Internet Engineering Task Force INTERNET-DRAFT Expires March 2003 Standardized caching of dynamic web content by Brent Baccala email@example.com August, 2002 This document is an Internet-Draft and is subject to all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026. Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups. Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference material or to cite them other than as "work in progress." The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at http://www.ietf.org/1id-abstracts.html The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at http://www.ietf.org/shadow.html ABSTRACT Summarizes the present state of web caching technology. Points out the need for caching dynamic web sites, and the inadequacy of present caching technology for anything but static sites. Proposes the adoption of Java servlets, cryptographically signed Web Application Archives (WARs), and LDAP as standards for dynamic web caching, using an expanded interpretation of existing DNS standards to locate and authenticate cached information. The World Wide Web (WWW), probably the most successful networking technology of the 1990s, provides a global graphical user interface (GUI) that presently dominates the Internet. The current design of the web has an overwhelming advantage over older connection-oriented protocols such as TELNET or X Windows. The web is data-oriented, not connection-oriented, or is at least more so than conventional protocols. A web page is completely defined by a block of HTML, which is downloaded in a single operation. Highlighting of links, typing into fill-in forms, scrolling - all are handled locally by the client. Rather than requiring a connection to remain open to communicate mouse and keyboard events back to the server, the entire behavior of the page is described in the HTML. The advent of web caches changes this paradigm subtly, but significantly. In a cached environment, the primitive operation in displaying a web page is no longer an end-to-end connection to the web server, but the delivery of a named block of data, specifically the HTML source code of a web page, identified by its URL. The presence of a particular DNS name in the URL does not imply that a connection will be made to that host to complete the request. If a local cache has a copy of the URL, typically because it was requested and retrieved earlier, it will simply be delivered, without any wide area operations. Only if the required data is missing from the local caches will wide area network connections be opened to retrieve the data. Generally, caches store content based on the URLs, and sometimes use inter-cache protocols such as ICP to communicate to other caches which URLs they possess. A variant on this scheme is the web replica, in which an entire web site, or some logical subsection of one, is duplicated elsewhere. Experience with web caches demonstrates that they provide several benefits. First, the bandwidth requirements of a heavily cached, data-oriented network is much less than an uncached, connection-oriented network. A cached copy of a web page, stored anywhere on the network, works as well as the original. As the network becomes more heavily cached, fewer and more localized connections are required to carry out various operations, reducing overall network load. Furthermore, cached or replicated web sites are more fault-tolerant, since their data can still be accessed even if the origin server fails or the network becomes partitioned. A general consensus seems to exist that caching improves network performance; more widespread adoption of web caching has been limited by technical challenges. One of the greatest of these challenges is caching dynamic content, that is, pages generated by software as they are requested, such as response pages to search requests. Presently, web caching protocols provide means for including meta information, in either HTTP or HTML, that inhibits caching on dynamic pages, and thus forces a connection back to the origin server. While this works, it negates the advantages of caching. To maintain the flexibility of dynamic content in a cached network, we need to lose the end-to-end connection requirement and this seems to imply caching the programs that generate the dynamic web pages. While cryptographic techniques for verifying the integrity of data have been developed and are increasingly widely deployed, no techniques are known for verifying the integrity of program execution on an untrusted host, such as a web cache. Barring a technological breakthrough, it seems impossible for a cache to reliably run the programs required to generate dynamic content. The only remaining solution is to cache the programs themselves (in the form of data), and let the clients run the programs and generate the dynamic content themselves. Thus, what's needed is a standard for transporting and storing programs in the form of data. A closely related problem arises when replicating a web site. A significant hurdle for building web replicas is the lack of a standard to deliver the executable components that underlay dynamic content. While scripting languages such as Perl and Python are readily available, installing a web replica almost invariably requires tweaking configuration files and downloading various additional packages needed by the scripts. Without a standard for dynamic content, there is simply no way to automatically replicate a web site, unless its content is completely static. Also, running a Perl script typically provides little in the way of security. Either the script must be carefully reviewed by the installer, or the author must simply be trusted. Java "servlets" are a step in the right direction, since they provide a CGI-type capability that enables a web cache to present dynamic content without a connection to the origin server. Since they are Java-based, they provide solutions to the security issues that surround something like Perl. Java's security model provides the tools to limit servlet access to the host system. This allows a cached servlet to reference a collection of Java classes it needs for proper operation, and have them loaded automatically without the need of manual intervention. Part of the Java servlet specification is WAR (Web Application Archive), an extension to JAR that provides Java servlets, HTML and JSP pages, and XML meta data all packaged up into a single archive file to provide a "web application". In the current implementation, the server administrator "installs" the WAR at a particular URL by loading it onto a Java servlet-enabled web server. If the WAR format were altered slightly to include, perhaps in the XML meta data, a "master" URL, and the servlet-enabled web server were to function more as a proxy, handling requests locally if it possessed a valid WAR, passing them along otherwise, this would be a big step in the right direction. Ultimately, though, to get away from having to trust a proxy to execute WAR content, the client has to execute the content itself. Servers and caches should eventually do nothing but hand out data, and the responsibly for executing it should fall exclusively to the client, not the cache. For the time being, using a local, trusted cache will enable experimentation with these ideas without changing client implementations. Using WARs for application caching, instead of the manual installation of applications that they were originally designed for, presents some challenges. In addition to adding XML entries to the WAR to specify the base URL, additional entries may be needed to specify a time interval for which the WAR is valid, as well as whether an outdated WAR can continue to be used if a more recent one can't be retrieved. Furthermore, Java servlets typically run with a fairly trusted security model. A more restricted security environment should be used for cached WARs downloaded from foreign web sites. Also, provisions should be made for incremental updating of the WAR, since only a portion of a large archive may change in an update. Although protocols such as rsync have been developed to incrementally update files, they have limitations. Rsync depends on changes being localized within the file. Files with small changes spread widely across them, such as search engine indices, don't update well using rsync, suggesting that something more flexible would be preferred. Since the WAR is already Java-based, perhaps specifying Java classes, or pointers to Java classes, in the WAR for performing incremental WAR updates would provide a powerful mechanism for tailoring the update mechanism to the type of files contained in the archive. Perhaps many of these functions, like deciding the validity of a WAR, should be specified via Java classes, for maximum flexibility. Security and authentication are major concerns, especially in a cached environment. In this case, some protocols exist to provide authentication services, yet have many outstanding issues. Some are not widely deployed - DNS key services, for example. The most widely deployed solution - X.509 certificates - has been priced and managed into a realm when only e-business sites can realistically justify their costs. Web security can't be just for those who can and will shell out hundreds of dollars for certificates that keep expiring. In a heavily cached environment, it's easier than ever to spoof somebody's URLs, and X.509-based authentication needs to be in place for 99% of the net's web sites, not 1% of them. Standards exist for storing public keys in DNS (KEY and CERT resource records), which can be used to validate signed JAR/WAR files. For more rapid response time, the Range: header could be used to retrieve first the WAR file's table of contents, then the compressed data of the particular URL, resulting in a retrieval time comparable to straight HTTP, ignoring the search time required to find the cache item to begin with and the compilation/startup time of any dynamic code (both of which may be significant). Of course, in addition to such a "partial retrieval", a cache could do a "full retrieval", obtaining the entire packaged WAR and begin sharing it with other caches. The decision of how to choose between partial and full retrieval is left "for further study", in other words, the user has to make those decisions manually until we figure it out better. Napster has demonstrated that letting the users make caching decisions manually is workable, so long as the cache items are reasonably sized (not too large or too small) and well labeled. A major choice remains, that of the search protocol to find the cached WARs. Mainstream caching research tends to largely ignore the most successful example of a cached network service - Napster and its various spinoffs, most notably Gnutella, which seem to go by the buzzword peer-to-peer file sharing, or P2P. For example, RFC 3040, "Internet Web Replication and Caching Taxonomy", a January 2001 document discussing "protocols, both open and proprietary, employed in web replication and caching today," never mentions the word "Napster". Since peer-to-peer was designed to share music and not HTML documents, the oversight can be forgiven, but this point needs to be made and made strongly - Napster, Gnutella, and friends _are_ caching services, and by far the most successful ones built to date. Peer-to-peer seems to be the way to go. The legal problems of Napster and the highly critical reception of the technical community to Gnutella suggest against either of these protocols. At present, LDAP seems the best choice, due to its maturity as a protocol, the widespread availability of both client and server implementations, and its straightforward application to the problem at hand. The only serious issue surrounding LDAP is the lack of a standardized means for server location in a P2P environment, the critical issue swirling around Gnutella. I suggest dealing with both the security issues and the P2P server location issue through a simple solution: assume the correct operation of DNS even in the face of server failure. This allows site administrators to use resource records to specify both a set of LDAP servers to search for WARs, as well as cryptographic keys to verify the contents of those WARs once they are retrieved. Although this makes proper operation of a cached web site dependent on proper DNS operation, this should presently be a minor tradeoff, since proper web site operation is already based on DNS, and DNS had proven to be one of the most reliable of the Internet technologies. Thus, to enable dynamic web caching, as outlined in this document, a web server administrator should add two kinds of additional resource records to the web server's DNS records. First, a set of SRV records should specify a set of LDAP servers, any of which can be searched for the web site's WARs. These LDAP servers should form a replicated set, so that a response from any one of them should be considered a complete answer by a client. These servers may also allow arbitrary, unauthenticated web caches to add entries to the LDAP directory when they elect to cache one or more of a site's WARs. Since clients are expected to cryptographically verify a WAR upon retrieving it, allowing unauthenticated additions to an LDAP directory should not allow site spoofing, but a large number of bogus WAR entries could form the basis for a denial of service attack. A benefit of this proposal is that site administrators can select sets of LDAP servers based on their own policies. At least one set of publicly updatable, replicated, highly available LDAP servers should exist for the use of small web sites without the capability to set up large replicated installations. The DNS SRV records in question can simply be the "_ldap._tcp" records mentioned as a example in RFC 2782. Thus, to specify LDAP servers for registering or searching WARs for "www.freesoft.org" URLs, DNS SRV records should be added for "_ldap._tcp.www.freesoft.org". In the case of the publicly available LDAP servers mentioned above, and other LDAP servers used by multiple web sites, careful consideration should be given to making the "_ldap._tcp" record a CNAME pointing to a set of SRV records, allowing the LDAP server administrators to modify the list of LDAP servers without requiring changes to every web site using the service. Furthermore, the use of "_ldap" for this new service may conflict with existing LDAP applications. Another name, perhaps "_webldap" might be a better choice. Another possibility would be to use both names, specifying that "_webldap" would take precedence over "_ldap" for this application, and the "_ldap" records would be used only if "_webldap" records did not exist. This would allow the Internet community to use "_webldap" if needed, expecting that this name would simply fall into disuse if only "_ldap" is really needed. Also, the web administrator will need to add at least one KEY record specifying a public key that must be used by clients to validate the integrity of a retrieved WAR. Due to the ease with which a bogus WAR could be registered with a public LDAP service, this is regarded as a critical step. The administrator must provide the KEY record and the client must validate it before trusting the WAR. Unsigned WARs are invalid and so are DNS entries without KEY records - both the SRV and KEY records must be present. Perhaps a CERT record would be a better choice than KEY, also, we need to consider how multiple KEY or CERT records should be handled by a client. So, for example, consider the "www.freesoft.org" web site, originally specified in DNS like this: $ORIGIN freesoft.org. www IN CNAME sparky.freesoft.org. sparky IN A 18.104.22.168 To add WAR-based caching of dynamic web content for this site, records similar to these should be added: www IN KEY --- public key goes here --- _ldap._tcp.www IN CNAME ldapsrv ldapsrv IN SRV 0 0 389 ldap1.freesoft.org. ldapsrv IN SRV 0 0 389 ldap2.freesoft.org. ldapsrv IN SRV 0 0 389 ldap3.freesoft.org. Retaining the original CNAME record would require moving the KEY record to "sparky", since CNAME records can't co-exist with other records. An alternative to retaining the original server configuration would be to replace the "www" entries with A records pointing to a set of web caches. Thus, any legacy client trying to retrieve a page from this web site would be automatically directed to a web cache. It'd be convenient to specify a CNAME for "www" pointing to a set of A records for the web caches, but of course this would preclude a unique KEY record for the server. Perhaps the KEY record should appear on a unique name, such as "_key.www", specifically to permit this feature. The interaction of CNAME with the other resource records requires more consideration. RFC 2535 specifies the structure of KEY records, and recommends the assignment of new Protocol Octet values for new applications. If this proposal is adopted, IANA should assign a new Protocol Octet value for validation of dynamic web archives. A typical client request would follow these steps: 1. Client is configured to use a local web cache, or, attempts a standard retrieval and gets A records for web caches 2. Client sends request to web cache 3. Web cache does DNS lookup and gets KEY and SRV records 4. Web cache does LDAP search for the URL and gets a list of WAR directory entries, placed there by other (remote) web caches 5. Web cache picks an entry, contacts the remote cache using HTTP and either retrieves the entire WAR or just the parts it needs to serve the requested URL 6. Web cache validates that WAR was signed using the private key corresponding to the public key retrieved in the DNS KEY record, and recurses to step 5 (using a different remote cache) if not 7. If the cache elected to retrieve the entire WAR, it (subject to considerations like being behind a firewall) registers itself with one of the site's LDAP servers as possessing the WAR and being willing to serve it to other sites 7a LDAP servers replicate this information among themselves 8. Web cache runs the Java in the WAR to generate the dynamic web page and returns the result to the client Several other options present themselves. Perhaps the LDAP directory should include entries for web caches willing to run the Java and serve the dynamic pages themselves, though this would be present a security risk since those caches might be untrusted by either client or server. Perhaps provision could be made for the server to issue X.509 certificates certifying certain web caches as trusted. Perhaps the user should be prompted before embarking on the potentially time consuming process of retrieving and locally processing a WAR. Finally, the functionally of a "locally trusted cache" should ultimately be rolled into the client itself, which should retrieve and verify the integrity of the WAR before running the Java itself. In summary, I recommend the following steps: 1. Recognize the importance of data-oriented design, as opposed to connection-oriented design. Break the dependence on special server configurations and realize that the client has to do almost all the work in a scalable, cached, redundant web architecture. 2. Select standards for the network delivery of executable web content, and for packaging the contents of a web server into a single compressed archive. Java/WAR seems the most likely current candidate. 3. Develop an LDAP schema for registering WARs, and for searching the registrations to find the WARs matching a particular URL. 4. Extend the WAR specification to include root URL, Java classes for determining lifespan of WAR, performing incremental updates, and other identified needs. Specify the security environment in which these "foreign" WARs will operate. 5. Extend Squid to support the algorithm outlined above. Alternately, extend Apache Tomcat to function as a web cache, with similar features. The caching scheme outlined above is far from perfect. In my essay "Data-oriented networking" I discuss more long-term prospects. However, the current proposal has several key advantages: it can be deploying using existing technology; it requires no client-side changes or client-visible protocol updates; it allows web sites to easily opt in so long as one public set of LDAP servers and/or trusted caches are available; and it solves a pressing problem. Ultimately, the Internet is a work in progress, and its more technically savvy users are probably ready for a serious attempt at a working caching scheme for dynamic content. REFERENCES Data-oriented networking "Data-oriented networking", Brent Baccala, Internet Draft http://www.freesoft.org/Essays/data-networking/ Domain Name System (DNS) Dozens of RFCs specify various aspects of DNS operation. Only those most pertinent to basic DNS operation, SRV records, and KEY/CERT records are listed here. RFC 1034 - Domain Names - Concepts and Facilities RFC 1035 - Domain Names - Implementation and Specification RFC 1912 - Common DNS Operational and Configuration Errors RFC 2535 - Domain Name System Security Extensions RFC 2536 - DSA KEYs and SIGs in the Domain Name System RFC 2538 - Storing Certificates in the Domain Name System RFC 2782 - A DNS RR for specifying the location of services (DNS SRV) RFC 3110 - RSA/SHA-1 SIGs and RSA KEYs in the Domain Name System Paul Vixie's Internet Software Consortium produces BIND, the most widely used (and freely available) DNS server http://www.isc.org/ Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) RFC 2251 - LDAP v3 (protocol spec) RFC 2252 - LDAP v3 Attribute Syntax Definitions (schema spec) OpenLDAP is an actively developed (as of mid-2002) open source LDAP server, and C-based client library. Various client implementations exist for other languages, such as Perl http://www.openldap.org/ Rsync rsync is a program and protocol developed to incrementally update files that have only been slightly modified, by first transferring a set of MD5 digests that identify which parts of the file have been modified and only transferring those parts http://rsync.samba.org/ Java Java Virtual Machine (JVM) specification somewhere on http://java.sun.com/ Bill Venner's excellent Under the Hood series for JavaWorld is a better starting point than the spec for understanding JVM. He also has written a book - Inside the Java Virtual Machine (McGraw-Hill; ISBN 0-07-913248-0) http://www.javaworld.com/columns/jw-hood-index.shtml Java 2 language reference somewhere on http://java.sun.com/ Java languages page (other languages that compile to Java VM) http://grunge.cs.tu-berlin.de/~tolk/vmlanguages.html Criticism of Java http://www.jwz.org/doc/java.html Java Servlets/WARs "Tomcat is the servlet container that is used in the official Reference Implementation for the Java Servlet and JavaServer Pages technologies." http://jakarta.apache.org/tomcat/ Java Servlets - server-side Java API (CGI-inspired; heavily HTTP-based) The Java servlet specification includes a chapter specifying the WAR (Web Application Archive) file format, an extension of ZIP/JAR http://java.sun.com/products/servlet/ Caching RFC 3040 - Internet Web Replication and Caching Taxonomy broad overview of caching technology RFC 2186 - Internet Cache Protocol (ICP), version 2 RFC 2187 - Application of ICP Squid software http://www.squid-cache.org/ NLANR web caching project http://www.ircache.net/ Various collections of resources for web caching
My earlier spiritual journey I documented in Bicycling across America. At the end of that account, I related how I had experienced a sort of revelation in Arizona, which could basically be summed up “Your problem is that you think you can do everything yourself.” I gave away my bicycle along with my money and almost all my worldly possessions, and started walking along the back roads of Arizona. After three days of this, having driven myself to walk forty miles with almost no sleep, I gave up. I walked back into Wickenburg, Arizona, contacted a good friend of mine, and got $200 wired to me for bus fare to California.
In the eight years since, I have often wondered about that experience. Did I set a pattern for the rest of my life by giving up? Did I commit, then and there, some fatal error from which I can never recover? If I had kept walking, would I have experienced some life-changing revelation like those of the prophets? Did I abandon God?
In my nights of despair, I plead with the Lord to forgive me this and my other sins of omission. I beg him not to give up on me. I implore him to make me an instrument of his will, to grant me the wisdom to know that will, and to bolster me with the courage I so often seem to lack. In depression, I muse that my life is already a failure, that I’ve already missed my fate, that everything for here on out is just a shell of a life, for “the man who liveth not his dream is living death.”
Then I pick myself up and carry on. I view my experience in Arizona as just one stumble among many, many that I’ve committed. I reflect on Christ’s promise that “he who believes in me shall not perish, but have eternal life,” and trust that God will find in his heart the mercy to do his will in my life, imperfect as it may be. I haven’t given up. Though the light was dim, and at times appeared to have vanished completely, I’m still moving forward.
Three years after the bicycle trip, in 1996, I returned to one of the places I had passed through on my bike – the Shiloh community in Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. A non-denominational Christian community nestled in the Ozark mountains, Shiloh numbers about a dozen long-time members, and various transients. The community provides the no-stop-light town of Sulphur Springs with it’s only industry – a commercial bakery in the basement of the community’s main building, a one-time military academy on the crest of a grassy knoll. No doubt about it – Shiloh bakes the best bread I’ve ever tasted.
The community’s led by Pastor James, the aging inheritor from Shiloh’s founder. A quiet man, James reads heavily in mystical Christianity, and always conducted a meditation session at the outset of the community’s morning meeting. Prayer, singing, and some kind of spiritual reading (usually of a mystical nature, never the Gospels) were always mainstays of the hour-long meetings. Never, during the two months I was there, did I witness James take or administer communion.
Probably the most dominant personality was the pastor’s wife. In her late fifties and blessed with good health, Anna Lee managed the bakery, often donning a white hair net and helping work the assembly line. She was also one of the chief proponents of the community’s philosophy, which she usually summarized in the “Four Rules”: no smoking, no alcohol, no drugs without a doctor’s prescription, no sex outside a heterosexual marriage.
I made several friends at Shiloh, Paul Clough and John Knoderer, the local computer programmers, and including Anna Lee herself, I think. Most significant were two local teenagers I got to know – Jeremiah, a seventeen-year-old whose family rented a house from the community, and Robert, a thirteen-year-old who was good friends with Paul’s son, Micah.
Jeremiah’s interests included fast driving, loud rock music, and smoking marijuana. We hit it off right away. I tried to be a bit of a calming influence – teaching him how to start a stick-shift on a hill instead of just grinding the gears; driving slowly through town and saving Speed Racer for the highway. I remember him using my computer to research Marylon Manson on the Internet and asking if I thought demonic influences are real. I replied in the affirmative, and Jeremiah later told me that he had destroyed all his Marylon Manson CDs.
Robert, on the other hand, was a quieter boy who played Dungeons and Dragons with his friends and came up to visit me and browse the Internet almost every day, enjoying the interactive role-playing games, the net’s Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs). Robert would also practice on the piano while Jeremiah and I would fool around on the guitar. I adored Robert; found him quite attractive, really. Yet I was afraid of a sexual relationship developing, not because I was worried about the police or what people would think, but because I myself am very reluctant to explore gay sexuality, especially with a thirteen-year-old. The bottom line was that, to my lasting regret, I never told him how I really felt about him. Putting sex aside, the truth is that I loved him. Yet I never put my arm around him, never said the words, “I love you”. Teenagers need to know the difference between love and sex, I think, otherwise it’s easy to get them confused. Coming from a broken home, I think Robert needed love, and I desperately wanted to give it to him, but never could quite manage.
Finally, somebody smelt the marijuana smoke from Jeremiah’s and my near-daily smoke-outs, and all hell broke loose. After being confronted with this charge at the community meeting, a vote was taken that I was to leave in a week and not have any contact with the children in the meantime. I began preparing to leave, but the part about the children I ignored. Jeremiah’s father came to the next community meeting to voice his support for me, but Pastor James refused to let either of us speak and ended the meeting. The next day, one of the older ladies came into my office while Robert was there, told him to leave, and in about the nastiest voice you could imagine, told me “we’re not going to let you hurt these children”. I left, but not before literally wiping the dirt from my shoes, as the disciples were told by Christ:
And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or that town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that town.
Friends, let me exhort you never to lay down any curse, even if you proclaim the Gospel and be rejected in everything. We are taught to love our enemies, not to curse them. That curse I laid has brought so much grief into my life that at times I can not fathom how I could possibly have cursed the town where two of my best friends lived. It’s most obvious effect was on me! Even though I wanted badly to maintain contact with my friends, I took the curse very seriously and broke off all contact with Sulphur Springs. After two years, my nagging concern for my friends began to win out over the curse. I wrote Robert a letter for his sixteenth birthday; it was returned undelivered, as he had moved. The next year I actually returned to the town, and it took another year to track down my friends. Jeremiah had married, had a kid on the way, but was in most ways the same person; we now stay in touch. On the other had, Robert had changed completely, becoming very materialistic and selfish, and wanting nothing to do with me. Can I blame him? During the years when he needed me most, I was nowhere to be found. He was the closest thing I ever had to a little brother. I fear I’ve lost him forever.
The Drug War
Early in 1997, having returned from Arkansas, I lived with a college friend of mine who was waiting tables at a Glen Burnie restaurant. He was also a small-time drug dealer, keeping marijuana and cocaine in the house in addition to the usual alcohol. At any rate, the police found out and the house was raided. Five days later, we were evicted. What followed was the most profound faith struggle of my life.
In the midst of this crisis, I sought re-baptism. Through my prayers and contemplations, I recognized that Jesus had been baptized, not as an infant, but as a grown man, at the outset of his ministry. I decided to pursue the same course, though not for the redemption of sin (perhaps a serious error), but in search of an answer from God to this political campaign I was complementing. Just as Christ received a sign at his baptism, before pursuing his ministry, so I sought a similar sign at mine. While this may seem incredibly arrogant (it seems so to me, in retrospect), I can honestly tell you that I entered into the venture with the profound conviction that if God wanted me to pursue this campaign, he would give me a sign at my baptism.
I fasted for a week, then traveled to Ohio, where I had met a minister during my bicycle trip who baptized by immersion. After attending his service, I asked him afterward for baptism. Since he was busy that afternoon, he said that unless I could wait a few days, it would have to occur immediately. And that’s exactly what happened. He announced the baptism to those of his congregation still mingling after the service, we drove to a nearby lake, and with perhaps fifty witnesses, he baptized me in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I received no sign.
I drove home to Maryland telling myself that I didn’t have to do it, that I had no calling from God, that there was no obligation for me to pursue this campaign that so deeply troubled me. While I had many more doubts and agonies over it, I believe my baptism in Ohio was probably the turning point in my decision to scrap the campaign. In a moment of paranoia (What if the police busted me again?) I burned the notebook I had prepared in planning the campaign, and mostly got on with my life.
I would return to the drug war again. In early 2000, I had what you might call a relapse. I had rejected civil disobedience, but still considered the possibility of a speaking and protest campaign. I published It’s the Drug War, Stupid. Looking back on that document, I have to tell you that what disturbs me most about it is not the anger it relates, because that was real, but how political it is; how totally coaxed it is in political rights and strategies; how God has been completely edited out.
Some of what I proposed in that essay came about, though I had no part of it. The “shadow conventions” of 2000 highlighted the drug war as one of their issues, and were labeled as “ultra-left” by a society that split its vote between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I’m increasingly coming to a disturbing conclusion – that the majority of the people of this country want a war in their own land, against their own people, and are absolutely committed to a policy of “zero tolerance”.
I’ll probably end up as a monk, if not in name than at least in fact. My earliest direct exposure to monasticism came on the bike trip, when I visited a Benedictine monastery in Oklahoma. St. Benedict, the founder of this order, spent three years living in a cave, his only nourishment being bread lowered to him on a rope by a friend. Later, he founded the monastery at Monte Casino and the Benedictine order. He lived about 1500 years ago.
More recently, I’ve read a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order. St. Francis’ response to the Christian gospel was similar to St. Benedict’s, but also much different. Both men took their religion very seriously, and neither were content to just sing about heaven on Sunday mornings. Yet while Benedict cloistered himself in a monastery, Francis took to the road. After giving away all his worldly possessions, he began traveling around Italy by foot, preaching the gospel and begging for his food. Any money he received, he gave away immediately.
I don’t completely subscribe to Francis’ philosophy; you won’t catch me sprinkling ashes on my food because I think it tastes too good! Yet we are in agreement on many and the most significant points. I consider it a religious obligation to give to beggars, and recently have found myself on various occasions without a penny to my name. Yet I have no intention of getting a job just to produce money; I have plenty of important work to do, and frankly, pride. I despise the capitalists and will not support their nightmare system by working for them simply because I’m forced to if I want to eat. Like Francis, if I lack benefactors, I will simply go hungry. Yet God knows what we need, and will provide it – I’m not starving away, thanks to those who give to me and particularly Bruce Caslow, my most significant supporter over the last few years. It’s Bruce that paid for an apartment in Washington when I couldn’t afford the rent; Bruce who was always tossing twenty bucks my way when I didn’t have anything to eat; Bruce who was always there to review an essay or discuss my spiritual trials.
I think we need both the Benedictine and the Franciscan ideals in our lives; we find both motifs in the life of Christ. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, withdraws onto a mountaintop to pray, spends all night in prayer. We need to withdraw into seclusion, perhaps best the seclusion of nature, to experience God in solitude. Christ also travels from town to town, stays with friends in Jerusalem, sends forth his disciples and tells them to take no money, or packs, or extra clothing. We also need to come down from the mountaintops and express our love of God through our fellow man. Honestly, the great saints seems to know this. Francis at times withdraws into seclusion, and Benedict finally left his cave. Ultimately, we don’t need a ten-acre monastery or public vows to life as brothers in Christ. The monastery was wherever Jesus went, and the most important vows are the ones we make to God.
New Age Christianity
I’ve been exposed in the last year to New Age Christianity, most particularly through Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God books. For those unfamiliar with this, Walsch claims that his books are essentially channeled from God. He would take a pad of paper, write a question, and wait for an answer to come into his head. Sometimes no answer would come, and he would put the pen down until the next day. When an answer would come, he would write it down and then ask another question. He wrote three books this way.
The basic tenet of these books is that We Are All One. When the Bible states that God made us in his image, it means this spiritually, not physically. We are, each of us, a little piece of God, which God created in order to experience the universe as individuals. Those who become completely self-aware, such as Jesus, realize their own oneness with God and, through faith, find power even over death.
This theology is radically different from traditional Christianity. It claims, among other things, that there is no Devil (we invented him ourselves); that we reincarnate again and again; that Jesus was not the only one to rise from the dead, and that we, like him, can conquer death, through faith; that spiritual masters generally don’t marry, not because they don’t have sex, but because they can’t make an exclusive commitment to one person.
I can’t quite figure what to make of this. If true, it means that we can pass through death, and if our faith is strong enough, be resurrected. If false, then it represents a temptation of the Devil and a path only to our own self-destruction. Russ Wise notes that The New Age offers man the same deal the serpent offered Eve in the garden. If you eat of this fruit, you will become like God. The fundamental question it poses is simple – is Christ a guide and teacher, to be followed and emulated, or is he the unique Son of God, whose miracles can not be duplicated?
At a seminary, it’d be interesting to conduct a class on Modern Prophets. What do we make of people like Nostradamus? Edgar Cayce? Joseph Smith? A Course in Miracles? Conversations with God? We can’t just ignore them – the claims they make are too serious. Yet we’ve been taught there will be false prophets, so we can’t just accept them at face value, either. They require careful consideration.
Cayce lived in the early twentieth century, and would enter a sleeping, hypnotic trance in which he’d respond to questions with answers from a “Source” that appeared to have extra-worldly knowledge. The Source revealed that reincarnation occurs, that among Cayce’s previous lives was that of a priest in ancient Egypt, that the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza was actually a prophecy in stone that records the exact moments of Chirst’s birth and death, as well as the imminent entrance of humanity into a new age symbolized by the King’s Chamber, etc, etc.
In addition to the New Age ideas here, like reincarnation, I find Cayce disturbing because of some of the prophecies he made that I tie into my own life. He prophesied his own return “in the capacity of a LIBERATOR of the world in its relationships with individuals; for he must enter again in the age that is to come, or in 1998”. At the time of my contemplated drug war campaign in 1997 I knew none of this, but in retrospect I ask myself if that wasn’t the “appearance” that was to have occurred a year later, in the election year of 1998. And just when is “the age that is to come”? Is it a subtle shift, like the turn of the millennium, or the change from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius? Or is it a dramatic change, to be characterized by political upheaval, environment disaster, or global unrest?
In retrospect, I wish I’d never read any of this! I’d rather just not know, and stumble along, making the decisions as best I can without have all this extra stuff nagging at me in my head. Others have similar doubts about Cayce; some of his prophecies just flat out never occurred.
Early in 2001, I had a dream in which I saw a newspaper tabloid on a supermarket checkout stand. It’s headline gave three prophesies for the coming year – disaster for the United States, war in the Middle East, and the appearance of a great saint. Of course, my ego thrusts me into the later role. Am I a great saint? If so, how do I “appear”?
New Age Christianity and the Cayce prophecies raise even more disturbing questions. Could I duplicate the feats of Christ? Be the reincarnation of St. Peter? Become a Messiah? This is the fundamental question raised by these teachings – was Jesus the unique Son of God, or all we all sons of God, who can seek to obtain the same level of faith and power?
Is this insanity? Not exactly. I don’t actually believe that I am Jesus, or God, or a Messiah. Yet the reading I’ve done raises these disturbing questions. It’s more an intellectual insanity, generated by competing theologies, than a physiological one with some chemical imbalance at its source.
The Spirit at Thirty One
In another dream, I was running through a cave-like maze of passages, fleeing in terror from some attacker. I soon realized, though, that my attackers weren’t really attacking me at all – they were mocking me and my books. Mocking my attempt to learn Spanish by reading it. I emerged from the cave and decided to return to the place I was fleeing from. Perhaps I thought I had killed someone, in fact, it was only a flesh wound. There was really nothing to run from at all; then I awoke.
So what am I running from? From my failure at Wickenburg? From human society? From the Drug War? From God? And what do I make of all these ideas and theologies I’ve been exposed to? Ultimately, I can’t answer these questions, and I doubt that anyone can. Only God holds the answers. So, through prayer, I’ve asked God to reveal these answers to me, and I trust that this way, I’ll get the answers from the only source that holds them.
As I finish this essay, I’ve just turned thirty-two, so perhaps the title is becoming something of a misnomer! In the last year, I’ve given up on spending all my time in front of a computer screen, thinking I’m going to save the world through a website. I’ve hitchhiked across the United States, down into Mexico, and back. I’ve become a lot more comfortable having no money, am willing to go hungry if need be, and don’t feel tied down to a nice apartment and a pile of possessions, though I regret that I can’t fit my piano into my backpack. I’m on my way now to spend at least a few weeks in the Appalachian Mountains, fasting and praying. Certainly Jesus did this at critical times in his life, and many were the saints and prophets, from Abraham to Francis, who found God in seclusion, in the wilderness. Hopefully, I’ll find these answers, too. In any event, I haven’t given up. The spirit at thirty-two is still searching…
The peace of Christ and the love of God be with you all.
Is capitalism an un-Christian philosophy?
The answer to this question depends heavily on how you define your terms. “Capitalism” and “Christianity” are both complex words that mean different things to different people. Debating over the meaning of these words is largely pointless; it’s like arguing over whether a glass is half empty or half full. I’ll present my definitions up front, to make my meaning clear. If these words mean different things to you than they mean to me, then your answers may vary.
By Christianity, I refer to the religious and philosophical system taught by Jesus of Nazareth, and recorded primarily in the Bible’s four Gospels. I do not selectively endorse any one denomination or division of Christianity, nor do I reject any. The Bible is confusing, and there is room for honest disagreement among Christians. In my opinion, the key to Christianity is to believe in one man, Jesus Christ. To believe that he’s the son of God, that he came to this world and gave his life that we might be saved. To believe that one of the greatest gifts he left behind are his teachings, recorded for all time in the Gospels. To believe that his system, his philosophy, and not any other one devised by man, is the way to live your life. The parts we understand, we must strive to live in our daily lives, no matter how difficult or seemingly unreasonable. If any part of Jesus’ teachings were trivial or unimportant, he wouldn’t have bothered with them. If the ways of the world take precedence to you over the Gospel teachings, or if you simply don’t care what the Bible says, then read no further, as this essay will have little to say to you.
Capitalism, likewise, has several different connotations. In the course of writing and discussing this essay, I’ve identified three major interpretations of the term. Let me define them as follows:
- capitalism¹ – a laissez-faire economic system, characterized by the separation of economy and state, “anti-socialism”, free markets, free trade, relatively light taxation, and a minimum of government interference in commerce
- capitalism² – an industrial model of production, well illustrated by Henry Ford’s assembly line, characterized by heavy specialization of both capital and labor, economies of scale, with the cost of goods reflecting the distributed costs of production
- capitalism³ – a pseudo-religion of greed, characterized by pursuit of self-interest, often associated with the claim that each individual, by advancing his own self-interest, ultimately advances the good of society
For the remainder of this essay, I’ll use the superscripts to indicate which meaning of capitalism I’m discussing.
I have no real objection to capitalism¹ or capitalism², and in fact reject socialism completely, but this isn’t the meaning of capitalism I wish to discuss. Likewise, to some people capitalism means a commitment to hard work and self reliance. I don’t really object to this, either, having no problem with either working hard or taking pride in your work, though I do feel that “self reliance” can be easily twisted into an insistence that others rely on themselves.
I take serious exception to capitalism³. One of the most important functions of religion is to provide us with a value structure through which to judge right and wrong. Capitalism³ is a philosophy of life that can only be described as pseudo-religion of greed. It usurps the role of religion to provide a distorted morality. “Give to all who beg from you,” Christianity teaches us. “What’s mine is mine,” the capitalist³ answers. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the Bible’s Golden Rule. “Take care of number one,” is the capitalist³ response. “Sell all your worldly possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow me,” Jesus told one of his questioners. The capitalist³ just laughs.
Let’s not be distracted by the capitalist³ talk of “freedom”, either. Someone who takes a gun and robs a convenience store has freedom. He’s just chosen to use it to evil ends. Freedom implies the ability to chose between good and evil, but doesn’t provide us with a value system to judge between them. This is the function of religion.
So often, when a capitalist³ talks about freedom, it’s really a clever attempt to intertwine capitalism¹ and capitalism³. Anyone opposed to capitalism³ is twisted into an opponent of capitalism¹, and the distinction between the two is glossed over or ignored completely. Anyone who opposes “capitalism” is depicted as a monster socialist who opposed to freedom and liberty. In fact, just because we support capitalism¹, a society largely free from government control over the economy, doesn’t imply support of capitalism³, a dog-eat-dog world where men live like wolves and prey on each other as best they can. Freedom does not imply that everyone lives for himself… unless that’s what we choose it to mean.
These are my main objections to capitalism³:
- The values we promote.
Don’t underestimate the impact society’s values have on people, particularly the youth. We need to teach and practice Christian values, to lead others clearly. Making money shouldn’t be our primary goal, and we shouldn’t allow money to interfere with our commitment to Christianity. Christianity’s two greatest commandments are to “love God with all your heart and all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Nothing’s wrong with working hard, as long as we’ve got the right goals. Our first goal in life must be to seek God’s will for us and put it into effect in our lives. Our second goal must be to love and serve others.
If we have a product or service for which people are willing to pay, we can make money, but be sure not to turn away those who can’t pay. Remember the Christian commandment, “give to those who beg of you”; let’s be sure to honor it! Having money isn’t the problem; the problem is what people will do to get money and then to keep it. The Gospels make it clear that generosity is one of the great virtues of our religion.
So many times, when someone comes up with some nifty new idea, they immediately start figuring if they can get a patent on it, slap some restrictive license on it, or just keep the details secret. Instead of immediately asking “how can we make money on this?”, we should instead start by asking “how can we best serve God and man with this?” Make the commitment to God and others first; let the money come later.
- The kind of society we build.
Let’s face it – not all the people who try to start a company and make a ton of money actually succeed. Yet enough do succeed to make a difference in our lives – Microsoft, WorldCom, Exxon, GM, RCA. Imagine if as many people who tried to make a fortune instead set out to make the world a better place. Not all would succeed. Yet enough would succeed to make a difference, because it’s the attempt that counts. Little by little, we’d find ourselves living in a world of love and hope. Instead, little by little, we find ourselves living in a world of greed and despair.
- The legacy we leave.
What do we want our children to say about us? Do we want them to answer with pride that their parents sacrificed to make the world a better place? Or are we content to let them shrug and say, “Yeah, they made a lot of money“? How do we want our age remembered by history? Are we willing to risk being judged along with the conquistadors and robber barons? Or will we sacrifice now, so that we may be judged along with the prophets and saints? Let’s decide that the future will look back on us and say, “these people did everything in their power for the good of others”.
- The treatment of dissidents.
By “dissident” I mean anyone who won’t adopt the capitalist³ philosophy. My personal experiences in a capitalist³ society are far from pleasant. In my youth, I began quite adept with computers, and ended up working for some major computer companies in the early 1990s. Yet I couldn’t stomach the secrecy with which the technology was developed, and I decided that any software I wrote was going to freely available to anyone who wanted it. That decision cost me my livelihood and turned me into an outcast on the fringe of society. And for what? Because I wanted to write software and publish it for free on the Internet. We need to build a world were people won’t be ostracized just because they won’t go along with “the system”.
A man cannot serve two masters. If he attempts to do so, the demands of his masters may for a while coincide, but ultimately will diverge. The two masters will demand two different courses of action, and then you have to chose. Christianity and capitalism³ are two different masters promoting two different value structures.
Christianity teaches us to “give to all those who beg from us”. So long as we keep this firmly in mind, fine. Yet the capitalist³ philosophy is often one of selfishness. “I take care of myself; nobody else will take care of me.”
Of course, the capitalist³ would no doubt raise a flurry of objections:
- Capitalism³ works…
“…in the real world,” I can almost hear you adding. Well, Christianity never claimed to work in the real world. In fact, Jesus taught that Christianity would be rejected by the world, and that his disciples would be persecuted and killed.
Consider also that capitalism³ is not the world’s only “success story”. Fascism worked. By the end of 1940, fascism had conquered all of Europe. Germany was fascist; Italy was fascist; Spain was fascist; Poland had fallen in a couple of days; France a matter of weeks. Fascism ruled the entire continent. Fascism was a “success”. Hitler felt so confident he invaded Russia.
Communism worked. By the middle of the twentieth century, between Russia and China and their various satellites, communism ruled half this planet. Communism turned a backwards, rural nation into an industrial super power, put the first man into space, and cast its intellectual appeal to many of the world’s left-wing thinkers. Cuba looked to communism. Angola looked to communism. Communism was a “success”. Kruschov pounded his shoe on the table and declared, “We will bury you!”
Other notable “successes” include Negro slavery; the conquest of native Americans by both the Spanish and the Anglo Saxons; the establishment of global empires by Britain, France, and Holland; and the military dominance of the Mediterranean by Rome for nearly a millennium.
Clearly, judging “success” is a difficult matter, made easier by the passage of time and quite difficult without the hindsight of history. Yet even if communism or fascism had genuinely succeeded over the long term, neither of these societies I’d want to live in! Success shouldn’t be measured just by the expediance of the moment, but by moral and ethical considerations. To blandly declare “Capitalism³ works,” and to use this as a trump card to cancel all other considerations, to also to accept these other societies, because each, at some time and in some way, “worked”.
- You have to survive.
Total relativism. People had to survive in Soviet Russia; the way to do it was to become a communist. People had to survive in Nazi Germany; the way to do it was to become a fascist. This argument can be used to justify anything.
Jesus’ answer to this question was not to worry about survival; let God take care of your survival. My answer is slightly different. We do have to survive, and the way to survive is to take care of each other and to build a society where people can take care of themselves, and walking into Safeway with a $20 bill doesn’t count. If you’re dependent on another man for your food, freedom quickly becomes an empty euphemism. Government welfare programs simply replace one form of dependence with another.
The capitalists³ don’t want freedom, except for themselves. You don’t make a lot of money by setting people free. In fact, quite to the contrary, the way to make a big pile of money is to make people dependent. Bernard Ebbers didn’t build WorldCom by making long distance communications free. The way to build a WorldCom is to put a switch on every telephone line in this country, then sending people a bill every month and turning off their service if they don’t pay.
Under capitalism³, everyone “has to survive” because everyone is dependent on the capitalists³ for food, housing, clothing, transportation, and pretty much everything else in life. The Christian solution is to love our neighbors, and one of the best ways to do this is to make our neighbors self-sufficient.
- “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day;
Teach him to fish, feed him for life.”
- We don’t have raw, naked capitalism³; it’s regulated by the government.
A good point, but not one want we’d like to carry to its natural conclusion.
Why do we have an Environmental Protection Agency? Basically, because a bunch of people decided that it was in their business interests to build factories that dumped all their waste into the nearest river. It’d be nice if the people building factories would design them to be clean, but then those factories would be more expensive, they wouldn’t be able to compete, and the clean factories would all go out of business. Eventually, people got sick of not being able to swim in their rivers, clamored to their government for a Clean Air Act and a Clear Water Act, and now every factory in this country is regulated by the federal government.
Why do we have anti-trust laws? Basically, because people like John D. Rockefeller realized that their oil companies could make a lot more money if they also owned the railroad companies and charged competing oil companies ten times as much to use the same rail lines. All the competing oil companies would have far higher operating costs and eventually go bankrupt. It was a smart business decision. Eventually, people got sick of having their oil prices dictated by a monopoly, the government passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and now every major business deal in this country requires government approval.
Why is Microsoft now embroiled in an anti-trust lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department? Because Bill Gates is acting in the heritage of Dow Chemical and Standard Oil. He’s putting his own profit interests ahead of the better interests of society. So Microsoft keeps all their source code secret, engages in restrictive licensing practices, violates networking standards, and deliberately breaks the backwards-compatibility of their software. These are good business decisions, and the trend is clear. Eventually, the entire high-tech software industry will be regulated by the federal government.
The capitalists³ love to gripe about socialism, but capitalism³ itself is one road to socialism. The capitalists³, by a constant pattern of abuse, will create a society in which all aspects of everyone’s lives are eventually regulated by the government.
We don’t want raw, naked capitalism³, nor do we want massive government regulation of our lives. The only alternative is for people to take responsibility for their own actions and do what is in everyone’s best interest. Otherwise, the only way we’ll have a decent society is for the government to force it on us.
- Capitalism³ gave us everything we’ve got today.
Maybe, but I won’t argue the point. I don’t think we have to give up own modern technology to live as Christians. Even if we did, given the choice between a modern, advanced, rational, scientific world, and living a simple, primitive life according to teachings of Christ, which would you choose?
- You can’t run a business like that.
Then don’t run a business! Run a charity, or a philanthropy, or a non-profit organization. If the word “business” gets in your way, discard it, because almost anything can be done in a Christian way. Jesus doesn’t tell us what kind of house to build; he just gives us a foundation to build upon.
If you’re running a restaurant, turn it into a soup kitchen. This doesn’t mean you have to run off your regular clientele, move to the inner city, and spray paint grafitti over your logo. Just make sure that when somebody comes it without money and asks for a meal, feed them! It doesn’t have to be the broiled lobster tail. Don’t hide or disguise this policy; make it clear to your workers and customers. If you have trouble paying your bills, let your suppliers know about your Christian practices, and if necessary find new suppliers who will reciprocate in kind. Go directly to the farmers if need be, and move your operation to a friendly church’s banquet hall if you can’t pay your rent. If some people leave and don’t come back, so be it. You can’t please everyone, but make sure one of the people you please is God.
- That sounds very noble, but I’m sick of working every day and want to be my own boss.
This is the great lure of capitalism³. “Sign up for own system,” they say, “then you can work for yourself.” Well, I signed up seven years ago. I ran my own computer consulting practice, then I found two partners and started a regular company that eventually grew to have about a dozen employees. To make a long story short, there’s no better way to uncover the myths of capitalism³ than to run your own business. You don’t work for yourself. You work for the marketplace. You don’t make your own decisions. You do what sells. Unless you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll have salaries to pay, a significant tax burden, probably rent and insurance as well. If you don’t make money, you’ll lose your employees, be evicted from your space, go out of business and still have the government chasing after you for back taxes. If you can manage as a consultant or sole proprietor, you’re a lot better off, but don’t risk asking yourself if this is the best you can do for others. The answer may cost you your livelihood.
Independence in capitalism³ is largely a myth. If you’re not aggressive and somewhat ruthless, you’ll always be a small player, still largely dependent upon the marketplace. The only way to become a big player is to go along with the program. It’s like going into a restaurant and being told that you can order anything off the menu, so long as it’s fish. If you love fish, that’s great, but what if you wanted chicken? You probably won’t come back to that restaurant, no matter how good the food, but the capitalists³ want every restaurant in town to serve only fish.
- This isn’t Christianity.
One of the great advantages of Christianity is the Bible. We don’t have to take anybody’s word for Christianity; we have Jesus’ teachings, written down and preserved for us over 2000 years. To know Christianity, read the Bible, particularly the four Gospels, praying for wisdom and understanding. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s. Remember that not everyone who claims to be a Christian will be saved. By the same token, don’t let the ways of the world and the opinion of others distort your interpretation.
- Christianity is based on faith, not works.
- This just doesn’t make sense.
Jesus never attempted to justify his philosophy by invoking reason or logic. These are the tools used by human philosophers to justify their systems of thought. Logic worked very well for science; it laid the foundation for all the technology we use daily. Scientists had developed logical systems to explain physics, chemistry and biology, perhaps philosophers could also develop systems to explain and govern human society. Thus, in the last few centuries, we’ve seen fascism, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Charles Darwin; communism, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Karl Marx; and capitalism³, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Adam Smith. On the other hand, Christianity isn’t based on reason or logic, it’s based on faith.
- This is what “the people” want.
A tricky argument that attempts to intertwine democracy and capitalism³. Democracy can not be used as a trump to justify any course of action. Suffice it to say that capitalism³ must be judged on its own merits, not based on how many people support it.
Let’s not put our faith in capitalism’s false, worldly pseudo-religion of greed. Christianity is a real religion, with a real God, a real savior, real prophets, and real salvation. “For God so loved the world that he he gave his only Son” to us. Will we accept him, and live his teachings in our lives, or turn him away?
Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables, set in post-Napoleonic France, explores a broad range of political, philosophical and religious issues. Two of the novel’s major philosophical themes are Christianity, personified by Valjean, and democracy, personified by Marius. In my opinion, Les Misérables represents Hugo’s attempt to reconcile the two; he fails.
The entire first volume is devoted to the development of Valjean’s character, and Christianity is the driving theme. First we meet the Bishop of Digne, known to the people of his town as a “just man”, and Hugo reinforces this. The Bishop gives up his episcopal palace because it’s needed by the hospital. The largest item in his budget is “for the poor”. A sudden windfall goes to the soup kitchen and orphans. He spends all day with a condemned murderer before his death.
Yet all this is preparatory to the entrance of Valjean, an unredeemed convict and outcast taken in by the priest after being turned away from every inn. “This is not my house,” he tells the stunned man, “it is the house of Jesus Christ.” Valjean betrays the Bishop’s trust, steals his valuable silverware and sneaks out the back door. Captured by the police, he is returned to the priest, who not only covers up for him by claiming that he gave him the silverware, but insists that he take the silver candlesticks as well, exemplifying Jesus’ commandment that if a man should take your coat, give him your cloak as well. The Bishop then imposes a benediction on Valjean:
“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
The Bishop’s generosity triggers a profound spiritual crisis in Valjean, and he converts to Christianity. His is not an outward conversion of baptism or communion, but an deeper, inward conversion. Though he never sees the priest again, his life changes dramatically. Under an assumed name, he establishes himself in a small town, makes a clever invention which pulls the local industry out of recession, and in a few years is able to erect his own factory. With its proceeds, he improves the local hospital, builds two new schoolhouses, and funds a dispensary for the poor. In time, the King prevails upon him to become mayor. The bishop dies; Valjean wears black to mourn for him, symbolically taking the torch of Christianity, which he is to carry for the rest of the novel.
His willingness to restrain the police earns him the enmity of the town constable, Javert, destined to become his lifelong nemesis. Valjean once declared that there are no bad plants or bad men, only bad cultivators. Javert states that “these men are irremediably lost”. Javert, who knew Valjean in prison, suspects his true identity, and becomes more and more withdrawn from the mayor. The last straw comes when Valjean sides with a prostitute Javert is determined to imprison, invokes his powers as mayor, and frees her. He learns that she turned to prostitution to support her daughter. The woman dies, and Valjean promises on her deathbed to support her daughter, Cosette. Yet Valjean’s cover is soon blown, by his own refusal to let an innocent man, mistaken for him, go to the galleys for life, and he flees with Cosette. As the child grows into a young woman, Valjean lives in Paris, frequently changing identities to avoid the determined Javert.
Enter the last of the novel’s major characters – Marius, destined to fall in love with and marry Cosette. Like Valjean, he inherits a symbolic torch – the torch of revolution. His father was made a Baron by Napoleon on the battlefield of Waterloo, and passed the title to his son on his death. Marius has a hundred cards printed bearing the name “Le Baron Marius Pontmercy”, and fancies the restoration of the Napoleonic empire.
“Le Baron” is soon disowned by his maternal grandfather, and cast off into a life of poverty. He meets the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionary society of students, philosophers and poets led by the fiery Enjolras. While the Bishop of Digne converted Valjean through simple acts of generosity and mercy, Marius’ new friends resort to wit, philosophy, and a barrage of words to convince him to abandon Napoleon’s empire and adopt a new cause – republic and democracy – but the means remain the same: the sword, the cannon, the barricade.
Hugo goes to great length to present us Marius in the most sympathetic light. He gives his poor neighbor twenty-five francs for rent when he himself has only thirty. Yet he also appoints himself judge over his neighbors, declares “these wretches must be stamped upon,” when he realizes that a robbery is about to take place next door, and sends for the police. He regrets this judgment when he realizes that the ruffian about to commit the crime saved his father’s life at Waterloo, and begins fumbling for another way out, but ultimately it is Javert who bursts into the room and disrupts the crime. Hugo conveniently arranges for this act to save Valjean, but did the Bishop of Digne “stamp upon” Valjean after his crime? Wouldn’t it have been a simple rationalization for the Bishop to think he had to stop others from being victimized by Valjean? Let’s not forget Valjean’s original crime of stealing bread to feed his younger brothers, which lead him to the galleys and a life of crime. Marius has good intentions, but never adopts the Bishop’s willingness to turn away from a wrong, determined instead to fight his oppressors.
As revolutionary fervor again sweeps France, Enjolras rallies his secret society. Thirty years had passed since “Library, Fraternity, Equality” became the swish of the guillotine, the roar of cannon, the tramp of legions, and still they want more. The revolution comes, and Enjolras springs his plan into action, turning their favorite wine-shop into a fortress and erecting a barricade across the street. Valjean passes through the army lines wearing his National Guard uniform, enters the barricade, then gives up his uniform so a man with a family to support can slip away and be saved.
The government is determined to crush the uprising, and soldiers surround the barricade and storm it. Marius becomes the hero of the rebellion after winning the battle by threatening to blow up the barricade, himself, the soldiers, and all his friends. Now, if he could have blown up only the soldiers, would he have hesitated for a second? Moments earlier, Valjean was faking the death of his arch-nemesis Javert to free him on a side street. Would Marius fake the death of the soldiers? If the soldiers had not retreated, would Marius have carried out his threat of martyrdom? Probably. “Victory or death!” has been the rallying cry of radical patriots since day one.
Valjean, though present at the barricade, fires not a single shot. After freeing Javert, he turns his attention to Marius, determined to win his revolution or die fighting the soldiers. The government attacks again in force; the barricade falls. Marius, badly wounded with a broken collar bone and multiple head injuries, faints into the arms of Valjean, who lifts a sewer grate and drops in carrying the half-dead revolutionary. As he escapes through the sewer with the unconscious Marius, the wine-shop is taken, Enjolras is executed by firing squad, the ABC Society goes down fighting and Revolution of 1832 falls to pieces.
Marius recovers from his wounds to find much of his world collapsed around him. All his close friends are dead; what is left is his love for Cosette. They marry. Valjean confesses to Marius that he is a fugitive convict. Marius, not yet knowing that it was Valjean who saved him at the barricade, believing that Valjean shot Javert, and wondering if his six hundred thousand franc inheritance was stolen, gives Valjean the cold shoulder and gradually pushes him out of Cosette’s life. Valjean, believing that the girl has a husband and no longer needs a father, acquiesces.
Marius ultimately learns the truth – that the inheritance is legitimate, that it was Valjean who saved him at the barricade, that Javert’s murder was faked – and regrets having estranged Valjean. With Cosette in hand, he rushes to redeem himself with Valjean, only to find him on his deathbed. So Valjean dies, in the presence of his adopted daughter and son-in-law. Perhaps this is meant as another symbolic torch passing, but who will carry it on, and in what form? Will Marius “love his enemies”? Will his wife resist corruption by his hot-headed rebellion? Has the Bishop of Digne’s torch passed or finally died?
The failed 1832 uprising featured in Les Misérables was but one in a series of violent clashes spawned by the French Revolution. After declaring a constitutional monarchy in 1789, the French assembly within five years had executed its constitutional monarch. No provision for trying the king had been provided by the constitution; the national assembly simply tried him anyway. The masses packed into the Place de la Revolution and cheered as Louis XVI’s severed head was hoisted aloft. Of all the Marius’s leading the government, not one Valjean stepped forward to spirit the king away through the sewers under the city. After the king and the aristocrats went to the guillotine, next came the leaders of the revolution themselves. Robespierre, Saint-Just, Coulton – each got the six-inch haircut.
At last came Napoleon, who Marius once exulted as a “sun rising”. After leading the French to devastate Europe, he was finally defeated and exiled. Yet any doubt that his was anything but a popular dictatorship was put to rest following his escape from Elba, during the “100 Days”, after he landed on the French coast with 1200 men. Every town told to oppose him threw open its gates; every army unit sent to reverse him cried “Vive l’Empereur!” After being defeated in Russia, losing their entire army, and seeing their country in ruin, thousands still turned to the conquering general.
To this day, the masses insist on immolating themselves on the barricades in pursuit of truth, justice, and the French legions storming across Europe. How many millions of Germans cheered for Hitler as he proclaimed the Anschluss? How many millions “believed” in communism when Lenin proclaimed a worker’s state in Russia? How many millions today think that greed is the driving force behind all human progress? How many will surrender their prized silverware to a convict and a thief? Yes, Christianity can save democracy, but only by dragging it unconscious through the sewers of Paris.
Democracy is a system of government where the majority of people choose not only their own leaders, but everyone else’s. Democracy has little do to with right; nobody has the right to choose someone else’s leader. Democracy is primarily about responsibility; the majority has the responsibility to choose everyone’s leaders. If they choose wisely, it will succeed; if they choose poorly, it will fail.
napster.com, a website facilitating the on-line exchange of digital music, has been highly publicized by the mass media. The legal wrangling over copyright issues has overshadowed other, equally legitimate questions. Is Napster for real, or is it just hype? Are the issues it presents purely legal, or are there technical lessons to be learned, too? What does Napster reveal about the future of the Internet?
First, we need to recognize that Napster represents a real technological advance. It is one of the newest and most prominent examples of a directory service. Directory services are based on the realization that centralized data stores tend to generate performance bottlenecks. All the data being served to the clients has to come from a centralized server or a handful of centralized servers. Throwing bandwidth at the problem is sometimes realistic, but a better solution is to design more efficient networks. Distributing data sources across the network is a major, emerging technique for achieving greater efficiency.
For example, one of the reasons we currently lack decent video-on-demand services are the bandwidth requirements of video. It’s simply not feasible to construct a centralized server to feed two hour movies to a million people. The bandwidth requirements are too great; the centralized server becomes too much of a bottleneck. A Napster-esk solution would be to have thousands of video servers, each capable of serving perhaps a dozen video streams, spread all over the network. Due to the current bandwidth demands of video, this is still unrealistic, but similar schemes are immediately plausible for books, software, and websites in general.
In fact, it’s reasonable to suppose that at least 90% of the present Internet’s traffic is unnecessary. The net is young and rapidly evolving. The protocols currently in use are inefficient, some more so than others. As the network continues to mature, it will become more efficient, and the bandwidth requirements of particular applications will decrease. The present boom in bandwidth demand is driven by new users and new applications. At some point, most people will be “connected”, and the uses of the network will stabilize. From that point onward, improvements in network design will begin to drive bandwidth requirements downward. The network will be most inefficient while it is young, so we can expect bandwidth requirements to peak at some point, I’d estimate within the next two decades, and then begin heading down.
Directory services such as Napster will be instrumental in reducing demand for network bandwidth. Other keys to more effectively using bandwidth are compression, caching, and multicast, all of which are in their infancy. Many issues remain to be addressed, for example, server selection. Napster currently presents the user with a list of servers for each song, one of which is manually selected to download the song from. Developing automated techniques for server selection will be an important step forward in making this technology more seamless, and therefore more attractive for other applications.
Security deserves special mention, since distributing data across the net would seem to seriously compromise security, but this is probably not so. Encrypting the data allows it to be distributed even to insecure servers, which could serve the data, but couldn’t read it. Then, the centralized directory would provide a key that could be used to decrypt and read the data. Controlling access to the key would control access to the data. Typically block cipher keys are only a few dozen bytes long, so access to a 100KB file could be granted by a directory server in less than 1KB – a 100-to-1 savings in centralized bandwidth requirements. The authenticity of the data could be verified by X.509 certificates – placed in the directory, of course.
While Napster represents a real advance over older, more centralized, techniques, this doesn’t mean that the current protocol can’t be improved. Let me outline how I’d redesign Napster, if I were given the task:
- Use LDAP. The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) has become an accepted standard for directory service. Furthermore, a “pure” directory service, such as Napster, doesn’t require any special handling on the part of the directory server. All the server has to do is register directory entries, then fed them back out again in response to search requests. A standard LDAP server, such as OpenLDAP, could be used unmodified.
- Define and publish a standard schema. LDAP, and directory access protocols in general, use “schemas” to define the format of directory entries. In Napster’s case, a standard schema would probably include a “Song” class, defining artist, title, and year, and perhaps an “Album” class, listing all the tracks on a particular album. The “Song” class could then be extended (subclassed) into a “NetSong” class that would also include URLs where the song can be accessed. Using a standard, published schema would clearly define the directory structure, and make it easier to reuse the directory for new applications.
- Use HTTP or FTP. Just as there’s no need to create a custom directory service, there’s no need to invent new file transfer methods, either. Specifying a URL in the directory entry, using one of the standard methods, “http:” or “ftp:”, should suffice. Of course, most “clients” aren’t set up to be “servers”. In the present computing environment, Napster would be quite hard to configure if it relied on an external web or FTP server, and much more complex if it included an entire web server within it. The “peer-to-peer” paradigm ultimately implies that a machine can be simultaneously both a client and a server, and must be configured to act as both. This obviously contrasts with Microsoft’s policy of separate “client” and “server” operating system packages (the “server” usually being much more expensive), but free software hasn’t solved this problem completely, either. How exactly does an arbitrary software program go about registering itself with the local web server in order to share files?
Napster isn’t the first directory based system to be deployed on the Internet, but it is one of the newest and most exciting. If the government and economic leaders can be persuaded to surrender a measure of control, its decentralized nature may pave the way to a more distributed and more efficient network.
For a long time, conventional wisdom held that the telephone system was a natural monopoly, or at least a natural oligopoly, because of the need for a large physical infrastructure, namely, the telephone wires. In recent years, though, the widespread deployment of cellular telephones illustrates that this is not necessarily true. Clearly, cell phone networks are capable of handling significant traffic loads and delivering near-landline quality of service. The emergence of all-digital cellular telephones, such as PCS, shows that data can be effectively transferred using wireless, and leads me to wonder; could we build a totally wireless Internet?
I’m not the only person to ask this question. The Ricochet Network has been in operation for several years now, the PalmVII handheld offers wireless Internet access, and companies such as Intel are promoting the Mobile Data Initiative. Yet these efforts are largely technical in nature, while I perceive wireless as changing the fundamental rules of the game. Without dependence on a landline infrastructure, is telecommunications really a natural oligopoly anymore? Could we build a free wireless digital communications system?
Decentralization, not privatization,
should be the buzzword of freedom.
First, what do I mean by the term “free”? Primarily two things – first, the absence of recurring charges, such as monthly or per-minute fees, and second, an open, non-proprietary infrastructure free from patent or regulatory barriers to entry. The only fee I’m prepared to concede is the initial purchase price of the equipment itself. The telephone will ideally become like a computer or a microwave oven – once you purchase it, you can continue using it free of charge.
The capitalist model would be for the communication system to be controlled by companies, driven by competition to improve service, but with access limited by economic barriers, i.e, the phone gets switched off if you don’t pay your bill. The socialist model would ensure access by having the government control the phone system, as well everything else. A better solution than either would be to eliminate the large institutions entirely, by eliminating the centralized infrastructure. Decentralization, not privatization, should be the buzzword of freedom.
A decentralized communications infrastructure would have to be based primarily, if not totally, on wireless radio technology. Any non-wireless service, such as the existing telephone system, would require landlines connecting to a central office, implying right-of-ways, centralized ownership of the lines, and consequent dependence on large institutions, either governments or corporations. Only a wireless scheme would allow devices to communicate directly, without any centralized infrastructure.
Current wireless technology (i.e, cell phones) still rely on centralized infrastructure. Sadly, they’re designed to rely on it. A cell phone communicates exclusively with a radio tower, which then relays the call to its destination, typically over landlines. As the cell phone moves, it switches from one tower to another, but never communicates directly with another cell phone. I can’t make a phone call from one car to the next without going through a radio tower.
What’s needed is a new kind of wireless infrastructure – one where the telephones and computers are designed to communicate directly with each other, without relying on a phone company’s switches. Clearly, if I have such a wireless telephone, and my next door neighbor has such a telephone, they can directly connect and we can talk without any dependence on third parties, and consequently without any recuring charges.
Yet, the big question remains – can I call from Maryland to California with such a telephone? Hopefully, the answer is yes, and the key lies in the routing technology of the Internet. A typical Internet connection will be relayed through a dozen or more routers. No single connection exists between the source and the destination, but by patching together dozens of connections, a path can be traced through the network for the data to flow through. Network engineers have spent literally decades developing the software technology to find these paths quickly. Theoretically, there is no single point of failure in the system, since the routers can change the data paths on-the-fly if some part of the network fails. The keys to making it work are the adherence to open standards, such as TCP/IP, and the availability of multiple redundant paths through the network.
A wireless infrastructure can be built on similar technology. If I can call my neighbor’s telephone directly, and my neighbor’s telephone can reach the grocery store’s telephone directly, they I can call the grocery store by relaying the data through my neighbor’s telephone. If adequate bandwidth is designed into the system, my neighbor’s telephone can relay the data without any impairment to her service. She can be talking to her hairdresser without even knowing that her phone is relaying my conversation with the grocery clerk.
What stands in the way of building such a free, national digital communications infrastructure?
First, the presence of standards. Just as English is the standard used by the author and readers of this document, and TCP/IP is the standard used by the Internet devices that relay the document, standards are required for the wireless devices to communicate. IEEE recently standardized a wireless data LAN (802.11) capable of handling 1 to 2 Mbps. To put this into perspective, an uncompressed voice conversation requires 64 Kbps. Thus, a 1 Mbps circuit could handle 15 such conversations. Not only can I talk to the grocery store while my neighbor talks to the hairdresser, but a dozen other people can use the same circuit with any service impairment. Newer compression techniques can improve this performance by a factor of ten.
IEEE 802.11 is a good start, but the power limitations imposed by FCC regulations may impede its use for any but short-range applications. However, Metrocom’s Ricochet network demonstrates that this might not be a show stopper. Working in conjunction with power companies, Metrocom pioneered the novel approach of putting low-power radio repeaters on existing utility poles. The repeaters communicated directly with each other, eliminated the need for a landline data connection; only power was required, which was readily available on the pole. A similar approach could be used to build a network that would provide 802.11 coverage to an entire metropolitan area.
Also, the existing 802.11 devices aren’t very sophisticated in their design. They’re designed to be cheap, not effective. Their single most glaring problem is their antenna design. Existing 802.11 transceivers use mainly low-gain, omnidirectional antennas, although Raytheon recently announced the availability of an 802.11 PCMCIA card with a jack for connecting an external, hopeful better, antenna. Improved antennas will probably take one of two forms. Adaptive arrays are preferred by the military, and justly so, but are complex and expensive. Directional arrays, typified by TV aerials, are simpler and therefore cheaper, but must be physically pointed at their destination. One possible scenario would be for routers to use the more expensive adaptive arrays, and for end systems to use mechanically steered antennas. In my opinion, the development of improved 802.11 devices is the single most important advance needed today.
Second, an initial infrastructure is required. A 802.11 telephone would be a popular item if everyone else had one, but initially few people would possess such devices, making it difficult if not impossible to route a connection through such a sparse matrix. Philanthropies could be formed to build infrastructures. A Ricochet-type network could be deployed in cooperation with power companies, who might be persuaded to donate the relatively small amounts of electricity the routers would consume. After an initial investment in the (hopefully) rugged and scalable pole-top devices, the entire network could be managed from a central location. At this point, the network would provide 802.11 service to an entire metropolitan area, jump-starting the service. As more and more people bought these devices, each capable of relaying traffic on its own, the dependence on the initial infrastructure would diminish, hopefully to the point where the pole-top devices wouldn’t need replacement when they started to fail.
Furthermore, users would want to call telephones on the conventional phone network, requiring some sort of gateway. A solution to this chicken-and-egg problem would be to provide mechanisms for some fee-based services. Thus, a service provider could construct a network that would, for a monthly fee, interconnect its users and provide gateway service to the existing phone network. It’s possible that the only fee the provider would need to charge would be for the gateway service – initially, almost all connections would go through the gateway, since few people would have the new phones and most calls would be relayed onto the existing phone system. As the wireless network became more and more widely deployed, more and more destinations would go wireless, and the reliance on gateway systems would diminish.
In short, wireless is in its infancy. This exciting new technology offers great possibilities not just to expand existing phone and data networks, but to break down the old service models and replace them with newer, more decentralized designs. The oft-touted idea of the free phone call might even become a reality.
Roughly 40,000 Americans die every year in automobile accidents. Thousands more are maimed and injured. Many of these accidents are not caused by alcohol, speed, or reckless driving, but by simple driver error. For example, even if drunk driving were totally eliminated, cutting car fatalities roughly in half, automobile accidents would still be the leading cause of accidental death in this country.
Let me illustrate this point by personal example. My two most serious car accidents both occured while I was stone cold sober. One accident happened because I was tired and fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, it was just after dawn, there were few cars on the highway, and though my car spun out of control at around 60 mph, it didn’t flip over and came to a stop in a drainage ditch without hitting anything or anyone. In the second accident, I was making a left turn at a traffic light with a green arrow. An elderly gentleman ran the opposing stop light and broadsided me. Though I was not at fault, I can honestly say that if I’d bothered to look around, I’d have seen the other car and been able to stop in time. Instead, I was coming home from work, doing the same thing I did every other day at 5 PM, probably more concerned about finding a decent song on the radio, so when the light turned green, I just hit the gas and went.
Automobiles are simply dangerous. Air bags, lower speed limits, and mandatory seatbelt laws have reduced the fatalities but do not offer any ultimate solutions. Undoubtedly, drivers need to constantly remind themselves how dangerous this everyday activity is, and reduce distractions such as fatigue, intoxication, and car phones. Operating an automobile requires long periods of boring, repetitive work, interrupted rarely by unannounced moments requiring instant, intensive concentration. Humans by nature are not well suited to this kind of task, but it’s just the kind of thing computers excel at, so to significantly reduce automobile fatalities, computerizing the operation of cars has to be seriously considered.
Proposals for computerized automobiles have been around for some time. TRW prepared an story imagining the possibility of a computerized automobile system by 2012. In 1997, a modified stretch of California’s Interstate 15 served as the testbed for a series of demonstrations with automated cars and buses. The U.S. Department of Transportation has an Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office that coordinates many of these efforts. The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) organizes conferences, maintains a website, and publishes a regular newsletter. Unfortunately, the goal is still distant, and many current ITS efforts are focused on programs such as more sophisticated traffic signals and alleviating congestion with automatic toll collection. The DOT-funded National Automated Highway Systems Consortium, which oversaw the I-15 tests and intended to develop a prototype system by 2002, has been terminated.
The highway in California was modified by placing magnetics in the roadway, which the vehicles then followed. Much important work has also been done on vehicles operating on unmodified roadways. CMU’s Robotics Institute developed a series of vehicles (the Navlabs) which drove from Pittsburg, PA to San Diego, CA under computer control for 98% of the trip. Navlab would make an excellent starting point for a smart car of the future, since CMU has already developed a controller system to operate the car, a standard API for operating the controller, and a simulation environment for testing new controller programs.
Some look to large corporations like GM or Toyota to design the smart car of the future. Others expect the initiative to come from the U.S. federal government. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Vehicle Initiative Governance Structure, the Enabling R&D group is only open to “vehicle OEMs with a World Manufacturer Identifier… and will require contribution of substantial financial resources” As a free software aficionado, I’d rather see a initiative to build an open, co-operative system in which governments, large companies, small organizations, and individuals can all contribute. The ability of the Internet community to develop complex, open source software systems, such as Linux, demonstrates the feasibility of using the Internet as a basis for collaboration.
To minimize the infrastructure requirements, the system would have to interoperate with ordinary cars on unmodified highways, basically Navlab’s approach to the problem. Much of the hardware required to support an automated car is already available:
Computer platform. The modern laptop computer seems well-suited to support a future smart car. It offers ample processing power and disk space, can operate off 12 VDC power, and is well standardized. PCMCIA cards provide a convenient and standard hardware interface. Slight modifications, such as a detached display to be placed on the dashboard, wouldn’t be difficult to implement.
Radiolocation. GPS (Global Positioning System) can’t provide enough accuracy to locate a car within a lane, but can locate a car within a dozen meters or so. Furthermore, GPS technology is mature, readily available at low cost, and easily integrated with existing computer technology. For example, Premier Electronics markets the SatNav GPS Receiver, a PCMCIA GPS receiver.
Communications. For long range communications, cellular telephones and cellular modems are expensive, but well understood and widely deployed. Upon locating itself with GPS, the car’s computer could dial into a server and download a database for the surrounding area. For short range communications, between nearby vehicles and traffic signals, the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standard is newer, but available as off-the-shelf, unlicensed products that work well within roughly a hundred meters.
Video capture. Small video cameras are commonly connected to video capture cards, providing a ready base for visual sensor systems. Navlab’s No Hands Across America demonstration relied heavily on their video-based RALPH system to follow highway markings. PCMCIA video capture cards can be connected to off-the-shelf miniature CCD cameras to provide a readily available video capability.
Radar. No really adequate automobile-based radar system exists today. Advances in microstrip fabrication technology, such as the ready, cheap availability of dielectric resonant oscillators, allows gigahertz-wavelength devices to be fabricated on a conventional PC board. It should now be possible to mass produce a low cost (sub $500) radar system to mount on an automobile and scan for other cars and pedestrians within a hundred meters. If you don’t believe this, check out my essay Guardian Alert: How it works for a description of a simple radar system and an outline of how it could be adapted for vehicular use.
Vehicle control. The development of Linux would have been impossible without the IBM PC – a standard, widely available hardware platform that software designers across the planet had ready access to. Likewise, to build an open source smart car, a standard software API needs to be developed for issuing commands like “drive forward at 20 mph”, “right turn 10 degrees”, “stop”. At least one model hardware implementation needs to be made readily available in kit form, probably using a USB serial interface, and simple enough that an average auto mechanic could install it on an automatic transmission car.
The most important thing now is to collect together the available technology, publish it on a website, and launch a collaborative effort to synergize the talents of the Internet community. An open-source version of CMU’s Navlab would make an excellent start.
We stand today at the culmination of the industrial revolution. For the last four centuries, rapid advances in science have fueled industrial society. In the twentieth century, industrialization found perhaps its greatest expression in Henry Ford’s assembly line. Mass production affects almost every facet of modern life. Our food is mass produced in meat plants, commercial bakeries, and canaries. Our clothing is shipped by the ton from factories in China and Taiwan. Certainly all the amenities of our lives – our stereos, TVs, and microwave ovens – roll off assembly lines by the truck load.
Yet we’ve paid a price for industrialization. Our entire society has become a giant assembly line. Each factory’s small assembly line is but one piece in a larger assembly line, interconnected by trucks and trains. Oil refineries feed chemical plants feeding ceramics factories feeding automobile plants. Most seriously of all, the individual has been reduced to a cog, and money is the oil that lubricates the machine. Introduce too much friction, and you’re removed, discarded, and replaced. Pop music reverberates with themes of alienation and depression. In the U.S., almost as many people kill themselves every year as die from automobile accidents. People feel overwhelmed by a mass society dominated by big business and cold economics.
These problems aren’t just the “way the world is”, either. They’re the way our world is; they’re the nature of our industrial civilization. Other civilizations granted more autonomy to the individual. American Indians raised their children to be self-sufficient by teaching them how to recognize wild edibles, how to build bows and arrows from saplings and sinew, how to fashion tepees from animal hides. By the time they were twenty, young Indians could literally walk out into the woods and take care of themselves. In feudal Europe, people may have been more dependent than the early Americans, but society was predominately rural, and the small towns that dotted the landscape were largely self-sufficient. I’m not suggesting we go back to living by bow and arrow, but by studying the nature of other civilizations, we can better understand the advantages and shortcomings of our own.
Over the course of the industrial revolution, many have noted these problems. The socialist solution was complete centralization in the hands of government, either voluntarily (the Utopian Socialists) or violently (the Communists). “Blow up the factories!” was the Luddite cry, and the transcendentalists urged us to return to nature. A few decades ago in this country, many people looked to a government welfare system that latter collapsed in a mass of red ink and red tape. In fact, for one reason or another, all these solutions failed. We may read Thoreau’s poetry, but few of us are ready to move to a pond and live in a log cabin.
Today, we’re presented with another solution, that hopefully will fare better than its predecessors. It goes by the name of post-industrialism, and is commonly associated with our computer technology. What is post-industrialism, and how can it solve our problems? Let me illustrate with an example.
Consider an author, who writes a book and then desires to publish it. In the industrial model, a printing factory is needed to mass produce the book. In fact, several factories are needed. The printing presses require paper, which is made in a paper mill (factory); inks, solvents and glues, made in chemical plants (factories); and an elaborate transportation system of trains, planes, and trucks to transport the raw materials to the presses and the finished books to distributors. Several hundred or even a few thousand people may be required, directly and indirectly, just to get a single book published. Of course, the only way to justify this much effort is to produce not just one book, but millions, the so-called “economics of scale”. Most authors are therefore dependent on a publisher, who is unlikely to go to all this trouble unless he thinks the author’s book can turn a profit. This is the industrial model.
In the post-industrial model, the author writes the book using a computer, prepares it in electronic form, and uploads it to a web site. Now anyone with an Internet connection can read the book. No factories required. The author is no longer dependent on a publisher, is much freer in what he can write, and has achieved a real degree of liberation. Economics of scale have been replaced with an economics of information, letting one individual reach an entire planet.
Of course, this is no panacea. For starters, the author is dependent on a new kind of infrastructure – the data network used to deliver the bits and bytes, and its routers, switches, and servers, all of which, incidentally, are still made in factories. The world may be going post-industrial, but is still heavily industrialized.
Furthermore, while the Internet may liberate the author, it’s hard to see how you can download a stereo, a bed, or a car. Yet consider how a car gets built, at least in Japan’s robot-dominated plants. The robots are operated by computers, which are controlled by software, which can be downloaded across a data network, even if the cars can’t be. The cars can’t be transported across fiber optics, but the “smarts” that drive their construction can be.
Robots are today where computers were 25 years ago. They’re huge, hulking machines that sit on factory floors, consume massive resources and can only be afforded by large corporations and governments. A former president of IBM once remarked that he foresaw a world market for five computers. Then came the PC revolution of the 1980s, when computers came out of the basements and landed on the desktops. So we’re on the verge of a “PR” revolution today – a Personal Robotics revolution, which will bring the robots off the factory floor and put them in our homes and on our desktops.
Ultimately, you might have small robots to perform tasks like cooking breakfast, larger robots that could construct a stereo or repair a microwave oven, and really big robots, perhaps one or two in a town, that could build an automobile. Specialized robots could perform tasks such as micro chip fabrication or casting industrial ceramics. The software needed to performs all of these tasks could be downloaded via data networks. Just as an author can write a book today, and with a few keystrokes make it available to the world, so tomorrow an engineer could design a better mousetrap and then “ship” it in a second to be replicated by robots in every time zone. Gardening robots could raise our food, letting us feed ourselves without being dependent on Safeway, and giving us the freedom Thoreau dreamed of, while our machines handle the hoes.
The combination of personal computers and personal robots offer an awesome potential to break down the assembly line and put the means of production into the hands of the individual. However, the computer industry has sadly demonstrated its ability to centralize and control technology through copyright restrictions and secret source code. Instead of downloading a motorcycle repair program with a few clicks, you may be presented with a e-commerce form requesting your credit card number first.
Fortunately, the free software community has demonstrated that determined individuals, through sacrifice and hard work, can build open systems to replace and improve on proprietary ones. Free software developers need to take the lead in advancing this new robotic technology, preventing it from becoming another weapon to control people’s lives, and instead fulfilling the promise of post-industrialism to liberate mankind from the assembly line.
How do we get there from here? Much of robotic hardware technology is commonly available today. Video capture cards, which can give a computer “eyes” when connected to a video camera, have been on the market for several years. While arms and grabber hands might not be as common, the mechanics behind their construction is fairly simple and well understood. Here’s a short list of major milestones:
- Standard robot manipulator arm. Just as a PC hardware standard was needed before Linux could be written, a standard robot arm is needed to facilitate cooperation between software developers. Arm must be able to perform a set of benchmark tasks under direct manual control. Mechanical design and construction details published on-line.
- Record-and-playback programming interface. Robot arm can repeat programmed tasks. Able to deal with slight variations in position and orientation of objects.
- Specialized robot work cells. Tasks such as micro chip fabrication will require specialized support hardware such as vacuum chambers. Other specialized tasks include chemical processing, and fabrication of plastics and ceramics. Other specialized work cells will be developed as needed to achieve later milestones.
- Self-replication. Robot arm can build a working duplicate of itself using specialized work cells. A major milestone, comparable to a compiler being able to compile itself.
- Work cell replication. Robot arm can build all specialized work cells needed for its self-replication.
- Computer replication. Robot arm can build a computer capable of controlling it.
Having achieved these milestones, we’ll have constructed a robotic system able to duplicate both itself and the computer needed to control it. Further refinement of this technology will allow ever simpler raw materials to be input into the construction process. A robot capable of building a duplicate of itself will no doubt be sophisticated enough to be used for many other tasks, and provide a starting point for tasks it’s yet incapable of doing.
Science fiction writers have imagined such possibilities for decades, just as they once imagined men flying to the moon. If the Apollo space program is any indication, we may only be waiting for a Jack Kennedy to lead us forward.
The first three nights of the trip I camped out. Once in New Jersey State Park, twice in the Pine Barrens. On the third night I was north of an Air Force base and lay in my tent, listening to the jets roaring into the gathering darkness. I imagined myself as the pilot of each plane, banking over the wilderness away from the city lights. I realized that I wanted to see the country, and that meant seeing the people. That night, I abandoned my original plan of camping in the woods. I’d head into towns and find the people. The next morning I packed up and waded down the river I had camped by. Out west I would start camping again when towns became sparse, but for now I prepared for a new challenge – asking people to camp on their land.
Asking to camp out may seem a trivial challenge, but I wasn’t used to approaching strangers to ask favors. In fact, I wasn’t really good at approaching strangers to ask for anything! The next night I took the path of least resistance and asked at churches. Although I was sometimes turned down, more often a local pastor would put me up.
The day I crossed into Pennsylvania was one of the more stressful on the trip. I had tried to visit Tom Brown, the outdoorsman and survivalist. Although I had called ahead, I was discouraged from visiting his ranch in the New Jersey hills. All his classes were booked into ’94. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a try. Those other people had paid $600 to be in the course – but I had biked up the mountain.
I was turned away by two of his assistant instructors. Later I realized my error – I had come to see Tom Brown. I should have realized my goal, even if it meant getting brushed off with two words. I had set myself a goal and fallen short by my own fault. That disappointment would soon be compounded. The front rack and tire began to rub each other. I had had problems for several days with it. I pulled into a gas station, having become lost and ending up heading into the city instead of skirting it. I picked up a phone and started to call home, ready to call it quits. Crying, I realized that I’d have to get the bike fixed no matter what, so I might as well do it here. I asked the gas station mechanic – yes, there was a bike shop just down the road. This was the first of three stops I would make at bike shops – everytime I found respect for what I was doing. For the first time in my life, I felt I was respected not for what I knew, but for what I did. It felt good.
The bike shop owner helped me bend and reattach the rack. He asked no money either for his time or the few parts he had donated. I left in much better spirits. By now it was 3 p.m. I was in downtown Easton, PA, and didn’t feel like any more riding that day. I found a Masonic Temple, hoping to find a DeMolay Chapter. No such luck – in fact I never managed to actually find any chapters along the way. Those I saw listed on Temple directories never had contact people listed, and often I couldn’t even find a directory. Kansas City wasn’t much help – all they gave me was the Executive Officer’s name and number. I tried that in two or three states and could not quite find the people to work through state bureaucracies. It’s a sad comment on the state of our fraternity when we don’t even provide contact information at the temples.
The owner of the shop next door came out and introduced himself. We talked for a bit and I told him what I was doing and that I was looking for a place to stay that night. He asked me into the shop and started calling places – a bed and breakfast, a local college. Finally, he found a YMCA that had rooms for $12 a night. It was about 8 miles west in Bethlehem, PA. He gave me directions and I was on my way. Some nice people had helped me through one of my toughest days. I was through the day – and I was through New Jersey.
I stayed at the Y for two nights. Bethlehem is not what you’d expect from Steel Town, USA. It’s a college town with a historic downtown, pizza joints, bagel shops and a refurbished shopping area. When I left, I headed southwest in Lancaster County.
I stopped in a church near Blue Ball. No minister was around, but the people next door let me put a tent in their backyard. George had retired from sales and had gone back to farming, gardening a small plot behind his house. After my college course in crop production, I could at least have a conversation about fertilizers and plowing. Later, his daughter, who lived across the street called to ask why her dad was putting up a tent!
The early highlight of the trip came in Gettysburg, PA. It was getting dark and I wasn’t quite in town yet as I passed a Christian Rescue Mission. I stopped and asked if I could stay overnight. The night manager said I could, and I moved my bags inside. I met Wayne, about 7 years older than I, a college grad who had lost his job and gone hiking up the Appalachian Trail. When his money ran out, he wound up at the Adams Missions.
We talked a while, went into town together, and got along pretty well. There were some junk bikes behind the mission – we decided to use them for spare parts, get one running, and Wayne would travel with me for a while. I stayed an extra day to work on the bike. In the rush to get the bike running, I neglected to lock mine.
The next morning it was gone. At the time, I remember I felt relief, since each day had become a battle to keep going and not dwell on the enormous task ahead. Within a few days, I had gotten a lift home from my parents and realized that I had to finish the bike trip. While waiting for the insurance money, I visited a commune in Virginia that had been on my itinerary and did some work to get extra bucks. A month later, I would make a point to pass through Gettysburg on my new bicycle. Wayne would still be there.
During the month between these two stages in my trip, I visited Springtree Farm Community in the Virginia hills. I stayed a few nights and really enjoyed it. This commune got started in the early 70s and has gone through some ups and downs. They had 6 people there full-time, plus visitors. All the food (well, almost all) came from the garden and orchard. The fruit crop was really kicking during my visit – cherries and strawberries out the wazzo. I helped plant, harvest and cook. I enjoyed a solar shower and a swimming hole. The relaxed pace gave me a chance to reflect and recharge. I left with some new friends and a fresh commitment to my trip.
When I restarted the trip at the beginning of July, I was soon glad I had visited Springtree when I did. I hit the Pennsylvania mountains in the midst of a heat wave. Instead of turning south into West Virginia as planned, I decided to head into Ohio and get through with the hills. This cut out Virginia completely, so I would have missed Springtree.
I did cut off a small corner of West Virginia, hitting Morgantown and spending a few days visiting one of my brothers, a friend of a friend. It was nice to relax in a familiar college atmosphere for a bit. If you ever get to Morgantown, be sure to grab a meal at Maxwell’s, a nice little restaurant in “downtown”.
Next came Ohio. Riding down the highway one evening, I saw a man struggling to put up a sign – “Country Church”. I stopped, gave him a hand and wound up getting food, a place to put the tent for the night, and an enjoyable service the next morning (it was a Sunday).
In Kentucky I spent a day “on the job” helping a stonemason I had met at a church in a small town. Farther south I headed off the main road to visit the next community on my list. The hills got steep and the weather was hot, Hot, HOT! On one hill, I just collapsed and let the bike fall in the middle of the road. I vented my anger and frustration at an imaginary driver who ran over my bike. No drivers came along the remote road and gradually I calmed. I thought about heading back again, but that didn’t feel right. No – I had to finish the trip and that meant I had to finish the hill. I said a prayer for faith and strength, then got back on the bike. I didn’t stop until my destination.
New Age Community Land Trust is currently manned by two women. They practice permaculture, raising garden crops on raised beds (since the soil was so poor). They have no running water (except a gravity-drop cistern), relying on rainwater and a spring, no electricity, using kerosene lamps, and cook with a woodstove. I really enjoyed the “rustic” experience. Something about raising crops, harvesting them and cooking them appealed to me very deeply. Also, Joanie had spent 3 years in seminary. She finally dropped out after concluding that the church was more interested in managers than in spiritual leaders. She mentioned that they never had a discussion about “faith struggles”. This was certainly something I knew little about, but I would remember her words in Arizona.
I stayed two nights, then left in the morning, when it was cool and the hills were manageable. Heading into Tennessee, I turned south to visit The Farm, a famous commune in the 60s/70s. The Farm went through an economic crisis in the early 80s, emerging as a land trust more than a commune. The fields are no longer farmed seriously, camping fees are charged to visitors, and the Store, though maintaining a leftward bent, features your typical junk goods and high prices. Outside the store I met some teenagers who invited me over to their house. That turned out to be a much better call than staying at the Farm.
I have since been told that since these folks threw their beer cans in the back of the truck, instead of out the window, they were “Good Ole Boys” and not “Rednecks”. The first night I was there, we went to pick up some sand at their cousin Steve’s. Steve demonstrated the canon he had built in the back of his pickup truck. It ran off an acetylene torch rig mounted behind the cab. First Steve primed it with a small charge. Then he pumped gas into it for two or three seconds, as black smoke rose from the barrel from the primer. He lit the torch and touched the flame to the cannon. The bang would have made any rock band cringe. I was told he once fired a tennis ball half a mile.
Next, I swung back into northern Tennessee, to a visit a DeMolay friend from several years back. I had a fun weekend with Hart, his girlfriend and her 14-year-old brother, Brad. Both Hart and Brad have an interest in loud car stereo systems. Hart sells them and Brad plots to outdo Hart. “You get a ‘450’, I’ll get a ‘650’,” he says with a flick of the eyebrow. “You get a ‘650’, I’ll get a ‘750’.” Hart has a Bronco and Brad has a pickup truck which, err… sits in the driveway, since he, err… can’t drive yet.
Heading west again, I crossed the Mississippi at Dyersburg, but not before the first and worst crash of the trip. I was riding in the evening and wasn’t paying close attention to my riding. No cars were coming – I simply ran off the road. I ended up with a flat tire, a cut knee and a sprained wrist. The wrist caused enough pain that I stopped to have it X-rayed. Nothing was broken, but it bothered me the rest of the trip. I can still feel it if I bend my hand back.
I crossed into Missouri, the eastern part of which featured some of the worst drivers I encountered. These people just couldn’t slow down, even though I had no shoulder to ride on. I even had people blowing the horn at me when the left lane was completely clear for them to pass! I saw some people sand bagging, and thought to myself: These floods have a benefit. They bring the people down to size. My basic impression of eastern Missouri was that the people forgot how their forefathers struggled to farm the land. Now everything is pesticides, tractors, and futures quotes on the Chicago Board.
After leaving Missouri (and the Ozark Mountains – whew!) behind, I picked off a corner of Arkansas to visit Shiloh, a Christian Commune. It was here I felt most comfortable of all the places I visited. Shiloh is somewhat liberal as communes go – they let you keep private property, though any work you do while there is donated. They support themselves by running a bakery, which turn out the best commercial bread I’ve ever set my teeth into. The people were relaxed, welcoming and generally fun to be around. I hope I took some of Shiloh’s “state of mind” with me and look forward to visiting there again the next time I’m in Arkansas! It was during this time that my parents caught up to me with their motorhome. I traveled with them for a day or two, and was rather glad to part company. Though I miss my family and friends, I found the vehicle and campsite quite stifling after a month on the road. I slept outside at night, and marvelled at the other people packed into sites on the campground. Incidently, they had so much trouble with the motorhome that I made it to California before they were back in Maryland!
In central Missouri I visited East Wind, the largest commune I saw. The community had about 70 members who ran a hammock and sandal business, as well as a nut butter plant. Through these industries the commune funded itself. By commune standards, they were wealthy – a small library, a videotape collection, dozens of buildings, electricity and running water throughout. Most food was purchased from outside, unlike the homesteaders, who tried to grow almost all of their own. I stayed a couple days and decided that East Wind was neat to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. A work quota of 40 hrs/wk was demanded of each member. Of course, this time including cooking, child care, and various clean-up chores, but still I would come to such a place to escape the pressures of a regular work week. Also, I saw some political actions that disturbed me. One of the kids had a squirt gun taken away after the commune passed a bill stating that members of a non-violent community had a right not to see “violent” toys. So is a football a violent toy? This struck too close to freedom of expression for me.
Now I began to ride across Oklahoma, where the land started to open up and I started to see serious head winds for the first time on the trip. In Stillwater, I passed a Catholic Church and stopped in to ask if any Monestaries were in the area. I hadn’t though of this before I began, but I figured since I was visiting communes, I should check out the oldest ones of all!
I was directed to St. Gregory’s, about a day’s ride south. I tried to call ahead but by the time I a got ahold of the Father I was to speak with, I was practically there, so I just rode over. I think my appearance with no advance notice hampered my welcome, but it was still a fascinating visit. St. Gregory’s monks run a small college to support the abbey. Mass is every morning at 6 a.m (I got up once), followed by a silent breakfast. The monk talk during lunch, and dinner is eaten while a selection is read from a book (I got English history while I was there). Two monks stick out in my mind – Br. Dominic, who was always ready to help me out or show me around, and Br. Benedict, who I didn’t talk to for long, but he impressed me with his spiritual commitment.
After Oklahoma, things started to spread out a bit. I slept in unlikely places like an airstrip, since towns spread farther apart. The highlight of Texas was a night spent on a “peace farm” across from Pantex, the U.S. nuclear weapons assembly facility. I learned some neat things about how H-bombs were moved around on tractor trailers, saw some pictures (“H-bombs in Rush Hour” sticks out) and came across a book called Peace Pilgrim. If you get a chance, check it out. It describes the life and teaching of a woman who spent much of her last 25 years walking across the country with God’s message of love. She stopped counting at 25,000 miles on foot!
In New Mexico I climbed to and crossed the continental divide. The mountains were actually easier than the Appalachians, since the younger Rockies don’t have the rolling hills that keep you climbing the same height over and over. But above 7000 feet it can get cold! I remember the last day of August. I rode about 20 miles after sunrise and my breath was freezing in front of me.
Arizona turned out to be the climax of the trip. My second day in the state brought me close to Winslow. It had been a tough and frustrating day, as I had fought a 20mph head wind all the way and didn’t make good time. By this point in the trip, I was looking forward to the end and starting to count miles and days. Also, insects came out at nightfall and I had to put up the tent on a quite interchange off I-40. I didn’t like putting up the tent, preferring to sleep outside. I wasn’t in a very good mood as I put up the tent, inflated the air mattress and lay down to pray. In my mind’s eye, I pictured myself saying to God, “just do whatever you want to me”.
In the next minute, I had what I would describe as a mental lightening bolt. I suddenly saw that my problems were of my own creation – I was relying on myself instead of on faith. I was going to ride the bike; I was going to put up the tent; I had the money to buy food. I saw that what I needed to do was get rid of all that. The next day was Labor Day and everything was closed, so I rode on the Flagstaff. Here my bike trip ended.
I agonized for a day or two, then committed myself. On Wednesday morning, crying, I took the bike for a last ride. Finding a local church, I gave the pastor the bike and most all the gear, telling him to do what he wanted with it. With my last money, I bought a pack to carry, and paid for postage to mail my wallet, contact lenses, and few other things home.
I hitchhiked 60 miles south to the last spot on my itinerary. Arcosanti, in the Arizona desert, is a design city being constructed by Italian architect Pavlo Solari and his colleagues. His basic idea is to abandon auto-centric design in favor of compact, dense structures that put people within walking distance of work and play. It’s on I-17, about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Stop by if you’re in the area – take the hour tour. It’s worth it.
I got another ride west to Prescott, from where I started walking south. I got into a national forest and lay down under some pines. I slept several hours. I guess I awoke around 3 a.m, judging from the moon. A mosquito was bothering me, so I started walking again. The moon was half full, so I had plenty of light and the road wasn’t heavily traveled. I walked through sunrise, getting out of the hills and the national forest around 9 a.m. I napped a bit, then continued my walk across the mesa. The night had been only slightly cool, but the day was hot. I decided not to hitchhike, but to keep walking for a while, fasting. Foolishly, I had brought no water, so had to wait until I passed through towns.
By late afternoon, I was coming into a small town and stopped at a ranch to ask for water. I was also offered food, and that was the end of my fast. That night, I slept until dawn in an abandoned building that was once a shop or restaurant. Morning saw me facing a long downhill to the desert, so I hitchhiked down it and into the town of Wickenburg. I was depressed and upset. I felt disappointment at having broken my fast. I was afraid to keep walking across the mesa in the heat. More than anything, I was afraid that if I kept walking, I was afraid I would find my calling, and I was afraid of knowing what it might be.
That day, I broke down. I got money wired to me and was on a bus by that evening. I had discovered that a part of me, much stronger that I thought, wanted nothing to do with grand visions of any kind. I wanted my family and friends, didn’t want to be rich, but didn’t want to be poor, wanted to write software, play music, cook nice meals and certainly not wonder all over the country.
By the next day, I had made it to San Clemente, California, where a high school friend was living. Chris was gracious enough to put me up for a week I waited for my wallet to be mailed back to me. I don’t know what it was – the two months on the road, the two days on the Mesa, or just being around someone who loved what he was doing. I realized that the big reason I found computers unfulfilling was that the work didn’t challenge me physically. I saw that I had become much less assertive in groups than I used to be, more content to be with people just because I enjoyed their company. I found a deep respect for a young man I hardly knew, but who was ready to surf for the 20 years even though he could never make a penny doing it.
I left San Clemente after a week I really needed. It let me put my feet back on the ground. Right now, I’m in San Diego, toying with going to Mexico for the two weeks before a friend of mine comes out to visit. Then what? I don’t know. I love the land here, the surf crashing into the rocks, but am already tired of the congestion. I’ll see what happens after a week or two.
I realized something about friendship, too. Some people judge friends by their influence on you – “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” “Friends don’t use drugs.” “A friend would never tell you to drop out of school.” But it’s really much more than that. Just because someone may not be a fully wholesome influence, doesn’t mean that they don’t care. We’re all human – we all make mistakes. Friends introduce you to new ideas, new ways of life. It’s the prerogative of a friend.