(To all x MerryChristmas(x)) and (To all x GoodNight(x))

Hearty, nontrivial Christmas greetings from SAT-a-Clause, the patron saint of theoretical computer scientists! Tomorrow night, SAT-a-Clause will once again descend all possible chimneys in parallel, nondeterministically guess which ones lead to cookies, and fill the corresponding “STOC-ings” with loads of publishable results!

As I’ve done every year since I was about 14, I’ll spend Christmas Eve at my best friend Alex’s house (this year bringing the girlfriend along). My role at Alex’s family gathering, of course, is to wage the secular-humanist War On Christmas: sanctimoniously insisting that guests say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” belching loudly during hymns and carols, mocking the Savior as a “competent if unoriginal 1st-century rabbi,” and just generally dampening Christian faith, fomenting impiety, and advancing the cause of Satan. After all, what Christmas Eve celebration would be complete without a JudeoGrinch?

If your idea of the Christmas spirit includes, you know, peace on Earth, goodwill to all mankind, etc., you should check out this New York Times essay by Peter Singer, which Luca blogged about previously. Singer strikes me as one of the few public intellectuals who’s actually gotten wiser with age, as opposed to yet more cranky and intransigent. In this latest piece, he shows himself to be less concerned with chicken liberation than with eradicating rotavirus and malaria, less interested in the Talmudic question of whether a billionaire who’s given away 90% of his wealth is now morally obligated to give away the rest than in the practical question of how to get people to give more. I also recommend this column from last Christmas season by Nicholas Kristof — a writer who’s occassionally mistaken, never less than a mensch — in which he compares the War on Christmas to the war in Darfur, and challenges Bill O’Reilly to join him in witnessing the latter.

7 Responses to “(To all x MerryChristmas(x)) and (To all x GoodNight(x))”

  1. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:


    We are speaking of somebody who was obviously trying to get Jews to start a campaign to convert gentiles. This is not in accordance with Jewish tradition.

    Of course, if we assume that he might have had a point, we should try converting all Christians to Judaism.

  2. Scott Says:

    Well, it’s true that Jews haven’t been much in the evangelism business since the fall of the Roman Empire, but the ones in Jesus’s time could’ve given the Jehovah’s Witnesses a run for their money. In 113BC, John Hycanus even converted the Idumeians by force (apparently the only known example of a forced conversion to Judaism rather than from it).

  3. Bee Says:

    Hey Scott,

    you might enjoy to see how NORAD tracks Santa, maybe you find indications for decoherence of the Santa state, or sudden evidence for random motion 😉 Merry Christmas,


  4. Nick Bornak Says:

    “Doing something merely because you enjoy doing it, or enjoy seeing its consequences, they say, has no moral worth, because if you happened not to enjoy doing it, then you wouldn’t do it, and you are not responsible for your likes and dislikes, whereas you are responsible for your obedience to the demands of duty.” — Peter Singer

    This is an interesting interpretation of Kant, and I think it hinges on the use of that word “merely.” You can do something primarily out of duty and also happen enjoy seeing its consequencences — that’s rather close to Kant’s idea of having respect for the moral law. Singer almost always has an agenda when he brings up Kant, and this paragraph seemingly thrown in at random seems to be more of the same.

    He has gotten wiser with age, though. By far, my favourite animal rights philosopher.

  5. anonymous Says:

    Hi, Scott. Regarding the fate of humanity: what’s the best way to stop Polar Rose?

  6. John Sidles Says:

    To provide a gentle coda, may I recommend reading the Borges short story Averroes’ Search while listening to Ken Hatfield’s guitar composition of the same name, on his album titled (what else?) String Theory. Either the story or the composition (or both) are a nice gift, on any day of the year, for the mathematician or musician in your life.

  7. John Sidles Says:

    PS: click Music: String Theory: Averroes’s Search. Peace, good will to all!