Monday, January 23, 2017

8 Years Ago

This morning The Ravishing Mrs. TB texted me that Facebook had helpfully reminded here that 8 years ago today I was laid off.

Could not be, I thought.  So I went back and looked at the archives.  Yup, it was 8 years ago today.

I stand by my initial reaction:  although it was unexpected and bad news, it was not the worst news I could have received: "There's also a sense, as I told some folks at work, that I could have gone to an office where a doctor could have told me "You have pancreatic cancer and three months to live". In the scheme of things, this is not the worst thing to happen."

Certainly we never expected to have to move away from all of our family and friends - in a very real sense, our universe up to that point.  But we were pleasantly surprised by the results:  Na Clann adapted far better than we could have hoped and made friends and found interests.  We found a school that worked and then a church that did.  I worked the same job for almost 7 years; The Ravishing Mrs. TB ended up finding a job at the church at that has become our church.  We bought a house as well, something that was not at all expected so quickly after having to sell our last one under duress.

And myself?  I was thinking about this as well, and suddenly thought "What if I told my former self as of that moment that 8 years from the date of being laid off and having to ultimately move I would have:

- Learned to Make Cheese;
- Raised Quail;
- Learned to actually use a Japanese Sword and practice Japanese swordsmanship, resulting in a teaching certificate;
- Get a certification in Japanese;
- Run multiple road races;
- Run two obstacle course races;
- Compete in Highland Athletics;
- Learn more about rabbits than I ever thought (and continue to keep them); 
- Climb a 16 foot rope (still one of my personal favorites);
- Write and publish not one book, but eight (still not making any money - but done!);
- Train with weights and find out I can lift would I would have believed to be unbelievable amounts;  
- Find out that my passion for doing things like growing and making and raising are shared by thousands of people across the planet;
- Add a whole new bevy of wonderful people whom I can actually call friends;
- Finally got the promotion I was shooting for.

I suspect my former self would have simply laughed and shook his head.  After all, any one of those things seems pretty much of a stretch.  Altogether they would seem impossible.

So yes, it has been eight years.  And a very full and busy eight years at that.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Right Thing To Do

Lost in this weekend's shuffle of inauguration and protest is the question of, going forward, what is the right thing to do.

As a nation-state, we have come to interpret the "right things" as something which benefits some portion of us, not all of us.  The closing of coal plants is celebrated as an environmental triumph; the workers put out of work and businesses that supported them are ignored or perhaps thought as acceptable casualties; health care for those that did not have it is a triumph while those whose bills climb extraordinarily are overlooked or thought not to exist. We want "free choice" in so many things, but cannot extend the concept to something as simple as raw milk.  In other words, although lots of people would pretend otherwise, we have come to view policy as a zero-sum game with winners and losers - and the winners are also sub-groups, not Americans as a whole.

Is it a wonder we are so divided?  I suspect that if you asked people as whole they would have little agreement or indeed little idea about what would be good for all Americans.

I have yet to see a sustained movement in politics that actually implements the philosophy that everyone like to espouse, that things are not a zero-sum game but rather a pie and we all succeed by making the pie bigger, not dividing the pie we have.  It strikes me as odd that so many like to proclaim this as their belief in the future of the world but few actually try to make it a political reality.
What if we spent our efforts both on protecting the environment and finding technologically better ways to use what we currently have, thus securing employment for some and supporting the businesses they support?  What if we found ways to actually cover people while not forcing others to pay or buy things they have no wish to purchase (whatever happened to the right of individual to decide to buy?)?  What if we found better ways to promote food safety and natural food and allowed those that wish to do something such as drink raw milk to do so?  What if we measured how America was doing by how Americans citizens were doing instead of how our favorite sub-group of American citizens were doing?

This has been a difficult article to write and I have had to go back and delete or rewrite portions at least three times, because of the tendency I have to want to politicize or personalize things myself instead of drawing attention to the root question.  There is plenty of that circulating around at the moment and of itself will solve nothing but only make the issues less resolvable.

Is it possible that we can strip away our differences, humble ourselves, and start asking what is as good for "the other side" as it is for ourselves?  Or are we too far gone in our thinking that while we proclaim "larger pie" we act as quickly as we can to empty out the pie-plate ourselves?

In the first version, we have a state and possibly a nation.  In the second, we have neither a nation nor state, only the long dark road to inevitable national and state suicide.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

Tomorrow - no matter who you voted for - a ceremony takes place which recalls events almost 2500 years ago.

It reaches all the way back to the Roman Republic and 508 B.C. when the Praetors of Rome (who became the Consuls) voluntarily surrendered their executive power based on a vote of the Senate and the Population of Rome (Senatus Populusque Romanus).  It was a civil transfer of power:  without violence, without revolution, without war.

If you think this is not a remarkable thing, think the world that this existed in:  the next closest form of government, Athens and its democratic experiment, was just getting started.  So far as we know, everywhere else in the world was dominated by kings and chieftains, hereditary leaders.  And think of how rare it was:  by 48 B.C. the Republic had become a dictatorship, never to return.  Read the history of Rome after this and the constant internal strife and death and war (in some cases) that occurred upon the death of the ruler in charge. Or view our own recent history on the transition of power for many countries and many governments; you will find that human nature has not changed at all.

We take this all for granted now:  one day in January, the Executive power on of the most powerful countries in the world changes hands.  If you do not think it to be remarkable, remember this day.

 Because some day such a thing will seem remarkable to you that it ever existed.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Linking Out

So this week I shut down my Linked In Profile.

Linked In, to those who may not know, is a social networking website primarily designed for the business world.  People essentially list a version of their resume - with work history, education, certifications, publications, etc. - and then "link" with other individuals.  It is really a sort of Facebook for the business world.  For the most part people keep politics and most personal things off of it.

It was a benign membership.  It never really brought me any grief.  One could occasionally follow up on previous coworkers to see where they had ended up and and what they were doing.

So why, you are asking, would I have discontinued such a thing?  A combination of reasons"

One, a call today from an organization whose certification I no longer use and let expire but who is wanting me to come back (with the fee, of course).  Old business left unfinished  always returns.

Two, a realization that it was not really contributing anything to my life at all.  People create their profiles either to sell themselves or to sell something to someone else.  In that sense, it has none of the merits of a social network such as Facebook.  Even friends only discuss business on it, if at all.  Is that really something that adds value to my life?

Third, I have never really benefited from it (to be sure, I have not "used" it to its full potential).  No jobs ever came through it. Occasional recruiters trying to sell me (or drop you just as quickly) or sales people really trying to sell me.  And articles which, if I were really interested, I could find somewhere else.

Fourth, it was just another beacon to someone, another easy way to gather a fair amount of information about me without making them work at all. Why leave myself that exposed in public?

It will be a trial run, of course - you have 20 days to "revive" your profile and I certainly did that with Twitter once or twice before finally cutting the plug.  But, using Twitter as the example, I can already predict the results:  after a week or so of false starts to get updates and not being able to log in, I will find that I am not missing it at all.

And just like that, a little piece of freedom pops back into my life.  How often does that occur?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Failure

Sometimes the moment of failure is spectacular.

Sometimes it is a massive flame out, an explosion of such unimaginable intensity that those watching are left both stunned and amazed by it.  Such a failure cannot be hidden:  it is exposed, on display, a sudden focal point of attention.

Sometimes the moment of failure is quiet.

It happens without warning, in the quiet hours of the morning or night or in the quiet places of the soul.  Not one observer from the outside would suspect anything.  Such a failure is almost always hidden:  it is secret, unattended by anyone except the one who knows it, a silent blot in a black night.

A great many would contend that the public failure is the worser, that failing in the sight of God and everyone is by far the more painful act.  I would tend to disagree.  The public failure, with all of its accompanying attentions and perhaps even mockeries, at least bears within it the potential for public support and public teaching.  Some may benefit from the lesson of failure, while others will reach out with friendly gestures and words.  

But the quiet failure will almost always be hidden and suffered alone.  There will be no public fanfare, no laughter in the gallery.  But neither will there exist the possibility of the lesson or of support.  The quiet failure is the one whom, most often, bears their failure in the silence of their souls while functioning in daily.

Most all can survive the public failure  Very few can weather the private failure.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Of W-2s and Social Security

January (at least in the United States) is the season of the W-2.

For my non US readers, the W-2 is the form which employers provide to both you and the government detailing how much you earned and how much you paid in taxes.  It is one of many documents (for many of us, the key document) which makes up our tax submissions later in the year.

Another document - not key to the process, but interesting - is the form that comes later in the year from the Social Security Office detailing how much money you are supposed to get from Social Security (yes, I know the concerns about Social Security.  It is not the question here.  Hang with me).  The actual thing that I find rather interesting is that it also supplies you with a record of what you have earned every year that you have had a W-2.  In my case that is now over 30 years worth of data.  It turns out it is a unique record of how one has faired over the course of one's career life.

My very first entry was $958 (and, in a stunning example of inflation, that is worth at least $2100 in today's purchasing power). I can see my first year in the industry I am now in, the years that I joined the Firm (my first year income plummeted 40% and only came up because I took a job the next year), the year I got laid off and moved here, and the slow rise up after that (it took me 5 years to reach my pre-layoff number).

In doing my calculations this weekend for what my income will likely be and how things are going, I suddenly made the realization that the move to my new job in August will end up lowering my gross by approximately 13%.

My breath caught a bit at that number.  10% of anything is not a matter to be sneezed at.  And the change is explainable - we had a generous bonus last year and I cashed out my remaining vacation.  So my bottom number remains the same - so in that sense, it is not a terrible thing.

What is does cut into - and what makes the exercise of budgeting we have started on so important - is that excess of feeling as if there was money to spend and certain things which we used to simply "do" without worrying where the money came from.  It certainly makes one more conscious of every dollar one is spending.

This is not entirely without benefit - I think I can safely say that my life is overall much better since I took my new job.  I enjoy work a great deal more, I have more time, I am (I think) more pleasant to be around, and my commute has drastically shrunk (from 2.5-3 hours a day to 40 minutes a day).    

But it is a useful lesson for myself and perhaps a good reminder for others (and especially those just entering the job market) that decisions have consequences, sometimes very meaningful ones.  And to pretend that circumstances only continue on the upward path is to set one up for failure.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter Garden 2017 Update

One thing that this rather unusual winter has affected is my garden.  It has not faired well.

My pepper plants, which went through the last winter almost surprisingly since it was a mild one, were wiped out in the first freezing storm we had.  My leeks never really took, and my greens grew a few here in there - but they, too, were drastically affected by the recent down to 17 F we had last weekend.

The surprising failure are my grains.  I cannot quite tell, but it sure looks like the wheat and the barley are done for.  Not really sure what happened - too much heat or too much cold, too much sun or not enough - but they look dead and dying.  Rather disappointing.

The garlic, of course, is still performing like a champ.  The one (and only) thing I can seem to grow consistently.  And my onions, although having been knocked down by the cold, seem to be perking back up a bit.  I am hopeful.

The whole thing is a bit sad, of course - no-one likes to waste effort - but is an inconvenience at this stage.  But at least I have an understanding of the fact that it is an inconvenience.  For a great deal of people in this country, even knowing it is an inconvenience would be news to them.  Food, of course, comes from a grocery store.

If we all knew how hard it actually is to grow food, we might take more care in how we use it and support more generously those who provide it.

Or, we can all hope we can make it on garlic...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Week of Climate

So our Saturday morning is rainy, a bit cold and blustery and drizzly, the sort of day that seems best viewed from inside a window.

This has been a week of climatic extremes, the like of which I cannot recall since we arrived here 7.5 years ago.  Precisely within in the period of a week, we went from a nighttime low of 17 F and daytime high of 32 F to a nighttime low of 50 F and daytime high of 80 F. We have had incredibly blustery winds and frozen standing pots of water, showers of rain and moments where I had to engage the air conditioning because the interior of the car was hot.

It is like we have had the entire year in the space of a week.

Part of it, of course, is the wonderful fact that we now live where such things are possible - in Old Home, the climate in general was much different due to prevailing winds and currents:  winter was winter, summer was summer.  It was the classic "Mediterranean Climate" of Italy (and no, we did not used to live in Italy, although that would have been very cool indeed).  Here we live much farther inland away from the moderating ocean winds and currents. It is also much more flat:  there lies very little between us and Canada, for example, or us and the Gulf of Mexico.  Therefore, any weather that is coming has nothing more to stop it than me raising my hand and crying out "Cease" - which, for the record, is fairly ineffective.  

It makes for a different way of living, of course -and makes things like running a garden a nightmare (Really.  I long for my Mediterranean, predicable climate).  The bright side, of course, is the adventure of what the next week will bring.

As long as it is not ice...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Feel Good Video of the Day: Coldstream Guards

While I usually do not post "cute" pictures of dogs, cats, tadpoles, or llamas in distress, I am breaking with my long standing tradition to post this article courtesy of Common Sense Evaluation of little boy who dresses as a Queens' Guardsman - And what happens next.

Warms of the cockles of my otherwise blackened heart.

Update:  Sorry, video did not seem to work.  Re-updated.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Death of Trust

As I was working out at lunch, I happened to catch a brief glimpse of one of the hearings on going.  The speaker made the comment that the position of the hearings required a person who would look out "for all of us" - and, by extension, the person in question was not that person.

"Looking out for all of us".  The comment stuck with me as I meandered my way through the afternoon.  That is the point of a government, is it not:  to look out for all of us.  But what happens if that sense of "having my back" is broken - not by government, but by fellow citizens?

What happens when citizens believe that their fellow citizens will no longer act to protect the other's interests as well as their own?  What happens when the sensation is that my "group"  (define it how you choose) will not be looked after by any other group, even by those who are labeled as my fellow-citizens under one law?

What happens is a simple and inevitable process. First I begin to not talk to my fellow citizens - after all, they do not understand my struggles and even if they did, I do not believe they would help me with them.  I then move to passively working to support my group in the face of the other groups.  When, as I undoubtedly surprised  to find out, others do not see things my way and in fact are perceived as harming my group's interests, I move to actively creating opportunities to better my group at the expense of others.

When this happens, of course, the larger organization - be it a marriage, a business, a church, or a country - is poised for failure because we no longer trust that anyone else in the situation is going to back us up and "look out for us" and that we would better off on our own.

My fear, of course, is that we have already passed that point.  And if the point has been passed, dissolution in some form or fashion cannot be far away.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

After January 20th

After January 20th, there will be three groups of people in the country.

The first will be the group that voted for the incoming Administration.  They will be scouring the Interweb for news about improvement in the country, about how things have turned around and are getting better.  They will be zealous in the defense of the Administration.

The second will be the group that voted against the incoming Administration. They will be scouring the Interweb for news about failure in the country, about how things have turned around for the worst and are declining.  They will be zealous in the offense towards the Administration.

And then there will be the third group, the group that simply tunes anything having remotely to do with politics and current events out.  These are the people that have simply growing tired of the festering anger and hatred that seems to ooze from every media outlet in existence, who now find themselves in a world where everything - everything - seems to be judged not on the basis of what it is but on the basis of what it possibly could imply.

(A side note of interest:  could it be that comedic offerings of the current era have become so bland and low brow in an attempt to find something that no-one can take offense at and everyone can laugh it?)

As I think I have indicated before, count me in the third group.  I caught myself this morning, on the most innocuous of quotes from Poor Richard (Benjamin Franklin), looking at it and saying "If I post this, 50% of the people are going to make a comment one way and 50% the other way, missing the whole actual point of the quote" - which is a ridiculous sort of place to be as it means that (once again) we have completely lost the ability to communicate in any other way except something that supports my point of view or denigrates another.  

Which is not the sort of that makes one feel good at the long term future, of course.  Those that find they cannot communicate with words find they have little in common, and those that have little in common eventually wonder why they are together in the first place.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Monday, January 09, 2017

On Group Shaming

What I have noticed - to our detriment as a society - is a slow transition away from an individual sense of shame to a group culture of shame.

Shame has become something which the individual is feeling less and less.  People are no longer ashamed (as individuals) of things that them have done.  Instead, we try to shame the group.

It is terribly easy, of course to do this:  one need not know the individual or their circumstances, one can merely say (on the basis of any number of features which make someone a subculture) that they are "X", and as "X" they should be ashamed.

While not a sociologist, I have to ponder where this comes from.  It was not always so:  while individuals were responsible as part of the group, shame was individual in nature:  in Ancient Ireland shame by the bardic class was considered a disgrace and in fact used as a tool to goad individuals into action, and the culture of bushido raised individual shame to hyper-inflated levels.  Even today in Japan, it is not unusual to see a high ranking government official or CEO resign as the result of failure which they take responsibility for.  But somewhere - somewhere recently - something seems to have changed.

I wonder if it finds its root into the mode of thinking to which our society seems to have moved, where the individual is in no way responsible for their actions but the forces of the society around them are.  Combine this with a child raising philosophy in which the child is never "wrong" or "bad" and in which there is little to no difference noted between those that make effort and those that do not and the result could be where the individual is never responsible for their own behavior and thus, never needs be ashamed of it.  Shame is for the forces outside, never for themselves.

I would argue that this issue has been some twenty to thirty years in the making and has reached a fever pitch within the last five; I would also argue that we will see its power greatly diminished in the not so distant future.

Group shaming works for a time -  we  are, for the most part, a people who want others to think well of us.  For most, to have something shame based thrown on them  provokes the not-unsurprising response of saying "No, I am not" and then taking action to demonstrate it. To have those we know think otherwise - to somehow have them think less of us because we are seemingly associated with what has a publicly antisocial or retrograde sound to it - forces many to immediately and reactively seek to do what we can to turn aside this bad association or character.

But after a time, the group shaming loses power.  The shaming tends to become not something truly designed to invoke a change but rather a phrase or a weapon.  Suddenly those whom it is flung against begin to look at themselves and the nature of the accusation and say "No, I am really not that at all".  At first they perhaps just silently let it slide by, but maintained long enough, they begin to push back on those that make the accusations.  At this point, the attempt to shame loses its power.

The other factor that individual shame ultimately comes down to the fact that the individual knows they should be doing differently and are not.  But in group shaming the attempt is to make the individual feel the shame based on the perception that they act a certain way based on their "group", whether or not that is true.  

But what happens when the individual realizes they are not at the mercy of another and if not guilty themselves of the accused actions, have no sense of shame?

"The pain in Philip's eyes was real.  A year ago, (Hank) Rearden would have felt pity.  Now, he knew that they had held him through nothing but his reluctance to hurt them, his fear of their pain.  He was not afraid of it any longer....They had known what to fear; the had grasped and named, before he had, the only of deliverance left open to him; they had understood the hopelessness of his industrial position, the futility of his struggle, the impossible burden descending to crush him; they had known that in reason, in justice, in self-preservation, his only course was to drop it all and run - yet they wanted to hold him, to keep him in the sacrificial furnace, to make him let them devour the last of him in the name of mercy, forgiveness, and brother cannibal love....He stood there like a scientist studying a subject of no personal relevance whatsoever.  There, he thought, was the final abortion of the creed of collective interdependence, the creed of non-identity, non-property, non-fact:  The belief that the moral stature of one is a the mercy of the actions of another."

"But he was through with granting respect to any terms other than his own."

- Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Adoration Of The Magi

(Adoration of the Magi - Bartolome Esteban Murillo c. 1655)

Today the Western Christian calendar celebrates the Epiphany, the coming of the Magi to Jesus.

We actually do not know a lot about the Magi.  They are only mentioned in Matthew 2 (1-13).  We do not know how many there are (the number is always traditionally three, but that may be as much about the number of gifts they brought, assuming one gift per Magi).  We do not really know where they were from, other than "the East".   We can guess, based on the use of the word Magi in the Latin, that they were possibly from Persia, astrologers that watched the sky (Zoroastrian priests were known for their astrology and we do know that the Magi were referred to as wise men interpreting dreams stars back to the Babylonian Empire 600 years previous).

We do know that they were scholars and observers of some kind, because they came based on what they had seen in the sky:  "For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him" (verse 2b) - yet they were probably not Jews because they were not familiar with the Scripture quoted by the chief priests and scribes 'And to you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6, based on Micah 5:2).  We do know they were men of some kind of status because the gifts they brought - gold, frankincense, and myrrh - were expensive and most would not even have access to such things.  And we know that that they believed in and were attentive to the supernatural:  when later they received a dream to avoid Herod, they take another route back to where they came.

 The church could not stand to leave them anonymous and so gave them names:  Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (for which we have really no known basis).  Over time tales grew up about how they interacted with the early Church and how they spread knowledge of the Christ throughout the East.  And one of the kings, Balthazar, figures prominently in the book Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.

They come, they worship, they offer their gifts, and then they vanish into the pages of history.

What can we take away from these men who make this one brief appearance and then disappear?

1)  They acted in faith:  They saw a star that proclaimed a king - and acted upon it instead of merely staying at home.

2)  They worshiped:  When they arrived, they offered up worship  to Christ.  They understood that something miraculous had happened.

3)  They offered:  They gave precious gifts that would honor any royalty but also were symbolic of the roles Christ would play:  gold for royalty, frankincense for the priesthood, myrrh for the death of Christ.

4)  They disappeared:  We never hear about them again. They could have made public pronouncements (thus perhaps directing Herod's soldier's more quickly) or glorified themselves and their abilities.  Instead they journey back in anonymity.  For them is was about the King, not how far they had come or how they had found Him.

(The Magi Journeying - James Tissot, 1890)

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Very Kind Word

I ordinarily try to avoid "Tooting my own Horn" (to use the colloquialism) partially from a sense of being raised that way and partially because it seems that the Internet is somewhat or even mostly build on exactly that sort of thinking.  That said, my very kind friend Kymber over as Framboise Manor had some very kind things to say - and because she is a good writer (and always has the best food pictures ever) - I thought I should share.

5 days in and 2017 is looking good!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Changing My Running

One of the changes that I have made in my physical life is my running.

Running, frankly, feel off a great deal after August.  I am not sure why - there is always the recovery after running any kind of race, but this went further.  Lack of interest I would guess. It got to the point where I was not running at all, which is not a particularly good development.

So I changed that up this year.  I changed it by changing my goal this year.

This year I am not so concerned with doing obstacle races - if I do one or two that would be fine, but that has become an "I did it thing" - and really, more and longer would simply be an extension of that, not necessarily the accomplishment I am trying for. This year I am instead going for mileage - which is something that has all hallmarks of a good goal:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

My goal this year is 750 miles. That sounds like a lot, sitting on this side of the year. But it really is not.  15 or so miles a week.  Subdivide that into 5 to 7 running days and suddenly that becomes quite a manageable task.

I am not a speed runner.  I have never really been a speed runner.  And maybe that is not important.  What does matter is that I run - and measuring things by distance is a way to push me forward towards that.

What has the week brought so far?  5.5 miles or so.  Not a great deal, considering the total distance I have to run.  But at least it is something.

And being less concerned about how fast I am running has made me more willing to do so.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

A Change In Diet

So I have been unconsciously improving my diet.

My diet, on the whole, is fairly unimaginative.  Five days out of seven I will have the same thing for breakfast (oatmeal, non-fat Greek yogurt, protein powder [One scoop] and coffee) and most of the same things for lunch (spinach, Granny Smith apple, almonds, dried cranberries, small cheese).  Differences in lunch will typically be the seasonal - mandarins when in season for lunch or grapefruits breakfast as examples - and the main lunch dish will almost always be leftovers.  Dinner is the unknown and the one least predictable, but will minimally include some manner of protein and vegetable (broccoli if nothing else).

What I have noticed - and maybe it has been there for the last few years - is that my consumption of processed foods in general and processed carbohydrates in particular has been dropping, now almost precipitously.  It is better for me of course - I scarcely benefit from them - but never before have I been so conscious of it as choice.  Over New Year's I indulged in some crackers.  My body was none too happy with that.

And I am branching out as well.  More protein - I really cannot seem to get enough at this point (for example, this snazzy eggnog recipe from The Art of Manliness.  Yes friends, real eggs!).  And adding more fruits and vegetables.  Really making an effort to cut down on the sweets (my personal downfall). And less coffee (by less, I mean limiting to three cups a day).

We have moved from the unconscious to the conscious.  I will be interested on seeing what impact it has on the rest of my life.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

On Essentials

One of the first books of the New Year I purchased and read was Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

The recommendation came to me via my strength coach, who listed this as one of the books that I needed to read as part of my journey to better myself.  I dithered for a while (almost a year) but found myself in the place where I needed a new injection of thinking.

The book itself was a wise purchase.  McKeown's philosophy - that of finding what is essential to one's life and focusing on that while allowing the non-essentials to wither away - is the sort of thing that I find both exciting and impractical: exciting in the sense that it is a philosophy that I can understand and get behind, impractical in the sense that the application of it is often something that seems a great distance from the milieu in which many of us live and work (my primary example always being try telling your direct supervisor that you are not going to complete a task because it is not essential as you see it).  But ultimately the book forces you to answer a simple question:

What is essential to your life?

It is not as easy a question to answer as one might think.  As I sat and thought about it myself and then generated a list, what I found is that the list as I perceived it differed significantly from the list as I actually practiced it.  Most people (I think) when pressed would state that their personal beliefs and family rate as essential items - yet how many (including myself, apparently) treat them as such in the allocation of time and resources?

McKeown  pushes for a ruthless internal accounting of what is and is not essential to our lives and making decisions based on those realities.  It is an accounting that most of us shy away from - I suspect because we know deep down that what we profess to be essential is quite different than what we actually treat as essential.  But if we organized our lives along such thinking - what truly is essential - how different would would our lives be?

Which really brings things down to two questions:

1)  What is really essential to my life?
2)  Am I willing to change my life to reflect that reality?

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Thoughts On The New Year From Theodore Roosevelt

"I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph."
 - Theodore Roosevelt, 1899

HT:  The Art of Manliness

Monday, January 02, 2017

A Sincere Thank You

It only seems right, now that we have rolled into the New Year, that I take a moment to say thanks to all you who read here.

I do not really keep track of views except as kind of an exercise for my own vanity, but this year (even with the friendly Russian Hackers) I had a total viewing of 27,192 - 29.6% of my total views since Blogger helpfully started tracking such things in 2010.  Even taking a huge discount in spam hits, that still makes me feel pretty good.  It is a lot more people than I could come in contact with if I did it some other way.

Some of you readers I know.  Some I have met via this blog and then reading blogs of your own (and being improved by them).  Some I have no idea who you are because, like the thoughtful hikers and campers you are, you take only photographs and leave only footprints.  To all you, thank you for taking a small part of your time to spend with me.

There is a sense in the blogosphere that the blog as an item is slowly fading away and being overtaken by different forms of Interweb communication.  I have certainly found a number of bloggers that have gone silent over this year - which on the whole makes me sad, because they are all individuals from whom I gleaned wisdom.  It worries me as part of the larger growth of our inability to communicate:  we have patience for less and less reading and words and so reduce complex ideas and thoughts into 140 character sentences and memes that make evoke strong emotions but do not do justice to what is trying to be communicated.

I value blogs - not just because I appreciate that amount of effort that is required to maintain one and generate the written word on even a semi-regular basis but because behind every blog, even the ones I may not frequent and even disagree with, is someone with dedication to an idea and communicating it.  And the Interweb has made it possible for someone such as myself to express these things without an intermediary or the "luck" of being included as an editorial or interview.

I had written earlier this year about scaling back on my writing endeavors; in the intervening time I have found myself strangely and somewhat unexpectedly more committed to them than ever. My skill in writing may be hit and miss, but my dedication to expressing myself in this fashion seems to transcend any physical benefit I seem to be deriving.  So I have simply accepted that this is what it is:  I am writer.  I write to impact the lives of others.  If I somehow manage to do this, my purpose will be served.

So again, thank you for spending some of your valuable life with me.  I am grateful that you are here and along for the ride.

Let us see what 2017 holds together.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year 2017


Dhe, beannaich dhomh an la ur
Nach do thuradh dhomh roimhe riamh;
Is ann gu beannachadh do ghnuis,
Thug thu 'n uine seo dhomh, a Dhia.

Beannaich thusa dhomh mo shuil,
Beannaicheadh mo shuil na chi;
Beannaichidh mise mo nabaidh,
Beannaicheadh mo nabaidh mi.

Dhe tabhair dhomh-sa cridhe glan,
Na leig a seall do shula mi;
Beannaich dhomh mo ghin's mo bhean,
'S beannaich domh mo nearc's mo ni.


The Blessings of the New Year

God, bless to me the new day
Never vouchsafed to me before;
It is to bless Thine own presence
Thou hast given me this time, O God.

Bless Thou to me mine eye,
May mine eye bless all it sees;
I will bless my neighbour,
May my neighbour bless me.

God, give me a clean heart,
Let me not from sight of Thine eye;
Bless to me my children and my wife,
And bless to me my means and my cattle.

(Carmina Gaedlica, Alexander Carmichael)