Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Countdown to 1984

(from the book "Finding Liberty")

Author's Note: This article, along with the previously posted "In Dependence", form the basis of the storyline for my upcoming novel "What So Proudly We Hailed". I decided to post this one as well because the two articles kind of go together (this one coming first). I apologize if it sounds too political; I make no claim to knowing what I'm talking about and I hope that the two articles together do not prejudice anyone's perception about the remaining articles, stories, & essays included in "Finding Liberty" (the overwhelming majority of which are thoughtful & positive), but if the subject matter of these two articles is of interest to you, then you may also be interested in "What So Proudly We Hailed" which, while not being a "happy" read, attempts to show a future that I believe is not so very preposterous at all. So please accept my apologies for the shameless book plug, and know that I will make every attempt in the future to simply post what I hope will be thoughts ranging from the inspiring to the downright silly. I'm really not quite this paranoid in real life.

In 1945, George Orwell’s Animal Farm gave a simple yet realistic account of Stalinist communism, including an eerily accurate description of what its condition would degenerate to by the time of its collapse more than 40 years later. Not only did Orwell get more right than not with his depiction, but many of the examples of the slow & systematic governmental decay that he used to illustrate the novel can be seen with glaring clarity in institutions of government all over the world, including our own.

One year before his death in 1950, Orwell’s 1984 was first published. Like Animal Farm, it also dealt with a totalitarian government, but in this novel, we do not see the steady decay over time. Instead, total corruption is shown to have already reached its apex, except that in this instance, the government is not about to allow itself to lose its power. 1984 depicted a nightmarish world where war was constant, thought was an arrestable offense, love was outlawed, individuality did not exist, and Big Brother watched your every move. If Animal Farm showed how a government corrupts itself, 1984 showed what that corrupted government can create.

In it’s day, 1984’s depiction of the future was the topic of much discussion, and there was a good deal of speculation as to how correct Orwell’s vision of the future might really be, regardless of how impossible it seemed at the time. As the real year 1984 came and went, it was generally concluded by all – myself included - that Orwell had missed the mark quite badly. 23 years later, I’m not so sure. In fact, today I think it is much more likely that the only thing he really “missed” badly was the year itself.

As I reread 1984 again last month, I was struck by something that was mentioned near the very beginning of the book, something that I would never have noticed upon my first reading a generation ago; flat-screen TV’s that hang on the wall. We didn’t have flat-screen TV’s that hung on the wall in 1984, I thought. No, we didn’t. But we do now. Granted, unlike the novel, we have the ability to turn ours off if we so choose, but I have to wonder, will that always be the case?

My curiosity sparked, I started looking for other things in the novel that didn’t exist 23 years ago, and as I continued to read, my list grew alarmingly long. To make matters worse, most of the things that I stumbled across were not even mere physical devices, but instead were things that were much more vague and disturbing. Things that fell into the categories of “guideline”, “policy”, and “practice”. And all of them not only seem to be universally expected in today’s world, but also accepted as well.

One of the first “unthinkable” premises presented in 1984 is the one in which everyone is being watched. “Big Brother”, while an invented imaginary head of state, has the very real ability to see and hear everything that you are doing. Anytime, anywhere. At the time of it’s publication in 1949, I imagine this idea had to appear almost laughable. In the year 1984, perhaps not so laughable as far-fetched. Today, even the most ardent skeptic would have to admit to a certain amount of truth to the concept, albeit maybe at present still in a more limited, primitive capacity.

But when was the last time you stopped to really think about the level at which we are being watched today?

It’s well known that if you have a TiVo, all forms of data on your viewing habits can be collected. If you have a satellite dish receiver connected to a phone jack, customer service technicians can access it. And if you have internet access, any educated hacker has a free pass into every file on your computer. Even with firewalls, how can we prevent access into our homes if those wanting access are the very ones who created the firewalls for us? TiVo’s, dish receivers, internet . . . none of those things or the potential capabilities they provide existed in 1984. But they do now.

We are being videotaped on the highway, in stores, at bank ATM’s, in parking lots, and at many other times when we might least expect it and possibly never know it. Today, not only can we be photographed, videotaped, and/or recorded with a discreet cell phone, but that information can then be sent anywhere in the world with the touch of a button.

E-mails, credit card transactions, internet surfing, electronic purchases, toll-road speed passes - just to name a few – all leave traceable paths of our whereabouts and habits. We now have GPS trackable computer chips that are being encouraged for implanting into our pets, that have been mandated for use with farm animals (Note 1), and in some cases voluntarily used in people. As far back as 2001, the U.S. government has been floating the idea of using computer chips as part of a universal ID card program for all U.S. citizens, and the option of physically inserting trackable computer chips into the bodies of military personnel is already on the drawing board. I wonder, should that experiment come to pass and be “successful”, how long until it does not seem like a good idea to do with everyone?

And don’t be too quick to brush this off with the notion that most of the above “data collection” is taken in by private companies or disparate organizations. As we continue to see more and more separate corporations merge into near monolithic entities, along with their influence & power over government agencies increasing in proportion to the wealth they have available, how long before most of those “non-government” companies become little more than a branch of government itself, in action if not in name? Is it unreasonable to assume that many are in bed with each other already, and have been for some time?

Most of the above abilities to “watch” people did not exist in the year 1984. It makes me wonder then to what level this continuous erosion of privacy by means of technology will reach 23 years from now.

Another major tenet in 1984 is the need for a perpetual state of war, an endeavor which in Orwell’s world is no longer used to conquer other peoples, but has become instead a tool to control your own. War is a means to use up all surplus of production so that the citizens become more dependant on the government. It is used to incite unquestioning patriotism to frenzied levels, to prohibit travel so that interaction with other peoples is prevented, to grant supreme governmental authority to enact whatever it deems necessary for the “protection” of it’s citizens, and ultimately to provide a distraction for every citizen to keep them from thinking about anything else.

Of course, a government entering into a perpetual state of war is a ludicrous concept. Surely the now 6 year old “war on terror” will ultimately come to a successful conclusion, won’t it? It’s unconscionable to think that anyone would think of using it as a tool for any of the above purposes, isn’t it? And certainly we would place strict limits on any intrusions that might be requested of our own freedoms and constitutional rights, wouldn’t we?

A third reality of Orwell’s 1984 world is the existence of the “Thought Police”, a clandestine government organization whose sole purpose is to seek out those who are having thoughts – any thoughts – that go against party doctrine. I admit, even the name “Thought Police” sounds ridiculous, much less the concept, and I can only imagine what people must have thought in 1949. After all, even today, how could anyone be caught, much less punished, simply for what they were thinking? I would guess that several hundred potential terrorists being held captive at Guantanamo Bay on the grounds of "what they were thinking" might not agree that it is so outlandish a notion.

I know, I know – that’s different. Of course it is, and in all honesty, I have to agree. But that’s how it happens: with a first step. A first justified step. But is it really implausible to foresee that envelope of premeditation expanding over time to include other offenses? If, for example, sometime in the future I make some anti-government statements on a phone call that is being monitored by the NSA, and I also have a gun registered in my name, and my electronic trail shows definite movement towards Washington D.C., can anyone guarantee that I won’t be arrested on the premise that I might possibly intend to perform an act of terrorism against the government?

Because ultimately, all of these things that are mentioned in 1984 work together for one purpose: control. Those who have the power want to keep the power, and they will keep that power as long as they can control the masses, and therefore they will take any and all steps necessary to accomplish that task. While that may sound paranoid, I think we would all be better off not to underestimate how strong the lure of power really is. As a motivator, power trumps even money. After all, if you have power, who needs money?

There is a lot more to 1984 than I can effectively translate here; the similarities between the story’s “Newspeak” language and the vernacular that has evolved out of our own instant messaging & email, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) twisting of historical events, the bombardment of our senses with media messages at every turn . . . there are so many parallels it would take another book to adequately compare them all. In Orwell’s world, all of these things intertwine together to create a beast against which there is no power on earth big enough to conquer. I have to wonder why I should believe that these things would create anything different in our own.

So, knowing that the world of 1984 isn’t something that anyone wants (other than those who would be in power), why do we allow movement in that general direction to continue? There are at least 4 reasons.

First is that the movement is too slow, and the various interlocking pieces too unconnected, to really notice. It’s a simple case of letting the camel get his nose in the tent. The initial intrusion isn’t very bothersome, and a good excuse for allowing it can always be made. Later, when a hoof makes an inevitable appearance, this new intrusion by itself still isn’t anything to get all worked up about, and again we are provided with a reasonable justification for it. In addition, there is nothing to make us automatically associate the hoof with the nose; we treat them independently as different things in different places at different times. Finally, as time continues to march onward, we simply forget how things used to be.

There was a time, for instance, when income tax did not exist. In fact, for over half of our country’s existence, we were somehow able to survive without it. It was not until the passing of the 16th amendment in 1913 that a permanent tax on personal income was imposed, and then at only 1% (Note 2). Anyone still paying 1%? I have never known a world without income tax, or what life might have been like before it. And since there has always been income tax in my lifetime, as far as I’m concerned, there has always been income tax. How could I really see it any other way? The truth of the past does not change the reality of the present, so is the truth even really true anymore?

Secondly, we sometimes allow these things to happen because we actually want them, and in some cases even initiate the demand ourselves. The convenience that they provide us today outweighs any potential negative consequences that the future might hold. Sure, a cell phone can be tracked with GPS, but I can live with that as long as I can talk to someone whenever I want right now. Yes, letting an unseen technician access my home through my TV receiver might be a little unsettling if I thought about it, but I don’t feel like trying to fix it myself, and I’m so happy that I don’t have to fix it myself that my mind is too occupied with how happy I am to ponder the ramifications very much.

Third, we are lulled into allowing these erosions of privacy and freedom because they are pronounced as “for our own good”. Like carrots they are dangled in front of us under the auspices of our own protection, personal safety, or health, and like piglets to the sow, we accept them willingly because we have in many cases already forgotten how to think for ourselves.

And finally - and probably most disturbing – there is plain old apathy. We see what is going on and fully realize the significance of it, but we simply turn a blind eye and go about our own business, usually with the justification that there is “nothing I can do about it”. Perhaps more realistic might be “nothing I want to do about it”.

Well Gee, Blaine, thanks a lot for killing my buzz. I was actually having a pretty good day until I read this. Not so fast! This isn’t a doom & gloom article, it’s simply a perspective of a future that might possibly happen. It certainly doesn’t need to.

When I think about all of the truly great changes that have occurred in our history - whether they be physical inventions, policies, practices, laws, or whatever - I can’t help but notice that all of them almost overwhelmingly occurred because there was a problem that needed to be fixed. After all, if there is nothing wrong, there is nothing to make us think anything needs to be different than what it is.

As much as we might complain about the problems that we have in our lives, problems are the catalysts that inspire change. Those who understand that opportunity almost always comes knocking disguised as a problem are usually the ones who are able to take advantage of it (while the rest of us sit back and bemoan our bad fortune).

So if we are headed towards some type of unwanted Orwellian future, all we need to do is first recognize that there actually is a problem. Second, we need to realize that problems have solutions, and finding the solution is actually an opportunity to make things better. And third, we need to take some action to make the solution a reality. If those 4 reasons that I mentioned are in fact how we got into the problem, we simply cannot allow them to continue to happen. We have to start noticing what is happening around us, we have to stop accepting (or even asking for!) things that lead us away from God’s word, we have to start questioning for ourselves what is “for our own good” and what is not, and we have to be unafraid - and willing - to do something about it.

The good news is that that is already happening, and has been for several years. The “silent majority”, tolerant to a fault for so long, has begun to push back. Resistance – peaceful but firm resistance – is taking place all over America.

Regarding education, for instance, if you are homeschooling your children, you have already taken action in joining a growing group of millions of other parents who have politely but firmly said “No, thank you”, and have become part of an even larger group of people who, though they may not homeschool, are in full agreement that our educational system is broken and are also taking action of their own. Like so many things, it may seem like the process is excruciatingly slow, but history will undoubtedly show that it “all happened within a few short decades”.

Women that have left the workforce to be homemakers – a group that is also continually growing - have quietly made their position known to a befuddled and increasingly agitated establishment that they do not wish to participate in someone else’s version of what life should be.

In doing so, they have become role models to other women in that they are leading by example; showing that it is not only possible, but also absolutely acceptable, to move in a direction that your heart compels you to, rather than to be badgered into going down another road by a deafening but ultimately powerless group of people who will tell you with their mouths that they have your best interests at heart even as their hands are busy pushing their own agendas.

Those are just two examples of things – many things – that are already beginning to turn us away from a path that would otherwise lead us into a future similar to the fictional but possible world of 1984. And not to be overly optimistic, but why shouldn’t we think that we can be entirely successful? After all, Jesus told us that with God, all things are possible. In the face of that - if we choose to believe it - Orwell simply doesn’t stand a chance.

Note 1: for more information, go to Additionally, please refer also to and for alternative viewpoints.

Note 2: only for individuals making more than $3,000 annually. Additional surcharges from 2% to 7% were levied on incomes over $20,000.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Excited, Terrified, Puzzled, & Disgusted

I’m very excited today, but also a little terrified. I finished the manuscript for “What So Proudly We Hailed” last week and I printed it out on Thanksgiving Day. That’s the exciting part. The terrifying part is now giving copies of it out for people to read to see what they think of it. As a writer, I’ve run into this before many times, but it never gets any easier.

For over half a year now, this novel has been my own sole possession; I’m the only one who has read the words that I wrote, and in my mind, all the way up to this point, it has had the ability to be as good or as bad as my imagination would believe. Obviously, I like to think that it’s very good, but personal perception and cold, hard reality are not necessarily the same thing. So while I hope that my initial reviews are good (and think that they will be), a part of me is also extremely apprehensive right now as I wait to see if all of my time and effort has actually produced good fruit. Time will tell – it always does – but I can’t deny that sometimes I wish it would hurry up a little bit.

On a completely different subject, if you’ve read some of the things that I’ve written in the past, you may have noticed that I have a tendency to be very skeptical about what the world presents to me. I have fostered a distrust of what the media, government, and corporate America tell me is true. Part of this has come about due to my growth as a Christian (and for me it is most definitely a journey), but a substantial percentage of it is also due to simply being more observant, and by taking the time to think for myself and come to my own conclusions regarding what I see & hear. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

Last week on NBC news, Brian Williams gave an update on the Marion Jones story, citing that she had been stripped of all medals back to the year 2000, as well as having to repay the $700k of winnings that she had earned during that time period. Nothing unusual about that. But what did catch my attention was the wording used to relate the story. This isn’t an exact quote, but Williams stated that Marion Jones was “paying the price for admitting her use of steroids”. Isn’t that odd? She’s not paying the price for taking steroids, she’s paying the price for admitting that she took steroids.

I have to wonder, was that wording intentional, or just a slip? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but you would think that a group of professional writers working for a national network news program would have the ability to type out a couple of sentences without containing an error so large that it completely changes the context of the story, as this one did. The end result is that, regardless of whether they intended to do it or not, what they told everyone watching was that her crime wasn’t the cause of her misfortune; admitting that she did the crime (i.e., getting caught) was.

As a second example, I wonder if most people notice the potential for big business to exploit everyone with the incredibly popular and politically correct “green” movement. I have no problem with going green; there is no doubt in my mind that we’ve been negligent stewards of the earth that God has given us. But who’s been the most negligent? You and me? Or the giant corporations whose sole motivation is to post continuously increasing revenues at any cost? Yeah, I’ve been guilty of littering in my life, but then again, I never pumped millions of gallons of toxic waste into a river. My point is that it wasn’t you and me that put us into a situation where we had to “go green” in the first place, but it is you and me who will bear the brunt of the cost to do it. “Going green” is a business opportunity, and if we can’t be encouraged to do our fair share, we’ll be guilted into doing it.

Let me take you back to Thanksgiving when I printed out my manuscript. I knew it was a big job, so I installed a brand new ink cartridge (HP-92) into our printer. After 100 pages, the cartridge ran out of ink. To put this into perspective, that ink cartridge costs $18, which means that it costs me 18 cents to print a single page of B&W text (not counting the paper). As you might imagine, my love for HP is not exactly overflowing at this moment, but luckily, I can make myself feel better by recycling the empty cartridge. HP makes it easy with the pre-paid envelope that they include when you buy a new cartridge. The envelope is green (of course) and has these words: “Free Recycling! Recycle your empty HP inkjet cartridge(s) into raw materials for use in new products. It’s free. It’s easy.”

So let’s put all of this into context: The ink cartridge contains 0.17 ounces of ink (less than 1/5 of an ounce!), costs $18, will only print out 100 pages of text, and comes in a ridiculously large box sealed inside of a protective plastic container. Now, after providing me with that kind of value, HP wants me to be a good “green” steward and send the old cartridge back to them so that they can use it again and cut their costs even more. I don’t even get a rebate on my next purchase; just the warm, fuzzy feeling that I played a part in saving the planet.

Am I wrong to not feel the guilt? Forget the ridiculous price that they want for their ink, if we’re really concerned about being “green” here, wouldn’t it make more sense to maybe - I don’t know - put a little more than 1/5 of an ounce of ink into the cartridge? Can they not be designed to hold more than that? Wouldn’t doing that result in less packaging trash? Less fuel burned to transport both the new & recycled cartridges back and forth? Less work for everybody involved: me, them, the retailers, the post office, the garbage collectors?

If ink really costs $105 an ounce, then that’s what it costs (although it’s hard for me to believe that it can be that expensive), but I can’t help but feel that I’m being taking advantage of here, and that by recycling these ink cartridges I’m not only rewarding the very entity that just raked me over the coals, but I’m also enabling the continuation of a business practice that is the root cause of the very guilt that this entity is now attempting to lay back on me. I’m really sorry. I recycle as much as I can, but these things are going in the trash.

One last thing: carpet cleaning. Over the years I have cleaned the carpets in our house(s) many times. With 4 kids and 2 dogs running over the "light beige" carpets that always seemed to be in any house or apartment that we've ever moved into in, I've become more familiar with the process than I ever wanted to be. At first, I always used to follow the directions printed on the bottles of $20 a gallon carpet cleaner blindly; they're the experts, so I'll defer to them to tell me how to do it. Why wouldn't I?

Well, here's why. Tell me one single thing you wash that you don't then rinse, usually multiple times? You wash your clothes; you rinse them. You wash your dishes; you rinse them. You wash your body, your car, your dog, your hands . . . and then you rinse the soap off. But you don't do that when you clean your carpets. Go ahead. Read the bottle. Not a word about rinsing.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but if I don't rinse the soap off of my carpet, doesn't that mean that the soap remains on the carpet? And if my entire carpet is covered with the residue of a soap solution, will the carpet not then act as a soapy scrub brush and clean the bottom of every shoe and bare foot that it then sees? Might that not be the reason why our carpets would be so filthy again just 3 short months after cleaning them, which would then require me to go out and buy another $20 bottle of carpet cleaner and rent another machine? Am I supposed to believe that somebody forgot to put the part about rinsing in the directions, or am I supposed to believe that carpets are the only thing in the world that don't need to be rinsed?

Color me "had".

Here's how I clean carpets today: First, I only use about 1/3 of the amount of cleaner that they tell me to use (for the machine I own, I'm supposed to use 8 ounces - a full cup - for the 1/2 gallon of water the machine holds; folks, we don't put that much soap in our washing machine running a large load of clothes). Then, after going over the carpet once with the soapy solution, I rinse it at least 2 times using only clean water. I still pull a ton of dirt out on those two "rinsing" passes (and why wouldn't I? the carpet is still chuck full of soap!), the carpets stay clean much longer, and I'm not spending near as much on carpet cleaner.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this (other than the fact that in addition to being excited & frightened, I’m also apparently a little puzzled & disgusted), it’s this: Think for yourself.

The truth will set you free.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tongue in Cheek: Kentucky History You May Not Be Aware Of . . .

I’ve lived in Kentucky for almost 2 years now, and I can honestly say that I love it here. I’ve also learned a lot in that short time. For instance, I’ve learned that all cities in Kentucky (“Versailles”, “Yosemite”, and “Athens” for example) are pronounced exactly as they are spelled, rather than in the less correct way that the rest of the world would believe (the only notable exception to this rule being “Louisville”, which, other than beginning with an “L” sound, is pronounced nothing close to the way it is spelled).

I’ve also come to realize that fully half of all cars in Kentucky don’t have mufflers, and the other half have been modified to sound like they don’t. This is apparently a state law, and fortunately most residents seem to be in compliance.

But I’ve also learned some facts that I doubt most native Kentuckians even know. For instance, we all know that today Kentucky is known as the “Horse Capitol of the World”, but did you know that it wasn’t too long ago that it was known instead as the “Squirrel Capitol of the World”? That may seem strange, seeing as how there aren’t too many squirrels around here these days, but there was a time a century or two ago when herds of those furry little tree rodents scampered around the countryside with reckless abandon, upsetting bird feeders in every corner of the state.

And then, quite without warning, an unthinking and rather arrogant European arrived and introduced what would become the bane of the squirrel kingdom to our fair state - the horse – and within but a few short decades, Kentucky’s squirrel population was all but wiped out.

The problem is that squirrels are natural prey for horses (I learned that early on in public school), and without a natural enemy of their own, horses multiplied in record droves as they feasted relentlessly and without check on the smaller, natural inhabitants of the state.

Many people don’t know the truth, but contrary to popular belief, when you see horses with their heads bowed to the earth - ostensibly “grazing” on bluegrass - they are in fact actually sniffing & rooting for squirrels, which, upon finding one, they then snort up in a flash through their overlarge nostrils.

I can’t tell you how many times I have driven past a horse farm only to see one of these vicious brutes prancing about with a squirrel tail still sticking out of it’s nose, and my heart breaks as I think of that poor furry little creature – shivering and scared – stuck in the sinus cavity of a horse too high, mighty, and unfeeling to even consume it properly.

Personally, I think it’s high time to affect a change. That’s why I will soon propose a bill to the Kentucky legislature that would introduce another animal to our state that is, like the horse, not native to the area. An animal which will, for the first time in our history, provide the horse with a natural predator of its own, and ultimately help re-balance the scales of nature.

While this legislation and the change that would result from it will take decades to be fully realized, the promise that it would provide to all future generations of Kentuckians should not be underestimated. I love living in Kentucky, and I - along with the other 3 people who agree with me on this - want to do my part in making it a better place for our children.

Imagine if you will, perhaps in as little as only 20 years into the future, a time when every visitor driving into the state of Kentucky will be able to look up and see the sign that so proudly & boldly proclaims: “Welcome to Kentucky, the Mountain Lion Capitol of the World”.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In Dependence

(from the book “Finding Liberty”)

I had a disturbing experience the other day. Our little bottom-of-the-line printer that we use in our home office suddenly died. Since this piece of equipment is pretty important in the day to day running of our business, I headed out to Office Depot to pick up the latest & greatest bottom-of-the-line model.

At the checkout counter, the clerk rang up my total and I wrote him a check. He scanned it, pushed some buttons, and then said “Here’s your receipt, and here’s your check back, all voided out for you.”

I looked at the check in my hand for a moment – the one I had just finished writing out - and asked, “You don’t even send these in to the bank anymore?”

“Oh no,” he replied, “The transactions are all done electronically now.”

I rode home in the car very unsettled, asking myself the following questions: If my bank account is going to be debited instantly even when I write a check, why am I purchasing checks and taking the time to fill them out and sign them in the first place? What’s the difference between that and just using a debit card, other than the fact that I’m spending more money and time by going through the motions of using checks?

That’s what disturbed me, because there isn’t one. Funny, my bank never bothered to clarify that particular point to me.

Catherine & I don’t use debit cards for one simple reason: If someone were to steal my credit card information and then use that to make purchases, I can always dispute the charges and refuse to pay them. My money is still mine, and I’m in charge of it. But if someone were to steal my debit card information and then use that to make purchases, the money comes directly out of my own bank account. Sure, I can dispute the charges, but the money – my money - has already been spent. I would no longer be in a position to dispute whether or not I wanted to pay (I already have paid); I would instead be wholly at the mercy of the bank, completely subordinate to their decision of whether or not to restore my funds.

I have never known banks to be very receptive to the idea of giving money to people.

The next day while watching TV, I saw a commercial showing a bunch of people in a store all smartly moving about as they made their purchases; a picture of streamlined efficiency, convenience, and happiness. And then someone came to the counter and wanted to pay with cash, and like throwing a wrench into rotating machinery, everything crashed to a halt. Cash? You want to pay with cash?

The commercial – for whatever credit or debit card it was promoting – was obviously trying to tout the convenience & ease of using it’s product. But the underlying message it was telling anyone who saw it was very clear and very direct: Cash is bad, plastic cards are good. If you use a card, things run smoothly, quickly, and everyone is happy. If you use cash, you just mess things up for everyone else. You are behind the times, archaic & un-cool, and your insistence on using money shows a complete lack of courtesy for others.

Everything these days seems to be oriented towards “faster”, “easier”, and “automatic”, and with regards to money, it seems as if the movement - if that is what it is – is pushing harder and harder to get everyone to buy into their methods. Visa is now promoting it’s “smart card”. Just wave it at the scanner as you go by; no need to waste all that time signing your name on a receipt. Everybody wants you to do your business online; pay your bills, do your banking, send in your tax return. “Save a stamp!” they say. “It’s so much easier and convenient for you!” Or even better, “We’ll pay your bills for you! Just sign up and all of that will be debited from your account each month automatically!”

So much of our purchases are now done without the exchange of any actual cash, that using cash has actually become more of the exception than the norm. During the holidays I was in line at a K-Mart picking up a few gifts for the kids. A lady in line several places ahead of me made a large purchase and paid cash for it. It was amazing how everyone in line – including me – was just kind of staring at her as she peeled away twenty dollar bills from a wad of cash in her hand. And I know that all of us were thinking the same kinds of things: “Boy, that’s a lot of cash.” “Why is she making such a large purchase with cash?” “Where did she get all that cash?” It was so weird to witness! But the really crazy thing was that even though people after her made purchases that were far in excess of hers, nobody batted an eye when they used their credit cards!

Have we become so separated from reality that purchasing something outright instead of borrowing to pay later is now considered strange and abnormal? Doesn’t that seem a little backwards?

We live in a world today where you could – quite easily – go through your entire existence and never actually see or touch any money at all. Ever. Every purchase you make could be made without any cash whatsoever, and more and more, paying without cash is becoming the preferred way. Is there a day coming when that will be the only way? A day when not only will cash no longer be accepted, but will not even exist?
That is a day to fear.

I’m going to take you on a little trip here, and throw out a little factual information and quite a bit of speculation. It may seem a little paranoid, and I’ll admit that it does to me as well. But whether or not you give any credence to the “whys” of what I’m going to explore, it doesn’t change the outcome of the “whats”.

Some of this will play into things that people have said for years regarding conspiracies, secret societies, and hidden agendas; I don’t know what’s true and what’s not any more than the next guy, but I can observe what is happening even if there is no way to positively confirm why. So humor me a little; all I want to do is spark your own brain into doing some thinking of it’s own; you’re just as capable of that as I am. I would ask though, that as you’re considering these things, please keep the following thought in mind: If you’re crossing the street and you get hit by a car and die, would it really make any difference to you whether the driver of the car did it on purpose or if it was a complete accident?

The Federal Reserve
In 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was passed by congress and signed by President Woodrow Wilson, thereby transferring the power to control the creation & management of currency from the US government to a private corporation of bankers. The plan itself was originated by a group of 7 of the richest men in the world at that time. As of December 2006, the US national debt is over 8 trillion dollars. More than 40% of that is owed to the Federal Reserve. (Perhaps connected or perhaps not, 1913 was also the year that the 16th Amendment was passed by Congress, imposing a federal income tax on the wages of US citizens).

Think about that for a moment. The Federal Reserve is a private company - not a branch of the United States government – run by a small group of elite bankers. Can you even begin to imagine how much power this company has over the United States? Start with the simple things, like inflation. Since we haven’t been on the gold standard in decades, any money that is printed has nothing behind it; it is created out of thin air. Put more money into circulation to increase the supply, and the value of the US dollar drops, creating inflation. Take money out of circulation and the opposite happens. That’s a lot of power for a small group of private citizens to have over everyone else. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If the US government needs more money than they take in from taxes to pay for whatever social programs, defense spending, or pork projects they deem necessary, where are they going to get it? The Federal Reserve, of course. So the US borrows money from the Fed which, of course, it now owes back to the Fed. As stated earlier, the US government now owes the Fed roughly $3,400,000,000,000 (plus or minus a few hundred billion, but what’s that between friends?).

Forget for a moment that the government doesn’t actually do anything to make money for itself and that that bill is in fact owed by the citizens of the United States; believe it or not, that’s not what is really unsettling about it. The really disturbing part is this: If this group of bankers wanted something from our government, could our government say “No”? I mean, if the Fed holds the threat of not only calling in this current debt, but also to refuse to loan any more, could the government of the United States realistically stand it’s ground and refuse them if they demanded something?

I’m not saying that the Fed would do something like that, but I feel it’s important to understand in no uncertain terms that they absolutely could if they wanted to.

So would they ever use that leverage for a self-serving reason? To decide, I think you would have to question the motives of these Fed architects when they came up with the idea in the first place. Why did they want to create the Federal Reserve? I guess it’s possible that they were simply a group of financial experts who realized that they had much more expertise in managing money than Congress did, and so, out of their concern for the continued well-being and prosperity of this great land, they offered their services to our country. But if that were really the case, why would such noble & patriotic men have allowed us to get into such tremendous debt? Is that how they handle their own personal finances? My guess would be “probably not”.

So if they didn’t create the Fed for benevolent reasons, is it possible that they did it for malevolent ones? And if this group of bankers controlling the money supply did want something, what could it possibly be? When you already have more money than you could ever use, what else is there?

"Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes the laws." - Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild

“Whoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce.” - President James A. Garfield

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” – Thomas Jefferson

This may be a stretch, but think for a minute about all the fictional “superhero” & James Bond villains from comics, cartoons, and movies. Think about all of the true life villains of history: Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Hitler, & Stalin. Think about the great empires that have risen and fallen throughout history. Whether real or imaginary, they all have a few very important things in common:

1) They wanted absolute power.
2) They tried to gain it and keep it by force.
3) They ultimately failed.

Absolute power. Totalitarian control. Some people just have a thirst for it, and history is littered with the corpses of Pharaohs, Kings, Dictators, and Generals who have aspired to become gods among men. Is there any reason to think that that’s not still true today?

“We will have a world government whether you like it or not. The only question is whether that government will be achieved by conquest or consent.”
- Paul Warburg, chief architect of the Federal Reserve Act.

So assuming that you wanted absolute power, how would you go about it if you already knew the dismal track record of those who came before you that had tried to get it and keep it by force? Maybe you don’t try to get it by force. Maybe you take a different approach. Instead of imposing your will over people, maybe you get them to subjugate themselves to you of their own free will. Maybe you put yourself into a quiet “behind the scenes” position where you have strong influence over governments and their policies, and then slowly & methodically lead everyone to where you want them to be. Dependant on you and under your absolute control. And by the time any of them realize what has happened (if they even do), none of them will be in a position to do anything about it.

Crazy? Maybe. Maybe not. Nations and empires have a way of rising and falling, and history shows that time and again they have all followed the same general cycle:

1. People in bondage gain spiritual faith
2. Faith evolves into courage
3. Courage brings about liberty
4. Liberty results in abundance
5. Abundance progresses to selfishness
6. Selfishness turns to complacency
7. Complacency devolves into apathy
8. Apathy leads to dependence
9. Dependence brings the cycle full circle back to bondage

How dependant are we today? Most Americans do very little for themselves; for the most part, we work for other people, so that they can give us money, so that we can buy things from somebody else. If we were brutally honest, we would have to clarify even further to say that not only do we do very little for ourselves, but in fact we couldn’t do very much even if we wanted to (which, of course, we don’t).

We have become so dependant on the things that are done for us by something or someone else that the knowledge of how those things were done by our ancestors before us has been lost. We couldn’t do them if we wanted to. We don’t know how. The very technology that has made our lives so easy has also put shackles on what options we have left.

Grocery stores provide our food. Utility companies provide warmth and light for our homes. Machines wash our clothes, cut our grass, and transport us around. Ask yourself the following questions, and please use the term “survive” in it’s most literal sense:

Could you survive today without electricity?
Could you survive today without the use of a bank?
Could you survive today if you had no car?
Could you survive today if you were not able to purchase things from stores?

These aren’t questions we ever seriously ask ourselves, because these things are so much a part of our lives that our lives simply wouldn’t work without them, at least, not the way we have become accustomed to living them. We’ve always had these things available to us so we take it for granted that they always will be. Sounds like a rather complacent attitude, doesn’t it?

And if someone were to intrude into the entertaining convenience of our lives and start bringing up questions that were a little disturbing to think about, would we even bother to listen, or are we already gripped in the death throws of apathy?

National Identification Cards
On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the creation of what is called “Real ID” to take effect in May of 2008. In the interests of protecting US citizens from the threat of terrorism and to aid in the control of illegal immigrants, all US citizens will be required to have a US identification card. The card will be tamper proof, will carry your vital information (age, sex, etc.), and will contain some method of positive identification (possibly a fingerprint). Without this ID card, you will not be able to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, or be the beneficiary of any government services (including social security). The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to add additional requirements.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

This is just scary. Every American will be required to have this card, and if you don’t have one you will technically not exist. It’s truly an offer we can’t refuse. How would we be able to live our lives as we have grown accustomed to if we cannot use a bank? In today’s world - quite simply - we can’t. The overwhelming majority of Americans today cannot survive without the use of a bank. It’s not even a choice. I mean, what would we do? What could we do?

Absolutely nothing. To refuse one of these cards – even if that can be done without criminal repercussions - would be to permanently alter the convenient routine of our lives. We have been trained to avoid unpleasantness and inconvenience, and the vast majority of us have allowed ourselves to be put into a position where we simply will not be able to say “No”.

But is that a bad thing? We already have other forms of ID; driver’s licenses, social security numbers . . . so what if I have a card that positively identifies me as me? It proves that I’m an American, and keeps those pesky illegal aliens from taking a piece of my pie. Terrorists won’t be able to run amuck and hurt me or my family. Identity theft will be almost impossible, which means my money will be safe. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. In fact, I want one!

. . . maybe you get them to subjugate themselves to you of their own free will . . .

The first problem with the National ID card is that you don’t have a choice. Does that sound like an ideal of a free country? The second and much more important issue is what that card will inevitably evolve into.

Even if you have put yourself in a position where you could live without a bank and choose not to accept one of these cards, don’t think you’re out of the woods. What are you going to eat? If you raise animals for food, you’ll have to have them – every single one - registered with ID cards to be in compliance with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Those tags cost money, and you can only get them from the United States government. No ID card, no government service, and without NAIS compliance, you’re breaking the law by having unregistered animals that may be a threat to our nation’s food supply.

Maybe you can hunt & fish for your food. Not without a hunting and fishing license you can’t. To do so without a license is to break the law. Off to jail you go, troublemaker.

Maybe you can just forego meat altogether and grow your own food. That would probably work, as long as you don’t get any genetically engineered seed in your garden. Those seeds are patented, and any plants that carry cells from a genetically engineered seed that are grown without a license are the property of the manufacturer, and you can be sued for patent infringement. And it makes no difference how those seeds got on your land or if you even knew about it.

Even if food isn’t a problem, how would you cook it? How would you get paid? How are you going to pay for your mortgage? Your utilities? How will you get a driver’s license? How will you do anything?

About the best that you could hope for is that you have some skill – either a service you perform or a product you make – that you could sell for cash. That assumes, of course, that no judicial action is taken against you and that it does not become illegal for people to do business with “non-card carrying citizens”.

But even if you would be willing to put yourself into that position, what if it makes no difference? Because here’s where everything swings back around full circle to what was so disturbing to me in the very beginning: What happens if there comes a day when cash is no longer accepted?

Ahhh! Checkmate.

Regardless of why all of this is happening, whether it is planned or just a random chain of events, there seems to be at least one logical termination point where all of this could be leading: a cashless society. A world where your ID card is everything. Because it will be “you”, it will be your ID card, your passport, your driver’s license, your ATM card, your debit card . . . your everything card. Without it you will be nothing. That’s a frightening place to be.

We live in a world today where we are constantly allowing our rights to be carelessly thrown away as if they are of no value. We continue to relinquish more and more of our freedoms & civil liberties to the government out of our own fear, complacency, and convenience – a government which may itself be governed by another – and in doing so we are unwittingly permitting it to change it’s role from “servant” to “master”.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. None of this can happen without our consent; but by that I don’t mean each of us individually, I mean all of us collectively. Not thousands, but millions – tens of millions - of people need to stand up and simply say “No”.

“ . . .But the proles [the masses], if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire . . . They need only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies . . .” - Excerpt from 1984, by George Orwell

If we do nothing, however, if we consent and allow ourselves to reach the point of becoming a cashless society - when every transaction for anything is merely an electronic shift of numbers - we will also take that final step into total and complete slavery. Yes, slavery. Because just as these cards can be activated, they can also be deactivated, and when your very ability to survive depends entirely on the existence of that card, will it be possible for you to do anything against the will of those who control it knowing that they can, at their convenience, turn you off?
Think about that. Think hard. When everything is virtual, nothing is real. In a cashless society, the emperor will truly have no clothes, yet we will have no choice but to extol the virtues of his garments, because to do otherwise would be to risk the disapproval of those who control the power of that card. They could ask us to do anything – absolutely anything at all – and we would have no choice but to comply.

“None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.” - Goethe

Absolute power is obtained when you have absolute dependence. And what better way to gain that than by having the ability to simply turn someone off if they don’t do what you want them to do?

If this is all happening according to some plan, you really do have to admire the simplicity of it’s design. In fact, one of its only few flaws is the actual card itself, since it still has the ability to be lost or stolen. But I would have to believe that that will only make the next logical step - that of having your ID microchip surgically implanted into your body - much easier for acceptance in the future. Don’t laugh; this technology already exists today, and believe it or not, there are already people who are volunteering to have it done. Of their own free will.

I can almost see the credit card commercials of the future now . . . Just wave your hand at the scanner as you go by; no need to waste all that time trying to get that card out of your pocket . . .

And should that day come, how then will we interpret these words?:

And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand, or on their forehead, and he provides that no one should be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. - Revelation 13:16-17

I know that to some, I must sound like a paranoid nut, and in all honesty, I hope it turns out the be that way. I hope that the Fed is just a bank going about the business of making money. I hope that the people in our government – at all levels – aren’t just a collection of pawns who have been bought & paid for by the highest bidder. I hope that common sense and basic human decency are not extinct. But hope, while a wonderful thing, is not much of a strategy.

Regardless of what validity my rambling speculations may or may not have, what I said about the creation of the Federal Reserve is true. The “Real ID” identification cards were signed into law 2 years ago, the cycle of rising & falling nations has been repeated over and over, and the NAIS exists right now.

Monsanto has been quietly suing independent farmers for several years for patent infringement with the courts ruling in Monsanto’s favor, saying that it makes no difference how the seed got on the farmer’s land – whether it got mixed in with other seed by accident, blew off of a passing truck, or even was cross pollinated by insects – the plants, and all succeeding generations of plants, belong to Monsanto. Most farmers settle out of court, with part of the settlement being that they are not allowed to discuss it.

Knowing that all of these things are real, does it make any difference whether the speculation as to why they are happening is right or wrong? I’ll ask again: If you’re crossing the street and you get hit by a car and die, would it really make any difference to you whether the driver of the car did it on purpose or if it was a complete accident?

Either way, you’re still dead.

Since I wrote this, I’ve given a lot of thought as to what my motives were in doing so; I know what I wrote and I know that I felt compelled to write it, but why did I feel compelled? What am I trying to prove by painting such a gloomy picture? What gives me the right to speculate on the future?; I’m no prophet. And what “forward moving” purpose does it serve?

My first thought was, “Well, maybe we should be a little disturbed by all of these things so that we can start to do something about it.” But while there may be some truth to that, the more I thought about it, the less important it really seemed. And too, did I really want to use the magazine as a political sounding board where I can impress my views and fears on everyone else? I honestly have no desire for anyone to think I’m “important” or “wise”, or “right”.

So I kept thinking about it, and eventually, it dawned on me.

This isn’t about government, or conspiracies, or doom & gloom, or any of that nonsense. It’s much, much simpler than that. This is about faith. More specifically, what we put our faith into. Because by putting ourselves in a position where we are dependant on banks, utilities, insurance companies, the government, corporations, and all the rest, we are in fact putting our faith in them to provide for us, and every time we move a little more of our faith into yet another man-made institution, we move ourselves a little further away from God.

Funny that we should do that, because all of those things are “of man”, and last I checked, mankind was a rather imperfect and unreliable creature. Is it any wonder then that things may go awry, whether on purpose or by accident? And should we be surprised to realize that if we had allowed God to drive that car that I’ve mentioned a couple of times, we wouldn’t have been hit in the first place?

In the end, there is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to be in a state of dependence. The danger is when we put ourselves in dependence to anyone or anything other than God.

(author's note: if you enjoyed this article and are intrigued by the subject matter, look for Blaine Staat's shocking new novel "What So Proudly We Hailed", coming in the Spring of 2008 from Linear Wave Publishing).

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Little Yellow Boots That Could

(from the book "Finding Liberty")

My mom lived almost 10 hours away, which put her on the outer fringe of our realistic “travel range”. Had she been closer, we would have made the trek more often, I guess, but as it was, it was a once a year event that happened on Thanksgiving week. We would load up the mini-van with a week’s worth of clothes, toys, & supplies, and then wedge the children in wherever we could, knowing that over 500 daunting miles stood before us and our objective.

Nine and a half hours of close confinement later (and much to the relief of everyone), the headlights would at last illuminate our destination: Grandma’s house. There was something about finally piling out of the car and making our way to her front door – with the chill of the crisp November air and the crunch of the fallen leaves under our feet - that seemed almost magical.

In a way, it was magic. We were in a land far, far away, with exciting discoveries to be made and interesting histories to explore. It was a place where my kids could peruse the books of their father’s youth, where they could open a toy chest decades old and unearth the same toys – in various states of repair - that I had played with as a child. There were interesting crannies to investigate, a huge backyard to explore, and priceless treasures to secure.

But of all the memories made, odysseys taken, and gifts bestowed, none is more remarkable to me than a pair of little yellow boots.

The edges of Grandma’s kingdom were bordered by a mystical river, wild & unexplored. To a less vigilant eye, it might closer resemble a ditch, but my children were under no such fantasies. Once discovered, this mysterious waterway begged to be explored, and, with Grandma accompanying them as the King’s emissary, my intrepid young explorers would venture out to brave the perils of the unknown. They would spend hours blazing paths, damming waters, and living adventures others could only dream about. And then they would return, exhausted & triumphant; and covered with mud.

The shoes were the real problem, because they simply could not take the abuse of these frequent excursions and be relied upon to escort the children with any dignity whatsoever to the simpler, less dangerous, locales of the region. So the wise and resourceful Grandma bestowed upon her grandchildren a special gift to aid them in these most noble of expeditions: rubber boots.

My little adventurers could now explore to their heart’s content, and upon returning from the ravages of the wilderness, could retire their accoutrements safely away until the opportunity for the next death-defying journey presented itself. But one little warrior named David would have none of it. His boots were different. They were possessed of a mystical power that none of us could realize, and he had no intention of limiting them to occasional excursions into the unknown.

On the surface, there didn’t seem to be anything special about them. To me, they looked like an ordinary pair of rubber boots. They were bright yellow, quite small, with rubber loops extending above the tops to aid in pulling them on. A half inch blue stripe encircled the base of each just above the sole, and two smaller blue strips adorned the upper edges. They were made in China.

None of that, however, seemed to have any meaning to David. He loved those boots, and would wear them whenever he saw fit, which was most of the time. Under normal circumstances, David shares a trait with his father that was no doubt given to him by me; one of caution and even outright anxiety regarding things & places unknown. But in his boots, he was fearless.

He wore them everywhere, and would do anything in them. Whether swinging in the backyard, riding his bike down the street, or running over homemade obstacle courses he setup for himself (I’m getting into shape, Dad. I need to build up my muscles), his face would set with determination against whatever opponents his imagination could muster, and he would vanquish them all.

To my shame, there were times when I would try to intervene and separate my young superhero from his source of power:

David, if you want to go to the store with me, maybe you should put on a regular pair of shoes.
But why, Daddy?
He would ask with genuine curiosity and puzzlement. What’s wrong with these?

“What’s wrong” indeed. Was it him that I was concerned about, this little boy who could so boldly confront the world in his little yellow boots without a second thought, or was it me, an aging man who might possibly be embarrassed to be seen in public with a child so ridiculously attired? Did I want to be the Lex Luthor of my son’s childhood, stealing away his power only to shackle him instead with the kryptonite of public opinion to carry with him throughout his life?

Why, I guess now that I think about it, there’s nothing wrong at all, I would say with a smile, and we would then bound off to the store together with the father basking in the courage of the son.

Years have passed, and regardless of whatever mystical energy those little yellow boots contain, there is one nemesis that even they are powerless to defeat: a little boy who is furiously growing into a young man. David still loves his boots, and he still wears them with the same reckless abandon that he always has, but I know it is coming to an end. Even if I can pretend that they are not the worse for wear, the proclamation from David himself that his toes get “a little scrunched up” when he wears them now is a clear signal that they will soon lose their animation entirely, only to find themselves pushed aside and forgotten. The time is coming when they will retire as partners in adventure to become instead collectors of dust.

When that sad day comes, however, there will be some salvation for those little yellow boots that have served my son so well. They will not be discarded; how dishonorable that would be! Instead, they will be rescued, and moved to a place of safety as they join an elite group of treasures that have a worth to me beyond comprehension. There they will remain; quiet, patient, and without complaint.

And maybe one day, years distant, a small young boy bearing a striking resemblance to David will make a trip to his grandparents house for Thanksgiving. And maybe that young boy in his exploration might come across a chest, hidden and obscure in the corner of a closet, and open it to find a fascinating pair of worn & scuffed little yellow boots.

And maybe he’ll ask his Grandpa if he knows anything about them.