Saturday, December 30, 2006

Moral Fashion

When my five year old came home from school chanting:
"Eenie meenie mynie mo..."
I thought, here we go...
"Which will stay and which will go...?"
I'm sure we used to say, "catch a nigger by the toe." Ah hem. I flinch as I type this. "If he squeals, let him go..." Ah, stop! Excuse me. But no one battered an eye back then. I suppose a few did, but I wasn't aware. I didn't even know what a nigger was!

This year I've been fascinated to watch the new ethical fashions come and some of the old go. There's been a clear establishment of the view that drug sellers are bad while drug users are victims. With the five murders in Ipswich there's been a surge of acknowledgment that those selling sex are victims while the users are bad.

I think it's fair to say that these were not widely held views a generation ago. Fashions in morals seem as fluid as any other field. Perhaps more so with the abandonment of an absolute standard in the slide to a secular society.

There are issues we debate, and there are underlying assumptions accepted by both sides of the debate. A few swim upsteam... one columnist had the audacity to suggest that the prostitutes lives were of less value than most - no great loss, he implied. He was roundly put down by left and right, by legalist and libertarian. Most agree that an individual murder victim's social position should not prejudice the vigour of the investigation nor the exactness of justice. But that has not always been the prevailing moral climate. There is little reason to think it will remain as it is now.

There are two possibilities here. Either we have just arrived at the final and complete set of ethical standards for humanity... or fashion will change again. (It would be a remarkable coincidence if this is the age that finally figured it all out.)

It is a near certainty that our children, as post-enlightened adults (or whatever they'll call themselves) will look back on some views held today with a roll-of-the-eyes and mock embarrassment - "oh, that's just how people thought in those days." So I asked myself, what thoughts and values are approvingly smiled upon today by the great and the good, but will seem ridiculous to a new generation?

Perhaps discrimination against the thick will become unacceptable. Nowadays stupid people get an awful rough time, low pay, over-representation in prisons. In future, employees telling jokes about dummies will be frog-marched to tolerance classes. We'll observe Meat-Head Awareness Week, and Dim Pride! No longer will promotion by merit sound so noble... perhaps.

I'm not making judgements about what morals I approve or disapprove of here, I'm just wondering what current standards will prove less enduring than they feel today.

Any other ideas?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Putting Christ Back Into Christmas - Again

Ok, the Christmas post is late. But so is Christmas!

Jesus was not born in December. And if you check with your local C of E vicar, I'm sure he (or she - but that's a post for another day) will tell you that no one in the church is seriously suggesting that Christmas is the anniversary of Jesus' actual birth.

The pagan celebration of the winter solstice and the Roman feast of the birth of Sol (the sun-god) are among the pre-Christian festivals whose timing and customs were adopted when their adherents converted to Christianity. That's when they first put Christ in Christmas, so-to-speak.

Today as a wave of atheism purges 'Winterval' of any Christian reference, a rearguard of Christians urge us to remember what the season is all about! I read one columnist (Jeff Jacoby) who hurls any Xmas card without Christian reference straight into the cylindrical file. "Remember the true meaning of Christmas that we've trowelled on after we pinched the celebration from the pagans!"... lacks a certain ring as a rallying cry.

(Now I don't mind trying to be accurate about the birth of Jesus Christ since the subject comes up at Christmas. So while I'm at it...
There is no mention in the Bible of three kings at the birth of Jesus. An unknown number of magi visited the young child Jesus, perhaps years after his birth.
The angels never sang, they spoke.
The angels didn't fly, neither is there any suggestion of wings, they stood.

But Christian friends, please don't alter the words in Christmas carols to make them Biblically accurate. Oh, it hurts.)

I find myself trying to balance two arguments. On the one hand, the Apostle Paul said he rejoiced that Christ is preached "whether in pretence or in truth". In other words, be thankful that someone is speaking up for Christ, even if they got half the facts wrong. So sing those ridiculous carols! On the other hand, Paul and the first century church got along fine without "Christ in Christmas".

I guess Jeff Jacoby wouldn't accept any Christmas cards from First Century disciples. Especially if they look like this.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Drinking for Longevity

I've always thought you should pick your health studies by how much you like the conclusions (and never read the small-print). There are always a few around that extol the virtues of tobacco, coffee and chocolate.

Here's a study that says drinkers live longer.

Instant Family

A woman with two wombs has had triplets. Identical twins from one womb, another baby from the other. "The odds of having triplets from two wombs are around 25 million to one."

I'll bet this woman knew she was pregnant! Well done.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Girl Gives Birth at School

I loved reading that a 15 year old Catholic school girl had arrived for class in the morning, gone into labour, and given birth before the ambulance showed up. She was apparently unaware of her pregnancy! The youth and vigour of it all is inspiring, don't you think?

A Spokesman for the Catholic Diocese said "It is not going to help to go moralising on the whole situation. That is not important..." Is that the new Catholic position on morals? The Catholics have had a few run-ins with morality over the years, and wouldn't want any morals ruining their Christmas good cheer. "...the girl is OK, the baby is OK, and hopefully they will be home this weekend and spend Christmas at home," Lovely. (And of course it makes no different that this was a Catholic school, other than to spice up the story a little.)

Now I find morals uplifting, not oppressive or condemning as the Catholic spokesman seems to fear. Given the right moral framework, I think a 15 year old can be well equipped to raise great kids. Mary was about that age when she gave birth to Jesus. What an impressive culture that produced teenagers morally and emotionally prepared for marriage and kids!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Spoof Belgian Split

A public television station in Belgium ran a two hour spoof story that the Dutch-speaking half of the nation had declared independence. It was half an hour into the report before "this is fiction" appeared on the screen. By this time thousands were taking in, including foreign ambassadors in Brussels who "sent urgent messages back to their respective capitals".

I won't laugh at those who fell for this, it must have been convincing. Even current politicians in on the joke gave spoof interviews. They're not laughing in Belgium either. But then, Belgians don't laugh much.

The TV channel thought to provoke debate, and it seems to have worked. If the Flemish are inspired and emboldened, they may just gain some form of independence. It's upset many too, which is another plus. Of course, unless they split from the European Union altogether, they'll still be serfs to the unelected council of busybodies in Brussels.

Having been on several business trips to Belgium, I can offer my informed and balanced opinion that Belgians are barking-mad. But not in a good way. If you don't know what I mean, go to a restaurant in the Flemish north and try ordering in French.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lib Dem Says Loose and Quit

Liberal Democrat MP, Sandra Gidley in a caricature of her over-prescriptive, hater-of-excellence, all-must-be-mediocre, far-left self has called for an end to school sports days. She says schools fail to consider the feelings of children with little sporting ability... school sports days publicly humiliate children who finish last.

What a wonderful example of a socialist solution. Some fail, so no one can be allowed to succeed! All must be prevented from excellence so that no one's feelings will be hurt.

Apparently Gidley's feeble efforts on the school sports track left her so bitter that quitting was not enough. All must quit.

A right-of-centre solution focuses on individual freedom. I would insist on the right of children to refrain from public sports just as others choose to compete. I would also encourage participatory games that are more fun for the less competitive.

And perhaps more important for parents, teach children to enjoy participating in a variety of activities with different levels of proficiency. Win with grace, loose with dignity. Respect your opponents, give your best, develop character.

Coming last on sports day is not a humiliation. Sulking all the way to Parliament is.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Marriage is Best

Half of co-habiting parents split by their child's fifth birthday, while only one in 12 married couples do. The Conservative policy group has pointed out this stark reality that deluded lefties have denied for years.

This family breakdown leads to massive problems of poverty, underachievement, hopelessness and unemployment, crime and drug abuse. The Tory group costed this at £20 billion a year.

For years socialist politicians have insisted that any "loving, stable relationship" is of equal value, arguing for equal recognition of de-facto or same-sex relationships. The sad debris from this social experiment is the feckless underclass that expect to contribute nothing but dead weight.

And yes, there are thousands of tremendous, contributing individuals who come from broken homes (and there are worthless scum from married parents). The individual can overcome any "statistic". But is it willful ignorance to deny the superiority of marriage over de-facto relationships in family outcomes.

One of the greatest things people can ever do for children is marry and make it work. About the greatest thing a father can ever give for his kids is faithfulness in marriage to their mother.

In response to the BBC article:
He [Ian Duncan Smith] insisted that the focus of the report was not to "lecture" people to get married, but to help couples, both married and co-habiting, to stabilise their relationships.
And they will fail because they are still too spineless to conclude the obvious - that co-habiting will remain inferior and less stable than marriage because it is a deliberate rejection of the traditional commitment. The outcomes for children are catastrophic.

No one is asking the Conservative party to "lecture" people what to do, just tell the truth!

Mr Duncan Smith said he was not making a moral judgement about marriage.
That's because the Tories have no morals. They abandoned conservative morality when it went out of fashion.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Microsoft and Spam

Three years ago Bill Gates predicted that the problem of junk email would be solved by 2006. Well, he's got three weeks to go (giving him a couple of days off for the festive season). Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that spam email has doubled in 2006.

To be fair, most of us in IT don't really need Bill to provide the solution. We just want him to stop being the problem! We just want him to stop Windows PCs from being hijacked to spread spam.

From the NY Times article: " conscripting vast networks of computers belonging to users who unknowingly downloaded viruses and other rogue programs. The infected computers begin sending out spam without the knowledge of their owners." That's your machines, Bill!

Microsoft Word and Zero-Day

There is another zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Word. This means that the attacks are out there and there is no fix available.

Microsoft says the "Vulnerability in Microsoft Word Could Allow Remote Code Execution". In other words, slime-bags can write and run malevolent software on your computer. (Nothing new for Windows users.)

Microsoft's suggestion is that users "not open or save Word files," even from trusted sources. Not really an acceptable recommendation, is it. And comments from Microsoft such as "users should always exercise extreme caution when opening unsolicited attachments from both known and unknown sources" are not much help either. As a software professional, I'm not sure how to exercise extreme caution opening an attachment in Windows when there is no fix for the vulnerability available. Perhaps you close your eyes and cover your important bits with one hand while clicking the mouse with the other. Do any non-technical users out there have any ideas?

I exercise sensible caution by running Linux on my desktops - at work, at home, and on the kids' machine. (The kids' must see computers at school and wonder what all that windozy zero-day stuff is.)

UPDATE: 8/12/2006

Still no patch for Word scheduled.
Now another zero-day exploit, this time in Windows Media Player. Ouch!