25 September 2014

The World of Tomorrow

"So, what do you think of this place?" I asked, leaning back in my chair and not smoking a pipe or anything.

"The bar?" Fred asked.

"Well, sure, but I mean 2014, the present, my time and place," I said. Fred was a foreign exchange student from the future.

"I like it," he said, "though it's hard to believe people used to live like this. We have history books, of course, but it's something else to see it."

"Okay, what are some of the biggest differences between your time and now?" I asked.

"Let's see," he said, "in my time most of the Pacific Northwest is known as the Kingdom of Cascadia. That seems to be a big change from what you have going now."

"We become a kingdom?" I asked.

"Not right away," he said. "After the depression and the war, this region became the Socialist Republic of Cascadia. When that government fell, local governments kept order in some places. The rest was a bit of a mess. The king brought order."

"When will this happen?" I asked.

"I don't think I'm supposed to tell," he said, "but don't plan on collecting social security from the U.S. government."

"Way ahead of you there," I said. "What else?"

"Everyone here has a car," Fred said. "In my time, only the very rich have private automobiles, and they don't burn gasoline. Everyone else walks or rides bicycles everywhere. Horses have made a comeback in the country."

"Do you have any kind of mass transit?" I asked.

"Sure," he said, "in the larger cities. Most people live near their work and their food, though."

"How about population?" I asked. "Is it crowded?"

"In places," he said. "People either live in dense cities, small villages, or the country. No 'McMansions' in the suburbs. The suburbs all died out or became villages in their own right. The overall population is lower than now. We don't have much petroleum-based fertilizer anymore, and long-distance transportation is less feasible. We just don't pull as much out of the fields as you people do."

"Are people religious?" I asked.

"Of course," he said. "The Protestant mainline pretty much went away, so if you're a western Christian in my time, you're probably a Catholic, a Pentecostal, or an independent KJV-onlyist. Cascadia has quite the thriving pagan population, with official denominations and everything."

"Atheists and the like?" I asked.

"A few," he said, "though they've learned to get along. Living closer to the cycle of the harvests has tended to make even the left more religious."

"How do people make a living?" I asked.

"More people work on farms, since heavy equipment is expensive to operate and fuel is scarce. Computers still exist, but we don't produce nearly as much electricity as you people. Offices full of cubicle drones staring at screens all day have mostly gone away. Fast food is pretty much gone, too."

"A university education is getting ridiculously expensive in my time," I said, "while at the same time becoming less valuable. How does the education system look?"

"Most of the universities are gone," Fred said, "and their land has been converted to more productive use. Those that remain have a fairly classic curriculum. Most people don't go; it's all about apprenticeship and on-the-job training."

"So, college is just for the elite again?" I asked.

"In a way," he said, "but don't get the wrong idea. A high school graduate in my time knows more than one of your college graduates, and is far more employable. People learn useful skills at an early age."

We talked through the evening, and I learned a great deal. The future he described was not one I had been taught to expect, but it was an interesting one. As we said farewell, I had one final question.

"You're not worried all of this information will change the future?" I asked.

"You're just posting it on your blog and social media accounts, right?" he asked.

"Yep," I said.

"Yeah, nobody reads those; the future is safe."

So, there you are, dear reader(s). Time for me to learn to plant a garden.

01 September 2014


I spent about two years in Iraq, as some of you know. This is not much compared to many of my comrades, some of whom have added tours in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it was a significant portion of my life. I was just a regular soldier, and I did not perform any great acts of heroism, and no one is likely to make a movie about my wartime experiences.

What I did do, though, was walk the streets and breathe the air. I talked to the people, spent time in their homes, heard their calls to prayer. I rode in vehicles down torn up roads, through deep puddles full of questionable contents, hoping that this was not the time some insurgent pushed a button and sent us all beyond the veil. It happened to friends of mine, good men and true, men who were better soldiers than I.

Even in those days there were debates. Should we have invaded Iraq? Was our cause just? The big picture will be debated for years to come, and it is, to use an Army expression, above my pay grade. Big picture aside, in our little sector of  Baghdad, we had tremendous moral clarity. Our enemies were blowing up children, snatching people from their homes in the middle of the night, beheading people with knives, and attacking their own country's infrastructure. What they were doing was evil, and we, flawed though we may have been, were attempting to counter that evil with good. We were working to bring order when our enemies wanted chaos, we were working to bring security when our enemies wanted terror, we were working to bring peace when our enemies wanted war.

We thought we were making progress, that we were leaving the country better than we found it. The Iraqi police and army were improving, elections were held, and we were moving to an advisory role.

Then this ISIS thing happened. I don't know how it will all end. Perhaps they've had a brief flash of success and then order will be restored. Perhaps the country will break apart with even more death and devastation.

The whole mess troubles me deeply, though not as much as it surely troubles the people who live there. I wonder about the people I talked with and worked alongside. I think of the Iraqi Army soldiers, I think of our interpreters. I remember one interpreter who helped me to my feet after I unheroically tripped and fell during an awkward encounter with AK fire.

I do not know the best way forward, and I do not claim to speak for the U.S. Army or any branch of the U.S. government. I hope and pray that this whole situation has a positive outcome.

Please pray, if you are the praying sort. If these ISIS chaps all meet a violent end, I cannot say I will shed a tear, though I will pray for their souls. May God have mercy on us all.