Holiday cheer

We’re fast approaching my favorite holiday of the whole year. The songs, the presents, the cards, and tv specials don’t do it justice. Yes, there’s something magical in the air when Boxing Day comes around; it’s a time for families to come together and remember what’s important in life. Far beyond the noise and glitter of Christmas, Boxing Day is a solemn occasion for us to reflect on life and work off that holiday hangover.

Some things never change.

For those who argue that Google is changing the world for better or for worse, I present you with the proof that google isn’t changing anything. Observe:

I’m a big fan of finding the definition of tough words on google. So today, I popped this gem into a google search:

define: stultifying

And google, with billions in profits and an army of computer scientists, answered my query:

Definitions of stultifying on the Web:

Tending to stultify

Yes friends, even in the 21st century the actual definition of a word is quite elusive. Nor is there a link to the verb stultify, which would represent a great leap forward in dictionary world. I would have come to the same conclusion if I’d brushed the cobwebs off of the stultiest old dictionary in the world. When will we see the day that a person can find a definition of a difficult word that doesn’t include the incomprehensible word which sparked the search?

This underscores a pattern I’ve been noticing for the first time. The web is not, as is so often believed, an innovative thing. It’s largely a new manifestation of the old- and I happen to have the perfect example. For centuries, libraries have relied on paper cards stacked oh-so-neatly into a drawer which sits amidst dozens of other drawers. This represented the pinnacle of bibliographic organization- the card catalog, as it was known at that time.

Then came library automation, a term which to my ears sounds every bit as archaic as talking picture.

Automation relied on very primitive computers and a helluva lot of magnetic tape, which in time was transferred to more complex computers with magnetic platters (most still use this medium), and most recently, library catalogs on the internet. From the time of little cards up to the age of the iphone, libraries have developed dizzyingly complex system which allows us to search for any library material, anywhere, anytime we want. And we call it….the card catalog.

Should this surprise anyone? Not if you look at the information stored first in paper cards, then magnetic reels, then magnetic platters, and soon solid state drives. No, bibliographic information has scarcely changed at all throughout a period of unprecedented technological advances. Naturally, you’d assume it’s because your average librarian is a luddite bookworm, loathsome of google and the monopoly on information it has formed. But you’d be wrong.

At every level of our society, technology shapes our activities. What it doesn’t change is our habits/needs. If you think about it, it’s hard to prove that any technology has really changed what we do; it merely changes how we do it. Library catalogs contain the same information, regardless of what medium they occupy. Same with video- it went from reels to smaller reels (tapes) to dvd’s to blu-ray discs to the internet. But we still watch it, just the same. Music is nearly identical, if not much older example- we’re just as aurally stimulated by tribal chants as the Beatles music in the itunes store. Agriculture, one of the oldest activities our civilization has ever pursued, bears no resemblance at all to the pasttime our ancient ancestors (or even farming as our grandparents knew it, for that matter). And of course, the world’s oldest profession hasn’t changed a bit.

What then, constitutes a real change? I can’t say with certainty. I can’t even be sure that there is ‘real’ change. It’s entirely possible that time is circular, and we just keep reliving the same things in different settings. A very simple analogy is foliage- every year the trees grow new leaves, each one absolutely unique, yet almost indistinguishable from its neighbor. Every year they spend the season, change colors, die, and re-emerge. If you think about it on a larger scale, this yearly cycle might seem to never end. Left alone, our consciousness might not even conceive of linnear time, since every year the leaves experience the same cycle.

Our bodies give away the illusion- year after year, we change (sometimes imperceptibly, other times not). It’s most noticeable in children- they make change more quickly than the rest of us (or maybe we stay the same more than them). In any case, it would seem that this is definite evidence of linnear time. Naturally, I disagree. I don’t think we’re fundamentally different from leaves- we’re all unique, each with his own time and place, yet we’re bound to a singular existence- no matter what, we still do the same things as the folks who witnessed the turn of the first millennium, and we’ll still be doing the same things 1,000 years from now.

With that in mind, I fully expect many things to be different. We’re pretty screwed if 1,000 years from now we haven’t begun to spread to other planets, fly in air-cars and walk our dogs on automatic treadmills. But then, we’ll still be doing the same things, whether it’s in space, in hell, or somewhere in between.

Indictment We Trust

This week another Illinois governor fulfills his destiny and switches his tailor-cut for an baggy orange jumpsuit. Nothing about this governor is really so unique; he comes from a city with a long and rich history of corrupt officials. Why then is this an item of national importance? His troubled face and mop are plastered on every TV screen in America, as if a corrupt politician getting busted even merits mention these days.

What’s that, shadowy conservative? He’s from the same city (population 9,000,000) as Obama? He’s probably a co-conspirator, that wily high yellow.* After all, you can’t spell ‘guilt by association‘ without ‘guilty“.

Lord, give us strength.

The real gem in this whole affair is listening to the raft of commentators attempt to prononce the name Blagojevich. Needless to say, his name suffered more than a sullied reputation.

*This term is apparently not nearly as racist as one might suspect- I’d never even heard of it, which might be why it doesn’t carry the stigma that other racial adjectives do.

Wassail to thou and thine

I went to SIUE‘s Madrigal dinner on Thursday and had a good evening. The acting was a disappointment, but the music carried the day (the food wasn’t all bad either). Made me remember how much I like old centuries-old music. Back then, four-part harmony was the hottest thing since wheels on a barrow.

The words dont’ mean much, but there’s real invention in the chords and phrasing of each voice. I’d consider this to be one of the finer examples of the late Renaissance style from the baroque phase of the first half of the House of Cardes.

Mormoney, more problems

What would Jesus ban?

If you guessed abortion, hate, or heavy metal, you’re wrong! He’s cool with all of those things. What really bugs him is gay people. Why do they have to destroy marriage? Here we face a terrible threat; divorce, spousal abuse, and infidelity are insignificant next to the menace of same-sex marriage; against this last assault, the sacred bond between one man and several women one woman cannot stand.

Thank God the Mormon church had the moral fiber and financial means to support Proposition 8. Without their heavenly cash (did they melt the golden plates to cover the cost?), Prop 8 might not be law today. Yes, the campaign was $35,000,000 well spent- it proves that democracy is all about cheques and balance$.

*Removes tongue from cheek*

I’ve been told by some that I’m being too hard on Mormons; that perhaps Joseph Six-Pack was unaware of what the church leadership was up to. I say bullshit. There are numerous examples of followers who plead ignorance in some misdeed. Despite my cynicism, I firmly believe that a leader can only successfully lead with complicit agreement of followers. Quite simply, those in charge can only get away with as much as their people allow. Thus, if there were any real opposition to Prop 8 from within the Mormon party, it would not have been such a smashing success.

Before you deem me to quick to judge others, let me clarify a few things. I strongly believe in religious freedom- if Mormons hate same-sex marriage, that’s fine. If Catholics are appalled by abortion, that’s fine. If Jews are offended by Christmas trees, so be it. There’s nothing wrong with any of these ideas- and any who believes this country should live up to it’s reputation as a free society ought to agree.

Though church officials might eschew the term, it’s sometimes called intellectual freedom- the right to think and say what you want without fear of reprisal. Like all abstract ideas, intellectual (or religious) freedom is fantastic- in reality, however, it’s sometimes unpleasant. I disagree with most politicians, clergymen, feminists, misogynists, scientists, violinists, and anybody else who spouts off too frequently (especially bloggers). To use the popular phrase, I don’t discriminate- I dislike everyone equally. Which is good; it keeps things interesting.

What’s bad is when a person or group tries to make their discriminatory beliefs into law. It doesn’t matter how you feel about Mormons, Mexicans, Jews, Gays, gay Jews or Mexican Mormons. Everyone has the same rights. No further elaboration is needed for such a simple concept, laid out so eloquently by our constitution.*

*Unless…. you disagree with the Constitution and have the financial chutzpah to get new laws passed.

As always, I’m glad to report that the irony is not entirely lost on me. That a religious group that was chased out of the Land of Lincoln for their religious beliefs, and subsequently persecuted for decades for their peculiar marriage practices to sponsor legislation to deprive another group of their right to marry is about an 8 on the irono-meter.

What does all this mean for the land of the free? You decide. I’m busy working on my new law to ban Chinese marriage (we have to stop them before they reach 2 billion!).