Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 In Review

2018 was actually a pretty remarkable year.  I got to go to Japan:





And California:




And Iceland:






I had to say goodbye to an old friend:




In terms of other goals, things were mixed.  I made some progress in my weight training and published my last text, but made almost no progress in things like cheesemaking or gardening.  Throwing was largely a wash. 

Still, on the whole, I would consider it a good year (if for no other reason than the places I saw).  Here is to hoping that 2019 is equally as amazing.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Few Words From...Niccolo Machiavelli


A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.”

There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless.”

There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.”

It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope.”

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A World Without Media

So an observation from coming home here to The Ranch, as I am reminded every time I am here:  one can pretty easily live without the bulk of the outside world.

Less the incoming cable and InterWeb, one can go long days without any sort of news from "the outside world".   Even more so, one can pretty easily go without talking to folks as well for about the same period of time (I can see a case where a once a week visit to the outside world - say a Sunday of church, breakfast out, and shopping - could be the extent of contact needed).

To the (perhaps largely younger) crowd, I am sure that this is a world that would be beyond pleasant imagination.  Little contact, no second by second feed, Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) at an all time high - this might seem a sort of disconnected Hell.

But there is solace in silence, a settling of thoughts and ideas, the ability to listen to that which is unseen but of equal value to that which is seen.  One can be involved in the outer world to the extent that one wishes to - unlike the urban alternative, where the world is constantly being thrust in your face without any choice in the matter.

One comes to understand why the great writers and thinkers and theologians always preferred the silence and being apart from the world to do their best work.  It gives one a clarity of thought and experience that (at least I) could not replicate in the urban world.

It has also become a simple act of rebellion.

By refusing to constantly "plug in", by not always thinking about what others think (instead of generating my own thoughts), and by not constantly taking in a stream of information from other sources, one establishes and strengthens one's self as an individual.  One learns to think, to reason, to consider, to decide - all for one's self.  I no longer become locked into the exercise of the great Hive Mind, but rather into the exercise of a free mind.

Fight the system at the most basic level.  Take some time - even five minutes, but strive for more - to disconnect from the system.

Learn to think - to breathe - again.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 Christmas Walkabout

My semi-annual morning walkabout:

Daffodils starting to grow at the house:


Looking towards the sunrise:


The Seasonal tank is full:


Old Pump head:


The local utility company was in cutting trees away from the power line all summer:




You can see they cut away quite a bit:


Back up the lower field:


Overgrowth on the road:


On the road:


A new discovery:  these little white berries.  They look a great deal like popcorn.  I have never seen them before.



Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager.

      And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill towards men!"  - Luke 2:  10-14

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:  and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Price of Peace." - Isaiah 9:6


Nollick ghennal erriu! (Merry Christmas!)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Individuality

"Individuality is the husk of the personal life.  Individuality is all elbows, it separates and isolates.  It is the characteristic of the child and rightly so, but if we mistake individuality for the personal life, we will remain isolated.  The shell of individuality is God's created natural covering for the protection of the personal life; but individuality must go in order that the personal life may come out and be brought into fellowship with God.  Individuality counterfeits personality as lust counterfeits love.  God designed human nature for Himself; individuality bases human nature for itself.

The characteristics of individuality are independence and self-assertiveness.  It is the continual assertion of individuality that hinders our spiritual life more than anything else.  If you say - 'I cannot believe,' it is because individuality is in the road; individuality never can believe.  Personality cannot help believing.  Watch yourself when the Spirit of God is at work.  He pushes you to the margins of your individuality, and you have to either say ''I shan't,' or to surrender, to break the husk of individuality and let the personal life emerge.  The Holy Spirit narrows it down every time to one thing (cf. Matthew 5:23-24).  The thing in you that will not be reconciled to your brother is your individuality.  God wants to bring you into union with Himself, but unless you are willing to give up your right to yourself  He cannot.  'Let him deny himself' - deny his independent right to himself, then the real life has a chance to grow." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Friday, December 21, 2018

Going Home 2018 Christmas Edition

Good Morning!  As you are reading this I am still (hopefully) sleeping in from a rather early morning arrival (0100) at Old Home this morning.

The whole thing happened a bit by accident - originally I was planning to drive out with Na Clann  and have The Ravishing Mrs. TB meet us there for part of the time (as she had to work) - but then she found a ticket that was about $300 to fly - and flying means another four full days there. 

The only bad part, of course, is that arrival time..

So we are here almost through the end of the year with plenty of time to see friends and family (almost 10 days total) - which, added with the week we spent here earlier in the year, is almost a full business month here.  Not enough, but something.

Fear not - I have left plenty of reading material in my absence and will check in from time to time.  Hopefully much good thinking and pondering will occur - at worst, I will have the chance to spend time with the people I love in a place I love.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Collapse XIV: Shopping


10 July 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

The oddest thing happened today, something worthy of discussion that if not a sign of the times, is certainly a sign of something.

As I have mentioned, once a month I make the 150 mile round trip to the largest urban area in my vicinity. The trip, when it is done, takes an entire day and consists of a trip to the Large Discount Box Chain store for my monthly store of supplies and a fill up on fuel. I will generally use the equivalent of a quarter tank of fuel getting there and back but the savings in food and the ability to fill my vehicle and gas cans has (to this point) proven to be a value added proposition.

My shopping list when I go is inevitably the same 90% of items: oatmeal, rice, beans, potatoes – the sorts of staples that I always try and have a little more on hand than what I need – and a small amount of perishable items (dairy for example, or some kinds of fruit and vegetables, or perhaps even some meat). My lunch out is always the same there – their “classic meal” of a sausage sandwich and soft drink, my one luxury of the week. I load my supplies, fill it and the gas cans up with fuel, and return home.

This time however, things were very different.

For one, it was far more crowded than I had ever experienced on a week day (which I consciously choose as the least likely to be full of people). For another, they actually had posted limits on most items: one or two at the most. My oatmeal was rationed to two boxes instead of my usual three, my rice and potatoes at one bag each, and beans at three small one pound bags each. Most fruits had already been picked through and the dairy was the most reduced of all: one item each, of any kind.

Oddly enough, the whole facility was quiet – the hot, ominous atmosphere of a Midwest Thunderstorm about to break open, with all voices were in low tones. The payment options were limited to $200, cash or credit. As you can imagine, standing in line there were some heated disagreements with the cashiers.

I almost skipped my lunch but thought the better of it, given the circumstances. It was my one luxury of the day and I was determined to enjoy it.

As you can probably guess at this point, the gas line was equally as long – and constrained. $50 limit on what could be spent on gas per purchase per customer, which barely covered filling up my vehicle. No gas cans this trip.

Which lead to a second stop to which I had not intended to make: the gun store. My budget for such things had already been filled for the month but I had money left from the inability to complete my usual purchases so I stocked up – and again, was confronted with the limits available on the purchase of ammunition. The gun counter, from the looks of it, would be out of whatever was there in the day.

The news driving home, interestingly enough, was the banal sort of reporting that I have come to expect from modern media. If there was a triggering event, no-one was speaking of it in the media, nor was anyone saying anything about it anywhere I had shopped. It is as if there was a giant conspiracy to keep things silent, lest by speaking of a wicked event it would come to pass.

I stopped on the way home and filled up the gas cans, paying retail price. Not the best value, but perhaps the best I can do given the circumstances.

There is an undercurrent I am missing, Lucilius. I will scour the media sources tonight and see what I can find.

Your Obedient (and somewhat Concerned) Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

TB Learns IT

This week I purchased a book on General Computer Network Structure.

This is something I have been fighting for most of my life.

I am not a technology geek.  My interest in it - and especially computers - has always been limited to the bare minimum of what it takes to learn to work one (I learned to program on an Apple IIe back in the day, if that at all conveys some sense of how long ago it was since I first ventured into technology).  And I have fought learning more, as that knowledge pool is ever changing and I simply cannot compete in it.

But IT falls into my wheelhouse of responsibility (if you can believe that).  And more and more, the growth of what we are doing and what we are using has become disjointed and ineffective.

And so, off to the bookstore I went to buy a book on Networking.

I do not pretend that this is something that I will ever be really good at.  But I came to the realization that I could either be overrun by the event - or I could take action first and maybe actually come out looking like a hero in all of this.

A second item - not ever far from my mind - is that my skill set (more and more) needs to be even more differentiated in an industry that is global and in a business where it often seems that companies are laying off more quickly than they are hiring.  Anything that would differentiate me - especially at my age - is worth looking into.

The worst case is that I learn how to set up my home network correctly.  The best case is that I actually set the technology course of my company.  Either way, there seems little to lose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Displacement

Last week it was announced that a Major Technology Firm was going to build a major campus 6 miles from our house.  They estimate single digit thousand employees within two years and double digit thousand employees after that.  This location sits squarely astride the route I have to drive every day to work.

On the whole (at least for me) this is fairly unwelcome news.  Our infrastructure is such that that many cars on the roadways will make that area of travel virtually impossible to do on a normal business schedule unless you leave quite early and arrive home the same or if you take the state toll roads (not a particularly desirable option).  The grocery store we regularly go to is about to become incredibly busy, as is the local bank we use.

Worst of all, of course, is the imminent threat of housing price increases.  I can already sense it coming - along with the obligatory rise in local property taxes.  I am expecting sky high stupid levels in a record amount of time, given how things have worked out in the past.

I do not know what this fully means (although having a discussion with a co-worker, I posited that this sort of thing will essentially seal the doom of our industry in this city due to a sky-rocketing cost of living and cost of real estate which will discourage other companies from starting or relocating here), but on the whole things do not look great.

Sometimes even our best plans are overturned by circumstances beyond our control.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Social Media And The Future of Independent Thought

The future of independent thought is not in social media.

Social media has become Marx's great Opiate of the Masses (religion, move aside), a drug which lulls the mind and spirit into a dull state of consciousness that make one prey to the rising and falling tides of majority opinion.  It has become the great weapon of opinion, the great "Grass Mowing Sword" of Japanese legend, scything down people and opinions and institutions - anything that is not considered socially "correct".  It values conformity above independence, right mindedness (as defined by social media) instead of thinking, and entertainment about pondering.

So where is independent thought moving to?

I do not have a full understanding of this yet.  In some cases it exists on blogs but as many have pointed out, blogs are in many ways the technology of  yesterday, a slowly dying medium of communication.  Perhaps it may it exist in books as well, thanks to the growth of the self publishing movement - but again, there is a an argument to be made that books as well are a passing medium.

But I believe that both of these still hold promise, as do podcasts (which I do not often follow) and other direct to reader technologies I am not aware of. Why/  Because only these allow people to generate and complete thoughts instead of just creating visceral emotional reactions.

Just because social media is causing a drought of independent thought does not mean such thought is going away.  It is just going underground like a river through rock, only to percolate up and emerge at a point where it least expected.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Few Words From...Ayn Rand


Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Collapse XIII July 4th

05 July 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

July 4th has come and gone, perhaps on the most memorable July 4ths in all my years.

I have long stopped following the major news outlets and so have no actual idea of what the government “line” is this year – but if it is like years past, it is undoubtedly filled with how far we yet have to go and how only through the Government, not the People, can we be great.

This year, things felt different.

No sooner had I finished my missive to you of 02 July than a knock came at my door. It was a young woman, whom I had never before met. She said she lived over on the other side of the main road through town. Someone had decided that we needed a Fourth of July celebration. A local rancher had donated a side of beef. There would be fireworks of some kind. Would I consider coming?

The “yes” was out of my mouth before I had time to think and consider the matter. And so, the afternoon of the 4th, I got into a semi-dressed mode, the kind of which I have not worn for many years on a day not a Sunday, and headed out.

Someone had opened up what had undoubtedly been a bar in a former life, had swept the floors of the dust and washed the windows so the light could come through. Red, white, and blue bunting was hung on the walls with the American Flag.

I would guess by the crowd present that almost everyone in our 110 or so odd town came along with the some of the outlying folks. The beef was as promised and everyone, including myself, brought a side dish (I had forgotten how much I missed potato salad). A trio of a guitar, string bass, and violin played songs, mostly of the patriotic and County and Western variety.

You would be rather proud of me – I conversed with a number of individuals. I met my neighbors down the road. I found another person that kept bees. And mostly against my own better judgment, I had a beer.

The fireworks were for the most party for the children and consisted of those “safe and sane” fireworks which are even now illegal in most places – but were appropriately enjoyed by all none the less. They also had sparklers, and everyone got at least one to wave in the dying light.

This is my country Lucilius: People celebrating their country, the fact they are free and, among other freedoms, have the ability to associate unmolested by the government. There was no discussion of current events or what the future might hold: instead, just citizens celebrating who they are are.

It was glorious.

America may be in trouble, but it seems the American spirit is as alive and well as it ever was.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Dependent Individualists

We have become the most dependent group of individualist ever.

On the one hand, we completely value individualism (at least in Western society) to the point that the power to be me - really, the right to be me - has become an article of faith in modern society with an almost religious-like fervor.  The world can and should do nothing except accept me precisely as I am.

On the other hand, we have become a society that is completely controlled by the opinions of others - that dreaded "peer pressure" society that everyone preaches against, yet we somehow all seem to be in.  Opinions, actions, and beliefs that are not currently considered societally acceptable are driven from the public square with an animosity and a zeal resembling that of the Cultural Revolution. And in a rather amazing turn of events, elements of our society now need defending from words and ideas which they find to be offensive or "damaging to the psyche".

If you think that things are getting stretched to the breaking point, you would be correct.  Such a thing cannot exist in tension for a long period of time.  We are on the cusp of those who demand social conformance starting to eat their own side as, once they have driven out everyone else they disagree with, they will instinctively (but perhaps not consciously)  seek out new targets to ensure that their view is the dominant one - even if that means destroying one time allies in the process.  More often than not, revolutions always end up eating their own.

Sadly, we are almost at the point that every totalitarian society dreams of:  a society where individuals go after aberrant opinions and zeal which the dominant power can never match, reaching into every aspect of life where the government cannot reach.  And once people become used to living in such a society, they one day discover they have discarded their freedom for the privilege of being a societal slave, always living on the edge of having one's life destroyed by a stray word or thought or deed.

Do not believe me? Read the histories of totalitarian states, of Communist China and North Korea and Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, even of Rome under Caesars.  And then get back to me on your right to "be" who you want to the exclusion of all other opinions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Losing My Way

I have become deeply convinced that I have lost my way.

Oh, things are going swimmingly of course.  I am making more money than I ever imagined.  We have heat and food and clothes and cars.  Everyone is healthy and happy.  The bunny is well and the dog seldom manages to run out the door any more.

And yet, I am as deeply unsatisfied as I have ever been.

Life seems to be a long series of work, sandwiched between weekends trying to recover my good mood and energy.  I have to force myself to open my e-mail at work in the morning for the overwhelming amount of e-mail I get. My day is spent answering questions, refereeing arguments, and checking and double checking documents.

Oddly enough, I find that I enjoy precisely none of this.  It has become a great burden I shoulder Monday through Friday (and sometimes Saturday).

I have started asking myself if this is really it.  I should really be more grateful, yet my feelings vacillate between anxiety of not being able to complete the job and a growing sense of depression that what I am doing is what I will be doing for the rest of my time.  Any sense I have that I am filling a role that God has called me to has completely escaped me at this point.

I have tried to pinpoint - perhaps uselessly - the precise moment when everything went astray.  I think I know when it was, although I have no guarantee that the outcome of my life would be better than it is now.

It was 1996 and I was splitting time working at my cousin's Mini-mart and doing business college teaching, which I enjoyed although it always was struggle knowing if I had a job the next quarter.  I had just gotten a position at a second college for teaching when my Brother In Law called with a potential job offer in his industry (biotechnology).  It had benefits which my then-current job did not, so off I went with the responsible "adult"position.  I did enjoy teaching political science more, but benefits were benefits.

And if I look back, it always seems that my choices after that date have always come back to "follow the money"- even the time I tried real estate and came back (crawling) to biotech.  I suppose there is nothing wrong with that per se - after all, we all need to eat and make a living.  But following that path has gotten me to this point, where the connection between myself and my dreams (whatever are left of them at this point) seems completely divorced from my actual 168 hours of life a week.

I find myself torn.  On the one hand, I have to keep doing what I am doing to be a responsible husband and father.  On the other hand, the sense of not fitting in - and as result of that not being the best person for the job to the point I fear I will make an error - continues to grow.

There is a resolution of sorts here, something beyond my vision that I cannot fully see at this point but I know to be there.  No matter how I squint my mental eyes and look though, I cannot make it out at this point.

If I had more wisdom I suspect I would know better what to do.  Right now all I can do is sit and think and drive to work and do the work and continue to feel that something is fundamentally, terribly wrong.


Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Barricades



I love Les Miserables.

I love the story. I love the music (a great deal of it is in my singing range).  I love the themes and the messages.

And who would not?  Redemption, protest, sacrifice, nobility, a glorious struggle against wrong.  All within a three hour period.

Actual revolution, thought looks a bit different:


This is potential revolution, in reality.

It is not clean like the musical.  People are not nicely dressed - nor are we, as the audience, in our climate controlled atmosphere and comfortable clothes.  The air is full of smoke and shouts and gas.
And people really get hurt and bleed - not just the theatrical kind that makes us sigh and weep.

We have become so removed from much of the world around us that we can view such things and never think about what such things (which are still going on) actually look like in real life:  the injuries that maim, the deaths that take forever (instead of conveniently falling over after the first hit), the starvation of depressed economies.

I wonder the next time most people go to see such entertainment, can they go and see it ever the same again?

Jesus As Lord

"Jesus is Lord, and those who refuse Him as Lord cannot use Him as Savior.  Everyone who receives Him must surrender to His authority, for to say we receive Christ when in fact we reject His right to reign over us is utter absurdity.  It is a futile attempt to hold onto sin with one hand and take Jesus with the other.  What kind of salvation is it if we are left in bondage to sin?

This, then, is the gospel we are to proclaim.  That Jesus Christ, who was God incarnate, humbled Himself to die on our behalf.  Then He became the sinless sacrifice to pay the penalty of our guilt.  He rose from the dead to declare with power that He is Lord over all, and He offers eternal life freely to sinners who will surrender to Him in humble, repentant faith.  This gospel promises nothing to the haughty rebel, but for broken, penitent sinners, it graciously offers everything that pertains to life and goodness."  - John MacArthur, The Gospel According To Jesus

Saturday, December 08, 2018

A Few Words From...Paulo Coelho


“The two worst strategic mistakes to make are acting prematurely and letting an opportunity slip; to avoid this, the warrior treats each situation as if it were unique and never resorts to formulae, recipes or other people's opinions.”

“I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.”


“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure.”


(Hat Tip:  Brainyquotes.com)

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Of Christmas Gifts And Changing Interests

Driving around this last weekend, The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I got to talking about Christmas presents, specifically the presents that we were going to procure for each other (I cannot complain - for most of the years of our marriage, I am only directly responsible for procuring hers).  

It is always a little bit of a fencing match, I suppose:  the question of who is going to name the first idea (and thereby set the price range) is always present.  There is also the realization that practically speaking, the acknowledgement that for most of the small things we desire, we can just buy them outright (not always the case, of course).

So I thought and I thought.  Finally I said "Most of the things I want are connected to Iai so I doubt we can get any of those."

This struck me as a very odd development.

Over the course of the years (and if you have read long enough, you have been through at least some of them) I have had any number of interests and activities.  I still have many of them of course, but over time most of them have slowly continued to fade into the background - it is mostly a time and space continuum thing:  not as much time available, so I have slowly started to focus on a few activities to the exclusion of others.  The big winners from this paring down are Iai and  weight training (writing, reading, and cheese now hold runner up designations).

It is funny how one thing tends to take over our life we when were not looking for it - and this is certainly not something I would have predicted 10 years ago.  My interests then were much more focused on gardening (when I had a good one I could grow) and bees and mead making.  Things changed, of course, and we ended up here.  And I ended up with a new interest.

What does wanting "Iai" things looking like?  Getting a new scabbard made.  Getting a sword fitted out.  Getting a higher grade of training gear.  And always, going to Japan to train.

Sadly, none of this fits easily into a stocking or is something that one can just procure at the local brick and mortar store. And that is okay - budgeting for it and waiting are part of the fun.  But is a remarkable thing that most of the less valuable things have been sluiced away by the years, starting (in small measure) to leave the nuggets visible.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

A Lack Of Interest In The Future

I find myself a great deal less interested in the future than I used to be.

Once upon a time, of course, I was much more so - I remember being in 5th or 6th grade at our local public library, reading a book about how space stations were the wave of the future and what they would be like (with artist's renditions, no less).  And I have been a great consumer of science fiction for over 40 years.

But my interest in the last few years has drastically fallen off.

The easy answer is to look at my age (back side of 40) and simply say that the future means less to me because I am likely to spend less time in it.  Which is a legitimate thought, of course - statistically I have something like 26 years or so, thanks to my genes maybe something more like 30.  And with that, of course, are all the things that I will not get to do (because on the whole, 70 year olds do not go to space).

But that is not it, entirely.

The more factually accurate answer is simply that I have seen the future, and there is very little of it that interests me.

The onward roll of history in my lifetime has been that of collectivization, a slow but steady loss of true diversity of opinion, and greater and greater control and power by centralized bodies of authority.  On the whole, most of us can do less, say less, express our opinion less, and be less than what was once possible.  The technological achievements of this age - the fact that I can stream music or look up facts anywhere - are a pale benefit compared to that.

I foresee a time - before I die - that even the lesser versions of what I can do, think, say, and participate in now will be swept away in the great societal need for control of every aspect of the "common good"  (it does not matter which good you discuss at the moment - there are several, and all involve more and more control and less and less freedom).  If you would see the future - at the least the future as some see it  - research the experiments the Chinese Government is making with the Social Credit system.  This represents control at the highest level - rated by the government for what you do, say, and how you act, you ability to do things, get jobs, and travel are expanded or curtailed.

The sad thing for those that are pushing these sorts of future is that the tomes of history tell us that those who create such things seldom survive them.  The edifices that are put in place in the name of the common good will ultimately resemble the high walls and towers of fortresses and walls, meant to keep in those below.  The future they get will not be the future they pictured.

I, however, have reconciled myself to the fact that this is the nature of things.  I can only hope that such things are at least held off until my demise.  I have no sense that they will go the other way.

I would like to have seen space, though.


Tuesday, December 04, 2018

De Mortuis Nihil Non Est Nissi Bonum

Over the past weekend, one of the rather depressing things that has come out of the passing of President George H.W. Bush is the nasty tone around his passing - not from his political enemies (which one might expect), but from his theoretical allies.

I have scanned the sites that I usually do and almost overwhelmingly I have found almost nothing but political invective against him.  25 years has done nothing (apparently) to dull the anger and rage of individuals and their opinions.  For every person that wrote sympathy to his family, there seemed to be four times that number that remembered something that they hated.  Those who he was political opposed too overwhelmingly speak of his grace and tact.  Those he was politically aligned with speak of every bad decision he made.

Why does this all matter?

Look from the outside in.  You may be an individual that has no strong political leanings one way or the other.  You read the attacks of a side against someone - now deceased and unable to defend themselves.  How likely are you to become attached to that line of thinking?  Not very - if they savage their dead like that, what do they do to the living?

(It is a point to consider for every line of endeavor, be it political, religious, economics, even back to the land:  if you are only ever arguing against something you will never win.  You have to be for something, to present ideas, if you want to move opinion and people to your way of thinking).

De mortuis nihil non est nissi bonum - Speak nothing but good of dead.  For the ancient Romans, a very practical consideration lest their enraged spirits come back to haunt.  For those of us living now, less likely that we are concerned about vengeful spirits - but the continued carping about deeds long past may make them victim to ghosts of the future from those now living that remember the side that made war on their own dead.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

A Few Words From...Montesquieu

"Patriotism is conducive to good morals, and good morals contribute to patriotism.  The less we are able to satisfy our private passions, the more we abandon ourselves to those of a more general nature.  Why are monks so fond of their order?  Precisely because of those things which make it insupportable.  Their rule deprives them of all the things on which the ordinary passions rest:  there remains, then, only that passion for the rule which torments them.  The more austere the rule, that is, the more it curbs their inclinations, the more force it gives to the one inclination which leaves them."

- Charles-Louis De Secondat, Baron De La Brede et de Montesquieu

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Collapse XII Trash


02 July 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

The oddest thought just occurred to me and I realized that it is a question that, while undoubtedly not burning in your mind, is none the less relevant: what do I do with my trash?

(Yes, dear friend – I know it is not a burning question. I just wanted an excuse to write).

Oddly enough, I was practicing the concept of “Zero Waste” unconsciously even before everything began to break down personally and professionally – by the time of the sale of the house, we were generating less than 1 bad a week in trash and a great deal more in recyclable materials (although our efforts to reduce our outflow did not in any way reduce our trash bill. A very odd way to encourage waste reduction, by my thinking). A great deal of this was due to more carefully culling the recyclables of course, combined with a decreasing household size as well. We were down to 1 bag of trash a week and a container full of recyclables when….well, when things started to go in an undesired direction.

It is an odd thing, is it not? Society demands that everything be properly packaged to prevent contamination, soiling, and destruction, yet decries the use of the packaging that it demands. We use energy and materials to create something that is theoretically demanded, then disdain the fact that we need the materials in the first place – on the other hand, most people demand their fruit and vegetables come packaged rather than just picked because they might “get dirty”. Madness.

Up here, things are a bit less “structured”.

The trash truck does not come – about a mile down the road are two large containers, one for garbage and one for recyclables, which are periodically transported along to somewhere else. The whole thing is somehow paid for by the sewer tax.

But what happens, of course, when the trash truck no longer comes?

Fortunately my habits of minimizing trash have carried with me – helped (thankfully) by a wood stove that will cheerfully burn my combustibles. I have made a habit of buy in bulk where possible as well, so that my overall amount of discard is less. My ongoing compost bin consume my organics that I generate, and I have been testing different methods of composting fish parts (my number one organic non-compost pile item).

There are a certain number of items that do not fall in to any of these categories, of course: cans and plastics are the biggest offenders, old items that I no longer want or need and cannot otherwise repair or donate as well. For now, I carefully collect them and ferry them a mile away; should things become worse, I suspect this will not be a problem at all as I doubt those things will be available.

Until then, I follow the well-worn trifecta of “reduce, reuse recycle”.

Your Obedient (and Recycling) Servant, Seneca.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Planning?

It is odd how you end up in places you never expected.

I was never much of a life planner, as I knew some of my friends in high school and even in college to be.  They had clear plans and clear goals about what they were going to do and where they were going to do it.  I was much less of a planner, with some vague conception of "I will have to do something someday, somewhere".

I cannot speak for all of them - I speak to almost none of them - but I am willing to bet good money (based on my own circumstances) that very few of them ended up where or what they expected.

I wonder if life was always like this - I expect not, as (in those days of yore we all speak of) those choices were a lot less available and the world was not nearly as malleable as it is now. States, political theories, entire industries - they did not change as they do now.  Travel was not as nearly convenient as it is now (or relatively inexpensive).  

I would guess that I am grateful - after all, I have seen things and done things that I never would have expected if I had stuck to my vague idea of a plan.  And yet, at the back of my mind I always wonder:  if I had truly planned better (instead of drifting), how differently would things have turned out?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Slow Motion Crystal Ball

Once upon a time, one always wondered about the choices never taken, the roads never followed.  One would leave one's hometown or college or a relationship and perhaps seldom (if ever) hear about the people one had left behind:  what they were doing, how they were doing, and how their lives had advanced.  Certainly, one almost never had the sense of what would have happened if one had stayed in the town or the relationship.

But the InterWeb and Social Media has changed all that.

Suddenly, we can see our old friends and classmates and lovers from times past.  And if we dig in a bit behind the "look where I vacationed pictures" or "this is my family", one begins to find what they have become and what they believe (for good and bad).

And all of a sudden, one can begin to understand the possible outcomes of the choices one did not make.

Decided to remain in a town or city instead of moving?  Here is what the town became and here is what your old friends are like.  Stopped dating that person?  Here they are now, and here is what they believe (and probably what you would have believed, if you had stayed).  The confrontations and issues they went through over the years would have become your issues as well.

All of a sudden with a little thought and imagination, you can pretty clearly see how you would be yourself.

I am not here to question whether those developments are good or bad, as we can only judge based on where we currently are (and some of those possible decisions lead off in very different directions).  But we have a slow motion crystal ball, something that has never been available to generations past.

I wonder, are we using it effectively?

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Fall Of A Basket Empire

On a whim this weekend, I went to look up the ongoing of fate of The Longaberger Company.  You may remember them from the 1990s to 2000s, a basket company that sold all its units through home sales. Originally in baskets, they branched out to pottery and iron working as well.  The last time I wrote about this almost two years ago, they had laid off 96% of their employees from a high of 8000 employees and $1 Billion in sales in 1999 (A brief history of the company is contained in the above link).

But now they are gone. In Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, from which you do not emerge.  Their baskets now dot the electronic marketplaces of E-Auction and Bitsy for (literally) pennies on the dollar that we paid for them.

We have baskets here at home, coming out our ears - I believe we have them in every room of our house.  Our regular dinnerware is all Longaberger and we have Christmas dinnerware as well.  I hesitate to think at this point of what we spent in current dollars on all of this.

And now, it holds the position of being both priceless (in the fact that it can never be replaced) and almost worthless (in that it has little to no cash value).

As I had written before, two communities (Dresden, Ohio and Frazeyburg, Ohio) depended largely if not completely on this business (Dresden was the founder's birthplace) and (if my quick research was correct) are now largely in a very bad place because of that.  It makes me sad - I am a lover of small towns and saving them and it is likely that within 10 years, they both will be very small places to stop for gas in and nothing else.

The most vivid memory I have - and at the same time, one of the saddest ones I have - was when The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I visited in 2004 and as part of that visit, went to the plat where they processed logs and performed some basket weaving.   After the tour on our way out, I remember a number of the employees waving to us and saying thank you.  It was only later that I realized that there was quite likely as much desperation and hope in those wavings as there was sincerity.

In our age of disposal items and "less is more", baskets and pottery were likely not to survive very well (and the bankruptcy, I suppose, proves that).  Some of them will circle the Interweb while others (likely ours) will eventually be passed down and given away (mostly to charitable causes I suspect as none of the children will want more than a handful).  Within a generation they will likely be relegated to curios in the house of elders, something for a child to look at or play with or hold things.  Perhaps they will flip it over and see the signature of the person who wove the basket, wonder why someone signed the basket, and them flip it back over and move on.

A forty five year old saga ended this year.  Within another 45 years, no-one will remember.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday

I remember a time before Black Friday.

Once upon a time, back in the mists of history, Black Friday was not a thing - for many people, they simply went to work on Friday like any other day (much like those in retail do now).  Then, someone realized that so many people were taking the day after Thanksgiving off it probably made more sense to give it and take away a different holiday).

Then, on the fateful day somewhere, someone decided they could use the extra day off to start shopping for Christmas.

I am not sure where this precisely occurred.  In the 1980's I do not recall it being a thing; by the late 1990's it was in full swing.

Then, of course, things started to expand into Thanksgiving.  First it was 'We are open at 6:00 PM", then "We are open at 2:00 PM", now "We are open all day."  The counter-shopping movement has been somewhat interesting, but to be honest many of those companies also maintain electronic stores fronts - and somebody, somewhere, is manning those.

As you would probably guess, I seldom venture out on Black Friday.  There are some good deals to be had so I am selective:  one trip, three stops, and then I am home.  I will spend my time before looking precisely for the things I want, which allows me to be as quick as I can about actually being there.

Eventually of course, Black Friday will become another relic of Retail Age, done in by the continued march of on-line retailing (after all, who wants to fight the masses when you can shop from home).  The shops will go back to being closed (because who wants to pay the salaries of workers for no business?).   And once again, the Friday after Thanksgiving will simply become another day of vacation, with grandparents telling harrowing tales of "The Great TV Rush of  '08".

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Day 2018


George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.


Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

- http://www.wilstar.com/holidays/wash_thanks.html

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On Great Mistakes and Decision Making II

Having written about my greatest mistakes, the thought would not leave me alone.  There was something about them, some thread that ran through them, that kept pointing me towards some larger conclusion that eluded me.

And then it hit me.

Every time I have made a decision from selfishness or impatience it has been detrimental.  Every time God changed the circumstances of my life it has been beneficial.

If I look through the list of the major errors and blunders of my life, they have all been rooted in either selfishness (I want what I want) or impatience (I want it now).  In every situation where this has occurred, the outcome was bad - and my bad decisions range from the intensely personal and emotional to the financial and career side.  Every time, the outcome that I desired turned to ash in my hand.

On the other hand, every time that circumstances changed because of God, they have worked out well - like finding a job after The Firm after a month or finding a job after I was laid off in 2009 just as the severance package ran out.  Or finding a home here when we needed it, or finding another one to buy just before the market peaked.  Or finding a second job here, one that has done a great deal more than I could have ever hoped for. 

What does this remind us of?  Proverbs 3:  5-8:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all  your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes:
Fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

It will bring healing to your flesh,
and strength to your bones."

What does it mean practically?  That I need to make no decisions based on selfishness or impatience.  That I need to submit my decisions to God - and wait.  And especially, in the absence of any direction, do not move forward with either selfishness or impatience.

It means that I accept my current situation from God.  If things are not going well - whether it be my job or my finances or my personal relationships - there is a reason for it.  I need to persevere through the situation or be released from it - because it is occurring for some purpose that is ultimately good.

I cannot pretend this will not be easy.  But if I am driven by data at work, I can be no less driven by data in my personal life.  And time and again, this is what the data shows.

Wait, be patient, be blessed.  Do not wait, be impatient, do not be blessed.  It seems it is rather that simple.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On Great Mistakes And Decision Making

Yesterday morning, at the prompting of something within me that I am not quite certain of, I began to construct a list of my greatest mistakes.

To qualify as a mistake, it had to be something that I myself chose to do instead of a circumstance created beyond my control.  It also had to have ended up having a detrimental impact on m life in some form or fashion - sometimes something that has taken years to evidence itself.

The results were, sadly, rather depressing.

I came up with six major errors (no, I will not be listing them here.  You have your errors.  I have mine).  But what did come up as a consistent theme throughout each of them was that they were primarily all based in a lack of self control and secondarily based on an inability to plan for the future.  In layman's terms, I want what I want now and do not really care what impact it has on my life.

I am fortunate - more likely blessed - that none of the impact of these items are the sorts of things that permanently resulted in harm to myself or others (there are those decisions as well).  But they have done harm none the less, to myself and others - bad memories at best, true hardship (mostly financial in my case) at worst.

There is obviously a reason this is coming up now, and obviously something that needs to be learned from all of this.

I am a man of impulsiveness too often, given to wild flights of fancy about the grass which is (undoubtedly) greener on the other side of the fence - or to compensate for the dry grass on my side, I look for ways to make it more endurable.  Neither of these are the correct solution.  Instead, I need to decide how I want my lawn to be and then so manage my life within my own fences that it becomes that.

The resolution is, of course, rather simple:  make no decision based on a lack of self control (or alternatively, only make controlled decisions) and make every decision with an eye towards what it will look like in ten to twenty years (I think realistically, we can say that any consideration to a decision fifty years out is pretty wishful thinking at this point, except for those things that will impact eternity).

Which strikes me as both interesting and odd - for the first time in perhaps 50 years, I have a rubric for making decisions. I wish I had come up with this years ago.

Monday, November 19, 2018

2018 Throwing Done

This weekend we had the last of the 2018 Highland Games, at least for me (and most of us in this part of the country).  Surprising as it may sound, I still managed to get a PR in Light (16 lbs) Hammer:  61' 2", an increase of 1' 2".

It was a somewhat strange for throwing, this year.  To be frank, my heart was not necessarily in it so my throwing was pretty inconsistent.  I was on and off about attending games and practicing was virtually non-extant.

Still, to put it into context, my score in 2012 was about 1500.  My score this year (not completely finished yet) stands at around 3800 with two games left to be entered.

But every time I go, I am reminded of why I go:  the people.  In a world of social media "friends" and relationships that do not last the next new job or next move, these are your family, the family you never knew you had until you met them.  These are the ones that care - actually care, not just kind of.  These are the sorts of folks the best stories are made with: the road trips, the overnight drives, the throwing in the rain and snow and lightning and heat - and then reliving everything in the story.

As The Viking and I drove home after the game, we were analyzing how we did.  "You have enough power"  he said, "we just need to work your technique."

At this point in my life, the fact that there is still the hope of any improvement - let alone great improvement - is a heady thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Fellowship In The Gospel

"I have to learn that the aim in life is God's not mine.  God is using me from His great personal standpoint, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him, and never say - Lord, this gives me such heartache.  To talk that way makes me a dog.  When I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance.  He can crumple me up or exalt me, He can do anything He chooses.  He simply asks me to have implicit faith in Himself and in His goodness.  Self-pity is of the devil; if I go off on that line I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world.  I have "a world within a world" in which I live, and God will never be able to get me outside it because I am afraid of being frost bitten."

- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Few Words From.... Ronald Reagan

"Let us ask ourselves, 'What kind of people do we think we are?' And let us answer, 'Free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well.'"

"The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

 "History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap."




Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Collapse X: Power


30 June 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

How much power do I use? What a delightfully specific (and rather odd) question to ask. But I will play along.

My appliances; Stove, Refrigerator, Water Heater, Water Pump (the microwave went out years ago when it died and was never replaced – who needs a drip coffee maker when you have an original aluminum percolating camp model and a French Press). Other than that, lights and the power to my computer and music player.

Power was one of the first things I made a serious effort on when we first closed on the place. The Refrigerator is a very old International Harvester (can you imagine such a thing still exists?) – a power drain for sure, but built like a tank (it lasted my grandparents and my uncle and may well outlast me). The Stove is something I use really only once or perhaps twice a day and the oven almost never – in summer I heat my coffee while in winter I use the woodstove to warm the water putting it in the French Press (it never seems to boil but it is certainly hot enough to make the coffee quite drinkable). In the summer I use a BBQ for as much of the cooking as can, both to conserve energy and keep the house cool (Did I tell you I tried my hand at making charcoal? Some other time perhaps; rather fascinating process).

The Water Heater and Water Pump run together: the more water I use, the more I have to use them. I have made do to this point without a clothes washer by availing myself of the local campground facilities (until that is gone, of course) so I have only a shower and dishes and drinking to account for. I have looked into very small cylinder clothes washers (I used on in Eastern Europe while I was there), but find that they are rather hard on clothes. For now, I will use what I have and make do with the bathtub when I have not.

I supplement where I can: solar panel for the computer battery and rechargeable nicad batteries, candles in the morning and evening, and the occasional use of the head lamp (although I quite despise the thing, to be honest: I look like a fool). The Winter makes the recharging a great deal more difficult (read almost impossible) but it is simply a matter of matching my life to the available light and acting accordingly. I have thought about kerosene lamps but the smell and the smoke bother me in such a small place.

I know how you think: yes, the candles have to come from somewhere and batteries eventually cannot be recharged. But that is really no different than the reality that, given our current trajectory, we are quite likely to have the lights go out as whole as well.

I have tried to test run this: in Winter (especially) I will make a run of one or two days where I “divorce” myself from power (I try to keep the items in refrigeration low before I do this). With the woodstove and its ability to heat, I keep myself going rather well: I have hot water for tea and coffee and slightly poached eggs and I have enough hot water (given time) to take a reasonable bath (yes, I understand that by using water I am “using” the pump. My counter would be with a manual handle I can do so anyway).

In any circumstances, the greatest issue is light (or the lack thereof). What I have found over time is that by minimizing generated lighting and living largely (if not mostly) by ambient light, I can manage my time appropriately – during the Winter Solstice, we have only about eight hours of daylight (for the Summer Solstice, by comparison, we have almost fifteen) and I have learned to pack in the activities during the day. By the time the sun goes down, I try to have activities that can be accomplished with the light of the fire and a single light source.

It is a matter of adaptation of course, but I am trying to adapt now before I have to.

Your Obedient Servant (currently still writing in the waning sunlight), Seneca

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

On Writing The Collapse

Do we write what is in our souls, or by writing does it imprint itself on our souls?

As I have been writing "The Collapse" (which is actually based on a real placed and maybe based on certain aspects of my own life), I have found myself thinking in certain ways that previously I would not have contemplated:  what would life be like if I lived life on the essentials?  What would life be like if I lived away - truly away - from people?  What is life like when you are largely alone?  What would life be like under a government which, if not actively hostile, was at least passively so?

As I write (and then read), I begin to wonder where these thoughts are coming from:  is it from myself?  Or is the character I am creating making embedding these thoughts in my mind and making them a part of my thought patterns.

The future the character lives in seems in some very meaningful ways very different from the one I foresee for myself - yet on the other hand add in a couple of twists of fate and it is a very real future indeed.

Part of our lives is built on the idea (at least in the modern world) of predictability:  that things will largely be as things have been and that the water will run, power will click on with a switch, and that my variety of apples will always be in the store.  Up to 100 years ago that was no more true in the Western World than anywhere else; now, to present this to people (especially the young) is to present a world as unreal as Barsoom or the Hyborian Age.

It also presumes that our personal relationships will remain as they have ever been, and that those friendships and family relationships we have had over the years will continue to be the same.  Practical experience of my own as well as readers of this site would tell you otherwise.

I do not fully know where the character in "The Collapse" ends up; no author ever really does.  At some point characters and situations acquire a life of their own and the author becomes no more than a journalist recording events.  But I do know that his thoughts and ideas are coming to influence my own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Of Christmas Catalogs Past

For the first time since I was a wee lad, Toy R Us will be producing no Christmas catalog.  Sears may have one, but I suspect they will be gone by this time next year.  Best Products, it turns out, went out of business in 1997.

In other words, there will be no Christmas Catalogs this year.

Oh, how I remember waiting for them, once upon a time.  The day they came in the mail was the greatest day of the Fall.  My sister and I would carefully go through the toy section and circle the things that we each wanted - then, somehow magically, Santa got the message and at least a few of them appeared under the Christmas tree.

Sadly though, those days are gone.  I kind of wonder how families go it now - is it advertising?  Is it a list?  Is it something posted on GiantRiver.com as "Wish List"? 

One thing it is not - and will never be again:  a child under the covers with a flashlight, pouring over the colored picture wonders of possibilities and picturing what each of them would be like to own.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Feeling Unsettled

Is it incorrect to say that there is a vague sense of dread hanging over my head?

I cannot give a firm reason why I feel this way.  There is nothing in the media that is more or less shocking that it was two month or even two years ago.  But I feel it, none the less.

It strikes me as the sort of thing that happens in a group of people, where there is an issue or incident between two people that is simmering beneath the surface that is never spoken of but everyone has an inkling that something is going on, just out of sight and out of reach.

Going back into the memory banks (and I have lived long enough to have them), it seems to me that every election since 2000 has resulted in us becoming less united instead of more united and less able to discuss things in a rational manner than more so.  I look back to some of the "issues" that existed in 2000: they seem so benign and far away as if to be from another era entirely.

Something is pushing us apart and narrowing us down, something which is pushing us towards  a goal of open or quiet war.  I cannot see what is pushing us.  All I know is that the matter and anti-matter of political thought are getting closer and closer together even as they move ideologically farther and farther apart.

And we all know what happens when matter and anti-matter meet:  total annihilation.