Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Changing Relationships

 As I was out walking the dog yesterday morning (our mornings have cooled off considerably and I truly need to get back into the habit), I was taking a quick inventory of groups of people that have effectively fallen off of the list of the people I see on a regular basis.

The larger Church group, of course - our church has just restarted in person services at 25% (and I have no great desire to force my way back into that yet).  The smaller group - faith group, community group, life group, they have various names - that we had been a part of for the last 4 years or so (they do meet electronically, but it now feels much more like just another work meeting).  The coffee ministry I served on periodically at Church.

Work acquaintances of course - either by physical separation or (more and more) as they have left the company to move on.  A lesser host of characters that were part of my regular stops at the grocery store or used book stores.  And I have not thrown since November of last year and have scarcely spoken physically to anyone in that realm.

What that has left - beyond my immediate family - is my Iai group and the regulars at the rabbit shelter I volunteer at.  Or in other words, effectively, 66% of my regular connections are in abeyance.

 How do I feel about this, I wondered as Poppy and I kept pace around the neighborhood with its flickering outdoor lights as the sky slowly lost its starry cast?

Not as bad as I might have anticipated six months ago.

The Church, as you know if you are reader here, is something I have been struggling with off and on in terms of their direction and my spiritual growth (or lack thereof) over the last year or so, so this has been less of a "loss" and more of a distancing period, along with those sub groups (community group and coffee) that went along with it.  The fact that both of these have disappeared with little fanfare should tell me something about where I am with all of that (to be fair, I do miss serving coffee.  That was a very easy way to be of service).

The work acquaintances have been hard - but honestly, given Hammerfall and the change in position, were something that was going to occur anyway.  And perhaps, needed to - there is never anything so hard for a new leader as for an old leader to still be in the background, no matter how non-threatening the presence.  And people have always moved on.  The Plague has just accelerated this process.

The Highland Games I have missed for the camaraderie (I am really not that good) but frankly has not been a focus as I have turned more of my attention to Iai.  I surely miss the people but it is like a family group you only see periodically during the year; you learn to adjust. 

For the groups I do see - Iai and the Rabbit Shelter - the cadence seems about right:  about two and a half hours a week in total, split between actually work and the few minutes of talking before and after.  Enough to stay involved and interact but not uncomfortable to worry about overspending the time.

Going home more regularly has helped in this regard as well, of course:  seeing old friends and my parents on a more regular basis with more meaningful conversation has filled a gap that was somewhat left open by the larger spread but less deep relationships I had here.

Fumbling with my keys to get back into the warmth of the house and the coffee I knew was present, I realized that while there have been many difficult things about The Plague, the slow rearrangement of relationships had not been one of them.

Almost, it seems, as if they were being remodeled for a purpose.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Latter Days Of The Law

 In the great Japanese War epic Heike Monogatari which memorializes the Gempei War (1181-115), one of the unknown author's reasons for this catastrophe befallen the Heian Culture (and ultimately its downfall) is that this was part of the time referred to as Mappo, The Latter Days of the Law, a period following the death of the Buddha which would be an age of conflict and disruption.  When the great raids and counter raids occurred and the great capital, Heian-kyo, burned, and the Tenno (Emperor) was exchanged and counter marched all over known Japan at that time, it was no mystery why all of it was happening:  it was the Latter Days of the Law, of course.  How else could anything else happen?

I am no Buddhist of course to comment on such things, but as point of context I do note one additional clarification on this point is "Quarrels and disputes will arise among the adherents to my teachings, and the Pure Law will become obscured and lost"

There are, as you might suspect from the opening of this, days where I feel like we have truly entered a sort of "Latter Day of The Law" period.

What is Law?  In its most simple definition (Thanks Merriam-Webster!) it is "A binding custom or practice of a community, a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority."  So - unlike how we often seems to us it here is the West where we only define a thing in one way- it can be as simple as a custom which we all follow (for example, once upon time entering churches in silence instead of chatting on one's phone) or as complex as a law formally passed by a legislative body with enforcement penalties, from something as relatively benign as a Home Owners Association to the Nation-State's assembly.

I could, I suppose, point out various incidents and events over the past year to date which would give rise to the fact that on the whole, we have come to consider the law as something more of a suggestion rather than a binding or enforced custom or rule of conduct; we have courses of action which are now openly followed which are denoted as illegal.  But to list the specific actions is to freeze this post in time, and that is not my intent.  The reality is that flouting of law has undoubtedly occurred since laws were first put in place.

What I would argue is different - now so more than ever - is the sense that of these definitions - custom, practice, rule of conduct, action - is considered to be very much a personal choice, to be adhered to or excluded as one feels the right.

Western Political Thought, in a broad generalization, has supported the concept of the individual as enjoying an inherent level of rights and freedom (most potently enshrined in the American idea that rights come from God, not the government).  But inherent in the practice is also the understanding that individuals live in groups and as such, must agree to and live under and respect - the most important word here - a certain level of common understanding and practice (read law) for society to function.

Without a respect for the law, that sense that I (often generally speaking0 understand which behaviors are accepted and legal versus unaccepted and illegal, societies eventually cannot function.  They cannot have economies, they cannot have associations, they cannot have everything that we consider the mark of a civilization.  They are subject to the whim of social movements, the preferences of petty tyrants, the movement of the stars.  Those societies which ignore the concept of the law are bound, ultimately, to collapse into incoherence and every sort of bad and evil behavior which arises from the concept that in the absence of the law, Only Might Makes Right.

It strikes me as unfortunate that the individuals leading this charge cannot fully see where this ends - or perhaps they in fact believe they know where it ends while in fact they seldom do; history suggest revolutionaries and rabble-rouses are often consumed by the very movements they begin, whether by those more extreme than themselves or by those who believe that some sort of stability is better than none at all and are willing to endorse terrible actions to bring things to an even keel.

At those moments, it would seem we had entered The Latter Day of the Law indeed.

Monday, September 28, 2020

How I End Up With Varied Interests And Many Books

 Sometimes I think people wonder how it is I end up collecting so many interests (and indirectly, so many books).  A recent example might give a hint of my dilemma.

At Chason du Depart, OldAFSarge has been writing a very gripping series on D-Day and the Allied invasion of Europe.  (Really.  He is an excellent writer.  You should go over there and catch up on the latest entry.  I can wait....Done?  Great. We will carry on.).  Reading his series renewed a very old interest I had in World War II - 40 years ago or more.  

As I was thinking about this, suddenly I remembered that I saw (in my local used book store) a book by Heinz Guderian called Achtung - Panzer, which is a discussion of the development of the tank as a weapon of war and the proposed use of it in war (Guderian was the architect of the invasion of France in 1940).  So I decide I need to read that (review here). 

Reading this, I am suddenly reminded of another book I have on Erwin Rommel and his career:  Rommel:  Leadership Lessons from The Desert Fox.  It has been a while since I read this, so I pick this up again (worth your time, if so inclined).

But wait!  Both Guderian and Rommel have addition works:  Panzer Leader by Guderian and Infantry Attacks by Rommel. So both of these are now added to the used book list, to be ordered and read at a future date.

So I am sure you can appreciate my sad situation:  from a set of blog entries, I have become compelled to purchase three books for additional research and review (or, just because I am interested).

On the whole, I think this just proves I was actually Wikipedia before Wikipedia was a thing...

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be

 I have to admit that sometimes I despair for the future.

The future- once upon a time - was a sort of bright orb "out there" that we were all headed to.  Things were going to get even better.  Technology would provide us with ways to have "computers" that would be tools to enable us to do so much, cars that would fly, ships that would take us to the the stars, and useful side benefits like robots and video phones that would make our lives easier and more pleasant.  

I remember (I was probably 10 or 11 at the time) checking out a book from the library on colonies in space and what they would be like.  The pictures - you know them, the 1960's and 1970's versions of life in space in odd color combinations like avocado and tan and the fashion of polyester fabrics - made the future seem like a very exciting place to be.

The future, however, has turned out to be less bright.

The "computers" that were tools have become the tools we imagined.  They have also become the prison wardens of our existence, chaining us to our desks and work and tracking our every click, word, movement, and shopping pattern, making us little more than economic units to be tracked, subdivided, and monitored.  The cars we have now will not fly; instead, we are actively engaged in creating modes of transport with less mileage, more energy draw, and an even greater threat of toxicity from batteries that we have no real conversation of how we manufacture, recycle, or destroy (The unspoken issues of batteries is the great soft underbelly of the electric car movement that no-one really wishes to discuss, conveniently, as it destroys the narrative of clean energy).

Our ships have turned back from stars:  we can barely consider making it to the moon anymore (something we did 40 years ago) and any discussion around getting to the next planet out, Mars, seems to be a fantastic discussion of what things would be like in the absence of doing anything (Do I think we will get to Mars?  Possibly.  But I suspect we will lose people first. We - literally - have no idea how to push and sustain people in space without resupply from Earth because we have never done it.   We can land robots on Mars.  That is what we can successfully do).  

As to the side benefits - robots and video phones and such - the robots are appearing more and more, with the rather unfortunate side effect of supplanting people in their positions instead of supporting them (Yes, I am cognizant of the fact that new careers are and have been created.  These new careers, however, will never be able to absorb the numbers of low and semi-skilled labor that are being pushed to the side).  And we have our video phones - which more often than not we seldom use for calling but for everything else under the sun and which have become the silent electronic tether similar to the computer mentioned above:  every click, word, movement and shopping pattern stored away for whomever wants to use it.

Add to this the rather new wrinkle (at least here in Western Civilization) of the effective rise and growth of mob rule, where fire, violence and the subtle or actual intimidation of individuals to get one's way are more and more becoming the effective law of the land.  Following on this, of course, will be the effective economic disintegration of these areas of protest as businesses and sane people flee (carefully tracked, of course, by the aforementioned computers) and the resulting hollowing out of urban centers.

You can argue - probably successfully - that I have in some ages reached the Age of the Curmudgeon as so many before me have and so I am seeing only the bleaker parts of the future.  That may be.  But I would at least posit that as a student of history and a lover of sci-fi, I have seen the past (where this sort of thing has happened) and the possible future (where I have seen the "future as a hope" motif fall away to the "future as gritty reality") and I am merely coming back with some rather obvious conclusions.

I would have liked to see the flying cars.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Book Review: Achtung - Panzer!

 Old AF Sarge at Chant du Depart has been writing a fascinating (and very engaging) ongoing story of D-Day (I highly recommend it - he is an excellent writer and does a fine job writing from both sides).  This in turn has renewed some interest I had in World War II which has been in abeyance for many (40+ years).  Which, of course, reminded me of a book I had seen at my local used book store.  Which, of course, I bought.

Achtung - Panzer! is the theoretical and tactical presentation and case for tank warfare written by General Heinz Guderian.  It represents his thinking at the time (the book was published in 1937) on the potential of tank warfare and simply how the next war would be different than the last war.

The book starts with a broad overview of the Western Front in 1914 and 1915 and notes that the concept of warfare in that time prevented a successful resolution.  Infantry charges preceded by artillery bombardments did little to nothing to move either side to victory and only returned more and more dead bodies.  Addtionally, the way attacks were conducted (Artillery saturation) was almost always a giveaway as to where the attack would come.  Chemical Weapons (The Germans first, then the Allies) was used as weapon to attempt to achieve a breakthrough with limited results (uncertain outcome and the gas could blow back into one's own face).

The resolution - first exercised by the British at the Battle of The Somme, 1916 - was the creation of a motorized, armored, armed platform we call the tank.

The first uses of the tank were of limited success - they were mechanically inclined to break down, influenced greatly by the ground (they could fall into ditches, for example, and not get out), and were initially seen as being supportive of infantry.  But over time, the British and French discovered that massed groups of tanks could provide speedy initial assaults and breakthroughs to be followed up by infantry instead of only supportive of it,  especially as armor, motors, and weapons improved - also helped by the fact that the German High Command inexplicably failed to take the tank seriously or attempt to develop their own tank or even anti-tank weapons until late into the war (1918).  

(Interesting historical note:  The first tank to tank combat did not occur until 1918.  Only a bit over 20 years later, entire battles consisted of tanks.  So goes the speed of technological progress.)

The key to victory, Guderian states, is the concept of massed armor moving quickly to make breaches in the enemy line supported by aerial forces and followed up by quick exploitation of these gaps by motorized infantry.

After this historical review, Guderian then looks at three different models being developed in the InterWar period:  the British with an integrated motorized infantry/tank model, the French with a heavy tank battalion model, and the Russians with mass production.  

The final part of the book reviews what Guderian believes tank warfare should be in the then-coming future.  He notes that the development of the airplane in World War I from merely a reconnaissance tool to an item of attack and reconnaissance makes their interaction with these quick moving attacks a necessity to achieving victory.  Clever historians will recognize this as the genesis of Blitzkreig or Lightning War.

As a person of historical bent, I enjoyed this book.  The review of history was very useful (my World War I knowledge is not very complete) and I found the thinking of Guderian very interesting in terms of how he clearly recognized the applications and successes of the tank as applied by the Allies, something which completely escaped the German High Command.  It also reinforced the concept - true of life in general - that breakout success that leads to victory is found in surprise and speed, especially in the situation where everyone and everything has settled into a stalemate.

He is an excellent writer (he was an instructor for many years) and the translation is a good one.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

How To Remake Professional Sports

 I am not the target market for professional sports.

I have not been for years really, at least since the early 2000's when we moved away from the nearby National Hockey League and I realized that three hours to sit and watch a game on television was a bit of an investment in time that I was not willing to make.  Thus, most of the storm which has erupted in professional sports in the U.S. (and we seem to be the one with the problem) has passed over my head except as a point of discussion on the various sites that I follow.

That said, I know and have known many people for whom professional sports is a major form of entertainment.  I am also more than cognizant of the fact that professional sports is an economic driver for many people - bar owners, ticket takers, local restaurants and hotels - that are in no wise privy to the exceptionally ridiculous salaries that professional athletes command.  

Therefore, in the spirit of preserving an economic engine (which I derive no value from, by the way) I submit the following suggestions in the hopes that Professional Sports can heal itself:

1)  Eliminate All Mascots And Team Mascot Names - This is beyond the current sense of cancel culture that some mascots need to be "removed".  In point of fact, mascots add nothing to the execution of the sport.  They are, inevitably, cartoonish sort of characters, created really to generate identification with a team (and thus, sales of merchandise).

So eliminate them.  Move to what other parts of the world do.  Call them by the city name - The Georgetown Football Team, The Germanville Baseball Team, The Mesa Verde United Hockey Team. 

No need to cancel anything.  No need to spend money on expensive printing of jerseys with characters.  And no distractions from the actual sport. If people can no longer dress up as the sports mascot of their choice, well, that is a cost I am willing to bear.

2)  Eliminate Names on Jerseys  - Hurling, the Irish National Sport which goes back at least 2500 years and is still played today, has a practice that I recently learned about:  there are no names on jerseys and the player numbers are issued by the position the play.  It has been referred to as the humblest of sports.

Think of this:  An entire playing field of your sport of choice, where every player is un-named and you know the positions by the numbers.  Again, the focus comes on the sport, not on the individuals (which is really the point of the team, is it not?).

Mind you, no player's union will ever willing go for this. After all, this (they will argue) will remove the attention from the accomplishments of the individuals (and thus, the high salaries of some, by the way).  

But - and this is always my question - why are you playing?  If it is for love the game, it should not matter. If, on the other hand, it for the love of money and attention to self, just declare it.

3)  Eliminate All Things Not Pertaining To The Game - As you may have heard (and as you may know, we do not discuss here) - professional sports of late has taken to a certain set of support and actions.  To be clear, this is not the first time that professional sports has done so - they have also supported such things as Breast Cancer Awareness, The Military, and other organizations.

My proposal:  Eliminate everything.  Eliminate singing of all national anthems (which, by the way, have nothing to do with the game, much as I love our national anthem).  Eliminate any and all support of anything which does not directly impact the sport on the field of play - no support of any cause no matter what the nature of it.  Players enter the field, warm up, and play.  

I know.  This will create all sorts of angst.  "Freedom of Speech" is what some will say, "Nonsupportive Nationals" others will say.  

But let us be clear.  The point of professional athletes are to provide a service - entertainment - much as my job is to make sure projects move forward.  My company does not care or require that I stand at the national anthem every morning or plaster a sticker supporting something on my shirt.  They care that I do my job - and that my personal beliefs do not get in the way of that. The same is no less true of athletes.

And besides, they will then be - like the rest of us - free to do all of that in their free time.

4) Continue To Ban Fans - Having traveled to The Ranch lately and watched some professional sports with my father, the single biggest inanity of this current Plague is not the empty stadiums with their cardboard cutouts (which, to be fair, is silly but a clever fundraiser for good causes) but the fact that they are piping audience noises into the stadiums.  The spectacle of an empty stadium with fan sounds in it is both ridiculous and, at the same time, a lovely visual of image of the state of fantasy we seem to live so much of our life in.  It has also removed fan fights, fan candid shots, and fans showing bad, lewd, or just rude behavior.

So let us keep the fans out.  Generate revenue via viewing.

Yes, I understand this undermines my concern about the folks that are relying on sports to support them at the stadium - but my response would be (given The Plague) this appears to be a fait accompli in any case.  But this accomplishes two things.  

The first is, like everything else I have suggested, is that it focus the attention on the sport itself instead everything going on around it (and frankly, how many shots of fans dancing do I really want to see).

The second  - and this is part of the less generous side of me - is it points to professional sports being what it really is:  entertainment, nothing more. It displays professional sports as it really is:  passive watching of something no different than a movie or a television show or a martial arts demonstration.

Do you want to be involved in a sport?  Then go do the sport.  Get out there.  Engage.  Be active.  There are activities for (literally) every level of fitness and ability.  But participate, do not pretend that sitting and watching is the same as doing the sport itself.

Personally, I have no dog in this fight: professional sports are as much a foreign country to me as Nepal and am as likely to go there as I am to become a fan again.  But if professional sports wants to survive in the long run (and I firmly believe there will be a financial reckoning soon), they might be advised to reconsider their model.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020



I have waited 20 years for this day.

I have tried to grow citrus plants at three different houses, in two different climates.

I have had trees grow but never produce blossoms.

I have had trees grow and produce blossoms but no fruit.

I have had trees grow and produce blossoms and then get cut down in Winter's cold.

30 Limes.

Victory is sweet.

 (Well, really sour in this case, but you get the idea.)

Never Give Up.  Never Surrender.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Growing Potential Of The Boycott

Given the last 6 to 9 months, I having been using - perhaps for the first time, certainly more than ever - the power of the personal boycott.

On one hand of course, it has been easier than ever:  with the reduction in ability to do a great many things, I have a great many less things to spend my money on.  But it has also given me the opportunity to really think about - in some fundamental ways - about whom I spend my money with.

The choices are easy in some cases:  where a smaller business, whether local or on-line, will replace a corporate business, I will spend with the smaller business.  In some cases, where the business is clearly opposed to what I consider to be important values, I have stopped spending with them or supporting them altogether.  

I do not mean to pretend that this is a perfect system.  In some cases, there is little choice of who I can spend my money with and so I minimize what I do spend.  But things - and not just purchases, but how I invest my time - have become much more of a conscious exercise.

I do not pretend that my simple actions of not spending are somehow going to impact anyone's bottom line (except, of course, the small businesses whom I do purchase from.  They are always grateful).  But I see the edge of something potentially exciting coming out of a difficult economic and social period:  the boycott may become an actual tool of policy again.

Time was that companies and corporations could shrug off the complaints of a few "crackpots and weirdos" - after all, the economy was good, money was cheap, and the markets were growing.  Sadly, times have changed:  the economy is not good, money is still cheap (but it is being flooded into the market), and markets is at best questionable for the short and mid term due to a combination of increased competition and a rather nasty global economic malaise.  

Suddenly, dollars (or the currency of your choice) matter.

Restaurants, entertainment, retailers - every aspect of the economy is now dependent more than ever on a population buying their products.  And at perhaps an intersection of history as I cannot remember it, a population is now motivated to consider how they are spending their dollars and their time in the face of organizations that support neither their views nor their beliefs.

For most of my lifetime, the assumptions was a corporation or company could act as it pleased with its customer base and overall see no impact.  For the first time in a very long time, that is not true.

I may only be a single person.  But multiple a single person times the thousands or millions, and suddenly, these same corporations may have to start making choices they thought they could avoid.

Your time matters.  Your dollars - the dollars you earn with your hard work and sweat, that represent your life as measured by the time you invested in making them - matter.  Let us put them to work, not only by supporting those whose products we endorse by their craftsmanship and quality, but by investing them in those places where we are appreciated, not ignored or mocked.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Clearing My Personal Skies

It was a good week to be at home.

They are almost all good weeks to be at home, of course - maybe this one a little less immediately so than others due to smoke from the fires, but by the time we left on Saturday morning the smoke had largely cleared out and the sky was looking - and feeling - more like the arrival of Autumn was at hand.

Going up there now more regularly has begun to more and more develop the evident split between where I am now and there.  Here there is the inevitable traffic noises and people noises; there it is still the wind in the trees, the occasional dog bark and cow lowing, and trees filled with singing birds and woodpeckers about their business of chasing down grubs.

Partially because of the fact I only take my work computer, my following of daily events becomes a lot less regular (as, perhaps, the quality of my posts, for which I do apologize.  I need to find my new rhythm) and so a great deal of the ongoing rush of everything passes me by.  And not just media overall - even something as humble as the car radio is no longer heard as I am driving almost nowhere.  In an interesting - and very real sense - I spend the bulk of a week in a sort of bubble.

It is glorious.  

Glorious in the sense that it allows one time to think. To walk the trails unencumbered by the seeming minutiae of the day - or perhaps, encumbered by the thoughts that underlie the seeming minutiae that encumbers us, those base and principle foundational thoughts that I keep saying I would like to spend time on, but find myself always too distracted to spend the time on.

In a rather stunning way, it reflected the skies that slowly began clearing from the smoke while we were there:

It only takes the deprivation of the source of the smoke and the wind to clear everything away.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Smokey Sun

The Autumn Solstice
has not arrived but somehow
the Sun is shaded.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A View From Home: Smoke

So answer a question about my travel coming back to The Ranch, we are in fact in that part of the country that is being affected by forest fires - fortunately for my parents, the fires are well away from their home but the smoke is impacting literally everything - landing at the airport, we were only about 500 ft above the ground before we could see it through the smoke.

To give a sense of impact, here are pictures from my visit in July and this week.

Off the front porch:

Off the back porch:

The smoke has dissipated even since we arrived here.  Hopefully the fires will end soon.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Banality of The New Air Travel

I am out at The Ranch again this week for Round 2 of the Work Remote Experiment. I am fortunate in that this time out, The Ravishing Mrs. TB was able to come out with me.

As we both traveled out this weekend, I realized how less and less excited I am to be traveling in general.

Oh, not because of the end result.  I am happy to be here - I am always happy to be here, even when (as it always is in September) the land is brown and dry, waiting another month or so for the rains to start.

It is what travel has become.

Upon arrival at your chosen airport of departure, you go to the automated kiosk to check in - which works for me, of course, as I tend to shun human contact.  You enter the flight information, update the baggage information, and then receive the tickets as well as the tags for your baggage - which you now have to attach yourself instead of airline personnel doing it (and woe betide you if your ends are not aligned).  You take your baggage up to the counter, present your identification, and turn your bags over. 

Next, off to the security line.  You wait in line, move to the ID check, re-submit your identification for scanning, pull down your mask and show them your face, then go to the scanner.  Bags, shoes, and jackets/belts go into one container with your phone, your computer in another.  Push your bags down the line until the belt picks them up.

Wait for the security scan:  Step in, arms raised, wait three seconds while the unit makes its 270 degree scan.  Step out, wait, maybe go through, maybe get asked to flip your hands over or check your collar (it has happened to me).  Recollect your things, re-put on your shoes and belt, re-stuff your computer back into your bag.  Move on.

Wait at the gate in the now social distanced wave of the future.  We board by tens.  Wait for your cohort to be called.  Move through line, distanced. Hold out your ticket, respond to perfunctory "Have a nice flight".  Social distance down the jetway to the airplane.  Get into the seat (no middle aisles now). 

All of this, with reminders along the way of "wear your mask", "social distance", "refrain from touching your face", etc.

Go here.  Go there.  Wear this.  Do that.  Take this out. Put this in. 

Almost at every point in the process now, you are being told what to do.  The excitement of air travel - of going somewhere exciting - has been replaced by the banality of a managed process at every point.  It now has all the joy of standing in line to get your driver's license.

It is convenient, which is the only thing to recommend it at this point.  But is certainly feels nothing like an adventure.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Why Some Churches Are Failing

A number of memes or quotes have been making their way around the InterWeb over the last two-three months about why young people are falling away from the Church.  The reasons, if I can generally characterize them, are 1)  The Church had an inherent bias in that while they preached holiness, they did not practice "social justice" as it is defined today, and 2) the Church - at least the American Church - had become more "American" than Christian.

The problem with these analyses, of course, is that they more often reflect the bias of the individuals that create them than perhaps the actual reality of the situation - or what the Bible has to say about such matters.  It makes the Church one more mechanism to enforce one's political, psychological, and social leanings than what the Church was actually meant to be.

I think, in this case, I can speak a bit from experience.

Sometime in the mid to late 20th Century, the Church began to make a hard turn from the concept of everyone is a sinner consigned to Hell except by the grace of God.  That concept was wrong, it was said - people were flawed perhaps, even fatally so - but after all, that was unacceptable and mean spirited and did not represent what has become the passionately held belief that people are inherent good, not evil.

If people are not sinners and Hell is not a reality, then a tension comes to exist between what I am told - that I am inherently good - and what the Church and Bible teaches - that I am inherently a sinner.  People, given human nature, are more often than not going to move towards the path that makes them feel the best and of less resistance.

Suddenly, the salvation that Christ offers is no longer the critical need of the human heart.

Without that as a critical need, Church becomes another activity.  And the teachings of the Church, be they moral or social, begin to have no basis for practice or reason to exist after a time.  Because if sin is not real and I do not require forgiveness from that sin, the formally clear commands of Scripture are really just more "suggestions" rather than rules, subject to the decisions of the time and culture I live in or, frankly, what is convenient for me.  And if this is so, "Church" is just another club I belong to or thing I have to endure, and why would I do that if I have five other interests that cover the same thing?

I wrote above I can speak from experience.  Over my years in the Church as we have moved around, I have found that the word "sin" has become a word which is almost never mentioned now.  The idea of redemption may be, but redemption from what?  It is never clearly defined.  Certainly never an idea of redemption from my inherent sinfulness, which I have to not only confess, but then repent from daily.  The phrase more and more, it seems, is that I need Christ to be my Saviour for an indeterminate set of issues that are really more bad habits than critical failures.

The Church has definitively moved away from the need for salvation and thus the Church has definitively moved away from its primary purpose.

I understand that some of those that occasionally stop here are not Christian and to them this will largely seem like an in-house argument.  Which it is, I suppose - were I atheistic or Muslim or Buddhist why people are leaving the Church has no more relevance to me than the fact my coffee is less warm than I like it in my cup. 

What I do find somewhat disingenuous - at least for the in-house debate - is that personal beliefs are being substituted for reasons - or in some cases I suspect, justifications - for why the Church is losing people.

It is odd - I wrote the phrase above "everyone is a sinner consigned to Hell except by the grace of God."  It strikes me that in today's charged environment, that is a statement which by some would be considered some sort of unacceptable speech. It is clearly in the Bible, multiple times of course.  Now, that verges on a controversial and potentially odious statement, one that (I submit) those that find justification in their reasoning for why the Church is failing would point to as indicative of the hide bound thinking that has caused the failure.

The fact that large portions of the Church have walked away from it really, I suggest, tells the critical observer all they need to know.  When any organization rejects its most basic tenet and function, the reason for its existence eventually disappears as well.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Vagaries of Facebook: An Update

As most of you know, I still maintain a "real world" presence on The Book of Face, mostly so that I can post pictures for parents at this point and keep track of certain activities (for example, the Highland Game community has completely converted over to manage most of their activities).  As such - and because I know most of you do not - I occasionally update on how things are going there, not so much as a "I care" as much as I find it an interesting indicator of how certain things are trending and what they portend.

The current trending and portending fall into two categories:

1)  The Blatant:  Some folks are just flat out declaring opinions and beliefs, some of which surprise me - not so much for the declarations (I generally have them pegged) as much as their willingness to put them out there.  They are not always popular opinions and will put themselves in opposition to those the do activities with (I am wondering, for example, how some things like Highland Games will ever function well again.  It is a small community.  And we have some very divergent views).

2)  The Disappearing:  Some folks - at least as many others, if not more - are disappearing.  Sometimes it is declared - "If you want to talk to me, message me or call me.  I am taking a break" - and sometimes they are realized to be gone only after some period of time of simply not posting anything at all (I tend to fall into this latter category).  They may post for serious things, like the death of a relative or to wish someone a Happy Birthday, but that is about the extent of it.

Obviously if I am The Book of Face, this is not the development I want.  People becoming bold and combative or people walking away are not going to drive my commercial viability because, as we know, once you learn to live without something, it is hard to convince people to go back.  You need people involved, contributing content, and coming back - otherwise you are simply on your way to becoming the next MySpace.

But it is indicative of our society as well.  There are those taking sides blatantly and those that, while they may have opinions, have simply stopped communicating those opinions - or much of anything else - with others.

It surprises me that the people who follow such things are not more concerned about this.  This has all the makings of a truly dysfunctional society.  And that, of course, leads no-where good.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Let Your Plans: A Follow Up Comment

 So in the comments from my Monday blog, Leigh from Five Acres and A Dream had one of those comments that makes sit back and think for a moment:

"I've come to the conclusion that nobody (except my like-minded blogging friends) really gives a fig for what I think and what I do.  But I'm okay with that, since their world is increasingly foreign and non-desirable to me.  Of course, I'm not forced to interact with others through the workforce, which you must still endure.  That necessitates selective communication, doesn't it?"

A response in the "Comments" section did not seem to do justice to the thought.

1) I would concur - in my own life, no-one with the exception of three to five people (my father being one, Uisdean Ruadh my very old friend being another) cares what I think or what I do.  If  mention something like making yogurt or blacksmithing, that would be thought cool of course - but it is not the sort of communication that happens a great deal lately.

To be frank, people are not talking - or not talking much, anyway.  If you are not on the social media, the chances (at least at my age and stage of life) that you are interacting with people on a regular basis is pretty slender because that is not how things are done any more.  Social exchanges in other places - work, church, out and about - have largely disappeared due to The Plague; small talk prior to or during meetings, for example, has essentially disappeared.  There is no gathering to chat before or after church or class:  you go, you do your business, and you go home.

Add to this the zest and excitement of an election year and a rather frightening polarization and it turns out that most people have very little to discuss, at least in a civilized manner.  It would seem - more and more - that anyone you do not fully know, or even those that you may know, are potentially someone who holds an opinion different from yours and would consider you to be a complete fool if they did not know you as a friend. 

I wonder if there is also an element of protecting ourselves for the future:  no matter what happens there will be screaming and unpleasantness; do I really want to give out an opinion or information on myself to someone who may remember it later?

2)  "But I'm okay with that, since their world is increasingly foreign and non-desirable to me."

This is the thought that really rocked me back. 

One does not think of the place one lives as becoming "foreign" to them.  One thinks of foreign as countries and cultures far away, places that are exotic and have amazing pictures (not withstanding that in many ways, we have blended everything into a consumerism that makes everywhere look like here).  Home is, well, home.  Not foreign.

But not so much any more.

I can sense this in my discussion with certain folks - older than myself usually - that express they simply do not understand why what is happening is happening.  I can see it and read it for myself, where people who live geographically in the same locale use thoughts and language that is as foreign to me as any language I have studied.  I can realize it in the way that my interests and activities do not match with where things are announced as to where the future lies (e.g., I like blacksmithing and making things with hands, others are looking at Mars for colonization).

This place, too, is becoming foreign to me as well.

I do not wish so many of their things any more; the stores and InterWeb market places are filled with items that I have no need of.  I do not wish for their words and their entertainment, which has become vulgar and crass.  I do not wish for their spirituality, which in so many ways is wholly divorced from God and is based on how it makes them feel.  I do not wish their morals and mores, which lead to nothing but emptiness, violence, and sadness.

I had expected none of this, but all of this is here.  Perhaps the best thing to do - like, thankfully Leigh has been able to - is recognize that this is so and accept it rather than somehow pretend things are other than they are.

How odd to say, this world is becoming more foreign and undesirable to me as well.  And yet, how relieving to be able to say it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

A Little Bit Of Cooling

 We are having a go at mid-80's weather with a chance of rain over the bulk of the next two weeks.
This is a little unusual for us at this time of year,  as we are usually still in summer and all of it's heat laden glory:  the lawn threatening to give up the ghost after an entire summer of trying to keep it alive, the garden essentially finishing up but not yet cool enough to look towards Winter plantings, the heat and humidity still too much to think about doing all but the most necessary tasks.
And now, maybe, we have a go at Autumn?
The different between 100 F and 87 F  (37 C and 30 C) is, on one hand, not all that significant if you are out in it:  honestly for me, I start noticing a "difference" around 80 F (27 C) or so - although to be fair, the heat will help to drop the humidity some.  The rain, or at least the chance of it, will overall help with the water situation as well, if only in my head.
I do not expect that it will hold, of course:  we always seem to go through some sort of slight cooling before the temperature bumps back up to go through the beginning of October.  And the greatest sign of Autumn to me, the sunlight, has not yet turned to that indefinable quality that lets me know that Autumn has come. Still, something is better than nothing.
How is the weather where you are?

Monday, September 07, 2020

Let Your Plans...

Sadly, I find myself finding the myself reaching the point of the program where I do not talk about my plans.  With anyone - except, I suppose, with all of you.

The level of communication - in general - has become such that speaking about almost anything in a public forum is akin to either waiving the proverbial red carpet in front of a bull or lighting up the last cigarette before the firing squad.  Everything is judged now against any number of criteria, some spoken and some unspoken - and, unfortunately, never the sort that I am bound to come out on the winning side of.

One should never stop planning of course - now more than ever, it matters.  The question is, how one plans and who one discusses them with.  

Sun Tzu has the answer:  Continue to plan.  Just discuss them with no-one until the time for execution has arrived.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

A Few Words From...Francis de Sales

"I prefer a simple resolution made four times to four resolutions made once."

"It often happens our passions lie dormant.  If, during that time, we do not lay up provision of strength with which to combat when we wake up, we shall be vanquished."

"Our imperfections ought neither to astonish us nor take away our courage."

"Many make this mistake:  they invent chimeras in their minds, and fancy the road to heaven is strangely difficult.  In this they are very wrong and much mistaken."

"You will not be asked by God whether you have reaped much, but whether you have taken great care to sow."

"Many waste time and thought on useless things and things impossible for them to do. The least harm such wishing does is to prevent the good desires God demands:  to be patient, resigned, self-denying, gentle.

We should not desire to serve God in a way He does not want, but rather to serve Him much better in the way He has appointed."

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Some Worthy Goal

I wonder if Frankl's thought represents a lot of what is wrong with so much of society today.

The idea of the tensionless state - a sort of Edenic existence, where all our needs are met and there is no conflict or strife - has been a sort of theoretical construct in Western civilization since at least Plato and The Republic.  The closest state I thin the West can now project on this is the "idle" rich, who have all of their needs met and spend their time doing what they want.

In one sense, the idea of a "worthy goal" has passed:  there are no more great explorations left to be taken on Planet Earth - no terra incognito - and the idea of great causes has passed, to dissolve into petty wars and political maneuvering.  The concept of building - a society, a country, a way of life - has largely passed out of style as well, to be replaced by conforming to the overall economic culture.  And while frontiers remain - scientific and medical for example - these largely remain the preserve of trained and specialized experts with years of education and training, leaving the bulk of humanity behind.

The problem is that we failed to replace the lure of exploring, great cause, and building with anything else that could fire the imagination, that the many - instead of the few - could see themselves doing.  The Old Gods died at Ragnarok and the New Gods to failed to appear.

I submit that we are rapidly approaching a time when all goals will become realigned.  Because in a time of dire need and unrest, goals become very focused on a very few things. 

Who knows.  Perhaps we will discover worthy goals again.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Sword And Resonance

In a world that seems so filled with uncertainty and rage, I find Iaijutsu to be a refuge.

The kata - the forms, the prescribed techniques of using the sword, passed down through 430 years of being enhanced and refined - are beautiful and models of efficiency.  They can become a form of dance or meditation in motion almost accidentally - although in my art, we primarily train with the idea of combative application (as opposed to the term Iaido, which is Iai which is practiced and retained for its meditative purposes).

Iaijustsu - like any martial art I suppose - requires complete focus while you are performing it; thus the temptation to be thinking about other things is impossible.  It allows one to focus, to push things completely out of mind for the thirty to sixty minutes a day I spend with it.

Sometimes,  though, it becomes something more.

This happened to me this week while I was performing my practice at home.  I was outside - thanks to the rain we had received earlier in the day the weather was cool - on the back patio, practicing as I have a thousand times.  Sometimes I have very specific kata that I am working on. Sometimes  I practice a single part or a single action.

This day I started as I had before - but something was different.  There was a stillness in my soul that emanated out, resounding through my training outfit and the bokuto (wooden training sword) to the still somewhat humid and wet back yard, and then came back.  There was a resonance - I can think of no other word to use - between myself and the sword, between the sword and the world, between myself and the world.

The setting seemed completely wrong for such a moment:  a suburban backyard, a concrete patio, surrounded on three sides by houses and oak trees with a half dry brown, half green lawn.  These are not the settings that suggests any sort of deep moments.  But it happened none the less.

When I was finished, I bowed to the sword - to-rei, we name it - and then went inside and sat quietly for a moment, to see if I could find out anything else from what had happened. There was no resonance at that point, as the moment had passed - perhaps a dying echo, but nothing that could be turned into something else for greater thought.

It is said that the great masters of the sword all had a moment of satori, or enlightenment, that changed the way they approached martial arts.  One can only hope, even as spaced out as these moments seem to be, that perhaps I am finally on that path.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Collapse LIII: Economics Of A Collapse

December 11 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

It is odd – for many years I told others that if I was given my choice of careers that I would truly love to do, my choice would be to live somewhere isolated, have a very simple lifestyle, and think great thoughts. I now find that in fact I have that simple lifestyle in an isolated locale; whether the thoughts are great or not remains for others to judge.

It strikes me that in all of my thinking and preparing and (may we use the term) plotting, I do not know that I quite imagined the collapse of a society to occur in this particular fashion. History perhaps rhymed in this case, as the saying goes, but only the sort of rhyme that one has to explain to everyone so that they might understand where it happened – which is the least effective sort of rhyme, much as the joke one constantly must explain to demonstrate the humor.

I can see some author preparing to write his overview based on the theory: a long economic decline, a collapsing currency, then suddenly collapsing supply lines, a collapsed currency, and a collapsed economy which causes a collapsed society. He would probably sit there, look at his output, then tears it up and start over with either the Undead, a Plague, or Aliens.

There is something quite pedestrian – if one can use the term to describe the suffering, death, and disaster that is going on out there beyond my sight – about a simple economic collapse. There are no great battles. There are no heroes. There are, perhaps, speeches given that perhaps are worthy of recollection, but they are the speeches of experts with figures and graphs, not the sort of thing to fire men’s blood to action.

And to use the analogy, the frog in the pot boils very slowly indeed. Most may notice that somehow the prices on everything they buy are increasing and quantity and quality may be decreasing but it is never quite enough for anyone to truly complain about or take action on. Salaries are being consumed more and more by fewer and fewer items – a place to live, utilities, transportation, food – but the people and the government themselves never ask after why this is, only make a few noises perhaps about the greed of a few and pass a few laws to make everyone feel that they have done something.

I lived through this economic situation as did you, Lucilius. We both saw and endured the same things. Perhaps the more meaningful question is “Could something different have been done?”

I have given this a great deal of thought. I think the answer is no.

Think of what the alternative would have been. To re-establish the economic foundations, it would have required a multi-prong approach. Government spending at all levels would have had to be cut, taxes would have had to be increased – in both cases to significantly decrease the national debt. Local economies - “making things, growing things, harvesting things (mining, forestry and so on)”
would have had to be encouraged. Those intangible economics – services, technology – would have had to be encouraged as internal developments, not things to be spun out to the world to return here in their finished, most expensive form. We would have had to be willing to pay higher prices for both goods and services that employed our fellow citizens as well as ensured that at some level, the world came to us instead of us going to the world. We would have had to celebrate attitudes and characteristics that have been long set aside: frugality, hard work, success, the concept that those that worked hard should be able to keep the bulk of their success instead of having to surrender it to the government for its own desires. Government would need to be seen for the net consumer of resources it is instead of a net generator of revenue. 

 And finally, our currency would have had to become “worth” something again, however that might be established – by making “full faith and credit” mean something again by building a surplus not a deficit, or by simply tying the currency to some sort of actual value instead of a theoretical construct of value, or some third means of making it valuable that only economists truly understand but which demonstrates the fact that currency means value, not promises.

You and I know the outcome to this, of course. There was no will to do any of these things, just the will to continue to push the problem down the road: accept increased prices, increased spending, increased taxes, increased borrowing, decreased wages – until all of a sudden like a major infection of the human body, the system was just overwhelmed all at once.

To be completely honest with you, I think I would have preferred the Aliens more.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, September 02, 2020


September has come,
And yet all I feel is
The Wrath of Summer

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

A Brief Return To The Office

Yesterday I had to go back into the office. 

It was my turn to convert over from our current mail system to the Macrohard system.  I had been putting this off - first because I really did not want to go into the office and then because of a mandated 14 day quarantine period, but technology, it seems, finally caught up with me.

The building I went to at first was the original building that we moved to in 2016, three months or so after I had started with The Company.  As I like to tell the story, there was 31,000 square feet and only 16 of us.  The idea of filling the space up at that time was ridiculous at best.

Fast forward almost 4 years.  The space is completely built out and filled out - in fact, over filled out to the point that we are moving to "open offices" and "hot desking" to accommodate the overflow. 

When I arrived - mind you, this is with only essential staff on site- I walked up to a group holding an outside meeting and realized that I recognized only one of them.  Moving through the facility, I stopped and said hello to folks that I knew, but realized that about 60% of them I did not know. 

The facility was changed as well, 2/3's of the way through the final build out.  I recognized the layout - good heavens, I was involved in the planning and the communication - but to see it was to realize that the building I knew and had worked in for 3.5 years was largely gone.

I then had to go off to the other site, about half a mile down the road.  Here, the building was not different but empty.  Eerily empty.  We rent 50,000 square feet in perhaps a 500,000 square foot building - and there were maybe a dozen of us in there total, including employees, security, and cleaning staff.  The escalators were on, the lights were burning, the air conditioning was keeping us at a temperate 78 F, the flat screens in the lunch rooms were showing videos of home improvement  to empty tables and chairs which, no doubt, had been sanitized sometime during the day.

My office, which I had not been in since the end of March, was stripped of the personal items I took with me leaving only the skeletal framework of computer screens and a docking station looking out over the tops of oak trees and parking lots for an office I officially had less than one month.   All of the items I saw in March that I had to get down were still up on the big whiteboard, waiting to be removed.  I looked.  Most of them had been completed.

I erased everything and left the key on the Office Manager's Desk. 

(Although no-one has yet said it, after A Sort of Hamerfall the office is no longer mine.  It is just easier sometimes to do a thing rather that inconveniencing individuals and setting up embarrassing conversations that can easily be avoided.)

The migration took longer than expected - do they not always? - which gave me plenty of time to think as I worked between teleconferences.  I had hours to sit in my old office - I was not supposed to access e-mail so my ability to do work was limited - and just think.

I realized how changed the company is.  And how isolated I felt.

It was six months, almost to the day, since my change in positions was decided, five months since I started working from home, three months since I transitioned into my new job.  And seemingly, the world - at least my work world - has changed dramatically in that time.

I feel strangely saddened.

I cannot really put my finger on the reason why.  Part of it, perhaps, is simply that the people that I knew and associated and worked with are becoming fewer and fewer, diluted into an onrush of newcomers or simply disappearing from The Company down the HR Memory Hole.  Part of it is that the structures and processes that I knew - in some cases put in place - are slowly being abandoned or transformed - all natural of course with arrival of my replacement and new management, but noticeable.  And perhaps part of it (if I admit to my own vanity) is that I, too, am slipping out of memory and mind, becoming only a ghost in the machine, a sage of a particular place and time who may, occasionally, have information of some value.  At one time I was one in seventeen.  Now, I am one in over two hundred.

When I left, it was with the realization that it was quite likely I would not be in again before the beginning of 2021 and perhaps some time after that.  And that with that amount of time, the changes that I saw were going to become even more pronounced, more noticeable.

There was a time when I saw myself associated with where I work for years and years.  Now, perhaps not so much - not from anything I have done or they have done, but rather that the company I started at and helped shape is gone and the corporation has arrived.

Finally, even ghosts in the machine disappear.