Welcome to TAPKAE.com

"I don't see how anyone would want to read it all for fun." —Robert Fripp

Entries in consuming culture (38)

Monday
Feb112013

Getting Smarter with Ting

A Subjective History of Telephony

  • It used to be so simple when I was a kid. There was this big avocado green pod on a hall table with a wheel with holes upon it. An attachment the size of a banana with two tangerines attached to the end of it was to be lifted and placed near the ear when it rang, or while using one's finger to move the dial with holes in it.
  • Some years later the big pod part was dispensed with and the banana with tangerines grew some buttons and flattened out some.
  • Then it turned into something more like a big bar of soap with more buttons. It lost the wires to the wall. That was cool.
  • Then it found a buddy that buzzed with a little number in a little window, telling you to pick up the giant bar of soap device and use it to call someone back.
  • Then the bar became smaller. Some folded. Some slid. Some unfurled flaps with more buttons and screens for talking and sending messages so short that one longed for the old days when a dime would buy three minutes. A lot could be said in three minutes that couldn't be said in just a few words on a screen!
  • Then it all became like NASA's mission control. That's where we're at now.

I'm a bit of a heel dragger when it comes to technology. That might actually make me surprisingly average but it rarely feels like it at the time. It took until 2001 before I got my first computer (I'm on my third now). It took until Kelli and I got engaged in early 2004 before I got us cell phones (by that time, all the work I did in the entertainment industry was behind me for the most part, and that would have been the time to use a cell phone. People kept reminding me so.) Only about a two years ago did I turn on text messaging. (Prior to that I derided it as a far too expensive thing since I did not have a plan nor did I want to pay for one. Finally we found some loopholes.) And now, God help us, we have smart phones. Finally? Already?

Ting

It's not really for the love of fumbling with devices in public. I assure you if it were not for the plan we have just taken on with a new provider, this news would break much later than this. Finally, after observing smart phone data plans for nearly two years, watching the name brand providers and a couple off brands, and yeah, sort of lusting after an iPhone, I happened on a company called Ting that offered the first really unique plan I'd seen so far. It's modularized and open ended. Use as much or as little as you need, and pay according to the increments you arrive at—indpendently measured among data usage, text usage, and voice. Need all voice? Can do. Lots of text, little voice, and modest data? Can do. Just use the stuff and pay according to the brackets you land in, each of the services cut into six brackets. It's not exactly a utility payment, down to the individual minutes and megabytes, but there's no overage, and no real need to feel a payment was given for services not used. How many times have Kelli and I used 350 anytime minutes and paid for 1000? We overpaid for underusing but one thing we NEVER did in nearly nine years with T-Mobster was go over the 1000 minute plan. Not even by a minute. Those rates were punishing. But then of course, we resented paying the same rate for our less chatty months. There was a company called Cingular (absorbed by ATT) that we once looked at years ago, long before the gnaw of smart phones upon our restraint.

Ting is owned by the same company as I've used for a couple years to manage my web domain names (and other sites I've worked on). Hover is a newer name for Tucows. So they didn't just turn up like mushrooms. And Hover has been enjoyable to call upon for help and transparent in their dealings. So I latched on to Ting and was talking them up long ago. Looking at their blog, Ting has been real helpful and reciprocal in helping people learn their model, and even how to do things that skirt their own plans. Compared to T-Mobster, they are fresh air.

Ting offers a referral program. Interested? You get $25 off your choice of phone or that much toward your first bill, and I get a bill credit. Nifty, eh? The link will recognize my name.

T-Mobster

With the old regime, we had some issues regarding two phones we got at the start of 2011 (and a replacement for one) that all went bad in the same way, rendering the things useless because their touch screens fell out of calibration at about four month intervals. It took some wrangling to get replacements for each of us. Kelli was pissed like crazy that they offered me one and not her, when she had the first and second ones go bad and all they did was shrug and tell her to go to Target and get a cheap no-contract phone and stick the SIM card in. Months after she did that, my own device acted up and that's when they crossed her. We finally found one dude who took the time and got two levels into the customer care phone queue and got some permission. But not before Kelli let fly with some choice pronouncements about perceived gender discrimination.

For a while around the months when we moved to Escondido and therefore were in proximity to old stores and new, we kept going in and getting repeated opinions on what could be done. There was enough difference to give us the clue that no one really cared. Or knew. So, getting wise, we began to come in to pay our bills (their website was a real hit-miss deal that kept kicking us off thanks to whatever browser plugins were used for certain modules) and first ask when our contract was over. We'd get different answers most times at different stores. Yep, repeatedly, we'd get to a few different stores and ask the same questions. 

When is our contract over?

When does the early termination fee start to decline and at what pace?

How come these phones require us to sign a two year contract but the devices themselves seem to last about a year or so? And why are we not readily entitled to a replacement if we're still paying for the phone through contract-rate fees?

We Need to Explore Our Options

Yeah. We had to let them have it. Each time, we were licking our chops at the prospect of finally jumping ship. Once we heard about Ting in early 2012, we were ready to go, and that was even before the second and third messed up phones. Could it be? A smartphone plan that didn't automatically cost the two of us over $110 for a shared plan? And no contract? And the ability to use or not use? Hell yeah!

We were tickled once by the prospect of getting our bill reduced by Kelli's two workplaces both having corporate deals for personal plans. T-Mobster did cut us in on that, and that's when we opted to add in the text messaging plan finally. I had also gotten us set up with Google Voice which extends the phone call and text options. Since I am so often at the computer and am not really a big phone call kinda guy, the calls I did make and take could be routed to the computer, through Google Chat. That saved us a lot of airtime and freed Kelli up to use her own phone in the field. (This was before both companies finally provided her with smart phones. Now she has three of the things here!) Because I ported my venerable cell phone number to Google Voice, I was free to change whatever phones it would point to. Kelli has not as of yet done that, so her venerable number is still the default for the phone, and she has a different Google Voice number that she barely uses. But we plan to change that soon so both our venerable numbers will go to GV first and then route to the otherwise anonymous numbers that the phones bear.

Winning the Lottery

 

 

Ting is a new company so they are trying out all sorts of ways to get their name out into the market. They have made some periodic buyout offers so people can get credits equivalent to whatever their early termination fees (ETF) amount to at the old service. Just last month the Ting blog posted there'd be another opening, and they'd cover up to $350/line. We just found ours were $100 a line. Almost worth paying. But I literally set a calendar alert to get me to the Ting site to sign up at 9:01pm (midnight, EST) on February 1 when the contest went live. A good thing too. I got accepted at 9:02. When we checked back at 10:15, the whole allotted $100,000 pool of money had been claimed. Our T-Mobster cycle ends on the 10th. We ordered the two phones (Samsung Transform Ultra) not really knowing much about Android or smartphones but feeling that the refurbished rate of $76 allowed us to get our feet wet in this brave new world. We ordered on Sunday night, the things shipped on Monday morning and when I awoke on Tuesday by around 10, the box was on my very desk. We activated in time to give T-Mobster the kiss off.

Now we get a final bill from the T-Mafia which we present to Ting, and they credit us the $200 to counter the sting of the ETF at T-Mob. It looks like they'll do the lottery again.

 

 

The March of Need

A couple things led me to be interested in a smartphone. One is that I tend to get jobs that are behind the wheel. I've skated by for a long time not really feeling the need. I know San Diego pretty well, but driving jobs aren't only about navigation. There's a bunch of other stuff that went on over at Specialty Produce where things could not be done so efficiently and quickly without the stuff. I never used a smart phone there but it was clear how much they make possible in an industry with goals that change by the season, month, week, day, hour, minute. More recently I've been driving for another vendor, now going to LA for a few routes a month. They are not corporate at all so there's no company phone coming my way. I don't know LA so well and with my position as more of a freelancer, I need to find some of my own answers while on the road. I've also taken to doing overnight trips to do two routes in one shot, but on consecutive days. So I'd be a bit disconnected without such a phone. 

The other reason I am interested in the smart phone is because of my web work. It's hard to think like a mobile device designer if you don't have a device to work with. And even that is but one opinion since there are so many competing designs. But getting to know how people are seeing sites is very instructive. Due to some proximity to do Kelli and her disabilities ministries work wrapping its tendrils around her, even to the point of her being on the website subcommittee, I'm finding those tendrils are reaching out toward me, just so she can do her work. And of particular concern to what her work is about is accessiblity. So I've been learning more about that. All told, the requirements for anyone doing web work these days is expanding in multiple directions.

As for Kelli's usage, her work is amply covered. Each job gave her a phone. But she can't just go modifying and updating it to her liking. So for her, the whole smartphone thing has been a mystery even as she's used two of them for a year or so. But when we do trips out of town, she's taken one and used it for navigation and some hints about local services. But otherwise, she considers it verboten. She's also finding herself doing more church conference work, flying across the nation as a board member and delegate. She's going to Korea this year for a World Council of Churches gathering. Before then there are a few national things to fly to. So she could use some more flexibility to stay in touch. It's a far cry from her letterpress bookmaking and word processor roots in the 90s.

Brave New World: A la Carte, Galore

It's not a mistake that I waited so long to get into this smart phone business. The rate plans always scared me off, but simply enough, there is so much more complexity to heap on. I have taken long enough to be able to use my computer without having major issues, and maybe without major confusion. But I've not wanted to jump onto the learning curve for smart phones. 

Given that I am less than a week in, there are plenty of workarounds and specs that I am trying to comprehend. The amount of options that the Android system introduces is one thing. Adding Ting's unique set of options in makes it more confusing. Adding Google Voice in makes some things real easy and others real odd. 

For example, I learned that Google Voice could be employed to send text messages not just through the Google Chat on the computer, but through the phone too. Doing it that way lets me bypass the SMS part of Ting's menu of options. Free texing? Fine with me. At the same time, placing a call using Google Voice does not bypass the airtime, and does not serve to reduce minutes even when on WiFi. Huh? Okay, I learned that's because GV is basically calling a local landline and that's forwarding to the destination. I learned of a workaround that lets me make calls using Groove IP, a Voice Over Internet (VoIP) app (like Skype) that piggybacks on the Google Voice connection to Google Chat, but only while on WiFi (at home, Starbucks, and anywhere else with an open connection, or a password-secured connection). The calls bypass Ting's accounting of minutes but are counted instead as data. It's an odd way to make a call! The accounting on that must get interesting. Will it be better to just use minutes or data? I can't tell.

The world of apps running in the background, and not being able to visually mind what goes on when I click off an app and into another... that has me puzzled. I know on the desktop, I can just see what's going on. I can get directly at the files I need. Don't need to worry about the meter ticking on data, or when it's time to use 3G or WiFi.

But all in all, once I learn the workarounds, the option is there at Ting to pay reasonably for usage. Their help and support pages are great because there the discussions are had about how to do all this stuff that you'd think they'd want to shut down. But because they are transparent and want to attract people who value that, they participate in the discussions about how to undercut their own plans! How cool is that?

Maybe Kelli and I will begin to intuit when the time is right to go ahead and use voice minutes (there are no night/weekend/same network freebies, so that's different), versus talking over the WiFi. It might be that if our talk had pushed us into a new "bucket," we'd have to pay the next incremented rate. Some of the jumps seem high—if you get caught at 110 minutes and are locked into pay for 500, sure. But that's sort of a license to just talk more, right on up to the 500 minutes, just to say you got your money's worth. If the minutes are counting close to the next level's threshold, then maybe jump over to a VoIP/WiFi trick like Groove IP and talk there for a while, especially if there's good clearance before that part of the package gets tipped over into the next bracket. It's a whole new thing.

The Fun Parts

I've been carrying a camera or a camera phone around since early 2005, so I've already been collecting things and later doing the rather boring task of copying files via USB to the computer, editing pictures in Photoshop, uploading to my site, and finally inserting pictures into my posts or at Facebook. It's pretty clumsy. There has been all sorts of blog material that got shelved because that process just didn't suit me every week I got something new to show. Of course all those snappy observations were perfect Facebook or Tumblr fodder before either of those platforms got dominant. Instagram and Pixlr-O-Matic and others make the sharing a tad more fun by not forcing me to think so much of the tech specs on the picture, and just to get the job done with some style. I look forward to that. Sharing them off to other desinations like Google Drive let me collect them with far less hassle than before.

Having a few musical/audio apps around helps. A guitar tuner I always have with me? Nice. Sound pressure level meter for some idea what my world is like? Handy. A pitch pipe to help me establish any chromatic tone? Yup. A generous and decent quality voice recorder that records to CD quality audio? Kick ass. (With a reservation being that the mic isn't going to be the best, but hey...)

And then there are the obvious benefits of having email along, and all the other cloud services.

But perhaps the greatest thing is having Wikipedia available to settle all those bar bets and needless arguments that people get into.

 

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

My old man and I when I was about seven.Me and the old man, c. 1981

The Making of a Know it All

When I was young, maybe in about 1981 or so, my old man bought a book for me called "The Volume Library." I think it was a rare time when a traveling salesman got an audience at the doorstep of my house. The book was a enormous blue volume of something like 3000 pages and the name in gold text embossed on the cover and binding. For all I knew at the tender age of seven or eight, everything there was to know was in there. It had a good range of topics that were presented encyclopedia style but divided into major groups of topics. It had some cool clear pages with layered images where those would do good, like for anatomical modeling. I never finished reading it but there were some things that attracted a fascination that persisted even after the book faded from novelty status. There were things that I kept reading over and over, or pictures that drew me back.

I haven't seen the book in years, at least since 1996 when I left that house at 22 and in a panic had to leave a lot of stuff behind back at dear ol' dad's place.

The WWW as Liberal Studies

These days, the Web is the place where I direct my curiosity, and it is usually richly rewarded. Wikipedia is the most clear heir to The Volume Library, at least in terms of my ability to go to one place and get at least an introduction to a topic, that will launch me in myriad directions. These days, the world becomes a very big place with the use of hyperlinks drawing me every which way, something that the would leave The Volume Library green with envy. In a period during about 2007-2009, I was fond of hitting the random article button on Wikipedia and getting lost for a few hours, perhaps a few nights a week. While I had my favorite kinds of topics to pursue, the rolling dice method got me out of my comfort zone, and I hit enough articles that they couldn't ALL be the worst ones on Wikipedia. I even edited a few here and there.

The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.

Aside from the insane options that the web offers me solely as a reader, of course the thing that sucks me in is that it is all a two-way street where not only am I consumer but I can be a producer too. And this year marks ten years that I've put my self into the web, making it a place that isn't just "out there" but "in here" too. I was 28 when I got my first website bearing my identity exclusively (this site), and it was a year and a half before that when I was dabbling in such things as mp3.com, the first place my music appeared digitally. (And, interestingly enough, my most throwaway "musical" effort, The Magnificent Meatsticks, was given a higher profile because of mp3.com and some bold move to curry favor with old school rock critic Richard Meltzer [song NSFW] who actually wrote a favorable review because it wasn't formulaic dinosaur rock.) A quarter of my life has been spent online now.

The Web has been a lot of things to me, but I'd be remiss if I were to not say that it really has been a major classroom for my liberal education. Granted, it's not accredited, but the explosion of available information at all levels, and all aspects of life, has been invaluable in a way that I doubt four years of education could touch. Facts and figures alone are valuable, but because the web is fed not by some gatekeeping body that determines what is real knowledge, and what is not, I can get a feel for what life is like at the granular level in someone's own life. The authenticity is unmatched. As you devoted TAPKAE.com readers no doubt see, I have thrown in my lot with that, and still there is plenty I withhold even after the 3000-, 5000- and more word entries here. There is plenty I don't have time to report on, lest I miss living a life in the first place.

A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery "Afternoon In America" for the caption.

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

I didn't go to college except for several semesters of mostly humanities/arts/GE classes at the local community college. The semesters themselves were usually scattered from one another. In the 1991-1993 period I went continuously but part time; in the return period from 2003 onward, there were four more semesters scattered across three years. In some ways, I feel like I've failed myself. In other ways, living itself is a classroom, and the Web has filled in some of the informational gaps. I have consoled myself with knowing there are autodidacts out there like Frank Zappa who have done just fine without going through the education mill. In Frank's unsparing words,

Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.

People in their educated ivory towers will sneer upon sentiments like that, but the view from the outside is just as valid as the view from the inside. When I was 19, 20 in 1993, the cracks in the wall were apparent to me: news reports time and time again were telling us college students were graduating and hoping to win coveted gigs at McDonald's. At the very same time, I was wrestling with an early incarnation of one of my periodic crises of meaning in life. I mean, around that time, I was wrapping up a fourth semester at Mesa College (taking piano and basic musicianship classes, the two classes remaining after I dropped the philosophy class early on), during which I barely spent time at my job at Jack In The Box, due to the crisis of e. coli tainted meat that winter of 1993. I had barely started the job in late December 1992 during my first period of depression and suicidal ideation, only to be laid off for a month or so when the contamination scare hit the news. After returning, I was feeling hopelessly unable to bear with such a job and gracefully bowed out after one troubled week. Ironic, considering it seemed to be what more and more college graduates were left with as a viable option. Oh well. Let them have that shit. My heart led me elsewhere.

I took what I thought would be a semester or maybe one year off from Mesa College and then found that ten years later, during another crisis in life, I'd start up again. But let me not get ahead of myself. I've got thousands of more words for you.

Me at my slick drumset, 1993, outside in a concrete parking lot at an office park.Quite possibly taken on the same day as I am narrating in this post. I only recall being to this place once.

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

In 1993 there was no World Wide Web. Not for me at least. That was the domain of the geeks and engineers with pocket protectors in the world I just checked out of. It'd be another two years before I saw the first email address in print. That summer, I was out with Matt Zuniga, doing some drumming and screaming out in a parking garage in Kearny Mesa. It was a hot June day about a month after my semester ended. I just got a job at Subway, which for some reason, I felt far more at ease with than at Jack In The Box. I don't know why that is, but it was so, even after the drama at another store one year before. I was having the first itches to do something that felt self-determined. I didn't know what. I thought of geographic moves but I couldn't determine where I'd like to go. I thought of stepping up the kinds of things we did as Rhythmic Catharsis but was aware that Matt thought all we did was silly and just a way to blow off steam. I thought of a few things. But my kryptonite stopped me.

It's a cloud I live under. Fighting back the feelings of futility and the depression that usually accompanies it is hard, and is breaking through it harder still. The latter happens at times and sustains itself for a while. And then something changes and the parted waters of futility come crashing back at me, and I get swept up in it all for a while, then get somehow dropped on another shore in life. In more recent years, I've accepted that there are spiritual growth lessons involved in all this and usually see the sense to it in hindsight, particularly if I was able to extract a kernel of lesson material in the midst of the chaos.

I spent my early online years not adding much but noise and dissonance to the Web commons. If I could, I'd erase nearly everything from 2000-2003. Of course, Google has its mitts on it and all are free to read it if one knows all the aliases I used during those years. I am willing to own it. In 2004, realizing self-criticism was perhaps more called for than criticism of others in certain real and virtual social circles where I operated, I turned more inward and backed out of most of the online boards and social forums where I had earned a name as a troll — or worse. At the same time, emerging from the nearly deadly depression of 2003, the world was shown anew to me in such a way that enlarged me again, putting my problems in a larger context that had first been shocking and disorienting, but then later paved the way for further development.

Route 66 Gas stationOne of several shots I took during the EONSNOW era of 2005, showing "independent" gas stations that appeared where name brand locations were closing down. All the names had some kind of nostalgic quality to them, evoking the good old days of automotive freedom, etc.

When I heard about peak oil in 2004, it was still a pretty esoteric, out of the way means of understanding the world's dilemmas, and one that few gravitated toward. Less than the particulars of how much oil is or isn't available, the reading I did brought me to grips with the big questions of ultimate meaning in life, but first by mercilessly promising to remove the comfortable life I anticipated I'd lead as a citizen of the empire. It all appeared on my radar in the same season as I got married at the age of 30. In fact, on the altar that special day, I had in my mind that the future could not possibly be what everyone was telling me it would be. Peak oil, which I still believe to be a valid shaper of macroeconomic reality, is something that forced me to see myself differently, relative to the world. It was a good bit of humble pie to munch upon prior to wedding day. It disabused me of certain expectations from married life and got me on a firmer ground of reality. In that way, the debate of whether peak oil is real or not is immaterial to me.

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

The year or so after the wedding was given to a lot of reading on the topic, several blogs that showed the emerging consciousness I was breaking into, and then for a while, doing some film showings to share what I had learned. A site I launched, EONSNOW.org (long since deleted), was an intersection of those interests with my ability to do websites. I was able to ape other people's words and sentiments, but the inner work was not done yet. I knew the topics well enough but they were in my head, and nowhere else. Eventually, in early 2006 I dropped out of all the EONSNOW stuff and found that another group was able to take me deeper into those concerns, and with a kind of language that took some learning but that did a better of job of showing how deeply rooted our modern dilemma is. I'm talking of course of Jubilee Economics Ministries, JEM.

Jubilee Economics Ministries

For a season in mid 2006 I met with Lee Van Ham of JEM and read a book he gave me, The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life. It was uncompromising in its assessment of how modern economics are rigged against the poor in the Southern Hemisphere, and those "developing" countries outside the Western world. And it was fiercely faithful to the prophetic tradition in the Bible, a tradition that is best epitomized by the life of Jesus. It wasn't just spiritual fluff and it wasn't capitalist propaganda either. It was written by Ross and Gloria Kinsler, lifelong missionaries who saw the reality in Latin America, and who have dedicated their lives to helping the folks in those countries by giving them the theological tools that are needed to resist the neoliberal economics juggernaut that has displaced so many people and upset traditional ways, all so the industrial world can make and sell more stuff. It was really a life changing book, and one in which I saw my own struggle with a landlord father who made decisions for my life that didn't include me. That year, the macro of the world's issues and the micro of my issues were found to be related and in some ways, overlapping significantly. As I've heard it said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." EONSNOW was my own attempt to make sense of this new understanding of things but it was limited in depth and as those types of topics can be rather doom-laden, sometimes it left more shade than light. Masked knowledge does that. Then, feeling like I had little else to add to the discussion, I called Lee in early 2006.

Lee Van Ham unwittingly became a spiritual father figure to me that year and since. Being a retired pastor helped justify calling him that, but I never knew him as a pastor. I did know him as a person who offered a frank and transparent account of his own struggle with the big issues, and more than others who preceded him in my peak oil related wanderings, he was looking for some way to live hopefully in the face of what is a tremendous challenge: living with the realization that this way of life we live is unsustainable and one day not far from now, will be untenable and will ultimately fail. My peak oil explorations suggested that was not far off, and certainly my lifetime will be the transition period. Lee paved the way for me to understand the Bible in a whole new way, with an eye to the economic themes that permeate it. He's been a great interpreter in that way, and he always surprises me at how he can take familiar texts that made no sense, and turn them into something that explains not just the text, but how the world works. Pretty remarkable.

So of course I wanted to be near that. A few years later, upon encountering Fr. Richard Rohr's teachings about fathers and male spirituality, I had the language for how I saw Lee: he was the spiritual father that emerged when my old man's role in my life came to an end, and when he could not lead me where I needed to go, Lee happened onto the scene as if it were a shift change at Jack In The Box. For the years from about 2007-2009, I met with him periodically, emailed, and if there was a JEM event or course, I went. But it was a bit less than in 2006. In late 2009, once I moved to North Park, one mile from his office, I offered to volunteer at the office for four hours a month doing rather mundane stuff so that Lee might have more time to be the visionary at JEM, with a bit less of the boring office work. At least I'd be able to talk in person some and keep the JEM consciousness alive in my life. As we spent some hours together that December, we got to talking media options, and he again asked me if I had ideas for the JEM website.

Pod-What???

It's always hard being diplomatic in those circumstances. I had sort of avoided talking about it thus far because I knew that it was done by Kyle, a volunteer, in earnest, but that Kyle was not really a web guy. And since everyone is a volunteer, I just accepted it was what it was, and maybe that's all they wanted it to be. The ante was upped however in early 2010 because a disappointing rejection letter arrived that announced that there'd be no funding for a DVD project that Lee was interested in putting together. Amid a flurry of brainstormed options, I suggested this thing called podcasting. I knew enough to describe it, but that was all. It seemed Lee had ever unfolding ideas that grew and grew and took explanation. He was a pastor, someone who did a lot of public speaking for inspiration and persuasion. Podcasting was something that I, as an erstwhile studio operator, was able to make happen so that his distinct voice and passion would register as it was meant to be heard. I didn't know about the web part of podcasting aside from a basic test I had done a few years before, but that would follow. We could come up with a plan for delivering sustained content, right?

Lee had never heard of it. When I tell the story, I usually mention that he said something like "pod-WHAT?" It's not much of an exaggeration. I explained it would take a commitment because of the episodic nature of the format. We drafted a list of how we might fill 15 or so episodes and decided there would be stuff to talk about for a while to come.

Lee and Kyle, being older fellows in their 60s then (and Lee in his early 70s now), were not natively immersed in this kind of stuff, so I found myself having to translate a language I was barely able to learn as I went. I think I confused them both more than I should have. As I produced a demo of the show, it became apparent that the web structure that JEM would need was far beyond the plain HTML site Kyle had curated for some years. So I got drawn into that. I first tried to get the XML feed happening there then thought it easier to redo the entire site in Wordpress. I started the transfer and then heard about Squarespace. And, since the idea was for me to turn it back over to them, it made more sense. Squarespace's interface is simpler and the site maintenance was taken care of since it is a paid service. I was burning out on Wordpress for my own site and welcomed the simple approach of Squarespace, knowing the guys would prefer such a straightforward platform. When the podcast had three episodes recorded and edited, I finally got the feed to be accepted at iTunes on the first try using the default Squarespace feed, and was relieved in a huge way. Previous submissions using a small XML authoring program were not accepted at iTunes even after five tries. So about two years ago now, we were all babes in the woods. Lee and I did podcasts together for four real episodes, and then detoured for a one off video episode giving a progress report on the new web developments. Then we got into interviewing guests. As of this writing, we're 27 episodes strong.

Media Not Just About Me

That same summer, I was fresh out of my male initiation experience in Arizona and at that life changing week, I found myself talking to another Lee, closer to my age, who was a great conversation partner in my struggle with digital media and the techno-treadmill. At the time, I had barely started the podcasts and sort of saw that I'd be drawn in to more digital life after letting my digital publishing interests fade for a few years. In the mean time, browsers were decaying, and I was enjoying nearly a year of being the facilitator of the young adults group at church. I was often heard to celebrate the in-person nature of that group, and was dismissive of social media. I was reporting all this to Lee the younger in the desert, and since then I've never talked to him again by any means. I guess he was meant to be one of those pivot people that you meet once and have your life changed, and that's all there is to it.

What emerged was a feeling that my new online work would be for others. It felt like a logical stage, building upon the stages that came before: self-interested young musician with a CD to sell; disruptive troll; reborn student of life and world issues but with a preachy tone; blogger who faded from all that into a period of self-reflection and some discernment; and then it seemed it was time to take all those experiences and insights back to the web. This time, the purpose would be to build community around a big idea — one that isn't even mine. In some ways, doing the JEM site work and the podcasting is not too different than what I did for my church in Pacific Beach; there too I recorded the messages of a pastor who had very keen world-aware insights, and then used a website to publish the audio. Without the XML feed, it was what I've come to call "proto podcasting" — delivering the same kind of content but without the subscription model.

Screen shot of a recording within Logic ProApple's Logic Pro where I did a lot of podcast episodes.

Doing the work far exceeded the four hours a month I anticipated giving to JEM. In some ways that was cheap of me anyway, considering the gift of life-changing, paradigm-shifting knowledge they had already opened up for me. So I accepted that my time was to be given freely to do what I could to multiply the effort and amplify the message. And then of course, to be doing so many things meant that for the first time in a few years, I was doing web publishing again, at a more elevated profile than before, and that would be resume fodder. Squarespace paved the way for me to be more creative with the visual aspects than I had been for years. It also gave me a platform where I could not break too much of the site at once. But by far the biggest new thing was all the social media options.

Social Media Quicksand

Now, THAT is the time suck. Editing a podcast episode takes too long and my method might be a bit heavy handed, but it comes to an end and the show gets released on time every month. Social media of course knows and respects no boundaries, it seems. And I didn't know anything about it all. I grudgingly entered Facebook for the second time in July 2010 so I could help launch JEM's page. I got on Twitter too. I had no idea about best practices or any of that. Even after so many years of using a blog for these long journals, I didn't really know how to use the format for actually moving messages. Somehow, early on I got onto a different track and only when I started to help JEM did I realize how far my approach diverged from what would be beneficial for a nonprofit org. The social media layer too was something that I feel I entered into without a clue, and sometimes, like today, feel that I still have no clue, if I am to gauge by the interaction I get on pages I manage. (I know there's probably some Human Resources person reading this bit of self-sabotage as they try to disqualify me, ready to toss my resume in the e-trash. Do it if you must. I'm self-sabotaging for a purpose anyway. I'm weeding you out just like you weed me out. I'm preemptively slamming the doors shut that I have no business walking through in the first place. More later.)

Kyrptonite

Here's where the kryptonite comes in again. I have done so many hours of volunteer work and reached into so many aspects of webmastering I never thought I'd encounter. But when it comes time to look for a job, a real job, and one that perhaps would let me finally put to use this kind of interest and that would help develop it, I freeze. I totally freeze in my tracks. When I read an ad on Craigslist and some nameless place wants a "designer" or "coder" I immediately know I am neither. In some ways I am more than both, and in others, less than either. Ditto for "social media expert" or "SEO expert." I've done ALL those things to some degree but not well. Having departed the world of Wordpress for the most part, I've gotten a bit far from that platform which by all appearances, was kind of a step backward away from the most commercially viable web platform out there. I just know that when I used it (and I did for about four years), I was scared out of doing my own web work, not knowing my way around editing the templates, or feeling hopelessly lost in database related work, updates, and actually losing data. In some ways, it was easier to justify driving trucks for a living. When looking for work now, like I have for the last year and one half (as of this week), I can't square with the lists of requests for this skill or that. I hate selling myself, so I sell myself short. Maybe. I've learned a lot of things on my own, but it's not been prep for any job, even the few internships that I've applied to — situations where I'd work for too cheap so I can prove myself worthy of MAYBE working for cheap. It seems like people have to be formed nearly completely for a fucking internship. How the hell?

I hate resumes with a passion. I have several. I've tried chronological resumes. I've tried functional resumes. I've tried the cute online resumes where I plug in my credentials and it looks like a hip designer did it (and yes, I realize that doesn't reflect well on my own skills in the field). But if I am to be somewhat complete, it gets weird and confusing for HR people, I guess. Maybe they work from some formula that doesn't let them parse how a guy with audio/staging experience, senior social service experience, web and audio production experience, and non profit experience could possibly get a job at their place, even if it was straight down the line what they're asking for. I am torn. I can't tell if I'm completely free or boxed in. And I guess if I don't know after all these years, no one else will, either.

What I really need is for my work with JEM and its related entities to pay somehow. It's hard to swing it though; JEM operates on a budget less than $10,000 a year anyway, and everyone is a volunteer. If anything, I'm holding on to a vague idea that someone will take notice of the stuff I've done and somehow change the picture. It's probably a lost cause hoping for that. If anything, the numbers have seen a downward trend during the recessionary years, just like other major orgs have seen. JEM lives according to the graceful delivery of Manna from Heaven each year. So the next hope is that someone who sees what I do will have some paying opportunities on other projects. But it's hard to justify that since I know that all the stuff I have done with JEM is more of a meandering, creative process that has taken hundreds or thousands of hours, and that even when reduced to 10% of that would be more than most people want to pay to get a site launched at so many dollars per hour. Since I never "designed" the JEM web presence as it appears now, it's hard to put a price tag on it when talking to people about their prospective projects. Not being a very good salesperson, and not being a good business person, I have a history of being rather trampled in the projects I've taken on. I hate to admit it, Ms. HR Manager, but I sort of suck at that. 

my name is on the in/out board at work. Big whooptie fucking doo!My name on the sign at AE Scantech while I was the shipping manager.

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

And that's why I keep looking at "dumb" jobs like driving. Ones that start at one time and end at another and have a record of paying the bills for six, twelve, or even eighteen months at a time. Within a few hours or days of my toil, I get paid. Fair enough. It is a safe feeling after having done always-on-call freelance audio work that paid erratically, or after trying my hand in 2002-2003 at studio recording or web work, none of which ever paid off much more than guitar strings or drum heads! To find a job where I punch the clock is both a breath of fresh air and a kick in the balls. I say that because the kick in the balls part of it means that to hold those jobs, my soul is sucked from me, my generative capacity to be creative put in jeopardy, and my energy usually sapped. During the period at AE Scantech, it was coincident with my breaking up with my church. In the six months or so that I worked there, I did little else at home but for gardening and web surfing. I was out of church all but the first few weeks there and for a couple months afterward. And with that, a lot of social life was lost. AV Concepts before it was dismal, being loaded up with the drama and pain surrounding the forced move from my home, and the fact they laid me off after their scheduling needs clashed with my need to get my head straight in the wake of eviction. The eviction stress on Kelli and I was great, and then she started school about the same time, on a commuting basis that took her away for three days/two nights every week.

Ten potato bags broke open this day in the big truck. What hell.While I could demonstrate mastery over the roads and destinations, it's harder to master a wet potato bag that opens up and dumps its load all over the truck and ground. Ten such bags are harder still to master.

Specialty Produce was better because eventually I was able to strike a balance between the daily work and the spiritual-social life at church and elsewhere, but in the early days, I dreaded the prospect of their ability to command up to 16 hours of my day for about 27 days a month. Somehow, every day after the fourth day there (in January 2008 when I called in sick with a wicked flu and was nearly fired for it) was a miracle. And that it lasted for one week short of three years was stupendously miraculous. And when they did let me go, it was probably again for the matter of scheduling and my need for boundaries so this work doesn't totally suck the life out of me.

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

You see, a major lesson that Lee taught me by the words of the Kinslers and by his own example was that of Sabbath. The short form of the lesson is that Sabbath is a resistive measure against endless work, a hedge against being subsumed in the system. Yet for someone like me who tends to dive fairly deeply into things I enjoy for prolonged spells, it's hard to set up the boundaries. It was like that with building plastic models as a teen. Same for drumming which replaced it in high school. And more so when out of school and left to explore music more fully for some years at Hog Heaven. And now it seems that there's been two years or more of going full-tilt at web work, even for the organization that preaches the message of resisting the demands of the work world, the needs of the Market.

Meanwhile, the opposite is true in the "real" work life. I have to have my boundaries so I don't get drawn into the undertow. And I suppose it has cost me a few jobs now. It isn't coincidental those jobs come to an end. I am not putting all my energy into them. At least, not my soul's energy. I shouldn't be there, and after a while that becomes apparent. A favorite book of mine, Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, has gotten a few readings in recent years, and there I learned that I have to admit the failure of these jobs to "stick" reflects the honest fact that I don't belong there, and that while there are lessons offered in each experience, they are all pointers toward something else, even if the process is a subtractive one marked by failure, discontent, hurt, and all that. As Palmer says from his Quaker upbringing and their keen sense of vocational discernment, "way opens and way closes."

These days, my days are spent with a lot of work that would be handsomely rewarded if I were on some company roster somewhere. It's impossible to say where things start and end because really my mind is one scattered mess with my computer screen indicating graphically a fraction of what's on my mind. I'm rather at wit's end now. Sitting down at TAPKAE.com and writing out several thousand words that no one actually reads is somehow my reward for all this. Don't ask. It's about the only thing that seems to get done in a contiguous block most of the time I sit down to do it. But all the rest of the time, I am nearly lost in browser tabs; email windows for my own stuff, JEM's, and sometimes other accounts; maybe recording/editing a podcast episode; tutoring Lee or Gerald (a newcomer to JEM's media world) via chat or Skype, or hammering out long emails or Google Docs in the same manner; maybe trying to take in a podcast or some iTunes music; often trying to keep up with social media stuff, including a number of RSS feeds that help confuse or deliver me to new prospects; and then there's certainly doing JEM web stuff like proofreading and cleaning pasted-in entries of the digital junk that accompanies that process. Oh, and a periodic revamp of the entire site to help integrate things I've learned along the way and want to implement. They're cool enough to let me play with it that way. They realize it's for the good.

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

And then I have to try to wedge in the legitmate job search, which to me is rather like practicing bleeding. To even fire up the Craigslist tab is a task I utterly dread. To decide to click on "nonprofit jobs" and search through things I am not qualified for because I have no degree, or that are just obviously insanely high turnover positions like political campaigning — it's depressing, though periodically something seems to fit. But really, do I want to do a part time, socially beneficial job helping seniors for $8 an hour for three hours a day every third day but split into two shifts from 7-8 in the morning and 4-6 at night?

Someone's work van stopped too close to the railroad tracks and the boom came down on it.This is the kind of absent mindedness that can plague a person in an unsatisfying work position. This is not me though.

The next category to be searched is usually "transportation" which is a tad more promising for actual living wage earning, but gets me downright depressed. I mean, really. I've done three jobs that were nearly exclusively defined by driving. I am good at it. I rank well. But let's face it... it is not anywhere near where my real interests or passions lead. I can do these things mechanically but not with any real feeling. I don't belong there. After a while, that becomes evident to all.

Next category, a step down from that, is "customer service" which usually cues me to get up and take a piss and stare at the mirror for a while in disgust of what I see. Who the fuck is it that is about to open up the ads and apply for some fucking barista job? Or for some other equally pointless job? It certainly isn't the Me I feel I am. Maybe some temporary inhabitant of my physical shell, but an alien to my soul. This character should be eradicated. Tarred and feathered, and chased out of town! What a disgrace. The movie Clerks is not just cinema for me.

Following that, I might start to check in the various Craigslist categories that might include web and media work. Believe it or not, this is what I am actually er, trained in, or have some experience in, and when the terms are favorable, actually enjoy. But because there is a gulf between the experience I have and the requirements they list, I cower. I run. It's time for another break, already. Time to get a drink. In Escondido, I hope for a beer to take the edge off. But fresh squeezed lemonade would help. Let me go pick some lemons. Oh...that reminds me, the dog shit needs to be picked up in the front yard. Let me think this out. How would my resume go? Should I write that email? Has Lee or Gerald responded in a state of greater confusion about the chat we had? Oy!!! Anything but looking at Craigslist will do for now. They want a UX/UI expert. They want Wordpress. They want SEO mastery. They want a portfolio. What am I to do? Prepare a resume for a place that I am clearly no fit for? Time to get back to doing what I at least pretend I do well. At least in JEM I'm a big fish and people seem to value it. It just doesn't pay. I don't like it much, but I like it more: picking up dog shit is somehow able to give me a sense of accomplishment.

Other Craigslist categories come to mind, and feeling like I need to relax and open up some, I look at others, including some of the off the wall stuff in the Gigs. I did find a one off audio editing job last week that I was extremely well qualified for, even though I had never done audio book editing. All those years cutting sermons and podcasts got me $212.50 for eight hours' work — $25 an hour which is adequate considering it's simple timeline bushwhacking with no real thought put into it. Woo Hoo! The mind has to wonder what that pay rate would have done for me during those church sermons and podcast programs which are edited even more completely. $212.50. But that's gone with two household bills. Back to that job I passed over in the Transport ads... but can I really see myself as a fucking tow truck driver?

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

Today I was doing some of the routine chat talk with Lee and Gerald—guys I like and respect for their lifestyles and experience—and I was cracking as I was trying to negotiate redesigning the podcast's programming in the light of Gerald being a new creative partner in it all. But despite his background in public radio, church music and therefore church life, and PR and other things of interest, he still takes a lot of tutoring at new technologies and blogging. His message is impeccable and urgent and excites the part of me that set out to do EONSNOW in 2005, but his delivery will take some work in this new media world. But as I dive more and more into web stuff, I am confronted with a vast insecurity complex — kryptonite again. The more I read about best practices in podcasting, social media, blogging (all the stuff I like most about being online), the more I feel like I miss the mark, and that my own methods have perhaps worked against JEM more than for them. I could be woefully wrong, but that's the feeling. Even direct questions at Facebook do not elicit the answers or the participation. My pact with myself was that this new era of web involvement was to be for building web community has been met with a realization that I don't seem to accomplish that too well. JEM's ideas are not my own ideas. I see myself as a conduit through which Lee's or Gerald's ideas pass. That seemed like a better deal to make than in the days of EONSNOW when my ideas were naive and perhaps a bit vitriolic. In JEM, I do about the same thing as I set out to do with EONSNOW, except the ideas I move are those of others who have about twice as much life experience and authority as I have. And more education.

Magazine cover for school project. Dreadful.A mock magazine cover for an assignment in Quark. One of the insanely dumb things I did while at Art Institute of CA in 2001-2002. Totally worthless.

We Don't Need No Education

But I don't beat myself up about the education thing too much. I'm sure there are plenty of you HR people out there who are trashing my resume because it doesn't reflect my ability to put up with the rat race and hurdle jumping path of the education mills and their methods for teaching me next to worthless shit at considerable expense that will follow me for a decade to come. But let's remember, I didn't hear about peak oil at school. I didn't learn about the global economic picture's grave injustices from school. Nearly all my current web publishing knowledge did not come from a school (and the stuff that I did pay $6,600 for was essentially worthless even as it was flowing from the instructors' mouths). I did not learn how to befriend a homebound senior citizen at school. I did not learn how to podcast at school. I did not learn how to cook for my wife at school. I did not learn how to appreciate the Easter tree near Julian, CA in school. And I sure as fuck don't miss the debt that I would have racked up at school. I don't miss it in the same way that I don't miss ever making a car payment in my life.

The irony is, even to this day, I have a tenth grade worksheet that indicates I did learn about population dieoff back in the spring of 1989 at the education mill at 4899 Doliva Dr. in San Diego. But who was poised to tell me that it would apply not just to bacteria in petrie dishes and bunnies in Australia, and instead to all of humanity and the lifestyle I live? Okay, score one for the education mill, but it was up to me scouring the Web and serendipitously meeting wise people who could explain what it means when humanity finally ate all the sugar in the dish and is bound to dieoff because it's going to drown in its own shit. No class discussion on that one.

Sign for a thanksgiving day race to feed the hungry.A sign that I caption as "burning too many calories to help those who have too few," a form of misguided charity toward those with less.

Why Me, Why Now?

With an awareness like that, it's hard to wake up in the morning and go through the pretty mindless pursuits of going to work, or even looking for work. And it's a mind-scattering thing to have to play that game enough while getting some money from the state, all the while knowing that 99.99% of what I could locate in Craigslist is stuff that I am not called to do at any deep level. I might be an undereducated, polemic-writing, failure of a social media manager, but I wake up in the morning more enlightened than some who have dizzying amounts of education and a full alphabet following their given names. I wake up and often have the question on my mind, "why me? why now?" I live in the awareness that I am a part of the problem too, and that most days, I can't turn off the awareness that I am caught in a lie: either to be part of the system, or to pretend that I am not part of the system, but to work dilligently at exposing it. It's paralyzing, yes. It's a moral quandary deciding to use the tools of the empire to bring the empire to truth. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future, that there is no good technology without a dark side. (I didn't learn that in school, see?) It's a tragic bind to realize the computer is both a major part of the problem and a vital part of some solution. Or to realize that rationalizing that is total bullshit too. When you wake up in the morning and know humanity is headed for a brick wall at full speed, it almost doesn't matter what you do, or how loud you wail in Cassandra's shrill tones.

A poster I made in 2004 with iconic image of Dubya saluting like a Nazi with a caption that declares dictatorships are good as long as he's the dictatorSome of Dubya's statements were unusually candid for those who operate the reins of power. In 2004 I thought it was a slam dunk that he'd be beaten. Shows what I know. But this and other posters contributed to the "war effort" against him.

When you are enlightened in such a way, you look at the world's issues with different eyes. There are more educated humans alive today, but less educated humanity. Do you suppose that there is a correlation between the sheer amount of university level education — unlocking the secrets of the world, the planet, the universe, even — and the problem all humanity is faced with today? Was there a time when humanity ever faced extinction, and the biosphere with it? Did such a time ever really happen before we got educated? Not only are the education mills rather dumb pursuits as Frank Zappa said, but it appears that they are outright dangerous, at least without the balancing effect of a deep spirituality that can reconnect what compartmentalized education breaks apart methodically.

Funny, the record shows that a young and cocky, uneducated but insightful wandering preacher 2000 years ago rocked the foundations of history and the course of the world. It wasn't because he was university educated. The irony was that by adopting the religion that bore his name as the state religion, the state ended up imploding upon itself. That fire was too hot to handle, even for the mightiest power the world had known to that point. And so it will be once more. And again. And then again after that. Score one for the uneducated masses who don't know enough to break the world.

The Test Came Before the Lessons

Did the 19 year old Jack In The Box worker bee have this insight in 1993? Not a chance. Did I know what I was hoping to accomplish when I decided my time at Mesa College was spinning my wheels for no discernable reason, and left for a year that became ten? Hell no. Did I know that the abortion my girlfriend had not too long after that fateful decision to leave school had would shape my geo-political perspective that says that having children in the Western/Industrialized world is contributing to the crisis? Of course not. Did I realize that heart-rending night when she and I were hours from breaking off an engagement to be married that I stepped off the bus going to a place I have no business arriving at? I was just working from the hunch in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, by evasive tactics, laziness, fear, loss, or other things, I've arrived where I am. But you see, where I am, what I know, and what I do is about as valid as anyone else's claims to same. Sure, my spell at reading endless Wikipedia entries during 2007-2008 is not a college degree, but it didn't do harm. It's not valid by one measure but is completely valid by another. Education comes in all forms, and I have Fr. Rohr to thank for that teaching, at least in that he was the first to make that thought stick. And, as a blurb on my site's sidebar now says, "we may misunderstand but we do not misexperience." Another tidbit that I'm pretty certain emerged from Rohr's teachings over these last three years was that "something isn't true until you yourself experience it." In September 2003 while I was in a residential therapy center for a week and a half getting my head straight after the single most devastating depression I have had (on the eve of turning 30, and just under one year before I got married), my experience was validated by a really cool therapist who walked me through all that. I still have the Oscar Wilde quote he wrote for me, "Life is the toughest teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson later."

A liberal education is given in all manner of class rooms, board rooms, chat rooms, and even bed rooms. But maybe one thing I look at differently is that eventually that kind of education puts the world back together into a whole, whereas the education mill likes to take things apart and to constantly divide reality. It's not to say that kind of education will permanently damage a person, but it will certainly take some para-scholastic experience to round out the person, and yes, it could easily delay the progress toward a rounded humanity. Life happens just as surely with someone who got their worthless piece of paper as it has to me, but sometimes the mind is shaped in such a way in the education mill that causes resistance to this other equally valid way of learning, or a sense of mistrust of it. And it isn't without consequence; life is not facts and figures alone, and the people who think that it is tend to also be ones motivated to move into positions of influence and power, who shape political, economic, and thought at the macro level.

When I work in the context of JEM, I am able to operate in a space where the large world issues and my own experiences are not dismissed, but looking at them with some responsible attitude is encouraged. I get to be creative and functional in a place where the incomplete and mixed up me is somehow an asset. Having the scattered experience and interests I have has served to make me more qualified in that setting, not less. It isn't that JEM is a pleasure dome I wish not to escape. I pull my hair out some days in the effort to pull rabbits out of hats there. But the work, while not always feeling like it's firing on all cylinders, does not feel pointless like delivering architectural plans a year after I was showing The End of Suburbia and shrieking like Cassandra about all that. I knew I sold myself out getting that job, but I needed something. At least after that job I waited out the temptation to take a job at a car dealership as a parts driver.

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

Indulge me a bit of Walter Wink-inspired thoughts on naming and unmasking the powers. And pardon me as I vent several years of frustration in the workplace. The Human Resources staff professional will be my pinata for the occasion.

So there you are, Madam HR executive in a cute little suit and high heels, bespectacled in cute little fake horn rimmed glasses and sporting that little tiny pony tail or bun with highlighted streaks that you corporate types seem to wear, evaluating whether I am fit for your widget wrangling position on the shop floor. Totally unfit. I'm not what you're looking for. In fact, throw that resume out but be sure to recycle it. Oh? It hit the bin long before I finished that sentence? The email delete button is a wonderful thing? What power you hold with that button! Maybe there's a thousand of me sending resumes in and you're there not only canning me prematurely but also looking to see who among your employees are worthy of being fired because they are looking for other work, and they just happen to have sent their resume into your inbox, unwittingly signing their own pink slip, or at least inviting scrutiny about their loyalty. Is this what all that education has done for the world? Given you the ability to pan hundreds of people from livelihoods without even so much as a polite response or a chance at a human encounter? Given you a place of power to cut people out of jobs while you hang out with your iPhone wielding friends, sipping fucking martinis in the fucking Gaslamp Quarter, ranting about how miserable your life is? Maybe it's because your position is a worthless one to begin with, the kind of makework that makes some people look good while others are sent to the bin according to some formula? Some of you use too many words in your job listings and dismiss people like me before I get the courage up to even try to fill out a resume. Others lead me in with sparsely worded listings that say next to nothing about the job, the compensation, the location, and the industry. It's okay to waste MY time responding to an ad to ferret out that kind of information?

I've seen you in town. I've worked for you already if you've known it or not. I was the the pee-on who delivered architectural plans to the contractors that turned your home in Clairemont into a McMansion. Or that built your new place on the outskirts of Del Mar or in the fire-prone hinterregions of Poway. I'm the guy who delivered the plans for that building you work in. It's an ugly monstrosity of glass and steel that shows no humanity or grace, and no sense of caring about the world around it. Yep. I was part of that too.

Me onstage with classic rock cover band Rockola, for whom I worked for a few years. I was on stage playing a bit of bass as one of the stage gimmicks.Sometimes I got to do this little bit of bass playing on stage with Rockola at Blind Melons club. All the rest of the time, I was side stage and in danger of being trampled by drunken fucks.

I've seen you in town. I've done sound at your pathetic corporate parties where you dance mindlessly to the music that used to be vitally important, socially relevant PROTEST music a generation ago (even the DISCO music that you mock with bullshit costumes stood for someone's liberation a generation ago), and I've seen you all twirling about, drunk and too stupid to exit the clubs at 1:55 in the morning. Some of you probably tried to kiss me then too while I was putting the guitars away, and no one seemed to mind that they were encroaching on my workspace at the mixer, or at the side of the stage. You know...that stuff I did there was work too, and my attention was supposed to be paid toward the performance on STAGE, not to your little song and dance asking for the stupidest shit: Can you hold the sitar or bang on the bongos sitting side stage? No! Could I put some more guitar in the mix? No! You got ten bucks and you want the five piece band to play (and the crew to wait) an extra half hour? Fuck you! It's bad enough we get treated like the fucking Guatemalan maids at these same hotels — or even worse — with a tip like that. I just didn't have my own iPhone and Facebook in 1999 when the parties were getting outrageous in corporate America or else I'd have put up videos or audio myself to show what idiots you and your executive co-workers can be in those situations. Oh, it was all a party, and the money flowed like water toward those parties. I'd presume so because the machine was getting finely tuned by the late 1990s. Corporate profits up, no doubt because the HR department was honed to a fine edge, able to excise all the riff-raff and keen on making the few remaining people simultaneously run faster and harder while looking over their shoulder where the axe was waiting for them too. Then the recession hit and the party was over. Good riddance. But you got to keep your job.

I saw this guy repeatedly while delivering to Gordon Biersch in Mission Valley. Sometimes I had some food to give him. And he was one of the guys who was still among the living.

Oh, I've seen you in town. You're the people who bought the fancy foodie dishes made from the produce I delivered to 101 fancy restaurants, resorts, and hotels in town where I got to enter through the ass-end of the place with grime and food waste and even — wait for it — laborers! I'll bet there were some who struck a deal to work under the table because they were undocumented and you were in need of a bit of margin so you could afford that die-cut embossed menu for tonight's wine list. You're the people who shit $100 bills and throw out half-eaten plates of gourmet food because you can. I can't say for sure how many of those homeless people out there were your own handiwork, but they are certainly the handiwork of the system you belong to. Outside those same restaurants you can be seen making fools of yourself, probably drunk there too, and likely oblivious to the homeless folks that line the streets in the area, and that are expected to kindly step aside and relocate to the outer reaches of East Village so you can go out for a nice night on the town. Maybe one day you'll get to meet them. And I hope it's not just a field trip experience.

And some years ago, when you were a little less drunk at lunch time, and when I used to work at Subway, you were the one who thought I was no one because of the stupid green shirt and hat I wore. I didn't like you then either. It was a gut feeling then. I didn't have a blog to rant on then, but I did control what went into your sandwich. Other far less scrupulous (and possibly disgruntled) people than I now make those same sandwiches. And you don't know what is really in that Taco Bell "meat," do you?

The funny thing is, you get to enter "my office" and essentially set the agenda with some inane antics and plenty of condescension. You come on to MY stages, you eat the food I deliver, you boss me around in MY office at Subway, or Jack In The Fucking Box, or even for Pizza Slut or Dumb, I Know's Pizza. But is the same true for my ability to enter YOUR office and call the shots? Not with that electronic fence you have around it that barricades me at my own computer browser. Not with that veneer of coolly isolated professionalism in shades of corporate blue and gray. Not with the minimum wage earning security guard who thinks he's someone because of the badge and the key to the gated parking lots that surround your ivory towers and your dark satanic malls (sic). Do I get to come in and make a scene in your office? Dance on your desk, let my cock hang out, kiss you in my swirling and oblivious state of drunkenness? Hell no. My office is in the world. Your office is behind closed doors. I don't get to meet you to talk about getting a job. I don't get to have a human exchange to explain myself. You really don't care anyway. Or if you do at a personal level, it's not your job to act on that feeling, professionally. It's a one way thing that gives you HR people some upper hand. For a time, maybe.

Okay, enough snarkasm. Even HR professionals are people too. A bit unaware of how offensive and useless their professional role is, but they're people who have a home and kids to feed. I just hope they wake up and repent for taking those positions and for aiding a corrupt system to ever more corruption.

Still, I've been waiting for the collapse of the corporate model as we have come to know it because the corporate form as we know it has outlasted its usefulness and the antics needed to prop up its validity are increasingly implausible. It has already jumped the shark. No one really likes it anymore except those still enjoying the party, and that number is growing fewer and fewer as the system eats itself alive. No one really faithfully shows up to support it. And an economy based in mutual fear can't last. In JEM or out of it, I learned that it's a model that is doomed to consume itself because of its own success and gluttony. I'd like to sit by and watch, and maybe even give it a shove on its way out of town. It might run a little past the end of my lifetime, or it might finish itself off by the time I get my senior discount at restaurants. I don't know. But be ye warned: the economy is here to serve humanity, not the other way around. And the big structures ALWAYS fail in the end —empires, churches, monarchies, and soon, corporations. As Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The Soul of Work

I could think of myself as too poorly educated to join into the workforce, but I happen to think of myself as too well educated to join in the workforce. Or, let's say, at least a certain kind of workforce. It isn't that manual labor is below me. In some ways, it's far more gratifying than neuroacrobatics. As I said, even picking up dog shit sometimes gives me a bit more of a sense of accomplishment than all sorts of pixel wrangling and syllable splicing and I really dig cooking for friends (a completely separate task from picking up dog shit). Both keep me feeling grounded. It's far more grounded and integrity-filled than a lot of marketing and media work I might persue if I was actually good at this stuff. It's not any of that. It's that when you see what these jobs lead to in a big picture, it's damn hard to want to put energy into it all. More than depression that just brings me down, it makes my heart ache that people still believe in some of these pursuits. I'd gladly work in a bakery for the right reasons rather than being some overeducated fuck doing some kind of smart person's work for the wrong reasons, in a position that might be responsible for digging humanity a bigger hole than the current one. The workplace does not really earn the respect and loyalty of working people now because everyone knows the axe is about to fall any minute. The whole thing is rigged to fail eventually because as one market after another is squeezed like a lemon, eventually everyone will realize they've been had. The funny thing is, it won't matter until the educated, degree holding mostly white people find themselves at the short end of the stick before things will change. It's the people inside the system who are the last to see it for what it is. The rest of us are waiting for it to fall apart and for there to be a time when the entry fee is bearable, and the show is good enough to stay and watch all the way through.

But what do I know? I'm just a college dropout with a chip on my shoulder, right? And you read this entire thing and say, 'is that all?' It's no more a waste of your time than it is for me to fill out those fucking online applications with the psychological profile questions that give me all the choices to answer that suit you but not me. I've applied for enough of those and being forced to answer a question using four disagreeable options is not my cup of tea. What is the point of asking me if I would handle working in a noisy, busy, chaotic, hellish workspace and expecting me to answer the A-D spectrum from "yes, I love this kind of thing and my life is incomplete without it" and "no, I can't hack it"? If I'm applying to your fucking job and I have entered the place as a customer, don't you think I know it's a hellhole of a place to work with asshole customers and round-the-clock noise? Is anyone really made to live under those conditions, or just desperate enough to accept them so they can afford not to sell their children to some rich and smart looking HR manager who has a nice job and can buy such unnecessary items as surplus offspring from poor people made poor by the swift strokes of the pens that other HR managers hold?

Just Send Money

It's not that my attitude is bad. It is realistic. Work is not valued like it should be. The fact is, I give more time and passion to JEM than I gave to any one of the jobs I've had and I don't really get paid but for some new software and a nice share of "attaboys." I can't even make a plausible argument that my state unemployment payment for $1,404 approximates the value I offer to JEM. The sad fact is, as one of my early web design mentors said, "the problem with nonprofits is that they're too nonprofitable." My favorite jobs and duties have been in the nonprofit realm, but never at the places that get the glory. And when you think about what a disgrace it is that JEM flies so far below the radar, that's heartbreaking. I mean, JEM, a tiny nonprofit with a handful of people who care, is not even a speck of dust in the desert. But we show up and soldier on with some vision of how to do economics differently than the system that is going down the toilet now and taking everything with it. You'd think that this world-saving heroic effort would pay better, even if I'm a bit lacking in the real ability to get participation and SEO rankings. Living with a divided mind and no particular income makes it hard to know what foot to put forward: do I totally immerse myself in learning the web tools and services and best practices? Or what?What part of the 40+ hours I put in each week is not valuable somehow so that even my own relatively slim expenses can be met and some left over to squirrel away for a global warming induced rainy day in the mid summer?

So I spend my days with my scattered mind, unsure whether I should either dive into or minimize my JEM work. All the other options seem empty, pointless, backwards. The math works out that if I were only to optimistically reproduce my state income, even 30 people sending in $50 a month would do that, though to take it seriously, I'd need more to accommodate the deductions that would be required. Are there not 30 people out there who think that there's some worth in moving a message like JEM's and who are able and willing to help me get by so I can better answer a call to do meaningful work? One day the state payments are gonna be done, and I'll get into the desperation mode again and take whatever dumb shit emerges. Or maybe there will be some freelance work. But what the fuck does it take to actually cover my ass while doing the thing that comes closest to calling upon my training, my interests, and my experience?

It's five o' clock in the morning. Let me go to be so I can get up at nine and get back to my work. This was all done on "my time." Good thing I set up PayPal for invoicing that editing gig. Now I can put a "donate" button on my site too! This post took me about eleven hours over two days to write and edit this. It's nearly double the length of my previously extravagantly long posts, but obviously it's not without a bit of thought and passion that took these 38 years to accumulate. What's that worth to anyone? Your call. Thanks for reading.

Then again, maybe I could get a job being a roving salesman, selling print copies of Wikipedia as I go?

Saturday
Nov052011

Costco Chronicles

I've been a member of Costco for about a decade or more. There you can find too much of stuff you don't really need and can't possibly use before it all goes bad. But I've derived a bit of humor and blog/gallery fodder from my time at Costco. Here's two things from the most recent visit.

I was standing in line at the pharmacy there and a lesbian couple stood behind me. Their conversation seemed to be about social/political resistance to legalizing gay marriage. Says one to the other, "they should just let gays marry. I mean, everyone should be allowed to be miserable!" I guess that's one way to spend your married life. Sounds like a bummer deal, but hey...

Then, barely five minutes after that, still at the pharmacy (but this time I'm at the register), two men stepped up from two different waiting lines (one for cashier, one for counseling, I guess) when the cashier said "next, please." One was an older man of about 70ish. Another was maybe in his mid 50s and was a guy who looked like he might be a contractor or a shop foreman at a toilet repair business. They both walked up, and the younger guy started with some attitude and insisted he go first. The older man made a vague protest and decided not to make a scene. The younger guy wasn't content, so he got to the cashier and had to make some comment about being next, and he was up, yadda, yadda. The pharmacist told him the line for his window was where the older guy was standing.

I'm at the register with the other guy just a few feet over. His protestations getting ramped up as he felt he had to defend his honor, that HE was in line and HE should get service first. He even walked over to the barrier post (with the sign requiring patient privacy), picked it up and brought it over to the pharmacist, saying, "THIS is the line! SEE THIS?" The pharmacist guy told him to put it down so no one got hurt. This fool was getting dumber looking by the second.

He realizes he's making a scene and people are looking at him. I was sure to focus on him the whole time. My pharamacist guy is trying to work through my order, then toilet repairman guy sees I am staring at him. He tries to gloss over the fact he just made an idiot of himself with "so, how's it going?" I told him it was going pretty well. Right up to the moment he opened his mouth!

Saturday
Jun112011

Feeling the Revelation

It started as a joke in December of 2010 after seeing the first billboard proclaiming Judgment Day was to happen on May 21. I posted a joke event entry on Facebook for my young adults group at church. I called it The End Of The World. There was a cute illustration of the Earth being destroyed by a meteor. Big explosion. Funny, eh? It was heir to my other such mocking references in song, journal, and joke at the expense of the fundamentalists and doom sayers who have led people to hysteria and maybe suicide by their various doomsday predictions. We in the UCC tend to elevate our noses above that stuff. The Facebook event also included a possibly moving date just in case we got the date wrong and recalculations were needed. I had no intent to really move it. I was making a larger joke at my own expense: my graduation from high school was on June 11, and this was to fall on the 20th anniversary of that date which to me seemed like the end times of history for me.

What began as a joke made all those months in advance slowly morphed into plans for a real get-together with the group. We still had a joking tone about it. We were going to have a "post-apocalyptic regressive dinner" featuring nuclear-safe food like Spam and Twinkies. Others had other food ideas: your "last supper" meal that you would want most to eat before your death, and also the option of bringing freegan food—found food—in keeping with an expectation of shortages and deprivation. I was onboard still.

But as the whole matter of Harold Camping blossomed into major news and hysteria and so many were caught up in mocking it all, one of our number (quite well educated in seminary and years of Baptist life growing up) cautioned a couple of us to ease up on the mocking since there are people who are well meaning and faithful but grossly manipulated by religious charlatans like Camping. At the same time, the June newsletter from my former church started with a great article on Revelation and how to disentangle the popular readings of it (that are the basis for Camping's utterances) from ones that stand up to more historical scrutiny and that aren't just manipulations of the faithful. I wrote to Jerry the pastor and he let me use that article and sent along some notes for a forum he was giving. All of a sudden, in about a week and a half I found the opportunity to take our End of the World party more seriously.

I have to admit, I sort of hijacked this event, but since we tend to be unprogrammed anyway, mostly people are flexible. But what was rumbling in me was that the UCC, a mostly liberal/progressive denomination, has little to say on Revelation. Most mainline denominations sort of shrug it off more than engage it. The dismissing attitude I sense falls in two related forms: If the scholars haven't figured it out, we won't go there yet. There must be great stuff in there. We just don't know how to interpret it. Or maybe people just dismiss it and say it should be left out of the canon because it is too weird. I haven't detected a UCC movement to claim it back and to find a meaningful alternative to the nutty and even dangerous interpretations coming from the more conservative wing of Christianity. But such a silence leaves the fundamentalist interpretations and their fictionalizations in stuff like the Left Behind series as the go-to viewpoints, in part because they are sensationalist, but probably because they appear to be the only voice out there. It is a forfeiture of biblical interpretation that gives the people with the completely wacky ideas the microphone and the knowledge that no one will oppose them! I don't particularly like that.

Lee Van Ham was the first one who helped me have a breakthrough in understanding Revelation as a document setting one earthly paradigm against a cosmological paradigm. (I also had to learn the P word upon meeting him.) He gave me a clue that the book of Revelation was one of hope and perseverance. So since about 2006 or so I have been looking for support along those lines. That is Jerry's general take on it, so I had two trusted voices speaking from close to the same viewpoint. Richard Rohr put a more mystical spin on it (perhaps more in tune with the larger message of the book), but that too took away any reservations that this book is meant to give people the willies and to induce nightmares in people of good faith.

Another kind of insight that arose out of Lee's interpretation was that Revelation is not written for rich nations to interpret. It is for the troubled people who are plagued by the power that the rich have over them. Jerry insists it is protest literature. So for it to be written and understood, one has to know the kinds of powerlessness and fear that people in oppressed situations know. Apocalyptic literature is good for liberation of the soul because it defiantly announces that monstrous powers of oppression and domination are limited and empty in their claims to divinity. That is the domain of God/Christ alone (depending on if you're reading Jewish or Christian apocalyptic lit.). The problem is that to explain this to people who don't feel oppressed, this interpretation falls flat. It is unflattering to people who have to sit by and hear that their retention of any kind of power and privilege is somehow evil. But I think that is missing the point. The point isn't to slam individuals trying to get by. The point is to critique the systems of the world, the corporate ("body") evils that manifest in the systems of the man-made world. Some we recognize as our contemporaries, and fear that they have too much power already and need to be limited somehow: Empires. Transnational corporations that pollute, enslave, and ride roughshod over local laws and traditions. Trade deals like NAFTA. The Military-Industrial-Corporate-Think Tank complex. Agribusiness, epitomized by Monsanto. Giant banks that foreclose on the laboring folk and credit card companies that charge exorbitant fees. That is the kind of evil that undoes community welfare, and these days, even has the power to ruin the biosphere too. Revelation is written to encourage people who are feeling under the weight of all that. People who fear nothing can save them from that but God.

One movie called What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire does a profoundly moving job of showing how empire has been the logical (and illogical) end of the line of civilization. For all it can do for us, it is also the basis of our destruction at the hands of working and consuming ourselves to death. And not just ourselves, but all of the life-giving biosphere too. The movie takes on peak oil, population overshoot and dieoff, extinction, and all the dismal stuff that no one wants to look at. It can sometimes be so brutal that it makes you feel. My intent to show the movie was to accomplish just that. It isn't that my group is not smart, or even aware, or even passionate about a range of social/environmental/political concerns. They are quite fine, and probably ahead of me in those regards. But one thing you can't particularly teach is how to feel like someone.  People are quite familiar with the topics. But this film is so powerful in the way it brings so many forms of dread together, that you can't help but get rattled inside. That is what Revelation is supposed to do to a person: Rattle them. Shock them. Rattle YOU. Shock YOU —into a new and larger consciousness, often brought on by an overwhelming feeling. Intellect alone won't get us there. We have more intellectuals on this planet than ever, and more problems than ever. Call it over-civilization. What needs to happen is that people feel the pathos behind this global issue. Intellect is secondary. Everyone welcome!

Watching this movie, it would be my hope that people would see that we people of faith (and equally so, those who don't think themselves religious) ARE at the mercy of the system-gone-crazy, and that only falling into trust in a larger reality, maybe God, maybe the regenerative power of nature—or call it what you will—can help get us past all that and start on the arduous task of righting the wrongs of an overcivilized human race that thought it was God. Maybe that would be accomplished by taking our hands off the wheel and letting God get back into the driver's seat. The exodus from Egypt is upon us all over again. Can we trust the wilderness we're entering on a global level?

So, back to the evening's program.

In the week before the Saturday date, this all was working on me. Stirring. Despite having not used the name since 2006, I realized this was another EONSNOW teaching engagement, so I sort of made some rumblings about a larger idea with one or two of the group, but not too completely because it was still taking shape in me right up till I went to bed at 4:30 the night before! What I came up with was a "teaching liturgy" that set us into a sacred, ritual space where the idea was to engage both the power of the darkness, and the power of the light. Since we as Christians are the people of the resurrection, and not of the tomb, we claim  hope in things we can't see, worthy results even from ill-made decisions, all by the grace of God. One thing I learned from the Rites of Passage last year, and with some additional reading and understanding of rituals, is that a ritual charts the flow of life's experiences in a microcosmic, representative way. To take people to a dark place is one thing, but to ritually move them back to a place of illumination is another. A ritual like this is a microcosm of life that embodies the dark and the light, the flow of all things. They should not be broken apart. Facing such a devastating vision of things using the King Crimson song and the movie is the downward and inward path to confront deep feelings, but reemerging to partake in the shared meal of the communion, and the more optimistic U2 song is the integrative aspect that connects both polarities of life into one.

The "teaching liturgy" was as follows:

Welcome and introductions
A bit about why this came together this way in light of recent charlatan predictions. What is the end of the world to you? What is civilization? What are your understandings of Revelation? Will lead to...

Discussion of The Apocalypse/Revelation of John
Notes courtesy Rev. Jerry. Historical setting, background on apocalyptic-crisis literature. The intent to overwhelm and shock people into some kind of response, ideally a faithful recommitment to God in protest against empire-consciousness, then manifested by Domitian, who some thought was Nero (aka 666), reborn. Early Americans (under the crown) referred to the Stamp Act as “the mark of the beast,” —when they were subject to the Crown’s harsh economic policies from afar.

Song: Epitaph by King Crimson (1969)
A song about the disillusion with the mind of empire and its handmaiden, state-tamed religion, written by white men from within that world at the peak of the 60’s counterculture in Britain. Henri Nouwen discussed parts of this song as part of his book, The Wounded Healer.

Watch the movie What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire
A movie by another disillusioned white man of a privileged culture, asking the question of what follows empire? Hopefully it will have the power to disturb as Revelation would, to provoke a new consciousness or to tie together fragmented consciousness.

Discussion of the movie and Revelation
in light of a new understanding of how empire consciousness does indeed pose a threat to all of us at this profound, global level. Hopeful aspects of encountering this?

Sacrament of Communion
with common elements made sacred by a blessing by the newly ordained Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas. Here we integrate our brush with new consciousness into a larger God consciousness instead of disowning it. Practicing God’s economy of grace and enough for all, in protest against the empire consciousness of scarcity and competition. How does being wounded by this knowledge of the fragility of all we know, this gnosis, pave the way for us to become the wounded healers in the way Henri Nouwen envisioned?

Song: Peace on Earth by U2 (2001)
A protest song by citizens of a nation often under the boot of an empire state (Ireland under England), but by artists who faithfully claim allegiance to Christ above earthly powers that would divide them from God’s other children. A protest song against empire consciousness and the violence and division it brings.

Benediction

I admit, it was hastily thrown together, and I wish that there was more time to actually teach a few basics on Revelation and apocalyptic literature (but Jerry's notes do quite well with supporting that), and I wish that the connection to Nouwen's book was better made, i.e., how facing our deepest pains is the best motivation for meeting the world's greatest needs. In this case the movie would help us to feel the vast woundedness associated with being alive today. Communion aims to put us back into a whole, ready to do our parts as integrated people ready to address the world's hurts.

During our post-movie discussion period, there turned out to be some conversation that took a decidedly personal turn, toward some vulnerable topics including bouts with homelessness, coming out of the closet, wrestling with false self and the kinds of reprioritizing that go with losing jobs and prestige. We didn't talk that much about either the book or the movie at hand, but it was clear there was a new freedom to open up at a level that can pave the way for bigger leaps of faith and trust such as will be called upon in this perilous life ahead of us.

I'd like to do it again. The thing can get long, but I think that is part of what needs to happen. It is not just a movie and discussion. Not just a church service. Not just an activist's meeting. Surely it is worth the four hours or so that it takes. The short term goal is to soften people's objection to Revelation, or their indifference to it. But the longer term goal is to open up their consciousness, to make them feel the pain of the world, not to dull it. It has to be a better use of a few hours than just cutting down someone else's faith, even if we are undermining it with a more useful interpretation.

Sunday
Dec052010

The Emperor Has NEW Clothes

I don't think anyone is surprised at the facts of commercialism at Christmas. Even my favorite Christmas special, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (from 1965) was well enough aware of the issue that a holy day was co-opted by commercial interests. Okay, well enough, we're all on the same page. What bugs the hell out of me is one company in particular, C-28, that has popularized their brand most notably with the "NOTW" image, which when read in full form means "Not Of This World." The reference is to the answer that Jesus gave to Pontius Pilate at a trial before execution. Pilate wanted some clarity about this kingdom that this man supposedly reigned over, and Jesus was mostly speechless except to say that his kingdom was "not of this world."

It was one way of saying, as Walter Wink, the theologian-writer says, that Jesus' kingdom was not shaped by the values of the world putting him on trial. Wink encouraged reading it as "my kingdom is not of this domination system." Or, more clearly, Jesus' value system was opposed to what Rome stood for, something that was cause enough for death at the hands of the empire, particularly if one was so bold to say it so clearly. Rome was only concerned with its own power and glory, and not some would-be scene stealer. So that was cause enough to put this treasonous man to death. So, to say "not of this world" is to reject the prevailing standards of right order in political, social, and economic aspects of life. Later on, the Revelation of John, written a few years after Rome stormed through Jerusalem with a scorched earth approach following the Jewish Revolt, goes to great lengths to portray the Roman system (in metaphorical terms as Babylon, the other hated empire of history) as a whore. John's vision also decries the economic dominance of Rome, the sad situation that to remain outside of Rome's dominance is to wither and die economically, and to be part of it is to be sold out just the same, to be complicit with an evil system. Jesus' statement was to place himself apart from the empire and its emperor. A daring thing indeed. The book of Revelation deals a lot with establishing clarity for the believer: you gonna get with this Christ program and leave that Roman stuff behind, or not?

These days, one can argue that the US is Rome, but I'd prefer to put a finer point on it. The economic model popularized in the US, and its narrative of material pleasure for individuals, lends itself to abuses that have cost the world dearly. Whether we worship the same historical god is not the issue now; these days the "in" people and the "out" people are defined more according to whether they are believers in the might of the market, believers in free trade, open markets and the like. My association with Jubilee Economics Ministries has led me away from that line of thought before it really got the better of me. A couple years ago Lee Van Ham presented an exceptional forum on how to unwrap Christmas itself so it was not commercial nor even the tame little tale that gets represented in pageants and other bits of dramatic interp. Lee took us to a place where many in this land typically haven't gone. At least, in my 35 years I had never heard these things. This year, after a year of close interaction with Lee, I asked him to present that forum in a blog series on the JEM site. You can read the five part series here.

But back to C-28. C-28 and the NOTW icon irritates the hell out of me. I say this because one can see the NOTW sticker on the backs of the biggest trucks and SUVs and tricked out cars on the road. C-28 is a clothing and "lifestyle" company that sells all sorts of Christian themed stuff, all borrowing heavily from popular culture and a bad conservative interpretation of megachurch style Christian messages. At best, I consider this kind of dreck as remedial Christianity that maybe has the power to draw some people Christward but only in the same way as chocolate chip cookies could start to nourish a starved man. Eventually one will have to get some real nutrients to finish the job. At worst—and this is what I'd like to put before you now—I consider it a complete co-opting of the Christian message by "this world." I already said that the NOTW stickers are all over giant vehicles, or ones that otherwise are displays of conspicuous wealth or material interest. Tell me, exactly what world do those cars come from if not from "this world"? How does one put such a sticker on such a car? Well, first, one has to have no fucking clue what Christianity means. And that is easily enough done today. After all, it has been co-opted by right wing politics, the military, and of course, the marketplace. If you go to C-28's website, you can get the same kind of right wing Christian propaganda as you'd get at a rally or concert (indeed C-28 funds that too) but with the added bonus (for them) that you can show your apparent conversion and acceptance of Christ with these great pieces of apparel (some looking a bit slutty), accessories, or stickers to add to your monster truck. What Would Jesus Do?, indeed!

The marketplace has become the new Caesar. Caesar, in the time around Jesus, took a fancy to being called "Augustus," or "the Revered," "the Great." These days I only half jokingly call the market by its Roman styled name: Marketus Augustus. The Revered Market. Market, The Great. There are some who already recognize this. I am not claiming to be unique. But it is far from being a widespread realization of what is at work. People, particularly during this rough recessionary time, are on bended knee before the holy Market and its grace or they are feeling damned by its fickleness. If you read Lee Van Ham's essays about the cosmologically explosive Christmas story of angels and wise men being the messengers of God's trumping of Caesar, then one must believe that we could experience that today—something has the power to shock us out of this love affair with what "this world" has given us. What I find contemptible is that something like C-28 obscures the way with their mixed message of Christianity and consumerism. What is it gonna be, Aurelio? (The founder.) You want to serve God or Mammon? Capitalists for Christ? If C-28 was in the business of donating plain T-shirts or hoodies to poor people with "Jesus" in black Helvetica, would anyone care about the Jesus reference? Or is Aurelio primarily a salesman who found a willing bunch of suckers who just need some clever designs? If you go to C-28 today as I did, you might not know it from any other hip site except for a few links, including a chance to buy a copy of the founder's testimony about how he "came to Christ." Well, I don't get it. If this isn't from this world, then what world? Because it sure seems pretty indistinguishable to me!

From the C-28 FAQ page:

Q: How does Christian apparel further the Gospel?

A: It is a tool for Christians to use as a conversation starter about Jesus. T-shirts with Scripture puts God’s Word out there and many people get a chance to read the message whether it’s waiting in line at the store or wherever. It’s also a way for Christians who aren’t so bold to talk to a stranger about Jesus to have His Word out there in public. Most people will never pick up a Bible or hear a verse quoted, but they will read a t-shirt.

Great. Now Jesus gets to be worn along side all the other bits of wisdom printed on T-shirts.

In Hans Christian Andersen's tale about the Emperor's New Clothes, it took a young boy to see through the lie that some snake oil selling weavers were foisting upon the emperor, his keepers, and indeed, the public at large. The power of a lie is great, especially if it is repeated often enough. This Christmas season, I take my place as the kid (admittedly not the only one) shouting out that the emperor has no clothes—the commercial Christmas is crap, all a lie we share in to feel better about a truth that we can't bear, even though it would do us good to face that our economy is teetering on collapse. And no amount of consumer spending is going to patch up the damage for long, like a band-aid on a chest wound. We're seeing through the delusional picture that Caesar has sold us. The Market is fallible. That is plausible enough. But for me, there is the added disappointment and betrayal that comes with seeing so-called Christians peddling their wares all the same. The Emperor isn't always wrapped in the traditional garb of power and glory. These days, it seems the Emperor—this world—is coming dressed in Christ-logo wear. The Emperor has new clothes, indeed. I wonder what "developing world" sweatshop they are made in. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Oh, by the way—Just 19 more shopping days till Christmas.

Sunday
Dec212008

Story Of Stuff

Maybe this is a bit late to do any good this Christmas consumer-glutton season, but next year may be different. Be sure to watch the full version of the film at Story of Stuff dot com.

Tuesday
Dec022008

Advent

Sunday
Aug242008

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Human Rights Violations

stark image poster of america and a giant made in china stamp across it.Made in China: Because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsI wasn't really enthralled by the Chinese showboating these last few weeks. It all seemed like a distraction from the world-as-know-it-is. All this talk about the games being "about the athletes" is bullshit too, because there is clearly a lot of national ego on the line in any of these games, else we could scrap the ridiculous opening and closing ceremonies and just show contests of physical ability.

So Phelps cleaned up. I don't mean to rain on his parade—I certainly can't do what he does. (Hell, I can't even swim.) But think on this for a moment. You know he will be the darling of a lot of companies who want to put his name and image on their goods. And you can bet that some of that will be made in China at the sorts of factories and sweatshops that China would like you to not see in full disclosure. You know, the ones where people work seven days a week and 12 or 14 hours a day, and where people live in factory dorms and are escorted to work each day by security goons, and back again to their cramped rooms where they are responsible for paying for their own utilities back to the factory.

How much of what we buy in our fervor for the games will only make the situation worse? Isn't that the contradiction of our age? I can't help but think of how China is getting rich off our inability to shut off the endless flow from our wallets. Well, someone is getting rich, while the workers who prop up that whole system are experiencing their version of what our nation experienced a century ago when we struggled to figure out how to industrialize, and the industrial world had to in fact figure out how to make citizens into consumers in order to actually consume and use the things which the industrial process was now capable of making. Our growing pains included fights for union representation and social justice concomitant with that. It included the fight for an eight hour work day and weekends. Basically, it fought for human dignity in the face of the growing power of the Machine.

But China itself seems to be a machine. And the Olympic games were the user-friendly front end of it, but what lurks beneath?

Thursday
Jun052008

Six-Five Redux

ed's letter to the editor in the san diego union tribuneOn this day in 2005, I had two rather notable things happen to me in my oil-awareness pursuit that defined that period for me. On that day, I was told at church that my letter to the editor was published. I was delighted not just for that, but for the timeliness of it all. Later that same evening, I was about to do my first film showing of The End of Suburbia, and to hold a discussion on that topic. At that can be read about in that day's blog. Around that time, gasoline was maybe in the low $2 range, which had been around for about two years or more. At that time though, it seemed like no one thought that life would change much if gas got more expensive.

Well, that didn't last, did it? Maybe it took another few years but now it seems that you can't avoid the topics of gas and food costs on the rise and the sacrifices that result, going green, lowering emissions, carbon footprints, and all that. As I speak today, that gas price from 2005 has doubled again, and now it seems the panic is setting in, compounded with housing crashes, credit wipeouts and all that. People thought that The End of Suburbia was far fetched but now some of that has begun to happen just as the movie laid out. Talk now is that it is harder to afford to shift over to whatever new "solutions" there might be, because lots of money has evaporated. This too the movie warned of.

People still scoff at the idea of making any real change. But here are some things that I contend should be made. Some are meant to go in an act of voluntary "demand destruction" if we are to make any more measured change in our lifestyles. Others are meant to help fill voids that current methods will leave. Most call upon willful restraint, and not a new technological gizmo. These are also geared to allow individuals and families have a greater share of dignity while eliminating waste within commercial activity.

  • Eliminate such fuel wasting activities such as air shows, boat races, auto racing, military displays, mobile advertising, and other utterly worthless bullshit activities that are nothing but wasteful. One thing that sticks in my craw is seeing trucks driving around with only a billboard upon them. They carry nothing of worth, move no product, and tie up space in traffic, all while getting pathetic gas mileage. This is stupid and must stop. I've seen some now that have diorama type glass walls with elaborate displays within.
  • Turn off 80% or more suburban shopping center lighting meant to advertise places that are themselves closed for business overnight. To extend this, there should be a progressive pressure put on businesses to be open during daylight hours only, or limited night hours. People will no doubt bitch that our economy will be hurt by this. But that is what we face one way or another. The question is whether we will face it willingly or not.
  • Heavy rail should be implemented to remove trucks from the road along major corridors. Certainly more passenger rail should be called upon in like fashion. The airlines are hemorrhaging and it is their time to die, at least with regard to the widespread public consumer use. Not everyone can live like kings.
  • Civic zoning needs to be relaxed intentionally (or people will just ignore the law when desperation sets in), but urban agriculture needs a chance to thrive, even if it means allowing animals which enable people to live (I mean survive in some cases) without being slaves to jobs or even joblessness. Landscapes need to be made more edible—fruit trees, gardens, even herbal ground cover. Enough with the bullshit tropical yards and grass lawns. People talk about getting more local in their food choices, but there needs to be an alternative to the entire supermarket system, at least in part.

Those are but a few things that would transform things for the better, and don't require wishing upon a techno-messiah to save us from our sins and to wipe out our enemies. Yes, some do hearken back to another time, but what I think we need to face is that we have overshot our ability to have high technology work for us. We have also answered to the needs of the economy for long enough, and that will doom us at the rate at which we are going now. If the worst of the predictions of the global warming and peak oil theories were to come true, you can just forget about the economy as we know it. Survival will be the order of the day, and that won't allow most people to even think the way we think now. Forget the sarcasm and irony we know. Forget the abstractions which we distract ourselves with now.

In 2005, I was beginning to find my topic of concern, but really after months of that pursuit with four video showings and discussions, I had to deepen my quest for what the real problem is. I find it isn't the fuel we use. Or which type of engine we have. It isn't even the president we have. The real matter, in this nation in particular, is expectation versus reality. But even that reaches back to a larger human issue of insecurity that there is not enough to go around, and therefore, one must claim all one can before someone else does. Our national mythology is such that we confuse acquisition and consumption with our assured right to pursue happiness. But that is in direct conflict with most of the timeless religious wisdom, which says that the goal is not "out there" but "in here." I think maybe our society is breaking apart because that external thrill seeking activity is proving itself to be unrewarding and the whole thing is collapsing in on itself. It is rather like an addict that needs more and more of his drug of choice to get the same sensation as before. Well, it ultimately won't last that way for ever, and I think this is what peak oil has to show us. I contend that it is a necessary and good thing ultimately—the great disappointment that ultimately can bring us back to our senses somehow. People have been able to enjoy trashing the religious wisdom that encourages rejection of material distractions, as long as ever more material distractions were forthcoming and exciting. I don't think we have that option anymore. I think we need to find our answers deep within our humanity, and not within our economy or any other external structure. I think this is the key to a soft landing, as much as is possible given our lofty position now. Where else can we hear a message of relinquishment and self-moderation? Advertising doesn't offer that. Peer pressure doesn't suggest it much in most circles.

Monday
May262008

Compassion Day

To honor whatever it is that one honors on Memorial Day, I chose to watch the film Why We Fight (Wikipedia). Of course, as my earlier Memorial Day missives will reflect, I am not precious about the day and its typical rituals of nationalistic bullshit. The documentary features a multifaceted look at the military-industrial-corporate-thinktank complex and questions civilians, politicians, and military alike what motivates this nation to go to war. There is a lot of talk about how Ike predicted (rightly) the massive system which now must be fed our billions of dollars, our young men and women, and helped along by a cheerleading media. What disturbs most is that it is allowed to take over by a public that is lulled to sleep by sensational news, bullshit "reality" TV, working two jobs to get by, and the host of other distractions we face in daily life.

But I also heard a rebroadcast of an episode of Fresh Air (NPR) featuring a Marine and a journalist who have written a book about fallen soldiers and how the Marines dispatch such officers to not only break the news of a combat death, but to help look after the family for as long as it takes for grief to work itself out. The officer told gripping stories of how ritualized the whole thing is in the Corps. It was hard to not choke up and get a bit teared up at some of the things he said. The point was made at how the Corps was trained to be utmost efficient and good at being a killing machine, but this story demonstrated a great deal of mercy and steadfastness in taking care of the family, and indeed a fallen brother or sister, even past the burial. It was genuinely touching to hear. War, terrible though it is, at least doesn't eclipse all the best parts of a man, or even the potential for the human image to shine through what is inherently a dehumanizing institution—the military.

But I like to reach deeper. Jesus taught to love one's enemies. He didn't say this so that they might trample upon you time and time again as you prove your weakness and vulnerability, but that they might be rendered as non-enemies. I heard of a Hasidic tale that had two men talking about love. One said, 'do you love me?' The other said, 'sure I do.' The first asked, 'what hurts me?' to which the second said, 'I don't know what hurts you.' The first came back, saying, 'how can you say you love me if you don't know what hurts me?'

America has done a good job of wrapping itself in the flag for a good while, but none so much as since 9/11. And it all seems so packaged and contrived. It has to be. If we ever had to confront the real reasons for 9/11, our heads would explode. So the easier way is to just declare that "they hate us for our freedom" and other such nonsense. We are cavalier like this in a time when the world grows ever more complex and daunting. But just give us the snappy soundbite reasoning. What is not pleasant to remember is that the world is hurting, and that too often, it is hurting not just because nature can deal some blows—earthquakes, storms, tsunamis, etc. —but that there is plenty of shit that comes down because of man made social constructs—economics, politics, and their dirty-deed-doing comrade, war. The world is mostly hurt today by a corrupt economic model which America champions but one that ultimately is a shameful, destructive thing. So I posit that America has forgotten how to hurt in sympathy with the rest of the world, and because we have forgotten how to hurt, we can remain blind to the real suffering that exists, in part due to our success. As long as we can remain ignorant of this hurt, we can never say that we love the world enough to bring our precious democratic values, our liberty, and all that other jibberish talk.

America has not these values to offer another land because they do not exist here like we think they do. What we have is a military that will aid big business in its expansion into other territories, intruding into the political workings of other nations, and a media that will turn enough of a blind eye so that people here don't really know what is going on. In that vacuum, people feel of no consequence in relation to the system. But the rest of the world isn't so duped. So why are we so surprised that a 9/11 happens? Maybe because so many Americans are without clue as to what really is going on in the world and that contemporary events don't just happen out of the blue? Americans don't like to admit what effects our way of life has in the world. That blindness has earned us 9/11. People argue that our way of life 'must be great because people flock to it.' Shallow argument, I think. Our way of life is hitting the dead end that was inevitable. A world in uproar is part of the sign that the party is coming to an end. And what has been clearer to us that something is wrong than 9/11?

Yet here we are, throwing completely unconscionable amounts of money at the problem with nary a clue to what is really the problem.

It's the economy, stupid.

The world is not willing to be our factory forever. Or our slaves forever. Or our doormats forever. But somehow, all attempts are made to cling to the status quo of easy motoring (as Kunstler says), endless mall shopping, and all this other consumption-based activity, no matter what price the nation must really pay in money, blood, international goodwill, etc. Yet our economists talk about how the consumer activity constitutes 2/3 of our economic activity. They talk about how the consumer feels good or bad, almost as if to scare people into consuming so the economy doesn't falter. I think that is a form of mental slavery, quite unbecoming a nation that fancies itself free and democratic. It is certainly a form of manipulation.

Our economy is founded on serving the needs of others in one great economic circle jerk-slash-merry-go-round from which hardly anyone can escape. Who knows what to do to break out of that? We're trained to produce and consume so that we might be good citizens—er, consumers (the new patriotism it seems). There is a sort of fear instilled in people so that we won't try to avoid our responsibility to the system. It really is the religion of the land. But this economy is different from the one based on real self-sufficiency in an earlier America, or in many parts of the world even now, and certainly in pre-industrial societies where there was no factory to make goods for ready consumption. And, since much of the world is enjoying a growing trend toward industrialism, the social strains are there the same as they were when Britain, the US, and Europe were confronted with the stress of abandoning rural life for urban-industrial settings. America forgot, that is what it is. We were there, experiencing the dislocation from rural, isolated people who were pressed (or drawn) into the cities.

America forgot what it was to have that upheaval. Now we are on the other side of the equation, and we can't understand how the rest of the world feels. I'll bet it feels rather the same as when early industrialists started in on their radical social transformation in the name of progress. Not every farmer who was lured from the farm, or forced off the farm embraced the urban-industrial lifestyle. So it is with other peasants around the world who see change as threatening and not altogether necessary if it means their land or resources will be taken away without real compensation. This is where America has failed to understand what hurts people and nations. This is where America has failed to show compassion in the real sense of the word—suffering with. This is where America cannot say it loves other people or places enough to bring them democracy or liberty of any of that. This is also where America cannot think of itself as a Christian nation. (This is a jab at those righty evangelicals and fundamentalists who say such nonsense.) America cannot foist any more economic injustice upon the world and expect cooperation. September 11 was the wakeup call for that. This means that everything must change or it will be changed for us.

Jesus of Nazareth was essentially a nobody from no place worth mentioning. But, as theologian Marcus Borg emphasizes, he was a man defined by and who defined compassion—suffering with. I think to be Christ-like is to understand suffering of another; to know what hurts a person. I will repeat again that you and me don't have enemies in Iraq or Afghanistan. But what we do have is a problem of thinking we are separated from one another—as if they haven't suffered the same (and worse) as we've suffered. I can't find it in my heart to hate another peasant in a far off land, or even in Mexico, about 20 miles from here. I've been told by my "leadership" that I have enemies out there, and that people are out to get what is mine, and I have to fight them before they attack me. That is the rhetoric these days, and it works as well as in any time and place. But who are our enemies but for other humans who hurt and feel just like you and me, and frankly, have been pushed into more desperate places in their souls than we have? If humans are our enemies, then we'd better get busy killing people, because there sure are plenty of them out there! But if they aren't, maybe killing gets us nowhere, and maybe on a day like Memorial Day we need to realize what a colossally stupid thing we do when we march off to war and engage in a fruitless pursuit that has proven itself to be that time and time again, and no amount of spending and media hype will ever prove anything to the contrary.

I frankly don't know what to think of vets now, seeing how most of them fought wars that were dubious, and a couple wars now were fought with so-called "volunteers." Part of me thinks these volunteers are blind fools, but really I just have to have pity on the poor souls who think that the military is a good place to be in this day and age. Touching as it was to hear how the Marines look after their dead, I still think that sort of ritualistic care should be put into avoiding the whole franchise of war in the first place. One day, let us hope that Memorial Day would be able to actually memorialize ALL the war dead, because there would be no more coming home draped in flags.