Shoe Weirdness.

For most of my adult life I wore 9 1/2 extra wide (4E) shoes. That’s what they fit me for in basic and that’s what I wore for a very long time.

A few years ago, however, I started having foot pain issues which my podiatrist noted were caused by too-narrow shoes. I had to go from a 4E to a 6E and up from a 9 1/2 to an 11. (Note, my dress-up boots didn’t come in widths so I ended up with size 13’s and “filling space” with a couple extra gel insoles.) Apparently, this was part and parcel of my plantar fasciitis. The bones in my feet were just “splaying” more and so I needed more room to accommodate the resulting shape change.

Eventually it reached the point where I was wearing size 12 4E shoes (although they were a little loose in width once broken in. Could probably have gone with a 2E instead.)

All well and good. However, the other day I went shoe shopping again and trying on shoes what I ended up with was a size 10 1/2 4E.

Apparently, my feet shrank.

This does not make any sense to me at all.

So…two new pairs of shoes. Sneakers (New Balance, which my podiatrist recommends for me for the better arch support than most brands) and some basic oxford dress shoes. Both in a size that a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to squeeze my feet into.

Weird.

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Feeding the Active Writer: Pork Fried Cauliflower Rice

This uses cooked pork loin pieces and riced cauliflower.  The “Active writer” factor is that I precook a good batch of the pork and rice a full head or two of cauliflower in advance so that the actual cooking time for the meal is minimal.  Cut the pork into bite sized pieces and stir fry until cooked through and run the cauliflower through the grating attachment on a food processor.  Put them in covered containers until ready to use.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 egg
  • 2 cup riced Cauliflower
  • 4 oz cooked pork
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • diced vegetables as desired (carrot and green bean make good, low-carb options)

Grease a hot skillet with the olive oil.  Scramble the eggs.  I like to scramble them right in the pan.  Add the cauliflower and stir it together with the eggs for about two minutes.  Add the pork and another two minutes.  Finally, add the soy sauce and vegetables.

It makes a great one-dish meal or it can be divided into portions and used as a side dish.

Enjoy.

 

Daughter Got Her New Sax

In addition to cello, my daughter wanted to take up saxaphone.  Specifically, Baritone Sax.  When we went to arrange for one–a rent to own arrangement, they didn’t have any Bariton saxes in stock.  The sales clerk recommended an alto sax to start with.  It’s half the size, one octave up, and so played the same way.  So she could start on that and switch when the Baritone Sax came in.

Well, the baritone sax was long back ordered.  No real explanation why.  However, it arrived today.

Once she got it home she just had to put it together and try it out.

“Democratic Socialism”

That’s been the buzzword of the past few years.  “Democratic Socialism.” It’s different (It Says Here) from the Socialism of the past, from Lenin and Mao and Castro.  No, it’s “Democratic” which means everyone votes to establish Socialism.   That makes it all better.

Look, the problem with socialism isn’t the means used to establish it.  Maybe by voting it in–and, indeed, if you look at what Marx said as opposed to the many things attributed to him by others, his “revolution of the proletariat” was supposed to be an electoral revolution, voting the overthrow of the capitalists–avoids the initial bloodshed of an armed revolt but that initial bloodshed is generally a pittance compared to what happens after the new government is established.

The problem is inherent in socialism itself.  Let’s look at that.  Take away the hoped for results and look at socialism in terms of the processes it takes.  Socialism, basically, is a centrally planned economy where the means of production, broadly defined, are directed not by individual will for individual gain, but according to the dictates of some central planning body.  Property rights for anything that is determined to be “means of production” are centrally controlled.  The claim is that this is for the “common good” but that’s no more than a hoped for outcome.  It’s the process that concerns us here.

Let’s look at the task that confronts those planners.  In the US we have millions of products made every year and hundreds of millions of people.  Each person had their own individual “ranking” of which of those various products are more important to them and how much of one product they would be willing to forego in order to acquire some amount of another.  And that trade must be made because scarcity–there’s never enough of anything for everyone that wants it–is an immutable law of economics.  No system can eliminate it so there will always be tradeoffs:  more of one thing mean less of something else.

So, the first thing the central planners have to figure out is how much of each product to make.  How many bars of soap.  How many paper clips.  How much printer paper.  How many notebooks.  How many cars.  How many watches.  How many phones.  How many toilets.  How much toilet paper.  How much drinking water.  How much irrigation water (which doesn’t have to be as pure as drinking water).

Then, your central planner needs to figure out where all that stuff has to go.  How much of each to Detroit.  How much to San Francisco.  How much to Byesville, Ohio.  Every town and village.  How much of each of those multitude of products has to go to each?

Given the combination of scarcity and different people having different wants and priorities, how are the central planners going to deal with the folk who are unhappy with the distribution.  “I don’t like the state approved soap.  It stinks and makes my skin itch.  I’d rather have one with a bit more lanolin and a bit less lye.” “I’m allergic to wheat.  Can’t I substitute corn instead?” (And if so, how much corn for how much wheat?)

This is before you even get into production.  And, indeed, this is where a lot of the true horror starts to come forth.  All those various products?  They don’t spring forth full grown like Athena from the head of Zeus (and even that took a good, solid whack with an axe). Someone has to make them.  Someone also has to haul away the trash.  Someone has to dig the ditches.  Someone has to shovel the manure from the livestock.  Someone has to clean and maintain the sewers.  Put simply, there are millions of jobs that must be done.  Some are desirable.  Other’s are not.  Some are downright miserable.  But they need to be done.  How do you decide who does what?  Who gets those miserable jobs?  In an economy based on voluntary exchanges coordinated by prices, some of those unpleasant jobs will be staffed by unskilled people just entering the work force as a stepping stone until they acquire the experience and skills to move on to better jobs.  Others, however, can’t be done by those entry-level workers.  In those cases, since the jobs must be done, the pay will tend to rise until enough people find the compensation adequate to get them to accept the jobs necessary to do the required work.  But without prices, and competitive wages, how do you get people to take those unpleasant jobs.

The Soviet Union found a way.  “Off to the salt mines with you.” Indeed, forced labor is a perennial feature of centrally planned economies.  And it just so happens that it also provides a method of dealing with people who are unhappy with the availability or distribution of goods and services, who are unhappy with the options available to them for employment (don’t like digging ditches?  Oh, trust me, there’s far, far worse we could have you do), or, really, anything else they happen to dislike about the regime.

And it is this power that is inherent to the very concept of a centrally planned economy that leads to atrocities.  It is said that power corrupts and there may be some truth to that, but however much it corrupts those who have it, it is an unresistable lure to those who are already corrupt.  The corrupt will seek power for their own benefit and will be far less hampered by the means they use to acquire it than those who truly seek to benefit others.  The more concentrated the power is, the more it will tend to be used to benefit those in power rather than the population at large.  And there is no greater concentration of power than that of centrally planning and controlling the economy.

This is why the various forms of socialism–International (which really means Russian National) Socialism, National Socialism, “Market” Socialism (whatever that was supposed to mean back in the day), and Democratic Socialism–are nothing more than window dressing on the foundation and structure of central planning.  It’s like hanging floral curtains on the barred window of a prison cell and claiming that it is no longer a prison cell despite the concrete walls and locked and barred door.

And to be blunt, those pushing forward this “Democratic Socialism” deception aren’t actually advocating a “kinder, gentler” socialism.  The public face of Democratic Socialism, Bernie Sanders, honeymooned in the Soviet Union.  The actual policies he advocates, stripped of the “Democratic” rhetoric are entirely in line with Soviet style communism.  No, he’s not different from Lenin except in one way.  He knows that if he tried an armed revolt the results would almost certainly not be in his favor.  So he’s simply hoping to convince the gullible to vote him in as this country’s Lenin.

Then the real horrors of socialism, “Democratic” or otherwise, can really sink in.

Chaos

In fantasy there has long been a trope that the forces of “law” and “chaos” are ever in conflict with law being associated with “good” and “chaos” with “evil.” This is reflected in some tabletop roll playing games with alignments of “law” and “chaos” replacing good and evil.

The truth, however, is more complicated.  Law, structure, order and chaos, disorder, change are more orthogonal concepts to “good” and “evil”. Interestingly enough, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons reflected that with its two-dimensional alignment system with law and chaos on separate axes.  Thus “Lawful Good,” “Chaotic Good,” “Lawful Evil,” and “Chaotic Evil” with various “Neutrals” filling in the gaps between.  Mind you, in my experience players and DMs tended to still associate law and chaos with good and evil so that “lawful good” was “more good” than “chaotic good”.

Digging deeper into mythology, however, we see another side of chaos.  Chaos is a force for change or the potential for existence.  In Greek Myth Chaos was the first progenitor, the original from which the first three primordial gods–Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the Underworld), and Eros (Love, or perhaps lust; the two tend to be indistinguishable in much early writing)–arose.  As a side note, I find it interesting that Eros is here put on the same footing as the Earth and the Underworld. From Chaos also came Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night).

In this system, everything had its origin in Chaos.

Metaphorically speaking, there is much truth to that.  Every change, for good or ill, involves disruption, involves uncertainty, involves chaos.  Just like birth is not without pain, so too is change even for the best without its uncomfortable, even painful aspects.

This, of course, is used to justify all sorts of things.  “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” is an expression of that principle.  However, this does not mean that all changes, all disruptions, and all proposed final results are equal.  I have noticed a lot of those egg breaking claims don’t end up in an omelet.  Indeed, that’s one of the reasons many people shy away from chaos and uncertainty.  These failed omelets add up to a lot of human misery.  And so people look for certainty, for order, for a lack of chaos.

The problem is, freedom is naturally chaotic.  People being free to choose how to live their own lives, to direct their own future.  All men are created equal only in that they are all created unequal (which is why they need to be equal before the law but that’s another story).  And when all that gets together no one can predict the outcome.  In the short term, in some things folk can make guesses that are often right, but go farther out?  Nope.  Can’t do it.

But from that uncertainty, that chaos, is where progress and the improvement of the human condition comes.  People had been wishing for the ability to fly since the dawn of mankind.  They had been working for it and striving for it.  Nobody predicted that two self-taught bicycle mechanics would change the face of the world forever  with the first heavier than air aircraft to take off under its own power, fly, and land successfully.  And nobody predicted the effect that would have on the world in commerce, travel, and war.  Some folk may have foreseen the effect the self propelled carriage might have had in delivering goods to market, but who foresaw the utter transformation of living patterns (the rise of suburbs) and the change in courtship and sexual behavior?  And so on.

Some of these changes have been for the worse, perhaps, at least as some people see them.  Others for the better.  I look around at my life and the lives of people who lived before me and it seems pretty clear that overall it’s for the better.

We are now in a period of great change.  The rise of the Internet enables the ability of individuals and small groups to bypass the huge media conglomerates in the spread of information.  No longer do we have to rely on “the most trusted man in America” who can, therefore, lie with impunity with no one to gainsay him.  Commerce is no longer limited to what the local stores choose to carry.  Selection that dwarfs the old Montgomery Ward mail order catalogs combined with speedy shipping that lead to scarce a delay in receiving goods compared to a local store make a greater variety of goods and services available to me than ever before.  We are rolling in the riches of Midas and most don’t even recognize it.

But that’s only the very beginning.  With 3D printing and other rapid prototyping technologies just starting to become available to the masses people won’t even need to order what they want.  In many cases they’ll be able to make what they want, customized to exactly fit their needs and preferences.  The effect that will have on society, on people’s lives, is impossible to predict except that it will very likely be profound, at least as profound as the widespread introduction of the automobile.

I will make one loose prediction.  People being less dependent on larger organizations, both business and governmental, will lead to both a rise in interest in individual liberty, and a pushback against that rise.  The results of that conflict, however, I do not know.  I simply know which side I’m on.

Whatever the actual outcomes, however, the times, they are a changin’.

“We all die alone.”

There’s a bit from one of the the “Adult Wednesday Addams” fan-made videos (by Melissa Hunter) that goes roughly as follows:

“Unless you die simultaneously holding hands in a plane crash and the odds on that are twenty-seven million to one, every single person on this Earth will die alone. And it’s that singular commonality which brings us all together.”

In some ways, I find that strangely comforting.

First, I think she just made up the “twenty-seven million to one” but I did some checking–looked up the number who die in a year from all causes and those who die in airplane accidents and…well several million to one is not out of the cards.

And even if one happens to be killed simultaneously with a loved one clutching each others hand, the final crossing of the threshold, whether to oblivion or to some afterlife, that remains an experience that each faces alone.

Dying alone is the one inescapable common thing we all share.  Rich or poor, famous or obscure, good or bad, none of that changes that singular point.

We all die alone.

And so, it’s not the death that should concern us.  Shakespeare put into the mouth of Julius Caesar:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

The Volsung Saga of Iceland had Volsung the King say:

once alone must all men
need die, and from that season shall none escape ; so my
rede it is that we flee nowhither, but do the work of our
hands in as manly wise as we may

Many people worry about their death.  But what does that worry buy them.  One might deprive oneself, eating a bland, tasteless diet, shielding oneself from all the dangers of life and for what?  We all die.  More, we all die alone.  Perhaps they can add a few brief years to their span upon this Earth, but to what benefit if in so doing they suck the joy out of life?

Life is to be appreciated.  And while I do not advocate “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”, a retreat into hedonism.  Far from it.  But rather, an advance into meaning.  Find something meaningful, something that will live on after you, and pursue it with passion.  After all, while we all die, the mark we make on the world need not.

And, while not retreating into hedonism, taking some time to enjoy the life you have is not out of place.

“It’s gonna be different this time…”

Or it’s cousin “Real fill-in-the-blank has never been tried.”

And so, folk return to “try again” and are shocked, absolutely shocked, when the results are exactly the same as before because it was real fill-in-the-blank (or as real as actual human institutions can be) and, no, it wasn’t different this time.

And, so, the Gods of the Copybook Headings, “with terror and slaughter return”

Gods of the Copybook Headings, Rudyard Kipling

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!