Since all I can manage are brief reviews with a pointer to the quotes I excerpted to Twitter, here is my take on Farewell to Alms:

I loved it. At least, it made me feel like I was getting enough out of it to keep on reading.  It also helped me get a better view on our modern world and how new it really is.  That, and I gained a much better understanding of how little transport is when it comes to the total cost of goods.  Why does “Made in America” not matter?  Because the real cost to ship to America is practically nothing.

(P.S. I should mention that I read this because Dan Lyke recommended it when I saw him in SF last January.  See? It only took me a year!)

I’ve got to say that Pawan Sinha‘s TED talk had me going. He leveraged the congenital blindness of some Indian children to learn about how we see (spoiler: it’s motion). In the process he achieved a very Humanistic goal: he gave children sight. I once was blind, but now I see. Our goals work best when we do this: we focus on how they can actually help people now instead of in the great by-and-by. More focus on the now is a good thing.

Hyperbolic subject, but a couple of Facebook related tidbits. Facebook is dying:

This week’s news that Goldman Sachs has chosen to invest in Facebook while entreating others to do the same should inspire about as much confidence as their investment in mortgage securities did in 2008. For those who weren’t watching, that’s when Goldman got rich betting against the investments it was selling.

And this great Assange quote:

What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I’m a villain. Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he’s Man of the Year.

Last night in Choir we sang some traditional Orthodox Christmas Hymns along with the more typical Western hymns. Since I’m in the choir, I had to pay more attention to the words. The one that I really liked was this one that revealed the awesome presence of God in the plain setting of the Christmas Event:

“I behold a strange but very glorious mystery: Heaven — the cave;
The throne of the Cherubim — the Virgin.
The manger — the receptacle in which Christ our God,
Whom nothing can contain, is lying”.

Other than that, it has been a quiet Christmas day. My wife grew up a devout Catholic immigrant and she and I have been working to preserve “peasant traditions” (as she calls them) of a humble Christmas. Our Christmas remains (largely because of her efforts) a religious holy-day. In that vein, I am amused by the “War on Christmas” folks. While ranting about people’s season greetings, they continue to participate heavily in the consumer aspects of how Christmas is celebrated in the States. Which is not to say that I am offended by any of this: people are welcome to celebrate their holidays however they wish. God knows (and those who have even a passing acquaintance with me know) that I’ve had and will have my share of rants. I’m just a little bemused that people are offended that other people want to celebrate at the same time they do without sharing their faith. There is some special irony in the hoopla over the greetings. After all, is there any special religiosity in the phrase “Merry Christmas” (which we hear often enough here in the States from the Coca-Cola Santa) versus the Orthodox Christian greetings of “Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”

People inflate their own importance. I am no exception to this trend, but I was reminded (again) that this is how people operate when I listened to America Abroad’s Remembering the Cole and one of the soldiers interviewed voiced his frustration that some Americans don’t remember the bombing of the USS Cole where some of his shipmates and friends were killed. This is a pattern that has repeated itself over and over. Of course, our pain is important to us, but, because we’re generally myopic and self-centered, we are easily frustrated when our pain isn’t important to everyone else. In reality this is just our inner 2-year-old showing up. Young children are just developing a sense of their selves as separate from others. After we’ve developed enough “self”, though, there is still some sense that we identify the larger tribe or nation as a part of our self. We share so many traits with our immediate family, for instance, that it can be difficult when they grow to be dramatically different than our selves. It is this sense of betrayal that I see so many parents struggling with when their children embrace a different religion, or when their children reject God entirely … when those you love — people who you’ve thought of as that larger self, part of the “us” in “us versus them” — don’t assimilate parts of your identity that you think of as fundamental, you’re in for some pain. And it is that pain that I heard in the words of the Cole survivor — “My buddies and I were out there defending America, and Americans can’t even remember and honor my friend’s death.” I can’t blame the veterans for feeling this way. After all, we’re reminded every day how much the military deserves our respect for, we’re told, the willingness to fight to the death for our freedom. And it is safe to say that most people in the military have adopted this mindset — that there is something more noble about armed service. Which is all fine, except that this point of view, embracing the nobility of service, identifying with it enough to be in the service, means that whenever you encounter someone who doesn’t share your paradigm (which happens pretty regularly when your friend has been killed), you experience a some real psychic pain.