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Joy to the World in the Season of Light

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Sunday: Solstice is coming!

Update: Atrios seems to be depressed and cynical about our politico-financial class and what it is carelessly doing with other people’s money. I’m sure that this whole screwed up system struck him as brutally unfair before but now that it seems like all we have left is 401Ks and IRAs that rely on the good faith of people like Jon Corzine, it seems even more unfair, doesn’t it?

And *I’m* the one who was called one of a shrieking band of paranoid holdouts, crazy, racist, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum.  Let’s recall that it was Jon Corzine who rejected Hillary, dumped her actually, and went with Barack Obama.  There had to be a reason.

I guess I wasn’t the crazy one after all.  Just remember that when the day comes that the middle class turns on their 401Ks, I was there first.

************************

My resident atheist informs me that my Christmas celebrations violate her first amendment rights or something {{rolling eyes, where *does* she get that??}}.   I’m oppressing her and discriminating against her right to be non-religious.   So, this year, we’re celebrating Solstice.  We’re having a Raclette party followed by sleepover for those who want to stay.  When it gets dark, and we’re sure the neighbors aren’t watching, we’re going to light skylanterns.  The kid wants to build a nest for the Solstice Weasel, her own invention, in the living room.  But I told her that she’d have to take the damn nest downstairs into the basement.

Bringing in the Yule Log

I won’t have any more bits and pieces of construction paper and string in the living room. We’re having a tree, dammit.  Besides, the Christmas tree was originally a Yule tradition and Yule is the English name for the 12 day pagan Solstice celebration.  It gives me great delight to launch another salvo in the war on Christmas by erecting a Yule tree in my living room.  Take that, Bill O’Reilly! Bwahahahahahahaaaaaahhhh!

***************

In other news:

Hillary Clinton launched a new initiative to promote women in public service called The Women in Public Service Project.  The State Department will be pairing up with 5 women’s colleges to conduct research and to educate for the purpose of increasing the number of women in government and the private sector.

By the way, Obama guys, if you think that women of Hillary’s stature have gotten over what happened in 2008, you are very much mistaken.  Even Christine Le Garde, head of the IMF, made mention of it.  When watching the video below, you’d have to be tone deaf to not hear the undertones of anger and steely resolve.  Women who came of age in the feminist revolution are not at all content to gain this level of education and experience to be told that we’re not to be taken seriously.  No, not at all.  In fact, the macho assholes who brought us the 2008 election season have pissed off just about everyone they need for a replay in 2012: unions, working people, families and, most egregiously, women.  If you think we’re going to roll over a second time, you are very much mistaken.

In any case, they’re not getting mad, they’re getting even.  Part of the goal of this new initiative is to bring 40 female leaders from all around the world to a summer institute at one of the colleges in the coalition to train them in the art of politics.  Hillary explains why it is so important to train women to embrace politics.  Pay attention at minute marker 41:00.  Superficially, she’s referring to women in Arab Spring countries.  On a deeper level, I hear quite a different criticism.  Tell me what you think.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Who’s sorry now?

This project is greatly needed and long overdue.  But it’s not just other countries that need to train women in politics and public service.  Our own country’s legislative body has a pathetic 17% representation by women.  We should be training our own.  Let’s hope that doing just that is part of this project.  And wouldn’t it be sweet if it turned out that it was Hillary that helped get us to that magic 30% representation that would usher in a change in policy in government?  Success is the best revenge.

**********************

The Layaway Project.  I saw this article a couple of days ago but was really delighted to see Lambert at Correntewire pick up on it.  It turns out that anonymous donors have been going to stores like Kmart and Walmart and paying off layaway accounts for people who are in danger of being delinquent.  Yup, they just go into the store, pay off someone’s account and leave.  Sort of like the Lone Solstice Weasel.  Or Santa, if you’re into imaginary beings:

The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.

He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn’t be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

“She told him, ‘No, I’m paying for it,'” recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. “He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn’t, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears.”

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn’t afford, especially toys and children’s clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Hey, we can all do this, even those of us on unemployment can dig a little bit into the savings and help pay off a layaway.  Can I get an “Hell Yeah!”?  I stood in line in the grocery store yesterday behind a woman who was paying with food stamps.  In my suburb, where the median salary is $106,000/year, there are people who are on food stamps.  And she didn’t look poor or dirty or lazy.  She just looked like a suburbanite who’s suffering at the hands of stupid political and economic policy.  As a kid whose parents didn’t believe in Christmas presents, I know how hard it is on a kid to go back to school in January and feel isolated from the rest of the crowd because they have no presents to talk about.  It’s just devastating on a social level.

In years when I was employed, I would pluck a wish list off the Salvation Army Christmas tree in the cafeteria and then make that kid’s wish come true.  I’m not working but if there is an account at Kmart that needs a little extra and I can help get presents to those kids, why not?  We can’t let Lambert’s blog get ahead of us here.  We need some healthy competition.  Game on!

***********************

Finally, macaroons.  Swoon.  I love them and appreciate their decadence.  Turns out that good lovers know it too:

“Your slacker boyfriend gives you a cupcake; your lover gives you macarons.” Thus quoth the New York Times last week in an article about the sexy qualities of macarons, the airy pastry that’s been taking New York by storm for the past year or so. We love the idea of gifts from a lover. A boyfriend or girlfriend might give you a first-edition copy of a meaningful book, a framed picture of your first date, a video game you’ll both play for hours, a nice dinner for two. A lover’s gifts will all be of a sexier ilk..

[….]

1. Macarons
Macarons are airy, almond cookies with a creamy filling — and they are sexy. In the words of the New York Times, “A macaron teases. Dainty, nearly weightless, it leaves you hungrier than you were before. It is but a prelude to other pleasures.” What’s more, they usually come in a sexy box tied with a ribbon — whomever you send these to will feel quite woo’d.

They used to make these at my local Wegmans and called them Nicolettes.  (Hmmm, was that the name of the rose in Romance of the Rose or some other piece of medieval literature?  And didn’t her bud get plucked at the end?)  Anyway, macaroons are divine.  They’re full of luscious flavor and a melt in your mouth texture.  Alas, their freshness is as ephemeral as a love affair.  You need to eat them quickly.  By the next day, they’re already stale.  But, oh, for those brief hours, orgasmic.  Keep the ribbon.

Thursday: Relative

Did this Melanesian get the blonde hair from the Denisovian side of the family?

There isn’t much time left before the big day!  Yep, before you know it, the Republicans will have full control of the House.  What, you thought I was talking about Christmas.

Here’s a frightening cautionary tale: The town of Pritchard in Alabama was warned for years that it wasn’t setting enough money aside to pay for pensions.  Right on schedule, the pension money ran out in 2009 and the town stopped sending checks to its retired public servants.  Some of them have since died destitute.  Others have had to file for bankruptcy.  This is what you get when you don’t fulfill your obligations to the employees who deferred some of their compensation for their retirement.  And Congress has no excuse in the future to say, “Oh, we didn’t know.  who could have predicted that not raising taxes on the wealthy would result in a shortfall in Social Security when we decided to cut everyone a 2% break on their payroll taxes in 2010?”  From the NYTimes article on Pritchard:

It is not just the pensioners who suffer when a pension fund runs dry. If a city tried to follow the law and pay its pensioners with money from its annual operating budget, it would probably have to adopt large tax increases, or make huge service cuts, to come up with the money.

We all know what’s coming because this president and his cowardly Congressional Democrats didn’t have the balls to challenge Republicans when they had a chance.  Instead of throwing the drowning Republicans an anchor, they’ve thrown them a cruise ship and their own private island.  Thanks for the coal, Dems.

Speaking of Christmas, you’ll have to put down another place setting for the newest relative on the evolutionary family tree. It turns out that one of our long lost cousins, the Denisovians, was discovered in a cave in Siberia. We’re only distantly related.  The Denisovians left traces of their presence in the Melanesians of the South Pacific and New Guinea where as much as 4% of their DNA can still be found among the island populations.  The Denisovians are from the Neanderthal side of the family.  Really, they’re more like in-laws.  Fascinating.  We’ll have to see what those 4% residual genes are good for.

Ross Douthat, true believer is feeling repressed:

The first is “American Grace,” co-written by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of “Bowling Alone” fame) and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, which examines the role that religion plays in binding up the nation’s social fabric. Over all, they argue, our society reaps enormous benefits from religious engagement, while suffering from few of the potential downsides. Widespread churchgoing seems to make Americans more altruistic and more engaged with their communities, more likely to volunteer and more inclined to give to secular and religious charities. Yet at the same time, thanks to Americans’ ever-increasing tolerance, we’ve been spared the kind of sectarian conflict that often accompanies religious zeal.

But for Christians, this sunny story has a dark side. Religious faith looks more socially beneficial to America than ever, but the institutional Christianity that’s historically generated most of those benefits seems to be gradually losing its appeal.

{{Snort!}}  Yes, all that sunshine must be positively blinding to the millions of child brides around the world who are benefitting from our Christian brothers who are withholding aid because they may get information about abortion in their health care services.  Peace on earth, good will to men!

By the way, Ross, that altruistic spirit of churchgoers is beaten to a pulp by the Atheists on the Kiva site where the non-believers out raise the Christians by a HUGE margin.  So, you don’t have to go to church to feel empathy for your fellow man or woman.  In fact, it looks like not going to church may lead to a more generous spirit.  But I guess if you have a column in the NYTimes, you can say whatever you like.  It doesn’t have to be true.

Ross continues:

Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what Hunter calls a “weak culture” — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future. In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.

Is he serious???  Where was Ross when Catholic bishops forced American women into Catholicism during last year’s healthcare reform debate?  If that wasn’t the single most successful example of conversion, I don’t know what was.

But it turns out that Ross is partially right.  The number of people rejecting creationism is creeping up.  It must give the fundagelical holdouts the willies.  Soon, in maybe a century or so, we Darwinists will win out and those true believers will be forced to add the Denisovians to their prayer lists.  Bwahahahahah!!!

Actually, if anyone has a right to feel repressed at Christmas time, it’s not the Christians.  It’s people like me.  My ancestors in the British Isles looked forward to the solstices to mark the passage of time and to honor their dead.  To my people 6000 years ago, the winter solstice must have been a frightening thing.  The sun goes south, the days shorten, the nights lengthen, it’s cold, nothing grows.  Oh, sure, the sun always comes back but what if it doesn’t this time?  The return of the sun on the days following solstice must have been a joyous occasion marked with feasting on the past harvest, lighting of fires and gathering up as much greenery as possible.  It was a simple time back then.  No crass commercialism.  No materialism.  And then the Christians co-opt Saturnalia and force everyone to go to church.  They’ve got some nerve.

If the Christians were really playing Christmas straight, they wouldn’t be celebrating in December.  We know that the New Testament writers fudged the nativity story to make the dates fit.  Jesus wasn’t born in December.  And from what I’ve read, he probably wasn’t crucified on Easter either.  All that Hosanna stuff and palm waving when Jesus rode to Jerusalem on the donkey was associated with Sukkot, a Jewish holiday celebrated in autumn.  So, why don’t the Christians come clean about Christmas?  They don’t have any special claim to the dates.  Late December is recognized by many faiths from around the world going back millenia.  It’s a time to gather together, keep warm, enjoy the glow of the fire, taste the fullness of fat on your tongue, the last you might have for months to come, and to await the return of the warmth of the sun on the land and in ourselves.

Jesus would approve.

Heaven and Nature Sing

Good Morning, Everyone!

No matter who you are or where you come from, there once was family member of yours long, long ago who woke up on a morning like this one and praised the light for coming back. It is the return of warmth and illumination, the promise of growth, the banishing of fear and the light of reason.

Whatever your holiday tradition, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or Human Light, we at The Conflucnce hope that it is a happy one, filled with friends, family and the inner joy of just being alive.