Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Parentage of Jesus, Panthera/Pantera, and other Legends

For those of you who aren't familiar with the debate, both Islam and the Talmud have traditions that report that Jesus' father was a chap called Panthera/Pantera/Pantheras. Some suggest that this word, being similar to the Greek "parthenons" (virgin), explains where the virgin birth legend came from. The idea is this: if you hear of a person called Jesus ben (son of) Panthera, as a Greek, it might sound like Jesus son of a Virgin. Purportedly, in Celsus and others, Pantheras was a Roman soldier who raped Mary. To save her from stoning for adultery, Joseph married her, and claimed that her child was the son of God, not of a rapist. Superficially, this makes sense. The question is, however, when the Talmud entries were written. Some were written after Jesus' purported existence, and some were written a century before. So not only is there a question of the authenticity of the Talmud entries, but a question of the authenticity of the New Testament's claims, too.

For more information about this debate, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius_Iulius_Abdes_Pantera and my book, The Anointed, http://www.theAnointedBook.com, where I discuss this in more detail.

Personally, I think we lack sufficient information to get an actual answer. Merely stating that the NT is the word of God and therefore infallible is silly - the NT contains many contradictions (e.g., How many people were at Jesus' tomb? When was he born - was it 6 AD or 4 BC?). So we can't just assume the NT is correct in its mythical-like claims. To my mind, it makes sense that if Mary had been disgraced, that they'd have made up a story about her pregnancy being miraculous.

One of the points I mention in The Anointed is that parthenogenesis (virgin birth) doesn't occur in mammals, and when it does occur in lower animals, the child is genetically identical to the mother, and hence, female. Of course, Christians would respond by saying that this is precisely the nature of a miracle, that it defies the laws of science. Well, strangely, there are fewer reports of miracles nowadays than there were in the past. The more we learn about nature, the less miraculous it seems.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Open Source, DRM, and why closed-anything is dying

I have often thought about DRM (digital rights management) and similar issues, but I try not to. It annoys me. See, it depends on your basic view of humanity. If you think that people are basically thieves, then you will support DRM. If, however, like me, you think that people are basically willing to pay for what they think something is worth, then you will find DRM offensive.

Let me give you an example. I know of many people who have found illegal music on internet, and have, as a result, purchased it legally, because they liked it so much. They are not a minority. The success of the Apple iTunes store is proof of this. If people weren't fundamentally honest, and willing to pay for stuff legally, why would anyone bother to use the iTunes store? Why is it such a success? I'll tell you why: it is because people WANT to pay. Placing DRM (software to prevent piracy) into music, or ebooks, or whatever, is actually just a way of saying to your customers that you believe that they are criminals. In so doing you prejudge their intentions. It's a bit like selling a car with a bonnet ("hood", for my American readers) - that is welded shut, just in case your customers want to pirate your engine design. And then requiring that they go to a special branded dealer only to get the bonnet opened when a service is required. It really is as outrageous as that. Look at what happened to Apple. They tried putting DRM in their files - they sold .m4p files - mpeg-four protected. People complained so much that they had to stop. It was ridiculous. If you got a new computer or a new iPod, it would refuse to copy the files onto it. Even though you paid for it. It really annoys me. Think about LPs. Remember those? Were you paying for the music or were you paying for the vinyl? The record companies seem to think that you were paying for the vinyl. Because when cassettes came out and you wanted them for your original tape-based Walkman(TM) in the early 80s, you had to buy the cassettes separately. Likewise, in the late 80s, when CDs became popular, you had to buy the CD again. And then, with the advent of the iTunes store, AGAIN you had to buy the song. This time it had no medium - no physical substrate which the record companies could argue was the "thing" you were buying. So if I buy an mp3 from the iTunes store, am I finally, finally, after all these years, buying the thing I THOUGHT I was buying all those years ago? Am I finally buying the music? NO. According to the various licenses you have to agree to, it seems you're just renting it on a permanent basis. This sucks. I've paid for certain tracks at least four times (LP, CD, cassette, MP3). I can tell you exactly which tracks, too.

The same applies to open vs closed-source software. By not allowing your customers to see your code, you are assuming that they're thieves. But look at how Linux has proliferated, and now dominates the server market. Furthermore, under the Ubuntu brand (http://www.ubuntu.com/), Linux is starting to make inroads into the desktop market. Granted, few people - especially non-computer-nerds - would bother, because of the proliferation of Windows(TM) in the desktop market. But that doesn't mean it's not good, or not adequate for the same purposes. I can understand the reluctance to move though; it is fear of the unknown. I see the wide-eyed terror in the eyes of everyone over 50 years of age whenever I tell them that they really ought to ditch their slow PC running Windows(TM) and get a Mac. They are overwhelmed with fear, and mumble incoherently about how it works. And then shortly after, ask me to remove the viruses, and get rid of the trojans, and explain why their money has disappeared out of their bank account - and why there's a keylogger on their machine. I just shrug and say, "Get a Mac".

But that's not my main point. Here it is. What is even worse than closed-source software is closed document formats, like WMA/WMV, DOC, etc. Microsoft(TM) documents, in other words. I find this assumption that everyone can or wants to read and write these documents highly offensive. For example, what is the point of storing music in WMA format? It just prevents 10% of the world from using it. It's a kind of negligence or indifference. It's as annoying as if, for example, you were to land in Paris and they refused to speak English. What is the point? Is this not harming business? Why create something that you can't share? I'll tell you the point: greed. It forces everyone on the planet to buy your closed-source software. It forces everyone to buy your product. Imagine, for example, that you had to buy Texaco petrol if you bought a Chevrolet. Imagine the outcry! But people do this every day when they boot up Windows(TM) on their computer.

It has to stop. All documents should be open-content XML. Fortunately, Microsoft has seen the light on this matter with the .docx format. But what about WMA, WMV, AVI, and all that other PC-only junk? Why are the APIs not open? And even more baffling: Why would anyone in their right mind create and try to sell a product based on a closed format? It's reducing the number of buyers you could have. It's as stupid as making a website that only works in MSIE. Just because 90% of the market can view or use your website, doesn't mean that you're not deliberately cutting off 10%. Why would anyone do this? Why would, for example, some recording artists distribute their music on their websites only as WMV/WMA/AVI? What are they trying to say? That you MUST buy Windows(TM)? Is that the message they want to put out? Because it's the message that I'm getting. Are you really that well-off that you can afford to ignore 10% of the potential market? Why not simply use an open format, like W3C-compliant sites, ODF/XML, mp3, mp4, etc.? What is so hard about this? Just use "save-as mp3" instead of "save-as wma"! It's just a different format, and takes no effort to create one or the other! Why use closed formats at all? I cannot understand it. My policy, when people send me .DOC files, is to reply with an AppleWorks file. Just so they see how annoying it is. It's not that I can't read it. It's the arrogant assumption that I want to.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Sport - I don't get it.

So South Africa is going berserk at the moment because 2010 has finally come, after years of hype. And what is it all about? Well, that in theory, thousands or millions of tourists will arrive, all eager to see the biggest sporting event in the world - the Fifa (TM) (R) (C) Soccer (TM) (R) (C) World Cup (TM) (R) (C), which is to be hosted in South Africa. The tourism part is good. The rest, I'm not so sure.

In fact, I am baffled. I can't see, for the life of me, what is so exciting about watching a bunch of guys chasing a leather ball around. It's about as much fun as throwing a stick or a ball for my dog. I throw it, he runs, he fetches it, he brings it back. I throw it again, etc., etc. The same applies to ball sports. Someone kicks it, it moves away from where it needs to be, someone runs after it, they kick it, they run after it, etc. Boring. At least in rugby they sometimes klap each other. (Afrikaans [v, n]: means hit, pronounced "clup"). That brings rugby up to the level where both my dogs are chasing the ball, and one of them gets annoyed and attacks the other. Hmm. Not as boring, but certainly stupid. What concerns me the most about this thing - sport - is how avidly people follow it. My life is so busy and full, I can't begin to imagine how anyone who is not retired can possibly find time to fit it in. In fact, I am so busy I can't even regularly keep writing a blog.

But that's not all. Not only does sport strike me as boring and stupid, but there's a much darker side to it. The Romans called it "Panem et Circenses" - Bread and Circuses. Basically, the idea is that if you want to placate the masses, and keep them from grumbling in discontent, and even worse - rioting, or rising up in rebellion against you - all you have to do is keep them amused - with "sport" - and give them free stuff - like RDP houses or water and electricity. This keeps them distracted enough to not notice that their lives suck. But this disturbs me even further: the tickets to this event are, rumour has it, going to be at least US$ 100 each. There is no way any of our enthusiastic, impoverished soccer supporters are going to be able to afford that. Maybe if they chip in to a stokvel (group savings account, pronounced, roughly, "stork-fell"), they might be able to buy one person per family a ticket, say. That is going to cause a riot in itself, I reckon. Because soccer, you see, like most other sports, is some sort of drug.

And that leads me to my final concern. I think that "supporting sports" is some form of mass hysteria, just like one sees in charismatic churches, and Nuremburg rallies. What is the difference? People say you "ought to support your team" or "show patriotism" or somesuch. But then most wealthier people in this country support various British teams, as a relic of our colonial past. They don't generally support the local, primarily non-British-descended team, viz., Bafana Bafana (literally "the boys, the boys", who these Anglophiles affectionately refer to as "Buffoona Buffoona" - because they always lose. I know several people with Manchester United scarves, but no-one with our indigenous regalia. So really, supporting sport is not about helping the team to win. Think about it. Most supporters sit at home, screaming at the TV and scaring the cat. The team on the field, many miles away, cannot hear or see the supporters at home. So how are you "supporting" the team? Well, you certainly ARE subjecting yourself to a whole bunch of advertising. And the advertisers sometimes "sponsor" the team, and give them free stuff, like large amounts of money. So actually, all you're really doing by "supporting" a team is helping them to get rich. Think about that next time you moan about how much Beckham earns. It's your fault. You're the putz who is giving him the money. It's entertainment tax, in effect. Screaming at a match, where you're in the stadium - sure, that probably cheers the players on. I do imagine that if no-one showed up to a match, they'd probably be depressed and lose the game. But while you're sitting at home? I don't think it makes the slightest difference to the players' morale.

I think, really, given the above considerations - especially about how some people in this country support foreign teams - that sport is really about personal identity, and not about "supporting" a team. To put it bluntly, it boils down to race and other forms of identity.

Furthermore, why indeed SHOULD you support any particular team? What have they done for you? Well, they must have done something, so what is it? I'll tell you. They give you a sense of meaningfulness in your otherwise bland and meaningless lives. Perhaps this is a harsh thing to say, but I think it is true. Think about it. Think about footie hooligans and how they go at each other. How is it not the same as nationalism or religious fervour? You see, I am opposed to all kinds of identity-based conflict, and I think that sport just fans the flames. Admittedly, it is preferable to see England go against Spain on a patch of lawn, than how they used to solve it by setting fire to Armadas of ships, but still, it's the same thing. Think about how sport supporters say "we won", instead of "the English team won", or somesuch. By supporting sport, supporters vicariously gain some self-esteem. This is why they say "we" won. Objectively, sitting and screaming at a TV set (and scaring the cat), miles away from the action, really doesn't make a difference to what happens on the field. So you're not, in any way, helping the team to win. That's not what it's about. It's about self-affirmation, and wanting to prove to yourself, unconsciously, that you're worth something, and that you're not just a couch potato, whose empty life can only be filled by some vicarious means.

Sorry if this hurts your feelings. But I really think this is the correct explanation for why people will declare that "they" won a match, when in reality, there was no physical causal link between their screaming in their lounge, and the outcome of the match. Moreover, does it really matter if which team wins or loses? Does it matter at all? Does it change world history? Well, perhaps it does. Perhaps it creates a sense of national pride, or group pride, of some kind. But does that sense of national pride or group pride bode well? Does it lead to good things? I don't think it does. I think it furthers the distinctions and discrimination that exists between us, and prevents, rather than promotes, cooperation and friendly relationships.

I'd prefer a world in which people didn't need mass hysteria to feel that their lives are meaningful, because mass hysteria is a major cause of violence. Whether the mass hysteria is charismatic church sermons, soccer matches, Hitler's rallies, or a rock concert, or whatever, it is the same thing: A way of excluding others. Apartheid. THEY are the enemy. THEY are the unbelievers. THEY are the opponents' supporters. THEY are the enemy.