Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Winter: Solstice 2014 Officially Arrives At 6:03 pm




As of 6:03pm this evening, the Winter Solstice officially arrives making this the shortest day of the year and the 1st official day of Winter.

If you're not a big fan of winter, don't fret to much, the days will start getting longer (and eventually warmer) until the summer solstice arrives on June 21, 2015. So why not celebrate the day? Get up, get out and enjoy the enjoy it rather than dreading it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rush Holt: Thank You


On Wednesday, December 10th, I stood for the last time on the House floor and delivered some remarks. The video as well as the transcript of the address are below.

Thank you again for putting your trust in me as your Representative. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent you.

Sincerely,

Rush Holt
Member of Congress




Remarks of Representative Rush Holt

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A PRIVILEGE TO SERVE IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

I thank my colleague, Mr. Pascrell from New Jersey, for underscoring the importance of what we do here in this House. Those are not just numbers on a page that he was quoting; those are people's lives and livelihoods, and we have work to do.

As I prepare to wind up my service here after 16 years, I seek the indulgence of my friend here and our colleagues to make a few observations for the benefit of my constituents to whom I owe much.

When people call my office, we answer the phone, ``Representative Rush Holt.'' Mr. Speaker, here in the House, for each of us, Representative is our title and our job description. It is an honor and a privilege for each of us to represent about three-quarters of a million people, to represent them here in the people's House, this House, that is the focal point of the U.S. Government laid out in article I, section 1, of the Constitution, right at the beginning.

Despite all the well-publicized frustrations of this place, this House is the greatest instrument for justice and human welfare in the world. We are a central part of the most successful experiment in human advancement in history. We must not forget that.

Speaking of not forgetting, we would all do well to develop a stronger sense of history, a sense among ourselves and our country. It is with a sense of history that we realize what progress we have made as a country.

In this time of frustration and cynicism, we should take note: the success of America economically, culturally, and socially has not been an accident, and it was not destined. Our success derives from our chosen system of governing ourselves. Without a sense of history, one cannot recognize progress, and humans need a sense of progress.

When I was first elected to Congress 16 years ago, some people asked me: ``Why would a scientist leave a good research institution to get into the muck of politics?'' The simple answer was that it was too important not to.

Sure, it was satisfying to win an election in a district where many said it couldn't be done, where no one of my party had been elected in almost anyone's memory, but it was clear to me that this was not a game of politics; it was a fight to defend the soul of America.

I came here an optimist about our country, our people, and their government, and I leave an optimist. I have had the help of many people, volunteers, staff and colleagues, smart, inspiring, tireless. I think of many.

I will mention several by name: my wife, Margaret Lancefield; my chief and deputy chief, Chris Gaston and Sarah Steward; and looking back, I think of those who have died during my time here.

As I speak here in glowing terms about our government, successes of this ingenious system of balancing competing interests, I would be obtuse not to recognize that many are discouraged about their government. Some politicians even foster distrust in government, taking people beyond the traditional healthy American skepticism to real destructive cynicism.

In every era, there have been naysayers: ``The government is broken, special interests rule, and all politicians are corrupt.'' I know that is not true.

I am reminded daily that through diligent and committed service to the people that a Representative can ensure that each person knows that she or he has a part in our democracy, a direct connection to his or her government, and that cooperative action, yes, government, benefits them.

We must continually show our constituents that we are committed to always improving the mechanisms of good democratic government: voting, legislation, and addressing grievances.

After eight terms, I look back with satisfaction at some things accomplished: preserving land and bits of history; improving educational opportunities; supporting education in science and foreign languages; expanding access to excellent health care, especially mental health care for our military veterans; protecting families' economic security in their nonwage-earning years; protecting postal workers when they are exposed to anthrax; enhancing the reliability, accessibility, and auditability of voting; strengthening civil protections of Muslim Americans and other minority groups; strengthening fairness in the workplace for LGBT workers; and increasing support for scientific research.

Through it all, our primary job, I would say, has been to beat back the cynicism about our ability as Americans to govern ourselves. Of course, we understand that passing laws and appropriating money is only part of a Representative's work.

I have taken opportunities to speak out about injustice, to extol people and programs that work well, to voice support for people who need a kind word and more, a little help. I present a vision for a government--not a government that vanishes, but a government that works for its citizens.

Of course, not all problems can be fixed by government, but it can be reassuring and uplifting to people to know that other people have their backs and can help; yes, that is government.

I continue to speak against intrusive surveillance by government that treats people as suspects first and citizens second. I have joined with others here to preserve our national legacies, our land and resources, a clean environment and to preserve memories of where we come from, and with my science background, I always try to present arguments based on evidence and open review.

On many issues and in many votes, I have found myself outvoted and in a minority, but it helps to recall the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who has spoken about the satisfaction in crafting a strong dissenting opinion with the hope or expectation that it will become the prevailing majority opinion.

I am reminded of many shortcomings and work unfinished. Others may succeed in reviving the Office of Technology Assessment to provide Congress with badly needed assistance. Others remaining in Congress may move our country appreciably toward more sustainable practices. My colleagues here may yet reform the intelligence community. And acting with the recognition that peace is the best security, others may work to move our Nation away from militaristic responses to so many problems.

Again, this work over 16 years has been an honor and a great satisfaction. I thank my family and my staff. Especially, I thank the people of central New Jersey for this opportunity to serve.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

President Obama's Weekly Address 12/20/14: America’s Resurgence Is Real

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President reflected on the significant progress made by this country in 2014, and in the nearly six years since he took office. This past year has been the strongest for job growth since the 1990s, contributing to the nearly 11 million jobs added by our businesses over a 57-month streak. America is leading the rest of the world, in containing the spread of Ebola, degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL, and addressing the threat posed by climate change. And earlier this week, the President announced the most significant changes to our policy towards Cuba in over 50 years. America’s resurgence is real, and the President expressed his commitment to working with Congress in the coming year to make sure Americans feel the benefits.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Charles Dickens: WHAT CHRISTMAS IS AS WE GROW OLDER

Here's another blog post from the past that has been pretty popular, I hope you enjoy it:


When you think about classic stories of Christmas, a few come to mind, such as "It's a Wonderful Life", "A Christmas Story", "Miracle on 34th Street" and of course Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol", probably the most famous Christmas story of all (other than the birth of Jesus that is).

But, I bet no one thinks about some of the lesser known works of Charles Dickens that dealt with the subject of Christmas. Dickens wrote several essays during his lifetime about Christmas.

In his short story, "What Christmas Is As We Grow Older," Dickens encourages us to not forget the past joys and loves we have known, in order to shut out the pain of loss. Rather, we defeat the loss by celebrating the memories of times and people once close to us.

by Charles Dickens

Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and every one around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.

Time came, perhaps, all so soon, when our thoughts over-leaped that narrow boundary; when there was some one (very dear, we thought then, very beautiful, and absolutely perfect) wanting to the fulness of our happiness; when we were wanting too (or we thought so, which did just as well) at the Christmas hearth by which that some one sat; and when we intertwined with every wreath and garland of our life that some one's name.

That was the time for the bright visionary Christmases which have long arisen from us to show faintly, after summer rain, in the palest edges of the rainbow! That was the time for the beatified enjoyment of the things that were to be, and never were, and yet the things that were so real in our resolute hope that it would be hard to say, now, what realities achieved since, have been stronger!

What! Did that Christmas never really come when we and the priceless pearl who was our young choice were received, after the happiest of totally impossible marriages, by the two united families previously at daggers--drawn on our account? When brothers and sisters-in-law who had always been rather cool to us before our relationship was effected, perfectly doted on us, and when fathers and mothers overwhelmed us with unlimited incomes? Was that Christmas dinner never really eaten, after which we arose, and generously and eloquently rendered honour to our late rival, present in the company, then and there exchanging friendship and forgiveness, and founding an attachment, not to be surpassed in Greek or Roman story, which subsisted until death? Has that same rival long ceased to care for that same priceless pearl, and married for money, and become usurious? Above all, do we really know, now, that we should probably have been miserable if we had won and worn the pearl, and that we are better without her?

That Christmas when we had recently achieved so much fame; when we had been carried in triumph somewhere, for doing something great and good; when we had won an honoured and ennobled name, and arrived and were received at home in a shower of tears of joy; is it possible that THAT Christmas has not come yet?

And is our life here, at the best, so constituted that, pausing as we advance at such a noticeable mile-stone in the track as this great birthday, we look back on the things that never were, as naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been and are gone, or have been and still are? If it be so, and so it seems to be, must we come to the conclusion that life is little better than a dream, and little worth the loves and strivings that we crowd into it?

No! Far be such miscalled philosophy from us, dear Reader, on Christmas Day! Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance! It is in the last virtues especially, that we are, or should be, strengthened by the unaccomplished visions of our youth; for, who shall say that they are not our teachers to deal gently even with the impalpable nothings of the earth!

Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.

Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly! We know you, and have not outlived you yet. Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us. Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts; and for the earnestness that made you real, thanks to Heaven! Do we build no Christmas castles in the clouds now? Let our thoughts, fluttering like butterflies among these flowers of children, bear witness! Before this boy, there stretches out a Future, brighter than we ever looked on in our old romantic time, but bright with honour and with truth. Around this little head on which the sunny curls lie heaped, the graces sport, as prettily, as airily, as when there was no scythe within the reach of Time to shear away the curls of our first-love. Upon another girl's face near it--placider but smiling bright--a quiet and contented little face, we see Home fairly written. Shining from the word, as rays shine from a star, we see how, when our graves are old, other hopes than ours are young, other hearts than ours are moved; how other ways are smoothed; how other happiness blooms, ripens, and decays--no, not decays, for other homes and other bands of children, not yet in being nor for ages yet to be, arise, and bloom and ripen to the end of all!

Welcome, everything! Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits open- hearted! In yonder shadow, do we see obtruding furtively upon the blaze, an enemy's face? By Christmas Day we do forgive him! If the injury he has done us may admit of such companionship, let him come here and take his place. If otherwise, unhappily, let him go hence, assured that we will never injure nor accuse him.

On this day we shut out Nothing!
"Pause," says a low voice. "Nothing? Think!"

"On Christmas Day, we will shut out from our fireside, Nothing."

"Not the shadow of a vast City where the withered leaves are lying deep?" the voice replies. "Not the shadow that darkens the whole globe? Not the shadow of the City of the Dead?"

Not even that. Of all days in the year, we will turn our faces towards that City upon Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts bring those we loved, among us. City of the Dead, in the blessed name wherein we are gathered together at this time, and in the Presence that is here among us according to the promise, we will receive, and not dismiss, thy people who are dear to us!


Yes. We can look upon these children angels that alight, so solemnly, so beautifully among the living children by the fire, and can bear to think how they departed from us. Entertaining angels unawares, as the Patriarchs did, the playful children are unconscious of their guests; but we can see them--can see a radiant arm around one favourite neck, as if there were a tempting of that child away. Among the celestial figures there is one, a poor misshapen boy on earth, of a glorious beauty now, of whom his dying mother said it grieved her much to leave him here, alone, for so many years as it was likely would elapse before he came to her-- being such a little child. But he went quickly, and was laid upon her breast, and in her hand she leads him.

There was a gallant boy, who fell, far away, upon a burning sand beneath a burning sun, and said, "Tell them at home, with my last love, how much I could have wished to kiss them once, but that I died contented and had done my duty!" Or there was another, over whom they read the words, "Therefore we commit his body to the deep," and so consigned him to the lonely ocean and sailed on. Or there was another, who lay down to his rest in the dark shadow of great forests, and, on earth, awoke no more. O shall they not, from sand and sea and forest, be brought home at such a time!

There was a dear girl--almost a woman--never to be one--who made a mourning Christmas in a house of joy, and went her trackless way to the silent City.

Do we recollect her, worn out, faintly whispering what could not be heard, and falling into that last sleep for weariness? O look upon her now! O look upon her beauty, her serenity, her changeless youth, her happiness! The daughter of Jairus was recalled to life, to die; but she, more blest, has heard the same voice, saying unto her, "Arise for ever!"

We had a friend who was our friend from early days, with whom we often pictured the changes that were to come upon our lives, and merrily imagined how we would speak, and walk, and think, and talk, when we came to be old. His destined habitation in the City of the Dead received him in his prime. Shall he be shut out from our Christmas remembrance? Would his love have so excluded us? Lost friend, lost child, lost parent, sister, brother, husband, wife, we will not so discard you! You shall hold your cherished places in our Christmas hearts, and by our Christmas fires; and in the season of immortal hope, and on the birthday of immortal mercy, we will shut out Nothing!

The winter sun goes down over town and village; on the sea it makes a rosy path, as if the Sacred tread were fresh upon the water. A few more moments, and it sinks, and night comes on, and lights begin to sparkle in the prospect. On the hill-side beyond the shapelessly-diffused town, and in the quiet keeping of the trees that gird the village-steeple, remembrances are cut in stone, planted in common flowers, growing in grass, entwined with lowly brambles around many a mound of earth. In town and village, there are doors and windows closed against the weather, there are flaming logs heaped high, there are joyful faces, there is healthy music of voices. Be all ungentleness and harm excluded from the temples of the Household Gods, but be those remembrances admitted with tender encouragement! They are of the time and all its comforting and peaceful reassurances; and of the history that re-united even upon earth the living and the dead; and of the broad beneficence and goodness that too many men have tried to tear to narrow shreds.


L. Frank Baum's "A Kidnapped Santa Claus"

I'm reposting a blog entry from a few years ago titled L. Frank Baum's "A Kidnapped Santa Claus". It's always been a big hit in the past and since originally posting this short story it has garnered over 25 thousands views. It has easily become one of the most popular post I've placed on this blog.

I hope you enjoy re-reading it.


"A Kidnapped Santa Claus is a Christmas-themed short story written by L. Frank Baum, famous as the creator of the Land and Wizard of Oz; it has been called "one of Baum's most beautiful stories" and constitutes an influential contribution to the mythology of Christmas. It was first published in the December 1904 edition of The Delineator, the women's magazine that would print Baum's Animal Fairy Tales in the following year. The magazine text was "admirably illustrated" with "pen drawings of marked originality" by Frederick Richardson, who would illustrate Baum's Queen Zixi of Ix in 1905."





A Kidnapped Santa Claus

Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley, where stands the big, rambling castle in which his toys are manufactured. His workmen, selected from the ryls, knooks, pixies and fairies, live with him, and every one is as busy as can be from one year's end to another.

It is called the Laughing Valley because everything there is happy and gay. The brook chuckles to itself as it leaps rollicking between its green banks; the wind whistles merrily in the trees; the sunbeams dance lightly over the soft grass, and the violets and wild flowers look smilingly up from their green nests. To laugh one needs to be happy; to be happy one needs to be content. And throughout the Laughing Valley of Santa Claus contentment reigns supreme.

On one side is the mighty Forest of Burzee. At the other side stands the huge mountain that contains the Caves of the Daemons. And between them the Valley lies smiling and peaceful.

One would thing that our good old Santa Claus, who devotes his days to making children happy, would have no enemies on all the earth; and, as a matter of fact, for a long period of time he encountered nothing but love wherever he might go.

But the Daemons who live in the mountain caves grew to hate Santa Claus very much, and all for the simple reason that he made children happy.

The Caves of the Daemons are five in number. A broad pathway leads up to the first cave, which is a finely arched cavern at the foot of the mountain, the entrance being beautifully carved and decorated. In it resides the Daemon of Selfishness. Back of this is another cavern inhabited by the Daemon of Envy. The cave of the Daemon of Hatred is next in order, and through this one passes to the home of the Daemon of Malice--situated in a dark and fearful cave in the very heart of the mountain. I do not know what lies beyond this. Some say there are terrible pitfalls leading to death and destruction, and this may very well be true. However, from each one of the four caves mentioned there is a small, narrow tunnel leading to the fifth cave--a cozy little room occupied by the Daemon of Repentance. And as the rocky floors of these passages are well worn by the track of passing feet, I judge that many wanderers in the Caves of the Daemons have escaped through the tunnels to the abode of the Daemon of Repentance, who is said to be a pleasant sort of fellow who gladly opens for one a little door admitting you into fresh air and sunshine again.

Well, these Daemons of the Caves, thinking they had great cause to dislike old Santa Claus, held a meeting one day to discuss the matter.

"I'm really getting lonesome," said the Daemon of Selfishness. "For Santa Claus distributes so many pretty Christmas gifts to all the children that they become happy and generous, through his example, and keep away from my cave."

"I'm having the same trouble," rejoined the Daemon of Envy. "The little ones seem quite content with Santa Claus, and there are few, indeed, that I can coax to become envious."

"And that makes it bad for me!" declared the Daemon of Hatred. "For if no children pass through the Caves of Selfishness and Envy, none can get to MY cavern."

"Or to mine," added the Daemon of Malice.

"For my part," said the Daemon of Repentance, "it is easily seen that if children do not visit your caves they have no need to visit mine; so that I am quite as neglected as you are."

"And all because of this person they call Santa Claus!" exclaimed the Daemon of Envy. "He is simply ruining our business, and something must be done at once."

To this they readily agreed; but what to do was another and more difficult matter to settle. They knew that Santa Claus worked all through the year at his castle in the Laughing Valley, preparing the gifts he was to distribute on Christmas Eve; and at first they resolved to try to tempt him into their caves, that they might lead him on to the terrible pitfalls that ended in destruction.

So the very next day, while Santa Claus was busily at work, surrounded by his little band of assistants, the Daemon of Selfishness came to him and said:

"These toys are wonderfully bright and pretty. Why do you not keep them for yourself? It's a pity to give them to those noisy boys and fretful girls, who break and destroy them so quickly."

"Nonsense!" cried the old graybeard, his bright eyes twinkling merrily as he turned toward the tempting Daemon. "The boys and girls are never so noisy and fretful after receiving my presents, and if I can make them happy for one day in the year I am quite content."

So the Daemon went back to the others, who awaited him in their caves, and said:

"I have failed, for Santa Claus is not at all selfish."

The following day the Daemon of Envy visited Santa Claus. Said he: "The toy shops are full of playthings quite as pretty as those you are making. What a shame it is that they should interfere with your business! They make toys by machinery much quicker than you can make them by hand; and they sell them for money, while you get nothing at all for your work."

But Santa Claus refused to be envious of the toy shops.

"I can supply the little ones but once a year--on Christmas Eve," he answered; "for the children are many, and I am but one. And as my work is one of love and kindness I would be ashamed to receive money for my little gifts. But throughout all the year the children must be amused in some way, and so the toy shops are able to bring much happiness to my little friends. I like the toy shops, and am glad to see them prosper."

In spite of the second rebuff, the Daemon of Hatred thought he would try to influence Santa Claus. So the next day he entered the busy workshop and said:

"Good morning, Santa! I have bad news for you."

"Then run away, like a good fellow," answered Santa Claus. "Bad news is something that should be kept secret and never told."

"You cannot escape this, however," declared the Daemon; "for in the world are a good many who do not believe in Santa Claus, and these you are bound to hate bitterly, since they have so wronged you."

"Stuff and rubbish!" cried Santa.

"And there are others who resent your making children happy and who sneer at you and call you a foolish old rattlepate! You are quite right to hate such base slanderers, and you ought to be revenged upon them for their evil words."

"But I don't hate 'em!" exclaimed Santa Claus positively. "Such people do me no real harm, but merely render themselves and their children unhappy. Poor things! I'd much rather help them any day than injure them."

Indeed, the Daemons could not tempt old Santa Claus in any way. On the contrary, he was shrewd enough to see that their object in visiting him was to make mischief and trouble, and his cheery laughter disconcerted the evil ones and showed to them the folly of such an undertaking. So they abandoned honeyed words and determined to use force.

It was well known that no harm can come to Santa Claus while he is in the Laughing Valley, for the fairies, and ryls, and knooks all protect him. But on Christmas Eve he drives his reindeer out into the big world, carrying a sleighload of toys and pretty gifts to the children; and this was the time and the occasion when his enemies had the best chance to injure him. So the Daemons laid their plans and awaited the arrival of Christmas Eve.

The moon shone big and white in the sky, and the snow lay crisp and sparkling on the ground as Santa Claus cracked his whip and sped away out of the Valley into the great world beyond. The roomy sleigh was packed full with huge sacks of toys, and as the reindeer dashed onward our jolly old Santa laughed and whistled and sang for very joy. For in all his merry life this was the one day in the year when he was happiest--the day he lovingly bestowed the treasures of his workshop upon the little children.

It would be a busy night for him, he well knew. As he whistled and shouted and cracked his whip again, he reviewed in mind all the towns and cities and farmhouses where he was expected, and figured that he had just enough presents to go around and make every child happy. The reindeer knew exactly what was expected of them, and dashed along so swiftly that their feet scarcely seemed to touch the snow-covered ground.

Suddenly a strange thing happened: a rope shot through the moonlight and a big noose that was in the end of it settled over the arms and body of Santa Claus and drew tight. Before he could resist or even cry out he was jerked from the seat of the sleigh and tumbled head foremost into a snowbank, while the reindeer rushed onward with the load of toys and carried it quickly out of sight and sound.

Such a surprising experience confused old Santa for a moment, and when he had collected his senses he found that the wicked Daemons had pulled him from the snowdrift and bound him tightly with many coils of the stout rope. And then they carried the kidnapped Santa Claus away to their mountain, where they thrust the prisoner into a secret cave and chained him to the rocky wall so that he could not escape.

"Ha, ha!" laughed the Daemons, rubbing their hands together with cruel glee. "What will the children do now? How they will cry and scold and storm when they find there are no toys in their stockings and no gifts on their Christmas trees! And what a lot of punishment they will receive from their parents, and how they will flock to our Caves of Selfishness, and Envy, and Hatred, and Malice! We have done a mighty clever thing, we Daemons of the Caves!"

Now it so chanced that on this Christmas Eve the good Santa Claus had taken with him in his sleigh Nuter the Ryl, Peter the Knook, Kilter the Pixie, and a small fairy named Wisk--his four favorite assistants. These little people he had often found very useful in helping him to distribute his gifts to the children, and when their master was so suddenly dragged from the sleigh they were all snugly tucked underneath the seat, where the sharp wind could not reach them.

The tiny immortals knew nothing of the capture of Santa Claus until some time after he had disappeared. But finally they missed his cheery voice, and as their master always sang or whistled on his journeys, the silence warned them that something was wrong.

Little Wisk stuck out his head from underneath the seat and found Santa Claus gone and no one to direct the flight of the reindeer.

"Whoa!" he called out, and the deer obediently slackened speed and came to a halt.

Peter and Nuter and Kilter all jumped upon the seat and looked back over the track made by the sleigh. But Santa Claus had been left miles and miles behind.

"What shall we do?" asked Wisk anxiously, all the mirth and mischief banished from his wee face by this great calamity.

"We must go back at once and find our master," said Nuter the Ryl, who thought and spoke with much deliberation.

"No, no!" exclaimed Peter the Knook, who, cross and crabbed though he was, might always be depended upon in an emergency. "If we delay, or go back, there will not be time to get the toys to the children before morning; and that would grieve Santa Claus more than anything else."

"It is certain that some wicked creatures have captured him," added Kilter thoughtfully, "and their object must be to make the children unhappy. So our first duty is to get the toys distributed as carefully as if Santa Claus were himself present. Afterward we can search for our master and easily secure his freedom."

This seemed such good and sensible advice that the others at once resolved to adopt it. So Peter the Knook called to the reindeer, and the faithful animals again sprang forward and dashed over hill and valley, through forest and plain, until they came to the houses wherein children lay sleeping and dreaming of the pretty gifts they would find on Christmas morning.

The little immortals had set themselves a difficult task; for although they had assisted Santa Claus on many of his journeys, their master had always directed and guided them and told them exactly what he wished them to do. But now they had to distribute the toys according to their own judgment, and they did not understand children as well as did old Santa. So it is no wonder they made some laughable errors.

Mamie Brown, who wanted a doll, got a drum instead; and a drum is of no use to a girl who loves dolls. And Charlie Smith, who delights to romp and play out of doors, and who wanted some new rubber boots to keep his feet dry, received a sewing box filled with colored worsteds and threads and needles, which made him so provoked that he thoughtlessly called our dear Santa Claus a fraud.

Had there been many such mistakes the Daemons would have accomplished their evil purpose and made the children unhappy. But the little friends of the absent Santa Claus labored faithfully and intelligently to carry out their master's ideas, and they made fewer errors than might be expected under such unusual circumstances.

And, although they worked as swiftly as possible, day had begun to break before the toys and other presents were all distributed; so for the first time in many years the reindeer trotted into the Laughing Valley, on their return, in broad daylight, with the brilliant sun peeping over the edge of the forest to prove they were far behind their accustomed hours.

Having put the deer in the stable, the little folk began to wonder how they might rescue their master; and they realized they must discover, first of all, what had happened to him and where he was.

So Wisk the Fairy transported himself to the bower of the Fairy Queen, which was located deep in the heart of the Forest of Burzee; and once there, it did not take him long to find out all about the naughty Daemons and how they had kidnapped the good Santa Claus to prevent his making children happy. The Fairy Queen also promised her assistance, and then, fortified by this powerful support, Wisk flew back to where Nuter and Peter and Kilter awaited him, and the four counseled together and laid plans to rescue their master from his enemies.

It is possible that Santa Claus was not as merry as usual during the night that succeeded his capture. For although he had faith in the judgment of his little friends he could not avoid a certain amount of worry, and an anxious look would creep at times into his kind old eyes as he thought of the disappointment that might await his dear little children. And the Daemons, who guarded him by turns, one after another, did not neglect to taunt him with contemptuous words in his helpless condition.

When Christmas Day dawned the Daemon of Malice was guarding the prisoner, and his tongue was sharper than that of any of the others.

"The children are waking up, Santa!" he cried. "They are waking up to find their stockings empty! Ho, ho! How they will quarrel, and wail, and stamp their feet in anger! Our caves will be full today, old Santa! Our caves are sure to be full!"

But to this, as to other like taunts, Santa Claus answered nothing. He was much grieved by his capture, it is true; but his courage did not forsake him. And, finding that the prisoner would not reply to his jeers, the Daemon of Malice presently went away, and sent the Daemon of Repentance to take his place.

This last personage was not so disagreeable as the others. He had gentle and refined features, and his voice was soft and pleasant in tone.

"My brother Daemons do not trust me overmuch," said he, as he entered the cavern; "but it is morning, now, and the mischief is done. You cannot visit the children again for another year."

"That is true," answered Santa Claus, almost cheerfully; "Christmas Eve is past, and for the first time in centuries I have not visited my children."

"The little ones will be greatly disappointed," murmured the Daemon of Repentance, almost regretfully; "but that cannot be helped now. Their grief is likely to make the children selfish and envious and hateful, and if they come to the Caves of the Daemons today I shall get a chance to lead some of them to my Cave of Repentance."

"Do you never repent, yourself?" asked Santa Claus, curiously.

"Oh, yes, indeed," answered the Daemon. "I am even now repenting that I assisted in your capture. Of course it is too late to remedy the evil that has been done; but repentance, you know, can come only after an evil thought or deed, for in the beginning there is nothing to repent of."

"So I understand," said Santa Claus. "Those who avoid evil need never visit your cave."

"As a rule, that is true," replied the Daemon; "yet you, who have done no evil, are about to visit my cave at once; for to prove that I sincerely regret my share in your capture I am going to permit you to escape."

This speech greatly surprised the prisoner, until he reflected that it was just what might be expected of the Daemon of Repentance. The fellow at once busied himself untying the knots that bound Santa Claus and unlocking the chains that fastened him to the wall. Then he led the way through a long tunnel until they both emerged in the Cave of Repentance.

"I hope you will forgive me," said the Daemon pleadingly. "I am not really a bad person, you know; and I believe I accomplish a great deal of good in the world."

With this he opened a back door that let in a flood of sunshine, and Santa Claus sniffed the fresh air gratefully.

"I bear no malice," said he to the Daemon, in a gentle voice; "and I am sure the world would be a dreary place without you. So, good morning, and a Merry Christmas to you!"

With these words he stepped out to greet the bright morning, and a moment later he was trudging along, whistling softly to himself, on his way to his home in the Laughing Valley.

Marching over the snow toward the mountain was a vast army, made up of the most curious creatures imaginable. There were numberless knooks from the forest, as rough and crooked in appearance as the gnarled branches of the trees they ministered to. And there were dainty ryls from the fields, each one bearing the emblem of the flower or plant it guarded. Behind these were many ranks of pixies, gnomes and nymphs, and in the rear a thousand beautiful fairies floated along in gorgeous array.

This wonderful army was led by Wisk, Peter, Nuter, and Kilter, who had assembled it to rescue Santa Claus from captivity and to punish the Daemons who had dared to take him away from his beloved children.

And, although they looked so bright and peaceful, the little immortals were armed with powers that would be very terrible to those who had incurred their anger. Woe to the Daemons of the Caves if this mighty army of vengeance ever met them!

But lo! coming to meet his loyal friends appeared the imposing form of Santa Claus, his white beard floating in the breeze and his bright eyes sparkling with pleasure at this proof of the love and veneration he had inspired in the hearts of the most powerful creatures in existence.

And while they clustered around him and danced with glee at his safe return, he gave them earnest thanks for their support. But Wisk, and Nuter, and Peter, and Kilter, he embraced affectionately.

"It is useless to pursue the Daemons," said Santa Claus to the army. "They have their place in the world, and can never be destroyed. But that is a great pity, nevertheless," he continued musingly.

So the fairies, and knooks, and pixies, and ryls all escorted the good man to his castle, and there left him to talk over the events of the night with his little assistants.

Wisk had already rendered himself invisible and flown through the big world to see how the children were getting along on this bright Christmas morning; and by the time he returned, Peter had finished telling Santa Claus of how they had distributed the toys.

"We really did very well," cried the fairy, in a pleased voice; "for I found little unhappiness among the children this morning. Still, you must not get captured again, my dear master; for we might not be so fortunate another time in carrying out your ideas."

He then related the mistakes that had been made, and which he had not discovered until his tour of inspection. And Santa Claus at once sent him with rubber boots for Charlie Smith, and a doll for Mamie Brown; so that even those two disappointed ones became happy.

As for the wicked Daemons of the Caves, they were filled with anger and chagrin when they found that their clever capture of Santa Claus had come to naught. Indeed, no one on that Christmas Day appeared to be at all selfish, or envious, or hateful. And, realizing that while the children's saint had so many powerful friends it was folly to oppose him, the Daemons never again attempted to interfere with his journeys on Christmas Eve.

Cold War Relics

This about sums it up...


(https://cmgajcluckovich.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/121914-toon-luckovich-ed.jpg)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Message From President Obama On The U.S. And Cuba Relations



Yesterday, after more than 50 years, we began to change America's relationship with the people of Cuba.

We are recognizing the struggle and sacrifice of the Cuban people, both in the U.S. and in Cuba, and ending an outdated approach that has failed to advance U.S. interests for decades. In doing so, we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.

I was born in 1961, just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just as the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with that country.

Our complicated relationship with this nation played out over the course of my lifetime -- against the backdrop of the Cold War, with our steadfast opposition to communism in the foreground. Year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between us.

That previous approach failed to promote change, and it's failed to empower or engage the Cuban people. It's time to cut loose the shackles of the past and reach for a new and better future with this country.

I want you to know exactly what our new approach will mean.

First, I have instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. Going forward, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will once again visit Cuba.

Second, I have also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism -- a review guided by the facts and the law. At a time when we are focused on threats from ISIL and al Qaeda, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces terrorism should not face such a sanction.

Third, we'll take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to -- and from -- Cuba. These steps will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. They will make it easier for Americans to conduct authorized trade with Cuba, including exports of food, medicine, and medical products to Cuba. And they will facilitate increased telecommunications connections between our two countries: American businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

Learn more about the steps we're taking to change our policy.

These changes don't constitute a reward or a concession to Cuba. We are making them because it will spur change among the people of Cuba, and that is our main objective.

Change is hard -- especially so when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.

Our country is cutting that burden loose to reach for a better future.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Pallone Bill to Combat Stillbirth, SUID and SUDC Signed Into Law



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), the Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, praised the signing of his legislation to combat stillbirth, sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) and sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC) into law by President Obama.

“I am pleased that President Obama has signed my bill into law, which will finally help us to better understand the causes of stillbirth, SUID and SUDC,” said Pallone. “There is no greater pain that a parent can endure than losing a child, and it is my hope that this legislation will give families who have lost a child some peace of mind and help prevent other parents from having to experience such a tragic loss. I want to express my sincerest thanks to Laura Crandall of New Jersey, whose tireless efforts over the years made this possible. I also want to remember the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, who was the original Senate sponsor of this bill and powerful voice for the tens of thousands of families affected by stillbirth, SUID and SUDC every year.”

The “Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act,” H.R. 669, will enhance awareness and provide for consistent data collection related to stillbirth, SUID and SUDC, which affects nearly 30,000 families each year. The data will then be used to inform medical professionals and families of the deceased as to why these unexpected deaths occur and what can be done to prevent them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

REMINDER: FILE TAX APPEALS BY JANUARY 15

by Linda Baum

The deadline to file a property tax appeal is January 15th. Tax assessment cards for the 2015 tax year were mailed out to Middletown residents in mid-November and reflect the re-assessment of all properties in the township, according to the tax assessor’s office. This round of assessments also marks the start of a plan to re-inspect 20% of properties each year on a rolling basis.

News around town is that many residents are seeing double digit increases in their assessments. An employee in the township tax assessor’s office stated that the assessments were based on sales data and that the valuations were done in-house rather than by an outside firm.

The earlier mailing of assessment cards and moved-up deadline for appeals went into effect throughout Monmouth County in the fall of last year. Previously, assessment cards were mailed in January or February and the appeal deadline was in April. A reason for the moved-up schedule is so that the assessment base is more final (more appeals are settled) by the time the township sets the tax rate.

For additional information, contact the Middletown Tax Assessor’s office at 732-615-2089.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Traffic Alerts: Leonardville, Rt 520, Sunnyside

From Middletown Alerts:

The following information is provided by the Middletown Traffic Bureau. All information is subject to immediate change. Call 732-615-2287

Emergency Water Main Repairs on Leonardville Rd
Emergency water main repairs are being made on Leonardville Road near the Normandy Road overpass. Traffic is being detoured around the work. Repairs are expect to last through the evening.

The area south of Leonardville Road in the area of the Garret Hill development is currently without water. For information regarding water service call New Jersey American Water at 1-800-NJ AM WTR (1-800-652-6987)


County Route 520 Eastbound Closed Overnight Through December 19
County Route 520 is open to all traffic in both directions during the day.

Rt 520 Eastbound will be closed overnights only, 9pm to 5am, through Friday morning, December 19th. All expect local traffic will be diverted down Swimming River Road. Please plan alternate routes. This is a Middletown Sewer Authority project related to the installation of new sewer pipes.


Sunnyside Road Closed December 17, 8am to 12pm
Sunnyside Road will closed to through traffic while NJ Natural Gas and JF Keily Construction make improvements in the area on Wednesday, December 17, from 8am to noon. Detours in place. Please plan alternate routes.

Happy Hanukkah


Wishing all of those who celebrate the festival of lights a very happy Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

President Obama's Weekly Address 12/13/14: Giving Thanks for Our Troops

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President thanked the men and women in uniform who serve and sacrifice to protect the freedom, prosperity, and security that we all enjoy as Americans. On Monday the President will visit troops at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and voice his appreciation in person for their incredible service. These troops, as well as the many who are still overseas, have met every mission they have been tasked with, from bringing a responsible end to our war in Afghanistan, to working to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, to saving lives by fighting to contain the spread of Ebola. During this holiday season, a time of blessings and gratitude, the President reminded everyone to find a way to thank and serve the members of the military who serve us every day.

Middletown Notice: Accelerated Tax Sale Dec. 30th

From Middletown Township public information:

ACCELERATED TAX SALE OF REAL ESTATE FOR UNPAID TAXES AND SEWER CHARGES TOWNSHIP OF MIDDLETOWN IN THE COUNTY OF MONMOUTH

I, Judith Vassallo, Collector of taxes in and for the Township of Middletown, County of Monmouth and State of New Jersey, hereby give notice that according to the statutes requiring me to make public the unpaid taxes and sewer charges. I will on Tuesday, December 30, 2014 at 9:00 AM in the Courtroom of the Municipal Building, Middletown, New Jersey, sell the lands and real estate hereinafter described to make the amounts chargeable against such lands, together with interest on said amounts and the cost of sale at Public Vendue.

The sale shall be made in fee to such persons as will purchase the same, subject to redemption at the lowest rate of interest, but in no case in excess of 18 percent per annum; providing any person at the sale shall offer to purchase the property subject to redemption offer a premium over and above the amount due the municipality, and in such case the property will be struck off and sold to the bidder who offers to pay the said taxes, assessments or charges, plus the highest amount of premium. The sale is made under the provisions of the Revised Statutes of New Jersey Title 54. The said lands to be sold and name of the persons against whom said taxes and sewers were assessed and the amount hereinafter set forth include taxes and sewer charges for the year hereinafter set forth against each property, with interest calculated to the date of sale. These charges are for unpaid taxes and sewer for the year 2014.

Industrial Properties may be subject to the Spill Compensation Act (N.J.S.A. 58:10A-1 et seq.), and the Industrial Site Recovery Act (N.J.S.A. 13:1K-6 et seq.). In addition, the municipality is precluded from issuing a tax sale certificate to any perspective purchaser who is or may be in any way connected to the prior owner or operator of the site.

In the event that the owner of the property is in the military service, on active duty, the Tax Collector should be notified immediately. Only Cash, Certified Check or Bank Cashier Check will be accepted for payment. Prospective bidders must register with the Tax Collector prior to 9:00 AM on the day of the sale. No unregistered bidders will be allowed to participate in the sale.


For a list of properties click ..... HERE

RREM Info Session Dec 17, 4-7pm, Middletown Library, 55 New Monmouth Road

From Middletown Alerts:

An information session will be held Wednesday, December 17th at the Middletown Public Library to provide personal assistance for applicants participating in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program The information session will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Middletown Public Library, Community Room, 55 New Monmouth Road, to provide individualized, hands-on help to enable eligible RREM participants to navigate the program’s process.

The RREM information session is open to eligible RREM participants. A major focus of the housing assistance seminars is to encourage RREM Program participants who have not signed and returned their Right of Entry forms to complete and submit them to the DCA. For more information on the RREM Information Session, RREM applicants may contact the DCA’s Sandy Constituent Services Office by calling 609-292-3750 or by emailing sandy.recovery@dca.nj.gov

Home Rehab Program Info Session Dec 16

From Middletown Alerts:

If you are a Middletown homeowner, you may be eligible for a home rehabilitation grant/loan of up to $25,000 from the Township’s Home Rehabilitation Program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This program is exclusively for low- and moderate-income households to repair or replace older systems in the home such as plumbing, heating, roof, or electric. Handicap accessibility improvements are also eligible.

The Community Development Department staff will be holding a meeting for interested homeowners to find out more about the program on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, at the Middletown Library-Main Branch, located at 55 New Monmouth Road, at 3:00 PM. Applications will be available at the meeting. FY2014 Household income limits are as follows: 1 person $44,750; 2 people $51,150, 3 people $57,550, 4 people $63,900, 5 people $69,050, 6 people $74,150, 7 people $79,250, and 8 people $84,350

If your home was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, these funds may not be used in combination with other funds received for the cost of repairs. Home Rehab grants/loans MAY become available to Sandy damaged households under certain, very limited circumstances. For more information about the Middletown Township Home Rehab Program, please call (732) 615-2281 or attend the meeting.