The Midnight Hunter Musings, ruminations and wild rants about life from the Midnight Hunter.

January 2, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 11:39 am

In 2005 NPR revived an idea originally pioneered by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s of broadcasting short statements of faith from common, everyday people called This I Believe.  The NPR broadcasts ended in 2009 and true to form, I have finally figured out what I would have said, if asked.  I always seem to think of the snappy rejoinder just after the person it should be directed at has left the room.

First, I should clarify that this is definitely not a “revelation” that has come upon me suddenly.  What I am about to commit to bytes are the beliefs that I have come to slowly and steadily over the past 30 or 40 years.  It is only the words to express them simply and reasonably accurately that have at last emerged.

Second, while I remain culturally Christian, I have known for a long time that my beliefs were not theologically orthodox, or for that matter, anywhere near mainstream.  Again, nothing has changed, I have just found the words that express what I have long believed.

So, in the best and most accurate form I have found to date, here is my credo:

  • God is infinitely creative and infinitely creating
  • God is more than the sum of all that creation believes and has believed that God is
  • No revelation is final, God has not, and will not cease to communicate with creation

From these three core beliefs stems all else that I believe. These are the truths that drive my actions, behaviors and ideas and emotions.  I put this out to the universe  not in any effort to convert or persuade another, but that others may understand me a little better.



April 23, 2011

My Comfort Zone: My Prison Cell

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 4:16 pm

About eighteen months ago, after a particularly unsatisfactory experience with one of the “clients” I work with at my job, I came to the conclusion that I needed to expand my career in new directions. First, I should explain that what I do for a living is design and develop training programs. I create the lesson plans for instructors, workbooks and lab exercises for students, determine what items should be taught, in what order, using which instructional methods. I also create “self-pace” training programs, those mostly dreadful computer presentations that pass for most of what corporations use to “train” employees these days.

For the past fourteen years, the majority of the training I have designed has been technical in nature; teaching technicians how to install or repair equipment or teaching consultants how to install, set up or use software programs. The aforementioned unsatisfactory experience involved similar training, but using YouTube to train a less technically savvy audience, which angered this particular client who saw this as threatening their monopoly on service responsibility. I should note here that the company we both work for, this “client” and I, had determined that this audience needed training and the client had not been consulted in that decision, so his displeasure was directed as much at the organization as at me. Nevertheless, his opposition to the new and innovative training techniques I was employing was rooted in long-seated distrust of the training department and a general view of training and trainers based on the old adage “If you can’t do, teach”.

At that time, eighteen months ago, I realized that I had accomplished all that I really needed to in my career with regard to technical training, and that if I wanted to grow as a training professional (and yes, despite my client’s unenlightened opinion, training is a profession), I needed to begin to develop experience in soft-skills training and leadership development. I needed to move beyond my comfort zone. This is why, for the past year and a half I have been in the job market, my current employer lacking the interest in, or commitment to this type of training to provide any significant opportunities in this arena.

Despite my unhappiness, and my acknowledgement of the need to grow, and the necessity to change my circumstances in order to make that happen, I have often found it difficult to keep focused on the job search. It is easier, sometimes, to wallow in self-pity, or to feed my anger at an employer that fails to meet my needs and expectations. One’s comfort zone is, after all, so comfortable and familiar and well, easy to remain in.

Recently, however, something very significant has changed. My comfort zone is just not comfortable anymore.

Last week I watched the movie Invictus, and received some real insight into my situation. This movie is the well-told tale of how Nelson Mandela used the South African National Rugby Team to help break down the walls between the black and white communities in the nation when he came to power at the end of apartheid. He urges and inspires the Afrikaner team captain, Francois Pienaar to take the chronically under-performing squad to the Rugby World Cup finals, which were to be held in South Africa about two years after Mandela’s election to office.

In the movie there is a scene where, the morning after the team improbably wins their semi-final match in Cape Town, Francois leads his teammates in a dawn run through the city streets to the docks where he surprises them with a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent much of his 30 year imprisonment at the hands of the apartheid regime. When the team is shown Mandela’s cell during the tour of the prison, as the rest of the team passes by to continue the tour, Francois steps into the cell and closes the door behind him, then stretches out his arms, which reach nearly from wall to wall. This scene has been playing in my head a lot lately. I think that I have come to see my comfort zone as more like a prison cell. It is something I need to escape, something I need to leave behind, not remain cooped up in.

In a later scene in the movie, on the eve of the finals Francois is shown staring down from his hotel room onto Ellis Park Stadium, the site of the final, lost in thought. His girlfriend Nerine walks in and asks him an innocent question, “Thinking about tomorrow?” His answer is far more profound than she, or perhaps the audience, expects.

“No. Tomorrow’s taken care of, one way or another. I was thinking about how you spend 30 years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.”

Most people will focus, understandably on the second half of Francois’ comment. It is indeed profound;  perhaps the emotional cornerstone of the movie. But the first half of the statement is no less profound. This is the eve of the biggest game of his life, the most important game in his sport, and his team is carrying the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation of 42 million people on their shoulders, a country emerging from terrible darkness and hungry for proof that they are worthy of place among the great nations of earth. Yet he can say that “tomorrow’s taken care of, one way or another.” Such a willingness to accept that the future is not in his control, that he’s done all that he can and now can only surrender his fate to whatever powers there be, is indeed powerful, and profound.

In the heat of my struggle to renew and reinvigorate my career, I’m still working to accept Pienaar’s great line in my life… BOTH halves of it…

November 9, 2010

Just What Makes a Bad Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 8:34 pm

By the time I reached work this morning, I was feeling low.  At breakfast I’d been greeted with the sad news of the death of a friend, well before his time.  He had been the paragon of health and strength in a family wracked by poor health.  How, I wondered, would his family survive?  My breakfast companions and I also discussed the situation of a young boy, the adopted child of friends, who was in the hospital. He’d lived a very hard life and was struggling to cope with it all. We ended our time together discussing another friend whose fight with leukemia had suffered a setback.

Once at work I thought to myself: “I’m having a bad day.”

But was I, really?

I’m reasonably healthy (well, apart from arthritis and migraines, but nothing like the challenges discussed this morning over eggs and pancakes). I can work, I can write, I have a happy home with three well-fed and affectionate cats to keep me company. What, exactly was so bad about MY day?

Yes, hearing about the troubles, struggles, even death of friends and acquaintances is depressing. It makes me sad. But that is part of being engaged with the world, loving others and being loved in return, and that is inherently good. It is indeed a good day when I can care about the people I know and love. It is a good day when I can eat and commiserate with my compatriots.

Then just what makes a bad day? A bad day is when I hear about the pain and tragedy in the lives of those around me and don’t care. That would be a very bad day indeed.

May 9, 2010

The Short Run

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 9:11 pm

I’ve promised to write more about the book Collapse:How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, but I’ve had a number of other things going on in my life so it’s taken a while to get back to.

I’ve only read about a third of the book, but at least for the third of the book I’ve read, the following passage appears to sum up Mr. Diamond’s thesis:

Despite these varying proximate causes of abandonments, all were ultimately due to the same fundamental challenge: people living in fragile and difficult environments, adopting solutions that were brilliantly successful and understandable “in the short run,” but that failed or else created fatal problems in the long run, when people became confronted with external environmental changes or human-caused environmental changes that societies without written histories and without archaeologists could not have anticipated.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, pg. 173

At first blush, this thesis might appear to be somewhat deterministic, consigning illiterate societies in marginal environments to doom and, by omission, relieving our literate civilization of any threat of disaster. Further, it seems to absolve the individuals of either society of any blame or credit; the cruel environment blesses or dooms a society with its deterministic fate. I don’t believe, however, that is what Mr. Diamond has in mind.

In fact, despite his best efforts to maintain a squarely “hard science” emphasis on observable and measurable environmental causes of collapse such as rain fall and temperature, rates of deforestation, replenishment of soil from volcanic sources, etc., he is continually pulled into the realm of social science and matters of moral or ethical concern such as descent into cannibalism, tribal warfare and regicide. Collapse, it seems, is inescapably a social and ethical event, not just an environmental and economic one. And it is precisely these aspects of the problem that most interest me and make his book quite engaging.

As one who sees the culture around him in a state of social and ethical decay, I find it impossible not to compare the tales he relates of collapses long ago and mostly far away with events occurring here and now. I see decision making in the business environment that I work in that are distressingly well described by the paragraph above. And I see an electorate that seems truly incapable of either the memory or foresight to make wise choices. All that seems missing, for the time being, is the “external environmental change” that will bring it all crashing down. Global warming may or may not be that change. I think economic exhaustion, resource depletion or a broad and violent reaction by the have-not nations of the world to encroaching globalism and capitalist exploitation each could provide the coup de grâce to our over-extended cultural system.

The other key element in Diamond’s story (so far) is that collapses do not seem to take place after a long, slow decline, but rather suddenly, with little warning, when these societies are at the peak of their power. The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon disappeared completely within 20 to 70 years of their peak population. Collapses on Easter Island and the Pitcairn Islands all took place within the span of about 100 years, two or three generations, in other words. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was seen as being at the apex of power, the undisputed superpower, perhaps even the hegemon. Diamond reminds us that being at the top is no guarantee of permanence, or even survival. We could disappear as a country, even as a culture, by the turn of the next century.

Will we? That all depends on whether we can pull ourselves away from making decisions for the short run, and begin to think and act as though we plan to be here 100 or even 1000 years from now. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president at a time of economic calamity worse even than we find ourselves in today. He led and inspired this nation to build institutions, communities and parks through the WPA, the CCC, the Social Security Administration and many other government programs that would sustain and nurture Americans for generations. Today, so-called political leaders like New Jersey governor Christie and Arizona governor Brewer seek to dismantle government and end vital immigration, leaving citizens and society with nothing as their legacy. Corporate “leaders” by the thousands are shrinking their corporate human capital balances, diminishing the goodwill of remaining employees and reducing the number of potential consumers for their own companies and the economy as a whole. The Tea Party fanatics who are demanding lower taxes and an elimination of government spending are just as nihilistic.  These “short run” choices, I believe, are exactly the types of decisions made by leaders in places like Easter Island and the Mayan city states. Their legacy is all to clear.

We need a new FDR, a leader who will call the citizens of this nation to account for nihilist selfishness and chauvinism, a leader who will remind us of our responsibility to preserve and transmit our civilization to future generations. This is a debt far greater than any we owe to some selfish, short-sighted bankers. It is the debt we owe to humanity. Financial bankruptcy pales in comparison to cultural bankruptcy, just ask the next Anasazi you run into. We need a leader who will remind us of this. So far, I haven’t seen such a leader; and that is deeply troubling.

Until the Revolution,


April 26, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 12:08 pm

Waiting is something I do impatiently. Really impatiently! Ever since my colonoscopy about a week ago I’ve been waiting for my body to recover. Well, OK, I’ve also been prodding and cajoling and testing my body to see if it’s recovered yet. Problem is, all the prodding, cajoling and testing just seems to make my body less recovered and me more impatient. All of which has been a recipe for the “disaster” of the past couple of days, when I’ve been feeling decades older than I should and rather more frustrated and depressed than impatient.

So this morning I decided to break the vicious cycle and stay home and do nothing. The problem is, I don’t do “nothing” very well, especially when I’m at home surrounded by a billion things that need cleaned, fixed, dusted, tidied, or paid attention too. By nature I’m a doer, I just don’t manage well doing nothing. But what I need to remember is that healing and resting are not the same a doing “nothing”. They are, in fact, important things that need doing. Just ones that I don’t do particularly well. Case in point, even while I kept telling myself I should do nothing today, I still dusted those bookshelves in the kitchen that had gotten totally gross from neglect.

But herein lies the problem. I’ve got a body that, due to chronic illness and various special needs (like regular cancer screening), and that needs to be rested and healed far more than I seem to be mentally ready to accept. Thus that challenge for me is to find ways to keep my brain satisfied with a modicum of activity while giving my body time off here and there to heal and recover. Writing, such as I’m doing now is one outlet, but not a perfect one because it still takes a certain amount of physical energy (along with bad posture since I haven’t figured out a way to do this lying down). Watching movies or bad TV are other ways, but I usually lose interest pretty quickly.

One book I’ve been reading, The Pain Survival Guide, talks a lot about pacing. It stresses the importance of balancing work and rest, of breaking activities into short segments interspersed with rest and so forth. Sometimes I get it. Sometimes I don’t, as in last Saturday, the first day I felt really energetic since my procedure, so I did as much as I could, probably dooming me to a day of exhaustion and pain on Sunday. (The sudden change in the weather probably didn’t help much either on Sunday.)

Coping with chronic illness (psoriatic arthritis and migraines in my case) result in a constant struggle between wants and needs. I want to do so much, I need to rest more. I want my pain, exhaustion and fatigue to go away. I need to be patient. I want to control the circumstances of my disease. I need to let go. Falling into bad habits, ruts, patterns of behavior that exacerbate the struggle is easy to do. Finding ways out much harder. But I’m still trying.



April 21, 2010

Freedom is Like That

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 8:45 pm

Recovering from my colonoscopy yesterday I watched the movie Latter Days, which was recommended to me by my friend Brian. I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected a movie much more shallow than what this film turned out to be. It is basically a gay romantic comedy featuring an LA party boy and a Mormon missionary. It was well done, not nearly as one-dimensional as I expected after reading the blurb on Netflix.

Soon after the movie, I began thinking about the Mormon missionary custom and the Amish Rumspringa, which pastor Jeff Edwards wrote about in his play, The Great Confirmation Play. The Mormons have this tradition of sending young men, between the ages of 19 and 25 to places far away from home, often overseas, to go door to door proselytizing. The Mormon missionaries spend this entire time in pairs with another member of the faith, always under the watchful eye of their “missionary companion”. They are prohibited from dating or having any relations with women. After two years of full-time missionary work, the young men return home and marry, usually within the faith, and settle down. The Rumspringa is a custom in some Amish communities where young men, between 16 and 18 years old, are encouraged or allowed to go out into the “English” community and experience a bit of life outside the strict restrictions of their religious order. Some use this opportunity to immerse themselves in drugs, alcohol and sex, but the vast majority return at the end of this period to be baptized into the faith of their birth and marry within the community. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

Both of these faiths spring from the American utopian tradition. American history and the American landscape are covered with examples of utopian communities and sects, among them the Shaker Communities of New England, New Harmony in Indiana, the Chautauqua Movement and the hundreds of hippies communes that sprung up in the 1960s. Many of these communities engaged in communal living, alternate familial and sexual norms such as polygamy, polyandry or free love, abolishment of private property or other extreme forms of socialism. Most also collapsed through a combination of outside pressure and internal dissension, some such as the Branch Davidians (Waco), The People’s Temple (Jonestown) and The MOVE Organization (Philadelphia) did so quite spectacularly. But the Amish (founded 1693) and the Mormons (founded 1830) have outlasted many utopian sects, but have retained many of their utopian characteristics, including a tendency to remain separate from the wider society, and both practice a form of shunning, where members who stray from the norms dictated by their religion are cut off from the community and their families.

In the movie Latter Days, the young Mormon missionary experiences this fate, but in the process finds a new “family” who sees him as a whole, healthy gay man. His biological family simply disappears from the picture, literally and figuratively. It reminds me of a visit my friend Bill and I made to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Sitka, Alaska. In the center we had the opportunity to see Bald Eagles and a Snowy Owl and to hear how the center works with injured birds to heal them and return them to the wild. The guide at the center explained how the birds, when set free, show no appreciation for all the hard work that goes into their care and rehabilitation. They simply fly away. Later that day we happened on a team at a local college campus preparing an eagle for release. The bird was chased back and forth across a field while held on a leash that was secured to a wire that ran a hundred yards or so along the ground. The bird had been doing this for several weeks and was now ready to be released. When the leash was finally removed and the bird chased once again across the field it instinctively started to come back to earth, but much beyond the length of the leash it had been attached to. It then began to test to see how much “run” it had.  Soon it realized there was no leash it wheeled around and soared back across the field. I watched as the immense bird shrank to a tiny black dot and disappeared into the horizon.



April 5, 2010

Cutting Down the Last Tree on the Island

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 9:13 pm

I’ve had a few different ideas for a post running through my head for a while now, so let’s see if I can pull them together into something coherent. No promises, I’m afraid.

First, about a week ago I attended a lovely concert by the New Jersey Symphony.  At least I thought it was lovely, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, two composers from my favorite musical tradition. Unfortunately, the concert was marred by some very inconsiderate behavior on the part of my fellow concert goers. The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto number 3 went fine and the audience seemed to love it. But after intermission, when the Tchaikovsky Symphony number 4 began, the misbehavior started. First, the Tchaikovsky starts out with a very loud fanfare, then suddenly stops and goes silent for a few seconds. During this period of “silence” I could hear a woman several rows behind me yacking away.  Then as the piece progressed one person got up and left the theater.  A few minutes later another couple got up and walked out.  This continued pretty much every few minutes throughout the remainder of the concert.

Now the NJSO may not exactly be the New York Philharmonic or the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, but neither are they the Fergus County High School band. They are a professional orchestra with a good reputation and they were performing quite well. The Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 is also not some avant garde piece that compels blue-haired classical-music lovers to shriek and reach for their earplugs. I can only assume that those who chose to leave the concert did so because they were concerned about missing their reservations at Sebastian’s Steak House or had planes to catch or some such thing. All in all, I found their behavior rude, inconsiderate to not only the orchestra, but their fellow patrons as well.

And that brings me to my second thread. I’ve been reading the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. I’m only part way into the book, and will probably comment on it further in future blog posts. But I was taken by a series of passages in the first part of the book. Mr. Diamond speaks at length about Montana, his adopted part-time home state, listing the various economic and ecological challenges facing the state and its inhabitants.  Then he quotes at length stories by four of his “neighbors”, describing their own thoughts and feelings about these challenges. What struck me was the way all four neighbors statements were entirely self centered. It was not about the community, the county, my neighbors and me, their statements were all completely about themselves and how the community was or wasn’t providing for what they needed. The most other directed of all the statements was from a dairy farmer who managed to include his family in the picture, the rest were completely self absorbed.

I haven’t read far enough into Diamond’s book to see if such self absorption is one of the traits he attributes to failing societies, but I would tend to believe it is. As I’ve written before, I see the failure of United States citizens to see even other citizens as “us” as one of the reasons New Orleans suffered so terribly after Katrina. But when I see a significant number of patrons of the symphony, people who presumably live nearby and share some of the values, treating the orchestra and their “fellow patrons” with such disrespect, I find it easy to imagine them as Easter Island natives, chopping down the last tree on the island because it suited their needs at the time, paying no mind to the devastation it would bring to not only their fellow islanders, but eventually to themselves as well.

What makes people treat others with such disrespect? I suppose if I knew the answer to that I could be rich or famous or powerful, or all three. I do know that when I was in Haiti, the thing that impressed me most was the way people were so appreciative of everything that was given to them or done for them. And I know that some places I’ve visited in Canada, Japan and Europe I have not seen the degree of self-absorption and disregard for others that I’ve experienced here. I’ve been profoundly embarrassed by the behavior of American service men and women in Japan that I’ve witnessed. At times I’ve been tempted to believe that wealth and comfort breed contempt, but I doubt that it is as simple as that. Something in the American experience makes us exceptionally prone to this behavior.  I suspect it is the same thing that makes most Americans severely allergic to “socialism” in any form.  And I suspect it will eventually be the country’s undoing.

Until the revolution, yours,


March 14, 2010

United States of America – A Failed Nation-State?

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 8:39 pm

A long time ago I remember reading that Texans were the only Americans (defined for the moment as residents of the United States, with apologies to any Canadian or Latino readers) who, when travelling overseas, would answer the question “Where are you from?” with the answer “Texas” instead of “America” (or “the U.S. or a similar answer). The implication was that of all Americans, only Texans have established some other identity than “American”. Or perhaps the implication was that Texans were not Americans at all. I seriously doubt this was ever true, but I have no doubt it is no longer true.

In fact, I would argue that there really is no such thing as an “American”, if one defines that term as someone who shares a set cultural, political and economic values with the other 300,000,000 residents of the country called the United States of America. The United States of America has since it’s inception, and even during the colonial period before, been comprised of blocks or regions with unique and different cultural, religious, linguistic, legal and political characteristics. Some argue that in recent times, with the emergence of mass culture, television and radio, mass production and mass marketing, the proliferation of ubiquitous corporations such as McDonalds and WalMart have relegated regional differences to quaint relics of the past, no longer relevant to identity. Others claim that events such as the bombing of the World Trade Center, the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the Great Depression have forged a common history and heritage which transcends any local identities.

But my experience suggests this is absolutely not the case. I am reminded of a man I worked with some years ago. He lived and for the most part worked in Houston (except for the two years he commuted to New Jersey from Houston every week). But he had been born and raised in New Orleans (or N’orlens, as he pronounced it), and considered himself a New Orleanian even though he hadn’t lived there in many years. This was even before hurricane Katrina.

I am also reminded of a conversation that took place in the mid 1990s at a Bed and Breakfast in San Francisco between myself and another guest from New York, a couple from Miami and the proprietor of the B&B. One of the guys from Miami, in telling us that was where they were from, noted that many people considered Miami the northernmost city in Latin America. Then our host made the comment that all five of us really came from places that many “Americans” would not consider a part of “America”.

During the week following the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 much was made of the way the attacks appeared to “bring people together” and “bring out the best in Americans”. Some of this may be true, but before the week was out people interviewed in Springfield, Missouri by NPR were blaming the attacks on homosexuals and abortionists and all the other perceived evils that New York City represents to those in the holier than thou Midwest. With eighteen months Mr. Bush was pursuing war in Iraq based on the view that Saddam Hussein was responsible, a view perhaps shared by many of Mr. Bush’s fellow Texans, but widely dismissed by most New Yorkers, who also criticized his warmongering. So much for the World Trade Center attacks as a defining event of American identity.

Perhaps I’m just a strange anomaly, someone who was born and spent most of my life in America, who just doesn’t get the whole idea of being American. And what of it? What if there really is no such thing as an American? Why would that matter?

What comes to mind most readily is the images in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The images looked eerily like something out of one of those “failed states” like Somalia or Afghanistan, definitely not what we would image coming from America? Nations, those groups of people that share common values and cultures, don’t turn their backs on a portion of themselves like a major city and allow such a thing to happen. Nation-states, which are based on the idea that the boundaries of a state should be roughly equal to the territory of a nation, don’t let half a million of “us” to be abandoned to storms and then shot at and treated like dogs when they are desperate for assistance. But the people of New Orleans were not “us”.  They were not Americans like the people “around here”. They were those strange folk who talked funny and had weird customs and lived “down there”.

That is why I know there are no such things as Americans. The word has no universal meaning. An American in New York is not an American in Georgia, or Kansas or Nevada. American is just another word for “those who live around me and think like me and act like me”. So long as that is the case, the United States of America is a failed nation-state, for no nation-state can exist without a nation, and images like the post-Katrina images of New Orleans are what we should expect to see.



February 20, 2010

Misadventures with Technology

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 2:56 pm

I’m a hard headed SOB. Too stubborn for my own good.  I know this.  I admit it. Guilty, as charged.

What brings on this admission of personal failing? My adventures this past week with technology, or rather, my misadventures with technology, along with Pastor Jeff Edward’s Lenten blog posting, which has inspired me to be a bit more introspective regarding my experience. Had it not been for Jeff, I’d more likely be venting my frustrations with the various imperfections of the technologies that I experienced than reflecting on my own reaction to those imperfections.

The journey began several weeks ago when I purchased a Sony Daily Edition eBook Reader. One of the first books I knew I wanted to purchase for the eBook was the Bible, so I went out to the Sony store and found a copy of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible from Harper Collins, in two volumes, one the New Testament, and the other was supposed to be the Old Testament and Apocrypha. When I downloaded the second volume to the eBook, I found it was, instead, another copy of the New Testament. After some back and forth with Sony, I went to the Harper Collins website, found and purchased the Old Testament from the publisher directly (one of the advantages of the Sony device over Amazon’s Kindle). I then had to get the downloaded book from my Linux laptop to the Sony eBook.  This is where my real troubles began.

I was an early adopter of Linux, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is my notorious, um… let’s just say frugality. About ten years ago I calculated that it costs about $1200 per year in hardware and software to keep up with the Microsoft software channel on one PC. I doubt that number has gone down much since. Linux, on the other hand, while not truly free (the operating system is free, but I’ve not yet seen a free PC) probably costs about a third of the Microsoft option, though I’ve never actually worked out those costs. The problem, of course, is that so many things are not compatible with Linux, including my Sony eBook.

There is, however, an open source (i.e. free) software program for Linux that will communicate with the Sony eBook, called Calibre. Calibre, however, wouldn’t install on the version of Linux I was running (Ubuntu 8.04). No problem, I thought, I’ll just upgrade. As I was watching the new version of Linux download onto my computer, I thought to myself “you really should have made a backup of your data first”, and I had that sinking feeling in my stomach. Needless to say, the upgrade did not go as planned, and I have spent the past week trying to recover my old data and restore my laptop to health, cursing my stupidity with great regularity in the process.

At this point I could launch into a tirade on how manufacturers make their hardware and software too proprietary, how software is overpriced, overprotected, too incompatible with other software/hardware. But that neglects my own role in this mishap. I made a choice, and it is up to me to accept the various consequences of that choice. By choosing to use Linux, I am aware of the fact that many devices and most software is incompatible. When I rant and rage as things go badly I am neglecting to acknowledge my own choices. My self-imposed journey through the computer wilderness has caused me to reflect on what my expectations are, and whether they are reasonable. If I choose to take the “path less taken” in technology, can I reasonably expect to enjoy the benefits of compatibility that accrue to taking the “path of least resistance”? More importantly, what benefit does my anger and rage serve? None.

I have lost a week and some of my precious data, but did eventually get the Old Testament onto my eReader, and I did get most of my data back and my laptop is now using the latest version of Linux. I should be satisfied with that.



February 8, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 10:00 pm

I’m coining a new word.

Sophophobia: fear of experts. (from Greek: Sophos: wisdom + Phobia: fear)

Why? As I was driving home from my bloodwork appointment this evening I was listening to Marketplace on XM Public Radio and I heard this enlightening exchange between Kai Ryssdal and his guest, Stacey Palmer:

Ryssdal: OK, so now back to the downsides, and those experts you were talking about. That’s kind of a scary term, when somebody else, some other expert decides how you get to do what you do, right?

Palmer: That’s one of the problems: Who gets to decide.

(For the complete interview and transcript see here.)

What I found fascinating and disturbing about this exchange was the almost unchallenged assumption that expertise is somehow bad. It seems that in the United States experts and expertise are the enemy, some sort of elitist cabal out to subvert democracy and enslave mankind. Granted, this is not a new phenomenon.  Toqueville wrote in the 1830s:

Men seldom take the opinion of their equal or of a man like themselves upon trust.

Not only is confidence in the superior attainments of certain individuals weakened among democratic nations, as I have elsewhere remarked, but the general notion of intellectual superiority which any man whatsoever may acquire in relation to the rest of the community is soon overshadowed. As men grow more like each other, the doctrine of the equality of the intellect gradually infuses itself into their opinions, and it becomes more difficult for any innovator to acquire or to exert much influence or the minds of a people.

I am also reminded of the vehement opposition to the “egghead” presidential aspirations of Adlai Stevenson. His intellectual demeanor was ridiculed by Republicans, led by Stewart Alsop, the newspaper columnist who, himself, boasted a Yale diploma. But it was precisely at that time that America’s experts were at their peak, building nuclear bombs and soon after putting man on the moon. Apparently, America’s brief intellectual apex tapped the deep natural vein of anti-intellectualism that has brought us to this present moment, when expert is a scary term.

But, you might argue, experts have brought on us all the recent economic calamity. When so-called experts can cause such a mess, what value can we place on expertise, and who can say who is really an expert and who is not?

This is a problem we American’s bring on ourselves. When we don’t like the answer experts supply, all to often we go “shopping” for a different expert to give us the answer we want, or that reaffirms our own beliefs, since we are really intellectually equivalent to any supposed expert, as Toqueville so presciently observed. It’s never hard to find someone who will claim expertise in order to fill a void. This is the root of the problem: Americans don’t want experts; they want sycophants. They want someone to tell them they are right, not someone to tell them the truth. This was alarmingly obvious during Bush the Younger’s administration, but it really reflected the culture of America as a whole, not some deviant aberration. And little has changed since George W. left office.

Which brings me to a final point. If as Toqueville observed more than a century and a half ago, Americans are predisposed to discount expertise, and we have managed despite that fact to create a modern nation that boasts the largest economy in the world, what’s wrong with that? Well, perhaps this predilection to disdain for the intellectual has brought us this far, but no further. Perhaps we have reached the realistic limits of our cultural capacity. China is rapidly advancing on us economically, and Europe has long since passed us by in most measures of social and cultural development. By some measures, particularly regarding public health, we are being overtaken by many third world countries. Perhaps we have gone as far as amateurism, duct tape and sophophobia will take us.

Perhaps it’s time for a revolution…



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