Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Few Words From...Robert E. Howard

"Barbarism is the natural state of mankind...Civilization is unnatural.  It is a whim of circumstance.  And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."

- "Beyond the Black River""

Friday, June 29, 2018

Not All That Wander...

Today's post is brought to you by Glen Filthie.  Thanks Glen.  This perfectly describes me:

Thursday, June 28, 2018

White Wine

Amber liquid glows,
singing of sunlight and leaves
and the peace of home.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Going Home

As you read this in the morning, I am on a flight headed to The Ranch.

It is just the youngest Nighean Dhonn and myself for a week visiting my parents and in-laws and some old friends.  No particular need prompted this, other than the need to simply get back home.

In a way it is the worst time to go:  we have so much going on at work and sometime in, say, September would be better.  But I am old enough and wise enough to know that truly, the "right time" never really comes.

So we are off to go places and do things and see people, and hopefully to get me a little more grounded again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Debris of Relationships

Sometimes looking at the  debris of human relationships in my life, I wonder.

I have now lost contact with more people that I will ever meet in the rest of my life.  Exclude the phenomena of social media and the odds get so much worse.

Though social media right now, I am in semi-regular contact with 3 people from my pre-high school days, 3 people from high school, 0 people from college and post graduate school, < 10 people for my entire career from 1996 to 2009.  My single biggest contact groups remain my activities.  Peel away social media, and that number drops significantly to those I see on a regular basis because of another activity.

I assume like everyone - but perhaps more than most - I have created this situation as well as been a victim of it.  I have not been as thoughtful as I should be, often replacing it with a range of questionable personal traits.  And in a world where the default mode is to be "in touch", the fact that so many have moved on suggests the very real situation that it was for a reason.

Relationships are very funny things.  The combination of human beings into any sort of working relationship at all is kind of amazing, given how individualistic and different we are.  The fact that any such relationships can move into a relationship where people are willing to subsume their idiosyncrasies for the sake of the relationship is even more amazing.

SO perhaps the fact that the dissolve rather frequently should not be a surprise.

To go through the debris from time to time is to stir up the dust of memory.  In the hazy sunlight the friendship motes tinkle and sparkle:  here a joke, there the time you needed a hug because the unthinkable happened, way up in the top left hand corner is the road trip where lightning lit up the entire sky at the dead of night.

And then the dust re-settles.

So much of my day now is consumed in working solitude, the associations of work that I have come to understand are often the tools of convenience by which we make a living - when I leave and go on, it will largely be as if the relationships never were.  And it is in those moments that I find that the debris of human relationships becomes a poignant reminder of a life that never quite went the way that I had expected.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Changed Battery

Last Monday, the completely expected/unexpected event happened:  my car battery died.

I did not suspect it at first -  I thought I had somehow managed to kill the car remote again.  It was only when I got in the car and tried to turn it over and was met with dead silence that I thought perhaps something else was up.  No lights, no, "click click" of a dying battery, nothing.

Well, shoot.

I got out, popped open the hood, got into the battery case and then went for the jumper cables (Public Service Announcement:  opening a trunk with a keyless entry when the battery is dead = circus act).  I hooked the cables up to the van, turned the van on, and then tried again.  Nothing.  I readjusted the cables on my battery once, twice, thrice.  Not a peep.

Great.  I need a new battery.

Grabbed the socket set.  Four nuts and some pushing around in the engine compartment (Mazda engine compartments are none too roomy to work in)  I had the battery out.  A trip to my local Big Box store and battery in hand, I returned and reassembled the battery and car.  Total time.  About an hour.  I even had time on my way to work to reset all of my radio stations.

The point of this story is not particularly that I could do it - it is the moment that I realized I knew how to do it.

I am lucky.  I great up in a time where such things were possible and expected and had a father and father-in-law skilled enough to teach me these things.  I often take that for granted - except I fear that I currently know any number of people to whom this would seem a mystical act or all day event.

I could be acting overdramatically as I often do, but it occurs to me that we are losing certain kinds of knowledge at a quickly increasing rate - not the sort of knowledge of science and technology (which is always growing) but the knowledge of how to do basic mechanical and general living tasks like cooking, caring for, making by hand, or fixing.

We are currently exchanging our ability to function independently for a cornucopia of knowledge that comes attached to a dependence on technology that we can neither understand nor control nor (for most of us) recreate.  It worries me a bit what happens if and when that technology fails.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Get Moving!

"We all have those times when there are no flashes of light and no apparent thrill to life, where we experience nothing but the daily routine with its common everyday tasks.  The routine of life is actually God's way of saving us between our times of great inspiration which comes from Him.  Don't always expect God to give you His thrilling moments, but learn to live in those common times of the drudgery of life by the power of God.

It is difficult to do the "adding" that Peter mentioned here (in 2 Peter 1:5).  We say we do not expect God to take us to heaven on flower beds of ease and yet we act as if we do!  I must realize that my obedience even in the smallest detail of life has ll of the omnipotent power of the grace of God behind it.  If I will do my duty, not for the duty's sake but because I believe God is engineering my circumstances, then at the very point of my obedience all of the magnificent grace of God is mine through the glorious atonement by the Cross of Christ." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Things And Things Of Value

This past weekend, on a whim, I went through my Amazon list to see what was on it and total things up.  The sum total of thing I have identified is somewhere around $550.  Which sounds like a lot, of course - until I considered over time the change in my income.  Which made me look at the larger list of things I want in general and figure out that for a not incredible sum of money, I could have all of them.

It is odd, really - I can remember a time where my material desires seemed to stretch as far as the horizon.  I wanted this, I wanted that - to explore, to try, to test, to enjoy.  But over time, the list becomes less and less, the things either less in amount but greater in value or simply not there at all.

The things I have come to value - solitude, freedom from having to do that which I do not enjoy, perhaps seeing places I have never been - are all thing which are really immaterial in manner and for which there is not really any "thing" to acquire.  But in point of fact they are coming to mean more and more to me.  And the money that was or could be spent on those things now represent the very sort of things that will allow me to acquire more of these new things of value.

A man can have enough books, enough swords, enough house, enough land.  What a man cannot have enough of - time, freedom - are almost suddenly revealed to be the greatest things of value that I never really considered.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A New Windshield

For my birthday/anniversary/Father's Day, I got a new windshield.

My windshield has been cracked for going on 4 years now.  Originally it started out as a rock chip, one of those bits and pieces flying off a truck proudly marked with "We take no responsibility for broken windshields from flying debris".  Over time and temperature it expanded until I had a lightning strike stretching across the bulk of my windscreen.

I just lived with the issue - after all, it did not impact my ability to see through the windshield at all and to repair it would cost money.  There was also that nagging voice that told me that if I got it repair, surely it would be immediately re-chipped and eventually re-broken.  So I just continued to drive along.

Life with a broken windshield is not as bad as one might thing.  Yes, it is a little bit embarrassing (if such things bother you) and it does make your car look like it should not be parked by (on the other hand, who wants to steal it).  You reach the point that it simply becomes part of your daily existence.

And then, one day, it was suddenly gone.

Rather odd how everything looks without a crack running through it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Praying For Other Governments

On Sunday at church, as periodically seem to do during a spasm of national concern about this or that, we prayed for our Federal government to make wise, informed choices about the decision they make.  Oddly enough this is not a usual practice (although we are urged by Paul to pray for the governments over us and to be good citizens) but seems to only come up in specific situations.

As we were praying, the though occurred to me  "Why are we not praying for other governments as well?"

We spend a fair amount of time in the media and society being told that we are an interconnected society and a global world, and that "problems" that impact us should be dealt with globally.  But ultimately global problems come down to individual governments of nation-states which make decisions.

For example, we can pray for "our" government to make the right and just decisions about any number of issues - but do we, or even are we, encouraged to pray for the other governments involved as well to make the right and just decisions also?  It feels quite easy to feel that we can pray for our own government and hold it "accountable" (which is only usually used when the policy is disagreed with).  But are we willing to go out on the limb and hold the other governments accountable as well? 

I suppose in some ways this is rooted in my continuing complaint that large scale anythings, be they governments or movements or companies, never solve anything.  It is only (ultimately) at the local level that such things get resolved.  The question is, do we want to pray for true resolution of issues, or only for the resolutions that somehow stroke our own feelings being socially conscious and politically astutue?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Falling Into The Eddies of Social Media

Falling into the eddies of social media has been an interesting experience.

Initially it was unplanned.  I just stopped checking my Major Social Media account as much as I used to - no particular reason, except that I was just finding different things to do with my time.  But I found my check-ins falling away from multiple times a day to 2-3 times a day to once a day or not at all.

What surprised me is how quickly everyone and everything suddenly seemed strange to me.

The Major Social Media - especially if you do not follow it regularly - becomes a mass of short post-it notes of people's lives, information drops of single dollops that become very overwhelming if you are not involved on a regular basis (as a side note, you also realize that you are contributing to the dollop/overwhelming situation as well).

You come to suddenly realize that all of these lives, these dollops of information that continually come in, are rolling along completely without you.  Perhaps it is the nature of the media, but no-one seems to have noticed your absence.  No-one comments on how your posts seem to be coming in less and less than they used to - unless you visibly commit Social Media suicide and comment as such (making your picture go dark, leaving the goodbye monologue, etc.)

In a way, it points out to me how incredibly disconnected and socially inept we have become.

I am fortunate - I have a fairly settled and secure character and am not (on the whole) trapped in needing to be relevant in social media to be important, of having my self worth checked by being "liked" all the time.  But that said, I remember a time where friendships were built on actual contact on a regular basis and how a period of silence or absence would be noticed by those around you.

But now technology, to a large part, determines our "friendships" once we grow up. And social media is no longer a method of catching up but the method of friendship.  We become dependent on the technology not only to sustain the relationship, but to build it in the first place.

My intent is not to re-engage on the level I was.  I am curious to see what, if anything happens over time.  My heartfelt suspicions is for 90% of those involved, I will simply continue to drift into the outer waters of the river of social media and thus lose relevance.  Only the 10% - those who probably really do matter and care - will come rowing down the inlet to check in.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Compassion For Oneself

"When your household sits down to a meal,
if you are wise,
you will first sit down yourself,
and then you will be able to serve them
easily and happily.
In your charity to your neighbour,
remember that your nearest neighbour is yourself"

- John of Forde, (1150-1214), Abbott of  Bindon

(Esther de Waal, The Way of Simplicity:  The Cistercian Tradition)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Few Words From...Jocko Willink

"I can handle it when others cannot.  When bad things are happening - I will be the one good thing - standing tall - that can be relied upon.  I will bolster those around me.  I am the positive attitude will spread.  And we will fight.  And in fighting, we will win.  If not the battle and if not the war - we will win:

Because our spirit will never surrender.

And that is the ultimate victory:  to hold your head high, and - even in the face of inescapable defeat -

To Stand and Fight."

- Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual

Friday, June 15, 2018

2018 Garlic

So the 2018 Garlic Harvest is in:

Garlic remains one of only two things (Jalapenos being the other one).  That I can grow.  For some reason, the heads are always small.  And there is never enough.

After cutting the stems:

There is a little more drying to do.

I never plant enough.  But any effort to decrease dependence on the system is worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Of Liberty And Freedom

We use the words Liberty and Freedom interchangeably.  That is a bit of a shame, because in point of fact they colloquially imply different things.

Both of them (thanks, imply the quality or state of being free.  But one (liberty) implies the power to do something while the other (freedom) implies an absence of necessity or coercion.

An example:  In the U.S. we refer to civil liberties (for example, the power to assemble, speak as we will, right to bear arms, due process, etc).  These are items or powers which are not granted to us by any government or person but exist as rights derived from our Creator - from our simple existence.  By contrast I have certain freedoms which exist as a result of a lack of government control - for example, the freedom to travel almost anywhere within the US or the freedom to buy most anything I want to.

Liberty and freedoms are both states, to be sure.  I can be in a state of liberty and I can be in a state of freedom.  But liberty implies (at least to me) the greater state in that I (should) not be infringed upon by my government in the exercise of this liberty.  And within this liberty, I am free to do certain things.

Yes, I know.  You may be thinking to yourself "TB Old Man, you are finally wandering in the woods".  But this is why I think it is important.

A good many people these days argue for freedoms:  "I should be free to do this or that."  And perhaps they should.  But in addressing the question this way, they are essentially begging permission of the powers that be - most often the governmental body of their choice - to allow them to do something.  They are presuming that government has the right and ability to restrict them prima facia.

Liberty, on the other hand, is a very different assumption.  It assumes that I have the ability to act without accessing the government for the permission to do or act.  It also assumes that I have a greater ability to run my own affairs and make my own decision than the government (or any authoritarian body) has.

People should be arguing for more liberty, not necessarily for more freedom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Dopamine of Social Media (and how to avoid it)

Within the last two weeks I have been reading a number of articles that make the point that social media is a great deal like an addictive drug.

The core of this argument is that when we engage in social media - when we are "liked" by someone for something that we have said - our brains get a small shot of dopamine, that reward to a stimulus that makes us feel pleasure and good about something.  We can get it from other items as well - exercise, for example, can result in this if engaged it - but social media is a whole lot easier for the population to engage in.

As I read these articles, an aspect of my behavior suddenly become apparent to me.

I am always a great deal more likely to check social media like FaceMagazine when I have posted something.  And sure enough when I do, I find that I get that little jolt of happiness:  "Look, X liked my comment - or look there, Y gave me a little heart on my comment."  I keep going back and back until the stream has played out and the comments have disappeared.  And then, if I am not careful, I am back to looking for something else to give the same reaction.

In other words, I have become an addict.

If one is an addict, of course, one has only two options.  The first is simply to do nothing and continue on - but that eventually leads to destruction as we are continue crave the jolt more and more and the old jolts just no longer do the job.  We would have to stay on FaceMagazine longer and longer to get the same level of excitement (which, of course, is exactly what the founders of it were hoping for).

The second, of course, is to go cold turkey.  To cut it off completely.  To find the dopamine hits from legitimate pursuits instead of short cuts.

I will note in passing that blogs do not seem to have that same effect.  I pondered this a bit and decided that perhaps it is due to the fact blog comments are discussion and thoughts, as well as "likes".  I look forward to comments but do not react to them with the same sort of enzymatic glee.

Oddly enough, drug addiction due to craving of the dopamine receptors is seen as destructive and not productive.  How is it that we have not come to view social media in the same way?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Make (Fill In The Blank) Great (Again)

A thought that has occurred to me in this age of immigration and refugees fleeing from here to there is the nature of why they come.

Economic opportunity is a strong motivator.  Fleeing from war and violence and war an even stronger one.    For some perhaps it is just opportunity in general; for others a chance to live their lives as they see fit (instead of as their government or culture).

As I pondered the reason that migration happens even within nations that are neither at war or nor in significant disaster - such as our own migration from where we grew up to where we now live - I was struck by the fact that in some ways they are not different:  economic opportunity or way of life or just general opportunity can move people from one location to another. 

But in each and every one of these examples, the place to which you are going is the item of importance.  The place that you came from does not have a great deal of relevance at all.  In many cases, we tend to no longer think of it at all, or just nostalgically.

But that is part of the larger problem.

The current U.S. President's phrase of "Make America Great Again" has been either inspirational or a mockery, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall.  Setting aside politics for a moment, what is the conceptual problem with the concept of making something great - or great again?

Take Mexico, our immediate neighbor to the south, which is certain parts is horribly littered with crime and economic impoverishment and almost outright civil war.  The things that motivate her citizens to come - Jobs, safety, security - are something that no-one can really argue against.  But my question is simply this:  what if we could make Mexico great?

Yes, I understand there are pretty significant obstacles (the drug trade that is largely supported by the U.S. comes to mind [which we have to address] as does an economy that could use significant assistance in developing).  But would it not be worthwhile to spend the sort of time and effort and resources on this as to the other sorts of things we spend our money on?

Why not make Great Britain great again?  Or Canada?  Or Rwanda?  Or Peru?  Or anywhere, really?

Some might accuse of me of participating in nationalistic jingoism.  That is not the point at all.  I would argue that a country can be great - confident in culture, supportive of its citizens, with a thriving economy - and not go to war to do it.  But it takes work - hard, long work, and a belief that such a thing is even possible.  It also requires a believe in and commitment to the place you are it, a faith that it can be better - and the ability to communicate that belief and motivate with it.

So I suppose here is my challenge to all those argue that only through submission to the whole of World Government can we achieve greatness:  if we have not been able to do it on a national level, whatever would convince us we could do it on an international level?

Instead, might we not consider just starting with making where we are great?  And then branching out from there?

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Summer Is Here

We are now into the full force of summer.

I do not know how summer is where you are.  Here, it is hot.  Hot and humid.  Stupid hot and rather foolishly humid.

Our "typical" summer day seems to run somewhere between 95 and 102 F (32 to 38 C) and around 40-50% humidity (but as high as 60%).   Unlike the places where I have grown up and lived, there are no pleasant breezes to move the hot air at night:  it can be 90 F at 2100 and "cools" down to around 70 F/21 C at 0600 - but unfortunately, the humidity seems to actually go up so the cool part of the morning for aerobic sorts of things simply does not exist.

It certainly changes how you do things.

Essentially, I try to wrap up anything I want or need to do outdoors by 1000 or delay it until 1900.  The direct sun is either not completely up or has sunk low enough in the sky to make the heat manageable for doing other activities.  And drinking enough water simply does not seem possible.

Once - not too long after I moved and before the family joined me - I took a hike during the height of the day during the hottest summer on record.  I managed to give myself a form of heat exhaustion; I never made that mistake again.

On the bright side, sun for the garden is not really a problem.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

A Small Power Outage

On Sunday Night, our power went out. It went down sometime around 0030, part of a hit of 1500 lightning strikes and an inch of rain. When we got up in the morning, the power was still out – and was not predicted to be on until Wednesday evening (update:  Power came on at 2200).

Mind you, we live in a growing metropolitan area of over a million people. The thought to that recover in an urban area – did I mention how high tech it is – would take three days boggles the mind somewhat.

Of course, arrangements had to be made. The Ravishing Mrs. TB ended up taking all the human folk with her work – and after a quick bit of thinking, all of the refrigerated and frozen things to work with her as well (yes, we had just gone to Costco only the night before). The bunnies were trundled off to the rabbit shelter for the duration (bunnies really do not do well over 80 F). The Mighty Poppy is here for the duration, as is Kiki the bird.

One thing I always forget in a power outage is how quiet the house is without the power. All of the little subtle noises that form the undertone of modern life – the refrigerator and the icemaker dumping ice, the air conditioning flickering off and on, all are gone, leaving a sort of pregnant silence in their wake. The cry of doves and the other outside birds and the occasional motor car are the only things that disturb the clickety clack of my keyboard.

This always brings to mind all the classic great lessons of course: back up power, or at least back up storage. Do not rely on technology. Have something you can cook with gas/fire. Check your supplies so that when you have to use them, you know they are there.

But oddly enough, the best quote for the day was from The Ravishing Mrs. TB, confronted with the possibility that power would not com on until later tonight: “The pioneers did it. We can manage for one night.”

Monday, June 04, 2018

A Surprising Bit Of Good News

So my father encouraged my to write this post.

On Friday I had my monthly check-in with my boss:  how are things going, plans for the future, etc.  All went well. 

At the end of the meeting, he handed me an envelope.  Salary adjustment based on the size of the company and change in the reporting structure.  It was a 52% raise.

You read that right.  52%.

I am, to be sure, blown away.  That is approximately 1/3 again the amount I was receiving prior to July 15th, my first day.  In total, this represents a 82% salary increase since I started my new position in 2016.

To say this is a game changer is trite.  This means a whole lot of things- debt reduction, college, even travel - have now changed in their ability to be accomplished.

I am often complaining - and curious - if this is where God really wants me.  Turns out at this time, He keeps saying yes, this is the place for now.

52%.  Never in my life could I have dreamed this would occur.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

A Few Words From...Bruce Lee

“Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it'll spread to the rest of your life. It'll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.” 

- Bruce Lee