Open Thread (happy Thanksgiving.)

ct-bildwaaiwyofHello, my friends! Today we get to celebrate (one day early) the American holiday of Thanksgiving.

I don’t really like holidays, Thanksgiving included, though I wish I did. It seems like other people enjoy the holiday aesthetic, the turkeys and cranberries and Pilgrims and whatnot. They act like they do, anyway, but the things people do and the semi-mythic stories connected with the holiday seem so disconnected–why don’t cities have big communal feasts where they exchange gifts with the nearest Native American tribes? (Or if not cities, then churches or fraternal organizations.) I suppose it doesn’t help much that rather few of us today identify with either the Pilgrims or the Indians, and I imagine the Indians have rather mixed feelings about the day.

So what about you? What do you get out of Thanksgiving? Do you enjoy holidays?

picture-14cSome good news: Rates of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia appear to be declining among the elderly (one theory: fat may be protective, so getting fatter has made our old people smarter.)

In the intellectually exciting department: Underwater Stone Age Settlement Mapped Out:

Six years ago divers discovered the oldest known stationary fish traps in northern Europe off the coast of southern Sweden. Since then, researchers have uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved Stone Age site. They now believe the location was a lagoon environment where Mesolithic humans lived during parts of the year.

picture-15cAnd some food for thought: New Study links Church Attendance to ‘Conservative Theology’:

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb” 93% of growing church pastors agreed, 83% of growing church attendees agreed, 67% of declining church attendees agreed, and just 56% of declining church pastors agreed.

When asked if “God performs miracles in answer to prayer” 100% of the growing church pastors agreed, 90% of the growing church attendees agreed, 80% of the declining church attendees agreed, and just 44% of the declining church pastors agreed.

And in the Anthropology department: How Gypsies have Moved from Fortune-Telling to Fervent Christianity:

Huge numbers of Gypsies and travellers in England now say they’ve joined a new movement called Light and Life. Those who join have given up drinking alcohol and fortune-telling, and many have even abandoned their traditional Catholic faith.

The Pentecostal movement, which is Gypsy-led, has grown rapidly in the past 30 years – it says up to 40% of British Gypsies belong to it. There’s no way to prove that claim, but most Gypsies and travellers will agree that there is a surge in people joining.

It’s centred on charismatic preaching, praying in tongues and miracle healing.

About 6,000 Gypsies and travellers attended to the Church’s UK convention.

On to Comment of the Week: We had some great posts on “Why are Mammals Brown? (and part 2)

with the thoughts you’d be thinking informs us that:

…seeds from plants that appeal to mammals in general tend to be dull coloured and smell, while seed that appeal to birds tend to be brighter and such. Avocados are an example of an evolutionary anachronism in that they evolved to be eaten by mammal mega fauna [that are now extinct.]

Robert M. Sykes:

Back in the 70s while I was at Union College, I had a biologist colleague who was interested in the vision of insects and birds. He used a tv camera to record flowers and other plants because the tv cameras then in use recorded will into the ultraviolet. Most flowers look quite different in the uv, and even some drab looking stuff (to us) really stand out in uv.

And Dave:

Chickens have five-color vision, so instead of a one-dimensional “rainbow” of hues, they see a three-dimensional hue-space (that is, not counting brightness and saturation).

The downside of this is that they are struck blind the moment the sun dips below the horizon.

Jefferson has an interesting perspective on Noah’s Twitter Deluge:

Torah is clear that Gnon/Hashem selects against density. Cain was a city builder (and farmer vs. shepherd), Abraham was super salty towards the cities he visited because he thought they might kill him to rape his wife. Furthermore, it’s not modernity, but the plenty that comes with it that we are warned against. “You will grow fat and kick,” Moses warned us. As we are relieved of a marginal existence in which our normal signalling is best suited (signaling material plenty indicates a genuine improved survival rate for offspring), holiness signaling replaces physical status signaling. …

And Tim P. clearly put a lot of thought into his response on What if Dems actually Know they’re Lying? His comment is long, so I’m only excerpting a piece of it and you can RTWT there:

…as stated in the OP, obviously a glut of labor (assuming an economy ‘operating at capacity’) will lead to greater opportunities for capital to exploit workers through breaking collective bargaining systems, driving down wages, cutting corners on safety and such, and this phenomenon has no a priori connection to immigrants of a particular ethnic background. It seems sensible to me to include immigration controls as part of a plan to slow the pace of economic change and give people a chance to get their feet under them so to speak. Bernie Sanders called open borders a “Koch brothers proposal” and I tend to agree.

However, I feel it would be a great moral calamity to uproot the lives of millions of people currently living in the US, some of whom have been here for decades, some of whom have no memory of another land or skills with which to make their way abroad. …

Well, happy day before Turkey day, everyone!

What is Thanksgiving?

Holidays don’t come naturally to me.

Much like religion and nationalism, I don’t really have the emotional impulses necessary to really get into the idea of a holiday dedicated to eating turkey. Maybe this is just my personal failing, or a side effect of not being a farmer, but either way here I am, grumbling under my breath about how I’d rather be getting stuff done than eat.

Nevertheless, I observe that other people seem to like holidays. They spend large amounts of money on them, decorate their houses, voluntarily travel to see relatives, and otherwise “get into the holiday mood.” While some of this seems to boil down to simple materialism, there does seem to be something more: people really do like their celebrations. I may not be able to hear the music, but I can still tell that people are dancing.

And if so many people are dancing, and they seem healthy and happy and well-adjusted, then perhaps dancing is a good thing.

The point of Thanksgiving, a made-up holiday, (though it does have its roots in real harvest celebrations,) is to celebrate the connection between family and nation. This is obvious enough, since Thanksgiving unifies “eating dinner with my family” with “founding myth of the United States.” We tell the story of the Pilgrims, not because they are everyone’s ancestors, but because they represent the symbolic founding of the nation. (My Jamestown ancestors actually got here first, but I guess Virginia was not in Lincoln’s good graces when he decided to make a holiday.)

In the founding mythos, the Pilgrims are brave, freedom-loving people who overcome tremendous odds to found a new nation, with the help of their new friends, the Indians.

Is the founding mythos true?

It doesn’t matter. Being “literally true” is not the point of a myth. The Iliad did not become one of the most popular books of all time because it provides a 100% accurate account of the Trojan war, but because it describes heroism, bravery, and conversely, cowardice. (“Hektor” has always been high on my names list.) Likewise, the vast majority of Christians do not take the Bible 100% literally (even the ones who claim they do.) Arguing about which day God created Eve misses the point of the creation story; arguing about whether the Exodus happened exactly as told misses the point of the story held for a people in exile.

The story of Thanksgiving instructs us to work hard, protect liberty, and be friends with the Indians. It reminds us both of the Pilgrims’ utopian goal of founding the perfect Christian community, a shining city upon the hill, and of the value of religious tolerance. (Of course, the Puritans would probably not have been keen on religious tolerance or freedom of religion, given that they exiled Anne Hutchins for talking too much about God.)

Most of us today probably aren’t descended from the Pilgrims, but the ritual creates a symbolic connection between them and us, for we are the heirs of the civilization they began. Likewise, each family is connected to the nation as a whole; without America, we wouldn’t be here, eating this turkey together.

Unless you don’t like turkey. In which case, have some pie.

I Suck at Holidays

I mean, I’d like to enjoy holidays. I’m pretty sure a lot of people actually do enjoy them, so they have an abstract sort of appeal, like tomatoes. But when I bite into a real tomato, all I get is a mouthful of wretched, vile mush.

I like Halloween. Nothing horrible happens on Halloween, and costumes and candy are fun.

It’s only been in the past 2 or 3 years that I finally figured out why people exchange gifts at Christmas (and other holidays)–establishing trading/exchange networks with people in times of plenty means you can invoke those networks in times of trouble and people will think you a trustworthy trade partner who will pay them back later–and sort-of why they give each other lingerie (it has something to do with a Pavlovian association between underwear and genitals, as a means of signaling to someone that you’d like to mate with them. Frankly, that seems needlessly complicated since people can talk.) (I still don’t understand why people wear Victoria Secret’s “Pink” clothing line.)

The main point of holidays, I think, is to cement social, religious, or cultural ties. The 4th of July and Thanksgiving unite us as Americans (unless you are not an American, in which case you can substitute the best holiday you have); Christmas is about Christians and family; Passover is about Judaism and family. They’re all supposed to be fun, happy times spent with others.