Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Adios, 2019

Cattle shit

If you make a casual study of the environment, you might start thinking in terms of flows and reservoirs.

I have about four acres of pasture and for the first time in decades I fed hay to animals on that pasture. Not just a few animals, but about 3500 pounds of animals on-the-hoof per acre. By my count, that is 55,000 pounds of hay or about 7 tons per acre. Most of that mass comes out the back end as shit.

Cow shit still contains energy, protein, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, sodium and a raft of micro-nutrients. It also contains grass and clover seeds as well as weed seeds.

Cow shit moderates the immediate environment. The soil-poop contact area is moister and much richer in nutrients than the soil surface around it. The aversion zone around a pile of cow shit gives various plant seedlings a protected nursery. That has the potential to increase the diversity of plants in the pasture.

A variety of worms, maggots and beetle larvae live in piles of poop. They feed song birds, game birds, domestic birds, shrews, skunks and predatory insects and arthropods.

The insects that reach adulthood feed some of our most graceful and beautiful songbirds: Swallows, Meadow Larks, Purple Martins, Killdee and Bluebirds.

The current "best practice" is to run a drag to shatter and spread the piles of poop. The nutrients cycle more quickly and the aversion area around the pile where cattle will not graze abates more quickly.

I am not going to do that. I will derive more entertainment watching Mother Nature handle it than I would derive economic benefit by following "best practice".

I do have a buffer zone where water runs off my property. It is one last chance to capture any nutrients that washed off before they leave the property.  I also took care to move the feeder around to ensure the poop was evenly spread across the four acres.

Reconnaisance (fiction)

It was a small, select group of people who met to discuss the defense of Capiche and Benicio’s domain. Benicio never sought the limelight. He preferred that the areas under his control be called West Lansing.

Chernvosky flatly stated, “We cannot defend against attacks from the east.”

“Why?” Benicio asked.

“Terrain is everything.” Chernovsky said. “The terrain for the next forty miles east does not favor the defender.”

“Explain yourself.” Benicio said. “How is that terrain different than here” he said, gesturing to the south. “Didn’t your force of fifty fighters destroy four times that number?”

Chernovsky made a conscious effort to not roll his eyes.

“Capiche has the Grand River curling around most of it. The river is a natural barrier. It forces the attacking forces to funnel through known, defensible choke-points” Chernovsky said.

“The other thing is that Capiche is small enough that we could shift fighters and mortars around to where they were needed. The area you are talking about is fifty times larger than Capiche, the distances are correspondingly larger and the population’s leanings...well, we cannot know which way they will jump” Chernovsky said.

“So you say it is impossible.” Benicio summarized.

Chernovsky nodded his head in agreement.

“Then you might as well slit your throat right now.” Benicio said. “Either do that, or try harder.”

That stung. Chernovsky had never been accused of not trying hard enough. He was always the last to leave the weight room. Benicio had a gift for getting under his skin. It was not an accident.

“If you decide to not slit your throat and are committed to winning” Benicio said with a slightly kinder voice “get some other eyes and ears. They will see and hear things you cannot.”


The next morning, Chernovsky rode his bike out to Quinn’s new farm. He timed it well. “Cookie girl” and Quinn looked like they had just rolled out of the sack. The coffee was brewing and the bacon-and-eggs were frying. It was ten in the morning.

Quinn invited Chernovsky in. Chernovsky accepted a cup of coffee but declined the breakfast. As an afterthought, he accepted a sweet roll. Dysen was a very fine baker.

Quinn and Dysen were bursting with plans. The current big project was the dam and sluiceway for the sawmill. The dam was two-hundred yards upstream and eight feet higher in elevation than of the proposed mill location.

Work was going slower than anticipated and it did not look like they would have everything in place to take advantage of the fall rains and the spring snow-melt.

Chernovsky cleared his throat in preparation to say something. Quinn recognized it as a prelude to a command he was NOT going to like.

“I can help with that.” Chernovsky said. “I can have a crew of fighters over here tomorrow morning but it comes with one condition.”

Quinn waited for the other shoe to drop.

Dysen, not recognizing the signs said “That’s great! What is the condition?”

“I need to borrow Quinn for a little while.” Chernovsky said.

“How long is ‘...a little while…?” Quinn asked.

Chernovsky looked uncomfortable. “I am not really sure.”

“What would I be doing?” Quinn asked.

“Scouting enemy territory.” Chernovsky said. There is no point in polishing a turd.

“So, I wouldn’t be home at night while on assignment” Quinn stated as a non-negotiable fact.

Dysen vigorously shook her head “NO!” “You aren’t actually be thinking of doing this, are you?” Dysen asked.

“Let’s hear him out.” Quinn said. “We owe him that.”

“Between Capiche and Eaton Rapids, there are probably a thousand people who survived the plague and grid-down. Benicio, up in Delta Township has another fifteen hundred. Amish-land has somewhere between five-hundred and a thousand.” Chernovsky ticked off on his fingers. That is a minimum of three thousand people who are bootstrapping their way back to ‘normal’ just like you.”

Benicio has sources of information. The force that raided us from the east was just a foraging party. The people east of here contacted us and demanded our surrender” Chernovsky said. “Basically, that would mean stepping aside and letting them have everything we salvaged and have worked for.”

"Our best guess is that there are over twenty-thousand survivors in Livingston County and another ten-thousand in Genesee county. If they squeeze really hard, they can put five-thousand fighters on the field."

“No way.” Dysen said.

“Bullshit.” Quinn exploded.

“I don’t see how to stop them before they get here. They won't send two-hundred, half-asleep fighters, they will send one or two thousand. Even if we can stop them once they get here, I don’t see how we can avoid hundreds, maybe even thousands of casualties” Chernovsky said. “That is why I need Quinn. He is a genius at seeing potential.”

“So how far would he have to walk?” Dysen asked bitterly. She stared pointedly at his shattered ankle.

Chernovsky pulled out a map. “It is about forty miles to Howell. We need to sweep east of it and then come back by a northern route. Maybe a hundred miles, all told.”

Dysen’s face clearly showed that she was not in favor of the trip. The saw mill would be finished when it was finished and losing one year of revenue was not a make-or-break proposition.

Quinn looked thoughtful. “Give us a couple of days to think about it.”


Monday, December 30, 2019

Using credit cards to make ends meet

The clock is ticking when a family starts using new credit cards to "make ends meet". It is just a matter of time before the creditors start calling.

It is the same thing with corporations. Consider companies with BBB debt ratings, the lowest "investment grade" rating. Then, from that universe, see who has been borrowing money hand-over-fist. They are at swirling the drain.

Same image as above but trimmed and spun to make the names easier to read.
So, who has been taking on high interest-rate debt since 2017?

A surprising number of food companies:
Campbell Soups, Conagra Brands, Keurig/Dr Pepper, Altria Group, McDonalds, JM Smuckers, Consolidated Brands, Kraft Heinz Co.

Takeda, CVS, Becton Dickinson, Boston Scientific, Amgen, Walgreens

Communications and transportation:
Broadcom, AT&T; Fedex, United Technology, Union Pacific

There are basically three kinds of debt.

"Good" debt is money that is used to fund high profit-margin enterprises. An example would be the money used to build the factory and pay for the advertising for a break-through product like "Crocs".

"Neutral" debt is money that is used defensively to secure low profit-margin enterprises. An example would be competing drugstores putting stores on opposite corners in a neighborhood with barely enough business to support one drugstore.

"Bad" debt is money borrowed to cover the cost of old borrowing or to artificially juice-up stock prices by using the money to buy-back outstanding stock. Reverse dilution, if you wish.

Another man (fiction)

Another man would have been angry.
Another man might have been hurt.
Another man would have let it go.

Joel stuck the audit sheet in his shirt.

The rabbit is caught because it doesn’t know which way to jump. Joel would not make that mistake.

That evening, Joel asked where the other managers went to unwind after the workday.

He discretely took a seat in the corner. He wasn’t hiding. He figured the most efficient way to hunt was to let the game come to him.

A half hour later, Sven sat at his table. Sven had a pitcher of beer. “Mind if I sit down?” Sven asked.

“I am good with that, as long as you share your beer.” Joel said.

Sven was the welcoming committee. He expected Joel to ask questions and Joel obliged him.

“What can you tell me about Torvaldsen?” Joel asked.

“Totally autistic. The poster-child, really.” Sven immediately replied.

“How can you know that?” Joel asked, rhetorically.

“No eye contact. That is why we have to send in the data. He doesn’t look at us. He looks at the computer.” Sven replied.

Yup, that was about right.

“You know Richards?” Sven asked.

“Yeah, he is my immediate supervisor” Joel said. Sven had to already know that.

“He porked one of his side-chicks on Torvaldsen’s desk. Left a huge stain on the calendar pad. Richards looked as guilty as hell the next morning.” Sven said. “Torvaldsen had the building re-roofed.”

“I mean, how oblivious can you be?” Sven said.

Joel frowned. “How do you know Richards did-the-dirty with a chick on Torvaldsen’s desk?”

Sven smirked. “Richards bragged about it the next day. And Torvaldsen never figured it out.”

That pretty much settled in Joel’s mind that going over Richards’ head was not going to work.

“How do you get all of your work done?” Joel asked.

Sven shrugged. “Mostly, I let my reports do the work. I deep-dive one area a day to keep them honest.”

“Like…?” Joel asked.

“I might check the Security chart one day. I will follow the routes and see if they missed anything. Then I might verify the attendance charts the next day. Just to let them know I am occasionally looking over their shoulder.” Sven said.

“Do you ever catch anything?” Joel asked, fascinated.

“Hell no. Do you know what kind of shit-storm it would stir up if I found a discrepancy. The best thing to do is to let them know where you will be looking a few days in advance. Then, if they slip up, look the other way.” Sven said. “One hand washes the other.”


First thing in the morning, before any of his workers showed up, he made a walk-by inspection of the transportation.

Steve Wright was the first employee to show up. Joel barked at him “I need truck Number Seven up here at the front of the build so I can inspect it.”

Joel took the daily inspection form and made an excruciating show of checking every safety feature. The headlights. The backup lights. The backup camera. The turn indicators and on, and on, and on.

Then Joel looked over the inspection log to verify that every working day had been signed off. Most of the initials were illegible but there was ink in every square where there was supposed to be ink, even if Joel had to put it there.

After twenty minutes of chicken-shitting Wright to death, Joel said “I am going to do once a month. Make sure this truck is perfect on the first Thursday of the month.”

Joel thrust the sheaf of forms that he had to carry to every meeting to Wright and said "I need these filled out."

Then Joel walked away. He had seen what he was looking for in his initial walk-around. The two big trucks did not have any dew on the windshields or hood. They had been run all night.

Going into his office, Joel turned on the computer and pencil-whipped the charts. Then he played a video game for a half hour before heading out to the 8:30 meeting.

His employees were high-fiving as he walked away.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

A little bit of eye-candy

I watched Sprite's 1800 pound bull disappear into the shade beneath some trees. The bull is mostly white. The patterns on cattle break up their silhouette. Might be something to keep in mind.

Early spring in Central Asia. Apricot trees are flowering.

Collecting prunings from the vineyard for fuel

A grandmother collecting herbal medicinals.

Martial Arts Follow-up

Thanks for all of the advice regarding martial arts for eleven-year-old boys.

It was very well received.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Martial Arts

One of my youngest nephews is giving off the vibe that he is being bullied at school. Nothing solid, just lots of little signals.

The landscape for martial arts changed since I was a kid. Back then there was boxing, judo and karate.

Now there is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga, Taekwando and Aikido and a dozen others.

Some of them are too brutal to hand to an eleven-year old boy. Others are more like stylized dancing than combat.  Nevvy doesn't need to rip off arms or crush anybody's trachea. On the other hand, he doesn't need to learn the 243 choreographed "bird" moves when the bully probably needs little more than a stiff poke in the nose with a right-cross.

Some Dojos and Sensei emphasize self-control and discipline more than others. Some focus on the mechanics more than the responsibilities.

Any guidance?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Nation Building

One thousand years of national borders overlaid on one map SOURCE
The difference between what is now Germany and France is striking.

A critical study of German statehood might be instructive for developing nations approaching statehood. Sadly, most of those developing nations lack a common language and "tribe".

Hat-tip Lucas Machias

Back door (fiction)

Joel was not a computer whiz-kid nor did he have an MBA in Organizational Leadership. He did have about 20 years of real life bump-and-grind in the real working world.

Walking back to the office at ten at night was a real drag but the pretty charts weren’t going to color and hang themselves in the drive-by display.

Besides, Joel had a few things he wanted to check out.

When he was a clerk at the Livingston County Department of Transportation, one of his jobs was to order salt, parts for plow trucks and tools for mechanics. Joel assumed that is why he got this job. Experience.

Entering the building, he turned on the lights and verified that nobody was in the building.

Then, he found a step ladder and climbed on top of a stack of pallets at the pick-face. The poly bags were ten feet off the ground and were slippery. Fortunately, the bags were full and firm. The pallets were jammed close together and it was not difficult to walk across the tops of the bags toward the back of the immense warehouse.

Joel would have walked down the side of the building but the pallets had been wedged in from wall-to-wall. There was no walk-way.

According to the job description, the warehouse had been stocked with enough grain to feed Livingston County residents for about six months. The original chaos made pulling from the warehouse impossible but distributions started shortly after a semblance of order was imposed.

Torvaldsen had been the former Deputy Sheriff of Livingston County and was the highest ranking law enforcement official to survive. He had no problem finding men willing to crack heads to make people behave. He also had no qualms about withholding food from families when folks did not want to play ball.

Given Livingston County’s decline in population and the logistical difficulties of distributing food to the outlying townships, everybody said the food would last for five years. All of Torvaldsen’s reconstruction plans hinged on that fact.

The anal charting demanded by Richards seemed to confirm that fact. The number of bays, a bay being the square defined by the four support columns in the corners, that had been cleared of grain were roughly 10% of the warehouse square-footage. They had been pulling for four months and the population of Livingston County was still dropping.

Joel’s suspicions were confirmed as he neared the back of the warehouse.

The floor at the back of the warehouse was bereft of pallets of grain.

The tale was told in the tracks on the floor.

Grain is dusty. The floor closest to the stacks of pallets showed imprints where pallets had recently been stacked.

Closer to the overhead door...a door Joel did not have a key to...were tracks from a fork-truck.

Counting the number of bays that were emptied of grain, Joel deduced that twice as much grain was getting shipped out the back door as out the front door. The grain that was supposed to last five years would be gone in twelve months, four of which had already past.

Somebody was going to be the fall-guy, and Joel thoughtfully rubbed his throat as he considered who had been cast for that role.


Brett had a discussion with Eli back in Amish-land.

“My guys cannot work as hard as your people.” It hurt Brett to admit it. “Besides, my boss told me to guard you and we cannot do that when we are working.”

There had been some friction at the beginning. Brett’s men wanted to sleep in the houses. The Amish were adamant, no guns in the houses.  Brett required that his fighters stay with their guns.

The compromise was for Brett’s people to sleep in the barns. Firearms were allowed in barns to shoot starlings, sparrows, pigeons and other vermin.

Brett’s guys were creeped out by the creaking of the immense wooden structures and the sounds of cows make at night, as well as the sounds of bats and other nocturnal animals. However, the barns were cooler in the summer and a foot of loose straw makes a wonderful bed for a tired man.

Eli agreed that having one-third of the men working at a time would pay for their room-and-board.

Brett made a simple schedule where six men pulled guard duty and patrolled their “area”, six men were off and six men worked. The two extras were plugged in as needed as the men drank the local water and came down with johnny-trots.

It was a pretty good deal, all the way around. The Amish men ate upwards of 4000 Calories a day. Fried foods, sausage, pies, gravy, carbs, butter, jam...every darned meal. A diet of green, leafy vegetables simply does not work when you walk upwards of twenty miles, six days a week. Brett's men sat at the same tables and ate the same food. It was like they had died and gone to heaven.

From the Amish perspective, there were more animals to care for and more land to keep beneath the plow than there were survivors to do the work. Six more plowmen were a God-sent.

Brett’s first impression of Donnie Galligan was that Donnie was a total R-U-B-E.

Donnie had been hoping to create that impression. He was leading a mare to be bred and was artlessly sawing away at a harmonica as he led the mare.

Hippocrates is reputed to have once opined, “First do no harm.” Donnie’s playing slayed that opinion. His playing put the “harm” in harmonica.

Donnie was wearing cut-off jeans with a bleach-mark where a can of Skoal used to live, untied running shoes, a NASCAR themed baseball cap and a wife-beater Tee shirt. When he wasn’t punishing the mouth-harp, Donnie made an effort to breath through his mouth.

Against all calculus of what is rational and logical, Donnie and Brett were instant friends.

“Hey, rube!” Brett called out. “Can you turn off the noise. You are making my ears bleed.”

Donnie pretended to squint down his nose at Brett. “Be you lost? Be danged. Never figured to find a city-slicker here.”

Donnie approved of Brett’s muzzle discipline.

It never occurred to Brett that Donnie’s tan-lines did not match up to his clothing.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Group Think

The "normal" behavior of humans is highly situational. These men are business owners and executives during the work week.

"I work with a    pick one*    and they are not a thing like you say."
*Social Justice Warrior, Global Warming Alarmists, Muslim, Catholic, Conservative, Main Stream Media reporter, Evangelical Christian....

A piece that has been missing in the dialog, such as there is, between conservatives and liberals is that human behavior is VERY situational. The behaviors you see at work or in other social settings are not a good predictors of how they will behave in other settings. That is, most people are oblivious to the markers and consequences of Group Think.

Markers of Group Think
Type I: Overestimations of the group — its power and morality

  • Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking. Impeachment anybody?
  • Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
Type II: Closed-mindedness

  • Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
  • Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.
Type III: Pressures toward uniformity

  • Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  • Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  • Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty"
  • Mindguards— self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.   -Wikipedia

Consequences of Group Think
The consequence of Group Think is that a sixteen-year-old boy, naked except for magical symbols painted on his torso, will run into machine gun fire.

Group Think is a form of metaphysics. In metaphysics, magic fails because the user did not believe enough, that is, the victim is always blamed for failure. To doubt or challenge the group orthodoxy is to plant the seeds of failure. Therefore, the group trapped in Group Think must not have a Plan B or carry a 72 hour bag or make alliances with other groups.

Armor against Group Think
  • Affirm that an optimal or near-optimal solution is more important than the illusion of perfect unanimity.
  • Affirm that the decision making process is based on rationality rather than emotion. Don't dismiss data that supports a different course of action.
  • Structure the decision making process so lower-status members are not intimidated. For example, have each member write down their preferred course of action and list the two main reasons why they prefer that action. Then report out lowest-status to highest to minimize ditto-heads.
  • Hardwire additional decision points into the process to make adjustments as additional data becomes available. The act of programming those additional points into the process is to recognize that the group might not be infallible and that optimal solutions sometimes have curved paths.
  • Include diversity around the table. 
The armor is not perfect. Groups can still get sucked into Group Think. But at least the group has a fighting chance to succeed.

Pick-face (fiction)

Joel took his ass-chewing like a man.

Richards had to admit that was a refreshing change from the mouthy millennials he usually dealt with.

Richards’ tone was scathing. “Alls you gotta do is work WITH your team.” he repeated for about the fifth time.

“Hey, you” Richards said to one of the men lounging around, enjoying their new bosses’ discomfort. “How much grain were you supposed to ship out today?”

The man smirked. “Six pallets. Just like yesterday, the day before and every day for the last four months.”

“How many did you ship today?” Richards asked.

The man said “Six.”

“How do you know that?” Richards pressed.

The man pointed to the pick-face. The bags of grain were on pallets and the pallets were stacked three pallets high. “Two stacks a day. That is what we ship.”

Joel was unwilling to expose himself to anymore ridicule from either his boss or his direct reports but he couldn’t help but noting out-loud “13 pallets across the pick-face and you only ship out ten a week. That shouldn’t be too hard to keep track of."

The steel columns supporting the roof were on 54' centers and, it was a snug fit to get 13 pallets across that space, especially when the bags bulged out over the sides of the pallets. Pallets were wedged into every bit of space from wall-to-wall.

“Actually” Joel’s employee said “we ship out double shipments on Thursday and Friday and you pay us for seven days a week.” Joel suddenly remembered his employee’s name was Steve, Steve Wright.

Joel cocked an eyebrow and looked at his boss.

Richards shook his head in the negative. “Don’t look at me. You need to learn to TRUST your team.”

“Now go back to your office and color in your report. I need somebody who can do this job. I want it to be you. But if you can’t do it, I will find somebody who can.” Richards said.

Joel hung his head and walked back to his office. Things were seriously out-of—kilter but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

When the door to Joel’s office closed, Steve Wright said “I gotta bad feeling about this guy. I think you ought to get rid of him.”

Richards said. “He won’t be a problem. He may be honest but we can work around that. He is old and stupid. You saw him roll over like a whipped puppy. He needs this job.”

“He will work out just fine when he figures out things work better when he spends all of his time in the office.”


Tuesday, December 24, 2019


I was impressed when Belladonna told me that her friend A.J. was a member of Grand Valley State University's debate club.

I reminded her that he should include that on his resume.

"Yup, he is the go-to guy for de red worms and de minnows and de crawdads."

S-P-A-C-E-D (fiction

Joel was 100% convinced that Torvaldsen was from a different universe.

Torvaldsen called three, mandatory, daily meetings six days a week. The first was at 8:30AM, the second was at 1:00PM and the third was at 7:00PM. Every meeting had the same agenda, review of management metrics and the handing out of new assignments.

Twenty managers were required to attend the meeting. Each person reported-out his metrics in-turn.

  • Security: Number of neighborhood tours made of the neighborhood versus the weekly rate. Items found.
  • People: Number of people absent from work. Actions taken to address the concern.
  • Audits: Number of audits performed to verify conformance to metrics, which in Joel’s case included the number of kilograms of grain delivered to the correct address from the warehouses he was accountable for managing.
  • Cost: Resources consumed and equipment destroyed
  • Environment: Number of pounds of carbon generated and waste-water released
  • Diversity: The current number and percentage of work-force of African-Americans, Native-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Middle-Eastern-Americans, Gay Men, Lesbian Women, Bi-Sexual men/women, Trans-Sexuals. Every manager was required to have at least one example of each on his/her roster.

Joel was required to send in his information via a vast, interconnected spreadsheet before the meeting so Torvaldsen’s minions could review and consolidate the data for Torvaldsen’s "dashboard".

Joel was also required to bring a hand-colored tracking sheets to “make it visual” and to use as a presentation aid during his five-minute presentation. When Joel pointed out that even HE knew how make arts-and-charts on the spreadsheet he was shut-down by Richards, Joel's immediate supervisor. “Torvaldsen believes that your hand-coloring the data into the chart will help you keep the data foremost in your mind."

Joel’s warehouse was a mile from where the meeting was held. It took him twenty minutes to walk the distance. He never rode. His job was not considered important enough to rate transportation.

He spent a minimum of 4.5 hours a day in meetings and another two hours walking to-and-from them.

He pointed out to Mark Richards, his Sector Lead, that he did not have enough time to do his job. Richards said “Stop whining. To Measure-and-Report is to manage. Everybody knows that is the foundation of Scientific Management. If you are not able to do your job it is because you failing to properly M&R.”

"...M&R" came out sounding like M-N-R and then Joel realized he had been hearing that acronym without ceasing ever since he had been "called up" to management. He had worked fifteen years for the Livingston County Road Commission as a clerk and had never heard it before. Now, it was like elevator music. Made him want to barf.

The first time he had been called to one of Torvaldsen’s meetings, he had been curious about the clear, plastic peanut butter jar in the middle of the table the men and women were standing around. It appeared to have a small animal floating in it...presumably in alcohol.

Joel did not have to wait long to learn what it was about.

One of the other new managers did not have his arts-and-charts completely up-to-date. It did not go well for him.

“That is the back-end of a rat" Torvaldsen said, pointing at the jar. "That is what I DON’T give for excuses. I don’t give a rat’s ass for any excuse for not getting your job done.” Torvaldsen said.

The person who did not have all the appropriate little squares and pie-wedges colored in was replaced by the next meeting. Joel learned later that unfortunate manager's entire family had been stricken from the food assistance rolls.

Joel came close to panicking. "Mr. Richards, I am doing my best but it takes me at least fourteen hours to do my standardized work. I just can't keep up." Standardized work was the list of tasks each supervisor was required to do each day. Like many bureaucratic lists, there was a robust mechanism to add tasks but no mechanism to remove tasks.

In fact, it was worse than Joel reported. Every day he found more procedures that told him EXACTLY how he was required to execute each task and subtask. The explicit instructions invariably doubled or tripled the time required to execute each task. If trends continued, he would need more than 28 hours a day to execute what Torvaldsen considered the bare minimum requirements of his job.

Joel had an extended family. He could not afford to get purged from the food distribution rolls.

Richards' look was withering. "You are a boss. Have your people do it."

Joel's brain locked up in bafflement. "You mean have the people I am auditing perform the audits?"

"Got it in one, genius." Richards said.

Joel saw a hundred reasons why that would not work, the primary reason being human nature. Joel was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he saw that he had already used up all of Richards' patience and knew not to push.


Monday, December 23, 2019

Surrounded (fiction)

Brett didn’t panic when his unit lost contact with Dalton. That was to be expected if Dalton ran into opposition or got busy.

Brett started to worry when Dalton didn’t call requesting a status report at 20:00.

Dalton might not have been 100% behind the rigid reporting protocols forced on them by “upstairs” but he was always compliant.

Brett held the twenty fighters left behind in Amish-land together in a group through the night.

After Dalton missed a full reporting cycle and there were no attempts of contact from any of Derious’s other NCOs, Brett decided it was time to hunker down.

He went around and ASKED Amish families if his troops could embed with them.

In theory, Brett had no more authority than any other fighter. In fact, some fighters were more equal than others. Their authority was not captured by the official org-charts. Brett’s authority came from being a little bit older and wiser than most of the other troops. He had been a successful auto mechanic before things went sideways.

The Amish were willing to oblige on the condition that the embedded troops helped with the chores. There was still a labor shortage in Amish-land.

Eli Yoder, the nominal patriarch of the family Brett was staying with rolled him out of the rack at 5:30, just as the sun was staining the eastern sky. The two men were joined by two of the older sons, men of 11 and 13.

They went to the barn and started forking hay into mangers, shoveling shit and milking cows.

Then they slopped the hogs and ran feed into the bunker for the chickens.

They washed and ate breakfast. After breakfast, the day’s work started.

Before Brett fell asleep, he figured he had been moving at half speed, call it 1.5 miles per hour, for more than twelve hours. That worked out to walking 18 miles and did not include the calorie burn from the lugging, dragging, pitching, lifting….

Eli and the two kids moved through the day effortlessly. They never seemed to be working very hard but they never stopped moving. Even the grandpa joined them for about six hours of work and he had to be at least eighty.

There was always time to stop and wipe a brow or tell a joke or chat briefly with a neighbor who was passing by. But they only stopped for a moment.

The next day started the same way but after breakfast Eli and Brett went to service the bee hives while the boys went to work in the hayfield. Brett was totally freaked by working around hives holding fifty thousand bees and there were literally a hundred hives in the yard.

Eli understood Brett’s anxiety and let him dress in a bee suit, although the Eli did the job bare-handed and bare-headed.

“How come the bees don’t sting you?” Brett asked, unnerved to have bees crawling across the netting of his face cage.

“Oh, a few of them do every year.” the man said, placidly as bees crawled across his face and around his eyes.

Brett watched for a while but then asked, “When do we take out the honey?”

The patriarch chuckled. “Not until fall.”

“So why are we messing with them?” Brett asked.

“I have to open the hives every two weeks” the patriarch said. “If I don’t break the frames loose, then they get too glued in to harvest without destroying the hive.”

“We are also checking to see if I need to add more supers” Eli said as he pointed to a bright blue section of bee hive he had prestaged near the hives. “Bring that over here” he said.

Eli walked the hive tool around the lowest super to crack the seal, then he lifted it off the hive body. Placing the new super near the top of the hive body, he tilted it and brushed as many bees that were crawling out, along the exposed surface, back into the hive. When the surface was mostly clear, he seated the super and pressed it down. A handful of bees were crushed but nothing like the hundred that would have been crushed if Eli had not made an effort to brush them away.

“I think the bees get used to who I am because I visit so often and don’t take the honey until there is plenty to spare.” the patriarch said.

Brett wondered if that was a jab at the many tons of grain Dalton had demanded from the Amish and then left.

If there was a message, it had been delivered with absolutely no inflection.

A bit later, Eli commented, “Sunny days are the best days to work the hives.”

“Why is that?” Brett asked, interested in spite of his aversion to being stung.

“Most of the worker bees are off gathering nectar and pollen” Eli answered, placidly. “There would be twice as many bees in these hives if we were doing this on a cloudy day.”

“How do you decide if the hive needs another section” Brett asked.

“I look at the last super I put in. If it is more than half full, it is time to put in another super.” Eli said.

“Why don’t you just slap it on top?” Brett asked.

Some of the hives had five supers and they must have weighed fifty pounds if they were full of honey. Brett couldn’t imagine any reason for lifting 250 pounds off the hive to insert a super, even if Eli was lifting it off fifty pounds at a time.

“Bees enter the hive through the hive body. By putting the new super just above the hive, they see the empty frames as they climb to the super to deposit their load. If I put it on top, they might not see that they still have room to work and the hive would swarm.” Eli said.

“Why don’t you just put five ‘supers’ or whatever you call them on the hive first thing in the spring?” Brett asked.

Eli had to think a bit before answering. Brett assumed he had not heard his question.

“I reckon they would have a problem keeping it warm and defending it from mice or other bees. They would swarm to a hive that fit their needs. Its like a belt. You don’t wear a belt with twenty extra holes, do you?” Eli said. “There is a lot to be said for having just enough room and just enough work.


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Public Service Announcement

He married her anyway

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.  Matt 1:18-24

Not much is written about Joseph in the Bible. We know that Mary was born without sin. Tradition also tells us that she was young, maybe even very young when she was "found with child". The age of fifteen or sixteen is often suggested. Being young and without sin, it is possible that she was not fully aware of the stigma of conceiving a child out-of-wedlock in that time and place.

It is speculated that Joseph was a widower and had older children who needed care and that he had a household to be run. The Biblical evidence is thin, but later passages in the Bible mention of Jesus's brothers and the implication is that they are not very fond of him. Joseph-as-a-widower is a tidy reconciliation of "Mary ever-virgin" and Jesus having siblings. The fact that Jesus was the reason their father went to Egypt for a few years, abandoning the siblings to the care of aunts and uncles would also fuel sibling tensions.

Consider that Joseph grew up in Nazareth, a small village with almost no mobility. Consider that every adult in that village could count and perform elementary subtraction and knew that Jesus had been born less than a full nine months after Mary "officially" co-habitated with Joseph.

Every adult in that village doubtlessly concluded that Joseph was not an honorable man. That conclusion undoubtedly impacted Joseph's ability to get work. Would you trust a tradesman when concrete evidence in the form of young Jesus was running and hollering about the village, evidence that Joseph was not patient, could not follow the law and would cut corners when he thought nobody was looking?

Joseph was not young. He knew that people in small villages have little to do but gossip. He was painfully aware of the economic consequences of marrying Mary and giving legitimacy to her pregnancy.

He did it anyway.

A brush with thrush

I recently broke out with many canker sores.

I suspected thrush. Dad has thrush and I have been spending much time with him. A quick internet review suggested that thrush is rare in middle-aged, healthy men but that stress predisposes one to getting it.

The same quick review revealed that there are many biocides and fungicides that are effective on thrush, a yeast infection of the mouth. Unfortunately, they require prescriptions.

There were also many "folk" remedies suggested; remedies like gargling with Greek yogurt or rinsing out my mouth with brine strong enough to float a potato 8 times a day.

On a whim, I researched other, non-prescription sources of the modern biocides.

This is what I found

$36 to make 40 gallons of 0.12% solution similar to the prescription mouthwash Peridex which sells for $9 a pint.

Of course, it is a Federal crime to use the product in off-label applications. That is where my glorious plan hit the rocks of reality.

I could not find a volunteer who agreed to supply the applicators listed on the label.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Much ado about nothing?

MS-13 has been declared 'inoperable' in New York after police arrested 96 members in a sting that is believed to be the largest ever take down of the violent street gang in the state. 

A number of drugs and weapons, including machetes, were also seized from MS-13 gang members.

Of those arrested, 45 alleged gang members and 19 associated drug suppliers were charged with murder conspiracy, drug trafficking, gun possession and gang violence charges.

Authorities say the lengthy operation has dealt a significant blow to MS-13 leadership in New York with nine leaders arrested.

'The goal of this investigation was to deliver a major blow to the gang’s leadership, operations and recruitment in the our region,' district attorney Tim Sini said.  Source
This article baffles me. Suffolk County, NY is in the New York Metropolitan area with 20 million people. 96 arrests in a metropolitan area of that size is noise.

In industry, a factory can hobble along with 30% absenteeism. It is not super-efficient, but it can run.

I consulted with an expert (who did not give me permission to list his name).

He told me of a much smaller community where a massive effort resulted in 70 gang members being incarcerated in a very short time. The net result was a minor logistical hiccup that lasted about a half week.

He said "retired" older gang members reactivate. Wives and girlfriends are given assignments or took over for absent husbands/boyfriends. Brothers shifted over to cover brothers. Gangs are not efficient. They are grossly larded with excess people. That makes them extremely resilient to reduction in force.

The other oddity was the emphasis on machetes. The MS-13 is documented as having shoulder fired, surface-to-air missiles and belt-fed weapons. Machetes? Really? Piss those guys off and your helicopter comes down in a trail of flame and smoke.

Machetes? Next, you will be bragging about the number of screwdrivers and toothpicks you confiscated from them. Like London.

Presented without comment

More on marketing cattle

One of the least appreciated factors in taking cattle to market is the act of getting them onto the trailer. I suspect it is similar to mothers forgetting about the pain of labor when giving birth.

I made a corral at my end of the short two-track that connects my pasture with the late Captain's pasture. A little bit of grain and some magic and I got the cows and the bull separated from the calves and over to Sprite's loading paddock.

Matt, the trucker showed up early Tuesday morning. The bull walked into the trailer and the cows followed.

That should have been the end of the story.


Matt decided that he did not want to take the bull with the cows. I don't know why he made that decision. I was not there. Often, when handling cows or sheep, more human bodies means more problems. I figured my involvement ended when I got the animals over to Sprite's loading paddock.

Matt unloaded the bull.

Two cows followed the bull off the trailer.

Much chasing, whooping and hollering.

I am glad I was not there.

Matt showed up the next morning to load the 1800lb bull. He was nowhere to be seen. He skedaddled. No girlfriends and, baby, he was GONE.

It is not a good feeling to have your 1800 pound bull wandering the neighborhood where he could step in front of a speeding Kia or Plymouth Horizon or even a 1/2 ton pickups. It is not a good feeling to have your 1800 pound bull wandering the neighborhood where he could jump through plate glass windows or be the star of a porno movie.

Finally, Matt and Sprite found the bull but he had NO intention of getting back on the trailer or going back into Sprite's loading paddock. Ferdinand was roaming the hinterland.

Matt left. He had a schedule.

I suggested to Sprite that the cattle are herd animals. They are stressed when they don't have a herd to hang out with. I suggested we run the calves over to her loading paddock and I thought the bull would join them.

The calves spooked at the entrance to Sprite's shipping paddock. I assumed it was the feed wire running 8' overhead. I removed the wire.

They spooked at the water hose running across the line.

We tried grain. In fact, we spread so much grain that the calves had the johnny-trots the next day. No joy.

Then the plan was to run the calves back into my pasture. Again, no joy.

Sprite is a wonderful human being. Sprite is generous and has many fine attributes.

She is not cut out to handle cattle.

Sprite fidgets. Sprite simply cannot go into the house and let them settle down. She has to watch them. They know. Predators lurk and watch.

Another thing was the ATV. The cows were attracted by the sound of the running ATV. The calves turned tail and ran away from it. In retrospect, it was not hard to figure out why. Sprite fed them grain. She transported it in the ATV. The cows ate the grain and batted the calves out of the way...sometimes into the electric fence.

Sprite loves her ATV. She drives it everywhere. Walking more than fifty yards is inconceivable to her. She was the Pied Piper with the cows when driving the ATV. She was unable to see the effect it had on the calves.

A good cow handler can move as slowly as a lamed cow. He can turn around and look away from the cattle for five minutes*, tracking their progress with his ears. He can become a tree stump or just another cow (their I.Q. being roughly equivalent).

Fifteen minutes before sunset I walked to the extreme end of my pasture. I "mooed" at Sprite's calves and then I S-L-O-W-L-Y walked down the two-track to my pasture.

They followed.

Fifteen minutes later, the bull hopped the fence and joined them.

Trying too hard when handling cows and sheep is the equivalent of picking at a zit.

*Predators have eyes in the front of their heads. Prey have eyes on the sides. Cows are spooked when they can see both of your eyes. Turning around so you are not looking at them calms them.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Most of today and tomorrow at Mom and Dads

A couple of images sent to me by the incredibly helpful Lucas Machias

"And if I were your husband, madam, I should drink it."

...pretty like you (fiction)

Ardeth Shaw was looking for her daughter Amber. Amber was supposed to be in the dining room setting the table for lunch.

It was doubly vexing because all of her children knew that they were supposed to be in the house at 11:20, sharp, when that was their weekly chore.

Amber was four years old and was her youngest daughter. Amber, like many youngest was generally very biddable and eager to please. It was very unlike Amber because setting the table was one of Amber’s favorite chores.

Ardeth called outside but got no response. She walked through the house calling and still got no response.

Ardeth saw three of her middle children playing near the barn. She asked if they knew were Amber was and they said they did not know.

Something told her to make one more sweep through the house before calling her husband. Going through the rooms of the basement, Ardeth heard a sound from the pantry. Opening the door, she saw Amber sitting on the dirt floor, sobbing.

Scolding her, Ardeth told her to get upstairs, to wash her face and start setting the table. Walking up the stairs toward the light, Ardeth shrieked. “What have you done with your hair?”

Amber once again melted into tears.

Amber’s straight flaxen hair, normally the platinum blonde found in very young children and Southern California models was as coal-black, except for a two-inch band up the center which was still her natural blonde. If Ardeth had not known better, she would have assumed a skunk had taken up residence on Amber’s head.

There was just no getting around it. Lunch was going to be late.

It took Ardeth fifteen minutes to calm Amber down and get the story.

Several of her sons were in the business of collecting and selling chemicals. Most recently, Dr Sam Wilder had commissioned the boys to find sources of tannin. She supplied them with small bottles of ferrous sulfate which turned tannin inky black.

Her entrepreneurial sons decided to find markets for tannin other than for tanning hides into leather. They used Amber as their guinea pig.

Ardeth was still not sure why Amber had a white stripe down the center of her scalp, though.

That mystery was cleared up when she interrogated her sons. They told her that Amber consented to the experiment, but only if they did it that way.

They regretted making the inevitable comparison. Everybody loved Amber and the last thing any of them wanted to do was to make her cry.

Ardeth once again questioned Amber.

Ardeth was floored when Amber’s reason for wanting the white stripe is she wanted to be pretty, just like her mother...Ardeth.

Ardeth had to think for a few seconds and then she realized.

Hair coloring was no longer being manufactured. Ardeth dyed her hair, one of her few vanities. Given a future with no hair dye, Ardeth had been stretching out how frequently she touched up her hair coloring.

In fact, Ardeth had dark brown hair with a two-inch gray stripe down the center of her head, almost exactly like Amber.

That Sunday, the Shaw clan marched into church with heads held high. Both Ardeth and Amber had coal-black hair without center stripes. In fact, had anybody looked closely, they would have noticed their scalps were also dark gray.

Ardeth had not agonized for long. There is a time for rooting out pride and vanity and there is a time for kindness. God willing, Ardeth would have many more years to work on her vanity but Amber was only going to be four-years old once.

Within a week, the Shaw boys had sold out of their first run of hair dye and had long-term contracts with the four stores in Capiche.

Ardeth insisted that they share the profits with their guinea pig, Amber.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fight or Flight (fiction)

Nik drove Derious’s SUV from Howell back to I-96 and M-99.

Torvaldsen recognized the intersection from the images of the burned out fuel truck and from the plans Derious had filed with Torvaldsen.

Nik was a messenger.

He parked the SUV and got out. He leaned his butt against the left front fender and lit a cigar. It is a good life when you can get paid to smoke a Gurkha Assassin cigar. He figured if he got popped by the other team it would be a head shot and he would never feel a thing.

Ninety minutes later, a vehicle came to pick him up. The SUV had been recognized and everybody who mattered knew where it had last been seen.

He was blindfolded and patted down but otherwise treated in a civil manner. He was not taken to Benicio’s headquarters. There was no way of telling if he had swallowed a GPS device.

Nik handed the most senior looking of his interrogators a large manilla envelope. “No point in asking me nuthin cause I don’t know nuthin.”

“I was told to wait for an answer.” Nik said.

“Mind if I smoke?” Nik had brought a plentiful supply of cigars. He expected it would take a few days.

Half an hour later, Benicio was reading the three page document. Grunting, he handed it his “administrative aide”.

She said, “It says that West Livingston County wants to form ‘an alliance of equals’.”

“I know what it says.” Benicio said. Then he graciously added “And I agree that is what the words say.”

“I need a lawyer. A good one” Benicio said.

Six hours later a 40 year old man with broken fingernails and scabbed hands was in Benicio’s office. In a previous lifetime, he had been one of the more highly regarded legal-beagles in Michigan’s real-estate industry. Now he was just another strong back.

“I need to have you read this document” Benicio said, pushing the three page missive across his desk. “Then I want you to write a six page reply that says nothing. I want to stall for time. Basically say I have to consult with partners but make it hard to understand.”

“How long do I have to write it?” the lawyer asked.

“What can you do in four hours?” Benicio asked.

“Only one way to find out. Do you have a computer I can use?” the lawyer asked. He was actually looking forward to the challenge.

Four hours later he was finishing up page nine, Arial Narrow, 8 point font. He was averaging 800 words per page. The impenetrable, dense, legal jibberish averaged over forty words per sentence and ten sentences per paragraph. Each sentence bristled with commas, every sentence a grammatical porcupine.

Benicio read the first few paragraphs. “This is almost what I want. I want you to misspell some words. I don’t want us to look too smart.”

The lawyer understood the spirit of the venture. He went through and substituted wrong forms of “to” and “their”, and randomly misspelled commonly used legal words.

Benicio told his aide, “Keep him available. I may need him again.”

Nik took the document back to Torvaldsen.

Torvaldsen was surprised to get an answer so quickly.

Torvaldsen had many lawyers on his staff. It took them two weeks to decipher what Benicio’s lawyer had written.

They concurred. Mr Heavy was thinking about it and had to consult with his other stakeholders.

Torvaldsen could wait. He would rather have Benicio’s resources and technology handed to him rather than have to fight for it. Furthermore, Torvaldsen’s forces seemed to have some issues with readiness. In theory, all of the units were equal. In fact, the most capable commanders and effective forces had been annihilated in Eaton Rapids and Delta Township. But that was nothing Mr Heavy needed to know.

Torvaldsen was confident that the other units would reach the same level of proficiency as the dead ones. He believed in processes and procedures. He did not believe in ‘leaders’. To him, that was a cop-out, an excuse for poorly written instructions.

Torvaldsen was sure that Mr Heavy would be gulled by his fleet of lawyers and would cave in. And if he didn’t, every additional week made Torvaldsen’s forces stronger.


Benicio called a meeting. He asked for a private room in Gabby’s Pub. He invited Chernovsky, Rick Salazar and a few other, select individuals.

“I received an offer from the people in Howell who attacked us last week” Benicio led off. “Somebody named Torvaldsen, Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen” Benicio drawled out each syllable of Torvaldsen’s name “offered me ‘an alliance of equals’ if I sold you out.”

It took a minute for Benicio’s information to register. Chernovsky, for once, was ahead of the curve. “But you didn’t, otherwise we would not be having this meeting.” Chernovsky deduced.

Benicio smiled bleakly. “There is no such thing as ‘an alliance of equals’” Benicio proclaimed. “I would suffer the same fate as you would. The only difference is that my death would come at a slightly later date.”

“A businessman makes that kind of offer when he wants to buy something cheap. He doesn’t really expect a ‘yes’ but it costs nothing to ask.” Benicio informed the group.

“It also means that Torvaldsen will take-by-force what he is now trying to get cheap.” Benicio said. “We can either let him take it or we can fight to keep it.”

Benicio read his audience well.

“He can have it over our dead bodies.” Salazar said. He had no illusions of the fate of refugees. Better to fight and maybe win than to flee and watch your family die.

The face of every man in the meeting was resolute.

“Then, we need to plan and to act” Benicio said. “There is precious time for either.”


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Orville Clarence Redenbacher's finest

Hospice took over bathing dad.

It is a relief. I lived in fear of dad taking a tumble in the bathroom.

One of the funny things that happened when I was bathing dad is that I noticed the rich, buttery aromas coming from dad after I bathed him.

A few weeks later I noticed that the large, green plastic bowl I used to warm up the water and hold the washcloths while bathing dad holding the remnants of Orville Redenbacher's Movie Theater Extra Butter popcorn.

Keep in mind that these washcloths started with dad's face and head and ended with his nethermost, unmentionable regions. After bathing him, I would rinse it out and wipe it dry with paper towels. Then I would take it home until next week.

Now, imagine a twenty-year-old boy who is loath to clean a bowl for his popcorn.

I consider it a win-win. Dad smelled nice for several weeks in a row and Kubota received several infusions from Dad's microbiome, the one that carried him for 94 years and may have contributed to his sunny disposition.

Pacific salmon spawning in Arctic watersheds

People across the Canadian Arctic are catching more salmon in more places.

Ms. Darcy McNicholl is a biologist with DFO at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg. McNicholl has been working on the effects of salmon migration on the waters of the NWT because they are an invasive species. “All five species of Pacific salmon showing up in the McKenzie River,” McNicholl said.

McNicholl says there is however already a resident population of Chum Salmon in the McKenzie River. “They have been there for a very long period of time since the last glaciation, so there is a small population of Chum Salmon that are native,” McNicholl said. “As for the new species of salmon they’re either following their preferred habitat, or they’re following food or both.”
“It’s a little too early to say if they have a negative impact or not,” McNicholl said. “What we’re trying to understand is where they’re coming from, what they’re eating and whether or not they’re successfully spawning in the Arctic rivers.”

McNicholl has begun studying the diet of the caught salmon which may have some clues as to why they are headed into Arctic waters.

“The stomach’s that we observed have mostly been empty,” McNicholl said. “Once they migrate into freshwater they’re coming up the NWT rivers to spawn.”
McNicholl says she has studied tissue information from the caught salmon and that has shown that the salmon might be using different sources than some local fish like arctic char.

“It’s a little early to say whether or not they’re a danger to some of the native species,” McNicholl said. “It’s an important study because it’s affecting the fishermen of the NWT.”

McNicholl says there are a lot of places where they used to catch primarily Arctic Char and now the fishermen are seeing a lot more salmon.
Hat-tip Lucas Machias

I don't want to editorialize but the author and expert knee-jerk assign the cause to global warming. It would be a stronger article if they offered other hypothesis like the shifting food-base caused by massive overfishing of the North Pacific and the Bering sea. Salmon follow the currents and the food base.

The price of property in Fort Vermillion, Alberta

I had a long phone conversation with one of my friends who I used to work with.

He took a hard left turn after lost both his job and his pension when the economy globalized.

He and his wife took a eco-tour this summer. They cruised Antarctica.

The staff scientist insisted that it is all over, that the chance to save the environment passed us by. Complete non-carbon based economy by 2030 is too late.

They contended that we should be in an ice age based on solar output but the temperatures keep going up.

Multiple models of solar output over the last 400 years. I don't see the crash in solar incidence that supposedly SHOULD have us in a mini-ice age. Source
One of the reality checks I made was to price out property in Fort Vermillion, Alberta.
From the ever-helpful Wikipedia. Record low of -78F (-61C)

With our current climate, Fort Vermillion is one of the most challenging places in the Western Hemisphere to survive. Not impossible; challenging.

If the climate was to warm significantly, Fort Vermillion might one of the few places where humans can survive.

A hospital and an assortment of churches.

They already have agricultural fields, unlike the north slope of the Brooks Range. Rivers are good for food, travel and energy.

Based on the current climate, one would expect housing prices to be...soft.

The prices are MUCH higher than I expected
Maybe some people are voting with their wallet.

Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen (fiction)

Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen watched the Powerpoint slideshow of images and video taken from Derious’s phone for the hundredth time.

No new revelations came to him. Like the first time he saw it, he was impressed by the crude, amateur production.

The second thing that impressed him was the scale of destruction. To his non-professional eye, it looked like the Fairhaven Senior Living Center had been the target of a B-52 strike.

Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen was a bureaucrat. He lived and breathed policies and procedures. It never occurred to him to actually consult with an expert on munitions and demolition. If he had, he would have quickly learned that high explosives leave dust and small dimension gravel and sheared and twisted steel. High explosives did not leave intact chunks of masonry wall and bent rebar.

Rather, Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen called in underlings and asked if they agreed with his assessment.

Of course they agreed with his assessment. They were not stupid.

Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen quickly came to the conclusion that “Mr Heavy” needed to become a vassal or become extinct. Torvaldsen preferred that he became a vassal...hand over his technology and then become extinct.

Torvaldsen’s area of operation was pressured from the north by Flint, from the east by Detroit and from the south by Ann Arbor and Toledo and he could use artillery and aerial bombing technology to push them back.

If Mr Heavy did not want to play ball, well, then he needed to die because Torvaldsen need the resources under Mr Heavy’s control.

Not every city squandered the grain FEMA had stored locally the way Lansing had lost theirs. Torvaldsen, for instance, had five years of food in secure storage by his reckoning. That reckoning included a steep glide-path where people who were not on his template were eliminated.

Torvaldsen’s domain lost 75% of its population, better than many other areas. The population continued to glide downward and he expected it to stabilize at about 10% of the pre-Ebola population. It was Torvaldsen’s job to ensure that the 10% who survived were wholely dedicated to Torvaldsen’s organization.

To that end, they swept suburban and rural areas and pressed every able male into a paramilitary organization roughly modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corp. Brutal training, inadequate sleep and scant calories quickly broke most of the men down to animals. The only way to get more calories, more sleep and less physical work was to PROVE absolute loyalty

It also meant that Torvaldsen would not be swept out of office by a grass-roots coup staged by rural people.

The manpower sweeps were aided by school yearbooks and captures of social media “friends”.

Deprived of manpower, the rural areas were unable to provide any surplus to ship to the urban areas controlled by Torvaldsen. He interpreted that as willful sabotage and increased the levy against the population.

It wasn’t that Torvaldsen really needed the food, yet. It was just that each level of the hierarchy expected better food than the level below them. They wanted eggs and cream, steak and asparagus and strawberries.

Torvaldsen considered the rural intransigence to be a side issue. He decided to work around it by sending foraging parties farther afield.

That worked great, until they encountered Mr Heavy. Who could have imagined that a heavily armed foraging party of 200 fighters could snuffed out as casually as an adult blowing out a candle on a birthday cake?

Torvaldsen was not a rookie when it came to bureaucratic in-fighting. He recognized the reference to spies as potential mis-information.

Torvaldsen reasoned that if Mr Heavy’s spies were so capable, then why did he allow the invading forces so deeply into his territory before destroying them?

Jeffery Steven Torvaldsen had not reached the top of his organization by being careless. Whether it was misinformation or not, Torvaldsen acted. A few of the incriminated bureaucrats he shuffled off to positions where they were not privy to sensitive information. The rest had fatal accidents. Capable bureaucrats...well, capable enough bureaucrats, were a dime-a-dozen.

The question in Torvaldsen’s mind was how to approach Mr Heavy and give him the ultimatum that he either had to submit to Torvaldsen or face extinction.

Tack and diplomacy were not Torvaldsen’s strong suit.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sally (fiction)

Steve followed the scent of the wood-stove up a gravel driveway.

A woman wearing a threadbare sundress was in the fenced garden, picking green beans by the look of it.

She stood, placed the palms of her hands on the small of her back and stretched the kinks out of her back. After a slow, luxurious stretch where she arched her back and first rotated one shoulder forward, then the other. Steve could almost hear her vertebra “pop” she straightened and caught sight of Steve.

The sundress was pale yellow and nearly transparent. The lay of the sun enhanced the effect and gave Steve near-superhero vision. It left little to the imagination.

Steve had not been whistling and had clearly caught her unawares.

The universe shifted slightly, like the feeling one gets in an upward bound elevator as it neared its destination. It quickly resettled to normal.

“You must be the peddler” she stated, looking at his pack. “I heard there was one in the neighborhood.

“It is getting late. Will you be able to stay for dinner?” she asked, without guile.

Steve looked around the yard. It was neatly trimmed. Chickens and ducks wandered about. There were no children’s toys or signs of a man.

“Very kind of you to offer” he said. “My name is Steve.”

The woman gave him a dazzling smile. It spoke well of her dental hygiene. “My name is Sally.”

She was barely five feet tall and tanned everywhere not shaded by her wide brimmed straw hat. Daintily holding the small basket filled with beans, she pirouetted and walked to the garden gate.

Steve watched with rapt attention as she half strutted, half minced along the path, every muscle in her legs rippling beneath her shrink-wrapped skin. Clearly, Sally’s fitness was not due to sudden weight loss brought about by the lack of groceries.

Steve was enchanted.

“It will take me a while to pull together enough dinner for the two of us...” she said, looking over and seeing Dog “...three of us. Would you mind cutting and splitting some wood while you wait? There is a shower behind that shed” Sally said, pointing “where you can wash up before eating.”

“Sure, no problem.” Steve said. Cutting and splitting wood was part of the new etiquette of eating out.

Sally must have had connections. There was an ample pile of 6”-to-8” diameter, bolts by the wood shed. Steve had no difficulty flipping them up onto the saw-buck and whacking them to the desired length. He took the precaution of using one of the pieces that had already been cut-and-split as a guide, so-as to not cut them overly long. Not every stove is the same.

After cutting up three of the bolts with the cross-cut saw, Steve hung the saw where he found it and then split the rounds into eighths that could be used for kindling. The sawing went slowly. The splitting went quickly.

He continued cutting three bolts and then splitting until Sally told him it was time to wash. By then he had worked up a good sweat and was sure he smelled like a goat.

The washing area behind the shed had a shower. The water had been pumped up into a black, plastic bag in the morning and warmed by the sun all day long. It was toasty-warm.

Steve took his time. A hot shower was a rare luxury.

The soap was not the usual cake of hastily made lye soap. It had fragrance and something had been added that made it less slippery. He would have to ask Sally about the fragrance. He was sure he could sell it to other homemakers if it wasn’t too difficult to carry.

Leaving the shower, he noticed Sally had left some “jammies” for him to put on. She must have gotten a whiff of him and his clothing when she walked down wind. Regardless, the loose, baggy pants and shirt were more than large enough for him and the draw-strings kept them from falling off.

Sally gave the impression of somebody who liked to entertain but had few opportunities. She had prepared countless courses. Each course was barely more than a few bites. It was if she had taken her usual, scanty meals for the next week and split them in two. Salad was followed by soup which was followed savory crackers to clear the palate and on, and on, and on.

The conversation was light and inconsequential.

Until it wasn’t. It was another elevator moment.

Steve decided he wanted Sally. That he needed Sally.

He became the hunter and she became the prey.

She was mesmerized by his eyes, his voice.

Like a cobra, swaying before a bird, moving a millimeter closer with every sway...the stalk was infinitesimally slow and patient, the bird hypnotized by the cobra's eyes.

“You wear a wedding band?” Steve asked.

Sally sighed. “He travels. I never know when he will be back.”

“Has he been gone long.” Steve asked.

“Seems like forever.” Sally said, verging on theatrical. “I don’t keep exact track. That just makes it seem longer. Makes it seem much longer. A month, I think.”

“I never know when he is coming home” Sally confided.

Steve said “Hmmm” in the most noncommittal and neutral of ways.

Conversation covered a huge range of topics. Sally was hungry for news.

She asked where he had been. What he had seen.

Steve told her. He was blessed with an observant eye and a gift for story-telling. It gave him the exotic allure of the sailor who had visited distant ports.

Like a boat with a broken dagger-board tacking into the wind, inch-by-inch Steve moved ever closer to his objective, never pointing directly toward the objective, with much froth and foam to distract the target.

Had you spent the previous month with Steve on the road, you would have never guessed he was capable of such cunning and focus and...seduction.

Sally, eventually, picked up the vibe of Steve’s intent. Her eyes dilated and she gave a little twitch that shook her from head to toe.

Steve held his breath. This was the critical moment.

She was only slightly taken aback. She did not throw him out. She had not yet served dessert.

Every woman wants to feel love. To be desired. What harm was there to bask in Steve’s desire. It had been SO long.

Steve smiled. At that point, he knew he had won.

Steve’s patience seemed infinite. He asked Sally about her every-day routine and seemed genuinely interested about how many eggs her ducks were laying and how many more days she would be picking green beans.

He made sympathetic sounds when she told him of the difficulties of finding a good pair of scissors and expressed his admiration when she shared that the soap was scented with both mint and sage.

Sally glowed and swelled beneath the admiration.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. In our brains, the center for pleasures-pursued and the center for pleasures-consumated are Siamese twins. The agony of ALMOST releases the same endorphins as the pleasure of YES!.

Like kids playing keep-away with a hat in the school yard, the game demands that each iteration must be played so the pursuer is ever closer achieving the goal...or the thrill dies. The pursuer always wins as long as he does not give up.

Her last bit of resistance was at the bed. Steve had gently disrobed her. Steve was as naked as the day he was born and Sally was down to her panties. Then she hesitated.

Steve averted his eyes in the candle lit room. Then he huskily whispered, “Its OK. I get it. I understand.”

Then he took a slow step toward her and offered a chaste hug.

She stepped into the hug.

Feeling his urgency, she whispered “What the hell. Let’s do this.”

Steve needed no additional encouragement. He shucked off her panties with his extended pinkies beneath the tired elastic, caressing the outsides of her legs with the palms of his hands as he slid them down….


Steve woke in the morning with Sally’s head on his chest, her hair fanned across his chest. Strands of her hair were pressed into the stubble of his beard. Steve’s left hand was resting on the swell of Sally’s hip.

He must have stirred when waking because Sally started playing with the hair of his belly. He felt the quick flit of her tongue on his skin.

Steve cleared his throat. “Next time” he said “I get to be the innocent bumpkin and you are the sultry temptress, right?”

“Do you want to talk or get busy?” the actress now known as Mrs Straeder asked.

Judging by the tone of his wife's voice, she was not referring to the honey-do list she had been adding to for the last month. That would have to wait until after lunch.