02/01/2014 archive

Imbolc: Halfway to Spring

Photobucket The wheel has turned another eighth and we are halfway to Spring. Imbolc is the Celtic season that marks the beginning of lambing season, the stirring of life and lengthening of the day. It’s a time to clear out the cobwebs, sweep the hearth and get ready for beginning of the growing season. The holiday also honors Brigid, the Goddess of fire, so the celebration is marked by lighting candles all round the house and a fire in the fire pit, if you have one. Others symbols of the holiday are the snowdrop, the first gift of spring and the swan, The swan mates for life and represents loyalty, fidelity and faithfulness.

The other symbols are ewes and lambs since Imbolc is derived from a Celtic word, “oimelc”, meaning ewe’s milk. Many of the foods that are serves are lamb, cheese, poppyseed muffins, cakes and breads. Dishes are seasoned with bay leaves and dried basil.

In rural places where farming is still a way of life, ploughs are decorated with flowers and then doused with whiskey. I know most of us have better things to do with whiskey. Sometimes the plough is dragged from door to door by costumed children asking for food and money, a kind of wintry “trick or treat”. Some traditional gifts, if your going to a friends house to celebrate, are garden tools, seeds and bulbs.

The Maiden is also honored as the “Bride” on this Sabbat. Straw corn dollies are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. The older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold. The wands are sometimes burned in the fireplace and in the morning, the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. A new corn broom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new.

Non-Pagans celebrate February 2nd as Ground Hog’s Day, a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be ‘six more weeks’ of bad weather. It actually has ancient roots, weather divination was common to Imbolc, and the weather of early February was long held to be a harbinger of spring. On Imbolc, the crone Cailleach‘s grip of winter begins to loosen. She goes forth in search of kindling so that she may keep her fires burning and extend the winter a little longer. If Imbolc is rainy and cloudy, she will find nothing but twigs unsuitable for burning and will be unable to prolong the winter. If the day is dry and kindling is abundant, she will have plenty of fuel to feed her fire and prolong the cold of winter. Spring will be very far away. As an old British rhyme tells us that, “If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

This winter was much colder than in winters past, with temperatures plunging well below zero in some parts of the country. While down under in Australia they were experiencing record heat with temperatures nearing dangerous levels. Yes, the climate has been disrupted. We still have some weeks of cold and inclement weather ahead but on the days when the sun shines, you can once again feel its warmth. So can the earth.

Last year, I read this great post on the Days of Imbolc from Beth Owl’s Daughter that I would like to share it again:

The Sun’s path has returned to where it was at Samhain. Take some time to notice the quality of the light, for it is the same now as that shimmering magical glow of late October. But instead of the season of dark and silence before us, in the Northern Hemisphere, the season of light and growth lies ahead.

And so we prepare ourselves with rites of renewal, cleansing, and commitment. We celebrate the first stirrings of Spring.

The days are noticeably longer, and life awakens all around us. While some of the fiercest Winter weather may still lie ahead, listen! The birds are already beginning their courtships.

Look – cold-hardy sprouts are poking from the earth, and the first lambs are being born (hence the name Imbolc, which means “ewe’s milk,” referring to the nursing mothers). For our ancestors not so long ago, having lived on only the stored food of Winter, the first fresh milk returning was a tremendous blessing, often meaning the difference between survival or death.

h/t Hecatedemeter

Whatever you celebrate or believe, let us all hope that that the local groundhog doesn’t see his shadow and there is only one winter this year. I have nowhere else to pile the snow.

Blessed Be.

Random Japan

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Quiz of the Week: Round 5 (Now with extra insults)

  Philip Kendall

Welcome to another edition of Quiz of the Week: where the best news stories from the last seven days come to die. By now you should know the drill: we throw 10 multiple-choice questions at you to see whether you’re keeping your wits about you and to introduce you to some of the best stories in town, whispering unsavoury things about your mother for every question you get wrong.

So stop drooling all over yourself and let’s test those grey cells of yours!

As ever, highlight the space between the square brackets [ mmmn, bacon] after the word “Answer:” or click the “Read more” link to check your answers.

Ready? Then let’s get started!

Question 1.

What unusual act has recently become something of an online craze in South Korea?

A: Taking “reverse selfies”, where people take photos of things besides their own stupid faces

B: Sending confession emails to numerous companies’ “support” email addresses

C: Sharing pictures of themselves in new underwear as a method of “reviewing” it

D: Spamming non-Korean companies’ websites with photos of seemingly amused goats

Health and Fitness News

Welcome to the Health and Fitness NewsWelcome to the Stars Hollow Health and Fitness News weekly diary. It will publish on Saturday afternoon and be open for discussion about health related issues including diet, exercise, health and health care issues, as well as, tips on what you can do when there is a medical emergency. Also an opportunity to share and exchange your favorite healthy recipes.

Questions are encouraged and I will answer to the best of my ability. If I can’t, I will try to steer you in the right direction. Naturally, I cannot give individual medical advice for personal health issues. I can give you information about medical conditions and the current treatments available.

You can now find past Health and Fitness News diaries here and on the right hand side of the Front Page.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Winter Cabbage With a Mediterranean Flair

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I was all set to focus on recipes from Russia and Eastern Europe this week, and I did come up with some fabulous pirozhki, the classic Russian little oval pies. But as so often happens when I am exploring recipes and experimenting in my kitchen, I could not get away from the Mediterranean, where cabbage is also widely appreciated. So this week you will taste a delicious soup that is seasoned with Parmesan rinds, Italian bruschetta topped with pan-cooked cabbage, as well as a spicy Tunisian chakchoukah, a vegetable stew that is traditionally mainly peppers and tomatoes, but in this version features cabbage, peppers and tomatoes, with eggs poached right in the stew.

~Martha Rose Shulman~

Cabbage and Parmesan Soup With Barley

A comforting soup with texture and bulk provided by barley.

Cabbage and Ricotta Timbale

A light timbale with a sweet, delicate flavor.

Cabbage Pirozhki

A rich-tasting Eastern European pastry that isn’t rich at all.

Bruschetta With Cabbage Braised in Wine

Long-simmered cabbage provides a sweet flavor for this bruschetta.

Cabbage and Pepper Chakchoukah

This is a spicy Tunisian pepper stew with poached eggs.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Michael Mann: Approving Keystone XL Could Be the Biggest Mistake of Obama’s Presidency

A State Department report fails to take into account the full climate impacts of Keystone XL. Who is Obama protecting?

I have made my position on the Keystone XL pipeline quite clear. Approving this hotly debated pipeline would send America down the wrong path. The science tells us now is the time that we should be throwing everything we have into creating a clean 21st century energy economy, not doubling down on the dirty energy that is imperiling our planet. [..]

The only truly accurate examination of the pipeline would include a full cost accounting its environmental footprint. It needs to take into account how much energy is consumed in refining and transporting the crude from oil sands. It must acknowledge that the pipeline would lower the cost and raise the convenience of extracting and exporting the incredibly carbon-intensive deposits of gas. [..]

Most importantly, protecting us from Keystone XL would protect our atmosphere from one of the most carbon-intensive fuels ever discovered.

If the president won’t protect us, who is he protecting?

New York Times Editorial Board: The Economic Road Ahead

Economists, politicians and investors gave the latest economic growth report, released on Thursday, a generally warm reception: The estimated annual growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2013, a decent 3.2 percent, could bode well for further growth this year. But there are, on balance, more reasons for caution than for optimism.

Republican intransigence on spending will continue to impede growth. It will not do as much damage as last year, when budget cuts and the government shutdown trimmed nearly a percentage point from growth in the fourth quarter alone. But Republicans’ refusal to renew expired federal unemployment benefits will hurt, as will their expected opposition to a higher minimum wage and other policies.

Gail Collins: Christie Plays Defense

Do you think Chris Christie will be able to enjoy the Super Bowl?

Everything looked so promising. The whole sports-loving world’s fixated stare upon New Jersey. Plus, not insanely cold.

And then a lawyer for one of the key players in the great bridge-lane-closing scandal drops a letter suggesting there’s evidence the governor knew about what happened before he said he knew about what happened. [..]

One thing’s for sure – this comes at a really good time for those of us who know nothing about football. We’ve been at a terrible disadvantage over the past few weeks as the national conversation has been all about the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. We do not care about the medical history of the wide receiver’s hip. We have never heard of Knowshon Moreno. We don’t even have an opinion about who wants it more

Charles M. Blow: The Masculine Mistake

If one of the overt Democratic lines of attack against Republicans is that Republicans are conducting a war on women, one of the low-simmering, implicit lines of attack from Republicans is that Democrats are conducting a war on men, or at least traditional views of masculinity.

The idea of the effete, feminized liberals threatening to suffocate the last remaining expression of true manliness is rife in Republican rhetoric. They are selling the right wing as the last refuge of real men. [..]

The problem with having your message powered by machismo is that it reveals what undergirds such a stance: misogyny and chauvinism. The masculinity for which they yearn draws its meaning and its value from juxtaposition with a lesser, vulnerable, narrowly drawn femininity.

Ralph Nader: Pete Seeger — Character, Personality, Intuition and Focus

After 94 years, on January 27, 2014, the world lost Pete Seeger. The world is the lesser for that loss. The accolades for this giant of folk songs and herald of all causes just, are pouring in from around the world. He is celebrated for regularly showing up at mass protests, for singing songs so transcendent (“This Land is Your Land,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”) they are sung in many foreign languages all over the earth and for his mentoring and motivating of millions of people and children.

Pete Seeger overcame most of his doubters and adversaries. On his famous five-string banjo, he inscribed the slogan, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” [..]Musselman related a powerful example of how Pete Seeger communicated at gatherings. He quoted Seeger as saying, “Nelson Mandela went from prison to the presidency of his country without a shot being fired. The Berlin Wall came down without a shot being fired. And did anybody think there would be peace in Northern Ireland? There is always hope when it comes to unlikely social change.”

“Pete planted many seeds all over the world,” Musselman concluded. That is why Pete Seeger lives on.

Eugene Robinson: The Richest ‘Victims’ in America

An ugly outbreak of whiny victimhood is ravaging some of America’s most exclusive ZIP codes. It’s as if some 1 percenters suddenly fear that old warning: “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.”

Not to worry. The hoi polloi would much rather have a Big Mac-and also a job that pays a living wage, with sick leave, health insurance, vacation time and retirement. There was a time when even rich people agreed that these were laudable ambitions. Now, working to put these goals within the reach of more Americans amounts to persecution of the wealthy, according to besieged 1 percenters and their defenders.

Last week, in a now-infamous letter to The Wall Street Journal, legendary San Francisco venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared “the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich'” to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. [..]

The fabulously wealthy need love too. But they’ll get more of it if they stop congratulating themselves for all their hard work and realize that poor people work hard, too, sometimes at two or three jobs, and struggle to put food on the table.

Relax, Mr. Perkins, they’re not coming for you. They’re waiting for non-special buses to take them to the grocery store.

On This Day In History February 1

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 1 is the 32nd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 333 days remaining until the end of the year (334 in leap years).

On this day in 1896, the opera La Bohème receives its premiere in Turin.

La Bohème is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger. The world premiere performance of La Bohème was in Turin on 1 February 1896 at the Teatro Regio and conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. Since then La Bohème has become part of the standard Italian opera repertory and is one of the most frequently performed operas internationally. According to Opera America, it is the second most frequently performed opera in the United States, just behind another Puccini opera, Madama Butterfly. In 1946, fifty years after the opera’s premiere, Toscanini conducted a performance of it on radio with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was eventually released on records and on Compact Disc. It is the only recording of a Puccini opera by its original conductor.

Origin of the story

According to its title page, the libretto of La bohème is based on Henri Murger‘s novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème, a collection of vignettes portraying young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s. Although usually called a novel, it has no unified plot. Like the 1849 play by Murger and Thèodore Barrière, the opera’s libretto focuses on the relationship between Rodolfo and Mimi, ending with her death. Also like the play, the libretto combines two characters from the novel, Mimi and Francine, into a single Mimi character.

Much of the libretto is original. The main plots of acts two and three are the librettists’ invention, with only a few passing references to incidents and characters in Murger. Most of acts one and four follow the novel, piecing together episodes from various chapters. The final scenes in acts one and four, the scenes with Rodolfo and Mimi, resemble both the play and the novel. The story of their meeting closely follows chapter 18 of the novel, in which the two lovers living in the garret are not Rodolphe and Mimi at all, but rather Jacques and Francine. The story of Mimi’s death in the opera draws from two different chapters in the novel, one relating Francine’s death and the other relating Mimi’s.

The published libretto includes a note from the librettists briefly discussing their adaptation. Without mentioning the play directly, they defend their conflation of Francine and Mimi into a single character: “Chi puo non confondere nel delicato profilo di una sola donna quelli di Mimi e di Francine?” (“Who cannot detect in the delicate profile of one woman the personality both of Mimi and of Francine?”) At the time, the novel was in the public domain, Murger having died without heirs, but rights to the play were still controlled by Barrière’s heirs.

The NFL Is a Multi-Billion Dollar Non-Profit

It has long been known that Major League Baseball is exempt from anti-trust laws. But did you know that, along with the Professional Golfers Association Tour, the National Hockey League, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the National Football League, they were also a tax exempt non-profit organization? They gave up that exemption switching to a for-profit limited liability corporation in 2007. However, the other organizations have not and have recently come under fire from Congress, especially the NFL. An article in Forbes explains:

The National Football League takes in more than $9.5 billion per year and is exempt from Federal taxes. As a nonprofit, it earns more than the Y, the Red Cross, Goodwill, the Salvation Army or Catholic Charities – yet it stands as one of the greatest profit-generating commercial advertising, entertainment and media enterprises ever created.

For the love of Richard Sherman, how can this be?

An arcane tax code change that eased the 1966 merger of the NFL with the old American Football League landed the new combined entity in section 501(c)6 of the tax code, designated as an industry association. The designation actually covers “chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, and professional football leagues.” This does not cover the league’s 32 individual franchises, which also rake in billions.

Now a national survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University is shining a light on this strange situation, and perhaps getting Americans to check off that nonprofit coverage faster than Peyton Manning can shout “Omaha!” [..]

The survey found that people are both surprised by the NFL’s tax-exempt status – and generally opposed to it. Only 13 percent correctly identified the league as not-for-profit.

Talk about a tax loop hole but this has not gone unnoticed by some congress members:

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is teaming up with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a push to strip the National Football League of its tax-exempt status.

King announced Wednesday he’s co-sponsoring Coburn’s Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act, which would affect the NFL and other wealthy professional sports leagues currently enjoying 501(c)(6) tax-exempt status. [..]

“For every dollar that goes out in a case like this, that’s a dollar my constituents have to pay in income taxes,” King tells U.S. News. “When I talk to people about the NFL being a non-profit tax-exempt organization they’re just astounded.”

Several senators seem sympathetic to the bill, King says, and he believes the proposal stands a good shot at become law – although he considers it possible a larger tax policy bill will envelop it.

In a letter to colleagues this week, Coburn and King said the bill would add $10 million a year to federal coffers. Major League Baseball voluntarily abandoned its tax-exempt status in 2007, the letter says, but the PGA Tour and the National Hockey League continue to avail themselves of the tax break.

The PRO Sports Act would specifically bar professional sports organizations with annual revenues of more than $10 million from 501(c)(6) status. That section (pdf) of the tax code is intended to assist trade groups.

Among the reasons King decided to join Coburn is the sky-high salary of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was paid nearly $30 million in 2011, according to non-profit tax filings.

Over at Huffington Post, there was a very educational info-grafic illustrating by how tax payers are being ripped off not only by the NFL but by the teams themselves.

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Click on image to enlarge

In 2012, the NFL raked in $9.5 billion and gave $23 million back to the community in 2013.

In an interview on CNN, Sen. Coburn said: “This is a directed tax cut that to the league office, which means every other American pays a little bit more every year because we give  the NFL league office a tax break and call them a non-profit. In fact, they’re not.”

On the other side of the Capitol building in the House, Tea Party Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is also ready to strip the NFL and NHL of their non-profit tax status. Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, agrees.

It’s time to sack the NFL.

KeystoneXL on Fast Track for Approval

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The Koch brothers must be thrilled. Late this afternoon, the US State Department released its environmental impact study on the Keystone XL pipeline that, if approved, will carry the dirtiest oil in the world from Canada, across the US heartland to the Gulf Coast where it will be sent to China and other foreign markets.

In the final review, the study concludes that the pipeline would have little environmental impact, and would likely have no significant effect on carbon emissions. This fits the criteria that President Barack Obama has said that he would need to approve the construction.

The State Department, in Friday’s report, essentially concluded that Keystone would have little material effect on greenhouse gas emissions and that Canada would continue to develop and ship tar sands crude with or without the pipeline. [..]

The review included models suggesting that transporting oil by rail would generate even more greenhouse gas emissions than a pipeline, and also discussed measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline. [..]

The campaign against Keystone XL has become a national movement over the last three years, with environmental activists, Nebraska landowners and hedge fund managers all coming out against the project. In 2012, Obama, under pressure from landowners concerned about underground water sources and sensitive prairie, rejected the first proposed route for the pipeline across Nebraska. [..]

The State Department had conducted two earlier environmental reviews of the project. Last March, it found that if Obama rejected the pipeline Alberta crude would go to market by rail or other pipelines. But it revisited the issue under criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the early reviews had not been broad enough.

There is one more report to be released on an investigation by the State Department Inspector General of allegations that that a contractor’s review was biased because of connections to TransCanada and the oil industry.

The accusations stem from the release of unredacted documents submitted to the State Department by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the consultant hired to perform the environmental review. Those documents, released by Mother Jones in May, show that analysts who worked on the Keystone report had previously worked for TransCanada and “other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone’s construction.” [..]

In July, Friends of the Earth and the Checks and Balances Project, another advocacy group, said they uncovered publicly available documents online that show TransCanada, ERM, and an ERM subsidiary have worked together at least since 2011 on a separate pipeline project in Alaska. Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek posted a 2010 document in which ERM lists TransCanada as a client.

If true, the department would have to conduct another study.

The battle to keep the grease in the ground is not over.

Sign the petition and tell President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to Protect the Earth’s Future and Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.