Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Candy Corn... anyone?

Myspace Layouts

History and Customs of Halloween

Halloween is an annual celebration, but just what is it actually a celebration of? And how did this peculiar custom originate? Is it, as some claim, a kind of demon worship? Or is it just a harmless vestige of some ancient pagan ritual?

The word itself, "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.

One story says that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.

Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.

Probably a better explanation of why the Celts extinguished their fires was not to discourage spirit possession, but so that all the Celtic tribes could relight their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach.

Some accounts tell of how the Celts would burn someone at the stake who was thought to have already been possessed, as sort of a lesson to the spirits. Other accounts of Celtic history debunk these stories as myth.

The Romans adopted the Celtic practices as their own. But in the first century AD, Samhain was assimilated into celebrations of some of the other Roman traditions that took place in October, such as their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might explain the origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.

The thrust of the practices also changed over time to become more ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches took on a more ceremonial role.

The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish immigrants fleeing their country's potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite "holiday," the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of Medieval prayer rituals of Europeans. And today, even many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Daylight Saving Time (Not Daylight "Savings" Time)

FYI: just in case you are as confused as most of us...
Daylight Saving Time Extended by Four Weeks in U.S. Starting in 2007:

August 8, 2005 Update: President Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act, which extends Daylight Saving Time (DST) by four weeks from the second Sunday of March to end on the first Sunday of November. Extended Daylight Saving Time will begin in March 2007. See below for the new "spring forward, fall back" dates for the next few years.
Every spring we move our clocks one hour ahead and "lose" an hour during the night and each fall we move our clocks back one hour and "gain" an extra hour. But Daylight Saving Time (and not Daylight Savings Time with an "s") wasn't just created to confuse our schedules.

The phrase "Spring forward, fall back" helps people remember how Daylight Saving time affects their clocks. At 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in April, we set our clocks forward one hour ahead of standard time ("spring forward").

We "fall back" at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday in October by setting our clock back one hour and thus returning to standard time. The change to Daylight Saving Time allows us to use less energy in lighting our homes by taking advantage of the longer and later daylight hours. During the six-and-a-half-month period of Daylight Saving Time, the names of time in each of the time zones in the U.S. change as well. Eastern Standard Time (EST) becomes Eastern Daylight Time, Central Standard Time (CST) becomes Central Daylight Time (CDT), Mountain Standard Time (MST) becomes Mountain Daylight Tome (MDT), Pacific Standard Time becomes Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), and so forth.
Daylight Saving Time was instituted in the United States during World War I in order to save energy for war production by taking advantage of the later hours of daylight between April and October. During World War II the federal government again required the states to observe the time change. Between the wars and after World War II, states and communities chose whether or not to observe Daylight Saving Time. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which standardized the length of Daylight Saving Time.

Arizona (except some Indian Reservations), Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa have chosen not to observe Daylight Saving Time. This choice does make sense for the areas closer to the equator because the days are more consistent in length throughout the year.

Other parts of the world observe Daylight Saving Time as well. While European nations have been taking advantage of the time change for decades, in 1996 the European Union (EU) standardized a EU-wide European Summer Time. This EU version of Daylight Saving Time runs from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in October.

In the southern hemisphere where summer comes in December, Daylight Saving Time is observed from October to March. Equatorial and tropical countries (lower latitudes) don't observe Daylight Saving Time since the daylight hours are similar during every season, so there's no advantage to moving clocks forward during the summer.

(Thanks about.com)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mid-term elections '06

Did you know that until 1913, all of our U.S. Senators were chosen by the state legislatures, rather than elected by the people? That’s the way the "Founding Fathers" wanted it and it took the 17th amendment to change it. Today, about 1/3 of the 100 senators and all 435 representatives are up for re-election every two years. Yes, right in the middle of every president’s four year term in office, we up and hold an election that could turn the balance of political power in Congress upside-down.

This year voters will select 33 Senators (currently held by 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans) and all members of the House of Representatives (currently made up of 231 Republicans, 201 Democrats, 1 Independent and 2 vacancies).

So like many, I'm sure... I had never seen the importance of mid-term elections, until now!
2006 is marking a possible turning point for the House and the Senate, so I urge you to go V-O-T-E on November 7th. I will be making my first journey into the all important mid-term booth.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Silly Sunday...

Entertainment for today:

Political Cartoon Rorschach Test ~ Get a copy of your political profile

My results:
You are a pure, unabashed, die-hard Democratic loyalist. You are appalled by the way Republicans are turning America into a theocratic, corpo-fascist police state, and you'd gladly walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit to elect a Democratic president. In your view, there is no higher form of patriotism than defending America against the Republican Party and every intolerant, puritanical, imperialistic, greed-mongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which it stands.

The George W. Bush Loyalty Quiz ~ 10 Questions to Test Your Allegiance to President Bush

I took it:
Your score is 0 on a scale of 1 to 10. You hate Bush with a writhing passion. You think he is an idiot, a liar, and a warmonger who has been an utterly incompetent, miserable failure of a president. Nothing would give you greater pleasure than seeing him impeached and run out of the White House, except maybe seeing him dragged away in handcuffs.

Courtesy of Bart Cop:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Republican says what????

Past, Present (and I'm sure future) Republicans say the dumbest things:

From the "top" on down (way down)...

"I like my buddies from west Texas. I liked them when I was young, I liked them then I was middle-age, I liked them before I was president, and I like them during president, and I like them after president."
"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."
"I can only speak to myself."
"I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?'"
"I'm a follower of American politics."
"I'm the master of low expectations."

--George W. Bush

"I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
-- George Bush Sr.

"We see nothing but increasingly brighter clouds every month."
--Gerald Ford (president, 1974-1977), speaking to a group of Michigan businessmen about the economy.

"If you don't say anything, you won't be called on to repeat it."
--Calvin Coolidge, US President

"Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child."
--Dan Quayle, Former VP

"What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them."
--Former First Lady Barbara Bush (on the hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 05 2005)

"I AM the federal government."
"Emotional appeals about working families trying to get by on $4.25 an hour
[the minimum wage in 1996] are
hard to resist. Fortunately, such families do not exist."
"Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"
(to three young hurricane evacuees from New Orleans at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept 9 05)
--Tom Delay

"I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started."
"We do know of certain knowledge that he
[Osama Bin Laden]
is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead."
"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."

--Donald Rumsfeld

"I think that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman."
"The public doesn't care about figures."
-discussing his economic views
"Don't worry about that." -on the environment
--Arnold Schwarzenegger

"Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well."
--FEMA Director Michael Brown

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
--Trent Lott

"We do many things at the federal level that would be considered dishonest and illegal if done in the private sector."
--Donald T. Regan, President Reagan'sChief of Staff

"The Internet is a gateway to get on the net."
--Bob Dole

"Wherever I have gone in this country, I have found Americans"
--Alfred Landon, Losing Republican Candidate 1936

"Half the world does not know the joy of wearing cotton underwear"
--Texas Sen. Phil Gramm

"My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing."
--Christopher Shays, Republican congressman of Connecticut (on the Schiavo case)

"There are so many women on the floor of Congress, it looks like a mall."
--Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL)

"I'll hire blacks as long as they can do the cotton-pickin' job."
--Evan Mecham (governor of Arizona, 1987-1988)

"We have every mixture you can have. I have a woman, two Jews, and a cripple."
--James Watt (Secretary of the Interior, 1981-1983), describing an Interior Department advisory group.

"Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25."
--Mary Anne Tebedo, Colorado state senator

"Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." (at the Republican National Convention '92)
"Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals--the two things seem to go together."
--Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club"

(Sources include Dr. Politics, Political Humor at about.com, Stupid GOP Quotes and more)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

This Day in Women's History ~

Women's History for October 18th~
1541: Margaret Tudor died (sister of Henry VIII of England and grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots)
1836: Ellen Scripps born (journalist, publisher, philanthropist; worked with U.S. Sanitary Commission and the Freedman's Bureau)
1849: Sarah Heston Rorer born (cookbook writer, cooking teacher, dietitian)
1881: Elizabeth Bagshaw born (physician, birth control advocate)
1889: Fannie Hurst born (writer, screenwriter)
1929: Women declared "persons" under Canadian law, in the " Persons Case"
1956: Martina Navratilova born (tennis player, gay rights advocate)
1947: Laura Nyro (Nigro) born (singer-songwriter)
1948: Ntozake Shange born (playwright, poet, writer)

Quote for Today~
The purpose of a woman's life is just the same as the purpose of a man's life: that she may make the best possible contribution to her generation.
— Louise McKinney

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Happy National Coming Out Day!

People are shouting:
I'm Coming Out!

National Coming Out Day is an international event which gives gay, lesbian and bisexual people the opportunity to "come out" to others about their sexuality. It also provides a means of increasing the visibility of gay people. In the United States, the day is facilitated by the Human Rights Campaign's National Coming Out Project (NCOP).

The first National Coming Out Day was held on October 11, 1988. This date was chosen for the annual event in commemoration of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It also marks the anniversary of the first visit of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Washington, D. C.

Many communities and college campuses sponsor activitities such as dances, film festivals, workshops, literature booths, and rallies on National Coming Out Day.

Bringing Out The Dead

No doubt the news has traveled far and wide by now: the death toll for the Iraqis stemming from our invasion and occupation is many magnitudes greater than has been reported. A new study titled “The Human Cost of the War In Iraq” conducted by a joint team of doctors from Johns Hopkins University and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad places the number at a ghastly 654,965. From the study:

Death rates were 5.5/1,000/year pre-invasion, and overall, 13.2/1,000/year for the 40 months post-invasion.We estimate that through July 2006, there have been 654,965 “excess deaths”—fatalities above the pre-invasion death rate—
in Iraq as a consequence of the war. Of post-invasion deaths, 601,027 were due to violent causes. Non-violent deaths rose above the pre-invasion level only in 2006. Since March 2003, an additional 2.5% of Iraq’s population have died above what would have occurred without conflict.

This study was conducted by the same research group that did the 2004 study reported in the British medical journal The Lancet; a report which estimated 100,000 casualties then and was lambasted by the conservative media for its supposedly “flawed methodology”. Unfortunately for the Pro-War crowd, it looks like that first study wasn’t so far off the mark after all:

Since the 2006 survey included the period of time contained in the 2004 survey, we could compare these two results for the time frame from January 2002 through August 2004. In 2004 we estimated that somewhere in excess of 100,000 deaths had occurred from the time of the invasion until August 2004. Using data from the 2006 survey to look at the time included in the 2004 survey, we estimate that the
number of excess deaths during that time were about 112,000.

That these two surveys were carried out in different locations and two years apart from each other yet yielded results that were very similar to each other, is strong validation of both surveys.

Given that, according to General Tommy Franks, the U.S. “doesn’t do body counts” it seems awfully hard to believe that The Decider could come up with a number so far off from this study. Yet he did just that, as CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux pointed out during this morning’s presser:

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: Thank you, Mr. President. Back on Iraq, a group of American and Iraqi health officials today released a report saying that 655,000 Iraqis have died since the Iraq war. That figure is 20 times the figure that you cited in December at 30,000. Do you care to amend or update your figure and do you consider this a credible report?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don’t control it a credible report, neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials. I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to — you know, that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.

Now, I’ve read the entire study, including the appendices, and I’m very curious as to just why Bush, Casey and the ubiquitous “Iraqi officials” doubt the findings. Do they challenge the statistical model used? If so, I’d like to see that critique spelled out in detail. Do they have a better study that gives a more accurate portrayal of the death toll? Again, that information needs to be made public. We live in a putative democracy and are responsible for the violence our government commits. We have a right and a responsibility as Americans to know, as do the Iraqis.

Or could it be that what Bush, Casey and the Unknown Iraqi Officials really doubt is the political expediency of admitting to the American people and the world that this debacle has cost hundreds of thousands of lives? I certainly realize that we never went to Iraq with any intention of helping anyone but the Republican party and the Neo-conservative fantasy worldview. But many conservatives are still deluding themselves that we're on some sort of mission from God to save Iraq from itself. 650,000 dead sure sucks all the humanity right out of that humanitarian mission, does it not?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Always Be A Good Boy, Don't Ever Play With Guns

Words by Mr. Johnny Cash that a certain Wisconsin State Representative, Frank Lasee of Green Bay, would do well to heed. Representative Lasee is the genius behind the Doc Holliday theory of stopping school violence: arm the teachers. From WisPolitics:

“To make our schools safe for our students to learn all options should be on the table,” said Lasee. “Israel and Thailand have well trained teachers carrying weapons and keeping their children safe from harm. It can work in Wisconsin.”

Boy, is that ever a huge gamble Representative Lasee is making with the lives of our children. There are more unpleasant variables in his plan than a weeks worth of Algebra 2 homework. For one, any time more weapons are introduced into a school, the greater the chance for accidental violence. Lasee proposes having the firearms locked up until needed, which would virtually negate their swift use in an emergency anyway. Another problem is the potential for the guns to get into a student’s hands. No school is a maximum security institution; they are one of the most common targets of mischief break-ins. Yet another big variable is the possibility of collateral damage. While Representative Lasee and his NRA owners would certainly like everyone to forget it, the fact is that most of our gun control laws are designed to protect innocent victims. There’s a reason Wild West shoot-outs were made illegal and it wasn’t because liberals wanted Wyatt Earp’s gun.

Also, the United States bears little enough resemblance to Thailand and Israel. Both of those nations took to arming teachers for the teachers’ protection, especially in Thailand. The idea was not to create an army of paramilitary educators but rather a line of personal defense against the very real threat of terrorism in those countries. The U.S. is dealing with a completely different school violence problem here and trying to address it as a terrorist issue is a terrible misread. Not everyone who commits violence is a terrorist and not every violence problem has an anti-terrorism solution. Violently disaffected youth, like Harris and Clebold, or deranged nuts like Charles Carl Roberts IV act in an entirely different moral framework from a Palestinian suicide bomber.

Another gem from Lasee:

“In Israel and Thailand several lives have been saved because criminals don’t want to attack schools where well-trained marksmen and women may return fire.”

Does Representative Lasee honestly believe that armed teachers will be a deterrent to some kid who turns the wrong corner in his head and decides to shoot up his school? Again, these are not calculated acts of terrorism but rather the playing out of twisted rage from demented minds. Lasee certainly understands this, which is why what he’s really suggesting here is that schools will be safer because teachers and administrators may be able to maim or kill potential assailants. The issue, again, of collateral damage notwithstanding, that’s an incredible amount of discretion to be granting our educators and school administrators. I’m only barely on board with our law enforcement officials having life-or-death discretion in matters; adding thousands of more people with that power and introducing them into an environment as stressful and unpredictable as a high school is a disastrous idea. What will Representative Lasee say, assuming his plan passes the Legislature, when an overreacting teacher shoots the first innocent child by mistake? It’s inevitable; it will happen. Is that a price Wisconsin is willing to make it’s children pay in order for the illusion of safety, as safety bought with potential violence is always illusory? Not for me, not for my children…

It's Only The End Of The World...Again

I doubt anyone can truly claim to be shocked by North Korea’s atomic bomb test on Sunday. After all, it’s been largely a matter taken on faith since at least 2000 that Kim Jong Il had or was developing nuclear weaponry. While Bush’s Asix of Evil was only so much empty-headed political rhetoric designed to reinforce his paperback fiction view of the world, the regime of North Korea and its aims are deadly serious.

However, as with nearly every international crisis of the last six years, the Republicans in Washington and their mouthpieces are hard at work building North Korea’s actions into a roiling thunderhead of pants-wetting terror, cunningly brewed to send average conservatives screaming in terror to the polls in November. Fox “News” today was a veritable smorgasbord of unearthly chills. Shiny CGI missiles exploding over California, launched by the platform-heeled tyrant of Pyongyang but handily intercepted by that most glorious of all Republican boondoggles: the missile defense shield. Guest after guest postulated about the possibility of military action, shoving aside all obligation and consequences of that “other war” in a place, unlike North Korea, where weapons of mass destruction don’t actually exist. The fear and hysteria was palpable, as were the furtive whispered prayers by the rightwing punditry for a new war that would be everything the last isn’t. Never mind that our war with North Korea never really ended, nor the pervasive experience of mankind that demonstrates how war is never what politicians and pundits plan it to be. Never mind any of that because fear sells and fills ballot boxes.

As usual, the reality on the ground is not quite the same as the garish bleating of the conservative media sheep or their crooked GOP shepherds. North Korea is dangerous, certainly, but much more so to its neighbors than to the U.S. First of all, any hypothetical that demonstrates a North Korean missile attack on the west coast of the United States is assuming an entire library of facts not in evidence, the chief of which being a North Korean missile capable of delivering such a blow. Dr. David C. Wright, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists, had the following to say about North Korea’s missile technology:

Assessments of North Korea’s military capability often portray North Korea as possessing a long-range nuclear missile capability, or as able to rapidly acquire one. This is not true.


North Korea has short-range variants of the Scud missile, with ranges up to 500-600 kilometers for a payload of 500 kilograms, that are well tested.

Of course, North Korea has, since that article was written, tested some long-range missiles. The results of those tests from May of this year, are telling: the long range Taepo Dong missile failed 35 seconds after launch. The bottom line is that while North Korea is certainly a danger to its neighbors and a destabilizing force in the region it, like every other enemy Bush chooses to name, is not a clear and present danger to the United States.

Which is actually not a surprise, given that Bush’s treatment of North Korea has been seriously at odds with his fiery rhetoric. For example, a summary by the Congressional Research Service from March 2003, lists the following as the Bush administration’s primary policy position on North Korea’s nuclear program:

(1) Continuing priority to Iraq: President Bush reportedly has said that he does not want two simultaneous crises. U.S. officials say they will rely on diplomacy and expect diplomacy to run well into 2003. They argue that North Korea’s actions do not constitute a crisis.

A rather muted reaction, given that North Korea is a much-ballyhooed member of Bush’s Axis of Evil and, unfortunately, actually does have the kinds of weapons programs that were used erroneously in selling the invasion of Iraq. It’s ironic, in an “Oops, there goes the planet” sort of way. North Korea may not be the doomsday army ready to trample apple pie and the American flag into the ground (Fox reserves that designation for Iran) but it is certainly many magnitudes a greater threat to the world than Iraq ever was. For all that Bush claims his job is protecting the American people (along with lecturing us like we’re all as stupid as he), apparently Bush doesn’t take his “job” very seriously at all. Almost as if he were nothing but an empty suit designed to raise campaign contributions for his father’s political allies…but I’ve said too much!

In all seriousness, a rekindling of the Korean War becomes a very real possibility after Sunday’s test. The drumbeat for war is page one of the GOP political hymnal and it looks to be a very ugly election year for God’s Own Party. Will it be the end of the world again, as Fox and its half-wit analysts claim? I hope not. I hope it’s all just more fear mongering by the Republicans in a vain hope to paper over their gross incompetence and ethical lassitude during the past 6 years. In any case, there’s no need for the GOP to scare us any further; just knowing that America’s fate in this time of crisis is in the hands of George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld is enough to tremble the stoutest heart.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Anarchy in the Pre-K

Our handsome son, Liam.

He is living up to his Anarchy in the Pre-K sweatshirt.
He also sports t-shirts that {accurately} read:
*I do my own stunts
*If you are close enough to read this, you are in my way
*Class Clown ~ Now Performing
*I'm definitely up to something

Liam is wild, crazy, stubborn, loves to test limits, brilliant and oh so funny! He has been known to teach adults how to use remote controls, can hook up a DVD player {and it works} and has mastered every child-proofing device out there!