Archive

December 27th

Hot 2015 words? A political 'ism' vision

    What's the word? The "Word of the Year" at Oxford Dictionaries is not even a word. It is an emoji, a digital image that is used in text messages to express an idea or emotion in a style that seems in my eyes to be aimed illiterates.

    Oxford Dictionaries justified this selection by citing an explosion in "emoji culture" over the last year and not, as I fear, a collapse in the public's desire to read.

    "It's flexible, immediate and infuses tone beautifully," said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries in a statement. "As a result emoji are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders."

    Indeed, I'm sure that's true, provided that you can figure out what the darn emoji means. The emoji that Oxford Dictionaries happened to choose is hardly a model of simplicity or clarity.

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Winnowing out the Republican field

    Ever since Donald Trump jolted the Republican establishment by dominating the party's early competition for the 2016 presidential nomination, the wish and hope of the old guard has been that as the field of the contenders, originally 17 declared candidates, would be winnowed out, eventually enabling one of the survivors somehow to derail him.

    As the pre-election year ends, however, only four of the longest shots have quit. The latest to drop out is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the most outspoken advocate of a stronger military effort to defeat the Islamic State, and also the most pointed critic of Trump. The others were former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

    Of the list, Graham made the greatest contribution to the GOP campaign conversation. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he offered a knowledgeable case for beefing up the American armed forces, and then the most biting sarcasm and ridicule of Trump.

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What makes us American

    I still vividly remember when we came to America. Seven of us piled into a one-bedroom, one- bathroom apartment in San Jose, California - my parents, my aunt and uncle, two cousins and 4-year-old me. I remember my dad working a grueling construction job that ended up seriously injuring his back, and my Uncle Jasmin waking up at 3 a.m. to get to his job at the airport. We had a few hundred dollars saved collectively, and my parents used part of it to pull together some semblance of a Christmas. We didn't previously celebrate Christmas, because it's neither a Muslim nor a Bosnian holiday, but they wanted us to feel included. My present was a light pink, doll-size metal bunk bed with a ladder and floral sheets. I didn't have any dolls for it, but I loved playing with it anyway.

    Those days I dreamed mostly of living in a house with stairs, having a puppy and being an archaeologist princess. I used to look up at the crooked, creased posters of Aaron Carter and Britney Spears taped to my walls and wonder when we would all meet and become friends.

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What Half-In, Half-Out Relationships May Do to Health

    High on most checklists for ensuring a long and healthy life is being married. Marriage is said to bestow protective health benefits, such as low blood pressure and better cholesterol numbers.

    But does putting a ring on it confer the same well-being to all married couples or even most? No, according to a recent study out of Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. It suggested that people in "ambivalent marriages" are not so healthy as other married couples.

    This and similar studies have their critics, but they provide a needed deeper look into the nature of each marriage. The Brigham Young researchers asked married people without children to answer questions on how their spouse responds to their worries, their requests for advice and, importantly, their good news. Does the spouse share in their happiness?

    About three-quarters of the husbands and wives surveyed see their spouse as sometimes supportive, sometimes not. They are ambivalent.

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Things to Celebrate, Like Dreams of Flying Cars

    In Star Wars, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs; in real life, all the Falcon 9 has done so far is land at Cape Canaveral without falling over or exploding. Yet I, like many nerds, was thrilled by that achievement, in part because it reinforced my growing optimism about the direction technology seems to be taking — a direction that may end up saving the world.

    OK, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Falcon 9 is Elon Musk’s reusable rocket, which is supposed to boost a payload into space, then return to where it can be launched again. If the concept works, it could drastically reduce the cost of putting stuff into orbit. And that successful landing was a milestone. We’re still a very long way from space colonies and zero-gravity hotels, let alone galactic empires. But space technology is moving forward after decades of stagnation.

    And to my amateur eye, this seems to be part of a broader trend, which is making me more hopeful for the future than I’ve been in a while.

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The right's war on Christmas

    They were refugees, fleeing for their lives from one Middle Eastern country to the next. As Matthew tells the tale, Joseph, fearing that the government had marked his newborn son for death, gathered up his wife and child and stole away by night across the Judean border into Egypt. And just in time: Unsure who, exactly, to kill, that government - a king named Herod, who'd heard some kid would one day become a rival king - proceeded to slaughter every remaining child in Bethlehem under the age of 2.

    This isn't a chapter of the Christmas story that has made it into the general celebration, but it's there in the gospel, for those who give the gospels credence and for those who don't. For both groups, it's clear that the authors of the New Testament intended to recount (for the believers) or compose (for the nons) a story that echoed the Old Testament's concern for strangers, foreigners and refugees ("The stranger among you shall be as one born among you," says Leviticus, "and you shall love him as yourself"), that foreshadowed Jesus' teachings to care for castaways and the least among us, and that laid the foundation for institutional Christianity's transnationalism.

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Tell it on the mountain

    The narrative of Jesus' birth in Luke's Gospel has retained its power beyond the realm of believers because it renders one of the most peaceful moments in all of scripture: a gathering of angels and shepherds celebrating the "good news" and "great joy" of the birth of a baby "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

    Although my favorite Christmas song will always be "Go Tell It on the Mountain," it is "Silent Night" that may be truest to the spirit of Luke's account. There are no rumors of war, no clashing armies, only a bright and blessed calm.

    This will not be the first or the last Christmas when the world mocks the day's promise, and when religion finds itself a source of violence, hatred and, among many not inclined toward either, a dangerous mutual incomprehension.

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Obama's no dead duck

    One advantage of being part of the White House press corps is getting invited to one of the many White House Christmas parties. For reporters, that includes the additional advantage of standing in line to get your photo taken with the president and first lady.

    You don't get much time with the commander in chief: maybe 10 seconds before it's: "Smile. Click. You're outta here. Next!" So everybody plans ahead of time just what they want to say to the most powerful person on the planet in the brief time allotted them.

    In December 2014, just before he began his final and, for many presidents, fateful two years in office, I greeted him with: "Mr. President, don't let anybody tell you you're a lame duck." To which he immediately replied: "I'm not acting like one, am I?" Indeed, not. He wasn't then, and he isn't now.

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Dear Santa, some kids just want what's needed this Christmas

    The Christmas list.

    There's the request for the Nerf Rhino-Fire Blaster, a twin-barreled, anti-aircraft gun right out of John Connor's post-apocalyptic arsenal guaranteed to lodge foam darts into places you'll only discover next April.

    Or the desire for those little Monster High dollies of the night - sexed-up strumpets from Hooker High?

    But pull away from the kids you know and take a look at what's on the Christmas lists that end up in mailboxes all over town, addressed to the North Pole.

    The chief elf-in-charge of these letters is Sherry Johnson-Battle, and she's letting us look through some of the 500 letters that came from kids in the nation's capital this year.

    More than half of them were adopted by companies or fellow elves to make sure wishes were filled.

    Yes, they want Xboxes, iPhones and televisions. They provide very specific information for the make, model and color of the $100 sneakers they will outgrow in two weeks.

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Congress backs Obama, saying Iran should pay victims

    A Supreme Court case on compensating victims of terrorism gives House Republicans and the Obama administration a chance to agree about Iran for the first time in a long time.

    With bipartisan support, the House is weighing in on a pending case in which Tehran is trying to avoid paying the American victims of terror attacks linked to the Iranian government, including the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

    At issue is whether Iran's central bank, Bank Markazi, will be forced to pay damages to over 1,300 American plaintiffs. Some are victims of attacks the U.S. government has linked to the Iranian government. Others are surviving family members of such victims.

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