

The crescent-shaped Copacabana beach… is the scene of an unusual New Year’s Eve ritual: mass public blessings by the mother-saints of the Macumba and Candomble sects. More than 1 million people gather to watch colorful fireworks displays before plunging into the ocean at midnight after receiving the blessing from the mother-saints, who set up mini-temples on the beach.

When taking the plunge, revelers are supposed to jump over seven waves, one for each day of the week.

This is all meant to honor Lamanjá, known as the “Mother of Waters” or “Goddess of the Sea.” Lamanjá protects fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks. Believers also like to throw rice, jewelry and other gifts into the water, or float them out into the sea in intimately crafted miniature boats, to please Lamanjá in the new year.

In many northern hemisphere cities near bodies of water, people also take a New Year’s Day plunge into the water, although of course it is an icy one! The Coney Island Polar Bears Club in New York is the oldest cold-water swimming club in the United States. They have had groups of people enter the chilly surf since 1903.

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

1cdd196c97bc4886c7d0b3a9c1b3dd97In China, homes are cleaned spotless to appease the Kitchen God, and papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune. Large papier mache dragon heads with long fabric bodies are maneuvered through the streets during the Dragon Dance festival, and families open their front doors to let the dragon bring good luck into their homes.

The Indian Diwali, or Dipawali, festival, welcoming in the autumnal season, also involves attracting good fortune with lights. Children make small clay lamps, dipas, thousands of which might adorn a given home. In Thailand, one pours fragrant water over the hands of elders on New Year’s Day to show them respect.

10768-revelry
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. The more broken pieces you have, the greater the number of new friends you will have in the forthcoming twelve months.
  • going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland.
  • making sure the First Footer, the first person through your door in the New Year in Scotland, is a tall dark haired visitor.
  • water out the window at midnight in Puerto Rico rids the home of evil spirits.
  • cleanse your soul in Japan at the New Year by listening to a gong tolling 108 times, one for every sin
  • it is Swiss good luck to let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.
  • Belgian farmers wish their animals a Happy New Year for blessings.
  • In Germany and Austria, lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old divining practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death. This is also a practice in parts of Finland, apparently.
  • El Salvadoreans crack an egg in a glass at midnight and leave it on the windowsill overnight; whatever figure it has made in the morning is indicative of one’s fortune for the year.
  • Some Italians like to take part in throwing pots, pans, and old furniture from their windows when the clock strikes midnight. This is done as a way for residents to rid of the old and welcome in the new. It also allows them to let go of negativity. This custom is also practiced in parts of South Africa, the Houston Press adds.
  • In Colombia, walk around with an empty suitcase on New Year’s Day for a year full of travel.
  • In the Philippines, all the lights in the house are turned on at midnight, and previously opened windows, doors and cabinets throughout the house are suddenly slammed shut, to ward off evil spirits for the new year.
  • In Russia a wish is written down on a piece of paper. It is burned and the ash dissolved in a glass of champagne, which should be downed before 12:01 am if the wish is to come true.
  • aptopix-romania-bear-ritual-89ecd02b044cc9131Romanians celebrate the new year by wearing bear costumes and dancing around to ward off evil
  • In Turkey, pomegranates are thrown down from the balconies at midnight for good luck.

It’s a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year’s tradition. Yet, although The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.” (Watch on Youtube, 11 min.)

So if the Germans watch British video, what do you watch in Britain? A number of sources have suggested that it is Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, “even though it’s awful and everyone hates it.

On a related theme, from earlier in the same week, here are some of the more bizarre Christmas rituals from around the world. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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 Xin Nian Kuai Le (thanks, Jeff)
  • Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
  • Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
  • Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
  • French: Bonne Annee
  • German: Prosit Neujahr
  • Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
  • Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
  • Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
  • Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
  • Italian: Buon Capodanno
  • Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
  • Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
  • Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
  • Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
  • Russian: S Novim Godom
  • Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
  • Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo
  • Swedish: Ha ett gott nytt år
  • Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
  • Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan

[If you are a native speaker, please feel free to offer any corrections or additions!]

Which of these customs appeal to you? Are they done in your family, or will you try to adopt any of them? However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come… and eat hearty!

[thanks to Bruce Umbaugh (here or here) for research assistance]

Can’t Sleep? Try ‘Quiet Wakefulness’ Instead

Unknown’…[A] powerful resting activity called “quiet wakefulness” … is gaining traction among sleep doctors and busy-but-health-conscious circles. What exactly is quiet wakefulness? In short, it’s simply resting with your eyes closed. It’s compelling, in part, because it completely eliminates the stress surrounding sleep — particularly that I can’t fall asleep right now so my health is going to fall apart feeling that keeps you awake…

[W]hile you might not be able to fully control exactly when you fall asleep, you can control when you rest — and that’s one of quiet wakefulness’ biggest benefits.…’

Via Elemental

The controversy over ‘Jewish genius’

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens has provoked a firestorm of disputation and prompted calls for readers to cancel their UnknownTimes subscriptions with a December 27 op-ed piece titled The Secrets of Jewish Genius. 

Stephens has been controversial in the past, attacking climate change science, referring to “thuggish elements” in Black Lives Matter, and writing a piece about “the disease of the Arab mind.”  

In this latest piece, he poses his central premise here:

’…[H]ow is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?…’

As the column ventures, he is not advancing but debunking the assertion that “Jews are smarter”. He ties Jewish intellectual contribution — and, BTW, the column is not so much original thinking as a hat tip to a book, Genius and Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht — not to the assertion that Jews think “better” but that they think “differently”. This is predicated on cultural influences:

There is a religious tradition that, unlike some others, asks the believer not only to observe and obey but also to discuss and disagree. There is the never-quite-comfortable status of Jews in places where they are the minority — intimately familiar with the customs of the country while maintaining a critical distance from them. There is a moral belief, “incarnate in the Jewish people” according to Einstein, that “the life of the individual only has value [insofar] as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful.”

Most important, he observes, is that a history of perennial persecution culminating in the Holocaust, and repeated exile, has shaped an ethos that “everything that seems solid and valuable is ultimately perishable, while everything that is intangible — knowledge most of all — is potentially everlasting.”

Yet it seems most critics never read further than the initial paragraphs discussing the “Jews are smarter” trope, Yahoo News’ and The Guardian‘s coverage being cases in point. Although Stephens sets it up as a straw man argument, The Guardian‘s coverage highlights criticism of Stephens as:

  • A eugenicist
  • “using the same genetics arguments that informed Nazism and white supremacist thinking”
  • “expressing a belief in the genetic and cultural inferiority of non-Ashkenazi Jews”
  • “…a Jew endorsing the idea that certain races are inherently superior to other”

I am convinced that a close reading of the column would not support the reaction it has provoked. But Stephens is trolling us. It should be clear right from the audacity of his use of “Jewish genius” in the title that he is poking the bear of resurgent anti-Semitism. It remains to be seen whether he is doing it from a protected enough position behind the thick walls of the Times. I suppose it depends on how many people cancel those subscriptions

What If President Trump Is In Cognitive Decline? No, Seriously

Steve Almond: 

UnknownUnknown’if you examine the Trump presidency through the lens of cognitive decline, some of its more bewildering aspects start to make a lot more sense.

Observers — particularly those troubled by the cruelty of his regime — tend to view Trump as lazy, incompetent, demagogic and mendacious. But it seems increasingly possible that the president’s behavior is also a function of his desperate attempts to mask serious cognitive struggles…

Maybe the reason our president is reported to spend up to nine hours per day engaged in “unstructured executive time” isn’t just because he’s lazy. Maybe he’s trying to duck parts of the job he can’t handle. Maybe the reason he doesn’t read anything — including briefings — is because he can’t absorb or retain complex concepts.

Maybe the reason his unscripted speech is so often incoherent and littered with vagaries (relying on placeholder words such as  “thing” and “they”) is because he cannot summon the specific vocabulary he wants to use.

Maybe the reason Trump seeks out friendly media outlets and rallies is because he can only function in venues that feel safe and familiar, where no one will expose his struggles, where he can ramble and repeat the same slogans and stories and still receive applause…

What many of us don’t understand about cognitive struggles is the tremendous shame people feel. Particularly people — like Trump — who are in constant danger of being exposed.

Perhaps the reason he makes such a point of bragging about his big brain and his amazing memory is because he’s racked with doubts about both. Perhaps part of the reason his lies are so frequent and brazen — consider the whopper he told about why he skipped the climate change meeting at the G7 — is because he doesn’t have enough executive function to orchestrate his lies.

I say none of this lightly.

Trump is unfit for office based on his personal corruption, his disloyalty to the Constitution and his documented crimes.

All of these offenses are predicated on the notion that Trump is, in fact, in control of his faculties. But what if he isn’t?

That may sound like a partisan question, but it’s really a medical one. Simply put: a person in cognitive decline — whether Democrat or Republican — shouldn’t control the nuclear codes.…’

Via Cognoscenti

This Washington State Representative has been accused of domestic terrorism and won’t step down

Matt Shea’Matt Shea has served as a state representative for Washington since 2008. He’s also a violent religious separatist and a member of the extreme right-wing Patriot Movement. Shea was an ardent supporter of Cliven Bundy, the Mormon extremist who lead a face-off with the government over cattle-grazing fees and an admitted act of arson, and later joined in on the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He also has a history of violent road rage, and has been accused of physical abuse by multiple ex-wives. And then there was that whole thing with child training camps for an impending race war.

Somehow, none of that has disqualified him thus far from serving in the Washington State House of Representatives. But that might change, thanks to a new report from an independent investigation into his activities…

To be clear: this man has a history of alleged actions and behavior that could be fairly interpreted as radical religious terrorism. And he is still serving in public office. In the immediate aftermath of this report, Shea has been suspended from the House Republican Caucus, and removed from both the House Environment and and House Energy Committees. But he is still, technically, a state representative, and has thus far refused to bow down to pressures to resign.…’

Via Boing Boing

R.I.P. Ram Dass (1931-2019)

 

08mag talk ramdass superJumboProponent of LSD and New Age Enlightenment Dies at 88:

’Q: You’ve said that you’re ready to die. When did you know?

A: When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.…’

Via New York Times

 

Words for Emotions Tend to Translate Poorly

Unknown‘Equivalent’ Emotional Concepts May Not be Identical Across Languages/Cultures:

’The true meaning of words may be lost in translation, according to research suggesting the way people understand terms such as “anger” or “love” differs between languages.

For example, while the concept of “love” is closely linked to “like” and “want” in Indo-European languages, it is strongly linked to “pity” in Austronesian languages – a family that includes Hawaiian and Javanese.

“Even though we might say there is a word for anger in hundreds of languages, these words actually might not mean the same thing,” said Joshua Conrad Jackson, co-author of the research from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.…’

Via The Guardian

Feeling sick is an emotion meant to help you get better faster

Unknown’Animal behaviorists and neuroimmunologists use the term sickness behavior to describe the observable behavior changes that occur during illness.

Health care providers often treat these symptoms as little more than annoying side effects of having an infectious disease. But as it turns out, these changes may actually be part of how you fight off infection.

I’m an anthropologist interested in how illness and infection have shaped human evolution. My colleagues and I propose that all these aspects of being sick are features of an emotion that we call “lassitude.” And it’s an important part of how human beings work to recover from illness.

Your body sets priorities when fighting germs

The human immune system is a complex set of mechanisms that help you suppress and eliminate organisms – such as bacteria, viruses and parasitic worms – that cause infection.

Activating the immune system, however, costs your body a lot of energy. This presents a series of problems that your brain and body must solve to fight against infection most effectively. Where will this extra energy come from? What should you do to avoid additional infections or injuries that would increase the immune system’s energy requirements even more?

Fever is a critical part of the immune response to some infections, but the energy cost of raising your temperature is particularly high. Is there anything you can do to reduce this cost?

To eat or not to eat is a choice that affects your body’s fight against infection. On one hand, food ultimately provides energy to your body, and some foods even contain compounds that may help eliminate pathogens. But it also takes energy to digest food, which diverts resources from your all-out immune effort. Consuming food also increases your risk of acquiring additional pathogens. So what should you eat when you’re sick, and how much?

We humans are highly dependent on others to care for and support us when we’re sick. What should you do to make sure your friends and family care for you when you’re ill?

My colleagues and I propose that the distinctive changes that occur when you get sick help you solve these problems automatically.

Fatigue reduces your level of physical activity, which leaves more energy available for the immune system.
Increased susceptibility to nausea and pain makes you less likely to acquire an infection or injury that would further increase the immune system’s workload.
Increased sensitivity to cold motivates you to seek out things like warm clothing and heat sources that reduce the costs of keeping body temperature up.
Changes in appetite and food preferences push you to eat (or not eat) in a way that supports the fight against infection.
Feelings of sadness, depression and general wretchedness provide an honest signal to your friends and family that you need help.…’

Via The Conversation

Cancel Culture: Chaotic Good?

UnknownIn our post-truth world, language has become more overtly dangerous, and this can be both bad or good:

’[S]ometimes it seems as though the one thing more frightening than a lone gunman (and it isn’t a young person responding to your well-intentioned life advice with “ok boomer”) is a random bunch of people who have banded together in some common cause. When this common cause is being aggrieved against someone’s problematic behavior, and results in “calling out,” silencing or boycotting the problematic behavior, we now call this “cancelling” someone. And the tendency toward this kind of behavior is called “cancel culture.”

Is the destructive power of cancel culture too much?
Perhaps more than anything else, cancel culture will be seen as an intrinsic part of life lived publicly in this decade, with the downfall of powerful Hollywood producers, racist and sexist comedians, white supremacists, and clueless corporations left in its wake. Cancel culture, not unlike cyberbullying, has also had its more “innocent” victims, ordinary citizens who said the unacceptable thing in a public forum. Is the destructive power of cancel culture too much?…’

Via JSTOR Daily

The Best News of the Year

Images…and the bad news about good news:

Jason Kottke points to year-end lists of the good news that you may have missed (since it’s a truism that “good news doesn’t sell newspapers”). But he cautions us not to be misled by focusing too much on good news. The so-called New Optimists, led by Steven Pinker, delight in pointing out the data that there is less human misery now, by many measures, than ever before in history. But Kottke reminds us that there are good reasons to be cautious of such claims. A long piece by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian suggests that, even if things are going well, we may not have reason for confidence either in the likelihood of continued improvement or in the ways we have been doing things politically and economically. Kottke links to several other critiques of Pinker’s work as well. (And all without any apology for being such a Downer Debbie.)

Hong Kong protests: How unrest criminalized a generation

‘(A)lmost everyone who has attended protests in recent months has been at an event deemed unlawful. Many may be guilty of rioting, due to the offense’s broad legal definition, or of violating a ban on facial coverings at public assemblies, which city leaders introduced by invoking rarely-used emergency powers.

The number of people potentially eligible for arrest could number in the hundreds of thousands.

Many of those already arrested …are in their twenties, or even younger. They have been the drivers of the protest movement but have also borne the brunt of the reaction and could be the ones ultimately paying the cost — an entire generation criminalized, in a fight for their future which could end up costing them just that….’

Via CNN

Fifteen Ways To Survive The Coming Collapse Of Civilization

Images’1. Stockpile notebooks (and a few pens): Stockpiling food is a fool’s game. The food will mostly spoil. But notebooks will be essential.

2. Learn to frown: Americans spend entirely too much time smiling — particularly when they’re not happy. Once cameras no longer exist, smiling will be unnecessary. Practice frowning now!

3. Listen to children: Children make the best conversation. And they are geniuses at adaptation.

4. Write songs: After civilization goes bye-bye, you won’t be able to download songs by the Beatles or Lady Gaga. To hear music, you will need to write it yourself. So get started.

5. Know thyself: The first couple of years that I went to Indian restaurants, I always ordered curried vegetables. It was the cheapest entrée, and I never had much money. Then one day I noticed that curried vegetables have no taste. For another dollar I could buy aloo matar gobi (literally “potatoes peas cauliflower”), which tastes fabulous. This was a life-reversing moment. A few years later I realized that I don’t like movies. Everyone is supposed to enjoy them, but I don’t. I much prefer theater — even bad theater. I like watching people show off on a stage. This is who I am, I discovered: a movie-hating aloo-matar-gobi lover. That’s when I began to make progress in life.

6. Move beyond self-help: Do self-help books actually help anyone? Some people must benefit — or believe they benefit — from them, or the entire industry would go bankrupt. But I suspect the opposite of self-help would be more effective. I plan to write a book titled Rubbing Salt in Your Wounds. Its premise is simple: identify your greatest fault and make it worse. If you overeat, overeat more. If you’re too stingy, spend even less money. If you’re anxious, make yourself hysterically nervous. Magnify your faults until you see the abyss of self-destruction before you. What then? It’s up to you.

7.Remember the earth: Once a day remember that you live on a globe largely covered with blue water, slowly rotating.

8. Lower your standards: Here is the stupidest thing I ever said: I was talking to my mother-in-law about a relative who was aging and unmarried. “It’s easy to get married,” I blithely opined. “You just have to lower your standards.” Then I remembered I had married her daughter. Nonetheless, my advice is correct. Lower your standards. Once civilization is undone, this will be essential.

9. Listen to quiet radio: Listen to the radio so softly that you can’t hear the words. Pay attention to what the radio might be saying.

10. Observe mice: If your house has mice, study them. Where do they live? When do they emerge? Where do they scamper? What foods do they prefer? After civilization has been demolished, we’ll live much like mice.

11. Start a book garden: Clear a plot of land ten feet by five feet. Bury twelve books upright in the soil, so that only two or three inches of each volume shows. The next time a friend comes to visit, gesture toward your garden and nonchalantly remark, “I’m growing books.”

12. Wash your hands in the air: Normally we wash our hands in water, but there are other options. Washing your hands in the air cleanses your etheric energy field. Go to a remote mountain pass and rub your hands in the breeze.

13. Be a loser: “The first shall be last.” “The meek shall inherit the earth.” These are quotes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which possibly predicts the world after civilization’s demise. In case Jesus is right, become a loser today.

14. Combine the happiness of honey with the sadness of salt: Follow this recipe: ½ cup clover honey ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Mix together thoroughly. Spread on toast.

15. Find a saint: In his book Be Here Now, Ram Dass studies with yogis in northern India. He then returns to Massachusetts and suddenly perceives that his aunt Sophie is an enlightened being. Look around carefully at your next family reunion or neighborhood block party. Try to find saints.…’

— Sparrow, via The Sun Magazine

Andrew Sullivan: What We Know About Trump Going Into 2020

18 donald trump 1 w700 h467 2x’The two core lessons of the past few years are …: (1) Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their brains. And this is understandable.

But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics, marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and turn his position into a means of self-enrichment.…’

Via New York Mag

Patti Smith’s Lettuce Soup Recipe for Starving Artists

Justkids pattismith’Reconstructionist Patti Smith is among the most extraordinary and influential artists of the past century, her achievements consistently demolishing the artificial wall between “high” and “low” culture by spanning from Billboard Chart hits to poetry inspired by Rimbaud and Blake, from CBGB to London’s Trolley Gallery, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the National Book Award. Most remarkable, however, is Smith’s self-made journey of creative discovery and fame. When she moved to New York City in her early twenties, she met legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who became her lover and comrade in arms, and they lived the quintessential life of the starving artist — not in the fashionable political-statement sense of creative poverty but in the penurious caloric-deficiency sense.

At the opening of her exhibition The Coral Sea at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, titled after her poetic masterpiece of the same name honoring Mapplethorpe, Smith reads from her 2010 memoir Just Kids, which tells the story of the pair’s early years in New York and which earned her the National Book Award. Here, witty and wry as ever, she shares her famous lettuce soup recipe, one of the strange concoctions, at once endearing and heartbreaking, that sustained the two as they struggled to get by on virtually no money — a wonderful reminder that money is not the object of the creative life and a fine addition to [The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook](https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/17/the-artists-writers-cookbook-1961/)…’

Via Brain Pickings

Schiff: Impeachment isn’t a failure if Senate acquits Trump

JZMUZAQ7KEI6VLMYATEX7SVPCANot ‘if’ but ‘when’, it sounds like:

’The impeachment process won’t be a failure if President Donald Trump is acquitted by the Senate, as seems almost certain, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said Sunday.

“No, it isn’t a failure. At least it’s not a failure in the sense of our constitutional duty in the House,” Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

On the same program, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, continued to press the Democrats’ case, saying Trump “poses a continuing threat” to U.S. national security and democracy.

“Do we have a constitutional democracy, or do we have a monarchy where the president is unaccountable? That’s what at stake here,” Nadler said…

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a top Trump ally, on Saturday rejected the idea that he must be a “fair juror” in the Senate. “I think impeachment is going to end quickly in the Senate,” Graham told CNN from Qatar, where he was attending the Doha Forum. “I want to end this matter quickly and move on to other things…

Brown and Nadler criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for vowing, in an interview on Fox News on Thursday, “total coordination with the White House” on impeachment strategy.

“The constitution prescribes a special oath for the senators when they sit as a trial in impeachment. They have to pledge to do impartial justice. And here you have the majority leader of the Senate, in effect the foreman of the jury, saying he’s going to work hand in glove with the defense attorney,” Nadler said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said that if Trump is exonerated, “he will be unbounded. I’m gravely concerned about what else he might do between now and the 2020 election, when there are no restrictions on his behavior.” …’

Via Boston Globe

What Senators Have Said About Impeachment

Images’A number of Senate Republicans echoed members of their party in the House, deriding the impeachment as “a sham” and saying that Mr. Trump did nothing wrong. Some attacked House Democrats for delaying the transmittal of the charges to the Senate. 

A handful of Republicans followed the lead of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who has asserted that he did not intend to act as an impartial juror. Others said that while the House process had been political, they would conduct a fair trial in the Senate.

Nine members from both parties have not released public statements on impeachment since Wednesday, including some Republicans who have been more skeptical of Mr. Trump or represent Democratic-leaning states.

Many Democrats issued statements promising to be impartial jurors in the Senate trial and challenging Mr. McConnell, who has been coordinating with White House officials. Others addressed the evidence they have seen so far, saying they believed there was clear misconduct.

The full list of senators with recent statements on impeachment…’

Via New York Times

Solstice to Solstice

SolarcanMatrixSolstice 5Solargraph Timelapse:

’The 2019 December Solstice, on the first day of winter in planet Earth’s northern hemisphere and summer in the south, is at 4:19 Universal Time December 22. That’s December 21 for North America, though. Celebrate with a timelapse animation of the Sun’s seasonal progression through the sky. It was made with solargraph images from an ingenious array of 27 pinhole cameras. The first frame from the Solarcan camera matrix was recorded near December 21, 2018. The last frame in the series finished near June 21, 2019, the northern summer solstice. All 27 camera exposures were started at the same time, with a camera covered and removed from the array once a week. Viewed consecutively the pinhole camera pictures accumulate the traces of the Sun’s daily path from winter (bottom) to summer (top) solstice. Traces of the Sun’s path are reflected by the foreground Williestruther Loch, in the Scottish Borders. Just select the image or follow this link to play the entire 27 frame (gif) timelapse.…’

Via APOD

No One in the Senate is Going to Follow the Rules. Try This Instead…

‘This is why all eyes are now on Chief Justice John Roberts. The “rules” suggest that he is in charge of how the Senate trial will go, but no one knows if he will opt to take the Senate trial proceedings firmly in hand or allow Mitch McConnell to use them for more smash-and-grab–style looting. Roberts has every reason to keep his head down and let McConnell do whatever he wants; it would keep both himself and the high court above the ugliness that is sure to come. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for whom Roberts once served as a law clerk, famously said of his own role presiding over the Clinton impeachment, “I did nothing in particular, and did it very well.” Roberts would surely like nothing more than to follow suit. It is also true, as my friend Sonja West has urged, that the chief justice of the United States has a constitutional duty to behave as more than just a “potted plant in a fancy robe” in this process. The Framers installed the chief justice as the person to preside over the Senate impeachment process because, despite McConnell’s claims, impeachment is not a mere partisan political effort….’

Via Slate

Trump’s Impeachment Provokes a Deeper Descent Into Demagoguery

Dana Milbank observes in The Washington Post:

‘Trump’s impeachment provoked him to descend still deeper into the depths of demagoguery. His impeachment-night campaign speech — just over two hours long — was an alarming blend of instability and rage….’

I would add that it appears to be not merely a descent into demagoguery but into mental instability. Even with the vanishingly slim odds of conviction and removal from office in the Senate, perhaps as his decompensation proceeds the Amendment 25 Section 4 process for removing a President when deemed too disabled to discharge his functions will become more possible?

The Photographer Who X-Rayed Chernobyl

‘When Brazilian artist Alice Miceli photographed Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, she placed radiographic film plates used for chest X-rays on the ground, windows, and trees. She was determined to capture the unseen. The resulting images are unexpected and don’t follow any predictable patterns… ‘

Via Atlas Obscura

Poll leaves CNN’s John King speechless

‘CNN political analysts were at a loss for words while discussing a poll conducted by the Economist/YouGov that found 53% of Republicans said that Donald Trump is a better president than Abraham Lincoln was….’

Via CNN Video

‘Deep Trouble’

Presidential Historian Warns Trump That It’s About To Get Worse:

‘Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley predicted that support for President Donald Trump will sink as impeachment proceedings advance. 

Brinkley was asked about a CNN poll released last week that found 50% want Trump impeached and removed from office, versus 43% opposed. 

“It just tells you what deep trouble Donald Trump’s in,” he said on the network on Friday. “I mean when you have 50% of the country wanting you not just impeached but removed from office, and the game hasn’t even gotten fast yet…’

— Via HuffPost

Maxims

  • The sooner you do something, the more of your life you get to spend with that thing done.
  • Acting the way you want to feel usually works.
  • All you need to do to finish things is keep starting them until they’re done.
  • Whenever I think I’m mad at a person, I’m really just mad at a situation.
  • If I find myself in an argument, I’ve made a mistake.

A Brief History of Foreign Leaders Laughing at Trump

‘It was a key talking point during President Trump’s 2016 campaign, and even before it: The idea that other countries were laughing at the United States. “The world is laughing at us,” he said in May 2016. “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity,” he said of Mexico in his campaign launch speech. He used the phrase “laughing at us” more than 50 times between 2011 and his election as president. Trump, the argument went, was going to make it stop.
Instead, Trump has been the object of repeated jest and even mockery by fellow world leaders. And it’s been caught on tape — again….’

Via Washington Post

Signal that impeachment will include Mueller?

‘The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings focused almost exclusively on Ukraine. That was the new information, after all, and that’s what the witnesses could speak to.

But at the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) seemed to indicate he was inclined to include something else in the impeachment articles: the obstruction-of-justice portions of the Mueller investigation.

Nadler’s opening statement accused Trump of obstructing both the Ukraine probe and the Russia investigation, and it included plenty on the latter, in a way that suggests it was a calculated choice…’

Via Washington Post

Red Hats and Goldfish

Bob Cesca: Trump’s “I want nothing!” defense was always stupid. Now it just went down in flames:

‘There’s a myth going around that says goldfish only have memories lasting three seconds. The myth was busted long ago, with studies showing goldfish memories last closer to five months. But as we observe Donald Trump’s defense strategy against impeachment, he appears to believe his supporters possess even shorter memories than the mythical fish.

As more and more evidence of impeachable high crimes stack up against Donald Trump, his best defense strategy appears to rest on the assumption that his supporters can only remember one thing at a time.

Consequently, Trump’s desperate blurts in self-defense are invariably compartmentalized to whatever that one thing happens to be, usually whichever news item is in front of him at that very moment. None of his incoherent attempts at self-acquittal help him out of any other pickle beyond that one most recent item. Nothing else that happened before that particular piece of news matters to his defense, and his Red Hats don’t seem to remember anything else anyway.

Trump doesn’t have a counter-narrative to prove his innocence, just a random series of individual “look at” remarks (e.g.: Look at the transcript! Look at Hillary’s server!). Nothing connects to anything else. It’s a defense designed for people with extremely brief short-term memories…’

Via Salon.com

Clear and Present Danger

‘In effect, the 300-page House Intelligence Committee summary of witness testimony, timelines and phone records accused Trump of perpetrating one of the most serious political crimes in the history of the United States.
The report is a roadmap toward formal articles of impeachment — an argument to a nation split in two on Trump’s political fate that there is no alternative but to remove him from office 11 months before the next general election over his pressure on Ukraine for political favors.
The stark charge that the House Judiciary Committee will take up in its first impeachment hearing Wednesday fits the gravity of Congress’ most somber duty — deciding whether to end a presidency.
It is that the 45th President presents an immediate, clear and future threat to American national security, the Constitution and the resilience of the republic’s democratic self-governance itself…’

Via CNNPolitics