Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year . . .

Some interesting posts to close out 2011 and usher in the New Year:

Don Surber surveys the year that was, giving us a scorecard of Good versus Evil. I am happy to say, the Good won out. Let's hope that 2012 is an even better year.

Robert Avrech at Seraphic Secret posts his eclectic list of the best things in 2011, from books to t.v. shows to footwear.

The Daily Gator has a roll-up, half horrifying, half hilarious, of stupid criminal stories from 2011. It is a rouge's gallery indeed.

Sheik Yermami pays tribute to the Sidney tradition of bringing in the New Year with fireworks, and the French Muslim population's tradition of bringing in the New Year by burning over 1,000 cars.

Maggie's Farm posts the only ad Republicans need for 2012. It is Obama and Biden fawning over Jon Corzine.

No Oil For Pacifist's has posted their choice for Cartoon of the Year. It is a history of man's use of energy.

Prof. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has given over his Saturday posts to highlighting those on the left who have thrown out the race card to demonize, delegitimize, and end all attempts at reasoned conversation.  Today, he revisits some of his favorites from the past year as well as cite to several credentialed academics who claim that "attempts to do away with racial preferences and to treat people without regard to skin color is a form of racism." As an aside, I think the best thing that the Obama administration has done for America is to bankrupt the race card.

Gerard Van der Luen at American Digest has the video highlights of 2011.  It's like a train wreck, it is impossible to look away.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air has a roll up of fairly pessimistic predictions for 2012.

And on that note, I'm out'a here.  Happy New Year everyone.  See you in 2012.


On The Seventh Day Of Christmas . . .

Reposted from 2010:

Today is New Year's Eve, the seventh day of the twelve days of Christmas.

Today is celebrated the Feast of St. Sylvester. Surprisingly little is known about this Saint. What is known is that he was the son of a Roman soldier and that he became Pope at a critical period in history. In the 150 years preceeding Sylvester's Papacy, Christians had been brutally persecuted by Rome's Emporers from Nero to Diocletian. Indeed, the Diocletianic Persecution, from 303 A.D. to 311 A.D., was Rome's largest, and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity. But then Constantine became the Emporer of Rome in 306 A.D. Constantine publicly converted to Christianity in 312 A.D. and ended the Christian persecutions by the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. The next year, Sylvester was elected Pope. For the next 21 years, he oversaw the Papacy while Constantine, who would outlive St. Sylvester by two years, spread Christianity throughout the Roman world.

It was during Sylvester's pontificate were built many of the great Churches, including the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, St. Peter's Basilica, and several cemeterial churches over the graves of martyrs. Saint Sylvester did not himself attend the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but he was represented by two legates and he approved the council's decision.

One of the traditions associated with St. Sylvester, at least in Germany, is St. Sylvester's punch:

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
750 ml bottle of dry white wine
750 ml bottle of dry red wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup dark Jamaican rum


1.Bring water and sugar to a boil in a large pot, while stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved.
2.Add the wines and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir in the rum and lemon juice.
3.Ladle the punch into cups and serve warm.



Should Britain Leave The EU & Join NAFTA?

Between Obama - whose first act in the White House was to send Churchill's bust back to Britain - and the Boy Wonder, David Cameron - who renigged on a promise to allow his countrymen a referendum on their membership in the EU - there seems no chance at the moment that Britain and America will become much closer in their relationship, economically or otherwise. But they certainly should. That is the proposition of Iain Murray and James Bennet in an op-ed at the WSJ. They believe that Britain and the U.S. would both benefit significantly if Britain were to minimize its ties with the EU and in its stead join NAFTA.

Britain joined the EU in 1973, when it was nothing more than a loose economic union. Over the next four decades, the EU grew to become an anti-democratic, socialist monstrosity. Yet Britain stayed the course with the EU, even going so far as to jettison Margaret Thatcher when she stood athwart greater ties to the EU. But Britain's legal and political system, the culture, language and traditions, they are all at home in North America. They are not, as Murray and Bennet point out, at home with the nations of continental Europe. And today, the Brits are at a crossroads, whether to surrender the last vestiges of their sovereignty to the EU, or whether to turn towards North America. An attempt by Cameron to keep Britain at arms length from further EU integration has been met with a cold shoulder from the EU members:

. . . French President Nicolas Sarkozy helpfully summed up the results of this month's summit. He told Le Monde that there are now two Europes, one that "wants more solidarity between its members and regulation, the other attached solely to the logic of the single market." The Europe of regulation wants to press forward with deeper integration, stringent budget rules and a transition away from nation-state democracy.

The problem is that no one asked the peoples of Europe whether they wanted this. Nationalism is on the rise. Budget rules have been flagrantly ignored in the past, and the Franco-German plan does nothing to deal with the euro's structural problems, which make southern European countries grossly uncompetitive.

It is obvious to most outsiders that the euro zone's problems remain. The rating agencies have been unimpressed, and downgrades of most euro-zone members and their banks are now more likely than ever. This meant that Mr. Cameron was left with two choices: strike out for the shore or drown with the rest.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Mr. Cameron's decision is the way he made it. It is now clear that he made an attempt—as he had promised British voters—to repatriate powers away from Brussels. This attempt was rebuffed with some prejudice. Given the outright hostility to Britain now evident in the European Union establishment, any further attempt at repatriation will be a non-starter. The implications are considerable.

The European Economic Community (EEC) for which the British signed up in a 1975 referendum—a community of free trade and cooperation, not supranational bureaucracy—is long gone. Worse, even today's less-palatable EU will soon no longer be on offer. Sometime in the next few years at most, Britain will likely face the choice between immersion in a powerful centralized European mega-state and full exit.

Most probably, the choice will be made in an atmosphere of crisis, with dramatic media coverage proclaiming impending doom for Europe. Britain today needs to think seriously about a Plan B, so that it does not have to take an option it will regret for lack of coherent alternatives.

Britain does have other choices. To find the country's new role, British leaders should look to North America.

Alone among EEC members, Britain narrowed some of its major trade networks when it joined. It also traded ordinary Britons' right to virtually bureaucracy-free movement, temporary or permanent, between the U.K. and British Commonwealth nations. This meant losing easy access to prosperous places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which enjoy plentiful jobs and high standards of living, for the largely theoretical right to take a job in Düsseldorf or Lille. While much trust was lost between Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth because of this move, strong personal, cultural and economic ties remain and could be revived. Ask the average Briton where he'd feel more at home, Paris or Toronto.

Canada and Australia have well-managed, vibrant economies. Both countries sit on huge deposits of natural resources of ever-increasing value. Britain's top-tier financial sector and still-excellent technical capabilities already play a role in Canada's economy. These ties could be much strengthened.

Britons also feel at home south of the Canadian border. Contrary to an oft-repeated myth, links between Britain and the United States are not reducible to the personal relationships between presidents and prime ministers. The U.S. and the U.K. have always been each other's primary financial partners. A few simple measures could substantially deepen this relationship, especially once Britain no longer needs to adhere to EU rules.

Foremost among these would be to admit a post-EU Britain to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Nafta is not a perfect vehicle, but it has the enormous advantage of already existing, with a nearly 20-year track record behind it. And unlike the EU, Nafta would not seek to impose a single social vision on its members. For example, Nafta has had no effect on Canadian social policy, which is very similar to Britain's—except for Canada having more revenue to pay for it all.

The ongoing euro crisis will not be resolved any time soon, and America will continue to be impacted by bank write-downs and declines in U.S.-European trade. Increasing U.S.-U.K. trade would be one relatively quick and effective way of taking up some of the slack.

Up to now, however, the U.S. has pursued a policy of propping up the euro while discouraging British independence from Brussels. This is incredibly short-sighted. Using the vehicles of the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund to try to fill the gaping hole in Europe's finances will get everybody nowhere. Instead, British, American and Canadian policy makers (along with their Nafta partners in Mexico) should be taking the long view and preparing for a future in which the unsustainable euro zone inevitably collapses. Welcoming Britain back into the North Atlantic economic community would be a win-win for all involved.


Doug Ross's Fabulous Fifty Blog Awards

Forget the Pulitzer, Doug Ross gave out the far more coveted "Fabulous Fifty" awards of the blogging world today.  Imagine my surprise to find this humble blog included in the "Best Political Blogging" category, alongside some of the very best on the web.  Thanks very much Doug, and congratulations to all the winners.

Best Political Blogging:


The Genius Of Capitalism - An Alien Cathouse

Every 40 year old uber-geek in America take note. You can finally live out that fantasy you've had since your were 12 of spending some quality time with Princess Lea. Or if she is not your thing, there are certainly many other options. Klingon mating rituals anyone?

Brothel owner Dennis Hof and famed Hollywood Madame Heidi Fleiss are teaming up to open the new "Area 51" brothel in Vegas, where all of the girls will be playing the roles of various vixens of Sci-Fi fame. It is capitalism at its most creative. If they advertise this right, they'll have a line of geeks and trekies stretching from their door back into Texas. Not that I would ever go.

Oh, who am I kidding? If they get 7 of 9, . . . At any rate, let's just say that Hof and Fleiss need to sell stock in this one.

Okay, an exit question. What sci-fi quote should they put above the entrance? Somehow, "To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before" just doesn't seem right.

And in honor of Paul in Houston, whose mind is racing at the possibilities of exploring the flora and fauna of Planet Vulcan . . .

Update: Linked - Paul in Houston (where he combines note of an alien cathouse with the history of our strategic bomber force.


Obama Signs On To Silencing Criticism Of Islam

[UN Resolution 16/18, that calls for criminalization of defamation of religion that can be categorized as "incitement to violence," in addition to "countering religious profiling"] codifies into the UN agenda support for the very notion democracies now wrestle with, and which threatens to destroy the very fabric of our culture: tolerance of the intolerant, or rather, the question of whether a tolerant society must also tolerate ways of life that are intolerant – that oppress women, say, or advocate violence against homosexuals, or force strangers to marry against their will. It is, in fact, this very concept that the OIC has long pressured Western governments to adopt in other ways, and that those supporting the adoption of Sharia law in the west have emphasized. Yet if we fall into that trap – as it appears we are – we will have lost the very heart of who we are.

Abigail R. Esman, Could You Be A Criminal? US Supports UN Anti-Free Speech Measure, Forbes Magazine, 30 Dec. 2011

Islamic texts call for the death of all Jews. In many Muslim countries, renouncing Islam and converting to Christianity is a death sentence. Every Muslim nation discriminates against all other religions. Go to MEMRI or Jihad Watch or any of the many other sites that focus on radical Islam, and you will see an endless parade of Muslim clerics engaging in the most vile diatribes against Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims. All of this is commonplace in virtually all Muslim majority nations. So what is the 56 member Organization Of Islamic nations (OIC) doing pushing through UN Resolution 16/18?

Clearly, this is meant to be a single edged sword. It is meant to apply in the West as a means of shutting down any criticism of Islam. It will be ignored in Islamic countries, where every effort is being made to wipe out non-Muslim religions. It is designed by the political Islamists not merely to allow the most vile forms of Islam to proliferate in the West without criticism, but to insure that those who advocate for reform and moderation of Islam will be silenced. Indeed, it is no surprise at all the America's leading advocate for the moderation of Islam, Zhudi Jasser, is the one sending out links to the Esman article quoted above.

I have been banging the drum against this particular UN Resolution for years. As I wrote in 2007, adopting this resolution would be "putting a nail into the coffin of Western civilization, in addition to insuring the ultimate domination of the Wahhabi philosophy in Islam." And yet now, the Obama administration has signed on the dotted line. Is there any policy of the Obama administration that does not seem directed at damaging our nation?


Friday, December 30, 2011

Crazy Nancy Toiling On For The Good Of The Party?

According to her daughter, Crazy Nancy is toiling on for the good of the party. As long as she is being self-sacrificing, couldn't she just retire for the good of the nation?


On The Sixth Day Of Christmas

Reposted from 2010: Today is the sixth day of the twelve days of Christmas . . .

My research into what was celebrated on this day in Medieval times, from whence the custom of a 12 day celebration of Christmas originates, has come up short. In the modern era, the Feast of the Holy Family was placed on general calendar of the Roman Rite on October 26, 1921. It is, by custom, celebrated on this day in those years when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Otherwise, the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas.

The purpose of this celebration is to use the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the model for all Christian families.

Prayer To The Holy Family:

Domine Iesu Christe, qui Mariae et Ioseph subditus, domesticam vitam ineffabilibus virtutibus consecrasti: fac nos, utriusque auxilio, Familiae sanctae tuae exemplis instrui et consortium consequi sempiternum: Qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, Who, being made subject to Mary and Joseph, didst consecrate domestic life by Thine ineffable virtues; grant that we, with the assistance of both, may be taught by the example of Thy Holy Family and may attain to its everlasting fellowship. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

Should it be that the Feast of the Holy Family is not celebrated this day, I would honor St. Ecgwine of Worcester whose feast falls on this day. Ecgwine, the 7th century son of a Mercian King, founded the Benedictine monastery of Evesham, England; the site was chosen because of an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a local herdsman. It became one of the great Benedictine houses of the Middle Ages. In his honor, it seems only fitting that one toast repeatedly with the libation produced by his order, Benedictine liquor. Do note that every bottle of Bénédictine has the initials D.O.M. on the label - it actually stands for "Deo Optimo Maximo"; "For our best, greatest God".


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Getting Around Democracy: The Heritage Foundation's Worst Regulations Of 2011

Obama's war on prosperity has resulted in a bumper crop of poisonous regulation this year.  Most, but not all, are the result of regulatory bureaucracies operating outside the constraints of democratic rule and used by Obama to accomplish what he could not get through even a fully Democratically controlled Congress.  Here is the list from the Heritage Foundation of the worst of the worst of it all in 2011.  Particularly as respects the NLRB and the EPA, the list could have been much longer:

1. The Dim Bulbs Rule. As per Congress, of course, for issuing an edict to phase out the incandescent light bulbs on which the world has relied for more than a century. With the deadline looming in 2012, Americans by the millions spent the past year pressing lawmakers to lift the ban which, contrary to eco-ideology, will kill more American jobs than create “green” ones. (Congress evidently overlooked the fact that the vast majority of fluorescent bulbs are manufactured in China.) The 2012 appropriations bill barred the use of funds to enforce the regulation, but it remains in law.

2. The Obamacare Chutzpah Rule. The past year was marked by a slew of competing court rulings on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the cornerstone of Obamacare. The law requires U.S. citizens to obtain health insurance or face financial penalties imposed by the Internal Revenue Service. Never before has the federal government attempted to force all Americans to purchase a product or service. To allow this regulatory overreach to stand would undermine fundamental constitutional constraints on government powers and curtail individual liberties to an unprecedented degree.

3. The Nationalization of Internet Networks Rule. Regulations that took effect on November 1 prohibit owners of broadband networks from differentiating among various content in managing Internet transmissions. (In other words, the Federal Coercion Communications Commission effectively declared the broadband networks to be government-regulated utilities.) The FCC imposed the “network neutrality” rule despite explicit opposition from Congress and a federal court ruling against it. The rule threatens to undermine network investment and increase online congestion.

4. The Equine Equality Rule. As of March 15 (the Ides of March, no less), hotels, restaurants, airlines, and the like became obliged to modify “policies, practices, or procedures” to accommodate miniature horses as service animals. According to the Department of Justice, which administers the rule, miniature horses are a “viable alternative” to dogs for individuals with allergies or for observant Muslims and others whose religious beliefs preclude canine accompaniment.

5. The Smash Potatoes Regulation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed stricter nutrition standards that would prohibit school lunch ladies from serving more than one cup per week of potatoes per student. Instead, schools would be required to provide more dark green, orange, and dry bean varieties (think kale) in order to foster vegetable diversity. The cafeteria mandate will affect more than 98,000 elementary and secondary schools at a cost exceeding $3.4 billion in the next four years.

6. The Bring on the Blackouts Rule. The EPA is proposing to force power plants to reduce mercury by 90 percent within three years—at an estimated cost of $11 billion annually. A significant number of coal-fired plants will actually exceed the standard—by shutting down altogether. Indeed, grid operators, along with 27 states, are warning that the overly stringent regulations will threaten the reliability of the electricity system and dramatically increase power costs. Just like candidate Obama promised.

7. The Wal-Mart Windfall Amendment. One of hundreds of new regulations dictated by the Dodd–Frank financial regulation statute requires the Federal Reserve to regulate the fees that financial institutions may charge retailers for processing debit card purchases. The prospect of losing more than $6 billion in annual revenue is prompting financial institutions to hike fees on a variety of banking services to make up for the much smaller payments from stores. Thus, consumers are picking up the tab for retailers’ big regulatory score.

8. The Plumbing Police Rule. The U.S. Department of Energy began preparations for tightening the waterefficiency standards on urinals. It’s all spelled out in excruciating detail in the Energy Conservation Program for Consumer Products Other Than Automobiles, which also regulates the efficiency of toilets, faucets, and showers. And refrigerators and freezers, air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, ovens and ranges, pool heaters, television sets, and anything else the Energy Secretary deems as electrically profligate. (Urinals also are regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which requires at least one urinal for every 40 workers at a construction site for companies with less than 200 employees and one for every 50 workers where more than 200 are employed. The Americans with Disabilities Act also delineates the proper dimensions and placement of bowls.)

9. The Chill the Economy Regulation. The EPA issued four interrelated rules governing emissions from some 200,000 boilers nationwide at an estimated capital cost of $9.5 billion. These boilers burn natural gas, fuel oil, coal, biomass (e.g., wood), refinery gas, or other gas to produce steam, which is used to generate electricity or provide heat for factories and other industrial and institutional facilities. Under the so-called Boiler MACT, factories, restaurants, schools, churches, and even farms would be required to conduct emissions testing and comply with standards of control that vary by boiler size, feedstock, and available technologies. The stringency and cost of the new regulations provoked an outpouring of protest, including 21 governors and more than 100 Members of Congress. On May 18, the EPA published a notice of postponement in the Federal Register, but the regulations remain on the books.

10. The Unions Rule Rule. New rules require government contractors to give first preference in hiring to the workers of the company that lost the contract. Tens of thousands of companies will be affected, with compliance costs running into the tens of millions of dollars—costs ultimately borne by taxpayers. The rule effectively ensures that a non-unionized contractor cannot replace a unionized one. That’s because any new contractor will be obliged to hire its predecessors’ unionized workers and thus be forced by the “Successorship Doctrine” to bargain with the union(s).

(H/T Daily Gator)


Science & Religion

My study of history long ago led me to conclude that Christianity and Western Civilization are inseparably intertwined. One particular aspect of that is the relationship between science and the Catholic Church. One of the long-standing myths about the Church, practically set in stone since the Church's missteps with Galileo, is that the Church has been "anti-science." That actually was the exception to the rule, both in history and today - as Pope Benedict XVI made clear last year in his discussion of the big bang theory. The Church has long been a driving force in education and science throughout history. That point is reinforced by Thomas Woods, writing at the Free Lance - Star:

The first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body was Father Giambattista Riccioli. The man who has been called the father of Egyptology was Father Athanasius Kircher. Father Roger Boscovich, who has been described as "the greatest genius that Yugoslavia ever produced," has often been called the father of modern atomic theory. In the sciences it was the Jesuits in particular who distinguished themselves; some 35 craters on the moon, in fact, are named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

By the 18th century, writes historian Jonathan Wright, the Jesuits "had contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes, and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics, and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter's surface, the Andromeda nebula, and Saturn's rings. They theorized about the circulation of the blood (independently of Harvey), the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon affected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light."

Their achievements likewise included "star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics."

These were the great opponents of human progress?

Seismology, the study of earthquakes, has been so dominated by Jesuits that it has become known as "the Jesuit science." It was a Jesuit, Father J.B. Macelwane, who wrote the first seismology textbook in America in 1936. To this day, the American Geophysical Union, which Macelwane once headed, gives an annual medal named after this brilliant priest to a promising young geophysicist.

The Jesuits were also the first to introduce Western science into such far-off places as China and India. In 17th-century China in particular, Jesuits introduced a substantial body of scientific knowledge and a vast array of mental tools for understanding the physical universe, including the Euclidean geometry that made planetary motion comprehensible.

Jesuits made important contributions to the scientific knowledge and infrastructure of other less developed nations not only in Asia but also in Africa and Central and South America. Beginning in the 19th century, these continents saw the opening of Jesuit observatories that studied such fields as astronomy, geomagnetism, meteorology, seismology and solar physics. Such observatories provided these places with accurate time keeping, weather forecasts (particularly important in the cases of hurricanes and typhoons), earthquake risk assessments and cartography.

The early church also institutionalized the care of widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in ways unseen in classical Greece or Rome. Even her harshest critics, from the fourth-century emperor Julian the Apostate all the way to Martin Luther and Voltaire, conceded the church's enormous contributions to the relief of human misery.

The spirit of Catholic charity — that we help those in need not out of any expectation of reciprocity, but as a pure gift, and that we even help those who might not like us — finds no analogue in classical Greece and Rome, but it is this idea of charity that we continue to embrace today.

The university was an utterly new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, come to us directly from the medieval world.

By the time of the Reformation, no secular government had chartered more universities than the church. Edward Grant, who has written on medieval science for Cambridge University Press, points out that intellectual life was robust and debate was vigorous at these universities — the very opposite of the popular presumption.

It is no surprise that the church should have done so much to foster and protect the nascent university system, since the church, according to historian Lowrie Daly, "was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."

Until the mid-20th century, the history of economic thought started, more or less, with the 18th century and Adam Smith. But beginning with Joseph Schumpeter, the great economist and historian of his field, scholars have begun to point instead to the 16th-century Catholic theologians at Spain's University of Salamanca as the originators of modern economics.

And the list goes on. . . .


More Wiener . . .

He's back in the news again. Anthony. Wiener. When one just isn't enough . . .


On The Fifth Day Of Christmas . . .

Reposted from 2010:

Today is the fifth day of the twelve days of Christmas.

The Feast of St. Thomas a Becket is celebrated this day. One of the overarching issues of the Medieval world was where the authority of the Papacy ended and the authority of kings began. It was an issue that would consume St. Thomas.

Thomas a Becket was born into 12th century England. As Chancellor to King Henry II, he came to be a close confidant of the King. He even accompanied the King to war, reportedly acquitting himself well in battle. But then, in 1161, when Henry appointed Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket became a defender of Papal authority. At particular issue was the Papacy's claim of right to try felonious monks and other lawless clergy in Church courts. Henry wanted to end this custom and subject criminal clergy to Royal courts. Becket was intransigent, even going so far as to excommunicate other English bishops who supported Henry on the issue. Henry, in a rage, famously asked “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”

Four of Henry's knights took it upon themselves to do just that. Travelling to Canterbury on this date in 1170, with their weapons in hand, they confronted Becket and demanded he lift the excommunications. When Becket refused, it was soon clear beyond doubt that he would be killed. Moments after Becket “commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis,” his assassins put him to the sword, spilling his brains on the Cathedral floor.

Much of the medieval world erupted in horror at Becket's murder. Pilgrimages to the site followed soon thereafter with numerous miracles occurring that were attributed to Becket. The Church canonized Becket in 1173. King Henry presented himself at the tomb of Becket to make public penance, allowing himself to be scourged by the local clerics.

Canterbury became the third greatest site of pilgrimage in all of Europe.

The first great work of literature composed in English, Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," is set against the backdrop of travelers on a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine.

St. Thomas is, today, the patron saint of priests.


The Maldives: Regressing To A Wahhabi / Salafi "Stone Age"

If there is a recurring theme within political Islam it is the permanent jihad to wipe out any trace of non-Muslim civilization. Once you appreciate that you’ll begin to see the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Mosque built over the Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands and the spread of “no-go” neighborhoods in Europe in an entirely new light.

I will be beginning most posts on Islam with that quote, as it distills political Islam down to its fundamental tactic. It cuts through all of the deception, all of the lies, and all of the West's misguided projection of benign motivations on the Islamists, from Palestine to those in our own midst. It works to analyze Islam from day 1 of the Hijrah through today. And it has special importance for the advance of Wahhabism within the Islamic community itself.

I have been pointing out for years that, while there are many schools of Islam, it is the Wahhabi / Salafi sect - being spread throughout the world on Saudi petrodollars - that poses a supreme danger, not merely to the West, but to all other forms of Islam. A series of columns in the news from the Maldives drives home both Islam's "permanent jihad" and the dangerous spread of Wahhabism.

The Maldives are a series of Islands in the Indian Ocean. The nation has long been Islamic, though the indigenous form was Sufism. Since the 1980's, the influence of Wahhabism has been growing - with devastating effects. By the mid-1990's, the country adopted a Constitution that enshrined Islam as the state religion and made it illegal for anyone to practice any other faith in the Maldives. But that is just one aspect of the Wahhabist poison at work. The Volokh Conspiracy posted this the other day:

As reported by the Maldivian newspaper Haveeru, “President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday called on citizens to reject religious extremism and continue to support the ‘traditional form’ of Islam that has been practiced in the Maldives for the past 800 years,” and in particular said:

Should we ban music? Should we mutilate girls’ genitals? Should we allow nine year-olds to be married? Should we forbid art and drawing? Should we be allowed to take concubines? Is this nation building? ....

This is an old country, people have lived here for thousands of years and we have practised Islam for more than 800 years. In 2011, we are faced with a question, how should we build our nation: what we will teach our children, how should we live our lives and what we will leave for future generations? ...

Some people are saying that the government is going against religion because we won’t deviate from the traditional form of Islam ....

[I] asked you to come here in support of the middle, tolerant path. And I believe that most citizens want to continue our traditional form of Islam. . . .

To build our economy we need foreign investments and we need to create an environment in which foreigners can invest ....

We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant.

And indeed, Wahhabi / Salafi Islam is a direct step not back to the stone ages, nor even to the time Mohammed, but rather to Ibn Taymiyyah's 12th century brutal and draconian vision of the time of Mohammed, as well as his articulation of the doctrine of takfir - that Islamists can label others as apostates for failing to follow the Taymiyyah / Wahhab / Salafi strand of Islam, and kill them for it. As doctor and former terrorist Tawfiq Hamid warned a few years ago: "The civilized world ought to recognize the immense danger that Salafi Islam poses; it must become informed, courageous and united if it is to protect both a generation of young Muslims and the rest of humanity from the disastrous consequences of this militant ideology."

The degree to which Wahhabi / Salafi Islam had grown in his country and its toxic effects were further explored by Maryam Omidi in the Guardian:

An Islamic scholar is facing flak for not wearing the right beard. We must not let Wahhabism suffocate this island nation's identity, writes Maryam Omidi, editor of Maldives-based website Minivan News.

On his recent visit to the Maldives, Salih Yucel, a Turkish Islamic scholar and lecturer at Monash University in Australia, was rejected by his fellow Muslims who deemed his beard too short and his trousers too long for him to be a bona fide Muslim. The response to the former imam came as no surprise, being symptomatic of the puritanical Wahhabism taking root in the Indian Ocean archipelago, a favourite haunt of honeymooners and A-list celebrities.

The country's legislative architecture entrenches this intolerance, in a constitution that recognises only Muslims as citizens and a Religious Unity Act that stringently demarcates the type of Islam to be practised. Nor are the country's non-Muslim expatriates, largely Buddhist Sri Lankans and Hindu Indians, permitted to practise their faiths in public as all places of worship apart from mosques are banned. The intolerance does not end here: for Wahhabis, even other Muslims, such as Shias and Sufis, are apostates.

The onset of Wahhabism in the country can be linked to a rise of the ultraconservative ideology in the region, above all in Pakistan, where many Maldivians travel for a free education at one of its madrasas. While the teachings at the vast majority of these institutions are benign, there are those, financed by Saudi Arabia, that serve as conduits for the Wahhabi ideology.

Wahhabism, a back to basics Islam, states adherents must follow the way of the Prophet Muhammad and his disciples to the letter. The result has been a doctrinaire outlook among devotees and a repudiation of the Maldives' historically moderate past.

As with other countries in the region such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, Islam in the Maldives was suffused with elements of Sufism; further, unique to the island nation are the influences absorbed from its Buddhist past. But today, a conflict between these traditions and calls for greater orthodoxy is palpable.

Many pin the upsurge in radicalism on former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, an Egyptian-educated scholar, who according to one journalist, brought Islam to the forefront of the nation's identity at the expense of other cultural attributes. The upshot has been the destruction of indigenous Islam in the Maldives and a cultural identity crisis.

The losers in this formerly matriarchal society have been women and girls. A groundswell of devotion over recent years has led to the number of headscarves worn soaring, though often through social pressure rather than piety.

More recently, families refusing to send their daughters to school or vaccinate their children, while uncommon, are beginning to worry the authorities. More alarming are reports about men keeping underage girls as concubines to have sex with when their wives are menstruating. Although yet to be verified, the reports have moved the Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed to call for an investigation. While the Ministry of Islamic Affairs denounced concubinage as un-Islamic, for many it was a nod to the practice of taking slave-girls as concubines during the prophet's time.

In July, I wrote an article about the gender disparity in issuing punishments for those convicted of premarital sex, for which the sentence under sharia law is 100 lashes. While pregnancy incriminates women, men deny their involvement in the act and get off scot-free. Latest statistics from 2006 revealed that out of 184 people sentenced to the punishment, 146 were women. The article and Amnesty International's consequent call for a moratorium on flogging led to protests demanding my deportation and the resignations of the foreign minister, an MP and the Maldivian high commissioner to the UK, all of whom I quoted in the article.

What the protests underscored was the absence of a public space for religious debate. While a predominantly moderate sentiment may still exist, the few bold enough to ask questions are labelled un-Islamic or worse still, intimidated into silence. A recent announcement by the minister of Islamic affairs that only scholars well-versed in the Qur'an should speak about religion affairs tightened the screws further.

The rise of Wahhabism is one of the many challenges the fledging democracy has to face. Although led by a young, liberal president, the coalition government's failure to encourage dialogue on religion has precluded the possibility of alternative narratives taking hold.

The government's ambitions to reappropriate its heritage through the restoration of its Buddhist sites and the introduction of Maldivian history in schools may be one antidote. Another lies in the country's largely young population. While outwardly at least devotion has rocketed, behind closed doors, many young people hunger for an Islamic reformation. The question is, who will dare to lead the way?

What is happening in the Maldives is happening throughout the Islamic world, from Turkey to Indonesia to Egypt. It has already involved us in two wars since the turn of the millennium. It will surely involve us in many more if we do not heed Dr. Hamid's advice and begin fully engaging in the war of ideas to counteract this poison.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jonah Goldberg Humorously Misses The Mark

Jonah Goldberg has quite a humorous column up at the LA Times describing the rebellion in Republican grass roots ranks against the "conservative establishment." Ultimately, Goldberg concludes that the problem is a general dissatisfaction with the field of Republican candidates and whether they can win against Obama. He was good up to that point, but I think he misdiagnoses the angst among the electorate. I feel pretty confident that Romney or Gingrich could win against Obama. I am less certain about the second tier candidates, but they are second tier and not likely to win the nomination. It is not the weakness of the field that is the problem, its the acts of the Republican "establishment," the punditry as well as current and former lawmakers, that are causing the angst. Not since 1964 have we seen the "establishment" engage in such a grossly unfair slash and burn campaign against our own Republican candidates. As I wrote in a post below, Are These NRO People Nuts:

Precious little of what is coming from the right leaning pundits has been reasoned criticism. To the contrary, its largely been overheated hyperbole of the ilk used by the left to demonize and delegitimize Sarah Palin.

In that sense, the actions of the "Republican establishment" have been disgusting and unforgivable. Mr. Goldberg humorously gets the angst, but misdiagnoses its genesis:

've made a disturbing discovery: I am a member of the conservative "establishment." I felt like Michael Douglas at the end of "Falling Down": "I'm the bad guy?"

For the last few years, the rank and file of the GOP and the conservative movement have become deeply disenchanted with what they see as the rubber-spined, foot-dragging quislings drinking from a trough of chablis at some Georgetown party. The term "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) has become an epithet of ideological enforcement, spit out in much the same way Mao cursed "running dog capitalists." . . .

Though he never intended any of this, Mitt Romney is largely to blame for the anti-establishment tumult. Somehow, he has managed to become the Arlen Specter of the 2012 field. (Specter is conservative-speak for "demon RINO from hell." You're supposed to spit on the ground after you say "Arlen Specter." Ptooey.)

In 2008, Romney was the conservative alternative to John McCain, earning endorsements not just from National Review magazine but from the titans of right-wing talk radio — Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Now Limbaugh insists that support for Romney proves that "the Republican establishment does not want a conservative getting the nomination." Erick Erickson, a CNN contributor and editor of the conservative site Red State, says that if Romney is the nominee, "Conservatism dies and Barack Obama wins."

After National Review issued a stinging anti-Newt Gingrich editorial, many of the same voices insisted that the magazine (where I work, though I didn't write the editorial) has, in the words of one right-wing blogger, lived long enough "to become the villain." Fox News, Karl Rove, Charles Krauthammer, George Will and even pro-Romney columnist Ann Coulter are routinely denounced as part of some RINO cabal. . . .

The mere fact that there's something one can meaningfully describe as a conservative establishment today is a victory, never mind that it is more conservative than it has ever been. But a conservative establishment is useless if it doesn't bring the nation with it. The frustration on the right stems from the fact that none of the candidates seems up to that task.


Aztecs Versus Our Warmies

From a brilliant post at Real Science, comparing the advanced religion of the Aztecs with that of our modern Warmies:

Like the Aztecs, many climate scientists believe that sacrificial offerings are necessary to stabilize the climate. But there are some key differences.

1. Aztecs correctly believed that the climate was controlled by the moods of the Sun. Modern climate scientists have not progressed that far yet.

2. Aztec priests believed that only a small percentage of the population needed to be sacrificed, whereas the modern priests believe that everyone (except for themselves) needs to sacrifice.



On The Fourth Day Of Christmas . . .

Reposted from 2010:

Today is the fourth day of the twelve days of Christmas.

On the fouth day is celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This feast honors those children slaughtered on the order of King Herod, as told in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The Magi had passed through Jerusalem and let it be known they were going to visit the newborn King. Herod, hearing of this, called his advisors together, one of whom informed Herod of a prophecy that a child would be born in Bethlehem who would become “a ruler who is to shepherd the people of Israel.” When later the Magi later refused to tell Herod where they had found Jesus, Herod ordered the slaughter of all children under two years of age living in Bethlehem. It is estimated that, in the small town of Bethlehem, that this would have meant slaughtering about 25 children. And it is their martyrdom that the Feast of the Holy Innocents honors.

The Coventry Carol, performed below by Alison Moyet, tells the story.

This 15th century carol has an interesting back story. In Medieval Europe, few people were literate and most copies of the bible where in Latin, so the local clergy used alternative methods to teach the bible. One was through the use of the “poor man's bible” - stained glass windows which contained images from biblical stories, sort of a millennium old precursor to the modern comic books. One of the most famous “poor man's bible” is the 14th century window in Canterbury Cathedral shown here on the right.

A second method of teaching the bible was through Mystery plays that told biblical stories in the vernacular and, often, included song. These plays were performed by the clergy outside of the Church until the 12th century, when the conduct of the plays were turned over to town guilds. It is from one of these plays performed in 15th century Coventry, England that the Coventry Carol comes down to us.

The traditional way to celebrate today is to turn over rule of the house to the youngest child. It is the youngest who decides the day's foods, drinks, music, entertainments, etc. Also traditional is a red desert, especially a pudding or ice cream with a red sauce, such as raspberry.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On The Third Day Of Christmas

Reposted From 2010:

Today is the third day of the twelve days of Christmas.

Today is celebrated the Feast of St. John The Evangelist. And in respect thereof, today is the day to bring your bottle(s) of wine to the Church to have it blessed by a priest.

John was a fisherman before he and his brother James were called by Christ to become his apostles. John was the only apostle to stay with Jesus during the crucifixion. Afterwards, he joined with St. Peter to spread Christianity throughout Israel. John was later exiled to the island of Patmos where he received visions that he recounted in what is now the final chapter of the Bible, The Apocalypse.

John alone of the apostles did not die a martyr's death – though apparently there were several attempts made on his life. The most famous was an attempt to poison him that failed when John blessed his wine, drawing out the poison before John consumed the wine. It is in remembrance of that event that, on the Feast of St. John, people may bring wine to the Church that it be blessed and then consumed in his honor.

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not.

Today's Feast was historically a special day of celebration for priests. Do have a happy Feast of St. John The Evangelist and may your wine be blessed.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Did You Get Your Christmas Card From Obama This Year?

From Heh.


The Virginia Republican Massacre - The Plot Thickens

I blogged here on the decision of the Virginia State Board of Elections to certify Ron Paul and Mitt Romney for the ballot in the Va. Republican Primary, but to exclude Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on the grounds that their submissions, both of which were in excess of 11,000 raw signatures, did not meet the requirement of 10,000 valid signatures. Neither Ron Paul's submissions nor Mitt Romney's, both over 15,000, were subject to any review. Funny that. We learn more on this today from Moe Lane.

Prior to November, 2012, any Republican turning in over 10,000 raw signatures was considered to have met the Virginia state requirements for inclusion on the ballot. At some point in November, the State Board of Elections made a change to their internal rules. The minimum number of required signatures was kept at 10,000 but the Board decided that the cut-off for automatic qualification would be changed to 15,000. Ostensibly, this was done in response to a law suit against the Election Board that is unrelated to the Republican primary. Moe Lane adds:

As for the implications… well, I think that John Fund’s general comment is correct: this is going to go to the courts. John was not discussing this specific wrinkle, but his larger point that Virginia’s ballot access policies have systemic problems gets a big boost when it turns out that the state party can effectively increase by fifty percent thepractical threshold for ballot access – in a day, and in the middle of an existing campaign. The VA GOP still retains ultimate control over who gets on the ballot, of course. But then, they always have – and under the current system they could in fact brazen it out and certify Gingrich and Perry anyway. Of course, that would probably mean another lawsuit anyway; but then, there really isn’t a path out of here that doesn’t involve lawsuits.


On The Second Day Of Christmas . . .

Reposted from 2010:

Today is the second day of the twelve days of Chrismas, that end with the celebration of the Epiphany on the 6th of January. It is also Boxing Day in the UK.

This second day of Christmas is given over to the celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Stephen was one of several people appointed as Deacons of the Church by Peter and the apostles. Stephen was an effective proselytizer who drew the ire of the Sanhedrin, before whom Stephen was tried for for blasphemy against Moses and God (See Acts 6 and 7). Boldly declaring not merely his belief in Christ, but citing to a vision that he had of Christ at the right hand of God, the Sanhedrin voted, in 34 A.D., to execute him by stoning. St. Stephen's execution was itself notable in that Paul of Taursus took part in the stoning.

St. Stephen is the patron of stone masons, those with headaches, and horses. “The reason for this last is unknown, but this patronage is very ancient, and in rural cultures and olden times, horses are/were blessed, adorned, and taken out sleighing, and foods for horses were blessed to be fed to them in times of sickness.” The Feast of St. Stephen was historically offered in honor of all Deacons of the Church.

The famous Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus, tells how the 10th century Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, on one cold and snowy St. Stephen's Day a millenium ago, took it upon himself to bring alms to a poor man and his family.

St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe, wrote a particularly poignant sermon in honor of the Feast of St. Stephen in about the year 500 A.D.:

Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of His soldier. Yesterday our King, clothed in His robe of flesh, left His place in the Virgin's womb and graciously visited the world. Today His soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our King, despite His exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet He did not come empty-handed. He gave of His bounty, yet without any loss to Himself. In a marvelous way He changed into wealth the poverty of His faithful followers while remaining in full possession of His own inexhaustible riches. And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the King, it later shone forth in His soldier. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey's end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.

May you have a happy Feast of St. Stephen.

Today is also known as Boxing Day in Britain. It originated in medieval times when the priests would empty the alms boxes in all churches on the day after Christmas and distribute the gifts to the poor of the parish. Moreover, the workers, apprentices, and servants stored their savings and donations through out the year in their own personal boxes made of earthen ware. Then, on the day after Christmas, the box was broken and the money counted,


A Moment Of Perfect Clarity - The Centrality Of Political Islam Is To Conquer All

If there is a recurring theme within political Islam it is the permanent jihad to wipe out any trace of non-Muslim civilization. Once you appreciate that you’ll begin to see the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Mosque built over the Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands and the spread of “no-go” neighborhoods in Europe in an entirely new light.

What a brilliant observation. It gets to the very centrality of "political" Islam. The observation was made by "Dan From NY" commenting at Doug Ross's site on the Islamist's burning and looting of the famous L’Institut d’Egypte but a few days ago in Cairo. His observation brings perfect clarity. It boils down the real threat of political Islam to the world in a few short sentences. Islam cannot co-exist. It's adherents have little to no time to waste with engaging in the realm of ideas to spread their message. They seek to impose Islam on everyone, and they keep all adherents in line with the very real threat of the sword. Islam must conquer - and part and parcel of that effort is to "wipe out any trace of non-Muslim civilization." And it explains why, if there is no moderation of Islam, then it will never be compatible with the rest of the world. It presages death, murder and mayhem on a grand scale forced upon us before an eventual winner take all.

Unfortunately, it seems all too common in the West, where Christianity dominates, to project a benign nature on Islam, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. And our political leaders have long encouraged that view, refusing to be honest and engage in the war of ideas. It is a dangerous and suicidal game that we play in the West with "political" Islam. I would note as an aside that at least one of the Republican candidates for the nomination understands that. Whether or not he wins the nomination, I hope that he becomes our "Geert Wilders," willing to speak out much more on this reality. On a final note, consider Dan from NY's paradigm for analysis of political Islam as you read this from today's news:

Islamists kill dozens in Nigeria Christmas bombs

Islamist militants set off bombs across Nigeria on Christmas Day - three targeting churches including one that killed at least 27 people - raising fears that they are trying to ignite sectarian civil war.

The Boko Haram Islamist sect, which aims to impose sharia law across the country, claimed responsibility for the three church bombs, the second Christmas in a row the group has caused mass carnage with deadly bombings of churches. Security forces also blamed the sect for two other blasts in the north.

St Theresa's Catholic Church in Madala, a satellite town about 40 km (25 miles) from the centre of the capital Abuja, was packed when the bomb exploded just outside. . . .

Boko Haram - which in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria means "Western education is sinful" - is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement . . .

It has emerged as the biggest security threat in Nigeria, a country of 160 million split evenly between Christians and Muslims, who for the most part live side by side in peace.

Its low level insurgency used to be largely confined to northeastern Nigeria, but it has struck several parts of the north, centre and the capital Abuja this year.

Last Christmas Eve, a series of bomb blasts around Jos killed 32 people, and other people died in attacks on two churches in the northeast. . . .

The White House condemned "this senseless violence and tragic loss of life on Christmas Day."

"Senseless violence?" That is why we invite ever greater violence from the political Islamists. The violence was not senseless at all. It was purposeful.  Our President - not this one, because that is not possible, but the next - needs to stands up and repeat Dan From NY's observation.  That is step one in ending the violence before it eventually escalates to cataclysmic proportions.

Update: You will find memorialized many more acts of violence and persecution of Christians at the hands of Muslims during this month at Powerline. Update: Linked by Theo Spark, home of the best hot toddy's on the net.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Origins Of Our Christmas Traditions

On Dec. 25, we celebrate Christmas. There are presents beneath a Christmas tree, along with holiday food and drink. Christmas carols are sung while Santa Claus and his reindeer play across the television.

 How we celebrate Christmas today involves an amalgam of far flung traditions, only some of which arise purely from Christianity. Much of how we celebrate has to do with pagan traditions redirected to celebrating the birth of Christ.

I find it fascinating that some radical secularists and atheists repeatedly point this out, citing it as proof that the celebration of Christmas is somehow false or hypocritical. That is a non-sequitur. It is that which is celebrated that matters, not the trappings or method of celebration.

That said, the trappings and methods are fascinating, and date back, in many cases, to antiquity. Thus do we have everything from Christmas on December 25th to Santa Claus, the yule log, and caroling to name but a few of our modern Christmas traditions.


Scratch most any Christian holiday and you'll find all sorts of pagan customs caught up in it. These customs, to the extent they did not conflict with Christianity, were purposely embraced by the Church as part of a policy of syncretism - adopting the forms, trappings and traditions of pagan religions, as part and parcel of converting the pagans to Christianity.

Probably the most famous memorialization of a papal order to use the process of syncretism comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, who notes that in 601 A.D., Pope Gregory sent a letter to his missionaries instructing them to adapt local customs and places of worship as part of the conversion process whenever possible.

 Christmas on Dec. 25

The earliest Christians celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus, they didn't celebrate his birth - probably because the bible doesn't tell us the day on which Christ was born. Modern historians and theologians put the birth of Jesus as occurring somewhere between April and September. Nonetheless, in 337 A.D., Pope Saint Julius I directed that Dec. 25th should be the day on which we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Why he did that, we can only make an educated guess.  In 337 A.D., the ancient Roman Empire was the world's superpower. Christianity had only two decades earlier emerged as a legitimate religion in the empire.  For the 300 preceding years, Christians had been intermittently and brutally persecuted, with the worst having had occurred under Diocletian starting in 303 A.D. and not fully ending until 313 A.D. with Edict of Milan signed by Constantine I.

By 337 A.D., Christianity was in competition for supremacy in the Roman Empire.  Pagan Romans prayed to many Gods, but the most important of these was Saturn.  The major celebration of this God was Saturnalia, beginning on the day of the winter solstice and ending about a week later.  It was a week of celebrations, gift giving, and of kind treatment of slaves.  When the Julian Calendar was first promulgated in 46 B.C., it set the date of the Winter solstice as Dec. 25.

In addition to Rome's Saturnalia, most pagan religions had major celebrations centered around the Winter solstice. So when Pope St. Julius I chose Dec. 25, he placed Christianity's second most important celebration, the birth of Christ, squarely over top the pagan midwinter celebrations and Saturnalia, continuing the traditions of feasts and gaiety, but turning them to a celebration of the birth of Jesus for Christians.

Gift Giving -

The giving of gifts at Christmas time seems to have been a continuation of such acts common throughout the pagan midwinter celebrations, including Saturnalia.  Near a millennium later, some leaders of the medieval Church, in a true humbug moment, tried to suppress gift giving because of its pagan roots.  What were they thinking?  Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and the Church finally came to conclude that gift giving at Christmas was justified on the basis of the gifts rendered to Jesus by the magi at the Epiphany, in addition to the tradition of gift giving for which Saint Nicholas became famous in 4th century Asia Minor.

Santa Claus, Yuletide, and stockings hung by the chimney with care -

Santa Claus comes from a syncretic melding that occurred in antiquity of Saint Nicholas with the Norse God Odin.  Odin, a God of War, was also a gift giver to children. During the pagan midwinter celebration of Yule, Odin would ride his flying horse onto the roof of each house.  Children would place carrots and straws in their shoes and set them near the chimney.  Odin's horse would consume the goodies while Odin rewarded the children with Gifts.  

So thorough was the conversion of the Germanic peoples that even the name of their ancient celebration, Yule, was re-defined to refer to Christmas.  And as the Norse converted, they melded St. Nicholas with Odin, creating a figure known as Sinter Claes who made his home in the frozen northern lands.  When Sinter Claes came to America with the first Dutch settlers, his name was anglicized to Santa Claus.  It was in America that Santa was given reindeer instead of a horse, and it was in the famous Clement Moore poem, T'was the Night Before Christmas," that our modern Santa Claus was given description.

Odin was usually shown in green robes, representing "the Celto-Germanic idea of evergreens surviving through the winter and representing the renewal of life."  Likewise, Santa Claus was, for many centuries, shown as dressed in green robes.

My research isn't turning up a definitive answer on how the color red came to be associated with Santa and Christmas in general.  One theory is that the association of red with Christmas comes from the color of St. Nichalous's vestments.  A second, more cynical theory is that Coca Cola corporation pushed red - the same red as the color of their cans - in their early marketing campaigns centered around Santa Claus.

Christmas Carols and Caroling -

A "carol" is a song devoted to Christmas.  The first hymns to Christmas date all the way back to 4th century Rome, not long after Pope St. Julius I set the date for the birth of Jesus.  Indeed, one of those early carols, "Of The Father's Love Begotten," written at the turn of the 4th century, is still sung by choirs today.

While Christmas Carols have always been with us, the act of "caroling" - visiting homes to sing carols - has roots in the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon tradition of "wassailing."  By the Middle Ages, the wassailing tradition had been absorbed into Christianity, and it became customary on 12th night (see The 12 Days of Christmas) for groups of wassailers to sing songs at their lord's manor.  As set out in the ancient carol, still popular today, "Here We Come A Wassailing" the peasants ask for ale and food and in return bestow their blessings and good will upon the lord.

Christmas Trees -

The modern Christmas Tree has its origins in one particular "mystery play" commonly staged during the Middle Ages on Christmas Eve.  The play told the masses the story of Adam and Eve using as a prop a "Paradise Tree" - an evergreen tree adorned with apples and wafers.  At some point, it became common among West Germans to set up such a tree in their homes, with the dedication becoming associated with Christmas rather than the Creation story.  Candles and other decorations were added and this German tradition gradually spread beyond its borders.  The tradition was brought to Britain in the early 19th century by Queen Charlotte when she married King George III.  And while such trees were common amongst German immigrants to America, it was an 1848 photo of Britain's King and Queen posed next to a Christmas tree that set the tradition alight throughout all of the U.S.

And in conclusion, let me wish a Merry Christmas to one and all.


Merry Christmas To All

Nativity With St. Francis and St. Lawrence, Caravaggio, 1609

From the Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, 24 Dec. 2011:

. . . Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.).

For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centered on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.

. . . Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.