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Friday, December 30, 2022

AMERICANA / THE PUBLIC MUST HAVE CONFIDENCE THAT OUR TAX LAWS APPLY EVENLY AND JUSTLY TO ALL, REGARDLESS OF POWER OR POSITION.

Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the United States Constitution is the world's longest surviving written charter of government. Its first three words – “We The People” – affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens.

From the preface of the House Committee on Ways and Means report on the IRS’s mandatory tax audit program. 

GUEST BLOG / By Congressional Chair of Ways and Means Committee Richard E. Neal--At the opening of every Congress, each person undertaking office as a member of the United States House of Representatives or the United States Senate swears to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Our civil servants and members of the armed forces pledge to do the same. The President of the United States must likewise swear that he or she “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Unlike the custom in many other parts of the world, none of these officials owes any oath of loyalty to a king, a queen, an autocrat, or a political party. 

The roots of this practice we observe today stretch back to our country’s earliest days. When the United States was founded, vesting a nation’s ultimate power and legal authority in a constitution—instead of in an individual—was a radical concept and a highly deliberate decision. The Framers understood this choice very well: they had been subjects of King George, who wielded power cruelly and arbitrarily. All around them, they had seen the consequences of unconstrained power preserved in the hands of an unaccountable leader who held himself above the law. 

The people were answerable to laws that they had no part in approving. They were required to pay heavy taxes and to quarter British soldiers in their homes against their will. They were subject to trials with no right to a jury. The justice system was misnamed: judges were selected and paid by the King—and expected to do his bidding. The host of insults to their autonomy and the miscarriages of justice mounted so high that eventually, the colonists saw no alternative but to wage a war of independence. 

When they won it and took on the task of organizing a new government, they were determined not to trade one autocrat for another. They negotiated a constitution that constrained power by distributing governmental authority across three separate and independent branches and establishing robust checks and balances among them. They required elections for many offices, with terms that expired after a specified period. They ensured that those who would hold office would be subject to public accountability through impeachment processes. They aimed to make their people citizens and not subjects, and their leaders representatives and not tyrants. 

While to this day an imperfect document, the U.S. Constitution was and remains a groundbreaking experiment in democracy. 

 This experiment, and these institutions, survive not because they are inevitable: they are not. They survive because we value and defend them. The Framers enshrined in our constitution a kernel of truth from the first tentative spark of the Magna Carta in 1215: that we consent to a rule of law, not a law of rulers. In the United States of America, no one is above the law, even— perhaps especially—the President. 

Just like every other American, the President of the United States is obligated to pay taxes owed. This is a core responsibility of our common citizenship: without tax revenue, our government would cease to exist. Unlike many nations, we operate a largely voluntary tax compliance system, supported by oversight and auditing. That means that our revenue system— and hence our democracy—hinge on public faith that our tax laws are administered fairly and without favor. 

Auditing the income taxes of the President of the United States is unlike auditing the income taxes of any other American. No one else has the power to sign bills into law—bills that could affect the President’s personal financial situation. Nor do they have the power to personally direct every department, agency, bureau, and office of the vast executive branch of government— opening limitless opportunities to affect the President’s personal finances. And no other American has the comparable power to appoint or terminate officials responsible for decisions that could affect the President’s personal financial prospects. 

We maintain that how Presidents exercise these powers and the extent to which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audits and enforces our federal tax laws to ensure compliance by Presidents, are a valid and crucial subject of legislative scrutiny. The public must have confidence that our tax laws apply evenly and justly to all, regardless of power or position. The effort to provide oversight of the mandatory audit program is and always has been about ensuring that our tax laws are administered fairly and without preference. 

The Committee’s investigation revealed only one mandatory audit was started under the prior Administration and the program was otherwise dormant, at best. For this reason, it is recommended that there should be a statutory requirement for the mandatory examination of the President with disclosure of certain audit information and related returns in a timely manner. Such statutory requirements would ensure the integrity of the IRS, enable IRS employees to fully audit all issues, and restore confidence in the Federal tax system. 

FRAUD FRIDAY / FEDS INVESTIGATE CAMPAIGN LOANS OF LYING NY CONGRESSMAN ELECT

Are Massive Campaign Loans Legal? Illustration by Daily Beast

GUEST BLOG / By CNN Finance Reporters: Pamela Brown, Carolyn Sung and Jack Forrest
--Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating the finances of Rep.-elect George Santos, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. 

The news of the probe, being undertaken by the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York, comes as the Republican has admitted to lying about key parts of his biography. Santos has faced questions over his wealth and loans totaling more than $700,000 he made to his successful 2022 campaign. 

Santos told Semafor on Wednesday that he made his money through “capital introduction” and “deal making” for “high net worth individuals.” 

The US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York declined to comment. 

 CBS News first reported the federal probe, which comes as the Nassau County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday that it was looking into fabrications from Santos. 

“The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning,” said Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly. 

She said that residents in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers parts of Nassau County, “must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.” 

Brendan Brosh, a spokesperson for the office, added, “We are looking into the matter.” 

CNN has reached out to a representative for Santos for comment on the probes. 

The New York Times first revealed last week that Santos’ biography appeared to be partly fictional. CNN confirmed details of that reporting about his college education and employment history. 

CNN’s KFile uncovered even more falsehoods from Santos, including claims he was forced to leave a New York City private school when his family’s real estate assets took a downturn and stating he represented Goldman Sachs at a top financial conference. Santos, in interviews with WABC radio and the New York Post earlier this week, admitted to lying about attending Baruch College and New York University as well as misrepresenting his employment at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup but claimed he hadn’t committed any crimes. 

CNN confirmed reporting from the Times that Santos was charged with embezzlement in a Brazilian court in 2011, according to case records from the Rio de Janeiro Court of Justice. However, court records from 2013 state that the charge was archived after court summons went unanswered and they were unable to locate Santos. 

In the interview with the New York Post, Santos denied that he had been charged with any crime in Brazil. 

“I am not a criminal here – not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world. Absolutely not. That didn’t happen,” Santos said. 

The New York attorney general’s office told CNN last week that it had not initiated a “formal investigation” into Santos but said Attorney General Letitia James was “looking into” some of the things that were raised about Santos in recent reports. 

 Santos is also facing growing scrutiny from members of his own party. 

“As a Navy man who campaigned on restoring accountability and integrity to our government, I believe a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement, is required,” GOP Rep.-elect Nick LaLota said in a statement. 

Another incoming GOP lawmaker from New York, Rep.-elect Anthony D’Esposito, condemned Santos’ false statements and called on him to “pursue a path of honesty,” although he stopped short of calling for an investigation. 

Rep.-elect Mike Lawler, also a soon-to-be freshman member from New York, urged his fellow Republican cooperate with any investigations and called on Santos to apologize, calling the whole controversy a “distraction.” Lawler added that by downplaying action’s, Santos is “only making things worse.” 

 CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report. 

FAREWELL FRIDAY / ICYMI WIL MYERS CLASSY GOOD-BYE TO SAN DIEGO FANS


The San Diego Padres and team member Wil Myers parted company after eight years. Wil, a classy guy, is now playing for the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division. 

As a parting gesture, Wil took out an ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune

 TO THE PADRES, THEIR FANS AND THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO: 

“Thanks for welcoming me into your home the past eight years. It has been an amazing ride, and there are so many people to thank—in uniform, in the organization and in the community. 

I was honored to represent you as an All Star at Petco Park. That was a pinnacle moment for me and my family. And none of us will ever forget the thrills of October 2022. I have a bar tab to prove it. 

The ovation you guys gave me to finish out the regular season is truly something I’ll forever be grateful for. 

The Padres are a first-class franchise and have become one of the best in Major League baseball thanks to Peter Seidler. It was rewarding to see the organization transform during my time on the team thanks to Peter, AJ Preller and the front office. 

 I made some lasting friendships with teammates and people in the organization. We will never forget our time in San Diego and will always cherish that. 

The weather, the golf, Coronado, the California burritos/tacos, there are many things I’ll need to come back for. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you in May! 

Forever grateful, Wil #5

So long shots at a San Diego saloon near Petco Park.
Wil picked up the tab as another farewell gesture
to the fans of San Diego




Wednesday, December 28, 2022

RETRO FILE / HOW JOHN SPRECKELS PULLED OFF BUILDING SAN DIEGO’S ORGAN PAVILLION


By Thomas Shess (a version of this article appeared in San Diego Home/Garden magazine, December, 2013)
--Balboa Park’s Organ and Pavilion remains one of the Spreckels Family’s (mainly brothers John and Adolph) most enduring civic gifts to the City of San Diego. 

Unlike many of his industrialist billionaire peers, John Dietrich Spreckels, the eldest of 19th century sugar magnate Claus Spreckels's four sons, was no robber baron, but he was a shrewd businessman. The family fortune was built on Claus’s Spreckels Sugar Co., with operations based near Salinas, CA. To their credit, all siblings became well known for their philanthropy in California. But before the Pavilion was built a few deals had to be made. 

Freaked by the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, John D. Spreckels moved lock, stock, and fortune to San Diego, where he had local architect Harrison Albright build his new Coronado home and subsequent buildings for his various ventures out of reinforced concrete. 

By 1910, Spreckels (photo, left) was fully immersed in San Diego’s enthusiasm for the Panama-California Exposition set to open in 1915. Among his new holdings were the San Diego Union newspaper, the Hotel Del Coronado, and the San Diego Electric Railway. 

Like other local tycoons, Spreckels wanted the fair to succeed in order to show San Diego off in the best light. Altruism aside, the Expo would be good for business. Spreckels reportedly held the Organ Pavilion as a carrot before civic and city leaders. 

The tit for tat went something like (a) trading Spreckels 100% funding of the Organ Pavilion, plus (b) a note underwriting the costs of the expo in case the venture fell on its face. 

In exchange, the Park Commission would agree to (c) switch the location of the fair to the (present) central mesa from the original site proposal (where I-5 meets Park Blvd.). And, (d) allow Spreckels-owned San Diego Electric Railroad to lay tracks through the center of Balboa Park from downtown to Hillcrest and North Park. Once the No.7 trolley stopped delivering passengers to the Expo, the tracks were used to provide mass transit to San Diego until the city switched to buses in 1949. 



 Of course, the city went for it and on October 28, 1913, the City’s   Park Commission eagerly passed approvals to accept the “free”   Organ Pavilion. With agreements in hand, Spreckels   commissioned Harrison Albright to design the Organ Pavilion. 

 Albright (photo, left) was basically Spreckels in house architect   having designed other Spreckels projects: the Spreckels mansion   in Coronado, the Coronado Bank, Coronado Library, Spreckels Theatre, Hotel San Diego, U.S. Grant Hotel and Golden West Hotel (with Albright employee John Lloyd Wright) 

Completion of the Spreckels Organ made front page news on Jan. 1, 1915
(did we mention Mr. Spreckels, left, owned the newspaper?)
.

The Austin Organ Company (Hartford, Conn.) built the organ named Opus 453 and Spreckels cut a check for $33,500 and the pavilion $66,500. Rumors had it that Spreckels disliked the music of Bach and ordered Austin Organ to eschew installing pipes necessary to play Bach’s compositions. 

But, there were enough pipes to go around. The new organ, dedicated on December 31, 1914, had 3,400 pipes ranging from the size of a pencil to 32 feet long. 

Opening program included:

--Dr. Humphrey J. Stewart playing of the Processional March from his orchestral suite, "Montezuma," 

--Selections from the San Diego Popular Orchestra, conducted by Chesley Mills, selections from Haydn's oratorio, 

--"The Creation," by the Popular Orchestra and a People's Chorus, conducted by Willibald Lehmann, 

--and, for a finale, a rendition of "Unfold Ye Portals" from Charles Gounod's oratorio, "The Redemption," by Chorus, Orchestra and Dr. Stewart, who became the Pavilion’s chief organist (paid by Spreckels) through 1917). 

The Organ project was not without some intramural friction. Many Expo architects back in the day railed at Albright’s ornate conventional Italian Renaissance design instead of the more daring Spanish Colonial revival designs of the Expo’s lead architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. 

Also, gripes abounded because the Organ Pavilion’s eventual north-facing location put the sun in the audience’s eyes (but not at night as supporters insisted). 

Having the stage face north had more to do with the City wanting the project to face nearby Plaza de Panama. Originally, one of the first choices for the organ was present day Navy Hospital, which was outside Expo grounds, but the present site was chosen when the City conveniently made the land available after two South American countries bailed on their Expo participation. 

Now, almost 108 years later, the Organ and its Pavilion remain one of the icons of the San Diego social and cultural fabric. 

Additional research for this article was provided by Jinell VanCorbach, San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles intern

Monday, December 26, 2022

MEDIA MONDAY / READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE JAN. 6 COMMITTEE’S REPORT SUMMARY / Via NBC NEWS


The committee says it expects to release the full report later this week, as well as a number of transcripts from witness depositions. Read what the committee says is its introductory material CLICK HERE: 

December 19, 2022





Sunday, December 25, 2022

SUNDAY REVIEW / ANCIENT MEN DANCING ON CHRISTMAS


By Washington Irving [1783 – 1859] excerpt from “Old Christmas” published in 1876. Available: Project Gutenberg, ebook online.

The supper had disposed every one to gaiety, and an old harper was summoned from the servants' hall, where he had been strumming all the evening, and to all appearance comforting himself with some of the Squire's home-brewed. 

He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told, of the establishment, and though ostensibly a resident of the village, was oftener to be found in the Squire's kitchen than his own home, the old gentleman being fond of the sound of "harp in hall." 

The dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of the older folks joined in it, and the Squire himself figured down several couples with a partner with whom he affirmed he had danced at every Christmas for nearly half-a-century. 

Master Simon, who seemed to be a kind of connecting link between the old times and the new, and to be withal a little antiquated in the taste of his accomplishments, evidently piqued himself on his dancing, and was endeavouring to gain credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and other graces of the ancient school; but he had unluckily assorted himself with a little romping girl from boarding-school, who, by her wild vivacity, kept him continually on the stretch, and defeated all his sober attempts at elegance;—such are the ill-assorted matches to which antique gentlemen are unfortunately prone! 

MERRY CHRISTMAS / FROM SANTA


HAPPY HOLIDAYS, MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

Friday, December 23, 2022

FISCAL FRIDAY / LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023 EQUITY MARKETS

Inflation, the Fed, and Retail Sales: Five Key Takeaways from end of year data.

GUEST BLOG / By Mona Mahajan, Senior Investment Strategist, Edward Jones Company – Equity markets fell over 2% last week, as market sentiment seemed to turn lower after a more hawkish Fed meeting and weakening retail-sales data, and despite better-than-expected CPI inflation data for November. Overall, the Fed (and global central banks) remain vigilant for now, but as inflation moderates and the economy softens in the months ahead, there may be less need for peak restrictive policy. While this transition may take some time, and markets could be more volatile in the near term, we may see a better market backdrop as we head toward the back half of 2023. We discuss five key takeaways from this week's data and our outlook on each below. 

1. 

Consumer price index (CPI) inflation came in cooler than expected: We believe inflation will continue to moderate through 2023

Figure 1. As mortgage rates have risen this year, home-price and rental-price appreciation has moderated


The chart above shows the falling rent and case Shiller price index as mortgage rates have moved higher. Source: Bloomberg CPI inflation data for November came in below expectations, with headline inflation of 7.1% year-over-year versus expectations of a 7.3% figure. 

Core inflation came in at 6.0%, also below forecasts for 6.1% and lower than last month's 6.3%. Overall, inflation is trending in the right direction, although CPI remains elevated and well above the Fed's 2.0% target. Goods inflation continues to ease, with areas like used cars, apparel and even toys showing moderating price pressures. Parts of services inflation, including medical and transportation services (like airline fares), were lower this month. However, core shelter and rent prices in the CPI basket remained elevated. In our view, the CPI shelter and rent components remain lagging indicators, and leading and coincident indicators of the housing and rental markets are notably weakening. For example, as mortgage rates have risen, we have seen downward pressure on both home prices and rental prices. Over time, we believe that the core CPI index will reflect the weakening in housing and rental markets as well, and we could see core inflation head towards 3.0% by year-end 2023. 

2. 

The Fed raises interest rates by 0.50% and indicates a 5.1% peak fed funds rate: We see markets and the Fed converging around a 5.0% terminal rate 

Figure 2. The Fed's dot plot indicates that the fed funds rate may be heading towards 5.1% in 2023, before moving lower in 2024 

The chart above shows the Federal Reserve dot plot that shows rates at 5.1% in 2023, higher than before the recent Fed announcement. Source: Bloomberg.

As expected, the FOMC raised rates by 0.50% at its December meeting last week, bringing the fed funds rate to about 4.5%. Perhaps what was less expected by markets was that the Fed's "dot plot," or estimates of where interest rates are headed, indicated a peak fed funds rate of 5.1% in 2023. This rate was slightly above market consensus of 4.8% - 5.0% heading into the meeting, although not meaningfully above market expectations. In his comments, Fed Chair Powell went out of his way to say that while recent inflation data has been encouraging, inflation broadly remains elevated and well above the Fed's 2.0% target. 

Fighting inflation continues to remain its top priority, not the impact of higher rates on economic growth. However, even after this week's Fed meeting, market expectations for the peak fed funds rate remain around 5.0%, perhaps indicating that markets don't believe that the Fed will need to take rates materially higher. In our view, the Fed and markets seem to be converging around a 5.0% peak rate, which likely implies perhaps two rate hikes of 0.25% each remaining in this cycle. Historically, the 12 months after the peak fed funds rate can be positive for both equity and bond markets. 

 

3. 

The Fed indicates no rate cuts in 2023 and about 100 basis points (1.0%) of rate cuts in 2024: We believe the Fed can start to signal rate cuts by year-end 2023

While the Fed acknowledged that pausing rate hikes at some point (likely in the first quarter) was likely, Chair Powell and team noted that it was too soon to discuss rate cuts. Their own projections do not include rate cuts until 2024, and the Fed has indicated it will remain restrictive with its monetary policy until inflation clearly heads back toward 2.0%. Nonetheless, in our view, if inflation continues to moderate and the economy is weakening, the Fed may not need to keep interest rates at peak restrictive levels. While the Fed may not execute rate cuts next year, we believe it could signal lower rates by the end of next year, which would be a positive driver of market sentiment broadly. Notably, markets also continue to expect rate cuts towards the end of 2023.Figure 3. Markets continue to expect Fed rate cuts by year-end 2023


 The chart above shows the expectations for rate hiked in 2023, with cuts expected in late 2023. Source: Bloomberg 

 4.

Global central banks raise rates by 0.50% alongside the Fed: We see global tightening continuing through the first quarter of 2023 before potentially pausing

Last week, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank (ECB) also raised their policy rates by 0.50%, bringing the Bank of England's target rate to 3.5% and the ECB's to 2.0%. Like the Fed, these central banks reiterated the message that further rate hikes are likely, as inflation remains well above target ranges. In our view, it is likely that the global economy will fall into a downturn in the first half of 2023, with Europe perhaps entering a deeper recession than the U.S. given its exposure to oil and energy markets and steadily falling consumer confidence. In this backdrop, we see global central banks potentially pausing their rate-hiking campaigns, perhaps by the end of the first quarter, to alleviate pressure on the economy and assess if inflation continues to fall further. 

Figure 4. Central banks around the globe continue to hike rates alongside the Fed and may look to pause in the first half of 2023 

The chart above shows global central banks raising rates in unison, highlighting the global nature of this inflationary period. Source: Bloomberg.


 5. 

Retail sales for November come in weaker than expected: We believe the lag impact of Fed tightening may be starting to weaken consumption

U.S. retail sales for the month of November came in below expectations, falling -0.6% month-over-month, versus forecasts of down 0.15%. This figure also came in well below last month's 1.3% growth. The U.S. economy is nearly 70% driven by consumption, and slowing retail sales is perhaps the first signal that consumer demand may be stalling. The lag impact of aggressive rate hikes and ongoing inflationary pressures may now be putting more notable pressure on households and consumer confidence broadly. While one month does not constitute a trend, the slowing in retail sales is in line with our view that that the economy may fall into a mild recession in the first half of 2023. Nonetheless, we believe that the consumer started from a position of strength, given the tight labor market, higher wage gains, and elevated savings rates, which should provide some cushion in the months ahead. 

Figure 5. U.S. retail sales came in below expectations in November, as consumer confidence softens as well 


The chart aabove shows the connection between consumer confidence and retail sales. Source: Bloomberg 

Markets will likely not ignore a pending recession, but some work to the downside has been done this year already 

Overall, as we look to the first few months of 2023, there is a potential for softness not only in economic and earnings growth, but also in market performance. Given that equity markets had rallied nearly 10% in the fourth quarter already, markets remain more vulnerable heading into 2023. 

Nonetheless, while we may give up some recent gains, in our view markets would not need to endure another meaningful leg lower from there, even if the economy enters a recessionary period. While markets would not ignore a pending recession, a lot of the work to the downside has been done in 2022, with the S&P 500 still down over 15% this year. In addition, if inflation continues to moderate and the global economy weakens, the Fed and global central banks have less incentive to maintain an overly restrictive monetary policy and may signal a start to moving back toward neutral by year-end 2023. 

Thus, we would view any near-term volatility as an opportunity to position ahead of a potentially more sustainable recovery ahead. In terms of portfolio positioning, value and defensive parts of the market may continue to lead in the near term. But as the economy goes through a downturn, market leadership may shift toward parts of the market that tend to do well during recovery periods. 

This includes areas like quality growth and cyclical sectors, and investment-grade bonds. Investors should consider using periods of market volatility to rebalance, diversify, and ultimately add quality investments at potentially better prices from both defensive and offensive parts of the market. 


About the Author

Mona Mahajan, left, is responsible for developing and communicating the firm's macroeconomic and financial market views. Her background includes equity and fixed income analysis, global investment strategy and portfolio management. She regularly appears on CNBC and Bloomberg TV, and in The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. Mona has a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School and bachelor's degrees in finance and computer science from the Wharton School and the School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

CHRISTMAS TREE TRADITIONS THROUGH THE YEARS

Black and white photo of people gathered around a tall Christmas tree in Washington, D.C. A Christmas tree was erected on the White House South Lawn for the first time in 1923

GUEST BLOG / By Troy Bickham, Professor of History, Texas A&M Univ. appearing in TheConversation.com--Why, every Christmas, do so many people endure the mess of dried pine needles, the risk of a fire hazard and impossibly tangled strings of lights? 

Strapping a fir tree to the roof of my car and worrying about the strength of the twine, I sometimes wonder if I should just buy an artificial tree and do away with all the hassle. Then my inner historian scolds me – I have to remind myself that I’m taking part in one of the world’s oldest religious traditions. To give up the tree would be to give up a ritual that predates Christmas itself. 

A symbol of life in a time of darkness 

Almost all agrarian societies independently venerated the Sun in their pantheon of gods at one time or another – there was the Sol of the Norse, the Aztec Huitzilopochtli, the Greek Helios. 

The solstices, when the Sun is at its highest and lowest points in the sky, were major events. The winter solstice, when the sky is its darkest, has been a notable day of celebration in agrarian societies throughout human history. The Persian Shab-e Yalda, Dongzhi in China and the North American Hopi Soyal all independently mark the occasion. 

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The favored décor for ancient winter solstices? Evergreen plants. Whether as palm branches gathered in Egypt in the celebration of Ra or wreaths for the Roman feast of Saturnalia, evergreens have long served as symbols of the perseverance of life during the bleakness of winter, and the promise of the Sun’s return. 

Christmas slowly emerges 

Christmas came much later. The date was not fixed on liturgical calendars until centuries after Jesus’ birth, and the English word Christmas – an abbreviation of “Christ’s Mass” – would not appear until over 1,000 years after the original event. 

 While Dec. 25 was ostensibly a Christian holiday, many Europeans simply carried over traditions from winter solstice celebrations, which were notoriously raucous affairs. For example, the 12 days of Christmas commemorated in the popular carol actually originated in ancient Germanic Yule celebrations. 

The continued use of evergreens, most notably the Christmas tree, is the most visible remnant of those ancient solstice celebrations. Although Ernst Anschütz’s well-known 1824 carol dedicated to the tree is translated into English as “O Christmas Tree,” the title of the original German tune is simply “Tannenbaum,” meaning fir tree. There is no reference to Christmas in the carol, which Anschütz based on a much older Silesian folk love song. In keeping with old solstice celebrations, the song praises the tree’s faithful hardiness during the dark and cold winter. 

Bacchanal backlash 

Sixteenth-century German Protestants, eager to remove the iconography and relics of the Roman Catholic Church, gave the Christmas tree a huge boost when they used it to replace Nativity scenes. The religious reformer Martin Luther supposedly adopted the practice and added candles. 

But a century later, the English Puritans frowned upon the disorderly holiday for lacking biblical legitimacy. They banned it in the 1650s, with soldiers patrolling London’s streets looking for anyone daring to celebrate the day. 

Puritan colonists in Massachusetts did the same, fining “whosoever shall be found observing Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way.” 

German immigration to the American colonies ensured that the practice of trees would take root in the New World. Benjamin Franklin estimated that at least one-third of Pennsylvania’s white population was German before the American Revolution. Yet, the German tradition of the Christmas tree blossomed in the United States largely due to Britain’s German royal lineage. 

Taking a cue from the queen 

Since 1701, English kings had been forbidden from becoming or marrying Catholics. Germany, which was made up of a patchwork of kingdoms, had eligible Protestant princes and princesses to spare. Many British royals privately maintained the familiar custom of a Christmas tree, but Queen Victoria – who had a German mother as well as a German grandmother on her father’s side – made the practice public and fashionable. 

An 1848 issue of the London Illustrated News depicted Victoria with her German husband and children decorating a Christmas tree as a family at Windsor Castle. 

Victoria’s style of rule both reflected and shaped the outwardly stern, family-centered morality that dominated middle-class life during the era. In the 1840s, Christmas became the target of reformers like novelist Charles Dickens, who sought to transform the raucous celebrations of the largely sidelined holiday into a family day in which the people of the rapidly industrialized nation could relax, rejoice and give thanks. 

His 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” in which the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge found redemption by embracing Dickens’ prescriptions for the holiday, was a hit with the public. While the evergreen décor is evident in the hand-colored illustrations Dickens specially commissioned for the book, there are no Christmas trees in those pictures. 

Although Christmas trees had been part of private royal celebrations for decades, an 1848 issue of the London Illustrated News depicted Victoria with her German husband and children decorating one as a family at Windsor Castle. The cultural impact was almost instantaneous. Christmas trees started appearing in homes throughout England, its colonies and the rest of the English-speaking world. Dickens followed with his short story “A Christmas Tree” two years later. 

Adopting the tradition in America 

During this period, America’s middle classes generally embraced all things Victorian, from architecture to moral reform societies. Sarah Hale, the author most famous for her children’s poem “Mary had a Little Lamb,” used her position as editor of the best-selling magazine Godey’s Ladies Book to advance a reformist agenda that included the abolition of slavery and the creation of holidays that promoted pious family values. 

The adoption of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863 was perhaps her most lasting achievement. 

While Christmas trees sporadically adorned the homes of German immigrants in the U.S., it became a mainstream middle-class practice when, in 1850, Godey’s published an engraving of Victoria and her Christmas tree. A supporter of Dickens and the movement to reinvent Christmas, Editor Hale helped to popularize the family Christmas tree across the pond. 

In 1870 the United States recognize Christmas as a federal holiday. And the practice of erecting public Christmas trees emerged in the U.S. in the 20th century. In 1923, the first one appeared on the White House’s South Lawn. 

During the Great Depression, famous sites such as New York’s Rockefeller Center began erecting increasingly larger trees. 

Public Christmas trees, like New York’s Rockefeller Center’s famous tree, didn’t start appearing in the US until the 20th century.  

Christmas trees go global
 

As both American and British cultures extended their influence around the world, Christmas trees started to appear in communal spaces even in countries that are not predominately Christian. Shopping districts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Tokyo now regularly erect trees. The modern Christmas tree is a universal symbol that carries meanings both religious and secular. Adorned with lights, they promote hope and offer brightness in literally the darkest time of year for half of the world. In that sense, the modern Christmas tree has come full circle. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

AMERICANA / ON THIS SHORTEST DAY OF 2022 LET’S BEAT BACK THOSE WINTERTIME BLUES


Shorter days affect the mood of millions of Americans - a nutritional neuroscientist offers tips on how to avoid the winter blues. 

from TheConversation.com 

GUEST BLOG / By Lina Begdache, Associate Professor of Health and Wellness Studies, Binghamton University, State University of New York--The annual pattern of winter depression and melancholy - better known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD - suggests a strong link between your mood and the amount of light you get during the day. 

To put it simply: The less light exposure one has, the more one's mood may decline. 

Wintertime blues are common, but about 10 million Americans are affected every year by a longer lasting depression called seasonal affective disorder. Along with low mood, symptoms include anxious feelings, low self-esteem, longer sleep duration, constant craving for carbohydrates and low physical activity levels. 

I am a nutritional neuroscientist, (on the left) and my research focuses on the effects of diet and lifestyle factors on mood and brain functions such as mental distress, resilience and motivation. 

Through my research, I have learned that seasonal affective disorder can strike anyone. However, people with a history of mood disorders are at a higher risk. 

In particular, young adults and women of all ages have an increased susceptibility. Why seasonal depression happens When daylight saving time ends each fall, the one-hour shift backward reduces the amount of light exposure most people receive in a 24-hour cycle. 

As the days get shorter, people can experience general moodiness or a longer-term depression that is tied to a shorter exposure to daylight. This happens due to a misalignment between the sleep-wake cycle, eating schedules and other daily tasks. 

Research shows that this mismatch may be associated with poor mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and depression. Our sleep-wake cycle is controlled by the circadian rhythm, an internal clock regulated by light and darkness. 

Like a regular clock, it resets nearly every 24 hours and controls metabolism, growth and hormone release. When our brain receives signals of limited daylight, it releases the hormone melatonin to support sleep - even though we still have hours left before the typical bedtime. This can then affect how much energy we have, and when and how much we eat. 

It can also alter the brain's ability to adapt to changes in environment. This process, called neuronal plasticity, involves the growth and organization of neural networks. This is crucial for brain repair, maintenance and overall function. It is possible to readjust the circadian rhythm to better align with the new light and dark schedule. 

Be a rooster

This means getting daylight exposure as soon as possible upon waking up, as well as maintaining sleep, exercise and eating routines that are more in sync with your routine prior to the time change. Eventually, people can gradually transition into the new schedule. 

Sleeping too much or too little, bingeing on junk food and withdrawing from others are three symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. The intimate connection between serotonin and melatonin Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain that is a key player in regulating several functions such as mood, appetite and the circadian rhythm. 

Serotonin also converts to melatonin with lower light intensity. As mentioned above, melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and signals the brain that it's time to sleep. 

Less daylight exposure during winter months leads to the conversion of serotonin into melatonin earlier in the evening, since it gets dark earlier. As a result, this untimely melatonin release causes a disruption in the sleep-wake cycle. 

For some people this can cause moodiness, daytime sleepiness and loss of appetite regulation, typically leading to unhealthy snacking. 

People with seasonal affective disorder often crave foods rich in simple sugars, such as sweets, because there is an intimate connection between carbohydrate consumption, appetite regulation and sleep. 

Strategies to combat the winter blues 

In winter, most people leave work when it's turning dark. For this reason, light therapy is typically recommended for those who experience seasonal affective disorder, or even shorter periods of seasonal funk. This can be as simple as getting some light shortly after awakening. 

Try to get at least one hour of natural light during the early morning hours, preferably about one hour after your usual morning wake-up time when the circadian clock is most sensitive to light. 

This is true no matter what your wake-up time is, as long as it's morning. For people living at northern latitudes where there's very little sun in winter, light therapy boxes - which replicate outdoor light - can be effective. 

You can also improve your sleep quality by avoiding stimulants like coffee, tea or heavy meals close to bedtime. 

Exercising during the day is also good - it increases serotonin production and supports circadian regulation. 

A balanced diet of complex carbs and healthy proteins supports steady serotonin and melatonin production, and practicing downtime before bed can reduce stress. 

Taking these small steps may help the circadian rhythm adjust faster. For the millions with mood disorders, that could mean happier times during what are literally the darkest days. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

O HOLY NIGHT / AMAZING VOICES PERFORM O HOLY NIGHT

O Holy Night was composed in France by Adolphe Adam in 1847 from a poem by Placide Cappeau. It has become over the centuries one of the world's most popular Chrismas carols.

JENNIFER NETTLES CLICK HERE 

LINDA EDER CLICK HERE 


JOSH GROBAN CLICK HERE 

 LUCIANO PAVAROTTI and PLACIDO DOMINGO CLICK HERE 

THE TABERNACLE CHOIR CLICK HERE 

MAHALIA JACKSON CLICK HERE 





Monday, December 19, 2022

MEDIA MONDAY / CHILDREN’S CHOIR AT CARNEGIE HALL AFTER BOMB SHELTER REHEARSALS IN KYIV


GUEST BLOG / By NBC News--A classic holiday song, today, the song of survival as Ukraine’s Shchedryk Children Choir performs “Carol Of The Bells” at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The same venue where the Ukrainian song premiered a century ago. 

The choir’s members reunited this summer after many fled to safer places during the war. Over the last few weeks, they rehearsed in Kyiv, sometimes practicing in a bomb shelter without electricity. 

Now, the children who’ve been through so much are proving joy and hope can prevail. 

Carol of the Bells was composed in 1914 by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovch (photo, left). It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its 1919 concert tour of Europe and America, where it premiered in the United States to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall. 

The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed four-voice choir. 

This year’s youth choir—mainly 12-15 year olds--from Kyiv often practiced in a local bomb shelter and many times without electric lights. But it was an entirely different and joyful story as they performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City to a proverbial “not a dry eye in the house.” 



CLICK HERE FOR NBC NEWS CLIP.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

COFFEE BEANS & BEINGS / DRIVE THRU CHAIN HITS 300 UNITS ACROSS USA


The first link in the Human Bean chain of drive-thru espresso stands opened in Ashland Oregon in 1998. The demand for convenient, quality coffee & espresso grew and now the Human Bean brand currently has more than 300 locations open or under development in 25 states. 

Pictured is the Human Bean unit at 105 Rex Kerwin Court in Pflugerville, Texas. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

THE FOODIST / MARSEILLE’S HANUKKAH BEIGNETS PATISSERIE AVYEL


*CULINARYBACKSTREETS.COM’S KOSHER CONNECTION

GUEST BLOG / By Alexis Steinman, CulinaryBackStreets.com--Around this time of year, the smell of dough frying fills the air on a side street off Marseille’s busy Rue de Rome. 

The source of the enticing scent is Patisserie Avyel, a small kosher bakery and salon de thé in the midst of preparing for Hanukkah. 

Marseille – home to the third largest Jewish community in Europe after London and Paris – the best Hanukkah fried treats can be found at Patisserie Avyel. 

The doughnuts here are a hybrid, an edible testament to the Jewish diaspora. Though owner Joseph Sultan comes from Morocco, his bakery has a French zip code, so he bakes a classic beignet similar to those found in French boulangeries. 

Generously dusted with granulated sugar and made with eggs, milk, yeast and flour, the beignets are like unstuffed sufganiyot. Unfettered by a fruity filling, the orbs are wonderfully pillowy. Their sugar coating melts in your mouth and covers your fingers – it’s impossible not to lick them. 

When dunked in coffee, the beignets are simply divine. 


PATISSERIE AVYEL 28, Rue Saint Suffren Marseille, France 

*CulinaryBackstreets.com is a popular blog posting daily dispatches from the frontlines of local eating. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

URBAN EXPLORER / WHAT'S LEFT OF TED WILLIAMS BOYHOOD HOME


Major League baseball icon Ted Williams grew up in the home photo pictured above in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. It’s located on a busy Utah street surrounded by more and more new apartment buildings. Homes in the North Park area (one of San Diego’s earliest urban suburbs) were individually built on 5,000-square-foot lots. That’s why so many older homes in the area look different. These homes—even the more modest ones—are selling for $1 million each.

Ted Williams’ boyhood craftsman home (circa 1910s) remains a private residence. The awning and metalwork surrounding the front door was a design affectation circa the 1950s.  The chain link fence out front makes this a remuddled hall of fame candidate.

 The owner seemingly is uninterested or unable to “trim the bushes.” No doubt he or she is tired of answering knocks on doors from land speculators wanting to purchase the home/lot; tear it down and gentrify it for profit. 

Given the amount of attention Ted Williams continues to receive from baseball fans in America, the home might be/could be/should be turned into a baseball-centric museum or not. 

The point of this post is to point out it’s just a shame this “birthplace” home is slowly crumbling. Share this post with a baseball fan who might want to save the old house. 

Contact any San Diego area real estate professional for details (this blog has no other details).  For the address: zoom in on the photo above.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

SPACE CADETS / VIDEO OF ORION CAPSULE RETURNING TO SAN DIEGO VIA USS PORTLAND

USS Portland with Artemis I/Orion on board enters San Diego Bay via the statue of Juan Cabrillo, an early 17th-century explorer credited with discovering San Diego Bay.

Two days ago, the world was watching the reentry of Artemis I from its million-mile tour of the moon. The San Diego-based USS Portland was dispatched to retrieve the spacecraft and bring it back to port. 

 The following is not as dramatic was splashdown footage, but the arrival of the Portland was captured on San Diego Web Cam cameras. 

A piece of history sailing into the Bay. CLICK HERE. 


Recovery of the Orion capsule from space shown being toward onboard the USS Portland.

F
or Video: CLICK HERE.

AMERICANA /THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT

When it came to firebrand critics few American Presidents had more than Abraham Lincoln. But in saying that how many of us (non-professional historians and/or pundits) readily remember those naysayers? Name one other than Stephen Douglas or perhaps Salmon Chase? 

That brings this blog to predict that future historians will be kinder to President Joe Biden than his current critics. The wiser historians of today will document his accomplishments made for the good of the American People and not to please  factions bitter over being out of power. 

Lincoln served nobly during a civil war of bullets. 

Biden (even with his eyes closed as in the photo above) has served admirably throughout our current civil war of words. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

MEDIA MONDAY / GENERATIONAL DEBATES AND PASS THE POTATOES, PLEASE


OBSERVATION ON AN OBSERVATION / By Thomas Shess, founder, PillartoPost.org
--The holiday multi-generational family dinners often spark debates between older and younger with the latter complaining over how woefully the older leadership in this country is out of touch with just about everything. This year (in time for the good china, silverware and extra cranberry sauce) I’ve prepared my defense gambit. 

The Conversation, a daily blog offering what it calls essays of academic vigor with journalistic flair, recently pointed out that in the most recent election there was a huge uptick in younger voters going to the polls. 

Ha! There you have it. One big reason there are so many “white hairs” in public office is because the youngsters in this country have traditionally ignored going to the polls. 

Therefore, newlywed complaints have fallen on (increasingly) deaf ears. Oldsters win the debate and most public offices by simply voting.

But that was the past. 

And, by heavens, this year at least, it seems Generation Pouty has got the idea. What a concept. There’s a reason why there are public campaigns to “Rock the vote” and “Get out the youth vote” says Abby Kiesa in theconversation.com. Most of the time, people aged 18 to 29 tend to not vote at all. In a turn of events, approximately 27% of young people voted during this year’s midterms, contributing to Democratic wins in some swing-state races. 

Only 1 in 4 young people voting might not seem like a lot. But it actually “marks a near-record for an age group that has historically participated at lower rates in midterm elections,” writes Kiesa, a youth civic engagement scholar at Tufts University, in today’s CLICK HERE story. 

Kiesa explains why engaging more young voters remains challenging – and what actually brings them out to the polls. “In 2022, young people continued to push for change on issues they consider personal, like climate change, gun violence and racial justice,” Kiesa explains.  Take time to click this story.  Be prepared to pass the yams and sharpen debate points.   Good things happen when we all participate in the national debate by simply voting.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

SUNDAY REVIEW / SHORT STORY FROM THE PEN OF THE AUTHOR WHO INSPIRED FILMS LIKE THE BLADE RUNNER, THE MINORITY REPORT, TOTAL RECALL and A SCANNER DARKLY

THE HANGING STRANGER 

by Philip K. Dick [from the public domain] 

At five o'clock Ed Loyce washed up, tossed on his hat and coat, got his car out, and headed across town toward his TV sales store. He was tired. His back and shoulders ached from digging dirt out of the basement and wheeling it into the backyard. But for a 40-year-old man, he had done okay. Janet could get a new vase with the money he had saved, and he liked the idea of repairing the foundations himself. 

It was getting dark. The setting sun cast long rays over the scurrying commuters, tired and grim-faced, women loaded down with bundles and packages, students, swarming home from the university, mixing with clerks and businessmen and drab secretaries. He stopped his Packard for a red light and then started it up again. The store had been open without him; he'd arrive just in time to spell the help for dinner, go over the records of the day, and maybe even close a couple of sales himself. He drove slowly past the small square of green in the center of the street, the town park. There were no parking places in front of LOYCE TV SALES AND SERVICE. He cursed under his breath and swung the car in a U-turn. Again he passed the little square of green with its lonely drinking fountain and bench and single lamppost. 

From the lamppost, something was hanging. A shapeless dark bundle, swinging a little with the wind. Like a dummy of some sort. Loyce rolled down his window and peered out. What the hell was it? A display of some kind? Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce put up displays in the square. 

Again he made a U-turn and brought his car around. He passed the park and concentrated on the dark bundle. It wasn't a dummy. And if it was a display it was a strange kind. The hackles on his neck rose and he swallowed uneasily. Sweat slid out on his face and hands. 

It was a body. A human body. 

"Look at it!" Loyce snapped. "Come on out here!" 

Don Fergusson came slowly out of the store, buttoning his pin-stripe coat with dignity. "This is a big deal, Ed. I can't just leave the guy standing there." 

"See it?" Ed pointed into the gathering gloom. The lamppost jutted up against the sky—the post and the bundle swinging from it. "There it is. How the hell long has it been there?" His voice rose excitedly. "What's wrong with everybody? They just walk on past!" 

Don Fergusson lit a cigarette slowly. "Take it easy, old man. There must be a good reason, or it wouldn't be there." 

"A reason! What kind of a reason?" 

Fergusson shrugged. "Like the time the Traffic Safety Council put that wrecked Buick there. Some sort of civic thing. How would I know?" 

Jack Potter from the shoe shop joined them. "What's up, boys?" 

"There's a body hanging from the lamppost," Loyce said. "I'm going to call the cops." 

"They must know about it," Potter said. "Or otherwise it wouldn't be there." 

"I got to get back in." Fergusson headed back into the store. "Business before pleasure." 

 Loyce began to get hysterical. "You see it? Do you see it hanging there? A man's body! A dead man!" "Sure, Ed. I saw it this afternoon when I went out for coffee." 

"You mean it's been there all afternoon?" 

"Sure. What's the matter?" Potter glanced at his watch. "Have to run. See you later, Ed." Potter hurried off, joining the flow of people moving along the sidewalk. Men and women, pass by the park. A few glanced up curiously at the dark bundle—and then went on. Nobody stopped. Nobody paid any attention. 

"I'm going nuts," Loyce whispered. He made his way to the curb and crossed out into traffic, among the cars. Horns honked angrily at him. He gained the curb and stepped up onto the little square of green. The man had been middle-aged. His clothing was ripped and torn, a gray suit, splashed and caked with dried mud. A stranger. Loyce had never seen him before. Not a local man. His face was partly turned away, and in the evening wind, he spun a little, turning gently, silently. His skin was gouged and cut. Red gashes, deep scratches of congealed blood. A pair of steel-rimmed glasses hung from one ear, dangling foolishly. His eyes bulged. His mouth was open, tongue thick and ugly blue. 

"For Heaven's sake," Loyce muttered, sickened. He pushed down his nausea and made his way back to the sidewalk. He was shaking all over, with revulsion—and fear. 

Why? Who was the man? Why was he hanging there? What did it mean? 

And—why didn't anybody notice? 

He bumped into a small man hurrying along the sidewalk. "Watch it!" the man grated. "Oh, it's you, Ed." 

Ed nodded dazedly. "Hello, Jenkins." 

"What's the matter?" The stationery clerk caught Ed's aim "You look sick." 

"The body. There in the park." 

"Sure, Ed." Jenkins led him into the alcove of LOYCE TV SALES AND SERVICE. "Take it easy." 


Margaret Henderson from the jewelry store joined them. "Something wrong?" 

"Ed's not feeling well." 

Loyce yanked himself free. "How can you stand here? Don't you see it? For God's sake—" "What's he talking about?" Margaret asked nervously. 

"The body!" Ed shouted. "The body hanging there!" 

More people collected. "Is he sick? It's Ed Loyce. You okay, Ed?" 

"The body!" Loyce screamed, struggling to get past them. Hands caught at him. He tore loose. "Let me go! The police! Get the police!" 

"Ed—" 

"Better get a doctor!" 

"He must be sick." 

"Or drunk." 

Loyce fought his way through the people. He stumbled and half fell. Through a blur, he saw rows of faces, curious, concerned, anxious. Men and women halted to see what the disturbance was. He fought past them toward his store. He could see Fergusson inside talking to a man, showing him an Emerson TV set. Pete Foley is in the back at the service counter, setting up a new Philco. Loyce shouted at them frantically. His voice was lost in the roar of traffic and the murmuring around him. 

"Do something!" he screamed. "Don't stand there! Do something! Something's wrong! Something's happened! Things are going on!" The crowd melted respectfully for the two heavy-set cops moving efficiently toward Loyce. 

"Name?" the cop with the notebook murmured. "Loyce." 

He mopped his forehead wearily. "Edward C. Loyce. Listen to me. Back there—"

"Address?" the cop demanded. The police car moved swiftly through traffic, shooting among the cars and buses. Loyce sagged against the seat, exhausted and confused. He took a deep shuddering breath. 

"1368 Hurst Road." 

"That's here in Pikeville?" 

"That's right." Loyce pulled himself up with a violent effort. "Listen to me. Back there. In the square. Hanging from the lamppost—" 

"Where were you today?" the cop behind the wheel demanded. 

"Where?" Loyce echoed. 

"You weren't in your shop, were you?" 

"No." He shook his head. "No, I was home. Down in the basement." 

"In the basement?" 

"Digging. A new foundation. Getting out the dirt to pour a cement frame. Why? What has that to do with—" 

"Was anybody else down there with you?" 

"No. My wife was downtown. My kids were at school." Loyce looked from one heavy-set cop to the other. Hope flickered across his face, wild hope. "You mean because I was down there I missed—the explanation? I didn't get in on it? Like everybody else?" After a pause, the cop with the notebook said: "That's right. You missed the explanation." 

"Then it's official? The body—it's supposed to be hanging there?" 

"It's supposed to be hanging there. For everybody to see." 

Ed Loyce grinned weakly. "Good Lord. I guess I sort of went off the deep end. I thought maybe something had happened. You know, something like the Ku Klux Klan. Some kind of violence. Communists or Fascists taking over." He wiped his face with his breast-pocket handkerchief, his hands shaking. "I'm glad to know it's on the level." 

"It's on the level." The police car was getting near the Hall of Justice. The sun had set. The streets were gloomy and dark. The lights had not yet come on. 

"I feel better," Loyce said. "I was pretty excited there, for a minute. I guess I got all stirred up. Now that I understand, there's no need to take me in, is there?" 

The two cops said nothing. 

"I should be back at my store. The boys haven't had dinner. I'm all right, now. No more trouble. Is there any need of—" 

"This won't take long," the cop behind the wheel interrupted. "A short process. Only a few minutes." 

"I hope it's short," Loyce muttered. The car slowed down for a stoplight. "I guess I sort of disturbing the peace. Funny, getting excited like that and—" 

Loyce yanked the door open. He sprawled out into the street and rolled to his feet. Cars were moving all around him, gaining speed as the light changed. Loyce leaped onto the curb and raced among the people, burrowing into the swarming crowds. Behind him, he heard sounds, snouts, and people running. 

They weren't cops. He had realized that right away. He knew every cop in Pikeville. A man couldn't own a store, or operate a business in a small town for twenty-five years without getting to know all the cops. 

They weren't cops—and there hadn't been any explanation. Potter, Fergusson, Jenkins, none of them knew why it was there. They didn't know—and they didn't care. That was the strange part. 

Loyce ducked into a hardware store. He raced toward the back, past the startled clerks and customers, into the shipping room, and through the back door. He tripped over a garbage can and ran up a flight of concrete steps. He climbed over a fence and jumped down on the other side, gasping and panting. 

There was no sound behind him. He had gotten away. 

He was at the entrance of an alley, dark and strewn with boards and ruined boxes and tires. He could see the street at the far end. A street light wavered and came on. Men and women. Stores. Neon signs. Cars. 

And to his right—the police station. 

He was close, terribly close. Past the loading platform of a grocery store rose the white concrete side of the Hall of Justice. Barred windows. The police antenna. A great concrete wall rises up in the darkness. A bad place for him to be near. He was too close. He had to keep moving, get farther away from them. 

Them? 

Loyce moved cautiously down the alley. Beyond the police station was the City Hall, the old-fashioned yellow structure of wood and gilded brass and broad cement steps. He could see the endless rows of offices, dark windows, the cedars, and beds of flowers on each side of the entrance. 

And—something else. 

Above the City Hall was a patch of darkness, a cone of gloom denser than the surrounding night. A prism of black that spread out and was lost into the sky. 

He listened. Good God, he could hear something. Something that made him struggle frantically to close his ears, his mind, to shut out the sound. A buzzing. A distant, muted hum like a great swarm of bees. 

Loyce gazed up, rigid with horror. The splotch of darkness, hanging over the City Hall. Darkness so thick it seemed almost solid. In the vortex, something moved. Flickering shapes. Things, descending from the sky, pausing momentarily above the City Hall, fluttering over it in a dense swarm, and then dropping silently onto the roof. 

Shapes. Fluttering shapes from the sky. From the crack of darkness that hung above him. He was seeing—them. 

For a long time, Loyce watched, crouched behind a sagging fence in a pool of scummy water. 

They were landing. Coming down in groups, landing on the roof of the City Hall, and disappearing inside. They had wings. Like giant insects of some kind. They flew and fluttered and came to rest—and then crawled crab-fashion, sideways, across the roof and into the building. 

He was sickened. And fascinated. The cold night wind blew around him and he shuddered. He was tired, dazed with shock. On the front steps of the City Hall were men, standing here and there. Groups of men came out of the building and halted for a moment before going on. 

Were there more of them? 

It didn't seem possible. What he saw descending from the black chasm weren't men. They were alien—from some other world, some other dimension. Sliding through this slit, this break in the shell of the universe. Entering through this gap, winged insects from another realm of being. 

On the steps of the City Hall, a group of men broke up. A few moved toward a waiting car. One of the remaining shapes started to re-enter the City Hall. It changed its mind and turned to follow the others. 

Loyce closed his eyes in horror. His senses reeled. He hung on tight, clutching at the sagging fence. The shape, the man-shape, had abruptly fluttered up and flapped after the others. It flew to the sidewalk and came to rest among them. 

Pseudo-men. Imitation men. Insects with the ability to disguise themselves as men. Like other insects familiar to Earth. Protective coloration. Mimicry. 

Loyce pulled himself away. He got slowly to his feet. It was night. The alley was totally dark. But maybe they could see in the dark. Maybe darkness made no difference to them. 

He left the alley cautiously and moved out onto the street. Men and women flowed past, but not so many, now. At the bus stops stood waiting groups. A huge bus lumbered along the street, its lights flashing in the evening gloom. 

Loyce moved forward. He pushed his way among those waiting and when the bus halted he boarded it and took a seat in the rear, by the door. A moment later the bus moved to life and rumbled down the street. 

Loyce relaxed a little. He studied the people around him. Dulled, tired faces. People going home from work. Quite ordinary faces. None of them paid any attention to him. All sat quietly, sunk down in their seats, jiggling with the motion of the bus. The man sitting next to him unfolded a newspaper. He began to read the sports section, his lips moving. An ordinary man. Blue suit. Tie. A businessman, or a salesman. On his way home to his wife and family. 

 Across the aisle a young woman, perhaps twenty. Dark eyes and hair, a package on her lap. Nylons and heels. Red coat and white Angora sweater. Gazing absently ahead of her. 

A high school boy in jeans and a black jacket. 

A great triple-chinned woman with an immense shopping bag loaded with packages and parcels. Her thick face was dim with weariness. Ordinary people. The kind that rode the bus every evening. Going home to their families. To dinner. 

Going home—with their minds dead. Controlled, filmed over with the mask of an alien being that had appeared and taken possession of them, their town, and their lives. Himself, too. Except that he happened to be deep in his cellar instead of in the store. Somehow, he had been overlooked. They had missed him. Their control wasn't perfect, or foolproof. 

Maybe there were others. 

Hope flickered in Loyce. They weren't omnipotent. They had made a mistake, not gotten control of him. Their net, their field of control, had passed over him. He had emerged from his cellar as he had gone down. Apparently, their power zone was limited. A few seats down the aisle a man was watching him. Loyce broke off his chain of thought. A slender man, with dark hair and a small mustache. Well-dressed, brown suit and shiny shoes. A book between his small hands. He was watching Loyce, studying him intently. He turned quickly away. 

Loyce tensed. One of them? Or—another they had missed? 

The man was watching him again. Small dark eyes, alive and clever. Shrewd. A man too shrewd for them—or one of the things itself, an alien insect from beyond. 

The bus halted. An elderly man got on slowly and dropped his token into the box. He moved down the aisle and took a seat opposite Loyce. 

The elderly man caught the sharp-eyed man's gaze. For a split second something passed between them. A look rich with meaning. 

Loyce got to his feet. The bus was moving. He ran to the door. One step down into the well. He yanked the emergency door release. The rubber door swung open. 

"Hey!" the driver shouted, jamming on the brakes. "What the hell—?" 

Loyce squirmed through. The bus was slowing down. Houses on all sides. A residential district, lawns and tall apartment buildings. Behind him, the bright-eyed man had leaped up. The elderly man was also on his feet. They were coming after him. Loyce leaped. He hit the pavement with terrific force and rolled against the curb. Pain lapped over him. Pain and a vast tide of blackness. Desperately, he fought it off. He struggled to his knees and then slid down again. The bus had stopped. People were getting off. 

Loyce groped around. His fingers closed over something. A rock, lying in the gutter. He crawled to his feet, grunting with pain. A shape loomed before him. A man, the bright-eyed man with the book. 

Loyce kicked. The man gasped and fell. Loyce brought the rock down. The man screamed and tried to roll away. "Stop! For God's sake listen—" 

He struck again. A hideous crunching sound. The man's voice cut off and dissolved in a bubbling wail. Loyce scrambled up and back. The others were there, now. All around him. He ran, awkwardly, down the sidewalk, up a driveway. None of them followed him. They had stopped and were bending over the inert body of the man with the book, the bright-eyed man who had come after him. 

Had he made a mistake? 

But it was too late to worry about that. He had to get out—away from them. Out of Pikeville, beyond the crack of darkness, the rent between their world and his. 

"Ed!" Janet Loyce backed away nervously. "What is it? What—" 

Ed Loyce slammed the door behind him and came into the living room. "Pull down the shades. Quick." Janet moved toward the window. "But—" 

"Do as I say. Who else is here besides you?" 

"Nobody. Just the twins. They're upstairs in their room. What's happened? You look so strange. Why are you home?" 

Ed locked the front door. He prowled around the house, into the kitchen. From the drawer under the sink he slid out the big butcher knife and ran his finger along it. Sharp. Plenty sharp. He returned to the living room. 

"Listen to me," he said. "I don't have much time. They know I escaped and they'll be looking for me." 

"Escaped?" Janet's face twisted with bewilderment and fear. "Who?" 

"The town has been taken over. They're in control. I've got it pretty well figured out. They started at the top, at the City Hall and police department. What they did with the real humans they—" 

"What are you talking about?" 

"We've been invaded. From some other universe, some other dimension. They're insects. Mimicry. And more. Power to control minds. Your mind." 

"My mind?" "Their entrance is here, in Pikeville. They've taken over all of you. The whole town—except me. We're up against an incredibly powerful enemy, but they have their limitations. That's our hope. They're limited! They can make mistakes!" 

Janet shook her head. "I don't understand, Ed. You must be insane." 

"Insane? No. Just lucky. If I hadn't been down in the basement I'd be like all the rest of you." Loyce peered out the window. "But I can't stand here talking. Get your coat." 

"My coat?" 

"We're getting out of here. Out of Pikeville. We've got to get help. Fight this thing. They can be beaten. They're not infallible. It's going to be close—but we may make it if we hurry. Come on!" He grabbed her arm roughly. "Get your coat and call the twins. We're all leaving. Don't stop to pack. There's no time for that." 

White-faced, his wife moved toward the closet and got down her coat. "Where are we going?" 

Ed pulled open the desk drawer and spilled the contents out onto the floor. He grabbed up a road map and spread it open. "They'll have the highway covered, of course. But there's a back road. To Oak Grove. I got onto it once. It's practically abandoned. Maybe they'll forget about it." 

"The old Ranch Road? Good Lord—it's completely closed. Nobody's supposed to drive over it." 

"I know." Ed thrust the map grimly into his coat. "That's our best chance. Now call down the twins and let's get going. Your car is full of gas, isn't it?" 

Janet was dazed. "The Chevy? I had it filled up yesterday afternoon." Janet moved toward the stairs. "Ed, I—" 

"Call the twins!" Ed unlocked the front door and peered out. Nothing stirred. No sign of life. All right so far. 

"Come on downstairs," Janet called in a wavering voice. "We're—going out for a while." 

"Now?" Tommy's voice came. 

"Hurry up," Ed barked. "Get down here, both of you." 

 Tommy appeared at the top of the stairs. "I was doing my homework. We're starting fractions. Miss Parker says if we don't get this done—" 

"You can forget about fractions." Ed grabbed his son as he came down the stairs and propelled him toward the door. "Where's Jim?" 

"He's coming." Jim started slowly down the stairs. "What's up, Dad?" 

"We're going for a ride." 

 "A ride? Where?" Ed turned to Janet. 

"We'll leave the lights on. And the TV set. Go turn it on." He pushed her toward the set. "So they'll think we're still—" 

He heard the buzz. And dropped instantly, the long butcher knife out. Sickened, he saw it coming down the stairs at him, wings a blur of motion as it aimed itself. It still bore a vague resemblance to Jimmy. It was small, a baby one. A brief glimpse—the thing hurtling at him, cold, multi-lensed inhuman eyes. Wings, the body still clothed in yellow T-shirt and jeans, the mimic outline still stamped on it. A strange half-turn of its body as it reached him. What was it doing? 

A stinger. 

Loyce stabbed wildly at it. It retreated, buzzing frantically. Loyce rolled and crawled toward the door. Tommy and Janet stood still as statues, faces blank. Watching without expression. Loyce stabbed again. This time the knife connected. The thing shrieked and faltered. It bounced against the wall and fluttered down. 

Something lapped through his mind. A wall of force, energy, an alien mind probing into him. He was suddenly paralyzed. The mind entered his own, touched against him briefly, shockingly. An utter alien presence, settling over him—and then it flickered out as the thing collapsed in a broken heap on the rug. 

It was dead. He turned it over with his foot. It was an insect, a fly of some kind. Yellow T-shirt, jeans. His son Jimmy... He closed his mind tight. It was too late to think about that. Savagely he scooped up his knife and headed toward the door. Janet and Tommy stood stone-still, neither of them moving. 

 The car was out. He'd never get through. They'd be waiting for him. It was ten miles on foot. Ten long miles over rough ground, gulleys and open fields, and hills of the uncut forest. He'd have to go alone. 

Loyce opened the door. For a brief second, he looked back at his wife and son. Then he slammed the door behind him and raced down the porch steps. 

A moment later he was on his way, hurrying swiftly through the darkness toward the edge of town. 

The early morning sunlight was blinding. Loyce halted, gasping for breath, swaying back and forth. Sweat ran down his eyes. His clothing was torn, shredded by the brush and thorns through which he had crawled. Ten miles—on his hands and knees. Crawling, creeping through the night. His shoes were mud-caked. He was scratched and limping, utterly exhausted. But ahead of him lay Oak Grove. 

He took a deep breath and started down the hill. Twice he stumbled and fell, picking himself up and trudging on. His ears rang. Everything receded and wavered. But he was there. He had got out, away from Pikeville. 

A farmer in a field gaped at him. From a house, a young woman watched in wonder. Loyce reached the road and turned onto it. Ahead of him was a gasoline station and a drive-in. A couple of trucks, some chickens pecking in the dirt, and a dog tied with a string. 

 The white-clad attendant watched suspiciously as he dragged himself up to the station. "Thank God." He caught hold of the wall. "I didn't think I was going to make it. They followed me most of the way. I could hear them buzzing. Buzzing and flitting around behind me." 

"What happened?" the attendant demanded. "You in a wreck? A holdup?" 

Loyce shook his head wearily. "They have the whole town. The City Hall and the police station. They hung a man from the lamppost. That was the first thing I saw. They've got all the roads blocked. I saw them hovering over the cars coming in. 

At about four this morning I got beyond them. I knew it right away. I could feel them leave. And then the sun came up." 

The attendant licked his lip nervously. "You're out of your head. I better get a doctor." 

"Get me into Oak Grove," Loyce gasped. He sank down on the gravel. "We've got to get started—cleaning them out. Got to get started right away." 

They kept a tape recorder going all the time he talked. When he had finished the Commissioner snapped off the recorder and got to his feet. He stood for a moment, deep in thought. Finally, he got out his cigarettes and lit up slowly, a frown on his beefy face. 

"You don't believe me," Loyce said. 

The Commissioner offered him a cigarette. Loyce pushed it impatiently away. "Suit yourself." The Commissioner moved over to the window and stood for a time looking out at the town of Oak Grove. "I believe you," he said abruptly. 

 Loyce sagged. "Thank God." 

"So you got away." The Commissioner shook his head."You were down in your cellar instead of at work. A freak chance. One in a million." 

Loyce sipped some of the black coffee they had brought him. "I have a theory," he murmured. 

"What is it?" 

"About them. Who they are. They take over one area at a time. Starting at the top—the highest level of authority. Working down from there in a widening circle. When they're firmly in control they go on to the next town. They spread, slowly, very gradually. I think it's been going on for a long time." 

"A long time?" 

"Thousands of years. I don't think it's new." 

"Why do you say that?" 

"When I was a kid... A picture they showed us in Bible League. A religious picture—an old print. The enemy gods were defeated by Jehovah. Moloch, Beelzebub, Moab, Baalin, Ashtaroth—" 

"So?" 

"They were all represented by figures." Loyce looked up at the Commissioner. "Beelzebub was represented as—a giant fly." 

The Commissioner grunted. "An old struggle." 

"They've been defeated. The Bible is an account of their defeats. They make gains—but finally, they're defeated." 

"Why defeated?" 

"They can't get everyone. They didn't get me. And they never got the Hebrews. The Hebrews carried the message to the whole world. The realization of the danger. The two men on the bus. I think they understood. Had escaped, like I did." He clenched his fists. "I killed one of them. I made a mistake. I was afraid to take a chance." 

The Commissioner nodded. "Yes, they undoubtedly had escaped, as you did. Freak accidents. But the rest of the town was firmly in control." He turned from the window, "Well, Mr. Loyce. You seem to have figured everything out." 

"Not everything. The hanging man. The dead man hanging from the lamppost. I don't understand that. Why? Why did they deliberately hang him there?" 

"That would seem simple." The Commissioner smiled faintly. "Bait." 

Loyce stiffened. His heart stopped beating. "Bait? What do you mean?" 

"To draw you out. Make you declare yourself. So they'd know who was under control—and who had escaped." 

Loyce recoiled with horror. "Then they expected failures! They anticipated—" He broke off. "They were ready with a trap." "And you showed yourself. You reacted. You made yourself known." The Commissioner abruptly moved toward the door. "Come along, Loyce. There's a lot to do. We must get moving. There's no time to waste." 

Loyce started slowly to his feet, numbed. "And the man. Who was the man? I never saw him before. He wasn't a local man. He was a stranger. All muddy and dirty, his face cut, slashed—" 

There was a strange look on the Commissioner's face as he answered, "Maybe," he said softly, "you'll understand that, too. Come along with me, Mr. Loyce." He held the door open, his eyes gleaming. Loyce caught a glimpse of the street in front of the police station. Policemen, a platform of some sort. A telephone pole—and a rope! "Right this way," the Commissioner said, smiling coldly. 

As the sun set, the vice president of the Oak Grove Merchants' Bank came up out of the vault, threw the heavy time locks, put on his hat and coat, and hurried outside onto the sidewalk. Only a few people were there, hurrying home to dinner. "Good night," the guard said, locking the door after him. 

"Good night," Clarence Mason murmured. He started along the street toward his car. He was tired. He had been working all day down in the vault, examining the lay-out of the safety deposit boxes to see if there was room for another tier. He was glad to be finished. 

At the corner, he halted. The street lights had not yet come on. The street was dim. Everything was vague. He looked around—and froze. 

From the telephone pole in front of the police station, something large and shapeless hung. It moved a little with the wind. What the hell was it? 

Mason approached it warily. He wanted to get home. He was tired and hungry. He thought of his wife, his kids, and a hot meal on the dinner table. But there was something about the dark bundle, something ominous and ugly. 

The light was bad; he couldn't tell what it was. Yet it drew him on, made him move closer for a better look. The shapeless thing made him uneasy. He was frightened by it. Frightened—and fascinated. 

***

Actress Sean Young in film Blade Runner, (released in 1982)--based on Philip Dick's short story "Do Androids Dream of Redemption?"