The Ten Weeks: Week Eight (31 January-6 February): Before Texting, We Actually Had to Talk on the Phone

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

Alemara Academy was a little less than halfway between Alemara town and Driscoll, which meant that it was out by itself. Although it was only about three hundred metres from the sound, it was beyond the best of the long, broad beach that made the town famous. They pulled up through the school’s front entrance.

“That school in Aloxa has a lot better set-up than this dump,” Jack remarked, recalling Beran-Williamstown’s better physical plant.

Pete looked at his watch. “The girls should be around there somewhere about now. I wouldn’t take their trip for anything, even with these landlubbers we’re stuck with.”

The tennis courts were on par with everything else at the school. The fences, windbreakers, bleachers and asphalt courts themselves had seen better days. Their team was there and practising. Point Collina’s team had to take the entire day off from school for this match, and although the Academy team was home this year, the 1100 start time dug into their own academic schedule. The home team cleared the courts long enough for the visitors to practice while the coaches and captains met to figure things out.

The two teams came out, shook hands, and the matches began. The Academy was competitive in a few slots but Point Collina’s team depth worked against them. One of the Academy’s less proficient players was Raymond des Cieux, who unlike Carla had not taken lessons from his sister. Raymond was at the bottom of the singles ladder and Jack was at third, so while others were playing Jack came over and motioned to Raymond to pull away from the bench and talk with him.

“You still glad you’re not on the Point this year?” Jack asked Raymond.

“It’s all right up here,” Raymond replied. “But it’s better than the Point.”

“I gotta kinda hard question for you?”

“Hard question? For me?”

“Yeah.” Jack hesitated. “How is the best way to ask your sister out?”

“You could try telephoning her,” Raymond calmly answered him.

“Nobody likes a. . .I know that. What I mean is, how do I do it so she won’t say no?”

“You’ve had a lot of girl friends. One of them must have said no. I haven’t had too many, but some of them have said no to me. So what’s the big deal for you?”

“Well, man, from what I hear, when she says no, it hurts. Besides. . .I don’t know how to say this, but I’ve never asked a girl quite like her out before.”

“She is unique,” Raymond agreed.

“So, what does she like? And don’t like?”

“She likes fine food, like we eat at home. So you should consider a nice place, like the Resort, where she can order something reasonably good and perhaps have a little wine without too many questions.”

“Does she drink a lot?”

“Not much. And only with meals. It is the way we were brought up. She is not the kind to go out and get drunk like the last girlfriend you had.”

“You would bring that up.”

“You might also try going to Mass with her—she likes that in a boyfriend.”

“That’s going to be hard.”


“Because my old man hates the Catholic Church. It’s cool with me. My sister Cat’s already in trouble for going there with her friend Terry Marlowe.”

C’est tres triste. . .you are passing some very sweet women by when you miss Mass. Take your sister’s friend—now that’s a girl I’m afraid to ask out.”

“How come?”

“Because she comes from such a great family, and she is so tall and beautiful—Papa says she reminds him of the women he used to see in Indochina.”


“Yes, my family lived there when Madeleine was born.”

“She was born in Vietnam?”

“She was. We’ve lived in many places.”

“Cool. So you’re chicken, too.”

Raymond looked at the ground. “I guess so.”

“Just give me her phone number,” Jack finally said. Raymond went and borrowed a pencil, wrote it on a piece of scrap paper, and handed it to Jack. “Thanks,” Jack said.

Gays and Muslims: The Collision Course Finally Collides

In the UK, we have this:

And when that Independent article was written, just two Muslims had been charged with stirring up ‘hatred’ for handing out leaflets outside a mosque suggesting that gay people should be executed. Razwan Javed, 30, and Kabir Ahmed, 27, were accused of handing out a leaflet entitled ‘The Death Penalty?’, which called for the execution of homosexuals.

Today, the two have become five, with Ahjaz Ali, 41, Umer Javed, 37 and Mehboob Hassain, 44, also now accused of distributing threatening material.

The leaflets were apparently distributed outside mosques in Derby city centre in July 2010, and also reportedly posted through letter boxes in the city.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC MP, is allowing this prosecution to proceed.

Perhaps we have reached the long-foreseen moment at which ‘Muslim rights’ meet ‘gay rights’ in the battle for supremacy.

It will be interesting how the Crown prosecutes this matter.  The willingness of the authorities in the UK to backpedal on the application of the rule of law in largely Muslim areas is no secret.  But the LGBT community has an existential threat on its hands it cannot ignore, and their ability to apply their considerable political skills to counteract multiculturalist accommodation will make a difference here.

Some Thoughts on Happiness

From my Month of Sundays devotional booklet:

…as is taught in the glorious Good News of the ever-blessed God, with which I was entrusted. — 1 Timothy 1:11

Blessed…we hear that expression so many times. We tell people to “Be blessed…” and hopefully people tell us that too. (The Wiccans turn that around and greet each other with “Blessed be…” so be careful!) We want God’s blessings on our life, and we think that, if we were especially blessed by God, we would have it made.

But the scripture passage puts a new twist on that: God is described as “ever-blessed.” How can this be? Who can bless God? Who can give to him anything when he declares that “Every creature in the forest, even the cattle on a thousand hills, is mine?” (Psalms 50:10)

The simple answer is to look at the original: the word “blessed” translates the Greek makarios, which simply means, “happy.” According to Paul, when we say that God is blessed, he means that God is happy, and happy for all eternity.

People make two serious mistakes when they consider happiness:

  1. They think that happiness is a function of having many material possessions. They don’t understand that poverty is the state of not having enough, and “enough” is whatever you define it as. Some go through life never having enough, even when they, to the rest of us, are very wealthy.
  2. They think that God wants us to be miserable. They point to all of the rules that are laid down. But God does not mean for our relationship with him to be defined by rules but by the finished work of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross.

Happiness lives in God; when we live in him, we are happy.

Man’s chief aim in life is to be happy. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world in order to give us the means for attaining this happiness. To find happiness where it should be found is the source of all good, and the source of all evil is to find it where it should not be found…Let us also see the goal where happiness is found, and the means to attain it. (Bossuet, Meditations on the Gospel)

The Difference Between Then and Now on the "Sputnik Moment"

Barack Obama is, to some extent, correct on this:

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

But the conundrum everyone is talking about is this: how can we afford it with all the Republicans screaming for tax cuts?  And how about all of the catcalls about the government advancing technology?  Well, the simplest way to explain it is to break down the differences between the late 1950’s/early 1960’s and now.

First: I would be the last person to say that the government doesn’t have a role in technological advance.  I offer for sale a book that is the product of, in the words of the person who furnished me the scanned copy, a tremendous effort of the Federal government, both civilian and military parts:

The importance of the Federal labs (particularly FHWA, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army and Navy labs) in pushing the practice of geotechnical engineering forward between 1930 and around the time of the publication of these manuals cannot be overstated, and they are a testament to that heritage.

And this is definitely “down to earth” technology in every sense of the word!

So what’s changed?

  1. The budgets that Dwight Eisenhower and Jack Kennedy had to work with were not larded with Medicare or many of the entitlements that are a “fixed” part of federal budgets today.  Jack Kennedy was able to propose a tax cut even as he set this country on a challenge to put a man on the moon before the 1960’s was out: a promise we delivered on.
  2. The Baby Boomers who sat in wonder in front of their black and white TV’s watching the whole space programme then are now old, fat, and tired of working.  They’re looking forward to be the beneficiaries of Social Security (which did exist when Sputnik went into orbit) and Medicare (which, as noted in (1), didn’t.)  I might add in many cases that Social Security will be drawn along with a paycheck; many of this illustrious generation are so far in hock they cannot afford to really retire.
  3. We didn’t have the people I’ve come to call the “anti-moon Luddites” to contend with, who turn every technological advance into a bureaucratic and regulatory nightmare.  If you think this is an obsession of mine alone, read the confessions of Patrick Moore, Greenpeace’s founder, who even says “There is no cause for alarm about climate change. The climate is always changing.”  (This, in a Canadian publication!)

I’m ready for some real scientific and technological advance funded by the government.  But, given our self-inflicted budgetary restrictions, the strange attitude towards the subject that is in vogue these days, and the shameless use of such efforts to fuel unrelated and unproductive agendas, I’m a sceptic about anything good coming out of these soaring words.

P.S. the word “Sputnik” is simply the Russian word for satellite.  When my church resettled Russo-Ukrainian Pentecostal refugees years ago, they used the word to refer to the thing in space that delivered many channels of television.

Why I Never Joined a Catholic Charismatic Covenant Community

One of the more rewarding parts of internet life I’ve been involved in is music blogging.  Although sites such as The Ancient Star Song are by far more active in the field, I’ve done a few albums here.  In the process I’ve had the honour to establish (or re-establish) contact with the artists of the “Jesus Music Era.”  Although I can’t say that every group was superlative, it was an enormously creative era for Christian music, albeit one that doesn’t get as much press these days as it should.

One of those groups is Emmanuel, the folk group that blessed the young people that my Catholic Charismatic prayer group took to the Young People and Youth Ministers’ Conferences at the University of Steubenville in the early 1980’s.  Its guitarist, John Flaherty, has opened up for me another subject of the era that needs some exploring: Catholic Charismatic covenant communities.  They formed one in Steubenville, and he was a member for many years until the local bishop made a visitation and didn’t care much for what he saw, at which point the community disbanded.

John has extensively documented the history of this community, the history of the whole covenant community movement as led primarily by Ralph Martin and Steve Clark.  His documents at Scribd make for fascinating—and painful—reading.  I waited until he put together a summary of the history of the community in Steubenville before I put something out on this blog, but the time has come, especially since the witnesses to that era are sadly passing away.

To some extent, my interaction with covenant Charismatic renewal is like Farley Mowat’s My Discovery of America: it ended before it started, in his case because he had been involved in organisations not to the liking of our intelligence and security community.  In my case I pulled the plug on the whole adventure before making a final commitment.  But I think even this abbreviated story has some merit, and perhaps will engender some further discussion on these communities and the lesson we can learn for today’s church.

I first became involved in the Charismatic renewal while an engineering undergraduate at Texas A&M.  It was a peripheral involvement.  I had the luxury of two good Christian fellowships there, one Catholic (our Newman Association) and one non-denominational coffeehouse (The Answer.)  The former was charismatic only to the extent that people from the latter were there (and there were many.)  The latter was charismatic in an odd sense: they had adopted the “rules of engagement” for spiritual gifts from Calvary Chapel, which meant that same were not openly manifested during the coffeehouse sessions, the only “worship service” they had.  (The Answer’s leadership deflected the trajectory some wanted to take towards being a church.)  The effect of this was to make the spiritual gifts something of a secret, akin to the ceremonies of a Masonic lodge.

One thing that wasn’t a secret was that some of my friends from Dallas raved about the Community of God’s Delight.  When I graduated, moved to Dallas and went to work for Texas Instruments, high on my list was to visit their prayer meetings, which were at Bishop Lynch High School.  I was a regular at those through the spring and summer of 1977.  It got better: some members of the Community worked at TI, and we met for a lunch prayer meeting in David Peterman’s office.  (David’s son is now head of the Community.)

Pretty soon they invited me to the Life in the Spirit Seminar.  This was a multi-week seminar to introduce new people to the Christian life in general and the Spirit-filled life in particular.  In the centre of this seminar is to introduce the participants to and pray over them for what classical Pentecostals refer to as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence in speaking in other tongues.  That didn’t come during the Seminar, but a couple of weeks afterwards in an independent church in Ft. Worth (and no one was praying for me at the time either.)

The way that God’s Delight did it, the Life in the Spirit Seminar that I went through was considered Part I.  Part II was a weekend retreat where one made a formal commitment to the community.  To understand the significance of that it’s necessary to put things in some perspective.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal had its “formal” start at a weekend retreat at Duquesne University in 1967.  Because of the parish structure of Catholic churches (more about that below,) Catholic Charismatics tended to form prayer groups.  Some of these were exclusively Catholic and some were ecumenical.  However, there were people out there such as Ralph Martin and Steve Clark who had the idea of taking things to a new level in the form of covenant communities.  The largest and most illustrious of these were the Word of God in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana.  These were (and those that are left are) highly structured, authoritarian groups.

The Community of God’s Delight was, in many ways, the covenant community with the strongest ties with these two communities outside of the Midwest.  Its leader at the time, Bob Cavnar, was the father of James Cavnar, music director of the Word of God community.  We received visits from the likes of Steve Clark.  The music style was pretty much the same, flat style that the Word of God put on their recordings.  One thing people in the community spoke about was “the land,” a parcel of property outside of Dallas where plans were being made to have some kind of communal living scheme.  (Texans are always dreaming about moving out of town to the country, so that’s not an exclusively God’s Delight kind of thing.)

The nature of the community was becoming obvious, but the thing that crystallised the whole business was my acquisition and reading of Which Way for Catholic Pentecostals? by J. Massyngberde Ford.  Written the year before, she divided up the Catholic Charismatic renewal into two types of gatherings.  Type I groups were the structured, authoritarian communities like the one I was staring in the face.  Type II groups were the less structured groups which also tended to be more adventuresome theologically.  One criticism she had of Type I groups is whether they could truly be Catholic given that they were a) ecumenical and b) exercising authority without sacerdotal presence.

Although the “theologically adventuresome” business had little appeal for someone who left the Episcopal Church because of its theological adventures, Ford’s analysis correlated with what I was seeing in God’s Delight, and turns out to have anticipated much of the subsequent course of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  At this point, in the summer of 1977, I decided to decline the invitation to attend the Life in the Spirit Seminar II and thus join the community.  There were two reasons for this.

The first was that I really did not want another round of authoritarianism in my life.  I have always believed and continue to do so that God’s authority is absolute and his commands must be followed as a part of our walk with him.  But I came from an authoritarian upbringing.  My father’s defining life experience was his time in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II; the military was always his model, and it applied to many aspects of family life.  My mother was one of those people who liked to micromanage; the way she did it would be referred to as “helicopter parenting” today, albeit without current technology.  It was so bad that her mother-in-law, who raised my father and his sister in an era where children were seen and not heard, made adverse comments about it.  We thought my mother was old fashioned, but it turns out she was just ahead of her time!

Although my parents were never shy about invoking “honour your father and mother” when the situation called for it, their basis for authoritarianism wasn’t uniquely Christian.  That’s something that is lost today; conservative Christians like to consider strict upbringing as a purely Christian endeavour.  Although it’s best done that way, the drawback from the parents’ standpoint is that they are as answerable to God as the children are, which is a dilution of their power.  It’s worth remembering that, in pagan Rome, parents had the power of life and death over their children, something that my parents doubtless would have used at least as a serious threat if a Christian society had not intervened.

What that meant in the situation I faced in Dallas was that, after that heritage and facing a community where your elders dictated whom you could date and marry, where you could live and other details of your life, I had no desire to go back under that kind of regimentation.  I had gotten through college, the first in my family in more than three score, and was gainfully employed.  My spiritual life had undergone a revolution, one for the better.  All of this was in a context of freedom.  What could another authoritarian structure do other than make me miserable?

The second reason concerned the nature of the covenant community itself.  Covenant communities, taking into consideration the demands they make on their members, are ecclesiastically metastable.  Since many of you aren’t seminary or engineering school graduates, to use one of my father’s expressive phrases, covenant communities endure “as long as the termites hold hands.”  That reality is, in turn, rooted in the New Testament.  The NT does not envision the life of the believer in the church to be fulfilled anywhere outside of the local church gathering of believers.  Although prayer groups, parachurch organisations and other like arrangements are useful and have their place, they are not a substitute for a local church.  Covenant communities, by virtue of the level of demand of allegiance, seek to perform a function that is reserved by the New Testament for the local church.

But that consideration, in turn, forced me to re-examine my whole relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.  Catholic parishes are generally large, detached institutions whose parish life has very little sense of community of any kind.  The Catholic Church considers its position as an active mediator between man and God as a sufficient method for holding the church together, and the experience of Vatican II and its aftermath have only reinforced that preference.  In the end, however, that dissonance between the nature of Catholic parishes and what the New Testament envisions for the life of the church is one I could not resolve, and it is a major reason why I am not Roman Catholic today.

Back in Dallas, I took my leave from contact with the community in stages.  The following year I moved to Chattanooga, where I was involved with a prayer group which never even thought of becoming a covenant community, even though it had its trials too.  Many involved in that effort have ended up leading or being a part of the Roueché Chorale, which puts on Christmas festivals of lessons and carols that have become community events here.  I shared this with John Flaherty: all of this with no covenant community.

“Yeah, it can be done, can’t it,” was his response.

Yes, it can.

PS: there is an interesting thread re covenant communities here, also an entire blog (albeit not very active) on covenant communities here. HT to John Flaherty.

The Ten Weeks: Week Seven (24-30 January): Two Blondes Explore Islam

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

She looked over at her desk again; next to the Bible was a photo of a younger Madeleine in a very colourful djellaba that covered her from head to toe.

“Is that you?” Carla asked. “You look like you’re in our church’s Christmas play.”

“We were living in Morocco at the time,” Madeleine explained. “My Moroccan friends and their parents put me up to it. They though it was amusing that a French girl would dress like one of them.”

“Now, I get lost—where all have you lived, Madeleine?”

Madeleine was the one who had to think things out now. “Let me start from the beginning. When I was born, we were living in what is now South Vietnam.”

“I have a cousin who’s over there now,” Carla said. “He’s in the American army. He was drafted.”

“It seems that this place has not been good for France or the U.S.,” Madeleine observed. “We returned to France shortly after I was baptised. When I was five, we moved to Morocco. It was my favourite place to live. I enjoyed the climate, and the people were very kind. They were almost all Muslims, and their religion is in some ways like yours—austere, and of course they are forbidden to drink alcohol. When I left, one of my friends—whose father was a prominent imam—gave me this,” and she showed her a green book with Arabic writing on it.

“What is it?” Carla asked.

“It is a copy of the Qur’an,” Madeleine replied. “It is the holy book of the Muslims.”

“Can you read it?”

“My Arabic isn’t what it used to be, but yes, I can. It is a very difficult book to understand. I got to use my Arabic last year when a representative from the Palestine Liberation Organisation visited our school. He found me hard to follow, because the Arabic spoken in Morocco is different from that in Palestine, especially with a French accent.”

“Kind of like my sister-in-law from Georgia,” Carla noted.

“To some extent,” Madeleine replied with a smile. “After that, we moved to Canada, to Calgary, Alberta. That is where I learned to speak English properly. But Calgary is very cold, and I did not like the climate. After that we moved to South Carolina in the United States for one year. We lived in the same town you are going to university at, but I went away to school in Charleston. It is a very nice city, and of course much warmer than Canada. Finally we came here, but by that time we decided that it was better for Raymond to go away to school, so I stayed at Point Collina.”

“Wow,” Carla said. “I’ve always been impressed with the way you’ve moved all over the world.”

“But it is difficult to keep your friends when moving,” Madeleine observed. “Only my Moroccan friends write me any more. Some of them are going to France to university, so I may be able to see them when I am in Belgium.”

“Sorry this country hasn’t worked out any better for you than it has,” Carla said apologetically.

“I don’t understand it,” Madeleine confessed. “They want to be so progressive, so left-wing, but someone comes to them with some real experience in the world, they don’t know what to do with them, and waste their time trying to mould them to their own idea. That is why I like you—you are yourself, you are not trying to be someone else. You have your life and you have your beliefs and you live them. And,” Madeleine added, “I have never seen anyone whose tennis game has improved with less instruction and less time than yours.”

“Thanks,” Carla replied.

“Oh, there is something I would like to show you.” Madeleine got up and opened her closet, and pulled out a little some very interesting outfits, including a Moroccan one similar to the one in the photo. “These are the outfits that I wear to help teach the children French. They come from all over the Francophone world. I must confess that I enjoy wearing them as much as the children like seeing me in them.”

Carla was wide-eyed at the fashion in front of her. “Don’t we wear the same size?” Carla asked excitedly.

“As a practical matter, yes,” Madeleine replied.

“Can I try them on to see how I look?”

“Of course.” Carla started to undress, but stopped. She looked at her hands and arms.

“I’m too dirty to get into those,” Carla said sadly.

“Then you must take a shower first,” Madeleine declared. Carla had the reputation at Hallett Comprehensive of being the girl who could get ready for a date the fastest, and she showed that speed at the des Cieux house. It was no time before she was trying on Madeleine’s clothes, looking at herself in the full-length mirror, and both of them laughing the afternoon away.

Carla finally got to the pièce de resistance—Madeleine’s djellaba. As she adjusted the hood, the girls suddenly realised they had an audience. They looked over towards the doorway to see Pierre and Yveline standing, almost as astonished as Carla was when she first came into the room.

“This will be impossible to explain,” Pierre observed. “A Uranan Baptist girl visits a French Catholic one and ends up a Muslim.”

“We were just having fun, Papa,” was Madeleine’s excuse.

Leaders Don't Set Agendas. Bureaucrats and Lawyers Do.

In the middle of an excellent article on the nature of the “best and brightest” of American students, Heather Wilson makes this observation:

When asked what are the important things for a leader to be able to do, one young applicant described some techniques and personal characteristics to manage a group and get a job done. Nowhere in her answer did she give any hint of understanding that leaders decide what job should be done. Leaders set agendas.

One of the core problems in our society to day is that leaders, such as they are, don’t really set agendas.  We are so obsessed with the passage and enforcement of laws and regulations that leaders have surprisingly few options.  That’s especially true in the public sector, where, for example, we bemoan our inability to balance our federal and state budgets, but we either can’t or won’t control the largest portion of those budgets.  It’s also true in the private sector: the one part of same that’s relatively unfettered are those which have moved fast enough to stay a step ahead of those Lilliputians who would tie down modern day Gullivers.  (Since “Julius crossed the Rubicon” last month, that may change too.)

The narrow specialisation of the young people that former Rep. Wilson interviews may be unadmirable but it is understandable given the conditions of our society and the way in which they were raised.  It reminds me of the criticism of the examinations that budding scholars in Old China used to go through in their advancement, that they were narrow and unrelated to reality.  My challenge to our elites is simple: you wanted a mandarinate, now you’ve got one, so quit complaining about the unexpected consequences.

It’s supremely ironic that we are now faced with a serious challenge from the same country whose own mandarinate was overwhelmed by the West a century and a half ago.  The Chinese are very history conscious, we are not.

Steve Cohen Gets Blowback on Nazi Comments

You know you’re in trouble when Abraham Foxman of the ADL goes after you on something like this:

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen apologized for remarks that linked Republican attacks on President Obama‘s health care law to Nazi propaganda, saying he didn’t intend to offend anyone.

“I want to be clear that I never called Republicans Nazis,” said the Tennessee lawmaker in a statement issued Thursday. “I regret that anyone in the Jewish community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments.”…

“No matter how strong one’s objections to any policy or to the tactics of political opponents, invoking the Holocaust and the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish people is offensive and has no place in a civil political discourse,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

I said it about Chattanoogan Jon Meacham and I’ll say it about Steve Cohen: there’s no more insufferable than a white Southern liberal.

Will We See Another Steve Jobs?

Rich Jaroslovsky’s assessment that Steve Jobs is another Edison or Ford is right:

Lacking information about Jobs’s latest illness, questions have focused on what his absence will mean for Apple. How deep is the management team that will run things while he’s on medical leave? What will the impact be on a stock price that’s made Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world? Are enough cool new things in the pipeline to sustain the company’s spectacular financial performance?

While those are all valid issues, they miss a larger point: Love him or loathe him, Jobs is a figure of social and historic significance who has arguably had as much impact on the daily lives of global consumers as anyone you can name.

In an odd way, Apple’s recent spectacular success, combined with Jobs’s larger-than-life image and lightning-rod personality, have obscured just how important a force he has really been, and for how long. After all, an Inc. magazine cover proclaimed that “This Man Has Changed Business Forever” — in 1981.

Since I’m sitting here writing this on my MacBookPro and the iPhone is right next to me, I don’t need to be convinced of the impact of Jobs and Apple.  I’m also a testament to the staying power of his idea, too: I was sold on the whole Mac thing when given one of the worst “Road Apples” that the company ever produced, one that came out during Jobs’ absence.  A machine as architecturally challenged as that one was still so easy to use and could record and play television out of the box, and both were more than virtually any mid-1990’s PC could hope for.

For Apple, the issue isn’t whether Jobs’ creativity and vision can be sustained, but for how long.  That’s always the way it is with corporations.

But that in turn brings me to what I think is the more pressing question: will this country continue to produce people like Edison, Ford or Jobs?  (Edison is, in some ways, the odd man out in this triumvirate, as Ford and Jobs not only were creative but also connected with people and their needs and wants in a superb way.)  I have my doubts, not that we cannot produce people like this, but whether we will continue to give them the welcoming environment to sustain them.

In reading Job’s bio, I’ve always been struck by the fact that he was, in his early years, a wanderer, both physically and educationally, up and down the West Coast and across the Pacific.  He never actually finished college.  All of this is not atypical of his (or my) generation.  It’s especially typical of what was then known as “high tech.”  The fact that many of Jobs’ contemporaries still struggle with the technology is a testament of how far ahead people like Jobs and, yes, Bill Gates (a Harvard dropout) were of the society at large.  The conceptual leap that one gets with a computer is something that is commonplace today but, at the time, was truly a leap, especially with the limited computing power that was staring us in the face.

Today we have a society that is on its way to becoming a mandarinate.  Obsessed with educational credentials, raised by a generation of parents whose micromanagement skills are the stuff of legend, and risk averse, we live in a society where everyone talks about opportunity and yet our income distribution is more skewed by the day.  Government for its part expands with regulations and laws that make any kind of start-up business more problematic, let along keeping one going (unless it is, of course, well connected with the government.)  All the while our elites keep assuring us that, without government funding, science would grind to a halt or (if the wrong political party got in power) go in reverse.  It’s a far cry from the open-ended approach that Jobs and virtually every other tech pioneer has taken, even (under some conditions) with the government’s money.

The 1960’s and early 1970’s are thought of as revolutionary, but in truth there were two revolutions going on.  One was social, political and decidedly anti-technological.  It’s the one we normally associate with the “Woodstock” era.  The other was the technological revolution, going on some in universities but ultimately released into the environment by entrepreneurs such as Jobs.  In his person Jobs combines the two; it’s why his company can produce so many electricity consuming products (full of toxic chemicals as well) but at the same time embrace Al Gore’s inconvenient “truths” (Al Gore is, of course, a long-time occupant of a board seat at Apple.)

The thing that most people don’t realise is that, once you bureaucratise the first revolution (and we have) you stunt the potential of the second.  That, I think, is the tragedy of so many companies like Apple sucking up to so many left-wing causes.  Up to now the second revolution has mitigated the effects of the first.  But unless we head off making the first task of creative people looking up the noses of a progression of credentialled bureaucrats (and all the things that reside in those noses) there will be people like Steve Jobs in the world.  They just won’t be Americans.

China Brings Confucius Back Into the Pantheon

The significance of this isn’t lost to those of us who have visited the Tian An Men Square:

In a ritual equal only to that of the church, last week China placed a statue of Confucius in its political heart, Tiananmen Square, before Mao Zedong’s portrait and near the modern obelisk to the People’s Heroes, two symbols that materially defined China’s national identity for 60 years.

This is a political statement, not a celebration of art, and it reshapes the country’s ideological mission. The removal of images of saints from churches was the pronouncement of the Protestant Reformation and unleashed a wave of radical development in European and world history with the rapid spread of modern capitalism.

It’s a religious statement too, to the extent that anything the Chinese do is “religious” in the Western sense of the word.

It’s no secret that Marxism, atheistic though it is, is a secular religion.  Virtually every nation that has been commanded by a Marxist-Leninist government has indulged itself in a personality cult of the founder, either living (the succession of Kims in North Korea is the best ongoing example) or deceased (Lenin, Mao are both enshrined in their nation’s respective central square.)  The “new atheists” assure us that they won’t do this again, but as Marx used to say, history repeats itself the first time as a tragedy and the second time as a farce.

That being the case, putting up a statue of Confucius in the prominent place in China sends a powerful message.  This year is the centenary of the “double tenth:” 10 October 1911, when the Manzhou dynasty was overthrown and China began its succession of governments without the Son of Heaven, whose nation was governed largely on Confucian principles.

This is a sign that the People’s Republic of China, for all of the changes it has wrought in the world’s oldest continuous civilisation, wants peace and continuity with its past in some form.  That bodes well both for China’s immediate desires (reunification with Taiwan) and long-term ones.

But what about Christianity, that rapidly growing religion whose divorce from “foreign devils” has sparked the greatest revival in human history?  Sisci, the Italian, may have dropped a hint about that:

Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state around the time Augustus set up his empire and called on Virgil to sing his praises linking the Roman people to those of very ancient Troy. At the same time, the Han Dynasty heaped countless virtues on Confucius by attributing to him a deluge of works that certainly he could not have written.

Readers of Dante’s Divine Comedy will remember that same Virgil (representing human reason) lead Dante through most of the afterworld before handing him off to Beatrice, representing divine wisdom and revelation.

What the Chinese–and the rest of us–need is an Asian Beatrice, and I have no doubt that same–or more than one–is shortly forthcoming.