A Pilgrimage

I recently returned from a trip to the British Isles – England, Scotland, and Ireland. It’s a journey I have long wanted to make, and seeing this desire fulfilled represented an important life goal achieved. Aside from a few pokes along the northern and southern U.S., I hadn’t really traveled outside the country.

The first week I spent in London. Each day was packed with a variety of destinations ranging from ancient churches and museums to the residence of fictional characters and pubs frequented by the Bard or mentioned in a Charles Dickens novel.

The experience was similar to when I visited the East Coast last year, exploring Civil War battlefields and the U.S. capitol.

For those of us who hail from the Pacific Northwest, the concept of heritage and tradition can be hard to grasp. When I was born, Washington hadn’t even been a state for a hundred years. A building that has stood for more than half a century is considered “old,” and structures even younger than that are being demolished and replaced with new ones.

In world history, we are hardly more than newborns.

Compare that to London, which has existed as a settlement since the Romans first invaded Britannia. A London Bridge of one kind or another has stood in the same place for more than a millennia, beginning when centurions built a wooden fixture spanning the Thames. There is little separation between old and new. Modern architecture is adjacent to edifices built when the Anglo-Saxons still sat on the throne of England.

The same can be said for the other parts of Great Britain. That history and continuity is woven into ordinary conversations in a way that you don’t find in my region.

By standing there myself, beholding effigies of Templars or the Forest Charter, a part of me finally accepted that what I read in a book and online, or watched in a film or video, actually happened and involved real people.

A Pilgrimage

Nowhere was this feeling more intense than at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, carved out of the sandstone rock and reputedly the oldest inn in England. It is difficult to describe what it was like to enjoy an English ale in the same place where, according to legend, Richard the Lionheart and his knights drank one final time before setting out on the Third Crusade.

Another thing that struck me through and through was not only how beautiful these churches were, but the incredibly meticulous nature of their design. Every exterior corner it seems is adorned by a statue of some saint or a carving of a biblical scene. Modern buildings exist to strictly serve a utilitarian purpose and look the part. Churches are no exception. However, designers in the past saw their work as achieving something greater than providing a space for people to congregate. There is a distinct character and, one could say, cultural values one can hew from subtleties on display.

Some photos below from London perhaps demonstrate my point.

After a brief stay in Scotland to view Edinburgh Castle and the William Wallace Monument, the rest of the trip was spent touring the southern half of the Irish Republic, where my family on my mother’s side originates. Although driving on the left side of the road was an eerie new skill I had to quickly learn (or didn’t), it took no time getting used to the weather. The rain and green topography was, in many aspects, uncannily similar to that of rural areas just outside Seattle.

A Pilgrimage

I’m well versed in Irish history, but even if I wasn’t, there’s something about the island’s stark beauty that conveys enough poetic tragedy so that one gets the gist of it. Driving along the coast near small towns like Skibbereen, one can sense the sorrows and miseries endured by those who had long gone, either dying from the Famine or fleeing in desperate hope to America.

However, these photos also offer why the people, despite hardship and poverty for centuries, could articulate humor and joy in their music and stories. The scenery is indescribably stunning.

In many ways, the trip was very much a pilgrimage. Not only did I visit ancient churches, but I had the unique opportunity to receive the Eucharist in Westminster Abbey and attend a worship service in the Temple Church, the Knights Templar’s English headquarters in London, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

A Pilgrimage

The service included Reformation hymns sung by the Temple Church Choir. Buried within its walls are men such as William Marshal first Earl of Pembroke and champion of the Magna Carta. I was so moved by what I saw that I made the tribute video below.

The Temple Church – Tribute Video

A video I made after attending a special worship service at the Temple Church in London, the former English headquarters for the Knights Templar. Buried there is an English hero and champion of liberty whose name should be better known among Westerners.

Posted by TJ Martinell on Friday, October 20, 2017

One part of the trip I found intriguing was the power of an author to create a character so real people treat him as thus. The Charles Dickens Museum in the writer’s former residence is only a walk way from the Sherlock Holmes Museum, also found in the detective’s old home.

Except he never lived there, because he wasn’t real. But you would never know that by the way the museum is arranged and how the museum’s staff speak of him. Touring both places in the same day, the rhetoric was indistinguishable. Both were treated like famous London residents. Holmes’ place at 221B Baker Street was chock-full of his “old” things just as Dickens’ was, and with the same attention to detail and accuracy.

A Pilgrimage
Sherlock Holmes’ parlor.

It was a testament to what a writer can accomplish, and the effect they can have over people, to the point where they are so immersed into the narrative they act, even if they don’t actually believe, like the character is flesh and blood as much as they are. It also demonstrates the power of the imagination for both Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the readers who embraced him so enthusiastically they brought him back to life from his literary death in “The Final Problem.”

Making Fact Out of My Fiction

This month, President Obama signed National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. The bill contained provisions from another congressional bill known as the “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act.” One section creates a veritable federal Ministry of Truth within the State Department, known as a “Global Engagement Center” (Pages 551-553).

Its purpose? “To recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interest.”

Translation: To discredit anyone who contradicts the official state-approved version of reality and events.

Some of the Center’s functions include:

  • Monitoring news overseas that undermine the U.S. government narrative.
  • Promoting U.S. propaganda efforts through a grant program.
  •  Funding local journalism outlets to “refute foreign disinformation and manipulation in their own communities.”
  • Creating a “disinformation, misinformation and propaganda” database of unapproved articles and social media content.

It isn’t hard to see how this unconstitutional authority will be misused and abused. Naturally, the center’s director or some other federal bureaucrat decides what is “disinformation” and “fact-based” news. The definition is subjective, not objective.

As always, historian Tom Woods frames the issue perfectly:

Of course, the absurdity of all this should be obvious: who has spread more lies and “fake news” than the U.S. government itself?

Who can outdo our mainstream media when it comes to fake stories they later apologize for because independent journalists and bloggers embarrass them into doing so?

Who spreads more nonsense about U.S. history and economics than our own professors of these subjects?

It’s a truly upside-down world.

Imagine you say or write something the government center decides is “disinformation” or “foreign propaganda.” Imagine you’re targeted by your local media for espousing views the government will now pay them to denounce.

Better yet, what if some reporters and news outlets conclude the government narrative, including the one promoted by other media, is factually incorrect?

If unelected bureaucrats can decide what “disinformation is” and use taxpayer money to attack unapproved news sources, how long before they start separating protected freedom of speech and press from “propaganda” they’re authorized to censor and suppress.

Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge described the political situation well in a recent column:

The scene is now set for the US government to legally crack down on every media outlet that the government deems to be “foreign propaganda.

It is exactly the sort of censorship I depict in my novel, The Stringers. Instead of a Global Engagement Center, the Information Security Administration determines what news is “real” and which is “fake.” Rather than manipulating local journalism through a grant program, all journalists are licensed and the ISA has an officer in every newsroom ensuring the state narrative is protected before any article is published.

When I first started writing The Stringers in 2013, I envisioned the country creating anti-free speech laws under the guise of combating “misinformation,” along with some clever constitutional misinterpretation.

Suffice to say, I never imagined reality would bear so close a resemblance to the story.

If you want to know what your future might look like, pick up a copy of The Stringers, and read tomorrow’s headlines today.

The Life Of Dick Proenneke: What It Means To Be Free

Freedom is a curious word. We use it a lot in conversation without the need to explain or justify why we want it. The desire would appear to be a universal human craving.

However, as an overall concept, it is somewhat subjective.  What does it mean to have freedom, to be free? The answer all depends on who you ask, and their reply indicates their highest values in life.

I recall a passage from the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Captain Nemo tells Professor Aronnax why he loves the sea.

“Independence is possible only here!” he declares. “Here I recognize no master! Here I am free!”

Freedom seems to be the idea that we are in control of lives. We are masters of our own fates. What befalls us, for better or worse, is the result of our behavior, not that of others who impose their will upon us. When we are free, we decide our destinies.

When I think of freedom in that sense, I think of the life of Dick Proenneke. A Navy carpenter and later diesel mechanic, Proenneke left civilization in 1967 at the age of 51 to live near the Upper Twin Lake, located in southern Alaska. Using only hand tools, he built a 10-foot by 12-foot log cabin entirely by himself. The cabin is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Aside from the infrequent family trip, he lived there for 30 years until old age made it impossible. During that period he kept detailed journals about the local weather and filmed his adventures, including the cabin’s construction. The footage was later used to create several documentaries of his life. The most popular by far is Alone in the Wilderness.

Dick Proenneke filming.
Proenneke filming in 1975

It is hard to watch the film and not observe the immense freedom he had despite no electricity or running water. Yes, he relied on friends to bring him some basic supplies, but nature and the elements were his two biggest constraints. Even then, there is a beauty found in the way nature imposes restrictions on man through the seasons.

Other than that, he had few limitations. No one was around to control him or regulate his daily routine. Every morning was a chance to do something different, every day open to new possibilities. His life was devoid of the tedious complications that make so much of modern life feel circumscribed. When he wanted dinner, he walked a few yards to the lake, dropped a line in the water, reeled in a fish, and took it back to his kitchen to cook. He hiked where he wished to hike, explored where he wanted to explore.

It is easy to envy Proenneke, even though most would never choose his austere, isolated lifestyle. For all the technological comforts he denied himself, he still lived on his own terms. I wonder if a lot of people question whether giving up those luxuries is worth the price. How many wished they had done the same upon retirement?

At the same time, it is a moot point for the average person because they could not live the way Proenneke did, if for no other reason than the fact that much of what made his freedom possible was a self-reliance hardly any possess – incidentally, I think this is why anyone who watches his documentaries can’t help but admire him. Building a decent cabin that can withstand harsh weather is no small task, even less so without support. Watch the documentary and observe the ingenuity needed merely to build the front door. He also constructed a separate log cache to house additional supplies and fashioned many of the utensils or tools he needed. If tools broke, he could repair them. If emergencies arose, he could care for himself. He had to, because help would not arrive with a quick phone call and a short drive across town. And he was able to live like this until his eighties when most men could not do so in their prime years.

Which brings up perhaps the most fundamental part of freedom; to be free in any real sense requires ability. You cannot just have freedom as though it were some trophy or object you put on your desk to display. It is a state of being. You must have not only the competence to maintain freedom, but the aptitudes that make it possible to be free in the first place.