The good neighbor policy…

I’ve organized my life in such a way as to be reasonably unobtrusive and minimize the impact my day-to-day activities have on others. It’s probably reasonable to say I actively go out of my way to avoid people in anything but necessary interactions. Much as I’d love it to be otherwise, there are still times when people are unavoidable if you’re not an entirely self-sufficient operation. In those cases, I try to be polite, professional, and end the engagement quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. In essence, I have a policy of trying to be exactly the kind of neighbor I want to have. Do unto others and all that.

I don’t let the dog stand at the edge of the fence line and bark at all hours of the day and night. I don’t have live bands on the patio well past 11 PM. I don’t light off a barrage of fireworks in celebration of July 27th. I don’t encourage any resident or guest to wander the property screeching and screaming at top volume for hours on end. The loudest, most intrusive thing I do is run the mowers, trimmers, and blowers that keep the yard neat and tidy once a week. All in, it takes about 45 minutes and with very few exceptions it takes place during a time when one or more of my neighbors are doing the same thing.

I suspect it’s our setting, being surrounded by woods, that gives people the illusion of privacy and distance from their neighbors. At the height of summer with trees in full leaf and thick undergrowth on three sides, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the next guy can be as close as 30 or 40 yards away. Then again, it also feels entirely possible that people are just legitimately the worst animal and do what they do without even a thought behind their glazed over, soulless eyes. As much as I’d like to believe it’s the former, the latter is likely more the case.

I won’t cast aspersions on all neighbors, of course. Some are obviously better than others. The best of the bunch are the ones who throw a wave when you drive past or speak and keep walking when picking up their mail. I’m lucky to count most of my immediate neighbors as falling into this good category. Sadly, it doesn’t take more than one of the other kind to disturb the tranquility of the place overall.

Without investing in thousands of acres, I don’t imagine you can ever completely control for how other people behave or what they choose to do for entertainment. The big ranch in Montana probably isn’t in the cards for me, though. I can certainly keep muddling along with how things are, but I’m definitely of the opinion that I’ll need more seclusion from the general population than 1 or 2 acre lots provides when I settle in for my last act.

The state of nature…

Weekends, especially those that are too snowy, cold, and unpleasant for much else, are good times to ponder. Some, I’m sure, are eager to fill in every moment of the empty hours with active distraction, but I’m happy to spend them reading and thinking over a good brew up.

I had some delightfully long stretches of time to do just that over the past weekend. There was a single thought, though, that kept coming back to me and that’s that whatever we think of as “peace” simply isn’t the natural state of the world.

Europe was lulled into thinking of the “long peace” stretching from the end of World War II to the kickoff of Russia’s most recent misguided adventure in Ukraine. That’s only possible when you forget that Russia has been waging a low-intensity war in Ukraine since 2007. The countries that used to be Yugoslavia fell into brutal genocidal war in the 1990s. Before that, when there was still an Iron Curtain, the whole continent held its breath and armed itself with increasingly powerful tools of war.

The Cold War itself raged, from one degree or another, across South America, Africa, and Asia for half a century. None of that even takes into account the “big wars” of the 20th century, the wars for empire in the Victorian Age, or Napoleon’s setting all of Europe on fire in his wars of expansion in the 19th century. The 18th century could hardly be called peaceful, having birthed revolutionary fervor in both the United States and France. You can carry this line of thought back through the long sweep of history until you run out of written records to consider.

It’s why I chuckle any time someone earnestly tells me that if only there was X, Y, or Z, the people of the world would all live together in peace and harmony. Maybe if they’re the last two people on earth. Maybe. But I see very little evidence to convince me that when societies, cultures, and civilizations bumping up against one another, “peace” isn’t simply a momentary rest between stretches of open, brutal war.

Back to the future…

I grew up in the 80s… not so very long ago in geo-political terms. Back there and back then, the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire run by faceless party bosses and apparatchiks in far off, shadowy Moscow. As a cold war kid, having Russia back as the Big Bad feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s the way things ought to be.

Russia, in the guise of “first among equals” in the USSR, had a long history of intimidating, invading, and occupying its neighbor states if they strayed too far from the edicts issued from Moscow. The old countries of the Warsaw Pact and former Soviet republics, spent half a century or more under the heel of or at least under threat from the Red Army.

My Point? It’s mostly just a way of saying that the ongoing invasion of Ukraine doesn’t represent anything new under the sun. It’s Russia being true to form and returning to old patterns from the 20th century. The difference now is that the Warsaw Pact is long dead and the former Soviet republics have been independent for decades – many joining NATO as they are well aware the threat that an expansionist Russia represents,

Even as the United States and the USSR postured across the German plains, the post World War II global order kept the peace in Europe for the better part of three generations. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has known an almost unprecedented period of peace. If history is a guide, that’s not necessarily the natural state of things in the region. Today, it seems, we’re closer to a general war in Europe than at any time since 1945… driven almost entirely by one man’s obsession to restore an empire that hasn’t existed in over thirty years.

It seems that we’ve gone back to the future in the worst possible way.

Inner peace makes for dull blogging…

It’s the middle of the week, a federal holiday buried between vacation days, pouring down rain, and about a gloomy a day as you could find. Businesses are starting to close up and people are beginning to revisit the days of “safer at home” as the Great Plague surges around us. I’ve largely tuned out the 2020 presidential campaign, which I consider over, done with, and not to be gotten back to until closer to the inauguration (aside from occasionally flinging rocks at both sides via Facebook or Twitter).

Put another way, there’s absolutely nothing that I feel a compulsion to talk about today. I’ve taken great pains to make the house a perfectly comfortable retreat from the world. I’m not sure the dogs and I could hold off a Spetsnaz assault team, but for keeping to ourselves through the pandemic whether it lasts a few months or another year, we’re reasonably well set to minimize how much time we need to spend dealing with the world “out there.” 

The days, especially when untroubled by even needing to telework, do tend to blend together a bit though. If it weren’t for knowing yesterday’s vet appointment was scheduled for Tuesday, today would be more or less indistinguishable from Saturday or Monday or the day after tomorrow. I’m a dedicated creature of habit and it doesn’t particularly bother me in any way… but it does make fishing for new topics just a little problematic, which is how you end up with a stream of consciousness mess something like this one.

Fortunately, I can already predict that things will be back to normal tomorrow and you’ll get a full boat of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Some things don’t stop, regardless of how peaceful and docile the week seems. I should probably be thankful for that.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

This week offers a real grab bag of topics that could easily be slotted into tonight’s post. There are rioters who the media insists we call protestors, there are those who want us to fall all over ourselves apologizing for the long history of the United States, there are people who refuse to follow simple, lawful instructions, there are local governments all over the country that are failing to provide the most basic services of government – the safety and security of their citizens, and there are those from every corner who are working all possible angles to find advantage in the chaos – whether that’s through committing acts of violence, theft, or injecting outside agitation into already unstable situations.

Like I said, there’s almost no limit to what I could have written on this Thursday. The problem is, I don’t want to. The only goal I’ve had for the last five years or so, really, is to be left in peace on the side of this hill… and that litany of topics brings me anything but peace. 

I spent some time at the office this week. I spent some time at home. I did a little work. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve laid down on the floor and let myself become a human chew toy. I’ve worked through a not insignificant volume of gin. None of those things led me towards burning down a car dealership or taking pot shots at someone in the street. It leads me to wonder if we wouldn’t collectively be better off if we all just stayed in our damned lane, take a breather, and give the moment a chance to unfuck itself since continually ratcheting up the pressure doesn’t appear to be getting us anywhere productive.

Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, I suppose I’ll just stay here on the hillside, rolling my eyes ferociously and muttering to myself. 

Plans…

Let me start by saying I roll out of bed every morning with a rough plan in my head of how I expect the day to go. Plans are wonderful things, even if they are so often driven completely off the rails by outside influences.

IMG_2720It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then the perfect image how how a weekend might go lives up to all the hype in planning. You see, in my deepest dreams, weekends are long unbroken stretches of quiet time – time to be alone with my thoughts, time to tinker in the house or yard, time spent companionably silent with the resident critters, or neck deep in a stack of books.

Every now and then I manage to hit one right in the sweet spot. If I’ve remembered everything on the grocery list and tended to all the other errands than need tending, when the garage door slides down on Saturday morning it need not open again until Tuesday. It’s like living inside my very one dreamscape.

I got to walk the property and note down trees and limbs ready to feed fall’s backyard fires. I got to spend a long time just standing in the yard playing out different plantings for next spring and what arrangement they may take. I got to distract a chocolate lab long enough for one of a friendly rink-necked snakes living in the back yard to make a get away. And I got to enjoy an inordinate amount of time spent watching five hummingbirds dive bomb each other for getting too close to the feeders.

Sigh, yeah, if money were no object… but of course it is an object so these plans are but a dream to be observed through a glass darkly. At least I know I’ve got a solid grip on what I want to do when I don’t have to do anything. It might not be the hole plan, but it feels like a solid first step.

Three days of new heat…

After the better part of three days living with a new heat machine in the basement, it feels like I should say a few words. This is one of those rare occasions when an experiences actually exceeds expectations and therefore deserves special notice.

Being the creature of habit that I am and how much time I spend at home avoiding other people, I’m particularly well attuned to the sounds and rhythms of the house. I’ve gotten to know it’s noises and quirks. The new furnace has thrown a bit of a twist into what I’ve come to expect.

First and maybe foremost, the two stage blower appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes about forced air heat. With the old furnace, the fan kicked on full bore before the air warmed and forced the cold air in the ducts out into the conditioned space with a noticeable “puff.” the cold air blown right up your back if you happened to be sitting near a register was an annoyance. With the two stage, the blower starts off slowly and displaces the cold duct air at an even, effectively unnoticeable pace before ramping up the speed. it’s a nice touch. I noticed and am appreciative of it.

This particular model also makes considerably less noise in operation – so much less noise that my normal television volume levels are noticeably more loud. (See, I told you I notice things). People seem to think I’m resistant to change, but the reality is that I generally welcome changes that make life more comfortable and peaceful. Why someone wouldn’t actively resist things that made their lives less pleasant or more of a pain in the ass eludes me completely, though that’s probably the topic for another night.

So, with the exception of the un-budgeted procurement costs, I am well pleased with the new bit of household mechanical equipment that we laid on here. It’s allegedly 6% more efficient than the unit it’s replacing so I’ll be curious to see how that works out now that we’ve replaced the two largest consumers of propane fuel in the house. Even if there’s no net savings, the improvements to comfort and safety are probably a win overall.

Quiet…

What I need now is absolute quiet. The wiring in my head is not, among other things, designed to keep me on and engaged with people every minute of a 12-hour day. Even with people with whom I have a friendly rapor it’s quite simply exhausting. In a building full of perfect strangers it’s like my own little version of hell. So if you don’t hear from me for a few days it’s because after wearing out every ounce of patience and calm I can muster, I’ve gone home, curled into a little ball, and attempted to make the world go away. 

Compelling vision…

From the Pentagon today, POTUS commented that “Ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas and more attracting and more compelling vision.” It’s a nice sound bite. It also has, at it’s core, at least a kernel of truth. The United States and her allies rolled back fascism and communism in the 20th century in part because democracy tends to be a far more appealing rule set for most people.

That being said, though, we should probably note that it took one hell of a lot of guns to make that vision a reality and shove the Wehrmacht off the Norman beaches and chase them back across the Rhine to destroy their ability to carry on the war in the German heartland. It took a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons to just barely keep the peace in the second half of the past century. It took a vast (and extraordinarily well-armed) navy to maintain the sea lanes for global trade.

Democracy may not take root from the tip of a bayonet, but bloody history has proven that it virtually never gets carried forward in any other way. We’ve certainly got a more compelling and attractive vision than some wannabe throwback to the 8th century, but if we’re afraid to crush that ideology into tiny bits and then salt the earth from which it sprung, we’d might as well send off a note to the enemy and ask if they’re ready to just hug it out.

The wellspring of modern civilization is under daily assault and if we continue to do nothing other than talk a good game, well, I’m not sure we even has such a compelling national vision these days. Without a real vision for what the world should look like and the firepower and willingness to back that vision up, we’re just whistling past the graveyard of fallen world powers. As for me, that’s company I’d prefer not to be in since we can avoid it.

Getting short…

There’s something very freeing about working on short time. As I’m reeding the calendar these days, I’ve got a grand total of 5 days when I’m actually going to be in the office out of the 14 that I’ll officially be carried on the roles of the Engineer Regiment. In school it was called senioritis. Here, it’s called short-timer’s syndrome and impacts everyone who is near retirement or who is on the way, but hasn’t completed out-processing. Symptoms are a generalized loosening of the tongue and a Give-a-Shit indicator that’s plummeting towards zero. It’s a few days in the middle of a career when the job you’re leaving doesn’t matter all that much because all you’re really worried about dealing with is the personal minutia that will get you out of town and the pressure of making a good first impression at the new job hasn’t spooled up yet. It’s like the peaceful calm at the eye of a hurricane… and I’d never realized it before, but it’s a hellofa fun place to be.

I’m going to enjoy my short timer status for the next few days, wrap up a few loose ends, and say my professional smell ya laters on my own timeline. If I happen to get any work of major import done between now and next Friday, you can be pretty sure that it’s purely a fortunate accident because I’m pretty much focused like a laser on the making as expeditious an exit as possible. For now, everything else is background noise.