Solstice 2012 Morning Reads

Winter_Solstice_Mistletoe_300Good morning and happy solstice!

Today is the shortest day of the year!!

In Washington, D.C., the winter solstice sun reaches a maximum angle of only 27.7º above the horizon at solar noon. In the more northern city of London, the sun takes an even shorter path, climbing only 15.1º in the sky. And just south of the Arctic Circle, the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik sees the midday sun climb no higher than 2.1º above the horizon.

Here’s some other ways that humanity has celebrated the day in the past from National Geographic.  

Throughout history, humans have celebrated the winter solstice, often with an appreciative eye toward the return of summer sunlight.

Massive prehistoric monuments such as Ireland’s mysterious Newgrange tomb (video) are aligned to capture the light at the moment of the winter solstice sunrise.

(Related: “Ancient Irish Tomb Big Draw at Winter Solstice.”)

Germanic peoples of Northern Europe honored the winter solstice with Yule festivals—the origin of the still-standing tradition of the long-burning Yule log.

The Roman feast of Saturnalia, honoring the God Saturn, was a weeklong December feast that included the observance of the winter solsticewinter solstice. Romans also celebrated the lengthening of days following the solstice by paying homage to Mithra—an ancient Persian god of light.

Many modern pagans attempt to observe the winter solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients.

“There is a resurgent interest in more traditional religious groups that is often driven by ecological motives,” said Harry Yeide, a professor of religion at George Washington University. “These people do celebrate the solstice itself.”

I like to remind people that Mithra is the real reason for the season.  Despite what Fox News says, the original happy holiday for the Romans on December 25th was the birthday of the virgin born Mithra.  Vatican City was built on his huge temple.  Too bad we might never get to excavate it.

Mithra, legend says, was incarnated into human form (as prophesized by Zarathustra) in 272 bc. He was born of a virgin, who was called the Mother of God. Mithra’s birthday was celebrated December 25 and he was called “the light of the world.”  After teaching for 36 years, he ascended into heaven in 208 bc.

There were many similarities with Christianity:  Mithraists believed in heaven and hell, judgement and resurrection. They had baptism and communion of bread and wine.  They believed in service to God and others.

In the Roman Empire, Mithra became associated with the sun, and was referred to as the Sol Invictus, or unconquerable sun.  The first day of the week — Sunday — was devoted to prayer to him.  Mithraism became the official religion of Rome for some 300 years.  The early Christian church later adopted Sunday as their holy day, and December 25 as the birthday of Jesus.

Mithra became the patron of soldiers.  Soldiers in the Roman legions believed they should fight for the good, the light. They believed in self-discipline and chastity and brotherhood. Note that the custom of shaking hands comes from the Mithraic greeting of Roman soldiers.

It was operated like a secret society, with rites of passage in the form of physical challenges.  Like in the gnostic sects (described below), there were seven grades, each protected by a planet.

Since Mithraism was restricted to men, the wives of the soldiers often belonged to clubs of Great Mother (Cybele) worshippers.  One of the women’s rituals involved baptism in blood by having an animal- preferably a bull – slaughtered over the initiate in a pit below.  This combined with the myth of Mithra killing the first living creature, a bull, and forming the world from the bull’s body, and was adopted by the Mithraists as well.

When Constantine converted to Christianity, he outlawed Mithraism. But a few Zoroastrians still exist today in India, and the Mithraic holidays were celebrated in Iran until the Ayatollah came into power.  And, of course, Mithraism survives more subtly in various European — even Christian — traditions.

So, somebody needs to remind Fox News that Constantine was the one that stole December 25th from the Mithraists.  They should direct their outrage at him.

Speaking of Fox News,  there’s something you should read on the Dread Pirate Murdoch and his attempt to install a US President.  The story gets some column space from Carl Bernstein writing for The Guardian. It’s about said dread pirate’s attempt to waylay the US presidential election by trying to get Petraeus to run. Bernstein’s big question is why weren’t the press all over this?

The Murdoch story – his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic – is one of the most important and far-reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an ongoing tale without equal. Like Richard Nixon and his tapes, much attention has been focused on the necessity of finding the smoking gun to confirm what other evidence had already established beyond a doubt: that the elemental instruments of democracy, ie the presidency in Nixon’s case, and the privileges of free press in Murdoch’s, were grievously misused and abused for their own ends by those entrusted to use great power for the common good.

In Nixon’s case, the system worked. His actions were investigated by Congress, the judicial system held that even the president of the United States was not above the law, and he was forced to resign or face certain impeachment and conviction. American and British democracy has not been so fortunate with Murdoch, whose power and corruption went unchecked for a third of a century.

The most important thing we journalists do is make judgments about what is news. Perhaps no story has eluded us on a daily basis (for lack of trying) for so many years as the story of Murdoch’s destructive march across our democratic landscape. Only the Guardian vigorously pursued the leads of the hacking story and methodically stuck with it for months and years, never ignoring the underlying context of how Rupert Murdoch conducted his take-no-prisoners business and journalism without regard for the most elemental standards of fairness, accuracy or balance, or even lawful conduct.

When the Guardian’s hacking coverage reached critical mass last year, I quoted a former top Murdoch deputy as follows: “This scandal and all its implications could not have happened anywhere else. Only in Murdoch’s orbit. The hacking at News of the World was done on an industrial scale. More than anyone, Murdoch invented and established this culture in the newsroom, where you do whatever it takes to get the story, take no prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will justify the means.”

The tape that Bob Woodward obtained, and which the Washington Post ran in the style section, should be the denouement of the Murdoch story on both sides of the Atlantic, making clear that no institution, not even the presidency of the United States, was beyond the object of his subversion. If Murdoch had bankrolled a successful Petraeus presidential campaign and – as his emissary McFarland promised – “the rest of us [at Fox] are going to be your in-house” – Murdoch arguably might have sewn up the institutions of American democracy even more securely than his British tailoring.

An interesting  little survey result of university students  put a smile on my face for a variety of reasons.  It’s actually a few months old and I some how missed it.  That’s to BB for letting me know why my students always looked so sleepy on the way into the lectures for all those years.   I was an economics major so ….

In a survey of several thousand English undergraduates by Studentbeans.com, economics majors are more likely to have more sexual partners than their peers other fields. A budding Ben Bernanke had an average of 4.88 sex partners since college started. Compare this to the struggling Comparative Religion major who has had an average or 2.13 partners, or the mournful Environmental Science major who has slept with only 1.71 people. It is not even a contest.

Maybe it’s just be cause we’re great at data gathering and we keep count.  Or maybe not.

 Congressman Barney Frank in his last days in office and is giving many interviews.  He talks openly about a lot of interesting things.barney

Later, after recounting a controversy over an attempt by a male prostitute to blackmail him, he said, “I always have thought prostitution should be legal” and said that ultimately women were “worse off” without legalized prostitution.

Frank also believes that those who vote against gay and lesbian rights but who are in the closet deserve to be outed, explaining, “Yes, I believe the policy should be that people have a right to privacy but not to hypocrisy.”

Frank discussed recent comments made by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when asked by a Princeton student about his writing on same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian issues. “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” Scalia told the student.

“I was glad that he made clear what’s been obvious, that he’s just a flat out bigot,” said Frank, going on to call the explanation “quite stupid.”

This has to be the biggest taxpayer supported boondoggle in the history of boondoogles:  “The Cost of Romney’s Government-Assisted Transition: $8.9 Million”.

One of the less scintillating milestones of the 2012 election was marked by the General Services Administration, when Mitt Romney became the first candidate to take advantage of the Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The Act, spearheaded by former Sen. Ted Kaufman, provides resources for major candidates to start planning for their presidency long before Election Day. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, TIME acquired documents from the GSA that show the scope–and cost–of this unprecedented government-assisted transition.

In 2010, legislators said the main goal of the Act was to bolster national security by ensuring that candidates are prepared to take office, and that they don’t shy away from transition planning for fear that they’ll look presumptuous. To that end, the law stipulates that the federal government will provide certain resources to non-incumbent candidates after their nominating convention. The GSA says final costs are still being tabulated, but the initial estimated cost for Romney’s pre-transition phase is around $8.9 million.

 It seems the Romney campaign also seriously overbilled their press pool for the privilege of covering the Romney/Ryan Dismal Circuit.

Last week, the Romney press corp wrote a formal complaint regarding the charges that they say far exceed any other campaign. Today, after getting no response from on high, some of the press corp alerted American Express that they are contesting the charges.

Citing examples of “exorbitant charges” for food and holding costs, the press corp detail in their letter to the Romney campaign, “Some examples: $745 per person charged for a vice presidential debate viewing party on Oct. 11; $812 charged for a meal and a hold on Oct. 18; $461 for a meal and hold the next day; $345 for food and hold Oct. 30.”

These are no small outlets fighting back against the Romney campaign; signing the letter are the higher ups from the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Agence France-Presse, Washington Post, Yahoo, Buzzfeed, and Financial Times. This isn’t their first rodeo.

They also have questions about food ostensibly provided for them but eaten by the campaign staff. “These costs far exceed typical expenses on the campaign trail. Also, it was clear to all present that the campaign’s paid staff frequently consumed the food and drinks ostensibly produced for the media. Were any of the costs of these events charged to the campaign itself, to cover the care and feeding of its staff?”

Earlier Buzzfeed reported that the campaign went all out at the viewing party, providing massage tables and lavish food and booze. Unfortunately, these perks weren’t discussed with all of the media that are now being charged for them.

That certainly sounds like the way an enterprising CEO screws their projects to me.  Good thing he didn’t get his hands on the national treasury.

So, that’s it for me this morning … Carry on!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list this morning?