Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reflections on 2010 Part II

Oh, so this wasn't enough for you?  Fine, I'll try to do better this time.

I've now typed out two entire blog posts and deleted both of them.  They just sound whiny and selfish.  Suffice it to say that this year has been tough.  An unstable job situation, extremely unstable financial situation, living in an apartment after 10 years of home-ownership (no, we didn't get foreclosed on, but we sold our last house and moved to a new town and have not yet been able to get into a new house), our 9-year-old dog died after a lengthy illness that was almost certainly brought on by the family stress of the last year and a half, and generally feeling extremely out of sorts and off kilter because of all the stress.

Towards the end of the year, things did begin to look up.  My job situation is - I think - beginning to smooth out, although I am still not working 40 hours per week (I am only guaranteed 32 hours per week, and even that doesn't actually always happen).  I also have a new part-time job opportunity with a friend of mine from high school in an online Japanese "Eikaiwa" company.  These companies help Japanese people - usually business people and students - to strengthen their English speaking and writing skills.  Specifically, I will be editing and sort of "grading" submitted writing samples, to help clients with their English writing skills.  The company is just getting off the ground, so I don't know what to expect in terms of monthly income, but it is an exciting opportunity nonetheless.

We also have finally bought a home, and that's certainly something to be excited about after more than a year in an apartment.  It happened rather suddenly.  A week earlier, I would have told you we had no chance of buying a house until at least the middle of 2011.  Then, almost overnight, we had put in a bid on a house about a mile down the road, in a neighborhood we had looked at several times.  I won't go into all the details, but we got the house for a steal because the owner wanted to unload it.  I think we are paying something like $20,000 - maybe even $25,000 - less than what it originally went on the market for.  Our monthly payment will be only slightly higher than our current apartment rent.  The house is two floors, three bedrooms and 2.5 baths, partially finished basement (which probably adds another 500 square feet), fenced yard, and mud room.  We're really excited about it and we feel like we've made a good investment as well, because we are getting the house for so much less than it's worth, and at such a low interest rate.

So anyway, 2010 wasn't a particularly banner year in our household, but we at least have some reason to hope for 2011 to be better.  And can you really ask for much more than that?  

Reflections on 2010

This year pretty much sucked.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Merry Christmas?

During this most wonderful time of the year, it just wouldn't be Christmas without mistletoe and greenery, eggnog and figgy pudding, Christmas songs and family gatherings, and endless outraged ranting from goofy evangelical Christians about saying "Merry Christmas."

This tired old discussion pops up every single year like an old fart wafting up from a basement couch.  In public places - at the checkout counter, perhaps - you'll hear people say: "Merry Christmas," with an ironic emphasis on the last word and a wry little smile that indicates a certain rebelliousness against evil secularism and the PC brigade that wants to desecrate Jesus's birthday.  

Or you'll come across it on places like Facebook and Twitter, or pundits on TV and mouthpieces on the radio.

Today, I had the misfortune of coming across a Facebook post on the page of a Cincinnati country radio station.  Being a country radio station, they are naturally a flag-waving, Jesus-loving, gun-toting bunch of Red-Blooded Americans, and the post said "Merry Christmas.  Pass it on," and included a picture of a billboard somewhere that reads: 

I miss hearing you say "Merry Christmas." 

~ Jesus

We'll ignore for a moment the blasphemous presupposition of putting words onto the lips of Jesus, or the ridiculous notion that no one says Merry Christmas anymore, and instead focus on the comments made by a number of people on this post.  

Here are a few of the more classic ones, reprinted verbatim:
I wish everyone I come in contact with...A Merry Christmas...No one can take that away from ME... So To Everyone... A Very Merry Christmas.... :0)
It's Christmas...not Holiday!!! Dont remove Christ from HIS birthday!!!
Love it. The world is becoming way to PC and it needs to stop. It might hurt someones feelings? How did we survive way back when...sheeesh. Merry CHRISTmas everyone.
he [presumably Jesus] is prob. acutally thinking ...I miss hearing you say happy birthday jesus ! 
Aside from the misspellings, which these sorts of folks can always be relied upon to provide, the thing that strikes me most about these responses is that people really think of December 25th as "Jesus's birthday" - as though Jesus is their cousin and they are celebrating his birthday with cake and party hats.  The Facebook friend of mine who posted a link to this page made the following comment on the link: "Celebrate the birthday of THE KING! We will be making a birthday cake for Jesus this year."

Pardon my French, but are you fucking kidding me?

Here are a few facts relative to all of this:

1. We don't have any idea when Jesus was born, neither the year, nor (especially) the day and month.  Luke clearly conceived of Jesus being born during the warm months of the year, because shepherds would not have been in their fields during the winter.  But of course, Luke's entire story - like Matthew's - is not a literal account of historical facts, so the point is moot regardless.  The simple fact is that we don't know.  He may just as likely have been born on July 4th or October 31st or the Ides of March.

2. December 25th was chosen sometime in the 4th century C.E. for the day of Christ's Mass because that was already a traditional midwinter celebration day, honored as the birthday of several ancient gods, most notably the Roman sun god Sol Invictus.  Sol was a relatively "new" god for the Romans, instituted in the 200's C.E.  His name meant "Unconquerable Sun," and it is easy to see why this Roman god could be equated with Jesus - the unconquerable "son."  (It is important to note, of course, that the linguistic connection between "sun" and "son" was not as explicit in ancient Greek as it is in English.  Still, equating Jesus with the sun - the great giver of life and light - was already by this time a very old Christian tradition).

3. The word "X-mas" does not equate to "taking Christ out of Christmas" or "x-ing out Christ."  This is something I was taught as a child - that the word "X-mas" was borderline blasphemous.  In ancient Christian tradition, the Greek letter Chi - X - was an abbreviation for the word "Christ."  The reason for this abbreviation is simple: X was the first letter of "Christ" in Greek!  It also made a nice play on words, since X is also the symbol of the cross.  In numerous Christian manuscripts of the late Middle Ages, Jesus is referred to as X, or XP (P - the Greek letter Rho - being the second letter of the Greek form of "Christ").  In fact, there was even a Christian symbol - called the Labarum - which artistically depicted X and P wound together, which dates all the way back to Constantine the Great in the early 4th century C.E.  This symbol - also called the Chi-Rho - was one of Constantine's military emblems after his conversion to Christianity.

4. Saying "Happy Holidays" does not equate to secularizing Christmas.  It is a fact of modern society that numerous holidays - many of them celebrated by the majority of Americans - fall between the end of November and the end of December.  There are no less than six that are celebrated by the majority of Americans (two at Thanksgiving, two at Christmas, and two at New Year's).  Furthermore, there are several other holidays celebrated by a lot of folks in December, most notably Hanukkah and Boxing Day.  Thus, "Happy Holidays" recognizes that we do a lot of celebrating from the end of November to the end of December.

5. If you are talking to a stranger, and you have no idea what their religious background is or what their personal feelings are about the Christmas holiday, why in the world would you say "Merry Christmas" to them?  Regardless of whether it offends them or not, it's just pointless - as pointless as saying "Happy New Zealand Independence Day" to a Lithuanian.  Insisting on saying "Merry Christmas" to people who don't celebrate Christmas is simply Christian bullying.  There is no other way to describe it.  It's bullying not because the phrase "Merry Christmas" is mean-spirited, but simply because the insistence on saying it to every person you come in contact with - even strangers about whose religious beliefs and celebratory traditions you know nothing - can be a crude form of unwelcomed proselytizing.

6. People who get offended over hearing someone say "Merry Christmas" to them need to lighten up.  Yes, that may seem to be switching gears from the argument I've been making, but I'm just as capable as the next guy of being reasonable.  I don't have a problem with "Merry Christmas."  I think people who DO have a problem with "Merry Christmas" need to get their priorities straight.

What I am lashing out against here is not "Merry Christmas" per se, but against the insistence by goofy evangelicals to shove it down everyone's throat and act morally outraged that a  lot of Americans don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday - and who like to imagine that this is somehow a new trend!  That's perhaps one of the funniest things about these arguments - that, in their moral outrage, these folks imagine that this secularizing of Christmas is new, that somehow fifty years ago, every American was a Jesus-centered Christian who solemnly kept Christ in Christmas.  In mainstream American society, Christmas ceased being a religious holiday about 100 years ago.

So, to wrap this thing up, let me quote the immortal Christmas wishes of South Park's Mr. Garrison:

In case you hadn't noticed, it's Jesus's birthday, so get off your heathen Hindu ass and fucking celebrate.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Another Pleasant Valley Thursday

I stole and adapted that title from my sister's blog.

Well, November 2010 was the first month since I started blogging in 2006 that I have not put up a single blog post.  Now, it's only been about 33 days since I last posted, and I've probably gone longer than that before, but I've never missed a whole month.

Not sure why I didn't blog last month.  It's not like I was exceptionally busy or anything.  I just have run out of ideas for the moment, I think.  I started an essay a few weeks ago - on the authorship of the books of the New Testament - but have not yet finished it.  Not sure if I even will.

Otherwise, that's about all I've got.  I've started working out again, although it's only tenuous at this point.  I'm hoping to make it a regular thing.  So far I've been managing about twice a week.  I also quit smoking about 6 weeks ago, after about 3 years of the habit.  I'm a rare bird in that I didn't start smoking until I was over 30.  I started in 2007 when I was in school full time and working full time.  I was influenced by all the smokers at work who constantly took smoke breaks, and the fact that I was under a lot of stress.  Not that it's anyone's fault but my own.  I'm glad to have quit, however.  The problem, of course, is that my appetite has increased since I quit.  I've always been an overeater, but it's worse now.  I suppose you tend to replace nicotine with carbs and calories.

A few quick comments on recent issues:

1. I don't have a problem with airport body scanners from the standpoint of privacy.  If someone sees Big Jim and the Twins, that doesn't concern me.  We all have the same parts, after all.  My concern, as a hospital radiographer, is about radiation exposure, especially for frequent fliers and aircraft personnel (like pilots and attendants).  The biological effects of frequent exposure to those people is not fully known, particularly considering that they are already receiving higher yearly doses of natural background radiation because they fly so often - radiation doses are higher at higher altitudes.

2. Sarah Palin is a clown and it makes me weep for the future that so many people take her seriously.

3. How come the same people who are up in arms over the budget deficit are also viciously opposed to raising taxes for anyone, even the wealthy?  The budge is funded by taxes.  That's the basis of the entire existence of the federal government.  How can the budget deficit be overcome without a raise in taxes to help equalize it?  Obviously cutting spending is an integral part of the scenario too, but without raising taxes as well, cutting spending alone will not solve the problem - at least not if you want to actually have a government left at the end.

4. Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and let gay people get married.  Anything less is open discrimination.

5. WikiLeaks provides an important service to the world community, and their exposure of military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan is significant.  However, I think releasing confidential diplomatic correspondence is irresponsible and could have a legitimate negative impact on foreign relations.

6. I hope the Cleveland Cavaliers fans riot tonight and break both of LeBron James's legs.

7. Okay, not really, but I'm looking forward to hearing them harass him.  I wouldn't be so against him if it wasn't for the fact that he is such a blatantly arrogant, overpaid, over-privileged little fuck.

8. North Carolina was obviously overrated at the start of the men's basketball season, and that is now proving true in the regular season.  It warms the cockles of my UK Wildcat heart.

9. Put a pilgrim hat on him and buckled shoes, and Mitch McConnell could look like he just left the Salem Witch Trials.

10. North Korea is such a joke that it's hard to take them seriously.  They are this tiny little nation with virtually no strong allies (not even China) and yet they are acting like they are going to destroy the world or something.  It's like a mouse waving its fist at a pit bull.