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Just Because: 'Accomplishments'

Courtesy, once again, of Poem-a-Day, this verse seems right for the start of a new year. And somehow, poet Michael Chitwood's explanation of his process here makes it even better. "The first stanza came to me just as it is on an afternoon walk," he said. "It took me more than a year to get the other three to go with it."

What you have not done
is without error. What you
have not said is beyond contradiction.

What you understand of God
was yesterday. Today a bicycle
waits, chained to a bench.

The success of this afternoon's nap
is the dream of lifting seven boxes,
your week, sealed with clear tape.

They stack, three to a column,
with the seventh like a capstone.
What you do not know they contain.

A Celebratory Comet

Gerald Rhemann
When you look up to the skies for fireworks this New Year's Eve, keep an eye out for Comet Lovejoy. The celestial body, this one with a greenish tail, is showing up earlier than expected to illuminate the holidays. Now about 30 degrees south of Orion, it has brightened to the point where it can be seen with binoculars:

Tiny Bubbles

In those long hours before midnight, when everyone's starting to droop, you can pull out this interesting factoid and get the conversation humming again. That famed old Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon did not invent champagne, and his colorful quote about drinking the stars may have been nothing more than a clever marketing tool by one Dom Groussard, who was the monastery's cellar master two centuries later. In fact, it seems pretty certain that much, if not most, of the credit for the bubbly libation belongs not to the French at all, but to the English:

Back to the USSR

Soviet leaders Lenin, left, and Stalin
On December 30, 1922, the two documents forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were confirmed by the Congress of Soviets and signed by the heads of the delegations. A major restructuring of the country's economy, industry, and politics had already begun, after the revolution three years earlier. The government was based on one-party rule by the Communist Party, with the understanding that Democratic Centralism was the only way to ensure that the people's will was represented:

The Art of Poverty

"Maid in London," by Banksy
Here's an interesting musing on art in the 21st century. Essentially, it's bringing up the question of art's role in the world, but it's doing so by asking a provocative question: Where are the poor in art today?:

Pictures Lovely As a Tree

"Rilke's Banyon"                                                       Beth Moon
Trees bring us beauty, oxygen, and a peaceful feeling. We climb them, swing from them, cull fruits and nuts from them, and sit in and under them. But for every tree-centered thing we do, most of us have never seen trees like the ones San Francisco photographer Beth Moon has seen in her 14-year search for the rarest and oldest trees on Earth (story, lots of pix):

Underground Cappadocia

There's more to Cappadocia than its cave dwellings.
Cappadocia, Turkey, is an almost unbelievable area in and of itself, but a recent find has made it even more so. Archaeologists have discovered an immense 5,000-year-old city under a fortress there. It's not the area's first underground city, but it's definitely the most spectacular, with churches, escape galleries, and 3.5 miles (7 kilometers) of tunnels. In fact, archaeologists believe it may end up being the largest underground city in the world:

Print Your Car

Local Motors' Strati
Can travel get much greener than this (short of just walking)? Arizona-based Local Motors is working on 3D printed cars and already rolled one out in September, at Chicago's International Manufacturing Technology Show. The Strati is an electric sports-type car that can be printed in two days. Meanwhile, Elio Motors has the gasoline-powered three-wheeled cyclecar, with an estimated highway rating of 84 mpg:

Joust As We Expected

This tidbit from is in the category of things that may come in handy some day but probably won't but are still possibly worth knowing, maybe:

In 1962, Maryland became the first state to adopt an official sport when it named jousting, in which two competitors on horseback try to remove one another with the use of a pole weapon, as its state sport. Maryland holds jousting tournaments for six months of the year from May through October. Jousting has its roots in Medieval Europe, and Maryland’s jousting tournament competitors often incorporate medieval costumes. Maryland’s history of jousting dates back to the late 1700s and became more common after the Civil War. It is a sport in which men, women, and children can all compete and is often a generational family sport.

Taking It to the Street

Google's self-driving car ~ which comes without a steering wheel or pedals (as in, they can't possibly do a worse job than humans!) ~ is set to be out on the streets soon. What's it like to ride in one? What are the chances everyone will want one? Can they coexist with the more traditional methods of transportation? One lucky soul who got a ticket to ride shares insights and lessons learned (thanks, Brooke!):

Capote's Christmas

Here's a very special holiday treat, a lovely excerpt courtesy of

In today's encore excerpt -- from A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.  Seven-year-old Truman Capote, abandoned by his divorced parents, is taken in by depression-poor cousins in the rural South. One of these cousins, a distant, elderly cousin, becomes his closest friend and only refuge -- but she is only in his life for two more short years. As Christmas approaches, they make fruitcakes as presents for people they barely know:

"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming-of-winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

Young Truman Capote Sook, 1930's
"A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable -- not unlike Lin­coln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. 'Oh my,' she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, 'it's fruitcake weather!'
"The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very dis­tant ones, and we have lived together -- well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, rela­tives; and though they have power over us, and fre­quently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was for­merly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child. ...

"The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweet­ens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one

Feed a Cold, Starve a Cold?

As it's getting to be that cold-and-flu time of the year again, this information may come in handy, courtesy of our friends at

People should not really feed a cold and starve a fever. Research has indicated that eating is helpful in both cases. The origins of the myth are thought to date back to 1574, when a dictionary entry by lexicographer John Withals stated that not eating would help cool down a high temperature because the act of eating generates heat. Researchers now believe eating is helpful for the body to lower a fever because the increase in body temperature is a response of the immune system to fight illness, which in turn makes the body require more energy.

More about the cold and fever:
  • Sleeping eight hours a night makes a person three times less likely to catch a cold, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study.

  • Chicken soup has been touted as a cure for cold and fever; however, it is actually the calories and liquid the meal contains that are thought to help

The Day NORAD Found Santa

If you think the fact that the North American Aerospace Defense Command has a Santa tracker is kind of charming, wait till you read the story of how it all started. Spoiler Alert: It has to do with a typo, a Sears Roebuck ad, and a straight-laced military guy with a big heart (story, link to audio version):

Don't Know Who

"We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when ... " So, who were all those people singing along with Stephen Colbert for his show's grand finale? (video):
   The song "We'll Meet Again," btw, is from 1939, the first year of World War II. It was sung by Dame Vera Lynn (video):

A World Beyond Walls

screen shot
"At this border, each person has a problem," says one of the women highlighted in a short documentary about the Spain/Morocco border at Ceuta. "No one comes because they like it." Her story and others are part of an interactive website called Connected Walls, which attempts to build understanding and connections between people worldwide despite the 41 walls that currently divide countries (website):
screen shot

Bright Makes Right

one year at the Richards house                                                                              AP/Alan Porritt
There's no accounting for taste and there's no limit to humans' competitive excesses. That said, agreed on, and out of the way, we can now sit back and enjoy this story about a modern-age, holiday-themed Hatfield-vs.-McCoy-type rivalry between the Richards family of Canberra, Australia, and the Gay family of LaGrangeville, New York. Never again will you complain about the bother of stripping your tree of its lights after the holidays! (story, video):

365,000 Words

screen shot
Approximately once a month, gives its "Your Shot community" a new assignment. Some of the more recent were The Story of Hunger and Hope (, First Light, and The Walk. Those who care to, then upload one or more pictures in response. From among these and others, a Photo of the Day is selected, and at year's end (i.e., now), all these are collected into a kind of visual retrospective (video):

It's the 'ou' Thing

from Open Library
Accents, colloquialisms, and certain rules of punctuation aside (well, OK, and the use of certain words, like "lorry" vs. "truck"), we do speak more or less the same language as our brethren across the Atlantic. Why, then, the differences in spelling? Their "ou"s where we have just "o"s, for example, or the "s"s where we have "z"s? Apparently, we have Noah Webster to blame (or thank) for much of it. And speaking of blame, you won't believe how old Teddy Roosevelt wanted to change our orthography. (Of course, there's nothing quite like a typo in an article about spelling or grammar, especially when there's one in the very last line!):

Just Because: 'Try To Praise the Mutilated World'

Zagajewski                                                                                       Michał Sosna
Just when I was starting to think I should post another poem, a dear friend noted this one. It is, I think, as profoundly perfect for today as it was when the New Yorker ran it after 9/11, though it was not written for that time. In explaining how the poem came about, the poet, Adam Zagajewski, said that it "reflects a philosophical conviction more than an event."

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together

Tide Is High, Moving On

Chris Carlsson
Alcatraz, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area but once a federal penitentiary, was nicknamed The Rock. (Its name actually comes from La Isla de los Alcatraces, or The Island of the Pelicans, the name given to the island by Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala.) It was also called inescapable, due in large part to its location in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, but that doesn't mean there weren't attempts. One of the more ingenious involved three prisoners who made a raft of raincoats, not unlike that used by Papillon in the film of the same name. It was generally believed that the escapees could not have survived, but a new scientific study indicates that, if the currents were just right, it is possible that they could have made it to the mainland (story, videos):
   The audio tour of Alcatraz is fantastic, btw. If you want to learn more about the island's history and the prison's more famous, or infamous, inmates but can't take the tour, check out this site (story, videos):

The Word Culture

HikingArtist, via Wikipedia
It's getting close to the end of the year, and that always brings on the summing-up, the afterthoughts, the retrospectives, and the whatevers-of-the-year. Accordingly, Merriam-Webster has named its word of the year, and oddly enough, because we seem to be suffering from a peculiar lack of it these days (OK, IMHO), it's culture. Which begs the question, how is the word of the year chosen?:

Going Oil the Way for Hanukkah

Very simply put, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil keeping a lamp burning longer than it ordinarily would have. So, the foods served during this time tend mostly to be fried in oil ~ latkes, for example, which are immensely popular in the States (and for good reason!). In Israel and elsewhere, though, the big treat of the holiday is the jelly donut, or sufganiyah (plural: sufganiyot) (story, recipe):

Nothing Even-Handed About It

At an editorial meeting of the Lifestyle department many moons ago, when I worked at a certain newspaper (no, not that one!), I noticed that the clear majority of us was left-handed. It was quite a rush ~ and also a curiously unique experience. I've never before or since been in the majority in that way. I've posted about left-handedness before ( Maybe I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it, because it's not easy being left-handed in a right-handed world. But I'm not complaining. I mean, on the scale of everything, it's a minor inconvenience. But I've always wondered why we left-handers make up such an overwhelming minority. The answer is that no one knows, but there are some intriguing theories:

Off the Streets

“Fur is a very sensual and luxurious product that has been shamed and shameful for a very very long time,” says Petite Mort founder Pamela Paquin. And what she's doing about it is rather shockingly genius. For as many animals that are raised and killed for their fur, there are many more killed on our roads every day. So Paquin creates fur fashion using road kill. And now that she's better known, she gets donations from everyone from hunters to highway patrol officers. Sustainability, anyone?:

Rewarding a Good Second Act

Nominations are being taken for the Purpose Prize, an award given to "people over 60 who are combining their passion and experience for social good." This is the ninth year of the Purpose Prize. Last year, $300,000 was awarded to six recipients. The nominating period is open through Jan. 15:

The Maltese Feline

If you're a cat lover who's also into detective fiction and comic books, you may have just found nirvana. Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido live in Spain, but their graphic-novel series, Blacksad, is set in 1950s America. Its characters are anthropomorphized animals, and its protagonist is a very cool black cat. “It was a narrative experiment to mix a noir story, which is very modern, and the fable which is as old as human oral tradition,” Guarnido explains:

License To Kill

Death Penalty Information Center
In the wake of the Senate Torture Report, I found my attention caught by this tidbit from

China is the country that executes the most people—approximately 3,000 out of the total 3,682 executions worldwide were performed in China, according to 2012 statistics. Only 21 countries, or approximately 10% of the countries in the world, utilize capital punishment. The United States is the only country in the Americas to have performed executions in 2012. It is also the only Western country in the top five countries with the highest execution rates, after China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. However, capital punishment is legal in only 32 states, and execution rates vary significantly

The World's Winter Wonders

Rockies Rail Winter Wonderland
OK, OK, so you pretty much have to be in the 1 percent to enjoy any of these places/events in person, but you can still learn about them for free. The Fun Facts at the bottom of each description are worth scrolling down to (slideshow):

Tiki Chic-y

pupus!                                                                                     Tom Passavant
Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic's, mai tais, South Pacific and "Bali Ha'i," the Kon-Tiki expedition, lava rock ~ not to mention Hawaiian statehood in 1959. In the 1940s, Americans began their love affair with all things Polynesia, and that included, of course, the tiki. Could that have been the origin of kitsch? "Only in America could something like this spring up," says Sven Kirsten, author of Tiki Pop (video):
   I'd forgotten how beautiful "Bali Ha'i" is. Originally sung on stage by Juanita Hall, in the movie version, she's lip-synching to the voice of Muriel Smith (video):

A Switch in Time

Anything's possible, right? So let's try to wrap our heads around this one: Research by a British scientist and his international team suggests the strong possibility that the Big Bang created two universes ~ ours and one where time runs backwards. Of course, residents of that universe would say that ours is the one in which time runs backwards ... (story, video):

The Return of Rick Perry?

Outgoing Texas governor Rick Perry may best be remembered by most of us for his formidable and embarrassing "Oops" moment during the 2011 presidential debates. In the state he has led for 14 years, he will be remembered for either attracting business and ushering in prosperity or merely being in the right place at the right time. The man himself, of course, contends it's the former and seems to be readying himself to announce that what he did for the state, he can do for the country: and
   Not to dwell on this, because who hasn't had a regrettable public-speaking experience or two ~ and, to be fair, he apparently was dealing with back pain ~ but for anyone who might not be familiar with the above-mentioned event ... (video):

The Sleep of the Damned

I've posted a lot about the importance of sleep over the years (,,, ...), maybe mostly because I've seen first-hand the alarming effects of the lack or paucity of it. Admission: At one point in my life, when the rigors of my job disturbed and disrupted my sleep, I actually nodded off at stop lights. I took to sucking on coffee candies ~ one after another ~ and turning up the air conditioning just to stay awake as I drove to and from work. And my memory, both short- and long-term, was definitely affected. I thought that particular issue was age-related but realized with a start during a vacation when I was able to sleep well, that it wasn't, that it was, in fact, due to my pathetic sleep schedule. A recent National Geographic documentary (thank you, Mary!) summarizes the latest findings on this issue, and they are disturbing (story, video):

Perfecting the Movies

Fan LastSurvivor gave Skyfall "a bit of a nip and tuck."
Oh, what can't we do, now that we have computers? Can't leave a movie or series alone, apparently. Like Interstellar but not so much Matthew McConaughey? Minimize his part. Like him more than the movie? Throw in some footage of him philosophizing in whatever car it is he's shilling (is that too harsh a word?) for. The point is, all it takes is "some simple editing software," as one fan editor explains, and you could create a Mockingjay in Madagascar:
   ... and then there are the titles. There's no telling what the translators will turn them into once they hit foreign shores:

The Good Life

River Monnow at Clodock                                                           © Martin Wall
Writer Simon Worrall returned home to England and found a piece of heaven in a small village called Clodock. "We have things you can't find in cities," he writes. "Silence. Space. The beauty of nature. Light. Real darkness (this part of England has one of the lowest light pollution readings in the country). Weather that's constantly changing, and more rainbows than I've seen anywhere else in the world." He thought he had it all, and then the town 10 miles away, which has the most bookshops per person in the world, became home to the world's biggest literary festival. Now he has it all:

Brain Matters

A preliminary MRI-based study of the brains of individuals with Type I and Type II bipolar disorder has found physical differences in the volume of gray and white matter and of cerebrospinal fluid. These findings seem to be consistent with earlier studies showing a link between brain volume and depression:

The Untouchables?

Carl Ballou
Recently (and in case you've been living in a cave), grand juries found that there was not enough evidence to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. "Everyone knows policing is violent, and [jurors] don't want to second guess those decisions," explains former police officer Philip Stinson, who is now a researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. So just what does it take, and have officers ever been prosecuted and found guilty of manslaughter or murder while on duty? (story, video):
   Data analysis by The Wall Street Journal has found that it's all but impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police every year (story, video):
   There's a lot of talk about body cameras for police now, and there's little doubt that, soon, all officers will be wearing them. Whatever controversy there is about them echoes the concerns that swirled around the introduction of police car cams. Some predictions on the present and future of body cams, based on the history of car cams:

Accio Hogwarts!

Czocha College                                                                              screen shot
Muggles, take note: The Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry will soon be accepting applications for its second session. The brainchild of a group of devoted Potterites, the "school" will be held in the 800-year-old Czocha Castle in southwestern Poland and prepares students, who, ostensibly have passed their N.E.W.T.s, to get their Senior Protective Enchanter's Lifelong License (or S.P.E.L.L.) (story, video):

Proud Mary Keeps On Burnin'

the final Senate debate         Brianna Paciorka, Times-Picayune
In Louisiana on Saturday, it's Democrat Mary Landrieu vs. Republican Bill Cassidy in the last midterm election battle, and it's not much of a battle. Landrieu's fighting up to the wire to retain her senatorial seat, but even she probably knows it's a done deal. Part of the problem, of course, is the message. What's hers? Like so many Democrats this year, Landrieu has bent over backwards to show her ties to conservative ideals and to distance herself from the president. She's pro-Keystone XL, pro-fracking, and tries to strike a difficult middle ground on other issues ~ and all Bill Cassidy has had to do is sit back and watch her burn:

Finding Talent ~ and Mystery

from Maloof Collection Ltd.
A couple of years ago, I posted a link to a story about a woman named Vivian Maier (1926-2009) ( It's a totally intriguing and fascinating tale about how, in 2007, a young man bid on a box of old negatives, discovered the very talented young woman to whom they belonged, and set out to preserve her work and learn who she was. There are actually two stories here: that of the young man, John Maloof's, tireless search and work cataloging the thousands of photographs and that of Vivian Maier, a very singular French-American nanny who took amazing photographs but kept them to herself and whom most of her acquaintances described simply as "eccentric." Maloof has a wonderful and very detailed website explaining it all and exhibiting her work:
   Maloof's documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, tells the story well. We follow him from the auction house and step by step as he uncovers one clue after another, interviewing those who knew her (or thought they did), to try to find out exactly who she was, while at the same time going through her massive collection of negatives and mementos (video):

Jaggery ~ Nothing To Do With Mick

roadside jaggery factory, Banur village, Punjab, India        Reuters/Ajay Verma
O frabjous day! Something sweet that's also (kind of) healthy? Apparently, there is such a thing, and it's been popular in South and Southeast Asia for ages. Jaggery, aka gur, is a kind of unrefined sugar made from either sugar cane or the sap of date, coconut, toddy, or sago palms. Because it's unrefined (beyond the initial boiling), it keeps many of its natural nutrients:

"Park!" the Herald Angels Sing

winter in Yosemite
Who says you have to stay home for the holidays? Or spend a mint to travel abroad? You remember our national parks. You probably visited one or two last summer, or know someone who did. Many are open this season, all dressed up and offering special holiday programs, and you don't have to know how to ski or snowboard or snowshoe to enjoy them (slideshow):
   In case you need any prodding, check out these stunning pictures of our wilds in winter:

A Few Good Books 2014

Amazing dangling modifiers (i.e., "Plain, taciturn, and deeply religious, the war uncovered ...") aside, one can always learn about interesting reading material at

Here they are -- our favorite books for 2014. As always, it's books we read this year -- not necessarily books that were published this year. They are listed below -- but not in any order of preference. Click the title to read an excerpt:

Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne

A touching and unexpected portrait of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, one the most revered generals of the American Civil War. Prior to the war, he led a life that was without distinction but was nevertheless filled with tragedy and heartbreak. Plain, taciturn, and deeply religious, the war uncovered in Jackson a gift for leadership laced with unmatched fearlessness and daring.

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson
Author: S. C. Gwynne
Publisher: Scribner

Young Josef Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

 Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet Union seemed the epitome of somber dullness, but this book portrays the early life of Josef Stalin as filled with danger, deprivation, promiscuity and adventure, and helps the reader understand the extremes and hardships at the turn of the 20th century that led to the successful rise to communism.

Young Stalin
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Publisher: Vintage

Helen DeWitt ~ 'Nuff Said

I'm beyond ecstatic! Also, I can't believe I didn't know about this! (How embarrassing!) Helen DeWitt, the absolute genius author of one of my all-time favorite novels, The Last Samurai (, has resurfaced. Well, she actually resurfaced three years ago, which is the part that ... anywayyy, the point is, as sometimes happens, I almost didn't look at this story, but for some reason, I did, and now I know about her second novel. And, as I would have hoped and expected, it's completely different and completely wonderful, at least according to this reviewer, who calls it "one of the most singular books I've ever read." Maybe he never read The Last Samurai ... :

Snow Lines

Sonja Hinrichsen
Twirls and swirls bloomed in the snow. Over three days last February, artist Sonja Hinrichsen and a group of volunteers walked out onto a frozen lake in Colorado in their snowshoes and transformed its snowy surface into a temporary work of art. Her hope, Hinrichsen explains, is that her work "changes our perception of the landscape and accentuates the beauty and magic of the natural environment, and thus inspires awe and appreciation for art as well as for nature. I deem this important—especially as modern society becomes increasingly disconnected from the natural world" (a little bit of story, a lot of pix):
   From the pens (or laptops) of Sir Edmund Hillary, Andy Goldsworthy, Candace Bushnell, and more, well-chosen words of praise for snow:


Babylonian clay tablet map, 6th Century BCE
The oldest known world map is 2,500 years old. It was found near modern-day Baghdad and, not surprisingly, places Babylon at its center. Today, most Google Earth users look up their home addresses first. It just makes sense that, though we all know now that it doesn't, we still somehow feel that the Earth revolves around us. Which begs the first question: How objective are maps? Certainly more so now, especially with modern technology, but subjective irregularities remain. Some areas, for example, are less well mapped than others. And even with that modern technology, how up-to-date are our maps? "The very moment you build a perfect map of the world is the moment it goes out of date," says Google Maps' Manik Gupta. The natural process, like changing coastlines and erosion, and human activity, like artificial islands and leveled mountains, mean that our maps can never be 100 percent accurate:

Black Tie in the Sky

Etihad Airways' first-class suites                                                                 AFP
Sure, most U.S. airlines and the cheap-o puddle jumpers in Europe have cut back amenities to the point where you might have to buy bathroom tokens soon, but that kind of (mis)treatment may not fly much longer. Competition from mainly Middle Eastern and Asian carriers catering to their demanding and growing first-class clientele may force everyone to kick it back up a notch ~ in every class:
   If you want a peek at how 1 percent of the 1 percent will be traveling starting Dec. 27, check out Etihad Airways, which is introducing a class above first, called Residence (that's a clue):

Something New Under the Sun

the carniverous Chondrocladia lyra, discovered in 2013                 2013 MBARI
We hear a lot about how species are dying out. According to the World Wildlife Fund, although exact numbers are impossible to come by, scientists can say with certainty that the species loss we're experiencing now is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, or the rate at which species would die out if humans were not present ( That's a huge range, but even the lower number is significant. At the other end of the spectrum, we are finding new species all the time ~ 15,000-20,000 per year, in fact: and

The Ferguson Documents

As difficult as it is for many of us to understand a grand jury's decision in the case of the shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, imagine being on that jury. They heard 70 hours of testimony, much of it contradictory, from about 60 witnesses. They read thousands of pages of documents. In a rare move, these documents have been made public, and links to many of them are posted here:

There's Hope!

My mom once told me that her mom had told her that men tend to get much nicer in old age. Yes, she said "men." Women, apparently, at least as she viewed them, didn't change as much. (I put this distinction down to the era. Men's and women's daily lives have become much more similar over the decades, as women have gone to work outside the home and therefore face more of the same frustrations, needs, and encumbrances.) A friend's mother-in-law told her that her, the mother-in-law's, husband, who had been an infamous rager, mellowed a lot with age. Well, as is so often the case, science is now confirming first-person observation. Emotional well-being makes a U-turn in later life. “Goals, because they’re set in temporal context, change systematically with age,” Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen explains. “As people perceive the future as increasingly constrained, they set goals that are more realistic and easy to pursue” ~ which leads to emotional stability and satisfaction. (And guess what? This pattern is one more thing we humans have in common with apes):

Just Because: 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'

The rest of this book's title, by the last four words of which it's more frequently known, is A Report on the Banality of Evil. A couple of days ago, I watched the movie Hannah Arendt, which had been recommended to me by two sources whose taste in these things I consider to be impeccable (my son and a close friend of his). While I had heard of the movie, I didn't know much about its subject, the German-born Jewish philosopher who is the author of this book. It's a very, very good movie that follows Arendt from her home in the United States to Israel in 1961 to witness the trial of Nazi SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann, her writing of the New Yorker columns that became this book, and her subsequent ostracism by, for the most part, the kind of people who (my interpretation) prefer feeling momentary and false emotional superiority in the heat of a moment to considering a truth that is profound and unsettling but somewhat less sensational and, in that, less gratifying to them.

I: The House of Justice

"Beth Hamishpath"—the House of Justice: these words shouted by the court usher at the top of his voice make us jump to our feet as they announce the arrival of the three judges, who, bare-headed, in black robes, walk into the courtroom from a side entrance to take their seats on the highest tier of the raised platform. Their long table, soon to be covered with innumerable books and more than fifteen hundred documents, is flanked at each end by the court stenographers. Directly below the judges are the translators, whose services are needed for the direct exchanges between the defendant or his counsel and the court; otherwise, the German-speaking accused party, like almost everyone else in the audience, follows the Hebrew proceedings through the simultaneous radio transmission, which is excellent in French, bearable in English, and sheer comedy, frequently incomprehensible, in German. (In view of the scrupulous