Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Liking Happiness

Over my recent trip, I had the opportunity to read two books by the late Theologian Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1989).  I had not heard his name until almost my move from New Home, but was intrigued enough to seek out books about him and order (book reviews are in the works).  A very short summary is that he was for many years a missionary to India and returned, finding that the Western Civilization he had grown up in was in the process of changing drastically.  He wrote about the change in roles of Christianity as it addressed this post-Christian society (I will note for writing in the last 1980's he was ominously prophetic).

One of the notes he does make in both books that I read was that - even at that time - he perceived the Post Enlightenment Society of Western Civilization to be a society without hope.  Change that idea of "Hope" to "Happiness", and suddenly we have a blog post.

We are all unhappy from time to time; and anyone that has read me knows that more often than note, I fall into that category.  And yet, as strange as it may seem if all you knew of me is this blog, I am on the whole a relatively happy person.

Part of it is simply the fact that the simplest of things makes me happy.  A new book. Almost any sort of animal.  Free food.  Enjoyable conversation.  Puns.  On the whole, there really is a lot to be happy about and take simple pleasure in.

That said, I have come to appreciate more and more that there are a lot of people for whom simply do not like happiness.

What I am speaking of here is not those people that, often through no fault of their own, find themselves the victims of terrible circumstances.  These things lamentably happen, as they always have.  Who I am speaking of are the individuals that, in the face of pretty good lives and (in the case of Western Civilization) very affluent lives, cannot stand for any sort of happiness.

Bring up a subject, there is always something wrong.  Bring up a moment of joy, and there is some reason that joy should not be enjoyed.  Always, ever, looming over us is the great cloud of things going potentially going wrong or never up to snuff. Try to do something happy, and there is a wild look in their eye that one is either crazy or ill-informed or both.

Given a choice of liking or not liking happiness, they will almost always choose the latter.

Which, I suppose, brings up the world view which Newbigin suggests above: In a world that lives without hope, how can one like happiness?  There is no future, only a failing present that is ever destined for something worse.  Liking happiness, from that point of view, probably seems like a very great fool's errand.

Maybe we are on a fool's errand, given the world we live in.  But the one thing I will note is that, given the choice of being around the blithe but happy or aware but unhappy, I will almost always choose the happy.  Why?  Because life is already sad enough.  Constantly, only every finding the bleakest and most exacting thing wrong with it is not creating a sense of stark realism and it is certainly not winning people to their side.  

Is there a way to combined realism with happiness?  I am sure there is, although I am equally sure that I do a pretty lousy job at it.  But I will make one note:  the realist can attract me, but the happy will almost always attract me.  The unhappy, much less so.

Subvert the dominant paradigm.  Be Happy in a world that dislikes it.

Monday, April 29, 2024

On Moving In

The Great Move-In to New Home 2.0 occurred this weekend.

I say move in.  It was really me taking two suitcases packed to the gills, a backpack, and a pickup order that The Ravishing Mrs. TB put in for me at a national chain into an empty apartment, walking through the apartment and noting issues, and then putting away my things.

To be honest with you, I was depressed when I first walked in the door after getting the keys.

No matter how big you make the apartment in your mind, it is inevitably smaller than you remember it.  All of a sudden the thought "Where are we going to put everything?" flooded into my mind.  Looking at the Master Bedroom Closet space, I suddenly realized how much less it was than our home was.  And that I need to get rid of a lot more clothes than I had anticipated.

That thought - size and space -resounded as I walked through each room of the apartment.  In theory, the apartment is 50% smaller than our house.  That does not seem like so much in my mind - drop off two bedrooms and a family room, and no big deal, right?

It is, apparently, a big deal.

Somewhat obscurely, the kitchen is actually rather large.  Which is certainly not what I remember, but is welcome.

It will be an adjustment for sure.  One big item, for example, is that there is no real space for a desk, especially if all of the books come with me (which, of course, is what will happen - People get rid of books?).  There is a breakfast bar which I assume will become my functional desk, but then I wonder about all of the little things - memories, really - that I had on my desk.  What happens to those?

The reality of the move sank it even farther at that point.

I should be grateful, after all.  This round two of sorting things would always have had to happen if we moved anyway. This is just accelerating the issue and forcing me to deal with it now, not later.  And, I suppose, it is better to take my lumps and do the hard work now rather than have it happen with far less warning and far more urgency in the future.

(As a note, I will not have in-house InterWeb until the coming Friday, so I will be delightfully sponging off coffee shops for free InterWeb and trying to follow things on my phone.  As a result, responses may be delayed.  Thank you for your patience.)

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Standing At The Judgement


"'Hell and destruction are before the Lord:  how much more the hearts of the children of men?' (Proverbs 15:11).  But the sinner thinks that nobody sees him.  Concealing himself from human eyes, in the darkness of night or in a deserted place, he supposes he is not noticed by anyone.  But God's eye has seen everything; his guardian angel and conscience were witnesses.

At some time you will stand at the judgement:  then all that is hidden will be laid bare: uncompromising witnesses will be present - and you shall be speechless.  The verdict will not be subject to appeal.  There is only one way to prevent this ultimate inevitability:  repentance.  Hurry to enter, before the hour strikes...and it will strike.  

When? You do not know.  But it will put an end to your sins, or to any hope of pardon".

- Theophan The Recluse (A.D. 1815-1894)

Saturday, April 27, 2024

On Innovation

If you are not doing yourself the favor of reading FOTB (Friend Of This Blog) Eaton Rapids Joe's series The Cumberland Saga, I would encourage you to do so.  It is a rollicking tale about a small community living through a collapse (Rollicking?  Can I use that word in that context?) and is well worth the investment of your time.

Yesterday's serial episode involved some innovative thinking on the nature of weapons.  The weapons are beyond the point of this discussion (as they usually are here), but the idea of innovation is not.  The short version is that in the midst of thinking of parts, the innovative idea of 3D printing came up.


Among my many complaints about Our Political And Social Betters (OPASB) is the fact that for almost anything anymore, there is one solution:  theirs.  There is no negotiation, for example, on ways to address powering civilization (on which, as another FOTB John Wilder has often pointed out, the entire edifice stands):  it can only be solar or wind.  There are no other solutions and therefore, no need to discuss.  The same has been extended to virtually every area of human endeavor:  arts, religion, technology, human interactions, food, practices of all kinds.  There is only one solution, that of the OPASB.

Even I buy into this more than I should.

The difficulty for the OPASB - which I propose will become more and more evident every day - is that their solutions are not the end-all/be-all to the problem.  Solar and wind, for example, can be useful - until they are not.  Highly scientific and robotic farming works - as long as the chemicals flow and the finely tuned equipment works.  Defining what is art and entertainment works - until people simply no longer go to it.  Raising wages increases employee benefit - until labor becomes a cost which has to be reduced and the employee has no job at all.

The serial that ERJ wrote (above) is concerning solving for a particular problem.  What comes out of the discussion is a solution which had not been thought of before. An innovative solution.

It is here that the non-OPASB has the advantage.  Because they - we, really - can be innovative, flexible, and nimble.

Innovation is not easy of course.  And innovation should never be completely identified with progress, because in many cases current innovation looks a lot like traditional methods, methodology, and craftsmanship.  

The best part about innovation is it keeps mentally sharp.  Just trying to think of a solution is itself a useful exercise, even if the initial solution does not solve the problem.  Suddenly the world becomes a massive series of inputs to problems, just waiting to be used to resolve themselves.

The OPASB cannot and will not do such things.  They have too much invested - not just money, but pride - in doing things in their solution way.  To question the solution of the OPASB is to question the OPASB and, like almost all other authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, the OPASB will happily consume any doubters or heretics in its ranks.

Fight the power - quietly, silently.  Be innovative.

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Lack Of Layoff Safety

 This weekend my friend The Dog Whisperer finally begins a semi-cross country trek to her new job, something that ended up taking here almost 4 months to find.  Her stuff has gone on; she and H The Wonder Dog depart from New Home this weekend to make the journey.

As I was scouring the InterWeb for layoffs (as I always do), I noticed that a work location similar to what I remembered hers being announced they were having layoffs.  I checked in with her:  yes, that was her location and no, no-one had contacted her about any impact.  And although they were saying it was a minor layoff in the face of their total employee count, it was not the sort of not one wants to start one's job one.

It is true of me as well:  during one of the few times I checked the news while I was in Turkey, I found that my own company announced a series of layoffs - not at my site, but certainly at my division.  Again, limited numbers - but there was no internal mention of the event at all.

The Dog Whisperer's response to my inquiry was "At this point, no industry is safe from layoffs".

Her comment sank deep within me.

It is probably not fair to say without hesitation that "this is the new normal".  And yet, there is something within me that makes me feel that this sort of instability is the new normal, or at least the new normal within my own lifetime.

It is probably true that I am more sensitive to this than most, given the fact that with my own recent history I am almost at the point of jumping at my own shadow.  And yet, the shedding just seems to keep on coming.

There has to be a point where all of this reaches critical mass, when there are so many people not working and paying their bills (and directly dependent on government to do so) that it finally upends the economic apple cart.  Those that do not earn do not spend on the sorts of things that a service and consumer economy relies on for revenue.

It is a burden enough for those of us in our latter earning years; I cannot imagine the level of instability this will contribute to younger workers.  Sometimes it feels that at the rate we are going, more layoffs and longer periods between employment will become more and more of a thing.  

Managing through this, effectively at the end of my career, is difficult enough. I cannot imagine how a generation that has had not had the experience we had will do so.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Collapse CXXXIV: On The Road II

17 July 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

This morning, sometime around mid-morning, we effectively entered Terra Incognito, the land beyond which I have not been since The Collapse began.

I write this with an odd sense of disbelief. Two years ago had you asked, I would have scoffed at such a thing. This was a drive that took 1.5 hours each way that I made at least once a month. There was nothing remarkable about it, a series of curving hills and town and fields and streams. It had become the sort of drive one had during a commute, something that fell into the background of the mind as one thought about other things.

Now, Here There Be Monsters.

We passed by the remains of The Locusts, already stripped down and bones scattered across the road. We passed by McAdams, strangely silent and quiet after our time there only a few short weeks ago, the summer cottages windows staring mournfully at us, eye sockets of another age.

And with that, we passed into the Unknown.

For most of this stretch of road, there was nothing. Periodically a side road branched off but ended beyond a hill or turn we could not see. Only ourselves, the grasses and hills, and silence.

The Colonel, The Leftenant, and Ox switched off walking point and rearguard, usually taken Young Xerxes with them (likely for training as much as anything else), leaving myself the lone consistent center to plod on.

Was there a sense that potentially danger was around every corner? I suppose so, yes – we have had little or now information from this area in almost year. And yet, there is little enough in this part of the world to suggest that something like Locusts would want to stay here – towns like McAdams and Little City were the true lures in today’s world. At best, anywhere in this area would perhaps be a single home or ranch, not enough to maintain a group of people for more than a few days.

Lunch was taken at an old road rest stop, in the shadow of a historical marker denoting this location as part of a historical route. The irony of the moment struck me: once upon a time this was foot trail and almost 150 years later, it had reverted to the same. Technology can rise and fade, but the physical means to do things is always there.

By early afternoon we were approaching our final destination, a town at the Crossroads between the road from Little City and the road to Big City. Well before we got there, I was shooed off to the side of the road in a convenient spot with Young Xerxes and the other three headed on towards town. Our “orders” (do I call them orders, when we are an association of choice?) were to remain here until called or until late afternoon at which point we were to move farther off the road and hurry back as quickly as we could. Fortunately before I had too long to dwell on what “late afternoon” really meant in a time without time, Ox had returned.

The town was unoccupied, he said. But he also recommended that we prepare ourselves.

I have seen pictures of looted cities and buildings, Lucilius: the news was full enough of them throughout my life and especially in the years leading up to last year, when such things overseas and even occasionally here became more common place. But seeing such things is one thing; actually being in their presence is something else entirely.

The smell is the oddest thing. Not just rotting things, although that is a part of it. It is the smell of old smoke and destruction, the unseen wafting odors of dreams and hopes torn away by a reality that descended in unimaginable ways and left nothing but desolation in their wake.

At one time this small hamlet had a greenhouse supplier, gas station, and random set of stores designed to lure in tourists who were in love with the idea of old things; now it was a pall of ruined buildings and scattered items. Every door and almost every window I passed were smashed in. Cars sat askew of parking lines or street guidance, abandoned steeds bereft of the ability to move. Birds were more in abundance here than I had seen before, either scavengers or the l picking through the wreckage of humanity in hopes of an easy score.

Walk by but do not go in was the recommendation of The Colonel as we caught up to him. Whatever had happened here earlier, The Locusts were likely the cause of the destruction before our eyes. Best, he suggested, if Young Xerxes and I just pass through without dwelling on what might be inside.

Across the highway we could see another set of buildings in the same condition; turning these to our left we continued our journey North. By this time I was definitely near the end of the day for myself; 16 miles was a good hiking day for me 20 years ago, let alone now.

The Colonel had already planned a stopping point.

Just to the north of Crossroads was a small resort billed as a hot springs resort. It was one of those things that appears almost kitschy in its tourist appeal; the small geodesic domes looking campy in the middle of what was essentially still a frontier land. I had driven by this location any number of times but had never stopped, the idea of living somewhere and falling prey to a tourist trap something I thought to be intellectually beyond me.

But kitsch, apparently, was a repellent to random wanton acts of violence; the domes themselves were largely intact. And so afternoon and evening found us inside the largest of the domes, preparing to spend the night under shelter, which was more than I had expected.

How interesting, Lucilius. After dinner, I dipped my feet in the hot springs. How remarkable that it only took a complete collapse of civilization for me to finally stop here.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

On Pauses

One of the unintentional impacts of my recent trip to Turkey was that it served as a very hard pause to life.

Part of that is expected, of course:  when one leaves the country (especially for vacation), one finds that one's interest in following the news of the day dwindles to naught.  One aspect of this is simply that one becomes overly busy, especially on a tour like we went on:  we were on the road by 0800 almost every morning and did not stop until 1800 in the evening, when we had to arrive and eat and prepare for the next day, including getting our suitcases out by 0700 or 0715.  Add to that a half-hearted wifi system on the bus, and the time and energy to connect is almost not worth it.

The other part, of course, is simply that one is on vacation.  The end may come during that time, but I suppose I would just as soon prefer to be surprised about it in that case.  At least I could enjoy my last few moments in peace, bereft of any concern about what is coming.

The pause that I did not anticipate was the break in my life it demonstrated.

Even though I returned to New Home and then we flew out from there, my time in situ was perhaps 30 hours in all from the time I arrived the Friday for until we left on Saturday and the time we arrived home two weeks later until I flew out the following Sunday.  I had enough time to pack, pet the animals, pack up a few items for the move, and then leave.

It was not so much returning home so much as it was a stopover.

I need that, now.  The whole nature of the move to New Home 2.0 still seems a bit unreal to me, something that is neither here nor their.  In a way, it is an extension of my vacation:  by the time all is said and done, I will have been living out of a hotel room for essentially 6 weeks.  And I am still in that odd phase of any new job that one knows too little to contribute but more than someone walking in the door.

The pause was simply that reminder that, for better or worse, this is home now.

The overall move continues to grind forward.  The car was picked up for transport today and is expected to arrive next week.  The first meeting with the moving company is next week as well; more decisions have been made about what is to be moved.  After this Saturday, I will be ensconced in somewhere to actually call home for a while.  Having talked with my friend the Shelter Director, it sounds as if we have a plan for bringing the rabbits here.

In other words, there really is no "going home".  This is home.

How often will I return between now and the end of the year?  It is hard to say at this point; given what I know of my schedule now, it will likely not be more than a handful of times, and after the end of the year and The Ravishing Mrs. TB's relocation here, perhaps even less. It is not so much the cost as it is the time there and back again.

The hard pause of the vacation brought this all home.

Perhaps sometimes this is exactly why we need such pauses, not so much that we need the break in terms of relaxation or disconnection but rather that we need the Break:  the indicator that our past life really is in the past and that the new one is here, perhaps whether we are ready for it or not.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

2024 Turkey: The Return

We have safely returned from Turkey. Simply put, it was an amazing experience.

I say amazing.  To be honest, I was not really sure what to expect when we went.  "Turkey"  was a bit of a hazy concept for me - yes, I know that it exists and has a long history, but a long history is not the same as knowing precisely what to expect.

I knew a fair amount of history. What I had not fully anticipated was the broad array of history that we would be exposed to, everything from 8000 B.C. to the modern Turkish state.

For what has become usual for such events, I have managed to take far more photos and videos - over 1800 - than I will likely ever use - thus, there will be a bit of a delay as I process things (and move in to the apartment this weekend).

And as always, I thank you for your support and patience as I work through responses.

I remain,

Your Most Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Basilica Cistern - Istanbul

The Gülhane Garden - Istanbul

Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque - Istanbul

Aya Sofia Mosque (originally Haghia Sophia Church) - Stanbul

The Walls of Troy (yes, that Troy)

The Theater of the Askeplion - Pergamon

The Library of Celsus - Ancient Ephesus

Sunset on the Aegean - Kusadasi

Martyrion (Tomb) of St. Philip - Hierapolis/Pamukkale

The Tomb of Rumi - Konya

Sultanhan Caravansarayi - Sultanhani

Fairy Chimneys - Kapadokya

Ancient Churches carved from rock - Kapadokya

Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk  (Anitkabir) - Ankara

Saturday, April 20, 2024

On Entertainment and Content Creation

 One of things I have been following in the background over the last year or so are the ongoing content wars in entertainment.

It is not something I talk about per se here as it somewhat counter to the idea of creating a space for actual conversation (rather than polemics).  Suffice it to say that currently there is ongoing struggle within the entertainment world - films, streaming, comics, games (gaming, of course, now having outstripped films as a major money maker) to reflect the current society of today  - arguably at what is the cost of good story telling and good entertainment.

The point of today's thought is less about that battle, and more about the possible solution.


One of the realities of a capitalist society (versus a socialist society) is that the consumer gets a say. 

In Totalitarian and Authoritarian  societies, this is not nearly the case.  The government determines what gets made and how it gets made.  Most always such things are designed to serve the needs and the interests of the power structure (secondarily, of course, to spread the acceptable message).

Ah, TB (I hear you say), such societies can enforce attendance and engagement.  True, but they cannot "make" people like it or maintain it.  It becomes a state supported form art, perhaps publicly celebrated but ignored by the individual who does not engage in them personally.

But in the capitalist model the consumer gets a direct say.

The capitalist consumer can support or not support something by 1) Buying it; and 2) Talking about it.  Buying creates income and income pays the company and increases its value; talking about it maintains it in the public consciousness, perhaps encouraging more sales and creating sub-populations that are engaged (read "fanatic") about the item in question.

Which, of course, allows funding for the next thing.  Do this long enough and one has a series or a franchise or a universe.


Both industry and consumers are making a mistake.

Industry is making a mistake by dictating what will be in the entertainment based on what they desire to be there, not recognizing who their paying audience is and what they want.  Over time, this has resulted in declining revenues and layoffs.  Industry remains (publicly at least) befuddled by this.

Consumers are making a mistake because they continue to buy the things they say they do not like - and just complaining about it, even as they continue to buy it.

Is it right to complain if a treasured and favored character or franchise becomes distorted in ways the creator never intended or dreamed of to serve modern sensibilities?  Of course it is.  But continuing to engage with company financially on the subject is futile.  That work has already been paid for and executed.

The only way to change things is to simply 1) Stop buying and 2) Stop engaging.


I have written - here, and in other places I frequent - that the future belongs to the independent content creator.

The best work now is happening overall in the independent space - because the independent space is where there are no rules, no checklists, no "things must be precisely what we say" - the old totalitarian model of anything.  

And the independent space is audience responsive because it is audience supported.  Content creators that make such things and are supporting themselves are directly responsible for making things that their audience enjoys and likes.  Stray from that and the content creator will swiftly be looking for another line of work.

But in order for that to truly take root and flourish, it is necessary that the consumer simply walk away the alternative:  the corporatized, politicized, modern entertainment industry.


There are a lot of things that we as consumers have limited choices about.  There are limited number of chains I can buy most foods from, or places I can get my fuel from, or my utilities from.  But there are other things - like the industries I am speaking of - that are 100% within the control of the consumer to cause to succeed or fail.

Entertainment is a human desire.  What such companies have forgotten is that while it is a desire, it is also something that we can learn to do by ourselves or with those who are like minded.

Long live the Content Creators.

Friday, April 19, 2024

On Raising Wages And Departing Employees

 In what is going to be a real life test of an Ayn Randian principle, California has recently decided to up the minimum wage of fast food workers.

For the purposes of this exercise, I am setting aside the arguments about what a minimum wage is and why it is and who gets it.  That is not the crux of the issue - but there is an underlying issue I think bears careful watching.

The issue is simply the breaking point of the average consumer.

One of the things that remains relevant even in my own industry is the idea of COGS, or Cost of Goods Sold - that is, the sum total that one sells a good for.  In theory, COGS is supposed to include all the things which go into the manufacture of that good, including materials and labor (but excluding things like overhead, which falls into administrative expenses).  Nor does this include some level of profit for the company manufacturing the product (Useful description here.)

When labor goes up - just like materials go up - the COGS goes up.  But COGS is not necessarily the same as "price sold at".  This becomes a balancing act of all of the things - COGS, Administrative expense, profit.

When California raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour, it increased the COGS.  Unfortunately for fast food (and all of us), the cost of goods in general (in this case, food) has also gone up.  Which leaves the business owner three choices:  lower profits, raise prices, or cut costs.

From the view of the government, I am reasonably sure that the most desirable outcome is "lower profits".  Profits are, after all, generally evil except above some small socially acceptable norm which is never quite defined but everyone knows what it is (ignoring, of course, the fact that lowered profits equal lower tax receipts.  But more on that shortly.).

From the business owner's point of view, the most desired outcome is "cut costs".  Cutting costs reduced (or at least mediates) COGS.  And, sadly for everyone else, labor is usually the greatest cost any business has.

The option that is overall least desirable is "Raise prices".  From the government's point of view, although likely it generates more sales tax it also hikes overall prices.  From the business owner's point of view, the more prices rise the more likely it is that you will begin to price out certain portions of your market and thus lower overall revenue.

And so - even before this started - business owners started cutting staff.

In at least one example, it started with pizza delivery drivers.  There is a certain cold logic to it - in an age of apps that handle delivery of food, why would one keep a staff to deliver food?  Yes, it means that you do not have direct control over that part of the supply chain, but you are also not paying people who may or may not have deliveries.  And now that overhead and administrative expense falls on someone else, not you, reducing your cost. 

From the government's point of view, this is a bit of a catastrophe.  Less payroll taxes, less income taxes, likely more drain on the social welfare systems as these people look for work.  By "increasing" income, they have decreased their own revenues and increased their own spending.

The other element, of course, is simply the price hike.

As prices increase due to inflation and material costs, people start making choices.  People start realizing what is important and what is not.  And in times of tightened budgets, fast food and restaurants in general are likely some of the first things to go.  

The problem for Our Political And Social Betters (OPASB) is that although they can control owners indirectly, they cannot control consumers.  And consumers will respond to the market in a realistic fashion based on their experience, not on what good intentions would mandate.

By (in theory) trying to do the "right" thing in increasing people's salaries, they have likely ensured that more people will not have jobs.  Which seems like a bit of a reverse outcome. 

Contrast this mandate with at least one restaurant here in New Home 2.0, where they notify you up front (literally up front as you enter the restaurant) that they charge a 3% "living wage" fee as part of the check.  If you do not care to pay it, you can have it removed.  This, to me, makes more sense:  I am informed, I have the ability to opt out, and the company is able to do something to mitigate costs (likely most people do not refuse the additional amount).

My prediction?  Layoffs will skyrocket. Businesses will fold.  Where businesses do not fold, automation will not just become an interesting idea or unique selling point, but critical to the businesses ability to survive.   It will not impact OPASB of course; they eat at locations where none of these things will be an issue.  But almost everyone else will see some kind of effect.

Atlas may not be shrugging, but he may be limbering up his shoulders.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Collapse CXXXXIII: On The Road I

16 July 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

I write this to you at the end of two days of walking

The trip to Little City was unremarkable enough to give you but the high details; this area remains relatively reliable safe, at least so far as we know – although a certain wariness is always advised in any circumstance. The road remains solid and in relatively good condition, the trip between ourselves and the first stop – Kentucky City – nothing but the quiet walking of myself and Young Xerxes, he lost in thoughts he did not share and I lost in thoughts of leaving this morning and learning to fish in the man-made lakes along the side of road with my grandfather a very long time ago.

The stop in Kentucky City was both a reunion and a planning session, the reunion with The Colonel and the planning for what would come after. After a hearty round of greetings, the Colonel laid out the route he proposed: four days out to the location where we were to make contact, one day to survey, and then four days back. Based on what we found, further plans could be made from there.

The hike the next day – from Kentucky City to Little City – was started at the crack of pre-dawn. It was at this point that a thing that I did not expect occurred: not only was The Colonel there, but so was the Leftenant and Ox. I was (pleasantly) surprised beyond belief and told them both so. The Leftenant said I made a good traveling companion and Ox said he simply had nothing more pressing to do.

This was a harder hike as we made our way up and over the hills that divided the Garnet Valley from the next valley over. This was a little more nerve wracking than the day before, simply because of the fact that the ambush possibilities here were far richer: higher cliff walls, a pass, and (on the descent) a high wall of rock on one side and a steep drop on the other.

Add to this as well the fact that the rate limiting factor is me.

It is not something I care to dwell on often, Lucilius, but both you and I are on the long downhill slope. Likely I am 15 years older than The Colonel, between 20 and 40 years for the rest of the party. One of the members ran point, then myself and two others, then someone bringing up the rearguard. I was in neither rotation; my job apparently was simply to make sure I could keep going.

We stopped at the top of the pass for a breather – I say “we”, it was most likely for me. The sun had come up by this point and it gave a long view down to Little City and across the river to the valley’s edge on the other side. Here and their one could see clusters, mostly vacation homes like the ones outside of McAdams for vacationers that would likely never return. A wealth of materials there, Lucilius, to be mined.

Likely we would need to. Another plan for filing away to explore later.

The descent down was far more pleasant and by a little after noon (so far as I could tell) we made contact with the pickets of Little City. The Colonel talked for a moment, then we started in, following something of the route we had taken only a month ago before we arrived at the high school gym again.

I gave The Colonel a quizzical stare as I looked around the empty gym; were there no other shelters offered? The Colonel, perhaps sensing my question, simply shook his head.

Even with the recent past here, the sense of “us” and “not us” seemed a palpable thing.

Someone had taken the time to leave some supplies; digging through them, it appeared that they were loot from the McAdams storehouse. Dry oatmeal, tins of meet and fruit, even a tin or two of the little sausages covered in their own fat. For the sense of “not us”, someone at least seemed grateful for the attempt.

You may laugh at me that at what is about 5 PM here, I am already for bed. I am tired, Lucilius, and there is a very long hike ahead of me.

Of all the things that I had thought about in imagining The End, being tired all the time was not one of them.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Sure Of Losing

I usually find myself on the side of the underdog.

Even when I am reading history, even when I know the outcome, I am likely to be pulling for the side that historically lost.

Part of that, I suppose, is simply the fact that as a confirmed life-long loser of most things, my sympathies go out to the side being defeated.  Part of that as well is that some of the defeated sides actually have the better histories, the classic example of this always being everyone that is happy to claim the slightest bit of Celtic Heritage (myself included).

It easy enough to do in history or in fiction.  It is harder to do looking forward into life, when the outcome is not known and uncertain.

Writers I respect - Sarah J. Hoyt and Friend-Of-This-Blog (FOTB) John Wilder - are confident that the ultimately, reason and sensibility triumph (if perhaps not in our lifetimes) as the consequences of choices manifest themselves and economic realities demonstrate that no matter how much one can wish something to be so, it simply economically will not be so.  And on one hand - the fact that, as Ayn Rand said, you can choose your actions but not the consequences of actions - I believe this to firmly be so.  

On the other hand, there can be a long stretch between here and there.

This is where history is the rub:  it shows just as many times where the side which was perhaps more in the right or on the side of sensibility has been ground into the mud and lost.

Do things come back?  Not always; Republican Rome's continual civil unrest and short term dictators led to the Principate and The Roman Empire only to dissolve into fragments.  Within 100 years, the high point of Athenian culture and democracy had dissolved into being just another Greek city in larger alliances, never to be more than a historical point of interest.  Other societies may return, but in far different circumstances: it took Russia 70 years to become something other than the Soviet Union, after it had managed to consume so much of Russian culture and society.

But really, this uncertainly is precisely what Eliot's quote is getting at:  Give me the person who, believing there is no chance of victory, takes the right side anyway

Ultimately we live for eternity, not time.  Would that we were conscious of this always and in all our decisions, seeing them for the time bound item they are with eternal implications.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

On A Lesser Salary

 One of the realizations that has come with the initiation of the new job is that I have entered a period of time of declining income, not a rising one.

That probably seems like a very First World problem - after all (I hear you say), you spent last year looking for jobs not once not twice.  And you yourself admitted that you were likely overpaid at your last position for longer than you should have been.

Fair points and well taken.  I am simply looking at it from the trajectory of the typical career and my experience of the last 25 years.

It is fair to say over my time in the biopharmaceutical/medical device industry, I have done well.  I have done very well, the sort of well that could not have been replicated except in the nascent IT industry of its day (which I was more or less contemporaneous with).  From my entry into the industry, hard work and application allowed me to see my salary rise over time.  Sometimes it a cost of living increase, sometimes it was a promotion, but it was always ever up.  Even when I fell out from The Firm (which was a financial setback of epic proportions; in retrospect I wonder what would have happened if I had simply stayed put) or Hammerfall, I was able to effectively re-enter the industry at my previous salary (or close enough).

That changed with Hammerfall 2.0 and Hammerfall 3.0.  

Hammerfall 2.0 and the resulting salary drop was a not a surprise - I was overpaid for reasons that I will never understand (but, to be fair, never questioned).  Hammerfall 3.0 and New Home 2.0 continued that trend. 

Does money matter?  Not in terms of my ego (just as title does not matter at this point), but in terms of practical living absolutely.  All here know the relentless grind of inflation; a drop in salary helps nothing there.

For fun (because when is future planning not fun?), I ran a simple analysis of my current salary and added in the potential of a cost of living increase (3%, if you are curious).  It takes me four years to get to what I made prior to Hammerfall 2.0.  If I extend it to 10 years from now, it is still okay (but probably effectively the same as today given inflation). 

But I never touch what I made prior to 2020.

One of the assumptions that many young people have is that their salary and their careers will only ever go up.  We older ones know; careers are just often lateral moves and sometimes reverses not just of position, but of finance.  For those that know this, they can adjust and move on.

For those that do not and find their sum total in what they are called and what they earn, it can be a difficult adjustment indeed.

Monday, April 15, 2024

On Historians And Impotence

The great curse of the historian is they often function as the closest thing to an accurate fortune teller that we have, at least without supernatural intervention.

The historian can look back to similar sorts of things in the past (and trust me, there are always similar sorts of things) and while perhaps not being able to complete predict what will occur, can render an opinion on likely outcomes.

Those who just look at current and future trends suffer from the opposite sort of thing:  by basing things on what they think likely to happen, they spin all sorts of ideas about what they think will happen or - worse - what they "feel" will happen.

Humanity, though, is much like any other organism:  when under stress or challenge, we tend to revert to form.  And history, if nothing else, is filled with all sorts of form.  To be fair, it is not quite the "cause - effect" of scientific laws, but at worst one could say that there are a very narrow sort of potential options.  

The temptation here, of course, would be to insert some sort of commentary about a current situation and then point out how it will "not go as planned". But I am not nearly so good a historian as to be able to do so and like with any soothsayer, to predict wrongly is to undercut your message.

But given that the historian is more likely than the current/future trend follower to understand the outcome, they find themselves in the awkward position of not being able to actual use that knowledge to impact the course of events.

Oh certainly, they can raise the alarm, be the Cassandra in their Troy crying warnings that no-one will hear.  But warnings from individuals are simply words without any power to enforce them; they are often to their societies either amusing (at first) or tiring (later on) commentary on the state of the world.  Things inevitably are going well and looking better; why muddy the waters with constant reminders of Ozymandias in the desert?  One thing about the past, society says, is that it is gone:  we as humans can set any course we want.

We can set any course we want, I suppose.  Yet history points out that overwhelmingly when the storm hits the ship, the crew will most likely react as they always have.  And the historian will be there, pulling with the rest, sadly confident in the fact that this, too, was likely to occur.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Be One

 "Now your remaining years are few.  Live them, then, as though on a mountain-top.  Whether a man's lot be cast in this place or that matters nothing, provided that in all places he views the world as a city and himself its citizen.  Give men the chance to see and know a true man, living by Nature's law.  If they cannot brook the sight, let them do away with him.  Better so, than to live as they live.

Waste no more time on arguing what a good man should be.  Be one."

- Marcus Aurelius,  Meditations, Book 10,  Sections 15 and 16


I cannot ultimately control the world or the things that occur to me from outside of me.  What I can control is how I live and how I act and the example that I present.  This, anyone can do for free and without training.  It merely takes the moment by moment decision to live (or Live in Truth, as Solzhenitsyn would say).

Friday, April 12, 2024

Fridays With Rainbow

 One of the outcomes of taking two classes in writing last year was the ability to reconnect with my long-time friend Rainbow again.

Rainbow, as very early adopters of this blog might recall, was a coworker from 2005 to 2007. She eventually wandered off to another job (and then another job and then another job; these things happen); while I wandered to what became Hammerfall and thence to New Home. We had kept in contact over the years, mostly in bits and pieces because life gets busy.

I took the initial writing class (and its follow up one) at her recommendation. Suddenly, I found myself in need of an accountability buddy for writing and we apparently had the "excuse" we needed to make it a priority.  And so now for 6 months or more, we speak more or less every week on Fridays.

Oddly enough, writing only figures into about 20% of the conversation.  80% of the conversation is mostly about moral support - sometimes for writing, sometimes for life in general.

For me, of course, this could not have come at a better time.  As you know if you have followed along, it has been something of a year to date.  And so I could wail, complain, berate, and snarl into the phone with a listening ear that was far enough removed from the situation to be objective but close enough to my life to understand everything that had gotten us to this point.

I do the same of course; after all, support networks to work have to work both ways.  And the same thing is in play:  I know enough of her life to understand why she is where she is and am far enough out to comment in a way that someone closer might not be.

She also encourages me in my writing.

As I have noted recently, writing has been a challenge of late - and non-blog related writing, even more.  In a way, that is not the best of things, as non-blog writing is possibly an avenue to make other things possible.  I can always find reasons why something has come up or why I just do not "feel like" writing.

I can.  But talking to Rainbow, I cannot.

Giving her my rundown of weekend activities two weeks ago, she made the comment "And write, yes?  We are going to write?" 

"Sure" I said, glibly promising the moon without thinking about it. Until Saturday came and I was sitting in the hotel room at a loose end.  The conversation crept into my mind, along with the fact that the question would eventually come.

And so, I wrote.

It was a terrible short story, rather predictable zombie fiction based on a location I had seen during one of my walks here.  But I persevered and kept writing, all 1770 words of it.  At the end of it, rather disgusted with my perceived lack of originality and rather generic voice.  But I did it.

I let Rainbow know. "I am sure it is great!" she texted (out of great kindness, no doubt).

This is what our friends do for us:  help us to do the things that better ourselves even when we ourselves do not want to do them.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Collapse CXXXXII: On Home

16 July 20XX +1

My Dear Lucilius:

We leave tomorrow.

Yesterday and today have been a bit of a mad scramble – not just to prepare to be gone for up to two weeks, but to catch up on everything here that the last month has left behind, as well as to actually reconnect with my wife.

There just seems to be so much to do – even more so given that at least a week or more was effectively lost.

The bees continue to seem to do well, although to be honest I am doing most of this via outside observation. Any time one opens the hive one disturbs them and given that replacing a hive is quite likely impossible at this point, I try to minimize my interventions. One more check, perhaps two, between now and the end of August, before I try and harvest something.

The quail are in full production. By “full production” I mean a handful of eggs, maybe 5 or 6, which make for a very welcome treat. They do tend to hide them, although Pompeia Paulina has managed to corral them in the mornings to a part of the greenhouse until we are relatively sure they have laid, and then lets them out to wander the fullness of it. The eggs are nice addition to breakfast.

It is high Summer here, and rain remains scarce, so a goodly part of the day is spent on hauling water to the garden. Fortunately, the stream is across the road. Less fortunately, there is no convenient way to get it there except by hand hauling it over. I should have paid more attention to that earlier.

The last two weeks, the house has almost felt like a home. A busy home, mind you, given that this coming year seems even less certain than the one before it, but a home none the less. Having Pompeia Paulina here has brought a certain settled sense to things. Not specifically because of anything she has done, although she has done quite a lot. Simply her presence fills this place in a way that I did not realize it was lacking until it was filled.

She did me the kindness today of going through the things I am taking: Did I really need that? Could I made do with this as it did two things and weighed less? Was I bringing enough to make it there and back?

Never a recrimination on leaving or why I had to go. We had talked about it of course, and she was in full support of making the suggestion – perhaps understanding more than I did what the likely outcome would be.

How remarkable, Lucilius, to find the thing you never knew you needed in the place you never thought to look.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

History, Philosophy, Theology, Literature

One of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me was the interest and passion for reading.  The second greatest gift she gave me in this regard is that I could read anything that I wanted to.  Originally I read fiction and fantasy - not surprising in a young boy - and after a short trip into space exploration, started reading more in history, which led to philosophy and theology.  Literature happened as well, though initially through the "encouragement" of education; it was not until after college that I realized I could read the great fiction that I found I enjoyed, not the ones I was assigned.

One of the things that comes across from reading about different periods of history and people within those different periods of history is that on the whole, humanity and the problems we face have not really changed over all these years.  2500 years ago the Greeks were discussing what the nature of the individual was.  Sun Tzu and Thucydides and Tacitus and Anna Commena and the unknown writer of the Heike Monogatari remind us that war and internal politics have not changed in a very long time

History, Philosophy, Theology Literature - these give us a view into the humanity and all of its glories and failures.  Laid out fully before us are all of the follies and foolishness and successes of every thing that humanity has ever done or tried.  It also serves as a guide to future endeavors, if we will allow it to be so.

Collectivization of property which will benefit society?  Been tried, failed miserably.  Restricting personal freedoms and imprisoning those that are against the current regime?  The regime falls, eventually, and those that believed and enable it will be excoriated.  Start a war without understanding what a war actually is?  The nature of war will be understood at the cost of lives and treasure and territory and the rending of social compacts.

To Lewis' point above, most of this will be lost if we only focus on our current day.  

Current day commentators who only look at the current day and/or only look at the things that support their views are men and women constantly advancing before encroaching sunset.  I say advancing; they are actually running as fast as they can lest the weight of the past catch up with them and overtake them.  Modernism can scarcely bear the weight of historical experience; its only hope is to try and outrun it.

Interestingly, the InterWeb has both accelerated and compounded this problem.  It has accelerated it in that history, philosophy, theology, and literature can be simply removed and hidden away and facts around it rewritten and obscured.  It has compounded the problem in that those same areas can be much more easily distributed and read by many more people.

Were I to have a recommendation or plan for society to right itself, I would recommend that people spend twice as much time studying the past than they do paying attention to the present or the future.  Those of the present and future orientation only have theoretical results and hopes to point to; the past can tell us how such things generally work out in reality.

Monday, April 08, 2024

On Downtowns

 Last weekend and the weekend before, I took a drive to local downtowns.

Part of my interest, I suppose, comes from the fact that I am the product of a small town downtown.  I remember a time when most or all of our shopping was done there (or via the Sears Catalogue).  Seeing these layouts and structures now is not just an idle exercise in architecture for me; it is a reminder of a past time when such places were the backbone of the town or city in which they were located.

How downtowns, at least the downtowns of smaller cities and towns, are treated and maintained is always of interest to me.  They tell me a great deal about the larger community in which they exist - not only in how the community is doing economically, but what the community thinks about their inner core.  

Some - many - downtowns have simply become rundown rows of empty shops or the sorts of things one sees in failing places:  antique and knick-knack stores, occasional charitable organizations, the lone hanger on or two from a different era.  Other communities have put time and effort into saving their downtowns, making the (or at least attempting to make them) locations with businesses which, although they may not always be the same as a traditional downtown, are at least creating an active and live business atmosphere of shops (often specific interest and restaurants).

I suppose it matters to me as well because of how other growth seems work on the outer edges of towns as well.

Outer growth is - almost invariably - a series of large Big Box stores and shops which are, for the most part, interchangeable with any other location in the United States, the great homogenization of commercial culture.  Certain regional differences may be present - grocery stores, for example, or food chains - but I would bet 90% of these places are the same as any other similar store one would step in halfway across the country.  The structures are usually the same, the insides are usually the same - literally one store looks exact like the other.

Of my two visits, the downtown of New Home 2.0 is actually a functional downtown, more or less. It has a mix of shops, some that have likely been there for twenty years or more, along with more apparent recent arrivals and restaurants.  It has the appearance of at least the locality caring about it and some level of money being put into it.  

The second visit - the town farther away - was less promising:  more empty storefronts, more "succession" stores, less places that are likely to drive traffic.  They are undergoing the sort of suburban growth that is brought about by the sales of tracts of land and the building of houses, but it appears the commercial growth is happening (again) on the outskirts, not in the center.

I can give the usual reasons for wanting to support local downtowns (or local businesses in general):  the money and tax dollars stay locally, the community thrives, local people do not have to commute or move away to find services and paying jobs.  But even more important than that is my conviction that without such centers, the communities eventually vanish - oh, physically they are still on the map and people live there, but they become places that people go to and from, not live in.

Are there things in New Home 2.0's downtown that I necessarily need?  Not specifically that I can see. That said, I will do what I can to support them.  After all, if such places are important, it is really a question of me putting my support where my belief is.

And besides, who knows what sort of new things I might find?

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Diminishing God's Glory

I will be honest that a combined focus on ourselves as individuals and a species and the corresponding loss of focus of God, at least in society if not in Christian churches themselves, is depressing to me at times.  In a real and odd way, I am conscious of the glory of God and seeing Him ignored or torn down especially by humans, haunts me.

But one day as I was thinking on this, I realized that I was looking at it backwards.

All the world has to throw at God, all the ignoring of Him and befouling of His name and His ways, does not impact God in the least.  He remains high and lifted up in eternity, encompassing all of creation and all of time.

Is sin an affront to God?  He tells us it is.  But does it detract at all from His nature and His glory and His power?  Does the denial of Him by individuals somehow deprive Him of power?  Does the mockery of Him somehow reduce Him to the level of a myth?  Does God somehow wink out of existence because He is extirpated from culture and society?

For all of these, the answer is "No".

I have to remind myself of this more.

God is not bothered (in that sense) by what the world thinks of Him, nor does it change Him in an fashion or form.  Like Lewis' quote above,  we have come to believe that somehow we - as the measure of everything - have power over everything, including the ability to somehow reduce God.  

Like the lunatic, we have come to completely misunderstand both our position and our power. 

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Gone Traveling 2024: Turkey

Friends - As you read this missive, I am likely finishing packing/on the way to the airport/on a plane to Turkey.


I know what you are thinking:  Did you not just start a job, Toridhealbheach Beucail?  How is it that you are there three weeks and then away?

Ah, therein lies the story...

As with our trip to Greece last year, this trip was paid for over the course of the year and by the time the offer came from New Home 2.0, the last money was locked in.  I asked my now-employer for options:  Could I start, take the time off (paid or unpaid) and return or could I simply start after the vacation?  Their preference was that I start now.

Taking the time off?  As it turns out, they have a policy where one can go up to two weeks into the "vacation hole" - which conveniently aligns with vacation itself, although the overall turnaround time will be tight:  I flew home yesterday, leave today, return in two weeks on a Saturday, and then fly back to New Home 2.0 on Sunday.  I only have about a 24 hour turn around in each case.

What are doing?  It is with the company we have gone with before, so there are plans.  We start and end in Istanbul, so we get to see elements of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  We head down the Western coast of Turkey - the old Ionian Coast - and stop at Ephesus.  We trek inland and do stop and the national capital of Ankara.  I am reasonably sure there are other "stops" along the way.

As per usual on such things, response time will be delayed (on the bright side, other than spam I hardly have to monitor things at all.  You are all such a great community).  God willing, contemporaneous posting will start again on or about 22 April.

As always, Be Kind and Do Good and I will see you on the other side!

Friday, April 05, 2024

Weekend Walkabout, New Home 2.0 Edition

One of the things I am currently enjoying (and think I will continue to enjoy) about New Home 2.0 is that it is a very walkable place.  Beyond just being close to the train station downtown, we will be 0.3 miles from the church I went to for Easter Sunday (if we decide to go there) and only about 2 miles from my job - which, I as I checked on the weekend, has sidewalks all the way there and could be done (at least, in the good weather).  They also have some wonderful and pretty attainable paths for hiking.