Friday, May 31, 2024

That Was The Twelve Months It Was

 On Wednesday, The Dog Whisperer (now safely ensconced in her own New Home 2.0), mentioned that that day - the 29th of May - would have been her one year anniversary at our for employer.  The date rang a bell - sure enough, 29 May 2023 was the last day of my first layoff in 2023.

(Thanks, InterWeb, for allowing me to preserve these milestones.)

She made a comment about the fact that it was funny how quickly things could change.

I started doing some reflection.  In the 366 days since this last layoff  (Leap Year and all), I have been hired three times, laid off once, left one job (Produce (A)Isle, due to my current job), had a child graduate from high school and start college  (Nighean Dhonn), have another one start graduate school (Nighean Bhan), had two children move back home (Nighean Gheal and Nighean Bhan), had a parent die (my mother), had a pet die (P the Rabbit), had an engagement (Nighean Bhan), and moved halfway across the country

I was out of the country three times (Greece, Turkey, Japan) for a total of 5 weeks, unemployed at a main job for 4 months, enjoyed a 37% income drop, trained with my headmaster twice, hiked in the Sierras for a week (and felt like I almost did not make it), and made at least 8 trips back to The Ranch.

Also, we had to replace our roof.  Mostly out of our pocket.

In other words, it turned out to be quite an unexpected year.

If I sit and look at all of that, I feel...well, exhausted.  Any two of the events listed in the first paragraph would have been been a lot.  All of them together?  No wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed at times.

The funny thing to me is that some years are not like this.  2015?  Relatively straightforward, other than likely I was having issues with my job (like almost every year).  2017 and 2018?  Other than a graduation or two from high school and the knowledge of my mother's Alzheimer's and what was likely starting to manifest itself as my job stress, not much (good heavens, we even went to Iceland in 2018).

So why this "year"?  Why all this now?

I do not fully have the reasons for it.  I am sure, in God's economy, it makes sense.  If I had to hazard a guess - always risky when involving God but based on what continues to be the outcome of these events in my own mind - is simply that I needed to have my attention grabbed and shaken to think about other things.  Things like getting too programmed, of having too many things, of not being able to make decisions that I needed to make.

Suffice it to say that I hoping for a relatively "dull" next twelve month cycle.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Collapse CXXXXIX: Going Home

 23 July 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

I know, I know – Three days must seem like an eternity after daily updates. This was due to the simple fact that the days were largely spent walking.

After our meeting with Epicurus and Themista and our evening return to Cato’s, we had a last meal with him, Cato The Younger, and his men. It was a pleasant enough evening, with the weather cooling nicely (as it will do here from time to time). Other than the comradeship and the suggestion to Cato The Elder that likely Crossroads had some things worth picking through, the biggest development would be a regular check-in time with the Garnet Valley – and, it sounded like, with Epicurus and Themista.

After they left, the Colonel laid out his thoughts for our trip home: we could make it three days if we went from here to Crossroads, from Crossroads to Little City, and from Little City to Birch. He said “could”; everyone turned to look at me.

I gave the Colonel a raised eyebrow. 17 mile days, he responded. I nodded back; 17 miles on an overall level track was possible.

The next morning, early, we set out.

The trek back was essentially like the trek out in format: Someone, usually The Colonel or The Leftenent on point, Ox or Young Xerxes in the rear, and myself chugging along with whomever was not leading or following. The weather held for us overall, although we experienced at least two of the sort of short showers which can happen here from time to time. For one we found cover at Crossroads. For the other we just marched through.

Conversation during the day was at a minimum; everyone else’s mind seemed set on returning back to familiar territory as quickly as possible while mine was simply focused on making it through the day. The packs had lightened up a bit ominously as we started to eat out the food that we had brought with us.

The trip through Little City on the third day was quiet as it had always been; I am not sure if it that we never come here during normal hours or the fact that the people were just becoming more and more cliquish. Passing by, we headed up over the hills to Kentucky City – the most difficult part of the walk as it was only uphill for 3 hours or more. I was chuffing by the time I reached the top – but it was all downhill from there (literally, in this case).

At Kentucky City, The Colonel left us – things to do and set up, he alluded, giving each of us another hug as he sent us on our way. He would talk to us again soon, he assured us. And so it was we made the slow afternoon walk back to Birch with The Leftenent and Ox making sure we returned home.

Both Statiera and Pompeia Paulina were ecstatic when they sighted us from the road. By then it was hinting at darkness; The Leftenenant and Ox were starting to turn back but Statiera would not hear of it. With that she shuttled both them and her husband back to their home.

My wife, bless her, could see that I was just about spent – 17 miles a day is a lot for anyone, let alone someone of my age and the last two months. She carefully narrowed her questions to a very vague sort of update and filled in the conversation with the doings in Birch, which mostly sounded like continuing to work on preparing for Winter.

I suspect the grilling will come tomorrow.

During one of our evening stops, The Colonel asked me how I felt about everything. Mostly a failure, I confessed. He pressed into the question a bit and my response was that in terms of a pure mission objective, we had failed. There was wheat, but we could not really get at it.

His face became a little annoyed as he corrected me. “Couldn’t get at it” was not really the outcome; we had never been told that. We would have to share it if we could get there, but that was not the same as there not being wheat there at all. Besides, he pointed out, we made contact with not one but two groups, groups that could be allies and contacts in the years ahead. Surely that was not wasted effort? And further, he said, you added to your annals. Who else was doing that?

I hemmed and hawed as I am want to do when I am caught as a victim of my own sort of advice. Perhaps, I conceded, the outcome was as good as could be expected.

Conceded, he responded with a smirk. Without your suggestion, none of this would have likely happened. You might have a little more confidence in your ideas – and after all, he pointed out, unlike many I was at least willing to prove theory myself.

I am not sure how I feel about being recognized as a potential resource – but Pompeia Paulina, when I told her, merely laughed at me with a twinkle in her eye.

There is no rest, Luculius, for the wicked.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A (Very) Brief History of Anatolia II

The acquisition of Anatolia by Rome happened in stages. Some of the Kingdoms – Bithynia, Pergamon – were granted to Rome by their last ruler. Some kingdoms – Pontus, portions of the Seleucid kingdom – were conquered. And some parts remained a part of successors to the Seleucid Empire – the Parthians and the Sassanids.

Asia Minor in 188 B.C.

Roman Empire in 117 A.D.

Early Imperial Rome became late Imperial Rome and Late Imperial Rome became the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. The Eastern Roman Empire retained control of Anatolia during this time, inheriting the Roman Empire’s territorial disputes with the Sassanids and then, in the 7th century, with the expansion of Islam.

Byzantine Empire Under Justinian A.D. 555

The expansion of Islam was a traumatic event for the Byzantine Empire. The recovered provinces of Northern Africa were swept away. Egypt, the breadbasket of the Byzantines as it had been for the Romans, was gone. Jerusalem, the Holy City, was swallowed up as was all of Syria and even parts of Armenia and far eastern Anatolia.

Expansion of Islam A.D. 622 - A.D. 750

This process in the East and South, combined with the invasion from the North of nomadic tribes - the Bulgars, Slavs, Hungarians, Pazterneks, Pechenegs, and Turks – started the slow slide of disintegration of the Byzantine Empire as geographic portions were lopped off in both the West and the East. The process accelerated in Anatolia when, in A.D. 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert in Eastern Anatolia, the Byzantine Army was destroyed, allowing penetration from the east of the Turks.

The Byzantine Empire circa A.D. 1097

The story of A.D. 1071 to A.D. 1453 is the long, slow story of the loss of Byzantine Anatolia to the Turks. First was the Seljuks, until they were dissolved and a series of local Turkish warlords fought for control. The period of warfare ended with the rise of Osman, the founder of what would become the Ottoman Empire (A.D. 1299 – A.D. 1923).

The Byzantine Empire circa A.D. 1400

The Ottoman Empire’s early history is overall one of going from victory to victory. In within 100 years, they had moved from central Anatolia across the continent to the Balkans. They continued on this track (albeit with some short lived defeats) slow devouring the remaining lands of the Byzantine Empire until in A.D. 1453 they conquered Constantinople.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683

The Ottoman State continued to expand until it met with a series of defeats – the Battle of Lepanto in A.D. 1566 by sea (for those readers that remember, we visited the town of Nafpaktos last year, near where this battle took place) and the Siege of Vienna in A.D. 1683 when, defeated by the Western Powers at the Siege of Vienna, it began a long 200 plus year loss of territory throughout Europe, Africa, and the Near East through a combination of local movements of peoples and the growing colonial powers. Even as these territory losses occurred, the heartland of the Ottomans – Anatolia – remained firmly in their grasp.

Turkey Under The 1920 Treaty of Sevres

As a result of their loss in World War I (A.D. 1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire was broken up and Anatolia occupied by the victorious powers (France, Great Britain, Greece, and Italy). The counter reaction to this was the War of Turkish Independence (A.D. 1921-1923) led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which eventually saw the end of the Ottoman sultanate and caliphate and the foundation of the modern Turkish state, largely within the borders of Anatolia (as well as the small slice of Europe which encompasses Istanbul and Edirne).

Turkey Under The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne

This all comes to bear on the trip, because when one says “I am going to Turkey”, what one is really saying is that I am going to a place with thousands of years of history and culture packed into a fairly small area. Yes, there is a dominant culture – the Turkish one – but it exists within and around the voices of thousands of years.

Modern Turkey

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A (Very) Brief History Of Anatolia I

One of the first things that I needed to remind myself of when I started on day one of our trip to Turkey is that Turkey the country and Turkey the landmass are two interconnected but not synonymous things. Turks (the people) have a history in the region since the mid to late 11th Century A.D. Turkey the country has a history dating back to 1923.

Turkey the landmass has a history going back thousands of years.

If we speak of Turkey the landmass as Anatolia, we would both be using a historically accurately name as well as allowing some room between what we currently understand and what historically have been two very different places.


Anatolia has several geographic factors that define it: A high interior plain (the Anatolian) plain. Two major mountain ranges that run parallel through the landmass, creating a series of valleys. A coastline that abuts onto the Mediterranean Sea, including a series of islands that could be taken all the way to Greece by ship. And perhaps most significantly, the Bosporus Strait, a 6 mile/3.1 km strait between the continents of Asia and Europe, which makes transit between the continents convenient instead of taking the longer routes of sailing from the Black Sea to the other side or taking the longer land route around the Black Sea.


Kingdom of Lydia

As a result of its location, Anatolia found itself both as a route for trade and invasion as well as a place of multiple cultures and civilizations – ultimately becoming the last point in the Silk Road that allowed overland trade with China. The Hittite and Neo-Hittite cultures flourished here, and in the south of modern Turkey is the ancient city of Ur of the Chaldeans. While Ancient Egypt never conquered the Anatolian plans, their culture moved along the Levant. In time the Phrygians and Lydians arrived and built empires, while to the West, the Greeks – those ever adventurous travelers – engaged in trade in the Mycenean era (and went to war, if The Iliad is to be believed) and later founded colonies along the coast and followed the Bosporus through to what we now know as The Black Sea (The Pontic Sea in their day) to trade and grow the grain they could not grow at home – at one point, the coast of Anatolia was considered simply an extension of the Greek mainland and the “Ionian Greeks” were simply Greeks citizens of another polis, not barbarians from another country.

Ionian Greece
Persian Empire - Fullest Empire

The Lydians were overcome by the expanding Persian Empire, which swallowed up both the Lydians and intervened in the Greek colonies, a clash of cultures that would result in almost two hundred years of what would be called the Greco-Persian Wars. Twice the Persians moved from Asian Anatolia to Greece to invade and were repulsed twice at the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.) and the battle of Platea (479 B.C.), after which the Persians reduced their activities to making alliances and supporting one side or the other in the Peloponnesian War, seeking to influence the war to sow disruption among the network of city-states: if they could not outright defeat them, they could at least keep the Greeks divide.

The Peloponnesian War did not result in the unification of Greece or a major threat to Persia; after a short period of invasion of Anatolia led by the Spartans in 3XX B.C., the Persians turned their money to restoring Athens and sowing discord in Greece. This combined with the internecine wars meant that Greece fell farther and farther into disarray until from the North, Philip the Second of Macedonia moved in and by a series of battles and diplomatic intrigue, became the effective head of all of Greece. He looked toward invading the Persian Empire but was assassinated in 336 B.C.; however his son, Alexander, proved to be even more brilliant a tactician than he and in 334 B.C. invaded Anatolia, allegedly under the guise of bringing justice to the Persians for their invasions of Greece. Advancing down the Anatolian Coast, he never truly moved to the interior of Anatolia – but his defeat of Darius III and acquisition of the Persian Empire meant that all of Anatolia fell to him by right. At his death in 323 B.C., the Empire splintered and Anatolia became a patchwork of Macedonian successor states.

Kingdoms of Anatolia circa 240 B.C.

Anatolia came to split among three successor states: Antigonid Macedonia, the kingdom of Pergamum, and the Seleucid Empire with smaller states such as Bithynia and Pontus. The successor states were part of the larger Hellenistic World, and Anatolia continued to serve as as conduit for trade and for international warfare, the empires and kingdoms sought to maintain and even increase their power.

The successor states enjoyed various degrees of success until the Romans – first the Republic and then the Empire – acquired power by inheritance or outright conquest. By the first century of Christ, the Anatolia was a series of Roman provinces, its Eastern border with Sassanid Persia now an international flash point.

The conquest by Rome represents a major shift in the history of Anatolia. For the next almost 1500 years, Anatolia would be considered Roman, not Greek, Persian, or Sassanid.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Your Life As A Christian


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) has, in my opinion, never quite gotten the love and attention he should have by the Western Church.  A German who became a pastor in the 1930's, he was determined opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime.   A leader in the Confessing Church (created to oppose the established church's obedience to the state), he spent time both in London and the United States in the late 1930's, but return to Germany prior to the outbreak of war because, as he wrote:

"I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America this time.  I must live through this difficult period in our national history along with the people of Germany.  I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share this time of trials with my people...Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that a future Christian nation may survive, or else willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization and any true Christianity.  I know which one of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice from a place of security." (source)

Monitored by the Nazis and forbidden to preach or write, he joined the Abwehr (German intelligence) and served as conduit for the German resistance and helped Jews escape.  He was likely knowledgeable of the plots to kill Hitler.  Imprisoned in 1943, he was executed on 08 April 1945, weeks before the concentration camp he was in was reached by the Allies.

The books translated into English which are most often quoted are The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, and a compilation of his letters from prison presented as Letters and Papers from Prison, considered one of the finest series of letters of prison and compared with Vaclav Havel's Letters to Olga.

It is a shame he has not gotten the attention, because the time of his major works was time very similar to our own in terms of political acrimony, national disunity, and a church which was ineffective.  He never pulls his punches - one of the lines in The Cost of Discipleship is "When God calls a man, He bids him come and die".  He followed Christ at great cost to himself, his life, and his earthly future.

Which makes his unspoken question even more profound:  Are we - me, you - the sort of Christian that makes an unbeliever question their unbelief?

Saturday, May 25, 2024

8 Weeks In

This weekend represents my eighth week living in New Home 2.0, more or less the two month mark excluding my two week trip to Turkey.  I simply have nothing to complain about.

In terms of my job, I am finding my way into my role.  Part of that is working through what our role is as a department in a fairly new start-up system and space.  Part of that is finding where I can both fit in and add the most value.  Somewhat interestingly - at least to myself - it is not primarily in the Quality aspect; there are fellow employees that have much longer time served with this company and know its systems much more intimately than I do.  Where I do bring value is my Project Management experience:  apparently setting schedules and resource management is a skill which it turns out is needed, even if not in a formal project management format.

The apartment is not really "coming together" any faster - as there still remains little enough here to rise to the level of "coming together".  I bought myself an air mattress (which can double for hiking purposes) as my major furniture upgrade.  And interestingly enough, even though I do not have that much here, the stacks in my closet shelf continue to grow.

Not a lot of closet space here - something to bear in mind.

In terms of this feeling like home, I am not quite there yet.  Likely this is due to the fact that my schedule here has been unsettled:  three weeks in a hotel, two weeks away, three weeks, my mother's funeral, another two weeks and a trip back to New Home followed by another trip back home a month later.  There is not fully a sense of being in place here; I still feel strung between locations.

My trip home in two weeks, besides the opportunity to train in Iaijutsu, will be to make one more pass at what we are bringing before the movers come.  Having seen the apartment, I can much more easily visualize the space we have available - see, for example, the above comment above comment about closet space.  I simply have to start making some hard choices on non-essentials.

Finally, we are starting to get an idea of when The Ravishing Mrs. TB will locate here full time, likely in September or October.  Just having that date means we have something to set our targets on.

So on the whole, things are going about as well as could be expected - or perhaps even a little better than expected.  And frankly, the 20-30 F degree drop in Summer temperatures makes the whole thing a little bit easier.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture III: Profile of a Culture (Part II)

When we last left our review of Foolishness to the Greeks:  The Gospel and Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin, he had established two items:

1)  The Enlightenment both propelled forward the scientific revolution by explaining the universe in terms of cause and effect and natural laws, but had stripped the creation of purpose;

2)  By stripping humanity of higher purpose than their own selves (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), the nation-state (which was the remaining institution after the Church retreated from the public sphere) became the only vehicle for ensuring that purpose - and since life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can be limitless to the individual, the nation-state as guarantor will become all encompassing.

Newbigin moves to point out the impact of these two ideas.

With the establishment of the principle of scientific laws and cause and effect, the world comes to be viewed solely in this manner - including "human behavior, work, and society".  Human labor is transformed as the craftsman becomes the human laborer, working on the smallest division of labor - "His work assimilated more and more into the repetitive actions of a machine rather than the purposeful work of the craftsman" - and is without purpose, as the universe of Newton does not allow for it.  Work - an act of creation that "leads to something that will endure after the worker is dead - an artifact, a poem, a system of laws" -is gone, replaced by labor, "an unending cycle of production for the sake of its consumption.

This change of labor led to the division of labor.  Suddenly, production was not for the local family unit or the local economy but rather for the "market" economy with money becoming the main unit of exchange.  The market, not the local exchange of goods, becomes the main factor.  The modern social science of economics is born - again, removing teleology and sense of purpose from the economic realm.  The market now exists under a series of economic laws, functioning like the Newtonian Universe.

From here, says Newbigin, two additional factors occur.  The first is that the family is no longer the main unit of work and the home is no longer the main place of work.  The focus has shifted:  work is the "outer" or public world and home the "inner" or private world.  Externally, workers become anonymous, replaceable parts (we are all replaceable at some point in the modern job market); it is only at home that they are irreplaceable parts of something more. And the second development, coming from both the division of labor and the idea of working outside of the home, is that urbanization increases dramatically.  Not only does this impact the family unit; it also has the impact of placing the individual in "a multiplicity of human networks, each controlled by a single purpose".  Before, most individuals lived in typically rural societies with a single society which defined all their activities - work, worship, play, friends, family (our proverbial "small town").  Now, the individual has a plethora of options - but they are not integrated into a whole.  Work is one, but religion may be a second and the apartment building a third - each not related to each other, each serving a separate purpose. 

The final factor introduced here is the fact that as an outcome of division of labor, development of a market economy, the growth of public and private worlds, and urbanization, bureaucracy develops.  In a way it has to exist, given the complexity which has been introduced:  "It provides the machinery in which there is a high degree of division of labor, of specialization, of predictability, and of anonymity." But - and this is important - "It is of the essence of bureaucracy that it sets out to achieve a kind of justice by treating each individual as an anonymous and replaceable unit".  It has taken the outcome of the Enlightenment - reduce everything to its smallest possible component and understand how to manipulate it - and applied it to the human relationships and existence which can be expressed in the terms of mathematics - or ultimately, a computer (timely in our age of Artificial Intelligence): "In its ultimate development, bureaucracy is the rule of nobody and is therefore experienced as tyranny.  The attempt to interpret human behavior in terms of models derived from natural sciences eventually destroys personal responsibility".

The Enlightenment, posits Newbigin, provided a lot of things, allowing for the voyages of discovery that opened the world, of the growth of technology and the application of science to every area (of which we are a beneficiary).  However, it comes at a cost:

"But we shall not be wrong, I think, if we take the abandonment of teleology as the key to the understanding of nature for our primary clue to understanding the whole of these vast changes for the human situation.  I shall argue that this is what underlies the decisive feature of our culture that can be described both as the division of human life into public and private, and the separation of fact and value."

(Apologies, this seems to just keep extending out.  Newbigin's thoughts are so dense, I cannot do them justice by smashing them together.)

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Collapse CXXXXVIII: Epicurus And Themista

 20 July 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

The following would likely not have happened except that Cato The Elder brought over one of our hosts, Themista. “This is the one to talk to” he said gruffly, pointing at me as I looked up from making notes. “He wrote down my story. He’ll probably write down yours. Seems foolish to me given everything goin’ on, but there’s no harm I suppose”. And with that he left, leaving the two of us awkwardly alone.

As with Cato, I had to explain why I had chosen the names I had chosen. Themista chuckled after she understood. “Epicurus (or what was his real name) would love this” she said with an accented smile. “He has always loved gardens.”


Our history? Ah, we are refugees – or were, once upon a time. You are of an age to remember the Iron Curtain, no? We as well. In fact, we remember it too strongly as we grew up under it.

You, too, remember the Wall falling? Hah! Few do anymore, or if they do it is a small historical note at the bottom of the page. But if you lived through it – you remember too, I see – you knew what a huge change it was in the world. The ability to go abroad without restrictions, to live life without observation – it was the ability to escape.

And escape we did, from there to here. We were married by then, and Epicurus had completed his graduate work….Hmm? Oh yes, he is a Ph.D. His degree was in agriculture, specializing in ancient grains. And mine? A Ph.D as well, but in the use of ancient grains by ancient peoples. My dissertation was on the use of the Crimean Peninsula by the Ancient Greeks for grain supply. His was on ancient grains and their dispersal throughout Europe.

You are chuckling. A match made in Heaven, you no doubt think. Us too.

How did we end up here? As odd as you might find it, paleo-agriculture and paleo agricultural techniques are not as...popular? Is that the right word? one might think – and this was over forty years ago, when such things mattered a bit more. This is a grain growing region that had an adjunct position that could become a tenured one. And so we came.

Living here was not difficult, at least for us. Yes, the weather is cold – but the weather was cold (and more) where we grew up. And while this is not quite the America we had thought existed – this is no New York City or Chicago – it was so much better than the Eastern Europe of our youth. We made a life here, raised children. Summers were spent either teaching or doing field work abroad or at home (your own peoples, they did things differently in growing but equally as fascinating). Epicurus also spent time with farmers all around here. He loves grains and farming and will talk to anyone about it, how to increase outputs and decrease inputs by using different sorts of grains, some we no longer use.

And then everything changed.

We are college professors. We are used to discussions of declining revenues and what department gets defunded. But we are also children of a place where bad news was visible to all but not discussed by the government until it became too obvious to hide. And this, this second situation, was what we faced.

The university, one morning in September, just stopped holding class – canceled, they said, for “the duration of the emergency”. This was Eastern European governmental speak for “things are going badly.”

And at that moment, I became more proud of my husband than ever.

In the immediate aftermath of that, the University was a swarm of people trying to leave – students, teaching staff, administrators. But there was one group that could not leave: the students that were from overseas or from other places in the US. A few had places to go here, but many did not. My husband reached out to some of his that were in that situation, and found out that there were more in the same situation.

No problem, he said. We will all stick it out here.

In passing out the door, he mentioned “Themista, I am going to the University. We will need to take everything we need there.” And he was gone.

By the time I had gotten back to the University, he had already started rounding up students – from them, I learned he was literally going one dorm knocking on every door; then as he found students, he sent them off to start knocking on other doors in other dorms. “Come on”, he would tell them, “we are going to make it together”.

This is my husband. Ever the optimist, ever believing everyone can be saved.

We needed a base of operations. The plant labs we worked and taught would have been ideal – also, as he pointed out, likely one of the first places people would come. We choose the school library instead – located in the center of the University (thus less likely to be sought out), multiple floors between us and any potential invaders, and the third and fourth floor were already split into smaller areas. And water available on the first floor, at least as long as the power was on.

By the time he was done, he had recruited almost 100 students from all over the world who were stuck there. He also recruited at least three faculty members, older ones like ourselves that had no family close and for whom the university had become their family. Between us, we started sending the students out that September to gather things: food from the dining halls, medical supplies from the health center, anything else we thought might be useful. Epicurus was relentless and brimming with confidence in this: “Tell them you are on official university business and give them my phone number” he would tell them, confident that somehow that alone would be enough to convince them.

He should not have worried so much, though.  Given what was the madness at the time, almost no-one noticed.

At the same time, we tried to make the best use of the plant labs and its greenhouses that we could. How long would the power be on? We didn’t know, but we started working as if we could get some kind of planting done for the Spring.

By early October, we had retreated to the library.

It was tough – I, an Eastern European having lived under Communism, am saying this. It was cold. We improvised heating for water. We walled off smaller rooms with sheets and blankets we had taken from the student housing.

Some did not make it - they just gave up.

Gangs? We hardly saw any – but that is just as likely that we were buried in the center of campus in Winter. In a library clearly marked as such. We were not, I think, the main focus of anyone’s searching.

What did we do besides surviving?  Idle hands are the devil's workshop, as they say.  Beyond organizing and cleaning up and continuing to scrounger throughout the university (and try to cover our tracks), we read and lectured.

I know – this surprises you. But we were in a library filled with knowledge, with students and instructors that had spent their live to this point lecturing and learning. And so we lectured – on every subject; everyone had to take a turn. Russian literature, quantum physics, trees of Africa – every person had to give at least one speech.

By late Winter/early Spring, we were working on plans for growing more food. The power eventually failed so some of the greenhouses failed – but some of the smaller primitive units survived. Epicurus went looking for spots where we could start planting the ancient grains, hardy and able to survive without modern agriculture. He also tried to think of places where grain might have already been planted, far enough away to be safe but close enough to be accessible.

Which brought us here.

Now? Compared to what? Before everything fell apart? Everything is much more difficult. But compared to when Epicurus and I grew up? It is bad, but not all that bad. Cold, heat, shortages – we have dealt with all of these before.

But being with young people is infectious.  They have been so adaptable to the circumstances.  They are willing to try. They are willing to learn.  And thankfully, we have a slowly growing population - young people will in fact be young people!

No, I am not “depressed” about things. This is a very American concept, that somehow one’s circumstance determine one’s state. There is so much that we still have to be thankful for, at least in our group – ourselves, that we have a place to shelter, that we have food and the ability and knowledge to grow it, and we that we have a place where the learnings of Mankind are available to us freely.

We have far more than peasants or workers of our homeland ever had.  How can we not be grateful?


It saddens me, Lucilius, that Epicurus and Themista and their group are so far away. A dose of hope is what a great many people could use at the moment.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Eulogy for Mom: Part II

 (Editor's note:  This is (more or less) the eulogy I presented for my mother this past Saturday.  As per usual, I have anonymized locations and names, but the gist of the speech remains the same.  Although delivered at one time, I have broken it into two sections for readability.)

My mother and father had numerous interests they shared. They enjoyed traveling and when we growing up, prioritized taking a trip together as a family. For years it was camping in the same state park (because that is what they could afford); later by scrimping and saving they went to visit her brother R in Hawai’i and Japan and Norway. She and my father discovered a love of square dancing and danced for years with local groups, traveling with them – both in state and out of state. And besides those trips, they took other trips throughout the U.S. to go to my father’s ship reunions or visiting relatives and traveling with their children and grandchildren.

My mother, as mentioned earlier, was dedicated to her family. To her parents and extended family she remained involved and active. When my grandmother had the stroke that eventually caused her death, she took my grandfather down to the hospital every day for a year to visit her. And when my grandmother passed away, she spent the next five years visiting my grandfather on a weekly basis making sure that he ate something like a balanced diet and the house was more or less presentable. When her Great-Aunts were unable to continue to host the family reunion, she started doing to keep a promise to the last of the Great Aunts that she would do it as long as my Great Aunt was alive.

After her retirement in the early 2000’s, she and my father built a house on the land they had purchased from my Great Aunt and Uncle. This was The Ranch, a place that she had been coming for most of her life. A house was built to their specifications, and my mother spent many happy years with space to read, sew, scrap book, host gatherings, and supervise my father as he busied himself with cleaning up the property and cutting wood. An added bonus was that grandchildren were within an easy drive and so they were able to support them by attending their activities as well – in person often for my sister’s children or traveling to see Na Clann once we relocated to New Home.

And then, in 2015, the unexpected happened.

My father had let us know that he had noticed my mother was having problems with words. He had taken her to the doctor and the diagnosis, as he told us, was dementia. It was a matter of fact statement, something that was simply happening. It was only years later when my sister and I had access to their medical records that the diagnosis was in fact Alzheimer’s.

The progression of Alzheimer’s is too well documented to need to cover here. Put in my own colloquial words, it is a fire that burns through the mind, leaving nothing in its wake except smoldering ruins that will not never regrow, a forest fire with no renewal. To be given the diagnosis is a long drawn out death sentence.

Even at this, my mother never flinched.

In the intervening years between the initial diagnosis and the time when we had to move her into a care facility, she never once cursed her fate or bewailed it. She did what she could do as long as she could do: addressed birthday cards and kept the books until her writing failed, cooked until she could not, did crossword puzzles, walked and read. The circle of her life shrank, but she as a person never did.

Even in the last year when it became evident that more care was needed than what my father would be able to provide, she still remained the kind and gracious person she always was. She may not have remembered who you were, but she was always willing to engage in conversation.

During the last six months of their time at The Ranch, I had the privilege staying with them and of being working remotely from their house for one week a month.  “Remind me about your children” she would ask me as I took her and Dad down to Hometown. We would go through the each of them and where they were. She would smile and nod, look out the window, and say “Remind me – do you have children?”

Even in the care home, she remained kind and cheerful when we would come to visit – again, she might not have remembered who you were specifically, but her innate kindness prevented her from acting as if she did not know us. Her rule of “Always wave to a child if they wave at you – even if you do not remember when you had them in a class, they do” held to the end.

By the end – 8.5 years after the diagnosis and 3 years after we had moved her into a care facility – her body was there, but she was not. For the last few visits, she would simply look off into the distance, seeing something beyond the view of the rest of us that were in the room.

My mother quietly held her faith in God. She believed, even in the face of circumstances that said she should not. This, perhaps, was her last act of quiet faith and defiance, to stare the destruction of Alzheimer’s in the eye and look beyond it to what lay beyond then razor-thin wall of the next world.

We all take away things from our parents, whether intend to or not. Like any child, I too have borne away things from my mother that in my case have served me in good stead up to this day and will, I have every reason to believe, continue to serve me through the years that remain.

The first is a love of reading – like my mother, I am a reader and like my mother, I have so many that they are not just items I read and re-read, they have become décor. Reading is not just a hobby for me -like my mother, it is a way of life. I love reading because I had the example that reading was not only fun – it was important and a legitimate way to spend time. And my books, like hers, are not just items that I have read: they are old friends, some of which I have had almost all of my life, with stories to remind me beyond what just lies in the pages.

The second is a willingness to keep learning – my mother was always learning. She took up piano with her mother in her mid-thirties. When electronics became all the rage in the 1990’s, my mother upgraded her manual typewriter to an electronic word processor and then a computer. She took classes at the local Adult School and carefully kept her books and notes on how to send e-mails and print documents. She took up scrap booking after years of just keeping pictures to allow her to tell stories. And almost to the end of her time at The Ranch, she tried to do a crossword ever day – maybe the same crossword, but a crossword none the less.

The third is kindness.

My mother was a kind person – when I say kind, do not mistake it for a marshmallow sort of kindness that is always crumpling under the will of others. She could be stern if she needed to be. But even within that sternness, there was an overwhelming kindness that demonstrated itself in interactions: Do not treat people poorly or disrespectfully. Do not publicly bring up someone’s faults – do it in private, where there is no public embarrassment. Always be kind to animals. We may not always remember what people say or do to us, we will always remember how they made us feel.

I use all of these points in my life, but the last one – kindness – especially in my work life. I try to practice it. I put it on any sort of department values or goals that I am associated with. I use it in interviews as one of the traits that I value the most in myself and others.

My mother was a schoolteacher” I say when I get what has become the usual follow-on question or quizzical look about kindness as a principal value. “And you should always do what your teacher says. Especially if they are your mother.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Eulogy For Mom: Part I

(Editor's note:  This is (more or less) the eulogy I presented for my mother this past Saturday.  As per usual, I have anonymized locations and names, but the gist of the speech remains the same.  Although delivered at one time, I have broken it into two sections for readability.)

On behalf of the TB family we would like to thank you for taking the time to be with us today in memory of our mother and grandmother. Your presence means a great deal.

Having to do this same sort of speech only 18 months ago, I approach it with the same sort of trepidation that I did with my father’s. Speaking of the life of one’s parents is something which, under normal circumstances, we assume will happen at some point. The assumption of that occurrence does not make it any easier: as I noted last time, the lives of our parents are in three stages, before we as children arrived, the time we had as a family unit in the same location, and then the time when we head out and our parents return to lives as a couple.

Mom was born on XX January 194X in Hometown. Hometown and the greater range beyond it became the geographic center of her life; other than short periods of living in state capitol to finish college and some time living with my father while he was in the Navy, she lived the rest of her life in the immediate area in which she was born.

She was preceded in birth by her brother R and was followed in birth by her sister J. They lived in the same house that her father had lived in since his early years.

My mom did not often speak of life at there what she spoke of far more often were trips trips to the almost ghost town farther up the mountain, where her mother was born and her Great Uncles lived. Here she got to run outdoors and listen to stories of life in her mother’s time and grandmother’s time, stories stretching back to the 1800’s. Even 60 years later, these were the memories she would talk about.

Hometown was a small town in those days, much smaller than it is now. She walked to to her elementary school and then cut her commute by 2/3’s by going to the high school just down the street. She met her two best friends in elementary school who both lived down the street from her; they would remain friends until death parted them.

At the close of high school, two things happened. The first was that she enrolled in college. The second was that she met and started dating TB The Elder.

They met during their Senior year of high school; my mother and my father never quite mentioned how it happened, other that it did – and it was successful enough of a first meeting that they began dating, a relationship that lasted through my father’s stint in the Navy and my mother’s college years. They were married in the later 1950’s. My mother remained local and finished up her teaching degree and then joined my father for a period of time living out of state until they relocated back to the Hometown area, where she embarked upon her teaching career.

She was a teacher from the early 1960’s until her final retirement in the early 2000’s. She taught at several schools, all local – but spent most of her time in the same district she herself had gone to school, including at the school she had been an elementary student at. She took some years off to have children, but even then was a volunteer and part time teacher.

While she had taught junior high early in her career, she spent the bulk of her years in the elementary grades. At least during our growing up years, she mostly taught between first and fourth grade, her favorite grades being third and fourth, when as she put it “the children could actually differentiate between what was a joke and what was not”. (Editor’s Note: I was informed by my sister and cousin this should have read “Second Grade”).

But, of course, she was not only a teacher. She was, first and foremost, a mother.

Our parents purchased their first home in the mid 1960’s; it would be the place that they lived for almost 40 years. It was here that they put together a home and we grew up.

It was a home filled with books.

My mother was a reader. The hallway had shelves on the wall filled with books and the living room had bookshelves filled with books. Growing up, she or my father read to us every night, until we could read. If she had some time to herself, especially when we were young, she would be reading.

Perhaps not surprisingly, her children became readers as well.

One of the greatest days of the week when we were young was library day at the local Library. For years we would go regularly every two weeks (because that is when the books were due). Originally we were shepherded through the children’s section, but eventually we were let loose to roam the library and pursue any interest we had.

My mother, like my father, was incredibly supportive of all of our activities. What we did, she was involved in – Scouts, 4-H, sports, music, plays – she came to them all. Even if (I suspect) she did not necessarily understand or enjoy all of them, she still came.

But eventually, of course, children grow up and move out, leaving parents to rediscover that they get to have a life again.

(End Part I)

Monday, May 20, 2024

Post Funeral Finalities

This was an exhausting weekend.

The service for my mother went well on Saturday.  All of our immediate family was able to be there, as was a number of family friends and some of her teaching friends (I was honestly surprised at how many of them came).  The service itself was one that my mother would have likely approved of, the core of the Pastor's message being Psalm 23.  My eulogy - which after a some anonymization I will post as I did my father's - was generally well received.  People got up and shared memories, some of which I had never heard before.  After that, we retired for a light repast, making small talk with everyone and thanking them for coming.

Following that, of course, was what probably could have been called a light form of a wake at my sister's house.  All of her children and all of mine were there, along with my Uncle - her surviving sibling and, I think, the oldest member of this entire branch of the family - and my Aunt, his wife.  The Outdoorsman mixed drinks and we all had a good time simply being in each other's presence.

That said, yesterday I was completely wiped out:  emotionally, spiritually, mentally.

This was actually a little surprising to me.  I had underestimated the amount of energy it took to "be on" for effectively the whole day - an introvert by nature, I can shine like social star if I need to.  But that, plus being back at the house for the first time since February with the reality that other decisions are coming down the pike (and the simple fact this is longest I had not been there in almost 4 years), plus seeing my own family whom I have not seen in some cases since March or even Christmas - there was a lot of emotion there.  And emotion, at least for me in that amount, can be draining.

Long time readers will recognize these irises.  They are, I believe, actually taken from my material grandmother's garden.  My mother was a great lover of both daffodils and irises.  The daffodils I largely missed this year due to timing, but the irises were there to greet me.

The thing that came to me as I was driving back down to drop off the truck, trailing my family in the rental car, was the finality of things - and not just this, but other things as well. The biggest, of course, is  that my parents are gone with the harsh finality that life gives to such things.  There is no particular regret on my part - I had said what needed to be said and, as readers here will know, this was the curtain call of a tragedy that has been playing out for the last eight years.

But there was other finality as well.

There was a sense - a real sense - that even though I will go back to New Home next month to train and collect my things, it will not ever really be my "home" again.  Even my trips back there after June will be more and more constrained:  one likely in July to pick up the rabbits, perhaps one between then and when The Ravishing Mrs. TB likely moves in October, and then perhaps one of the two holidays of Christmas or New Year's.  After that, I will likely seldom go back at all except for events or possibly Iai training.

Another finality is the estate - not that anything is fully settled (I tried to avoid it on this of all weekends), but that it is now something that has to be actively dealt with and worked on.  Given working out some exigencies, the chances of renting it in the short term are probably low - good for me having to relocate stuff to the barn, a little less good for managing the house and its repairs.  And in a real way, the focal point shifts from New Home to there (not to mention, of course, working out how often I will be able to get there in the next six months to a year).

It was a great deal of change wrapped up into a single weekend. I had anticipated a funeral; what I got was the realization of the entire re-casting of my life.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

His Love For Us

 An additional note:  Recently long-time commenter and Friend-Of-This-Blog (FOTB) Nylon12 posted elsewhere that he has potentially concerning  news from a doctor's visit.  Prayers, good thoughts, and well wishes would undoubtedly be appreciated.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Memorial Service

We have the memorial service for my mother this weekend.  My apologies for the brevity of today's post.

 This window is one that my mother insisted be built in the house at The Ranch.  The small toy tractors were gifts to my father over the years.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Foolishness to The Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture II: Profile of a Culture (Part I)

 "As a people who are a part of modern Western culture, with its confidence in the validity of its scientific methods, how can we move from the place where we explain the gospel in terms of our modern scientific world-view to the place where we explain our modern scientific world-view from the point of view of the Gospel?"

This is the question Lesslie Newbigin starts with in the second chapter of his book Foolishness to the Greeks.  In fact, he embeds in the very name of this chapter:  "Profile of a Culture".  To see where are, he states, we need to look back to how we got here.  And that road, he points out, leads straight through The Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment was based on a number of preceding factors:  the re-discovery of Europe of lost texts of Greece and Rome, the developments in science of the period (Tyche, Galileo, Newton), and even the new philsophy of Rene Descartes.  Primary in this, Newbigin asserts, were the developments of Newton: suddenly, the universe was seen not to be governed by divine purpose, but by laws of cause and effect.  Suddenly teleology - the study of purpose - no longer had a place in the world of thought:  things no longer served God's purpose in their actions and movements, they were moved by scientific laws.  There was no need to go farther:  "To have discovered the cause of something is to have explained it".  

We had entered The Age of Reason.

Medieval society, states Newbigin, was "held together by a complex reciprocal network of rights and duties..." - and the most treasured of human rights - The idea of human rights "..apart from this actual web of reciprocal duties and rights, would have been unintelligible".  In other words, man took the idea of cause and effect and extended it to the individual, who suddenly has the "right" to determine their own rights, apart from any obligation to others.  Primarily defined as those rights are ones that we Americans are very familiar with:  Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness.  Add to this the fact that modern science provides no means for belief in life after death, and the rights of the individual become paramount  -after all, this is all there is.

Rights, says Newbigin, only exist where there is "a legal and social structure that defines them.  Anyone can, of course, assert a need or express a wish apart from such legal or social structure.  But a claim to a right must rest upon some judicial basis."  In the Medieval world, this was found in the reciprocal obligations between tenant and lord (no matter how lousy that relationship could have been).

  In the modern world?:

"Who, then, has the infinite duty to honor the infinite claims of every person to the pursuit of happiness?  The answer of the eighteenth century, and of, of those have followed, is the nation-state.  The nation-state replaced the holy church and the holy empire as the centerpiece in the post-Enlightenment ordering of society.  Upon it devolves the duty of providing the means for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And since the pursuit of happiness is endless, the demands upon the state are without limit.  If - for modern Western peoples - nature had taken the place of God as the ultimate reality with which we have to deal, the nation state has taken place of God as the source to which we look for happiness, health, and welfare."

Add to this the view of eschatology.  Suddenly the state becomes the end of existence - and the power of treason and progress the means for it.   The Enlightenment replaced the Gospel with the doctrine of Progress.  Hope for a future world has been replaced by the reality of a future which ultimately those now living will never see.  The nation-state, the guarantor of rights which - as noted above, are now infinite - now has the justification for expanding its power and reach; after all, it is the promise of tomorrow.  From this thinking, Newbigin says, the basis of the totalitarian state was laid.  Worse, makes the young the focus of the state as they are the future; the old "can be neither objects nor subjects of hope but only an increasingly burdensome embarrassment."

Newbigin ends this section (and I have to close it partway through; there is still too much to discuss) with this statement:  "The transmission of traditional wisdom in families from the old to the young is replaced by systems of education organized by the state and designed to shape young minds toward the future that is being planned."

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Collapse CXXXXVII: Wheat

 20 July 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

We were up and off at the crack of dawn: myself, our group, Cato, and three others with him, the two gentleman we had seen yesterday and a third young man, whom he introduced as his Son (who has become Cato the Younger, of course).

The planned trip was a little over two miles; the intent was to make it to the site, perform a visual assessment of the state of the wheat (and ability to harvest it), and then return back here. We would head out the following day, hopefully bearing news.

The road was similar to what we had seen for the last few days and the trip as ordinary as any other day we had been walking until the flankers, Cato’s men (due to their familiarity with the area) returned with two pieces of news. The first was that there was, in fact, a field with wheat. The second was that there people in the wheat field, with every appearance of folks looking as if they were thinking of a harvest.

This was unexpected to say the least.

A hurried conference was held. Had the scouts seen pickets? No, but they assumed that they were somewhere. Weapons? Nothing obvious – but again, hard to see. Did it look like forced labor – chains, overseers, field bosses? No. Anything that suggested our recent sort of Locusts? Anything distinctive about them? After thinking for a moment, Cato the Younger said “Young. They were almost all young – college age or thereabouts”.

Young, college age kids not under compulsion out in a field, maybe harvesting wheat. We sat there thinking for a moment. Finally the Colonel asked “Didn’t the College up the road have an agricultural program?

We discussed potential outcomes and finally came up with a solution – risky, but maybe not that risky.

Five of us – the good shots – headed up to the edge of the hill. I, stripping down my upper body, tied my undershirt to dead branch. Carefully I edged up to the hill – well below where the firing line was – and raised the shirt/flag.

The reaction was effectively what you might think it was: a scattering of people onto the ground. Likely at this point whatever guards they had were now engaged.

We all sat there – us on the edge of the ridge, my shirt fluttering in the wind, the field to our front shifting with waves in the grain and waves made by bodies – for some period of time, probably much shorter than I think. Then, slowly, someone got up and held his arms wide, clearly unarmed.

Taking what for me as an undue amount of chance (I have become reckless in my old age, Lucilius!) I came up over the rise and held my hands out as well, one grasping the ready-made truce flag, the other wide open.

We don’t have anything” came the shout form the field, the voice of an older man.

That is okay” I shouted back. “We are just looking for wheat.”

He seemed to talk to the stalks around him. Another half dozen came up out, youngish men and women from what I could see. From our side, Young Xerxes and Ox rose up, firearms pointed down.

And that, Lucilius, is how we met Epicurus and Themista and their troupe of college students.

After the initial introductions – everyone out slowly, guns down – a slow course of conversation started which eventually became a flood: Where were you from? How did you survive? And you? And why are you here, or how did you even get here?

Within a little while, the conversations had boiled down into smaller groups. The Colonel, Cato the Elder, and the man we now knew as Epicurus were talking higher level items – crops, yields, labor, likelihood of harvesting undisturbed. One of Cato’s men, Josè, was off with some of the students to look at the house that was attached to this part of the property; they said there was some kind of radio but they had no idea if or how it worked. Ox, The Leftenant, and the other of Cato’s men was off walking point along with the group here (The Leftenant, apparently, giving pointers so that our appearance unannounced was not repeated). Young Xerxes and Cato the Younger had fallen in with the students; perhaps the first time in over a year or more they had spent time where a majority of the people were in their age bracket.

I spent time with Themista. Yes, there are notes that will be an entry all its own.

The short – very short – version is that this group was from the Big City State College, a group of effectively marooned students and teachers that had nowhere else to go, so they made do during the Winter and Spring. Epicurus, as it turns out, was an agricultural professor there, and apparently the operating head of this group. He – like me -had remembered this plot of land, regularly planted but far enough from the main centers of population that it might still be a resource.

By the time afternoon had rolled around, the readiness of the grain to be harvested (another 6 weeks or so, without any inclement weather) was guessed at, the aforementioned radio turned on and used to communicate with Cato’s people via the help of a small battery bank (and a message to be relayed on from there to the Garnet Valley), and some level of discussion had occurred about what was to be done with it – or so I surmise; I was scarcely involved in any of the discussions. I spent my time talking, walking, listening, taking notes and pondering (like, for example, how much grain could it be theoretically possible to harvest by hand, and how would that even work).

We set off back to the edge of Cato’s property well before evening, wanting to get an early start on the trip home tomorrow. The group, all of them, waved us a hearty goodbye as we went up and around the corner.

The young, Lucilius. Perhaps a future yet exists for us.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca