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Today’s History Lesson

Fresco of Mithras and the Bull from the mithra...

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I have a similar reaction to K.C. Hulsman (the writer of the below web post) when I am confronted with accusations of being an agent of the “war on Christmas”.

Christ Is NOT the Reason for the Season

A pagan who is tired of Christian indignation over the alleged assault on “their” holiday, he explains:

Many Pagan cultures have had various forms of celebrations around this time of year. In Ancient Rome, the celebration of Saturnalia spread in popularity. Saturnalia was a time to eat, drink, and be merry while honoring the Roman God Saturn. The festival was characterized with a modest type of role reversal where slaves could get a little taste of what it might be like to be at the other end of the social ladder. The one-day festival spread into a multi-day affair lasting for about a week, roughly correlating to our December 17-23….There was also another celebration around this time of the year in the ancient Roman Empire. Mithraism worshiped a Sun deity (Mithras), and his key celebration was on December 25th, an observance called the “Nativity.”

When Christianity grew from a small cult to a major religion, it’s adherents (especially heads of state and the church hierarchy) went on an unrelenting campaign to destroy the pagan holidays. Unfortunately for them, some of the observances were far too popular to be stamped out.

In fact, many Christians were partaking in the festivities.

So the church decided to observe the nativity of Christ on the day of the most popular of these pagan shindigs — Saturnalia.

There’s a great book by Stephen Nissenbaum called “The Battle for Christmas” that details how the holiday traditions have been passed down from the pagan originators. Hulsman explains:

Most of the Christmas traditions that exist — gift-giving, the hanging of the evergreens, Christmas trees, feasting, Santa, caroling — all originated from Pagan practices. While I can understand that to some Christians this is a holy time of reflection as they celebrate their God, Christ, let us remember we were here first. And Christ is not the reason for the season. He’s just a latecomer to the party.

So Christmas isn’t exactly Christian in it’s origins, and there’s a deep history of tradition that gives license to anyone to observe this festive time of year in whatever way they wish.

Hulsman concludes:

So to the Christians, who do claim that Christ is the reason for the season, would you please consider the history and context before you get upset next time when someone doesn’t wish you a Merry Christmas. If you Christians want to wish Merry Christmas, that’s fine, but don’t be surprised when I wish you a Joyful Yule back, or someone else wishes you a Merry Solstice, Happy Chanukah, the politically correct Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays. But to expect by default you will always be greeted at retail with a Merry Christmas is hubris, and there are many verses in the Bible that speak about the fallacies of pride. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace . . .” (Pr. 11:2). It is also arrogant to fight so that your local city hall has a nativity display, but then fight against other religious displays because they are “inappropriate” to your worldview. We are just as entitled to fair and equal treatment as you are, whether you believe in the validity of our religious worldview or not.

But to those Christians who aren’t trying to cram your religious rights or worldview down my throat, or the throats of others who are not of your religion, I say “Thank you.” May you have a Merry Christmas for letting me enjoy my Joyful Yuletide!

Well put!


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December 6, 2011 Posted by | Atheism, History, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thomas Frank on Newt Gingrich

If you don’t read Thomas Frank whenever you can, you should.

His insight into how the Republican mind works and how the middle class in this nation have been convinced to work actively against their own interests is essential to understanding the mess we are in.

Today on Facebook he posted this nugget from his 2000 book “One Market Under God” nailing pseudo-historian and novelist Newt Gingrich:

My thoughts on Newt Gingrich, circa 1999, from a passage in One Market Under God where I describe the feeling one gets scanning the ideas of Thomas Friedman:

“Each of them is preposterous in its own way, but thrown together they make a truly dispiriting impression, a feeling akin to the first time I heard Newt Gingrich speak publicly and it began to dawn on me that this is what the ruling class calls thinking, that this handful of pathetic, palpably untrue prejudices are all they have to guide them as they shuttle back and forth between the State Department and the big thinktanks, discussing what they mean to do with us and how they plan to dispose of our country.”

Gingrich poses as an intellectual, and fools millions of Republicans who have been spoon-fed the notion that book learnin’ is for evil egg-head, ivory-tower Marxists.

Newt, using the word “fundamentally” or “fundamental” does not automatically strengthen an argument.

This is REALLY the best the GOP can do?


December 6, 2011 Posted by | Books, Education, Elections, GOP, History, Politics, Presidential Campaign, Republicans | , , , | Leave a comment

George Takei vs. Provision of Defense Bill

I am a huge fan of Star Trek, and of George Takei specifically.

As a kid in the early 70’s, I remember running home from school to watch reruns. It was comforting as a Japanese-American to see an Asian face on television in a role of responsibility who was treated as an equal — something rare in that era.

George Takei is a remarkable man, and I follow his mostly humorous Facebook postings avidly.

He  is currently starring in a musical set in an American internment camp for Japanese citizens during World War II, called “Allegiance: A New American Musical”

Young George Takei was one of those citizens who was imprisoned at the  Rohwer, Arkansas and Tule Lake, California camps for the crime of being of Japanese descent.

Now the actor has posted in opposition to The National Defense Authorization Act (S 1253), particularly Section 1031 which S. Floyd Mori, the national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League states:

…would let the military lock up both Americans and noncitizens in the 50 states. There would be no charges, no trial, no proof beyond a reasonable doubt. All that would be required would be suspicion.

Mr. Takei’s post Never Again reads, in part:

We are a nation of laws, and we have a Constitution that guarantees certain inalienable rights, including the right to liberty, the right to a jury trial, and the right against unlawful search and seizure. And yet, in times of trouble, how quickly these cornerstones of our freedom are abandoned. We must be constantly vigilant against tyranny and injustice of all forms, especially when it isn’t politically expedient.

Executive Director Mori has an op/ed in the Silicone Valley Mercury News titled “Internment specter raises ugly head in forgetful U.S. Senate”.

It’s worth a read.

The Japanese-American community is especially sensitive to the possibility of indefinite detention without charges. Having experienced the terrible injustices that can occur in the name of security, they understandably never want it to happen again. To anyone.

In the Mercury News piece, Mori argues:

As the measures to indefinitely detain Japanese-Americans during World War II have been deemed a colossal wrong, the same should be true of modern indefinite detention of terrorism suspects. Our criminal justice system is more than equipped to ensure justice and security in terrorism cases, and we certainly should not design new systems to resurrect and codify tragic and illegitimate policies of the past.

Please write your senator and support the amendment by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to Section 1031 from the act.


December 2, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, History, Politics, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Workers and the economy

Oak Alley Plantation, LA

Image by faungg via Flickr

While the country faces a real crisis in terms of the debt and the budget deficit (slow progress is being made at the federal level in agreeing on $4 Trillion in spending cuts over 10-12 years), Republican state governors have declared war on unions and workers.

The war continues apace in Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Missouri, with measures to strip collective bargaining rights and stifle the formation of unions at the top of the GOP agenda.

Unfortunately, these measures do little to nothing to solve the economic problems of states and the federal government.

They make them problems worse.

Robert Reich posted a good analysis of what these type of measures mean for the economy on his blog Tuesday.

In looking back at what he calls “The Great Prosperity”, Reich outlines how unions were essential to creating the middle class and a stable economy. He goes further to look at a current example of how labor is buoying at least one European economy:

Germany is growing much faster than the United States. Its unemployment rate is now only 6.1 percent (we’re now at 9.1 percent).

What’s Germany’s secret? In sharp contrast to the decades of stagnant wages in America, real average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent there since 1985. Germany has been investing substantially in education and infrastructure.

How did German workers do it? A big part of the story is German labor unions are still powerful enough to insist that German workers get their fair share of the economy’s gains.

That’s why pay at the top in Germany hasn’t risen any faster than pay in the middle. As David Leonhardt reported in the New York Times recently, the top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income – a percent that hasn’t changed in four decades.

In the US, the top 1 percent take home over 20 percent of the nation’s income.

Unless we invest in infrastructure (broadband, smart electrical grid, roads, bridges, etc.) and education, we are really doing little more than bailing water out of the front of the boat into the back.

Coupled with the above, shrinking union representation in the workplace has seen wages that have been in stasis since the early 1980’s.

The wound of wage stagnation creates a cycle that keeps prosperity out of reach of most Americans. How is a worker supposed to purchase the products and services that fuel the economy if they aren’t paid a decent wage? An economy needs consumers. Where are they supposed to come from?

Either our goal as a nation is to raise all boats through good wages and a strong middle class, or it’s to purposely create wealth disparity favoring an increasingly tiny wealthy elite.

This system bears a strong resemblance to what southerners were defending in the Civil War — A plantation economy with the vast majority occupying the lowest rung (low paid workers and slaves) and the miniscule landed gentry reaping all the benefits.

In this type of economy, most of the rungs in the middle are empty or missing.

Such a system is in direct opposition to the generally shared conception of the American Dream — that perseverance and hard work leads to upwards mobility and prosperity.

This certainly is not my vision of America, and I don’t think it’s what a majority of Americans – blue or red – want for the nation.

I couldn’t put it better than Reich:

The current Republican assault on workers’ rights continues a thirty-year war on American workers’ wages. That long-term war has finally taken its toll on the American economy.

It’s time to fight back.


June 15, 2011 Posted by | Economics, History, International, Politics, Republicans | , , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Reagan

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan

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Having lived through the 1980’s as part of a military family whose father was constantly deployed overseas, the Myth of Reagan has always pissed me off.

Ronnie was not super popular, and was quite often the butt of jokes for his ineptitude. In the military family circles I traveled,  some spoke frankly about who was to blame for the Beirut Marine barracks bombing. That disaster left 299 of our soldiers dead.

Recently, in their constant march toward a revisionist history, the right’s chroniclers of Reagan have tried to erase the god awful state of things The Gipper left for Americans.

Salon’s Steve Kornacki takes the whole fabricated tissue down. Hard:

“Um, yeah, about Ronald Reagan’s Popularity”

[Craig Shirley, a Republican political consultant] pretends there was no “mess” left to clean up, but tell that to George H.W. Bush, who upon taking office had to deal with a Savings and Loan crisis brought on by Reagan’s policies. Bush ultimately authorized a massive, politically toxic bailout — and the crisis has much to do with the recession of 1990 and 1991. There was also the little matter of Iran-Contra, the scheme by which arms were sold to Iran with the profits used to fund an illegal war in Central America, which resulted in the indictment of 14 Reagan administration members, 11 of whom were ultimately convicted (although some of the convictions were later tossed out). Reagan himself was still dealing with that mess after leaving the presidency…And then, of course, there was the national debt, which in the 192 years before Reagan’s presidency had risen to around $1 trillion. But in just eight years under Reagan, it exploded to nearly $3 trillion, thanks to his steep tax cuts, ramped-up defense spending and failure to reduce the size of government. Again, it was left to Bush to try to clean up the mess; hence, Bush’s 1990 decision to raise taxes in an effort to tame the country’s deficits. Like the S&L bailout, this was a deeply unpopular move, especially in light of Bush’s “no new taxes” pledge in 1988, but was — ultimately — one of the reasons America was running surpluses by the end of the 1990s.

Read it. It’s an eye-opener for anyone spoon-fed the hagiographic version of a man who single-handedly ended the Cold War.

As Kornacki notes, Will Bunch has addressed how this legend came about in his terrific book,  Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future

During the 1990s, the Republican media machine and activist front groups set about revising history.

Schemes were launched to rename everything after Reagan, and a narrative outlining his popularity, folksiness and alleged accomplishments took shape.

It was beautifully orchestrated stagecraft — in keeping with the former actor’s ability to perform a role. And what better role than a better, more popular version of yourself?

The reality is this:

During the Bush re-election campaign of 1992, polling showed The Great Communicator was less popular than Jimmy Carter.

His failed policies had left an enormous mess for the country — one that I would argue America has never recovered from.

Now his acolytes want to continue his policies and take them to new extremes and need to refurbish his image to cover over the natural end result of tax cuts upon tax cuts and removing the protections of government oversight on the banking industry.

Same tired old horse, only more so.


November 5, 2010 Posted by | Democrats, History, Politics, Reagan, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wealth Distribution Perspective

Rich People Live Here

Image by amanda farah via Flickr

A site appropriately named Too Much posted an eye-opening article over the weekend called “How Billionaires Could Race To Our Rescue”.

To give an idea of what has happened to all the money in this country since the Reagan era:

The ten richest Americans on the new Forbes list carry, all by themselves, a combined net worth of $270 billion, more than the inflation-adjusted net worth of the entire initial Forbes list back in 1982.

The article also contains this staggering nugget:

A 15 percent “wealth tax” on all personal assets over $1 billion would this year raise $145.5 billion, more than enough to cover the entire $140 billion budget shortfall America’s 50 states are facing in the current fiscal year.

This is a beautiful idea…that is ridiculous in its naiveté. These billionaires obtained their exorbitant wealth through things other than generosity and civic-mindedness.

To be fair, there are those who are wealthy who have the idea of giving back to the country.

In response to “Ferris Bueller” punchline Ben Stein’s televised whine about the horrible injustice of ending the tax cuts for the very rich, Linda McGibney had a great piece on the same CBS Sunday Morning show a week later.

In part, her response is:

Mr. Stein, there are Americans who qualify for this tax increase under the proposed plan who don’t feel “punished” by it. We feel it is our duty in hard times to help the rest of America…


I have always understood that the “haves” were greedy. This is the first time I’ve heard one of them express it out loud so openly.

But the idea of waiting for the wealthy to bail America out because of their innate sense of patriotism is folly.

Part of the problem the Democrats face is their own inability to articulate the issue in historical context.

The tiny minority of rich people in this country are wealthier than they have ever been. Everyone else is a lot poorer. The gap widens by the minute. This happened because of tax and economic policies that allowed the rich to send jobs overseas, and allowed the wealthy (who wrote the policies in the first place) to pay less and less in taxes.

Starting with Ronald Reagan, the tax burden was lowered until disaster struck. Reagan skipped out of town, leaving George Bush Sr. to clean up the mess (and to responsibly break his “no new taxes” pledge).

Clinton had some luck restoring balance, and surpluses resulted. The wealthy were still rolling in dough, and the middle class was stronger during the Clinton years.

Then Bush took over. His policies were an economic disaster by any measure.

But the super rich will not countenance a return to the modest taxes of the Clinton years.

From their limousines and multimillion dollar homes, they view the programs that help working Americans as “government waste”.

They want to take away education, Social Security, health care and other services from the rest of us.

So they can keep more of their money.

For decades the wealthy right has decried the spectre of “class warfare” at the mere mention that they should, perhaps, pay their fair share.

Maybe it’s time to show them what class warfare really looks like.

After all, we outnumber them.

Update: This guy running for Robert Byrd’s West Virginia Senate seat is the poster child of the unpatriotic wealthy.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


September 28, 2010 Posted by | Debt, Deficit, Democrats, Health Care, Health Care Reform, History, Politics, Republicans, Tax Debate, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Posting Schedule

A period map showing the locations of the batt...

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I will not be posting over the weekend, but will pick up on Monday.

This weekend I am attending The Philadelphia Campaign 1777 event in Delaware.

I’m looking forward to friends, fun, history and artillery!


September 24, 2010 Posted by | History | | Leave a comment

NOT A Christian Nation

Cropped version of Thomas Jefferson, painted b...

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It keeps coming back from the dead, this idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

All you have to do is ignore much of the Constitution, the back and forth in the Federalist Papers and the context of religious intolerance that made many of the founders flee Europe.

James Rudin, a rabbi writing for the Religious News Service, outlines the history of this country and why it is certainly NOT a Christian nation in his article (posted on the Huffington Post last week).

“The Myth of a Christian Nation”

Rudin also notes a little mentioned event in the early history of the nation that may have been the tipping point for how religion would be handled in the Constitution.

In 1785 Virginia, governor Patrick Henry proposed a tax on residents to pay for churches.

A variety of public figures, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison allied to defeat the measure with the introduction and passage the next year of Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom.

The statute reads in part:

” No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever … nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Interestingly, Jefferson later penned these words in a much-talked about, but apparently seldom read document:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


September 23, 2010 Posted by | History, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment