Thursday, December 31, 2020

Future’s So Bright...

I don’t know about that.  But he is nutty as a fruitcake:
Always somebody elses's fault: And... Last time I looked, 140 isn’t even half of 435, much less a majority. So, who cares?

Besides, it's not like they really mean it.
Frankly, I’m ready to stop talking about this.

Yeah...L. Lin Wood Is Nuts

"Conspiracy" Is....

The fear of incoherence; and ambiguity.  Christianity calls that "mystery," and puts it at the beating heart of its doctrine, its teachings, its beliefs.

And frankly, it's when we don't, that what we teach as "Christian" stops being precisely that.

But there's no question we fear incoherence and ambiguity; and it's why we seek patterns and meaning and understanding in everything around us.  Conspiracy also hinges on one other essential:  the "secret knowledge" that not everyone has; or even acknowledges.
At extremes, it's just plain nuts.

Better Question

Who considers them "elite"?

A Little Knowledge

And what they tell Kristol is: Be afraid! Be very afraid! Beware the “I’s” of January!

Yes! The three “I’s!” Iraq! Insurrection Act! And Insanity!

Iraq: the fear, of course, is that Trump starts a war, because Trump is so bellicose. But Trump is a bully. All bullies speak loudly and carry a small stick.  Trump is no more going to start a war with Iraq than he’s going to convince the Congress to appoint him President.  Reagan was more belligerent when he invaded Grenada than Trump has ever been or will ever be.

The Insurrection Act: this was last invoked in 1992. Surprisingly, it did not create a Constitutional crisis. It was used to quell rioters after the Rodney King trial. If the Proud Boys start riots in D.C., Trump can’t use the act because D.C. is not in a state. The Feds already have authority there. He can’t use such civil unrest to send the military or National Guard to other states to seize voting machines, either. The Insurrection Act only allows the President to enforce state laws to restore order. It does not make him an all-powerful dictator.

Insanity: Trump gets to act insane in his official capacity only so far as we let him. Pro tip: Tweets are not within the official capacity of the POTUS. And now that he’s a lame duck, he’s weaker than a mad king surrounded by faithless courtiers.

Kristin says we must be aware and pay attention. He might as well say we must run in circles, screaming and shouting, with our hair on fire. We would do as much good. For the last four years we have relied on our public institutions, and where they weren’t under the incompetence of the Administration, they have served us well. Since November the courts have capably handled Trump’s idiotic attempts to stay in office (or, more accurately, to not be a loser). Even Sen. Johnson from Wisconsin acknowledged that Biden will be President in January. The military is not going to follow an unlawful order. Armed soldiers are not going to invade warehouses in Georgia seeking computer hardware.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Trump only has the power we give him, and at this point nobody who wields real governmental power is giving him the time of day. Be afraid if you like, but who among you, by worrying, can add one hair to your head?

I’m Gonna Miss It When It’s Gone

The older I get, the more my misanthropy defines me.  I'll fondly remember the days when the world was on my terms.

New Year's Eve 2020

Time is told by death, who doubts it? But time is always halved--for all we know, it is halved--by the eye-blink, the synapse, the immeasurable moment of the present. Time is only the past and maybe the future; the present moment, dividing and connecting them, is eternal. The time of the past is there, somewhat, but only somewhat, to be remembered and examined. We believe that the future is there too, for it keeps arriving, though we know nothing about it. But try to stop the present for your patient scrutiny, or to measure its length with your most advanced chronometer. It exists, so far as I can tell, only as a leak in time, through which, if we are quiet enough, eternity falls upon us and makes its claim. And here I am, an old man, traveling as a child among the dead.

We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births. For time is told also by life. As some depart, others come. The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome. I, who once had grandparents and parents, now have children and grandchildren. Like the flowing river that is yet always present, time that is always going is always coming. And time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present. Time, then, is told by love's losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost. It is folded and enfolded and unfolded forever and ever, the love by which the dead are alive and the unborn welcomed into the womb. The great question for the old and the dying, I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough, but if they have been grateful enough for love received and given, however much. No one who has gratitude is the onliest one. Let us pray to be grateful to the last.
--Wendell Berry, Andy Catlett: Early Travels

Profile In Impotence

Shouting into the void.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

We’re Really Upset By Kneeling, Aren’t We?

But is the slave kneeling? Or rising?  The argument for the postures is the slave is removing his chains as Lincoln protects him.  The argument against it is the slave is kneeling.

Half-empty? Or half-full?

Shorter Trump: “It’s Never My Fault!”

Meanwhile, back in the Naval Observatory: From 2 million administered to 20 million distributed in just 7 days? Yeah, that’ll happen. And what good does it do to have 18 million doses floating around? Trump is blaming the states.  Considering how many of those states are rural and poor (Arkansas, New Mexico, the Dakotas, for starters), that’s pretty chickenshit. Considering how our governments should work together, not in opposition, it’s a complete dereliction of duty by the POTUS.

The Democrats Made Me Do It!

Hawley is not challenging the election outcome; he's grandstanding to force an investigation. 

1) Unless Mo Brooks makes the same objection about Pennsylvania in the House, this doesn't trigger the provisions of the Electoral Count Act (per the plain language of the ECA.  But Congress could write new rules concerning how objections must be stated.  See below.).  Hawley has to coordinate with Brooks, and I don't think he wants to.

2)  Hawley is plainly stating he's negotiating.  If McConnell gives Hawley what he wants, i.e., the power to start an investigation (provided McConnell has that power after January 5th), will Hawley stand down?

3)  Hawley is predicating this on the 2004 and 2016 objections (anybody else remember those?) of Democrats, which he says were widely praised (again:  anybody?  Bueller?  Ferris Bueller?).  He's looking for attention and an angle to continue this discussion after the inauguration.  But he's not contesting Biden's election.  He's swatting at even less substantial shadows than Trump and Powell and Lin Woods.  His complaint is with Twitter and Facebook (shades of Sec. 230!).  He's aiming this directly at McConnell's poison pills, in fact, in an attempt (probably; most likely) to get McConnell to abandon that effort so the $2000 checks can flow to Missouri.  Hawley doesn't want to prematurely attack Section 230; he just wants to talk about the "bias" of Twitter and Facebook against conservatives some more.  Especially since he represents Missouri, and Biden is gonna be POTUS.

4) Not to be overlooked is the possibility the House and Senate adopt new rules (they can do that!) regarding how the joint session mandated by the 12th Amendment is handled.  They could adopt rules that subtly undercut the power of the Electoral Count Act, including that the objections in House and Senate must be the same in all respects, and setting rules for how such objections are submitted and recognized.  Lots of ways the Dems can play with this, or McConnell, for that matter.  And no matter how many objections force debates in each house, it's a foregone conclusion, because the Democratic House is not going to vote to sustain an objection to Biden's inauguration (and that's where the rules enter.  The rules could allow a voice vote on all objections, with cloture of debate made a similarly simple matter.  The ECA just says each house must debate up to 2 hours; it's doesn't set that as a required minimum.  And voice votes speed the plow and move the process along.)

Wheels within wheels within wheels.  This may not even be a speed bump on January 6th, which is why Hawley's announcing it now.  He doesn't want to win the objection; he wants the leverage.

December 30, 2020: Comites Christi

The days after Christmas honor the Comites Christi, the companions of Christ. They are honored with feast days following Christmas, especially Stephen and the Holy Innocents. But those are particulars, and we want the category.  There is no better introduction to the Comites Christi than the words of St. Augustine: 

Consider what is said to you: Love God. If you say to me: Show me whom I am to love, what shall I say if not what Saint John says: No one has ever seen God! But in case you should think that you are completely cut off from the sight of God, he says: God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God. Love your neighbor, then, and see within yourself the power by which you love your neighbor; there you will see God, as far as you are able. 

Begin, then, to love your neighbor. Break your bread to feed the hungry, and bring into your home the homeless poor; if you see someone naked, clothe him, and do not look down on your own flesh and blood. 

What will you gain by doing this? Your light will then burst forth like the dawn. Your light is your God; he is your dawn, for he will come to you when the night of time is over. He does not rise or set but remains for ever. 

In loving and caring for your neighbor you are on a journey. Where are you traveling if not to the Lord God, to him whom we should love with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind? We have not yet reached his presence, but we have our neighbor at our side. Support, then, this companion of your pilgrimage if you want to come into the presence of the one with whom you desire to remain for ever.

Gotta Speak Up For My State

How many cities in Ontario? Alaska? And cities do not include small clusters of buildings. Besides, you can go from El Paso to California without seeing much of any civilization. Or New Mexico, Arkansas, or Mississippi, for that matter. Oklahoma is pretty much OKC and Tulsa, too. Believe me, between Florida and California, Texas is an oasis.

Besides, Texas is bigger than Ontario, and Houston has more people than the whole province. And whaddya got in Ontario? Tim Horton’s?  Not even Tex-Mex? Much less BBQ? And Alaska? Is there anything in Alaska? Besides ice and mosquitoes, I mean. And 1000 miles in a straight line and you can’t leave the state? Cool story, bro.

The President Is An Idiot

QED. I think Hugo Chavez is responsible. He obviously messed with the birth certificates.

The Other Side Of The Coin

I should attach this to that post from yesterday. Because this has nothing to do with the 1st Amendment, but everything to do with the government.

“Don’t Blame Me!”

Trump got the vaccine made, didn’t he? (Narrator: “No.”) And he’s gotten some of it distributed. (Narrator: “Or somebody did.”) He’s not responsible! (“He never is.”)

Come to think of it, Pfizer didn’t even take government funding for their research. And they relied on a German subsidiary, with ideas from two immigrants. Trump had nothing to do with that. And wasn’t he going to mobilize the military for vaccine distribution? And how did they manage the distribution of the Salk and Sabine vaccines? Have we forgotten everything?

200,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed by the federal government. 2 million by now were promised.

Maybe we’ll remember to make the word “Trump” synonymous with “Don’t blame me!”

What Would The Founding Fathers Say?

Gym Jordan sets the pace. De facto, but not de jure? "How did this guy get in?" Same question. The question just keeps coming up. "Politics hasn’t changed much in 244 years.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Today In ”Been There, Done That”

Drove that road more than once. Drove Houston to Denver recently. 16 hours (2 days), of which 11 were spent in Texas. Only took 5 hours to cross most of the breadth of New Mexico and about half of Colorado. Then again, I’ve driven 6 hours (round trip) just for BBQ. Everything’s bigger in Texas. And the BBQ is worth it, if you know where to go. Yup.

A Variant Edition

"The vice president under the Constitution has got to be able to make the decision as to which [electors] are appropriately going to vote for president," the Texas Republican said. "And so we need a declaratory judgement, for the court to say, 'Yes, he has this power. He is the sole power to determine what electors should be voting for president."
Art. II of the U.S. Constitution:

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

Louie Gohmert’s version reads 

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, and as the Vice President approves, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

It's a double-super secret provision of the Constitution, known only to a select few.

Fashion Critique

1) Grey and Nazi-ish dress uniform.

2) Double-breasted actually emphasizes Dad-Bod (you can't wear it open and distract from Dad-Bod like a  single-breasted coat will).

3)  OTOH, the belt buckle makes it!  Will they market those separately? (and talk about a fight with Dad-Bod!)

4)  What, no pips on the collar?

Gresham's Law, On the Intertoobs

I've seen bad commentary and bullying tactics drive good and thoughtful people away from blogs (who needs that shit?). Same thing happening on Twitter, where Trump is given carte blanche because he's a public official (many expect that to end on January 21, 2021).  The argument at is basically this:

If it sounds like censorship is once again proving itself to be a losing proposition that threatens the free exchange of ideas without making the world a better place, you're certainly right. Instead of the impossible-to-achieve identification and suppression of awful thoughts, what we're seeing is moderators targeting ever-more mainstream speakers in their search for forbidden speech. In the process, they're also driving conspiracy theorists and flat-out loons to take refuge in ideological hot houses where their ravings go relatively unchallenged.

"Removing radical actors from mainstream platforms can, on the one hand, significantly reduce their audiences, but it can also contribute to increased feelings of resentment and victimhood, forming a breeding ground for even stronger discontent," warns Klein.

But that kind of discontent is always breeding somewhere.  The reason the nation sees it now is not because somebody turned on the light and found the kitchen floor covered with so many cockroaches they can't all scurry out of sight.  It's because the chief loon has been in the White House for four years, giving them legitimacy.  Proud Boys marched in the streets of D.C. because Trump called them out.  That's the price we pay for allowing a boob like Trump into the Oval Office.  His ideas and conspiracies have been challenged in courts of law 59 times at least, and yet he still clings to them.  Far from being "relatively unchallenged" he's faced challenge at every turn, especially since Election Day in November.  And yet the Proud Boys marched on D.C. in December.  Challenge is not the issue.  Policing boards so ordinary people can talk, is.

In the days of my feckless youth, I discovered "Table Talk" at  They had moderated boards with discussions of topics from politics to flower arranging (I exaggerate, but it was about that wide a range).  The other participants on Table Talk considered "Politics," and especially it's subtopic "White House" (this was the Clinton era, we were all partisans) to be the neighborhood you didn't want to find yourself in, and if you did you locked the doors and didn't stop for red lights while you drove the the exit ramp back onto the freeway of rationality.  We liked it that way; but nobody wanted our attitudes in their discussions.  It worked well, but it was a tiny subset of the internet and it soon lost out to larger platforms.  Little did we know "Table Talk" was an authoritarian regime.

Importantly, and unmentioned by Klein, the spread of such muzzling beyond "radical" targets is not always an unintended consequence. Authoritarian regimes have eagerly adopted "hate speech" restrictions as weapons against political dissidents. "In a review of more than 40 recent hate-law arrests, Reuters found that in each case, authorities intervened against Venezuelans who had criticized Maduro, other ruling party officials or their allies," the news service reported last week.

If tolerating a range of ideas—good, bad, nutty, and indifferent—on diverse new platforms is the price we must pay to deny authoritarians easy means for suppressing their critics, then so be it. People always find ways to speak their minds in defiance of those who would control the conversation, and that's a good thing.

The argument seems to go off the rails here, trying to eat its cake and have it, too.  I have nothing against "diverse new platforms" like Parler (I even know it's supposed to be pronounced "par-lay," au francais, you know, which amuses me because I still remember "freedom fries").   I'm happy for them to exist, so long as they don't put Twitter and Blogger out of business.  I regulate comments here just to keep the porn bots away, but happily delete offensive comments when they occur.  It's my blog, and it's my arbitrary and capricious rules that...rule.  I'm even happy for people to speak their minds, but sometimes those "who would control the conversation" are the rest of us in the conversation.  If I went on Parler and started posting my considered progressive and even Christian social justice ideas, I have no doubt I'd be hounded by everyone else there, who would be aggrieved by my "trolling" (is "trolling" still a thing?).  They would probably do everything they could to drive me away.  Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

All I know is, it ain't a suppression of free speech.

Christmas 2020: December 29

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

--W.B. Yeats

Cancel (Xmas) Culture Is Real!

Whither Weather?

My father's older lived her adult years in California.  I remember vividly a conversation she had with my mother (who lived her life in Texas) once.

My mother mentioned her fear of earthquakes as a reason she'd never live in California.  My aunt said earthquakes didn't bother her.  What scared her were tornadoes.

Tornadoes were/are a common seasonal occurence in East Texas, where I grew up.  Hell, in almost all of Texas.  Never give 'em a second thought.  Earthquakes, though....

(Or here in Texas when "Snow" means schools, even businesses, close for the day.  We are soundly mocked by this by our northern brethren, but then again, we don't have snow plows or many trucks to salt the roads.  We don't need to.  The stuff melts away within 24 hours.  A day off is all we need.  And I remember once, when I worked in downtown Austin, a snow storm blew through, threatening to close the town and especially the roads to the Hill Country, which are deadly in an ice storm (usually what we got there).  I watched from 13 stories up (it was the 13th floor, not the 14th floor above floor 12) was the grid of downtown Austin turned to gridlock, cars packed bumper to bumper trying to leave in the snow storm.  People were stuck for hours in that traffic.  By the time the streets had cleared it was quitting time.  The traffic had also heated the roads (doesn't take much in Texas) and they were clear.  I drove home in no time.)

Monday, December 28, 2020

"So Much Depends..."

As a matter of criminal law, I get the distinction here. But "political intent" is not quite the bright line denominator this discussion assumes.  Why else does one set off bombs, if not for "political intent"?  I mean, setting off fireworks is setting off explosions; but it ain't the same thing as blowing up a city street, is it?  Reports are (unconfirmed, probably, and will we ever know) that the bomber in Nashville was motivated by a 5G conspiracy theory.  I don't even know what that is, and I don't have the bandwidth to care.  I do know the distinction between that and "political intent" rests on a very thin distinction, one you have to insist upon in order to make it.  Consider the lunacy of the support for Trump right now. That's not terrorism, but it is an expression of political intent; but only because it references the sitting POTUS.  Otherwise, it's just kind of insane.  Now, presume the 5G conspiracy theory involves a nefarious cabal between cell phone companies and the FCC (why not?).  Now is it "political"?  Why not?

Again, I understand the elements of a crime in a court of law, but this is not a discussion constrained by the requirements of the law.  Maybe it should be, viz:
It's a sound point, and these days especially we through around the term "treason" far too lightly (thanks largely to our sitting POTUS. I wonder if his use of the term is "political intent" and constitutive of terrorism?).  But the fact is, we've been using the term "terrorism" in common discourse for far too long to put that genie back in the bottle and declare it a holy term to be used only by the high priests of the law.  Maybe we should be careful how we use it.  But Charlie Pierce is right:  if the bomber in Nashville was not white, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

And that's the real issue.

Yeah, That's Never Gonna Happen

More correctly put, there's nothing that allows him to take such actions (The President of the Senate is not elevated to diktator by the language of the 12th Amendment.)  The Presidency will never be in Pence's hands.  The election of the President is never in the hands of any one person, period. This lawsuit also argues Pence has unprecedented authority under the 12th Amendment. Nope. "President of the Senate" is a title, not a formal Constitutional office like President or Speaker of the House. The President of the Senate has a procedural role, not a substantive one. That role does not include telling the Congress how to vote on electoral college tallies.

I Saw This Last Night On Local News

They ran it twice. I'm surprised they haven't devoted a secondary digital channel to running it over and over and over again.  

J.J. Watt is a beloved figure in Houston. He's done a great deal for the community, and not just on the football field.

I don't think it matters so much the content of his rant, or the context.  It's the honesty of it.  The purity of expression.  And that the subject is others:  not him, not his career (which will end soon, with no hope of playing on a team that went to the Super Bowl, or ever even made it far in the playoffs), not his hopes and dreams.  His focus is on the fans, the people they play the game for, the people who make it possible for them to play the game and be so well compensated for doing so.  And yeah, football is a rough and violent and physically damaging game, and that's not set aside because this is a football player talking about his football team.

But it's something other than that, too.  Not something timeless; but something honest and plainly said.  We need a little of that, too; every once in a while.

"Terrorists" Are Brown

And "set off bombs." White people blow stuff up; and we don't know why they do it. Terrorists set off bombs, because they are brown. QED. EOD.

I Wonder....

If this is what he meant: As ever, the best response is the simplest:

And "Lucian" Has Six Letters

And "Antioch" has seven. And "Nashville" has 9! And "Antioch" and "Anthony" both begin with "An." Coincidence? I think not!

You may object that Anthony Quinn Warner doesn't "live" in Antioch, Tenn. anymore, since he blew up in the bombing (which was probably a Chinese missile strike!)
(If you can't believe some random dude's cousin's report on Twitter, what CAN you believe?)

But was AQW blown up in the explosion!  Only the police have reported that, and they relied on DNA evidence!  And you know what Antioch and Anthony and DNA have in common?  "A" and "N"! Just like "Lucian"!  Connect the dots, people! 

Xmas Time Is Here

Jason Zweig's argument rests on the work of Stephen Nissenbaum and Penne Restad, two authorities I've relied on more than once.  On the strength of that I consider his argument sound, at least to the extent he argues Christmas went from a time of flamboyant excess in celebration to: “As soon as Santa Claus entered the picture,” says Prof. Nissenbaum, “people had to go shopping.”

Good enough to begin with.  But it also utterly demolishes the supposed connection between Christmas and Saturnalia.  It's a Christmas myth that just won't die, even though Saturnalia has been dead as a holiday since at least the middle of the 4th century.  The myth lives on because it sounds clever, and clever is easier than thinking.  And because the cold, dead hand of Puritanism still rests on American popular culture.

For New Year, Posumus, ten years ago,
You sent me four pounds of good silver-plate.
The next year, hoping for a rise in weight
(For gifts should either stay the same or grow),
I got two pounds. The third and fourth produced
Inferior presents, and the fifth year's weighed
Only a pound--Septicus' work, ill-made
Into the bargain. Next I was reduced
To an eight-ounce oblong salad-platter, soon
It was a miniature cup that tipped the scales
At even less. A tiny two-ounce sppon
Was the eighth year's surprise. The ninth, at length,
And grudgingly, disgorged a pick for snails
Lighter than a needle. Now, I note, the tenth
Has come and gone with nothing in its train.
I miss the old four pounds! Let's start again!

That's Marcus Martialis, the 1st century Roman poet, tr. James Michie.  The tradition of gift-giving there is between friends; not parents to children.  The connection of Christmas Day to Saturnalia usually runs through the gift giving associated with the latter. This was gift giving between peers, though, not the gifting to children from adults through Santa Claus. (Nissenbaum points to that as a major shift in the 19th century.) Gift giving was associated with Christmas celebrations, mostly in the form of gifts to the poor from the rich. But these gifts were usually food and drink. That tradition has withered down to Boxing Day, not surprisingly a holiday unknown in America. Gift giving today is primarily an inter-family affair. The burden on adults at Christmas is gifts for children, not for friends. Saturnalia was about gifts to friends. And as I say, the Roman holiday died 1500 years before Clement Clarke Moore brought capitalism to Christmas’ rescue.

So, was Christmas connected to Saturnalia at all? Nope. (that link is for those of you who want to get into the historical weeds of the issue.)

The Christ Mass was first observed in Alexandria, Egypt. Saturnalia was a Roman holiday.  And by “Roman” I mean “City of,” much like Mardi Gras in this country means New Orleans, or Mummers means Philadelphia. Rome celebrated it, but not Alexandria. And by the time the Mass for the nativity was starting in Egypt, Saturnalia was already considered the “slave’s festival,” and on its way out in Rome. It overlapped the rise of the Christ Mass (not to be confused with the secular celebrations we call “Christmas”), but it no more affected our secular holiday celebrations than Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans affects our national non-observance of Epiphany or Ash Wednesday. If only because the roots of our secular Christmas lie in medieval Europe, not Roman Europe.

Most of the celebrations of Christmas we have today (in America, anyway) have roots in Tudor England and the court of Henry VIII.  There was gift giving, but to my earlier point, Henry expected the best gifts to come to him. He was rather how you imagine Donald Trump to be on Christmas morning: his gifts are small, what he expects to receive is large. Not exactly the spirit of Saturnalia. Peer to peer gifting was far in the future from Henry; adult to child giving further away still. Today Christmas is for children, first and foremost. What Roman or pre-Christian history is that rooted in (indeed, concern for children is arguably a Christian teaching. It certainly isn’t a pre-Christian one)?

Henry’s Christmas celebrations also lasted for 12 days and included many feasts (mostly because the food was available and food storage almost nonexistent. Use it or lose it was the rule for much of Europe for centuries). It included the “Lord of Misrule,” usually a courtier given license to lead the drinking and carousing and general carrying on. That doesn’t reach back to Rome, either. But Puritans in America, like Increase Mather, tried to argue that it did.

In the Apostolical times the Feast of the Nativity was not observed....It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25....The New Testament allows of no stated Holy-Day but the Lords-day...It was in compliance with the Pagan saturnalia that Christmas Holy-dayes were first invented. The manner of Christmas-keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ.

--Increase Mather, 1687.  

“If it had been the will of God that the several acts of Christ should have been celebrated with several solemnities, the Holy Ghost would have made known to us the day of his nativity, circumcision, presentation in the temple, baptism, transfiguration, and the like.” . . . . “This opinion of Christ’s nativity on the 25th day of December was bred at Rome.”

Also Increase Mather.

Here we meet the great irony of American myths about Christmas. Most of them are thinly-veiled attempts to tell Christians their beloved Christmas is actually pagan. The irony is that argument starts with the puritans in America who aimed their criticism at Catholics (and Anglicans). The Puritans didn’t believe Catholics were Christians (or almost anybody else), so the cudgel they laid down is now picked up by others. Whatever the Puritans deemed “unChristian” they labeled “pagan,” and most commonly used that label to decry Roman Catholic practices. So if you’re concerned about the roots of practices, the practice of saying customs were “originally pagan” is itself originally anti-Papist. You’re really appealing to anti-Catholic bigotry, not to sweet, objective Reason.

Know your memes.

I mentioned Penne Restad earlier.  Let me quote from her work Christmas in America, a bit:

It fell to Puritan reformers to put a stop to the unholy merriment [of the English Christmas celebration, which had little to do with giving gifts and much to do with getting drunk] and to bend arguments over the proper keeping of Christmas into an older and more basic one--whether there should even be an observance of the day. Defying the decisions of the Anglican Convocation of 1562 to maintain the church calendar, the Puritans struck Christmas, along with all saint's days [no Hallowe'en!], from their own list of holy days. The Bible, they held, expressly commanded keeping only the Sabbath. That would be their practice as well.

Penne L. Restad, Christmas in America,  Oxford 1995, p. 7.

On the same page, Restad quotes William Prynne's Histriomatrix (1633):

Into what stupendous height of more than pagan impiety...have we not now degenerated! [Christmas out to be] rather a day of mourning than rejoicing, [not a time spent in] amorous mixt, voluptuous, unchristian, that I say not pagan, dancing, to God's, to Christ's dishonour, religion's scandal, charities' shipwracke and sinne's advantage.
In fact, the idea that capitalism saved Christmas may be a sound one, but it doesn't mean Christmas sprang full-blown from the pen of Mr. Moore in 1823:

Christmas day is no religious day and hardly a holiday with them: New-year's day is perhaps a little, but only a little more so. For Twelfth-day, it is unknown; and the household private festivals of birthdays are almost universally passed by unsevered from the rest of the toilsome days devoted to the curse of labor.  

Restad, p. 17

That passage is quoting an English actress touring America in 1832 (what there was of it).  I especially like that "curse of labor" line, since the European celebrations of the season were meant to be a relief from that curse.  But good Puritans that we Americans are, we still take our holiday all on one day and one day only, and work like dogs to get to it, and work almost as much to get over it.  Gift giving and Christmas didn't get connected really until the late 19th century; there are some arguments the whole "shopping days until Christmas" didn't start until World War II, when shopping became a patriotic act (and a way to lift us out of the Depression).  I'm not sure most Americans had even heard of "Saturnalia" in the 1940's.

But the connection of Christmas to parties among adults (or office parties) and Santa for the kids on Christmas morning, is really of very recent vintage; and it's a very modern, very tame version of Christmas compared to celebrations of the past.  And the "past" does not mean "long passed:"

"Christmas that year, not one to look forward to, was one we should alway look back on."

That's the opening sentence of "Looking Back on Christmas" by William Owens.  I don't know if it's memoir or fiction, but it's become one of my favorite Christmas stories.   It's the story of a family gathering in rural Texas on Christmas Eve.  The family gathers, then sits down to dinner, and after dinner:

After the first table [old Texas tradition my family carried on with in my childhood:  the men ate first, then retired, and the women and children ate.  Yeah, my wife was appalled by that, too, and it was long before we were married that she encountered it.] the men and the bigger boys built up a big fire in the pasture between the house and the front gate.  Then, while the women stood on the front porch to watch, Uncle Charlie gave the little children firecrackers and showed them how to shoot them.  He put a paper fuse against a live coal.  When it had lighted he threw it away from the fire into the dark.

"Don't ever let one go off in your hand," he said, "And don't throw it close to nobody.  Somebody might get hurt."

While we went through the firecrackers he had given us, the men made a trip back to the kitchen.  This time they brought the jug with them and set it in the back end of a wagon.  They brought out more fireworks, and Monroe had the sack of powder in his coat pocket.

"Time for a roman candle," Uncle Charlie said.

He took a long red roman candle and went to the fire.

"You all watch now," he said, "I'm gonna hold it like I was aiming to shoot the gate."

Charlie runs into the dark and let's the candle shoot balls of fire, then he gets Othal to join him in a roman candle battle.  Full disclosure:  I once did something similar with my cousin, although in summer, not winter.  We used plastic tubes from his golf bag to launch bottle rockets at each other.  We didn't even have the excuse of alcohol, we were just young and dumb.

Anyway, you get the flavor of the celebration.  Firecrackers going off, then roman candles being fired at each other in close range.  Then when those are exhausted and everyone's tired of running around and through the house:

Uncle Charlie was not ready for the fun to be over.  He went up the steps and across the front porch.  Aunt Niece was standing in the door, with the lamplight behind her.  He lifted her chin with his fingers and went on past her, to the chimney corner where he kept his double-barreled shotgun.  Then he came out with the gun under his arm and a box of shells in his hand.

Near the fire, he loaded both barrels and set the stock against his shoulder.

"You aiming at the gate?" Othal asked.

"You got to aim at something."

He fired, and after the first blast we heard shot rattle against the gate.

"Got it first shot," Othal said, and ran for his own gun.

In no time at all, five guns were blazing away at the gate, and the little children were running for hiding places under the house.  I shivered at the sound, but felt safe, for their backs were to us and they were aiming at the gate.

Then Othal came running around the house, loading and firing as he ran, and some of the others took after him.  The women had run inside, but I could hear them telling the men to stop.  Too scared to stay under the house, I crawled out and started for the door.  In the darkness I can straight into Otha's knees, and he let a double-barreled blast go off right over my head, leaving a burning flash in my eyes and a ringing in my ears.

The gate was "a wide, heavy gate made of oak timbers fourteen feet long and an inch thick."  However, the next morning:  "We went to look at the gate, and found it half hanging from the posts, with the timbers drilled and splintered by shot."  The story ends this way:

Uncle Charlie came in with a backstick for the fireplace.  My grandmother was waiting for him.

"You ruint the gate," she said.

"I reckon we did."

He laughed and the light in his blue eyes showed he was not sorry.  She frowned and went out to the front porch.

Aunt Niece came in, with a peeled orange in her hand.

"Christmas gift," he said to her.

She went up to him and stuck a slice of orange between his teeth.  They were both laughing without making a sound, and once he leaned over and kissed her.

"I had me some Christmas," he said.

Not so long ago, that story.  It wasn't just in the 1800's that Christmas was a lot different.

Christmas 2020: December 28

Santa Claus is for children, and Christmas Day is for children; but the whole story of Christmas is not.

When Herod realized he had been duped by the astrologers, he was outraged. He then issued a death warrant for all the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding region two years old and younger. this corresponded to the time [of the star] that he had learned from the astrologers. With this event the prediction made by Jeremiah the prophet came true:
'In Ramah the sound of mourning
and bitter grieving was heard:
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refused to be consoled:
They were no more.' " (Matthew 2: 16-18, SV)
I was scolded once for forgetting that Christmas, publicly, is for children; that children are present in the church, and must be protected from the realities of adult life. It was right and proper that this should happen; the pulpit I preached from was not my own, I took liberties I had no right to take. But Advent and Christmas are seasons steeped in mystery and the whole of the human story, from joy to misery, from peace to pain. We shield our children from these truths, so we can shield ourselves. We pretend God is only about love and peace and our happiness, and complain that the God of Israel is a god of blood and thunder, while the God of Jesus is a god of babies and rainbows. Neither simplicity is true, and the simplicity of the Christmas story, that it begins with the Annunciation to Mary and ends with the angels singing Gloria to the shepherds, is too simple to be true, also. Luke tells one story of the birth, where the power of the state forces the Holy Family to Bethlehem but that power merely fulfills the expectation that the redeemer of the line of David will come from the ancestral home of David. Matthew tells the other story; the story of Herod's fear and insecurity. This is the part of Christmas the world doesn't celebrate. This is the part of Christmas we ignore, for the sake of the children, we tell ourselves; but it's really for our sake. Just as we don't want Advent blighted with the deaths of the innocent, we don't want Christmas spent remembering the Holy Innocents.

This is truly the Church's portion of Christmas. Appropriate to the interests of the church, Walter Brueggeman would call Herod's concerns the theology of scarcity, and point out it's a very old game, even in Biblical history. It is a game we blame on God; but it is one entirely of our making, and it ties the story of the Holy Innocents to our secular observation of Christmas, and our cri de couer for someone to tell us what Christmas is all about. This story, is what it is all about. And the Coventry Carol captures it in one song:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
for to preserve this day,
this poor youngling for whom we sing,
bye, bye lully lullay.

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting not say nor sing
bye, bye, lully lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
bye, bye, lully lullay.

It is the only remnant of the story that still makes it into our Advent and Christmas music, though we may not always recognize the story and the reason it is a "Christmas carol." In another medieval play, “The Play of Herod,” they take the story even more seriously. To portray the story from Matthew, an angel is sent from God to console Rachel, but she refuses even the aid of God. She refuses all comfort. Of course she does; she is a grieving mother, her children are gone. What comfort can be offered to her? This is real; this has happened. What else could be felt, except bottomless grief, except the sucking, horrible pain of loss?

This is not Matthew reaching for yet another scriptural reference to support his nativity story. This is not Matthew trying to shore up his tale with yet another appeal to authority. This is Matthew telling us he has no words for this horror, and he must borrow words just to be sure we feel it as it was felt by those grieving mothers and fathers. This is not Matthew telling us this is true, because scriptures predicted it. This is Matthew telling us someone else, someone earlier, described it, caught the horror of it, knew what it felt like. This is Matthew telling us this is real. This is Matthew telling us to believe this birth occurred, because the world is not kind to saviors, even when they are babies. The world does not seek salvation, but its own contentment; and it does not react well to mystery.

So Rachel cannot be comforted, but that is not where "The Play of Herod" ends. It ends where it should: in holy mystery.
For there is a Te Deum sung: 'We praise you, God, we confess you as Lord.' The greatest chant of praise. This is sung by Mary and Joseph, processing through the audience, but they are joined in their song and procession by the animals and the angels, by the shepherds, by the lamenting Rachel and the parents of Bethlehem, and they are joined by the soldiers and their victims and by Herod. Knowing that (Hopkins again)

we are wound
With mercy round and round. . . .

they all, incarnate God and all creation, even death, tyrants and martyrs, all process and all sing praise. And we sing too, and find ourselves in the procession.

Today we can't imagine it. We take our Christmas with lots of sugar. And take it in a day. Though we've been baptized into his death, we have little time for or patience with how that death is told at Christmas, a death that confuses lament and praise forever. And no wonder we are careful to keep Christmas at an arm's length. What is Herod in these times?--Gabe Huck
Or, to return to Luke:

Now, Lord, you are releasing your servant in peace,
according to your promise.
For I have seen with my own eyes
the deliverance you have made
ready in full view of all nations;
a light that will bring revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.
But that's not the end of Luke's nativity, because Simeon turns back to Mary:

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Even in Luke's more beautiful, more popular version, we cannot escape it: the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God, and the penetrating mystery at the heart of the season, just as the year begins again.

The Funniest Part Is This....

So this is what Trump did: Not a damned thing, in other words. That's a more accurate reading of the situation. And what did he accomplish? Our man on their side; again and again and again.
The funniest part is this:
That's part of a 9 tweet thread from the Deputy Assistant to Trump. It's utter bullshit. The current Congress is in session until January 3rd. A new Congress convenes on January 4th. Anything the current Congress does that isn't sent to the President to be signed into law by the 3rd of next month is not binding on the new Congress, and in effect dies. Besides:
This is the perfect analysis of what has happened this weekend, and for the last four years:
And this is the guy who is a danger to democracy, and "can do enormous damage over the next weeks"? How? By tweeting between rounds of golf? By getting his deputy assistant to tweet mendacious bullshit? By saying Mitch McConnell agreed to things McConnell doesn't even bother to bat away anymore, because Trump is the lamest lame duck in recent Presidential history?