Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Collapse: Letter II

May 01, 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

As I was reading over your response, I suddenly realized that I had never really told you about how I physically ended up here. The story is still painful even though the events are several years in the past – but at your unspoken question, I will relate it.

You will remember when my wife died (of course you do – you came out for the funeral). We had spoken for some years about what we were going to do when we finally retired but, like many, found our joint plans suddenly rent asunder. I found myself a widower nearing my earliest retirement possibilities with no-one at home – the children were all gone at that point and the house was rather empty, filled on the those occasions when we had visitors from out of town.

It was after that event, when I was still processing my wife's death and adjusting to life as a single man after almost 30 years of not being so, that I received a letter from the City of _____ Housing Allocation Department, informing me that as I single person inhabiting a house of over 1200 square feet I was in violation of the City's Fair Housing ordinances. Within 60 days I had three options: I could sell the home, I could take in more people as renters or “home sharers”, or be subject to an additional tax.

There was an address on the letter of course, so the next day I took the trip downtown to visit them (Mr. Seneca Goes Downtown, as it were). My impression of trips to the city core were always the same: they took too long to see too much traffic and too many people in places that were too expensive. I remained convinced of all of this on this trip as well.

After posing my question at the desk, I was shown off to a waiting room with four or five other individuals – the sort rooms that all government agencies seem to design to make the process as uncomfortable as possible: the room is slightly too hot or too cold to be comfortable, the chairs are slightly too small and stick just a bit to you, and the room is completely silence, thus making any sort of speech or conversation highly uncomfortable.

I was finally called into to maze of cubicles to a desk inhabited by what I have come to know as a typical civil servant (of which, you have commented, there are two types: the young true believers who have not been there long enough and the weathered and wizened time server, who has been there too long). In my case I had the former, a young man of indeterminate age and interest. He pulled up my file on his screen, reviewed it for a minute, and then handed the letter back.

“The law is rather clear, Mr….X” he responded. One person in a house of 1200 square feet is considered wasteful and not a good use of resources. You have 60 days to fix the matter.”

“But my wife just passed away...” I started.

He shook his head. “There are no exceptions. You – alone in that house – are a wasting valuable city resources and mis-aligning the affordability index in our city. You have three choices – take in renters of course, which is moderately useful but frankly rather selfish as you keep the money. You can also be reassessed and pay the additional tax – although frankly, no-one does that more than a year. Or” he suddenly perked up his smile, the sort of thing that reminded me of Death trying to crack a joke, “you can engage in our Home Sharer program”.
“Home Sharer?” I asked slowly.

“Oh yes” he bubbled over, suddenly engaged. “The Home Sharer program is where the City matches people that have homes with people that need other people in their homes. The great part of the program is that you help people find affordable housing and the people have a place to live.”

“But what about rent?” I asked.

“There is no “rent”” he said in finger quotes. “The home sharers pay what they are able. The home owner realizes a net benefit from not being charged an additional tax. It is a fantastic way to help align our city's population and home shortage and really make sure that everyone has the opportunity to live somewhere nice. Can I sign you up? I can have someone move in by the end of the week.”

I muttered something about being out of town and I would consider it. He insisted that I take a form with me as I went.

The tax, you can imagine, was rather odious. It was intended to be. I spent the evening in my chair in the living room, listening to the memories echo throughout my mind and thinking of all the events that had happened there – good events, enjoyable events.

And then I called my real estate agent.

Kindhearted as she was (indeed, she was the one that brought us into this home), she had to have a frank conversation with me. “You'll get three kinds of bids” she told me over the phone. At the quizzical tone from my breathing, she continued. “The first will be from someone who buys homes to rent them. It will be slightly lower than asking price. The second will be from someone who wants to buy the home to live in it – although where you are now located, those are becoming rarer and rarer because of price. The third is from the Housing Allocation Department. It will be very low – and most often, the one taken.”

I sputtered a bit. “The lowest but the most often taken? How is this so?

“The City's will discount the house price to what you paid for the house when you bought it – slightly adjusted for inflation but not a great deal. Yes, I know that you have paid a lot more in property taxes due to value adjustments – I hear that all the time. The City considers those to be the price of having a house and that you as a homeowner should not unduly profit in a location where housing is so scarce. They state that they are saving the sellers money by lowering their overall tax burden.”

I sat and thought on the phone, of the family Christmases and tears and dinners and date pickups that had happened here, and then the young man downtown who was almost gleeful at the thought of putting strangers into my home with no guarantee of contributing to the payment or upkeep.

“Put the house out. A family if you can find one, a rental property if not. But no City. I will pay the tax for a year if I have to.”

She really was quite the professional. She found a young family who wanted a house with four bedrooms and a backyard for their future. I was so enchanted with them – they reminded me of my family, once upon a time – that I dropped the price somewhere so they could move in – and, frankly, to spite the City. And so I found myself with a 60 day rent back (the most, oddly enough, allowed here) to completely redesign my life.

I will leave you at this juncture, Lucilius, as I am sure you are curious about how I got from there to here – and managed to shed my career in the process. I shall have to ask for your patience.

With greatest regards,


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Skeletons and Closets

In a recent variety of news reports, the phrase "Skeletons in the closet" came up more than once.

I have no idea of how common of a phrase this is in modern parlance, but for those that do not know, the phrase simply refers to something that is hidden in one's background which, if discovered, would create a response similar to an actual body being found in one's closet.

For most people - and most life lessons - the best possible situation is to have no skeletons at all in one's closet, to live in such a way that there are no bodies to embarrass you, which is swimmingly good advice (of course).  The actual fact is that most of us have something - a person, a relationship, a story, and experience - which we just as soon would wish never came to the light of day.

But today, I would push the focus in an entirely different direction - on not having closets in the first place.

Closets, those ubiquitous small rooms with doors and small walkthroughs, are ever present in the modern home.  Every bedroom has one, most master bedrooms have a larger one, and there are inevitably one or two scattered throughout the home.  They were (I suppose) considered a great improvement over the previous existence of only wardrobes, which were smaller and took up space in rooms.

But unlike a wardrobe, a closet is not always visible.  And so we put thing sin there very easily - and out of sight is too often out of mind.  And we keep putting things in there until they are overloaded and we have to "clean" them out or we simply forget what we had put in there in the first place.  And thus they become breeding grounds of clutter and potential risk (back to the skeleton).

The solution?  Eliminate the closets in our lives.

What are the closest of our lives?  It can be different for everyone.  For me, it is when I have an activity or a relationship which I consciously disassociate from the rest of my life - something that needs to be hidden for some reason.  I pull it out to do it and put it away - in a closet of my own making - when I am done.

But if I studiously put away the closets - integrate the thing into my life or stop doing it altogether (especially if it is wrong) the need for a closet completely disappears.  And thus, the risk of being embarrassed by a body falling out also completely disappears.

I am sure that I will not completely eliminate the closets in my life after this essay.  But I can make great strides in reducing them to locations of storage instead of location of concealment.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Off To Iceland

Hello Friends!  As you are reading this, we are getting ready to get in the car and drive to the airport to go to Iceland!  None too soon, if you ask me - the daytime temperatures are literally half of what we are facing here and frankly, the opportunity to actually be completely "gone" is something I am sore in need of.

The same rules as always apply: I have prepared the usual blog adventures out week in advance and have precisely not idea what (if any) coverage we will have.  I beg your forgiveness if my responses are delayed and look forward to some fantastic stories (and pictures) upon our return.

Monday, August 27, 2018

On Hard Truths

As I was reflecting on a recent crisis (it does not really matter, they all seem to be the same at this point)  I noticed that as part of the discussion, the author mentioned that people had to face "some hard truths".

Which got me to thinking about the nature of hard truths.

A hard truth (metaphorically speaking of course; there are limited number of actual hard truths such as "Gravity" or "Rocks are hard") is something, connotatively speaking, is difficult to face although it remains true.  The implication is that it is something that we have either consciously overlooked or consciously ignored but need to be confronted with.

But the nature of this phrase has changed over the years.  Now, a "hard truth" has less to do with the nature of the truth and more to do with those who are listening to it.

Today, a hard truth is usually trotted out in an argument.  The implication is now not so much that the truth is hard to face; it is that the people that are facing it are either limited in scope of understanding or are simply too stupid to understand it.  Someone throws out, for example, that "It is a hard truth, Bob, that all Christians are anti-science" thus implying that if you argue against this, you really are anti-science as well and just cannot see it. 

I would concur with those that say in the current world, the nature of truth is such that these arguments are easier to make - after all, if truth is not a fixed thing, almost anything is hard by default simply because it is based less on facts and data and more on feelings and wishes.  Still, saying something is a hard truth in the modern era is, more often than not, simply a very polite way of saying to the opposite side "You are an ignorant fool who is unable to see things the right way."

Unusual thing about hard truths thought:  like the example of gravity and rocks, they eventually do become "hard".  And often, quite punishing.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Light In The Darkness

"As a lantern raises its light in a dark house, so truth rises in the midst of faith in a person's heart.  Four darknesses it expels when it rises there:  the darkness of paganism, the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of doubt, the darkness of sin, so that none of them can find room there."

- The Alphabet of Devotion (Colman mac Beognac,6th century)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Few Words From.... George S. Patton

“Achievers are resolute in their goals and driven by determination. Discouragement is temporary, obstacles are overcome, and doubt is defeated, yielding to personal victory. You need to overcome the tug of people against you as you reach for high goals. Accept the challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”

"If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking".

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Collapse: Letter I

April 27, 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

I am pleased – indeed, entirely overwhelmed – at receiving this communication from you after, what has it been now? A year? Two? Time, as I am sure you can understand, flows much different now than it did before. A great deal of it has to do with my somewhat rushed withdrawal from the world of regular employment - the seasons and indeed perhaps the months are within my grasp but not so often the days. No longer having the press of a work week upon me, my life has returned to a rhythm of seasonality that serves it well.

I had hoped you would respond to my missive – and yes, even in this “backwater”, as you term it, we still have access to the greater wide world. Not as quickly as you would enjoy or desire, of course, but enough for me.

I quite agree with you that the visit I had to which I had referred – that rather confused young woman from the Industrial-Government Cooperation Council – was more jarring to me than I care to admit. That is part of the reason that I reached out to you and others. Sadly, you seem to be the only one who responded to me. That someone was willing to take time and treasure to drive to a small town in the middle of nowhere on the slim hope of convincing a man some years retired to re-enter the labor force suggests that either there is a high degree of efficiency currently in operation in the government – something I have not really seen in all my years – or that desperation is finally starting to take hold.

I am sure you find my concerns slightly overplayed – as you put it, for forty plus years I have looked for the ending of the world and it has yet to arrive. That said, your response convinces me that something is afoot – indeed, if you are concerned, surely I have great reason to be so!

I have not followed the international scene as much as you have, judging from your questions – my interests have become far more local and practical, with the exception of the economy, something even a gainfully retired person takes a great deal of interest in. Even domestic politics have become much less of a concern than they once were, as I seem to have little enough of a voice to use in the modern era and a rather healthy interest in remaining as invisible and unremarkable as possible.

You may wonder that I address this letter to you as Lucilius. There is still some wisdom in being as anonymous as possible – after all, one no longer knows who and who is not viewing these sorts of things and I would just as soon have neither of us identified, or at least make someone work very hard to do it. So in the fashion of Letters to a Stoic we shall correspond, you and I, as did Seneca and his friend Lucilius – not on matters of Stoicism of a former age but rather on life in the changed age in which we live.

I look forward to the conversation, my friend. Be well.

- Seneca

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Clinking plates and bar 
sing songs of glory and pain
as I come back up.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On Burnout

I realized this week that I am on the edge of a burnout.

A great deal of this is attributable to work - working 45-55 hours weeks on a regular basis (including stopping in electronically from vacations) on a regular basis tends to slowly drain the reserves.
But beyond just the "Get Up - Go To Work - Go Home - Live - Go To Bed" is the very real sense that I have very little energy or interest at all.

My life feels like it has become a series of preplanned activities.  Give me a time of day, and I can likely tell you what I will be doing. 0630? Probably journaling or eating breakfast. 1800?  Driving home, or watering.  2130?  At Iai, or at the gym.

In other words, my life has become a programmed list of activities that all seem to radiate from the main trunk, which is called "work". 

Strangely enough, realizing this makes me feel slightly better - not that it actually changes the situation mind you, but simply that I allowed myself to acknowledge the fact that I am actually in a situation where I can say, "Yes, I am having burn out."  The problem is that I have very little idea of how one goes about reversing a burn out.

I cannot believe that the solution is just "do something different" as that would not only just add another item to the list of things that already need to be done but because it does not address the root cause of the issue.  And what is the nature of that cause?

Aye, there is the rub.  I somehow think it is work, but I suspect it is something far deeper and therefore more difficult to root up and fix.

But neither can I just wait around for things to change - because thing like this never become better of their own volition.  I have been reviewing potential steps in my head:

1)  Start reducing my hours at work:  This is a must, although I am not sure that it really does all that I hope it will.  Forcing myself to work something more like a 40 hour week would at least jump start the mental process of finding life outside of work.

2)  Find a future:  Iai and weight training, which seem to fill my activity void, are all quite engaging - but they are very much a present activity in that they are down in the here and now with future outcome somewhat vague (e.g. become faster and stronger).  I need to find something not just for the sake of finding something different or putting it on the list but for the sake of finding something that I see that is building a future that I can see and taste. - something that helps me to see that there is something on the other side of this current mountain.

Because another year or two in this mindset and things become very dark indeed.

Monday, August 20, 2018

There She Goes

This Saturday, we dropped off our oldest - Nighean Gheal - at the airport for her long trip to Hong Kong (yes, that Hong Kong) for her second year of college.  It is likely that I will not see her again until June.

It is an odd thing, this watching our children go away.  I find myself (in many ways) the least affected of my family - but more by conscious choice rather than being unaffected.

Certainly, there is the immediate change of her not being here (but then again, she was gone for most of the previous school year).  And while in odd ways her presence will continue to linger immediately in our lives for the short term - the random thing that was forgotten, the leftovers she did not remember to eat before she left - the reality is that between this year and next, when she goes to Italy, she will at best be home three months over the next two year stretch if that.  In a very real way - perhaps more real than any of us truly want to admit - she is gone.

I think all this, of course - but then the other side of my brain kicks in.  "And that is exactly what it supposed to happen"  it replies.

Ideally we raise our children to be independent adults.  We teach them to do things on their own, from tying their shoes to dressing themselves to managing their study time to driving to earning money.  We teach them all these things because these are the sorts of things adults need to learn to function in the adult world.  Should we then be surprised or unduly saddened when they leave?  Is this not in fact what we were spending our whole efforts for?

I sometimes wonder if animals feel the same way when their own fly the nest (in some cases, literally).  Do they too mourn their going out?  Or is it simply something that does not register on their minds at all, simply that the young one was here and now is gone?  Do we have the corner on the market of emotionalism in this area?

I will miss her, of course, as I will eventually miss the other two when they leave as well.  But I am reconciled to the outcome.  That die was cast the moment they came into the world.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Path

"The path  I walk, Christ walks it.
May the land in which I am be without sorrow.
May the Trinity protect me wherever I stay,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Bright angels walk with me - dear presence - in every dealing.

May I arrive at every place, may I return home,
may the way in which I spend be without loss.
May every path be smooth,
man, woman, and child welcome me.
A truly good journey!
Well does the fair Lord show us a course a path."

- Columcille (Columba) of Iona.

The Presence of The Multitude

"The tongue of Columcille in my head,
the eloquence of Columcille  in my speech, 
The composure of the Victorius Son of Grace
be mine in the presence of the multitude."

- Carmina Gadelica

(Columcille is also known as St. Columba of Iona)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Few Words From. Henry David Thoreau

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now put the foundations under them". - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Collapse: A Visitor

Friends - occasionally (and really for my own pleasure) I write short stories about things.  I am not sure that this will become a regular sort of series or just a periodic posting of sorts.  Either way, I hope you enjoy it.

The Visitor

 The knock at the door came just as I settled into the kitchen table for my afternoon study.

It struck me as odd for two reasons: the first was simply that I had not had a visitor in some 6 months, not since Halloween. The second was that I never had visitors at this time of the day.

I got up and cracked open the door to find a young woman in semi-professional attire staring back at me with a black bag over her shoulder. Her face lit up with the sort of smile one anticipates from Youth Workers, Event Planners, and other people that have that unsettling sort of cheerfulness no matter what the situation seems to be.

“Mr X?” she asked in a voice that matched her outfit and attire perfectly.

I nodded slowly. My mother had always taught me to be polite, of course, but I racked my brain in the course of 10 seconds. I could think of no reason a young 20ish year old woman would be on my doorstep asking for me.

“I'm Amy Mc_______ from the Industrial-Government Cooperation Council” she said, thrusting her card into my hand, her smile getting even broader. I looked at the card now in my hand. It listed her name, some kind of logo to go along with (I suppose) the Industrial-Government Cooperation Council, and her contact information for somewhere in Virginia.

I smiled back. “I am sorry, Miss Mc______, but I am quite sure you have the wrong person. I have not worked for almost 10 years now.

“Oh no” she chirped up brightly. “You are the one I am looking for. May I come in?” And before I could respond one way or the other, she pushed at the door behind me, ducked under my arm, and went inside.

By the time I had turned around she had already made herself to the center of the room and was looking around. “Wow” she said “this place is out of the 1960's. I've seen pictures about decorating like this.”

I smiled thinly as I sat down, nodding her to another chair. “This cabin belonged to my grandparents. It was just easier to keep the decor when I moved up here.”

She settled into her chair and pulled out what must have been her computer unit, which was a cross from what I remember a cell phone and internet computer looking like. She looked up and smiled at me again – again, the cruise director smile – and clicked away on her keyboard.

“Mr. X” she started. “Born 196X. Attended school and graduated with a degree of _______, followed by a degree in P______. Worked in the _______ industry for almost thirty years. Wife deceased, three children.” She looked up. “Is that all correct?”

“Are you from the government, Miss?” I asked as she continued to scan the screen. “You seem to have quite a lot of information about me.”

“Oh no” she looked up brightly. “We're an industrial group that co-operates seeks to maximize private and government industry and activities. I'm not with FBI, if that's what you mean. We just have a lot of information. It's the Internet Age. Not very hard.” She smiled again, undoubtedly comparing me to a T. Rex struggling to make it in the world of mammals.

I sighed. “And you are here about?”

She looked down one more time and then settled her hands on her lap. “Mr. X, as I mentioned, we are working to maximize private industries co-operation with government to help in making sure that industry is doing its best to meet the social and physical needs of society.” She looked down at her screen. “I see you stopped working seven years ago today precisely, just after the death of your wife. After that you sold your house and the bulk of your belongings and apparently disappeared from industry.” She looked back up - “You have heard of our agency, haven't you?”

I shook my head. “Miss, I have not followed any developments in the world for some years now.” Which, for the most part, was true. The day my wife had died was the day I had turned away from following the world.

I pointed over to the laptop my wife had bought me almost 20 years prior. “That, Miss, is my outlet to the world. It will not handle modern internet traffic – insufficient memory and processor.”

She smiled again, somewhat flatly this time. “I'll be blunt: we need you. The people of the country need you. Industry needs you. I'm here to get you back in the game.”

She leaned in. “Mr. X, I can tell you that I can get you a job in the industry today – anywhere in the country you want. I can get you your old salary and then some. I can get you every perk you could ask for. And I could have you working in two weeks.”

“I'm not going to lie” she continued. “You may have hidden away from the world, but the world has kept right on going. We are facing tremendous challenges right now – Antibiotic resistance, new hemorrhagic fevers, even some old diseases come back. The industry is doing all it can, but it needs people with your experience and talents to help us. The government needs all of us to do everything we can as individuals to help meet these challenges. Will you help?”

She had continued to increase in volume and intensity as she spoke, until at the end of her speech her face was flushed and she was half out of the chair, looking towards what I assumed was the future but looked a lot like the bookshelf in the corner. She paused there, for a moment, then looked expectantly at me.

I quietly shook my head. “No, thank you” I responded.

She looked at me in disbelief, then started clicking away at her keyboard. “Mr. X, I see that you only earn the minimum amount in this state – you fall under the taxable income threshold” - at my look, she made brief eye contact but carried on. “You need to have more – and I can get you more. Much more. Name your price. I can get it done.”

I shook my head again. “Miss, I do not need it.”

She looked at me with almost a greater stare of disbelief. “Mr X, you only spent X dollars last year – not even your entire income. I'm sure that's because you don't have enough. Let me get your more – a decent house, decent furniture, perhaps a decent life. Let me rescue you from this”.

I sighed. I had undergone this conversation years before with my children. I could hear the confused voices and pleading and arguing in my head all over again.

“Miss, let us imagine for a moment that I wanted to do this thing – that somehow I was trapped here by a decision that I made in haste but regretted now. Let us say that I went back at the most fabulous sum I could imagine. Would I pay taxes?”

Her response was immediate. “Well of course, everyone over the minimum Basic Income pays taxes. It's required. It's our duty.”

I nodded. “So that fabulous sum has been cut by...what? 50%? 60% or 75%? Suddenly this amazing income you have promised me may be no more than what I make here.”

I lifted my eyes around the room. “I am well aware this does not represent much of a life to anyone of the modern age. But my needs are quite simple Miss. I have a greenhouse, which I am sure you saw coming in, for a winter garden. I have space for a garden for the other seasons. I have bees just out behind the house that provide me with honey and wax and a small income. I have all the time in the world to read and think and work at what I truly want to do. Once, perhaps twice every two months I go shopping – but again, my needs are very few. “

“And what would I go back to? Not just work Miss – surely you can acknowledge that. I would go back to systems and policies and people. Suddenly I would no longer be operating as I pleased but under the rules and restrictions of someone else. I spent many years under the judgment systems of others, Miss – I am not bridling to return to that.”

Her smile was slightly deflated, but appeared to be none the less put off. “But Mr. X – the needs of society? Surely you can see your way clear to help-”

I shook my head firmly. “Miss, society decided that I was nothing more than someone to earn money for everyone else. I had nothing to offer beyond that. My voice was to be ignored. My opinions were considered worthless. And yet through all of this, society demanded that I give my all to those who demanded these things from me – respect for non-respect, entitlement for income, ignorance for education. It was not so much that I left society Miss – I was very politely driven from it.”

She sighed at that point, now very deflated, and looked up at me, the smile all gone. “Nothing I can say or do will convince you?”

I shook my head in response. “Your world had done with me years ago, Miss. As I did with it.”

She slowly closed her screen and picked up her computer, putting it into her bag. She lifted it up and suddenly it seemed as if it had weighed as much as an old Tower computer instead of the slimline model she had displayed earlier. We both rose and she headed to the door.

She stopped just as she left and looked over her shoulder. “I learned about people like you in school. Selfish. Concerned with themselves instead of enriching society. Now, all just waiting to die.”

I nodded back. “We had nowhere else to go Miss, so we went into the shadows.”

And with that, I closed the door.

But something stuck in my mind, something that did not seem right. Then it hit me – her car. I did not see a car.

I went to the front window and pulled aside the curtains of lace. The young Miss Mc_____ was slowly wending her way to the main road. I watched her standing there, a semi-professional statue in a field of creek reeds and wild grass, until an old model car slowly pulled up, looking nothing at all like the sort of vehicle an industry-government council member would drive, let alone ride in. I saw her lean over to squeeze into the back of the two door micro car, which lurched off under the increased weight of another passenger. The plates, I noted, were not of any government organization but rather local.

I pulled away from the window, letting the curtains fall. I needed to forgo my usual schedule and make my trip to town tomorrow and stock up.

The collapse, it seemed, was happening more quickly than expected.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Crazy Summer Weather - 2018 Edition

This has been a ridiculous summer for gardening and outside work in general.

Like the rest of the country, we have been undergoing a hot summer (or, as we used to call it in the old days, "summer").  We have had no hint of rain since 04 July.  As you can imagine, this has rather put a strain on the garden and the outside yard in general.  We have not yet entered the realm of watering restrictions - but I hate paying for watering the lawn, so every year at this time we limp along with one watering a week (the real solution would be an automatic sprinkler system, but I have neither the money nor the inclination to install one).

Then, between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, we received 1.6 inches (4.06 cm).

I love the rain of course (other than the humidity, which will return as soon as the clouds disappear).  But this is wretchedly hard on the plants.  My garden is going through gyrations trying to keep up (or really, what is left: sorghum is mostly harvested and the black peas maybe reaching their end.  Only the tomato plant with its curled leaves and two fruit and the ever producing jalapeno pepper are carrying on.

Gardening:  It is not for the weak of heart.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How Not To Create A Unified Christian Witness

(Warning:  Today's message involves both politics and religion.  If you do not care for either or both, might I suggest a happy bunny video?  We will return to our regularly scheduled broadcast tomorrow).

On 06 April 2008 came the moment that unwound Christian unity in the United States.

The candidate at that time - a Democrat - was attempting to respond to why they believed they were suffering in certain demographics, particularly working class voters.  I reproduce the quote here in its entirety:

"They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The candidate in question eventually apologized for the comment if people were "offended".

But the part I would like to focus on in particular is that word "religion".

The interpretation was clear to anyone who heard the quote.  The speaker was not referring to all religions; he was referring to a particular one, the one held by the people of that demographic:  Christians.

That I am aware, no major Christian denomination that supported that particular candidate or their beliefs was offended by that comment or offered a rebuke.  Not one of them - again, that I recall or since - made a point of stating that while they might disagree with the political views of the "opposite" side, they viewed them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

With this comment - and with the resulting silence - an invisible dividing line appeared amongst denominations and religious groups in America, perhaps never to be undone.

The major contrast, of course, is Christ and His apostles, who never addressed the Christian's view of government - whether it be a good government or a bad one - except to be a good citizen and pray for its leaders.  However, both Christ and His apostles talked rather repeatedly about the brotherhood of Christians and how they were to speak and love each other.

Why this walk to memory lane 10 years later?  Because more and more, I hear the cry for Christians of a particular belief strain to be up in arms about the current state of affairs, that they should be forcefully interjecting themselves into the political arena (as an aside, the first time in a very long time that strain of believing Christian has been encouraged to so so) as a "moral imperative".  Somehow, this lack of action is bringing the very name of Christ into disarray.

View it from the other side, however.  The people who are crying for this action are the very people whom, years ago (and every years since) have actively mocked and laughed and cheered when the "bitter clingers" of Christianity - the religion they themselves proclaim.

Having chose sides- publicly and somewhat brazenly - the moral superiority of their position is undermined.  More importantly - and more devastatingly - the cause of Christ is undermined.

To cling (a deliberate choice of words) to a candidate or position is to abandon your own witness.  50% of the people will agree with you and 50% will consider you a raging lunatic.  But 100% of the people will see you not solely as a Christian:  they will see you as a liberal or a conservative that happens to say you are a Christian.

John MacArthur, whom I consider to be one of the great teachers of the last 50 years, never makes a political statement.  He steadfastly brings everything back to Scripture and the need of salvation and repentance for everyone, liberal and conservative.

That is the mission of the Church.  Anything less makes it a political action committee that divides, not unites.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Running Silent And Deep

One of the books I vividly recall reading from my childhood was called Run Silent Run Deep (by Edward L. Beach, as it turns out).  It had belonged to my mother (and quite probably my uncle) before me.  It was set in World War II and told the story of a young lieutenant (j.g. - for some reason I always remember that) whose mission was to infiltrate a Japanese held island.  To do this, he had to be transported via submarine and use the fairly new-fangled S.C.U.B.A. (back when it was still an acronym and not a word) to land on the island, accomplish his mission, and retreat.  The whole book - at least what I recall of it - was based around the tension between the detection risk of the submarine as they continued farther into enemy held waters to complete the mission and then return.  Would they be able to escape?  Would they be able to run silent and deep? 

Where did the random thought from 40  years ago come from in the dark morning hours of 0500?  It was tied, as I processed the thought, to the post I had written last week about an InterWeb scare. Not directly tied to it mind you - but it brought up again the question of anonymity in the modern InterWeb world.

Modern society and the InterWeb thrives on the sharing of personal information - if you think this is not so, travel back with me to the Dark Ages of dial-up Internet (if you are of that age, you will the noise of connection as I speak), where all that we knew of each other was a login name and what was written.  It was a world of images made of pixels and words - nothing like the vibrancy of social media today.  But this vibrancy comes at a cost:  to be more vibrant, it must be interesting and to be interesting, it is always personal:  pictures, stories, the things about us that make us ourselves.

Business and governments love this, of course.  For businesses, we are simply targets of marketing - and the more information, the more specific marketing we can be sent, targets of things we "need", all provided to us in a spirit of just helping have "a better on-line experience".  And government - well, the more you know about your citizens the more you can serve - or control - them, depending on your benevolence or thirst for power.

But we now have a phenomenon which is not so much new as it is increased in scope and virulence:  the review and collection of all of this information on the InterWeb for the purposes of personal control and destruction.  The wrong sorts of information - and by wrong I mean thought of by wrong by someone else - is now the basis for a public shaming and campaign of personal destruction, the likes of which Nathaniel Hawthorne  or Mao Tse-Tung could only dream of.

The likely outcome?  I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet and bear no crystal ball into the future.  An application.  That is more easily predictable.

It will, in a way, be the death of the InterWeb.

The reaction - or at leas some people's reaction - will be the same as the aforementioned lieutenant (j.g.): Run Silent, Run Deep.

The rediscovery of the Age of Privacy is about to come crashing back down on us.  For some - let us use myself as an example - it will look a lot like scaling back and off of social media, of using less InterWeb business sites, of using more cash - and a lot less about creating a vibrant InterWeb culture.  My thoughts and opinions on the InterWeb will become a great deal like my thoughts and opinions in my real life:  not discussed at all, or only in the company of those I intimately know and trust.  I will become what I was before the dawn of social media:  words and pixel images.

The picture I still have in my head from the author of that book from so long ago is the crushing constraint of the sea all around and the fragile claustrophobic submarine interior that protected them as they fled to avoid detection.  The picture I now have is that of individuals, with the fragile claustrophobic interior of our lives fighting a sea of information and data that seeks to know and catalog us for future use.

We are indeed at the edge of Huxley's Brave New World.  But appears it is not so much a Brave step forward as much as it is a slow retreat backwards.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Finding Yourself

The Baffling Call of God

"There comes the baffling call of God in our lives also.  The call of God can never be stated explicitly; it is implicit.   The call of God is like the call of the sea, on one hear it but the one who has the nature of the sea in him.  It cannot be stated what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself for His own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after.  The things that happen do not happen by chance, they happen entirely in the decree of God. God is working out His own purpose." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Few Words From...Richard Matheson

"We've forgotten much.  How to struggle, how to rise to dizzy heights and sink to unparalleled depths.  We no longer aspire to anything.  Even the finer shades of despair are lost to us.  We've ceased to be runners.  We plod from structure to conveyance to employment and back again.  We live within the boundaries that science has determined for us.  The measuring stick is short and sweet.  The full gamut of life is a brief, shadowy continuum that runs from gray to more gray.  The rainbow is bleached.  We hardly know how to doubt anymore."

- Richard Matheson (Author of The Thing and I Am Legend)

HT:  Survival Blog

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The "What If" of Retirement

This week, in a fit of "What If", I calculated m potential income from Social Security.

It is a bit of a pipe dream at this moment - after all, I still have some time to go until I can even think about taking the lower level of Social Security - but I was curious about what the number was.

I harbor very few illusions about retirement - if I get that far.  At best, it will be a quiet retreat from a world that will have outpaced me even more than it has now.  If I am extremely lucky, it will allow me to live in peace and silence.

(I am sure The Ravishing Mrs. TB has plans for travel. I am okay with travel - in small amounts.  In my best world, I never go more than a day's drive away from home.)

If I am less lucky of course, there is no Social Security and no retirement and I am certainly not left to my own devices by society.  Which will be sad, of course, but there is only so much I can do to prepare.  Barring a complete societal break down, one does the best one can.

I can see a life that involves almost no interaction with society at large, or only the interaction that really want.  No silliness from social media.  No news about items I cannot control (and which may be marginally true at best).  No government reminders of how grateful I should be to pay my taxes.

I am sure that it will not be everything that I want it to be.  But I am finding that my wants are very few.  Perhaps my wishes will finally meet reality

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

On the Austro-Hungarian Empire

The Austro-Hungarain Empire has always fascinated me.

Austria-Hungary (originally Austria) was a Central European state which existed in some form or fashion from 1156 (or so) until 1918.  It was an accretion of kingdoms and states, encompassing not only the state of what we now call "Austria" but also states in what are now Italy, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovnia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Ukraine. Encompassing a great number of nationalities, it existed at the crossroads of Eastern Western Europe, cutting through the Iron Curtain that would emerge after its demise.

It was not an ideal state in many ways.  The term "Benevolent Despotism" was  used of one of its rulers, Marie-Theresa.  The German culture was the promoted one (until the union of with Hungary which was then promoted by the Hungarian side), and other cultures were either minimized or openly suppressed.  It was not a place where I think many of us would have enjoyed living.  But it does stand as an example of a mulit-cultural empire which, in some ways, seemed to hold together for hundreds of years.

Its collapse has always interested me - after all, we live in a multi-cultural state ourselves, so there should be some sort of lessons to be learned.  The greatest lesson?  That when a state loses its perceived identity, it will inevitably fail.

The Empire held together through war and distress - even a great deal of World War I - because the citizens thought of themselves as Austro-Hungarians. It was only when they began to think of themselves as Czechs or Poles or Slovaks that the bonds of empire frayed beyond the ability to sustain themselves.  The previous association was replaced with new associations, which required the destruction of the old order.

If you feel like I am trying to draw a historical relationship to current events, you would not be altogether mistaken.  History never repeats itself, but it does create slight variations on similar themes.

We are not quite the point of valuing our definitions of ourselves as other smaller groups above that of being Americans - but we are very, very close indeed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

On Cleaning Out: An Update

Cleaning out the stuff in one's life is a great deal more complicated than I had anticipated.

Part of it, I suppose, is that I lack a methodical plan of action.  I have tended to only do it in spurts or in particular areas rather than going through drawer by drawer, rack by rack, room by room, and evaluating things that I have for that area rather than letting my concerns run hither and yon. 

Another point of personal contention has simply been what to keep and dispose of.  I do not yet seem to have a clear idea of the next years hold and where we will ultimately end up; this makes planning for that somewhat difficult - and makes me reluctant to get rid of anything that might someday be of some use.

 But I am taking another stab at it - after all, the world is not getting any saner and clearing out my life has the benefit of clearing my head, if nothing else.

What does that look like?  Smaller chunks of action - literally taking a drawer and going through it and being okay with that being only thing I do.  Or setting a goal of one thing thrown away and one to the donation pile, or two things thrown away or two things donated.

Another exercise which seems helpful is to take a room, look at what it is in it, and question everything in the room.  For example, I am currently sitting in a living room where the only things of "mine" are books, a piano, a weight set, and a kettlebell.  The books are staying (of course) as is the piano and the kettlebell (for now).  The weights are posted on Craigslist.

Will I get where I want to be?  Not really, at least not until I truly find out where we will end up.  But at least I can begin the hard work of figuring out what I am not going to drag behind m.

Monday, August 06, 2018

An InterWeb Scare

I had a bit of an interweb scare over the weekend.

I received an e-mail in my junk box that had a password that I have used in the past - not one that is used currently mind you, but still one that is associated with a log in I use.  The e-mail informed me that I had been "caught" ("bad luck for you" as the author said) and informed me that I could either send them $3000 in cryptocurrency or the activated camera and keyboard inputs would be sent out to family and friends.  And there was a pixel dot in the e-mail to let the author know that I had read it.

Except, of course, I had not been on such sites.  And my webcam is covered.

But the intent was real. 

I did a bit of research on the internet and it turns out that some version of my passwords may exists on the "dark web", a place the InterWeb does not index and a place I do not want to be.  But none the less, it was a good and needed reminder about security.

I went through and rechecked all my log ins.  I also realized that I have gotten into the sloppy habit of remaining logged in to things like Blogger and my e-mail when I am out and about (which of course lets them track me.  I went through and shored up a some security and re-examined all the places I think I exist on the web.

It was a good practice - not just for this, but for the general climate of today.  People are now looking back across an individual's entire posting history to find any chance to exploit or accuse.  I cannot go back and undo the past (although I do not think there is much to undo); I can go through and do what I can to limit my exposure and make sure it does not continue going forward.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

After Obedience - What?

"We are apt to imagine that Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to real success.  We must never put our dreams of success as God's purposes for us.  His purpose may be exactly the opposite,  We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal.  He is not.  The question is getting to a particular end is a mere incident.  What we call the process, God calls the end.

What is my dream of God's purpose?  His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now.  If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God.  God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process - that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that is is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.

God's training is for now, not presently.  His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future.  We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience, we get wrong when we think of the afterward.  What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.

God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now.  If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present; if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious."

- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Thursday, August 02, 2018

On Meal Prep

I have come to understand the value of preparing a menu the week before.

As I have mentioned before, we had tried an experiment of going less meat and more vegetable.  The meals were actually all pretty good.  The leftovers were pretty good too.  But what we found (as we went along) is that the preparation time was so extensive (lots of chopping with the vegetable based meals) that over time, they tend to not get made.

And then menus are set aside.  And then the shopping stops. And then there is very little to eat in the refrigerator.  And then there is much going out, which cramps the ability to reduce debt.

So I have decided to end all that.

I am going forward with the selection of some of the meals for the week.  The key is that they need to be simple and easy to prepare.  Which, not surprisingly, seems to involve more meat (meat with marinade is easy to have ready to go).

I figure we will supplement with salads and easy to prepare vegetables.  But the days of "We have nothing in the refrigerator" or "It takes too long to make" are about to end.

I am pretty sure the entrees will be delicious (and easy to make).

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

On Foreign Languages

One of the things I wish I was better at was foreign languages.

I have, over the course of a lifetime, picked up smatterings of (in no particular order) Italian, Spanish, Russian, German, Old English, Latin, New Testament Greek, Hungarian, Russian, Cornish, Welsh, Breton, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, Icelandic, Korean, Japanese, French, and Klingon.

You would think, with this fabulous list, I could actually speak more of these languages than I can.  Sadly, my abilities are limited.

My best (if you had to press me) would be Japanese and German (which is really based on my high school German).  Everything else was either class or self study - but never really to the point of actually being able to use them.

Which is the part that really bothers me.

Because I really wish I had some level of fluency.  It is one of those things that actually puts me to shame, that others can speak my mother tongue as well (or better) than I AND speak their own mother tongue in a way that I cannot.

I mean, it is not (these days) as if one does not have access to the ability to learn almost any language one wanted (except, sadly, Bactrian.  We simply do not have enough to know what it was).  It really is a matter of the will - and the ability to focus.

I do not know that I will every reach fluency in anything - but I am determined to reach a better level of communication in something.  It sure is a better use of my time than simply seeing what the internet news is.