I Might Be A Viking

  • We’ve been watching the Netflix/BBC series “The Last Kingdom“. It’s pretty good, and worth the watch if you haven’t seen it. Similar to Peaky Blinders, watching with captions turned on is recommended due to the heavy English accents. I joked after one of the episodes that, being of Swedish ancestry, I might actually be a Viking. Mrs Troutdog walked away laughing. I was a little hurt. My family is from Sweden. As a young lad I spent my time surfing, sailing, and scuba diving. I love the snow and embrace the cold winter sports. Those things pretty much define what we think of as characteristics of the proud Norse people, right? I did a little bit of reading, and it turns out that the Vikings weren’t very nice people. Raiding and pillaging villages, taking people as slaves, and other unmentionable acts were pretty much the hallmarks of a Viking visit to your hometown. Fearsome warriors, the Vikings occupied much of Europe during their heyday. Ok, I admit I’ll probably never be tossed in the fearsome warrior category. But don’t worry, I can write a scathing email if my back is pushed against the wall. Continuing my extensive research, I stumbled upon a link describing Viking hairstyles. It turns out the “Viking look” is an actual thing right now. Hmmm, I kind of like the look. The problem is that I can’t grow a beard, look terrible with long hair, and Mrs Troutdog would never let me shave the sides of my head. Oh, and that’s probably not a look an old man can pull off anyway (unless you’re a 300-pound powerlifter). Oh well, I don’t really like pickled and salted fish and I’ve never actually been to Sweden. I suppose no radical hairstyle changes are in my future. But deep down, in the dead of winter, I may still have a few small daydreams of being a Viking.

  • Our next Supreme Court Justice, when asked to define what a woman is, replied that she can’t because she’s not a biologist. Her fear of saying anything that goes against the progressive narrative tells you all you need to know about her probable judicial leanings. It doesn’t matter, it’s all political theater anyway.

  • The weather this week will be turning warm. It’ll be in the mid 70’s by the weekend. Glorious warm sun and dry trails. I find myself paralyzed with indecision about what I want to do. Mountain bike? Trail run? Golf? Motorcycle ride? Winter is officially done.

  • Along with warm weather comes… yard work. At the start of winter, I boldly declared that I’m perfectly capable of maintaining the yards and got rid of the gardener. It’ll save us some money and won’t actually take me that much time. Now that time has arrived and as I’m surveying everything that needs to be done… I’m slightly regretting my decision. No matter, I shall rally and become the gardener that I was always meant to be! Stay tuned for frequent garden updates.

  • The Ukraine scenario continues to be awful. It’s horrific to see the suffering. It is a confusing mess in every way imaginable, with no clear or positive outcome. But for all the folks calling for U.S. intervention, you should first define how many American casualties are you willing to accept. How many young men are you willing to let die or be permanently maimed in the name of defending Ukraine? 50? 100? 1,000? More? 100,000 in small tactical nuclear strikes against U.S. bases in Poland or elsewhere? As is clear by the footage we’ve seen, this is not a video game. “Intervention” has consequences. Own up to what you think acceptable losses are – and intervening with zero losses is not a realistic answer.

  • I had jury duty this week. I dutifully drove downtown, parked, and made my way to the courthouse. Checked in, found a hard plastic chair, and began the waiting process. Eventually we were sorted out by red and green badges and lined up by number to proceed into the courtroom. Just before we entered the Jury director came out and said that everyone with a green badge is being dismissed, our case was settled. Hallelujah! Interestingly, in my county you’re still on the hook for the remainder of the week and can still be called in. Fingers crossed for me as I call into the jury selection recording number each night, to find out my fate for the next day.

  • I’ve been seeing a gym trainer twice a week for almost two months now. I’m starting to see progress. My range of motion is improved, balance is better, and core strength is significantly better. For the first time in a long time, I’ve been able to play golf or lift and move heavy patients at work without my back hurting the next day. I’m not quite ready to say I look forward to working out, but I’m actively making sure I don’t miss or find excuses to skip any workout sessions. This is a big change for me. Stay tuned…

Song of the day: Kaskade & Skrillex – Lick It (Official Video)

Selective Outrage

I apologize. I don’t check my email that often, so I must have missed the memo about Ukraine being one of our oldest and most trusted allies. I confess that a month or so ago I couldn’t have found Ukraine on the map. Suddenly it’s somehow now in our national interest to pour (more) billions of dollars into this country and potentially risk another world war in Europe. I’m sure they’re lovely people (aside from that pesky actual Nazi problem they have). And it’s absolutely heart wrenching to see the apparent indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians. War is awful. Period. Full stop.

But guess what campers, this isn’t the only active war currently going on. Let’s pick one like, hmmm, the Congo. The current hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have produced 4.5 million internally displaced persons, 800,000 refugees in other countries, and an estimated death toll of at least three million. Let me repeat that. THREE MILLION DEATHS. This is a country rich in natural resources, which we need. Our greatest real threat, China, is pulling out all stops to control those resources. And the United States does… [crickets chirping].

My point is that it’s odd what conflicts and crisis of the moment reach our attention span. Why is Ukraine any more or less important than the DRC? I don’t pretend to understand either conflict, and neither should you. I do not trust the narrative we’re being fed. Ukraine is a massively corrupt country full of coups, separatists factions, and a puppet regime installed by the United States. The US has been using Ukraine as a stick to keep poking Russia for years. Well… now you’ve woken up the bear. Maybe that’s what we wanted all along? I have no idea and I doubt you do either.

You should ask yourself some questions. Number one, why is paying for and solving this crisis a problem the US needs to manage? This is primarily a European issue. They’re the ones who are dependent on Russian energy supplies. The EU countries have massive GDP’s, economies, and have huge numbers of weapons, planes, and all types of fancy missiles and missile defense stuff. Our European allies need to be front and center in managing and paying for this crisis. If and when they need our help, we can be there. But the US does not need to be the worlds pocketbook and policeman. If you disagree, please explain why we need to take the lead in solving this?

Similar to the first question, why should the US taxpayers fund this war? You do realize we’re now thirty trillion dollars in debt, right? Our economy is poised to crater. There are literally no more checks in the checkbook. Every dollar we give to Ukraine and every weapon system we hand them, was first money we borrowed from China. WE DO NOT HAVE the 14 billion we just authorized to give to Ukraine. We have to borrow that money. Record setting inflation, gas prices, crumbling infrastructure, supply chain issues, and a 150,000 people a month streaming across our border. We have some issues. Please explain why spending billions to give to Ukraine is more important than any of those things? The best that I can tell, the EU has promised a whopping $450 million. Individually, EU countries are giving a smattering of weapons and other goods. If this was such a momentous issue on European soil, wouldn’t you think they’d have a bit more skin in the game? But why should they when they know we’ll pay for it.

As a side note, we give billions to the UN every year. Where are they? What actual purpose do they serve other than to write sternly worded letters? Perhaps we should divert our UN payments to Ukraine.

There are no good answers to any of this. This morning, Ukraine’s president Zelensky gave an impassioned speech to our congress. He invoked the memories of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. He received a standing ovation. I suspect out of fear of appearing to do nothing, our brave representatives will pour more money and aid to Ukraine, further provoking the conflict and increasing the potential of escalation. Do you really think Putin is going to say, “whoops, my bad. I’ll pull out.”? By further arming Ukraine, we’re forcing Putin to take more extreme measures. I fear we’re one mistake or misunderstanding away from another world conflict. Is that really what you want?

Look, I realize I’m sounding all Neville Chamberlain-ish this morning. But the US is not the superpower we once were. We’re broke, and that’s hard to admit. It’s time for US to step aside and let others shoulder the burden for a while. We shouldn’t let social media shame us into something that could rapidly get far worse than we can possibly imagine.

It’s hard to see human suffering. But I doubt any of you have been outraged at the war in the DRC. Why? Admit it, you couldn’t have found Ukraine on a map a month ago. Me either. And you certainly weren’t outraged at (or even know about) the 14,000 killed and 1.5 million people displaced in the Donbass region of Ukraine in 2014. There’s a lot of human suffering going on in the world at any given time and it’s awful to see. But just because CNN is breathlessly promoting this conflict 24×7 doesn’t mean we have to spring into action. It’s time for cooler heads to prevail and for us to sit this one out.

We have a massive economic war looming on the horizon with China. A war that will alter your standard of living. We may very well be wishing we had some of those billions we pissed away, trying to be the good guy, back.

Secret Gym Confession

I discovered something about myself today while at the gym. I honestly had no idea. It’s probably because I haven’t really pushed myself before, but regardless of the reason, I didn’t know this about myself. It turns out I’m a… grunter. The trainer had me doing some weird lunging, take a step, and twirl a barbell plate over my head thing. I’m pretty sure it was about the 75th rep and every part of me was shaking with the exertion. Out of the corner of my eye I caught one of the other gym-goers giving me a funny look. I took a step, lunged (or was it lunge and then step? I don’t know, I was too exhausted to think) and caught myself letting out a loud grunt. Not a delicate exhale, but a deep, loud, uugghha-whoosh sound. Like the sound an angry apex-male silverback gorilla would make as he ripped the hind leg off a helpless deer.

Ok I’m pretty sure gorillas are vegetarians so maybe that’s not the best analogy, but you get my point. It was loud. And I was doing it with every step. Now in my defense I was winded and gasping for air. But I will concede that it was a bit dramatic for the little five-pound barbell plate I was swinging around. Naturally I immediately tried to stop doing it, but all that happened is that my breathing got screwed up and my cheeks turned all purple because I wasn’t getting any air in or out. The trainer gave me a funny look and asked if I was ok.

I was perfectly happy with whatever I was doing, and now I’m going to be all self-conscious about breathing. Reminds of something similar I was doing when running. Back when I did a fair amount of trail running, I was always pleased at the positive vibe I got from other people. It seemed that everyone I passed would give me a smile or wave. Gosh, everyone is just so friendly here! And then one day I went running on the street and caught a glimpse of myself in a window. I was putting a reasonable effort in and breathing pretty hard. Turns out when I breath hard my mouth opens up in a big sloppy grin, plenty of teeth showing and my tongue flopping around like a goofy Labrador retriever. People have been smiling at me because they’ve been seeing this big oaf lumbering past them with a ridiculous grin plastered across my face.

Here I am thinking I look almost exactly like an intense Kilian Jornet and in reality, I’m a bit closer to Special Officer Doofy in Scary Movie. Oh well. That I can live with. I don’t see many people out on the trail anyway. And a guys got to breathe, right? Besides, I probably couldn’t change that habit even if I wanted to.

But the gym grunting. That’s probably not cool. Maybe if you’re deadlifting a small Volkswagen, but certainly not when you’re lunging around with a silly plastic foot slider on the carpet. It’s a small gym. And it’s usually full of ridiculously fit people. I’m sure word has gotten out about the old grunting guy. I’m going to have to do something about my breathing before I get pulled aside by Biff the manager and encouraged to maybe go find an outdoor gym. The problem is that there’s a distinct possibility of my passing out if I try to hold in the grunts. And that would be embarrassing.

Sigh. Why does there always have to be so many perfect fit people at the gym? They never make weird sounds and certainly don’t sweat or lay on the floor gasping for air. I think I need to join that Average Joe’s Gym from the movie dodgeball. At least I’d fit in with my baggy, ripped sweatshirt and ten-year-old workout shorts. The fitness struggle is real people.

Just Take A Lesson

Proprioception is something that we rarely think about (bada boom, no pun intended). It’s the sense we have of where our bodies are in space. It’s why you can drive a car without looking at your feet on the pedals. You can walk in a completely dark room without losing your balance. You can type without looking at the keys. And why NFL receivers can make those amazing stretched out end zone catches with their feet staying in-bounds. Your brain keeps track of what all the appendages are doing at all times without you thinking about it. Some of us just do it better than others.

My first real awareness of this was an experimentation period with barefoot running. I’d just finished Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” and decided to go all-in on barefoot running. I went with the Vibram Five Fingers shoes and hit the trail. If you’re not familiar with them, there’s no sole or cushion – just a thin layer of rubber to protect your feet from scratches and cuts. Needless to say, landing on a rock while running hurts. A lot. I spent much of those early runs with massively bruised feet. Eventually, someone pointed out what I was doing wrong. I was watching my feet when I was running. I was so busy trying to avoid rocks and “direct” where I stepped, my running was awkward, clumsy, and I constantly stepped on the rocks I was trying to avoid.

The secret is to not look where you’re going. Instead, look way ahead down the trail. Your brain sees all the terrain and creates a map of where to step without you being aware of it. If you stop thinking about it and let the brain and proprioception do it’s thing, you become smoother, faster, and avoid the rocks. It seems very counter-intuitive. You’ve done it yourself many times without realizing it. Walk across a room carrying a very full coffee cup. If you stare at the cup as you walk and try not to spill, most likely you’ll start spilling. Look ahead and stop thinking about it and your brain, arm, and hand will take care of the balance just fine.

What’s my point with this? Our conscious thoughts often get in the way of learning new skills properly. Take the golf swing. The average downswing takes about a quarter of a second. Your proprioception WILL get the clubhead to the ball. The problem is you may unknowingly have to do all sorts of weird contortions to get the clubhead back to the ball depending upon what you did in the backswing, setup, etc… Here’s where conscious thought gets in the way. I’m someone who was traditionally too cheap and stubborn to take lessons. Instead, I’d spend hundreds of dollars on the driving range pounding away at balls thinking I can “fix” my swing by myself. I was sure I knew what I was doing wrong. It was just a matter of enough practice. When it finally became clear that wasn’t working, I broke down and took a lesson.

That first time I saw my golf swing on video I was blown away. Everything I thought I was doing, had nothing to do with what I was really doing. My conscious brain would lie to me and it would “feel” like my hands or hips were doing one thing, but in reality they were doing the opposite. It was an ah-ha moment for me. My stubborn insistence (and cheapness) that I can teach myself has probably cost me significantly over the years. If I’d been willing and open years ago to taking lessons for many of my sports, I suspect I’d be much more skilled than I am today. I’m a reasonably coordinated and athletic person, so I’ve been able to make things work. But I could have been so much better.

I’m now at a point that I have the time, resources, and willingness to take lessons. I’m embracing it. I’ve been going to a personal trainer and have been making gains far quicker than I ever did by myself in my garage gym. He’s correcting horrible form that I “felt” was correct. I took my first ever ski lesson this season. A few simple changes have made things more effortless and really dialed in my carving turns. I never would have figured that out on my own. I’m doing a big block of golf lessons because I want to stop fighting the game and enjoy playing. It’s very obvious now that I can’t do that on my own watching YouTube instructional videos.

Our bodies and proprioception are an amazing thing. But unless you’re one of those .001% of gifted natural athletes, most likely your conscious brain will get in the way of correct movement. But as Mrs Troutdog has told me for years (and I didn’t listen), even the top pros have coaches for a reason.

Whatever your sport is, go take a damn lesson.

I Did A Bad Thing

I’m still not sure how it happened. Mrs Troutdog was out of town. God, this is so hard to say. I was, (chokes up a little), I was… hungry. Like, haven’t eaten in three days hungry. And I went to (takes deep breath)… Costco. You NEVER go to Costco when you’re hungry. That’s like rule number one. Like the very first thing they teach you as a new diet recruit at diet bootcamp. I’m so ashamed.

Now, fortunately there weren’t any blowouts with a 72-count case of doughnuts or anything. I’m not going to say I didn’t think about it, but I had at least a tiny bit of self-control. But there was bread. Oh god, so much bread. I honestly intended to simply get something to make a sandwich. I was hungry, it was lunchtime, and I was craving a sandwich. Having bread in the house is a bit of a forbidden thing, so standing in the Costco bread aisle felt very… naughty. Because you can’t get a small amount of anything at Costco, I put two giant loaves of sourdough bread in the cart. Enough bread for approximately 62 sandwiches (not including the heels). I almost abandoned the bread for giant tortillas, but they came in packages of about 120 and that a bit much even for me.

And then I saw the bagels. Oh my, I haven’t had a bagel in forever. I mean, I guess as long as I’m already having a sandwich, I may as well have a bagel for breakfast in the morning. But wait, we don’t even own a toaster (I wasn’t kidding, we don’t eat bread). So off to the appliance aisle to pick up a toaster. And then, as always happens when you get into a self-destructive mode, I thought – you know what, you can’t have a sandwich without potato chips. I’m already blowing it, fuck it, I’m getting chips. I did make a half-hearted attempt to find some kind of low-cal chips, but it didn’t last long. One ginormous bag of greasy chips into the cart. And what else do they have in the chip aisle? Popcorn. Oh my, I love popcorn. I looked at the calorie count and justified to myself that it’s not a horrible number as long as I don’t have it every night, right? (ignoring the fact that the calorie count is per serving and there’s like 20 servings in each bag). The 50-count case of Kirkland brand popcorn went into the cart.

I got home unpacked and made my sandwich. It was glorious. Toasted sourdough in my new toaster. Avocado. Sharp cheddar cheese. Bacon. Turkey. And a giant pile of potato chips. Oh my. If I was a smoker, I probably would have had a cigarette afterwards. And then the guilt set in. What have I done? Why am I so weak? I don’t understand why I do this to myself.

I walked into the kitchen and surveyed the wreckage of my frenetic sandwich making. Now if I was a smart man, I would have simply thrown everything away. Yep, had a moment of weakness and got it out of my system. Don’t beat yourself up. Dump it all, go for a run and eat clean tomorrow. Right?

Nope. I committed the other cardinal sin of dieting. The dreaded, “I already blew it, it’s the end of the week, I’ll start clean on Monday” justification. So, I’ve eaten it all. Day after day of sandwiches, chips, bagels, and popcorn. Sometimes twice a day. Mowed my way through a nearly 100% carbohydrate diet for days.

So now I sit here feeling bloated. My stomach’s a bit upset. I tried to go for a run but felt like crap. Mad at myself. Guilty. Ashamed. Vowing never to do it again. Mrs Troutdog is mad at me because she partook in the carb-binging as well. It was an end-to-end failure. Why do we do this to ourselves? Normal people, how do you resist these urges?

Sigh… Never go to Costco when you’re hungry.

It’s easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.

Margaret Mead

Why Is Everything So Complicated?

We are the generation of the soundbite. The Tweet. The meme. We consume our information in tiny little pieces. And most of the time, that’s probably just fine. I don’t need to have a deep understanding of the cattle futures market to decide if I can afford the rib-eye this week or only cube steak. The price is the price and I either have the quan or I don’t.

But every once in a while, big events happen that raise questions. Politicians and pundits jump on these events and start spewing one-liners and soundbites that reinforce their echo chambers. Pretty soon we’re in a full-scale soundbite and meme war that leaves everyone confused and angry. What’s the truth?

I was thinking about this as I read snarky Twitter comments about energy independence, buying Russian oil, and gas prices. Everyone has an answer. Because I’m a dork, I decided to do some light reading on the energy sector and politics. Whew – there is no such thing as “light reading” about this subject! It is a deep, deep rabbit hole. It is hard to describe how many moving parts and global players there are in the energy world.

There are a whole variety of types of crude oil, all coming from different places in the world, all used for different things. Much of the recent increases in our purchase of Russian crude are due to fallout from previous sanctions on other countries like Venezuela, hurricanes in the gulf, and African countries not being able to ramp up production after Covid. We import foreign crude to the East and West coast because we lack the domestic infrastructure to transport our own oil. It’s actually cheaper to purchase non-US crude, than it is to send US crude to the East and West coast from the Midwest or gulf. We often purchase Russian (and other) crude because it has a higher sulfur content than US crude, which is needed for some specific refining processes. The worldwide crude oil market is a very interdependent and complex system. Even when we declared we were “energy independent”, that is a fuzzy interpretation with many moving parts that changed from month to month. We’d offset US products produced from crude and sold, against crude imports and for some quarters and depending upon what the meaning of “is”, is, we’d declare we had greater net exports vs. imports.

This led me to the issue of the current administration shutting down oil and gas leases. Come on, man – drill baby, drill! Well, they did attempt to put a moratorium on new leases in some areas. The courts shut that down. And currently… the Biden administration has outpaced the Trump administration in issuing drilling permits on public lands. Wait, wut? For example, just last fall the Biden admin completed the largest oil and gas lease in US history – 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. Sigh, I’m so confused.

What’s my point? I don’t care what the Fox, CNN, or Twitter pundit says… virtually every issue you’d like to discuss is infinitely more complex than you think it is. Nothing is black and white, yes or no. It takes years for industry and policy experts to develop a real understanding of their domain. I did a tiny bit of reading this morning beyond Twitter, and quickly realized I know absolutely zero about the energy sector. It has tentacles in transportation, logistics, commodity markets, politics, money supply, production, jobs, and on and on. I think it would take at least a semester equivalent class to have at least a beginners grasp on the entirety of the market. And I think that holds true for most things in life. Geopolitics, military strategy, history, everything…

All of which is to reinforce my standard saying… Question everything. Be a Contrarian. It’s ok to endorse the Left or Right’s approach to the world. Just don’t do it blindly. They’re both equal manipulators of the narrative. And under the surface, things are often more complex than you realize.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple

Oscar Wilde

How’s Your Mood?

A month ago, I made the commitment to start going to a strength and conditioning coach. I tried to join the military to get that free bootcamp training, but the recruiters couldn’t stop laughing. I think that was a no. I wanted two things out of my training – someone who would promise to make me look like Daniel Craig in six weeks and someone who would come to my house and yell at me at 05:30 AM every day to get my ass up, put down the doughnut, and drop and give me twenty. I did find a trainer. Even though he ignored my first two requests he had all the right certs and degrees, so I decided to give him a chance.

Week one was pretty humbling. I was sure we’d start out with deadlifts, tire flips, and kipping pull ups. After doing an assessment, he said “uh, well, I think we should get a little foundation work in first”. Which is secret trainer code for “my eighth-grade girl clients are stronger than this guy”. It’s an absolute miracle that I’ve made it this long skiing without blowing out my knees. The stabilizing muscles for my knees are so weak, a few lunge type movements have my legs quivering like Jell-o and unable to maintain any balance or coordination. My core was mush. Planks, dead bugs, and bird dogs leave me shaking and lightheaded in just a few minutes. This is all a good thing. We’re making progress.

The best part though has been the motivation. I can get motivated to do anything for a short time. But being human my attention span drifts, and I find reasons to stop. Take this morning for example. I had a particularly hard shift yesterday and got home late. I was still tired this morning and had zero motivation. Left to my own devices I definitely would have bailed on any sort of workout. But I’d scheduled the trainer already, so I’m paying for it regardless. I would have felt guilty making up some excuse to not go… so I went.

And surprise, I felt great afterwards. I always do. The endorphin surge you get after a workout, a bike ride, a run, a ski, or any sort of exercise makes you feel good. It’s a natural mood enhancer. Every single time. I know that, yet still find reasons to be lazy. We humans are strange creatures. The amount of resistance and energy we put into avoiding something that will make us feel better is ridiculous. A little sun and a little exercise are probably the only prescriptions the vast majority of the population need to be happy. Screw big pharma, right?

Now, if I can just find a service that will come to the house and slap that doughnut out of my hands, I’ll be golden.

I Didn’t Watch The Olympics

I didn’t watch any of this year’s winter Olympics. I take that back, I watched the final few minutes of Jessie Diggins winning a Silver medal in the 30 km cross country event on a YouTube recap. I am in awe of the physical effort cross country takes. She crossed the finish line and collapsed in a heap, saliva and vomit dripping out of her mouth as she gasped for air. She had to be lifted up by two people and carried to a medical tent. I can’t fathom pushing the limits of endurance like that. I get winded just walking up the stairs. But I digress… I didn’t watch any of the summer Olympics either. Actually, I’m not sure the last time I really watched any of the summer or winter games.

I don’t know why. It became too polished and commercial. Non-stop slickly produced pieces of fluff about a figure skater whose one-armed grandfather sold the family farm to hire coaches and personally drove her 300 miles each day to practice. NBC became so focused on producing human interest stories, they forgot to cover the actual events.

And now, it’s a professional sport. It’s no longer a starving college kid, sacrificing everything to make the Olympic team. It’s sponsored athletes who, at times, appear to be more focused on future endorsement deals than representing their country. It’s professional athletes who calculate if they can take time out of their pro season to snag a medal before returning to their team. It’s athletes who live, train, and exploit everything this country offers, then go off and represent another country.

The Olympic games used to be a moment in time where you could be enthusiastically patriotic. To feel proud and root for your country. Patriotism is largely gone. Both in sport and in everyday life. To declare, display, or in any way indicate that you feel patriotic will get you branded as a nationalist. I drive a pickup truck. If I were to place a large American flag sticker on my back window, I guarantee a large percentage of people would have a knee-jerk reaction when seeing it. In their head they’d think, at best, redneck. More likely, gun-loving white nationalist (well, supremacist but we don’t say that part out loud. It’s rude).

How did we get to this point? How did we arrive at a place where proclaiming national pride is a bad thing? You know it’s true, don’t lie. If you see an American flag on someone’s t-shirt, hat, or vehicle, your first thought probably won’t be “I bet they’re a democrat”. How did that happen? We cheer the proud Ukrainians as they bravely fight the nasty ‘ol Russkies and support their defiance as a nation. Everyone on the social medias is busy posting their “I stand with Ukraine” virtue signaling. But say “America first” and instantly you’re branded an isolationist who hates diversity. How did get to this place?

The 1980 miracle on ice was one of the greatest sporting/Olympic moments ever. The United States underdog men’s hockey team, defeating the four-time gold medal Russian team in a thrilling finish. Man, as a teenager I was so proud to be an American that day. I was so proud of my country. Today, I need to be careful what I say otherwise the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion police will put me on a watch list.

A country that has no national pride ceases to be a country. That’s rapidly what we’re becoming. No longer a country, but instead a collection of independent global citizens. Unless we find a way to reignite that spark of national pride, we’ll soon be Europe. The North American equivalent of the EU. No northern or southern borders. Maybe it’s inevitable. The natural progression of societies.

The thought of it makes me a little sad. I miss the old Olympic spirit.

Shuffle The Deck

Enjoying the clown show? It might almost be funny to sit back and watch this administration flail about if the consequences weren’t so dire. I do not underestimate the ability of these clowns to blunder us into an actual, serious armed conflict involving U.S. forces. Now don’t think I’m just blaming the democrats for where we’re at. It’s taken decades of incompetence, grift, and arrogance from both parties to get to this point. And along the way, we’ve managed to create a fourth branch of government that is unelected, unsupervised, and unchecked – the Federal Bureaucracy. a.k.a. the deep state.

As the old saying goes, while Putin and Xi are playing 3D chess, we’re playing checkers. Well, to be fair this administration is playing tic-tac-toe. Russia and China plan the long game. We plan for the latest news cycle. The EU worshiped at the Church of Climate Change. They now need Russia’s oil and gas. Germany is fully in bed with Russia. You’ll notice that Europe is doing virtually nothing about all this. Putin correctly judged that our economy is in trouble and we’re too busy arguing over pronouns and which bridges are the most racist. In all likelihood the sanctions will end up hurting us more than Russia. We’ll do nothing (hopefully), and he knew it. Game, set, match. Russia will now have a heavily defended buffer zone against NATO. Meanwhile, the US spent billions trying to set up yet another puppet state in the name of “democracy” that failed. Sound familiar? It’s like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. How come we never learn? Since WWII, we have failed at every single foreign policy intervention we’ve attempted. All at the cost of trillions and thousands upon thousands of lives. And yet we continue to listen to the same foreign policy “experts”.

And now we’re at the brink of a serious inflection point. I’m honestly surprised that China hasn’t moved on Taiwan yet. That’s the big test. What would we do? Are we going to get into a shooting war with China? I’m pretty sure that won’t go well. I’m sorry if I sound skeptical, but the same people who planned the Afghan withdraw, fired SOF folks for refusing the jab, and seem more worried about white rage and DEI in the military, are still in charge. It’s ok though, just like with every conflict, the UN will write a strongly worded letter.

So, what are we to do? Create a new, third party like Andrew Yang thinks? Term limits? I think term limits absolutely needs to be a part of any change. The corruption and self-interest in Washington (and state politics) is endemic. These people are dug in like ticks on a hound. If we have any hope of staving off our total demise, we need to start getting rid of the political establishment. But how do you get someone to vote for something that’s not in their self-interest?

It’s time to shuffle the deck. How? VOTE THEM OUT. Who? ALL OF THEM. Every single one of them. Both parties. Regardless of party, choose someone new. Do not re-elect the same clown. Everyone gets primaried. Even if the same clown gets re-elected, make them fight for it. Demand accountability. And next election cycle – do it again. We need to keep shuffling the deck until we get the hand we want.

Is that realistic? Nope. Is it going to happen? Nope. As negative as that sounds, I do see a tiny sliver of hope. There is a sense of frustration in the country. People are getting tired of the authoritarians. They’re pushing back against CRT and mask mandates, and censorship. At the moment, it looks like the next election cycle will be a bloodbath for the left. Will the right do something with it, or revert to politics as usual? If the new congress starts behaving like representatives of the people, AND, if we elect an actual leader (no, not Trump) with the next presidential cycle… there’s a small chance we can start to right the ship.

I give it a 10% chance. I fear that it’s probably already too late. History shows that once you start that downslide, it’s pretty hard to fight momentum. Realistically it’s not an issue for my generation – this will be for the next generation to live with. Unfortunately, this new generation aren’t much for learning from history. Because, like, you know, history is all racist or something.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

 Upton Sinclair

Wanna See Some Art?

I am a frustrated creator, to use the social media/YouTube lexicon. I go through waves of intense desire to create either photographs or videos. Those waves usually dissipate quickly, mostly because I don’t know what to do the images and videos. That sounds odd, so let me explain.

Making a video is a non-trivial task. You need to put thought into what you’re doing, constantly making sure you’re getting sufficient footage, film from multiple angles, etc… When done, you have many hours of editing, finding music, learning software tools, and rendering time. I’m a beginner, so my results are a bit amateurish, but I’m learning and they’re getting better. Those video’s obviously get posted to YouTube.

Photographs come from a Fuji X100F camera or my phone. The phone images are edited on the phone using VSCO or Snapseed and posted to Instagram. Photos from the “real” camera are edited with Adobe Lightroom… and sit on my hard drive for the most part. I have an old WordPress “photo” site with a few images, but I haven’t updated it in years.

So, what’s the issue? With videos it boils down to – is it worth the time and effort? To actually make any money on YouTube, even just a few hundred dollars a month, is nearly a full-time job. You have to be very consistent with uploads every week and put real effort into making interesting content. You need to identify a niche and focus on it. You need to promote your content. I like making videos, but I’m not sure I’m interested enough to go to that level. Therefore, I’m making occasional random videos for friends and family. Which is fine, but it’s a lot of effort. Do I want to continue?

Photographs are a similar, but slightly different issue. This will sound silly, but what do I do with my pictures? I suppose I can just keep posting them to Instagram for the approximately twenty friends and family who follow. I thought about creating a second, photography-specific Instagram account for the camera images but that would mean actively trying to attract followers. I’m not a professional, an influencer, or at a point in my life where my ego needs the boost, so that doesn’t really fit my personality. I suppose I could make prints from time to time to hang up around the house. I honestly just don’t know what I want to do with the images. The end result is that I rarely take pictures lately.

A day ago, I decided to try and create a gallery/slideshow that would display on the Smart TV in the living room. At least people coming to the house could get a glimpse into my pictures, right? Forty minutes later of trying to create accounts, logging in, and struggling with settings, I still couldn’t get the damn thing to sync with my images. That was the end of my attention span for that project.

Next, I turned to GoPro. They’ve updated their mobile app, called Quik. I’ve played with it a little bit and it seems interesting. Their premise is that the app will solve what they call the “black hole” of photos and videos that just sit on your phone. They have a tool called the Mural that you use to place daily content from your phone, and it helps you organize and create interesting slideshows and videos. I think it would work but will require a change in workflow along with how and where I save images. Again, do I really want to put the effort in to make this happen?

I realize that these are amazing first-world problems to have. I’m enough of a student of the mediums to know that the answer is that you’re creating for yourself. Unless your goal is to make a living with art, it makes no difference if anyone sees what you’ve created. You’re doing it for you. That holds true for photography, writing, or YouTube. I know this.

But as the old saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest – does it make a sound? Well, we’ll never know if someone isn’t there to listen. I’m not ready to abandon all creativity yet. I don’t know what the answer is for photography. If anyone has ideas on what to do with images, I’d love to hear it. YouTube is a bit trickier. I think the answer is to find a style that fits what I do. I need to find a way to document the things that I do that isn’t so labor intensive. If it’s easy enough, I’ll do it. I’ll push my stuff out there so friends and family can keep up with my activities and adventures. And if random strangers also want to see it, so be it.

We live in an amazing time. No more photo books with polaroid prints. No more grainy VHS tapes of family vacations. An unlimited number of ways to share images and art… it’s overwhelming.

Sigh. The life of a creator is hard.