Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A Multi-Cultural Atheist's Christmas and End-Of-Year Acknowledgements

Typically, at the end of every year, I write some sort of post about what I've learned over the past year, how much I've changed, and how my life is different because of a great many powerful influences.

Generally, I talk about people met, lessons learned, and experiences had, namely those which had and/or continue to have a profound impact on my life. It is not quite the end of 2012, but it is close enough, so here goes.

I’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and hope your holiday is full of family and happiness.

This time of year is always somewhat difficult for me because I am not very well off, don’t get along with my family sometimes, and am an atheist.

But Christmas is a whole lot more than what anyone tells you, be they clergy, media, or retail fixtures large and small. Christmas is about family and friends, joy and happiness, giving and receiving, and most of all, love.

To Abby: Felix Nativitatis, amica mea familiaris. 
To Ivan: Hyvää Joulua and s'rozhdestvom.
To Nik: Gelukkig Keerstfest and, why not, joyeux Noël ainsi 

To the many I've met online in some capacity: Z'kaliadami, Anja (and others); buon Natale; wesołymi świętami Bożego Narodzenia to a surprising amount of people; Frohe Weihnachten to those in the homeland, and many many more. 

To my beautiful and extremely-significant other: I'd say "buon Natale" if your family was a bit more...traditional? I don't know. Merry Christmas anyway - I love you and you are the best gift for which I never could have asked.

To my crazy family: We are at least a unit. Thank you for being there. Even when you aren't, or don't think you are, or don't know if you can be. At least I have a family. I have two parents who are still married and three siblings who look up to me despite pretending they don't - and despite the fact I don't always set a great example.*

To my somewhat less crazy extended family: Since you all read my Facebook and stuff, and possibly even my blog(s), I'd like to thank you for putting up with me even if it means calling my parents to ask if I'm okay, if my sexuality has changed again, or just what the heck I'm talking/posting/writing about this time.  

To anyone I consider a friend and didn't list above: I care about each and every one of you and simply have a very hard time showing it. Merry Christmas.

To anyone who also considers me a friend: You mean a hell of a lot more to me than it might seem. My life would be radically different without any one of you, and while I don't normally do this, I'd like to list some names, in absolutely no order whatsoever. You have all impacted my life for better or worse in the past year, and I would not be who I am had I not met you or interacted with you in some capacity.

Aurora, Kevin W, Aaron, Solai, Nate E, Gabriel, Olivia A, Freda, Sam C, Sam P, Yessenia, Victoria G, Matt W, AJ, Kayla, Celeste, Sydney, Court, Galen, Misha, Stephen T (\m/), Mieke, Sara T, Becka, Greg, Alexei, Nasim, all my CTY co-workers, all the other RSA technicians, and all the brothers of the Theta Lambda chapter of Delta Sigma Phi.

I would also like to take a moment to remember the many important people we have lost this year, specifically two who were important to me. 

Scott Pierre Kaplan (age 17)
John (Jack) Michael McKeighan (age 16)


I wish the very best to everyone else who celebrates this holiday, equally, regardless of creed. Protestant, Catholic, and everything else here, there, and in between.

Atheists: chill out for a day or so. It’s not even the most important holiday on the liturgical calendar. Just enjoy yourselves, okay?

Jews and Muslims: have a fantastic day anyway. Go out somewhere. Enjoy how empty most places will be. Walk around and look at all the pretty lights. Happiness is non-denominational.

Hindus: Join the other non-Christians. Sure, you have ten times as many deities as they do, but at the end of the day, no one gives a crap.

People who don’t fit any of these labels: If you don’t identify with any “major” religion, or aren’t quite an atheist or aren’t entirely agnostic, or have no idea what you believe or why, forget it and have a wonderful day regardless. Everyone everywhere.

Except the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. I hope the lights on your trees short out and you are consumed by the resulting electrical fire so we can picket your funerals before heading off to after-Christmas blowout doorbuster sales.

Yours truly,


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Tend Your Lamp Well (part 1)

Today, I came across a pamphlet from a Presbyterian church my family attends every Sunday. The extent to which each of the five others with whom I live actually believe and follow the doctrine set forth by this particular religious institution varies and is actually kind of a mystery to me. I know that my father is very religious and my mother is very skeptical, that he is not an extremist and she is not an atheist, but that's about it.

In any case, this pamphlet (entitled "Daily Family Devotions") caught my eye and as I read it, began to worry me, then offend me, and finally made me think a lot harder than I originally intended.

It appears to be some kind of scripture study aid to promote family discussion. Now, I know my family would likely never do that, as practically nothing religious happens in my home besides them all going to church on Sunday morning. We have a Nativity scene and an Advent calendar (Playmobil-themed) and that is about it. My father is by far the most devout, and he would never sit down and talk with us about Bible verses, or scold our wrongdoings by asking "What would Jesus do?" Imagining him saying that doesn't quite work in my head!

This pamphlet references Matthew 25: 1-13 and Proverbs 26: 13-16, which I will quote as they appear in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), used by the Presbyterian Church USA.

Matthew 25 is the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and reads:
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Proverbs 26: 13-16 reads:
13 The lazy person says, “There is a lion in the road!
    There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
    so does a lazy person in bed.
15 The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
    and is too tired to bring it back to the mouth.
16 The lazy person is wiser in self-esteem
    than seven who can answer discreetly.
It would initially appear, of course, that the Parable in Matthew is about preparedness and self-reliance, thinking ahead and looking out for oneself. I'll get to this.

Proverbs is a bit harder to interpret, which I expected, but my interpretations follow:
  • 13 - I was reminded of a well-documented case in which a woman was being robbed or raped in an alley (I don't recall, but they're equally bad scenarios) and people in the nearby apartment buildings simply watched in horror, each thinking someone else would call 911. The moral here: If you see a problem, do something about it, or you are no better than the cause of the problem itself. 
  • 14 - I think this is just saying you need to get out of bed and do something with your life. Can't say I disagree.
  • 15 - This is probably deeper than it looks. Don't get in too deep, perhaps, or maybe it means you shouldn't start things you are unwilling or unable to finish. Also a pretty good life lesson, but not exactly the focus of this post.
  • 16 - I don't much like this one. The Bible has been translated, transliterated, interpreted, re-translated, and otherwise changed so much in its history that one can only imagine that very little remains of what was actually meant by its many writers. The phrasing of this verse makes it seem as though self-esteem is bad, does it not? I don't think that's what it means, but that's how it's phrased. I don't think that, when the Bible was being written, people necessarily had a concept of "self-esteem" as we do in the present time. This probably should be interpreted as "hubris." Someone with little motivation (i.e the lazy person) knows much about his self-worth, whilst the seven others whom we should believe are not lazy feel no need to focus on their self-image. To whom they are "answering" I can only assume, and this verse still gives me trouble even after thinking about it for some time.
But the pamphlet interprets the verses for the reader, one of the major pitfalls of any church (and indeed any organized religion). Organized religions exist to provide their interpretations of religious texts to those too "lazy" (apparently a Biblical word) to form their own. This leads to a large group of people under the impression that things are a certain way according to a single interpretation of what is, at its core, a book of history, life lessons, and moral guidelines, and that all other interpretations are wrong.

That's why we have so many different sects of Christianity. That's why there are different branches of Judaism and Islam. There are different branches of Buddhism and Hinduism and (insert another religion here). All of them are ultimately correct about many of the same things according to objective morality and utilitarian good:
  • Don't kill people.
  • Don't steal.
  • Don't hate people who have more than you, or are better than you in any way.
  • Don't hate people who have less than you, or are worse than you in any way.
  • Do not judge your quality of life by material things.
  • Forgive the wrongdoings of others as you would want to be forgiven for yours.
  • Treat others are you wish others to treat you.
I challenge you to find any religion that does not adhere to these, shall we say, commandments. Cults and fundamentalist or extremist groups obviously do not count. Find me a religious text that either does not include any one of these, or says the opposite anywhere in any way.

You probably won't be able to. In fact, I know you won't be able to. All religions believe the same thing. They all provide a solid moral compass for those too lost to find their own.

It's their interpretations of everything else that differ and ultimately cause issues or even conflict. That's the problem. People want to understand their world and everything in it. Ultimately, they do not want to be explicitly told how to speak, how to act, and how to think. Case in point - communist and socialist governments of the world are in the dustbin of history. You cannot control how people will think and subsequently how they will interpret any kind of doctrine or dogma, whether placed before them or shoved down their throats.

This is what led me to write (at great length, apparently) about this pamphlet from the church. A lot of what it says bothers me. Partially, it's the message itself. A lot of the problems, though, are with phrasing, choice of words, and context. This will all have to wait until a later post.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Things I have found pt. V

As I've progressed from cleaning my room to cleaning out the boxes of stuff from college, I have so far found a whole lot of useless crap and some interesting things as well. Mostly useless crap.
  • stuff from freshmen orientation, fall 2010
  • my barber scissors!!
  • earrings and stuff I thought I'd lost
  • more Chap-Stik. Really?
  • gum - into the trash
  • cough drops - same
  • Purell
  • some long feathery thing
  • green shoelaces that are way too long for anything I own
  • my old cell phone holster
  • some lab reports from Chem 132
  • my micro-economics textbook
  • a list of spawn codes for Skyrim
  • notes on how to read my own handwriting*
  • two pairs of lab goggles
  • a lot of school papers I really don't need
  • Advil
  • a strobe light. I hate strobe lights. So why?
  • a bracelet I got in Taiwan and thought I'd lost!
  • a bunch of mementos from Otakon
  • a notebook made of cut-up cereal boxes and random scrap paper
  • a card game called Would You Rather...? which, as I recall, is not as fun as it sounds
  • concert promotion cards
  • a bunch of papers I may as well recycle
  • more papers I should probably burn instead
  • another 12V power adapter**
  • a pile of floppy disks
  • some Torx screws for some reason
  • notebooks I used in my first and second years of college that I don't quite want to get rid of just yet
  • a bunch of CPU heatsinks and fans I definitely do not need
  • on that note, a Pentium II chip assembly!
  • two purple beach buckets
  • a note I wrote to my now-ex-boyfriend when I first tried to break up with him
  • a small watch (clearly for women?)
  • a quiz from Chem 132. Grade? 2 / 25, bitches
  • instructions on how to do the proper stretching for my back
  • a lime green drawstring bag with the Windows 7 logo on 
  • black and red streamers, my favourite colours, but they're from when I decorated my tiny room in freshman year! 
  • something that looks like a mousepad but is more likely a bottle/can opener helper thingy that says ACME
  • a $15 iTunes gift card I've yet to redeem (not like I buy stuff from the App Store all that often)
  • a coupon for a free copy of DiRT 4
  • some epoxy brads with cute stuff on them
  • (spare?) pieces of a shelving unit I had last year but seem to have misplaced. How the hell does one misplace a shelving unit?
  • Jenga (pronounced YEN-gah or HEN-gah)
  • a spinning disco light
  • a whole lot of (thin) guitar picks
  • a bunch of random sunglasses, many of which are either broken or look awful on me
  • the insert from a CD of Metallica's 1991 eponymous studio album
  • a CD case with inserts for Nirvana's Nevermind, complete with naked baby, but no CD to be found
  • Macintosh installation floppies (two of them) and one for Fonts. I'm not sure, but I believe it is system 7.x - could be wrong and may never know!
  • a Windows 98 SE boot floppy - old school and useless and I'll probably keep it anyway!
  • the cardstock to which a Barnes and Noble gift card was once attached. That's the one that's still in business, right? Okay, I probably have the card somewhere, because I don't read!***
  • a red plastic hourglass with red sand in
  • a piece of the bottom of a laptop's casing with a Windows XP Home Edition Gateway OEM product key
  • a mousepad stained with Nutella
  • a small red die-cast 1970s Mustang
  • old old magazines...?
  • model knights still in their packaging
 * When I used to handwrite my notes, I did not use the traditional Latin alphabet, but rather a more geometric shorter-form system based on the Greek and Russian alphabets, as it encouraged me to be neater.

** I have decidedly more power adapters and plugs and cords than I do things that actually use/need them.

*** Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about "what's on my bookshelf!"

Things I Have Found pt IV

This is more of an addendum to the post about the "alcove," as my bookcase is right next to it.

In addition to all that stuff I listed before, I have so far found these interesting treasures (or bits of junk, depending) near, on, and around my bookcase.

  • a roll of masking tape
  • another flash drive, but it looks like it was run over by a car, because there's a good chance it was
  • a business card holder
  • a folding map of the United States and Canada in a leather case that looks like it's from the 90s
  • another damn Chap-Stik
  • a lanyard! how useful!
  • a bag of screws and cable ties
  • an issue of my prep school's newspaper from December 2010 (I graduated in June 2010)
  • a ticket to the Franklin (Institute) for Mummies of the World in June 2011
  • a fake gold medal
  • ticket to the Devon Horse Show earlier this year
  • a recipe for Spiced Asian Pear Salad - that's a keeper
  • several tabs from soda cans...or possibly other cans...
  • old receipts for cigs and gasoline and, for some reason, gum. Who buys gum with a credit card?
  • more little cigar wrappers
  • a pack of 18g horseshoes and plugs...for my lobes now I guess? cool.
  • a notepad with the name and logo of an oil company I don't think is still in business
  • a small form factor PCI slot cover
  • a neatly flattened empty lightbulb box. What is it with me and lightbulbs for crying out loud?
  • the $121 receipt from Wegman's in 2011 when I was alone for a month and then had to restock the entire house and went shopping with my friend while she was high and ended up buying random stuff like brie and baguette and cake-making stuff and tubes of icing and an organic lettuce
  • the actual original list from said shopping adventure
  • a Human Rights Campaign dog tag from the campaign to repeal DADT
  • more random receipts. really?
  • a bunch of Chinese magnets
  • a carbon monoxide detector. wat.
  • Windows 3.1 For Dummies! Finally! wait...oh that's right...we're on 8 now

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Things I have found pt III

Today's project is this weird alcove-like place in my room. Being an alcove, it is a natural storage area and therefore has gotten filled with crap since oh, I don't know, 2009.

I've been at it for under an hour. You know the drill. Here goes:
  • a bracelet from Pride in 2010
  • a landline phone
  • wire for said phone
  • a neatly coiled co-axial cable (for a TV)
  • Jenga
  • Bananagrams
  • a 6-in-1 glass fancy-looking game set (think chess, backgammon, etc)
  • a bag of boxes from building my first custom computer*
  • the sticks for my Chinese yo-yo (diablo)
  • a bunch of photos that were vandalized in the exhibit I discuss here and here**
  • a list of all the damages, totaling $350 (plus interest over 2 years, The Haverford School still owes me $420)
  • purple sunglasses that are not the ones my ex "borrowed"
  • 3D glasses for some reason
  • Car and Driver from exactly a year ago
  • a floppy drive with BAD written on it...into the computer recycling box I suppose
  • jeans I drew on a long time ago...wonder if they still fit?
  • more stupid CFL lightbulbs - why do I have so many of these?!
  • CDs with labels that make no sense to me
  • a note from my brother from last year when he accidentally turned off one of my computers
  • an unopened 2012 calendar with an Astronomy theme. If I actually used a calendar, I'd be sad.
  • a purple bucket
  • about ten feet, maybe more, of thin plastic tubing
  • another expired Rita's coupon (exclusively for the Carlisle location, oh well)
  • one of those little wrappers from cigars that you don't have to remove, but I apparently collect
  • a box of bags of well-organized cables and cords and stuff I didn't remember I had
  • a very dusty umbrella
  • two Fender Frontman 15G guitar practice amps I knew were there but rarely/never use(d)
  • more books from school, most of which I also never used
  • my laptop bag from Peking University - it's too small for any laptop I actually use, though
  • who knows what's in that bag, anyway...I'm scared to find out but I'll have to eventually!
  • a weird squishy worm-like thing that is maybe a cat toy?
  • boxes of my framed photos (I knew those were there, don't worry)
  • a bunch of clothes hangers. Why? Why there?
  • my original white 1st-generation 4GB iPod Nano - it still works!
  • bags of disassembled, torn-apart cameras and cell phones - what the hell, Jimmy? really?
  • a parallel/serial cable - what's the use?
  • a memorial card from my grandfather's funeral in 2003 with "May the Road Rise to Meet You" on the back and Jesus on the front (the Catholic kind)
And I'm not even at my bookcase yet. Boy, that'll be some list.

* I kept these for good reason - in case I needed to invoke manufacturer warranty, I would have needed the original box. But it's been long enough that I can safely get rid of them and hope that nothing goes wrong!

** note this part of the post:
...the fiasco with my March exhibit and the disgustingly large amount of vandalism that occurred. Five of my photos were damaged and roughly 10 others tampered with. Lots and lots of pins were torn out of the walls, bent, or used to scratch or poke holes in my photos. Most noticeable were the holes poked in my ear and eye in one photo and the six on my face in another.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Things I have found pt II

Today (er, this evening) was clean-the-dresser-and-behind-the-dresser-and-everywhere-near-it day.

At first it looked like this:

I won't / can't post what it looks like now. I'm just taking a break. Too damn dusty.

Anyway, here's the list, in no particular order:
  • a pin that says Go Fords!
  • twenty or so mismatched Legos
  • parts of what used to be some kind of purple model car
  • several rocks
  • a hunk of what is known as "Fool's Gold"
  • four small, intact, perfectly white seashells
  • five Chap-Stiks
  • a lacrosse ball
  • a pocket day-planner / calendar thingy for 2006 through 2008
  • a folding Chinese-style fan (intact)
  • a magnetic pelican
  • an empty pack of Djarum Black kreteks from when they were still allowed to be called "cigarettes"
  • a long piece of foam with no discernible use
  • a laser pointer with no batteries
  • batteries
  • several large plastic bags full of plastic bags
  • more Neutrogena for sensitive skin
  • still more paper clips
  • lots of staples. like, a lot of staples
  • a piece of paper with something written on it, can't tell, but the date indicated I was in fourth grade
  • another pair of lounge pants (that makes six)
  • a broken cigarette holder I bought in China and never used because, well, it was always broken
  • a receipt for something that looks important
  • a nearly-full spray can of Oust
  • several model cars I'd forgotten I had
  • Purell that was much less viscous than it's meant to be
  • GameBoy Advance cartridges for Golden Sun and, for some reason, The Hobbit
  • a wine cork from Funky Llama 
  • a lot of Day of Silence stickers
  • a nametag
  • a magnet with my name on it from the Poconos
  • a tiny backpack
  • a vibrantly decorated notebook/calendar I never used :(
  • an orange teddy bear with Eric Lindros' name and number on (a former Philadelphia Flyer)
  • handheld Boggle
  • cough drops
  • a very large Dora the Explorer coloring book
  • two dredels
  • Predator on VHS
  • a watch on a carabiner (it's stopped)
  • a map of the MTA (Maryland's public transit system)
  • a 5-pound dumbbell
  • every card I got for graduation (no money in them though...I checked)
  • a letter from my aunt, the only part of which that caught my eye was "get yourself a local gay male shrink - they're easy to find in an academic place!"
  • a large piece of metal from my old computer desk
  • a totally gutted old Dell computer that had been completely obscured by stuff
  • bags of beer caps and tabs from cans
  • my megaphone!
  • a neatly-folded, perfectly clean area rug
I'm still cleaning...so let's see how this goes. I'm on a damn roll.

By the way, here's what it looks like now:


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Things I have found whilst cleaning my room

Background: I drove back to Dickinson for the last time today and picked up all my stuff and officially moved out. This means my room in my parents' house currently looks like this:

So naturally, I need to clean it first and then move my stuff in and around and put it places where it belongs. Essentially, I'm redoing the place. I also need a new dresser. Not sure if that photo shows it, but the drawers are all broken and one actually fell out and won't go back in (or come out again) without a fight. Yup tomorrow's IKEA day cos I'm (we're) cheap.

I took some more Adderall, continued drinking the 24oz of Sheetz Serious Dark Roast I got at about 3:30pm, and started cleaning with the area near my closet. Maybe I'll put computers there. Plenty of room. So far, here's what I've come across, in no particular order:
  • a watch (stopped) with no band - just a watch.
  • 1GB of old desktop RAM
  • my middle school ID card (valid 2004)
  • the instruction manual for an iPad 2, in its nice little white sleeve
  • a small plastic moose
  • my brother's Lewis Structure and molecular modelling lab from last year
  • orange smoothie mix in a jug
  • a Backspace key
  • blue spray-on hair dye (sounds empty)
  • the cover to a scientific calculator. just the cover.
  • a Christmas stocking
  • flip-flops with multicolored cassette tapes on
  • a bag clip with a piece of ribbon tied to it
  • Neutrogena for sensitive skin
  • a few partially dismantled speakers*
  • two backpacks
  • a scarf in my school colors (no bitch it's not fucking from Harry Potter)
  • lots of mail from said school asking for money (unopened of course)
  • OpenSUSE 10.3 32-bit KDE on a CD
  • the other half of the spacebar for the keyboard my siblings used
  • a lot of pencils (???)
  • a Hot Wheels art-deco style delivery truck with the Trix logo and rabbit painted on 
  • my ID card from freshman year, stating it's valid starting in September 2005...when I started eighth grade
  • a Day of Silence card
  • a Yuengling cap
  • a fortune saying "It is necessary therefore, it is possible" (sic)
  • a collapsible 12-inch ruler with my last name on it
  • a purple bouncy monkey thing I can only assume one sticks to a car dashboard
  • a cloth bag with my prep school's logo...filled with rocks
  • a Fender bumper sticker, fuck yeah
  • a small note in my mother's handwriting explaining usage of significant figures in addition
  • a lot of multicolored paperclips, in a chain for some reason
  • a fuck ton of dust *sneezes again*
 And I'm done! That was a play-by play of the area between my desk and my closet, which is this big:

and now needs vacuumed.

Also lol shoes.