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Zorro's Journal
Zorro's Journal
December 31, 2021

Is That a Burning Bush? Is This Mt. Sinai? Solstice Bolsters a Claim

On the year’s shortest day, hundreds of Israelis ventured deep into the desert to witness a strange natural phenomenon atop an ancient pilgrimage site that some argue is where God spoke to Moses.

The “Burning Bush” phenomenon, occurring on the winter solstice, at Mount Karkom in the Negev Desert in southern Israel.Credit...Amit Elkayam for The New York Times

MOUNT KARKOM, Israel — The mountain kept its secrets for centuries, its air of sacred mystery enhanced by a remote location in the Negev Desert in southern Israel.

But one day last week, hundreds of Israeli adventurers headed deep into the wilderness to reach Mount Karkom, determined to get closer to answering a question as intriguing as it is controversial: Is this the Mount Sinai of the Bible, where God is believed to have communicated with Moses?

Mount Sinai’s location has long been disputed by scholars both religious and academic, and there are a dozen more traditional contenders, most of them in the mountainous expanses of the Sinai Peninsula across the border in Egypt.

But Mount Karkom’s claim has gained some popular support because of an annual natural phenomenon that an intrepid group of archaeology and nature enthusiasts had come to witness for themselves.

In 2003, a local Israeli guide and ecologist happened to be atop Karkom’s vast plateau one day in late December around the time of the winter solstice, when he came upon a marvel.

At midday, with the sun low in the sky on one of the shortest days of the year, he peered across a deep ravine and spotted a strange aura of light, flickering like flames, emanating from a spot on a sheer rock face.

December 31, 2021

Mitch McConnell's un-conservative plea to the Supreme Court

Spare me the Republican pieties about the horror of activist judges legislating from the bench. These days, judicial activism in the service of conservative causes is not just acceptable — it’s openly encouraged. Witness a new Supreme Court brief from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The brief comes in a case involving Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), challenging an obscure provision of federal election law that bars candidates who lend their campaigns funds to get elected from raising more than $250,000 after the election to pay themselves back — the theory being that post-election fundraising is less about engaging in political speech and more about currying political favor.

The day before his 2018 Senate election, Cruz lent his campaign $260,000 — not because it needed the money (it had more than $2 million cash on hand) but because, he openly acknowledges, he wanted to set up a challenge to the repayment provision. Cruz argues that the law violates the First Amendment, stifling candidates’ political speech by deterring them from lending to their own campaigns.

The Federal Election Commission, defending the provision, contends that Cruz has no standing to contest it because, among other things, he created the problem himself. “Senator Cruz’s injury is self-inflicted, since he and his campaign deliberately arranged their transactions so as to create a legal barrier to full repayment of the loan,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the court. In any event, she said, “the loan-repayment limit imposes at most a modest burden on the right to make and accept contributions.”

The case, to be argued Jan. 19, offers a particularly vivid illustration of the conservative mania to undo even the most inoffensive campaign finance restrictions. But the McConnell brief, authored by former Trump White House counsel Donald McGahn and former Trump administration solicitor general Noel Francisco, is notable for a different and more alarming reason: There is, it seems, no argument too extreme for this crowd in their effort to reshape the law to their liking.


December 31, 2021

Most evangelical objections to vaccines have nothing to do with Christianity

As the United States ends the year with the highest levels in new infections of the covid pandemic, the historical question naturally arises: Were a hefty portion of Americans entirely out of their senses?

Some of this rapid spread has come from breakthrough infections, caused by the insidiously transmissible omicron variant. But after a ghastly year of rumor, alarm and needless death, nothing is going to erase the harsh verdict against Americans in 2021: They were granted a miracle drug, and tens of millions refused to take it (or take enough of it).

In the grab bag of reasons for vaccine resistance, the religious exemption claimed by evangelicals is perhaps the most perplexing. The default ethical stance of Christianity is the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This principle was developed in a variety of other religious and moral traditions. (See the Babylonian Talmud: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah.”) In the New Testament, the Golden Rule is the moral culmination of the Sermon on the Mount. And it is clear from the text that Jesus is not encouraging a calculating ethic of reciprocity. His goal is to inspire a kind of aggressive, preemptive generosity. “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

The proper application of this principle can be difficult, particularly when it comes to Christian participation in a just war. But the case of vaccination is not really a hard one. Here the tunic is the prick of a needle and a minuscule risk of a bad reaction. The result is a significant benefit for the vaccinated and the community they live in.


December 30, 2021

How Tucker Carlson Is Boosting Russia's New Propaganda War

As Putin and Biden talk, Kremlin mouthpieces are rushing to explain the motivations behind Russia’s surge in aggression. Fox News is helping them do their work.

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to speak on Thursday, in preparation for Jan. 10 talks, convened to address Putin’s demand for “security guarantees” that aims to stymie NATO’s ability to carry out its functions in Europe. Moscow’s elite diplomats and talking heads are openly discussing Russia’s goals and strategies. Arguing for America’s total capitulation, with the Kremlin allegedly planning to offer no concessions or guarantees, Russian experts propose a plan to make such an outcome acceptable to the general public in the U.S. by waging an aggressive international info-campaign.

Russia’s state TV propagandists express their delight in seemingly having the likes of Tucker Carlson in their corner, praising his coverage as the prime example of Russia’s successful influence operations abroad. Carlson’s talking points often sound identical to those pushed by the Kremlin’s propagandists—or by Putin himself.

During one of his broadcasts on Fox News in December, Carlson argued that “NATO exists primarily to torment Vladimir Putin.” He worried about the possibility of “a NATO takeover of Ukraine,” and described the 2014 Maidan Revolution as a U.S.-organized “coup in Ukraine.” He also baselessly accused Joe Biden of fomenting “a hot war with Russia.” The very next day, translated quotes from Tucker Carlson’s show were widely broadcast on Russia’s state television. After watching Carlson’s remarks during the live taping of 60 Minutes, Igor Korotchenko, member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Public Council and editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine said: “Excellent performance, with which we can only express solidarity.”

Carlson’s claims that the U.S. is pushing the world to the brink of a nuclear war with Russia fit squarely within the Kremlin’s current propaganda offensive. During Tuesday’s live broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, host Vladimir Soloviev expressed his concerns about convincing Americans that the fears of war are real: “Americans change their behavior only when there is an existential threat to their population… Their memory of WWI is much greater than that of WWII, because of the numbers of those who perished and the difficulty of that war. We often think of Americans as the mirror image of ourselves and our concerns. They only look like us. Their mentality is completely, absolutely different.”

December 30, 2021

After 4 Killings, 'Officer of the Year' Is Still on the Job

A Pennsylvania state trooper was returned to duty following three investigations by his own agency. A fourth inquiry is underway.

LEBANON, Pa. — In November 2008, Pennsylvania Trooper Jay Splain was honored at a county law enforcement banquet as a hero, the police officer of the year. The reason: He had shot and killed a suicidal man who allegedly pointed an Uzi submachine gun at him.

That was the first killing. Trooper Splain went on to fatally shoot three more people in separate incidents, an extraordinary tally for an officer responsible for patrolling largely rural areas with low rates of violent crime. All four who died were troubled, struggling with drugs, mental illness or both. In two cases, including that of the man with the Uzi, family members had called the police for help because their relatives had threatened to kill themselves.

The most recent death was last month, when Trooper Splain shot an unarmed man in his Volkswagen Beetle. After learning that the officer had previously killed three other people over nearly 15 years, the man’s sister, Autumn Krouse, asked, “Why would that person still be employed?”

Trooper Splain is an outlier. Most officers never fire their weapons. Until now, his full record of killings has not been disclosed; the Pennsylvania State Police even successfully fought a lawsuit seeking to identify him and provide other details in one shooting. In the agency’s more than a century of policing, no officer has ever been prosecuted for fatally shooting someone, according to a spokesman. That history aligns with a longstanding pattern across the country of little accountability for police officers’ use of deadly force.

December 30, 2021

The Republican Superlawyer Leading The Charge To Take Over Election Offices

After listening to every single episode of conservative election lawyer Cleta Mitchell’s podcast, “Who’s Counting?” a simple truth emerges: This isn’t about Donald Trump.

Yes, you may know Mitchell for advising Trump on his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. (She chimed in frequently on the call in which Trump pressured Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” the votes he needed to win.) Trump also blurbed Mitchell’s podcast last month, saying that the show “exposes our Corrupt and Rigged voting systems.”

But Mitchell also has institutional cred among conservatives that goes back decades, the kind of swing that can land you a post-insurrection seat on a government elections advisory board without much public fuss, even during the Biden administration. When Mitchell’s current home, the Conservative Partnership Institute, brought her on to lead its “Election Integrity Coalition” in March, it called her, archly, the “consigliere to the vast right-wing conspiracy.”

And they didn’t mean the QAnon kind. CPI, the post-White House home of former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, is part of a web of deep-pocketed right-wing influence operations seeking to steer the Republican Party during the Trump Age. And Mitchell is all business: Conservatives, she says, need to spend their time and energy taking back control of America’s elections from a runaway left wing.

“We’re going to take those election offices back, and we need you to help us,” Mitchell told listeners at the end of her first episode.


December 30, 2021

The U.S. breaks its single-day case record, nearly doubling the highest numbers from last winter.

Source: New York Times

With a caseload nearly twice that of the worst single days of last winter, the United States shattered its record for new daily coronavirus cases, a milestone that may still fall short of describing the true toll of the Delta and Omicron variants because testing has slowed over the holidays.

As a second year of living with the pandemic was drawing to a close, the new daily case total topped 488,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. (The total was higher on Monday, but that number should not be considered a record because it included data from the long holiday weekend.)

Wednesday’s seven-day average of new daily cases, 301,000, was also a record, compared with 267,000 the day before, according to the database. In the past week, more than two million cases have been reported nationally, and 15 states and territories reported more cases than in any other seven-day period.

The rise has been driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which became dominant in the United States last week. So far, however, the increase has not resulted in more severe disease, as hospitalizations have increased only 11 percent and deaths have decreased slightly in the past two weeks.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/12/30/world/omicron-covid-vaccine-tests/the-us-breaks-its-single-day-case-record-nearly-doubling-the-highest-numbers-from-last-winter

December 30, 2021

This is the worst economy we never had

For months, the GOP-Fox News axis forecast the bluest of Christmases.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy joined 159 House Republicans in a letter to President Biden saying his policies “will certainly ensure that this Christmas will not be merry” because of a “supply chain crisis” and inflation.

Chairman Jim Banks of the House Republican Study Committee, citing the same reasons, wrote to colleagues: “Our job as Republicans is to explain to the American people what the grinches at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave did to ruin Christmas.”

Fox News told viewers that “Christmas presents for your kids may not arrive on time or even at all” (Sean Hannity), that the president is “the Biden Who Stole Christmas” (Laura Ingraham) and that Biden is “facing a nightmare come Christmastime,” when “gifts are going to cost a fortune, and that’s even if you’re lucky enough to snag anything” (Jesse Watters).

Breitbart News trumpeted a Trump campaign adviser’s forecast for “a frankly miserable Christmas … the Biden Blue Christmas.” Newsmax foresaw “Biden’s Blue Christmas: Shortages, Frustration, Economic Malaise.”

And then — a Christmas miracle!

Holiday retail sales were the highest ever, jumping 8.5 percent from last year and nearly 11 percent from pre-pandemic 2019, as “consumers splurged throughout the season,” Mastercard reported Sunday.


December 30, 2021

LeBron James at 37: where he is among the greats of the NBA

Less than three weeks before turning 37, LeBron James became the oldest player to record a 30-point triple-double when he finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against the Orlando Magic. December 12. He broke his own record 16 days later with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against the Houston Rockets in another landmark performance that saw him surpass 36,000 points for his career. It was his fifth consecutive 30-point performance, a streak that included 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day.

Even with a little gray in his beard, the king can still rule his court.

James takes on a huge load for a rebuilt Lakers roster in his 19th season, and the wear and tear is starting to show. As the Lakers star celebrates his 37th birthday on Thursday, we take a look at his career development over the years.

One of the few things left for James in his career is claiming the NBA all-time scoring record. Starting the Lakers’ journey against the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies this week, James was 2,418 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has scored 38,387 points in 20 seasons.

James is in his 19th season with no sign of imminent retirement, making Abdul-Jabbar’s pursuit of the record a matter of “when” rather than “if”. Yet few of the game’s elite have maintained the type of production James seeks this late in their careers.


He's not only a great player, he's also a great human being.

December 29, 2021

Florida opposes federal government over monoclonal antibodies -- again

Florida’s surgeon general says there’s an “immediate and life-threatening shortage of treatment options.”

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo is accusing the federal government of meddling in Florida’s monoclonal antibody treatment program.

In a Tuesday letter to Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Ladapo said the federal government is “actively preventing the effective distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments in the U.S.” Ladapo went on to say that the government had suspended “multiple monoclonal antibody therapy treatments from distribution in Florida.”

It’s the second time in three months that Florida officials have publicly disparaged federal officials over monoclonal treatments. In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis predicted a change in federal monoclonal policy would result in a “huge disruption” for patients. That never materialized.

This latest spat stems from when the federal government in late November temporarily paused shipments of GlaxoSmithKline’s Sotrovimab antibody treatment to states while it assessed the drug’s effectiveness against the omicron variant of COVID-19.


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