I spent the weekend in Leavenworth, Washington, with my wife, our kids, and my future son-in-law. It was a fun-filled weekend of bright lights, snow-capped mountains, hot apple cider, chestnuts roasting on open fires, and Christmas carols sung by choirs. But the more that I listened to Christmas carols, the more I started to get an interesting picture of Santa Claus.
Like many other people, I grew up with the concept of Santa Claus as a kindly old gentleman that brought gifts at Christmas to all the good children of the world. Santa was like the ultimate grandfather - with a bright red suit, a cheery disposition, a full beard of whiskers, and a sleigh that flew through the air by magic reindeer.
But this year the words to some of the traditional Christmas carols began to really sink in, and I started to see a different Santa. A darker Santa. A scary Santa. Let me give you just a few examples:
- "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - Think about it: "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..." Wait - Santa is IN MY ROOM and WATCHING ME SLEEP? Holy cow - I never realized that Santa was stalking me. I don't think that I can match eyes with him in the mall from now own; it's just too creepy.
- "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - So Santa is breaking up marriages now, eh? Does DADDY know that Santa is spending a little too much time under the mistletoe with MOMMY? How does Mrs. Claus feel about this?
- "Santa Baby" - That's obviously not MOMMY that's singing those lyrics, so Santa must be two-timing mommy with someone else. And she sounds well-taken-care-of. I wonder how many pretend Mrs. Clauses Santa has scattered around the globe.
- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - All those years of prejudice and abuse that Rudolph had to endure, and what did Santa do about it? Nothing. Santa ignored the whole affair, until a foggy Christmas Eve came around, and suddenly he has a use for Rudolph. That poor abused reindeer is nothing but an opportunistic tool to Santa.
My childhood illusion is finally shattered - this Christmas Eve Santa isn't filling STOCKINGS hung by the chimney with care, he's STALKING you by the chimney with care. That's why he's sneaking into your house like a burglar, and why he has so many aliases around the globe - even James Bond doesn't use as many pseudonyms: Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Grandfather Frost, Yule Man, Sinterklaas, Дед Мороз, etc.
So this Christmas Eve I suggest that you heed the wise advice found in the "Here Comes Santa Claus" Christmas carol: "Jump in bed and cover up your head, Because Santa Claus comes tonight."
It is the soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier,
who salutes the flag,
who serves under the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.
--By Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC
I served in the Army for 8 years as a Russian translator. When I was still in Russian school, we were required to attend "conversation" class, where a group of students would sit down and discuss various topics with one of the instructors.
One day the instructor asked me what I had been doing the previous evening, and I said that I had played soccer. She asked what position I played, and since I didn't know the Russian noun for a goal keeper, I took a chance and replied in Russian that "I played goalie." She looked surprised, and asked if I was often goalie when playing soccer, and I replied yes - I usually play goalie. After that we chatted back and forth about how I preferred to play goalie, why I preferred to play goalie, etc. This conversation continued for about a minute, when she switched to English and informed me that in Russian "goalie" (голый) is the adjective for "naked".
So I had spent the last part of the conversation waxing poetic about my preference for playing soccer... well... you know. ;-)
I saw a video the other day for the song "Crying for John Lennon," which is a truly pathetic piece of hero worship about a boorish, drug addicted, womanizing narcissist. Putting aside the fact that John Lennon is no person to be admired, this video and song are another entry in a long line of juvenile visions of a world where nothing evil ever happens. The trouble with such a naïve approach to life is that it presupposes that everyone agrees with your interpretation of evil. How utterly immature.
Some cultures ignore their neighbors, some cultures fight their neighbors, while other cultures eat their neighbors. There is no common ground - there is no singular interpretation of what constitutes the concept of good or bad, much less a concept of "peace."
But for that matter, many a conquered people in western cultures have believed in peace at all costs. Crowds of angry youths who have been so sheltered by the blanket of freedoms which have been thanklessly provided for them are lulled into adolescent complacency and they form a misguided view of the world that ultimately leads to their destruction. I think that John Stuart Mill put it best when he said:
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
For every person who dreams of pacifism no matter the cost, there are a dozen people who are willing to kill them simply for their shoes. I have travelled abroad - and I have met some of these types of people. It is difficult for simple minds to understand that there are some people in the world who hate you just because you exist. It's nothing that you have done, it's nothing that you believe, and there's nothing that you can do about it.
So while the songwriter who inspired me to write this post may be crying for John Lennon, I am weeping for our future - because if people like this songwriter continue to persist in their delusions, we are truly doomed.
Let there be no misunderstanding – I love Famous Amos cookies. But that being said, Famous Amos is out to kill me.
If I eat a small handful of Famous Amos cookies, I will pay for it with severe heartburn that lasts for several hours. But the following week, I’ll buy another package – I know that I'm going to be in pain, but I just can't help myself.
I know that one of the hardest experiences for mankind is trying to kick the smoking habit, but I have to be honest – trying to stay away from Famous Amos cookies is much harder. At least for me, anyway.
What’s even worse is when I have just enough pocket change to buy a little bag of cookies from the vending machine and the @#$% machine won’t take one of my coins. Those machines do that just to mess with me, I’m sure of it. All I can do is stare at the bag of cookies – just out of reach – and there’s nothing that I can do. There they sit – right in front of me – taunting me to resort to drastic measures.
I have to go – the day is getting late and I feel like a snack.
I wonder how much change I have?
I had originally written the following for a Facebook note, but I think that it's better as a blog post:
Let's face it, if you have known me for any period of time during the past two decades you would quickly realize that outside of church, family, and music, working with computers is my next biggest passion. Being been hired by Microsoft in late 1995 was one of those moments where I smacked myself on the head and questioned why I hadn’t thought of that before. It’s just great when it turns out that you can actually make a living doing one of your hobbies. (Making a living making music would be great, too, but I work with a large number of people who have all realized that having a normal day job means that you can actually afford your music hobby. Whereas trying to make a living at music often means wondering where your next meal is coming from. But I digress...)
Anyway, I’ve had several different jobs since I joined Microsoft, which always leads to the following question from friends and family: "So, what do you do for Microsoft?"
Over the past few years I have worked on a team with several gifted people that create several technologies that perform a lot of the behind-the-scenes work for the Internet, and these days I spend my time writing about these products and telling people how they can use them. With that in mind, I thought that I’d answer a little bit of the "What do you do for Microsoft?" question by way of illustration.
The following blog post that I wrote recently branches off into several links where I discuss writing a bunch of code to do a variety of things that many people would probably find... well... less than exciting:
MSDN Blog: Merging FTP Extensibility Walkthroughs
As I said, you might not find it exciting - but for me, this why I get up in the morning, and at the end of the day it’s why I still love my job.
This blog isn't that old, I only created the site a few months ago, but it's amazing how much spam I get. It seems like every other day I have another spammer that is pretending to post comments, when they are actually just posting links to their (often bogus) business web sites.
Fortunately I have comment moderation turned on so their posts are never actually posted to the web site, but spammers are never deterred – they continue to post new comments to my site in the hopes that maybe something will get through. So I fully expect that some spammer is going to post so innocuous piece of worthlessness to this blog post within the week.
Valentine's Day is just around the corner, which is always an occasion for me to become a little introspective. With that in mind, I remember the days of our courtship when we would promise to love each other forever and to grow old together; yet now as I look back on our lives, I realize that we had no idea what we were saying. We were young and in love and completely clueless about what being in love really meant.
Mark Twain once wrote that “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century,” and now that we have passed that milestone I can look back and begin to catch a glimpse of this elusive concept called “true love.”
Love has meant staying together through times of destitute poverty when we didn’t know from where our next meal would come. Love has meant enduring months of separation when I was serving abroad in our country’s armed forces. Love has meant countless sleepless nights raising children and meeting their every need. Love has meant staying by each other’s bedside to nurse one another back to health. Love has meant walking side-by-side through that timeless season of joy mixed with pain that all parents must suffer when watching their children grow up and leave home.
Over the years I have learned that true love is not the offspring of well-meant promises made hastily in your youth; true love is borne of a thousand little things over thousands of days and nights as you grow older together, until you find that so much time has passed that you cannot remember a time when you were ever apart.
Will Durant wrote that "The love we have in our youth is superficial compared to the love that an old man has for his old wife," and I have found my greatest joy in growing old with you.
Twenty years ago or so, even before the time of Al Gore, there was this thing called "The Internet." There were two kinds of people that used it: the military types and college types. As I was transitioning out of the military following the first Gulf War, I fell into both categories. There was no "World Wide Web" then - which some of today's younger generation cannot understand. ("How could you find anything before companies had websites?")
Back then you pretty much had to be a geek to be on the Internet; it had not yet been reduced to the fewer-than-140-character drivel that is so prevalent on today's Internet. That being said, I spent my time on the Internet using four technologies:
- FTP - for retrieving files
- Gopher - for research
- Email - for keeping in touch with some of my ex-military friends
- Newsgroups - for arguing
Gopher is long-since deceased, FTP is still in use but its power is waning, and if you're younger than the age of 20 then you probably spend more time with Facebook, Twitter, and cell phone texting than sending emails. (But wait until you move out, get a job, and start having to make a living and pay for your own existence - which includes things like rent and food, not just Starbucks and cell phone service.)
In any event, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out in various newsgroups arguing all sorts of issues and topics. Even when I agreed with someone I argued with them. That's really what newsgroups were for - so geeks from all over the planet could argue with each other. Over the years newsgroups have mostly been replaced by web-based forums, although the comments sections on blogs seem to have grown into the avenue-of-choice where the real arguing takes place.
Back in the pre-WWW days, someone put together the "The Twelve Commandments of Flaming," and I wish that I knew the original author's name. (I have seen it attributed to many different people over the years.) What is most amusing about this list is how true it was both then and now. For examples of such behavior, read this list, then browse to your favorite blog and read the comments section.
The Twelve Commandments of Flaming
- Make things up about your opponent: It's important to make your lies sound true. Preface your argument with the word "clearly."
"Clearly, Fred Flooney is a liar, and a dirtball to boot."
- Be an armchair psychologist: You're a smart person. You've heard of Freud. You took a psychology course in college. Clearly, you're qualified to psychoanalyze your opponent.
"Polly Purebread, by using the word 'zucchini' in her posting, shows she has a bad case of penis envy."
- Cross-post your flames: Everyone on the net is just waiting for the next literary masterpiece to leave your terminal! From the Apple II RoundTable to X-10 Powerhouse RoundTable, they're all holding their breath until your next flame. Therefore, post everywhere.
- Conspiracies abound: If everyone's against you, the reason can't possibly be that you're a jerk. There's obviously a conspiracy against you, and you will be doing the entire net a favor by exposing it.
- Lawsuit threats: This is the reverse of Rule #4 (sort of like the Yin & Yang of Flaming). Threatening a lawsuit is always considered to be in good form.
"By saying that I've posted to the wrong group, Bertha has libeled me, slandered me, and sodomized me. See you in court, Bertha."
- Force them to document their claims: Even if Harry Hoinkus states outright that he likes tomato sauce on his pasta, you should demand documentation. If Newsweek hasn't written an article on Harry's pasta preferences, then Harry is obviously lying.
- Use foreign phrases: French is good, but Latin is the lingua franca of flaming. You should use the words "ad hominem" at least three times per article. Other favorite Latin phrases are "ad nauseum," "veni, vidi, vici," and "fetuccini alfredo."
- Tell 'em how smart you are: Why use intelligent arguments to convince them you're smart when all you have to do is tell them? State that you're a member of Mensa, or Mega, or Dorks of America. Tell them the scores you received on every exam since high school.
"I got an 800 on my SATs, LSATs, GREs, MCATs, and I can also spell the word 'premeiotic' ."
- Accuse your opponent of censorship. It is your right as an American citizen to post whatever the hell you want to the net (as guaranteed by the 37th Amendment, I think). Anyone who tries to limit your cross-posting or move a flame war to email is either a communist, a fascist, or both.
- Doubt their existence: You've never actually seen your opponent, have you? And since you're the center of the universe, you should have seen them by now, shouldn't you? Therefore, THEY DON'T EXIST! This is the beauty of flamers' logic.
- Lie, cheat, steal, leave the toilet seat up.
- When in doubt, insult: If you forget the other 11 rules, remember this one. At some point during your wonderful career as a Flamer you will undoubtedly end up in a flame war with someone who is better than you. This person will expose your lies, tear apart your arguments, make you look generally like a bozo. At this point, there's only one thing to do: INSULT THE DIRTBAG!!!
"Oh yeah? Well, your mother does strange things with vegetables."
An Example for the Rookie Flamer
- > Dear Joe,
- I object to your use of the word "dear." It shows you are a condescending, sexist pig. Also, the submissive tone you use shows that you like to be tied down and flagellated with licorice whips.
- > While I found your article "The Effect of Belly-Button Lint
> on Western Thought" to be extremely thought-provoking,
- "Thought-provoking?" I had no idea you could think, you rotting piece of swamp slime.
- > it really shouldn't have been posted in rec.scuba.
- What? Are you questioning my judgment? I'll have you know that I'm a member of the super-high-IQ society Menstruate. I got an 800 on my PMS exam. Your attempts constitute nothing less than censorship. There is a conspiracy against me. You, Riff Raff, and Simon Sinister have been constantly harassing me by email. This was an ad hominem attack! I have therefore cross-posted this to alt.flame, rec.nude, comp.graphics, and rec.arts.wobegon.
- > Perhaps you should have posted it in misc.misc.
- It is my right, as granted in the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, the Bible and the Koran, to post where ever I want to. Or don't you believe in those documents, you damn fascist? Perhaps if you didn't spend so much time sacrificing virgins and infants to Satan, you would have realized this.
- > Your article would be much more appropriate there.
- Can you document this? I will only accept documents notarized by my attorney, and signed by you in blood. Besides, you don't really exist anyway, you AI project, you.
And in closing...
Flames should be witty, insulting, interesting, funny, caustic, or sarcastic, but NEVER, EVER, should they be boring.
Today is November 9th - which marks the 20-year anniversary of the re-opening of the borders in Germany, which ultimately resulted in the fall of Soviet Communism. While most of us remember where we were on 9/11/2001, I also remember where I was on 11/9/1989 - I was on the East German border, helping to keep the Russian 8th Guards Army at bay...
For all the hype about the Cold War, Nuclear Proliferation, and Mutually-Assured Destruction that we had way back when, at least we knew who they bad guys were and where they were hiding. I have often said that I loved what I did back then, and that’s still a true statement. That being said, I must admit that I have enough memories to last a dozen lifetimes of sleepless nights in sub-zero temperatures chasing signals through the RF spectrum or standing guard duty in some dark corner of the world where even the evil empire had the good sense to avoid. But the simple fact is - business was good during the Cold War, right up to the time when peace broke out and ruined my life and I had to get a real job. ;-)
In any case, I tip my hat to my fellow members of the Fulda Fighting 511th and the Bat Cave Dwellers of Fort Huachuca. Even though it’s grammatically incorrect to express it this way, it seems appropriate for me to say: "We did good."