Thursday, February 27, 2020

Yesterday Folk

My friend Glen has used the Yesterday Man to describe himself.  I do not know that there is a formal definition for the term but I suspect it refers to someone (most likely a man, but could there not be Yesterday Women too?) who finds themselves out of sorts with today's mores, customs, beliefs, practices, and values.

More and more as I have thought about it, I have come to value this term.  I may even end up wearing it as a badge of honor (as I suspect all those who use the term of themselves do).

Yesterday Folk are probably of any ilk.  They are the ones that try to fix things instead of throwing them away, that make things instead of always buying them, of finding innovative and unique ways of reusing things instead of buying or throwing away.  They are the ones that would rather do with their hands and brains what is done by machine and programming.

They are the ones that have beliefs, morals, and values of bygone eras which are at best "out of touch" and at worst offensive.  They are the ones that anymore, do not fit in with a society that is headed off in a completely different direction.

(This is not purely a Western, Christian problem.  We Yesterday Folk are now everywhere, of every belief, of every race.  I may have more in common with traditional Japanese Farmers and Shinto priests than I do with my own fellow citizens at this point).

Ironically, by being holders of the culture passed down to them they have become counter cultural through no fault of their own. They are now the Beatniks of the 50's, the Hippies of the 60's, the liberation warriors of the 70's, the  Punk and Alternative Rock of the 80's.  More often that not, they are seen as the weird, the outsiders, the lost.

Why does this not bother me more than it should?

Partially, of course, it is simply that in some way, I have always been "outside".  The fact that I am outside now for just being who I have always been changes none of that.  I was a loner and isolated before; I will be so long after whatever cultural and social revolution fails.

Partially as well is the fact that the thing that Yesterday Folk have on their side is the wisdom of the ages.  Too often modern culture, be it believes or I-things, are based on ideas and technology that has not stood the test of time (we have not had a truly major failure of technology yet.  Think of what that will be like).  The roots of some of my beliefs and practices drill back to Sparta and Athens, 2500 years ago.  That thinking has withstood all of these years.  And it will again.

Finally, Yesterday Folk have the ability to survive where others can not, be it physically, spiritually, or emotionally.  We are the ones that can make things works with baling wire and pliers, the ones that can entertain ourselves with nothing but books and soil, the ones that can make a meal of what we actually have in the cupboard instead of going out.  We are now the native trees and grasses in the manicured and protected grounds of the 21st Century world; when those grounds expire because of lack of water and native pests we will still be there, quietly growing away like we have always done.

Being of the past is not always a liability.  It only is if you believe the future is all there ever is and ever was.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

End Of A Newsprint Empire

Scanning through the list of companies which are laying, closing stores, or going bankrupt ( - a fascinating sight if you want to keep up with such things) was the announcement that the McClatchy Company had declared bankruptcy.  To most folks, they may be a nodding acquaintance for the purchase of Knight-Ridder in 2006. For me they are much more familiar, as they were the publisher of the Big City Newspaper all of my life (and for a century before that).

The official statement was that the legacy costs of pensions - 2800 employees support the pensions of more than 24,000 future and current retirees (Read that again.  And do the math).  And buried at the bottom of the article was a comment that between 2006 and 2018, daily print circulation fell by 58.6%.

Is it a bad thing if they simply fade away (They state they are shifting to the digital space but the news market there, I suspect, is light years ahead of where they are)?  No.  Newspapers are just like any other entity and if they cannot support themselves, should quietly die - if anything, the sale should have resulted in lump sum payments to the retirees, who are the real victims here.  And certainly the paper had come to represent none of my views, so I am exactly not the market that it would be speaking to.  The market that they would be speaking to, by and large, no longer reads newspapers.

The local news will be picked up and reported by someone, most likely on-line for those that care - or by television news, which to date seems largely immune to the plunge in popularity that newspapers and print media in general have been suffering from.  As I noted here - almost a year ago - my local hometown paper had the same experience. I look at it when I go back home.  It is thin, but really does cover only the local things now.

To be frank, I do not know how anyone in the print media business is not completely freaked out about their ability to end their time in their career, let alone trying to start a career.  It is like going into buggy whip manufacture in 1920, seeing the future but still somehow believing the past will support you along.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

On The Current Plague

I have been following - with mild interest - the Corona Virus (now named Covid-19).  I have had a little passing interest in this:  while we were in Japan, the Diamond Princess, the ship which has had a number of casualties, had just returned to Japan and it was something of a big deal (hard to believe it was only two weeks ago).  I have been tangentially tracking the news as I have tried to continue to catch back up with everything I missed at work.

I am not one that becomes overly concerned about such things.  I am in enough of the science field to understand that the global economy makes these things highly risky and possible (Transport to virtually anywhere within the world within 36 hours).  I also know that large scale plagues are hard to spread:  I have, in the last 10 years, lived through SARS, H5N (Avian Flu), and the Ebola virus with little enough impact to my life.

The Covid-19 virus is not that different - except (like everything else) when the government gets involved.

To say that the Chinese government appears to have mishandled this is the tamest thing to be said.  Given the nature of the government, it is not surprising that this is so (Communist regimes, historically, are pretty bad communicators about things which are bad news and potentially endanger the regime).  A problem that could have dealt with sooner was not dealt with at all due to fears of how it would look (again, not great surprise.  Review the history of The Great Leap Forward.  It is instructive).

But the failed involvement is not limited to them.  The Japanese government apparently let folks out quarantine that should not have been.  And just this week, the US government repatriated individuals that were on the ship (apparently because the Japanese government gave them no choice) but failed to inform the Executive Branch that they were doing it.  And now, they cannot find a place to put them:  California cities which fight to show how inclusive they are of anyone are fighting to keep these people away because "Not In My Backyard" is a reality when dealing with your potentially sick fellow citizens.

Now, I am concerned.  Not because of the virus itself, but because virtually every government is showing itself completely unable to address these things in any sort of thoughtful manner.

These are how plagues get worse.  And spiral out of control pretty quickly.  The damage has already been done - see the increasing cases in South Korea, Italy, Israel, and Iran.  Now, we wait.

Even I am starting to keep a closer eye one what we have in the house.  I go out less. And for the first time in forever, I am starting to double up on fish and rabbit supplies - you know, just in case.

If you wanted to see an actual plot for a collapse, you could not go much astray from this:  a highly contagious virus combined with governments that either will not address the problem or badly mis-step again and again in addressing it.

On the bright side, it makes the threat of civilization's end by Zombies that much less real.

Monday, February 24, 2020

On Newer Science Fiction Movies

I am always on the hunt for a good new science fiction or fantasy movie or series.  I try to avoid the ones that  I know I am not going to be able to stand - anything super gruesome, or weak tea (As in rewatching Star Trek:  The Next Generation).  And Netflix seems to keep trying to bring stuff to the screen - in a way, they have become the SciFi Channel (lots of bad movies, occasional good ones).

But twice now I have had to turn things off.

Essentially, it appears that unless your show has the requisite amount of swearing, sexual references (or actual sex), and a choose-your-own-adventure of today's social causes, it is likely not to get made - at least judging by what I have seen.  It seems we all swear copiously and have zero self control (I know - news to you all as well).  Apparently being in the future or on different worlds leads one to modern day sensibilities which have no direct impact on the ability to survive, accomplish things, or get work done.

Needless to say, I am seriously reconsidering my options.

In thinking through this, I tried to think of the last science fiction or fantasy movie that I really enjoyed and was "tame" by today's standards.  It was Teminator: Salvation, circa 2009 (they could have ended the series there and it would have been fine).  I cannot think of a movie I would endorse in that category since then.

(Yes, I am aware that this means I have missed a lot since then:  The Star Wars Round 3, the Conan remake, something with the Aliens franchise [never saw it], and a host of others).

Which means that if I want to continue looking for things to watch, I am going to have to start at 2009 and work my way backwards. 

It makes me sad a bit, of course - after all, CGI effects can be amazing these days - but not overly so.  I would like, for once, to watch a movie that I do not cringe at while I watch it.  That only means looking backwards at this point, not forwards.

The future, in the past, seems more attractive that the future that is projected as possible today.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Rainy And Warm

We are going through a series of rainy and warm cycles right now, jumping from mid-60's and warm to mid-40's and rainy.

It seems to reflect my mood right now.

I find myself...confused.  I am essentially at the top of my earning bracket (realistically), and have now - with two major exceptions - purchased or procured all of my "wants".  The money is nice - having not had it at one time makes the having all that much better - but I can honestly say I have never been more stressed or worked more to achieve that.

We are going through a slow departmental shrinkage as well - not that the company is losing people, rather that the functionalities that report to me having been dropping off:  first one, now two and three in succession.  I am not overly worried about it - after all, it should allow me to focus all the more - yet it - again - signals a certain end to my meteoric (arguably) rise in the last few years.

Why does this all leave me so empty?

It is not that I object to work, or even hard work, or the money.  What I find concerning is the fact that my life more and more seems consumed by something which engages my soul less and less.

And so I spend my days like the weather, sometimes hot and humid with stress or even excitement, other times cold and wet with confusion and depression.  I feel like I am being pushed towards some point of decision, some point at which I will have to choose some things above other things.

A thing that I, a person who abhors actually confronting decisions, finds to be death itself.

Or, perhaps this time, life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Japan 2020: Katsuura

When we train in Japan, we are located in a town called Katsuura, about 1.5 hours south south-east of Tokyo by train.  (In an unusual piece of trivia, it is the second largest fish market in Japan).  I think the city is lovely, but do not know, as I only see it from the windows of the center (trust me, with our training schedule we typically neither have the time nor energy to make it out).

One night we did have to make a run to a convenience store for pictures:

The entrance to the training center:

The morning of our departure.  We walked to the train station - about 15 minutes.   You have go through this long tunnel under a hill.

Katsuura train station at 0530.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Japan 2020: Yasukuni Shrine

As part of our trip to Tokyo this year, we performed an Enbu (demonstration) at the Yasukuni Shrine.  The shrine, originally created by the Emperor Meiji to enshrine individuals who had helped restore the monarchy to power from the Shogunate, was expanded to include all that died in war to 1945 - and since then, to all innocents who have died war.  There are over 2 million names enshrined there.

(Note:  one of my heroes, Sakamoto Ryoma, is enshrined there.  So I did the demonstration for him.

This is the stage we performed the Enbu on.

This is the entrance to the shrine.  Sadly, no pictures are allowed.  We did get to participate in a ceremony that most tourists do not, because of our demonstration.  That was definitely a highlight of the trip.

The world's largest bronze Tori (Gate)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Japan 2020: Asakusa and Sensoji Temple

As with years past, we went to Asakusa Temple to for sword items and obi (belts). Unfortunately, we got there after most of the stores were closed.  On the bright side, we got to see the temple lighted up.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Thoughts On A Week Of Work

I think I am finally caught up on all of your comments.  As always, thank you for your thoughtful comments as well as making the time to make them.  I always enjoy thinking and responding to them.

I have completed my first full week of work back.  To be frank with you, it was a tough week.

I am not sure where the trajectory started to fall - maybe Tuesday, certainly Wednesday.  You will know the feeling if you have ever experienced it, the slow and complete descent into a sense that no matter what you do, it is not right. It was never right.  Just event after event that do not seem to be going the way they should have gone.

The two options, of course, are that either I am really that bad or things are simply seeming that bad because for a week, I was not here to manage them.  It is probably a combination of the two, frankly.

Which has me asking the next question, a question that has been going through my head for months now:  Am I now a good fit for the position?

Over the past 3.5 years, we have grown 10x from our original size ( I now manage a department that has more people than the entire company had when I started).  I have continued to move "up"; the question is if moving up has really continued to be the best fit for the company and me.

Some of it - truly - is me and a paucity of certain skills that I simply need to attain, the two greatest of these being clearer (much clearer) communication and a much more hands on management style than I have used in the past.  But some of it is surely the fact that at heart, I am a relationship centered anti-authoritarian in the midst of a decreasingly relational position which needs to have more oversight to make sure that things get done.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I was as unhappy this week as I have ever been.

It makes me think of my material grandfather.  He worked at the same company for almost 40 years.  I remember him as being loving but a little gruff and hard to communicate with.  When he died, we were going through his things and found postcards from 30 years previous that none of us grandchildren recognized as being written by him because they were, well, funny.  Humorous.  Almost not written by the same man we remembered.

My grandfather graduated in 1929, just before the Great Depression, and I am sure was glad to have a job through it (their experience was very different than my Father's parents) - and at that time, if you had a job, you kept it.  But it does make me wonder how he changed over the years as he was on that job.  What did he sacrifice?   What did he have to become?   Did he ever regret it?

Maybe next week will be better (I certainly hope so!). But it does leave the lingering question:  if to continue to excel in this job I have to become something I am not, is it truly worth it?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

2020 Iaijutsu Training Lessons

All - After writing and editing and rewriting, below are what I am consider my lessons from my training in Japan this year.  While some of them may seem specific to training, I believe I have reworded them in such a way that they are actually applicable to life (my life, anyway), which they should be. 

I post them without comment but am happy to discuss.

2020  Iaijutsu Training Lessons   

  1. Commit to the Way.
  2. Attention to detail is critical.
  3. Doing things correctly is more importantly than doing things quickly.
  4. Exaggeration of actions by making them bigger leads to clear visibility.
  5. Tear down your previous techniques and learn them again from the beginning to grow.
  6. Relaxation brings better technique. 
  7. Keep the technique gentle until you have mastered it, then add power.
  8. To level up, you need to go to the source of the teaching.
  9. The Internet is not a teacher.
  10. Posture perfects technique. 
  11. Focus on less, rather than more. Intensity and depth will produce the most significant results.
  12. Simple things are understood after performing them once. Difficult things must be done time and time again to be understood.
  13. Live every day in the day. Do not be rushing to be somewhere else.
  14. Every day a good day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Returning To Work 2020

Friends - First of all, I must beg your forbearance for my continued lack of follow up on comments - my computer seems to be out of sorts, forcing me to reinstall entire programs (if you can believe this, I am currently in Explorer because Opera will not allow me to respond to your issues).  Indulge me, I seem to have found a way forward again.

Returning to work has been both easy and hard - easy in that I finally have a team in place that more than dealt with all of the issues that came up (although I did still have 361 e-mails to roll through); difficult in that everything absolutely just hits you in the face upon your return.

It is hard as well, because being away - truly away, without any contact or knowledge of what has been going on in your absence, brings perspective.

Perspective can be a dangerous thing.  Yes, it allows us to see things for what they truly are.  But it also has us ask the question "Why?" a great deal more than if we are constantly in the mix of things.  It also gives us a wider view, helping us - me, anyway - to look at something in the context of the larger set of activities that is Life.

I met with my friend in another department for coffee this morning, as we have met for the last year once a week.  He is seriously considering another job opportunity.  We walked through the various reasons why one would want to leave or stay.  As I listened to him, what I heard buried beneath his questions and concerns was  need and desire to be and feel useful.  That, I suggested, was the thing that he needed to listen to - whether he stayed or went.  That was what he was really looking for.

What am I really looking for?  That is the question, is it not?  It is certainly not more money - more money helps, to be sure, but at least one study suggests that maximum happiness from income is achieved around $70,000 - and I exceeded that a long time ago.  Nor is it necessarily this career field - yes, I am doing good work, but it is not work that comes from passion but rather from necessity.

Nor is it necessarily purposeful work - at least in the way most use that word.  My work may have purpose, just not a larger application.

Yes, perspective can be a dangerous thing.  More and more, I discover what I do not wish to do.

And even that may be termed progress.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Solitude, Silence, and Privacy

(Apologies for effectively phoning it in today.  Still trying to catch up on work...)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Back From Training 2020

My Dear Friends,

I am back, arriving on Sunday around noon after leaving Japan at 1100 local time, so almost a 24 hour day to return.  I appreciate your well wishes and your patience in my delay to your comments; I will respond to them soon.

It was a very good training.  Sometimes people ask how physically taxing it is. It is somewhat taxing - I think for most of us that attend, we find that our sleep schedules do not really recover and so we are working on not ideal amounts of sleep.  The actual physical training is not necessarily inherently difficult on any one day, but over time it builds up - We had a single day of training before we went to Tokyo for the weekend, then had six straight days of training prior to to departure and I can assure you that I am feeling it, largely in the area around of my knees and in my right hand (But to be fair, we did have some intense training as well:  two hours of effectively body weight squats and the very last training session, where we did kata for effectively three hours straight).

Did I find what I was looking for this year? 

I think I did, or at least more than what I could have hoped for.  The breakthrough seemed to come around  Wednesday after a dream that I had, a dream that (when I looked through the symbolism) actually made some sense to me.  Add to that a very healthy review of my technique by practioners much farther along The Way than I am and a very healthy set of life wisdom cleverly disguised as sword teaching from the Head of my school, and the answers I was looking for - at least some of them - were there for the taking.

I have a rough list of things that I learned that I need to rethink, rewrite and shape before I think I am ready to share them - but the list does exist.

It was a very good trip.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

The Collapse XLIII: Ordinary

28 October 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Today as I was going about what has now become my “ordinary day”, it struck me that somehow “The End Of Civilization” to date is very different than what had been portrayed.

To be fair, I do not live  urban environment where I am sure things are far more difficult now than ever before. Our lives, at least in our small part of the world, are somewhat changed but not drastically at this point, at least not yet. We do not have power a great deal at all now of course, transit between here and anywhere else has ceased – or else become an expedition, and our converse with the outside world has dwindled to the occasional burst of InterWeb News or an update via a radio broadcast. In all of these things of course, life is definitely very different than it was before.

But we have experienced power outages before, snowstorms that buried us for days on end and made travel virtually impossible – and the loss of power and loss of travel made the outside world a far away things as it is now.

Yes, I understand that if left unchecked, things can become much, much worse. In some ways, perhaps this was a better way: an economic collapse at the speed it happened seems to have made a nuclear war a non-option at this point (of course, who knows), a sort of collapse without widespread destruction. And maybe the war will yet come, if some country is left with enough command and control structure in place in a world which seems to be struggling for survival now.

But today, things seem very ordinary. A little colder, a little quieter, a little less exciting in all ways – but still very ordinary.

I wonder if in the collapse of the great civilizations it all felt the same as well, a gentle settling until the water gracefully passes over the head without realizing one has slipped under.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Early Spring?

Afternoon sunlight
says that Spring is coming soon:
Winter breezes blow.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

I Wonder

I wonder
if the directions we choose in life
are the ones that we would choose again,
given the opportunity.

If in reviewing the collage of your life,
would there be that thing 
that you would choose to do
or not do?

Knowing that if you made that choice,
all else that came after would be different
in ways you could never appreciate
looking at it from now.?

We look out from the vantage point
of always assuming that we could have chosen better,
done better,
righted the wrong,
or not made the mistake.

But truly, 
could we do any better?