Thursday, December 1, 2016

Were Our Ancestors Dummies?

Just in my short six decades of life, I’ve notice that every generation “coming of age” thinks their parent’s generation were not as intelligent, comparative dummies, simpletons, or worse. When I reflect back and look at several of my peers, they were alcoholics, marijuana smokers, LSD users and more. I would suppose that if they had children, it would be expected that their children would think less of them. The peers engaging in that conduct burnt out their brains before they even became adults. What is odd, is that they saw their parents drinking excessively, saw the effects and condemned their parents for that action, yet they themselves went and did the same thing. Those that kept their heads clear went on to bring us into the “space age” and the “computer age.”

But that made me wonder: Down through the ages, what were the major substance/chemical addictions. For example, what was “big” in World War I? What about WWII? What about Vietnam? (It does seem that the stresses of war were major vehicles for proliferating drugs. I could be wrong.) While researching that, I first came across a (short) list of common addictions today. I was surprised that the “long” list is sooooo much longer! First, the top 5 in order:

  1. Heroin
  2. Alcohol
  3. Cocaine
  4. Barbiturates
  5. Nicotine

Granted, the last one is not as mind-altering as the other four. By this I mean, people can still “function” for the duration of their life, some even for a “normal” lifetime, before dying. And it is not always the nicotine (via lung, throat and bladder cancer) that took them. But did you notice that marijuana is NOT on the top five list? That surprised me too. Here is the rest of the “short” list in no particular order:

  • Marijuana
  • Morphine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opiates

But which were popular per generation? First, lets look at how long these have been around.

Heroin: According to this article, opium poppy has been in use for thousands of years. Drug trafficking of this item was noted as far back as the early 1900’s.

Alcohol: It is common knowledge that alcohol in various forms (earliest was fermented fruit) has been around nearly as long as man himself. (Noah is spoken of as becoming intoxicated.) Abuse of this has been wrecking family units for hundreds of years.

Cocaine: Although chewed in its natural form (in coca leaves) by South American indigenous peoples, its refinement seems to have also risen about the 1500’s. (See Nicotine)

Barbiturates: According to this article, “Barbituric acid was first synthesized November 27, 1864, by German chemist Adolf von Baeyer.”

Nicotine: According to this article, tobacco was first introduced in Europe in 1559. After WWII it was used as an insecticide. So it's been in wide use for nearly 500 years. It’s health dangers are well-chronicled in the linked article.

In short then, to answer my own question, all the above were around decades, even centuries, before modern warfare and most likely each saw its use depending on availability. The only one I researched from the rest of the list was marijuana. In my recollection, it seemed to have gained popularity during the 1960’s which was my teenage years. I’ve never really given it thought so I was surprised to learn that cannabis goes back to the third millennium before Jesus. I never knowingly used it. I remember two events in my teens. The first was my asking “what’s it like?” Their response was something to the effect of a euphoric feeling, being “spaced out” and others. I told them I wouldn’t want to do that because every time I had surgery for degenerative muscle disease, as I was “put under,” I had that feeling, fought it and hated it. The second event was when I was 18. I went to visit some friends at a party. Someone offered me a cookie. There were cookies and food “all over the place” so it seemed an innocent enough offer. It wasn’t that good (compared to my mother’s baking). I took one bite and threw it out. I was later asked what I thought of it. Turns out it was made with marijuana. I was furious that someone would do that to me but it had no effect on me.

I have always been one that treasured my ability to think and reason. My childhood muscular disease made me appreciate whatever health I had. I’ve made every effort to protect that. Even with alcoholic beverages, I’ve always drank in moderation, not to the point of getting drunk. However, with all the stresses of life today, and the ease with which substances are available, couple that with people feeling a need to “escape,” it doesn’t surprise me that all the items mentioned above and much more are used by people today.

My whole point about the drugs was that it was a form of escape from the harsh realities of life. Perhaps some who actually engaged in drugs did not really have a lot of stress and were just thrill seekers. But from what I hear from common people just trying to make a living, the stresses of the job, the stresses of the commute, the stresses of interpersonal relationships with their mate and children, all these things are what cause people to escape reality.

But drugs are not the only forms of escape. I have observed over the decades that many use television. They plant themselves in front of the “boob tube” and are so completely bored and not mentally stimulated that they fall asleep in front of it. It doesn’t inspire them, it doesn’t motivate them, it doesn’t better their life. Then there are those that use music as an escape. In today’s world, with smartphones loaded up with MP3 files that could play endlessly, and earbuds or headphones that provide “great stereophonic reproduction,” these individuals crank up the sound so loud, it is impossible for them to think about anything, which is exactly what they want. Finally, there are the “gamers.” They come home from work so burnt out and tired, they immediately dive into their alternate worlds. All of these escapes make them less engaged with others and with reality. They learn nothing that will make their lives better able to cope with reality and possibly even make a joy to live in the present.

So speaking to the current, upcoming adults of this world: Do you see your parents as ones who are tuned out and zoned out? What about yourselves? Are you already beginning to repeat their mistakes and poor choices in life? Yes, you may hate school, but is that because you don’t see the practical usefulness of the classes? If so, then set a goal for yourself to learn something that you can use in life later. If nothing else, school has taught you how to read and write (I hope!). Use that to setup your own learning schedule. The internet and the local library can provide you tools to make living in the present a rewarding experience. In short, don’t waste your life with useless things such as drugs, TV, excessive gaming or music. Fill it the rewards of learning something to make you the person you want to be – independent, intelligent, and truly happy.

Coming back to the “were prior generations less intelligent” question, I’d have to say no. The electronics age may be something that many older people today don’t understand, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it was indeed their generation of scientists that invented the technologies we use today. Most people are not aware of this, but computational devices have been around since the early 1800’s. Furthermore, computational sciences have been around at very least since the time of ancient Egypt. Architecture is another avenue of interest. Who hasn’t marveled at the pyramids of Egypt? But it doesn’t stop there. I once read of a huge stone door that was so perfectly balanced that a child could open it. Here’s that article. So it is not that one generation is smarter, it is that we keep building on what our forefathers have learned and passed down.

It is very sad that so many children down through the ages have grown up with little direction or good example. But are those children now perpetuating the same poor standards, excusing themselves and angrily blaming their parents for their situation? In many cases, yes. But I’ve had the honor to meet some who would not accept defeat or bad circumstances to define who they are and who they can become. I have not turned out to be anyone famous and I am FAR from perfect, but with my head held high, I can say that I didn’t give in to the brain-destroying ways of this world. I hope others can rise above the churning waves of social pressures to become someone they themselves can be proud of.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hate What Is Bad

After writing about the growing divisive hatred in this world in my “Brotherhood of Mankind” article, it dawned on me that a good follow-up article would be to consider what the Bible teaches about hatred and separation from wickedness.

To reiterate scriptures used in that article, indeed the direction to those claiming to be Christians, is to view all humans as brothers from the same living God. So what does the Bible teach about hatred? Back in the days that Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish religious leaders of the time had veered considerably off the path of God’s direction. They were teaching strict separation from non-Jews and even instructing the common folks to actually hate foreigners and strangers. Jesus countered such divisive teaching and instructed those who would follow him with the admonition to “love your enemy” and pray for him/them. Another object lesson Jesus gave was his willingness to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well. But what initial direction did Jehovah give the Israelite people that became so extremist in application? At Deut.7:22-26 God is essentially telling his people to desire nothing about the people they were about to conquer. Like a father that wants to protect his child from evil influences and have his child grow up to be a responsible and respectable adult, God strictly warned his “child” (the nation of Israel) not to envy the bullies, the drug dealers, the morally corrupt influences at school and in the neighborhood (the national groups around them). But this wasn’t intended to be applied to those that accepted Jehovah is the true God and the nation of Israel was his people. This, again, was demonstrated in God’s allowing the Gibeonites to live and become servants to Israel AND by his allowing Rahab and her family to live because of the faith she demonstrated in saving the lives of the Israelite spies. There were other instances where a wanton destruction was not sanctioned. Instead “terms of peace” were outlined that, if agreed to, would have spared the lives of Israel’s national enemies.

Today, Christians are guided by principals of love and peace. So is there anything they should hate? Although part of Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures, Psalms says godly people should hate “what is bad.” Notice, it is not who is bad, but what. How does this work out in practice? Those acting contrary to Christian ideals are kindly helped to adjust their ways and thinking but, for our own protection, we hate the action, not the person. In fact, hating our “brother” (fellow human and especially those related to us in faith) condemns us as being hypocrites.

Bottom line then, we are to hate (completely reject, loathe as if it were a food that is disgusting to us) anything that breaks the Bible principles of love and respect for all humans. So again, turning my attention back to the Brotherhood of Mankind essay, the actions, ideas, and divisive emotions promoted by supremacists and others is very hated by God himself. They misrepresent the intent of the Word the Bible and thus slander him by promoting hatred. It is not at all what the Bible promotes.

More on the subject of hate.

Brotherhood of Mankind

"And he made out of one man every nation of men to dwell on the entire surface of the earth." (Acts 17:26) The Bible does NOT promote segregationist ideas. However, a disturbing trend seems to be in the works and it is worldwide. Instead of wholesomely accepting that all humans are related and equal, extremists, segregationists, and elitists all want to sell the divisive idea that a particular race, ethnicity, or nation is better than another. From my 60-plus years in life, I’ve observed that no race has the “corner on the market" of intelligence or on evil conduct. Every race has even perpetrated obscene cruelties against its own people.

Recently, the Catholic Church apologized for its part in the genocide that took place in Rwanda in the 1990’s. I very much remember this because it became well-known that, in contrast to the perpetrators of that slaughter, Jehovah’s Witnesses protected their fellow believers even when doing so threatened their own lives. Even today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not segregated by color, race, or age. Worldwide we are taught to view all mankind as God’s creation. In the local Kingdom Hall that I attend, we have a healthy mix of Caucasians, Hispanics, Blacks, as well as people from Asia and India. With heartfelt honesty we refer to each other as brothers and sisters. No congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses are segregated.

But this is not the case with other religions. Even here in the United States of America, segregated congregations of white Baptists and black Baptists (and other religions) still exist. Then there is the alarming rise of Nazism, KKK, and other white supremacy adherents. They misapply a scripture wherein God commanded the Jews to keep themselves separate from the nations. Either ignorantly or blatantly they disregard the fact that in at least two instances, God allowed another group to join the nation. The first that comes to mind were the Gibeonites. The second, is Rahab. In her case, even though not of Abrahamic descent, she was privileged to come into the lineage leading up the Jesus Christ. Another fact they disregard about that scripture they use is that the admonition was written to Jews, NOT to white supremacists (or any other self-elevated group).

Have you become disillusioned by the hypocrisy in religion and politics today? If you are a person looking for a fellowship of Christians that truly believes AND APPLIES the Bible’s teaching of inclusionary brotherhood, you need look no further than Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Text-to-Speech as Rudimentary Proofreader

In general, most people are challenged to read things they’ve written and not see their own mistakes. Part of this is because in our mind, we “see” what we think we said, but not what we actually wrote. It is usually the little errors like “the the” or thinking we wrote a word when it is not actually there. I am guilty of all these little errors, especially now being challenged with failing health. I’ve read articles by professional writers that advocate writing your final draft, sticking in a drawer until the following day, and then reading it to ensure it is error free. Others recommend sharing your written work with a trusted friend so they can proofread it. These are both viable and reliable methods, but neither of them work for me. The first one doesn’t work because of my failing memory. I can write an article, file it away, and promptly forget I even wrote it. (I only discover it when I check my “unpublished” folder days later.) The latter choice also doesn’t work because I am retired and trying to find a friend that doesn’t already have a busy life of their own and can make time for me just doesn’t work.

So I have a third solution. After going through spell- and grammar-checking in MS-Word, I copy the whole text into a text-to-speech app offered free by Microsoft. (This only works on Windows-based systems, so I do this on my laptop.) Microsoft doesn’t attach a fancy name to this, it is merely SAPI5 TTSAPP. As I listen to what I wrote, I am easily able to capture the missed or double words. I also listen for sentence structure and general thought organization.

I share this because it dawned on me that this app is not common knowledge. I have mentioned it to a couple other bloggers that had never heard of it. Feel free to click on the link in the paragraph above and download the free app. Just one small caution: If you write articles with links in them (as I do), if you paste that into this app, the links will expand and include the URL (http://www.......) which can be very annoying and break your concentration. To overcome this, I first copy the whole text into Notepad (which strips out all the URL info), and then copy the text in Notepad into the text reader.

Addendum: It appears Microsoft now includes this app as a piece of much larger apps. It is no longer available as a stand-alone app. I searched and found one highly-rated app called eSpeak. It is also free but I have no experience with it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Babylon The Great – Who or What Is She?

As with other subjects in the Bible, picking a single scripture and using it as a foundation for formulating a belief can be and usually is misleading and na├»ve at best. I’ve even had a reader of this blog charge me with such an accusation. However, in that particular case it wasn’t that I couldn’t support it with numerous other scriptures, it was that I was making a passing comment, connecting other thoughts together. It wasn’t the crux of my argument.

So before even getting into Babylon the Great (BtG), I thought it worthwhile to consider puzzle pieces throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Specifically: How does the use of figurative prostitution in the Hebrew scriptures help a Bible reader identify BtG in its real form? To answer that, I am going to examine three ways the disobedient Israelites (in one case divided into the southern and northern kingdoms) acted as a prostitute. Those three ways were literally, politically/militarily, and religiously.

LITERALLY: 1 Kings 14:24. This passage mentions male prostitutes being employed in the land of Judah. Female prostitutes were also there. What made this even more disgusting was that they were part of temple worship. Sex perversion was done under the guise of worship.

POLITICALLY: Exodus 23:31-33; Deuteronomy 7:3; Ezra 9:1,2. The foregoing three scriptures demonstrate the prohibition against intermarriage and, In Ezra, how miserably the nation failed to obey. In case you have any doubt that God considered this as adulterous prostitution, consider the symbols God used in portraying the northern and southern kingdoms to two prostitutes named Oholah and Oholibah. (Although these instances mention specifically intermarriage as the issue, back in those times, and even today, marriage between nations is seen as a means of forging political alliances, thus protecting each other’s sovereignties.)

RELIGIOUSLY: 1 Chron.5:25; Deut.7:4; Ezekiel 16:26,28. Besides seeking political and military assistance from foreign nations, the nation of Israel also took up the worship of foreign gods. Sadly, even wise King Solomon sinned very greatly in this regard.

With the above as a consistently demonstrable backdrop, we learn that God’s people can act in ways that God considers to be more than mere unfaithfulness. How about Christianity? On point here, is probably James 4:4. However, so that I’m not charged with finding a needle of thought in a haystack of scripture, look at all these references. (See also this subheading, “How could one become guilty of spiritual adultery?”)

Now, finally, we get into the book of Revelation. (Some I meet still wrongly call this the book of Revelations. It is one revelation containing many visions.) In Jesus’ opening remarks to various congregations, he cited two instances of spiritual adultery. For the most part, the congregations were keeping themselves clean, but there were individuals that were corrupting clean and pure worship.

Babylon The Great

Drunken sexual trysts with the Beast. Sits on many waters and has a kingdom that is worldwide, even over “all the kings of the earth.” Obscene wealth. Seen drinking the blood of “holy ones” and those who witnessed about Jesus.

A wiki article I read indicated that both the Mormons (LDS) and the Seventh Day Adventists identify the Catholic Church as BtG. Although extremely reprehensible, the Catholic Church is a mere component of a much larger religious entity. In short, just as the wiki article mentioned, Jehovah’s Witnesses consider BtG to be “the world empire of false religion.” Let me explain.

Rev.17:10 is pivotal to our understanding. It mentions the succession of kings. These were not concurrent rulerships. They were successive. It is our understanding that these kings date back way before Christ was on earth and hence way before the Catholic Church or any claimed Christian organization. (See these three references: Reference 1, Reference 2, Reference 3)

Indeed, down through time, not only false Christianity, not only wayward Israel, but all forms of pagan worship have persecuted those who wanted to remain loyal to God. However, seeing as BtG is seen as specifically drinking the “blood of the witnesses of Jesus,” indeed the Jews that persecuted converts to Christianity in the first century, along with (since the middle ages) the aggressively cruel treatment of anyone standing up to the Catholic Church’s compromised pagan influences, and indeed in our modern times “mainstream religion” persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses, clearly identifies false Christianity as holding a prominent place in fulfilling the prophecy of Babylon the Great. This doesn’t reduce the guilt that other non-Christian belief systems hold. Truly, as scripture proves, we are all descendants from one man. And even after the flood, the survivors of Noah and his three sons were united in serving the one true God. Their ancestors unfortunately did not hold to that.

Jesus is quoted as saying: “That is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations; for looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, nor do they get the sense of it.” (Matthew 13:13) I have personally noticed the use of illustrations throughout the Bible, so just as Jesus mentioned, he imitates his Father in this regard too. Why didn’t God just come out and say “this means that”? Again, just as Jesus said, these “truths” are something reserved for those who truly demonstrate appreciation for what God has to say. Those not respecting even the rules and principles shown in scripture, are not going to show any interest in the finer things God’s Word has to offer.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Faith in the Blood of Jesus

I read an article that got "the gears of my mind” turning. It mentioned putting "faith in the blood of Jesus," a phrase loosely based on Romans 3:25. (It never ceases to amaze me how I can read a particular scripture, any scripture, over and over again, and yet in a split moment have a lightbulb turn on that never turned on before.)

We all know we should put faith in God and in Jesus. But how in the world do we put faith in the BLOOD of Jesus? That phrase seems to carry a significantly different meaning. So I began to reflect if there was ever a time before where people had to put (or demonstrate) faith in the value of blood. As I researched different websites, one in particular extended the phrase "put faith in the blood of Jesus" to include the words "through actions." Then the lightbulb turned on. The Israelites preparing to exit Egypt were told to splatter blood on their doorposts. Those that put faith in that instruction and acted on it, were spared the life of their firstborn. Those that did not obey lost the life of their firstborn.

For the early Christian congregations, who were predominantly offspring of Abraham, they were under command to remember their deliverance from Egypt in a commemoration known as the Passover. For them to accept that "The Law" (handed down from God through Moses) and related Jewish customs were no longer needed, was a huge issue. Yet Paul mentioned that it was a necessary transformation. At Galatians 3:13 Paul reasons that we must now put faith in Christ, that is, that Christ purchased us (through his sacrificial blood) and thus released Christian converts "from the curse of the Law."

But faith in the blood of Jesus goes beyond removal of a curse. It was a huge breath of fresh air, a "new covenant," just as prophesied at Jer 31:31-34. This will help obedient ones appreciate that true loyalty to God goes beyond perfunctory observations of rituals. It is something deep in the heart of a sincere person. It is no longer "I'm required to obey," but rather "I desire to, I want to obey." God becomes more than some unseen, distant entity. He now becomes "Abba, Father." Romans 8:15-17

So for the early converts to Christianity, putting faith in the blood of Jesus (at least in part) came down to accepting that works of the Mosaic Law would not win them approval with our Creator. Back then, as well as today, trust that his Son, Jesus Christ, provides the ransom and the scriptural instruction we need to live a truly godly life is what is paramount for all to realize.

(I do not intend this essay to be an exhaustive consideration of the meaning of our putting “faith in the blood of Jesus.” The intent here was to provide a snippet of thought in appreciation that putting faith in anything requires demonstrable action.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Good Bye Good Riddance Samsung

Before I start my article, I want to say I didn’t have any issue with the original Note 7 I owned nor with its replacement, which I still own. The one and only reason I returned the original was because my wife kept urging me to return it. At one point (regarding the original) she said to me: “How many warnings do you need!? The news media is saying to ditch it; Samsung has told everyone to immediately power it down and return it; your carrier has sent you texts along that line; even governmental agencies are urging people to get rid of it.”

My main reason for keeping it isn’t (wasn’t) customer loyalty. Although I’ve been a user of Samsung products for at very least six years now (in fact, presently I own the Note Pro 12.2 (tablet) and my wife (under my guidance) has the S5 and the Galaxy Tab S2 (tablet)), my main reason was that I hate all the fallout of having to reconfigure, reinstall, re-customize my phone. I have around 200 apps and it takes days to get my CLIP (Communications, Life-Management, Information Portal) (aka phone) back in working order.

Now, Samsung claimed that the issue was the battery in the original Note 7. From the burn patterns on the replacement Note 7’s, it also appears to be battery related. However, one anonymous commenter on one of the many phone-focused websites I read, boisterously insisted it was never the battery in the first place. He (she) claimed it was actually the circuitry inside the phone that was supposed to control the battery’s charging. Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. One thing I am certain of, this is not the first Note-series device that Samsung has made. Most of the technology already existed in the S7 and S7-Edge. There is nothing significantly different about the S7 and the Note 7. Not even the IRIS scanner nor the S-Pen and related software BECAUSE they are inconsequential in considering the issue of burning devices.

Besides the technical issues then, what else went wrong here. Most likely it was Samsung’s greed to be first to market, before the release of the iPhone7. They rushed production, probably including sub-par components made with sub-par standards. (I have no proof of this claim, it is just a conclusion based, again, on the fact that this was the 6th iteration of the Note-series device and that it essentially contains the innards and “design language” of the S7-Edge.) The Note 7’s failure is what happens when profit and ego overshadow quality manufacturing and good reputation.

So where do I personally go from here? Samsung has seriously, negatively, and permanently affected my trust in them. And it is not based solely on this event. First, Samsung was criticized for dropping the Action Memo app from the Note 7. It was probably the singularly most useful app that Samsung has ever made. Samsung promised to bring it back toward the end of September 2016. It is now mid October 2016 and it was NOT deployed. They lied. Second, the COO and President of Samsung Electronics America said that Samsung planned on regaining their loyal base “through a series of unprecedented actions.” The only unprecedented actions I’ve seen so far are 1) deploying a second round of defective devices, 2) initial denial of the 2nd issue (they’ve since acknowledged it), 3) no compensation for the trouble they’ve caused beyond a refund. What compensation?

My time is way too valuable to have to constantly be replacing phones. In a mere two months I have gone from the Note 3 to the Note 7, to an interim S7-Edge, to a replacement Note 7. In each case I had numerous hiccups with software issues. Samsung’s Smart Switch app is a piece of junk.

So I’ve noticed in the past several years, after just now reflecting on my experiences, that I’m actually fed up with Samsung. Year after year they have disappointed me. At present, I am waiting on the LG V20 to arrive (sometime this month). I am seriously thinking of buying it even though I love Samsung’s display. I am one of the few that actually love Samsung’s Android overlay (TouchWiz). But I can no longer tolerate Samsung’s ignoring the customers, poor customer service, and now catastrophic failure of the flagship device. Another reason that I am seriously considering ditching the replacement Note 7 is that neither Samsung nor the carriers will probably give any support for fixes, security updates, or OS upgrades to the Note 7 seeing as it is technically an abandoned, orphaned device. (In my experience, even with supported devices, Samsung typically only provides upgrades for one year. Why? Even Apple and Microsoft provide updates for the life of the device. Clearly Samsung has never really cared about customer support.)

Since I am no one of any consequence to Samsung, I don’t expect any attempt on their part to win me back. That’s fine.