Global Constant
Steve Nay's ramblings

An Eclectic Human

Last month I started writing a newsletter called An Eclectic Human.

It’s a place to talk about community, philosophy, and being a better human. But I’m not what makes it interesting. I share something each week that I’ve been thinking about or trying in my life, and my lovely readers (including, perhaps, you) write back and discuss the topic. Then the following week everyone gets to read the thoughts of the other community members.

So far, we’ve talked about books and music we love, how to communicate with compassion, what it means to remember the past and why it’s sometimes better to forget, and much more. I’ve learned a lot so far, and I think you might enjoy it too.

Would you like to join us on this journey? Just subscribe below. Newsletters go out on Thursdays.

An Eclectic Human

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17:05

He sits nestled between the window and two harried businessmen,
Sunk into an uncomfortable beige chair
One foot planted atop the heating vent on the wall
A half-read book open in his lap,
Perused only by shut eyelids.

The salesman across the aisle is closing the day’s last deal
Which transpires here because
The children expect him at 6.
The woman behind him animatedly explicates impending adventures
      to her seat-mate.
And a man with serene but exhausted comportment
Gazes fondly, silently
At no one in particular.

But our friend, couched in the warm sunlight of his wall of glass
Is napping insistently,
Head bobbing up and down, up
And down,
Tuning his ears only to the ceiling’s bold double tone
And the conductor’s scratchy call,
“Now arriving.”

Eventually the voice in the roof will name this man’s little town,
The intermittent nonsense of his dreams will cease,
The blindly-read book will close,
And the uncomfortable sunlit perch will discharge its occupant,
Who will descend groggily to the platform and watch
As the train roars away.


In Defense of Marriage: The Supreme Court's Rulings and Their Implications

The Supreme Court ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies some federal benefits to citizens in legal, state-recognized homosexual marriages, is unconstitutional. It also ordered the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the Proposition 8 case it previously ruled on, effectively overturning the ballot initiative and making same-sex marriage legal again in California.

The DOMA decision is perhaps the most important victory so far for proponents of gay marriage, as it removes from the federal government the ability to define marriage and returns that power to the states.1 Its immediate implications will only affect same-sex couples living in (or married by) states that recognize such unions, but it won’t be long before other states follow the precedent.

Belief

As a Mormon, I believe homosexual activity to be morally wrong in the same way as adultery and fornication. But sexual orientation is not a choice, and I have no qualms with anyone being gay or lesbian. Only by acting on these feelings do they move into the realm of moral decision-making. Despite my personal principles, however, I can still support the Supreme Court of the United States or a state government that chooses to recognize same-sex marriages. Here’s why.

I happen to believe that drinking alcohol and smoking are wrong. I don’t do either one. But the government can make those things legal without affecting my beliefs. Society can make them acceptable or even normal without influencing my behavior. Religious people, including Mormons, fought to keep Prohibition early last century. They failed, but that hasn’t impeded their abstinence in the time since. Nothing in their lives changed with the policy, and it’s difficult to prove whether American society is any better or worse as a result.2

Precedent

The civil rights movement occurred in the United States over 50 years ago, and remnants of discrimination still exist in our culture today. Reason eventually triumphed over the bigots who fought equality under the law for all races. The gay marriage movement has many parallels to that dark period of discrimination, and it will hold similar status in history when it succeeds. It’s politically inexpedient to fight it anymore. Even the LDS Church, once a formidable advocate of California’s Proposition 8, has softened its stance in recent years.

In the late 1800s, Mormons were on the other side of a marriage definition battle.3 We wanted the right to practice polygamy but the United States denied it. In 1890, the leaders of the Church issued a manifesto that discontinued polygamy as a matter of Church policy. Only then was Utah allowed to become a state. Having seen both sides of marital discrimination in the government, I would expect more sympathy from my LDS compatriots to this modern-day civil rights debate.

A Social Experiment

I have no problem with any federal or state government recognizing or allowing same-sex marriage. I’m happy for those who will exercise this new right and build loving relationships. I may not agree with the morality of their decision, but I understand it, and their choices will not prevent me from living life the way I think is right. I can share my moral views and encourage others to follow them, but I cannot force them on anyone.

We don’t yet know what effect gay marriage will have on the fabric of society, just as with many similar questions in the past. As Ray Douthat famously wrote in 2012,4 “Same-sex marriage is a social experiment, and like most experiments it will take time to understand its consequences.”5 If society wants to try this experiment, I say good luck.


1: A decision that ought to be celebrated by proponents of limited government, including Republicans who ultimately oppose gay marriage.

2: A similar course of events may play out with some facets of the current “war on drugs”.

3: Jesse Stay does a good job explaining the history and current thinking in the Church about marriage equality, but I don’t share his conclusion.

4: Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church, quoted this essay in the Church’s October 2012 general conference, but he argued a point opposite Douthat, who writes, “a number of studies have suggested that gay parenting may be an exception to this rule [that being raised by a married biological mother and father produces the best developmental outcome], and that the outcomes of children raised by homosexual couples may be identical to children raised by married biological parents.” There simply isn’t enough evidence yet to conclude empirically whether gay marriage is a poor or suitable alternative to traditional marriage. For those who believe the Apostle’s claim to divine revelation (as I do), this question is easier to resolve.

5: While I believe the best outcome for the world at large would be for everyone to adhere to the principles taught by Jesus Christ, that will obviously not happen anytime soon. For now, I think it better for us to respect each other’s beliefs and decisions while seeking the best compromises to let us live in harmony.


Definition of a Friend

When I was in junior high, an admired teacher gave me a beautiful book of friendship quotes. One that particularly struck me began, “What is a friend? I will tell you….Your soul can be naked with him.” The entire poem is insightful, but that sentence was especially compelling. A friend requires no pretenses, expects nothing more than what you are. He understands the flaws and contradictions in your character and accepts you notwithstanding.

I have since searched extensively for the source of the poem, which seems to be shrouded in mystery. Many have claimed authorship1 over the years, but the earliest source I can find cites Dr. Frank Crane in the 1910s. Here is the transcription from that publication:2

DEFINITION OF A FRIEND
By Dr. Frank Crane

What is a friend?
I will tell you.
It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself.
Your soul can go naked with him.
He seems to ask of you to put on nothing, only to be what you are.

He does not want you to be better or worse.
When you are with him you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent.
You do not have to be on your guard.
You can say what you think, express what you feel.
He is shocked at nothing, offended at nothing, so long as it is genuinely you.
He understands those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you.

With him you breathe freely.
You can take off your coat and loosen your collar.
You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meanness and absurdities, and in opening them up to him they are lost, dissolved in the white ocean of his loyalty.
He understands.

You do not have to be careful.
You can abuse him, neglect him, berate him.
Best of all, you can keep still with him.
It makes no matter.
He likes you.

He is like fire, that purifies all you do.
He is like water, that cleanses all you say.
He is like wine, that warms you to the bone.
He understands, he understands, he understands.

You can weep with him, laugh with him, sin with him, pray with him.
Through and underneath it all he sees, knows and loves—you.

A friend, I repeat, is one with whom you dare to be yourself.


1: Some who have claimed authorship include Kristina Bruce in the 70s and C. Raymond Beran in the 90s. Their claims are tenuous. Frank Crane seems to be most often cited as the original author, and the Shoe Workers’ Journal from 1916 (linked in the text) is the earliest source I can find with either the poem or the Crane byline.

2: I corrected two typographical errors and added line breaks to increase readability.


Using a git post-receive hook for easy production deploys

I have a git repository on my dev machine, which I use for developing and testing code locally. When I’m ready to deploy to production, I simply push that git repo to the server and use a post-receive hook there to move the code into the proper places. Here’s what my setup looks like.

My ~/.ssh/config has a Host entry called prod for the production server that specifies where it lives and how to authenticate.

In .git/config, I have a remote section for the production server:

[remote "prod"]
    url = ssh://prod:~/web.git
    fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*

web.git on the server is set up as a bare repository. In the hooks folder, I have a post-receive file like this:

#!/bin/sh
# Check out the source tree without .git
GIT_WORK_TREE=/home/ubuntu/stage/web git checkout -f

# Turn off debug mode, if enabled
sed -i -e "/^DEBUG = True$/s/True/False/" /home/ubuntu/stage/web/settings.py

# You can do any other configuration here to transform the code
#  from development to production.

# Restart Apache
sudo apache2ctl restart

Permissions are set on the /home/ubuntu/stage/web folder and the /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/ file points to that folder as the DocumentRoot.

That’s all it takes. Now every time I do a git push prod master on my dev machine, the code is uploaded to the server, properly configured for a production environment, and fed to Apache.