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Archive for November, 2009

WARNING: This post contains spoilers about the existence of Santa Claus. Read further at your own risk.

Here’s what I think is the deal with Santa Claus, and continuing the fiction of his existence: It’s social training.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to work: For a while, your parents (and lots of other folks) deceive you into thinking Santa Claus exists, and give you lots of benefits (presents) for believing.

Then, eventually, you find out that Santa doesn’t exist, and that your parents (and lots of other folks) are deceiving you, but you want the presents to keep coming, so you return the favor — deceiving them into thinking you still believe.

This is kind of the key phase here — realizing something’s bogus, but playing along because you realize there’s something to be gained by helping prop up a fictional notion. And then, for some period, everybody’s lying to everybody — your parents etc. by telling you Santa exists, and you by telling them you believe them.

And eventually, somewhat organically, there’s a shift in which you and your parents both tacitly (or openly) recognize that nobody’s fooling anybody anymore, and you both begin working on deceiving the younger kids who are still buying into the myth (or pretending to).

The lesson is, there are some fictions that are convenient to maintain for various reasons, and that a transition from ignorance to knowledge isn’t necessarily a transition from deception to honesty. Truth is good and noble and nice and all that, but sometimes a little shared deception (or shared agreement to avoid certain truths) can go a long way toward helping people get along with each other.

(cartoon via Savage Chickens)

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So there’s the ad for the Hamilton Beach coffeemaker where the woman’s showing off to her mother-in-law, who says “My son doesn’t drink coffee!” “He does now,” she smugly replies.

Then they go the semi-opposite direction, with an ad for a  crock pot with a latching lid where the husband doesn’t want to put the crock pot in his new car to go to HIS mother-in-law’s house. His wife replies, “I’ll just invite Mom here,” and of course he then becomes enthusiastic about the crock pot.

I have to wonder if Hamilton Beach is limiting their audience with these commercials. I mean, the only people they’re appealing to is women who maybe have a few issues with their mothers-in-law (or their husbands) … oh, wait, never mind.

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How did I not know until this year that my birthday was also the birthday of “On the Origin of Species,” the coolest non-fiction book of the past 200 years or so?

It’s survived lots of attacks, including a recent one disguised as a book giveaway, and even though modern scientists know a lot more about evolution than Darwin did, nearly all of his original ideas have survived to hold a place in the foundations of modern evolutionary theory.

I remember the first time I saw the above diagram from “Origin of Species” (it was a slide in a talk by Niles Eldredge). “Oh my god, it’s a cladogram!” I said.

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I was born and raised in Wisconsin, but this season I’m rooting for the Vikings. This is why. How can anybody not love this guy?

Sure, he’s caused some major headaches for lots of people because of the conflict between the part of him that knows he should quit while he’s still great and the (bigger) part of him that just loves to play the game of football. But seriously, how can you not love this guy?

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This all-purpose newspaper memo from Columbia Journalism Review is a lot more lighthearted than the last thing from CJR I posted. It’s got “Mad Libs”-style, multiple options for various situations. I especially like this part:

Finally, the issue of copy editors.

It is true that as the right-sizing has gone forward over the last two years or so, a number of veteran copy editors were (reassigned to work on the publisher’s lakeside estate; exiled to strip-mall bureaus out where the buses don’t run; given MapQuest information for finding the community college).

We miss them and we honor their years of service.

Yes, we were upset when (First Lady Michelle Obama was misidentified as talk show host Tyra Banks; we reported that the administration is considering sending 40,000 combat troops to Albania; our daylight saving time “spring forward, fall back” clock thing was off by seven months).

(cartoon via Joe Vince)

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Waiting for Godwin

Essay on Godwin’s Law — by Godwin   Commonly understood as “anyone who mentions Hitler or Nazis in an argument has lost the argument,” Godwin’s Law actually states that all online discussions tend inevitably toward a mention of Hitler and Nazis (a corollary says that once this happens, the discussion is effectively over).

But Mike Godwin says he coined the law specifically as an effort to counteract this tendency, by creating a disincentive to bring up Hitler or Nazis. And I can testify from my own experience that it works. I’ve reworded arguments to avoid Hitler, simply because I knew someone would “call Godwin” and declare that I’d rendered the discussion useless.

(cartoon via xkcd)

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Other than some on-the-job training, I haven’t been in a classroom since I was in college (at Wisconsin, whose campus is pictured in the “Back to School” clip I grabbed the pic from).

But now I’m in a program for training as a computer tech support specialist, which includes some Microsoft training in Word, Excel and PowerPoint that may also come in handy for editorial-type jobs.

Somehow, school seemed more fun when I was walking back to a dorm room at the end of the day rather than driving back to my house. Or maybe it’s just that Madison is more fun than Toms River, N.J. Or maybe that going to school when you’re 19 is more fun than when you’re forty-hm-hmm.

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