Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve: World welcomes 2015

Updated January 01, 2015 12:29:09

GALLERY: The world welcomes 2015

Millions of people around the world are continuing to gather to welcome 2015 with fireworks and celebrations across major cities.

When is it 2015 in other countries?
CityTime in Sydney (AEDT) Wednesday 31st
Apia, Samoa 9:00pm
Auckland 10:00pm
Thursday 1st
Tokyo 2:00am
Beijing 3:00am
New Delhi 5:30am
Moscow 8:00am
London 11:00am
Rio de Janeiro 1:00pm
New York 4:00pm
Los Angeles 7:00pm
Honolulu 9:00pm
Pago Pago, American Samoa 10:00pm

Samoa, which used to be among the last countries to see the new year, was one of the first to ring in 2015, after jumping the International Date Line three years ago.

Celebrations also took place across New Zealand and parts of the Pacific before Australia's festivities.

In Auckland, a giant clock on the landmark Sky Tower counted down the minutes until midnight when a huge fireworks display was launched from the top of the tower.

January 1 also brought parties and fireworks to major cities across east Asia, despite the Lunar New Year being one of the most prominent holidays there.

In Tokyo, hundreds of balloons were released to usher in 2015.

Residents of Pyongyang were treated to a lavish display of fireworks at midnight as part of North Korea's celebrations.

North Korea had its first grand New Year celebration in the capital three years ago, after Kim Jong-un came to power.

Since then, it has become an annual event.

However, in Indonesia, all celebrations in East Java province were cancelled, in the wake of the AirAsia plane crash.

It was also a solemn marking of the new year in war torn Syria, where activists lit candles next to photos of war victims in Salah al-Din neighbourhood of Aleppo.

PHOTO: Candles were lit in memory of those killed in the Syrian conflict in Aleppo. (Reuters: Hosam Katan)

Dubai rang in the new year by setting a record for the largest display of fireworks.

The Guinness World Records said the display features 500,000 fireworks and was 10 months in the planning.

While the fireworks centred on the 830-metre Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the display spans the Unites Arab Emirates' 94-kilometre coastline.

Turkish revellers gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square to see fireworks launch from buildings after a night of concerts and entertainment.

In the German capital, the eight-minute-long new year firework display, which were centred on the Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column, was viewed by an estimated 3.5 million.

Officials organised two hours of festivities counting down to midnight with entertainers as diverse as David Hasselhoff and the Russian State Ballet, who performed on stages along a 2-kilometre stretch in front of Brandenburg Gate.

PHOTO: An eight-minute-long fireworks display at the Brandenburg Gate ushered in 2015 in Germany.(AFP: Tobias Schwarz)

In Paris, the Arc de Triomphe was laden with fireworks and lasers and displayed goodwill messages in different languages.

Parisian authorities usually reserve fireworks for the Bastille Day in July, but have invested more money this year to attract people to the Champs-Elysees for new year.

London's Big Ben chimed to signal the arrival of 2015 in the United Kingdom followed by fireworks being launched from the London Eye wheel and barges on the River Thames.

Cities in South America and the United States will also each hold their own celebrations as the clock strikes midnight for their time zone.

In Brazil, more than one million people are expected to makeup the crowd on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach.

American Samoa will be among the last to farewell 2014, a full 25 hours after its close neighbour.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Year Propaganda Came Of Age

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 12/27/2014 18:31 -0500

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer of The Automatic Earth

2014: The Year Propaganda Came Of Age

From just about as early in my life as I can remember, growing up as a child in Holland, there were stories about World War II, and not just about Anne Frank and the huge amounts of people who, like her, had been dragged off to camps in eastern Europe never to come back, but also about the thousands who had risked their lives to hide Jewish and other refugees, and the scores who had been executed for doing so, often betrayed by their own neighbors.

And then there were those who had risked their lives in equally courageous ways to get news out to people, putting out newspapers and radio broadcasts just so there would be a version of events out there that was real, and not just what the Germans wanted one to believe. This happened in all Nazi – and Nazi friendly – occupied European nations. The courage of these people is hard to gauge for us today, and I’m convinced there’s no way to say whom amongst us would show that kind of bravery if we were put to the test; I certainly wouldn’t be sure about myself.

Still, without wanting to put myself anywhere near the level of those very very real heroes, please don’t get me wrong about that, that’s not what I mean, I was thinking about them with regards to what is happening in our media today. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think Joseph Goebbels had anything on US and European media today.

That propaganda as a strategic and political instrument has been refined to a huge extent over the past 70-odd years since Goebbels first picked up on Freud’s lessons on how to influence the unconscious mind, and the ‘mass-mind’, as a way to ‘steer’ an entire people, not just as a means to make them buy detergent. These days, the media can make people believe just about anything, and they have the added benefit that they can pose as friends of the people, not the enemy.

But there is a reason why such a large ‘industry’ has developed on the web with people writing articles that don’t say what the mass media say. That reason for is, obviously, first and foremost that not everybody believes whatever they are told. The problem is equally obvious: not nearly enough people are being reached to make a true difference, and to question the official narratives.

Me, I have no claim to fame outside of the appreciation I get from first, my readers and second, from my colleagues and peers. I get a lot of both, and I thank you for that, but this certainly is not about me. If anything, it’s about trying to live up to the desire for truth in the face of odds squarely stacked against it, and against the people I try to reach out to. Trying to do just 0.1% of what the WWII underground press was about.

A few days ago, I wrote in About That Interview:

The FBI claims they are certain the hackers are North Korean, but they have provided no proof of that claim. We have to trust them on their beautiful blue eyes. I think if anything defines 2014 for me, it’s the advent of incessant claims for which no proof – apparently – needs to be provided. Everything related to Ukraine over the past year carries that trait. The year of ‘beautiful blue eyes’, in other words. Never no proof, you just have to believe what your government says.

And that truly defines 2014 for me. A level of propaganda I don’t recognize, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. 2014 has for me been the year of utter nonsense. To wit, it just finished in fine form with a 5% US GDP growth number, just to name one example. Really, guys? 5%? Really? With all the numbers presented lately, the negative Thanksgiving sales data – minus 11% from what I remember -, the so-so at best Christmas store numbers to date, shrinking durable goods in November and all? Plus 5%?

It really doesn’t matter what I say, does it? You have enough people believing ridiculous numbers like that to make it worth your while. After all, that’s all that counts. It’s a democracy, isn’t it? If a majority believes something, it becomes true. If you can get more than 50% of people to believe whatever you say, that’s case closed.

With well over 90 million working age Americans counted as being out of the labor force, and with 43 million on food stamps, you can still present a 5% GDP growth number, if only you can get a sufficiently large number of people to ‘believe’. And you do, I’ll give you that. As far as the media goes, we have achieved the change we can believe in. We may not have that change, but we sure do believe we have, don’t we? And isn’t that what counts? Are congratulations in order?

Well, not where I’m at, they’re not. I should do a shout out to the likes of Zero Hedge, Yves Smith, David Stockman, Wolf Richter, Mish, Steve Keen, Jim Kunstler, and so many others, we’re a solid crowd by now even if we’re neglected, and please don’t feel left out if you’re not in that list, I know who you are. The problem is, we’re all completely neglected by the mass media, even though there are a ton of very sharp minds in this ‘finance blogosphere’. And perhaps we should make it a point to break through that ridiculous black-out in 2015.

2014, in my eyes, has been the year of propaganda outdoing even its own very purpose, and succeeding too. We are supposed to be living in a time of the best educated people in the history of mankind, and everyone thinks (s)he’s mighty smart, but precious few have even an inkling of a clue of what transpires in the world they live in. Talk about a lost generation. Or two.

We really need to question the value of higher education, if all we get for it is a generation of people so easily duped by utter blubber. What do they teach people at our universities these days? Certainly not to think for themselves, that much is clear. And then what is the use? Why spend all that time raising an entire generation of highly educated pawns, sheep and robots? I can think of some people liking that, but for society as a whole, it’s devastating if that’s all higher education is.

And if you would like to raise doubts here, the very existence of finance blogosphere I mentioned before is proof that we indeed have raised a generation of sheep. If we had functioning media, there’d be no need for that blogosphere. We are the people who keep on pointing out where the mass media fail, let alone the politicians, simply by being there and being supported to the extent we are by the few people who escape the sheep mentality.

But that’s not nearly enough. Journalists, reporters, whatever they call themselves, working for Bloomberg, Reuters, CNBC etc. should at the very least quote Zero Hedge on a daily basis, and Mish, and Steve, and Yves, and perhaps even me – though it’s fine if they continue to ignore me, as long as they give the rest their rightful place.

There are many people in the blogosphere who are many times smarter than the people who write for the mass media, and that’s a very simple and hardly disputable fact that needs to be recognized. When you read something in your paper or at your online news provider, it should be second nature to ask yourself: but what would Tyler Durden say, or the Automatic Earth, or Naked Capitalism, or David Stockman?

But we’re nowhere near that, are we? We’ve been fooled with economic stats for years, not just in the US, not even just in the west, but all over, they all grabbed on to the potential of providing people with numbers that have little to do with reality, but that simply feel good. Or even just look good.

Still, boy, have we been, and are we being, fooled. Then again, most of you wouldn’t know, would you? We people tend to discount the future, to see today as more important than tomorrow, and in the same manner we find our children’s future much less important than our own. Because that feels good too. If we are comfy right now, screw them. Not that we’d ever put it into those terms.

But you know, that’s really all old hack by now. 2014 brought us a whole other class of nonsense. And we swallowed it all hook line and entire sinker.

2014 gave us Ukraine. And you just try and find anyone today who doesn’t think Vladimir Putin is and was the evil genius mind behind the whole thing, including the 4500+ people who died there over the past 10 months. Why is it so hard to anyone who doubts that narrative? Because our media told us Putin is the bogeyman. And ‘we’ never asked for any proof. That is, except for those of us in that same blogosphere.

Meanwhile, round after round of sanctions against Russia have been set up and activated by EU and US, causing hardship for both Russian people and European businesses. But why, what exactly is Putin allegedly guilty of?

The US/EU installed a government in Kiev in February (yeah, yap about it), which is still in place, with a bunch of US citizens recently added for good measure – and for profit-. The chocolate prince president was indeed elected months later, but the prime minister – Yats – was handpicked by America, and is still -amazingly – in place. That’s the same government that had it own army murder thousands of its own citizens, and not a thing has been resolved so far.

The whole thing came to a head when MH17 was shot down over the summer. That too was blamed on Putin. Or was it? Well, not directly, nobody said Putin ordered that plane to be shot. Nor did anyone say Russia shot it. There is the accusation that Russian speaking Ukrainian ‘rebels’ did it, but proof for that was never provided in the 6 months since the incident. And there must be a best before date in there somewhere.

Is it possible the ‘rebels’ did it? We can’t exclude it, but that’s for the same reason we can’t exclude the option that little green Martians did it: we don’t know. But even then, even if they did, there’s the question whether that would have been on purpose. Which seems really stretching it: nothing they want would be served by shooting down a plane full of European, Malaysian and Australian holiday goers.

But here we are: no proof and layer upon layer of sanctions. And nary a voice is raised in the west. If one is, it’s to denounce the Russians as bloodthirsty barbarians. Even though there is no proof they did anything other than protecting what they see as their own people. Something we all would do too, no questions asked.

Ukraine defines 2014 as the year western propaganda came into its own. Not just fictional stories about an economic recovery anymore, no, we had our politico-media establishment ram an entire new cold war down our throats. And we swallowed it whole. We may have had a million more years of higher education than our parents and grandparents, but we sure don’t seem to have gotten any smarter than them.

There is a lot of information out there, written by people inspired by things other than monetary incentives or job security or anything like that, people who simply want to get information out that your trusted media won’t give you anymore than Goebbels’ media did in occupied Europe in the 1940s. And you don’t even have to risk your lives to access that information. All you have to do is to get off your couch.

The Automatic Earth is but a small part of a very valuable and fast growing resource that warrants a lot more attention than it’s been receiving to date. A reported 5% US GDP growth print is one reason why, the entire Ukraine fantasy story is another. The blogosphere is full of functioning neurons, which is more than you can say for your papers and online MSM.

As far as media is concerned, 2014 has been downright scary in its distortion of reality. Let’s try and move 2015 a little bit closer towards what’s actually happening.


America’s Bizarre 18th Century Christmas Roots


21st Century Wire says…

It’s incredible just how the modern secular Christmas came into being during the 1800′s in the United States.

Today’s Christmas lore is a synthesis of residual pagan culture mixed in with European fables and religious personalities. Incredibly, Santa did not travel alone either – he had a demon side-kick, a crafty devil who dealt with the naughty youngsters and who has long since parted ways with the surviving jolly red character.

It all started in the Big Apple and then went global…

KRAMPUS: Santa’s 18th century demon companion would deal with the kids who were naughty.

Brasscheck TV

Did you know that the quaint custom of Christmas caroling actually began with drunk and rowdy revelers threatening people door to door looking for food and liquor?

Early versions of the heartwarming legend of Santa Claus described him as a horrible devil named Krampus who beat and kidnapped naughty children.

In America, during the 17th and 18th Centuries, celebrating Christmas was against the law!

There’s a lot to tell about the history of Christmas - and a lot you may not know…

Pope Francis Turning Focus to Climate Change

(Stefano Spaziani/UPI/Landov)

Monday, 29 Dec 2014 07:15 AM

By Elliot Jager

Pope Francis will intensify his efforts on climate change in 2015, issuing an encyclical to the faithful in March, highlighting the threat of global warming to the Earth before the U.N. General Assembly in September and, finally, pushing for a global compact on climate change in Paris in December, The Guardian reported.

Politically conservative Catholics in the U.S. are likely to be put off by Francis' environmental radicalism — among them House Speaker John Boehner, according to the Guardian.

Special: US Intelligence Adviser Exposes Covert Plan to Destroy the US Economy

Several Republican presidential contenders maintain that global warming has been overstated or misrepresented.

Evangelicals tend to be more skeptical of climate change advocacy than other religious groups. "The Catholic Church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science," said Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, the Guardian reported.

The pope coupled the Church's environmental and economic concerns last May. "Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude."

The Church maintains that humans have a responsibility to safeguard the Earth "because while God always forgives, Creation never forgives" and humanity faces catastrophe if its devastates the planet, according to The Christian Post.

Church leaders like Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, feel that the Church needs to advocate on climate issues. Others like Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's budget chief, is a climate change skeptic, the Guardian reported.

The forthcoming climate encyclical is expected to be some 50 pages and to urge the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to take action on climate change, the Guardian reported.


Where they will come as little as possible in contact with our churches

SDA Vocal Group 
Forgiven is one of California's fast rising contemporary Christian acts

The most grievous sin of idolatry exists in the church. Anything that interposes between the Christian and the whole hearted service to God, takes the form of an idol, and the most grievous sin of idolatry is idolatry itself. The testimonies of God’s word are plain and clear in regard to the snares of the devil. But these are not only church members on the devil’s ground, but those who are opening the Scriptures to others, practice evil, and defile soul and body. They are guilty before God because they are unholy. Were the church living by faith and had they the oil of grace in their vessels with their lamps, the guilty repose would end. Those who believe the sacred, elevating truths for this time, they cannot sleep over them...

Is this exclusively addressed to the few individuals who have been ordained to the ministry? No; but to every Christian young or old, rich or poor. If Christ has forgiven them of their sins, if the truth has made them free, have they not a work to do for the Master? If they are Christians, they will present the truth to others. They will not consider that all they have to do is to serve themselves, live to please and glorify themselves.

Sins of a grave character are in our borders, and unless there is an awakening such as we have not seen for some time which will convict and convert professed Sabbath keepers, they will die in their sins; and the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah will be light in comparison with those who have had great light and precious opportunities, but have been worldly minded, corrupt in thoughts and practices, and have not purified their souls by obeying the truth. 

Now we see need of workers in the opening fields before us, but where are the men who can be trusted, men who have been year by year growing into a better knowledge of God and his ways, and the movings of his providence? I want to sound in the ears of these sleepy, half paralyzed souls the words spoken to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There is need to ask God with all the heart, to elevate the standard. The commonness, the cheapness of conversation reveal the measure of spirituality of the members of the church. Now, those who have lived years in this same experience know not God nor Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; and should such go forth as representatives of Jesus Christ? These men will never give the right mold to other minds. They have not grown up to the full stature of men and women in Jesus Christ. They simply live the name of Christian, but are not fitted for the work of God, and never will be until they are born again, and learn their A.B.C.’s in the religion of Jesus Christ. There is hope in one direction. Take the young men and women and place them where they will come as little as possible in contact with our churches, that the low grade of piety which is current in this day shall not leaven their ideas of what it means to be a Christian. The worshippers of God are in need of transforming grace to subordinate the world to religion. In the place of making the temporal interest first, exhausting soul, body, and spirit to secure temporal advantages, Jesus points us to the heavenly treasure, and tells us not to lay up our treasure in earth which will perish, but to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven which will not perish, for where our treasure is there will our heart be also. Jesus would have all that profess to believe in him deal in the currency of heaven, handling those things upon which God has stamped his image and superscription. These he presents before us of infinite value. We see the need of a deep and thorough work in our churches; but the Lord alone can by his Holy Spirit make the hearts that are as steel, soft and sympathetic, and true to the service of Christ. We are far behind because the churches have folded their hands in a peace and safety attitude, and are at ease in Zion, doing almost nothing when the living zeal should be in their hearts as never before. Satan is stirring the powers from beneath to make one last desperate effort to convert the world to his own principles. He has his plans laid with Satanic subtlety, and destruction cometh suddenly while these that have the light, the warnings that such a crisis is before us are almost unmoved...

Those who quibble over the authenticity of the Scriptures, and question the authenticity of Revelation will not be influenced. Their hearts are not sound. They are not at enmity with Satan. The heart is the treasure house of sin. Not being expelled, it is hidden until an hour of opportunity, and then is revealed and springs into action. The first work is with the heart. Truth, the love of Jesus must supply the vacuum, Saith Christ, Make the tree good and the fruit will be good.... 

We must as a people rise up from our formality. We must enter the straight gate. Satan has placed his active agents all along the passage to dispute the way of every soul. Christ has encouraged his followers not to be intimidated, but to press, urge your way through. Strive to enter in at the straight gate, “For many I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, but shall not be able.” Darling cherished idols will have to be given up, the sins that have been indulged in, even if it comes as close as the plucking out of the right eye, or cutting off the right arm. Arouse! Force your way through the very armies of hell that oppose your passage.

The Paulson Collection of Ellen G. White Letters, pp.343,345.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

'Not Again': AirAsia Plane Disappears, Months After MH370 Went Missing

12/27/2014 @ 11:51PM

Another Asian airliner has gone missing: AirAsia flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control at 7:24 a.m. local time on Sunday, AirAsia reported about four hours after the plane disappeared en route to Singapore.

(For context for American readers, flight QZ8501 disappeared at 7:24 p.m. EST on Saturday in the United States.)

AirAsia is a private airline based in Malaysia, and the country already has suffered two major aviation catastrophes this year.

In March 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic control when it was about several hundred miles north of Singapore. Rescuers still have been unable to find any traces of flight MH370, or its 239 passengers and crew, despite an unprecedented search effort.

In April 2014, or one month after MH370 went missing, AirAsia’s CEO was forced to apologize after the company’s in-flight magazine suggested that AirAsia’s own well-trained pilots would never lose a plane.

AirAsia was forced to apologize for this article in its in-flight magazine, after MH370 went missing.

AirAsia said the magazine was printed before MH370 disappeared, and was not intended as a commentary on its rival airline.

In July 2014, Malaysia Airline flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing nearly 300 passengers and crew.

Details on AirAsia Flight QZ8501
Sunday’s missing AirAsia flight was traveling between Surabaya, in Indonesia, and Singapore. There were 155 passengers and seven crew on board the Airbus A320-200, officials have said.

The plane was operated by Indonesia AirAsia, a joint venture with Air Asia proper. (The company has several affiliates, including AirAsia India and AirAsia X.) Indonesia AirAsia has a fleet of 30 Airbus A320s.

An AirAsia official told the media on Sunday that the plane had requested “an unusual route” before air traffic control lost contact with QZ8501 over the Java Sea. However, an Indonesia Transport Ministry spokesperson later clarified that the pilot’s request was permission to change altitude due to bad weather, Steve Herman reported for the Voice of America.

“At the present time we unfortunately have no further information,” according to AirAsia’s statement. “At this time, search and rescue operations are in progress and AirAsia is cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service.”

After releasing its statement to reporters, AirAsia immediately changed the appearance of its various social media accounts. On AirAsia’s Facebook account, for instance, the company swapped out its usual bright red logo in favor of a muted gray logo, and changed the background of its Facebook from a festive holiday theme to a shrouded, all-black bar.

Malaysians were “shocked” by the news of a third potential lost airliner this year, the Malaysian Insider reported, and tens of thousand of people around the globe took to social media to express their surprise and sorrow.

“Another plane went missing,” one Malaysian tweeted. “Ya Allah not again.”

“Pray for QZ8501.”


Hollywood taking notice of Desmond Doss story

Lynchburg native was World War II Congressional Medal of Honor winner

News & Advance file photo
Pfc. Desmond Doss receives his Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. On his Medal of Honor citation, he is credited with saving 75 lives.

Posted: Saturday, December 6, 2014 5:02 pm

Emma Schkloven

The story of Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, a Lynchburg native and the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, is on its way to the big screen — and Mel Gibson is apparently in talks to direct.

The film, “Hacksaw Ridge,” has been linked by several Hollywood media outlets to Cross Creek Pictures, which also produced the Oscar-winning “Black Swan” in 2010.

Doss, who grew up on Easley Avenue in Fairview Heights, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, though he refused to carry a weapon in combat because of his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. He was assigned as a combat medic, and is credited with saving as many as 75 men during the battle of Okinawa. Doss singlehandedly lowered the soldiers with ropes off a 400-foot cliff to safety, all while facing enemy fire.

“His commander said it had to be more than 100, and he was a small man,” said Harlow Reynolds, one of the Lynchburg locals who worked with City Council to rename the northwest extension of the Lynchburg Expressway after Doss in 2007. “How he did it, I will never know with his size.”

Steve Doss, the principal of Desmond T. Doss Christian Academy in Lynchburg, learned of the movie’s possibility about two years ago, when he met Dr. Charles Knapp, a retired U.S. Army colonel. Knapp is chairman of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference’s Desmond Doss Council, which owns the rights to Doss’s story.

“They had turned down a number of screenplays because they wanted it to stay true to who Desmond was,” Doss said.

Pfc. Doss died in 2006, but his retelling of the story is immortalized in the award-winning documentary, “The Conscientious Objector,” produced in 2004.

“Variety” and “Deadline” both have reported that Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spiderman,” “The Social Network”) is on the short list of stars who may portray the hero in the new film. Several entertainment outlets have reported that Gibson is in talks to direct. “[The film] will cross over to so many different people who will enjoy it, especially now with the revitalization of appreciation for what veterans have done for us,” Doss said.

Pfc. Doss visited the school, which changed its name from Lynchburg Seventh-day Adventist School in 1984, several times over the years.

“He came in his uniform and did the knots for the kids that he used to lower the men down that escarpment,” Doss said.

The principal described the veteran as “kind-hearted … very down to earth.”

“He was in awe that people were in awe of him,” Doss said.

Reynolds, who communicated with the Doss family in the last years of the veteran’s life, has some advice for the film’s producers.

“Just tell the truth of how he did it, you don’t have to beef it up or anything,” he said. “If [it] tells the truth, it will be a great movie.”

Medal of Honor Citation
He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave's mouth, where he dressed his comrades' wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade.
Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers' return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.


Devil in the detail of Pope's attack on capitalism

December 27, 2014

Allister Heath

Pope Francis is wrong about how best to fight global inequality.

Pope Francis' view, inequality is the root of social evil. Photo: AFP

There can be no doubt that Pope Francis is a devoted and selfless man who has dedicated his life to serving others. A phenomenal theologian, he abhors war and poverty and is an inspiration to hundreds of millions of believers; he has gained widespread respect even among those who disagree with the Catholic church's teachings.

So it is with great sadness that I must take exception to the Pope's views on economics and business. His hostility to capitalism is tragically misplaced. He has repeatedly savaged free markets and aligned himself with the views of Thomas Piketty, the far-left intellectual who obsesses about inequality and advocates crippling taxes on income and wealth.

In one key intervention, the Pope said that the "absolute autonomy of markets" was a "new tyranny". It was a strangely inaccurate vignette of the modern economic system, which is characterised by not-so-free markets that are routinely bailed out, subsidised, taxed, capped, fettered, regulated and distorted by activist governments and their monetary and fiscal policies. North Korea is a genuine tyranny; free trade and genuine free markets are anything but.

It gets worse, unfortunately. At the height of Pikettymania, and before many leading economists punched holes in the French economist's thesis, the Pope took to his Twitter account to state, without any caveats or context, that "inequality is the root of social evil". He was clearly referring to differences in financial outcomes and wealth, and, crucially, not to poverty or to inequalities of opportunity, both very different concepts.

In any free society characterised by private property rights and individuals endowed with differing tastes, ambitions, talents and aspirations, there will inevitably be a divergence in earnings and wealth. The Pope's wholesale condemnation of inequality is, thus, tantamount to a complete rejection of contemporary economic systems. It is not a call for reform, or for moderation, but a radical denunciation.

The logical conclusion of the Pope's tweets is that it is "evil" for the likes of Sir Richard Branson to have been allowed to keep the money he earned by providing the public with goods and services, and that we need immediate equalisation through punitive taxes. Such an extreme approach would have catastrophic consequences, annihilate incentives to work, save and invest, and halt the progress of human civilisation.

A more recent critique from the Pope was equally unfounded, blaming speculators for high food prices. "The few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences," he said, asserting that "speculation on food prices is a scandal which seriously compromises access to food on the part of the poorest members of our human family".

The Pope's predecessor, Benedict XVI, made similar comments, as have many pressure groups; ironically, food prices have been falling recently. But the truth is this: speculators are not to blame for high (or low) prices over any meaningful period of time; there is no genuine, robust statistical evidence to back up the Pope's claims, and any profits traders make do not come at the expense of the poor.

Those who buy and sell and seek to predict the future perform a crucial and legitimate social function; without them, the economy would lurch from oversupply to undersupply. Markets would be horrendously opaque and illiquid, with some consumers paying far more than others for identical products. When the price of food goes up, it means experts collectively feel demand will rise or supply will fall; thanks to such speculation, market prices are the best possible early warning signal. They allow farmers to plant more of the right kinds of crops, and futures markets allow them to insure themselves against price changes. Speculators who keep getting it wrong go bust.

Food is relatively expensive because it is relatively scarce. Many countries are becoming richer and, thus, consuming more of it – which is wonderful – and more agricultural land is being used to produce biofuels and ethanol. Yet we have coped: technological progress, fuelled by entrepreneurial innovation, has made agriculture immensely more productive; and improved policies have meant that more countries operate productive agricultural sectors.

Over time, it is these trends which determine the cost of our lunch and dinner, not traders; it is a shame that so many people find it easier to shoot the messenger than try to understand the underlying causes of scarcity and plenty.

Of course, the system can break down. Bubbles can appear: quantitative easing and ultra-low interest rates have pushed up a variety of asset prices over the past few years; too much money is chasing too few commodities. Markets can be manipulated, as we saw with Libor; fortunately, such illegal activity doesn't tend to have much of a long-run affect on prices but it should, nevertheless, be penalised severely. Cracking down on such abuse is one thing; seeking to stop speculation is another entirely.

The Pope has also slammed "trickle-down" economics – in fact, a caricature of free-market arguments – in scathing but equally incorrect terms. "There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it's full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor," he said.

It is hard to reconcile such a baffling statement with recent economic history. Even the poorest among us today have access to medical technologies which the richest of the rich couldn't even have dreamed of a century ago. The number of people living in extreme poverty in emerging markets has collapsed from half the population in 1981 to 21 per cent in 2010. A giant new global middle class has emerged in China, India, Africa and Latin America.

Yet no real free marketeer believes that growth alone is enough to solve all problems. In the West, wages are under pressure and youth unemployment elevated, among myriad other urgent issues. The solutions are complex; they include boosting entrepreneurship, improving education and more flexible labour markets. They certainly do not involve wholesale, ill-informed attacks on the market economy.

Religious groups have a central role to play in improving society: they can promote self-control, civility, respect and ethical behaviour, and help to reduce fraud, manipulation and other illegal activity in all spheres of human action. They can remind their followers that there is more to life than merely accumulating goods, and that reading, learning and thinking are wonderful things. They can convince the rich to finance poverty alleviation programs, medical research, and educational scholarships. They ought to emphasise the oneness of humanity, and, thus, help remove protectionist barriers which prevent people from poor countries from selling their wares to richer countries. The task is immense.

But unthinkingly to fight capitalism – the greatest alleviator of poverty and liberator of people ever discovered – makes no sense. The sooner the world's great religions learn to love the wealth-creating properties of the market economy, the sooner they will be able to harness them to make the world a better place.

Allister Heath is a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, London.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Babylon is fallen, is fallen - by Bill Hughes

Published on Aug 10, 2014

By pastor Bill Hughes
Author of the Secret Terrorists & The Enemy Unmasked.

Please write to him:
Box 1417
Eustis, FL 32727

As Pope & U.S. Repeat Unholy Alliance, God Calls For Self-supporting Workers!

Published on Dec 21, 2014


A Wide Field for Church Leaders

 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
(Acts 20:28).

God is not glorified by leaders in the church who seek to drive the sheep. No, no. “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” There is a wide field for the elders and the helpers in every church. They are to feed the flock of God with pure provender, thoroughly winnowed from the chaff, the poisonous mixture of error. You who have any part to act in the church of God, be sure that you act wisely in feeding the flock of God; for its prosperity much depends upon the quality of this food (Manuscript 59, 1900).

SDA Bible Commentary Vol.7, p.942.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Netherlands Union Lists Job Opening for Female or Male Pastors

23 December 2014 | JARED WRIGHT

The Netherlands Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is seeking a full-time pastor for Dutch-speaking churches, according to a job listing posted today on the union's website. The listing, posted by NUC Executive Secretary Tom de Bruin, calls for female and male candidates to apply.

The Trans-European Division, the parent organization of the Netherlands Union Conference, has been among the leading entities in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination moving forward on the issue of women's ordination. The division's website notes that the matter of women’s ordination for ministry has been under discussion in the TED at least since 1968.

The website's Statement on Women's Ordination to the Pastoral Ministry states that after considering the recommendations of regular councils for female pastoral workers, "salaries, employment conditions, titles, and job descriptions for male and female pastoral workers have been made more and more equal in many unions."

The Netherlands Union Conference has made moves to include more women in pastoral ministry. In September of 2013, the NUC was the first union in Europe to ordain a woman, Guisèle Berkel-Larmonie. The current job listing provides another opportunity for a woman to serve as a pastor. The listing includes the following stipulations:

Open to: Any Adventist pastor (female or male) with an MA in Theology from a European Adventist University, preferably Newbold College.
Position: Pastor for Dutch-speaking churches, coach for Dutch-speaking church plants
Closing Date: Friday, January 16th, 2015
Work Hours: Full-time
Salary: Per the denominational salary scale
As per: March 1st, 2015

Applicants must have the required work and/or residency permits to be eligible for consideration.


1-year contract with the prospect of a permanent position
Responsible for leading existing Dutch-speaking churches and/or groups.
Responsible for setting up new Dutch-speaking church plants.


All applicants must clearly address each selection criterion detailed below with specific and comprehensive information supporting each item. Applications with incomplete information will be deemed unqualified.

Applicant must be a member of the SDA Church.
Applicant must be a citizen of an EU-28 country, Norway or Switzerland.
Education: MA Theology at a European Adventist University, preferably Newbold College.
Experience in leading churches or church planting is an asset.
Ordination is preferred but not required. Young pastors (under 40) are preferred. Female applicants will have our preference over male applicants in case of equal competence.
Language requirements: C1 in English, B2 in Dutch (or should be able to achieve this level within one year).
Job Knowledge: general knowledge of the Dutch culture and customs.
Skills and Abilities: A valid European driving license is required. Good computer skills are desirable. Must have basic Microsoft Office knowledge and be familiar with report writing and spreadsheets. Must be able to work independently and adapt to changing circumstances. Must have strong organizational and social skills. Must be able to deliver spiritual leadership from an Adventist perspective. Must be able to work in intercultural settings and build bridges between cultures.


Qualified European citizens receive preference in hiring. It is essential that the candidates address the required qualifications above in the application. Candidates who are eligible for invitation will take part in an in-house assessment, including five peer assessments using a personality survey to be supplied. Candidates will also submit five letters of reference about their functioning in church situations.


Interested applicants for this position must submit the following in English or Dutch (no Google translation) to

A letter of application.
A current resumé or curriculum vitae.
Any other documentation (e.g., essays, certificates, awards) that addresses the qualification requirements of the position as listed above.
A copy of your passport showing your age and country of birth.
A recent picture.
For additional information, contact the Ministerial Association Department, (+31) 30 6939375.


Happy Sabbath

1997, Kings Canyon National Park, California, USA --- Sunset over Evolution Lake --- Image by © Galen Rowell/CORBIS

The True Sabbath is a Test of Loyalty

The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty, for it is the point of truth especially controverted. When the final test shall be brought to bear upon men, then the line of distinction will be drawn between those who serve God and those who serve Him not. While the observance of the false sabbath in compliance with the law of the state, contrary to the fourth commandment, will be an avowal of allegiance to a power that is in opposition to God, the keeping of the true Sabbath, in obedience to God's law, is an evidence of loyalty to the Creator. While one class, by accepting the sign of submission to earthly powers, receive the mark of the beast, the other choosing the token of allegiance to divine authority, receive the seal of God.

The Great Controversy, p.605

The Devil’s Strategy Against Sabbathkeepers

The Devil’s Strategy Against Sabbathkeepers, June 4

Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law? They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood. Psalm 94:20, 21.

As the people of God approach the perils of the last days, Satan holds earnest consultation with his angels as to the most successful plan of overthrowing their faith....

Says the great deceiver: “... The Sabbath is the great question which is to decide the destiny of souls. We must exalt the sabbath of our creating. We have caused it to be accepted by both worldlings and church members; now the church must be led to unite with the world in its support. We must work by signs and wonders to blind their eyes to the truth, and lead them to lay aside reason and the fear of God and follow custom and tradition.

“I will influence popular ministers to turn the attention of their hearers from the commandments of God....

“But our principal concern is to silence this sect of Sabbathkeepers. We must excite popular indignation against them. We will enlist great men and worldly-wise men upon our side, and induce those in authority to carry out our purposes. Then the sabbath which I have set up shall be enforced by laws the most severe and exacting. Those who disregard them shall be driven out from the cities and villages, and made to suffer hunger and privation. When once we have the power, we will show what we can do with those who will not swerve from their allegiance to God.... Now that we are bringing the Protestant churches and the world into harmony with this right arm of our strength, we will finally have a law to exterminate all who will not submit to our authority. When death shall be made the penalty of violating our sabbath, then many who are now ranked with commandment keepers will come over to our side.

“But before proceeding to these extreme measures, we must ... ensnare those who honor the true Sabbath. We can separate many from Christ by worldliness, lust, and pride. They may think themselves safe because they believe the truth, but indulgence of appetite or the lower passions, which will confuse judgment and destroy discrimination, will cause their fall.”

Maranatha, p.163

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.

5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55 King James Version (KJV)


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Brief History of the Christmas Controversy

BY MIKE MARIANI • December 23, 2014 • 9:40 AM


(Photo: JaroPienza/Shutterstock)

Can Christmas’ pagan roots explain its increasing secularization today?

For Americans in the past decade, the month of December has not only been about braving the attic, Fraser firs, idiosyncratic family traditions, and Walmart anarchists. For years, conservative television networks, right-wing politicos, and outspoken Christian organizations have lamented the perceived “War on Christmas” and the holiday’s increasing secularization among American families.

The war is seemingly fought on two fronts. On the first, Republican shock jocks accuse liberals of taking political correctness too far and whitewashing “Merry Christmas” into “Happy Holidays,” effectively burying or at least denying the existence of Christian America. On the second—and more logical—front, devout Christians and their organizations have lamented the secularization of Christmas, noting that the holiday has gradually but inexorably transformed into an American tradition centered on family values, ubiquitous consumerism, and genial trappings and pageantry that no longer have any connection to the birth of Christ, The Nativity, or Christian piety.
The invention of Christmas was a power play, a religious contrivance and political machination instituted to shrewdly shift the masses from paganism to Christianity while minimizing the resistance that might arise out of wrenching away a beloved time of year.

The latter of these grievances is undeniably valid. In the United States, December 25 is no longer emblematic of Christ and his life; instead, it is now only the zenith of a much larger, longer “holiday season” that is sprawling and colossal in cultural scope, encompassing parties, advertising, television specials, Christmas albums, and the general leveraging of all forces in media and entertainment. Devout Christians understandably bemoan this onslaught, declaring that it has completely stripped the holiday of its true purpose: celebration and observance of Christ’s life. The truth, however, is more complicated. The celebration and holiday spirit surrounding December 25 was never the exclusive province of Christians. In fact, it was around long before Christ was even born.

Around the same time that we celebrate Christmas, the Ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival to honor Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. On December 17 Romans made dedications at the Temple of Saturn, which often included sacrifices. The commemoration of the temple marked the beginning of an epic holiday season that included public banquets, the exchanging of gifts among family, and singing in the streets. During Saturnalia Romans lifted laws on propriety and engaged in the inversion of social roles: gambling was permitted, drinking and public debauchery were rampant, and, in what is perhaps the festival’s most striking feature, masters would serve their slaves during one of the banquets.

A “Lord of Misrule” was appointed each year to serve as a madcap master of ceremonies, bestowed with the power to command revelers to fulfill his every crack whim. In his work Saturnalia, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata (125-180 C.E.) has one of his characters declare:

During my week the serious is barred: no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games of dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside.

Originally taking place on a single day, under the reign of Emperor Augustus (63 B.C.E.-14 C.E.) the event was extended to multiple days. By the time Emperor Caligula ruled, Saturnalia lasted between five and seven days, with the culmination often falling on December 25, around the time of the winter solstice. December 25 had added significance for the Romans, as it was the birthday of the sun god Sol Invictus (“Unconquerable Sun”), a date appropriately close to the longest night of the year.

During the first few centuries C.E., Saturnalia reached its extravagant peak. Banquets and performances featured female gladiators, bevies of exotic birds, fireworks, and dwarves in mock combat (yes, just like inGame of Thrones‘ Purple Wedding). It wasn’t until Constantine the Great’s conversion to Christianity that Saturnalia would begin to fall under siege. His conversion in 312 effectively ended the persecution of Christians in Rome and, equally significant, opened the doors for royal patronage of the Church. The time frame of Constantine’s reign—306-337—witnessed a power struggle between paganism and Christianity.
It’s no blasphemy to declare that the December holiday season has once again become a pagan celebration; it’s an atavistic return to the ritual’s roots.

Sometime around the end of Constantine’s dynasty, perhaps 336, Christians celebrated the first Christmas. This was, obviously, well over three centuries after Christ’s birth. Further, the date chosen for Christmas—December 25—had no connection to Christ’s actual birthday. There is no mention of his birth date in the Bible, and no true record exists, as ancient Jewish tradition denounced the commemoration of birthdays as a pagan ritual. This would soon take on a profound irony when, centuries after that unrecorded birthday, Church Fathers scrambled to pick an arbitrary date for Christ’s birth so that they might compete with paganism.

In the fourth century, as Christianity began to supersede paganism in Rome and Christians ascended to the ruling class, the effort to dissolve the old beliefs and supplant Saturnalia began. As British Museum advisor Sam Moorhead told BBC Religion, “If Christianity moves Christmas into December, at the Saturnalia and the birthday of Sol, you can then fade out these other festivals and incorporate elements into the Christian festival. You can attempt to move on as if nothing has happened.” Through this strategy the early Christian elites killed several birds with one stone: they were able to gradually render Saturnalia obsolete; facilitate a rise in the popularity and cultural capital of Christianity by making a Christian holiday the centerpiece of the festival season; and avoid popular backlash by continuing the winter solstice celebrations unimpeded.

In other words, the early Roman Catholic Church did not so much appropriate the trappings and customs of Saturnalia as they simply stuck the flag of Christmas right in the middle of the festival’s perennial landscape, changing the underlying religion while leaving the coveted pomp and circumstance intact.

As Stephen Nissenbaum argues in The Battle for Christmas, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it always had been. From the beginning, the Church’s hold over Christmas was (and remains still) rather tenuous.” The elaborate feasts, the gift-giving, the frivolous abeyance of the social order, the weeklong license to debauch—all were retained, with the politically contrived birth of Christ inserted at the climax.
The truth is that Christmas has not so much evolved into a secular celebration as it has come full circle, returning to its original incarnation as a sprawling festival more focused on levity and merrymaking than the worship of Jesus Christ.

Over the course of centuries, many of these customs, including the exchanging of gifts and the spirit of charity, became strongly associated with Christmas. Alas, gift-giving was an emblem of love and friendship long before Christ, and the kindness and egalitarianism woven through our holiday season hark back to the worship of Saturn, who was said to have presided over a Golden Age of mankind in which all people co-existed in a paradisiacal state of equality (which was honored, among other ways, through the role reversals between masters and slaves).

In a sense, the invention of Christmas was a power play, a religious contrivance and political machination instituted to shrewdly shift the masses from paganism to Christianity while minimizing the resistance that might arise out of wrenching away a beloved time of year. And by using the revered infrastructure of the Saturnalia festivals, the Church could immediately add weight to the figure of Christ, making his birthday a ready-made cause for celebration.

The fusing of two religions or, in the case of Saturnalia and Christmas, the subsuming of one set of religious practices into another is known as religious syncretism. The phenomenon is far more prevalent than one might think.

After the imperial conquests of Alexander the Great merged various cultures throughout central and western Asia, the Hellenistic period (323-31 B.C.E.) saw the blending of Persian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian religions. In his collection of essays Moses and Monotheism, Freud speculated that Judaism may have been the result of Moses’ followers merging with a small monotheistic tribe that worshiped the volcano god Jahweh. Plenty of scholars argue that the characteristic appearance of the Christian God—patriarchal white beard, light-skinned complexion, cloud-wreathed firmament backdrop—draws directly from Zeus. Syncretism is the crucial thread that stitches together religious history, and the story of Saturnalia and Christmas is a particularly unique example of it.

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In most instances of syncretism, the fusing religions merge not only their customs and rituals but also their underlying beliefs. In this way, the once-autonomous religions are fundamentally changed, adapting myths and doctrines to create an evolved system of beliefs and practices. But Christianity was able to manipulate the effects of syncretism without ever succumbing to its compromises or relinquishing doctrine.

During Constantine’s reign the Church Fathers went so far as to associate the “Unconquered Sun” with Jesus, referencing the “sun of righteousness” mentioned in Malachi 4:2 as evidence of Jesus, the true sun. Through this crafty legerdemain early Christians more easily shifted December 25 from the birth of Sol Invictus to the birth of Christ. Eventually several other important religious dates would pivot on Christmas, including the Annunciation, celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christ’s ceremonial birth, the Epiphany, and the Adoration of the Magi. Once Christianity seized December 25, all the other historic moments and their accompanying mythologies fell into place. After emerging out of the husk of Saturnalia, Christmas gathered more and more momentum until it became a vital date inextricably bound to all the other sacred events and consecrated lore of the Christian tradition.

Roughly 1,600 years later, though, things are different. Christmas, at least as it’s celebrated in America, is no longer treated as an exclusively religious holiday. While millions of Americans still attend Christmas services, there are millions more who get swept up in an entirely different set of gratuitous lore: Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Dickensian tableaus, and the lustrous charms of Disneyfication. But look beneath all of the modern flourishes and you’ll see something that looks a lot like Saturnalia: the ceremonial feasts, the singing in the streets (what we now call caroling), the holiday parties. Heck, Saturnalia even had a special day on December 23 reserved for the exchanging of gifts among friends and family—Sigillaria, so named after the wax figurines often given as presents.

The truth is that Christmas has not so much evolved into a secular celebration as it has come full circle, returning to its original incarnation as a sprawling festival more focused on levity and merrymaking than the worship of Jesus Christ. As The Battle for Christmas admits, “There were always people for whom Christmas was a time of pious devotion rather than carnival, but such people were always in the minority.”

It’s no blasphemy to declare that the December holiday season has once again become a pagan celebration; it’s an atavistic return to the ritual’s roots. The problem now, as the more devout Christians rightly point out, are those people caught in the middle of this identity crisis—identifying as members of Christianity and claiming belief in its savior, but investing little devotion, solemnity or faith in the embattled date. These halfhearted believers are mucking up the faith, nominally celebrating Christ’s birth but eating, drinking, and carousing like its 150 BC.E.

Historically, clergymen and their faithful congregants rejected the idea that Christianity is a product of syncretism, believing that subscribing to such a process adulterates the religion and alloys its absolute truth. How right they were.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Protesters attend vigil for N.Y. police killed on the job


10:55 a.m. EST, December 22, 2014

As dozens of people gathered in Harlem on Sunday to honor two slain New York police officers, President Obama expressed his condolences and the president of the NAACP decried the gunman's claim that he was avenging two unarmed black men who died in confrontations with police last summer.

Young women sang, "This Little Light of Mine" at a candlelight vigil for officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were shot to death Saturday in Brooklyn. Police say Liu and Ramos were ambushed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who killed himself as police pursued him.

At the vigil, demonstrators voiced support for law enforcement and carried signs that said, "Claim humanity," "Imagine justice," "Claim love" and "We are human." Some of the participants had also joined protests over the July death of Eric Garner in a confrontation with police, and over a Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict the officer involved.

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Police stand solemn vigil late at night at a makeshift memorial at the site where two police officers were shot in the head in the Brooklyn borough of New York


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"I'm here because all life is valuable and all life matters," Elle Green, a 38-year-old social worker, told the Los Angeles Times.

Green said at a time like this it was important to build trust and safety in the community and to nurture a positive relationship with the police.

"Just because you're angry doesn't mean you're anti-law enforcement," she said, referring to the anger over Garner's death.

Another demonstrator, the Rev. Stephen Phelps, said those who had participated in the Garner demonstrations were devastated by the officers' slaying.

"Our hearts were broken," Phelps told The Times. "We want to see changes, but at the same time, we want the police to know that we support them. We want the police to know that we want to work with them."

Some political leaders said demonstrators who are critical of police should halt their almost nightly marches until Liu and Ramos are buried.

“I’m asking all of those to hold off on any form of protest until these officers are laid to rest in a peaceful manner,” the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, said as he stood in front of a growing memorial to Liu and Ramos.

Bouquets of flowers, candles, a Christmas wreath and a menorah began covering the sidewalk near the busy intersection where Brinsley ambushed the officers as they sat in their patrol car. As night fell, scores of people gathered at the spot for a candlelight vigil in the officers’ memory.

At the same time, marchers in Harlem held a separate “vigil for justice” organized by a group that has held demonstrations alleging police brutality.

This time, there were no anti-police chants or signs among the roughly 50 marchers. Many of them participated in past protests that followed the death in July of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died during an altercation with police, helping set off the ongoing demonstrations.

“We want to see changes, but at the same time, we want the police to know that we support them,” said Stephen Phelps, a clergyman who also has taken part in protests accusing police of abuse of power.

It was unclear how, or whether, the boisterous marches of the last five months would continue given the fallout from Saturday’s killings. Leaders of the city’s police unions, who have accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of siding with protesters, say his leniency toward them laid the groundwork for Brinsley’s rampage.

“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn., Patrick Lynch, said Saturday night. “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

Even some of those urging an end to the political jabs Sunday expressed anger at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has defended protesters’ rights to demonstrate and who on Friday further angered critics by meeting with some protest organizers.

“What if that was your son sitting in that police car, if that was your son that got shot in the head?” said Juan Rodriguez, a Brooklyn civic leader and friend of Ramos who took part in a news conference outside the slain officer’s home. De Blasio “needs to show a little more support for the officers in blue.”

Many police officers turned their backs on De Blasio when he arrived at the hospital where Liu and Ramos were taken after they were shot.

Liu was 32 and had been married for two months. Ramos was 40 and had a 13-year-old son, Jaden, who posted an online tribute to his father, calling him “the best father I could ask for.”

“It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help,” Jaden wrote.

Outside the house where Ramos grew up, his aunt delivered a brief statement. “I hope and pray that we can reflect on this tragic loss of lives that have occurred so that we can move forward and find an amicable path to a peaceful coexistence,” Lucy Ramos said.

Jimmy Hicks has lived in the neighborhood for decades and is accustomed to seeing officers on patrol. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” when he heard what happened, Hicks said. He credited police with helping bring down crime in the area and dismissed critics who accused them of being overly aggressive.

Hicks, who is black, said he felt sorry for the families of Garner and other unarmed men who have died in encounters with police. “But the cops have a job to do,” he said. “They’re not racist.”

In Hawaii, the vacationing Obama called New York Police Commissioner William Bratton on Sunday.

"The president reiterated his call for the American people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal -- prayer, patient dialogue and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.

Before killing the officers, Brinsley posted on Instagram: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs.” He hashtagged the names of Garner and Michael Brown, an unarmed black man killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in August.

Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, said it was unfair "to link the criminal insanity of a lone gunman to the peaceful protests" over grand juries' refusal to indict white police officers in the killings of Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

"The fact of the matter is, in this country, we have a violence problem," Brooks told CBS' "Face the Nation." "Think about it this way. The tears of the families of these police officers and the tears of Eric Garner's family and Michael Brown's family aren't shed in law enforcement blue, racially black or brown. They're colorless. They're tragic and unnecessary."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the forces behind protests over the killings of Garner and Brown, echoed that sentiment.

"This is a pursuit of justice to make the system work fairly for everyone," he said at a news conference. "This is not about trying to take things in our own hands. That does not solve the problem of police misconduct."

Using Garner's and Brown's names in such a context is "hurting the cause of these families," Sharpton said.

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, and his widow, Esaw Garner, joined Sharpton and expressed their sorrow for the officers' families.

"These two police officers lost their life senselessly. Our condolences to the family, and we stand with the family," Carr said.

Esaw Garner delivered a message to demonstrators: "Please protest in a nonviolent way. My husband was not a violent man, so we don't want any violence connected to his name."


New York's Roman Catholic cardinal, Timothy Dolan, warned of rising tensions during a Sunday service attended by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton.

"We worry about a city tempted to tension and division," Dolan said at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Flags across the state flew at half staff and the 13-year-old son of one of the deceased officers bid his father good-bye in a Facebook post.

"It's horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer," wrote the son of Rafael Ramos, 40, who was killed alongside his police partner, 32-year-old Wenjian Liu.

Funeral plans had not yet been announced for Ramos and Liu, who were the first on-duty police officers to die in gunfire in the city since 2001. But the ceremonies could end up underscoring the divisions between the police and the mayor.

The police union had previously started a campaign in which officers could fill out a form asking de Blasio and other city officials not to attend their funerals if they were to die in the line of duty. It was not clear on Sunday how many officers had filled out the forms.


Across the country, police departments were on edge on Sunday following the attack in New York and another in Florida. A police officer on duty outside Tampa was shot to death early Sunday and a suspect has been arrested, local authorities reported. There was no indication yet of a motive.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association on Sunday asked the department to step up security, while Baltimore's police union said the current political environment was the most dangerous for officers since the 1960s.

Police said the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot and wounded his former girlfriend in a Baltimore suburb before traveling to New York City and attacking the officers while they were sitting in their patrol car.

Just before the shooting, Brinsley said to two bystanders, "Watch what I'm going to do," NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told a news conference.

Brinsley killed himself soon after the shooting.

Police described Brinsley as a troubled man, estranged from his family and prone to bursts of anger. A year ago he had tried to hang himself.

Born in Brooklyn, where his mother and daughter still live, Brinsley frequently visited New York, though he had not seen his mother, sisters or daughter for months, Robert Boyce, chief of detectives at the New York Police Department, told reporters on Sunday.

Brinsley, who was Muslim, expressed no extreme religious views and had no apparent gang affiliations, Boyce said, but his Instagram and Facebook pages were littered with anti-government and anti-police statements.

Signs of trouble appeared early in Brinsley's life. He attended high school in New Jersey, but was sent away to family in Georgia due to his behavior. His mother said she feared him.

"Because he had problems in his background, he was going back and forth," Boyce said. "He had a very troubled childhood and was often violent."

Brinsley was arrested 15 times in Georgia and 4 times in Ohio since 2004 on charges including misdemeanor assault and robbery. A sentencing document in Cobb County, Georgia, where he pleaded guilty to weapons charges in 2011 showed that when asked if he had ever been a patient in a mental hospital or been under the care of a psychologist or psychiatrist, Brinsley said, "Yes," but there were no details of his mental problems. He said he had gone as far as 10th grade in school

Members of Brinsley's family told NYPD investigators that he had attempted suicide in the past and that his mother believed he had undiagnosed mental health issues, Boyce said.

"His mother expressed fear of him and hadn't seen him in a month," Boyce told reporters.

Brinsley's most recently known addresses were in Union City, a working-class community of about 20,000 people just south of Atlanta.

No one contacted at his apartment complex said they knew Brinsley, but most of those interviewed said people there tend to keep to themselves.

On Saturday morning, Brinsley left Baltimore for New York in a Bolt Bus, after he shot his ex-girlfriend with a silver, wooden-handled semiautomatic Taurus during an argument at her apartment, Boyce said.

He is suspected of using the same gun to kill the New York policemen and then himself.

He arrived on Manhattan's West Side at 10:50 a.m. At 12:07 p.m., he discarded his cell phone at the Barclays Center near downtown Brooklyn.

Police are uncertain of Brinsley's movements between then and the time he approached the two strangers in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Brinsley, wearing a green varsity-style jacket with a red Native American image on it, told them to follow his Instagram postings.

Moments later, he left the street corner where he had been talking to the bystanders and approached the police car. He then fired the four rounds that killed the officers, 40-year-old Rafael Ramos and 32-year-old Wenjian Liu.

Police identified Brinsley's former girlfriend as Shaneka Nicole Thompson, 29. She was in critical but stable condition at an area hospital, police said.

Reuters and Los Angeles Times contributed.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Scots orphans used in ‘military experiments’

HOLYROOD’S child abuse inquiry will hear claims that British military scientists conducted drug tests on orphans in Scottish mental hospitals.

Published: 00:20, Sun, December 21, 2014

Lennox Castle Hospital is one of four Scottish institutions alleged to have been involved

The allegations centre on at least four institutions where thousands of children are said to have been experimented upon in conditions described as “like something out of Auschwitz”.

It is alleged that Porton Down, the top secret military facility in Wiltshire, was involved in trialling drugs for use in the Cold War on youngsters who were regarded as “feeble-minded”.

One survivor told this newspaper he has obtained written and video evidence that he will pass to the public inquiry into historical abuse of children in care when it begins next year.

The man, now in his 50s, has been advised by lawyers to conceal his identity for his own safety until his full submission can be lodged at the inquiry announced by Scottish Education Secretary Angela Constance.

However, he was willing to divulge some of his intended testimony about the treatment he and others suffered.

He said: “Six and seven year olds were tied to racks and given electric shocks.

"I was incarcerated with orderlies armed with rubber coshes.

"We were imprisoned, experimented upon, lobotomies, you name it, they did it.

“I was there, I saw it with my own eyes.

We were imprisoned, experimented upon, lobotomies, you name it, they did it
A survivor

"I was classed as a misfit, a mental oddity, made a ward of court.

"My mother was killed and I became an orphan, so they took it upon themselves to have me experimented upon.”

Lennox Castle Hospital, near Lennoxtown, East Dunbartonshire, is one of four Scottish institutions alleged to have been involved.

The witness believes there may have been as many as 3,500 children who were involved in the Porton Down testing programme over the years.

He said: “They were using orphans to experiment with drugs for the Cold War.

"The drug programme ran from 1948 to 1982.

"I believe this happened throughout the UK but I’m referring to Scotland.

“I have this evidence, on paper and on film, and I will hand it to the public inquiry.

"It was like something out of Auschwitz and people will be full of revulsion when they learn the state allowed this to happen.”

Lennox Castle Hospital, which closed in 2002 and is now the site of Celtic FC’s training ground, was home to children and adults with learning difficulties or conditions such as Down’s syndrome, as well as truants, unmarried mothers and wayward teenagers.

Some patients were sent there as children, often for the most trivial reasons, and ended up spending decades locked up.

Conditions improved after a series of damning reports and investigations, including a 1986 World in Action TV documentary which led to questions in the House of Commons.

Last night, Professor Ulf Schmidt of the University of Kent, Britain’s leading expert on human experimentation at Porton Down, said he had never heard of a drug trial programme involving orphans.

He added: “That is not to say these experiments didn’t happen, but I would be very cautious in dealing with these allegations.

"Some stories have appeared and reappeared over the past 50 years, including a similar one about drug testing and euthanasia involving elderly people that was eventually shown to be false.”

Six years ago hundreds of veterans who ‘volunteered’ to take part in tests at Porton Down were offered £3million in compensation.

They were exposed to nerve agents, such as sarin gas, and hallucinogens, such as LSD.

In the most infamous case, from 1953, Ronald Maddison took part in a trial of what he believed was a cold remedy, but died within an hour of having sarin dabbed on his arm.

Other Porton Down experiments included spraying bacteria over the south coast of England and dropping cancer-causing particles from planes.

And Gruinard Island in Wester Ross had to be sealed off for almost 50 years after it was contaminated with anthrax during the Second World War.

Porton Down is the home of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, an agency of the Ministry of Defence.

A spokeswoman said: “We are not aware of any tests involving children at Portown Down and have seen absolutely no evidence to back up these claims.”