Friday, September 30, 2016

Like Cassandra

I confess that I am now constantly stalked by the feeling that we are slipping into the new Dark Ages.

I know, I know – yes, I am a well known alarmist and yes, I do always see the bad side of everything. That said, I cam rapidly coming the to the point that I wonder if there is any chance we are in a situation that we can recover from.

The Social Contract feels more fragile than I think I can remember it feeling in my lifetime, with scarcely anything holding us together. It feels as if it would take one good shock – one – to burst the last tenuous bands asunder and leave us flying in the wind.

And that fear of the social contract is domestic only; it leaves alive the international social contract which seems even more rent and tattered. It feels as if we are not already at war we soon shall be – over conflicts that really have little to do with our safety. (Yes, the current standoff in Syria between the US and Russia scares me to death. Insert Fred Thompson quote: “This will get out of control. This will get out of control and we will be lucky to live through it.”)

What do I do in this time? I find myself almost bifocused – looking on the one hand to events that seem to be accelerating every day and on the other closer and closer to home and hearth: reading, downsizing, looking for ways to do around the house instead of doing afar off. One, I suppose, satiates my need for being ahead of the curve; the other gives me focus on the things I can do.


One wonders if Cassandra felt the same way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Real Financial Elephant In The Room

The United States National Debt is around $19 Trillion.  To spell that out, that $19,000,000,000,000.  That we owe to someone else.  Think of it as the credit card balance that you know is hanging out there but do not really want to think about because you are not really sure what it means.

It used to be less of course - $9,000,000,000,000 eight years ago.  We have managed to double it in 8 years.

But there is better news.  Unfunded liabilities - those things that we have promised to pay for are not immediately in our sights to pay for, things like Social Security and Medicate and Pensions - are at estimated at $100 Trillion as of July of this year.  Again, $100,000,000,000,000 of money we owe.  That we have pretty much no idea how we are going to fund it.

Think it does not matter?  Keep in mind that this is not some kind of "Bank of Mom and Dad" loan where there is no interest. There is interest - after all, we borrowed it.  The interest rate pretty low right now - around 0.5%.  What does that mean for what we we currently owe - about another $50 Billion added to the bill.

Think this does not matter?  It matters on two levels - on the current Federal Debt, the more interest we have to pay the more money we either have to get from somewhere else, charge in taxes, or cut in spending to pay for it.  And the Unfunded Liabilities?  If you are a potential recipient of Medicare, Social Security, or a Pension, you are impacted by this.

And yet no-one in the political campaign is seriously - seriously - talking about this.

This impacts us.  This impacts our children. This impacts the very ability of our country to survive (Ever worked for a business in over its head or had a family budget with the same problem?  It is not pleasant).

But no-one talks about it.  We try to ignore it the way a spendthrift ignores the credit card bill that shows up every month with a higher and higher balance:  we look at it, toss it in the recycling pile, and think "I am sure that when the time comes, this will get resolved."

When I first started following unfunded liabilities almost eight years ago, it was estimated at $52 Trillion.  It has approximately doubled (as the national debt has) in 8 years.  Do a little math with me:

2024:  $38 Trillion National Debt, $200 Trillion Unfunded Liabilities
2032:  $76 Trillion National Debt, $400 Trillion Unfunded Liabilities
2040:  $152 Trillion National Debt, $800 Trillion Unfunded Liabilities
2048:  $304 Trillion National Debt, $1.6 Quadrillion Unfunded Liabilities

Yes I know this is just simply doubling.  Compound interest makes the problem far more vexing.

Yes, it matters.

Sure, argue rights and foreign policy.  Accuse each other of bad judgment and poor personal choices.  Mercilessly mock the other side for their close mindedness and ignorant behavior.

But when, oh when will we demand of them they focus on the issues that actually impact us instead of just stroking our egos about how clever and aware we are?

In To Win

It occurs to me that have no longer become a people concerned about winning.

Oh, not winning in sports.  That is nice, of course, and tangentially related to what I am thinking about, but I am thinking in the larger scope of things.  Winning in any endeavor.  Winning in life.

By "Winning", I do not just mean the sports analogy (there it is again) of defeating others and gaining first place.  I am thinking of winning just as equally on the success level:  accomplishing something, brining something to fruition.

In many ways our modern society has not helped this situation.  Part of it is that we have many many options so we can flit from one area to another as our emotions and interests dictate (and to be fair, I have been a great beneficiary of this).  Another part is we are a modern society:  in a real sense, we do not have to "win"  at much.

Compare this to almost any age prior to the 20th Century.  If I as a farmer did not "win" at farming, I starved.  If I as a carpenter did not "win" at building things, I again starved.  There was a built in interest in succeeding because it directly impacted the ability to survive.

Am I grateful that my ability to garden does not determine my ability to live?  I certainly am.  But at the same time, this also gives me an intellectual out:  I no longer feel that I have to win at it.  I have no driving force beyond that of my own will.

Which is why the will becomes doubly important now.  It is the drive that buttresses the urge to do well at something while not having our very existence depending on it.

Practically speaking, what should this mean for me?  For you?  Simply that going forward, when we undertake things and we get beyond the initial interest stage and commit, we are in to win.  Winning can be defined however you wish, but it should do three things:

1)  It should be measurable.
2)  It should be tangible.
3)  It should display a level of skill or effort that demonstrates the work that went into doing it.

I have reached the point that I truly believe that if we encouraged this sort of effort in ourselves and others - and demonstrated it, instead of a mediocre dabbling and lackluster work in every area of our lives - we would see dramatic results.  Not primarily because of what we accomplished or how we won, but for the fact that those around us would understand that if we undertook something, we are In To Win - we will not acceptance anything less than a victory done by our own hard work.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An Unexpected Dessert Encounter

Sunday evening for a treat to celebrate we went to The Cheesecake Factory.

It is not often a trip we make, being rather expensive (and for sure, rather calorie laden) but it is a popular locale when we have something to celebrate.  And, to be fair, their cheesecakes are rather good.

I got my usual go to flavor for anything:  Vanilla (I am kind of unremarkable that way). It arrived laden with its customary two dollops of real whipped cream.  I looked at there, shimmering under the light, before I dug in.  After all, it did not look that big and it taste pretty good.

Right until about 1 AM, when my stomach, which has apparently been enjoying the attempts to eat better, declared that it was rather quite done with this excursion in culinary desserts and decided to keep me up - more or less than the rest of the night.  

This was not something that I had anticipated.  

Yes, I have been making conscious efforts in this area.  I would in no wise say that I am "clean", but I am making a sincerely attempt to eat better: I am trying for less processed foods overall and more (for lack of a better word) "honest" food - such as cutting out protein bars to find protein closer to the source.  But I hardly anticipated the reaction I had last night.  Needless to say, I will not be having a high fat high sugar dessert in the near future.

Two lessons here:

1) When you make a commitment to eating better, there is such a thing as not being able to go back.

2)  Looking forward to possibly disruption of any food supply, there are bound to issues.  Best to both be mindful of them and practice more and more of getting non-processed food into the body - before it becomes unavailable.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Unexpected Addictions

So this week I figures out I am addicted to protein bars.

It started out innocently enough.  I needed protein intake.  They make this bars that have high amounts of protein (10 grams for a Clif bar up to 20 grams for a Clif Builder's Bar), perfect for people that are looking for meal replacement or are working on building muscle.  And they are conveniently packaged in bar form, so they are easy to take with you or pack in a lunch.

The first thing you know, I am packing one of these little gems with me every day.  It becomes my 3:00 PM snack food.  Life is good: I have protein, I have my protein bar.  Look at me.

Two problems, of course.  The first is cost - not that they are excessive but they are certainly not free.  Add another $12-15 a week. The second is a little more critical:  it is sugar - or rather, the sugar in the bar, which can run up to 24 grams.  Not really what you are looking for when you are trying to build muscle and certainly not what you need when you are trying to watch sugar (if diabetes runs in your family like it does in mine).

A simple little thing - a snack bar - is now a cost sink and a potential health issue.

I had to change things up of course. No more handy little snack bars.  I get enough of my sugar the natural way, from fruits.  My protein is having to come from other, actual sources - it can be done, just takes a little more planning.  And now we have $12 a week back in our pockets instead of in my stomach.

It is a dangerous thing, these unexpected addictions.  Sometimes we do them with the best of intentions, only to find that we are undoing any kind of good we are seeking to do all in the name of convenience.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Final Death Throes

I think we are beginning to see the final death throes of the nation state known as the United States of America.

A state, as you will recall from your Political Geography, requires three things:  Territory, Borders, and Sovereignty within those borders.  A nation - again, recall your Political Geography - is a group of people that has a shared language, culture, and mythos or founding story.  As a way of example, the Kurds for many years have been a nation but not a state, while German speaking peoples both a state (Germany) as well as a nation (Germany, Austria).

From the state side, the US still has territory but it has limited (if any) control of its borders.  It's sovereignty exists (although parties in the government and society are actively seeking to raise international law above national law).

It is the nation side that is rapidly falling apart.

For 40 plus years - my lifetime -we have slowly lost the nature of shared language.  Now, we are completely losing any shared sense of culture or a founding myth or story.

As a people, we are rapidly reaching the point where we have anything in common -even, any more, symbols of the nation.

Ponder that statement for a moment.  Imagine a country where there is nothing binding the inhabitants together except the fact they all live under a particular set of laws and in a particular geographic location.  That is all.  No shared sense of belonging to the place in which they live.

What happens under such a scenario?

No longer am I my brother's keeper - after all, we no longer revere the same things.  I have no more obligation to help him than I do to help someone in a nation far away, as we share nothing in common.  An attack on the state - not my issue as I no longer have a sense of a greater thing beyond my circle.  I am only going to be more and more concerned about myself and my own the community that I have around me.

Such a scenario will be played out across thousands of cities and towns and rural areas.

What comes out on the other side?  Perhaps something better, but only through an incredible period of disruption and hardship.  But maybe not something better - there are no guarantees.

We have finally slipped over the cliff.  Our rate of fall may be slow or fast, but I feel it is predetermined at this point.  We are actively chopping out the rafters that support the roof over our head, forgetting that the whole edifice will fall directly down when it does fall.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Autumn is Coming

Autumn seems to have wandered in, almost on cue with the actual turn of the season.

Oh, it has not done anything drastic - the heat has only slightly abated to less than the face of the Sun levels and the humidity has edged off slightly.   But in minor degrees, it has.

The Black Eyed Peas - the only thing that survived Rabbitcaust 2016 - have started dying off, signaling the end of the season is drawing nigh. The volunteer pumpkin may finally be on its last legs, I having only been able to beat the local insect population to two of them.  The lemon and lime trees have put themselves into blossom and tiny fruit buds are now appearing.  The peppers are as green as ever - will they survive another mild winter?  Something to look forward to.

The days are already starting to get darker a little earlier every night, the sun rising a bit sooner. Darkness at 7 will be here before I know it.

The cast of the sunlight has not changed - for me, the sign that Autumn is truly here - but everything else is trending that direction.

Time to finish out the last batch of Highland Games, plant the Winter Garden, do a few maintenance chores outside while the weather is cool and the rain not yet falling, and settle in for a winter of garage cleaning and thinking and waiting for Spring.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Failure of The American Church

The American Church has failed - or perhaps has largely failed.

To hear polls, more people believe in "God" than ever.  The American Church is involved in all the trendy and important social movements of the era.  In some cases they build larger facilities than the cathedrals of Medieval Europe (but, however, not nearly as lovely).  The American Church is more available - by radio, TV, Internet - than ever.

And yet the society around us bears none of the marks of a society regenerated.

I recall Henry Blackaby's description of the Welsh Revival in 1904-1905, how society was changed:  bars were closed, churches were filled, sins were repented off.  In other words, there was an outward manifestation of the inward changes in the lives of people.

How can the American Church say that it is doing better when the society is doing worse?  How can anyone seriously look around today and say that the Church is truly making an impact in the way we live.

Are we more holy as a society?  Is sin being reduced in our society, or our we finding new ways to accomplish it?  Are we manifesting the works of the Spirit as a society:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Self Control?  Or does society continue on as it ever has, or worse?

I wish I had a solution.  I do not, beyond that which Scripture calls out:  Pray, Repent.  Preach the Word.  Be Holy.  Read the Word and Live It.

But woe to the American Church if it continues to dwell in a decaying culture and yet somehow convinces itself it is more powerful than ever.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Quail Experiment Ended

So the quail experiment ended last week - the last quail, the male, expired quietly while I was at work.

On the whole, I was moderately pleased with the whole thing.  Once worked out the kinks with living quarters - the biggest challenge of them all as it turned out, until we got things more or less settled - the whole thing worked okay.

What would I do differently?  Single biggest thing is to have an actually housing area.  The final incarnation - a 50 gallon Rubbermaid with a screen on top - worked okay in the garage but it would have been ideal to have something outside (quail can't be trusted to come back to the coop at night).  But, as we found out, outside here might not be the best thing in the world - raccoons and possums abound.

Was it a wash financially?  Not sure.  We had eggs for about a year which probably did for me but not for our family - we would need a bushel more quail to make that happen.  My best was 3 eggs a days, which make about 1 hens egg.  By that math, we would have need 36 eggs to get to a dozen.  And with the feed and bedding I am pretty sure we lost money.

Bright side?  Quail are eminently doable for the homesteader.  They are far easier to manage in the smaller urban environments (and chasing a quail around, while perhaps a bit exhausting, is ultimately easier than trying to grab a chicken).  They are compact.  They do supply protein (both in the egg and, I suppose, the bird form).  And if you get the right kind (Not Texas A&M for sure), they are pretty noiseless.

Will we have a go again?  Not right away I think - the housing thing is an issue.  But it is one more thing to file away under the "There are possibilities and they are feasible" for urban homesteading.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Silence Before The Plunge

Sometimes I realize what it really must have felt like to be at a civilization's end.

There comes a certain tearing away, a certain removing one's self from ongoing concerns.  The damage is already done and the edges are fraying; to continue to worry about them or knit one's brow in concern of them has become a pointless exercise.

At that point one turns inward to self and family and home, perhaps to the voices of the past seeking a way through the storm - after all, there is nothing really new under the sun.  Fixing things becomes less about fixing the world at large and more about fixing your private world.

Why?  Perhaps because the realization has come that there is simply is nothing that you can do to turn the tide.  Events are grinding inexorably on; the laws of cause and effect have taken over and it is simply a matter of time.  Further attention in the matter brings neither comfort nor resolution, only more anxiety.

Ultimately we all die of course, and hopefully realize before then that most of the great efforts and exertions of our own and others in the power games that we play towards one are pointless, small tempests that matter not in the light of eternity.  There is a certain amount of peace that comes when one realizes that this is true of the world around us at well.

Prepare hard.  Pray hard.  Work to surround yourself with good and like minded people.  This is perhaps the best any of us can actually do.

And patiently wait for the slow groanings that presages the fall of the edifice.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Philosophy of Stone

One of the great thing about having a plethora of interests is that you get to meet a lot of interesting people who do a lot of interesting things.  One of them I have met - one of my favorites - is The Stonecarver, who makes his living by following and practicing the ancient art of stone carving.  He has just started a blog at Philosophy of Stone.  He is just starting but do yourself a favor and go check him out.  All the pieces you see displayed on the blog were made by him.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Athleticism

So twice now my friend The Viking has commented how athletic he feels me to be.

This sounds extremely odd to me, considering the fact that I have never considered myself to be very athletic at all - frankly, after the obligatory small school sports in 6th - 8th grade and one season of soccer, I have done nothing formally athletic in 25 years.  One good thing about moving, I suppose - now I run, practice Iai, lift and throw heavy things, and do obstacle courses.

Which got me thinking (as it often does):  why would he say that?

Most of my friends that throw are far stronger and better at it than I am.  I would, in fact, consider them to be classic athletes.  Certainly not the guy that seems to have neither speed nor strength.

But as I thought about it, I realized that perhaps in at least one area, I am a generalist.

My friends, for the most part - especially in Highland Athletics - are by and large lifters and former college athletes of the hurling type.  Running - or really any kind of cardio - is to them almost anathema.  The fact that I run at all is a matter of wonder and good natured kidding to them.

I am not be able to out-sprint them (note lack of speed comment above) but I believe I could out-endure them.

The dangers of monoculture, of course.  If I become an expert in one thing I cannot do other things very well.

But then I got to thinking about other friends I have, runners or bikers.  By and large, they have the same sort of unconscious thought:  they do their sport and really do not practice aspects of others.  Although in different arenas, they have the same issue.

I am not sure what I am really thinking of here.  Other than the fact that perhaps we need to reconsider what we mean by athleticism:  is it being good at one thing (specialist) or is it being okay at a number of things (generalist)?

Which turns, I suppose, on why you are being an athlete in the first place.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hubris




Of all the political memes this season this may be the only one I can get behind.  The music will be grand...

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Own Worst Enemy

I am my own worst enemy.

I have visions of greatness, but wallow in mediocrity.
I have visions of nobility, but seem to glory in pettiness.
I have vision of holiness, but  tend so easily to sin.

I am constantly reminded that nothing good naturally dwells in me.

I fail too often in the things that matter
and succeed in things of temporal value.
I belittle matters of importance
and ignore that which truly matters.

I look at all of this and wonder who is doing this.
And all I see is myself looking back at me.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Reflecting God's Light

"To be born of the Holy Spirit is to be like to God with no stain of imperfection.

If the sun's rays strike a window, but the window is stained and dirty, the sun cannot shine through in the same way it would have done if the window was clean and spotless.  All depends, not on the sun, but on the window.  If the latter were perfectly clear the sun's rays would transform it, letting it reflect the light, even though the window preserves its distinct identity.

The soul resembles the window.  By resigning itself to God, removing from itself every spot and stain of attachment to creatures and keeping the will united to God, it becomes immediately enlightened and transformed into him.

There cannot be perfect transformation without perfect pureness.

That soul which does not attain to the degree of purity corresponding with the light and vocation it has received from God can never be wholly content and at peace."

- St. John of the Cross

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A Fast of Current Events

For three days this week (Wednesday - Friday) our church is doing a Fall Fast.  Your choice, but fast from something for three days and pray and meditate instead.

Food I have done multiple times - and frankly, with the start of throwing season in 4 days, not the best option.  Instead, I chose current events.

Which for me, is a real task.  I am a news junkie.  I am really addicted to current events, even though they always make me nervous and upset when I read them.

So why do I do it?   Good question. I tie it back to 9/11, when I was driving on my way to work and suddenly on the radio I hear the Towers start to come down.  And I was caught completely unaware by this event, as if it had happened in a vacuum.

My solution?  To follow events, to try to see patterns, pick trends, know when the next big world changing event is coming from.  Not that I can ever know it, of course - but somehow the effort makes me feel as if I am somehow in control of events.

Which is silly, of course.  Seeing what is happening in real time is no more likely to make me secure or able to weather it than if I did not know and just lived my life differently.

Which is why this is the perfect fast for me.  I am putting my trust in my own wisdom, not God and His wisdom.

The world is still continuing to tumble (mostly out of control, in my opinion).  But for three days, I have my eyes trying to look somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

"Against Those Whom God is Angry"


"At that time, after the death of Valentinian (455 A.D.), Gaiseric gained the support of the Moors, and every year at the beginning of spring he made invasions in Sicily and Italy,  enslaving some of the cities, razing them to the ground, and plundering everything; and when the land had become destitute of men and of money, he invaded the domain of the Emperor of the East.  And so he plundered Illyricum and the most of the Peloponnesus and of the rest of Greece and all the islands which lie near it.  And again he went to Sicily and Italy, and kept plundering and pillaging all places in turn.  And one day when he had embarked on his ship in the harbour of Carthage, and the sails were already being spread, the pilot asked him, they say, against what men in the world he bade them go.  And he in reply said: 'Plainly against those with whom God is angry.'  Thus without any cause he kept making invasions wherever chance might lead him."

- Procopius, The Vandalic War, Book III Chapter V

Monday, September 05, 2016

Labor Day Morning 2016

It is mid-morning as I sit here with my cup of coffee in hand.  The sky is a cloudy gray which, if you were to look at it from inside, suggests a cool hint of Autumn in the air but which if you were actually to go outside, would confront you with ugly sticky humidity.

A somewhat poignant Labor Day for me, as for the first time in a quite a while I am celebrating being away from a different job than the one I have had for the last seven years.

It has largely been a weekend free from media as well, a sort of sense of retreating from the world that evolved into a conscious choice.  The change in inputs has hopefully allowed for a settling of my thoughts and clarity (something I desperately desire for the days ahead).

The outside is now being flooded with light from time to time, as the sun breaks through with bright beams that flare up inside the house then are quickly reduced back to the grey that preceded them.  Perhaps in its on way, Nature trying to remind me of the nature of clarity.

Clarity.  The theme keeps running through my thoughts, perhaps fueled by the change in career which has begun to afford me the ability to let go of so much that I was carrying (and am still carrying) around.  Perhaps it is running through my head because it seems to be the very thing that we lack, both in our personal and social extended lives.  We confuse a great many things for it, of course:  involvement, fulfillment, activism, vocalization, and that most dreaded of things, social media.  Somehow if we expend energy or we make ourselves expressed, we are being "clear".

But it strikes me, on this moment where the clouds scud and the sunlight occasionally breaks through, that this is precisely not the way that we find clarity.

Clarity dwells in silence and reflection, something that none of the above listed activities either entail or (if were truly argued) values.  Clarity is the intake of inputs and the settling of these inputs through thought and consideration, looking at things from all aspects (not just the ones we prefer) before arriving at understanding.  At clarity.

Clarity settles the mind.  Clarity allows us to look at events and trends and people (even ourselves) and reflect on outcomes and begin to discuss and argue them not from a point of passion or aggressiveness but from the position of well reasoned thought.  Clarity allows us to account for many ends (Never all - not even the wise, as Gandalf said, can see all ends) of things, things that those without clarity lack.

The world does not need more activism, any more than it needs more involvement or more connectivity or loud shouting.  It needs, oddly enough, exactly what a "holiday" offers us: the ability to turn aside from the outward facing lives that dominate us and simply sit.

And think.  Clearly.



Friday, September 02, 2016

Ichiryo Gusoku - Evolving Goals

A slow evolution in Ichiryo Gusoku goals.

The biggest, simply, is that we are going to be here in place longer than I guess I had imagined.  As a result of that, more than likely certain things are getting put off (minimally we will be here three years, likely seven if things go reasonably well).

One is livestock.  In short, the quail worked out okay, but this is not really the place to easily keep them.  This not only extends to all other livestock, but maybe bees as well (not sure on this).

This brings me down to what I can grow or make from something that is grown.  This is somewhat more under my control and allows me to take things that at some level may be available (even under a rationing scheme for example, some level of milk will probably be available.  I can turn it into something else).

Cheese is up there.  Pickling and preserving stuff is as well (any way to add value to something that is existing).

We have taken a few steps in regards to the house.  Besides the verification of the fact we do not have significant foundation problems, we have started a list of things we want/need to do.  Good news is that a single story brick house does not have a lot of issues that some other types of structures do.  Energy conservation is probably the big push here.

So improve the energy loss, work on the ability to grow things and turn them into something else.  What else?

Some other skill, I suppose.  Something useful.  Something that can be done with minimal investment.  And something that will give me the ability to sell if I can, barter if I have to.

Making course corrections is good.  Making them before you have to make them is better.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Things Of Value

So another sad day.  Wife of a fellow Highland Athlete passed away from brain cancer today.  I actually met her once last year:  lovely woman, beautiful family.

This is the second person of my acquaintance who has passed away this year - of cancer, in both cases.  Maybe I am just starting to reach that critical mass in age where these things become a more of an ongoing reality than in years past.

None the less, a time for reflection.

I take a lot of things for granted.  I allow myself to get aggravated over things which have virtually no value in Eternity and little value temporally.  I take things personally, things that are products of my emotions or my perceived needs rather than of any importance.  I anger.  I fret.

All the while, valuable time is slipping by.  Time and energy that could be spent on things of lasting value, invested in the short term.

If I waste money, I become angry with myself.  Would that I apply that same logic to the things of true value.