Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

As Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, "As this year has gone, so our life will go, and soon we shall say 'it is gone.' Let us not waste our time; soon eternity will shine for us." Share

Breaking US Dependence On China For Rare Minerals

From The Daily Caller:
The United States is wholly dependent on foreign countries, mainly China, for 20 minerals key to national defense and economic security, despite large pockets of some of the minerals existing on U.S. soil, according to a report released Monday. Other countries supplying the U.S. with critical minerals include Brazil, Russia and South Africa.

“The findings are shocking,” Zinke said in a statement. “The fact that previous administrations allowed the United States to become reliant on foreign nations, including our competitors and adversaries, for minerals that are so strategically important to our security and economy is deeply troubling.”

In response to the report, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order Wednesday identifying issues that contributed to U.S. mineral dependency. A lack of topographical data, slow permitting processes and environmental litigation inhibit private-sector investment in “exploration, production, recycling, and reprocessing of critical minerals,” according to the order.

Trump directed Zinke to publish a list of critical minerals in the Federal Register within 60 days of the order. Alongside other departments, the Department of the Interior must develop strategies and reform regulations to incentivize domestic mineral production, as well as work out critical mineral trading options with allies. (Read more.)
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Favorite Movies and Shows of 2017, Part One

I had planned to do a review of each show or movie I watched in the last year but there have been so many that they are piling up. So I will just give a brief summation of those I felt to be most compelling, in no particular order.

The Americans (Seasons 1-5, 2013 to present)

I watched the first five seasons of The Americans on Amazon Prime, and while I cannot universally recommend it because of the sexual situations and graphic violence, I think it is a significant series. Aside from the superb acting and dynamic script, The Americans is a raw depiction of the ruthlessness of the agents of Soviet Communism,  who surpassed in callous virulence the most case-hardened CIA assassins. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell play deep cover KGB operatives in Reagan's USA of the 1980's, living and working in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. Pretending to be an American married couple called "Philip and Elizabeth Jennings", they run a travel agency on Dupont Circle as a front for their real work of spying on behalf of the Soviets. They have children and an outwardly normal "American" life although they are both Russians, and dedicated Marxists. At least, Elizabeth is a dedicated Marxist; Philip is drawn to the American way of life and basically just wants to disappear into it. Throughout the series are seen places that are familiar to me from my youth and childhood. If you ever wondered why DC was called the "murder capital of the world" in the '80's, we now know that it was because Philip and Elizabeth were at large, killing anyone who threatened to expose them. Seriously, it is known that there were KGB agents posing as American couples and living for decades in the USA. What makes The Americans so captivating is the fact that Philip and Elizabeth, in spite of their rigorous Communist training, come to have feelings for each other, for their children, and even for the people they are sent to manipulate for the purposes of the Soviet Empire, which makes their work more and more unpalatable. They know that their relatively comfortable and pleasant life in America, the country they are trying to overthrow, is bound to come to an end, either by their capture or their return to Russia, which make the drama a spy thriller extraordinaire. The gist of the series in summed up in a devastating scene in which Elizabeth feels compelled to murder an elderly lady who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Do you think doing this to me will make the world a better place?” the old woman asks Elizabeth before dying.
“I'm sorry, but it will,” replies Elizabeth.
“That's what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things,” the woman says. Her words sum it all up.

Medici: Masters of Florence (Season 1, 2016)

As a lover of the Renaissance and all things Florentine I found the first season of the Netflix production Medici: Masters of Florence to be a mesmerizing experience. The saga of the middle class Italian banking family, who within a century rivaled the royal houses of Europe, could not be better acted, written or staged. The drama centers on Cosimo de Medici (Richard Madden), son of a peasant Giovanni (Dustin Hoffman), and his turbulent marriage to the noblewoman Contessina de Bardi (Annabel Scholey). Together they guide the ambitious clan through the labyrinthine intrigues and pitfalls of Italian politics, even as their private relationship repeatedly founders and rekindles. Unfortunately because of the graphic content I cannot universally recommend the program. It is a shame because there are some magnificent depictions of both the struggles and devotions of believing Catholics, as well as the qualities which make for an enduring marriage, such as forgiveness and loyalty.


The Keepers (2017)

The Keepers is a 7-part Netflix documentary not intended for the faint of heart or the weak of faith. Through personal interviews and testimonies it patches together a story of horrific abuse that allegedly occurred at a Catholic girls' high school in Baltimore, MD in the late 1960's. The abuse, which may have resulted in the murder of a beloved teaching sister, was followed by a cover-up on the part of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The allegations of what transpired are so egregious that I would not in a million years believe any of it except that growing up in that same diocese I happen to know that some of it, at least, is true. Because the alleged crimes occurred while the changes in the Church were being implemented, even as society as a whole drifted into chaos, only compounds the sense of confusion surrounding the case. And yet there is a note of hope given by the band of former students who work together to find truth and justice, although as yet they have probably uncovered only the tip of the iceberg.

The Last Kingdom (Seasons 1 and 2, 2015-2017)

Based upon Bernard Cornwell's The Saxon Stories novels, The Last Kingdom is about the ninth century reign of Alfred the Great (David Dawson) and his fight to free England from Danish marauders. Centered upon the historical character Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon) an ancestor of Cornwell, the BBC production is as lavish with authentic costumes and sets as it is with never-ending action, adventure and romance. However, some graphic scenes make it a drama NOT to watch with the family. This is unfortunate because the show has many teachable moments about courage, faith, and fidelity. Uhtred is a Saxon and Christian who is kidnapped by the Danes as a boy and later joins with King Alfred in Wessex, which is the last kingdom unconquered by the Danes. Although Uhtred is called the "godless" due to his total lack of piety he often displays insight into spiritual matters that Alfred appreciates. As for Alfred himself, his growth as a king, a warrior, a husband and a father, is gradually wrought by the many challenges he must face. Both Dreymon and Dawson are accomplished Shakespearean actors; overall the quality of most of the performances is outstanding.


Z: The Beginning of Everything (Season 1, 2017)

 I found the Amazon biopic about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to be highly entertaining and am disappointed to learn that Amazon decided to cancel Season 2. Perhaps after a decade of economic hardship most Americans find the spectacle of "bright young things" smashing up their surroundings and their psyches in an orgy of drunkenness and narcissism to be unpalatable. I must say that I have endured enough economic hardship in my life to cringe at the sight of waste and thoughtlessness. Most especially painful to watch is the self-destruction between two lovers who were soulmates in almost every way. What I enjoyed was the recreation of Montgomery, Alabama in the late teens and early twenties where Zelda Sayre (Christina Ricci), the spoiled youngest daughter of a prominent genteel family, met aspiring writer Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (David Hoflin). Zelda rebels against the manners and structure of the life her parents had created for her, although to an outsider it looks like heaven, especially her linen, silk and cotton frocks and the sheer white embroidered hangings in her room. With such beautiful surroundings, no wonder she was inspired to write, and passages from her letters to Scott later found their way into his highly successful novels. Whether it was Scott's drinking that drove her mad, or Zelda's mental illness that made him drink, we will never know. But in the beginning, it was sheer beauty. Share

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Uranium One Criminal Investigation

From The Daily Wire:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered prosecutors at the Department of Justice to begin interviewing FBI agents about evidence they uncovered in a criminal investigation into a highly-controversial uranium deal that involves Bill and Hillary Clinton. Multiple law enforcement officials confirmed Sessions’ orders to prosecutors, NBC News reported exclusively in the early morning hours on Thursday. At the heart of the issue is the 2010 Uranium One deal which Hillary Clinton signed off on while she was Secretary of State at the U.S. State Department. (Read more.)
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Blogging for Writers

People have asked me about how to start a blog. I'll let Jane Friedman explain:
If you approach blogging as something “lesser than” your other published writing, you’re more likely to fail at it. While blogging can be less formal, less researched, and more geared for online reading or social sharing, to do it well requires the same kind of practice and skill as crafting a novel. You get better at it the more you do it, but I see many authors give up before they’ve put in enough hours to understand the medium. Furthermore, to stick with blogging for long enough for it to pay off, you have to actually enjoy what it means to blog, and how online writing can be different from print.

If you treat blogging seriously, all the writing or content that you generate for your blog can have another life, in another format or within another publication. For example, the best of my blog content is condensed into a book, Publishing 101. That required a lot of editing and reformulation (online writing can’t be dumped into print without a lot of revision), but it reflects the value and depth of what appears on my blog. (Read more.)
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Friday, December 29, 2017

The Biltmore at Christmas

From Victoria:
Modeled after sumptuous English palaces, the ceiling of Biltmore’s lavish Grand Dining Hall soars seven stories high. Lush garlands trim the mantel of the massive triple-hearth fireplace, while bouquets of red and white poinsettias and a collection of charming vintage nutcrackers add to the holiday ambience. The glittering tree is one of sixty that adorn the interiors of the mansion. (Read more.)
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The Big Republican Tax Reform

Pros and cons. From Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire:
1. Virtually Everyone Will Get A Tax Cut. Despite the media’s insistence that this is a “tax cut for the rich,” virtually everyone who pays taxes gets a tax cut. The only people who see tax increases are high income-earners living in high-tax states (like yours truly). This isn’t the biggest tax cut in history, as Republicans have been pitching, but it’s not insignificant either — according to the Tax Policy Center, the average household will receive a tax cut of $1,610 in 2018; an average household earning $1 million or more would see a tax decrease of approximately $69,660, as compared with $870 for households making $50,000 to $75,000. The reason for that: high income earners pay the vast bulk of the taxes in the country. The idiotic idea that Americans will pay more taxes after the bill — an idea believed by 50% of the population — is simply wrong. (Read more.)


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Joseph, Silent Strength and Faith

From Zenit:
“Joseph fought within himself; in that struggle, the voice of God is heard: ‘But get up’ — that ‘Get up’ [which is heard] so many times in the Bible at the beginning of a mission — ‘Take Mary, bring her to your home. Take charge of the situation; take this situation in hand, and go forward.’ Joseph didn’t go to his friends to be comforted, he didn’t go to a psychiatrist so that he could interpret the dream. No… He believed. And he went forward. He took the situation in hand. But what must you take in hand, Joseph? What was the situation? What was it that Joseph had to take up? “Two things: fatherhood, and mystery,” Francis answered. Regarding “fatherhood,” Francis observed: This is already implied in the genealogy of Jesus, which explains how He “was thought to be the son of Joseph.”

“He took on a paternity that was not his own: it came from the Father. And he went ahead with that fatherhood and all it signified: not only supporting Mary and the Child, but also raising the Child, teaching Him his trade, bringing Him up to manhood. ‘Take up a paternity that is not yours, but God’s.’ And this, without saying a word. In the Gospel, there is not a single word spoken by Joseph. A man of silence, of silent obedience.” (Read more.)
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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The House of Bread

From Speramus:
After Jesus was born Our Lady wrapped him in swaddling-clothes and laid him in a manger, a place where animals were fed because there was no room for them in the inn. The manger represents the wood of the cross his future sacrifice in time for our sins. The manger also foreshadows the altars in every Catholic church.  Here Jesus becomes incarnate again, this time hidden not in the flesh of a human nature but in the form of bread.  At the words of consecration during every Holy Mass Jesus is born again and immolated.  We are present at Bethlehem and at Calvary. Imagine that brute animals ate from the manger the creator of the world slept in! This scene showed us that God would feed his own creatures with the manna of His own Body and Blood so that we would be capable of entering into eternal life with Him. What a great gift of sheer grace for mortal man to become immortal with God!
  

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote: “Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of the Eucharistic sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. We become sons and daughters of God.  St. Augustine, recorded similar words which he heard in the Spirit from the Lord. We find them in the account of his conversion, the Confession: “I am the food of grown men. Grow, and you shall feed upon me. You will not change me into yourself, as you change food into your flesh, but you will be changed into me!”
(Read more.)
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The Unsilent Coup

From The American Spectator:
Much of the media’s energy is devoted to calling for a de facto coup. The premise of practically every story, from the travel ban to the most basic executive appointments, is that it is somehow “controversial” for a duly elected president to use the powers vested in the executive branch. Trump is apparently not to hire or fire anybody, should never tell executive agencies what to do, should take, not give, orders from diplomats and bureaucrats, should submit to all acts of judicial activism, must never criticize Congress, and should in general stop offering any opinions at all. All of this is deemed “unpresidential” and “scandalous” by the media.

It is comic the lengths to which the media will go to try to mau-mau a Republican president into passivity while seeking to maximize the power of unelected officials. The more undemocratic the figure (provided he is liberal), the more the media demands that his power go unchecked. The media loves bureaucrats, regulators, career diplomats, unelected judges, and other assorted “experts.” They wear the white hats in almost all of the media’s stories while elected officials wear the black ones. This week, for example, the New York Times decreed it a scandal of “censorship” that Trump is pulling the plug on propaganda at the Centers for Disease Control. The head of the executive branch controlling his own executive agencies is cast by the Times as sinister — a “continuing effort to mute, censor, and spy on employees in federal agencies whose words or views don’t sync with President Trump’s agenda.” How dare Trump not let unelected policy analysts treat the CDC like their own personal think tank — that’s the upshot of the complaint. (Read more.)
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Warming and Cooling

From No Tricks Zone:
In assessing the global-scale trends in near-surface (0-20 m) ocean temperatures between 1900 and 2010, Gouretski et al. (2012) determined that the world’s oceans warmed by about 1.1°C between 1900 and 1945 (~0.24°C per decade), but then only warmed by an additional net 0.3°C between 1945 and 2010 (~0.046°C per decade), including a cooling trend between 1945 and 1975. The early 20th century warming was therefore about 4 to 5 times greater both in magnitude and rapidity as the post-1945 warming. Interestingly, Gouretski et al. (2012) also point out that large regions of the oceans have been cooling since the 1990s.
Decadal mean SST and 0–20 m layer anomalies calculated relative to the reference decade 2001–2010 give evidence of the general warming of the global ocean since 1900. However, large regions of the oceans have experienced cooling since the 1990s. Whereas cooling in the tropical Eastern Pacific ocean is associated with frequent La Nina events in the past decade, the cause of the cooling within the Southern Ocean remains unknown.”
According to Riser and 26 co-authors (2016), the globe’s oceans have warmed in some places, cooled in others, and the overall net change has been a warming of a little less than 0.2°C (0-1000 m) since about 1950, or about 0.03°C per decade. (Read more.)

From The Daily Wire:
 In an address to the American people on Monday, President Donald Trump outlined his administration's new national security strategy, summed up as "America First." Missing from the "National Security Strategy" document posted on WhiteHouse.gov and from Trump's address was a classification of "climate change" as a national security threat, as the Obama Administration had, notably, done. Moreover, President Trump made it clear that the country's sovereignty and economic interests will come before adherence to international environmental regulations tied to climate change.

This is not exactly a surprise; President Trump boldly pulled the United States out of the economically crippling Paris Climate Accords this summer, much to the distress of his predecessor. "At the moment, we have a temporary absence of American leadership on the issue (climate change)," said Obama while attending a gala in Paris earlier this month.

As noted by The Daily Caller, "Obama’s 2015 national security strategy prioritized climate change as a national security threat. Obama’s strategy devoted more space to the threat posed by climate change than to the threat posed by North Korea." Yes, you read that correctly: President Obama classified ambiguous climate change as a greater threat than North Korea. (Read more.)
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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"The Holly and the Ivy"


The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
Refrain:
Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour
Refrain
The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
Refrain
The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
Refrain
The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
Refrain
It is an old English carol, the original of which was a song about the complexity of male and female relationships. David Beaulieu of About.com explains:
So where does the ivy come into play in the song, "The Holly and the Ivy?" Except for its appearance alongside holly in the opening stanza, it isn't even mentioned in the song. If this one, insignificant reference to ivy were struck from the lyrics, in what way would the song suffer? And if your answer is, "Not at all," then the next logical question to ask is: Why is the carol not titled simply, "The Holly," instead of, "The Holly and the Ivy?"
....The answer may lie in the fact that "The Holly and the Ivy" is based on older songs, such as "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy" ....
In "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy," ivy plays a role equally important to that of holly. The mention of ivy in the first stanza (and the last stanza, which merely repeats the first) in "The Holly and the Ivy" is therefore a hold-over, a remnant from an earlier era, a fragment pointing to music with a very different meaning. The influence of the earlier songs about the holly and the ivy was apparently so strong that the ivy was given a cameo appearance in this one, too -- despite the fact that only the holly has any major role to play in it.
What we see played out in "The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy" and similar songs (perhaps dating back to medieval times) is the rivalry between men and women, thinly disguised as a contest between the holly and ivy. Holly was conceived of as being masculine in the plant symbology of the time, probably because it is more rigid and prickly; while the softer ivy is associated with the feminine in this tradition.
According to an article at Dave's Garden:
Using ivy as decoration also dates back to the time of the Romans, who associated it with Bacchus (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Dionysus, god of wine and intoxication). Ivy was a symbol of fidelity and marriage, and was often wound into a crown, wreath or garland.[3] It also served as a symbol of prosperity and charity, and thus it was adopted by the early Christians, for whom it was a reminder to help the less fortunate. In early England, it was considered bad luck to use ivy alone in decorating for Christmas, and would give the woman of the house the upper hand.
The same site explains the symbolism of holly:
The practice of ornamenting the home with holly began with the Romans, who regarded it as an omen of good fortune and a symbol of immortality. They sent congratulatory wreaths of holly to newlyweds, and also used it as a gift during the festival of Saturnalia (a celebration which itself is based partly on Greek and Egyptian solstice observances). As early Christians adopted the practice of decorating with the plant, holly took on religious associations--namely, that the spiky leaves represented Christ’s crown of thorns, and the red berries his blood....
The Christmas carol “The Holly and The Ivy is an example of how ancient beliefs were absorbed by the Christian church. The song we sing today was recorded by a folk song collector named Cecil Sharp, who heard it sung in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire, in 1909:[5]

The holly and the ivy,
When both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.
Subsequent verses transform the carol into a Christian song. Dr. Ian Bradley, of the St. Andrews University School of Divinity in Scotland, writes that the although the lyrics focus on the holly as a symbol of Christ, ivy is also mentioned because of the carol’s basis on an older medieval song in which the plants personify men and women. In the earlier song, holly and ivy were equals, with holly representing goodness and masculinity; ivy standing for evil (or at least weakness) and femininity.[6]
To the medieval mind, the male was considered the dominant sex, and a support for the weaker and more delicate female, thus the rigid holly shrub and the twining ivy vine must have seemed like natural embodiments of those traits. The original meaning of “The Holly and the Ivy” is a reminder that there has always been a subtle and humorous (sometimes not so subtle and humorous) competition between men and women for dominance. These two tough plants may represent the struggle between the sexes, but they can also be seen as a celebration of male and female cooperation and interdependence. (Read more.)

(Artwork from Karen) Share

Confounding His Enemies

From Asia Times:
On the contrary, Trump evinces a shrewdness about American voters better than that of any politician of his generation. Even more importantly, he has the nerve to take risks in order to draw his opponents into battles that he thinks he can win. I can think of no politician with his combination of courage and cunning since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to whom I compared the then president-elect in a December 2016 essay for Standpoint.

In the past week alone:

 – The White House shepherded its tax cut bill through the Senate and probably will have reconciled legislation from the House and Senate on the President’s desk before year-end;

– The mainstream media’s efforts to tar Trump with the charge of collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 elections flamed out in some of the most embarrassing blunders in television history;

– Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Trump collusion ran into land mines as evidence of political conflicts of interest surfaced; and

– Most impressively of all, Trump appears to have inflicted punishing losses on the National Football League, which suffered a sharp drop in viewers after the president attacked team owners for allowing players to refuse to stand for the national anthem. It’s one thing to take on the Senate Republicans or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, quite another to persuade Americans to turn off football. The kneeling protests of black football stars who refused to honor the national anthem may seem trivial beside the great questions of economics and national security. Trump’s adroit handling of the issue, though, shows both his political virtuosity and the fatal weakness of the Democrats, who have turned their party into the defender of racial, sexual and ethnic victimhood. (Read more.)
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The Sexual Harassment Crisis: Is It a Theological Problem?

From TFP:
The rash of sexual harassment scandals is sweeping the nation to the point that it seems almost no male is exempt from its terrible fury. Anyone can be denounced by the media. Liberals point to “toxic masculinity” and social structures that must be overthrown. Feminists blame the remnants of patriarchy that manage to survive in today’s politically correct world. And powerful men who have abused their positions of authority are now having to give a reckoning. Everyone has a theory that points to social, cultural or psychological causes. However, the only compelling explanation for what has gone wrong is a theological one. Nothing else can explain it. Indeed, the inconclusive media babble around the issue only confirms an unwillingness to face reality. (Read more.)
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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Jihad in America

From The Gatestone Institute:
A new investigative report reveals that hundreds of Saudi and Kuwaiti nationals residing in the United States -- some with dual citizenship, and most students subsisting on government scholarships -- have joined ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq during the past three years. Titled "From American Campuses to ISIS Camps: How Hundreds of Saudis Joined ISIS in the U.S.," the report -- released June 1 by the Washington-D.C.-based think tank, The Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA) -- provides details of the flow of students leaving American institutions of higher learning to fight in the Middle East.

According to a 2016 working paper produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Saudi Arabia is the second-largest source of ISIS fighters from Muslim-majority countries, with an estimated 2,500. If the IGA report is accurate, a whopping 16% of these fighters were in the U.S. when they joined ISIS. An equally disturbing finding of the report is that the Saudi government, which has been monitoring its nationals in the U.S., is fully aware that many of their own citizens are joining ISIS and not only has done little to stop them, but has kept information about the subject from American authorities. (Read more.)
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Defense Department's Secret Program Investigating UFOs Revealed

I thought this was a joke at first. From the Daily Wire:
For those who think the U.S. government has no interest in reports of flying saucers and UFOs, think again; a secret Defense Department program created in 2007 and supposedly closed in 2012 investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, even reporting footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moved.

As The New York Times reports, $22 million was spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which was supervised by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, from the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring.

Although the program was officially ended in 2012, the Times reports that backers of the program insist that officials are still investigating incidents reported to them by service members. The program was pushed by then-Senate Majority leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). The Times states that the bulk of the money was paid to Robert Bigelow, a longtime friend of Reid’s who runs an aerospace research company; his company is joined with NASA in an effort to create expandable craft for humans to use in space. Bigelow appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last May, insisting aliens exist and that UFOs have visited Earth. (Read more.)
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Monday, December 25, 2017

The Coventry Carol

Christmas is tinged with sorrow. From A Clerk at Oxford:
Lullay, lullay, thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, lullay, thou little tiny child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

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

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and may,
For thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.
The Coventry Carol is among the medieval carols most often heard today, and I find the popularity of this profoundly sad song at Christmastime intriguing. As John of Grimestone's lullaby suggests, there are actually a considerable number of medieval lullabies which share the mood of the Coventry Carol: somewhere between lullaby and lament, full of melancholy and pity for the child being comforted, whether it's Herod's victims, the Christ-child, or any human baby born into a weeping world. (Here's another beautiful example.) I wonder if the popularity of the Coventry Carol today indicates that it expresses something people don't find in the usual run of joyful Christmas carols - this song of grief, of innocence cruelly destroyed. Holy Innocents is not an easy feast for a modern audience to understand, and I'll confess I find the medieval manuscript images of children impaled on spears just horrible - but then, they are meant to be, and they're horrible because they're all too close to the reality of the world we live in. The idea that this is incongruous with the Christmas season (as you often hear people say) is largely a modern scruple, I think. It's our modern idea that Christmas is primarily a cheery festival for happy children and families - our images of Christmas joy, both secular and sacred, are all childlike wonder and picture-perfect families gathered round the tree. This is very nice, of course, for those who have (or are) children, or happy families, but for those who don't - those who have lost children or parents, who face loneliness or exclusion, who want but don't have children, family, or home - it can be deeply painful. (Read more.)
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve

Today you will know the Lord is coming, and in the morning you will see His glory. (Invitatory Antiphon for December 24.)

The Christmas Martyrology.
In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;

the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh.
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The Origin of the Christmas Tree

From Catholic Straight Answers:
With his band of faithful followers, St. Boniface was traveling through the woods along an old Roman road one Christmas Eve.  Snow covered the ground, muffling their footsteps.  Their breath could be seen in the crisp, cold air.  Although several suggested that they camp for the night, St. Boniface encouraged them to push forward, saying, “Courage, brothers, and forward yet a little.  God’s moon will light us presently, and the path is plain.  Well know I that you are weary; and my own heart wearies also for the home in England, where those I love so dearly are keeping feast this Christmas Eve.  Oh, that I might escape from this wild, storm-tossed sea of Germany into the peaceful haven of my fatherland!  But we have work to do before we feast tonight.  For this is the Yule-tide, and the heathen people of the forest have gathered at the Oak of Geismar to worship their god, Thor; and strange things will be seen there, and deeds which make the soul black.  But we are sent to lighten their darkness; and we will teach our kinsmen to keep a Christmas with us such as the woodland has never known.  Forward, then, in God’s name!”

They pushed ahead, reinvigorated by St. Boniface’s plea.  After a while, the road opened to a clearing.  They could see houses, but dark and seemingly vacant.  No human was in sight.  Only the noise of hounds and horses broke the quiet.  Continuing on, they came to a glade in the forest, and there appeared the sacred Thunder Oak of Geismar.  “Here,” St. Boniface proclaimed as he held is bishop’s crozier high with its cross on top, “here is the Thunder-oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”

In front of the tree was a huge bonfire.  Sparks danced in the air.  The townspeople surrounded the fire facing the sacred oak.  St. Boniface interrupted their meeting, “Hail, sons of the forest!  A stranger claims the warmth of your fire in the winter night.”  As St. Boniface and his companions approached the fire, the eyes of the townspeople were on these strangers.  St. Boniface continued, “Your kinsman am I, of the German brotherhood and from Wessex, beyond the sea, have I come to bring you a greeting from that land, and a message from the All-Father, whose servant I am.” (Read more.)
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Jedis and Advent

From Aleteia:
You don’t have to be a Star Wars canonist to know that the underlying thread of the films – like the underlying thread of all great archetypal stories – is the struggle against evil. It is no spoiler to note that this struggle continues in The Last Jedi. And though I am fairly certain director/writer Rian Johnson did not intend Star Wars VIII as a parable of salvation – I say only “fairly certain,” because his 2012 film Looper was also about redemption, so the intent may be there beneath the surface – it can hardly be read any other way by those of us engaged in that daily struggle in what always seem to be the darkest of times. Here, then, are some things about our Advent journey – in this season, and every day – with which The Last Jedi resonates. May these reflections enrich your viewing and your prayer.

Waiting is hard.

And waiting for salvation is the hardest of all. Some of us give up. Some of us keep slogging, even in pain and terror. Some of us want to push it, thinking we can rush the happy ending with our bold plans – only to find that there is a greater Will at work. Sometimes, waiting can seem like failure.
How seriously am I awaiting the Lord’s Coming? What am I doing to align myself with God’s plan and purpose, not merely my own wishes?

Discipline is necessary.

No matter what our spiritual powers or our zeal, resistance to evil doesn’t come naturally. That’s why Advent, like Lent – really, like every day of this pilgrimage, our lives – is a training period. “Joy, prayer, gratitude”: those are the things we need to learn and practice, over and over, according to Pope Francis and the Gospel. At this most self-indulgent time of year, we need discipline more than ever.

How fit am I to resist evil and stand up for the reign of Christ? What more can I do to train? Who are the masters and mentors to whom I should be turning? (Read more.)
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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Marie-Antoinette's Sleigh Rides

One of Marie-Antoinette's favorite youthful pastimes was sleigh-riding, which she made popular after she became Queen. What was a perfectly innocent amusement was twisted into something sordid by those who liked to see dirt. It was during the winter of 1775-1776 that the Queen befriended the unfortunate Princesse de Lamballe. According to Madame Campan's Memoirs:
The winter following the confinement of the Comtesse d’Artois [1775-76] was very severe; the recollections of the pleasure which sleighing-parties had given the Queen in her childhood made her wish to introduce similar ones in France.
This amusement had already been known in that Court, as was proven by sleighs found in the stables, which had been used by the Dauphin, the father of Louis XVI. Some were made for the Queen in a more modern style. The Princes also ordered several; and in a few days there was a fair number of these vehicles around. They were driven by the princes and noblemen of the Court. The noise of the bells and pompoms with which the horses’ harnesses were decorated, the elegance and whiteness of their plumes, the varied shapes of the carriages, the gold with which they were all trimmed, made these parties a delight for the eye. The winter was very favorable to them, the snow remaining on the ground nearly six weeks; the drives in the park afforded a pleasure shared by the spectators.
No one imagined that any blame could attach to so innocent an amusement. But the party was tempted to extend its drives as far as the Champs-Elysées; a few sleighs even crossed the boulevards; the ladies being masked, the Queen’s enemies took the opportunity of saying that she had traveled through the streets of Paris in a sleigh.
This became a momentous issue. The public discovered in it a predilection for the habits of Vienna; but all that Marie Antoinette did was criticized. Sleigh-driving, smacking of the Northern Courts, found no favor among the Parisians. The Queen was informed of this; and although all the sleighs were kept, and several subsequent winters lent themselves to the amusement, she would not resume it.
It was at the time of the sleighing-parties that the Queen became intimately acquainted with the Princesse de Lamballe, who made her appearance in them wrapped in fur, with all the brilliancy and freshness of the age of twenty, the image of spring, peeping from under sable and ermine.
To quote from a wonderful post by Catherine Delors:
The Queen introduced sleighing parties, which were organised like this: the Queen invited the women she wanted to be there. When she invited the princesses, she sent a page to convey her personal invitation to those of the princesses’ ladies-in-waiting it pleased her to choose; usually she only asked one at a time. Everyone met at the Queen’s at midday for luncheon; all the men dined together in another room. The Queen never ate in the company of men when the King was not present. The Queen had all the ladies seated at her table. We had quite a long lunch-dinner; then, we went into a salon where we rejoined all the men. Then, as one had to be escorted by lords, as people said in those days, the Queen and the princesses named those who would escort them, and all the ladies relied on chance and drew lots; a very prudent custom which avoided the inconveniences of favouritism and malicious gossip. We went from Versailles to country houses, to La Muette, to Meudon, etc. There, we descended from the sleighs, went into a salon, got warm, chatted for three-quarters of an hour or an hour; after that, we got back into the sledges and returned to Versailles.
(Artwork: "Winter" by François Boucher, 1755)

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On Mueller’s Investigation

From Andrew McCarthy at The National Review:
As the word transition implies, an incoming president’s transition team is not yet in the government the president-elect will soon be running. It is thus in an ambiguous state: a private entity that is being briefed on government operations as it conducts preparations for governing; an entity through which private persons (i.e., non-government officials) are communicating with public officeholders and other private citizens in order to recruit potential administration officials, discuss policy, and understand the responsibilities the new administration will be taking on. There are obvious legal matters to be discussed, and hence the involvement of lawyers and discussions that are potentially privileged. There are strategic deliberations that go into public announcements and the formulation of policy. It’s complicated. That is why, if a prosecutor and investigators want to review presidential transition files, they should make the request directly to counsel for the presidential transition. That is the way to sort out any knotty legal issues, with court intervention if necessary, so that they do not become public controversies. But that is not the Mueller way, as we saw with the utterly unnecessary pre-dawn raid on the home of Paul Manafort — busting in with a search warrant and guns drawn, at the very time Manafort was cooperating with congressional committees, and when he was represented by well-respected lawyers through whom Mueller could have requested production of whatever materials he was seeking. (Read more.)
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A History of Santa Claus

From Medievalists:
As the cult of St. Nicholas grew throughout the Early Middle Ages, his tomb in Myra became a popular pilgrimage site. In 1087 Italians from the town of Bari raided the church where his relics were being kept and forced the Byzantine monks to hand over half of his bones. A few years later Venetian crusaders took the remaining relics. Meanwhile, the Byzantine monks would later say they gave the westerners fake relics, and that they still possess the real remains. (Read more.)
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Friday, December 22, 2017

Reasons We Know Jesus Was Born in December

From Aleteia:
The Awassi sheep is a desert sheep, a fat-tailed breed that has existed in the Middle East for an estimated 5,000 years. It is the only indigenous breed of sheep in Israel. They are raised for wool, meat, and milk. Awassi sheep breed in the summer and drop lambs in the winter, when there is sufficient pasture for the ewes in milk. In Israel, the principal lambing season is December through January. This is practical, I thought. This is fact. This is biology.

Sheep estrus, it turns out, varies according to breed. In northern breeds, estrus is triggered by the shortening of daylight after the autumn equinox. Breeding occurs naturally in October to November, and lambs are dropped in March and April. But, as you move geographically closer to the equator, the days don’t shorten as dramatically. Instead, sheep from subtropical and tropical areas tend to breed earlier, and drop lambs in the winter, or even breed and drop lambs year round.

This one little tidbit of information, for me, crystallized all the others. Of course Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born at the same time and in the same place as all of the Passover lambs. Of course this time was such that the day of His entry to and exit from the world are the same. Of course the nativity of John the Baptist is when it is because Jesus’s birth really is when it is. 

Biology places great value on symmetry, and here was a symmetry to delight my intellect, a symmetry of history and theology and biology. Earlier, I had honestly mourned the loss of my childish wondering; now I find that this understanding has produced a greater and deeper wonder at the providence of God. (Read more.)
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Obama and Hezbollah

From Politico:
The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

Over the next eight years, agents working out of a top-secret DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, undercover operations and informants to map Hezbollah’s illicit networks, with the help of 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies.

They followed cocaine shipments, some from Latin America to West Africa and on to Europe and the Middle East, and others through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States. They tracked the river of dirty cash as it was laundered by, among other tactics, buying American used cars and shipping them to Africa. And with the help of some key cooperating witnesses, the agents traced the conspiracy, they believed, to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran. (Read more.)
From Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire:
We’re all supposed to believe that President Trump, as a candidate, colluded with the Russian government to “steal” the 2016 election. There’s no serious evidence to that effect, despite a massive FBI investigation, a Congressional investigation, and a special counsel investigation initiated by the Department of Justice.

But there is clear evidence that the Obama administration colluded with the Russian government to free an Islamic terrorist responsible for the deaths of Americans — all in order to appease Iran to pave the way for the Obama administration’s surrender to the burgeoning Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s escalating regional ambitions. (Read more.)
From David Harsanyi at The Federalist:
We don’t know how Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump administration will play out, but if it’s half as bad the Obama administration’s coddling of terror-supporting Iran, it should be a massive national scandal.

Empowering terrorist groups. Paying ransom that emboldened our enemies to kidnap Americans. Creating an echo chamber that undermined a free press. Releasing spies, terrorists, and criminals who assisted not only our enemy and her terrorist proxies, but Russia as well. In the Iran deal, we have clear-cut case of the United States handing over extensive concessions to a nation that openly aimed to destabilize our interests, attack our allies, and kill our people — for nothing in return. It’s worse than anything we know about “Russian collusion.” (Read more.)
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Why Do Feminists Despise Strong Conservative Women?

Many of us admire the steely composure of Sarah Sanders, and yet most feminists scorn her. Why? Because so-called "feminism" is not really about promoting the well-being of women but only the goals of the sexual revolution, goals which ultimately hurt women and their families. From Townhall:
Sarah Sanders is an excellent example of female empowerment. But, where’s Beyonce? No concert for Sarah Sanders? Isn’t Sanders “slaying it” right now? I guess not because the fake third-wave chupacabras HATE her. HATE her. Yep. Some examples? Here are some recent headlines:

“After Promoting Feminism, Chelsea Handler Retweets Video Mocking Sarah Huckabee Sanders” (Townhall)

“Liberal feminists destroy their own cause by diminishing Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ success” (The Blaze)

“How Sarah Sanders and the Women of Trumpland Hurt Women” (Mediaite)

I mean, these are only a few. They come out daily. I suppose you could scour Twitter to scrape the bottom of the feminist barrel (and it’s a deep, nasty, gross one) but those hate-filled, sexist, woman-hating tweets have no place here on Townhall.com. I don't even think feminists themselves would dispute that they hate Sanders. But she’s a woman who’s in a powerful political position, so - why?

Here’s why: Because third wave feminists (a.k.a. the most anti-woman group on earth) only want progressive women to smash through glass ceilings. Full-stop. Their ideology has nothing to do with “women’s rights” (which - that battle was won in the 70’s, I think) and everything to do with attempting to advance a “left of Bernie Sanders progressive agenda.” (Read more.)
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Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Real Story of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon’s Doomed Romance

From Vanity Fair:
As depicted in both seasons of The Crown, Margaret was an active fixture in London’s high-class social scene, which makes it easy to believe she asked her lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Cavendish, to introduce her to anyone but a man who “breeds horses, owns land, or knows my mother.“ Antony Armstrong-Jones fit the description, but by the time he and Margaret began spending time together in the spring of 1958, he was already acquainted with the royal family. In 1957, he had taken portraits of the Queen and her family on the grounds of Buckingham Palace—something he would continue to do for decades, even after his and Margaret’s divorce. So while the dinner-party meet-cute depicted on The Crown is fairly close to reality, his relationship with the royal family had already begun. (Read more.)
More on Season 2 of The Crown, HERE. [Spoiler Alert] Share

A War Trump Won

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles. Trump is praised by Ross Douthat at the New York Times:
...This is also a press failure, a case where the media is not adequately reporting an important success because it does not fit into the narrative of Trumpian disaster in which our journalistic entities are all invested.

 I include myself in this indictment. Foreign policy is the place where the risks of electing Trump seemed to me particularly unacceptable, and I’ve tended to focus on narratives that fit that fear, from the risk of regional war in Middle East to the perils in our North Korean brinksmanship.

 Those fears are still reasonable. But all punditry is provisional, and for now, the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East has been moderately successful, and indeed close to what I would have hoped for from a normal Republican president following a realist-internationalist course.

In particular, Trump has avoided the temptation often afflicting Republican uber-hawks, in which we’re supposed to fight all bad actors on 16 fronts at once. Instead he’s slow-walked his hawkish instincts on Iran, tolerated Assad and avoided dialing up tensions with Russia. The last issue is of course entangled with the great collusion debate — but it’s still a good thing that our mini-cold war has remained relatively cool and we aren’t strafing each other over Syria.

The Saudi war in Yemen remains a humanitarian catastrophe and our relationship with the House of Saud remains corrupt. But the war in Yemen was already an American-abetted disaster under Obama, and the Trump White House has at least called for Riyadh to lift its Yemen embargo and seen the new king promise some mild social and economic reforms.

And the Trump strategy on Israel and the Palestinians, the butt of many Jared Kushner jokes, seems … not crazy? The relatively mild reaction to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may be a case study in expert consensus falling behind the facts; the Arab world has different concerns than it did in 1995, and Trump’s move has helped clarify that change.

Likewise, getting the Saudis to lean hard on the Palestinians, to float radical ideas for a supersized Gaza and a very Israel-friendly solution elsewhere, is as plausible an attempt to break the logjam as was the pressure Obama put on Israel. The truth is that the specific two-state vision of the late 1990s was overtaken by events a while ago, and demonstrating that some Arab states are more amenable to accommodating Israel is a useful step toward diplomatic clarity. (Read more.)
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The Heretical Pope Fallacy

From Emmett O'Regan at La Stampa:
One of the most prevalent themes currently being circulated in some extreme quarters of Catholicism revolves around the manner in which a heretical pope could be removed from the papacy. This discussion has mostly stemmed from the belief that either Pope Francis has already committed heresy at various points throughout the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or that he has been openly promoting an heretical interpretation of this document, and thus needs to be formally “corrected”. One area which has been greatly neglected in this debate is whether or not a pope actually can fall into formal heresy or teach false doctrines by way of the authentic papal Magisterium. As we shall see, according to the Fathers of the First Vatican Council, the idea of an heretical pope was definitively ruled out through the formal dogmatization of St. Robert Bellarmine’s ideas on the indefectibility of the Church. (Read more.)
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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Traffickers Sued

From Life Site:
Two California bioscience companies that illegally trafficked aborted baby body parts for profit have been wallopped with a $7.8-million settlement and told to close shop forever in the Golden State.  DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences were exposed in the summer of 2015 as illegal for-profit fetal parts traffickers in undercover videos taken by the Center for Medical Progress at abortion trade conventions. In September of that year, Orange County’s district attorney’s office began an investigation of its own. It filed suit just over a year later in Orange County Superior Court.

“This settlement seized all profits from DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences, which they acquired by viewing body parts as a commodity and illegally selling fetal tissues for valuable consideration,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement. “These companies will never be able to operate again in Orange County or the state of California,” he added.

Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, called the verdict a "major victory for...the entire pro-life movement, and it’s one that we should celebrate.”

“These companies were caught on camera by the Center for Medical Progress — an organization which I helped to co-found — and now they’re being held accountable for breaking state law,” he said in a statement. “This is an outcome I have been praying for, and the Lord heard our prayers,” he added. 

Prosecutors accused both companies of illegal and fraudulent business practices. Terms of the $7.785-million settlement signed Monday include both research companies closing within 60-120 days. Both must also admit criminal liability for violating state and federal laws. The legal complaint charged DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences with selling brain tissue from aborted babies around the world for up to $1,100 per vial.

D.A. Rackauckas explained, “This lawsuit is aimed at taking the profit out of selling body parts.” Prosecutors accused the companies of jacking up prices above what actual costs were. The companies hired sales and marketing experts to push “product.”  Staff was paid on commission, even for doubling the charges for packing, handling, and shipping. (Read more.)
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5 Ways to Improve Your Life

From the Trianon Health and Beauty Blog:
Taking care of oneself is not vanity or selfishness, because we need to be at our best in order to fulfill the duties of our state in life. Rest is important, including quiet time for meditation, and daily exercise is vital, especially as one gets older. (Read more.)
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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France in 1797

Although she was not married until June of 1799, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette is called the Duchesse d'Angoulême in the above 1797 print, which meant the betrothal had been formalized, at least as far as her uncle Louis XVII was concerned. It is interesting, because she would have still been in Vienna at the time.

 Today is her birthday. Mine is one of the few novels about the Princess.
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Victims for Sale

The problem with so many women coming forward with flimsy claims is that it makes it more difficult for women who have really been attacked. From The Hill:
A well-known women’s rights lawyer sought to arrange compensation from donors and tabloid media outlets for women who made or considered making sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump during the final months of the 2016 presidential race, according to documents and interviews.

California lawyer Lisa Bloom’s efforts included offering to sell alleged victims’ stories to TV outlets in return for a commission for herself, arranging a donor to pay off one Trump accuser’s mortgage and attempting to secure a six-figure payment for another woman who ultimately declined to come forward after being offered as much as $750,000, the clients told The Hill.

The women’s accounts were chronicled in contemporaneous contractual documents, emails and text messages reviewed by The Hill, including an exchange of texts between one woman and Bloom that suggested political action committees supporting Hillary Clinton were contacted during the effort. (Read more.)
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Feeling Stuck?

I am not quite sure exactly what it means to "feel stuck" but apparently it is a problem for many people. I know prayer always helps, and exercise. From Psych Central:
Below are five things you can do now to help you get moving and feel “un-stuck:”
  1. Curb self-talk that begins with “I have to…” and “I should…”. This kind of self-talk makes us feel automatic, oppressed and stagnate.
  2. Make self-care a priority. Take charge of your physical and emotional needs. When we make sure our needs are met, we are telegraphing a message to our selves and those around us, that we matter and we’re important. This type of attitude is crucial for implementing change when feeling stuck and replaces feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness with the feelings of hope and optimism.
  3. Every day, do at least one thing you enjoy. Whatever that is — whether it is reading, working out, or just sitting and relaxing — make it a priority as much as your other responsibilities, like working, paying the bills, and taking care of family. Doing the things we love brings new and positive energy into our lives.
  4. Take a break from social media. Several studies indicate that social media can make it hard for us to let go of our past, has a negative impact on our self-esteem, induces envy, and inhibits us from having substantial relationships. All of the above can contribute to feeling stuck. Limiting or taking a complete break from social media gives us time back to focus on pursuing personal goals and helps us to live in the moment.
  5. Be OK with feeling stuck. This may sound counter intuitive, but it’s not. Sometimes the more we resist an emotion or thought, the stronger it becomes. Feeling stuck from time to time is normal. Instead of thinking it is wrong or bad to feel stuck, allow yourself to be present in this emotion so your mental energy can go towards figuring out what changes need to be made to move forward, rather than focusing your energy on self-criticism about feeling stuck in the first place.
  6. Do something outside of your comfort zone. Living life only within our comfort zone inhibits us from growing in countless ways. Figure out what you’d like to try but have been hesitant to act on because of fear or self-doubt. Make a conscious effort to become aware of what gives you a deep sense of joy and excitement.
(Read more.)
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Monday, December 18, 2017

Afternoon Tea in London

Tea at the Dorchester
 From The Telegraph India:
If your visit to England is short and restricted to the capital, fear not. London’s famous museums and art galleries house some of the best little tearooms in town (the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square is one of them), as do all the large department stores (Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols, or Harvey Nicks to the locals, Knightsbridge has the loveliest modern food arenas). The finest places to take afternoon tea in London are undoubtedly in the city’s best hotels.

We in India drink more tea than anyone else in the world. But for us, it doesn’t smack of the same ritualistic heights practised by the Brits. Seen from a Louis XVI chair at The Ritz in Piccadilly, while the waiters in black tie and tails unravel “the last delicious morsel of Edwardian London”, you feel, briefly, as if time has stood still.

The Savoy, with its Edwardian art deco, used to be the home of the dansant (tea dances). Much more gracious in its airy simplicity is the Orangery in Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens. This used to be Queen Anne’s summer dining hall and is converted into a restaurant, serving tea in the afternoon. English parks and gardens are a secret hideaway for tea — the simple, old-fashioned cuppa and a jam tart is still a staple in most park tuck shops and if it’s spring, you can sit outdoors surrounded by pink blossoms, bluebells and tulips. Petersham Nurseries in the plush London suburb of Richmond serves an enchanting afternoon tea in the middle of green fields and farm animals.

Whenever you find tea, eccentricity is not far away. The most unique tea experience possible must be in the two houses of the Parliament. Afternoon tea is served in several of the restaurants but the most spectacular place is on the terrace of the House of Commons, overlooking the Thames.

So what exactly is afternoon tea? Much credit has been given to Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, who in the 19th century decided to meet the need, commonly suffered by people of high breeding and low on purpose, for an injection of “fuel” during the afternoon. What most books don’t mention is that it was actually Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, who actually introduced tea and all the paraphernalia to England in the 17th century.

It became all the rage at court but it was Josiah Wedgwood (an English potter and entrepreneur) who popularised the habit by making the bone china tea service affordable and Thomas Twining who opened London’s first tea shop that had women patrons. This started an epidemic of tea drinking, which culminated in the popularity of the dansants and three-decker cake stands in the early decades of the 20th century.

Tea today is still a different kettle of fish by several hundred calories to just a cup of dull brown unremarkable-looking liquid. Afternoon tea is always served in bone china on a silver tray (with a lace doily on it) and is accompanied by a parade of thinly-cut, crustless finger sandwiches, filled with razor-thin slices of cucumber, egg and cress, smoked salmon, ham or chicken. Only white or brown bread can be used — no multigrain or anything that looks vaguely healthy and certainly nothing with an Italian sounding name (read focaccia, ciabatta…).
The sweet part consists traditionally of English cakes (Victoria sponge, marble cake, Dundee fruit cake, jam tarts), muffins and crumpets; the last two served warm and ideal for absorbing large quantities of butter. Third, the scones, served warm and sliced open, a perfect vehicle for thick, slightly yellowish clotted cream from Devon, Somerset or Cornwall and whole fruit strawberry jam.

Today, many hotels in particular prefer to serve French-style patisserie instead of old-fashioned English cakes. So, don’t be surprised to find madeleines, mille-feuilles and macarons next to your Earl Grey. Cream tea consists of a pot of tea just with scones, cream and jam and no sandwiches or cakes.

High tea is not a dainty affair. It divides day from night and is served around 3pm-5pm, often making dinner unnecessary. Many smart hotels serve high and afternoon tea at the same time. Please remember that any tea — afternoon or high — is generally only served after lunch and until 6pm. Come after that and you’ll have to order drinks and dinner! (Read more.)
More on afternoon tea in London HERE and HERE.


Information on best Christmas Teas, HERE. Share