Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Presence of The Multitude

"The tongue of Columcille in my head,
the eloquence of Columcille  in my speech, 
The composure of the Victorius Son of Grace
be mine in the presence of the multitude."

- Carmina Gadelica

(Columcille is also known as St. Columba of Iona)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Few Words From. Henry David Thoreau

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them". - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Collapse: A Visitor

Friends - occasionally (and really for my own pleasure) I write short stories about things.  I am not sure that this will become a regular sort of series or just a periodic posting of sorts.  Either way, I hope you enjoy it.

The Visitor

 The knock at the door came just as I settled into the kitchen table for my afternoon study.

It struck me as odd for two reasons: the first was simply that I had not had a visitor in some 6 months, not since Halloween. The second was that I never had visitors at this time of the day.

I got up and cracked open the door to find a young woman in semi-professional attire staring back at me with a black bag over her shoulder. Her face lit up with the sort of smile one anticipates from Youth Workers, Event Planners, and other people that have that unsettling sort of cheerfulness no matter what the situation seems to be.

“Mr X?” she asked in a voice that matched her outfit and attire perfectly.

I nodded slowly. My mother had always taught me to be polite, of course, but I racked my brain in the course of 10 seconds. I could think of no reason a young 20ish year old woman would be on my doorstep asking for me.

“I'm Amy Mc_______ from the Industrial-Government Cooperation Council” she said, thrusting her card into my hand, her smile getting even broader. I looked at the card now in my hand. It listed her name, some kind of logo to go along with (I suppose) the Industrial-Government Cooperation Council, and her contact information for somewhere in Virginia.

I smiled back. “I am sorry, Miss Mc______, but I am quite sure you have the wrong person. I have not worked for almost 10 years now.

“Oh no” she chirped up brightly. “You are the one I am looking for. May I come in?” And before I could respond one way or the other, she pushed at the door behind me, ducked under my arm, and went inside.

By the time I had turned around she had already made herself to the center of the room and was looking around. “Wow” she said “this place is out of the 1960's. I've seen pictures about decorating like this.”

I smiled thinly as I sat down, nodding her to another chair. “This cabin belonged to my grandparents. It was just easier to keep the decor when I moved up here.”

She settled into her chair and pulled out what must have been her computer unit, which was a cross from what I remember a cell phone and internet computer looking like. She looked up and smiled at me again – again, the cruise director smile – and clicked away on her keyboard.

“Mr. X” she started. “Born 196X. Attended school and graduated with a degree of _______, followed by a degree in P______. Worked in the _______ industry for almost thirty years. Wife deceased, three children.” She looked up. “Is that all correct?”

“Are you from the government, Miss?” I asked as she continued to scan the screen. “You seem to have quite a lot of information about me.”

“Oh no” she looked up brightly. “We're an industrial group that co-operates seeks to maximize private and government industry and activities. I'm not with FBI, if that's what you mean. We just have a lot of information. It's the Internet Age. Not very hard.” She smiled again, undoubtedly comparing me to a T. Rex struggling to make it in the world of mammals.

I sighed. “And you are here about?”

She looked down one more time and then settled her hands on her lap. “Mr. X, as I mentioned, we are working to maximize private industries co-operation with government to help in making sure that industry is doing its best to meet the social and physical needs of society.” She looked down at her screen. “I see you stopped working seven years ago today precisely, just after the death of your wife. After that you sold your house and the bulk of your belongings and apparently disappeared from industry.” She looked back up - “You have heard of our agency, haven't you?”

I shook my head. “Miss, I have not followed any developments in the world for some years now.” Which, for the most part, was true. The day my wife had died was the day I had turned away from following the world.

I pointed over to the laptop my wife had bought me almost 20 years prior. “That, Miss, is my outlet to the world. It will not handle modern internet traffic – insufficient memory and processor.”

She smiled again, somewhat flatly this time. “I'll be blunt: we need you. The people of the country need you. Industry needs you. I'm here to get you back in the game.”

She leaned in. “Mr. X, I can tell you that I can get you a job in the industry today – anywhere in the country you want. I can get you your old salary and then some. I can get you every perk you could ask for. And I could have you working in two weeks.”

“I'm not going to lie” she continued. “You may have hidden away from the world, but the world has kept right on going. We are facing tremendous challenges right now – Antibiotic resistance, new hemorrhagic fevers, even some old diseases come back. The industry is doing all it can, but it needs people with your experience and talents to help us. The government needs all of us to do everything we can as individuals to help meet these challenges. Will you help?”

She had continued to increase in volume and intensity as she spoke, until at the end of her speech her face was flushed and she was half out of the chair, looking towards what I assumed was the future but looked a lot like the bookshelf in the corner. She paused there, for a moment, then looked expectantly at me.

I quietly shook my head. “No, thank you” I responded.

She looked at me in disbelief, then started clicking away at her keyboard. “Mr. X, I see that you only earn the minimum amount in this state – you fall under the taxable income threshold” - at my look, she made brief eye contact but carried on. “You need to have more – and I can get you more. Much more. Name your price. I can get it done.”

I shook my head again. “Miss, I do not need it.”

She looked at me with almost a greater stare of disbelief. “Mr X, you only spent X dollars last year – not even your entire income. I'm sure that's because you don't have enough. Let me get your more – a decent house, decent furniture, perhaps a decent life. Let me rescue you from this”.

I sighed. I had undergone this conversation years before with my children. I could hear the confused voices and pleading and arguing in my head all over again.

“Miss, let us imagine for a moment that I wanted to do this thing – that somehow I was trapped here by a decision that I made in haste but regretted now. Let us say that I went back at the most fabulous sum I could imagine. Would I pay taxes?”

Her response was immediate. “Well of course, everyone over the minimum Basic Income pays taxes. It's required. It's our duty.”

I nodded. “So that fabulous sum has been cut by...what? 50%? 60% or 75%? Suddenly this amazing income you have promised me may be no more than what I make here.”

I lifted my eyes around the room. “I am well aware this does not represent much of a life to anyone of the modern age. But my needs are quite simple Miss. I have a greenhouse, which I am sure you saw coming in, for a winter garden. I have space for a garden for the other seasons. I have bees just out behind the house that provide me with honey and wax and a small income. I have all the time in the world to read and think and work at what I truly want to do. Once, perhaps twice every two months I go shopping – but again, my needs are very few. “

“And what would I go back to? Not just work Miss – surely you can acknowledge that. I would go back to systems and policies and people. Suddenly I would no longer be operating as I pleased but under the rules and restrictions of someone else. I spent many years under the judgment systems of others, Miss – I am not bridling to return to that.”

Her smile was slightly deflated, but appeared to be none the less put off. “But Mr. X – the needs of society? Surely you can see your way clear to help-”

I shook my head firmly. “Miss, society decided that I was nothing more than someone to earn money for everyone else. I had nothing to offer beyond that. My voice was to be ignored. My opinions were considered worthless. And yet through all of this, society demanded that I give my all to those who demanded these things from me – respect for non-respect, entitlement for income, ignorance for education. It was not so much that I left society Miss – I was very politely driven from it.”

She sighed at that point, now very deflated, and looked up at me, the smile all gone. “Nothing I can say or do will convince you?”

I shook my head in response. “Your world had done with me years ago, Miss. As I did with it.”

She slowly closed her screen and picked up her computer, putting it into her bag. She lifted it up and suddenly it seemed as if it had weighed as much as an old Tower computer instead of the slimline model she had displayed earlier. We both rose and she headed to the door.

She stopped just as she left and looked over her shoulder. “I learned about people like you in school. Selfish. Concerned with themselves instead of enriching society. Now, all just waiting to die.”

I nodded back. “We had nowhere else to go Miss, so we went into the shadows.”

And with that, I closed the door.

But something stuck in my mind, something that did not seem right. Then it hit me – her car. I did not see a car.

I went to the front window and pulled aside the curtains of lace. The young Miss Mc_____ was slowly wending her way to the main road. I watched her standing there, a semi-professional statue in a field of creek reads and wild grass, until an old model car slowly pulled up, looking nothing at all like the sort of vehicle an industry-government council member would drive, let alone ride in. I saw her lean over to squeeze into the back of the two door micro car, which lurched off under the increased weight of another passenger. The plates, I noted, were not of any government organization but rather local.

I pulled away from the window, letting the curtains fall. I needed to forgo my usual schedule and make my trip to town tomorrow and stock up.

The collapse, it seemed, was happening more quickly than expected.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Crazy Summer Weather - 2018 Edition

This has been a ridiculous summer for gardening and outside work in general.

Like the rest of the country, we have been undergoing a hot summer (or, as we used to call it in the old days, "summer").  We have had no hint of rain since 04 July.  As you can imagine, this has rather put a strain on the garden and the outside yard in general.  We have not yet entered the realm of watering restrictions - but I hate paying for watering the lawn, so every year at this time we limp along with one watering a week (the real solution would be an automatic sprinkler system, but I have neither the money nor the inclination to install one).

Then, between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, we received 1.6 inches (4.06 cm).

I love the rain of course (other than the humidity, which will return as soon as the clouds disappear).  But this is wretchedly hard on the plants.  My garden is going through gyrations trying to keep up (or really, what is left: sorghum is mostly harvested and the black peas maybe reaching their end.  Only the tomato plant with its curled leaves and two fruit and the ever producing jalapeno pepper are carrying on.

Gardening:  It is not for the weak of heart.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Not To Create A Unified Christian Witness

(Warning:  Today's message involves both politics and religion.  If you do not care for either or both, might I suggest a happy bunny video?  We will return to our regularly scheduled broadcast tomorrow).

On 06 April 2008 came the moment that unwound Christian unity in the United States.

The candidate at that time - a Democrat - was attempting to respond to why they believed they were suffering in certain demographics, particularly working class voters.  I reproduce the quote here in its entirety:

"They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The candidate in question eventually apologized for the comment if people were "offended".

But the part I would like to focus on in particular is that word "religion".

The interpretation was clear to anyone who heard the quote.  The speaker was not referring to all religions; he was referring to a particular one, the one held by the people of that demographic:  Christians.

That I am aware, no major Christian denomination that supported that particular candidate or their beliefs was offended by that comment or offered a rebuke.  Not one of them - again, that I recall or since - made a point of stating that while they might disagree with the political views of the "opposite" side, they viewed them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

With this comment - and with the resulting silence - an invisible dividing line appeared amongst denominations and religious groups in America, perhaps never to be undone.

The major contrast, of course, is Christ and His apostles, who never addressed the Christian's view of government - whether it be a good government or a bad one - except to be a good citizen and pray for its leaders.  However, both Christ and His apostles talked rather repeatedly about the brotherhood of Christians and how they were to speak and love each other.

Why this walk to memory lane 10 years later?  Because more and more, I hear the cry for Christians of a particular belief strain to be up in arms about the current state of affairs, that they should be forcefully interjecting themselves into the political arena (as an aside, the first time in a very long time that strain of believing Christian has been encouraged to so so) as a "moral imperative".  Somehow, this lack of action is bringing the very name of Christ into disarray.

View it from the other side, however.  The people who are crying for this action are the very people whom, years ago (and every years since) have actively mocked and laughed and cheered when the "bitter clingers" of Christianity - the religion they themselves proclaim.

Having chose sides- publicly and somewhat brazenly - the moral superiority of their position is undermined.  More importantly - and more devastatingly - the cause of Christ is undermined.

To cling (a deliberate choice of words) to a candidate or position is to abandon your own witness.  50% of the people will agree with you and 50% will consider you a raging lunatic.  But 100% of the people will see you not solely as a Christian:  they will see you as a liberal or a conservative that happens to say you are a Christian.

John MacArthur, whom I consider to be one of the great teachers of the last 50 years, never makes a political statement.  He steadfastly brings everything back to Scripture and the need of salvation and repentance for everyone, liberal and conservative.

That is the mission of the Church.  Anything less makes it a political action committee that divides, not unites.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Running Silent And Deep

One of the books I vividly recall reading from my childhood was called Run Silent Run Deep (by Edward L. Beach, as it turns out).  It had belonged to my mother (and quite probably my uncle) before me.  It was set in World War II and told the story of a young lieutenant (j.g. - for some reason I always remember that) whose mission was to infiltrate a Japanese held island.  To do this, he had to be transported via submarine and use the fairly new-fangled S.C.U.B.A. (back when it was still an acronym and not a word) to land on the island, accomplish his mission, and retreat.  The whole book - at least what I recall of it - was based around the tension between the detection risk of the submarine as they continued farther into enemy held waters to complete the mission and then return.  Would they be able to escape?  Would they be able to run silent and deep? 

Where did the random thought from 40  years ago come from in the dark morning hours of 0500?  It was tied, as I processed the thought, to the post I had written last week about an InterWeb scare. Not directly tied to it mind you - but it brought up again the question of anonymity in the modern InterWeb world.

Modern society and the InterWeb thrives on the sharing of personal information - if you think this is not so, travel back with me to the Dark Ages of dial-up Internet (if you are of that age, you will the noise of connection as I speak), where all that we knew of each other was a login name and what was written.  It was a world of images made of pixels and words - nothing like the vibrancy of social media today.  But this vibrancy comes at a cost:  to be more vibrant, it must be interesting and to be interesting, it is always personal:  pictures, stories, the things about us that make us ourselves.

Business and governments love this, of course.  For businesses, we are simply targets of marketing - and the more information, the more specific marketing we can be sent, targets of things we "need", all provided to us in a spirit of just helping have "a better on-line experience".  And government - well, the more you know about your citizens the more you can serve - or control - them, depending on your benevolence or thirst for power.

But we now have a phenomenon which is not so much new as it is increased in scope and virulence:  the review and collection of all of this information on the InterWeb for the purposes of personal control and destruction.  The wrong sorts of information - and by wrong I mean thought of by wrong by someone else - is now the basis for a public shaming and campaign of personal destruction, the likes of which Nathaniel Hawthorne  or Mao Tse-Tung could only dream of.

The likely outcome?  I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet and bear no crystal ball into the future.  An application.  That is more easily predictable.

It will, in a way, be the death of the InterWeb.

The reaction - or at leas some people's reaction - will be the same as the aforementioned lieutenant (j.g.): Run Silent, Run Deep.

The rediscovery of the Age of Privacy is about to come crashing back down on us.  For some - let us use myself as an example - it will look a lot like scaling back and off of social media, of using less InterWeb business sites, of using more cash - and a lot less about creating a vibrant InterWeb culture.  My thoughts and opinions on the InterWeb will become a great deal like my thoughts and opinions in my real life:  not discussed at all, or only in the company of those I intimately know and trust.  I will become what I was before the dawn of social media:  words and pixel images.

The picture I still have in my head from the author of that book from so long ago is the crushing constraint of the sea all around and the fragile claustrophobic submarine interior that protected them as they fled to avoid detection.  The picture I now have is that of individuals, with the fragile claustrophobic interior of our lives fighting a sea of information and data that seeks to know and catalog us for future use.

We are indeed at the edge of Huxley's Brave New World.  But appears it is not so much a Brave step forward as much as it is a slow retreat backwards.