Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Collapse LIX: New Year

31 December 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

I see by my calendar (for which, by the way, I do not have a replacement) that the end of the year is upon us.

No retrospectives this year. No falling ball in a sea of people. No gatherings, no fireworks, no singing of a certain Scottish song by a certain Scottish poet to denote the change from one year to another, save the turn of the earth under the stars.

Tonight as I pen this it is cold but clear: the stars twinkle as they overlook the small huddled houses of a civilization that has largely gone silent, unbroken themselves in darkness except where small huddled pools of light indicate someone awake as I am. The rabbits happily munch away on a snack. The fire slowly crackles away, sometimes in time with the rabbits as they eat, sometimes in opposition.

In an odd way, Lucilius, I find myself hopeful: The event finally happened, the balloon finally went up. I know we have spoken of this for years, but now there is no more wondering of a “when”. There is now no more "When", there is only the “What is next?”

But to my mind that has a strangely encouraging cast to it. “When” indicates a kairos, that Greek word for a moment in time. “What is next?” means that there is a next, and that it is as likely to be good as it is to be bad. And in a year when it has seemed to be nothing but bad, I am willing to take the risk to believe there is yet good to come.

Happy New Year, Old Friend.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Prayer Request - TB The Elder

 Friends - My father (TB The Elder) is in the hospital again, suffering from some of the same symptoms as before - confusion, feeling "out of it" - and an additional added symptom of swelling of the feet.  They are keeping him overnight and may do an MRI tomorrow.  Prayers and good wishes deeply appreciated.

Goals: 2021 Edition

 As some of you know that have been long time readers here, I am usually consumed by goal setting at this time of year.  It tends to be the culmination of a one to two month review of what I want to do, numerous drafts to documents, a final kvetching to myself as I look at them, and then the "final-final" version which is supposed to be ready on 01 January.  In fact, last year's process was even more involved:  I had a spreadsheet set up with 13 different worksheets including a daily schedule, various things I was going to learn, and then 1,2,3,5,7, and 10 years goals.  All quite logically put together, carefully chronicling my transition from what I was doing (Senior Management, Quality) to a form of gentile retirement and second career.

And then, of course, 2020 happened.

I laugh - a bit bitterly of course - looking at what I had written down for this year.  Most of my "career' goals had to change as soon as my career changed.  The vacations we had planned fell into the dust.  A burgeoning interest - wine - crashed into the pavement (with lots of cross outs on the spreadsheet) as working on learning wines in a world that was happily collapsing economically seemed like a fairly bad idea.  Of all the things I had listed, I hit three:  Write 350 blog entries, maximize my  retirement savings, and have a set amount of emergency savings.

This year has been a much more restrained goal setting experience.

For a long time, I did not want to do it - the sting of last year's cognitive dissonance in existence made any sort of planning seem wildly inappropriate.  But one needs something to aim at, lest one completely lose all sense of focus.

My goals this year are in a way, much more pedestrian - and much more under my control.  They are also much simplified in terms of the things I want to accomplish.  As before, I use the Rule of Five (Five being the number of fingers on my hand, which is something I can keep track of):  God, Girls (Family), Gold (Career), Iaijutsu, and Ichiryo Gusoku  - or GGGII, if you like acronyms.

Gold has an unusual amount of activity (for me), but I suppose that is to be expected, given the triple combination of a change in career, a general concern about the stability of my job, and the realization that I may make a shift much more quickly than I imagine.  Iaijustu - a combination of Iai practice, Japanese, and strength/aerobic training - is much more a pass/fail sort of definition than the theoretical concepts I often write in.  Girls  has mechanisms for spending time with the family in what is rapidly dwindling as family time (everyone is getting older and more independent, these things happen).  Ichiryo Gusoku is cheese, gardening, and translating Old English.

God is the most simple:  "1) Find a church that fits; 2) Develop meditation and prayer." 

What I have not left space for - because I do not know how to meaningfully make space for it - is the major changes that may come that I cannot foresee. I have a hint of this, a vague clue that they may come - but to plan for the unplannable is to dabble in worlds I simply cannot fathom.

As usual, I have no sense of how many of these goals can be accomplished or to what degree:  Not surprisingly perhaps, 2020 has left a bad taste in my mouth.  But for the first time in a while, I can look at these and think that each and every one of them is achievable this year.

That, in itself, is something.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Forty Five Manifesto

 You may remember way back in October I wrote that I was working on a Manifesto.  This was being driven from a recognition that the New Normal was, really, a new operating paradigm, not just something a blip in the general operational patterns of society and that even if society was going to push to go back to "normal", I could not.

Since then, I have been working away on this.  I wrote, and pondering, and wrote, and pondered some more.  I let it set, and pondered even more.  

And then I finally let it set for a while and looked at it again.

What I realized I had constructed a fairly tome-like, dense written piece that would no more inspire myself than anyone else I knew.  My ability to generate turgid prose, it seemed, knew no limits.  I was in danger of doing what so many others I have read had done, create a manifesto that was completely useless.

So I blew everything up and started over.

What is below is the outcome of that entire process of writing, tearing it down, and writing again.  I present it with two caveats:

a)  The order of the items of the manifesto (beyond the first point) is not intended to represent an order of priority or preference.  They are all important.

b) Like all manifestos (or at least the ones that work), these are intended as goals to be achieved, not iron laws to be obeyed.  I - and anyone interested - should feel the right to modify as needed.


  1. As I am a Christian and as such will continue in my Christian beliefs and expect myself to live in the confines of orthodox Biblical Christianity, seeking like minded believers.

  1. As I am an adult responsible for providing for myself, I will live, invest, and save in the expectation that no-one can or should support me.

  1. As the power to tax is the power to destroy, I will do everything in my power to legally minimize the amount of taxes that I have to pay.

  1. As the growth of government is the growth of the ability to control the individual and impede freedom, I will do all I legally can to slow or deny this growth.

  1. As physical fitness enables all other aspects of life, I will do all in my power to maintain my body in as healthy and strong a state as I can.

  1. As privacy is the ability to live one’s life free from interference and oversight, I will do all in my power to eschew public and social media attention.

  1. As money is the ability to act in an economic world, I will buy only that which is needed and planned for, buy used before new where sensible and possible, and seek to use, reuse, and extend the life of all items I own as long as possible.

  1. As independence from the cash and debt based economic system is the ability to act freely, I will seek minimize my needs and to provide as much of them as is possible.

  1. As we have become a society which values number of contacts over the depth of those contacts and has given those contacts the right to judge the individual, I will seek to narrow my relationships to like minded individuals with whom I share an active, ongoing involvement instead those based on a distant, social media relationship or those who feel even a vague acquaintance gives them the right to judge my fitness to participate in society.

  1. As as student of Iaijutsu, I will seek to continue to train my body and my mind to live in harmony with the precepts of my art, seeking the enlightenment that comes from truly understanding the heart of its teachings.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: Just Enough

 As an individual of scattered and varied interests, it is rare to find a book where two interests are combined in the same volume.  It is even more rare to find three or more.

Fortunately, once in a while even I am surprised

Just Enough: Lessons From Living Green in Traditional Japan by Azby Brown happens to be one of those rare intersections of sustainability, agriculture, self sufficiency, history, conservationism, and even a little bit of Samurai.

The Author (Ph.D., University of Tokyo), takes a rather unique and unusual road to the concept of discussing the concepts of sustainability and design (his area of focus):  he takes on what is essentially a travel journal in Kansei 9 (Reginal year 9 of the Kansei Emperor, or 1798) through what would have been the three major settlement types of Japan of that period:  a small agricultural village, a suburban area of Tokyo, and a lower level samurai home in the upper.

Japan was in some ways unique in that after for 220 years (1634 to 1854) it enforced a policy of sakoku, or isolation (literally the Kanji mean "closed country").  Other than some trade with Korea and Qing China and to a lesser extent the Ainu of Hokkaido and Ryuku Kingdom, its interactions with the world were limited to the small amount of materials that came through the island of Deshima in Nagasaki.  Its development and support was largely forced to be based on internal materials and internal practices.

We (the readers) assume the role of a travelers (a not uncommon thing in Edo period Japan), making our way to the agricultural (and fictional) village of Aoyagi, then to the capital of Edo (now Tokyo) to visit a carpenter as well as the home of a lower level samurai.

At each of these locations, Brown goes into great descriptive detail of what we see not only in the architectural arena but also in the areas of clothing, food, utensils, and general living conditions.  He has an eye for detail and a hand to match; his sketches throughout the book really give it a flavor of a traveler's journal rather than simply a book:

Thatching a roof:

Interior of a Japanese Toilet:

Grounds of a lower level Samurai:

At the end of each section, Brown then derives principles from each of the places we have visited and tries to apply them to the then (2013) world in terms of design, sustainability, and relations.

As you can imagine, I really enjoy this book.  This is the first time I have picked up since I purchased it in 2014 and it remains as relevant or more so than when I first read it; in some ways it may be when the concept of Ichiryo Gusoku (One plot of land, one suit of armor) took root in my soul.

That said, as always there are a couple of caveats, which Brown hints around but carefully avoids discussing in further detail.

1)  The context of this book takes place in the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868) which represents overall a period of great peace in Japan.  It was the outcome of the previous 120 years of the Sengoku Jidai (The Age of the Country at War) and was designed to keep the peace.  As a result, the Tokugawa was an authoritarian governmental structure.  The local lords (Daimyo) ruled their individual provinces (Han), but were always overseen the government in Edo.  Lords had to spend every other year in Tokyo and their wives and children were continually kept there as a guarantee against rebellion.  The government dealt harshly with rebellion and anything it considered to be a threat against it.  Brown acknowledges that this government existed; the extent to which these authoritarian structures created this life style is not fully considered.

2) Japanese society through the Tokugawa Shogunate was sharply divided into four classes:  Farmers Artisans, Merchants, and Samurai (with a few minor outliers such as monks/clerics, doctors, and the burakumin, the untouchables that performed the work no one else would).  Farmers were taxed up to 50% a year and were sometimes forced to perform corvee labor.  In a way, the lifestyle of reduce/reuse/recycle developed as much from the poverty of the lower classes and their inability to move forward as it did from any sense of sustainability.

Admittedly as I look at those, they both appear to be a bit harsh criticism of the book and are not meant as such - but if we are going to acknowledge the wisdom of their practices, it is intellectually dishonest to not acknowledge all the whys it happened.

As I said above, I do love the book as a very different way to look at things and a very enjoyable read.  I would heartily recommend it to anyone.

(Note:  In pulling down the picture of the book cover at Amazon, I noted that there are not any new copies currently available and the used versions are going for $91(!).  I assure you that was not the cost when I purchased it.  It is the same at Alibris.  I can only recommend (if you are so interested) you buy it as an e-copy or get exceptionally lucky at a used book store).

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020

 "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!)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Santa's 20% Off Adventure

 Every year for many years now, Santa has gone Cost Plus World Market for The Ravishing Mrs. TB's stocking stuffers.

Santa, it seems, is a bit of a lazy bum in this regard and (apparently) is a great believer of "one-stop" shopping.  However, he is also a wily and knowledgeable shopper and knows his gift giving audience.

Cost Plus World Market, if you do not have one in your locale, was originally a sort of "exotic goods" sort of ground for Americans that never went to foreign places.  Over the years they have expanded away from cheaper items into furniture, native produced goods, and cooking/food preparation items - and wine, perhaps the most important element of any good stocking.  Between the different sorts of food, coffee, candles, and other knick knack things - and the wine, of course - Santa does pretty well for himself.

This year, as Santa was getting ready to make his "last minute run" (not only is Santa a lazy bum in the shopping sense, he tends to putting off going at all), he received an alert from The Ravishing Mrs. TB (who, strangely, seems to know where all the stocking stuffers come from) letting him know that Cost Plus World Market was giving a 20% discount if you shopped remotely and picked up it up at the store.   Add to that the discount one gets when one is a "member", and the savings started to add up.

And so Santa, bless his lazy behind, shopped online, waited to get his notification, and leisurely drove down to the store to pick everything up.

Beyond the fact that Santa is 1) Lazy; and 2) Predictable, there are a couple of interesting facts here:

1) That a store can give a 20% discount across the board and consider that to be profitable says something about their mark up.

2)  I am genuinely curious to see if this is a post-Plague habit that stays.  From the store's point of view, it probably makes sense.  Yes, they lose a certain amount of income from individuals not shopping in person and make impulse buys, but they save in terms of time to turn around orders (versus paying staff to check people out and answer questions and the casual shoppers that take up space and time and purchase nothing) and frankly (did not think about this until now) save on the risk of shoplifting.    I am perfect for this sort of thing:  for 90% of the shopping I do I know specifically what I want before I go in the store - why not just have it ready for me?

This only works for somewhere like Cost Plus World Market where Santa is rather familiar with the items that are present and knows what he wants.  It works much less better at a store where he does not have such insight - more of the blind firing of an Amazon order.

Either way, for 20% off Santa would shop this way every time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


 I stumbled across this on the Book of Face.  Even it can sometimes have value. 

It is about three minutes long and very worth your time. For those of us that are a little older, perhaps even more inspiring and poignant.

(To those that may not know these things, press the arrow.  The program will take over).

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Changes of Christmas

 This Christmas is turning out to be a very somber one, based on any number of factors.  My maternal aunt has just passed away.  My father has returned from the hospital and hopefully we will have a better handle soon on why he has been feeling out of sorts. My mother's memory issues are reaching the stage where we may have to make additional plans.

The instinctive wish, of course, is to reach out and think of last time you had an "ordinary" Christmas, when everyone was together, the warm sort of family event that fills our mind with happy remembrances and a sense of "what Christmas should be like".

I can reach out to last year, when we were all together - except our oldest, Nighean Gheal, who was in Italy for her schooling.  But then I realize that she was also there not there the year before, when she was in Hong Kong.  So really "all of us together" is pushed back another two years.

But then I realized that for my generation (6 cousins), we have not all been together even longer than that, perhaps 14 years, before the rather memorable experience (not in a good way) of having a small, controlled nuclear detonation which managed to ensure that we would probably never get together in that way again (which, to be fair, is exactly what happened).   

That Christmas all of our children would have been born, and my niece and nephew of a similar age.  My cousin's child of similar age would also have been there.

Suddenly that seems like a very long time ago.

Memoria is a funny mistress.  She plays tricks on us when we least expect it, adding things where no such things occurred or compressing time to where a thing that seemed to be only yesterday turns out to be so long in the past that it can scarcely be believed.  

And Christmas - at least as a family event - is not what it used to be either.  Too many words unspoken lest conflict break out, in a way too much time apart from a relatively similar upbringing to find commonality.  We speak of what has happened to us personally in three to four hours that we spend together but not more, lest we say or do something that ends in even less of a Christmas going forward.

We will go this year, and see my parents in their home and my sister's family (but no-one else except from a distance of course, due to The Plague). And this will get filed away as "The Last Christmas That...."

Of all the markers of changes in my life, I had not in any way anticipated that Christmas would be one of them.  I now find it to be the one reliable marker, year over year, of how things have changed.  In so many ways, the high water mark seems to have been reached and every year, the line is drawn lower.

Monday, December 21, 2020

On The Passing Of Aunt J

 We were informed early this Sunday morning that my maternal aunt, Aunt J, had passed away.

On the one hand, this was not a surprise.  We had known that this would be the outcome since last week, when the doctors let my cousin know that due to a combination of brain damage and pneumonia, this would be the case.  On the other hand, this is first time in many years (almost 25) I have had to deal with the death of a close relative.

As I look back, I realized that Aunt J was in many ways my earliest memory of family beyond my own:  my mother's brother was in the military and thus stationed away from the town we grew up until I was well into high school and most of my father's family lived away from us.  My mother's parents lived in town and we saw them often.  Aunt J then served as that "other family" that represented all those who were not nearby.

I think - in retrospect - she was a bit of a rebel that made her mistakes, paid for them, and moved on.  She married young - twice - and after the second one decided she was done.  She was my first memory (years later of course) of a family issue, as she became pregnant in her early 40's with my nephew while unmarried (Much less of an issue now of course, but in the mid-80's still something of significance.  My grandfather took quite a while to adjust).  

She lived in the Big City, about two hours away from the small town where we lived.  I always remember going to visit her as an adventure, as inevitably we would go do other profoundly fun and amazing things that we would never be able to do in our little town:  museums, animal parks, tourist attractions.  The concept of living where she did - first an apartment, then a condo - seemed exotic to someone who only lived in a house.

She made a career for herself, starting as a hair dresser and ending as a representative for copier/document company (oddly enough, we actually intersected in our professional careers at one point).  She had one son, whom she adored, and four nephews and a single niece which were adored as well, especially in place of children until she had her son.  She kept a variety of cats and dogs over the years - all characters, as I recall.  

She was, I think, someone who I would have called "glamorous" in my youth (and maybe even today).  She cared about personal appearance in a way different than the rest of my family (her collection of make up was fascinating to me as a child).  She dressed elegantly, even well into retirement (the wallet I currently carry in my pocket is of Italian leather, something she bought for me during one of her trips there).  She like to travel, both abroad and in the US.

She was very attached to the house that she had grown up in (my grandparents') even though she has not really lived there since she left home after high school.  After their passing, she spent a considerable amount of money restoring it and used it as a second home  for her visits to her hometown; she also generously gave one of my cousins a place for him and his daughter to live when they needed it, a bit down on their luck.

Her one regret (I think) is that she never got to have grandchildren (my cousin has often dated, but never married).  She got to have them vicariously through mine and my sister's and my cousin's children, so at least there was partially filling there.

She helped me out more than once, often in words but at least once in deed as well when, during my graduate work, I needed a place to stay during the holidays to keep my regular job.  She happily let me stay in her house over the break (and take over her son's Sega as that was the year Sonic the Hedgehog came out).

Her passing was both the way some may want to go yet the way most do not expect:  she was feeling well on a Monday, was feeling a bit out of it on Tuesday, had respiratory distress on Wednesday, and on Thursday was apparently quite ill and incoherent. On the ride to the hospital her heart stopped and they were able to restart it.  They are ultimately unsure what caused the issues - was it swelling of the brain that created the other issues or The Plague that did  - but the result was the same:  she did not speak or respond again from that Thursday until her passing the following Saturday night.  So it was in that sense relatively quick, but also very unexpected.

This is still early of course, and there will be a processing of the grief; her burial will be a cremation and ultimate burial at the family cemetery (so this will all be re-lived again).  I grieve for cousin, who now has neither of his parents (his father passed some years ago).  I grieve for my maternal Uncle, the oldest of his family and his generation now, who is faced with his youngest sister dying and his middle sister (my mother) in the throws of dementia.

And by association, I grieve for all who have had their holidays cut into because of the death - unexpected or not - of a loved one.  The holidays burn a little less bright because of it.


Sunday, December 20, 2020


 Every year, I try to take at least one blog post to thank you, the reader.

So thanks.

First of all, thanks for just being here and reading.  The greatest fear of any writer is that their works will go off into the atmosphere without anyone reading them.

Thanks for your commentary.  It is always thoughtful, and we have enjoyed some rather good discussions here (and thanks, by the way, for staying within the rules, no politics and no specifically religious discussions.   It is so nice to not referee things, as I see on other blogs).

Thanks for spending part of your precious life (because that is what time really is, it is life) with me. We only ever have 24 hours in any day.  That you would spend a little with me is deeply honoring.

Thanks for humoring me with what I can only imagine is a rather eclectic mix of subjects.  I am the universal grab bag of the unexpected subject.

Thanks especially for this year.  It has been a not the easiest of years here (as it has been anywhere, to be fair).  Bad review, job change, staying home yet traveling once a month, trying to negotiate a world where I am feeling (more than ever) that I do not fit in.  

Most of all, thanks for being my friends.  This year I have become more convinced than ever that the Social Internet holds the key to actually creating relationships in a way that Social Media never does.  And as (for mostly personal reasons) I have moved away from Social Media, the hole has been filled by you and your comments and your blogs.  I speak with you now through posts and comments far more than I speak with most of the Social Media "friends" I have.

Strangely enough, readership is at an all time high - it could be due to The Plague and people stuck inside, or it could be due to spammers (Russia and Ukraine, I am looking at you).  That is also due in no part to you - so again, thank you.

It is not the end of the year of course, so we will still have plenty of time to celebrate, complain, theorize, and pontificate before the end of the year.  But given the year it has been, I would be foolish to miss the opportunity to thank you today.  Now.

So thank you.  From the bottom of my heart.

Your Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Saturday, December 19, 2020


 This week has been another rough go.

Not so much on the personal front, although there is not much good to report there.  My maternal aunt that went into the hospital with The Plague has severe brain damage due to the event of her heart stopping during her ride to the hospital.  They removed her ventilator this week and hope to be able to transfer her home for hospice care as it will only be (sadly) a matter of time. My paternal aunt that went into the hospital has also migrated from the main hospital and on oxygen to the ICU and a ventilator with sedation and her children told she will be there "for a while".  

No, my issues have been with myself.  And my relevance in a new and different world.

I have been wandering the highways and byways of the InterWeb because I find myself battling more and more with my own sense of irrelevance in the larger world.  Yes, I know what you will say:  you were always irrelevant in that sense.  And you are right - but my views and beliefs were, I thought, not so much so.

To summarize what my wanderings have taught me, it is that I, my beliefs, my way of life, and my future really have little relevance to the modern world.  Opinions of them essentially range from "Ignore them" to "Burn them all down", but there was very little sense of any sort of value or respect that was indicated.

I do not want to get too much off into the weeds debating those points or their authors in this discussion - that is not really the point of the meditation, other to acknowledge the fact that they exist or are there.  What I am dwelling is the fact that I am simply feeling this irrelevance heavily this week - and the outer World seems intent on doing nothing  but reinforcing that.

If you are curious sometimes, do a search on the phrase "What to do when I feel irrelevant?" or "How do I become relevant again?".  It turns out to be a slightly depressing stroll through psychology magazines and self help columns and commentary.  It essentially turns largely on the ideas that:  1)  You are not really relevant anymore; 2)  Accept your irrelevance; and 3)  You can possibly be slightly relevant if you accept the fact that are irrelevant but are willing to provide your feeble assistance where it fits in to society.

In other words, not a great deal of help there at all.

I do not write this out of a feeling of depression or a need to end it all - neither of those are at play or a concern here.  What is bothersome and I am trying to come to grips with is the fact that in something of a single year I have moved from existing with purpose to having no relevance to add to larger world.   As if experience, education, and beliefs have all been completely set aside.

Perhaps this is a form of that dreaded "Middle Age Crisis" - if it is, I have not had this version of it before.  What is doing is slowly eating away at my sense of doing something - anything - matters.  

It is, as the poet said, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Prayer Request

All -  I just found out that my father is in the hospital.  He called my uncle last night (they live near by).  He had stood up from the couch and had passed out and fainted.  He came to without serious harm, but still said that he did not feel right.  He was taken to the hospital and is there currently.  My mother is spending the night with my aunt and uncle.  We are supposed to get word today about further/additional steps.

Will gladly take all prayers and good thoughts.  His name is similar to mine, so if you referred to him as TB The Elder you would not be wrong.

Thank you.

Your Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Update:  He is back home, diagnosed with low salt level.  That said (and for which I am very grateful), I would continue to ask for your prayers/good thoughts.  We are heading out on Monday to see them for Christmas and will have more information then.

Buy Nothing New

 An interesting phenomenon - one that we ourselves had used somewhat last year but more so than ever this year - is the urban concept of "buy nothing new".

It works like this:  you live in an urban or suburban neighborhood and belong to some kind of InterWeb group on one of the social media platforms (The Book of Face, for example).  People list things that they have in their home and are giving away.  The giver chooses by any number of methods - first requestor, speaking as to what they will use the item for, or random funny pictures.  A "winner" is selected.  The item is placed out on the doorstep and the winner comes by and picks it up.

As I said, this is something that we had participated in a little in 2019, but 2020 and the general economic uncertainty and the fact that with much more time on our hands, there was much more time to go through things, we have done this a lot more.  We have given away clothes, any number of knick knacks, boxes, a mattress, girl related items that ours have outgrown, and paint.  We have gotten a mattress, unexpired food (coffee, chicken broth) and various and sundries in return.

The system is a marvel of efficiency.  We do not have to struggle to load things up and take them down tot the local donation center - in fact we do not pay for fuel at all as the winners come and get it.  Our house gets cleaned out.  Items get repurposed and reused. We spend less money.

I should also point out that the government - state, local or otherwise - have no involvement in this at all.  This is a purely private initiative.  And, as there is only gifting and not selling, there is no bothersome tracking of expenses or potential taxes.

Yes, I understand that we are not getting money for the items.  But having tried to sell various items on-line over the years, I can tell you that from my point of view it is not worth the headache.  I have made a little money, but never really enough to justify the effort.  At this point I just consider the money I spend on an item to be a "sunk cost" and accept the reality that it only has value as a barter good (possibly) or to gift to someone else (more likely).

I know this sort of ecosystem will not work everywhere (rural areas, I imagine, would be far more difficult) but I find it to be a lovely example of how goods can get reused, money saved, and people working to exploit opportunities and meet needs - all without any sort of government involvement.  In a way, this is the economy at its best.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Changing Face Of Business, 2020 Edition

This week I had a fascinating look into the changing landscape of business.

It occurred on a phone call with a vendor my company uses.  We have had some project related issues for some time now and during the course of the call, we found out (not really to our surprise) that the company was having problems retaining project managers.  The reason they were having problems, though, was rather interesting.

Because of The Plague of 2020 (and like many other companies) they have had to make decisions about which positions are "critical" and need to be onsite and which positions are "non-critical" and can work from home.  In their corporate economy, project management is one of those groups.

But this has not been true everywhere.  Other places, project managers can work from home (frankly, like myself). And so they have been unable to keep their project management staff as they flock to other positions that do not require them to be on-site.

It is a small enough thing, but it is having a definite and significant impact on their business.

They only have three choices, really.  The first is to continue to do exactly what they are doing (and get the same results).  The second is to overcome their corporate culture and redefine onsite versus offsite functions (which will take fighting internal thought battles).  The third is that they will simply outsource those sorts of roles completely, either paying top dollar for people to be on site or, equally as likely, paying consultants to work off site (again, likely at top dollar).

This is an argument that more and more businesses are going to have to face the longer The Plague goes on: the fact that for some people, if not for many people, they can work off site and still continue to contribute to the success of their company.  From a corporate view it makes a great deal of sense: one does not pay for a great deal of office overhead and still accomplishes the work.  From the individual's side, they save money and time on not commuting and the innumerable smaller expenses that go with being at work.

It is not that this will be considered a perk - it has been a perk for certain positions and industries for years.  What it will become is not a perk, but an expected part of certain positions and industries.  I can easily see a day where having to be on-site for certain positions will be considered requiring an extra pay addition.

The outcome of The Plague of 2020 in terms of changing business and employment expectations and results will follow us for years and years to come.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

When New Normal Finally Ends

I have to admit that, on the whole, I am a bit of a contrarian.  I will not do things that people do because they tell me to do them, that they are the "best" for me (maybe they are, but it is a lot less than people say that it is).  On the other hand, I will do things that other people will not do for the same reason (supply my own dairy product needs for example, or train in an martial art that in a lot of ways has no modern practical application).   Label it perhaps that at heart I am an anti-authoritarian and really do not like to be told what to do.

It is within this context that I am thinking forward to whenever "normal" is declared again by our political, social, scientific, and industrial betters.

The overwhelming push, once this happens, is going to be "get back out there". Spend with abandon (you will be told, perhaps sotte voce, that to do so is "unpatriotic").  Start attending large social gatherings like sporting events and concerts because we need to demonstrate that we are putting fear "behind us". Patronize those previously scorned and outcast-like businesses of restaurants, bars, and the dreaded hair salons because "we need now, more than ever, to support our friends and neighbors".  

Now individual parts of this are true.   Like or not in the post-service economy we have become, without spending there will be no economic growth.  And possibly, attending that sports game or concert shows that you are demonstrating some sort of moral courage (not from my point of view, of course, but the argument could be made).  And small businesses need continuing local support - as they always did, of course.

But on the whole, I find these to be specious arguments and activities that I will not be engaging in.

The contrarian side of me notes the careful choice of timing.  During the Plague of 2020, we should always have supported small businesses - and those who are in positions of leadership at every level should have done everything in the power to do so.  For the most part, they did not.  Now - whenever that "now" is, I suppose it will not matter - many of those same businesses will be gone.  There is little that can be done for them at that point.

The attending of large social events merely puts the fact that another large pandemic breakout is effectively going to happen at some point - not to mention just the reality of colds, flus, and various forms of communicable diseases that have only subsided because we are nowhere near each other.  The concept that someone re-attending such things shows we have no fear could be equally be made to say we learned precisely nothing about how diseases spread.

As to the spending of money - if the past year has demonstrated anything, it is that having debt paid down and cash on hand is the surest measure of survival in hard times.  To somehow pretend that spending is "patriotic" is to ignore the actual past and embrace a future in which no hard times will never happen again.

To be clear, whenever the "all clear" signal sounds, I will not be jumping in.  My "new normal" is simply the life that we have been living this past 9 months - in fact, it has intensified the need to be more frugal, go less, and associate less. There is no sane reason to do it at this stage, or really any stage going forward.

Public health needs are real.  Safety needs are real.  But I will not push myself to spend or be out more often simply because suddenly it is "the right thing to do". 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Economics Over Politics

 One of the things that I think is dreadfully underconsidered in the modern understanding of the world and how it works is economics.  The supposed concern is politics, or who runs things.

(Yes yes, I know - my rules about politics and all on the site.  Hang with me.)

I cannot speak for what they teach in high school now (although my impression is not much has changed), but back in my day economics was not a required class.  Yes, you talked a bit about it in World History and American History (Mercantilism, Colonialism, Marxism) but never to the depth of understanding what an economy was or how it world.  My college was not any better (again, things may have changed) - I did not take any economics until I had to for my Master's.  

We spend all our time in history on politics.  We spend our time in politics on politics.  Who is in control, what they are legislating (or just outright declaring in the case of dictatorships).  And to be fair, it is important.

But economics trumps politics.

A simple explanation I have discussed with my family:  our political betters continue to bicker and argue over how much money they will add to the economy as a result of a 2020 Plague Relief Bill.  And that may be all well and good - after all, there are legitimate people in need.  The part that our political betters are less willing to discuss, of course, is that adding more dollars to the pool means the dollars are worth less.  Dollars that are worth less means that things cost more and salaries either go up or are completely eliminated as individuals are laid off and technology improves to replace them (if you do not believe me, do a bit of research on automation.  It is coming along faster than you think).

Our political betters may think they are doing the "right" thing.  And they may think to reap a reward from it.  And they may, for a short time - right up to the point that people cannot afford what they used to or their salary has completely evaporated.  At which point, they either become irate and do something themselves or (perhaps more likely) they find someone else to do it on their behalf.

History is littered with dictators and authoritarians that rose on the back of a people in economic despair that were looking for someone to lead them out.

One of my arguments against lock downs (although, as should be acknowledged, I do consider The Plague of 2020 a serious health event) is that it is very easy to turn an economy off - almost brainless, in fact.  It is very difficult to turn one back on afterwards, contrary to the belief of our political betters who (for the most part) have never built a business - or lost a business.  The fact that we are seriously contemplating a second lockdown is equally as appalling as the first one was - and given it is likely to occur in Winter after a lousy economic year, will make it all the worse.

People financially on the edge - or over the edge - become a desperate people.  People that become desperate are willing to do anything to alleviate their situation - or belief anything that will alleviate their situation.  And when people are willing to do anything and believe anything to alleviate their economic situation, who is in power matters very little except as a historical note of "who got overthrown".  

If you really want to make a study of where the future is headed (and I think most folks that stop by here do), pay attention to the economics.  Read a variety of sources, not just the usual "newsy" ones.  If signs of an impending issue are anywhere, they will be there.

Monday, December 14, 2020

A Hard December

Last week was not a great week.

One of the reasons that I have been making an effort to go home more this is year is the fact that my mother's dementia has been getting worse.  I do not know that I have fully (or maybe even ever) discussed it, but it has been ongoing for several years now.  It now seems to have been accelerating even over the last 6 months I have been going back - to the point that she does not always remember me as her son (but does remember I am a relative) and is not sure that the home they have lived in for over 20 years is her home.

We were also notified that not one, but two of my aunts - one of my father's side, one on my mother's side - are both in the hospital with Covid.  In one case (my father's sister) it seems that there may be light at the end of the tunnel; for the other case (my mother's sister) it seems rather bleak.

(A note:  My material aunt went from feeling okay to having her heart stop in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in three - count them, three - days.  Currently she has known serious brain damage and pneumonia.  They can maybe cure the second, but not the first.)

Add to this a weekend search over the InterWeb to see if there were any sane voices about the the current state of the world in general, and found the answer was, pretty much, no.  What is not covered in frenetic anxiety is covered in disgust for the opposing view, and what is not covered in disgust for the opposing view is covered in a sort of intellectual disdain for people who are "too stupid" to see the truth.  In short, we all seem to hate each other and see the worst in each other.  To somehow believe this is going to magically "change" next year is ridiculous.

To be clear, it is not depression.  And it is not, I suppose, really hopelessness.  There is not a lack of nor loss of hope involved in this.  It is more the acceptance of the fact that things, frankly, are bad right now.  And, given what what I can see, not really on a track to get better in the near future.

But, perhaps, not a completely unexpected end to the year.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Iai By Starlight

 One of the great things that I have always loved about coming to The Ranch is the night.

The nearest city lights are 15 miles away and the nearest house is a mile away.  As a result, the night sky here is magnificent.  On moonless nights, you can still see the Milky Way.  To someone who has to dwell amidst the city lights at this point in his life and someone who has loved the night as long as he has lived, there is something always magical about returning.

There is the light from the house, of course, but if I turn towards the North you cannot see it.  Only myself, the trees, the wind, and the stars.

So when I am here, I will sometimes practice iaijutsu under the stars.

Practicing in the dark is not precisely the ideal way to practice, of course.  Your ability to judge how you are performing the techniques is greatly reduced:  you do not see anything, you have to feel it by the angle of your body.  Balance is not really a problem, thankfully:  most techniques only involve two or three steps and practicing on a driveway means the likelihood of hitting anything is almost non-extant.  But it is, in many ways, not as direct a path to improvement as training in the light.

But practicing by starlight has other benefits.  The wind walks through the trees. The nighttime noises of brush continue on in the background.  The stars twinkle overhead as you draw and cut and sheathe.  And while one does not get the benefit of seeing one actual cuts, one can learn from other things:  the sound of a good cut (yes, even wood can make a sound if the angle is correct), the fact that one has to pay attention to one's balance, and the reality that paying attention to to how your body "feels" is just as important as how it looks.

Bowing out as one does at the end of every training session has a special sense though:  instead of bowing to the dojo flag and to your sensei, you bow to the trees and stars and wind themselves.  It is one of few moments that I feel that I am really able to honor God's creation.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Few More (More) Words From...Gene Logsdon

 "If parsnips could talk or write, they could provide us with a formula for how to attain life everlasting in the garden, if not elsewhere.  In an interview, Mr. Parsnip would have plenty of advice, honed by centuries of survival.

"First, cultivate an independent kind of ornery reliability that will draw admiration from everyone, except maybe politicians and church authorities who want their subjects to stand before them with bowed heads in abject dependence.   Learn how to survive in winter in frozen ground, or for you humans, how to survive economic recession in comfort.  We parsnips not only know how to endure frozen soil, but how to taste better because of it.  Then make sure your seed will drop and sprout of its own accord if necessary to guarantee something close to perpetual life.

Second, develop a distinctive personality like we parsnips do, with a taste only appreciated by the few rather than by the many.  You want to appeal to the discerning minority, not the herd-like majority, which is always susceptible to the moneychangers.  If you are too desirable a plant, the gene manipulators will bioengineer you into oblivion.

Third, don't try to look too pretty in public.  Everybody is dressing up fancy these days, so if you follow suit (no pun intended), you'll just be ignored.  Or worse, you will be asked to head up a fund-raiser.  If you look sort of bony, weathered, and wrinkled, like us parsnips, some master chef will get interested and make you famous."

- "The Parsnip Way To Everlasting Life", Gene Everlasting

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

December 2020 Walkabout

If you will humor me, it is time for the monthly property walk.

Now that deer season are over, the deer are out and about.

Sun has that Winter slant to it:

I never thought about it before, but I wonder where the leaves go in the Winter when no-one rakes them?

Living under a pine tree must be hard.  You get the dead needles all over you.

More deer:

The little pond has no water in it yet.  Waiting for more rain.

Now-ubiquitous bear scat photo:

The forest is so much less dense when the leaves are missing:

The creek is still running well - although now decorated with leaves:

Even in Winter, there are still blooms

This soil structure was really interesting:

Something was still blooming!

Up by the house.  




Above light's descent,
first silver starlight glows to 
 beat the Milky Way

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

News From The World Of Travel - December 2020 Edition

 Back out amongst the world of travelling this week to The Ranch and back.  Some general observations:

1)  I fly out of and into relatively major city airports.  The traffic in them are still very much reduced and do not seem to be significantly improving - more since July and August certainly, but not that much better.  I continue to wonder how these airports continue to survive.  The regional ones, I imagine, are even worse.

2)  As part of my travel, I usually go through a hub airport.  These have definitely increased in traffic over time and almost seem close to what I normally expect for travel.  Masks are required in the airport, but socially distancing is, practically speaking, impossible.

3)  The face shield does not seem to be making a significant inroad in travelling - a few people have them, but not many more than the last two months.

4)  This was first trip I have made since February of this year that the middle seat was occupied.  It was not quite as uncomfortable as I thought it was going to be, although it definitely felt different after months of traveling with an empty middle seat (I also forgot how much longer it takes to exit a plane when the center seats are full).

Assessment?  No matter what you read, travel is only coming back slowly if at all.   Add to that potential requirements of quarantining when you arrive somewhere and the likelihood that a great deal of what you want to do is going to be closed, all the inconveniences of air travel (which I am reminded of again and again) and I suspect it will be much longer than any one expects until air travel is back.

Monday, December 07, 2020

Book Review: Gene Everlasting

I have been a fan of Gene Logsdon since I first discovered him in the summer of 2000 in his book The Contrary Farmer.  At the time, we had just purchased a home and I was in the process of establishing a garden and working on some early concepts with The Ranch.  Suddenly I found someone who spoke what I was thinking, who did so with thought and a rather sharp pen, who held politicians and large corporations in equal distain, and who actually practiced what he preached in that he moved back to his childhood home (literally) and proved that one could make a sustainable living of sorts on a small farm.  I have over 70 books on agriculture in that part of my library; Logsdon's books are at least 20% of them.

Logsdon passed away in 2016 (his last book, Letters to A Young Farmer, was reviewed here), but that was not the first time he faced his mortality.  The first was in 2012, when he was diagnosed with cancer.  The book to be discussed, Gene Everlasting:  A Contrary Farmer's Thoughts on Living Forever, was written during and slightly after that event.

The book is, not surprisingly, themed with the content of death, dying, and renewal.  Logsdon contemplates his own death, the nature of life as viewed by a farmer, his thoughts on death (and in a sense, living forever), and what it looks like when one has essentially been issued a reprieve.

The book, like any other Logsdon book, is a mixture of philosophy, thoughts, and practical advice.  In "Intimations of Immortality I and II" he contemplates chickweed and pigweed and what they say about agriculture and life.  In "The Days The Pigs Must Die" he gives a rather detailed discussion to the butchering of pigs (to the point one feels one might be able to do it).  In "Staying Longer in the Saddle" he talks practically about how using tools can enable someone who is older to stay active in agriculture by using simple tools and measures to replace brute strength.  In "Facing Death" he discusses his process of chemotherapy (He was treated at The Cleveland Clinic; if they are smart, they will pass this out as a description of the process to every new cancer patient.  It is a great primer on what to anticipate).  And in "One More Spring" he talks about looking at life around his farm in a new way throughout the year after successful chemotherapy.

Some (of the many) quotable quotes:

"In nature, nothing much really dies.  The various life-forms renew themselves.  Renewal, not death, is the proper word for the progression of life in nature.  If I died of cancer, the proper response would be to bury my flesh and bones for fertilizer in a celebration of natural renewal."  (Garden Therapy Along With Chemotherapy)

"She (Logsdon's mother) would never let her children mope around feeling sorry for themselves.  "When you grow up and get some real problems, you'll think you deserve the luxury of a nervous breakdown" she would tell us.  And then she'd give us more work to do." (Killdeer Woman)

"Large, industrial monocropping just ain't natural.  Large, concentrated populations of people in large cities who need large, industrial monocropping to stay alive ain't natural, either."  (Intimations of Immortality II)

"I wonder if our repugnance over killing animals for food is but another manifestation of our fear of dying and being eaten ourselves." (The Day The Pigs Must Die)

"A further advantage of this new perspective on life was a greater feeling of freedom over whether my opinions about science or religion were going to irritate people and bring angry retaliation.  I didn't have to be afraid of losing my job.  I didn't have one anymore.  I was not running for public office or trying to win a popularity contest.  I was too old to care about human respect.  Old men can be dangerous to society." (One More Spring)

If I ever have a complaint about Logsdon, it is sometimes that his acerbic wit gets the better of him and he loses his point in some rather old baggage he seems to carry with him (I am hopeful that he made his peace with God; he had a lot going on in that regard).  That does not detract from his overall writing, but sometimes I wish he would have read it in the context of the point he was trying to make, instead of making that smaller point.

But that is a small point to quibble with a man recovering from cancer.  And those small points do not detract from the overall tone of the book, which ultimately ends on a hopeful note:

"Memories were the compost of the thinking process, enriching the mind world, never dying as long as there were people who kept on remembering and the written word stayed safe in books or the electronic cloud-god in the sky." (One More Spring)

Overall, definitely a recommended book and worth having on your agricultural/philosophical/social agitator bookshelf.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

River Pocket

River worn hollow
holds all the world's oceans
in rain and brown leaves.

Friday, December 04, 2020

The 2020 Review

 Yesterday I had my 2020 Review at work.

This has been something that I was not particularly looking forward to this year as due to circumstances - getting essentially a less than glamorous review for last year and being "repurposed" into a new job role, I was a little leery of how it was going to be this year.  On one hand, it is hard to fall off the floor.  On the other, a review that is basically less than "meets expectations" can be hard to come back from.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised when it went rather well.

On one hand it is relatively easy as my "new"  boss (I say new, I have worked with him for over three years now) is the sort of person that is easy to talk to and with whom you can have a ready conversation.  It is also helpful that he is, innately, a kind person - the sort of person you want to do better for.

On the other hand, as my job duties have changed about 280 degrees, I am being evaluated on an entirely different set of roles and responsibilities, which makes things both good and bad:  good in that the past is the past, bad in that you may have less of an overall body of work to be evaluated on.

The other thing (Third hand?  Can you have three hands?) is that, as he pointed out, sometimes we tend to be more critical on ourselves than others around us.  I can accept and acknowledge that:  take a basically self critical nature (mine) and add to it coming off a review that left one a little breathless, and it is easy to start from the position of "I am pretty much unskilled" because that is my natural bent.  It is helpful to have someone who is effectively a neutral third party and someone who is interested in making sure you succeed give you an overall evaluation of the things you cannot see beyond yourself.

I have my marching orders for next year, and what I need to gain education in.  I even have the charge of making sure I leave enough time (up to 20%) for development and learning and training.  A very, very solid "did my job".

Like most businesses these days, there is no longer any formal direct connection between my review and any pay or rewards (or at least, that is what everyone states) and  I have no anticipation that financially anything will change.  But it is nice, at least, to go into the holidays and the New Year with a sense that in at least one way, I am on the right track.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

2020 December: Christmas Again?

And just like that, we seem to have stumbled into December.

December is always a challenge for me in that there are always two competing factors.  On one hand, of course, is the Christmas season, with its pageantry and history and a great deal of things that I like (for example, so many good songs).  On the other hand is the inevitable rush that all businesses have to the end of the year to get everything done.

It has been this way for a number of years now - how many I cannot quite recall. It was not always this way, so far as I remember.  There was a time where work in December tended to wind down, to be picked up on the far side of New Year.  We overall perhaps had less time off - a day for Christmas, perhaps a day before or after and then the same for New Year's  - but there was a sense that things were drawing to a close to be picked up again.

No more.  The business cycle is literally 24/365 and even if we do not work through it, everything in one's power does not make it any the more less stressful.

This year is bound to be a bit different of course:  there will not be the round of parties or get togethers, and the ubiquitous "Company Christmas/Winter/Holiday" party will not be making its appearance this year in any number of places.  The Christmas Caroling events we went to for Na Clann will not be occurring.  No festive decorating in offices, no various Christmas snacks scattered about.

The work, of course, remains.

This is the challenge - I suppose it always remains the challenge:  how do I keep Christmas in my heart and in my life when the world seems intent on reducing it to an afterthought?

Yes, I understand that there is cultural Christmas and Christian Christmas and the two do not always intersect.  But there is a value in the practice of cultural Christmas:  in a country which is often divided about a great many things, Christmas can be a cultural event which is practiced even by people that have no interest in the religious overtones.  There remains perhaps no other holiday that can be practiced by so many without much of the arguments and culture wars that seem to come with every other event and holiday any more.

And yet, every year I find myself struggling more and more to keep it.

This year, at least, will be a little easier:  I can blare the Christmas carols at home and share my "office" (otherwise known as the tacked on informal dining area to the living room) with the Christmas tree.  At least I can find those reminders.

The rest, of course, will be a struggle.  Made easier, hopefully, by cookies that I am hoping that one of Na Clann, home for the holidays, will make.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

2020 Summer Garden: Finale

 This is the end of the 2020 Garden.


Overall it was a bucket of sweet potatoes, two daikon radishes, and a rather healthy pile of ruby red Okra (not pictured).  Some of the sweet potatoes, like the one on the top of the bucket, were actually of a sufficient size to be worthy in a grocery store (the white variety, also pictured, did not do very well at all.  Only the orange from now on).  And a bushel of basil leaves.

This was not my most successful garden ever.  Not sure why, of course - gardening is different enough here from year to year that I never fully know why.  The beans did okay, the black eyed peas did amazingly well, the rest was so so.  This happens sometimes, of course.  It is just a part of life (that people that only buy their food from grocery stores never fully understand).

The Ravishing Mrs. TB suggested removing the border of the garden (it is brick) and expanding and giving it better walls would be a good idea this year.  That said, I pulled back my planting to just onions and garlic for the winter (I cannot not plant anything!).  I do not want to have to destroy anything to get into it to rebuild, so I have some kind of project to research for the Winter and start in early Spring.

It can be a little depressing when things do not work out quite as I would like, but that is the nature of it sometimes.  Onward and upward.

Monday, November 30, 2020


In going through the equivalent of an "series binge" of Andre Norton, I realized how large a part ruins play in so many fantasy and science fiction stories.

Ruins permeate so much of the science fiction and fantasy landscape:  old buildings which dot landscapes and planets, oftentimes without a hint as to why they were put in place.  In Andre Norton they appear as ruins of the Old Ones in Witch World or the Forerunners in her science fiction.    In Tolkien they are the remains of the Men of Númenor at Amon Sul and The Argonath and Amon Hen or the Mines of Moria of Durin's folk.  In Edgar Rice Burroughs they are the dead cities of the Orovars, built on the shorelines of receding oceans.  In Robert E. Howard they are the nameless brooding buildings (filled with rumors treasury) that abound in Hyperborea.  In H. Beam Piper, they appear not so much as ruins as in the remnants of a civilization (The Federation).  And in post-apocalypse novels, they are the remains of the modern world as we know it (depending, of course, of whenever the collapse actually occurred).

Ruins provide several functionalities in these stories.  They can be the point of the quest, or serve as a sort of brooding background to the characters as they move through the landscape.  They are a thing of mystery and speculation:  usually little is known about the builders or their purposes or, if both are known, it is acknowledged by the characters that such things cannot be built again by those in their day.  They serve as sentinels of a past age, now lost, at best forming a location of perilous comfort, at worst a place of danger.

Our own ancestors were not immune to these things; in Old English there was actually a word for this, dústscéawung, literally "contemplation of the dust".  We have at least one work in the Old English corpus of work called "The Ruin", in which the author contemplates the remains of the Roman works that existed in his time:

Wrætlic is Þes wealstān;       wyrde gebræcon
burgstede burston;                 brosnað enta geworc.
Hrōfas sind gehrorene,          hrēorge torras
hrīmgeat berofen                   hrīm on līme
scearde scūrbeorge                scorene, gedrorene,
ældo underetone.

"Wonderous is the masonry;                    the fates broke and 
smashed the city;                                     decayed the work of giants.
Roofs are fallen,                                      fallen towers,
the frosty gate destroyed,                         frost on the stone binding,
chipped the protection from storms,        rent and collapsed,
undermined by age."

In all of this - fiction and fact - lingers the questions:  Who were these folk?  Why did they build what they built?  And happened to them?

Sadly, this is yet another item that we lack in our modern society.

Oh, we have ruins:  Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mayan, Polynesian, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan.  And we have excavated them and catalogued them.  We know a great deal about those who built them.  Also, they are (for the most part) safely corralled in parks and preserves and sites.  They do not brood over us as guardians or sentinels, but have become almost like theme parks:  places we go to take pictures and walk about and perhaps ponder - but only for a bit - the makers of them.

We have lost the sense of the numinous, that sense of something being outside of our space and time but infringing into it.  For that is what ruins in all of these worlds represent:  the past pressing into the future in a way that cannot be catalogued or fully explained.  We have explained it, as we explain everything else, down to the molecular level.  The mystery is gone; we only have the buildings at artifacts as items to be toured and looked at, not pondered and viewed with a healthy mix of questioning and awe.

There is one other thing that ruins serve as in all of the stories I have mentioned:  they represent the pinnacle of some civilization, their highest point of art and architecture and science.  At some point after that, destruction always occurs, leaving only the remains for the future to wander through in wonder and fear and awe.

I do not wonder if the fact we no longer have such "ruins" is that we believe ourselves to be beyond the need for such things.

Pride, it is said, always goes before the fall.