Dangerous Complexity — Supply-Chain Breakdown Edition

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In 2019, before the pandemic insanity, I wrote a blog, “Dangerous Complexity: What To Do About the Complex Problem of Complexity,” which explored various systems where human operators were unable to correctly diagnose a problem leading to disaster. 

In each case a small glitch led to a spiral out of control.  The problem being our capacity, as finite creatures, to sift through all of the alarm bells going off and come to the right answer before the clock runs out.

As I write, countless container ships loiter offshore and waiting to be unloaded.  It is a logistics nightmare directly the result of lockdown mandates.  It is something I had warned about way back when governors were arbitrarily declaring livelihoods to be “essential” or “nonessential” and playing out currently as the slow motion trainwreck of predictable consequences.  

To those seeing conspiracy in this, I would suggest Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

This is what you get when you elect lawyers, with the most political experience, rather than those who understand the basics of business, trade, and supply-chains.  Many who hold office, like their constituents, are economic illiterates and can only see what is right in front of their face.  

As a TWIC card holder with a long time interest in economics and logistics, I do feel qualified to explain.  We have been heading this way for a for decades.  The economy has become extremely complex and also increasingly in fragile.

How did we get here?

From Locally Produced To Corporate Globalism

There was a time when most things were produced for local consumption.  For most of human history transportation had been very slow and costly.  Sure, there was the silk road and the spice trade between the continents.  But it was simply impractical, and unnecessary, to ship things long distances. Food was grown close enough to market that it could be brought by horse and cart.  Towns had their own millers, tailors and blacksmiths.

Comparatively to modern times, this was very inefficient.  In the 1800s one farmer could only feed three to five people and 90% of population lived on a farm.  Today one farmer can feed 128 people and only around 1% live on a farm.  This is due, in large part, to the internal combustion engine, as well as advancements in agricultural science, and also the ability (with refrigeration) to move vast amounts of fresh produce to far away markets.  Meat can be trucked from Texas slaughterhouses to New York City grocery shelves in a matter of hours.

But the bigger revolution has been the imperishable items, the gadgets that require labor intensive manufacturing processes, and generally are produced by the lowest bidder.  This is mostly for our benefit.  If an iPhone might cost $2000 if it was produced in the United States and thus outsourcing production means that more people can afford to buy this technological wonder.  Of course Apple and big corporations are the biggest beneficiaries of this global trade paradigm, still the consumer does get a lower prices.

Slowly, but surely, due to the advantages of economies of scale, small local mom and pop businesses are bought out by ever more expansive corporate conglomerates.  Like that old abandoned dairy farm I used to see, from the interstate highway, on the outskirts of Richmond or in upstate NY. Once thriving farms, within miles of the market, are simply unable to compete with those bigger (and oftentimes further away) producers.

Our Very Fragile “Just-In-Time” Supply-chain

Manufacturing our complex technology takes a large variety of materials and components, these are sourced through a tangled web of suppliers.  If parts don’t come in from Taiwan, then automobile factories in Michigan sit idle.  And you don’t just go out and build a semiconductor industry overnight.  Even if it were possible, the raw materials would need to come from somewhere.   All it takes is couple links in the chain to be broken, even just one, and whole swaths of the economy will grind to a halt.  

In the past there were droughts and famines, countless people died of starvation due to changes in climate.  But then the problem was often local, like the potato blight that hit Ireland hard from 1845 to 1852, and contained.  The overall system was robust because it was decentralized and full of redundancies.  There were places to flee to, like the United States, where there was a chance.

But that’s not the case anymore.  Not only are supply lines stretched very thin and delicate, with many moving parts, we also have the ‘just-in-time” manufacturing concept where inventories are kept low as a cost saving measure.  Inventory is a big business expense and “lean manufacturing” has been the rage for this reason. The end result being there is no extra capacity in the system.  

Ports lack the additional capacity and should never have been shutdown.  A minor disruption of an already overtaxed system will very quickly lead to major backlogs and a cascade of failures down the line.  It’s not only unloading the ships, but finding space for containers, having the rail cars and chassis to put them on.  There was already a shortage of CDL drivers before this started and there is no fast or easy way to fix the situation.

We Need Local Production and Built-in Resilience

We are seeing the weakness of the current economic paradigm in full display and it will likely get worse before it gets better.  I would expect slim pickings when it comes to the Christmas season.  No, it is not likely that we’ll run out of food or fuel here in the United States.  We do produce those things locally and therefore have some security in that regard.  However, that doesn’t mean there will be no pain.  Prices are likely to continue to rise.

It is a good time to reflect on where we’re headed.  Do we really want to continue to outsource our blue collar jobs to countries that do not follow our environmental standards or labor laws?  If climate change is an issue, why not use tariffs to bias the market in favor of domestic and local production?  Sure, it makes sense for big corporations and their bottom lines to chase cheap labor overseas, but does it serve national security or the betterment of Americans who aren’t privileged with college degrees?

Efficiency is a good thing.  It is of some benefit for us to have access to the lower priced labor in the developing world.  But then this is not coming at a cost.  It may relatively inexpensive to ship things around the globe in some regards, it certainly has made big corporations very powerful (with a lobbying and propaganda arm to match), yet it does come at an environmental cost and has also left the whole economic system vulnerable to collapse.

It is totally wrongheaded to increase taxes on domestic manufacturing and then remove tariffs on imported goods.  Sure, this might slow economic growth and possibly even lead to a small recession.  But real leadership is about seeing a little further down the road, and being prepared, rather than always doing what is politically expedient.  We need a new crop of elected leaders who are locally, and not globally, oriented.  

The Lie of Sexual Liberation

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My parents, like my grandparents have remained faithfully devoted to one person their entire lives.  This was not always easy, people grow and change, there were failures and financial hardships along the way, and those initial feelings of love faded long away ago.  And yet, through these trials of life and tribulations, there has been a stronger bond of love that emerged that is far more profound.

My own life experience has been different from that of my father and grandfather, both whom married in their early twenties and never looked back.  They remained fully one woman men.  And it doesn’t even seem as if the serious possibility of another woman has ever crossed their minds.  That is what I had wanted.  Unfortunately, life had different plans for me, I have both imagined myself with many women and have had none.  I’m a virgin, having never been married, but have also had my thoughts of liberation from this system that has disadvantaged me.

Call it egalitarian or call it egotistical, but there has also been this alternative of being intimate with multiple women does have some appeal.  For me, outside looking in, it could feel a bit unfair that some men could hoard for themselves what some of us could not have at all.  So wouldn’t it be better to erase this patriarchal structure entirely and make manifest that heavenly ideal of Matthew 22:30, when we “will neither marry nor be given in marriage” and all are one?

It is no big surprise that sexual liberation is a feature of many ‘Christian’ reformation attempts, including a more radical faction of the early Anabaptist movement in Münster, where they indeed shared more things in common than mere material possessions in their rejection of stuffy tradition.  And such things, polygamy and sexual sexual orgies, have been a regular feature of various contemporary cults as well.  For whatever reason it does feel right, in theory, but in reality is a self-serving disaster.

From ‘Free Love’ To Hook-up Culture

The 1960s and 70s were supposed to introduce this wonderful new age, free from the bonds of organized religion and stifling tradition.  The communal living, the flower children, Woodstock, it all seemed so wonderful in that generation.  But, besides music, it has left very little in terms of true positive legacy and ended up an ideal as naïve as the 1950s culture it was supposed to replace.  The old hippies are a sort of comical absurdity anymore.

The only actually lasting legacy of that era is the American cultural institution of marriage becoming a mockery of the relationship that my parents and grandparents maintained throughout their decades.  Fewer young people are even bothering to say vows as they’ve basically become meaningless in this age governed by immediate feelings and shunning of any type of binding commitment.  Many today have never experienced the stability that I have had with two parents who didn’t quit on each other when times got tough.

Worse many in the current generation have gone a step further and pretty much entirely given up on love.  They go to Tinder looking for a hook-up, or the whole “Netflix and chill” short-term sexual liaison, which makes very little attempt to treat physical intimacy as something special.  It is crass, it is completely centered on the body and cares nothing about the soul.  The young and beautiful can trade partners as casually as deciding what fast-food to order in.

Most young people today, even if they do not hook-up per se, think nothing about serial monogamy or living with multiple sex partners over their lifetimes.  I’ll hear things like, “how can anyone really know what they want in their early twenties?”  It is simply an expectation now that relationships are transitory and not meant to last.  Although, for some reason, most do seem to cling to exclusive rights or at least so far as they themselves can’t find anything better.

The Harsh Realities of the Sexual Economy

In the religious subculture that formed me there was always this idea of “meant to be” that accompanied romantic relationship that ended in marriage.  Divorce was not an option.  The relationship of a man and woman was spiritual.  We would barely talk about sexual attraction as a factor in this decision making process.  We were told that our being pure and being the right one would bring about success.

This denial of the sexual motivation is what would later lead to my disillusionment when I discovered things truly weren’t as they were being framed.  The reason I had been overlooked did not have to do with my character, the impossibly (before I had expressed any interest in her) had told me I would make a “great husband” and wasn’t the first to say so either, but for some reason they weren’t lining up for the opportunity to experience my greatness first-hand.

The reality is that marriage is not only about the completely virtuous pre-destined love of two people as advertised.  It is also about climbing the social ladder, gaining access to the resources that another person has, and basically being able to routinely do the nasty with the hottest piece of Mennonite asset available.  Yes, it is sexual.  Yes, there’s a reason why my Mennonite marriageability rating blog struck a chord with so many in my former religious culture.

Marriage is a type of economic transaction, there is a sexual economy, and some simply bring more to the table in terms of excitement than others.  There areas where some of us got the short end of the stick and could not compete.  This was not spoken about honestly, for many years it felt like a judgment of my character rather than what it was and would have been much better if it had been acknowledged.  At least hook-up culture is honest and doesn’t pretend to be about more than it is.

Why Hook-up Culture Does Not Work

On the surface being able to sleep with anyone seems like freedom.  I know it would not take much convincing for me to have sexual relations with multiple women.  I mean, there are many different women that I appreciate, with unique personalities, black, white or Asian, all beautiful.  Why not take turns, spread the love and share a little, right?

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.  First, there’s this thing of STDs, multiple partners means a wildly increased chance of an incurable and painful disease.  Second, hook-up culture is not free love.  No, it is actually more exclusive than traditional monogamy in that only the most superficially desirable specimens have a chance of success.  Fall under the height requirement, have a few too many extra pounds, and you’re out of luck with no chance at all.

Yeah, sexual promiscuity may have been good to Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have had twenty thousand female sexual partners, but it doesn’t work out the same for the average guy who ends up going home with nothing.  This is, in fact, the biggest issue with polygamy, some men get more of what they want, even the women may be satisfied with the arrangement, and yet there are also many disgruntled men without a chance.  Marriage increases equity by helping with the fairer distribution of a limited resource.

And, considering how many young women get chewed up and spit out by a world full of guys willing to say anything to “get in her pants” only to change their tune later, the traditional arrangement doesn’t seem so bad after all.  It is simply mind-blowing how many women, otherwise intelligent, believe that giving a guy what he wants upfront, without anything in writing to prove he is not simply playing around, will help their chances of securing his continued interest in them.

Marriage is About Equity and Protection

Multiple partners and sexual liberation only benefits some.  The current paradigm favors attractive men, who are able to select from a large group of willing women, they get what they want and then are on their way again to the next hot body as soon as things become a little difficult.  Meanwhile the guys who fall a bit short of female aspirations get nothing at all, permanently friend-zoned, with no chance of sex.

With traditional marriage there’s also some equity there, or at least in theory, in that the hottest players don’t get everything for themselves.

More importantly, saving sex for real commitment means that a woman is not stuck raising a child alone.  It also helps to establish consent.  Marriage is truly a safeguard against the exploitation of women.  Women literally bear a larger burden from sexual relations, emotionally or otherwise, and are often better off with the less flashy faithful men than those more likely to sweep them off their feet.

Lastly, it is also an arrangement that considers the long-term good.  And not only of the children who are provided security from a stable established relationship, but also of an aging woman who no longer has that youthfully attractive body and would be left with nothing.  Sure, traditional marriage never guarantees success, nevertheless it is better than the alternative of loveless sex and no commitment.

The nail in the coffin of sexual liberation is that sex is more fulfilling in the context of a committed relationship.  This is what makes me most sad about the current pursuit of carnal appetite over a selfless and more satisfying (over time) alternative.  My parents and grandparents had it right, that’s what I want more than anything else.

The Man I Never Met — Remembering Wayne_in_Maine

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There are some characters you meet online and never forget.

Such was the case with Wayne_in_Maine, who could come off as a sort of cranky or cantankerous old man and yet seemed (even then) to have a golden heart under the bluster. There is a way or an intuition I have, that can cut through the harshness on the surface. I can just know when someone is full of themselves and cruel despite their nice-sounding words or truly compassionate despite their surface-level unpleasantness.

Wayne was the latter kind.

The first thing notable about Wayne was that he was intelligent, he had been a nuclear engineer, could articulate his arguments well, and clearly was not going to be backed into a corner. The second thing was that he had a very unique journey and a different perspective from the other ethnic cultural inhabitants of the MennoDiscuss forum. He had gone from a hippy leftist to a conservative-minded neo-Anabaptist and could speak with authority on matters of science unlike the religiously indoctrinated parroting their fundamentalist teachers.

Initially, I saw him as a sort of threat to my worldview, another person compromised by secular influence trying to get Mennonites to shift to his views, and yet later his perspective would actually strengthen my faith when it faltered against the scientific evidence clearly pointing to the appearance of age in the universe.

Because of Wayne, I learned that young-Earth Creationism (or YEC) is not necessary to have a sincere and grounded faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, it might actually be a liability and cause many to fall into a serious crisis of faith when they go to university, study biology or almost any science and find out the case for YEC is not as clear as it was presented. That Wayne, a rational mind and well-educated, could both reconcile modern scientific theory and his faith was more useful to me (a critical thinker) than some Hammy tourist attraction put there to feed the confirmation bias of fundamentalist midwits. I came around to his position and haven’t looked back.

I have long respected Wayne despite our sometimes clashing and my occasionally coming away feeling unappreciated by him.

He was a man a conviction. He gave up lucrative career paths, actually tried communal living, literally sold all from what I recall, and had come much further in developing his own perspective than most do.

However, despite my respect, Wayne’s version of Christianity didn’t appeal to me. He had, inadvertently, pushed a friend of mine away from Anabaptism with one of his responses. I still believe his take on the rich young ruler account misses the mark, where he read the response of Jesus as a sort of legalistic prescription rather the same as we understand Luke 14:26 where Jesus says if someone “does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

I know, for a fact, that he did not take that literally. He came across, from my limited ability to see, as a very loving father and committed husband. I can’t imagine him hating his family to prove his commitment to Christ. Nevertheless, he was adamant about being completely Anabaptist in his perspective about wealth or warfare, an inconsistency of thought that bothers me about him and others of that fold. It did annoy me too when he characterized the Orthodox tradition as “smells and bells” as if worship was supposed to be something other than a beautiful or full sensory experience.

The Cancer and Change

After I heard about Wayne’s cancer diagnosis, none of our previous sparrings mattered much to me. Wayne, despite our differences, was a true friend and someone that mattered to me. It was especially important to me, given my mourning of Uriah, to talk to someone coming to terms with their poor prognosis and yet not giving up hope.

When I reached out on Facebook Messenger, mentioning Uriah and my desire to meet with him, he replied quickly and with more warmth than I had expected. There was no standoffishness, as had kind of been a feature of his personality, he reciprocated the desire to meet and we talked about various matters of faith.

I took a look at some of the MennoNet discussions he was involved in and got a laugh together about the various bad arguments being used. That’s one thing about him, his humor was dry and always fun, or at least fun when you were on the same side.

It was a sort of therapy, talking to this different side of the pragmatic engineer. Truly, it was special, the man that I saw emerge in this final trial was different. My own thought was that this was the Wayne that was always there under the snide comment and cynicism. Men can put up their walls, to not appear vulnerable, and that was no longer there. We were just two old keyboard warriors with nothing left to prove to the other.

And that’s not to take away from anything he said as far as the grace he was given to endure to the end. It was definitely something spiritual. His testimony of faith was clear. As a friend described him, in this transformed version, “It was like he became a totally different person. Happy, cheerful, optimistic.” He would not be defeated in death and I wanted to hear more about how a rational man, such as himself, given my own struggles, could continue in hope of the eternal.

I had to think of this Scriptural passage:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

(1 Peter 1:3-9)

More important than all of his intellectual endeavors and Christian apologetics, theory or theology, is Wayne’s undying faith through trial is of the greatest comfort to those still in the fight. I never did get to have that face-to-face meeting that we had committed to upon his planned move to Pennsylvania to be closer to his daughter and grandchild. We had planned to meet in order to give us both something to look forward to when he did.

Now that meeting will have to change locations. Wayne took his final breaths yesterday evening, on August 12th, a couple of days after his 65 birthday. By God’s grace, in triumph, we’ll see each other on that other side.

I’m sad that Wayne remains a man that I’ve never met, in the flesh, despite our interactions over the years. However, in his terminal illness, there was also a man that I never met, that softer side, and feel blessed have finally met this man. I loved him and believe that he loved me too. I’ll remember our last interactions for much more fondly than our first. It was beautiful to see his golden heart revealed.

My Suspicions Confirmed

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I’ll have to concede, I was wrong about face masks.  Early in the pandemic, in January of 2020 while the corporate media ‘experts’ were saying that we should be more concerned about the seasonal flu.  I was worried about this mystery virus in Wuhan and decided to get a box of N95 masks in case my fears were confirmed.  I was ridiculed, at the time, for my warnings and telling people to be prepared.

Months later, as the “no human-to-human transmission” claim of WHO became too obviously false to ignore and the glib urgings of politicians for their constituents to visit China were replaced with terror, that confirmed my warnings.  But now, with mask mandates and recommendations rolling out, many friends began to resist the idea.  They weren’t going to wear a “face diaper” and ridiculed the idea that a bit of cloth would be effective against a virus.

Of course, they were a little right, cloth masks aren’t at all effective against stopping the spread of the virus and now the corporate media is finally conceding this.  But still, based on laboratory experiments and filtration level, I believed my N95 masks were effective.  However, laboratory conditions are not the real world and, eventually, even that became a question mark for me.  Many countries also require facemasks with the masks because the masks are not adequate.

A few weeks ago, I may have overstated, I said that masks were completely ineffective at stopping the spread.  Technically correct since the virus spread as much (or even more) in states with strict requirements and yet I’ve also ran into some convincing data that suggests the good masks, the N95’s with a decent seal, may make an 10% difference overall.  So on this basis I’ll admit there could be marginal benefit.

The Wishy-washy Way To Truth

Many people, once they’ve made up their minds, never reconsider their stance.  If they believe masks are stupid then they will use every excuse in the book not to wear one.  I’ve heard them all.  The fear about being dehumanized.  That breathing carbon dioxide is dangerous.  But then they’ll contradict by calling people who disagree “sheeple” and claiming that something that can stop carbon dioxide from leaving can’t stop a virus from entering, hmm?

This is called confirmation bias.  People are emotionally invested in their ideas.  It is not easy to admit being wrong after making strong statements one way or another. So, rather than be on an unbending quest for the truth, most people (including your’s truly) will seek out the information that ‘confirms’ an established position and ignore what does not.  It takes much more effort to take an honest (and critical) look at the evidence and go wherever it leads.  Few actually do.

Confirmation (or my side) bias is powerful because it is hidden under layers of fact and explanation that sounds rational.  The position being guarded seems completely reasonable to the holder of the opinion, in their eyes they own the moral high ground, and those who disagree are simply ignorant, selfish or otherwise deficiencient.  It is often this moral stake in the ground that makes it so hard to back off from an established opinion, we would rather continue in the righteous delusion than deal with the possibility the other side was right.

As the saying goes, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”  Even a mountain of evidence cannot uproot an established position.  It is the same as a fortification on a hill that can hold off waves of an assault with few defenders.  That hill being our ego, the banner flying our identity, and we cling to this ground because to lose it would cause us to question ourselves, ask the hard questions of if we are truly virtuous and good, if we are actually intelligent or fooled by our own desire to be right?

It is far easier to remain in the comfort of our own righteous delusion than to consider that the very foundation of our citadel of reason could be sand.  We fear changing our perspective will mean we’re wishy-washy or, worse, might require us to examine the underpinnings of other long held beliefs and leave us with no bedrock to build on.  Most of all, we fear the ridicule and abuse of our ideological enemies, we can’t let them win!

Powerful Propaganda to Innoculate the Masses

The point of propaganda is to build confirmation bias.  The propagandist tries to encourage an emotional bond to an idea, often through appeals to popular prejudice, and yet not overtly or in a way that the targets know they’re being used.  Almost every war is fought for the financial benefit of a few and yet sold as some righteous common cause.

For example, both sides of the American Civil War felt they were fighting for civil rights.  Both sides used labor that was either property outright or treated like a rented mule.  The Northern elites, for all their moralizing abolitionist hubris, depended on an industrial machine that exploited poor European immigrants, taking them right off the boat to send into dark mines, dangerous factory conditions or conscript them into the meat grinder of Lincoln’s war.  The South, obviously, was fighting for the privilege of the slaveholding elites and yet convinced they were depending themselves from Northern tyranny and aggression.

Propaganda is about framing an issue in terms favorable to a particular side without ever appearing to be biased to the target audience.  It is subversive by design, aims to overwhelm the true complexity of debatable mathers with simple sloganeering, refrains meant to be picked up by the midwits in media and then spread by the unsuspecting masses.  The point is to convince the enforcers of the order, the common folk, that they are doing God’s work, being patriots, on the side of irrefutable science or what have you, when in reality they’re serving some undisclosed agenda.

Hitler did not rise to power by being the caricature of evil that we see him as on the other side of the conflict.  No, rather, he had convinced enough of the German people that he was on the side of progress, that he would remove the causes of disease and suffering, then build their country back better than ever.  The Nazis dressed up in a magnificent authoritarian style, it might look bad in retrospect, knowing where it was leading, yet was hope for a nation emerging from years of crisis.

The Safe and Effective Deception

As part of the propaganda campaign, to convince people to inject the controversial new vaccines, news articles repeated the “safe and effective” mantra over and over again.  Both of those words are, of course, subjective.  However, they are assuring and have a sort of sophisticated ring.  Surely this sort of confident declaration is the result of rigorous science and more or less an unquestionable truth, right?

Those in support of vaccine mandates completely ignore the known risks, Big Tech monopolies literally removing groups of people who had encountered adverse effects, and seem to have no awareness of the great potential of unknown risks that come with any new technology hastily introduced.  I mean, somehow the 737 Max got through the approval process, was essentially declared safe and effective, despite a serious defect.  So, in short, we can’t possibly know that there are no long-term health consequences of these experimental vaccines and are only now starting to study that potential.  

But the thing most egregious propaganda is not the downplaying and dismissal of the documented deaths or reasonable concerns of those who have studied history enough to know how quickly narratives change.  They are simultaneously attacking treatment options, like Ivermectin, that are truly effective, cheap and present less of a risk than Tylenol.  It is actually this that makes me distrust them as far as the vaccines.  Why are they so adamantly against things that are actually safer than the vaccines and with a proven record?

Even as the new vaccines have proven to be ineffective as far as stopping the spread and preventing infection, despite the natural immunity of those who had the disease being up to thirteen times stronger than the vaccines, the current propaganda narrative continues that it is the unvaccinated are the real cause of the suffering.  Nevermind that Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson all have financial ties to big media and make a windfall off of this new product.


Far Should Our Trust Go?

The real question is why should we trust the same political and media establishment that lied about where the virus originated, initially downplayed it as less a threat than the seasonal flu, parroted the Chinese regime that was no human-to-human transmission, and even had the audacity to encourage people to visit the crowded streets of Chinatown?

At what point do we start to question their bold declarations?

Can we really trust the same people who, in a complete panic after being wrong, first said “two weeks to stop the spread” and then somehow transitioned this into months of lockdowns?  Can we trust the people who, months ago, laughed off the concerns about vaccine cards being turned into a sort of passport and are now pushing for that very thing?  What can be for a President who is on record, before the election, saying he would not mandate vaccines and is now trying to impose that very policy?  

Supposedly they’re completely trustworthy this time around?

Anyhow, each day I hear stories, that man a friend knew who faithfully wore a mask, had two shots, and then died after becoming sick from the Covid virus.  We have the trickle of stories about vaccine related health complications, contaminated injections resulting in deaths and recalls of millions of doses, warnings from the very inventors of the mRNA technology, and yet told that we’re a conspiracy theorist to question.  Those blinded by confirmation bias will never see.

Raped — But Not Devalued

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I was on the elevator down from the psych ward, having visited a friend in a bit of a rough patch and struck up a conversation with one of the other riders.

As it turned out, she was a psychologist, visiting a friend (not her patient) who was not doing so well.  This young man, now catatonic, had once had it all together. He was a standout athlete, had a girlfriend who was gorgeous, and then something happened that turned his world upside down.

What would take the feet out from under a strong and healthy male?

He was raped.  

While in the military, the Navy as I recall, he was forced by another man and this started his downward spiral.  It is not possible to know, having never gone through anything similar myself, what happened in this young man’s mind.  But one can imagine, if he had an identity and self-worth built around his ability to protect, being overpowered in this way would have to be absolutely devastating to him.

How could he provide security for a woman if he couldn’t even defend himself from an assault?

His relationship, his life, his will to live, crumbled.  This one experience, possibly over in minutes, probably not doing him lasting physical harm, broke him mentally and turned him into a shell.  I have no idea of what became of him.  Did he find a way to bounce back, form a new identity, move on from the trauma and overcome?  Or has he withered away into nothing?

More Common Than Thought

One of my first encounters with a victim of sexual abuse was in school.  A friend of mine, from elementary school all the way through high school, told me that he had been molested by his stepbrothers while living in Texas with his biological dad.  I had always felt bad for Justin. He was socially awkward and bullied by classmates, had a domineering mother, and came out of the closet later on as a teenager.

I’m also had some very close female friends that have told me about being raped.  Their stories are very similar.  A trusted male, often a boyfriend, talks them into a place where they are unable to escape his sexual aggression.  In all of these cases, to head off any assumptions, there was no alcohol involved.  They were good morally upright girls who were too trusting of a male ‘friend’ who stole their innocence and left them feeling completely broken.

Then there’s Adam, the school friend who took his life a few years ago, victimized as a child by a predator college professor.  His alcoholism and failed relationship no doubt, in part, linked to this experience.  I mean he let me in on this secret, and many years after it happened, so it was obviously still part of his thought process.

At one point in my life all of this was unthinkable.  I was in a home that offered stability and protection, with two good parents.  I’m sure there were things that I did not know about, but my community seemed mostly healthy and safe.  There was simply no reason for me to assume this sort of violating behavior was common.  So statistics about 1 out of 5 women being victims of rape seemed impossible.

It is truly understandable that many who were raised in sheltered homes are in denial of the extent of this problem.  It makes sense that they would try to explain it away as the promiscuous putting themselves in a compromised position.  It is probably a good thing when the reaction is disbelief. Most men aren’t rapists and would be horrified, like I was, if they heard a story firsthand from someone they love.

Boundaries and Consent

As part of my culture, and also my lingering shyness, it is difficult for me to so much as give a woman a hug.  It’s actually very frustrating to me, that I’m so awkward in this regard and would almost need to ask permission rather than simply make the read.  Why is this?  Well, it only seems right to respect another person’s space.  Intimacy is supposed to be reserved for special people, right?

It actually makes me livid to see even a boy too grabby with a girl too early, even if she seems to be enjoying it, because he’s treating her as an object.  And yet this sort of ‘confidence’ is often rewarded.  The women who think that every man is a rapist may have simply spent way too much time with men who do not respect their or any boundaries. 

And, yes, men who pressure with “if you love me you will…” are evil. 

Period.

Rape is a product of an entitled mind, a psychopath, someone who sees other people as something to be exploited for their pleasure.  Sure, maybe they can turn on the charm and blend into normal society, but their true character is revealed when there is nothing to stop them.  Be it in a back alley or her bedroom that he talked himself into while her parents were away, rapists exploit the vulnerable.

Incidentally, this is why I’m still in favor of at least one aspect of traditional courtship.  If a man can’t keep his hands off of your body for a few dates, if there is any unwanted pressure whatsoever to be physically involved, then maybe find someone who is interested in you rather than merely sexually attracted to your physical form.  If a man can’t commit to a relationship without sex, he certainly isn’t the type to commit after sex.

Lust and Self-control

In the animal kingdom there is no such thing as consent.  Often the strongest, most competitive, male gets to mate and by simply overpowering the female.  He runs on instinct, male hormones, testosterone, and is basically acting out his natural programming.  We don’t generally describe a buck “in the rut” as being a rapist because we do not see the animal as capable of complex moral reasoning.

And humans do have these similar underpinnings too.  Men, for the most part, are more aggressive, and women tend to be more submissive, agreeable, etc.  It is simply the substance we’re made of in the same way it is for any other animal.  We’re instinctive creatures that seek out, and imagine, the things we want.  But we also have a layer beyond this, a large frontal lobe in our brain, which gives us an extra capability for self-control.

Lust is often confused with simple desire for something.  Many in a strict religious upbringing, like my own, are made to feel extremely guilty for looking upon a fair maiden and finding her desirable.  But that’s not lust, that’s healthy sexual attraction and not a sin.  What is lust is when we dwell on something that’s not ours to take. That is a path that can lead to rape, as in this Biblical account:

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. […]
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” […] 
But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.” “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

(2 Samuel 13:2‭, ‬6‭-‬7‭, ‬11‭-‬14 NIV)

Awful!

The sad part is that when Amnon’s lust was satiated, he discarded his half-sister (not biologically related) as if his sin were somehow her fault.  Incidentally, this violence did not go unavenged. Amnon was eventually killed by the victim’s brother, Absalom.  But this lack of self-control seemed to plague David’s house.

Considering what king David did to have another man’s wife, we could say “like father like son” to explain what happened here. 

Rabid Dogs Are Put Down

In the end, we all have sexual desires. Attraction is natural and not something to be ashamed about.  But, when this crosses over into lust, when we choose to dwell on something unattainable and scheme to have it through immoral means, that’s a choice and what separates us from animals.  The reprobate tries to hide behind their urges and impulses. 

If a dog can’t keep from biting we’ll put it down. 

Should a person with no self-control, who harms others because of their unwillingness to rein in their lusts, be treated any differently?

I know Jesus said, pertaining to those who harm the “little ones” (referring to those young in the faith, not necessarily children), that it would be better that a millstone be hung around the neck of those who do these things and they be cast into the sea.  He may not have been talking specifically about sexual abuse and yet, knowing what this sin does to those who have fallen prey, I’m quite certain it’s included.

Jesus never said, “if she’s wearing a skimpy outfit, then she shares some of the blame,” but he did say, in the context of lust, If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out…” (Matthew 5:29a NIV) 

Good people do not create scapegoats.

Godly men do not blame women.

Your Body Is Not Your Worth

The more important message of this blog, and my main reason for writing it, is to tell those who have been through this kind of trauma this: Your rape is not a reflection of you or your value.

As one who fully appreciates the human form, especially that of the female body, and completely desires physical intimacy, it could be easy to treat our bodies as being one and the same as our being.  We show preference based upon stature, beauty, shape and other matters of outward appearance.   So it can feel as if this form we reside in is of greatest importance and, therefore, what happens to it a reflection of ourselves.

Women, traditionally, put value in their cleanliness or purity, men in their strength and ability to protect.  Our identity is often wrapped up in this external image.  Rape is an attack on the physical manifestation of these things and causes the victim to question their identity or value at a deeper level.  This is why, in mere moments, someone can be shattered.  They now see themselves as dirty or defiled, inadequate or weak, and thus of less value.

But the truth is that our human value has nothing to do with what others have done to our bodies and everything to do with how we choose to live.  

I’ve encountered toxic and nasty people, bitter, who have used the abuse they’ve experienced as an excuse to mistreat others.  I have also met those who have not been defeated, who are able to put the unpleasantness behind them, and even become a better person in the end.  This idea that we’re damaged goods or have lost our worth because of something that happened, through no fault of our own, is choosing to put our own value in our bodies.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

(Matthew 10:28a NIV)

There is so much more to our being than our physical form.  We might convince ourselves, based on the world’s obsession with the external, that our worth is in only these physical things.  But what matters, the real value we have, is our soul and that thing that can’t be touched. 

Age will eventually destroy our bodies. The tall youth will some day be hunched over, the strong man’s muscles will atrophy, wrinkles will spread on that angelic face.  The world abuses us, we will all likely face trauma even if not rape, and yet—if we know that value is something other than the physical—our worth will increase.

At the very least, no matter what anyone has done to your body, whether you were abused as a child, raped or whatever, I do not look at you as damaged or inferior. 

No, you are strong to keep going. There is a special beauty to a survivor that is not found in those sheltered.  And I believe there are more who agree with me than do not. 

Your value is in who you are and not what was done to you!

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
(Luke 12:6 NIV)

Broken Records: The Choice To Be Healed

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Adam is a friend of mine.  We have gone out to eat on multiple occasions since being introduced.  He’s a bit eccentric, he carries a notebook everywhere, has humor that doesn’t quite hit the mark, spiritual rather than religious, dresses a little like an old-school hippie and is sort of alt-right conspiracy-minded. 

Adam is also depressed and a broken record.  Time and time again he goes back to his relationship with his father and wants some sort of validation that he never does receive.  His father, his opposite politically, left when he was a child, seems to have some mental issues of his own and can be very degrading when things don’t go his way.  It is quite evident that the sins of the father have visited upon the son.

I have urged Adam to move on, told him that his biological father will never give him what he so desperately wants, and have suggested that he do as I have done when let down.  Namely, I have told him to come to Holy Cross.  The Orthodox have fatherly figures who represent the Heavenly Father for the fatherless. 

Unfortunately, Adam, despite his desperation, is stuck on doing things his own way.  From the first time we met until now there is a wall of resistance that goes up against Christian religion and even what seems like an inability to understand simple explanations.  For example, I used the illustration of Naaman having to dip in the river Jordan to be healed, thought I had explained well, and got nothing but a blank look of his being genuinely perplexed.

There’s truly not much hope for Adam until he is able to let go of his disappointments and hope of some sort of resolution on his own terms.  And, quite frankly, even if his dad would miraculously transform into the father he envisions as ideal, that would not fix what broken in Adam.  He will try drugs, he asks for my “fellowship” with him, but absolutely refuses to dip in those healing waters of the Church.

It’s sad because his repeatedly going back to this makes me feel as if I’m wasting time on a lost cause.  I mean, it’s hard not to do that inner “here we go again” eye roll when there seems to be no progress.  And it does certainly work on my patience too.  But there’s one big reason why I do not write him off entirely.  What is that reason?  Well, maybe because I’m not all that different from him.
 
My Own Skipping Record

In the days of vinyl records there was nothing more annoying than the skip.  It was what happened when the record had been mishandled and the surface grooves scratched.  The needle would travel down the groove, reach the scratched area, and jump back into the prior groove.  The result is that the music abruptly stops and makes an unpleasant transition over and over again.

Being stuck in a rut is not fun.  Ending up in the same place no matter how hard you try will exhaust the strongest person.  Worse, when others try to help pull a mired soul out, and the stuck person goes sideways rather than forward, many will leave concluding that they do not want to be helped.  And sometimes that is indeed the case.  Some do enjoy the pity party attention and are simply a drain of resources that could be used for those who truly want out.

Those who have read my blogs over the past few years have probably started (long ago) to wonder if any progress has been truly made.  And, believe me, some days I do wonder myself as I give a slightly different angle on the same themes over and over again.  I mean, you get it.  I had some really big expectations and ended up really disappointed at the end.  So move on already, right?

And the truth is, I have in many regards.  I’m not the same person as I was a year ago.  I have gained confidence, continue to attend to my responsibilities, and the feelings of loss grow less intense with each repeat cycle.  That said, the recent setbacks, the physical pain, along with the unresolved situation with Charlotte, can very quickly lead to that spiral back into those past hurts.  There was no real resolution or closure there, to survive I simply pivoted to new hopes.   

Completing the transition, out of the wilderness of broken glass to my new promised land, means seeing a fulfilment of the impossibly.  That means Charlotte being here.  Until that moment when we meet in the airport terminal, her safely on US soil, there will be that cloud of uncertainty hanging over me.  It does cause me to skip at times, to go back to those feelings of helplessness and worries that my hopes are still entirely delusion.

I choose to believe. But not because it is easy to believe.

As the man with the sick son who came to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Do You Want To Be Healed?

A year or two ago, this was the text for the Homily one Sunday morning:

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

(John 5:5‭-‬8 NIV)

It really struck me, more than ever before while hearing this passage, that Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed.  Imagine that, a man, waiting for nearly forty years, nobody helping this unfortunate man into this healing pool.  He, like Adam, like myself before the pursuit of the impossibly, had been waiting on rescue by the means that he could understand.  His days must’ve passed an increasing nightmare of his own paralysis and being surrounded by other hurting people more concerned with their own needs.

Jesus asks, almost as if knowing the man’s will to be healed is permission.  And the incredible part?  After hearing the man’s complaint about no help, simply commands him “get up” and the man does.  His faith set him free.

That in contrast with this:

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

(Mark 6:1‭-‬5 NIV)

The disbelief of those who knew Jesus as merely a man, the carpenters son, limited what he was able to do.  Spiritual healing is, and has always been, a matter of our own choice.  So many of us insist on doing things our own way, we refuse to dip in our muddy Jordan rivers because of pride, we wait on rescue believing that our salvation comes from other people, yet all we need is to look up in faith and then healing is possible.

No, this does not mean we will be spared physical ailment or live forever in our current form.  Even Lazarus, raised from the dead, passed from this life.  But we can be made spiritually whole.  That is why I keep writing, maybe I sound like a broken record, maybe this is too much for many people who stopped reading this blog long ago, still I write so that my most faithful friends may someday also share in my joy having known of my sorrows.

Liturgies of Life

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The readers of this Irregular Ideation most likely noticed that I was down and struggling a bit.  No doubt the prayers of my family and good friends have been heard.  While the neck and other issues linger, there has been a break in the form of some good news that has brought with it that glimmer of hope again.

These cycles of mood and emotional swings have been something that I’ve pondered.  Despite there being events that are involved, there is also this sort of rhythm and inevitability to these things.  The phase “what goes up must come down” comes to mind.  Sure, I’m probably on the more neurotic end of things, with higher highs and lower lows.  But most people, no matter how good or bad their life is compares to others, seem able to identify with these ebbs and flows.

I mean, we have that time before coffee in the morning then that time after where the brightest of the world returns.  There are those the weekly slow starts “a case of the Mondays” contrast with that euphoria of Fridays.  Then the longer cycling patterns tired to holidays or weather.  Has anyone else had encounters with SAD or Seasonal Effective Disorder?  Descriptions like “terrible twos” or “the midlife crisis” exist for a reason.  Is the “sophomore slump” real?  I think so.  

And there does seem to be a preordained nature to this all, like the seasons or how the sun rises and sets. 

This kind of constant change is confirmed in Scripture:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1‭-‬8 NIV)

To me this is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.  The woman who brought a man such joy in their youth may make him all the more lonely when the season of death and seperation comes.  The attributes that make a nation rise in prominence, say a focus on equality, can be the very thing that brings about their collapse once it finally does reach the top.  

Not to say that any of this is meted out evenly across board either, some do have it easier or a higher baseline mood and others not as fortunate, nevertheless there are patterns.  

Bigger dreams lead to bigger despair.  But a harder struggle can also lead to greater joy and a more wonderful triumph for the faithful than those who lived for their own comfort.  There is balance, there is growth, larger and smaller patterns, a predictability that seems could be modeled.  How it plays out across groups of people is also a fascination of mine.

My own thought is that we could probably remove the triggering events and still end up with the same patterns in the end. 

In other words, there would have been a world war even if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated, my disenchantment with the Mennonite denomination would have eventually boiled over even if not for the same specific reasons, and Elon Musk’s Twitter account isn’t the reason the crypto market dropped from those all time highs either.

First, Let Me Talk About Stocks…

If cycles of human emotion could be mapped out, the stock market might be the place to start.  The euphoria of a “bull” market and seeming endless pessimism of a “bear” market show how our emotions, collectively, shape the direction or mood of the market.  But it is more than just random noise, it is a complex dance of feelings and facts, that produces the ‘right’ price in the end.  It can often be algorithmically predicted.

A little story, for example, of how it works: I have bought and sold Dogecoin over the past few months.  My first purchase, in December, at a cost of $1000 then, would have been worth hundreds of thousands at the peak.  I sold it for a small gain.  But later, as not to miss out, I bought in again, and saw my portfolio balloon when the “meme coin” finally caught fire.  However, over the past few months, things haven’t been too good and the price was going down and down.

At first I had complete resolve.  The smart investor holds, I did my due diligence, this is only a correction cycle and things will reverse soon.  But eventually the pressure broke me.  I decided that it was time to save what was left of my gains and move to something that would produce a better return.  I thought this down trend would continue indefinitely or at least go lower—give me a better buy-in price later, right?  

I’ll show you where I sold around 80% of my Doge…

Oh well, I think I’ll be able to get more later.

Yup.  I picked the very bottom of the downward trend.  Even knowing that cryptos have gone through similar corrective phases in the past before continuing their upward climb, and even telling my coworkers that Bitcoin (despite the plunge) would end the year above $70,000, I fell victim to fear, uncertainty and doubt precisely at the wrong time.  I had waited for two months to see that trend reversal, at the bottom, and would have gotten it had I held on for another couple more weeks.

But more than to talk about my missed opportunities, I’m interested in that larger cycle of the market and how human emotions (in an aggregate) create this clear pattern.  Many people want to blame events, like a Tweet from Elon Musk or what have you, for their change in fortunes.  However, while we could see these events as being triggers, it seems the larger patterns are something more or less baked in.  

Elon Musk speaks as Doge sells

Dogecoin, for example, could not continue straight up forever.  Smart investors, who know the adage, “buy the rumor, sell the news,” started to sell before Musk’s SNL appearance.  And the sell-offs came with mentions both good and bad.  It was not the autistic billionaire businessman’s fault that so many people decided on that moment to cash in nor that others began to panic sell as the price dipped.  It was all predictable, part of some sort of fractal meta-pattern, can be modeled (like this), and would have happened (triggered by something else) regardless.

Smart investors learn to zoom at, look at the longer trend, rather than let the emotions of a bad day get to them.  Cryptos, despite their recent dip, have remained in an ascending pattern with the recent lows still higher than the high of the prior cycle, which is why the smart money (unlike your’s truly) continues to buy the dip and HODL (Hold On for Dear Life) rather than give up.  Most people miss on big gains because they’re impatient.

Despite Recent Lows, An Upwardly Building Pattern Prevails…

It was after my most recent dip in mood that I realized something.  In my prior lows over the years, as a Mennonite, I would still go to church for the fellowship and yet would not sing if the words didn’t feel authentic coming from my mouth.  

But this past time, despite my feeling low, I still showed up to sing and did because (despite my pain and depressed mood) someone had to carry my part in the choir.  Music was my worship, spiritual combat, rather about how I felt.  This time I soldiered through the liturgy, toothache, emotional turmoil, and all.  I left immediately after the service, rather than do the social ‘coffee hour’ thing, because I was miserable.

It might seem to be virtuous to only show up or sing when the feelings are there and yet it is hardly sustainable.  If I only showed up for my job when I was in the mood or having a good day, my paycheck would be small to nonexistent.  Many marriages end in divorce because the ‘love’ therein depends on their feelings in the moment and is not an actual commitment to love through better or worse.

So, in short, this duty-driven devotion, rather than being led by emotions, is actually progress.  It was not simply another dive into the same dumps as before.  No, I have changed, improved, from the “be true to yourself” advice to doing my job, for the good of others (including my choir director), gutting it out.  Two steps forward, one step back, will eventually get you where you need to be.

There is a sense in which it was always a choice whether or not to participate.  But my character development?  That seems like something guided, the result of years of small nudges in the right direction, and not something that I can take credit for.  In other words, I’m becoming what I was meant to be, having been placed in the right time and circumstances.

Despite Individual Progress, Are We Becoming Weaker?

That’s not to say that this kind of building pattern cannot work in reverse.  When we consider our “first-world problems” in comparison to what people face in Afghanistan, it would appear that we are becoming collectively weaker rather than use the past generations boost.  We use our opportunity to “stand on the shoulders of giants” to bellyache about ‘oppression’ because other people are not forced to pay for our lifestyle choices.

To put things into perspective?  

Charlotte, my Igorot bhest, as the daughter of a subsistence farmer in the mountainous Benguet province, was sent away to assist her grandmother.  She describes her childhood as being her “grandma’s water pump,” carrying heavy buckets to keep the garden watered.  The work was so hard that she would cry and wonder why she was even born.  That’s pretty much how my grandparents or great-grandparents lived, they did complain and probably because there was nobody to listen.  Everyone struggled, physically, and became strong enough to survive.

Not Charlotte. But how many in the world work.

Compare that to my generation, where we were mostly spared hard physical labor, yet find plenty of reason to cry injustice.  We have gone from “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” to triggered because an Amish kid stares at us.  Being looked at too long a micro-aggression, I’ve heard.  My own endless existential crisis another example and there are many other cases, in my generation, of oversensitive and dark struggles of those truly privileged compared to their hardworking parents.

While past generations in my religious upbringing may blame their insecurities on the standards and not being appreciated by their workaholic father or whatever, the latest generation can’t even eat peanut butter without breaking into hives.  It isn’t their fault either, they’ve been coddled and protected from birth, their parents worked overtime to make sure that they felt heard and connected.  Now, rather than see their discontentment coming from having to follow ‘legalistic’ church standards, our youth will struggle with questions of whether or not they’ve somehow been mis-gendered at birth.

There is little doubt that our sterile environment is likely contributing to the vast increase in autoimmune disorders and allergies.  Whereas previous generations fell to disease, endured actual physical hardship and wondering where the next meal would come from, girls married as teenagers, we now have people distressed that someone used the ‘wrong’ pronoun…

Triggered transgender

However, in a sense, over the generations it is the same struggle in different form.  No matter how improved things become, whether we get that go cart we dreamed about every day or not, there will always be another circumstance to blame our own feelings of not belonging on.  The more challenges we remove for our children, the less capable they become.  No longer comfortable in their own skin.  We blame different externalities for our despair, yet maybe it is something genetic, internal and inevitable?

How Civilizations Rise And Fall

There have been various descriptions of how civilizations rise and fall, one example below:

Many Americans see that we’re on the decline and that our fall from world prominence is now as inevitable as the sun going down.  And, given that many great empires have come and gone, this is not a big surprise.  How could a nation of immigrants, people who left the oppression of the old world, traveled across the treacherous Atlantic and conquered a continent, who understood sacrifice, lead to a generation so entitled, unappreciative, self-loathing and suicidal?

It is easy to paint a very bleak picture.  But then, gripes about the next generation are as old as human civilization and this doesn’t always mean a collapse is imminent.  Yes, there is change.  Top hats have gone out of fashion and will likely never make a return, trends come and go.  There have been times of great social upheaval, like the American Civil War, followed by periods of relative calm.  Those who lived through the Great Depression, the World Wars or Cold War all had their anxieties about the end being near, only for that “great peace” and fall of the Soviet Union to follow.

What feels like the end, under fresh leadership, could be the start of a new epoch.  Take the fall of Rome.  Sure, the Mediterranean empire fragmented, yet the common thread of Western civilization has remained to this day and is arguably stronger than ever.  Yeah, the British Empire may no longer rule the seas, but their rebellious American sons and daughters have become even more powerful than any empire ever.  So maybe after a painful declining corrective phase there will be a revival or rebirth?

Our survival depends on our optimism.  We must assume that each pullback will lead to the next increase in amplitude.  No, that doesn’t mean this is easy, doubt and despair require far less effort than hope and faith; failure is always possible even with the best efforts, but humanity has made it through many bad moments—moments many times worse than any of us will likely experience in our own lifetimes.

Maybe the down is what we needed to give us the bounce to greater heights?

North-South, East-West

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One of my favorite love stories, the BBC adaptation of a Victorian era novel, North & South, features two very strong and compelling characters.  

The first, Margaret Hale, the cherub-faced daughter of an English clergyman, is forced to move to the industrial North after her father’s resignation over a matter of conscience.  The other is John Thornton, a mill-owner, a handsome man with piercing eyes, brooding and intense, and interest in the demure young woman.

Things started fairly well.  But, that doesn’t last as the differences in their perspectives becomes clear.  Margaret, compassionate and having lived a sheltered life, interprets the actions of John in a negative light and pulls away after witnessing his harshness towards an employee caught smoking.  What she sees as just cruelty was actually Thornton’s concern for the safety and wellness of his workers given the extreme risk of fire.

It is in the last and final act where there’s a scene where the tension between the two finally disappears.  Throughout the middle-act Thornton’s truly good character is slowly revealed.  And, Margaret, having returned South, has reconsidered her own idealistic notions, now sees the merits to living in Milton, and decided to return North again.  Meanwhile, John is going South, the two cross paths at a station near the midpoint and cue the music.

North & South

There is this wonderful part of the soundtrack in this climatic station scene, Northbound Train (listen here), that so perfectly accompanied the moment.  It is understated and elegant, reflective, that builds in waves to crescendo and then slips away as wistfully as it came.  Thornton’s steadfast devotion is finally rewarded with a kiss and happily ever after begins despite the painful struggle to get there.

When the Story Goes South…

During my pursuit of the impossibly (a preacher’s daughter, like Margaret) this story brought a little hope with the similarities to my own.  It wasn’t that we were so terribly different in our desires as it was she never heard me.  Her conclusions formed before the conversation even began.  She had pronounced “you’re thirty years old living in Milton” (the actual name of the town) meaning, in translation, that I would hinder her big plans.  And could not understand it was her boldness and ability to get out that attracted me.

My thesis then was that a composite of our unique strengths, seemingly incompatible, bound together by Christian love, would exceed what those of similar abilities could accomplish. My thinking outside the box combined with her represention of the Mennonite standard.  And, while I’m never good at getting things started (hence being stuck in Milton) I’m extremely loyal and willing to sacrifice for the team.  I knew my age and life experience was an asset.  But she could not see my value.

Still, for the year or so following her initial rejection I believed.  What a wonderful story we would have when all was said and done, right?

Anyhow, that music, Northbound Train, had seemed like the perfect bridal march.  Partly in innocent faith, partly to bolster my failing confidence against the deluge of rational fears, this image of the impossibly walking the church aisle dressed in white.  As would be the case in real life, tears would stream down my cheeks as the nightmare of the past decade was replaced by this wonderful dream of marital companionship and completeness.  

The strong emotions that came with that gentle harp being replaced with one violin and then two, have now disappeared.  The music is still beautiful, but my feelings of numbness have long replaced that panging desire for a well-defined conclusion to over a decade of struggle.  What I got instead was a world more complex.  The cynicism that I had fought tooth and nail was confirmed.  

The sunshine through the clouds, endings sweet and perfect are not for everyone.  And the reason we tell such lovely tales is probably because they’re so uncommon, the exception, and not the rule.  Sure, we can see ourselves as the characters.  But the impossibly will likely go on seeing me as the villain in her movie, her conventional guy as the hero, and has never once shared in my fairytale that love would prevail over our differences.

As Far As the East is From the West

It is hard to believe that nearly another decade has passed and I’m still alone.  I’ve moved from Milton, left the religion of my childhood behind, even traveled to the complete opposite side of the world twice, and have changed from that guy perpetually unsure of how to find direction.  No, I’m not a missionary, but I do genuinely love people and probably accomplish more of actual value than those duty-bound Evangelical types who see ‘the lost’ as their get-into-heaven projects.

More importantly, I’ve found another impossibly, a beautiful Filipina flower, a little lost sheep when I found her (struggling abroad, in Taiwan, to support her son back home) and now the one who keeps me strong despite our torturous wait.  Unlike the Mennonite impossibility, we do not share a cultural or ethnic identity, our lives have been very different, yet we have our simple and devoted love in common—which has been just enough to sustain us through these past years.

East & West

However, after all I’ve been through, holding on to hope is hard.  Could my visions of her arrival at the airport, on American soil, with Y-dran in tow, also be a delusion?  

It has been over two years and eight months since we’ve held each other that one last time before we parted ways in Taoyuan International Airport.  I had known the immigration process would be difficult, but could not have anticipated the pandemic and travel bans that make it nearly impossible to be with Charlotte.  It really does start to bring those worries that I might be cursed to the forefront again and sometimes the despair does win.

The eternal optimism of youth wiped away by the rejection of the Mennonite ideal, now facing my rational fears and the fact that I’ve been hoping longer than Jacob worked for Rachel and without so much as a Leah in between, I can now fully identify with the wife of Job, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”  The frustration is real.  How long does one go on dreaming?  When is it justified to wither away into bones, with life never to return again?

As far as the East is from the West is an expression, in Psalms 103:12, used to describe an impossible distance that cannot be bridged.  And it could seem that, despite the abiding love of my bhest to encourage me onwards, I’ve jumped straight from the frying pan into the fire.  We have had a bit of good news since I’ve last published a blog here, the USCIS approved the application, and yet will this impossibly ever become possible?

I see the successful couples. So lovely together. To them it feels preordained, meant to be, a dream come true. For me, on the outside looking in, there is now more uncertainty than certainty, not everyone gets that music at the end.

What Wears Me Out

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I’ve always been a sort of magical thinker, my hopes always far outpacing my realities, and to the point that sometimes when my dreams would finally come true the pleasure had already been exhausted.

I had so wanted a go cart growing up.  On the school bus ride home my mind would start to wander into the fantasy realm.  I would picture a shiny new go cart, like the ones in the catalog, waiting for me at the end of the driveway and would actually be disappointed when it did not end up being true when we would finally pull up to to my stop. 

That’s not to say that I didn’t love the old go cart that my dad would finally weld up, using a rusted frame as a starting point, and an old lawnmower engine.  Anything with four wheels, that ran on gasoline, that could be slid around corners, definitely scratched that itch.  Still, my vivid world of make-believe did not always end with any fulfillment.

In my adulthood this tendency to be way out ahead of myself did not get any better.  I’ve cried, on more than one occasion, thinking of my beautiful bride walking towards me up the aisle.  And not in sadness either, it was in bliss having momentarily put myself in that wonderful place.  Of course, given that I never even so much as went on one date with this young woman, I pretty much ruined that music.

The world between my ears can be a paradise.  A place where there’s such thing as innocent love and anything is actually possible.  I used this as an escape.  My school years spent doodling and hoping for some kind of rescue from the mundanity of the classroom.

These visions were often grandiose.  A child scaled B-17 would land in the school yard.  I would run out to meet my faithful crew as the teacher and 5th grade class would watch in disbelief, stunned, as we revved the engines and were on our way to the nation (later a planet with two suns) that I benevolently ruled along with my brother Kyle and cousin Mel.

Truly, I had always thought that Kyle and I would always be together, build a house with a chimney in the center, like the ruins that I saw on a Civil War battlefield.  I’m not sure why, but it didn’t seem possible then (despite our fights) that we ever be separated, let alone hours apart, and I really can’t claim to have gotten over that disappointment yet.  He moved on, it seems that I could not.

And I have lived a sort of Peter Pan existence.  Holding on, hoping that some day the love that had eluded me, child-like and innocent, would finally magically arrive to rescue me from my torment for having failed to achieve.  I long overstayed the youth group.  Until I had my happily ever after, what choice did I have?  Get old by myself and alone?

Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy and I lacked the necessary social tools to approach an attractive young woman—let alone convince her to date me.  

Years would go by, where I would convince myself, “this time will be different,” and end up leaving the church retreat no closer to my goals and disappointed.  These beautiful wonderful thought going in would slowly morph into a nightmarish reality as opportunity would pass me by and I would be left with only my profound loneliness again.

It was only in my mid thirties that this optimism would crack and the pattern of hope followed by disappointment would finally overwhelm me.  Brimming with outsized expectations, I would arrive at the weekend, and suddenly shut down.  The wheels came off, I would collapse into the nearest couch, curl up, unable to push myself to try again—eventually ending up a sobbing mess.

The pressure had become too much.  The difference between my hopes and reality too insurmountable. 

Sure, I could entertain my delusions, the right one was going to finally arrive, we would look at our feet, shy at first, we would talk, she would smile at my earnest thoughts, I would finally be at ease and soon enough we would be walking hand in hand out the back of a church.  But the chances of that were as good as Gatsby somehow being able to turn back the hands of time and Daisy would be his.

My collapse from exhaustion came at the tail end of decades of forced optimism and sweeping aside my rational fears.  I did not want a world where my being 5′-8″ tall and rather unathletic disqualified me.  Love, to me, especially pertaining to my female religious counterparts, was supposed to be something transcendent.  Unfortunately, what I got instead was a brick wall of rejection.

Life is especially cruel to those with a high ideal.  If I were less able to see the marvelous maybe I could have more easily moved on to more practical aims.  But I could never get my head out of the clouds nor was I willing to acknowledge the harsh truth about romance.  The young women were also chasing their version of perfection and that perfect man wasn’t me.

Somehow, despite a mind that could span universes, I ended up being thirty years old living in Milton and thus ineligible for that kind of love.  How does a dreamer, still holding to those childish notions of escape, ever recover from that terrible pronouncement?

They don’t. 

It wears me out thinking about it.  

It makes me think of another novel and protagonist, Ethan Frome, an injured ruin of a man.  His house reduced in size as he limped, painfully, through what remained of his life.  Not even granted the merciful end to his suffering of that suicide pack those many years before.  Perhaps my life would have been better had my secret world been a little more stark, desolate and devoid of life?

Fascism By Any Other Name

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Many Mennonites, in North America today, are horrified to find that some who shared their religious/ethnic heritage collaborated with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (aka: Nazi Party) and rightfully so.  And, predictably, there have been various woke adjacent Mennonite commentators that, while claiming to be above this somehow parrot far-left radicals that accuse anyone with a positive view of traditional American national values of being “white nationalists” or fascists without seeing it as ironic.

The irony is that these moralizing finger-waggers, blinded by their arrogance like those self-righteous religious elites whom Jesus mocked in Matthew 23 (“If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood…”), are unwittingly aligning themselves with the modern variant of fascism.  Their simple minds apparently cannot comprehend that the same evil, to avoid detection, can be dressed differently and that this time it is their turn to enable the tyrants and true fascists.

Real Fascists Please Stand Up

Fascism is a hard word to define, many dictionary definitions are insufficient or too narrow and do not give a sufficient description. The following quote (from an article, “What Is Fascism?”) gives a better picture of what the term is referring to and why some of us see this emerging in the current corporate and government institutional regime: 

Mussolini coined the term “fascism” in 1919.  The word “fascism” comes from the Italian “fascio,” meaning a bundle or group, and is considered a term for a militant brotherhood. The word “fasces” means an ax tightly bound with sticks, an image that became a symbol of the fascist movement, according to the History Department at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

How is fascism defined? Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York, who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, told Live Science that fascism is “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques.

Two common themes of fascism that Paxton lists “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” also “exclusion of certain groups, often through violence,” and I’ll add that fascists have tended to have an obsession with what they consider to be impurities.  A particular German leader saw certain groups as being vectors of disease and thus justified their elimination.

So, the two primary elements of fascism, distilling this down, are this obsession with contaminates and the merger (or bundling) of power.  The only real difference between fascism and Socialism is that the latter had been more concerned with class distinctions and the prior with racial difference.  But, in the modern era, when the ‘Socialist’ left regularly uses skin color to divide people, and seem fine using corporate power to advance their social agenda, and are the masters of propaganda, it is basically a distinction without a difference.

Sure, they can call themselves “anti-fascists” or “Antifa” and claim that they’re only assaulting Nazis. But, come on people, a guy at the mall can wear a red suit, black boots, and call himself Santa—he’s still not going to come down your chimney with Christmas goodies. And look who is behind most of the violence across this country in the past few years.

Hint: It is not those individuals, totally unarmed, many of them military veterans, who entered the Capital Building on January 6th.

Not defending that either, they should be held accountable, but the difference is that these rioters do not have the corporate media shilling for them nor free reign of the college campus with their demands or sympathetic prosecutors who look the other way at their criminal behavior.

Like it or not, Trump supporters are not anti-democratic, not in the least, and simply wanted allegations of fraud and abuse to be heard. I mean, isn’t it is a little strange that the most well-armed part of our population would go into January 6th planning to take over the government and forget their entire arsenal at home?  If it truly was an “insurrection,” as our totally fair and unbiased political establishment would have us believe, why did they not bring any weapons with them?

Night after night a Federal building, a court house, was attacked by far-leftists in Portland. In Seattle we had a whole section of the city taken over and declared an “autonomous zone” in defiance of the government. Over two billion dollars of damages, dozens murdered, in a summer of violence that our corporate media called “mostly peaceful protests” and yet we’re only talking about the wrongness of this one outburst?  Propaganda much?

Funny how January 6th was not called an unguided ‘mostly peaceful’ Capital Building tour, why is that?

But I do digress.

Fascism is “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” and basically Marxism on steroids. In other words, fascism is authoritarian, collectivist, my tribe versus yours, willing to close private business (or churches) and undermine the democratic process to achieve their ends. So, ask yourself, who was asking for mail-in ballots that are an invitation for fraud banned in most countries? Who is asking for collective judgment (or pardon) of people based only on their skin color? Who was creating the dictatorial mandates, in name of keeping us pure of disease, at the expense of our freedom?

Those Who Defend “Papers Please” Are Fascists

My reason for writing this is the response to the meme below by some exceedingly ignorant people from my own Mennonite tribe:

The first response, a virtue signal about those dying in India, a total whataboutism, was completely insensitive to those suffering under the current nonsense. I’m pretty sure this smug individual won’t bother to watch this video nor ever question approved content they spew on social media. They can’t, they were raised in and remain in a religious cloister that taught them, “go along with the group” and “do as your told.” They might eventually drop the cultural costume some day, and yet they have not demonstrated any ability in our brief conversation to think independently or beyond the narrative being pushed.

No, they “believe science,” which is actually only an appeal to an authority they themselves do not posses, and ignore the mounting evidence that the ‘vaccines’ are totally ineffective. They will continue to think of themselves as well-informed, smarter than their cautioning peers, despite the fact that the six-foot social distancing rule was bogus, as was the focus on surfaces and mask mandate. This coming from someone who had N95 masks back in January of 2020 and while the ‘experts’ were still saying that we should be more concerned about the seasonal flu. Masks make a negligible difference if any at all. There is no proof otherwise.

So now that we’re talking about vaccine passports and literally forcing people to get an injection that has little or not value, that should not be necessary for those who have natural immunity through infection, and comes with the unknown long-term risks of any experimental new product, they still don’t see the problem?

I’m sorry, but only a fascist would be okay with this, because only a fascist is okay with “exclusion of certain groups” and take no heed of the individual rights or civil liberties of those who wish only to travel freely without harassment. To see the religious elites of the Mennonites not only tolerate, but enthusiastically endorse such policies, should send a chill up the spine of those moderate or apolitical in their ranks. These ‘educated’ nitwits don’t seem to get that the Nazi party came to power and won Germans over with the good they were doing—the Holocaust came later.