Christmas and astronomy


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The Conversation

Winter solstice: the astronomy of Christmas

December 20, 2018

Authors

Gareth Dorrian

Post Doctoral Research Associate in Space Science, Nottingham Trent University

Ian Whittaker

Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners

Nottingham Trent University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

From the Neolithic to present times, the amount of sunlight we see in a day has had a profound impact on human culture. We are fast approaching the winter solstice for the Northern hemisphere, which takes place on December 21. This is the longest night of the year – once celebrated as “Yule” by the pagan people of Northern Europe before it became Christmas.

Stonehenge and the nearby Neolithic site of Durrington Walls (circa 2,500 BC) were each built to be orientated to face the midwinter sunset and sunrise respectively. This focus on the winter solstice was an important time marked by feasting and possibly animal sacrifice.

Millennia later, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia (until the fourth century AD) – a festival over the week of the winter solstice dedicated to the god Saturn, involving games and merriment. The last day of Saturnalia was referred to as the “dies natalis solis invicti” (birthday of the unconquered sun) by the Romans, who celebrated it by giving gifts to each other on December 25. The pagan Anglo-Saxon event known as Yule was in full swing during the winter solstice a few centuries after that, eventually evolving into the festival we now know as Christmas.

Tilting planet

But what causes the winter solstice? Our planet has an axial tilt (of 23.4°) with respect to its orbital plane around the sun, which results in the seasons. The winter and summer solstices, and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, are the extreme points in each of these seasons (see image). In winter, the Earth’s tilt away from the sun causes sunlight to be spread out over a larger surface area than in summer. It also causes the sun to rise later and set earlier, giving us fewer hours of sunlight and colder temperatures.

As it happens, the direction of the Earth’s tilt changes over time. These variations have been known about since the time of the ancient Greeks. Hipparchus, one of the founders of modern astronomical techniques, wrote one of the first comprehensive star catalogues in 129 BC. After compiling his catalogue, he noticed that the position of the stars had changed from those in much earlier records, such as the Babylonian.

Interestingly, the stars appeared to have moved position by the same amount, and he realised that the location of north in the sky must have moved in the intervening centuries. Currently, our celestial north is marked by the position of the star Polaris. But this was not always the case.

The rotation of a spinning object, like the Earth, can be affected by external forces. Given that the Earth is already spinning, any force applied to it, such as gravity from the moon or other bodies in the solar system, will modify this rotation (known as torque). The result on Earth is called the precession of the equinoxes – a phenomenon which affects our observations of the stars. A visible example of this on a smaller scale is shown several times during the film Inception, where the precession of a spinning top was used to determine whether the main character was in reality, or still dreaming.

For the Earth, this precession traces out a circle on the sky once every 26,000 years (see image below). In 3,000 BC, the celestial north was the star Alpha Draconis (Thuban), in the constellation Draco. Given that we can predict this motion, we know that 13,000 years from now our north star will be Vega, in the constellation Lyrae.

Author provided

This also affects the onset of the seasons over the length of a year as part of this 26,000 year cycle, and therefore has important implications for anyone attempting to attribute any cultural significance to a particular point in a given season. The time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun is approximately 365.25 days, meaning we have an extra day every four years. By comparison, the precession of the equinoxes results in about 20 minutes of difference between the Earth’s orbital period when measured against the fixed background stars (a sidereal year), and the time it takes for the sun to appear to return to the same position in the sky each year (a solar year).

As a historical aside, it was the discrepancy between the length of the solar year and the length of a year as defined by the Julian calendar that prompted the conversion to the presently used Gregorian calendar. The precession of the equinoxes was known about and had caused a discrepancy of a few days which prompted the council of Nicaea to change our calendar system.

Under the Julian calendar, originally established by the Romans in 46 BC, New Year’s day in England used to be on March 25, and this was also used to define the start of the tax year. The adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752 shifted the date of the tax year forward by 11 days, but set New Year’s to January 1. However, to avoid 11 days of lost tax revenue, the government of that time set our tax year to begin on April 6 where it remains to this day.

So, given that there are 1,440 minutes in a day, and a difference of 20 minutes between the sidereal and solar years, then over a period of 72 years the dates of the equinoxes (and the solstices) would shift backwards in the calendar by a full day, if they were not corrected for (which they are). That means a Roman using the winter solstice as a reference point for the timing of Christmas would have been celebrating Christmas near the end of our November. Even further back, the builders of Stonehenge would have experienced the winter solstice in our September.

Christmas on Mars

The winter solstice has clearly been important historically, but what about the future? Perhaps in a few hundred years, humans settlers will be celebrating Christmas on Mars. The planet Mars also has an axial tilt (25.2°), and hence seasons like we do. Mars also experiences a precession of the equinoxes, but the precession period is less stable than Earth’s. One full Martian precession is approximately 167,000 years.

The northern hemisphere winter solstice on Mars has only just passed, occurring on October 16. Because a sidereal year on Mars is 687 Earth days, the next Martian northern hemisphere winter solstice will not occur until September 2, 2020.

This means that any future Mars colonists who wish to recreate the winter solstice “festivities” at Durrington Walls thousands of years ago or, perhaps, just marking Christmas, would have to get used to celebrating in different Martian seasons almost every year.

The Conversation

Is it unethical to give your cat catnip?

December 18, 2018

Author: Debra Merskin, Professor, University of Oregon

Disclosure statement: Debra Merskin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Oregon provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

As the Christmas season gets underway thoughts turn to buying gifts for the entire family. For some, companion animals are on the gift list, particularly cats and dogs who share our homes and hearts.

Whether they’ve been naughty or nice matters not, as the more than US$1 billion pet toy industry has everything from the whimsical to practical to keep Fluffy and Spot occupied and caretakers entertained. Many of the go-to items for cats contain catnip.

This herb, which goes by the botanical name of Nepeta cataria, induces changes in cat behavior. In my view, it’s worth considering whether giving a mood-altering substance to a pet is ethical.

Kitty crack?

Catnip is sold in small packets and toys as well as in highly concentrated forms such as oils and sprays. The concentrated forms are different from its availability in nature. If a cat were to encounter catnip in the wild, it would be in the form of leafy greens growing on plants, not concentrated.

Not all cats are affected by the drug, but for some it can have a five- to 15-minute marijuana- kind of effect.

About 30 percent do not respond at all – which means 70 percent do – and it doesn’t have an impact on kittens until they are about 6 months old, the time they attain sexual maturity.

When under the influence, some cats roll around, salivate, and at times, fight with other cats. It is not clear if there are any medicinal benefits. Cat owners often laugh at this behavior of their feline friends as being “high.”

Babes and beasts

As an animal media studies scholar, I argue laughing at a cat who has been given a drug even if they seem happy should raise questions about human power and animal autonomy.

Several philosophers have made an argument for giving the same moral consideration to animals as we would give to humans. Philosopher Jan Narveson, for example, asked in context of eating meat, whether animals suffer and if that was sufficient reason not to eat them.

One animal ethics theory denies moral standing to other animals, stating they lack characteristics that only humans are thought to possess, such as rationality, autonomy and consciousness. But another theory of moral equality argues that there are parallels in mental capabilities between humans and other animals and that moral consideration should not be limited to only our own species.

Philosopher Peter Singer, calls for “equal consideration of interests.” Singer argues that we should not use our species as a measure of the worth or abilities of others, or their worthiness of ethical consideration. Other philosophers too have argued that simply because dogs or other animals don’t have the same vocal structure as humans doesn’t mean they should be treated with less compassion.

Furthermore, humans share many traits – empathy, ability to communicate, eating habits, sociability – with other species. For example, the capacity to love one’s young, the need to have food, water and to spend time with others of one’s own species are not exclusively human traits. According to philosopher Julia Tanner, “It would be arbitrary to deny animals with similar capacities a similar level of moral consideration.”

So, if is unethical to drug a child and to laugh at how he or she responds, should we unthinkingly do the same with our cats?

Consider animal ethics

The discussion on whether giving catnip is ethical has been an ongoing one on social media and other websites.

On Reddit, for example, one person commented, “think of it as your cat going out for a few beers after work.” To that, another reader from an Alcoholics Anonymous family responded, asked whether it was ethical to give someone a drug in an otherwise substance-free home.

I asked the nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals where they stand on this issue. Media Officer Sophia Charchuk responded:

“PETA is all for treating cat companions to reasonable amounts of high-quality catnip – and for keeping them indoors, where they’ll be safe from cars, contagious diseases, predators, and cruel humans and able to enjoy toys (including those filled with catnip) for years to come.”

However, my point here is not only about whether cats feel pleasure or pain. It’s about taking responsibility for our actions towards our pets and giving them the same moral consideration as we do to humans.

We rarely notice how advertising, television programs, movies and photographs often present a one-dimensional view of animals using them to say something about us, but very little about them. Wolves, for example, are widely shown in advertising and film as intent solely on harming us, rather than the complex, multidimensional pack animals that they are.

This has an impact on how we view animals. I agree with scholars who have pointed out that we need to view animals as subjects of their own lives rather than objects in ours. I believe we need to reconsider the ethics of “catnipping” them.

EarthTalk Q&A

How To Cook An Eco-Friendly Christmas Dinner

By Avery Phillips December 17, 2018

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Time to watch Lampoon’s National Christmas Vacation to get in the mood to see all of your extended family and give thanks for another great year. However, not only will you need extra chairs in the living room so that everyone can watch in awkward silence, but you’ll also have to decide what you’re going to eat.

How can you cook a big meal for all of those guests and still keep things green? It’s actually surprisingly easy if you plan ahead. Here are some tips for having a green Christmas before you start to prepare for a happy New Year:

Use Your Kitchen Wisely

It sounds like an energy nightmare: you’re going to cook all morning with the power on high on every burner. However, it doesn’t have to go that way. There are other methods for cooking the ham and your side dishes that can really save you energy, and there are a few other things you can do in the kitchen to cut down on your energy usage as well.

• Grill or Smoke Your Ham: You can use wood or charcoal and your grill to smoke your ham outside, saving energy and avoiding overheating the kitchen.

• Cook Sides on Your Outdoor Grill: If you have a gas grill, you can even carefully cook some of your sides and even dessert outside. There are a lot of recipes and advice online, so do your research.

• Conserve Heat: If you do use the oven, keep the door closed. Every time you open it, you lose 25-50 degrees, and energy will be needed to bring it back up to temperature.

• Use Regular Plates and Silverware: Yes, it will mean more dishes to wash, but it also leads to a lot less physical waste to send to the landfill.

• Use the Dishwasher Wisely: Most of the time you can put in plates even if they are pretty dirty, and they will get clean. Don’t run the dishwasher until it is full.

• Fill the Sink When You Wash Dishes: Avoid running the water all the time when you are doing dishes. Fill the sink with soapy water and only change it when you really need to.

• Reuse Pans When Possible: If you can reuse pans for more than one dish without having to wash them in between, you save time, money, water, and waste.

• Conserve Heat: If you do have to use the oven, keep it closed. Every time you open it to check on something, you lose 23-50 degrees, and the oven has to heat back up again, using more energy.

Consider alternate cooking methods if you can, and use your kitchen appliances wisely. Unplug the ones you are not using. That’s the first step to a green holiday.

Shop Local

One of the best ways to be eco-friendly year round is to shop local. This cuts down on the carbon footprint of your food, with less delivery impact. Food usually tastes better too, as it was picked when it was ripe and fresh rather than early so that it could ripen during shipment. These foods are generally healthier too, as fresher fruit is more nutritious.

In most areas you can find local farmers and butchers, whatever your chosen meat might be. If you plan ahead, you can purchase local veggies when they are in season and freeze or can them to be used later for holiday meals. Many local growers have greenhouse-grown veggies, and usually traditional Christmas veggies are in season anyway.

Source dairy products, if you use them, locally as well. Not only will your products be fresher and better tasting, but you will have a lower impact on the environment by purchasing close to home.

Go Meatless if You Can

One huge impact on the environment is the production of meat. Methane other gases, along with the production of feed and other pollutants from the production process, are directly related to the beef and poultry industries. There are many meatless alternatives for your Christmas dinner, including Tofurky and other meat alternatives.

Not only will this practice be more eco-friendly, but it can be better for your health as well. There are many nutrition advantages to going meatless without sacrificing getting the protein you need for energy and good health.

There are many great vegan and vegetarian Christmas recipes out there, so look around and pick the ones that will work best for you.

Buy Practically

The other important way to cook an eco-friendly holiday dinner is to buy practically. If you are cooking for a large crowd, buy in bulk. This saves waste and usually money as well. Buy for the size of crowd you expect, and remember, leftovers are eco-friendly as well, since you won’t be heating up the kitchen again to cook for the next few days. Also, soups and sandwiches make great portable meals for lunches, cutting down on eating out and other less eco-friendly options.

If you are only cooking for a few people, consider pre-packaged meals that are portion appropriate. This doesn’t mean frozen dinners, but pre-packaged prepared meals that are delivered to your home. These meals can be ordered a variety of places, and at a variety of price points. The good news is that these meals can be healthy as well. In fact, prepared meals are often used by those who are dieting to control both portions and calories.

Having an eco-friendly Christmas is not as hard as it sounds. Use your kitchen wisely, shop local, go meatless if you can, and buy practically. It will be a lot easier than explaining why that lamp your mother-in-law gave you is still in its box in the attic.

The Conversation

Why you may be more at risk for foodborne infections during the holidays

December 21, 2018

Author: Yvonne Sun, Assistant Professor, Microbiology, University of Dayton

Disclosure statement: Yvonne Sun received funding from American Heart Association.

Partners: University Of Dayton provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

There’s no place like home for the holidays, many people agree, and millions of people will travel long distances to get there. Along the journey, however, you may be at higher risk of becoming infected with a foodborne pathogen also along for the ride.

And, that pathogen could make your day a real downer, bringing diarrhea.

Intestinal illness is experienced by almost everyone at least once in their lifetime. At the minimum, it is an unpleasant and inconvenient experience. At its worst, diarrhea is a leading cause of death, particularly in young children.

Here are my tips on how to avoid foodborne pathogens and the misery they cause, from my perspective as a microbiologist.

You can run, but you can’t hide

We people live in a microbial world where microbes inhabit every corner of the Earth. A very small proportion of those microbes have figured out ways to inhabit us in a manner that makes us sick. A proportion of the disease-causing microbes can do it in our digestive tract. These are foodborne pathogens, germs that have special means to survive in our digestive tract and cause damages.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella enterica (Salmonella) are two infamous bacterial pathogens collectively responsible for more than 1.5 million episodes of foodborne illnesses per year. They are common causes of food recalls and appear frequently in news coverage.

In fact, in a quick search using the XWord Info search tool, E. coli and Salmonella have appeared in New York Times crossword puzzles more than 80 times since 1992. Norovirus, a viral pathogen that causes more episodes of foodborne illnesses than all bacterial pathogens combined, has not yet received such honor of recognition by the New York Times crossword.

Not quite famous, but dangerous

Another dangerous but less recognized foodborne pathogen is Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found in all kinds of environments and the cause of infections with a high mortality rate in susceptible individuals. Infections by Listeria monocytogenes go beyond diarrhea. Once inside our intestines, this bacterial pathogen can cross our intestinal barrier and enters our circulation to reach other parts of our body where infections lead to death.

If it reaches our central nervous system, it breaches the blood-brain barrier, which protects our brain from general circulation, and causes meningitis. In a pregnant woman, it can invade the placenta and infect the developing fetus. For this particular risk, pregnant women are often advised to avoid ready-to-eat food products, such as deli meats and soft cheeses, where Listeria monocytogenes can grow to lethal numbers. Listeria monocytogenes is well-adapted to grow under typical food preservation conditions, such as refrigeration temperatures, rendering the pathogen extremely difficult to eliminate.

The best strategy against Listeria monocytogenes infections, similar to other foodborne infections, is prevention. We have to consume these pathogens to get sick. If we can reduce the amount of pathogens we consume, we reduce the risk of infections. Individuals can sign up for email alerts from the Food and Drug Administration to stay informed of ongoing recalls in the United States and avoid potentially contaminated food products.

Following basic food safety guidelines when shopping, preparing and storing food is effective in minimizing exposure to foodborne pathogens and preventing subsequent illnesses. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture hosts a live chat, available also as the Ask Karen mobile app for iOS and Google Play, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST on weekdays to answer any food safety questions.

Sleep well, eat well

After all the precautions to minimize your exposure to foodborne pathogens, what else can you do? An individual’s susceptibility to infections is also determined by the state of the immune system. A competent immune defense can protect us from illnesses or reduce the severity of illnesses even if we unknowingly consume some E. coli or Salmonella. White blood cells are a critical group of immune cells that protect us from diseases.

As it turns out, subsets of white blood cells respond strongly to our sleep pattern as well as our circadian rhythm, resulting in diurnal cycles of immune responses during nocturnal sleep and daytime wakefulness.

In a large population study with 22,726 individuals, when adjusted for age and sex, those with five hours or less of sleep each night were more likely to report respiratory infections or illnesses than those with seven to eight hours of sleep. While this study did not address susceptibility to foodborne infections, it showcases a potential role for the amount of sleep in our immune defenses.

Traveling also elevates our risk for infections. In addition to sleep disruption, traveling for long distances also exposes us to pathogens not common in our hometowns. Without prior exposure and immunity, these exposures may lead to higher risk of infections and more severe diseases. Traveler’s diarrhea is a real thing and the most common travel-related illness. The most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea is enterotoxigenic E. coli, a close cousin of E. coli O157:H7 that was the culprit of the most recent outbreak associated with romaine lettuce.

While E. coli O157:H7 produces shiga toxin and causes bloody diarrhea that can lead to haemotlyic uremic syndrome, enterotoxigenic E. coli produces two different types of toxins that result in watery diarrhea. Check out these travel guidelines prior to traveling to be ready and stay safe. Some important things to know: Eat only food that is served hot, and eat only vegetables that you clean and peel yourself. Also, avoid ice in drinks, and do not consume unpasteurized milk products, including ice cream.

As the holiday season starts, whether we are losing sleep from traveling or trying out new and exciting food in a foreign locale, let’s be conscientious of what is going into our mouths. Be part of the holiday celebration, not a foodborne infection outbreak!

Lasting Lessons from the Christmas Truce

By Wim Laven

In 1914 violent conflict was raging. There was global suffering of a scale previously unknown, and it was known as the Great War (until 21+ years later it became simply World War I). WWI was a different time—19 out of 20 war deaths were combatants. In 2018 we see 19 out of 20 war deaths are civilians.

In December of 1914 something magical took place in trenches in several places along the Western Front; opposing forces were able to stop killing each other in a Christmas Truce. Shooting was halted so that the bodies of the fallen could be collected, enemy combatants sang carols together and even enjoyed friendly soccer matches. Soldiers from opposing forces actively engaged in violent struggle took advantage of an opportunity to lay down their arms in the celebration of Christmas, which is at its core a celebration of love. No man’s land briefly turned into a place of peace.

The earliest lessons of the Christmas Truce reflected a natural aversion to killing identifiable people who had done nothing in particular to harm one or one’s people. Military command on both sides—especially German v French and British—gave strict orders forbidding such fraternization. But it was the inevitable atrocities of war that would doom such natural overtures of peace from the ranks.

By WWII specific efforts to combat “friendliness” were made in many forms, the dehumanization of enemies were central to this charge. This was all a reflection of a belligerent nation’s need to overcome a core human value: reverence for life. In order to degrade human rights governments and leaders have gone to great lengths to quash this fundamental desire for peace, our psychologies of survival and our innate revulsion of killing.

Indeed, truces and ceasefires provide reminders of the tremendous capacity of humans to do good. In my Christian tradition I cannot think of any better reflection of Jesus’s teachings in compassion, charity, and forgiveness. Can we make truces in 2018, domestic and international? Is it possible to return to common values in peace and reverence for life? I think so, and I would like to encourage everyone to reflect on these lessons. I teach conflict resolution, and one of the fundamental truths of conflict is that there are no guarantees, no one-size-fits-all approach, and no universal answer.It depends is where the thinking and examination starts, but if people can stop shooting at each other both literally and metaphorically we all ought to be able to engage with North Korea, with Mexico, or simply sit through a family dinner, even with people who voted for “the wrong person.”

Efforts have been made to undermine our innate desires for peace, this is part of the challenge. Politics, for example, mislead and obfuscate. Trump has told thousands of lies as President, he is willing to lie about anything, and he uses his lies to divide people—he draws his power through division. He attacks truth, but we can see past his subterfuge. In conflict, I teach, trust is built when we make and keep agreements and when we are advocates for the rights of all. The lies of our political leaders may make our lives more difficult but they don’t stop us from honoring our own word to each other and insisting that our governments do the same.

In 2018 it is clear that cyber warfare has weaponized fake news and ignorance. Putin’s agents, in particular, attack the U.S. by manipulating Americans into fighting with each other. It is a much more sophisticated process of what I recall from grade school. I remember fights could be manufactured through illegitimate gossip, and Russian agent trolls have promoted misinformation campaigns for extremely nefarious consequences. The Russians are wonderful people but are ruled by an autocrat who wants us to destroy ourselves—and we’re doing it one lie at a time. Putin’s operatives are trolling Americans to manufacture as much chaos, political upheaval, and violence as possible. Trump is their boy. We are their targets.

If you see “Make America Great Again” or “Black Lives Matter” and your blood boils that means division is winning. If you see it as an opportunity toward dialog, then you beat Putin and his puppet Trump. Like the soldiers who made the Christmas Truce of 1914,we can begin to dissolve the forces that mandate our positional status as enemy. If we could hold to that, we could succeed in what they tried to start.

Connecting to each other—first as Americans who reject Trump and the politics of division and then to the efforts to stop the geopolitical hatreds that produced both the Cold War and now the Russian, American, and Chinese efforts to gain dominance over all—we might have a chance to create a worldwide, permanent Christmas Truce. Nothing less than the future of humankind is in the balance.

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice,is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.

A Christmas Miracle? USA stopping a war?

by Kary Love

President Trump has “commander in chiefed” an end to the illegal US role in the war in Syria. And there are reports the Commander in Chief may order a draw down in Afghanistan, the war that keeps on giving! Knock me down with a feather! Turns out it ain’t that hard to end a war! It must be a Christmas Miracle! In the lifetime of the post 9-11 generation, the USA has started many a war, but ended nary a one. Is this a new era? Is it evidence that this Christmas Christ may return? I do not know how else to understand it.

Of course, the usual suspects are grumbling about this, Lindsey Graham among them, but let us give Trump credit for standing up to the war profiteers and their bought and paid for apologists, peace may break out before anyone thought possible! Even the Senate has gotten into the act, moving to end the US war on Yemen fought by Saudi Arabia, a lapdog dependency if ever there was one, so the USA could pretend it was just “supplying aircraft fuel.”

Can this Christmas Miracle continue? Dare one hope it spread? Imagine, as John Lennon musically urged, no war. Impossible? That is what Christmas Miracles are all about, accomplishing the impossible.

The U.S. is officially fighting undeclared wars in seven countries, according to the White House’s latest war report, known as the “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Military Force and Related National Security Operations,” the unclassified portion admits the USA has ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger — all under authority granted in the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants. Wouldn’t it be a miracle if all seven of these “official” wars ended over Christmas by order of President Trump?

Wouldn’t that be an amazing reaffirmation of the teachings of Christ, who told St. Peter that violence was not the answer, not even to defend Christ himself from arrest by the Romans? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful Christmas gift to all the soldiers at risk of death and disability, their families and the people of those ravaged, war torn countries? A Christmas miracle indeed!

Now that I am ramped up, why not go for the whole enchilada! Let’s end ‘em all, not just the “official” wars but all those unofficial wars as well. “We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in October 2017. That was in the wake of the combat deaths of four members of the Special Operations forces in the West African nation of Niger. Turns out the US has Special Ops forces deployed to 149 countries in 2017. Because these are “secret” not “official” wars, just like Lindsey Graham, one cannot be sure how many of these secret wars are still going on, or how many were added in 2018. It would take a Christmas Miracle just to keep track of them. Sowhy not a Christmas Miracle to end them all at one fell swoop?

Maybe it is a propitious time to end all these wars. Given the danger of a confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and China in the South Seas, where significant opponents with nuclear arsenals await, maybe the USA should stand down from the brink and embrace the Christmas Miracle. I am ashamed to admit it, but I was losing my belief in Santa Claus given the plethora of unremitting bad news. But now I am going to sit down and write Santa a letter—I am asking him for a Christmas Miracle!

Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters, including some desperado nuns, in court for decades and will on occasion use blunt force satire or actual legal arguments to make a point.

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