Friday, May 16, 2014

Muslim Student Association dinner

Tonight I went to an amazing dinner/event with the Muslim Student Association at my university. We started with just talking for a while, and about half an hour in dinner was served from a local Indian restaurant. The people I was sitting with were extremely kind, and the featured people were amazing. The first presenters were some Sufi dancers from Seattle who sang and danced, which was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The second presenter was a graduate of my school who sang some pleasant rap with Islamic themes of serving your community, looking to God for help, etc.

The third was a speaker who graduated from my school a few years ago and he talked about what it means to be Muslim, about faith in action, serving your neighbors, and some examples. He talked about some Muslims who were going to Mosque to break the fast during Ramadan who saw a poor man outside and they talked to him about Muhammad. After hearing about his situation they fed him before they broke their fast and when the Imam came to Mosque the starving man (who apparently knew nothing about Islam before that day) told him how much he loved Muhammad. Another example was about washing his feet which once presented an awkward moment in a private restroom when he was using a public sink to clean his feet (which is required in Islam) and someone else washed his hands after using the bathroom next to him, and not a word was spoken between them. Another time he was washing his feet and a TSA agent came in... he's ok, don't worry. He was an amazing speaker. The message that Islam teaches peace (which is true) and in serving your neighbor is something all religious people agree on.

All in all a wonderful conference with some wonderful people.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Spring UU PNWD YA Con

So, this weekend has been one of the best weekends I've had for a very long time, that is because it was the seasonal Young Adult Con for UUs here in Bellingham where I go to school!

Like the last con I went to, the people were absolutely wonderful and fun to talk with and do things with. I played Cards Against Humanity, helped in the kitchen, and many other things.

Friday: We got together starting around 5:00 and had dinner made by one of my friends who I finally got to meet, who is an absolutely marvelous cook. We had a small worship service and the theme was about communication, making sure that people can understand what we are saying, given the amount we talk and the common UU habit of being extremely intelligent, clearly honest, and vocal while still attempting to be respectful and open to others while not letting our guard down and compromising our values which for me explains why we have so many famous famous humanitarians in our religion despite our size. The speaker would say something that sounded really different from what she/he meant so we could be aware of speaking clearly which at times when I am speaking, though not so much when I am writing, is something I can personally struggle with. We stayed up until 2 AM which is normal for these sorts of events.

Saturday: We had breakfast which was the most amazing omelette I have ever eaten. The first event was getting into our touch groups which were set up so we can discuss certain prompts to help understand the theme of the con, and we finished very early, so we talked about another issue that kept us going full speed ahead until it was time to gather back together. We have the same touch groups through the con so we can get to know people we don't frequently see at a deeper level and have a deeper dialogue, my group had 6 people total. We then had our first workshop for which I chose to go to an environmental sustainability workshop which was really fun discussing with a UU who traveled from Montreal to start to build a large network of young UUs who want to help the environment. There were only 4 of us in that workshop, and it was very fun to lay out what we can and should do to successfully move the world to a sustainable future very different from what we are currently doing. The second workshop I attended was looking at several readings by different philosophers and discussing their writings on how to successfully communicate ideas to people transcending cultural, economical, and political boundaries. Being a very political group of people this was very interesting and important. After that, there was a lot of free time in which I played Cards Against Humanity and briefly played some Magic the Gathering before the worship service. The worship service was normal for UUism, starting with some opening words, lighting the chalice, as well as joys and concerns while the leader speaks about whatever she wants to talk about (in this case, a she). She talked about holding our values close while spreading words of freedom and justice around our lives, and being open to people. This is what it truly means to be UU and no one could have said it as eloquently as she did. I totally agree that there is no respect, rhyme, or reason to not being clear with other people and personally following the wisdom of treat others how you wish to be treated, that it is rude. I don't like being lied to and I shouldn't do it to other people. This is why Unitarians are so successful at making monumental change across the nation and world despite our small numbers. We are honest to people and by sticking by our guns while still being open to others we have done the impossible and we will do it again. Thinking of what we have done, what we do and the true meaning of true trust and love that comes with our journey made me feel so whole and complete that when she asked for us to write down one joy, one concern, and one other thing which escapes me I couldn't think of any concern which was such a wonderful feeling. That is why I go to Con and surround myself with people like UUs, because they allow me to see the best in humanity and make me feel whole.
This was followed after a break with the highlight of Con, the Talent/No Talent show where we entertain each other with music and prose. I played America from Westside Story on my trumpet and got a huge applause for my solo, just like last time. It was fun hearing stories and other types of music, including an extremely hilarious song about banjos where we all laughed, and one guy who told a true story of meeting a creeper on a bus wearing a gigantic sombrero trying to give him a strange soap. We had a wonderful time and didn't disappoint.

Sunday, today: We were woken up by one of our chaplains, who is also one of my best friends, playing the banjo so we would be up before people came to church. We had breakfast, packed up. Four of us who live in Bellingham stayed for the service and the rest went out to lunch which looked really fun. I was really torn about my decision but since the service today was about the Beatles and the last time I will hear our interim minister talk I decided to stay.

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful con and I will never forget it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Canonical Needs Google and Google needs Canonical

There is really only one truly great seamless operating system in today's market, and that operating system is without a doubt Ubuntu. I've found Ubuntu to be the fastest, easiest to use, and most reliable operating system I've ever used. As long as programmers use standard code, such as HTML 5 for videos and don't try pulling any funny stuff, because HTML can do pretty much anything you want, it will work on every platform. The only reason people can't use Linux with every website is most people don't know how to code and the companies that hire people don't know anything about computers. Hopefully this will change as my generation and people slightly older than my generation take over after these people, assuming they don't work into their 90s God forbid.

There are many reasons why I love Ubuntu and it is my operating system of choice. First of all, it is fast. I have never had an operating system that runs as quickly in my life. Secondly, it is reliable. While Microsoft is in this gigantic phase of having one decent operating system and then changing it to something completely unreliable I won't be able to trust them.

Android has gigantic memory problems which means it is going to lag behind until Google fixes this glaring error. Google's Chromebook which I have tried seriously didn't grab me. Google is not very good at designing operating systems, they are trying to be too brash when the traditional desktop works very well. Canonical is much better.

Microsoft has the problem of producing one good operating system followed by a bad one. Windows 7 was mostly reliable, but not 100%. But it was way better than Vista! Their browser is by far the worst browser of the past 5 years. Memory lag is a gigantic problem, and when they fixed this problem they introduced the problems of Windows 8. 2 out of 5 stars by real people on Cnet is not a rave review. CNET is one of the major sites where technology people go for news, so we are not talking about average users. Microsoft is an unreliable company and they should retreat into the video game market.

Apple makes all of their products too expensive, overcharge for underpowered hardware, and my iPad (which is only 2 years old) crashes more than any other device I have ever owned. Being so closed source seriously limits their ability to seriously penetrate the market along with everything being overpriced (it's worth mentioning twice).

This leaves only one truly excellent operating system in the world which is Ubuntu. After 7 years of using Ubuntu on a daily basis I have never lost a single file on my Ubuntu partition. It is fast and the programs are able to almost seamlessly work within the operating system even though almost none of them are made by Canonical. It is stable, reliable, and easy to use. Because of this it is my favourite operating system by far and my next phone will have the Ubuntu OS if they release it. They will take over the market and there will be no other competition once they enter.

The only problem is it doesn't have other companies work with them. Valve has done a remarkable job porting games over to Linux operating systems which is increasing frequently and as more games available people will move to the most reliable computer company in the world. The other company that needs to work with Canonical (which I fully believe will be the future) is Google because they can't make an operating system half as good. If Google brings back Google Earth and improves Chromium on Ubuntu they will see immense progress. The second step Google should do is move Youtube from Flash to HTML 5 over the next year which will significantly improve the quality and speed of Youtube and how it works with all modern platforms. At that point it won't require any special software on any modern OS. Any Operating System today that doesn't support HTML 5 is not modern. Not only is HTML 5 extraordinarily functional but like Python it is easy to code, which makes it the only base code for websites.

With all of these in place we should see Ubuntu become a major operating system which will lead to a more stable computer market which will allow people to have a stable operating system.

What a year

Over the past year my life has changed in ways I personally can barely understand. My dog died last March. It took over 3 months for the house to finally come down, even though after the first week or so the soot had penetrated our belongings so much whatever we hadn't already saved was beyond the ability to rescue anything. Something I wish I knew in the beginning. Personal items certainly aren't everything, but they are important.

I went to Germany and Georgia, met new friends in the wonderful extremely hospitable country of Georgia which has been on my mind for a very long time. I met so many friends and they are all so special. My travel in Germany meeting my family, the side which I personally take after the most (no-nonsense when it comes to the important things, hyper-intelligence, ability to have fun, with strong values) meeting my wonderful aunt and many very special cousins, and seeing my friends in Köln who I enjoy being with. That was a trip I had planned for years and I can't wait to return.

I finished my associates and helped coordinate an international science conference (not primarily but helped with details, and wish I had done more) and started doing my bachelor's degree. I love my school, I love my teachers, and have met many very good friends. I have become involved in the local Unitarian Universalist church and have met more people there that share my basic beliefs and desire to just make a difference in the world regardless of how hard it might be which is so important. With board game club, advocacy for my university, registering people to vote, and getting a new job recently I have had the most amazing year. The only thing my life is missing is a girlfriend which would make me completely whole.

I've decided to live off-campus next year so I have a kitchen available and people won't decide to come in drunk at late hours which will be very convenient. I will have a job working at a small convenience store soon which will help bring in some income which will help me save for grad school or whatever I decide to do after my bachelor's degree. I'm torn between going to grad school immediately and getting a job for a while before going back. Excluding things like making a family if the right person comes along, I expect I will continue to grad school which will open a lot of doors in economics. I'm really excited.

My parents will also move into their new house in just a week or two which will be very nice for all of us.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Future of Unitarian Universalism

I am a Unitarian Universalist, and I was reading an interesting article in UU World, one of the two major publications of my faith today. http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/279318.shtml


While searching for some UU sites, I found some interesting viewpoints from ex-Unitarian Universalists. We must remember that an important aspect to growth is to be a place people won't want to leave. http://cabaretic.blogspot.com/2007/06/confessions-of-ex-unitarian.html and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/unitarian-universalists_n_887267.html have some important points on what struggles this religion faces, and have some very reasonable points. The point of people who are radical atheists who get offended when people talk about God is a very important point, and this needs to be suppressed in our movement. Just because a belief doesn't fit with one person's viewpoint doesn't mean that it shouldn't be discussed. This ties in deeply with being a place where people can find meaning with their own readings and experience, and people who do this aren't truly UUs because they are not following the 4th principle, free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and by making a congregation not follow this principle means it loses a lot of value. Those congregations need to think very hard about if they are truly Unitarian Universalist, or just atheists seeking revenge. There are atheist UUs, and they have an important role to play, but they don't have the right to enforce their dogma on everyone else, as some people have experienced. This might be our number one hurdle to growth in the near and distant future.


I have some ideas on how Unitarian Universalism can grow, and I hope that at an assembly soon this can be made clear on how we are going to grow and become more relevant in the near future and be a major force for justice and democracy in the world. In typical UU fashion, here it is in list form, to be an addition to our seven principles and six sources, consider this to be perhaps our seven responsibilities:
  1. We welcome people of different backgrounds to our congregations who wish to celebrate the joy of life and meaning and be part of our community.
  2. We help our communities through service projects to make our world a better place.
  3. We offer a place of peace for people to share their beliefs and gain insight from each other. The ministry has a responsibility to be available to mediate conflicts so that people can be comfortable.
  4. We offer a place of love for all people needing a place to grow a family in peace.
  5. We honor and practice the Golden Rule towards all people as is taught by all great faiths.
  6. We support all people who need support from oppression.
  7. The pulpit will have the freedom to talk about any religion, and the pulpit will be available to all members for a reasonable amount of time.
  8. We have a message that must be shared and it is our responsibility to share this message.
A very common concern people have is that by not limiting ourselves to a Christian message we can't be a true religion. I think this is narrow minded. I have many beliefs of my own and I have been challenged in every one of them, and by understanding different religious beliefs I have been able to gain a perspective that serves me very well. People who are Buddhist or Christian and explore both deeply will find many things about each that are very compatible, at least this is what I have found. The most common belief system in China is a combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Being American, this is not a viewpoint I probably would not have learned a lot about without being either interested in comparative religion or Unitarian Universalist. For people who don't fit any one box in belief, are genuinely interested in other points of view, and have the basic morals that UU has in the seven principles, Unitarian Universalism has a very important place in the world's religious landscape.

Religion is a very important institution. Among roles are charity throughout the world, charity for the local community, and support for its members and visitors. Religion offers a place where people can grow spiritually. I believe that people need to fed in three ways, physically through food and exercise, mentally through education and life-long learning, and spiritually through different means that make our beliefs and actions moral. Religion is one of the most effective ways that people around the world fulfil their spiritual needs, and become well-rounded individuals. The charity that religions give out cannot be understated, given the existence of military and prison chaplains, and movements for homelessness and defending the people who are not defended. Being able to pool your money to one trustworthy organization that provides a wide variety of roles is a very efficient way to donate money to charity and make a real difference in the world. Some people will say this is partisan, but many of the greatest Americans in history, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. among others, were guided by their faith and patriotism, and many of them were Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist. For people who live in Western nations in particular who have difficulty with hell, the trinity, or other dogmas of Christianity, Unitarian Universalism has a very important role to play, and for people from around the world from any culture that find that not just one religion speaks to them and want to have a community that will allow them to grow spiritually, Unitarian Universalism's role becomes globally important in every country.

Unitarian Universalism however, is not Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses. We don't have a set doctrine on God or the afterlife, which is a very important aspect of who we are. We are seekers, and we seek guidance around the world, from the Bible to the Tao Te Ching, from the Koran to the Bhagavad Gita, even from more modern non-religious writings like The Lord of the Rings or even The Lorax, we look for and usually find meaning in everything. Because we are seekers and don't expect people to necessarily come out with one belief or another converting people to Unitarian Universalism in the Mormon fashion won't work very well... a better way to have higher retention for us would be to retain people who visit our congregations and make certain people have access to on-line resources and can join groups like Church of the Larger Fellowship if going to church on Sunday isn't a realistic option. The best way is to have open churches that allow people to come in and are very inviting but not pushy for conversion and have people be treated both as members, but with information on how to begin. When people visit us and we don't see them for a while we should check in with them to see how they are doing, so they know we care about them.

Charity. One important function a good religious organization has is the community that develops around the shared principles. In the two UU groups I am part of, the local congregation and campus ministry, I have made many friends who I expect will last a lifetime, or at least for a very long time. Having a single place where I know I can gather with people who share my optimism, values, and beliefs once or twice a week is a very uplifting experience. It is possible to find this in the secular world, but more difficult to build a large family that is self-supporting that exists for a purpose like religion can. The community I am part of is global and gives me connections to people around the world.

Friendship. Another function of good religious organizations is support. When someone is part of a fully functional religious organization the person knows the minister is there to help him/her. This is an important role that happens in the secular world, but usually not with the level of training religious organizations have.

Discovery. Finally the third function of religion for me is to open my eyes to new wonderful things. I hear beautiful music, and stimulating sermons that get me thinking about the world and my place in it. Having a highly educated minister in religion gives me the opportunity to get a perspective that takes a long time to assemble alone. The world is big and having a guide is useful in learning about the world.

These are a few reasons why I believe religion has an important role in the future.

I hope that Unitarian Universalism can grow soon. We have a wonderful message, wonderful people, and all we need is to get our message out. Historically important Unitarians Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Mott built the  feminist movement, and many leading Transcendalists were also UUs. Not just that, but President Obama's mother was also Unitarian Universalist, we are standing right now on the brink of growth, all we need is the first little push to make us climb the mountaintop.

We have a lot to offer the world, and we have a lot to do to expand to people who are not part of our dominant demographic. We need to reach out so we can grow and be one of the largest forces for good in the world. If more people discover us we can continue to change the world and show people there is a way to make the world a better place in beloved community. I truly love my church, it gives so much to everyone around it. It is our duty to share our mission with the world.

(Most of this was written a year ago, but I think this must be shared, so I'm publishing it now with a few additions)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Successful day in the capital

Yesterday I went to Olympia to lobby for Western Washington University where I've gone to school since September. It's been a great four months.

I was scheduled to talk to 5 members of the legislature, including the Senate Minority Leader (Republican) who was a very personable man, and hopefully will keep education at the top of his agenda before the amount of upkeep the State needs to do becomes truly expensive. There is clearly a conflict with the Republicans between their desire for low taxes and their support for education (in this state, if only the Republicans in the federal government supported education) which means at the end of the session they have to decide which one they want more, low taxes or high quality schools. Most Democrats have a conflict between their desire for compromise and their desire for high quality schools, but fortunately that is less common in this state so we have some of the best schools in the country. (without getting into international comparisons)

I talked to my former representative Kathy Haigh and found her to be very personable and is very supportive of our education system.

I saw Karen Fraser and Sam Hunt of Olympia's 22nd district who clearly are very good people, and I am glad they are the representatives of Olympia.

The one representative I was not impressed with tried to explain how temporary farm workers don't pay taxes, which is not true because our state has a sales tax, and people pay the sales tax regardless of where they live or what color their passport is.

All in all I think it was a very successful day and I look forward to going down next month to do more lobbying for education because it is so important for me personally but also is the motor in the background of our economy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dachau

Today was very surreal, I spent most of the day at Dachau concentration camp. It was a fascinating experience seeing how it started as a small camp in 1933 by the Nazis and then grew over the next 12 years to become one of the largest and most-feared camps in all of Germany. It answered my largest question of how they were able to put such horror next to such a large city. There also was absolutely no freedom of the press in Germany in the Third Reich, so if it wasn't in the state press, Germans wouldn't know about it. There were actual tours of Dachau during the 1930s with concerts, and the prisoners were said to be people who wouldn't work (the homeless and mentally ill) even though this was not the truth. Thinking of a lot of people i have met, this type of explanation would work on a lot of people, and most people wouldn't investigate further. I saw the death chambers, which consisted of ovens and a gas chamber. I spent a good two hours in the museum and still didn't see all of the exhibits, and at a few points I felt like crying it was so overwhelming (which I don't do). That alone took most of the day. By the end of the existence of Dachau there was the beginning of a resistance forming, which had been difficult for most of the chance of existence because the prisoners were from so many different groups, which kept them divided and conquered (United we stand, divided we fall). The museum is really well designed and does an excellent job at explaining the history of Dachau and ties it in with the larger picture of what was happening in Germany at the same time. Standing in Dachau it is impossible to fully understand the complete horror that took place under Nazi rule and how a country so completely devestated by the Treaty of Versailles could fall so low. The massive depression that hit Germany and the blaming of minorities on the whole country's problems were the two major factors that led to the Nazis coming to power. John Maynard Keynes predicted that the Treaty of Versailles was a terrible misstep, and he was so very right. One thing for me that is particularly uncomfortable is that we often think of the second world war as the epitome of a "just war" if such a thing is possible, yet we really took our time in going into the second world war, and we didn't go into the concentration camps until 1945. One would think there would have been bombing raids on Nazi Germany in 1939 if the purpose of the second world war was to free the Jews et al, but the truth is that we didn't do that, and it wasn't until we ran in and found how extensive and overcrowded the concentration camps were. I also thought of today in North Korea at their numerous concentration camps on their territory and in Russia that are operating today. We have done nothing to end this and the reasons (Putin) help a modern observer understand past mistakes better. But are only part of a complete understanding. 

Dachau made me think of right now in North Korea which is so similar.
After Dachau Concentration Camp we drove back into the city of Dachau and had our lunch. We came home, I packed since I leave in two days and dinner. The evening was spent catching up on two weeks of news and learning how there will be new Star Wars games.