Exploration, conquest, and modernity…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, we studied something then called the Age of Discovery, or if you were feeling particularly froggy, the Age of Conquest. This was the period in history from the 15th through the 17th centuries when Europeans set out on a global search for faster trade routes, wealth, personal glory. It corresponded with a then unprecedented explosion in knowledge about the natural world. 

I’ve watched a number of reports over the last few days condemning Columbus as a genocidal maniac and all I can do is shake my head in frustration. I will never understand why educated people insist on applying 21st century morality to 15th century actions. If we “discovered” an unknown continent tomorrow, we wouldn’t approach it the same way that Columbus did in the 1490s. We wouldn’t approach it the same way the Great Powers of Europe approached Africa in the 19th century, either. We would approach it using our best judgment based on 21st century understanding of peoples and our modern sensibilities. Half a millennia from now, we would surely be criticized for our actions because they were not how some future observers would have managed the affair.

“But, but,” they say, “He killed all those nice natives.” Yeah, he did. Can’t deny it. What seems to be forgotten in the discussion is Europe in the 1400s was a regular charnel house. Between plague, pestilence, disease, and the Hundred Years’ War, sudden, violent death in the New World most likely didn’t strike anyone as an unnatural state of affairs. All of our contemporary assessments of Columbus come from a 21st century perspective that is at least a full lifetime removed from any real concept of mass die-offs caused by war and pestilence. The dying related to COVID-19 doesn’t hold a candle to what was experienced historically during times of social upheaval.

We lack a personal frame of reference for what “normal” was in the late 15th century. In a very real way, the past is a foreign country. Even as a student of history, I always had a problem with those in the business who feel the need to apply contemporary morality to historical events. History is all about subtlety and context… and both are completely lacking when we try to hold Columbus to the standards of modernity.

During the Age of Conquest, as the name implies, some nations and civilizations did the conquering and others were vanquished. It’s happened since the dawn of recorded time and was happening long before we bothered writing the stories down. As often happens with the vanquished, we don’t hear much about their history. Now as a student of history myself, I’m all about understanding their story, but I’m not about rewriting the entire age of exploration into an overly simple victim narrative just to make someone feel better. Likewise, I’m under no illusion that Columbus or those that followed were demigods. History is a more complex animal than that.

Hundreds of millions of people lived and died during the three centuries of the Age of Discovery. Aside from kings and princes, we remember very few of them by name… and for those few we don’t remember them because they spent their often-short lifetimes boohooing the world around them, but because they dared to do what was hard and dangerous. They’re derided in the modern world, I suspect, because so many now live lives that are unfathomably easy and safe based on any measure of historical precedent. 

In this household, Columbus and all the men who set out in fragile wooden ships from the Old World to lay claim to the New will always be celebrated.

Another winter of discontent…

Remembering the fiasco of getting anything shipped between Thanksgiving and Washington’s Birthday last year, I’ve been in a bit of a race to pick up some books. It’s not that I’m in any danger of running out of things to read, but since I have a habit of picking up a series and then racing through it to the end, there are a few titles it’s going to be better to have on hand for when delivery services go absolutely sideways again this year.

Watching the supply chain struggle to not even keep up over the last year, it really feels inevitable that loading it down with the standard end of the year holiday surge will see the whole delicate machine grind to a near halt, if only temporarily. Products will still be flowing, of course, but there’s no guarantee that was moving through the network will be what you ordered. I fully expect basic delivery of goods to be almost unusable for a good part of the late fall and winter. Sure, I suppose your stuff will arrive eventually, but “timely service” isn’t going to be something to expect.

By this time next month, I’m planning to drastically curtail my use of online shopping and delivery. The sheer aggravation of waiting for weeks or months on things that should arrive in a day or two just isn’t worth it. I’ll draw down the stocks I’ve put up for the winter, or shop regional retail if it’s absolutely unavoidable. Now if I could just find the last book or two I’m looking for (at something less than fully-loaded collector prices), I feel like I could be all set to ride out another winter of discontent.

I’m not under any delusion that the supply chain will be completely untangled in 2022, but by the time the last Christmas card arrives in February or March, maybe last mile delivery will at least be usable for household basics again. I’m certainly preparing myself to see as much or more disruption than we did in in the closing weeks of 2000 and the first months of 2021. It’s one of those cases where I really hope I’ll be proven wrong and over reactionary… but I don’t think I am or will be.

Blood and treasure…

I went to work as a very small cog in our uncle’s great green machine in January 2003. America’s war in Afghanistan was already more than a year old by then. I worked every day from then until now as part of an organization “at war,” even if the rest of the country wasn’t. Even on days when it didn’t seem to be, Afghanistan was always in the background of everything.

I’m not a grand strategist and don’t intend to pass myself off as anything other than someone who has done some reading and existed, tangentially, on the far extremity of the fight for the last two decades. There are too many people whose real world experience and voices should be rightly amplified as we come to terms with the debacle that ends our benighted involvement in Afghanistan.

Having grown up seeing the grainy images of the fall of Saigon – taken three years before I was born – I never imagined I’d see an echo of that moment played out live on the weekend news. How we could so badly bungle this “final act” of the long war, how we could have squandered so much blood and treasure, and how it went to shit so very quickly can and should haunt this generation of bureaucrats, soldiers, and statesmen as an example of what happens when we get it exactly wrong.

These last couple of days have got me feeling some kind of way. I don’t recommend it.

Pro-plague protestors…

This past Saturday afternoon employees of our regional medical center marched for their “right” to remain unvaccinated.

Their Facebook posts seemed to gin up all the usual things you’d expect. Arguments like “it’s not a vaccine,” or “the FDA hasn’t approved it,” or “I won’t be a lab rat,” or “government tracking,” or “my body, my choice,” or, more creatively, an oddly undefined “right to choose” abounded. 

The thing here is, Christiana Hospital is a private entity. They have all the right in the world to establish their own conditions of employment. Employees, like the assembled jackasses who have decided the COVID-19 vaccination is a globalist plot to sap and impurify their precious bodily fluids, are free to either meet those conditions or go off to seek employment somewhere willing to tolerate their bat shit crazy ideas. 

The only thing anyone is being forced to do here is make a decision – and then live with the consequences. As it turns out, people really hate it when they’re faced with consequences. 

I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to call these people “anti-vaxers.” What they really are is pro-plague. In word and deed, they’re actively advocating medically irresponsible and dangerous theories. Frankly, the hospital system should be glad they’ve so helpfully self-identified. They’re exactly the kind of people that shouldn’t be involved in providing health services to the public. 

If these pro-plague healthcare workers had the courage of their convictions, they would immediately resign in protest – refusing to participate in a system they believe is doing direct harm to patients or is otherwise engaged in unlawful practices. As it is, I can only assume what they really are is attention whores who want to stomp around shouting “look at me, look at me.”

Believe me, I’ve looked at you. I’ve taken your weight and measure and found you wanting in almost every possible way.

Twenty percent…

There’s a recent survey that shows 20% of those Americans polled believe the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to imbed a tracking chip in all who receive it. The “good” news is that only 5% said it was “definitely” true while 15% said it was only “probably” true. 

Twenty percent of our fellow Americans believe something that is patently absurd. That’s one in five people – a number that feels like it almost guarantees that we all know someone or possibly many people who are part of the 20%. Some of them may even be reading this blog right now.

I’m never entirely sure what bit of the brain has to be badly wired to convince people to buy into some of the more wild-assed conspiracy theories. What on earth would possess someone to think that the government (or new world order for that matter), would bother with something so pedestrian as implanting a chip… when we’ve pretty much all long ago agreed to carry one of the most advanced tracking devices in history in our pocket all day every day.

This 20% are among us, though. They’re our politicians, our teachers, our religious leaders, our lawyers, our firefighters, and pretty much anyone else you can imagine. That’s the thought that horrifies me far more than the idea of any kind of chip the big, bad virologists might have slipped me. 

Sir Richard…

The social media response to Sir Richard Branson, astronaut, is nothing if not predictable. He’s an evil billionaire trying to escape earth because he’s destroyed it. He should be taxed into the stone age so we could give everyone in the world three pencils and a timeshare goat or whatever.

It’s done nothing but reinforce my opinion that the kind of lefties who are active on social media are more about controlling what people do or don’t do, how we spend our money and live our lives, and keeping perfect credit with whoever is tracking the approved “social justice” buzzwords of the day.

Branson is the kind of guy we use to tell people they should admire. Starting his own, relatively unremarkable business at the age of 16, over the next five decades he parlayed that small initial success into a corporate juggernaut. He made himself rich beyond the dreams of avarice in the process… and then used that money to fund a project that use to be the sole province of nation states. I’d love to understand how space travel and exploration is somehow less democratic now that it’s not purely a state-sponsored endeavor. 

Yesterday, a self-made man used his own fortune to heave himself into space and open another avenue to travel and explore beyond the bounds of earth. 

I’m here for it.

If the wags on social media can’t or won’t see past their obsession and abject jealousy of who has what, I almost feel sorry for their lack of vision. Sir Richard is making history while the social media set is, at best, scoring points with those in their echo chamber. 

Project Poseidon?

It’s a Friday before a long holiday weekend. I won’t say that there was nothing to do today, but the pacing of what there was left a fair amount of time for just pondering.

What’s on my mind today, because coverage of one sort or another is almost inescapable, is the “megadrought” gripping the American west. Stories of lowering reservoirs, wells running dry, rivers too low to support wildlife, let alone the ability to be drawn down for irrigation, and the inevitable increasing number of wildfires that will go along with it all seem to be everywhere.

So far, what I’ve seen is a lot of speculation and discussion about conserving. While that’s well and good, reducing the amount of water being used doesn’t ultimately get after the problem of there not being enough water. The chances of us going after the whole climate change thing also seems fairly slim.

So, if we assume for purposes of this post that the amount of water available is going to continue to diminish over time, demand will continue to increase over time, and we’re not going to significantly change human behavior in the short or medium term, what’s left? I think that’s where the discussion on the topic is lacking. What can we do in the next five years to radically increase the amount of water available to the western third of the United States?

It always surprises me that there isn’t at least one crackpot agitating for a crash program of building a string of massive desalination plants from San Diego to Seattle along the Pacific Coast. Without any background in hydrology, wildlife management, or public infrastructure, I respectfully submit that what we need is a Moon Shot – a Project Apollo for rewatering the west.

It would be monumentally expensive. Environmentalists would scream bloody murder at the very idea of building such massive industrial facilities on the coast. Everyone would hate it – except, probably, all the people who actually need the water.

Even if we can’t meet the demand of water intensive agricultural interests, leaving river water in the rivers in an effort to prop up wildlife while providing potable water for the human population feels like a reasonable investment in the future. It’s certainly a better option than abandoning whole stretches of the west, seeing depopulation and mass migration out of cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, and just accepting that the region is going to be an arid dead zone .

If 2020 taught us nothing else, it’s that printing money to order apparently no longer causes economic problems. Personally, I’d rather see it put towards good works than another round of pay everyone to sit at home watching Netflix… but that’s probably a tale for another time.

The honor system…

According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who have been fully vaccinated are more or less free to unmask and get on up in each other’s personal space again. It’s a decision that certainly speaks to their growing confidence that the vaccine is very nearly bulletproof. Yes, if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still contract COVID-19, but the research they referenced yesterday seems to conclude that the instance of becoming truly sick from it is negligible. Likewise, the risk of a vaccinated person spreading COVID-19 is next to nil. 

Those who aren’t vaccinated, which by this point is largely a group of people who do not want to be vaccinated, are supposed to keep wearing their masks. There’s a catch, of course… and that’s this is largely the same group of people who have been violently opposed to something as simple as wearing a mask at the height of the Great Plague.

There’s no way of looking at someone and telling whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. Our friends from the CDC basically say we’ll be on our honor as to whether we’ve been vaccinated or not and behave accordingly. Personally, I hear that as a very polite way of saying “We’ve saved as many of you who want saving as possible and from here on out, if you want to go out and catch the bug, you’re on your own.” Put another way, if you’re part of the minority who refuses to acknowledge science, the immortal words of Ivan Drago can be your valedictory: If he dies, he dies. 

It’s not an elegant solution, but at some point it’s important to accept that you simply can’t protect people from themselves. According to the CDC, at least, we’ve arrived at that point. Now all that remains to be seen is how state and local governments and businesses respond. 

My personal prediction is that we’ll make every bit as much of a hash of exiting the Great Plague experience as we did getting into it in the first place. We’ll soon see, I expect, a country that isn’t so much divided between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated as between those who are vaccinated and those who are infected.

The story they won’t cover…

At 5:00 this past Sunday morning, Cpl. Keith Heacook of the Delmar Police Department responded to a call for an assault in progress. An elderly couple was being beaten and this officer put himself between them and their attacker. According to reports, Cpl. Heacook was then violently attacked, overpowered, and kicked in the head repeatedly until he fell unconscious. 

A quick search shows that the “person” arrested in connection to this murder has a criminal record dating back to 2010, when he was 19 years old. Thirty-six items returned in a search of his involvement with criminal court cases paint quite a picture… although I’m sure great effort will be expended to portray him as victim of the system, result of a bad childhood, a young man who just needed a hug, or whatever touchy feely excuse for people who choose a life outside the law is in vogue today.

You won’t hear hours of reporting every day dedicated to the murder of Keith Heacook. You won’t see protests in the street or riots and looting of local downtown business districts. His death at the hands of a known criminal doesn’t match the popular narrative of violent police officers. It will be downplayed and ignored in favor of those reports that highlight only the story of race and policing the media is determined to sell. 

We’ll know the truth, though. Keith Heacook, a badged and sworn police officer, laid down his life in service to his community and in an attempt to protect the vulnerable. There’s no truer definition of hero.

Back in the world…

I know plenty of people have been far more risk tolerant than I’ve been over the last year. Some have been far less risk tolerant than me. I hope, as usual, I managed to fall somewhere in the middle of the curve – not too indifferent, but not too paranoid. 

Even when the Great Plague started, I didn’t fully sequester myself. I managed to complete regular trips out for groceries, carryout, and whatever I couldn’t live without from Lowe’s. I largely made sure to do those things at times other people would consider “inconvenient.” As often as not, I had entire stores almost completely to myself. 

In making my first trip back into the broader world this weekend, I’m not sure what I was expecting beyond it feeling somehow “different.”

As it turns out, the world is still as full of people as it was in the Before Time… and that makes everything just awful. 

I managed to lose the crowd, or most of it, while I was wandering the stacks peering at books, but as soon as I popped out the end of a row, there they were, slack jawed and milling around aimlessly in the aisles, in the parking lots, and on the roads.

I’ve heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I can tell you now in complete sincerity, the absence of large groups of people in my daily, weekly, and monthly routine has not made me any more fond of them in any way. If anything, the absence of people has had the exact opposite effect on me. 

As the world schlepps on towards returning to “normal,” I’ll be over here coming up with new and creative ways to keep on avoiding the other returnees.