Sunday, February 27, 2011

PBS God in America

I've almost finished re-watching the PBS God in America series, which can be watched in its entirety via Netflix or on PBS at It's a very good series that I recommend. It begins with Spanish conquistadors and continues through Jerry Fallwell's Moral Majority, and beyond to George W. Bush and the changing face of religious plurality in the United States. It covers how Los Angeles is the most ethnically diverse city in the world, and also the most religiously diverse city in the world. It also discusses how 1 in 6 Americans are not religious, or atheist or agnostic. It shows Rick Warren talking about AIDS in Africa, and poverty. It concludes with President Obama, as candidate, talking about how faith can inform political discourse, but that, ultimately, arguments need to be made to make sense to people of different belief systems.

I have to admit, I find it fascinating to think about what causes people to believe the things they believe. Or, maybe I should say, I'm fascinated by listening to people explain the reasons for what they profess to believe.

I grew up respecting the parables and wisdom embodied in many religious texts, from Christianity, to Hinduism, to Buddhism, but not a follower of a creed or dogma. I am growing more and more interested in seeking to understand why individual people believe different things that emanate from their own religious or philosophical vantage point. It's important, I believe, not to look at religion as a "virus", something vile and despicable with an attitude like the so-called "New atheist" writers espouse. It's better to examine religion for what it is, and it is often changing.

I've started to listen to a course called "The Birth of the Modern Mind", which is a brief history of The Enlightenment, but I have not gotten very far yet. There are so many courses and materials I want to take and read.


I have another blog that I've used for technology-only related posts, Agile From the Ground Up. But, I'm kind of tired of maintaining different collections of writings in different places. There's just one me. I have many different interests and aspects, and activities to me. I'd rather not segment myself.

It's been a long past year and start to this year already, with my aunt passing away, my brother Danny getting surgery, and my father stating that he going to be, at long last, telling my two other brothers, David and Jeff, about me. That's no small thing for me, after almost 19 years of being a secret, once again, to half of my family, and never being able to really see through the veil of what was being done, or not wanting to, until the last couple of years.

But during that time, I've come to a far greater and wonderful knowledge and connection to my mother's side of my family and upward through my grandfather and his siblings and even his parents! How fortunate I am for this! It is one of the reasons I am working to create a book about my great-grandmother's life and her beautiful paintings.

Over the last couple of years, I've either started or co-founded several social groups that have been influential to me and others. The most prominent of these is The Atlanta Science Tavern, which I co-founded with Carol Potter in 2008. The group now has over 1,000 members, and it has been, truly, an exercise in self-organization and cooperation amongst many dedicated people. There will be a brief article in Atlanta magazine in June about the group. I am very thankful that Marc Merlin has taken formal leadership of the group and will be leading its transition into a full-blown not-for-profit organization. I can only imagine the expanded good that we'll be able accomplish in the coming years.

I suppose I have a different sensibility about the world than a lot of people, including many in my own extended family who are Christians. I was not raised to believe any specific creed, a fact for which I am very grateful to my mother and family. Because of this, I feel most comfortable considering myself Humanist and Unitarian Universalist, being now a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, which is a congregation which collaborated with Ebenezer Baptist to let white students and black students get to know each other during tumultuous times around the middle of last century.

Over the last few days I've been watching PBS documentaries about presidents, Native Americans, and today I started re-watching the God in America series, which is fascinating. I've also listened to a few more lectures in the American Mind audio course from The Teaching Company that I mentioned in yesterday's post. What struck me today, as it did when I visited his estate, was Thomas Jefferson's willingness to speak up, on record, for the Baptists' right to believe as they did, even though he personally disagreed with their views. Leaving aside other dubious aspects of Jefferson's character, it is important to understand just how critical his support for religious freedom really was. You can read his letter to the Danbury Baptists here: You can also learn much more about Jefferson, including the Jeffersonian Bible, here in the PBS series "From Jesus to Christ":

Why comment on this now? Well, it's on my mind, and that's usually reason enough for me. However, more importantly, is that I believe in an integrated stance toward life and all that is. Perhaps part of that comes from having had to wage many battles against my own segmentation, but I think it also comes from a natural human tendency toward wanting peace and prosperity for one's self and in one's vicinity.

Last night I sat with Virginia at the Science Tavern meetup event. She has come to many, many events from the beginning, and is always informative and enthusiastic. She told me more about the Southeastern Photographic Society that she is heavily involved with, and also about how she knows S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, and how she knows the Spiveys, who donated funds for Spivey Hall, after they made money developing Lake Jodeco and Lake Spivey, which is in the same neighborhood where my good friend Appollo lives, and where I've had many great boat rides during the summers.

Anyway, getting the chance to talk with her in more depth, I re-realized one of the primary reasons AST is as important as it is to me and many other people these days. While all of us could get our science news from the television, the internet, magazines, or books, it is only through conversation that we get to form connections and build friendships that often surpass boundaries of age, race, culture or sub-culture, political viewpoint, and many other dimensions.

We got a big tent. Come on under.

AOP Reading Links

It's nice to relax at home and try to catch up on some long-postponed technical reading.

I've glanced over these articles a number of times, and know that many of the tools I use depend on them, but I've always wanted to study them much more deeply.

And, the entire LinFu series:

This kind of approach has been used in jQuery for a long time now, and other JavaScript frameworks, and it's common in Ruby and has been used in lots of C# and Java programs as well. Despite its wide-spread adoption in frameworks and tools, it's still uncommon to see it in application development.

Reading Notes

Part I:

After reading part I, I am not sure how the interceptor knows to discriminate to the Greet method. However, I think that's explained here: "Every proxy generated by LinFu dynamically overrides all of its parent's virtual methods." I think that means even if there were a "Farewell" method, it would still call the identical methods in the IInvokeWraper instance.

Part II: Here Comes Rubber Ducky

This part is about Duck typing and other interesting aspects of the framework. It's pretty easy to understand. Nothing to comment on.

Fighting Terrorism Since 1492

I often put off writing. I put it off because I'm not sure what I want to write about, or whether I want to write about one thing and not another. All of that is just mental noise. It's more important to simply write. Transcribing some of my great-grandmother's journals tonight shows me that very clearly. Some days, she simply dashed off a few words. Those entries are on

I watched several documentary episodes today. I finished the We Shall Remain PBS documentary about Native Americans and their struggle against homeland aggression from settlers. The faces in Carola's paintings have always haunted me, and this documentary tells the story very deeply. It is deplorable what our government did to the native people of this land for so many years. Next I watched another American Experience documentary, FDR. Franklin Roosevelt. I grew up just a few miles from his estate in Hyde Park, New York. I've seen his home in Warm Springs, Georgia also. As a "traitor to his class" of privilege and inherited wealth , he did whatever he could to help turn around the nation during the depression. Bringing electricity to rural areas was something I learned about in Warm Springs.

After watching this, I went running in Freedom Park, and bought my "Gimme Green" rice shake at Sevananda. I also stopped into the Native American store in Little Five Points and spoke with one of the workers there for a little while. He is one-quarter Sioux. He gave me a lot of things to think about the history of Native Americans. There are maps of different tribes and peoples on the walls in the store, and many books, music cds, jewelry, news paper articles, bumper stickers, T-Shirts. One of the most fitting is below which reads "Homeland Security -- Fighting Terrorism Since 1492"

What a thought-provoking perspective on things, isn't it?

While jogging I was also listening to the audio course "The American Mind". I listened to the first 6 lectures so far, which discuss The Enlightenment and the Great Awakenings and Jonathan Edwards' influence. It's fascinating to understand the founding of Harvard and Yale, among others, as competing institutions born out of essentially religiously-derived differences that stretch back into the "old world".

This is the course description:
Americans pride themselves on being doers rather than thinkers. Ideas are naturally suspect to such a people. But ideas are at the root of what it means to be American, and today’s habits of thought practiced by citizens throughout the United States are the lineal descendants of a powerful body of ideas that traces back to the first European settlers and that was enriched by later generations of American thinkers.

Behind this nation’s diverse views on religion, education, social equality, democracy, and other vital issues is a long-running intellectual debate about the right ordering of the human, natural, and divine worlds.
In their own times such great thinkers as Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William James, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others engaged in lively and often contentious debate that helped mold America’s institutions and attitudes. Their approach was frequently honed by ideas from abroad—from Locke, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Gandhi, among others.
You can see the entire list of lectures at the link above.

I'm just now getting into the section where the discussion of Locke and his theory of property is being covered in lecture 6. As I listened to this, I thought back to the Native American treatment and the contrasting views of nature, God, ownership, and reality that came crashing into each other when settlers (invaders from the perspective of the Native Americans) attempted to forcibly convert natives to Christianity, take their land away and push them further and further away into reservations, and ultimately to destroy their culture. In my readings of the Christian Gospels, I can say this is not something Christ would have done. Unless you're one of those people who likes to drag out verses about "bringing a sword", then you'll find it hard to justify such brutality within the words of Christ. It is for reasons like these that I cannot take seriously claims of people to be "on God's side" when a blind eye is turned to injustice like what was done to Native Americans.

The subject of the painting below, one painted by my great-grandmother Carola, is a human being, one with unalienable rights, as in: 
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Thank you very much, Mr. Hobbes, Mr. Locke, Mr. Paine, and also Mr. Jefferson. Yet, when human beings are viewed from a distance, through the lens of nothing more than problem, profit or plunder, then certainly we will see exterminations and cleansing such as what took place over a span of hundreds of years in the Americas to its native people, via the slave trade, or what happened in Nazi Germany to Jewish people and other non-Aryan peoples.

Aristotle wrote: 
“The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance”.
This is the art of dignity, an inner quality of a human being viewed as such.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maybe Infinity Is Time Enough

I know I need to sleep within the next few minutes. My gripe against sleep is only that there are thousands of things I want to do. I want to experience them all simultaneously. I wish I could be learning more on my piano, learning more about business, reading numerous technical books, novels, philosophies, all at once. Likewise I want to be hiking, traveling and exercising and going to dance parties and watching movies and listening to music and visiting friends and family. I want to learn how to draw again, and eventually how to paint. I want to become "more serious" of playing tennis, learning more strategy and technique. I want to write the books and essays and create the animation artwork I've thought about. I want to have a family, and to continue volunteering my time with community efforts. I want everything.

I want to do all of these things. I wish I could do them all simultaneously and be an observer of all of them, like an omniscient observer of my own infinities. Though it seems it would require an infinite time-scale or infinite presence to do everything.

I know I have to settle for sequential progress. I know, I know.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Silence is a Good Teacher

I love silence. It is during silence that the most fundamental of our life concerns and thoughts can arise in our minds unobstructed. For me, this means thoughts of my family as well as thoughts of my career and outside interests. Although, of late, I've increasingly sought to merge my "outside interests" with my envisioned career. These goals take time.

I've started the work of creating a book about my great-grandmother, with a project sketch and outline at

I am very tired now, and will have to complete thoughts later.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where Were You?

As a child I thought I would always be an "only-child". Sometimes I wondered what would it be like if I had older siblings. Would they be as good to me as my mother's siblings, who were between 16 and 19 years older than me? Or, would they be in "sibling-rivalry" with me?

When I learned that I would, in roughly 9 months, have a half-sibling, I was very happy. No longer would I be an "only-child", and I would not always wonder. It's more than 20 years later now, and my half-brother Danny lives with me now in Atlanta. We've had a lot of good times over the past couple of years, after I had lived away and gone to college in Atlanta while he grew up with our mom and his dad, my stepfather. It's very hard to imagine him not being a part of my life.

I actually have two other half-brothers who live in New York state. Unfortunately, I've been kept a secret from them my father and stepmother. This causes much pain to me.

But, lately, its causing more than pain. It's causing guilt. I feel a natural responsibility and love toward my two other brothers, one of whom I lived with briefly when he was an infant.

I feel guilty because some years ago I got a letter from my father with his resume in it along with a computer disk of a web page he had built while taking a course at work.

On his resume he mentioned that he was married with two children, David and Jeffrey

Somewhere in the white space I expected one simple sentence to read, "His older son Josh lives in Atlanta." But, it was nowhere to be found.

This caused me considerable frustration and for quite sometime when I visited New York and my family asked me about seeing my dad I refused to even discuss it.

I feel now like I should have tried sooner to reestablish contact, as if I had done that then perhaps my other brothers would not have gone so long without knowing me yet.

Logically, I don't believe it's my fault, but that doesn't mean I don't wish I had done more.
I have painful thoughts of them asking me, "Where were you?"

I am still a patient person, perhaps to the point of fault. I believe it will be best for my father and stepmother to tell my brothers this directly, rather than forcing myself to be known, even though I do have contact info that would allow me to do so.

But, the feeling in my soul is welling up that my brothers are being denied their own birthright and the chance to have a friend, me, who could be to them what people like my aunt Kara was to me before she passed away and like my uncle Kevin and aunt Kelly still are.

The feeling is starting to wear on me that all three of us are being too selfish and self-protecting here and not being kind to my brothers. However, this is just my feeling, and I have not yet had a chance to speak directly with my stepmom about these feelings. I very much want to achieve understanding as to why she does not want the truth to be known and for the three of us brothers to have relationships with each other.

To place this in context, I have to mention the passing of my aunt. After seeing her die, right there in front of me, I've not been able to shake the image of her last breath from my mind. Sometimes I will be walking into a store and the image is just there in my mind constantly. In fact, it's rarely left my mind for more than a month. I do not consider this a bad thing or something I want to go away, necessarily. She died mostly peacefully, with morphine in her system calming her pain. It is not the fact of her death that seeing her last breath symbolizes, but the reality of her life transferring from active, sustained breath to immortalization in the collective memories and future actions of remembrance that we who love her take from this point forward.

Some human emotions or experiences simply cannot be described in words. They can only be lived, but it is still important to describe them as best we can. Those final moments of being with Kara while she was still alive, and the moments shortly after her passing have permanently changed me, in good ways. I am a happier, more complete person both for having known her as a child, and for being with her to at her last breath.

One outcome of that experience that I could never have predicted is that I feel physically and mentally stronger and more connected to this existence than ever before. Fears that may have lingered in my own mind about my own self-worth or dignity have begun to vanish.

In the most visceral sense, I feel solidified in my soul, as if in the embrace and tears that my grandmother, my aunt, and my uncle and I shared immediately after Kara died there was an invisible tree that instantly took deep root and we became its trunk and branches, as did Kara, immortalized within us.

Everything seems to be less important to me now than watering that tree and its branches.

Seeing a person you love dying taps into the best parts of your nature."—Lise Funderberg

This quote comes from an article on MSN Health:

The article expounds further:
Before experiencing the death of a loved one, many people view the prospect with dread. Afterward, they often look back on their death-witnessing experience as having been a horrible, grief-stricken time that nevertheless brought certain gifts. Among these: new insights into their own capacity for selfless love and caring, renewed or intensified bonds with other family members, a new respect for siblings or medical staffers, a healing of old wounds.

"The situation asked for grace, patience, and charity, so something I actually benefited from was to see I had a fairly deep capacity for those things that hadn't been called on in the same way before," says Funderberg, who wrote about her father's long final illness in Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home. "Someone dying is a great prioritizer. What does something like the resentment you were holding onto matter now?"
And it all brings me back to what is happening, or not happening, in the closest relationships I have on this earth. What am I doing to care for and feed and water those relationships?

And sometimes I think, wow, overnight I could triple my number of half-siblings! Whatever would I do? I'd probably take them all to a baseball or basketball game and eat some french fries or pretzels with them. I'd then probably try to convince them to also eat other healthier vegetables and foods and think about their futures!

That's what much older brothers do.

Understanding - The Great Jewel of Wisdom

Respect is something that can easily be lost, but sometimes it can be regained.

Disappointment is a natural human feeling when one feels wronged or disgraced.

But losing hope is something that harms oneself more than it harms anyone else.

Life and love are grand mysteries, and so are individual motives, actions, and fears.

Hope may seem irrational, but it is often this sheer irrationality that strengthens our human resolve to do what is right.

Having the power to retaliate against others who we feel have wronged us is a temptation.

But to do so speaks more out of fear than it does out of love. It doesn't matter whether everyone around you would say you are "justified" in doing so if you feel in your soul that you are acting defensively rather than from love.

Remember, in your heart, that almost all people are doing things that they believe are right or of the most benefit to themselves and others based on all they know about themselves, others, and their circumstances.

Thus, what will elevate the character of yourself, and others, more so is to strive earnestly for genuine understanding of the other's actions and motives.

This is not to say that power should not be used when reasonable and earnest attempts at understanding fail and you feel strongly that what is harming you and others is unjustified.

But, peaceful relationships seldom result from retaliation.

Retaliation is a bow that fires arrows at both the target and the archer, but understanding is a salve that heals the wounds of both souls.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pleasant Surprise After Sad Month : My Long Lost Performance for My Aunt

It's been more than two years since I've posted anything on this blog. I've been working at two different jobs during that time. I did post some things on my Agile From The Ground Up blog about software development though. I'm tired of having different sites though.

The importance of writing strikes me now more so than ever. I can ill afford to not write.

This time, it comes a month after my Aunt Kara has passed away after a long battle against Lou Gehrig's Disease, A.L.S. I was in the hospital with her along with her brother Kevin and her sister Kelly and her mother, my grandmother, Barbara. It was the first time I've been present when someone left our world. While I don't wish anyone to prematurely face a situation like that, I am extremely grateful that I was there with her, and my family.

It is not really possible, in words, to express the human emotions that I felt when I saw her take her last breath. But, it is something I will never, ever, forget.

Witnessing Kara's life end, it's correct to say I left that room with my own life changed, and in ways that I am still trying to decipher. I will write more about that later.

Tonight ended on a very uplifting note for me, however. After Kara passed away, we had a small memorial for her at her and Lew's house. While with Kara, I told her that I had wished I could perform a song on piano for her. She could not speak any longer. I bought a new digital piano and I performed at the memorial and dedicated it to her.

Still, I felt bad that I had never gotten the chance to share it with her. The song was U2's "October". When I was 10 she introduced me to their music, some 23 years ago.

Tonight I played piano for the first time in more than a week as I've been recovering from a skin eczema. Playing that song again reminded me of Kara, of Lew and Aiden, and of my entire family for that matter. When she was in the hospital bed, I promised her that I would help Aiden appreciate new music and that I'd play piano for him, as well as teach him to play someday. After I performed, he ran to the piano with his daddy and began to play the keys. It was only later that I found a wonderful video Kara had taken and posted on her blog of him playing on a toy piano at age 2. He loved it so much even then! I can't wait to play for him again and visit again and to someday help him learn to play the instrument in remembrance of his mommy and for his own spiritual enjoyment.

Playing again tonight with my hand healing, that promise began to take on physical reality, not just a mental conviction. Playing music with a purpose feels like the true meaning of life. What else can groups of people do or enjoy together so thoroughly and so magically?

The joys and sorrows of this life are many, that we all know. It takes a lot of effort just to live each day.

But, to play music from your soul, to revel in even just a few moments, is to take a glimpse at eternity -- it is as though music exists independent of time, and time slows down. If motion is movement through space and time, music is movement through soul despite time.

Tonight I found on a seldom used computer a file called "October-Dedication.mp3", and another named "October-Performance.mp3". I opened my email and searched for the first one's name. Sure enough, I found an email that I sent in July of 2009, just before Kara had surgery to have a feeding tube put into her body.

I had performed for her after all. The weight of everything happening in December and January had made this memory evaporate from me.

Here is my short letter to her and her response to me:

Please listen to the attached piano performance. This is, so far, my best recorded rendition of the 1981 U2 song "October". It is my goal to perform this piece sometime at a future UUCA open-mic night. My friend Tony Knuppel organized one last month and plans to do it again. Many people performed piano, guitar, and vocals. I read aloud an essay I wrote that is currently the #1 peer-rated answer to the question "How many stars are in the universe?" You can read it here:

Since I was a child I saw the big piano in the house downstairs and I wanted to learn, but all I did was press on the keys. I saw you buy an electronic one some years back and I wanted to learn then too.

And now, this is something I am learning, week by week, very very slowly, and just a tiny bit at a time -- enough to play one song at a time that matters to me.

You were the first person to buy me a U2 album, The Joshua Tree, when I was probably 10 years old. For more than 20 years, their widely varied styles have been the "soundtrack" of my mind, and their spiritually yearning lyrics and music have at many times been a comfort for me.

I hope this brief performance is in some small way also comforting to you.

Rest assured, when I do perform this live, I will dedicate it to you, and we will record it. -- I have lots of practicing to do because I don't want to mess it up!

love always,


Josh, your audio recordings were beautiful. You play very well! And your memories of things we did together mean so much to me. I always wished to enrich your life. If I have succeeded even a little, my reward is the treasured memories you keep. I'll never forget the spellbound little boy who met Johnny Cash. I watched you glow in the experience, and I told myself "well done Auntie, well done."

Love you,

Sent from my iPhone

Tonight I feel fine to sleep, saying "well done Rabbit, well done."