Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some Reflections on Christmas

A re-post from last Christmas:

With Christmas behind, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

Kids saving the world in the 2000s:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Lo Saturnalia--er--Merry Christmas"

Its that time again. Eating. Drinking. Music. Exchanging gifts. Decorating trees.

Its Saturnalia!

Well, maybe not. It used to be Saturnalia. But with the emergence of a small Judean religious sect and its remarkable growth in adherents in the West that far exceeded its adherents in its native land, Saturnalia is all but forgotten.

They have taken Saturn out of Saturnalia.

Saturn is the name of the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. He is associated with the goddess of plenty. The weekly time of partying, Saturday, is named for him.

Between December 17 and 23, Romans honored him with a feast. Romans decorated the trees on the grounds of their villas. They ate, drank, exchanged gifts, and made merry by saying “Lo! Saturnalia.” Slaves and their owners exchanged roles. The slaveholders served and the slaves enjoyed being served. The holiday also served as a transition into the celebration of the Dies Natalis Solis Invictis, or Birthday of the Invincible Sun. This latter festival honored the birthday of the sun god, which fell on December 25, the date of the winter solstice according to the old Julian calendar. Disagreement exists over how early and in what form worship of the sun took place.

Meanwhile, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. The resurrection emerged as the most important Christian festival because of its theological importance. In addition, the Church more easily could settle on a date since the crucifixion and resurrection coincided with the Hebrew Passover Feast. Over several decades, however, the celebration of the birth of Jesus grew in importance. But the church celebrated it on different days in different parts of the empire. The Church in Rome celebrated the day on December 25, possibly based upon calculations by Pope Julius 1. As Rome grew and achieved primacy over the rest of the church in its theology and authority, the December 25 date became standard through out the Church for “Christ’s Mass.”

No direct evidence suggests that the Church authorities chose the date to obscure the pagan festivals of Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. But some church fathers noted the coincidence. Cyprian (?-258) noted “How wonderfully acted providence that on the day when that sun was born, Christ should be born.” In addition, Chrysostom wrote that “Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December. But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered.' But who indeed is unconquered as our Lord?”

As Christianity spread, Christmas became intermingled with additional pagan winter celebration traditions: yule logs, mistletoe, and Christmas trees. Today it offers a syncretistic something for everyone.

So, “Lo Saturnalia.” And “Merry Christmas.”

                                                                     Its a winter solstice tree!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The President's "Royal" Preogatives

"Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people."
                                                                                     --John Adams

When we consider the idea of rights and liberties these days, the individual rights and liberties enshrined in our federal Bill of Rights most often come to mind. The creation of the Bill of Rights resulted from the concern expressed by many Americans about the newly strengthened national government created by the Constitution of 1787.

In our revolutionary struggle with Britain, however, we did not emphasize violations of these fundamental rights by our mother country. The British king and parliament never systematically violated the fundamental rights of religion, speech, press, property, etc. Rather, the concern of the revolutionary generation was a more general threat to liberty: the threat posed by arbitrary power.

So what is arbitrary power? First, it is living in subjection to laws not of our own making. This was the whole point of the expression, "no taxation without representation." The colonists found themselves subject to tax laws that they had no say in enacting. Over the course of several years,  the British Parliament enacted many laws governing navigation, trade, revenue, and relations with the American native population that the colonists had no say in making. They had no representatives speaking for them in Parliament. In response to these claims, the ministers or their supporters argued that members of Parliament represent the whole British nation, wherever they may reside, so that the colonists are "virtually" represented.

A second aspect of arbitrary rule is that no real recourse exists to change such laws or to appeal decisions rendered under these laws. American colonists sent petitions to the King, but he more often than not refused even to receive them. The Americans turned to non-importation agreements to apply economic pressure. And then they turned to war.

This explains why revolutionary rhetoric of the colonists often made the claim that the colonists were being turned into slaves. Some historians argue that such claims revealed an "irrational" element in the colonists' ideology or simply serve as examples of literary hyperbole.

The founders did not believe that the king, his ministers, or the Parliament literally planned to enslave them and make Washington and Jefferson pick their own tobacco or wheat. They merely meant that subjection to arbitrary rule was characteristic not of independent persons, but of slaves. Slaves live under the arbitrary authority of their owners. Their masters may be kind; they may be cruel. Slaves, however, have no legal say in how they will be governed and have no real means of appeal. This is arbitrary power.

The Founders, as good Englishmen, thought that the use of arbitrary power by the king, at least, had been done away with decades before in the Glorious Revolution of 1689. The English Bill of Rights established afterwards specifically forbade the king from arbitrarily modifying laws of Parliament in the very first clause of their justification for forcing the abdication of King James II:

"By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament."

Nearly 240 years after we began our revolution against arbitrary rule, we Americans seem to be gradually becoming subject to it once again.

In Congress our elected representatives repeatedly write vague laws that require administrative agencies to interpret how such laws will be executed and administrative courts to interpret them. Or our representatives intentionally delegate such authority to the bureaucratic agencies.

In the Supreme Court, justices seem "on the lookout" for cases to establish radical alterations in society through Constitutional misinterpretation and to get their names in the law journals and history textbooks.

In the White House, presidents of both parties expand the reach of their powers through the use of executive orders.

The trend is especially evident under our current President.

Without statutory authority, President Obama has changed immigration laws, drugs sentencing guidelines, and a host of other laws. The most egregious examples have occurred in the administration's attempts to shore up ACA. Most recently, Kathleen Sebelius announced a "hardship exemption" for those who lost insurance coverage that failed to qualify under the term of the ACA. Those covered by the exemption can temporarily secure insurance covered outside the state and federal exchanges. Their hardship, of course, occurred because of the ACA.

The modification was the most recent of several changes since the ACA went into effect. 

In October 2011, the administration scrapped a long-term care insurance program created by the new law, saying it was too costly and would not work.

In April of this year, the administration said that the federal exchange would not offer employees of a small business the opportunity to choose from multiple health plans in 2014.

On July 2, 2013 the White House abruptly announced a one-year delay, until 2015, in a provision that requires larger employers to offer coverage to their workers or pay penalties. 
On Nov. 2 2013, it deferred a major element of the law that would allow small businesses to buy insurance online for their employees through the federal exchange.
Apparently HHS officials, like Nancy Pelosi, failed to read the ACA to find out what was in it. 

And now the President has assumed powers traditionally known as "royal prerogatives" under monarchical regimes. This sets a dangerous precedent not only for contemporary Americans but for future generations, as later presidents will not doubt assert the same claims to such "presidential prerogatives."

We fought a revolution to win our independence from the authority of a monarch. 

America does not need another one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A White Christmas?

Megyn Kelly at FOX news has revved up progressives with her assertion that Santa Clause--and Jesus--were (are?) white. Ed Schultz, Jon Stewart, the Young Turks and faith bloggers at CNN and other venues all have weighed in. The relevant portions of the segment below:

Now Santa, as currently conceived, is the creation of Clement Clarke Moore, who composed the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Originally published anonymously in a newspaper, the poem later appeared in book form with illustrations by F. O. C. Darley. These illustrations, as well as those by Thomas Nast and other 19th century illustrators, established our current image of Santa Claus.

Moore's poem no doubt derived partly from the Dutch folk tales of Sinterklaas.

The original St. Nicholas, however was not a fictional character, but a third century Greek Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor.

Yes, all these men were of European origins. And Europeans are conventionally described as white.

Kelly created more controversy by adding that the other important component of the Christmas season, Jesus of Nazareth, also was white.

That, of course, led to biological and  anthropological speculations about the race of Jesus. This only added more confusion to the controvery. Strictly speaking, race is a political category, not a biological one. Moreover, white is a color, not a race.

I suppose we can agree that Jesus was not a European  but,  dermatologically speaking (or at least chromatologically speaking), can be described as white. Now we could go for swarthy, not a commonly accepted palette. A well-known conservative commentator, however,  got excommunicated by the grandfather of all conservative periodicals for describing the Arab cousins of the Jews that way.

Interestingly, little has been written about the woman who kindled this seasonal sideshow, Aisha Harris. In Slate magazine, Ms. Harris disclosed the self-esteem issues she suffered as a black child in a world of white Santas. She argued for a makeover. On this point Megyn Kelley completely misrepresented the point made by Harris. Kelly implied that Harris argued that the makeover should include a dermatological transmogrification of Santa into a black man. Harris advocated nothing of the kind.

She suggested that Santa be remade into  a penguin. And in another fairly common manifestation of the journalistic ignorance of anything outside of writing, Harris identified penguins as mammals. As we can plainly see from the documentary below, penguins, even during the Christmas season are birds.

So merry Christmas, whether you believe in reindeer who can fly or penguins who cannot.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Progressives Still Not Ready for a Black President

Is America ready for a black president?

The question itself rests upon some unspoken assumptions.

First, will voters consider a black candidate for President based upon his ideology (values, policy preferences, etc.) apart from the color of his skin? (We'll set aside the complicated situation when color itself constitutes part of one's ideology.)

Second, will voters evaluate a black President in office based upon performance?

It appears that self-professed "Progressives" are still not ready for a black president.

President Barack Obama, our first black President (if we exclude Bill Clinton) has come under withering criticism from conservatives. Conservatives base their criticisms partly on ideology. They believe that  Obama's progressive ideology deviates from the Constitution and that it lacks a "fit" for the way the world really works.  They also base their criticism on his poor performance. The clumsy "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking operation, the failure to respond to the attack at Benghazi, and even the muddled roll out of his "signature accomplishment" of the  ACA suggest an administration plagued by incompetence.

Progressives attempt to shut down such criticism based upon both policy and performance with an appeal to race.  Most recently, this occurred in a piece of news "analysis" by MSNBC by Melissa Harris-Perry in which she likened the work "Obamacare" to "nigger" :

Of course, Harris-Perry's charges are hardly original. They have served as the staple of Progressive apologists for the Obama administration since its inauguration. Here is Chris Mathews:

And the second worst president of the United States, who until recently surpassed all others as THE worst, Jimmy Carter:

Perhaps once the Obama administration has run it course and Obama joins the pantheon of ex-Presidents, Progressives will be able to overcome their dermatological delusions and take an honest look at the Obama administration.

Perhaps once Americans elect a black Republican president,  Progressives will be able to assess a President through other than rose race colored glasses.

Perhaps not.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today . . .

Fifty years ago today, Americans got their first glimpse of the Beatles.

The Beatles had released their first album in the Spring of 1963 and it held the top selling position in Britain throughout the summer and fall. The only reason it lost its number one selling position was because the Beatles released their second album in November. The group had been unable, however, to secure a major recording company in the United States to produce and market their recordings.

Coincidentally, on the date of the release of their second album, CBS  news produced a 5 minute segment to be broadcast on its evening news broadcast on November 22, 1963. The segment was pulled, however, with the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas that day.

On December 10, 1963 CBS finally broadcast the segment:


The segment actually resulted in the beginning of Beatlemania in the states.

A 14 year old girl in Silverspring, Md. saw the broadcast.  She called her local radio station to request the DJ to play some Beatles records. She was told the records were not available in America. The DJ promised to get his hands on  them.

The DJ dated a flight attendant (or stewardess back in 1963) at British Airways at the time and asked her to purchase some Beatles records and bring them back to the states on her next flight out. After she returned with the recordings, the DJ invited the girl down to the studio to introduce the Beatles as he cued up the most recent single, "She Loves You."

Listeners swamped the radio station with calls about the new group. The DJ soon made cassette recordings and sent them to DJ friends in Chicago and St. Louis, who inspired the same fan reactions. And so Beatlemania was born.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor Day

Seventy two years ago today, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on an American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The attack killed over 2300 Americans and brought the United States into the war as a belligerent. Until that time, we had provided aid to the Allies through boycotts and provision of materials.

The attack and subsequent war also brought the United States onto the world stage as a much more active participant both diplomatically and politically.