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Entries in techno-woe (34)

Sunday
Feb032013

Last Plane out of Rolandia

I'm never an early adopter of technology. I don't particularly like the treadmill of replacing the stuff as things are supplanted by the latest and greatest models, either. It's quite maddening. I don't like comparing tech specs too much. It's bewildering trying to figure out how two models are so alike but different enough to force a choice. I was late in the joining the computer revolution itself, electing to not buy in until August 2001. The one step along the way that I did take was in using the Roland VS-880 virtual studio recorder, which I bought home in August of 1997.

vs-880 recorder in its glorious simplicityVS-880

The 880 was a great platform for helping enable my increasing creativity as a musician and sound artist. The ability to non-destructively edit audio was a major draw for me. A reduced need to bounce multiple parts thanks to some extra tracks was handy too since all my recordings up to then had some kind of permanent artifacts of tracks getting merged down and losing the discreet parts, or taking a bit of a sonic hit as tape generations mounted. So many great things about the 880 fired me up. One thing I didn't particularly need to worry about then was how I'd interface with the world around me. It wasn't a real problem at the time because the idea of having a home studio was to be self-contained. And since the 880 era coincided with my collection of instruments and desire to explore with them, I really was pretty self contained. Sometimes I had sessions with other players but in large part, I just recorded things myself and had fun.

Roland uses an audio encoding format called RDAC which is their own deal. So if you're in the Roland Universe and using Roland gear, you're golden. But they don't make it too easy to interface with the outside world using WAV or AIFF or SD2 format. A later model called the VS-2480 answered demands that Roland get with the program and open a door to users who would be interfacing with the prevailing trends outside the Roland universe. To do 24 track recordings means that people are not exactly tinkering anymore. People set up to record that much are going to be working at another level. Roland was known for being slow about accommodating that.

2480: more is lessVS-2480: more is lessWhen I bought a VS-2480 in mid 2001, I stayed within the Roland family because I'd had such a good time using the 880 and at the time I still had no computer. The larger 2480, with 24 track capability, was enticing but arrived on the scene as my most prolific studio times were waning. It coincided with an attempt to record more live group playing at the studio, so the 16 inputs were handy to capture things in full multitrack glory. Those sessions never turned up anything of lasting value and I found that I had a habit of making a quick mix and burning it to CD and scrapping the source recording. Only a few tracks of any workable quality were done during the year or so that I had the 2480. My Stick-playing and Pro Tools evangelist buddy Tom Griesgraber swore I should just get into Pro Tools LE on the Mac and be done with the closed system that Roland offered. Finally, in the summer of 2002, I saw the light of that and sold the 2480 at some rather acute loss and did in fact get the PTLE 5 and start to learn how to use it.

If you wanted the fuller story, you'd have to read a whole mess of material from a forum site called VS Planet, where I trashed the 2480 more and more as time went on because I found that there was an elusive but very annoying preamp distortion issue. I didn't realize it but I seem to have been the one dude who found that issue and sent the entire 2480 user community on a crazy pursuit of that, with people working out fixes and other workarounds. It's officially recognized by Roland. I dunno if I was the only dude who was baffled by it or not, but eventually many others got drawn into it. In the process of bashing the 2480, a lot of people came to regard me as a troll. It's legendary.

When I got rid of the 2480, I was happy to do so and since I did not get rid of the 880, it seems never to have occurred to me to do the work of using the 2480 as the go-between device to move the 880 era recordings into WAV file format which could be used by computers/digital workstations. I did export a few tracks that originated on the 2480, and that was it. At the time though I knew I was not going to be so clever with recording as I had been on the 880. I felt there was a learning curve and that I'd be a while before any serious work would be done.

With the 2480 reviled and then sent away, the 880 was left to fend for itself. And the work of transfering things was regarded as not that important or maybe in a case by case basis, tracks might be bounced to WAV by a MIDI-synched bounce, two tracks at a time via a digital connection. That was all the plan there was for recovering things, sad to say.

CD stack with archived vs-880 sessionsThe data CD stack

Then, all that life stuff happened and the years kept blowing past and the CD spindles with VS-880 data archives were periodically found and put away, found and put away. The 880 and its CD unit still work. The SyQuest drive that also served as a backup/archive was found to not work—even a decade ago. In a related precedent from last year, Kelli finally bit the bullet and did her text transfer work that required a chain of old machines that once were used to do this tedious work and could finally be let go of. And so, taking stock of what I have, what would be recoverable, and goals to publish my music on more contemporary platforms like Soundcloud or YouTube, I have been thinking of what a preservation effort would be like. But one thing was missing until November: the 2480. It would be just one of two known (and somewhat efficient) ways to do the work. The other would be to have a Windows PC and a special program written by Roland VS users that would directly read the Roland archive CDs. Not knowing if that would be anything I'd actually ever do, the 2480 was the last opportunity to collect my old stuff and escape the Roland RDAC prison.

Last Plane Out of Rolandia

Recovering data CD material to 2480Recovering data CD material to 2480

In recent times since moving to Escondido, I met a guitarist named Brian Calwell who has been part of the Celtic jams I've gone to since the summer. At some point in November he mentioned he had two VS-2480s and that he'd cut his records on those, and recorded live shows with one. He also said he'd mostly moved on from them recently. I didn't ask right away but it was too good a situation to ignore. With the holidays coming up, I felt it would be a great time to remix the Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project. Brian let me come over to his place just a few miles away and spend some hours trying to extract the HHHTM material from the 880 data disks. That worked well and I did that project during December. While at his place I also was able to hear a couple other seemingly lost bits from the 2480 era and that fired me up. He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine, whenever

Just after Christmas, we were trying to work out a date for me to come do some transfer work and he just volunteered maybe I could just use it here for as long as I needed. BINGO! What a cool dude! So for the entire month of January, I had it and the CD writer on one side of my desk, and the 880, its CD writer, and the DAT machine on another side, and for a few weeks now I've plugged along at finally collecting all the recoverable material I can get from 880 data archive disks, DAT tape (not requiring the Roland units), and stacks of CDs. All that stuff is getting turned into WAV or AIFF files which I expect will be more durable since they are the working formats across PC and Mac these days. If nothing else, it will ensure that as much as I can make it so, everything will be in one format: uncompressed, non-proprietary 24 bit audio ready to be acted upon as needed, instead of scattered about on various formats.

DAT Hell

880 and DAT: the match made in Hog Heaven880 upon the DAT: the match made in Hog Heaven (studio)

The digital audio tape format plays two roles in this whole transfer scheme. The primary use for DAT is as a mixdown format, and I have about 30 tapes with various mixes and assorted scraps that maybe didn't warrant being kept in 880 format. DAT has been trumped by hard disk recording and CDs when it comes to a more playable 16 bit format. I have tried on a couple of occasions to play those tapes into the computer so I could have them to work with and be backed up before my machine totally ate the dust. The format now is largely regarded as dead. The last time I did a transfer, in 2010, I stopped the machine and made new files for each mix that played. That led me to some troubled DAT times where tape got munched or corrupted. So I put it down and hoped I'd find someone with a working DAT before more of my work was endangered. Some years later the situation has not changed for the better. I began to put in the lowest priority tapes and played them into the computer in real time with no stopping of the tape deck or the computer. I'll figure it out later. I kept spreadsheets of tracks and notes for things that took some more nuanced attention. Little by little this past month, I got those tapes played in.

880 archive on a DAT tape880 archive to DAT

There were just a couple other DATs that I had largely forgotten about. As I assessed where the 880 era material was scattered across formats, I found some DATs that were used as archive tapes, storing session data from the 880—mix parameters and all. Three tapes carried 880 copies of things that originated on 4 track cassette and that I thought it would be good to have in digital in case I ever decided to remix things or grab material to use elsewhere. Some of the ReCyclED stuff was on there, and a good thing too since there were a few core tracks that straddled that period of changeover from tape to hard disk. Importing those to 880 and then burning the archive disks got me to where all the other archive disks were—the point at which the 2480 would be able to import things, and in turn burn exported WAV files to CD.

880 capturing the DAT archive material.880 capturing the DAT archive material.

Lost? Yup. The flow on those DATs was like this:

4 track cassette source > transfer discreet tracks into 880 in 1997 > archive to DAT in 1997 (before the CD writer became available) > import to 880 in 2013 > burn to CD as workable format for 2480 > import to 2480 > export to WAV files on CD > import to Mac. Then the Mac of course will be able to use the material freely and will generate multiple backups.

Most of the transferring project started with 880 archive CDs done in 1998-2001. The DATs of course had that longer legacy. It was insane. The one DAT worked out that way. The other two? Well, they suffered from some unknown mix of garden variety DAT issues but somehow the 880 was not able to import them. That process was hit with various errors. I tried several times. Finally, knowing that those tapes were rather inconvenient copies of 4 track tapes (which still sit in a box here), I just destroyed them.

SyJet Crash and Burn

One last format was not so much an archive but a backup for works in progress. As it were, they seem to have last been used to backup the final mixes of Receiving from late 2000. The SyQuest SyJet was one of my first experiences with computer breakdown. It was a bit like a Zip drive but the disk was actually a removable hard disk instead of a floppy style in a plastic case. I had one go bad on me early on and the one I replaced it with (cunningly bought as an exchange with the old one put into the returned box, even months after it was bought) lasted long enough to do my best work, then it went on the fritz. Good thing I had left some notes on what was on them. After comparing that to other stuff I'd fetched on archive CDs and DATs, I gave myself licence to demolish the thing with a ball peen hammer. I kept the cartridges but the drive was toast. I found some online for $90 but that's not worth it if the evidence suggests I already have their contents.

Portastudio: the Final Frontier

I gave away my 4 track tape deck in 2005 when I was evicted and at the same time, music buddy Glenn Farrington was interested in recording something himself. I kept my tapes and to this day I have a good deal of stuff from about 1993-1997 on cassette in regular stereo and 4 track format. The problem is, these tapes rely on what might be an even deader format. I went to a pawn shop to inquire and we all had a chuckle about how they don't even see people bringing them in. I've seen a couple used ones online. But with all the magnetic, physical media, who knows what one might get. It could be money down the drain. But if I am ever to fetch my work from that period, that's the machine I need to get. Sure, I have mixes from that era, but the multitracks are here and ready if the machine appears. I doubt it's worth losing sleep about it.

One reason for holding on to some hope about it is that in 1996, when I did my original project bearing the name of The Artist Presently Known As Ed, I took it to a guy who did digital editing. He was a nice dude but somehow as we played my DATs into his system in real time, he did not pan them in full stereo glory. Somehow, we both totally missed the fact that the product I ended up paying for was summed to mono and when the CD he output was given to me, I found that it did not sound right. The problem really was that by the time I found that out, I had no recourse. I had him play the final product out BACK to the DAT tape I brought in with the mixes, and so my mixes were overwritten. So that project has never been heard in stereo since the day before I had it produced as an album. Recovering the source 4 track material would let me do that project some justice, not to mention I could use far less gimmicky EQ curves. I was young then...

Good Bye and/or Good Riddance

So there you have it. The task of trying to gather all my musical offspring back into one place after 17 years of changing formats. The Roland VS format is clever for capturing and doing some work but it's not too conversant. DAT is glitchy and is considered dead. Four track is more durable and resiliant but I don't have a machine. When this is really in the can, I can finally do as Kelli did a year or so ago, and get rid of some old stuff. DAT is off to eBay for some one else to worry about. The 880 and its CD writer are on the block. The SyJet already made it to the landfill by now. I reviewed material on my Sony Minidisc player and bounced just a couple things that didn't exist anywhere else. It's going to the thrift shop. The 2480 is going back to Brian. Now I will have a box of old cassettes to hopefully get to one day, but everything else is on the iMac and a few hard drives. I'll keep the DAT tape and CDs from the 880 for a while. The transfer process generated a considerable number of CDs with 24bit WAV files on them, so those constitute backups of session tracks, sometimes pared down to working tracks and other times littered with fragments. But it's all so much more available than ever.

WAV on CD finally. Now just to import it to the Mac.WAV on CD finally. Now just to import it to the Mac.

Where to From Here?

I can finally see a bird's eye view of my recordings, from all the solo work to stuff for Loaf, Mike Keneally, Tamara, Kelli and I, Magnificent Meatsticks, and a number of jams and short band projects. I have fanciful ideas of doing mashups of all sorts of things. Already I had thoughts stir in me that there has to be nearly an album's worth of ambient and sound collage material to release. I started all this in the hopes to remix as much of ReCyclED as I could, in some cases using material that, because of the limits of 8 tracks, had to be mixed out.

With a site like Soundcloud that makes it so easy to share and annotate recordings, it seems the time is right to get to the source audio, encode it robustly, tag it completely, and put it out there so people in Slovakia finally can discover the secret gems of the San Diego underground music scene in the late 90s. About my only reservation is that the track by track format doesn't let me publish things as I would on CD: tracks segued and overlapped or collaged into seamless running order. Physical media is dead for now, so it's sort of a thing to just face and roll with. In its place is the great possibility that stuff can be discovered and liked and shared without my micromanaging the transactions.

I am excited at the thought of seeing all my stuff presented well in one place. Because my recordings have been on so many formats, some in final mixes or in working mixes that just sort of ended up being the longstanding mix, there has never really been a consistent digital, web-ready approach. The mp3s on this site are more or less the same as they were as I added them over time, starting as early as 2000. They aren't tagged too well, and of course, hosting audio on a website like this is to be stuck in obscurity. So I have an idea that I should get a body of work together on Soundcloud, then rebuild this site again to feature players with my virtual albums. It might be a lot of work. I hope I can keep the focus because for so many years now I have really been shrugging off music creation and publishing as much as I was gung ho for it in the early days of my web design interests. It's about time the two finally meet and shake hands.

Listen to my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music from year 2000, done on the 880 in some haste, and remixed in Logic after being imported to the Mac via the chain of events chronicled here.

Wednesday
Aug102011

Mad Macs—Kelli

Ten years ago today I got my first computer. It still sits in the other room that is known as Kelli's office. She uses it to this day, or maybe I should say, she tries to. When I got my second G4 in 2004, I set her free on the first one. She used that for a year and a half before she got a G3 iBook laptop that was her main axe up till early last year. The letters were worn off some keys. She was killing the second battery. Finally, it died and was clearly nothing to repair. I set her up with the first G4 again. Last summer, just week after I got my current iMac, the second G4 crapped out at once. We were left with the oldest and the newest models. Damn. I collected my hard drives (that would work in either G4) and left the newer one to sit for months before deciding to can it for good.

The old G4 was something I could have gotten rid of some years ago were it not for it being equipped with a Zip drive. That feature made it possible to complete a multi-step transfer project Kelli once set out to do, with the goal to get her ancient word processor files onto a floppy that could be put into a beater old PC that in turn would cough up a Zip disk that the G4 could read and finally work with in more contemporary file formats and editors.

We had that elaborate rig put together for a week or two in 2006 when she had time away from school, internships, and all the other professional prep she's done since then. She got about half of it done and we still have all those machines (but cut back a monitor or two since) sitting around somewhere. I usually rib her some, but over the years, it has seemed absurd to be lugging all the extra stuff around when all we really need today is a laptop and an iMac.

Months ago, the old G4 DVD drive stopped accepting disks, which also meant that I would not be using the Techtool diagnostic disk to defrag it, or to do other maintenance. I started on with the ultimatim that the G4 had to be retired. Time for new shit. New shit. The income was not right at the time, but now we're on the verge of getting that taken care of and we've been looking at some pretty nice Macbook Pros that would be insanely good compared to the hand me down and used stuff she's always used. Her time has come to have something that can perform for her.

I guess I got my money's worth from it. It was something like $2400 when I bought it as the best of the line at the time (867 Mhz), and $600 more for the nice LaCie CRT monitor I got originally. But now it's a boat anchor. The OS was maxed out with Panther, 10.3.9, which I think was the update from sometime in 2006! The browsers have decayed so much that Gmail shut her out essentially.  YouTube videos could barely play. Only Safari v1.x and Camino 2 would work anymore, and barely so as the web technology marched on past. Facebook was half broken, not allowing comments. Other eseential programs work of course, like Microsoft Office, but compared to the iMac, they are agonizingly slow. Kelli has to part time it over on this iMac for printing, disk burning, social media chatter, and dealing with Gmail now that they cut things off at the more modern browsers that can handle HTML5 and such.

The ultimatim was narrowed down to August 10. I kept dropping the hints. August 10 is just a couple months away. A couple weeks away. A week away. Tomorrow. Today. Ten years is long enough! Part of it is good natured ribbing, but really, the longer this goes on, the less I can do anything to protect her data. Good thing I do have it backed up to a hard drive, but we're on the twine, chewing gum, and duct tape program here! Tonight we did take a look and priced the Macbook Pro, a refurb like my second G4 and this iMac, and she's on the verge of this. Her new discipline is to get out of consumer debt and so this purchase is a huge thing to do out of income alone. But now she's finally working as a professional and the long deferred expenses are at least able to be looked at. (After this, the car will demand a solution considering how much she drives.) 

I still don't think a new machine will help get the old word processor job done though...

I might have to address the role of the computer in these ten years in another entry.

Friday
Aug052011

Edumacation Aint What It Used-ta Was

I went to Mesa College the other day to get a report on what classes I need to be a transfer-ready student. My dreaded math and science classes are all that stand in my way. As if my four years and one semester of algebra was for naught (see my progress reports and other docs in Skool Daze gallery), I get to do algebra AGAIN if I am to get on with my studies. And this algebra class is just as a prerequisite for another class that might be more mercifully realized as statistics, which elicits a less dreaded response in me. I have two science classes to take, one of which needs to have a lab associated with it. 

Thanks to idiocy at every level of society, the financial picture is weaker than ever at the state level, so there are notices all over the campus and website that resources are strained. And for me, right now, I see that damn near every class I am looking for is closed or wait list only. I'm torn. I like the feeling of victoriously finishing a class, probably having learned something, and usually getting excellent grades too. But like in the fall of 2006, I am on unemployment again, and to go to school during the day is to forfeit that, which is risky because there are no prospects except shitty jobs that I'd prefer not to apply to, some paying less than the unemployment anyway! 

I could say that I feel trapped. But in more ways than just not having an education. There is that. Sometimes I guess there are opportunities that I'm missing. But remember, even in 1993 when I took a semester, a year, a decade off from school, there were plenty of stories about college grads who were still flipping burgers. It was hardly an incentive to rush through school. These days, the economy is in the shitter more than ever, and there is a dawning realization from the oh-so-well-educated classes that people are... generally overeducated for the work that needs doing. Duh! 

Our global irony is that all our problems can be laid at the feet of people with education and ambition. If that solved the problems of our human existence, I might wager that by sheer volume and weight, we have more well educated and ambitious people than ever. The factory-schools have pumped them out quite well. But then why are we at a global situation that fills some with dread? It wasn't the peasants and the meek that brought the atomic age, the computer, the transportation system, the genetically modified crop, or the financial rackets that wrecked the economy. It wasn't the peasants and meek who thought that stuff up and implemented it at market scale. We have more brain power than ever, but less soul to guide it! We can discern the comings and goings of things in the natural world, but we can't figure out how to live within it as if we are integral to it and it to us. What century before us honestly could worry that humankind could destroy not only the town/city/state/nation, but ultimately the biosphere too? It would be insanity. You don't need a fucking Ph.D. in anything to realize that, but now we have more and more people educated at levels that seem to elevate people off the ground of reality. All that was supposed to alleviate the trials of life, but education, when partnered to serve corporations and technology, is just part of the machine that is going to be our undoing.

I fancy myself more of a liberal arts learner, rooted in the model that learning is good. For the sake of learning itself, or for personal improvement to develop an open mind ready for civic and social engagement. I feel that I've pursued that despite being off the official academic coursework for more time than I have been on it. In that, I've come to regard all my life as my classroom, all my trials as my teachers and assigments. I do sometimes lament not having done things according to the typical post-high school plan, but then I also admit that while I might have done that, I was quite wet behind the ears in many other ways that took an educational path that schools don't/won't/can't provide. I recognized in 1993 that I could go through the school process, essentially spinning my wheels learning stuff without knowing really why I needed or wanted to know it. 

In the men's work that I do, everything is regarded as a teacher. It all belongs. That alone, learned in a new way at 36, was a huge thing to pick up, particularly at the level it hit me last year. I've even learned lessons from dogs that surpass the teachings of bosses and mentors and others. Tomatoes in August left an indelible mark on me that high school teachers wish they had the power to leave upon a person. A shoot of a tree branch sticking through a field of concrete says what pastors can't say so efficiently and eloquently.

More and more, the world is going to need people who forget all they learned so that they can learn what needs to be conveyed from the planet and its inhabitants for the genuine well being of all who make the daily spin on this planet which makes its yearly lap around the sun. It isn't that education itself is bad. It isn't. But what has to be cut off is the absence of reverence. I'm sort of conflating my former pastor's words with the Urantia Book, but the purposes of education and learning in the Western world have generally morphed from the Hebrews' desire to learn about and reverence God, to the Greek's desire to understand the beauty inherent in all things, including oneself. But both seemed content to enjoy the pursuit, the means, and not to seek to control the ends. We now seek knowledge to use, to manipulate, to control. Think about it: just about any breakthrough is not exciting in the pure joy of knowing something new. Almost immediately, minds are enlisted to figure out how to turn it into a patentable product, a process, or something of use to commerce or government, or worse still, combat. We figured out how the sun worked and made a miniature version with our atomic development. A new species is discovered and not long later, it is seen as the basis for a new drug or food additive. The best university minds aren't discoverers in the old medieval sense; they are the raw materials for industrial development. A Buddhist or Christian or Muslim mystic can study things at a level like a scientist, but their training also instructs them in reverence for what is witnessed, aka, to leave it alone and appreciate it as it is. The layers of wisdom wrapped around any observation-based knowledge says that it is not their place to go tampering. That is the domain of the divine. For a mystic, it would be enough to glimpse the divine, not to try to unpack it all and control it and make it do new tricks, guided by a pathetically limited consciousness.

Reading Richard Heinberg's book, The End of Growth, it is again on my mind that my lifetime will play out differently than any other as we face the consequences of an overeducated, overambitious society of people who have missed or discarded reverence as part of knowing things. A team of brilliant doctors and reattach and reconstruct body parts, but cannot make life meaningful. The dark side of their craft is that all their gizmos take industrial infrastructure that is now on unstable ground. Their educations are expensive, and the debt that allows it to happen is incompatible with a post-growth era. That alone will reduce many a college enrollment number, which of course will make it less possible for most people to pursue higher education that perpetuates the division of knowledge without a concomitant increase in wisdom. Maybe the days of heroic medical interventions are drifting away. I'd like to think that a quality of life we don't now enjoy is something to look forward to.

If anything, there needs to be a return to vocational occupations where people actually do the kinds of work that isn't offshorable and downsizeable. It seems backwards, and it is, but it was a stupid thing to abandon it in the rush to one side of the boat—higher education for all, whether it was a good idea or not, whether folks could afford it or not. A post-industrial future that has to face up to that very fact will not be able to send people learning stuff that is of no practical use. But I hope that in addition to whatever practical skills people have to learn as apprentices, there are opportunities to get a larger picture of life and how that serves people at a fundamental level. There really is only so much work that needs to go on for survival. It is rather attainable, and sustainable. Maybe once the obsession with growth is seen for the stupid and empty pursuit it is, people could reprioritize and place some value on the personal goals of spiritual and emotional improvement that the industrial age has failed to allow us to pursue. It hardly has to be structures. It just needs to be guided. One pretty much needs time to breathe and see a world at a human pace and a human scale again. 

Thursday
Mar032011

Red Mesa

All the talk about digital this and computer that does wear on me after a while. Last year was the beginning of a time when I got a chance to learn again to appreciate doing the digital stuff, but for a different reason than before. But it was also a year when I learned again to appreciate decidedly undigital life, and most notably, the natural world as I got to see it in my three trips to desert destinations.

For about the last year I have been feeling a call to go to New Mexico. With the notorious exception of parental custody battles and gameplaying as an infant, I have never been there to actually appreciate it. I find it intriguing from this vantage point. It is known as a spiritually rich place, with the confluence of the Native peoples and their thousands of years of history, intermingled with the early colonial influences. But to add to the complexity, set against the backdrop of all that spiritual-religious history and atmosphere, it is also the place where the most dubiously unholy deed was done: the testing of the first nuclear explosion. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition at the least.

The other calls to New Mexico have been in the form of spiritual tales or opportunities. In about a years' time, I heard about and then completed the Mens' Rites of Passage which is a program offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation, based in Albuquerque. My own rites were in Arizona, but that just whet my appetite. While there, the master teacher, Belden Lane, told his story about his CAC/MROP initiation at Ghost Ranch in NM, and also about his time at Christ in the Desert monastery where he set about finishing his book on The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. In this same year, Scott Landis preached about his three week experience at Christ in the Desert, in part to decompress from being ousted from the church he pastored (on account of his recent coming out). New Mexico, as a place of spiritual development opportunity, has been on my mind for a while.

This January I applied (a bit late, I found) to be an intern at the CAC for a ten week spell. That might have been a bit disruptive to home life, but would be a great time to work and learn, reflect on a day's experience, or a lifetime's. CAC always seems to have something interesting going on, and the next thing that came across my desk was something that one of my small group members at the rites had taken to doing on two occasions in the last season or two. That he is a Canadian and decided to haul off to New Mexico said something.

I read his essay in the midst of the website about CAC and their Red Mesa property. David always has a way with language, so his account of tending sheep was profoundly moving, particularly since we had the same initiating experience last spring. Tending sheep? Yes, it is out of character for me. I have barely ever seen sheep. The charm of this is to enter into a different life and a different space and see what it has to teach. It is hard to sum up what the Rites of Passage experience was, but it continues to unfold in meaning, as a touchstone for reference. I find CAC's programs to be attractive in their ability to teach at a real level. It isn't just retreats they offer. So at the end of the month, I will go to Red Mesa and spend a week doing whatever on the property with others who are interested in the CAC-offered Alternative Spring Break. Hey, being out of work has led to some neat developments.

Red Mesa is in the backwoods of New Mexico. I think I will drive the mountains on the norhteast side of Phoenix. I rather like the idea of maximizing the wilderness time on such a trip, so staying off the freeway might be nice, at least going one way. As close as I am coming to the Trinity testing site and the Very Large Array radio telescope site (the dishes that I once planned to use for my Receiving cover), I will be a week early for the ONE day that the site is open during the springtime. I have just put out feelers to see what can be done to tarry in New Mexico for a week to help bridge the decidedly low tech sheep week and the sites that indicate our highest technological aspirations. That should be interesting. In some ways, that would be a thing to ponder to help clarify my own relationship to technology and my longing to more completely live an uncomplicated, organic life.

Tuesday
Oct052010

Technomessiahs, Redux

A week ago on my local PBS radio station I heard this show on Geoengineering—the range of ideas concerning global efforts to take some mighty heroic measures to combat the looming prospects of damage from climate change. Anytime I have heard this topic come up in the last year or so, my skin crawls and my stomach feels ill. It presents itself to me as science fiction, and dangerous fiction at that. To me it smacks of hubris on a level not ever seen before, except in some parallel movements in genetics and economics which are pushing into dangerous territory once regarded as the domain of the divine. It seems the kind of ambitious technological overreach that elicited a response from the Lord in Genesis, who watched humans building the great tower, something which was met with the confounding of language, meant to at least make it hard to get such ideas off the ground.

The technological genie has been out of the bottle for a couple of centuries now. Geoengineering is one more prayer for what I call the "technomessiah" to come and save us from, ironically, the other technomessiahs who have come in ever-accelerating fashion. The soul work associated with loosing ourselves from the technological straitjacket is too hard to do, it seems, so the de facto answer is to keep charging ahead into the same thing we desperately need to escape. I think I encountered the idea in Richard Heinberg's work, that civilization is one big unintended consequence of our first dabblings in toolmaking. The makers of flint axes could not have imagined our dilemma today, but it was a slow climb up a long ladder for millennia, with a quite noticable acceleration in the last 250 years ago, and certainly in the last century. What does it take to dare look down in preparation for a retreat from these dizzying heights?

Today the news let me know about the red tide of toxic sludge flowing through Hungary. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still wreaking its havok. These are just two examples of humanity not having control over its technology. We're adolescents still, thrilled with our ability to make stuff, but seemingly unable to harness it. To be clear, I am not against technology per se, nor am I against invention and progress. I should be clear about that. But I do criticize the automatic reaction to meet problems with more advanced technology in lieu of maybe stepping back and changing priorities. Appropriate technology for a job is quite fine, but it takes discernment to know what that is, and not to automatically run to whatever is the latest and (supposedly) greatest. What I think has been a dangerous combination is how technological development has been taken to market for mass production even before we have a chance to understand what could follow. Most of the things we use now have no big impact if they were the only ones of their kind, but they are not—they are mass produced consumer goods that draw down resources and when used by individuals according to individual priorities, and not social vision, will bring us to where we are now.

The answer that keeps presenting itself to me is to revisit and learn from the great spiritual traditions that guide us in how to relate to one another, to creation, to our creator. What is needed is literally a counter-cultural response to our great dilemmas. A counter-cultural response might emerge from any of the great traditions that predate our love affair with our technological development in the industrial age; those traditions have a memory of a life before the creative explosion that has paradoxically led us to the crisis of our time that is being met in certain circles with the grandiose ideas of geoengineering. Those traditions are the only things that frame life as inherently hard, and that instruct people in possible ways to move gracefully nonetheless. Our love affair with technology has much to do with our aversion to difficulty. I guess one thing that bothers me about the geoengineering ideas is that they presume an inability to change the fundamentals. They don't require the soul work to change the underlying problem. We might embark on a project like that with the unbridled expectation of economic growth, even though that has been the leading cause of our greatest problems.

The soul work of relinquishment, humility, love for others is all hard work but I feel it is the work that will draw us back from our dangerous place. Tapping into that consciousness will be the liberation we need from the thought structures that have brought us here, a place of neurosis, unable to cope properly with the technological genie we have loosed on the world. We're really quite miserable this way. Isn't it time for something else?

Wednesday
Aug252010

The Intersection

Devoted readers of this journal probably know that I really am not a big fan of technology, and that my general attitude toward it is that I like it enough if I can wrangle something creative out of it. Some will recall the old story about when I was a kid and managed to take my first bike apart as much as I could, only to be like a deer in the headlights when instructed to put it back together. That was perhaps the first instance showing my lack of aptitude for coping with material things and technology. That has been borne out many times since.

But this summer I got my newest computer—my third since about this time in 2001—and have plunged into new programs and even new roles as I embrace podcasting for Jubilee Economics Ministries, and have done an extensive site rebuild with them, bringing them into the social media age. All that, considering that up till earlier this year I knew quite little about those options. It has indeed been a change of attitude, particularly since I rode my old computer into the ground it seems, with it not powering on at all now, a scant week or two after I got this new iMac. I had really ambivalent feelings about computers and the digital life. But a funny thing happened this year when JEM needed to find a way to spread their word farther than they were able, I happened to be in the office and had at least some suggestions.

It does help having a new machine with programs that output contemporary files and media. I do like this thing, particularly since at least my old computer had the good sense to just die when its replacement came, helping make a decision for me. Kelli has taken the first machine I got in 2001 as a replacement for her own iBook that died in the spring of this year. She is bracing for a new Macbook or something. Along with this new machine I needed to get a new audio interface, and therefore more preamps that I don't particularly need, but it does make a nice lean recording environment. I got Logic Pro and Peak Pro. I am quite familiar with Peak from years of sermon editing, but Logic is a new kettle of fish that I hope to have some discipline to learn.

JEM is just one use for this stuff. Now that I understand podcasting and am quite well equipped to do so, I have been pitching ideas to people about shows that might be ready for the format. I proposed a 'cast for Kelli and her fellow female ministry buddies. It would be a potentially hilarious and yet very intense look at ministry from the perspective of women in pulpits and in chaplain positions. It would be called (rather irreverently so for the conservatives who like to cite one lame line in 1st Corinthians) "Women Who Speak In Church." There are a pool of potential participants from Kelli's circles.

Another would be a lesson type program with Dr. Phil Calabrese, who has much to teach about the contents and meaning of the Urantia Book. He, after 40 years of study and reflection on the book, is among the best people in the world to do a program to spread the word. He looks at it as a scientist-mathematician who wants to see if what was said in 1955 and before was predictive of what science is uncovering today about certain cosmological relationships, archaeological discoveries, etc. If Kelli takes part, she too can share from a perspective shaped by many years of reading the book, but also as a theologian and pastor.

Those are just a couple things. Notice I didn't really say that I was involved in any of it particularly, at least not as the centerpiece of things. One of the things that is emerging is a feeling that these skills and tools need to be put to some other use than self promotion. I've worked an awful lot on JEM stuff this year, and done a site rebuild and a half. (We were going to use Wordpress like this site does, but ended up finding a kickass plan on the Squarespace infrastructure, so we dragged all the WP stuff over after a fairly complete job on WP.) A lot of time, but on reflection, maybe too little still, considering they have been asking me to write for them, or for the Streetlight newspaper, for some years now. I don't know if writing is my place with JEM; I happened to be the guy who knew enough of this web stuff to take them someplace else when the time came. The whole website in its revamped form is actually going to change the way JEM operates and presents itself. This is suitable repayment for the influence that JEM has had in my life, helping me see the world in a vastly different way in the wake of so much personal upheaval. Recall that I met Lee of JEM just a couple weeks before I got evicted in 2005, as if to say that God had some other plan, and was introducing a whole new father figure that was going to point the way for the next stage in life, now that the old one had essentially passed on that responsibility. So, the countless hours of volunteer work don't seem like much.

Not all the media work is as volunteer though. I got a few bones this summer for crafting a single page site for the writer-blogger-podcaster-polemicist James Howard Kunstler. He has two books now that are novels about the post oil future. Both are supported by one-page sites that I designed. (See World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron, the sequel.) Working for JHK is interesting because he too was highly influential, even as far back as 1998 when I was given a copy of his book, The Geography of Nowhere, which was perhaps the first real dose of social consciousness that I embraced as my own. That book and its survey of the wasted landscapes of this nation did awaken the sort of consciousness of how my world operates, the sort of consciousness that was jolted again a few years later in 2004 when I saw Kunstler in the peak oil cautionary film, The End of Suburbia—a film which I was showing in 2005, just days after I met Lee (he attended, we later collaborated on a showing of The Corporation), and days before I got evicted from my suburban home.

When I met Lee, I thought I was starting a project called EONSNOW, and rather boldly asked him to support my project. Now that seems hopelessly preposterous, being a pretty untested entity myself, and he having years and years of pastoring experience, and life experience to excel mine by double. So now, years later, it is right for me to take my place in a support role to what he is doing, even as he has allowed me a great latitude to experiment and change the plan daily. But finally, he, with the message, and I with the means to get it outside of his office,  are on to something. We're quite excited.

One of the lessons in my mens' rites of passage was that "your life is not about you." If I were to set up two poles in my life, viz. my relationship to technology and media, those poles are that I used a lot of it to be pretty self-aggrandizing and me-centered in the earlier years, and the opposite was to shed as much of it as possible and find myself disregarding the media options that I used to use, sort of like a dry drunk. Either too much or too little—a dualistic mindset that is anathema to honest spiritual progress. Either of those poles was about me whether in indulgence or in denial. It is sort of like the story of the Buddha who experimented with hermitic self-denial for several years after living the lavish life that was his birthright as a son of a royal man. Ultimately, he found the third way between the poles and embraced that.  So it goes here, I hope. I am not a businessman who plans and executes the business of web work, but I am a creative person who wants to share time and enthusiasm. Right now the business of pushing potatoes during the day makes clear the way for pushing pixels by night on a volunteer basis. JEM is now presenting the type of content I wish I had the consciousness to articulate back in 2005 when I was doing the EONSNOW stuff. The intervening years have done much to re-focus on the outer realm, but only after a lot of inner realm work. Understanding that my life is not about me is one bit of humble pie that one eventually has to live with.

Technology, such as I have to deal with in this kind of work, is a blank slate. I've certainly abused web communications in the past, and been a bad netizen. (But that has largely faded except in the Google realm where everyone's misdeeds will be saved till the end of the age of electricity.) But on to other things. JEM has a coherent and holistic message that I believe in, so I decided to jump into that flow and do my part.

I've read Parker Palmer's book Let Your Life Speak a few times now. In it he talks about how he had to face what his Quaker tradition calls "way closing" many times—rejection, failure, disappointment—so that "way will open" into new opportunity, one step closer to knowing what one is really called to do. He gave an example of how he traced his path toward being an educator. It was a seemingly odd one until he figured out how components of past interests were leading him to what he loves to do now, and finds he has the inner light and energy to lead him to do. Telling about wanting to be a pilot or an ad exec, he found the aspects of those things that left clues that perhaps were not even considered as they were happening.

For me, I considered that my past history of building plastic models demonstrated that I liked to devote myself to projects that started and stopped and involved many stages to complete—assembly, fine tuning, painting, presenting. Or that later on I got into doing cassette recordings with home made tape box "art" (now that is stretching it) with liner notes that filled most of the available space. I did that for years, and that developed into CD projects using increasingly sophisticated technology, culminating in Receiving, which was an all-digital project that aspired to the same thing as in the early days: record it, make the cover that explains it all, and package it. Getting into the website was an extension of the liner notes where every damned detail could be explained. Podcasting now is an extension of that, integrating the web and audio interests as well as the knack for developing something from pieces to a finished product on display. Other interests of mine are looking at the dynamics of relationships at the personal level, or at the larger human level, social critique, bible study and interpretation, volunteering for socially useful causes (home delivered meals, church offices) and maybe more. So right now, it makes sense to be doing this work for JEM, even if it can only be done with technologically advanced toys and tools. It seems that right now this is what I need to do, seeing how it lies at the intersection of various interests and abilities.

Monday
May312010

A More Complete Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day once again. And once again, I went to skim the older entries so as to not totally repeat myself, even if much of it still resonates the same for me. I guess this year I want to memorialize the undignified deaths faced by people who are essentially forgotten, some because they are of no seeming consequence before death, maybe even deemed as nuisances, and therefore their deaths are somehow okay. This is by no means comprehensive; just enough to sketch the idea before running off to do laundry with the wifey. Mourn as you see fit, if you can find it in your busy day between the backyard grill time and the sappy TV specials glorifying our dead national warriors. Let it suggest a fuller picture of death in America.

  • Car accident victims and other traffic deaths, including bike accidents, drunk driving, red light running
  • Gang members
  • Drug addicts and murder victims (domestic and foreign) linked to the pursuit of self medication to dull the existential pain of our postmodern society
  • Foreign born workers who fall into industrial machinery in "industrial accidents"
  • Suicides
  • Medical experimentees at the hands of death-defying doctors giddy with technology
  • The uninsured people who can't get medical service access, medications, while other nations get the stuff donated when in need
  • Homeless people dying on the street
  • Latin American "illegal immigrants" crossing the desert to find a better life after being economically displaced from their homelands
  • Violent deaths from hate crimes of homophobia, racism, domestic violence
  • Slow deaths associated with increasingly toxic environments for kids, workers, 9/11 clean up crews, others
  • Coal mine and oil rig explosions, a comment on our addictive love affair with hydrocarbon power
  • Plane crash victims, flown around by woefully underpaid professional pilots working with little rest or dignity

I don't suppose any such victims will populate the TV news tonight. Even most churches will fall prey to seeing this day as a time to give a little "rah-rah!" to the lost ones of war on foreign shores (mainly, of course we had the Civil War) as they fought Caesar's battles. But what about all the people who die fighting for their own lives and dignity or their own vision of the great American Way, or who are up against the domestic enemies so vast they stand little or no chance of even knowing what hit them? Some are forgotten before they die; deaths of social neglect; others are deaths by social commission it seems. Economic deaths. Industrial deaths. Deaths driven by the needs of individual's egos. They come in all varieties and happen all day and every day. There is no holiday to remember deaths such as these, at least not to bring them all under one umbrella so we can get a fuller picture of death in America. Today is about the best opportunity we have to do that.

Thursday
Feb182010

Unplugged Life

Most of you have no idea how many times I log in to write a new blog, then abandon the idea after a few distracted trips to other programs or other sites. I shut it down and try again maybe an hour later, maybe a day later, or a week later. I've been at this activity for nearly six years now. (I consider April of 2004 to be my official foray into actual blogging, otherwise my earlier web site entries functioned in about the same way for about two years before, albeit without server-side functionality.) I've processed a lot of thoughts and events here. I've spilled some beans here. I've toyed with a couple "voices" in my writing here. Sometimes writing has been a great relief to finally put something into words and therefore some clarity. Other times it seems like going through the motions.

My general trend for much of the last couple years in particular, but also since my Halcyon time in 2003, has been to push further back my computer related communications. I might need to clarify. Obviously the blog has almost entirely happened in that time, but as regards the various other sites and groups I might have once frequented or might hang out on if I was not even as steadfast as I am, I have limited myself a good deal. These days I have nothing to do with Facebook (started an account under a bogus name and found it impossible to locate friends with any efficiency so I dropped it and think I canceled my account), MySpace (have an account but my browser is old enough that I can't even log on or see other people's pages anymore), and I also don't Tweet (I find the idea of communicating in 140 characters to be preposterous.). I do a lot less of any digital anything now. Back when I was online and haunting music tech and artist newsgroups and forums, I was not really a great citizen and beside that, there is never any end to all that. One never wins any of the arguments before the Nazi word is thrown out, therefore ending whatever thread was going on. All that was a time-suck. In 2003 I knew I needed to drop all that. Blogging is at least for me my place to say whatever I like and not have to argue. And, believe it or not, I am writing far less on blog entries than I did for forums.

The fact is, I am vastly enjoying the various in person relationships I am having now. All my erstwhile use of forums and newsgroups and all that was just a stand-in for the relationships I wanted. I put a greater premium on doing in-person activities and just don't care that I am not on FaceBook, MySpace or Twitter. Kelli is a FaceBook user and that is more than enough for me, even to hear about it or to wait for her to put it away. I do quite like our in person time as it anchors us to something while many other parts of life whirl us around as if a tornado. I actually do dream of the day when I can separate from computers and phones, longing for an "Office Space Moment". I still rather like my music library and some things, but until all that fails me too, I can at least limit myself with that social media shit that just sucks time and isn't as vital for me as the real thing it would like me to think I am experiencing when I am not. There is just something refreshing about not mediating all one's relationships through electronics, in the same way as it is refreshing to have your daily personal exchanges not mediated through the world of commerce (tellers, customer service, etc. all playing like they're your friend when all there is is business to be done and the niceties are enough to make you not want to run out forever).

The thing is I have a lot going on. A lot of it is at church or through those relationships or similar ones. I work in a place where there isn't much of substantial talk but I've carved out a few small niches with a couple people. It is sufficiently unsatisfying (yes) that I still must try to relate to people on the outside. I keep meeting and developing relationships with more folks at church since the congregation is rather large. It is a perfect antidote to the commercial relationships that I don't like. I scarcely even call people, church or not. I hate phones. I carry my own (which barely seems to ring) and one for work (which gets email, calls and two way chatter). When done, I want out of all that. I am sick of little devices being my leashes, offering minor headaches of annoyance and the impossibility of actual communication. Bah!

I'm rather enjoying low-tech and old time methods to do things. Biking with a not-very-efficient-drivetrain has been an obvious one—riding a 100 year old piece of technology that is far more satisfying than the new shit, or cars, or whatever. I've found a bit of fellowship in the bike world, but found existing folks were were interested in biking but were waiting for someone to get them out finally. Cooking has been fun, having learned to make some soups and having developed my roasted tater technique in the last year or two, using all fresh ingredients that passed under my knife. Doing so is also a community building effort, whether for Kelli and me, or friends, or for potluck events. I've been dabbling with my music gear of late, and just feel funny when playing electric guitar since the sound emanates not from the box I have strapped on, but from a box across the room. (And when playing acoustic, I don't even have a great guitar, but the acoustic chamber does feel more vibrant and immediate than electric.) So, all this is of a whole. I am rather enjoying the limited approach.

Recently I had to reacquaint myself with my computer audio programs—ProTools LE, Peak. The idea of doing podcasting is exciting but I really have lost my patience for software, glitches, menus, settings, and all that. I like editing stuff and making things happen, but having been away from this stuff for a couple years since I pushed aside my musical life and also left the church where I recorded and edited each week's service, I have sort of forgotten a lot, at least regarding configuring things. It all seems foreign to me. We shall see how this podcasting stuff goes. There is stuff to learn, and part of my role is to help Lee understand his digital media options (he's almost 70 and too busy to learn all this stuff, see?). Odd, considering I barely know and don't care for the stuff myself. And, right now, even if I wanted to, my computer is sufficiently old that various media plugins are updated and leaving my machine behind. Now I am almost pressed into buying a new machine so I can do stuff I don't really want to do anyway.

The liturgical season of Lent is upon us. Traditionally it is a time to maybe give something up, but more so to consider one's spiritual path with honesty. And to me, the decision to play along with technology (or not) is a big part of my questioning. A book I read in 2006 has continued to be influential on me: Better Off by Eric Brende. He conducted a yearlong experiment on himself and his new wife. He lived in a community that was related to the Amish, and from that source and others like it, the litmus test question before me about technology is this: does a device encourage or inhibit community life? Does it feed individualism that takes people out of relationship? How much modern technology does one need to live a fulfilling life? What kind of technology helps one accomplish that? He came out understanding that one can do quite well with technology that would have been normal to 19th century folks, if not before, and that most of the stuff we distract ourselves with is way more than we need, and robbing us of a good deal of community life, self-reliance, exercise, connection with nature and so on. Another book, World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler, is a bit of fiction that in some oddly satisfying ways says about the same thing—the answer to no modern technology is in communal effort and cooperation. Any other way is death.

Where I come from, theologically, we might say hell is disconnection from God, from community. I've been there. Lots of people have been there. But with things the way they are now, relaxing the isolating grip that has been upon me thanks to endless technological options, I feel like I've been able to claw my way out of that pit. So many means of communication and mobility, still so much misery. So much alienation. Irony, much? The answer isn't in more technology. With realization like that, I sort of have to welcome my earlier notions of energy crisis because at this point, that is about the only thing that seems like it can break our addiction to this stuff. I realize hardly anyone is seriously on board with this idea, thus making my Lenten journey more or less a solitary one. Oh well, faith isn't knowing for certain. It is moving ahead into the cloud of unknowing and being confident things will come out okay.

Wednesday
Mar112009

Blah-ging

Sometimes I hate blogging. The writing of stuff is fun but the additional stuff on the technical back end just drives me mad at times. Recently in the Wordpress upgrade process, somehow some of my data bit the digital dust. It isn't the critical stuff, but enough to be annoying and small enough to not really warrant detailed reconstruction. I lost most of the categories but not the posts; ergo, should I deem it worth my while to go and recategorize something like 465 postings, I am free to do so. Also there seems to have been some problems with language/character encodings so some of the unique characters in the text are mangled and replaced with other characters that totally distort things. I don't suppose I shall fix that nonsense since it would require reading every damned post just in case something was wrong. Ick. There may be other problems that I don't yet know about, but those are annoying enough to warrant one more needless post just to bitch at my fate.

Thursday
Feb122009

World

It dawned on me that a number of DVDs that I have seen in the last year tell a great story when viewed in series, and all of which is fascinating to behold. I didn't particularly see them in the order I am about to propose, but when seen together, it is an interesting look at history from the formation of the earth through geologic history, and a wide sweeping look at human history and possible destiny, topped with a cherry on top in the form of Jesus as the model human to put right what has gone wrong.

All this stuff I got from Netflix, so the links will be to the pages where you can find these videos. Watch in this order for maximum narrative impact.

  • Miracle Planet (five part series). This one takes a look at the long history of the planet Earth and is built on an argument that life is seemingly a stroke of luck that has somehow lasted for billions of years despite radical shifts in climate and terrain and so forth. It ends with the advent of the homo sapien and its edge over Neanderthals due to the former's power of articulate speech as its defining feature, something that paved the way for communication of increasingly complex and abstract information and ideas. Which is a good set up for:
  • Guns, Germs and Steel (three part series). A National Geographic series built on the themes in Jared Diamond's book of the same name. Diamond asks how it was that the Eurasian branch of humankind was able to thrive, innovate, and spread its kind to all manner of places, and to dominate human history. He credits geographical advantage of fertile lands as the basis for early civilization that surged ahead of other hunting and gathering peoples, and innovation that arose out of that advantageous circumstance. Such things as exposure to domesticated animals secured our resilience to diseases that later were fatal to vulnerable New World populations. High technology and well developed use of horses helped the history of domination wherever Eurasian peoples went. It is all a great look at how domination is essentially foundational to civilization and violence is a major tool by which it spreads. Other civilizations had not the advantages of such successful agricultural effort, and perhaps lacked the resources or literacy that Eurasian peoples had, and so never progressed in the same way.
  • What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire This comes out of the Peak Oil "doomer" camp from which I sort of consider myself. This takes a brutally honest look at the world situation (peak oil, global warming, food shortages in the face of overpopulation, etc.) and its foundations in our mythologies of progress and love of technology. Consider it the extended tale of what Guns, Germs and Steel is talking about. (Diamond is well known for a book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.) It too reaches back into the roots of civilization and shows how the whole system is set to somehow succeed to the point of failure eventually. It concludes wondering how life would look if exploitation, domination and violence was not the leading paradigm, and if life were lived more reverently and in tune with what the Earth is able to provide.
  • A Crisis of Faith: The Series (four part series). This covers a few different bases in each of the different films but it comes back to the role of how we've lost touch with the mythic universe that keeps us as characters within a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The first one is somewhat like Life At The End of Empire in that it takes a look at our present situation and its roots in the myths of progress, and Enlightenment materialistic thought. It asks why in the age of moon landings and nuclear technology we are losing our way as people with a sense of meaning. The second one examines economic injustice in America, particularly how it affects blacks here. The third looks to the story Percival and the Holy Grail and how it narrates development into a fully human being. The fourth episode is a great "portrait of a radical" and shows how Jesus of Nazareth was the ideal human who lived a remarkable life of service to fellow humans and how he exposed the systemic injustice of his time and place—something not at all too different than today. The last two videos of the series are meant to illustrate how domination-rooted human mess can be pushed aside by lifting up our compassionate humanity in the face of the devastation the world brings. The emphatic message is that we need to turn inward and downward for our wisdom and not outward for external gratification and acceptance. That would pave the way for more genuine enlightenment ala what Jesus demonstrated.

The theme that comes up repeatedly is that our problems are rooted in the very civilization we wish to save with all our valiant efforts. Technology heaped upon earlier technology has done a lot to forestall the problems associated with earlier strides in civilized life. Social arrangements such as division of labor have allowed us to fall into traps of some being better than others, some working like dogs, and others living as kings. In some ways, one might say that Jesus was an anarcho-primitivist with his talk about the Kingdom of God and the notion that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. It seems that there hasn't been a time during the civilized world that has been adequate for the coming of the Kingdom; a lot of what Jesus was talking about was trusting that life would go on just as well if we didn't set up shelter, hoard food, or have fancy clothing. He spoke of relinquishing the trappings of the material world so that we could get down to the business of living. Well, perhaps his words and civilization would clash forever until one or the other falls to nothing, but which would fall to nothing first? If you subscribe to the thesis of What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, then maybe we're seeing the fall of not just another civilization but the fall of the most advanced one we've known, back to something simpler and more in touch with reality. Maybe the overly complex arrangements need to fall apart so we might discover why we wanted to get civilized in the first place: to put to use our elevated thinking and speech to better ourselves. As Crisis of Faith says, we're awash in information, but not so in wisdom. We're in love with quantification, but we don't know what it means or what to do with it. That's because we move too fast and don't know where we want to go.