Friday, March 31, 2023

Hammerfall 2.0: The Day Of Long Knives

One of the things that I have made a habit of since 2009 is doing my best to be aware of what is going on at any company I work at - not just the mechanics of the company at work, but the actual status of the company as it functions - "making the sausage" that almost no-one cares about.  Mostly this is a defense mechanism:  I was caught unawares that "all is well" when in fact all was not well, and a number of events were precipitated by my trust in my management, including ultimately the relocation from Old Home to New Home.  And so, beyond my regular job, I pay attention to things like who is leaving and what organizational structures are doing and the quarterly finances. I spend a far amount of time in relationships with other employees - because no-one person has a view of everything that is going on.

So when one of my work friends reached out with "Did you see the e-mail from HR?" and I in fact did not have an e-mail from HR, I was not terribly surprised.  Something was up, something that would be manifesting itself in the next day or so.

I have been somewhat open here that I have had some ongoing concerns about my employment for awhile.  This is not unusual in the start-up Biopharmaceutical world:  I have likened it before to a roulette game where one hopes that one hits the number before the wheel stops spinning (e.g, runs out of money).  It is just one of those things that one accepts:  Higher reward, higher risk.  And so I have been eyeing our quarterly financials and our project progress and where we are spending our time and our energy.

And so, my friend letting me know there was a meeting involving HR was not surprising. And the fact that apparently bad news was forthcoming was not surprising either.

There is nothing worse than knowing bad news is coming and not being able to talk about it.    One waits, watches e-mails transit the system and requests for information that all of a sudden seems not as critical as it once was.

The day - yesterday - rolled around.  I knew the meeting invite was coming but it did not appear and did not appear and did not appear.  E-mails slowed down to a crawl, and then to none at all.

Finally, at 1300, the invite came out.  Mandatory company meeting, 30 minutes, no agenda. The proverbial cat was out of the bag.  E-mail, of course, slowed to a crawl.

The meeting itself was a mere 4 minutes:  all cameras disabled, all microphones disabled, not chat.  Short version:  Terrible times caused by the financial markets, major restructuring and refocus.  50% of employees (over 100) to be laid off.  Communication by e-mail and then by managers.  And...done.

And then the waiting.

My little pod of PMs waited.  Did you get an e-mail?  No, did you?  Meanwhile my phone keeps buzzing as I am responding to a different discussion with work friends, to the same end.  Did you hear?  No, did you?

The "it sounds like e-mails are coming soon" stretched into 1.5 hours, until finally the President reached out to me.


The letter came right after that, of course.  Effectively 8 weeks (60 days) until D-Day, during which we are expected to "turn over" our responsibilities to new people - whom, I have no idea.  My entire department was laid off so there are no Project Managers to turn it over to.  Last day 29 May 2023, last day of insurance 31 May 2023.  PTO to be paid out, which may give me another three weeks of income.

I have no idea of the total spread, but over 100 people will adversely impact almost every department.    Who will be doing the work we used to do, I have no idea.

Frankly, I no longer care.

How am I doing? Okay.  This did not come as a total surprise.  Perhaps I had some small hope that I would be spared this round - I have been spared others - but this was not the case.  And frankly, I am a little burned out at this point.  Last month we got the main thing I had working on for the last 22 months through; this month I am dismissed. A career of projects that do not go anywhere wears on a person after a while.

We are in a far better position than we were in 2009, when I was last laid off:  The Ravishing Mrs. TB has a full time job, the last child - Nighean Dhonn - will graduate from high school in a month and has at least the first two years of college covered - and we owe far less on our house than we did (and no other debt).  For sure there is a complete re-examination of the budget going on as we speak.

A funny story to close this out:  when speaking to folk months ago about this possibility, I said that my biggest hope was for my current position to last through Nighean Dhonn's graduation from high school as I would have liked (if possible) to let her attend all four years at the same high school.  My job "ends" on 29 May; she graduates on 25 May.  

God's providence or God's sense of humor are on full display.  Or perhaps, both.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Collapse LXXXXVII: Waiting

 08 May 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

I hope you enjoyed your missive from Pompeia Paulina. She has been remarkably silent (and one might add, a bit smug) about her letter to you and has made me swear that I will not read it until she so decrees it shall be read. In deference to her, of course, it will remain unread. That said – and as you well know – loose ends nibble at my mind like nothing else can.

Ah, well, I could a dose of simple mind nibbling now.

There is much to do here of course. Spring continues its inevitable lurching towards us and once it hits, of a necessity all will have to hit the ground running. At the advice of Pompeia Paulina and Xerxes, I have kept my seeds and seedlings inside the greenhouse longer than I have done in years past. They assure me that this will increase my overall success and not significantly harm the overall output. I am taking their word – almost on faith as it were, although I know they both have more experience growing here than I do. One of the risks, I suppose, of living somewhere but not talking to anyone that lives there – you do not garner the benefit of experience.

One can live on one’s own in a world where everything is readily at hand. In today’s world, perhaps not so much.

You may also remember that I mentioned that the post office had been reoccupied by some young people to use as a contact point. I have been reliably informed by Young Xerxes that this Saturday is intended to be a trade and market day. They have put notices up and down to the aforementioned North Town and South Town and the small settlements in between, and there is some evidence (per Xerxes at least) that there may actually be folks from both ends of the Valley.

I do not know that I have anything specific I am in need of, but I suppose I should look between now and then – nor, I suppose, do I fully know what I would trade if given the chance. One can always say “food”, of course, but that will likely always be true, and what might I have to exchange for it? Honey perhaps; that seems a logical thing that I have and would likely have some sort of market. That said, I have my current stock in larger 12 ounces plastic containers; I wonder if it would make sense to put them into smaller containers.

Perhaps I shall ask Pompeia Paulina for assistance – likely Young Xerxes will be well engaged in the event (he seems to know everyone) and she may have a better idea than I what is likely to sell.

Marketing, Lucilius. I was never good at it, be it for myself or for anything else I was selling. Although to be fair, Pompeia Paulina assures me that my lack of experience in marketing myself is a “feature”, not a “bug”.

Even in a world with no computers, we still make such references. I wonder how if, years from now, it will become one of those sayings that has a meaning which is colloquial when the circumstances around the actual meaning have long since disappeared.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: Consolidation By Wessex, Vikings II.0, And The Battle Of Brunanburh

The death of Alfred the Great in 899 A.D. undoubtedly was a great shock to the entire territory controlled by Wessex - he had been the King for almost 30 years and had singlehandedly inspired and led the country back from almost complete occupation by the Vikings (mostly Danes).  An entire generation grew up knowing nothing but Alfred as King.

And the challenges still remained:  While Alfred had forced the Danes into a treaty in 886 the land they inhabited still remained outside of the control of Wessex.  Nor had the Vikings stopped their raiding merely because turn of the century was almost at hand.

(Map of the Danelaw 886 A.D.  Source)

Fortunately for Anglo-Saxon England, Alfred had left both a legacy of a defensive network, a strong army, and a set of strong descendants to implement the strategy.

Upon Alfred's death, his son Edward (known now as "Edward the Elder) became King of Wessex while his older sister Ethelfleda and her husband Æthelred, the Ealdorman of Mercia ruled Mercia in concert with the policy of Wessex.  After fending off a threat to his power by a cousin Æthelwold in 901 and 902 which ended in the Battle of the Holme and the death of Æthelwold and an ally in the Danish King of East Anglia, a peace was signed with the East Anglians and Northern Danes. A tit for tat developed:  In 909 Wessex and Mercia invaded Northumbrian Danish territory; in 910 the Northumbrian Danes returned the favor, but were caught in their return and heavily defeated at the Battle of Tettenhall.  The defeat was significant enough that the Northumbrian Danes would not cross the Humber for a generation; Edward and his associates could concentrate on the Southern Danelaw.

In 911 A.D. Æthelred died; his wife Ethelfleda (who has come down in history as "The Lady of Mercia") administered Mercia until her own death in 918 A.D.  As part of Æthelred's death, Wessex inherited the lands around London and Oxford.  Both Edward and Ethelfleda began building forts (burhs) based on the initial strategy of their father Alfred and as they began leapfrogging eastward.  Besides building there was fighting; by 918 A.D. all the Danelaw had submitted to Edward.  Ethelfleda had died as well in 918 A.D. and the Mercian territory was now brought fully under the control of Wessex.

Meanwhile, in the North a new threat re-appeared:  The Vikings of Jarvik (York)

To go forward, we have to go back a bit:  As you may recall, during the Invasion of the Great Heathen Army in Alfred the Great's day, Northumbria was invaded by the Danes.  The city of York (Norse: Jorvik) was captured and administered as a kingdom until 901 A.D. when the above mentioned Æthelwold briefly ruled until his death in battle and replacement by another Viking King.  An uneasy series of submission and invasions to place as the King of York would submit to the Anglo-Saxon King, then turn around and invade.  Thus the threat from the north continued for years after the Danelaw had been integrated under the ruling house of Wessex.

(Map of Anglo-Saxon England 900-950 A.D Source)

Edward The Elder died in 924 A.D. and his son Æthelstan took the throne after some years of dispute.  He conquered the kingdom of York in 927 A.D.  As part of this conquest, the kingdoms of Scotland, Strathclyde, Bernicia, and part of Wales submitted to him, making Æthelstan the first ruler of all the English lands.  The submission lasted until 934 A.D., when Scotland broke the treaty.  Æthelstan invaded Scotland in return.  The invasion in return called forth an alliance of Scotland, Strathclyde, and Hiberno-Norse Vikings from the Kingdom Dublin.  In 937 A.D. all sides met at the Battle of Brunanburh.

Brunanburh is attested to by multiple sources in Anglo Saxon, Welsh, Scottish, Norman, and Irish sources.  The date of the battle is guessed to be in October, but we do not know that - nor do we fully know where the battle itself took place.  We do know that the battle was an all day affair and terribly costly.  We do know that it inspired a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  And we do know, after the terrible slaughter, the Anglo-Saxon army held the field and chased the survivors away.  

The outcome of Brunanburh to history is disputed.  Æthelstan would die within two years and the Kingdoms of Strathclyde and Scotland would remain independent.  The Hiberno-Norse were perhaps less of an immediate threat, but that did not end the Danish or Norwegian Viking threat.  However, it did preserve the Anglo-Saxon portion of the kingdom as a whole unit; one can imagine that if Æthelstan had lost, there was a very real chance the kingdom could have dissolved back into some level of its component units.  The unity of Anglo-Saxon England was still a relatively new things, and beneath the surface the old independence of Mercia and Danelaw undoubtedly lurked.

(Old English Posting Page)


Keynes, Simon and Lapidge, Michael:  Alfred The Great:  Asser's life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources.  Penguin:  Great Britain, 1983.

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Nicolle, David:  Arthur And The Anglo-Saxon Wars.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1984

Heath, Ian:  The Vikings.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1985

Harrison, Mark:  Viking Hersir 793 - 1066 AD.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1993.

Wikipedia:  Edward the Elder, Scandinavian York, Æthelstan, Battle of Brunanburh

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Have I Gotten Better (II)?

Thanks to all for all of the good thoughts yesterday.  Yes, to be fair, it was a little bit of a reaction on my part.  At the same time, it also provoked a much needed mental reconsideration of where I am in my life, and where I would like to be.

Fortunately, in my moment of consideration, I had a book within reach (I know, what a shock):  

The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnham a systemic introduction to Stoic philosophy - so far, outside of reading the Stoics themselves.  Lay out their philosophy and underlying thinking, chapter by chapter it addresses major Stoic areas of consideration - Valuation, Desire, Wealth, Pleasure - and then lists out what the Stoics thought on each.

I am not finished completely with the book yet, but one place that it did send me was in the consideration of being a better person, as was discussed a bit yesterday.

What does "better" mean?   A sliding scale of course, measured however you would like to.  For myself, at least, I need to focus on if I am a better person. 

How do I measure better in that case?  Am I:

- Less desirous of things or more?

- Less content or more content?

- Less dismayed by events around me or more?

- Less concerned about the future or more?

- Less willing to focus on the hard work of living quietly or more?

- Less concerned about God or more (Stoics tended to say a God existed, just not the Judeo-Christian one.  Epictetus was especially angry against Christians)?

Obviously in general, one wants to be both more and less:  More content, more willing to focus on quiet living, more concerned about God and also less desirous of things, less dismayed by events, less concerned about the future.   Add to this the usual set of mores as well:  More kind, more generous, more gracious, more honorable, more thoughtful, more learned. more caring.

I understand that in one sense this all becomes a very internalized measurement of my own making with (in some cases) ill defined metrics.  At the same time, this is the sort of thing that strikes me as precisely the most important thing right now.

To echo what was the inherent comment in some of the comments yesterday, we do not need people doing more, we need people being all of the "more" listed above.

I - we - likely cannot change the world this way.  But at least we can be the bright lights in it.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Have I Gotten Better?

 One of the things that rejoining LinkedOut has done for me is indirectly link me to a lot of former coworkers - every time one of your "connections" likes something from someone, it shows up in your feed.  I tend to just whip through such things in general, but one last week caught my eye.

The like was for a former employee of my company. I sort of remember the young gentleman (almost everyone is "young" anymore, or at least younger than I).  He left, as I recall, three or four years previously, seemingly just another in a long line of people that have worked there and gone to something different.  This happens I think as you grow older: you move around less in your career as the "younger folk" are establishing theirs.

His post was about his completion of his medical degree and announcing his residency. 

I just sort of sat there and looked at the post.  In the last period of time, what had I really done?

I supposed I could put all sorts of caveats around things:  my parents, the Plague, my job change.  

But really, what had I done?  Or more importantly, how had I changed and become better?

The answer, I fear is, "not much" or "nothing at all".  If I compare myself to three years ago I find myself to be largely the same. Same position, same place, same activities (mostly), same me.

For some reason, that really bothers me.

Yes, I understand that this is probably an extreme example, and that inherent comparison to others is not necessarily the best thing.  At the same time, I think it is fair to ask the question - be it daily, monthly, annually, or even just randomly: "Am I a different person than I was the last time I asked this question?  Am I a better person than the last time I asked this question?"

In theory at least, we should only stop improving ourselves somehow when we die.  The fact that I at least feel exactly the same as three years ago is, frankly, not a comfortable feeling.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Dances With Wind

Invisible breath
of March reeks of Winter's cold:
flowers kiss Springs' grace.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

March 2023 Ranch Walkabout

 The snow has all melted away.  Although we are still in the rainy season (which is persisting a bit this year and is badly needed) from the greening up Spring is on its way.

I was fortunate in that I started my hike during a fog, which then blew out as I continued on.

The spring has not been this full in years:

"Greetings Friend!"

Even with the significant snow and wind last year that brought down so many trees, there were still a few new ones down:

The daffodils that were last month peeking up through the snow:

Friday, March 24, 2023

Going Home Three Years Ago

(Note:  The point of the post is not to rehash The Plague or how we got here (if we could not, that would be eminently appreciated; lots of other people in other places are more than willing to do so); it is to denote one of those before and after moments that happens a great deal less in life than perhaps we think it would. )

Looking back into the historical files (e.g. blog postings and journals), I note that three years ago this week (technically 23 March 2020), I was sent home from the Office for the duration of "The Temporary Emergency".  

Although I often do not remember details about a great many things, I remember the details about this one - I suspect that somewhere in my giant e-mail archive that I have acquired over the last six+ years, the e-mail notification is there somewhere.  In my case I gathered everyone in the main conference room - at that time I was still nominally in charge of Quality Assurance and so had a number of people reporting to me - and made the announcement that we were all going home.

I remember the colors of the conference room and the looks of everyone looking at me for words - odd, because I had already announced I was "changing" positions I was still considered in charge of them.  I cannot remember the words I said - probably something bland and generic about not to worry, do good work, be safe, we will communicate when we know more, etc.  The sorts of things that one is expected to say in such circumstance.

I violated what would have been a number of "gospel" points in the coming days and weeks:  multiple people gathered in a space, not masked, etc. etc.  In retrospect had anyone known at the time, I likely would have been reprimanded for putting people's health at risk.  But that was all lost in the ensuing storm.

Since that time, I have not been formally recalled to on-site work.  My office - already forfeit as I been transferred out of my previous position - was gone and no work space ever reassigned to me.  I, like many many other people, became work nomads:  voices and words and 2-D faces on a screen.

It is odd to me how much of a before and after event this feels like now - even more so that something like 9/11, which created visible differences in how we conduct our lives (I am still reminded of this every time I fly).  The sense of time has been completely stretched and thinned and turned - The Ravishing Mrs. TB has noticed this as well:  she has often commented how three years ago seems like a lifetime ago and events in the interim seem either very close or very far away - or both, at the same time.

I had reason to go onsite earlier this month.  The conference room has now been converted into a lab; the bulk of the people that were there on that day are no longer with the company.   And yet looking into the lab, I can still see all of us gathered around that large conference table facing a future which none of us could have predicted the shape of.

How odd that one of those significant moments of my life - one of those "Gone With The Wind" moments occurred - in such an innocuous space.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Collapse LXXXXVI: Cameo Appearance

May 6th, 20XX+1

Dear Lucilius,

Surprise! Today’s letter is not from Seneca. Instead it is from me, Pompeia Paulina (I understand now that this is how Seneca refers to me. He won’t tell me why he refers to me this way, just that he does).

Seneca has told me about his writing to you, even after the Internet went down. I insisted he show me all of the letters – the fact that someone would be so dedicated to something that may not be published was interesting to me. It took a bit to read – gracious, that man can seem to go on about almost anything at length! Once I finished, I insisted that I be allowed to write to you as well. He seemed a little bit reluctant – “You have never met him” and things like that – but I convinced him that if the letters were not going through anyway, what is the harm?

(I am absolutely sending the letter out if we ever get electricity and Internet again)

So it seems you have met my daughter Statiera before you “met” me – Xerxes (why he insists on these names, I have no idea) is a very nice young man and very good to my daughter. I know you know how Seneca met me – how did I and my daughter end up here?

A love of silence and beauty, mostly.

I came from Arizona originally, where I grew up and lived for many years. And I loved it there: the sunsets, my large family of parents and sisters and nieces and nephews. I would go to places like Sedona and Tucson as often as I could to see the sunset and rocks and feel the energy of the places. It was so…redolent of Nature as it should be, not like it was in the city.

My daughter and I moved here a few years ago – I think it was a few years; I’ve quite lost track and then with everything shutting down, it seems a little silly to think of it now. The city had just become too confining and both and she and I were in a place in our lives that we needed to escape and find room to breathe. We drove through here on a trip from one place to the other; the beauty of the Valley and this quiet, sort of broken down town appealed to me. And so we ended up staying.

I was a masseuse for many years and as a masseuse, it is pretty easy to take your job with you. I made an okay living here – not like I did at home where I worked in a top rated destination hotel, but enough for the two of us. My daughter’s life calmed down. My life calmed down. We kept a lovely garden and watched the seasons and for time, just got to enjoy life.

And then everything else happened.

I am sure that I must have seen Seneca before – even in a town that in some ways was dying, it was still small enough that I should have seen everybody or at least heard of him. I knew his house, of course – everyone did: the small red Summer cabin that someone from down South had completely gutted and refitted with the greenhouse and the garden and whoever lived there practicing with a sword outside all Spring, Summer, and Fall. But people respect privacy here, and will not intrude unless asked. And it seems like Seneca never asked.

I am so very glad my daughter’s boyfriend insisted he come for Palm Sunday brunch.

He seems so isolated, Lucilius. In our conversations and even when we discuss books or goings on, there is something down deep that I cannot fully see. Being a masseuse, you come to learn to feel the energy of people, the places that are hard physically and psychically. I am sometimes not even sure if he himself is aware of it, or how it impacts his life. It is a stoic, lonely sort of thing, and it seems to cover him almost like a velvet cloak of sadness.

But he does seem willing to at least talk a little bit more about his struggles. He is willing to listen to suggestions about things – silly man, he still has a lot to learn about gardening here. And he has his rabbits, which are delightful friends, and bookshelves and bookshelves of books which he claims that he is will to talk about. We certainly do not lack for conversational items.

I do like him, Lucilius, an awful lot. Be sure that I will take good care of him.

Warmest regards, Pompeia Paulina

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: Alfred (The Great) II

(Editor's note:  I have assembled the entries to date (and going forward) onto a single page, Old English, which I link directly in future posts for ease of reference.)

 When we last left Alfred (still not quite The Great, but at least The Quite Remarkable), he had succeeded in defeating the remains of the Great Heathen Army at the battle of Ethandun (Edington) in 878 decisively enough that they retreated to East (and, as luck would have it, the defeat was resounding enough that it drove off a second fleet of invaders).  Parts of Wessex had been held and other parts reclaimed.  But it was a tenuous peace at best.  There was a kingdom to be rebuilt and who knew where or when the Vikings might reappear?

Alfred took the learnings he had seen from the defeats of his brothers and himself to heart. He reorganized the kingdom by creating the burh, fortified locations located within twenty miles of each other.  These burhs (eventually our Modern English word "Boroughs") provided a defense network in the event of another invasion.  Indirectly, these also ended up become the nuclei of towns and cities which would spring up around them.

(Source.  Note that this is from the 10th Century Burghal Hidage; not all of these would have been built by Alfred but by his successors as well.)

He also reorganized the fyrd, the standing army of all military aged men.  He simplified it and organized it such that at all times, some men were available for service and others for campaigning. This also directly or indirectly began to emphasize the responsibility of the nobility and their standing retinues to take a more active role in defenses.

Finally, he is recorded as also designing ships - "neither Frisian nor Danish, but as seemed to himself to be most serviceable".  While earlier Anglo-Saxon kings (such as the Sutton Hoo ship) had existed, and Wessex had possessed a navy (Alfred had commanded some of those ships), We know little enough about those ships although there is one ship, the Graveney boat, that has been dated to 895 A.D.  It interesting to speculate (though completely ridiculous, of course) that some part of that boat was influenced in some small way by Alfred's ship building program.

His preparations were the tonic that was needed:  A follow on invasion by Guthrum and the Danes from the Danelaw in 886 was turned back and a formal treaty put in place between Alfred and Guthrum.  London was reconquered by Wessex.  As a part of this recapture, parts of Mercia were recaptured:  Edward created an Ealdorman (Modern English Aldorman) named Æthelred to act as as sort of royal officer or sub-king of Mercia (and promptly married his daughter Ethelfleda to him). The future of Mercia would be that as determined by Wessex.

A second thing happened as a result of the reconquest of London.  For the first time, as Asser the Chronicler records, "all the English people that were not under subjection to the Danes submitted to him  (Alfred)".  By the late 880's and into 890s charters style Alfred as "king of The Angles and The Saxons" or "king of the Anglo-Saxons".  For the first time, the concept of a king of all the Anglo-Saxon peoples - not just a breatwalda, a sort of "first among equals - appears.

Another Viking army returned in the year 892 A.D. and did not leave until 896. During that time the defenses that Alfred had built in the burhs held back the Vikings to the outer defenses of Wessex In a series of battles across those years - Farnham, Benfleet, the Siege of Exeter, Buttington - Alfred, his son, and his ealdormen harried and defeated the Vikings until in 896 A.D., threatened by Alfred blocking the River Thames, the Vikings fell back, first to Southeastern England, then to the Continent.

But Alfred was not only a great leader, military strategist, and naval designer.

Previous Anglo-Saxon kings had issued law codes but they were fragmentary and specific at best.  Alfred undertook a comprehensive law code update, the first in over a century.  By doing so, it "...would have represented a dramatic assertion of his role as the shepherd and guardian of an amalgamated English people" (Keynes and Lapidge, p. 39).  Basing his on the Bible, previous law codes of older Anglo-Saxon kings, and his own thoughts - "Then I, King Alfred, collected these together and ordered to be written many of them which our forefathers observed, those which I liked; and many of those which I did not like, I rejected with the advice of my councillors, and ordered them to be differently observed".  For the first time since Romans rule, a law code was introduced for the country (Less those in Wales and the Danelaw - for now).

Finally, there was Alfred The Reviver of Knowledge.

Alfred was, from childhood (so his chronicler Asser tells us) a lover of stories and when young although he could not read, he could memorize.  He memorized a book of English poetry (with the help of a teacher) that his mother had offered to give to whichever of her sons could learn its contents first.  He learned the daily Christian services, some psalms and prayers.  He had the favorite passages from them copied out for him into a small book which he carried.

After the initial victories over the Vikings, Alfred realized that that great age of Anglo-Saxon learning - the Age of Bede The Venerable and the world of the 7th to 8th Century - was decayed and nothing had come up to take its place.  He is recorded as saying "So completely fallen away was learning now in the English race that there were very few on this side of the Humber who would know how to render their service book (from Latin- Ed.) into English, and I doubt that there would be any on the other side of the Humber.  There were so few of them that I cannot think of so much as a single one south of the Thames when I took the realm".

Alfred at some point had learned to read Anglo Saxon.  He then undertook to learn Latin - this, while planning for defenses and conducting campaigns and leading armies and generally rebuilding the realm.  He gathered a group of scholars - first as many as he could find from the neighboring former Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Wales, then across the continent to the Kingdom of The Franks.  Most of these men were bishops and monks - Asser, Werferth, Plegmund, Werwulf, John the Old,  Grimbald, Æthelstan.  These men taught - and they translated.

Alfred wanted learning to be made available - not just to the clergy but to his own royal officials as well, as he expected them to be educated.  And so a series of translation took place not only of religious works, but of secular works that Alfred thought would be useful.  Four of the books so translated - Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care,  Augustine of Hippo's Soliloquies,, and a prose translation of parts of the Psalms, were done in part or in whole by Alfred himself.  In some cases they were not word for word, but more of idea to idea, reflecting what the king felt were the needs of the his subjects (and their educational levels).

To Alfred as well we owe the formalization of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  While the chronicles had likely existed in older forms, it was Alfred that commissioned a gathering of the other Chronicles which were collated and turned into a single documented distributed to several monasteries.  Henceforth, there was a common starting point for Anglo-Saxon events.

He believed in personal development as well.  The book that he recorded passages in as a child he continued to carry all his life - his chronicler Asser records at one point the King asking for more entries than could be held so he asked for a new book to be made.  (An interesting side note:  the book actually was known to have existed as late as 1204 A.D., although it was lost to history after that.  Oh, to see what a man like Alfred would have considered worthy of recording in his own personal journal.)

Alfred's last few years (897-899 A.D.) we know little about; his newly created Chronicle records nothing of the era.  We can imagine him continuing to work away on his translations and strengthening the kingdom's defenses against future attacks, working on implementing his revised law code, counseling his son Edward (his heir) and his son-law Æthelred  and daughter Ethelfleda  about the eventual reconquest of the Danelaw, attending divine office almost every day as he had for years, until he passed away on 26 October 899 A.D.

Alfred remains unique in the history of England and in some ways, perhaps the world.  A man who saved his country from invasion multiple times, instituted defensive measures and redesigned an army, legislated a law code, and not only encouraged learning but translated books from one language to another after learning that language late in life - any one of these would be worthy of admiration; the fact that he did all of them - and before he was 50 - is truly astounding.

Of all the Kings and Queens of England, he certainly is worth to be called "The Great".


Keynes, Simon and Lapidge, Michael:  Alfred The Great:  Asser's life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources.  Penguin:  Great Britain, 1983.

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Nicolle, David:  Arthur And The Anglo-Saxon Wars.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1984

Heath, Ian:  The Vikings.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1985

Harrison, Mark:  Viking Hersir 793 - 1066 AD.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1993.

Wikipedia:  DanelawAlfred The Great

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Events That Do Not Matter And Events That Do

 One of the things that is coming to fore as I an working through the small introduction to Anglo-Saxon history which has turned into its own research project is the inability of individuals to properly assess the actual impact of current events in their time.

Time and time again in my reading, events (mostly battles in this case) occur and are considered to be of major importance. In some cases they are:  the battle of Mons Badonicus (circa 500 A.D.) bought the Romano-British the breathing space of a generation, but also concentrated the invading Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into a small area that became totally Germanized unlike most of the other barbarian invasions of Western Europe at the time, which flowed over and through the population, becoming a thin elite class which was subsumed into the existing population.

Or the battle of Brunanburh (we are not quite there yet) in 937 A.D., in which the King of The English engaged the Kings of Strathclyde, Scotland, and the Norse Kingdom of Ireland.  In the literature at the time, it was felt to be "The Deciding Battle of England" - yet a little over a hundred years later, the entire Anglo-Saxon kingdom and its ruling class were overthrown by Norman invaders.

One could argue that the Concert of Europe (1815) may not have fully played out until World War 1 (1914-1918), or World War I did not fully play out until World War II (1939-1945) or that any of the events that were current even five years ago have played out to their logical conclusions.  In my lifetime I have seen the end of the Cold War, but still live within the framework set up by it; the final implications of it may not be fully visible until well after my death.

There are events that really do change things, of course:  the defeat of the Vikings by Alfred the Great at the Battle of Ethandun (Edington) in 878 A.D. really did change the course of history (had Alfred lost, the likelihood any Anglo-Saxon kingdom would have survived would have been much smaller). The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 really did change Western (and Eastern) Europe.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 really did change everything about the Russian state as did the Chinese Revolution in 1949.  Sometimes one can look an event and say very clearly, "This changes things".

We are awash in media and news these days: 24/7/365 updates, if one wants them.  And one can spend their time running through nothing but news cycle after news cycle, only to discover after the fact that the news cycle had absolutely no impact on things whereas some event that was not even on one's radar turns out to be a significant development.

It is a hard balance to hold, this looking forward and back and to the sides all at the same time while trying to keep one's own life on track and moving forward towards the plans one has set in place.  The only advice I can constantly remind myself of is that while events local, national, and international have the ability to impact my life, the only thing I can truly control is my own reactions, both emotional and practical actions.

If history teaches one anything, it is that the world has always been a troubled place.  And as to the impact of current events on the future, one can look to that paragon of wisdom, Yoda:  "Always in motion is the future.  Difficult to see."

We can see the immediate impact of events, but can only see their long term impacts as we live through our days, twenty-four hours at a time.  That, too, has not changed since before the time that history was recorded and "the future" became a thing.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Resource Management

 Rain on the hills in ages past
Made the soil and grew the grass
That fed the deer and buffalo
Now cattle, sheep and goats, you know.

When the grass was overused
Rocks appeared and soil diffused
into the river silt and sand
The Pecos and the Rio Grande
And moved toward the end, you know
to fill the Gulf of Mexico
Now if you have excessive stock
And graze the hillsides down to rock
The soil your heirs should get, you know
is in the Gulf of Mexico
And your eternal price to pay
May rest upon that judgement day
When God commands:  "You lay the track,
Return the soil upon your back."

- Dr. Jake Landers (1931-Present), as quoted in Native American Seeds' 2023 Spring Catalog

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Needle, Thread, Tabi, Tea

Last Friday evening I mended my tabi.

Tabi, as you may recall, are the traditional Japanese "sock" that consist of a large toe and a second pocket for all the rest of the toes.  They are a standard for the martial arts, of which Iaijustu is one.  They are something that one regularly goes through - but just like as with my socks, they all tend to wear in the same place (in this case, on and around the large toe and along the outer side) and it just makes more sense to mend them up as I go for regular practice and keep some pairs for special occasions like demonstrations (embu) or when we are training with the head of our order.

I was alone this particular evening:  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Dhonn were off on a college visit and Nighean Bhan was out with friends leaving me alone with the animals.  It was also an "off" evening in that I had neither Iaijustu class nor weight training; other than my typical practice, it was otherwise free for tasks that needed doing.

And so, I sewed.

I had the my computer open and the option to watch or listen to something as I worked - but I did not.  With few exceptions, I find watching YouTube videos or even listening to podcasts a distracting and almost unpleasant thing:  they are either consumed in very small dose (20 minutes seems to be the outer limit) or go on in the background as true "white noise" that I have no intention of learning anything from. Streaming services can be similar - fortunately for my time management, the main service that I use pretty regularly fails to post anything on there that is worth watching.

A the Cat came and joined me at some point on the chair.  I had scooted to the side to sew; he helpfully moved into the back of the seat (after pushing my thread off the table with that nonchalant expression cats always seem to have) and settled in for the evening.  It is always nice to have a presence to sew with.

The dishwasher was a low thrum of washing from the kitchen as I worked.  Oddly enough I enjoy the sound of a dishwasher running:  there is a sort of regularity and pulsing to it that makes for a pleasing background sound, even working in silence.  That silence was enhanced by Poppy The Brave in the chair across from mine, sleeping away, and the sound of the rabbits and guinea pigs as they had their evening meal (the word for the morning and evening feeding in Watership Down is "silflay"; although a completely made up word, it conveys the sense of the activity much better than the phrase "crepuscular feeding").

And so, in the silence of snoring and purring and munching and pulsing water, I sewed.

I am sure that for many, this would seem the perfect waste of a Friday evening for any number of reasons:  re-mending a replaceable item, in silence, without distractions, without people, the room filled with the sounds of animals getting along with their lives and nothing else.  And yet at the end of my time there - when the tabi were sewn and put to the side and A the Cat curled into a slightly tighter ball - I lingered a little longer, finishing my tea and just sitting.

Sometimes it is just good to take peace where you find it.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Clouds And Lightning

I am far from a good photographer, but when we get a grand lightning storm I can just sit and watch the lightening dancing in the sky among the clouds.  It happens not all the often, but far more frequently than it ever did in Old Home.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Tax Season And Taxing Patience

 For my readers that may live in The Near Abroad, we here in Baja Canada find ourselves in the midst of tax preparation season.

I say "season" because - based on how many incoming documents you may have - it really is a period of time rather than short event.  The opening of the season - not celebrated nearly as much as that of something like Deer or Abalone season - starts on 01 January at the close the old year and will come to an end on or about 15 April, when the grinding of teeth will stop, when mental preparation for next year's tax season will begin.  Suddenly, the race is on to gather all the documentation required to file one's taxes.

If one has an employer, the appropriate form (W-2) must be issued by 31 January.  Other forms or information (some institutions no longer offer the forms themselves if you fall below a certain amount) can be ferreted out on the monthly statements or find themselves issued in a timely manner.

And then, there are the remaining forms.  Or as I have come to call them, "The Usual Suspects".

There are unifying factors around The Usual Suspects.  They are all companies that are virtually based - there is not a brick and mortar location that you can go in.  They all deal with electronic sorts of money in one form or fashion.  

And they are all terribly bad about providing their required forms.

Two companies - one for the small personal investment account I hold, one for the very small amount of remaining Crypto I hold - managed to make their forms available around the middle of the month.  The other - the repository for the Brave Attention Token, or BAT - just managed to create theirs this past Tuesday for me (14 March for those counting along on their calendars).

This strikes me as a bit ridiculous.  Everything is electronic now.  It literally just running the algorithm and generating the forms or spreadsheets - I do this at work on a daily basis.  It seems like it should be the sort of thing that could completed on January 2nd.  And yet, 2.5 months later, the last piece of paperwork comes crawling in.

I have noted before that the BAT - given for looking at advertisements in the Brave browser - has actually worked out for me in that it allowed me to purchase Amazon gift cards which I then turned into books as quickly as possible.  But the value of the BAT has fallen in recent months; last year when I wrote the article it was worth approximately $1 (more or less); it now sits squarely at $0.23.  So now it a) takes longer to get to that treasured $25 gift card level and b) makes it a lot less worth my while to deal with the inconvenience of a delayed tax filing to get that last piece of paperwork.

To be fair, now that I have the documentation and reverse engineered the calculation, I can get to the same number (on January 2nd, as it turns out) so next year in theory that should not be an impediment - at the same time, I am someone who wants all my documentation in place before I submit something (having to revise a submitted tax return, at least in the US, is a great way to get moved to the back of the line).  So I will either have to stop collecting back, live with what will be potentially a minor non-impacting calculation and file, or continue to wait.

Supposedly one of the big benefits of the InterWeb revolution was that information was going to be available quickly and seamlessly, especially for the those companies that saw the InterWeb and technology as "the next big leap in human (de)evolution".  It might be worth it to those companies to consider that it is not just delivery of one part of the service but every part of the service that makes something revolutionary.  Otherwise, it just becomes another annoying thing to deal with and give consideration to why one is doing it in the first place - after all, people adopt what works for them, not what they struggle with.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Collapse LXXXXV: Moon, Grass, Water

04 May 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

It is not my habit to write back to back (I say write; it has been months since I have actually heard from you and so the phrase, while strictly true, seems an amusing relic of a different age) but I have just come in from one of those moments which it strikes one as needing to be written about.

It was evening and the sun had sunk into the West, illuminating the trailing clouds in reds and golds and pinks as it has as long as I have been here and undoubtedly far, far longer – only then to fade away as the stars started to wink in.

But the stars themselves were overpowered by the moon – not quite full yet, but almost – that sat high in the sky, lighting the world with the soft sort of light that one can accomplish many things by at night – or, as I was, just be taken in by the sight.

I have written before of the silence and darkness that are now regular occurrences, the sorts of things that once upon a time we took for granted as a novelty or an inconvenience. Admittedly the darkness is much more a time of sleep now, as light is a commodity to be hoarded for the times it will be really needed, not just as a convenient excuse to cover a task which could have been accomplished during regular daylight hours. And yet, it is equally as foolish to squander the wonder of the moments that in an odd way, the world as it is has now gifted us.

Off behind The Cabin to my right as I face West, I can hear the gentle shifting of grasses as something moved through the pasture – likely deer gorging themselves on the native grasses. The field behind me has gone unoccupied without livestock for some years even prior to any of this and remains an outpost of wild land on the outskirts of a town once dying and now strangely brought back to life. I have no idea who owns the plot; I idly wonder if I should speak to Xerxes about seeing if someone is interested in putting some livestock there – it is easy enough for me to monitor and might result in a trade for something.

To my left, the stream continues to gurgle and rush as it always has, unseen whirlpools swirling into non-existence and rivulets of flow visible for second before they disappear into the greater whole. The trout have stopped jumping for the night, as their prey has disappeared until the morning’s light raises them into the competition for food and mates once again.

As I sat there, Lucilius, I was struck by the unseemly beauty of it all.

I live today in a world of collapse, in a system that overextended itself to the point that it could no longer continue. Survival for many is a real struggle; even for myself, I find myself in increasingly concerning circumstances – not immediately of course, but looking out into the future the risk heightens if I am not able to adapt to the world as it is, not the world as I wish it to be.

And yet in all of this, I find myself gifted with the moments of grace and hanging loveliness – Yeats’ phrase “peace comes dropping slow” comes to mind. The brightness of the moon, the slightly shifting light of the stars, the rustling of the grass on one side as the creek bubbles on the other – these are gifts Lucilius, gifts I had not expected nor would have noticed save the fact that they are now made extraordinary by the circumstances of the time.

The ordinary becoming extraordinary, noticed only because I have pushed out of my comfortable world so I can behold them.

Even now, Lucilius, the world remains full of miracles.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Old English, A Historical Background: Alfred (The Great) Part I

 Given the relative paucity of materials related to Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon England - recall that, prior to the formal "starting" of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (more about that below), historical written materials prior to the mid-700's consisted of Gildas' 6th Century history up through around 500 A.D. and the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of The English People.   Between the 700's and late 800's, more written works had begun to appear - early law codes for example, and what would become the basis of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - but not a great deal of history.  Thus, in some ways we have a fairly limited view of individuals within the time period - king lists, lists of bishops, but not a lot of insight into individuals that made up the period.

Fortunately, we have a few.  One such is Alfred.

Alfred, of course, did not begin with the nickname "The Great".  He is recorded as being the youngest of five sons born in 849 A.D.. His father Æthelwulf (ruled 839 - 858 A.D.) was King of Wessex, a descendent of Cedric, the founder of the Wessex Dynasty (arrived Britain circa 455 A.D.).  From what is recorded of Alfred's childhood, he was a sickly child and certainly not considered to be in line for the throne - after all, he had four elder brothers who would likely inherit the title.  Raised in the ever-moving court of the King, he grew up as a favorite youngest son,  listening to stories and apparently having a rather good memory for the spoken word.  At the age of four he was sent by his father to Rome and was received with great honor by Pope Leo IV.  Two years later, he accompanied his then-newly widowed father back to Rome.  As part of their travels there, he stopped in the court of Charles the Bald, King of the Franks and a grandson of Charlemagne.  These events may have impacted his later life, as he became an alms giver for himself and the West Saxons to Rome and, when he revived intellectual life in Wessex, he reached out to the Kingdom of the Franks for scholars and churchmen.

This period of Anglo-Saxon history was dominated by the Vikings:  the Vikings (largely Danes) had first overwintered in Kent in 851 A.D. and later (865 - 867 A.D.) The Great Heathen Army first landed and was bribed and sent against the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, then began taken territory throughout the land.  During this time the Kings of Wessex changed hands:  King Æthelwulf had to yield partial power when his second  son, Æthelbald, demanded the kingdom be divided into two (his oldest son Æthelstan, likely died in the early 850's from a Viking battle).  It was divided in Wessex and Kent, ruled first by Æthelwulf until his death in 858 A.D., and then by his son Æthelbert until Æthelbald's death (855 - 860 A.D.). When Æthelbert died childless in 866 A.D., his brother Æthelred became king (866 - 871 A.D.).

By the end of Æthelred's reign (870 A.D.) the Vikings had moved from their conquest of the North and East of Britain and come to Wessex.  Æthelred won a victory in January 871 at Reading and then  after at Ashdown, but was then defeated at the battles of Basing and Meretun.  He died soon after, by Easter 871 A.D. and Alfred at the age of 22 became King of Wessex, a Wessex defeated and under threat.

Alfred did the only thing he could at the time:  he paid the Vikings off with money (the Danegeld) to buy some time.  The Vikings went first to London for Winter quarters, then headed North to re-invade Northumbria, circling back down through Mercia.  By 875 A.D. they were back for another go at Wessex.

Alfred again "made peace" (e.g., bought them off) and exchanged hostages in 876 A.D. and again in 877 A.D. - and the Vikings pulled back.

Then, in the Winter of 877, the Vikings mounted a surprise invasion - and caught Alfred off guard.  The Vikings overran Wessex.

Alfred was forced to retreat with a small troop of men to the "Isle" of Athelney in the Sommerset  marshes.  There, surrounded by fenland, he and his men made guerrilla war on the Vikings until in May of 878 A.D. when he rode of out the marshes, called loyal Wessexmen to his banner at Egbert's Stone, and rode to Wiltshire, where he and his men defeated the Vikings at the battle of Ethandun (Edington) and then held them under siege at Chippenham for two weeks until they surrendered.  This was a decisive defeat of the Great Heathen Army:  The Vikings gave only gave hostages this time (instead of both sides and left Wessex for their conquered lands back in the East and of England and their leader, Guthrum, was baptized with Alfred as his sponsor.  The treaty negotiated between Alfred and Guthrum separated the lands of the Anglos-Saxons and the lands of the Danes. This division was not formalized until Alfred and Guthrum met again in battle in 886 A.D., the agreement (we still have the text of it) became the basis of the Danelaw:


The creation of the Danelaw matters because it created a separate people with a separate language (Norse) and a separate culture in Anglo-Saxon England.  The Vikings themselves (mostly Danes) would merge into the general population, but their customs and practices and the enrichment of the Anglo-Saxon Language by their vocabulary would continue for centuries after the Danelaw itself disappeared.

Thus 878 found Alfred and his kingdom - Wessex and its dependencies and the now largely shell kingdom of Mercian (its ruling house had been destroyed by the Vikings) - free from the immediate threat of invasion for the first time in 13 years.

Works cited:

Keynes, Simon and Lapidge, Michael:  Alfred The Great:  Asser's life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources.  Penguin:  Great Britain, 1983.

Brooke, Christopher:  From Alfred to Henry III 871-1272.  Norton Library:  USA,  1961.

Trevelyan, G.M.:  History of England Volume 1:  From the Earliest Times to the Reformation.  Anchor Books:  USA, 1953

Hollister, C. Warren:  The Making of England 55 B.C. to 1399.  D.C. Heath and Company:  United States,  1976.

Nicolle, David:  Arthur And The Anglo-Saxon Wars.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1984

Heath, Ian:  The Vikings.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1985

Harrison, Mark:  Viking Hersir 793 - 1066 AD.  Osprey Publishing:  Hong Kong, 1993.

Wikipedia:  Danelaw, Battle of Edington, Æthelred I, Æthelbert, Æthelbald, Æthelwulf 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Unexpected Event: An English Homestead

 For some years now I have been a follower and admirer of Kev Alviti who posts over at An English Homestead.  Kev is a woodworker by trade and posts about his and his family's journey on the road to self-reliance (as well as some pretty amazing woodworking projects).  They live in England (somewhere in England, my geography on these things is always so vague), so much of what he posts is familiar to me in a historical sense - it is grand to see it put into practice.  He also has a YouTube channel where he shares things as well (and it is well worth following/subscribing to both).

This week, his post was not on self reliance or a project rather upon his family dealing with his oldest daughters' onset of Type 1 Diabetes.  The link is here; I commend it to your attention.  His words are far better than mine and heartfelt, the heartfelt words of a father that is horribly surprised by something unexpected, out of his control, and that no matter how much he wants to, cannot be fixed.

It is a good and timely reminder (at least for myself) that even in the great storms of the Age - war, wild weather, economic turmoil, roof leaks - there are stories just like his family's that occur around us every day that in their way are just as disruptive as a major event, but never reach the consciousness of many beyond those in their immediate circle.  

I am sure Kev and his family would appreciate all the kind thoughts and prayers you can send their way.