Archive for December, 2007
27 Dec 2007

Russia Loves P.G. Wodehouse

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The Telegraph reports this interesting development.

Outlawed by Stalin in 1929, P G Wodehouse – or Pyelem G Vudhaus as he is known – has undergone a remarkable revival since the ban on his books was lifted in 1990.

There can be few fans as dedicated, however, as Mr Kuzmenko.

As president and founder of the Russian Wodehouse Society he has attracted over 3,000 members, some from as far away as Cheliabinsk and Omsk, thousands of miles to the east. His monthly Wodehouse dinners at the Cleopatra and elsewhere are always sold out.

The actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have played their part. Ever since their acclaimed television portrayal of Jeeves and Wooster was dubbed into Russian, young fans have started flocking to the club.

Wodehouse translations have mushroomed and even a souring of Anglo-Russian relations has done little to dim the enthusiasm for this quintessentially English author.

“If you look around on the metro you can see lots of people reading Wodehouse,” said Tatyana Komoryeva, a 25-year-old accountant. “All the bookshops, even the small ones, are guaranteed to sell at least some of his books.”

That there is a Wodehouse fellowship at all, though, is largely thanks to Natalya Trauberg. A self-taught English speaker, the 79-year-old former dissident risked transportation to the gulags under Stalin for translating the theological works of C S Lewis and G K Chesterton in samizdat.

Although she came across an English copy of Damsel in Distress in 1946 (only Russian translations were banned), Mrs Trauberg was too frightened to attempt a translation until 1989. Her first attempt, the Blandings short story Birth of a Salesman, was also produced in samizdat – not for political reasons but because publishers doubted that there would be any public interest.

“From 1929 to 1990 very few, if any, Russians knew anything of Wodehouse,” she said. “It was a big gamble.” As the popularity of the books spread and the publishers changed their mind, a forerunner of the Russian Wodehouse Society was formed, with each member taking their name from a Wodehouse character.

Mrs Trauberg became the Princess of Matchingham, the scheming Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe’s pig.

It might seem odd that Russians find such an affinity with tales of young upper-class twits stealing policemen’s helmets and elderly upper-class twits stealing each other’s pigs. After all, Wodehouse – who died in 1975 – only really touches on matters Russian in The Clicking of Cuthbert when a Soviet author recounts how an assassination attempt caused Lenin to miss a two-inch putt whilst playing golf with Trotsky.

For Mrs Trauberg, however, Russia’s love affair with the author is far from surprising. As decades of repression has given way to a new era of cut-throat commercialism, Wodehouse represents a madcap innocence that many Russians yearn to emulate.

“Russians need freedom and laughter very much,” she said. “They had none for so long. Wodehouse encapsulates this spirit of freedom.

“He also saves souls. His books are all about innocence and joy and purity.

“The reader is lifted into an English paradise, which many Russians believe is the best paradise of all.”

26 Dec 2007

St. Stephen’s 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 under-stood. 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.

CHRISTMAS-BOXES

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 2007

Everybody Out of the Gene Pool!

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Michael Ledeen announces the Darwin awards for 2007.

There’s really no need for my comments here, except to marvel at the fantasy, creativity and colossal stupidity that led these people (all men?) to remove themselves from the gene pool. Here you go:

DARWIN AWARDS 2007

And once again, it’s time for the Darwin Award Nominees. The Darwins are awarded every year to the persons who died in the most stupid manner, thereby removing themselves from the gene pool.

This years nominees are:

Nominee No. 1: [San Jose Mercury News]

An unidentified man, using a shotgun like a club to break a former girlfriends windshield, accidentally shot himself to death when the gun discharged, blowing a hole in his gut.

Nominee No. 2: [Kalamazoo Gazette]

James Burns, 34, (a mechanic) of Alamo, MI. was killed in March as he was trying to repair what police describe as a “farm-type truck”. Burns got a friend to drive the truck on a highway while Burns hung underneath so that he could ascertain the source of a troubling noise. Burns clothes caught on something however, and the other man found Burns “wrapped in the drive shaft”.

Nominee No. 3: [Hickory Daily Record]

Ken Charles Barger, 47, accidentally shot himself to death in December in Newton, NC. Awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but grabbed instead a Smith & Wesson 38 Special, which discharged when he drew it to his ear.

Nominee No. 4: [UPI, Toronto]

Police said a lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a downtown Toronto skyscraper crashed through a pane with his shoulder and plunged 24 floors to his death. A police spokesman said Garry Hoy, 39, fell into the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower early Friday evening as he was explaining the strength of the buildings windows to visiting law students. Hoy previously has conducted demonstrations of window strength according to police reports. Peter Lawson, managing partner of the firm Holden Day Wilson, told the Toronto Sun newspaper that Hoy was “one of the best and brightest” members of the 200-man association.

Nominee No. 5: [The News of the Weird]

Michael Anderson Godwin made News of the Weird posthumously. He had spent several years awaiting South Carolinas electric chair on a murder conviction before having his sentence reduced to life in prison. While sitting on a metal toilet in his cell attempting to fix his small TV set, he bit into a wire and was electrocuted.

Nominee No. 6: [The Indianapolis Star]

A cigarette lighter may have triggered a fatal explosion in Dunkirk, IN. A Jay County man, using a cigarette lighter to check the barrel of a muzzle loader, was killed Monday night when the weapon discharged in his face, sheriffs investigators said. Gregory David Pryor, 19, died in his parents rural Dunkirk home at about 11:30 PM. Investigators said Pryor was cleaning a 54-caliber muzzle-loader that had not been firing properly. He was using the lighter to look into the barrel when the gun-powder ignited.

Nominee No. 7: [Reuters, Mississauga, Ontario]

A man cleaning a bird feeder on the balcony of his condominium apartment in this Toronto suburb slipped and fell 23 stories to his death. Stefan Macko, 55, was standing on a wheelchair when the accident occurred, said Inspector Darcy Honer of the Peel Regional Police. “It appears that the chair moved, and he went over the balcony,” Honer said.

Finally, THE WINNER!!!: [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

Two local men were injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on State Highway 38 early Monday. Woodruff County deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday. Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc, and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock, were returning to Des Arc after a frog catching trip. On an overcast Sunday night, Pooles pickup truck headlights malfunctioned. The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older-model truck had burned out. As a replacement fuse was not available, Wallis noticed that the .22 caliber bullets from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering-wheel column. Upon inserting the bullet the headlights again began to operate properly, and the two men proceeded on eastbound toward the White River Bridge. After Traveling Approximately 20 miles, and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged, and struck Poole in the testicles. The vehicle swerved sharply right, exiting the pavement, and striking a tree Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident but will require extensive surgery to repair the damage to his testicles, which will never operate as intended. Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released. “Thank God we weren’t on that bridge when Thurston shot his balls off, or we might both be dead,” stated Wallis “I’ve been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can’t believe that those two would admit how this accident happened,” said Snyder. Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia (Poole’s wife) asked how many frogs the boys had caught and did anyone get them from the truck???

(Though Poole and Wallis did not die as a result of their misadventure as normally required by Darwin Award Official Rules, it can be argued that Poole did, in fact, effectively remove himself from the gene pool.)

Hat tip to Dominique Poirier.

25 Dec 2007

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.

Died: Persius, satiric poet, 62 A.D.; Pope Adrian I, 795; Emperor Leo V, the Armenian, slain at Constantinople, 820; Sir Matthew Hale, eminent judge, 1676; Rev. James Hervey, author of the Meditations, 1758, Weston Favell, Northamptonshire; Mrs. Chapone, moral writer, 1801, Hadley, Middlesex; Colonel John Gurwood, editor of Wellington’s Dispatches, 1854, Brighton.

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.

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.’

25 Dec 2007

The Muezzin Calling from the Minaret… in Oxford

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The next sound heard ringing out over Oxford’s dreaming spires may not be church bells, but the ullulations of the Mohammedan muezzin summoning the faithful to pray five times (not three times) a day.

Public proclamations (in Arabic) that “There is no God but Allah” and that “Mohammed is the prophet of God” may well strike some as signals of Islamic domination, which the battles of Tours and Vienna ought to have effectually prevented.

The Daily Mail reports resistance:

Muslim plans to broadcast a loudspeaker call to prayer from a city centre mosque have been attacked by local residents who say it would turn the area into a “Muslim ghetto”.

Dozens of people packed out a council meeting to express their concerns over the plans for a two-minute long call to prayer to be issued three times a day, saying that it could drown out the traditional sound of church bells.

But a spokesman for the Central Mosque said that Muslim’s also have the right to summon worshippers.

Dr Mark Huckster, who lives in Stanton Road and works at East Oxford hospice Helen House, told the Oxford Mail: “The proposal to issue a prayer call is very un-neighbourly, especially in a crowded urban space such as Oxford.

“I have lived in the Middle East and a prayer call has a very different feel to church bells and I personally found the noise extremely unpleasant, rather disturbing and very alien to the western mindset.”

He added: “If an evangelical Christian preacher proposed issuing sermons three times a day at full volume there would be an outcry.

“There could be a sense of ghettoisation of East Oxford. Cowley Road would have a Muslim flavour and could become a Muslim ghetto which is contrary to what we want in a multicultural society.”

Dr Huckster was among six residents speaking in opposition to the plans, revealed in the Oxford Mail in November.

Allan Chapman, who lives in East Oxford, said: “We are concerned with civil liberties and civil peace and the right to be able to live in our own space.

“I do not want preaching at. It is not the tradition of this country or the tradition I subscribe to.

“I find this totally, utterly unacceptable and I plan to do whatever I can to stop it.”

24 Dec 2007

The Yule Log

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From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

The burning of the Yule log is an ancient Christmas ceremony, transmitted to us from our Scandinavian ancestors, who, at their feast of Juul, at the winter-solstice, used to kindle huge bonfires in honour of their god Thor. The custom, though sadly shorn of the ‘pomp and circumstance’ which formerly attended it, is still maintained in various parts of the country. The bringing in and placing of the ponderous block on the hearth of the wide chimney in the baronial hall was the most joyous of the ceremonies observed on Christmas Eve in feudal times. The venerable log, destined to crackle a welcome to all-comers, was drawn in triumph from its resting-place at the feet of its living brethren of the woods. Each wayfarer raised his hat as it passed, for he well knew that it was full of good promises, and that its flame would burn out old wrongs and heartburnings, and cause the liquor to bubble in the wassail-bowl, that was quaffed to the drowning of ancient feuds and animosities. So the Yule-log was worthily honoured, and the ancient bards welcomed its entrance with their minstrelsy.

The following ditty, appropriate to such an occasion, appears in the Sloane Manuscripts. It is supposed to be of the time of Henry VI:

WELCOME YULE

Welcome be thou, heavenly King,
Welcome born on this morning,
Welcome for whom we shall sing,
Welcome Yule,

Welcome be ye Stephen and John,
Welcome Innocents every one,
Welcome Thomas Martyr one,
Welcome Yule.

Welcome be ye, good New Year,
Welcome Twelfth Day, both in fere,
Welcome saints, loved and dear,
Welcome Yule.

Welcome be ye, Candlemas,
Welcome be ye, Queen of Bliss,
Welcome both to more and less,
Welcome Yule.

Welcome be ye that are here,
Welcome all, and make good cheer,
Welcome all, another year,
Welcome Yule.’

And here, in connection with the festivities on Christmas Eve, we may quote Herrick’s inspiriting stanzas:

‘Come bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing,
While my good dame she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart’s desiring.

With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and,
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a teending.

Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a shredding;
For the rare mince-pie,
And the plums stand by,
To fill the paste that’s a kneading.’

The allusion at the commencement of the second stanza, is to the practice of laying aside the half-consumed block after having served its purpose on Christmas Eve, preserving it carefully in a cellar or other secure place till the next anniversary of Christmas, and then lighting the new log with the charred remains of its predecessor. The due observance of this custom was considered of the highest importance, and it was believed that the preservation of last year’s Christmas log was a most effectual security to the house against fire. We are further informed, that it was regarded as a sign of very bad-luck if a squinting person entered the hall when the log was burning, and a similarly evil omen was exhibited in the arrival of a bare-footed person, and, above all, of a flat-footed woman! As an accompaniment to the Yule log, a candle of monstrous size, called the Yule Candle, or Christmas Candle, shed its light on the festive-board during the evening. Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, states that, in the buttery of St. John’s College, Oxford, an ancient candle socket of stone still remains, ornamented with the figure of the Holy Lamb. It was formerly used for holding the Christmas Candle, which, during the twelve nights of the Christmas festival, was burned on the high-table at supper.

In Devonshire, the Yule log takes the form of the ashton fagot, and is brought in and burned with great glee and merriment. The fagot is composed of a bundle of ash-sticks bound or hooped round with bands of the same tree, and the number of these last ought, it is said, to be nine. The rods having been cut a few days previous, the farm-labourers, on Christmas Eve, sally forth joyously, bind them together, and then, by the aid of one or two horses, drag the fagot, with great rejoicings, to their master’s house, where it is deposited on the spacious hearth which serves as the fireplace in old-fashioned kitchens. Fun and jollity of all sorts now commence, the members of the household—master, family, and servants—seat themselves on the settles beside the fire, and all meet on terms of equality, the ordinary restraint characterizing the intercourse of master and servant being, for the occasion, wholly laid aside. Sports of various kinds take place, such as jumping in sacks, diving in a tub of water for apples, and jumping for cakes and treacle; that is to say, endeavoring, by springs (the hands being tied behind the back), to catch with the mouth a cake, thickly spread with treacle, and suspended from the ceiling. Liberal libations of cider, or egg-hot, that is, cider heated and mixed with eggs and spices, somewhat after the manner of the Scottish het-pint, are supplied to the assembled revellers, it being an acknowledged and time-honoured custom that for every crack which the bands of the ashton fagot make in bursting when charred through, the master of the house is bound to furnish a fresh bowl of liquor. To the credit of such gatherings it must be stated that they are characterized, for the most part, by thorough decorum, and scenes of inebriation and disorder are seldom witnessed.

One significant circumstance connected with the vigorous blaze which roars up the chimney on Christmas Eve ought not to be forgotten. We refer to the practice of most of the careful Devonshire housewives, at this season, to have the kitchen-chimney swept a few days previously, so as to guard against accidents from its taking fire. In Cornwall, as we are informed by a contributor to Notes and Queries, the Yule log is called ‘the mock,’ and great festivities attend the burning of it, including the old ceremony of lighting the block with a brand preserved from the fire of last year. We are informed also that, in the same locality, Christmas Eve is a special holiday with children, who, on this occasion, are allowed to sit up till midnight and ‘drink to the mock.’

Another custom in Devonshire, still practiced, we believe, in one or two localities on Christmas Eve, is for the farmer with his family and friends, after partaking together of hot cakes and cider (the cake being dipped in the liquor previous to being eaten), to proceed to the orchard, one of the party bearing hot cake and cider as an offering to the principal apple-tree. The cake is formally deposited on the fork of the tree, and the cider thrown over the latter, the men firing off guns and pistols, and the women and girls shouting:

‘Bear blue, apples and pears enow,
Barn fulls, bag fulls, sack fulls.
Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!’

A similar libation of spiced-ale used to be sprinkled on the orchards and meadows in Norfolk; and the author of a very ingenious little work, The Christmas Book: Christmas in the Olden Time: Its Customs and their Origin (London, 1859) published some years ago, states that he has witnessed a ceremony of the same sort, in the neighborhood of the New Forest in Hampshire, where the chorus sung was –

‘Apples and pears with right good corn,
Come in plenty to every one,
Eat and drink good cake and not ale,
Give Earth to drink and she’ll not fail.’

From a contributor to Notes and Queries, we learn that on Christmas Eve, in the town of Chester and surrounding villages, numerous parties of singers parade the streets, and are hospitably entertained with meat and drink at the different houses where they call. The farmers of Cheshire pass rather an uncomfortable season at Christmas, seeing that they are obliged, for the most part, during this period, to dispense with the assistance of servants. According to an old custom in the county, the servants engage themselves to their employers from New-Year’s Eve to Christmas Day, and then for six or seven days, they leave their masters to shift for themselves, while they (the servants) resort to the towns to spend their holidays. On the morning after Christmas Day hundreds of farm-servants (male and female) dressed in holiday attire, in which all the hues of the rainbow strive for the mastery, throng the streets of Chester, considerably to the benefit of the tavern-keepers and shop-keepers. Having just received their year’s wages, extensive investments are made by them in smock frocks, cotton dresses, plush-waistcoats, and woolen shawls. Dancing is merrily carried on at various public-houses in the evening. In the whole of this custom, a more vivid realization is probably presented than in any other popular celebration at Christmas, of the precursor of these modern jovialities—the ancient Roman Saturnalia, in which the relations of master and servant were for a time reversed, and universal license prevailed.

Among Roman Catholics, a mass is always celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve, another at daybreak on Christmas Day, and a third at a subsequent hour in the morning. A beautiful phase in popular superstition, is that which represents a thorough prostration of the Powers of Darkness as taking place at this season, and that no evil influence can then be exerted by them on mankind. The cock is then supposed to crow all night long, and by his vigilance to scare away all malignant spirits. The idea is beautifully expressed by Shakespeare, who puts it in the mouth of Marcellus, in Hamlet:

‘It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say, that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm;
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.’

A belief was long current in Devon and Cornwall, and perhaps still lingers both there and in other remote parts of the country, that at mid-night, on Christmas Eve, the cattle in their stalls fall down on their knees in adoration of the infant Saviour, in the same manner as the legend reports them to have done in the stable at Bethlehem. Bees were also said to sing in their hives at the same time, and bread baked on Christmas Eve, it was averred, never became mouldy. All nature was thus supposed to unite in celebrating the birth of Christ, and partake in the general joy which the anniversary of the Nativity inspired.

24 Dec 2007

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:

(excerpt)

In Hoc Anno Domini
December 24, 2007

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 2007

Report: Israel Would Win Nuclear War With Iran

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According to a recent study, a nuclear exchange with Israel would be vastly disproportionately damaging to Iran.

Jerusalem Post:

If a nuclear war between Israel and Iran were to break out 16-20 million Iranians would lose their lives – as opposed to 200,000-800,000 Israelis, according to a report recently published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which is headed by Anthony H. Cordesman, formerly an analyst for the US Department of Defense. The document, which is largely theoretical due to the lack of verified knowledge in some areas – specifically in terms of Israel’s nuclear capability – paints various scenarios and attempts to predict the strategies of regional powers, as well as the US.

The report assesses that a nuclear war would last approximately three weeks and ultimately end with the annihilation of Iran, due to Israel’s alleged possession of weapons with a far larger yield. Israel, according to the assessment, would have a larger chance of survival. The report does not attempt to predict how many deaths would eventually be caused by possible nuclear fallout.

Even if Iran gained the means and knowledge to create nuclear weapons, according to the report it would still be limited to 100 kiloton weapons, which can cause a far smaller radius of destruction than the 1 megaton bombs Israel allegedly possesses.

Possible targets for an Iranian strike are the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and Haifa bay, while the list of possible targets in Iran includes the cities Teheran, Tabriz, Qazvin, Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Kerman, Qom, Ahwaz and Kermanshah.

Conventional wars between Israel and Islamic adversaries have produced similarly one-sided results, so it might be unwise for Iran to dismiss these particular conclusions.

24 Dec 2007

Punishing the Boy Scouts

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Al Knight on the left’s political crusade against the Boy Scouts.

Some topics are best left both out of sight and out of mind. The American Civil Liberties Union’s war on the Boy Scouts is not one of them.

The ACLU, in a rational world, might well have been expected to champion the First Amendment rights of an organization like the Boy Scouts. After all, the First Amendment to the Constitution (so dear to the ACLU) protects both speech and the right to associate.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 upheld the right of the Boy Scouts to select members and leaders without regard to state laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

That ruling hasn’t stopped the ACLU. It has simply shifted tactics away from the courts and focused its energies on local and often mean-spirited campaigns to deny the Scouts places to meet and the ability to raise funds.

Sadly, the campaign appears to be working. Earlier this year, the Philadelphia City Council caved to pressure from the ACLU and gay and lesbian groups to end a 75-year-old, $1-a-year lease on the Boy Scouts headquarters. The lease was originally granted to run “in perpetuity.”

But now, the Scouts will have to pay almost $200,000 a year in rent. Not only that, but the city’s Cradle of Liberty Boy Scout Council, after years of resistance, gave in to pressure and essentially agreed to the demands of gay and lesbian groups. And more bad news: The left-leaning Pew Charitable Trusts and the United Way in Philadelphia have stopped funding the Boy Scouts.

The youth of Philadelphia need the Boy Scouts as much as ever, but the City Council is too cowardly to stand up to the unreasonable and vindictive demands of special interest groups.

These campaigns against the Scouts can no longer be disguised as efforts to end discrimination. They have only one purpose: to punish an organization that has performed countless good turns for a century.

At this point, it is unclear what can be done to convince the American public that actions like those taken by the Philadelphia City Council pose a risk to the nation and to the common good. Today, the Boy Scouts may be the target, but tomorrow the same shabby tactics could be aimed at the Rotary Club or any other private civic group.

After all, what this country really needs is an active self-affirming homosexual presence in an organization for boys.

24 Dec 2007

Why Democrats Have No Hope of Winning Consistently

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Even assuming those flying monkeys do bring Hillary the presidency this time, a fundamental strategic problem for democrats remains, William Voegeli points out. They may win one now and then, but the albatross of leftism is permanently hanging from their necks.

The Journals of the late Arthur Schlesinger have received a good deal of attention, but most of it has concerned Schlesinger’s writing style, personality, or the broad topic of keeping and publishing diaries. The strangely neglected question of Schlesinger’s politics is finally addressed by the New Yorker’s George Packer, writing as one liberal assessing another. “In [Schlesinger’s] long record of speeches, conferences, lunches at the Century, and dinners at Mortimer’s,” observes Packer, “there’s an unmistakable sense that liberal politics belonged to a small group of the rich and famous who all knew one another and knew what was best for the rest of the country, while knowing less and less about the rest of the country. . . . It’s possible, even if you agree with almost every position Schlesinger held, to find the smugness and complacency not just annoying but fatal. His crowd made liberalism a fat target for the New Right; Reagan and his heirs seized the language and claims of populism from liberals who believed that they had had permanent possession [of it] ever since Roosevelt.”

One subtext of the 2008 election is liberals’ effort to convey that they now “get it” – they understand the damage this elitism inflicted on their cause in a way Schlesinger never did. Packer’s critique of Schlesinger is one instance. Eric Alterman’s assertion that, “One of the great mistakes liberals made in the 1970s was to try to win in the courts what they could not win at the ballot box – thereby allowing their democratic muscles and instincts [to] atrophy and helping to inspire a right-wing backlash against which they were defenseless,” is another.

These mea culpas, however, always turn out to be sorta culpas. No sooner does Alterman identify judicial activism as one of liberalism’s great mistakes than his litany of the “catastrophes” that have befallen America during the Bush years includes “the attack on . . . choice.” The goal of this insidious attack is to re-democratize abortion policy, 35 years after the Supreme Court reduced the number of Americas who could affect it to nine. Roe v. Wade is the biggest land-grab of all the liberal efforts to secure a political victory in the courts that they couldn’t win anywhere else. Conservatives try to reverse this great mistake, and give liberals a chance to rebuild their democratic muscles, and Alterman sputters with rage.

The problem is that liberalism incorporated the agenda and the up-against-the-wall style of the various radicalisms of the 1960s in ways that now make disentangling the New Deal and New Left genomes impossible. According to James Piereson, the ideology that emerged from the 1960s was “punitive liberalism,” which “parted company from earlier liberal reformers such as FDR, Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, who viewed reform as a means of bringing the promise of American life within reach of more of our people.” Punitive liberals wanted America to atone for its sins rather than solve its problems. Their goal was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” as one of the era’s slogan’s had it. The comfortable, made numerous by the postwar boom, deserved to be afflicted because America needed to be redeemed. Arthur Schlesinger, for example, said that we all killed Robert Kennedy: Americans have become “the most frightening people on this planet . . . because the atrocities we commit trouble so little our official self-righteousness, our invincible conviction of our moral infallibility.” This heat-of-the-moment judgment, made in the hours after RFK was shot, was one Schlesinger repeated in a subsequent magazine article and book.

The current liberal attitude about the sort of bourgeois-baiting rhetoric and policies they favored 35 years ago is: don’t worry, that’s all behind us now . . . although it was completely defensible and really quite noble. Salon’s Joan Walsh writes, “Pushed by the civil rights, antiwar and women’s movement, the Democrats [in the 1960s] became the party of inclusion, of racial equality. The Democrats became the party that questioned unchecked U.S. military adventurism and untrammeled corporate power. In my opinion these were all good ideas, but the anxiety they engendered helped lead to 20 years of Republicans in the White House, interrupted briefly by Jimmy Carter after Nixon went too far. Reagan ousted Carter by continuing to hammer away at Democrats as the party of minorities and the poor. Sure, he talked about ‘Morning in America’ and that ‘shining city on a hill,’ but he mostly played on fears that liberalism had run amok.”

Walsh can’t or won’t ask whether there was something about liberalism that engendered the anxiety that Republicans could exploit. Favoring inclusion and opposing military adventures and corporate power doesn’t sound like a recipe for defeat. Canvassing for votes from people you’ve castigated as the most frightening on the face of the planet does.

Hat tip to the Barrister.

23 Dec 2007

I’ve Got a Crush on Fred Thompson’s Politics

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2:16 video

A response to I’ve Got a Crush on Obama and its successors.

Hat tip to Logan Murphy.

23 Dec 2007

Fred Thompson’s Xmas Ad

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1:14 video

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