Archive for December, 2006
27 Dec 2006

Breaking the Sound Barrier

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When an airplane travels at a speed faster than sound, density waves of sound emitted by the plane cannot precede the plane, and so accumulate in a cone behind the plane. When this shock wave passes, a listener hears all at once the sound emitted over a longer period: a sonic boom. As a plane accelerates to just break the sound barrier, however, an unusual cloud might form. The origin of this cloud is still debated. A leading theory is that a drop in air pressure at the plane described by the Prandtl-Glauert Singularity occurs so that moist air condenses there to form water droplets. Above, an F/A-18 Hornet was photographed just as it broke the sound barrier.

Many photographs of airplanes breaking the sound barrier. link

27 Dec 2006

Iran Committing Acts of War in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel

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The Times reports that US forces apprehended Iranians up to no good in Iraq, and clearly operating in cahoots with Shiite leaders and Iraq Government officials.

The American military said Tuesday that it had credible evidence linking Iranians and their Iraqi associates, detained here in raids last week, to criminal activities, including attacks against American forces. Evidence also emerged that some detainees had been involved in shipments of weapons to illegal armed groups in Iraq.

In its first official confirmation of last week’s raids, the military said it had confiscated maps, videos, photographs and documents in one of the raids on a site in Baghdad. The military confirmed the arrests of five Iranians, and said three of them had been released.

American officials have long said that the Iranian government interferes in Iraq, but the arrests, in the compound of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite political leaders, were the first since the American invasion in which officials were offering evidence of the link.

The raids threaten to upset the delicate balance of the three-way relationship among the United States, Iran and Iraq. The Iraqi government has made extensive efforts to engage Iran in security matters in recent months, and the arrests of the Iranians could scuttle those efforts.

Some Iraqis questioned the timing of the arrests, suggesting that the Bush administration had political motives. The arrests were made just days before the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

The Iraqi government has kept silent on the arrests, but Tuesday night officials spoke of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations by Iraq’s government and its fractured political elite over how to handle the situation.

Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, had invited the two Iranians during his visit to Tehran, his spokesman said Sunday, but by Tuesday, some Iraqi officials began to question if Mr. Talabani had in fact made the invitation. His office was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.

Con Coughlin, in the Telegraph last week, discussed more of Iran’s activities.

Cpl Daniel James, who acted as the official translator for Lt-Gen David Richards, the British commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, has been charged with “prejudicing the safety of the state” by passing information “calculated to be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy” to a foreign power, whose identity sources have suggested is Iran.

Irrespective of the outcome of the James case, the mere suggestion that Iran should be seeking to recruit someone with access to the innermost counsels of Nato’s high command is indicative both of Teheran’s intense interest in Nato’s activities in Afghanistan, and its determination to ensure that the West is not allowed to succeed in transforming the country from Islamic dictatorship into stable democracy.

It also makes a mockery of the recent suggestion, advanced in both Washington and London, that the only way to resolve the region’s difficulties is by engaging in a constructive dialogue with Teheran. Whether it be in Iraq or Afghanistan, the over-riding priority of the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is to ensure the coalition’s efforts at nation-building end in failure.

As in Iraq, the history of Iran’s involvement in Afghanistan has been complex, but rarely benign. During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the Iranians supported one of the fiercest Mujahideen groups. More recently, the Iranians helped hundreds of al-Qa’eda fighters to escape from Afghanistan following the coalition’s military campaign to remove the Taliban from power in 2001. Recent intelligence reports have indicated that many senior al-Qa’eda leaders — including two of Osama bin Laden’s sons — are still living in Teheran under the protection of the Revolutionary Guards, where they are being groomed for a possible takeover of the al-Qa’eda leadership…

Given the extent of Iran’s interests in the region, it might appear strange that Nato commanders have appeared reluctant even to discuss the possibility that the Iranians might have their own agenda in upsetting coalition attempts to establish an effective government, particularly when commanders in Iraq have been frank in blaming the Iranians for helping to orchestrate the roadside bombs that have killed and maimed so many soldiers.

The reason for this apparent reticence on the part of Nato commanders is that, given the limited resources at their disposal, they have a big enough challenge dealing with the threat posed by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, without running the risk of extending their field of operations elsewhere. But all that might soon change if, as some intelligence reports suggest, concrete evidence emerges that Iran is actively supporting and providing equipment to Taliban-related groups fighting Nato forces in Afghanistan.

“The Iranians are playing a very clever game in Afghanistan,” a Western intelligence official based in Kabul recently told me. “On the surface, they give the impression they have no interest in what is going on, but behind the scenes they are working hard to influence groups such as the Taliban who are causing Nato the most problems.”

Which would explain why the heavily fortified Iranian embassy in central Kabul, which is located less than a mile from the British mission, is second in size only to that of the sprawling American embassy.

If, as now seems likely, the Iranians are to become serious players in the new Great Game taking place in Afghanistan, then it is essential that Nato be given sufficient numbers of combat troops to ensure that the hazardous mission it has been asked to undertake ultimately ends in victory.

And Depkafile reports that an Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer has been identified commanding Palestinian forces.

since Monday, Dec. 25, two changes were detected in the Palestinian offensive: A new type of homemade missile called Al Buraq 2 (after the Western Wall Jewish shrine in Jerusalem), and a new unit, calling itself the Mujahiddin Brigades, identified by military experts as the first Palestinian terrorist unit set up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ al Quds Brigades.

This group’s first action was to fire the new missiles at Kibbutz Nahal Oz Monday. They were diagnosed at first as mortars, but the fragments did not match any ordnance seen before. It was then discovered that the Mujahiddin Brigades units – consisting of Hamas, Jihad Islami, Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Popular Resistance Committees operatives – are commanded by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer.

Such direct Iranian command of front-line Palestinian missile units is another innovation; it did not occur even on the Hizballah side of the of July-August Lebanon war.

Monday, too, the Americans disclosed the capture in Baghdad of Iranian officers, members of the same RG al Quds Brigades, on another front line: against Iraqi and coalition forces. It looks as though the Islamic Republic has gone into action in Iraq and Gaza in reprisal for the tepid sanctions the UN Security Council imposed Saturday, Dec. 23, for its continuing pursuit of uranium enrichment.

27 Dec 2006

Gerald Ford, Jr. – July 14, 1913—December 26, 2006

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Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska, he was renamed for his stepfather, following his mother’s divorce and remarriage. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1935, having played center on undefeated football teams in 1932 and 1933. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1941, and served in the Navy in WWII.

Appointed to the Vice-Presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment by Richard Nixon, following Spiro Agnew’s resignation, Ford is the only US President to have served in office without having been elected either President or Vice President. Having died at 93, he holds the record as longest-lived US President, having surpassed Ronald Reagan’s previous record by 6 weeks.

Gerald Ford served in office during a painful period in American history. His administration saw the US withdrawal from Vietnam. His greatest service to the United States was undoubtedly his pardon of Richard Nixon, which mercifully closed the Watergate affair, and spared the country the painful and extended spectacle of the trial of a former president.

The Watergate scandal made the 1976 election most likely unwinnable by a Republican. But Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter simply produced the most incompetent and disastrous administration in American history, making inevitable the election of Ronald Reagan.

26 Dec 2006

Hayek’s Road to Serfdom (Cartoon version)

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General Motors and Look Magazine long ago published a cartoon version of Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, doubtless intended to counteract the efforts of the organized international Communist conspiracy to corrupt the thinking of the American workman.

Hat tip to David C. Larkin.

26 Dec 2006

Letting Down the Side

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Philip Howard, late of the Black Watch, in today’s Wall Street Journal, editorializes about Britain’s Labour Government’s cheese-paring over minor and trivial expenses attendant upon keeping up the traditions of Britain’s fighting Highland regiments.

The British Army has (created) a shortage of kilts for its Highland Regiment. It has ordered only 320 ceremonial kilts for 5,000 Jocks, so they are having to share, which is not a comfortable business for the buttock-swinging, elite warriors…

This dire deficiency of the kilt has arisen because last August the British Army, in its infinite wisdom, decided to amalgamate its remaining Scottish regiments. No doubt there were sound strategic and logistic reasons for this, on the ground that bigger is cheaper to administer. But it destroyed the ancient traditions and symbols of tribal families…

The Royal Scots were the First of Foot and Right of the Line. They claim to be the oldest regiment in the British Army, nicknamed Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard. The legend goes that Pilate’s Roman legionary dad married a Highland lass from Fortingal in Perthshire. The Royal Scots wore trews (tight tartan breeks) rather than the kilt, because they were a Lowland Regiment. When they were in French service as “Le Régiment de Douglas”, a dispute arose with the “Régiment de Picardie” as to which was the senior. The French Colonel claimed that his regiment was on duty on the night of the Crucifixion. To which the Colonel of the Royal Scots replied: “Had it been our shift that night, we wouldna hae slept at our post.”

Read the whole thing.

26 Dec 2006

The Insect’s Christmas (1913)

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A 6:13 stop-action animation made in 1913 by the Lithuanian film-maker Wladyslaw Starewicz.

Starewicz web-site.

26 Dec 2006

Fraudulent, Marxist, and Divisive — Naturally, Liberals Promote Kwanzaa

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Curt identifies the synthetic and unsavory origins of the ersatz Black holiday, and the Marxist ideals it is based upon.

African Americans mostly don’t care about Kwanzaa either, as the Wilmington Star notes.

It has been four decades since Kwanzaa was created as an African-American celebration of family and community, but in that time it has not resonated widely in South Carolina, a state where one-third of the population is black.

“I personally don’t know a single person who celebrates the holiday,” said Marcus Cox, founding director of the African-American Studies Program at The Citadel.

The holiday was created in 1966 by California State University at Long Beach professor Maulana Karenga, and a survey for the National Retail Federation in October found 2.3 percent of Americans celebrate it.

Cox said he and many other blacks respect the holiday, but there are barriers to its broader acceptance.

One of them is the timing of Kwanzaa, which is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

“Christmas is a religious holiday. And most African-Americans are Christians,” Cox said.

But liberal journalists love Kwanzaa, and never cease promoting it. Just look at all the Google News links to propaganda in favor of it.

26 Dec 2006

Moscow – Winter, 1908

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7:30 Pathé Frères silent film Moscow Clad in Snow shot in the winter of 1908. The power of the state is conspicuously on display in the first portion.

25 Dec 2006

Christmas Day


From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

The festival of Christmas is regarded as the greatest celebration throughout the ecclesiastical year, and so important and joyous a solemnity is it deemed, that a special exception is made in its favour, whereby, in the event of the anniversary falling on a Friday, that day of the week, under all other circumstances a fast, is transformed to a festival.

That the birth of Jesus Christ, the deliverer of the human race, and the mysterious link connecting the transcendent and incomprehensible attributes of Deity with human sympathies and affections, should be considered as the most glorious event that ever happened, and the most worthy of being reverently and joyously commemorated, is a pro-position which must commend itself to the heart and reason of every one of His followers, who aspires to walk in His footsteps, and share in the ineffable benefits which His death has secured to mankind. And so though at one period denounced by the Puritans as superstitious, and to the present day disregarded by Calvinistic Protestants, as unwarranted by Scripture, there are few who will seriously dispute the propriety of observing the anniversary of Christ’s birth by a religious service.

A question, however, which has been long and eagerly agitated, is here brought forward. Is the 25th of December really the day on which our Saviour first shewed himself in human form in the manger at Bethlehem? The evidence which we possess regarding the date is not only traditional, but likewise conflicting and confused. In the earliest periods at which we have any record of the observance of Christmas, we find that some communities of Christians celebrated the festival on the 1st or 6th of January; others on the 29th of March, the time of the Jewish Passover; while others, it is said, observed it on the 29th of September, or Feast of Tabernacles. There can be no doubt, however, that long before the reign of Constantine, in the fourth century, the season of the New Year had been adopted as the period for celebrating the Nativity, though a difference in this respect existed in the practice of the Eastern and Western Churches, the former observing the 6th of January, and the latter the 25th of December. The custom of the Western Church at last prevailed, and both of the ecclesiastical bodies agreed to hold the anniversary on the same day. The fixing of the date appears to have been the act of Julius I, who presided as pope or bishop of Rome, from 337 to 352 A.D. The circumstance is doubted by Mosheim, but is confirmed by St. Chrysostom, who died in the beginning of the fifth century.

This celebrated father of the church informs us, in one of his epistles, that Julius, on the solicitation of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, caused strict inquiries to be made on the subject, and thereafter, following what seemed to be the best authenticated tradition, settled authoritatively the 25th of December as the anniversary of Christ’s birth, the ‘Festorum omnium metropolis,’ as it is styled by Chrysostom. It is true, indeed, that some have represented this fixing of the day to have been accomplished by St. Telesphorus, who was bishop of Rome 128—139 A. D., but the authority for the assertion is very doubtful. Towards the close of the second century, we find a notice of the observance of Christmas in the reign of the Emperor Commodus; and about a hundred years afterwards, in the time of Dioclesiaun an atrocious act of cruelty is recorded of the last named emperor, who caused a church in Nicomedia, where the Christians were celebrating the Nativity, to be set on fire, and by barring every means of egress from the building, made all the worshippers perish in the flames. Since the, end of the fourth century at least, the 25th of December has been uniformly observed as the anniversary of the Nativity by all the nations of Christendom.

Thus far for ancient usage, but it will be readily comprehended that insurmountable difficulties yet exist with respect to the real date of the momentous event under notice. Sir Isaac Newton, indeed, remarks in his Commentary on the Prophecies of Daniel, that the feast of the Nativity, and most of the other ecclesiastical anniversaries, were originally fixed at cardinal points of the year, without any reference to the dates of the incidents which they commemorated, dates which, by the lapse of time, had become impossible to be ascertained. Thus the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was placed on the 25th of March, or about the time of the vernal equinox; the feast of St. Michael on the 29th of September, or near the autumnal equinox; and the birth of Christ and other festivals at the time of the winter-solstice. Many of the apostles ‘days—such as St. Paul, St. Matthias, and others—were determined by the days when the sun entered the respective signs of the ecliptic, and the pagan festivals had also a considerable share in the adjustment of the Christian year.

To this last we shall shortly have occasion to advert more particularly, but at present we shall content ourselves by remarking that the views of the great astronomer just indicated, present at least a specious explanation of the original construction of the ecclesiastical calendar. As regards the observance of Easter indeed, and its accessory celebrations, there is good ground for maintaining that they mark tolerably accurately the anniversaries of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, seeing that we know that the events themselves took place at the period of the Jewish Passover. But no such precision of date can be adduced as regards Christmas, respecting which the generally received view now is, that it does not correspond with the actual date of the nativity of our Saviour. One objection, in particular, has been made, that the incident recorded in Scripture, of shepherds keeping watch by night on the plains of Bethlehem, could not have taken place in the month of December, a period generally of great inclemency in the region of Judea.

Though Christian nations have thus, from an early period in the history of the church, celebrated Christmas about the period of the winter-solstice or the shortest day, it is well known that many, and, indeed, the greater number of the popular festive observances by which it is characterized, are referable to a much more ancient origin. Amid all the pagan nations of antiquity, there seems to have been a universal tendency to worship the sun as the giver of life and light, and the visible manifestation of the Deity. Various as were the names bestowed by different peoples on this object of their worship, he was still the same divinity. Thus, at Rome, he appears to have been worshipped under one of the characters attributed to Saturn, the father of the gods; among the Scandinavian nations he was known under the epithet of Odin or Woden, the father of Thor, who seems after-wards to have shared with his parent the adoration bestowed on the latter, as the divinity of which the ‘sun was the visible manifestation; whilst with the ancient Persians, the appellation for the god of lights was Mithras, apparently the same as the Irish Mithr, and with the Phoenicians or Carthaginians it was Baal or Bel, an epithet familiar to all students of the Bible.

Concurring thus as regards the object of worship, there was a no less remarkable uniformity in the period of the year at which these different nations celebrated a grand festival in his honour. The time chosen appears to have been universally the season of the New Year, or, rather, the winter-solstice, from which the new year was frequently reckoned. This unanimity in the celebration of the festival in question, is to be ascribed to the general feeling of joy which all of us experience when the gradual shortening of the day reaches its utmost limit on the 21st of December, and the sun, recommencing his upward course, announces that mid-winter is past, and spring and summer are approaching. On similar grounds, and with similar demonstrations, the ancient pagan nations observed a festival at mid-summer, or the summer-solstice, when the sun arrives at the culminating point of his ascent on the 21st of June, or longest day.

By the Romans, this anniversary was celebrated under the title of Saturnalia, or the festival of Saturn, and was marked by the prevalence of a universal license and merry-making. The slaves were permitted to enjoy for a time a thorough freedom in speech and behavior, and it is even said that their masters waited on them as servants. Every one feasted and rejoiced, work and business were for a season entirely suspended, the houses were decked with laurels and evergreens, presents were made by parents and friends, and all sorts of games and amusements were indulged. in by the citizens. In the bleak north, the same rejoicings had place, but in a ruder and more barbarous form. Fires were extensively kindled, both in and out of doors, blocks of wood blazed in honour of Odin and Thor, the sacred mistletoe was gathered by the Druids, and sacrifices, both of men and cattle, were made to the savage divinities. Fires are said, also, to have been kindled at this period of the year by the ancient Persians, between whom and the Druids of Western Europe a relationship is supposed to have existed.

In the early ages of Christianity, its’ ministers frequently experienced the utmost difficulty in inducing the converts to refrain from indulging in the popular amusements which were so largely participated in by their pagan countrymen. Among others, the revelry and license which characterized the Saturnalia called for special animadversion. But at last, convinced partly of the inefficacy of such denunciations, and partly influenced by the idea that the spread of Christianity might thereby be advanced, the church endeavored to amalgamate, as it were, the old and new religious, and sought, by transferring the heathen ceremonies to the solemnities of the Christian festivals, to make them subservient to the cause of religion and piety. A compromise was thus effected between clergy and laity, though it must be admitted that it proved anything but a harmonious one, as we find a constant, though ineffectual, proscription by the ecclesiastical authorities of the favorite amusements of the people, including among others the sports and revelries at Christmas.

Ingrafted thus on the Romani Saturnalia, the Christmas festivities received in Britain further changes and modifications, by having superadded to them, first, the Druidical rites and superstitions, and then, after the arrival of the Saxons, the various ceremonies practiced by the ancient Germans and Scandinavians. The result has been the strange medley of Christian and pagan rites which contribute to make up the festivities of the modern Christmas. Of these, the burning of the Yule log, and the superstitions connected with the mistletoe have already been described under Christmas Eve, and further accounts are given under separate heads, both under the 24th and 25th of December.

The name given by the ancient Goths and. Saxons to the festival of the winter-solstice was Jul or Yule, the latter term forming, to the present day, the designation in the Scottish dialect of Christmas, and preserved also in the phrase of the ‘Yule log.’ Perhaps the etymology of no term has excited greater discussion among antiquaries. Some maintain it to be derived from the Greek, Ïu0192Ïu2026λÏu0192ι, or, ιÏu0192Ïu2026λÏu0192Ïu201a, the name of a hymn in honor of Ceres; others say it comes from the Latin jubilum, signifying a time of rejoicing, or from its being a festival in honour of Julius Caesar; whilst some also explain its meaning as synonymous with ol or oel, which in the ancient Gothic language denotes a feast, and also the favorite liquor used on such occasion, whence our word ale. But a much more probable derivation of the term in question is from the Gothic giul or hiul, the origin of the modem word wheel, and bearing the same signification. According to this very probable explanation, the Yule festival received its name from its being the turning-point of the year, or the period at which the fiery orb of day made a revolution in his annual circuit, and entered on his northern journey. A confirmation of this view is afforded by the circumstance that in the old clog almanacs, a wheel is the device employed for marking the season of Yule-tide.

Throughout the middle ages, and down to the period of the Reformation, the festival of Christmas, ingrafted on the pagan rites of Yule, continued throughout Christendom to be universally celebrated with every mark of rejoicing. On the adoption of a new system of faith by most of the northern nations of Europe in the sixteenth century, the Lutheran and Anglican churches retained the celebration of Christmas and other festivals, which Calvinists rejected absolutely, denouncing the observance of all such days, except Sunday, as superstitious and unscriptural. In reference to the superstition anciently prevalent in Scotland against spinning on Christmas or Yule day, and the determination of the Calvinistic clergy to put down all such notions, the following amusing passage is quoted by Dr. Jamieson from Jhone Hamilton’s Facile Traictise:

‘The ministers of Scotland—in contempt of the vther halie dayes obseruit be England—cause their wyfis and seruants spin in oppin sicht of the people upon Yeul day; and their affectionnate auditeurs constraines their tennants to yok thair pleuchs on Yeul day in contempt of Christ’s Natiuitie, whilk our Lord has not left vnpunisit: for thair oxin ran wod [mad], and brak their nekis, and leamit [lamed] sum pleugh men, as is notoriously knawin in sindrie partes of Scotland.’

In consequence of the Presbyterian form of church-government, as constituted by John Knox and his coadjutors on the model of the ecclesiastical polity of Calvin, having taken such firm root in Scotland, the festival of Christmas, with other commemorative celebrations retained from the Romish calendar by the Anglicans and Lutherans, is comparatively unknown in that country, at least in the Lowlands. The tendency to mirth and jollity at the close of the year, which seems almost inherent in human nature, has, in North Britain, been, for the most part, transferred from Christmas and Christmas Eve to New-year’s Day and the preceding evening, known by the appellation of Hogmenay. In many parts of the Highlands of Scotland, however, and also in the county of Forfar, and one or two other districts, the day for the great annual merry-making is Christmas.

From a curious old song preserved in the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, we learn that it was considered peculiarly lucky when Christmas-day fell on a Sunday, and the reverse when it occurred on a Saturday. The intermediate days are, for the most part, characterized by a happy uniformity of propitious augury. The versification is of the rudest and most rugged description, but as an interesting specimen of medieval folk-lore, we subjoin the stanzas relating to Sunday and Saturday:

Lordinges, I warne you al beforne,
Yef that day that Cryste was borne,
Falle uppon a Sunday;
That wynter shall be good par fay,
But grete wyndes alofte shalbe,
The somer shall be fayre and drye;
By kynde skylle, wythowtyn lesse,
Throw all londes shalbe peas,
And good tyme all thyngs to don,
But he that stelyth he shalbe fownde sone;
Whate chylde that day borne be,
A great lord he shalbe.

If Crystmas on the Saterday falle,
That wynter ys to be dredden alle,
Hyt shalbe so fulle of grete tempeste
That hyt shall sle bothe man and beste,
Frute and corn shal fayle grete won,
And olde folke dyen many on;

Whate woman that day of chylde travayle
They shalbe borne in grete perelle
And chyldren that be borne that day,
Within half a yere they shall dye par fay,
The summer then shall wete ryghte ylle:
If thou awght stele, hyt shel the spylle;
Thou dyest, yf sekenes take the.’

Somewhat akin to the notions above inculcated, is the belief in Devonshire that if the sun shines bright at noon on Christmas-day, a plentiful crop of apples may be expected in the following year.

From the Diary of that rare old gossip, Mr. Pepys, we extract the following entries relative to three Christmas-days of two hundred years ago:

‘Christmas-day (1662).—Had a pleasant walk to Whitehall, where I intended to have received the communion with the family, but I came a little too late. So I walked up into the house, and spent my time looking over pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the Eighth’s Voyage to Bullaen; marking the great difference between those built then and now. By and by, down to the chapel again, where Bishop Morley preached on the song of the angels, “Glory to God on high, on earth peace and good-will towards men.” Bethought he made but a poor sermon, but long, and reprehending the common jollity of the court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on those days. Particularised concerning their excess in plays and gaming, saying that he whose device it is to keep the gamesters in order and within bounds, serves but for a second rather in a duel, meaning the groomer porter. Upon which it was worth observing how far they are come from taking the reprehensions of a bishop seriously, that they all laugh in the chapel when he reflected on their ill actions and courses. He did much press us to joy in these public days of joy, and to hospitality. But one that stood by whispered in my eare, that the bishop do not spend one groat to the poor himself. The sermon done, a good anthem followed with vials, and the king came down to receive the sacrament.

‘Christmas-day (1668).—To church in the morning, and there saw a wedding in the church, which I have not seen many a day; and the young people so merry one with another, and strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling at them.

‘Christmas-day (1668).—To dinner alone with any wife, who, poor wretch ! sat undressed all day till ten at night, altering and lacing of a noble petticoat; while I by her making the boy read to me the Life of Julius Ceasar, and Des Cartes’s book of Music.’

The geniality and joyousness of the Christmas season in England, has long been a national characteristic. The following poem or carol, by George Wither, who belongs to the first-half of the seventeenth century, describes with hilarious animation the mode of keeping Christmas in the poet’s day:

‘So now is come our joyful feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbours’ chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meat choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lye;
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury’t in a Christmas-pie,
And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wond’rous trim,
And no man minds his labour;
Our lasses have provided them
A bagpipe and a tabor;
Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
Give life to one another’s joys;
And you anon shall by their noise
Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun;
Their hall of music soundeth;
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
So all things then aboundeth.
The country-folks, themselves advance,
With crowdy-muttons out of France;
And Jack shall pipe and Jyll shall dance,
And all the town be merry.

Ned Squash hath fetcht his bands from pawn,
And all his best apparel
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
With dropping of the barrel.
And those that hardly all the year
Had bread to eat, or rags to wear,
Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices
With capons make their errants;
And if they hap to fail of these,
They plague them with their warrants:
But now they feed them with good cheer,
And what they want, they take in beer,
For Christmas comes but once a year,
And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse
The poor, that else were undone;
Some landlords spend their money worse,
On lust and pride at London.
There the roysters they do play,
Drab and dice their lands away,
Which may be ours another day,
And therefore let’s be merry.

The client now his suit forbears;
The prisoner’s heart is eased;
The debtor drinks away his cares,
And for the time is pleased.
Though others’ purses be more fat,
Why should we pine or grieve at that?
Hang sorrow! care will kill a cat,
And therefore let’s be merry.

Hark! now the wags abroad do call,
Each other forth to rambling;
non you’ll see them in the hall,
For nuts and apples scrambling.
Hark! how the roofs with laughter sound,
Anon they’ll think the house goes round,
For they the cellar’s depth have found,
And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassel-bowls
About the streets are singing;
The boys are come to catch the owls,
The wild mare in it bringing,
our kitchen-boy hath broke his box,
And to the dealing of the ox,
Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheepcotes have,
And mate with every body;
The honest now may play the knave,
And wise men play the noddy.
Some youths will now a mumming go,
Some others play at Rowland-ho,
And twenty other game boys mo,
Because they will be merry.

Then, wherefore in these merry daies,
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelayes,
To make our mirth the fuller.
And, while thus inspired we sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods and hills and every thing,
Bear witness we are merry.’

At present, Christmas-day, if somewhat shorn of its ancient glories, and unmarked by that boisterous jollity and exuberance of animal spirits which distinguished it in the time of our ancestors, is, nevertheless, still the holiday in which of all others throughout the year, all classes of English society most generally participate. Partaking of a religious character, the forenoon of the day is usually passed in church, and in the evening the re-united members of the family assemble round the joyous Christmas-board. Separated as many of these are during the rest of the year, they all make an effort to meet together round the Christmas-hearth. The hallowed feelings of domestic love and attachment, the pleasing remembrance of the past, and the joyous anticipation of the future, all cluster round these family-gatherings, and in the sacred associations with which they are intertwined, and the active deeds of kindness and benevolence which they tend to call forth, a realization may almost be found of the angelic message to the shepherds of Bethlehem—’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.’

24 Dec 2006

That Ass Kerry

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In today’s Washington Post, John Kerry counsels retreat, withdrawal, and surrender, invoking the memory of Winston Churchill.

President Bush and all of us who grew up in the shadows of World War II remember Winston Churchill — his grit, his daring, his resolve. I remember listening to his speeches on a vinyl album in the pre-iPod era. Two years ago I spoke about Iraq at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where Churchill had drawn a line between freedom and fear in his “iron curtain” speech. In preparation, I reread some of the many words from various addresses that made him famous. Something in one passage caught my eye. When Churchill urged, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in,” he added: “except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

This is a time for such convictions.

Kerry (or the flunky assigned to draft this pathetic screed for him) evidently thinks his own (and his party’s) pettiness and cowardice can be effectively transmuted into their opposites by mere verbal association with Churchill’s courage and strength. He’s wrong.

24 Dec 2006

Stand Fast in Liberty

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The Wall Street Journal has a charming tradition, going back to 1949, of publishing the following editorial in the issue nearest preceding Christmas:


In Hoc Anno Domini
December 23-24, 2006

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression — for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s….

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since.

24 Dec 2006

Conservatives Versus Liberals: Who Really Helps?

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Wilfred McClay, in the Wall Street Journal, finds a new empirical study reaches counterintuitive conclusions, according nonetheless with his own life experience.

Back in my misspent youth, I helped manage a political campaign. My candidate was, like myself, an energetic liberal Democrat, and we ran a summer-long door-to-door campaign throughout the sprawling district. I accompanied the candidate on his daily outings, recording data about each visit on 3 x 5 cards that had been prepared in advance. They included the party registration of the voters, as gathered from Board of Elections printouts.

After a number of weeks of this ceaseless contact with our would-be constituents, both of us noticed something disturbing. There was a consistent disparity between what we expected and what we found in the people we met. Self-labeled liberals would, at most, dutifully proclaim their support for our candidacy, but they were often curt and ungenerous with their time and money. Conservatives, who looked upon our ideas with suspicion, nevertheless were quite willing to talk with us about them, not to mention offering us glasses of water, inviting us onto their porches and into their homes, and otherwise treating us with courtesy and respect.

The candidate himself mused to me one day, as we sat on a curb together, “If I’m ever hit by a car, I sure as hell hope that the next guy to come along will be a conservative.” I asked him why. “Simple. A liberal will blame the unsafe conditions of the highways, blame budget cuts and keep driving. A conservative will get out of his car and help.”

That was quite a concession for him to make, and at the time I thought it unwarranted. But I remembered it years later when I was serving as a vestryman for my Episcopal church and became privy to information about the stewardship commitments of my fellow parishioners. I knew all these people intimately, and yet I was stunned by the pattern that I saw: The most vocal, liberal and politically oriented members of the parish, even if they were in positions of leadership, gave almost nothing, while the most hidebound conservatives, even if they were unhappy with what was going on, gave much.

These two anecdotes convey, in a nutshell, the chief insight of “Who Really Cares.”

By consulting a wide range of metrics, ranging from rates of charitable giving to hours of volunteer work donated, Mr. Brooks concludes that four distinct forces appear to have primary responsibility for making people behave charitably: religion, skepticism about the government’s role in economic life, strong families and personal entrepreneurship. Those Americans who have all four, or at least three, are much more likely to behave charitably than those who do not.

23 Dec 2006

Top Taliban Commander Killed

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The Guardian reports:

A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday. A Taliban spokesman denied the claim.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said. Two associates also were killed, it said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Afghan officials or visual proof offered to support the claim. A U.S. spokesman said “various sources” were used to confirm Osmani’s identity.

Osmani, regarded as one of three top associates of Omar, is the highest-ranking Taliban leader the coalition has claimed to have killed or captured since U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in late 2001 for hosting bin Laden.

Perhaps they could have saved themselves trouble by killing him a lot earlier. There is a report that he was captured and released by US forces in July of 2002.

Late July 2002: Taliban General Reportedly Captured, but Released After Questioning US Special Forces apprehend Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a top general and one of the six most-wanted Taliban, in Kandahar. He is flown to a detention center north of Kabul for interrogation, but is released a few weeks later and escapes to Pakistan. Contradicting the statements of many soldiers in Kandahar, the Defense Intelligence Agency says it “has no knowledge that Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani was ever in US custody in Afghanistan.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2002]

And here:

U.S. troops say that the military mistakenly released one of the most-wanted Taliban leaders in Afghanistan in the summer based on faulty intelligence.

U.S. Special Forces soldiers said that in late July, a Green Beret A-Team, backed by about 20 local Afghan fighters, apprehended Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani as he left his compound at daybreak in a town west of Kandahar. Soldiers identified him as Osmani, handcuffed him and brought him by truck to Kandahar.
Osmani, among the top six most-wanted Taliban, was flown to a detention center at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, for interrogation, the Special Forces soldiers said. He was one of the Taliban’s top generals, leading thousands of troops as coalition forces ousted the hard-line regime.

But, according to these soldiers, Task Force 180 — the overall command in Afghanistan — released Osmani a few weeks later.

U.S. government spokesmen expressed skepticism about the soldiers’ account in written responses to The Washington Times.

This Washington Postarticle says that many Taliban leaders were allowed to escape to Pakistan:

The Taliban has been driven from power, but almost all its top leaders remain at large, in many cases through battlefield deals that exchanged the peaceful surrender of territory for the safety of the defeated commander…

Among the senior Taliban officials who appear to have made it into Pakistan are Obaidullah Akhund, the defense minister; Abdul Razaq, the interior minister; Akhter Mohammed Osmani, the military commander in Kandahar; Abdur Rahman Zahed, the deputy foreign minister; and Anwar Dangar, a top commander. Afghan intelligence officials said Razaq has been based in Chaman in southwest Pakistan, while Dangar has been in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, trying to bring together escaped commanders.

23 Dec 2006

Give Credit Where Credit’s Due

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Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his latest taped address, takes credit for the results of the November election.

SITE Institute transcript:

To the Democrats in America, Zawahiri states that they did not win and the Republicans did not lose; rather, it is the Mujahideen who have won, and the American forces and their allies those who lost.

Do you suppose Speaker Pelosi will invite him to her 4-day celebration?

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