Sad days when we have to remind parents to be… well, a parent

This was the message from my son’s school district following yesterday’s snow day here in Denver:

All Schools OPEN on Wednesday, Dec. 16

(Wednesday, Dec. 16, 4 a.m.) All schools are open Wednesday, Dec. 16.

 

Please remember to dress your students warmly for the weather and to allow extra time to make your way to school as conditions may still cause some delays.

Really? We need to tell people that, gee, it is winter. Dress warm. There’s snow on the ground, drive safe. Act like a responsible parent.

I suppose this note came from the district’s legal department which is sadder. Because of the cold weather and slushy, icy streets, if they didn’t post this note, some parent could sue the district because they got in an accident on the way to their child’s school or their child got sick because the parents didn’t think “to dress [their] students warmly.”

What a world!

Is the issue guns or are we a hateful society

Matt Wuerker, editorial cartoonist with Politico, just put out this piece:

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It is an interesting cartoon that is sure to cause quite a bit of discussion, which is great, and not quite the type of discussion that I’m used to writing about, but I thought I’d take a moment to put in my two cents.

In this piece, there are two key words that I’m certain were carefully chosen.

Nut.

Gun.

Today, guns are bad. I get the mantra. Guns are bad. Repeat. Guns are bad. Bad, bad, baddy, bad bad!

People with guns are nuts. Nutty, nut nuts.

Ok. Maybe I’m going a bit far with this, and, in my opinion, that’s the fun of discourse. Take things to an extreme and then find a common middle.

Guns aren’t baddy bad bad.

People with guns aren’t nutty nut nuts.

Now for the middle. Is it really the gun? There are a number of reports on the number of mass murders committed with guns, and those numbers are also up for debate. Here’s a CNBC article that attempts to sort through the facts from fiction.

There are people who say we need to curb guns ownership, either via background checks or limiting types, to prevent future killings. The other side argues that there are millions of registered guns and not millions of mass killings.

I fall in the middle. Sure, no one needs to hunt an elk with a rifle designed to put large caliber rounds through the side of a heavily armored tank so why the need to own such a weapon? But a 9mm handgun can hold 15+ rounds and would have caused the same amount of damage as happened in San Bernardino. (Yes, people on social media, there are two “Rs” in the word!) So if we want to prevent mass killings–usually defined as 4 or more dead, or dead and wounded depending on the counting source–we’d have to get rid of nearly every gun.

Great! Guns are gone. Paradise has enveloped the land. Liberals and Conservatives live in harmony and peace feeding grapes to one another lounging in their pajamas while harpists, no longer fearing social ridicule, play gentle songs.

And then someone gets angry. Really angry. But there are no guns, you might argue. We are safe!

Just Google: How to make a molotov cocktail. I did in preparing for this article, and now I’m probably on some watch list. But, there it is for anyone to see. How to make a nice little piece of destruction. There are even videos. I didn’t watch; I figured I’m in enough trouble just googling that as it is.

But, it is just a glass bottle with other stuff in it (yeah, not giving you the directions, either. No accomplice to the fact for me!).

Well, this from the news today (12/4/2015). Molotov Cocktails kill 16 in Cairo: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-violence-idUSKBN0TN0JT20151204

For those of you who like to keep a body count, that is two more dead than the attack in San Bernardino (yeah, that missing “R” bugs me), and those two “nuts” had four guns and over 3,000 rounds of ammunition. Plus a few bombs.

And, if you are old enough to remember McGyver you might remember he taught us all how to make a bomb with fertilizer, some chlorine, and strips of newspaper. Again, not going into detail, I like life outside of jail. To put that into perspective, those are the same basic ingredients that Tim McVeigh used to demolish the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma city.

Add glass bottles, fertilizer, chlorine, and all the other things we need for either of these homemade devices of terror to the list of things we cannot own. Guns being number one, of course.

Angry people will still find ways to kill. We can legislate ourselves backwards through all the advances in weaponry until we are back at bashing each other over the heads with stones, but the fact remains, people will still kill.

And there’s the middle ground.

People will kill. We are a very violent society. Even in places where you’d not expect it. Fifth graders were recently arrested for wanting to cause damage to a high school with explosives. Message boards and comment sections for articles are rife with vitriol. If you are new to FTKC, you should know I love to read comment and message boards, but I really shouldn’t since they get me so thoroughly worked up. But time after time, there are perfect strangers threatening others with death because of something they typed. Be gone with you. To the trash, or the grave. We are a disposable society.

In someways that’s good. For most Americans it is easier to throw something away than it is to fix it. We’ve even made that a feel good idea by calling it “recycling.” But have we gotten so good at just tossing aside things that we’ve now brought that into our psyche? Relationships, marriages, even friendships are easily disposed of today. Sadly, often via a heartless text message. The people we loved are easily tossed aside because, like my iPhone, a better, sleeker, flashier model just arrived. Why fix it? Why bother to try to amend a relationship, to repair a broken marriage? Just recycle.

And that’s how we look at other people. Disposable. Their ideas, their opinions, their thoughts. Just listen to debates among groups of people with differing ideas. I don’t have to listen to you, you don’t think the way I do. And because of this, we are also becoming less empathetic. Why should we learn empathy? Everyone should feel the same. Or at least feel the same way I feel?

When you don’t? I’ll dispose of you.

For most of us, that just means “unfriending” the person on Facebook, or deleting their contact on our phones, but for some, they take it to a dangerous level. In our society, there are more and more of those people out there; people willing to dispose of others by terminating their right to live. We laugh when we watch Bernadette on the Big Bang Theory threaten people because her character is cute and adorable and sweet, but does anyone take a moment to ask ourselves: “Whoa? Did she really say that? Did my evening comedy show advocate the death of someone else because they were driving too slowly?” Or are we too numb to it all, too willing to accept the violence in our culture, to care?

The problem isn’t the gun. Or the molotov cocktail. Or McGyver. Well, okay, maybe McGyver, that was a pretty silly show. Do those help? Yes. I’d be a fool to discount the tool used. But, the problem is us. We need to start to find empathy again. We need to start fostering comradery as a society, as a community, as a people. We need to teach our children that not everyone is going to win a ribbon, and if you don’t win you don’t need to beat the crap out of the kid who did to get yours. (Parent punches ref because kid lost football game 10/5/15). We need to start respecting life, valuing others, their opinions, and, most importantly, their right to live. We need to stop glorifying violence; literally singing its praises. Does that mean we have to abolish violence in media? I sure hope not; I like a good political thriller where the good guy chases the bad guy. We just need to teach people there is a line. And that line is reality vs. make-believe. That line is respect for other people’s lives and their right to live it.

If we don’t, it will not matter how many guns we make nearly impossible to own. Angry people will find a way to vent their anger.

The Dirty Dozen: 13 Song Themes that Might Not Be As Popular Today

Unless you are a new band looking for instant publicity or an individual not afraid of public scorn and ridicule, we’d suggest avoiding these themes in your music or belting these tunes out on the subway. Join FTKC as we look at 13 songs that were once popular, though not necessarily chart topping, but might not go over so well with certain segments of the population today. Since music is a representation of the attitudes and emotions of a society, the themes in these songs fit the time that they were released, but, as societies always do, change makes the themes and concepts of the songs on this list the proverbial fish out of water. And for some of these songs we are grateful of that.  For this list, we’ll be looking at songs that had their run in either the social consciousnesses or on the charts.

#13 I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself (1972)–Elton John

Checking in at lucky #13 is a depressing topic. Suicide. But for Americans, this one is a double edged sword. One the one hand, suicide is viewed by nearly three-quarters of American’s as “morally wrong” in a 2010 Gallup poll with only 15% saying it was “morally acceptable.” However, doctor assisted suicide shows a truly divided America with 46% of Americans saying that it was “morally wrong” and an equal 46% of those polled saying hooking oneself to a mercy machine is “morally acceptable.” We suppose the message here is that mopey teenage angst songs about cutting doesn’t… well, cut it, but sing about terminal life choices and you might just set your music career on a terminal destination.

#12 God Bless the USA (1984)–Lee Greenwood

“God Bless the USA” charted at No. 7 in Billboard’s Hot Country Singles in 1984 and for good reason, Americans in the 80s were all agog about America. However, that patriotism has dwindled, despite the song reaching No. 16 on the Pop Chart in 2001 shortly after the 9/11 disasters. For the younger generation, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free” just is not something they would agree with. According to Pew Research, only 32% of Millennials agree with the idea that the U.S. “is the greatest country in the world.” Compare that with the Silent Generation (born between 1925-1945) with 64% of that group saying that America is the best. A Gallup poll found that only 54% are “extremely proud” to be an American with 43% under age 30 agreeing to that.

#11 Johnny 99 (1982)–Bruce Springsteen

Only Bruce Springsteen could take unemployment, poverty, robbery and murder and turn it into a rockabilly song. In “Johnny 99”, a young auto worker gets laid off, gets drunk, and kills a man. When he is sentenced to 99 years in jail, young Johnny asks to be executed instead. When Bruce wrote this song nearly 70% of Americans favored capital punishment, however, that number has declined significantly and again is a divisive subject for Americans. Currently, only 55% of Americans agree with Johnny 99’s death wish (for murderers) with just over a third of Americans opposed to capital punishment. Be careful what you wish for Johnny, you might get your hopes up.

#10 Whistle While You Work

If you’ve been to any number of southern plantations and taken one of their tours, you may have heard your guide tell you the story of the “whistle walk.” Basically, since the kitchen was separate from the main house, the slaves were ordered to whistle while they walked (or in some stories, while they worked in the kitchen) so that they couldn’t sample the food. Historians have found this tale to be somewhat apocryphal so we can discount this aspect.

However, this does not let the famous mouse off the hook! When Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was first released in 1937, society had very distinct attitudes towards the roles of women and men. Namely: Women stayed home and men went to work. Disney’s first princess was more than content to sweep up the messy house; cleaning up after the new men in her life. Thirty years later, almost 50% of mothers with children under 18 were stay at home mothers. That number has decreased to 29% today, and that’s with 55% of women agreeing that it is better for children for a parent to stay at home. And if that wasn’t bad enough, mothers trying to re-enter the work force are often seen as less competent and committed than non-mothers. Worse still, there is a stigma surrounding stay/work-at-home mothers as either lazy welfare queens or Stepford Wives that resemble The Walking Dead zombies rather than engaged spouses. While it might be motivating to whistle a little tune while you work, just don’t suggest that others do so too.

#9 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1987)–U2

Unlike a few of U2’s songs like “40” off of War that are clearly religious in nature (the song pulls its lyrics from Psalms 40), “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a subtle overture to religion and faith. For the Joshua Tree, U2 branched into “American” music and gospel specifically and no where is a better example of this found than with “I Still…” For a mega band like U2 to dabble in religious themes is one thing, but America’s attitudes toward faith and religion is on a slow decline and may not resonate with the same audience. According to a Pew Research survey more Americans are identifying themselves as being atheist, agnostic, or no religion; this is especially true among Democrats and Independents (28% in 2007). This is despite the fact that 83% of the respondents agreed with the statement: “I never doubt the existence of God.” U2 may be able to infuse their music with religion, but that theme is slowly fading from both music and society.

#8 Wives and Lovers (1963)–written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; performed by Julie London, Jack Jones, Wayne Newton, Frank Sinatra, among others

How can you go wrong with a song that opens:

Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make up, soon he’ll open the door.

Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try anymore.

What is the difference between a married wife and “little girl” after all? The song is a tidy list of things that a good wife should do for their husbands in order to maintain a wonderful home. We’re wondering if Mr. Bacharach and Mr. David had a copy of Edward Podolsky’s 1943 book Sex Today in Wedded Life open beside them as they wrote this song. “Don’t bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work,” Podolsky admonishes. “Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business). Morale is a woman’s business.” Based on the song, we don’t think Bacharach and David would disagree. Though we dare you to try and sing this to your wife today, but if you do, FTKC is not liable for the damages. Better yet, make this your first song at your wedding reception!

#7 America (1984)–Waylon Jennings

The first of two songs titled “America” on this list, it would seem from the music industry that this is a pretty darn good country with a lot to be proud of. When Waylon Jennings sings “Well, I come from down around Tennessee/But the people in California/Are nice to me, America” and “And my brothers are all black and white, and yellow, too” it sounds like one wonderful family that is our great nation. But not so fast. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans feel that America has become more divided over the last decade, and that we are more divided now than any other time in recent history save the Civil Rights era. Sadly, 20% of Americans feel that going forward the U.S. will remain united as one country. While you may want to think that coming from Tennessee to Californee you will find people that are nice to you, you may find just the opposite.

#6 Over There (1917)–George M. Cohen

Propaganda be damned this is still one fun ditty, but it’s message has become outmoded in our recalcitrant almost isolationist society. Written by George Cohen, who would later received a Congressional Gold Medal from FDR for this and other songs, “Over There” had one simple purpose: Foster national pride and unity among men able to serve in WWI and get them to enlist. However, the notion of sending our troops “over there”–nicely vague–has lost favor among Americans today. True, a vast majority of Americans–nearly 80%–believe that the military contributes a lot to society, only a tiny majority of those who could have actually served since 9/11; a paltry 12% of American men in their late 20’s post 9/11 have spent time in our armed services. And sending them “over there” is not something Americans want to see anymore. Even to defend Israel should they be attacked–53% of Americans are opposed to sending troops in that situation. Since the Vietnam War, Americans have become more and more leery about the use of troops abroad. So, unless you are North Korea or Iran (two countries who surveyed Americans really do no like or trust), you probably do not have to worry about American troops coming over there any time soon.

#5 America (1981)–Neil Diamond

The second song on this list called “America”, this song is catchy as hell, and more than a little inspirational. Neil Diamond’s 1981 ballad of immigrants reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and could very well be the new inscription on the Statue of Liberty. With lines like “Got a dream to take them there/They’re coming to America/Got a dream they’ve come to share” you cannot be anything but patriotic and hopeful. However, the immigration issue has become contentious, if you’d believe some Republicans, and “America” might not be seen as such a wonderful song. Post 9/11, Clear Channel listed “America” as one of the songs that couldn’t be aired. According to a Pew Research study, attitudes towards immigrants is split across party lines with 63% of Republicans saying that immigrants are a burden on society while 62% of Democrats feel that immigrants strengthen society. In 2013, Reuters found that 30% of Americans felt that most illegal immigrants should be deported while 23% felt that all illegal immigrants should be deported. So, before you break out your best sparkly, blue glitter suit from the ’70s and bust out singing, know your audience.

#4 Gimme Back My Bullets (1976)–Lynyrd Skynyrd

Before music purists get on us for this song, please allow us this disclaimer:

“Gimme Back My Bullets” is not about guns and ammunition, but rather about the “bullets” that appear before a song on the Billboard list indicating that the song is rising in the charts. Lynyrd Skynyrd is singing about wanting to get back up on the charts.

Now, for the reason this song makes our list. There were any number of songs that we could have chose for this topic and place on our list, and we almost went with “Janie’s Got A Gun” by Aerosmith. However, though the song is not about ammunition, the title gets people talking anyway, especially about gun control. In the wake of the recent school shootings and other violent rampages utilizing guns, gun control is about as radioactive a topic as the trees around Chernobyl. Everyone from the President to Girl Scout leaders are talking gun control, gun safety, and what America should do with guns in general. There are those defending their rights under the 2nd Amendment and those who say, “Fine, you can have your 2nd Amendment rights with 2nd Amendment era guns. Have fun shooting your muzzle loading Long Rifle.” Gun control/Gun Rights is an incredibly divisive topic in America today where 47% of Americans currently support gun rights while 50% of Americans support gun control. And the gun control group’s numbers have sharply increased since December 2014. Broken down by party affiliation, one can see how radically divided Americans are on this topic: 73% of Democrats support gun control vs. 26% of Republicans, while only 25% of Democrats support gun rights vs. 71% of Republicans. Tread carefully about singing (or talking) about having a gun, using a gun, or wanting your bullets back. (percentages accessed on 10/22/2015)

#3 (You’re) Having My Baby (1974)– Paul Anka with Odia Coates

We’re not sure if Paul Anka missed the memo that the Feminist Movement was reborn in the 1960’s and in full bear by the 1970’s or that the Supreme Court had just ruled on abortion in the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision a year prior to his release of a surprising #1 chart topping hit, but, either way, Mr. Anka went out on a limb in writing his love song to his wife and four daughters. Though Rolling Stone magazine trashed the song as overly sappy and sentimental, it really earned its venom from feminists just based on the title alone. Nothing says misogynist better than you’re having my baby. Not our baby. My baby. The National Organization for Women gave Mr. Anka their ignominious “Keep Her In Her Place” award for lyrics like “what a lovely way of saying you love me” by having my baby. Ms. magazine awarded Anka their “Male Chauvinist of the Year” prize.

But that’s not the worst of it. Despite the hot button issue of abortion, Anka went ahead and wrote

Didn’t have to keep it/Wouldn’t put you through it/You could have swept it away from your life/But you wouldn’t do it

In one fell swoop, Anka managed to ruffle the feathers of both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice camps in 1974. The Pro-Life audience felt that Anka was trivializing abortions, while the Pro-Choice listeners felt that he was demonizing those who chose abortions. With 38% of Americans feeling that abortion is “morally acceptable” and 50% saying it is “morally wrong” only gay and lesbian relations and doctor assisted suicide are more controversial topics. So, if you are going to sing about abortion, try to do it with a little panache and take a cue from Mr. Anka and tick off everyone while you are at it.

#2 I Shot The Sheriff (1973/1974)–written by Bob Marley, charted with Eric Clapton

Saying that tensions between society and law enforcement are high right now is like saying that islands are surrounded by water. Since the Ferguson unrest in 2014, or maybe since Rodney King in 1992, or the riots in NYC over Clifford Glover’s death in 1973, or possibly since the death of Nation of Islam member Ronald Stokes in 1962…. or, well, okay, it’s been going on for a while. And the dynamics of this argument are as simple as black and white. From there, everything turns a murky gray depending on which side of the argument you lie. Debates abound along cultural, societal, politically motivated, and behavioral lines, but what is clear is that the tensions between society and law enforcement are not easing any time soon. For blacks, only 16% felt that relations between police and minorities will improve in 2015. And it does not get any better among whites where only 21% feel that relations will improve. In fact, 52% of blacks and 34% of whites feel that things would get worse in 2015. In an April 2015 Economist/YouGov poll only 11% felt that the police were more honest than most people, 61% about the same, and 24% felt they were less honest. Though relations appear bleak and honesty is teetering, for the majority of Americans their confidence in the institution of law enforcement remains high and people show more faith in our police forces than most other public institutions. So, while fringe groups may be chanting “What do we want? Dead cops!” and “Arms Up, Shoot Back”, society as a whole may not be ready for you to go off and shoot the sheriff lyrically.

#1 N****s Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha! (1916)–Harry C. Browne; AKA “The Ice Cream Truck Song”

Note: This song is ridiculously racist. We know there are sensitive people who may be reading this, but this is a part of our nation’s history so read at your own caution.

The song link below contains no lyrics. In fact, you’ve probably heard this song nearly every day growing up during the summer.

Minstrelsy. If you are not familiar with this style of music, you are not missing much, but as it is a part of our cultural heritage, a brief history: Though minstrelsy shows existed prior to the Civil War–as evidenced by the popular song “Jump Jim Crow” in the early 1830s, they really took root in American society on the eve of the Civil War and during the Antebellum years and served as a humorous and exploitative look at the struggles of blacks during Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the early 20th Century. Often, white performers would dawn black face and adopt pathetic or feeble black characters in order to uphold white superiority in a post-slavery society, and help reinforce negative, often damning, stereotypes of blacks in America. We chose this song to represent the entire genre because of its familiarity. And then it went away, but not after leaving a dark legacy of stereotypes and caricatures of black society. Here’s to hoping it never comes back.

If you can’t see the stereotype in Harry Browne’s lyrics, we are not going to spell it out for you. Warning: The following link is to the song by Harry Browne

But before you start putting nails in the tires of ice cream trucks and hunkering your children in your basement as the catchy tune slowly reaches a crescendo with the languid approach of the neighborhood ice cream truck, we need to clear up a few things.

  1. Yes, Browne’s lyrics are horribly racist and one of many songs that minstrelsy has brought to society through the years. And we are glad the genre died in the early 20th Century.
  2. No, Browne did not write the music. That was around since the early 19th century in the form of the widely popular fiddle tune “Turkey in the Straw” and that may have been based on an old Irish tune called the “Old Rose Tree”. Neither of which are racist, derogatory, or spiteful in anyway.
  3. “Turkey in the Straw” was still a popular fiddle song in the early 20th century when Browne used the music for his song.
  4. You can find the tune “Turkey in the Straw” in cartoons ranging from Disney (Donald Duck loves playing this tune), to Warner Bros. (Foghorn Leghorn or any time animals are key to the plot), to the Animaniacs (those of you who had children in the 90s, or were children in the 90s). Here’s a link to Wakko Warner of the Animaniacs singing all the States in America to the tune

It would be a stretch to say that the ice cream man, or any ice cream company is blatantly racist because they use the tune. So, let your children out of the basement, let them whistle the tune, and be sure in your knowledge of history and where it has taken us.

Do you agree with the list? Do you think that there is a topic or theme that warrants a place here? Let FTKC know. Follow FTKC for more Dirty Dozen lists and other perspectives on society and history.

 

 

Sorry, AOL, but this feels inappropriate

Reading through AOL today and saw this page:

AOL screen shot on 30 December 2014

AOL screen shot on 30 December 2014

If you can’t read the bottom link, it says: “Airlines in dire need of new pilots”. This on the same page they discuss the crash of AirAsia 8501.

10 Random New Year’s Facts That Will Make You The Cliff Clavin of Your Party

Before you drunkenly belt out “Auld Lang Syne”, desperately seek out anyone to share a New Year’s kiss, and make some promise that you probably won’t keep beyond January, let’s look at ## things you might not know about New Year’s.

1. All About Me

According to Statisticbrain.com, of the top 10 New Year’s resolutions, only one of our most common resolutions is altruistic: “Help Others in Their Dreams”. The other 9 are all about me, or in this case you. Self-improvement and education resolutions account for nearly 50% of the resolutions we make. Weight loss resolutions come in second at close to 40%. Less than 50% of resolutions are still being maintained beyond six months.

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Unfortunately, only 8% of us are actually able to claim victory over our resolution.

2. 22

Of all the numbers that will be bantered about, this one seems low. 22 is the percentage of people who admit to be passed out or fast asleep long before midnight. It is interesting since this is the prime reason for the holiday. That, and finding that one special someone to smooch right after drowning away all of last year’s problems at the bottom of a champagne flute. (Source)

Passed-Out New Year's Eve Reveler

3. Making Babies

It is no surprise that with all the drinking, kissing, and naked street dancing… wait, what? Naked street dancing? All will be explained in #9 so just go with it. Naked street dancing. So, it is no surprise that most babies are conceived during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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According to a New York Times chart, the most popular birthdays occur between 9 September and 24 September. Tracking this back, it would mean that people were getting busy at the end of December. This shouldn’t come as any surprise since the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is as close to statistically perfect for doing some hanky-panky as you can get. Here’s a look at why the odds are in your favor that you’ll be doing more than kissing on New Year’s Eve:

  • People are 17 times more likely to have sex at midnight than at 10 am. Couple this with…
  • People are 13 times more likely to have sex at night than during the afternoon.
  • People are more likely to turn down and invitation to shag if it is too warm. Nearly twice as many than those who turned down the invitation because it was too cold.
  • More than twice as many condoms are sold the week before Christmas than the week after.
  • 83 percent of Americans feel that rainy days/nights are the best time to have sex.

If this isn’t enough proof, studies have found that prostitution related searches increase 2.78 percent during this time period. Matchmaking websites see a 5.67 percent increase in traffic during January, and Google searches for porn jump 4.28 percent above average in December. We just seem to want to get our groove on. And it doesn’t hurt that most of us are in crowded houses filled with drunken revelers desperately seeking someone to kiss.

4. Have a Ball

American’s, and eventually the world, have been watching a ball drop down One Times Square since 1907. People had been celebrating in Times Square for three years before the first ball drop, and even before this at Trinity Church where they’d “ring in the new, and ring out the old” with the Church and hand bells. There have been seven variations of the famous New Year’s Ball, including the original 700 pound wooden beast.

history-of-times-square-ball-drop

The Ball has dropped every year since 1907 save two. During the “dimouts” of 1942 and 1943, New Yorkers gathered in a darkened Times Square for a minute of silence and then surrounded by a chorus of chimes from sound trucks at the base of One Times Square. For two years, New Yorkers went back to the old Trinity Church celebrations.

5. Not Always Etched In Stone

The first time New Year’s is celebrated on January 1 came in the year 45 B.C. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was so FUBAR that it needed to be adjusted. The new Julian calendar would be 365 1/4 days long and so Caesar had to add 67 days to the year 46 B.C. which made the start of 45 B.C. on January 1. Convenient since the god Janus, from which January gets its name, is the two faced god of doors and gates.

janus2

But, just because Caesar said so didn’t mean that it was. By the medieval period, most Christian, and pagan, Europeans went back to the old Annunciation Day (25 March) as the beginning of the year.  William the Conqueror would try to get the new year back to 1 January, but it had nothing to do with calendric accuracy and more to get Christmas to align with his coronation day. Like most things political, it never came to fruition and 1 January would have to wait until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII created the calendar we use today. With New Year’s on 1 January, leap years, and all.

6. Burning Out The Old Year

When the mellow alcohol buzz and sleep-deprived haze begins to settle over your party, you can always liven things up with an effigy. That is, you can make yourself a life-sized, stuffed, sad old man or, as they do in Panama and a few other Latin American countries, make one of a famous actor or anyone else famous and light it on fire!

burn

The burning of Jack Straw in Hungary

In Hungary, they set fire to a scapegoat for all the ills and wrongs that happened the previous year. Called Jack Straw, he is paraded through town and then set aflame on New Year’s Eve. In Panama and Ecuador, they burn “muñecos“–effigies of people who played a significant role in politics, news, or even one’s personal life. These muñecos are created on Christmas and then lit up in a bonfire on New Year’s. Often, these effigies are stuffed with gun powder and fireworks. Just remember to be very careful in whom you chose to make your effigy of, and, for the sake of the hosts, take the conflagration outside.

7. Boxing Day

No, not the day after Christmas where you give gifts to all the peons that schlep all your crap around every, but “boxing” day where you beat the crap out of someone on New Year’s. Somewhere between the excessive amount alcohol consumed–New Year’s celebrations are the most popular drinking day of the year–and the fact that some stranger just smooched the person you came to the party with, nearly 40 percent “of 18- to 25-year-olds said they’ve woken up on New Year’s Day with an ‘unidentified party injury.'” 25 percent of 18-25 year-olds have said they’ve gotten into a fight on New Year’s.

Takanakuy festival in Peru

Takanakuy festival in Peru

If anyone tries to shame you for fighting on New Year’s, just say that you are celebrating the Peruvian festival of Takanakuy, which literally translates to “when the blood is boiling.” Each year, around Christmas, many Peruvians gather in the local sporting area, from little children to elderly women, to fist fight one another. The purpose of this end of the year celebration is to settle grievances from the previous year–from civil to personal–and hopefully start the New Year with peace and harmony, and to strengthen community bonds. So, next time your in-laws give you crap, clear some space in the living room and duke it out. Just say you are trying to strengthen familial bonds. Happy Takanakuy!

8. Not Always Etched In Stone, Part II

Most calendars used today around the world are based on a lunar or lunisolar cycle so their New Year’s Eve is fluid. For many, including the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, New Year’s happens on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. Typically, these New Year’s celebrations occur between 20 January and 20 February.

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Though they like to say they have nothing in common, Islam and Judaism share a few things in common, including their calendar. Both calendars are lunar based on 354 days and both start their days at sunrise and end at sunset vs. the Gregorian system of midnight. The Islamic New Year wanders across the calendar and for the next few years will coincide with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) occurring in September and October. Every 33 years, Rosh Hashanah and the Islamic New Year will occur on the same date. The next time this happens is in 2016-17.

9. All Hail Saturnalia

So, kissing seems to be the one factor that ties all New Year’s celebrations together whether it be getting smacked in the kisser in Peru or smooching at New Year’s eve. But where did the practice of the New Year’s kiss come from?

A New Year's kiss is supposed to set the tone for the year... don't be lonely like this guy

A New Year’s kiss is supposed to set the tone for the year… don’t be lonely like this guy

For singles this New Year’s kiss can be one of the most stressful events of the entire night. The closer the clock winds to midnight, the more frantic the search for kissable lips becomes. Unfortunately, history only heightens the pressure. Like most things we do today, the New Year’s kiss probably comes from the Roman weeks-long festival of Saturnalia celebrated around Christmas. It was an unholy gathering of flesh and wanderlust. Romans celebrated with massive feasts, drinking, singing and dancing in the streets naked, gambling, and other forms of dabauchery. By the medieval period, anxious Europeans would scramble for the perfect person to lock lips with at midnight believing that the first kiss would dictate the type of year you’d have. Also, many of these celebrations were masquerade balls–just a more refined version of naked street dancing and singing–with the masks representing the troublesome past year and protection from evil spirits and the kiss–after removing the mask–representing the change to something good. So, no pressure. You aren’t just looking for the handsome or pretty lips to snack on, you need someone to help purify the evil spirits of the past and set the perfect tone for your future year. Good luck hunting.

10. Not The Night To Go Commando

According to a Vanity Fair/60 minutes fashion poll, nearly 25 percent of Americans admitted that they go commando on some occasions (7 percent of people sitting around you right now are sans undies). However, in many Latin American countries, including Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, going commando sets you up poorly for the next year.

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From an old Spanish tradition, it is held that the color of the underwear worn on New Year’s Eve dictates the type of luck you will have in the forth coming year. Red? Looking for love and passion in the new year. Yellow? Wealth is coming your way. Green means a year of good health. White is for peace. Want to be inspired in the new year? Wear purple. So, if your party turns into a Saturnalian orgy of naked street singing, be sure to at least keep your undies on your head so you can set yourself up for good luck next year.