FamilySearch Indexing: productive work with downtime

May 28, 2008 at 12:30 am (Amusement, Personal)

I recently discovered something that I thought was really cool: FamilySearch Indexing (hereinafter “FSI”).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went around the world and scanned records, such as censuses and birth records and death records. The problem is that the images available are often of handwritten documents, which do not lend very well to converting them into computerized storage mechanisms. And that is where FSI comes in.

A volunteer signs up and downloads a program. He or she goes through tutorials. Then he/she opens up the program and it downloads batches. One may either download a batch from a project one chooses or one can download batches according to priority. One then transfers the information (usually page number, line number, family number, surname, first name, age, sex, race, place of birth) into the fields below the image. Then one allows the program to check for potential errors, and when that’s done, the batch is sent. Done! And then on to the next batch. One has to have internet access while the program is open, but this only to download and send batches. One can work on the batches without Internet connection active. (One neat thing is if one’s working with an Internet connection, one can save the work done thus far on the computer (in FSI’s program) and on FSI’s servers. Then, when one opens the FSI program on the original computer or on any other computer where FSI’s program is installed, the program will download the latest version of one’s work. Thus, I can do work at the office and then complete it at home.)

It takes minutes, really. I began a week ago and have already done 895 names. Most of the images are very readable.

All of this is free and of no obligation.

What does this accomplish? Simple: when a census’s information is complete (that is, all the information has been “indexed”), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will make that information (that is, the collected information from that census) available on FamilySearch for free, so that others may do their family history work. It cannot publish this information if the information hasn’t been indexed. Right now, the information is on scanned pages, just waiting to be indexed and released to the world.

This work will benefit the countless people who do their family history, for whatever reason. Anyone can join this endeavor.

For more information, go to: http://www.familysearchindexing.org/

You can also read this blogpost:
http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/01/familysearch-in.html

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Thank you, heroes

May 26, 2008 at 12:30 am (Military, The United States)

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

America the Beautiful (emphasis added)

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful, for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
‘Til all success be nobleness, and ev’ry gain divine!

O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

Have a happy Memorial Day. Let us all take some time to thank and be thankful for all those who gave their lives for our freedom.

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The purpose of states

May 19, 2008 at 6:08 pm (International community, Leftist idiocy, The Left, The Rest, The United States, US Government)

What is the purpose of a state? I believe this is an important question, and one which many in the West, sadly, seem to be unaware of.

States came into existence to help protect and further the interests of the people over which it presided. The leaders of states, or whatever polity may exist, were usually skilled in warfare in order to protect the resources of the state and its people and to be able to appropriate the resources of other states (and their people) for the leader’s state and its people. States also existed to preserve internal harmony and stability by dictating the people’s duties and dealing with internal issues (crime, creation of law, executing and enforcing law, punishment, deterrence, etc.).

The point is that the state came into existence to serve the interests of the state and its people for the advancement and maintenance of the people thereof. Read the rest of this entry »

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Same-sex Marriage: It’s Going to Be a Long Fight

May 15, 2008 at 6:21 pm (News)

From DrewM. at Ace’s, “BREAKING: California Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban”.

So, the California Supreme Court made a decision that bolstered same-sex marriage and shot down efforts by more conservative/traditional people to limit marriage to a man and a woman.

Now, I’m not going to get into this issue here, but I do want to point something out.

Some people, particularly on the libertarian side, simply want the State (as in “government”) to simply withdraw from marriage all together. They would like to see marriage as a private contract with no interference from the State. This will equalize couples and singles as well as depriving the major impetus of activists (for and against same-sex marriage) by essentially making it a moot point. If the State has no involvement, why agitate for legislation for or against it?

And I agree. I think that we would benefit ourselves and all of society, present and future, by handing marriage to society, making it a private endeavor, and kicking the State out of the issue.

But there’s a small problem. See, states have been involved in marriage for millennia. Indeed, family law is perhaps one of the oldest forms of law. Society, through states and laws and governments and judges and authorities, have regulated, recognized, and administered marriages since time immemorial. Marriage is so important that almost every single state has had a hand in it.

So, what does this mean? This means that people for and against same-sex marriage are going to be locked in battle for decades. It’s not going to go away.

And the issue cannot be decided definitively because the other side will do everything to challenge whatever has been decided and so things will always remain in flux to some degree.

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What is Torah?

May 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm (Hebrew, Judaism, Religion)

Inspired by a question asked by BrewFan, I believe, in the IB thread: “Isaiah Manuscript On Display”.

Learning about Judaism as understood by Orthodox (and especially ultra-Orthodox, and even more especially haredi ultra-Orthodox) is very difficult because of specialized language and unspoken assumptions. For example, for the furthest right on the Judaism spectrum (which was normative until the rise of Reform and Conservative Judaism), “Torah” (literally “Law”) referred to:
1. The Pentateuch (also known as the Five Book of Moses, specifically the books known to English-speaking people as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and known in Hebrew as B’reshis (In-the-Beginning), Shemos (Names), Vayiqra (And-He-Called), B’midbar (In-the-Wilderness), and Devarim (Words)); or
2. The Law as written (Torah she bi-khtav, Torah that is written) in the scrolls (Sifrei Torah) and as passed down orally (Torah she be-al-peh, Torah that is from the mouth) in Talmud (Mishnah and Gemara).

Thus, Torah could refer to a few books from the Hebrew Bible or to the entire corpus of authoritative literature (the entire Hebrew Bible and the Talmud), which comprises a lot of written material. If one includes the Midrashim, as most on the far right of the Judaism spectrum do, then “Torah” comprises a few hundred books.

The importance of the non-Biblical literature should not be underestimated.

A criticism I have read and heard a number of times during my studies of Judaism, lodged against ultra-Orthodox Jews, is that they do not study and are little aware of the Hebrew Bible. To a degree, this is true. The Hebrew Bible is studied insofar as the weekly portions (singular: parshah, plural: parshiyos) are read and studied. Nevertheless, even the weekly portions are not extensively studied in such great contextual depth as other Jews and non-Jews are wont to do. Instead, when ultra-Orthodox refer to “studying Torah”, they usually mean studying Talmud or Midrashim. This is because it is believed that the words of the Written Torah (the Hebrew Bible) are explained authoritatively and practically by the extra-Biblical authorities, which comprise the Oral Torah. Thus, although not part of the scrolls, these books and commentaries are just as authoritative as the part of Torah written on scrolls. Indeed, a common assumption is that if one studies the Written Torah, one must study the corresponding elements of the Oral Torah in order to grasp what it’s talking about, while if one studies the Oral Torah (which quotes and refers to the Written Torah), one need not bother with the Written Torah. It is as if the Written Torah is just the framework for the Oral Torah.

And no cannot discount the Oral Torah. Let us use an example. Torah says (Deuteronomy 6:8-9):

Uqshartom l’os al yodekho, v’hoyu l’totofos bein eineikho. Ukhsavtom al-m’zuzos beisekho uvish’oreikho.

Translated as (KJV):

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Or as (Artscroll):

Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tefillin between your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

A more literal translation would be:

And bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let it by totofos between your eyes. And write it on the post of your house and upon your gates.

What on earth does this mean and, more importantly, how is it implemented? While the Written Torah provides no details whatsoever, the Oral Torah has pages and pages of details, from how it is to be done, from what materials, how those materials are to be prepared, what requirements makes an item for use in this endeavor valid and invalid, and so on. It is nothing short of amazing that from a few words from the Written Torah, we get the intricate ritual items known as tefillin (and, frankly, unless one has studied what tefillin are and what rules are behind their construction and use, it is not possible to appreciate how intricate and detailed this is). The point being that the Oral Torah fills in the very, very many blanks left by the Written Torah.

Modern-day Judaism, even the far left forms, are all a product of Talmudic Judaism (or, properly, Rabbinic Judaism, as the Rabbis created Talmud).
Pirqei Avos says in its very first verse:

Moshe qibeil Toro mi-Sinoy, umsoroh li-Hoshua’, vi-Hoshua’ lizqeinim, uzqeinim linviim, unviim m’soruoh l’anshei kh’neses hagedolo.

Which means:

Moses received Torah from Sinai, and he passed it on to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly (Sanhedrin).

As a bit of trivia, the rest of the verse says:

Heim omru sh’losho d’vorim: hevu m’sunim badin, v’haamidu talmidim harbei, vaasu s’yog latoro.

Which means:

They say three things: Be generous in justice, accumulate many students, and make a fence around Torah.

S’yog la-Toro refers to the practice of creating rules around key rules so that the key rules will not be violated. Thus, it is forbidden to walk on grass on Shabbos because doing so might push a seed into the soil, thereby planting a seed, and planting is forbidden as active/creative work on Shabbos.

So if you ask a Jew, “What is Torah?” the answer depends on many things, and in the end it may refer to a few books from the Hebrew Bible or to a veritable library, all of which contains the revelation of God as passed down successively through generations of experts and teachers known as the Sages. The Torah inked on the scrolls is the same as the Torah given by God to Moses orally (which he passed down, as Pirqei Avos demonstrates) and passed down to Jews today, now also in written form (the volumes of Talmud and Midrashim).

Now, “Torah” literally means “law” but specifically to authoritative law or the sources of Jewish law (the Written and Oral Toros). It is from Torah that Jewish law (“halakha”) is derived. And so “Torah” refers to a more abstract notion while “halakha” refers to specific examples. Thus, when explaining the origin and justification of why the straps (“retzuos”) of the tefillin have to be black, the response is “halakha l’Moshe mi-Sinai” (“the law given to Moses from Sinai”, in other words it was revealed as is without any explanation or extrapolation) rather than “Torah l’Moshe mi-Sinai”.

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Of Prestige

May 14, 2008 at 12:30 am (Uncategorized)

I would like to talk today about “prestige” as it exists in international relations.
 
“Prestige” refers to the perception by the international community and the members thereof, communally as well as individually, of the abilities, capabilities, and tendencies of an actor in the international state system. That is, it deals with what a state can do, what it is likely to do, and how it is poised to succeed or fail. Prestige is difficult to build up but it is absolutely essential in a state’s arsenal when dealing with other states. Read the rest of this entry »

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Equality of the Third World with the West

May 12, 2008 at 1:18 pm (International community, The Rest, The West)

I have always been mystified by people who seem to want to equalize the West and the Third World.

I’ve lived in the Third World. I know what it’s like. I know what Third World people are like. I know the utter despair and hopelessness that abounds simply because the hurdles to move forward are so immense. And so I truly wonder how anyone can rationally or while thinking clearly ever even come up with the notion that somehow or somewhere or somewhen the West and the Third World are equal. They most certainly are not.

Sure, plenty of people will accuse us of saying that the West is superior. But that is not a value judgment as much as it is a statement of fact. And facts are facts, whether they are unpleasant or not, and whether they fit a person’s ideology of the world or not.

And this equality does not do the Third World any favors. Every time we repeat the canard that we’re equal, the Third World loses incentives to improve. Or, rather, the will and drive within the Third World diminishes because what’s the use putting in all that effort if they’re equal to us? No, they will only pick up if they feel they need to catch up.

I mean, just look at the facts of the situation. If these countries improved themselves, there’d be greater prosperity and stability within each such country, provided and perpetuated by each country, without the people having the emigrate elsewhere. This will do nothing but spread prosperity and success to more people to more areas of the world.

Of course, one group of people that simply demands the Third World’s equality with the West are the Third World’s leaders, who go out of their way to blame all of their problems, regardless what it may be, on the West. Since it’s all the West’s fault, the West ought to pay up and flush these suffering pools of darkness with cash and more cash. If these people keep getting money without having to do anything, why should they put in the effort to build themselves up? Why give up on this free ride? They, thus, have little incentive to move forward. And all because of Western guilt (or the Third World’s success in guilt-tripping the West) for imaginary wrongs and imaginary responsibility.

The best thing we can do is affirm, strongly, that we, the First World, are better and superior, and that others ought to work up to our standard of living. Acknowledge the reality, and let the consequences follow. We should help, but not by throwing money at them.

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Warriors of the West: then and now

May 9, 2008 at 12:45 am (Europe, History, Islamism, The United States, World War III)

Some of the men who played an instrumental rôle in Europe’s long struggle against Islamic imperialism were:
Otho de Lagery, Pope Urban II
Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles Martel, Mayor of the Palace and Duke of the Franks
Vladislav III Dracula Ţepeş, Prince of Wallachia
Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania

And so it seems strange that whereas the reaction of Europeans back then was to form alliances and enter into oaths to protect Christian Europe from the Turks, and to fight wars to drive out (if not stop) the Turks, the reaction of today’s Europeans is to shrug and continue to chastise America.

But this would be to simplify things perhaps too much. What is interesting is Vladislav (often shortened to “Vlad”) III Dracula. His father was inducted into the Order of the Dragon created by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to protect Europe from the Islamic imperialists. In recognition of this, Vlad obtained the surname of “Dracul” (“dragon” in Romanian). His son, Vlad III, would be surnamed “Dracula” which means “(son) of the Dragon”. Vlad III was not officially a part of the Order of the Dragon, but Vlad III did much more against the Turks and for Europe than his father did. His father backed out of his oath to fight the Turks when they threatened Europe. But Vlad III Dracula did fight the Turks. So European ambivalence seems to run far back.

But then the war back then was quite clear and obvious: the Islamic empires soldiers were galloping across the fields with their horses, scimitars, and banners. There is no such activity now. Rather than obtaining influence over the West through political annexation, many Muslims are attempting to annex the West through sophistry and demographics.

But on that end, I do not entirely buy the notion that the West is inevitably doomed. Europe, maybe. They seem to have lost the will to perpetuate their own cultures, which would doom them to extinction with or without foreigners in their midst. But Americans cling to their culture and peculiar notions, regardless how much they cheer on the exotic foreigners. As long as it doesn’t change the way Americans do things the American way, they can’t be bothered. Furthermore, although more and more people are choosing to have fewer children, there are still a number of groups that continue to have many children (Hispanics, Catholics, Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox Jews come to mind).

Of course, the difference between Vlad Dracul, who paid tribute to the Ottoman sultan and gave over to the sultan two of his sons as hostages, and Vlad III Dracula, Vlad Dracul’s son, was that Vlad III Dracula know first hand what the enemy was like, having been held hostage by them. He was filled with zeal to escape the Turks, oust the Turks from his lands, and kick the Turks out of Europe. He had many successes but in the end was betrayed by his own people…who capitulated to the Turks.

Vlad III Dracula – as well as Emperor Sigismund, Pope Urban II, Charles Martel, and King Jan III Sobieski – all knew that we have to put in effort to remain free. Rather than joining alliances and riding off on horses, we can put in effort by teaching our own people about our civilization and instill in them a love and pride for it.

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Role of money

May 2, 2008 at 12:30 am (Words of wisdom)

Let us consider a few wise words written by Br. Hugh W. Nibley, an intellectual giant among Latter-day Saints (italics, capitals, et cetera in original):

In our limited time here, what are we going to think about? That is the all-important question. We’ve been assured that it is not too early to start thinking about things of the eternities. In fact, Latter-day Saints should be taking rapid strides toward setting up that eternal celestial order which the Church must embody to be acceptable to God. Also, we are repeatedly instructed regarding things we should not think about. I would pass by this negative thing lightly, but the scriptures are explicit, outspoken, and emphatic in this matter; and whenever anyone begins to talk about serious matters at the BYU, inevitably someone says, “I would like to spend my time thinking about such things and studying them, but I cannot afford the luxury. I have to think about the really important business of life, which is making a living.” This is the withering effect of the intimidating challenge thrown out to all of us from childhood: “Do you have any money?” with its absolute declaration of policy and principle: “You can have anything in this world for money!” and its paralyzing corollary: “Without it, you can have NOTHING!” I do not have to tell you where that philosophy came from. Somebody is out to “decoy…[our] minds,” to use Brigham Young’s expression, from the things we should be thinking about to those we should not care about at all.

(Hugh Nibley. “Zeal Without Knowledge.” Approaching Zion (ed. Don E. Norton). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989, p. 76.)

Earning a living is a good thing indeed. And we need to in order to provide for our families. Indeed, it is written: “And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacon 2:19).

But: “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10a).

The key issue is a matter of priority and goals. Money for its sake should never be pursued, only to do good. And in any case it should not detract us from our spiritual responsibilities or our spiritual potential.

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