Saturday, December 22, 2007

Should Old FEC Be Forgot

As Primaries Begin, the FEC Will Shut Down
By Matthew Mosk
The Washington Post
Saturday 22 December 2007
No quorum on election board as nominees stall in Congress.
The federal agency in charge of policing the torrent of political spending during the upcoming presidential primaries will, for all practical purposes, shut its doors on New Year's Eve.

The Federal Election Commission will effectively go dark on Jan. 1 because Congress remains locked in a standoff over the confirmation of President Bush's nominees to the panel. As a consequence, the FEC will enter 2008 with just two of six members - short of the four votes needed for the commission to take any official action.

"There is, in effect, nobody to answer the phone," said Robert F. Bauer, a leading Democratic campaign finance lawyer.

Although the 375 auditors, lawyers and investigators at the FEC will continue to process work already before them, a variety of matters that fall to the commissioners will be placed on hold indefinitely. Chief among them are deciding whether to launch investigations into possible campaign finance violations and determining the penalties.

Seven presidential candidates have applied to receive public matching funds for their campaigns, but they may not be able to access the money until the FEC certifies their requests. That takes four votes.

The national political parties each anticipate an infusion of about $1 million from the U.S. Treasury to help pay for their national conventions. Releasing that money takes four votes.

And then there is a range of vexing campaign finance questions that hang in limbo: Can a firm that operates a blimp accept unlimited contributions to fly it over New Hampshire with Ron Paul's name on the side? Can a senator use his campaign account as a legal defense fund? How will campaigns comply with the new law that requires them to identify the lobbyists who are collecting campaign checks on their behalf?

"Work on those questions will grind to a halt," said FEC Chairman Robert D. Lenhard, whose recess appointment will expire on New Year's Eve. Lenhard said he did not wish to reflect on the situation, other than to offer a familiar lament.

Full article

No comment from the editor is necessary, especially since any such comment would, in all likelihood, be scatological rather than constructive.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Diversity/Inclusiveness in Community and Worship

- Photo by listener

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Away In A Manger

Also posted at The Arty Blog

A week or so before Christmas, we put up the Manger scene. The dragons brought in small evergreen and holly branches to arrange around the Stable. It took a while to do this to everyone's satisfaction. Winsome wanted to make a tiny wreath to hang on the Stable door, and got very upset when he realized that our stable didn't have a door. Vincent made festoons across the front of the roof instead. And, we made a sort of nest around the Stable with the remaining greenery.

Finally I said, "I think that's enough to be going on with. Very nice, fellas."

"What next?" asked Vincent, who had a holly leaf stuck behind his ear.

I surveyed the Stable. "We really ought to have something to scatter on the floor. Straw or something."

"How about Styrofoam popcorn?" Winsome suggested. "We have lots of that." He pointed to a large bag of it inside the kitchen door.

"Well, yes, we have lots of it," I said, trying hard to look and sound serious. "But, that's not really the criterion for what to use in the Manger."

Vincent, who loved learning new words, asked with gleaming eyes, "What is the crittrion, then?"

"Cry teer ee on," I said. "It means basis for judgment or decision or, in this case, choice. And, the criterion for us in the present case isn't what we happen to have a lot of, but what would have been around in the Stable in Bethlehem. I don't know much about stables, but I know there aren't usually a lot of Styrofoam peanuts, or popcorn, or whatever they are around in stables."

"What is there, then?" Vincent and Winsome asked together. They were sitting still, looking at me with all their attention.

"Well," I said, wishing I knew more than I did about farm life. "There's straw for the animals to sleep in, and hay for them to eat. Thats why I really want hay or straw. Because, you see, when Baby Jesus was born, his mama, Our Blessed Lady Mary, had to put him down to sleep in a manger. That's the place where the farmer puts the hay for the animals. See?" I held up the small figure of Baby Jesus from the Nativity set. "He's lying in hay or straw. So, it's customary to put hay or straw on the stable floor."

Winsome looked as though he were thinking hard. "Straw," he said. "That's one, like 'a' straw."

"Stringular," Vincent said knowledgeably.

"Singular," I corrected, smiling. I knew they weren't listening.

Winsome was looking at the Stable. "We don't need straw stringular," he said, measuring the stable floor with his paw. "We need straws, poolwell, lots of straws." He looked around excitedly. "We have straws, a whole box of 'em."

"Yes," I began. "But that's not..." I stopped and threw a helpless look up towards Heaven. Winsome was gliding into the kitchen. In a moment, I heard him rummaging in the drawer where we kept the paper napkins, the plastic utensils, and the straws, plural. How could I argue with his logic? When you came down to it, he was right.

"What's not what?" Vincent asked anxiously. "Aren't straws poolwell?"

I sighed. "Yes, straws are plural," I said, reaching over to give Vincent a quick hug. "And, Winsome's right, I suppose, that we could use them. I never thought of it before, that's all."

"You never thought of lots of things before you had us," Vincent said contentedly, hugging me back.

"That's true."

Winsome swooped down to set the box of straws on the tabletop in front of the Stable. "Don't I get a hug too?" he asked. "I'm the one who figured out that we need straws, poolwell."

"Of course," I said, and squeezed him.

"Humph," he said, a small jet of fire narrowly missing my left ear. "Don't squish me. I have work to do." But, he cuddled against me for a moment just the same.

Vincent was busy opening the box. He pulled two or three straws out and placed them experimentally in the Stable. "I don't know," he said. "They seem kind'a long."

I got the scissors, and we had fun cutting several straws to different lengths and strewing them artistically on the Stable floor.

"There," Vincent said when we were finished. "The animals will feel at home now."

I personally doubted that the camels, sheep, oxen and donkey would know what to make of green, blue, pink, and yellow plastic straw, but I kept my doubts to myself. "Now we can set up the figures, the people and animals themselves," I told the dragons. They came close and tried to look in the small box holding the figures. "Baby Jesus goes in the middle," I said. "You can put him there, Winsome, since Vincent set the angel on the top of the tree. Be careful, now." With some misgivings, I handed Baby Jesus to Winsome and directed him where to position the manger.

He placed it carefully and moved back. "Good. Now Vincent, put Our Lady on this side. That's right. And, Winsome, St Joseph goes on the other side."

Winsome hesitated, St Joseph poised in mid air. "That doesn't make sense."

"What doesn't make sense?" I asked in surprise, unwrapping the first Wise Man.

"Well," Winsome said, looking from Mary beside the Manger to Joseph in his paw. "Our Lady is Baby Jesus's mama, isn't she?"


"And St Joseph is Baby Jesus's papa, isn't he?"

I swallowed. My dragons were bright, but I wasn't sure they grasped the finer points of Christian theology. And, not being a trained religion teacher or youth minister, I didn't feel quite up to explaining it. "Uh," I said. "Well, foster papa. Adopted papa."

Winsome waved away such technicalities. "St Joseph adopted Baby Jesus like you adopted us. That makes him Baby Jesus's papa," he said confidently, and I smiled. "So, if she's the mama and he's the papa, that means they're married, right?"


"So," Winsome said, placing Joseph carefully, "if they're married, then he should be beside her, like this. Because, he has to help her take care of the baby. And, besides, married people always sit together."

I looked at Mary and Joseph, side by side next to the Manger, and thought that it did make sense. It wasn't right, though, and I couldn't imagine how to explain why.

But Vincent rescued me. "That's not how it goes," he said firmly. He moved Joseph to the correct position. "That's how it should be."

"How do you know?" demanded Winsome.

"Because, that's how the one at church is."

Winsome looked doubtful. "Are you sure?"

"Sure, I'm sure. You should pay more attention."

"OK, OK," I said quickly, laying a restraining hand on Winsome's head. "Don't be smug, Vincent. And, You, Winsome, don't attack your brother. You know I don't want the two of you fighting." They backed apart, heads down. "It's a good idea," I told Winsome, running my hand soothingly down his back ridge. "Tell you what. You can draw a picture afterwards of how you think the Manger scene ought to look. All right?"

Winsome looked up hopefully. "All right," he said in a subdued voice.

"And you, Vincent," I said, turning to him. "That was good observing." I put my other hand on his head, and he too looked happier. "But, it's not quite so important for everybody else to b in exactly the same place in every Creche."

"Creche?" they asked, coming close again to look at me.

"That's right," I said, wishing I could remember always to use the same word for things that had several names. "Sometimes the Manger scene is called a Creche." I hesitated, desperately searching my mind for the origin of the word, and not finding it. "I think it's a French word."

"Oh," they said, apparently satisfied.

"So," I went on quickly, "you can sort of put everyone else where you want them, except that the Wise Men, the Three Kings here," I gestured toward them standing on the table, "stand together. And, the announcing angel, the one with the scroll, stands at the head of the Manger." Very glad that the announcing angel in this set had a scroll rather than a trumpet, I rummaged for the angel and set him in place. What would the dragons have said about someone blowing a trumpet right over Baby Jesus' head! "There you are," I said. "You can take over now."

I watched for a moment, smiling, as they carefully set the other figures in place. Then, taking up my mug of tea, I looked out at the louring sky beyond the branches of a large beech that grew near the den window. There'd be more snow today. I blinked. Yes, large flakes were drifting slowly through the still air. It was a good day to stay inside and...

"That's not right, is it?"

Startled back to myself, I turned to the dragons. Winsome seemed puzzled rather than upset, his head bent close to the open front of the Stable.

Vincent made the squirming motion that is the dragon equivalent of shrugging. "The baby lammy just wanted to get up close to Baby Jesus," he said. "I donno, it just seemed right somehow. I'll move her if you want me to. He reached past "Winsome.

Winsome shook his head. "Ask Mama," he said, backing away.

"Ask Mama what?" I said on queue as the dragons turned to me, Vincent with the lamb held carefully in his paw.

"Vincent wants to put that lammy right up next to Baby Jesus," Winsome explained, waving a paw vaguely. He looked as if he didn't quite understand why the idea troubled him.

"She wants to keep Baby warm," Vincent put in. He looked at me anxiously. "Is it OK, Mama?"

I thought of snow, and wind, and the dark sky lit by a strange new star, and a bitterly cold cave warmed only by the closeness and the soft breath of animals. And I smiled at Vincent. "Yes, I think it will be all right, I said. Put your lammy there by the Baby. After all, Jesus is a lamb too, the Lamb of God; and, so, it is fitting that the little lamb would recognize and love him."

The dragons exchanged a startled look. They plainly had no idea what I was talking about. But, after a moment, Vincent reached in and set the lamb close to the Manger.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lucasfilms Christmas Cards

Storm Troopers Christmas Card

I don't know about you, but nothing quite captures the spirit of Christmas for me like rows of Stormtroopers brandishing...songbooks. ;)

Click the image to see the cards sent out by Lucasfilms in Christmases past.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Deck the Halls

Crossposted at The Arty Blog

Since nobody seems interested in helping to write the story about putting up the Christmas tree, probably nobody's interested in the next part of the saga. But, I got an appallingly late start today (and everything I try to do is taking *forever*), so I've not yet had a chance to read the news and find suitable blog topics.

The dragons couldn't wait to start decorating the tree. After breakfast, I brought the boxes of ornaments down from the attic to the living room, while they carefully carried in a tray of cocoa and cookies. Once everything was ready and I had sat down, Vincent started zooming around in great excitement, while Winsome tried to burrow into the boxes to find interesting decorations. I spanked his paws lightly and said, "I'll unpack, and hand things to each of you to hang up. Move back, now, and give me room."

Winsome stepped back obediently. Vincent landed nearby and they waited, eyes gleaming, while I started to unwrap ornaments. To my relief, and mild surprise, the decorating went pretty smoothly for the first half hour or so. But, I should have known the peace and normality couldn't last.

After a while, I decided to get up and hang a few decorations too. And, while my back was turned, Winsome picked up a cute little quilted bird with red and green striped wings and a stained glass bluebird. He examined them with a puzzled air. "Why do you want to put this sun catcher and this little toy in our Christmas tree?" he asked, holding them carefully up to a branch a foot or so over my head.

"We need at least one bird in our tree, and I like those. My mother gave them to me," I said, glancing up for a moment. Then, I went back to disentangling the hooks of a frosted glass bell and a fat, curly bearded Santa. "Don't put them on the same branch, though, Winsome. Give one to Vincent, so he can put it lower down on the other side."

Winsome glided over to hand the bluebird to Vincent, who was taking a cocoa break and looked around at Winsome with whipped cream on his nose. "Why do we need them in the tree?" Winsome asked again, as he flew around looking for a good spot for his striped bird.

"They're good luck," I said, setting the Santa aside and reaching into a small empty space to find a solid twig to hang my bell on. "You should always have birds in your Christmas tree."

Winsome looked at me, then at the bird in his paw, and then back at me. He flew over to the table where I'd been unpacking the decorations, and set the bird down on an empty piece of tissue paper. Vincent looked up, munching a chocolate chip cookie. He seemed puzzled too.

"If you want birds," Winsome said, "there are a couple of cute little brown ones I saw at the feeder this morning when I went out to stretch my wings. I'm sure they'd be happy to come in and sit in our Christmas tree for a while. Why don't I go' ask them?"

Finally the tree was decorated, with two very confused little sparrows fluttering and chirruping in the branches. It was time to put on the angel at the top and the tinsel garlands. Vincent flew up to place the angel, giving us a chorus of "Angels We Have Heard on High." Winsome snorted grumpily and accidentally set fire to the chocolate chip cookie he was eating.

And then, things got exciting.

Since the dragons had never seen tinsel garlands before, I explained that we wanted to loop them loosely over the tree so that it would look as though silver and gold icicles were sparkling on the branches.

"We have some glass icicles," Vincent said, pointing around the tree.

"Yes," I said, sighing. "Yes, I know we do. I don't know exactly wy people put tinsel on Christmas trees, or when and where the custom began. But, we do. And, it's a lot easier to cope with when its in garlands - ropes like this, see? - instead of individual strands. So, be good, and loop this first garland around the tree for me." I held up the golden rope I'd just uncoiled from its box. The dragons looked at each other. Apparently deciding to humor me, they swooped down and each grasped an end of the ten or twelve foot rope.

And then, I made a terrible mistake. I turned away. I took a long swallow of my now tepid cocoa, and then another. I picked up a sugar cookie, and started to eat it. And, when I looked at the tree again, wondering vaguely why the sparrows were so excited all of a sudden, I saw my dragons happily flying in opposite directions around the tree, wrapping it and themselves more and more tightly in the sparkling golden garland.

I dropped my cookie, hardly noticing the sparrows who zoomed over to peck at it enthusiastically. "Stop," I cried, waving my arms, trying to get the dragons' attention. "Stop! That's not what' I meant!"

Vincent on one side of the tree and Winsome on the other stopped in mid air, beating their wings only enough to hover, and looked at me in surprise. Vincent had a couple of loops of the rope around his tail and one around a back leg, while Winsome was sporting one loop in front of his wings, and one loop behind them. They both looked as though they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

"What's the matter?" Vincent asked tentatively.

"Aren't we doing it right?" Winsome demanded, suddenly sounding and looking anxious.

I stared at them for a moment, hovering there, wound in gold tinsel and still clutching the ends of the sparkling rope. I stared, and then I began to laugh. I couldn't help it. "Nothing's wrong," I said with difficulty. Moving back to my chair, I sat down weakly. "You're doing fine. You - you just need a little more practice." I hesitated, not sure I could handle the consequences of my next suggestion. "Do you think you could, uh, unloop it and start again?"

"Sure," they said eagerly, and began flying around the tree again.

I flung my arms up. "Wait!" As I started to get to my feet,, I felt a strange sensation and, glancing down, saw one of the sparrows pecking a cookie crumb off my slipper. He fluttered over to his mate, and together they retreated under the table. The dragons were hovering again, now looking puzzled.

"You said..." Winsome began.

"I know." I paused, thinking. "The best thing to do might be for one of you to stay still, and the other to unwind the rope. That way, there's less chance of you both getting tangled up again."

"We're not tangled up," Vincent said indignantly, pulling the loops around himself tighter as he moved his tail for emphasis.

"Yeah, well, you just stay where you are, and let Winsome unwind."

It took Winsome a couple of tries before he figured out which direction to go. But, in about ten minutes the tinsel rope was lying in a neat, straight line in the middle of the living room floor, and the dragons were curled up on the couch, panting. The sparrows ventured out to investigate the garland, but discovering that it was not nice to eat, and that they could not carry bits of it off, they decided to go sit in the tree again.

I leant back and closed my eyes. Really, I thought. It's a good thing I couldn't find the Christmas tree lights.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Music Open Thread

I'm sure there are more impressive "Christmas lights synchronized to music" out there, but I just had to post this one, because it's done to Vince Guaraldi's Linus and Lucy. That was the one specific request we had for the jazz band that played at our wedding.

Years later, I met a man who told me that he and his wife had chosen the same music to be played as they were leaving the church at the end of the ceremony. Now that's cool, I thought. But I wasn't quite brave enough to do something like that, back when I was a bride--a few short months after graduating college. If I had it to do over again, sure, I'd go for it. :)

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Open Thread

Last opportunity to sleep in for a while, since I'm starting a temp project tomorrow. Happy Sunday, everyone.

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