Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

 

Now you may think I don’t have a dog in this hunt. Jewish gift giving is a fairly recent phenomenon. Then again, there are plenty of Jews who have put up Chanukah trees, too, and talk about Santa Claus coming to town. But I digress.

In my childhood family, gift-giving at Chanukah was very modest. The two years I remember most—one, I received a beautiful knit blouse with large pearl-like buttons. I wore it for years until it fell apart (or maybe I grew out of it). The other nights of Chanukah I received candy, a hairbrush, and other inexpensive treats. Another year my parents bought my brother and me a gift to share: a second-hand bicycle with training wheels. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. It never occurred to my parents to go into debt for gifts.

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Collusion Is Possible

 

It has become an article of faith in some quarters on the right – well, most — that the Mueller investigation has found no evidence of collusion with Russia and has accordingly shifted gears to process crimes like lying to the FBI or obstruction of justice. Having decided that this must be true, many have called for Mueller to wrap it up.

But this requires a lot of wishful thinking.

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Before the Holidays Get Away from You…

 

Every year at the beginning of January, we all complain to each other about how fast the holidays went by. Especially for those of us who are older, the universe seems to slam on the gas pedal and we hold on for dear life. Parties, gift shopping, baking cookies, decorating: doing all the requisite tasks that make up this time of year.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the mood, the sense of rushing and getting things done; the mood is contagious, and by keeping busy, I feel in some ways I’m participating. But I’ve decided to spend the rest of December in a different state of mind.

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I Got Your Shutdown Right Here!

 

I loved the Oval Office drama with Don, Chuck, and Nancy. I even enjoyed filling in imaginary speech bubbles above Mike’s head. While all the players in politics and media want to run this “government shutdown” hype train, it is mostly hype.

Congress arranges the discretionary budget, which is about one-third of annual federal spending, into twelve standard annual appropriations. Just to be clear on the current state of the 12 discretionary budget appropriations:

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Can She Be Stopped?

 

At this point, the continued Prime Ministership of Theresa May is a grave danger to the British National Interest. Her so-called ‘deal’ is far worse than a WTO clean Brexit or simply staying within the EU.

WTO clean Brexit is the simplest and best way out. All of the worst doomsday predictions fostered by her government have been shown to be gross exaggerations, if not outright lies while the backstop threatens the very constitutional composition of Great Britain. Meanwhile, the obvious benefits of clean Brexit WTO trading in making the most massive trade deals with a host of willing partners have been completely ignored. Finally, the EU itself is likely to be a dead weight. There has been little increase in EU trade for Britain, but Britain has already been rapidly expanding her trade on an ad-hoc WTO basis with the rest of the world. Anyone can see the writing on the wall as country after country elects populist anti-EU governments shaking off the dead hand of EU bureaucratic tyranny. The EU at this point is a mindless whale that the PM has hopelessly tied herself to. This did not work out well for Captain Ahab.

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A 484 Charles Dickens Story

 

Christmas is coming, so get your Christmas shoplifting done early. I know I’m somewhat cynical, and definitely acerbic; let’s chalk that up to my street education as a cop. Father Flanigan was wrong, there is such a thing as a bad boy, and there are some people that Will Rogers never met. Come to think of it some of my pysch, and sociology professors were rather clueless about human behavior.

Christmas time is when the Dickens story, A Christmas Carol, is read and presented on television. I never ran into the ghost of Christmas past on the streets. That’s a problem for a homicide detective or the cold case unit. I did, however, run into a character from Oliver Twist, Fagin.

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Quote of the Day: The More Things Change…

 

“Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?” Axel Oxenstierna, in a 1648 letter to his son Johan Oxenstierna, who was negotiating at the Peace of Westphalia

The wise statesman (and the Count of Södermöre certainly earned that title – he was respected across all Europe) rapidly realized that many of the leaders of the world are fools, even more so than oneself. This realization is alternately a relief and utterly horrifying.

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The Women’s March Story They Don’t Want You to See

 

This afternoon a number of journalists received a strange e-mail from a public relations firm about a story they tweeted about the anti-Semitic infestation of the Women’s March that Tablet Magazine published the day prior:

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The Media’s Becoming More Positive About AI, and It Probably Should

 

I would more readily label myself, if forced, as a technology optimist rather than pessimist. So I very much like this chart from the new AI Index report:

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Death Waits

 

I work at a funeral home. It can be sad, but I find it more rewarding than anything else. It’s a privilege to be able to serve your fellow men and women in their deepest time of need.

Usually, the funerals aren’t so bad. Someone’s 90-year-old mother finally succumbed to time’s suffocating grasp, perhaps. Sad, certainly. But not tragic. The families of those who pass when it feels right often have feelings tinged with relief, or even joy, that their loved one’s suffering has ended.

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Toys of Christmas Past

 

“No one ever forgets a toy that made him or her supremely happy as a child, even if that toy is replaced by one like it that is much nicer.” Stephen King

“‘Tis the season,” so they say, so now I offer up something light, silly, and hopefully a little fun. Because I am Mr. Fun! All my friends say so, right? Right? (Nobody here except us crickets, man.) Ahem. Well, be that as it may, I got caught up in a conversation the other day about the toys we had as kids. Sure, it’s not an uncommon conversation, but whenever they start, it quickly evokes the same feelings of competitive envy I had when I was nine, when everyone would go back to school and compare notes on who got what for Christmas.

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The Border Wall Is Now a Pay Wall

 

From the San Diego Tribune:

Two groups of Central American migrants made separate marches on the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana Tuesday, demanding that they be processed through the asylum system more quickly and in greater numbers, that deportations be halted and that President Trump either let them into the country or pay them $50,000 each to go home.

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FIRE report: 9 out of 10 Universities (Still) Restrict Free Speech

 

For more than a decade now, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has published its Spotlight on Speech Codes report, an annual survey of speech policies at hundreds of universities across the United States. Yesterday, we unveiled our latest report.

I’ll start with the good news. First, the percentage of universities receiving FIRE’s worst, “red-light” rating, has fallen to its lowest ever, at 28.5%. Compare this to our first report, when three quarters of all universities bore this distinction. Second, the number of schools receiving our “green-light” rating, meaning that their policies, as written, are fully consistent with the First Amendment’s requirements. This year, 42 such institutions can claim the honor.

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Islamic Terrorist Attack at Christmas Market in Strasbourg

 

Last night shortly after 8 PM there was a terrorist attack at the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France. After shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Cherif Checkatt opened fire with a pistol on the crowd. Firing indiscriminately, he shot and killed three immediately and wounded eleven more. French soldiers who were on the scene opened fire on him and wounded him, forcing him to flee. He then left the scene in a taxi. Reports are not clear whether he threatened the taxi driver with his weapon or not but Checkatt did get away from the area and is at large.

The attack did not come out of nowhere. Checkatt was in fact wanted and the police were planning to arrest him yesterday. They found his apartment empty of persons but discovered a cache of hand grenades and other weapons on the premises. He had a criminal record in France, Switzerland, and Germany and had been deported from Germany.

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Trump, Pelosi, Schumer Debate in Public

 

Ignoring the content for a moment of this video, I just want to say: I love this. I love that this exchange took place in front of the American people. Pelosi wanted to shut down the disagreement, to go behind closed doors, cut some sort of deal, decide how to couch it to the American people, and claim they got agreement on something. I love it.

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Veneration: The Practicing Jew

 

They live their lives by a sacred code; it isn’t secret, but few people actually know its inner sanctum. Life entails a commitment to consciousness, discipline and faith, and because of the lure of everyday secular life, many fall away, believing they are not up to the task or are unwilling to comply with the demands. Those who remain are deeply committed to living virtuous lives, to raising loving and principled children, and to following the Law.

They are practicing or Orthodox Jews who embrace Torah, love G-d and revere acts of kindness. I have witnessed these three qualities among my practicing Jewish friends, and I venerate them for the life choices they have made.

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The Desecration of a Cathedral in Vienna

 

Let me say at the outset that raising money to battle the scourge of AIDS is a good thing. Doing so by putting on a satanic celebration in a consecrated Catholic cathedral is horrific. Sadly, or shockingly, that’s what Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, in his wisdom, permitted in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna a few days ago. As Tradition In Action reports:

A man stands on top of the altar rail of St. Stephen’s Cathedral with an open camo-jacket showing his belly and holding a bottle of beer. He walks like a drunk, he sings like a lunatic, he acts like one possessed. On the same rail are skulls, candles and jars, giving the impression of a satanic orgy. During his performance other macabre and delirious-looking actors and actresses enter the scene. Then, devils appear onstage and flaunt their seductive cajoleries.

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The White Sea-Baltic Canal

 

To add to the prior posts on Solzhenitsyn, this passage from The Gulag Archipelago remains the most vivid in my memory 40-plus years after reading.

The Gulag Archipelago is not dry history, instead brimming with passion, anger, contempt, caustic wit and acerbic asides. The accretion of detail on person after person, on trial after trial, on lawless and arbitrary decrees, and on the squalid dehumanizing world of the camps is relentless and overwhelming, and the translation by Thomas P. Whitney captures it all.

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Have American Living Standards Been Stagnant for Decades? Almost Certainly Not.

 

American middle-class incomes have gone nowhere for decades. Unless they’ve gone up more than 50 percent, even accounting for inflation. Or maybe it’s somewhere in between as this table — from the Urban Institute’s Stephen Rose — summing up various studies indicates:

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Quote of the Day: Solzhenitsyn on Freedom

 

“You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

As others on Ricochet have noted, today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. As it is my turn to provide a quote of the day, I thought it appropriate to draw on his fund of wisdom for today’s quote.

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ACF Middlebrow #21: Brooklyn

 

Flagg Taylor and I bring you a movie fit for the festive season — a beautiful piece of selective nostalgia, a story devoid of anything sordid. A girl from Ireland is sent to America in the 1950s, to make something of herself, to find herself a future — to find her path to a decent happiness. You get to see her adventures in Brooklyn and it’s a perfectly Tocquevillian story of America’s many voluntary associations. It was a success and earned three important Oscar nominations, including protagonist Saoirse Ronan’s second actress nomination — she has earned a third meanwhile. I have an introductory essay over at The Federalist and, of course, the podcast for an in-depth, loving conversation about a wonderful movie.

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