Christmas Eve

Bill Murray as Frank Cross in “Scrooged”

How did that happen? That happened because it’s Christmas Eve.
I’m not crazy. It’s Christmas Eve.
It’s the one night when we all act a little nicer.
We…we smile a little easier. We…we…share a little more.
For a couple of hours we are the people we always hoped we would be.
It’s really a miracle because it happens every Christmas Eve.
And if you waste that miracle, you’re gonna burn for it. I know.
You have to do something. You have to take a chance and get involved.
There are people that don’t have enough to eat and who are cold.
You can go and greet these people.
Take an old blanket out to them or make a sandwich and say, “Here. l get it now.”
And if you give, then it can happen, the miracle can happen to you.
Not just the poor and hungry, Everybody’s gotta have this miracle!
It can happen tonight for you all!
If you believe in this pure thing, the miracle will happen and you’ll want it again tomorrow!
You won’t say, “Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud.” It’s not!
It can happen every day! You’ve just got to want that feeling!
You’ll want it every day! It can happen to you!
I believe in it now.
I believe it’s gonna happen to me, now. I’m ready for it!
And it’s great. It’s a good feeling.
It’s better than I’ve felt in a long time.
I’m ready.
Have a Merry Christmas. Everybody.

Have a Good Christmas !

Why I celebrate Christmas

A lot of people who will celebrate Christmas this week are not Christians.

The Christian Church teaches that Jesus was the only son of God. Indeed, in the mystery of the trinity it is explained that he IS God. Christmas Day is to celebrate the miraculous birth of the son of God, who created the Universe. A lot of people who will celebrate Christmas this week do not believe this to be the case. A lot of them don’t believe Jesus existed at all.

Is this hypocrisy? I don’t think so. I used to. It means all that for a lot of people, but it also means a whole lot more. Its a time of rest, its a time to reunite families, its a time to celebrate many things.

I wouldn’t consider myself Christian any more, but I do love Christmas. You don’t have to be Christian to do so. But, I have found that the original story of Christmas might not be so irrelevant to those of us who might not go to Mass this weekend.

Alan Watts was a philosopher who studied all the world’s great religions, and helped introduce many Eastern philosophical ideas to the West. At one stage in his life he was also a Christian minister. He eventually left this path, not truly believing in the divinity of Jesus as the Christian Church believed it. But that’s not to say he did not believe in Jesus, nor his divinity. In later life he had a unique take on Christ

The real Good News is not simply that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, but that he was a powerful Son of God who came to open everybody’s eyes to the fact that you too are a powerful son or daughter of God. This is perfectly plain if you go to the tenth chapter of John, verse thirty where Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.”

Watts then explained that when Jesus said this, people threatened to stone him for blasphemy, to which Jesus replied:

“Is it not written in your law, ‘I have said you are Gods?’ If God called those to whom He gave His word Gods – and you cannot deny the scriptures – how can you say I blaspheme because I say I am a son of God?”

Watts continues

There is the whole thing in a nutshell. If you read the King James Bible – the version that descended with the angel – you will see that the words “I am the Son of God” are in italics. Most people think the italics are for emphasis, but they are not. The italics indicate words interpolated by the translators, and you will not find that in the Greek. It says “a son of God.” So here it seems to me perfectly plain that Jesus has it in the back of his mind that this is not something peculiar to himself when he says, “I am the way. No man comes to the Father but by me.” This “I am,” this “me,” is the divine us.

A central tenet of Watts philosophy, that he came to via a synthesis of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, was that the idea of people as individuals separate from the Universe, was a myth. He argued that when you really thought about it we were all connected with ourselves and the Universe, to a point where we can consider ourselves extensions of the Universe itself (I’ve pointed before to similar ideas from people like Carl Sagan and Bill Hicks).

And Watts found it in Christianity too.

We must see Christ as the great mystic, in the proper sense of the word. A mystic is not someone who has all sorts of magical powers and understands spirits and so on. A mystic is one who realizes union with God. This seems to me the crux and message of the gospel. It is summed up in the prayer Saint John records Jesus speaking over his disciples: “May you be one, even as the Father and I are one, that you may be all one.” May we all realize this divine sonship or daughtership or oneness, this basic identity with the eternal energy of the universe, the love that moves the sun and other stars

That’s why I celebrate Christmas. It is Jesus’s birthday, and he, like all of us, was a child of the Universe. He just knew it.

“The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

Carl Sagan
The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean (1980) – Cosmos (Episode 1)

Alan Watt’s quotes from “Jesus – his religion, or the religion about him?” taken from “Myth and Religion”

Catfish

I’m not going to say much about this, because I think its best you go along and see it with as little expectations as possible, aside from the fact that its stunningly good in my opinion. It has just pipped “Inception” to the title of best film I’ve seen this year, and unless “Tron:Legacy” truly pulls it out of the bag, “Catfish” will keep the coveted title.

I’m a sucker for well-made documentaries, and this is a piece of art. Again, there’s loads more I want to say, but I just want to get people to go along and see it. I will say that there is an opinion out there that it’s a hoax. I don’t think so.

(I would also say, the trailer is slightly deceptive about the tone of the film…..but the way it does go is much more shocking if you ask me)

As We May Link

I’ve talked about this before, but it seems to keep popping up in my thought process again. In discussing the cognitive effect of using the Internet, Nicholas Carr argued that the very nature of the medium; it’s hyperlinked text which spreads off into a web of connected text, is causing our mental processes to deteriorate. Citing neuroscience research, he argues that people who read text filled with embedded links end up “comprehending less than those who read traditional linear text”.

Whilst Carr tacks this from an end-user point of view, I thought today about this from the point of view of content providers. I was reading an article today in The Guardian about the Disney-built town of Celebration and recent troubles its been having. In the second paragraph, the article makes an intriguing reference to a recent ‘brutal murder’ and subsequent suicide and police shootout. The article then moves on, but tantalizingly offers you an avenue to explore this event further by way of the ubiquitous hyperlink.

Site Graph of Etsy.com
Photo owned by Noah Sussman (cc)

This mode of writing for the web is now the default. We are now living in the age of hypertext, as first envisioned by Vannevar Bush, in his 1945 article “As We May Think” and later coined as a phrase by Ted Nelson. A lot of blogs or online journalism is peppered with links inviting us off to other sources of information. This division of attention, Carr posits, is responsible for degrading our ability to absorb long pieces of text, and to develop deep understanding of them.

It occurred to me; what am I supposed to do when I come across that link? Do I read it now, or do I read it later if I want to? Will it illuminate what am I reading, or do I need to read it in order to get a full understanding of what is being said? In fairness to The Guardian writer the piece later explains and expands on the violent incidents alluded to earlier, but the dilemma still remains. Do I go off and read more about it now? Or wait? At the time I encountered the hyperlink I had no idea that the writer would return to describe in greater detail these intriguing incidents.

I could journey off down the hyperlink, and return, or like a rambling Billy Connolly stand-up story, I may never come back to my point of origin. What if I find another hyperlink on the next page…might I journey down a digital rabbit-hole of never ending links?

When this piece runs in the newspaper, it will not have these links. The piece holds up without them; the writer has done a fine job weaving the tale. But the default thinking is when a story appears online it should fire tentacles off in every direction, dragging you away from the text. There are worse examples out there too (i’m guilty myself) where the visible text of a hyperlink is incredibly vague, giving you no real clue as to what you are being led to, which gives you less scope to evaluate whether you need to click it, thus making it more enticing.

It seems to me that there is something about the very nature of hypertext, the fact that it naturally sits within the body of text, indeed as the very text you read, that makes it more distracting. This is its gift and its curse. The alternative could be ‘footnotes’ at the end of an article that invite you to explore more after you have finished the main body of text. Wikipedia, probably one of the greatest single hypertext resources out there, uses this method for citations alone; but also uses in body hyperlinks. This is, of course, one of the very great things about Wikipedia, and its a great example of just how powerful hypertext can be. But what is the net effect of this? Do we just skim through the material, feverishly clicking one link after another?

Hypertext is at the core of how the Web works, and we are no doubt richer for having such a vast, interlinked body of knowledge at our disposal. But I wonder sometimes if it is a case that we do it simply because we can. And is the result to the overall detriment of our reading experience?

Is your computer a thing of beauty or a disposable tool?

This week Google unveiled in more detail its new ChromeOS operating system, specifically showing off some of the machines that will run it. As an OS which is essentially little more than a browser, it very much revolves around storing information in the cloud.

To demonstrate this they released a promo video in which a user’s information is repeatedly saved from destruction by virue of the fact that it resides ‘in the cloud’. What is not saved, however, is a plethora of laptops that are destroyed in increasingly violent and extreme methods.

When Gina Trapani linked to this video recently she made the comparison between Google’s vision of disposable computers, and Apples slavish devotion to making beautiful machines. Although Google, in fairness, were trying to make an entertaining point about cloud computing, rather than a philosophical statement about the disposable nature of computers, it still seems to revel in this idea of the machines themselves being secondary. Trapani’s comparison with Apple is very much true.

One thing Apple-bashers often shout about is how Apple computers are some kind of ‘style-over-substance’ devices. That they are just ‘pretty’ boxes, but nothing more. Well, you know what? Aesthetics are important.

Humanity is drawn to create and be surrounded by beautiful objects. It may be an evolutionary trait. Simply utilitarian design is not enough; look at the blight on the landscape left behind by the brutally utilitarian buildings of the 60s and 70s. It amazes me when I go into PC World and look at the Windows laptops on sale. Many of them are ugly, plastic, cheap looking things, with a horrible build and tactile feel. This is beyond meer visual aesthetics; if you are to use a machine well, it should feel good to the touch. Many of these machines look and feel terrible.

This also goes beyond aesthetic sensitivities. Evidence has shown that aesthetically pleasing interfaces are more usable. Indeed, more obviously, using a cheap, plasticy keyboard can be frustrating and limiting.

This is to say nothing of Macs OS X operating system, which is where these debates usually rest. If, for whatever reason, I was to find myself wanting to use another OS, I would have to look far and wide to find a machine that physically matches the Apple Mac, certainly in the laptop department.

Google seem to want a world where the physical machine is secondary. I think this is a mistake. The things we use matter.

P.S. Engadget say these ChromeOS machines have no USB support. Isn’t that the thing that makes the iPad so horrible and unusable? 😉

Let the ruling classes tremble

With dramatic language evoking the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto, the Sunday Independent abandoned all objectivity when reporting on recent voter polls from Ireland suggesting a possible coalition between the Labour Party and Sinn Fein.

THE spectre of a Labour and Sinn Fein-led government, with the support of independent socialist TDs, is now uncomfortably close to reality, according to the latest analysis of voting intentions.

Now, no one is in any doubt of the Sunday Independent’s position in relation to leftist politics (They were the cheer leaders of the property bubble), but surely this is a bit loaded for a front page article?

It does make me laugh to think of the staff at the Sindo terrified that a bunch of bearded Commies are coming to take over the country.

Frankly, I think its exactly the kind of thing we need. I mean look at Hugo Chavez, he just blamed capitalism for flooding. If we could get a leader that would blame capitalism for our economy would be a start.

Snow Links // 02.12.10

These past few days have seen easily the most snow I’ve seen in my life. Which isn’t saying much, as I haven’t seen much, but still. It was alot of snow. Here are some entirely unrelated things and links i’ve picked up the past few days.

Kevin Bacon is the world’s biggest Kevin Bacon fan:

Kube put me on to this, the work of Sean Dunne, a documentary film maker. On his vimeo you can watch his shorts. I highly recommend all of them. I love these kind of things; very beautifully shot, but simple portraits of interesting characters.

In a similar vein, I discovered the work of Skatistan, a charity that runs a skate-park in Kabul, Afghanistan. They made a wonderful short film to promote their cause. It worked so much, I’m making a family member donate my Christmas present cash to them. Cause, you know, I’m just so bloody brilliant, yah?

If you use a Mac and read lots of blogs, then I highly recommend Reeder for Mac, easily the best RSS reader i’ve use yet. And I’ve used three!

A Personal Appeal from the Outlaw Josey Wales

Finally, via Adam, a Dubstep remix of The Snowman. Yes!