Tuesday, December 31, 2013

no more beret guy, but a bit more xkcd!

some more comics from xkcd.com apologies in advance for the coarse language

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The rich history of Santa and his evil sidekick

I have learned a great deal about the origins of Santa Claus from this article by philosopher Kyle Johnson

The central premise is that the idea that St Nicholas is Father Christmas is more myth than reality. St.Nicholas’ existence is sketchy at best, with the first details about the man emerging only several hundred years after his death. Also, stories that St.Nicholas gave away his possessions, provided the dowry for three daughters of a poor father, and intervened to save the life of a condemned man, all closely fit the Greek writer Philostratus’ account of the Pythagorean philosopher Apollonius. Coincidence?

We also know that over the centuries, many pagan gods were “Christianised” by being “sainted” in to the religion to make it more palatable to potential converters to the new faith. St Nicholas, with his far reaching miraculous powers, was adopted as the saint of sailors, penitent thieves, archers and prostitutes, and it appears that his character took on many of the aspects of several other gods. For example, he supposedly performed the same miracles as Posiedon, Neptune and the god Hold Nicker. Indeed, temples to these gods were appropriated and renamed for Nicholas. 


He seems to also have taken on the whit beard characteristic of the Norse god Odin, who would return in the month of December on an eight-legged horse. Odin, also known as Julebuk in Scandinavia, would visit with presents, and he would be accompanied by Brechta, who would bestow blessings and curses depending on whether children had been good or bad. Households would also leave out oats for Odin’s horse. 


Now it gets darker. For many years, there was a strong disciplinary angle to the mythology. Postcards from around the turn of 20th century show St. Nicholas putting children in sacks to be carried off, and sometimes Santa is pictured whipping them for misbehaving. For a long time, St Nicholas had assisting him a devil or Wild Man (Christians adopted the pagan Wild Man and changed him in to a devil), who was a horned, half-man, half-goat. The wild man creature would be released by St.Nicholas if the children had been bad, to be carried off to hell, whipped, put in chains, etc. This character was called Krampus in some European countries and he has in fact undergoing quite the revival! Note, this Wild Man was often called “Claus”.


In Germany, the Wild Man/devil and St.Nicholas blended together over the years: the furry Wild Man was manifested in Santa Claus’s furry costume; his sack was used to carry presents instead of bagging naughty children; and the birch used to beat children became a whip for the reindeer (the reindeer may have evolved from Thor’s two magical goats, Donder and Blitzen, who flew the Greek God’s chariot). 


For some time, Santa Claus appeared not as we know him today but as a dirty, furry, peddler type character. He cleaned up over the years and his girth increased substantially by the efforts of Harper’s Weekly in the later 1800s. He was quickly becoming a wholesome character to be loved, not feared. Mrs Claus appeared in 1881 through a poem, and in 1931, Santa’s official colours became red and white through the advertising work of Coca-Cola. The soft-drink company took away his smoking pipe and replaced it with a bottle of coke. Over the years, the idea of giving an endless quantity of presents developed, and when the stockings were overfilled, gifts would be hung on a table top tree. The tree quickly migrated off the table and grew in size to accommodate the increasing number of gifts.


I quite like the evolution of Santa and how he has moved with the times and become almost something devoid of religious tones. Instead of lamenting the fact that Christmas no longer “means” anything, perhaps we should accept and enjoy what it is morphing into, an irreligious celebration of giving and consideration, with a hefty dose of consumerism thrown into the mix (it’s this latter element that I think needs to evolve or devolve a little). Also I like the fact that Krampus is making a revival, although he is a bit rich for the delicate minds of young children. That said, the character would be far more palatable if parents stopped pretending that Santa and companions were all real. 

Merry xmas all and remember not to misbehave if you know what's good for you!


Shia LaBeouf the copyist

I have never been a fan of Shia LaBeof the actor. However, Shia LaBeof the plagiarist is a very interesting specimen.

Earlier this year he apologised to the actor Alec Baldwin by cutting and pasting text from an Esquire article. More recently, his applauded short film HowardCantour.com turned out to be a complete, uncredited rip-off that was passed off as his own work. He then apologised with a plagiarised apology. The original artist is considering legal action. A commenter in the linked article highlights further plagiarism in LaBeouf's description of his film.

Elsewhere, I read in an MTV article that LaBeouf self-published a comic titled "Let's F---ing Party" in which he steals lines from a Bukowski poem. Furthermore, the "About" section of LaBeouf's website "thecampaignbox.com" is a rip-off of the about section of another publishing company called Picturebox. His tweets have also been called out as being unoriginal copies of other journalists, critics, etc. Perhaps as a self-parody at being called out, he has gone on to tweet several more plagiarised apologies.

Of course, we are all plagiarists to some extent, since our thoughts and work is influenced by what we absorb from our environment. However, most folk do not copy and paste the work of others or steal ideas without giving credit where it is due.

the last beret guy: beret guys paddles off

via xkcd.com, nicely explained here.

running out of beret guys : (

"Anyone who says that they're great at communicating but 'people are bad at listening' is confused about how communication works."

via xkcd.com, read about it here.

and why not even more beret guy festivus

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

beret guy festivus

For the next few days, I will be bringing you some comedy content courtesy of "beret guy", the wonderfully life-affirming, philosophic surrealist who lives over at xkcd.

xkcd tips:

  • float the mouse cursor over the comic for some often useful, additional text (this won't work on my blog so I have added the text below, where it is useful to do so). 
  • If you want to know more about a particular comic, there is a great wikisite called explainxkcd.com, where a few dedicated fans spell out exactly what is going on.
I have blogged this one before. It is my favourite:

"Why can't you have normal existential angst, like all the other boys?"

Comic - SMBC and the existentially reflective cat

Monday, December 16, 2013

FX Concepts is no more

I just learned that the once ginormous, single play, hedge fund FX Concepts is no more. At it's peak, I think it managed well over 10bn dollars. However, poor performance combined with customer withdrawals has left the company insolvent.  These guys had been around for some 32 years.

Their fate serves as a reminder that the market has a way of catching up with so many of us who go boldly searching for outsized returns.

Friday, December 13, 2013

South Park

This show can be really vulgar and crude, so much so that some episodes make me want to stop watching. Indeed, some times I do stop watching. However, most episodes are sheer brilliance, hitting the mark in terms of comedy and in terms of the unique cultural commentary they provide. Also, they are only just over twenty minutes long so there is little time for filler. The series doesn't seem to have a particular political leaning and instead pokes fun at grown-ups beliefs and behaviours and at society in general. The show's broad subversiveness is refreshing, with nobody and no concept off limits for a good mocking. If you can withstand the filth, and there is a lot of it, then this really should be on your watch list.

With my Netflix subscription due to expire in a week or so (it's a great service but I only really took it out for Breaking Bad), I have been piling in South Park Episodes over the past month. Here are my favourites from Seasons 13 & 14:

Season 13
  • The Coon (Cartman turns superhero)
  • Magaritaville (great commentary on the economic collapse)
  • Fishsticks (contains a nice lesson on ego and warped memories)
  • Flatbeard (Cartmen goes to Somali to become a pirate and show them how its done)
  • WTF (the crew attract a following with their back yard wrestling shows)
  • Whale wars (a great episode, with a moral lesson as a finisher)
Season 14
  • It's a Jersey Thing
  • Insheeption
  • Coon 2: Hindsight
  • Mysterion Rises
Season 15 also contained loads of crackers.

Below are a couple clips from the above episodes. I look forward to returning to the show in the future.


... oh why oh why oh why oh why

did Hollywood remake Oldboy?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A recent tweet from KimKierkegaardashian

Monday, December 09, 2013

Justin Timberlake versus the NRO - a fight for the night

A US government satellite was recently launched into space with this terrifyingly, dystopian logo emblazoned on its side:

At first, I thought the NRO might be a fringe government service but this is far from the case. They are one of the big five intelligence agencies in the US, focussed on the design, build and operation of spy satellites. The NRO has around three thousand employees and an annual budget of approximately $10bn. In other words, they are kind of big. 

So what's with the creepy logo?  Well, as you can see from some of their earlier badges shown below, the latest image is actually in keeping with its history of scare-the-hell-out-you, "we're in control", graphics.

I particularly like the "We Own the Night" tag line at the bottom of the last logo. Nike, you think you own the night? Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, you think you own the night? Lady Antbellum, you think you own the night? What about teen group The Wanted who also lay claim to the night? Well, let me tell you all, The National Reconnaissance Office got there first and THEY OWN THE NIGHT, blanket coverage. 

And who will come to save us from these people, private organisations and state agencies? Who will take back the night? Justin Timberlake, that's who, hero of the common man.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Book addict (4/4)

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” - Gustave Flaubert

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”- Joseph Brodsky

“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” - Francis Bacon

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” - Mortimer J. Adler

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” - Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

Friday, December 06, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013

What a wonderful course

I have blogged about this course before. It is called "A Brief History of Humankind" and is taught by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari of the University of Jerusalem. I am yet to sit the final exam but the taught phase is now complete and I can honestly say that it was the most interesting, enlightening, and inquisitive course that I have ever taken. The course runs for 17 weeks long, with each week taking a couple of hours to work through. I highly recommend signing up for the course on the off chance that it reappears in future (I read that it may return around the middle of next year).

I may post some rough notes from the course in future, but if you want the details I can do no better than point to the blog of Louise Taylor, whose note taking and presentation skills are scarily good.

At the end of the course, Harari reminds students that if ten different historians taught the course, we would have ten different versions of events. The aim of the course was not to land on a definitive truth but to raise questions and prompt students to ask questions about our past, present and future. In the final e-mail to students, Harari explains why he thinks history is important:
People often ask, what is the purpose of studying history? They sometimes imagine that we study history in order to predict the future, or in order to learn from past mistakes. In my view, we should study history not in order to learn from the past, but in order to be free of it.
Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures.
I hope that by introducing you to the history of humankind, this course has helped loosen the grip of the past.

Comic: from somebody who doesn't own a tv

:  )

Book addict (3/4)

“[I] read books because I love them, not because I think I should read them.” - Simon Van Booy

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” - George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

“I read like the flame reads the wood.” - Alfred Döblin

“People who say they don't have time to read simply don't want to.” - Julie Rugg, A Book Addict's Treasury

“Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.”  - Paxton Hood

“I go back to the reading room, where I sink down in the sofa and into the world of The Arabian Nights. Slowly, like a movie fadeout, the real world evaporates. I'm alone, inside the world of the story. My favourite feeling in the world.” - Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” - C.S. Lewis

“Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.”  - Stéphane Mallarmé

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Van Damme does the splits for Volvo

So I watched this advertisement and thought it was a pretty cool:

... and then I learned the stunt was done for real and was blow away: