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.

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

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

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:

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

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

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

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?

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

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

FmH Housekeeping

Done with star ratings on posts. The only person who found them useful was the reader whose purpose in life was to antagonize by down-rating every post with a progressive tilt. Hope he or she is pleased enough by the power they wield. It is kind of like the Tragedy of the Commons.

14 Warning Signs That You Are Living in a Society Without a Counterculture

‘A sense of sameness pervades the creative world

The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful

Imitation of the conventional is rewarded

Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence

Alternative voices exist—in fact, they are everywhere—but are rarely heard, and their cultural impact is negligible

Every year the same stories are retold, and this sameness is considered a plus

Creative work is increasingly embedded in genres that feel rigid, not flexible

Even avant-garde work often feels like a rehash of 50-60 years ago…’

Etc.

— Ted Gioia via Substack

There Have Been 17 Mass Shootings Since Uvalde

‘There have been 17 mass shootings in the U.S. since Uvalde, leaving at least 13 people dead and 70 others injured, according to Gun Violence Archive. Fourteen of the incidents occurred over Memorial Day weekend. GVA defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot.

Taft, Oklahoma, (eight shot), Henderson, Nevada, (seven shot), and Chattanooga, Tennessee (six shot) were among the cities witnessing the violence. While none of the incidents since Uvalde were as deadly or featured so many young victims, they are nonetheless a reminder of the steady stream of gun violence that happens in this country everyday.

“Please hug your family extra close because this is becoming a common thing in the USA,” said Patrick Hickey, a Lyft and Uber driver who assisted with the victims of the Chattanooga shooting. There have been 230 mass shootings so far this year….’

via The Trace

Tracking Abortion Laws by State

‘The New York Times will be tracking abortion laws in each state before and after the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could overturn Roe and is expected before the end of June. The states fall into five categories: those where abortion is likely to be prohibited; prohibited or restricted; uncertain; legal; or legal and expanded. More information on each state is below…’

via New York Times

Oncology’s Darwinian Dilemma

” “No cancer patient should die without trying immunotherapy” is a refrain in oncology clinics across the country right now. A treatment consisting of antibodies that awaken the immune system to attack cancer, immunotherapy carries far more promise than chemotherapy, and it has considerably fewer side effects. Since the FDA’s first approval a decade ago, it has revolutionized cancer care. Consider Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. Twenty years ago, when the only option was chemotherapy, oncologists could tell their patient, with almost 100 percent certainty, that they would not be alive in two years. Today, miraculously, many patients with Stage IV lung cancer are alive five years after diagnosis — and some are even cured.

But the rub is that this immunotherapy revolution applies only to a narrow set of patients. Some benefit, but the majority do not. And patients who are cured constitute an even smaller minority. Why is this? How can immunotherapy cure a 65-year-old, newly retired man of Stage IV lung cancer, restoring the promise of his golden years with his family, but do nothing for the 55-year-old woman whose cancer robs her of decades of life? We do not know. A flurry of research is aimed at trying to answer this question. And what it is uncovering is the sheer variety of lung cancer and lung cancer patients. No two patients with lung cancer are the same. Their tumors have different genetic mutations. Their immune systems behave differently. We are even learning that their metabolisms can affect responses to treatment. And, astonishingly, emerging evidence suggests that the billions of bacteria that colonize their skin, lungs, and colons play a role in how they respond to cancer treatment….’

via LA Review of Books.

Witchcraft

“Janine Vega has the capacity to channel the intuition of children down to be states of death, Heil & the devil. If my child attends her classes, well sue.”

• excerpt from a parent’s letter to a local school

WITCHCRAFT

Wish you hadn’t said that, about

opening channels inside kids,

as though I were drilling down

into their ears. Wish you hadn’t

mistaken intuitive power for

the devil.

I saw a devil once, he was a

closed face, like a fist, a concrete

wall thrown up against understanding.

The Bodhisattvas say, Until

every one’s free, no one is free.

Heap up the wood for the next fire

and I’ll dance around it, like the

witches on May Day

Call it Beltana, call it Aks aya trt iya,

call it Mary’s Month or Buddha’s Birthday

any name I’ll be there with the fire

Roaring

pyramid-shaped

and watch its mirror image in my heart.

Fire burns and doesn’t burn.

Where’s my broomstick?

Trust me.

— Janine Pommy Vega (1992) via www.artsjournal.com.

Why You Need to Audit Your iPhone Auto-Renew App Subscriptions Right Now

Your app subscriptions on iPhone can now get more expensive without requiring you to opt in to the new pricing. Apple recently implemented a new rule that allows developers to quietly raise subscription prices, so long as they don’t exceed a certain amount. Since many app subscriptions aren’t that expensive, you might see more and more developers raising their costs without telling you first, and the differences could start to add up. To avoid that, you should audit your app subscriptions now, and cancel any you don’t think are worth more than you paid in the past.

— via Lifehacker

Are Human Lives Inherently More Valuable?

‘Most humans take this idea of human exceptionalism for granted. And it makes sense that we do, since we benefit from the notion that we matter more than other animals. But this statement is still worth critically assessing. Can we really justify the idea that some lives carry more ethical weight than others in general, and that human lives carry more ethical weight than nonhuman lives in particular? And even if so, does it follow that we should prioritise ourselves as much as we currently do?…’

— Jeff Sebo, clinical associate professor of environmental studies, affiliated professor of bioethics, medical ethics, philosophy, and law, and director of the animal studies MA programme at New York University. He is also on the executive committee at the NYU Center for Environmental and Animal Protection and the advisory board for the Animals in Context series at NYU Press. He is co-author of Chimpanzee Rights (Routledge, 2018) and Food, Animals, and the Environment (Routledge, 2018), and the author of Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves (Oxford, 2022). Via Aeon

I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner

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‘I’ve been teaching college English for more than 30 years. Four years ago, I stopped putting grades on written work, and it has transformed my teaching and my students’ learning. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner….’

— via The Conversation

I feel that recovering from the effects of being graded throughout school — the pernicious effect of being so thoroughly inducted into measuring one’s comparative worth by that metric — has been one of the most daunting psychological tasks of my life, and one of the most important. The importance of its relationship to malignant narcissism in our society is undeniable.

The only way to curtail the worst: knowing the worst is possible

‘Some suggest that too much time is already spent darkly ruminating on apocalyptic threats. Yet in the estimation of the nuclear philosopher — or  “Atomphilosoph” — Günther Anders, the problem is not that we spend too much time thinking about armageddon, but that we don’t spend nearly enough. “Don’t be a coward. Have the courage to be afraid.” These words, from his 1957 essay “Commandments in the Atomic Age,” stand in contrast to analyses that highlight the benefits of positive thinking, emphasizing that fear is a wholly legitimate response to a dangerously unstable world. Indeed, fear may be the most legitimate response to such a world. …’

via Real Life

A ‘killing stone’ broke in Japan. Is a demon on the loose?

‘With so much going wrong in the world, should we now also worry about a nine-tailed fox demoness that may be loose in a forest in Japan?

The answer depends partly on your reading of ancient Japanese mythology.

This month, a volcanic rock split in two in Nikko National Park, about 100 miles north of Tokyo. Intact, the rock was about 6 feet tall and 26 feet in circumference, according to a guide at the park. It had long been associated with a Japanese legend in which an evil fox spirit haunts a “killing stone,” or Sessho-seki in Japanese, making it deadly to humans. Some people have speculated that the fracture set the fox loose to cause further harm.

Others have focused on a variation of the legend that ends on a happier note. In that telling, after a Zen monk splits the rock into several pieces and coaxes out the fox, she promises never to harm humans again….’

via Boston Globe

Former British PMs Gordon Brown and John Major back Nuremberg-style tribunal for Putin

‘Former PMs join campaign calling for trial of Russian president and those around him over invasion of Ukraine…’

via The Guardian

Here’s a petition drive to key governments which can make the formal call for a war crimes tribunal. (They say: ‘This is one of those moments in history when global public opinion can make a difference. Let’s make our call huge, and Avaaz will work with prominent international lawyers to deliver it to key governments! ’)

Happy Pi Day – Celebrate with Wislawa Szymborska

Pi by Wislawa Szymborska

The admirable number pi:

three point one four one.

All the following digits are also just a start,

five nine two because it never ends.

It can’t be grasped, six five three five , at a glance,

eight nine, by calculation,

seven nine, through imagination,

or even three two three eight in jest, or by comparison

four six to anything

two six four three in the world.

The longest snake on earth ends at thirty-odd feet.

Same goes for fairy tale snakes, though they make it a little longer.

The caravan of digits that is pi

does not stop at the edge of the page,

but runs off the table and into the air,

over the wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, the clouds, straight into the sky,

through all the bloatedness and bottomlessness.

Oh how short, all but mouse-like is the comet’s tail!

How frail is a ray of starlight, bending in any old space!

Meanwhile two three fifteen three hundred nineteen

my phone number your shirt size

the year nineteen hundred and seventy-three sixth floor

number of inhabitants sixty-five cents

hip measurement two fingers a charade and a code,

in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!

and please remain calm,

and heaven and earth shall pass away,

but not pi, that won’t happen,

it still has an okay five,

and quite a fine eight,

and all but final seven,

prodding and prodding a plodding eternity

to last.

— via Famous Poets and Poems

Opinion: The Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra was right to cancel its Tchaikovsky concert

‘A culture war is a long game, and winning it requires more than showboating. Denying Russians a new Pixar movie won’t make them rise up against Putinism. Dumping out a handle of Smirnoff will do more for your liver than for the people of Ukraine. But culture can keep alive the idea that there is more to Russia than Putin, and that Ukraine is worth fighting for….’

— Alyssa Rosenberg via The Washington Post

Articulates some principles for a thoughtful approach to the anti-Russian tide and cancel culture in general. Protect your knees from -jerkism!

Life as a Tetrachromat

‘“I’m actually painting exactly what I see. If it’s a pink flower and then all of a sudden you see a bit of lilac or blue, I actually saw that.”Antico is a tetrachromat, which means she has a fourth colour receptor in her retina compared with the standard three which most people have. While those of us with three of these receptors – called cone cells – have the ability to distinguish around one million different colours, tetrachromats see an estimated 100 million….’

via The Guardian

Who Decides What Goes on a Map?

‘When you open the Native Land map on Native Land Digital’s website, on the Gaia GPS website, or in the Gaia GPS app, it’s immediately obvious that it looks very little like ubiquitous Western maps. The same landmasses appear, yet they’re covered in overlapping shapes rather than rigid country and state lines.
You can choose from three maps: Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties. While you can turn Western boundary markers on, that’s not the default setting. Instead of a jigsaw puzzle, you see a watercolor painting…’

— Abby Levene via Outside Online

trump suggests that if he is reelected, he will pardon Jan. 6 Capitol rioters

‘Former president donald trump suggested Saturday night he will pardon the rioters charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol if he is elected president in 2024.
trump, who has teased but not confirmed another run for president, has repeatedly criticized the prosecution of individuals who violently stormed the Capitol to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. But his comments at a Texas rally on Saturday marked the first time he dangled pardons, an escalation of his broader effort to downplay the deadly events of Jan. 6….’

— Tyler Pager via The Washington Post

RIP Magawa

 

Cambodia’s landmine-sniffing ‘hero’ rat dies in retirement

 

Unknown‘Cambodia’s landmine-sniffing rat Magawa, who found more than 100 landmines and explosives during a five-year career, has died at the age of 8, leaving a lasting legacy of saved lives in the Southeast Asian nation.

Magawa, who died over the weekend, was the most successful “HeroRAT” deployed by international charity APOPO, which uses African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis.

“Magawa was in good health and spent most of last week playing with his usual enthusiasm, but towards the weekend he started to slow down, napping more and showing less interest in food in his last days,” the non-profit organisation said in a statement.

Scarred by decades of civil war, Cambodia is one of the world’s most heavily landmined countries, with more than 1,000 sq km (386 sq miles) of land still contaminated….’

 

via Reuters

 

How Soon Will COVID Be “Normal”?

Unknown‘On Thursday, six medical experts close to the White House published three op-eds in the Journal of the American Medical Association, arguing that the time had come for a new approach to the pandemic—one that sets aside the campaign for eradication in favor of living with the disease.

covid-19, one op-ed argued, should no longer even be tracked on its own but monitored together with other respiratory viruses, such as the flu—the sort of thing that might be done by epidemiologists rather than by all of us refreshing graphs on the Times’ Web site day and night.

The argument was particularly notable because the six experts had all been advisers to President Joe Biden’s covid-19 transition team. “A ‘new normal with COVID’ in January 2022 is not living without COVID-19,” Ezekiel Emanuel, of the University of Pennsylvania, Celine Gounder, of N.Y.U., and Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota, wrote. But they believed that the long era of emergency—the one defined by a wartime feeling and frequent briefings from Anthony Fauci—should draw to a close….’

— via The New Yorker

Japan Is Working on a COVID-19 Vaccine That Offers Lifelong Immunity

Japan Is Working on a COVID-19 Vaccine That Offers Lifelong Immunity

‘As infections caused by the Omicron variant surge across the world, countries may soon face the difficult choice of either imposing strict lockdowns or letting the variant run through the population. Vaccinations are reducing the severity of the disease but are ineffective in halting the spread of the highly transmissible infection. As vaccine companies rush to develop variant-specific booster doses that might become the norm in this pandemic that will soon enter its third calendar year, the news of a single vaccine that can last a lifetime is highly welcome.

The vaccine that is being developed by Michinori Kohara and his team of researchers employs the most successful vaccine used in history, one against smallpox. The team uses a strain of the vaccinia virus that does not cause disease but replaced some of its protein components with those from the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

While recombining the spike protein with a different delivery mechanism is a common strategy used in vaccine design these days, Kohara is confident that his vaccine can not only deliver potent neutralizing antibodies with a single dose, they also induce strong cellular immunity that offers long term protection.

— via Interesting Engineering

What Police Get When They Get Your Phone

‘…Today, even small-town police departments have powerful tools that can easily access the most intimate information on your cell phone.  When Upturn researchers surveyed police departments on the mobile device forensic tools they were using on mobile phones, they discovered that the tools are being used by police departments large and small across America. There are few rules on what law enforcement can do with the data they download, and not very many policies on how the information should be stored, shared, or destroyed.

Recently Upturn researchers surveyed police departments on the mobile device forensic tools they were using on mobile phones, and discovered that the tools are being used by police departments large and small across America. There are far too few rules on what law enforcement can do with the data they download, and not very many policies on how the information should be stored, shared or destroyed…’

— via Electronic Frontier Foundation

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.

10768-revelry
Elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping make an effective Covid exposure warning network

With high Omicron transmissibility, exposure alerts assume a higher priority IMHO. If you are an iPhone user (I don’t know about other platforms) don’t forget that you can turn on the built-in exposure alert system. And if you turn Covid-positive, it will serve others well if you remember to indicate it in the iPhone’s exposure monitoring system. you’ll find it in the Settings app under the Exposure Notifications section.

Mari Lwyd

‘Around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Welsh families might find themselves challenged by a decorated horse (or similar animal) skull waiting for them on their doorstep. Adorned in colorful ribbons and bells, the equine image of death has an especially ghostly appearance thanks to the white sheet draped over the person carrying it. As revelers sing and parade this head-on-a-stick around the neighborhood, doors open to meet the morbid white horse in battle, specifically, a battle of wits through poetry. This is Mari Lwyd, a midwinter, pagan tradition whereby celebrants earn food and drink only after dominating a poetry slam fronted by a skeletal face….’

via Gastro Obscura

Umami Exists and MSG is its Messenger

‘Umami’s not what you think it is. It’s translated as “savoriness”, but that’s usually misinterpreted as a kind of general descriptor, the way food could be called “filling” or “chewy”. It’s also got a sense of being this subtle and higher-order property of good cooking, brought to us from the mysterious East.
Umami is a molecule. Well, actually a class of molecules that hit mGluR1 receptors (among others) in your mouth so that you get a meaty, savory taste. And it’s not only appreciated by the discerning Japanese, but also by the somewhat less discerning hamsters.[1] It’s a basic taste in the same way the other four are: The particular ingredient has been identified in food and the taste receptor has been identified in your mouth. Some don’t believe in umami, but you still experience it unless you are missing the receptors for some reason, which would constitute a minor disability.
The most significant umami compounds are glutamates, which are the salts of glutamic acid, and in practically everything you enjoy as savory. Most cultures have created a glutamate-rich cooking ingredient that seems absolutely disgusting without an additional “this has glutamates” explanation. These include decomposing fish (anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce), decomposing beans (soy sauce, miso), decomposing milk (cheese), and leftover beer-goo….’

— Jehan via Atoms vs Bits

Don’t strip the Sackler name from museums: a visceral reminder of human greed

The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

‘A moment of silence, so we can all appreciate how gracious the Sackler family is. Yes, the family business, Purdue Pharma, is infamous for aggressively marketing the prescription painkiller OxyContin and aiding an opioid epidemic that has killed half a million Americans. And it’s true that nobody in the family has offered an explicit apology for their role in this crisis or suffered meaningful consequences for their actions: the Sacklers are still billionaires and have even won immunity from lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean we should think badly of them. You see, the family has been terribly kind and allowed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove the Sackler name from its galleries. In a statement last week, the Met praised the Sacklers for “this gracious gesture” and gushed about the family’s generous support. There was no mention of the human suffering that precipitated the removal. New York’s Met museum to remove Sackler family name from its galleries Read more

The Met cutting public ties with the Sacklers – the result of a long direct action campaign by the artist Nan Goldin – has been widely celebrated. There’s an expectation that other public institutions will now follow suit. But I’m not sure erasing the family name from museums is right. I was at Tate Britain last week, and seeing the Sackler name had a visceral impact on me: it was more thought-provoking than a lot of the art.

Keep the name in museums, I say. Just add a prominent plaque explaining exactly how the family earned the money it donated. Explain how the chronic underfunding of the arts means that cultural institutes are forced to suck up to dodgy philanthropists. Let everyone who sees the name leave with the realisation that greed is a hell of a drug…’

— by Arwa Mahdawi via The Guardian

Gen Z Is Done With COVID

‘Though the specter of a new variant hangs over the holidays, young people have no plans to lock themselves down again….’

— Christian Paz via The Atlantic

Are we going to end up with the decimation of an entire age stratum of the population?

Why are we so unsettled by deepfakes?

‘Two aspects are involved in our averse reaction to deepfakes: the uncanny feeling of witnessing something abnormal, and the unsettling feeling of being deceived by one’s own eyes.

This first aspect concerns the uneasiness we feel in noticing that something is not ‘quite right’. There is something creepy about deepfakes that represent people in ways that are slightly ‘off’. Early deepfake videos contained unnatural eye-blinking patterns, for example, which viewers would not consciously notice but nonetheless signalled that something strange was going on. As deepfake technology improves and footage looks and sounds more like authentic material, this aspect of eeriness disappears.

But another emerges: can we really trust what we’re watching?

This is the other side of the uneasy feeling that deepfakes arouse, which concerns footage that is too realistic-looking. Here deepfakes cause a sense of uneasiness because they make us distrust what we see with our own eyes. While trust in the reliability of video and images has already been undermined with the ascent of Photoshop and other forms of manipulation, the potential of deepfake technology to continuously improve the convincingness of inauthentic recordings through machine learning deepens the concern over deception.

Not only can deepfake technology realistically represent people’s image and voice, it also allows for impersonation in real time. We can’t assume that the person we see or hear in digital footage is who we assume them to be, even if we seem to be interacting with them….’

via Psyche

‘A deepfake website that generates “nude” images of women using artificial intelligence is spreading its murky tentacles across the web—spawning look-alike services through partner agreements and recruiting new users through a referral system. The expansion efforts have allowed the service to proliferate despite bans placed on its payment infrastructure. The website, which WIRED is not naming to limit its amplification, has existed since last year. It digitally “removes” clothing from non-nude photos to create nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes. Researchers say its output is “hyper-realistic,” and unlike similar abusive platforms, it can generate pornographic images even when the person in the original photo is fully clothed. Previously, similar technologies have only worked with partially clothed photographs…’

— via WIRED

Take care of yourself, it’s now an industry

‘A friend often tells me I’m bad at self-care. When I ask him what he means, he usually responds with some version of “Well, you know.” But really, I don’t know what self-care is, what it means to be bad at it, or even why I should be good at it. Being told I’m bad at self-care usually feels like being told I’m bad at a job I didn’t apply for and that I’m not even paid for….’

via The Hedgehog Review

The lost art of listening

Quot about listening quot vaclav kindl‘Although we are hardwired for grammar;cognitively mapped to construct, comprehend, and interpret meanings that arise from the soundscapes of language, culture and history; and can distinguish sound patterns, dissonances, silences, and noises in the ether,the brain listens only to what the mind is prepared to hear.

In our current historical conjuncture, the mind is not prepared nor is it being prepared to hear the pangs of hunger in the discourse of poverty; the terrorizing memories of male violence and sexual assault from the mother-tongue of surviving women; the anxieties of dis-ease and economic insecurity in the angry and disillusioned voices of youth; the brutality of homelessness in the quiet drawings of children who sleep in cars and shelters; the academic discourse of white supremacy deeply embedded within the sterilized language of meritocracy; the communality of working-class culture splattered in blood, sweat, and country; the groan of disability pushing against the structural forces of ableism; the tongue-tying of identity within sequestered spaces of difference; the diverse voices of radical love driving the outrage against fascist machineries of death; the intubated wheezing of dying democracies; the hushed courage of LGBTQ+ people navigating the heteronormative and cis-gendered architecture of everyday life; and the incessant white noise of power burying the refrain of negative freedom in the hook of capitalist opportunity. That which the mind is not prepared to hear negates our capacity to listen and understand, to learn from those most in need, and to be mindful, aesthetically sensitive, and critically awake to the radical possibilities that arise out of deep and meaningful conversation…’

— by Eric Weiner via 3 Quarks Daily

trump’s next coup has already begun

‘Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.

The prospect of this democratic collapse is not remote. People with the motive to make it happen are manufacturing the means. Given the opportunity, they will act. They are acting already.

Who or what will safeguard our constitutional order is not apparent today. It is not even apparent who will try. Democrats, big and small D, are not behaving as if they believe the threat is real. Some of them, including President Joe Biden, have taken passing rhetorical notice, but their attention wanders. They are making a grievous mistake.

“The democratic emergency is already here,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, told me in late October. Hasen prides himself on a judicious temperament. Only a year ago he was cautioning me against hyperbole. Now he speaks matter-of-factly about the death of our body politic. “We face a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024,” he said, “but urgent action is not happening.”

For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft. Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.

By way of foundation for all the rest, Trump and his party have convinced a dauntingly large number of Americans that the essential workings of democracy are corrupt, that made-up claims of fraud are true, that only cheating can thwart their victory at the polls, that tyranny has usurped their government, and that violence is a legitimate response.

Any Republican might benefit from these machinations, but let’s not pretend there’s any suspense. Unless biology intercedes, Donald Trump will seek and win the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The party is in his thrall. No opponent can break it and few will try. Neither will a setback outside politics—indictment, say, or a disastrous turn in business—prevent Trump from running. If anything, it will redouble his will to power…’

— Barton Gellman via The Atlantic

Der Lauf der Dinge

UntitledImageHave you got a spare half hour or so for a meditative contemplation of ‘the way things go’?

It starts out like so many other Rube Goldbergish assemblages you’ve seen on Youtube but becomes chemical and pyrotechnic. Solids, liquids and gases strung together in mundane and inventive ways. Very much a metaphor for the mix of intended and unintended consequences, of the predictable and the surprising, that drives the world. Oh, and lots of car tires.

— via Peter Fischli and David Weiss – YouTube

Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates

‘Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic….’

— Geoff Brumfiel via NPR

Humans Are On Track to Export Our Environmental Problems to Space

‘After Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, blasted off to the outer reaches of Earth’s orbit amid several global crises, he blithely told reporters that “we can move all heavy industry and all polluting industry off of Earth and operate it in space.”

Unless there is an unfathomable technological leap, cowboy hat-clad Bezos’ idea of offloading all of humanity’s industries to space is not going to happen anytime soon. But as billionaires like Bezos look to harness the riches beyond Earth’s atmosphere, they’re likely to export our environmental problems as well…’

— Paola Rosa-Aquino via WIRED

Better call your grandparents’ flip phones now, because they may soon stop ringing.

‘Support for 3G, the 20-year-old wireless network standard, is ending in the US next year, when the major wireless carriers are planning to phase out service. That means many Trac phones, older Kindles, early iPads, and classic Chromebooks—any device operating on 3G—simply won’t be able to connect to cellular data networks anymore. The Wi-Fi radios on those devices will still work, but their mobile data capabilities are going kaput.

This so-called 3G sunset will come to pass at different times for different wireless providers. AT&T says it’s shutting down 3G services in February 2022. T-Mobile recently announced it would extend services to March 31 of next year, but not beyond. Verizon plans to pull the plug in December 2022. Carriers are shutting down 3G service in order to make way for the newer pieces of infrastructure that power the speedier 4G LTE and 5G networks currently expanding across the country…’

— via WIRED

Talk with the Hand! Time to Return to the Ancient Art of Chirology

‘I began to watch the hands of my students, friends, and children when they were engaged in masked conversation, and I observed that the most effective communicators delivered the most histrionic performances. They threw their hands up to signify exaltation and despair; they thrust their hands forward in supplication; they threw their hands down at their sides in grief and resignation; they cut their hands across the air in defiance. You might miss a few muffled words, but you couldn’t miss the point of what they were saying. I had known people with very expressive digits before. Now, though, I saw that the pandemic had given new urgency to the language of the hand….’

via The Hedgehog Review

Everything You Thought You Knew About ‘Hobo Code’ Is Wrong

‘…(T)he Historic Graffiti Society has found no concrete evidence that hobo code existed. Wray says decades-old claims in newspaper articles are unsubstantiated. The symbols said to be used by hoboes are often contradictory. And while there are photographs of hobo signs taken in the early 1900s, Wray adds, those were staged by newspapers. “Modern Americans are convinced that hobo signs are authentic history, but the evidence against it definitely outweighs the evidence for it,” Wray says.

— via Atlas Obscura

“How do you feel?”

How do you feel? Dealing with emotions in business - The Business JournalsInterview with Edgar Gerrard Hughes, the author of new book, The Book of Emotions. (known as How Do You Feel? in the US) in The Browser.

  • hard to define precisely what emotions are
  • the concept, as a way of talking about feelings, is a relatively recent (19th C) invention.
  • how are they different from “passions”, “sentiments”, moral or epistemological inclinations, vestiges of our animal nature?
  • widely varying typologies of emotions exist
  • Darwin: emotions are vestigial, not that useful
  • Charles Le Brun: ‘…believed that contorting your face into these different shapes was a way of orienting yourself towards God’
  • emotional expression as a better way of communicating, augmenting or overcoming the limitations of language?

Lost and found emotions, e.g.:

  • compersion, ‘the opposite of jealosy’. A new idea arising from polyamorous communities, joy rather than dismay on your romantic or sexual partner’s intimacy with another
  • solastalgia, preemptive nostalgia for anticipated loss
  • acedia:
    ‘ …a feeling that fifth century monks in North Africa used to have where they’d be sitting in their cells—meditating and praying all day long—but then a complete languor and listlessness would come over them all of a sudden in the afternoons. They’d have no commitment to any sort of spiritual discipline, just this overwhelming urge to give up on everything. In some ways, it’s an afternoon slump, but with a very intense spiritual crisis attached.’
  • gruntled (the opposite of disgruntled) is one of several lost positive emotions. How about ‘mayed‘, the converse of ‘dismayed‘? or ‘ruthful‘ or ‘reckful‘? Why do we tend to keep the bad ones and lose the good ones?

The book does not advance a particular thesis. Rather it is a patchwork quilt reflective of our confusion about emotions. Questions arise:

  • Does what we feel depend on whether we have a word for it (maybe encouraging people to interpret what they are feeling through a specific lens)?
  • Are emotions culturally relative or universal human experiences?
  • Do specific emotions relate to specific neurobiological events or proesses in the brain?
  • …or in the body? Variety as to where in the body emotions are experienced? 19th C psychologist and philosopher William James felt that ‘bodily movements were the emotions themselves.’ Lots of debate about whether the emotions can be separated from bodily sensations. Recently, there is a thought that barely perceptible awareness of internal feelings — referred to as interocepts — form the basis of emotional experiences; sometimes we are not aware of these sensations until deliberately pointed toward them. For instance, there is a suggestion that those who more readily feel their heartbeat — or suppress the awareness less — are more susceptible to anxiety. In Eastern spiritual practices, tuning in to bodily experiences helps stabilize emotional fluctuation.
  • To what extent is an emotion embedded in an interpersonal relationship rather than an individual?

The New Cold War

‘Today, China and the United States are locked in what can only be called a new cold war—an intense security competition that touches on every dimension of their relationship. This rivalry will test U.S. policymakers more than the original Cold War did, as China is likely to be a more powerful competitor than the Soviet Union was in its prime. And this cold war is more likely to turn hot….’

— By John J. Mearsheimer
November/December 2021 via Foreign Affairs

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

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”

UnknownTomorrow 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.

People with psychosis: healing by rebuilding life stories

‘When asked to tell their life stories, people with schizophrenia tend to tell unusual ones. First, the basic chronology of the life story is shifted. Most people experience a ‘reminiscence bump’ in early adulthood, with many personally significant and relatively well-remembered events occurring between ages 15 to 30 (and especially between ages 20 and 24).

For instance, we might form memories of graduating college, getting a first job, or starting or ending significant romantic relationships. These events become centrepieces of our life stories, defining who we are for decades to come.

However, schizophrenia causes profound disruptions during these same years. People diagnosed with schizophrenia often become unable to care for themselves, lose valued roles and relationships, and undergo treatment. These experiences seem to curtail the reminiscence bump: rates of personally significant memories might steadily increase in the teenage years, then drop sharply following a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

People living with schizophrenia also tend to include unusual kinds of experiences in their life stories, focusing on psychotic episodes, hospitalisations and traumatic events. Their life stories might even include vivid, emotionally intense experiences of psychotic symptoms themselves – for instance, vivid memories of being spied on, conspired against or chosen by God to save the world.

In short, people with schizophrenia tell unusual life stories about unusual kinds of personal experiences. But why do these stories matter? How might they impact mental health and wellbeing? And how might they change through treatment and recovery?…’

via Psyche Ideas

People with covid jabs have been less likely to die of other causes

‘…Studies from around the world have confirmed that jabs are safe and provide good protection against severe forms of the virus. Now a recent report from the Centres for Disease Control (cdc) in America has produced a novel, and even mysterious, reason to be glad for a covid-19 vaccination. The cdc data show that people vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna covid-19 jabs are one-third as likely to die of other causes too.

The result is bewildering, all the more so for its scale. The cdc’s study started with the health records of more than 11m Americans. Researchers followed these people from December 2020 to July 2021, recording any deaths and their causes. During this period around 6m people in the cohort received jabs for covid-19. …’

via The Economist

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.

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.trick-or-treat-nyc

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…’

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:

Have we got our ancestors wrong? How have we gotten so stuck?

Original jpgReview: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow

This new ambitious and earthshaking history of humanity by two anthropologists finds that established narratives of modernity have been based on constricting and false premises which make it impossible to believe in our inherent cooperativeness. The errors arise from the gospel that

‘…for most of human history our ancestors lived an egalitarian and leisure-filled life in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, as [Jared] Diamond put it, we made the “worst mistake in human history”, which was to increase population numbers through agricultural production. This, so the story goes, led to hierarchies, subordination, wars, disease, famines and just about every other social ill – thus did we plunge from Rousseau’s heaven into Hobbes’s hell.

— Andrew Anthony via The Guardian

Synthesizing a wealth of recent archeological data, they replace the idea that humanity was forced along through preordained evolutionary stages, in which humans are passive objects of material forrces, with a picture of prehistoric communities shaping their own political organization and social realities. The upshot is that it is not inevitable that we are stuck in the modern system of hierarchies and conspicuous inequalities of wealth and consumption. In fact, I might add, the accepted narrative comes to appear as dictated by the prevailing ideology in a self-serving justification of the status quo.

A more detailed account of the thesis can be found in this piece in The Atlantic by William Deresiewicz, “Human History Gets A Rewrite.” Graeber and Wengrow show that hunter-gatherer societies were more complex and varied than we knew and that these people made deliberate and collective decisions about how to organize themselves, in other words “practicing politics.”

When you think about it for a moment, since these were essentially human beings like ourselves, how could we not have realized that it would not be otherwise? From my own anthropological studies before I became a psychiatrist, I do know however that they are not the first to dispute the commonplace notion of the simple savages unselfish-consciously dwelling in “a kind of eternal present or cyclical dreamtime, waiting for the Western hand to wake them up and fling them into history.” A counterpoint to that can be found as far back as the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss,’ whose eye-opening The Savage Mind (1962) established how prehistoric knowledge organization was based on a sophisticated “scientific” approach.

Carrying their narrative forward to the development of city-states, Graeber and Wengrow show that they were not an inevitable consequence of agriculture, as we thought, but in many instances preceded it. A related assumption they turn on their head is that large populations inherently need layers of bureaucracy to govern them and that scale leads inevitably to hierarchy and political inequality. They describe data showing that many early cities with populations of thousands show no signs of centralized administration. If anything, they claim, aristocracy emerged in the smaller settlements of warrior societies which were in tension with the agricultural states. So ‘the state’ is not the inevitable apex form of human social organization but one of

‘…a shifting combination of, as they enumerate them, the three elementary forms of domination: control of violence (sovereignty), control of information (bureaucracy), and personal charisma (manifested, for example, in electoral politics). Some states have displayed just two, some only one—which means the union of all three, as in the modern state, is not inevitable (and may indeed, with the rise of planetary bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization, be already decomposing). More to the point, the state itself may not be inevitable. For most of the past 5,000 years, the authors write, kingdoms and empires were “exceptional islands of political hierarchy, surrounded by much larger territories whose inhabitants … systematically avoided fixed, overarching systems of authority.” …’

They are suggesting that civilization could be organized around mutual aid and cooperation without the loss of basic freedoms as seen in modern bureaucratic capitalism enforced by state violence. No surprise that Graeber is a committed anarchist.But —

‘…The Dawn of Everything is not a brief for anarchism, though anarchist values—antiauthoritarianism, participatory democracy, small-c communism—are everywhere implicit in it. Above all, it is a brief for possibility, which was, for Graeber, perhaps the highest value of all…

“How did we get stuck?” the authors ask—stuck, that is, in a world of “war, greed, exploitation [and] systematic indifference to others’ suffering”? It’s a pretty good question. “If something did go terribly wrong in human history,” they write, “then perhaps it began to go wrong precisely when people started losing that freedom to imagine and enact other forms of social existence.” It isn’t clear to me how many possibilities are left us now, in a world of polities whose populations number in the tens or hundreds of millions. But stuck we certainly are…’

When does Covid-19 go from “pandemic” to “endemic”?

‘For an infectious disease to be classed in the endemic phase, the rate of infections has to more or less stabilize across years (though occasional increases, say, in the winter, are expected).

“A disease is endemic if the reproductive number is stably at one. That means one infected person, on average, infects one other person,” explained Boston University epidemiologist Eleanor Murray.

“Right now, we are nowhere near that. Each person who’s infected is infecting more than one person.” That’s largely due to the hyper-contagious delta variant and the fact that most of the global population doesn’t yet have immunity — whether through vaccination or infection — so susceptibility is still high.

(For a while, there had been hope that the arrival of vaccines would mean we could reach herd immunity — that is, when enough of a population has gained immunity to confer protection to everyone. But those hopes have been dashed as we’ve failed to vaccinate enough people and more contagious variants have circulated widely.)

But getting the virus’s reproductive number down to one is just “the bare minimum” for earning the endemic classification, Murray said. There are other factors that come into play, too — and assessing these factors is a more subjective business…’

— via Vox

Clive Thompson: What I Learned About My Writing By Seeing Only The Punctuation

‘Back in 2016, Adam J. Calhoun wrote a fascinating Medium post in which he showed off something quite cool: What novels look like if you strip away the words, and show just the punctuation.
He’d written some Python code to do this, then processed several famous books. As Calhoun pointed out, it gives you a weird new form of literary x-ray vision.
This image [above]? On the left, it’s Calhoun’s analysis of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, compared to Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, on the right ……’

— Clive Thompson via Creators Hub, Medium

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s popularity is plunging

‘Governor Greg Abbott is setting a fine example of how to plummet in popularity. The far-right Republican politician — who in Texas has made it harder to vote, prohibited vaccine and mask mandates in local governments, allowed Texans to carry concealed guns without a permit, and has made it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion, even in cases of rape — is losing admirers, according to a new Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler poll. Since March 2020, his approval has plunged by 14 points, from 59% to 45%…’

— via Boing Boing

Happy Mabon!

‘Mabon falls on the Autumn Equinox and is the second of the three harvest festivals (Lammas, Mabon, and Samhain). Just like Ostara on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year, at Mabon the days and nights are of equal length. Though it’s typically celebrated on Sept 22 , the exact moment of the Equinox varies from year to year. This is due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The Equinox also occurs at differing local times, so that depending on where you live, it may fall the day before or after the date listed on any given calendar. For this reason, a date range of September 21-24 is often cited in sources on the Wheel of the Year.

Though temperatures may still be warm during the day, summer has truly come to an end. The leaves on deciduous trees have begun to turn colors and fall to the ground, and there is a chill in the evening air. The days were longer than the nights until this moment, and after this the nights will begin their reign. The God is making his exit from the stage of the seasons, heading toward his symbolic death at Samhain in just a few short weeks. As with Ostara, the theme of balance is highlighted here, reminding us that everything is temporary, that no season lasts forever, and that neither dark nor light ever overpowers the other for long.

All Sabbats are occasions to express gratitude to the God and Goddess for the blessings in our lives, but Mabon is particularly so, coming at the height of the harvest season. Traditionally, this was a very busy and physically exhausting time. This holiday provided a brief rest from toiling in the fields—a day to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the labor thus far. In these modern times, most of us are not involved in agriculture, but we can still take a moment to rest from our labor and relax, appreciating all that we have. It is a time to recognize the need for balance between work and play.

But how should you celebrate Mabon? For starters, Mabon rituals can include decorating your altar with acorns, pine cones, seasonal fruits and nuts, and/or a few of the first colored leaves that drop from the trees. As with Lamas, harvest imagery like scythes and baskets can be used. Candles and altar cloths in autumn colors like rusty red, orange, brown, and gold are appropriate. If you have a feast, whether solo or with others, include seasonal vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables…’

— via Mabon (Autumn Equinox) – The Wiccan Calendar – Wicca Living

How Endemic COVID Becomes a Manageable Risk

A Second Major Seasonal Virus Won’t Leave Us Any Choice: During the shift from a pandemic emergency to an endemic hazard, fights over how forcefully we deal with COVID’s acute risk will morph into debates over how we adjust society to reduce the virus’s persistent perils. The twin burden of flu and COVID is going to compel more collective action. We’ve been far too complacent about the seasonal flu, allowing it to sicken and kill too many people each year. With a second serious disease in the picture, we’re going to be forced to take action….’

— Scott Gottlieb via The Atlantic

Be Concerned, be Very Concerned, About the Nipah Virus

‘The Nipah virus is making news again after tragic reports that a 12-year-old boy died from the virus on Sept. 5 in Kerala’s Kozhikode district. He had been admitted to a private hospital after running a high fever and showing symptoms of encephalitis…

The World Health Organization classifies (Nipah) as a “virus of concern” for future epidemics because “each year it spills over from its animal reservoir into humans,” says Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of infectious disease at Stanford University. And when humans are infected, it can be transmitted from person to person.

But the virus is not as transmissible as some other viruses. “There are occasional Nipah superspreaders who infect a lot of people,” says Luby. “But the average transmission rate is less than one person per infection.

“However, each time a person is infected, the virus is in an environment that selects for human adaptation and transmissibility. The risk is that a new strain that is more efficiently transmitted person to person could generate a devastating outbreak. Indeed, since 70% of people who are infected with Nipah virus die, such a strain could represent the worst pandemic humanity has ever faced.”…’

— Kamala Thiagarajan via NPR

Dangerous trend among GOP candidates shows the trump threat is here to stay

‘So is this really how it’s going to be? Are more and more Republican candidates across our great land going to treat it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate by definition?

We’re now seeing numerous examples of GOP candidates running for office who are doing something very close to this. Which suggests the legacy of donald trump could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared….’

— Greg Sargent via Opinion: Washington Post