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Elections 101

Sure, we should remember all this from Civics class. Being the responsible citizens we are, we should know what the electoral college is and how it works. We should know the important dates between now and November 8. And who delegates are and how one gets to be one. But, mostly, we don't. Lucky for us, the BBC has put together a primer that addresses all those issues (story, video):
   And the New York Times has an interactive chart of who's running for president (and who was but dropped out):

A World Without Mosquitoes

while we know Aedes Aegypti has been spreading Zika, Culex might also be doing so:
Mosquitoes kill more people than people do, which is a lot (humans murder about 475,000 people each year, while mosquitoes' count is closer to a million: And with the rapid spread of the Zika virus, they're back in the news. A recent story about mosquitoes being genetically modified to produce offspring that die before they can reproduce had me thinking about a world without these little suckers. Of course, there are many species of mosquito, and only 6 percent of those bother humans. Of those, only half ~ or 100 species ~ can spread disease. So what would happen if we managed to get rid of them? Would there be unforeseen negative repercussions? And what are the moral implications of our choosing which species should live and which should die out? While that's debated, scientists are coming up with some pretty ingenious solutions. ... Wonder what happened to the Kite Patch ( :
   The name "mosquito," btw, comes from Spanish and means "little fly." "Fly," in Spanish, is "mosca," and "ito" or "ita" tacked to the end of a word makes it a diminutive. Cute name for such an annoying insect.
   We know that mosquitoes breed in standing water. So what about rain barrels? How do we keep them from becoming mosquito nurseries without having to resort to toxic chemicals? It seems that the easiest way is to cover the opening with a fine-screen, rust-resistant mesh:

She Speaks

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Showtime
So now, apparently, it's time for the current Mrs. Trump (née Melania Knauss) to take the stage (but not the spotlight, as she is quick to make clear). As she herself concedes, "people are very curious about me." An interesting side note is that if her husband does become president, the onetime model from Slovenia will be only the second first lady to have been born outside of the United States. There have been a few interviews with her of late, and she says pretty much the same thing in all of them, which is, basically, that she won't talk politics in public ("because that is my husband's job") but does so in private; she is her own person ("and I think my husband likes that about me"); their son, Barron, is her primary focus ("those hours with your child are really important ones, even if it's just the two of you, being quiet in the car together"); and Donald will be "an amazing" president ("he believes in America"):

Welcome Back

I couldn't let January come to its end without sharing a discovery with those of you who haven't gotten your 2016 calendars yet ~ and with those of you who may be making do with the one that accompanied a request for donations to Charity X. After all, we still have 11 months to go. That's 334 days. Enter the Calendhair, testament to man's (yes, in this case, man's) ingenuity, creativity, and impressive complacency. It is, quite simply, a collection of 12 photos of one very hirsute fellow's back hair shaved into month-appropriate works of art. And, apparently, 10 percent of the proceeds go to a charity that helps youth in Kenya and refugee youth in Idaho through education. Talk about making the best of a hairy situation! (website):

Heroes' Story

In much the same way that climbing Everest was once a more harrowing and difficult experience than it is now (if that can be imagined), time was when song recording was comparatively primitive and basic. Both required ingenuity and a lot of DIY with antediluvian equipment, which was at once challenging and gratifying. The same will probably be said of today's work in a few decades. But back to then and, in this particular case, David Bowie's "Heroes," recorded in the analog days of 1977. Tony Visconti, who produced it along with Bowie (and plays "the pipe"), breaks it down, track by track, forever and ever (story, videos, worthwhile links):

When Will They Ever Learn?

Michael Emsugut, left, and Frances Rivera excavate one of the skeletons                                 AAP
The haunting folk song Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, by Pete Seeger, drifted into my head as I read this story about the discovery of the oldest known act of warfare. It took place between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago, near Lake Turkana in what is now Kenya. The area was lush and abounded with animals and other resources, and it seems from the evidence that the group of 12 hunter-gatherers whose skeletons were found there had been attacked by an outside group, probably in a premeditated bid for those resources. The findings “support the notion that serious intergroup conflict might be as ancient as group identity itself,” says University of Mainz biological anthropologist Christian Meyer:
   Seeger explains that the inspiration for Where Have All the Flowers Gone? came from three lines in the four-volume novel And Quiet Flows the Don, by Mikhail Sholokhov (which you can read here: Seeger had copied them into his notebook, and later, on a plane, he saw them and another line he had written at a different

Prime Time

Marin Mersenne, he of the primes
Wow. First, the real ninth planet (we think) and now the largest prime number (so far). This is a time of discoveries. Not that it has any practical value beyond being a good conversation-starter (or -stopper), but this new prime number, which, in addition to being a prime is a Mersenne prime (see how I'm writing as if I had any clue what this all means?), has 22,338,618 digits, so it is referred to by the much less complicated handle M74207281 (really). It was discovered by the very determined Dr. Curtis Cooper of the University of Central Missouri, who also discovered the last largest prime, a couple of years ago (story, video):
   This Père (Father) Mersenne (1588-1648), a French mathematician and philosopher, was quite the fascinating individual, as it turns out:

Donald the First

Donald Grey Triplett                                                                          John Donvan & Caren Zucker
Donald Grey Triplett is a healthy 82 years old. He lives in the house in which he grew up, in a small town in Mississippi where everyone knows him, likes him, and looks out for him. He drives a Cadillac and golfs every day. He loves to travel and has done so extensively both in the United States and abroad. He was also the first child diagnosed with autism. How did a boy whom one doctor said suffered from "some glandular disease" and another said was "overstimulated," whose father described him as “perfectly oblivious to everything about him” graduate from college and create a comfortable life for himself? Apparently, most of the credit belongs to Donald's mother, who brought him home from the institution to which he, like most anomalous children in those days, had been sent at age 3 and who never gave up on him ~ and to Donald himself. Interestingly, the person to correctly diagnose Donald was a Baltimore psychiatrist named Dr. Leo Kanner, who was working with a George Frankl, who before the Nazi invasion of his native Austria had been the chief diagnostician for Dr. Hans Asperger. According to a recent book, Asperger's attitude toward autism was much closer to the one currently held than was Kanner's ( Donald's life story, in fact, would not have surprised Dr. Asperger in the least: and (an earlier, more detailed piece)

Six Degrees at Davos

Davos-Klosters                                                           Andy Mettler, World Economic Forum/Flickr
The World Economic Forum, whose motto is "Committed To Improving the State of the World," is holding its 45th annual meeting January 20-23, in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. "The Forum," according to its website, "engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas." This year's theme is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which the Forum describes as the technological revolution, following, as it is, the first, being of water and steam; the second, electric power; and the third, electronics and information technology. It is, basically, about the connections that technology is affording us, and how they will affect business, government, and our everyday lives. But while the participants may be talking about connections, they are also living them, as this chart shows. The Forum is, as one might expect, a meeting of the well-connected. There's Kevin Spacey's political connection with John Kerry, Bill Gates's business one with Oprah Winfrey, and Charlize Theron's philanthropic one with Ban Ki-Moon and Angela Merkel, just for starters:
   You can check out the Forum's daily agenda and read or watch excerpts from the talks here:

A Child in the Middle East

This story about Riad Sattouf's graphic memoir, The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984, begins with the perfect quote: "When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished." It's by Polish poet and writer Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004; about whom, btw, the gleefully controversial Christopher Hitchens wrote a great memorial years ago: But more than Sattouf's family seems to be on stage here. By writing from the guileless point of view of a child, then teen as he moves with his parents through France, Libya, France again, Syria, France again, he is able to spotlight the dangerous absurdities of politics and the adult world. Small wonder that this child, this teen became the sole Arab contributor to Charlie Hebdo:

Who Is John Dee?

Basically, the complex and fascinating Dr. John Dee (1527-1608) was and will probably ever remain an enigma, and a recent finding only adds to his mystique. By all accounts a true prescient genius and having had a quality education, which in those days included study of the occult, Dee was looked on as one of the most erudite men in Europe. He was a very popular speaker and compiled the largest library in England, with 2,670 manuscripts (some sources say as many as 4,000). He became Queen Elizabeth I's court astrologer, adviser, and confidant. (As an aside, he played a major role in ~ among other moves of consequence ~ the formation of the British intelligence service and, in fact, signed his letters to the queen "007.") Still, he accumulated many enemies, both political and religious, and many of his contemporaries looked on him as little more than a sorcerer and demonologist. Perhaps that's why it should come as no surprise that an X-ray of a late-19th-century painting of John Dee Performing an Experiment Before Elizabeth I reveals that, before the artist painted them over, Dee is standing in the middle of a circle of human skulls: and

Just Because: 'Death of a Gossip'

Call this another public service post. I came upon this profile of the prolific author MC Beaton (aka Marion Chesney) while I was looking up the chronology of her series on the Scottish Highlands constable Hamish Macbeth. It occurred to me that I can't be the only person attracted to charming, clever, benign (i.e., not gruesome) murder mysteries with a sense of humor, and Beaton's Macbeth and Agatha Raisin series certainly fall into that category. An added attraction is getting to know a different kind of life and the kind of people who live it. When I say Beaton is prolific, I mean that she's written more than 50 books in those two series. Then there's her romances (around 100) and an Edwardian mystery series:
   So for your reading pleasure, the beginning of the first Hamish Macbeth story of the series. (Oh, and the name of the town in question, Lochdubh, is pronounced Lochdoo.) You're welcome.

 Day One
Angling: incessant expectation, and perpetual disappointment.
—Arthur Young

"I hate the start of the week," said John Cartwright fretfully. "Beginning with a new group. It's rather like going on stage. Then I always feel I have to apologise for being English. People who travel up here to the wilds of Scotland expect to be instructed by some great hairy Rob Roy, making jokes about saxpence and saying it's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht and lang may your lum reek and ghastly things like that."
   "Don't chatter," said his wife, Heather, placidly. "It always works out all right. We've been running this fishing school for three years and haven't had a dissatisfied customer yet."
   She looked at her husband with affection. John Cartwright was small, thin, wiry, and nervous. He had sandy, wispy hair and rather prominent pale blue eyes. Heather had been one of his first pupils at the Lochdubh School of Casting: Salmon and Trout Fishing.
   He had been seduced by the sight of her deft back cast and had only got around to discovering the other pleasures of her anatomy after they were married.
   Heather was believed to be the better angler, although she tactfully hid her greater skill behind a pleasant motherly manner. Despite their vastly different temperaments, both Heather and John were

Sunrise, Sunset

sunset over the Pacific, Kauai, Hawaii                                                                                      KW
Being a night owl, I would not have noticed this. Being a morning person, my spouse did. And was awake enough to think about it. What he noticed was that, over the past few days, the sun rose at the same time every morning. But our days are supposed to be getting longer. So he checked the sunset times, and sure enough, they got later every evening. So the question is this: Shouldn't the days lengthen equally at both ends? Turns out that, no, they shouldn't and they don't and the reason is complex. It's one of those convoluted explanations that I get as long as I'm looking at it sideways but that disintegrates in my brain the minute I try to understand it head-on. Basically, it has to do with solar time vs. clock time and the Earth's tilt and perihelion (note that this article was written in 2013, so the dates given probably no longer apply, but the rest of the information, of course, does):

On the Offensive

the Rijksmuseum                                                                                                                    AFP
Where is the line? Is there a line? “Some people are angry with us,” says Martine Gosselink, head of the history department of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. “They say 'Why this change, the Rijksmuseum is trying to be so politically correct.' But in the Netherlands alone, there are a million people deriving from colonial roots, from Suriname, from the Antilles, from Indonesia, and so on that basis alone it’s important to change this." What she's talking about is a project she initiated, called "Adjustment of Colonial Terminology," in which the museum is taking what could be considered offensive language out of the titles and descriptions of its artworks. It is focusing mainly on the museum's online catalog. Words like "Negro," "Mohammedan," "Indian," and "dwarf" are being replaced or removed altogether. A circa 1900 painting originally titled Young Negro-Girl, for example, now bears the title Young Girl Holding a Fan. Most have already been renamed, but other changes are still being debated ~ as is the project itself:

Stressing the Difference

As if PMS, cramps, childbirth, and menopause aren't enough, research is finding that stress tends to have a longer-term effect on females than on males. Apparently, our immediate responses are similar, but it's when the cause of the stress lingers that our reactions diverge. Tests on male and female rodents (and, yes, I hate to think about that) show that, under stress, everyone's brain releases a neuropeptide that signals the body to respond to the perceived danger. But after longer periods of stress, females have more neuropeptide receptors on the surface of their nerve cells, or neurons, than males, in whom the neuropeptide moves from the membrane to the interior of the cells. Where the female is in her hormone cycle also plays a role:


Sanger, left, and Wales             
Here's something that'll make most of us feel old: It was 15 years ago on January 15 that Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger founded a little online resource called Wikipedia. Maybe you've heard of it. The bane of teachers everywhere (cut & paste, anyone?) and the delight of factophiles the world over, Wikipedia is available in 280 languages and now contains about 35 million articles. From Waluigi to the Saturn V lightning near-disaster and the Euler diagram, Wales and Sanger's brainchild continues to increase in both size and reputation, enduring growing pains and celebrating triumphs along the way: and
    The very thing that makes Wikipedia Wikipedia ~ the crowdsourcing ~ is both its weakness and its strength. As he has been wont to do, Stephen Colbert spotlighted that issue when he said, in a 2006 episode of The Colbert Report, "“Who is Britannica to tell me that George Washington had slaves? If I want to say he didn’t, that’s my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it’s also a fact." Then he invited his audience to prove his point by inserting misinformation into an article on elephants. Jimmy Wales responded by saying that Wikipedia would be changing its emphasis from quantity to quality, a shift that has had its positive and negative consequences:
   This story of the founding of Wikipedia begins with an intriguing question. "You hire a guy to come up with a project idea. He comes up with an idea. Your resources make the project happen. Who founded the project?":

These Little Lights of His

Pendant Lamp III ~ Fractal Starfish                                                                                                                                                                         Calabarte
Table Lamp XXIII ~ Raya                                                                   Calabarte
Polish engineer-turned-artist Przemek Krawczyński (pronounced PSHEMek KravCHIYski) makes breathtakingly beautiful shadows. They emerge, along with the light that delineates them, to magically decorate walls, ceilings, furniture, and anything or anyone else lucky enough to be in their way. Like temporary tattoos, they appear as swirls, circles, and geometric shapes, some forming recognizable entities, like butterflies, leaves, and flowers. The sources of these marvels are equally gorgeous. They are dried calabash gourds that Krawczyński has etched and sculpted by hand into functional works of art (story, slideshow):

The Stats of the Union

George Washington delivering the first State of the Union speech                     PoodlesRock/Corbis
January 12's was our nation's 224th State of the Union address. How have these presidential speeches changed since the first one in 1790? An analysis, presented here in interactive graphs, gives an interesting overview of the history of the United States ~ of our concerns and priorities over the decades. What does it say, for example, that while the words "freedom," "God," and "Americans" were rarely used in the early years, they experienced a huge, sustained jump in popularity at about the time of FDR?:
   An accompanying interactive map highlights those places that were mentioned most frequently in State of the Union speeches. Africa, China, the Middle East ~ the timing of our focus (or lack thereof) on these areas and more, including specific regions of the United States, is interesting but rarely surprising:

Mane Attraction

Raise your hand if you've heard of the Sutherland sisters. Anyone? Anyone? And yet, in their day (the late 1800s), they were rock stars. These seven young women sang for a living. But that, of course, wasn't all. Every act has to have its highlight, and the sisters would unfurl theirs at the end of each show: Between them, they boasted a full 36½ feet of hair. Like other, more contemporary singing siblings, the Sutherlands didn't have the most pleasant of upbringings. Nor did their personal lives improve much or their lifestyles become more conventional once their popular hair products (what else?) made them a small fortune:

Cake and Candles in the Park

It may be cold and damp outside, but you know what that means. It means it's time to start planning for summer, and this year, it's kind of special, because our National Park Service turns 100 on August 25. Of course, parks all over the country are planning special events and opportunities, from planting a centennial forest in Texas (actually, that's in the spring) to hosting an Epic Ride along New York's Brooklyn Greenway and Jamaica Bay Greenway bike paths. And as if that weren't enough, on August 25 and all that weekend, you can get into the national parks for free:

Looking Down on Public Places

Times Square                                                                                                       Jeffrey Milstein
Photographed from great height, our amazing parks and public places, both natural and human-made, look like colorful toys arranged on a bedroom floor or the intricate inner workings of some complicated machine. Some are easily recognizable; others, like a picture of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, require a little more effort. All appear first as abstracts before the brain connects their individual shapes and colors into a more tellurian whole. They are from the series Parks and Recreation by Jeffrey Milstein (pictures):

Grazing in the Grass

protesting a road closure in an area with archaeological ruins, Utah              John M. Glionna/MCT
So there's this standoff going on in Oregon between a few ranchers and the feds, and for now at least, it seems to be a waiting game of sorts. It occurred to me that, while we're waiting, it might behoove those of us who are not ranchers to try to understand what's at the root of their discontent, because, as some might remember, this isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. It seems that most of the trouble began in 1976, with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which mandated that, in addition to farming and grazing, federal land be open to things like environmental conservation, recreation, and energy production. The federal government owns a surprising amount of land in this country ~ about 28 percent ~ much of it in the form of national reserves, wildlife refuges, and parks. By far the majority of that land is in the West. Oregon, for example, is 52.9 percent federally owned; in Nevada, that figure is 84.9 percent ( So do the ranchers feel hemmed-in? Well, they probably would if they couldn't graze their animals on federal land, but, Land Policy Act or not, they can. According to this article, "Livestock grazing is permitted on about 155 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land

Ignorance Is Someone Else's Bliss

Bill Watterson
In a January 6 interview, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum bypassed a question about how he would deal with North Korea's Kim Jong-un by comparing that dictator to the leaders of Iran so that he could criticize the Obama administration's backing of the recently signed nuclear deal. Iran, he insisted, is not abiding by the deal. Is that true? I decided to check. According to Politico, Iran did, as Santorum mentioned, test a ballistic missile, but ~ and this he did not say ~ that was not a violation of the nuclear deal. In fact, Politico reports, "Since the nuclear deal formally took effect on Oct. 18, so-called Adoption Day, Iran has removed thousands of centrifuges and begun reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium, State Department officials say" ( This is but one recent instance of a phenomenon being studied by Stanford University science historian Robert Proctor, who became interested in it when the tobacco industry's years-long misinformation campaign came to light in 1979. He and UC Berkeley linguist Iain Boal have named this area of study "agnotology." Its focus, Proctor says, is on "the deliberate creation of ignorance." What he's found, according to this article, is that "ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups—like a commercial firm or a political group—then work hard to create confusion about an issue" (think the Obama birther brouhaha, the climate change debate). The more ignorant the audience, then, the easier the deception and exploitation. Something to think about during this campaign season ~ and especially in this age of talking heads and instant access to anyone's "expert" website:

A Little WD-40 With That Taco?

That steaming cup of coffee on the screen will never look quite as appetizing now that I know it's probably actually watered-down soy sauce or cream and gravy browner. Food stylists know all the tricks when it comes to making food look as good as you want it to taste. Like using spray deodorant to make those glasses of soda look frosty or microwaved water-soaked tampons to keep the steam rising from a dish of pasta:

Tropic of California

Miller and unidentified opponent
There are people who go through their whole lives without ever meeting or even glimpsing a celebrity of any stripe ~ and probably not caring. There are people who end up being celebrities themselves ~ and possibly not caring. And then there are those people who live next door to a celebrity ~ and they have to care. They have to because all of a sudden, they find themselves answering the door to strangers who want to know what it's like. And if the neighbor is author Henry Miller and you're a kid, you and your friends use the backyard swing to get intermittent glimpses of the adults sunbathing naked on the other side of the fence (and you believe your mom when she tells you you wouldn't like his books because they're full of math):

'A Miracle of Beauty'

Wilson Bentley
Wilson Bentley
Whether you ski in it, snowboard in it, make snowmen with it, build shelters from it, or just watch it from the comfort of an armchair next to a nice, warm fire, there's no denying that snow is one of water's more spectacular forms. Way back before electron microscopes and mile-long zoom lenses, a Vermonter named Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) used a bellows camera and a microscope to take the first successful close-up of a snowflake. Pretty amazing for a self-educated farmer living in the late 1800s. "Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty," he said later, "and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others.” By the time of his death, he had photographed more than 5,000 of the little crystalline marvels (story, slideshow):

For Love of Coin and Country

There's that saying about nothing being new under the sun, and unfortunately, as the story of Senator Nelson Aldrich (1841-1915) shows, that seems to be true of the influence of money in politics as well. Of course, why would it not be? from

Today's selection—from America's Bank by Roger Lowenstein. Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island was the most powerful senator in America in the early 1900s. He was not wealthy, but wealthy businessmen who desired his legislative support artfully remedied that deficiency:

"Nelson W. Aldrich, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was arguably the most influential figure in Congress at the turn of the century. In this time of Republican hegemony, his word went practically unchallenged; so great was his authority that newspapers called him the 'general manager of the United States.' Strongly iden­tified with business interests, Aldrich resisted popular efforts to reg­ulate industry and railroads, or to protect labor. The decades since the Civil War had seen America transformed by the Industrial Revolu­tion, and, Aldrich viewed the task of government as essentially ensur­ing that American business would continue its upward course. In banking as in other fields, he reflexively defended the status quo. ...
   "To appreciate the extent to which Aldrich [held power], one has to realize how influential he was not only within the Senate but with Theodore Roosevelt. Although the two did not see eye to eye on popular issues such as trust-busting, labor reform, and railroads, Roosevelt valued Aldrich's intelligence and superior finan­cial sense. What's more, he had to deal with Aldrich's hold on the Finance Committee. As Roosevelt confessed to the crusading jour­nalist Lincoln Steffens, 'Aldrich is a great man to me; not person­ally but as the leader of the Senate. He is a king pin in my game. Sure I bow to Aldrich. . . . I'm just a president, and he has seen lots of presidents.' ...

The Shia and the Sunni

both graphics from the BBC
Once again, tensions between the two main Muslim sects, the Shia and the Sunni, have risen, this time over Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shia cleric. For those who may have forgotten the basics involved here, a brief review. The division apparently began after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, with the Sunni group ~ by far the majority of all Muslims ~ following a friend of the Prophet's, Abu Bakr, and seeing themselves as the traditionalist branch, and the Shia, as the followers of Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, and his descendants, practicing a more evolving exegesis of Islamic texts. Of the Middle Eastern countries, Iran has the largest Shia majority: and
   A book excerpt that is both educational and enlightening may go some way toward explaining the current situation in some Middle Eastern countries:
   The book reviewed here deals with the Iranian revolution:

The Princess Was a Pauper

the 2016 Royal Court; Donaly Marquez is at far right                     Pasadena Tournament of Roses®
Donaly Marquez is not your typical 17-year-old, and that's not just because she rode in this year's Rose Parade as a Royal Court princess. This particular princess was born to an abusive, drug-addicted mother and, as a little child barely old enough to take care of herself, looked after her younger siblings as they all moved from house to house, motel room to motel room. Obviously, not everyone with this kind of background is able to survive it, let alone thrive, and Donaly's story so far has as much to do with her spirit as it does with luck and the kindness and persistence of strangers:
   For those who might not recognize it, the title of this post comes from a short historical fiction by Mark Twain called The Prince and the Pauper, about two boys ~ Edward, Prince of Wales, and Tom Canty, a boy from a very poor family ~ who look exactly alike, and what happens when they meet by chance one day and exchange clothes. You can read it for free at

One Night Under the City

the station in Sintra, Portugal                                                                                                  KW
Who's awake enough at 3 a.m. to be riding the subway? Why would anyone need to be riding the subway at 3 a.m.? Several writers have taken it upon themselves to find out ~ in Barcelona ("Like the rest of Spain, Barcelona has a late-night culture. Even at 3am people are yet to arrive at their Saturday night destination."), Berlin ("The buzz of the ventilation system is audible, as is the hum of the escalator and the tinkle of money spilling from a ticket machine. These are sounds you don’t hear during the day."), Sydney ("Boarding the train at 3am at the Star, an all-night casino that looms large over Pyrmont, a young, tattooed couple are bickering; he has gambled away all their cash and she is hungry."), New York ("At 3am no one seems to know where they are going, and they’re not afraid to admit it: there’s a small-hours subway solidarity in the messy, weird, New York night."), and Copenhagen ("Getting on the train at Nørreport, I’m joined by a group of seven young women. One of them sits next to the sleeping man, takes a plastic bag out of her neon-green backpack and empties the contents—buckets of confetti—into his lap.") (story, GIFs, photos):

Just Because: 'Holidays'

As this particular holiday season comes to an end and we return to the business of everyday life (and not to be too Pollyannaish about this or anything, but ... ), it might do us well to remember, every once in a while, that we don't need a calendar to dictate our holidays. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) certainly believed that. One of the most-loved American poets of his age, Longfellow was one of the five so-called Fireside Poets (the others being William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier, and James Russell Lowell). Although he was tremendously popular both in the States and abroad, he also had his critics, who mostly decried what they felt was his imitative style and a certain lack of substance. Among his most famous poems are Paul Revere's Ride and The Song of Hiawatha. What may be less well-known is that he was the first American to translate Dante's Divine Comedy. from Poem-a-Day:

The holiest of all holidays are those
   Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
   The secret anniversaries of the heart,
   When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
   The sudden joys that out of darkness start
   As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
   Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
   White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
   White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;—a Fairy Tale
   Of some enchanted land we know not where,
   But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

On the Border

Bordertown "stars" agent Bud Buckwald and immigrant Ernesto Gonzalez
"Comedy can be a tool that allows you to address some delicate issues that don’t get talked about," says Mark Hentemann, and he should know. Hentemann is a writer and executive producer of the adult animated sitcom Family Guy, but that's not what prompts this particular insight. Hentemann is discussing a new show ~ also an adult animated sitcom ~ called Bordertown, which will be premiering January 2, and the "delicate issues" he's referring to are the U.S.-Mexico border and immigration, both legal and il-. In what is probably a first for a prime-time network show, Bordertown has five Latino writers, and that, says National Hispanic Media Coalition president Alex Nogales, "is a major, major breakthrough. It’s rare that Latinos get those kinds of opportunities. These guys not only bring two languages, but two cultures. They can go back and forth in one conversation":