Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Thursday, December 31, 2015

on the other hand

...and we are capable of horrifying violence. And it's far worse when the violence is being doled out by those who are supposed to "protect and serve" us. America, we have a problem.

Horrifying Video Shows Cops Sic K-9 on Infant Daughter of a Man they Mistook for a Suspect
Henderson, NV — On January 30, 2015, a health food store in Henderson called the police after a disgruntled customer, attempting to return some protein powder, allegedly threatened to rob them. The store described the suspect to police as a black male wearing a black and tan t-shirt who left in an SUV.
As police responded to the call, they quickly stopped the first person they saw, who happened to be Arturo Arenas-Alvarez. Arenas-Alvarez had just pulled up in the shopping center to do some shopping when police drew their weapons and demanded he put his hands in the air and step toward them.
Arenas-Alvarez did not appear to understand why multiple armed men were pointing their guns at him, so one officer asked him in Spanish to approach the vehicle.
Before Arenas-Alvarez makes it all the way to the vehicle, officers realized they had the wrong guy.

“That’s not him, dude. That’s not a black man in a black shirt,” one officer said to another.

However, they continued the detainment.
Officers begin to assure Arenas-Alvarez that he will be fine. “They thought that you were involved in a robbery. You don’t look like the person, so it’s OK now, OK?” one officer said. However, nothing could have been further from the truth.
As officers were telling Arenas-Alvarez that he’ll be okay, Sgt. James Mitchell can be heard on the radio telling the officers, “Stand by a couple of minutes. K9-1 is about two minutes out.”
During the display of gross incompetence of mistaking Arenas-Alvarez for a black man in a black shirt, Arenas-Alvarez’s 17-month-old daughter, Ayleen was strapped into her car seat in the SUV.
Before Arenas-Alvarez could communicate to the officers that his infant daughter was in the car, the “two minutes” had passed and Sgt. Mitchell arrived with his Belgian Malinois. Almost as soon as he exited the vehicle, Mithcell released the K-9 into the SUV of an entirely innocent man and his daughter.

“My baby,” Arturo Arenas-Alvarez can be heard pleading with officers in broken English. “I’ve got my baby.”

An officer then yelled out, “There’s an infant in that car! There’s an infant in that car!”
But it was too late. By the time the cops realized that their immediate escalation to violence was unnecessary – the damage had been done.
there is more, unfortunately, here

...Good luck in the new year everyone. We're going to need it. 2015 really sucked in many ways, and at this point, we can only hope that 2016 will be better. Hope suffused with work.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Morford on Trump

One of my favorite columnists, Mark Morford, directed his attention to Donald Trump this week, and America rejoiced. 

There really is no one else like Donald Trump, thank goodness. His narcissism is legendary and on display with every speech. The saddest thing is that so many Republicans support him, thinking that they too, someday, will be rich like him. And wouldn't you know, most of them also believe in God? Illusions, delusions, they are pretty much the same.

New poll! Hillary infuriates, but Trump nauseates
by Mark Morford

Do you remember? That time when well over 50 percent of American population was just deeply, excruciatingly embarrassed, to a palpable and abiding degree, but the eight-year national nightmare that was George W. Bush?

It’s worth recalling. It was everywhere, that feeling, that bleak undercurrent of shame over the vicious decay of the country. There was even a viral phenomenon, the first of its kind, when Bush “won” a second term in 2004 and countless thousands of Americans posted their misery in the form of a mournful selfie (before selfies existed, per se) uploaded to the instantly famous ‘‘ website, each person holding a heartfelt – and heartbreaking – hand-written sign, apologizing to the world for what America hath wrought.
“Sorry about Bush,” read thousands of notes, held up for the camera, distressingly. “Most of us didn’t elect him.”
“It’s OK,” came the surprisingly kind responses from all over the world. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
(Note: When Obama won his first term, the site was resurrected and updated to “Hello Everybody,” giving newly proud Americans a chance to re-introduce themselves, post-nightmare, to the world).
So it’s sort of cute – if completely incorrect – to see a new poll, from Quinnipiac University, that suggests upwards of 50 percent of the county would be “embarrassed” by a Trump presidency, while “only” 35 percent would feel the same about Hillary.
This is, of course, complete nonsense.
Let’s get it straight: If you’re a hardcore Republican of the calcified old-white-male variety, you do not merely dislike Hillary. It is incorrect to say you’d be embarrassed by her leadership.
You, quite freely, despise her. Loathe and revile with a white-hot fervor stoked by two decades of crass Fox News trolling and the maddening, seemingly endless triumph of the Clinton “brand” – a success that, no matter how hard you try, only seems to gain power over time.
History, alas, has not helped your cause. Bill Clinton’s tenure is viewed by historians, economists and voters alike as one of the finest on record, a time of astounding peace and prosperity. And the man himself, despite a laughable sex scandal the GOP tried, desperately, to escalate into life-threatening but which merely made the entire world yawn, Bill himself is viewed as one of the most virtuosic and well-loved presidents in modern times.
Proof? Even now, every respectable organization in the world, no matter their political orientation, wants to be affiliated with The Clinton Foundation. It’s just that effective, valuable, a truly astonishing force for good in the world. Meanwhile, Bush paints pictures of dogs.
You hate all of this. You despise, furthermore, the fact that your boy Bush was Clinton’s polar opposite: The single-most debilitating, humiliating president on modern record, catastrophic not merely to the economy, but to America’s moral standing across the globe. Irrefutable.
It’s all made triply horrible by the fact that Obama, that awful commie socialist, has managed to do what everyone deemed impossible: He restored it all, and more – America’s prosperity, standing, integrity and deep intelligence, all against the most hateful, downright racist Republican congress imaginable.
No wonder you’re incensed.
So you can see why it’s inaccurate to say Republicans would be embarrassed by a Hillary presidency. “Mortified” or “terrified”? Absolutely. “Vengeful” or “viciously determined to stamp out the (inexorable) wave of social upheaval that’s crushing your dying worldview”? Almost certainly.
But even most Republicans can’t deny Clinton’s remarkable intelligence and powerful political savvy. She is a consummate pro. She will make an outstanding, if deeply compromised, president – just not in any of the ways the white male Republican guard would prefer.
And then there’s Trump.
This puerile, puddle-jumping land shark is, of course, light years from Bush in potential embarrassment. Whereas Dubya disgraced us all by way of sheer bumbling incompetence and a slavering deference to Dark Lord Cheney, he wasn’t quite a loudmouthed, egomaniac racist.
Let’s be clear: Bush was an unmitigated disaster, but he wasn’t a sneering, jeering, low-level chauvinist troll. He would never dare suggest a rival female candidate got “schlonged” in the last election, or make reference to her “gross” bathroom behavior, not to mention referring, in sniggering schoolboy spittle, to a female debate host’s angry menstrual cycle.
Trump is, of course, a far nastier, uglier creation, a refection of the worst of uneducated, conservative human nature. He is the meanest 7-year-old boy on the playground, crude and violent and uncontrollable.
All of which is to say: You gotta change your polling methodology, Quinnipiac (and everyone else). You are being far too simplistic. You’re not asking the right questions.
Let’s get it straight: Half of America would not be embarrassed by a Trump presidency. We’d be far too busy marching in the streets, demanding an instant recall, striding up to the gates of Trump Plaza and hauling the racist buffoon’s pallid flesh to the cliffs of common decency, and hurling him into the hellfires of Nevermore.
America is, let us all devoutly hope, done being embarrassed. Trump is merely daring us all to prove it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

faster! faster!

I took an internet speed test today and wow! I clocked at 88Mb/s download speed and almost 6MB upload. That's pretty damn fast. That could be the fastest I have tested so far. Every now and then Comcast just seems to crank it up another notch, and they haven't increased their internet rates either.

According to OOKLA, that speed is "faster than 78% of US"? Only 78%? Geez, how fast is everybody else's internet?!

I guess 88Mb/s download speed ain't NOTHIN' compared to what Comcast is cooking up. 

Comcast tests super-fast gigabit cable Internet access

Cable Internet just got a lot faster. Comcast says it has moved gigabit Internet speeds from the laboratory to the real world, rolling out 3.1 gigabit modem for a single home in Philadelphia.
"We took the next important step forward in delivering gigabit speed broadband over our hybrid fiber coaxial network," the company's executive vice president and chief technology officer Tony Werner wrote in a blog post. "The test used the standard cable connections that we have in homes across the country. All we needed was a new modem, a software upgrade to the device that serves that neighborhood, and a few good engineers."
Comcast claims this is the first home equipped with DOCSIS 3.1 (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) on a customer-facing network, working through the company's existing networks. No new connections or wiring in the home needed to be installed. "The beauty of DOCSIS 3.1 is that it is backwards compatible, so no digging up streets or backyards," Werner said.
Gigabit Internet speeds are not entirely new. Comcast's announcement moves the company into competition with the likes of Google Fiber, which offers super-fast Internet speeds in certain areas but requires installing entirely new cable connections.
Werner added that Comcast will continue to test the new cable connections "over the coming months," and that before the end of 2016, consumers can expect "a new gigabit speed choice that works over the existing connections" in homes in "several parts of the country" including Pennsylvania, Northern California and the Atlanta area.
Original. Woah, using cables already in the home? How much is THAT going to cost?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

I Don't Know

Sometimes you just have to say, "I don't know." And I like the way Brian Culbertson says it.

I Don't Know
by Brian Culbertson

If nothing lasts forever
Why be so afraid?
Ask him where he's going
And sometimes he may just say
I don't know

Why be so afraid?
Somewhere I don't know

There are oceans waiting to greet him
There are answers deep in the sky
There are secrets waiting to meet him
What else is there to do but try?

What else is there to do but go?

Unafraid to say I don't know

Why be so afraid?

Waiting, there are answers
What else is there to do?
The traveler's code

Unafraid to say I don't know

Saturday, December 26, 2015

grow your own

Want a way to fight climate change on your own, and have some great food at the same time? Grow your own food while using organic techniques.

There's A Way to Save Our Future. So Why Aren't More People Talking About It?

Transitioning to organic regenerative agriculture practices 'offers the best, and perhaps our only, hope for averting a global warming disaster.'

A critical tool in the fight against global warming is right below our feet.

So where is this "shovel-ready solution" amid all the talk of climate fixes in the wake of the COP21 summit in Paris?

An Associated Press article published Thursday, for example, professes to outline "methods to achieve negative emissions," wherein humans remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than they put in it. The AP quotes scientists who say "it's clear" that the goals laid out in Paris "cannot be reached without negative emissions in the future, because the atmosphere is filling up with greenhouse gases so fast that it may already be too late to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C."

Among the solutions mentioned in the piece: "fertilizing the oceans with iron to make them absorb more carbon," "planting more forests," and "carbon capture technologies."

But there was no mention of agroecology, or regenerative agriculture—practices that work with nature, avoiding the damaging impacts of industrial agriculture, such as no-till farming, composting, planned grazing, and cover crops.

As Diana Donlon, food and climate director at the Center for Food Safety, said earlier this month to mark World Soil Day: "Through regenerative farming practices, we have the ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is wreaking havoc, and store it in the soil, where it is greatly lacking and where it has multiple benefits for food, water and climate security."

For Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association, omitting these practices from mainstream reporting, and not including them in the conversation about climate change, is a missed opportunity. 

"No talk of global warming solutions is complete without addressing agriculture—both its contribution to global warming and its potential for solving the crisis," she told Common Dreams on Thursday.

She noted that the world’s soils have lost 50–70 percent of their carbon stocks and fertility—a crisis largely attributed to modern chemical-intensive, factory-farm, GMO-based industrial agriculture. And she cited a recent report from GRAIN, which shows that when deforestation, transportation, synthetic fertilizer production, and wetlands destruction are factored in, Big Ag contributes more than 50 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

"We must restore the soil's potential to store carbon," Paul declared. "We must also, in addition to reducing emissions, draw down billions of tons of CO2 already in the atmosphere."

"Fortunately," she continued, "we have the tools to do this. Organic regenerative agriculture and land use is the other half of the climate solution."

Though some have said the COP21 talks were "a disaster for agroecology," Paul points to the French 4 per 1000 Initiative, through which governments can now incorporate carbon sequestration through organic agriculture into their climate plans. She urged the U.S. to follow France's lead.

"Instead of subsidizing a food and farming system that contributes to global warming while degenerating soils and local economies," she said, "we should start rewarding farmers and ranchers for restoring the soil's organic matter and drawing down carbon."

Yet a recent study looking at research-dollar allocation within the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed a dearth of funding for agroecological research and "an urgent need for additional public funding for systems-based agroecology and sustainable agriculture research."

Indeed, the future of the planet depends on it, Paul said. "Transitioning from industrial ag, a huge contributor to global warming, to organic regenerative offers the best, and perhaps our only, hope for averting a global warming disaster."


Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas, World

SpaceX has now successfully launched a rocket, and then brought the same rocket back down to land safely on a launching pad.  This is big. Huge. It's like a gift to the entire world, opening up another new chapter in spaceflight.

Thank you, Elon Musk, for being another atheist genius and pushing the envelope.


Why SpaceX Rocket Landing Is a Giant Leap for Space Travel

Elon Musk and his SpaceX team have edged closer to making space travel more affordable after successfully launching and returning a rocket to Earth.

Musk has said the ability to reuse a rocket -- which dramatically reduces launch cost -- is something that will help revolutionize commercial space travel.
"I think this is a critical step along the way towards being able to establish a city on Mars," Musk said on a call with reporters Monday night after the Falcon 9 successfully landed upright on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The company has previously attempted the feat three times, coming close to landing on a bull's-eye on a floating barge. The landing Monday night was the first time SpaceX tried to return the Falcon 9 to a target on land. It was also the first time a rocket successfully launched a payload into space and returned to Earth intact.
Musk has previously said he believes reusing rockets -- which cost as much as a commercial airplane -- could reduce the cost of access to space by a factor of one hundred.
While many other rockets burn up on re-entry, SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 to be able to withstand the heat and land vertically so the rocket can be used again on a future launch.
Aside from the return on land, this launch was also different since it used an upgraded Falcon 9 that stands slightly taller than predecessors at 229.6 feet and has more thrust.
The landing is a huge victory for Musk and his team, who were sidelined after the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket in June as it carried the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.
Last month, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin successfully launched a rocket to a test altitude of 329,839 feet and then landed it near the launch pad in Texas.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Sermon

Back in 1891, Robert G. Ingersoll, the so-called "Great Agnostic", published "A Christmas Sermon" in the Evening Telegram (not sure where that was).  It caused quite a stir. 

Ingersoll, a powerful orator, toured the country for several years, commanding thousands of dollars in speaking fees all without the aid of any amplification, and he packed houses from coast to coast.  Oh, to have a high-profile, well-spoken agnostic/atheist these days. Back then, writers predicted the end of Christianity, as freethought was sweeping the country.

Alas, another religious revival was in the works, and America slumped back in the darkness and lethargy of magical thinking. We are still struggling to escape those mental bonds even today.

Here is Ingersoll's short "A Christmas Sermon" and if you follow the link here, you can read some of the back-and-forth that was created from the publishing of that text. Ingersoll was rarely at a loss for words, and his use of language was commanding and exceptional. I only wish I had such a command of the English language.


This is the famous Christmas Sermon written by Colonel Ingersoll and printed in the Evening Telegram, on December 19, 1891.

In answer to this "Christmas Sermon" the Rev. Dr. J.M. Buckley, editor of the Christian Advocate, the recognized organ of the Methodist Church, wrote an article, calling upon the public to boycott the Evening Telegram for publishing such a "sermon."

This attack was headed "Lies That Are Mountainous." The Telegram promptly accepted the issue raised by Dr. Buckley and dared him to do his utmost. On the very same day it published an answer from Colonel Ingersoll that echoed throughout America.



The good part of Christmas is not always Christian -- it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human, natural.

Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition hereafter

It taught some good things -- the beauty of love and kindness in man. But as a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame, and made God the keeper of an eternal penitentiary, destined to be the home of nearly all the sons of men. Not satisfied with that, it has deprived God of the pardoning power.

And yet it may have done some good by borrowing from the Pagan world the old festival called Christmas.

Long before Christ was born the Sun-God triumphed over the powers of Darkness. About the time that we call Christmas the days begin perceptibly to lengthen. Our barbarian ancestors were worshipers of the sun, and they celebrated his victory over the hosts of night. Such a festival was natural and beautiful. The most natural of all religions is the worship of the sun. Christianity adopted this festival. It borrowed from the Pagans the best it has.

I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy. We in America have too much work and not enough play. We are too much like the English.

I think it was Heinrich Heine who said that he thought a blaspheming Frenchman was a more pleasing object to God than a praying Englishman. We take our joys too sadly. I am in favor of all the good free days -- the more the better.

Christmas is a good day to forgive and forget -- a good day to throw away prejudices and hatreds -- a good day to fill your heart and your house, and the hearts and houses of others, with sunshine.

Robert G. Ingersoll.


Go here for the original and a taste of Ingersoll's thinking, and go here for the complete works.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Fighting God

A couple of months ago I heard that David Silverman, the President of American Atheists, had written his first book and it would be out in early December.  It was going to be called, "Fighting God."

Well, like I have never done before, I pre-ordered the book on Amazon, and it was delivered last week.

It is what you might expect.  A direct, frontal assault on religion, and so far, it is fantastic. It's a direct call for atheists to "come out of the closet" and fight for their (our) rights, and David's combative style takes no prisoners and pulls no punches. I love it. We've been coddling the theists for too long.

It's likely that I will become even more outspoken about atheism in the remaining years of my life. The "nones" (those who profess no religious affiliation) in polling is now up to 23% (according to Pew Research), and it could be time to put the pedal to the metal.

I figure that freeing the world of shackles of religion is actually a very noble cause, and I just might dedicate myself to it.  We do what we can.

You could order the book here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Liar of the Year

No surprise: it's Donald Trump. 

It's rather sad that the Republican Party goes for the biggest and boldest liar they can find. Facts don't matter.  How does the candidate make them FEEL?  After all, they are fighting the big, bad Democrats, so anything goes.

2015 Lie of the Year: the campaign misstatements of Donald Trump

It’s the trope on Trump: He’s authentic, a straight-talker, less scripted than traditional politicians. That’s because Donald Trump doesn’t let facts slow him down. Bending the truth or being unhampered by accuracy is a strategy he has followed for years.
"People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts," Trump wrote in his 1987 best-seller The Art of the Deal. "People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion."
That philosophy guided Trump in luxury real estate and reality television. This year he brought it to the world of presidential politics.
Trump has "perfected the outrageous untruth as a campaign tool," said Michael LaBossiere, a philosophy professor at Florida A&M University who studies theories of knowledge. "He makes a clearly false or even absurdly false claim, which draws the attention of the media. He then rides that wave until it comes time to call up another one."
PolitiFact has been documenting Trump’s statements on our Truth-O-Meter, where we’ve rated 76 percent of them Mostly FalseFalse or Pants on Fire, out of 77 statements checked. No other politician has as many statements rated so far down on the dial.
In considering our annual Lie of the Year, we found our only real contenders were Trump’s -- his various statements also led our Readers’ Poll. But it was hard to single one out from the others. So we have rolled them into one big trophy.
To the candidate who says he’s all about winning, PolitiFact designates the many campaign misstatements of Donald Trump as our 2015 Lie of the Year.
When it comes to inaccurate statements, the Donald was on fire:
  • • "I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down," he said at a Nov. 21 rally in Birmingham, Ala. "And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering." Pants on Fire. There is no video of thousands of people in Jersey City cheering. Weeks later, Trump continues to stand by his claim but has not been able to point to evidence to back it up. Public safety officials on the ground in New Jersey say it never happened.
  • • "The Mexican government ... they send the bad ones over." Pants on Fire. There’s no evidence to show the Mexican government encourages criminals to cross the border. Most illegal immigration comes from people seeking work. Recent estimates show illegal immigration from Mexico dropped off dramatically during the recession and has remained low.
  • • "Whites killed by whites — 16%. Whites killed by blacks — 81%," said an image he shared on Twitter. Pants on Fire. Most people are killed by someone they know, and someone of the same race. The correct number for whites killed by whites was 82 percent in 2014, while the number of whites killed by blacks was 15 percent.
When Bill O’Reilly of Fox News challenged Trump’s tweet of inaccurate murder rates, Trump suggested being accurate wasn’t so important: "Hey, Bill, Bill, am I gonna check every statistic? I get millions and millions of people ... @RealDonaldTrump, by the way."
Trump hasn’t apologized or backtracked on his statements. Instead, when challenged, he offers flimsy explanations and suggests he shouldn’t be held accountable -- or simply insists he’s right.
"People maybe call me out, but they turn out to be wrong, also," he said in an interview Sunday with George Stephanopoulos. "And many of the things I've said -- and I think just about all of them -- they may have been controversial at one point, George, but they're not controversial in the end, because people start to say, you know, Trump's actually right."
There is more to the story here.  My stomach can't take it. agrees with the Politifact assessment. Go here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

winter solstice

Monday, 21 December is the Winter Solstice. It is also the first day of winter. 

5 Ways Christmas and Hanukkah Co-Opted Paganism

You won’t find Christmas trees or Santa Claus in the New Testament — they and other Christmas customs evolved over time, sometimes passively influenced by pagan traditions, and sometimes deliberately co-opting and replacing those traditions. Many other Christmas traditions may come from rituals surrounding the winter solstice, which marks the shortest day and longest night of the year.Enough Christmas traditions arise from the solstice and other pagan sources that some Christian sects have banned the holiday over the years. Some examples of the interplay between solstice and Christmas — and, even earlier, Hannukah:
1. Many believe that Christmas is celebrated on December 25th to muddy the focus of the solstice’s celebration of the sun god, which fell on the same date on the Julian calendar. (In modern times the solstice takes place within a few days of Christmas.) Pagans and Christians would observe similar traditions, making it easy to transition from worshiping pagan forces to venerating Jesus and the Christian God.
2. The cold, dark and death that prevail during the solstice season convinced some people that a screen between our world and one of evil spirits was thinner or more porous at this time of year. Many observances were meant to protect against the bad spirits. “The Holiday Bells, or jingle bells were-are used to drive evil spirits away.” The same goes for mistletoe, which guarded against evil when hung in a doorway.

3. There are competing versions of the history of Christmas trees. One is that they originated in Germany in the 1500s. Another is that they began with paganism. ”Many Pagan cultures” would cut evergreen boughs or other plants (like mistletoe) that were still green and use them to decorate their homes or temples around solstice. At a time of year when the plants were dying and sunshine was in short supply, green vegetation was a reminder that both would return.
4. The Yule log may be the current manifestation of the “Juul” log that pagans burned on the solstice to honor the sun, which was about to start hanging around longer each day. “Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun.” Christians changed the symbolism: ”the fire came to represent the light of the Savior instead of the light of the Sun.”
5. Like the Christians absorbed solstice by setting Christmas at the same time, much earlier in history Jews may have used Hanukkah the same way. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrates the ancient Jews’ rededication of their Temple after the Syrian Greeks occupied and defiled it. The Jews may have been “capturing a pagan solstice festival that had won wide support among partially [paganized] Jews, in order to make it a day of God’s victory over paganism. Even the lighting of candles for Hanukkah fits the context of the surrounding torchlight honors for the sun.”
Religions and holidays evolve over time, but it is interesting how certain elements of an observance — like fire and green vegetation in the winter — can stay the same for thousands of years.