Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pope Francis to Catholics: It's time to take action on global warming

He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.
In Lima last month, bishops from every continent expressed their frustration with the stalled climate talks and, for the first time, urged rich countries to act.
Sorondo, a fellow Argentinian who is known to be close to Pope Francis, said: “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”
According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”
However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.
Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”.
Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.
“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”
Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.
“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

If there’s a single identifiable moment when Jewish Christmas—the annual American tradition where Jews overindulge on Chinese food on December 25—transitioned from kitsch into codified custom, it was during Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s 2010 confirmation hearing.

During an otherwise tense series of exchanges, Senator Lindsey Graham paused to ask Kagan where she had spent the previous Christmas. To great laughter, she replied:  “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”
Never willing to let a moment pass without remark, Senator Chuck Schumer jumped in to explain, “If I might, no other restaurants are open.”

And so goes the story of Jewish Christmas in a tiny capsule. For many Jewish Americans, the night before Christmas conjures up visions, not of sugar plums, but plum sauce slathered over roast duck or an overstocked plate of beef lo mein, a platter of General Tso’s, and (maybe) some hot and sour soup.

But Schumer’s declaration that Jews and Chinese food are as much a match of necessity as sweet and sour are, is only half the wonton. The circumstances that birthed Jewish Christmas are also deeply historical, sociological, and religious.

The story begins during the halcyon days of the Lower East Side where, as Jennifer 8. Lee, the producer of The Search for General Tso, said, “Jews and Chinese were the two largest non-Christian immigrant groups” at the turn of the century.

So while it’s true that Chinese restaurants were notably open on Sundays and during holidays when other restaurants would be closed, the two groups were linked not only by proximity, but by otherness. Jewish affinity for Chinese food “reveals a lot about immigration history and what it’s like to be outsiders,” she explained.

Estimates of the surging Jewish population of New York City run from 400,000 in 1899 to about a million by 1910 (or roughly a quarter of the city’s population). And, as some Jews began to assimilate into American life, they not only found acceptance at Chinese restaurants, but also easy passage into the world beyond Kosher food.

“Chinese restaurants were the easiest place to trick yourself into thinking you were eating Kosher food,” Ed Schonfeld, the owner of RedFarm, one of the most laureled Chinese restaurants in New York, said. Indeed, it was something of a perfect match. Jewish law famously prohibits the mixing of milk and meat just as Chinese food traditionally excludes dairy from its dishes. Lee added:
If you look at the two other main ethnic cuisines in America, which are Italian and Mexican, both of those combine milk and meat to a significant extent. Chinese food allowed Jews to eat foreign cuisines in a safe way.
And so, for Jews, the chop suey palaces and dumpling parlors of the Lower East Side and Chinatown gave the illusion of religious accordance, even if there was still treif galore in the form of pork and shellfish. Nevertheless, it’s more than a curiosity that a narrow culinary phenomenon that started over a century ago managed to grow into a national ritual that is both specifically American and characteristically Jewish.
“Clearly this whole thing with Chinese food and Jewish people has evolved,” Schoenfeld said. “There’s no question. Christmas was always a good day for Chinese restaurants, but in recent years, it’s become the ultimate day of business.”
But there’s more to it than that. Ask a food purist about American Chinese food and you’ll get a pu-pu platter of hostile rhetoric about its inauthenticity. Driving the point home, earlier this week, CBS reported on two Americans who opened a restaurant in Shanghai that features American-style Chinese dishes like orange chicken, pork egg rolls, and, yes, the beloved General Tso’s, all of which don’t exist in traditional Chinese cuisine. The restaurant gets it name from another singular upshot of Chinese-American fusion: Fortune Cookie.
Schoenfeld, whose restaurant features an egg roll made with pastrami from Katz’s Deli, shrugs off the idea that Americanized Chinese food is somehow an affront to cultural virtue. “Adaptation has been a signature part of the Chinese food experience,” he said. “If you went to Italy, you’d see a Chinese restaurant trying to make an Italian customer happy.”

That particular mutability has a meaningful link to the Jewish experience, the rituals of which were largely forged in exile. During the First and Second Temple eras, Jewish practice centered around temple life in Jerusalem. Featuring a monarchy and a high priesthood, it bears little resemblance to Jewish life of today with its rabbis and synagogues.
So could it be that Chinese food is a manifestation of Jewish life in America? Lee seems to think so. “I would argue that Chinese food is the ethnic cuisine of American Jews. That, in fact, they identify with it more than they do gefilte fish or all kinds of the Eastern Europe dishes of yore.”
Over the centuries, different religious customs have sprung up and new spiritual rituals have taken root, many of which draw on the past. Jewish Christmas, in many ways, could very much be seen as a modern affirmation of faith. After all, there are few days that remind American Jews of their Jewishness more than Christmas in the United States.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

5 Reasons Solitude is Important for Christians - What do you do to make time for solitude in your own life?

Somewhere along the way evangelicals lost the connection to solitude. Many of us have no real experience in solitude, don’t believe we need it, or maybe even fear it. Here, in five reflective points, is a case made for solitude because it’s not so scary and might just do you some good.

1. Solitude is the way of Jesus

Before Jesus began his ministry, he was in solitude (Luke 4 /Matthew 4). Filled with the Spirit, Jesus traveled alone to the wild places. He fasted there for 40 days and was tempted by the devil before beginning his public ministry. This time in the desert shows us a Jesus who first needs to be alone with the Father before he begins the work of salvation.
Jesus spends time in solitude in several other episodes in the Gospels. Jesus goes up a mountain to pray alone shortly after the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:23). He also spends time alone in prayer the night of his arrest (Mark 14:32-36). What Jesus’ times alone in solitude shows us is that even the Son of God needs quiet space to recharge and reflect during his earthly ministry. Solitude then is not some luxury for those who can afford it or a practice only for the very spiritual. Jesus did not live a life of luxury and those who thought in terms of more or less spiritual were those Jesus preached against.

2. Solitude reveals truth 

People learn quite a lot about themselves and about God in solitude. For some, this is frightening. What if we see who we truly are and walk away disgusted? People who run away to solitude with the hope of outrunning their temptations and sin find that such things travel with them. This is no reason to despair, though. It is all part of the reason why solitude is so important; it provides us with an environment in which our temptations can be faced down. Jesus is tempted by the Devil in his time of solitude; we are no different. Solitude brings out our temptations in an environment that is well suited to facing them down.
Solitude also reveals truth about the Lord. In solitude the heart is given the opportunity to be quiet for once and listen to the promptings of God; we are free from the distractions of society and can focus wholly on the Lord. This is when God can speak into our lives in ways beautiful and unexpected. Elijah saw God on Horeb; Moses on Sinai. Both learned profound things from these experiences and were empowered by a word directly from God. There is no possible way that such an experience would be of no benefit to you.
Thomas Merton has said, “We should let ourselves be brought naked and defenseless into the center of that dread where we stand alone before God in our nothingness, without explanation, without theories, completely dependent upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of this grace, his mercy, and the light of faith.” (Contemplative Prayer)

3. Solitude is not about the self

Solitude is not all about you. Far from it. Instead of finding ourselves, our goal in these situations should be to lose ourselves. Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. As such we can only really understand who we are as human beings by first knowing him. It is by knowing God that we begin fully to understand who we are as his children. As Jesus put it, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24) You, the real you, can only really be found in the heart of God.
This losing of self in solitude has a second benefit: Our love for others increases. When we begin to see ourselves for who we truly are, we know ourselves as children of God. As children of God we begin to see all other people as his children too. This increases our love for others and, somewhat ironically, actually brings us further into community and engagement with a wounded world.

4. Solitude gives us perspective

In day to day life, it can be so hard to see what is really going on. The view from the valley is not as wide-ranged as one from the mountain top. Time in quiet and reliance on God brings us to knowledge of what it is we actually need and what is or is not in line with the heart of God.
Perhaps you have experienced this. A return to society from a long stint in the wilds can drastically change our worldview. Maybe you were struck with just how much advertising you saw upon your return. Maybe you noticed just how uncomfortable everyone was with silence. Maybe you noticed just how often people used “need” instead of “want”. This time away gave you some perspective and you are not alone. 
John the Baptist lived on the outskirts of society and in relative seclusion before disciples came to him. This seclusion give him perspective on society and eyes to see Jesus for who he really was. A step or two of separation from society doesn’t mean we refuse to engage with it; on the contrary, separation through solitude gives us a godly perspective so that we might properly respond to the problems of our world.

5. Solitude is resistance

The world we have built has few opportunities for solitude. We crave noise and distraction. When you are in the car, there is music or talk radio. When you are at home, your attention is held by the television or computer. While you are at work or school, people and projects vie for your attention all day. For the most part you are lucky to spend 30 minutes half reading the Bible in the morning or before bed; most of the time it feels as if all you can find in the Bible is measurements and genealogies.
Solitude offers a chance to resist a society that likens stillness to decay. Solitude is an active inaction; it is a way of saying that we refuse to play this game any longer. It is a way of telling the world that our heart relies on the Lord and nothing else. It is our way of looking all problems dead in the eyes and declaring that the Lord himself will give us what is needed if only we take the time to listen.
To make the choice to embrace solitude might very well be difficult in the context of modern life. There’s just so much pulling us away from it and it certainly doesn’t help that for many of us our upbringing has done nothing to teach us about its nature or practice. In spite of all of this, solitude is very much worth including in our spiritual practices. When we follow Jesus as our example for spiritual practices, we can see that solitude is an integral piece of the spiritual life because it establishes a connection directly with our creator and reveals truth about him, ourselves and the world. This connection leads us to forget ourselves and love our neighbors more as the beloved children of God. Finally, solitude can give us perspective on the world and can be a way if actively disengaging in what pulls us out of intimacy with our creator.
Stillness, as Saint Basil says, is the beginning of the soul’s purification. For when the outward members cease from their outward activity and from the distraction caused thereby, then the mind turns away from distractions and wandering thoughts that are outside its realm and abides quietly within itself, and the heart awakens for the searching out of deliberations that are within the soul. – St. Isaac the Syrian

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

10 Unsolved Christmastime Mysteries

Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy and peace. It can be the happiest time of the year for many people. However, that doesn’t mean bad things do not happen at Christmas or that the holiday season is devoid of dark, mysterious events.

The Spontaneous Combustion Of Matilda Rooney

christmas farm
A farmhand named John Larson spent Christmas 1885 with his employers, Patrick and Matilda Rooney, an elderly couple who lived just outside of Seneca, Illinois. They shared several drinks before Larson retired for the evening and went upstairs to bed. Sometime during the night, he underwent a coughing fit and had trouble breathing, but soon drifted back to sleep.
When Larson woke up on Christmas morning, traces of soot were on his pillow. Larson went downstairs and was shocked to find Patrick dead in his bedroom. Matilda was nowhere to be found. Later that day, Larson wandered into the kitchen and found a large blackened hole in the floor. It rested alongside what appeared to be the charred remains of a human foot. A pile of ash was inside the hole. This was all that was left of Matilda Rooney.
It seemed that Matilda was the victim of spontaneous human combustion, which caused her entire body to catch fire and burn to ashes. The estimated temperature of the fire that consumed her was 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,500 °F), but there were no other signs of fire damage other than that spot. It was later determined that Patrick had died of smoke inhalation. This explained Larson’s coughing fit during the night. He was spared from death because he slept behind a closed door on the second floor.
Even though there was speculation that Larson could have murdered Matilda, it seemed impossible for him to have started such a blazing fire without damaging the rest of the house. It’s possible that excessive alcohol consumption caused Matilda Rooney to spontaneously combust. A prominent local legend was that she suffered divine retribution for daring to drink so much on Christmas Eve.

The Hit-And-Run Of Kevin Showalter

On Christmas Eve 1973, 20-year-old college student Kevin Showalter and his girlfriend were driving through New London, Connecticut when their vehicle got a flat tire. Kevin pulled over and was in the midst of changing the tire when he was struck by a passing vehicle and killed. Kevin’s mother soon sensed that something was wrong when she went to retrieve her son’s personal effects from the scene but was told they had been lost and that his death would probably never be solved. Her subsequent investigation would uncover allegations of shoddy police work and a potential cover-up.
Harvey Mallove, a former mayor of New London, was considered a potential suspect because he had driven through the area at the time of Kevin’s death, but provided testimony which contradicted eyewitness accounts of the accident. A one-man grand jury determined that Mallove was the most likely culprit, but there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.
Mallove maintained his innocence, and in 1979 a man named Paul Hansen came forward to confess that he was the hit-and-run culprit. By that point, the statute of limitations had expired, so no charges could be filed against Hansen. Another grand jury was convened, but they determined that there was no evidence to support Hansen’s claim, so the inquiry was closed.
The case remained cold until 2005 when Hansen committed suicide. He left behind a note once again claiming responsibility for Kevin’s death. Police decided to reopen the case, but when the local media requested transcripts from the earlier investigations, they were denied. In fact, the 3,000-page transcript from the original grand jury investigation on Mallove had mysteriously gone missing. To this day, Kevin Showalter’s death is still officially unsolved.

The Pleasant Valley Memorial Park Jane Doe

It’s a very sad occurrence when a person is found dead and no one knows their true identity. If the victim cannot be identified, he’s called John (or Jane) Doe. This situation occurs many times per year, but in 1996, one particular Jane Doe made a concerted effort to ensure her identity remained a mystery.
On December 18, a woman was found lying dead atop a plastic sheet in Annandale, Virginia at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park cemetery. She was approximately 60 years old and carried no identification. Brandy and Valium were found in her system. A plastic bag was taped over her head. She had asphyxiated. It seemed she did not want anyone to know her identity as she had a note which read, “Deceased by own hand… prefer no autopsy.” It was signed “Jane Doe.”
Jane Doe also requested to be cremated and left behind two $50 bills to cover the expense. The scene contained many strange clues about this mysterious woman’s background. She had set up a miniature Christmas tree beside her and decorated it. She also had a portable tape player and comedy tapes in her possession. She died with headphones on, listening to the famous “2000-Year-Old Man” comedy routine by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. The most intriguing aspect of Jane Doe’s suicide was that she was found in the section of the cemetery where deceased infants were buried. Sadly, no one has ever come forward to identify Jane Doe, and her motivation remains a mystery.

The Murder Of Rhonda Hinson

Nineteen-year-old Rhonda Hinson worked a clerical job at a steel company in Hickory, North Carolina. On the evening of December 22, 1981, Rhonda attended a company Christmas party and left with two of her friends. After dropping them off, Rhonda headed for her home in Valdese and wasn’t far away when she became the victim of a bizarre homicide. A high-powered rifle was used to fire a shot at Rhonda’s vehicle from an unknown location. The bullet managed to travel through the trunk and the driver’s seat before striking Rhonda in the heart. Her vehicle was found by the side of the road with the driver’s door open. Rhonda’s body was lying several paces away. The circumstances of how or why she was murdered remain unclear.
Rhonda had been acting strangely toward her parents in the preceding weeks. She dropped hints that she was concealing a terrible secret and made an unusual inquiry to her mother about the appropriateness of dating a married man. On the night of the murder, a motorist drove past Rhonda’s car and saw an unidentified man standing next to the driver’s side door with Rhonda slumped over the steering wheel. The witness did not know that Rhonda was dead at the time, but he did see a Trans-Am parked down the road a short distance away, which may have belonged to the man seen next to Rhonda’s vehicle. If this man fired the fatal rifle shot from a distance, why did he approach her car and drag Rhonda’s body out onto the road? Was her death an accident or cold-blooded murder? These questions remain unanswered.

The Disappearance Of Patty Vaughan

On Christmas Day, 1996, 32-year-old Patty Vaughan left her home in La Vernia, Texas and never returned. Her van was found 25 kilometers (15 mi) away the following day. One of the tires was flat, and there were traces of blood in the van as well as a red workman’s jumpsuit. Right before her disappearance, Patty had allegedly gotten into an argument with her estranged husband, J.R. That was the last confirmed sighting of her. The couple had three children but had separated two months earlier. J.R. was jealous that Patty was dating another man and raised eyebrows when he filed for divorce the day after she went missing.
Traces of blood were found in Patty’s bedroom and on a mop inside her residence, indicating that someone had been cleaning the place. It was also apparent that the carpet in Patty’s van had recently been shampooed. DNA tests confirmed that all the bloodstains belonged to Patty. The case took a bizarre turn two months later when Patty’s mother burst into J.R.’s home and attacked him with a baseball bat. Nevertheless, there was no evidence to implicate him in Patty’s disappearance, and he took custody of their children and left the state.
However, during the time Patty went missing, J.R. was working construction on a school in the nearby town of Natalia. Authorities have not discounted the possibility that Patty’s remains might be encased in the concrete foundation and that multiple people were involved in the disposal of her body. Years later, DNA testing was performed on items found in Patty’s van. The DNA was determined to be female, but did not belong to Patty Vaughan, adding further intrigue to this unsolved case.

The Murder Of Tracy Mertens

In 1994, 31-year-old Tracy Mertens moved to Rochdale, England, with her boyfriend, Joey Kavanagh, and their two children. Two days before Christmas, Tracy decided to return to their former residence in Birmingham to pick up some belongings. While Tracy was there, there was a surprise knock on the door, and two black men came bursting inside. They proceeded to restrain Tracy beforeblindfolding and abducting her. The two assailants drove to the town of Eaton and left Tracy on the steps of a church. They doused her with gasoline and burned her alive. When Tracy was found, she had burns on 90 percent of her body but was still breathing. She was taken to a hospital and lived long enough to describe what happened to her before passing away on Christmas Eve.
The most intriguing part of Tracy’s story was that her two unknown attackers reportedly asked, “Where’s Joey?” after bursting into the home. After Tracy told them her boyfriend wasn’t there, they decided to abduct her and leave the area.
During their time together, Tracy and Joey often had a strained relationship. Joey had frequent issues with heroin addiction and owed people money at the time of Tracy’s death. Joey contended that these issues are unconnected to Tracy’s murder and claimed to have no idea who was responsible.

The Warminster ‘Thing’

One of the United Kingdom’s first UFO hot spots was a small town named Warminster. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Warminster was a haven for UFO sightings. However, the sightings were not initially flying objects, but unexplained sounds.
On Christmas morning in 1964, many Warminster residents were disturbed by a series of strange noises, which consisted of strong, pounding vibrations and could best be described as “sonic attacks.” One resident was awoken by the repeated sound of something falling onto her roof. When she looked out the window, she heard a strange humming noise, but the weather was clear and nothing had come into contact with the roof. This same experience was reported by many different residents in different locations that morning, including 30 soldiers at a nearby base camp. However, no one saw anything strange, nor could they figure out where these sounds originated.
The most unusual incident involved a resident named Marjorie Bye. While walking to church for a Christmas service, Bye was so overwhelmed by vibrating noises that she was knocked to the ground and rendered unable to move. In her own words, she was “pinned down by the invisible fingers of sound.” Over the course of the next year, there were numerous reported incidents of strange unexplained sounds in Warminster. These noises were eventually nicknamed “The Thing.” By summer 1965, witnesses started reporting unidentified flying objects in the sky.
Warminster garnered a ton of publicity after a photograph of a flying saucer was published in the newspapers. UFO enthusiasts starting flocking to the town, but the hype eventually died down and there would be no more visits from “The Thing.” Even so, no one has ever been able to explain the origin of the strange sounds heard on Christmas 1964.

The Disappearance Of Nikole Betterson

Jarrett Betterson and Susan Klingel lived in Dearborn, Michigan with their two-year-old daughter, Nikole. Tragically, in September of that year, the couple got into a car accident. Susan was killed. It wasn’t long before Jarrett became involved with a woman named Barbara. Around Christmastime, Jarrett and Barbara surprised Susan’s family by announcing they were moving out west with Nikole. The couple did not give the Klingels their exact destination and told conflicting stories to friends about where they were going. Jarrett and Barbara weren’t heard from again for 20 years, and Nikole was never seen again.
Almost 20 years later, the Klingel family finally hired a private investigator to determine Nikole’s whereabouts. He tracked down Jarrett and Barbara, who were living in Las Vegas. Even though the couple had spent years collecting Nikole’s Social Security benefits for children with deceased parents, she was nowhere to be found. There was no paper trail for her after she left Michigan in 1977.
The police soon got involved, and Jarrett promised to tell them the whole story about what happened to Nikole. However, he never got around to doing so. Shortly before Christmas, on the 20th anniversary of Nikole’s disappearance, Jarrett shot his wife to death and then turned the gun on himself. Before she died, Barbara mailed a letter to the Klingels apologizing for everything she had done, but did not provide any details about what happened to Nikole. If still alive, Nikole Betterson would be 39 years old today.

The Murder Of Latricia White

abandoned truck
Thirty-eight-year-old Lockhart, Texas resident Latricia White was spending Christmas 1994 with her boyfriend, Lee “Dub” Wackerhagen, and his nine-year-old son, Chance. Chance was supposed to be returned to his mother on Christmas Day, but called her to request a few more days with his father.
On December 27, after not hearing from his daughter for a while, Latricia’s father decided to visit her home. He was shocked to discover Latricia dead in her bed. She had been shot six times with a .22-caliber weapon. Dub and Chance Wackerhagen were nowhere to be found. Since Dub was known for having a violent temper and reportedly got into a heated argument with Latricia shortly before Christmas, he was the prime suspect in her murder. A warrant was issued for Dub Wackerhagen’s arrest.
However, there is still debate about whether Dub took Chance and went on the run as a fugitive or if they were both victims themselves. Three days later, Dub’s pickup truck was found abandoned in a field 50 kilometers (30 mi) away. Many items were found inside, including Dub’s wallet and checkbook. The most compelling piece of evidence was a heap of unopened Christmas presents in the back, some of which were covered with blood. Surprisingly, the blood did not match Latricia White, lending credence to the possibility that Dub and Chance fell victim to an unknown party who subsequently disposed of their bodies.
Months later, Chance’s maternal grandmother got an anonymous phone call from a young boy who said, “Help me.” The call was cut off, but she thought the boy might have been Chance. No one knows if Dub and Chance Wackerhagen were murdered that Christmas or if they’re still hiding out somewhere.

The Author Of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’

Virtually everyone who celebrates Christmas is familiar with the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” aka “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Believe it or not, the origin of this poem has some mystery attached to it. For many years, no one knew who wrote it. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was sent anonymously to theSentinel, a newspaper in Troy, New York, and first published on December 23, 1823.
The poem proved enormously popular, but the author’s identity was unknown. Finally, in 1844, a professor named Clement Clarke Moore claimed credit for writing the poem, which had been sent to the Sentinel by one of Moore’s friends. The story goes that Moore was hesitant to take credit for the poem because he was embarrassed by it and considered it unscholarly. However, some historians do not believe Moore was the actual author.
A professor named Donald Wayne Foster presented compelling evidence in 2000 that the real author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was actually Henry Livingston Jr., who died in 1828. Foster believed the poem bore a striking resemblance to Livingston’s other writings, but was a strange anomaly in Moore’s body of work. Some called Moore a sour, unsentimental individual and asserted that “A Visit from St. Nicholas” did not fit his persona, but other historians disagree.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence in favor of Livingston is that the names of Santa’s last two reindeer in the poem were originally “Dunder” and “Blixem” and only became “Donder” and “Blitzen” because of a printer’s error. Many years later, Moore wrote out copies of his poem, but committed the same mistake by writing “Donder” and “Blitzen.” The words “Dunder and Blixem” are actually Dutch for “thunder and lightning.” Moore spoke no Dutch, but Livingston did. Still, after two centuries, the debate rages on about who really wrote “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do you think Jesus was born in a stable? 99% of people don't know what the Bible really says about the nativity story (and that includes donkeys, inns and wise men)

Up to 99 per cent of Britons mix up the Biblical nativity story with common misconceptions about animals, stables and inns, a survey found today.

These include Mary travelling to Bethlehem on a donkey, Jesus being born on Christmas Day and three wise men visiting him - none of which are mentioned in the world’s most-read book.

Only 3 per cent of adults are aware that the Bible does not actually state the number of wise men who arrived to see Jesus - despite it often being portrayed as three, the Bible Society poll revealed.

 Just 4 per cent know that the Bible does not say how Mary got to Bethlehem, and less than a third correctly said Mary and Joseph were betrothed when she found out she would give birth to Jesus.

Some 20 per cent were able to correctly say that Mary and Joseph travelled across the country after being told to do so by Caesar Augustus, with 5 per cent believing they were moving house.

 And one in four say Jesus was born on December 25, although there is no reference to a date in the Bible. The date on which we celebrate Christmas comes from the Roman festival Saturnalia.

Meanwhile only 40 per cent of respondents could correctly state that the Bible says the angels told the shepherds: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men.’
And just 1 per cent correctly identified that the Bible does not say Jesus was born in a stable. 

 The society warned of a ‘growing decline in Bible literacy’ - adding that people aged at least 55 know the book's stories best, with the majority of correct answers being achieved by this age group. 

Bible Society group chief executive James Catford said: ‘Nine out of ten people don’t engage with the Bible and they might not realise that they’re missing out on a treasure trove of brilliant and engaging stories.
‘The Bible could be lost to future generations unless we all take action. That’s why in the week leading up to Christmas and beyond, we are encouraging parents to save a little time in their annual celebrations to help pass on one of the greatest stories ever told.’
The society was founded in 1804 by a group of people including William Wilberforce to encourage the wider ‘circulation and use’ of the Scriptures.
The survey was carried out from December 3 to 5 by OnePoll among a sample size of 1,000 adults.


According to the Bible…

1. When Mary found out she would give birth to the Son of God, she and Joseph were…?
a) They were married
b) They were betrothed
c) They were on their first date
d) They had never met
e) The Bible doesn’t say
f) Don’t know

2. Why did Mary and Joseph travel across the country?
a) They were told to by King Herod
b) They were told to by Caesar Augustus
c) They were moving house at the time
d) They were visiting family
e) The Bible doesn’t say
f) Don’t know

3. How does Mary travel across the country?
a) On a donkey
b) On a camel
c) Walked
d) The Bible doesn’t say
e) Don’t know

4. Where was Jesus born?
a) Nazareth
b) Bethlehem
c) Jerusalem
d) The Bible doesn’t say
e) Don’t know

5. The angels told the Shepherds who were looking after their flock:
a) ‘Be very afraid’
b) ‘Go to Nazareth now to see this baby Jesus’
c) ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’
d) The Bible doesn’t say
e) Don’t know

6. Was Jesus born in..?
a) A stable
b) An inn
c) A relative’s home
d) A barn
e) The Bible does not say

7. Who visited baby Jesus immediately after his birth?
a) The Shepherds
b) The Wise Men
c) Both the Shepherds and Wise Men
d) The Bible doesn’t say
e) Don’t know

8. How many Wise Men visited Jesus?
a) Three
b) One
c) Twelve
d) The Bible doesn’t say
e) Don’t know

9. Jesus was born on the 25th of December?
a) True
b) False
c) The Bible doesn’t say
d) Don’t know


ANSWERS: 1b, 2b, 3d, 4b, 5c, 6e, 7a, 8d, 9c
You can also take an interactive version of the quiz by clicking here

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Breastfeeding can cut a woman's risk of cancer by a fifth: Thousands of cases could be avoided if mothers persevered with feeding for six months

Breastfeeding cuts a woman's risk of breast cancer by up to a fifth, a major study has found.
Thousands of cases could be avoided if more mothers persevered feeding their babies breast milk for six months, experts say.

Research involving almost 37,000 women found those who had breastfed were 10 per cent less likely to get the disease.

And they were 20 per cent less likely to develop one of the worst forms of breast cancer, known as triple negative.
In Britain, just 23 per cent of women breastfeed for six months, often giving their babies some formula milk as well. But the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding alone – with no formula – for six months.

US researchers at two charities and Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, analysed 27 studies covering 36,881 women.
Those who had breastfed for any length of time reduced their risk of breast cancer by 10 per cent.

Crucially, they were also a fifth, or 20 per cent, less likely to get triple negative cancer, which makes up 15 to 20 per cent of cases and is very hard to cure. It is called triple negative because it does not respond to any of three powerful treatments.

Breastfeeding lowers levels of the hormone oestrogen, which can trigger cancer. Some scientists also believe the process of producing milk stops cancer cells forming.

The researchers said nursing for three months would 'significantly reduce the risk' of breast cancer.
Dr Graham Colditz presented the findings at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas. He said: 'Importantly breastfeeding was clearly protective for triple negative breast cancer – the subset of this disease for which we have limited treatment options.'

He called for 'greater public health support' for breastfeeding. NHS figures show 82 per cent of mothers start to breastfeed, but only 55 per cent do it for six weeks and just one in 100 carries on with no formula milk for six months.

In Europe, only France, Malta, Ireland and Belgium have lower rates. Breastfed babies are less susceptible to infection, allergies and obesity. Nursing promotes bonding with the child and helps a mother shed pregnancy weight, since making milk burns calories.

But many find it uncomfortable or say they are too embarrassed to do it in public due to prejudice.
Last week mothers protested outside the prestigious Claridge's hotel, in London, after a nursing woman was told to cover herself up in its restaurant. Ukip leader Nigel Farage waded into the row by suggesting on radio that breastfeeding mothers should 'sit in a corner'.

One in eight British women will develop breast cancer, with 50,000 cases and 11,500 deaths a year.
Dr Anees Chagpar, of Yale University, said: 'When Britain has one of the lowest rates (of breastfeeding) you have to ask the question, why? Are British women educated enough about breastfeeding, or are there other barriers getting in the way?'

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

When you're young, the world is your oyster and opportunities seem endless, but there can be a lot of pressure to decide on a life path. How do you know what career to pursue and what to do with your future? 
This post originally appeared on Zen Habits.

You Can't Figure Out the Future

Even young people who have a plan (to be a doctor, lawyer, research scientist, singer) don't really know what will happen. If they have any certainty at all, they're a bit deluded. Life doesn't go according to plan, and while a few people might do exactly what they set out to do, you never know if you're one of those. Other things come along to change you, to change your opportunities, to change the world. The jobs of working at Google, Amazon, or Twitter, for example, didn't exist when I was a teenager. Neither did the job of Zen Habits blogger.
So if you can't figure out the future, what do you do? Don't focus on the future. Focus on what you can do right now that will be good no matter what the future brings. Make stuff. Build stuff. Learn skills. Go on adventures. Make friends. These things will help in any future.

Learn to Be Good with Discomfort

One of the most important skills you can develop is being okay with some discomfort. The best things in life are often hard, and if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you'll miss out. You'll live a life of safety.
Learning is hard. Building something great is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Running an ultra-marathon is hard. All are amazing.
If you get good at being accustomed to a little discomfort, you can do anything. You can start a business, which you couldn't if you're afraid of discomfort, because starting a business is hard and uncomfortable.
How do you get good at this? Do things now that are uncomfortable and hard, on purpose. But start with small doses. Try exercising for a little bit, even if it's hard, but just start with a few minutes of it, and increase a minute every few days or so. Try writing a blog or meditating every day. When you find yourself avoiding discomfort, push yourself just a little bit more (within limits of reason and safety of course).

Learn to Be Good with Uncertainty

A related skill is thriving in uncertainty. Starting a business, for example, is an amazing thing to do, but if you're afraid of uncertainty, you'll skip it. You can't know how things will turn out, and so if you need to know how things will turn out, you'll avoid great projects, businesses, opportunities.
But if you can be okay with not knowing, you'll be open to many more possibilities. I've written previously about becoming more comfortable with uncertainty.
If you're good at discomfort and uncertainty, you could do all kinds of things: travel the world and live cheaply while blogging about it, write a book, start a business, live in a foreign country and teach English, learn to program and create your own software, take a job with a startup, create an online magazine with other good young writers, and much more. All of those would be awesome, but you have to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty.
If any opportunities like these come along, you'll be ready if you've practiced these skills.

Overcome Distraction and Procrastination

All of this is useless if you can't overcome the universal problems of distraction and procrastination. You might seize an opportunity because you're good at uncertainty and discomfort, but then not make the most of it because you're too busy on social media and watching TV.
Actually, distraction and procrastination are just ways of avoiding discomfort, so if you get good at discomfort you're way ahead of most people. But there are some things you can practice and ways to beat procrastination

Learn More about Your Mind

Most people don't realize that fear controls them. They don't notice when they run to distraction, or rationalize doing things they told themselves they wouldn't do. It's hard to change mental habits because you don't always see what's going on in your head.
Learn about how your mind works, and you'll be much better at all of this. For me, the best ways are meditation and blogging. With meditation (read how to do it) you watch your mind jumping around, running from discomfort, rationalizing. With blogging, you are forced to reflect on what you've been doing in life and what you've learned from it. It's a great tool for self-growth, and I recommend it to every young person. 

Do Paid Work and Save Money

I don't think money is that important, but making money is difficult. You have to make someone believe in you enough to hire you or buy your products/service, which means you have to figure out why you're worthy of someone believing in you. You have to become worthy. And you have to learn to communicate that to people so they'll want to buy or hire you. Whether you're selling cookies door-to-door or an app in the Apple store or trying to get a job as a cashier, you have to do this.
And you get better with practice.
I worked as a clerk at a bank and then a freelance sports writer when I was in high school, and those were valuable experiences for me. And if you can make enough, save an emergency fund, then start investing your earnings in an index fund and watch it grow over your lifetime.

Build Something, Even If It's Small

Most people fritter their time away on things that don't matter, like TV, video games, social media, and reading the news. A year of that and you have nothing to show for it. But if you did a sketch every day, or started writing a web app, or created a blog or a video channel that you update regularly, or started building a cookie business, at the end of a year you'll have something great. And some new skills. Something you can point to and say, "I built that." Which most people can't do.
Start small, and build it every day if possible. It's like putting your money in investments: it grows in value over time.

Become Trustworthy and Build Your Reputation

When someone hires an unfamiliar young person, the biggest fear is that the young person is not trustworthy. That they'll come in late and lie about it and miss deadlines. Someone who has established a reputation over the years might be much more trusted, and more likely to be hired. Learn to be trustworthy by showing up on time, doing your best on every task, being honest, admitting mistakes but fixing them, trying your best to meet deadlines, and being a good person.
If you do that, you'll build a reputation and people will recommend you to others, which is the best way to get a job or investor.

Always Be Ready for Opportunities

If you do all of the above, or at least most of it, you'll be amazing. You'll be way, way ahead of pretty much every other person—especially if you're a teenager like the one who wrote me with this question. And opportunities will come your way, if you have your eyes open: job opportunities, a chance to build something with someone, an idea for a startup that you can build yourself, a new thing to learn and turn into a business, the chance to submit your new screenplay.
These opportunities might come along, and you have to be ready to seize them. Take risks—that's one of the advantages of being young. And if none come along, create your own.
Finally the idea behind all of this is that you can't know what you're going to do with your life right now, because you don't know who you're going to be, what you'll be able to do, what you'll be passionate about, who you'll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.
Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.
You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.