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Archive for November, 2005

O'Reilly inadvertently finds meaning of Christmas

November 29, 2005 2 comments

Bill O’Reilly tells us why businesses should love Merry Christmas:

Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable. More than enough reason for business to be screaming “Merry Christmas.”

As I wrote last December, Christmas is very much a commercial holiday. It always has been. Since the primary tradition was invented by elites basically to calm down the masses, rampant consumerism can certainly be seen as the meaning of Christmas. It diverts the attention of the masses from important matters to things like Xboxes.

But, I’m beginning to sound like some sort of Marxist, so I’ll stop there.

Of course, someone should inform Bill that the gift-giving tradition driving holiday season profits has little to do with Jesus. In fact, with or without Christianity, it’s conceivable that the winter solstice festivals would have been civilized, so to speak, in the same way as Christmas has been. Without paganism, there’s no reason to think Christianity would have created Christmas or that it would need the creation of a sort of “folk identity” that led to Santa Claus and gift giving.

(via ThinkProgress)

Categories: Social issues

Liberal loser!

November 27, 2005 Leave a comment

I seem to be on some sort of list at this blog, which appears to be a fairly bad parody of conservatives.

Bizarrely, some commenters appear to be taking it seriously.

Categories: Silliness

Back for a few weeks

November 27, 2005 Leave a comment

Well, it’s the final day of Thanksgiving break and I’m back at school. Hooray. I have too much to do these next two weeks. Finals week is actually a break for me. What’s really bad is the stuff I have to do isn’t difficult to complete, but it will take some work to do a good job on all of it. And see, I have this habit of losing interest when I get a program to work, regardless of whether I can make it better with more effort. Normally, this isn’t a big problem, since most CS assignments have a pretty definite goal. Get this to work and that’s it. Not so with a couple of my current assignments.

So, this place may be pretty quiet for the next couple weeks. If you’re looking for entertainment, head over to Stupid Chronicles and read Soilworker’s rant about PETA. That pamphlet is both hilariously over the top and infuriating. What kind of people try to scare little kids into believing their parents are murders? Are they afraid of rational argument with adults?

Categories: Personal

Music!

November 25, 2005 Leave a comment

Seance – [Saltrubbed Eyes #00] Soulerosion
The Crown – [Crowned in Terror #09] Death is the Hunter
Neutral Milk Hotel – [In The Aeroplane Over The Sea #05] The Fool
Lacuna Coil – [Unleashed Memories #08] Distant Sun
Soilwork – [The Chainheart Machine #09] Room No. 99
Dead Can Dance – [Spleen and Ideal #03] Circumradiant Dawn
In Flames – [Lunar Strain/Subterranean #01] Behind Space
Pineapple Thief – [Variations on a Dream #05] The Bitter Pill
Jethro Tull – [Aqualung #06] Up to Me
Dredg – [El Cielo #11] Brushstroke: Reprise

In other news, the forthcoming In Flames CD is actually pretty good. Weird.

Categories: Music

Another parting shot

November 22, 2005 Leave a comment

Well, not really a shot.

It’s almost time for end of year album lists, so I’m trying to catch up with music I missed from earlier this year. So far, I’ve got Ulver’s Blood Inside, which I was too lazy to get in July. I still need Kayo Dot’s newest (assuming that counts as being released this year), too. Of course, I can’t help but think I’ve missed something important. Suggestions?

Granted, I can count on one hand the people who read this and have similar taste in music. Still, go for it.

Also, first listen of System of a Down’s Hypnotize: not impressed. Holy Mountains is the only standout.

Categories: Music

A parting shot

November 22, 2005 2 comments

If you haven’t been reading Neiwert’s evisceration of Malkin’s newest book, you should be.

I just wanted to point out one thing that relates back to the Salon article in the previous post:

The “conservative movement” of 2005 is nothing less than the ascendancy of the old right-wing John Birch Society mentality: the paranoia, the demonization, the wild-eyed … unhingedness.

As I briefly mentioned, the “war on Christmas” has appeared in JBS paranoia:

In 1959, the recently formed John Birch Society issued an urgent alert: Christmas was under attack. In a JBS pamphlet titled “There Goes Christmas?!” a writer named Hubert Kregeloh warned, “One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas — to denude the event of its religious meaning.” The central front in this perfidious assault was American department stores, where the “Godless UN” was scheming to replace religious decorations with internationalist celebrations of universal brotherhood.

“The UN fanatics launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand,” the pamphlet explained. “They are already busy, however, at this very moment, on efforts to poison the 1959 Christmas season with their high-pressure propaganda. What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this: Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.”

While I’m not suggesting that this is the direct root of the current “war on Christmas” nonsense, it illustrates Dave’s point. The mentality is the same and it can lead to the same ideas. We’re pretty much there on the UN (Bolton’s comments, for instance), as well.

So then, no more blogging until next Monday, probably. Have a nice Thanksgiving.

Categories: Domestic Policy, Religion

No war on Christmas

November 21, 2005 2 comments

There’s an excellent article in Salon today about the so-called “war on Christmas.” A couple of choice excerpts:

In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s a myth that can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe the false conservative claim that they can’t celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU and thus jettison beloved traditions, enraging citizens and perpetuating a potent culture-war meme. This in turn furthers the myth of an anti-Christmas conspiracy.

“You have a dynamic here, where you have the Christian right hysterically overrepresenting the problem, and then anecdotally you have some towns where lawyers restrict any kind of display or representation of religion, which is equally absurd,” says Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates and one of the foremost experts on the religious right. “It’s a closed loop. In that dynamic, neither the secular humanists or the ACLU are playing a role.”

Got that? It’s your own damn fault. So calm down, lose the persecution complex, and start talking about what you can actually do in public schools with regard to Christmas.

This, in fact, might be true — having heard that the bland phrase “Happy Holidays” is part of a war against Christmas, some shoppers may be especially attuned for signs of subtle seasonal disrespect. On Nov. 11, a woman sent an e-mail complaining about the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” at Wal-Mart and received a reply from a cheekily impertinent customer service employee that seemed to confirm the right’s worst fears. “Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses (sic), mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world,” the Wal-Mart worker wrote. In response, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched its boycott, claiming Wal-Mart had “banned” Christmas. Wal-Mart quickly fired the offending employee and apologized. The boycott was called off, but the right remains unhappy about the store’s continuing use of “Happy Holidays,” leaving open the possibility of more teapot tempests as the Christmas season progresses.

This just goes to show that semi-intelligent people are not allowed to be Wal-Mart employees.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center and the author of “Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in the Public Schools,” is one of the heroes of Gibson’s book. Gibson writes about how he resolved a crisis that arose in Mustang, Okla., when, fearing a lawsuit, the superintendent of schools ordered a nativity scene cut from an elementary school Christmas pageant, infuriating many in the town. Haynes was eventually flown out to mediate. He had, writes Gibson, “made something of a career out of rushing in as if he were driving an ambulance, lights flashing and sirens blaring, after schools had made disastrous policy decisions on restricting religious liberty in schools.”

According to Haynes, though, there is no war on Christmas. “I certainly wouldn’t put it that way,” he says. “The big picture is that there’s more religion now in public schools than ever in modern history. There’s no question about that. But it’s not there in terms of the government imposing religion or sponsoring it, and that bothers some people on the right. They miss the good old days when public schools were semi-established Protestant schools.”

That’s exactly it. This isn’t about freedom of speech, this is about moving toward quasi-religious rule (that’s my attempt to avoid “theocracy,” which is a bit harsh).

There are quite a bit of information in the article, such as the war’s roots in JBS and anti-semitic paranoia. Go read it.

Categories: Religion

Sunday Bible verse

November 20, 2005 Leave a comment

There’s a silly anti-evolution letter in the paper today. Rather than take it apart, I want to look at a Bible verse he quotes at the end:

Religion does not change, and it shouldn’t. When scientists were teaching that the world was flat, the Bible was telling us, “He is seated on His throne above the sphere of the earth.”

This is very interesting to someone who often sees atheists claiming the Bible teaches a flat Earth. This would seem to throw that right out the window. So, where does this verse come from? Isaiah 40:22. Sort of. You see, no one actually translates that verse with the word “sphere.” It’s actually “circle.” Apologists claim that it literally means “sphere.” Does it actually mean that? Not according to this article, found on the ASA’s (a Christian science organization) site:

The critical line in Hebrew reads (transliterated and omitting vowels): hyshb ‘l hwg h’rtz, which my colleague Dr. Robert Suder translates: “the one dwelling on the circle/horizon of the land.”14 A survey of Hebrew lexica and theological wordbooks15 yields much information about the key word hwg (chûgh).16 According to K. Seybold, its root appears six times in biblical Hebrew, and it is clear from its usage in context that it has a specifically geometrical meaning, that is, “a circle, as drawn with compasses.” In Job 26:10 and Prov. 8:27, chûgh is used with choq, meaning “to inscribe a circle.”17 This nominal infinitive form also appears in Job 22:14, where it denotes “the circle of the heavens” (shamayim), and in Isa. 40:22a, where it denotes “the circle of the earth” (haarets). Sir. 43:1218 uses chûgh in describing the rainbow. Finally, in Isa. 44:13, mechûghah, a hapax legomena (a form used only once), means “a compass,” i.e., that simple instrument people my age used to draw circles in high school geometry class.19

All but one of these contexts are cosmological, and in fact four of the five uses of chûgh occur in creation hymns. Isa. 40:22a describes God as sitting/ dwelling above “the circle of the earth” which God laid out–with a compass, as Job 26:10 and Prov. 8:27 suggest, for the latter verses describe the act of inscribing the circle that fixes the boundary between the earth and the deep, the circle that also marks the boundary between light and darkness.20 The context also suggests that in Isa. 40:22a, the earth (‘erets) which is encircled refers not to the earth as that part of the creation distinct from the heavens (Gen. 1:1)–as the creationists cited above seem to interpret it–but to other meanings of earth: as “the dry land” (Gen. 1:9-10), and at the same time, it appears, as “the ground on which people and things stand,” for “its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”21

He goes on to point out that in the LXX the verse wasn’t translated using the Greek word for sphere.

So then, it certainly seems flat to me. Other verses imply a flat Earth as well. Some of them can be found here.

But what of the first part of Sherlock’s statement? Does that verse date to times before people believed in a spherical Earth? It’s not actually clear. Isaiah 40 dates from somewhere between the sixth and second century BCE. This site has a chronology of flat and spherical Earth beliefs. It appears that the first person to believe in a spherical Earth was Pythagoras in 500 BCE. By the middle of the second century, it appears to be fairly common. In the middle of that time period, we have Aristotle arguing for a spherical Earth. So we certainly have some scientists arguing for a spherical Earth in what as best we can figure is the period of Isaiah’s compilation.

This is all fairly pointless, really. I don’t view the Bible’s flat Earth verses as important except in the context of refuting literalism. But it’s fairly obvious that claiming the Bible is scientifically accurate is ridiculous.

Categories: Religion

So behind

November 20, 2005 1 comment

I apparently missed this church and state flap from about a week and a half ago. Rev. Barry Lynn of AU is complaining about Jeb Bush’s promotion of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

As part of Governor Jeb Bush’s “Just Read, Florida!” program, students are being encouraged to read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in conjunction with the December release of a Disney movie based on the book. The director of the program, Mary Laura Openshaw, tells the Palm Beach Post that the goal of the program is “to get kids reading” — and that state officials did not approach the reading program to help Disney or the promoter of the film, Walden Media.

But it is not the commercial aspect of the venture that bothers the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is arguing that the contest violates the First Amendment because it promotes a “religious story.” Barry Lynn, director of Americans United (AU), tells the Post that the Florida contest is “just totally inappropriate” because of the themes of the book. “It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ,” says Lynn.

Why AgapePress is bringing up the cronyism issue here I don’t know, but I’ll discuss that in a minute. First, is Lynn right?

Doesn’t look like it. Lewis’s Narnia series may have religious overtones, but as far as I can tell (I haven’t read any of the books, though I did see a cartoon of one when I was little) it has significant literary value. It’s certainly something that could be argued about, but it seems pretty subjective. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the book. But it’s not like Bush is promoting Mere Christianity. On the other hand, Lynn is the minister here, and has said that he loves the books, so his opinion that they’re overtly religious is probably worth something. I’m inclined to let Bush use the book in the contest, though. Simply disagreement with Lynn is not a possibility for the religious right, however. No, they have to go one absolutely absurd step more:

Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with ADF, calls AU’s attempt to censor the book “classic left-wing activism.”

“When I see the far-left coming out of the bunch of book-banners, as they are in this case, I just shake my head,” McCaleb says. “The amazing thing to me is they focus on Narnia — and really the only way you can understand Narnia to be a ‘Christian book’ [series] is to know a lot about Christianity to begin with to see that there are some analogies there.”

AU is calling on Governor Bush to replace The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with what it calls an “alternative non-religious book.” McCaleb contends Americans United is clearly exhibiting that it is trying to stifle speech it does not like.

First off, I put that little “Rev.” thing in front of Lynn’s name to make a point. Barry Lynn is a reverend. Get it? How in the hell can a Christian book be speech his group doesn’t like? It’s patently absurd. And book banning? There’s probably no point in explaining the difference between government promotion of religion and free speech again. It they don’t get it by now they never will. They’re brainwashed fundamentalist assholes who think it’s their God-given right to run our government according to their fucked up religious beliefs.

I really can’t express how much this kind of thing pisses me off without stringing a lot expletives together, which is hardly useful, so let’s look at the cronyism thing. It’s actually not really a huge deal, but it seems fairly obvious. Walden Media is owned by a man who’s contributed around $100k to Republican candidates and causes in the past several years. The first two books chosen for the “Just Read, Florida!” program? Hoot and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Guess who’s making those two books into movies? Walden Media. That’s really not much in the scheme of things, but it’s somewhat amusing.

So, in conclusion, even when the religious right gets something right, they can’t do it without being flaming morons about it. Sheesh.

Categories: Church and State

Something I want to know

November 19, 2005 1 comment

How does a ~190 page book (paperback, mind you) become a nearly 7 hour audiobook?

Categories: Tech
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