Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What the Pope is Really Saying

In a recent interview with Pope Francis which has been widely covered in the media he talks about his stance on homosexuality, and reproduction:
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. ...The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time....The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
Pretty much he's saying, "Although we still believe that gays are condemned, people shouldn't get abortions, and no one should use contraceptives, and these are all still part of our doctrine, but we are going to focus on the things that don't make us look like we're complete assholes."

He has been praised much for trying to drive the church away from discussing these issues, but stopping all conversations on these things does not push the elephant out of the room.  They will continue to discriminate, continue to build hospitals and enforce their religious views on the doctors working there, and continue to cause poverty for the poor, and pain for the sick and the infirm.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Uchtdorf Takes Lesson From New Pope

It was hard not to laugh at the non-apology recently made at the October Session of General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).  President Uchtdorf, second councilor in the first presidency, attempted one while using very noncommittal language which may have been the results of taking lessons from the new pope on how to deal with pesky PR issues. His phrasing is very pertinent, you’ll notice the use of the words “may”, "maybe", and "could" used very freely. It was always “may have offended”, “may come across some things in church history”, “maybe, a prophet or person of God somewhere along the way might have said something”. There is no admission of guilt or wrong doing, there is no admission that the church has participated in scandals ranging anywhere from arranged marriages of 14 year old girls in exchange for their families salvation, to excommunicating any church historian who writes anything negative about the church using the privileged archives that they have access to.

Similarly, Pope Francis has spoken publicly against focusing on peoples sexual orientation while doing nothing to change the actual doctrine.

The one bright spot that I found myself agreeing with was hearing someone understand that people who leave the church are not necessarily "offended or lazy or sinful."

The New York Times has run a story on Uchtdorf's admission while noting some of the faults and pointing out that he didn't mention which faults he was referring to.  This talk seems to be part of the new initiative that the Church has been doing to redirect attention from recent failed political campaigns which have turned the public eye to scrutinize the church.  In one of my previous articles I point out their campaign to cry victim while at the same time continuing to squash others rights to live life how they see fit.  Uchtdorf mentioned in his talk that "they absolutely respect the free-agency of everyone", this respect seems to have been learned after the PR hit which has come with Proposition 8.

Perhaps Uchtdorf could begin by addressing this interview with Elder Oaks, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles:
I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”
Is this sort of thing condemned by the church or condoned? It's basically saying to keep your life private and we are so embarrassed of you that we want to keep you hidden from anyone else.

Recently the Church has begun to admit very quietly, but also very noncommittally, its racist history. This year the Church has released a new edition of the standard works, the Church's canon, and have either changed headings, or added explanations. Most noticeably is their move to make Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) less the inerrant word of God and emblem of modern revelation, and more the notes of Joseph Smith's scribes.  In this way they are setting up to distance themselves further from their mid-eighteenth century heritage.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mormon Church Cries Threat To Religious Freedom

Portland, OR LDS Temple
In probably one of the worse attempts by the persecutor to cry out persecution, the Mormon Church ( The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has released three videos and a public statement asking members to force their religion from personal practice to public policy.

In the third, and longest, video, they finally attempt to explain how they are being persecuted.  The argument boils down to this:

1) While working for a hospital necklaces are not allowed by nurses for their own safety due to the possibility of patients reaching out for something and accidentally choking the nurse.  One nurse happened to have one which has a crucifix and it was also ruled as not being allowed, but she could wear it under her clothing.  Although wearing a crucifix is not considered essential to her religion and she can still practice her religion, our religious freedom is threatened.[1][2]

2) The school has a non-discrimination policy which requires that members, including leaders, cannot be restricted based on religion.  Since we want to require our leader to be our own religion our religious freedom is threatened.[3][4][5]

3) We take taxpayers money, but we do not want to support legal acts that taxpayers can do, which have been validated and prescribed by physicians, because we disagree with it, although there is no way of knowing all the details of this particular situation.  Since we are being forced to give medication prescribed by doctors to patients that are asking and fully capable of making the choice themselves we are being persecuted and our religious freedom is threatened.[6]

4) We're blind and can't see the bigotry in denying service to other humans just because of their sexual orientation, and lack the capacity to see how this relates to civil rights similar to the 60's, we should be allowed a special exemption from the same law that would protect us in the case that someone would want to deny us service based on our religious convictions.  Because we're too bigoted to keep our big mouths shut when we deny service for any reason, we tell them specifically it is due to their sexual orientation and then cry foul when the state hits us with a penalty for violating anti-discrimination laws, our religious freedom is being threatened.[7][8][9]

Most of these cases which are referenced have been overturned, the schools have backed down on their decision to enforce non-discrimination, a federal judge has ruled against Washington State's requirement to provide emergency contraceptives, and a hospital worker can now wear a crucifix which might spread infection.

Importantly we should note that these same messages are coming from the group which pushed the bounds of separation of church and state when they funded legislation to revoke rights given to the LGBT community in California.

The religious need to realize that the very laws which they try and enact today while they are in power, while they enjoy the majority, may be the same laws which are used to suppress them as that majority dwindles and their power fades.  It is in their best interest to fight for non-discrimination, to build a society which does not force others to go elsewhere if they want service due to personal beliefs and convictions.  As a part of the current majority they share in the obligation to defend those too weak to defend themselves and to not abuse the position which they hold.

[1]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/6209892/Nurse-faces-the-sack-for-refusing-to-take-off-her-cross.html
[2]http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/jan/15/landmark-victory-ba-cross-work

Friday, September 6, 2013

Universe

This hardly does justice to the numinous feelings that I have as I learn more about the universe.  Gazing at images taken by the hubble and other telescopes one cannot help but to feel the transcendence that it brings.  As one ponders the vastness of the cosmos and the journey which each atom inside our bodies had to go through to be here in us right now it is one of the most humbling thoughts.  As Lawrence Krauss said, "The stars died so you could be here today."

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Arrogance of Religious Humility

Portland, Oregon LDS Temple
While leaving Mormonism one thing that I had been told often was that I was not humble.  Sometimes I was called arrogant or proud, and that I needed to humble myself and see all the blessings that god had given me.  These blessings included my wife, my job, my car, even the very air that I breathe.

One of the teachings of nearly every religion is the virtue of humility, we are told to be humble, to not accept praise, or to defer that praise to god; that somehow to recognize one's own achievement was an unwelcomed vice and attributing this to a deity somehow makes someone humble.

I counter that to arrogate anything that you do, or have happen to you to the will of some omnipotent deity is actually one of the most arrogant and proud statements that could be uttered by man.  When someone ascribes an act to god they are not just saying that they are unable to complete the task without divine intervention or supernatural prowess; they say that god somehow cares enough for them that he has suspended the laws of nature in their favor.  They imply, perhaps without meaning to, that god has placed at a greater importance a feat that they desired well above that of the starving child, or the grieving widow, those who are described as the recipients of pure religion.  They are putting themselves at the center of an omnipotent beings attention, instead of choosing to save any of the millions of starving children in Africa, or to keep the female journalist from being raped in Egypt, or any of the nearly 17,000 car accidents which happen in the US every day, that he chose to help you find your keys, or land that new job.  What about it is not arrogant or proud?  That he chose you, he cares about you over all other things, that somehow you are special.  Is this not exactly the meaning of solipsism?  It is human nature to desire a higher purpose to our own existence, and that we should be circumscribed in the middle of it all.

Not only is this manner of thanking god for everything arrogant and diminishing, it is the utmost conceited act of self centeredness, which religion tries to color as being humble.  Forget the partners on school projects, or the guidance of your teacher; forget the coworkers who helped alongside you; forget the surgeon who trained for a decade or longer to perform your surgery that resulted from a negligent, incompetent god in the first place.

Just the other day I saw someone post on facebook, "Thank God for a mothers love."  In reply I posted, "I'll just thank my mother."  How often do we hear this kind of assertion that we should thank god for a deed done by someone else?  When we come unscaved from an auto accident and your parents say, "Thank God you're alright."  Isn't that quite presumptive of ourselves?   Assuming it wasn't the drivers fault, perhaps we should thank the driver for their quick reaction.  Does anyone ever think to maybe thank the engineers who designed the crumple zones in the engine compartments to absorb the energy instead of transferring it into our relatively frail bodies; or thank the assembly line worker for correctly installing the airbag that further softened the blow?  By thanking god we undervalue the contributions our fellow man has made and pump up our own arrogance of being the center of divine attention.

At the conclusion of Super Bowl 47 one of the Ravens said "Thank God that we won."  This is presumptuous that god, first of all, even cares about football, and secondly he was somehow rooting for his team rather than the opposing team. If not that is not enough it also completely ignores the contributions that the other players on the team made, as well as the coaches who helped train throughout the year, and the sacrifice their wives and families may have made.

Sometimes we see that god is tacked on at the end of a list of thanks.  We may see this after a tough achievement in academics when graduating high school with top honors.  They may thank some of their teachers, and their parents, and sometimes as almost an afterthought, "Oh yeah, and most of all, God."  In this case it is not attributing everything that happened to god, but still putting oneself at the center of the universe, under the divine attention of an everlasting father whose approval one seeks to prove through blessings bestowed by his benevolent hand.

More than once have I heard from those at my previous church of the blessings which they received due to their humility.  My own bishop used this tactic when trying to convince me that I should continue to believe in god.  He described how his job, his wealth, even his children are all due to a god that would watch out for him and make him wealthy.  He said that it couldn't have been the doctor who told him they wouldn't be able to have children was just wrong, he had gotten a second opinion from another doctor who couldn't have been equally wrong.

What I find to be the most humbling is the universe itself.  To realize how we came to being, of the giants which we stand upon that gives us our current view.  Ninety-nine percent of all species which have every been on this planet are extinct, and in the complex circle of life which exists here means that we owe our own existence to them.  Not only that, but the below quote captures the true enormity of who we are.
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution - weren't created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today. "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009

Though this may itself appeal to our solipsism, we should know that the universe doesn't even appear to know that we are here, and in the long term of the universe everything is doomed to a cold death as the universe continues its expansion and the last stars explode, and the last galaxy fades away, there will be nothing that we will have done which will be remembered.

* All photos used in this blogpost were taken by myself, and I reserve all rights to their use and reproduction.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Marriage Is Not A Religious Institution

One of the most prolific arguments concerning marriage is that marriage is a religious institution. There are three reasons I would like to lay out why this is not so.

The Anthropology of Marriage 


Despite the rhetoric of those whose worldviews begin and end with one book, or four, marriage has been around for at least 20,000 years, if not up to 4 million years, but we merely need 20,000 years for this lesson. 20,000 years is well before recorded history, China having the longest recorded history going back 5,000 years, with additional archaeological evidence going back even further to possibly 1.7 Million years. In this history we find that marriage had come about in many forms from concubines to feudal lords. Matchmaking was a common practice in ancient China and some of it still goes on today with men and women sometimes not getting married until they are into their 30's. Chinese weddings involve much ceremony and traditions which are passed down from generation to generation.

The ancient Greek also practiced marriage, often without any ceremony but a mutual agreement. The ancient Romans had ceremony to both begin and dissolve marriage even before Christianity came. Even venturing into the Christian Era there was no special ceremony for it but was later added suggested by Bishop Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 CE suggesting that they should first seek the Bishop's approval. Martin Luther thought of marriage as a "worldly matter" and should not involve the church.

From these few examples we can see that marriage came from society and was later adopted by religion and not the other way around. It has been a means to accept responsibility for the other spouse or spouses, along with whatever children may be added. In later centuries it also became a matter of legal course in deciding the inheritance rights of women.

Separation of Church and State 


Were we to concede that marriage is a religious institution then the consequences of that should be that the state and federal government should have no part in it in any way. Inheritance laws, tax benefits, and more recently health benefits and other state and federal services should not take into consideration at all the fact that someone is or is not married. A completely religious institution that has no basis in secular society should in no way be recognized by the government in accordance to the doctrine of Separation of Church and State and should in no way be given special privileges under the law.

But we see that the government does take part in it; beginning with laws governing at what age one can marry, how many one can marry at the same time, even to the license needed for a marriage to be lawfully recognized or to be annulled, this is an institution which has been completely controlled by the government, it is in its very essence a secular institution and waving your arms about yelling, “But it’s in the bible!” does not change the facts.

Basis for Denying Marriage


Throughout the debate over whether same sex couples should be allowed to marry indubitably it has been an argument from the religious point of view. On every corner of the internet there has been people thumping their bibles, making arguments that it is not natural and not the way god intended. If you look at nature you see anywhere from 500 to 1500 or more examples of different species which participate in homosexuality.

The bible is hardly the place to go looking for morals of any kind in the first place. There is no mention of homosexuals in the New Testament, and the Old Testament is riddled with things much crazier and worse than homosexuality and to cherry pick this single command from all other abhorrent vacuous crap is a gross offense against ones intellect. You may choose to hate on homosexuals for a commandment given to a bunch of desert dwelling gents who were willing to give their daughters and their concubines to be raped, and in at least one case killed, by ravenous men instead of themselves, but this kind of philosophy has no place in modern society.

If there are non-religious reasons for denying marriage to same sex couples I have not heard one peep from them; were they to actually exist they have been most silent on this matter. It may be the case of the vocal minority shouting louder and thumping harder than their counterparts, but as we have seen in recent polls, public opinion has swayed towards upholding the Constitution with equal protection and treatment under the law. It is not the same sex couples who want to redefine marriage, but those who hold the bigoted position that special privilege should be afforded to only their poisoned view which would have marriage redefined.

Conclusion


I am not arguing for same sex marriage, but for equal treatment under the law. There is not two kinds of marriage, it is not traditional marriage versus same sex marriage, to argue this would be to concede that there is a difference, that somehow two homo sapiens willing to enter into a commitment of lifelong proportions should be differentiated from two other homo sapiens willing to enter into the same commitment merely due to their sexual diversity, or lack thereof, and given that as the sole reason they should not be allowed to derive any benefits or protections from their union. This is more than just a fight against discrimination in all its forms; this is a fight for freedom from religion and religious oppression which is guaranteed us in the first amendment. Marriage is not a religious institution and it should be free from the tyrannical hands of religious entities dictating our rights while preaching hatred. As Americans our forefathers would not stand for a king to rule over them, neither should we stand for a king in heaven or on Earth to subjugate us. The historically inaccurate line uttered by John Ashcroft in a speech given at Bob Jones University in 1999 where he said, “We have no king but Jesus.” was exactly two words too long.

In another tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens while speaking about Thomas Jefferson’s famous line in this excerpt of a letter written to the Danbury Baptist Association:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
Mr. Hitchens exclaimed, “Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall!”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

BSA Votes to Lift Ban on Gay Scouts After Blessing From Mormon Church

After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gave their blessing recently the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have voted to allow openly gay scouts in their troops, at least until they want to become Scoutmasters.  The Mormon church is the largest single religious organization which charters many troops.  This seems consistent with the Mormon church's policy which they have recently been promoting with a new website bearing the church's logo at Mormons and Gays, where they discuss what the church's current stance is towards homosexuals.

In Justice Stevens dissenting opinion in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale
 he noted that the BSA's ban on gays did not stem from any of the principles taught in the Scouting Handbook.  Even in the Scoutmasters Guidebook the Scoutmasters are instructed to defer these teachings to the child's home, religious leaders, doctors, or teachers.  In the list reiterated by Justice Stevens Scoutmasters show up as the very last, and they are told to only answer at their comfort levels.

As is par for the course with the Mormon church their societal views have changed with convenience.  In 2008 they broke the separation which they had maintained with staying out of political measures to intervene in California's Proposition 8; four years later they are now changing their teachings from "it's a lifestyle choice", to "you might be born with it but it's still a choice."  There was a similar turnaround, although much more dramatic, in 1978 after the civil rights movement was well past and the rest of society had moved forward, leaders of this relatively small church changed their policy after much pressure from the government and other groups. Up until that time church members were taught that the "negroes are not equal with other races" (Bruce R McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528)

The new policy which the BSA has put forth reflects the protocol portrayed by the Mormon church on tolerating homosexuals in their wards (a ward is a local Mormon congregation).  As stated on the Mormons and Gays website:
Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don't act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending the temple. Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is.
This is similar to the stance which the BSA now has that the scout can be gay, but cannot act on it.  The BSA reasoning goes equally with all scouts because of their stance against premarital sex.  What differs right now is what happens when they are adults: in the Mormon church they still cannot act on them; in the BSA they aren't allowed even if they don't act.

As there has been an evolution of man throughout the ages, from our distant ancestors who we share with chimpanzees, to our neanderthal cousins, so there is an evolution in society, and in our morals; this evolution has continually been towards the equal treatment of our fellow man, even to an extension of this to all our brothers, sisters, and cousins found throughout the flora and fauna on the Earth.  We may continue to look forward to a day where unequal and discriminatory policies are not found within civilization, and the solidarity of all things here on Earth can be felt through the realization and recognition of our common genealogy.

Picture By Douglas Muth from Ardmore, PA, USA (My old Boy Scout merit badges) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: How Modern Science and Neurology Destroys Christianity



This pamphlet by +Truman Smith was a delight to read, concisely putting forth four blows to modern Christianity, with a slight tangent into the reliability of the Bible. It is well worth the read, and has a nice font size on the front cover and heading of every page to garner you some looks while reading it on public transit, as I learned recently while riding the MAX in Portland.

It breaks down to an argument from evolution, an argument from neurology, how god is evil, and the gospel is just plain nonsense. He goes on a bit further to show the folly in so-called "Evolutionary Creationist", and the corollary of conceding even one of his points when dealing with Christianity.

Emergence was a topic that I hadn't thought about much before.  Recently scientists have shown even more so that our genetics aren't so much exactly who we are, but it is the combination of genetics, environment and experience that makes you you, and me me.  I like to think of this as the process of me dying multiple times over in a single lifetime.  The me today is not the same as the me from yesterday, or yesteryear.  The child my mother once knew and raised is no more, neither is the mother who gave me nurture.  As experience and knowledge has accrued the self that I once was has been laid to rest with the emergence of a new being, one whom I hope is more thoughtful and loving.

The one argument that I kept hearing going through my head is from my old bishop who said, regarding the genocides in the bible, "But they aren't dead."  The problem with this statement is it takes life and deludes it of anything that is precious.  In the Mormon philosophy which I used to prescribe to, this mortal life is thought of as a stepping stone to eternity, that the reason we come here is merely to obtain a body and, for those who weren't the most righteous who die at childbirth,  to gain experience and prove ourselves to be subservient to our God in every way.  What he means by "But they aren't dead." is that they went to the spirit world, a type of waiting place for everyone before the resurrection.  He argued that it was a blessing to them that they could swiftly go there and begin their repentance because their hearts were too hardened and incapable of change in this life already.

Is life so much a burden that we should look forward to the day that it will be swept away?  The greatest thing which I have come to learn since leaving religion behind is that life is infinitely precious because we have only one to live, and as Dr. Stephen Hawking once said, "We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful."

Even if it was a blessing for those, Truman's argument that God is evil still stands.  Truman committed Godwin's law by comparing God to Hitler; we know Hitler to be an evil person because of the genocide of 6 million Jews; God had previously wiped out the entire human race save eight souls, and even after that he continued to commit genocide, ordering Israel to abolish entire nations throughout the Old Testament.  Without including the flood it is at least 2.5 million; after including an estimate for the flood and other slaughters which did not have numbers associated with it, we are now at a total of nearly 25 million.  Here is a good place for a quote from a Tim Minchin song:
I had a cat, she gave birth to a litter 
The kittens were adorable and they made my family laugh 
But as they grew they started misbehavin' 
So I drowned the little fuckers in the bath 
When the creatures in your care start being menaces 
The answers can be found right there in Genesis! 
Chapter 6, Verse 5-7! 
What kind of person would this describe who could be so cruel?

If you are still not convinced, I urge you to purchase this pamphlet and read it.  Other good books to consider can be found at the end of this review.

In conclusion, it is nice to see the perspective of someone who went through the training and has the credentials of a minister.  Richard Dawkins theorizes that there are many that are in situations as ministers where they have devoted their life to the work and don't know what they would do for a job.  There is help out there which can be found at The Clergy Project.  This pamphlet is a bit more polite than The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and may be more palatable to those who may be easily offended by discussing the fallacy of their beliefs.  Thanks go to +Truman Smith for writing this pamphlet and to +Bernie Dehler for sharing it with me.

Recommended Reading:
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Most Helpful Repo Command for Android Development

Article has been moved to my blog at OhYongHao.com
I must lament for a bit what I see to be a great lack of foresight when dealing with Android.  From the official documentation to any site that I have tried to visit there seems to be one thing which is not discussed.  There is an unwritten rule taken nearly religiously: Those that use 'repo' don't talk about 'repo'.

Repo is this all powerful super tool built on top of git, another all powerful super tool, which allows for the concurrent management of multiple projects that are used to form one super project.  There is just one catch, nothing but the most simplistic of usage examples are available.

As it turns out the entire documentation is hidden in the program itself.  As not to be too obvious, when you type the standard 'repo --help' you get a fairly unuseful help message:

Usage: repo [-p|--paginate|--no-pager] COMMAND [ARGS]
Options:
  -h, --help      show this help message and exit
  -p, --paginate  display command output in the pager
  --no-pager      disable the pager
  --trace         trace git command execution
  --time          time repo command execution
  --version       display this version of repo
Nothing in here is very useful.  What are the available commands that are referred to here?  Nothing there would point you to the most helpful repo command.  Try typing 'repo help', note the missing double dash, and here is what you get:
usage: repo COMMAND [ARGS]
The most commonly used repo commands are:
  abandon            Permanently abandon a development branch
  branch             View current topic branches
  branches           View current topic branches
  checkout           Checkout a branch for development
  checkout-manifest  for every project in a manifest tag file check out the sha1 listed in the file
  cherry-pick        Cherry-pick a change.
  diff               Show changes between commit and working tree
  download           Download and checkout a change
  format-patch       build patch sets for each project common to a manifest baseline
  grep               Print lines matching a pattern
  init               Initialize repo in the current directory
  list               List projects and their associated directories
  overview           Display overview of unmerged project branches
  prune              Prune (delete) already merged topics
  push               Push the local branch
  rebase             Rebase local branches on upstream branch
  smartsync          Update working tree to the latest known good revision
  stage              Stage file(s) for commit
  start              Start a new branch for development
  status             Show the working tree status
  sync               Update working tree to the latest revision
  tag-manifest       for every project in a manifest tag use the sha1 listed in the file set the tagname to it
  upload             Upload changes for code review
See 'repo help ' for more information on a specific command.
See 'repo help --all' for a complete list of recognized commands.
Wait, what is this?  A list of every nearly every command available along with useful information at the end telling you how to find EVERY command that repo uses?  Why the bloody hell was this not put in the first help message?  Was it too troublesome to add a line at the end like "See 'repo help' for a list of commands."?  Even the official documentation, at most, lists using 'repo help COMMAND' but gives no indication that leaving off 'COMMAND' would then show you all the possible commands.

Hopefully someone finds this post useful, I know it has taken me a long time to find this bit of information, I now put it out here in hope that others aren't as lost as I was for so long.  I will now be perusing and learning more about this powerful tool.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dvorak: My Experience With The Alternative Keyboard Layout

A brief history of Dvorak

In two days it will be the 77th anniversary of the Dvorak keyboard.  On May 12, 1936 an ambitious professor at the University of Washington in Seattle named August Dvorak published his Dvorak Simplified Keyboard (DSK) layout as an alternative to the Qwerty keyboard layout which had become popularized with the Remington No. 2 in 1878.

There have been multiple pushes since to promote this alternative layout, boasting claims of faster typing speed, increased accuracy, and lowered strain on the hands and wrists.  The Apple II series had a hack that could be performed to allow switching between Qwerty and Dvorak layouts, which was changed to a switch for the Apple IIc iteration.

Contemporary Use

As of Android OS 4.1 Dvorak is handled natively without the need of a third party application.  It isn't the easiest one to find, being hidden under the advanced options in the keyboard setup, but can be used along with the Qwerty keyboard after being enabled.

Most modern operating also support this layout natively as an alternative to the English(US) layout.

Pop Culture

Terry Goodkind, author of the Sword of Truth series, types using the Dvorak keyboard layout.  The 2005 Guinness Book of World Records speed typist holder, Barbara Blackburn, also used Dvorak.  Along with Steve Wozniak from Apple, and Brian Cohen of BitTorrent fame.

Personal Experience

Starting in about 2005 I read an article on Slashdot about speed typing with Dvorak.  This is a topic that makes its rounds in computer geek news circles roughly once a year, or at least as often as a writer by the same name makes it in the news.

Eventually a good friend of mine, John, and I decided to try and learn Dvorak.  I found a simple command line program that taught typing the same way that I learned on the Apple IIe.  What I found with this was amazing, by not leaving the home row I could already begin typing common words.
This, that, the, sin, sit, a, otto, auto, do, it, did, don, do not, theist, atheist.
This is neat, an atheist does not see the insane sadist that a theist does.  
Excluding punctuation that last sentence was completely typed using the home row.  You can't do that with Qwerty because in Qwerty you only have a single vowel in home row, thus forcing you on nearly every word to leave home row once.  Luckily all the other vowels are placed on the upper row which is easier to reach than the lower.  The corollary is that the punctuation is sacrificed in its stead.

I went full speed ahead on learning Dvorak; going cold turkey to Qwerty can be hard, but I find the desire to communicate to be a large enough driving force to propel me forward in increasing my accuracy.  Within a few days I was around half the speed I was before with Qwerty and today I enjoy about equal speed.

Up until recently I had never actually looked at a Dvorak keyboard, but I was interested in having it on my Android phone.  After a little bit of googling I found that Jellybean supports Dvorak natively, so I enabled it.  I'll write more about this experience in the Caveats section, but in short it was disastrous.  Even to this day I type on a keyboard that is labeled with Qwerty, thus I have been completely familiar with a Qwerty layout since the time my father brought home our first computer in 1994 when I was 10 years old, therefore making me completely lost staring at a screen which my touch typing fingers know, but my eyes view as familiar as abstract art.

Pros

There are many enthusiast out there who could convince you that Dvorak might cure the common cold and cook you breakfast; my experience shows neither of these happening.  I do feel a difference while typing in that I no longer feel when I am typing fast that my hands are flying all over the keyboard finding the keys that they need to press to string together a few cluttered phrases.  There was an experience I had once when I was a young bachelor.  My housemate was watching TV with a couple of friends and I was sitting in my chair typing on my laptop when slowly, everybody started looking at me.  They asked me what I was doing.  I responded that I was merely typing a journal entry for the days events.  The look on their face told me they thought I was just joking and trying to get somebody's attention, in their experience people do not type that fast; whether this is Dvorak causing this, or just my own speed of typing having always been above average I cannot say.

Among the claims are health benefits for those who type a lot.  As many programmers and typists know typing causes a lot of stress on your hands, and particularly on the joints and tendons that are used in typing.  Having never really had bad hands to begin with I cannot vouch for the efficacy of this claim, but I can say that I no longer feel that my fingers are flying all over the keyboard no matter how fast I type.

Caveats

In my nearly 10 years of experience typing in Dvorak I would have to say one of the most frustrating experiences has very little to do with Dvorak itself, but with typing in Chinese.  Some systems work flawlessly switching between New Phonetic Input Method, and others fail.  The ideal situation is when you go into a mode that types in English that it uses the underlying English keyboard you selected, in
my case Dvorak; this isn't always the case, and my greatest frustration has been, sadly, in Linux.

My greatest experience of operability with multiple users is in Linux using the 12.04 Ubuntu login.  The login remembers which keyboard layout each user had previously selected and upon switching to that username on the login screen the keyboard also changes to the associated keyboard layout.  This helps alleviate some of the frustration that coworkers or family members might feel when getting on the computer and having that WTF moment when they type and nothing intelligible comes out.

Gaming

If this article was written just for those preaching to the choir it is almost unneeded to even mention the by far largest caveat known to Dvorak users, the grand behemoth of gaming.  Virtually every game with few notable mentions, even consider alternative keyboards when making keyboard layouts, and even fewer of those that do include Dvorak.  The most heinous of them might disallow certain keys found in the upper left corner of the Dvorak keyboard which on Qwerty are replaced by its namesake.  The QWERTY keys when mapped to a Dvorak keyboard spell ',.pyf and "<>PYF.  Workarounds have been found by allowing both Qwerty and Dvorak in the underlying OS and using the keyboard switcher to switch between the two formats.  In time sensitive games, such as Star Craft II, this can be the death of you if you forgot to reset before starting, and it can make quick chat unusable, or impractical during a gaming session.

The best I have come across is Entropia Universe, this allows me to set the key functions in Qwerty, which is useful due to the fact that almost nobody actually owns a keyboard that has letters printed in Dvorak, while at the same time when I go to chat it automatically uses the key mapping provided by the OS.  No need to switch, or second guess which keyboard you are using.  I wish more games would follow this format.

Swipe

As mentioned previously I decided to try it out on my Nexus 4.  That was the biggest mistake I had ever made.  I use Dvorak whenever feasible and I always wished that my G2 supported it on the fold out keyboard.  The caveat I ran into with swiping is Dvorak is just too efficient; the letters are all grouped together.  I couldn't type anything, I had no idea where keys were, swiping was nearly impossible and took forever.  Swiping works on the eccentric word patterns that Qwerty forms which was made to keep mechanical keyboards from colliding together.  Conversely, Dvorak causes tighter word patterns which then create much more ambiguousness due to so many words being formed with essentially the same pattern.  Imagine trying to swipe when most words are formed with letters that are collinear, forming a left to right to left pattern.  Perhaps a different system that uses a circle for a keyboard may make a better way to swipe, but the disadvantage of Dvorak is exacerbated from being unfamiliar with its visual landscape when you need to type a word that is not in the dictionary, or that the phone is having difficulty deciphering from your swipe.  At this point it becomes a tedious task of hunting for where each letter is.  I tried this for a couple minutes and my already slow swiping speed crawled nearly to a halt.  Sorry but this is one aspect in which Dvorak certainly does not win.

Conclusion

Dvorak keeps people off my computer, much to the chagrin of many a coworker and friend.  It feels much more natural and I can't see myself ever fully converting to a Qwerty keyboard again.  Despite its shortcomings in some industries, such as gaming, I still find that the momentary setback of figuring out how to switch the keyboard layout is more than worth it, plus it gets me extra points on my geek card.

That being said I still would recommend that you at least become familiar with Qwerty and be able to type using Qwerty if needs be.  For me I can still switch between the two formats at will, although the first few strokes will be a little awkward, and while typing using Qwerty I may have to keep reminding myself that I am not using Dvorak.  For those that love a challenge, go for it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Force lake

Looking out at the night sky in the countryside we see the great wonders of the universe as if within the grasps of our own hands; yet there are things in this world so wondrous that many scientists dedicate their lives to studying the environment here on Earth, often going to far off places to learn more of how things are far away from our homeland.  Frequently we find ourselves so wrapped up in the things away from us that we overlook the great treasure troves that lie here in front of us, to study and appreciate without having to travel so far, use so much time on just getting there, or having these journeys so sparse or at such great sacrifice in time with our family that only one completely dedicated could find a way to do so.  So many would go to Yellowstone Park, or travel to Niagara to see natures wonders when just within a few strides lays such marvelous richness.

Recently I have come upon such a place, where I dream I could spend much time getting to know the local flora and fauna, and looking up its history.  People love a good story with something they are learning; teaching through storytelling is a way that we connect ourselves with the past, either with a place, an idea, or a people long gone.  This helps to grow memorable features and personalities which we feel a need to share with others who later go there with us.


Force Lake is a wildlife habitat area in Northern Portland.  This picture was taken from the MAX which I take everyday on commute to Hillsboro.  Many ducks and geese fly here on their bi-yearly journey, going to warmer lands for the Winter, and coming back during the Spring.

Last year I went hiking at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon; though it is far away, and has many majestic views with splurging waterfalls and a mighty river formed by the runoff of snow, its tranquility takes much effort to afford, and is often crowded with many people seeking to enjoy the same scene.  I have found a certain peace that comes while in the crazy commute of everyday life that comes near the end of this ride on Portland's light rail; where most people have already gotten off this train I am left in the serenity of my own thoughts, to look up and see sites such as these.  It is that same feeling when you are helped by an unexpected hand which belongs to some stranger in the woods, or the laugh of a child who runs up to and smiles which can wipe away the worst of moods.  Sometimes you just look up and smile.

I stand in awe and wonder of the journey that's been made, from some unknown material which erupted to forms stars which eventually died, not by flickering out, but going in a supernova, then through the last 4.7 billion years or mixing, and evolving, now I can see the clouds in the sky at sunset over this wildlife preserve.  Though we live on a humdrum pale blue dot revolving around a nuclear fission powered star, this is my pale blue dot, and my chance to live and appreciate what must have transpired before me for there to even be a me to appreciate it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Android App Review: Diaro


Review has moved to my new blog at OhYongHao.com

Sometimes our lives are just plain busy with little time for remembering what happened last night, let alone last year.  With the advent of computers keeping a diary has changed; what used to be a tedious task that often left some burning the midnight oil has turned into a way to help us relieve stress without cramping our hands.

Now in the 21st century we have computers in our pockets, from iPhones to Androids even my own mother now has the world at her fingertips.  There is a plethora of applications out there for jotting down some notes, arranging tasks, and scheduling; the biggest problem now is figuring out which one fits you best.

After having tried many out on my Nexus 4 I finally decided on Diaro for keeping my diary.  This app is made specifically for keeping a diary, or a journal.  It doesn't have many features in it which for me was a selling point; often some other note taking apps become so bloated by trying to figure out how to store, and present your data that it becomes cumbersome to write down something about your life that you want to remember.  Diaro has just the features that you need, and not much more, making it perfect for this task.

Despite not having the ability to record voice or video I don't find myself missing those features when I decide to write something down for my diary, but it does support adding/taking a picture which can be useful.

What you get with Diaro is a simple interface; date, time, title, and your actual entry.  You also have options for tagging or categorizing your entries; by default it has Diary, Journal, and Notes as your tags, with a few categories to throw them into.  What I actually found was that I would prefer them to be switched, having the categories Diary, Journal and Notes because you cannot have multiple categories for a single entry, and then use the tags for what kind of entry these are.

Another nice feature with Diaro is keeping your entries online also with Dropbox integration.  Though they also have the ability to do a backup to the SD card I find that Dropbox is often more convenient and allows you to use their website for longer entries.  One thing that I do sometimes is to write a quick note and then at night I'll get online and finish the entry using my laptop.

In addition to the wonderful app that you have there is also a great support staff.  When I started using the app I noticed that my gps would stay on all the time unless I fully closed out of it.  Within a couple days we had already responded back and forth a few times in email talking about this problem and there was a new release that came out which fixed the issue.

Overall I gave this app 5 stars for keeping it simple, doing what I need it to do, and having a very responsive staff that cares about getting good feedback and is willing to work for it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

LDS Scriptures Change In 2013

After more than 30 years since the last changes were made to what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church) calls the standard works, the Church announces there has been many updates and corrections made due to more recent historical findings.

On the Joseph Smith Papers site you can find a pdf with side-by-side comparison versions of changes between the 1981 and 2013 editions of the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C).  Most notable of these changes are the addition of headers to the two official declarations:


Official Declaration 1
The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
Official Declaration 2
The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.
 In these two we see the Church changing its previous stance of trying to sweep historical acts under the carpet and facing the reality that the church did participate in both polygamy and discrimination towards blacks.  Yet we still see how they would prefer to rewrite history and not fully acknowledge wrong doing done by the church.

The Illinois Anti-bigamy Law enacted February 12th, 1833 clearly stated that polygamy was illegal. It reads:
"Sec 121. Bigamy consists in the having of two wives or two husbands at one and the same time, knowing that the former husband or wife is still alive. If any person or persons within this State, being married, or who shall hereafter marry, do at any time marry any person or persons, the former husband or wife being alive, the person so offending shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine, not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisoned in the penitentiary, not exceeding two years. It shall not be necessary to prove either of the said marriages by the register or certificate thereof, or other record evidence; but the same may be proved by such evidence as is admissible to prove a marriage in other cases, and when such second marriage shall have taken place without this state, cohabitation in this state after such second marriage shall be deemed the commission of the crime of bigamy, and the trial in such case may take place in the county where such cohabitation shall have occurred."
Revised Laws of Illinois, 1833, p.198-99

This runs contrary to what is declared in the new edition of scriptures, which are now available in electronic format, by putting the date of polygamy practices being illegal as early as 1833.  One possible defense is that the scriptures state that the U.S. government made it illegal beginning in the 1860's and that this was the Illinois State government.  According to the Church's Articles of Faith:
12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
This would therefore have still made polygamy impermissible.  Even with their move to Utah, which at the time was owned by Mexico, it was illegal under Mexican law, thus making it illegal throughout the entire history of the church.

As for blacks and the priesthood, this heading is more ambiguous of the past, than an actual clarification or justification.  At the very least we can say it is finally an admission to its previous bigotry and discrimination that had previously prevailed in the Church towards blacks, but it denies knowledge of why, or how this could have come about.

Being more ambiguous is a theme in the changes made at least in the D&C, where definitive's are traded for mere possibilities.  One example is in D&C Section 2:
1981: An extract from the words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith the prophet,...
to
2013: An extract from Joseph Smith's history relating to the words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith the prophet,...
References to History of the Church (HC) have now been redone to say Joseph Smith's History.  It has turned the text from declaring facts to voicing opinions.

Print versions of the new scriptures are expected to be available in August, 2013.  Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:
“This new edition incorporates adjustments that will be a blessing to Church members in years to come, but members should not feel that they need to purchase a new set of scriptures, particularly since all of the adjustments are available in digital formats at no cost. Changes to the scriptural text include spelling, minor typographical, and punctuation corrections.”
There has been no announcement thus far concerning translations of scriptures into other languages based off of changes made in the 2013 English edition.

References:
http://www.lds.org/scriptures/press?lang=eng
http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/scriptures/scripture-comparison_eng.pdf
http://josephsmithpapers.org/site/explanations-for-the-doctrine-and-covenants-section-headings
http://mormonthink.com

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Response to Arguments Against Gay Marriage


In a recent conversation I was having on Facebook we were discussing a post that I shared from George Takei concerning gay marriage.  It was stated in the picture that was being shared that 58% of Americans believe that gays should be allowed to marry and that I am one of them.



It wasn't long before I found myself and a friend of mine in a heated argument with another friend.  The arguments brought forth seem to jump from here to there and are floating in the air with no foundation.  I will try to address them each here a little more gracefully than I did in the heat of the moment.

A majority opinion doesn't mean it is correct

This is a true statement, in and of itself, but if one is implying that since there are situations in which Americans exemplify their ignorance, particularly in religious matters, that this should extend to their opinion on gay marriage is a classic example of argument from fallacy.  Showing that people are stupid neither proves nor disproves the correctness of their conclusion in each instance.

Some examples given during the discussion included things such as 86% of Americans not knowing how many Representatives are in the House.  Or 50% of Americans not being able to list the first book of the Bible.  Off the top of my head I couldn't answer the first, but does that exclude me from answering other questions which have nothing to do with this subject?

I don't want marriage to change

In this response the pot starts calling the kettle black.
So if a person doesn't want the institution of marriage to change from heterosexual monogamy to whatever else the flavor de jour might be, they're attacked by closed-minded bigots?
This is a combination of two logical fallacies, which I will address each separately.  The first logical fallacy is that of appeal to tradition.  Since a person doesn't want tradition to change then that means that changing tradition is wrong.

Slavery had been a tradition held for thousands of years, completely justified by the bible.  The Confederates motto was "Deo vindice"(Under God, or Vindicator).  The Baptist church in the South was tied to slavery and often criticized by those in the North.  Early on it was said that the heathen should be slaves, and later in the American slavery days it was purely due to race, Africans being the decedents of Ham.  Both of these reasons and traditions were justified by religion and upheld by tradition.

Another relic from the days of slavery was segregation and civil rights in general.   Civil rights were fought for long and hard, and it took us till the 1960's to really begin the process of rectifying this unjust situation of believing that the color of one's skin is somehow determinant of the individuals status.

Woman's suffrage is yet another instance in which we have changed from tradition, and lately have made great progress on equal rights for woman.  The religious have been the most adamant about continuing to control a woman's body and her right to choose.  At first it was not seeing women as equal to men; once that argument was essentially lost the religious have argued that it is god that put us in our places, that woman should have the role of staying in the home, taking care of the children and that man should have the responsibilities to provide financially.  Slowly this argument has been lost, more woman are empowered with education, employment, and even political power.

Tradition is the poorest excuse for continuing an atrocity.

As for the second of the logical fallacies, it is simply an ad hominem, attacking the personal character of those that disagree with your own opinion.  It neither proves a point, nor adds to the conversation, rather it distracts.

Words mean something, call it anything but marriage

This argument is based on the belief that if you call the union of two men marriage it somehow dilutes the marriage that is held between a man and a woman.

So two people who have children, family, maybe god, and community, who love each other and are devoted, willing to share their entire life, property, and finances along with all the thick and thin, in sickness and in health that is sure to entail, shouldn't be known as a marriage because it is between two people of the same gender.  Due to them not being married they also do not have protection in cases of inheritance, survivor benefits,  Social Security, Medicaid, and a plethora of other federal programs.  Also the inability to make medical decisions, especially ending life of their companion, and the often times heart wrenching despair towards the end of their spouses life when they are barred from entering a hospital room to see them.

Heterosexuals have been doing such an utterly horrid job with the institution of marriage, with the inability of keeping it sacred, whimsical split ups, cheating on each other, killing one or the other, or in any other means defiling it.  I believe that we can all agree that people aren't perfect, and maybe we shouldn't argue how heterosexuals haven't actually kept it sacred, but for some reason this is often brought up.  Stating this I sometimes wonder why would homosexuals want to join the band wagon that has become the train wreck of modern marriage.

A common adage, if it looks like a duck, it quakes like a duck, walks like a duck and flies like a duck, you should probably call it a duck.  If two people act like they are married, are devoted to each other as married people, love one another, seek to uphold whatever covenants they have made then why should it not be called a marriage?  Some say that they can just call it a civil union and be given the same rights as a marriage.  But why have two words that mean the same thing?  What is so special about the word marriage that it cannot be applied to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals?  We should not have to rewrite all of our laws to acknowledge civil unions as equal in status to that of marriages.

Marriage is an institution brought by religion

It may be brought up that marriage is a religious institution, some even believe that the government shouldn't have anything to do with marriage.  If we argue it from the point of view that it is purely a religious institution what stops me from making a religion whose institution of marriage is defined as that of one between two men or two woman, or, with a more open mind, between two individuals that profess love for each other?

If you continue to argue that your religion can have a copyright, trademark, or  some other exclusive control over the use of the word marriage, is it not the case that virtually every society that we have found has had some form of marriage?  From the Chinese who are a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, and other philosophies, to the Indians and other Hindus, or many of the tribes found here in North America and South America?  Did not the Romans also have marriage?  Was not Pilate married at the time of the trial of Jesus?  But they did not have Christianity.  From the beginning of society it would seem that marriage has been a social institution that has been delegated to religion, and later regulated by government.

Certainly we see in the Bible that even in the heathen nations there was marriage, why else would the Egyptians want to marry Abram's wife?  Claiming marriage as an institution of religion is ignoramus at best, and willfully missing the point at worst.  Should we keep it this way for the sake of tradition?  If we had not thrown off tradition we would still have slaves in the south, woman would be at home and not able to own property, but rather be property, and we would still have separate schools for blacks and whites.  Slavery was another institution brought on and justified by religion.  All the slave owners were religious, and it was men of good conscious who saw the hypocrisy in it that finally began to change this tradition.  True freedom began when one primate realized that he did not have to be controlled by another primate, that nothing gives them authority to do so.

The real news is not about 58% of people believing that gays should be allowed to marry, it should really be that there is still, sadly, 42% that don't.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Boy Scouts of America Ask For Opinions of Current Scouts

Today The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have sent out a survey to current Scouts asking their opinion of their consideration of changing their policy towards those who avow or are openly homosexual.  Included in part of this discussion is whether or not individual charters should be allowed to decide for themselves to continue upholding this discrimination policy.  In the letter sent with the survey it is asked to be responded to by April 4th, 2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I'm An Atheist, Now What?

Many who have come down the long, often times lonely, path to atheism are frequently faced with this question, "Now what?"  Sometimes there can feel both an exhilaration of the ultimate freedom while simultaneously showing signs of disorientation in ones life.    They may be coming from a very religious and structured background where they were completely engulfed by religion on all sides; from what to wear, eat, or drink to an overly abundant amount of activities or responsibilities.  Now may be the time when they are faced with a choice now of what to do with their life.

    Terry Goodkind in each of his epic novels in the series, "The Sword of Truth", spends the time making a point guarded around one of the Wizard's Rules.  In the book "Faith of the Fallen" he lists out the sixth rule:
"The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason."
    When you realize that there is nothing holding you back from doing anything that you want only then can you exercise full control of your life and not so whimsically outsource your sovereignty to some other feigned authority.  There is no man in the sky, or some other supernatural control of events that are going to keep you down.  Sometimes in life we experience things that are of no cause of our own but are just the choices of others being acted upon us.  In other words a lot of bad things that happen to us is just plain bad luck, nothing more.  Our solipsism would have us believe that there is something out to get us.

    One of the most unhelpful pieces of advice that may be proposed is that your life is yours, live it.  We can be like children in this universe.  When a child finds something unknown to them, such as a stick or a rock, they don't try to think of the purpose that such things have, but instead make one for it.  Many a childhoods summer has been passed by hitting rocks with sticks, is there less meaning in knowing that there is no real purpose for the rock nor the stick?  Our life can be the same, so what if there is no divine purpose in it, make one.  Make whatever you want of your life, live it as you see fit.  You no longer have the obligation to subjugate yourself, oppress others, pay homage, suppress your thoughts, abide to any dietary restrictions, or restrict who you sleep with nor in which position.

    Knowing all this should cause you to appreciate life all the more.  Knowing that your life is but a blink in the timescale of the universe.  Knowing that we are at an age where we can see into the past to the very beginning of the universe, something that may not be accomplished in the species of our posterity.  Think of how much of a true wonder it all is, and knowing that after this there is nothing, how can you squander it on things of no worth.  But even in this there is a fallacy, for what is of worth?  It is given to each of us to decide this on our own.

    Some would have you believe that if love has no meaning, if it is just a result of biological evolution, that somehow by being just a chemical reaction it is demeaned, unjustified, illogical, or fake.  Love is still what drives our species and ensures its survival.  Is a watch less marvelous once you understand its mechanics?  Is thunder less thrilling knowing it is merely a reaction of an exploding atmosphere?

    There are those who come down this path and become anti-theists, spending their time arguing with theists, Christopher Hitchens being among the most renowned of them.  It is a good cause, helping others realize the truth, and if it is something that you love doing, then do feel free to do it also.  Others just go about their lives, doing what they want, which in many respects would be exactly what the anti-theist is doing.  There are also many communities online for support of atheists.

    An atheist is not someone with no purpose, rather someone with limitless purposes at their choosing.  You are the boss of your own life and are in a very unique time in our universe.  Nothing is loss by an unbelief in deity or of the supernatural.  Life is not just to be lived, but to be enjoyed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Commute: Riding the MAX

As February comes, the morning begins to break on my daily commute; it has progressed from faint blue, to pink clouds, and onward towards sunrise.  There are the few people who I see daily on the train, starting at the Expo center, and the kids that seem to come in a rush of wind and noise, just as quickly dissipate at the next stop, and again silence.

I sit there and begin my daily routine of eating the snacks which my lovely wife has prepared for me this morning, usually some chips or beef jerky.  I'll either read or work while waiting for the stop where I'll get off and transfer.  Sometimes I think about what the day will hold, other times about days gone by.

As I tried to catch a couple more minutes of shut eye, the sun, ever tenacious,  kept darting out from behind passing trees and buildings, shining its light about and welcoming everyone to a new day.  After a short struggle, and a quick debate in my head, I gave in to its persistent call to be awake and savor.

Often I enjoy reading on my Kindle with the many e-books I have accumulated over the last year, traveling through magical worlds of wizards and sorceresses, or into the evanescent future.  Many a ride has gone by while reading in these wonderful worlds.  Strangers my come and go, sitting next to me, or across, but I was not there, I was in another realm; a realm of kings and queens, of elves and orcs.

After a day at work I have a second chance of this magical journey.  It seems to be a transient state of stepping out of the rush of work into a separate world where anything is possible.  You never know what conversation you may have, or what people you may meet.

The way home today was a memorable day on the MAX, one to have us remember the good things in life.  We had a conductor reminiscent of an old grandfather talking of yesteryear, in a friendly, comforting voice, commenting on the lady dressed as the Statue of Liberty on the platform, the man with the white hat who ran across the tracks in front of the train as it was coming to a stop, and the announcement over the intercom of the vibrant rainbow that is on his left.  The mundane silence between strangers was broken as comments of the rainbows beauty meandered about the stagnant air.

An old friend joined me after the transfer, he usually catches an earlier train but was delayed today.  We talked of how are families are doing, of work and commute.  He encouraged me to try bicycling to the transit station this summer mentioning how the exercise was great.

At last, the final stop came, we both departed and it was back to my normal life, away from the light rail train.  Until tomorrows commute, another untold story awaits.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Boy Scouts To Discuss Change Of Policy Towards Gays

Yesterday on Facebook The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) official site released a statement found on their website concerning membership policy which may change their stance towards the LGBT community.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families."[1]

    This policy would allow local charters to continue to ban individuals based on their sexual orientation, but also opens it up to allow homosexual teens and adult leaders to enjoy the Scouting program through those charters that do not implement such a policy.  This has come after much pressure from sponsors to change their policy towards sexual orientation and membership.  Most recently Intel, The BSA's largest corporate sponsor, would no longer give donations to any organization that does not adhere with its nondiscrimination policy.  In 2010 they had given over $700,000 to the BSA[1].  Other organizations who have recently stopped donations include UPS, Levi Strauss, and CVS/Pharmacy.[2]

    This policy is similar to the Washington State same sex marriage law which does not require any religious organisation to accommodate same sex marriages, while allowing same sex marriages to be performed and recognized in the State of Washington.[4]

    In the replies to this announcement on Facebook[5] there were many who showed their disapproval of this action.  Among them were some Eagle Scouts, at least one of which declared that he relinquishes all association with the BSA, including his Eagle Scout Rank.  Others ridiculed the BSA for caving in to pressure from society, losing their moral compass, and being of the devil.  Many also cited part of the Scout Oath[6] which says "To keep myself...morally straight." alluding to a need to be heterosexual.  Other opponents of the change exclaimed, in often heated polemics, over the next step of Boy Scouts not needing to have morals at all now, and that more pedophiles would easily enter the organization.

    Many others replied with rave acclamation of this near reversal of policy, claiming that it was about time that they stopped discriminating, also citing the Scout Oath "To help other people at all times" and that "To keep [oneself]...morally straight" means to not discriminate or be intolerant of others.  There are those that will now consider joining and supporting the BSA and having their children also attend.   But not to be one upped on the name calling and jeering, there were plenty of supporters shouting out the word "bigots".

    There are also those that point out the BSA had problems with pedophiles while the anti-gay policy was in place and that being gay does not equate to being a pedophile.  Also, the BSA is not a "Christian" organization, but a religious one; that although God is an intricate part of their organization, no definition of God is made.  One person also pointed out that to be morally straight is explained in the Scout Handbook with no mention of sexual orientation, but rather "To be a person of strong character, your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people."[7]

Sources:
[1] http://www.scouting.org/MembershipPolicy.aspx
[2] http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/09/21/891721/intel-clarifies-that-no-donations-will-be-made-to-any-boy-scouts-troop-that-discriminates/?mobile=nc
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_Scouts_of_America_membership_controversies#Loss_of_support
[4] http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/referendum.aspx?y=2012
[5] https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boy-Scouts-of-America/113441755297?fref=ts
[6] http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/scoutparents/scouting%20basics/what%20scouting%20is/scout%20oath%20and%20law.aspx
[7] http://usscouts.org/advance/boyscout/bsoath.asp