Saturday, March 28, 2009

GHOSTNET and the death of privacy

Almost 1300 computers in 103 countries have been hacked by a spy ring, perhaps in China, perhaps enabled by the Chinese government. A Canadian research team, acting on behalf of the Dalai Lama--whose computer had been attacked--found the trail and has uncovered this much so far.

The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room.
This is more than just a bit creepy. We once thought of television being the main channel by which the world of evil infiltrated every home. Now evil people have found a new more perverse way to infiltrate. Strangers who are likely enemies can now turn on the camera and recording functions of your computer.

Want privacy? It may come at the cost of serious personal technological downsizing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Lives Of Others

I have a movie recommendation, if you haven't already seen it.

The Lives Of Others concerns the goings-on of the infamous Stasi of the late German Democratic Republic; its iniquitous involvement in the lives of its citizens, with a surprising look at the complex motivations of a leading member of the bad guys.

I can't say much, lest I unnecessarily spoil it. But anyone who wants to discuss it, feel free to spoil it to your heart's content in the comments. I want to know what you think became the real basis for the actions of Gerd Weisler, for one thing.


Note: This one isn't from the actual Chat Pack. I borrowed it from a movie.

Including up to five things, give me your bucket list.

A bucket list, FYI, is a list of unusual things you plan to do before you expire.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the old neighborhood

Me, my dad, and some of the boys in front of Country Antiques
Oh, and Peaches.

On the occasion of our 31st wedding anniversary, Deb and Robin and I drove up into our old neighborhood on Madison's east side for dinner.

My father and I had run Country Antiques, a refinishing and furniture making shop on Atwood Avenue, for seven years in the late seventies and early eighties. After Deb and I were married in 1978, after a few other stops we bought a very sweet little two story house around the corner from the shop, on Division. Deb was working as a young R.N., and soon enough little houly-mouly, Colin, was born into the world.

Atwood Avenue was at that time trying to figure out what it was going to be. It had grown up as a pure blue-collar neighborhood. In post-war Madison, the main east side employers were Oscar Mayer foods, Gisholt machine factory, and Rayovac. All of them--along with a cluster of smaller industrial shops--were centered on the east side. As these industries matured and eventually died (Oscar Mayer is still there, but much less robustly than back in the day), the neighborhood slowly aged and eventually began to get regentrified as university graduates unwilling to leave the city discovered the cheap real estate and settled in droves. Instead of blue collar guys, the area gradually filled with lawyers, state office workers, and medical professionals in their first homes.

We ate dinner across Corscot Court from my old shop. The Lao restaurant where we dined on hot pineapple chicken, squash, green pepper, and cashews used to house an old, very messy typewriter repair shop, run by an aging typewriter repair wizard named Ken. Everything about Ken was a mess. His shop was filled with boxes of typewriters, typewriters in for repair, typewriter parts. His car was filled with papers, typewriters, typewriter repair kits. His shop--now a restaurant--is attached to the Barrymore Theatre, which now is a venue for a lot of really good out of town bands, but in my time was a seedy adult theater. We used to laugh at well-dressed men who'd drop by for an afternoon matinee, stroll down the street, look both ways, and then dive into the theater.

Across the street is the Blue Plate Diner, a wonderful little American style restaurant that used to be the Havey Brothers service station. Dick and Dave Havey had been there since the war, buying the station from their uncle. They did all of the work on our old Ford step delivery van, including once filling it with gas after I had it towed in because it wouldn't start. The very dour Havey brothers thought that was pretty funny. I remember hanging out with them one day when Ken pulled up in front in a new used car. "Hey look," said Dave Havey. "Ken got a new car!" Dick said, "That's because his old one finally filled up with junk!'

After dinner we crossed Corscot and peeked in the windows of my old shop. The guy who bought it was also named Bruce. At the time he bought it there was a refinishing shop next to ours named Bruce's. There was a certain amount of confusion among our collective customers just what was what. The Bruce next door was a grumpy old guy who I think would have preferred to be doing something else. He had been there before Country Antiques had gotten its start, and was always a bit put out by that. After I'd worked at CA for a few years, a hand-printed sign showed up in Bruce's window, saying,
"Attention! The Bruce who works next door is in no way connected with Bruce's Fine Furniture Refinishing! Bruce's Fine Furniture Refinishing has been at this location since 1968 and has been providing a superior level of refinishing for all of these years. Please don't confuse the Bruce next door with us!"
The sign stayed up a few days. One of us strolled over there at one point and said, "Say, Bruce. Are you SURE you want to have that sign up? We're not sure it is going to do much for your business, is all." Soon enough, I think Bruce figured that out for himself.

Some time later, our two golden retrievers began their long, illustrious careers as Wood Chewers and Shop Greeters. Peaches and Jasper would hang at the door of the shop. Many a time a potential client would park in front of Country Antiques and Bruce's Fine Furniture Refinishing, get out with a broken chair in his hands, and then stand looking back and forth at our two shops, clearly undecided into which shop he should go. Out would wiggle these two golden retrievers, and inevitably the customer would be lured into our shop by the two dogs.

The wood chewing part of it was amazing. Old Peaches got it started, snagging worn sand paper and old wood bits as they fell off one of the benches, and reducing them to gristle. She would park herself under the bench and wait for wooden manna to descend. But she never chewed up anything of any value, and that was the amazing part. Peaches was also famous for the "golden retriever lean", so called because of her amazing ability to ride up front in the step van, both doors wide open, and fearlessly "lean" into curves as one of us furiously took a corner. Peaches started out belonging to my sister Rebecca, came into the possession of my Dad, briefly sojourned with Deb and me, and eventually met her end with my Dad, being overdosed on Vita Lea supplements.

We never did make any money at Country Antiques. We hung on by our fingernails, slogging through that awful Jimmy Carter economy brought on by the awful Dick Nixon economy, just taking it a few days at a time. By 1984, when I was ready to strike out on my own and my Dad retired and sold the business, I was making a whopping eleven grand a year. I remember my Dad was famous for the five cent raise. "I put a little something extra in your paycheck this week!" he'd say in all sincerity. Uh, thanks, dad. Thanks!

Bruce's eventually became Joe Shulla's rolltop desk shop, and the quality of the neighborhood went up substantially. I peeked in Joe's old shop as we passed by tonight. It is now a restaurant.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A favorite poem*

On Being Given Time
Sometimes it seems to be the inmost land
All children still inhabit when alone.
They play the game of morning without end,
And only lunch can bring them, startled, home
Bearing in triumph a small speckled stone.

Yet even for them, too much dispersal scatters;
What complex form the simplest game may hold!
And all we know of time that really matters
We've learned from moving clouds and waters
Where we see form and motion lightly meld.

Not the clock's tick and its relentless bind
But the long ripple that opens out beyond
The duck as he swims down the tranquil pond,
Or when a wandering, falling leaf may find
And follow the formal downpath of the wind.

It is, perhaps, our most complex creation,
A lovely skill we spend a lifetime learning,
Something between the world of pure sensation
And the world of pure thought, a new relation,
As if we held in balance the globe turning.

Even a year's not long, yet moments are.
This moment, yours and mine, and always given,
When the leaf falls, the ripple opens far,
And we go where all animals and children are,
The world is open. Love can breathe again.

May Sarton

*"Given", for Indecisivegirl.

Monday, March 9, 2009


According to an article on Bloomberg, the world lost 50 Trillion Dollars in value in 2008. This is equivalent to A YEAR of world gross domestic product.


I keep thinking that there is a kind of Jubilee going on, not as part of a covenant with Yahweh, but maybe amounting to something like the same thing.

Or, one could say that this is what happens to the world's inhabitants when trust in the Lord is neglected and a Jubilee Year is not observed. Let's review:

The Year of Jubilee is treated in Leviticus chapter 25, which encompasses a speech from The Lord regarding the establishment of three institutions in the lives of the Israelites, for when they settled in Canaan. The three institutions are 1)the Sabbatical Year, 2)the Jubilee and 3)the redemption of the land with its tenants. (I'm getting this from Dr. Kleinig's commentary on Leviticus, a most valuable volume of work).

The Sabbath Year was every seventh, and the Jubilee was the fiftieth year. In return for resting the land every seventh year (Talk about incarnational theology and the connection between the redemption of Humankind and Creation!), the Lord promised that the Israelites would have more than enough to live on. Frankly, what's NOT to like about taking every seventh year off?

The Jubilee was established in relationship to debt and a farmer's losing of his land in order to pay debt. It was a corrective for sin, of course. Someone buying the debt of the farmer had the use of the land for a limited time. The word "usufructuary" shows up in these discussions, but I'll let the gentle reader off easily and just say the buyer became the steward of the land, entitled to its use until the Jubilee, when it was returned to its original owner. The value of the land was established in part by the numbers of years before the Jubilee. The longer the time, the higher the value. Of course, some other market considerations had to come into play as well. The price depended upon the fecundity of the land.

Note that this whole thing worked to the extent that the people were faithful to Yahweh, and trusted Him for their provisions. There was a rhythm to this life of promise, just as there is a rhythm to our economic lives. The second rhythm is not as promising as the first. But there may be parallels.

If we do not observe the Sabbath days and years, and the Jubilee, isn't it likely that the Lord would visit a Jubilee upon us nevertheless? In the Jubilee year, "from the field you may eat its produce". In our secular jubilee, we're left to eat what we can find of what is left from the fat years.

Kleinig in his commentary offers a remarkable section at the end of each chapter entitled FULFILLMENT IN CHRIST. For him to include this is especially useful since the particular book of Leviticus is so abused as irrelevant to modern day peoples. Kleinig on Christ and the Jubilee:

"In Is 61:1-3 we have a remarkable prophecy. There, in words that recall Is 35, the Suffering Servant of the Lord declares that he was sent by God to proclaim an extraordinary Jubilee. In the regular years of Jubilee, creditors released debtors from their debts and returned their land to them and their families. But in this year of Jubilee, God himself would free his people from their debt to him and avenge their enemies. Through his Messiah he would announce a royal amnesty, a year of divine favor that inaugurated his reign as King. He would free his people from oppression, enslavement, and imprisonment. He would comfort the bereft citizens of Zion by rebuilding their ruined city and reinstating them as a liturgical community...Thus the celebration of the Jubilee was taken as a type for the messianic age...
Luke's gospel shows us that Jesus explained his ministryin the light of the prophecy in Is 61...[A]fter Jesus had been baptized, he returned to Nazareth and declared that he was ushering in the ultimate Jubilee. Jesus deliberately selected Is 61:1-2, with its allusion to Lev 25:10, as part of his Scripture reading in the synagogue for his inaugural sermon at the start of his public ministry..."
Is the disappearance of fifty trillion dollars in "worth" a parallel to the OT Jubilee? It doesn't matter who did this or "why" it happened. It is impossible for faithful Christians to ignore the hand ("hands") of God in this. In it, we can see the two hands of God: His judgment (on one hand) and His mercy, working together to edify and discipline the world. Much good will come of it, both by humbling us and by subsequently blessing us.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Colin In China

My oldest son, Colin, has completed his teaching commitments in Korea and has moved to China for a year. He is currently in Tianjin, down the river from Beijing and on the coast. He moves in two months to a new location out on the peninsula, which ought to be much more picturesque. Pictured are his new classroom and the view from his apartment.

Hmmm. Still want to visit him? I've got a query on his Facebook page, wondering if the sun ever shines in this place. If not...

UPDATE: The sun shines in Tianjin. The sky is blue when the sun shines. Amazing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009



Random Late Winter Thoughts

Ok. I'm back. I've been processing the culture, overwhelmed by the huge wave of Change, with Mr. Obama surfing its tunnel. Isn't that a pretty accurate word picture of the situation? I mean, its only a matter of time. Or, maybe not.

Robin and I went to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Here's what I noticed. There was a wide-angle view of a massive Indian ghetto: one non-stop motif of roofs, under which a million people dwelled. It looked from the outside hopeless and forlorn. What do these people do? How do they live? Ah, but the film provided the answer! They lived in community, a man smoking a homerolled cigarette, running the projector as a boy wound his way among the gathered extended family to find a seat to watch an old B&W movie. A chase scene of kids being run down by police through the dense undergrowth of alleys and buildings, only to be apprehended by a burnoosed mother, the final authority. In fact, life in these poverty-stricken holes is probably happier than it is in the average American city. I mentioned this to Robin on the drive home. Apart from the occasional plague of disease that gallops unstopped through a community like this, the happiness quotient is probably rather high. Certainly the sense of dynamic community, the human bustle of daily vocation, is alive in these beehives of humanity. I liked that aspect of the film.

Otherwise, it was a bit saccharine. You could guess where it was going early on, and it went exactly where you guessed. But the dance scene during the credits was a lot of fun.

It is the end of Winter, 08/09. I took the opportunity afforded by the lack of snow but also the still-frozen ground to take Ms. Anke, German Shepherd extraordinaire, back over the fields to the woods overlooking Hook Lake (Calling it a lake is stretching the truth, but what is it? A two-foot-deep, three-square-mile pond with an island in the middle of it. But eye candy nonetheless) . We found the hunters' path, still snowy and packed from the guys' who came through carrying guns and hopes of squirrels, or coyote, or deer. Anke was in a state of unbelieving delight: free to roam after a Winter of being walked along the road. The smells were almost more than she could bear, and her due diligence was scanty at best. So many animal tracks, so little time!

The track led down a snow-loaded path to a stream, which Anke managed to cross after some canine hesitation. And back to Hawkinson Road, at the famous Peter Birch Bend (Another story for perhaps another time). And back over the hill to home.

I've been listening a lot to last year's Death Cab For Cutie release, NARROW STAIRS. The lead singer is also a poet, and his lyrics are very...poetic. That is to say, they accomplish what poetry does: it creates a unique, rich world that no other medium can create. Their song CATH..., which has been haunting me for a week, is a great example. It describes a woman who has been a part of a community of friends--perhaps since college days?--and who has finally decided to marry. But this isn't a marriage of love, but of necessity. The issue at stake--take it for what you will--is Cath's heart. "Her heart was dying so fast..." goes the line. You must take it for what you will, but you are expected to understand that this dear old friend Cath, in a life of silent but subtle desperation, has made a choice to marry that was probably not the best choice. The music is very powerful (I am in its thrall, so in two weeks, I'll think it is shallow and over-emotive), and does a nice job of expressing the underlying tragedy of the situation. Some lyrics:

Cath....she stands
with a well-intentioned man.

But she can't
with his hand on the small of her back.

And as the flashbulbs burst
She holds a smile
As someone would hold
A crying child.
As I processed these words, listening to the song: well. I was really impressed with how in so few, indirect words, the writer expressed something very deep and complex.

It seems
That you live someone else's dream.
In a hand-me-down wedding dress
where the things that could have been are repressed...

And everybody will ask what became of you.
But your heart was dying fast
and you didn't know what to do...
Well, as I said, the thrall will pass. But we've got three tickets to see the band in April, so maybe not.
This is not a happy band. Lots of human failure, lots of sadness. But some really complex and interesting lyrics.

There is a palpable fear of failure in the air among the tight community of self-employed service businesses that I am associated with. Well, perhaps "fear of failure" is too much: it is rather a deepening sense that what has been happening to others may soon happen to us. We check in with each other from time to time, happily referring work to each other; bearing perhaps a triumphant little referral that will help to keep the wolf from the door. I regularly hire perhaps ten sub-contractors in my line of work, and always hope that they are successful. But if the trickle-down stops trickling...

And, as Winter trickles to its conclusion--there are at least two nasty snow systems yet to pass through our way, hallelujah!--the family news from afar is good: Jeremy is relatively happily ensconced in a basement apartment in Denver, with his shoulder hard to the wheel of academia. And our oldest, Colin, has just finished two years of teaching in Korea and has moved across the sea to China, where he will be teaching for perhaps another year. He promises to bring his very self home in July, and I await that in high ernest. A package arrived from him today, containing a Gogol novel and another by Cormac McCarthy--both for his old man--and a collection of Deadwood westerns, which he entreats us not to watch till he is home to watch them with us. And, three of the ugliest ties I've ever seen. I am going to assume that he wore these things in the line of duty, and has now discarded them. They appear to have served as padding for the other items.

Unless he has in mind me wearing them to church?

I'm about finished with BLEAK HOUSE, which is in my mind Dickens' finest work, extraordinarily funny and creative. There is much to say about it--not the least of which is a type of Christ found in the book--and I'll try to gather my thoughts for some of that, soon.