Story Time: The in-laws and the magic workbench effect

I honestly have no idea who originally taught me this, but one of the more useful lessons I tried to put into practice while dating was to get in good with my date’s parents.  I suspect it was a bit of wisdom from my parents coupled with suggestions from other influential people and a dose of common sense.  In any event, I made it a point to do things in such a way that my date’s parents wouldn’t worry about me or my intentions.  I tried to make sure to have my dates home early or at least on-time, I made it a point to talk to them and help them get to know me, and above all I tried to be myself around them knowing that I would fail in the long term at trying to be something I wasn’t.

In my effort to develop a relationship with my date’s parents, I even got in trouble from time to time for spending too much time talking with her parents, especially when it came to the beautiful girl who would later be my wife.  However, in the end, getting in good with the future in-laws was more a matter of being genuine and doing the right things than it was me deliberately trying to “shape” the relationship.    In any event, my in-laws quickly learned to trust me in ways that when I think back almost shock me.  One example came up not long after Liz and I started dating…

Liz bought a lightly used car through a wholesaler not long after turning 18.  Despite smelling of cigarette smoke, it was in solid shape and a major boon to Liz and her family while it served as her family’s second car, quickly becoming critical to the logistics of the household.  However, her car had a bad habit… it would randomly refuse to start.  Universally, this would happen when Liz was alone somewhere, and would magically fix itself whenever someone else showed up to help.  Because her family only had one other car, they weren’t always available to help her out when her car acted up, so I would come to wherever she was to provide the magic touch required to get the car to start.  I didn’t really mind… having an extraordinarily pretty girl who was grateful to you for helping rescue her couldn’t be a bad thing.

Unfortunately for the purposes of troubleshooting it, it NEVER happened when I was around, and I was around a LOT.  In fact, sometimes Liz felt like people didn’t believe her when she described the problem because it was so intermittent and because it never happened when anyone else was around.  However, I was working fixing electronics at the time and was well familiar with what I called “the magic workbench effect.”  Intermittent issues in electronics would disappear as soon as someone brought their television, computer, or other item into the shop.  I could often run them on my workbench for days without seeing the problem; and without seeing the problem, it was almost impossible to diagnose and repair.  The same applied to Liz’s car.  I could make educated guesses about what was wrong with the car, believed it wasn’t just a user error, but couldn’t do anything to fix it unless and until it became a more common problem.

One day, I was at work when I got a call from Liz’s mom.  Liz had been headed out to work when her car began to act up again.  Running late, she took her dad to work and took the family car rather than deal with the issue.  Her mom, at home teaching piano lessons throughout the day, went out and tried repeatedly between lessons to apply the magic touch to get the car started again.  After several attempts to start the car failed, she decided to call me.  This decision seems kind of odd in retrospect.  Liz and I hadn’t been dating all that long, and I’m not even sure where her mom got my number or what motivated her to call me except that I had a reputation for fixing things.  While I’m not really sure why she called me, I was (and still am) grateful she was comfortable enough with me to ask if I could come take a look at the car.

I don’t remember if I was at school or work, but either way I was in a position where I could leave at my on recognizance.  I grabbed a toolbox, jumped in my car, and headed over with the hope that the problem would continue long enough for me to troubleshoot it.  I had suspected it was simply a starter solenoid that was misbehaving, and had even stopped to purchase one on my way over hoping to get the car back to a reliable running condition before Liz got off work.  Sure enough, when I got there, the car was still misbehaving.  However, a quick check proved that the problem wasn’t with the solenoid or the starter.  There was a problem in the electrical system inside the car that would require a little more digging.

Liz’s mom stood by and watched as I tore the dash apart.  I can only imagine the doubt that would have gone through my mind if I were standing over a 19 or 20 year old kid who I barely knew as they tore apart my kid’s car.  For some reason, she trusted me just the same.  As I tore into the steering column to get access to the ignition switch and wiring,   I found the reason they weren’t able to get rid of the smell of smoke… a lit cigarette had fallen into the plastic shrouding of the steering column and burned into a pile of ashes in a place that wasn’t accessible.  That problem was solved!

Another thing I found was that the ignition switch was working fine.  It was delivering power to all the right places to get the starter to turn, but that power wasn’t making it to the starter itself.  Theoretically, there wasn’t anything but a wire connecting the two, so I had to trace the wire from one end to the other.  What I found was unexpected.  Apparently the previous owner had installed a starter lockout device under the dash that nobody knew about.  It worked by interrupting the wire connecting the ignition and starter solenoid, and used a special key to determine whether or not the car should start.  The previous owner had left the key in the interlock, so nobody had even noticed it was there.  Apparently this little gem of a device was going bad.  The relay contacts must have been dirty, so it would occasionally make contact… and occasionally wouldn’t.  It just so happened that it would make contact when anyone but Liz was around.  A few quick snips, crimps, and some shrink-wrap later, the interlock was removed and the car started flawlessly.    Liz was validated in her belief that it wasn’t just her doing something wrong.

That hour or two of working on a stupid little car in front of my girlfriend’s house wasn’t anything substantial for me.  It was the kind of thing I did, and still do on a regular basis for almost anyone.  I have always liked using the skills I’ve developed to help other people, and if it happens to help me it’s a bonus.  However, this act of service was a good way to solidify a growing trust with the parents of the girl I would later marry.  My mother-in-law still mentions this episode from time to time when we get to story telling, and I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me to show them the kind of person I am and strive to be.

Story Time: The haunted bedroom

The house I grew up in was a little unusual…  It was built by the neighborhood developer for his daughter, and was the carpenter’s version of the mechanic’s car.  It was the smallest house on the largest lot in the neighborhood, and seemed like it was built using leftovers from the other homes.  My parents told stories about the piles of crap they had to haul off when they bought it, and strange behavior of the lady who lived there before them — including letting a Shetland pony wander in and out of the sliding glass door that opened from the basement into the back yard.

The basement of our house was generally unfinished, but there was one room that was nominally habitable.  The room had drywall on the walls, complete with about an inch gap at the bottom where baseboard should have been that was usually full of spiders, dust bunnies, and cobwebs.  The closet was under the stairs and had no door or even door frame… It was a black hole into a place of mystery (at least to young kids).  Because of it’s partially finished nature and thrown-together construction, we had a name for the basement room… the “ugly room.”  I seem to remember my mom even using time-out in the ugly room as a punishment and fearing going in there.  For the first several years of my living memory we didn’t really use that bedroom.  In fact, some of my earliest memories are pulling a couple of old couch cushions out from under my sister’s bed at night to make my bed on their floor rather than use the ugly room.  Eventually, sharing a room with my sisters wasn’t a viable option, and we moved a couple of the kids into the ugly room full-time.  By the time I was about 12, my brothers and I shared the room.

Throughout my youth, my brother and I would toy around with electronics, usually stripped from garage door openers our neighbor’s dad brought home after installing new ones.  One of our innovations was to reconfigure the remote control circuitry to switch on and off almost anything we felt like hooking up to it.  I decided it would best be utilized as a remote-control light switch and wired it into the wall-switch in the ugly room.  I could sit in bed and switch the bedroom light on or off.  Not only that, but I could do the same thing from anywhere in the house so long as I had the remote control.

During the time when I had this magical power over the ugly room, my uncle Kenneth brought his two boys over to stay with us overnight.  Since there weren’t any extra rooms, they would be sleeping on the floor in my room.  Neither Tolon nor I relished the idea of sharing our room with a couple of snot-nosed kids (they were probably 4-5 years younger than us) so we decided on a plan to add some entertainment value to the situation.  That afternoon, we entertained our cousins with stories about the ugly room.  We told them that the previous owner had locked her crazy daughter in there, and that she had died in there.

The ghost of the ugly room, as we described it, would occasionally make noises and tell us that if she ever turned the lights on and off it was because she was going to kill anyone who was in the room.  By the time the boys went to bed, we’d filled their head full of all kinds of crazy stories about the house, the ugly room, and the ghost who haunted it.  My cousins laughed it off, at first, then went to bed on-schedule.  Tolon and I, however, stayed up for another hour.

About ten o’clock, I picked up my remote, waited outside the ugly room, and switched the lights on.  The boys laughed nervously and started to get out of bed.  I switched the lights off.  They rushed back to bed.  I started flicking the lights on and off in rapid succession… they came screaming out of the room, terrified that a ghost was about to kill them.  Tolon and I couldn’t stop laughing, and no matter how many times we showed them the remote and how it worked, my cousins wouldn’t go back in the room.  My parents weren’t amused, but we had our room to ourselves for the rest of the night.

A proposal to put myself out of work (part II)

Earlier I wrote a bit about what I would do to cut the Department of Defense down to something more limited in scope and expense. Granted… some of the proposals weren’t strictly Department of Defense, but that’s not particularly important.  In that post, I mentioned I might get around to explaining some of my rationale for my recommended changes, and at the moment I have some time, so I’ll start and see how far I get.

1.  There are no substantial external threats to the United States

My first, and most important, recommendation was to recognize that there are no existential threats to our territorial sovereignty and survival of the United States.  All my other recommendations pivot on this point.  However, after further reflection, I need to slightly modify this one…  We need to recognize that there are no substantial external threats to the aforementioned.  If there are no external threats, and we are committed to not using the military for domestic security, there is no need to maintain a large standing military with all the infrastructure that goes with it.

Our geography is such that the majority of our borders are protected by vast expanses of water, and forcefully invading a well armed country by sea is not an easy undertaking, nor is it one that is likely to succeed given the substantial segment of the population that is privately armed and the resources that would be available in the National Guard and Reserves if I were to get my way with those organizations.  No nation in the world currently possesses, or could reasonably quickly acquire, the fleet of vessels required to force entry from the sea.

An invasion across the borders to the north is similarly unlikely to succeed. To the north there is either 1) a nominally friendly and ethnically similar culture that lacks the military capacity to seriously threaten invasion, or 2) arctic wilderness.  Even had they a desire to invade, Canada doesn’t have enough people and equipment to seriously challenge a United States focused on homeland defense.  We will not be invaded from the north unless the world unites and convinces Canada to allow them to stage an invasion from Canadian territory, in which case there would be an extended build-up providing ample time to prepare a potent response. I find the prospect of a world revolt against the United States astronomically unlikely, especially if we quit interfering in other people’s business (intervening would be a more politically correct but less accurate term).

The border to the south is more problematic, but not when it comes down to essentials.  First, the only threat currently present at that border is a criminal element that has overwhelmed Mexico’s capacity to deal with it.  While border crime, drug trafficking, and human smuggling all have substantial impacts on our nation, it is not an existential threat.  The drug cartels aren’t interested in replacing our government.  In fact, they rely on the US as a principal market for their goods, and would suffer if it collapsed.  Laying the criminal element aside, Mexico (like Canada) lacks the resources to invade… even without the rampant crime siphoning resources.  Any attempt by Mexico to invade would require an extended period of build-up and preparation that would be highly visible and allow the United States to prepare an overwhelming response.  Additionally, Mexico is significantly dependent on trade with the US, and would suffer greatly by any serious deterioration in status-quo relations.  There is simply no motivation for Mexico to attack.

I’ve never come across anyone who would argue that we are likely to ever be forcefully invaded.  So the question remains: “what then are the external threats to our vital interests that justify the expense and risk of maintaining a large standing army and constantly using it around the world to interfere in other nation’s business?”  This is a much thornier issue, but one I believe has an answer that is much simpler than the big-brained think tanks would have you believe.  I’ll give you a hint…  it starts with “N” and ends in three letters that spell out a number between 0 and 2.

To set the stage for my argument, consider the political environment between the 1920s and 1960s.  A new political ideology developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and fundamentally opposed to the capitalistic principals on which this nation was founded was gaining steam around the globe, including in the US.  Multiple nations fell into its grasp as one corrupt dictatorship or government after another crumbled.  There were reasonable fears (especially in the ’30s and ’50s) that this revolutionary wave would flood over the US, and that it was being supported by foreign governments.   This fear of communism was among the factors contributing much of American intervention in Greece, Korea, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

The question remains, was this a valid external threat to survival of the United States?  The answer is a clear NO.  Communist insurgencies have only ever thrived in locations where oppression and corruption created conditions where the message of communism resonated.  To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence — A satisfied people, secure in their persons, property, and prospects are extraordinarily unlikely to ditch an existing governmental system in favor of revolution.  No matter the extent of foreign involvement and support, without corruption, oppression, and inequality creating conditions for growth, communism or any other form of government inimical to the American system of representative democracy will never get enough of a foothold to threaten national survival.  In fact, I’d argue that foreign involvement only strengthens the will of a people to resist that influence… Cuba being a case in point.  I claim this logic applies to any form of externally driven or supported revolution.  Any revolution, whether supported externally or not, is a result of issues internal to a state, and is therefore not an external threat.

One last aspect to consider is the potential that perceived or real external threats could be a means for stabilizing internal dissent.  Rather than get into conspiracy theories, I’ll offer up that this tactic was/is used regularly by the likes of the Kim dynasty in North Korea, Hugo Chaves and his successor in Venezuela, and the Castros in Cuba.  It’s a cheap move that does tend to galvanize support, but one that can’t be used regularly without the public catching on to the scam.  Furthermore, investing the resources wasted in “dealing” with the external threat in actually dealing with the underlying issues is much more likely to produce long-term results.  Made-up or manufactured external threats aren’t a legitimate strategy for national survival.

Finally, I will admit that there are substantial threats to our long-term viability as a nation.  The nation is in tremendous debt.  Our families are falling apart.  Our morals and standards are sinking faster than a lead brick thrown into a deep pool of water.  Our primary and secondary education systems, struggling against a relentless tide of parental disengagement, over-regulation, political correctness, and sense of student individual entitlement are putting out generations of poorly educated zombies who don’t know how to think about hard problems, ask hard questions, and come to logical and supportable conclusions. Our post-secondary education system openly espouses moral and political philosophies, political and pseudo-scientific theories, and other ideas fundamentally opposed to the foundations on which our nation was built.  Our society has become so politically correct we cannot label anything as wrong or right without offending the sensitivities of some politically connected group who crush anyone who disagrees with their opinions.  Our government has grown into a behemoth that reaches into every aspect of the lives of ordinary citizens and has been heavily corrupted by special interest groups and a small class of privileged elite.  We continue to pour our nation’s blood and treasure into half-hearted wars in foreign countries.  We have out-sourced almost all manufacturing and manual labor.  We are dependent on a very narrow range of food sources and subject to minor disruptions causing mass hunger.  We are raising generations who don’t value hard work, denigrate traditional values, despise traditional gender roles, and view parenthood as an unfortunate and optional consequence of sex.  Our financial system is built on a fiat currency with striking resemblances to a Ponzi scheme. The list of real threats to our future could continue much longer, but those above should be sufficient to demonstrate that none of them are an externally driven threat except to the extent that we have out-sourced a problem we created in the first place.

2.  Imperialism and Interventionism rarely advance National Interests

Many may interpret my feelings and preferences as being those of an isolationist.  That is wildly inaccurate.  I recognize that no nation on the face of the planet currently is fully self-sufficient.  Even were the United States to re-tool the economy and resources to become self-sufficient, doing so would be anti-competitive, inefficient, and fundamentally against my personal economic and political philosophies.

Now, that said, I don’t think it is in our interest to “intervene” or get involved in the internal and even international affairs of other nations.  Our track-record of intervention is abysmal.  Even in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was widely despised throughout the Middle East as a brutal dictator, our intervention destabilized the region, created conditions for a sectarian civil war, enabled a radical Islamist movement to occupy and destroy cultural heritage across vast swaths of territory and terrorize huge numbers of people, and has re-written the Saddam narrative to portray him as being a hero of the people who resisted the imperialist invaders.   Our involvement in the Philipines, Nicaragua, Egypt, Lybia, Somalia, Lebanon, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Columbia, Mali, and other places have resulted in significant second-order backlash without much by way of positive outcomes.

External solutions to internal problems are almost never optimal.  Our attempts to impose a Western-style government in Iraq demonstrated an unrealistic understanding of the cultural dynamic in the area.  Similar failures have characterized our experience in Afghanistan.  Our support for corrupt governments in South Vietnam helped to harden Ho Chi Minh towards communism as opposed to ethnic nationalism and anti-imperialism.  Our support for the Shah in Iran was, and continues to be, a major factor in anti-American sentiment in that country.    The Bay of Pigs invasion was an astonishing failure, and actually strengthened the Castro regime.  Short of the Marshal plan for rebuilding Europe and MacArthur’s dictating terms in reconstituting the government of Japan after WWII (cases where the long-term cost/benefit calculations are debatable), I am taxed to find a case where American intervention ultimately created conditions favorable to the United States.

I believe we would be better off letting other nations sort out their own issues.  International relations should deal principally with ensuring fair access to markets without passing judgment on their form of government, cultural values, political affiliations or preferences, and national character.

3. The majority of the Armed forces belong in reserve status.

One of the core functions of the Federal Government is to provide for the common defense.  There is a clear requirement for a capable and credible force to respond to aggression or large-scale threats on the order of World War II, but having that capability embodied in a standing military is an enormous burden on the economy, an easily accessible tool for international interference, and has historically been a threat to the government it ostensibly serves.  Consequently, the founders feared large standing armies.  So how can the government provide for the common defense without a standing army?  The answer is pretty simple, and is consistent with what the founders had in mind… namely a large militia composed of people trained, equipped, and ready to respond in a crisis.

I can’t say how often I’ve sat in meetings where the services complain about the high and escalating personnel and health-care costs.   Cutting the military to a core staff capable of overseeing and managing training for the reserves and handling the administrative and acquisition tasks of the restructured military would bring enormous cost savings in reduced personnel, retirement, and health care costs.  Furthermore, the reduced training schedule for reserves would extend the service life of expensive equipment while simultaneously reducing operational costs.

Moving a large portion of the military into the reserves would also put a large number of personnel who are essentially bottomless resource sinks back into the economy where they can contribute to the overall economic activity of the nation.  Doing so would also tend to reduce the appetite for deploying the military to deal with every perceived crisis around the globe.  Local governments and populations would be less insulated from the military and feel the effects of deployment more substantially than under the current model.  Activation and deployment would be much more likely to have enough of an impact to engender the kind of debate and discussion that should be warranted before we sacrifice our brothers and sisters in armed combat.

4.  Close all military bases on foreign soil

Bases on foreign soil really only serve only a handful of purposes.  Primarily, they enable global access for the US military, or otherwise stated… they make it much easier to get involved in the affairs of other nations.  Initially, many of the bases we maintain overseas were built during or after major conflicts such as WWII or the Korean War to help stabilize the regions and prevent regional nations from rearming and igniting another war.  However, after six or seven decades of the United States subsidizing foreign security these bases remain, and are used as jumping-off points for international adventures.

We deliberately maintained an occupying force in Europe and Japan after WWII, and as a result the affected nations have under-invested in their own defense, relying on the US security guarantee, while spending broadly on social programs and other domestic expenditures.  The net result is American taxpayers funding generous medical, retirement, and other social programs throughout the territories of our former allies and adversaries.  I firmly believe the security situation in Europe would quickly stabilize to a new norm if we were to withdraw, saving the US untold costs.

5.  Eliminate the United States Marine Corps

This proposal won’t make me any friends among my marine brethren, but it is long overdue.  The USMC is essentially an offensive force postured for forcibly entering foreign territory and securing port or beach head access.  They have served as a separate Army and Air Force, while refusing to integrate into the broader joint fight.   If we decide as a nation to abandon our practice of interfering the internal affairs of other governments, we have no need for an amphibious assault force.  Furthermore, this would eliminate redundancies and institutional conflicts with the other services.  While the USMC brags about their low-cost force, their budget only encapsulates personnel costs with the Navy picking up the tab for all their equipment and facilities.  Finally, eliminating the USMC would also allow the USN to cut it’s large fleet of amphibious ships and support capabilities.

6.  Eliminate the pre-positioning fleet

The US military maintains a fleet of ships loaded with tanks, trucks, helicopters, bombs, bullets, and just about everything you would need to start a war.  These ships are stationed at various places around the world and require staff, transportation, and maintenance… all so we are in a position to more rapidly involve ourselves somewhere overseas.  If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of getting involved overseas, and anything that makes it easier to do that is on my chopping block.  I can conceive of no situation where we would use the pre-positioning fleet to defend the homeland, and major world crises on the scale of a world war don’t break out on timescales that would preclude shipping equipment from the territorial limits of the United States.

7.  Eliminate Ground-based ICBMs and tactical nuclear weapons.

The number and type of nuclear weapons in the current inventory far exceed the quantity required for maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.   China, for example, maintains a nuclear deterrent consisting of a comparatively small number of weapons, yet is in no danger of suffering a “first strike” attack.  The infrastructure required to produce, maintain, and field the broad array of nuclear weapons and associated equipment is enormous and expensive due to extensive safety, security, and certification requirements for anything that comes within earshot of a nuclear weapon.  Any reduction in the number and type of weapons would yield significant savings.

Personally, I don’t like tactical nuclear weapons.  Any time someone considers deploying a weapon capable of this scale of destruction, it is strategic, and it had better be worth it.  Tactical nukes are not necessary as a deterrent, and use as a tactical weapon would be a human tragedy on a massive scale.  Get rid of each and every one of them.

Similarly, I don’t like silo-launched nuclear weapons.  They are at fixed locations and are consequently easily targeted.  I believe a small fleet of nuclear capable bombers with strategic weapons (B83s) and the current inventory of submarine launched weapons is more than adequate to ensure we are capable of responding to an attack and providing a credible deterrent.

8. Consolidate and refocus intelligence agencies and operations.

There are a wide variety of intelligence agencies spread throughout the DoD and other government agencies.  The NRO launches and manages spy satellites.  The NSA manages technical intelligence operations.  DIA manages the DoD’s intelligence programs.  The CIA does it’s thing, and so do all the other 3, 4, and 5-letter agencies who are part of the overall Intelligence Community (IC).  Within that big, happy family of the IC, there is intense competition for resources, infighting, secret keeping, rice-bowl politics, overlapping and disputed authorities and operations, competing priorities, and all the other crap that goes along with big parallel bureaucracies.  Restructuring and consolidating these organizations would cut waste and simplify setting and following-through on priorities.

Another change the IC desperately needs is to place less trust and emphasis on technology and technical intelligence.  We have become fascinated and intoxicated by the information we are able to gather and process using imaging, signal collection, and cyber operations, but tend to forget the human aspects of the situation.  The wealth of information available tends to lead analysts to believe they know more than they really do, and can also put analysis in a position where they see what they expect to see.  What was supposed to be an adjunct to traditional spycraft has become the principal tool for the work.

In addition to providing often incomplete or wrong pictures of the targeted individual or group, technical capabilities are also profoundly expensive to develop and maintain due to the frequency with which technologies become obsolete both on the sensor and target side of the equations.  Rather than continue in this arms-race of technical means, we should refocus our efforts on more traditional spycraft.  If it’s not worth the risk posed by boots on the ground and eyes on the target, it’s probably not worth bothering with.

That’s it for now… Maybe I’ll work my way down the rest of the list another night.

Grouchy bear and Clifford Heber

As I sat in church today, two men wove their way through my thoughts in a way they haven’t for years.  It happened during a discussion about talents, and using them to further the Lord’s work.  It crossed my mind that one talent that has greatly influenced my life was the talent to tolerate young boys.

When I was quite young, I was part of a pack of boys at church.  We were what you might label “challenging” to the extent that the church leaders had trouble finding anyone who could put up with us for more than a few Sundays before deciding they weren’t cut out to deal with the likes of us.  We went through a number of teachers in just a matter of a few months.  Somewhere in the course of this saga, they called a man named Clifford Heber to keep us out of trouble during Sunday school.  For the next several years, Brother Heber would diligently show up every Sunday with a lesson prepared, and make patient and often futile attempts to teach us something about the nature of God.

As an example of the kind of issues Brother Heber had to deal with, I remember one Sunday when Ben and Craig were sitting behind Amanda making small balls of wet chewing gum and throwing them in Amanda’s 1980’s big hair without her noticing.  The rest of us boys saw what was happening and did nothing to stop it.  This kind of stuff happened every Sunday, but it never stopped Brother Heber.  Instead, he would put his arm around our shoulders, tell us he loved us, and that he expected us to be gentlemen.  He made us open the doors and let the girls in first.  He made us treat the girls with respect.  We hated it.

While we may not have appreciated it at the time, Brother Heber’s lessons, expectations, and actions made a big impression on me – even if not on the all of rest of the pack.   Along with my father and a few other men, he was responsible for making me the man I aspire to be.  Unfortunately for me, Brother Heber died of cancer about the time I graduated high school and began to understand the impact he has had on me.  I never got a chance to tell him how grateful I was, so I am left to hope that he sees the man I am from the other side of the veil and understand the role he played in that.

Another man who had a profound impact on me was Carbon Lundgren.  The way our church organizes youth, there is a marked separation between those under 12 and those between 12 and 18.  When my cohorts and I turned 12, Brother Heber got a break from us and we were handed off to Brother Lundgren who served as Scout Master for our congregation.

Brother Lundgren took on the task of leading a bunch of stupid boys out into the wilderness to teach them skills and life lessons.  Along the way, he picked up a nickname that stuck…  Grouchy Bear.  Though I’m not sure that brother Lundgren didn’t just give himself that moniker, Grouchy Bear earned his name.  He was quick to correct us… we thought… and didn’t tolerate some of the more egregious things we did.  We thought he was overly mean sometimes.

Looking back, though, he was actually highly tolerant, patient, and gave us lots of room to learn and grow.  In fact, by modern standards of helicopter parenting, he was grossly negligent (something for which I am eternally grateful).  However, he had expectations of us, and wouldn’t accept anything that fell short.  When he was grouchy, it was to help get us back on track.  Grouchy Bear was a teddy bear, and I owe him a lot.  Any time I get to go to church with my parents, I look for Carbon and Cindy Lundgren and say hi.  I hope he understands why.