Things are moving along like crazy on my new house! Contracts are signed. The home inspector is lined up for Monday. Roofers should be trooping by and giving estimates any day now. By Tuesday I expect to know whether it’s a go.
In any case, I’ll be packing and very shortly heading off on a cross-country trip. The very same Leslie who found the house and is handling most of the chaos also found me a Plan B — a super dog-friendly rental I can take if the sale falls through. So no matter what happens, I’m out of here and I’ll be busy.
Because I can’t blog every day, even in the best of times, I thought I’d take a page from Radley Balko and occasionally just open up a comment-thread discussion.
So to give it a try, let me start with a question. Three related questions, actually:
1. What is your #1 personal freedom skill?
2. What additional skill would you most like to have?
3. And what are you doing, or planning to do, to develop that other skill? (Or, if you feel that skill is out of your reach, why is that?)
Hope a lot of people will jump in. I suspect that the category of “freedom skills” is larger and considerably more varied than a lot of us imagine.
(I’m not sure what all this means. But it seemed like a good idea when I wrote it.)
For the first time in a sad number of years, I opened the email file I labeled “RebelFire Futurestuff” and read. I’ve longed to go back and further the tale of Jeremy, Cedra, Rey, and the band RebelFire. I had (and to my surprise still have) notes for a sequel and at least one more. Unusual. Plotting is my weak point and I’m not good at thinking ahead. I also had links to articles on privacy and technology, philosophical concepts, etc. — anything that might come handy in future novels.
The first piece I read in my notes was brilliant — a full scenario for a grassroots rebellion in the U.S. Wow. What thinking. Unfortunately, that wasn’t mine. That was a note I’d credited to “Cat,” an online nym of someone of whom I otherwise have no memory. It was really good, though.
The second note I came upon was this — and I’ll tell you in advance that, four years later, I had no idea I could sound so ineffably profound — and I have no farking idea what I was talking about:
Jeremy the lightmaker =
Om namah shivaya
Shiva, destroyer of illusions.
The master who sheds the light shatters the darkness.
Jeremy, you may remember if you read the book, wants nothing in life except to be a “lightmaker” for the red-hot and then suddenly disappeared band, RebelFire. But Jeremy is, in a larger sense, a person who receives light (en-light-en-ment) from experience and other people, and transmits his own amplified light to the world. Shining light in dark places. Changing within himself, then leading change.
Or so he would have done, had the story developed beyond the first book. This second concept of lightmaker wasn’t intentional. It just … was.
Jeremy is also called “Reb.” Our only intention for that (Aaron Zelman and me) was the obvious: the kid’s a fan-boy for the band and the band is about reb-ellion. But I once received the congratulations of a beloved Jewish scholar, now sadly gone, for having the cleverness to imply that Jeremy, as an inspirational leader, is also a “rebbe or reb,” something akin to (although not exactly) a rabbi, if I’ve got my Judaica right. I thanked her humbly, but felt like jerk for taking credit for something I never previously gave one butterfly-wing of thought to.
So “lightmaker” suddenly becomes profound. This kid is not only bringing en-light-en-ment, but it’s of the divine variety (or again I should say, would be had the story continued. And somehow we did all that without consciously intending to.
So there I was, writing this mystical stuff. In those notes about sequels, I mean. What on earth was I thinking? Or perhaps it might be more apt to ask what on earth I was smoking.
“Om namah shivaya” is a beautiful and hypnotic chant used in the rituals of Siddha yoga, that’s become so popular you can buy about 10 different versions on CD or via download on Amazon.com. Whether it means “Shiva, destroyer of illusions,” I have no idea and fear to check. Maybe it means “come join our cult”; I have no idea. It appears I made some connection at the time.
But where in the world did ol’ mundane me come up with a phrase like “Shiva, destroyer of illusions”? Unreal. It makes me feel like one of those girls in the movies who get possessed by things and eventually end up spewing pea soup in a 360-degree arc. Although once I get past that, I can relate to the concept of a master who shatters darkness, which is the precursor to shattering illusion.
A Clew to what the heck I was talking about comes in an appended note:
Oh. Just thought. The master who brings the light is always
punished, usually dies …
Oh. So that’s what I’m thinking. I’m wondering if Jeremy needs to die in some Christ-like fashion by the end of the series. But (tut-tut) the conventions of fiction simply do not allow such behavior in a hero. It’s always cheating when you kill off your protagonist — unless you do it in some biblical proportion and have The Great Uprising of the People follow in his death, after which Utopia thrives forever.
So clearly (or unclearly) I was thinking such profound stuff that I have no idea after the fact what I was talking about. But I was dead-ending myself, writer-wise. Down that plotted path I dare not go. Unless … well, enough of that.
In real life, though, the master who brings light is always punished in some way. Jesus wasn’t alone. You could almost stamp tragic en-light-en-ment heros out with a cookie-cutter, their fates are so often so similar. If they don’t get nailed to a tree they end up broke and starving in a garret somewhere.
(By the way, strictly an aside. My new home — crossing all fingers and toes that it does become my home — has a garret. An official arty type with the long, low-ceilinged room and the slanted walls. And of course the single dormer window looking out upon the street life — such as it is in the middle of nowhere — so the poor, tubercular starving writer can compose his epic opus and become a billion-selling author … just after he’s found frozen to death because his cruel Victorian landlord turned off the heat and he couldn’t even get a bit of coal for the brazier because he’d spent all his money on absinthe-drinking companions and voluptuous nightclub entertainers and of course paints, which he sometimes ate in moments of desperation. When he wasn’t too busy cutting his ear off. Yes, it has one of those garrets, Even though it’s not quite the same in a town of a few hundred blue-collar families. Definitely not Paris.)
Anyhow, as a general rule, life doesn’t go well for lightbringers. And you wonder why anyone wants to be one. They give us so much. But generally they gain nothing they, themselves can ever feel or measure. And it’s a complete crap-shoot. You could die for some hopeless cause and be revered for centuries as a shining hero of your country or your craft — but as my friend Debra habitually points out, you wouldn’t be around to know or care. Or you could suffer for decades, then vindication would come so late in life that by then you’d have become cynical about your craft or your country. More likely, you could be utterly forgotten or, worse, remembered only as some damn crank.
Could you write a book or a movie about a guy who spent his whole life failing — and then also failed at becoming a fondly remembered hero? Kafka could. Kafka could write about a man waking up one day as a giant cockroach. But outside of college lit classes most people wouldn’t want to read it.
What kind of person wants to live it?
One with supreme confidence, I suppose. One who believes — and never doubts! — that his ideas are The Ones, no matter if the entire rest of the world is against him.
But that kind of person … well, he’d better die or be shunted firmly aside before he gains power or influence. Because billions of people have suffered the tender mercies of men like that.
I started with fiction. But of course this question isn’t really fictional.
Is a person who sees himself as bringing the light ever actually bringing it? Or is the brightest light shone as a matter of course along the way by humbler people? Brilliant people, sometimes. But those who don’t have the ego to “change the world”? Those who, when the die, may feel they’ve accomplished nothing and who rue their own ineffectiveness?
I’ve often thought that an apt test of the credibility of a philosopher should be this: You, Mr. or Ms Philosopher, gather a bunch of people who agree with you, and you all go off and live your philosophy for five years. If, at the end of that time, you still think you had it right, up there in your ivory tower, then good. We’ll start to take you seriously. Until then … nope. You and your pals in academia have a good time playing mind games. But we’ll get back to you later.
The same should go for en-light-en-ment leaders. You get there and test your Utopia out, please. If we like it, we’ll volunteer to join. But don’t experiment on us, okay?
Um, thanks for getting all the way to the end of this ramble. As I say, I don’t know exactly what I’m getting at. But the subject of RebelFire came up several times lately. One person said he read it again this month, expecting it not to have held up. But he liked it. Another woman told me it’s one of her teenage son’s favorite books. I really would have loved to see where Jeremy’s life went after the book ended. And it really is all about groping toward the light — and hoping the light you perceive isn’t either an oncoming train or a false lighthouse beacon set out by wreckers.
Speaking of progress … Over how many years and how many times has somebody announced that encrypting our phone calls would soon be as easy and cheap as encrypting our emails? Maybe it’s finally happening.
The other day I was googling to nudge my memory of a great old term the Finns use to describe their famous stubbornness, resistance, and fortitude. Instead, I found this story of one Finn’s incredible feats with an iron-sighted rifle. And here’s the Wikipedia entry on the man they called “The White Death.” Whatever you think of his achievements and his attitude … that’s some remarkable shooting skill.
BTW, that great old Finnish term I was looking for is “sisu.” It’s so peculiarly Finnish that it can’t truly be translated into another language. It’s been called, “the word that explains Finland.” Yet at the same time it’s a great term for adverse times and tough people in any language.
Quote for the day: “We can forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” — Plato
Could it be? After 2-1/2 maddening months of trying to make a deal on a house, could I possibly have one???
Wednesday night, my friend Leslie called. She’d spotted a real estate ad: 3 bedrooms, sun porch, privacy plantings, all appliances (including fridge, washer, and dryer — very unusual) — bargain priced and with owner financing.
The latter is a huge deal for me. It’s either that or straight cash. And limited cash has caused my house-bidding frustrations.
By Friday afternoon, before my offer was even typed, the seller had verbally accepted the terms.
I’ve never laid eyes on the place. But Leslie toured it for me, took 99 photos (gotta love the photographic profligacy of digital cameras), and gave me her considered opinions. Having renovated an old house herself, she has a pretty good idea what’s what. She pronounced the place move-in ready and filled with charms like hardwood floors and built-in bookcases, if not entirely beautiful or perfectly sound at the moment.
A professional home inspection is still ahead, and I already know that the house needs a new roof and other things (that’s why it can be sold only with owner financing; no bank would touch it). But could it be? Could it be that by this time next month I’ll be living in my first real house in more than 10 years? One with actual rooms??? With beaucoup storage spaces? A garage? A basement for stashing all those emergency preps?
That would be a giant WHOOHOO! I tell you, I’m ready for that.
The catch? Yes, it’s in a tiny town in the northwest where I want to be. But not in the warmer, drier part where I was aiming to get. Back in the gloomy old northWET where it rains nine months out of the whole blessed year. Urg. But such a deal I couldn’t pass up.
VIENNA — Some of the world’s top AIDS experts issued a radical manifesto this week at the 18th International AIDS Conference: They declared the war on drugs a 50-year-old failure and called for it to be abandoned.
No one heard.
Story here. (NYTimes free registration required; sorry.)
Let me tell you about the people in this high desert gulch — and the people connected to it, though they may be far away.
Neighbor M. needed the footer space dug for some retaining walls. Though M. is a tireless worker, this was clearly a job for a backhoe, not muscles.
Neighbor Joel also needed backhoe work for the septic system on his Secret Lair.
Without a word to Joel, M. arranged to have both jobs done at his own expense last Saturday.
The work was done by our neighbor L. If you read Joel’s blog, you’ve heard about “D. & L,” but what you may not know is that L, the backhoe owner/operator, is a small, tough, but fragile-looking woman.
She trundled over on her tractor and labored all day in blazing heat to dig Joel’s septic system and M.’s footers. Her pay? Well, all she would accept was a bottle of wine and $20 for fuel. (She and D. always say they’ll get their time paid back when they need others on some stage of their own monumental building project; but they rarely ever ask.)
Alas, as she rolled home, somehow she lost the $20 in the wide, sandy wash between her place and Joel’s. We saw her husband combing the sagebrush in search of it. As with a lot of us here, $20 is no small matter to D. & L. Especially when it’s about the only pay you’ve accepted for a hard day’s labor. He had to return home to tell L. he hadn’t found it.
I went to M. and offered to contribute a new $20 if one of the guys would tell L. they’d found it caught in a bush at the side of the wash. (Her pride might not have let her accept another $20.) But M. said no. It was already taken care of. L. would be reimbursed.
“If you want to,” M. said, “just get your $20 to Joel in some covert way.”
Since Joel’s net worth was, as of that moment, reduced to double digits, I took that to be just a kind thought and a good idea on M.’s part. Joel works very hard for the whole community but he has little and asks less.
But Sunday morning, I learned that M.’s wish for me to sneak the money to Joel was more than it seemed. Joel came by. He was on his way to D. & L.’s. He was going to replace L.’s lost payment, even though it meant giving up about a quarter of his resources. There was no arguing. Joel wouldn’t take anybody else’s money, not M.’s, not mine; he felt it was his responsibility because most of L.’s work had been done for him. And so he did.
Now comes the part about the neighbors who don’t live nearby, but are very much here in the spirit of the place.
The very next day I received $75 dollars in the mail. It was a gift from the ever-generous and good-hearted T. — and it came with a note telling me to split it with Joel. Now I happen to know that T. doesn’t have a lot, either. He lives simply on his own primitive homestead in another, greener state. But what he has, he shares in freedom. And in this case, he couldn’t have shared at a better moment. Joel is up to triple digits again and feeling bolstered by the gift (the second great, well-timed gift he has gotten from a blog reader far away, and one of many I’ve received with gratitude over the years).
T. once wrote as we were emailing about preparedness and survival, “Remoteness is not the answer. Community, peace, love and acceptance is the answer.” Although I wouldn’t put it in exactly those terms, he’s right, without a doubt, that the people you chose, and the people who chose you, are more important than the location you select or any bunker you might ever build.
There are times I hate this desert with a freaking passion. But I know what richness I have in the people in my life. This community is as great as anyone could ever wish.
The Michael Bellesiles saga continues. The Chronicle of Higher Education (which first printed the latest Bellesiles baloney) investigated and discovered (no surprise) that the tale of the sad student and his soldier brother is false. But it’s the student’s fault. Um … aren’t historians responsible for checking their “facts”? I mean, isn’t that what they supposedly do for a living? And that tale Bellesiles retailed to the gullible was so obviously too good to be true. It just begged for the half hour it would have required to check it. (Tip o’ hat once again to J.F.)
Could this, rather than Obamacare, be the medicine of the future? So far it’s localized. Almost makes a body want to live in Seattle. Almost. Fortunately, Wal-Mart, Target, and others are also helping to return health care to the people. Not to mention all the private practices now switching to non-insurance models. I’ve spent too much time in the boonies. I didn’t even know about the Wal-Mart clinics until recently. When you don’t know what’s up at Wal-Mart, you really do live off the grid.
A couple of today’s links came via Rational Review News, the most consistently useful libertarian news aggregator — and currently in need of funds.
Finally, to end on a joyful note of personal initiative: when “the authorities” refuse to help, a man puts himself in peril to save a sick, starving dog from slow death. The video he took makes the story all the more astonishing.
Where you might live if you wait long enough, then leave the U.S. Okay … where your great grandkids might live. Not enough trees for me, though. Imported trees don’t count. (Tip o’ hat to Pat.)
Poor, poor pot growers! They just barely, almost, kinda-sorta get their business legal and … governments start to Wal-Martize them — that is, shut the little guys out and make alliances with monied collaborators — license, tax, hand out exclusive deals — all the usual. And then the hapless growers might get ordered to give their valuable product to the poor. Can’t win, can ya? Government’ll git you one way or another. If they can’t illegalize you to death, they’ll legalize you to death.
But … somehow, against all odds … gun owners do keep on winning. Exhibit A: Federal judge not only orders sheriff to issue a gun permit to a political hellraiser, but sends said sheriff to a First-Amendment class! (And no, I still theenk we don’ need no steeenkin’ permits.) Exhibit B: The ACLU — the ACLU! — sues to sues to get an old man’s guns back. Actually, I know that some state ACLU reps have been pro-gun for years; they’ve just been held back by national organization policies. Could it be that the ACLU will now actually stand up for the whole Bill of Rights???
No big surprise here: Small businesses in Massachusetts — the very model of an Obamacare state — are starting to drop their health-care coverage and urge their employees to sign up for government-subsidized plans. I have an acquaintance in MA (who might just be reading this post) whose private insurance went up from a “mere” $11,000 per year to more than $20,000 per year, thanks to Massa-care. The word “ouch” hardly covers it. Ain’t that a glorious vision of your future?
Remember the Iroquois lacrosse team that wanted to travel on their tribal passports? The U.S. government let ‘em. Gave ‘em a one-time exemption. Alas, the Brits wouldn’t let ‘em in for the tournament. (The article has more on tribal passport issues, identity, and sovereignty.)
If you read tech blogs — and only if you read tech blogs (or a handful of online techzines) — you already know that, on July 9, some unnamed government agency, for unnamed reasons, ordered BurstNET to take 73,000 blogs permanently offline. All were part of the same WordPress platform called Blogetery.
If you rely on mainstream sources for your news — or even online mainstream alternatives — you haven’t heard a peep about any of this.
Why did some unnamed government agency order the death of 73,000 blogs?
Nobody has a clue. First guesses were that a few of the blogs that shared the same server were suspected of violating copyrights — although BurstNET denies this.
What unnamed agency issued the order?
Nobody has a clue.
On what authority did they do it?
Nobody has a clue.
Did anybody perform even a vestige of due process?
Nobody has a clue — although if any “due process” was used at all, it sure wasn’t the sort that the Constitution and Bill of Rights require; that would involve public disclosure, court battles, and presumably a guilty verdict before any legal shutdown could be ordered. More likely the mass slam-down was justified under one of the new star-chamber undue processes the federal government has recently granted itself. But who knows? (We don’t even know for sure that a federal agency is responsible — though the action and the secrecy reek of “fed.”)
Why is BurstNET not telling the world why it shut down the server with all those blogs on it?
Apparently — and presumably also under some “security” law — the same unnamed government agency ordered them not to talk.
Were all 73,000 blogs guilty of something? Anything? Let alone of offenses that can only be dealt with via summary mass-execution, carried out in totalitarian secrecy?
Why is all but the xtreme tech-media silent?
Hm. Maybe they don’t want to risk their proposed government bailouts. Or maybe they’ve just outlived their usefulness; no great surprise there. But there was a time not long ago when even the stodgiest mainstreamers would have hopped right on such an obvious First Amendment violation.
Above all … Is this any America that anybody recognizes?
I just wrote an article for S.W.A.T. magazine on Joe Lieberman’s proposal to give the federal government a “Internet kill switch.” (The article will be published in the print edition in a few months.) Some of you guys helped me a lot on that, thank you.
Anyhow, in the article, I focused on what you good folks — smarter than Mr. “Authoritah” Lieberman gives you credit for — already know: that China’s power over the ‘Net has nothing to do with war and everything to do with daily political control — and so would any ‘Net power given to the U.S. fedgov.
I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my S.W.A.T. editors, Kathy Allard, lives in Hong Kong. (Don’t you love the Internet?)
She sent kind words about the article. But she also sent an email detailing a bit more about China’s use of its powers.
With her permission, I give you Kathy’s words. Will this be coming soon to a technosphere near you? Until lately, I’d have said Americans wouldn’t be supine enough to accept such heavy-handedness. But now? Well, think about those 73,000 assassinated blogs and the silence of the media and judge for yourself:
[L]iving here in Hong Kong on China’s doorstep, I see examples of gov’t control of information every day.
— No Facebook in China.
— In China most people don’t use Twitter, they use a Chinese-language imitation called Wei-Bo. One Hong Kong writer who uses it said that on June 4, she posted as her Wei-Bo, “Good morning. It is the 4th of June.” One HOUR later her post had been removed!
— In Xinjiang last year [where there were anti-government riots], not only did the gov’t shut down the internet, but they shut down all cell phone service immediately, and kept it off. The vast majority of people have cell phones only, so that did away with anyone calling others to say, “Meet at x place at 8pm.”
— Whenever there is some problem in China, there is a news blackout (but the ‘net is getting around that, which is one reason word of trouble in Xinjiang got out, and hence gov’t stepping up efforts to control the ‘net). If something happens just over the border from Hong Kong (and which may very likely affect family members of people in HK), our news will report the rumor but then state there is a news blackout. E.g., the Chinese gov’t seizes land from farmers and other poor people in order to build luxury condos or whatever on it for the growing upper class, and sometimes the farmers riot.
— Last week was the anniversary of the Xinjiang riots, and without mentioning why they were doing it, CCTV ran a week-long series on its English-language news called “Xinjiang Stable Society.” Most of it was interviews with people in Xinjiang talking about their neighbors like this: “She is a Uighur. She is nice. Everybody likes her.” The odd thing is that, I can easily believe this flying with Chinese people (apologies for the racial profiling, but I’ve traveled a lot in China and have formed definite opinions), but this news program is aimed at English speakers living in China. How naive do they think we are?
— But on the other hand, on the same CCTV English-language news broadcast, I’ve heard U.S. news that I’d NEVER heard on any mainstream U.S. news, particularly regarding the wars.
China still isn’t the most oppressive country that I’ve been to — in Burma/Myanmar there isn’t even any email, there’s almost nothing that can be accessed online at all.
Y’know, there’s one thing nice about government. Really. There is. One thing. Government is very consistent. That is, once any government anywhere embarks on a stupid course, you can be sure that nothing short of the heat death of the universe will stay the bureaucrats from their dedicated stupidity. You gotta admit, that’s impressive consistency.
You recall a teeny little flap the economy had a few years back involving subprime loans? Yes, I think you probably do. In fact, you don’t have to remember very far back — not more than 30 seconds ago — because we’re still having an itty-bitty bit of bother over that matter.
Well. Seems our local library is hosting a USDA representative who’s peddling mortgage loans to low-income rural dwellers. Yes. The USDA makes home loans. Several different types, as a matter of fact.
I dropped in to have a listen. The rep was in a private study room handing out literature and discussing the loans with one or two people at a time. He was talking with another woman when I entered, so I picked up his flyers and brochures and read while he continued describing the program to her.
I’m reading along … 100 percent financing including closing costs and repairs … loans up to $163,300 … low-income buyers only … subsidized payments … interest as low as 1% … minor credit problems okay… up to 38-year amortization. I look at their idea of a low income for a single person. My jaw drops. $24,900. If I made that much money, I’d feel like Donald Trump. Wow. Some program. Rich people should have it so good.
Then I look up in time to hear the rep tell the woman, “You see, banks have stricter standards for down payment, income, and credit than we do. Because they expect to be paid back.”
Pause. Rather long pause, really. A quite notable pause, in fact.
“Um. Of course, we expect to be paid back, too. But …”
At that point, his voice drifted off. He never completed the statement. But he said all that. He truly did.
Yes, some things never change. On the other hand, sometimes they do: occasionally even somebody from the government utters an honest statement — even if unintentionally.