Everyone knows what to drink when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve: sparkling wine—and ideally, the stuff made in Champagne, France. Like millions of others, I adore Champagne, especially when it's made on-farm by small producers, as opposed to the heavily marketed prestige brands. Here's the wonderful wine writer Eric Asimov on these so-called "grower Champagnes," which, he writes, "suggest soil on the boots and dirt under the fingernails"—distinctive, pronounced flavors over the tarted-up glitz and glamor of, say, Veuve Clicquot. Grower Champagnes also tend to be much cheaper than the prestige brands, but still quite expensive: $40 a bottle on up. To me, they're a very rare treat.

But what to drink before the midnight hour? I have an idea, and I'm not sure if it's a good one or a bad one. The case for the Seelbach cocktail—named for the Memphis Louisville, Kentucky, hotel where it was invented in the early 20th century—is that it's really, really good. You get a citrus bounce from the orange liqueur Cointreau, round sweetness and alcoholic force from bourbon, and festive fizz from sparkly wine, all knit together with a blast of bitters. Yum.

The case against the Seelbach is also that it's really, really good—and like so many cocktails, very easy drinking. You've got to pace yourself on New Years Eve. Too many Seelbachs before midnight bubbly is a great way to turn Champagne into real pain. So enter the world of the Seelbach with moderation—at your own risk.

Note: Classic Seelbach recipes—see here and here—call for proper Champagne as the sparkling wine in the mix. I find the idea of mixing Champagne too decadent to consider, so I use a sturdy, inexpensive Cava or Prosecco. And most recipes call for Peychaud’s bitters along with the more common Angostura type. This may be critical to the authentic flavor of a Seelbach; but both times I've made them, I only had Angostura bitters on hand, and I loved the result.

My Version of the Seelbach

Makes four

Carefully slice the four ribbons of zest off the peel of an orange. Prepare four Champagne flutes by rubbing a ribbon, bottom side down, around the rim, and then fold the ribbon over the rim as a garnish.

In a large pitcher, combine: 6 oz. good, but not great bourbon, like Maker's Mark or Bulleit; 2 oz. Cointreau; 16 dashes of Angostura bitters (or a little less Angostura, supplemented by some Peychaud's, if you have it.) Add a good amount of ice, stir well, then strain evenly into the four prepped glasses. Top with sparkling wine.

Merry Christmas!

And now for our traditional Christmas ornament greeting. Someday Domino will get an ornament of her own, but that day is not today. Until then, Merry Christmas to all.

The blogosphere is surprisingly active today. And it's mostly pissing me off. My fingers keep itching to write nasty posts about the NRA, the fiscal cliff, Grover Norquist, the University of Rhode Island, and a host of other topics. But it's Christmas Eve. It's time to relax and purge the will to nastiness. That goes even for Wayne LaPierre, John Boehner, Grover Norquist, and David Dooley.

So instead, here's some bonus catblogging to soothe our collective souls and kindle the holiday spirit. As it happens, it's gray and rainy at the moment here in Southern California, but it was lovely and sunny on Friday and that's how holidays should be enjoyed. None of this white Christmas nonsense for us. So today, you get a Southern California Christmas Eve. Tomorrow you'll get our traditional Christmas ornament. Enjoy.

In 1848, Horace Mann, the godfather of the modern public school system, wrote that education is "the great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery." But is that still true today? Reuters followed two high school students in Massasschusetts, home to the nation's top public school system, and found evidence that our schools are becoming the opposite of what Mann envisioned: another source of division between the wealthy and everyone else.

Quick question on guns. I'm all in favor of Congress taking some action to regulate guns, and lots of people seem to think that things are different this time. Newtown was so uniquely horrific that something has to happen. But what's the scenario for getting anything through the House? There's no way a majority of House Republicans will vote for gun control of any kind, so action is only possible if John Boehner decides to allow legislation to reach the floor with only minority Republican support.

Is there any chance of this happening? If not, is there any other option? Is a discharge petition feasible? Is there anything House Republicans want badly enough they'd be willing to trade it for tougher gun laws? How does this play out?

If Black Friday shopping trends are any indication, the gift of cold, hard steel will be more popular than ever this holiday season. According to USA Today, on that day dealers called the FBI with a total of 154,873 background check requests for shoppers seeking to buy firearms. That's 20 percent more than last year's record of 129,166 calls in one day. Sixty-two percent of the Black Friday requests were for long guns like shotguns or rifles, such as the Bushmaster .223 reportedly used by the suspect in today's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (a state where you don't need a permit to carry a rifle).

The FBI doesn't keep track of guns sold—only the background requests it fields—but that number is almost certainly higher than the number of calls received, given that consumers can buy more than one firearm per request. Overall, background requests have jumped 32 percent since 2008 (PDF). As Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported a record number of sales for their last quarter, up nearly 50 percent from the year before. The rise in gun sales doesn't necessarily mean that there are more first-time gun owners, though: A CNN investigation in July showed that fewer people own more and more weapons. 

Gun purchases always rise as the holidays approach. This year, though, the Christmas rush might not be the only thing prompting people to buy firearms. In the weeks after President Obama won a second term, background checks spiked, just as they had after he was elected back in 2008. In a New York Times op-ed about this, columnist Charles M. Blow quoted a National Rifle Association spokesperson who said that "gun sales are undoubtedly going up because gun owners know that at best President Obama wants to make guns and ammunition more expensive through increased taxes and regulation, and at worst he wants to make them totally illegal."

Twitter conversation of the day:

@jackshafer: If you're spending your precious 140 on calling Wayne LaPierre nuts, he's winning.

@joshscacco: Agreed. NRA wasn't pushing a policy proposal as much as a narrative change from gun control. Misdirection at its best.

Keep this firmly in mind. LaPierre's only goal yesterday was to hijack the media narrative. He wants us talking about Natural Born Killers. He wants us talking about Grand Theft Auto. He wants us talking about mental health services. Hell, he's perfectly happy if we spend our time talking about how crazy his proposal is and how unhinged he is personally. Not only does it keep us from talking about gun regulation, but it's good for the NRA's fundraising efforts in the bargain.

I know that lots of well-meaning people think that movies and videogames really are problematic, and that access to mental health in America is a scandal. And that might well be true. But every minute you spend talking about this stuff is a minute spent doing exactly what the NRA wants you to do. If you want to have any chance at all of passing gun legislation, that's what you should be talking about. Guns. End of story. The other stuff can wait.

19-year-old Lydia Brown, an autistic undergraduate at Georgetown, says she fits the media stereotype of a mass shooter "perfectly."

In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, journalists rushed to pathologize whatever drove Adam Lanza to mow down 20 children and six adults with a semi-automatic rifle. Perhaps, they implied, it was his alleged Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder characterized by difficulties in interpreting social cues and communicating emotion.

For example, sources speaking with the New York Times, described Lanza as an intelligent, friendless loner, with a "flat affect" who never showed any "emotions going through his head." He was, said a doctor on Fox News' Hannity, "out of touch with reality" and "didn't have empathy." Like other autistics, Lanza, said a psychologist on CNN, was "missing something in the brain." (It's worth noting neither of the networks' "experts" specialize in neurological disorders, like autism.)

For people in the autism community, their response to the media's portrayal of the gunman's diagnosis was frustration—and anger. This again?

"We are a community that faces tremendous stigma and prejudice, and unfortunately when this happens, the mainstream media presents stereotypes and inaccurate information about autism and disability that only make that stigma and prejudice worse," says Ari Ne'eman, who is the president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and himself autistic.

Although there's no evidence suggesting autistic people are more violent than the general population—in fact, studies show the opposite may be true—this isn't the first time journalists have made the specious connection between autism and heinous criminal acts. The Monday after the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough speculated on-air that shooter James Holmes was "somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale" and "more often than not," mass murderers are autistic.

Earlier this summer, the Daily Mail perpetuated two other common myths about autistic people when the UK paper described Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who fatally shot 69 people at a summer camp in July of 2011, as having a "rare, high-functioning form of Asperger's that has left him incapable of empathy or real friendship." While that might be true of Breivik, the notions that autistics are incapable of feeling empathy and avoid human companionship have been repeatedly debunked.

"We want to hunt for explanations. We want reasons for horrible things that happen," says Steve Silberman, a Wired reporter who's currently writing a book about autism and neurodiversity. "The problem is that people tend to go for these sort of pre-packaged, stereotypical explanations …and that's one way we make people who commit these acts seem not like us…and somehow less than human."

This shoddy reporting, particularly from influential and far-reaching news outlets, has real consequences in shaping the public’s perception of autism and other disabilities, Ne'eman explains.

"We're like anyone else. We're people who apply for jobs, look for places to live, apply to colleges. We're generally looking to be included in society and when there is a myth out there that we're people you have to be afraid of, that has a practical impact," he says. "We talk to a lot of people, for example, who are discriminated against in the workplace after they disclose their diagnosis."

Lydia Brown, an autistic 19-year-old sophomore at Georgetown University, worries that stereotypes about autistic people will affect her employment opportunities. Despite an impressive resume, Brown is admittedly socially awkward. In high school, after another student overheard her telling a joke about one of her novels, a school administrator called her into his office and accused her of plotting a school shooting.

"I'm actually pretty terrified," Brown said when asked if she was concerned about the media's depiction of mass murderers like Lanza. "Because I’m the kind of person who fits this profile perfectly."

In the days following the Newtown shooting, Brown said her blog picked up traffic from more than a dozen different Google search terms linking autism and murder. The searches were all along the lines of "are autistic people more likely to kill", "how many mass shooters were autistic," and "are people with autism dangerous."

"It's really bothersome that we have to even be having this conversation," says Shannon Des Roches Rosa, an editor for The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism whose 12-year-old son, Leo, is autistic. "We don't want to go out there and have to defend them as [not being] murderers or [ourselves as] parents of murderers. We should be talking about gun control, better mental health support. We should be joining everyone in mourning."

In his response to the Newtown mass shooting, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre slammed ultraviolent movies and video games for celebrating killing and catering to our antisocial fantasies. Not surprisingly, he did not mention the abundance of paraphernalia marketed to law-abiding gun owners that glorifies firearms and minimizes gun violence. Ten t-shirts that exemplify the uglier side of pro-gun gear:

"AR-15 Asshole Remover"
That's the same rifle that was used to remove 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"Guns don't kill people. I do."
For the rare sociopath with a sense of personal responsibility.

"When Democracy Becomes Tyranny / I STILL Get to Vote."
This is exactly why we need voter ID laws.

clouds parting

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This week, many Americans are braving holiday travel to spend time with family and loved ones. Here are five great longreads on religion to make for interesting travel fare. 

For more MoJo staffers' long-form favorites, visit our longreads.com page. Take a look at some of our own reporters' longreads here and be sure to follow@longreads and @motherjones on Twitter for the latest.

“Resurrection” | Patrick Doyle | Boston Magazine | November 2012

Reeling from sex abuse scandals, the Archdiocese of Boston struggles to rebuild its image and recruit its next generation of clergy. Doyle tells the story of a young Harvard graduate, Eric Cadin, who decided to become a priest in the midst of it all:

For all of these reasons, smart, principled, stable, and devout young men were already in high demand by the Church when Eric Cadin started thinking about becoming a priest. And then, in the middle of Cadin’s junior year at Harvard, came the sex abuse scandal. The ugly revelations—and the uglier fallout from them—sent St. John’s Seminary into a spiral. “We were in survival mode,” recalls Father Chris O’Connor, the vice rector. “How do we keep the ship afloat?” The dire situation might have driven some prospective priests away. For Cadin, it had the opposite effect. The scandal was a challenge to be overcome, an opportunity to prove his faith.