Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oh snow!

Well we almost got through all of 2012 with no snow, but we've since received a few inches on Monday, Wednesday and now Saturday. No big deal. It was easy to shovel, and didn't really make the roads bad. But you can always tell when it's been a while since the last snow because that's the point you see a large chunk of drivers doing the wrong things or just plain being irresponsible. The most common problem you will see if people driving around without their headlights on. When it's not snowing anymore it's simply stupid because you are putting yourself in danger by being less visible to others. But when it is still snowing, not only does this make it more dangerous due to the reduced visibility, but it is also illegal! I tend to flash my lights at these people in hopes that they will get the hint. But I am almost always met with oblivious looks or a confused stare. Next there are those that don't clean the snow off the roof of their car, or only clean the windows. Again, not only is it dangerous to not clean off the roof, but it is illegal! If it is a dry snow, it will blow off the roof in a fine mist as you drive, which reduces the visibility from those behind. If it is a snow with an ice layer on top, there is a larger danger. In these conditions, and at the right speeds, a chunk can suddenly fly off the roof and impact those behind. This can cause damage or an accident. But what if it's a snow with a moist layer at the bottom? Well, stop for a stop sign or stop light fast enough and that snow slides right off the roof to cover your windscreen an leave you driving blind. So not only are you breaking the law if you don't clear your roof off, but you are a danger to yourself and others. But today I saw the worst example ever. This was a white car with no headlights on, and the only thing cleared was the windscreen (and even that was only cleared by the windscreen wipers)! I don't know how they managed it, but the grille, hood, roof, trunk, back windows, and even all the side windows were all covered with snow! How they were able to get in and close the drivers door without disturbing the snow covering it, I will never know. But seriously, who can get in that car, use the wipers to clear the windscreen, and presumably be aware of the obvious fact that they are surrounded by snow and only have visibility in one direction and still think it is a good idea to drive under those conditions? This person couldn't even see out of the driver's side window for crying out loud, let alone any of the mirrors. I award that driver the award of the pinnacle of ignorant Winter driving stupidity!

There are also those that don't know how to drive in the snow. There are those that freak out when the conditions really aren't that bad for starters. If you are from down south, I'll give you a pass. But when you live through the same Winter just about every year, you have no excuse. Then there are those that follow too closely. It's not a good idea when it's dry, but when traction and stopping distances may be compromised, you're just asking for a collision. I saw one driver the other day that was from the Carolinas, so I'll give him a little bit of a pass. But every time he tried to change lanes he would start to drive on the little bit of slush that collects on the line dividing the lanes. What would he do each and every time? Why, jerk his wheel back into the lane he was in of course... Not a good idea. On that day it wasn't really that bad out, and he could have easily completed his lane change had he continued on his originally plotted course. But had conditions actually been slippery, such an abrupt action would have sent him into a spin. Low traction situations call for careful maneuvers all around. Don't mash on the gas. Don't jerk the wheel. Don't stab the brakes. If you do, you are asking for trouble. You need to respect the conditions and drive in a careful and considered manner.

Lets not forget some non-motoring offenders though. Let's start with those clearing snow... One is people who shovel the snow from in front of their house, and rather than throw it in their front yard instead throw it into the street. This is illegal in some paces, but it is inconsiderate and a hazard everywhere. If the plow hasn't come yet, it might not be too big of a deal, except for the fact that more snow in the road equals more snow pushed by the plow to block driveways. If the plow has come but is coming back, your snow will likely end up under cars parked along the road. But if the road has been plowed you are creating an obstacle in the road. Remember the plow came to clear the snow so people can pass. You shoveling snow into the street reintroduces potentially slippery snow. Then there are those with their own plows. I agree that it is frustrating when the plow pushes the snow and it collects across your driveway, but that does not give you a pass to push that snow (and sometimes all the snow in your driveway) out into the street. This creates a much bigger and dangerous obstacle than the shoveler ever could.

Finally, there are the store crowds. If there is a blizzard coming, I can understand people stocking up. But when they are calling on 2-4 inches? I kid you not, but the market was a mad house the day before each of our three snows this week. Each time the were calling for two to four inches. Yet people panicked and ran to stock up at the slightest chance of snow. It was only 2-4 inches. No one was going to be snowed in and cut off from the rest of the world. The next confusing point was so many panic sessions in such a short period. Surely all those people that panicked and went to get emergency reserves of Sunday didn't use up all their bread and milk by Tuesday, and again by Friday. Well, if they are going through that much milk, at least they should have strong bones! It's just a little snow. Take it easy and enjoy it while you can. Because if it continues at this rate all Winter long, we'll all be sick of the fluffy white stuff for some time I think.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Taunting Tebow, Low blow?

I don't care for football, but even I know who Tebow is. (Glory, glory, Man. United!) Well this morning I saw an article in my news feed by Jay Hart. It was a piece defending Tebow and discounting all his detractors as bitter and/or hateful. It also frames around a rant against Tebow from Merril Hoge. The story goes on to declare that people don't hate Tebow because he's bad, but because he's good... too good to be true in fact. That he's only guilty of being a wonderful role model and then there's the old claim that he's being persecuted for his faith. However, I find it ridiculous to claim that the reason he is persecuted is because of his religion when the United States is 78.4% Christians. I hear that he's apparently not very good. But I can imagine this only mattering to fans of whatever team he's playing for at that time. So every fan of every other team should be happy if a rival quarterback isn't very good, and thus, should make life easier for their favored team. I think that it's more to do with when he gets political and proselytizes. As I stated before, most Americans (and NFL fans) are Christians, yet a good chunk seem to also take issue with him despite their shared faith. Come to think of it, maybe Tim got his calling wrong. Perhaps he's not good at football (assuming that's so) because he's supposed to be playing the other football (soccer). Perhaps Tebow was supposed to be a goalkeeper. After all, Jesus saves!

 I think that the problem comes from every other word he says being "Thank Jesus". (Not to mention the silly pose he popularized) When other Christians are getting tired of hearing you say "Jesus", you most likely sound like a broken record. He does seem to live a fairly good life (in many meanings of that phrase), but I would stop shy of calling him a stand-up role model though. In my book, a role model leads by example and that's it. His proselytizing means that he is actually trying to tell people how to live, and by association, that any way other than his own is morally repugnant, wrong, and worthy of the torture his religion teaches. I have no problem with him having a load of faith. To each his own. The fact that we can believe what (and as much) as we want is part of what makes America great. But telling others how they should live their lives (and what happens if you don't) disallows me from granting him role-model status despite his otherwise 'clean' life. So no Mr. Hart, I don't think that people dislike Tebow because he is 'too good to be true'... at least not most of them. I don't follow American football, but what I do know about this Tebow bloke leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Do I dislike him because of his skill level? No. I've never even seen him play. So I couldn't even comment on that. Is it because he's a Christian? No. I have no problem with people being Christian if they aren't trying to force their views on others. Is it because he's such a great role model? Don't be ridiculous! Good role models are a great thing. The problem is, that his proselytizing excludes him from being the role model that his fans posit him to be. So when Hart claims that Tebow's detractors are acting as if they are holier than thou, when it is actually Tebow acting as such through his proselytizing.


Monday, December 24, 2012

'Duty' to reproduce?

This evening, we were visiting some family for dinner and dropping by some gifts for those that won't be able to come over our house tomorrow. The food was good, and it was a good time overall. But then as we were getting ready to leave, a family friend asked when we were going to have a baby. I've blogged about this nonsensical assumption that marriage equal kids, so I won't go into that here. But after we stated that we don't really want kids right now is when he stated that we need to at least have one, because good people have good kids, and that we need more good people.

Okay, if he would have stopped there I would have been perfectly fine. After all, it is more likely that two healthy parents would have a healthier child than sickly parents. And two smart parents could be more likely to have a smarter child than those with more limited mental faculties (obviously genetics isn't everything with regard to intelligence). But he didn't stop there. He continued on to say that we should have two children in order to 'replace' ourselves.

He went on to reference the situation in Japan, where more of the younger generations are opting not to have children. Because so many are making this choice, the population and rate of births is declining. He said, that as this continues generation after generation, there will be very little Japanese left, and that the country will have to rely on immigration to remain prosperous. The inference was then made that we must produce at least two offspring in order to avoid such a calamity in this country.

Before I share my initial reply, lets look at the problems with what he had said thus far. First, the population problem in Japan... Something like 40% of the Japanese population is elderly. As you can imagine many of these people rely on the social programs set up by the government. But if less people are reproducing, that is less money going into the program and taxes in general. In fact, if birth rates continue at their current reduced rate, it is forecast that the population could drop one third by 2060. But there is one big problem with the statistic and the friends claim.

Yes, there may be a short term risk from the transition to the current younger generation. But there is no way of knowing that this trend will continue. In fact, there won't be a problem if the birth rate should cease it's decline and continue at the present reduced rate. If that occurs, then it will all even out. Disaster avoided. But was it reasonable to apply the Japanese population decline problem to the United States? I would wager that you can not draw such an equivalency. That would be because the US population is continuing to increase each and every year. Considering this fact, the decision of one couple to not have children is not going to put the nation in peril. Also consider that for the examples like us, there are other families having three, four or five children. The country's population is still quite healthy in number and is growing continuously.

So what was my initial and less lengthy reply?  I started out by stating that you could argue that less people also meant more resources to go around. However he countered that resources are made by people, and that less people means less sources. Well... Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Lets imagine a farm. It is staffed by a few dozen workers. They sow the fields, tend to the crops, and harvest when they are ready. But lets remove one or two of the workers. Does this mean that they will now produce less yield? No, of course not. There are a couple options available. They will either work slightly longer hours to do more with less manpower (meaning  a greater profit), or can hire new workers that were otherwise unemployed to replace our hypothetical worker that was removed.

Factory settings can also sometimes mean that no productivity is lost if the job can be filled by a machine. But lets assume some sort of assembly line where the number of workers directly impacts the number of products produced on a single day. Let's say that this factory is staffed by 1,000 people, and it produces 500,000 items a day. Before we do anything about the staff figures, we can see that the factory is producing many more items than there are employees. Lets now remove my two hypothetical offspring from the factory's staff. Assuming a linear staff to production relationship, a workforce of 998 workers should result in 499,000 items made. This would be the worst case situation, where the removal of a few 'cogs' results in a ballooned shortfall on the other end. Of course, that is rarely how productivity works. As I stated before, there is currently no shortage of individuals that could and would fill any vacancy that should occur. But more importantly, in the computer age, such linear relationships between workforce and production are rare. What with machinery  and computers, our factory likely wouldn't notice the removal of a couple workers.

For the sake of argument, lets grant the worst case scenario for that factory. But lets also realize that some industries will be less impacted than others. Lets also realize that if the population were to be slightly lower, there is less demand. If the population is lower, our worst case scenario predicts a slight reduction in production of products (that people may or may not even want, and are already made in excess). So given the dynamics of the US population, and how little production would be lost (if any) the end result would be an evening out of the reduced demand and reduced production, or more likely a slight excess that can either be distributed to those that really need it, or drive prices down slightly.

The greatest irony though, was that this individual was originally from Africa. He of all people should know the very real problem of there being more people than there are resources to care for them all. Yet he is promoting (at the very least) sustaining current population figures. Sure, the US is a land of plenty, but there are still those, even here, that are forced to go without (usually for socioeconomic reasons). So even though resources aren't spread as thinly as they are in poorer nations, we can (and should) do better. Considering this, why should it be our 'duty' to produce children that we don't even want at this point in time?

Worldwide, population growth is out of control. It may be slightly controversial, but in my opinion, our fine globe may have too many inhabitants already. I feel this is an issue for the welfare of the people themselves, and for the welfare of our planet as well. One thing mankind is very good at, is exploiting and destroying the environment for it's gain. I agree with Sir David Attenborough when he said, "Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it's time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment."

True, our family not producing one or two children won't make much difference. But a few things are true. We do not have a duty to reproduce, and that the dynamics of the United States and industry show that there is no risk to the country, or resource production. Our biggest worry shouldn't be if we are having enough children, but if we are having too many. Growing populations means increased demand on resources, but also an increased demand on housing. This demand typically translates to farmland being paved over to create more housing and retail locations. So what we really end up with is more demand and less supply. The very opposite of what the world desperately needs.

I find it sad that so many remain ignorant to these facts and instead choose to uphold the absurd assumptions that marriage equals kids, and that it is our duty to at the very least replace ourselves. What we really need it a carefully balanced population. One that (willingly) balances population with availability of resources. While Japan may see short term problems from their tapering population, they may be better off in the long run if other populations continue to explode and cause resources to be increasingly scarce. It won't be a problem for my generation, or one that is even answered by the next, but time will show that population growth can not be sustained indefinitely. Either we need to make a long term plan for the survival of humanity and the environment on which we rely on. Or we may very well create the next mass extinction event by our own actions.

-Brain Hulk

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Terra Lumina

If you're like me, you finished your holiday shopping ages ago. But if you aren't, and have a science fan on your list, let me share this new album with you. Terra Lumina is an album of science themed music from the makers of the Symphony of Science ( series of songs that remix speech of past and present scientists into music. While Symphony of Science is good, Terra Lumina is a bit different. These songs are not remixes of existing audio, but rather originally written and composed music. And may I say that they did a fantastic job! The lyrics are smart and meaningful, and the composition is also very well done. The music varies from rock to a bit folk-rock. But whatever the style, the songs are all great and very enjoyable, both as music, but also a vehicle for spreading an understanding and appreciation of science. They are selling their album in a few formats. But if you are looking for a last minute gift, may I suggest the digital download. Just download for $10 and save the files onto a cheap USB key. If your gift recipient is anything like me, they will certainly appreciate this gift and get many hours of enjoyment form it.

Terra Lumina site:


Friday, December 21, 2012

The End...

Well, not really THE END. But at least it's the end of hearing about that inane babel about today being the end of the world. We all know the story. The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st, 2012 and that somehow counts as foresight of apocalypse. There's a huge problem with the claims that the Mayans predicted the end of the world though. The insignificant little fast that well... they didn't! You read that correctly. All these people worrying about something that Mayans predicted, when they never even predicted what they are worried about. They simply had Dec. 21st, 2012 as the end of that calendar, and called for the dawning of a 'new age'. The calendar ends, so what? Our calendars end on December 31st every year. If these people are freaking out about December 21st this year, they should be freaking out December 31st every year, because the same thing is happening... The end of a calendar. The only difference is that the Mayan calendar was a longer duration of 'ages', whereas we mark our calendars in years.

Oh but the real fun starts when they start to claim how the world is due to end. Odd that these end of the world believers would put so much stock in the predictions of people that didn't even foresee the fall of their own civilization, but there we have it. But back to the crazy claims!

Planetary collision/asteroid:
There is a claim that a rouge planet or asteroid will hit the Earth and end all life on our fine globe. There's a problem of course. That is the fact that 'Planet X' does not exist. Scientists are tracking many objects traveling through space, but none (of note) are on a collision course with Earth. Sure, small objects falling to Earth aren't that uncommon. But There's definitely nothing cataclysmic in our neighborhood.

Planetary ejection:
'Planet X' is back for seconds. Others claim that 'Planet X' will not hit the Earth, but rather come close to us, disrupt gravity and throw Earth out of orbit around the Sun. A planet would have to be very big and very close to override the Suns gravity. I mean, Jupiter big! Something that big wouldn't go unnoticed. Nothing like that is on NASA's radar, and then there's the second reason this claim fails. Did I mention that 'planet x' doesn't exist?

Galactic Alignment
This is a fun one because it looks like a close alignment could happen, but it doesn't matter anyway. The claim goes like this. The Sun, Earth, and galactic center will all come into perfect alignment as the Earth passes the galactic equator. This will create excess gravity that will either fling Earth our of the solar system or trigger world ending earthquakes. I'm guessing these guys missed the class in grade school that explained that plate tectonics cause earthquakes, but I digress. First off, it looks like at best, only a close alignment will happen (even though the 21st may actually be a couple days late and things will actually several degrees off). Second, they make it sound like the galactic plane isn't a thin tipping point like they make it sound like. It's actually much wider than that. In fact, it takes sever hundred years for the sun to finish it's journey across the plain. But lets assume that everything aligned perfectly. If you know anything about gravity at all, you will realize that bodies coming into alignment at such great distances will have not effect on the Earth. The distances are just too great, and gravitational changes are minimal. Expecting the alignment to fracture the Earth would be like setting up bowling pins and a bowling alley,  but you showing up at an alley two states away hoping that rolling the ball there will get you a strike at the first alley. It just isn't going to happen! Oh, and there's one other way we know that there's no reason to worry about galactic alignments. That's the fact that they happen every 26,000 years. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the Earth wasn't destroyed 26,000 years ago.

So no worries, the Earth will continue spinning on as is has. But my worry is for the news that is yet to come. I'm fearful that while the world didn't end, that individual worlds may have been ended. There are a lot of crazies out there, and I have a feeling that there will be stories of people who killed their families and then themselves in order to make sure they didn't suffer the '2012 apocalypse'. Either that or straight out suicides. I really hope that I am wrong, but I feel like people may have died over this ridiculous claim that the world was ending today. On the grand scale, nothing happened as I've said all along. We simply reached the Winter Solstice. This means that brighter and longer days are now coming our way. I just hope that no one was robbed of seeing those brighter days by this irrational hysteria.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Thought police.

Thought crime. It's unthinkable that anyone could be guilty of a crime simply because of something the thought. But that's exactly what we see in the Bible.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

-Matthew 5:28
That's right! Just thinking lustfully about a woman makes you guilty of adultery by Jesus' standards!

It's an outrageous assertion and ignores the fact that actions are what actually make you guilty of something. Additionally, is never looking at a woman with lust really something to be considered virtuous? It's human nature to have these desires. However, it's how one responds to these desires that matters. Is it really hard for a person who never feels lust or desire to not commit adultery? No, it isn't. They are doing the only thing they know and are never faced with making a choice.

However, wouldn't it be far more 'virtuous' for a being to feel that lust for another, yet with the presence of that desire still decide to not act on it and stay true to their partner? This person would actually be faced with a choice. 1) Succumb to their desires and cheat on their spouse. or 2) Not give in to those desires and remain true. Surely it is an obvious decision. The person that has the desires but doesn't give in, is a far better ideal than those that feel no desire at all.

Again, it's actions that matter. Option 1 means that there's no action to take, and thus no choice that will lead to positive or negative consequences. However, Option 2 does pose a real and serious choice. You can cheat, and gain a short term physical gain at the cost of broken trust. Or you can decide not to cheat and claim the moral high ground.

Additionally, if lust equals adultery, then Jesus surely hates capitalism. By the 'logic' that says thoughts of lust equals adultery, than desire of products for sale and those of others should equal theft. So Jesus would ask that you not desire products. Lets face it, desire for products and possessions is a huge part of what drives the economy. So Republicans, I must ask... Why does Jesus hate America?

-Brain Hulk

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Persecution complex.

Okay, not that the obligatory Monty Python reference is out of the way, lets get back to business. The other day I heard a Christian complaining about the nativity being challenged in government and public locals. But it wasn't the usual complaint we're used to hearing. They weren't complaining about the laughable 'war on Christmas', but rather their issue was with who isn't having their symbols contested. He claimed that old joke that us atheists are singling out and trying to oppress Christianity. His 'proof' was that it is always Christian displays that are being challenged, but you never hear anything about a Ramadan display being challenged. His conclusion was that we are either singling out Christianity, or are just afraid of reprisal from Muslims.

But it shouldn't be any surprise that his argument is nonsensical and reeks of the all too popular Christian persecution complex. First of all... Ramadan displays? Ramadan is the Muslim holy month. It is a month of fasting and abstaining. Aside from some lanterns, I can't think of what a Ramadan display would consist of. I can tell you that I've never seen one. But let's assume there were displays. There is one huge reason whey Christian displays are challenged, and others are not... and it's not because we're afraid of Muslim backlash. If it were, would that mean we're also afraid of Jewish backlash? No, the reason is the nature of the displays.

The reason you don't see reports of Ramadan displays being challenged is because you don't see Ramadan displays taking center stage on government property. If there was a Ramadan display monopolizing the state capitol, that would be challenged as well. If there was a ten foot tall menorah going it solo on the White House lawn, that would be challenged. But time and time again, it is the Christian displays that try to monopolize the public square and try to defy even the thought of including other displays. These aren't challenged to single out and oppress Christianity. Rather, it's to uphold the Constitution.

Here in the United States, we have a Constitutionally founded separation of church and state. In fact, the first amendment prohibits the making of any laws respecting an establishment of religion, as well as prohibiting the free exercise thereof. When you have a government building displaying a nativity scene and nothing else, that promotes and suggests an establishment of religious favoritism. Government is supposed to be unbiased about religion. Not only does that keep the government free of religious corruption. But it also frees religions from corruption from the government. I find it strange that so many are opposed to this separation, when the separation of church and state is the theist's friend just as much as the atheist's.

So no, there is no conspiracy to single out Christians and Christmas, or to oppress them. Jesus portraits in schools are challenged, and so would the imagery of some other religion. Follow the constitution, and stop dreaming of a theocracy and there would be no conflict. Perhaps the Christians that are so quick to jump on Muslims should take a page from Ramadan celebrations, and just enjoy the holiday for the wondrous time of year it is, rather than trying to claim the summit all for themselves.

-Brain Hulk

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas, the borrowed holiday.

One thing that irks me about the holidays is when a Christian starts complaining to me because I, an atheist, have a tree, lights and decorations up. They sing the familiar song that they think I'm being hypocritical. They claim that these are inherent symbols of Christmas, and that I have no business displaying them. But, as per usual, they are completely wrong. The symbolism (save the nativity... though Jesus wasn't the first virgin born savior) is completely stolen from older traditions, and the date itself isn't even unique. Let's look at some history.

The various traditions stem back to the Winter Solstice. Today we typically mark the 21st of December as the Winter Solstice. But previous calendars had the solstice as December 25th. The Winter Solstice was an important event for these people of the past. It marked the transition from the days getting shorter and shorter, to the days getting longer again. To them, this was a sign that the life bringing Sun would now continue it's march higher and higher into the sky, and that the Winter would again be replace with the Spring in due course.

Through the ages, peoples have celebrated this celestial event, and others have anthropomorphized it into stories and myths. Various cultures created and worshiped Sun gods, and used this day to mark their birth or re-birth. Others even marked the solstice an an annual battle that their Sun god would fight with the darkness. They would hold festivals in support of the Sun god, and celebrate when the days grew longer and the nights shorter. The them this meant that their god had won the battle, and the warmer days or Spring, Summer and (more importantly) the growing season would be allowed to return to them. While many Christians think the roots of the Christmas season is the birth of 'the son', the true roots are in the 're-birth' of the Sun.

Also important to note is that the Bible suggests Jesus would have been born in shepherding season. This would place his (alleged) birth in the Summer or early Autumn... not December. So why December 25th? In today's terms, we'd call it a PR move. Other traditions were already celebrating at this time, so what was one more? By absorbing various other traditions and borrowing the same date, it would be easier to get people to convert. So the truth of it was that they eschewed accuracy, for the simple desire to gain as many followers as they could. But it really shouldn't be a surprise to see believers unconcerned with accuracy though.

But what about the individual symbols of what we now call Christmas? A lot of us enjoy a good ham for our Christmas dinner. But why is it that ham it the meat of choice? To find our answer, we have to go back to the celebration of Yule. Norse tradition involved sacrificing a wild boar at Yule, to gain favor with Freyr, the fertility god, so that the land would become fruitful once more.

And what about that lovely video of a roaring fireplace that many will display on their television screen on Christmas morning? Much like the tradition of hanging mistletoe, the Yule log is of pagan origin. In the case of the Yule log, it seems to stem from the ancient fire festival of the solstice season.  As for mistletoe, it didn't originate as an innocent plant that people kiss under. Rather, it was another symbol of fertility.

Decking the halls with holly and evergreens? Again, it's the Pagans. They observed that these plants stayed green all through the Winter. Because of this they became symbols of fertility and life. For these reasons, they brought them into their homes in hopes of ushering the life and fertility of Spring to return again.

Remember that song, the twelve days of Christmas? There are twelve days because Yule was twelve days long. And on the subject of carols, they stem from the practice of wassailing. This Yulesinging was also part of pagan rituals for health and fertility. Before there were the eight tiny reindeer guiding Santa's sleigh, there was Sleipnir. Sleipnir was Odin's eight-legged horse. Odin would lead the Yule hunt, riding Sleipnir through the sky and would give gifts of food.

The roots of gift giving may be seen in the Saturnalia celebration, where  gifts were traditionally given on December 23rd. And what about that most common and arguably the biggest symbols of Christmas?

I'm of course speaking of Santa and the Christmas tree. Some of the earliest inspiration of the modern Santa Claus can again be found in Odin. Remember how he would lead the hunt with his flying eight legged horse, rather than eight flying reindeer? Well, there is a tradition that children would leave boots full of carrots and straw for Sleipnir to eat. In return, Odin would reward them by replacing the carrots and straw with gifts of candy.

 The Christmas tree is also a symbol of pagan origin. Remember, it is an evergreen and served a similar purpose as the holly and evergreens as symbols of life and fertility. Additionally, the early church (and some sects still today) opposed the Christmas tree as a phallic pagan symbol. But now if you have the audacity to call a Christmas tree a 'holiday tree' or anything else, some Christians will lose their minds in outrage (I'm looking at you fox news). So odd that they now try to claim sole ownership of this pagan symbol that the church once stood in opposition to. Finally, the practice of lighting the Christmas tree harkens back to the use of candles on the pagan Yule tree. The candles on the tree were another extension of the Pagan fire festivals of old.

Christmas trees: Expressly decried by
the Bible in Jeremiah 10:1-10.
As you can see very little of what we associate with Christmas really has anything to do with Christianity. Because of this, it is frustrating and bewildering when Christians try to claim outright ownership of the season and all it's many traditions. As can be seen, Christmas as we know it is a conglomeration of older traditions that have been combined into what we now recognize as Christmas. Does that mean we should eject all the Pagan traditions from the holiday, or keep the Pagan and Christian portions as two separate holidays? No, I don't think we should do anything.

We should leave the traditions as-is, call them what we are used to calling them, and celebrate for whatever reasons we wish to celebrate the season. If you celebrate because you (falsely) think it's the birth-date of Christ, then fine. Or if you are like me and celebrate for the fun of the season and traditions, as well as getting together with friends and family, that's great too. All I ask is that Christians not get outraged when people celebrate for reasons different than their own, and that they not try to claim sole ownership of the season and highlight their ignorance as to it's true origins.

-Brain Hulk

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Friday, December 7, 2012

What's in a name?

Like many, I celebrate the Christmas season this time of year. Obviously I celebrate a secular Christmas since I am an atheist, but every now and then you come across a theist who won't accept that. They will say that if you aren't a Christian, you can't celebrate Christmas, or call it Christmas, or wish anyone a happy Christmas. That doing so would be hypocritical. I disagree for multiple reasons. For one, 'Christmas' is just the latest name this holiday season has become known as. Also, they do not realize that they are daily committing the same infraction that they are accusing me of. They only believe in the Christian god. But if they take issue with me celebrating a secular Christmas, why haven't they made up their own calendar yet? Time for specifics...

This name comes from 'Moon's day' and is related to the moon goddesses Selene (Greek) and Luna (Roman).

This day is named for gods of war. Tyr (Norse) was the inspiration for Twia/Tui (Tui's day), the Germanic god of war and the sky. This also came from the gods Mars (Roman) and Ares (Greek).

Wednesday is derived from 'Woden's day'. Woden was the Anglo/Saxon version of previous gods. Odin (Norse), Mercury (Roman) and Hermes (Greek).

This day is 'Thor's Day'. Thor is the Norse god of thunder. The Roman's viewed this day in dedication to their god Jupiter.

This day is also named for a Norse god. This time the honors go to Freya (Freya's day). She was the Norse goddess of love and beauty. Similarly, the Romans recognized this day for Venus, and the Greeks, Aphrodite. Both were also the respective cultures goddess of love and beauty.

'Saturn's day'. This day is named for Saturn, the Roman god of the  harvest/agriculture. The Greek counterpart to Saturn was Kronos.

This is simply the day of the sun, or 'Sun's day'. The Greek god associated with this day was Helios, and the Roman god was Solis.

And now for the months...

This first month of the year is named for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, gates and doors, and endings and time.

Februa was the Roman festival of purification. This took place on the fifteenth day of the second month, which is where February drew it's name from.

March is Named for the Roman god of war, Mars. (Ares in Greek)

This months origin is a bit unsure. It either comes from the Roman goddess Aphrodite (Venus in Greek), or the Latin word 'aperire', which means 'to open' (like flowers).

This next month is named for the Roman goddess Maia. There was also a Greek Maia whom was the mother of Hermes.

June is named for another Roman goddess. This time that goddess is Juno (Junius in Latin), the goddess of marriage.

No supernatural origin here. July is named for none other than the Roman ruler Julius Caesar.

Much like July, August is named for a Roman leader. This time it's Augustus Caesar.

This month is named for the Latin word 'septem', which means 'seven'. This is because this was the seventh month of the year under the Roman calendar.

This month is named for the Latin word 'octo', which means 'eight '. This is because this was the eighth month of the year under the Roman calendar.

This month is named for the Latin word 'novem', which means 'nine'. This is because this was the ninth month of the year under the Roman calendar.

This month is named for the Latin word 'decem', which means 'ten'. This is because this was the tenth month of the year under the Roman calendar.

As we can plainly see, some names no longer make much sense any more (September to December), while most other months and days of the week are named for gods and goddesses that hardly anyone believes in anymore. So when a Christian takes issue with me using the term Christmas, or celebrating on Christmas, I like to ask them if they denounce and refuse to use the word Thursday since they don't believe in Thor. I think it's important for believers and non-believers alike to remember that names that once had a specific meaning long ago, may now be taken for granted.

Maybe we don't subscribe to the original concepts, but these words are part of our lexicon. The days used to be called different things, but these are the names we have adopted. Same for Christmas. It has been known as the Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, etc, and is now known as Christmas. Sure, the Christians may have named their version of this Winter festival for their Christ, but that doesn't mean we have to accept Christ to enjoy Christmas any more than one has to accept Freya in order to be happy about it being Friday. After all, it's just a name. What's ultimately important is what the day means for you.

-Brain Hulk

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The imagined war.

It's that time of year again. The annual happening where the Fox (faux?) news Christians scream that there is a war on Christmas. That's right, they've created a 'war' that is just as make believe as their favored mythology. You know the story, Christians voicing outrage when people don't defy the Constitution and proclaim Christianity and everything attached to it as the unquestioned official religion of our nation. Fake controversy after another, it's always proclaimed that there is an all out war on Christmas.

One of the cases this year concerns holiday displays in Santa Monica. They have a tradition there where there are 'stalls' that are given out to groups to decorate. For years they were always Christmas displays of nativity scenes and other sorts. The way it worked was that groups could enter, and then the 'winners' would be randomly selected out of a hat. No problems there, but last year is when the 'problems' started. In 2011, atheist groups also started entering their groups into the pool. As luck would have it, the majority of the slots chosen were atheist groups. So in the place of the many nativity scenes were secular messages and Solstice displays. Even though the slots were selected the same way they always had been, the local churches were outraged that they no longer enjoyed the monopoly they once enjoyed. They complained until they were blue in the mouth. And after that didn't force the city to overturn their fair and random selection procedure is when the vandalism started. After that ordeal, after the complaints, after the vandalism that needed to be fixed and due to budget reasons, they simply decided not to do the displays at all this year. Cue the outraged church groups. Since they didn't offer the display space this year, they claimed it was an example of the 'war of Christmas'. Sorry, but no. If it was a war on Christmas, they would still do the displays but disallow Christians from taking part. Little do they realize, that had they not raised such a fuss and abstained from vandalizing the displays they didn't like, then the city may have offered the displays again this year as well. But when you have a persecution complex, it's probably not tough to see how they missed that.

Another example is when a government building displays a nativity scene and nothing else. Often, a group will sue and the result will often be that they must also allow other displays or have no displays at all. Following that, other displays would be posted alongside the nativity. Often, one will be an atheistic message, or Solstice display. But then Christian groups will claim that not allowing the nativity to stand all by itself is somehow an example of this supposed war of Christmas. No, it's an upholding of the Constitution. What would be a war on Christmas would be if they said everything but a nativity was allowed.

I also have to hear that we are trying to git rid of Christmas or stop others from celebrating Christmas. Outrageous! The only problem I and others have is when Christians try to force their beliefs and force Christmas as the only holiday and that if you don't celebrate it, you are a terrible person. Well... that and when there are obvious violations of the Constitution at play. Personally, I fell that everyone should celebrate whatever holidays they see fit. I'm an atheist, so I am supposedly 'out to destroy Christmas'. Wrong! I always have and still do celebrate Christmas. Not in a religious way of course, but a secular way. At the root of it all, Christmas is just a re-branded collection of older traditions. I celebrate for the Solstice, but more so for my family, friends and all of us getting together. There is no war on Christmas. Only zealots with throwing their toys from the pram because they can't force everyone into doing as they want.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hold the phone (call)

The more we're connected, the odder communication can be at times. Pointless calls, devices not being used for their intended use, etc. Sometimes I have to sit back and ask myself, "What was the point of that call?"

One such example was a customer that called my office the other day. She called and said that she saw that someone at my office had called and left a message, and she was calling to see what the call was for. In fact, my boss did call her and leave a message. This message stated that the material her poster was to be printed on had in fact come in and that we would print it that day and call her when it was completed. This seemed pretty straight forward to me, so I asked what my boss had told her on the message, as to confirm if there was anything new to tell her. That is when she told me that she didn't listen to it yet. So I ended up telling her exactly what the message said. I wish I could say this was a rare occurrence. Surprisingly often, I will call customers to let them know that their orders are ready for pick up. Half the time I don't get an answer, so I leave them a message. Then, about ten minutes later they call back stating that someone had called from the shop's number, and wanting to know who called. Again, they didn't listen to the message first. I ask, is it really so hard to check your messages before calling back every call you've missed? The purpose of those messages is to leave a recording of the nature of the call or request a call back. By listening to those messages you can determine which calls were important and which calls warranted a call back. Specifically, with the call from the first customer, she was wasting time. They needed their order right away, yet she wasted time by calling for the same information that was left on her message. I was actually working on her order when she called. By calling, I had to stop working on her project part-way through. Doing so means that the project will take longer to complete, but it also means that there is the risk that it will get ruined while I am away from it. So the end result is wasted time, a wasted call and possibly wasted material.

Another type of pointless call is the call reply to an email, where another email would have made more sense. At my job, I send clients design proofs via email. Sometimes customers have more complex feedback that is hard for them to explain in an email. These calls are fine and understandable. The ones that make no sense are the easy ones. Design proofs will sometimes contain just one option, or sometime an A, B, and C option. If any of these look good as-is, it would make sense to reply that it "Looks good" if there was only one choice, or "Let's go with option B" if there were more than one. Yet there are people that will get the email, make their selection and then call to tell me it looks good or to select the option they would like to go with. Doing this wastes time... both mine and theirs. Now, if I am at my desk it won't waste much time, but it will wast some. But there are times where I am working on another project or in another room on the other side of the shop when I hear the phone ring. As before, I need to drop what I'm doing, hope that project doesn't get messed up,  and run to the phone to answer the call. Then if I get to the phone only to find that they are approving a proof, it can obviously be a bit annoying. I had to drop what I was doing and run to the hone for something that would have been better handled by an email. Furthermore, an email would be better for them. By sending an email, there is a written record of what they would like. There have been times where a customer would call, speak to someone else, and they would mistakenly wright down the incorrect proof for approval. We would print the project and the customer would show up to find the wrong layout has been printed for their project. This obviously leaves they understandably upset. But by sending an email, the chances for things to go wrong would be reduced.

But sometimes email prompts pointless calls as well. I have a client that likes to call me about new projects and to tell me that he is about to send an email for what he is needing to order. This is another waste of time. 1) When the email comes, I will see it in my inbox. No need to call and tell me you are about to send one. 2) The information he tells me over the phone is also included in the email. So I'm going over the same information twice. When the info is in an email, there's also less chance of missing something. So there's no need to call to tell me what will be in the email. 3) When he calls, I have to stop what I'm doing to take the call. This means that I have to stop working on a project to talk to him. There have actually been cases where I have been working on a job for him that he had a rush on, only for him to call about something else and cause me to take longer on the time sensitive job. Had an email been sent without a call, I could instead skim it quickly and save it for later once I saw it didn't pertain to the current project. Another similar pointless call type is the call to tell us that they sent an email or make sure we got their email. If you are replying to an email we sent you, and you don't get an error back, we will get it. This may be surprising, but if you don't get an instant reply it's probably because you aren't the only customer or job we are working on right at that moment...

Another thing I don't understand is those that have a mobile phone for emergencies but hardly have it with them or on. I know people who only have one just in case of an emergency. Wet they only ever have it on when they leave the house. What if you're outside and fall and break your leg? This person may be in trouble because when they are home, the phone sits on a table inside and is off. There are also those that have their phone on all the time, but don't keep it with them when they are home. They don't have a home phone, but do have their mobile. Yet I'll see them sit in one room, while the phone sits in the other room and is ignored while it rings. This is their only line of communication outside of email, yet it is ignored  half the time. Wouldn't it make more sense to keep it in the same room with you and at least look to see who is calling or messaging you to see if it might be important? Obviously you could still ignore the call if it didn't look important, but what if you did simply ignore an important call because you ignored the ringer from the other room?

Obviously, there are many more observations we could make about phone calls and communication, but I think we cal all agree where we have answered calls before and asked ourselves at the end, "What was the point of that call?" I know I have had to ask that question far too often.