The Christmas season is upon us — it’s pretty much sitting right there on top like a sumo wrestler — and it’s time to think about giving again. A strange thing to say, really, because what time isn’t a good time to think about giving? And then after thinking actually do some giving?

I don’t think I need to make much of an argument for giving, especially from a Christian perspective. Scripture is rife with positive commands to give, to take care of orphans and widows, to be generous in giving. And some of the harshest condemnation arrives at the feet of those who had the means and didn’t bother yet thought themselves righteous.

Yet I think (and this is just me talking here, feel free to correct me if you think I’ve gone off the rails) that too often the need seems far away: Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico. Of course there are needs there. Great needs that organisations like World Vision, Come Over and Help, and others are making great strides in addressing.[1]

There is a real need in the communities we live in, as well. In the church community — especially important, I think — to help those who need financial support, and those who simply need someone to connect with, and whatever other need arises. The tragedy is, I think, when giving becomes simply about money; giving can also be about helping someone on the fringes of the community feel less alienated, or it can be about just being there for someone who’s going through a bad time.[2]

Still, there is a greater and even more hidden need in our secular communities. If you live in a city, for instance, the needs may be varied and obvious, but if you live in the suburbs (like I do), where appearances are everything and every family in every cardboard-cutout house seems just shy of perfect, these needs may be more hidden, and far harder to spot.[3]

In burbs, your church may find different needs to address. Perhaps these people don’t as much need a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name as they do advice on how to get out of debt. Maybe they don’t need a solid meal as much as someone to consult about raising their children. Maybe they don’t need clothes, but instead need to learn to strip away the accoutrements and facades of their lifestyle and contact something real. Jesus, for instance, is real. A church dedicated to being Jesus’ hands and feet in community if real. Scripture is real. God is real. His death on the cross is real, and his resurrection is real.[4]

Maybe what I’m trying to get at is some sort of holistic thing. We maybe can’t all go to Mexico or Mali, but we certainly can and do go the grocer and to the bank and to the hairdresser. The church has a responsibility but also an exciting opportunity: Jesus came to reconcile all things to himself, and he chose a bunch of sinners to do it, with his usual backwards logic. It’s exciting. And frightening. But I think giving can be like that, when you do it right.5

[1] Before you give to a charity, please do check out their financial statements and such. I singled out WV and COAH because they both dedicate over 80% of their income directly to their causes, the rest being used for administration and fundraising. Quite a few charities seem to spend a lot of time and effort and money fundraising and little time actually helping anyone. WV and COAH are wonderful exceptions.

[2] Qubit decided this would be a good time to come around and playfully bite and claw my fingers. Maybe I was making too much noise for her or something?

[3] American Beauty is a stunning film with a ridiculously stupid counter-cultural message. Yet at the heart, its portrayal of the festering rot inside those beautiful facades is spot-on.

[4] The reality of these things, I think, can so easily pierce whatever veils we (we’re human! we do these things!) put up around ourselves. It’s easy to become accustomed to the language we use to describe these realities, but coming in contact with the bare majesty of what Jesus did and is doing can rip away even that. God, after all, is pretty powerful.

[5] I used to catch a lot of flak for bitching about stuff without actually doing anything about it. I’m happy to report this is no longer the case. I’m not going to spell out how exactly, as with prayer so with giving (keep it in the closet), but Laura and I are trying to do our part.

Ghetto (it’s a new song, it’s been too long, etc, etc)

Well, I got the itch tonight and had to relieve it. The result is the following song, a very rough demo type thing. Before posting, however, I have to express thanks to the people whose work enabled this:

  • Ubuntu, the best operating system for me, bar none. Seriously, try it out, see if you like it.
  • Hydrogen, a wonderful little drum machine. One of my favourite applications.
  • Ardour, a digital audio workstation. Free, open-souce, and I’m pretty sure I’m only using about 1% of its functionality. Is better for me than Audacity was 😉

With no further ado (as none is needed) I present the song as both MP3 and Ogg Vorbis.

Ghetto (OV)
Ghetto (MP3)

This work is licensed as per:
Creative Commons License

Illegal != immoral

David Pogue writes an article in the NYTimes in which he relates an anecdote that seems to illustrate a generational difference in copyright morality. It’s an interesting article, though the comments are much more revealing than the article itself.

In that vein, let me comment.

There are several important factors to take into consideration here. First, I don’t think young people today have less of a moral bent than their parents. But let’s assume they do for a second, and ask where this dubious shift in morality comes from. Obviously, parents shoulder part of blame, as does society at large for situational morality. Yet, one can point to the big media companies who have for years put out product that glorifies every manner of immoral behaviour (showing, of course, these companies’ lack of moral fibre: they’ll do anything to make a buck, sell anything as long as it turns a profit), and I think you’ll feel a lot less sorry for them as they lie in the bed they’ve made. I think we call this, “sowing the seeds of your own destruction”.

Whether or not today’s youth have no moral compass, while an interesting question, is less pertinent to me than simple market economics.

When I buy something, it belongs to me. This is a central understanding in most of history’s transactions, except where otherwise stated, or where it’s obvious that you have to give it back.

When something belongs to me, I can do what I like with it, within reasonable limits. This is true of everything I own, from my house to my car. However, when media companies sell you something, they seem to believe it is still theirs, that they can tell you what to do with it, and even though you never have to give it back, that they can somehow control its use. This runs against human nature, though, and they should be thoroughly unsurprised when people invent tools to enable them to do what they like with what they own. This is one market, the ability to do what I like with what I own (device-shift, share, lend, et cetera).

Another market is in obtaining media. Right now the easiest way to get media is on the internet. Content owners saw this coming and did nothing to corner this market, for whatever reason. Another market a black/grey market sprung up to distribute media. When the content owners eventually came to their senses they were relegated to a ghetto of their own making, and with the lackluster efforts thus far, will continue to be. Not to mention that the media distributed by these content owners tends to be low-quality and locked into a specific device/format. Doubly ironic is that file-sharers can get a better copy (and keep in mind that this has not been historically true in many other black/grey markets) and a copy that they can do with as they see fit. Those who keep the law are penalised by the content providers and legislators who give them an inferior product, and those who break the law are rewarded by better availability and a better product.

The media companies have done their monopolies unimaginable harm in not taking the internet seriously. Much like IBM ceding control of the entire personal computing market to Microsoft, the content providers have dropped the ball so hard and so far that they seem unable to even find it to pick it up again. If anything, they seem to be hellbent on securing their place in the dustbin of history.

People take the path of least resistance. This isn’t about morality. It’s about the who will provide the best market for goods. And the content providers still don’t get that.

Add to this that (obviously) illegal and immoral are not bound at the hip. Plenty of things become illegal without being immoral. And when media companies begin to (obviously) buy the allegiances of politicians to see draconian laws made to limit how people may use what they have purchased, the immorality of file-sharing (for instance) becomes even more of a grey area.

The causes of this “moral shift” are many and varied. The internet is not an easy thing to adjust to, especially for monopolies (see Microsoft as an example). However, if the content providers made a better product, if they had more availability, and if the price was reasonable, they would be doing a roaring business on the internet. This is not a hard concept to grasp, and not a terribly difficult thing to implement in these days of almost-free bandwidth. The question become whether or not they’re not giving the market too little too late.

Human behaviour is economic behavour, and the content providers are stuck in a decade-old market with very few paying customers.

Here’s a question.

If you want to be a scriptural Christian, do you read the Bible like it’s a systematic theology, or some other way? What do the scriptures ask regarding their own interpretation? How does the Bible say “read me”?

Or is that a question with a stupidly easy answer I’ve managed to miss?

I used to like Stephen Harper.

When the Conservative government came to power, I was excited. Finally, the Liberals were gone! Even a minority government, I though, was better than nothing.

Two years later, I’m having major doubts. Some recent developments — especially restarting the Chalk River reactor against the advice of the CNSC — are beginning to cast the Prime Minister and his government in a very unflattering light. Coupled with the government’s delegation to the latest environmental summit including oil company representatives (WTF, Mr Harper?), this year’s closed-doors meeting with the US and industry regarding water supplies, and the recently tabled copyright bill (an absolute disgrace to every Canadian ideal, a shameful travesty that essentially looks written by media executives themselves, and something Mr Prentice should be embarrassed to have even proposed), it seems my government is shackling itself to the very industries it is supposed to regulate and govern.

I’m quite certain that elected officials in the States are essentially bought and paid for by big oil, big media, big guns, and the like. But here? That’s not the kind of government I want.

I’m strongly thinking of voting Green in the next election. I have no faith in the Liberals (who have essentially handed Mr Harper a shadow majority with their political ineptitude). I’m just glad the Conservatives don’t have a majority: imagine the damage he could do to this country if Mr Harper were unfettered from consensus!

Past labels.

I’m 26, which is pretty old in the grand scheme of things. I used to look up at 26 year old people when I was maybe 10 and think how old and mature they seemed. Of course, I was 10, and when you’re 10 you don’t exactly have an accurate outlook on the world. I was probably mistaking the confidence that generally comes with age for maturity or something.

All I know is that some revelations come disappointingly late in life. For instance, I’ve looked at the world as it were somehow binary for the longest time. It isn’t, of course, though sometimes it is. There isn’t this one great liberal political issue, and this one great conservative issue, around which entire countries revolve. The categories “liberal” and “conservative” are almost meaningless in Canada anyway. There’s no particularly sound reason a conservative can’t care about the environment and social justice, and there’s no reason a liberal can’t want sane financial management.

What I’m describing sounds a bit like a middle-of-the-road thing, but truth be told, I’m not sure that politics or life or marriage or anything can be defined in terms of roads. I used to have discussions with friends where we’d say “okay, we’ve fallen into this ditch, but we have to make sure we don’t fall in the other ditch”, as if somehow the safest thing was to stay in the middle of the road.

That’s so limiting. As if somehow everything falls into one spectrum and can be described as a point on a line. People thought this sort of thing about genetics before Mendel opened that particular door with his (apocryphal?) bean plants; you mix two things and you get a combination of two things. Yet, this isn’t true. You mix two things and you get something different, something recessive or dominant.

Biology seems aware that everything would simply fall to the median if pre-Mendelian genetics were true: diversity is good, it contributes in a large way to the health of the biosphere. In the same way when you mix liberal and conservative you don’t get some weak-kneed hybrid. You get something new, something above liberal and conservative, something that critique both and praise both and take the good from both.

Isn’t the alternative less like a position and more like a cage? As a conservative American (or even worse, a conservative American Christian), you can feel as if you positions are written for you. But are they really? Do you have to believe in trickle-down economics? Individualism? The “war on terror”? Do you have to support a neo-conservative president like Mr Bush, even when his worst excesses tower over his strengths? Are you somehow required to believe that your nation is the culmination of history, the focal point of Christianity, and the beacon for freedom the world over?

Maybe. I mean, if those things are good, by all means. I happen to think they’re not. I certainly don’t like what a lot of liberals espouse. But I don’t want to be trapped in this one mode of thinking that says “this philosophy is good” and “this philosophy is bad”.

Some facts about Geof Morris.

There are quite a few things that you may know, and quite a few things you may not know. Here are ten things you may not know about our local administrative genius and wemaster extrordinaire, Geof Morris.

  1. Geof Morris’ thoughts cannot be understood because Geof Morris thinks in 256-bit Twofish. As a result, Geof Morris is never involved in collisions.
  2. Geof Morris is the internet killswitch. His vital signs are connected via relays to the secret centre of the internet; if he dies, it all goes dark.
  3. Geof Morris is the seventh of nine clones. The other eight, however, are in geosynchronous orbit.
  4. Geof Morris is 70% android and 90% human. This is possible because he exists in 11 dimensions.
  5. The Sphinx is an ancient model of Geof Morris, back when he was in beta 5,000 years ago. He has been refactored 100 times since then.
  6. Geof Morris was originally written in Lisp. When Geof Morris discovered this fact he flew into a rage and spent 67 years bending all the (parentheses) in his source code into [box brackets].
  7. Geof Morris can count prime numbers past Graham’s number, and can do it in binary, base-10, and hexadecimal.
  8. Geof Morris doesn’t run Linux. He runs CP/M, thank you very much.
  9. You can build your own Geof Morris in your garage from parts found in scrap metal shops. However, in order to finish the job, you’ll have to break into the Smithsonian and steal the Apollo 11 Command Module, which furnishes his processing power.
  10. Geof Morris roundhouse-kicked Chuck Norris so hard Chuck has his own solar orbit. And all poor Chuck did is spell Geof’s name “Geoff”.

Hope you enjoy that list.

I used to think Facebook was cool.

Really. I thought they were cool because they used an open source toolchain, contributed back to the open source community occasionally, and seemed to care about my privacy. Facebook wasn’t particularly useful; I never found a friend there who I really wanted to communicate with, nor did it seem a revolution in service. My friends were my real-life friends. The Facebook experience was the same old social web, rehashed, and in a lot of ways pleasantly limited.

I wasn’t one of those snobby first-wave college users. I wasn’t even a second- or third-waver. I was just one of those people that joined because a lot of people seemed to be using it.

I never sunk a lot of time into Facebook. The most, maybe, was playing Scrabulous on the site. I don’t have a real attachment to the site. Frankly, I would prefer a distributed network, like, um, the internet, rather than a site with one point of control and failure.

That said, Facebook was nice enough. It showcased all the best things integrated applications do best: It was seamless, it was networked, and it was, well, integrated. You didn’t have to think about anything too much.

Then, it began to show the worst things about integrated applications: It became sprawling, unfocussed, and ultimately lost any credibility it had had in my eyes.

How did it lose this creditability? Well, as soon as it started depending overly on ad revenue, glaring, bothersome ad revenue. As soon as started seeing its customer base as a cash-cow to be milked, especially when it does so at the expense of privacy, as with the recent Beacon debacle. If a company is willing to track what I buy and then publish those results to my friends unless I opt out every time, I consider that evil.

I don’t care what they’ve done to fix it now. That Zuckerberg and company would stoop this low is just a hint of what sort of morals they have as a company. It makes the allegation that Zuckerberg stole the original implementation of Facebook from colleagues at Harvard that much more believable. It makes the whole thing seem slimy, slightly dirty.

Why am I talking about Facebook in the past tense, you wonder?

I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m opting out. Closing down shop. Kicking the bucket out from underneath my Facebook account.

I feel a bit cleaner already.

Attribution and License for the above photo.

Bullet points for a Monday morning.

  • Fruit Loops hurt. No matter how you eat them, they scuff up the inside of your mouth. I know, you can let them soak for a while, but who wants to eat soggy cereal?
  • At Freshwater Church this Sunday — having braved an early winter storm to get there – we got to see Joel and Tim operating on no sleep. They’d just come back from Cleveland, driving all night through that early winter storm. Thankfully, Joel only had to say a few words, as he didn’t really say most of those words in an particular order. Instead, Jeff (I think? I could be wrong) lit the advent candle and did a sermon about Hope.
  • A lot of people seem to think that lighting an advent candle is pretty hokey, but being the lover of tradition that I am, I like to see a church expressing a connection with the past. Partaking in an ancient tradition (Advent, not necessarily the lighting of candles) and singing the songs of that tradition remind me that I’m part of something that extends beyond me, beyond just the present, and into the past and future.
  • My workplace is moving soon — not just me, the whole thing — meaning I’m going to be 10 minutes closer to home. Everyone else, on the other hand, is 10 minutes farther away, or more if you count the trickiness of the highways in that area. It also makes taking the bus quite feasible, actually, as it cuts almost a half hour off the bus ride, thanks to the trickiness of the bus routes in that area.
  • When it comes to grammar I’m really not a prescriptivist. Grammar and language need to be free to evolve, and let’s face it, you can’t stop that evolution. No matter how hard they try, prescriptivists will always, always fail. If someone expects me to use a gender-specific pronoun when the subject’s gender is indeterminate, they’re crazy. If that person wants me not to end my sentences with prepositions, I have a place they can go to. You see what I mean?
  • When John asked Jesus whether or not he was Messiah, Jesus sent a surprising message back. Surprising in what he didn’t say, I mean. John was obviously doubting Jesus, but Jesus had no condemnation for him. He didn’t list the number of Torah passages he had fulfilled. He didn’t send a letter with three well-argued points and a rousing conclusion meant to nicely wrap things up. He said, look at what I am doing: the blind can see, the lame can walk, the dead are being raised to life. This if, of course, not the only way Jesus used to bolster the faith of individuals, but is it so hard to believe it should be the same way with us today? Are we the true religion? Look at what we are doing: the poor are being fed, single mothers are being looked after, war-torn countries are being rebuilt, people are being shown the light of the gospel and being invited into the family. Am I wrong in thinking this might be what real religion looks like?

Attribution and License for the above photo.

I almost died yesterday.

While I was driving through an intersection, another car took a left turn in front of me, a left turn that would have probably killed us both were it not for my quick-braking reaction. I ended up stopped in the middle of the intersection like an idiot, staring at the person who, in another world, had caused my death.

Novels would have me wrapped in epiphany now, celebrating my new lease on life. It turns out that today looks a lot like yesterday. I thank God for not separating my spirit and my body, but other than that, I’m the same person.

This, of course, is the latest in a long line of things Gregory House has said that I agree with.

Attribution and License for the above photo.