Happy Yalda Night!
Yalda celebrates the winter solstice, as the days become longer and the nights shorter in the northern hemisphere. In that sense, it spiritually celebrates the rebirth of the Sun Goddess Mithra (wall carving photo left). A deeply rooted ceremony, the annual observation of the winter solstice by Iranians and others signifies that man has known for thousands of years that THE SUN birthed all plant and animal life on our planet. Moreover, ancient Iranians' ability to accurately predict the solstice and to know key moments on the solar calendar is directly related to mankind's survival, prosperity, ability to plan for the future, and ability to conceive of time. Yalda is so old that it even predates Zoroastrianism-- Iran's religion prior to the Arab invasion and largely forced conversions to Islam-- and is really a Mithraic holiday that would soon be adopted by Zoroastrians.
While Iran's Zoroastrian faith placed the greatest emphasis on fire and light, traditional reverence for light was and remains common and extends well beyond the Iranian plateau. Jesus Christ, of course, is referred to as "the Light of the World", and the Scandinavian festival of St. Lucia similarly symbolizes bringing the "Light of Christianity" into the world. (Those interested in learning more about the deep religious influence Zoroastrian Iran had on the Holy Roman Empire should look up the Cult of Mithras)
Sometimes, it is difficult to conceive of a pre-modern, pre-industrial and pre-agricultural world and all its challenges to human survival. Cultivating a monumentalist relationship to history rooted in one's own heritage and longstanding annual rituals like Yalda is one way to spiritually surpass time and space and reconnect with previous epochs, in this case, one in which light was so rare and crucial as to be worshipped.
Regardless of humanity's divergent cultures and mutually-exclusive religious traditions, there is a common source of energy that binds us all to a shared past and a shared imaginative and interstellar future. While there are some 6,500 distinct languages with their own words for 'light', there is only ONE SUN that birthed us all. Happy Yalda!
I took this background photo at Persepolis (تخت جمشید) in 2015. I added scan lines, wave distortion, grain, Gaussian blur, an S-curve, and a 64% opacity pink fill.
The quote was recorded in A Dictionary of Thoughts, Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient and Modern (pg. 259)
I met social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt at a Thanksgiving party and, after striking up a conversation, he gave me a signed copy of his book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion."
I was going to write one long book review, but I realized it's way too much to review his takes on religion, evolution, morality, the emergence of civilized societies, and contemporary politics in one piece. Instead, I decided I would write a series of distinct short essays in response.
I applied Haidt's moral matrix to the NFL kneeling protests and #BlackLivesMatter. "Simply put, if you were in a hypothetical encounter with a police officer and could choose your race for the next half hour, which race would you choose to be?"
If I got anything wrong, feel free to leave an unhinged, ad hominem attack in the comments.Read More
Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook are, in some ways, more powerful than our federal government. The tech giants decide what information we see - and what we don't. Their decisions can close down whole industries. For many years, they stuck to sunny California. But today they're a huge presence in the Washington swamp, spending millions to make sure legislation goes their way, providing a lucrative revolving door between industry and government. And they're even secretly funding lapdog professors to make their arguments for them.Read More
The annual UN General Assembly starts in New York this Tuesday, with President Trump scheduled to speak that morning.The UN is a sprawling international bureaucracy with endless different bodies and agencies. Its executive arm, the Secretariat, has a five and a half billion dollar budget... 22 percent of which is funded by you, the U.S. taxpayer. So, where exactly is your money going?
The United Nations is tonight's Swamp Watch.Read More
Given Swamp Watch's measurable popularity, Fox decided to run a Swamp Watch Special on Sunday. We aired a montage of Swamp Watch clips and interviews with the indispensable Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, former lobbyist and convicted felon turned anti-corruption activist Jack Abramoff, Representatives Mike Gallagher and Ro Khanna, and New America senior fellow Lee Drutman.Read More
You're going to hear a lot over the next few months about tax reform. But as you listen to the arguments, remember that our tax code is as much a part of the swamp as any other aspect of government. And the real scandal is that it benefits the elite at the expense of working Americans.Read More
Hostile foreign governments have infiltrated the D.C. swamp. Even Saudi Arabia, whose state religion inspires ISIS, has an army of lobbyists doing their bidding. And what they want is often the opposite of what Americans want. We expose them on this Swamp Watch.Read More
An insular club of elite lawyers have corrupted our justice system. Eric Holder and his friends move between the Department of Justice and white collar criminal defense firms like Covington & Burling. They’re the reason why bank executives who admit to committing crimes still get to avoid prison. And they’re the subject of this installment of Swamp Watch.Read More
Some of the swampiest parts of Washington operate in the dark. The little-known Export-Import Bank is our official export credit agency, helping foreign buyers of American manufactured goods with sweetheart deals. It's also a hub of corporate welfare and a burden on the taxpayer. The bank benefits huge corporations and harms the taxpayer through subsidized loans at below-market interest rates.Read More
There's a revolving door between the federal government and health insurance companies. And they're writing legislation that harms customers and is a giant windfall to the companies. It's an abuse of public trust that is enriching a small group of people, and it's the subject of this week's Swamp Watch.Read More
Health care is so expensive in the US partly because hospitals are charging exorbitant fees for their services. They can do so because local hospitals are being increasingly replaced by megahospitals, giant conglomerates that operate as regional monopolies shielded from competition. I profile this practice that is harming patients in this week's Swamp Watch.Read More
The pharmaceutical industry is ripping us off, driving up the cost of health care, lying to patients, and enriching an elite group of well-connected executives. This is one of the biggest, most profitable swamps in the country, and it's in the crosshairs of this Swamp Watch segment.Read More
Our $600 billion defense budget is a giant swamp of people getting rich and inefficiently, to say the least, delivering national security. There's also a well-known revolving door between the defense department and defense contractors.Read More
Alternative energy companies are spending tons of money on lobbying, getting huge subsidies from the Department of Energy, defrauding consumers, and subsequently going bankrupt. It's a swamp that hardly anyone is talking about.Read More
There's a revolving door between big banks and the Treasury Department, and lots of people are getting rich off our tax dollars. Jack Lew is a great example. He worked at CitiGroup, which received a lot of TARP funding; then he got a large bonus from the company; and shortly afterwards, he started working for the federal government. How nice. Let's see who else we'll find in this swamp.Read More
There are two possible Flynn-Bannon-Trump strategies on Iran worth considering.
I. The first is that they're setting the table for war with Iran, plain and simple. The administration will use the recent missile test and subsequent Iranian noncompliance to create a pretext for starting a war. Look at what Flynn thinks about Iran's role in the Middle East, and it's clear that he feels Iran needs to be met directly by force for countering the US's designs for the broader region (see Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and the ailing peace process)Read More