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The true meaning of Christmas Ken Perrott Dec 24

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I reckon you can’t beat Tim Minchin’s song “White Wine in the Sun” to convey the real atmosphere of Christmas – at least in Australia and New Zealand.

Here’s a new version – recorded at the Uncaged Monkeys show in Manchester on 6th December 2011. It’s a bit shaky at the start but gets better.

Tim is accompanied by Prof. Brian Cox on keyboard in this version

Tim Minchin & Prof Brian Cox – White Wine In The Sun

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Helping kids to wonder Ken Perrott Sep 19

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This looks like a lovely present for your little ones – ideal for that special child’s christmas present. I Wonder by Annaka Harris.

I mentioned this book when it was little more than a gleam in the author’s eye (see I don’t know!) Now you can pre-order it with a publication date mid-October.

According to the blurb the story is about a little girl Eva, who takes a walk with her mother and encounters a range of mysteries: from gravity, to life cycles, to the vastness of the universe. She learns that it’s okay to say “I don’t know,” and she discovers that there are some things even adults don’t know—mysteries for everyone to wonder about together! What do you wonder about?

Looks like it would be an ideal book to encourage the your scientist in your family. As the blurb says:

I Wonder is a book that celebrates the feelings of awe and curiosity in children, as the foundation for all learning.”

The author Annaka Harris is a freelance editor of nonfiction books and is especially passionate about furthering the public understanding of science. She is also a cofounder of Project Reason and a volunteer for InnerKids

The illustrator John Rowe resides in Montrose, CA, where he maintains an art studio, creating original art and oil paintings for both illustration and fine art clients. His illustration clients include the United Nations, Disney, Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Buena Vista Pictures. His projects have encompassed movie posters, book covers, advertisements, murals and fine art paintings for clients and collectors.

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A dose of reality Ken Perrott Dec 23

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walls

A bit of an antidote to those mushy Christmas cards.

Worth thinking about the meaning of this image.

Climategate 2.0 and ’toecurling’ journalism Ken Perrott Nov 25

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It’s the silly season again. Another climate change conference (Durban) – another climategate hoax. This cartoon from crikey (Bitter Climate Science Tryst Shock Scandal Rift Emails Exposed) sums it up.

Credit: Firstdog at crikey

Thanks to: Bitter Climate Science Tryst Shock Scandal Rift Emails Exposed.

“Festering syphilitic repellance!”

And this from one of the most extreme climate change deniers, Telegraph journalist James Delingpole in Climategate 2.0: the most damning email of them all. It’s attacking an email with a Christmas song celebrating the IPCC Nobel prize. We will leave such enthusiastic but naive song writing aside. But it certainly puts Delingpole’s nose out of joint. It’s a bit over the top to describe such attempts at composition as “toecurlingly, . . vile,  reprehensible, stomach-churningly dreadful, . . .festering syphilitic repellance. .” isn’t it!

“The worst, most toecurlingly awful, damning, vile, reprehensible, stomach-churningly dreadful email — the one that shows the Warmist junk-scientists in a light of such festering syphilitic repellance they can never possibly recover is this, the Christmas ditty specially written by Kevin Trenberth in celebration of the Nobel committee’s comedic decision to award the Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC.”

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A reminder of reality’s magic Ken Perrott Sep 05

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This is really a reminder about another sciency book for the kids – especially with Christmas coming up.

Back in May I posted on a new book by Richard Dawkins (see The Magic of Reality for young people). I am posting again on this because the book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, will be released this month in the UK (October 4 in the US).

It’s bound to be excellent, given Richard’s well known literary and science communication skills. And the illustrator, Dave McKean, has illustrated many award-winning books.

And the recommendations are good. Lawrence Krauss describes it as “
’Exhilarating. The clearest and most beautifully written introduction to science I’ve ever read.” As for Ricky Gervais – he says: “I wanted to write this book but I wasn’t clever enough. Now I’ve read it, I am.”

Looks like the book is aimed at the older child and teenager, and appears suitable for adults as well.

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It’s that time of the year Ken Perrott Dec 22

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Book review: Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal. Scott C. Lowe (Editor), Fritz Allhoff, Fritz Allhoff (Series Editor) Stephen Nissenbaum (Foreword)

Price: US$15.56
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (October 19, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 144433090X
ISBN-13: 978-1444330908

OK, this book is topical. Not only because of the timely subject. It’s also  appropriate to review now because it’s the sort of book one might consider giving or receiving as a present on Saturday. And it’s the sort of book one might enjoy reading next week.

Well, it’s obviously not your usual philosophy book — it’s far more approachable. It is, after all, part of the ’Philosophy for Everyone’ series. In fact, the philosophy is not obvious in some articles — it looks more like common sense. And the approach is slightly ‘tongue-in-cheek,’ especially with the essay titles and the notes on contributors (called ’Santa’s Elves’).

I though the philosophy sometimes seemed inappropriate, or at least inadequate. For example  discussions of the philosophical and ethical aspects of lying to children with the Santa Claus myth came across as a little shallow. Quoting Plato, Hume and Mills did not hit the mark. I would have liked to see some inclusion of sociology and the psychology of human development.

But, it is a collection of essays from 25 authors. One expects a range of suitabilities and different essays will appeal to different people.

The authors range from Professors, other academics and students of philosophy (mainly), history, ethics, English and theology. The book is divided into several themes.

We have the origins of Christmas. Both in Christian myths and real pagan origins.  The way we celebrate Christmas today — secular as well as religious celebrations – and how these have adjusted to today’s more diverse society.

The Santa myth is discussed in a bit of detail. And there are important sections on Christmas through eyes other than traditional European or Christian ones. Including discussion of the celebration by atheists and minority religions.

The book is readable, and humorous because the writers are more concerned with the Santa myth than the virgin birth myth of Christianity. Although the virgin birth gets a look-in with one essay from a supporter and another from a critic of the myth.

As always, a collection like this provides an opportunity for readers to select. So I have selected a couple which I particularly liked.

A multicultural Christmas

In ’The significance of Christmas for Liberal Multiculturalism’ Marc Mercer describes two approaches to the fact that in most western societies Christmas has evolved into a secular holiday. It is no longer an exclusively Christian celebration.

This enables different groups to do their own thing, for Christians to perform their own religious rituals and non-Christians (with many Christians) to have a common celebration empty of any religious ritual.

Mercer describes two approaches:

Communitarian multiculturalism which values diversity and cultural groups for the ways of life they represent. Therefore it insists on separateness of these groups (doing their own thing) and sees a common holiday as a threat to the integrity of some groups.

Liberal multiculturalism which is more concerned with flourishing of the individual. This does not oppose the idea of retention of specific holidays and events for specific groups. But it sees value in some holidays or celebrations which are common, public events.  ’These holidays would, of course, have to honour values important to most people in the country and to honour them in ways people from various cultures find congenial. Or else they would attract few participants. In this second sort of multicultural society, a few holidays, maybe only two or three a year, belong to all the people.’

In contrast ’for the communitarian multiculturalist . . .  a common holiday is a threat, a threat to the integrity of particular cultural groups.’

Mercer discusses why he thinks liberal multiculturalism has advantages for individuals, cultures and society in general. It’s interesting to apply his analysis to New Zealand, our diversity, our celebration of different cultures and the fact that we do have some holidays and celebrations which unite everyone.

Atheists at Christmas

In the section on ’Christmas through others’ eyes’ Ruth Tallman describes a common atheist approach to Christmas (’Holly Jolly Atheists: A naturalistic justification for Christmas.’). Simply put — they are all for it. ’This holiday is a wonderful occasion for engaging in a delightful assortment of classical sins — gluttony, greed, sloth — with none of the classical guilt.’

She argues that of course non-Christians should celebrate Christmas. ’First, given there’s no reason to think Christians have an exclusive right to it. Second, using the concept of religious naturalism we can understand what atheists are doing when they celebrate Christmas in the same way that we understand both naturalistic religious practices and participating in various rituals by those who do not accept the metaphysical underpinnings of the practice.’

She discusses the pre-Christian origins of Christmas — that is always worth a reminder given the common Christian chauvinism of claiming that everything of value originated from their dogma.

And what should Christmas mean to atheists? Obviously the meaning will differ from that derived by Christians. She understands the ’atheist mind-set’ in terms of naturalism. ’Naturalists come in many strips; some embrace a high level of spiritualism while others tend more to the ways of hard-nosed science. What unifies naturalists is the belief that all that there is to life, all hope, value, and order we might possibly glean, will have to be found  in the here and now — there is nothing else.’

This attitude is not hostile to Christian traditions. She quotes Richard Dawkins on this: ’I’m not one of those who want to purge our society of our Christian history. If there’s any threat to these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.’

The Santa Clause myth and lying to children

Finally, several essays debate the morality of the Santa Claus myth. After all this can involve parents lying to their children. And that does raise moral difficulties for some parents. David Kyle Johnson (’Against the Santa Claus lie: The Truth we Should Tell our Children) argues that it is morally wrong. Era Gavrielides argues that it is OK (’Lying to our Children About Santa: Why it’s Just Not Wrong.’)

I don’t remember that this was a huge difficulty in our family. Then again we never saw or used Santa Claus as a moral arbiter to coerce our children into being good.  I was surprised to find how often authors in the collection considered that a common and essential part of the myth. Maybe it is in the USA.

Conclusion

This is an easy read for a book on philosophy. Possibly because it is far more practical than the normal philosophy book. But also because it is slightly humorous.

As a collection it’s easy to find essays which will interest most readers. Others which can be ignored.

And as a collection it can be dipped into for a short period. Starting and finishing at arbitrary places throughout the book depending on one’s interest.

Probably just the book to read over the Christmas/New Year holidays.

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Make it Snow Around the World Ken Perrott Dec 02

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The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
J. B. Priestley

December 1st makes a lot of us think of the holidays. It’s hard not to think about snow even if your climate doesn’t bring it. Once again, we’d like to spread snow around the world through WordPress.com.

To make it snow on your site:

  1. Go to your site’s dashboard.
  2. Navigate to Appearance → Extras.
  3. Check the box next to “Show falling snow on this blog.”
  4. Click the Update Extras button.

If you used snow last year it is automatically turned back on. If you want to turn it off, follow the steps above but uncheck the box.

Here’s a latin jazz version of Let it Snow to listen to while activating the feature:

Older computers may run slow or stop responding due to snow. Use the following links if you run into a problem (the options below only affect your user account):

Prevent Snow
Allow Snow

Cutting off your nose for Christmas? Ken Perrott Dec 01

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I think Tim Minchin‘s Song White Wine in the Sun really captures the spirit of Christmas down under. I heard it last year (see No gods required) and notice it is being promoted again this year with all proceeds going to charity.

Here is Minchin performing the song:

Chortle Mobile, posted with vodpod

http://m.chortle.co.uk/index.php?id_news=12252

The Salvation Army was a beneficiary of this because the song is included on the CD The Spirit Of Christmas, which raises money for the Salvation Army’s charity work in Australia. However, talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. They are now criticising the song and other Christian activists, even ones supposedly supporting family values, dubbed it  ‘disrespectful’ and ‘a sick joke.’

Tim wrote about the Sally’s rudeness:

“I gave my song for free, putting aside my philosophical objection to the Salvation Army for the sake of beneficiaries. Imbeciles.”

“I think the Salvos are idiots. I didn’t know they would benefit from the CD, but by the time I found out I didn’t want to make too much of a fuss. So I gave my song free, then they turn around and say that they don’t agree with the sentiment of the song.

“Part of me is hugely outraged by what imbeciles they are, to bite the hand that feeds them and put their proselytising above charity.

“I won’t make this mistake again. I tweeted that if people want to buy my version of the song independently, I’ll give the proceeds away to a non-proselytising charity.”

“Christmas means much to billions of people who don’t believe in Jesus, and if you think that Christmas without Jesus is not Christmas, then you’re out of touch, and if you think altruism without Jesus is not altruism, then you’re a dick.”

I understand that a secular charity Autism Trust is going to benefit from sales of “White Wine in the Sun” from now until January 1st. (Cost NZ$1.79 on iTunes – I wouldn’t buy the Sally’s CD).

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