Sunday, June 30, 2013

This I believe

A month or so ago I got into why I believe, but I didn't really talk at all about what I believe.  I also found out (via the handy search function) that I've only mentioned 'God' once in my entire blog, which was in said post.  Considering the God and religion are sort of a big deal in my life, that seems odd.  So I decided to rectify that.  Also, I'm a sucker for people inviting me to do stuff (really, just try!  If it's not bad, I'll probably do it).  So, in true NPR style, 

This I believe: 

I believe in people
People are amazing.  They are good and loving and heroic and imperfect and willing to reach out and help someone because that is what we do.  The world may be horrific at times, and people are imperfect always, but I have never met someone without value and a deep longing for something great, and a willingness to help those the love.  

I believe in fun
Life is sort of incredible, isn't it?  Sure I'm a privileged American who can set off on adventures at the drop of a hat, but I think life should be profoundly enjoyable.  The fact that so many people don't understand that is a tragedy, the fact that so many people don't have the opportunity to enjoy life is an outrage.  I think my blog has shown my thoughts on a happy life quite clearly, so I'll leave it at that.  

I believe in hope
I'm not really sure what to say about this, only that I think hope is our last, best defense against a horrible life.  It is the "anchor of our souls".  But it's also the sail: it allows us to keep moving towards something great and hold on when life is something awful.  Things will be wonderful, I really believe they will.  

I believe in Truth
Even after all my questions, all my doubts, all the ways you can rationalize it and explain it, I believe that there is Truth, with a capital T.  And I think that this truth is attainable to us as humans.  The pursuit of truth is the purpose of the majority of what I do in my life.  

I believe in God
I really, truly do.  There aren't a lot of things in life I can say from personal experience, but I can say from personal experience that there is more to life than what we see: That God exists.  You may chalk it up to coincidence, fallacy, or psychology, but I have felt the love of God in my life.  I have received answers to my questions, I have been protected from danger, in more ways than can fit succinctly in this post.  I believe in Jesus Christ, not just as a man but as a Savior and a source of peace.  I have felt great comfort in times of great trials, and great peace after the burden of regret and guilt.  God is more than a fable or a tradition, He lives, in that he feels and cares and acts and loves each of us.  I believe that because I've felt it and seen it in my life, and it's one of the last things I can fall back on, when everything else fails.

I believe in revelation
I think everyone can know for themselves. Not just what is true but also what they should do in life, the answers to their questions and direction in their decisions.  I think religion is a profoundly personal endeavor for Truth, and I believe that there is one source of Truth, and that if anyone really searches they will end up at the same place, even if the path is a bit different for each person.  I do believe in my church, and I believe it's True.  By this I don't believe it's perfect in every way, and I don't think it's the only place to come close to God, or be good, or find purpose.  I believe it's the best place to find those things, and that it's God's.  It may seem deeply conceited to say that there is one church that is comparatively more true, and that I'm a member of it, and it may sound insane to believe that God can talk to us, but that's what all my experiences have led me to believe.  You're welcome to discover that for yourself, I'll talk to you about it, and I spent two years learning not to try to convince people of it. All this to say, I think we can find answers from God if we look.  If I didn't, I doubt I'd be in any church.  

I believe in science.
I really, truly do.  I think that science is the very best way to understand how the world works.  I don't think the truths of science and religion are of different value, only of different method.  I believe in evolution and plate tectonics and fossils and dinosaurs, and that's never been a big conflict for me.  I believe God created the earth, and if you want to know how, science is the place to look.  A god who gave us such a magnificent ability for reason and deduction would expect us to use that, not to ignore it.  I think really understanding the world brings us closer to understanding God, and those who reject science based on perceived conflicts do Him and themselves a disservice 
Einstein said,
"every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. The pursuit of science leads therefore to a religious feeling of a special kind, which differs essentially from the religiosity of more naive people."  

It bothers me when people quote famous people to lend ethos to statements with which said persons would disagree, so it's worth noting that Einstein was not a huge fan of organized religion, and I think it would be disingenuous to posthumously quote him as one. Although I imagine Einstein would disagree with my belief in a personal and active God, he describes quite nicely my feeling in regards to the connection between science and religion.  

While on the subject of Einstein, turns out he also said this: 

"If one purges the Judaism of the Prophets and Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it of all subsequent additions, especially those of the priests, one is left with a teaching which is capable of curing all the social ills of humanity."

That's the fundamental idea behind the LDS church.  By Einstein. And that's pretty cool, but again, as much as I love him, I doubt Einstein would be Mormon if he were around.  I couldn't find any reliable quotes by Einstein on the LDS church, so I'm not sure how he felt.  Anyway I digress.  

I believe that there are answers to every question
There is no place for deliberate ignorance in religion or science.  There are things we do not yet know, and coming to terms with that is necessary to function in either.  There might be things that we won't know in our lives, but given enough time and determination I think every question can be answered, in one way or another.  I think the pursuit of these answers is one of the most worthy endeavors in life.  I don't think it's the most worth endeavor.

I believe in Love ( doo do do do doooo   ) 
More than truth, I think people are the most important thing in life.  I have known wonderful people who have wholesome lives without caring about God.  I have never know a wonderful or wholesome person who didn't care about people, and while the former may be sad, the latter is dangerous and depressing.  I believe that everyone if they really want can find Love in this life, and I think that's the best pursuit there is.  Love, like higher truth, can be explained as chemical and psychological and socially constructed, but I don't think that makes it any less real or worthwhile.  Both English and Portuguese lack the proper descriptive ability to express all the different ideas in love, which I suppose is ok because it's led to some of the richest literature tradition around (why write a poem about romantic love if there's a word that describes is as separate for what one feels for a puppy?)  This is not the place to talk all about love, but I believe that Love is the source and object of all true religious belief.

So that's what I believe.  I've never been the most outspoken when it comes to my beliefs, probably from some combination of humility, fear, and not wanting to offend or impose, but if you came all this way, and you're still curious, ask me about it, this isn't really an exhaustive list anyway.  It's been a long time since I've gone around knocking on doors trying to find people willing to listen to me about my beliefs, but I do still like talking about them.

My blog has really taken a turn for the reflective and profound.  Maybe I can step back a bit and talk about all the super fun things that are going on.  Maybe I can do that another day.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An eclectic mash-up of my eclectic thoughts:

At the moment, if I could be a superhero, I would like to be the Batman of insurance; fighting injustice, punishing ill doers, eliminating corrupt and inefficient institutions, and threatening people who park illegally in bike lanes on snowy nights.  Actually that last one still stands:  Don't park illegally in bike lanes.  I will hunt you down and dent your car, kamikaze style.

Having summer free is substantially less fun if the majority of people you want to spend summer with are always busy working or taking classes.  Having summer free is substantially more fun than being always busy working or taking classes.

Sometimes, the world has a way of encouraging procrastination, like when you put off calling the ambulance billing lady for an hour while reading xkcd because $1000 is scary, and then it turns out she's out of town until tuesday.

And there's this.  Read into it as you will.

Note: Although you're still free to take it as you will, I just want
clarify that this isn't a cryptic revelation that I'm dating someone.
People were jumping to conclusions, sorry for the misunderstanding
You may now carry on with your life. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why didn't I concur?

So, I wanted to write down my recent adventures in check fraud, because that seems fun.  I think this would be best explained with the text conversation:

Mysterious Friend: Hi, Do you still have Upright Piano available for sale?
Me: Yes indeed
Mysterious Friend: I will be paying with check, and have my picker come for the pickup cos presently not in state..  [at this point I started to be suspicious, it only took 2 texts]
Me: Ok, do you definitely want it then?
Mysterious Friend: Yeah, But i will need some information to mail the check out
Me: Hm, you can imagine I'm just a little wary of giving m piano away to someone while I'm waiting for a check from another state.  Do you have PayPal, or some other way to transfer the money?  Alternatively, i could just hold onto the piano until I get the check.
Mysterious Friend: You will hold the piano till you get the check and clear it..  [that seemed awfully bossy, but whatever
Me: Cool, I can do that.  You want my address? I can mark it as sold.
Mysterious Customer: I need you [so tender] Full Name: address: city: state: zip code [I see you're a fan of the colon]
Me: My address [In retrospect, perhaps giving my address to suspicious people isn't the best idea, but such is the nature of KSL classifieds.
Mysterious Customer: How am i paying and i will want you to consider it sold
Me: Well, PayPal would be best, but if you can't, I can take a check, made out and sent to me.  It's $300
Mysterious Customer: Okay, I will get back to you with the tracking number as soon as the check is mail out to you
Me: Cool thanks, I'll mark it as sold.
Mysterious Customer: Alright Thanks you so much.

A couple days pass....

Mysterious Customer: Good Morning, how are you doing I just want to update you regarding the check.. It will be mail out today.. Am sorry for the delay.
Me: No problem, thanks for the update.  I'll let you know when it rrives and depoited and you can come get your piano.  Have a good day!

another few days

Mysterious Customer: Good Morning, I am really sorry for the delay in the check but it ave been mail out this morning with USPS courier with USPS tracking
Me:     [I was busy with life, I didn't get back to him within 24 hours]

Mysterious Customer: Hello, You never get back to me to know if you get the tracking number correctly or not
Me: Hey, sorry!  I hadn't gotten around to checking.  I just looked, it's working.  Thanks.  I'll let you know when I get it.

-time passes, next day I check the tracking number and it says it's out for delivery.  Excited, I go to check my mail and see, to my elation, a usps envelope.  I anxiously tear it open, excited for my $300 and liberation from this blasted piano and see, to my surprise, a check for $1970.

Does it still count at 6 figures if two of the figures are cents?
At first I assumed there must be some mistake, maybe this was a different check that was for some scholarship I was waiting for (I'm not) or something along those lines.  But no, it was clearly the right check, the tracking number matched up and everything.  At this point I was pretty suspicious, but I didn't see how this could go poorly for me, after all, it wasn't my money, even if it were a scam, I didn't see the end game.   It seemed like a really bad scam that gives me a free $1700 at the expense of some chinese christians.  So I texted him:

Me: So the check arrived today, but you overpaid by about $1700, was that intentional?
"Joseph Mark":  <no response>

I assume this must be a pretty critical point in the check cashing scheme, since obviously people will be suspicious, and they're holding all the cards.  I could just cash the check and keep it.  That would be fun.  It would take skill and great tact, rhetoric even, to calm my suspicious, and convince me to hand over all that money.  Luckily, today "Joseph" broke out his persuasive hat:

sent at 5:36 AM the day after (today)
"Joseph Mark": Hi, Sorry for my late update..have been very busy, [I don't understand the double period, is it supposed to be some sort of mini elipses?] i just confirm the check ave been delivered to you, i'll want you to go ahead and deposit the check and it will clear ur acct after 24hr and deduct ur asking price with addition $50 for holding d item down for me and the rest will be send to my picker.

So at this point, I have a lot of questions.  What is a picker anyway?  This is obviously a fraud, so what should I do now?  Also, when trying to defraud a christian mission of $2000, is the extra $50 convenience fee really effective?  I was totally going to call the cops, but he threw in an extra $50.  I should have bartered with him: "Look you're obviously trying to scam some mission, but split the check 50/50 and I won't even make you pretend to pick up the piano.".  Sadly, things played out as follows:

8:40 "Joseph Mark": Good Morning, Did you get my text?   [Ironically, this text saved me from being late for work, since I had somehow not woken up with my alarm or something.  It was a strange blessing from a criminal, but since I was already running late and not sure how to respond, I didn't yet]

He called at about 10, my phone was off

11:57 "Joseph Mark": Why are you not picking my call? [I do somewhat regret never having talked to him in person, I'm curious to know what he sounds like.  Is he intelligent, illiterate, asian? I'll never know.]
Me: Sorry, work until later this afternoon, I'll get back to you. [I was at work, but I also wasn't sure what to do.  I didn't want him to get spooked and run off and miss my chance at an elaborate sting operation]
"Joseph Mark": Did you have the check deposited?
Me: Not yet, I didn't have time before the bank closed yesterday [that's true], today might not happen, tomorrow I should have time to take care of it if I don't today [that's also true, although by take care of it I meant go to wells fargo and the police for advice, and possible sting operation planning]
"Joseph Mark": Oh... I guess if you can get the check deposit today and the money will be available on your account tomorrow so my mover can come by
Me: Yeah, I'll see what I can do, but if not, I'm free next week, just whenever works for him.  [see how I draw him in, making me sound less suspicious]
"Joseph Mark": Or should I provide you the mover information to have the rest funds send to him cos he ave some other items to pick for me somewhere else... So he can continue with that and you cash the check at any available time of yours   [This just seems desperate.  I obviously wasn't going to send money to the mover before the check cleared, and now it sounds like I was expected to send the money to the mover, which meant he wouldn't even take the piano.  That was the whole point!  I did, however, notice that he's mastered the three dot ellipsis. ]
Me: Well, I'll have to get the money before I could send it to him.  I don't have $1700 just lieing [sic] around. By the way, is he going to bring people?  It's a heavy piano, I don't think he'll be able to do it alone
Me: But yeah, if I have time I'd like to take care of it today, I'm tired of the piano taking up space, and I could use the money   [again, reeling him in...]
"Joseph Mark": Sure, he will come with is worker... Just try and get the check deposit today... So you can have the money in your account soon... It won't take you more then 10min to do that.  [a little pushy there at the end, but now that he's mastered the ellipsis he's really going to town.  He sounds downright reticent]
Me: Yeah, I'll let you know when it's done
"Joseph Mark": Thank for the understanding  [only one thank.  That's harsh]

So at this point i swung by the bank and told them, they confirmed that it was a fraud, but didn't seem too keen on the elaborate heist.  I happened to have left the check at home, so after work my roommate and I went by the police station and told them.  They also weren't too excited for the heist (having already tried) but appreciated the information and that I hadn't cashed the check.  They took my number, the check and the envelope and filed it away.  Apparently there's been a bunch of KSL check fraud recently, the lady at the counter next to me happened to have had the same thing happen, as had a friend of a friend of mine.

At this point, I wanted to choose my words carefully.  Obviously I had to tell him the check didn't clear, but I didn't want to lose my opportunity to mess with a criminal.  Also the package was sent from detroit, and he had my full name and address and phone number, so I didn't want to mess with him to the point that he wanted to retaliate.  I chose my words judiciously to say the least:

Me: Hey, so I went to the bank, but they wouldn't cash the check.  [this is true. First of all, they're on the lookout for this sort of thing right now, but I also told them the whole situation from the start, which had a lot to do with their refusal to cashing the check.]  But I have wells Fargo also, do you want to just transfer me the money through wells Fargo?  It's free, and we wouldn't have to wait for postage.  Then your guy could come pick up the piano.
"Joseph Mark": <no response...>

So that's where we're at.  I don't expect him to respond.  I should have gone for the gold and asked to be in on future scams, or just made fun of him.  I suppose I still could.  Or you could, I have his phone number after all.

I've learned a lot in this ordeal.  First it takes a long time to transcribe an entire text conversation to blogger.  Second, criminals are dumb, and must think other people are really really dumb, which to a certain extent they must be, since obviously this is working enough to keep trying.  Third, I would make a much better criminal.  I would just buy something small with nearly the exact value of the check, pay for it, and then resell it elsewhere.  I think it would be a much more successful scam.  Although it might require actual interaction, which I suppose comes with a lot more risk.  I'll probably just stick to legitimate enterprises.