Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Collapse LXXIV: Radio

 11 March 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

Xerxes brought tidings today: We have heard from the Outside World.

Outside world” makes things sound a bit more extensive than what has actually happened: apparently someone in three towns over has found a way to boost a signal up and over the mountain. The signal moved from the next town to our town, before going on down the road. That is almost 33 miles by car, - a long, twisty 33 miles mind, with one small mountain range in between - more or less in immediate contact with each other.

There are, of course, a great deal of technicalities that I know nothing about in this. My grasp of radio was always limited to turning the unit on in my truck and having music or talk come out of it. Something I had always claimed I had wanted to do, someday – until someday became “too late”.

The news, of course, is what one would anticipate given the situation we find ourselves in, which is to say not terribly good. What we have experienced here seems to be repeated throughout the area – food limitations, fuel limitations, general angst about what will be coming in the Spring. The town at the far end of the radio chain – Let us call it “North Town” - had a few issues with random travelers but not too many (Winter travel here in the best of times being difficult, adding to the fact that we are now in a world of essentially no fuel). The travelers were, apparently, politely and quickly shuffled on their way.

The town of origin for the signal – “South Town” - had its own issues: the river ran high enough and fast enough through town that the main bridge collapsed. They had an outbreak of some kind of disease – Xerxes was not clear on the details – that resulted in a number of deaths.

With contact, of course, there is some level of hope as well. No-one on either side of the relay has heard any kind of rumblings of movement of people or government. And while it was a tough Winter – tough if for no other reason that all were suddenly living in the 19th Century – many have survived. People that live here in these Winters are more prepared than what would have been your average citizen, living in an Urban environment. Tough environments encouraging tough people is not just a chance phrase.

It strikes me, as I write this, that you yourself have a ham radio license. I wonder (to myself, having no idea if these missives will ever make their way to you) if that might a method whereby we could once again make contact? That thought brings me joy, even in the face of what appears to be the beginnings of a very long and hard Spring and Summer.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Comment On Comments

 One of the best - and worst - things one can do is start following blogs.

Overall I have no idea if there are "more" or "less" blogs than there used to be - go to any site with a blogroll and there will almost inevitably be links that have blogs that have not posted in five years or longer.  Life is like that of course, especially when 99.9% of the bloggers in the world write because of the love of writing or the need to communicate (or, secretly, we like to punish ourselves by adding another item to our "to do" list).  Things happen, people move on.  In that way, the Interweb becomes like a tropical forest, gently covering the ruins but always showing where they were.

Blogs have character.  If you follow a blog long enough, you will begin to get a sense of not only how the writer writes, but how the readers respond.  Some bloggers are fair "aggressive" writers, and their readers respond in kind (sometimes scathingly).  Others are much more mellow, with readers commenting at a more leisurely pace. Yet others are narrow blogs, having a focus of a particular area of interest the write on and eschewing any and all sorts of controversial subjects (except in their area - and even then, things happen:  gardeners and cheesemakers can rumble like no-one's business). 

One of the sort of "rules of the road" that I stumbled into is that I will follow a blog for a while before I will comment, to get the flavor and flow of the commentary, what and how people respond, and what the general tone is.  Some I will read and never respond on simply because I do not have the emotional willingness to sustain an on-line argument about something that, given three days, will be subsumed by yet another blog post (which, I suppose, we can disagree about all over again).

I am fortunate in that my readers (that is you, gentle readers) are some of the kindest and good-hearted people that respond on blogs.  In my now 16 plus years of blogging, I have only ever had to delete two comments, one because it was downright mean (but I did respond with a post), and one because it crossed the line I have about politics and religion here (and we discussed it and we are all square about it).  I am often surprised by new people that take the time to post (Thanks for stopping by!), both for taking the time to comment as well as holding to the (apparently written down somewhere but not visible to me) rules of the road, which I publish only at the beginning of the year.

You can say it is my choice of subjects.  That probably plays a hand in it as well, as the few posts that I have tried which ventured off of my own rules tended to end poorly - or at least unsatisfactorily from my point of view as the proprietor of this humble establishment.  

As you can guess, this is not just motivated by the fact I ran out of something better to write (well, maybe I did but that is besides the point).  It happened because at the blog of two groups of folks I sincerely respect, a commenter or commenters made comments that, while not foul or angry, definitely put off the tone of the post for that day and the comments following it.  

The founders of these fine publishing institutions are consummate professionals of course, and both situations were handled with politeness, tact, and skill.  But it left a rather off taste in my mouth - not for me, but for them.

I had not intended this to turn into a lecture (as apparently it has become), and this is not directed inherently at anyone that comments here.  You all are exactly the way things are supposed to work:  We have discussions here, perhaps disagreeing in point of view but not to the point of questioning each other's sanity or basic humanity (which, of course, is precisely how I intend to keep it running as long as I am here).  Just a couple of general thoughts on commenting on the Blogosphere:

1)  Know Your Audience - As listed above, just read the comments for a while.  The tone of the commenters - it should come as a surprise to no-one that in most established blogs, there are "regulars" - will act as a guide as to what is and is not permissible.

2)  Do Not Comment - Or put another way, "You do not have to comment on every blog post you see and agree - or disagree - with".  Mostly it is the disagree with, right?  It is perfectly alright to have that scathing remark or witty comeback in your head.  You just do not always need it to go out your fingers.

3)  Be Thoughtful of Your Hosts - Every blog that is not commercially sponsored is written by someone, someone that has taken time out of their life (that they can never get back) to write a post.  If you cannot respect the post or the opinion, at least respect that someone took the time to offer themselves to do it.  If you really disagree or think what they say is wrong, silly, or terrible, you can always start a blog...

4)  Be Kind - "This is applicable everywhere?" I hear you thinking.  Yes, yes it is.  Kindness costs one nothing, even when one disagrees vehemently.  People will ultimately reject arguments made in anger and force of words, but will usually take the time to at least listen to a kind response, even if (as it true in my case) it is often wrong.

Personal blogs are a great deal like homes.  In a way, it is like when we were children and learning how to visit the home of others:  we took our cues from how the home owner acted and how others in the home acted.  Some were the virtual equivalent of "Animal House"; others were as quiet and civilized as Sense and Sensibility.  But in every case, we observed before we began to act.

Or, as the sign above my parent's house says, "Be Nice or Go Home".

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

When Life Gives You Potatoes, Make Lemonade

Earlier in July, The Ravishing Mrs. TB set a partial bag of potatoes on the counter.  "They are sprouting" she note.  

For a great many people in the modern world, this would likely mean either throwing them away or composting them.  For the rest of us, that means opportunity.

Doing a little searching in the garage, I found I had two plastic planters from the lime trees (they that expired in Cold Snap 2021 but are coming back) and some rocks from way back in Old Home, when we paid a rather foolish amount of for landscaping) to help with drainage.

I also had the well rotted rabbit pellets available to scoop on top of said gravel to place the potatoes in and cover them:


And here we are 2.5 weeks later, with sprouts.  The straw laid on top was also courtesy of the rabbits.

Actual cost of this exercise:  $0.00 as all of the materials were already paid for and on hand.

The reality is, anyone could do this - yes, maybe they do not have plastic containers or soil on hand, but what is the cost of those things - $5?  Part of the issue with the side of promoting gardening and home food production is sometimes we overcomplicate the issue.  The concept of gardens can be overwhelming to some people (good heaven, it overwhelms me at times).  The concept of potting a single potato, less so.

Am I going to offset a food crisis with this?  No.  Maybe I will get a meal out of it (Baked potatoes slathered in butter are the best).  But what I did do is take a potentially failing item and use it to my advantage.

We cannot always make lemonade out of potatoes. But learning to capitalize on the resources at hand is something we can all get better at.


Monday, July 26, 2021

A Year Of A

 About a year ago, as you may recall, Nighean Dhonn came home from walking Poppy the Brave and reported that she had seen a small kitten running around.  We went out and caught him after a bit of chase and, after a bit of negotiation with the Internal Powers That Be, kept him.

A- After a few days of being a little alarmed and grumpy - came to adapt to being one of us.  

Over the last year, he has learned to observe the world:

Make friends with siblings:

Try to find commonalities with those different from him:

And the importance of napping:

He is still a kitten in a lot of ways:  for example, it was an unfortunate decision to buy new furniture this year, and he still insists that 0400 in the morning is a perfect time for everyone to wake up.  But, on the whole, we are very glad he is here.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

A Few Thoughts On The Return of Thrift

 Back in the mid 1990's I bought an economics book for myself - something completely out of character with my reading habits then:  The Return of Thrift:  How The Collapse Of the Middle Class Welfare State Will Reawaken Values In America by Phillip Longman. I cannot recall why the book called out to me; looking at the inside of the cover, I see it was $25.00 back then (not really very thrifty of me, come to think of it).

A short synopsis (it has been a while since I read it) was that per the author, America (then) had a middle class welfare problem.  Through government programs like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Pension Bailouts, subsidized Federal home loans, and hefty retirement plans for high level military and bureaucrats (Not the enlisted, of course:  My Father In Law The Master Sergeant did his 20 years and I can assure you his retirement pay is somewhat embarrassing), the country was enabling the spending of money far more rapidly than it was being taken in and was enabling the subsidization of middle class consumption, not the building of the middle class.  Worse, it was enervating the old middle class values of thrift, frugality, and sturdiness.

Long's prescription fell into two categories.

For the Government, the task started with passing a balanced budget amendment (which, in all fairness in the intervening 26 years, they have not really held to).  A means test would be applied to levels of income exceeding $40,000 (again remember, 1996) for retirement benefits and all other benefits. Additionally, health care subsidies would need to be ended except for the very poor as well as Medicare/Medicaid premiums and deductibles increased and possibly taxed and HMOs (still kind of a new thing back then encouraged. Finally, some kind of health care reform would have to happen, although he leaves the details rather vague.  And or course, higher taxes (that was coming anyway).

For the individual, Long states the following:  "The implications of this book for your own finances by now should be clear.  You can go on living your life as if you could count on Social Security, Medicare, or other middle-class entitlements.  But the younger you are, the more foolhardy you are to risk your future on such a dubious assumption."  The only thing one can do is be responsible for one's own retirement is his response - and his charts give one the idea of how much that would actually be (he assumes an average return rate of 3% a year, which is pretty conservative and not bad, in my opinion, as a worst case scenario).  He also suggests that such a thing as Mandatory Savings Account (MSA) be established on a sliding scale for government where the individual is required to put a certain amount of their money aside in an account for retirement, separate from an IRA, and managed by the individual (to be fair, this seems to be one of the main points of Long, something he touts a bit in terms of his idea).

What the middle class needs, suggest Long, is rediscovering what built the middle class:

"Middle class culture still celebrates play and time off, when a renewed commitment to work is required to pay off our personal and national debts. Middle-class culture still glorifies "self-actualization" and self-absorption, when economic necessity requires greater reliance on extended families to provide for the very young, the very old, the sick, and the unemployed.  Middle-class culture, in short, is becoming less and less distinguished from proletarian culture in its shortsightedness and self-indulgence at a time when, due to changing economic reality, it should be becoming more asserrtively entrepreneurial, family centered, and bourgeois.  

Those who don't wake up to the new reality will soon enough become proles."

Ultimately what Long promotes is the idea of thrift - self chosen or enforced - instead of what he perceives a middle class entitlement.

I present this not as a philosophy I agree with, but as a view of what 20 + years ago was a thought on how to avoid the significant increase of the national debt.  Because I think it is fair to say that, like his ideas or not, in point of fact nothing was done about it, leading us to the staggering national debt we are under today.

Friday, July 23, 2021

An Unhappy Place

Today's meditation involves two seemingly unrelated things, leading to An Unhappy Place.

Item The First: Formerly Famous

One of the great things that I think must be very difficult - and which 99% of us are spared from - is the pain of being Formerly Famous.

I would bet that at some point in many people's lives, there is a wish - even if brief - that they were famous.  It might be for different reasons - the money, the recognition, the sense of power, the sense of privilege - but there must be a flicker for most, at some point, "What would it be like if....?"

The reality, of course, is that fame for even that 1% can be fleeting.

I have often wondered after the life of those who hit their peak early in life  - the TV child stars, the bands in their early teens and twenties, the movie stars that break out early - and then fade over time.  Most of us are not built to handle the growth of popularity and then its gradual or sudden decline:  Two or five or ten years of relevance, then fade to black.

You read about them of course:  the former athlete now up on criminal charges, the music star of twenty years ago waiting tables, the former movie star on the late night advertising or being a celebrity judge on a ridiculous TV show.  Or you read about them in other ways, as they try increasingly desperate measures to call attention to themselves or, somewhat sadly, end poorly.

One wonders what it must be like to wake up and realize the fans are gone, the money has fled, the former folks that would answer the phone as you called have suddenly lost your number - that your life, once seemingly "extraordinary", is now just a life like any other.  

Some adapt, others do not.

Item The Second:  The National Debt Clock

One of the things I wish that was more visible and paid attention to a great deal more is the US National Debt Clock.  There are many different versions of them (as I found out); the link is a very simplified version.

If you have never seen one (I am assuming my readership has; Canadian friends and UK friends, I bet you have your own version), it lists the current US National Debt, The National Debt per person and per household, the Unfunded Liability National Debt, and The Unfunded Liability Debt.  It is all in real time so you can see the numbers rolling up second by second.

By "debt", of course, we mean something borrowed that has to be paid back.

Would that this was the background on every news cast, every government meeting, every presidential speech, a background to put all discussions of spending and borrowing and rewards and punishments and gifts and "money we give to everyone else" into context.

Item The Third:  An Unhappy Place

And how, pray tell, do these two run together?

The rule is that debts must eventually be paid - if not for the sheer moral correctness of repaying the debt, from the very real perception that those that do not pay their debts are not reliable.  "Full Faith and Credit" means exactly that - but faith (and credit) are intangibles.  And intangibles are as much based on perception as they are in demonstrable fact.

The simple reality is that now - today - we cannot repay our national debt.  We do not have the will and we darn well do not have the actual money.

Who does this impact? Not the old.  Those 70 and older will never see the end game play out unless they are one of the few that lives another 30 years.

Those in the 50's and 60's?  Possibly - but this is a voting class who will fight bitterly for the benefits that they have spent 30 to 40 years paying for.  And there is no better way to motivate a bloc to vote than threaten to take away what they have earned.

No, the blow will fall on the young.

Rather than be the most strident in crying out for not only a complete culling of additional spending but a huge and national effort to reduce the national debt, they often seem to cry out the loudest for more and more spending.  They seem to believe that there will be no financial impact; after all, no-one ever calls in debts anymore and the dollar will be the currency of choice forever.

But of course there will be financial impacts.  We are seeing them now and will continue see them going forward:  the more dollars made, the less value they have.  The less value they have, the more expensive everything becomes.  They see the rise in gas prices, the rise in utilities, the rise in groceries and dining - and seem to make no connections.

Where it will be seen - and painfully so - is in their lives and their impact.

Theirs will be the generation that suddenly comes to the realization that they have become, in a way, the Formerly Famous.

They will find their opinion matters less - in the world, in their communities, in organizations. Living in a country that is more and more deeply indebted, they will find their time more involved in making a living - and making less of that living.   The world "out there", who once cried out for their opinions and involvement, will be less interested in their opinion - after all, financially they have nothing to offer and increasingly nothing to sell - and their involvement -. because those who have no money and are struggling to survive view the getting of money as the most important thing in any relationship or conversation.   Theirs will be the first generation in 100 + years that will not be a trendsetter for the world, but rather a follower of the trends set by others.  Growing up as the center of their worlds and their society, they will find that they have been moved to cold outer fringes, as others appear on the world stage.  

Perhaps I am wrong, that indeed this is this is precisely the way things should be and after all, this "debt" thing I am writing about matters not at all and even it if does, the world would not let us go broke.  After all, we are the bright and shining beacon.

I would submit that the Formerly Famous, if asked, would often submit it was better to never have been famous in the first place.