Tuesday, August 31, 2021

On Totalitarianism

 Claire Wolfe has beaten me to the punch for the idea I had for a post today (post here) which is a lovely post on "Dealing with our new totalitarian realities" (if the word "lovely" can be used for such a subject).  As with all things Claire, it is worth your time to read but the Reader's Digest version is that totalitarianism has more or less already arrived; it is no longer an anticipatory event.

The definition of totalitarianism (courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica) is a "form of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state".  Note that it does not concern itself with a political party or type of government or theory of politics (Red Party, Blue Party, Tyranny, Despotism, Fascism, Communism).  All systems can equally use this for their own purposes.

But TB, I hear you cry, we live in the West!  We live in the culture of Locke and Rousseau, of the Amendments and limited government and Common Law and Non-fat Soy Lattes!  We are not those hateful others that we read about every day that control the lives of their citizens.  We are not the Old Horrors like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany or New Horrors like Communist China or North Korea or the "Back For Their Second Appearance", The Orcs.

But just give it some thought.

We have activist governments - not just here in Baja Canada, but through the "West" - that are actively continuing to attempt to dictate or actually dictate where people can go and when they can leave their houses (if you are not otherwise aware, please read up on the recent developments in Australia as sort of a "worst case" scenario).  We have governments which, while although not encouraging the suppression of speech, are neither stepping in and defending it as platforms and mediums decide what is allowable and what is not (which never really works, of course; it just drives it underground.  Ask the Communist Bloc how the Samizdat experience worked out for them).  We have governments currently discussing restricting air travel to certain groups and potentially beginning to monitor (and tax!) movement using motor vehicles.  And what is taxed and and controlled is ripe for being taxed and regulated to the point of being taken away.

Even in my lifetime, the amount of things that I cannot do with government intervention has grown.  The car I drive is smogged and registered and - in some locales, if they get their way - destined for obsolescence as the government will dictate what sort of car I can own (only electric, but perhaps I get to choose the color still?).   In some locales, items I can buy - food, ammunition, computers - are restricted by government diktat.  The types of energy I can use are increasingly driven by government goals, not by actual efficiency or true sustainability

As I wrote yesterday, Our Political And Social Betters  (OPASB) more and more define the nature of questions and truth.  Truth is, apparently, what the government says it should be and those who do not hold to that opinion, while not being forced into compliance overtly, are forced to participate as if they were compliant none the less.  Or, if they are on the wrong side of the opinion, are actively sued by the government to bring them into compliance.

This is not a Red Party issue.  This is not a Blue Party issue.  They are both complicit in the behavior, because both have a deep underlying assumption that more government and more control is better.  Because after all, it really is for the best of reasons:  to protect ourselves from ourselves.

To use one example - and something I am concerned deeply concerned about - the government presupposes that it knows completely and best about the environment and the way to protect it.  In point of fact, there are people throughout the country (Alta Canada too!) that are as or more concerned about the environment than the government and are doing more in their own way to protect it that the government can (some of them post over there to the right).  But because it is "Conservationism" instead of "Environmentalism" and because it is the individual making and implementing these actions instead of under government guidance and control, it is effectively not worth considering by governmental standards.

Do I have a solution?  Well, of course not.  The actual solution, of course, is that government pares down its voracious need to control everything at all times.  The actual sub-solution to that solution of course is that if government will not do so, it is forced to do so by its citizens, most preferably peacefully.

But there is a danger for this in governments as well.

By becoming totalitarian, the State risks unflattering comparisons with other totalitarian states.  Citizens may look at their lives and say "Wow, it is just like I am pretty much living in a society where thought crimes are real and I am truly limited by what I can do - more so, say, than that other country over there."  And those countries that are opposed to ours are fools if they do not take advantage of it, which they do.  All of a sudden, the State finds itself very much in the position of creating its own bases of protest and opposition - not for the purposes of reforming the government, but for changing it.

And history, if useful for nothing else, demonstrates that the fall of totalitarian states is almost never without severe crisis and injury.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Questions and OPASB

 One of the greatest casualties in the last 20 months has simply been the ability to ask questions.

Simply put, questions are not longer welcome.  One is not to question any statement or fact made by someone in authority or bearing credentials.  This is simply beyond the pale of what can be expected anymore.

We now live in the era of "Experts" in literally every field.  Our government is run by experts, our wars are run by experts, our foreign policy and economic policy is run by experts, our science and medicine are run by experts, our social policy is run by experts, our entertainment is run by experts.  Everything, everywhere, is now run by experts.

And experts, of course, inevitably and always know best.

In the ideal world of Our Political And Social Betters (OPASB), any press conference, article, or story would simply be a presenter and group of information takers whose job is not to report and question the presentation, but simply to ask questions to help the presenter further make their point:  "You said X; how will this make our lives better?"; "Your discussion of Y will allow how much more good to happen?"; "How do we get Z to the people faster?"

You may ask yourself - and it is a rational question - what would be the point of thinking, opinions, and indeed the very role of individuals in such a society?

OPASB would of course tell you that welcome the sort of deep, inquisitive questions that drive societies and progress - but only in appropriate circumstances.   The really big, heavy sorts of decisions will be handled by those appropriately educated and experienced to do so.  They, in turn, can help guide the appropriate avenues of inquiry for everyone else - in fact, by helping to corral those troublesome thoughts, they are really doing everyone else a favor by saving them wasted time and effort.

Opinions are the same, of course. OPASB value the opinion of every individual, but again only around specific things.  Having an opinion about your favorite flavor of ice cream or if you prefer Spring or Autumn is perfectly acceptable; having an opinion about any issue which impacts anyone else is not.  Again, experts and those appropriately educated are those only ones really qualified to have opinions on such matters.

And the individual?  OPASB would say that the individual is of high value - but only an element in the larger social picture. What really makes for an ideal and good individual is one that never ask questions and never expresses opinions.  When informed of policies or indeed even what their opinions should be, they quiescently nod and smile.  Their very best, most important thing is to quietly do whatever jobs the OPASB feel are of the greatest value and diligent act as earners to help better themselves, their government, and everyone else around them.

If you feel my description of such a society is reminiscent of some that we have known in our political present or past, you would in fact be correct.  Because this is where such a society of the Experts and OPASB always end up, just before they usually end up in full blown tyranny.  Why tyranny?  Because without anyone questioning them and no-one challenging their opinions, there is nothing to prevent them from acting on their every whim and bad idea.

I am sure I would have an opinion on all of this, but the OPASB are informing me that as a layman, I really should not and after all, my best contribution is the narrow area in which my life seems to be assigned.  After all, having thoughts and opinions that lead to questions are too big for such a small person such as I.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

I have tried to write out three different posts before this.  They all went nowhere.

I find myself overwhelmed, not specifically by individual events but by the totality of them in a relatively short period of time. As if all of a sudden, something had changed.  

Perhaps what has changed is simply that God has finally allowed us the output of the choices that we have been making for years - or as the saying of Ayn Rand goes, "You can choose your actions, but you cannot choose the consequences of your actions.

Perhaps it represents the final death of hope and the realization that there is no "better" left or coming, only a rapidly accelerating incline down, where the increase in the acceleration of events is simply the reality that we are picking up speed near the end.  

We have demonstrated ourselves to be a people of remarkable short sightedness and short term memories, and we are living out the consequences of that short sightedness and societal forgetfulness as we speak.  

I no longer fear that this country's best days are behind us.  I know they are.  What I fear is the extent to which the darkness of the days coming will manifest themselves, of what worse days will look like.

Friday, August 27, 2021


11 Days ago I posted on the Fall of Afghanistan.  I seldom comment on current events and assumed that having written on it, things would continue apace and other than a colossal embarrassment and the effective change in the world order, there was not much more to write on and I could go on to something less depressing.

I was wrong.

As I write this, 13 US Service members have died and 18 are wounded, plus civilians (an early count was 43 killed and 130 injured; I presume both counts will go higher) due to a suicide bomb.  A second car bomb went off elsewhere in the city.  A US General has reached out to the foes they were fighting weeks ago - the foes they have been fighting for 20 years - to "make sure they know what we expect them to do to protect us."  There is the assumption - and fear - that the attacks will continue.  The theoretical leaders of the Current Administration struggle to make updates to the people they supposedly serve:  in a moment when they should be actively and frequently talking to the citizenry, they say nothing or try their best to appear as infrequently as possible.

It is Götterdämmerung.

I understand that I could be accused of hyperbole - after all, although this is terrible event or series of events, this is hardly the end of the country.  The lights still went on this morning and will likely go on tomorrow.  The economy will still be there.  My oatmeal and yogurt will be ready for me when I eat them in the morning.

All true of course.  But beyond the true casualties - the military and civilian dead and the images that will undoubtedly appear of those who could not make it out but will serve as useful pawns for The Orcs (I will not name them) that have overrun Afghanistan - the remaining casualty is the legitimacy of this Administration and its government.

If it is not clear now, it will soon become so that the ongoing series of action which at best are pointless and at worst counterproductive indicate that there is literally no-one of any sense or capability at the helm.  Our enemies have been emboldened past any sane point of reason.

The US will act?  By doing what?  Sending a few troops and then begging to not be attacked?   Say they will support us and then flee in the middle of the night?   The United States has become the lowest cow on the herd order, to be bullied and pushed by anyone and everyone.  Our allies look on with a mixed wonder and horror at what we have become, our enemies rejoice at what we have become, and apparently our leaders have no idea what we have become.

But set aside military action for a moment.  Human rights?  You have enabled by your actions the takeover by the Orcs whom have made very clear - as they are doing now - how they view human rights.  Any and all complaints and excoriations coming from the government or the Current Administration will simply be words, vacuous protestations without anything behind them.  Their attempts at home to enforce what they subjected people to abroad will stand as a rebuke from this time forward.

Finally, of course, is the domestic chaos.  Domestic, you ask? This has happened far and away - how does it impact the domestic? Simply put, by demonstrating their complete and utter ineffectiveness - indeed, their fecklessness and mendacity - they have shown they should not be put in charge of anything.  Infrastructure?   Health Mandates?  Business?  Borders? Can anyone in their right mind believe that having failed abroad so completely, they will do any better here?

In two weeks, an entire era and belief in a system has been gutted.  Whatever comes after this - when the bodies have been returned and the wounded, healed in body but not perhaps in mind, are integrated into society, and the horrific videos of the work of the Orcs is put out for the world to see - it will not be the country that I either grew up in or even knew in the last 20 years.  It will be a rapid shell of top level failure and ineffectiveness attempting to prove it is still what it always was.

I wonder, this time, if everyone else will play along.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Collapse LXXVIII: Daylight

22 March 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

After the Equinox, I am reminded of the fact that I have failed to communicate we are almost up to 12 hours of daylight here.

Mind you (as the locals might point out) it is not a good 12 hours of daylight; after all, we can still have snow on the ground and the temperatures are still in the high 30’s. But it is a far cry from the middle of Winter, when we get by on 9 hours of daylight at best, including sunrise and sunset.

It is interesting to me, as sunlight is yet another thing that one takes for granted in this modern world.

I know I have written about light before, and alternate lighting, and even how one’s schedule can change when one is dependent largely on sunlight for doing most things. That said, this is almost the first cycle we have made moving from light to darkness to the beginning of light, largely without technology.

One finds one moves in cycles with the sunlight.

Rising in dark can make sense if 1) There are chores to be done but 2) There is some form of independent light. Absent both, rising in the dark to do things in the dark is problematic at best, made all the more unattractive by the fact the Winter makes it cold and dark.

I find that I am acclimatizing to rising at the sun’s rising. Part of it reflects, I suppose, the fact that individual periods of time – seconds, minutes, hours – have come to mean less and less in a period where time is measured (effectively) in days, which really means the sunlit portions of those days. The lightening of the horizon indicates that “time” has started again.

Loss of measuring time means that things tend to take as long as they take. I could tell you how long I spend working in the greenhouse, fishing and preparing food, searching for fuel, and the thousand and one things that seem to take up my life now in terms of minutes and hours as measured on my devices. But that would be a meaningless sort of measurement – after all, time cannot be hoarded or stored away, only spent.

Yes, I suppose it is in some way like the retirement our grandparents and parents enjoyed in that not having one’s life measured by a job or the time you are not at the job meant that time was more fluid. At the same time, we have the unfortunate knowledge that unlike before, we cannot just “dip” back into the stream where such things have meaning. At the moment – perhaps the foreseeable future – time is merely a construct of the Sun and Moon and seasons and the changing weather and the Earth’s orbit.

Even in the middle of Winter, time was still meaningless except as a “clock” against everything that one had to do in a day: 9 hours of daylight is hardly enough, it seemed. Now that we are easing into 12 hours or even 14 hours at Summer’s height, my life seems to be a luxury of nothing but time.

The greatest impact I have noticed is not the loss of the sense of time itself but the constant sense of wariness that one comes to have as one goes throughout the day. Not just for the silly and common accidents which in days past would be a minor inconvenience but in today’s world could be death, but the constant thought that somewhere, just beyond the line of site, is The Horde that inherently we all fear although we will seldom voice it as such.

Because that is the other side of time.

We are lucky here: largely people have fended for themselves and, from what Young Xerxes tells me, are expanding to do what they need to for the coming year. But out there are people who time is against: those who did not prepare or those who live solely on what they can find or, I suspect, increasingly steal. For us time has nothing but promise, for them time bears nothing but threats.

How is it, Lucilius, that the same thing can be so drastically different in our situations?

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A Sermon Change Of Tone

 In terms of sermon practices, there are only really four types:

1)  The Liturgical Calendar:  Practiced mostly by Catholics and some mainline Protestant denominations, this is where the message (sermon or homily) corresponds to the reading of the day as determined by the liturgical calendar.  Advantage:  One always has a ready reference for the sermon.  Disadvantage:  Some of the liturgical readings do not adapt well to sermons ("As we discuss the sacrifices for sin in Leviticus, let us discuss the meaning of wheat...").

2) The Book:  Probably more practiced by independents and non-denominationals than others, this is a study of an entire book, verse by verse.  Advantage:  One comes to completely understand the book of the sermon.  Disadvantage:  The longer books can take forever ("Week 75:  We have entered into the second half of Acts. I know more Koine Greek than my entire social network...")

3)  The Series: Can be shared across both denominational and non-denominational in which a theme is chosen and readings are selected or adapted to meet the point of message.  Advantage:  A topical series can be a useful tool of study.  Disadvantage:  A topical series can reflect the current world instead of the timeless Word.  ("Today friends, let us discuss the Jezebels of the modern eras and the evils of bell bottoms and 'The Disco Dance'...)

4)  The One Off:  Used by both denominational and non-denominational, this reflects one of two events:  either something so serious it needs to be discussed "right now" or someone senior is leaving.  Advantage:  They only ever happen once for each subject.  Disadvantage:  Sometimes the choice of a one off is more related to the speaker's opinion than to an actual Scriptural need ("It is critical that we break with the series we have been on to discuss the deforestation resulting in harm to the Marmot - or as I like to call them, 'God's Little Clowns'...").

As you might be able to tell, I have listened to one or two of all of these over my life.

The church we currently attend falls squarely in number Three, "The Series".  These are usually 6 to 10 weeks, and seem to cover whatever the Pastor chooses as the subject of choice. .  I always pay attention especially at the opening of these series, because at least at this church I have learned that the sermons they choose largely reflect some need they think they see.

I have already had my ears slightly on alert this year because since the beginning of the year, there have been a great many sermons on the subject of "unity".  Unity of the church between different members, different ages, different cultures.  Two years ago we could not get enough of talking about differences and how the church effectively needed to be a counter-voice; that has all been effaced by an apparent need to come together.

There was a particular line that stuck out in the sermon:  The pastor freely admitted that in the past they had concentrated on differences - but times had changed, he said, and now they needed to concentrate on something else - on unity, on how the Church can be and serve together.

What had changed, I wondered as I continued to listen.  Surely what we are living in today is exactly the sort of thing that had been espoused for the last two years.  The individual is paramount and all that is old is essentially forbidden by common sense and good taste.  This is the brave new world that has been preached, is it not?

Apparently not.

There comes a moment when events become so evident to all - even the most dyed in the wool believers - that they can see that what they had asked for is not what they have gotten at all.  It is the moment when the revolutionaries realize that they are hoist on their own petard by their brethren who, it turns out, used them only to gain power and has no further use for them.  It is the moment when the co-religionists who sought to reframe their religion realize their allies thought to destroy it entirely.  It is the moment when those that called for a little suddenly realized they received far more than what they were asking for in a way they did not ask for.

Could the work be undone?  Possibly.  It is possible for the revolutionary to become a counter-revolutionary, for the apostate to become orthodox, for those asking a little to return the a lot and make do.  But this is all prefaced by a need for humility, the ability to accept - publicly - that their previous path was not the correct one.

Almost no-one does, of course.  For revolutionaries and a little askers, it is perhaps not surprising.  For the Church, who now constantly seems to be in a need to ask forgiveness of almost everyone excepts its adherents, it seems very surprising.

We preach humility.  We preach repentance.  But if it cannot be practiced in all situations, not just the ones the Church finds convenient, we truly are no better than the World - in face, we are exactly like them.

For years, heads wiser than mine have warned about the Church seeking to be like the culture so much that it would become the culture.  Sadly, we seem to have arrived.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Missing Day Of A

 The whole thing started at breakfast, when The Ravishing Mrs. TB asked if I had seen A the Cat.

I had not, as it occurred; usually he comes boiling up when I get up in the morning for a brief round of attention, followed by rather insistent requests to have the Catio opened up for him.  The Catio door was open when I got up, so I assumed that he was out there.

No, he was not.

She had made the rounds of the house, so I made them again.  The only places he could have gone were the front yard, back yard, or the garage.  We checked each of those. I had been up in the attic the night before checking a noise; did I look there again?  I did; no cat.

I made a circle out of our front door, calling out "A" and shaking his bag of cat treats, which he will always come for.  Nothing.  I came back to the house and activated the microchip service; The Ravishing Mrs. TB posted on her Social Media.

But life goes on, missing cat or no.  Or in my case, starting the morning with a biennial physical.

I managed to push the events out of my mind until my way home - then, about two miles out from our house, I caught sight of an orange form on the road.

Oh, !@&@*.

I pulled over in a nearby parking lot and scooted out to the road.  It was an orange cat that had been hit head on by a car.  It looked too orange and too small to be A and there was no color, so I put it to the side of the road and drove home.

And then drove back.

I have a rule, when I can practice it, that no-one dies alone - or at least, lies out alone.  I have brought home doves destined to die and rabbits hit by cars and mice and buried them all around the house.  No-one deserves to rot if possible.

I was pretty convinced it was still not A, so I found a spot and buried him.  On the off chance A was outside I put out water and food out both doors and in the garage, having left the attic access down.

And somehow tried to make a day of it.

A missing or sick animal is only second to a sick child in its ability to completely derail your train of thought - or my case, my work day.  I was about 30% focused on work; the rest of the time was spent stalking the front and back of the yard, going in the garage, climbing up in the attic and going almost all the way back, and checking my e-mail to see if there was an alert.  Still nothing.

But in the back of my head, I still wondered about the cat I had found.

Finally, when everyone else left the house, I called my friend at the rabbit shelter.  Would it be okay, I asked, if I used their chip reader to see if I could find something.  Of course, she said.

And so I re-unburied the cat, but him in a laundry basket wrapped in a second t-shirt, and drove to the rabbit shelter. I checked with both scanners:  I could find nothing.  That was not definitive as my friend said the microchips could move around, but I did the best I could.  And then back home, to re-bury the body.

Someone had to go to pick Nighean Dhonn up from school and I volunteered.  Driving out there, I was planning the rest of my evening:  when the sun dropped down a bit, I would get the snack bag and try walking the local streets again to see if he would come out.

Driving my daughter back, she got a picture:  The Wandering A had been found.

Nighean Bhean  had opened the door to the garage and found him there, sitting and drinking water from the bowl without a care in the world.  From the fluff in his whiskers, he had apparently spent his day in the attic, avoiding all of our searches, and then meandered back down (those are about 8' ladders, if you have never climbed one) looking for all the world as if he had been there the whole time.

The whole family rejoiced in the reunion; A, aloof as ever, seemed a bit put off by the whole thing and apparently seriously questions why we were concerned about him being gone.

The orange cat I found I buried a bit deeper, now assured that I would not have cause to need to find the body again.  I do not know its life; I hope its spirit can rest a bit easier in death.  I will try to find something nice to plant over it.

It strikes me as odd, how this little balls of fluff and fur can have such huge emotional impacts on our lives.

Monday, August 23, 2021

On Financial Tracking

 Once upon a time, when we first got married, I used Quicken to track our expenses.

My parents used a paper based binder system for tracking their expenses which they inherited in turn from my material grandparents (said binder still exists at my parent's house, with expenses entered up to February of last year).  It is one of the memories I have of them, sitting at the table at least once a month going over the entries (the other memory I have is my father bringing out the shoeboxes of receipts on an annual basis and muttering something about "taxes", which I scarcely understood for many years).

But it became our responsibility in turn, and so getting our fancy new Macintosh in the early 1990's I started entering them in.

It became  pain, of course. I was not terribly well versed in finance and had to teach myself as I went.  We also lacked the ability we have now to electronically look up (and download) our statements and so painful hours were spent combing through bank statements and card statements to try to capture everything.  And statements for retirement accounts, when I got them, were even worse:  not only did I not know how to enter the principal, how did one enter the "gains"?  

But in spite of all my trials and travails, most things worked their way into the sheet and over time, we built up a record of expenses and a Net Worth.

Oh, how I loved that Net Worth. I  would look at it as it slowly grew, so very proud of ourselves.  I liked charts and historical graphs and there it was, in loved colored bar chart form.  Graphs and reports, I thought, were great.

And then - like it always does - things changed.  In our case three things:  The Firm, Hammerfall, and our computer.

The first two - although financially a bit devastating - were pretty clear cut:  The Firm crashed our ongoing finances, and Hammerfall precipitated the loss of our home equity.  Tracking your Net Worth is magically a great deal less fun when everything is going down.  And the computer - well, when the computer got changed, we needed to change our version of Quicken and port it over, which never seemed to be important enough to get done.

We have adapted in the years since then, and use much less glamorous tools. Our spending plan is a spreadsheet with income in two columns and spend for each category deducted in an adjoining column.  Our assets sheet is a simple two page spreadsheet (no glorious colors or reports) that tracks everything on a monthly basis.  

We have a pretty simple division of duties at this point.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB handles the monthly expenses, I handle the assets.  Instead of spending hours coaxing information from the reports, I spend about 30 minutes once a month updating everything.  Oddly enough, everything outputs just as nicely as it did.  Yes, we do lose some granularity as to what spending went into what categories, but I find I am less concerned about the particulars, only the overarching whole (and to be fair, one can always look that up on-line as well).

The cost of such tools, as you might imagine, is greatly reduced from the original cost of Quicken or the now ubiquitous month subscription charge for such things.  I run LibreOffice and so the cost to me is only my time; The Ravishing Mrs. TB uses the Excel that came with her computer so again, the cost has effectively amortized away.  It is interesting to me that over time, the cost of a specialized program has become reduced to almost nothing, if it will serve your purpose.

Every now and again I think about those old Quicken sheets.  I still have the information, stored away in my portable digital archive (which all fits on a memory stick, another poignant reminder of the times and technology).  But even if I wanted to, I do not think I could get at it now as that operating system is long gone.

Which is, I suppose, okay. I can always just make a graph if I need one.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

A Visit With TB The Elder And Mom: August Edition

 About two weeks ago we were able to travel back to see TB The Elder And Mom.

The fires created an impediment to seeing them as the smoke was more than what their facility wanted them to be out in.  Usually we stop by on the way back from the airport upon arriving; this time, due to the smoke (which cleared out on Sunday) and my work schedule, we (Nighean Gheal traveled with me this time) were finally able to go on Wednesday.

It it hot this time of year, so we headed down at 0900 while it was still somewhat cool.  The routine is now the same:  we either call or see someone and they go inside to get them as we arrange the chairs outside in the shade.  By the time we had them arranged, they brought them out.

TB Elder stops, looks at me for a second, and then clearly says "That is my son".

The clearest I have heard him in 4 months.

We sat them down and started talking - as usual, we largely have to carry the conversation.  My mother seemed to recognize both myself and Nighean Gheal, who was able to remind them of things like where she had been (in college), that she had finished her internship, and that she had a job offer.  My father interjected a few times; he was clear enough that I could largely figure out what was he was trying to ask and either answered the question or directed it in such a manner that it seemed to satisfy him.

Our visit that day was about 40 minutes, which is on the upper end of what we have been able to manage.  At the end I helped my father up; this is the time we go back in and one of the assistants over.  But he saw something in the parking lot, or at least thought he saw something in the parking lot - I was not unduly surprised, this has happened before.  What I was unduly surprised at was the speed at which he moved across the sidewalk and grass:  I, who have come to worry about him walking, was trying to keep up with him and get my arms (unobtrusively) around him and the fence he was by.  I have no idea what he saw; but he moved far greater speed than I have seen since February.

We stopped by Saturday morning as well - this, too, is typical before I fly back.  My father seemed somewhat less there than last time and my mother very kindly states (as she often has) "I think I should know you but I am not sure who you are".  Fortunately almost at that moment my sister showed up.  We were able to largely carry the conversation amongst ourselves; my mother seemed content to listen and my father was still quieter than he was on Wednesday, but at least seemed engaged.

When I have had people ask me how my parents are doing, I simply tell them "As well as can be expected, given the circumstances".  And I believe that:  I have seen and heard of stroke survivors and Alzheimer's patients that have far worse situations and their families far more heartache.  Ours is much reduced in that extent at least;  my parents are still cheerful and happy to see us and seem to have an idea of who we are (or, if it is my mother, is too polite to embarrass us by asking us who we are).  

Any improvement is something to be celebrated, even so small as a reaction I was simply not expecting.

The Destruction of Democracy


Friday, August 20, 2021

Of Remember And The State

 Old AF Sarge at Chant du Depart (one of the fine authors of the collective there; well worth adding to your blogroll and daily patronage) wrote an especially moving and thought provoking piece yesterday called Remember. It is well worth your time to read.

(Go ahead, I will be here waiting.  It is short...)

In brief, it is the considerations of a (fictional) career military man who served from WW II to Vietnam ruminating as he is at the burial of his grandson about the nature of service and the cost involved.  Even if you are not typically a reader of military fiction, read it.  It asks two very fundamental questions:

1)  What is the reason that men and women serve in the military, sometimes for generations when the cost is known?

2)  When does such devotion become unworthy of the government that it is offered to?

They are meaningful questions, especially in the light of the last week, when it seems to have become  readily apparent that more and more, that the US Government is less and less worthy of such devotion between the military and the (being somewhat generous) fools that run it.

What is the reason that men and women serve?  I cannot truly answer this question, as I have never served in the military.  For some, I am sure, it is a calling as any other calling.  For others, it is a time filler until they decide what they really "want to do".  But either way, by serving they put themselves into harm's way based on the dictates of a government and its policies.

But when do government's reach the status of not being worthy of being served?

Dedication to the state is always, ultimately futile:  The Imperial German Army became the Wehrmacht of WW II, which in turn became The East and West German Armies, before finally reuniting.  Dedication to the Imperial cause was rendered moot in 1918 to all except a few diehards.  The state, in the end, always goes away.

But what if the military made decisions to not serve the state?  What if the German General Staff rejected Hitler and quashed him? History likely would be very different.

 A military junta, from everything one reads, is not something to be encouraged or sought after.  But neither is a military so wedded to a state and its decrees that it allows the state to be pulled into insanity, the sort of insanity we are experiencing right now - where after withdrawing almost all troops, we are having to pump troops back end to defend 1/1,000,000th of the territory that used to be under control.

What would it look like if the military "withdrew consent"?  For that matter, what it would it look like if bureaucrats did the same? (Given the current circumstances, a great many people in the Department of State should be asking themselves hard questions.)  Or what if civilians - you and I - simply stopped showing up?

Of course, it is best if the state or the voters that constitute it addresses its own issues before it reaches the point where others start addressing it instead.  Sadly, we seem to have passed the point where that would have been true.   

The State seems to believe that there is no way out but through this "slightly rough" patch into green pastures - "Trust us as you always have", they seem to say.  Hopefully, everyone else in tow is starting to examine the scenery and beginning to ask the question if they are worthy of such trust and if we should have ever gone this way in the first place.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Collapse LXXVI: Spring Equinox

 20 March 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

Today, so my calendar tells me, is the  Spring Equinox.

The Equinoxes do not have the power that they did in days of eld, when calendars were largely a calculation of sun and stars. Even our modern society continued to at least denote the Solstices, as much for the traditions and traditional celebrations that went with them as much as actual event themselves. But the Equinoxes were calendar place holders, remnants of an older era where mystics stood in the early morning, calculating stars and sunlight.

I have written before of my question about how time will be calculated at some point going forward. Sure, my phone has a calendar embedded in it – as does my computer – and as long as those are charged or can be charged, I can know the date. But even those will fail at some point and even if they did not, do individual days matter as much?

We have hashed a lot of that out before of course, and so it is less of a matter for a letter and more of a note in passing. More importantly, it is the Equinox – for me, the traditional time to start really getting going on the outside garden.

The weather, as you may recall here, is just as prone to snow in late April and early May as it is to be warm, so starting things in the greenhouse is a must. This year is a little different of course, as more than ever before, I really need things to grow.

Leafy greens (because it is still cool, of course) – Lettuce and cabbage (the cabbage to make sauerkraut of course, although I will need to find a longer term supply of salt). Garlic and onions of course. The asparagus just grows outside of course, although I will need to trade something for a load of manure to put in the beds this year. Potatoes (I need the ground to thaw out a bit for these, of course). The tomatoes will be started early as well, as many as I can grow this year – although I will need to improve my drying technique some as the dehydrator is effectively a paperweight at this point. I have quite a collection of pepper seeds from over the year as well: red, green, jalapeno, Anaheim. I will plant them all.

I grow beets, although to be honest more because they are good for me than the fact that I really like them (borscht is a treat of course, but I will most likely be absent sour cream this year).

There are other vegetables I enjoy – like cucumbers, for example – that I will have to hope someone else is growing and will trade for.

My fruit trees have always been limited (I am a gardener, not an orchardist). I have managed to hold together a dwarf lemon and lime tree through years only by planting them in pots and moving them into the greenhouse, or even inside, during the winter. That I am aware of, I am the only one locally that has made an effort to do this and so these may be valuable; I can swap for apples and peaches and pears.

The wheat and rye will finish their second spurt of growing soon, so I will need to figure out what I will plant to regenerate the field. I have some clover but not enough – perhaps picking out clover seeds is in my future?

The overriding concern that haunts all of this is the one that I indicated earlier: this year, more than ever, I need things to grow. Really, we – the small community I am in and the slowly re-establishing connections with other local communities – need things to grow. It has been less than a year since everything shut down and there is still “food” in the old sense of the word, but it too will expire or be conserved for true need. This is the Year of Transition; by next year it will indeed be “Root, Hog, or Die”.

Sigh. I suppose I shall need to embrace beets all the more.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A Smidgeon Of Good News

 As you might recall, our oldest, Nighean Gheal, finished college this year.

She had a tumultuous go.  Her program, in years gone by, was one year in the US, one year in Hong Kong, one year in Italy, and a fourth year in any one of those locations (most chose the US).

Her Sophomore year - Hong Kong - she was there during the democracy protests.  Her Junior year - Italy - was a combination of the school shutting down followed by racing across Europe (literally) to get to England where she could still get out, remoting in to complete the semester and then having to go back to get her stuff.  Her Senior Year was a combination of 50% US (all remote), followed by 50% Hong Kong (after a three week quarantine upon arrival). 

However, she persevered - yea, more than persevered - and successfully graduated (although hilariously, due to having to collect three sets of grades, no diploma yet) - and finished with an internship at a large - very large - consulting firm.

Her hard work paid off.  Last week she got a job offer from afore mentioned very large consulting firm.

The details are coming in - still no formal letter yet - but at a minimum, her starting salary will be what it took me something like 15 years to make in my industry (and yes, that does indeed account for inflation).

The most unusual thing about this offer - at least to me - is that it will most likely not start until next year.

Call it an output of The Plague.  Typically students in her program do their major internship in their Junior year and get the offer, contingent on completing their Senior Year.  There were no internships last year, so here we are. So it is quite possible she could effectively have a  gap year before starting her job.

 She still has a part time job, and may have yet another offer she could fill the year with.  And yes, I know things are pretty unstable right now.  

But still, it is nice for her to have a vindication of all of her effort, at least now.  And maybe a long vacation to boot.

We are very proud of her (even if, as a Dad, I sometimes find it hard to say).

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Decisive Action

 "The first criterion in war remains decisive action.  Everyone, from the highest commander down to the youngest soldier, must constantly be aware that inaction and neglect incriminate  him more severely than any error in the choice of means." - Truppenfuhrung (On the German Art Of War), "Introduction"

Every day, we are making choices and taking actions that lead us closer to our farther away from our goals.

We often fool ourselves into thinking that we are actually taken action - or decisive action ("entschlossenes Handeln") - in our lives.  The modern world may have made this more convenient, but I do not wonder that this was always the case:  the InterWeb has replaced getting together, On-line conversations have replaced "hanging out" - but the results are still the same:  as one wag put it, it is similar to a rocking chair in that we can go faster and faster, but we actually end up going nowhere.

Our society does not help with this at all either.  We have become victims of the idea that we belong not to ourselves and God, but rather to each other and as such, cannot take any action with complete consideration and - dare I say - approval - of the greater whole.  In this brave new interconnected world, there is no "I", there is only "we" - and be "we", it usually means "not you".  

Nor do our governments, who on the one hand freely dole out benefits which, like heroin, too often leave one addicted to both the drug and the one providing it; while on the other hand remove the fruits of individual labor (for what are taxes but this) and reduce the number of choices and options available to the individual, guiding them into the pre-approved channels.

Our actions become not decisive for ourselves, but merely enabling for those in power:  You cannot not choose the material of your shirt nor where you can purchase it from, but it is allowable to choose its color (from one of these four options).

I write this mostly to myself, because I am the most guilty of it.  I have too often allowed myself the luxury of thinking I was taking action by making half hearted gestures or only slightly making an effort when in point of fact, commitment and "entschlossenes Handeln" was called for.  As a result, I often hold a meager form of accomplishment or action, not the actual action or victory that was needed.

Unfortunately for me - for all of us - the ability to have a margin of error in such matters is shrinking daily.  In my youth, I could dally about what career I would choose or what I would do financially; were I in the same position today, I would have to hit the ground running and not stop.

Let is then be decisive in our actions, lest we find ourselves incriminated by our lack of them.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Ripples Of A State Falling

 Long ago, in the youth of my middle school and High School,  I first learned names like Kabul and Jalalabad.

There were pictures on the television (only the Big Three in Those days) of Soviet Soldiers pushing their way into a land of mountains and snow, of raggedly dressed rebels with minimal weapons first trying to stave an invasion and then fighting back.

We started to learn new words and phrases:  Muhajideen, Stingers, Hind helicopters, Boycott the Olympics.  The nightly news became filled with pictures of Soviet Helicopters going down, of tanks rolling in - and then rolling out, as the Soviet Union left to what turned out to be last step in their travel into the dustbin of History.

Over the next years, we began to learn new words:  The Taliban, and Wahhabism, The Northern Alliance, The Lion of The North.  This was a world that was dimly going on in the background of the fall of the Soviet Union and a country consumed by its own internal issues.

And then, following 11 September 2001, we had to relearn the words all over again with new ones:  Azeri, Kandahar, Mazar-I-Sharif, The Mantle of The Prophet, Tora Bora, Bagram.

The War on Terror became the equivalent of the War in Vietnam:  A conflict that continued year after year, which retreated further and further into the consciousness of the average American - unless one had a loved one or acquaintance that went to Afghanistan, then prayers and thoughts were offered.  The news - now many channels, not just Three - would list the names of the dead and describe injuries.  It became just another background conflict to compete with all the other low intensity conflicts, often exceeded in the later years by the death count in the US itself.

And now, in the last 96 hours, we have had to relearn all of these words all over again.

As I write this, the Taliban are now reported as being in Kabul and opening fire on the airport, which now remains the single route of escape.  The country has fallen in an unbelievably quick fashion - in words that will inevitably go down in history, the timeline shrank from "6 months" to "90 days" to "this week" in the matter of less than a month.  In a way, this should surprise no-one: when the US decided to effectively leave in the dead of the night without informing even their counterparts in the Afghan military, it was plain to see that there was really only one future in the country if one could not get out.

There are arguments - and good ones, I think - that this happening as quickly as it did bespeaks an intelligence operation that went on far beneath the surface where Western Intelligence was working.  One would think - and hope - that such a failure would be brought forward and discussed in public, as would what appears to be wild military overestimations as the strength and capacity of both the Afghan National Army as well as the Taliban, as well as why millions of dollars of equipment was left essentially ready and available for the new conquerors.

The enduring image of the last two decades in Afghanistan for this  and all indeed generations, and will be the picture of the helicopter leaving the US Embassy:


Based on the past, the future is not terribly hopeful for those that remain.  The Taliban call in public for calm and people staying in place, that property will be respected and rights upheld.  Based on past history, this at best remains to be seen and at worst, a banal lie to allow more assets to be deployed prior to the stories of 1996-2001.

As a student of history, there will be outcomes of this event.  There always are, when a dominant world power is repulsed:

- The decision making process that arrived at this point makes the US look, frankly, like a country that is ill informed and unserious.  Our allies will rightly take stock of us and our commitment to them.  Our enemies will re-calculate their estimates of our commitment and our strength - not the commitment and strength of our words and Social Media posts, but of our actual abilities.

-  Western Values and Western concepts will be re-questioned by a great many other non-Western countries, as they likely should.  Western values did not, in the end,  help the people of Afghanistan in their need.

- Approximately $2.2 trillion dollars were spent in Afghanistan, for which there is no ability to collect.  The money is gone.  In a country already having significant disagreements about the speed of the growth of their debt, not whether debt is beneficial (the real question), there will another round of arguments and finger pointing.

- Whether or not this defeat is a significant one, the modern world and its media will make it not only apparent but larger than life.  We had black and white and color pictures and movies in Vietnam; we will have streaming video in Afghanistan.  We warn our children to be careful what they post on-line; it is equally as true for states.

- Whether or not the US is  actually weak, it now appears weak.  And weakness in a world measured by strength and power is always attacked, even if not successful.  Old and sick antelopes are brought down by the lions for a reason.

- The US will go through a crisis of conscience.  Hearings over all of this will be called for, likely with few if any changes.  The question of America as a concept will be questioned.  Those in power on both sides of the political aisle will attempt to find ways to demonstrate internally what they cannot demonstrate externally, that America is still "strong" - and by strong I mean able to enforce their will, on their own citizens if no-one else.

I have prayed - and will continue to pray - for the people of Afghanistan and our own veterans and families who will bear the scars of all of this for the rest of their lives.

To quote a somewhat old phrase, the lamps are going out, all over the world.  We will not see them lit again in our lifetimes.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

C.S. Lewis On Tyranny

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

- "God In The Dock"


Saturday, August 14, 2021

Jack Rabbit

 The Jack Rabbits appear to be back.

It has been a bit since I have seen so many.  It is nice to have them back

Welcome back, Friends.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Crescent Moon


Smoky Autumn skies
do not deter crescent moon's
evening appearance.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Collapse LXXVI: Heritage

17 March 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day, in our house in days gone by, was one of the few holidays we more or less kept. It was, to be fair, more or less a food holiday for us: the last Seneca related ancestor stepped off the boat to America over 200 years ago and on the whole, we never looked back.

Still, it was something that was more or less “traditionally” celebrated, or at least as it was traditionally celebrated in the United States: Corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and soda bread. Perhaps a Porter beer for good measure. No dessert; oddly enough, the Irish – at least as we celebrated them and as I knew them – did not have particularly novel desserts. I suppose some form of Bailey’s Irish Creme cooked in something would have made do.

At one time, one of my distant relatives did a genealogy search. If records were true, we were descended from a proud Irish Clan in the province of Connaught, one of the heredity war clans of the Lords of Connaught (if true, of course. We often like to believe that at some point we came from something perhaps a little grander than we have.)

A writer I read once suggested that one reflect for a moment on the marvel that was one’s life, in the sense that thousands of years and hundreds of ancestors had led to your existence. Looking back, one would see a line going far into the past, expanding like a tree as it grew, bits and pieces of peoples and nations and states, a living testimonial of history.

I wonder how such things will fair if this continues long enough.

Will those that come after us remember who their ancestors were and where they came from? Will such festivals and feasts be celebrated? Or will we all of this, this sort of heritage that is as much folk history as it is historical, fade away and be lost?

We are only ever one generation away from beginning to lose the roots of our past. Give something two or three generations and it will slip beyond the ken of knowledge, remaining only in the back corners of minds that love trivia and the dusty tomes of historians and cultural observers.

Even then, the knowledge may be there, but the heart and humanity behind it will be lost.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Day I Found My Grandfather's Corpse

So after yesterday's rather weighty subject, I though I would touch on an incident I related for a lighter, though perhaps no less macabre vein.

During the early 1990's, when I was in graduate school, I would occasionally come home for the weekend to my home town, where my grandparents and parents had effectively lived most of their lives.  My maternal grandmother had passed at this point, but my grandfather continued on, living in the house that he had lived in since the early 1900's.

The town I grew up in was small enough still that it had a downtown that one could walk to from their house.  I, having to have some car work done at the garage of the father of a high school friend, dropped my car off and walked over to his house.

My grandfather and I had an odd relationship.  For reasons completely related to nothing more than I was the first grandchild, I was the favored grandchild.  And as we lived in town, my sister and I saw them a great deal more than my other cousins.  He was the one that taught me to fish, that owned the cabin in Montana, that watched us innumerable nights when my parents went out, the one - with my grandmother - we always waited for to show up on Christmas morning so we could start opening gifts.

Seeing him was always bit difficult after my grandmother passed away.  We lived in completely different worlds: he had his Masonic Lodge and his small circle of activities he did, I was out and away in graduate school and the wide world.  But it still mattered to him that I came by from time to time, even if we had little to say to each other.

I first stopped by his house around 0730 and knocked, waiting.  No-one came to the door - unusual since he was always an early riser, but I thought little of it.  I took a walk around the block two or three times and came back and knocked again.  No-one answered.

Now, I was a little concerned.

I used the house key and opened up the front door, winding my way through the entry way and around to the living room.  The house was full of things that they had collected over a lifetime of living and travel and frankly was about the same as I always remembered it, in meaningful ways decorated and trapped in the 1940's and 1950's.  I tried to make as much noise as possible, worried I would scare him inadvertently.

"Grandpa, it is me" I called out as I entered the hall towards the bedroom.  Everything was still dark and silent.  I kept walking towards the bedroom, which was two steps down from the hallway.  I called out again, then slowly looked in.

There he was in bed, one eye open and one I shut.  I called out to him, walked over the bed, and gingerly pushed on his arm.

Yep.  He was dead.

Dead people are not really something that high school or college prepares you for - not so much that people dying (they die all the time, of course) as to what to do when you find a dead person.  It is not as if part of your high school health class included "Five Things To Do When You Find The Dead".

Oddly enough - at least oddly enough in retrospect - I was not in anyway alarmed, frightened, or nauseated.  Mostly I was puzzled.  What do I do?

Call my mother to let her know.

My mother was a school teacher and so, reaching out to her to her was bit difficult - you had to call the office and they then got her.  So I called, gave the secretary my name, and let them know I was at her father's house and he was dead.

They got my mother right away.  She managed to get the first few words out and broke down.  Her principal picked up the phone, said she would handle things there, and asked if I had called 911.

I had not, of course:  my grandfather was dead.  There was no emergency involved.

Hang up and call 911, she said.

I  dialed 911 (not surprisingly, perhaps, they still had a rotary phone).  "911, what is the nature of your emergency?" came the response.

I gave them my name, and that I was at my grandfather's house and that he had apparently died over night.  She took the basic information and said "We will send someone right over".  

"No need to hurry", I responded.  "He is not going anywhere". (Yes, I really said that).

The next thing was to call my father.  He was not in the utility yard but the dispatcher let me know they would find him and send him on as soon as they did.

So there I was, in my grandparents' house with my grandfather's body, waiting for someone to show up.

In a way, it was probably some of the most peculiar 10 minutes of my life.  The realization that there was a dead person to feet away from me yet somehow I was not alarmed by this was strikingly odd.  The thought that action should be taken but in fact there was no action to be taken was also odd. Waiting, because literally this was all one could do, was odd.

The family consensus, when all had been notified and everyone showed up, was that this was precisely what my grandfather would have wanted:  I was the favorite grandchild, so it would have pleased him greatly that I was the one that found him.  I remain somewhat unconvinced of this - to be fair, I was outvoted - but everyone else felt that it was a great relief that they had not found him.

The only other remarkable thing that happened that day was when the coroner arrived.  He was at least 6' 6', a muscular man with a shaved head that was exactly how one thought a coroner should look.  He apologized to used, but asked all to step into the dining room and close the door until they got him out. It then struck me that rigor mortis had set in and they would have to "maneuver" him around corners and turns to get him out.

Thankfully I was spared that particular picture - but what I am left with is the enduring image of him lying in bed, one eye wide open and one eye shut.  

It does make wonder what he saw with that open eye.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Second Guessing One's Decisions

Today's post starts with a blog entry from somewhere else, Claire at Living Freedom.  The story, in short, is about a neighbor passing away and finding out that his house, simply put, was a disaster - after they had to break into his house to find the body.  The full title is "What good neighbors should (or shouldn't) do"; I commend it to your attention.

The question that Claire puts forward, in its simplest form (and far more elegantly than I ever could), is how involved should we be as neighbors?  What are limits to looking out for one another?  How much do we involve ourselves in the lives of others, and when do we push?  In this particular case, there were some serious ramifications (think a bad version of "Hoarders") but to the outside world no-one suspected that this was the case at all.

(She has pictures here.  It was bad.  Really bad.)

This is, rather sadly, a timely subject for me, given all that has gone on with my parents this year.  My sister and I have asked, more than once "Should we have acted sooner?"

Should I have noticed more that he was talking out loud to himself for periods of time and asked into that instead of just associating it with my own habit of thinking through things?  When my mom was exhibiting Sundowner's syndrome pretty significantly, should we have acted to move her somewhere earlier (yes, I know, it was the height of The Plague Panic, but still)?  Should we have pushed for in-house help (my father would have refused it, but still again)?  Should we have pushed harder in October to relocate them?

Would it have made a difference?

The candid answer, of course, is "I do not know".  Yes, undoubtedly my mother would have probably done better in some ways (we undoubtedly would have still had the four month "Merry-Go-Round of Memory Care Homes" experience again), but we would have had to push my father to move as well, and I do not think he would have been willing (We had to basically push the discussion for him to agree to moving at all in January, one of the conversations I hope never to have to have again with any living person.  I am not a confrontational person by nature, and confronting my parents with my sister went against every basic instinct I have).  And then he would have been at The Ranch alone - would that have precipitated what happened, have made the decline more apparent, or allowed him a space to recover?  Or would he simply have collapsed here with no-one around?

(I was the one that found my maternal grandfather when he had passed.  It is a story for another day, but finding the deceased - even the recently deceased - is another experience I would not wish to repeat.)

How much was my father masking his own symptoms?  When I was up here, were there things that I missed in their daily habits?  This is a common occurrence from what I understand, as habits and knowing where things are can gloss over real gaps.

Over the time I came up here between July and December of last year, their circle of going out and where they went got smaller and smaller.  Their drives (they drove almost every day over the last two years; it was one of the things my mother loved to do and my father liked driving) got shorter and shorter.  I got a hint of things in December, when my father basically turned the driving over to me.  

This is all retrospect of course:  the reality of his collapse and then his verified stroke a month later was beyond any sort of prediction that we could have made; how does one predict such things when there is no previous evidence of such?  Would moving him earlier merely have meant he would have been unhappier longer (We had hoped he would be able to get more involved socially at the first assisted living location, but that did not happen.  Likely the first time because his collapse was coming; likely the second because he had residual damage and was not himself)?  

Somehow all of these imponderables do not ameliorate what is a lingering sense of guilt that I should have done more.  I can tell myself I did all I could and endeavor to be more willing to act going forward, but somehow that does not move the needle of my feelings.

Of course, at this point this is a discussion only for my mind.  My mother will not remember and my father, even if he does, can no longer communicate effectively what his opinion might be.  I can neither find forgiveness nor condemnation, only the vast grey of Limbo's fields, where those things that can never be undone but only pondered reside.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

The End of Peak Consumerism And Impacts

 Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness posted an interesting article this week entitled "Curbside Pickup and the End of Peak Consumerism".  In it, Brett relates his experience in going into a grocery store for the first time since the start of the pandemic (they had been picking up their groceries at the store up to this point):

"After being away from in-store shopping for a while, I felt like I saw the store with fresh eyes. And what I was so strongly struck by, was just how full it was of absolute — and pardon my French, but this is really the most apt word here — bullsh*t food. Flamin’ Hot Funyuns, 3D Doritos, Twix-topped yogurt, Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies Cereal (which admittedly does sound really good). A dozen different kinds of Oreos. Endless varieties of soda and frozen dinners. Aisle after aisle of unnecessary, unhealthy, laboratory-created, market-tested, packaged products that could only be called food in the most generous sense."

From this beginning, McKay goes through a history of the shopping experience as developed in America, as it changed from only the purchase of necessities for the masses to the idea of shopping as an experience, driven largely by the peculiarly American invention the shopping mall.

What changed?  Online shopping:

"Society’s shift towards online shopping, which began more than a decade ago, has exponentially accelerated during the pandemic. While prior to the coming of COVID, people had already converted to buying things like clothes online, many still held out on shopping for things like groceries at physical stores. Over the last year and half, however, more and more folks have started doing almost all their shopping digitally. Online grocery sales increased by more than 50% last year. While only 6.6% of major retailers offered the option of curbside pickup in early 2020, now more than half do. And 64% of respondents to a recent survey said they planned to order more online in the future."

As had been said on this site multiple times, I am not a shopper.  I do not enjoy the shopping experience.  Yes, I was a child of the 70's and 80's and once upon a time heading to the mall for a Friday night of mostly walking around (to be completely fair; teenagers in that era were notorious spendthrifts), but over time that feel away as I simply enjoyed the experience less and less.  My shopping experience now is pretty tight circle of grocery store and used book stores, with lesser appearances in the Big Box Home Store, the Pet Store, and the Sporting Goods store.

But if I am completely thoughtful about it, I find myself in the same position as McKay describes more and more.

The Used Book Store chain is enjoyable, but they have what I am looking for less and less now.  Yes, occasionally one can find a delightful surprise, but more often than not I leave with nothing, a development that would not have happened three years ago.  It is far more easy to find exactly what I want on a site like Alibris, which has coupons and the ability to get points through Mypoints (and earn points on the Flight Credit Card, a triple win).  For the Pet Store, I literally go in for one item now (filters for the fish tank), which I honestly could just as easily order online.  The Sporting Goods store is the same - sports shoes I can get online and I suppose ammunition as well.   Only the Grocery Store and the Big Box Home store still require me to go in, mostly from my inability to actually buy what I am supposed to get there (well, to be fair, rabbit supplies at the rabbit shelter, but in all fairness I am there anyway.

Clothing?  Socks and undergarments are all ordered online anymore.  The last time I went into a store for clothes was two years ago for a new suit (likely I will never need one again).  There is no need anymore - especially with my change in business locations to my home - to dress for business anymore.

From this, the McKays derive the potential of declining consumerism:

"But a change in our consumption patterns may, happily, be one shift that proves both positive and enduring. It’s not as if corporations don’t have other ways, outside the in-person shopping experience, to entice us to buy their wares. But in a time where people discard the catalogs they receive in the mail without looking at them, block ads on websites, and watch television shows on ad-free streaming services, in-person shopping was one of the last fronts companies had, as Packard put it, to get people to buy things they don’t need and didn’t know they wanted. Thus, its decline may very well represent the death knell for the West’s entrenchment in excess consumerism."

Here, I think the McKays are doing some wishful thinking.

If you are like me and in any kind of area that people are in, your day is filled with delivery trucks driving by (and maybe, if you are my house, stopping as well):  Fed Ex,  UPS, USPS, Amazon.  Online shopping and credit cards have made it much easier to shop than ever before - and credit cards have the added benefit for the retailer that one does not have to "have the cash on hand" to spend it.  I would argue being able to buy something from anywhere just increases the ability of consumers to spend, not decreases it (and this does not cover things like the ability to buy things that purely exist in cyberspace, like upgrades for on-line games).

Sadly, the decline of consumerism still remains a personal choice.

But in all of this prediction of the downfall of consumerism and the rise of online-ism (You saw this word here first, folks), the McKays miss one critical point:  the fate of those that work in the stores.

A decline in the use of stores, be it online or even with curbside delivery, ultimately means that those which are non-profitable will shut down.  We have already seen this in many industries of course:  There is no more video tape or DVD industry and movies theaters in some ways may be on their way out.  Banks and insurance companies have shed the brick and mortar shells for online calls centers or even work from home options.  Those stores and industries that depended on people coming to shop or dine or get their hair/nails/back done have all suffered.

When those jobs disappear - and they will disappear - semi-skilled job seekers will be left with a shrinking pool of jobs.  Yes, online shopping means fulfillment and delivery jobs - but the push to automate these will continue to grow (think the robots in The Borg warehouse and automated delivery trucks; these are already being experimented with) and the stories one hears of available jobs like warehouse worker and delivery driver are none too enchanting.  Perhaps one might think of things like grocery stores that convert to only curbside pickup - but if you have been in a grocery store lately, you have seen these workers as well: individuals with a phone in hand wandering with a cart or rolling rack, picking things up and rolling them through.

It is hardly the future of The Jetsons.

This trend will not be stopped by anything other than a total collapse (or total war, I suppose):  the convenience of not going in to shop has now become rooted in our psyche and shopping as an experience continues to shrink, not expand.  But it strikes me that even as we see this trend developing we are doing precisely nothing to address it.  We face the very real specter - who can tell when it arrives - of millions that are effectively no longer employable without significant investment, not only by things like schools and trades and government, but by themselves in their own lives.

I am not arguing for consumerism and shopping for the sake of employment.  But I do not think we can somehow pretend that the long term impact of all of this is not as glowing as what the McKays posit.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Mind Versus Matter Structural Failure

 If you missed it in the comments from The Great Day Of Failure, there has been a wonderful conversation between John in Philly and STxAR about the nature of human failure, viewed as a physical material which at some point becomes deformed or extended beyond its ability to recover (I have the best commenters!).  The discussion point, if I do not mistake it (John and STxAR, keep me honest) is that materials have a point of structural failure and that humans also have their own mental point of structural failure - in the context of failing at things, but in other things as well - beyond which they are never quite the same.

I actually find this an engaging topic because I have had to work my way through it personally.

For those that are newer arrivals, in February of 2020 I was transferred out of the job role I had held for the last 18 years (A Sort of Hammerfall) due to the perception that the position I held was significantly beyond my ability to effective execute it.  I was not let go but was reassigned into a new role in Project Management.

What I have found, over the course of the last year, is that my interest and my ability to learn and execute on this new subject have drastically waned.

I cannot fully define it for you other than to say I feel "different" - much less plugged in and much less engaged in learning, both in this role as well as other things in life.  I feel less enthused about learning on the whole, less willing to plug into things.

Is this evidence of being stretched beyond one's ability to recover?  Not physically of course, but mentally and spiritually?

I am different after that afternoon in February - or rather, I am different perhaps not so much from that afternoon as the two-three years that led up to up to that afternoon.  The stress - all mental of course - was such that I never, ever want to be in that position ever again.  Frankly, if I never managed another person again or had to make an assessment on a quality-related issue not directly related to me, I would be happy.

In trying to assess this, I do wonder if it can be recovered from - not the sense of going to back to the role (having tasted the world of non-supervisory work for the first time in 20 + years, I am not going back) as much as my concentration, focus, and interest.  Human minds are not structural materials; they are far more elastic.  

Bu the reality to me is shocking real, even now.  In some indefinable way, the before and after February 29th me is different.  And I do not know quite what to do about it.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

The Collapse LXXV: Memories Of The Dead

 14 March 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

Today is my father’s birthday.

He passed years ago of course and with his wish on where he was to be buried – out of state from where we then lived – and then the move that brought me to here, I have not been to his grave site in many years (nor does it seem likely that I shall see it in the foreseeable future).

We often came here, to The Cabin, when I was young to spend the summers with my grandparents, who would drive up here around May (when most of the snow was gone) and stay until September (when the snow started returning). There was about as much to do here then as there is now: Fish. See the wilderness. Visit. Fish more.

His presence continues to fill this space, of course: he was coming up here before I was even born and there is a picture here of him in his jeans and white T-shirt watching me in a cloth diaper playing in the yard. If I were to dig in the closet hard enough, I still think I might be able to find some of the metal cars I was playing with in that picture. I, ever a fool for nostalgia, can still find things I can still never part with.

It is odd how the presence of the departed stays with us even after then are gone.

Typically it is not something that one dwells when our loved ones are alive, this realization that they will be gone – an ultimate form of incommunicado – with any real conviction or mediation, or at least something I did not dwell on.

It is true in the society that was the late 20th and early 21st Century the West moved around in a way that it had not prior. Our loved ones too often became another person one spoke with remotely or visited on vacation. In a meaningful and perhaps unrealized way, such a sense has started every earlier during the great periods of colonization in the 18th and 19th Century: the trend of leaving and never returning due to distance and cost was well established before distance and cost were no longer an issue but choice and convenience were.

And so many accepted and adopted the fact that family relationships were just another version of the virtual and partial relationships that they experienced in everyday life. And that – like a letter, or phone call, or InterWeb contact, one could just reach out and they would be there.

Until, of course, they are not.

Does religion play a role in this? I suppose so, yes. If one believes that one will see one’s loved ones in the future – even a far future – it makes the separation less hard to bear. In that sense I have never understood how the true materialist continued to function after the death of loved ones: that was it. That was all. Perhaps even they, in their heart of hearts, thought there was a future meeting that even they believed they could not see.

In some ways I suppose, the reality of the Japanese festival of Obon, where the dead return to the land of the living for a time, remains true: in a very real sense, even if only in memory, the dead continue to be with us, circulating in and out of our lives with a wispy touch and continuing appearance and disappearance out of the corner of our eye. They haunt our reality not as fiendish specters seeking to deprive of our vital energy (much to the dismay of Gothic horror writers), but as memory and perhaps guidance as we think on them and their advice (or what their advice would have been, given whatever the current situation we find ourselves in is).

But all of this does not change the fact that they are not present, and are at times sorely missed.

Even after all these years, I still have the voice mails from him preserved on my phone, there to listen to if desired. Foolishness perhaps – eventually even the phone will not be able to be charged and the voice will disappear with everything else.

Memories in the end are no substitute for the reality of the person, even if in disembodied voice form.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

A Strange Kind of Lifting Milestone

 A little under two years ago, my weight coach The Beserker added me to an app for training.  It is called TrainHeroic.  It is much more convenient for him because it allows him to just enter the program for the week (mine is three days a week: one day upper body, one day lower body, and one day core).  The exercises are all pre-entered and often there are helpful videos for exercises.  It is certainly a step up from recording everything in my notebook, which I had been doing for the preceding 4 years.

It also, of course, tracks your workouts and gives you all kinds of data which, if you are the kind of person that is into such thing, can be useful.

So imagine my surprise when randomly in my e-mail box yesterday appears the following notification:  "You've logged two million pounds".

I immediately had two thoughts.  The first was "That cannot be right, can it?"  The second thought was "That is the silliest statistic ever".

So I checked the app.  Given the period of time using the app, about 20.25 months, I have something like 172 workouts.  On average (cue calculator), that is 11,628 lbs per workout.  Well, okay, that math seems to work.

Honestly, I do not know what to do with that number.  2,000,000 is a lot of anything.  And in a way - especially with weights - it is incredibly ephemeral:  one trains and then one leaves the training floor.  There is nothing that tags along with you (other than, hopefully, some sort of muscle gain or fat loss).  No physical item you can point to.  

Really, nothing except you.

I chuckled a little bit as I read it.  I do not think I have ever done 1,000,000 of anything, let alone 2,000,00 - not even different cuts for Iai, although I bet I am close.  It is the sort of statistic that makes one cock one's head in curiousity, think a moment, go "Well maybe that is true", and shrug.  After all, it is just a mark.  And, at least for myself, I am nowhere near done training.

On to 3,000,000!