Thank God, Or Not

Nov 27 2014 @ 6:29pm

Emma Green contemplates why “secular, Thanksgiving-flavored gratitude seems so fuzzy”:

Religions from Christianity to Hinduism to Wicca all emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. This is because they rely on the premise of an other, some sort of non-human being that has some sort of control or influence in the world who you can thank for the world and the good things in it.

“One of the things that’s really interesting about the human mind is that we seem to want to see agency in the world, almost intuitively,” said Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami. “The mind really craves an explanation for the good and the bad, in terms of agency.” By “agency,” McCullough means something along the lines of “a force that can act in the world and cause events to happen.” In crude sociological terms, people give thanks to the forces that act in the universe—God, or god, or gods—as a bid for cosmic benevolence, whether that means making it rain or preserving a loved one’s health or bringing a baby into the world. But these thanks are also an implicit metaphysical claim: Humans owe their existence, their longevity, and perhaps even their daily fortunes to a being beyond ourselves.

While expressing gratitude for the good in her life, Kate Cohen confesses that “as an atheist, I don’t ever ascribe these gracious gifts to God; I never believed a supernatural being to be the source of the bounties that I enjoy”:

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Map Of The Day

Nov 27 2014 @ 5:50pm

Megan Gambino unearths the first map to bear the name “New England,” published by Captain John Smith in 1616:

In his new book, A Man Most Driven: Captain John Smith, Pocahontas and the Founding of America, [Peter] Firstbrook argues that historians have largely underestimated Smith’s contribution to New England. While scholars focus on his saving Jamestown in its first two harsh winters and being saved by Pocahontas, they perhaps haven’t given him the credit he deserves for passionately promoting the settlement of the northeast. After establishing and leading the Virginia Colony from 1607 to 1609, Smith returned to London, where he gathered notes from his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and published his 1612 map of Virginia. He yearned for another adventure in America and finally returned in 1614.

When Smith was mapping New England, the English, French, Spanish and Dutch had settled in North America. Each of these European powers could have expanded, ultimately making the continent a conglomerate of similarly sized colonies. But, by the 1630s, after Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were established, the English dominated the East Coast—in large part, Firstbrook claims, because of Smith’s map, book and his ardent endorsement of New England back in Britain. “Were it not for his authentic representation of what the region was like, I don’t think it would be anywhere near as popular,” says Firstbrook. “He was the most important person in terms of making North America part of the English speaking world.”

So, Friendsgiving Is A Thing

Nov 27 2014 @ 5:01pm

Kay Steiger explains that she and her pals inaugurated a tradition of non-family get-togethers “because we all thought we could make better versions of Thanksgiving food and it’s more fun to get drunk with your friends anyway”:

[F]or all the cleverer recipes and the fancier food, what actually matters is getting everyone together for another year – which was the point of the family Thanksgivings we all either couldn’t or didn’t want to go back to our hometowns for. We aren’t related by blood, but we’re still a family.

The idea of Friendsgiving isn’t particularly unique to us, but it is quietly radical in its way …. The conservative view is that your second family starts with a marriage between one man and one woman, preferably long before the ages we all our now – and, until then, your original family Thanksgiving should take top priority. But creating – and celebrating – families with the people you like rather than the people you might feel stuck with provides a lot of people more reason to give thanks.

But not everyone is so Friendsgiving-friendly. Foster Kamer insists it’s “the ne plus ultra of dumb, idiotic, made-up, fake holidays created exclusively for the most middlebrow human beings intent on perpetuating middlebrow, capital-b Basic culture”:

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Mental Health Break

Nov 27 2014 @ 4:20pm

Finally, a “Thanksgiving Carol” made especially for short attention spans:

The Upside Of Being A Downer

Nov 27 2014 @ 3:39pm

Though ’tis the season to give thanks, Mariana Alessandri maintains that voicing dissatisfaction isn’t all bad:

The 20th-century Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno didn’t recommend banishing the negative emotions or “keeping on the sunny side of life.” In “The Tragic Sense of Life” he described his anxiety over the prospect that there might be no afterlife, adding that he failed to understand people who had not once been similarly tormented by this or by the certainty of their own death.

Unamuno believed that a life worth living consists in communing with others, and that this happens most genuinely through negativity. In “My Religion,” Unamuno wrote: “Whenever I have felt a pain I have shouted and I have done it publicly” in order to “start the grieving chords of others’ hearts playing.” For Unamuno, authentic love is found in suffering with others, and negativity is necessary for compassion and understanding. If we try to deny, hide or eradicate the negative from our lives, we will be ill-equipped to deal with people who are suffering.

Captioning The Canon

Nov 27 2014 @ 2:55pm

Essie, Ruby and Ferdinand, Children of Asher Wertheimer 1902 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

Just in time for the holidays, Mallory Ortberg presents “Families Who Hate Each Other In Western Art History”. Sample dialogue:

shouldn’t we all be smiling, Mother?

for the portrait?

thats a good idea

why dont you tell me what i have to fucking smile about

and i’ll try to work up the muscles to do it

(Painting: John Singer Sargent’s Essie, Ruby and Ferdinand, Children of Asher Wertheimer, 1902, via Wiki Art)

“Born With Empathy”

Nov 27 2014 @ 2:07pm

Mark Joseph Stern shares why he’s grateful to be gay:

As part of my job, I regularly read the writings of people in whom something has broken or withered—people who have lost the ability to see the humanity in others. I put myself in the mindset of people who dehumanize and vilify and hate. I become intimately acquainted with the twisted beliefs of those who, encountering a person they don’t quite understand, lash out with cruel loathing and immoral rage.

Because I am gay, it is basically impossible for me to become one of these people. The identity—a professional minority-basher—just doesn’t fit, and besides, they wouldn’t exactly welcome me into their club. Gay people are born with empathy for the underdog, whether we like it or not. We’ve all played the role of the outcast, the weirdo; we’ve all faced prejudice and discrimination and sorrow and self-loathing. Those of us who emerge from the darkness gain newfound will and determination. But we can’t shake that fundamental desire of justice, that yearning for fairness for those despised by society.

I am grateful for this yearning, which, though sometimes frustrating and heartbreaking, gives my life direction and meaning beyond the daily drudgery.

The Waning Glory Of Gobble?

Nov 27 2014 @ 1:11pm

The Guardian Food editors offer a taste of the very first Thanksgiving:

Robert Krulwich looks back at how the turkey became the holiday’s leading entrée:

[Writer Andrew] Beahrs gives his biggest props to a 19th century magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale. She and her magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, campaigned for a national day [of thanksgiving], wrote letters to governors, to every member of Congress, even to the president, and when she wasn’t lobbying, she was writing novels that romanticized turkeys in that over-the-top drooling-with-her-pen way that may make you laugh … but it worked. Here’s a passage from her 1827 novel, Northwood:

The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing, and finely covered with the froth of its basting. At the foot of the board, a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and loin of mutton, seemed placed as a bastion to defend the innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables disposed in that quarter. A goose and pair of ducklings occupied side stations on the table; the middle being graced, as it always is on such occasions, by the rich burgomaster of the provisions, called a chicken pie.

That’s turkey, then sirloin, then pork, then lamb, then goose, then duck, then chicken pie, all in one sitting! … It took 300 years or so, but eventually the turkey knocked off every other contender and is now center stage, by itself, gloriously supreme, stuffed, adorned, triumphant. Viva la turkey!

Jessica Grose regrets that her family won’t be eating turkey this year, but Betsy Woodruff would rather see the bird sidelined once again. She writes that “turkey’s problem isn’t so much that it tastes bad as that literally any other meat tastes better”:

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“Death To Turkeys!”

Nov 27 2014 @ 12:34pm

So exclaims John Oliver, shaking his head over the annual tradition of presidential turkey pardoning:

“I issue this challenge to President Obama and all future presidents,” the Last Week Tonight host says in a new YouTube video [above] with his show on holiday hiatus. “If you want the world’s respect, just once, show up at a White House turkey pardoning with a cleaver and administer the justice these birds so clearly deserve.”

Obama has opted to ignore Oliver’s challenge; yesterday, he defended the pardon as an “action fully within my legal authority”. Dahlia Lithwick, tongue firmly in cheek, ponders the implications of the president’s policy, wondering if it will “start a wave of unauthorized poultry immigration”:

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It’s All Relative

Nov 27 2014 @ 11:47am


How are you related to all those supposed cousins of yours, anyway? Nathan Yau created the above chart to have you covered at family gatherings:

Here’s how it works. Figure out the common ancestor between two relatives. Then select the relationship of the first relative to the common ancestor in the top row. Move down to the row that corresponds to the relationship of the second person to the common ancestor. The result is the relationship of the second person to the first.

For example, say the first person is the grandchild of the common ancestor, and the second person is a great-grandchild. Therefore, the second person is the first cousin once removed from the first.

Meanwhile, Jessica Goldstein recently investigated how closer familial connections play out during the holidays. She talked to Frank Sulloway, author of Born to Rebel, about how birth order affects family dynamics into adulthood:

“The biological fact that you’re first, second, or third, it doesn’t have any causal influence. What’s causal is, if you are first, you’re bigger, older, stronger, and you have certain privileges you don’t have when you’re younger,” he said.

Time for more fun with stereotypes:

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