and conquest is poor confirmation of superiority. Outside the palaces and villas of the elite, the mob celebrated its superiority by making sport of the afflicted and laughing at deformity and misfortune.  The disabled and crippled were lusus naturae, “sports of nature”.  That mob, too, it seems, preferred its heroes whole and uncaptured, and the loss of a limb in battle, even for a victorious general, was cause for derision not decoration.  Better to die in battle, or by one’s own hand in a warm bath.  

   Into that world of casual cruelty a child was born who in his short life would preach an improbable message of peace, hope, and brotherhood, compassion for the poor and afflicted, inclusion of the outcast, reconciliation  and  forgiveness.   It  is  a  wonder that anyone in that world would listen to a message so at odds with the reality of the time or take it seriously.  But, improbably, people did listen, took it in, and spread it:  first 12, then hundreds, then thousands, to the heart of the empire eventually, and from there to hundreds of millions across the rest of the globe. 

   We have come (at least in America and the West, we would like to think) a long way in the intervening two thousand years.  We are an advanced civilization, with iPhones, airplanes, and Twitter accounts.   Our  assassinations are merely character assassinations, mostly.  But  

in reality, it remains a coarse and brutal world, as events of 2016 at home and abroad painfully confirm.  

  In the depressing physics of human events, every action seems to trigger an opposing reaction.  Every Brussels, Nice, Orlando and Berlin sets in motion reactions that in turn trigger re-reactions, until cause and effect come to chaos.  Aleppo is everywhere and nowhere.  Demagoguery grows.  At this celebration of the first coming, Yeats’ Second Coming seems at hand, when the center cannot hold and “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”  

   In Twitterdom, the Sermon on the Mount would fit into a short series of tweets, but the tweets of 2016 that echo at year’s end are of a different tenor.  Messages of tolerance and compassion, appeals to our better natures, grow rarer and begin to seem as naïve and out of place as they must have seemed to the practical people of two thousand years ago. 

   But that rarity itself may point to one of the enduring meanings of the Christmas story in our time:  as a reminder that, even in a coarse time and a brutal world, voices with a different message can be heard, and multiply.  It is a reminder, too, that we have choices in what voices we follow and what messages we live by.  

Rod Howard, Publisher

December 25, 2016

   This day celebrates an otherwise obscure birth in a remote corner of a wealthy and powerful empire a little over 2000 years ago.  Like much of the world at that time, it was an empire divided into victors and victims, where the few lived in palaces and the unlucky were left to give birth in barns.  For most, life was the lot described by Hobbes:  “No arts; no letters; . . . and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” 

   The empire was a republic in name but an autocracy in fact, where succession and assassination were synonyms.  Justice was administered with dispatch, and those who resisted the empire or broke its laws were executed with efficient cruelty, the excruciating crux of which – reflected in the word ex-cruc-iating – was the cross of cruc-ifixion.  It was a period of relative peace in the Mediterranean world, but that peace, the Pax Romana, was, at least in parts of the empire, a peace of sullen submission and subjugation, punctuated periodically by failed rebellions, put down with brutal efficiency. 

   Culturally, it was an empire where the elite celebrated themselves, and their poets and philosophers, their architects and civil engineers, as the pinnacle of civilization.  Justly so, in part.  

    But their superiority had a coarse sensibility,