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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hang on to Your Wallet: The Hazards of Payphone Credit Card Use

© 2012 by Tom King
Let me say up front that I’m not an investigative reporter.  I don’t have access to the kinds of vast information resources available to credentialed reporters. I am, however, a mule-headed freelance writer and the poor schmo who made the mistake of sticking his credit card in the payphone at the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal.
I usually don’t use the pay phone. Like most of us now, I have a cellular phone that works pretty much anywhere except, of course, when you absolutely need it like I did on September 18, 2012.  I found myself in the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal with a dead cell phone and no change and a job interview in 15 minutes.  I found a payphone in the terminal that said "$1 for 4 minutes" in big red and white letters. To my relief, there was a credit card slot in the phone.
I had difficulty making my connection - the line kept return a shrieking data noise and dropping the call, so by the time I got hold of someone, I had to make a total of 4 one minute calls in order to let them know I had arrived so I could be picked up.  To my shock, I discovered the next day that I was billed $14.98 for each of those 4 one minute calls – almost sixty bucks!
I looked up the website for Washington State Ferries and sent them note.  Now, I know they don’t operate the pay phones themselves, but they do allow the company that looted my debit card account to operate in their terminal.  I believed they were perpetrating a deliberately deceptive trade practice that defrauds Washington State Ferry customers. 
Most people would blow off a $14.98 overcharge as bad luck, but four times that becomes a little more of a serious matter, especially in my case. I was on the Island to interview for a job and my funds were limited (being unemployed and all). I had no idea my credit card had been tapped for nearly $60. I was lucky to get back home at all.  I had less than $2 left in my account. I wanted to stop for lunch and take the early bus home because my bad knee was giving me a world of pain.  If I spent as little as $2 on lunch, though, I’d have been stranded in downtown Seattle, a lonely little conservative surrounded by Occupy Wall Streeters, not to mention 50 miles from home and flat broke.
In my letter I asked Washington State Ferries to place warning signs by the phones to let customers know that using a credit card instead of cash with those phones can result in an almost $15 charge rather than the $1 advertised on the phone itself in big friendly red and white letters.
I also suggested they threaten the company that operates the phones with removal of those phones from all their terminals.  I mean, that’s what I would do if I found a contractor was deliberately conning my customers with a slick scheme to overcharge them for payphone calls.
And yes, the phone company will tell you (if you can ever find a phone number to call and ask) that you can find out how much the charge by following "a series of voice prompts".  This is true.  It also adds time to an already ruinously expensive phone call and hooks you up to someone whose English is difficult to understand.  They’ll claim that because they have a voice prompt system, there is no excuse for not knowing the phone call might be hideously expensive.
I still maintain it’s a species of fraud.  The company knows full well, most people will trust the posted charges as shown on the big red sign in front of their face and in the rush won't read the fine print. The practice is downright deceptive.  If someone starts a nice class action suit I want to be included.
Look, I don't believe that Washington State Ferries is in any way complicit in deliberate fraud or price-gouging.  After I got in touch with the Ferry company, the charges disappeared from my credit card bill along with any evidence that I ever made the call.  Then a few days later, charges reappeared on my phone card, but they had dropped to around four to five dollars this time.  Whether they would have if I hadn’t raised hell about it, I don’t know.  If they gave back the money whenever some intrepid customer managed to find their customer service number, they’d still manage to pocket a whole lot of cash overcharges for phones they operate in prisons and in bus, ferry and airline terminals.
I did get in touch with the phone company.  I remembered seeing something like WiMacTel on the phone in small letters – I was looking for who to get mad at during the fourth phone call at the time.  I spent three hours tracking the company down.  As it turns out, WiMacTel is one of several dozen aliases under which a company called QuorTech does business.  QuorTech is owned by private equity firm QuorTech Equitites, along with sister companies iTechnology Customer Service and Support, Inc.; QuorTech Freight and Logistics; and iTechnology Digital Advertising Solutions.
I couldn’t find much information about QuorTech*, but its subsidiaries, particularly WiMacTel, showed up on numerous pages that linked to the company regarding complaints about payphone scams.  The only way I was able to connect WiMacTel to its mother company was by doing a lot of digging in public records.  They were not easy to find by name. The company website has changed since this past summer. I didn’t find its service as helpful as the company advertises. They only managed to help themselves to an overnight loan of $60 at my expense.
I checked out their sales pages and found that WiMacTel (and its sisters) offer “solutions” to the declining revenue trend for vendors operating public payphones. WiMacTel promises customers that their payphone systems can make payphones profitable again. 
Well, duh!
At nearly $15 a minute, I imagine so.  I suspect the company is doing like a lot of motels and other public venues.  When you authorize your credit card at the beginning of the call, they place a “hold” on your card before billing you the final charge.  Often the hold is quite substantial.  I ordered a $1.32 computer part from Alliance Electronics over the weekend and they placed a $71 “hold” on my account till Monday when they reopen and actually ship my item.  Not happy about that at all, but to their credit, on receiving my email, Paul Bolton at Alliance fixed the problem and credited my account.  I understand why they did it, but you'd better understand how credit card holds work or you can find yourself short for a few days while the transaction takes place. 

In November I paid for a week’s hotel bill and they put a hold on it for the full amount, completed the transaction and then didn’t remove the hold for a couple of days afterward leaving my account empty till they released the hold. 
I have no idea whether the credit card actually transfers the hold to the merchant or not when it's held, but either way, someone’s got your cash and you can’t use it till they let go.
A lot of people aren’t aware that merchants and service providers do that kind of thing until they try to use their credit cards and find a big fat hold has emptied their account. Sure, they release the “hold” after you pay, but often the hold doesn’t get released for a day or two after they complete the transaction. Meanwhile your account is maxed out because it’s carrying a double charge leaving you with a dead credit card for several days.
You might not even notice what’s being done if you have a large credit line and keep your credit card bill paid down. After all, the charges and, in the case of WiMacTel, all evidence of the charges disappears later so you don’t even notice they froze your cash for a couple of days at your expense.  I noticed because as a struggling writer, my funds are limited and because of WiMacTel’s “solution to declining payphone revenues”, I was forced to stand in drizzling rain on a benchless commuter rail platform for more almost two hours with a painful knee waiting for the first afternoon train. And even after WiMacTel dropped the $14.98 charges they did charge me for the calls - $4.98, 5.00, 5.05 and 7.50 - the longest of which was 2 minutes.  Still pretty high for a payphone call.

You might have detected that I was not very happy about that either.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Can an Agnostic Call Himself a Christian?

I read a piece today by a man who says he isn't sure he believes in God, but he likes Christians so much he calls himself one. 

I've been where he is. My walk with God began with a weird prayer,
    The signs are there, though the journey
    getting to them can be downright uncomfortable.
  • "God, I don't know if I even believe you exist, but you make all kinds of sense. So I'm in! I'll read the books, go to church and do all that stuff so I can find out who they say you are, but at some point I'm going to have to meet You in person. You have to show me Yourself. I'm betting my life here that you're real."
And you know what. I've met Him.  Not in the Mosaic, fire-on-the-mountain sense, but over the years, through a whole series of unmistakable signs along the way, He has shown me that He is there and that He is watching my way.

Many Christians are horrified by people like the man above.  How dare he doubt God?  These religious absolutists are so busy being morally certain that they are right that many times, they never quite meet the God they talk so much about and their religion does them little if any good. There's a whole church in Kansas like that. They picket soldiers funerals and taunt gay people. They are so wrapped up in their own righteousness that they've never met the God of the Golden Rule.

I was an agnostic when I found God. I didn't change that much in the days after I was baptised. I was still skeptical. I was anything but morally certain.  But I bought myself a pocket Bible and read it every day walking back and forth to classes at school. 

And I did change. I became a better person and it was none of my doing. I didn't grit my teeth and try to be a good person. I just kept trying to find out who this God person really was and the more I got to know Him, the more it changed me. 

My friend is on the right track though many Christians would find that hard to believe.  There's some evidence that God actually prefers an honest skeptic to a close-minded religious bigot that thinks he can read God's mind.

In the end, it's not membership in the church that will save you. The church is just where you go to hang with people who believe like you do and want to work with you to do the kind of good deeds you will find yourself compelled to do when you spend time with God.  Churches are like God's aid stations where the wounded soul may go to be patched up.  But we don't fight the war on evil in the aid station. We get back out there and do some good.

It's a fascinating journey - trying to find God.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for what British author Douglas Addams called "The answer to the universal question about life, the universe and everything else."  When you look for God, He will find you and in time, he will even answer the universal question for you. It make take several million years, but he gives you eternal life to boot. 

How cool is that?


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Celebrate Christmas

I Celebrate Christmas.

My brother died the day after Christmas.
My son died after one of the best Christmas’s we’d ever had.
I’ve been poor at Christmas
Celebrated with few of the trimmings
I’ve been well off and enjoyed the fatness of the season.
I have seen great kindness.
I have seen appalling greed and selfishness.
I have given to others.
I have received when I could not give.

I Celebrate Christmas.

I am amazed at the tenacity of man.
He longs for peace on Earth.
He wishes all “Good will toward men,”
Though the world seems quite bereft of good will these days.
We sing the season in.
We sing the season out.
We even hum the odd carol in summer
When our hearts want cooled and soothed.
A little “Jingle Bells” has magic even then.

I Celebrate Christmas.

I put up the tree to drape with tinsel.
I string the lights upon the house,
So my neighbors will see them and maybe smile.
I drink the celebratory eggnog with my daughter.
The only one of my kids who likes the stuff.
I make cookies, adopt homeless fruitcakes and batches of fudge.
I have my red elf’s hat. My hair and beard are white.
I know it’s a game and Jesus wasn’t born December 25.
But still I choose to be happy this time of year.

I Celebrate Christmas.

© 2012 Tom King

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting Settled In

We're in the Carriage House to the right.
Just a personal note this time. We're all moved in to the carriage house.  It's a lovely writer's retreat.  Nice folk in the big house.  Wife's a teacher.  Husband owns a music store.  They're a couple of years older than us.  Alan even offered to sell me a banjo at cost through his music store.  That's cool.  I may even be able to take him up on it soon if my writing business keeps picking up.  Right now I've got more work than I can do - all of it pays reasonably well too. 

Still got to get down to Texas to get my truck, but it's forced me to get to know my "friends" here better.  Last night we bummed a ride to Wal-Mart with a buddy and his wife and new baby.  Lovely people.  On the way home up the driveway we met a couple of deer - both does - coming down the road.  Lovely  creatures that just run wild in the neighborhood.  The place has scads of birds and squirrels. My dog is in barking at the trees heaven.  It's all she can do to keep the squirrels in their trees where they belong.  Should take a little weight off her.

It's a quarter mile to the mailbox and the dog and I hike it two or three times a day (her favorite pooping spot is in a patch of woods about half a mile from the house).

We have a wood Franklin style fireplace to heat the house.  Splitting wood for it gives me some badly needed upper body workouts every morning.  I'm thinking of taking my machete and cutting some hiking trails through the woods.

Now that we're in this quiet place, Sheila is beginning to heal. Our diet has improved (less greasy hamburger).  I've restocked the pantry and fridge and scouted out next summer's blackberry picking ground. There's even a big freezer in the garage to store berries and produce. 

I've even ordered a case of my favorite vegetarian food - Loma Linda Tender-Bits and plan to barbecue up a can of them when they get here tomorrow.  Mmmmmm.  Mama's Southern style mashed potatoes, broccoli and cheese, a tossed salad with Honeymama's homemade wheat rolls.  Life is good again......

To all my friends who have remembered us in their worked!  God blessed us and we thank you all so much and Him most of all.

Still pickin'


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why the Secession Talk in Texas?

(c) 2012 by Tom King

There's been a lot of secession talk in Texas since the 2012 election last week. Of course, the chances that Texas will actually secede are slim to none, but so far more than 100,000 Texas voters have signed the petition for secession that's going around.  I don't talk about secession much

In Texas we keep most of our liberals in Houston and Dallas. There are some scattered through the woods in East Texas, but they're pretty thin on the ground elsewhere. One of them poo-poo'ed the whole idea in a letter to the editor of the Ft,. Worth Star Telegram.  He called the petition to secede "a joke".   

Read more here:

"How," Mr. Forsythe opines, "Would proponents of secession suggest we handle and/or fund: national defense matters, mail service, freeway maintenance and repairs, military veterans' programs and border security?"

I had to wonder if he was joking. I mean really.

Funding:  Simply moving the taxes we pay to Washington back to the state of Texas.  What we save on Washington bureaucracy alone will more than fund everything Mr. Forsythe is worried about.

National Defense:   We're the 15th largest economy in the world.  We make nuclear weapons so we'd be a nuclear power and no one would mess with us.  A lot of federal troops would stay in place. We are quite capable of making our own weapons. We already do. Lockheed Martin already builds military aircraft here. Vought Corporation, Bell Helicopter and other defense industries are located here.  We'd have all the equipment we need and some very fine military bases.

Mail Service:  Contract it out to FedEx and UPS.  It'll run better and probably cost us less in the long run.  I'm sure they could ramp up to handle it in a hurry.  Lease them the empty post offices.

Freeway Maintenance and Repair:  As to highway maintenance, Texas is a tax donor state.  That means we pay out more than we get back.  We'd actually have more money for highways if we pulled out of the USDOT, because Texas taxes wouldn't be supporting Rhode Island and Ohio roads.

Military Veterans Programs:  Texas has some of the finest medical systems in the world.  Military hospitals here like the burn unit in San Antonio would do just find.  We have our own medical schools here for training medical personnel.  Again, Texas pays more taxes into federal military programs than come back to the state. Financially, we'd have more money and plenty of folks to contract the work out to.

Border Security:  This guy has got to be kidding.  The governor has been pestering the Obama administration for more border security for years and getting nothing.  Not only that, but like Arizona, Texas is virtually prohibited from taking care of it ourselves. With Texas troops back home from overseas US bases, we could close up the border nice and tight.

The one particularly telling thing Mr. Forsythe is worried about is his social security check.  I wonder how much more social security funds we'd have available for Texans if the state's social security funds weren't in the hole when we started.  There's no reason social security funds that people are already paying couldn't go to a state social security program.

The Economy:  We produce more energy than we use.  We could open up offshore oil fields, join OPEC and all sorts of fun things.  We already have a burgeoning space exploration industry.  We have seaports, huge agricultural and technology industries. We wouldn't do badly on our own. Lopping off the burden of a bloated bureaucracy and the care and feeding of several dozen welfare states from the Texas economy would certainly turn loose the engine of Texas business and industry.  Outside companies would flock to Texas like they do to any healthy business environment. We'd have the advantage of every other country in the world because We're essentially American.  No cultural surprises or unstable government in Texas.

Forsythe also complained that he'd need a passport to visit some out of state casinos. That's just all kind of stupid.  If you need to gamble our Indian Reservations would be happy to oblige you.  If you need to go to Shreveport or Las Vegas, I bet you could get yourself a passport.  I don't expect it would be that hard.

This isn't 1860. Texas could take care of itself quite well and with television, the spectacle of federal troops trying to keep this state in the Union by force would be played out on the nightly news - not something the American public is prepared for.

If Texas did it, I bet we could take Oklahoma, North Dakota and Alaska with us - probably pick up most of the plains states too.  We could finish the Keystone Pipeline and put in place an energy policy that would allow us to exploit the rest of the US like Saudi Arabia exploits us.

Why We Talk About It:

Secession won't happen, of course, unless things get really bad, but I believe we have to talk about it just to keep from going nuts.  It's like those psychological experiments where they jolted rats with electricity at random.  Some of the rats they gave a button to that would stop the current.  At first the rats would shut off the current every time by pressing the button.  After a while, they just endured the shocks, knowing they could shut them off at any time by pressing the button.  They got to where they could put up with the electric shocks and go on about their business.

Significantly, the rats that had no control button to push, went psychotic. Some simply curled up in the corner and lost interest in anything.

We may be rats as far as the Obama administration is concerned, but we are rats with a firm knowledge of just where the button is and how to push it.  It helps us put up with the nonsense and it would do the folks in Washington well to remember that.

I'm just sayin'


Friday, October 26, 2012

I Ain't Afraid of No Grim Reaper

I plan to join a band after I'm dead...
I see a lot of introspective, end of life weblogs being written by my peers lately. It seems that as soon as the old peak becomes fully snow-capped, we wax nostalgic and start looking back at our legacy.  Presidents and old people do that a lot.

Psychologist Erick Erickson says coming to terms with your life is the big deal psychological task of people nearing the end of their lives.  You look back fondly at the good stuff you did or experienced and try to make a story out of the heaps of steaming horse manure that inevitably decorate your life with unpleasantness.  It's natural, when we look at the ending of our lives that we want to know whether or not we will be well-remembered and whether or not we'll be the hero of our own story.

My son, Micah, asked a friend once if the friend though anyone would remember him if he died.  He had struggled for 14 years with a seizure disorder and I suppose he was always  aware of his own mortality. Two weeks after he posed that question, he died in his sleep.  There's not a day I don't think about him and miss him. He was 28, six months from graduating from college with his life before him.  He didn't get the luxury of ruminating over his accomplishments nor have the time to write his memoirs.  Yet, he lived his life well, left behind good friends, countless kids he was a mentor too and so many great stories, that his memorial service got more laughs than some standup comedians do. 

Not every old guy does all that ruminating. I suppose, if you figure this life is all there is, you'd like to be remembered for at least a few years. A lot of evil has been done in the name of gaining a place in history over the several millenia of recorded human history.  Being monumentally bad is the cheap way to be remembered in this particular iteration of the world.  Being remembered for good deeds usually requires some form of martyrdom to get your name on the final exam for World History 101.

Me, I have a hard time really getting my mind around the idea of being dead and no longer being busy doing things in the world. I haven't seen everything and done everything yet.  Death would be a monumental hinderance to my plans for world conquest.

It's my Christian faith, you  see.  When Jesus said that if you have faith in Him you have eternal life.  Note: He does not say you will have eternal life after you die and sleep and He comes back to get you.  As my grandpa once noted, "If you're going to wake up from it, then it's not really death."  It's like Burgess Meredith described it in Grumpy Old Men - a dirt nap!

So if death is nothing more than an extended nap in the dirt, then why in the world am I worried about my legacy.  I am, to quote Dan Fogelbert, "a living legacy".  So rather than spending my golden years searching for the meaning of my life, I rather believe I'll just keep on trying to make some meaning out of my life right up until I pitch over nose first into the dirt for that little nap.

Of course, I kind of hope Jesus will come and we can go straight on to the real work of shaping the universe in partnership with God.  How much fun will that be?  So, I currently plan to tool along doing the sort of thing I'll be doing in the New Heavens and New Earth - building things, taking care of the gardening, making music, telling stories, that sort of thing.  I plan to skip dying altogether, but if I do croak, I plan to die busy with all kinds of unfinished projects going.  I plan to wake up busy too.  I figure since I have eternal life promised, I'm already living forever and I really ought to act like it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Whiskers on Kittens - The Good Life in Lists

The woods in the morning - definitely on my list!

We’re all fascinated with lists. Pick up the TV remote and cruise through the cable channels. It’s the top ten this and the top 50 that from the top to the bottom of the channel listings. Even the inimitable Mary Poppins had a list of her favorite things.

If you were to sing about your favorite things just now, it’s not likely to include raindrops on roses or doorbells, though you might rather enjoy those things. You might mention hot dogs and baseball, bikinis on beach babes or the smell of new shoes. Everybody’s got something that tweaks their nostrils or warms the cockles of their hearts.

Psychologists have learned that smells are powerful memory triggers. The other five senses can draw old memories out of your head as well – for good or ill. If you’re not careful, if you’ve lead a traumatic life, if you’ve experienced something horrific, it’s a good idea to learn to control the brain’s troubling little popups or you can wind up a basket cases, curled up in your bed trying to avoid seeing, touching, smelling, tasting or hearing anything.

One way to take control back is a little trick I learned inadvertently when I was a kid. I make lists of things I like. This morning I was out walking with Daisy and, as is my habit, I began experiencing the walk as though for the first time and making myself aware of the sights, smells, and even the tastes of things around me. I started listing all the things I like about a morning walk with my dog. Here’s a sample of my favorite things from today - in order.
  1. The cool autumn breeze on my face and the smell of autumn.
  2. The bit of blue sky peeking out between the clouds and the little shafts of warm sunlight that poke their way down through the trees ever once in a while.
  3. The sweet taste of rain fat blackberries, plucked straight off the vine.
  4. Daisy’s warm breath against my leg where’s she’s sniffing at the dog treats in my pocket and hinting shameless for a little snack.
  5. I like the sound of the big planes taking off from McCord Air Base just down the road.
  6. I like the crunch of gravel along the path through the woods where we walk.
  7. I get a kick out of watching Daisy’s ears come up when she spots a squirrel or a fat rabbit and the way she gets down on her belly like a commando to try and sneak up on them.
  8. The squirrel sitting on a limb after taking refuge up the tree as he sits and chitters at Daisy, just as mad as an old wet hen. Funny stuff.
  9. The pumpkins and tombstones in people’s front yards where they’ve decorated for Halloween and the arrow sign in someone’s flower bed that points east and says “Diagon Alley”. Even more fun is two doors down another neighbor has a similar wooden arrow that points west to “Hogwarts”.
  10. I even like the raindrops against my face that send Daisy and I hurrying toward the house to avoid a good dousing.

That’s my ten fav’s just for today. Yeah, my life’s a mess right now. I’m still looking for a job. We’re a week from being homeless and I haven’t found us a place to live yet. We're broke and Sabbath may be the last chance I get to go to church for some time, Sheila’s sick and my knees hurt. But for just a bit, life felt good and sometimes that’s all you get in a day and it’s enough.

I remember the passage from Robert Browning’s poem that I learned in Mrs. Creel’s English class:

The year’s at the spring,

And day’s at the morn;

Morning’s at seven;

The hill-side’s dew-pearled;

The lark’s on the wing;

The snail’s on the thorn;

God’s in his Heaven -

All’s right with the world!

I suspect He is in his heaven and all is right with the world after all, if we could just look at things the way God does.

In the meantime, I’ll remember the cool rain against my face and the taste of fresh blackberries and smile mysteriously. Somebody’s bound to wonder what in heck I’ve got to be grinning about and that's something else I enjoy.

© 2012 by Tom King

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Bullies, Wolves, Sheep and Sheepdogs

If you leave the church, cease to be a Christian and go your own way, all that’s well and good. I get it.  You’re angry and you don’t want to have to deal with all those rules and restrictions. Your choice.  So why stand at the curb and throw rocks at those of us who chose to stay in the church.
There is an increasing cadre of folk out there on social media who have taken up pitching rocks at their former churches like some sort of hobby.  Some have moved on to other churches  and feel called upon by their consciences to destroy their former denomination or congregation.  Some have declared their faith in atheism and chosen to attack religion in all its forms, except of course atheism itself which they declare (as any true believer would), is the only truth there is.
As for the ones who profess themselves to be Christians still, an observation.  A Christian's duty is to win souls for Christ. It would seem to me that tearing down a church you disagree with is like shooting holes in someone else's overloaded lifeboat to prove it's not as safe as yours. It smacks of the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" philosophy. It is impossibly arrogant to take upon yourself the task of destroying a church (or as one ex-church member put it so colorfully, " I’m going to hit continue to go on striking at the church, because if you hit the sweet spot enough times, it ceases to function.")

You know, unless God Himself has spoken to you recently and ordained that you attack one of His churches, I'd want to be very careful about trying to “hit the sweet spot” and kill your former church.  You may find you’ve been working for someone other than who you think you're working for.

Christians are like manure. Spread us out and we do a lot of good, but heap us up in one big pile and pretty soon the place begins to stink. It's why Jesus said, "Go ye therefore..."  Large churches are pretty much a bad idea for that reason.  I love my home town for all the pain it brought me and my family. I've got history there going back to the day the school was founded. My great great grandpa signed the church charter. But the town was meant to support a school, to train young people and then send them out into the world, not to become the old Adventist's graveyard.
  Anytime a church gets too big or dominates a neighborhood or town, there is a temptation for someone to try to take the reins and run things the way they think things ought to be run.  

Wolves get among the sheep and start bullying the flock.  Some of the sheep flee rather than fight and that’s fine.  It’s a good idea in fact if you really can't stand the strife. But some of those who leave are little more than smaller bullies who just lost out in the struggle for dominance.  They can’t resist hanging out on the fringes and taking pot shots at the flock because they need to get a little revenge for the pain they were caused.

The problem is, they don’t really aim at the bullies.  They aim at the flock itself.  In the case of my church, a lot of angry ex-Adventists can't resist picking at old wounds. They set out on a campaign to encourage more people to leave their old church – sniping at the flock itself which never did them harm.

Leave it alone people. I remember there was once about a troublesome elder back in my great-great grandpa’s day who was always starting fights for power in the church.  They kicked him out twice, but always felt sorry for him and let him back in.  They wrote a prominent church leader for advice when he asked a third time to come back to the church.  She wrote back and told them, “No, he can be saved outside the church, but within the church he cannot resist causing pain and dissension to his fellows." Apparently some folk just can't handle being in groups where there are a lot of meek people.

I just went through a cycle at a church where the local clique had turned the church into a career-killer for pastors.  That happens because the meeker members of the church don't rise up and stop it. That’s probably because they are, after all, meek. Back home we got backup from the state church conference who refused to move the pastor.  The group that believed itself to be the rightful holders of power in the local church, decided to boycott services.  

While they were busy teaching us all a lesson, we learned one.  We managed to replace them all on the church board and in other positions in of leadership during the boycott.  When our pastor did move on eventually, they all came back.  Our new head elder, however, met them at the door and had a chat with them and explained that things had changed and none of them would be going back to their old jobs anytime soon (if ever).  The whole thing was upsetting to the church as a whole. We loved the people who were boycotting.  They were our friends, but we had to do what was right and we could not in conscious let this go on anymore.  The events of that long year and a half changed the whole character of the church.  What a lovely congregation it became as a result and because of the lessons we learned, no single group of individuals has anything like the kind of power they had before.

Power is where the devil attacks churches. Christ called us "the meek" when he described his flock and while we may be destined to inherit the Earth, there's always somebody out there who wants to lead us somewhere else for his or her own benefit or for the sake of their over-inflated ego.

We're up against that in one of the churches I've been going to up here in Washington. I suspect I may be here in Washington to participate in a little revolution against an entrenched and repressive leadership. I like the church where I'm at, don’t get me wrong, but I'm wondering if God really wants me to be comfortable in any church right now. He seems to have given me rather a lot of experience with churches run by bullies (beginning in my youth back in my hometown). My teaching career ended at the hands of just such a bully church board. One of my favorite people at that church told me before I left, "Brother King, I love my church and I hate to say it, but I think the only thing that will save this church is a visit from the grim reaper."

A friend of mine who was the target of one of these church bully groups told me, “You can’t change the church from the outside.”  Running away and sniping at it from the woods is not helpful.  If you don’t have the stomach to stand up for what’s right, go ahead and run away.  Just don’t confuse guilt over your own cowardice with a mandate from heaven to belittle and ridicule the folk you left behind when you went.  Don’t confuse a system that says “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” with people who are busily tearing down that system from within.

Wolves are not sheep.  They are not part of the flock however they may dress themselves.  Bullies are not Christians, however much they dress themselves up in robes, collars and dangly crosses.  And you don’t defeat bullies by becoming one yourself. 

I love my church and most of the people in it are dear, sweet, kind people. They are the best, hardest working, most meek folk you could ever want to know. We should not be at all surprised that wolves are attracted to flocks of sheep. Rather than running away and abandoning the flock, what we ought to be doing is standing guard over it - actively confronting those who would bully their way to power in the local church. We should protect our pastors and teachers and members. The church member who takes it upon him or herself to point a bony accusatory finger at a tender-hearted, struggling member should draw back a nub.

I'm still in my church despite the procession of bullies I’ve encountered.  I’m here because I love my church and I will not stand by to see it abused by the agents of Satan, sent among us like ravening wolves to sew confusion and discord. It's not the church that’s the problem, guys. It's the devil who is responsible for the wolves among us and I have decided that I am called to be God's own sheepdog!

I’m just saying.

Tom King – © 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Saturday Night and I've Got 14 People Stuffed Into a Pinto Hatchback!

(c) 2012 by Tom King (excerpted from "Swimming Lessons" by Tom King)

The last couple of years I worked at camp, my beautiful wife, Sheila and I worked there together. I had moved up to Waterfront Director and we were ensconced one summer in one of the cabins attached to the camp store, one of the few air-conditioned places in the whole camp. I had wisely brought along my king sized waterbed and as a result, we had a nice cool place to take a nap on a hot Sabbath afternoon after church let out – it’s a Seventh day Adventist Camp, so Saturdays were treated as a day of rest. We took turns taking the campers on a long hike in the blistering Texas heat so the rest of us could get a nap. It was a wonderful way to recoup from the week’s strenuous activity before a new batch of campers arrived on Sunday.

Swimming on Sabbath was verboten, although you could wade in water up to your kneecaps according to an official camp director ruling, so long as no evidence could be produced that when you fell on your face and were forced to swim for your life, that you did so deliberately or exhibited any evidence of having enjoyed doing so) Adventists were a bit more strict about Sabbath observance in those days and a lot of really fun stuff was not permissible. Sabbaths were, therefore a hot and miserable time for everyone except for maybe the camp director who used to crash in his air-conditioned cabin for a 3-4 hour nap after Sabbath lunch.

After the staff had got all the campers and their unfortunate counselors pushed off down the trail on the obligatory Sabbath afternoon safari round the lake and nature scavenger hunt, my wife and I took our two little boys and repaired to the cool refuge of the cabin where we enjoyed about 10 minutes of solitude. Then came the inevitable knock at the door. Answering it, I would find one of the waterfront staff (a bold and self-interested lot) looking all bedraggled and pitiful standing on the front step. They always looked so pathetic. You could see them move their faces to one side to catch a waft of air-conditioning through the open door.

My wife, being a career mom and a notorious soft touch always invited the poor thing(s) in and told whomever it was to stretch out on the foot of the bed. Soon there was another knock and another and my Sweet Baboo would begin stacking them like cord wood crosswise on the waterbed from foot to head until we were at last forced to crawl out over the headboard and abandon our bed altogether, surrendering to the lemming-like hoard of ski instructors, canoe instructors, kitchen staff and the odd nature instructor (these guys were usually relegated to the floor as they were tended to be a rather shy breed and therefore the last to show up and claim a spot). Forced out of our own bed, we would pile the babies in our Pinto Hatchback and go for a drive for a couple of hours with the air-conditioner turned up high. By the time we returned, there would be 10-20 people piled all over the cabin, snoring contentedly.
Not Rene, but you get the idea....

Rene', our hunky canoeing instructor, would be lying at attention, back flat on the bare concrete floor and wearing only a tank top and his famous Speedo swimsuit, like some world class yoga guru lying on a bed of nails. Rene' and that Speedo were rather a legend at camp for a lot of reasons, though not for the same reasons that earned me an uncouth nickname several years earlier.  I used to catch the female staffers hanging their heads over the end of the waterbed and watching Rene's abs flex as he breathed heavily in his sleep. I’m sure it was his abs they were watching. These were good Christian girls we’re talking about.

One Saturday evening after campfire, the gang showed up at our place looking for something to do and badly in need of leadership. We counted vehicles and people and decided (using a twisted decision-making process I call ‘Lone Star logic’) that since there wasn't enough transportation to go around, we'd all share a ride to the K&N Root Beer place in Athens. I'm not sure to this day how we did it, but I packed ten lifeguard types, my wife and two sons into that Pinto and managed to close the hatch. I got in bringing the grand total to 14 souls on board and drove us to the K&N. We were so low to the ground that if I'd hit a paper cup, we'd have needed the Jaws of Life to get us out of the thing.
Imagine 14 people stuffed in this car...

When we arrived at the K&N, this perky carhop named Yolanda or something approached me. She'd seen me get out of my car and I think there was a rule against this practice due to some post football game hijinks by the locals or something.  By her determined stride, I guessed that she planned to make me stay in the car, but by the time she arrived, I'd opened the hatch and a flood of kids started piling out. She stood there with her mouth open as everyone came crawling out like from one of those Ringling Brothers clown cars. Even after she recovered her composure, it completely threw off her one car / one order system. Totally knocked off kilter, she wound up wandering around the group like a cocktail waitress trying to sort out our orders. Just collecting the money was a nightmare for the poor thing. Some of the guys paid their tab with pennies harvested from the sand around the camp store. The waitress seemed particularly flustered by Rene's order. He'd thrown on a tank top and some very short, tight jean cutoffs over his Speedo for the trip into town. I'm not sure that any of us got what we ordered, but we were all too thirsty to care.

This is what the K&N in Athens looked like.

I left her a nice tip to compensate for her profound befuddlement, packed my group back in the car and drove off. As I looked back, I noticed money-changing hands among the root beer stand's staff. I think there were bets about whether we could get everyone back in the car. I hope Yolanda won some serious money on us.

On the way back, the several collective gallons of root beer inside all of us began to be severely agitated by the flattened suspension system on the Pinto. If someone had hit us in the back end, it wouldn't have been the gas tank that blew up first. To compound the problem, we’d all had Vege-links for supper an hour or so earlier. If you don’t know what Vege-links are, you’ve missed a treat and I’d better explain.

Vege-links are vegetarian hot dogs. You make them by cooking down and processing soy beans into a concentrated bean paste, and stuffing it into a hot dog casing. It’s actually better than it sounds. For supper that night, everybody had eaten two or three at least with a nice coating of vegetarian chili also made of textured vegetable protein made from – you guessed it – beans. The vegetarian chili dog is, therefore, the most volatile form of protein ever to be consumed by humans as food.  For side dishes there was potato salad and (you had to have seen it coming) - baked beans!

My wife and the kids were okay up in the front seat with me and the guy who had his head shoved over the console between the seats, but the guys in the back had it pretty tough. As the carbonated water, Vege-links and chili began to swell within 10 stomachs, everyone soon discovered that they were packed in so tightly that they couldn’t all breath at the same time – at least not without really unfortunate results. In desperation, I took command and we quickly worked out a system of staggered breathing by teams that kept them from damaging ribs or triggering unfortunate explosive events by inadvertently all breathing at once. We alternated boys and girls and did fairly well till about halfway home when Frank the ski instructor, misbreathed and triggered an emergency evacuation of the car.

The doctor's did say Frank probably suffered no serious injury from his unfortunate experience. He was on the bottom of the stack at the time and when he mistimed his breathing, it triggered a pressure wave through the massed bodies. They said, however, that by rolling down the windows as quickly as we did, we were able to get sufficient oxygen to him and the other 9 trapped with him in the back in time to prevent permanent brain damage (at least no "new" permanent brain damage anyway). The EMT’s agreed that blowing the hatch and rolling everyone out onto the shoulder of the road probably saved lives.

After the incident, the camp director issued a directive prohibiting more than 4 vegetarians per car for any camp outing on hot dog night, burrito night and for 24 hours after the annual vege-chili cook-off. He probably saved some lives there too.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is this the end of.....

(insert pet cultural sacred cow here)
by Tom King (c) 2012

What got me going this time was a forum post that said in big bold letters:


Electronic entertainment didn't replace active sports and
gamesany more than sports and games replaced
productive work as some feared it would. Each
enhanced our recreational choices. Nothing more.
It included a link to one of those "educational" Youtube videos with dire predictions of the coming crash of the economy,  famine, flood or a massive shortage of cheese. In this case it was the end of "education". Of course this dude wanted to start trouble. Otherwise why be cryptic unless he wanted to get us to watch his "shocking" video and kick up the number of pageviews for his Youtube page's advertising?

As to the premise that something's going to "end education as we know it", I think it's highly unlikely.  Remember:

1. They said photography would kill art.

2. They said records would be the death of live music for the masses (mostly piano teachers worried about that - after all their livelihoods were on the line they thought).

3. They said movies would be the death of books and the theater and vaudeville. It only killed vaudeville and it can be argued that vaudeville needed to die.

4. They said radio would be the death of records. Why buy music when you can listen to it for free on radio?

5. They said TV would be the death of, not only radio, but also the movies and books. Apparently movies hadn't killed books completely yet.

6. They said computers would kill creativity.

7. They said video games would kill creativity.

8. They said the Internet would kill libraries, books, radio, movies and music. All of these, for some reason, have all kept on breathing despite all the murderous technologies that came before.

9. They said that testing would kill "real" education. By this I think some teachers mean the sort of education that nobody bothers to actually check up on once in a while to see if the kids are actually learning anything.

I have discovered that children are pretty much impervious to all attempts to turn them into robotic factory workers or mindless zombies. The German system of graded schools, which the US adopted in the early 20th century, seems to have had, as its purpose, to teach kids to show up on time, do repetitive work, shut up and follow orders. Turns out that's exactly what the Germans had in mind. That is after all how you make productive munitions factory workers. But, despite the arguably sinister intent of the German school system, the similarly regimented school system adopted by American schools seems to have utter failed to squash the creativity out of our own childrens.

Of course, some kids will always grow up to be mindless zombies, but then if they didn't where would we get our politicians and tax accountants from? Anyway, I don't think we need to be entirely discouraged by the educational doomsday prophets. After all it turns out that:

1. Photographs became their own art form and painting continued to flourish.

2. Recordings encouraged people to learn to play music and now they make their own recordings and more people's music is actually heard today than every before.

3. Movies brought stories to life, gave tens of thousands of people jobs putting those stories on film and encouraged thousands to take up writing and music and cinematography and acting. It even borrowed stories from the theater and revived interest in plays. The Lion King started out as a Disney movie before it became a hit Broadway musical. And vaudeville simply went on TV, radio and Las Vegas casino stages. What's "America's Got Talent", but a vaudeville review.

4. Radio actually popularized new types of music and brought genres like country and bluegrass music to a vast new audience and gave us Earl Scruggs whose radio gigs made him a living when he needed one.  Radio actually invented rock n' roll - not a destroyer it turned out, but a creator.

5. Television took radio stories and let us see the action. Radio changed. The theater and TV cross-pollinated to the benefit of both genres and the artists that worked in both mediums.

6. Computers allowed millions of people to produce works of art, writing and create new technologies. Computers turned out to be really good tools and not mind-sucking brain controllers after all.

7. Video games, it turns out, encouraged a generation to create new worlds and new ideas. Video game technology has spurred advances in movie special effects, interactive story-telling has become a whole new genre of writing and can even be used to help rehabilitate and retrain minds injured by trauma.

8. The Internet quickly became the instrument for connecting libraries and book collections everywhere, so effectively that if you want to look up a 200 year old book, you can probably download the entire text from the net in a matter of seconds simply by doing a word search. Libraries have begun putting rare materials online where everyone can look at them and not just the few who can get to Walrus Hollow Maine or the Library of Congress to dig around in the stacks.

9. Education is as it has always been. Any time you place children in proximity with ideas and books and art and music, they have this uncomfortable (for their elders) habit of thinking thoughts you never intended for them to think.

We tend to think original thoughts, despite attempts to indoctrinate us to a single set of values or beliefs. We have an indomitable desire to create that is hard-wired into us.  And our innate free will allows us to choose what we value and belief despite our upbringing.  We can either choose not to be what our fathers were or to be exactly what they were.  These traits of human beings make me hopeful for the world.

And remember, these very traits of humans were what scared Lucifer so badly that he rebelled. He thought God was making a serious mistake to make us the way he did, with unfettered free will. I have to side with God though. I think He did the right thing making us stubborn, resilient and independent like we are. I think there's hope for us - at least those who bother to learn how to use the brains we were given. I think most of us will learn the right lesson in the end, in spite of the best efforts of our teachers to keep the truth from us.

Just one man's opinion

Tom King

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

To Those of You Coping With Depression - From a Loved One's Perspective

In response to a blog post by a colleague with depression:

I read a post today by a well-known business consultant in which he asked his readers to indulge his occasional mention of his bouts of depression and not to try to "help" him with advice when he does it. Essentially his point was that mentioning that he's having symptoms of depression is part of his coping mechanism. He does it so that, if people detect a less than cheery attitude in his work for the day, they might understand and cut him a little slack.

As someone who is relentlessly cheery, I can't say I understand chronic depression from personal experience. I went through a brief bout of it after my son died in 2006. The doc gave me some medication for it, but I quit taking it after two weeks. It didn't help me. The particular medication took away the sadness alright, but it also took away my motivation to get up in the morning and get back to work. Another medication might have worked better for me, but I was able to bounce back without it.

Work, for me, was my medicine for depression. That said, what works for me in no way works for everyone, or for even anything more than a small minority of people suffering from recurring or chronic depression. Everyone's depression is different. It comes from different places. It responds to different sorts of treatments.

I have a couple of loved ones like you with depressive disorders.  Both are up around 9.5 on the Richter scale for Bipolar Disorder if there was such a thing. They experience periods of high energy on the one hand.  One gets massive anxiety attacks and an overpowering urge to clean everything in sight.  The other becomes king of the world and begins planning its conquest.  Next day they may be curled up in a fetal position planning how to commit suicide.

Medications can keep folk with bipolar alive, but as people with depressive disorders soon realize, it may take a couple of years to get your meds right and that's only if you've got a good psychiatrist working with you. It's understandably frustrating for you who have bipolar, because your loved ones so often do exactly the wrong thing in trying to help.   We tell you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you have no bootstraps. We ask you, "Did you take your meds?" and that really makes you mad. We hover over you like you're a bomb fixing to go off and you hate that.  We give you advice when you can't bear to hear it. We pitch remedies at you like a snake-oil salesman.  Worse still we run away when you need us the most to be there.

Please understand that we love you and are only trying to help. It's not an excuse, it's just how it is.  We know you are in pain. We instinctively want to help.  The problem is that your depression and the emotional pain you experience is unique to you. What's happening is that your brain is experiencing random emotions due to the misfiring of neuro-chemicals in your brain. You are then betrayed by the very mental mechanisms that make intelligent thought possible.

Usually there is a precursor to emotions.  You see something. It is either processed by the upper brain, or if it is a familiar thing, it goes straight to the lower brain. Either way, an emotion is created to match that experience you just had.  You laugh if it was funny, cry if it was sad or jump back if it was scary.

What happens to you when you're depressed, anxious or manic is that you experience the emotion first.  The brain goes, "Wait a minute, why am I feeling that?"  Then, like a good brain it goes looking around for the precursor that made you feel that way, just in case you need to do something about it like fight or run away or give it a cookie to make it stop crying.  If it can't find a reason for the emotion you are feeling, it will make one up in order to make sense of the world, because that's what brains do.  The brain is a storyteller. It tells stories so we can make sense of what's happening around us and react appropriately.

Unfortunately, sometimes your mind writes fiction.  Sometimes you feel an emotion, that has no story behind it and so your mind comes up with one to go with how you feel. Your brain basically lies to you. Things that make perfect sense to you in this story make absolutely no sense to people around you. And that's where the disconnect occurs.

And you're absolutely right.  No one understands what you think and feel because no one shares the story your brain has created to explain why you are depressed.  Of course, you may have a perfectly good reason to be depressed.  Who doesn't have things to feel bad about in their lives?  Unfortunately, your mind is working backward from the powerful chemically induced emotion to the event it's seized on as the cause of that emotion and incorrectly makes it worse than it would be otherwise.  A car breakdown goes from being a minor frustration to a full blown, world-shattering tragedy.

Those who love you want to understand.  Because we love you our natural inclination is to want to help.  For years, I've worked from home in order to watch over my loved ones with bipolar. I know they are under terrible stress with the disease.  Between them we've had multiple serious suicide attempts and at least 5 hospitalizations in the past 5 years related to their disorder..

And I admit it. Sometimes I make it worse. I have to be careful to give you guys room to find your own ways of coping. I find that if I'm too "helpful" or try to "talk you out of it", all I succeed in doing most times is making it worse. Sometimes all I can do is bring you a cup of hot tea or an ice cream bar and listen while you talk. Sometimes I take you out to a movie or a restaurant just to get out of the house  for a bit.

But, like you, I had to learn what works and what doesn't for coping with depression. In some ways it's harder for us to know what to do since we can't get inside your head to learn what story is currently rattling around in there in response to your latest depression.  We're just guessing most of the time.  You've learned that if you do tell people what you're thinking, they just want to argue with you and you really can't deal with that, because if you lose the story in your head, then there's no reason for you to feel the way you do and suddenly the world would not make sense and who can handle that. So you don't tell us what you're thinking.  You may share how you're feeling with us, but where problem-solving is concerned, that's backwards. It's effect to cause reasoning and results in the cause being manipulated by your every helpful brain to match the emotion you are feeling for no real reason other than that some chemical is squirting into your bloodstream that shouldn't be at this time.

Having knowledge about what causes depression helps me a bit, but it doesn't give me an instant understanding of what I can do to help.  Every person's depression is different. Every person has a different coping mechanism. I have 28 graduate level college hours in rehabilitation counseling psychology and it still took me years to figure out how to be helpful after the onset of my loved ones' illnesses and I still get it wrong about half the time.

The best thing we can do is listen hard and try to find out what you need for us to do and what you don't want us to do. One big lesson I have learned was that it can be just as important to NOT do certain things as it is to do something to help sometimes.

So on behalf of all those who love someone with a depressive disorder let me offer you people with depressive disorders our collective sympathies as people who love you.  Let me ask your indulgence of our ham-fisted efforts to "help out". You see, we not only have to figure out what you need when you're depressed, but we also have to figure out what we CAN do to help so we don't feel completely useless when you're obviously in pain. It's important for us to feel like we're helping in some way, if it's only to bring you coffee and hold your hand. 

You see, we have our own stories to write in our heads so the world will make sense to us.

I'm just sayin'

Tom King - (c) 2012
Puyallup, WA

Friday, August 17, 2012

Creating an Artist's Village for Folk with Bipolar

Co-Housing Project - Not sure where it's located.but it looks like somewhere I'd like to live.
As some of you may know, I'm looking into a new nonprofit startup - a co-housing project for people with bipolar and those who love them.  As I looked at my family's problem - 3 close relatives with severe bipolar and all on the edge of becoming homeless - I decided it was time to start up my sixth nonprofit organization.

I do that a lot.  When I run up against a problem a lot of people are having that's beyond their ability to solve, I get involved in creating a new organization or program or I run around looking for money to expand something someone is already trying to do.

This particular one hits close to home.  For those of you with a loved one who has bipolar and is in crisis, you know what it's like. Every day you go off to work, you wonder if you'll come home and find your spouse or child still alive or not.  Apparently I'm not the only one.

I got a note today from a guy who's wife thinks about suicide all the time. He loves her, so of course he can't leave her alone and unattended.  He's trying to make a living working at home and struggling. If you've tried it you know how hard it can be to get any real work done. There's always something. 

He's not the first I've heard from.  The families and caregivers of people with bipolar don't know what to do. Most "safe" places take them away from their families so that they feel betrayed and alone. Trying to keep them home without any close supports can be almost impossible. A lot of husbands or wives have had to resort to working from home for the safety of their loved ones.  If they can get disability for them, it's still very hard to make ends meet because the caregiver is hard pressed to find gainful employment without having to risk their loved one's life.

I came up with this idea the way I came up with all the other hare-brained ideas I've got myself involved with.  God only knows if it will work.  I call it the Rainy Day People Cooperative. The idea is to band together as caregivers and people with bipolar disorder to create a a community that works like we need it to.  Low stress, aid and comfort, backup, emergency plans and resources would be things we should build in to it.  It's not apartments.  With bipolar, you need lots of insulation and some airspace between yourself and your neighbors.  Bipolar can get a little loud.  The atmosphere in the community would be restful, calm and relaxing; designed to reduce stress and anxiety.  People in the community would understand how bipolar works and be able to take the odd outburst in stride.  The individual cottages would allow folk to interact with others as much as they were comfortable and retreat into a cozy cocoon when the anxiety becomes too much.  We could harness the creative energy often associated with people who have bipolar and put it to use to benefit the community and the individuals within it. 

Think of it as a retirement/resort/artist community designed to meet the needs of people who climb emotional peaks and slide down valleys as a way of life. Co-housing projects like this can be built anywhere. Most of the residents won't be going off to the office.  Residents can share community hi-speed cable and Internet, create a community website, take classes, do group therapy, gardening, hobbies and host special events.

Isn't it time those of us who have to live with this stuff decided to take control of our own lives. Shouldn't we live somewhere that works for us and isn't built just to make the developer a quick buck.  If we can put this project together it could be a sustainable, soul healing endeavor.  Drop me a note if you'd like to help us figure out how to do this.  My e-mail is .  Let's do this.

Tom King

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Science Fiction's Disturbing Futures

Are we doomed to lose ourselves in the collective?
(c) 2012 by Tom King

There are two basic routes science fiction authors take in developing future utopias/dystopias.

Collectivism/Social Justice/Surrender the Will:

One popular idea is borrowed from Easter Religions like Buddhism and favors an ultimately collectivist penultimate civilization.  This future nirvans take three possible forms - all of them either unlikely or unpalatable.

The first is the "sea of thought" utopia.  This future pictures a world in which, through some machine initiated device all humans are eventually absorbed into a sort of galactic thought-mush where we are vaguely happy being part of the collective consciousness and unhappy should we emerge from the sea of souls to spend even a short time as a lonely individual. I rather prefer being an individual, myself, but then I never saw the point of psychedelic drugs back in the 60s either.

The second collectivist vision is "the machine facist state".  In this cheery scenario, we either become or are replaced by the machines or by vast magical superbrains and all blindly serve the collective. Some believe this will be a machine collective, others an organic one. Either way I want none of it. I've always sort of had a problem with authority anyway.

The third collectivist vision is the most nonsensical - the Star Trek Next Generation universe. In this fantasy, everyone's needs are taken care of somehow - we know not how - and everyone runs around doing his job simply because he or she wants to.  And since their needs are automatically taken care of, they magically become hard-working, creative workers who are fulfilled by their jobs. What these authors portray is the airy socialist nirvana that relies on the myth that ordinary folk just need a certain number of needs met along Maslow's heirarchy to trigger their inner altruism. It's a fantasy which posits a state very like the Christian idea of heaven, but without the bother of having to put up with a pesky God or even the need to submit to some sort of change in nature like conversion or death and rebirth.

It doesn't matter to these cheery optimists that all attempts to create these sorts of workers' paradises have heretofore failed miserably and often violently because inevitably too many people choose to embrace their self-centered wolf-like nature and tend to instead, run about slaughtering all the nice people in order to win power over them all.  Collectivist governments are notoriously vulnerable to megalomaniacs.

Ayn Rand/Hard Capitalist/Free Will:

This vision of the future universe posits either a rough wild-west flavored galaxy like Poul Anderson's Nicholas Van Rinjh Trader to the Stars adventures and Joss Whedon's Firefly or to an alternating descent into self destruction and anarchy followed by a rise to cultural greatness. Usually the no hope stark anarchy dystopias are written by people who favor the magical Star Trek collectivist vision who want to warn people what's in store for them if they don't adopt the collectivist view.  These stories actually should be considered part of the collectivist literary canon as examples of morality tales.  Phillip K. Dick wrote this kind of stufff which even post-modern Hollywood had to cheer up by adding a little mildly happy ending to his dark tales.

Isaac Asimov, something of an intellectual elitist himself, posited a secret society of elite smart people called the Foundation who figure out how to mathematically manipulate history. Even then Asimov, a keen student of history, only allowed his mental supermen to roughly poke and prod history along in a general direction that kept humanity's corrupt leaders from killing too many people in the process. He recognized that human nature tends to overpower central planning in the end.

These more conservative views of the future tend to be held by people with a working knowledge of history and of the ebb and flow between anarchy and regimentation that countries undergo throughout their histories.

The God Is In Charge View:

I favor another view - the idea that there likely is a powerful consciousness, an interdimensional being if you will, who is behind the design and upkeep of this particular universe. I believe He's using the earth as a laboratory in which to grow decent people who have free will, but who choose to reject doing evil because they've seen enough of where that leads.

It makes sense He will aid them in transforming into the people they choose to be and will at some point harvest the product of His vast social experiment, provide them some sort of durable, everlasting housing for their consciousness and then use those trustworthy individuals to create the sort of utopian universe the Trekkies would like to see happen -only without the Borg and where Klingons and Romulans were nice people.

I don't see where that's such a preposterous idea either.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King