Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

And now we go to the Outrages and we're a bit short of time so there will only be two of them.

First, some outfit called has announced its Anti-Semite of the Year. And with the evidence of an upsurge in antisemitism to be found in any day's news - and the group offers plenty of examples - it should be easy to find someone truly deserving of the title of biggest anti-Semite of 2019.

But who did they come up with? Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, the "evidence" for this, if I can stretch the word that far, consisting mostly of a list of dredged-up and long-settled bull about statements she made last spring, statements which did reveal an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the history of anti-Semitism on her part but revealed no actual anti-Semitism, especially considering she apologized for that lack of knowledge and in fact thanked people for pointing it out to her.

One claim reprised here which I always thought was nonsensical was that it was anti-Semitic of her to suggest that Jewish groups try to buy political influence with money. Of course they do! Just like any other interest group! Do you think that when the health insurance industry gives big bucks to Pete Buttigieg they are not trying to buy influence with his campaign? Do you think that when the big telecoms spread cash around to various candidates they are not trying to buy influence with those campaigns and subsequently with what bills those candidates do and do not support? If I point that obvious truth out, does that mean I am anti-health care or anti-telecommunications? Don't be stupid.

Instead, let's be truthful: Ultimately, this is not about a handful of unrevealing tweets. This is all about her support of the BDS movement and Palestinian rights. That's the point of this smear, that's the purpose of this smear, that's why she is being labeled a huge anti-Semite. It's about equating the BDS movement and Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism.

Ilhan Omar
That isn't attacking anti-Semitism, that's weaponizing anti-Semitism for political purposes and that is a  outrage. What's revealed here is nothing about Ilhan Omar but rather that, which says it is part of a non-profit foundation but doesn't say what one and which itself engages in the anti-Semitic trope of "the self-hating Jew," is part of that reactionary right-wing core that wants to establish the idea that any criticism of Israel or Israeli government policy is by definition antisemitism.

Which doubtless makes me an anti-Semite in their minds, because I do support Palestinian rights and I do support the BDS movement (without feeling, I note, obliged to support all of its leaders). And when 2019 saw a 45-percent increase in demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian homes in the West Bank over 2018, I find a lot about Israel and Israeli policy to criticize.

Footnote: On January 6, citing the group's report, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, directly meddled in US domestic politics, encouraging "action" against Omar. Oddly enough, one of the things Omar was accused of was making an accusation of "dual loyalty" because she objected to the notion that intense support of Israel is effectively a political requirement for gaining and holding office in the US. Apparently that kind of support is exactly what Ambassador Danon expects.

One more for the road: On January 3, the New York Times reported that the Tweetie-pie White House is about to expand its open war on environmental protection by going after its bedrock law, the law that has been called the Magna Carta of environmental legislation.

It is the National Environmental Policy Act and it is 50 years old, having been signed into law on January 1, 1970. This landmark law charges the federal government and its agencies with a responsibility to promote environmental protection, preservation, and restoration, and notes the responsibility each generation has to act as trustee of the environment for the generations to follow.

For fifty years it has provided the legal basis for environmental review of, and public input on, projects that impact the environment.

And now Tweetie-pie is planning to wreck it by redefining what the law does and does not do by:
- narrowing the definition of what type of project requires an environmental review,
- expanding the number of project categories that can be excluded from review,
- allowing companies or developers to conduct their own environmental assessments, and
- dropping entirely any requirement to consider cumulative, rather than just immediate, impacts - meaning not only that you could, for example, build a road without considering the effect of traffic or a pipeline without addressing the risk of a spill, but that any effect on climate change would be clearly beyond the law's reach.

Outrageous and nauseating.

And by the way, Australia is still on fire.

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

So now to our regular feature, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. And as usual, we are starting with some Clowns.

Okay, right at the top, we've done it again. I swear, Americans can be such clowns.

According to a Morning Consult poll, even as tensions between the US and Iran were rising in the wake of the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, only 23% of registered voters could locate Iran on an unlabled map of the world. Only 28% could do it even on a map zoomed in to just Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East.

Even broken down by sex, age, political party, education, and income, in not one subcategory of any of those groupings did the figure rise above 39%.

Notably, there were no statistical differences in support for the strike - or on a host of broader related questions - between those who could identify Iran on a map and those who could not. You know enough about the world to find Iran on a map? Makes no difference to what you think about the assassination. Have no flipping idea where it is - some guesses put it in the middle of the US? Makes no difference.

We really are clowns.


Tweetie-pie Jr.
Okay, you want a jaw-droppingly stupid Clown? I feel like doing this like that scene from the Harry Potter movie "The Goblet of Fire": "Give me the wretch's name!" "Donald J. Trump ... junior!"

Two days after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, at the very time tensions threatened to spiral totally out of control, Tweetie-pie The Lesser thought it was a great time to post a photo of himself to Instagram showing him smiling while holding a custom AR-15 rifle adorned not only with an image of Hillary Clinton behind bars but also a “Crusader” cross, which has become a symbol of a Christian religious war against Islam and is now used by white supremacists.

He referred to the images as "adding a little extra awesome" to his manhood machine. I see them as describing a spoiled rich kid imagining himself as daringly poking an Iranian hornet's nest while knowing he'd not be among the ones stung.

Idiot. Dolt. Clown.


Former Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher - you remember him, he was the one who was so bloodthirsty in Afghanistan that he was turned in by members of his own platoon, who called him “evil” and “toxic” but after being convicted at court-martial was pardoned by Tweetie-pie - yeah, that Edward Gallagher, has started his own line of clothing. It's called Salty Frog, a nickname for retired SEALs, and is described as a “coastal lifestyle brand with an edge.”

You'd think being an accused war criminal would not be a good foundation for a business, but it appears that these days you'd be wrong.


Earlier this month, singer, self-proclaimed sex god, and walking illustration of the Dunning-Kruger Effect Meat Loaf said he “feels” for Greta Thunberg, claiming she has been "brainwashed" and "forced into" into believing in climate change is real - which, he insists, it isn't.

Hey, Mr. Loaf as the New York Times has called you, you may think 2 out of 3 ain't bad, but when it comes to being a clown, you're not just 3 out of 3, you're 10 out of 10.

Oh and by the way: Australia is still on fire.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Noted in Passing

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Noted in Passing

Now we move on to Noted in Passing, where we spend a minute or two on items that are just interesting or which deserve more coverge than we have time for but which we can't let pass without mention.

First up, some good news in the form of one more little step : As of January 1, New Hampshire residents who don't identify as either male or female can have their driver's licenses indicate their sex as X instead of M or F.

At the same time, even as acceptance increases, there is still much ground to be gained, as can be seen in the fact that the United Methodist Church, the nation’s third-largest religious denomination, is expected to split, spinning off a "traditionalist" denomination as a home for the too-many church leaders and members who, even at this late date, refuse to accept same-sex marriage and refuse the ordination to LGBTQ clergy.

The plan is expected to be approved at the church's worldwide conference in May.


Meanwhile, on January 3, the American Dialect Society held its 30th annual “Word of the Year” vote, which this year also included a vote for “Word of the Decade.”

The winning word of the decade was "they," particularly as it applies to and is referenced by, people with nonbinary gender identities but also because of its increasing use and acceptance in referring to a single person of unknown gender.

Pronouns, along with conjunctions and prepositions, are generally considered a “closed class” - a group of words whose number rarely grows and whose meanings rarely change. So having "they" have an expanded meaning and use was a real treat for linguists.


This is kind of interesting: Tens of thousands of parking meters, thousands of cash registers, and even at least one video game are among computerized systems that have fallen foul of a computer glitch related to the notorious Y2K, or millennium, bug. Known, appropriately enough, as the Y2020 bug, it's a long-lurking side effect of attempts to avoid the Y2K bug.

Both bugs stem from the way computers store dates. To save memory, many older systems express years using two numbers - such as 98 for 1998. The Y2K bug was a fear that when the year rolled over to 2000, computers would treat it as 1900, rather than 2000.

Programmers wanting to avoid the Y2K bug had two broad options: entirely rewrite their code, or adopt a quick fix called “windowing,” which would treat all dates from 00 to 20 as being from the 2000s, rather than the 1900s. An estimated 80 per cent of computers fixed in 1999 used this quicker, cheaper option - but all it did was kick the problem down the road.

Coders chose 1920 to 2020 as the standard window because of the significance of the midpoint, 1970. Many programming languages and systems handle dates and times as measured by seconds since January 1, 1970, a method known as Unix time or "epoch time." It's seen as a standard because of the widespread use of Unix in various industries.

The idea was that these windowed systems would be outmoded and replaced by the time 2020 arrived - which was the same thing the programmers of the 1960s thought about the year 2000.

Those systems that used the quick fix have now reached the end of that window, and have rolled back to 1920 with the attending glitches.

Fixes have been issued but exactly how long these will last is unknown, as companies haven’t disclosed details about them. If the window has simply been pushed back again, the error may well crop up again.

And there's another date storage problem, one which faces us in the year 2038. The issue again stems from Unix’s epoch time: The data is stored as a 32-bit integer, which will run out of capacity at 3:14 am on January 19, 2038.

Something to look forward to.


Now we come to a trio of things that I won't do more on at least now because frankly they hurt my heart.

Monday, January 6: A 5.8 magnitude earthquake hits Puerto Rico.
Tuesday, January 7: A 6.4 magnitude earthquake hits Puerto Rico; it's the largest one in a century.
Three hours later: An aftershock of 6.0 magnitude hits
Saturday, January 11: A 5.9 magnitude earthquake hits Puerto Rico

Hundreds of millions in damage, at least one dead, hundreds losing their homes, thousands in shelters, hundreds of thousands more without power.

And don't forget, Puerto Rico is still waiting for $18B in federal aid for relief and repair work related to the disasters of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Next: An outbreak of measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which began early last year has lead - so far - to over 6,000 dead and a total of an estimated 310,000 cases. The death toll was more than double that from a concurrent outbreak of Ebola.

This past year saw a huge measles outbreak across the planet. Madagascar saw over 1,200 people die. Places like Somalia, Ukraine, Brazil, and Bangladesh reported thousands of cases.

Here in the US we also had an outbreak of measles. While the numbers were smaller - nearly 1300 cases and no deaths - it was still the worst outbreak since 2000, when measles had been declared by the WHO to have been eliminated in the US.

And yet we still have these idiot anti-vaxxers spewing their bullshit about vaccines. It really hurts my heart.

And if you're still not depressed, here's number three: The active Taal Volcano in the Philippines violently erupted on January 12, launching ash and steam several km into the atmosphere and causing ash to fall in surrounding heavily populated areas.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology raised the status of the Taal Volcano to Alert Level 4, indicating a strong likelihood of more violent eruptions within the next couple of days. The agency is calling for everyone within 14km - a little less than 9 miles - from the volcano to evacuate. That's about 500,000 people.

Taal is located about 70 km, about 45 miles, south of Manila.

Oh, and by the way, in case you'd forgotten: Australia is still on fire.


Finally, to cheer myself up a bit, here's something I find interesting and in fact rather encouraging.

Benjamin Bergen is a Professor of Cognitive Science at UCal San Diego. Every fall since 2010, he has surveyed about 100 undergraduates in his introductory language class, asking them how offensive various words are.

What he has found is that among young adults today, vulgarities of various sorts are significantly less offensive than they were thought to be back in 1972, when George Carlin did his now-famous routine about the "seven dirty words you can't say on television."

At the same time, various slurs are found considerably more offensive. So various vulgarities that used to generate gasps of shock are now met with a shrug while various racial, ethnic, sexual, and other sorts of slurs that used to be part of everyday conversation are now found offensive.

I find that to be a very good thing.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Iran lies and the media

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Iran lies and the media

So last time around, in listing some issues I thought were not getting enough attention from progressives, I included war spending and our wars around the world.

And immediately thereafter, the world blows up.

Or rather, it almost did. It may surprise you that I am not going to be spending a lot of time talking about Iran. That's largely because there is a fair amount of useful commentary going around and I prefer to spend my limited time on things not discussed so prominently.

I will say that I was struck - not surprised, but struck - by how robotically and mindlessly the mainstream media fell into the pattern of unquestioningly parroting government propaganda as if it were clearly established truth and how frequently the broadcast media resuscitated known liars and cheerleaders for the Iraq War and wheeled them out to discuss what was happening now.

As Dan Froomkin of said, "Lessons that should have been learned from Vietnam were forgotten in the rush to invade Iraq. And now ... it’s abundantly evident that the lessons that should have been learned from Iraq haven’t been learned at all."

Want to know how obvious that is? In December, the WaPo published a six-part series on how the government - across three different administrations - has persistently lied for the entire (so-far) 18-year history of our war in Afghanistan.

Yet that same Washington Post, in reporting on Sec of State Mike Pompous's appearance on CNN on January 3, simply quoted without challenge his claims that Qassem Soleimani was killed to head off an “imminent threat,” that it "saved American lives,” and “Washington is committed to de-escalation” even as those claims were already crumbling: The night before, and so well before the Post reported on, his appearance, the Defense Department said the murder was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans” rather than at disrupting an "imminent" or for that matter even any identifiable threat.

Indeed, on "Face the Nation" on January 12, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was reduced to saying that he “believed” that there “probably, could have been attacks” that put Americans in the Middle East in danger, but he “didn’t see” specific intelligence indicating an imminent attack - which if there had been he damn well would have seen  it.

Meanwhile, on "Meet the Press" the same day, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien essentially admitted that Tweetie-pie's claims about attacks on four US embassies were simple bullshit, that His High Orangeness just "interpreted" some intelligence about Iran "wanting to inflict casualties" as somehow meaning that there was an active plan to attack embassies.

And the lies continue to crumble: On January 13, the Tweeter-in-Chief coughed up a regurgitation of the "imminent threat" line but then added "it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!" exclamation point. The same day it developed that seven months ago he signed off on killing Soleimani in the event any American was killed by any force the administration considers to be an Iranian "proxy." Now we only need the final touch of just dropping references to "imminent" altogether in favor of the all-purpose "bad dude" defense to complete the process.

So let's sum up:

We have an assassination of questionable legality based on an "imminent threat" which apparently did not exist based on intelligence which produced what GOPper Sen. Mike Lee called "probably the worst briefing I’ve seen on a military issue," a briefing during which Pompeo and Esper "couldn't even agree" on what the administration's policy goals regarding Iran are, all of which lead to the brink of outright war in the Middle East which we avoided - for now, I emphasize, because the war hawks are still in flight - a war we avoided only because Iran chose restraint even as the US used it as an excuse to send more troops to the region and increase sanctions on Iran.

And I haven't even touched on the possible fallout for Iraq, nor have I mentioned Tweetie-pie's claim - one I will, I promise, give more attention to in the near future - that the US is now building hypersonic missiles, potentially sparking a new arms race.

But for now I'm going to end here with three footnotes:

Footnote 1: Do you want to know just how insane the killing of Soleimani was? Benjamin Netanyahu sought to distance Israel from it. He told a Cabinet meeting that “The assassination of Soleimani isn’t an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it.” Hey, if even Bibi isn't on board with this you really should have re-thought it.

Like a crumbling brick wall the lies keep collapsing
Footnote 2: On January 8, a regularly-scheduled Ukranian airliner crashed shortly after leaving Tehran airport, killing all 176 on board. Suspicion immediately arose that it had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Iran initially denied it but just two days later admitted responsibility and President Hassan Rouhani said Iran "deeply regrets this disastrous mistake" while offering "thoughts and prayers" and "my sincerest condolences" to the families and promising an investigation to be overseen by a "special court" open to the world. We'll see.

Continuing with the footnote, on July 3, 1988, a regularly scheduled Iran Air flight from Iran to Dubai was shot down over the Persian Gulf by a surface-to-air missile from the US cruiser Vincennes, killing all 290 aboard. After an internal investigation, the Navy exonerated the crew. Eight years after the "terrible tragedy," the US reached a settlement with Iran in the International Court of Justice. The US has never formally apologized.

Footnote 3: One positive development which likely won't make a great deal of difference but still is positive just on base principles is that the House has actually passed a concurrent resolution under the War Powers Act directing Tweetie-pie "to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military" unless Congress has declared war or provided specific authorization.

The reasons it likely won't matter are one that it's chances in the Senate are really iffy: Two GOPpers, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, have said they will support the Senate version of the resolution, but with 47 Senate Democrats (including two independents), even if they all vote yea, it'll take at least two more GOPpers to pass it. With people like Joe Manchin around, that still may not be enough.

The other reason is that the last time there was serious talk of invoking the Act was during the bombing of Libya nearly nine years ago - at which time, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a classified briefing that if Congress did try to exercise its authority under the Act, the White House would simply ignore it. I can't imagine the response would be any different now and it's doubtful Congress has the guts to enforce its decision by cutting off funding and so quote abandoning our men and women in the field unquote.
The Erickson Report, Page 1: Corrections

I have to make two corrections from last time, not really important ones and in fact one you may not have even noticed, but still, yeah, necessary.

Okay, the first one is that last time, in discussing Tweetie-pie's dangerous, anti-democracy speech, I said that in July he told a rally that "we'll do a three" - that is, have a third term - "and a four and a five." Actually, that was at a rally in May, not July.

July was when he declared that Article II of the Constitution, which lays out the role of the president, gives him, as he put it, "rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before," which came after the time in June when he claimed that Article II lets him do "whatever I want."

The other one is that I referred to a proposal to change the immigration definition of a "public charge" from describing someone essentially dependent on government to someone who might at some point in the future need some form of government assistance. While I did note that this would cut legal immigration by 375,000 a year, I unfortunately introduced the segment by saying the change would be a large-scale expansion of who can get a green card, rather than what I meant to say, that it would be a large-scale of expansion of who can be denied a green card on that basis. I wanted to make sure that was clear.

The Erickson Report for January 15-28

The Erickson Report for January 15-28

Back to the grind after our Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year's episodes, The Erickson Report for January 15-28 looks at media coverage of the Iran crisis and the White House lies before running though some interesting items Noted in Passing and, of course, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages.


Iran and the media

Noted in Passing

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages - the Clowns

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages - the Outrages

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Erickson Report. Page 5: Looking to 2020

The Erickson Report. Page 5: Looking to 2020

Now with Janus’s other face we take a look forward to 2020 and there are some issues that we here believe should be in the forefront for progressives:

- Climate change, obviously.

- Issues of racism and other forms of bigotry should always be within our awareness and we here would include immigration under that heading since so much of the attacks on the undocumented are driven by such racism.

- There's also economic inequality - economic injustice more aptly - which also has ties to racism and sexism but goes beyond them to include all of the 90% and even the 99%.

- And there's gender inequality as the gains for LGBTQ folks are under sustained attack.

That's obviously not a complete list, but there are four more we specifically want to mention precisely because we think they are not getting the attention they should.

First there is our war spending, our military spending, which has become so bloated that the yearly increase in the DOD budget since Obama's last one is more than enough to pay for the free public college for everyone that we keep getting told we "can't afford."

And there are the on-going wars themselves, which occasionally percolate out of the back pages only to fade back into the mist as soon as some shiny penny is waved around rather than being a source of sustained outrage.

Then there is privacy rights, both regarding government databases like the no-fly list and the corporations transforming our personal lives into their profit.

Third is the rest of the freaking world, which we almost as much as Americans as a whole blithely and arrogantly ignore.

And fourth and perhaps most important, voting rights must absolutely be right up at the top of any list of our concerns for the coming year.

That, I'm sure you'll notice, is a relatively broad spectrum of concerns. And that very fact bring up something I talked about in August but I want to end up for this time by going over again.

The thing is, I see around me today multiple campaigns for change but I don't see a Movement, I don't see any evidence that the people involved in these various efforts conceive of themselves as part of a bigger whole.

Do those who identify with #MeToo feel a kinship with Black Lives Matter or the discussions over reparations? Do those who focus on global warming see themselves as part of the same cultural or political whole as the fight to raise the minimum wage or protect voting rights? I don't think they do, to the loss of each and every one of them.

When I talked about this is August, I had been struck by something that had happened recently: Bernie Sanders gave a speech which covered a number of topics. Afterwards, there was a commentator who slammed the speech and Sanders because he didn't mention race or gender until 23 minutes in and yes, she said she clocked it. Actually, she was wrong; he first mentioned the topic less than five minutes in, but that's not really the point. Be clear here: She didn't attack him for what he said about race and gender, which apparently was to her at the very least unobjectionable, she was attacking him because he didn't say it early enough in the speech; he didn't give her focus privilege of place.

Bluntly, in the dreaded '60s the response to that criticism would have been along the lines of "What the hell difference does that make? This was a speech, not a Top 10 list ranked according to importance." When the order in which topics are addressed in a speech becomes a basis for criticism, when people are actually clocking how long it takes their issue to come up, we do not have a Movement, we have a collection of atomized, isolated efforts incapable of drawing strength from each other.

Worse, it seems to me that there has developed a basic divide between two fundamental types of activism, which I call "inside" and "outside."

"Inside" activism focuses on political campaigns, elections, and lobbying to the exclusion of other means. "Outside" means favoring street action, pickets, rallies, mass demonstrations and marches, civil disobedience, and the like.

"Inside" activism in the long run will fail you because change doesn't start from inside, it starts from outside. As Margaret Mead is supposed to have said, "never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

But "outside" also usually comes up short because our demands and proposals will remain unfulfilled demands and proposals unless there are those working the inside route in order to be there to act on them.

These sides of activism, inside and outside, should be mutually reinforcing, should be, if I can use a cliche, two sides of the same coin, but now it seems like they are different worlds with each observing the other warily from a distance. And every bit of lobbying and campaigning, every rally-driven demand, is weaker for it.

Yes, there have been victories, have been successes, and don't think for even an instant that I am denigrating the efforts of oh so many people or any of what has been achieved. But I can't help but be distressed by how many of those efforts have been aimed at preventing losses of what has been gained in years past by movements of years past rather than on going further, gaining more. We need to do better. We can do better.

I will leave you with this: I am hardly the first to raise the idea of the lack of an over-arching message among progressives, which simply means that others have noted the same atomized nature of our efforts that I am critiquing here, except that I see it as a lack of a feeling of connection, a lack of a feeling that despite our particular focuses, we are family, we are of the same tribe, even if the connection lies more in convictions than any outward sign.

So for your consideration I offer my over-arching message for progressives: Justice, compassion, and community. That’s what we - all of us - are about, that is what we - all of us - believe in. Every political action you take or for that matter anyone takes, whether inside or outside, is a reflection of one or more of those principles. Realize how as you are in one particular effort, you are a single strand, one of multiple strands that very much need to be woven together to make a capital M movement far stronger than the sum of its parts.

One more very important piece of advice: Do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I'm sure you won't repeat my generation's mistakes of overconfidence, but don't repeat the mistakes of other generations. Don't slice away your friends and supporters in a foolish attempt to avoid criticism or look "more mainstream" - or, for that matter, more progressive or radical. It will not help you; it never has and it never will, it merely narrows the field of fire for the forces of reaction. And don't divide yourselves into sectarian camps where people are dissed and dismissed for not using quite the preferred language or for having a different focus from you. That way lies madness and the death of dreams.

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Outrage of the Year

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Outrage of the Year

Moving to the Outrage of the Year, we had multiple possibilities.

We had the on-going attacks on LGBTQ rights and protections, we had the embracing of white supremacy, we had Hillay "Not My Fault" Clinton calling Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein "Russian assets" and suggesting any third party candidacy on the left would be run to advance the interests of a foreign government, whoever the candidate might be.

We had the proposal of a vast expansion of who could be denied a green card on the grounds that they might be a “public charge,” no longer to mean someone essentially dependent on government but someone who might at some point in the future need government help such as Food Stamps or housing vouchers or subsidized health insurance, even including using the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies when buying insurance on an exchange. That change would bar an estimated 375,000 immigrants, 2/3 of total legal immigration.

We talked about hunger in schools, about the good deeds of people paying off the school lunch debts of classmates or even whole school systems, regarding that as an outrage because why should they have to? Why should it be necessary? Why should any family be so poor that they can't afford a school lunch for their child?

We also talked about the stresses those parents face, including from one school system in northeast Pennsylvania that threatened to take the kids away if the parents didn't pay up.

All this especially cruel at a time when even as 36 million Americans rely on the SNAP program, nee Food Stamps, the gang of misanthropes swearing fealty to His High Orangeness pursue their dream of destroying the SNAP program, having introduced three proposals which together would toss 3.7 million out of the program and to the wolves of hunger.

But we settled on these three for the top spots for Outrage of the Year.

Our second runner-up would have placed higher but for the fact that it has gotten some fair amount of attention and we prefer to focus more on those less noticed.

It is Tweetie-pie's tendency, drive, urge, whatever you care to call it, towards extreme authoritarian, one-person rule.

His notion of his powers as president and, to put if mildly, expansive: He has at least twice - once in June and once in July - claimed that Article II of the Constitution, which lays out the role of the president, gives him extreme power, or as he put it, "rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before."

But his personal desire, his desire to go beyond even "rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before" has long been abundantly clear.

Indeed, in July CNN recounted 15 times he praised authoritarians or dictators, including North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, China's Xi Jinping, and of course Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Donald "Tweetie-pie" Trump
That thinking is reflected in his attitude towards any laws that restrict him. For example, in April he told border agents that they should ignore the law and ignore judicial orders and refuse to admit asylum seekers, even advising the agents to simply lie to the courts.

In July, in the face of a Supreme Court decision barring the inclusion of a question about citizenship in the 2020 census, he considered simply ignoring it - as well as the Constitution, which which specifically assigns the job of overseeing the census to Congress - considered ignoring the Constitution and the Supreme Court and ordering the Commerce Department to include it.

Apparently he was talked out of that but it was part of a pattern of defying Congress, denying its Constitutional authority over declaring war, denying its right to exercise any sort of oversight whatsoever, openly avowing that Congress can only know what he chooses to tell them, even in the course of criminal, special prosecutor, or impeachment investigations.

He even defies the idea of leaving office, because apparently those constitutional limits don't or at least shouldn't apply to him any more than any other ones do.

Consider that in March 2018, Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for abolishing term limits and making himself president for life, saying "I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday."

In April of this year, he said during a White House event for the Wounded Warrior Project that he would remain in the Oval Office "at least for 10 or 14 years."

In May, at one of his revival meetings, after predicting he would be re-elected, he said "we'll do a three" - that is, have a third term - "and a four and a five." The same month, he retweeted Jerry Falwell Jr.'s tweet that "Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for" the Mueller investigation.

In June he said in a series of tweets that his supporters "would demand that [he] stay longer" than 2024, which is when he would leave office if he won the 2020 presidential election.

As recently as at his rally on December 11, he suggested America will collapse if he is not re-elected. "At stake in our present battle," he said, "is the survival of the American nation itself."

He also "joked" about being in office for up to another 25 years to the increasing cheers of the crowd and said "Should we give it a shot? Maybe we will." He then insisted he was "kidding" but his history says otherwise.

You may want to say "it's all just a joke, just something to trigger the libs." Sorry, when you go to the same well at least five times, that's not a joke. That's something you're thinking about.

Our first runner-up is the on-going outrage of the death penalty, that remnant of barbarity which despite the lack of any evidence that it reduces the murder rate, despite the demonstrated racist bias in its imposition, despite the execution of innocent people, despite dropping crime and dropping support, it itself refuses to die.

We touched on it a couple of times this year, for example in August when Attorney General William Barbarous ordered the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five inmates now on death row, bringing the grim reaper back to the federal level with a vengeance, as the feds have carried out just three executions since the federal death penalty statute was expanded in 1994 and the last of those was in 2003.

In September we looked at the case of Larry Swearingen, who on August 21 was legally murdered by the state of Texas. He was convicted of murder in 2000 on thin and entirely circumstantial evidence.

Subsequently, a number of TX pathologists declared that Swearingen could not be guilty because based on the condition of the body when it was found, he was in prison on another matter at the time the murder was committed. Talk about your perfect alibi.

But the courts didn't care. there was no error found in the operation of the machinery of the law, all the i's were dotted and the t's crossed according to formula, and so finally Swearingen was officially killed and the law was satisfied - as an innocent man lay dead.

That was one of the things that lead to our longer look at the fatal flaw at the heart of our so-called criminal justice system: Once you are convicted, truth is no longer the concern. The often arcane rites of the Holy Temple of the Law are. And as long as they are followed, justice can be ignored.

This does not just apply to the death penalty: We also looked at the case of Lamar Johnson, in prison for life without parole for a murder which even prosecutors now say he did not commit - despite which, he is still in prison and in August lost an appeal for a new trial strictly because of a technicality in state law regarding such appeals.

And the law grinds on because, as legal scholars will say, the law is not about justice - the law is about the law.

As a footnote, I have to add that this does not mean there are never victories: Thanks to some work by the Innocence Project, just before Christmas authorities in Texas said they are beginning the process of formally exonerating a man who in 2012 was sentenced to life for a murder for which police have now arrested someone else.

But moving on to our if you will winner, saving what is probably the worst for last. You have to understand, in the long run, if any sanity remains in our judicial system, that this will have less actual impact on our people, our society, than either of the other nominees and in fact any of those not nominated did or will.

But I found this so astonishing - not even immoral but amoral, so utterly without redeeming qualities, so utterly without humanity - that it outraged me more than anything else this year.

So here it is: In the summer of 2017, police in Southaven, Mississippi, were searching for a domestic violence suspect. They got the address wrong and went to a house on the other side of the street.

There, they shot and killed an innocent man, 41-year-old Ismael Lopez.

According to various news reports I found, police first alleged Lopez appeared at the front door with a handgun and then tried to run away. At another point, they claimed they saw a rifle poking though the now only slightly open door. They also said a dog ran out - apparently, from the only slightly open door - which of course they immediately shot at and they then fired through the door - killing Lopez with a shot to the back of his head.

Ismael Lopez
Despite the shifting story, in July 2018, a local grand jury - surprise! - declined to indict the two officers involved in the fatal shooting, after which the prosecutor refused to release either the names of the cops involved or the investigative file, which attorneys for the family had to pry loose.

But that's not why this is here; cops getting away will killing brown and black people is old news. No, this one has an extra twist of the knife.

About a year after the failure of the grand jury, that is, this past summer, the family filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Southaven, the chief of Southaven police, and the officers involved in Lopez’s death.

In responding to the suit, the city declared in open court that it is their policy that if you are an undocumented immigrant, which Lopez was, if you have no “legally recognized relationship” with the US, you have no constitutional protections, you have no constitutional rights, not even the right to not be wrongfully killed.

Quoing attorney Katherine Kerby, arguing for the city,
If he ever had Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment civil rights they were lost by his own conduct and misconduct. He may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the "We, the People"
and so lacked all protections.

Murray Wells, an attorney representing Lopez’s family, lambasted the city’s argument as both “chilling” and “insane” and said “We’re stunned that someone put this in writing.”

So am I. It's hard to grasp how totally demented, totally vicious, totally deranged, the city's position is. If accepted, it for any practical purpose would turn all police into a version of the Tonton Macoute, able to abuse and even kill any undocumented person with total impunity.

Happily, it's also total crapola, as the Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that people on US soil are guaranteed certain basic rights, no matter their immigration status, and the cases the city cited in support of its contention are grossly misapplied and have absolutely nothing to do with the case at hand.

As an illustration of how vacuous the city's position is, one case it cited involved courts finding that an undocumented immigrant did not have a Second Amendment right to a firearm - in a ruling that said in so many words that this did not impact Fourth Amendment rights.

But while that makes the city's attempt grounds for a Clown award, it is much too vile, much too appalling, for that. Even the term Outrage barely contains it.

The City of Southaven, Mississippi: Outrage of the Year 2019.

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery category

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery category

Moving on the the Total Jackassery category, our second runner-up is the Department of Energy.

Back in May, the agency issued a press release announcing approval of more exports of LNG - liquified natural gas - by a Freeport LNG terminal off the coast of Texas.

In the release, the fossil-fuel-sucking bureaucrats declared the expansion of such exports to be "critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world" and that more such exports will allow for "molecules of US freedom to be exported to the world.”

So it’s kind of like freebasing but without the kick.

Our first runner-up is a perennial champion, always a threat to take the top spot, but this year he fell just short. It's our old friend Tucks Carlson.

On one show in June, he deranged - which I made up as a verb because it fits cases like this so well - he deranged that "Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny." Only the brave and noble US has resisted!

And what is this yoke of tyranny, what is this horrendous worldwide oppression?

Quoting again: "From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms."

Yeah, the tyrant is the metric system. Indeed, a world in chains.

He made a last ditch attempt for the crown, declaring on a show two weeks later that - and I'm not exaggerating, this is a quote - he actually said "If white supremacy were a huge problem in America, how did Cory Booker become a senator?"

Of course if white supremacy is not a huge problem in America, why is Cory Booker being a senator so worthy of note, but that level of thought is beyond his reach.

What could top that double-barreled action? Our winner is another repeat offender, conservative radio host and poster boy for privilege Ben Shapiro.

First, in August he said on his radio show that people who have to work two jobs are actually just, well, stupid: Quoting: "If you had to work more than one job to have a roof over your head or food on the table, you probably shouldn’t have taken the job that’s not paying you enough. That’d be a you problem."

Ben Shapiro
That is, if your primary job doesn't pay enough to live on, well, you just should have taken a different and higher-paying job, you moron.

Then in September, again on his radio show, he praised America’s healthcare system by touting the country’s life expectancy. Now, the US ranks 34th among the nations of the world in life expectancy, and our life expectancy has actually declined the last three years in a row.

But no matter, Shapiro praised it as “pretty good when you take out all the confounding factors” such as auto accidents, murders, and suicide. Note that gun deaths and suicides are both considered public health issues.

In other words, Shapiro was saying, our life expectancy is great - as long as you ignore a lot of the people who died. A master class in venal inanity.

Ben Shapiro, Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery Category.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid category

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid category

So now we have our Clowns of the Year for 2019. The reason I say Clowns, plural, is that for the Clown of the Year, there are two categories: Basic Stupid, for those cases that are just mind-numbingly dumb, and Total Jackassery, for those cases that involve some level of venality.

So under Basic Stupid, our second runner-up is Americans - all of us, or at least a majority. In May, CivicScience, a Pittsburgh-based market research firm, released a new poll they had done of more than 3600 Americans on the issue of mathematics instruction.

In response to one question, 56% of the respondents said Arabic numerals should not be taught in American schools; jst 29% said they should be part of the curriculum; while 16% offered no opinion.

And if you don't get why that is some Clown combination of ignorance plus a soup├žon of bigotry, these are Arabic numerals: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

And before you start going "Oh those stupid right wingers again," know that when respondents were sorted into three categories, GOPper, Democrat, and Independent, not one of those three showed a majority in favor of teaching those numerals in American schools.

Our first runner-up is an unnamed woman in Lincoln, Nebraska. That city has more than 50 sculptures installed in various places as a public art project called "Serving Hands Lincoln."

The sculptures each consist of a pair of hands, open and holding something like a butterfly, a field of grain, flags of the world, the moon, whatever.

One sculpture, however, so offended our clown that she wrote to the mayor, demanding it be removed. She described it as "two hands open, painted Red and Black, and formed into Devil Horns."

She claimed it to be anti-Christian, demonic, ugly, perverse, and a "hate crime against the church."

The picture on the right shows the sculpture. Yep, the hands were those of Spiderman.

Footnote: The city said no, we are not removing the sculpture.

But our winner would have to rank among an all-time top 10 if I ever were to make such a list.

Rev. Dan Rehill
Rev. Dan Reehil is a pastor at the St. Edward's Roman Catholic grammar school in Nashville, Tennessee. In early September he sent an email to parents of the students telling them that the Harry Potter books have been removed from the school library because they "risk conjuring evil spirits."


Quoting the email: "These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text."

Personally, I think that's just Riddikulus.

Rev. Dan Reehil of St. Edward's Roman Catholic grammar school in Nashville, Tennessee: Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid category.

The Erickson Report, Page 1: First of 2020

The Erickson Report, Page 1: First of 2020

So here we are, doing this the first week of January 2020. January is named for Janus, the Roman god of transitions, who could see the past and future simultaneously - which you know if you were paying attention during the last show. Which makes it a good time for one of those yearly wrap-ups that programs like this one love so much. We start by looking at the past.

We did cover a lot of ground since we started out in May. We talked about abortion rights, about how police training leads to police shootings, about personal privacy issues, we spent an entire show on international news, we took A Longer Look at Venezuela and at immigration - in fact, measured by the number of occurrences, we covered immigration more than any other issue. We also took A Longer Look at the BDS movement and Israel, at the flaw at the heart of our justice system, and at the history of repeated US abandonment of the Kurds; 2019 was not the first time.

But we know that our most popular feature is Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. So to note the turn of the year, we are going to present our choices for Clowns of the Year and Outrage of the Year or 2019.

The Erickson Report for January 2-15, 2020

The Erickson Report for January 2-15, 2020

This time:

Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid category

Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery category

Outrage of the Year

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Why is New Year's Day on January 1?

Why is New Year's Day on January 1?

So now the natural follow-up: Why is January 1 New Year's Day? Because that wasn’t always true. So why?

In large part, the reason has to do with the convenience of the Roman senate, a calendar almost no one uses any more, and the stubbornness of tradition.

The earliest recorded New Year's celebrations are believed to have been in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago, that is, about 2000 BCE. Babylonians began the year with the first new Moon after the vernal equinox and greeted it with a multi-day celebration called Akitu. This actually is a logical time to start the year, since the vernal equinox is the first day of spring, in mid-March, and spring is traditionally a time of beginnings, of renewals, of planting crops and the birth of new farm animals.

Some other ancient cultures used different days, but all had some astronomical or astrological significance:

The Egyptians used the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major or the Big Dog. This took place in mid-July and it predicted the annual flooding of the Nile, an event so important to their agriculture.

Persians used the vernal equinox; the Phoenicians, the autumnal equinox, which is the first day of fall; while the Greeks used the winter solstice, the first day of winter.

All these choices carried some meaning beyond the date itself. January 1 doesn’t. So why January 1?

An early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the first day of a new year. This also explains something else you may have wondered about: If March is the first month of year, September is the seventh - and the Latin for "seven" is septem. Likewise, October, November, and December: octo being Latin for "eight," novem for "nine," and decem for "ten." Those months were named as they were because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year.

That early Roman calendar was a lunar one, based on the Moon. The problem is, the average lunar month is about 29 and a-half days and there is no way that can match with a solar year of roughly 365 and a-quarter days. You're going to be off by something like 12 days a year. And it is the solar year, not the lunar year, which drives the seasons.

What’s more, that calendar consisted of 10 months and a 304-day year and didn't even count the days between the end of December and the beginning of the year at the vernal equinox, with the vernal equinox apparently being designated March 1.

The calendar was reformed around 713 BCE to add the months of January and February, creating a year of 355 days, still 10 days off the solar year. To correct this, the Romans from time to time inserted a leap month of about 22 days into February, which served to overcorrect the disparity between the calendars, giving them some time before the error again got so big that another leap month was required.

Next, according to general but apparently not universal agreement among historians, in about 153 BCE the Roman Senate moved first day of year to January 1 because that was beginning of the civil year, time that newly elected Roman consuls began their terms in office, and it was felt to be just more convenient to have the civil year and the legal year start on same day. January is also a reasonable time because January was named for Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings - that is, the god of all transitions - who had two faces so that he could see both the past and the future.

Julius Caesar
Despite all the attempts at correction, by the time of Julius Caesar, the calendar was again seriously out of whack with the solar year. So in 46 BCE Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar. This Julian calendar, as it came to be called, also introduced the use of leap years to keep the calendar year from drifting too far from the solar year and came with a decree that firmly fixed January 1 as the start of the new year.

After the Roman empire fell, the generally-accepted year for that being 476, and as Christianity began spread across Europe, the Catholic church, which remember had previously adopted and adapted a fair part of the merry side of Saturnalia, now felt it was in a position to downplay "pagan," "unchristian" festivals such as those that had come to surround the new year in Rome.

In 567, the second Council of Tours banned the use of January 1 as the first day of the new year. Remember, this is at a time in European history when the authority of the church in civil matters, not just religious ones, was all but unquestioned. If the church said do it, governments did it.

As a result, in the Middle Ages in Europe, the official new year started at different times in different places, including December 25, by then the traditional birthday of Jesus; the old day of March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation and right around the vernal equinox; and even Easter, even though was a different day year to year.

But remember: Julius Caesar had set January 1 as New Year’s Day in 46 BCE - which means that by time the Council acted, the practice of keeping that as the first day of the year had been going on for 613 years and was so well established that a lot of people simply ignored the "official" date and kept to the older one.

Pope Gregory XIII
The Julian calendar also was flawed because the solar year is actually a few minutes shorter than 365 days and six hours, so the use of leap years every four years slightly over-corrects the difference. A few minutes may not seem like a big difference, but again the error accumulates over time and by the latter 1500s it had grown to 10 days.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII oversaw design of new, more accurate calendar, which changed the rule of leap years such that only century years divisible by 400, not 4, would be leap years, the better to prevent the over-correction of the Julian calendar. Thus, 2000 was leap year, but 1900 wasn't and 2100 won't be.

This still leaves a tiny over-correction but it will take over 3000 years for that error to build up to a single day, so nobody really cares.

Most significantly for our story here, Pope Gregory apparently knew a losing battle when he saw one and surrendered to tradition, restoring January 1 as the official New Year's Day for the church.

Catholic countries in Europe were quick to adopt the new calendar, with Spain, France, and Italy doing so the year it came out. But Protestant ones did so only gradually, suspicious that the “Antichrist in Rome” was trying to trick them into worshiping on the wrong days.

A Happy and Peaceful Year to all
Scotland, for one, didn't adopt new calendar until 1600. And England, which had used March 25 as start of year since sometime in the 1100s, didn't finally make change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar - along with its colonies, which included us - until 1752: 170 years later. By that time, the Julian calendar was 11 days behind the Gregorian, which was corrected by removing 11 days from the year: Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752.

There are tales of riots breaking out with people believing their lives would be 11 days shorter or that they had lost 11 days of wages. While such sentiments existed, historians now are of opinion that the story of riots is a myth. However, the change of calendar was an issue in the 1754 parliamentary elections so it's hard to credit the idea that there were no protests of any sort.

Anyway, that's it: January 1 is the first day of year not due to any special meaning or relevance of date itself, but due to the convenience of the Roman Senate, the Julian calendar which almost no one uses anymore, and the surrender of Pope Gregory XIII to persistence of tradition.

So in the spirit of Constantine, let me say Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Chanukah, Happy Festivus, for all the atheists like me and all the pagans out there, Happy Winter Solstice, and to all of us, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. Like the man in the story said, we are halfway out of the dark.

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Why is Christmas on December 25?

Why is Christmas on December 25?

This show will be seen in the weeks running up to Christmas and New Year’s Day. So I’m going to give myself a holiday of sorts and take a break from heavy-duty politics to devote the show to precisely two burning questions: Just why is Christmas on December 25? And why is New Year’s Day on January 1?

To answer about Christmas, about why it’s on December 25 as opposed to June or something, right at the top, you have to realize something. Based on how we celebrate the season, based on how we - and by that I mean Americans and to a perhaps even greater extent Europeans - engage and embrace the season, the traditions we follow in our celebrations, Christmas is expressed in symbols such as Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, brightly-wrapped presents, candy canes, wreaths, and mistletoe, along with local traditions.

It is not expressed by a creche.

Because you know those people who go around saying that "Jesus is the reason for the season?" He isn't. And he never was. Now that half of you are composing nasty emails, let me explain. The season is because of astronomical patterns.

Until relatively recently, people were much more aware of the movements of the Sun and Moon and stars than we are now unless you are either a dedicated stargazer or an astronomer.

Such movements were necessary signs of the changing of the seasons, of when to plant, when to reap, when seasonal rains were coming, when game would be plentiful, and so on. The sky was their almanac, their seasonal calendar.

Some of that awareness lives on in popular expressions and mythology. For example, did you ever wonder why the hot humid days of July and August still sometimes are called "the dog days?" Ancient peoples by their observations were able to realize that the star we call Sirius, which is at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night in the middle of winter, is at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the day in summer.

Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, or the Big Dog, and is known as the Dog Star. So the middle of summer becomes the days of the dog - the dog days.

In prehistoric times and even well into recorded history, people believed that things like the Sun acted willfully or were controlled by gods that acted willfully - and each year watching it get lower and lower in the sky each day as winter approached, a fear developed that one year, one of these great cycles, the Sun would keep sinking until it disappeared below the horizon, leaving them in perpetual darkness and cold. So each year, when the Sun stopped sinking and began to rise higher in the sky each day, it was reason to celebrate.

This is the time of the winter solstice, which occurs in the Northern Hemisphere, depending an exactly where you are, around December 21 or 22.

"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words - sol and sistere - which together mean that "the Sun stands still," which is what it appears to do at the solstice: to come to a stop and then reverse.

All over the Northern Hemisphere, this was a time to celebrate: Ancient Egypt had celebrations, as did ancient Greece - in fact, in the earliest days, theirs involved a human sacrifice.

The Druids celebrated, it was celebrated in Iran, Native American peoples of North America, including the Pueblo and the Hopi, had their celebrations.

In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was called the Yule. Great yule logs were burned; people drank mead around bonfires listening to tales of great stories of the past. A boar was sacrificed to the chief god Odin, who donned a broad-brimmed hat and magic blue cloak and sped around the world at night on his great white horse. Mistletoe, which was a sacred plant because it grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was cut and a spray given to each family to be hung in doorways as good luck.

That is our first reminder that a lot of our holiday traditions - including the term "Yuletide," the time of the Yule - are drawn from pagan ones, including decorating with garlands, wreaths, and the Christmas tree itself, along with the man who can magically fly around the whole world in one night.

For the date of Christmas, though, now we're getting into the space that lies between history and interpretation.

No one knows the date Jesus was born, no one even knows for sure what season of the year it was - or even what year it was. To the extent that the Bible can be trusted as a source we can be very confident that it was not in the winter since shepherds did not watch their flocks by night at that time of year; the flocks would most likely have been corralled.

In fact, "watching their flocks by night" was most commonly done in the spring to protect the newborn lambs from wolves, which had lead some to argue he must have been born in the spring. But that is an awfully thin reed on which to try to build a foundation, much less a conclusion.

What's more, the earliest known use in English of the word "Christes-Maess," or the Feast of Christ, or Christmas, was in a list of Feast Days with Mass Days that was set down in England in 1038, a thousand years after Jesus died. No Saint's day listed for December 25th.

Indeed, early church leaders (I'm talking 2nd and 3rd centuries here) argued about when Jesus was born - the options included January 2, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17, November 20, and, yes, December 25. And at the same time, some, such as Origen, argued that the whole thing was pointless and wrong because it shouldn't be celebrated at all. Celebrating birthdays, he said, was for pagan gods.

Still, by the mid-third century, the idea for having a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus was getting established. Nonetheless, it took another hundred years for that notion to become formalized and for a date to be fixed.

Meanwhile, in 313, Constantine the Great issued his Edict of Milan, legally allowing Christianity in the Roman Empire - actually, he went considerably beyond that; the text actually says it was "proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best."

Which shows a lot more tolerance than many here do today, especially among our right-wing so-called Christians, the fanatics who get such a kick this time of year every year out of playing the oppressed victim under the relentless assault of the atheistic socialistic hordes - even though Christians make up over 78% of the US population.

Oh, and as a sidebar and contrary to popular belief, while Constantine considered himself “an emperor of the Christian people,” he did not actually formally convert by getting baptized until shortly before his death in 337 and Christianity did not become the official religion of Rome until 380, 43 years after his death.

Getting back to the point, the earliest known reference to Jesus being born on December 25 doesn’t come until the first years of the 3rd century, about 175 years after he died, with the first recorded date of his birth actually being celebrated on that day was not until 336. And it wasn’t until 350 when Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December.

But that just brings us back to the start. How did the chosen date, why did the chosen date, come down to December 25? That was the question, after all.

To answer that, first remember that these developments were taking place in Rome, which had become the nerve center of organized Christianity.

The date brings us back to the winter solstice. The Romans, like many other ancient peoples, had solstice celebrations. In Rome it was called Saturnalia.

This was originally a feast day to the god Saturn, but over time it grew to a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. It began with sacrifice of a pig and involved riotous merry-making, feasting, and gambling. Houses were decorated with laurel and evergreens. Schools were closed; the army rested; no criminals were executed.

Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, incense, and more. Temples were decorated with evergreens. Processions of people danced through the streets, with masked or blackened faces and wearing fantastic hats.

Masters feasted with slaves, who could do and say what they liked - supposedly, anyway. I doubt they really felt free to push the privilege very far since a day or at most a few days later they would be back to just slaves, but hypothetically they could.

(Notice, by the way: traditions including decorating your home. Laurels. Visiting friends. Gift-giving. Holiday parties. Not Christian traditions, Roman ones. Pagan ones.)

The old Roman goddess of the solstice was Angerona, whose festival day was, logically enough for a goddess of the solstice, December 21st.

But when Mithraism, personified by the god Mithra, was introduced to Rome in the mid-2nd century, the goddess was largely supplanted in favor of Mithra's day of seasonal rebirth, which was December 25. Mithra, himself a composite of earlier beliefs, became amalgamated with a Roman sun god named Solis Indigeni, a god which in turn came from the Pelasgean titan of light named Helios.

This new being, this combination of Mithra and Solis Indigeni, this composite of two composites, was Sol Invictus, the invincible or unconquered Sun, and Mithra's day, December 25, became Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or the birthday of the unconquerable Sun. When the emperor Aurelian proclaimed Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274, the day became an official holiday.

Sol Invictus
So, put it all together. Before Constantine the Great issued his Edict of Milan, being a Christian in Rome could get you killed. Refusal to participate in the Imperial cult was considered treason.

During the Great Persecution carried out by the emperor Diocletian from 303 to 311, Christian buildings and the homes of Christians were torn down, their sacred books were collected and burned. Christians themselves were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, starved, and condemned to gladiatorial contests to amuse spectators.

So if you wanted celebrate the birth of the man you regarded as your savior - and the idea of having such a celebration was by then pretty widely accepted among Christians - you had to hide it. So since the time is purely symbolic and basically arbitrarily chosen because no one knows the actual date for certain and it's really based on tradition and nothing more, what better time to do it than during Saturnalia - when everyone else was celebrating and so no one would notice? And what better day to pick than December 25, when the birthday of the unconquerable Sun could be thought of as the birthday of the unconquerable “Son?"

Indeed, according to St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, writing in the late 4th or very early 5th century, just a few decades after Christianity had become the official religion of Rome, the "Roman Church purposefully placed the keeping of Christmas between two popular folk festivals, Saturnalia and the Kalends of January, in order to give Christians something to celebrate about [undisturbed] while others were engaged in secular merrymaking."

The Kalends, by the way, is the first day of each month in the Roman calendar; it’s the source of our word calendar. And yes, there was a popular folk festival in Rome the first week of January which was a significant part of the Roman solstice celebrations.

By the year 354 CE, four years after Pope Julius I had designated it as such, December 25 had been accepted in Rome as the date of the Feast of Christ, or Christ-Mass, Christmas. Gradually most of the Christian Church agreed.

Once Christianity became the legal religion of Rome in 380, the church began appropriating what old pagan customs it could, with the result that the merry side of Saturnalia was gradually adopted and adapted to the observance of Christmas.

And so that is why Christmas in on December 25: Because Christians hid within, then adopted, then adapted, pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe.

But let me finish up by saying that even then the idea was not universally accepted. Origen's conviction that celebrating the birth of a god was for pagans persisted among conservative Christians for centuries, including among the separatists and Puritans who settled Plymouth and Boston here in Massachusetts. They regarded Christmas as a pagan celebration with no Biblical justification. Puritans called it “Foolstide,” proving that no, puns are not a recent invention. In fact, there were laws against it.

As an illustration of the attitude, we have the journal of Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford, who in the entry for 1621 recalled what he called a passage "rather of mirth then of weight." (Spelling in the excerpt has been modernized.)
On the day called Christmas day, the Governor called them out to work, (as was used,) but the most of this new company [Here is referring to some people who had arrived the month before, in November 1621, on a ship called “Fortune.”] excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noon from their work, he found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar and some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it a matter of devotion, let them keep to their houses, but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing has been attempted that way, at least openly.
Recall that Bradford is writing here in about 1631 or 1632, about 10 years after the fact.

And not just here at home. In 1647, Great Britain's Puritan-dominated parliament abolished the feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun, known in the US as Pentecost.

Back in the US, in 1659, the MassBay colony - that is, Boston - banned celebrating Christmas
altogether. The ban remained in place for 22 years, until 1681, and even then it was a governor appointed by the restored British monarchy who revoked the ban.

Despite the lifting of the ban, the first recorded celebration of Christmas in Boston wasn't for another five years, in 1686. For many years thereafter, Thanksgiving remained the important seasonal holiday in New England.

In the wake of the revolution, interest in Christmas in the former colonies faded because it was seen as a British holiday. In fact, Christmas did not become a major holiday in the US until a religious revival in the early 1800s spurred interest in the day, particularly in the South. As a result, it was Louisiana, in 1837, which became the first state to make the day a holiday.

Even then, New England continued to lag behind: In Plymouth, the first time Christmas was mentioned in one the town’s newspapers as far as anyone can tell wasn't until 1825. As late as 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that “The old Puritan feeling prevents [Christmas] from being a cheerful hearty holiday” in the region, but, he added, "We are in a transition state."

And so it was: By 1860 that same Plymouth paper was filled with ads for Christmas presents and by the end of the century Christmas was as much a part of Plymouth as it had become in the rest of the country.
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