Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Trouble With Christmas

I finally got around to reading this book, and it just so happens I got it done just before the holidays. So I'm carrying this book around to work and such and almost feeling like I have to hide the damn thing since Christmas and the Santa Claus thing is such a holy cow anymore. The author is associated with Free Inquiry, which I bought a sub for last year...I don't really subscribe to the whole atheism thing myself, (despite what someone might conclude from reading my attacks on cuckoo Christian ideas on here) but I like to think I'm enlightened enough to read others' opinions that I don't necessarily agree with.

It's the same with this book, pretty much. The one core tenet I CAN agree with is that I find the idea of lying to children about something fairly substantial during critical phases of childhood development is one that makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I agree that there is a good reason to think it may retard or even cripple critical thinking skills. Just because "everyone does it" is no justification at all. At one point, "everyone did" slavery. Hive thinking is not thinking at all.

What I disagree with is the idea that Christmas is really all that terrible - even if sombunall Christians do get a bit overzealous about the whole "war on Christmas" thing and they bristle at such phrases as "happy holidays" - yes, they are being stupid, but intelligent people of other faiths or no faith can successfully ignore them these days - with the caveat that it is kept out of school. I think I can emphathize with Jews or others who didn't celebrate Christmas yet were coerced into singing Christmas songs at school, decorating, etc. They must have felt like second-class citizens, and I have to believe that virtually anyone that gave it a bit of thought has to realize that schools should have no business coercing children into others' beliefs, even if they enjoyed an overwhelming majority in the past.

I think there is a tipping point that is coming or has already arrived, however. Whether it's non-Christian believers or agnostics or unbelievers or even Christians sects that don't celebrate Christmas or even members of sects that do, but are sick of the commercialism, I think there are people who are making their voices heard on this. I think I even saw an op-ed in Free Inquiry (this book WAS written in early 90's so a bit out of date) that says pretty much the same thing - the reason sombunall Christians or at least those that like to pose as Christians in order to stir up "controversy" (think Michael Weiner AKA Savage here) over Christmas is that they sense that there is a sea change, and that they have to give up privileges that they always enjoyed. No longer will they be able to lord it over others, as demographics is destiny and the times they are a-changin'. I don't get my back up if someone says Happy Holidays, I don't care if someone assumes I'm Christian and says Merry Christmas. It's not that big a deal. What IS a big deal is when someone has to POINTEDLY say Merry Christmas which only highlights that they are aware that they are being de-privileged. Happy Holidays is really only marginally more inclusive anyway, as not everyone is even celebrating anything, so it's not all that "politically correct" if one really thinks beyond O'Reilly talking points.

There is a reason that religion is being chased out of the "public square" and there is a reason prayer is not allowed in school. It just avoids problems. People are not going to assimilate to a so-called mythical Christian America (a ridiculous idea that conservatives are STILL mouthing) and so there are more than just a few things to celebrate or pray about and not all can be accomodated reasonably and get the tasks done at hand (like learning if at school). No one is keeping anyone from practicing their beliefs on their time at their home and their places of worship. Trying to accomodate the holidays of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Ba'hais, pagans, etc., would be unrealistic and only cause issues, so it's just best to keep it out of school and work and public places altogether. I keep hearing conservatives talking about "bringing prayer back to school" since that's the reason the country has gone so wrong...even if the country is that immoral since prayer was yanked, they all seem to assume it'd be prayers they'd approve of. Which prayers? Even assuming they are Christian, ones that are okay with Baptists? Anabaptists? Calvinist? Quakers? Lutherans? Catholics? Latter-Day Saints? Some members of these can't even agree that others are "legitimate" Christians, so how is that going to work?

What was most interesting and engaging about this book was the history of the what is considered a "traditional Christmas" - essentially created by Victorians, and virtually none of it is unique to Christianity, with the exception of the midnight mass. Nearly everything else is borrowed from other traditions.

So, with all that, I'm looking forward to Christmas since I celebrate it anyway. :) I just hope I can dig out of all this snow that Denver is getting - probably something like 2 feet or so once it's all done.

Ubuntu - Gotcha!

So I've been using Ubuntu for some time exclusively on my laptop. I've left Windoze on there in case I need it, but haven't booted into it since the first few days of owning the laptop.

So the other day, I blithely accepted some updates - one of which happened to be the kernel. As I saw it running, I was thinking, "hmm, that might not work out so great". You see, I've (re)compiled a few kernel modules against the previous kernel, like, oh, Cisco VPN and a patched version of Alsa sound drivers to get loud enough sound through the soundcard...

Turns out on reboot, I had NO sound (odd, since sound worked out of the box on other kernels I had, just not loud enough for the particular hardware of my laptop). Since I still had those dirs around, I was able to get loud sound and VPN capabilities back without too much annoyance.

However, all these months, I've been bothered by one thing: I need a good MP3 player. Right now I'm using Banshee (and not Amarok) because using it seems to handle mounting a Samba share and playing mp3s from that share (one of those newish off-the-shelf network attached storage devices). Amarok seizes up and I'm not sure why. I've seen a few comments about Samba and Amarok somewhere, but from what I remember, they really didn't seem to apply to my problem. Thing is, I don't like Banshee much for playing mp3s - you have to "import" music to play it as far as I can tell and that's just annoying. I'd use XMMS but it's browse window is so painful to look at and use.

If anyone has an option to tweak Samba mounting and/or a Amarok fix or a better mp3 player suggestion, by all means, let me know...

Corporate Fictions

So we had some training last week. The topic isn't really that important, but I kept hearing the trainer stressing a word that comprises a corporate fiction and always grinds my gears - that word is "team".

Let me just say it: a workforce is not a "team". There is no way that the group that comprises an entire company can any way be thought of as a team. If language is a virus, there are plenty of words and phrases used in corporations that are a plague and serve no other function but to cloud thought, ala Orwell. No amount of bullshit and constant reiteration is going to make a thinking person believe that this is an apt comparison.

1. People aren't compensated the same, and even if the "team" "wins", the "team owner", "head coach" and "assistant coaches" (AKA board members, CxOs, VPs, executives) run off with the lion's share of the compensation, even if many "star players" do most of the real work. I realize that in sports, compensation is not equal either, but clear performance is tied to clear compensation over the long haul.

2. No independent parties are measuring all the stats of all the "team" members, so there's another hole in this stupid analogy.

3. CxOs, etc. are often included in this nebulous and silly idea of a "team". Again, stretching this analogy that was only barely believable in the first place beyond the point of farce.

Here's another fiction - when some individuals at some companies behave as if technical staff (i.e., developers) cannot understand "business". This is truly absurd. Virtually anyone adult can understand financial matters - doesn't everyone balance a checkbook? I'm not saying that technical staff would necessarily excel at business or would even want to, and the "want to" is the driving part. Let's make a deal - I won't pretend what I do is some Great Mystery if these lunkheads that are doing basic math to balance the books or come up with a business plan don't pretend they are doing something Grand and Mysterious that mere mortal "technical staff" cannot understand. Remember, business courses and the like are what failed computer science people usually end up majoring in. I've never seen a failed business major drop out and take engineering or computer science.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kerouac & Dr. HST

Denver Public Library has upcoming events that showcase both of these authors.

From the site:
This winter, the Denver Public Library will be exhibiting the original 120-foot scroll on which Kerouac wrote his first typewritten draft of On The Road. Celebrate this historic event with live performances and exhibits offered in and around the Denver Public Library.

For Hunter S. Thompson:
A tribute to the late, great Hunter S. Thompson who was deeply influenced by the writings of Jack Kerouac. David Amram accompanies spoken-word readings by Thompson’s son and grandson, Juan and Will Thompson, and Thompson’s widow, Anita Thompson.

Wonder how many of those right-wing dunderheads that were babbling about HST when he killed himself are going to be showing up - of course, I'd bet virtually none of these folks knew even who the guy was before he killed himself.

Cool Idea: Sousveillance

Since this word popped up in two different places on the same day, and it's a cool word anyway, I thought I'd give it a mention. I think it was on BoingBoing I saw it and then later, as I continued reading the excellent book Worldchanging, I saw sousveillance again being discussed.

Sure, the idea isn't all that new, if anyone remembers Rodney King. An entire movie was made (Freeze Frame) in which a character conducts what is more or less sousveillance in order to absolve himself of any crimes in the future.

But with ever-increasing spying on citizens by virtually every government agency and every business, it's not surprising some people have decided to poke a stick in the eye of authorities by pointing out in an obvious and funny way just what is going on.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Will Republicans Remain Ostriches?

While listening to the BestOfTheLeft podcast, I heard audio of the President of Shell talking about energy. This isn't some dirty hippie professor or a godless scientist we are talking about here. This is a president of a major energy corporation. After some creative Googling, I was able to come up with this transcript:

We believe at Shell that we have to change the hearts, the minds, the
values, and the behaviors of Americans toward a culture of conservation, to use energy differently and to use energy more efficiently in the world of tomorrow. Eight percent of the world’s population today in this country uses 25 percent of the world’s energy supply every day. That is not a sustainable formula for lifestyle and use of energy into the future, when we know for a fact that the other 92 percent of the world wants their fair share of energy.

If you travel today to China, travel to India, travel to other parts of the world, you see the increased use of energy in ways and means that we are accustomed to in our lifestyle. And you realize that we can’t deny the Chinese, Indians, Africans, Malaysians, other people from different parts of the world from also wanting their opportunity to use energy in different ways.

The unsustainability of the 8-to-25 formula will only be satisfied in the current lifestyle by higher costs. And at some point, cost is too great for the social requirements of our communities and our cities. As a consequence, people get frozen out. They can’t afford energy. They can’t pay the bill. They can’t fill up the tank because it’s too expensive. So, a culture of conservation to us deals with hearts, minds, behaviors, beliefs. And it leads to different ways of managing energy in terms of how our homes are designed, how our factories, offices and lifestyles are designed. I don’t mean to be critical, but this morning, coming down the elevator at the Hilton next to the ballpark, waiting for colleagues, you look at the fireplace, there’s a gas fire heating an air-conditioned lobby. It looks great. It feels great. A little chill on your back and a little warmth on your front. But is that an efficient use of energy in the world of tomorrow? The answer is obvious.

They also had audio of him declaring that the "debate is over" regarding global warming. Now I know it's all too easy to believe this is just another corporation greenwashing, but why would they admit to something that the pro-corporate shills like Rush and his clones have been denying all these years?

Now, are we really going to allow Republicans to keep their head in the sand and sign us up for endless resource wars to maintain "our way of life" (which apparently includes stupid and shameful uses of energy like the above), or is it time to drag them kicking and screaming into the "reality-based community"? If not, I think they should change their logo from the elephant to the ostrich.

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