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Follow Me Here to remain at least vaguely reprehensible

There’s this anonymous reader, about whom I wrote here in the past, who’s continuing to rate every post even remotely critical or contemptuous of trump with 1 star.

I had considered dispensing with the ratings system. Any cogent reaction to a post ought to result in a comment rather than just a click on a star, since my followers are by and large articulate and intelligent readers. But I thinkI have decided to keep the ratings widget because I am kind of enjoying seeing that I get under at least one person’s skin that much. I personally am a fan of righteous anger (as if that wasn’t already obvious to my readers) even if misguided. So my critic should keep it up! I promise the negative posts about the Twice-Impeached Molester-in-Chief will continue.

So so sorry there is no way to arrange for you to indicate a ‘0’ star rating, since that would probably suit you more.

Someone suggested facetiously that the shitposter might be trump himself. If you’re reading this, now that your social media access has been largely axed, rest assured that you still have access to FmH. Keep ’em comin’!

Or you can even expand your activity here. For instance, the obituary below is about a person of color. That get under your skin too? Why not downrate it as well?

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R.I.P. Howard Johnson

 

Tuba Virtuoso Extraordinaire Dies at 79

(Howard Johnson, Tuba Man With The Band, Taj Mahal, Dies | Best Classic Bands)

‘Howard Johnson, perhaps the best-known tuba player in contemporary jazz for the past several decades, died January 11, 2021, at his New York home, following a long, unspecified illness….’

— Via Best Classic Bands

Somehow I had missed his passing, but thanks to abby for bringing it to my attention. Johnson’s funky dynamism drove some of the best tunes of a couple of my longest-term mainstays Taj Mahal and The Band over the top.

 

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Nowhere to Go From Here

Mike Pence publicly defied the president once in four years, and for that solitary show of independence, his own political future could be all but finished.

(Is Mike Pence’s Political Career Over? – The Atlantic)

‘Pence’s rise and fall is emblematic of that of so many people who tethered themselves to Trump with disastrous results. When he agreed to become Trump’s running mate, his career was in peril. He was an obscure governor facing a difficult reelection campaign. At the time, his national profile centered on a bill he’d signed that critics feared could be used to discriminate against the LGBTQ community on religious grounds. By putting him on the ticket in 2016, Trump rescued him from a potentially career-ending loss—a point that Trump hasn’t hesitated to make in private discussions with White House aides.

From the first, Pence worried about alienating a thin-skinned president in constant need of validation. He stayed on message even when there was no message. James Melville, a former U.S. ambassador to Estonia, told me about a visit Pence made to that nation in July 2017. When Pence would huddle privately with aides, he’d invariably ask: “Were there any tweets? Did I miss anything?” Melville recalled. “I thought it was shocking and amusing” that Pence would be engaged in so much “hand-wringing over what the boss was saying.” Working under Trump, Melville said, was akin to “living with an alcoholic. You’re always waiting for the next disaster.”…’

— Peter Nicholas via The Atlantic

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Boogaloo Bois Prepare for Civil War

‘In the menagerie of right-wing populist groups, the boogaloo bois stand out for their fashion, for their great love of memes, and, to put it plainly, for the incoherence of their ideology. Which is saying a lot, considering that the riot at the Capitol last Wednesday featured partisans of the long-gone country of South Vietnam, Falun Gong adherents, end-times Christians, neo-Nazis, QAnon believers, a handful of Orthodox Jews, and Daniel Boone impersonators.

The boogaloos weren’t a huge presence in that mob. But according to federal officials, the attack on the Capitol has galvanized them and could inspire boogaloo violence in D.C. and around the country between now and Inauguration Day. The FBI warned earlier that boogaloos could launch attacks in state capitols this Sunday, January 17.

The boogaloos don’t appear interested in fighting for Donald Trump—they tend to despise him, mostly because they think he panders to the police. But for the past year, boogaloo bois all over the United States have been cheering on the country’s breakdown, waiting for the moment when their nihilistic memes would come to life and the country would devolve into bloody chaos.

It’s hard to know how seriously to take the boogaloo threat. Some are likely just joking when they “shit-post” about shooting cops or “yeeting alphabet boys”—killing government law-enforcement agents. But others seem serious. They’ve already shown up heavily armed (and in their signature Hawaiian shirts) at protests and at state capitols. They’ve allegedly killed law-enforcement officers, talked about throwing Molotov cocktails at cops during the racial-justice protests this summer, and plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They say they want a total reset of society, even if they haven’t thought very hard about what, exactly, should come next.

Who are the boogaloo bois? And why do they want to start a civil war? I’ve spent the past few months trying to figure that out…’

— Michael J. Mooney via The Atlantic

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Has the solar system already been visited by an alien emissary?

Why physicist Avi Loeb thinks there’s a “serious possibility” that ‘Oumuamua was an alien spacecraft

‘..[W]hen a bizarrely fast, cigar-shaped interstellar object jetted past Earth on its trip through our solar system, Harvard professor Avi Loeb believes scientists weren’t ready to seriously consider that it was of artificial origin. But Loeb is beyond consideration — he says it’s very possible that ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “oh moo ah moo ah”) was an interstellar spacecraft.

Back in October 2017, a postdoctoral researcher named Robert Weryk at the University of Hawaii was sifting through the usual data stream from the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey of the sky when he noticed an unexpected object. It appeared to be highly elongated, like a stick, with a long axis 10 times longer than its short axis — unprecedented for an asteroid. Some hypothesized that ‘Oumuamua swung towards our solar system as a result of a gravitational slingshot of a binary star system; others, that it might be an odd comet, though no tail was evident. Thus the search began to collect and analyze as much data as possible before it left our solar system.

Immediately upon discovering its physical properties, researchers realized its shape — which would minimize abrasions from interstellar gas and dust — would be ideal for an interstellar spacecraft. The idea understandably sent shockwaves through the scientific community and stoked controversy. Ultimately, scientists coalesced behind the idea that it was of natural origin, rather than artificial.  But Loeb, who is the former chair of astronomy at Harvard University, remains certain that it was something akin to a light sail — a form of interstellar propulsion — spacecraft created by an extraterrestrial civilization. So much so that he wrote a whole book about it.

That book would be “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” in which Loeb argues that the scientific community’s resistance to discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life has hindered taking seriously his hypothesis that ‘Oumuamua was an alien light sail. Loeb reflects on how what happened with ‘Oumuamua was a bit of a missed opportunity, and that academia must invest more in the search for life in our universe to better prepare us for another interstellar visitor. But perhaps, most importantly, in a time when Earth faces an urgent global warming crisis, Loeb says that it could be finding extraterrestrial life that saves us from ourselves….’

— Via Salon.com

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Trump impeachment: Poll shows Trump’s approval collapsing among Republicans

‘Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump has remained hugely popular among fellow Republicans. As recently as December, after Trump had lost the 2020 election to President-elect Joe Biden, some polls showed the president with an approval rating in the high 80s among Republicans.

But a new poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that the events of the last few weeks — a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, and then Trump was impeached for the second time in his presidency — are finally starting to weigh on Republican voters. The poll was conducted from January 8-12, so it was conducted entirely after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The poll shows Trump with a disastrous 29 percent approval rating among US adults. Notably, this rating, the lowest of his presidency, appears to be driven in large part by a significant minority of Republicans who have lost faith in the president. Only 60 percent of Republicans approve of Trump, a stark drop from previous Pew polls.

Pew Research Center
The poll potentially bodes bad news for the Republican Party, as it shows that a rift may be forming within the GOP between hardcore Trump loyalists and Republicans who would prefer to see the party leader fade away. Other recent polls have also found a sharp decrease in Trump’s support, as FiveThirtyEight’s tracker shows, though not all to such a low….’

— Via Vox

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Congress office panic buttons “torn out” prior to Capitol attack and other disturbing details about Capitol Riot emerge

‘It’s becoming clear that the assault on the Capitol last week was well-planned. Here are a few of the latest findings:

The riot may have been coordinated with the help of at least three far-right U.S. Representatives: Andy Biggs, AZ, Mo Brooks, AL, and Paul Gosar, AZ.
Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill, NJ said she saw GOP “colleagues leading groups on “reconnaissance” tours of the building” a day before the riot.
“One freshman lawmaker, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), is also facing criticism for tweeting about the location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) while the Capitol was under siege,” reports The Washington Post.
“Several Capitol Police officers have also been suspended and more than a dozen others are being investigated for suspected ties to rioters or for showing inappropriate support for last week’s attempted insurrection,” reports the Post.

“The attack on the Capitol was coordinated and planned. Here are the insurrectionists talking about the plan, including detailed schematics of the Capitol building.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s chief of staff, Sarah Groh, said the panic buttons in her office had been removed. From the Post:…’

— Via Boing Boing

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Trump is stiffing Rudy Giuliani for his legal fees

Isolated and angry at aides for failing to defend him as he is impeached again

‘Though Trump has been exceptionally furious with Vice President Pence, his relationship with lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of his most steadfast defenders, is also fracturing, according to people with knowledge of the dynamics between the men.
Trump has instructed aides not to pay Giuliani’s legal fees, two officials said, and has demanded that he personally approve any reimbursements for the expenses Giuliani incurred while traveling on the president’s behalf to challenge election results in key states. They said Trump has privately expressed concern with some of Giuliani’s moves and did not appreciate a demand from Giuliani for $20,000 a day in fees for his work attempting to overturn the election….’

— Via The Washington Post

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As more MAGA violence looms, impeaching Trump is insufficient

‘…Certainly, Trump deserves to be impeached for inciting an insurrection; lawmakers, direct targets of the attack, have ample justification for doing so. If Trump had any integrity, he would resign. If Vice President Pence had integrity, he would invoke the 25th Amendment. If Republican congressional leaders had integrity, they would see to Trump’s removal before he can do more harm. On Tuesday, an unrepentant Trump said his riot-inciting speech was “totally appropriate” — as if any more grounds were needed to justify his ouster.

Even if Trump were removed in his final week, though, the punishment would be inadequate, because it lets his co-conspirators off the hook. The attack on the Capitol was not a protest but a crime. The many people complicit in encouraging, planning, financing or condoning it need to be held to account: Members of Congress, state legislators and attorneys general, and the Internet platforms, businesses, advertisers and political action committees that aid them, must be prosecuted, hit with civil litigation or defunded.

Trump may preemptively pardon himself in the coming days, but he won’t be beyond civil and financial punishments. Let’s hope his enablers will be likewise held accountable for convincing millions that the election was stolen, and moving some to violence…’

— Dana Milbank in The Washington Post

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Pence to attend Biden inauguration; Trump not to

‘A loyal lieutenant to President Donald Trump, Pence was criticized by the president over his role counting Electoral College votes in Congress and was one of the people trapped inside the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters stormed the building as the votes were being tallied.

“While the vice president and his family were in a bunker in the Capitol, the president did not reach out to check on his safety nor did he condemn those who said the VP should be executed,” said sources familiar with the matter. Video shows rioters shouting, “Hang Pence!

“We strongly condemn all calls to violence, including those against any member of this administration,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Pence and Trump have not spoken since the riots unfolded, according to a source familiar with the matter….’

— Kristen Welker et al via NBC News

I have wondered if trump’s announcement he will not attend the inauguration (what made him expect he was invited anyway??) represented a coded message to his mob that it would be okay to attack that gathering, with Pence and other prominent figures in attendance? Posts on pro-Trump forums continue calls for violence ahead of Inauguration Day. (NPR)

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Trump has the nuclear codes, whether Pelosi likes it or not

‘It’s understandable that his critics on the Hill — who were hunkered down in the belly of the Capitol while Trump’s supporters raided their offices Wednesday — would be tempted to snatch the president’s keys to the “red button.”

But the House speaker does not have the authority to try to keep the nuclear codes from Trump. Like it or not, the president of the United States has sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon.

Pelosi knows this full well — and that’s the point.

The move was political, a way to gin up support for the new Democratic push to impeach Trump over his incitement of the violence that occurred at the US Capitol on Wednesday. (The Washington insider newsletter Punchbowl reported Friday that some Republicans would be “sure to support the move” to impeach.)

Pelosi is a savvy political operator, and painting Trump as not just unhinged but an imminent threat to global security is certainly a way to heighten pressure on members of Congress to support impeachment….’

— Via Vox

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Cybersecurity Ramifications of the 2021 Storming of the United States Capitol

‘Hidden amidst the physical cleanup and repairs necessary after a mob of rioters stormed and occupied the US Capitol are significant cybersecurity concerns. At Wired, Lily Hay Newman writes about the cybersecurity implications of the invasion, explaining some of the breaches that happened and discussing others that could have happened if foreign intelligence agents piggybacked on the takeover.

Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, wasn’t surprised, noting, “You have to step back and realize that foreign intelligence could have looked at this and said, ‘Yeah, this is going to be an opportunity.’” Other experts commented on the massive amount of work needed to assess the damage and remediate or monitor any potentially compromised accounts, devices, and networks.

We should all take to heart the words of Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, who said, “Any time there’s a physical breach of a space, I automatically assume it was a digital compromise as well.”…’

— Via TidBITS

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Opinion: The Capitol Riot Showed Us America’s Ugly Truth

‘But if the Democrats dare to use their power, a brave new world might be possible…’

Roxane Gay in The New York Times

I share Gay’s central point. We do not stand a chance if we give credence to the outpouring of sentiment after the coup attempt that “This is not who we are.” Face it, The Capitol events show us clearly that this is exactly what America has become and we had better face it, or we are whistling in the dark while the monsters descend on us.

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Humble Proposals

I agonized awhile ago over whether a coup was happening. I should have realized, as concrete and simpleminded as trump is, that when he tried to pull it off there would be no doubt.

I think four options are worthy of urgent and immediate consideration in dealing with the unfit lying tyrannical dangerous narcissist:

  1. Reimpeachment and removal from office. If he has not committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there is no meaning to the words. trump’s actions lie at the very core of the offenses contemplated by the Constitution’s impeachment standard. There is so much procedural discretion allowed the two houses of Congress in pursuing their roles in the impeachment process that it could be done incredibly rapidly, many legal experts believe. And keep in mind that removal from office is not the only possible outcome of impeachment. It is possible, and will be necessary, to permanently disqualify him from office in the future
  2. As I have long advocated, utilizing the 25th amendment provision to remove trump from the presidency as unfit to serve. Finally, there is some serious consideration of this option. Vice President Pence would go down in the history books as a decent and honorable man who did much to save the republic if he would orchestrate this move, together with a majority of the Cabinet if there are enough of them left who have not resigned. 
  3. Immediate arrest on one or many of diverse criminal charges which in my mind could include sedition, domestic terrorism, inciting to riot, conspiracy, and accessory murder.  Don’t think for a moment there aren’t a myriad of law enforcement officers impatient to get their hands on trump and take him into custody, especially after his actions led to the killing of Brian Sicknick, one of their own, in the Capitol siege. trump would be welcome to have his court jester Rudy Giuliani argue whether he had immunity from prosecution on these crimes… once he is behind bars. Oh, wait, Giuliani could very well be in custody as well. 
  4. Consideration of involuntary civil commitment to a psychiatric facility. I honestly don’t know why this is not being seriously considered. Tell me if you see anyone but me discussing this in the media, because I haven’t seen it. As a psychiatrist, although I am not familiar with the involuntary commitment regulations in the District of Columbia in particular, it seems clear that trump meets the criteria of presenting a risk of imminent harm to others by virtue of mental illness. I do not believe that any claim of Presidential immunity would extend to civil commitment. 

The choice among the four options essentially comes down to whether this was an act of presidential disability (options 2 and 4) or one of presidential culpability (options 1 and 3). I personally have a hard time seeing his actions as those of a fully rational but morally culpable man, but then I have not evaluated him psychiatrically. [Here is an armchair psychoanalytic formulation of trump from Dave Pell at Nextdraft.] There are many arguments extant right now for each of the two poles. Of course, even if he is arrested and charged criminally, he might require a forensic psychiatric evaluation. Certainly, there is more furor in the mainstream press for responding to him as a criminal insurrectionist than as dangerously mentally ill:

However, I do not see that at all as based on clinical assessment as much as political feasibility and expediency. Why can’t we simply wait for Jan. 20th without taking any action? Both for the sake of the Constitution and because the madman still holds the nuclear launch codes and I for one do not trust that there are adequate safeguards in place against his further acting out. 

Related: 50 Spot On Reactions People Had To The Events In The US Capitol. (Bored Panda)

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The World’s Largest Waterfall Is Underwater

(The World’s Largest Waterfall Is Underwater – Neatorama)

‘Meet the Denmark Strait cataract, the largest waterfall in the world. The gigantic waterfall is located between Greenland and Iceland, stretching over 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide and plunging 11,500 feet (3,505 meters) down from the Greenland Sea into the Irminger Sea…

The Denmark Strait cataract is formed by the difference in temperature between the ultra-cold Arctic waters of the Greenland Sea meeting those of the slightly warmer Irminger Sea. Since the molecules in the cold water are less active and take up less space than in warm water, they are packed together more tightly, making colder water denser. That means that when water from the Greenland Sea meets the Irminger Sea water, it slides right down through it to the bottom of the ocean….’

— Via Neatorama

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Rep. Ilhan Omar on Twitter:

I am drawing up Articles of Impeachment. Donald J. Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives & removed from office by the United States Senate. We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath.

— Twitter
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Are we living in a baby universe that looks like a black hole to outsiders?

(Baby universes could have branched off the main universe after the Big Bang and may appear to us as black holes.)

‘Researchers recently used a huge telescope in Hawaii to study primordial black holes.
These black holes might have formed in the early days from baby universes and may be responsible for dark matter.
The study also raises the possibility that our own universe may look like a black hole to outside observers….’

— Via Big Think

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How COVID-19 Changes Our Sleep

 

(How COVID-19 Changes Our Sleep – The Atlantic)

‘The coronavirus can cause insomnia and long-term changes in our nervous systems. But sleep could also be a key to ending the pandemic….’

— James Hamblin MD via The Atlantic

Early in the pandemic, a Cleveland researcher examining the structure of the newly identified virus found it could potentially be blocked by melatonin, a physiological hormone that calibrates sleep and the immune response. Subsequent studies have shown that patients taking melatonin, which is available as an over the counter dietary supplement, have reduced rates of Covid infection and better survival. (Trump was given melatonin as well as other more experimental therapies at Walter Reed). Eight clinical trials of melatonin are currently ongoing, making it one of the most studied potential treatments. But is it melatonin per se or the improved sleep it facilitates, and In turn the effect that has on immune function, that improve Covid-19 outcome?

Initially clinicians saw rampant sleep disturbances and attributed them to pandemic anxiety. But long-term neurological sequela after infection, including sleep disturbance, are becoming apparent and appear out of proportion to patients’ level of preoccupation or worry. Post-Covid symptoms were assumed to be autoimmune reactions, similar to those known in the CNS after other viral infections. But autoimmune researchers feel the effects of Covid don’t exactly fit the bill, being more sporadic and widespread. As one put it, it is “haphazard inflammation — less a targeted attack than an indiscriminate brawl,” with symptoms resulting from a number of mechanisms, perhaps similar to myalgic encephalitis or “chronic fatigue syndrome,” which is poorly understood, widely misrepresented, poorly treatment-responsive, and stigmatized. Interestingly, many clinicians and theoreticians believe the sleep disturbance is central in myalgic encephalitis. Impairment of stages of deep (slow wave) sleep dysregulate metabolism and immune response. This reinforces the idea that melatonin treatment should be part of standard practice

And, with some discipline, routines to regulate sleep are possible during the pandemic, unlike so many other uncontrollable factors in our current lives. Recommendations may sound prosaic but are profound, and include consistent sleep-wake times, even on weekends, scheduled walks, sunlight exposure early in the day, reduction in blue light exposure for at least the last hour before bed, and maintaining meaningful social connections with others. As Hamblin opines, “Sleep like your life depends on it.”

 

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The Mutated Coronavirus Is a Ticking Time Bomb

(The Mutated Coronavirus Is a Ticking Time Bomb – The Atlantic)

‘…[G]iven the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected….’

— Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor (in information technology, not virology) at UNC, in The Atlantic

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Trump’s Georgia Call Crosses a Red Line

David Frum spins out the consequences in The Atlantic:

(Trump’s Georgia Call Crosses a Red Line – The Atlantic)

‘In a bombshell conversation with Georgia’s secretary of state yesterday, President Donald Trump made monkeys of every Republican official and every conservative talking head who professed to believe Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. The president himself made clear that he had only one end in view: overturning the 2020 election.

…[A] president desperate enough to try to steal an election on a recorded line is desperate enough to try a self-pardon. If a president can pardon himself as well as his or her subordinates, a president can order any crime, or commit it himself, with absolute impunity. The very notion of a self-pardon is radically inconsistent with democratic accountability. If Trump tries to pardon himself, his successors must fight his attempt all the way to the Supreme Court. And given the Raffensperger recording, who doubts that Trump will try it?…’

— Via The Atlantic

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The Milky Way Gets a New Origin Story

One of the keys to the puzzle appears to be ‘metal-poor disc stars’:

‘…[O]ver the past two years, researchers have rewritten nearly every major chapter of the galaxy’s history. What happened? They got better data.
On April 25, 2018, a European spacecraft by the name of Gaia released a staggering quantity of information about the sky. Critically, Gaia’s years-long data set described the detailed motions of roughly 1 billion stars. Previous surveys had mapped the movement of just thousands. The data brought a previously static swath of the galaxy to life. “Gaia started a new revolution,” said Federico Sestito, an astronomer at the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory in France.
Astronomers raced to download the dynamic star map, and a flurry of discoveries followed. They found that parts of the disk, for example, appeared impossibly ancient. They also found evidence of epic collisions that shaped the Milky Way’s violent youth, as well as new signs that the galaxy continues to churn in an unexpected way.
The Gaia satellite has revolutionized our understanding of the Milky Way since its launch in December 2013. Taken together, these results have spun a new story about our galaxy’s turbulent past and its ever-evolving future. “Our picture of the Milky Way has changed so quickly,” said Michael Petersen, an astronomer at the University of Edinburgh. “The theme is that the Milky Way is not a static object. Things are changing rapidly everywhere.”…’

— Via WIRED

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The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable

‘Someone I follow on Twitter, Erika Chappell, recently encapsulated my feelings about The Simpsons in a tweet: “That a show which was originally about a dysfunctional mess of a family barely clinging to middle class life in the aftermath of the Reagan administration has now become aspirational is frankly the most on the nose [manifestation] of capitalist American decline I can think of.”

For many, a life of constant economic uncertainty—in which some of us are one emergency away from losing everything, no matter how much we work—is normal. Second jobs are no longer for extra cash; they are for survival. It wasn’t always this way. When The Simpsons first aired, few would have predicted that Americans would eventually find the family’s life out of reach. But for too many of us now, it is….’

— Dani Alexis Ryskamp via The Atlantic

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New Year’s Customs and Rituals

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'... 

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.

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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]

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The decline and fall of the American death penalty

(The death penalty is rapidly disappearing in the United States)

‘Fewer people were executed in 2020 than in any year for nearly three decades, and fewer people were sentenced to die than at any point since the Supreme Court created the modern legal framework governing the death penalty in 1976. Those are two of the striking findings in the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) annual report, which was released on December 16.

One significant reason so few people were executed in 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic — which has slowed court proceedings and turned gathering prison officials and witnesses for an execution into a dangerous event for everyone involved. But even if 2020 is an outlier year due to the pandemic, DPIC’s data shows a sharp and consistent trend away from the death penalty since the number of capital sentences peaked in the 1990s.

…The trend away from new death sentences and executions has continued despite two recent significant pro-death penalty opinions from the Supreme Court.

…Why has the number of death sentences and executions declined so sharply?…’

— Via Vox

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Activists Turn Facial Recognition Tools Against the Police

“Accountability is important,” said Christopher Howell, who tapped his knowledge of neural net technology after police tear-gassed him at a protest in Portland, Ore. “We need to know who is doing what, so we can deal with it.”

‘“We’re now approaching the technological threshold where the little guys can do it to the big guys,” one researcher said….’

— Via The New York Times

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R.I.P. H. Jack Geiger

 

Doctor Who Fought Social Ills Dies at 95

(H. Jack Geiger, Doctor Who Fought Social Ills, Dies at 95 – The New York Times)

‘Dr. H. Jack Geiger, who ran away to Harlem as a teenager and emerged a lifelong civil rights activist, helping to bring medical care and services to impoverished regions and to start two antiwar doctors groups that shared in Nobel Peace Prizes, died on Monday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 95.

…Dr. Geiger was a leading proponent of “social medicine,” the idea that doctors should use their expertise and moral authority not just to treat illness but also to change the conditions that made people sick in the first place: poverty, hunger, discrimination, joblessness and lack of education….’

— Via New York Times

Jack Geiger was one of my heroes in the practice of medicine. He was a cofounder of two groups doing important work in medicine — and for the world — in which I have been active, Physicians for Social Responsibility, which leveraged our medical stature in the fight against nuclear weapons, and Physicians for Human Rights. His genius was in defining many of the aspect’s of inhumanity and aggression as public health problems to mobilize health care professionals as social change agents, “redefining what it meant to be a physician.”

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R.I.P. Tony Rice

 

Master bluegrass picker  dies aged 69

(Master bluegrass picker Tony Rice dies aged 69 | Music | The Guardian)

‘Fans including Steve Martin, Ricky Skaggs and Jason Isbell have paid tribute to Grammy-winning Rice…’

— Obituary via Guardian

 

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These Creatures May Have Taken Over The Moon

(These Creatures May Have Taken Over The Moon – Neatorama)

‘Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are microscopic creatures that have possibly taken over the lunar surface.  Scientists believe that these animals are now thriving on the moon after an Israeli spacecraft crash-landed on the Moon in 2019. The spacecraft contained a ‘library of life,’ which included a stack of disks archiving 30 million pages of information about Earth, a copy of the entire English-language Wikipedia, human DNA samples, and thousands of tardigrades:

Beresheet’s strange occupants were dehydrated tardigrades, a process which essentially slows their metabolism down and suspends them in a near-life state. The idea was that, if they were to be rehydrated by someone or something, then they would come back to life, ostensibly telling future lunar explorers about life on Earth today.

But the spacecraft carrying the tardigrades didn’t land on the Moon according to plan, instead crashing on the lunar surface and losing contact with ground control.

Despite the impact, scientists believe that if anything survived the crash intact, it may well have been the tardigrades. The microscopic creatures were sandwiched between micron-thin sheets of nickel and suspended in epoxy, a resin-like preservative that acts like a jelly — potentially enough to cushion their landing.

This is not a totally outlandish idea. Tardigrades have been shown to survive the harsh conditions of space in the past….’

— Via Neatorama

Link

Happy Saint Stephen’s Day

In many countries celebration is far from over once Christmas has come and gone. December 26 is observed as Boxing Day, an official holiday in the UK, former British colonies, and many European countries. When Boxing Day falls on the weekend, as it does this year, the subsequent Monday is observed as a holiday.

There are varied origin stories for Boxing Day. Many of them relate to the British aristocracy’s proclivity for giving gifts or charitable donations to the less fortunate – either their servants, once their own celebration was over and employees were allowed to get some time off; or filling the donation boxes of churches with food and other supplies for the poor.

But the European tradition of giving money and other gifts to those in need or in  service positions dates as far back as the Middle Ages. Some countries call the day after Christmas Saint Stephen’s Day in honor of the first Christian martyr stoned to death in AD 36. Saint Stephen was known for serving the poor, making charity and the distribution of alms a fitting way to celebrate his feast day. Another story, immortalized in the Christmas Carol “Goode King Wenceslaus”, refers to the 10th Century Duke of Bohemia noticing a poor man trying to gather firewood in a blizzard when he was out surveying his lands on the “feast of Stephen,” the day after Christmas. He was moved to go to the man’s house with a box of food, wine, and other items.

In Ireland, where the custom used to be for “wrenboys” to kill a small bird, tie it to a pole decorated with holly and ribbons, and go door-to-door singing the “Wren Song” and asking for money, food, or small gifts, the day was referred to as Wren Day. Reputedly, tradition said that it was bad luck to kill a wren except on the feast of St. Stephen. Sparing the birds today, parades led by people with coal-blackened faces dressed up in wrenboy costumes made of straw, or wearing women’s dresses, mark the festivities. The revelers sing carols and ask for donations to charity. Similar practices occur on the Isle of Man and in parts of Wales. Sylvie Muller writes in more detail of the folklore of the wren and Wren Day in a scholarly article for the Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society.

While not generally observed in the United States, Massachusetts Governor William Weld in 1996 declared December 26 as Boxing Day in that state in response to efforts of a local coalition of British citizens. Unfortunately, it did not gain stature as an employee holiday. The 26th marks the opening of the season for people to return unwanted gifts for exchanges or refunds and to redeem gift cards in the United States. When I first heard of Boxing Day growing up here in the US, I thought in fact that the name had something to do with boxing up these unwanted presents for return.

Observance of Boxing Day has been inconsistent. It is an important day for sport, especially in the horse racing, rugby, football (soccer) and cricket worlds. And, indeed, significant boxing matches have taken place on Boxing Day.

The Boxing Day Dip is a charity event in which hundreds of brave souls, many of them in fancy dress, swim in the sea. It occurs in several venues around the UK and Europe. North Sea water temperatures are usually 49F, or 9.5C, and many participants are in only up to their knees. Roaring bonfires meet them upon their retreat.

The 2012 British film Boxing Day, directed by Bernard Rose, addresses the theme embodied by the holiday as a businessman (Danny Huston) and his chauffeur (Matthew Jacobs) drive into the heart of the Rocky Mts in increasingly perilous weather on the day after Christmas. When the journey becomes life-threatening, the businessman must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice for someone less fortunate.

Even if government offices and banks are closed that days, stores are open and, as is increasingly our wont, it is often observed as a day of commercial excess like Black Friday. (Retailers, after all, increasingly need our charitable giving too!) Also like the recent trend with Black Friday, many retailers run sales for several days before or after December 26, often up to New Year’s Eve, branding it as Boxing Week. So far, thankfully, there has not been a trend for retailers to be open on Christmas Day and force their employees to work on that day as there has been on The Day Before Black Friday holiday. There has been a worker’s movement in the UK to ban the opening of shops on Boxing Day to give employees a much needed day off and place an obstacle in the way of the relentless commercialization of the Christmas holiday season. In any case, many British retailers, especially because of emerging American ownership of retail chains, have begun to emphasize the Black Friday tradition instead, leading to a demonstrable drop in British store traffic on Boxing Day and the days after.

An episode in the 10th season of M.A.S.H. has visiting British soldiers attempting to persuade the uni that it was a “Boxing Day tradition” for officers and service members to switch positions and responsibilities for the day. You can kind of see that as a conceptual extension of the original tradition of the aristocracy giving gifts to the servants, I suppose (not that they would ever take it as far as treating places!).

’Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing a traditional Boxing Day pantomime with the kids. Nothing gets you in the festive spirit like watching classic family favourites such as Dick Whittington, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel. Panto for short is a traditional Christmas play where audience participation is expected. Kids love getting involved by shouting out “It’s behind you” or “Oh no it’s not, Oh yes it is.” All the stars come out to take part and dress up as pantomime dames such as Widow Twankey which is always portrayed by a man. Other well known pantomime characters include her sons Wishy Washy and Aladdin….’ – Paul Denton

Of course in some countries the day is another excuse for copious drinking. Even teetotalers often spend the day in congenial gatherings with family, friends, and feasting. Boxing Day’ s celebratory foods are a mixed bag, coming as they do from English tradition. The BBC has compiled a menu of recipes for Boxing Day brunch including Christmas cake soufflé, cheesy sprout fondue, and several dishes involving mincemeat.

Sausage rolls (New York Times recipe) are also a traditional Boxing Day dish in the UK. Although the concept of savory chopped meat wrapped in dough exists in most cuisines, the British have proudly claimed sausage rolls as their own. An article in The Telegraph suggests that these easy-to-cook, tasty, and greasy items became holiday fare because of upper class families were left to fend for themselves in the kitchen and to find a use for the leftovers on that day.

Sausage Roll myfavouritepastime.com

In a year in which many have been hard hit in unprecedented ways, perhaps December 26 could be a chance to get back to some version of the original intention of the holiday by making sure to give a meaningful gift to someone in need.

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Why you still need to wear a mask after getting COVID-19 vaccine

(Why you still need to wear a mask after getting COVID-19 vaccine – ABC News)

— Via ABC News

The vaccine may not be as effective for you as it was shown to be in the pre-authorization trials. Real-world factors in vaccine storage and administration may have an impact. And your health is unique. The level of population immunity necessary to limit vaccine spread is unknown. The duration of immunity invoked by vaccination is unknown and needs to be monitored going forward. Clinical trials did not assess whether vaccination decreases viral transmission and prevents asymptomatic infection, as distinct from its proven value in decreasing the risk of getting sick. Thus, public health measures need to continue unabated. 

Link

How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?

As a candidate, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris said the Department of Justice would have ‘no choice’ but to bring charges against Donald Trump when he leaves office.

‘Previous presidents have tended to take the view that it is better to look forwards in the name of national healing than backwards at the failings of their predecessor. And for good reasons – any prosecution would probably be long and difficult, act as a huge distraction, and expose the incoming president to accusations that they were acting like a tinpot dictator hounding their political enemy.

That a possible Trump prosecution is being discussed at all is a sign of the exceptional nature of the past four years. Those who argue in favor of legal action accept that there are powerful objections to going after Trump but urge people to think about the alternative – the dangers of inaction.

“If you do nothing you are saying that though the president of the United States is not above the law, in fact he is. And that would set a terrible precedent for the country and send a message to any future president that there is no effective check on their power,” said Andrew Weissmann, who was a lead prosecutor in the Mueller investigation looking into coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

As head of one of the three main teams answering to the special counsel Robert Mueller, Weissmann had a ringside seat on what he calls Trump’s “lawless White House”. In his new book, Where Law Ends, he argues that the prevailing view of the 45th president is that “following the rules is optional and that breaking them comes at minimal, if not zero, cost”…’

— Via The Guardian

No surprise that I am firmly on the side of hoping for prosecution. The prior checks and balances on autocratic rule depended on little besides the presumption of good faith on the part of the President, and the last four years have made it abundantly clear that that is not sufficient. As would-be dictators go, trump although brazen has been inept and contemptibly stupid but not to act could embolden someone far more skillful and crafty the next time. To refrain based on some pie-in-the-sky notion of national reconciliation and healing is simply naive.

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We in the ‘shallow state’ thought we could help.

Instead, we obscured the reality of a Trump presidency.

Isgur+head+shot‘Last month, President Trump lost his bid for reelection. Hundreds of his appointees will soon be leaving the government, including some who didn’t vote for him in 2016 or 2020. What are you to make of the Trump skeptics who joined the administration thinking they could temper his worst instincts?…’

— Sarah Isgur, director of the Justice Dept Office of Public Affairs from 2017-2018, via The Washington Post

However, there is a storm of reaction onTwitter, e.g. ‘I remember Isgur from her frequent appearances as a surrogate for Trump and the GOP. To my recollection there was no one meaner, dirtier or happier to provide misinformation.’ In particular, she appears to have been an enthusiastic apologist for the child separation program. We may be on the verge of a torrent of self-serving revisionist attempts by people who served trump. On the other hand, numerous innocent would-be do-gooders may be exiting the Washington bureaucracy in confessional disillusionment. As with Isgur, it may be a badge of distinction to have actually been fired by trump. 

Link

Never Too Late

As we’ve seen most recently with Mitch McConnell, William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Georgia governor Brian Kemp, trump turns on everyone as even the most spineless reach their limit in sustaining lips-to-buttocks devotion to his unprecedented effort to stay in power and spread Covid-19 as widely as possible. Then there’s the news that he has had White House discussions, including perjured former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and pitiful court jester Rudy Giuliani, about invoking martial law to force a “rerun” of the election in battleground states. Not that it is going to happen, but as David Frum pointed out, how unprecedented is it that we reached the point of having to have the first official military denial that they would participate in the overthrow of a democratic election?

Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the conservative thinktank The Ethics and Public Policy Center and former speechwriter to three Republican Presidents, writes in The Atlantic that this state of affairs is the logical extension of “(trump)’s disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies” evident from long before he became president. Increasingly desperate and despondent, enraged and embittered, uncontrollably consumed by his grievances, and preoccupied with ever more bizarre conspiracy theories. Wehner writes that ‘trump is losing his mind’ and is not the first to draw parallels to Lear.

It cannot be emphasized how dangerous his destabilization is, in terms of its influence on both the scores of cowards in the Republican party and his base in the electorate – delegitimizing the governing power of our newly-elected officials and paralyzing medical science’s ability to mount an effective response to a surging pandemic.

‘This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition—his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy—became lethal. Trump’s negligence turned what would have been a difficult winter into a dark one. If any of his predecessors—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, to go back just 40 years—had been president during this pandemic, tens of thousands of American lives would almost surely have been saved…’

As I have said many times here, every day we postpone removing this sick, sick man from office using the 25th Amendment process available to us is a day when we do not stop wholesale massacre.

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Engaging With Trump’s Die-Hard Supporters Isn’t Productive

‘…I am talking about the people who are giving Trump their full-throated support to the very end, even as he mulls a military coup; the people who buy weird paintings of Trump crossing the Delaware, or who believe that Trump is an agent of Jesus Christ, or who think that Trump is fighting a blood-drinking ring of pedophiles. These supporters have gone far beyond political loyalty and have succumbed to a kind of mass delusion. It is not possible to engage them. Indeed, to argue with them is to legitimize their beliefs, which itself is unhealthy for our democracy.

I don’t want to treat our fellow citizens with open contempt, or to confront and berate them. Rather, I am arguing for silence. The Trump loyalists who still cling to conspiracy theories and who remain part of a cult of personality should be deprived of the attention they seek, shunned for their antidemocratic lunacy, and then outvoted at the ballot box.

If we’ve learned one thing about “Trumpism,” it is that there is no such thing as “Trumpism.” No content anchors it; no program or policy comes from it. No motivating ideology stands behind it, unless we think of general grievance and a hatred of cultural and intellectual elites as an “idea.” And when views are incoherent and beliefs are rooted in fantasies, compromise is impossible. Further engagement is not only unwarranted, but it can also become counterproductive….’

— Tom Nichols via The Atlantic

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Merry Solstice!

“The Shortest Day” – Susan Cooper

 

So the shortest day came, and the year died,

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive,

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake

They shouted, revelling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us – Listen!!

All the long echoes sing the same delight,

This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.

And so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.

Welcome Yule!!

— Via Greenside Up

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“Life While-You-Wait” – Wisława Szymborska

Images
Life While-You-Wait. Performance without rehearsal. Body without alterations. Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play. I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living, I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands. I improvise, although I loathe improvisation. I trip at every step over my own ignorance. I can’t conceal my hayseed manners. My instincts are for happy histrionics. Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more. Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back, stars you’ll never get counted, your character like a raincoat you button on the run — the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance, or repeat a single Thursday that has passed! But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen. Is it fair, I ask (my voice a little hoarse, since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no. I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is. The props are surprisingly precise. The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer. The farthest galaxies have been turned on. Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere. And whatever I do will become forever what I’ve done.

— Wisława Szymborska via Brain Pickings

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“Today, Another Universe” – Jane Hirshfield

The arborist has determined:
senescence      beetles      canker
quickened by drought
                           but in any case
not prunable   not treatable   not to be propped.

And so.

The branch from which the sharp-shinned hawks and their mate-cries.

The trunk where the ant.

The red squirrels’ eighty-foot playground.

The bark   cambium   pine-sap   cluster of needles.

The Japanese patterns      the ink-net.

The dapple on certain fish.

Today, for some, a universe will vanish. First noisily, then just another silence.

The silence of after, once the theater has emptied.

Of bewilderment after the glacier, the species, the star.

Something else, in the scale of quickening things, will replace it,

this hole of light in the light, the puzzled birds swerving around it.

— Jane Hirshfield via Brain Pickings

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Another coronavirus mutation was discovered – and this one might be more dangerous

(Another coronavirus mutation was discovered – and this one might be more dangerous – BGR)

‘A few days ago, UK health officials announced that another new coronavirus mutation was spreading rapidly in the south of the country. The strain featured 17 distinct genetic changes, most of them impacting the spike protein. One of them is called N501Y, affecting the receptor-binding motif of the spike protein, according to the UK COVID-19 Genomics Consortium. The mutation did not appear to cause more severe illness, according to public health officials.

Now, a few days later, South African authorities have reported another SARS-CoV-2 mutation that’s apparently driving the second wave in the country. South Africa is nearing 1 million infections, with more than 24,000 people having died of COVID-19 complications. The second wave started in mid-November, with the country registering more than 10,000 cases in a single day a few days ago. This appears to be the second wave’s local peak, but the case count might continue to climb.

South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the 501.V2 mutation of the virus, reports The East African. Unlike the UK strain, this one might cause more severe illness. The official said on Twitter that local clinicians had found anecdotal evidence of the clinic presentation of patients. They said that a larger proportion of younger people are developing critical illness without suffering from other comorbidities.

“The evidence that has been collated, therefore, strongly suggests that that the second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant,” Mkhize said during a virtual briefing on Friday.

The second wave also seems to be spreading faster than the previous one, according to local officials. The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) discovered the mutation in several provinces, noting between 10-20 mutations that were not seen in other strains since September. It’s unclear whether the new version came from.

Health officials “remain convinced” that current vaccines will work against the new strain, says The East African…’

— Via BGR

I’m not a virologist — anybody reading out there who can correct any misconceptions I have? — but I think it is ironic that all this news of new mutations is cascading out just as the vaccines roll out. The coverage I’ve been reading of both the London and South African variants invariably concludes by citing authorities’ assurances that the current vaccines will still be effective but it seems a little too pat to me to be really comforting.

First, my reading is that the vaccines raise an immune response to the virus’ spike protein and it is precisely the spike protein that is mutating from strain to strain.

Next, the vaccines were developed after rapid sequencing of the viral genome and required significant empirical testing to assure effectiveness, while the world held its breath. I’m not sure on empirical grounds that anyone can say yet that the vaccine invokes immunity against any different strain, particularly when those strains appear to differ with respect to  precisely the antigens targeted in the vaccine. 

If you think, for example, of immunization against influenza. It is effective only against the current combination of antigens in this year’s variant, and there are major antigenic shifts from year to year, making reimmunization on an annual basis necessary. In a given year the flu vaccine may be more or less effective, largely depending on how good the match is between vaccine developers’ best guesses (and, I guess, samples in the wild) about this year’s antigens and the reality. It is possible that the same situation will be true with respect to  SARS-CoV-2. 

Another factor is that we all hope that an unprecedented proportion of humanity will be vaccinated against Covid-19 compared to any other disease. Vaccine-based immunity may actually become the driving force selecting for new virulent mutations which were more resistant to vaccine-based immunity. Think survival of the fittest and selection pressure on viral strains. 

So I’m still holding my breath. 

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*I’m* Fired?? No, *You’re* Fired!

trump Bows to Reality, Asks Confidants, Should I Do ‘The Apprentice’ Again?

People familiar with the matter note that he has been casually dropping references to his earlier, pre-presidential debacle into conversation. Mark Burnett slavers over the moneymaking potential and has reportedly given him the go-ahead, in the face of a string of other flops in his TV production business MGM. 

— Via Daily Beast

The plan may be met with relief by members of trump’s inner circle as a way to divert his attention into something marginally less ludicrous and pitiful than his current preoccupation with conspiracy theories and stolen elections, and to reinflate his ego to the monumental levels he requires.

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Seditious former general Mike Flynn calls for military to keep Trump in power

‘Mike Flynn, the former general fired (and later pardoned) by President Trump for lying about his contacts with Russian officials, says that the military should overturn the results of November’s election…

Interviewed on the conservative site Newsmax, Flynn called Thursday for Trump to use “military capabilities” to force key states to repeat elections that had the wrong result….’

— Via Boing Boing

Link

How to Criticize with Kindness

‘In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking Daniel Dennett offers a list of rules formulated decades ago by the legendary social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  • You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  • You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  • You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  • Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism….’

— Via Pocket

Let’s be real, though. There is a certain class of disagreement that has become especially prevalent in the last four-plus years in which:

  • there is no way to re-express your target’s position clearly, vividly, and fairly without sounding delusional
  • there are no appreciable points of agreement
  • nothing is learned from your target.
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Mind uploading:

Can humans become immortal?

‘Scientists are currently mapping the human brain in an effort to understand the connections that produce consciousness. If we can re-create consciousness, your mind can live on forever. You could even laser-port your consciousness to different planets at the speed of light, download your mind into a local avatar and explore those worlds.

But is this transhumanist vision of the future real or is it a pipedream? And if it is real, is it wise? Join theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, neuroscientist David Eagleman, human performance researcher Steven Kotler, skeptic Michael Shermer, cultural theorist Douglas Rushkoff and futurist Jason Silva….’

— Via Big Think

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We are over cleaning in response to the virus

Opinion: Airborne transmission, not surfaces, is the covid-19 threat

Joseph G. Allen is an associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Charles Haas is a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University. Linsey C. Marr is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Writing in The Washington Post:
‘We don’t have a single documented case of covid-19 transmission from surfaces. Not one.
So why, then, are we spending a small fortune to deep clean our offices, schools, subways and buses?
Business leaders, school districts and government officials often ask us whether people are over-cleaning in response to the pandemic. The short answer is yes. The reality is that the novel coronavirus spreads mainly through the air. Especially with regular hand-washing, there’s no need to constantly disinfect surfaces.
The best analogy we’ve used for how this virus is spread is to think about a smoker… How much could you protect yourself from that smoke by scrubbing down countertops, doorknobs and all the other surfaces in the room? Not much. Shared air is the problem, not shared surfaces….’

 

Exactly. Except for one thing — the compulsive cleaning helps in treating the substantial psychological impact of the pandemic, binding our anxiety. 

Link

Opinion: What the Science of Addiction Tells Us About Trump

‘President Donald Trump has made grievance a primary feature of his life and presidency, from the thousands of lawsuits he has filed to, most recently, his repeated claims of national election fraud. His opponents, and even many of his supporters, have wondered why he can’t seem to control his urges to lash out at perceived enemies.

I am a violence researcher and study the role of grievances and retaliation in violent crime. Recently, I’ve been researching the way grievances affect the brain, and it turns out that your brain on grievance looks a lot like your brain on drugs. In fact, brain imaging studies show that harboring a grievance (a perceived wrong or injustice, real or imagined) activates the same neural reward circuitry as narcotics….’

James Kimmel Jr, lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and co-director of the Yale Collaborative for Motive Control Studies, writing in POLITICO.

Link

The benefits of embracing ‘deep time’ in a year like 2020

‘In times of global crisis, focusing on the present is justified. Yet as we move into 2021, there is good reason to spend some time also reflecting on our place within the longer-term past and future. For one, there remain creeping problems that we cannot ignore, such as climate change, antibiotic resistance or biodiversity loss. But also because contemplating deeper time can help replenish our mental energies during adversity, and offer a meditative source of catharsis amid the frenzy of the now….’

— Vincent Ialenti via BBC Future

Link

Have you noticed…

… that some Follow Me Here reader always hastens to add a one-star rating to any post here that betrays enough contempt for trump? I wonder if he or she is just a trump supporter sensitive to the criticism, or if it is condemnation of the crude inarticulateness of my expressions of hate. In either case, most people with such a negative take on what I post here would simply stop reading, so it seems we have here someone who loves to hate. Oh, and another reader or readers hastens to counteract the one-star rating with a higher one as soon as they see it; at some subsequent point, checking back, I see that the average rating has gone up somewhat. Like much else in trump’s universe, a losing battle it seems… (Am I going to get a one-star rating for this one too?)

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NY Attorney General Letitia James Predicts Trump Will Resign So Pence Can Pardon Him

‘While discussing the post-Jan. 20 legal prospects of President Donald Trump, New York AG Letitia James — who is currently pursuing a civil investigation against the president, while Manhattan’s district attorney has a criminal investigation ongoing — said she believes the commander in chief will take a stunning preemptive measure to try to cut future criminal charges off at the pass.

“The vast majority of legal scholars have indicated that he cannot pardon himself,” James said. “What he could do is step down and allow … Vice President [Mike] Pence, to pardon him. I suspect that he will pardon his family members, his children, his son-in-law, and individuals in his administration as well as some of his close associates. And then I suspect, at some point in time, he will step down and allow the vice president to pardon him.”…’

— Via Mediaite

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Trump’s delusional rage hits boiling point as all 50 states certify Biden win

Mark Frauenfelder observes that trump’s tweets illustrate that he has cycled through the first four stages of grief:

Denial: “No candidate has ever won both Florida and Ohio and lost. I won them both, by a lot!”

Anger: “#OVERTURN”

Bargaining: “Wow! At least 17 States have joined Texas in the extraordinary case against the greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States. Thank you!”

Depression: “If somebody cheated in the Election, which the Democrats did, why wouldn’t the Election be immediately overturned? How can a Country be run like this?”

Of course, the last stage of grief, Acceptance, totally eludes him ‘which is why he is destined to remain a miserable failure….’

— Via Boing Boing

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Pete Buttigieg reportedly really wants a Cabinet spot

…but not just any Cabinet spot

‘Buttigieg’s top choice in a Biden administration was reportedly ambassador to the United Nations — a Cabinet-level post in Buttigieg’s preferred arena of foreign policy. But Biden passed Buttigieg over for that role, giving it to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has worked in Foreign Service almost as long as Buttigieg has been alive.

It’s not that Biden isn’t fond of Buttigieg; He has gone so far as to compare the former mayor to his late son Beau. Instead, Biden has been focused on picking women and people of color for his top spots — something that has frustrated those looking for LGBTQ leaders in the Democratic administration, Washington Blade reports. And Buttigieg hasn’t made it easy for Biden to include him either. Buttigieg shook off talks of being Biden’s Office of Management and Budget director because he wanted a “real Cabinet” position and not a “staff-level” job, a Democratic insider tells Washington Blade. He also reportedly squashed talks of leading the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Now, Biden is considering giving Buttigieg a high-profile ambassadorship, potentially even sending him to China, Axios reports. Buttigieg is also reportedly being considered for some remaining domestic roles — something his supporters see as a way to build his profile before another presidential run….’

— Via Yahoo News

Link

We Had the COVID-19 Vaccine the Whole Time

‘You may be surprised to learn that of the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public in an act of scientific and humanitarian generosity that resulted in China’s Yong-Zhen Zhang’s being temporarily forced out of his lab. In Massachusetts, the Moderna vaccine design took all of one weekend. It was completed before China had even acknowledged that the disease could be transmitted from human to human, more than a week before the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial. This is — as the country and the world are rightly celebrating — the fastest timeline of development in the history of vaccines. It also means that for the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it ….’

— David Wallace-Wells via New York Magazine

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Mt Everest grows by nearly a metre to new height

Maybe due to 2015 earthquake?

‘The world’s highest mountain Mount Everest is 0.86m higher than had been previously officially calculated, Nepal and China have jointly announced.
Until now the countries differed over whether to add the snow cap on top. The new height is 8,848.86m (29,032 ft)….’

— Via BBC News

Link

What Brian Kemp reveals about Donald Trump’s true nature

‘That Trump has turned on Kemp so viciously should function as a warning to every other Republican elected official — and there are hundreds of them — who either continue to publicly support Trump’s ridiculous attempt bid to overturn the election or sit silently by as it unfolds: Loyalty is a one-way street for Trump. And you can never, ever engage in enough sycophancy to ensure that you are spared his rage…’

— via CNNPolitics

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On a Pebbly Beach

 

When our family was young
and the children took off over the stones like little dogs
as we followed in our different conversation
and the game was, to come back with the Best

it struck me that grownups tend to select
those that the sea had spent her centuries of energy
smoothing and buffing
from rock until perfectly formal, the ovoid, the oval

while our youngsters go for the grotesque,
the knobbly ones with fractured faces and funny holes
that can have fingers poked in and out of them
or look like puppies or gulls

and now that I sleep diagonally
and walk alone on this beach
it is truly hard to decide
whose preference was the more mature.

 

John Birtwhistle

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Joe Biden’s love for Seamus Heaney reveals a soul you can trust

(Joe Biden’s love for Seamus Heaney reveals a soul you can trust | Poetry | The Guardian)

‘I didn’t fall for Joe Biden until I learned that he loves the poetry of Seamus Heaney. Anyone who responds to the steady, humane voice of Heaney has the timbre of soul you can trust. It’s not like a politician rattling off a quotation from Shelley or St Francis of Assisi. You can’t pretend to love Heaney, for he’s too subtle for that; a slow-speaking country man giving up his secrets gradually, like a farmer revealing the land’s hidden knowledge – and its graves….’

— Jonathan Jones in  The Guardian

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Big Dumb Objects:

Science fiction’s most mysterious MacGuffins

(Big Dumb Objects: science fiction’s most mysterious MacGuffins | Science fiction books | The Guardian)

‘From 2001 to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, these awesome structures loom large over the genre, loaded with inscrutable significance…’

— Via The Guardian

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The brain has two systems for thinking about others’ thoughts

(The brain has two systems for thinking about…)

‘The researchers refer to these brain structures as regions for implicit and explicit Theory of Mind. These cortical brain regions mature at different ages to fulfill their function. The supramarginal gyrus that supports non-verbal action prediction matures earlier, and is also involved in visual and emotional perspective taking. “This enables younger children to predict how people will act.  The temporoparietal junction and precuneus through which we understand what others think – and not just what they feel and see or how they will act  – only develops to fulfil this function at the age of 4 years”, first author Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann from the MPI CBS explains….’

— Via Neuroscience Stuff

Link

The Arecibo Observatory Is More Than Just a Telescope

(The Arecibo Observatory Is More Than Just a Telescope | WIRED)

‘The world’s second largest radio telescope collapsed on Tuesday. But its legacy is indestructible….’

— Via WIRED

I can’t tell you how sad I’ve been to hear about the loss of Arecibo. Especially after watching the realtime video of the collapse, I haven’t been able to shake the post-apocalyptic feeling it has imbued me with, although I know there were no global disaster factors involved. 

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It might not be so simple for trump to pardon his children and Giuliani

Washington Post Opinion by University of California Law Professor Aaron Rappaport:

‘President trump’s holiday gift list, news reports suggest, may include broad pardons for his three oldest children and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, even before they have been charged with any crimes. But if trump believes such pardons would protect the recipients from federal prosecution, he should think again. In addition to violating core democratic ideals, such a move might well prove beyond his constitutional authority….’

— Via Washington Post

Some of the problems with blanket pardons include the undermining of accountability that comes with hiding from public scrutiny the facts of what is being immunized; and the errors that might arise from protecting the offender from crimes beyond the president’s intentions. These concerns, of course, will not bother trump but they might not stand up to a court challenge, Rappoport believes.

And a conservative Supreme Court, dominated by self-identified ‘originalist’ jurists who lean toward interpreting the law in terms of what the Framers intended, might construe pardon power as more strongly having a “specificity requirement” as to what is being pardoned. If any Federal prosecutor seeks to indict a person raising the pardon as a barrier to prosecution, this issue may be put to the test for the first time. 

Will a Biden Justice Dept be leery of pursuing such a course for fear of the appearance of divisiveness and vindictiveness? Or from looking no better than trump, who led his supporters in “Lock her up” chants during his campaign against Clinton? A nuanced decision lies ahead. Almost surely, discussions of the issue have begun behind the closed doors of the transition process. Arguably,  the realpolitik of governing our hopelessly schismatic electorate will dominate over rhetoric about healing rifts and being a President for all, which will probably rapidly prove to have been unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky.

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Trump’s Final Days of Rage and Denial

 

‘The final days of the Trump presidency have taken on the stormy elements of a drama more common to history or literature than a modern White House. His rage and detached-from-reality refusal to concede defeat evoke images of a besieged overlord in some distant land defiantly clinging to power rather than going into exile or an erratic English monarch imposing his version of reality on his cowed court…

“If there are these analogies between classic literature and society as it’s operating right now, then that should give us some big cause for concern this December,” said Mr. Wilson, the Shakespearean scholar. “We’re approaching the end of the play here and that’s where catastrophe always comes.”…’

— Peter Baker via The New York Times

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U.S. Marines Won’t Stop Taking LSD

A Long, Venerable Association:

(U.S. Marines Won’t Stop Taking LSD)

‘America’s 2nd Marine Division loves to trip balls. The 20,000 Marine strong division is garrisoned at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and many of its members have been caught taking LSD. It’s such a problem that the Marine Corps has begun to randomly test for the drug and publicly announced a crackdown on people taking it…

It may seem odd, but LSD has a long and storied history of use by America’s armed forces. At a military base in Wyoming, Airmen in charge of launching America’s nuclear arsenal loved to eat acid between shifts. Monitoring the nuclear arsenal is a boring job and, to pass the time, airmen in charge of the nukes would get high. “I absolutely just loved altering my mind,” one airman said in 2018 when the ring of LSD buddies was busted.

The LSD-Marine connection goes deeper. In February 2019 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, a journal published by the Marine Corps Association, Major Emre Albayrak of the U.S. Marine Corps published a paper advocating that intelligence officers microdose LSD to help them with their job.

“Our own units, such as  the  Naval  Special  Warfare  Development Group, seek cognitive advan-tages via unorthodox methods such as mind  gyms  and  sensory  deprivation  tanks,” Albayrak said. “The cognitive advantage they seek is ‘flow”—or ‘ekstasis’ from the Greek, which  Plato describes as ‘an altered state where our normal waking consciousness vanishes  completely, replaced by an intense euphoria and a powerful connection to a greater  intelligence.’ This  phenomena is described as a non-ordinary state of consciousness in which  individuals tend to have heightened focus, pattern recognition, and reaction time. Flow can be observed in a seasoned close-quarters battle team clearing a complex structure.”…’

— Via Vice

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The Comedy of National Decline

 

(‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘Emily in Paris’: The Comedy of National Decline – The Atlantic)

‘Last month, the institute for advanced studies in Culture at the University of Virginia published its most recent survey of American political life. One of its findings: 66 percent of Americans view their country to be in a state of decline. The survey arrived just after the publication of the latest Social Progress Index, which found that the United States is one of only three countries where citizens are worse off than they were in 2011, when the index started tracking quality of life. The deterioration is all the more perverse because the failures, in a country as rich as the U.S., are not material, but cultural. They are abdications of moral imagination. As one of the index’s advisers put it, in an observation both evergreen and newly acute: “We are no longer the country we like to think we are.”

Loss hovers in the American air, the sense of ambient tragedy weaving its way even into works of escapism. In recent months—as a pandemic that was handled with relative efficiency by many other countries has ravaged the United States, and as the American president has waged war on American democracy—two new TV shows have considered the question of what it means to be American….’

— Via The Atlantic

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Two Year Old has a unique solution to The Trolley Problem

(Two Year Old Solves The Trolley Problem – borninspace)

‘The Trolley Problem is an ethical dilemma. A train is heading down the tracks toward five people. If you do nothing, those five people will die. If you switch the tracks, the train will kill only one person. What do you do?

Exploring this conundrum is what Dr. E. J. Masicampo, a social psychologist at Wake Forest University, does for a living. He enlisted the assistance of his two-year old son Nicholas, who offers a unique and fresh solution that had never occurred to me before…’

— Via borninspace

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Friday Night Kraken Massacre:

Trump campaign loses a bunch of election cases all at once”

(Friday Night Kraken Massacre: Trump campaign loses a bunch of election cases all at once, womp womp | Boing Boing)

‘The campaign of outgoing President Donald J. Trump just lost a slew of election-related lawsuits, and all of the losses were announced within the span of about an hour or so on Friday night, December 4.

A legal beatdown. Perhaps the most litigation lost in the span of an hour or so in the history of America? Not sure, but it appears to be the losingest night Donald Trump’s team of lawyers has ever had, and you love to see it.

It’s the Friday Night Kraken Massacre.

Michigan. Georgia. Nevada. Wisconsin. Look, there’s another! Arizona just kicked their butts.

The Federal Election Commission report yesterday showed that the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the election results have cost his campaign about $8.8 million so far, including about $2.3 million on lawyers like Jenna Ellis and Rudy Giuliani, and Lin Wood. But those same efforts have helped Trump raise $207 million. It’s a profitable racket….’

— Via Boing Boing

Link

Could trump Just Fade Away?

Months ago trump predicted the coronavirus would just’ fade away.’ Fittingly, it is suggested he might be the one fading away. David A. Graham, writing in The Atlantic , finds it remarkable that America is already paying much less attention to trump while cautioning that “this is not license for the nation to let down its guard.”

Yascha Mounk makes the case that “the odds that Americans will grow bored with the ever more histrionic antics of the sore loser they just kicked out of office are pretty good.”

But “we’ll likely learn a lot more than we know now” about trump’s execrable deeds both before and during his White House tenure, Timothy Noah predicts.

— via The Atlantic

Although all of us in the Atlantic-reading half of the country are relieved we can ignore him as we should have done long ago, and avert our eyes in contempt and embarrassment from his pitiful buffoonery, we represent less of a consensus in our inherently schismatic society than we would like to believe. I am much less sanguine about the death of trumpism, and certainly don’t feel he will retreat into a mortified loser’s silence whether he announces his 2024 candidacy soon or not (I think there’s a good chance he may stage a counter event simultaneous with the Inauguration) … and whether or not he is trying to wield his influence from behind bars, as I hope. Much more likely his continuing reality show will get far better ratings than previous versions by playing to the audience of 70 million cult members he now captivates, whether the mainstream media manages to persevere in their newfound skill at ignoring him.

Now: how do we make sure he is not even a footnote in the history books?

Link

“It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”


— William Carlos Williams

Link

Ordinary Grief

‘Ordinary grief, militant heart

heart without a shadow,

not a hand

the green idiom cycling through

its enclosure

Words remembered in isolation

schoolbook words, days

to be beyond all care

sharp burin

if it was a matter of caring

Death, and death again

a startled spring inside you 

flaring out of season

leaves you not alone to wonder

where the good is in that 

held the note as long as it would hold

the strays, run, limp slipshod across the wet grass 

in wingless flight …’

— Paloma Yannakakis (via Bodega)

Link

My House

‘i only want to
be there to kiss you
as you want to be kissed
when you need to be kissed
where i want to kiss you
cause its my house and i plan to live in it

i really need to hug you
when i want to hug you
as you like to hug me
does this sound like a silly poem

i mean its my house
and i want to fry pork chops
and bake sweet potatoes
and call them yams
cause i run the kitchen
and i can stand the heat

i spent all winter in
carpet stores gathering
patches so i could make
a quilt
does this really sound
like a silly poem

i mean i want to keep you
warm

and my windows might be dirty
but its my house
and if i can’t see out sometimes
they can’t see in either

english isn’t a good language
to express emotion through
mostly i imagine because people
try to speak english instead
of trying to speak through it
i don’t know maybe it is
a silly poem

i’m saying it’s my house
and i’ll make fudge and call
it love and touch my lips
to the chocolate warmth
and smile at old men and call
it revolution cause what’s real
is really real
and i still like men in tight
pants cause everybody has some
thing to give and more
important need something to take

and this is my house and you make me
happy
so this is your poem’

 

— Nikki Giovanni

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How Trump’s Hill allies could take one last shot to overturn the election

 

(Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) addresses the crowd during a Trump campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Ocala, Fla.)

‘President Donald Trump’s arsenal for overturning the election will soon be down to one final, desperate maneuver: pressing his Republican allies on Capitol Hill to step in and derail Joe Biden’s presidency.

Although the Electoral College casts the official vote for president on Dec. 14, it’s up to Congress to certify the results a few weeks later. And federal law gives individual members of the House and Senate the power to challenge the results from the floor — a rarely used mechanism meant to be the last of all last resorts to safeguard an election.

But several House Republican lawmakers and aides now tell POLITICO they’re considering this option to aid Trump’s quest.

“Nothing is off the table,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)….’

— Via POLITICO

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R.I.P. Arecibo

Arecibo Observatory destroyed in platform collapse

(The damaged dish before today’s collapse. Satellite image courtesy of Maxar Technologies)

‘The suspended platform above the Arecibo radio telescope collapsed early this morning, destroying the observatory’s 1000-ft dish. The structure, already damaged after two of the cables supporting the dish snapped in two separate incidents, is now beyond repair….’

— Via Boing Boing

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Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System

(APOD: 2020 November 29)

‘Could you survive a jump off the tallest cliff in the Solar System? Quite possibly. Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda is estimated to be 20 kilometers deep — ten times the depth of the Earth’s Grand Canyon. Given Miranda’s low gravity, it would take about 12 minutes for a thrill-seeking adventurer to fall from the top, reaching the bottom at the speed of a racecar — about 200 kilometers per hour. Even so, the fall might be survivable given proper airbag protection. The featured image of Verona Rupes was captured by the passing Voyager 2 robotic spacecraft in 1986. How the giant cliff was created remains unknown, but is possibly related to a large impact or tectonic surface motion….’

— Via APOD

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Why Hollywood should steer clear of a Trump biopic

The story of the soon-to-be former president might be compelling, but recent political history isn’t simple entertainment

(White House downer)

‘Finally, the US presidential race is over. Which unfortunately signals the start of another race: who will be the first to get a Trump biopic out of the traps? For subject-hungry Hollywood, it is too juicy a story to resist: a tale of megalomania, scandal and surreally absurd incident, with a supporting cast of colourfully extreme characters. And Jared Kushner. It’s Succession, Idiocracy and Downfall rolled into one!

You can bet actors of every physiognomy – Oldman, Bale, Rockwell, Streep – are already thinking: “I could have a crack at Trump” Film-makers are doubtless considering the options, too. A “Where did it all go wrong?” flashback structure framed by the Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco could work well.

But before things progress any further, as Jon Stewart once said to Tucker Carlson, “Stop. Stop hurting America.” The rush to put first drafts of political history on screen before the ink has even dried is getting out of hand, and you have to question the value. Oliver Stone’s W, which told of the last overprivileged, underqualified Republican president, was a good arena for awards-worthy impersonations and ironic satire but I wasn’t ready to laugh, seeing as how these people had recently orchestrated and profited from the Iraq war. I still wasn’t ready to laugh a decade later with Christian Bale’s snappily satirical Dick Cheney movie Vice. We’d only just gotten over the tragedy, we weren’t ready for the farce. The same applies to Trump….’

— Via The Guardian

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Right-Wing Social Media Finalizes Divorce from Reality

(Right-Wing Social Media Had to Divorce Reality – The Atlantic)

‘Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere….’

— Via The Atlantic

Modern flat-earthers have an insatiable demand for misinformation. How far these delusions spread depends on whether the responsible media will continue to moderate content as they finally started to do just before and after the election, in the face of the continuing demand for reality-defying ideas. Parler will take up the slack among those who see any moderation as censorship, amplifying the hyperpartisanship excluded from mainstream media, with its users barely exposed to counterexamples that might challenge their misconceptions. But will they stay on Parler? Niche social-media properties rarely take hold, and the Parler app is less user-friendly than the much slicker Facebook apparatus. Furthermore some of the wingnuts thrive on baiting and criticizing the opposition and thus are driven to Twitter, where they can “own the libs.” But if the divorce is finalized, some say Democracy is finished.

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GSA formally recognizes Biden’s victory

The presidential transition begins:

‘On Monday, General Services Administration (GSA) chief Emily Murphy sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, officially authorizing the start of the presidential transition. Murphy issued the letter of “ascertainment” after weeks of delay, and amid increasing pressure from Democrats, and bipartisan pushback from national security and public health experts to start the process. Some Republican politicians had also begun to speak out, too.

The ascertainment will provide funding for the Biden-Harris transition, and most critically, give Biden’s team the opportunity to meet with their counterparts across federal agencies to prepare for the new administration to take over in January.

“As the Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, I have the ability under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, to make certain post-election resources and services available to assist in the event of a presidential transition,” Murphy wrote in her letter to vice-president elect Biden.

“I take this role seriously and, because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results, am transmitting this letter today to make those resources and services available to you,” she said.

Those “recent developments” most likely refer to Trump’s failed attempts in court to challenge the election, and battleground states, including Michigan and Georgia, officially certifying the votes for Biden’s win. In the past, most GSA administrators have made their judgments based on media projections, after which the losing candidate typically concedes. But Murphy had held off from doing so, despite Biden being declared the winner by all major US media outlets and Trump’s legal challenges largely going nowhere in court.

The GSA recognizing Biden’s victory, and the formal start if the transition process will likely quell some of the concern about Trump’s refusal to accept the election results. With Republicans backing away from their defense of the president, and the Trump’s legal avenues quickly closing, the reality Trump has tried to keep at bay for weeks is finally catching up to him. Biden will be president on January 20 — and now, at least, he can begin to properly prepare.

Murphy, in her letter Monday, defended her decision-making, saying the looked to “precedent from prior elections involving legal challenges and incomplete counts. GSA does not dictate the outcome of legal disputes and recounts, nor does it determine whether such proceedings are reasonable and justified.” Again, the one modern example of the GSA delaying a presidential transition came in 2000 because of the Florida recount.

Murphy also denied that the White House pressured her to withhold the ascertainment. “I have dedicated much of my adult life to public service, and I have always strived to do what is right. Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” Murphy wrote. “To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination.”

But President Donald Trump undermined that a bit, saying in a tweet shortly after the GSA acted that “in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Though Trump said his case “STRONGLY continues”, this is one of the most direct acknowledgments from the president so far that his tenure in office is ending — even if it isn’t exactly a concession….’

— Via Vox

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Op-Ed: Impeach the president again

‘If ever a presidential act qualified for impeachment, it would be openly trying to reverse an election outcome. While it sounds almost bizarre to make such a suggestion when the president’s term is over in two months, the move would have a useful byproduct: The Senate could prevent Trump from running again in 2024.

The impeachment clause of the Constitution allows the Senate to impose two possible punishments: “removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” While two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal from office in an impeachment trial, precedents involving the impeachment of judges indicate that only a majority vote would be required to make the penalty a disqualification from future office….’

— Michael A. Cohen in The Boston Globe

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75 reasons we might not have connected with extraterrestrial life yet

Physicist Stephen Webb has been collecting solutions to the Fermi paradox: 

‘Many of Webb’s collected hypotheses suggest that aliens live where we’re not looking, talk how we’re not listening or resemble something we haven’t sought out. Maybe the aliens like to send messages or signals using neutrinos, nearly massless and barely-there particles that don’t interact with normal matter much, or tachyons, hypothetical particles that fly faster than light. Maybe they use the more-conventional radio or optical transmissions but at frequencies, or in a form, astronomers haven’t sought out. Maybe a signal is sitting on data servers already, escaping notice. Maybe the extraterrestrials subtly alter the emissions of their stable stars, or the blip-blip-blip pulsations of variable stars. Maybe they put something big — a megamall, a disk of dust — in front of their sun to block some of its light, in a kind of anti-beacon. Maybe their skies are cloudy, and they consequently don’t care about astronomy or space exploration. Or — hear Webb out — perhaps they drive UFOs, meaning they are here but not in a form that scientists typically recognize, investigate, and take seriously….’

— Via Astronomy.com

…or maybe we’re simply alone. 

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Why can some people smell ants?

The answer to TikTok’s latest mystery:

(Why can some people smell ants? Here’s the answer to TikTok’s latest mystery. | Popular Science)

‘A recent TikTok spurred an unusual debate across social media: Do ants smell bad?

The video that started the debate began innocently enough. The creator simply asked whether other people can smell the disgusting scent of dead ants on the sidewalk. In comments and replies, many agreed that they could, while others—a far larger number of people, it seems—had no idea that ants gave off a scent, even vehemently denying the idea. If you’re in the group that doesn’t know what ants smell like, chances are you just haven’t paid enough attention to some of your tiniest local residents.

Many common species of ants release pungent smells when they are in danger, squished, or otherwise dead, according to Clint Penick, an assistant professor at Kennesaw State University and ant researcher. The most common type of ant that people find in their homes on the East Coast and in the Midwest is called the odorous house ant, and when squished, it releases a pheromone that smells like blue cheese. This odorous chemical belongs to a group of chemical compounds called methyl ketones. It’s also produced by the Penicillium mold that grows on rotting coconuts and it’s what gives blue cheese its distinctive, pungent odor.

But that’s far from the only smelly compound ants produce. Some species, including carpenter ants, spray formic acid, a caustic chemical that smells a lot like vinegar, when they feel threatened. (Some people think that the ability to smell formic acid is genetic, like asparagus, and that might be why some people are more sensitive to this particular ant smell than others.) Citronella ants are named for the distinctive citrusy scent they often produce, and trap-jaw ants release a chocolatey smell when squished. When ants die of natural causes, they also release oleic acid, so dead ants “smell a little something like olive oil,” Penick says….’

— Via Popular Science

Comments?

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The Ouroboros Steak Is Meat Grown from Your Own Cells

‘What do you taste like? You can find out by eating the Ouroboros Steak, which is a project by scientists and artists in US. After you take a cheek swab to collect cells, lab technicians use expired human blood to grow cell structures from your sample, creating meat that is, genetically, you. It’s appropriately named after the ouroboros, a mythical snake that eats its own tail….’

— Via Neatorama

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My Friend Steve

(APOD: 2020 November 17 – A Glowing STEVE and the Milky Way)

‘What’s creating these long glowing streaks in the sky? No one is sure. Known as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancements (STEVEs), these luminous light-purple sky ribbons may resemble regular auroras, but recent research reveals significant differences. A STEVE’s great length and unusual colors, when measured precisely, indicate that it may be related to a subauroral ion drift (SAID), a supersonic river of hot atmospheric ions thought previously to be invisible. Some STEVEs are now also thought to be accompanied by green picket fence structures, a series of sky slats that can appear outside of the main auroral oval that does not involve much glowing nitrogen. The featured wide-angle composite image shows a STEVE in a dark sky above Childs Lake, Manitoba, Canada…’

— Via APOD

Link

Here Is a Photo of a Single Atom

‘Atoms are really small. So small, in fact, that it’s impossible to see one with the naked eye, even with the most powerful of microscopes. At least, that used to be true.

Now, a photograph shows a single atom floating in an electric field, and it’s large enough to see without any kind of microscope….’

— By Avery Thompson via Popular Mechanics

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The Boogaloo Movement Is Not What You Think

(Not What You Think?)

‘The “Boogaloo Bois” expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States.

Mostly, they’re not even hiding it. And for the last several months, their platform of choice has been Facebook. …For now, Facebook chooses to allow the Boogaloo movement to flourish on their platform.

Open source materials suggest that, for now, the apocalyptic, anti-government politics of the “Boogaloo Bois” are not monolithically racist/neo-Nazi. As we have observed, some members rail against police shootings of African Americans, and praise black nationalist self defense groups.

But the materials also demonstrate that however irony-drenched it may appear to be, this is a movement actively preparing for armed confrontation with law enforcement, and anyone else who would restrict their expansive understanding of the right to bear arms. In a divided, destabilized post-coronavirus landscape, they could well contribute to widespread violence in the streets of American cities….’

— Investigative journalists Robert Evans and Jason Wilson via bellingcat