I recently finished 'The Orchid Thief'.
An excellent book I recommend. One of my favorite movies 'Adaptation' is sort of based on this book.
One theme of both the book and movie, is how and why people develop deep passions for things in general and orchids in particular. Part of why she, the author, is interested in this is because she feels she has no deep passions but would like to.

Here are two passages from the book on this theme which I really enjoyed:

"Besides, I think the real reason (people are passionate about collecting orchids) is that life has no meaning. I mean, no obvious meaning. You wake up, you go to work, you do stuff. I think everybody's always looking for something a little unusual that can preoccupy them and help pass the time"

The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the worlds down to a more manageable size. It makes the worlds seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.

Planet of the Apes.

Two nights ago Marissa and I watched the original Planet of the Apes. We both really enjoyed it. Last night we watched the sequel, 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes'.
This was one of the more unusual and poorly written movies I've ever seen.
I've heard the third one is good, but I haven't yet found it online. But I didn't find the cartoon series made in the seventies and was surprised how much I like it.

Art and religion.

I find that the less I believe and engage in any sort religions or spiritual activity, the more I like art.
Of all the benefits to religious belief, what I enjoy most is transcendence. I find art helps fulfill this role. Both the making and the consuming.


I find myself being deeply influenced by how products look. Even products like soap, whose usefulness may not have any correlation to it's appearance.
Even after I have purchased the product. If it looks cool, I find myself wanting to use it more often.

God's lawyers.

There are obviously exceptions, but in general Lds Church leadership is composed of businessmen and lawyers.
While I always found it uncomfortable, it was easy to understand why so many leaders came from a business background. The leadership and organizational skills which allow a person to be good at running a business would translate into running a similarly arranged large organization such as the Church.

What was never clear to me is why lawyers? Aside from their tending to be wealthy and powerful, something which tends to be prized within the Church, I didn't see an obvious connection between being a lawyer and Church leadership.

Then it dawned on me, the role of a lawyer is to convince people of things which may not be obvious or even true, as well as understanding technicalities, and using these technicalities to their advantage.
Considering this, it seems obvious why a lawyer might seem like a good fit. Much of any religion is about trying to convince people of things which are not obviously true. People need to be persuaded of it through clever and often counter-intuitive ways, which lawyers are skilled at. Plus being able to handle the various technicalities which religions are composed of.

However, while it may be understandable why businessmen and lawyers would be good at running a large organization such as a religion, they strike me as being far from the ideal. Neither business or law is primarily concerned truth, sincerity, humility, wisdom, beauty, compassion or the other great human values, but rather making money, being perceived as right (versus being actually correct). (I do not wish to be overly critical of lawyers or even business people. I know several people who go into these field with noble intentions. I am just trying to say that what makes a good lawyer or business person seems to often be at odds with what one would expect of a religious organization).

Imagine how different the Church would be if it were run by Scientists, Artists, Philosophers, Social workers and Poets? People who chose to dedicate their lives to things like truth, beauty and charity. Maybe the day to day operations wouldn't be run quite as smoothly and they wouldn't have enough money to build billion dollar malls in downtown Salt Lake, but that would probably be a good thing.


One thing I love about Washington is that even in the summer time, for every bright sunny day, there tends to be a cloudy day.
Like most people, I love the activities that warm sunny days allow: Leisurely bike rides in the warm evening, picnics, Swimming etc. . However, I have a greater appreciation for the homebody, introvert activities which cloudy/rainy days enable such as reading books and drawing pictures.
When the weather is warm and sunny one often feels a sense of restless unease staying indoors. So, while appreciate many outdoor activities, I don't want to do them everyday, or even most days and Washington weather makes my homebody sensibility more enjoyable.

(my next door neighbors take this to the weird extreme and keep their windows covered up so they never have to have any encounter with the sun while indoors)


Yesterday, I was excited to receive this month's issue of the one magazine I subscribe to.

Inside, I came across these land art sculptures which I found very impressive:

I had turned into the article from the back, so I didn't see who had made the pieces.
While the photographs themselves are perhaps a bit over dramatic, I'm fond of this genre of work and enjoy it's somewhat recent growth in popularity. It also occurred to me this may be an artist from somewhere in Africa or South America following in some local tradition.

There is an indie-rock band called The Bowerbirds who I came across while looking up information about this artist. I rarely come across new music I enjoy, so was pleasantly surprised about this band.
The reason I came across this band while looking this artist is because these pieces are made by actual Bowerbirds:

That is right! Surprise! They are made by birds! Surprise! They are called Bowerbirds, in honor of the indie rock band!
I think this is so interesting! Birds! Making art!
The birds make the 'bower', which is the little structure, to mate inside. The attractiveness of the structure and the decoration outside are used to help lure a potential mate. If the female likes the males creation plus his dancing(seriously), they have sex for about 5 seconds in the Bower.
This one is my favorite:

While looking up the subject, I came across this npr piece talking about possible evolutionary sources of our aesthetic sensibilities, which draws parallels to Bowerbirds building bowers.. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4057069
The last fellow who speaks says something pretty similar to my view on aesthetics.

There are two basic types of structures built by these birds and this is the other one. It is referred to as a 'May Pole'

I tried to write this so you feel surprised, maybe even scared, and possibly even so angry you want to hurt someone when you learned it was made by birds. My head is feeling rather foggy right now. Fog like an eagle.



I think of all the various books of scripture I have read my favorite is The Bhagavad Gita. A couple years ago I purchased a really good translation by George Thompson . I haven't necessarily compared many different translations of this book, but of the 4 or 5 I have looked at, this one I find most impressive.

I don't necessarily believe this book to be inspired or sacred, but I find it enlightening.



One bit of political argument often used by the left or libertarians that I don't really agree with is the notion that we can't or shouldn't legislate morality.
I feel that a significant reason to have government is for the regulation is of morality.
Even our most basic laws such as not killing people are regulations of morality.

However, I think I understand what people mean when they say we should not regulate Morality. They are probably trying to say that some issues are strictly moral in nature and have no other practical value. While murder may be a moral issue, it is also a practical issue. It is difficult to have a well functioning society if people can kill whoever they want.

Nonetheless, I think a great deal of our is about issues which are almost entirely moral and have little practical value to the state. Things like the civil liberties act or the American with Disabilities Act etc. are essentially moral moral issues. I imagine all but the most hard lined libertarians are okay with these legislation on morality.


Freedom of choice

In the debates I have with some friends and acquaintances regarding the new health care bill a common theme amongst arguments against the bill is that of freedom, which I gather also forms the basis for many of their political beliefs..

Their argument goes something like this: "I'm not opposed to helping people and I want others to receive health care, I just don't want to be forced. I want the freedom to help people get health care at my own discretion.'

While I can understand a persons displeasure at feeling compelled towards a certain action, particularly if the group doing the compelling is perceived as untrustworthy, I have a difficult time with this argument.

Aside from that fact that it is unlikely those making this claim have or will ever actually do anything of their own free will to help others get health care, and even if they wanted to, how would they go about it? Aside from the fact that it may be unreasonable for people to feel their freedom of slightly more money is of greater valuable than other people's freedom for life and good health, it seems to me these people are not genuinely interested in other people health, as they may claim.

It reminds of when people claim to have nothing against gays, yet they are opposed to gay marriage. If you truly have nothing against them, why would you want them to have the lesser rights allowed by civil unions?

It seems we only complain of being forced to do something, if it is something we didn't already want.
When the weather is nice, we don't complain about being forced to experience a pleasant day.
When people use roads they don't complain about how even though they want something to drive their car on, they wish the government wouldn't build roads because they want the freedom to do it themselves, instead they appreciate it, because it is a service they value.
Same with schools and parks etc.

When we are are provided something we value, we typically don't think of it as a limitation to our freedoms but as something to be appreciated.


Institional Secrecy.

One thing which had often surprised me is when people would express that learning of Joseph Smith's multiple wives caused them to doubt the Church.

I couldn't, until very recently, understand why this would be an issue. Didn't we all know all along the Lds Church practiced polygamy and it was initiated by Joseph Smith?

Not until recently did I realize that no, most people believe it began with Brigham Young.

Learning this confused me, because I had known Joseph Smith was a polygamist as long as I could remember. Since it wasn't until I was 18 or 19 that I became aware of any of the uncomfortable historical issues, I assumed it was something I had been taught in Church and so everyone else would have been also.
I know my mother wasn't aware of Joseph Smith's wives until I mentioned it to her, so it was unlikely I would have learned it from home.
Then I remembered a book I had read when I was about 13 or 14. It was a work of historical fiction whose lead character was one of Joseph Smith's wives. From this historically accurate book I not only learned of his initiating polygamy and taking numerous wives but I even learned of Joseph's having married a 14 year old girl. Because I learned of this early in my life, it became part of my fundamental understanding of the Church.

One issue that seems to come up often in regards to the weird issues Lds history is how should the institution deal with this? Should it be more open so people don't feel betrayed when they learn a different history than what was taught in Church, or should it maintain it's secretive approach in concern that if these issues were more widely known it would cause an even greater loss of members. From this perspective the Church leaders are seen as being in a bind. If they want to maintain their organization, they have little choice but to sweep certain elements under the rug.

Aside from the issue that deliberately withholding relevant information is dishonest and a religious organization which expects honesty out of it's members should be held to those same high standards, my personal experience shows me that openness would be also be practical to the Church.

Since I knew from early on Joseph was a polygamist, it was never caused me any concern. It was never something I had to reconcile or work through as many people do. Only after leaving the Church do I look back on it and see how unusual it is. But that applies to almost all of Mormon teachings.

In many ways, people seem less disturbed by actually learning weird historical facts as they are by their feelings that the Church had deceived them. Their sense of hurt and betrayal is what affects them most.

However, why should I care if the Church is more open about its history? I don't believe in the Church, why should I care whether or not they retain members?

I guess I just remember how painful it was for me to learn of these things and how my friends and family looked down upon me for learning and discussing facts that while accurate, were not in harmony with the Church's official position. I also sometimes felt as I were doing something wrong, simply by learning particular facts. I know many other people have had similar experiences. Many people are even punished by the Church for disclosing this information. So, while it may not really care about the Church's ability to maintain it's members, I do care about it fostering a more healthy environment for it's members. And if doing so wouldn't compromise their retention efforts, then it is a win win situation.


One lot south of the duplex Marissa and I live in is a very large complex of duplexes/fourplexes. I would guess there are at least 30-50 buildings arranged in clusters of 3-5.
When I am in our two foot back yard I catch glimpses sounds of the people who inhabit them.

The tenet of one building spends almost all day every day loudly listening to what sounds like loud General Conference. I first noticed this the last time General Conference was broadcast in April and thought to myself, 'Guess we have some Mormon neighbors'. Since that time the sound hasn't stopped except at night which makes me wonder if they are listening to something which happens to sounds like General Conference that coincidentally began or I first notice when General Conference actually aired. Or maybe they liked the last episode of Conference so much it inspired them go back and watch all the others. Or maybe something else altogether.

I can even hear that distinct General Conference sound coming from their place right now. If it isn't general conference, I am interested to know what it is that sounds so similar.

But all of that was just an aside. The reason I began writing this is about another tenet of the duplex kingdom.
I see this fellow quite a bit. What I think is the back of his place opens up to a direct view from my place.

Every time I do see this small Asian man, he is doing something unusual. I am guessing he either has a serious mental illness, is going balls out with drugs, or is extraordinarily quirky.

A little bit ago I was standing outside, shaking a bag of treats calling Glen back home when I noticed him standing with a portable Cd player in one hand and his other at a 30 degree angle from his body, keeping his entire body perfectly still.

I can't say for certain, he might have been looking past me, but I'm pretty sure our eyes locked. Curious what he was doing and how long he would hold my gaze, I stared back at him while continuing to shake the treat back and call for Glen. After a few minutes I felt as if he probably wasn't going to move or look away and I wasn't getting much out of continuing to look into his eyes, so I broke our staring contest and came inside. I kept checking outside to see if he was still holding still and for about 10 minutes he was. Just checked again and he was gone.


Religion and ethics

Because I have been listening to the Mormon Stories Podcast (which I highly recommend to anyone with a connection to Mormonism. Whether you are devout, doubting or entirely left the Church, it is supre interesting.) recently, religion has been on my mind quite a bit more than normal.
The issue I raised in the previous few entries about how morality should be based on what sort of consequences emerge is related to my primary beef with religion.
(I am not like Richard Dawkins, where I think religion is a bad thing. I like a great deal about most religions and feel they are often beneficial. More so for individuals than society in general. However, there are some aspects I do not care for and this entry is about the primary one.)

My primary beef with Religion is that it frequently takes the pragmatism out of ethics. In a religious context, something may be seen as good, in and of itself, even if it has negative consequences.

Within Mormonism a good example is the Word of Wisdom.

I think even a Latter Day Saint would acknowledge that the few, relatively minor drawbacks of Green Tea are far outweighed by the numerous health benefits, while soda pop has many negative health effects and none positive(at least that I could find).

Yet only one of these is considered sinful and it isn't the one which is harmful.

While drink preferences are a minor thing, this arbitrary approach towards ethics can have devastating effects on people's lives. The best example right now is homosexuality. Unless you are religious, you will be hard pressed to have a good rational for believing homosexuality is 'wrong', and we have seen many times over the suffering that comes to queers who have been indoctrinated to belief their desires are wrong and should or even could be 'overcome'.

Granted, this isn't entirely unique to religion. We all have things which we consider to be values in and of themselves. For example, I still think being honest with ourselves is inherently valuable, even though I've read studies about how in some instances moderate self deception can have positive effects.

I guess the difference is that if I were shown to be completely wrong, that self-honesty has zero benefits while self deception was always advantageous, I would probably change my mind. Or at least, I could consider changing my mind without feeling as if I were doing something wrong. But if that value was based on religion, it is possible that no amount of reasoning could convince me.

I recently read an interesting quote that said (i'm repeating from memory so I may not be getting it exactly right. And I don't know who said it): 'Whenever a religious explanation is given for doing something, it means there are no other reasons, otherwise those would be given.'

One of the primary benefits I have found from leaving religion and something I have heard from others as well, is I am now able to take life as it is. If something seems good, I can appreciate it as good and if something seems harmful to me, I can recognize it has harmful and the millions of things which lay somewhere in between I can recognize as somewhere in between. There isn't an arbitrary moral coating over everything deciding for me.

Granted, this approach requires more out of people. One has to consider everything on it's own merits. But the work is a pleasure and ultimately is more moral. Doing things for their own sake, rather than out of obedience to another being for a reward.


Legally blind

I think the term 'legally blind' is funny. I understand what the term means, but when I hear it I always imagine it refers to someone who will be arrested if they look at something.


Explaining my Moral Relativism

I got a message regarding my previous entry. There were a few parts in the beginning and this was the second:
My big question is where or what is your ethos? I see your good attempts to logically explain your position, but what about ethos? How do you know your view point trumps all others? Or are we all merely authorities unto ourselves?

If we are all to be considered moral relativists, then how do you explain the following? Our culture finds the oppression of women to be abhorrent, right? However, the oppression of women half way around the world is considered to be morally appropriate. If morality is relative, then how do you go about resolving this ambivalence? They think you and I are just about as screwed up for our stance as you and I think they are for theirs. If you’re resolved that societies are governed by the reflection of their individual mores and that rightness and wrongness is determined respectively, then what the hell is the point of anything?

I think this is a reasonable question based on what I had written. And since other people may have had the same question in their minds, I am re-posting my reply here(with a few edits).

I don't believe what is 'right' or 'wrong', is entirely based on our personal, or cultural perspective, rather, more often than not, our biological one.

Consider the example you gave above of women being oppressed. If human's were truly blank slates as some people believe, (but I strongly don't,) then perhaps all that would matter in terms of ethics is a person's personal or cultural perspective.

However, we have our underlying biology, which creates a certain degree of absolutism towards ethics.
Even though some culture's may teach it good to oppress women, because of our biology, people do not like being oppressed.

If female biology were so different than males that oppression gave them immense pleasure and being treated as equals caused deep suffering then oppression of women would probably be a good . However, male and female biology happen to be similar enough that it is beneficial to treat women as the equals they are.

In real life we have cultural standards telling us abuse is bad, that isn't what makes it 'bad'. What makes it 'bad' is our biology which makes physical suffering extremely unpleasant.

Because our biology is flexible in many ways, it allows room for various cultures to impose certain values that, while biologically arbitrary, may still be significant for those individuals and cultures. For us, it may be inappropriate to show up to work wearing robes, but in another country it might be expected.
You could even say it would be 'bad' for me to show up to work wearing robes because in that context it...causes a scene or ..shows a disrespectful attitude or whatever. You wouldn't feel that robe wearing is inherently bad. Or even wearing robes to work is inherently bad. But in THAT context it wasn't a good thing to do.

When I say morality is based on context, the context I am referring to is our biology and to a lesser degree our culture.

( I think there is an entirely different point to be made when it comes to judging the actions of an individual within another culture. If a person has been raised their entire life to believe something is right and they carry that action through to it's reasonable consequence, it may be unfair to see that individual as immoral, even if their particular action are. In addition, because it is difficult to distinguish which of our believes are valid and which are nothing more than cultural artifacts, we should all maintain a certain degree of skepticism towards any of our beliefs or values)

I am unable to imagine something that is 'wrong' regardless of circumstance, or what that would even mean. This would require something to be 'good' even if it had negative consequences. If it had negative consequences, what would make it 'good'?

I believe that what we think of as 'good' or 'bad' could have been otherwise were our biology otherwise.
If we had evolved from dogs, licking strangers butts would probably be a friendly gesture rather than something deeply frowned upon.

I am NOT saying that because we feel biologically inclined towards something it is good. We may feel biologically inclined to... for example, shoot heroin every day once we've tried it, but other negative consequences will arise from this abuse, and these negative consequences will also be based on our biology.
Had we evolved to live full productive, happy, healthy lives while shooting heroin everyday, I'm sure most people would see daily heroin use as a good thing, probably even a holy, sacred and sent from god.

This perspective allows me to see certain things as good or bad based on context without getting caught in the conundrum you propose.