The true meaning of Thanksgiving

 

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

via First Article of the Creed. The Small Catechism – Book of Concord

God “has given me. . .meat and drink. . .and all my goods,” as well as family, protection, and “all that I need.”  And He “has given me. . .all my senses,” so that it is fitting that we savor, enjoy, and take delight in our Thanksgiving Feast.  “For all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.”

Rules for Thanksgiving

Timothy R. Smith, a 26-year-old single guy, says that he is in the position this year of having to prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner for himself and a bunch of his friends.  He reports his relief at coming across Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by food critic Sam Sifton, which gives step-by-step instructions on how to do everything.  From Smith’s review of the book:

Sifton sets down rules that must be followed to guarantee success. Some of those bylaws seem to turn the tastemaker into a taskmaster, but that lends the book a certain charm.

For instance, one should always carve the turkey in the kitchen, not at the table; a first course should never precede the turkey — serve the whole meal at once; do not cook anything out of season; begin serving libations once guests arrive; and salad is always an unwelcome guest. He eschews marshmallows in any form at the Thanksgiving table, whether on sweet potatoes or dessert.

The glue of the meal is cranberry sauce and gravy. “Debate that all you like,” Sifton declares. “But they tie every element on the plate together.” And dessert should be the meal’s blissful, final amphetamine. “A proper Thanksgiving should close out with a blast of warm, gooey flavor — a burst of sugar that can give a guest just enough energy to make it from table to couch, the holiday’s final resting place.” Dessert must be a simple American classic, preferably apple or pumpkin pie with a breast of whipped cream. He disapproves of tartlets or parfaits and any form of innovative pastry.

Above all, Thanksgiving must be traditional, Sifton argues.

via Sam Sifton helps novice holiday chefs in ‘Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well’ – The Washington Post.

I would add that the final point about tradition has to trump all other rules, including that idiosyncratic rejection of marshmallows.  He has a point about salads in the sense of green leafy healthy salads–unless one comes in under the tradition rule–though salads containing Jello and/or Cool Whip are permitted, especially if it’s never eaten except at Thanksgiving.

This made me think of other Thanksgiving rules:

(1)  To determine how big of a turkey you need to buy, count the number of guests and estimate how many portions each is likely to eat.  Then buy the biggest turkey you can find.

You need a gigantic turkey in order to create the impression of abundance, which, in turn, makes people feel a jolt of thankfulness.  Also, you want lots and lots of leftovers, enough to replay the feast until the Jello and Cool Whip salads run out, and, above all, to have turkey sandwiches throughout the holiday weekend and as long after that as possible.

Recipe for turkey sandwiches:  Get two pieces of soft, airy, pillowy white bread of the kind people who are serious about food scorn.  (You may have to get on E-bay to get some Wonderbread [current bid for a loaf:  $25]).  Lubricate one side of both slices with a thick layer of mayonnaise.  Pile high with turkey.  Than add a thick layer of salt, not as seasoning but as an ingredient.  Top with the other piece of bread.  Eat with potato chips.  The culinary principle is that it’s all white.  You may, however, eat it with a sweet pickle on the side.

(2)  Whether or not people like a dish has nothing to do with whether it should be served at Thanksgiving.  Foods sanctioned by ancient use must still be served, even if no one currently likes them.  New foods may be introduced, as long as the old foods are included.  If, however, a dish has been served for two successive Thanksgivings, it has become traditional and must be served from then on.

(3)  Tradition resets with the beginning of a new family.  Thus, newly married couples having their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time are entitled to start their own traditions, as long as they maintain some thread of continuity with the traditions of each person’s childhood.  The husband and the wife should each choose one or more dish they always had when they were growing up.  The criteria is, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.”  In this way, two families come together into a new family.  Newly-married couples are free to add any foods they choose.  But if it is served for two successive years, rule #2 applies.

(4)  Thanksgiving is about gratitude, so no fighting or sniping is allowed on Thanksgiving.  That can wait until the rest of the weekend.  Thanksgiving customs and observances should all provoke a response of thankfulness.  That applies to these rules themselves.  We are thankful not just for the food and the abundance and the material blessings they represent.  We are also thankful for our families, here and stretching back through time, for the memories, for what it was like to be a child and to grow up, for our history–personal and corporate and national–and for our culture, from the little community of our family to the local and regional and national cultures that we are part of.   We are thankful for the continuities, the social order and our place in it, as well as the uniqueness of everyone at the table.  And we are thankful for our senses and for so many sensory pleasures and so many good gifts, all of which we receive from the hand of God.

That’s how we do it in the Veith household, since time immemorial.  I hasten to add that since tradition trumps EVERYTHING, you and your family may do things differently.  So what are some of your rules for Thanksgiving?

Spiritualizing the election

I am astonished to hear how so many Christians are talking about the election.  They are interpreting the Obama victory as a sign that America is no longer a Christian nation, struggling to understand how Christians could have been denied the victory, questioning God’s will and raising questions of theodicy, and on and on.  May I remind everyone that Christians were not defeated, even in the most literal level.  The candidate evangelicals became so spiritually invested in is not a Christian.

Perhaps the real spiritual significance of the election is that Mormons were denied their Constantinian moment.

The blue states’ tax break

In the negotiations to avoid falling off the “fiscal cliff,” Republicans are proposing cutting out tax deductions in exchange for lower tax rates.  I worry about the fate of charitable giving deductions and the impact eliminating them might have on  churches.  (One option being discussed is to just cap them for the wealthy, but many non-profit organizations–museums, colleges, and just about any entity running a capital campaign–depend heavily on big donors.)  Another potential casualty is the home-mortgage deduction, doing away with which may deal yet another blow to the housing market.

These may all make economic sense and, if rates are lowered, individuals may not take a tax hit.  But they will still have consequences.  Charles Lane looks at another IRS deduction that most of us appreciate, that for state and local taxes.  He shows, though, how the most liberal states have been using this provision to soften the blow of raising state taxes, forcing the rest of the country to subsidize their profligate spending:

Taxpayers have been allowed to deduct state and local income and property taxes since the federal income tax began in 1913. (Sales taxes have at times been deductible, too, but that’ s a relatively minor issue.) The theory is it’s unfair to make people pay twice for the public services they receive. That’s doubtful, though, since, despite some overlap, federal taxes support different services than state and local.

What the deduction does is enable higher-income states and localities to tax — and spend — more than they otherwise would, while shifting some of the cost to other states. It also encourages them to collect revenue in forms that are easier to deduct on federal returns.

Two states, California and New York, reaped almost 30 percent of the deduction’s value in 2009, the latest year for which I could find Internal Revenue Service data. Other states that benefit disproportionately include Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.

In 2009, 73 percent of the deduction’s benefits went to taxpayers with annual incomes above $100,000, according to the Congressional Budget Office; fully 20 percent of the benefits went to taxpayers with annual incomes above $1 million.

Starting to notice a pattern? Basically, what we have is a significant federal tax subsidy for “blue” state governments. These also happen to be the states having the most difficulty living within their means, what with their expensive urban school systems, bloated pension liabilities and all. Yet they have an incentive to close their budget gaps by raising income taxes rather than reining in spending, because the deduction helps them pass the tab to other states, most of them red.

California Gov. Jerry Brown addressed his budget woes through a referendum this year to boost the top income tax rate, just as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn pushed an income tax rate increase through his legislature last year.

Now you’re beginning to understand how this seemingly innocuous tax break distorts financial flows within and among the 50 states, as well as between the states on the one hand and Washington on the other.

As for negotiations over a “grand bargain” between President Obama and the Republican House, the state and local tax deduction complicates that process, too.

The main bone of contention is the federal income tax rate on top earners, currently 35 percent. Obama says it is going to be hard to raise enough revenue without returning that rate to 39.6 percent, the level during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Republicans insist that eliminating deductions and tax breaks could bring in more revenue without raising rates — while getting most of the money from the wealthy, just as the president wants to do.

In fact, the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, has shown that eliminating all itemized deductions while leaving tax rates where they are now would raise $2.2 trillion over 10 years. That’s $600 billion more than President Obama is seeking from Congress.

Of course, not even the Republicans are proposing such a sweeping reform, which would certainly make the tax code more efficient — but also wipe out breaks for charitable giving and mortgage interest that enjoy wide red-state support, too. And the president himself has suggested limiting deductions in combination with rate increases, perhaps by capping the rate at which deductions may be claimed.

But because its impact is so heavily concentrated in blue states, the state and local deduction creates an asymmetry: Democrats have an extra reason to insist on raising rates, and Republicans have an extra incentive to demand loophole-cutting. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but I have noticed that those most skeptical of the loophole-closing approach include Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

So let’s all say a pre-Thanksgiving prayer for a successful negotiation — and remember that even a very grand bargain would still leave our state and federal tax and budget systems in need of major reform.

via Charles Lane: The best deduction to chop – The Washington Post.

Steam without boiling water

Engineers at Rice have devised an ingenious process that allows the generation of steam without boiling water using nanotechnology (particles that are extraordinarily small) plus ordinary sunlight.  Among other applications, this could revolutionize the possibilities of solar energy.

In the Rice experiment, the researchers stirred a small amount of nanoparticles into water and put the mixture into a glass vessel. They then focused sunlight on the mixture with a lens.

The nanoparticles — either carbon or gold-coated silicon dioxide beads — have a diameter shorter than the wavelength of visible light. That allows them to absorb most of a wave of light’s energy. If they had been larger, the particles would have scattered much of the light.

In the focused light, a nanoparticle rapidly becomes hot enough to vaporize the layer of water around it. It then becomes enveloped in a bubble of steam. That, in turn, insulates it from the mass of water that, an instant before the steam formed, was bathing and cooling it.

Insulated in that fashion, the particle heats up further and forms more steam. It eventually becomes buoyant enough to rise. As it floats toward the surface, it hits and merges with other bubbles.

At the surface, the nanoparticles-in-bubbles release their steam into the air. They then sink back toward the bottom of the vessel. When they encounter the focused light, the process begins again. All of this occurs within seconds.

In all, about 80 percent of the light energy a nanoparticle absorbs goes into making steam, and only 20 percent is “lost” in heating the water. This is far different from creating steam in a tea kettle. There, all the water must reach boiling temperature before an appreciable number of water molecules fly into the air as steam.

The phenomenon is such that it is possible to put the vessel containing the water-and-nanoparticle soup into an ice bath, focus light on it and make steam. . . .

Halas said the nanoparticles are not expensive to make and, because they act essentially as catalysts, are not used up. A nanoparticle steam generator could be used over and over. And, as James Watt and other 18th-century inventors showed, if you can generate steam easily, you can create an industrial revolution.

via Making steam without boiling water, thanks to nanoparticles – The Washington Post.

Romney in exile

Just a couple of weeks ago, Republicans were hailing Mitt Romney as the man who would make a great president.  Now, after some more tone-deaf remarks by the Republican presidential candidate of the sort he’s been making all along with party members defending him, his former followers are repudiating him.  From Dan Eggen of the Washington Post:

Ten days after failing to sail into the White House, Mitt Romney is already being tossed overboard by his party.

The former Massachusetts governor — who attracted $1 billion in funding and 59 million votes in his bid to unseat President Obama — has rapidly become persona non grata to a shellshocked Republican Party, which appears eager to map out its future without its 2012 nominee.

Romney was by all accounts stunned at the scale of his Nov. 6 loss, dropping quickly from public view after delivering a short concession speech to a half-empty Boston arena. Then came a series of tin-eared remarks this week blaming his loss on Obama’s “gifts” to African Americans and Hispanics — putting him squarely at odds with party leaders struggling to build bridges with minorities.

“You can’t expect to be a leader of all the people and be divisive,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Friday on MSNBC, adding: “Someone asked me, Why did Mitt Romney lose? And I said because he got less votes than Barack Obama, that’s why.”

It’s a remarkable fall from grace for Romney, who just 10 days ago held the chance of a Republican return to power at the White House.

The messy aftermath of his failure suggests that Romney, a political amalgam with no natural constituency beyond the business community, is unlikely to play a significant role in rebuilding his party, many Republicans said this week.

“He’s not going to be running for anything in the future,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), who sharply criticized Romney’s comments about Hispanics. “He’s not our standard-bearer, unfortunately.”

via Romney sinks quickly in Republicans’ esteem – The Washington Post.

Is this fickleness and disloyalty?  Or recognition that Romney was not really a very good candidate?


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