‘De-Extinction’ Company Colossal Aims to Bring Back the Dodo

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‘Adding the dodo to its official docket brings Colossal’s total de-extinction targets to three: the woolly mammoth (the company’s first target species, announced in September 2021), and the thylacine, a.k.a. the Tasmanian tiger, the largest carnivorous marsupial…

Mammoths died out about 4,000 years ago on Wrangel Island, off the northeastern coast of Russia. The dodo, a species of flightless bird native to the island of Mauritius, was gone by 1681. The last known thylacine died at a zoo in Tasmania in 1936. Scientists have sequenced the genomes of all three species—the mammoth’s in 2015, the dodo’s in 2016, and the thylacine’s in 2018….’

— via Gizmodo

Common Idioms the Kids Don’t Understand

Some of these are so second-nature I never stopped to think about them:

  • “hanging up” the phone
  • “stay tuned”
  • going through the “wringer”
  • on the “flip side”
  • “turning” a device on or off
  • a phone or alarm clock “ringing”
  • “CC”ing someone on an email
  • “film footage” and “that’s a wrap”
  • “Cha Ching”
  • “rolling up” car windows
  • “taping” something to watch later
  • the icon for “saving” a file

Against Copyediting: Is It Time to Abolish the Department of Corrections?

‘Do we really need copyediting? I don’t mean the basic clean-up that reverses typos, reinstates skipped words, and otherwise ensures that spelling and punctuation marks are as an author intends. Such copyediting makes an unintentionally “messy” manuscript easier to read, sure.

But the argument that texts ought to read “easily” slips too readily into justification for insisting a text working outside dominant Englishes better reflect the English of a dominant-culture reader—the kind of reader who might mirror the majority of those at the helm of the publishing industry, but not the kind of reader who reflects a potential readership (or writership) at large….’

— By Helen Betya Rubinstein via Literary Hub

Hollywood Cannot Survive Without Movie Theaters

‘…All of this should be the encouragement studios need to return to more traditional release strategies. The alternative is a frightening one for anything not made on the biggest scale: a world where seeing movies in theaters becomes a boutique option in only the biggest cities, and where streaming deals are the only way to fund non-blockbuster projects. This would be immensely damaging to the art form and to the diversity of projects on offer for audiences, and it’s a path Hollywood can reject by putting its faith back in cinemas—and in the viewers who love going to them….’

— David Sims via The Atlantic

Opinion: What if Diversity Training Is Doing More Harm Than Good?

‘…[A]fter George Floyd’s murder — as companies faced pressure to demonstrate a commitment to racial justice — interest in the diversity, equity and inclusion (D.E.I.) industry exploded. The American market reached an estimated $3.4 billion in 2020.

D.E.I. training is designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on.

The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory training that blames dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about….’

— Jesse Singal, author of “The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills.” via New York Times.

The Ugliest Buildings in the World

 

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‘Buildworld curated a long list of buildings from around the world, the UK and the U.S. that are often said to be ugly. We identified all the design-themed tweets about these buildings on Twitter. Then we used a sentiment analysis tool called HuggingFace to analyse the percentage of tweets that were negative about each building’s design.

Key Findings:

The Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh is the world’s ugliest building, according to Twitter users.

The J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., is America’s ugliest building.

The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, is the ugliest building outside of the UK and U.S….’

via Builderworld

This Clothing Line Tricks AI Cameras Without Covering Your Face

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‘Italian start-up Cap_able is offering its first collection of knitted garments that shields the wearer from the facial recognition software in AI cameras without the need to cover their face.

 

Called the Manifesto Collection, the clothing line includes hoodies, pants, t-shirts, and dresses.

 

Each garment sports a pattern, known as an “adversarial patch,” which was developed by AI algorithms to confuse facial recognition software in real-time and protect the wearer’s privacy….’

— Pesala Bandara via PetaPixel

Earth’s Core Has Stopped and May Be Reversing Direction, Study Says

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‘Earth’s inner core has recently stopped spinning, and may now be reversing the direction of its rotation, according to a surprising new study that probed the deepest reaches of our planet with seismic waves from earthquakes.

The mind-boggling results suggest that Earth’s center pauses and reverses direction on a periodic cycle lasting about 60 to 70 years, a discovery that might solve longstanding mysteries about climate and geological phenomena that occur on a similar timeframe, and that affect life on our planet….’

— via Vice

Amazon launches a $5 monthly subscription for prescription drugs

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‘Amazon is launching RxPass in the US, a new drug subscription exclusive to Prime members that charges users a $5 monthly fee to ship eligible prescription medications to their doorstep. Announced on Tuesday in a press release, the Amazon RxPass subscription program provides generic medications to treat over 80 common health conditions, including high blood pressure, hair loss, anxiety, and acid reflux.

The $5 charge includes the cost of delivery and is added to Prime customers’ existing monthly subscription fee. The RxPass fee is a flat rate and doesn’t increase even if users require multiple prescriptions each month. Medications can be delivered on either a monthly or quarterly basis depending on the prescription requirements. Conditions covered by the service also include allergies, diabetes (excluding insulin), and anemia. Amazon says that more than 150 million Americans already take one or more of the medications available through RxPass. A full list of generic medications covered by the RxPass subscription can be found on the Amazon pharmacy website….’

— via The Verge

Is It Time to Call Time on the Doomsday Clock?

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‘It remains a powerful reminder that self-inflicted disaster is never far away. But it also undercuts the complexity of climate change and the way that risks spread across time and bleed into one another. Viewed from a time when we face a multitude of possible catastrophes—pandemics, rogue AI, and a rapidly warming planet—the Doomsday Clock is a warning from a much simpler era….’

— via WIRED

SO, as bad as you thought it was, it is even worse?

Do you need to keep up with Omicron’s offspring?

‘If a new variant of concern were to materialize, a version of the virus that fundamentally eroded our immune systems’ ability to fend off SARS-2 requiring a rapid updating of Covid vaccines, the public would need to take note… But in the absence of that, it’s really hard to see how it is actionable, or it’s useful, really, to anybody to know that oh, well, XBB.1.5 is taking over when we thought it might be BQ.1.1….’

— Helen Branswell via STAT

What to do about the ‘disinformation dozen’

‘Analyses have found that 12 people—coined the “disinformation dozen”—are responsible for 65% of misleading claims, rumors, and lies about COVID-19 vaccines on social media. Their impact is most effective on Facebook (account for up to 73% of Facebook rumors), but also bleed into Instagram and Twitter. A scientific study published in Nature found that 1 in 4 anti-COVID-19 vaccine tweets originated from the so-called Children’s Health Defense—which is controlled by one man….’

— Katelyn Jetelina via Your Local Epidemiologist

In a first, radio signal sent by 9 billion light-year away galaxy captured

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‘For the first time, a radio signal sent from a galaxy, which is almost 9 billion light-years away from the Earth, has been captured, media reports said on Friday.

The signal was captured by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India. It means that scientists can begin probing the formation of some earliest stars and galaxies, the report said. 

The signal was emitted from a “star-forming galaxy”, which is titled SDSSJ0826+5630. It was emitted when the 13.8 billion-year-old Milky Way, where Earth is located, was just 4.9 billion years old, it said citing the researchers.

In a statement this week, Arnab Chakraborty, who is author and McGill University Department of Physics post-doctoral cosmologist, said, “It’s the equivalent to a look-back in time of 8.8 billion years.” …’

— via The Economic Times

If You Go Outside, You May Be Able to See an Awesome Green Comet

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‘If it’s a clear night in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a decent chance you’ll be able to spot a giant, green comet passing by our planet from your backyard.
It’s an exceedingly rare event. According to astronomers, it won’t stop by again for roughly another 50,000 years — and now is the best time to see it on its current visit, as Insider reports.
According to NASA, the comet — with the catchy name C/2022 E3 (ZTF) — was first spotted in March last year. Ever since, it’s been screaming through the solar system, making its closest approach to the Sun last week. It will be closest to Earth on February 2. But you may get a good chance to spot it before then as well. According to Space.com, the Moon will provide the perfect lighting to illuminate ZTF on January 21, depending on local weather conditions of course….’

— via Futurism.com

Trump is handing investigators ‘incriminating evidence from heaven’: legal expert

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‘Donald trump’s inability to stop talking about his legal problems, and his penchant for floating possible defenses on his social media accounts, will likely come back to haunt him, explained one legal expert.

During an appearance on MSNBC early Sunday morning, former Army prosecutor Glenn Kirschner was asked by host Katie Phang about the former president’s inability to keep quiet while he is under multiple investigations….’

— via Raw Story

Brazil declares emergency over deaths of Yanomami children from malnutrition

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‘Brazil’s ministry of health has declared a medical emergency in the Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reservation bordering Venezuela, following reports of children dying of malnutrition and other diseases caused by illegal gold mining.

A decree published on Friday by the incoming government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the aim of the declaration was to restore health services to the Yanomami people that had been dismantled by his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro….’

— via Reuters

Legal expert calls for new Brett Kavanaugh investigation amid explosive documentary allegations

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‘Based upon new allegations of sexual impropriety committed by sitting now-sitting Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a former career prosecutor stated there is no reason why a new investigation should not be undertaken by the Justice Department.

Speaking with MSNBC host Katie Phang, Glenn Kirschner hammered the FBI for the poor handling of tips that came in before Kavanaugh was given a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court….’

— via Alternet.org

Petition: Make Your Home More Bird-Friendly

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‘North America is home to nearly three billion fewer birds today compared to 1970. It is essential we do everything we can to protect the birds that bring us joy — and that work can begin right at home.

  • Keep your feeder clean and windows visible. Reduce window collisions by making glass visible with densely spaced decals or patterns, placing physical barriers in front of the glass, and positioning your feeders directly on or within three feet from windows. Don’t forget to clean feeders every two weeks.

  • Keep your cats indoors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services estimates that outdoor cats kill 2.4 billion wild birds each year in this country alone.

  • Garden smarter, not harder. Growing native plants is one of the best ways to provide food and shelter to birds, plus they require less maintenance. Unraked leaves, plants with old flowers, and fallen branches all help birds forage for food and provide shelter. 

  • Make any space a garden: You don’t need a backyard to provide nutrients for birds. Plant native plants on your windowsill, balcony, and in containers.
    Pledge to take these steps to make your home and community more bird-friendly….’

— via National Audubon Society

Astrud Gilberto vs. the patriarchy of Bossa Nova

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‘”The Girl from Ipanema” is the second most recorded song in the history of recorded songs, next to “Summertime” by George Gerwin. Then 22-year-old Astrud Gilberto made the song (about the male gaze of an underage girl), and Bossa Nova, galactically famous on the album Getz/Gilberto recorded in March of 1963 and released in 1964. With much of the music written by Antônio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto’s song performance was impromptu and suggested by Astrud herself in the studio.

The guitarist João Gilberto was Astrud’s husband, and her participation in this song and “Corcovado” made the single and the album a worldwide wonder. Yet, as you might imagine from the headline, the men in this scenario—particularly Stan Getz—took credit for Astrud Gilberto’s vocal performance and her transformation of the song.

Enter the journalists….’

— via Boing Boing

I love Stan Getz’ music but I am dismayed by the condescension and misogyny depicted here. 

Why we all need subtitles now

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‘Gather enough people together and you can generally separate them into two categories: People who use subtitles, and people who don’t. And according to a not-so-scientific YouTube poll we ran on our Community tab, the latter category is an endangered species — of respondents who are not deaf or hard of hearing, 57 percent said they use subtitles, while just 12 percent said they generally don’t.

But why do so many of us feel that we need subtitles to understand the dialogue in the things we watch?

The answer to that question is complex — and we get straight to the bottom of it in this explainer, with the help of dialogue editor Austin Olivia Kendrick….’

— via Vox

Happy Lunar New Year, ‘The Year of the Rabbit’

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‘In the Chinese horoscope, 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit or, more specifically, the Year of the Water Rabbit. The rabbit is believed to be the luckiest of the 12 animals to be born under and considered a gentle animal that thinks before acting. The Year of the Rabbit represents peaceful and patient energy. The water element suggests tapping into inner wisdom and trusting instincts. Together, the Water Rabbit indicates focusing on relationships, diplomacy, and building bridges in professional and personal relationships. Those born in years associated with the Rabbit, specifically 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and 2023, should have good fortune, patience, and prosperity in 2023, according to one Chinese horoscope….’

— via Western Union

 

‘The Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China. Each year is named after one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in a repeating cycle, with this year being the Year of the Rabbit. For the past three years, celebrations were muted in the shadow of the pandemic.

With the easing of most Covid-19 restrictions that had confined millions to their homes, people could finally make their first trip back to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about the hassles of quarantine, potential lockdowns and suspension of travel. Larger public celebrations also returned for what is known as the Spring Festival in China, with the capital hosting thousands of cultural events — on a larger scale than a year ago….’

— via POLITICO

Was FAFO the word of the year?

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‘…[I]t was a college writing center from Sioux Falls, S.D., that nailed the word of the year with its choice: FAFO. In case you don’t already know, FAFO is an acronym for “eff around and find out.” It’s a cheeky way to tell people that if they play with fire, they might get burned — or to announce they already have been. The Sioux Falls gang put a positive spin on FAFO, citing it as representing the “gumption” of their fellow students “when encountering a novel challenge” and noting that the Urban Dictionary calls the phrase an “exclamation of confidence.” It is that — but it’s also a whole lot more….’

— Amanda Katz via Washington Post

Not only have I never heard the term FAFO in the wild but I am unlikely to ever use it. Its cachet, according to the article, arises from Elon Musk’s use of the term in December 2022 to comment on kicking Kanye West off Twitter for dissing him. Just as many people I know will never consider giving Musk any of their money by buying a Tesla, the word is tainted by association. The idea of learning from one’s experiences and paying the price for one’s mistakes, invoking both the pluck involved and a little bit of satisfaction at someone getting their comeuppance, already has lots of linguistic code. There’s an element of “YOLO” and an element of chiding someone with “once burned, twice shy”, an element of “schadenfreude” (a sentiment to which I gravitate too frequently) and a sense of “stepping into it.”

But, as the article points out, we can celebrate the fact that 2022 was 

‘…a year when maybe, just maybe, people who did dumb or awful things (coups, tax scams, attacking smaller countries, making overinflated weed-meme offers for social media sites) would finally face some consequences. “Can you do that?” many asked during the Trump era. Could you just lie, cheat, swindle, funnel taxpayer dollars to your businesses, grab people’s genitalia with impunity? Well, 2022 suggested that you couldn’t, or at least not entirely. “Eff around, find out” was a bratty, satisfying way to reclaim the high ground…’

Not that I have any objection to regaining the high ground! And Musk himself, it seems clear, is effing around and, hopefully, finding out, although I don’t really expect him to learn from the experience, both because of his character and his net worth.

(In contrast, the more scholarly linguists of the American Dialect Society polled their members and came up with the suffix “-ussy” as the 2022 Word of the Year. I’ve never heard that in the wild either. I guess it’s pretty clear I don’t frequent Tik Tok.)

R.I.P. David Crosby, 81

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am very saddened by the passing of David Crosby (see Chris Morris and Chris Willman’s obituary in Variety), although it was not unexpected. Even in 2019, in Cameron Crowe’s absorbing documentary Remember My Name, he grappled with his mortality. Most retrospective writing about Crosby focuses on his personal foibles, difficult personality, and breakups with famous bandmates in the Byrds and CSN(Y), but the postmortem remembrances and testimonials from those with whom he collaborated, like this collection here in Variety, are heartfelt and generous.

 

 

I will always cherish, particularly, his 1971 album If I Could Only Remember My Name, one of the most gorgeous to come out of that decade, perfectly evocative of the Dreamtime. I always marveled that Crosby had the magnetism and magic to meld the very different late ‘60s- early ‘70s California scenes of jangly LA and Laurel Canyon and the trippy psychedelia of the Bay Area. IICORMN was made with the contributions of Graham Nash, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell alongside my first musical loves, members of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead as well as Santana. Putting it on and playing it loudly this evening…

 

People are wrong to say we have no heroes left

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‘On April 3, 1968, the night before the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist, he gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Since 1966, King had tried to broaden the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality into a larger movement for economic justice. He joined the sanitation workers in Memphis, who were on strike after years of bad pay and such dangerous conditions that two men had been crushed to death in garbage compactors.

After his friend Ralph Abernathy introduced him to the crowd, King had something to say about heroes: “As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.”

Dr. King told the audience that, if God had let him choose any era in which to live, he would have chosen the one in which he had landed. “Now, that’s a strange statement to make,” King went on, “because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Dr. King said that he felt blessed to live in an era when people had finally woken up and were working together for freedom and economic justice.

He knew he was in danger as he worked for a racially and economically just America. “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter…because I’ve been to the mountaintop…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

People are wrong to say that we have no heroes left.

Just as they have always been, they are all around us, choosing to do the right thing, no matter what.

Wishing you all a day of peace for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2023….’

Heather Cox Richardson via Letters From an American

Scientific progress appears to be slowing fundamentally, to judge by papers and patents

‘Theories of scientific and technological change view discovery and invention as endogenous processes, wherein previous accumulated knowledge enables future progress by allowing researchers to, in Newton’s words, ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’. Recent decades have witnessed exponential growth in the volume of new scientific and technological knowledge, thereby creating conditions that should be ripe for major advances. Yet contrary to this view, studies suggest that progress is slowing in several major fields. Here, we analyse these claims at scale across six decades, using data on 45 million papers and 3.9 million patents from six large-scale datasets, together with a new quantitative metric—the CD index—that characterizes how papers and patents change networks of citations in science and technology. We find that papers and patents are increasingly less likely to break with the past in ways that push science and technology in new directions. This pattern holds universally across fields and is robust across multiple different citation- and text-based metrics. Subsequently, we link this decline in disruptiveness to a narrowing in the use of previous knowledge, allowing us to reconcile the patterns we observe with the ‘shoulders of giants’ view. We find that the observed declines are unlikely to be driven by changes in the quality of published science, citation practices or field-specific factors. Overall, our results suggest that slowing rates of disruption may reflect a fundamental shift in the nature of science and technology….’

— (abstract) Park, Leahy, and Funk in Nature

Ways the World Got Better in 2022

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A MetaFilter thread  discusses several year-end posts on news to be happy about (here, here and here). While some are more exciting than others (and some downright debatable), they touch on:

  • Asteroid redirection (Proof of concept of planetary defense)
  • Kigali agreement to phase out HFCs
  • Animal species comebacks as roadmap to biodiversity (e.g European bison)
  • Malaria vaccine
  • Progress on Lyme disease vaccine
  • free universal school-based lunches in a number of US states
  • Universal USB-C charging port requirement
  • Electric vehicle adoption tipping point
  • location and capping of orphaned oil and gas wells (In infrastructure bill)
  • Increasing recognition of value of access to nature for mental wellbeing (Canada: free national park admissionif prescribed by MD)
  • Military suicide prevention programs
  • Potential HIV vaccination using MRNA technology 
  • Deaccession of art from museums 
  • Electric motorized two-wheelers in Asia (Swappable batteries)
  • Reduced energy consumption in blockchain transaction verification
  • Klamath river restoration through dam demolition (Salmon spawning)
  • Techniques for detection of deepfake videos
  • successful degradation process for fluorinated petrochemicals (“forever chemicals”)
  • Ballot measures repealing slavery for incarcerated prisoners
  • Breakthrough in fusion power
  • Increasing crop yields allowed net decline in total agricultural land
  • The James Webb telescope
  • Large-scale use of genetically engineered “golden rice” to combat vitamin A deficiency
  • Breakthroughs in CRISPR use in cancer treatment
  • Other medical advances against Parkinsonism, diabetes, heart disease etc
  • Advances against racial hatred, gender bias, ageism
  • Justice Dept shifting into gear against Trump
  • School choice legislation
  • Democrats’ Senate majority
  • Worldwide developments in anti-authoritarianism
  • Supreme Court decisions that went ‘the wrong way’ (Justice Ketanji Brown as a ‘force to be reckoned with’)
  • Growing exhaustion with the virtue-signaling and rage-seeking of social media
  • Improving battery technology to sustain renewable energy use

Most of the Metafilter discussion centers around the pros and cons of lab-grown meat, but there is plenty more to be grateful for and hopeful about. 

 

 

Why Is So Little Known About the 1930s Coup Attempt Against FDR?

 

‘…The putsch called for… a massive army of veterans – funded by $30m from Wall Street titans and with weapons supplied by Remington Arms – to march on Washington, oust Roosevelt and the entire line of succession, and establish a fascist dictatorship backed by a private army of 500,000 former soldiers.

 

…[T]he coup was instigated after FDR eliminated the gold standard in April 1933, which threatened the country’s wealthiest men who thought if American currency wasn’t backed by gold, rising inflation would diminish their fortunes. …[T]he coup was sponsored by a group who controlled $40bn in assets – about $800bn today – and who had $300m available to support the coup and pay the veterans. The plotters had men, guns and money – the three elements that make for successful wars and revolutions.

 

…The planned coup was thwarted when …reported… to J Edgar Hoover at the FBI, who reported it to FDR. How seriously the “Wall Street putsch” endangered the Roosevelt presidency remains unknown, with the national press at the time mocking it as a “gigantic hoax” and historians like Arthur M Schlesinger Jr surmising “the gap between contemplation and execution was considerable” and that democracy was not in real danger. Still, there is much evidence that the nation’s wealthiest men – Republicans and Democrats alike – were so threatened by FDR’s policies that they conspired with antigovernment paramilitarism to stage a coup…’

— via Getpocket

Lying Anti-Vaccers Jump to Exploit Damar Hamlin Collapse

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‘During a Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-year-old Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after tackling another player. Medical personnel administered CPR on the field and restored his heartbeat, after which he was transferred to a nearby hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

As players and coaches of both teams gathered, some shedding tears and others circling in prayer, and fans expressed concern over Hamlin’s condition, figures on the far right immediately began spreading unproven claims that the COVID-19 vaccine was responsible for Hamlin’s collapse.

“This is a tragic and all too familiar sight right now: Athletes dropping suddenly,” said Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk on Twitter, referencing a conspiracy theory that has been spread by right-wing pundits and Republicans like Sen. Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) that COVID vaccines are causing athletes to die on the field.

Other far right figures — including conservative former candidates for political office, pundits and anti-vaccine figures — also joined in spreading the lies. “Prior to 2021, Athletes collapsing on the field was NOT a normal event. This is becoming an undeniable (and extremely concerning) pattern,” wrote far right activist Lauren Witzke, the failed Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware in 2020.

Platforms like Telegram were flooded with similar comments, with some accounts citing disgraced cardiologist Peter McCullough, who has falsely touted ivermectin as a cure for COVID-19, after McCullough said in an interview that the vaccine was related to Hamlin’s collapse….’

— via Truthout

What was the TED Talk?

 


Some Thoughts on the “Inspiresting”

A thoughtful history of the rise and fall of the TED talk phenomenon, and why, by Melbourne-based writer and journalist Oscar Schwartz, himself a TED veteran.

It is common knowledge that, beginning in the early 2000’s, TED talks began to take on a particular rhetorical style codified by its entrepreneur owner Chris Anderson.  In his book,

‘…Anderson insists anyone is capable of giving a TED-esque talk. You just need an interesting topic and then you need to attach that topic to an inspirational story. Robots are interesting. Using them to eat trash in Nairobi is inspiring. Put the two together, and you have a TED talk. ‘

Schwartz calls this fusion the “inspiresting,” finding it

‘earnest and contrived. It is smart but not quite intellectual, personal but not sincere, jokey but not funny. It is an aesthetic of populist elitism. Politically, the inspiresting performs a certain kind of progressivism, as it is concerned with making the world a better place, however vaguely.’

The problem is that, in Anderson’s view, all of this can be achieved without any serious transfers of power.  Politics is dismissed as toxic “tribal thinking” destroying the world changing potential of the free movement of ideas.  And TED was not the sole purveyor of the Inspiresting.  As Swartz cited:

Malcolm Gladwell was inspiresting. The blog Brain Pickings was inspiresting. Burning Man was (once) inspiresting. Alain de Botton, Oliver Sacks, and Bill Bryson were masters of the inspiresting. “This American Life” and “Radiolab,” and maybe narrative podcasting as a form, are inspiresting.’

Suddenly, circa 2010, everyone was sharing TED talks and TED (a not-for-profit) revenues  were exploding.  Fortune and fame were made from TED talks and the book contracts and speaking engagements they precipitated.  But, soon enough, quality control was compromised, not the least through the 2009 creation of the TEDx franchise allowing licensees to use the brand platform to stage independent events around the world. But it became increasingly clear that the ’emperor had no clothes.’ “Inspiresting” reasoning and rhetoric began to be pilloried by science bloggers and social critics. Evgeny Morozov wrote in The New Republic, “TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas worth spreading. Instead it has become something ludicrous.” A long profile of Anderson in The New York Times Magazine called TED “the Starbucks of intellectual conglomerates.” 

By 2013, Benjamin Bratton, a scientist giving a pitch for research funding before a donor, described — in a TED talk! —  being dismissed because his complex presentation (not in the TED-publicized rhetorical style) was criticized by the recipient as “uninspiring”, “not enough like Malcolm Gladwell”. Bratton described TED’s influence on intellectual culture as “taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing.”  He opined, “this is not the solution to our most frightening problems.  Rather this is one of our most frightening problems.”

TED became, some would say, little more than an ironic meme. For instance, you might post something banal in email, social media or your blog and close by saying, “Thank you for listening to my TED talk.”

The backlash against TED broadened to embrace the increasingly evident fact that the technocratic elite was just not playing a part in solving the world’s big problems.  Twitter had failed to bring democracy to the Middle East.  Social media were only free because our personal data was being mined and sold to advertisers.  Obama was not the political savior many had hoped him to be, especially around the banking crisis.  Upward mobility, social equality, and the utopian promises of technology were empty. TED talks continued, endlessly re-articulating Tech’s promise without any serious reflection, as if they could create the world out of nothing, with willpower and well-crafted oratory alone.  Boldness of vision was not tempered by much if any recognition of realities, particularly political realities, and the TED philosophy became little more than a magnet for overblown ambition and narcissism.

And in the meantime Trump became the US president. 

‘Yet the TED progeny continued to offer bold, tech-centric predictions with unfaltering confidence.  And they have continued to do so.…

[A]s the most visible and influential public speaking platform of the first two decades of the twenty-first century, it has been deeply implicated in broadcasting and championing the Silicon Valley version of the future. TED is probably best understood as the propaganda arm of an ascendant technocracy.’

— via The Drift

Is the World Really Falling Apart, or Does It Just Feel That Way?

‘…[T]here is an argument, albeit one that would only comfort an economist, that today’s crises are both rarer and less severe than those of even the recent past. Consider the mid-1990s, a time that Americans tend to remember as one of global stability and optimism. If today were really a time of exceptional turmoil, then surely that world would look better in comparison?

In reality, the opposite is true. The mid-1990s saw genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Years of war in Europe amid Yugoslavia’s collapse. Devastating famines in Sudan, Somalia and North Korea. Civil wars in over a dozen countries. Crackdowns and coups too numerous to mention.Such events were in fact more common in the 1990s than today. Prior decades were, in most ways, even worse.

But you are unlikely to remember every decades-old disaster as vividly as you might be able to recount, say, a terror attack or political crisis from this week.And reductions in such crises have only reduced the world’s problems, not erased them. No one wants to cheer a famine that is less severe than it might have been in the past, especially not the families whom it puts at risk, and especially knowing that future conflicts or climate-related crises could always cause another.

Still, the feeling that the world is getting worse is not universal. In fact, it is mostly held by residents of rich countries like the United States. Survey after survey has found that a majority of people in low-income and middle-income countries like Kenya or Indonesia tend to express optimism about the future, for both themselves and their societies…’

— via The New York Times

R.I.P. Ian Tyson

 

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Revered Canadian Folk Singer Dies at 89

‘Before Canadian musicians like Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen, there was Ian Tyson.

Mr. Tyson, who began his music career as half of the folk-era duo Ian and Sylvia and went on to become a revered figure in his home country, celebrated both for his music and for his commitment to the culture of Canada’s ranch country, died on Thursday at his ranch in southern Alberta. He was 89.

His family said in a statement that he died from “ongoing health complications” but did not specify further.

Mr. Tyson — whose song “Four Strong Winds” was voted the most essential Canadian piece of music by the listeners of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation public radio network in 2005 — lived most of his life as both a rancher and a musician….’

— via New York Times

New Year’s Traditions and Customs

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 original assistance]

The Spooky Science of Why Mirrors Can Freak Us Out So Much

D1a33d72 b083 41b0 b869 5da752020ae3efe6f2d872416dd3af illustrations of women with looking glass GettyImages 109327101

‘We reflect on what these shiny surfaces reveal, from the curse of Narcissus to an experiment you can try at home—if you dare.

Beyond the Las Vegas Strip’s dazzling lights, something darker awaits Sin City visitors who venture into celebrity ghost hunter Zak Bagans’s Haunted Museum. There, the spooky memorabilia ranges from Ted Bundy’s glasses to fragments of Charles Manson’s bones, scraped from the incinerator after his body was cremated. There’s also a rather plain-looking mirror, about two feet tall and shaped like a tombstone. Bagans has said that, of his entire collection, it’s one of the things that unnerves him the most….’

— via Atlas Obscura

Could capitalistic ambition be driven by a feline-borne parasite?

Cats jpeg

‘Human personality is a broad spectrum, and there will always be those willing to do whatever it takes. However, the hypothesis positing a parasite-based alternative is fun to consider. It’s speculated (one person has speculated it) that the ‘alpha dog’ business mentality may be a side effect of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic microorganism that spreads through any number of varied animal hosts and influences their behavior in odd but ultimately self-serving ways. Infected wolves are more likely to break away from packs and go it alone… and apparently, infected humans are more likely to major in business and start their own companies. Does it sound a bit baroque? Absolutely. But when you look at the recent business decisions of Elon Musk, it seems plausible brain parasites might be at play……’

— via Boing Boing

I’ve written before about my fascination with Toxoplasma infection: here, here, and here, for example, if you want to delve further into the issue.

South Koreans are getting a year younger

‘South Koreans will soon become a year or two younger, following an official change to the country’s age-counting system.

On Thursday, the country’s parliament, called the National Assembly, passed a set of bills requiring the use of the international age-counting system, where age is based on birth date.

South Korea currently uses three age-counting systems, but most citizens abide by the “Korean age,” where a person is 1 year old as soon as they are born, and gain one year on every New Year’s Day. And a baby born on Dec. 31 would be considered 2 years old the next day.

The change will go into effect this coming June….’

— Mary Yang via NPR

A Bestiary of Loss

Portraits of recently extinct species

‘The history of modern extinctions is inseparable from the history of colonialism, capitalism, and industrialization. Of the roughly 800 animal species estimated to have gone extinct since 1500 — and that is only counting those documented — many met tellingly analogous ends: they have been hunted to death for sustenance or sport, killed off by intentionally introduced species and those stowed away on imperial ships, or forced to leave their native habitats as forests were cleared for fields to feed distant metropoles. Despite an enduring fantasy that humans are somehow distinct from the animal kingdom, the loss of biodiversity heralds a grave threat to our species as well — a species that relies upon an intimate interconnection with biological systems for continued life on this planet….’

via The Public Domain Review

52 things I learned in 2022

 

Consultant Tome Whitwell “learns many learnings” each year and publishes 52 of them in a year-end list that is really much more fascinating than most year-end lists. There are also links to his previous years’ lists in the post. 

— via Medium

I have directly linked below to some of the items I found interesting.

How Concerned Are You About Your Home Clutter?

 

‘In our work on hoarding, we’ve found that people have very different ideas about what it means to have a cluttered home. For some, a small pile of things in the corner of an otherwise well-ordered room constitutes serious clutter. For others, only when the narrow pathways make it hard to get through a room does the clutter register. To make sure we get an accurate sense of a clutter problem, we created a series of pictures of rooms in various stages of clutter – from completely clutter-free to very severely cluttered. People can just pick out the picture in each sequence comes closest to the clutter in their own living room, kitchen, and bedroom. This requires some degree of judgment because no two homes look exactly alike, and clutter can be higher in some parts of the room than others. Still, this rating works pretty well as a measure of clutter. In general, clutter that reaches the level of picture # 4 or higher impinges enough on people’s lives that we would encourage them to get help for their hoarding problem.…’

— via OCD Foundation Hoarding Center

What Kind of Man Was Anthony Bourdain?

‘Americans also have a morbid fascination with famous people who die by suicide. Perhaps such a death speaks to a gnawing sense that there is a spiritual void at the epicenter of the capitalistic American dream: You can have it all and still be miserable. Since Bourdain died in a hotel room in Alsace, France, in 2018, there’s been something of a tug-of-war about how to remember him. Do we focus on the rich body of work that showed us the virtues of boundless curiosity and human resilience? Or do we obsess over the mystery of why the same person who showed us all those things ultimately said no to his own life? How do we reconcile the endless journey Anthony Bourdain took us on with the sad destination that it reached?…’

— Ben Rhodes via The Atlantic

Finally: Inflight Cellular Service, at least in Europe

1242900544 jpg’The European Commission is opening the door for European airlines to begin offering inflight 5G connectivity, the organization has announced, by allocating certain spectrum for inflight 5G as well as “previous mobile technology generations.” Passengers will connect to an on-board pico-cell base station, which then connects to ground-based networks via satellite. Calls, texts, and data are all expected to be supported.…’

— via The Verge

Homeland Security Admits It Tried to Manufacture Fake Terrorists for trump

‘The Department of Homeland Security launched a failed operation that ensnared hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. protesters in what new documents show was as a sweeping, power-hungry effort before the 2020 election to bolster President donald trump’s spurious claims about a “terrorist organization” he accused his Democratic rivals of supporting.

An internal investigative report, made public this month by Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, details the findings of DHS lawyers concerning a previously undisclosed effort by Trump’s acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, to amass secret dossiers on Americans in Portland attending anti-racism protests in summer 2020 sparked by the police murder of Minneapolis father George Floyd….’

via Gizmodo

Who Runs the World? Ants.

18manjoo image superJumbo jpg

‘In September, scientists at the University of Hong Kong published the most complete census of ants ever assembled. The numbers are so big as to seem made up. The study estimated that there are at least 20 quadrillion — that is, 20,000,000,000,000,000 — ants on Earth. That’s about 2.5 million ants for every human being. And because the study relied on a conservative estimate for ants that live in trees and did not include subterranean ants, the census is almost certainly an undercount. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually turns out to be an order of magnitude higher,” Sabine Nooten, an author of the study, told The Times….’

— Farhad Manjoo via The New York Times

 

The path to 218: Why Democrats aren’t out of the race for the House yet

Unknown

‘Republicans still have a wider path to the House majority than Democrats — but it’s narrowed a lot over the past 24 hours.

As the vote count continues, particularly in mail-heavy Western states, Democrats continue to win most of the contested races, keeping them in the hunt and meaning news organizations won’t declare a winner in the overall fight for the chamber….’

— via POLITICO

Remember, remember…

300px Gunpowder plot

“Don’t you remember the 5th of November Is gunpowder treason and plot? I don’t see the reason why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot A stick and a stake, for Queen Victoria’s Sake I pray master give us a faggit If you dont give us one well take two The better for us and the worse for you”

UnknownTonight is Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night or Gunpowder Night), the anniversary of the ambitious but abortive Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed attempt by a group of persecuted English Catholics to assassinate Anglican King James I of England and. VI of Scotland in order to replace him with a Catholic. Guy Fawkes, who was left in charge of the gunpowder placed underneath the House of Lords, was discovered and arrested and the plot unmasked. Fawkes, along with other surviving conspirators, was executed in January 1606 (hung, drawn and quartered).

A law establishing the anniversary of the thwarted plot as a day of thanksgiving was quickly passed and became the annual occasion for anti-Catholic fervor, with the ringing of church bells and the lighting of bonfires, to the point of forgetting the deliverance of the monarch. “Although Guy Fawkes’ actions have been considered acts of terrorism by many people, cynical Britons… sometimes joke that he was the only man to go to Parliament with honourable intentions.”

Fun fact: it seems that the term Guy (which now simply refers to a man or even more broadly a person) became a pejorative to describe someone grotesque because of the conception of Guy Fawkes’ villainy.

Celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day persist through the British Isles and become occasions for revelling in the burning of effigies (“guys”) of the hate figures of the day alongside Fawkes.The ritual has included Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Boris Johnson, donald trump, and disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein among others.

161105 donald trump effigy mn 1800The annual festival has become much more about festive fun than solemn remembrance:

“One important aspect of the celebration is certainly venting! Shouting into the nights air is a wonderful release and an important part of the celebration through the centuries. There is something magic and healing about noise — cannons, bells and chants. Divide the group and assign each a different chant. Let them compete for noise and drama. Great fun. The chants are important aspects of freedom of expression and freedom to hold one’s own beliefs. Like much of that which is pure celebration chants need not be considered incantations or wishes of ill will at all times. Taken with the rest of celebration they contribute to a much more abstract whole where fun is the primary message for most.”

UnknownSome say that the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night helped shape the modern tradition of trick or treating, although it has ancient pre-Christian origins. Some American colonists celebrated Guy Fawkes Day and those fleeing the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s helped popularize Hallowe’en. By the 19th century, British children wearing masks and carrying effigies of Fawkes were roaming the streets on the evening of November 5 asking for “a penny for the Guy,” with any money gathered being used to buy fireworks — the explosives never used by the plotters —  to be set off while the Guy was immolated on the bonfire.

UnknownMany feel that Guy Fawkes (Bonfire Night) has a particularly Pagan feel. As with Hallowe’en, it may be no accident that Guy Fawkes Day coincides with the Celtic festival of Samhain, one of the moon festivals featuring large bonfires. Some think of Guy Fawkes Night as a sort of detached Samhain celebration and the effigies of Guy Fawkes burned on the bonfires compare with the diabolical images associated with Samhain or Hallowe’en. But, as one fan says, “Guy Fawkes Night has never sold out to Hallmark… Halloween is all about fakery – makeup, facepaint, costumes, imitation blood. Fireworks Night is about very real, very powerful, very hot flames.”

V for vendettax

But the folklore of the holiday does continue to morph. We don’t celebrate the thwarting of the plot because we are happy with our oppressive rulers, and Guy Fawkes has gone from being reviled as a villain to revered as a hero. His reputation has gone from that of a religious extremist to one of a populist underdog, especially after Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta and its 2005 film adaptation, in which the masked knife-wielding V, who also plots to bomb the Houses of Parliament, lashes out against the fascist state in a dystopian future Britain. (It was Moore’s collaborator David Lloyd who developed the idea of dressing V as Guy Fawkes.) Since then, protestors have donned V’s mask as an all-purpose badge of rebellion in anti-government demonstrations and the anti-capitalist movement, particularly Occupy. The hacktivist group Anonymous has adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as their symbol. In 2011, it was the top-selling mask on Amazon and has been seen throughout the ongoing Hong Kong protests against Chinese repression. David Lloyd commented, “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way.”

440px London QVS April 12 2008 0010 Anons

Here is a collection of verse in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. You are also welcome to don your masks, listen for some fireworks, scan the horizon from a high place for bonfires dedicated to smashing the state, or free yourself from your unwanted burdens by watching them go up in flames.

Reverence for Hallowe’en: Good for the Soul

Three jack-o'-lanterns illuminated from within...

A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time.

trick-or-treat-nyc

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve.

All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-la...
English: A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century.

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North America, given how plentiful they were here. The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Nowadays, a reported 99% of cultivated pumpkin sales in the US go for jack-o-lanterns.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated with All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition, and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (You may be familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.)

Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well. As this article in The Smithsonian reviews, ‘In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning…’

Reportedly, more than 80% of American families decorate their homes, at least minimally, for Hallowe’en. What was the holiday like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has now become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? Before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] put it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like? One issue may be that, as NPR observed,

‘”Adults have hijacked Halloween… Two in three adults feel Halloween is a holiday for them and not just kids,” Forbes opined in 2012, citing a public relations survey. True that when the holiday was imported from Celtic nations in the mid-19th century — along with a wave of immigrants fleeing Irelands potato famine — it was essentially a younger persons’ game. But a little research reveals that adults have long enjoyed Halloween — right alongside young spooks and spirits.’

Is that necessarily a bad thing? A 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul, young or old.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

Three Halloween jack-o'-lanterns.

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

Frankenstein

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

The Carfax Abbey Horror Films and Movies Database includes best-ever-horror-films lists from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Showbiz and Hollywood.com. I’ve seen most of these; some of their choices are not that scary, some are just plain silly, and they give extremely short shrift to my real favorites, the evocative classics of the ’30’s and ’40’s when most eeriness was allusive and not explicit. And here’s what claims to be a compilation of links to the darkest and most gruesome sites on the web. “Hours and hours of fun for morbidity lovers.”

Boing Boing does homage to a morbid masterpiece of wretched existential horror, two of the tensest, scariest hours of my life repeated every time I watch it:

‘…The Thing starts. It had been 9 years since The Exorcist scared the living shit out of audiences in New York and sent people fleeing into the street. Really … up the aisle and out the door at full gallop. You would think that people had calmed down a bit since then. No…

The tone of The Thing is one of isolation and dread from the moment it starts. By the time our guys go to the Norwegian outpost and find a monstrous steaming corpse with two merged faces pulling in opposite directions the audience is shifting in their seats. Next comes the dog that splits open with bloody tentacles flying in all directions. The women are covering their eyes….’

Meanwhile, what could be creepier in the movies than the phenomenon of evil children? Gawker knows what shadows lurk in the hearts of the cinematic young:

‘In celebration of Halloween, we took a shallow dive into the horror subgenre of evil-child horror movies. Weird-kid cinema stretches back at least to 1956’s The Bad Seed, and has experienced a resurgence recently via movies like The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy, and Cooties. You could look at this trend as a natural extension of the focus on domesticity seen in horror via the wave of haunted-house movies that 2009’s Paranormal Activity helped usher in. Or maybe we’re just wizening up as a culture and realizing that children are evil and that film is a great way to warn people of this truth. Happy Halloween. Hope you don’t get killed by trick-or-treaters.’

In any case: trick or treat! …And may your Hallowe’en soothe your soul.

Related:

List of common misconceptions

Images‘Each entry on this list of common misconceptions is worded as a correction; the misconceptions themselves are implied rather than stated. These entries are concise summaries of the main subject articles, which can be consulted for more detail….’

— via Wikipedia

Francis Fukuyama: Still the “End of History”

‘Over the past decade, global politics has been heavily shaped by apparently strong states whose leaders are not constrained by law or constitutional checks and balances. Russia and China both have argued that liberal democracy is in long-term decline, and that their brand of muscular authoritarian government is able to act decisively and get things done while their democratic rivals debate, dither, and fail to deliver on their promises. These two countries were the vanguard of a broader authoritarian wave that turned back democratic gains across the globe, from Myanmar to Tunisia to Hungary to El Salvador. Over the past year, though, it has become evident that there are key weaknesses at the core of these strong states.

The weaknesses are of two sorts. First, the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader at the top all but guarantees low-quality decision making, and over time will produce truly catastrophic consequences. Second, the absence of public discussion and debate in “strong” states, and of any mechanism of accountability, means that the leader’s support is shallow, and can erode at a moment’s notice….’

— Francis Fukuyama via The Atlantic

Success! NASA Says DART Really Clocked That Asteroid

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‘Two weeks after the spacecraft collided with Dimorphos, researchers determined that it knocked the space rock 32 minutes off its old orbit… It worked—even better than expected. “For the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington, at a press conference today revealing the result…’

— via WIRED

Good riddance to long books

‘…How refreshing it was to see the Booker prize take another turn last month ­– putting the short in shortlist, as it were – with a record-breakingly succinct nominee: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is just 116 pages. And Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker is only 36 pages longer. One of the judges, M. John Harrison, said: ‘I’m quite in favour of short books. I quite like the brevity of them. I think compression is a real skill.’ The Daily Telegraph concluded: ‘Brevity appears to be back in literary fashion.’ Thank heavens….’

— John Sturgis via The Spectator

… although most of my favorite books are quite long. They just have to have the substance to sustain it.

List of the 2022 MacArthur Fellows, winners of “genius grants”

‘It is perhaps the most coveted award in academia, the arts and sciences. You can’t get nominated and the pool of candidates is a tightly-held secret. It’s also a sweet cash prize. This year’s 25 MacArthur Fellows will each receive $800,000, a “no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential,” according to the MacArthur Foundation website. This year’s class of so-called ‘geniuses’ includes an ornithologist, a cellist, a computer scientist and a human rights activists. The fellows can advance their expertise, change careers or buy a house…’

via NPR

October 13, 2022

In her consistently excellent daily newsletter, yesterday, historian Heather Cox Richardson gives a lucid summary of the orchestration of trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election, leading up to the January 6 coup attempt at the Capitol. This follows on yesterday’s January 6 Committee hearing, basically a summing up of the evidence garnered to date, which culminated in a unanimous vote to subpoena trump to give testimony under oath. Cox Richardson’s account is worth reading, even if you think you are up to speed on these events, for its grasp and dispassionate clarity. It serves as a summary statement of how profoundly close to a slide into despotism we were, and are, if we don’t do some thing, starting three weeks from now. Also worth reading if only for the Nancy Pelosi anecdote, with which it ends.

‘Each member of the committee spoke today, reiterating for those who have not been paying close attention the themes of the previous eight hearings. As Thompson pointed out, the committee has gathered an unusually large amount of evidence and has built its case almost entirely from the testimony of Republicans, not Democrats, undercutting the accusations of Trump loyalists that the committee has been partisan. Their evidence has come from Trump aides and Republican lawmakers, lawyers, political professionals, appointees, staff, and advisors and even from Trump’s family members. 

The evidence the committee has presented to the American people establishes without doubt that Trump was the central cause of the events of January 6. As Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), vice-chair of the committee, said: “None of this would have happened without him.”

The committee established that Trump knew that he had lost the election. His campaign advisors and his lawyers repeatedly told him that any suggestion that the election had been stolen was a lie. He even admitted that he had lost and, crucially, just days after he lost the election, abruptly ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Somalia and Afghanistan by January 15, clearly intending to set up his successor, Democrat Joe Biden, for a global crisis the minute he took office. (Defense Department officials successfully stopped the order.)

Even though he knew he had lost, Trump had no intention of actually leaving office. He and his team decided as early as July 2020 that he wouldn’t leave: he would simply declare that he had won the election, even if he lost. By October 31, 2020—before the election took place—Tom Fitton of the right-wing organization Judicial Watch drafted a memo for Trump to read on November 3, saying, “We had an election today—and I won.” On that same day, Trump ally Stephen Bannon told a private group that Trump was just going to “declare victory…, but that doesn’t mean he is the winner. He’s just going to say he is the winner.” 

Everyone knew that in the early hours of November 3, it might look as if Trump was winning, but that would change as later votes came in because after Trump had spent months attacking mail-in voting, the mail-in votes that did come in would favor Democrats. Those votes would be counted after the votes cast in person on Election Day. That “red mirage” was precisely what happened. But, as planned, as soon as the mail-in ballots began to be counted and numbers started to swing toward Biden, Trump went on television to announce that he had won and that the counting of votes should end.

Trump’s advisors all told the January 6th committee either that it was too early to declare victory when Trump did, or that there was no way he could win at that point. And yet, Trump told his supporters he had won and that the election was being stolen from him.

In the weeks that followed, the Trump campaign launched 62 lawsuits over the outcome and lost 61, winning only a technical victory that had no effect on the vote count. The committee established that when the Supreme Court refused to turn over the electoral counts of four states to state legislatures, rather than the states’ voters, Trump was livid. Cassidy Hutchinson, who was the top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified that Trump was “raging.” He said: “I don’t want people to know that we lost. This is embarrassing….

So Trump launched a pressure campaign against state officials to get them to assign their states’ electoral votes to him rather than to Biden. He pressured Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, telling him “I just want to find 11,780 votes” to put him over the top to take the state’s electoral votes. Trump pressured officials in other states. He also pressured Department of Justice officials: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and to the Republican congressmen.” When that effort failed, Trump tried to replace acting attorney general Jeff Rosen with loyalist Jeff Clark, stopping only when the leadership of the Department of Justice threatened a mass resignatio

Thwarted, Trump turned to the idea of false electoral slates from the states, working with loyalists in the states to send to Washington a fake set of electoral votes in favor of him rather than the Biden electors voters had chosen. Even lawyer John Eastman, who pushed the plan, admitted it was illegal, violating the 1887 Electoral Count Act

When that plan, too, failed, Trump fell back on his last resort: a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were counting the electoral votes. Trump had primed a mob by repeating the lie that the election had been stolen, and today the committee revealed that Jason Miller, senior advisor to the Trump campaign, forwarded a link from a pro-Trump website to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows less than a week before January 6, saying, “I GOT THE BASE FIRED UP.” The linked web page was about the upcoming session of Congress to count electoral votes, and it had comments like “Gallows don’t require electricity.” “If the filthy commie maggots try to push their fraud through, there will be hell to pay.” “Our lawmakers in Congress can leave one of two ways; one, in a body bag, two, after rightfully certifying Trump the winner

The committee today released new information gleaned from Secret Service communications, showing that the service had extensive information that there was an attack on the Capitol planned for January 6 and that testimony suggesting otherwise was “not credible.” The committee said its investigation of the Secret Service is ongoin

On January 6, members of the crowd at the Ellipse rally were armed, and Trump knew it. Nonetheless, he urged them to march on the Capitol. When his handlers refused to let him join them, he retreated to the private dining room in the White House and watched the violence unfold on television, ignoring pleas from congressional leaders, advisors, staff, and family to call off the rioters. Instead, at the very moment Vice President Mike Pence’s life was most in danger from the mob, Trump tweeted that Pence had let him down, energizing the rioter

Meanwhile, other lawmakers stepped into the breach left by Trump’s refusal to act. Today’s hearing had previously unseen footage captured by Alexandra Pelosi, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) daughter, of congressional leaders working the phones to get law enforcement officers to clear the Capitol. The footage is chilling, as our elected leaders beg for help that is not coming. Pelosi took over the functions of the president, calm in the chaos as she worked to restore order and demonstrate that our government could still functio

Finally, proving that he could have called them off at any time, the rioters left when Trump told them to, after which he doubled down on the lie that he had been cheated of the presidenc

The recounting of Trump’s behavior established his assault on our democracy. The committee noted that although such an assault must not be allowed to stand unchallenged, its role is not to bring criminal charges—that is the role of the Justice Department—but to recommend changes to our laws to make sure such an assault never happens again

And, Cheney made it crystal clear, Trump’s coup attempt failed in 2021 only because of those who stood against him, but there is no reason to believe that such people will always stand in the breach. Indeed, more than half the Republicans running for office in 2022 have signed on to Trump’s lies about the election. Urging all Americans to come together to hold Trump accountable, Cheney noted that if he is not held to account, we will lose our democracy, if not to him, then to some other wannabe dictator who sees our laws don’t matter. “Some principles must be beyond politics,” she said.

At the end of the committee’s presentation, it became clear why Thompson had specified that today’s meeting was not a hearing. The committee voted on a resolution, presented by Representative Cheney, to subpoena Trump for documents and testimony under oath. Cheney pointed out that more than 30 witnesses had invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, many in response to questions about their dealings with Trump, and said that “we are obligated to seek answers directly from the man who set this all in motion.”

The committee then voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Tonight the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, “The Jan[uary] 6 committee probably won’t get Mr. Trump under oath, but the evidence of his bad behavior is now so convincing that political accountability hardly requires it.

The bad news for Trump was not over. Just before the committee’s vote, in what New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak called “a stinging rebuke,” the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step into the case of Trump’s theft of classified documents to give him access to the classified documents taken from Mar-a-Lago by FBI agents on August 8. The decision was a single sentence

Still, after all today’s news, the final word belonged to Pelosi. On a video from January 6 released tonight, she is seen reacting to the news that Trump was intending to go to the Capitol, the seat of our elected government, where presidents traditionally must not go without an invitation. Told he might arrive, she responded to her chief of staff:

“I hope he comes, I’m gonna punch him out… I’ve been waiting for this. For trespassing on the Capitol grounds. I’m gonna punch him out, I’m gonna go to jail, and I’m gonna be happy.”…’

— Heather Cox Richardson via Heather Cox Richardson

Vegetarians More Likely To Be Depressed Than Meat-Eaters – Possible Reasons

Vegetarians m

‘Vegetarians have around twice as many depressive episodes as meat-eaters, according to a new study.

The study, based on survey data from Brazil, chimes with earlier research that found higher rates of depression among those who forgo meat. However, the new study suggests that this link exists independent of nutritional intake.

It may seem straightforward to look at a link between a diet and specific health problems and assume that the former is causing the latter via some form of nutritional deficiency.

Yet the new analysis, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, took into account a wide range of nutritional factors, including total calorie intake, protein intake, micronutrient intake, and the level of food processing. This suggests that the higher rates of depression among vegetarians are not caused by the nutritional content of their diet.

So what might explain the link between vegetarianism and depression? Is there some non-nutritional mechanism that makes the former cause the latter? Or is the relationship down to something else entirely?

First, it is possible that being depressed causes people to be more likely to become vegetarian rather than the other way around. The symptoms of depression can include rumination on negative thoughts, as well as feelings of guilt…

Second, it is possible that adhering to a vegetarian diet causes depression for reasons other than nutrition. Even if there is no “happy nutrient” lacking in a vegetarian diet, it could be the case that forgoing meat causes depression through other means…

Finally, it is possible that neither vegetarianism nor depression cause the other, but both are associated with some third factor. This could be any number of characteristics or experiences that are associated with both vegetarianism and depression. For example, women are more likely than men to be vegetarian, and to experience depression…’

— via IFLScience

The Age of Predatory Nuclear-Weapon States Has Arrived

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Members of the United Nations Security Council listen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a meeting at the United Nations Headquarters to discuss the conflict in Ukraine on September 27, 2022, in New York City.

‘For the first time in the nuclear era, one country used loudly issued nuclear threats — repeated just last week — to deter other countries from intervening in a large-scale conventional war of aggression. We have entered the age of “predatory nuclear-weapon states.”…’

— via POLITICO

trump could face up to 1,000 years in prison for his document espionage

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‘There is an exciting piece deep inside this Daily Beast article regarding just how hard the 11th Circuit slapped down Judge Aileen Cannon whatever the game she is playing was. Cannon took the hit so hard she has reversed her bunk earlier order around the classified documents and Special Master, perhaps eliminating trump’s ability even to appeal the reversal by the 11th Circuit, but that’s not the bit that caught my eye.

Finally, the 11th Circuit basically held that the DOJ had already satisfied the most important element of an eventual prosecution under the Espionage Act (18 USC Section 793(d).

Here’s what Section 793(d) states:

“Whoever, lawfully having possession of [a document] relating to the national defense which information the possessor had reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation…willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it” violates the Espionage Act and “shall be…imprisoned not more than ten years” for each document willfully retained.

100 classified documents. 10 years per document. I wonder how much ketchup has been splattered against the dining room wall in Mar a Lago?…’

— Jason Weisberger via Boing Boing

 

Related: Are the walls really closing in on Trump this time?

 

‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: New developments have put donald trump in even more serious legal jeopardy.

 

A new civil fraud lawsuit from the New York attorney general’s office is threatening his business, while his efforts to stall the criminal investigation into whether he mishandled classified information seem to have failed. And a separate investigation into the January 6 attack scrutinizes his associates.

 

It all looks quite bad for him. Then again, for at least five years, much of the media has touted the seriousness of trump’s legal peril, portraying him as on the verge of a humiliating downfall — only to see him go, in his own words, “Scott Free,” again and again….’

 

— via Vox

9 Ways to Talk to the Dead

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‘According to Psychology Today, as many three-quarters of bereaved people report some kind of after-death communication with loved ones. This could come in the form of a dream, a feeling, a favorite song on the radio, just about anything, really. I’m going to discount the most likely and most boring explanation for this—the emotional upheaval of losing a loved one makes us imagine things to give ourselves comfort—and assume that it’s at least possible to communicate with the afterlife.

If it is possible to speak to the dead, how you do it can be hazy; this is the spiritual world we’re talking about after all. But each of these methods has its believers—and I’ve rated each one on an entirely arbitrary scale of usefulness, too….’

— via Lifehacker

Special Master trump sought backs him into a corner

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‘The Special Master attending the trump v USA classified documents clearing wants to know why trump thinks the documents aren’t classified. Either trump magically declassified them, which may be a crime in and of itself, or he stole a bunch of classified documents. The Special Master needs to know which documents trump claims he declassified and how if he is to have a reason to believe marked documents that the USG claims are classified are not. trump’s team doesn’t want to explain how or why trump had these documents or how he declassified them. Either he claims to have potentially illegally and improperly declassified information, or he stole the documents. Which is it?…’

— via Boing Boing

How to take a pill: Our posture affects how we digest pills, study says

‘Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found whether you’re standing upright or leaning, as well as which side you’re leaning to, could affect how fast the contents of a pill are absorbed into your body.

The bottom line: leaning to your right side after swallowing a pill could speed absorption by about 13 minutes, compared to staying upright. Leaning to the left would be a mistake — it could slow absorption by more than an hour….’

— Aaron Steckelberg via Washington Post

It’s Time to Prepare for a Ukrainian Victory

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’The liberation of Russian-occupied territory might bring down Vladimir Putin.…

Putin has refused even to allow Russians to contemplate an alternative to his seedy and corrupt brand of kleptocratic power. Nevertheless, I repeat: It is inconceivable that he can continue to rule if the centerpiece of his claim to legitimacy—his promise to put the Soviet Union back together again—proves not just impossible but laughable.’

— Anne Applebaum via The Atlantic

Humanity Is Doing Its Best Impression of a Black Hole

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‘Daniel Holz studies the universe’s ultimate catastrophes. And he knows a thing or two about existential threats on Earth, since he helps set the Doomsday Clock.“We build these phenomenal instruments, these space telescopes, which peer back to the very beginning. It’s incredible. And yet, we’re on the verge of totally wrecking our only home.”…’

— via WIRED

Pants on Fire

‘trump tore the ground out from under that argument—and most of the others his supporters were trying to make—by posting a complaint on his Truth Social network about the FBI photo documenting the stolen classified documents. “There seems to be confusion as to the ‘picture’ where documents were sloppily thrown on the floor and then released photographically for the world to see, as if that’s what the FBI found when they broke into my home. Wrong! They took them out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet….”

 

Lawyers point out that this is an admission that he had the documents and knew it.

 

His lawyer Alina Habba then went onto the Fox News Channel to complain about the photo and said, “I’m somebody who has been in his office…. I do have firsthand knowledge…. I have never, ever, seen that…. That is not the way his office looks…. He has guests frequently there.” His office had classified information in it, and his lawyer just said he entertains guests there. This is an intelligence nightmare…’

August 31, 2022 – by Heather Cox Richardson

This is from Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent, plainspoken and insightful daily politics newsletter. My only quibble is that she continues to afford trump the respect of spelling his name with a capital letter.

When I was four or five I told a clumsy lie to my parents to avoid getting into trouble for something I had done. My guilt at getting caught in the lie so readily has been a template for truth-telling ever since, I am not ashamed to say. How old is trump and he is still telling stupid, execrable, clumsy lies almost every time he is in the public limelight?

Republicans horrified by map of U.S. that would result if they couldn’t cheat in elections

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‘This picture shows a Republican National Committee member’s own calculation of what would happen if voting districts were determined by independent commissions instead of partisan legislatures. The long and short of it, at least according to him: Democratic Party gerrymanders like New York would stay Democratic, while Republican gerrymanders would flip blue….’

— via Boing Boing

 

Opinion: What’s With All the Fluff About a New Civil War, Anyway?

‘Defending the premise that, after a fair election, the legitimate Electoral College winner becomes the president-elect — an idea so basic I literally learned it in first grade, when the kids who preferred Gerald Ford in our mock election just sucked it up and congratulated Jimmy Carter’s gang of 6-year-olds — is our most important issue and explains the ginned-up rumors of war, especially since Ms. Cheney’s nemesis on the topic is something of an attention-getter. On everything else, the United States in 2022 feels more 1850 to me than 1861.

The country circa 1850 was trapped in a trilateral predicament in which President Fillmore, presiding over a Unionist center aiming to prohibit slavery’s extension into the new western territories, was caught between a far left and a far right, some abolitionists being almost as keen on secession as the slaveholders — an outcome that would have benefited the latter.

Recent polling on the growing support for secession echoes that 1850s-style tripartite political divide. Last year the University of Virginia Center for Politics issued an unnerving report in which 41 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans “somewhat agree” that red and blue states should secede from the Union and form separate countries. Eighteen percent of Democrats and 25 percent of Republican respondents “strongly agree.” Thus secession is one of those subjects where each party’s extremists are de facto allies, like forsaking the First Amendment or provoking every educator and librarian in America to resign….’

— Sarah Vowell via NY Times.

Google Maps Is Leading Abortion Seekers to Pro-Life Religious Centers

‘Google Maps routinely misleads people looking for abortion providers, a new analysis by Bloomberg News has found. When users type the words “abortion clinic” into the Maps search bar, crisis pregnancy centers account for about a quarter of the top 10 search results on average across all 50 US states, plus Washington D.C., according to data Bloomberg collected in July. In 13 states, including Arkansas, South Carolina and Idaho where the procedure is newly limited, five or more of the top 10 results were for CPCs, not abortion clinics….’

via Bloomberg News

Trump’s response to the FBI Mar-a-Lago raid and reports of nuclear documents is pushing us toward the abyss

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‘What we are seeing is shocking, but it’s part of an established pattern. Trump engages in some kind of egregious misbehavior, prompting official scrutiny and condemnation of his actions. He treats these actions as unjustified persecution, proof that the “deep state” is out to get him, a claim that the Republican Party and conservative press dutifully echo. His most radical supporters become even more radical, even contemplating violence.

January 6 is, of course, the most terrible illustration of this sequence to date. As Trump’s legal problems mount, there is every reason to expect it to repeat and even escalate, given the furious rhetoric from Trump and the GOP in recent days attacking the foundational legitimacy of the American state. The consequences could be calamitous….’

— via Vox

R.I.P. Larry Josephson

Champion of Free-Form Radio Dies at 83

Merlin 210741201 0da116c7 b239 4895 862f 5673d85d3939 superJumbo jpg’His dyspeptic morning show helped make WBAI-FM in New York a vibrant, eccentric, alternative radio haven. “I was the first angry man in morning radio,” he said.…’

— via The New York Times

 

I listened religiously to WBAI until I left New York in 1970. Now The last of WBAI’s three horsemen of the apocalypse, along with Steve Post (1944-2014) and Bob Fass (1933-2021), passes.

WBAI was purchased by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer, who donated it to the Pacifica Foundation in 1960 The station, which had been a commercial enterprise, became non-commercial and listener-supported under Pacifica ownership.

The history of WBAI during this period is iconoclastic and contentious. Referred to in a New York Times Magazine piece as “an anarchist’s circus,” one station manager was jailed in protest. The staff, in protest at sweeping proposed changes of another station manager, seized the studio facilities, then located in a deconsecrated church, as well as the transmitter, located at the Empire State Building. During the 1960s, the station hosted innumerable anti-establishment causes, including anti-Vietnam war activists, feminists (and live coverage of purported bra-burning demonstrations), kids lib, early Firesign Theater comedy, and complete-album music overnight. It refused to stop playing Janis Ian’s song about interracial relationships “Society’s Child”. Extensive daily coverage of the Vietnam war included the ongoing body count and innumerable anti-war protests.

WBAI played a major role in the evolution and development of the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” was first broadcast on Radio Unnameable, Bob Fass’ freeform radio program on WBAI, a program which itself in many ways created, explored, and defined the possibilities of the form. The station covered the 1968 seizure of the Columbia University campus live and uninterrupted. With its signal reaching nearly 70 miles beyond New York City, its reach and influence, both direct and indirect, were significant. Among the station’s weekly commentators in the 1960s were author Ayn Rand, British politician/playwright Sir Stephen King-Hall, and author Dennis Wholey. The 1964 Political conventions were “covered” satirically on WBAI by Severn Darden, Elaine May, Burns and Schreiber, David Amram, Julie Harris, Taylor Mead, and members of The Second City improvisational group. The station, under Music Directors John Corigliano, Ann McMillan and, later Eric Salzman, aired an annual 23-hour nonstop presentation of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, as recorded at the Bayreuth Festival the year before, and produced live studio performances of emerging artists in its studios. Interviews with prominent figures in literature and the arts, as well as original dramatic productions and radio adaptations were also regular program offerings.

 

Listener-supported in a way that makes a mockery of NPR, WBAI ran relentless fund-raising “marathons” with wonderful premiums for those who donated. (I was a high school student, would that I had any money at all to give them!)  On one occasion, one of the hosts (it may have been any of the three curmudgeons) started playing a recording of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” on repeat, insisting it would not be stopped until their fundraising goal had been met. Couldn’t listen, but couldn’t turn it off. 

 

(Note: WBAI’s programming is streamed here.)

A case for retreat in the age of fire

‘Wildfires in the American West are getting larger, more frequent and more severe. Although efforts are underway to create fire-adapted communities, it’s important to realize that we cannot simply design our way out of wildfire – some communities will need to begin planning a retreat.

…While the notion of wildfire retreat is controversial, politically fraught and not yet endorsed by the general public, as experts in urban planning and environmental design, we believe the necessity for retreat will become increasingly unavoidable.

But retreat isn’t only about wholesale moving. Here are four forms of retreat being used to keep people out of harm’s way…’

— Stephen M. Wheeler via The Conversation

US abortion restrictions unlikely to influence liberalizing intl. trends

‘I am a law professor who has studied worldwide trends in abortion law. Rather than triggering a new wave of restrictive abortion laws in other countries, the Dobbs decision seems just as likely to wield little international influence. Two key reasons are the broad global momentum toward greater abortion access and the United States’ waning international influence in the area of women’s rights….’

— Martha Davis via The Conversation

We weren’t meant to see this many beautiful faces

‘…In a world of normalised filters, cosmetic surgery and beauty tweaks, “beauty overstimulation” is now a thing. But what’s it doing to our brains?

…Ever since early magazine imagery and the advent of Photoshop, people have worried about what retouching images would do to us as a society. But now, if social media algorithms are aggressively pushing glossy, symmetrical faces to the front of our feeds, is there a danger of digitally overloading our brains with beauty?The phrase “beauty overstimulation” emerged recently courtesy of writer Eleanor Stern, who said on TikTok: “Not only are we being exposed to more beautiful faces on a daily basis, but people are making themselves more beautiful than ever”.

…In her book Survival of the Prettiest, Harvard scientist Nancy Etcoff notes that we’re always sizing up other people’s looks, and that our “beauty detectors” are always pinging. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok famously favour human faces over scenery or food snaps; people are encouraged to post selfies “for the algorithm”, and so the frequency at which we’re seeing faces on our feeds is higher than ever.“We notice the attractiveness of each face we see as automatically as we register whether or not they look familiar,” Etcoff writes. “Beauty detectors scan the environment like [a] radar: we can see a face for a fraction of a second (150 milliseconds in one psychology experiment) and rate its beauty, even give it the same rating we would give it on longer inspection.”Retouched images are now what we have come to expect from certain influencers…While our brains are constantly judging looks, they’re also making comparisons… This matters because poor body image can affect every aspect of our lives – it can affect our physical and mental health and affect how we show up at work, social events, and in romantic relationships.”

As a direct result of this comparison and editing, beauty ideals are becoming more homogenised. In 2019, Jia Tolentino coined the term “Instagram face” in The New Yorker, where she described a “single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips. It looks at you coyly but blankly”.Type “the most beautiful face in the world” into AI image generator DALL‑E, and a uniform group of humanoids stare back at you, all with long, straight brunette hair, a razor-sharp jawline and plump lips. All nine faces are caucasian, with tanned skin and electric blue eyes. None of them look natural, but more like a machine’s imagining of a ‘00s-era Victoria’s Secret model.It’s unsurprising that artificial intelligence appears to be conforming to Eurocentric ideals of beauty. AI learns from the information that’s currently out there, so society’s biases become the ones adopted by our new computer overlords…’

— Via The Face

How (and When) to Watch the Massive K2 Comet Pass Earth

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‘The comet C/2017 K2 (PanSTARRS)—or “K2” for short—was first spotted five years ago, in May 2017 by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA reports. The agency shared an image of the comet taken on June 20th, 2022, when it was (relatively) near open star cluster IC 4665 and bright star Beta Ophiuchi, near a starry edge of the Milky Way.

This is the first time the K2 comet has made its way to the inner Solar System from the dim and distant Oort cloud, NASA explains. When it was first observed in May 2017, it was the most distant active inbound comet ever discovered—roughly 2.4 billion kilometers from the Sun, between the orbital distances of Uranus and Saturn.

When the K2 comet first became visible on the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists estimated that it had a nucleus nearly 11 miles in diameter. But according to research from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the comet’s nucleus is estimated to have a radius between nine and 50 miles. Either way, it’s pretty damn big.

And that’s not counting the size of K2’s tail—the trail of gasses and dust behind the comet—also known as a “coma.” According to early estimates, K2’s tail is anywhere between 81,000 and 500,000 miles across. For some perspective, that’s somewhere between the width of one and six Jupiters.

Your best chance of seeing the K2 comet will be the night of July 14th, which is when it will make its closest approach to Earth. Even though it’s huge, you’ll likely need at least a small telescope to spot the comet. Look for a fuzzy patch of light (which is the tail).

If you’d prefer to watch the comet pass Earth from the comfort of your own home, the Virtual Telescope Project will be live-streaming it starting at 6.15 pm on July 14. But don’t worry too much if you miss K2 on the 14th—it should be visible with a telescope until September….’

— via Lifehacker

June 18 to 27: Five (possibly six) planets align

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‘Sky-watchers who set their alarm clocks early in June will be able to catch a rare lineup of all the major planets visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and possibly Uranus—though seeing the final planet requires pristine sky conditions. To cap it off, the moon will pass near each of these worlds between June 18 and June 27.

On June 24 and 25 the crescent moon will glide past the ice giant Uranus and make it easier to hunt down, especially using binoculars. Look for a distinctly green-colored dot. And eager stargazers won’t want to miss the moon’s close encounter with super-bright Venus on June 26. Then on June 27 the elusively faint Mercury gets its turn with the moon, when both will appear embedded in the morning twilight….’

— via National Geographic