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December 17, 2012

One percent of Americans own 33% of the world's guns

Analysis: Fewer U.S. gun owners own more guns - CNN.com
A decreasing number of American gun owners own two-thirds of the nation's guns and as many as one-third of the guns on the planet -- even though they account for less than 1% of the world's population, according to a CNN analysis of gun ownership data. The data, collected by the Injury Prevention Journal, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the General Social Survey and population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, found that the number of U.S. households with guns has declined, but current gun owners are gathering more guns. The United States tends to have better data on gun numbers than other countries, for instance Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which may account for the high percentage, according to Alan Lizotte, dean and professor at the School of Criminal Justice at The University at Albany.

December 16, 2012

Puritans fought the first War on Christmas

The Puritan War on Christmas - NYTimes.com
In the early 17th century in England, the Christmas season was not so different from what it is today: churches and other buildings were decorated with holly and ivy, gifts were exchanged and charity was distributed among the poor. Also much as it is today, it was a period of carousing and merriment. The weeks around Christmas were celebrated with feasting, drinking, singing and games. Mummers would blacken their faces and dress up in costumes, often in the clothes of the opposite sex, to perform plays in the streets or in homes. Carolers, too, would sing door to door as well as in the home. Wealthy lords threw open their manors, inviting local peasants and villagers inside to gorge on food and drink. Groups of young men called wassailers would march in and demand to be feasted or given gifts of money in exchange for their good wishes and songs. Puritans detested these sorts of activities, grumbling that Christmas was observed with more revelry than piety. Worse, they contended that there was no Scriptural warrant for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Puritans argued (not incorrectly) that Christmas represented nothing more than a thin Christian veneer slapped on a pagan celebration. Believing in the holiday was superstitious at best, heretical at worst. When the Puritans rebelled against King Charles I, inciting the English Revolution, the popular celebration of Christmas was on their hit list. Victorious against the king, in 1647, the Puritan government actually canceled Christmas. Not only were traditional expressions of merriment strictly forbidden, but shops were also ordered to stay open, churches were shut down and ministers arrested for preaching on Christmas Day. The Puritans who came to America naturally shared these sentiments. As the Massachusetts minister Increase Mather explained in 1687, Christmas was observed on Dec. 25 not because “Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian” ones. So naturally, official suppression of Christmas was foundational to the godly colonies in New England.

December 13, 2012

On the origin of the phrase "right to work"

Right to work laws: Why do union busters use the Orwellian phrase “right to work”? - Slate Magazine
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill banning mandatory union membership Tuesday. Republicans have been pressing for so-called “right to work” laws across the Midwest. Major labor groups almost uniformly oppose these bills, so why do we call them “right to work” laws? Because they allow you to work through a strike. Commentator and lexicographer William Safire chronicled the origins of the phrase “right to work” in his Political Dictionary. A 1912 Bernard Partridge cartoon depicted an employer telling a striking worker, “I can’t make you work if you won’t; but if this man wants to, I can make you let him. And I will.” By the 1930s, the phrase “right to work” was common in American political parlance, and it was meant to draw a contrast to labor’s claim of a right to strike. Former NAACP labor secretary Herbert Hill argued that the phrase “right to work” derives from an earlier conservative catchphrase: “liberty of contract.” Around the turn of the 20th century, employers argued that workplace safety legislation was unconstitutional because it interfered with the rights of private citizens to make whatever agreements suited them. The Supreme Court bought into the argument, striking down a series of laws that mandated sanitation standards at factories and limited the number of hours a laborer could work per week in a dangerous job. After decades of rhetorical battering from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and threats from President Franklin Roosevelt, the Supreme Court finally reversed its position in the 1930s.