Net Effects

Once again, I find myself up against the limitations of communicating in English. It’s not the language itself, but all the demented intellectual baggage that comes with it. Bear with me.

When we are encouraged to stop an think for a moment, we recognize that the concept of a cultural climate is a generalization. That’s the nature of social sciences, making broad generalizations that are never precisely true, but useful enough to learn something about human nature. We have to back away from the the subject matter at hand in order to see the broader trends. Precision is simply not the point. It’s when people lose awareness of it that we see those generalizations abused to manipulate the general public.

Let’s back up for just a moment and refresh some important ideas. Biblical thinking is indicative, not descriptive. Biblical Law is part of that. We don’t slavishly obey such law with legalistic thinking, but we absorb the character and personality of God as indicated by the record of Biblical Law. Biblical Law is the broad and intentionally imprecise overview of various Law Covenants and prophetic pronouncements, all of which must be discerned from a Hebrew Mystical frame of mind.

In Biblical Law, centralized control is inherently oppressive. No good moral person would ever consider using centralizing controls; good people do not want control of other people’s behavior. Nothing you can dream up as morally good can justify what most people today think of as “government.” Instead, the moral character of God teaches us to avoid it. When the duty of control is thrust upon us by circumstances, we would rightly seek to discern the path of least control. At the same time, government is a dire necessity under Biblical Law. So it becomes a question of seeing government as an art form, and trying to avoid kitsch and gilding the lily. It’s damned hard work.

This is according to divine revelation. Never pretend that you can just lay down some principles and let it run. Fallen human nature most fully expresses creativity when trying to circumvent moral justice. The problem is that it is a moving target.

Some of you may be aware that the military is one big concrete block of nit-picking regulation. It got that way layer upon layer as those under military regulation have sought endless variations in flouting the painfully obvious intent of the regulations. But when a particular fashion of contempt for law moves on to other things, the wholly uncreative process of regulation never goes back to relax something that no longer matters. Thus, military “justice” is loaded with hide-bound and frankly hateful regulation from centuries ago.

Just so, genuine government requires a deft hand of wisdom to notice when something can be forgotten and pay more attention to things that are a current problem. It requires genuine intelligence, not merely a prodigious memory for minutiae. You cannot govern by robot; it requires a person. The dehumanizing nature of bureaucracy kills both the governed and the government. It violates reality; it is unnatural by definition. It bears the seeds of its own destruction, and reality patiently waits until that seed bears fruit.

A primary manifestation of that fruit is a shift in cultural climate. Culture is never all one thing; the word “culture” represents a conceptual construct. It’s the net effect of multiple subcultures and various cultural influences on a wider whole.

American culture has shifted dramatically, and too many government figures haven’t noticed. Pay no attention to the rhetoric; major figures have recently betrayed a truculent blindness. They are holding their hands over their eyes tightly to avoid seeing. The reins of control are tatters and dust. A primary symptom right now is the vast troves of government secrets bleeding out into the public eye. The old culture of subservient reverence is gone; the new culture is open mockery by exposing blatant lies. The only way anyone in government can hope to capture the public imagination now is to join in that mockery and start tearing down the goofy stuff that no longer fits the current cultural trends.

The voters thought they had elected someone like that. He lied; he was just a salesman and the voters bought it without a warranty. Meanwhile, he has unleashed upon the public a hoard of scolding idiots who belong in the ancient past. Every moment of recidivism in government aggravates the depth of conflict with reality. The ability of that mocking culture has risen rapidly against the declining talent of bureaucrats trying to protect government secrets. Virtually nobody working in a bureaucracy is driven in their work by conviction; virtually everyone opposing the bureaucracy is driven by conviction. Professionalism can’t compensate for the dehumanizing task of secret-keeping, never mind corrupt politics; the computer crackers have the advantage, if only because they have nothing to lose.

DHS Secretary Kelly’s dismissive response to criticism has made him far more enemies than he knows. It’s not just Congress and entrenched NGOs that are offended. This isn’t merely a matter of illegal immigrants and Muslims; he is defending some of the most egregious policy mistakes from Obama’s administration or even earlier, and intentionally making them worse than they have to be. His blindness to the moral boundaries presents a threat to everyone who actually belongs in his country. Worse, it represents a direct provocation to the hacker culture that already dominates whatever American culture will become. This is going to result in outright warfare, and he doesn’t have the means to win. If there’s anyone likely to provoke a literal civil war, it’s this man, and he’s apparently stupid enough to relish the idea.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s hostility to Wikileaks is not merely pointless; it guarantees the snarks on 4chan (and the entire hacker subculture) will turn him into a laughingstock. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has painted a target on himself. Yes, Mr. Sensenbrenner, we do have to use the Internet; we don’t have your personal staff funded by taxpayers to do it for us. You couldn’t do your job without it. The Internet will crush you, sir. And the abysmal incompetence of government bureaucrats to secure the secrets will only get worse, so there will be more leaks from the CIA, NSA and FBI.

We are staring multiple crises in the face, and many of them are rooted outside the US, making them totally out of government control. For many issues, there is simply no good answer because the US government policies destroyed all the good answers long ago. We are seeing once again the statue with feet of clay. What makes this less than apocalyptic is rather complex. It has to do with a global entanglement via the Internet, as well as the rising and already existing social order that is hardly dependent on the current system of government. It’s like a parasite that outgrows the need for a host, so the what’s left of the host will simply fall away. The government that gave birth to the Internet will be displaced by it.

Meanwhile, you and I will suffer at least some from the turmoil as these incompetent nitwits provoke chaos, even without any particular interest in the fight.

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The Fixer 03

Ned’s employer was a senate staffer.

Most people called him Tim, but his name was Tymek. His parents saddled him with the traditional Polish variant of Timothy in honor of his grandfather. Tim’s family had been involved in banking and finance. Before the credit crisis, Tim had followed in that tradition, amassing a substantial fortune, though hardly anything like the bigshots. Some of those bigshots lost everything in the credit collapse, and only those who actually ran the system kept their obscene wealth.

Tim escaped with his more modest accounts almost by accident. The craziness during the days leading up to the crisis found him questioning his own purpose in life. In the process of his soul searching, he ran across a virtual community called the Shepherd’s Household. While he never really became that close as a family member, he did absorb the radically different approach to moral questions. Oddly enough, instead of working in finance, he felt he should be working in government. He was especially intrigued with uncovering fraud, and knew plenty about it from his wheeling and dealing in credit and currency swaps. So he just pulled all of his accounts one day and called someone he knew working in government oversight. He parlayed some insider information for a job helping to expose even more. One thing led to another and he ended up as an investigator for the committee that oversaw banking and finance; Tim specialized in keeping an eye on government contracts.

It was through the virtual family that he met Ned. It began mostly with Ned offering to serve as a personal fitness coach. Ned’s hobbies supporting the hackers taught him the value of superior physical fitness and agility. It was all his other talents at snooping that made him even more valuable to Tim. So Tim hired Ned full time as his personal assistant, paying him out of his investment income when he moved all his accounts into various business that seemed to have a future in the chaotic political and economic climate.

Ned had learned to trust Tim and welcomed him as a member of the family. Ned’s own history with the Shepherd family was quite different than most. He was the only one they had who joined early in life. For Ned, it was the best way to combine his Iroquois heritage with modern Western existence. His parents were quite active in keeping alive their native traditions. For Ned, the beliefs of the Shepherd family were substantially consistent with Iroquois mythology. It was the same basic approach in dealing with reality. It also helped him quell the apparent conflict between what the Western world seemed to demand and his burning sense that it was filled with lies and injustice. His grades were high, but it seemed to him the school system was determined to crush his creativity and sense of what was truly just. As an avid Internet user, he had stumbled across the Shepherd’s Household through gaming.

Ned eventually came to terms with the obvious conflict between the burning sense of morals in his heart and the world in which he lived. He became far wiser about not provoking people in authority, but routing around them when possible. His native intelligence led him to understand how to game people without violating his own conscience. And he learned all of this before he graduated public school, largely because he sought the counsel of Shepherd folks who had all been through the same stuff, and encouraged him to stay at it.

Both Ned and Tim shared the same passion for justice, with the sober reality of just how much and what kind of justice was possible in the current political context. It was a friendly conspiracy to infiltrate the system to answer their sense of calling. The bond was rather like an uncle and his favorite nephew, along with genuine friendship, keeping each other sane.

So Ned was coming home to a building his boss owned, to a free apartment in the basement, next door to the computer server room that Ned maintained with the help of his self-programming AI to provide networking for the numerous client businesses leasing space upstairs. This provided Ned with a maintenance badge to come and go at will. There were eight different entrances. Three were guarded and easily found; two more required access codes. The other three were a simple matter of accessing some other secured area with internal passages. Ned’s badge got him into far more than just this one building, and he used all of the different paths regularly.

Today he come in to find the computers next door already churning through the data he had pulled from the state’s old system. Through Tim, Ned already had access to the federal criminal data, but it was sanitized by security agencies. While Ned had often been able to work past those roadblocks, it was dicey and had to be targeted. This state data dump’s primary value to Tim was linking names to businesses and criminal deals that were never prosecuted for whatever reason. An awful lot of federal contracts were handled by the same people who made money from state contracts. It was a priceless history of underworld dealings far into the past. For Ned, it was priceless in terms of patterns of human behavior. He was looking for anything that helped him project future criminal dealing based on how they thought and acted, and casting that against a different technological background. This was his own long-term personal project, in that both he and Tim were also protecting their virtual family. They were always keeping an eye on trends that might present a threat.

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Kiln blog: You Are Entitled

Teaser…

You are entitled to your own fantasy world.

Most of our world shares a certain common core of fantasy in the first place. That fantasy presumes that there is such a thing as “objective reality.” That’s a bad lie and it has dominated society for way too long. All they really have is an agreement to proceed on a highly enforced track of a particular set of false assumptions.

It so happens that God permits folks to do this. In His longsuffering mercy, He has granted people enough moral rope to hang themselves. And there’s a whole lot of hanging going on right now….

You can read the rest of this message here by visiting Kiln of the Soul blog.

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Divine Appointment

My third granddaughter was born yesterday. But I had a divine appointment, so I rode my bicycle out to Draper Lake and will visit with mother and baby today.

It is necessary to approach this video project with my best efforts. Not that I expect any kind of high-end professional production, but that I can’t blow it off. Whatever I can do will have to be good enough. So spent some time searching for an outdoor studio.

Consider that, here in Central Oklahoma, the wind is seldom still. On top of that, during the summer months we have a pretty strong representation of deer ticks and chiggers. They hang out in vegetation, so the trick is find some place to stand that has none, while offering a natural background. And it needs to have trees to dampen that ever-present wind. With the recent construction of a new road, and some added parking area, I found a very nice spot for one of my outdoor studios.

Draper has long had roads and parking areas on about half of the points around the lake. For some reason, Parks Department added one parking area that’s not on a point, but simply atop a ridge. It would overlook the lake, but it’s screened by thick trees. Because so much of the underbrush was scraped away and dirt moved around, they dropped roll-out turf patches. It didn’t cover everything. Thus, I had this open patch of dirt in a spot that isn’t likely to grow anything because of foot traffic. Yet on a weekday morning, the place is generally vacant and I should be able to shoot some short videos without background noise.

I tested it with my iPhone — the product isn’t worth posting anywhere, just a kind of “testing, testing” thing. Still, it came out well, so we have identified one good spot. I still have to test my camera for video production, so there will be some more goofing around, but I propose to record a couple of short clips singing acapella in some other natural settings. That is, provided I can have a day when the allergens aren’t dampening my voice. Please don’t take this as boasting, but I’m a baritone with a very wide range. Not all of my vocal range sounds that good all the time. Post-nasal drip can really shred my bottom end, which is actually down in the bass range, and can make it a struggle to sing on the rest of it.

Pray with me, because it’s highly variable regardless of things I’ve tried to reduce the problem. If it works out well enough, I may be able to start posting a few simple worship choruses that you can sing along with. My real talent isn’t singing, but leading others to sing.

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The Fixer 02

It was just a few blocks home.

As he walked, Ned went back over the whole operation in his mind. The state was forced by class action lawsuit to make available a collection of old databases. The one that interested Ned was the forensic investigation files from white collar crime cases. It was part of a larger collection of case files. They were segregated internally, but all part of the same database. The state handed off the actual work to a contractor with a couple of state employees overseeing the operation. People would have to show up at this understaffed operation in one of the old office towers where the aging computers were still housed, and present whatever justification they had for one or more cases. The bureaucracy would decide what to release and charge for a primitive paper printout.

Ned had no intention of submitting to the painfully intrusive queries of the government and call attention to himself for just one record, when he actually wanted the whole database. In modern terms, it wasn’t that large, but there was simply no way to persuade the state to let him copy the whole thing. That wasn’t part of the settlement in the first place.

But he knew that if he could get close enough to some of the terminals, he just might be able to pirate the whole thing using a new proximity field technology scanner. Ned was by no means a hacker, just a serious technology user. He did poke around computer hacking in school, but decided it wasn’t his forte. Instead, he befriended the kids who were quite talented, and worked to support their exploration in other ways. One of those ways was using the kind of physical talents that got him out of that office building without capture. He would sneak into places that had things those kids wanted for their work.

While there was a turnover in those friendships, by early adulthood Ned was still actively supporting a group of hackers working on peculiar projects of interest. One of those projects was that electronic lock pick. But the real crown jewels was an alternative AI project. Despite all the big technology corporate and government hubbub about how AI could challenge humans, Ned’s friends never believed it. They were content with AI just doing more of what computers had always done: process data. The AI angle was to process it better and on much bigger scales. One of the yields from this project was using AI to write its own software, to reprogram itself after surveying existing software. Ned never had to be a hacker because he could tap into their AI to write the stuff he needed.

In return, Ned used his connections through his employer to get them hardware and server space. And not just existing computer hardware; Ned’s employer had access to industrial 3D printers that could construct custom computer components to order. These days just about everything was “system on a chip” as more was crammed into the CPU. Using his friends’ expertise and his boss’s manufacturing lab, Ned had his tablet built to facilitate such things as his electronic burglary of the crime database today. He didn’t simply copy data from their machines, but transferred it through his tablet and uploaded it via the ubiquitous municipal wifi back to his server. The only problem was that his tablet was pulling so hard that it slowed all the machines in that office. It was just his bad luck that one of the state employees was a cop who knew how to use that bug scanner. It wouldn’t pinpoint him, but told her there was a data draw over radio link from very nearby. She guessed correctly that whomever was doing that would be holding an electronic device that was visible.

Ned was hoping after his escape that it would appear to be a mere nuisance, not a wholesale plunder. Otherwise they might keep looking into the incident. Interference was one thing, but the technology he used to pull from those old computers, so far as he knew, was otherwise totally unknown to anyone outside his boss’s lab, where it was developed. Ned never told his friends all that the chip could do, and they didn’t ask. It was their unspoken code of friendship. Besides, they could have worked it out if they wanted. But Ned was also friends with one of the researchers at the lab who allowed Ned to test implementations of ideas like this.

As the researcher explained it, everything in the universe was constantly bouncing and emitting particles and energy waves. From a close proximity in particular, it was possible to read the signature of such emissions passively. That included electrons moving in wires, human DNA signatures, the presence of a void behind stone or steel, etc. All it needed was a tuned sensor and enough AI to interpret the data. Ned’s friends supplied the AI; the lab provided the hardware. Between the two, with Ned acting somewhat as a firewall, he was permitted to field test a chip that worked from a few meters away reading the activity of those old computers.

This allowed him to find out how to work through wifi to slip into the state’s internal network without facing their firewall against outside connections. Then he could emulate a signal that the old servers received as actual commands from a master terminal. Ned had ordered the system to dump the entire white collar crime database through his tablet, onto the Internet via the external wifi and down to his servers at the building where he lived. It had taken two days of hanging around the office in different disguises, each time analyzing and tuning the procedure. It took only a half-hour that morning to get the data, but at the cost of annoying the employees with his hogging the system resources.

But it was his boss who wanted the data. Not that Ned didn’t have his own uses for it, but he would have done almost anything for his boss.

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The Fixer 01

(This is part 2 of the same story that started with “The Sniper.”)

Just a few more seconds and Ned would have it.

You wouldn’t likely have noticed him, sitting in a chair with his ticket curled out from between two fingers of his right hand. The people at the desk were taking numbers to process requests. Someone farther down was taking money in various forms and handing over fat wads of cheap paper. Most of the supplicants were attorneys in various versions of business attire, a few were reporters; everyone else seemed to represent a wide range of personal and academic interests. So this man appeared to be among that latter diverse group — an older guy, scruffy with grey hair beard, and a jacket that stank.

He held a magazine in his hands, but if you looked closely you could see a tablet computer was inside the open journal near the bottom. Out of the corner of one eye Ned had been watching the rotund security guard, who normally sat near the last station where money changed hands. The guard rose and approached the corner of the counter at the far end from where he sat, drawn by a minor commotion among the workers at the ancient computer terminals along the back wall. They were talking and pointing at their screens. Eventually someone came around the corner from a back office. A little more chatter and this woman left, returning shortly with a device in her hands.

Ned recognized the device: Essentially a “bug” finder. It could pickup low powered transmissions across a very wide range of frequencies. A device like that would be run periodically so it would learn to ignore the ambient signals already coming from the office equipment. She watched the thing as she turned around and faced out over the counter. She looked up and said something to one of the people near her, who then came over to the counter and spoke to the guard.

He looked a little concerned, then turned and began scanning the supplicants sitting in chairs and on benches lining the walls of what amounted to a wide hallway. Ned slid his right foot up under his chair. The nearest exit was the stairwell door on his left. The display on his tablet indicate it was just seconds from completion of its task. He secured the grip of his left hand on the tablet as the magazine started to sag in his right. Just as the countdown hit zero, the guard yelled from just a few feet away.

“Hey, you!” His fat finger pointed directly at Ned.

Ned never looked up. It was all one fluid motion, and people who were actually looking at him didn’t even catch everything. Lurching upright on the right leg already under him, the other foot was planted off to his left at an angle. His right hand flung the magazine straight into the guard’s face. Despite the blinding distraction, the burly fellow lunged forward and grabbed Ned’s jacket. The rotten fabric ripped in his hand and Ned was already yanking open the stairwell door. Passing through the narrow minimum opening to admit his body, Ned jerked hard on the other side. The valve in the ancient door closer surrendered the door slammed shut behind him. By the time his foot hit the first step on the right side, he had flung off the remains of the jacket down the stairs on the left.

In steps entirely too quiet for someone sprinting, Ned flew up the stairs and was out of sight before the guard could wrestle open the door again. His radio squawked as he entered the stairwell and he spotted the jacket on the down side. Without really paying much attention, he loudly trod down the stairs and lifted the rag to compare with the fragment in his hand. “Hah! Gotcha. There ain’t no exit from this stairwell.”

He stood and listened a moment, then turned and clambered slowly back up to the landing, turning his face upward to the faint sound of patter from Ned’s flying feet. He snatched up his radio, pressed the key and barked into it, “Stairwell 3, sounds like he’s climbing.” A few seconds later a somewhat younger and fitter guard burst through the door and took off up the stairs. The older guard followed at a more leisurely pace.

Ned knew none of this, but thanked God for all the years he had invested in just this very form of exercise. It was his favorite and he had done it obsessively in his youth. Whether up or down, he had never met anyone who could catch him. His pace barely slowed as he reached the top floor after twelve flights of stairs. He had even managed to slip the tablet under his shirt into a pocked built into the thin mesh vest clinging to his skin. It was a long pouch with a zipper opening vertically along the front. Stowing the tablet inside this, he zipped it down as his hand came out. He could hear the pounding pursuit still far below.

From a pants pocket, he pulled out a small device with a long wire snout protruding from a fat rectangular box smaller than his palm. He inserted the wire into the lock on the door in the dark alcove at the there atop the last flight of stairs. His thumb pressed a button, then slid a toggle switch. The device was silent, but the lock was not, clicking loudly when the electronic pick had done the job. He twisted it quickly, then yanked it out. Thrusting it back into his pocket, Ned turned the stiff knob and slipped through the door, resetting the lock as he closed it behind him. It was designed to keep people in, not out.

The roof was covered in loose gravel. Without pausing, Ned changed to a stride that was more like cross country skiing, keeping his feet close to the surface. This allowed him to gain what little traction was possible and prevented him losing his footing on the forward plant. At the far corner of the ledge, he spun partway and dropped over the side. His hands caught the upturned edge of the roof, allowing him to reach around the overhang and grab a large pipe attached to the wall. Ned had noticed it when casing the building; it turned out to be PVC and pretty solidly clamped to the wall. Although the rubberized coating on his palms kept him from sliding down the pipe, he didn’t regret painting the stuff on. He took advantage of the firmness of the pipe, braced the soles of his feet on the surface and walked himself quickly down some three floors to another small section of roof atop an extended portion of the main building.

He was luckier this time, because there was a long section of the roof that had been raised due to repairs and it was bare of gravel. He stood just a moment, took three deep and calming breaths, then sprinted along the strip. Launching himself across the narrow alley far below, he landed just on the edge of the roof another story below. There was a parapet around this one. In a dive, his hands just caught the edge and he yanked his body toward it, rolling to his right side to protect the tablet snuggled against his ribcage on the left. It was ruggedized, but not impervious to impact. He rolled neatly to his feet again.

From here it was matter of vaulting across a series of connected shorter buildings, dropping a story or two with each transition using various fixtures. He ended up on a series of fire escapes, dropping smartly from one to the next using the outside railing of each. He enjoyed working out with the Parkour guys in the park, but wasn’t interested in the visually showy stuff, just the skills for moving quickly and confidently through obstacles. The last drop left him in a dead pocket alley. Around the corner was a foul-smelling dumpster used by a restaurant.

He crept up behind this huge bin. Reaching back to the base of his skull, he peeled off the grey wig and tossed it in with the stinking trash. Cheaply bought at a thrift store, he wouldn’t miss it. With his other hand he rubbed off the dabs of rubber cement that had held it in place. His other hand joined the rubbing routine on his face, removing the fake whiskers, heavy eyebrows and a few other bits and pieces. What was left was a fairly young Native American visage, incapable of growing whiskers. He jerked off his loose-fitting dark gray short-sleeved t-shirt, snapping it from the sleeves. This reversed the shirt and yanked out long sleeves at the same time. His sweating torso shivered in the cool autumn air and he hurried to put it back on, now bright red. In turn with each sleeve, he pinched and twisted the edge, then rolled it up, creating a cuff that held the billowing sleeves tight to his wrists.

Coming around the dumpster, he joined himself to the pedestrian traffic and disappeared.

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Klin blog: Don’t Count on It

Teaser…

Context: I surrendered to the gospel ministry as a teenager. Then, I attended college (Oklahoma Baptist University) to study and train for it. I never made it to seminary, though I never stopped trying to study on that level on my own. I spent hundreds of dollars on books, but eventually kept only a few. The journey out of bondage to Western evangelical Christian religion was long and painful, but it began with something I heard back in college. “The Bible is an eastern book; Jesus was an eastern man. Christianity is an eastern religion.” It took awhile for that to sink in.

During that long lag time from the late 1970s in college to my final departure in 2005, I did my best to volunteer in churches on whatever basis they would tolerate me. A couple of times I was granted an official internship. Several other times I was hired as Music Director simply because no one else would do it, and I just barely could. So I was frequently working as church staff and often hanging out with the pastors in daily work and conferences and just anywhere I could. I was trying to absorb the culture and hoping someone would notice my spirit and talents and sponsor me for something more permanent. While that never happened, I did learn a lot about the culture.

It included endless whining about how the mass of church membership just barely showed up. Never more than something like 20% actually got involved enough to make things happen (by their estimates). Today there is an endless supply of books and studies and programs on how to provoke your membership to a greater degree of spirituality. As you know from reading much of anything I’ve written, it can’t happen because they confuse “spirituality” with “better thinking and acting.”

You can read the rest of this message by clicking this link and visiting Kiln of the Soul blog.

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