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Greetings Ricochet Members — As you get ready for the holiday season, please consider giving the gift of a Ricochet Membership to a family member or friend.  Perhaps even some fence-sitting friends who may want to get a smart taste of conservative wisdom as well. You’ll not only support your favorite conservative community, but also […]

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What a 2,000-Year-Old Story Can Teach America

 

Every month I’ve been leading a group on Zoom to discuss some aspect of Judaism that we all may not know much about. Although some of my research describes familiar practices and beliefs, almost everyone learns something new. This month we discussed Chanukah, which begins very early on the secular calendar on November 28. We reviewed not only the familiar stories, but I realized that everyone, American Jews and non-Jews alike, have opportunities to reframe the way we see our lives during a season that is holy for many. These are the insights that emerged for me.

The Lighting of the Chanukah candles—

Most people probably know that Jews light eight candles, plus the shamash, which is the lead candle. The candles are lit to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah: when the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the Seleucids and restored and cleaned it, they found only one pure cruse of oil remaining. It was enough to burn for one day, but it burned for eight days, until additional oil arrived. To Jews, the miracle was a reminder that G-d was once again with us. The shamash, which is used to light the other candles, serves as the leader in this process. It “lights the way” to remind us of the miracle of the holiday.

What can we learn from this story? If you believe in G-d, it is a reminder that when life is difficult and challenging, we are never alone. If you don’t believe in G-d, there are miracles, great and small, every single day. We only need to pay attention and appreciate how they show up, often surprising and delighting us.

We also are reminded in these dark times that we can all take responsibility for lighting the way for others, particularly when they are struggling. We can take the role of the shamash, taking the initiative to offer hope and encouragement for those whose lives we touch.

History of the holiday

For years, the Greeks tried to force the Jews to accept their culture, language, and beliefs. Many Jews found the Greek culture attractive, abandoning their Jewish traditions and trying to force other Jews to join them. The Maccabees, five sons and their father, Mattathias who was a priest, fought against the odds to take back their faith and the Temple. And they were victorious.

What can we learn from this story? Many of us feel that the odds are against us to take back this country from the Progressive-Marxist agenda. The Progressives have worked for years to conquer our country, and they are persistent in trying to force us to accept them. We now realize that in effect, we are at war with them. It may be a long and protracted war. It may be demanding. But we simply can’t give up, until we have restored the Constitution and the rule of law.

Gift-giving

In modern history, Jews began the practice of gift-giving at Chanukah, probably imitating their Christian and secular brothers and sisters. Our giving began with giving Chanukah gelt, giving the children money that they would offer to charity. Today that giving is symbolized with the chocolate, foil-covered Chanukah gelt; many families also choose to give a gift each day of the holiday.

What can we learn from this story?

On a personal level, we can give people love, generosity, and caring. So many people are feeling lost, with everything that is going on politically and culturally. We can offer comfort to them when they are weary or sad.

But as citizens, we can work to give people even more. We can give them hope for the future of this country. We can work with others to ensure our freedom, our traditions, and our Constitution. We are, after all, a Judaic-Christian country.

But perhaps most of all, we can give people the courage, by our becoming role models, to take on the oppression and ugliness spreading throughout our country. We may feel like the underdogs at this moment: the country is governed by men and women who will do almost anything to achieve their goals. And maybe it’s time for us to realize that the Progressives will always despise us and try to undermine us, just because they hate our beliefs. But like the Maccabees, we must rally and refuse to give up.

The nation depends on us.

Latest News from Washington State Good for School Choice?

 

This interesting story is on the KOMO website this morning: “Enrollment drop could cost WA schools $500 Million in state funding.”

The Seattle Times reports that between October 2019 and October 2020, 39,000 fewer students enrolled in public school, about a 3.5% drop.

The numbers weren’t distributed evenly across grades — the most pronounced losses were among younger students; the number of kindergarten students plummeted by 14%.

How much of that drop is people leaving the state, and how much is people pulling their kids out of public schools to go to private or religious schools?  The article doesn’t say.

Those are pretty large decreases in public school attendance in one of the most reliably blue states in America.  One thing you can count on, though, is the state and local governments not reducing the property taxes allocated to schools.

Why Are Jews Businessmen?

 

Lots of things in life rely on instability to thrive.  Think of “Necessity is the mother of invention,” or even, “No pain, no gain.” But mankind (and womankind, especially) also have a deep and visceral fear of insecurity and risk.  Stability is planning for the long haul, while instability means being able to improvise and function “in the moment.” No person can live a good and full life at either extreme – those who live to avoid all risks are not living, and those who embrace all risks will not live for long.

But for some reason, Jews are more risk-tolerant than the average person. Why?

I think this is because the Jewish people are forever involved with sha’ar, gates. It is a blessing to Avraham:

I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall inherit the gates of their foes.

Gates? That is odd. After all, one might think that we are supposed to end up with land or possessions. But gates?

Gates are interesting places. Gates are a doorway into a new world (“This is the gate of heaven!”).  Lot welcomes the angels at the gates. Avraham buys the burial place at the gates – that is where deals get done. Hamor and Shechem go to the gates of the city convince the men to become circumcised. Mordechai (and the blessed husband in Proverbs) “sits among the elders at the gates.” When a widow shames her brother-in-law for not preserving his brother’s name, she spits on him and throws a shoe at him “at the gates.” The gates of a city is where all the action happens: interaction with outsiders, the marketplace for goods, services, and ideas (the forum is in or near gates). Judges sit at the gates, and so do businessmen and traders of all kinds.

But unlike private property, gates are not owned, at least not by individual people. They are places of action and interaction, not ownership. And the events at the gates are the least predictable. By contrast, a farmer has a limited range of expected action and reaction based on what nature throws at him. But anything can go down at a gate – a new rumor, a riot, an invasion. Gates are sources and breeding grounds for chaos. In part, this is because a gate is where people meet each other, and people, not nature, are always the X Factor in the world. Nature is cyclical, but people can actually change and grow.

Classical Jewish professions include dealing in law, finance, and commerce of all kinds. Indeed, outside of medicine, every stereotypical Jewish profession would be practiced at the gate of a city. There are historical reasons for this (for much of the last few thousand years, Jews were forbidden to own land in many countries).  But I think there are temperamental reasons as well. Jews seem more comfortable in those worlds than are many other people.

Why? What makes Jews more willing to be traders or financiers?

I think the answer is found in the text, when G-d tells Avraham why he is getting this blessing.

Because you have done this and have not withheld your son … your descendants shall inherit the gates of their foes.

What is the connection? Why does being willing to sacrifice your son mean that your descendants will inherit the gates of their enemies?

I think the answer comes down to risk tolerance. Here is why: Avraham takes a huge risk when he trusts in G-d. He has no idea how it will play out, but he is willing to take that risk anyway. The wordplay reinforces this: the word for “withheld” is the same root word as “darkness.” In other words, Avraham’s decision was made in the dark. He was aware of that he had no idea what the future held, but he was prepared to do what he thought was best, and pray that G-d would sort things out.

This is an essential ingredient for Jewish businessmen. It is a reason why solo entrepreneurs in commerce and finance and real estate continue to succeed, long after corporations would logically have forced them from the field: Jews are willing to take risks that rational companies, companies who always need more information before they take a risk, will delay or outright avoid. Yet it is through businesses like that that wealth is created: trade allows for expansion, and Adam Smith observed that trade, each person’s desire to maximize their own assets, grows wealth much better than does keeping your wealth locked away. The Hebrew word for “gates” also means “to multiply,” a reminder that wealth is multiplied through trade.

Entrepreneurial business is a leap of faith, and the road never leads where you think it is heading. It is not for the faint of heart – or those without faith.  Business risks are often unique and the waters are fouled with the mines of unknown, unforeseeable, and unintended consequences, just waiting to explode. Few people choose that kind of risk if a nice, safe options are at hand.  But Jews do.

It all connects. Avraham is blessed to inherit the gates of his enemies – that Jews will prosper in the gates of sometimes-hostile host nations and peoples – because Avraham was willing to take a risk with inadequate information and faith. In both cases, we do all that we can, and then we believe that G-d will help everything turn out all right, somehow. Because that is precisely what has happened for thousands of years, and continues to happen to this day.

[an @iwe, @susanquinn, @kidcoder and @eliyahumasinter collaboration]

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I didn’t intend for this to become a series of posts…but it appears it must. This little nugget passed by rather quietly earlier this week on Instapundit (less than 40 comments as of this posting): OFFICIAL LAWLESSNESS: On ObamaCare, Democrats Defy the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the link is to a Wall Street Journal article to which I […]

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After doing my daily newsfeed review and putting them on the mental pile of the accumulating political detritus, I had the following thought — I am so proud of my 36 year career in national defense — assuring that our country would be run by domestic communists instead of foreign communists.  

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“I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expenses, and my expense is equal to my wishes.” – Edward Gibbon This year — or maybe last — I became rich. Not Bill Gates rich or Jeff Bezos rich, but rich by my definition of rich: If you can maintain the lifestyle you […]

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I was watching a YouTube video the other day, “12 recently discovered WW II secrets” or something like that.  One of them was about a recovered German submarine that the crew deliberately scuttled even after the war was over. After recovering it, almost 70 years later, they found it had some special almost prototype torpedoes […]

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Burned Out on Reality or Who Cares How Kamala Harris Spends $500?

 

A restlessness is pervading my soul. I’m tired of the horrid news, the insolubility of the issues, the repetitiveness of the ideas and my own inability to do something productive, when hopelessness seems impossible to shake off.

And this morning, I heard all the outrage about Kamala’s disgusting behavior in France when she bought a bowl and a pot at the insane price of $500—how dare she? When our own televisions and refrigerators are stalled indefinitely in storage containers in the ports of our great country.

Actually, and quite honestly, the only thing I found appalling about the Kamala story was that the conservatives were making a big deal out of her decision. Seriously?

Who cares?

We are on the brink of watching serious inflation rise and a gas shortage, dealing with the reality of 82,000 people brought from Afghanistan who were barely, or not vetted, at all, falling into the abyss of Marxism and Socialism, watching the President continue to descend into dementia, anticipating the winter surge of Covid and a new variant—can we please get serious?

Conservatives and Republicans are not well-served by our seizing on every petty action or statement made by the Left. Yes, I know they do it to us. But we are not them. It’s not like we don’t already have enough issues threatening the stability and traditions of our country.

Could we please focus?

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So many people here might think this is irrelevant, as the 2020 election was concluded more than a year ago. But going forward, we cannot afford to ignore the basic teaching of Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Many people here hold out hopes that […]

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Who was the last Ohio college to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes? Ohio State has won an impressive 43 straight in-state games since that loss, but they have lost to Ohio opponents before. Do you know who beat them? In 1921, immediately after winning the Rose Bowl, Ohio State lost to Oberlin, by a score […]

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CovidLand

 

I’ve been leaving CovidLand every weekend now for about eight weeks. It started with my vacation in western New York, then continued as I started the “restoration” of the dining room (i.e., removing the old wallpaper and painting) in the family’s western Pennsylvania home. Mom has set the deadline as Thanksgiving, when we expect about a dozen or more family to come to dinner. A far cry from the 30 or more that was a regular feature of my childhood, but a vast improvement over last year’s six.

Funny thing about that. We never asked if we should limit it to six last year. It was before any vaccine, and the family is aging to the point it just seemed prudent not to expose a lot of the older members of the extended family to the risk. Another funny thing. This year mom was shooting for 20, and we didn’t ask anyone about that either. You see, we don’t live in CovidLand.

Somewhere outside the DC Metro area, maybe by Frederick, certainly by Hagerstown where I often stop, I’ve left CovidLand behind. The masks, aside from those working for some sort of corporate affiliate like Dunkin’ Donuts or Wendy’s, are gone. There may be a sign on the door, but nobody is wearing them anymore. And it doesn’t seem to freak anyone out. It’s a wonderful feeling and just serves to highlight how much I hate life in CovidLand.

Each morning I get up for work, spend 45 minutes driving into the office, where I dutifully put on my mask as I enter the building, and walk to my office where, once the door is closed, I may remove my mask. I sit at my computer taking online meetings, answering phone calls and e-mails for wight to nine hours whereupon I don my mask for the walk to the car and drive home where (after doffing my mask upon entering my residence) I stare at my unused telework space.

It’s a nice space. Fully OSHA-compliant with an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, the monitor set at the perfect eye level, and a chair the proper height to prevent both back and leg strain. And it all looks nice. The desktop is uncluttered with shelves on either side of the desk to hold my printer and desk lamp. The desk is a fine old piece I picked up in a Salvation Army store for a song when I was in grad school and I have dragged it with me in every move since. Everything is plugged into a commercial-grade UPS, fully surge protected, with a spare battery in the nearby closet. The monitor is an identical model to what I use at work, so when my workspace comes up everything is exactly where I expect it to be.

My home internet connection is considerably faster and more reliable than the one at work, as is my HVAC, and my noise environment. In short, I have created in my home the workspace the government professes to wish for all of us keyboard warriors. Comfortable, efficient, healthy, and accessible. But it is not in an important building in the city where important people can see me and be assured my job, whatever it is, is getting done, as they walk past.

I work for an un-named federal agency and early on there was a great push for vaccinations. A very great push. One that indicated to me there was some metric involved leading to the technically allowed “no thanks” to the vaccine being an unacceptable answer. My personal experience with this was that I declined not to keep an appointment, scheduled for me with no real notice, to get my first shot of an un-named vaccine. I had heard about some of the side effects, wasn’t quite sure if I should consider myself “high risk” and wanted to read up and possibly wait for the promising single dose J&J vaccine which apparently had fewer and less severe side effects. I’d been teleworking for several days a week since March 2020, and exclusively for a solid month after the inauguration, so I wasn’t much of a risk. But it was quickly made clear to me that my “no thank you” was not well received by upper management. Note that upper management in this case may involve military ranks not necessarily used to supervising civilians.

Upon my physical return to work for some computer issues, to say that my immediate supervisor was “very concerned” that I have all the necessary information on “the availability of and information necessary to schedule” a vaccine would understate the situation. It was clear that “no” was not considered the right answer, and absent a well-documented medical or religious reason for it, that unacceptable no would fall on my supervisor as a failure to provide the upper management with the numbers they required.

I was planning on getting a vaccine at some point, so I relented and made everyone’s life easier. Of course, the second shot knocked me on my ass for a week that couldn’t have been much better than the actual infection, and from what I’d been hearing was considerably worse than a lot of cases, and I still had to quarantine for two weeks after the second shot till I was considered “fully vaccinated.” But it was better than catching COVID, right?

Well, that wasn’t really the goal. The goal was to get everyone back in the office ASAP. Upper-upper management had toured our offices sometime in late December 2020 and expressed dissatisfaction at the emptiness, hence in their view, idleness of the facility. Our organization is however about as technocratic and tied to your laptop as they come and was actually seeing a jump in productivity due to people at home routinely working longer hours with fewer interruptions than when in the office. We’d also been supplied with a version of Microsoft Teams that our IT staff hadn’t had time to wreck with IA (Information Assurance) compliance yet, so even the meetings were running better and more efficiently than usual. In short, we were proving every day that we could, as planned, continue to operate efficiently in a “disaster” scenario with minimal on-site presence. This was clearly unacceptable to those walking through empty hallways, unable to see the worker bees busy at their desks.

So we all got the jab. Well, most of us. There were a few who apparently stuck to their guns or had sufficient proof that their refusal to comply was not a widespread threat to the numbers management wanted to hit. From what I heard, we were well into the 90% vaccinated range when they told everyone that COVID was no longer a reason for telework, as our workplace, through the tireless haranguing of management, had been made safe for all, vaccinated (can’t get it, can’t give it) and unvaccinated alike. So we all returned. The unvaccinated were still required to wear masks mind you, they were voluntary for everyone else, but recommended when working in close proximity. And there was a “don’t ask” policy on vaccination status so you couldn’t assume that a mask-wearing employee was unvaccinated.

It was a glorious few weeks, before the dreaded delta variant, and it turned out that you could both give and get COVID regardless of your vaccination status. Then the masks came back out for all federal employees in all workspaces, unless you had a private office with full floor-to-ceiling walls and a door, so as to effectively seal yourself off … And the outdoors mandate was lifted, but there would still be none of this working from home because of COVID balderdash. All employees would show up at the office and wear their masks while they took their online meetings and answered their phone and their e-mails in their office! With the door shut. Lest the virus leap from a vaccinated you at your desk to the vaccinated and masked co-worker walking past in the hallway.

The feds weren’t alone. All of DC and most of Virginia and Maryland went back to full mask requirements, this time regardless of vaccination status. Because someone could be lying about that after all.

But this isn’t a panic mind you. It’s science. It’s lousy sloppy inconsistent and often bad or just plain wrong science, but damn you, it’s SCIENCE!

Funny thing about science, it doesn’t make judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, woke or not, it just presents a series of facts, a snapshot of reality that we have to come to terms with, but rarely do.  Oddly the medieval mind seemed more adept at this.  It was well understood that the lower calling of natural philosophy was distinct from revealed philosophy (usually referred to as theology back in the day).  Natural philosophy or theology could confirm, through observations by the senses, what revelation and scripture (Revealed Philosophy) had taught us, that the creator had provided us proof of the intelligence, power, and goodness of God based on the order and beauty of the world.  It took centuries to pry them apart and make Natural Science a thing of its own, absent judgments of morality or value, much like the politics of man were eventually recognized as a lesser earthly manifestation of divine law that would forever fall short. Our secular world was born out of the bitter experience that, as revealed millennia before, man was not god, and infusing men with the power or authority of God would not, and could not bring about heaven on earth. But that is another topic for another day.

The problem, or one of the current ones we’re dealing with presently is that, absent God, whom we apparently killed a century or so ago, science and man have once again taken on his role. Science is seen as the arbiter of right and wrong.  We must “follow the science” on global warming or deforestation or masking and vaccinations lest we become fallen beings, turning our backs on the revelations of science and the salvation it can provide us in the hands of proper-thinking men.

Funny thing about science.  It’s a snapshot of reality, and we may or may not get every detail out of that snapshot.  Reality can change, at least our version of it, based on our present ability to read and rationalize that snapshot.  Or based on what the secular priesthood tells us.  So masking is useless, or mandatory and you are fully vaccinated (can’t get it, can’t give it) after two doses, until you aren’t, because fully vaccinated now means three or four doses, and you can still get it, but not nearly as bad, but you should still shun the unclean who refuse to vaccinate because they’re young and healthy, or because they already had the virus, or because they’ve been exposed to it for over a year due to their jobs, and haven’t come down with a case yet…

So I’m leaving CovidLand, this time for about a week, to celebrate with family that we have all come through the worst of it, and can gather without inordinate fear to share a meal and a prayer or two thanking our creator, who reveals his goodness through things that can’t always be measured by the science of men, but that we all know exist.

Behind the Scenes Fun of the Day: Complex Rivers of Cash

 

I often throw around the “completely corrupt” theme somewhat flippantly when talking about our beltway betters and the charade they perform for us while enriching themselves. Unfortunately, as definitive as that simple phrase may be, it really does understate just how much the operations of this Potemkin constitutional republic have been distorted and bastardized into one hell of a joke on us, We the People.

Before I dive in, it is worth noting up front (via my quick, morning internet search) that the current annual salary for both a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Congressman is $174,000. It is also worth noting that all of the quotes to come are from a 2013 book called Extortion – How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Your Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer so it may be somewhat dated. If there has been a major government reform movement since then that I have missed, please accept my apologies and disregard this entire post.

As noted, the fact that there is widespread corruption in our ruling beltway will surprise no one. But it is important to note just how refined and institutionalized the process is…and the magnitudes of cash involved. Lest you are under any impression that your citizen legislators work for their constituents back home:

… The underground money economy of the Permanent Political Class works in hidden ways. When newly elected members of Congress come to Washington, D.C., they often find that they – much to their surprise – are already in debt.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives have created a largely hidden system of “party dues” that requires members to extract money beyond their own campaign donations to fund their respective parties. – Page 63

[Emphasis added]

So, on day one in office, it is clarified that each congressman actually reports directly to the party leader in the House and the head of the party’s national committee.

It appears that dues are set based on the prestige of the committee seats each wishes to occupy:

… The more powerful their committee assignments, the more money members are expected to extract from the industries they have oversight over or regulate. For a newly elected member of Congress on a weak committee – for example, the Ethics Committee, which is considered the least attractive committee for a variety of reasons – the annual party dues can run around $150,000. And for those on a powerful committee? The sky is the limit. Those in leadership positions or on powerful committees can be expected to raise $600,000 or more as part of the system. – Pages 63-64

[Emphasis added]

Yet another priority for your congressman to answer to that is at least an order of magnitude more “important” and more immediate than the lowly constituent back home. Feeling good about your government yet? (For the record, I looked up a couple of local representatives and it appears that having two committee seats at a time is common. My very limited research varied between one and three.)

SIDE NOTE: The “Ethics Committee” equals “weak committee” construct in that last quote deserved a post of its own. So a newcomer is allowed to have an entry level seat on the committee that judges the ethics of his peers and his advancement beyond that seat relies entirely on those peers and their House leader. Is there any wonder that the term House Ethics Committee (or Senate Ethics Committee, for that matter) is the biggest joke on cocktail circuits for the rich and powerful both here and abroad? (See “Financial Disclosure Forms, Use of” if you doubt that statement in the slightest.) But, I digress.

Well, if you have stuck with me this far, let’s keep digging:

Raising money is what helps an ambitious member of the House rise in the ranks far more than ideas or competence. …

But you get what you pay for. Built into these [committee seat] valuations is the implicit extortion value of the seat. Sitting on the House Financial Services Committee means you can extract lots of money from wealthy financial institutions. But a slot of the Ethics Committee gives you little opportunity for extortion – except perhaps from your fellow members of Congress who are facing ethics investigations. Members of the Ethics Committee can and do receive donations from their colleagues and party leadership! … – Page 65

[Emphasis added]

There it is again. Are you feeling good about the self-policing within the Legislative Branch yet?

Well, I don’t want this to get too long but I cannot help but dig just a little deeper:

Apart from the hidden dues system, there is another major – but also hidden – source of politicians’ funds: each other. Federal laws are very clear: a politician can’t solicit or receive campaign contributions in congressional buildings or in the U.S. Capital. But there is a little-talked about exemption to that rule. … The exemption states that “the rules and standards of conduct enforced by the Standards Committee do not prohibit Members from soliciting (or receiving) campaign or political contributions from other Members in the House buildings (emphasis in the original). It is a huge loophole that makes it possible for members to link their votes to cash. … Members of Congress receiving these funds can even convert them into personal cash in their own pockets! – Page 67

All in the name of good government, I am sure. Given the levels of corruption that they don’t even bother to hide from us anymore, I can only imagine the magnitudes that are still hidden and, given our reliably incurious press, will likely never be known. I suspect that if you are paying attention – and “see the game” just a little bit – the answer is in the headlines right before our eyes. I would bet that the corruption pipeline had a major branch through Ukraine a few years back. Now? Well, pipeline branches are being opened all over the place with the $Trillions being placed from your checkbook. The best way to find out is to know what stocks the Pelosi’s have purchased in the last 90 days.

Good luck with that…and good day.

When Will a Revolution Begin?

 

As crackdowns proceed on the unvaccinated in some countries and all people in other places, the pressure on the population increases. I wonder where the breaking point will be reached and there will be uprisings against governments. We may be getting close in some countries to a revolt by the police and military.

Do people think this will happen in the near future (say in the next six months)? If so, where will it happen? Possibilities are Australia, Austria, and Italy. A revolt in one country could quickly lead to strife elsewhere. Governments are playing with fire. People are seeing how ineffective crackdowns are in fighting COVID. Ignoring natural immunity is making people question the wisdom of public health authorities. The vaccines are less effective than promised and are less safe than they would have us believe. They are being pushed on the young, who are not at risk. It’s almost as if we are being lied to on a massive scale.

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Recently, PMSNBCCN broadcasted a press conference held by Mr/Ms. Ima Wokeperson, Vice President of Public Relations at Cracker Barrel.  Here is the transcript: “Hello, everyone.  I’m here today to announce that the Cracker Barrel restaurant will officially be changing its name to “The Barrel” so as to not denigrate our Caucasian customers.  You see, the […]

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These are excerpts from Mr. Baker’s Op-ed in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. The unhinged reaction from the left to Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal last week is easily dismissed as a glimpse into the rancid minds and rabid hearts of the ideological brigands of modern progressivism. That one sentence contains so many pithy phrases that should become […]

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Lighter Feasting for the Holidays

 

CornbreadI clipped two dessert recipes from the November 1982 issue of Chicago Magazine, “Best of Dines, Worst of Dines.” Four decades later, they are still in my recipe file. One is complex and very rich, while the other is true simplicity and light in both preparation time and calories. I further simplified the simple recipe to universal acclaim this past week. For Thanksgiving, I will prepare a cranberry relish, made from scratch, that is both flavorful and ridiculously healthy. I suspect I will also make cornbread muffins, relatively healthier than general-purpose flour breads. What tasty, tempting recipes have you enjoyed with Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts and parties?

When I first carried the two restaurant dessert recipes away from school in Chicago, I took the first occasion to wow home audiences. The first was a flourless chocolate cake, that requires a springform pan. This was gluten-free before gluten-free was a thing. The volume of the cake is created by six egg whites beaten stiff. The substance comes from finely chopped nuts. The chocolate is semisweet. For garnish, either dust with powdered sugar (perhaps with a pattern/stencil) or follow the original recipe for another level of chocolate ganache. If you like chocolate, if you really like chocolate, you will love this.

The other recipe, even in its original form, is far simpler, far quicker, and far lighter. Pears, poached, with fresh berries, reduced to a sauce over low heat, that is all. Now the details.

Poached pears with berry reduction, full-up version:

From your tree or market, select enough pears to serve one per person. The riper, the quicker they will poach, more on this later. Pick or buy about six ounces of berries razz, black, or even straw. Pull out two pots, one deep enough to hold the pears upright, the other a saucepan for the berries.

Fill the large pot with water deep enough to cover the pears, standing up. Add a vanilla bean or about one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add sugar. Add the juice of one lemon. Turn up the burner to bring the pot to a simmer.

Simpler version: leave out the sugar and lemon. Caution: the lemon is there to keep the pears from browning if not served promptly. Plan accordingly

Put the berries in a sauce pan and turn up the burner to low or medium.

Pair the pears. I recommend Anjou pears for their shape, but any pear will work. Cut off the bottoms so the pears will sit upright on plates or in flat-bottomed bowls. Place pears in the simmering water, set timer for 5 minutes.

Start stirring the berries in the sauce pan. They will start falling apart. Just adding low heat to berries causes them to start softening, so stirring causes them to reduce into a sauce. If you must, you can add sugar. If you are finicky, you might strain the sauce. However, I recommend just stirring until you have a sauce, not straining out any of the berries.

After five minutes, start testing the pears with a sharp knife. If soft, lift out and transfer to an ice bath. Repeat until all are in the ice bath.

Assemble by placing a pear on a dessert plate or in a shallow bowl, then drizzling the berry sauce over the pears.

Look, pears are deliciously juicy in their own right. Why add sugar? The lemon is only there to keep the paired pears from turning brown, a problem you will not have until you either leave them sitting exposed to air for some time or leave them in water for even longer. Put this together shortly before serving and you need not add lemon or sugar.

Likewise, why add sweetener to berries? The berries, even if slightly tart, will blend with the sweetness of the pear on your tongue. See gilding lilies. As a bonus, your simple, elegant dessert is one or two servings of fruit.

Cranberry apple relish:

Reject the gelatinous glop. Go natural. Here is a refreshing, tasty, healthy cranberry relish. If you have extra, it is good enough to freeze and serve on other occasions than Thanksgiving. Stand by for dietary variants:

Rinse one package (about 12 ounces) fresh cranberries. Sort out any stems and such.

Chop one apple, your choice.

Put the cranberries and apple in a food processor with blade attachment.

Add 4 teaspoons of brown sugar. If you are avoiding added sugar, you can add the equivalent sugar free sweetener and a couple drops of maple flavored extract.

Add eight ounces of white grape juice or toss in the equivalent in green grapes.

Process into a finely chopped but not quite pureed relish.

Chill and serve. You can freeze this for some time, so might run a large batch now, checking the flavor and adjusting, perhaps with seasonal spices, then thawing and serving around Christmas as well. This is also a good seasonal topping with oatmeal.

Festive Cornbread muffins:

This is a modification of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book recipe, from my original red and white checked 1989 edition. In that cookbook, corn muffins are a variant on the basic muffin recipe. I modify with mild chili or green bell peppers finely diced, and I might throw in a bit of grated carrot or other root vegetable. This Thanksgiving, I finely diced half a green bell pepper and a radish (for a hint of peppery spice). I slim the recipe slightly with both the vegetables and skim milk.

I got 24 mini muffins (12 regular size muffins) and a small cornbread cake (about 6×6 and thin). The cooking time with these smaller muffins and the cornbread cake was only 17 minutes here at 2,000 feet above sea level.

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Whisk dry ingredients together:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup yellow corn meal

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

Mix wet ingredients together:

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup oil

1 egg

half a green bell pepper finely diced

a radish finely diced

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring so they are well combined.

Spoon into greased but not lined muffin pan. If using a mini muffin pan, expect faster baking. So, 20 minutes regular size, 16-18 minutes mini-muffin.

Check out our recipe and cooking technique group: You Will Need.

The Value of Appreciation

 

Gratitude is an admission of weakness, of need. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why children have such a hard time saying, “thank you.” “Thank you” is proof of the existence of what a woke person would call a power imbalance.

But “thank you” is also so important because it is part of what makes a good society. In a primitive or nature-worshipping society, might makes right. Nobody powerful needs to be nice because they can simply take what they want.

“Might Makes Right” is also the nature of totalitarian regimes, all freedom-oppressing governments, from dictators to socialists (but I repeat myself). “Please” and “Thank you” are admissions of weakness, which is dangerous for anyone in such a society to utter. The powerful cannot admit weakness, and the weak cannot afford to put themselves at someone else’s mercy. Our instincts are to protect ourselves above all. So in such a society “Thank you” is expressed only by those with no power and no alternatives: beggars.

There is, of course, another way to look at it. No man is an island. Societies are stronger when there are ties between people, within families, communities, and the nation. The farther we move from a state of nature, the more power comes from understanding that most things worth doing require cooperation and teamwork, a common vision.  But recognizing and appreciating other people does not come easy – that is why we have to force children to do it.

So, for the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving is the ultimate expression of freedom, of the dogma (against all empirical evidence) that we can each be secure enough in ourselves to admit that we need others, that we are not, any of us, truly self-reliant. Saying “Thank you” to other people, to our Creator, is the mark of good breeding in a child, a positive culture in a community, and the prerequisite for a good society and civilization.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Origins of Thanksgiving, According to the Snipe Clan

 

Someone called “Senator Kayse Jama (He/Him)” (apparently Jama is an Oregon State Senator**) has linked–on his Twitter account–to this person:

No idea who Anessa Hartman Haudenosaunee is, but, Lord, I love the fact that she’s a member of something called the “Snipe Clan.” (It’s the pedant in me.  So sorry if that’s triggering.)

And, wait…what?  I thought Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of every November an official “Thanksgiving” holiday largely to commemorate Union victories in the American Civil War (particularly the one at Gettysburg).  And that–actually–he was simply codifying George Washington’s original intention from the last decades of the eighteenth century.

Am I wrong?  Inquiring minds (mine, anyway) would like to know.

Or, is this just another Leftist nutball who’s detached herself from reality and the facts in order to spin a comfortable narrative that suits her (I’ve not checked its pronouns) narrative?

** As described on his Twitter profile, in order of precedence: “Somali-American. Son of a Camel Herder. Father of Twins.”

Quote of the Day: Earthly and Eternal Blessings

 

Augustine in a sermon on Psalm 41 (Psalm 40 in the Septuagint-based numbering system he used):

Et vide beatitudinem tuam–And look at your blessing!

The Psalmist says (using the ESV), “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land . . . .”

In Augustine’s Latin, you’re supposed to understand the poor man–which is probably closer to the original Hebrew than you would think from just looking at the English. (See here for a Hebrew-English interlinear; you can click on the number 7919 for the original word.)

Augustine tends to look for Jesus Christ in every sentence of the Psalms–sometimes in every word.  To understand the poor man is to understand Christ, who though rich became poor for our sakes, as Paul says in the New Testament.  Interestingly, Augustine still gets to what is probably the original sense of the sentence: caring for poor people!  You can look at the end of Section 2 of his sermon here in the public-domain translation where he goes through Jesus back down to earth, telling us to care about the poor here.

The Psalmist also keeps us down on earth with that “blessed in the land” line.

In a bit left out of the public-domain translation (available in this book), Augustine explains that that keeping alive is about the next life.  Now keep in mind that the next life is, like this one, bodily.  Augustine sometimes talks about heaven without talking about earth, but at just this point he doesn’t even mention heaven.  He talks about eternal life, yes, but, true to New Testament form, he’s talking about the bodily resurrection!  He quotes Paul.

And then he quotes Paul again, saying that G-d gives us hope in the present as well as the future!  And that takes him back to the Psalm, which talks about blessing on earth!

It looks to me from the afore-linked online interlinear source that the Hebrew word in question corresponds nicely to Augustine’s terra (Latin) and to the New Testament γῆ (Greek) in that it can mean either “earth” or “land.”  Augustine’s emphasis is on earth, and he explains that some Christians make the mistake of thinking G-d only blesses them in the next life.  In this life, they’re into things like astrology!  They think (or they might as well be thinking): Satan controls this evil world, and as long as we’re in good with G-d for the afterlife, we can give Satan his due here!

No, says Augustine.  In this life, we only seek good from G-d.

Just something I’ve been reading.

But you don’t really need Augustine if you read his sources.  Read Psalm 100.  Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Give thanks on this, and on all days, to G-d.

FEC: Foreign Nationals Can Contribute to American Ballot Initiatives

 

The Federal Election Commission attracts little public attention. Oh, sure, there are advocacy groups like Common Cause who often attempt to influence FEC deliberations. People like me who (used to) run political action committees (PACs) or work with federal election campaigns pay careful attention.

But on November 2, election day in Virginia, New Jersey, and other states, the FEC reported on the results of a recent vote to dismiss a “matter under review” (MUR, in the language of Washington acronyms).

What caught my attention – and that of Axios, a center-left online media outlet – was a rare 4-2 bipartisan vote. The Democratic chair, Shana Broussard, joined the three Republicans to dismiss a challenge made by a pro-environmental coalition group in Montana pushing for clean water standards for hard-rock mining operations.

The Montana Mining Association and its members felt differently. They scored $270,000 in cash from a foreign-owned company called Sandfire Resources America, with no sources of revenue in the United States and zero cash flow. The charge was that Sandfire’s contributions to the MMA and a “no on I-186” campaign were illegal under federal law. Sandfire is a Canadian subsidiary of an Australian mining firm. The contributions came from foreigners.

Before we go further, some background is in order. A heavily Democratic post-Watergate scandal Congress in 1974 created the Federal Election Commission to enforce their reforms to fix abuses of prior elections (some of what Congress did was deemed unconstitutional in 1976 by the US Supreme Court in Buckley vs. Valeo). The FEC now consists of six commissioners, three from each major party, which the Senate confirms to enforce the law. Generally, criminal matters are referred to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. Sometimes, other US Attorneys choose the enforce the law of their own volition. The FEC most often uses fines to punish most wrongdoers, including those guilty of what media commentator and producer Dinesh D’Souza did. He was punished differently. Side note: President Trump pardoned D’Souza.

Here’s the thing. When Democrats are in the White House, the Senate Republican leader nominates any vacancies among the three GOP FEC slots, one every couple of years; vice versa when the GOP is in the White House. Usually, not always, FEC nominees are announced in pairs – one Democrat, one Republican. Both parties tend to pick nominees who will reflect their respective philosophies and protect their party’s interests. It is designed to make sure any FEC enforcement actions or interpretations of law require a bipartisan majority. There is no tie-breaking vote; matters die on a 3-3 vote. Most enforcement matters usually result in a 6-0 or, occasionally, a 5-1 vote.

Not this one.

So what’s the deal? Why did a divided FEC decide that foreign entities, even corporations, can contribute to an election in the US, in this case, a ballot initiative, at least under federal law? Aren’t foreign political contributions in US elections illegal?

Yes and no. Let’s consult 52 United States Code Section 30121:

That’s fine, but what’s the definition of an election?

And therein lies the rub. The Federal definition of an election does not include elections that do not involve actual candidates. Not according to me, but a legal opinion by the FEC’s legal shop.

A slim bipartisan majority of the FEC concurred.

Since the Montana ballot initiative was not inextricably linked to a candidate – the FEC’s standard – it does not qualify as an “election” under federal law.

Xi Jinping, call your office. Vladimir is already on the phone.

There were two “no” votes on the FEC, including Democrat Ellen Weintraub, who has long ascribed to a rather expansive view of FEC authority shared by few. Very few. Weintraub:

“As of today, though, the Commission has reversed course, deciding that under the Act, the term ‘election’ does not encompass state and local ballot issues. For the first time, the Commission has voted to allow political donations by foreign nationals to a domestic ballot initiative committee. Under the circumstances presented by this matter – where the ballot initiative at issue did not have anything to do with a candidate election, and no other evidence suggested that the initiative effort was inextricably linked to a candidate election – my colleagues voted against investigating the allegations presented by the complaint.”

So, what now?

Fortunately, seven states already prohibit foreign nationals from contributions to state-sanctioned elections, which by definition include ballot initiatives and referenda. But this is a national concern. Instead of lobbying each state to develop their own rules, there is a simple fix courtesy of genuinely bipartisan legislation authored by US Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), with ten cosponsors. It simply amends the Federal Election Campaign Act to address the gap in Federal law identified by the FEC. Here’s the entire bill:

Axios thinks that foreign nationals might decide to contribute to state ballot initiatives involving congressional redistricting, but I’m not so sure. Such referenda are very rare. The real challenges are initiatives involving infrastructure and American resources, such as Montana’s mining initiative. Imagine how China’s Xi might hide and launder campaign contributions towards initiatives that could provide his country’s access to US rare earth minerals? Or, how about backdoor Chinese funding of major US port expansions in, say, inland facilities in the US (e.g., Port of Catoosa, Oklahoma) eager for investment and traffic via the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers? Don’t think it can’t happen?

Ask the people of Montana. By the way, I-186 was defeated by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. Foreign-owned Sandfire was on the winning side. Maybe they would have won anyway, but $300,000 in a small media market like Montana goes a long way.

Forget the issue, and whatever side should have won. I might have agreed with the Montana Mining Association and their foreign funders. Maybe not, but that’s the wrong question: do you want foreign nationals to be empowered to influence your elections this way? Australians and Canadians are one thing; imagine what Chinese Communists and their pals in Moscow (or Iran) might try to do, laundered through multiple organizations you never hear or learn about until the election is over?

This is not rocket science. The question is, how long will it take for Congress to act? This is one of those sporadic instances where members of the “right” and even the “far-left” seem to have common ground.

Carpe Diem.

(Disclosure: the author was nominated to the Federal Election Commission by President Bill Clinton, at the recommendation of Senate GOP leader Robert Dole, in 1996. He withdrew his nomination. A story for another day.)

Member Post

 

https://www.newsweek.com/salvation-armys-donors-withdraw-support-response-racial-wokeness-initiative-1645658 “Let’s Talk About Racism.” In a nutshell, its curriculum outlines the Christian church’s alleged racial collusion and provides action steps to analyze and combat racism through an “anti-racist” lens while incorporating Critical Race Theory. Oh good. Another organization waiting to call me racist based on my race. I gave them $5 today. That will […]

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A Night Out at the Mall

 

I get the daily email from Morning Brew. It is a left-of-center recap of business news. While I generally ignore the jabs at the Republicans and Trump (still!!), this was such a hoot that I had to share.

The article was regarding the recent damages to businesses in California from organized looting and “smash and grab,” which suggested various causes.

Here are a few theories:

  • Facebook Marketplace and eBay have made it easier to resell stolen goods anonymously.
  • Home Depot connected the dots between the opioid crisis and an increase in thefts at its stores two years ago. Since then fentanyl, a drug that’s 50x stronger than heroin, has pervaded California.
  • Rates of unemployment and homelessness rose sharply last year, and California is home to the largest population of unsheltered persons.

Some argue that Proposition 47, which raised the felony threshold for stolen goods, has increased rates of theft, but its impact is debated.

Oh yes, Facebook Marketplace and ebay (hohoho, heeheehee) are where these thugs are going to sell their stolen goods. It’s all the fault of drugs, but only fentanyl. (Home Depot?) And of course, let’s blame the homeless. You know, those people who live in tents and poop on the sidewalk. They’re the ones organizing scores of people for a night out at the mall. The fact that there is no consequence – well, that just can’t possibly be the reason.

Is this a deliberate, disingenuous obfuscation of the facts in order to advance the agenda, or are these liberals really this stupid? Do they have no concept of criminality? What color is the sky in their world?

Honoring Norman Rockwell: America’s Painter

 

“Four Freedoms,” 1943

Norman Rockwell was not a realist. You aren’t supposed to interpret his paintings as depictions of everyday America as it actually was. No one who lived during his lifetime considered America a hunky-dory paradise populated only by upstanding and friendly citizens. The America he painted was one we wanted, the one we strove for, America as promised by our founding ideals. He focused on the best parts of our country. His artwork is aspirational, not delusional; optimistic, not whitewashed.

Never was this more explicit than in “Four Freedoms” (pictured to the right), his most enduring series of paintings. The series was inspired by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, which began, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” While such idealism typified Rockwell’s work, he also explored darker subjects. Created for Look magazine, “The Problem We All Live With” (pictured below) depicts Ruby Bridges’ walk to William Frantz Elementary School after it was desegregated. Four deputy U.S. marshals escort her, their heads cropped out, their stances stiff and near mirror images of one another. They stand like pillars at either end of the picture, framing the real subject, little Ruby walking upright, unfazed by the racially intimidating graffiti on the wall beside her. It is a picture about defiance. It is a celebration of progress.

“The Problem We All Live With,” 1964

Without spearheading a new art movement, without leading a tragic or unsavory life, without courting controversy, Rockwell entered the exclusive club of artists like Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, and Vincent Van Gogh, who can be named by people otherwise unfamiliar with (and uninterested in) the world of art. His style is recognizable even among other artists of traditional, representational artwork from mid-20th century America. His style was not innovative and certainly not avant garde, but it is distinct and the subject matter so quaint and good-humored you can’t be faulted for overlooking his extraordinary technical skills.

Though his understanding of anatomy, perspective, shading, textures, and so on was unimpeachable — as Homer Simpson would say, his paintings “look like the things they look like” — he was uninterested in photographic accuracy. Comparing his final works to the reference photos he shot reveals the liberties he took, rearranging and repositioning his subjects to better achieve his aims. There is often gentle exaggeration in the posture and expression of his characters. Just as easily he could have been a cartoonist. Composing pictures is where he shined brightest.

In high school, my art teacher used “The Runaway” (pictured below) as an example of subtle yet brilliant composition. All that white negative space creates a stark image. The boy’s face is the focal point, and Rockwell has placed many things to guide our eyes back toward it. Following the policeman’s shoulder strap upward leads to the blackboard framing the head of the waiter who looks down at the boy, his cigarette pointing in the same direction. If we follow the shoulder strap the other direction, it leads to the upper beveling of the panel on the counter that leads to the boy’s belt, which curves slightly upward, guiding our eye up the boy’s right side toward his face. His shirt is the only yellow object and draws our attention immediately. None of this is flashy or obvious, but our brains pick up on it.

“The Runaway,” 1958

Perhaps Rockwell’s most iconic image is “Freedom from Want” (pictured below), part of the aforementioned Four Freedoms series. It is another masterpiece of composition, again employing copious negative space, flowing from the angelic window curtains down across the pristine tablecloth. The family sits on either side, leaning toward each other like no real person does, but it doesn’t matter because they form a procession of smiling faces leading toward the only two standing figures, the matriarch and patriarch, presenting a bountiful turkey. The face in the bottom right looks right at the viewer. His mouth isn’t visible, but we can tell from his eyes he’s smiling. We’re welcome to join in. Cool colors dominate the top half, appearing on Grandma’s dress, Grandpa’s tie, and the pinstripes of his shirt, and on the wallpaper on either corner. The rest of the picture exudes an inviting warmth on the family’s faces, the turkey, and the mound of fruit just within reach.

“Freedom from Want,” 1943

Right now, in 2021, we’re facing inflation, strained supply chains, continued racial tensions and the riot and unrest that follow them, the threat of an ever-more powerful China, a still present pandemic, and all the issues, personal and global, that have always plagued humanity. But amidst all that, if today you’re gathering with people you love to eat what throughout most of human history would be considered a feast, you are blessed. It was the blessings Rockwell cared about.