Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Urrr ahhh....SEASONS GREETINGS?....

For the life of me, I just can't understand why some people in this country are so offended by the words "Happy Holidays.

The whole thing seems ridicules in the extreme. One second they tout the sanctity of Christmas, but then, in the same breath, they use their supposedly sacred holiday as a cheap, run of the mill political weapon against their many opponents--which, when you think about it, reduces Christmas to a mere mockery. For the life of me, I just can't figure out what went wrong with this crowd. Are they over sensitive? Are they anal retentive? Are they disrespectful or even hateful of non-Christians? Do they enjoy beating others over the head with their religious beliefs? Do they want to monopolize the Christmas holiday for themselves?

Or could it be that they don't realize that they are placing their eternal souls in danger when they celebreate this supposedly Christian holiday?

Christmas, afterall, has a rather long and complicated history, and the great irony in all of it is the fact that what we think of as Christmas isn't even Christian at all.

Contrary to what they have been told, Christ probably wasn't born in December. In fact he was probably born in the spring or fall, more probably the former. The only reason we have a December Holiday called Christmas at all is because the ancient church, in its feverish attempt to eradicate competing faiths, decided it would be a neat idea to move Christmas to coincide with the Winter Solstice or Roman Saturnalia. Indeed, Christmas wasn't even a high Christian Holiday until the Fourth Century. Prior to that time the primary Christian Holiday had been Easter.

And those lovely little customs and decorations over which we obsess at this time every year--little things like pine wreaths, Christmas trees, the holly and the ivy, kissing under the mistletoe--they all hark back to European Paganism (with the exception of the poinsettia which harks back to pre-Christian North American roots).

The holiday we celebrate every winter has less to do with a baby in a manger than it does with ancient, pre-Christian beliefs. In fact, if you embrace a literal translation of the Old Testament, you might actually be sinning when you put up and decorate a pine tree. Consider the following example from "All About the Christmas Tree: Pagan Origins, Christian Adaption, and Secular Status."


"The Prophet Jeremiah condemned as Pagan the practice of cutting down trees, bringing them into the home and decorating them. Of course, these were not really Christmas trees, because Jesus was not born until centuries later, and the use of Christmas trees was not introduced for many centuries after his birth. Apparently, in Jeremiah's time the "heathen" would cut down trees, carve or decorate them in the form of a god or goddess, and overlay it with precious metals. Some Christians feel that this Pagan practice was similar enough to our present use of Christmas trees that this passage from Jeremiah can be used to condemn both:

Jeremiah 10:2-4: "This saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, that it move not." (From the King James version.)

All right. If Christmas trees are symbols of heathen Paganism, then we can certainly take some comfort in all the other symbolism. Take, for example, the holly tree. Truly this Holiday Tradition can be traced to Christian roots.

Right?

Welllllll......Not exactly.

"For centuries, holly has been the subject of myths, legends, and traditional observances. The ancient Chinese used Ilex chinensis extensively for decorating during their February New Year festivals. The Romans used the plant to decorate their houses, temples, and deities for Saturnalia, the mid-winter feast. They exchanged holly boughs as symbols of goodwill and friendship. This practice is considered the forerunner of holly's use in Christmas celebrations.

"Ancient history says that the Druids used holly in their religious rites long before the custom came to the European continent. The Druids of ancient Britain and Gaul held the English holly tree sacred. The "holy" connotation continued in later days in Europe, where the plant was widely believed to repel evil spirits. People planted trees and used their branches as protection against witchcraft, mad dogs, and other evils.

"Sometime in the past, the pagans of Europe took sprays of holly into their homes so that the tiny, imaginary peoples of the woodland would be safe from the cold of winter in the evergreen boughs. Later, holly was used as holiday decor that gave the good fairies and elves ."

It might have been co opted, but its origins are clearly Pagan. So, what about the proverbial ivy? How does that clinging vine rate?

"Aside from the familiar carol, 'The Holly and the Ivy,' the ivy vine doesn't have quite the Christmas tradition as mistletoe and holly. It was associated with Bacchus the Roman god and thought to bring good luck, fun and ecstatic happiness. Growing the plant on the outside walls of a house was believed to be a deterrent against misfortune. However, if it died, it was thought that financial trouble was approaching. Like evergreens, ivy was also seen as a symbol of eternal life.


"Because ivy symbolized prosperity and charity, it became associated with Christmas, a time to celebrate the rich rewards of life yet remember the less fortunate. Christian symbolists also consider the ivy's need to cling to a support emblematic of man's need for divine support." (See Holistic Living, a Place to Relax: Christmas Plants Rooted in Centuries Old Histories and traditions.)

Speaking of mistletoe, if you go back to the above-mentioned site you will learn that this interesting parasite is actually an old Norse symbol.

" Legend explains that the tears of Scandinavian goddess Frigga saved her son after he was shot with an arrow made of mistletoe. When she ordered mistletoe never again be used to harm others, she made it a symbol of peace and love. It was also hung over doorways to ward off evil and bring happiness, health and good luck, and kissing under the mistletoe was thought to increase the possibility of marriage in the upcoming year. "

Then there's that little matter of the Yule Log.

"The word yule means wheel, a symbol representing the sun and the yuletide was a festivity celebrating the fact that the days would now start to get longer and warmer again. The yule log was a huge log (sometimes an entire tree) that was burned slowly throughout these days to herald the birth of this new sun. One end of the log would be placed in the fireplace with the rest sticking out into the room. The log was slowly fed into the fire over the course of several days until it was completely consumed."

Poinsettia History and Lore are equally touchy issues. The poinsettia is a uniquely North American Symbol, not handed down from our Pagan, European Ancestors. Rather, it was handed down from our Aztec ancestors who called it the "Cuetlaxochitle," and who used the semi-toxic sap for medicinal purposes.

But, enough already with the trees and vines.

Maybe you were thinking about going broke at your local Sprawl-Mart? Gift-giving, after all, is a respectable Christmas tradition. Or is it? Again, this is another habit that was lifted from the Roman Pagans; as if generosity and gift-giving were/are uniquely Judeo-Christian customs. Gift-giving, after all, was an important aspect of the Roman Saturnalia , and the last I knew Saturn wasn't the Judeo-Christian god.

The upshot to all of this is that the Christmas monopolists really shouldn't be offended when they hear the term "Happy Holidays." In fact, the church-state separatists are actually doing them a favor. That's right, a favor.

In the first place, it isn't as if Christmas were even a Christian holiday. Anyone who saw the stampedes in Wal-Mart over the Thanksgiving weekend understands that much. For all intents and purposes it has become a cheap, commercial festival devoid of any spritual meaning. And, in the second place, the seasonal customs and pre-Christian symbolism have transformed it into a Neo-Pagan Holiday, replete with ancient superstitions and sops to the old gods and goddesses. By shielding them from the crass consumerism, the anti-christian pageantry, and a wide variety of heathen practices the church-state separatists are actually saving the souls of Christian Monopolists.

That's right.

Not only are we preventing them from celebrating a Pagan festival which was never intended as a Christian celebration (observance for those of you who aren't into merrymaking) we are also preventing them from engaging in strange, anti-christian rituals which might delegate them to eternal damnation.

I know, I know, it's an endless, and thankless task but someone has to do it. And from where I stand it's the least I can do for the radical Christian Right during their favorite time of the year. The poor dears are already in enough trouble with the Deity as it is. Their outrageous, often inhumane, stands on everything from war and peace to the death penalty and economic issues already have them in hot coals and hell fire up to their proverbial asses.

The least we can do is spare them the degradation of engaging in primitive, barbaric rituals which will only confirm and secure their eternal damnation.

So before we go back to human sacrifices and telling fortunes by the spilled entrails of barnyard animals, we might want to rethink this Merry Christmas ritual.

And, as a gesture towards the Christmas Monopolists, who are so determined to co-opt this Pagan Festival, we might want to avoid the term "Happy Holidays."

What else can I say, besides.....

Seasons Greetings.

Brian
and
Brandon

For additional information and for a slightly different take on all of this, please see "The History Of Christmas" by Ben Best.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

THE REPUBLIC OF OLD

Editor's note,
By Brandon

For some reason I never read the George Lucas novelization of the original STAR WARS (Episode IV: A New Hope), so when my best friend handed me a dog-eared copy of the paperback, and told me to read it carefully, I was amazed by two things.

First, I got the distinct impression that George Lucas had no idea that STAR WARS would become such a successful phenomonon. In other words, the STAR WARS franchise was an accident, a mere afterthought, initiated only by the success of the 1977 film.

This becomes obvious, when you read the original, novelized prologue, which differs in meaningful ways from the cinematic franchise, the most important difference being the nature and motives of "President" Palpatine, who becomes"Supreme Chancellor" Palpatine in the movies. Note that in the movies, Chancellor Palpatine, is in full control, using and discarding those who are helpful to him in his obsessive quest for power. In the novelization, however, President Palpatine is isolated and dominated by the people who brought him to power.

What a wonderful analogy for our current situation in Washington.

For all intents and purposes, George W. Bush is a dry drunk who is less influenced by his family, friends, and basic, common sense, than he is by the Radical Right Wing Christians and reactionary neocons who helped him achieve his "recovery." Why if you didn't know better, you'd think that certain "ambitious" indviudals decided to groom (some might say manipulate) the psychologically crippled son of a former president and then used him for their repressive, un-American agenda.

That said, the original version of the prologue (given below) sounds as if it could have been written in 2003 or 2004. The similarities between it and the political landscape in the United States today are truly frightening.

Please allow me to present the original prologue to the George Lucas novelization of STAR WARS.);

ANOTHER GALAXY, another time

The Old Republic was the Republic of legend, greater than distance or time. No need to note where it was or whence it came, only top know that....it was the Republic.

Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens, when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, then appear those evil ones who have greed to match.

So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any internal attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.

Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.

Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.

Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knight's, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.

But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.

From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of new truth across a galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples.

From the First Saga
Journal of the Whills



From STAR WARS
by George Lucas
1976 Del Ray/Ballantine Books
The Star Wars Corporation

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I really don't mind....

I really don't mind getting email from the loyal opposition, but it helps if you actually type a essage before you click send. I realize it was 12:02 AM our time, 1:02 AM Eastern, so the person or persons involved were probably a little tired. That said, in the future, try to enter an actual message.

Nine times out of ten I don't bite,and when I do I try not to infect the wound with my saliva.

And if you get too abusive I can always spam you.

Bye,

Brandon
LET'S PLAY PLUTOCRACY:
HOW CONSERVATIVE ECONOMIC POLICIES PROMOTE ELITISM AND DESTROY THE AMERICAN DREAM

By Brandon
and
Trevor

Edited by Advocate 1

"a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically free elections"

Whenever we read this definition of government to our conservative friends, they almost invariably believe that we are defining socialism. Unfortunately for them, this is not a definition of socialism; rather, it is the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary's definition of democracy.

Of course this might have something to do with the fact that economic conservatives are so pathologically obsessed over the idea of wealth and how to hoard it that they define freedom in terms of dollar and cent signs. And we're here to tell you that the connection between political freedom and economic freedom is tenuous at best and disingenuous at the worst.*

For all intents and purposes the Framers believed we had the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. They also believed in equal opportunity. To this the conservatives frequently add that there is not a right to an equal outcome, that we do not have a right to wealth and success. In this one regard they are correct, but what they fail to mention is that the very policies they promulgate have effectively made opportunity obseolete.

The wealthiest 1 percent in this country owns 38.1 percent of the wealth. The top 96 to 99 percent owns 21.3 percent of the wealth. The top 90 to 95 percent owns 11.5 percent of the wealth. The top 80 to 89 percent owns 12.5 percent of the wealth. The next 40 to 59 percent owns 4. 58 percent of the wealth. The bottom 40 percent owns a mere 0.2 % of the wealth. In other words, the top 10 percent of the country owns approximately 70.9 percent of the wealth.



The situation is exasperated by the fact that this top ten wields a disproportionate degree of political power. It is no accident that we have 56 lobbyists for every elected official in Washington DC. Nor is it an accident that these lobbyists often write the self-serving legislation which is approved by their Republican lapdogs in the United States Congress. To call this Democracy, when unelected entities and individuals have hijacked the American government, is both ludicrous and obscene if not a threat to the very Representative Government that the conservatives are currently undermining.Ideally, the American Dream is supposed to work like this: you serve as a dedicated employee, you save what you can along the way, you make a few sacrifices here and there, you engage in a little fair-minded competition, and the magic of the free market will allow you to pull yourself up by your own boot straps.

Would that it were so.

According to the 29 December, 2004 edition of The Economist :

"Between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth. Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack."

Nevermind the disingenous rhetoric about economic freedom. The dirty little secret here is that with so much wealth concentrated at the top, and so little left for the lower and middle classes to compete for, the American dream has become an anachronism. You stand a better chance of winning the Power Ball Lottery than you do of getting rich. The odds have been stacked against the majority of the American people who do the actual work. The game has been rigged by those who have used and who continue to use unfair (and often illegal) practicies to protect their ill-gotten gains.Why, if you didn't know better, you think that the ultimate goal of the economic conservatives was to abolish Jefferson's concept of a meritocracy, with a permanent, upper class meritocracy.

You just have to give those conservatives credit. They really do believe that any regulation or economic policy that benefits the middle and lower classes is a part of an all encompassing Marxist plot. Never mind the fact that they routinely smear democracy as socialism, socialism as communism without bothering to differentiate between the three: the truth of that matter is that conservatism̢۪s contempt for average American is so visceral that it places them in opposition to the very ideals of capitalism and Constitutional government which they so hypocritically claim to support.
Those top 400 fortunes are growing so nicely, Pulitizer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston adds, because taxes on top 400 incomes are sinking so steadily. In 2000, the nation's richest 400 — average annual income: $174 million — paid 22 percent of their incomes in federal tax after exploiting every tax loophole they could find. The Bush tax cuts have dropped that effective tax rate, Johnston calculates, down to 17.5 percent.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

REAGEN'S DESTRUCTIVE LEGACY

REAGEN'S DESTRUCTIVE LEAGACY
by Abraham Steffes
Edited by Brandon Alexander Geraghty-MacKenzie


This country was ruined by Ronald Reagen. He told us that greed was good, ushered in a new age of international terrorism, and generally ruined an entire generation of children (the Gen Xers) from whose antics we are still trying to recover. By any standard, Ronald Reagen was nothing more than a pretentious Grade B actor with delusions of adequacy, and he gave his most destructive performance when he decided to play the part of the President of the United States.

Where do I begin? He gave me so much material to work with. Perhaps the best thing to do is to start right here at home and see where our little trek takes us.

When Mister Reagen tried to slash New Deal safety nets we paid dearly for it. Granted, Reagen did stimulate the economy for some, but it wasn't always an easy ride for the folks in third class. Upon taking office, the Jipper pushed through a policy of tax cuts, increased military spending, and reduced social spending. The immediate result was a sharp rise in interest rates. The inflation that we had experienced under Carter (a result of instability in the Mideast, i.e. the Iranian Revolution) did in fact decrease. But unemployment reached a post war record of 10.8 percent. Factories and farms went belly up. By 1984 the economy had begun to pick up, but unemployment still hoovered at or around 7 to 7. 5 percent, although inflation had decreased to a manageable 4.5 percent. That assumes, however, that the Jipper was being honest with us. Regrettably, the Reagen Administration changed the manner in which we count the number of unemployed. In a desperate attempt to fudge its own record, the Reagen Administration decided to stop workers who had been unemployed for longer than six months. In other words, we have not had an accurate account of unemployment since the Jipper left office.

And there's more.

From 1984 to the summer of 1987, confidence had been growing on Wall Street; stock prices were booming at a phenomenal rate. The bubble, however, crashed in October of that year. Panic set in, and stock values plunged by about $500 billion.

And then we had that little matter of the trade deficit. When Reagen took office in 1981, we had a trade surplus (no, that is not a typo--I wrote SURPLUS) of about $6 billion. By 1982, we had a trade DEFICIT of about $8 billion. By 1986 the figure had reached the $170 billion mark. Translated into modern English, we devolved from an exporter into an importer, making ourselves more dependent on the outside world for the basic necessities. Am I the only one on this blog who sees this as a potential threat to our national security?

Socially, America hit the skids during the Reagen years; and in many ways we have yet to recover. Drugs and drug-related crime became a national epidemic. Nancy Reagen told us to "just say no," which produced a restrained giggle among those in the mental health care profession, who issued a collective, "What-did-she-say?" Even a first year psychology student knows that you can't make a human being change behavior unless you are willing demand an alternative behavior coupled with positive reinforcement. But then again, who said that Republicans had a sound understanding of human nature? The "Just Say No" solution (or non-solution, if you will) offered no viable alternatives to drug use and addiction, and the drug epidemic is still a devastating social problem.

In addition, the Reagen years also created an unholy marriage between two of our worst social malignancies. Prior to the 1980s we had our issues with drugs. We also had street gangs. But during the Reagen years we saw the emergence of enterprising street toughs who combined the worst elements of alienation, violence, and the free enterprise system to create for-profit drug gangs. Think Al Capone meets The Lord of the Flies, and then remember that this has been the dysfunctional gift that just keeps on giving.

In addition, we also saw an increase in the number of violent youth overall. Indeed, if I recall correctly, the Reagen years gave us a generation of youth who were willing to kill one another over fashion (read athletic shoes and sports jackets). That was new, although not unexpected when the President's policies are telling us as a nation that greed is good.

All right, perhaps I've been a little too hard on the Jipper. Like most presidents, he probably made up for his domestic short-comings through success in foreign policy.


Or should I say "took credit" for a successful foreign policy?


On the one hand he saved the world from a rickety "Evil Empire" which was ready to collapse under its own militancy, corruption, and inefficiency. On the other hand, when the Soviets made the stupid, stupid mistake of invading Afghanistan the Reagen-Bush 1 Administration supplied aid and assistance to a dedicated, anti-communist freedom fighter named Osama Bin Laden. You really have to wonder. If the Jipper hadn't been suffering from Alzheimer's since his second term, what might he have been thinking when he saw those planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 911. Might he have thought "God-forgive-me," or just issued a befuddled "well,-there-I-go-again?"

Nor was this the only time Reagen assisted (unintentional perhaps) international terrorists

.
In 1982 he sent American troops to Lebanon on a "peace-keeping mission. In 1983 a terrorist crashed a truck full of explosives into the American barracks, killing 239 American soldiers. In fact, the Reagen years were a fine time for terrorism. Terrorists bombed the American Embassy in East Beirut. Libyan terrorists detonated a bomb in a West Berlin night club, killing an American soldier and several patrons. My but we were having fun.

Then we had that little matter of the Iran-Iraq War, during the course of which we cuddled up with our tyrant of choice, (the one, the only), Saddam Hussein! (I guess Saddam wasn't such a bad butcher as long as he was a REPUBLICAN-backed butcher). In fact, we all remember that splendid picture of
Saddam Hussein shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld. (I know, I know. Technically, it's a little off topic, but it does show how hypocritical we were both then and now.)

On the other hand, the Jipper was an equal opportunity arms provider-- as we saw when he sold $30 million in arms to the Iranian Ayatollahs and then used the proceeds to support Right Wing Death squads in Central America (Nicaragua). Why do the words "Iran-Contra come to mind? You see, kiddies, The United States Congress had cut off the flow of blood money to Reagen's Central American bullies, limiting them to humanitarian aid. That, however, wasn't good enough for the Jipper. He wanted to sell military aid. The fact that the White House had been using the money from the secret Iranian Arms sale amounted to a violation of the law. To his credit, Reagen accepted responsibility for Iran-Contra but denied that he knew any details--which i rings true because a substantial share of his second term was probably spent in a senility-induced haze.

Yup. The Reagen years were a real dream. And in many ways we have yet to wake up from his right wing nightmare that he induced.