- Best Movie;
* Best Non-Sequel/Non-Superhero Movie;
* Top Twenty-Five Insipid Christmas-Themed Streaming Series;
* Best Spotify playlist;
* Best Nonfiction Book;
* Best Book Beloved By Critics Until Its Author Was Accused Of Cultural Appropriation;
* Top Ten Food Delivery Services;
* Best Science Podcast;
* Least Annoying Comedy Podcast Which In Fact Is Just A Gabfest
Hosted By A Likeable Celebrity Name-Dropping With His Fellow Celebrity Friends;
* Best Hostage Exchange;
* Best Cancel Culture ® Moment;
* Most Predictable Hate Speech By MAGA-Courting GOP Politicians:
* Best Surreptitious Recording of Racist City Council Members Eating Their Own
Smoothest City Officials Kicking-The-Can-Down-The-Road Regarding
Getting The Mentally Ill/Homeless Off The Streets….
Arts & Literature, Science and Technology, Politics and Armageddon culture…. So many categories to rank and rate. But, like moiself titled this post, nope – not gonna do that. Instead, I’ll offer one of my favorites, from the categorizy I’m not devising, that of Best Visual Images From The Space We Hopefully Won’t Fuck Up Like We’ve Done To Our Own Planet (image courtesy of The Planetary Society).
“The Planetary Society’s LightSail program demonstrated that solar sailing is a viable means of propulsion for small satellites.
Solar sails use sunlight instead of rocket fuel for propulsion. They are one of the few technologies that could be used for interstellar travel
LightSail® is a crowdfunded project from The Planetary Society to demonstrate that solar sailing is a viable means of propulsion for CubeSats — small, standardized spacecraft that are part of a global effort to lower the cost of space exploration. Our LightSail 2 spacecraft, which launched on June 25, 2019 and reentered Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 17, 2022, used sunlight alone to change its orbit.”
Excerpts from “LightSail, a Planetary Society solar sail spacecraft,”
( The Planetary Society website )
* * *
Department Of The Partridge Of The Week
It’s (still!) that time of the year again. As has become a tradition much maligned anticipated in our neighborhood, moiself is hosting a different Partridge, every week, in my front yard. 
Can you identify this week’s guest Partridge?
* * *
Department Of Okay So I Lied
Here is one category moiself will dare to rank: Best Nonfiction Book Excerpt.
It’s from one of my favorite reads of the year, zoologist Lucy Cooke’s Bitch: On The Female Of The Species. Context: from the chapter on social animals, the passage cited comes from a segment focusing on a species of termites that have both a king and queen. These termites practice an extreme brand of cooperative breeding:
“…involving a division of labor between breeders and infertile working castes, known as eusociality, from the Greek eu – meaning ‘good.’ Although this is another highly subjective term, since in truth, it is only really ‘good’ for one individual: Her Royal Reproductiveness. The rest of the several million termites in the colony, other than the king, are rendered sterile and kept in their lowly castes by ingesting pheromones secreted by the royal anus, all of which makes the British monarchy suddenly seem quite reasonable.”
* * *
Department Of Confessions
If moiself were compiling my own lists, of say, Songs/Albums Which Got The Most Ear-Time For Moiself, The Highwomen would be near the top. It’s not a new release; the eponymous first (and so far only) album of the “supergroup” composed of American folk/country singers/songwriters/musicians Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires was released at the end of 2019. There’s not one throwaway song on the album’s 12 tracks; each time I listen I think, “Oh, that’s my favorite…” until the next track plays.
Here’s the confession: cynical smartass moiself can be a sloppy sentimentalist.
I cannot listen to a certain song from that album without engaging in ugly bitch-baby-bawling. Which is fitting in a way, as the song is so intimate and…tender.
In My Only Child, the singer is both wondering about and trying to explain – to her “only child” daughter as well as to herself – the complicated amalgam of joy and regret that comes from having or being the only child. The Highwomen bandmate Natalie Hemby, My Only Child’s lead vocalist and co-writer, has said that the song was inspired in part by her own experiences, after her “only child” daughter began asking her parents for a baby brother or sister.
To have a single or “only” child, whether by intention or circumstance, is not my life, although it easily could have been. I have two children,  yet when I listen to that song I think of both of them: what if either of them had been the “only” one? I think of people I know who have or are only children, who’ve pondered what it would have been like to have and be a sibling…who’ve sometimes rued – or just accepted as a benign fact of life – that they will never fully understand the experience of being able to, for example, commiserate with a brother or sister over their aging parents’ care, or have someone who is not your parent but who has known you for your entire life.
The song’s combination of lyrics and the aching, lead vocal whose whisper-light gentleness belies the gravity of the longing…the haunting emotional lyricism of the mother affirming a decision and also allowing for the regrets of what-ifs – it made me shake, the first time I heard it. And it still makes me cry – softly now, but still, every damn time I listen to it, as though I am hearing the song for the first time. 
* * *
Department Of Faux New Year’s Resolutions:
The Words We Need To Stop Misusing…
Or using at all.
As per the Unexplainable podcast, “Basic Instinct.“ (12-7-22).
We all grew up seeing the nature documentaries (or perhaps even took classes from professors) that used the term “instinct“- or its cousin harase, “it’s genetic” – to explain how a spider knows to spin her web, or a cheetah knows what gazelles to hunt, or other multifaceted animal behaviors. Turns out, it is So. Much. More. Complicated. ® than “instinct.” Recent studies in ethology  show that all animals, even the eusocial ones with so-called “hive minds,” are also individuals who learn and adapt, make errors, etc.
Let moiself entice you (lure you into my web?) with these excerpts.
Noam Hassenfeld, Unexplainable podcast host:
It turns out the idea of instinct is a lot less simple than those nature documentaries can make it seem. I talked to a scientist who can’t stand this word (“instinct”).
Mark Blumberg (Unexplainable guest, a neuroscientist):
It’s basically a covert expression of ignorance and lack of imagination. That’s it….
I can’t tell you the number of articles, you know, for scientific journals that I review where people just throw the word around. It drives me crazy…. as soon as you say it’s genetic it means you can just skip over all the things that actually get you from that amorphous blob of an embryo or a newborn and get right to the action….
Every animal develops. It doesn’t matter who you are. All of us. We all develop.
So, Mark, where does this idea of animal instinct and innate animal behavior come from? How far back does it go?
It goes back a long, long way….one of the interesting aspects of it is that it actually has its roots in a sort of a religious perspective….it starts as a problem with free will and reason and good and evil….
Imagine that…(as per developing Christian theology)…in order to earn your way to heaven and hell, you have to basically make choices. You have to have free will. You can’t take an animal that cannot make choices about good and evil and put them in heaven or hell. That doesn’t make sense. Humans are the only ones, we have a soul, we have free will, we have rationality.
These are all ideas within the religious context, but we’re not letting dogs into heaven or hell. So what you have to do is you have to deny them free will, but you have to explain what they’re doing. And you say, “Well, it’s instinctive.”
The podcast host and his scientist guest go on to discuss many examples which show that behaviors we might normally think of as innate animal instincts are actually developed through experience. Some scientists use the term instinct, or genetic for phenomena that are too complex to be currently understood or which no one is (currently) interested in studying. The wording creationists and other religious folk use to describe phenomena they cannot or will not understand in any other way is, “God did it/God made it.” Many scientists, including Blumberg, accuse other scientists of essentially using a more sciency-sounding version of this religious “way out,” when it comes to studying and explaining complex animal behaviors (religion’s “God did it.” = science’s “It’s instinctive.”).
So this idea that, you know, animal behavior is hard-coded, is that still an argument that lots of scientists are making?
Yeah, it’s everywhere. They use the word like, “I’m studying an innate behavior.” And they’re doing it in part because they think that by calling it innate, they’re making their work sound more important…more universal. “ I’m not just studying behavior X, I’m studying *innate* behavior X. Therefore, anything I learn about it must be super important, must have been evolved….”
So it’s partly a strategy and partly it’s ignorance about what the words actually mean.
That feels like you’re calling it laziness.
I am absolutely calling it laziness….
Is that why you would say that this debate is important? I mean, it seems like on the surface someone could see it as a semantic debate.
Because it…influences the way science is done (and) which scientists get the resources to do their work. It elevates scientists who are not so great, and it makes it harder for scientists doing the hard work to get the notoriety and the attention they deserve.
I see this in conferences all the time, you know, where very prominent people simply throw out the innate word or the instinct word and they get away with it because they aren’t being challenged. And that offends me as a scientist….
You just have to continue to be inquisitive and not search for simple answers to complex problems. You know, this is biology. Nothing is more complex than how animals come to do the things that they do, whatever the cause. And we should be trying to understand the diversity of life and all the different mechanisms that are available.
And we probably still don’t understand it all that well.
No, we’re scratching the surface big time.
The full transcript is here. 22.12.07 Basic Instinct . Better still, listen to the interview.
* * *
Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week 
“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal.
He is the only animal that has the True Religion — several of them.
He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.” 
( Mark Twain)
* * *
May you have a Happy year’s end, whether full of lists or list-free;
May you be careful what you attribute to (read: blame on) instinct;
May you find a song which is worth weeping to;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Specifically, in our pear tree.
 And, unlike the song, my nursery walls were not painted pink, for either of my babes.
 Sometimes I skip that track when I’m listening to the album, if I decide I just can’t handle red puffy cryin’ eyes right now.
 Def. The study of animal behavior in its natural context.
 “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists. No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.” Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org
 Can’t close out the year without less than six footnotes.