So my facebook feed this morning had a couple of folks worried about ‘the last days’ and ‘the decay of western society’
The cause? A breathless report worrying that soldiers in the US military may be court martialed for sharing their Christian faith.
At this point I did a daring, radical thing. I actually looked up the policy in question. It took me all of about 30 seconds to find it: it’s freely available at http://www.180fw.ang.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120820-005.pdf. Despite being reported in some circles as being ‘unreal’ or ‘a slap in the face to the military,’ it’s actually a completely unsurprising piece of HR policy that would not be out of place in any large government agency or private enterprise. The articles in question are as follows:
2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance
constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs
and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example,
they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious
beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion…
2.12.1. All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no
religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting
others whose viewpoints differ from your own.
A document exhorting individuals to ‘confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from you own’ is hardly indicative of the downfall of western civilisation. Unless, of course, you don’t want to respect others. Perhaps you genuinely feel that you should be allowed to use a position of authority to extend preferential treatment to adherents of one particular sect. Perhaps you feel that the government should be in the business of picking and choosing creeds. Perhaps you want your government be the official arbiter of acceptable belief, practice and religous affiliation in your country. After all, we already have examples of how well that works.
But if you are such a person, frankly you concern me far more than a well-written HR document outlining the principles of freedom of conscience and respectfulness towards others.
I finally got round to finishing Tolstoy’s epic novel Anna Karenina. I can hardly do it justice in a single post. It’s a stunning piece of work, with enormous scope, although very different in focus than War and Peace.
Tolstoy’s earlier work covered grand themes – the Napoleonic wars, the intrigues of kings and generals, invasion, devastation, and the climactic battle at Borodino. Anna Karenina, in contrast, focuses on intimate details of the lives of a group of Russian minor nobility. They talk, they fight, they fall in love, they misunderstand each other, they argue about politics. Some search for significance in work, or in religion, or in social enterprise. All are self-centred to a greater or lesser degree.
Strangely, Anna herself is probably the least developed character in the book. She is quite deliberately presented as having no redeeming features other than her beauty and charm, and no goal in life other than her own happiness. But against the backdrop of her intense love affair, her friends and relatives all go through their own crises, and all change in one way or another. And behind all this we are given a vividly detailed view of Russian life in the 1870s. Trains and telegraphs are beginning to replace horses and letters. The nobility continues to attend endless streams of operas and races and social functions. Intellectuals wrestle with the new ideas that are sweeping Europe – new forms of art, new forms of government, tensions between liberals and conservatives, discussions about the role of the church and the state, or the relationship between the mind and the body. Discussions that frequently feel startlingly relevant to today. And in the background, 80 million peasants work the Russian soil, mostly oblivious to the social upheaval that is stirring around them.
Throughout the whole book, Tolstoy gently satirises artists, politicians, fashionable society, and even himself, through the character of Levin, who is obviously an author stand-in. In fact, by the end of the book you realise that it is far more about Levin and his family than it is about Anna. To a large extent the book serves as a vehicle for Tolstoy to express his observations on the society around him, and explore his own changing convictions. The last section, in which Levin and his brother discuss how easy it is to manipulate society into wanting to go to war, clearly anticipates his later work, The Kingdom of God is Within You. A book which, along with those by Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, I consider one of the three most important books on war ever written.
Anna Karenina was adapted into a movie last year. I can’t imagine how they manage to cram the scope of this vast novel into two hours – I suspect a miniseries at least would be needed to do it justice. It is, of course, a book of daunting length. But I thoroughly enjoyed all the time that I spent with it.
My brain gangs up on me sometimes. I was trying to add some entries to iCal yesterday, and found out that you can’t have a Reminder List that has the same name as a Calendar. A normal person would have accepted this and moved on.
I have to spend twenty minutes trying to mentally reverse engineer the data model in my head, figure out the design process the engineers at Apple used to come up with this system, and then start delving through .plist files in my /Library directory to see if I’m right.
This is why productivity software doesn’t make me more productive.
I’m continuing work on my ‘vote visualisation’ tool, because I believe that anything that brings greater transparency to our democratic process is a good idea. Take it for a spin, and let me know what you think, and what features should be added.
I know I could speed it up by caching the data rather than retrieving it from the government data feed on every request. But already I think it’s enough to show how obsessively ALL our MPs follow party lines. I still find this disturbing; I’d much rather a representative who cares about what Barrie citizens think more than he cares about what the party whips think.
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
In a windowless office near Las Vegas, Nevada, an American Air Force operator controls one of the deadly Predator drones that fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. He hunches over his keyboard and joystick, squints at his computer monitors. He presses some buttons, and on the other side of the world, a few lives are quietly erased.
Then at the end of his shift, he gets into his minivan and drives home to his house in the suburbs. Perhaps he takes his dog for walk. Maybe he plays catch with his kids, or has a few friends over for a barbecue. He waves politely at his neighbour. On Sunday he goes to church.
What would it feel like to be that guys neighbour? The thought fills me with a profound disquiet. I live on a street populated with accountants and software developers and police officers and teachers. In general they are quiet, friendly people. I like them. But I never have to look at them and wonder how many mothers and fathers and children they have killed today. Would I want such a person living next to me? Would I let my kids visit their house, knowing that they are capable of taking another human life with little more effort than filling in an Excel spreadsheet? How would I feel standing next to him in the pew at church at Christmas, singing together about the Prince of Peace, and goodwill to all mankind?
The more I think about our society’s quiet acceptance of death dealing flying robots, the more it worries me, but I worry most of all about the type of person who apply for and perform a job controlling one.
Four times Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington
Another first for me; I’ve never visited a Kingdom Hall before. I received a flyer through my door for a special service to be held on Tuesday night, so I jumped at the chance to add another checkmark to my church crawl.
It’s probably impossible for me to be truly objective about my visit, given the lectures that I’ve sat through on ‘Debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses’, and the strong antagonism between Evangelicals and JWs that I’ve observed. But I’ll do my best.
First, my initial impressions. Like most Kingdom Halls, this one was a squat, windowless building, definitely built for function rather than for decoration. It was full to capacity, but I got the feeling that this was the JW equivalent of the ‘Christmas and Easter’ crowd. I estimated around 150 to 200 people present, but we were informed at the end of the service that there were 181 in attendance.
So, lesson one about Jehovah’s Witnesses: they really like accurate headcounts.