16 December 2008

I Knew I Was Smarter Than The Average Person

Do you think you're smarter than the average US citizen? Have you had too many mind numbingly stupid conversations with idiots on message boards? Have you read too many unintelligible comments at other blogs? Would you like proof that you are, indeed, better informed about US government and history than most other people? Would you like to be decidedly disappointed by intelligence level of your elected officials? Well, then just visit this fun quiz when I stumbled across this nifty blog.

According to the results of this quiz, I am smarter than you. I scored 29 correct out of 33, giving me 87.88%. I don't think that's too bad at all. Especially considering I was fine with all the historical questions, but was very unsure of all the economic policy questions.

10 December 2008

Did You Really Think This Through?

So, back to the subject of Christmas, and the celebratory symbols surrounding it. Don't worry, I'm not ranting today. When I left work tonite, I decided to drive home through the city rather than take the highway, because it rained all day and then the temps dropped below freezing and I was worried I would slide off the highway. Driving the route through the city takes a little bit longer, but it meant I got to pass the Rutland Town Town Hall, on the front lawn of which is displayed a giant Christmas tree brightly lit with coloured lights. It was very pretty. I always have enjoyed Christmas trees and simple outdoor lighted displays. Net lights look particularly gorgeous draped over full hedges and then lightly dusted with snow.

Seeing the Rutland Town tree got me to thinking, though. Tonite I was driving home after 10pm and there was that tree fully lit. Obviously, it would be lit all night. I couldn't help but think of all the electricity being wasted to light a tree that probably won't even be seen by very many people. I found myself wondering if it was really necessary. Sure, the tree is pretty, and yes it lifted my mood when I saw it, but is that worth wasting limited resources? Especially in a time when towns (and the state) are having to re-evaluate their tax bases, cut their budgets, and find any way possible to save money. And at a time when Efficiency Vermont is constantly reminding people to find ways to conserve energy. Is lighting a superfluous symbol all night really the thing to do? Maybe we should find a different way to decorate it.

I got to thinking about how I decorated the first tree I had in my own apartment. I couldn't have it inside, because the apartment was too small, and I was very worried how Colyn would react to it. Instead, I put it outside on the tiny porch, and then I begged my mother to make me a ton of little, red, velvet bows. I wired those onto the tree as the only decorations. It promptly snowed, giving my tree a nice coating of white to mix with the green and red. It was the prettiest tree. If I ever manage to move into my own apartment again, that's probably what I'll do for a tree.

It occurred to me that maybe we could do that for a town tree, instead of using lights. Then again, making all those bows would be pretty expensive. Besides, a bow covered tree is only pretty in the daylight, and this time of year there isn't much daylight. So, my mind got to working, and spinning, and even smoking a little, trying to come up with a cheaper way to have a pretty night time Christmas Tree. And I lit upon the idea of reflectors. What if someone could design a kind of reflector that could be put on a tree, maybe like the traditional ornaments, or like the old fashioned tinsel. Then, as a car passed, the headlights would light up the Christmas tree and the driver would get to enjoy the tree without costing the town money. I imagine it glittering and glowing and looking wonderful. I also imagine myself becoming fabulously rich as the inventor of the Christmas Tree Reflector Lights. Too bad I don't know anything about inventing. I should probably just stick to my book idea and hope I get rich that way.

04 December 2008

When History Becomes History

Rude Cavewoman managed to find some chocolate and is now feeling much more Peaceful. Thus, today's post will be calmer and friendlier, albeit much sadder.

Yesterday, on my way home from RCHS, I heard a distressing bit of news on NPR. The Vermont Historical Society has announced that it has cancelled, suspended, put on hold, or however you want to say it, the Annual History Expo. Nine years ago The Vermont Historical Society sponsored the first History Expo. Since then the Expo has occurred each year in mid to late June and it has become hugely popular and informative. The Expo is as it sounds: a exposition featuring any and all local historical societies throughout Vermont, and any other historically related groups. It is held at the Tunbridge World's Fair Grounds, a site rich with it's own history. There is usually a turn out of half or more of all the local Historical Societies in the state, as well numerous museums and related non-profit organizations.

Aside from the booths for all these organizations, often each having it's own mini-presentation, there are author presentations, military presentations, an auction, old-time children's games, skilled workmanship presentations, an archealogical dig and lots of other fun stuff. Last year the History Expo was the kick off for the first ever Vermont Barn Census, the goal of which is to document all the barns throughout the state. This event has been embraced by Vermonters and out of staters alike greatly beyond anyone's original expectations. School children attend with their families for a fun and educational event. History buffs volunteer with their local historical societies to share a new story each year. Re-enactors arrive in period dress

I have attended all but one Expo. The last three years I have volunteered at the Expo, helping out in whatever capacity they need. I revel in this event. It is the highlight of my summer. Last year I went so far as to use paid vacation time so I could attend the event. The stories are wonderful, the presentations are wonderful, the people are wonderful, the entire event is just plain wonderful. I am devastated that there will be no History Expo in 2009. I think it is extremely sad that after all the work done year after year to draw people to this event that we won't be able to have it next year.

03 December 2008

Yes, I hate Santa Claus, too.

It's Christmastime in the U.S., which means that all the wingnuts are out in force. Oops. I'm sorry, wingnuts is not PC. I'm going to be open and honest right from the beginning of this post, so that you don't think I have some ulterior motive or hidden agenda or anything. I hate Christmas. And when I use the word hate, I really, truly mean hate. This is, by far, my least favorite time of year. I hate the stress, the commercialism, the materialism, and, yes, the blatant, in your face religiousity that I am forced to live with for 6-8 weeks. All the same, I still find myself celebrating it, if only for one more year.

My family, just about as unreligious as they come, has always celebrated a traditional, secular Christmas holiday, complete with tree, lights, garland, and presents. The extended family joins us and we give each other meaningless gifts that we all pretend to like and then immediately discard or hide in the back of the closet. We all rush around in a grumpy haze trying to bake and shop and decorate and remain cheerful all the time. And when it's all over, we breathe a huge sigh of relief and remind ourselves to start sooner and be more organized next year so that it isn't as stressful and we can actually enjoy the season. So, there you have it, that's the reason this particular atheist celebrates Christmas.

And every year some where in this grand U.S. of A. there is a heated debate between the Christians and the atheists about the Christmas parapharnalia. Should there be a Christmas Tree at school? A nativity scene at the town hall? The singing of Christmas Carols at the Selectboard Meeting? Ok, so I've never heard of any controversy surrounding that last one, but I'm sure it has happened somewhere. If not, someone write it down and use it next year. Considering how much I love the holiday, I'm sure you're not surprised to read that I would just as soon have all these decorations disappear from all the public spaces. Similarly, I'd love to have all the retail stores stop playing those disgusting, sappy, overly reworked Christmas songs. I don't care if you're Elvis or The Chipmunks, I don't want to hear one more word about what Santa and Mommy were getting up to under the mistletoe last night.

Except, as an atheist, I'm in the minority in this country (as I'm constantly reminded) and I don't get to have an opinion about the matter. I'm not allowed to be bothered by the fact that my local, state, or federal government is celebrating one religious holiday, complete with all the corresponding religious whatnot, to the near exclusion of all other religions. I'm simply not allowed to think that, or believe that, or say that. Because if I do, then I'm just being petty and I'm shoving my beliefs in your face. Which makes me a hypocrite, because that's the very thing about which I'm complaining (having your beliefs shoved in my face.)

Truly, I think there are a lot of arguments that can be made. Many, if not most, aspects of Christmas have become completely secular. The tree, the songs, Santa Claus; all those things are basically without religious meaning. So, it's difficult to argue for their removal from public space based on the whole separation of church and state bit. And, I can admit that the forced inclusion of atheist beliefs in the Christmas holiday celebrations is a bit of an....oddity. Really, atheists are marked by their non-belief in all the hoo-ha. The (forced) inclusion of a negative belief is something of an insult to those who believe.

But, here's my question to those who celebrate Christmas for it's religious meaning and think that it is imperative that religious symbols be present in all public spaces, including government space, during this holiday season: what are you celebrating, and why does that celebration require the display of your religious symbols in my public space? Please, with honesty and sincerity, explain what it is you are celebrating during this Christmas season. Is it the birth of Christ, whom you consider your savior? Is it goodwill toward man(kind)? Is it just a warm and fuzzy feeling? Or are you just following along with tradition and reveling in the rampant materialism that happens?

Now that you know what you're celebrating, please explain to me why it is necessary to have the trappings of your celebration displayed in my public space? If you're truly celebrating the religious aspect of Christmas, then I think I can safely assume you have all the religious symbols displayed in your home, where you can see them daily. I would imagine all those same religious symbols are displayed at your chosen house of worship, where you can see them weekly, daily, or as often as you like. If this is all true, why then is it necessary to have all these same symbols displayed in my public space? Is it detrimental to your celebration to be out of sight of these symbols for even a few moments? If it is not, then what is the purpose of demanding they be displayed on public property? Would it not be kinder, more tolerant, more understanding, more accepting and non-judgemental to simply leave the public space as it is for the rest of the year? We certainly have enough government supported nods to religion throughout the rest of the year, do we really need the added religiousity during Christmas? I'd like to think no.

And, yes, I hate Santa Claus, too. I hope the dog bites that sneaky little, chimney sliding, animal enslaving, height discriminating bastard this year.