The Chosen Frozen

Screenshot of my blog, The Chosen Frozen

As you may or may not know, I am a blogger for The Jerusalem Post, which is the major daily English-language newspaper in Israel. My blog, The Chosen Frozen, appears on their website, JPost.com. I blog about Judaism, life as a convert, politics, diaspora issues and events, and much more. Check it out at http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Ryan-Fagan

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Are You Being Persecuted This Christmas? Here’s A Helpful Chart

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It’s that time again.

Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reillylaunched his annual offensive against the alleged “War On Christmas.”

For some conservative Christians like O’Reilly, changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” is a sign that it is somehow becoming harder for Christians to practice their faith openly in America.

In response, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans boiled down the controversy into a simple flow chart.

Are You Being Persecuted This Christmas? Here’s A Helpful Chart

Carol Kuruvilla  The Huffington Post 12/08/14 02:07 PM ET

It’s that time again.

Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reillylaunched his annual offensive against the alleged “War On Christmas.”

For some conservative Christians like O’Reilly, changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” is a sign that it is somehow becoming harder for Christians to practice their faith openly in America.

In response, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans boiled down the controversy into a simple flow chart.

There is real religious persecution happening in the world every day —houses of worship are being destroyedpeople face job discrimination at work, and some are even killed because of their religion.

Evans claims being wished “happy holidays” by a stranger doesn’t amount to persecution because there is no way that God can be kept out of Christmas.

The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up—not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble. From Advent to Easter, the story of Jesus should teach us that God doesn’t need a mention in our pledge or on our money or over the loudspeaker at the mall to be present, and when we fight like spoiled children to “keep” God in those things, we are fighting for idols. We’re chasing wind.

According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans said they wanted stores to greet customers with “Merry Christmas,” while 46 percent said it doesn’t matter. About 12 percent preferred “Happy Holidays.”

Huffington Post’s Executive Editor Rev. Paul Raushenbush suggested that the rise of “Happy Holidays” reflects a willingness to embrace America’s increasing diversity.

For a long, long time Christianity was dominant in the United States and represented the civic religion of the country. But America is about the people who are here now, and that is a much more diverse group. And that’s good! It is time to stop insisting that everything revolves around us. Instead, let’s join the wider circle of the many traditions that make up our country. Besides, any Christian knows that Christmas is not about displays in shopping malls, or capitols, or schools, it is about a spiritual event that we honor most in our families and our homes.

The ‘War on Christmas’ is a Big Fat Lie

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Every year without fail the “War On Christmas” begins once again, and every year without fail we see the same tired old memes and talking points from the same old sources about how we need to “Put Christ Back In Christmas.” Whether it’s Sarah Palin hawking another lousy book which is released just in time for the Christmas shopping season (complete coincidence, I’m sure) or Bill O’Reilly’s annual kvetching about the “Secular Progressive assaults on the traditions of Christmas” – enough.

It’s not just these two self-promoting snake oil salespeople spreading misinformation for a buck – there’s millions of people out there who are actually convinced that people like myself and others who believe fully in the separation of church and state are coming for their Christmas. It’s also not a surprise that many of the same people think that Obamacare has death panels, that the government is coming to take their guns, or that gay marriage will somehow be a threat to their own heterosexual union. Let’s be absolutely clear – there isn’t a “War On Christmas” and nobody is trying to outlaw the holiday. Nobody is going to come and seize your tree or take little Bobby’s presents from under it like The Grinch. This whole fake outrage is nothing more than a gimmick by opportunistic individuals to drive TV ratings and book sales. Christmas isn’t going anywhere; in fact, the holiday now seems to stretch from before Halloween until the dried out tree hits the curb around New Year’s Eve. However, once upon a time, Christmas was banned – and it wasn’t by “godless atheist secular progressives,” either. Remember the Puritans who came to the New World in search of religious freedom? They completely outlawed Christmas in 1659, and even fined people who celebrated it:

Puritans in the English Parliament eliminated Christmas as a national holiday in 1645, amid widespread anti-Christmas sentiment. Settlers in New England went even further, outlawing Christmas celebrations entirely in 1659. Anyone caught shirking their work duties or feasting was forced to pay a significant penalty of five shillings. Christmas returned to England in 1660, but in New England it remained banned until the 1680s, when the Crown managed to exert greater control over its subjects in Massachusetts. In 1686, the royal governor of the colony, Sir Edmund Andros, sponsored a Christmas Day service at the Boston Town House. Fearing a violent backlash from Puritan settlers, Andros was flanked by redcoats as he prayed and sang Christmas hymns

Yes, the “Christian values” that our nation was supposedly founded on did not include Christmas, and it wasn’t even made a federal holiday until 1870 when it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. So the next time some talking head on Fox News or your Republican uncle who believes every word they say tells you that “liberal secularists” are out to destroy Christmas, feel free to teach them some history. Remind them if it had been left up to the religious right, we may not have celebrated the holiday at all.

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Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas!  Seasons Greetings! 

How to talk to your Tea Party relatives about healthcare during Thanksgiving.

As your family gathers around the table this Thanksgiving, the conversation may get a little heated if your right-wing relatives bring up President Obama’s signature health law. The Affordable Care Act remains both unpopular and misunderstood among the American public — a combination that makes it likely fodder for holiday conflicts.

So, if your Tea Party uncle, or aunt, or cousin, or dad starts making wild assertions about the Affordable Care Act, here are some key points that will help keep your conversation on track:

Obamacare is not causing premiums to skyrocket.

Since the rollout of Obamacare last year, GOP lawmakers have predicted that premiums would continue to escalate for the millions of Americans purchasing health insurance on the marketplaces. However, according to a recent Center for American Progress analysis, the premium rates for individual market in states with federally-run marketplaces will increase by an average of less than 4 percent between 2014 and 2015. Compare that to the the years before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when average health care premiums increased more than 10 percentannually.

Plus, more of the nation’s largest insurerswill participate in the exchanges for the first time this year, which will increase competition and ultimately lower rates for Americans shopping for plans. While rates remain high in some rural regions of the United States — including Tennessee andWest Virginia — those areas have had low competition among insurers historically. And recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said that premiums in those states too will likely decrease under the health care law.

“The dark predictions of widespread, quickly escalating premiums appear not to have materialized for 2015,” that reportedconcluded.

Jonathan Gruber did not expose the “real truth” about the law.

The controversy surrounding Obamacareintensified earlier this month, after videos surfaced of health care economist Jonathan Gruber attributing the law’s success to “the stupidity of the American voter.” Gruber — who’s often credited as an “architect” of the health law, even though some Democratic lawmakers take issue with that assessment — suggested that Obamacare would not have passed if more people realized that its individual mandate is essentially a tax, or that it requires healthy people to subsidize care for sicker people.

But, despite the headlines about “GruberGate,” this controversy hasn’t actually revealed a fundamental truth about the Affordable Care Act. As the legislation moved through Congress, the debate over Obamacare thoroughly addressed the aspects of the policy that Gruber claims lawmakers were hiding. The Congressional Budget Office did score the individual mandate as a mechanism to increase revenue, and President Obama was openabout the fact that young and healthy people are necessary to balance out the cost of providing coverage for older and sicker people.

The website was a disaster last year, but it’s actually working better this time around.

The ongoing controversy over Gruber’s comments has largely obscured the fact that open enrollment is going much more smoothly than it did when Obamacare’s marketplaces first launched last year. During the first enrollment period, catastrophic website glitches prevented people from signing up, and the rocky rollout made a lot of people rightfully skeptical about whether the new marketplaces were ready for business. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the second enrollment period opened to “largely positive reviews,” and people were able to sign up for plans in just minutes. Although some people havereported issues with the site, it’s going much better.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot less coverage of HealthCare.gov’s successful operations that there was about its glitches — probably because a functioning website makes for a pretty boring story.

Obamacare has successfully lowered the uninsured rate.

While nearly half of the respondents in Kaiser Family Foundation’s recent tracking poll said they have an unfavorable opinion about Obamacare, there’s one positive effect of the landmark legislation that’s hard to argue with. Millions of the poor, people of color, women, and those with preexisting conditions were able to attain coverage for the first time when the market places opened last year.

The effects since then have been significant. The number of uninsured people fell by at least 10 million, according to data compiled by Commonwealth Fund. In low-income communities, the uninsurance rate dropped nearly 10 percentage points. There’s no doubt that newly insured people are putting their coverage to use. Another Commonwealth Fund study in July found that 60 percent of enrollees have used their new insurance to seek services.

And Obamacare has the potential to drive the uninsured rate down even further. If every state accepted Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion — a policy that 20 GOP-led states continue to block — the national rate of uninsured people would be two percentage points lower, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

Businesses are not cutting back on workers’ hours or coverage because of Obamacare.

Obamacare is not creating a “part time economy.” The vast majority of employers say the law has had no impact on their workers’ hours. An analysis released by the Urban Institute and the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation last month found that number of part-time jobs have increased since 2011 because of the slow economic recovery, while the availability of benefits to part-time workers has only slightly changed. And according to a survey of employer benefits conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the portion of businesses that offer health benefits to their part-time workers has remained stable over the last 15 years, increasing by three percentage points.

If businesses are saying that the law is forcing them to cut back hours and drop coverage, they’re probably just using Obamacare as a convenient scapegoat. Employers have a long history of shifting health care costs onto their employees and cutting back on coverage to help their bottom lines. This practice continues under the Affordable Care Act. According to a survey conducted earlier this year, one in six employers are still providing skimpy plans to their workers to save money.

Review: Gentleman’s Box

A new start-up company out of Detroit has launched something called the Gentleman’s Box.  Gentleman’s Box is a premier subscription box that for $25 per month sends you a uniquely themed box full of products for guys.  Each box contains 4-5 hand-selected items along with the latest issue of GQ magazine. 

I was intrigued so I signed up to receive the first ever box, which arrived today. 

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Gentleman's Box logo on top of box

I opened the box and was presented with instructions on how to “Unbox like a true gentleman.”

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Inside was a card with the month and theme on it and a breakdown of the items and retail prices of the items

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This first ever box contained the November issue of GQ, USB cufflinks (yes… Cufflinks with USB drives), stitched socks, facial cleanser, and a plaid skinny tie.  Total retail cost of this box’s items: $78.  Cost of box: $25. A good deal, right?

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I spent some time Googling the various items to try and see if the listed retail prices are legit, since only the GQ has a price listed on it.  For the most part, it seems like its not just a marketing ploy.  The tie lists for 26ish on various websites, the Billy Jealousy face cleanser checks out at $6 for a 2 oz bottle.  The socks are around $12.  The only thing I can’t find a price anywhere when Google searching for is the USB cufflinks.  The brand is unknown and I highly doubt they are the $100 pairs I see on Amazon.

Anyway, I am glad I tried out this service.  Its not bad for $25 per month.  I may occasionally subscribe to get some new guy things.  As for now, I cancelled.  I am taking a wait and see approach to see if the item quality improves or declines as the service takes off.