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Entries in leaders & heroes (7)


The Model Moral Dilemma

The mind of a young man can be co-opted by the wrong stuff. And then it takes a lifetime to shake some of it loose. And furthermore, things may be things but they aren't just things.

When I was about 11-15 in the late 1980s, I was completely enthralled by military aircraft. A couple major reasons include the fact that my house in San Diego was just a scant few miles from the outer fence of Miramar Naval Air Station, the location of Fightertown USA, the home of TOPGUN. A certain famous movie by that name, released just before I entered eighth grade, was a kind of pornography, drug, and rock and roll all in one, at least to this boy just on the cusp of adolescence that summer of 1986. Even before that, I used to be able to sit on my roof or go a couple blocks to my middle school, or just ride the canyons on my bike and I'd see F-14 Tomcat and other jets doing laps around and around for hours at a time. Most flew within a mile or so, and sometimes, nearly overhead. The base was a naval air station then and the pilots were doing their touch and go exercises to rehearse the kinds of landings they'd need to make on the aircraft carriers.

Extending that interest in watching the Tomcats and other planes do laps, my retired Navy chief grandfather indulged me sometimes and took me to Miramar and let me take binoculars to the fence just outside the Fightertown USA hangar, where I'd just observe the activity, or the planes on the tarmac. In a similar way, the stretch of empty space along Kearny Villa Road, on the east fence of the base, just at the end of the runway, felt a little like holy ground where I could be right under the planes as they landed. Of course, there would be military security goons that would come and dismiss anyone watching from that perspective. That made it all the more interesting.

Watching the Blue Angels and getting to the airshows was akin to high holy days. The spectacular six-point convergent move that is done just over the audience (or nearly so since those things have proven disastrous) was sort of a 12 year old's religious experience. Back at home, I'd pore over the Blue Angels' show program with an eye to every detail, getting to know the pilots and everything else.

Passion for Plastic

All this fed a need to build plastic models with more and more accuracy and detail. I'd been at building models since about 11 years old—about 1985 or so—and I'd been developing the craft with each model I built. My favorites were Tomcats, but I had several F-16s, F-15s, and A-4s. There were several other types but I kept gravitating toward those Cold War stalwarts. By the time early 1987 rolled around, as a 13 year old, I was introduced to the International Plastic Modeler's Society, an organization that is comprised of hobbyists, car and military buffs, fantasy figure painters and other types. I went to monthly gatherings and quarterly contests.

The Command Post business card from when I actually worked there. It wasn't the same as the place I hung out at. They had moved three stores into one and the vibe and character was different. By the time I worked there, I was over half a year from having built any models.The knowledge of the planes and the building of the models fed each other in symbiotic relationship. I routinely shopped at a store called The Command Post, a place where I later worked (interestingly in 1990 after I got out of the hobby). There I not only bought my models and supplies, I also endeared myself as the kid who knew all the product numbers and actually got into helping out, receiving product, stocking and labeling, and running errands for the guys. I was doing this at the age of 14. They would reward me with product. That Hasegawa F-14 kit was a pretty hot item when I got it.

For about eight months during 1988-89, I rode one of my bikes over there two times every weekend, taking a long and convoluted path to the store so that the old man could be satisfied I was safer as I crossed the 805 freeway. Each of those days I rode over there, I stayed the whole day, or near that. I got into a habit of staying five hours on Saturday and the entire four hour day on Sunday! I'd usually learn all I could by listening to the real staff guys (one of which, Ross Shekelton, turned me on to music, most particularly Rush, but also with the band that launched my interest in drumming: Def Leppard), and after a while, I'd even be talking to customers about how to use this product or that, and often, fans of one type of plane or another would break into enthusiastic conversation about sightings, air shows, and the like. I'd read the books, study the pictures of aircraft, learning all about them. I was the runner boy for rolled tacos over at the neighboring Roberto's taco shop in the next mall over.

Refining the Craft

Taking all that to my bedroom or my grandparents' patio (at Quapaw/Hog Heaven) during the summer, I'd spend hours at the craft of building plastic models. It was the first craft that ever commanded that much energy and focus of me. It paid off when I got my models entered into the local IPMS contests and was egged on to greater success and technique by the help of an enthusiastic group president, Darrel "The Big Salami" Killingsworth. I learned the finer nuances of flat sanding parts taken off the plastic molding "sprue"; the vastly superior qualities of liquid glue; the optimal filler putties available from automotive suppliers (NitroStan) how to prepare your surfaces for priming and painting; airbrushing; applying decals without bubbles or yellowing. Creating dioramas or maybe how to use clear acrylic mounting rods bent in boiling water so that an aircraft model could be mounted "in flight." And so on.

My A-4 Skyhawk that won two awards, and the plaque and six ribbons from the other winners, all on the same night. I swept two categories by default.The April 1989 sweep

I had been plugging along at the local contests and each was a chance to get familiar with others, learn techniques, get feedback, egg each other on. There weren't many juniors so there was a pretty predictable "competition" between me and a guy named Jeff and a couple others. Or sometimes not at all. One contest in April 1989, I got seven awards for six models, I think because no one was there and I swept the categories of Best Junior/Aircraft and Best Junior/Armor and then got the Best Junior perpetual plaque. It was a rather pointless victory, but good for the teenage ego, especially because my female friend Traci Flint (more of a tomboy/engineering geek of two years my senior) was in attendence and saw it all. At the very least, it did make for some victory chatter and my stuff was seen and the night was memorable.

Award certificate, 1988.One of the certificates accompanying the Aerospace Museum winsOther competitions were a bit harder. In the county-wide contest held by the San Diego Aerospace Museum (sic, that's what it was called then), I did have to come up with the goods. On two consecutive yearly contests, I did win against bona fide competition, placing an F-14 (that had won a few contests) and subsequently, an A-4. The prize was good for the ego: my stuff was on display before the tourist public within the main museum hall for one year for each win, with my name beside it. It was a thing to take my church group and other buddies to. (I think it failed to inspire Shelby Duncan, but she's a freak anyway.)

IPMS National, 1989

One last IPMS contest was a national one where it just happened to be in San Diego. It was during this very week of 1989 (23 years ago now) when I got four awards for three models. I had just started building armor models earlier in the year, and one of them was literally painted the day before entering. Because it was a bona fide national contest, there were other Juniors in the competition, but of course, since few can ride their bikes across the nation with plastic models in a saddle bag or milk crate on their rack, the competition was still not as stiff as among the adults. At any rate, I did get four awards, one for a wacky alternative take on an F-14, the "F-14E" as I called it. (There really were people who asked about it, especially since I came up with a tech sheet that featured the new developments of the airplane. All were contrary to the F-14's longstanding, voluptuous design. It was a total joke but a well done one.)

The three winning models with their award plaques. Abrahms tank, my hoax F-14E, and a Sgt. York tank.The spoils of model building war... the F-14E got the two middle awards

That contest was my last, even as it was my best showing ever. In fact, by October, I had a change sweep across me that was sufficient to put an end to my model building life. I began to play drums just weeks after the contest, and by the fall, all my model projects were brushed aside and forgotten about. I was getting into music. I got all the Def Leppard albums, and at the start of the school year, I was getting into Jethro Tull and bought one tape a week. I also was getting deeply into the life at church [scan of a letter from one of the adults praising that], where I had just returned to active life in June. I was so enthralled by this new life. Schoolwork suffered. Only when I actually was called to work at the Command Post did I engage in the hobby at all, but I doubt I finished even one model. By the time I got the gig at Command Post, they had moved the store (did that in summer 1989) and it was not the same. The personalities I liked had moved on. I worked extremely part time there for about five months or less and never connected again. The money I made was paid me from the cash register, and I promptly walked across the road to Music Mart and bought drum gear there once they had moved into the location. Out with the old, in with the new.

My stuff in the national magazine following the contest.Two of my models listed in the IPMS magazine following the convention

Dawning of Moral Consciousness: 2001

Going to church then in the 1989-1991 period was not the thing that led me to the change that I actually wish to write about now. But it was an early period of church life that later on did affect a lot of change of heart and consciousness. I'd have to skip ahead to 2002 and onward.

I returned to church life in January 2002, one week after it became apparent that Kelli and I were entering a whole new phase of life. We'd sort of moved past "just friends" and at that time, she was like a candle in the window to me, and I found that in the post 9/11 world, I'd need some clues of how to progress. I was 28. Family upset about a year before left the landscape of my life changed forever. My grandmother died in April of 2001, and as you've all no doubt read before, the dynamic changed drastically with the struggle between me and the old man.

I became a quite devoted pew sitter that year and by the end of the year I was recording the sermons and by 2004 was working on the website, and was on the trustees. I was seemingly mature and stepping into adult roles in the congregation. But my favorite part of the new era at church was the sermons and the great pearls of wisdom that I gleaned from the relationship with my pastor Jerry Lawritson. There I learned more about human struggles, nonviolence, liberal theology, and a bunch of stuff that excited me. Names like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, and others were the names I was surrounded with. They all pointed to a deeper life that was tugging at me.

Around that same time and in a parallel universe at Mesa College, an English essay assignment I worked on pondered the direction of American style growth-based economics. That led me to knowledge of peak oil. And that shocked me. By early 2005 I had started a website called EONSNOW and was showing a documentary called The End of Suburbia. I had some idea that all these new things were going to intersect, but they were not yet doing so in my mind.

Booted from Eden: 2005

Awareness like that began to seep into my consciousness. Being troubled by these kinds of thoughts, I set about trying to share them and find others who might be troubled in a similar way. EONSNOW was literally just getting launching three days prior to the day when I got evicted from my dear house seven years ago. That was a galvanizing event as you all know by now. All of a sudden, the focus had to shift from being world-aware to getting a bunch of personal affairs in order. One thing that had to happen was vast reductions in material stuff. I was cutting through the house trying to figure out what had to go. Up in my closet were a couple boxes of plastic models. Many were in some state of brokenness as it was. Landing gear, tail fins, missile rails... all that was broken and not likely to be glued up. The decals were yellowing. The glue was brittle in places. Was there ever any chance I'd put these on display again? The newest of them was 16 years old! The Cold War came to an end AFTER my model career ended. Yet here I was, so many years later, still storing all this?


Detouring for a moment here, it seems honest to say that I still find the technology fascinating. It can't be argued that any of these planes are impressive at some level. Defying physics and the laws of nature is indeed impressive. If I were into all this now, I'd be gushing about the F-22 Raptor, a plane that can do things that my beloved F-14 could never dream of. I'd be building models of it and talking about its thrust-vectoring exhaust nozzles that allow it to do some of the most unusual stuff a plane has been seen doing. But the pursuit of all this development is what I have to draw a box around: they are all weapons of war, and such things as building models is a safe way of objectifying that, and forgetting what human ruin comes either from the firing of the weapons or the very stockpiling of the weapons, and equipping a standing imperial military. The budgets that are shaped with the "defense" of the nation in mind are completely out of whack, with "defense" being half the government's spending for years and years now. And, as I researched this entry using my cursory trip to Wikipedia for reminders of terms and other figures, the F-14, as powerful as it was, was never really put to much use in war. Apparently two Phoenix missiles were launched in Iraq in 1999 for the purpose for which they were intended, and both missed. Those things are a million bucks apiece! That's pretty steep a price to pay for something that can't accomplish what it set out to do. Pointing to two failed missile shots should suggest that with all the massive expenditures the Department of Defense makes, it's clearly going to overspend on waste, fraud, or outright failure. How many people could be fed for the price of just one of those missiles? How much student loan debt could be struck from the books for that sum? How many neighborhoods could be resurrected into thriving communities? How many blocks of blight could be turned into community gardens? And yet, back in the early days of the Cold War, old Ike himself, not a stranger to the military as a victor among the victorious, warned against all this military buildup.

Air shows and other times when military buffs and supporters get together, a saying that accompanies a jet flyby is "That's the sound of FREEDOM!!!" but now I am more likely to mock that with "That's the sound of FASCISM!!!" Did any F-14 or any other piece of 20th Century military gear get made without some cooperation of corporate industry and government that now are bound up like a double helical strand of DNA? Yeah, I thought so.

It was one thing to be technically enthralled by statistics and specs alone, but it took a more mature mind than my teen years could provide before I understood and felt the wrongness of all this. Knowing how much the national "defense" budget requires is a shocker and is far from the concerns of a young kid who thinks it "cool" that a plane can fire missiles or drop bombs to stunning visual effect. Even from my family, I did not get too firm a message to remember that all those stats mask the real power to destroy life and community, and even environment. To a teenager, it's all a game. After hearing Jerry's sermons for a couple years, and hearing them again as I edited and posted them to the church site, I was poised to make a decision about the models.

July 1, 2005: From Plastic Model to the Plastic Bin

In a kind of visceral disgust at myself for keeping them long past their useful dates, I heaved every one of those models into the big black trash bin in my garage. Most I smashed into the sidewalls of the bin. I felt I had to repent for being so blind. Another layer of concern was the fact that all these plastic models were made of petroloeum—oil—and I just happened to be launching a crusade to remind people the oil age is coming to a close and life will have to change. For my immediate future, I had to concern myself with that giant amount of stuff I had inherited, bought, and otherwise gained in transactions ranging from trades to getting married and bringing Kelli's stuff into the mix. It was all hell. Smashing the models was a spontaneous act but something that was brewing for a while. I've never missed them since.

Simplifying: 2012

Skip ahead to the present day. It's 23 years after the most recent awards at the national contest. It's seven years since the models themselves were destroyed. Kelli and I have moved together five times in those seven years. Every move, we cut back some items, but invariably some get added and the feeling of being on a treadmill persists. In recent months, I've been working with Gerald Iversen, a committed peace activist and practitioner of voluntary simple living. We've been working on podcasts for JEM and for the upcoming one, it was just the two of us (Lee was off for good behavior) and the topic was the power of STUFF over our lives. While I didn't tell this story about models and worldviews during that recording, I have indeed been grappling with STUFF, in part because I do not have total say about the STUFF that occupies the house. It might be like pining for a lost innocence, but before I was married, before I inherited a household of STUFF, and before I had a studio space dedicated to the craft of recording, there was a time when things felt manageable, and moving house might have been a two or three truckload thing because it was really just a bedroom with some drumsets.

The recent move to Escondido did pare back a number of items but it still feels overwhelming, and after a bit of a period of considering our option to get a garage at $50 additional rent, we found that we had still too much stuff and that it warranted that extra space, if only because some things are just dirty items and awkwardly shaped: old bike Kelli doesn't use, lawnmower of no use to us at our previous house with a rockscape now with wood chips and no lawn, washing machines we didn't sell before we moved, etc..

my shipping boxes full of stuff, filling plastic tubs of more such stuff from over the years

I keep personal archive tubs of photo albums, boxes or folders of documents and little things to remember, all classed by year or certain other criteria. Those get combed periodically, but such a thing as the collection of awards shown in the video above has escaped scrutiny. The shipping boxes I was able to bring home from a job a few years ago have been handy for making tidy packages, but at the last house, there was no garage and the closet spaces were filled pretty completely. Shit like this just isn't that important anymore.

Of course, there is nostalgia about things like this. All the awards I won at the contests have enough of a reminder to say what model and what contest, but the rest of the story is in my head. No one would be able to put much of it together except from some journals scattered across this last quarter century. And, like everything else you can read on TAPKAE.com, no one really cares. The awards are not going to matter to anyone. They don't particularly matter to me at a great level now that I've felt drawn to another set of values. I do think of the fun I had doing the craft of it, and there are times when I realize in certain moments when I am drawing upon a kind of skill that was learned in those days. Some of those skills proved to be transferable to other things I've done in life. Maybe I bombed algebra and the critical thinking skills that was supposed to teach me, but the mechanics of shaping things with tools and sandpaper, the thought process of moving from step to step from opening a box to airbrushing and placing decals, and the pride of looking upon my creation is all stuff that sticks and appeared in the myriad experiences since, and will do so here on out.

Well Founded Immortality

All that is my experience and my perspective, but will do no one any good in the physical form of award ribbons and plaques. Curating a collection of models of the machines of war is a pointless exercise when you don't any longer believe in the value of war. Retaining a collection of pointless plastic artifacts made from oil is of no purpose to a person who for years has been critical of the abuses of the oil consuming culture. Retaining the synthetic and chemically-drenched awards that celebrate a proficiency in all of those things is particularly useless. The plaques can't even be burned, what with all the chemicals that go into presswood and the veneers. They can't be too well repurposed except as a flat surface onto which maybe a picture can be mounted, or perhaps turned into a hotplate for the dining room table. Attributing any value to these particular items is not transferrable; children I am committed to not bringing to this world won't care, will they? From here on, my generation and several preceding it will have some 'splain' to do why things are the way they are. The least most of us could do is break ranks with some the minor fetishes we have with STUFF, needless technology, and that unthinking love of the military as the defender of much of anything except the stuff that's killing us.

I will not have attained immortality for the keeping of this stuff, and if anything will aid in the immortality project, it will be some evidence of an enlarged consciousness and heart for those I meet and the things I do.

To quote Gerald Iversen, "It's just STUFF!"


Holy Week

My Easter sermon came from an unexpected place today. Some months ago, I talked my New Testament professor into crafting for me a must see/must read list, and I have tried to check a few things off the list from time to time. I gave him a range of interests of mine and cut him loose. One of the movies he suggested was On The Waterfront. I had never seen it so I could not come at it with prejudice. And a good thing. I took the day off from church today, even on Easter, because my weekend time is dear now that I work a straight 40 each week. So on this cool gray morning, I put in OTW and took it in, barely knowing what the plot was about. And, in the weird way that the universe times things, this movie gave me the total kick ass Holy Week sermon that I totally did not see coming. I had to watch the scene twice to be sure I didn't imagine it. It spoke to me in a truly deep way. It was visceral for me to watch. The sermon of course was when the priest came to give the last rights to Dugan after the industrial "accident" that would put the kibosh on his promised whistle blowing. The priest just cut loose in a passionate reminder to the other men what crucifixion really is in their own lives—the "accident," the conspiracy of silence whether out of fear or loyalty, and a host of other injustices that the men were faced with. He assured them that Jesus was among them, witnessing their suffering and their struggling against the mob bosses who keep them in economic limbo. Essentially, the crucifixion is any miscarriage of justice that kills the honest of the world while letting the guilty go off the hook. A righteous man, Jesus even, doesn't die for the sins of the world but because of them.

The other major part of my Holy Week experience was the memorial service for Caleb, written about in the previous blog. In addition, I went and watched a number of videos that his grandson had made in the last weeks or days or hours of his life, and some in the past week. And with all that, it was all the more impressive who he was and what he offered the world. Far from being a sobbing occasion, his memorial was to delight in because he was so rich an individual in all the best ways. I learned many more things about him from hearing folks speak about him. But the one thing that I think illustrates what a tremendous man he was was a story about how he had opened up the pulpit at his Colorado church to Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 50s so that King could address the white audience and bring his message before anyone who would listen and be inspired to act. All the more impressive is that when Caleb was asked years later how much of a difference he felt he made to the civil rights movement, Caleb told the story, and to add to the gravity of the story, he recalled for us that in his youth, his uncles went on lynching parties in his home state of Missouri. Did it make much of a difference, he asked rhetorically? Yes! If you consider that in one generation, that family went from lynching blacks to having Dr. King preach before a congregation of whites, being a part of such an historical shift in American history! Needless to say, Caleb defined my Easter 2007 weekend.

But it wasn't over.

Kelli and I watched a movie called In My Country, which is about the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and the painful process that the country had to go through in order to put apartheid behind them. This movie too, following on the footsteps of On the Waterfront, was gripping and wouldn't let me go. It too was a movie about crucifixion in the same way as the industrial injustice in OTW. But it was also about redemption and forgiveness when everything seems lost. The perpetrators of the war crimes would be exonerated if they would tell their sides of the stories in full honesty (and could prove they were under orders to commit such acts), and if they would hear the full stories of the victims or families of the victims. One of the most exceptional scenes was when an Afrikaner had to square with a little boy who stood by and saw his parents killed and who had remained mute since the incident years before. The Afrikaner was shattered at the testimony of the boy's guardians and he was desperate to get the monkey off his back, and he pleaded to do whatever would settle it. He got in front of the boy, and the boy rose, and after a long pause wherein he could have spat in the Afrikaner's face, or anything else one could expect when staring into the face of the man who killed your parents, the boy opened his arms and put them around the man in a hug that defied all logical thinking, but obviously would illustrate that love and forgiveness can transcend anything if we can just get out of the way.

And then, because two amazing movies on Easter isn't enough, Kelli and I went to dinner at Tara's. Tara and daughter Kalyn helped us do our dirt digging project last weekend (while Kalyn's brother Tyler was in Costa Rica on 8th grade trip), and they have been increasing presences in our lives. Tara had the whole Easter dinner, and it was a great time of connection, talk about cookies, gardening, their trip to Hawaii, pigs, and church. But since Tara and her kids get a kick out of feeding my "pig habit", we watched the movie Babe (a favorite of mine). I figured since eating ham for dinner was my transgression, cheering on the underdog pig (underhog?) to his exceptional victory would be my redeeming deed for the day. And so it was. This was the first year since Kelli and I got together that we didn't do Easter at Phil and Nancy's, and were it not for Tara being so exceedingly sweet, we might have had to fend for ourselves on only a day's notice.

Interesting that in this particular season when I have felt "churched out" and got away from my own church for a few months, I ended up going to Kelli's church at Mission Hills UCC for Maundy Thursday service, our church for Good Friday, and again for Caleb's memorial the day after. But on the day itself, the highest, holiest day of the Christian year, I skipped all of it in favor of something else that made me feel like a human who maybe is worth the water, oil, and air I consume. I guess this year I had to be honest enough with myself that I didn't want to just go through the motions anymore, or at least to not just leave it like that. It's too easy to decide to go to church on Easter and Christmas. But I felt Holy Week this week. It came from being alert to the human condition, whether it came in the form of movies, or interactions with my wife, or the little cat that visits the house as of late, or in having a good meal at a friend's home, and just sharing life. In fact, I could view my last several years as being an extended Holy Week, and the last one year or so being a resurrection for me, away from the time in the dark cave of the soul, reaching for the warmth of friends, or watching movies that grip me (even one with a pig as the star), or turning and irrigating my custom crafted organic soil a few times and feeling like life beckons and is good somehow, even in the messed up world filled with the injustices and crucifixions that surround us every day. As Elie Wiesel would say, the mystery of life is greater than the mystery of death. Move toward the light of life.



The world is torn apart. We need to connect. We need to be able to reach out and feel that there are people out there who care and love and feel like we do. We need to be able to feel that—regardless of what soil our feet are planted on—our hearts are in the same place. For the first time in the history, we have the tools to connect the entire world. The Internet may be a nifty place to buy your books online, but at its core, it is a way for ALL of us to connect to one another. Now, more than ever, we need to use any tools we have to heal our planet. Will it work? A better question is, "Will we try?"

—John Halcyon Styn, Hugnation.com

at lunch with caleb at 93 or so, with kelli and edCaleb Shikles had us to lunch and chatOne of the finest human beings I ever got the chance to know (even a bit of) died this week. Elroy "Caleb" Shikles was one of the most optimistic, energetic, inquisitive, and spiritually gifted men you could meet. He made everyone feel like a loved human being. He was a long time Baptist minister, but by the time I met him (probably when he was 93 or so), he had a soul that transcended all the spiritual divisions we make for ourselves. He was just an amazing human who loved all of life, spoke out for the great things, spoke against the things that bring pain and suffering. He had a brief but critical role working with Martin Luther King, Jr., opening the pulpit to King in his church in Colorado—only a generation removed from when his uncles had gone on lynching parties back in his home state of Missouri. Caleb had a website that his grandson created and maintained, and he used it the same way he lived his earthly life—to spread love and peace. He'd host a weekly online podcast/virtual gathering called "Hug Nation" where people would share their hugs—even if only for one's self—with others by video chat hookup. Caleb was not a member of our church, but each week, Kelli and I would see him walking up the rather steep hills that surround our church and separate the church from the retirement community where he lived. At the age of 94 or more, he was fit to hike that neighborhood, aided only with his ubiquitous walking stick. He came to our church because we have an adult forum that meets before the worship service, and this is where he regularly contributed most of the great wisdom I knew him to have. Name the topic and he had questions that probed deep, and an imagination that no matter how challenging the issue, humanity could work it out for the better. At his age, one might expect he could have been a knowitall with ideas set in stone, but he loved questions more than answers. Even after his many many years as a preacher, he still had to admit that with church membership declining overall, he could have spent his life "polishing the brass on a sinking ship." But this man was too great for any church. He preached with his every word, his every compliment and question, his every smile. At the retirement community he had, he extended his ministerial calling by having a small group of people who offered just to listen to the concerns of those who needed to talk.

For about two years I worked as a home delivered meals driver for local senior centers. I delivered to many older folks, many who were far younger than Caleb, even by 20 years his junior. I saw their homes, how they lived. I greeted some of them in their night robes or underwear. Some died during the course of my service. Some had distant families, or none at all. Some were cheerier than others, but some were morose. Caleb was not a client of mine since he lived in a full service community, but on a couple of occasions in the past year, he had me over to lunch. He was gregarious with everyone he met, even the busboys and servers. Every day he dressed up and looked dapper. He showed me his room, his "cocoon" as he called it, and it was bright and colorful. There were pictures of family and friends everywhere. There were cutouts from magazines and newspapers with articles or pictures that resonated in his mind. There were the letters and poems from various people. He even had a new computer and monitor, which he just marveled at because it helped him tap into even more interaction with people who were dear to him. His room was very much the room of a person who loved life, and planned to love it straight on out to the end. Even he was amazed at how long he had lived, and he thanked God for each new day which gave him a chance to keep doing all the great things he could. His calendar was full of lunch meetings, dinners, his webcast, and maybe even protest marches. Caleb was just so alive that he puts many who are just 1/3 his age to shame. As it was, he was nearly three times older than me, and all I could do is stand in awe of a guy who runs rings around me in so many ways. But he took it in stride and thanked the Lord by just keeping on keeping on.

Caleb Shikles renders the sentiment "only the good die young" utterly moot. What an amazing life, all 95 years of it.


2005—Weaving A Fabric

There is so much I want to say about 2005.

It could be the misery of the ordeal of moving from a place I called home. It could be activist/educator stance I took regarding energy related matters and a culture of materialism. It could be that Glenn and I connected musically, and that he became a new best friend. It could be that I turned 32. It could be that even before my first anniversary, my marriage seemed ready to fall apart. It could be that I rejoined the world of event production. It could be that I lost my studio of seven years. It could be that I regularly went to counseling sessions for self and couple. It could be that I drove up to northern California twice in two weeks. It could be that I was laid off from my favorite job and spent six months unemployed. It could be that I didn't wash my truck once in the calendar year of 2005. It could be that I went to Florida for Christmas.

It could be a lot of things because a lot of things happened to me. But what really resonated for me across all this and more is that I have come to know love more and more, and have come to find I really like the things that can't be weighed, measured, or counted. I've been utterly savoring being married. I love my dear wife like nothing before. She keeps astounding me in ways I hardly imagined possible. But so does our relationship, because for our relationship to amaze me as much as it does means that maybe I have something to do with it, and frankly, it feels good that maybe I've contributed something.

Kelli has always been a light in the window for me. My return to church activities after about a decade off in my personal wilderness fell about two weeks after we started up the relationship we now have, and that date began in earnest on the first of January, 2002—exactly four years ago now. But for years before that, she had been one of a few people who was there to remind me that the church existed and that I would be welcome when it was time to come around. So, my relationship with Kelli and my relationship with my church is really intertwined. They feed off each other. Both of us fill different roles within the church. This year, she started seminary after almost 20 years of pondering such a move. Her grandfather was a minister in our denomination, and she drew a lot of inspiration from him early on. Right now, just standing in her shadow as she goes to seminary is amazing to me. Part of it is just that she is in her Masters program, but by far it is so much more inspiring that she is on her way to self actualization in a very noble field, and one which she has envisioned herself in for more than half her life.

But it's more than that. For me, being in her "zone" of influence, it's really amazing to absorb a lot of things from her studies, either as I am one of her proofreaders or that we just hunger for a lot of the same things and find ourselves in fabulous discussions about a great range of topics, theological and not. Just yesterday and today we sat and watched DVDs that just struck to the core of what we both want to be a part of. We watched films on The Underground Railroad and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We also watched one on Miguel Pinero. The common theme really was something that we find ever more irresistable: redemptive action in a complicated and harsh world. The Underground Railroad and the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer of course are almost the same: struggles to do justice at any and all costs because justice is just what needs to be done. The Pinero story is one of defying pain and injustice and maintaining a sense of self in the hardest times, and the redemptive quality of art to lift the soul out of prison, either the concrete one or the abstract ones.

Kelli and I are fueling up on the start of a journey. We are filling up our reserves with all manner of stories of people who stand in defiance of injustice so that dignity and humanity can reenter the world. They take all forms and come from all walks of life. In fact, our role models come almost exponentially to us; we follow a few we know of and find more, which leads to many more. Bonhoeffer is one tremendous model. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are huge. But the master is by far Jesus. The more I find out about him, the more amazed I am at what a radical he was, and how necessary it is for him to haunt modern hearts. Bonhoeffer called him the "man for others" and established that Christ was really community itself. And, in this fractured world, I find it hard to believe that we can fix the mess with anything less.

It dovetails nicely with my peak oil and consumerism concerns. Really. I came a long way in settling my heart about the traumatic future peak oil will probably bring us when I realized that community relations are what will be the answer if one exists at all. Not divisiveness. Not more individualism. Not escaping to the country to live as hermits with a stockpile and a 12-guage. No, the secret to the worst problems that could ever come is in community. And Jesus exemplifies the notion. Bonhoeffer was a modern echo of that sentiment. Peak oil activist (and my hero) Richard Heinberg provides an even more modern refrain of that theme. As I flew to Florida for my Christmas holiday, I read Joseph Campbell's interview with Bill Moyers The Power of Myth and had this reinforced still more. Humanity knows better than to split itself off from itself—we've failed miserably when we've done so. The themes in our various mythologies all speak to the benefits of community, self-restraint, and giving. These notions span clear across eons of human history, but we still insist on trying to live outside these parameters, only to find their truth magnified in our failures.

It's said that marriage is the cornerstone of society, and I am starting to know what it all means in a very personal way. I find that marriage is just that. I come from a small family that fell apart in a big way such that I feel little or no relation to anyone to whom I am related by blood. Not one of my blood relatives attended my wedding. I've known pain. I've been suicidal. I've feared. I've hated. I've tried to solve problems by creating more. I've lied. I've stolen. I've lived out of balance. I've tried to justify all this, rather erroneously. I've missed the mark. In religious language, missing the mark is known as sinning—in fact, that is what it really means. Fine, then I've done that. But my relationship with Kelli is one that has provided me with a chance to be redeemed, and to work to build community in its smallest unit: between two people. Kelli has been a catalyst for growth and redemption for almost all of the time I've known her, which this year will be 16 years, and as I said, four years in our current relationship. From the practice I get in relating to another human being, accepting failure on both our parts, and revelling in success, it's the stuff that prepares us to take that sort of thing to the world. We consider the Bonhoeffers, Gandhis, Tubmans, Kings, and others of their sort as saints and prophets who lead the way for what will eventually be our world to make better in any way we can. Kelli will find her way in ministry as an ordained minister one day; I find that my work to change minds about consumerism and to prescribe community effort in the face of our energy crisis in the making is where I must be right now. Those are our lofty big goals, but we also try to do the smaller things that matter as often as we can, given that we must still struggle to make a living, and must conduct our lives in a world that would just as soon leave us dead by the road if we let it.

One of our favorite biblical quotes (and one of the very few that I can rattle off at will) is Micah 6:8 where we are told what is asked of us by God: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. All else is subservient, really. It foreshadows what Jesus would come to model for us. It speaks to me like few other things in this age of confusion, dissonance, tumult, pain and suffering. It's a recipe for stewardship of society and environment alike. It strikes out hatred and greed. It demolishes egotism and brutality. This is the basis for community living and success in the face of everything. It's love of self and neighbor. It's the anti-war statement of anti-war statements. It's a prescription for success of the human project. It comes for free but not without a price. Bonhoeffer made a distinction between cheap grace and expensive grace. The expensive variety is demanding. My heroes are people who speak truth to power, who are spanners in the works of corrupt and unbalanced society who speak what they speak or sing what they sing so that redemption may occur.

The things I endured in 2005 are pretty insignificant in their own way. I don't think any of it is unique. I guess I can only hope that what I do with these experiences is somehow for the good. It's hard to hang on to hatred and fear. It is terribly unhealthy. In 2003, the experiences of 2005 might have snuffed me out or would have called out the worst in me. But this year it's been easier to take it in stride while I've decided that all of it must happen for some reason, and that it's all easier to cope with if Kelli is there to help with the load, and the same in reverse. The mission of marriage as one to redeem and heal old wounds is one that we've been working on because I think we both know the world will be a demanding place that needs people who have enough of whatever it takes to cope, and I think we are both just savoring the things we have to draw on, either in the stories of the saints and prophets, or the great thinkers, or the people around us.

On reflection, this is the stuff that mattered in 2005, no matter what the details were. I feel compelled that 2006 will be an improvement upon all that.



Kevin Gilbert was a prophet. I miss that dude.


A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Today on my way in to school, I put up a fistful of flyers for my upcoming peak oil event. I didn't do terribly much because my stock was a little light and I wanted to be sure to hit a few key points on the campus. I was walking by my old speech class where the instructor is a man named Harry Steinmetz. I have had his classes on a few occasions. The first was in ninth grade at Madison when he taught speech. I allowed myself to fail the first semester, but got up to a B when I finally applied myself. The next class was in my senior year when I took his government, US history, and economics class. I seem to remember doing well in there, getting an A, IIRC. I really dug that class. It was one of those that I was able to not just get a decent grade, but I also had this friendly competition with the best of them, one of which has become a restaurant manager who now manages the Seau's sports bar in San Diego. Anyhow, that class was had in exactly the period of the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations. I was introduced to finer nuances of historical and political analysis in that class, among other things like NPR, and whatever else. It was a rich experience.

The fall of 2003 was when I took one of his classes again, but this time at Mesa where he has taught for a couple decades anyway. I knew he had retired from the city schools, but that he was still at Mesa, so I was sure to take another class. And, as ever, it was far more than just a speech class. His classes are just delightful experiences in education. Even in ninth grade as I sat and failed his class by sheer force of will, I was in awe of how he taught and got things out of people. His speech class in 2003 was the first class I took after a ten year hiatus. It was a great experience for me, and a nice way to work back into the academic realm after a long time off. I ended up getting not just an "A" but at the end of the semester, he wrote a nice send off to us all and entered our grade, and presumably for the ones that wouldn't be embarrassed by their grades, he also included where we fit in among all his students that semester. His message to me was that I ranked "101 out of 103" students of his that semester. I can live with that.

So now you know how this could happen:

I stopped by the room really tentatively hoping that I could give him some of my flyers to pass out. He has this bold manner about him which pretty much commands action from whoever he is talking to. Part of his exercises is to get people to get up on a minute's notice and give a three minute impromptu speech. So what should I have expected as I poked my head into the doorway? Sure enough, he called me up like I was in the class to give a speech on the spot!

So I did.

It went on for probably ten minutes, and was interspersed with a few promptings of his, and a question or two from the class. He is one of the most informed people I know, so he was able to know exactly what people would be wanting to know next, and he would lead it there. It was a lot of fun, and frankly, some practice for the things I plan to take on now with my peak oil work. I did give something of a speech at another showing of The End of Suburbia back in October. It was to a room of total strangers (but for about three people), and was not rehearsed in any way. It's hard to believe that was six months ago. Shit, I was new at peak oil then. But this time I actually felt like I knew my shit, at least to be a guide for others who have hardly any knowledge of the stuff.

Hey, as long as I have you here, why not see a trailer for the movie?


Hijacking Adagio

I just got the Leonard Slatkin recording of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and some other tracks that I am not familiar with yet. This morning, I put it on and within a few notes of the Adagio, I actually teared up some. This stuff got all up inside me with no warning, despite having heard it a few times in my mp3 collection, whatever scattered versions I may have collected. I knew only a little about the Adagio, but the stuff that stuck for me was knowing that it was sort of the unofficial compostion of national mourning. It was the soundtrack to the funerals of Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy. Not a bad association to have, especially for Barber who wrote the thing when he was about 23 or so. Man, I remember what I did when I was 23 and it wasn't even worthy of the tape I recorded it to.

But this last week has been one of working hard on getting my peak oil presentation together, and making the website and some promo stuff for it. And whenever I am involved in reading about that stuff, sometimes it is very hard to do that and not hurt. I mean, who wants to envision a world in tatters, especially the sort that we have now, with all our needs met and all our desires ready to be fulfilled? Who wants to envision population crashes and sustained warfare against anyone who has something we haven't (and vice versa)? Who wants to think of getting our drinking water out of a river or lake into which a factory pumped effluent for 30 years? The images in my head about the overlapping and reinforcing clusterfucks that might lie ahead are disturbing.

A few weeks ago at my church, our minister Jerry Lawritson gave a very comprehensive lecture (sort of an extracirricular thing he offers once a year) on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was willing to give up his right to consider himself a Christian once he committed himself to working with a conspiracy group with an aim to kill Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was a model Christian, despite entering into a plot which was designed to fulfill what under normal conditions was definitely not a Christian act. But Hitler was not your normal man, and the WW2 years were not normal conditions. Anyhow, the lecture was really stirring on its own merits, but the music I was asked to play before hand (I am the dude who records various church events, and does other vaguely technical stuff) was Anton Bruckner's 7th Symphony in E, but only one part: the adagio. The notes that came with the lecture are as follows:

On April 30, 1945 as news of Hitler's death traveled across Berlin, even as the Russian army entered the heart of the city, Berlin radio played this very music by this same conductor [Wilhelm Furtwangler] to mourn the fuehrer. Bruckner would have been appalled. Incidentally, the last recording made by Herbert von Karajan was Bruckner's 7th as he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic. Karajan had been the darling of Field Marshall Hermann Goering and a member of the Nazi party. It was a fact he never recanted. The corruption of talented people and culture was a Nazi specialty. This music reminds us that the demonic often wears a nice face.

Indeed. What part of Hitler's contribution to history earned him the right to have beautiful music played at his funeral? You know, the Church even allowed him a "Christian" burial, and not a summary execution by the side of an open pit grave, which would be more fitting for a man of his station. How does this happen and not go unpunished?

By many accounts, FDR and JFK were good presidents. Good enough to have Barber's Adagio For Strings played at their funerals, anyhow. And a damned fine piece it is. In fact, it is one of the best things I have ever heard, anywhere, at any time. It is just passion put to music. It is not dissonant or upsetting. It is not happy and gay. It is not overly long or too short. It is not particularly virtuosic, but it is not without musical merit. It is just good human emotion conveyed through four types of string instruments. And as an elegy, it certainly makes sense. It does have that slow moving graceful sort of presentation about it.

When I think of it, the images come to mind: mostly the stark and disturbing images of the 20th century come to mind, but also the images that I see when I read about peak oil and the possible things to come along with that. It's a lot of sadness, disaster, doom, and pain. But more than that—it's mourning the loss of a whole chunk of humanity and its progress, as for the first time in centuries, I think we are about to take steps backwards, de-evolving. Being de-evolved is not as bad as going through the process of de-evolving. When I think of de-evolution, I see sights of people mourning the loss of the material items they surrounded themselves to keep themselves "happy." I could see them mourning the loss of the environment, and their latent shame and regret in handing over their God-given rights and freedoms to a government that promised doing so was for their best interest. I see people in America huddled around an oil barrel fire pit in downtown squares and industrial parks. People living in slums where they need to recycle scraps from the industrial age to survive. I see people making odd use of cars and appliances as they end up disintegrating into little more than parts and containers. I see people beaten down when they realize they had money but no wealth, and all the while with their own fervent support of the system. I see people wandering almost like zombies in search of food, and having to settle for some rather dire solutions to get by (robbery, assault on others, prostitution, etc.) I see young people born after the oil crash who still hear their parents and grandparents talking about planes, cars, rock concerts with lighting, NASCAR racing, and rockets going into space. The young people have no way to relate to all that and all they can do is express anger and hatred toward anyone who was to blame for ruining the world for them while still being regaled with stories about the "good old days." Some of these people might just want to kill old people for ruining the world for their own greedy pursuits, or maybe even total indifference toward the older folks, leaving them with little option but to curl up and die. I see a reversion to the days when women are little more than chattle, and are the subject of a lot of misdirected anger and aggression. I see illiteracy as a pretty widespread thing because even today, literacy is in a perilous spot. I see a broken education system that will never return to the good old days in the mid 20th century when education came within reach of more people than ever. I see people having to do a lot more physical work for no money but instead having to settle for the satisfaction of knowing that they are alive (if people still have the ability to consider that a good thing). I see people having to use family planning methods we consider barbaric (abortion, infanticide, selling children, whatever) only so that they can allow the already born to survive. I see the compassionate people having abortions to save people unneeded suffering at least while things sort themselves out. After all what sort of world will we turn over to the next two generations in particular? Toxic, dysfunctional, warring, colder, more disease-ridden, broken, corrupt. What will the next two generations think of you and I if we sit by and let history steamroll over us without raising a finger because it was more important to watch American Idol or The Nanny, or to go cruising the boulevard in search of easy pussy, or whatever garbage passes for culture and recreation now? How will we look our grandchildren in the eyes and not expect them to spit in our faces or to kill us in our sleep while we are diabetic, unfit old farts who only sit around and bemoan the loss of all our luxuries while they have to eat out of the trash and drink toxic stew?

Part of my response to the Barber Adagio this morning was a whole string of these images flooding my head, along with the realization that if Hitler (or anyone misguided enough to carry on his program after he died) could give himself a pat on the back with the Bruckner adagio, then some fuckhead such as Bush, Delay, Frist, or any of these other assholes could do the same. I mean, we are dealing with sick people. Absolutely pathetically and pathologically sick people. They are somehow under the impression that their shit doesn't stink, or that we have been lulled into complacency and olfactory fatigue so that we can't tell that it does, or blinded so that we can't even see they are shitting at all. Or maybe they are confident that since shitting did not appear in the Bible, it therefore did not exist, and that anyone who is convinced otherwise is a God hating athiest scientist or liberal. There are increasingly blurring lines between what Hitler was doing and what our present administration are doing. Piece by piece, they are hijacking this once great nation, a work of art in the pantheon of governmental systems. Hijacking. That is the word. It was not given to them, and even still we are not really turning it over willingly. They are playing peoples fears, the same as National Socialists did in the 20s and 30s in Germany. They are catering to people's existing insecurites and neurosis that they are somehow in danger of losing their dignity if they can't be in a position of sheer power and self delusion. They are driving it like they stole it, because steal it is just what they did. They have no plans for the future—a situation which made Bill Moyers ask, what business do these people with no vision for a future have governing this country? Indeed. Why are they holding the reins? We are governed essentially by nihilistic fascists. They have no desire to preserve the world, or to enhance cultural or scientific development except to further very narrow agendas. They have no interest in the future. They believe the world is so wretched and broken that it must all be flushed down the toilet.

They aren't speaking for me. And I would wager a guess they aren't speaking for you either. In fact, the nutcases who the Bush party can claim "voted" for this madness amounts to about one percent of the GLOBAL population, and only a little over 1/6th of the national population! So where is this mandate they supposedly have? Or have they just hijacked the place for their own business? When will they steal Barber's Adagio For Strings and defile that piece of humanistic greatness the same as the Nazis defiled Bruckner? After they remove a few more civil liberties, and convince people that science and secular humanism is what is bringing ruin upon our nation? Recently I read about a Baptist minister that excommunicated a church member who did not vote for Bush. WTF? Sorry, but some things just are not for sale, and some things are not for hijacking. Some things are too precious or sacred to let fall into the hands of bad men. In fact, I might venture to say the entire world is too precious and sacred to let fall to the hands of bad men.

Man, I am so glad I keep my TVMINDPOISONING to a minimum. It frees up a lot of mental space so I can get down and do some real thinking.