New Year’s Eve

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It is the end of my first full year in the woods. I’ve just made it back to the house after driving through downtown in an ice storm, confirming what I’ve learned this year: I am a hermit. I started this project by specifically saying that I was not a hermit. I was wrong.

I was also wrong about some other things. We did not go to war with North Korea (yet . . . it’s only 18:43 local time). I also predicted that 2017 would bring the first nuclear explosion in anger since 1945. Assuming we make it through midnight, I’m glad to be wrong about that too.

About the hermit thing I am not so glad. How can I be expected to love others when they are so self-defeating? When they are not cognizant of the impacts of their actions? When they brake going uphill in freezing rain?

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I will teach my son how to drive in the snow. I will teach him about momentum, gun safety, sexual safety, and personal finance. I love my son, and I won’t have him end up like the rest of those people out there.

I retreat to the Bothy, but even there I’m not left alone. Someone stole the deer skull I found in the valley by the creek.

The day I discovered it was gone, I found a possum skull on the trail home, with only a few minutes of daylight left. I went back and lashed it to the tree. Upon my next visit, it too was gone.

Who steals a skull from a tree in the woods? Someone with no sense of balance, no imagination. Someone who is not afraid of a dry scratching at their bedroom window. Someone who was never told a compelling ghost story over a fire.

I will teach my son not to steal skulls from the woods.

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At the start of the year, I had big plans for my time in the woods. Some of them have come to fruition. I encountered three bears, thirty-one snakes, and countless fish, some of which I killed and gutted and ate. Unfortunately, I failed to hunt big game with a club, kill anything from horseback, or chase any colonists away from their settlements.

But there’s always next year.

I’m looking very hard at a deer hunt in the fall, and I may even hunt small game before the winter’s out. If I could mold life with my own intentions, I’d change my whole relationship with food by the end of 2018. No meat unless I kill it myself. But I doubt my ability to follow through with that.

What I can do this: Starting tomorrow, I’ll never spend money in a big-box retail store again. I’m done. And I’m not standing on any moral high-ground about it, I just don’t want to interact with my fellow man. Humans make me less connected to humanity. I can’t explain it.

I’ll continue my meditation. I’m six months in. Might as well keep it going. I’ll keep drawing cards. These things have helped me make sense of what I’m seeing, or at least accept that it doesn’t make sense.

I’m going to have to lose weight if I want to continue. I guess I should make that resolute. I will get a handle on this in 2018. On myself. My own self-defeat. If I could stand outside myself and watch, I’d want to yell WHAT ARE YOU DOING until the windshield fogged up.

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Another New Year’s Eve, and we’re all still here. Well, most of us. Those who made it through Vegas and Texas and Syria and Yemen. Who weren’t in the path of this thing with which we refuse to contend.

I confess a bit of disappointment that the Trump administration’s rot and incompetence hasn’t been made more decisively manifest. But that’s my own ego projected on the situation. Let it sit. I’m not going make any more predictions. Given enough time, all doomsayers are right, and what does it benefit anyone?

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The revolution of this year has almost ground to a halt. It’s taken all these months for me to feel like I have some grasp on the spinning wheel. Now it’s time to begin again.

On the mountain right now in the bitter icy dark is the skull of the deer that was poached by a neighbor of mine. I have pinned it to the ground with a sharpened sick. I’m waiting for the last of its skin to flake away. Some vertebrae are still attached.

I found it with its antlers sawed off outside the boundary that makes up the Bothy’s woods: The creek and the grassy rights-of-way. That means I can bring it home if I want to. I haven’t decided yet.

And right now there are live deer. Bedded down, I imagine. And live men in their beds, or drunk waiting for midnight, who next season will hunt them, ethically or not.

And way up in the mountains taller than mine there are streams full of wild trout. What do they do in the wintertime? Or the bears and the snakes?

And us? What do we do?

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cost per fish

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Fishing last night with a cheap-ass Tenkara rig (more to come on that). Caught the above smallie. Quite a fight, and I hooked him on a woolly bugger I tied for something like $0.08. Hooks from Kmart.

The amount of money I spend fishing has become a decent weight of concern, especially given my most prominent advice on how to prepare for what’s coming. Watching the news from Houston. People up to their fat waists (I’m fat too, it’s just an observation, chill) in flood water saying “We just didn’t have the money to evacuate.”

Yeah? Well, whatcha got now?

Evacuation isn’t always feasible, for reasons. And reasons and reasons. On the other hand, if you knew beyond doubt that you’d be swimming into the kitchen to make your coffee in the morning, wouldn’t you GTFO? So crux of the issue is how do you know beyond doubt?

Well, in the case of Harvey, um, everyone told you. But everyone tells us lots of things, and we are right not to trust them. So what’s the answer?

I don’t know. There are natural forces at work here. There is no answer. I’m tired of asking the question.

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Well, this took a bitter turn. Sorry. I just wanted to post some photos. But apparently there’s something else here.

I have deep sympathy for the victims of Harvey. I have lived through more than one hurricane, and that’s why I have a perspective that allows both sympathy and expasperation. I remember my father walking outside to look up at the stars through the eye of the storm, while my mother begged him not to. Hell yeah, dad. Sorry mom.

There’s something so fundamentally envigorating about a big storm. I won’t even pretend not to be excited, though I know that makes me a monster when my fellow humans are suffering. Is it my anxiety disorder fixating on an external focus and relieving my chewed-up psyche for a moment? Probably. Or it could just be straight up recklessness.

Whatever. I went fishing. But I’d rather be fighting that storm, which isn’t even a thing: you don’t fight storms. But here’s this. This is what I want to be doing.

I don’t even own a boat, and if I did I couldn’t go. So I will get online and give some money that I saved by tying cheap woolly buggers. It’s something. But it’s not enough.

Here are some photos.

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The Devil

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What’s confusing me is the nature of Trump’s game. There are two possibilities: Raw con-man brilliance, or a coup d’etat executed by Satan himself.

Let’s first look at the worst case scenario: Trump is the Devil, executing a slow coup against the United States to amass his own power and perform his nefarious horrors.

Second option: It’s all a con. Trump is simply a greedy bastard using the office of the president to make money and build his own brand. Or maybe he’s not even in on the con. Maybe the guy’s just a useful idiot that inherited his daddy’s money and has an out-sized personality that allows his “advisors” to use him to their own profit. While he’s causing a ruckus, they rake in the dough through policies they plant in his easily-manipulated mind.

This option is quite literally the lesser evil, and in many ways it’s easier to believe. After all, who really buys that whole Devil stuff anyway? And this option offers a measure of security: Global catastrophe is bad for business, so TrumpCo shouldn’t be motivated to start a war of aggression with nuclear powers.

As bigly dark as my predictions are, I’m starting to lose faith in my own doomsaying. We are not, after all, at war with North Korea, and it’s almost the end of August. There are no concentration camps, no gulags, no gas chambers. The separation of powers, embattled though it may be, seems to be holding up. Some pundits and other knowledgeable folk are even predicting that we’ll see Trump resign in the coming weeks. Perhaps it’s true that it’s all been a very costly game that is starting to run out of steam. A few heads might roll, but Trump and the inner-circle will fade away, richer, and Pence will go down hard in 2020, ushering in a return of the status quo ante.

Sad to say it’s a nice thought in these times, and I’d love to get on board with this theory. But  something doesn’t add up.

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First, a greedy bastard using the office of president for his own interests actually is the status quo ante. Greed is the basis of politics, and presidential candidates generally don’t seek the office out of altruism. What makes Trump different?

Theater. If this president were all about money, the smart move would be to keep the surface-level theater in line with the previous presidents who were all about money. Trump is something different in that he’s not satisfied with the usual quiet wealth-building that goes along with power.

Incompetence doesn’t explain it. One does not become an apex predator through incompetence, and Trump is surely that, no matter what else he is. Yes, he spouts a lot of crazy shit, but how many people do you know that spout crazy shit and haven’t gotten anywhere in life? Trump spouts the right crazy shit. Calculated crazy shit. He’s the  president of the United States. It doesn’t happen by accident.

So perhaps the theater is a smokescreen? All the offensive statements and sudden policy reversals, the outrageous racism, the palace intrigue. All of it empty of substance, but rife with venom. I’m not the first to suggest that it’s designed to keep us distracted from the fetid underbelly. That’s realpolitik 101.

Except it isn’t. Friday’s Camp David edicts under the cover of Hurricane Harvey don’t fit. A particularly astute social media comment spells out this conventional wisdom:

“President 45 uses the distraction of a category 4 storm bearing down on one of America’s largest cities to issue his pardon of brutal racist Joe Apraio and to cruelly ban transgender troops from serving in the armed forces. It is a shocking and fascistic move.”

But Trump teased the Apraio pardon four days ago at his rally in Phoenix. He himself tweeted his announcement of the transgender ban. His whole character is based on “telling it like it is.” He’s not trying to be quiet about these moves, but neither is he timing them for maximum deflection. Why distract the country from your machinations when you’ve already got a giant monster cyclone chewing up the Texas coast? Why not save those decoys for next week, when the average American has stopped pretending to care about his storm-ravaged countrymen? If Trump–or shadowy figures pulling Trump’s strings–are after normal wealth and power, this is not a smart play.

In trying to explain Donald Trump, neither incompetence nor con artistry nor cowardice complete the picture. These explanations are not consistent with the facts as we know them.

So what’s left?

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Among quotes you’ll find scotch-taped inside of lockers in journo school is this famous line from Conan Doyle: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

So it’s simple. Donald Trump is the Devil.

There are two types of people in the world: Those who read such a statement and immediately agree, and those who click away and watch cat videos. So I realize that by writing any further I’m just preaching to the choir.

The religiosity of this thesis is too much to get into here, but suffice to say that my protestantism is reformed to a degree at which I prefer pre-Roman definitions of the Devil.  In researching  this post  I read an interesting Wikipedia snippet on the etymology of “Mephistopheles.” Scatterer, disperser. Plasterer of lies. In short, the Devil is a chaos agent. An entropic force that destroys for the sake of destruction.

This is where traditional understandings of the Devil really fail their advocates. A little red man with horns and a pitchfork is much less a force to be reckoned with than pure, intentional entropy. Google reveals a lot of fundamentalist literalists who believe they can know with certainty the characteristics of the figure they call Satan. But who can know that which destroys the validity of knowledge?

If it sounds like I’m simultaneously making cases for and against Donald Trump as the personification of the Adversary . . . well, that’s accurate. Trump is just a man. But the role he currently fills is one that has existed since beginning of time.

By their works you shall know them: Those who fill this role perform evil even when it is to their own detriment. They are not simply Machiavellians, who learn to work with others when it serves them and don’t actively try to hurt people without reason, even if only because they are good at calculating risks. This more extreme role is filled with folks like Saddam Hussein, who purged the Baath party leadership by forcing party members to execute their own friends AFTER he had secured his own power. This cruelty was unnecessary. He did it because he wanted to. Or because he couldn’t help himself.

It happened throughout history, and it happens daily. Remember the video of a bunch of school kids making the bus monitor cry? For what purpose? In whose interest? None. They did it because they desired to be cruel. To break down the structure of human dignity.

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This role is always there, in the same way that electron orbits are there, even if they aren’t filled. To belabor the point: Electron orbits and the Devil don’t exist until they are inhabited, embodied, manifested. They are potentialities that are prescribed by a larger order.

But is Donald Trump really filling this role?

Jeb(!) Bush, of all people, was on point: Trump was a chaos candidate, and he is a chaos president. Look at the way he talks. He contradicts himself, often within a single sentence. He holds no regard for any objective truth. He does not convince, he persuades. He stands for nothing, advocates nothing. He is singularly ignorant of governance, not because he is stupid, but because it doesn’t matter. People do not want to be governed. They want to be tempted and lead. They relish in breaking down the tenuous order of freedom for the gleam of trinkets, and the feeling of power over their fellow men.

The burden of proof is of course on the anonymous blogger who claims a public figure is the Devil. It’s a fantastic claim. But I’ll leave you with this:

What other explanation makes sense?

 

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The Day or the Hour

War will come by the end of the summer. Doomsday predictions are best rested on gut feelings, and I certainly have those, but in fairness, a sense of impending doom is really nothing new for me. So let me outline my troubled thinking in a self-deprecating and authentic way that will gloss over my anxiety disorder and compell you to make changes in your life. Let’s have some fun, because tomorrow we die.

Our sample size is fortunately very small, but so far 100% of world wars have been launched at the end of summer. Tuchman’s famous record of the Great War is, after all, entitled The Guns of August. Imagine what historians to come–if there are any–will title their accounts of what’s happening now.

  • Guns of August II: The Vengence
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Communist Dwarf, Comic Book Villian
  • Can I use my bullet now, Andy?
  • How the South was Right about Carpetbagging Manhattan Liberals
  • Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq: Preludes in D Minor

The Second World War started late, of course, on Sept. 1. I think that’s probably a more accurate timeline. Hell, it’s already the ninth. And Trump’s a real estate man, after all. He’ll wait til the first just so the rent checks are due.

The New York Times has an excellent and hilariously niave piece breaking down Trump’s “fire and fury” line delivered from his goddamn golf club in fucking New Jersey. The reporters did their due diligence, but Phil Leotardo was not available for comment. From the piece:

“Mr. Trump’s menacing remarks echoed the tone and cadence of President Harry S. Truman, who, in a 1945 address announcing that the United States had dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, urged the Japanese to surrender, warning that if they did not, ‘they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.’ It is not clear whether Mr. Trump intended the historical parallel . . .

Are you kidding me? Donald Trump has no idea who Harry Truman was, much less what phrasing he used when he was bombing our enemies into submission. And even if he did, that wouldn’t justify recycling statements past presidents used before incinerating 300k people. It’s adorable when the mainstream media tries to pretend not to be writing from under their desks.

False equivalence with World War II is a favorite tactic of both partisan wings of American politics. Oh, but FDR did it! Yeah, during a half-decade in which sixty fucking million people died. Times were tough. North Korea is not the military juggarnaut that Japan and Germany were. Furthermore, North Korea is ALLIED WITH GODDAMN CHINA, as opposed to Japan, who at the start of WWII was ending a costly conflict with China. In a full-on conflict between Japan and America, there was never a question of who would win, and all parties knew it. The Japanese were gambling that the Americans would not pay the cost necessary to establish victory. Their considerations left out two factors: The atomic bomb (which dramatically lessened the costs), and the USSR (which made the investment worth it; FDR/HST could not allow Soviet domination of the eastern hemisphere.).

Okay, back to justifying my dark predictions. Trump is legitimately caught in an escalating situation in which time is on the DPRK’s side. Of course, that’s been true for the past several presidents. What makes this summer different from eight summers under Obama?

Well, the president is a crazy person, but other than that: Record highs in the stock market. Whether or not they are to the current admin’s credit (they’re not), they represent two things: America at a rare economic peak, and a giant bubble about to burst. If war is to come, and it surely is, it’s far more advantageous to undertake it when domestic cash is flowing. Delaying risks entering a regional or even global conflict on poor financial footing.

Furthermore, of course, the pre-impeachment Trump is motivated to act quickly by the surge of jingoistic nationalism that will accompany conflict. For his true core base, chants of “USA! USA! USA!” represent the pinnacle of both political acumen and spelling prowess. For the rest of the country . . . well, Trump’s approval numbers are at record lows. Politically, he can only benefit from war.

Finally, I believe the most compelling reason to expect war by the end of the summer is that, very simply put, we are overdue. Pax Americana, like all good things, must come to an end. Species and societies advance against their environments until they are forced to retreat. In that scope, it is very hard to imagine that Donald Trump and the reasons he was elected represent an advancement; therefore, they must represent a retreat.

And here we veer off. Before the election, my therapist told me that my concern about a Trump win was simply a glorification of my dark world view. I had to conceed that he might be right. After all, how can we know the world apart from our own rendering of it?

In my first appointment after the election, I brought up the statement that my shrink had made, and followed with: “We’re all in my world now.”

Doomsday predictions are and have always been bullshit. No one knows, we are told, the day or the hour. It is dramatizing and rewarding to our own egos to claim otherwise. What do I get if I’m right? Satisfaction?

And yet, rejecting out of hand the idea that catastrophe is pending is escapist and naive. Catastrophe is a fact of life. Holocausts happen. We can claim we have progressed beyond them, but those claims, like Trump’s, have historical parallels that are as chilling as they are laughable.

No one knows what will happen, and we all know what will happen. Measure it on whatever scale you’d like: Time is short. Adventure while you can.

UPDATE 10 Aug. 2017 @ 0600:

There are many good reasons to think that we are not headed for war with North Korea. This piece by Tom Nichols outlines several, and of course Vox steps in with its usual more-rational-than-thou tone. Both make excellent arguments against anxiety-driven panic.

Incidentally, they also heavily rely on the assumption that everyone involved in this scenario is a rational agent. Unfortunately, no one involved in this scenario is a rational agent. Two narcissists with bad hair are facing off in front of a peanut gallery headed up by a shirtless Russian super villian and the most populous nation on earth, which can’t decide if it wants to be communist, capitalist, or just cut its losses and die in its own smog.

It is, of course, the province of random anonymous bloggers to assume the worst. But this is 2017. Like the NYT reporters typing under their desks, we all cling to what ought to happen. That’s no garauntee that it will.

 

 

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Snake #22 and why you should pray for the Mooch

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My twenty-second snake for the year: A young copperhead. He was very stoic, as was the other one I saw on the same trail. This one, though, was not happy about my decision to lay on the trail and photograph it from its own level. Perspective is everything. Snake #21, by the way, was a very large water snake who made a dramatic entrance to the hole I was fishing. My most memorable encounter so far.

Also, it looks like a good time to fish white grubs:

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And I’m pretty sure this is a baby smallmouth . . . ? If so, it’s the tiniest one I’ve ever caught.

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Regarding the news of the day, here’s an alternate persective: We should all feel compassion for Anthony Scaramucci. Not only because he clearly doesn’t have the capacity to actualize his emotions (other than anger), but because his life has been completely destroyed by Donald Trump.

From my last post on the subject: “To assert, as Scaramucci now does, that this conversation became public due to an error in On Record/Off Record protocol is abjectly preposterous. It was expertly timed and executed to (1) distract and (2) give the impression that the Trump White House is a fumbling, incompetent soap opera.”

I’ll add now, while we’re on the subject, that I’ve seen political operatives far less adept than the Mooch start almost every sentence in a conversation with “On background . . . ” or “On the record . . .” These guys know how the game is played.

The Mooch was a fall guy from the beginning. Spicer and Preibus gone, Scaramucci himself the subject of the news for a full two weeks, and now a new military-grade chief of staff to make it seem as if the chaos is over. It’s classic, and it’s brilliant.

It should also chill you to the bone. A few months ago, Scaramucci had a thriving business and a pregnant wife. Now he’s got nothing, probably not even the ability to understand what happened.

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