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December 31, 2009

Book review: perniciousness of positive thinking

Filed under: books — Nick @ 11:26 pm

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, by Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan Books)

One can hardly enter a bookstore these days without seeing a plethora of books that pledge that the reader can achieve any number of goals—money, love, health, to name a few—merely by thinking enough positive thoughts. Barbara Ehrenreich stands athwart this rising tide of pernicious positivism and shouts “Stop!” in her latest book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, which brings a badly needed breath of fresh air and dose of realism to forefront of modern culture.

Ehrenreich begins her book with some personal history: her diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer that introduced her to the world of the “pink ribbon culture” in which a kind of cheery optimism festooned with pink ribbons and kitschy bric-à-brac bothered her nearly as much as her disease did. She exposes some of the darker elements of this movement—for example, patients whose disease progress badly are made to feel as if they were to blame for not being positive enough—as well as demolishing the belief that patients’ mood could affect their outcome.

From there she traces the history of the positive thinking movement and how it infiltrated religion, business, and culture at large in addition to spawning a whole industry devoted to selling the idea that success and fortune come to those who merely wish hard enough. Although I think she may have slightly overstated her case that the pervasiveness of the positive thinking culture was a major contributor to the financial collapse of the 2000’s—after all, speculative bubbles that collapse have existed at least since the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century—she makes a compelling case that such thinking has gone beyond silly and into the harmful.

December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

Filed under: faith and religion,Uncategorized — Nick @ 4:47 pm
Icon of the Nativity of Christ

Wishing everyone a very merry and blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347–407 AD):

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!

The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein… on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin…

Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;

Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);

Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!

This is my life!

This is my salvation!

This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

“Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will! ”

December 18, 2009

Secrets of the Comics Kingdom

Filed under: comics,fun,what's new — Nick @ 8:48 pm

Newspaper websites that show comic strips syndicated by King Features Syndicate (KFS) have been using the Reed-Brennan Media Associates (RBMA) as a source for their strips; one example is the Houston Chronicle comics page for which the color comics come from rbma. Some of the complaints of the rbma-served comics are their small size, occasional flakiness of their server, and inability to directly link to their comics (although that’s certainly their prerogative and I don’t fault them for it).

Some newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, are now serving these comics from a source called the Comics Kingdom. Although their interface seems a bit clunky and script-heavy, they do have the advantage of also providing higher-resolution images than are available through rbma. Moreover, they are (so far) allowing hotlinking directly to their images.

Inspection of the url for images coming from the CK reveals they have the general structure:

http://content.comicskingdom.net/feature/feature.yyyymmdd _size.gif

where:

feature = the id of the strip
yyyy = year (4 digits)
mm = month (2 digits)
dd = day (2 digits)

_size could have values of _small, _med, or _large (525, 665, or 760 px wide, respectively, at least for several strips I looked at)

For example. today’s (Dec. 18, 2009) Rhymes With Orange, large version is:

http://content.comicskingdom.net/Rhymes_with_Orange/Rhymes_with_Orange.20091218_large.gif

A little experimentation has revealed a hidden archive that seems to go back to Nov. 1, 2007, at least for several strips that I tested.

Again, for Rhymes With Orange, that would be:

http://content.comicskingdom.net/Rhymes_with_Orange/Rhymes_with_Orange.20071101_large.gif

After a bit of poking around, I fond another interesting hidden feature: Leaving off the “_size” argument shows an even bigger picture, one that seems 1200 px wide for
the comics I tested. For example, here is a 1200 px wide Family Circus panel, in all its glory:

http://content.comicskingdom.net/Family_Circus/Family_Circus.20071101.gif

Oddly, the few Sunday strips I tested seem to be “only” 1000 px wide, although strips farther back in the archive seem to be bigger.

Oh, one more thing. It seems that it is possible to get a peek at the future. For the last couple of weeks, I noticed that on Saturday they upload one week’s worth of strips in advance.

I stumbled across these features while trying to build a Comics Kingdom strip viewer and also trying to teach myself php at the same time. After a few false starts and a lot of rebuilds, I put together a Comics Kingdom Viewer page in which a user can either select a number of strips to view at once, or else select a single strip for any given date that exists in their archive. I made the output for the multi-strip viewer page “bookmarkable,” so that it should be possible to bookmark a daily reading list. I also made “forward” and “back” links so that one can step through the archive day by day.

Nick

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