Archive for December, 2009
28 Dec 2009

Janet Napolitano: “The Traveling Public is Very Very Safe”

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Janet Napolitano

Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano assures CNN that “the system worked.”

She announces with a note of assured complacency that “right now, we have no indication it was part of anything larger”.

“We have initiated more screening and what we call mitigation measures at.. uh… airports.”

“I would advise you, during this heavy holiday season, (voice sweetens) just to arrive a bit early.”

“The traveling public is very very safe in this air environment.”

In response to Candy Crowley inquiring why even a father’s report that his son had ties to terrorists and might be dangerous was not enough to move him onto the no-fly list, Janet Napolitano responded: “You need information that is specific and credible if you are going to bar someone from air travel.”

The directrex of Homeland Security’s performance was reminding me of someone, and after a minute it came to me who it was. Napolitano’s reassurances sound exactly like those of 1970s era Mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn.

Janet Napolitano 6:06 video

Larry Vaughn 4:01 video

Andrew Sullivan awarded her a “Heckuva Job, Janet” column.

The head of DHS had the gall to say that “the system worked.” What she meant is that after the incident in Detroit, the response was good. Fine. But she has no assurance that this could not happen again, and even declared that the would-be terrorist was properly screened.

More to the point, she evinces no sense of responsibility for this lapse in security. I’m sorry but that’s her job and instead of preening about how she handled it after the fact, she should be apologizing for yet another instance of government incompetence and complacency. She is stonewalling and smug.

Really: disgraceful, glib, complacent, moronic. I want to know who is being fired for not taking the warning about this one seriously enough, and if Napolitano really believes that a near-miss, averted by the terrorist’s incompetence and the passengers’ courage, is a sign that the system is working, then she needs to be fired as well.

Even Andrew is dead right every now and then.

28 Dec 2009

Flight 253 Security Failure Will Lead to What?

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Full nudity and body cavity searches for every airline traveler, while Western security agencies continue to refuse to offend political correctness by profiling Muslims and Middle Easterners?

The Telegraph observes that al Qaeda has identified the last unsearched regions of the human anatomy as providing an expoitable opportunity to smuggle small quantities of high explosives on board airliners. They obviously are not going to stop trying.

The fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to trigger his home-made incendiary device on board a US airliner represents an intelligence and security failure of staggering proportions.

How can a Muslim student, whose name appears on a US law enforcement database, be granted a visa to travel to America, allegedly acquire an explosive device from Yemen, a country awash with al-Qaeda terrorists, and avoid detection from the world’s most sophisticated spy agencies?

Every intelligence agency across the world is fully aware that the targets of choice for al-Qaeda and its numerous affiliates and sympathisers are airliners – preferably those flying to the US. Yet Abdulmutallab seems to have avoided detection in both Nigeria and Holland when he passed through the various security checks at Lagos and Schiphol airports respectively.

Embarrassingly for the Washington, Lagos airport had recently been given the “all clear” by the US’s Transportation Security Administration, an agency established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks which was supposed to improve the security on American airliners. …

The simplicity of the latest plot – another al-Qaeda hallmark – could also lead to changes into the way passengers are body searched in the future.

Reports suggest that Abdulmutallab was able to carry the powdery substance undetected by concealing it on the inside of his upper thigh, close to his groin – an area likely to avoid detection even by the most conscientious of security officials. It would appear that he was allowed to take a syringe containing a liquid on board the aircraft by apparently taking advantage of airlines’ policy of allowing diabetics to inject themselves during flight. Changes of some sort to passenger travel would seem to be a certainty.

British Airways has already announced that hand baggage has been reduced to one item following the attack.

Whether Abdulmutallab was directed by al-Qaeda – as he initially claimed to US investigators but later denied – or whether his connections were more “aspirational” remains to be seen.

But what this incident demonstrates is that despite all the improvements in security since 9/11, determined terrorists can and will continue to mount terrorists attacks against western targets – and one day they will succeed.


The (British) Sun (a somewhat sensationalist tabloid) is reporting having received an official leak indicating that the attempted bombing of Flight 253 is just the first of a series of planned attacks.

25 British-born Muslims are plotting to bomb Western airliners.

The fanatics, in five groups, are now training at secret terror camps in Yemen.

The British extremists in Yemen are in their early 20s and from Bradford, Luton and Leytonstone, East London.

They are due to return to the UK early in 2010 and will then await internet instructions from al-Qaeda on when to strike.

A Scotland Yard source said: “The great fear is Abdulmutallab is the first of many ready to attack planes and kill tens of thousands.

“We know there are four or five radicalised British Muslim cells in the Yemen.

“They are due back within months when they will be under constant surveillance.”

The 25 suspects, of Pakistani and Somali descent, were radicalised in UK mosques.

Some had been to university and studied engineering or computer sciences.

Others were former street gang members.


Special Branch monitored them as they flew to Yemen, in the Middle East, from British airports in the spring and summer.

In almost every case, their tickets were paid for in cash and bought less than a week before travel.

The source added: “Imams would have promised them rewards in heaven for becoming suicide bombers prepared to kill Westerners.

27 Dec 2009

Government Didn’t Roll; Passengers Did

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Mark Steyn observes that, despite the politically searching of blue-haired grannies from Nebraska, government security let a Nigerian with his boxers full of PETN onto a passenger flight carrying 300 people, and government didn’t stop him from detonating his infernal device, a quick-witted Dutch video director did.

Steyn also notes that the left’s inevitable meme about economic deprivation being responsible for resentment certainly doesn’t apply here. Umar Farouk Mutallab was the son of Nigeria’s former Economics Minister, a graduate of University College London, whose London home was a £2m mansion apartment in Marylebone.

On September 11th 2001, the government’s (1970s) security procedures all failed, and the only good news of the day came from self-reliant citizens (on Flight 93) using their own wits and a willingness to act.

On December 25th 2009, the government’s (post-9/11) security procedures all failed, and the only good news came once again from alert individuals:

If the facts remain broadly as outlined, this incident has serious implications for airline travel: A man is on the no-fly list but is allowed to board the plane. Everyone flying on an inbound long-haul flight to the United States is forced to hand over excessively large amounts of liquids and gels and put the small amounts permitted into separate plastic bags, yet the no-fly guy’s material for bomb-making sails through undetected.

This time the last line of defense worked. Next time, the paradise-seeking jihadist might get lucky and find himself sitting next to, say, Charlie Sheen, too immersed in a lengthy treatise on how 9/11 was an inside job to notice the smoldering socks in the next seat; or to the same kind of nothing-to-see-here crowd who thought Major Hasan’s e-mails were “consistent with his research interests. …

So once again we see the foolishness of complaceniks who drone the fatuous cliches about how “in this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs”. The men eager to self-detonate on infidel airliners are not goatherds from the caves of Waziristan but educated middle-class Muslims who have had the most exposure to the western world and could be pulling down six-figure salaries almost anywhere on the planet. And don’t look to “assimilation” to work its magic, either. We’re witnessing a process of generational de-assimilation: In this family, yet again, the dad is an entirely assimilated member of the transnational elite. His son wants a global caliphate run on Wahhabist lines.

26 Dec 2009

Feast of St. Stephen and Boxing Day

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Rembrandt. The Martyrdom of St. Stephen. 1625. Oil on panel. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Feast Day: St. Stephen, the first martyr.

St. Stephen’s Day

To St. Stephen, the Proto-martyr, as he is generally styled, the honour has been accorded by the church of being placed in her calendar immediately after Christmas-day, in recognition of his having been the first to seal with his blood the testimony of fidelity to his Lord and Master. The year in which he was stoned to death, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, is supposed to have been 33 A.D. The festival commemorative of him has been retained in the Anglican calendar.

A curious superstition was formerly prevalent regarding St. Stephen’s Day—that horses should then, after being first well galloped, be copiously let blood, to insure them against disease in the course of the following year. In Barnaby Googe’s translation of Naogeorgus, the following lines occur relative to this popular notion:

    Then followeth Saint Stephen’s Day, whereon doth every man
    His horses jaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can,
    Until they doe extremely sweate, and then they let them blood,
    For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good,
    And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare,
    As if that Steven any time tooke charge of horses heare.’

The origin of this practice is difficult to be accounted for, but it appears to be very ancient, and Douce supposes that it was introduced into this country by the Danes. In one of the manuscripts of that interesting chronicler, John Aubrey, who lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century, occurs the following record: On St. Stephen’s Day, the farrier came constantly and blouded all our cart-horses.’ Very possibly convenience and expediency combined on the occasion with superstition, for in Tusser Redivivus, a work published in the middle of the last century, we find this statement: ‘About Christmas is a very proper time to bleed horses in, for then they are commonly at house, then spring comes on, the sun being now coming back from the winter-solstice, and there are three or four days of rest, and if it be upon St. Stephen’s Day it is not the worse, seeing there are with it three days of rest, or at least two.’

In the parish of Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks, there existed long an ancient custom, called Stephening, from the day on which it took place. On St. Stephen’s Day, all the inhabitants used to pay a visit to the rectory, and practically assert their right to partake of as much bread and cheese and ale as they chose at the rector’s expense. On one of these occasions, according to local tradition, the then rector, being a penurious old bachelor, determined to put a stop, if possible, to this rather expensive and unceremonious visit from his parishioners. Accordingly, when St. Stephen’s Day arrived, he ordered his housekeeper not to open the window-shutters, or unlock the doors of the house, and to remain perfectly silent and motionless whenever any person was heard approaching. At the usual time the parishioners began to cluster about the house. They knocked first at one door, then at the other, then tried to open them, and on finding them fastened, they called aloud for admittance. No voice replied. No movement was heard within. ‘Surely the rector and his house-keeper must both be dead!’ exclaimed several voices at once, and a general awe pervaded the whole group. Eyes were then applied to the key-holes, and to every crevice in the window-shutters, when the rector was seen beckoning his old terrified housekeeper to sit still and silent. A simultaneous shout convinced him that his design was understood. Still he consoled himself with the hope that his larder and his cellar were secure, as the house could not be entered. But his hope was speedily dissipated. Ladders were reared against the roof, tiles were hastily thrown off, half-a-dozen sturdy young men entered, rushed down the stairs, and threw open both the outer-doors. In a trice, a hundred or more unwelcome visitors rushed into the house, and began unceremoniously to help themselves to such fare as the larder and cellar afforded; for no special stores having been provided for the occasion, there was not half enough bread and cheese for such a multitude. To the rector and his housekeeper, that festival was converted into the most rigid fast-day they had ever observed.

After this signal triumph, the parishioners of Drayton regularly exercised their ‘privilege of Stephening’ till the incumbency of the Rev. Basil Wood, who was presented to the living in 1808. Finding that the custom gave rise to much rioting and drunkenness, he discontinued it, and distributed instead an annual sum of money in proportion to the number of claimants. But as the population of the parish greatly increased, and as he did not consider himself bound to continue the practice, he was induced, about the year 1827, to withhold his annual payments; and so the custom became finally abolished. For some years, however, after its discontinuance, the people used to go to the rectory for the accustomed bounty, but were always refused.

In the year 1834, the commissioners appointed to inquire concerning charities, made an investigation into this custom, and several of the inhabitants of Drayton gave evidence on the occasion, but nothing was elicited to shew its origin or duration, nor was any legal proof advanced skewing that the rector was bound to comply with such a demand. Many of the present inhabitants of the parish remember the custom, and some of them have heard their parents say, that it had been observed:

    ‘As long as the sun had shone,
    And the waters had run.’

In London and other places, St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, is familiarly known as Boxing-day, from its being the occasion on which those annual guerdons known as Christmas-boxes are solicited and collected. For a notice of them, the reader is referred to the ensuing article.


The institution of Christmas-boxes is evidently akin to that of New-year’s gifts, and, like it, has descended to us from the times of the ancient Romans, who, at the season of the Saturnalia, practiced universally the custom of giving and receiving presents. The fathers of the church denounced, on the ground of its pagan origin, the observance of such a usage by the Christians; but their anathemas had little practical effect, and in process of time, the custom of Christmas-boxes and New-year’s gifts, like others adopted from the heathen, attained the position of a universally recognised institution. The church herself has even got the credit of originating the practice of Christmas-boxes, as will appear from the following curious extract from The Athenian Oracle of John Dunton; a sort of primitive Notes and Queries, as it is styled by a contributor to the periodical of that name.

Q. From whence comes the custom of gathering of Christmas-box money? And how long since?

A. It is as ancient as the word mass, which the Romish priests invented from the Latin word mitto, to send, by putting the people in mind to send gifts, offerings, oblations; to have masses said for everything almost, that no ship goes out to the Indies, but the priests have a box in that ship, under the protection of some saint. And for masses, as they cant, to be said for them to that saint, &c., the poor people must put in something into the priest’s box, which is not to be opened till the ship return. Thus the mass at that time was Christ’s-mass, and the box Christ’s-mass-box, or money gathered against that time, that masses might be made by the priests to the saints, to forgive the people the debaucheries of that time; and from this, servants had liberty to get box-money, because they might be enabled to pay the priest for masses—because, No penny, no paternoster—for though the rich pay ten times more than they can expect, yet a priest will not say a mass or anything to the poor for nothing; so charitable they generally are.’

The charity thus ironically ascribed by Dunton to the Roman Catholic clergy, can scarcely, so far as the above extract is concerned, be warrantably claimed by the whimsical author himself. His statement regarding the origin of the custom under notice may be regarded as an ingenious conjecture, but cannot be deemed a satisfactory explanation of the question. As we have already seen, a much greater antiquity and diversity of origin must be asserted.

This custom of Christmas-boxes, or the bestowing of certain expected gratuities at the Christmas season, was formerly, and even yet to a certain extent continues to be, a great nuisance. The journeymen and apprentices of trades-people were wont to levy regular contributions from their masters’ customers, who, in addition, were mulcted by the trades-people in the form of augmented charges in the bills, to recompense the latter for gratuities expected from them by the customers’ servants. This most objectionable usage is now greatly diminished, but certainly cannot yet be said to be extinct. Christmas-boxes are still regularly expected by the postman, the lamplighter, the dustman, and generally by all those functionaries who render services to the public at large, without receiving payment therefore from any particular individual. There is also a very general custom at the Christmas season, of masters presenting their clerks, apprentices, and other employees, with little gifts, either in money or kind.

St. Stephen’s Day, or the 26th of December, being the customary day for the claimants of Christmas-boxes going their rounds, it has received popularly the designation of Boxing-day. In the evening, the new Christmas pantomime for the season is generally produced for the first time; and as the pockets of the working-classes, from the causes which we have above stated, have commonly received an extra supply of funds, the theatres are almost universally crowded to the ceiling on Boxing-night; whilst the ‘gods,’ or upper gallery, exercise even more than their usual authority. Those interested in theatrical matters await with consider-able eagerness the arrival, on the following morning, of the daily papers, which have on this occasion a large space devoted to a chronicle of the pantomimes and spectacles produced at the various London theatres on the previous evening.

In conclusion, we must not be too hard on the system of Christmas-boxes or handsets, as they are termed in Scotland, where, however, they are scarcely ever claimed till after the commencement of the New Year. That many abuses did and still do cling to them, we readily admit; but there is also intermingled with them a spirit of kindliness and benevolence, which it would be very undesirable to extirpate. It seems almost instinctive for the generous side of human nature to bestow some reward for civility and attention, and an additional incentive to such liberality is not infrequently furnished by the belief that its recipient is but inadequately remunerated otherwise for the duties which he performs. Thousands, too, of the commonalty look eagerly forward to the forth-coming guerdon on Boxing-day, as a means of procuring some little unwonted treat or relaxation, either in the way of sight-seeing, or some other mode of enjoyment. Who would desire to abridge the happiness of so many?

26 Dec 2009

Good King Wenceslaus

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Performed at York Minster in 1995, 2:51 video.

26 Dec 2009

Obama Skips Church, Criticizes Minority Rights in Senate

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Obama skipped church on Christmas (I guess Reverend Wright was not GD’ing America anywhere nearby), but President Obama took up the slack personally, criticizing the Senate’s rules and procedures allowing minorities to resist passage of controversial measures.

Charles Hurt:

Increasingly unloved and ridiculed from both sides, a new and embittered President Obama is emerging this Christmas season as he begins a badly needed vacation in Hawaii.

In an interview on the eve of yesterday’s health-care ram-through, Obama expressed his deep frustration over the legislative process.

The president accused Republicans of abuse for employing the very rules that make the Senate the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

“If this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us,” Obama warned.

What he is saying is that other governments around the world — those tyrannical states that do not share our respect for the minority — are better forms of government, better equipped to compete in this modern world.

This is a frightening new side of Barack Obama.

26 Dec 2009

Terrorist Attempt Fails on NW Flight 253

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A Nigerian man believed to be linked to al Qaeda militants was in custody on Saturday after he tried to ignite an explosive device on a U.S. passenger plane as it approached Detroit, U.S. officials said.

The suspect, who suffered extensive burns, was overpowered by passengers and crew on the Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam. The passengers, two of whom suffered minor injuries, disembarked safely from the Delta Air Lines plane. …

The flight had left Amsterdam on Friday and Dutch counter-terrorism authorities said they were trying to figure out where the suspect had come from, how he had been screened and how he had managed to board the flight.

Representative Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said the explosive device was “fairly sophisticated,” and the suspect was a 23-year-old Nigerian.

Federal officials identified him as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, according to The New York Times and the Washington Post. ABC News and NBC News reported that he attends University College London, where he studied engineering.

Abdulmutallab tried to ignite the device or mixture as the aircraft was approaching Detroit, officials said.

King told CNN the suspect was listed in a database as having a connection to militants.

“My understanding is…that he does have al Qaeda connections, certainly extremist terrorist connections, and his name popped up pretty quickly” in a search.

King said the suspect started his journey in Nigeria.

“How sophisticated he was, I don’t know,” he said. “But again, it was a fairly sophisticated device. I would say we dropped the ball on this one.”

Security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has been tightened, in line with increased measures around the world for U.S.-bound flights requested by American authorities. The British government told UK airports to step up checks on flights bound for the United States.

Judith Sluiter, a spokeswoman for Dutch counter-terrorism agency NCTb, said it had started a probe into the incident, trying to determine where the suspect originated from.

“He did not go through passport control,” a Dutch military police spokesman said.

The spokesman confirmed he transferred from another flight of uncertain origin.

An Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) spokeswoman said passenger lists were confidential and she could not confirm Abdulmutallab started his journey with a KLM flight to Amsterdam from Lagos.

The Nigerian government ordered security agencies to investigate the incident and said they would cooperate fully with the American authorities. …

The aircraft, Northwest Airlines flight 253, was an Airbus 330 carrying 278 passengers. Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) has taken over Northwest.

Passenger Richelle Keepman said the incident was terrifying.

“I thought — I think we all thought we weren’t going to land, we weren’t going to make it,” Keepman told NBC News.

Another passenger, Melinda Dennis, said the man was severely burned.

“His entire leg was burned. They required a fire extinguisher as well as water to put it out,” she told NBC.

“You could smell the smoke when we landed. You could smell the scent of something being burned when we landed.”

Once on the ground, the aircraft was moved to a remote area at Detroit’s airport where all baggage was being rescreened, the Transportation Security Administration said.

Citing U.S. officials, the Wall Street Journal said the Nigerian had told investigators that al Qaeda operatives in Yemen had given him the device and instructions on how to detonate it.

But NBC, citing anti-terrorism officials, said he claimed to have been acting on his own.”

King said investigators were looking into whether the incident was part of a larger plot. There is a “world-wide alert to make sure this is not part of a larger overall scheme,” he said.

The New York Times, citing a senior Homeland Security official, said the device was made from a mixture of powder and liquid and was more incendiary than explosive.

The official said Abdulmutallab told law enforcement authorities he had explosive powder taped to his leg and used a syringe filled with chemicals to mix with the powder in an attempt to cause an explosion.”



A Nigerian man who said he was an agent for al Qaeda tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane Friday as it was preparing to land in Detroit, but travelers who smelled smoke and heard what sounded like firecrackers rushed to subdue him, the passengers and federal officials said.

Flight 253 with 278 passengers aboard was about 20 minutes from the airport when passengers heard popping noises, witnesses said. At least one person climbed over others and jumped on the man. Shortly afterward, the suspect was taken to the front of the plane with his pants cut off and his legs burned, a passenger said.

One U.S. intelligence official said the explosive device was a mix of powder and liquid. It failed when the passenger tried to detonate it.

“It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase,” said Peter Smith, a traveler from the Netherlands. “First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke.”

Smith said a passenger sitting opposite the man climbed over people, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. Syed Jafri, another passenger, said he saw a glow and smelled smoke. Then, he said, “a young man behind me jumped on him.”

“Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic,” said Jafri. Smith said the heroic passenger appeared to have been burned.

25 Dec 2009

Night Before Caddis

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Via a bamboo fly rod list:


Twas the night before Christmas when down by the stream
The full moon looked out on a chill winter scene.
A lone trout was sipping a midge in his brook,
Untroubled by worries of fishers with hooks.

Then from above a small sleigh did appear
Pulled by a brace of eight tiny reindeer.
It swerved of a sudden and down it did glide,
Settling its runners along the streamside.

The fat, jolly driver dove into his sled
And emerged with his three weight held high over head.
“Thank you my elves for this wand smooth as silk.
This break will be better than cookies and milk.”

So saying, he jumped from his sleigh with a chuckle,
Hiked up his boots and cinched up his belt buckle.
Santa meant business that cold winter’s eve.
A fish he would catch – that you’d better believe.

Looking upstream and down, he spotted that trout,
Then he open his flybox and took something out –
“Size 32 midges are only for faddists
I’ll go with my favorite tan reindeer caddis.”

So he cast out his line with a magical ease
And his fly floated down just as light as you please.
And it drifted drag free down the trout’s feeding lane,
But the fish merely wiggled a fin of distain.

“Oh Adams, oh Cahill, oh Sulphur, oh Pupa,
Oh Hopper, oh Coachman, oh Olive Matuka!
I’ve seen every fly in the book and the box.
I’m old and I’m wary and sly as a fox.

To catch me you’ll need an unusual gift,
For a present this common no fin will I lift.”
Old Nick scratched his head for his time it grew short
The reindeer behind him did shuffle and snort.

He looked once again in his box for a fly
When a pattern compelling attracted his eye.
“The Rudolph!” he muttered and grinned ear to ear
“Far better to give than receive, so I hear.”

So he cast once again and his magic was true,
And the trout it looked up and knew not what to do.
“This fly has a body of bells don’t you know,
And if that’s not enough there’s a shining red nose!

I know it’s fraud and I know it’s a fake,
But I can’t help myself. It’s I gift I must take!”
So he rose in swirl and captured that thing,
Flew off down the stream. Santa’s reel it did sing.

“Ho!” shouted Santa, “You’re making my day.
If the heavens were water, you’d be pulling my sleigh.”
So, Santa prevailed and released his great rival
First taking great care to ensure its survival.

He then mounted his sled and he flew out of sight
Shouting, “Merry Caddis to trout and to all a good night!”

Hat tip to Wilmer Price.

25 Dec 2009

Christmas Day

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From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

Born: Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world; Sir Isaac Newton, natural philosopher, 1642, Woolsthorpe, near Grantham; Johann Jacob Reiske, oriental scholar, 1716, Zorbig, Saxony; William Collins, poet, 1720, Chichester; Richard Person, Greek scholar, 1759, East Ruston, Norfolk.

and my wife, Karen.

Feast Day: St. Eugenia, virgin and martyr, about 257. St. Anastasia, martyr, 304. Another St. Anastasia.

Christmas Day

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. …

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, συλσι, or, ισυλσς, 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 Tractise:

    ‘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. …

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.’

25 Dec 2009

It’s Not Over Yet

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Senator Jim DeMint

The liberal media and left blogosphere are typically congratulating themselves on “winning ugly, but winning,” as Ezra Klein puts it.

The American voting public is experiencing profound revulsion at the sordid spectacle of ultra-partisan legislation they’ve witnessed recently, featuring open purchases of votes, behind-the-scenes horse-trades, and a host of favors for certain regions and constituencies. We’re reforming health care in very special ways for Libby, Montana, the entire state of Nebraska, longshoremen, and trial lawyers. The Congressional democrat leadership has greased the path to socialism with the purest of sleaze.

There will surely be a reckoning in 2010 and 2012 for all this, but in the meantime (sorry, Ezra!) it is not clear that they have actually won.

Dan Perrin, at Red State, points out that, because of the procedural objection by Senator DeMint, more of the same kind of votes recently won by razor-thin margins will need to occur in both houses.

When Senator DeMint engineered, and Republican Leader McConnell actually objected to the appointment of the conferees, he was really handing the ball off to the left wingers — progressives if you will — and now they have their shot to either hold their own clan members who are against the Senate compromises and force them to vote No, or have their policy demands be ignored and take the crumbs from Senator Nelson’s and Senator Lieberman’s table.

Now, because of the Senator DeMint’s objection, unless the House votes for the Senate bill unchanged — which is highly unlikely… — then the Senate ObamaCare bill must be amended on the House floor to gain the votes they need to pass it on the House floor. And because of Senator DeMint’s objection to the appointment of the conferees, there will be no conference, or conference report.

If the House amends the Senate bill, they then have to send the amended bill back to the Senate — where all the 60 vote margin cloture votes still apply — cloture on the motion to proceed, and cloture to end the filibuster and cloture on any amendment.

Do I believe that this objection to the appointment of the conferees will kill ObamaCare? Yes, if the progressives or those 64 House Democrats who voted for the Stupak amendment do not roll over and play dead.

Hat tip to Rand Simberg via Glenn Reynolds.

24 Dec 2009

Stand Fast in Liberty

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Pierre Etienne Monnot, St Paul, 1708-18, San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome

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 24, 2009

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 2009

Now Winter Nights Enlarge

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Lucas van Valckenborch, Winter Landscape, 1586. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Now winter nights enlarge
This number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well:
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys
They shorten tedious nights.


Hat tip to Stephen Frankel.

24 Dec 2009

Christmas Eve

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Boar’s Head Carol 1:11 video

For a picture of Christmas Eve, in the olden time, we can desire none better than that furnished by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion:

On Christmas Eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas Eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry-men go,
To gather in the mistletoe.
Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And Ceremony doffed his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair.”
All hailed, with uncontrolled delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down!

The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s-head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where the monster fell
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas-eye;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce,
At such high-tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithesome din
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
‘Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man’s heart through half the year.

24 Dec 2009

It’s Not Over Yet

Jeffrey H. Anderson points out just how narrowly the democrats succeeded in getting this far. That effort required compromises in the Senate contradicting the deals that made passage in he House possible. Now they have to go back to the House members whose concessions were eliminated by the Senate and try to get them to stay on board.

If public opinion continues in an increasingly negative direction, it will be harder and harder for them. It is not over yet.

The Democrats passed a highly unpopular bill with two votes to spare in the House and none to spare in the Senate. Now they have to blend the bills (mostly reflecting the Senate one) and get them back through both chambers — after hearing from their constituents over the holidays.

Furthermore, the House bill passed only because of relatively strong anti-abortion language demanded by pro-life Democrats in particularly precarious seats. The Senate bill doesn’t contain that language. So either the anti-abortion Democrats in the House or the pro-abortion Democrats in the Senate are going to have to cave. Combine this with other issues, and the Democrats’ almost-nonexistent margin for error, and final passage is anything but certain.

Additionally, the Democrats’ bills would not go into effect in any meaningful way until at least 2013. They could have been written to go into effect immediately, but the Democrats made the calculation that it was better to delay implementation by several years so that they could mislead the American people by citing “10-year costs” for six years’ worth of of Obamacare. That enabled them to pitch an approximately $2.5 trillion bill (its real first-10-year costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office) as an $871 billion bill. But that decision has left us with this reality: The Democrats can only implement their overhaul, and avoid is repeal, if the American people choose to send them back to Capitol Hill and to the White House in 2010 and 2012. The American people, and not the Democratic party, will ultimately decide Obamacare’s fate.

But the American people will also decide the fate of Obamacare in a much more immediate sense. Across recent weeks, Democratic representatives in both congressional chambers have taken tremendous heat from the Obama administration. Now, over the holidays, they’ll get to interact with their constituents face-to-face. They’ve felt the immediate pressures of Washington; now they’ll get to feel the pressure from those who sent them there — the vast majority of whom oppose Obamacare. …

Now is the time to fight.

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