Monday, September 26, 2016

Why I’m a Liberal


I was raised a Christian.

In my book, that should be all that’s necessary to be said. The fundamental principles are all there. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Shelter the homeless. Do good to those who would harm you.

Of course, my friends all know that I’m not a Christian. I found ‘faith’ to be a convenient excuse for avoiding responsibility. I found the Bible to be an old book that had some good things in it but banked largely on people’s superstitions and formed the foundation for massive corporations that strip people of their humanity by promising them eternal happiness.

But that didn’t change what makes good people. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Shelter the homeless. Do good to those who would harm you.

While I find the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to have absolutely nothing to do with the actual actions of people classified in those camps, the Christian principles that I was raised on far more closely align with the so-called left than the right wing.

The coming election is not about who lied or who was a better person or who should go to jail. If we had objective and rational voters, there would be a different slate of candidates running. I will simply weigh every word that issues from the mouths of the candidates and their supporters and their platform against those five principles.

And vote ‘liberal’ in November.
Had company while I was eating breakfast and composing this statement this morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rethinking the Golden Rule

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Luke 6:31.

It's Sunday morning, so I've decided to give a little homily. Forgive me, for I know not what I'm doing.

I saw this little clip on Facebook this morning, and that inspired me. What we get from Facebook memes:
https://www.facebook.com/WiccanInspirations/

I got to thinking what it was like to be on the receiving end of all that. Yes, the rule is for what you should do, but what about the person you do it unto?

I don't want to be treated like you treat yourself!

I don't want your self-loathing. I don't want your self-indulgence, your drugs, your alcohol, your ego. I don't want to be treated the way you want your husband or wife to treat you. I don't want your abuse, your lust, your secret desires.

I want to be treated the way I want to be treated.

Give me your kindness. Give me your respect. Give me your concern for my well-being.

How do you want to be treated? Are you willing to accept my treatment of myself for you? Don't do unto others as you would have them do to you. Do unto others as they would have you do. That is my Golden Rule.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

’Tis a Puzzlement…

Ah, the words of the King of Siam. They still ring loudly in my ears when I contemplate the kinds of things we believe. Also, since a part of my new Dag Hamar novel (yes, I’m working on it!) will be set in Thailand.

And speaking of Dag Hamar and For Mayhem or Madness, one of the key elements is to make a person disappear. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to disappear in the digital age? And specifically, to disappear digitally. For years, we have been teaching our children that “The Internet is Forever!” Don’t post that picture; your grandchildren will see it. Don’t say that online; a potential employer ten years from now will see it and turn you down. Use a fake name on Facebook, Twitter, and XXX.com. Your boss will see your picture at the ballgame on the day you called in sick to work. Danger. Danger! DANGER!

And it’s true. I’m only trying to secure or hide a man’s bank accounts and identity from being destroyed by a malicious hacker. Actually trying to disappear is even harder.

And that’s really where the puzzlement comes in. Over the past month or so, I’ve watched Hilary Clinton’s deletion of 30-33,000 emails from her personal server become a major political football. Here’s Dag Hamar’s computer forensics take on it:

All email has a minimum of two storage locations. The sender and the recipient. Unless a computer user is also a major guru, they don’t even control their own personal server. It might not even be in their own location. The most common method today is to have your own domain and personal address on servers that are located remotely, possibly on a server farm, or even more likely, in the cloud.

But even if you were among those who had a huge storage and processing capacity on private server hardware in your own facility, someone has to manage it. You cannot tell me that Hilary Clinton goes to her basement lair once a week and resets her server, backs up her own files, and updates her own software. No way. In the best possible use of the term, Hilary Clinton is a user. She has a software email program that her network manager installed for her and knows how to send and receive email from her laptop. She might even have a local copy stored on her laptop. She knows how to delete messages from her laptop and that message would also be deleted from her server.

But not from her archives. Personal servers are worthless if they are not regularly backed up. How long does it take to send and receive 33,000 emails? A year? Four years? How many backups of her server were burned to DVD during that time?

Not to mention the fact that any message she sent had a recipient and if it was significant was stored on a server at that end, complete with identifying information about the sender. Similarly, any message she received was stored on the sender’s server, complete with identifying information and backups. Now you would have me believe that Hilary Clinton is such a brilliant hacker that she could reach out across the entire World Wide Web and erase every message she ever sent or received from everyone’s servers and archives?

Furthermore, I simply can’t conceive of the FBI and CIA having computer gurus so inferior to the second rate hackers at Wikileaks that they couldn’t gather in all those messages even after they were deleted from the personal server. We credit Homeland Security with filtering millions of email messages and flagging key words in them on a daily basis to stop terrorism. These people are incapable of tracking down 33,000 email messages to or from a single IP address?

An intelligence worker once told me that the problem with spy fiction was that it didn’t even come close to guessing what was really possible in cyber espionage. Apparently, the media and all of America is similarly incapable of conceiving such an invasion of privacy, even while we are warning our children about posting that photo.

So why haven’t we heard about what was in all those email messages? Why haven’t they been released to the public?

Well, because they are still part of the ‘top secret’ negotiations and information gathering of the State Department. It is much better to let the people believe that the messages are lost and gone forever than to admit that our intelligence services have had them all along. And it is certainly much better than compromising national security by making public all the content of all the messages that were deleted. Might as well just yap our national security secrets from a campaign podium.

Yes, indeed. Why are we upset about the deletion of email from a personal server?

’Tis a Puzzlement.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

12 Lessons I Learned from the Software Industry

1. Back in the old days, (1980s) we had this joke: QUESTION: What's the difference between a software salesman and a used car salesman. ANSWER: A used car salesman knows when he's lying.
LESSON 1: You can believe your own bullshit, but it doesn't make it true.
LESSON 2: No matter what you buy, you're going to get lied to.

2. You can sell a lot of stuff based on differences that don't make a difference. One software company boasted that its product could control kerning (letter spacing) in 1/50,000th an em-space increments (about 0.0000016 inches or 16 ten-millionths of an inch). The competitor in only 1/1000th of an em (about 0.000083 or 83 millionths of an inch). But the highest resolution printers had dots that were 0.00029 inches (29 hundred-thousandths). Both competitors had greater control than could be shown or printed. Still today!
LESSON 3: When differentiating your product, choose a feature that ignites people's passions but doesn't make a difference and can't be proven.
LESSON 4: Buyers have no concept of what is actually important to them.

3. The software industry's first priority is selling software. You always have to sell the next version. A product that is complete and can't be developed any further is obsolete. There can never be a 100% solution or the software company would go out of business. Software companies inherently collude in forcing trickle-down upgrades to products dependent on them.
LESSON 5: There must always be a 'critical' feature or 'discovered' flaw to drive the next version.
LESSON 6: It should always be more costly to change to a competitor than to upgrade.
4. Security sells. Software companies routinely add and sell more secure versions rather than educating users on safe use. The best way to get a customer to change products is to convince them the competition exposes them to greater risk and is not secure.
LESSON 7: A perceived or promoted threat from outside will divert attention from real problems inside.
LESSON 8: People would rather be protected than act responsibly.
5. Software is designed and created by engineers. Engineers know how to write code. Therefore all problems can be solved with more code. Not all code works with other code. The answer to that problem is more code. Engineers almost never understand the industry for which they are writing code. They understand how to write code.
LESSON 9: Solutions create problems.
LESSON 10: Those who create solutions seldom understand the problem.
6. Even if the leader of a software company has never written a line of code in his or her life, all solutions to all problems and concepts for improvement will look like the brainchild of that leader. Engineers will be scrambling behind the scenes to try to make product sense out of what the leader says.
LESSON 11: Sell customers on the vision and you can blame others for failing to fulfill it.
LESSON 12: We have no concept of the path between vision and the future.
This is all stuff I learned from the software industry. It has nothing at all to do with the 2016 Presidential election.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Case Against Gutenberg

Like Brutus at the murder of Julius Caesar, Gutenberg wasn’t the only one to stick a knife in Christianity. But this friend of the Word also got blood on his hands.
In Gutenberg Plaza in Mainz, this statue dominates. However, there is no known likeness of the man that was made during his life, so none of the several statues and busts of him look the same.

I researched the life of Gutenberg and the intricacies of his inventions for close to twenty-five years before I started writing The Gutenberg Rubric. I love printing. I love the elegance of Gutenberg’s movable type and font design. I love the care with which characters were shaped in different versions to make the lines of type come out evenly against the margin. I love the fact that he inked in two colors so that lines of type could be set in red, and that he provided a rubric—a guide to what letters should be placed in the blank spaces by scribes—so hand crafting could be combined with machine work. I like the ‘alchemy’ involved in the formulation of lead type. I like the adaptation of a wine press to provide sufficient pressure to imprint the pages.
My book takes great liberties with the story of Gutenberg, Schoeffer, Fust, et.al. Nothing in it particularly contradicts the historical accounts, but the story is not historical. It just looks like it fits. You can get the paperback at https://www.createspace.com/5220838.
And the Kindle eBook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0983369127.

In general, as I stood in front of three different copies of the Bible printed by Gutenberg, I was speechless. 560 years ago he invented the process that made books available to everyone. He made literacy a thing to be strived for. He enlightened the world.

His hand held the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This picture of "The Fall of Man" by Lucas Cranach the Elder dates back to 1530. Interesting that he paints the serpent as a woman, isn't it? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_(I)_-_Adam_and_Eve-Paradise_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_-_Detail_Tree_of_Knowledge.jpg
Let us consider Adam and Eve. As long as they remained in ignorance, they walked with God. Once they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Etz ha-da'at tov va-ra) they were cast out of Eden and out of the presence of God.

When I began intensively studying the Bible back in the late sixties and early seventies, my mother, a United Methodist minister, warned me that too much study would destroy my faith. She was right. Ultimately it did, though not for many years. And in spite of my study, I do not profess to be a Bible scholar any more than I am truly a print scholar. Far from it. And that is part of the problem. Faith—walking in the presence of God—requires ignorance. In fact, that is its definition. Faith is acting on a belief without proof. When we have proof—true knowledge—we no longer need faith.

Gutenberg took away ignorance/innocence.
Of the 49 copies still remaining in whole or in part of the Gutenberg Bible, this one is in the New York Public Library. CC BY-SA 2.0hide terms  File:Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, New York Public Library, 2009. Pic 01.jpg Created: 28 May 2009
Prior to the invention of movable type, books were costly to produce. They were painstakingly copied by scribes, some of whom (if we are informed correctly) did not even know what they were copying, but faithfully reproduced each letter. Even the language of the text was not known by the common people. People, who did not read, took the words of the priest on faith. The priest—a scholar who could read and interpret the Bible—kept the message relevant both to the people and the time. Christianity lived and adapted.
The Cathedral, or Mainz Dom. It is no longer required that people go the church/cathedral to hear the words read in a different language and listen to the priest's interpretation of them. People now hold the knowledge in their hands and partake of the forbidden fruit.
But the printing of some 160-180 copies of the Bible moved the book out of the sanctuary and into the hands of the ignorant/innocent. Literacy spread. Each person could read and interpret the words for him or herself. People no longer had to take the words of the priest on faith. They held in their hands the knowledge of good and evil.

And with that act, the Bible was frozen in time. Each individual became responsible for his or her own interpretation of the Word. It could never change. It could never be anything more than the absolute knowledge of good and evil: original sin. The Bible is proof of whatever we want to believe.

Gutenberg’s hand held the bloody knife that killed faith.
Gutenberg died in 1468, largely unknown. He was buried in the Franciscan church which was later destroyed and the graves lost. The church in this picture is St. Christoph in Mainz which was Gutenberg's home parish. It was also nearly destroyed by Allied bombs in WWII in 1945. While the sanctuary is now 'open air', the chapel under the bell tower is still used a few times a month by various churches. It is just a few blocks from where Gutenberg was interred.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Problem with Pets


Let me start off by saying that I love animals. I like dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and horses. I comprehend the fascination with snakes, ants, geckos, birds, and ferrets. I have nothing at all against animals. Okay?
A friendly cat in the Meteora of Greece. 4/3/2016.

When I started traveling full time back in 2013, one of the first questions I was asked was whether I was taking a dog. I was pretty much appalled. No. No pets.
I carefully explained that having a pet in my traveling circumstances would be unfair to the animal. It would spend hours a day in my truck where I would have to figure out a way to leave it safely when I stopped to eat, get coffee, tour a museum, or visit any of the hundreds of places where pets are not allowed. I would have to leave it behind when I took an airplane, arranging care for the pet. Or not travel. Each country I visit as I go around the world has different rules regarding how long a pet has to stay in isolation before he can join the owner. My trailer is tiny and there is no place for the accoutrements of a pet. (Cage? Litterbox? Dishes? Leashes?)
Prague across the Vltava River. 5/17/2016.

Then there is the problem of disruption. I have been in many campgrounds where pet owners have bragged about how well-behaved and quiet their dogs are and what a pleasure it is to travel with them. Their words have been made into lies as soon as they leave the pet in the trailer to drive someplace it can’t go. I’ve have listened to dogs wail and cry and howl all day long when their owners are absent.
Not fair to the pet and not fair to the traveler. Having a pet puts a restraint on where you can go and how long you can be gone. Even how much you can afford. Pets are costly.

Statue of Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) with her good luck breast rubbed shiny. Over stimulated, I think.  Munich, 5/21/2016.

“But don’t you get lonely?” I’m asked.
Hell, yes! I spend about 90-95% of my time alone and usually lonely. I miss touch and love and the cuddles that pets give without ever asking for more in return than that you care for them.
And that’s the real problem with pets.

Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. One of the most romantic views on earth. This is the castle that Disney artists modeled the Disneyland castle after. Hohenschwangau, Bavaria, 5/22/2016.

I read blogposts, email, and Facebook posts that either personally or conglomerately talk about the importance of their pets. “My pet is a member of my family.” “My pet lives here. You don’t.” “I love my Pug, Pom, Pyrenees, Persian, whatever.” “Happiness is a kitten.” “There is no loyalty like a dog’s.”
I appreciate the sentiment. Pets quickly become as important to their owners as the people in their lives. And often more so. Pets actually become a substitute for people. We will cuddle and pet and groom and feed our pets when we won’t do the same for our spouse or children. Because they don’t demand anything else from us, it is much easier to have a relationship with a pet than with a human. We can complain about anything. They listen. We can push them away. They wait. We can reach out a hand. They are there to be petted.
It is easier to love a dog than a person.

Great-great-...-grandsire Everett. (Everett="Boar Heart"). Now that would be a pet... Munich 2/21/2016.

When our first greyhound died back in 2009, my daughter’s coach talked to her gently. “Parents give us pets so we can learn how to deal with the loss of a loved one.” It was a beautiful sentiment. Our dog was a loved one and we dealt with the loss. But a step from that to being the focus of our love to the exclusion of our loved ones is entirely too easy to make. If I had a dog, I wouldn’t need a person. It is so much tidier than dealing with the emotions and needs of someone who might not always feel the same. Who won’t jump into your lap simply because you sat down. Who won’t sit for hours while you stroke its fur. Who won’t always be standing at the door waiting to go with you wherever you are going. Who doesn’t show joy whenever you walk into the room. Who will always put your needs first.
If I give that kind of affection and care, it will be to a human being who returns it. That’s the problem with pets.
Ja, David. Sie hat einen 'innie'. Lowenbrau Biergarten, Munich, 5/21/2016.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Consider the Stones

Look around. See the stones? Rocks. Gravel. Sand. Pebbles. Boulders. Gems. Stones are ubiquitous. We see them in every direction. The whole earth—this third rock from the sun—is made of stone.

We classify them as igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. We name them marble, granite, limestone, `a`a lava, sandstone, quartz, basalt, slate, coal. We treasure diamonds, rubies, opals, emeralds.

They are all just stones.
This stone cairn was built on the Big Island of Hawaii overlooking the Pacific. Just a pile of stones. 2/20/2016.


We spend our lives ignoring them. Unless we trip over them or bang our heads on them, they are virtually invisible.

But stones are the miraculous building blocks of civilization. We build palaces, cathedrals, skyscrapers, castles, and shops. We carve them into sublime statues that outlive both artist and subject. We engrave them. We stack them into cairns and memorials to great achievements and to great tragedies. We lay the cornerstones of our buildings and our property boundaries, build fences and walls, and make dividing lines between our countries. Stones to keep cattle in and barbarians out.
Leaving Greece and entering Bulgaria on a bed of stones. 4/12/2016.


We crush stones into a paving bed for our roads and highways. We mold them and bake them into bricks to build homes, offices, fireplaces, and barbecues. We grind up rocks and blend the aggregate with cement—itself just more fluid rock for binding—and make blocks to build bunkers and to lay the foundations of our homes.
Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The oldest of some 300 temples in the region. A huge pile of stones. 3/10/2016.


The vast sandy deserts are no less than the remains of quartz mountains ground down by wind and water into tiny grains—little stones in their most malleable form. Moistened on the beach, we mold them into castles to be swept away by the tides. Under pressure, they can blast the rust from metal and clean graffiti from walls. Ground finely and heated to melting, those little stones turn transparent and we look through them. Our windows—the glass that keeps the heat in and the cold out or vice versa, that protects us from wind and debris, that mirrors our image—are just stones.
The Parthenon, Athens. A temple monument made of stones. 3/31/2016.


Incredible stone monuments are guideposts to glory of mankind—the pyramids of Giza, the Parthenon, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame. All made out of stones. And amidst them we find ruins—victims of siege engines that hurled rocks with such force that stone walls fell, or like Jericho crumbled at a shout.
The Theater of Dionysus in Athens. Even our entertainment is produced in a pile of stones. 3/31/2016.


The earliest weapons were no more than stones, thrown at prey or at enemies. We lay in wait and tumbled boulders on the heads of our foes. We set a stone in a sling and brought Goliath to his knees.

Or, on our knees, we present a stone in a golden ring to pledge our love and troth.
Sublime. Statue in Thessaloniki. 4/8/2016.


Yet stones are tools. The miller’s grist stone or the peasant’s mortar and pestle grind grain into flour for our bread. We pound stakes into the ground with a stone to anchor tents when we camp. We strike the stone flint against steel to create the spark that will light our fires. We surround the fire pit with stones to heat our homes and cook our food.
St. Nikolas Monastery in the Meteora of Greece. Building our retreat on top of a stone. 4/3/2016.


At the end of our lives a stone is engraved to mark our passing, returning to the soil, becoming minerals, absorbed into stone. We scatter the ashes of loved ones among the pebbles and pray for their peace and our own.

Stones simply are.
The stony shore of the Aegean Sea, Split, Croatia. 4/30/2016.


They have never asked us to believe in them. No stone has ever sent one nation to war against another. No stone has ever demanded that we believe in no other stones, that we love it, or that we bow down and worship it. No stone has enslaved people. No stone has considered one person chosen and another damned. No stone has subjugated a woman or made chattel of her children.

Old bones turned to stone. At the Museum of Natural History in Bucharest. 4/18/2016.

Stones are not capricious. They do not do not care about race, religion, national origin, sexual preference, or economic status. They are not soft for one and hard for another. They are not liquid one moment and solid the next. They don’t give blessings to one and curses to another.

Stones obey the laws of nature. They fall to the ground because of gravity. They fly through the air when propelled by force. They crumble under sufficient pressure. They are nothing more nor less than stone.
Stones hold the water in its channel. Ljubljana. 5/4/2016.


I believe my family and my child love me like I love them. I believe in the brotherhood and goodness of all mankind. I believe in the faithfulness of my friends. I believe in Mom, apple pie, and the American way.

Sometimes I even believe in God.

What is a cathedral other than a great pile of stones? Cathedral of St. Vitus, Prague. 5/172016.

But when it comes down to it? When I need to depend on something constant and never-failing?

I believe in stones.
I am, after all, not a sage. Just an old man sitting at a sidewalk café waxing eloquent on the world. Bratislava, Slovakia, 5/12/2016.