December 2007

Letters I didn't write

Gone to climb on the shoulders of giants.
Don't worry. I'll be safe.

I'm safe but I can't un-climb.
Wish you were here.

Christmas need not be divisive

I wish this time of year could be celebrated by everybody, each in their own way according to their personal beliefs, without being offended by diversity. Nobody owns Christmas time. If Christmas time could be owned, then it is best viewed as a cuddly toy, grabbed by one greedy child, snatched away by another, and then grasped firmly by many and slowly torn apart in their efforts to assert ownership.

Let Christmas time be shared by all. It is not another opportunity for proselytizing, for locking a particular religion or lack of religion into a broader culture; it is not a time to compete to see whose ideological icons can feature most prominently in public places, and it is not a time to sanitize our language, to try to eradicate all traces of Christ from our traditional greetings. Let it be a holiday from the culture war, when we can sit back and remember that we are all human.

I wish you a peaceful Christmas.

♦ Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa


The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them .... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.

-George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In a religious relative's Christmas roundup of the year's events, I read of an unfortunate fall: three metres off a ladder to the ground resulting in dislodged vertebrae and much pain. Apparently his guardian angel was looking out for him, because he could have broken his neck.

There but for the grace of enlightenment go I.

A Christmas Legend

Once approaching Christmas, weary, wandering past the shop-fronts cheery,
Finding cherub choirs dreary, clichéd, trite, an awful bore,
I recalled a long forgotten legend of the sole begotten
Son of God rebelling, yelling at his Sire till he was sore.
Once he'd read the (now best-selling) compilation, he was sore;
Once he'd studied sacred lore.

Gentle Jesus mildly, meekly celebrated sabbath weekly,
Reading from the books that bleakly told his culture's callous core,
Knowing that overt omission of this odious tradition

Could be seen as sick sedition by the priests who kept the score.

So he studied, answering questions to the priests who kept the score;
Not one verse did he ignore.

Junior J, a child precocious, read the tales of his ferocious
Father's monstrous and atrocious acts of genocidal war,
Things His "light unto the nations" did in barbarous altercations
With their neighbors (and relations): "Kill them all. Don't spare the gore.
Kill the women and their children. Kill the people I deplore.
Keep some virgins, nothing more."

Then he read the Egypt story, how the mighty God of glory
Slew the firstborn heirs, ignoring anyone who daubed their door.
Why were innocents included? Was his Dad unjust, deluded?
Couldn't this creator carve up just the Egyptian chariot corps?
Why was death so misdirected? Many there had earned it more,
As described in ancient lore.

All inside J's brain was burning, all the tales he trusted turning
Into hateful, stomach churning travesties that made him roar,
Till old Joseph stopped him crying, said, "I knew your mum was lying
'Bout her virgin pregnancy, supposedly a holy spore.
'S'what I'd call a mythconception, like most tales from days of yore.
Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more."

J sat down, relieved but shattered. Nothing in those scriptures mattered.
Gold, myrrh, frankincense, they flattered; Joseph, though, had given more.
J could see a great ambition, fighting priestly opposition,
Preaching love despite tradition, for the outcast and the poor.
Wipe out organized religion. Value people, prince or whore.
All are human, nothing more.

Since that time interpretation, decoration and conflation
Made a human rebel's message into magic he'd abhor.
While you're busy present buying, hark those herald angels vying
For your faith in Jesus' dying, drumming up a Christmas War,
Where one faith alone is free to rule the yule and write the law.
Call that Christmas? What a bore!

PhD @ 84

A coworker of mine is justifiably proud of his dad:

Mr Lajoie retired in 1988, but decided to embark on a PhD to
test his theory on cyclones after giving a talk on the topic in his
home country.


In like Flynn

MindHacks pointed me to Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker:

An I.Q., in other words, measures not so much how smart we are as how modern we are.

Malcolm presents a very clear explanation of how racially based I.Q. measures have been misinterpreted.


Come into my arms, bonnie gene

Carl Zimmer interviews Lee Silver on the radical changes in stem cell technology. Lee is very open and clear about the political aspects of the research (ripe for the quote-mining spin doctors to distort). It's great to hear how a lot of the mystically-based qualms should fall away, now that so much can be done with skin cells. However, I suspect Lee is a little overly optimistic about the anticipated drop in resistance to bio-research. How long will it be before the faithful recognize that the ability to use induced pluripotent stem cells to create "life" devalues their vitalist conception of "life"?

Expect some well-financed manufactured controversy here folks.

Informing America

Executive 1: "We need a new face... someone that beams honesty and understanding... someone who knows what's really going on and can explain it clearly."

Executive 2: "Nope. Viewers don't want smart talking heads. They want dumb people that they can relate to."

Executive 1: "Bullshit. They expect presenters to be informed. They look to them to help make sense of the world's confusion."

Executive 2: "That's so last century. That's from back when people had faith in science and technology to make a better world. It's different now. They know they'll never understand, so they just want television to reassure them that they're in line with the crowd. Talk shows are the new opiate of the masses."

Executive 1: "But if that's true, you could put absolutely anyone up as a face. As long as they have sex appeal and a clear voice."

Executive 2: "Bzzzt. Wrong. Don't need sexy. Don't want sexy. Physical attractiveness is another thing that places a barrier between the presenter and the viewer."

Executive 1: "No way! I still call bullshit. You CANNOT make a popular talking head out of a loudmouthed slob with a preschool education."

The rest is history.

Responsibility of Intellectuals

3 Quarks Daily led me to Noam Chomsky on The Responsibility of Intellectuals

I'm always uneasy about the concept of "speaking truth,"
as if we somehow know the truth and only have to enlighten others
who have not risen to our elevated level. The search for truth
is a cooperative, unending endeavour. We can, and should, engage
in it to the extent we can and encourage others to do so as
well, seeking to free ourselves from constraints imposed by
coercive institutions, dogma, irrationality, excessive conformity
and lack of initiative and imagination, and numerous other obstacles.

Noam gets his teeth into wars of aggression and torture and where the responsibility lies. He finishes positively.

November 2007